Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, on 23rd December, 1805. At the age of 14 Smith had what he described as a intense spiritual revelation of God and Jesus Christ.
On 22nd September, 1827, Smith claimed that an angel, Moroni, had directed him to a collection of engraved golden tablets that had been buried in a hill near Palmyra, New York. Smith argued that a prophet named Mormon had produced the tablets over a thousand years ago. The tablets contained the history of Native Americans and according to Smith these people were the descendants of ancient Hebrews who had arrived in America to spread the word of God.
Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830. Later that year he founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayette, New York. The headquarters of the church was moved to Kirkland, Ohio, in 1831. The Mormons were forced west in order to achieve freedom from persecution. In 1834 Smith and his loyal follower, Brigham Young, went on a Mormon march to Missouri. This became the new headquarters until the Mormons moved to Illinois in 1840 where they established the community of Nanvoo.
By 1843 the Mormons had over 20,000 members. Mormon views on plural marriage created a great deal of local hostility although Smith himself only acknowledged one wife, Emma Hale Smith, who bore him nine children.
When the local newspaper criticised Mormon men for having several wives, Smith ordered some of his followers to destroy its printing press. Smith and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were imprisoned for the crime. On 27th June, 1844, 150 masked men broke into Carthage jail and killed Smith and his brother.