Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
The Smith Family in Vermont and New Hampshire,
[p. 3]Born just two days shy of Christmas 1805, Joseph Smith’s entrance into the world was as commonplace as the snowflakes falling outside the window of his family’s small house in Sharon, Vermont. Even his mother, Lucy, gave his birth cursory notice in her memoir, modestly stating that “we had a son, whom we called Joseph, after the name of his father.”1 She could not have known at the time that this newborn—like his namesake in the Hebrew Bible—was destined to become his father’s favored son, family unifier, and interpreter of dreams.
The “birth of Mormonism” began not with the founding of the Church of Christ on 6 April 1830 nor with the discovery of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon in September 1823 nor even with Joseph’s birth, for the stage had been set even before the youngster drew his first breath of winter air. The forces that would propel him from obscurity were already in motion. His parents had seen ten winters together before his birth and established patterns of behavior to which the new son would adapt, and he would compete with his two older brothers and an older sister for his parents’ attention.
At his birth, his father, Joseph Sr., and mother, Lucy, had been married nine years. A defining issue that had surfaced in their marriage was religion. Joseph Sr. was theologically liberal while Lucy was not. Early on, Joseph Sr. and his father, Asael, and his oldest brother, Jesse, had helped to found a Universalist society in Tunbridge, Vermont.2 Although Joseph Sr. may have at times flirted with Methodism, he was fairly committed to Universalist doctrine. His son William wrote that his father’s Universalism “often brought him in contact with the advocates of the doctrine of endless misery, [and] the belief in the ultimate and final redemption of all mankind to heaven and happiness, brought down upon my father the opprobrium or slur of ‘Old Jo Smith.’”3 His advocacy of universal salvation for all humankind sharply [p. 4]conflicted with Lucy’s New England Puritan leanings which would eventually draw her to the Presbyterian church.
Lucy was no stranger to religious conflict, her parents also having been at odds on the topic. Before her father, Solomon Mack, converted to orthodoxy in 1810, he also believed in universal salvation. He would consequently write that he ignored his wife’s admonitions and willfully “set at naught [God’s] councils and words.”4 He admitted that what little he knew of the Bible was used “for the purpose of ridiculing religious institutions and characters.”5 Lucy’s mother, Lydia, was a Calvinist and member of the Congregationalist church who brought up her children in the strict Puritan religion.
Lucy brought a deeply personal faith to her marriage—a faith that was punctuated by family deaths and near-death experiences. When she was eight, her mother fell ill and nearly died. Believing that death was about to overtake her, Lydia gathered her children around her and exhorted them “always to remember the instructions which she had given them—to fear God and walk uprightly before Him.”6 Her unexpected recovery must have been a relief to the Mack children and a sure sign of God’s mercy.
Tragedy befell the Macks when Lucy’s two older sisters, Lovisa and Lovina, died, probably in 1794. Lucy had cared for Lovina until her last breath and remembered that the “grief occasioned by the death of Lovina was preying upon my health, and threatened my constitution with serious injury. … I was pensive and melancholy, and often in my reflections I thought that life was not worth possessing.”7 Nineteen-year-old Lucy ultimately sought comfort in religion from an apparently severe bout with depression that lasted several months. “In the midst of this anxiety of mind,” she recalled, “I determined to obtain that which I had heard spoken of so much from the pulpit—a change of heart.” Accordingly, Lucy said, “I spent much of my time in reading the Bible, and praying.” But despite her deep yearning for a community-based faith, she feared that in choosing one denomination, she would risk rejection by the others.8 The friction in her parents’ marriage over religion probably intensified young Lucy’s feelings of ambivalence.
