Question: John Smith is mentioned in D&C 102:3, 34. What relation was John Smith to the Prophet Joseph Smith? Why did the Prophet Joseph take the shoes off of his feet and give them to John? Did John make it to the Salt Lake Valley?
Answer: John Smith was born 16 July 1781 in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, son of Asael Smith and Mary Duty. In August 1830, Joseph Smith Sr. visited his brother John and shared with him the Book of Mormon. John was a member of the Potsdam First Congregational Church, but after reading the Book of Mormon, he lost interest in their teachings.
On 9 January 1832, John was baptized into the Mormon faith. Ill for six months with consumption, the doctors had given him up to die. A hole was cut in the ice on a stream in order to perform the baptism. His son, George, baptized him in the icy creek, and his health continued to improve from that moment. After being threatened for his adherence to Mormonism, John sold is farm, settled his debts, and moved his family from New York to Ohio.
John’s (Uncle John, as he was affectionately known by the Saints) arrival in Kirtland in May 1833 was greeted with joy by the Prophet Joseph Smith, for John was the first of his father’s family to accept the gospel. On 17 February 1834, John was called to be a member of the Kirtland high council.
John received his patriarchal blessing on 26 September 1835 from his brother Joseph Smith Sr. Less than one year later, the two men served a mission to the East and strengthened the Saints from New York to Pennsylvania. When John returned to Kirtland, he was appointed an Assistant Counselor to the Prophet in September 1837.
When the Saints had to flee Kirtland, John settled his family in Adam-ondi-Ahman where he was made Stake President. When they were driven from there, John suffered greatly from starvation and frostbite. Although impoverished and discouraged, his spirit was brightened when the Prophet “took the shoes from his feet and gave them to me.”
After his sorrows in Missouri, John was given many other leadership assignments, serving as president of the Zarahemla Stake in Iowa (across the river from Nauvoo), patriarch, and president of the Nauvoo Stake. He has the distinction of serving as president of four stakes of Zion located in four different states---Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Utah.
On 26 June 1844 he went to Carthage to visit his nephews in the jail. More than once his life was threatened and several guns were “snapped” (triggers pulled without firing) at him. Arriving at the jail, he was rudely refused permission to see his nephews. When the Prophet saw this aging gentleman through the window, he said to the guard, “You will not hinder so old and infirm a man as he is from coming in.” After being thoroughly searched, “Uncle John Smith” was permitted to spend a few minutes with the prisoners. Twenty-four hours later his two nephews were brutally murdered.
After the Prophet Joseph was Martyred, and the Saints were driven from Illinois, sixty-five-year-old John joined the exodus of the Saints to the West. He was the first president of the Salt Lake Stake and helped in the settlement of the Salt Lake Valley.
At the October 1848 general conference, John was released as stake president and sustained as the fifth Patriarch of the Church. He gave 5,560 patriarchal blessings in ten years. Uncle John Smith was described as “a man of the utmost honor and of sterling integrity both to God and man.”
He died 23 May 1854 at the age of seventy-two in Salt Lake City and was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Source: Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black