Joseph Smith – Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Peter H. Burnett

Joseph Smith, Jr., was at least six feet high, well-formed, and weighed about one hundred and eighty pounds. His appearance was not prepossessing, and his conversational powers were but ordinary. You could see at a glance that his education was very limited. He was an awkward but vehement speaker. In conversation he was slow, and used too many words to express his ideas, and would not generally go directly to a point. He possessed the most indomitable perseverance, and was a good judge of men, and deemed himself born to command, and he did command. His views were so strange and striking, and his manner was so earnest, and apparently so candid, that you could not but be interested. There was a kind, familiar look about him, that pleased you. He was very courteous in discussion, readily admitting what he did not intend to controvert, and would not oppose you abruptly, but had due deference to your feelings. He had the capacity for discussing a subject in many different aspects, and for proposing many original views, even of ordinary matters. His illustrations were his own. He had great influence over others. As an evidence of this I will state on Thursday, just before I left to return to Liberty, I saw him out among the crowd, conversing freely with every one, and seeming to be perfectly at ease. In the short space of five days he had managed so to mollify his enemies that he could go unprotected among them without the slightest danger. Among the Mormons he had much greater influence than Sidney Rigdon. The latter was a man of superior education, an eloquent speaker, of fine appearance and dignified manners; but he did not possess the native intellect of Smith, and lacked his determined will. Lyman Wight was the military man among them. There are several others of the prisoners whose names I have forgotten. 1

Elam Cheney

Brother Joseph was a man weighing about two hundred pounds, fair complexion, light brown hair. He was about six feet tall, sound bodied, very strong and quick—no breakage about his body. He most always wore a silk stock, and was smooth faced. He was very sympathetic and would talk to children and they liked him. He was honest, and was liked by everybody who knew him. 2

Rachel R. Grant

I guess you have seen the picture where Brother Joseph was preaching to the Indians. I was there at that time. The Indians were all kneeling down on the grass in front of the Mansion, and if you have seen that picture, that just describes the way everything was, though it is a miserable picture of the Prophet. He was a fine, noble-looking man, always so neat. There are some of the pictures that do not look a particle like him. When he was preaching you could feel the power and influence. 3

Jane James

I could not begin to tell you what he was, only this way, he was tall, over six feet; he was a fine, big, noble, beautiful man! He had blue eyes and light hair, and very fine white skin. 4

Jacob Jones

The Prophet weighed about 150 pounds, had nice brown hair, was always jovial and could crack a joke. He could sing well and loved music, loved to dance and would leave a meal at any time to wrestle with anyone. He was nimble as a cat and he was fond of us boys and would often play with us.

Anyone could not help but love him and he loved everybody. He always shook hands with all, even the babes. He had a very fine gray horse that he always rode whenever there was a parade. 5

Lydia B. Knight

Many were the curious glances that I cast at this strange man who dared to call himself a prophet. I saw a tall, well-built form, with the carriage of an Apollo; brown hair, handsome blue eyes, which seemed to dive down to the innermost thoughts with their sharp, penetrating gaze; a striking countenance, and with manners at once majestic yet gentle, dignified yet exceedingly pleasant. 6

John D. Lee

Joseph Smith was a most extraordinary man; he was rather large in stature, some six feet two inches in height, well built though a little stoop shouldered, prominent and well-developed features, a Roman nose, light chestnut hair, upper lip full and rather protruding, chin broad and square, and eagle eye, and on the whole there was something in his manner and appearance that was bewitching and winning; his countenance was that of a plain, honest man, full of benevolence and philanthropy and void of deceit or hypocrisy. He was resolute and firm of purpose, strong as most men in physical power, and all who saw were forced to admire him, as he then looked and existed. 7

Lyman O. Littlefield

The opportunity [to meet the Prophet] came, and I first beheld him a tall, well-proportioned man, busily mingling with the members of Zion’s Camp, shaking hands with them, meeting them with friendly greetings and carefully seeing to their comforts. His familiar, yet courteous and dignified manner, his pleasant and intelligent countenance, his intellectual and well-formed forehead, the expressive and philanthropic facial lineaments, the pleasant smile and the happy light that beamed from his mild blue eyes; all these were among the attractive attributes that at once awakened a responsive interest in the mind of every kindly beholder, which increased in intensity as the acquaintance continued. With his most familiar friends he was social, conversational and often indulged in harmless jokes; but when discoursing upon complicated topics that pertained to the welfare of individuals or the progressiveness of communities, his elucidations were clear and so full of common sense and genuine philosophy that the candid and fair-minded felt interested by his views, though they might decline to entertain or promulgate all of the self-evident truths he originated.

