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Smith, Joseph, III, 1832-1914



  • Existence: 1832-1914

Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) was the eldest surviving son of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, and Emma Hale Smith. He was the first Prophet-President of what became known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church), now called the Community of Christ.

Joseph Smith III was born on November 6, 1832, in Kirtland, Ohio, to Joseph and Emma Hale Smith. He moved with his parents to Far West, Missouri, in 1838, then to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1839 while his father was imprisoned. While in Nauvoo, Joseph III became a general of the junior Nauvoo militia.

After his father's death at Carthage (Illinois) Jail in June 1844, the majority of church members chose to follow Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles, who left Nauvoo in 1846. Due to a strained relationship with Young and the Apostles, the Smiths and some other families chose to recognize James J. Strang as church president and remained in Nauvoo.

Joseph III began to study and eventually practiced law. In 1856, he married Emmeline Griswold and they had five children. After Emmeline died of probable tuberculosis, he married their housekeeper, Bertha Madison, on November 12, 1869, with whom he had seven children. Bertha Madison Smith died from injuries sustained in a carriage accident in 1895. On January 12, 1898 Joseph Smith III wed Ada Rachel Clark of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and they had three sons.

By the early 1850s the midwestern Latter Day Saints who had followed Strang until he started practicing polygamy began to call for the need to establish a reorganization of the Church, and many believed Joseph III should be its head. Smith would not take on this mantle until he felt inspired to do so, which occurred at a conference in Amboy, Illinois on April 6, 1860, where, at age 28, he was sustained as president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church). During his time as president, Joseph III sought to distinguish the RLDS Church from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, particularly in his opposition to the doctrine and practice of plural marriage and other teachings from his father's later years in Nauvoo.

Joseph III moved from Nauvoo to Plano, Illinois, in 1866 where he took over editorship of "The Saint's Herald," and Plano became the headquarters of the RLDS Church. In 1881 he moved to Lamoni, Iowa, which then became the new headquarters for the church. In Smith's final years, members of the church began to move to Independence, Missouri, and Joseph III moved there in 1906, where he entered a state of semi-retirement. His son, Frederick, remained in Lamoni and took over active leadership of the church.

Joseph Smith III died on December 10, 1914, in Independence, Missouri.

Found in 18 Collections and/or Records:

Lewis C. Bidamon and Joseph Smith III legal documents

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS SC 357
Scope and Contents Documents concerning eleven legal cases involving either Bidamon or Joseph Smith III.
Dates: 1849-1860

E. C. Emmons letter

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 1010
Scope and Contents Typed copy of a letter dated April 7, 1861 and addressed to "Dear Parents." Emmons mentions "Brother Joseph's Mission" and states "our love to Bro. Joseph" perhaps meaning he had some connection with Joseph Smith, III,the president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Dates: 1861 April 7

Hancock County (Ill.) legal instruments

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS SC 1272
Scope and Contents Legal instruments from Hancock County, Illinois. The items are from court cases involving Joseph Smith III.
Dates: Date not identified

Kendall County, Illinois Court writs

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 1043
Scope and Contents Photocopies of handwritten and printed writs. They declare that David Hyrum Smith, a leader in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is legally insane and should be sent to an institution. Many of the items were signed by Joseph Smith, III, the founder of that faith. Also included are newspaper clippings and a certificate verifying David Smith's death.
Dates: 1877-1904

Lyndon W. Cook donations on Mormon manuscripts, 1832-1914

Identifier: MSS 19 Series 3
Scope and Contents note From the Collection: A. Gary Anderson and Milton V. Backman Jr., Max Parkin, David J. Whittaker, Lyndon Cook, Russell R. Rich and Clark V. Johnson, all faculty members of the Department of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, in cooperation with the historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called the LDS Church), and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, did research on sites related to the history of the Church. A. Gary Anderson researched...
Dates: Other: 1832-1914

Arthur Millikin letter

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 1011
Scope and Contents Typed copy of a letter dated July 25, 1863 and addressed to "Dear Nephew." The item was written in Colchester in an unnamed state. Millikin mentions a visit by Samuel H. B. Smith (1838-1914) Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) and states that Joseph Smith (1832-1914) was gaining many converts to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Dates: 1863 July 25

Don C. S. Millikin and Joseph Smith letters

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 1012
Scope and Contents Typed copy of two letters. Smith's letter is dated August 14, 1863 and was addressed to his cousin "John," presumably John Smith of Salt Lake City, Utah. Smith mentions the visit of two other cousins, Joseph F. Smith and Samuel H. B. Smith. Also included is a letter by Don C. S. Millikin dated August 19, 1863 and addressed to "Dear Friend and Cousin." Millikin also writes about the visit of Samuel and Joseph.
Dates: 1863 August

Rules of behavior for youth

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: Vault MSS 293
Scope and Contents Handwritten account of "rules of behavior." This item was likely written by Joseph Smith III, son of Joseph Smith, the founder and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was created in January 1845, about seven months after Joseph Smith, Jr. was killed. The rules are believed to be based on George Washington's "Rule of Civility."
Dates: Other: 1845

P. J. Sanders and J. F. Curtis debate transcripts

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSS 2018
Scope and Contents The debates between Peter James Sanders of the Mormon Church and James Frank Curtis of the Reorganized Mormon Church were held 4-7 Aug. 1908 in the Murray Opera House in Murray, Utah. The collection includes transcripts of the debates and biographical information regarding Sanders and Curtis. The issues covered in the debates include the succession in the leadership of the Mormon Church following the death of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the first president of the Mormon Church, and Mormon...
Dates: 1908

Joseph Smith III diary

 File — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS 3990
Scope and Contents Joseph Smith III diary, 1859, includes small entries from 1 January to 31 December 1859 as written by Joseph Smith III.
Dates: 1859