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Kane, Thomas Leiper (27 January 1822–26 December 1883), lawyer, soldier, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and defender of the Mormons, was born in Philadelphia, the son of John Kintzing Kane, a jurist, and Jane Duval Leiper. He attended school in Philadelphia and from 1839 to 1844 traveled in England and France, studying and visiting relatives. While in Paris he served for a time as an attaché of the American legation. Small in stature and never robust, he would spend most of his life struggling with ill health. In Paris he met Auguste Comte and others who surely encouraged his social conscience, which would be manifested later in his concern for philanthropic causes. In 1844 Kane returned to Philadelphia, where he studied law with his father. Although he was admitted to the bar in 1846 and clerked briefly for his father, who was a federal judge, his interests and activities generally moved in other directions....

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Pratt, Parley Parker (12 April 1807–13 May 1857), author and church leader, was born in Burlington, Otsego County, New York, the son of Jared Pratt and Charity Dickinson, farmers. Pratt spent most of his youth working on his father’s farm and had very little schooling. At the age of nineteen he went to Ohio, where he started his own farm. In September 1827 he married Thankful Halsey; they had one son. Shortly thereafter he met ...

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Joseph Smith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90309).

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Smith, Joseph (23 December 1805–27 June 1844), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church, was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, the son of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack, farmers. Joseph Smith was notable among religious figures for claiming to receive revelations and to translate ancient religious texts. Mormons consider these writings, published as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon, as scripture on a par with the Bible and think of Smith as a prophet in the biblical tradition. Smith did not consider himself to be either a reformer or the founder of a new religion. In his own eyes, he was restoring the Christian gospel as taught by Jesus and the first apostles. Nothing in Joseph Smith’s background prepared him to write scriptures or to head a religious movement. His parents were poor New England farmers who began life with a farm in Tunbridge, Vermont, but lost it in 1803 after a commercial venture failed. When Joseph Smith, Jr., was born two years later, the Smith family lived on a farm rented from a relative. In 1816 they migrated to Palmyra, New York, and in 1818 purchased 100 acres in Farmington (later Manchester) a few miles south of Palmyra village. For the first time in fourteen years they owned land of their own....