02) JOSEPH SR.: Was Joseph Smith Senior a failure as a father? Was he a poor provider, oft defeated and unmoored? Did he have a problem with alcohol and other vices?

Prophetic Statements

Joseph Smith


Sunday 11th [October 1835] visited my Father who was very sick. In secret prayer in the morning the Lord said, “My servant thy father shall live.” I waited on him all this day with my heart raised to God in the name of Jesus Christ that He would restore him to health again, that I might be blessed with his company and advise esteeming it one of the greatest earthly blessings, to be blessed with the society of Parents, whose mature years and experience renders them capable of administering the most wholsom advice; at Evening Bro. David Whitmer came in we called on the Lord in mighty prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, and laid our hands on him, and rebuked the diseas[e] and God heard and answered our prayers to the great Joy and satisfaction of our souls, our aged Father arose and dressed himself shouted and praised the Lord. Called William Smith who had retired to rest that he might praise the Lord with us by joining in songs of praise to the most High.1

(original spelling)
11 October 1835, Sunday – Sunday 11th visited my Father (again) who was verry sick (in secret prayer in the morning the Lord said my servant thy father shall live) I waited on him all this day with my heart raised to god in the name of Jesus Christ that he would restore him to health again, that I might be blessed with his company advise esteeming it one of the greatest earthly blessings, to be blessed with the society of Parents, who maturer years and experience, renders them, capable of administering the most wholsom advise; at Evening Bro. David Whitmer came in we called on the Lord in mighty prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, and laid our hands on him, and rebuked the diseas and God heard and answered our prayers to the great joy and satisfaction of our souls, our aged Father arose and dressed himself shouted and praised the Lord called [p. 7] Br Wm Smith who had retired to rest that he might praise the Lord with us by joining in Songs of praise to the most High. 2


Tuesday 13th [October 1835] visited my Father who was very much recovered from his sickness indeed, which caused us to marvel at the mighty power and condesension of our Heavenly Father in answering our prayers in his behalf.3


In the year 1842, when the Prophet Joseph was recording in the Book of the Law of the Lord, the names of those who had proved themselves true to the kingdom of God to the end, he paid the following tribute to his father:

But, as I said before, so say I again, while I remember the faithful few who are now living, I would remember also the faithful of my friends who are dead, for they are many; and many are the acts of kindness—parental and brotherly kindness—which they have bestowed upon me; and since I have been hunted by Missourians, many are the scenes which have been called to my mind. I have remembered scenes of my childhood. I have thought of my father who is dead, who died by disease which was brought upon him through suffering by the hands of ruthless mobs. He was a great and a good man. The envy of knaves and fools was heaped upon him, and this was his lot and portion all the days of his life. He was of noble stature and possessed a high, and holy, and exalted, and virtuous mind. His soul soared above all those mean and groveling principles that are congenial to the human heart. I now say that he never did a mean act, that might be said was ungenerous in his life, to my knowledge. I love my father and his memory; and the memory of his noble deeds rests with ponderous weight upon my mind, and many of his kind and parental words to me are written on the tablet of my heart. Sacred to me are the thoughts which I cherish of the history of his life, that have rolled through my mind, and have been implanted there by my own observation, since I was born. Sacred to me is his dust, and the spot where he is laid. Sacred to me is the tomb I have made to encircle o’er his head. Let the memory of my father eternally live. Let his soul, or the spirit, my follies forgive. With him may I reign one day in the mansions above, and tune up the lyre of anthems, of the eternal Jove. May the God that I love look down from above and save me from my enemies here, and take me by the hand that on Mount Zion I may stand, and with my father crown me eternally there. Words and language are inadequate to express the gratitude that I owe to God for having given me so honorable a parentage. My mother also is one of the noblest and the best of all women. May God grant to prolong her days and mine, that we may live to enjoy each other’s society long, yet in the enjoyment of liberty, and to breathe the free air.4


In 1831, Joseph Smith moved with his family to Kirtland, where he received the Priesthood. When the Lord made known that there was to be a Patriarch in the Church, he was ordained to that calling. This was December 18, 1833. Not only was he ordained to this office, but it was revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith that this was his right by lineage, he being a descendant of Joseph, son of Jacob, unto whom the birthright in Israel had descended. Moreover, this office and Priesthood, holding the keys of the Patriarchal order in the Church, were to continue through his posterity descending from generation to generation according to the law of primogeniture. The blessing given upon his head, also to his mother, was pronounced on a solemn occasion at a gathering of the authorities of the Church, Dec. 18, 1833, and is as follows:


