|William B. Smith
1811 - 1893
William B. Smith was born March 13, 1811 at Royalton, Vermont to Joseph Smith, Sr. and his wife, Lucy Mack Smith. The son of a prophet, and the brother of two prophets, none of this could quell the restless and rebellious spirit that would draw him to apostasy.
William was still living in the home of his parents when his brother, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr, was allowed to bring the Golden Plates home and begin the translation of the Book of Mormon. William was not privileged to view them but was allowed to touch them, feel them, open them and lift the pillow case in which they were kept. He was baptized June 9, 1830 by David Whitmer. Notwithstanding his relationship to the Prophet, he was not immediately thrust into Church leadership but first received the Aaronic Priesthood, being ordained a Teacher on October 5, 1830 and a year later a Priest on October 25, 1831.
William was ordained an Elder December 19, 1832, by Lyman E. Johnson. He married Caroline Amanda Grant February 14, 1833. He would later practice plural marriage and fathered seven children of record. He was ordained a High Priest on June 21, 1833.
In 1834, William accompanied Zion's Camp on its march from Ohio to Missouri. It was from this group that the Twelve and Seventy would largely be called and William was ordained an Apostle under the hands of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris on February 15, 1835 and assumed his position as one of the Twelve. With other members of the quorum, he served a mission to the Eastern States in the summer and fall of 1835.
He was charged with having a rebellious spirit October 30, 1835 and in a revelation received November 3, 1835 was called to humble himself. Following an incident in December of 1835 he was tried for unchristian conduct 2 January 1836. We are indebted to his mother, Lucy Mack Smith for details: she tells us that while Joseph Smith was presiding in a High Council, William rebelled against him in a very headstrong manner. At a debating school held in the house of Father Joseph Smith, December 16, 1835, the Prophet Joseph told the brethren he feared it would not result in good, whereupon William, in a rage, commanded Joseph to leave the house, attempted to put him out and inflicted upon him personal injury, the effects of which Joseph occasionally felt until his death. At the trial William confessed and was forgiven January 3, 1836.
William attended the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in March of 1836. He also attended the Hebrew School in Kirtland during winter of 1835-36. He became a charter member of Kirtland Safety Society in January 1837. He moved to Far West, Missouri, in the spring of 1838 and was subjected to the depredations of the Missouri mobocrats. Like thosuands of others, he was expelled from Missouri in 1839, settling in Plymouth, Illinois.
While Joseph was languishing in a dungeon beneath Liberty Jail, William verbally attacked him for being the cause of the Missouri persecutions with such vehemence and hatred that William was disfellowshipped May 4, 1839. He was restored to fellowship May 25, 1839 through the intercession of Joseph and Hyrum.
William failed to go to England on a mission with others of Twelve in 1839. Called to task by the ill feelings of the community, he responded with an ill graced apology that cited poverty as the reason for his failure. He was perhaps blind to the fact that Brigham Young and others left while in more dire straits of poverty and with physical illnesses so severe they had to be carried to the wagon taking them on their journey.
He was elected a member of Illinois State House of Representatives in August 1842. While serving there he effectively fought two efforts to revoke Nauvoo's City Charter. Notwithstanding his failure to accompany the Twelve to England, he did serve a Mission to East in summer of 1843. He returned to Nauvoo April 22, 1844. After staying a short time in Nauvoo, he had his last interview with his brother Joseph under the following circumstances: He asked Joseph to give him a city lot near the Temple. Joseph told him that he would do so with great pleasure if he would build a house and live upon it; but he would not give him a lot to sell. William replied he wanted it to build and live upon. The lot was well worth $1,000. In a few hours afterwards, an application was made by a certain Mr. Ivins to the city recorder to know if the lot was clear and belonged to Wm. Smith, for William had sold it to him for $500. Joseph, hearing of this, directed the clerk not to make a transfer, at which William was so offended that he threatened Joseph, who deemed it prudent to keep out of the way until William left on a steamboat for the East, accompanied by his family.
He received his Endowment on May 12, 1844. and left for the East May June 1844. Thus he was not in Nauvoo with the Saints when his brothers were murdered. William was, however, one of those who put in a claim to preside over the Church after the death of Joseph. His claim was based on a rather tortuous reading of an obscure passage in the Bible in which, after a case was brought before the Apostles, and a decision was rendered by the Council, James, the Lord's brother gave an explanation of the decision. Now, reasoned William, if James was the spokesman for the Twelve, he must have been President of the Twelve, and if the President, it must be because he was brother of the Lord. Therefore if the Lord's brother became President of the ancient Church, then Joseph's brother, William, should become President of the latter-day Church. William's reasoning and his claim was not accepted by the Church.
Nevertheless, he associated himself with the Twelve and did become one of the presiding authorities. In fact, Brigham Young recognized that with the death of Hyrum Smith, William had claim, by right of birth, to the seat of the Presiding Patriarch of the Church; and in recognition of that claim, ordained him to that position. William did, in fact, in the summer of 1845, issue several Patriarchal Blessings. But before he could be sustained in this calling, his rebelliousness had bloomed into full grown apostasy and the October Conference not only refused to sustain him as either Patriarch or Apostle, but in fact he was excommunicated. President Joseph F. Smith argued strenuously that since he was never sustained, he never legally held the office of Patriarch to the Church and his name should be excluded from any list of those holding that office. Whether the Lord observed and honored any of the Patriarchal Blessings he gave is problematic. Grampa Bill has included him in the listing of Patriarchs to the Church but has added an asterisk and an explanation.
William B. Smith associated with various apostate groups following his excommunication, notably the Strangites and the Reorganites. He may have been a pivotal influence in the decision of the Smith sisters and their mother to remain in Illinois after the main body of the Church moved west. He vigorously encouraged Mary Fielding Smith and Hyrum's children to remain in the area, but they chose to follow Brigham Young and the Twelve. He died November 13, 1894, at Osterdock, Clayton county, Iowa, as the last surviving brother of Joseph the Prophet.
History of the Church, multiple citations; see index
Unofficial William Smith Home Page
2005 Church Almanac, pp.63, 69
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