In her decision to remain free from all denominations, one discerns a note of Christian primitivism, which is especially noticeable in her complaint about the disruption of community worship by sectarian strife. Despite claims that each church made of theological purity, Lucy believed that the denominations were “all unlike the Church of Christ, as it existed in former days.”9 Her oldest brother, Jason, held a similar view. At age twenty, he was a forceful preacher and subsequently founded a communal society in New Brunswick, Canada. Of this son, Solomon Mack wrote: “Before he attained his 16th year he became what is termed a Seeker—a believer in the [p. 5]power of God manifest through the medium of prayer and faith. He held that there was no church in existence which held to the pure principles of the gospel but labored incessantly to convince the people that by an exercise of prayer, the blessings and privileges of the ancient disciples of Jesus might be obtained, and eventually would be.”10
Joseph Sr. and Lucy were deeply religious in their daily affairs despite their differences. William related that the family customarily gathered both morning and night for prayer and that the evening meeting included the singing of hymns “upon the bending knees.”11 “I well remember father used to carry his spectacles in his vest [pocket],” William said, “and when us boys saw him feel for his specks, we knew that was a signal to get ready for prayer, and if we did not notice it mother would say, ‘William’, or whoever was the negligent one, ‘get ready for prayer.’”12 William remembered seeing his parents “pour out their souls to God … to keep and guard their children and keep them from sin and from all evil works.”13
Prior to Joseph Jr.’s birth, Joseph’s and Lucy’s marriage had been strained by financial difficulty as well. When they were married on 24 January 1796 in Tunbridge, Vermont, they were financially well situated. Lucy’s brother Stephen and his business partner gave her a check for $1,000 as a wedding present.14 Following their marriage, they settled in Tunbridge where Joseph “owned a handsome farm.”15 Shortly after moving to the farm, Lucy gave birth to an unnamed child who was either stillborn or died immediately afterwards. Reflecting on this event years later, Joseph Sr. said, “The Lord, in his just providence has taken from me, at an untimely birth, a son: this has been a matter of affliction; but the Lord’s ways are just.”16 The phrase “untimely birth” suggests a premature birth, but Joseph’s persistent “affliction” over the infant’s death seems to imply a sense of guilt or responsibility. Perhaps he felt that God had taken the infant as a punishment for his sins.17 The Smiths’ farm provided the setting for the births of two additional children: Alvin on 11 February 1798 and Hyrum on 9 February 1800.
After working his farm about five years, Joseph decided to try his hand as a merchant and rented out his farm to move his small family to neighboring Randolph, Vermont, which at the time was the economic center of Orange County and was considerably larger than Tunbridge. No doubt hoping to escape the influence and control of the Smith family, Lucy welcomed the move. Once situated in Randolph, Joseph opened a store that he stocked with goods he obtained on credit from Boston. But he soon learned that a quick profit was being made from the sale and exportation of ginseng, a root that grew wild in the soil of the green mountain state and was in high demand in China because of its use in treating the plague and other maladies. Perhaps with dreams of never having to return to the farm and a desire to secure his [p. 6]future in merchandising, he invested all the money he could in the venture. Having risked all, the outcome of the venture would irretrievably affect his family’s fortunes.
He probably obtained the ginseng from local farmers in exchange for goods at his store. When a merchant named Stevens from nearby Royalton heard that Smith had procured a considerable quantity of ginseng, he offered $3,000 for it. Joseph refused, preferring to export the ginseng himself, anticipating a return of as much as $4,500. He went to New York City and arranged to have the ginseng shipped to China.
When Stevens learned of Joseph’s plans, he sent his son to China on the same ship, and upon returning to port, the ship’s captain evidently entrusted young Stevens with transporting Joseph’s money to Randolph. Joseph never received the money. Instead, Stevens told him that the ginseng venture had been a complete failure, maybe suggesting that the market in China was glutted or that the plague had abated and caused the demand to drop. The only compensation Joseph received was a small tea chest. Stevens handed it to him on behalf of the ship’s captain.
Joseph was “quite dispirited” by this reversal. In addition to losing his entire investment, he had incurred more than $2,000 in debts from his store patrons and he still owed his Boston creditors $1,800. In order to liquidate the Boston debt, he was forced to sell the Tunbridge farm for $800, to which Lucy added the $1,000 check she had received as a wedding present. Though they escaped bankruptcy, they were penniless and disinherited. If Lucy remained unruffled, as her narrative implies, Joseph must have been completely humiliated.
A short time later, young Stevens rented a house from Lucy’s brother Stephen, who became suspicious when Stevens hired eight or ten men and began crystallizing large quantities of ginseng. When Mack went to investigate and found Stevens intoxicated, he elicited a confession that Stevens had kept Joseph’s profit for his own use. Later that night, Lucy’s brother rode to Randolph to inform Joseph of his discovery. When Stevens learned of Mack’s destination, he dismissed his laborers, loaded up his carriage, and raced for the Canadian border. Joseph jumped on his horse in pursuit but eventually gave up the chase.
