Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
[p. 87]From South Bainbridge, Joseph and his father returned to Manchester but without a hero’s welcome and without being able to celebrate a treasure found. Indeed, they had a lot to live down. Father Smith would have to return to the drudgery of working a farm he no longer owned, keenly aware that he had once again failed his wife and children and that he appeared to be a fool in the eyes of his neighbors. Joseph Jr. had narrowly escaped punishment but not the associated shame and humiliation. His resentment probably began to work within him gradually, pushing him through a period of turmoil and redefinition from which he would emerge to denounce his treasure-seeing activities, procure the gold plates, and launch his prophetic career.
In the aftermath of South Bainbridge, Joseph Jr.’s normally “cheery temperament” began to wane.1 Despite his former resistance to alcohol, he eventually succumbed, and under its influence his anger periodically surfaced. David Stafford, who worked with the twenty-year-old Joseph about this time, noted that alcohol had an especially negative effect on him: “When intoxicated he was very quarrelsome. Previous to his going to Pennsylvania to get married, we worked together making a coal-pit. While at work at one time, a dispute arose between us, (he having drinked a little too freely) and some hard words passed between us, and as usual with him at such times, was for fighting. He got the advantage of me in the scuffle, and a gentleman by the name of Ford interfered, when Joseph turned to fighting him. We both entered a complaint against him and he was fined for the breach of the peace.”2 It was neither the first nor the last scuffle Joseph would be involved in. With or without alcohol, he could be physically abusive if provoked.
One day, as Lucy recalled, Joseph took his parents aside to tell them his plans to [p. 88]marry Emma Hale, explaining that “he had felt so lonely ever since Alvin’s death that he had come to the conclusion of getting married if we had no objections.” He said that “he thought that no young woman that he ever was acquainted with was better calculated to render the man of her choice happy than Miss Emma Hale.” Joseph Sr. had met Emma and was delighted by the news. He suggested that his son bring the young woman home to live with them. Lucy was especially anxious to meet for the first time the young woman her son had chosen.3
In the fall of 1826, Joseph approached Samuel Lawrence with an offer the latter found difficult to refuse but would later regret. Willard Chase, who received his information from Lawrence himself, said Smith told Lawrence “he had discovered in Pennsylvania, on the bank of the Susquehanna River, a very rich mine of silver, and if he would go there with him, he might have a share in the profits; that it was near high water mark and that they could load it into boats and take it down the river to Philadelphia, to market.” Skeptical, Lawrence “asked Joseph if he was not deceiving him.”
“No,” Joseph said, “for I have been there and seen it with my own eyes, and if you do not find it so when we get there, I will bind myself to be your servant for three years.” Figuring there was nothing to lose, Lawrence agreed to make the trip with Joseph.
On their journey, Lawrence discovered that Smith was penniless and depended on his traveling companion to bear all the expenses of the trip. When they arrived in Harmony, instead of going immediately to the site of the treasure, Joseph insisted they pay a visit to the Hale home, where Joseph asked his friend to recommend him to Emma for marriage. Feeling pressured, especially since Joseph had yet to show him the site of the treasure, Lawrence complied with the request. Joseph may have believed that the recommendation of a fellow seer would also lend credibility to his own metaphysical claims. When they finally went to search for the “silver mine,” they found nothing and returned home.4
Shortly afterward, Willard Chase visited the Smith residence and asked Joseph to return his seer stone, saying that a friend had requested to see the stone “about which so much had been said.” Chase was surprised by Smith’s reaction. “You cannot have it,” he said. Chase reminded him that the stone was his and that he had only lent it to him. Joseph turned to him and, with a “malignant look” on his face, according to Chase, said: “I don’t care who in the Devil it belongs to, you shall not have it.”5
In recounting the story, Chase gave the impression that he and his friend had merely wanted to see the stone as a curiosity. More likely, Chase was approached by others in town who wanted the stone recalled to put an end to Joseph’s schemes or to [p. 89]at least remove the credibility he derived from Chase’s stone. Chase’s unnamed friend was perhaps Lawrence, undoubtedly upset by their unproductive trip to Pennsylvania.
Shortly after the marriage of Hyrum Smith and Jerusha Barden on 2 November 1826, Joseph Jr. left Manchester for South Bainbridge in hope of finding work with Stowell. He evidently wanted to be near Emma, although he planned to wait for his twenty-first birthday before asking her to marry him. Joseph was at Stowell’s briefly before moving to Colesville to work for Joseph Knight, who remembered that “Mr. Stowel could not pay him money for his work very well and he came to me perhaps in November  and worked for me until about the time that he was married.”6
Knight owned several farms in Colesville as well as the previously mentioned grist mill and two carding machines.7 Knight’s property was “situated … near the Colesville bridge—bounded on one side by the Susquehanna River, and containing about one hundred and forty two acres.” There were “two dwelling houses, a good barn, and a fine orchard.”8 The farm was within easy reach of Harmony, and during the next two months, Joseph periodically visited Emma.
Knight’s youngest son, Joseph Knight Jr., worked alongside Smith and recalled his father saying that “Joseph was the best hand he ever hired.” Young Knight remembered that soon after arriving, Joseph secretly told him and his father that “he had seen a vision, that a personage had appeared to him and told him where there was a gold book of ancient date buried, and if he would follow the directions of the angel he could get it.”9 Knight said that he and his father believed Joseph, but that his older brothers, Nahum and Newel, had no faith in such things.
