Inventing Mormonism
H. Michael Marquardt & Wesley P. Walters

Chapter 8
Expressions of Faith

[p.173]In June 1830 baptisms into the Church of Christ were performed in Colesville, New York, in a branch established there by Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The coming of the new church to the Colesville area occasioned a series of confrontations–between the state of New York and Joseph Smith, between the Presbyterian church and the Church of Christ, and between the Coburn and Knight families.1

The family of Joseph Knight became the nucleus of the new church in Colesville just as the Smiths had been the nucleus in Manchester and the Whitmers in Fayette. And the Knights were at the center of difficulties erupting during the church’s first summer in the area. The Knight family home and mill were located just across the Susquehanna River from the little village of Nineveh in Colesville Township. Joseph Smith had worked with Knight and others in the Colesville area while conducting his treasure-digging activities, and the Knights had helped Smith while he was working on the Book of Mormon.2 It was in the latter part of March 1830, while Joseph Knight was transporting Smith to Manchester, that Smith first spoke to Knight about the need to establish a church. After witnessing the baptisms of Smith’s father and Martin Harris, Knight obtained copies of the Book of Mormon and returned home to Colesville to sell them.

After the first church conference in Fayette, Smith and Oliver Cowdery made their way to Colesville.3 Cowdery preached at the Knight home on Sunday, 27 June. Baptisms were to be performed that Sunday, but antagonists destroyed the dam erected for the purpose. On Monday, 28 June 1830, members of the Knight family [p.174]and others were baptized near the Knight home, and the Colesville church began to take shape.4

Among those baptized was Newel Knight’s wife Sarah Coburn (known as Sally).5 Newell had been a Universalist and Sally a Presbyterian. Sally’s father Amasa Coburn was an accomplished musician and earned part of his living by giving music and vocal lessons in the town of Guilford, Chenango County, where the Coburn family had established their residence sometime before 1820. Sally had grown up surrounded by music and had joined the local church choir.6 The Presbyterian church of Harpursville in 1827 was nearest to her home but was eventually absorbed into the church at Nineveh, just across the river from where they lived.7

A few days after Sally Knight’s baptism, a young medical doctor, Abram W. Benton, a Presbyterian, swore out a warrant for Smith’s arrest.8 Smith’s history records that “a young man named Benton, of the same religious [Presbyterian] faith, swore out the first warrant against me.”9 Constable Ebenezer Hatch was dispatched south to Colesville to arrest Joseph and return him to Bainbridge for trial.

Joseph Knight provided lawyers for Smith’s defense and later recalled:

they made a Catspaw of a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in Chenengo County to sware out a warrent against Joseph for, as they said, pretending to see under ground. A little Clause they found in the [New] york Laws against such things. The of[f]icer Came to my house near knite [night] and took him. I harnesed my horses and we all went up to the village. But it was so late they Could not try him that nite and it was put of[f] till morning. I asked Joseph if [he] wanted Counsell he said he tho[ugh]t he should. I went that nite and saw Mr. James Davi[d]son a man I was acquainted with. The next morning ther[e] gather[e]d a multitude of peopel [sic] that ware against him [Smith]. Mr. Davi[d]son said it looked like a squaley [squally] Day; he thot we had Better have John Read [Reed] a pretty good speaker near by. I told him we would, so I imployed them Both. So after a trial all Day jest at nite he was Dismissed.10

Smith’s history describes how he was “visited by a constable” at Knight’s home and “arrested by him on a warrant, on the charge of being a disorderly person.” “On the day following,” the history con-[p.175]tinues, “a court was convened for the purpose of investigating those charges,” where there were “many witnesses called up against me.”11

One of Smith’s defense lawyers, John Reed, recalled that they “had him arraigned before Joseph Chamberlain, a justice of the peace, a man that was always ready to deal justice to all, and a man of great discernment of mind.” The case started “about 10 o’clock, A.M.,” and “closed about 12 o’clock at night.”12

The bills submitted to the county by the constable and the justice at Smith’s examination confirm the account in Smith’s history. The bill submitted by Constable Ebenezer Hatch “Dated at South Bainbridge July 4th 1830” reads:

To Serving warrant on Joseph Smith & keeping him twenty four hours $2=00
3 meals Victuel & 1 Lodging =50
Suppoenying 5 witness 62 1/2
$3=13 1/2
$2.37 1/2

It is not evident why the costs were reduced by seventy five cents, but the $2.37 1/2 total, rounded off to $2.38, was recorded next to Hatch’s name in the “Supervisor’s Journal,” confirming that Smith was in fact arrested one day, held over night, and tried the next day. It further shows that Hatch delivered five subpoenas to witnesses to take part in the hearing.

A second bill submitted by Justice Chamberlain for cases tried between 1 June and August 1830 includes the state of New York “vs Joseph Smith Jr a Disorderly person July 1st 1830,” supplying the exact date of the trial, 1 July 1830, a Thursday.13 That the examination in this case was lengthy is reflected in the itemized listing of Chamberlain’s costs:

oath on Complaint 6 [cents]
filing Complaint 3
warrant 19
Examination 1 Day 1[.]00
10 Subpoenis 60
Swearing 12 witnesses 72

[p.176]This bill shows there were actually twelve witnesses, indicating that another constable served seven additional subpoenas. Chamberlain’s expenses for six cases totaled $11.74 for a three-month period. This amount was entered on the back of the bill and is recorded beside his name in the “Supervisor’s Journal” under the Town of Bainbridge for the year 1830.14

The earliest printed account of this hearing appeared less than a year later in the 9 April 1831 issue of the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate. It was dated at South Bainbridge, March 1831, and signed A. W. B., identified by Dale L. Morgan, who uncovered this account, as Abram W. Benton who brought the complaint against Smith. Benton related the Bainbridge trial as follows:

During the trial it was shown that the Book of Mormon was brought to light by the same magic power by which he pretended to tell fortunes, discover hidden treasures, &c. Oliver Cowd[e]ry, one of the three witnesses to the book [of Mormon], testified under oath, that said Smith found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.

