Inventing Mormonism
H. Michael Marquardt & Wesley P. Walters

Conclusion

[p.197]This study might be called the search for the historical Joseph. Although it has become fashionable in some quarters to quote Martin Heidegger’s axiom that “there are no facts, only interpretation,” we believe that facts exist and that an array of different interpretations is possible. We trust most readers will agree.

One feels considerable empathy for Joseph Smith as his life unfolds from court records and other scraps of history. When the Smiths default on their mortgage, when a young women dies and friends grapple with the meaning of death, when money diggers demand their share of the treasure, when Joseph is jeered at in open court for crystal-gazing, when a potential convert is abducted by her Presbyterian minister—these are not stories of public relations invention. What we encounter is an understanding of the complexity of the times and that these issues were an important part of everyday life.

As the documents reveal, some events differed from what has been traditionally taught. Was Smith less than forthcoming in later years about his evolution from Manchester farmboy to a new prophet? Did he or others alter the record intentionally? Having been involved in our own quest for the past thirty years searching archives for clues to this and other mysteries, we have long since abandoned the simple prophet-fraud dichotomy that others still find so compelling. Our intent is to understand, not to debunk.

The question of volition is open-ended. Smith believed that he spoke with supernatural beings, and he produced impressive tran-[p.198]scripts of interviews with them. Whether he actually did is ultimately a matter of faith.

Those interested in the origin of Mormonism will soon discover that to have only Joseph Smith’s recollections of his early years misses the richness of the times. When Smith told his life’s history, his understanding at that later time shaped the story of his extraordinary visions. Magical incantations, guardian spirits, treasures in hills, use of a special stone for secular and religious purposes—these were all de-emphasized while the story became conflated and simplified. Supernatural encounters were amplified and polished to accommodate more orthodox views. To us, the original accounts ring more authentic.

Whether readers peruse our book in search of their own spiritual moorings or out of historical inquisitiveness, it should assist them in clarifying some of the issues surrounding the beginnings of this new religious movement. Predominantly a summary of primary documents and recollections, our book allows room for people of all perspectives to expand rather than confine their perceptions.

Joseph Smith is an important figure in western religious development, and he deserves a preeminent place among other millennialists of his time. Much of the subsequent history and world view of the United States was influenced by such reformers whose social experiments, redaction of religious tradition, and consideration of alternative futures brought us to where we are today.

[p.199]

Joseph Smith, Sr., Farmington, NY

One hundred acres of Lot 1 taxed to Joseph Smith, Sr., for the first time in Farmington (Manchester), New York. (From Assessment Roll, Farmington [Manchester], New York, 7 July 1821; courtesy Ontario County Records Center and Archives, Canandaigua, New York.)

[p.200]

Tax Record

Palmyra Highway Tax Record for 1822, District 26. (From typed copy by Doris Nesbitt, preserved on microfilm in copies of old village records, Palmyra, New York, 1793-1867).

[p.201]

account book

Lemuel Durfee, Sr., Account Book, 16 April 1827.
Transcription:
April the 16 day the year 1827 S.  Harrison Smith Son of Joseph Smith began to Work for me by the month. is to Work 7 Months for the use of the place Where said Joseph Smith Lives
(Courtesy Ontario County Historical Society, Canandaigua, New York.)

[p.202]

Justice Neely

1826 Bill of Justice Albert Neely. (Courtesy Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Chenango County Office Building, Norwich, New York.)

[p.203]

transcription neely

Transcription of 1826 Bill of Justice Albert Neely.

[p.204]

Hill Cumorah

Hill Cumorah, Manchester, New York. (Photograph by George E. Anderson, 1907).

[p.205]

book of mormon

Title page of 1830 Book of Mormon.

[p.206]

joseph, sr.

January 1830 Joseph Smith, Sr., and Martin Harris Agreement. In Simon Gratz Autograph Collection, Case 8, Box 17 (American Miscellaneous), under Smith, Joseph, Sr., Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania; used by permission.)

[p.207]

transcription smith harris

Transcription of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Martin Harris Agreement: [above]

[p.208]

revelations

Revelations of 6 April 1830, given in Manchester, New York. A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ (in press 1833).

[p.209]

revelations

Revelations of 6 April 1830, given in Manchester, New York. A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ (in press 1833).

[p.210]

revelations

Revelations of 6 April 1830, given in Manchester, New York. A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ (in press 1833).

[p.211]

crooked brook

Crooked Brook on Smith Farm, Manchester, New York. (Photograph by George E. Anderson, 1907. Published in Birth of Mormonism in Picture [Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School, ca. 1909].)

[p.212]

docket book

Nathan Pierce Docket Book, 1827-30, case of Hyrum Smith, 28 June 1830. (Coutesy Manchester Town Office, Manchester, New York). Transcription below.

[p.213]

transcription

Transcription of Nathan Pierce Docket Book, case of Hyrum Smith, 28 June 1830.

[p.214]

execution

Execution against Hyrum Smith (front), 14 August 1830, in Nathan Pierce Docket Book, 1827-30. (Coutesy Manchester Town Office, Manchester, New York.)

[p.215]

execution

Execution against Hyrum Smith (back), 14 August 1830, in Nathan Pierce Docket Book, 1827-30. (Courtesy Manchester Town Office, Manchester, New York.)

[p.216]

transcription

Transcription of back and front of Execution against Hyrum Smith, in Nathan Pierce Docket Book, 1827-30.