Such is a brief though imperfect pen picture of this celebrated man; he was all this when I first beheld him in this traveling camp, and is it any wonder that I, so young in years, should be filled with sensations of intense pleasure and respect for him when I first met him . . . ? 8

James Palmer

[Joseph Smith] looked and had, the appearance of one that was heaven born while preaching, and or as though he was had been sent from the heavenly worlds on some divine mission, he was a man of fine form and Stature measuring over six feet in height, he was of a light complexion, his hair was of a flaxen color, with little or no he wore no whiskers , his chin was a little tipped with light brown hare, his nose was rather long and straight, his mouth was rather massive and his upper lip rather long and a little inclined to be thick. He had a large full chest and intelligent eyes and fine limbs; altogether he presented a very formidable appearance, being a man of Gentlemanly bearing. 9

Parley P. Pratt

President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active, of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate
the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds.

He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself- -not polished—not studied—not smoothed and softened by education and refined by art; but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified, while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him that were ever weary with his discourse. I have even known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome, if he could once get their ears.

I have known him when chained and surrounded with armed murderers and assassins who were heaping upon him every possible insult and abuse, rise up in the majesty of a son of God and rebuke them, in the name of Jesus Christ, till they quailed before him, dropped their weapons, and, on their knees, begged his pardon, and ceased their abuse.

In short, in him the characters of a Daniel and a Cyrus were wonderfully blended. The gifts, wisdom and devotion of a Daniel were united with the boldness, courage, temperance, perseverance and generosity of a Cyrus. And had he been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endowed with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world in many respects, and to have transmitted to posterity a name associated with more brilliant and glorious acts than has yet fallen to the lot of mortals. As it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument in the hands of God, who, during his short and youthful career, laid the foundation of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever. 10

Josiah Quincy

He was a hearty, athletic fellow, with blue eyes standing prominently out upon his light complexion, a long nose, and a retreating forehead. He wore striped pantaloons, a linen jacket, which had not lately seen the washtub, and a beard of some three days’ growth. This was the founder of the religion which had been preached in every quarter of the earth. 11

A fine-looking man is what the passer-by would instinctively have murmured upon meeting the remarkable individual who had fashioned the mold which was to shape the feelings of so many thousands of his fellow-mortals. But Smith was more than this, and one could not resist the impression that capacity and resource were natural to his stalwart person. I have already mentioned the resemblance he bore to Elisha R. Potter, of Rhode Island, whom I met in Washington in 1826. The likeness was not such as would be recognized in a picture, but rather one that would be felt in a grave emergency. Of all men I have met, these two seemed best endowed with that kingly faculty which directs, as by intrinsic right, the feeble or confused souls who are looking for guidance. This it is just to say with emphasis; for the reader will find so much that is puerile and even shocking in my report of the Prophet’s conversation that he might never suspect the impression of rugged power that was given by the man. 12

Jane S. Richards

The first time I ever saw Joseph Smith I recognized him, from a dream I had had. He had such angelic countenance as I never saw before. He was then thirty-seven years of age, of ordinary appearance in dress and manner, a child-like appearance of innocence. His hair was of a light brown, blue eyes and light complexioned. His natural demeanor was quiet, his character and disposition was formed by his life work, he was kind and considerate, taking a personal interest in all his people, considering every one his equal. We were regular in our attendance at the meetings, and [I] was always anxious to hear Brother Joseph. 13