Six months after moving to Randolph, Lucy fell seriously ill with what a doctor diagnosed as “confirmed consumption” (probably pneumonia).18 The diagnosis recalled the deaths of her two sisters, and Lucy descended into despair and depression. The symptoms she later described are not unlike those of a severe nervous breakdown. “I continued to grow weaker and weaker,” she recalled, “until I could scarcely endure even a footfall upon the floor, except in stocking-foot, and no one was allowed to speak in the room above a whisper.” A visit from a Methodist exhorter succeeded only in distressing her further. By merely knocking at her door, Lucy reported, he “so agitated me that it was a considerable length of time before my nerves became altogether [p. 7]quieted again.” She dreaded being asked if she was prepared to die since, at the time, she considered herself spiritually unready for this. Reflecting on her situation, she admitted: “I knew not the ways of Christ; besides, there appeared to be a dark and lonesome chasm, between myself and the Savior, which I dared not attempt to pass.”19 The dark and lonesome chasm may have symbolized the emotional separation from her husband that she feared would result if she chose her own religious path.
As she lay in bed contemplating death, she thought by straining her eyes “towards the light (which I knew lay just beyond the gloomy vale before me) that I could discover a faint glimmer.”20 Just then her husband knelt beside her bed and, taking her by the hand, sobbed: “Oh, Lucy! my wife! my wife! you must die! The doctors have given you up; and all say you cannot live.” She begged the Lord to spare her life so that she might continue as wife and mother. During the night she secretly covenanted with God that “if he would let me live I would endeavor to get that religion that would enable me to serve him right whether it was in the Bible or where ever it might be found even if it was to be obtained from heaven by prayer and faith.”21 Soon after, Lucy heard a voice say: “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Let your heart be comforted; ye believe in God, believe also in me.”22 When Lydia entered the room a few moments later, she immediately noticed that her daughter’s physical condition had changed.
Upon recovery, Lucy began to search for religious leadership. Following a visit with Deacon Davis, she expressed disgust by his utter lack of spirituality. Next, she attended a Sunday service conducted by the local Presbyterian minister. Again she felt nothing. “All was emptiness, vanity, [and] vexation of spirit,” she recalled. She said that the minister’s discourse “palled upon my heart like the chill night air. … It did not fill the aching void within nor satisfy the craving hunger of the soul.” The experience left her “almost in total despair,” and with a “grieved and troubled spirit,” she returned home convinced that “there is not on earth the religion which I seek.” She concluded, “I must again turn to my bible” and “taking … Jesus and his disciples for an ensample I will try to obtain from God that which man cannot give nor take away.” She might read other books or listen to friends and strangers regarding religion, but she decided that the “word of God shall be my guide to life and salvation which I will endeavor to obtain if it so be had by diligence in prayer.”23 Until she joined the Presbyterian church in Palmyra, New York, in 1824 or 1825, she pursued her version of private religion “till at last I concluded that my mind would be easier if I were baptized and I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from … membership in any church.”24
Discovery of Stevens’s theft no doubt transformed Joseph Sr.’s feelings of incompetence [p. 8]into anger and distrust. Worldly wealth and respect were within his grasp and had slipped away. Regardless, his first venture away from his family’s influence in Tunbridge had ended in total failure. Now he would have to return to his farm, this time as a tenant. According to the land records for Tunbridge, he made an inter-family transaction, implying that one or more members of the Smith family purchased his share in the farm and became his landlords.25
He moved his family to the farm in time for the birth of Sophronia on 17 May 1803. During the family’s year there, Jason Mack visited twice and left in their care for six months an orphaned boy named William. Jason’s religious views struck a chord with Joseph Sr., for in Lucy’s description of her husband’s response to the sectarian strife in Royalton in 1811, she wrote: “He would not subscribe to any particular system of faith, but contended for the ancient order, as established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his Apostles.”26 Joseph Sr. also reportedly received his first remarkable dream at this time—one which confirmed to him that “the world … now lieth inanimate and dumb, in regard to the true religion, or plan of salvation.”27 “From this time forward,” Lucy said, “my husband seemed more confirmed than ever, in the opinion that there was no order or class of religionists that knew any more concerning the Kingdom of God, than those of the world, or such as make no profession of religion whatever.”28
