4: Who Says?

But what did people who knew Joseph personally say of his physical appearance? And could their details be corroborated in this image of a thin prophet? As you read through each of these accounts, reflect upon the details of the early photograph (reproduced below in my own “colorization”). The most pertinent details will be emphasized.


Joseph Smith in Color

“When he had achieved the prime of his manhood, he seemed to combine all attractions and excellencies. His physical person was the fit habitation of his exalted spirit. He was more than six feet in height, with expansive chest and clean cut limbs—a staunch and graceful figure. His head, crowned with a mass of soft, wavy hair was grandly poised. His face possessed a a complexion and of such clearness and transparency that the soul appeared to shine through. He wore no beard, and the full strength and beauty of his countenance impressed all beholders at a glance. He had eyes which seemed to read the hearts of men.”
George Q. Cannon

“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 [neckwear], and was smooth faced [clean shaven].”
Elam Cheney, Sr.

“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 eyed, and there was something in his manner that was bewitching and winning.”
John D. Lee

“He was a man of fine form and stature, measuring over six feet in height. He was of light complexion. His hair was of a flaxen color. He wore no whiskers. His chin was a little tipped [forward]; his nose was long and straight; his mouth narrow, and his upper lip rather long and a little inclined to be thick. He had a large chest and intelligent eyes….”
James Palmer

“President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of 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 affection 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.”
Parley P. Pratt

“[He] was at least six feet high, well-formed, and weighed about one hundred and eighty pounds. His appearance was not prepossessing [attractive or appealing].”
Peter Hardman Burnett

“[He] is a large, stout man, youthful in appearance, with light complexion and hair, and blue eyes set far back in the head, and expressing great shrewdness, or should I say cunning. He has a large head…. He is also very round shouldered.”
Charlotte Haven

“General Smith is in stature and proportion a very large man; and his figure would probably be called a fine one, although by no means distinguished for symmetry or grace.
His chest and shoulders are broad and muscular….
“His forehead is white, without furrow, and notwithstanding the small facial angle, somewhat symmetrical. His hair is quite light and fine—complexion pale—cheeks full-temperament evidently sanguine [ruddy; red-colored]lips thin rather than thick, and by no means indicative of boldness or decision of character.
“But the Prophet’s most remarkable feature is his eye; not that it is very large, or very bright—very thoughtful or very restless—even very deep in its expression or location; for it is usually neither of these. The hue is light hazel, and is shaded, and at times, almost veiled, by the longest, thickest light lashes you ever saw belonging to a man whatever the facts respecting the ‘dear ladies.’
The brows are, also, light and thick—indeed, precisely of that description called beetle-brow. The expression of the Prophet’s eyes when half closed and shaded by their long lashes was quite as crafty as I ever beheld.
“His voice is low and soft, and his smile, which is frequent, is agreeable.”
Reporter for the St Louis Weekly Gazette

Now let us reflect on another means of comparison to resolve more detail concerning what the Prophet ought to have looked like: genetics. I have often considered, while looking upon the visages of Joseph Smith’s children with Emma Hale, that the father of the children must have naturally possessed a rather taller face (when not padded with fat) than we often ascribe to him, as the thin heads of his children cannot be accounted for by Emma’s genetics, at least phenotypically.

Below is a simple array of faces set in generational order where you can see for yourself just how well this early portrait of Joseph fits in to the family tree:

Joseph Smith’s father:

Joseph Smith Sr.

Joseph and Emma:

Joseph Smith Jr.
Emma Hale

Joseph and Emma’s adult children:

Joseph Smith III
Frederick G. W. Smith
Alexander Hale Smith
David Hyrum Smith

The legitimacy of the man photographed in the early Joseph Smith daguerreotype as the father of these four men is strongly validated in this cursory facial comparison him and his father, wife, and children. Note Joseph’s donated features: a long, thin nose; the evenly distributed upper and bottom lips; large, clear forehead and, in some cases, hairline; large ears; etc. Alexander seems to be the only son without Joseph’s ears.

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