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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—better known as the Mormon church—was born in 19th-century upstate New York. Joseph Smith was a son of impoverished farmers who drifted in and out of local churches and dabbled in folk magic—until a series of visions in the 1820s transformed him into a prophet.

According to the faith, the Angel Moroni led him to uncover a book of golden plates buried in a hill near his home. Using a pair of magic spectacles Smith transcribed the plates into the Book of Mormon and convinced a growing band of followers that they…

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