While Joseph Sr. was sympathetic to his brother-in-law’s Seeker religion, Lucy was more interested in Methodism. She recalled that during her residence in Tunbridge in 1803 or 1804, “I was very seriously impressed [with] the subject of religion occasioned probably by my singular experience while sick at Randolph.”29 She managed to persuade her husband to attend some of the meetings. The thought of his son participating in the enthusiastic excesses of Methodism displeased Asael who, as Lucy remembered, came to their house and threw a copy of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason into the main room and “angrily bade him [to] read that until he believed it.”30 Lucy also recalled that Asael and Jesse Smith pulled Joseph aside to advise him “that he ought not to let his wife go to the meetings and it would be far better for him to stop going. … Accordingly my husband requested me not to go, as it gave our friends such disagreeable feelings he thought it was hardly worth our while.”31
Lucy was running up against these key Smith family members, and considering her family’s financial difficulties, she chose not to resist, though she later confessed to being “very much hurt by” Joseph’s behavior and decided not to “reply to him then.” In a nearby grove, she prayed for God to “so influence the heart of my husband that he would one day be induced to receive the Gospel whenever it was preached.” She returned to the house “much depressed in spirits.”32 That night she had a remarkable dream about her husband one day joining a church. In this dream, Lucy recalled, her [p. 9]husband was represented by a willow-like tree that bent gracefully while Jesse was an oak-like tree that stood stiff against the wind. The wind, she understood, was the “pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God” which Jesse would always resist but Joseph would one day “receive with his whole heart.”33 Her interpretation of the dream no doubt reflected the advantage of hindsight when in 1830 Joseph Sr. was baptized into his son’s new church and Jesse emphatically refused to even read the Book of Mormon.
Although in later years Lucy came to interpret her dream in a way that portrayed her husband positively and Jesse more negatively, the dream more likely depicts Joseph Sr. as impotent under pressure, a trait that disappointed Lucy. She wished to see her husband become more stable like his older brother. In any case, the dream convinced Lucy to set the matter aside and simply leave the issue unresolved—at least for the time being.
In the spring of 1804, the Smiths moved to nearby Royalton, Vermont, where they remained a few months. On 27 August 1804, Solomon Mack purchased a 100-acre farm that straddled the Royalton-Sharon line, a portion of which he rented to Joseph. Soon the five members of the Joseph Smith family took up residence in a small log cabin, secluded high in the hills above the White River Valley on an outcropping known as Dairy Hill. By cultivating the farm in the spring and summer and teaching school in the winter, Joseph managed in a few years to once again place his family in comfortable circumstances. The family’s spirits must have been high when Joseph Jr. was born on Monday, 23 December 1805.
However, not much time passed before Joseph Sr. found that he was growing weary of toiling in the demanding Vermont soil. He was restless and dreaming again of getting rich, though not from ginseng. This time he was thinking about treasure rumored to be buried in the rocky hills surrounding his farm. Daniel Woodward, a long-time resident of neighboring Royalton and former assistant judge of Windsor County court, said that while living in Sharon, Joseph Sr. “was, at times, engaged in hunting for Captain Kidd’s buried treasure.”34 Following William Kidd’s arrest in New York City in 1690, Kidd was tried, found guilty of piracy and murder, and executed in London in 1701. Kidd buried some treasure on Gardiner’s Island in Long Island Sound, which authorities soon recovered. Speculation that he had buried additional treasure somewhere along New England’s coast kept hunters occupied well into the nineteenth century. In recounting the activities of one early nineteenth-century treasure hunter who operated along the coast of Maine and went by the name, “The Commodore,” the United States Magazine and Democratic Review for March 1850 remarked that “scarcely a mile of coast, from the mouth of the Connecticut to Penobscot [Maine],” had escaped the shovels of “credulous people” in search [p. 10]of Kidd’s fabulous booty.35 However, it was not long before hopeful treasure seekers turned to inland locations, theorizing that Kidd or other pirates had navigated one of several possible rivers. Royalton and Sharon are situated on White River, a tributary of the Connecticut River, the former traveling southward between Vermont and New Hampshire through Connecticut and emptying into Long Island Sound just above Gardiner’s Island.