Benton recalled an attempt to have Josiah Stowell admit that Smith had lied to him about his ability to locate buried treasure. Benton described the questioning of Stowell and his responses:

Josiah Stowell, a Mormonite, being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never had lied to, or deceived him, and did not believe he ever tried to deceive any body else. The following questions were then asked him, to which he made the replies annexed.

[Q] Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain place which he mentioned?
[A] Yes.
[Q] Did he tell you, you could find it by digging?
[A] Yes.
[Q] Did you dig?
[A] Yes.
[Q] Did you find any money?
[p.177][A] No.
[Q] Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you?
[A] No! the money was there, but we did not get quite to it!
[Q] How do you know it was there?
[A] Smith said it was!15

Joseph Smith’s history adds the following testimony:

Among many witnesses called up against me [Joseph Smith], was Mr. Josiah Stoal [Stowell] (of whom I have made mention, as having worked for him some time) and examined to the following effect. –

Q. Did not the prisoner Joseph Smith have a horse of you?
Ansr. Yes.
Q. Did not he go to you and tell you, that an angel had appeared unto him, and authorised him to get the horse from you?
Ansr. No, he told me no such story.
Q. Well; How had he the horse of you?
Ansr. He bought him of me, as another man would do.
Q. Have you had your pay?
Ansr. That is not your business.

The question being again put, the witness replied, “I hold his note for the price of the horse, which I consider as good as the pay – for I am well acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr, and know him to be an honest man; and if he wishes I am ready to let him have another horse on the same terms”.

Mr. Jonathan Thompson was next called up, and examined.

Q. Has not the prisoner, Joseph Smith Jr had a yoke of oxen of you?
Ansr. Yes.
Q. Did he not obtain them of you by telling you that he had a revelation to the effect that he was to have them?
Ansr. No, He did not mention a word of the kind concerning the oxen; he purchased them, the same as another man would.16

Smith’s account also adds Stowell’s two daughters, probably Rhoda and Miriam, to the list of witnesses, and Benton adds Joseph Knight and his son Newel.17 Benton related that Newel “testified, under oath, that he positively had a devil cast out of himself by the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, jr., and that he saw the devil after it was out, but could not tell how it looked!”18

[p.178]Smith’s history indicated that he was “acquitted by this court.”19 According to John Reed, one of Smith’s attorneys, “the court pronounced the words `not guilty,’ and the prisoner was di[s]charged.”20

According to Joel K. Noble of Colesville, before whom Smith was brought on a similar charge the next day, 2 July, Smith won his dismissal by appealing to the statute of limitations. Noble wrote, “Jo. was arrested examination had Jo. plead in bar Statute of Limitations.”21 Since New York law limited misdemeanor charges to three years, and four years had elapsed since Smith was originally charged in Bainbridge, the case was dismissed.

However, the opposition did not give up that easily. No sooner had Smith stepped out of Justice Chamberlain’s court in South Bainbridge, Chenango County, than he was served another warrant and taken a few miles south across the county line into Colesville, Broome County, where he was arraigned before Justice Noble.

Joseph Knight recalled: “Then there was a nother of[f]icer was Ridy [ready] and took him on the same Case Down to Broom[e] County Below forth with. I hired Boath these Lawyers and took them Down home with me that nite. The next Day it Continued all Day till midnite. But they Could find no thing against him therefore he was Dismist [dismissed].”22

Justice Noble expressed his disgust with the proceedings:

Jo was no Sooner Set on terifirma than arrested again, brought before me in a adjoining County only 6 miles Distant, trial protracted 23 hours the pros[e]cuti[on] was Cond[ucted] by a Gent[leman] well Skil[l]ed in [the] Science of Law, proof manifested by I think 43 Witnesses… . Jo. was asked by witness if he could see or tel[l] more than others Jo. said he could not and says any thing for a living. I now and then Get a Sh[i]lling.23

The well-skilled attorney who conducted the prosecution was probably William Seymour, another Presbyterian, the “Lawyer Seymour” mentioned in Smith’s history. He pursued Smith’s money-digging past.24

Newel Knight was called as a witness and described his testimony during this trial:

As soon as I had been sworn, Mr. Seymour proceeded to interrogate [p.179]me as follows:

Question. – “Did the prisoner, Joseph Smith, Jun., cast the devil out of you?”
Answer. – “No, sir.”
Q. – “Why, have you not had the devil cast out of you?”
A. – “Yes, sir.”
Q. – “And had not Joseph Smith some hand in it being done?”
A. – “Yes, sir.”
Q. – “And did he not cast him out of you?”
A. – “No, sir, it was done by the power of God, and Joseph Smith was the instrument in the hands of God on this occasion. He commanded him to come out of me in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Q. – “And are you sure it was the devil?”
A. – “Yes, sir.”
Q. – “Did you see him after he was cast out of you?”
A. – “Yes, sir, I saw him.”
Q. – “Pray, what did he look like?”

