Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
 by Dan Vogel

Chapter 4
Slippery Treasures

[p. 35]The demands of opening a new farm were not sufficient to divert Joseph Sr. entirely from the distraction of searching for buried treasure. Several neighbors in the northwest corner of Manchester Township reported that soon after moving into the neighborhood in 1820, Joseph Sr. manifested an unusual preoccupation with treasure searching and that his sons Alvin and Joseph shared in his enthusiasm. From these accounts, it is evident that the two Josephs were more than mere hobbiests because they were said to locate treasures through the gifts of divination and clairvoyance.

The Smiths were not unique in this regard. In Manchester they found themselves in a competitive environment;1 yet before long, Joseph Jr. dominated the scene, having carefully built a reputation that surpassed his rivals. This rise to prominence was not without consequences in that it aroused jealousy among the lesser lights. After he said he removed the gold plates from their hiding place in 1827, Joseph found that some of his former companions were among his most bitter enemies. Far from being the passive participant portrayed in his official history, he was an aggressive, ambitious leader among Manchester’s treasure seekers.

In addition to locating treasure through the use of mineral rods and seer stones, the Smiths employed various forms of magic in an attempt to dislodge stubborn treasures from the grasp of their guardian spirits. That Joseph Sr.’s personalized and heterodox religious views incorporated folk magic beliefs was something that Lucy did not deny. Evidently aware of the criticism of indolence that was leveled against the treasure seekers, Lucy declared in her preliminary manuscript—“Let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopped our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac, drawing magic circles, or soothsaying to the neglect of all kinds of business. We never during our lives suffered one important [p. 36]interest to swallow up every other obligation.”2 Concerned that her family appeared to be lazy, Lucy nevertheless confirmed that they were involved in treasure searching, magic, and the occult. It was more than Joseph Jr. was willing to admit. Perhaps not surprisingly, the above statement was dropped from the final draft of Lucy’s narrative.

Peter Ingersoll, who met the Smiths in 1822 and whose land bordered theirs on the north,3 received instructions from Joseph Sr. on one occasion regarding the use of a forked mineral rod. At Smith’s request, Ingersoll followed him to a spot near the Smiths’ cabin where money was thought to be buried. Taking his pocketknife, Joseph cut a forked branch off a nearby witch hazel bush and placed it into Ingersoll’s hands. After instructing him on how to hold it—grasping the ends of each fork and pulling them slightly apart to create a state of unbalance in the tip—Smith “went off some rods, and told me to say to the rod, ‘work to the money,’ which I did, in an audible voice. He rebuked me severely for speaking it loud, and said it must be spoken in a whisper.” As the experiment continued, Ingersoll remembered that “the old man” began “throwing himself into various shapes” in encouraging the rod. If he had hoped to convince his neighbor, Joseph failed to do so. Ingersoll soon discontinued the experiment and declared that “the rod did not work.” Joseph “seemed much surprised at this,” Ingersoll recalled, “and said he thought he saw it move in my hand.”4

Moments later, Ingersoll was surprised when Joseph Sr. declared that a stone Ingersoll had picked up to throw at birds was in fact a seer stone. Taking the stone from him, Smith said: “If you only knew the value there is back of my house, (and pointing to a place near)—there, exclaimed he, is one chest of gold and another of silver.” As will be seen, the treasure behind the Smiths’ house was probably located on the small, narrow hill that ran along the eastern border of their property. Ingersoll said that Smith “put the stone which I had given him, into his hat, and stooping forward, he bowed and made sundry maneuvers, quite similar to those of a stool pigeon. At length he took down his hat, and being very much exhausted, said, in a faint voice, ‘if you knew what I had seen, you would believe.’” Alvin joined his father in the “same performance,” which Ingersoll regarded as “equally disgusting.”5

Neighbor Willard Chase, whose family was well known among Manchester treasure seekers, remembered that the Smiths were involved in the business as early as 1820. His younger sister, Sally, had a bluish-green seer stone which she used for locating treasure and other objects lost or stolen, and Willard sometimes dug for treasure at her direction.6 A skeptical neighbor, Lorenzo Saun­ders, whose sister married Willard, recalled that people, including himself, often called on Sally for help in locating lost objects but said she was usually of little assistance.7 Lorenzo’s oldest [p. 37]brother, Orlando, once went to Sally to find some lost cattle, but when they were located, “they were found right in the opposite direction from where she said they were.”8 Among Sally’s patrons was young Joseph Smith. Before procuring his own seer stone in 1822, he also reportedly asked Sally to look into her stone for hidden treasure.9 Joseph’s patronage was short-lived, however, for his admiration soon turned to imitation.

The Chase family property bordered the Smiths’ land on the east, and the two families sometimes searched for treasure together. Willard told Lorenzo Saun­ders about one occasion when he and Alvin Smith were digging together and found an iron chest that vanished after Willard broke his shovel on it.10 Another time, Alvin and Willard dug on property occupied by the Saunders family and owned by Palmyra justice of the peace Abner Cole. Alvin and Willard worked under the direction of a man named Walters, later identified as Luman Walters,11 a traveling necromancer who offered his services for a fee. Saunders said: “At the time the big hole was dug in the hill they was duped by one Walters who pretended to be a conjurer. I heard Willard Chase say that he was duped. They could not be deceived in it after he had gone through with a certain movements and … charged them $7.”12 Cole, who evidently took an interest in the activities that occurred on his property, said that the Manchester treasure seekers paid Walters three dollars per day.13

Walters was more sophisticated and mature than Sally Chase. Sally indicated where treasure was located but was powerless in the face of the treasures’ guardians. Walters, on the other hand, claimed to possess secret knowledge by which spells could be broken and guardian spirits vanquished. He appeared in Manchester with all the trappings of a medieval magician—“magic stone,” “stuffed toad,” “rusty sword” used for drawing magic circles on the ground, esoteric books written in Latin from which he read various incantations, and a flair for the dramatic.14 Cole reported in 1831 that “Walters assembled his nightly band of money diggers in the town of Manchester, at a point designated in his magical book, and drawing a circle around the laborers, with the point of an old rusty sword, and using sundry other incantations, for the purpose of propitiating the spirit, absolutely sacrificed a fowl, (‘Rooster,’) in the presence of his awe-stricken companions, to the foul spirit, whom ignorance had created, the guardian of hidden wealth; and after digging until day-light, his deluded employers retired to their several habitations, fatigued and disappointed.”15 When no treasure was recovered and local inhabitants began to suspect Walters of fraud, the magician retreated to the mountains near Sodus Bay, a wilderness region in northern Wayne County on Lake Ontario. The magician had more to fear than dissatisfied clients because a New York law criminalized “all jugglers, and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending [p. 38]to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found.”16 Usually authorities took no action against this type of “disorderly person” unless someone made a formal complaint and money had changed hands. Eventually the law caught up with Walters, for Cole reported in 1831 that he “was once committed to the jail of [Wayne] county for juggling.17

Not long after Walters left Manchester, Joseph Smith Jr. began to fill the void left by his departure, perhaps at the urging of Alvin or his father. Impressed by Walters’s theatrical style, Joseph successfully imitated some of the older magician’s flair, and Cole opined that the “mantle” of Walters had fallen upon the young man.18 First of all, Joseph had to establish himself as a credible seer and cultivate a reputation of his own. Reputation was everything to a would-be seer, and Joseph was adept and resourceful in this endeavor.

