Joseph F. Smith, who would later by the sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born at Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, on Nov. 13, 1838, in the wake of the extermination order issued by Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs. His father, Hyrum Smith, was under arrest and would soon experience the challenges of Liberty Jail.
Of this confinement, Joseph’s mother, Mary Fielding Smith, wrote, “My husband was taken from me by an armed force, at a time when I needed in a particular manner, the kindest care and attention of such a friend, instead of which, the care of a large family was suddenly and unexpectedly left upon myself, and, in a few days after, my dear little Joseph F. was added to the number” ("A Treasury of Latter-day Saint Letters," by Larry E. Morris).
Hyrum Smith first saw and held his son Joseph while imprisoned in Liberty Jail and may have given him a blessing on that occasion (see Alexander L. Baugh's article in Mormon Historical Studies,Spring 2003). Hyrum died a martyr’s death on June 27, 1844, when young Joseph F. Smith was only 5 years old. Mary Fielding Smith, now a widow, was a woman of remarkable courage, faith and integrity.
Born at Honeydon, Bedfordshire, England, Mary Fielding Smith led the family across the plains in 1847-1848 with 9-year-old Joseph driving a team. This was a journey fraught with challenges, including a company leader who insisted that Mary’s family would be a burden to the rest of the company. He was proven wrong.
Joseph and his family settled in the Millcreek area of the Salt Lake Valley in circumstances of poverty, hunger and cold. They were able to construct a two-room adobe house before Mary passed away in September 1852. Joseph was 13 years old. He has been rightly characterized as a boy who was mature beyond his years.