(Here one of the lawyers on the part of the defense told me I need not answer that question.) I replied:

“I believe, I need not answer you that question, but I will do it if I am allowed to ask you one, and you can answer it. Do you, Mr. Seymour, understand the things of the Spirit?”

“No,” answered Mr. Seymour, “I do not pretend to such big things.”

“Well, then,” I replied, “it will be of no use for me to tell you what the devil looked like, for it was a spiritual sight and spiritually discerned, and, of course, you would not understand it were I to tell you of it.”

The lawyer dropped his head, while the loud laugh of the audience proclaimed his discomfiture.25

Noble wrote, “a Mormon Swore in open court Jo. Smith cast a Devil out of him (M[ormo]n) and said how D[evi]l Looked. Said Devil was a body of Light.”26 According to Smith’s history, “The Court finding the charges against me, not sustained, I was accordingly acquitted.”27 Newel Knight also remembered that “he was discharged.”28

“[T]hrough the instrumentality of my new friend, the Constable,” continued Smith’s history, “I was enabled to escape them, and make my way in safety to my wifes sister’s house, where I found my wife [p.180]awaiting with much anxiety the issue of those ungodly proceedings: And with her in company next day arrived in safety at my house.”29

Against this backdrop of dramatic public conflict, the Knight family played out parallel tensions within the more private arena of their extended family. When news reached Emily Coburn in Sandford that her sister Sally was interested in joining the Mormon church, she doubted the report, “believing her to be of an unshaken mind and principle.” Emily visited her sister “to try if possible to convince her of the error into which she had innocently been decoyed and deceived.”30

Emily, who had recently joined the Presbyterian church in Sandford, had a special concern about her sister. On Emily’s several previous visits to her older sister’s home in Colesville, she had become acquainted with young Smith and his treasure-seeking activities which centered on Sally’s father-in-law’s farm. She recalled:

I had seen him two or three times, while visiting at my sister’s, but did not think it worth my while to take any notice of him. I never spoke to him, for he was a total stranger to me. However, I thought him odd looking and queer. He also told his friends that he could see money in pots, under the ground. He pretended to foretell people’s future destiny, and, according to his prognostication, his friends agreed to suspend their avocations and dig for the treasures, which were hidden in the earth; a great share of which, he said, was on Joseph Knight’s farm.

According to Emily’s recollections, Sally’s father-in-law, Joseph Knight, shared in the money-digging excursions on his own land:

Old Uncle Joe, as we called him, was a wool carder, and a farmer; yet he abandoned all business, and joined with a number of others, to dig for money on his premises. While I was visiting my sister, we have walked out to see the places where they dug for money, and laughed to think of the absurdity of any people having common intellect to indulge in such a thought or action.

One story about the treasure-seekers’ adventures stood out in Emily’s mind:

in the time of their digging for money and not finding it attainable, [p.181]Joe Smith told them there was a charm on the pots of money, and if some animal was killed and the blood sprinkled around the place, then they could get it. So they killed a dog, and tried this method of obtaining the precious metal; but again money was scarce in those diggings. Still, they dug and dug, but never came to the precious treasure. Alas! how vivid was the expectation when the blood of poor Tray was used to take off the charm, and after all to find their mistake.31

In the years after these early encounters with Colesville folklife Emily lived with her brother Esick Lyon Coburn. He had married a milliner from Philadelphia and subsequently moved to Sandford. There he pursued his trade as a tanner, and his wife opened a millinery establishment. About 1828 Emily began a two-year apprenctice with her sister-in-law. As Emily began her third year of residence she was caught up in a neighborhood religious excitement and joined the newly organized Presbyterian church in Sandford.

Sandford and Colesville had both been created in 1821 from the township of Windsor, which originally covered the entire eastern end of Broome County.32 The Presbyterian church had been in the Windsor area since 1800, but the separate Sandford church was organized in the winter of 1829-30.33 On 1 February 1830, Reverend John Sherer was commissioned by the American Home Missionary Society to serve the Colesville and Sandford churches for a twelve-month period, with three months’ salary in hand and the next three months pledged.34 Sherer, then thirty-nine, was a graduate of Andover and had been ordained in 1825. He had served a pastorate in Litchfield, New Hampshire, and was a member of the Oneida Conference before being assigned to Broome County. He arrived on the field in February, and after completing six months of labor, he reported to the New York office on the status of his work. At its organization the Sandford church consisted of five members and “As many more were examined and propounded for admission.” By this he meant that five more were examined regarding their personal experience of conversion and their understanding of the gospel message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. “These,” he added, “have been received since. At another communion Three have been added, at another one <by letter>; and there now stand propounded, three others. A few more it is hoped will unite [p.182]themselves.” He adds, “Thus a vine has been planted, where a dreary moral waste has long <existed>. This little Flock of Christ appear to be `steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,’ though opposed on every side.”

Concerning Colesville he wrote: “In Colesville every good object seems to be opposed by some. Yet even here, hope seems to be lighting up. There have been a few cases of conversion, since I came here, and now there is an appearance of seriousness on the minds of several. In a distant part of the society where for a few sabbaths past I have appointed meetings at 5 o’Clock, there begins to be some favorable appearances.”35

Emily Coburn had been a new Presbyterian convert. She found her sister’s religious enthusiasm more than a match for her own. “She was as firm as the everlasting hills in the belief of Mormonism,” Emily wrote, “and seemed to have the whole Bible at her tongue’s end. She was of the belief that God had again visited His People, and again set His hand, the second time, to recover the house of Israel.” Sally warned Emily against condemning what she did not understand.

