In Joseph Smith’s era there were many people who were “seekers” who expected God to once again restore ancient Christianity in its fullness. Here are some of their stories.
Rodger Williams. In June 1638 he became a Baptist; he was immersed by Ezekiel Hollyman, and in turn immersed Hollyman and ten others. This was the first Baptist church on the American Continent. But a few months afterwards he renounced his rebaptism on the ground that Hollyman was unbaptized, and therefore unauthorized to administer the rite to him. He remained for the rest of his life a ‘Seeker,’ cut loose from all existing Church organizations and usages, longing for a true Church of God, but unable to find one on the face of the whole earth. He conceived ‘that the apostasy of Antichrist hath so far corrupted all that there can be no recovery out of that apostasy till Christ send forth new apostles to plant churches anew’ (Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom, 3:851).
Thomas Jefferson. I hold the precepts of Jesus, as delivered by himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man. I adhere to the principles of the first age; and consider all subsequent innovations as corruptions of this religion, having no foundation in what came from him….If the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by his pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity. This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it (Thomas Jefferson in 1820, quoted in Cousins, Norman, ed. “In God We Trust”: The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, 156.).
Joseph Smith Sr. What he could not embrace was the institutional religion of his time. The reason became clear in one of his prophetic dreams. In the first dream, around 1811, Joseph Sr. found himself traveling in a barren field covered with dead fallen timber: “Not a vestige of life, either animal or vegetable, could be seen; besides, to render the scene still more dreary, the most death-like silence prevailed, no sound of anything animate could be heard in all the field.” The attendant spirit, according to Lucy, told Joseph Sr. that “this field is the world which now lieth inanimate and dumb, in regard to the true religion or plan of salvation.” Then appeared “all manner of beasts, horned cattle, and roaring animals…tearing the earth, tossing their horns, and bellowing most terrifically.” That was the religious world as Joseph Sr. saw it: empty and silent, or fiercely hostile to true wisdom and understanding. He concluded from his dream that the “class of religionists” knew no more of the Kingdom of God than “such as made no profession of religion whatever” (Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 25-26).
Robert Mason and Wilford Woodruff. The second reason for my peculiar belief in such principles, teachings, and doctrines was that in the days of my youth I was taught by an aged man named Robert Mason, who lived in Sainsbury, Connecticut….Father Mason did not claim that he had any authority to officiate in the ordinances of the gospel, nor did he believe that such authority existed on the earth….He told me that the day was near when the Lord would establish His Church and Kingdom upon the earth with all its ancient gifts and blessings. He said that such a work would commence upon the earth before he died, but that he would not live to partake of its blessings. He said that I should live to do so, and that I should become a conspicuous actor in that kingdom.
The last time I ever saw him he related to me the following vision which he had in his field in open day: “I was carried away in a vision and found myself in the midst of a vast orchard of fruit trees. I became hungry and wandered through this vast orchard searching for fruit to eat, but I found none. While I stood in amazement finding no fruit in the midst of so many trees, they began to fall to the ground as if torn up by a whirlwind. They continued to fall until there was not a tree standing in the whole orchard. I immediately saw thereafter shoots springing up from the roots and forming themselves into young and beautiful trees. These budded, blossomed, and brought forth fruit which ripened and was the most beautiful to look upon of anything my eyes had ever beheld. I stretched forth my hand and plucked some of the fruit. I gazed upon it with delight; but when I was about to eat of it, the vision closed and I did not taste the fruit. At the close of the vision I bowed down in humble prayer and asked the Lord to show me the meaning of the vision. Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying: ‘Son of man, thou hast sought me diligently to know the truth concerning my Church and Kingdom among men. This is to show you that my Church is not organized among men in the generation to which you belong; but in the days of your children the Church and Kingdom of God shall be made manifest with all the gifts and the blessings enjoyed by the Saints in past ages. You shall live to be made acquainted with it, but shall not partake of its blessings before you depart this life. You will be blest of the Lord after death because you have followed the dictation of my Spirit in this life.’”
When Father Mason had finished relating the vision and its interpretation, he said, calling me by my Christian name: “Wilford, I shall never partake of this fruit in the flesh, but you will and you will become a conspicuous actor in the new kingdom.” He then turned and left me. These were the last words he ever spoke to me upon the earth….The vision was given to him about the year 1800. He related it to me in 1830, the spring in which the Church was organized. Three years later when I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, almost the first person I thought of was this prophet, Robert Mason. Upon my arrival in Missouri with Zion’s Camp, I wrote him a long letter in which I informed him that I had found the true gospel with all its blessings; that the authority of the Church of Christ had been restored to the earth as he had told me it would be; that I had received the ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands; that I knew for myself that God had established through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Church of Christ upon the earth.
He received my letter with great joy and had it read over to him many times. He handled it as he had handled the fruit in the vision. He was very aged and soon died without having the privilege of receiving the ordinances of the gospel at the hands of an elder of the Church. The first opportunity I had after the truth of baptism for the dead was revealed, I went forth and was baptized for him in the temple font at Nauvoo
(Wilford Woodruff in Cowley, Matthias F. Wilford Woodruff, His Life and Labors, 18).
I could add to the list of seekers several individuals whom I have personally known.