In procuring a seer stone, he was not satisfied to simply pick up any stone at random as his father had with Ingersoll. His stone would need to have special significance in order to create credibility. While visiting the Chase family one day, Joseph asked Sally if he could look into her stone. This was not an unusual request, for many people had tried to “peep” with her exotic stone. Recalling a past friendship with Sally, S. F. Anderick said in 1887 that “Sallie let me have [her stone] several times, but I never could see anything in or through it.”19 On the day that Sally handed Smith her stone, a competitor was born for Joseph exclaimed he too could see in the stone. It was not a treasure or lost article that he saw, but something more valuable—another seer stone. He could see that the stone was located in a remote section of western New York near Lake Erie “under the roots of a tree or shrub as large as his arm.” He said the stone “became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid-day sun.” He left Manchester in search of his stone, probably in 1822 when he was sixteen years old.20 After a few days, he returned with a small white stone which he claimed had the power to dissolve both time and distance. It was like having an “All-Seeing-Eye,” he told listeners in South Bainbridge, New York.21

Joseph discovered that this stone did not bring the prestige he desired for he had been alone on his trip and no one could corroborate the stone’s miraculous discovery. It was also unlikely that he could get Sally to authenticate the stone’s genuineness. Fortunately, an opportunity soon presented itself that would circumvent this obstacle.

Sometime in the summer or fall of 1822, Willard Chase hired Alvin and Joseph to help him dig a well near his family’s cabin less than a mile east of the Smiths’ residence on the Canandaigua Road. Considering the list of participants, the well probably had been located through divination. Willard said that he had been in the hole [p. 39]alone, digging about twenty feet below the surface, when he noticed a strange looking stone that others would describe as dark brown, about the size of a hen’s egg, and shaped like a baby’s shoe.22 When he emerged from the well, he showed the stone to Alvin and Joseph. “We were examining it,” Willard recalled, “[when] Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat.” Chase did not record Joseph’s response but reported that on the following day, the young man asked if he could have the stone, saying that he was able to see things in it. Chase said, “I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but would lend it.”23 Joseph kept the stone for two years, during which time he built a reputation as a gifted seer.

Possession of the Chase stone added considerable notoriety to Joseph, augmented by his own natural talents. The Chase family’s reputation for such things and the confidence of their neighbors, many of whom regularly consulted Sally in spite of her failures, gave credence to the stone’s reputation. Later, while giving his statement to Philastus Hurlbut in 1833, Willard Chase tried to distance himself from Smith and his treasure-seeing by concealing his own family’s involvement. However, prior to Smith’s procurement of the gold plates in 1827, the Smiths and Chases were partners in treasure seeking. In a private conversation with Lorenzo Saunders, Chase confessed that he and Alvin Smith had dug for treasure together at the direction of Walters the magician.24 Willard supported Joseph’s claims by allowing him to use the stone, even returning it to him in 1825 after regaining ownership of it for about a year. As will be seen, the Chase family permitted Joseph to lead a money-digging operation on their own property. In light of his actions in 1827, especially his and his sister’s attempts to discover Smith’s hiding place for the gold plates,25 Willard’s subsequent claim that he regarded the stone as nothing more than a “curiosity” is unconvincing. On the contrary, both Willard and Sally believed the stone was genuine and were convinced that Smith could see things with it. Later, after Smith had “translated” the Book of Mormon, Willard was embarrassed that his family had unwittingly helped Smith get a start and therefore wished to minimize his own role in the making of the prophet.

The earliest Smith family treasure quests probably occurred on their newly acquired Manchester land. In 1822 Joseph Sr. told Peter Ingersoll that he saw treasures in a hill behind his house. However, digging did not occur until Joseph Jr. could divine the locations. Despite Joseph Sr.’s invitation to join his money-digging company, Ingersoll resisted until Joseph Jr. became its leading seer. Ingersoll was only too happy to describe in detail his amusement and “disgust” when Joseph Sr. and Alvin demonstrated their scrying technique, but he was completely silent about Joseph Jr. This silence may be due to his belief in the scryer’s gift. According to Pomeroy [p. 40]Tucker, Ingersoll “had believingly taken part in Smith’s money-digging operations, and was at first inclined to put faith in his ‘Golden Bible’ pretension.”26 The difference between Joseph’s presentation and that of his older brother and father was the manner in which the scryer narrated his performance, as well as the force of his personality. Joseph knew instinctively what would convince a skeptic. Unlike Joseph Sr. and Alvin, whom Ingersoll believed were either deluded or dishonest, the charismatic young Joseph was both persuasive and convincing.

One night William Stafford, who lived about a mile south of the Smiths on Stafford Road, was visited by Joseph Sr., who invited him to participate in a treasure dig. He informed Stafford that Joseph Jr. had seen in his stone “two or three kegs of gold and silver” located “not many rods from [the Smiths’] house” and that he and Stafford were the only two men who could get the treasure. Making their way through the dark, they arrived at the place of deposit which, from the context of Stafford’s statement, was the same hill previously referred to by Ingersoll.27 Stafford probably held the lantern as Joseph Sr. drew a circle in the dirt “twelve or fourteen feet in diameter” and then explained that the treasure was located in the center. Joseph Sr. took some witch hazel stakes and drove them into the ground at regular intervals around the circle for “keeping off the evil spirits.” Within this barrier, he drew another inner circle “about eight or ten feet in diameter,” then “walked around three times on the periphery of this last circle, muttering to himself something which I could not understand,” Stafford recalled. Next, Joseph Sr. drove a steel rod into the center of the circles in order to prevent the treasure from moving. (On such occasions, if the rod hit something, usually a large stone, the seekers generally interpreted this to be the lid of a treasure chest or some other valuable object.) Smith ordered silence “lest we should arouse the evil spirit who had the charge of these treasures” and then the two men began digging. They continued until they “dug a trench about five feet in depth around the rod.” Believing they had isolated the treasure in a cone of earth, they tore into the mound hoping to be faster than the treasure guardian. But the treasure was gone. Puzzled, Joseph Sr. went to the house to ask young Joseph why they had failed. He soon returned, explaining that “Joseph had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit—that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and as soon as it beheld the cone which we had formed around the rod, it caused the money to sink.” When the two men returned to the house together, father Smith observed that “we had made a mistake in the commencement of the operation; if it had not been for that, said he, we should have got the money.”28

Another early dig related by Stafford and supported by several other sources occurred on the next hill farther east from the Smith home situated on the farm of [p. 41]Clark Chase, Willard’s and Sally’s father.29 In this instance, Joseph Sr. and one of his sons approached Stafford and informed him that the seer had located “some very remarkable and valuable treasures” and requested the use of one of his “black sheep” for a blood sacrifice. According to Stafford, Joseph Jr. instructed them that “a black sheep should be taken on to the ground where the treasures were concealed—that after cutting its throat, it should be led around a circle while bleeding. This being done, the wrath of the evil spirit would be appeased: the treasure could then be obtained.” Having been promised a “four fold” share in the venture, Stafford allowed the Smiths to take a “large fat sheep.” He later learned that “the sheep was killed pursuant to commandment; but as there was some mistake in the process, it did not have the desired effect.”30