Emily had determined it was useless to try to change her sister’s mind and she decided to return to her brother’s in Sandford. Emily and the Knight family attended services at her sister’s home on Sunday, 27 June. Emily recalled, “The discourse was delivered by Oliver Cowd[e]ry, an elder of the Mormon church, and a witness to the gold plates.”36 A message came to Emily that her brother Esick wished to see her in a grove some distance from the house:

I felt reluctant in granting his request, but through the advice of my sister I ventured to go. I at this time attempted to make plain to him the reason of my tarrying at my sister’s, and I then believed he understood me perfectly. While in the midst of our conversation, who should come but the Rev. Mr. Sherer, pastor of our church in Sandford. He came and took my hand and holding it so long and firmly I thought it odd.37

Holding her hand tightly, the pastor tried to move her down the lane to a spot where her uncle was waiting with a horse and buggy to take her back to Sandford. For some reason Sherer failed to mention this detail, and it was only gradually that she learned what their real [p.183]intent was. At the time Emily felt Sherer’s behavior inexplicable, holding so tenaciously to her hand. She asked her brother to help her, but he refused, saying she should listen to Sherer’s advice.

At that point her sister, accompanied by other Mormons, arrived at the grove. Sally rushed up to Emily and wrenched Sherer’s hand from hers, yelling, “What are you doing with my sister? What are you doing with my sister?” Emily remembered Sally’s white face as she repeated these words. The confrontation proved too much for Sherer and her brother, and Emily slipped into the house while the others argued for about half an hour.

Finally Sally and her companions returned to the house and once more were seated and quietly talking and singing when, Emily remembered, her uncle Henry

rode up to the door on a white, stately, beautiful horse, and as he drew up he exclaimed, “You are happy now you have accomplished your purpose, and I hope you enjoy it; but this will not be of long endurance, let me tell you.” “O, yes,” said one of the [Mormon] elders, “you are an attorney, probably you will take steps in this matter, but not to-day.” “Sir,” said another Mormon elder, “you are mad; you look as white as the horse you are riding; to-day is the holy Sabbath, and you are a deacon; don’t indulge in such a passion.” Many hard words were used on both sides; and here the subject ended, by putting spurs to the white steed, under a two hundred and twenty [pound] burden, which seemed light and easy for the noble animal.38

The matter did not end there. That evening, although it was dark and rainy, her brother-in-law spurred his horse on “through darkness, mud and rain, and dead of night” to her father’s house in Guilford, some thirty miles away, where he obtained their permission to consult an attorney and seize Emily in her parents’ name. Returning in the morning, he came to Emily and informed her that he now had authority to take her away. Emily replied that she would willingly have gone without protest if they had asked her and provided some means of getting back. In fact, she had on her own concluded to return to her brother’s, but Newel Knight had not yet found time or a team to take her. She returned to Sandford, where she was met with “sober [p.184]faces and cold hands.” Still she remembered that she managed to “choke down” her feelings.

This incident appears in condensed form in Joseph Smith’s history. Smith’s history states:

Amongst the many present at this meeting was one Emily Coburn sister to the wife of Newel Knight. The Revd. Mr. Shearer, a divine of the presbyterian faith, who had considered himself her pastor, came to understand that She was likely to believe our doctrine, and had a short <time> previous to this, our meeting, came to labor with her, but having spent some time with her without being able to persuade her against us, he endeavored to have her leave her sisters house, and go with him to her father’s, who lived at a distance of at least some [blank] miles off: For this purpose he had recourse to stratagem, He told her that one of her brothers was waiting at a certain place, wishful to have her go home with him. He succeeded thus to get her a little distance from the house when, seeing that her brother was not in waiting for her, She refused to go any further with him; upon which he got hold of her by the arm to force her along; but her sister, was soon with them; the two women were too many for him and he was forced to sneak off without his errand, after all his labor and ingenuity. Nothing daunted however he went to her Father, represented to him something or other, which induced the Old Gentleman to give him a power of Attorney, which, as soon as our meeting was over, on the above named Sunday evening, he immediately served upon her and carried her off to her father’s residence, by open violence, against her will. All his labor was in vain, however, for the said Emily Coburn, in a short time afterwards, was baptized and confirmed a member of “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”39

After Emily returned home from Colesville, a rumor came to the attention of her family that she too was planning to join the Mormon church. “I received daily visits from the pastor of our church, who gave me a prayer book and wished me to learn some of the prayers,” she reported, “but I returned the book, saying I wished to be led and taught by one who said, `Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me.'”40 Those words betray the pain and stubbornness of a strong-willed young woman.

In keeping with the Presbyterian procedures of church discipline, [p.185]a course of gospel labor was commenced. Patterned on Matthew 18, the first step was for an individual privately to approach the offending party and seek to restore that person. If this failed one or two others were taken along for a second visit to assist in the settlement and to serve as witnesses in the event the matter had to be brought before the entire church.

