Please note: This history is necessarily brief. Generally, the story is here told according to the official LDS narrative. However, there are many historical problems with the official account as promulgated by the LDS Church. Please see articles dealing with these topics in other areas of this web site for more information and documentation.
The LDS Church says that in 1820, in upstate New York, a 14-year-old boy by the name of Joseph Smith, Jr. was confused about religion. He went into the woods to ask for God's direction on which Christian church to join. Smith claimed two heavenly beings appeared to him in bodily form: God the Father and Jesus Christ. Smith asked the Christ figure which church he should join. He later wrote:
"I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; " (Joseph Smith--History 1:19)
Smith, therefore, kept himself aloof from any Christian church and awaited further instructions.
Several years later Joseph Smith claimed to have another vision, this time of an angel named Moroni. This being told Smith that God had a great work for him to do. Moroni talked about a book written on gold plates which contained "the fulness of the everlasting Gospel" as well as an account of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. He told Smith that these plates would eventually be given to him to translate.
Smith claimed many visitations from Moroni over the following years as he waited for the angel to provide the golden book.
Book of Mormon
In 1827 Smith was allowed to dig up the gold plates, which he claimed were buried in a hill near his home. Said to be engraved in an unknown language (Reformed Egyptian), Smith claimed a gift from God which enabled him to translate the text into English. Following this, the Angel Moroni allegedly repossessed the gold plates and took them away from the Earth.
Smith's manuscript was published in 1830 under the title "Book of Mormon" and has been held in high esteem, recognized by Mormons as scripture, ever since.
Founding and Growth of the Church
Smith took the Book of Mormon and founded a new church based on his previous decade of spiritual experiences. This Church was (and still is) said to be a restoration of true Christianity, "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth," the only church with which God is "well pleased" (D&C 1:30). On 6 April 1830 it was organized as the Church of Christ in the state of New York with 6 members. The church underwent several name changes, finally settling on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838.
Nine months after organizing, members of the new church (which now numbered in the hundreds) were directed to "assemble together" in Ohio. After economic, legal and internal difficulties, the church headquarters (with most of the members) relocated from Ohio to Missouri in 1838. Following politically-motivated continuous clashes with the non-Mormon settlers on this western edge of the United States, Joseph Smith was arrested for treason and the Church headquarters again moved, this time to Illinois. The year was 1839.
Smith was eventually allowed to escape his imprisonment and join several thousand LDS Church members in Nauvoo, Illinois. Here they built a city and grew in numbers. Once again the Church experienced problems with the non-Mormons in the area due to its political strength.
It was in Nauvoo that Smith introduced some of his more shocking doctrinal ideas, including polygamy and polytheism. This resulted in dissension among some of the leaders of the Church. Believing Smith to be a "fallen" prophet, these former allies determined to expose the Prophet's sins and bring about a reformation within Mormonism. In the spring of 1844 they published a newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, which charged Smith with practicing polygamy. As the town mayor, Smith was instrumental in ordering the Expositor printing press to be destroyed along with as many copies of the newspaper as could be found. This action was like putting a match to a tinder box. Smith was arrested and jailed in Carthage, Illinois. On 27 June 1844 Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed in a gun-battle at Carthage jail.
Brigham Young assumed leadership of the LDS Church. In 1846 he began a Church exodus from Illinois to the Rocky Mountains, which then belonged to Mexico. They settled in the area surrounding the Great Salt Lake, which eventually became the state of Utah.
LDS Church headquarters remains in Utah today, but the membership is spread across the world. With a missionary force about 60,000 strong, in the year 2000 there are 11 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.