In his 1833 statement, Stafford claimed that he let the Smiths have the sheep to “gratify my curiosity,” but the more likely reason was that he—like Ingersoll—believed in the scryer’s gift.31 The Stafford family, like the Chase family, was predisposed to accept Joseph Jr.’s claims. William Stafford’s son John said his father “had a stone which some thought they could look through—and Old Mrs. S[mith]. came there for it but never got it.”32 Joshua Stafford, perhaps a nephew of William, who lived nearby, also had a “peepstone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.”33 Cornelius Stafford said he “saw uncle John and cousin Joshua Stafford dig a hole twenty feet long, eight broad and seven deep” in search of treasure.34 Joshua told Isaac Butts that “young Jo Smith and himself dug for money in his orchard and elsewhere nights.”35 Samantha Payne, daughter of William Stafford, was possibly living on a portion of Joshua Stafford’s property when she said in 1881 that Joseph Smith “dug upon many of the farms in the neighborhood as well as upon the farm on which she now resides and that some of the holes which he dug can now be seen.”36

Eventually, digging was recommenced on the northeast side of the hill on the Cole/Saunders property, including an extensive tunnel. This time the work proceeded under Joseph Jr.’s immediate direction. “I used to go there and see them work,” Lorenzo Saunders recalled. “I seen the old man [Smith] dig there day in and day out.”37 Joseph Sr. told Saunders that “Jo. [Jr.] could see in his peep stone what there was in that cave” and that “young Joe could … see a man sitting in a gold chair. Old Joe said he was king, i.e. the man in the chair; a king of one of the … [Native American] tribes who was shut in there in the time of one of their big battles.”38 Even at this early date, sometime between 1822 and 1825,39 one discerns a hint of interest in American Indian lore on Joseph’s part. After a tunnel of some length had been excavated, the diggers placed a heavy wooden door at the entrance and abandoned the project.

[p. 42]During this early phase of Smith’s treasure-seeking activities, money was not a principal motivation. William Stafford jokingly commented that the disappearance of his sheep’s carcass was probably the only time the Smiths “ever made money-­digging a profitable business.”40 Rather, Joseph hoped to form a coalition with his father and oldest brother which, prior to Alvin’s death, was probably the most powerful relationship in the family. In fact, by exercising his gift of seeing, Joseph not only affirmed his status as his father’s spiritual heir but ultimately supplanted his father’s role as leader. The statements of Ingersoll, Stafford, and Saunders consistently describe how Joseph Sr. acquiesced to Joseph Jr. Nor was the young scryer content to share power and recognition with other adepts, but strove to dominate. His competitive nature surfaced when he located treasure virtually at Sally Chase’s front door. Conversely, there is no record that the Smiths allowed another seer to lead a dig on their own property.

Joseph Jr. may have concluded that his competitors were either fake or deluded, for it is doubtful that he would have entered into competition with someone who he believed was a real seer. Nor would he have told his story of finding the gold plates if he had believed that among his neighbors lived real seers who might at any time expose him. Nevertheless, he was not one to denounce another seer’s gift as fraudulent. What could be gained by such a move? Rather than denounce them as fake or deluded, he chose to compete with them. After all, his reputation had been built, in part, on theirs. Observers would decide the better, not the genuine seer. Thus, he restored Walters’s reputation by having his father dig on the Cole/Saunders hill.

Besides his powers of persuasion, Joseph exceeded his father’s practice in another way by providing proof of his gift. Martin Harris, a friend of the Smiths who lived on a farm north of Palmyra Village, said that when Joseph first told him about the Chase stone, Joseph “proposed to bind it on his eyes, and run a race with me in the woods.”41 There was little chance Harris would accept the challenge, for to do so would have implied his skepticism, alienated the Smiths, and jeopardized any future possibly of exploiting Joseph’s gift. Actually, Harris was a firm believer; the fact that Joseph offered to perform the demonstration was proof enough.

Nevertheless, Harris also related an instance that occurred shortly after Joseph procured his stone and in which the young scryer demonstrated his abilities. While Harris was sitting on the top rail of one of the Smiths’ fences one day, picking at his teeth with a tie pin and talking with Joseph Jr. and Northrop Sweet, who had married one of Harris’s nieces, Harris accidentally dropped the pin among the straw and shavings on the ground below him. After the three searched for it unsuccessfully, Harris suggested that Joseph use his stone to find it. Joseph took the stone from his pocket, placed it in his “old white hat,” and put his face into the hat. “I watched him [p. 43]closely to see that he did not look to one side,” Harris said. “He reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick, and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.”42 These proofs separate Smith from the group of self-deluded treasure seers, for they were either true demonstrations of his seeric gift or evidence of his talent for deception. In any event, Harris was persuaded by Smith’s demonstration.

Undoubtedly the most significant of Joseph Smith’s treasure quests occurred on a prominent hill that is now known to Latter-day Saints as the “Hill Cumorah,” situated on the east side of the Canandaigua Road about two miles south of the Chase cabin. At that time, the hill was on the property of Randall Robinson, who did not mind the occasional attention this hill received.43 Joseph’s involvement with Robinson’s hill began, according to Joseph’s own account, on the night and early morning hours of 21-22 September 1823. Earlier that evening, according to what Martin Harris later told Palmyra minister John A. Clark, Joseph had acted as seer for a local treasure-seeking expedition.44 It had been an especially propitious night for treasure hunting. The moon was full and the evening marked the autumnal equinox,45 but as usual, the seekers returned home empty-handed. Lucy, who by this time was attending Palmyra’s Western Presbyterian Church and may have begun to have misgivings about her husband’s involvement in magic, did not mention the digging that occurred on this astrologically significant night. Instead, she related that her family stayed up late into the evening “conversing upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in scripture.”46 Not an unlikely topic for a late Sunday night conversation, but Lucy probably minimized the intensity of this discussion since young Joseph’s reaction was more pronounced than usual.

Lucy noticed that seventeen-year-old Joseph seemed withdrawn as if in deep contemplation. He was quiet but not unaffected. Whatever he may have felt about his part in the treasure hunt, it was undoubtedly his parents’ religious turmoil that most stirred him, in the words of his mother, “to reflect more deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature.”47 Joseph more than any of his siblings well understood the religious quandary in which his parents found themselves. There was much that he could say, but in the swirl of emotional debate, who would hear him? Besides, he was just a youth with little standing or authority in such matters. More than anything, Joseph’s silence likely resulted from his ambivalent feelings and the high emotional price of choosing sides. Very little was resolved when the Smiths finally retired for the night.