The final stage in the process was lodging a formal complaint with the church and holding a public hearing. In Emily’s case the complaint was lodged by officers of the church, including her own brother Esick Lyon Coburn.41 It read:

To the Church of Christ, in Sandford:

WHEREAS, E[mily]. M. [Coburn], a member of said church, embraces a most wicked and dangerous heresy; and whereas, we have taken with her the first and second steps of gospel labor, without obtaining satisfaction, we therefore make complaint to the church of which said E. M. [Emily Coburn] is a member, praying that the brethren of said church would bring her to an account for her unchristian conduct; and, as in duty bound, your servants will ever pray.
H. M.
E. L.
B. S.42

Looking back, Emily acknowledged that her attitude could have been “more pleasing, cheerful, delightful.” Yet each of the three separate times they visited her to labor with her, she assured them that

I had no thought of joining them (the Mormons). This they did not seem to hear; and, to sum up the matter, their uncharitable actions drove me farther and still farther from believing in anything good. I was not yet eighteen years of age. My heart was stricken, and I could see no love manifested. In the advancement of time I perceived they still believed I intended joining that church, without listening to what I told them or trying to ascertain the truth in regard to it. They did not come to me in love and ask me to go with them to my brother’s or my father’s.43

The pastor continued to make his customary visits and eventually [p.186]raised the matter of settling the complaint against her with the church. He informed her that there would be a meeting at church the following day, and since the matter concerned her, he wished her to be present. “I did not intend to be obstinate,” she recalled, “but my feelings revolted against it.” Nevertheless she went and “as the meeting was expressly to the purpose of bringing me to an account,” she stood before the church in her own defense. “I arose and told them the charges brought against me were incorrect,” she reports, “and I was very sorry that so much hard labor had been done under false colors; but this I would say, for the satisfaction of the church, that inasmuch as I had been the means of so much dissatisfaction, I felt heartily sorry, and hoped that God and the church would pardon that mistake. This seemed to be all that was necessary, and they gave me the hand of fellowship, and here the trouble ended.”44

Peace was short lived. Sometime in late September or early October Emily returned to her father’s home in Guilford. There she and her sister Jane braided straw bonnets and enjoyed the fall sunsets and the autumn trees. The painful events of the summer still lingered in her mind. “Why did not my father come or send after me when he heard of my intention to join the Mormon church? Why did they give a power of attorney to disgrace and ignominiously drag away this poor child.” Such unanswered questions flooded her mind.

Still her religious views remained the same, and she continued to pray that her life would be spent serving God and that her example would lead many to Christ. Then one day in autumn, when “the outward world seemed in slumber,” the thought came into her that her sister Sally, whom she had not heard from for “several months,” would arrive within two hours. Her mother refused to accept such a premonition. Yet within a short time Sally and her husband Newel arrived. Even more startling was the willingness of her parents to let Emily return to the Knight farm in Colesville. Even “more strange” was “when, as if by some unknown power, I was baptized and confirmed in the Mormon church the next Sabbath after!” Such an intention had not entered her mind when she left her father’s house, she confessed. All she could say in later reflection was that she was following her religious duty. Was it the utter confidence she had in her older sister’s integrity? she wondered. Whatever the motivation [p.187]that led her to unite with the Mormon church, it profoundly altered the course of her life.

The consternation and sorrow resulting from Emily Coburn’s baptism in the Mormon church can be seen in the letter of Reverend John Sherer written in November describing events of the summer:

I will relate a circumstance that has given me pain. A member of the church in Sandford, a young female, has renounced her connexion with the church, and joined <another> in Colesville founded by Joseph Smith. This man has been known, in these parts, for some time, as a kind of Juggler, who has pretended, through a glass, to see money under ground &c, &c. The book, on which he founds his new religion, is called the “Book of Mormon”. It contains not much, and is rather calculated to suit the marvelous, and unthinking. No man in his right mind can think the Book or the doctrines it contains, worthy of the least notice; yet there are a number who profess to believe in it. Since the church was formed, which was some time in July, about twenty have gathered around their standard, and have subscribed themselves to be the followers [of] Christ; for they call themselves a church of Christ, and the only church of Christ. All professing christians who do not adhere to their system, they consider as formalists; “having the form of Godliness, but denying the power.” They have pretended to work miracles, such as casting out devils, and many other things, too blasphemous to mention.—It is believed, however, they have [atta]ined to about the zenith of their glory in this place. Their books remain unsold; <except> here and there an individual, none will buy them. It is thought the greatest speculation, which they probably anticipated, will prove a losing business. May the Lord speedily turn their counsels head long, and deliver those, whose feet have been taken in their snare.45

Meanwhile, at Fayette in October 1830, the month after the second church conference, a minister named Peter Bauder spent a full day at the Peter Whitmer home. He spoke with Joseph Smith personally and published his recollection in 1834:

I called at P[eter]. Whitmer’s house, for the purpose of seeing [Joseph] Smith, and searching into the mystery of his system of religion, and had the privilege of conversing with him alone, several [p.188]hours, and of investigating his writings, church records, &c. I improved near four and twenty hours in close application with Smith and his followers: he could give me no christian experience, but told me that an angel told him he must go to a certain place in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, where was a secret treasure concealed, which he must reveal to the human family.46

While staying in Fayette in November, Joseph Smith met nineteen-year-old convert Orson Pratt. Pratt wrote, “By my request, on the 4th of Nov., the Prophet Joseph inquired of the Lord for me, and received the revelation published in the Doctrine and Covenants.”47 Pratt later added: “I went into that chamber [in the second story of the Peter Whitmer Sr.’s home] with the Prophet Joseph Smith, to inquire of the Lord; and he received a revelation for my benefit, which was written from the mouth of the Prophet by John Whitmer, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.”48

When Pratt and his traveling companion, Joseph F. Smith, visited David Whitmer in 1878, Pratt provided further insight into the way Smith obtained this revelation. In a letter written three weeks after the event, James R. B. Vancleave reports asking Pratt about “his belief in the seer stone”:

at Peter Whitmer Sr’s residence he [Orson Pratt] asked Joseph whether he could not ascertain what his mission was, and Joseph answered him that he would see, & asked Pratt and John Whitmer to go upstairs with him, and on arriving there Joseph produced a small stone called a seer stone, and putting it into a Hat soon commenced speaking and asked Elder P[ratt]. to write as he would speak, but being too young and timid and feeling his unworthiness he asked whether Bro. John W[hitmer]. could not write it, and the Prophet said that he could: Then came the revelation to the Three named given Nov. 4th 1830.49

