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TitleJoseph Smith-History
Publication TypeEncyclopedia Entry
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsStevenson, Joseph Grant
Secondary AuthorsLudlow, Daniel H.
Secondary TitleEncyclopedia of Mormonism
Place PublishedNew York
KeywordsEarly Church History; First Vision; Restoration; Smith, Joseph, Jr.; Translation
Citation Key580

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Joseph Smith-History

Author: Stevenson, Joseph Grant

The account called Joseph Smith-History, as it appears in the Pearl of Great Price, tells of the Prophet's experiences from his early years through May 1829. Franklin D. Richards, an early apostle, extracted this part of Joseph Smith's history from the much longer History of the Church printed in the times and seasons (T&S 3:726), and published the extract in 1851. In the preface of the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price, Richards expressed a hope that this collection of precious truths would increase the members' ability to defend the faith. Joseph Smith-History, the name now given to the historical extract, became canonized scripture to the members of the Church when they accepted the Pearl of Great Price by vote at the October 10, 1880, General Conference (see Pearl of Great Price: Contents and Publication).

This account in the Pearl of Great Price was not the first attempt to record the Prophet's early experiences. From the organization of the Church in 1830, he understood the importance of keeping records but his efforts were hindered by lawsuits, imprisonments, poverty, and mobs. John Whitmer kept a history between 1830 and 1832 that was lost for many years but is now available again, and Oliver Cowdery wrote eight letters about Joseph Smith's early visions that were published in messenger and advocate in 1834-1835. Joseph Smith began work on a history between July and November 1832; it opened with the words "A History of the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., an account of his marvilous [sic] experience," and described his early visions. Various clerks and historians made three more beginnings between 1834 and 1836. In the trying years 1837 and 1838, Joseph Smith and the First Presidency worked on the History of the Church, sometimes taking a grammar lesson before the writing sessions. Finally, in June 1839, Joseph undertook the work again. Materials from the previous efforts were assimilated into this new history, which eventually was published in the Times and Seasons, beginning March 1, 1842 (T&S 3:706). Joseph Smith-History, as we now have it in the Pearl of Great Price, was part of this 1839 version of the History of the Church.

The history introduces Joseph by giving a brief record of his ancestry and his own birth on December 23, 1805, in the township of Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, one of eleven children of Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. It tells of the religious conditions that led to Joseph Smith's first vision and describes what he saw and heard when the Father and Son appeared, in a direct, first-person account that makes no effort to adorn the events it relates. Oliver Cowdery, Joseph's close associate in these early years, wrote a much more ornate narrative of the early experiences. Joseph Smith simply described what happened to him, from the First Vision, through the visitation of Moroni 2, the visits to the hill Cumorah, the translation of the gold plates, and to the visit of John the Baptist to restore the Aaronic Priesthood (see Aaronic Priesthood: Restoration).

For many years the Church published Joseph Smith-History as a pamphlet with the title Joseph Smith's Own Story. Missionaries carried it to all parts of the world to help explain Joseph Smith's part in the restoration of the gospel in modern times.


Clark, James R. Story of the Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City, 1955.

Jessee, Dean C. "The Writing of Joseph Smith's History." BYU Studies 11 (1971):439-73.

Jessee, Dean C. "The Reliability of Joseph Smith's History." Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976):23-46.