As Joseph lay in his bed, likely troubled by his family’s religious conflicts, he may [p. 44]have prayed for deliverance—perhaps asking God to soften his parents’ hearts. He may have asked that God would give him the words to convert his father, but he knew that words alone were not sufficient to persuade. Joseph Sr.’s intellectualized approach to the Bible and Universalistic beliefs seemed like impassible barriers to Joseph Jr. From his failed attempt to persuade him in 1820/21, Joseph knew that his father resisted visionary experiences. Joseph’s line of authority with his father was his gift of seeing. Perhaps for the good of the family and his father’s future welfare, Joseph might call upon that influence to bring his father to repentance and give his family the religious harmony they so badly needed. These were desperate thoughts, but in Joseph’s mind, the situation would have called for decisive action.

He would later claim that his mind was preoccupied only with thoughts of his unworthiness before God and that he began to pray “to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me that I might know of my state and standing before him.”48 Shortly an “angel” appeared at his bedside, declaring that his sins were forgiven and that God had a special work for him to perform. This messenger proceeded to tell Joseph about a history of the ancient inhabitants of America written on gold plates and hidden in a nearby hill.

As with his first vision, Joseph’s evolving accounts of his 1823 encounter with the angel make it difficult to recover the core story. Most noticeably, his accounts differ from those of his family and friends because he concealed the story’s original folk-­magic appeal. He also added material intended to serve later purposes. In 1834-35, through his assistant Oliver Cowdery, who at that time would be writing a series of open letters to Mormons who had been expelled from “Zion” (Independence), Missouri, Joseph had the angel quote long passages from the Bible about the gathering of Israel in the last days. In 1838 the angel would paraphrase Malachi 4:5 concerning the coming of Elijah, alluding to Smith’s and Cowdery’s 1836 reception of priesthood keys from this Old Testament prophet. The manner in which Smith introduced later priesthood concepts into his 1823 interview with the angel makes one wonder if he ever viewed the vision as an empirical event. Indeed, it is difficult to treat as historical an experience which Joseph himself so freely recast. His willingness to change this and other visions in order to meet later needs prompts one to wonder whether the visions were invented to serve utilitarian purposes. I will treat Smith’s visions in terms of the evolving stories he told people about them rather than as actual events. When the anachronistic material is removed—the terms “angel” and “Urim and Thummim” and the reference to Elijah returning to reveal the “priesthood”—a story not unlike the folkloric accounts of treasures and spirit guardians emerges.

On the morning of his sleepless night, Joseph went out to work in the fields with his father and Alvin who were cutting wheat to be stored for the winter. Alvin, observing [p. 45]that Joseph stopped working and seemed preoccupied about something, urged him to work more diligently. Joseph Sr. soon noticed that Joseph had stopped again; observing his exhaustion, he sent him back to the house.

Joseph left but would not make it home. Instead, as he recalled, “in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me and I fell helpless on the ground and for a time was quite unconscious of any thing.”49 It was here, midway between his father in the field and his mother in the house that Joseph decided to make his midnight musings reality. The transformation had not come easily. Joseph had suffered a great deal of anguish and struggle. He hesitated, knowing that he would be plunged deeper into deception and fantasy but saw it as the only way.

He would later claim that he waked to the appearance of the same messenger who “again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received.”50 In Lucy’s version, the messenger asks Joseph why he had not told his father of the plates, to which Joseph responded: “I was afraid my father would not believe me.” But the messenger assured Joseph that his father would “believe every word you say to him.”51 Perhaps there is an element of truth in these accounts. Joseph hesitated until he felt prompted to proceed with his plan. Confirmation perhaps came as a “burning in the bosom,” which he would later describe as a method of receiving revelation.52

When Joseph returned to his father and brother, he told them an amazing but not entirely unfamiliar story. In relating it, Joseph did not stray far from his father’s belief in hidden treasures and guardian spirits. Unlike the “vision” Smith would later narrate for an audience that would be unreceptive to folk-magic, the earliest accounts identify the heavenly messenger as a “spirit” who visited Joseph three times in a “dream.” About June 1829, Martin Harris told people in Rochester that Joseph had been “visited by the spirit of the Almighty in a dream, and informed that in a certain hill … was deposited a Golden Bible” and that “after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream, he proceeded to the spot.”53 Reporting the activities of the first Mormon missionaries in Ohio under the direction of Oliver Cowdery, the Painesville Telegraph for 30 November 1830 would report: “The new gospel they say was found in Ontario Co., N.Y. and was discovered by an angel of light, appearing in a dream to a man by the name of Smith.”54

Locating treasures through dreams was not uncommon in Smith’s day, and thrice-repeated dreams were especially significant.55 In 1786 Silas Hamilton, a prominent leader of Whitingham, Vermont, recorded twenty-one instances of people from various locations throughout New England claiming to have located mines and [p. 46]other valuable deposits through dreams. In one instance, a “Mr. Barns of Gilford [New Hampshire] … dreamed three times in one night about said hogshead of money.”56 In her 1835 book, Traits of American Life, Sarah Josepha Hale published a late eighteenth-century legend about a Deacon Bascom, one of the founders of Newport, New Hampshire. One night the deacon was visited three times in a dream by a man clothed in black who told him where to find a silver mine under a large stone. When he proceeded to the spot and found the stone, he hesitated to uncover the treasure. After much anguish, he concluded that the dream was inspired by the devil and would bring ruin to his children, so he returned home.57

The legend of Deacon Bascom is typical of the treasure lore embedded in the folk-consciousness of Smith’s contemporaries. As it turns out, however, the Smith family not only inherited this rich tradition but contributed to it as well. Former Manchester neighbor Orrin P. Rockwell, who like Smith walked with a limp, recalled in 1872 that his mother, Sarah, and Lucy Smith “used to spend their Saturday evenings together telling their dreams” and “comparing notes, and telling how such an one’s dream, and such another’s pointed to the same lucky spot: how the spades often struck the iron sides of the treasure chest, and how it was charmed away, now six inches this side, now four feet deeper, and again completely out of reach.”58 Joseph’s experience mirrored his father’s dreams as well, which sometimes included spirit guides who instructed him about the location of a box or a beautiful garden.

The wingless angel with long flowing robe that Smith later named “Moroni,” one of the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon, is absent from the earliest accounts. Abner Cole reported in 1831 that Joseph Sr. described the “spirit” as a “little old man with a long beard.”59 This description may reflect what the three witnesses saw in their June 1829 vision. David Whitmer described the messenger as an old man, five feet nine or ten inches tall, with white hair and long beard.60 Of course, the height of the messenger was relative. Whitmer was five foot ten, whereas Joseph Sr. was six foot two.

The inspiration for Joseph’s gold plates—the “Golden Bible” as some later called it—is uncertain. He could have read about the Jews writing on “tables of brass” in the Apocrypha (1 Macc. 8:22) or heard about the hammered copper plates that were occasionally found in mounds.61 More likely, he envisioned a metallic book to explain how it could survive so many centuries hidden in the earth.62 Gold was not only the most sought-after substance of treasure seekers, it would have symbolized the importance of the book. Today such a claim, to have found a book written on golden plates in a hill in western New York dating back to the primitive Woodland Indian culture, would be ridiculed, but in the pre-archaeological world of the early nineteenth century, such a notion was believable, especially to the Manchester treasure-seeking community.

