Question: Joseph Smith Sr. is mentioned in D&C 4; 23:5; 90:20; 102:3; 124:19. Was his mission foretold by Joseph of Old? Did “Father” Smith lack the humility to follow his son, the Prophet Joseph?
Answer: Joseph Smith Sr. was born 12 July 1771 in Essex County, Massachusetts, son of Asael Smith and Mary Duty. At age twenty-four, Joseph married Lucy Mack and settled on a farm in Tunbridge, Vermont. The family then moved to the farmlands of Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. Joseph cultivated a rented farm during the summer and taught school in the winter. It was on this farm that the Prophet Joseph was born. For a number of years, the family moved from one farm to another until they finally arrived in Palmyra, New York, the place they were destined to be.
In 1823, when the Prophet Joseph was told by the angel Moroni to tell his father of the message he had received, he was promised, “He will believe every word you say to him.” After hearing his son’s remarkable recitation, Father Smith declared, “My son, be not disobedient to this heavenly vision.” Where many fathers might have lacked the humility to follow their son, Father Smith never sought prominence over young Joseph. He was supportive of his son’s prophetic calling and often suffered persecution for his stand. His mission, and the mission of his son, was foretold by Joseph of old, “And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father…” (2 Nephi 3:15).
On the day the Church was organized, Father Smith was baptized. His prophetic son took him by the hand and exclaimed, “Praise to my God! That I lived to see my own father baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ!” Of his testimony Father Smith declared, “I have never denied the Lord…The Lord has often visited me in visions and dreams, and has brought me, with my family, through many afflictions, and I this day thank his holy name.” Father Smith was also one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who saw the plates and the engravings on them.
On 18 December 1833, Father Smith was given a blessing by his son Joseph, “…and [he] shall be numbered among those who hold the right of Patriarchal Priesthood.” That day Father Smith was ordained the first Patriarch in this dispensation. At age sixty-four, Father Smith served a mission with his brother John. They traveled nearly twenty-four hundred miles through the East, strengthening the Saints and sharing the gospel. Father Smith’s mother, Mary, traveled to Kirtland in 1836, and her grandson, Joseph Smith Jr., gave her a blessing. She wanted to be baptized. Unfortunately, her age and health prevented this. She died on May 27, 1836, just ten days after arriving in Kirtland.
In 1838 the Prophet Joseph was taken prisoner at Far West, and when Father Smith thought that his son, the Prophet Joseph, had been killed, he “folded his arms tight across his heart, and cried out, ‘Oh, my God! My God! They have killed my son! They have murdered him! And I must die, for I cannot live without him!’” His agony was so great over the presumed loss that he immediately became ill and never entirely recovered.
In Nauvoo, Father Smith was physically weak, but before he died, he gave each member of his family a parting blessing. Then he paused momentarily and said, “I see Alvin…I shall live seven or eight minutes.” Lucy wrote, “In about eight minutes his breath stopped, without even a struggle or a sigh…” The Lord revealed that Father Smith is in a celestial realm and sits “with Abraham at his right hand, and blessed and holy is he, for he is mine” (D&C124:19).
Father Smith died 14 September 1840 in Nauvoo and is buried in the Smith Family Cemetery.