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OSEPH SMITH was born in humble life in 1805, at Sharon, in the state of Vermont, whence in 1815 he removed with his parents to Palmyra, New York. When about fifteen years old, being troubled by convictions of his spiritual dan
ger, and perplexed by the multitude of mutually hostile sects, he saw, he says, while praying in a grove, a vision of “two personages,” who
informed him that his sins were pardoned, and that all existing sects were almost equally erroneous.
This vision was repeated three years afterwards, in 1823, when an angel, he reports, informed him that the American Indians were a remnant of the Israelites, and that certain records, written by the Jewish prophets, and containing history and prophecy, had, when the Indians fell into depravity, been buried in the earth at a spot which the angel indicated. Smith was further told, that he had been selected as the instrument by which these valuable records should be brought to light; the revelations they contained being necessary for the restoration of that purity of creed and worship from which all the modern churches had alike departed.
Accordingly, upon the 22nd of September, 1823, Smith, the story runs, discovered in the side of a hill, about four miles from Palmyra, in Ontario County, a stone box, just covered by the earth, in which was deposited the “Record”-a collection of thin plates of gold, held together by three golden rings. Part of this golden book was sealed, but the portion open to inspection was engraven thickly with “ Reformed Egyptian” characters. Together with the book he found two crystal lenses “set in the two rims of a bow," apparently resembling an enormous pair of spectacles; this instrument he said was the Urim and Thummim used by ancient seers.
The simple inspection of these treasures was the whole extent of Smith's achievements on his first discovery of them; he was not permitted by the angel to remove them until four years afterwards, on the 22nd of September, 1827. During the interval he received occasional instruction from his supernatural visitant.
The news of his discovery attracted such attention, and procured him so much obloquy, that, according to the narrative of his biographers, he was exposed to personal violence, and was obliged to fly to Pennsylvania, carrying his golden plates concealed in a barrel of beans. When thus in some security, he, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, set to work upon the translation of the unsealed portion, which, when complete, composed a bulky volume, which he called the " Book of Mormon” _“Mormon,” meaning, he explained, more good, from "mor,” a contraction for more, and "mon," Egyptian for good.
Upon the other hand, it is asserted, by opponents of the Saints, that about the years 1809—12, a person of the name of Solomon Spaulding, who had been a clergyman, conceived and executed the design of writing a religious tale, the scenes and narrative of which should be constructed on the theory that the American Indians were the lost ten tribes of Israel. This work, when finished, he entitled “The Manuscript found;" and the purport of the fiction was, to trace the progress of the tribes from Jerusalem to America, and then describe their subsequent adventures in the latter country—“Mormon
and his son “Moroni” being prominent characters, and Nephi, Lehi, and the Lamanites (names frequently occurring in the Book of Mormon) being also mentioned. The MS. of this production, it is further stated, found its way into the hands of one Sidney Rigdon, who was intimately connected with Smith from the commencement of his career. It appears
that at the end of about three years after Smith's announcement of himself as a prophet, about thirty persons were convinced of the reality of his pretensions, and from this time forward converts rapidly increased.
In 1839, they numbered 15,000 persons.
In Illinois, they chose the village of Commerce as their residence, which soon became converted into a considerable town, of which the prophet was appointed mayor. This town they called Nauvoo, or “Beautiful,” according to the language of the Book of Mormon. A body of militia, called the Nauvoo Legion, was established-Smith being “General.” In 1841, a “revelation ordered the construction of a splendid temple, towards which object all the saints were to contribute a full tithe of their possessions. It is said that they expended on this structure nearly a million of dollars.
In Nauvoo, the Mormons seem to have increased and prospered greatly : the town extended fast; the temple gradually rose; and the prophet was the absolute head of a comparatively powerful community, which hardly recognised the ordinary laws of the state. In 1843 he became a candidate for the Presidency, and put forth a statement of his views. In 1844, however, occurred the final catastrophe of his life. A Nauvoo paper, having printed certain scandal of him, was, by order of the council of the town, suppressed, and its office rased; on which, the editors retired to Carthage, and obtained a warrant against Smith and his brother. This warrant Smith refused to recognise: the county force prepared to execute it; and the Saints prepared their city for defence. To save the town, however, Smith surrendered on the promise of protection from the governor. This promise proved of little value; for, on the 27th of June, 1844, a mob broke into Carthage prison, and Joseph and Hyram Smith were shot.
Upon the prophet's death Brigham Young succeeded to the post of “Prophet,” which he still retains. An interval of scarcely interrupted progress followed, during which the temple was completed; but in 1845 the troubles were renewed: perpetual conflicts, in which blood was shed, occurred, and the city of Nauvoo itself was regularly besieged. At length the Mormons, conscious of their inability alone to cope with their antagonists, and seeing that no confidence could be reposed upon the law for their protection, undertook (since nothing less would satisfy their enemies) that they would altogether quit the State-commencing their departure in the spring of 1846.
This time it was no mere temporary, neighbouring refuge which the Mormons sought. The elders of the church, aware of the hostility to which it would be constantly exposed in any portion of the populated States, resolved, with equal policy and daring, to escape entirely from the settled territory, and to seek far off, beyond the Rocky Mountains, some secluded and unoccupied retreat in which they could, secure from molestation, build their earthly “ Zion;" and, by gathering thither from all quarters of the world the converts to their faith, become a thriving and a powerful community, too potent to be further interfered with.
This remarkable pilgrimage (of which our engraving is an illustration) involving the removal of some thousands of men, women, children, cattle, and stores, over thousands of untrodden miles --across wide unbridged rivers--by the difficult passes of snow-capped mountains—and through deserts, prairies, and tribes of predatory Indians—was at once commenced. A party of pioneers set out from Nauvoo in February, 1846, when it was still winter—the waggons crossing the Mississippi on the ice. These were to prepare the way for the main body of the citizens, who, according to stipulation, might remain in Nauvoo till these preparations were completed.
Their departure was, however, hastened by the fresh hostility of their opponents, who-concluding from the progress still continued in the decorations of the temple that the Mormons secretly intended to elude their promise and return-attacked the town in September, 1846, and expelled the whole of its remaining population. These then followed and overtook the pioneering party, which, after dreadful sufferings from cold and heat, from hunger and disease, had, finding it impossible to reach their destination till the following