Thus spoke the Seer, and these are the words which fell from his lips while the visions of the Almighty were open to his view, saying: Blessed of the Lord is my father, for he shall stand in the midst of his posterity and shall be comforted by their blessings when he is old and bowed down with years, and shall be called a prince over them, and shall be numbered among those who hold the right of Patriarchal Priesthood, even the keys of that ministry, for he shall assemble together his posterity like unto Adam; and the assembly which he called shall be an example for my father, for thus it is written of him:

Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch and Methuselah, who were High Priests, with the residue of his posterity, who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing. And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the Prince, the Archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him, I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a Prince over them forever.

So shall it be with my father: he shall be called a prince over his posterity, holding the keys of the Patriarchal Priesthood over the kingdom of God on earth, even the Church of the Latter-day Saints, and he shall sit in the general assembly of Patriarchs, even in council with the Ancient of Days when he shall sit and all the Patriarchs with him and shall enjoy his right and authority under the direction of the Ancient of Days.

And blessed also, is my mother, for she is a mother in Israel, and shall be a partaker with my father in all his patriarchal blessings. And blessed, also, are my brothers and my sisters, for they shall yet find redemption in the house of the Lord, and their offsprings shall be a blessing, a joy and a comfort unto them. Blessed is my mother, for her soul is ever filled with benevolence and philanthropy; and notwithstanding her age, she shall yet receive strength and be comforted in the midst of her house: and thus saith the Lord, She shall have eternal life.

And again, blessed is my father, for the hand of the Lord shall be over him, and he shall be full of the Holy Ghost: for he shall predict whatsoever shall befall his posterity unto the latest generation, and shall see the affliction of his children pass away, and their enemies under their feet: and when his head is fully ripe he shall behold himself as an olive tree whose branches are bowed down with much fruit. Behold, the blessings of Joseph by the hand of his progenitor, shall come upon the head of my father and his seed after him, to the uttermost, even he shall be a fruitful bough: he shall be as a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well whose branches run over the wall, and his seed shall abide in strength, and the arms of their hands shall be made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, and the God of his fathers: even the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, shall help him and his seed after him: even the Almighty shall bless him with blessings of heaven above and his seed after him, and the blessings of the deep that lieth under: and his seed shall rise up and call him blessed. He shall be as the vine of the choice grape when her clusters are fully ripe: and he shall also possess a mansion on high, even in the Celestial Kingdom. His counsel shall be sought for by thousands, and he shall have place in the house of the Lord; for he shall be mighty in the council of the elders, and his days shall yet be lengthened out: and when he shall go hence he shall go in peace, and his rest shall be glorious; and his name shall be had in remembrance to the end. Amen.5

Joseph F. Smith

Though poor, his parents were honest and good; they delighted in the truth, and it was their honest desire to live according to the best light within them.  Love and good will to all found expression in their hearts and actions, and their children were imbued with like sentiments.  They were firm believers in God, and trusted in his watchcare over his children.  They had frequently received manifestations of his loving kindness, in dreams, visions, and inspirations, and God had healed their little ones, in answer to prayer, when they were nigh unto death.  It was in such an atmosphere that the boy [Joseph] was raised.6

Joseph Fielding Smith


This section D&C 4 was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith to his father, Joseph Smith, Sen., at Harmony, Pennsylvania, February, 1829. Joseph Smith, Sr., was the first person to believe the story of the Prophet and encourage him to continue faithful to the teachings of the angel. Joseph Smith, Sen., was born July 12, 1771, in Topsfield, Massachusetts. He was the son of Asael Smith and the third great-grandson of Robert Smith who came from England to America in 1638. The Prophet was in his tenth year when his father moved to Palmyra in the state of New York, and later to the township of Manchester. Joseph Smith, Sen., was baptized the day the Church was organized. December 18, 1833, he was ordained to the office of Patriarch under the hands of Joseph Smith the Prophet and his counselors, thus being the first Patriarch ordained in this dispensation, receiving that office, known as Patriarch to the Church, by divine appointment as the person who rightfully held the birthright as the true descendant of Ephraim, son of Joseph. In February, 1829, he came to his son, the youthful prophet, and asked to know by revelation the will of the Lord. This section of the Doctrine and Covenants is the result of that humble inquiry.7


