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Samuel Smith: Missionary to Prophets

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Samuel H. Smith, though not as well known as his older brothers Joseph and Hyrum Smith, played an influential role in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1829 he moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to work Joseph’s farm while Joseph translated the Book of Mormon,1 and he even briefly served as Joseph’s scribe. He was the third person baptized after the Aaronic Priesthood was restored,2 and he was chosen as one of the Eight Witnesses to see and handle the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. When the Church was organized, Samuel was one of the six original members.3 It seems fitting, then, that Samuel was called as the first missionary of the newly organized Church.

Shortly after the Church’s first conference in June 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith called his brother Samuel to preach the gospel in the towns around Palmyra, New York. Unlike modern missionaries, Samuel served alone and had no training but his own experience. He carried several copies of the newly printed Book of Mormon, including this copy in the museum collection, which he tried to sell to any who would listen. After a discouraging few days, Samuel entered the Tomlinson Inn4 in Mendon, New York, and approached a man sitting in the dining room. This man was Phineas Young, a traveling preacher.

Samuel said, “There is a book, sir, I wish you to read.”

“Pray, sir, what book have you?” Phineas asked.

“The Book of Mormon, or, as it is called by some, the Golden Bible,” Samuel said.

“Ah, sir, then it purports to be a revelation.”

In response, Samuel showed Phineas the testimonies of the witnesses to the plates and said, “If you will read this book with a prayerful heart, and ask God to give you a witness, you will know of the truth of this work.”

Phineas asked for Samuel’s name and recognized it. “Ah . . . you are one of the witnesses.”

“Yes,” Samuel said. “I know the book to be a revelation from God, translated by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, and that my brother Joseph Smith, Jun., is a Prophet, Seer and Revelator.”

Phineas took the book home and reported to his wife, “I have got a book here, called the Book of Mormon, and it is said to be a revelation, and I wish to read it and make myself acquainted with its errors, so that I can expose them to the world.”5

Phineas read the book twice in two weeks, and rather than finding error, he became convinced that it was the word of God. He shared the book with his father and other family members, who were also impressed by it.6

In the meantime, Samuel Smith also gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to another preacher, John P. Greene, who took it only to see if he could find someone interested in it. Greene’s wife, Rhoda, read the book and was convinced of its truthfulness. When Samuel came to see if anyone had purchased the book, he felt impressed to leave it with Mrs. Greene as a gift. When he gave it to her, “she burst into tears, and requested [him] to pray with her.” He then encouraged her to “ask God, when she read it, for a testimony of the truth of what she had read.”7 She did so, and after convincing her husband to read it and pray about it, the two were soon baptized. Rhoda Greene was Phineas Young’s sister, and she also shared the book with her family members.

One of these family members was Brigham Young, who would later become President of the Church. He was aware of his family’s interactions with Mormonism, and he read one of these copies of the Book of Mormon that Samuel had given to his brother Phineas and to the Greenes. In his search for the true Church of Jesus Christ, Brigham began a two-year study of the restored gospel. He shared his new knowledge with his neighbor and good friend Heber C. Kimball.

When Mormon missionaries came to Mendon, New York, in 1831, the Youngs and Kimballs listened. Over the next year, they made two visits to the branch in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and their faith grew. When the missionaries returned in 1832, Brigham Young was ready to be baptized. He related:

If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been combined in one individual, and that person had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by his learning and worldly wisdom, it would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only just say, “I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord.” The Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminates my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality is before me; I am encircled by it, filled with it, and know for myself that the testimony of the man is true.8

Both Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball were baptized. They were later called as Apostles of the Lord and served many missions themselves.

Samuel Smith served six missions for the Church and baptized many people. On his first mission, however, he didn’t baptize a single soul. But by placing this copy of the Book of Mormon with Phineas Young, as well as by giving a copy to John and Rhoda Greene, he began the process that would lead to the conversion of the Young and Kimball families and the thousands they would influence.

Footnotes

[1] See LaRene Porter Gaunt and Robert A. Smith, “Samuel H. Smith, Faithful Brother of Joseph and Hyrum,” Ensign, Aug. 2008, 44.

[2] See Gaunt and Smith, “Samuel H. Smith,” 47.

[3] See “Smith, Samuel Harrison,” josephsmithpapers.org.

[4] See “Tomlinson Inn: The Place of the Book of Mormon in Early Missionary Work,” BYU Virtual Tours, byujourneys.org.

[5]History of Brigham Young,” Millennial Star, vol. 25, no. 23 (June 6, 1863), 360–61; capitalization standardized; see also Ryan Carr, “The First Latter-day Missionary,” New Era, Sept. 2004, 15.

[6]History of Brigham Young,” 361.

[7] Lucy Mack Smith, “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845,” 186–87, josephsmithpapers.org.

[8] Brigham Young, “A Discourse,” Deseret News, Feb. 9, 1854, 24.