David Whitmer stated that many of Smith’s early revelations were received through the seer stone. He wrote, “The revelations in the Book of Commnadments [sic] up to June, 1829, were given through the `stone,’ through which the Book of Mormon was translated.”50 Smith received many of his revelations from July 1828 to June 1829 (when he was dictating the text of the Book of Mormon) by a stone [p.189]placed in his hat—the same method he used in hunting for lost treasure.51

Sidney Rigdon, a new convert from Ohio, met Smith the following month in December. He had first heard about Mormonism early in November and received baptism on 8 November 1830.52 He was ordained an Elder by Oliver Cowdery in Ohio. Rigdon, with Smith, visited the branch of the church in Colesville.53 While there Rigdon evidently checked the docket books of both Joseph Chamberlain and Joel K. Noble. Reportedly when he returned to Ohio about 1 February 1831, he “with a great show of good nature, commenced a long detail of his researches after the character of Joseph Smith; he declared that even his enemies had nothing to say against his character; he had brought a transcript from the docket of two magistrates, where Smith had been tried as a disturber of the peace, which testified that he was honorably acquitted.”54

During the early months of 1831 the Smith, Whitmer, and Knight families together with many converts would join Rigdon and others into Kirtland, Ohio, now the gathering place of the Saints at their new church headquarters.


1. These events were recorded by members of the Mormon church, by the minister of the Presbyterian church, by one of the sisters involved, Emily Coburn, and by a judge at one of Joseph Smith’s trials. The Mormon account is recorded in Manuscript History Book A-1: 43, archives, historical department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter LDS archives); Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989), 1:310-11. The account in Book A-1 may have been based in part on Newel Knight’s recollections. Joseph Smith’s 1839 diary records for the dates 4-5 July: “Thursday & Friday (assisted by Br Newel Knight) dictating History” (Joseph Smith diary, kept by James Mulholland, LDS archives; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:326). Newel Knight’s published account is found in Scraps of Biography (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1883), 54. For the experience of Joseph Knight, see Dean C. Jessee, ed., “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” Brigham Young University Studies 17 (Autumn 1976): 38; minimal punctuation and editing has been added to clarify account.

[p.190]2. Albert L. Zobell, Jr., “Writing Paper for the Book of Mormon Manuscript,” Improvement Era 72 (Feb. 1969): 54-55.

3. For problems in the Fayette area, see the letter of Rev. Diedrich Willers, 18 June 1830, trans. and ed. by D. Michael Quinn in New York History 54 (July 1973): 317-33.

4. Knight, Scraps of Biography, 53-55.

5. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834): 12, Kirtland, Ohio, has the date of Sally Knight’s baptism as 29 June 1830. Since the day of baptisms was a Monday, the correct date is probably 28 June. See Utah Genealogical Magazine 26 (Oct. 1935): 147-48.

6. Newel Knight, Scraps of Biography, 47.

7. From 1824 to 1830 the work at Nineveh declined, being without a pastor. In 1830 it emerged as the Bainbridge and Ninevah Presbyterian church (J. S. Pattengill, History of the Presbytery of Binghamton, 16). None of the early records appear to have survived.

8. According to records in the family Bible, Abram Willard Benton was “born July 16, 1805.” He died on 9 March 1867 at Fulton, Illinois. His brief comments about Smith’s 1830 Bainbridge trial appeared in “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, New Series, 2 (9 Apr. 1831): 120, original periodical in Meadville Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.

9. Manuscript History Book A-1: 48; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:318.

10. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 38. The New York law Knight cited was part of the vagrancy law which regarded as a misdemeanor “pretending…to discover where lost goods may be found” (Laws of the State of New York, Revised and Passed in the Thirty-Sixth Session of the Legislature [1813], 1:114).

11. Manuscript History A-1: 44; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:312-13.

12. John Reed’s speech was given on 17 May 1844 and appeared in Times and Seasons 5 (1 June 1844): 549-50; this quote is on page 550. See also footnote in Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1959), 1:94-96; 6:392-97. Our spelling of the name “Reed” comes from the 1839 draft of the Manuscript History (see Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:253, 257); Times and Seasons; and bills from Bainbridge, New York, for the years 1826 and 1830.

13. These bills were discovered in 1971 in the dead storage in the basement of the Norwich jail, with the 1826 bills, as described in chap. 4. Chamberlain’s bill is now in the Office of the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Chenango County Office Building, Norwich, New York.

14. If we could locate Justice Chamberlain’s docket book, we might have a more complete record of the testimony of the witnesses, but the book’s [p.191]location, if it is still extant, is unknown to members of his family. We could traced only three descendants, none of whom knew of any docket book that belonged to their great-grandfather.

15. A. W. Benton, “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine 2 (9 Apr. 1831): 120. Josiah Jones wrote that in the fall of 1830, “He [Oliver Cowdery] stated that Smith looked onto or through the transparent stones to translate what was on the plates” (in Milton V. Backman, Jr., “A Non-Mormon View of the Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” Brigham Young University Studies 12 [Spring 1972]: 309). See LDS Mosiah 28:13; RLDS Mosiah 12:18.