JOSEPH SMITH, SR. . FIRST LATTER-DAY PATRIARCH. It is sufficient for us to know that in this day the Lord by revelation declared it was the right of Joseph Smith, father of the Prophet, to stand in this important office as the Patriarch holding the keys of this ministry. He was, as we have said, the first man called to occupy this position in this dispensation. He was ordained by his illustrious and honored son, Joseph, to this position December 18, 1833, and held this office with honor and with the inspiration of the Lord resting upon him, until his death, September 14, 1840, at the age of 69 years. His life was shortened by persecution and mobocracy.8


Joseph Smith Sr. (1771-1840) father of Hyrum and Joseph Smith, was the first Patriarch to the Church. It was to him that young Joseph first mentioned his visitation from the Angel Moroni. At this crucial time in Joseph’s life, when a father’s confidence and guidance were so important, Joseph Sr. fully sustained him, and urged him to go and do as the angel had directed. Throughout his life he supported his son in his calling, enduring many privations, and eventually giving his life as a martyr, suffering a premature death in Nauvoo as a result of the terrible persecutions inflicted in Missouri and the unhealthy conditions to which he was subjected as a refugee in the Nauvoo area.9

Ezra Taft Benson

In this dispensation, I think of Joseph Smith, Sr., the first person to give credence to his prophet-son’s testimony. . . . I revere these noble men, not just because they were great prophets, but because they were great fathers who realized what the Lord required of them, and they lived up to that expectation.10

Differing Claims

Richard Bushman


“Alvin, his mother’s favorite son, took responsibility for the ‘management and control’ of construction, which began in November after the fall harvest. Lucy credited him with wanting to provide for her comfort in her old age. Joseph Jr. said of him that ‘from the time of his birth, he never new mirth. He was candid and sober and never would play; and minded his father, and mother, in toiling all day. He was one of the soberest of men.'”

Alvin may have taken the lead because his discouraged father could not. Alvin had cosigned the articles for the land purchase in 1821, suggesting he was serving as auxiliary family head. Joseph Sr., worn down by setbacks, may have partially abdicated family leadership. ” I have not always set that example before my family that I ought ” , he confessed in 1834. Speaking of himself in the third person, he gratefully told Hyrum that ” though he has been out of the way through wine, thou has never forsaken him nor laughed him to scorn. “

Joseph Sr.’s drinking was not excessive for that time and place; only two of the hostile affidavits collected in 1833 mentioned it. But he feared his sons’ scornful laughter. Joseph Sr. had lost his Vermont farm, and a few years later at age fifty-four would lose the land they were buying in Manchester. There would be no inheritances for his sons. By the standard measures of success in a rural society, he had failed. Even his dreamy yearning for religion had led to nothing; he felt that he had let his children down. ” I have not been diligent in teaching them the commandments of the Lord, ” he admitted, ” but have rather manifested a light and trifling mind.” All the boys loved and honored their father, Joseph Jr. particularly, but their affection may have included sympathy for a life blighted by shame.”11


“The culture of honor bred deep loyalties to friends and family, while instilling a fierce urge to avenge insults…the greatest fear in life, a fear stronger than death or damnation, was public humiliation. Like everyone raised in this culture, the Smiths had a clannish loyalty to one another and a fiery resentment against the slightest derogation of their worth. In the culture of honor, one would battle to the death in defense of reputation. An honorable man who suffered an insult would spare nothing to get even. In a sense, these qualities were aspects of one’s personal character, a matter of individual moral responsibility. In another sense, they were social and cultural. The honor culture was a legacy from one’s family and society, a burden imposed on children by their world. Joseph’s reactions to insults was a learned behavior, shared with his society. His anger was both his own and an expression of a cultural practice-what honorable men were taught to do. Unfortunately for his peace of mind, Joseph’s angry responses conflicted with the harmony and brotherhood he prized. Through the fall of 1835, he enraged in a series of small quarrels, domestic disturbances, and squabbles. He did not rise above the fray in the serene majesty of his calling. The culture of honor moved him to contend with the offending parties to protect his easily bruised pride, even though all the while he wanted peace… …While Joseph was sensitive to the spirit of others, he may have been tone-deaf to the spirit of his own words. Unable to bear criticism, he rebuked anyone who challenged him.”12


“Joseph, Jr., was not a failed father like Joseph, Sr. He was eminent, confident, commanding. On the other hand, he did not leave his son much of a worldly estate either. He intended to leave him priesthood as his patrimony, which eventually Joseph III accepted. For all his lacks in providing for his children, however, Joseph, Sr., did not fail in the affection department. He was the one Joseph, Jr., turned to for comfort during the leg operation. Joseph the Prophet gave the same kind of affection to his wife and children.”13


“. . . my aged servant Joseph Smith, Sen., who sitteth with Abraham at his right hand, and blessed and holy is he, for he is mine.” (D&C 124:19)  The Lord has told us that Joseph Smith Sr. sits “with Abraham at his right hand”.  This becomes more significant when we understand that “Abraham . . . Isaac also and Jacob . . . have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.” (D&C 132:37)

Doctrine and Covenants 124:19

. . . my aged servant Joseph Smith, Sen., who sitteth with Abraham at his right hand, and blessed and holy is he, for he is mine.