The idea of pirates traveling as far inland as Vermont is doubtful, but Joseph Sr. was not alone in searching for pirate treasure. There were hunters active in Bellows Falls, a town located about fifty-five miles south of Sharon along the Connecticut River, and others searching in the remote towns of Waitsfield, Wallingford, and Middlesex.36 The precise details of Joseph Sr.’s treasure-seeking activities in Vermont are unknown, and the extent to which he may have applied folk magical practices must be inferred from the more fully documented New York period.37 Nevertheless, James Colin Brewster, who claimed to have participated with Joseph Sr. and others in hunting for treasure using mineral rods in Kirtland, Ohio, about 1837, quoted Smith as saying: “I know more about money digging, than any man in this generation, for I have been in the business more than thirty years.”38 Counting backwards thirty-plus years, Joseph Sr. seems to be assigning the origin of his use of the divining rod to shortly after his namesake son’s birth in Sharon, roughly the same setting identified by Woodward.
The divining or dowsing rod that was used to search for treasure seemed to work on a scientific principle even if its operation was not completely understood. A forked stick when pulled apart and held in delicate balance may move in a manner the operator feels is independent of his own will. Actually, the dowser experiences what psychologists term the ideomotor effect or the unconscious movement of the hand.39 Regardless of the mode of operation, it was believed that the moisture or sap in a rod was attracted to underground water and minerals much like a current of electricity or magnetism. For proof of the rod’s efficacy, rod workers pointed to their high success rate in locating water. It has been postulated that this is attributable to a combination of unconscious “instrumentation,” poor standards of validation, and the false notion that underground water sources were confined to, and specifically located in, subterraneous streams and pools.40 Because the water table permeates or saturates a porous stratum of rock and soil, it is unnecessary to pinpoint an exact spot to dig a well. Indeed, one can dig anywhere in a general area with the same result. Thus, one skeptical investigator writing in the American Journal of Science and Arts in 1826 argued: “If fountains have been and are discovered, according to the predictions of the diviner, (which I allow,) it is because, in this country, men can hardly fail of finding water in from 20 to 50 feet deep, any where. … But they do sometimes mistake altogether; and [p. 11]their failure being no wonder, is soon forgotten, while their success is matter of astonishment long to be remembered.”41
Despite the pseudo-scientific explanation that adepts offered, the divining rod, according to one scholar, had “entered America as part of a complex of magical beliefs which it only later shed.”42 Thus, adepts procured their rods according to magical instruction on nights of astrological significance and the favorable positioning of the moon, accompanied by certain mystical ceremonies.43 The adept might go so far as to mark the rod with special magical symbols and invoke the aid of spirits.44 Within the context of folk magic, the rod became a versatile instrument, used not only to locate water, minerals, and treasure, but to receive revelation as well. Rod workers who believed in magic asked questions of their rods and if the rod dipped, the answer was yes; if it remained motionless, the answer was no. In the final analysis, the rod never revealed anything that the adept did not already know or could reasonably intuit on his own. A peculiar feature of these revelation rods was their ability to exhibit the same misapprehensions and errors to which humans are subject, such as when the Commodore erroneously divined the nationality of Ohio’s ancient earthworks as having been built by the Welsh (his own ancestors came from Wales), which he dated to the century preceding Christ’s birth.45
Since this topic will become important later, it may be instructive to consider a few other aspects of treasure seeking. Even though treasure seekers were never as successful as those who dowsed for water, it was the seeming success of the “water witch” that provided the necessary encouragement to keep a treasure quest alive. Whatever scientific explanations were advanced regarding water witching, it was magic that provided treasure searchers with an explanation for their recurring failure to uncover ever-illusive treasures. When pressed to explain his failure to unearth the treasure that his rod had positively located, the Commodore explained “that he failed in finding the treasure not from any fault in the rod, but from the malevolence of the devil, or evil spirit, who was put in charge of the money by the pirates, and was thus induced into the office of ‘keeper,’ by the blood of some man, or animal, killed on the spot, and poured into the pit.”46