[p. 47]There was also a scriptural precedent for the assertion that an angel or spirit would deliver a physical book or that lost scripture would be discovered. Moses received commandments written by God on tablets of stone (Exod. 24:12; 32:16) and Ezekiel and John received books as part of their divine commissions (Ezek. 1-2; Rev. 10). Later, Smith would dictate the account of a prophet, Lehi, which would include the receipt of a book that contained a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction (1 Ne. 1).63 Also relevant to this topic would be the feigned accidental discovery of the book of Deuteronomy in 2 Kings 22.

Following the rehearsal of his incredible story, Joseph Jr. remembered that his father “wept” and replied that “it was of God, and to go and do as commanded by the messenger.”64 Lucy gave more detail, stating that “his father charged him not to fail in attending strictly to the instruction which he had received from this heavenly messenger.”65 Lucy’s version, with its emphasis on following the treasure guardian’s instructions precisely, captures more fulsomely the folk-magic context of the story.

Joseph said that he immediately left the field and went to the hill. This glacially formed drumlin had long since caught the attention of all who traveled the Canan­daigua Road between the villages of Palmyra and Manchester. At the time of Smith’s visit, the hill was forested except for its northern summit which was covered with grass, rocks, and a few scattered trees.66 Here Joseph could retreat from the hot sun and consider his predicament.

As soon as he entered the house later that evening, Lucy recalled, Joseph Sr. anxiously pressed his son, wanting to know if he had been successful in obtaining the plates. “No, father, I could not get them,” Joseph answered.

“Did you see them?” Joseph Sr. asked.

“Yes,” Joseph said, “I saw them, but could not take them.”

“I would have taken them, if I had been in your place,” Joseph Sr. replied.

“Why, you do not know what you say,” said Joseph. “I could not get them, for the angel of the Lord would not let me.”67

As his family gathered around him, Joseph began to relate “all that he had made known to his father in the field.”68 More than twenty years later, in recalling what ­Joseph said, Lucy would supplement her memory with information she had obtained later. This is clear from her comment that the angel not only declared that “there is not a true church on earth” but also that a state of universal apostasy had existed “since Peter took the keys of the Melchizedek priesthood after the order of God into the kingdom of heaven.”69 Thus, one must be cautious in reconstructing the original story, especially when citing portions that were influenced by Joseph’s later emendations.

[p. 48]Regarding Joseph’s visit to the hill and his unsuccessful attempt to get the plates, Lucy remembered that he told his family he climbed to the hill’s summit, pried up a large stone, and discovered the gold plates encased in a stone box just as the heavenly messenger had described. As he lifted the plates from the box, he wondered if there might be something else in the container that could bring “some pecuniary advantage” to himself and family and, wishing to protect his treasure, set the plates down behind him and replaced the cover stone. When he turned around to retrieve the plates, they had vanished. Surprised, Joseph asked why the plates had been taken away. Instantly the angel/spirit appeared and explained that Joseph had not been diligent in obeying his instructions. He had faltered on two counts: he had allowed “covetous” thoughts to enter his mind—the messenger said the plates could not be brought forth with an eye to worldly gain—and he had received strict commandment “not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key.” Joseph was permitted to raise the large stone again to see that the plates had miraculously returned to their original location. When he reached down to pick them up, he was struck by an unseen power that knocked him to the ground. After recovering, he discovered that the messenger had disappeared.70

Willard Chase and a Smith family friend from Colesville, New York, Joseph Knight, corroborate Lucy’s story. Chase heard the account from Joseph Sr. in 1827 and said that Joseph removed the book from the box, “but fearing some one might discover where he got it, he laid it down to place the top stone, as he found it; and turning round, to his surprise there was no book in sight.”71 Knight said he was told that Joseph had disobeyed the command to “take the book and go right away” but set the plates down to discover, moments later, that they had disappeared.72

Knight’s account fails to mention that Joseph was struck, stating instead that he “could not stir the book any more than he could the mountain.” Chase’s account is similar to Lucy’s but takes the story a step closer to folk-magic tales about gnomes and treasure guardians. He remembered that Joseph Sr. told him that

[Joseph] again opened the box, and in it saw the book, and attempted to take it out, but was hindered. He saw in the box something like a toad, which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of his head.—Not being discouraged at trifles, he again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously.73

Chase’s account is supported by Benjamin Saunders, Lorenzo’s younger brother, who said he heard Joseph tell his mother and sister in 1827 that “when he took the plates, there was something down near the box that looked some[thing] like a toad [p. 49]that rose up into a man which forbid him to take the plates.”74 Saunders understood this to have occurred when Joseph took the plates from the hill in September 1827, which is when Smith said he struggled with the devil. Saunders’s nephew, Orson, repeated a more fanciful version of his uncle’s story that may contain elements original to Smith. In this account, Smith says: “I was about to remove the plates when an enormous toad appeared, squatting upon the pages. … Instantly the beast arose and expanded as large as a dog, then as a bullock, then it rose far above me, a flaming monster with glittering eyes, until it seemed to fill the heavens, and with a blow like lightning it swept me from the mountain into the valley beneath. The sun was shining high in the heavens when I came to my senses. Again the angel of the Lord appeared and instructed me how I should further proceed.”75

Despite some variances in the details, the story Joseph told was clearly one that dramatized the treasure seekers’ expectations regarding gnomes and other guardians who lurked just outside their magic circles. As treasure lore had it, these spirit beings could transform themselves into whatever animal they pleased.76 In this case, the creature Joseph said resembled a toad was not a real toad. Neither was it like any animal he had seen before and could name.77 Nevertheless, toads had long been associated with witchcraft, evil spirits, and the casting of magical spells.

Knight and Chase mention another detail that is absent from Lucy’s account. “After recovering from his fright,” Chase said, “[Joseph] enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them.”78 Knight gave a similar account, stating that Joseph “exclaimed, ‘why can’t I stir this book?’ and he was answered, ‘you have not done right. You should have took the book and a gone right away. You can’t have it now.’ Joseph says, ‘when can I have it?’ the answer was the 22nd day of September next if you bring the right person with you.’ Joseph says, ‘who is the right person?’ The answer was, ‘your oldest brother.’”79 The requirement to bring Alvin was mentioned by others,80 but this element was perhaps added in 1824 to explain why Joseph failed a second time to get the plates.81

In the accounts that emanated from Joseph Smith in 1832, 1834-35, and 1838, there seems to be a conscious effort to downplay the folk-magic context of the original story. In 1838 he said he found the plates because of the “distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it.”82 Other accounts, including those of Willard Chase and Martin Harris, report that Smith found them by using his seer stone.83 Chase said that during the fall of 1827, Smith confessed to him that “if it had not been for that stone, (which he acknowledged belonged to me,) he would not have obtained the book.”84

[p. 50]In none of Smith’s later accounts were the plates removed from the box. Consequently, in these versions, he does not disobey orders by setting the plates on the ground, nor do the plates seem enchanted when they disappear and magically reappear inside the box. In 1832 Smith said he went to the hill and “straightway made three attempts” to take the plates, but failing, he became “exceedingly frightened.”85 In Oliver Cowdery’s account—written under Smith’s guidance in 1835—Joseph experienced three successive shocks, each more powerful than the previous. Aware of Eber D. Howe’s publication of affidavits from Smith’s former New York neighbors, including Willard Chase, Cowdery admits that Smith initially interpreted these “shocks” within a magical context, stating that Smith “had heard of the power of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth, and supposed that physical exertion and personal strength was only necessary to enable him to yet obtain the object of his wish” and therefore persisted in his attempt to get the plates.86 In his 1838 history, Smith reduced the event to: “I made an attempt to take them out but was forbidden by the messenger.”87

Like his mother, Joseph failed to mention the requirement to bring Alvin. At the time and within the context of guardian spirits and enchanted treasures, it fit within the tricks and other antics for which guardian spirits were known. It provided a plausible reason for not obtaining the plates. In retrospect, as the story departed further from its folk-magical origins, it became increasingly difficult to explain why God’s messenger would not have foreseen Alvin’s death.

