Born in Vermont in 1805, Smith claimed in 1823 that he had been visited by a Christian angel named Moroni who spoke to him of an ancient Hebrew text that had been lost for 1,500 years. The holy text, supposedly engraved on gold plates by a Native American historian in the fourth century, related the story of Israelite peoples who had lived in America in ancient times. During the next six years, Smith dictated an English translation of this text to his wife and other scribes, and in 1830 The Book of Mormon was published. In the same year, Smith founded the Church of Christ, later known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayette Township.
The religion rapidly gained converts, and Smith set up Mormon communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. However, the Christian sect was also heavily criticized for its unorthodox practices, such as polygamy. In 1844, Smith announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Although he did not have great enough appeal to win, the idea of Smith as president increased anti-Mormon sentiment. A group of dissenting Mormons began publishing a newspaper that was highly critical of the practice of polygamy and of Smith's leadership; Smith had the press destroyed. The ensuing threat of violence prompted Smith to call out a militia in the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois. He was charged with treason and conspiracy by Illinois authorities and imprisoned with his brother Hyrum in the Carthage city jail. On June 27, 1844, an anti-Mormon mob stormed in and murdered the brothers.
Two years later, Smith's successor, Brigham Young, led an exodus of persecuted Mormons from Nauvoo along the western wagon trails in search of religious and political freedom. In July 1847, the 148 initial Mormon pioneers reached Utah’s Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Upon viewing the valley, Young declared, "This is the place," and the pioneers began preparations for the tens of thousands of Mormon migrants who would follow them to settle there.