According to legend, Kidd had murdered one of his men and buried his body with the treasure as protection against intruders. Central to magic was the belief that the souls of those who suffered violent deaths or were murdered did not rest but remained near their bodies until given a proper burial.47 Stories of guardian spirits attacking diggers abounded. As early as 1729, Benjamin Franklin described the terror with which some excavations were made. “Full of expectation they labor violently,” Franklin wrote, “trembling at the same time in every joint, through fear of certain malicious demons who are said to haunt and guard such places.”48 The guardian [p. 12]spirits had another method of protecting their troves to which the Commodore alluded when he used the term “malevolence.” Franklin noted “that through some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink [the treasure] deeper into the earth and convey it out of their reach.”49 The notion that enchanted treasures could move through the earth was both common and widespread.50
If magic provided treasure seekers with an explanation for failure, it also gave them means to overcome the spell that held the prize. Concerning such procedures, the skeptical Franklin noted that “astrologers, with whom the country swarms at this time … are often consulted about the critical times for digging, the methods of laying the spirit, and the like whimseys.”51 Among the unmentioned “whimseys” was the magic circle, which treasure seekers believed protected them from guardian spirits.52 In 1786 Silas Hamilton, a leading resident of Whitingham, Vermont, described one variation of the practice: “Take nine steel rods about ten or twelve inches in length, sharp or piked to pierce into the earth, and let them be besmeared with fresh blood from a hen mixed with hog dung. Then make two circles round the hid treasure, one of said circles a little larger in circumference than the hid treasure lays in the earth, the other circle some[what] larger still, and as the hid treasure is wont to move to [the] north or south, east or west, place your rods as is described on the other side of this leaf [sheet].”53 Hamilton’s drawing shows five rods spaced evenly around the outer circle and four others around the inner circle. Another “common” method used by the “old mineral hunters” in Ohio was to draw a large circle on the ground around the treasure, after which the adept walked the perimeter reading from the Apocrypha while his comrades followed behind dropping nine new nails at equal distances.54 Use of the magic circle by American treasure seekers was so ubiquitous that it appeared in a 1767 Philadelphia play, The Disappointment: or, The Force of Credulity, a satire on money diggers.55 Similar rituals had surfaced in various places in early America, which is probably due to the fact that they were transplanted to America from western Europe and England.56
By cultivating his gift as a rod worker and resorting to magic, which one interpreter has called a “quasi-scientific religiosity,” Joseph Sr. would have expressed his religious views in a way that was more acceptable to his skeptical, rationalistic father.57 Because the rod did not work for everyone, the rod worker was believed to possess “a peculiar natural gift.”58 This was an empowering, although misguided, belief. Joseph Sr. evidently intended to pass his gifts as a dreamer and treasure-seeker to his namesake. Responding in 1843 to Joseph Jr.’s “Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys,” the residents of Strafford, a town adjacent to Tunbridge, reported (evidently referring to a period before the Smiths’ removal from Vermont in 1812): “You [Joseph Jr.] was [p. 13]old enough when you left here to remember a great many things about [your father, Joseph Sr.,] and how he used to tell about your being born with a veil over your face, and that he intended to procure a stone for you to see all over the world with.”59 Like the biblical Jacob, Joseph Sr. would bypass the tradition of first-born inheritance and give his greatest blessing—the only blessing he had to impart—to a younger son.60
1. Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 56 (cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 1:253; hereafter EMD).
2. Tunbridge Town Record, 6 December 1797, Book A, 188, Tunbridge Town Clerk’s Office, Tunbridge, VT (EMD 1:633-34). While Jesse’s subsequent adherence to Calvinism suggests that his early involvement with Universalism was either passing or a means of avoiding Vermont’s required minister’s tax, Asael and Joseph continued to espouse Universalist doctrines until they encountered the Book of Mormon. Asael, for instance, wrote to his family in 1799: “And if you can believe that Christ [came] to save sinners and not the righteous Pharisees or self-righteous; that sinners must be saved by the righteousness of Christ alone, without mixing any of their own righteousness with his, then you will see that he can as well save all as any” (in Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage: Influences of Grandfathers Solomon Mack and Asael Smith, 2nd rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2003], 161-62). Joseph Sr.’s universalism is discussed below.
3. On Joseph Sr.’s membership in the Universalist church, see Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage, 133-34, 269-70, n. 183, 279, n. 203. For William Smith’s comment, see “Notes on ‘Chamber’s Life of Joseph Smith,’” ca. 1875, 28-29, LDS Church Archives (EMD 1:487).
10. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 5. The published version does not attribute the description of Jason Mack’s beliefs to Solomon (L. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 21), but the preliminary draft clarifies that this was taken from Solomon’s manuscript history, written sometime before his death in 1820, which Lucy had in her possession (pp. 1, 7). On Seekerism, see my discussion in Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), especially chapter 1.
16. Joseph Smith, Sr., [Introductory Comments], Patriarchal Blessing Book 1:1-2, LDS Church Archives (EMD 1:469); see also “Copy of Don Carlos Smith’s family record written by his own hand,” ca. 1839-40, 7, LDS Church Archives, which states that Joseph’s and Lucy’s “firstborn died soon after it was born and was not named amongst the living.”
17. Some have suggested Joseph Sr.’s guilt may have resulted from the child’s conception outside wedlock (see Robert D. Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999], 17).
18. Anderson states: “Tuberculosis is unlikely, since no one else, including the children, seems to have been infected, and her unlikely recovery would have taken many years. Pneumonia seems much more likely” (Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith, 18).
25. See Larry C. Porter, “A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816-1831,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1971, 17.
39. For the failure of water dowsers to succeed under controlled double-blind testing, see Evon Z. Vogt and Ray Hyman, Water Witching USA, 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979); James Randi, Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and other Delusions (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986), 307-25; James Randi, An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 77-81; Ray Hyman, “Dowsing,” in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, Gordon Stein, ed. (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1996), 222-33; and Leonard Zusne and Warren H. Jones, Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989), 97-111. The ideomotor effect, sometimes referred to as “automatism,” underlies other supposed supernatural phenomena such as automatic writing, glossolalia, table-tipping, and the ouija board.
40. One 1825 source mentioned the “art of discovering streams of water or veins of minerals beneath the surface of the earth by the mysterious properties of the hazel wand” (“The Divining Rod,” Worcester Magazine and Historical Record 1 [Oct. 1825]: 27, emphasis added).
45. See “A History of the Divining Rod,” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review 26 (Mar. 1850): 319. Another example would be the rodsmen of Middletown, Vermont, who in 1800-1802 divined the Israelite tribe from which individuals had sprung (see Barnes Frisbie, The History of Middletown, Vermont (Rutland, VT: Tuttle and Co., 1867), 55 (EMD 1:612). As later discussed, Joseph Smith’s scribe Oliver Cowdery used a rod for revelation prior to meeting Smith, a gift that Smith encouraged (see chapter 11 of this volume).
50. See Gerard T. Hurley, “Buried Treasure Tales in America,” Western Folklore 10 (July 1951): 200; Wayland D. Hand, “The Quest for Buried Treasure: A Chapter in American Folk Legendry,” in Folklore on Two Continents: Essays in Honor of Linda Degh, Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl, eds. (Bloomington: Trickster Press, 1980), 112-19; Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 26, 60-63, 196-97. Walker, “The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting,” 444. In 1825 the Wayne Sentinel reprinted an article from the Windsor (VT) Journal stating that many believed in the “frightful stories of money being hid under the surface of the earth, and enchanted by the Devil or Robert Kidd” (16 Feb. 1825). The Wayne Sentinel that same year reprinted another article from the Orleans (NY) Advocate which reported the discovery of a pot of gold through use of a seer stone and the unsuccessful attempt to unearth it on account of its movement by the devil “or some other invisible agent” (27 Dec. 1825).
57. See Alan Taylor, “Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith’s Treasure Seeking,” in The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith, ed. Bryan Waterman (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 144.
59. Green Mountain Boys to Thomas C. Sharp, 15 Feb. 1844, 3, Thomas C. Sharp and Allied Anti-Mormon Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT (EMD 1:597). It was widely believed that an infant born with a veil or caul over its head was lucky. This fragment of the amniotic membrane was not only a good omen for the newly born but also for anyone who possessed one; hence, cauls were sold on the open market (see, e.g., Thomas Rogers Forbes, The Midwife and the Witch [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966], 94-111). Appreciation to Mark Ashurst-McGee for bringing this to my attention.
60. This likely fostered rivalry among Joseph’s older siblings. Of course, neither Joseph nor his mother spoke of this rivalry, but the theme is so pervasive in the Book of Mormon that, in my opinion, it is impossible to ignore (see chapter 9).