If Joseph’s first vision failed to secure his father’s full attention, this recital did. Unlike the vision of Jesus which tapped into his mother’s visionary heritage, Joseph’s 1823 story emerged from the symbols available in Joseph Sr.’s world—seer stones, dreams, guardian spirits, and enchanted treasures. In the interim, Joseph had learned to speak his father’s language. Like Joseph Sr., young Joseph had had a remarkable dream in which an “attendant spirit” told him of a box that contained “wisdom and understanding.” Upon finding the container, Joseph was confronted by something that frightened him—not the host of threatening beasts that caused his father to flee for his life, but a toad-like creature that transformed itself into the spirit of a little old man who struck him.88 That Joseph’s 1823 encounters with a spirit over a gold book essentially supported Joseph Sr.’s dreams was recognized by Abner Cole, editor of the Palmyra Reflector, who understood in 1831 that the spirit’s “tidings corresponded precisely with revelations made to, and predictions made by the elder Smith, a number of years before.”89 How could Joseph Sr. not believe this account?

The Smith family forgot their religious differences as they gathered nightly to hear Joseph Jr.’s stories. Lucy reports that “we sat up very late and listened attentively to all that he had to say to us.”90 On the night following Joseph’s first trip to the hill, [p. 51]Alvin suggested that the family get up early the next morning in order to finish their labor an hour earlier than usual, thus having more time in the evening to hear more of Joseph’s account. The following day, the family pursued their labors with excited anticipation for what they might hear that evening.

At last, just before sunset, Lucy recalled that the family was “ready to be seated and give our undivided attention to Joseph’s recitals.” Joseph charged them with secrecy about the gold plates for, as he explained, “the world was so wicked that when they did come to a knowledge of these things they would try to take our lives and as soon as we obtained the plates our names would be cast out as evil by all people.” Lucy said the family was “astonished” by such talk. Joseph went on to say that if they were wise and prudent, God would make all things known to them. He turned to his father, asking, “Do you believe it?” Joseph Sr. replied, “Why yes certainly … [God] has all power and wisdom, knowledge and understanding and of course can teach us all things if we are worthy and we will try to live in such a [way] as to deserve the favor of God.”91 This exchange reveals something of the intellectual and moral superiority the son was beginning to assume. Brother William remembered that “the whole family were melted to tears, and believed all he said.”92

Joseph emerged from his former stance of quiet observer to the center of attention at these nightly gatherings. “Every evening we gathered our children together,” Lucy recalled, “all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters listening in breathless anxiety to the religious teachings of a boy [seventeen] years of age.” This was a creative time for Joseph. “In the course of our evening conversations,” Lucy said, “Joseph would give us some of the most amusing recitals which could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent—their dress, their manner of traveling, the animals which they rode, the cities that were built by them, the structures of their buildings, with every particular of their mode of warfare, their religious worship as particularly as though he had spent his life with them.”93 Clearly, the son was also honing his talent as a story teller.

Even without the gold plates, these recitals produced the desired effect. “We were convinced that God was about to bring to light something that we might stay our minds upon something that we could get a more definite idea of than anything which had been taught us heretofore and we rejoiced in it with exceeding great joy. The sweetest union and happiness pervaded our house [and] no jar nor discord disturbed our peace, and tranquility reigned in our midst.”94 In light of Joseph’s important errand, their former problems seemed trivial.

Another year passed without the family being able to make the final payment on their Manchester property. Confident of their future security, they nevertheless decided that they would apply their available means to the construction of a new [p. 52]house. In the month of November, the frame was raised and the necessary materials were procured under Alvin’s supervision. Lucy remembered that Alvin was excited about being able to help his parents find com­fort in their old age, saying: “I am going to have a nice pleasant room for them to sit in and everything arranged for their comfort and they shall not work as they have done any more.”95 The family’s prospects looked good, but as every silver lining has a dark cloud, their situation would soon change.


1. Other seers in the Palmyra/Manchester area included Sally Chase, Samuel Lawrence, and possibly William and Joshua Stafford (see D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 2nd rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998], 40-41). The unusual number of seers within a small circle of about two miles may have been, in part, due to theft which, according to later accounts of the Smiths’ neighbors, was not infrequent. John Selden, a legal scholar and prominent parliamentarian during the first half of the seventeenth century, wrote that the presence of seers and diviners “kept thieves in awe, and did as much good in a country as a justice of the peace” (Samuel Harvey Reynolds, ed., The Table Talk of John Selden [Oxford, 1892], 130).

2. Lucy Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 1845, 40, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT (cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 1:285; hereafter EMD).

3. According to Lorenzo Saunders, Ingersoll’s “land joined the Smith farm on the north” (see Lorenzo Saunders, interviewed by E. L. Kelley, 12 Nov. 1884, 6, E. L. Kelley Papers, “Miscellany,” Community of Christ (formerly RLDS Church) Archives, Independence, MO [EMD 2:151]).

4. Peter Ingersoll, 2 Dec. 1833, in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed: or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 233 (EMD 2:40-41). For a discussion of dowsing and mineral rods, see chapter 1.

5. Ingersoll, 2 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 233 (EMD 2:40-41).

6. On Sally Chase’s stone, see L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 69 (EMD 1:343); Benja­min Saunders, interviewed by William H. Kelley, ca. Sept. 1884, 29-30, “Miscellany,” Community of Christ Archives (EMD 2:139); S. F. Anderick, 24 June 1887, in Naked Truths About Mormonism (Jan. 1888): 2 (EMD 2:209); Caroline Rockwell Smith, 25 Mar. 1885, in Naked Truths About Mormonism (Apr. 1888): 1 (EMD 2:199). On Willard’s digging at his sister’s direction, see William Kelley, Notebook, No. 5, 6 Mar. 1881, 16, William H. Kelley Papers, Community of Christ Archives (EMD 2:87).

7. L. Saunders, 12 Nov. 1884, 10 (EMD 2:155).

8. B. Saunders, ca. Sept. 1884, 30 (EMD 2:139).

9. S. F. Anderick claimed Sally “told me several times that young Jo Smith … often came to inquire of her where to dig for treasures” (Anderick, 24 June 1887, in Naked Truths About Mormonism [Jan. 1888]: 2 [EMD 2:209]).