Joseph Smith Sr. was also numbered among those who were witness to the Gold Plates and published their testimony in the statement known as the “Testimony of the Eight Witnesses”.  www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/eight

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer
Jacob Whitmer
Peter Whitmer, Jun.
John Whitmer
Hiram Page
Joseph Smith, Sen.
Hyrum Smith
Samuel H. Smith

Supporting Statements

Mark L. McConkie

It is one of the curiosities of history that Father Smith should be accused of dishonesty, for integrity was the keystone in the arch of his character. Moreover, it was his natural, familial inheritance, and we see it as the distinguishing feature in the lives of his ancestors as far back as we are able to trace the stories of their lives.14

William Smith

“It has generally been stated that my father’s family were lazy, shiftless and poor; but this was never said by their neighbors, or until after the angel appeared and the story of the golden Bible was told.”15

B.H. Roberts


In 1820 . . . when the religious revival that swept through the Western Reserve and New York state reached Palmyra, she determined upon membership in the Presbyterian church, and in this was followed by her sons Hyrum and Samuel Harrison, and by her daughter Sophronia. Joseph Smith, the future Prophet of the New Dispensation, inclined to the Methodist persuasion, but did not join their church. The father held aloof from formal connection with any of the sects, but was none the less a staunch, Christian man.

“Were your folks religiously inclined before Joseph saw the angel,” inquired one of William Smith, brother of the Prophet? This in 1893, when William Smith was a very aged man.

“Yes,” he answered. “We always had family prayers since I can remember. I well remember father used to carry his spectacles in his vest pocket, and when we boys saw him feel for his ‘specs,’ we knew that was a signal to get ready for prayer, and if we did not notice it mother would say, ‘William,’ or whoever was the negligent one, ‘get ready for prayers.’ After the prayer we had a song we would sing . . .”16


It was this circumstance of Bible reading in the home which doubtless led one who was for some years neighbor to the Smiths,—Dr. John Stafford, of Rochester, New York,—to say that Joseph Smith, Jun., was quite illiterate until after the Smiths “began to have school at their house;” and then “he improved greatly.” “Did they have school in their own house?” Doctor Stafford was asked. “Yes, sir,” he answered, “they had school in their house and studied the Bible.” “Who was their teacher?” the Doctor was asked.”They did not have any teacher; they taught themselves.”17

Mrs. Palmer

My parents were friends of the Smith family, which was one of the best in that locality—honest, religious and industrious, but poor. The father of the family was above the average in intelligence. I have heard my parents say that he bore the appearance of having descended from royalty.18

  1. Joseph Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pp. 61-62
  2. Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith Papers, pg. 71
  3. Joseph Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, p. 63
  4. Joseph Smith, as quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969, 37.
  5. Oliver Cowdery, Clerk and Recorder, also Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969, p. 34
  6. Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, Vol 21, December 1917, p. 167
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949, 1: 32 – 33.
  8. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956, 3: 162.
  9. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., and John J. Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, 32.
  10. Ezra Taft Benson, Come unto Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983, 56.
  11. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, pg. 42
  12. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, pg. 295-296
  13. Richard Bushman Responds: 12 Questions on Rough Stone Rolling (RSR), http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2759#more-2759
  14. Mark L. McConkie, The Father of the Prophet: Stories and Insights from the Life of Joseph Smith, Sr. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993, 149.
  15. “The Old Soldier’s Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints’ Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C. E. Butterworth,” Saints’ Herald 31 (4 October 1884): 643-44; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:503-506.
  16. Statement of William Smith, brother of the Prophet, Zion’s Ensign, Independence, Mo., copied into Deseret News, of January 20, 1894
  17. B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930, 1: 34 – 35
  18. Mrs. Palmer, “Stories from the Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson,” Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Lee C. LaFayette, “Recollections of Joseph Smith,” Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; also Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974, 1
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