Did you know that early Church leaders originally planned to have 24 temples in Jackson County, Missouri? Or that several brethren had a vision of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father during a meeting of the School of the Prophets? Read on to learn more fascinating facts you might not have known about Church history.
The Joseph Smith Papers Project has undertaken a huge effort to gather all existing documents relating to Joseph Smith. Here are 20 lesser-known facts about Joseph Smith and the early Saints we’ve discovered along the way.
1. Not all of Joseph Smith’s revelations were published in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Joseph Smith received multiple revelations that were apparently never written down, but even some of the revelations that were recorded ended up not being included in published revelation collections. For instance, Joseph Smith received a revelation on May 15th, 1831, explaining what was to be done with Frederick G. Williams’s farm in Kirtland, where the Joseph Smith Sr. family and other Church members had been living and working. The revelation also counseled members arriving in Ohio from New York about what to do with their money. They were told to “save the money that it may be consecrated to purchase lands in the West for an everlasting enheritance.”
2. Original plans for the city of Zion in Missouri included 24 temples.
In June 1833, the presidency of the high priesthood— Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams— began creating a master plan for the city of Zion, which was intended to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. They drew a plat of the city that included lots for 24 houses of the Lord, or temples, in the center of the city. An explanation written on the plat indicated the city could accommodate up to 20,000 people, though that estimate was a trifle high based on the number of residencies planned for.
Images courtesy of the LDS Church History Department.
The plat was sent to Missouri Church leaders along with a letter and an architectural plan for the first House of the Lord to be built in the city. However, by the time these items arrived, Church members and other Missouri citizens were already involved in a growing conflict. The Saints were expelled from Jackson County later that year, and the city of Zion was never built.
3. In the original Book of Mormon preface, Joseph Smith explained that he had also translated “by the gift and power of God” the book of Lehi.
Although much of the wording and phraseology in the Preface to the Book of Mormon comes from a revelation Joseph Smith previously received (currently known as D&C 10), this original preface was the earliest account of the missing manuscript pages. Although the term “lost” is usually used, Joseph Smith explained in that preface that “some person or persons have stolen and kept [the manuscript] from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again.
4. The first recorded instance of a collective vision of Jesus Christ and God occurred in March 1833.
On March 18, 1833, at a meeting of the School of the Prophets, members of the school shared an incredible visionary experience. Frederick G. Williams, the clerk, recorded that many of the brethren saw a “heavenly vision of the saviour and concourses of angels.”
Zebedee Coltrin, one of the attendees at the meeting, later described the experience in great detail. He recalled that while the group was praying, “a personage walked through the room from east to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother.”
Coltrin continued: “Afterwards Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer; which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. . . . The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw Him.” Coltrin also remembered that "The Prophet Joseph said: Brethren now you are prepared to be the Apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son, and know that They exist, and that They are two separate Personages.”
5. There are several surviving documents containing characters believed to have been drawn off of the gold plates.
None of these documents is the same one that Martin Harris took to Samuel Mitchill and Charles Anthon, but they were likely copied from early transcriptions of the characters from the plates.
6. The violence against the Saints in Jackson County was partly motivated by the issue of slavery and Church members’ concept of Zion.
Not only did most local Missourians reject the Church’s religious beliefs, but there were also regional differences between the two groups. The local citizens primarily hailed from the slave-holding upper South, whereas the Mormons generally came from northern free states. In addition, the July 1833 edition of the Church’s newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, contained an article about free black members of the Church that Missouri citizens viewed as proof that Mormons intended to encourage free people of color to move to Missouri.
Church members’ belief that Jackson County was Zion, the land of their inheritance, also angered Missouri citizens. They protested against the claim of some Mormons that “God has given them this County of land, and that sooner or later they must and will have the possession of our lands for an inheritance.”
Hundreds of Jackson County citizens held a series of meetings that month and outlined a plan to remove Church members from the county “peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.” Shortly thereafter, a mob destroyed the Church’s printing office and tarred and feathered Bishop Edward Partridge and another Church member. In November of that year, the Saints were finally expelled from Jackson County.
7. Before the Church was founded, Joseph Smith had already received more than 20 revelations.
Joseph did not have to wait for the official organization of the Church to receive revelation. Probably the best example of a revelation received before the Church was founded, and one that plays an integral part in our understanding of Jesus Christ and the Atonement, is D&C 19. In addition, that 1829 revelation contained counsel for Martin Harris that confirmed to him that he needed to mortgage his farm to pay for the printing of the Book of Mormon.
8. Publishing the Book of Mormon cost 15 times more than the price of Joseph Smith’s house and farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
The average annual income for someone living in 1830 was around $500. The first Book of Mormon printing cost six times that amount. To put that in perspective, the median annual salary in the United States today is $50,000. Meaning the $3,000 it cost to print the Book of Mormon would be the equivalent of at least $300,000 today. This high cost—a combination of the large number of copies, higher-quality binding materials, and lack of other printing options—was a massive financial burden that Joseph Smith never could have hoped to pay for alone. He needed Martin Harris’s help financing the publication of the book through mortgaging his property.
9. At the January 1833 conference where the School of the Prophets was organized, women were in attendance and spoke in tongues.
Although the membership of the School of the Prophets was exclusively male, women attended the conference when the school was first organized. After the conference opened on January 22, 1833, Joseph Smith spoke in tongues, followed by Zebedee Coltrin and William Smith.
Thereafter, the minutes of this meeting state, “The gift was poured out in a miraculous manner until all the Elders obtained the gift together with several of the members of the Church both male & female.” The following day, the conference continued, but the minutes are not clear on whether women attended this second session as well.
10. Only weeks after a group of Saints from Colesville, New York, settled in the Kirtland area, they were kicked off of the land by a disgruntled member and moved another 1,000 miles to Missouri.
Leman Copley had initially offered to let the Colesville Saints settle on his land in Thompson, Ohio, in return for helping maintain it. After Copley’s mission to members of his former Shaker faith (see D&C 49) ended unsuccessfully, he returned to Thompson and, with the help of a Shaker leader, evicted all the members off of his land. He even ordered them to pay him “damages” for their use of it. Joseph Knight Jr., one of the leaders of the group of Church members, sarcastically recalled, “We had to leave his farm and pay sixty dollars damage . . . for fitting up his houses and planting his ground.”
Find more fascinating facts about early Church history in the latest release, The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Volume 3, now available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.