10. L. Saunders, 12 Nov. 1884, 9 (EMD 2:154).

11. On Luman Walters (ca. 1788-60), who subsequently resided in Gorham, New York, see Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 117-20; and EMD 2:231-32, n. 21. Diedrich Willers Jr. of Fayette, New York, wrote: “Fortune tellers are consulted as to the future, [and] many in this neighborhood, when they wish to find anything which is lost, or pry into hidden mysteries, will consult Dr. Walters” (“Ambition and Superstition,” Miscellaneous Undated Items, Diedrich Willers Papers, Box 1, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY). Judging by the verb tense, this statement may have been written before Walters’s death in 1860.

12. L. Saunders, 12 Nov. 1884, 12 (EMD 2:156-57). For a discussion of ownership of the hill, subsequently identified as “Miner’s Hill,” see Dan Vogel, “The Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 204-9.

13. [Abner Cole], “Gold Bible, No. 5,” Palmyra Reflector 1 (28 Feb. 1831): 109 (EMD 2:247).

14. [Abner Cole], “The Book of Pukei.—Chap. 1,” Palmyra Reflector 1 (12 June 1830): 36-37 (EMD 2:231-34).

15. [Cole], “Gold Bible, No. 5,” 109 (EMD 2:247).

16. Laws of the State of New-York, Revised and Passed at Thirty-Sixth Session of the Legislature, 2 vols. (Albany, NY: H. C. Southwick and Co., 1813), 1:114, sec. I; see also A New Conductor Generalis: Being a Summary of the Law Relative to the Duty and Office of Justice of the Peace, Sheriffs, Coroners, Constables, Jurymen, Overseers of the Poor, &c. &c. (Albany, NY: E. F. Backus, 1819), 108.

17. [Cole], “Gold Bible, No. 5,” 109 (EMD 2:246).

18. [Cole], “The Book of Pukei.—Chap. 1,” 37 (EMD 2:234).

19. S. F. Anderick, 24 June 1887, in Naked Truths About Mormonism (Jan. 1888): 2 (EMD 2:209).

20. While Quinn suggests September 1819 for when Smith acquired his first stone, following Pomeroy Tucker’s 1867 memory (Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 42-43, 390-9, n. 112; Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism [New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867], 19 [EMD 3:95]), I believe that Tucker’s dating is problematic (EMD 3:95, n. 32; 4:250, n. 12). Smith dated his inauguration as a seer to 1823, confessing at his March 1826 court hearing to having been a stone gazer for three years (see chapter 6 of this volume). I therefore suggest that if Smith owned a white stone previous to the discovery of the Chase stone, it could not have been long before. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine a thirteen-year-old making a trip to Lake Erie on his own.

21. As reported by William D. Purple, who claimed he heard Smith give the account during the latter’s trial in South Bainbridge, New York, in March 1826 (“Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism: Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton,” Chenango Union [Norwich, NY] 30 [3 May 1877]: 3 [EMD 4:134]).

22. Pomeroy Tucker gave the earliest description of the Chase stone, though he was incorrect about its color: “This stone attracted particular notice on account of its peculiar shape, resembling that of a child’s foot. It was of a whitish, glassy appearance, though opaque, resembling quartz” (Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 19 [EMD 3:95]). W. D. Purple described the stone: “It was about the size of a small hen’s egg, in the shape of a high instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket” (Purple, “Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism,” 3 [EMD 4:134]). See also Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 243.

23. Willard Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 241 (EMD 2:66).

24. See note 6 above.

25. See chapter 7.

26. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 128; see also 39 (EMD 3:106), where Tucker lists Ingersoll among Smith’s early supporters.

27. Stafford introduced his account by stating that the Smiths believed “that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands, and in them were large caves, which Joseph Jr., could see, by placing a stone of singular appearance in his hat … that he could see within the above mentioned caves, large gold bars and silver plates—that he could also discover the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress” (William Stafford, 8 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 238-39 [EMD 2:60]).

28. W. Stafford, 8 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 238-39 (EMD 2:60-61). Stafford’s description minutely follows well-known occult magic practice (see Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 66-97).

29. Stafford, who was not present at the dig, said nothing about its location; but as early as 1858, Tucker mentioned that Stafford’s sheep was sacrificed “upon a hill near [the Smiths’] residence” (Pomeroy Tucker, “The Mormon Imposture—The Mormon Aborigines,” Wayne Democratic Press [Lyons, NY], 2 June 1858 [EMD 3:69-70]). Wallace Miner and Thomas L. Cook identified the hill as “Old Sharp,” which was situated on the west side of the Canandaigua road directly across from the Chase cabin (see Wallace Miner’s statement in Thomas L. Cook, Palmyra and Vicinity [Palmyra, NY: Palmyra Courier-Journal, 1930], 222 [EMD 3:252-53]; see also 237-38 [EMD 3:249] for the location of the hill).

30. W. Stafford, 8 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 239 (EMD 2:61). According to William Stafford’s nephew, Cornelius R. Stafford, Smith was after a “pot of money” (Naked Truths About Mormonism, Jan. 1888, 3 [EMD 2:197]). Pomeroy Tucker said Smith and company sought an “iron chest of gold” (“The Mormon Imposture—The Mormon Aborigines,” Wayne Democratic Press [Lyons, NY] 3 [2 June 1858] [EMD 3:69-70]).

31. Not surprisingly, Tucker lists William Stafford among Smith’s early supporters (Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 39 [EMD 3:106]).

32. William Kelley, Notebook, No. 5, 6 Mar. 1881, 13-14 (EMD 2:87).

33. Caroline Rockwell Smith, 25 Mar. 1885, in Naked Truths About Mormonism (Apr. 1888): 1 (EMD 2:199).

34. Cornelius R. Stafford, (23) Mar. 1885, in Naked Truths About Mormonism (Jan. 1888): 3 (EMD 2:196).

35. Isaac Butts, ca. Mar. 1885, in Naked Truths About Mormonism (Jan. 1888): 2 (EMD 2:202). In 1820, Joshua Stafford paid taxes for forty-six acres on Lot 5, which may have been deeded to William Stafford the following year, then in 1823 he was taxed for 123 acres on Lots 7 and 9 (Farmington/Manchester Assessment Records, Ontario County Records Center and Archives, Canandaigua, NY).

36. Samantha Payne, Affidavit to Charles C. Thorne, 29 June 1881, Ontario County Clerk’s Office, Canandaigua, NY (EMD 2:172). Samantha is listed with her husband, David Payne, in the 1860 Manchester, Ontario County, New York, census (p. 470). A map published in 1867 locates “D[avid]. Payne” on Lot 9, evidently on land formerly owned by Joshua Stafford ([William H. McIntosh], History of Ontario Co., New York [Philadelphia: Everts, Ensign & Everts, 1876], 45). In 1880, at the time of her statement, Samantha is listed in the census of Manchester with her son, Cuyler W. Payne, apparently on the same farm (p. 306C).