According to Benton, Addison Austin testified “that at the very same time that Stowell was digging for money, he, Austin was in company with said Smith alone, and asked him to tell him honestly whether he could see this money or not. Smith hesitated some time, but finally replied, `to be candid, between you and me, I cannot, any more than you or any body else; but any way to get a living'” (A. W. Benton, “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine 2 (9 Apr. 1831): 120).

16. Manuscript History Book A-1: 44-45; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:313-14. Smith wrote to Oliver Cowdery in 1829, “I have bought a horse of Mr. Stowell and want some one to come after it as soon as convenient” (Smith to Cowdery, 22 Oct. 1829, Joseph Smith Letterbook 1:9, LDS archives). See Dean C. Jessee, comp., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), 228.

17. On Josiah Stowell’s family, see William H. H. Stowell, Stowell Genealogy (Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Co., 1922), 230.

18. Benton, “Mormonites,” 120.

19. Manuscript History Book A-1: 45; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:314.

20. Times and Seasons 5 (1 June 1844): 550; History of the Church 1:95n and 6:394.

21. Joel K. Noble to Jonathan B. Turner, 8 Mar. 1842, Jonathan B. Turner Collection, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield. The limitation on a misdemeanor was set forth in Laws of the State of New York, Revised and Passed (1813), 1:187, which read:

all suits, informations and indictments which shall hereafter be brought or exhibited for any crime or misdemeanor, murder excepted, shall be brought or exhibited within three years next after the offence shall have been committed, and not after, and if brought or exhibited after the time hereby limited the same shall be void: Provided however, That if the person, against whom such suit, information or indictment shall be brought or exhibited, shall not have [p.192]been an inhabitant or usually resident within this state during the said three years, then the same shall or may be brought or exhibited against such a person at anytime within three years, during which he shall be an inhabitant or usually resident within this state, after the offence committed.

Smith’s opponents may have felt that, due to Smith’s absence from New York while in Pennsylvania, the statue of limitations had not been exceeded.

22. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 38.

23. Noble to Jonathan B. Turner, 8 Mar. 1842. John Reed mentioned, “The prisoner was to be tried by three justices of the peace” (Times and Seasons 5 [1 June 1844]: 551). Since no bills for this trial in Colesville have yet been found we cannot verify this statement.

24. Manuscript History Book A-1: 46; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:315. William Seymour had been a pioneer settler in Binghamton and after studying law moved to Windsor Township, next to Colesville. There he became an elder and clerk of session in the Presbyterian church as well as a justice of the peace and town clerk. Returning to Binghamton, he became a county judge, a member of the U.S. Congress, and finally judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He died on 28 December 1848, highly commended by the Bar Association (Binghamton Democrat, 2 Jan. 1849, 3).

25. Knight, Scraps of Biography, 59-60, cf. Manuscript History, Book A-1: 46; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:316.

26. Noble to Turner, 8 Mar. 1842. A newspaper printed a portion of a letter written in 1830 which said, “we have seen none of their miracles here, except N.N. [Newel Knight] I heard say in meeting, that he had the devil cast out” (letter dated 8 Oct. 1830, in Brattleboro’ Messenger, 20 Nov. 1830, as cited in John Phillip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986], 344).

27. Manuscript History Book A-1: 47; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:317.

28. Knight, Scraps of Biography, 61. W. R. Hine also reported that “Jo was discharged” (Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 [Jan. 1888]: 2, original publication in the Yale University Library). George A. Smith, in a discourse given on 18 March 1855, repeated what he had heard from Emer Harris, an older brother of Martin Harris:

Forty-seven times he [Joseph Smith] was arraigned before the tribunals of law, and had to sustain all the expense of defending himself in those vexatious suits, and was every time acquitted. He was never found guilty but once. I have been told, by Patriarch Emer Harris, that on a certain occasion he was brought before a magistrate in the [p.193]State of New York, and charged with having cast out devils; the magistrate, after hearing the witnesses, decided that he was guilty, but as the statutes of New York did not provide a punishment for casting out devils, he was acquitted (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool, Eng.: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-86], 2:213).

29. Manuscript History Book A-1: 47; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:317.

30. Emily Coburn’s account is in her book under the name Emily M. Austin, Mormonism; or, Life Among the Mormons (Madison, WI: M. J. Cantwell, Book and Job Printers, 1882), 35-36.

31. Ibid., 32-33. William G. Hartley wrote, “It is possible, although evidence is lacking, that the Knights had interest in money digging ventures, such as friend Stowell sponsored, and that their interest in Joseph’s story about gold plates might have had a profit motive at first. But their devotion to Joseph Smith for the next two decades was religious, not commercial” (“They Are My Friends”: A History of the Joseph Knight Family, 1825-1850 [Provo, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1986], 22).

32. Thomas F. Gordon, Gazetteer of the State of New York (Philadelphia: T. K. and P. G. Collins, 1836), 362.

33. The church was first organized as the North Branch of the Presbyterian Church of Windsor, and in 1812 it became a separate church known as the Colesville Presbyterian church. It had its central meeting place on Cole’s Hill, where Nathaniel Cole had built the tavern that gave the area its name. By 1820 there was a house of worship there. J. S. Pattengill, History of the Presbytery of Binghamton (Binghamton, NY: Carl, Stoppard & Co., 1877), 18-20. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian church (U.S.A.) first listed the Sandford church in its May 1830 Minutes. The last time it appeared was in the May 1833 Minutes, after which it dissolved or was merged with another church.