Herbert S. Salisbury

My grandmother, Catherine Smith Salisbury, told me that her brother Joseph was six feet tall, athletic and fair, and loved to wrestle. She said that he was not in the least snobbish, but treated all he met with kindness, consideration and respect. Once when a noted wrestler from New England visited him in Nauvoo, he challenged the wrestler to “take a fall” with him. In the ensuing bout he threw the wrestler three times, and the man then refused to take any more “falls.” From what she told me, I think the Prophet must have been as affectionate with his relatives as President George Albert Smith. She said that on her rare visits to Nauvoo the Prophet treated her and her family with great kindness and generosity and sent her home laden with food, money and clothing. 14

John Smith

He was twelve years of age at the time his father and Joseph the Prophet were martyred. Speaking of the current pictures of the Prophet, he agreed with Sister Bathsheba W. Smith. The Prophet Joseph stood even six feet high in his stocking feet and weighed 212 pounds. The speaker’s Father, Hyrum Smith, stood five feet eleven and a half inches high and they weighed in the same notch, varying from 210 to 212 pounds. 15

Eunice B. Snow

Some of the most impressive moments of my life were when I saw the Nauvoo Legion on parade with the Prophet (then General Joseph Smith) with his wife, Emma Hale Smith, on horseback at the head of the troops. It was indeed an imposing sight. He so fair, and she so dark, in their beautiful riding-habits. He in full military suit, and she with her habit trimmed with gold buttons, a neat cap on her head, with a black plume in it, while the Prophet wore a red plume in his, and a red sash across his breast. His coat was black, while his white pants had red stripes on the outside seams. He also wore a sword at his side. His favorite riding-horse was named Charlie, a big black steed. 16

George W. Taggart

[September 10, 1843] Now something concerning Old Jo, so called. He is a young looking man of his age, which is near thirty-eight years and one of the finest looking men there is in the country and he does not pretend to be a man without failings and follies. He is a man that you could not help liking as a man, setting aside the religious prejudice which the world has raised against him. He is one of the warmest patriots and friends to his country and laws that you ever heard speak on the subject. Neither is he puffed up with his greatness an many suppose but on the contrary is familiar with any decent man and is ready to talk up any subject that anyone wishes. And I assure you it would make you wonder to hear him talk and see the information which comes out of his mouth and it is not in big words either but that which anyone can understand. 17

Wandle Mace

He was a fine looking man, tall and well proportioned, strong and active, with a light complexion, blue eyes, and light hair, and very little beard. He had a free and easy manner, not the least affectation, yet he was bold and independent, and very interesting and eloquent in speech. 18

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Notes:

  1. Peter H. Burnett, An Old California Pioneer (Oakland, Calif.: Biobooks, 1946), 40-41.
  2. Elam Cheney Sr., “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal 17, no. 12 (December 1906): 539-40.
  3. Rachel Ridgeway Grant, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal 16, no. 12 (December 1905): 550.
  4. Jane James, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal 16, no. 12 (December 1905): 553.
  5. “Testimony of Jacob Jones,” LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  6. Susa Young Gates, Lydia Knight’s History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor’s Office, 1883), 14-23.
  7. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled (St. Louis, Mo.: N. D. Thompson & Co., 1881), 76.
  8. Lyman O. Littlefield, “The Prophet Joseph Smith in Zion’s Camp,” Juvenile Instructor 27, no. 1 (1 January 1892): 56-57.
  9. James Palmer, “Reminiscences,” LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, 69-70. Spelling and grammar have been modernized.
  10. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1985), 31-32.
  11. Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 380-81.
  12. Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 381.
  13. “Reminiscences of Mrs. F. D. [Jane Snyder] Richards,” San Francisco, 1880. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 11.
  14. “Things the Prophet’s Sister Told Me,” 30 June 1945, typescript copy, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1-5.
  15. Collected Discourses, edited by Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. (Burbank, California, and Woodland Hills, Utah: B. H. S. Publishing, 1987-92), 5:33.
  16. “A Sketch of the Life of Eunice Billings Snow,” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 2 (August 1910): 14; see also “A Sketch of the Life of Eunice Billings Snow,” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 3 (September 1910): 22; also cited in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1974), 152-53.
  17. Ronald O. Barney, “‘A Man That You Could Not Help Likeing,’ Joseph Smith and Nauvoo Portrayed in a Letter by Susannah and George Taggart,” BYU Studies 40, no. 2 (2001): 172-73. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized.
  18. Journal of Wandle Mace, Brigham Young University Library

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