37. L. Saunders, 12 Nov. 1884, 12 (EMD 2:157).

38. L. Saunders, Interviewed by William H. Kelley, 17 Sept. 1884, 7-8, Community of Christ Archives (EMD 2:130). Sylvia Walker, daughter of early Manchester resident Pardon Butts, said similarly that “Jo [Smith] claimed to receive a revelation to dig forty feet into a hill about two miles north of where he pretended to find the gold plates of the ‘Book of Mormon,’ where he would find a cave that contained gold furniture, chairs and table” (Sylvia Walker, 20 Mar. 1885, in Naked Truths About Mormonism [Apr. 1888]: 1 [EMD 2:191-92]).

39. While Saunders believed the cave had been dug in 1826 (L. Saunders, 17 Sept. 1884, 8), historical context suggests an earlier date. Saunders declared: “I am one of them that went and tore the door down to the cave. My father was in possession and he ordered us to break that door down and put the hole up” (L. Saunders, 12 Nov. 1884, 8). Thus, the cave was completed before Enoch Saunders’s death on 10 October 1825 (see Wayne Sentinel, 18 Oct. 1825).

40. W. Stafford, 8 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 239 (EMD 2:61).

41. “Mormonism—No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 164 (EMD 2:303). Margaret M’Avoy is credited with originating the first blindfolded routine in Liverpool in 1817, although “second sight” demonstrations date back to at least the 1780s (see Melbourne Christopher, Mediums, Mystics, and the Occult [New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1975], 77-103; and Derek Forrest, Hypnotism: A History [London: Penguin Books, 1999], chap. 7, “Vision without Eyes”). Perhaps Smith knew that the projection of the nose makes it impossible to prevent “nose peek,” or vision down the side of the nose (see Gordon Stein, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal [Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1996], 254-64).

42. “Mormonism—No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 164 (EMD 2:303).

43. See Cook, Palmyra and Vicinity, 246 (EMD 3:250); and Manchester Assessment Records, 1830, Ontario County Records Center and Archives.

44. John A. Clark to Dear Brethren, 24 Aug. 1840, Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia) 18 (5 Sept. 1840): 94 (EMD 2:264).

45. See Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 141-44.

46. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 40 (EMD 1:289).

47. Ibid.

48. Joseph Smith, Manuscript History, Book A-1, 5, LDS Church Archives (EMD 1:63).

49. Ibid., 7 (EMD 1:66).

50. Ibid.

51. L. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 82 (EMD 1:291).

52. See Doctrine and Covenants 9; and Alma 32.

53. “Golden Bible,” Rochester (NY) Gem 1 (5 Sept. 1829): 70 (EMD 2:272).

54. See Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 138-40.

55. See Ronald W. Walker, “The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 440.

56. Clark Jillson, Green Leaves from Whitingham, Vermont: A History of the Town (Worcester, MA: Clark Jillson, 1894), 115-19.

57. Sarah Josepha Hale, Traits of American Life (Philadelphia, 1835), 100-110. Although writing a work of fiction, Hale insisted that the story, places, and names were true.

58. Norman R. Bowen and Mary Karen Bowen Solomon, eds., A Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie, 1872-73: Elizabeth Kane’s St. George Journal (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Tanner Trust Fund, 1995), 74 (EMD 3:407).

59. Palmyra Reflector, 14 Feb. 1831, 101 (EMD 2:245).

60. See chapter 24. Whitmer’s description was of a man he and Smith encountered on the road between Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Fayette, New York, who Joseph identified as the special messenger. This same man later appeared to Whitmer’s mother and showed her the gold plates. While it is never directly stated, Whitmer implies that this is the man who appeared to the three witnesses.

61. See Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 18.

62. This reasoning appears in the Book of Mormon: “We know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away” (Jacob 4:1-2).

63. See chapter 24.

64. J. Smith, Manuscript History, 7 (EMD 1:66); and Joseph Smith, Diary, 9 Nov. 1835, 23-26, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives (EMD 1:44).

65. L. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 82 (EMD 1:292).

66. For a description of the hill’s physical appearance, see Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, Oct. 1835, “Letter VIII,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2 (Oct. 1835): 195-96 (EMD 2:455-56).

67. L. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 86 (EMD 1:299).

68. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 42 (EMD 1:293).

69. Ibid. Both the term “Melchizedek priesthood” and its connection to Peter are post-1835 concepts (see Gregory A. Prince, Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995], 2, 10, 30). See also my discussion in chapters 30 and 32 of this volume.

70. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 42-45; L. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 83-86 (EMD 1:293-98).

71. W. Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 242 (EMD 2:67).

72. Joseph Knight Sr., “Manuscript of the History of Joseph Smith,” ca. 1835-47, 1, LDS Church Archives (EMD 4:12). For an inaccurate account based on an 1830 interview with Joseph Sr. but nevertheless similar to those of Lucy Smith, Willard Chase, and Joseph Knight, see Fayette Lapham, “Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates,” Historical Magazine [second series] 7 (May 1870): 305-309 (EMD 1:456-66).

73. W. Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 242 (EMD 2:67).

74. B. Saunders, ca. Sept. 1884, 23 (EMD 2:137). Benjamin repeated the story of the toad to others (see “Mormon Leaders at Their Mecca: … Joe Smith’s Life at Palmyra,” New York Herald [25 June 1893]: 12 [EMD 3:201-202]). Because of the similarity between the Chase and Saunders accounts, Richard L. Anderson has argued that Benjamin’s “was in all probability based on Chase’s account” (R. L. Anderson, “The Alvin Smith Story: Fact & Fiction,” Ensign 17 [Aug. 1987], 62-63, 71, n. 19). However, Saunders clearly claimed that he had heard the story from Smith himself. Similarities may reflect the likelihood that they both originated with Smith.

75. “Mormon Leaders at Their Mecca: … Joe Smith’s Life at Palmyra,” New York Herald (25 June 1893): 12 (EMD 3:202).

76. See Walker, “The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting,” 443.

77. I do not accept Quinn’s conclusion that this creature was a salamander (see Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 147-57). Smith, Chase, and Saunders would have known the difference between a salamander and a toad (EMD 2:67, n. 11).

78. W. Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 242 (EMD 2:67).

79. J. Knight, “Manuscript of the History of Joseph Smith,” 1 (EMD 4:13).

80. See Lapham, “Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago, …” 307 (EMD 1:460); L. Saunders, 17 Sept. 1884, 9-10 (EMD 2:131); L. Saunders, 12 Nov 1884, 16 (EMD 2:159).

81. See chapter 5.

82. J. Smith, Manuscript History, 7 (EMD 1:66).

83. Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 145-46.

84. W. Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 246 (EMD 2:71-72).

85. Joseph Smith, History, 1832, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 1:4, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives (EMD 1:29).

86. O. Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, Oct. 1835, 197-98 (EMD 2:458-59).

87. J. Smith, Manuscript History, 7 (EMD 1:67).

88. On Joseph Sr.’s dream, see chapter 2.

89. Palmyra Reflector 2 (14 Feb. 1831): 101.

90. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 42 (EMD 1:293-94).

91. Ibid., 43 (EMD 1:295).

92. William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, IA: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 9 (EMD 1:496).

93. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 43-44 (EMD 1:296). Lucy has “18 years of age,” but Joseph Jr. was seventeen in 1823.

94. Ibid., 43 (EMD 1:296).

95. Ibid., 45 (EMD 1:299-300).