Hey guys, so on this channel, we’ve talked a lot about the official witnesses of Joseph Smith Jr.’s golden plates, but we haven’t talked a lot about those people who presumably would have known Joseph even better than most of the witnesses — Joseph’s own brothers and sisters. Who were they? Where do they fit into Church history? And how did they feel about their own brother’s claims? Let’s talk about it.
Alright, let’s jump right in and do a quick rundown of Joseph’s siblings, starting with his youngest sister, Lucy Smith, who was born in 1821. Lucy was 9 years old when the Book of Mormon was published and about 23 when Joseph was killed. She married Arthur Millikin in Nauvoo, and they had 9 kids. Joseph Smith III stated that his aunt Lucy was “one of the most pleasant-mannered women I have known.” In 1856, after a visit with Lucy and her two sisters (Katherine and Sophronia), Elder George Spiller wrote, “They testified that they knew that their brother Joseph was a prophet of God….” Lucy did not follow the Saints west. She ended up later associating with the Reorganized Church (or RLDS Church) led by Joseph Smith III, but from a distance, as there wasn’t a congregation that met locally where she lived in Colchester, Illinois, close to Nauvoo. She died in 1882.
Next, we’ve got Don Carlos. Born in 1816, Don Carlos was 14 when the Book of Mormon was published. He was baptized in June of 1830. He served a few missions; he helped publish various Church newspapers and, in Nauvoo, was president of the high priests’ quorum. The dude was in it. Unfortunately, in Nauvoo, he contracted malaria and died on August 16th, 1841, at only 25 years old. Joseph described him as “one of the first to receive my testimony.”
Katherine Smith was born in 1813. She was 14 when Joseph brought home the plates. She didn’t leave behind many records for us to learn from, but her grandson reported that on one occasion, Katherine “hefted those plates [while covered] and found them very heavy like gold and also rippled her fingers up the edge of the plates and felt that they were separate metal plates and heard the tinkle of sound that they made.” She was one of the first people baptized into the Church. After the Saints moved west, she settled in Fountain Green, Illinois, near Nauvoo and Colchester. She eventually associated from a distance with the RLDS Church but became more involved in her later years. A few years before her death in 1900, she had her powerful testimony published in the Saints’ Herald. I highly encourage you to pause and read it.
William Smith was born in 1811. He was 12 when Moroni visited Joseph. William later recalled about his family, “Knowing that he [Joseph] was very young, that he had not enjoyed the advantages of a common education; and knowing too, his whole character and disposition, they were convinced that he was totally incapable of arising before his aged parents, his brothers and sisters, and so solemnly giving utterance to anything but the truth. All of us, therefore, believed him….” William remembered that after Joseph brought the plates home, “We handled them and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood.” He recalled, “My brothers Joseph and Hyrum had to work. Joseph did not have time to make gold plates.” After Joseph’s death, William bounced around between some break-off groups but eventually ended up in the RLDS Church. He died in 1893.
Samuel Smith was born in 1808. In 1829, after receiving his own spiritual witness that the gospel Joseph was restoring was true, he was all-in. He then became one of the 8 witnesses privileged to see and handle the plates. He served six missions, and his efforts led to the baptism of Brigham Young. He wasn’t ambitious. He didn’t seek for power or position. In 1844 when he heard that Joseph and Hyrum were in danger in Carthage, he jumped on a horse and got there as quickly as he could. He was shot at on the way but managed to escape. He made it to Carthage but was too late. His older brothers had been murdered. Tragically, he himself soon fell ill and died only one month after Joseph and Hyrum. Orson Hyde described Samuel as “a man slow of speech and unlearned, yet a man of good faith and extreme integrity.” His obituary said, “If ever there lived a good man upon the earth, Samuel H. Smith was that person.”
Sophronia Smith was Joseph’s older sister— born in 1803. She married Calvin Stoddard in December of 1827, just a few months after Joseph recovered the golden plates. They ended up gathering with the Saints in Ohio in 1831 and later in Missouri and Illinois. Sophronia’s husband died in 1836, and in 1838 she married William McCleary. William apparently planned on taking Sophronia west with the Saints after her brothers had been killed, but then William either died or just left his family, and Sophronia ended up staying east near her family in Colchester. She later associated with the RLDS Church, but also from a distance. She died in 1876. Her obituary noted that “She was ever ready to bear her testimony to the truth of the work….”
Out of all of Joseph’s siblings, you’re probably most familiar with his older brother, Hyrum, born in 1800. As Ronald Esplin noted, “From the beginning, he believed Joseph— and he believed in him.” He married Jerusha Barden in 1826. Like Samuel, he became one of the 8 witnesses privileged to see and handle the plates in 1829. Jerusha died in 1837 after giving birth to their sixth child. Hyrum then married Mary Fielding, and they had two more children together. In short, Hyrum was in-step with Joseph from Palmyra all the way to Carthage.
Last but not least, we’ve got Joseph’s oldest sibling, born in 1798, Alvin. Alvin died in 1823 at 25 years old. He did not live to see Joseph get the plates, but before he died, he told Joseph, “I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record.” Lucy Mack later wrote that Alvin manifested so much “zeal and anxiety” in regard to the plates that after his death, they “could not bear to hear anything said upon the subject” because it would remind them of Alvin.
Every single one of Joseph’s siblings, along with his parents, believed Joseph was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was real. This information does not prove that the Book of Mormon is true, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Were they accomplices in an intricate fraud, lying to their friends and family throughout their entire lives? Or were they fooled by their trickster brother? If so, how? Or could it be that what they testified of and dedicated their lives to was simply true? I’ll let you and God figure that one out. Check out the links in the YouTube description for more info on this topic. If you want to dive deep, this book is a great place to start. Watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!
— Suggested reading:
- “United by Faith: The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family,” edited by Kyle R. Walker
- “Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” by Richard Lloyd Anderson.
— Other Links and Sources:
- Biography of Lucy Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: http://bit.ly/41UCPLH
- Biography of Don Carlos Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: https://bit.ly/3yGB5bL
- Biography of Katherine Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: https://bit.ly/3Jrp400
- Biography of William Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: https://bit.ly/3yGBMln
- Biography of Samuel Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: https://bit.ly/3l1si0H
- Biography of Sophronia Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: https://bit.ly/3Zx6EjU
- Biography of Alvin Smith via the Joseph Smith Papers Project: http://bit.ly/3ZQHwnT
- “Family of Joseph Smith Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith,” via the Church’s website: http://bit.ly/3SQ6EZO
- “What were Joseph Smith’s sisters like, and what happened to them after the martyrdom?” by Richard Lloyd Anderson, via the Church’s website: http://bit.ly/3YwHNLG
- “Joseph Smith’s Brothers: Nauvoo and After,” by Richard Lloyd Anderson, via the Church’s website: http://bit.ly/3F9ZE4t
- “Katharine Smith Salisbury Statements as a Witness” via Witnesses of the Book of Mormon: https://bit.ly/3IZxMRG
- “Samuel H. Smith: Faithful Brother to Joseph and Hyrum,” via the Church’s website: http://bit.ly/3L4T2b8
- Jan. 18, 1838 letter from Don Carlos Smith to George A. Smith: https://bit.ly/3YG34ms
- “Hefted and Handled: Tangible Interactions with Book of Mormon Objects,” by Anthony Sweat (BYU Studies): http://bit.ly/3lIfoQH
- “The Three Sisters of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” by Mary Salisbury Hancock, in The Saints’ Herald, January 1954 (in three parts):