34. American Home Missionary Society (AHMS) archives, “Fourth Report,” 34, #321. All papers and correspondence are housed in the Amistad Research Center, Tilton Hall, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

35. John Sherer to Reverend Absalom Peters, 20 Aug. 1830, AHMS archives. Part of this letter was edited for publication and printed in The Home Missionary, and American Pastor’s Journal 3 (1 Nov. 1830): 143.

36. Austin, Mormonism, 36. Joseph Smith’s history records, “The Sabbath arrived and we held our meeting, Oliver Cowdery preached” (Manuscript History A-1: 42; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:309). This appears to be the Sabbath service that both Emily and Joseph Smith’s history refer to when Oliver Cowdery preached. Cowdery and Smith returned to Colesville in July [p.194]1830 to confirm those who had been baptized but they were prevented and had to leave because of persecution (Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:317-18).

37. Austin, Mormonism, 40.

38. Ibid., 41-42.

39. Manuscript History Book A-1: 43; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:310-11, cf. 251. The name of the church at this time was the Church of Christ but by the time Smith’s history was written it was called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is what appears in the text. See Knight, Scraps of Biography, 54.

40. Austin, Mormonism, 44.

41. Ibid., 251. The initials E. L. on the complaint refer to her brother Esick Lyon [Coburn]. It is likely also that the initials H. M. represent the uncle she elsewhere (25) refers to as H. M. C.: Hanry Cobourn listed in the 1830 census of Sandford as living just a few houses from Esek Cobourn (63). This is also probably the “Henry” Coburn recorded in the 1825 Sandford census.

42. Ibid., 43, emphasis in original.

43. Ibid., 39.

44. Ibid., 47-48.

45. Sherer to Peters, 18 Nov. 1830. Smith’s history reported Newel Knight’s experience with the devil as occurring in April or May 1830, “he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight” (Manuscript History A-1: 40; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:306). Emily soon moved west with the Colesville church to Ohio, then on to Missouri. She eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, only to leave the church she had joined some ten years before.

46. Peter Bauder, The Kingdom and Gospel of Jesus Christ: Contrasted with that of Anti-Christ (Canajohrie, NY: Printed by A. H. Calhoun, 1834), 36. One of the focuses of Bauder’s pamphlet was his understanding that Christian churches had throughout history lost the spirit of personal forgiveness and instead turned to domineering priestcraft. Therefore, he found it important that he could find no such experience of personal salvation in his conference with Smith.

47. “History of Orson Pratt,” Deseret News 8 (2 June 1858): 62; also in Eldon J. Watson, comp., The Orson Pratt Journals (Salt Lake City: comp., 1975), 9. BC 36; 1835 D&C 56; LDS D&C 34; RLDS D&C 33.

48. Journal of Discourses 7: 311 (18 Sept. 1859); see also 12:88 (11 Aug. 1867) and 17:290 (7 Feb. 1875).

49. James R. B. Vancleave to Joseph Smith III, 29 Sept. 1878, “Miscellaneous Letters and Papers,” Library-Archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri (hereafter RLDS archives). See also Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration [p.195]Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1991), 239-40. Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith visited David Whitmer on Sunday, 8 September 1878.

Shortly after the visit Pratt and Smith reported to President John Taylor and Council of Twelve Apostles that when Pratt spoke to a small group meeting at Plano, Illinois, on 12 September 1878, he “explained the circumstances under which several revelations were received by Joseph the Prophet, and the manner in which he received them, he being present on several occasions of the kind. Declared that sometimes Joseph used a seer stone when enquiring of the Lord, and receiving revelation . . . he oftener received them without any instrument” (“Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Deseret Evening News, [23 Nov. 1878], 1; Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 40 [16 Dec. 1878]: 787).

50. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: Author, 1887), 53.

51. Joseph Smith’s history recordes that eight revelations were received through the “Urim and Thummim” (seer stone in a hat) between July 1828 to June 1829. It is probable that all the revelations during this period were received through the stone as David Whitmer states.

In a letter from John Logan Traughber to “Dear Friend,” dated 10 October 1881, he wrote: “John C. Whitmer, a son of Jacob, told me that when O. Pratt and J. F. Smith were at Richmond to see `D.C.,’ [David Whitmer] in 1878, he asked Orson how he first understood the B[ook]. of M[ormon]. was translated, and Orson said ’twas by means of the Seer-stone. He said he asked Orson if he ever knew of the stone’s being used after the translation, and he answered that he did; and that Joe took him upstairs at Whitmers, in Fayette, N. Y., after meeting, one Sunday, and sat down and put the stone in his hat, and the hat over his face, and read off to him a revelation, as John Whitmer wrote it down. This was in November, 1830” (in A. T. Schroeder Collection, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison). The reference to Sunday may be in error.

52. Copy of Oliver Cowdery letter, dated 12 Nov. 1830, in a Newel Knight journal currently in private possession.

53. John Whitmer’s History, as cited in F. Mark McKiernan and Roger D. Launius, eds., An Early Latter Day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1980), 31-32, 35-36, original in RLDS archives. Emily Coburn mentions a visit of Sidney Rigdon but places it at an earlier time frame in her account (Austin, Mormonism, 37).

54. “Mormonism,” The Telegraph 2 (15 Feb. 1831), Painesville, Ohio; reprinted in the Evangelical Inquirer 1 (7 Mar. 1831): 226, Dayton, Ohio, ed. [p.196]David S. Burnet; also published in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville [OH]: by the Author, 1834), 113. Richard L. Anderson identified the article’s author “M. S. C.” as probably Matthew S. Clapp (“The Impact of the First Preaching in Ohio,” Brigham Young University Studies 11 [Summer 1971]: 480).