Joseph Smith, Jr., born in Sharon, Vermont, on 23 December 1805, was the founding prophet and first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He grew to manhood in New York, lived his adult life in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, never ventured as far west as the Great Plains, and died three years before the first Mormon pioneers reached the Great Basin. Nonetheless, perhaps no one more profoundly influenced life in early Utah than he. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other Latter-day Saint leaders who had been his close associates sought to build in Utah a commonwealth on a foundation begun long before by Joseph Smith.
Little in Joseph Smith's background foreshadowed his later public prominence. His New England ancestors were ordinary farm people and his boyhood was not unlike that of his neighbors. The third son and fourth child born to Joseph Smith and Lucy Mack Smith (six more followed), young Joseph grew up knowing the hard labor required for a large family to survive on marginal New England farmland and then later to clear new land in New York. Largely without formal schooling, young Joseph was tutored at home in religion and in "reading, writing, and arithmetic." The Bible served as his primary textbook. The family did not regularly attend meetings together, but from an early age Joseph listened to the preachers and pondered his parents' religious teachings and what he read in the Bible.