William B. Smith
A Witness of the Book of Mormon
William Smith was born March 13, 1811, in Royalton, Vermont. He was the eighth child born to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. William was a fierce defender of his family and his brother Joseph; sometimes a bit too fierce. After news of Joseph and his "gold bible" spread through Palmyra, New York, his family began enduring verbal and sometimes physical persecution and William wasn’t afraid to dish the verbal or physical attacks right back. He was very eloquent but was also very abrasive, and that abrasiveness would take him in and out of church activity throughout his life.
William Smith was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by David Whitmer on June 9, 1830, a few months after The Church was officially organized. He followed The Church and settled in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831. While there he was called to serve a mission in Erie County, Pennsylvania, in December 1832. During his mission he met Caroline A. Grant. The couple returned to Kirtland and were married on February 14, 1833. They would rear two children.
In 1834, William was part of Zion’s Camp, a group of 200 men that were marching from Kirtland, Ohio to Clay County, Missouri, to try and help the Mormons there who were being violently persecuted and driven off their settlements. After the march disbanded he and the others returned to Kirtland. William was called to be an apostle and ordained to the Quorum of The Twelve in 1835. He was fiery in his aggressiveness to defend the faith to the church’s detractors, but he could also be just as fiery toward people within the church with whom he disagreed. This included his older brother, the Prophet Joseph. He got in a few heated disagreements with Joseph over money and policy matters, which sometimes got physical.
In May 1838, William Smith left Kirtland with his wife and children and joined the church members in Far West, Missouri. While he was there the persecution he endured with the other church members increased his feelings of bitterness and resentment. He continued his criticisms of Joseph and the church and as a result he was disfellowshipped from the church and removed from The Quorum of the Twelve but was reinstated a few weeks after.
In 1839, William was supposed to accompany the other apostles on a mission to England to help establish The Church there, but opted not to go. This created resentment between him and the other apostles because of the risks they took in meeting in Far West, Missouri after they had been driven out, and the financial sacrifice they made to go. Instead, he settled in Plymouth, Illinois.
The Nauvoo period would prove to be a turbulent time for William Smith. He was elected to the Illinois Legislature from 1842 to 1845, where he was known for his powerful speeches and fearlessness in challenging people with whom he opposed. He was a member of the Nauvoo City Council though he lived away from Nauvoo in another town. He also established and was editor of a secular newspaper called The WASP, in which he printed scathing political commentaries that ended up stoking antiMormon sentiments in the area. After he resigned from the paper a few years later it was rebranded as The Nauvoo Neighbor.
By the end of the summer of 1844, William Smith was the last surviving son of Joseph and Lucy Smith. Joseph and Hyrum had been martyred in June at Carthage Jail, and Samuel had died in July as a result of injuries he sustained rushing to Carthage to help his brothers. He would suffer another loss early in 1845 when his wife, Caroline, died after suffering from Dropsy, known now as Adema.
The death of Hyrum left a vacancy for a new Church Patriarch. William was called and ordained as Patriarch to fulfill that vacancy in 1845. However the calling would be short lived. Fueled by loss and growing bitterness his erratic tendencies would come back to bite him big time during this year that began with him singing the praises of the church and the other apostles and would end with him opposing all of them publicly and privately. William Smith was excommunicated in October 1845.
The rest of his years would be spent bouncing through various LDS splinter churches and through additional marriages. He supported James Strang as Joseph’s successor for a time, and moved with Strang’s followers to Wisconsin in 1846, but was excommunicated from the Strangites in 1847. In June 1845 he married Mary Jane Rollins but the marriage didn’t last. In May 1847, William married Roxie R. Grant, in Knox, Illinois. They would have two children before they divorced a few years later. In 1855, William moved back to Kirtland and attempted to start a new church with Martin Harris. While living in Kirtland, William married again to Eliza E. Sandborn on November 12, 1857 and would have three children. During the Civil War, William enlisted in the Northern Army and was stationed in Arkansas. In 1866, he and his family settled on a farm in Iowa. In 1878 he joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Now the Community in Christ) but by 1891 he wasn’t affiliating with them anymore. In March 1889 his wife, Eliza died. At the end of the year he married Rosella Goyette on December 21, 1889, in Clinton, Iowa. William died on November 13, 1893, in Osterdock, Iowa.
A few years before his death, William Smith wrote and published books and articles about his life in the church, his experiences as an apostle and "the fact of my unshaken confidence in my brother Joseph Smith as a true Prophet of God". He still believed even though he wasn't associated with the church anymore. He also described being able to lift the golden plates while they were covered in a pillow case. He wrote,
"I was permitted to lift them as they lay in a pillow case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received. They weighed about sixty pounds according to my best judgment. They were not quite as large as this Bible. ... One could easily tell that they were not stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood."
William Smith, 6/8/1884 "The Old Soldier’s Testimony"
Joseph Smith’s Brothers: Nauvoo and After", Richard Lloyd Anderson, ENSIGN, September 1979