While on the Knight farm, Joseph participated in at least one extended treasure hunt. Emily Colburn Austin, sister of Newel Knight’s wife, Sally, reported seeing “places where they had dug for money” on the Knight farm. Austin was told that a dog had been sacrificed in the hope of breaking the charm that held “pots of money.”10 Joel K. Noble, the Colesville justice before whom Smith appeared in July 1830, said that “Jo. and others were digging for a chest of money in [the] night [but] could not obtain it. They procured one thing and another, together with [a] black bitch. The bitch was offered a … sacrifice, [blo]od sprinkled, prayer made at the time. [But] (no money obtained). The above sworn to on trial.”11
During this time, Isaac Hale remembered that Joseph “made several visits at my house, and at length asked my consent to his marrying my daughter Emma.” Hale refused, not only because Joseph was a “stranger” without a proven reputation, but also because he had no means of supporting his daughter other than money digging, “a business that I could not approve.”12 Emma later told her oldest son, Joseph III, that her parents were “bitterly opposed” to her marrying Joseph Smith.13
[p. 90]Not long after father Hale’s rebuff, Joseph returned to the house while Hale was gone and “carried off my daughter, into the state of New York, where they were married without my approbation or consent.”14 William R. Hine was a resident of Windsor and an acquaintance of Isaac Hale who remembered the incident and said that Joseph took Emma while Isaac was at church, although he incorrectly assumed the day was Sunday. Rather, it was probably Wednesday, 17 January 1827, the day prior to Joseph’s and Emma’s marriage and the day the Methodist circuit rider held classes.15
Joseph took Emma to Stowell’s home. “I had no intention of marrying when I left home,” Emma would later tell her son, “[but] being importuned by your father, aided by Mr. Stowell, and preferring to marry him than any one I knew, I consented.”16 Martha Carpenter remembered seeing Stowell’s two daughters, Rhoda and Miriam, driving Joseph and Emma in the family’s sleigh to the ferry. The young couple crossed the river on the ice and climbed the snowy embankment to the home of Justice Zachariah Tarbell, who married them.17 Joseph was barely twenty-one, Emma twenty-two.
Within days, Stowell transported the newlyweds to Manchester to board with Joseph’s parents in their frame house. How well Lucy and Emma got along is unknown, but the two undoubtedly shared some of the same attitudes toward their husbands’ drinking and money digging, both of which would become more prominent attributes of the Smith men during Emma’s brief stay in Manchester.
Joseph worked on his father’s farm and hired out as a laborer on other farms during the ensuing year. While he was working for William Stafford, he got into another drunken fight. Barton Stafford, son of William, remembered that on one occasion while working in his father’s field, Joseph “got quite drunk on a composition of cider, molasses and water.” In fact, Stafford said, he was so intoxicated he could barely stand and found it necessary to hold on to a nearby fence. After a while, “he fell to scuffling with one of the workmen, who tore his shirt nearly off from him.” Emma, who was in the house visiting, came out and “appeared very much grieved at his conduct, and to protect his back from the rays of the sun, and conceal his nakedness, threw her shawl over his shoulders and in that plight escorted the Prophet home.”18
Gordon T. Smith, Lemuel Durfee’s adopted son, related a story about Joseph’s drinking while the latter was working for the senior Durfee. Joseph’s presence at the Durfee farm on at least two unspecified occasions in August 1827 is confirmed in the employer’s account book.19 When Durfee’s wife discovered that Joseph had been sneaking drinks from the whiskey bottle in her pantry each morning before work, she switched the bottle for one containing pepper-sauce, which caused Joseph considerable discomfort.20
[p. 91]There was no shortage of alcoholic drink at the Smith home during Joseph’s and Emma’s tenancy. One of Lemuel Durfee’s account books records the purchase of large quantities of “liquor cider” by the family during the spring and summer of 1827.21
Alcohol elicited more than Joseph’s anger, for Stafford reported that “when intoxicated, he frequently made his religion the topic of conversation.”22 When inebriated, anything Joseph had tried to repress seemed to bellow up like steam rising from a doused fire.
By the fall of 1827, the Smith men had resumed their treasure-seeking activities in Manchester in company with like-minded neighbors. While little is known about these activities, both Martin Harris and Lorenzo Saunders said that Joseph Jr. directed a treasure-digging company until he received custody of the gold plates.23 Joseph Capron, who lived on the farm immediately south of the Smiths, reported that in 1827 Joseph put a stone in his hat and located “a chest of gold watches … north west of my house.” After performing various magical ceremonies, a company of money diggers, including Samuel Lawrence, attempted to unearth a treasure, but the “evil spirit” guarding the chest succeeded in carrying it off.24
These treasure hunts may have been financially supported by Abraham Fish, a neighbor with whom the Smiths had other financial dealings. In a letter dated January 1832, six leading citizens of Canandaigua, some of whom were familiar with Martin Harris, reported having heard that Joseph’s money-digging company in Manchester was “for a time … supported by a Mr. Fish” and that when the gentleman “turned them off,” this was when Joseph turned his attention to finding “a box … containing some gold plates.”25
Amid her husband’s drinking, fighting, and money digging, Emma may have begun to have second thoughts about their marriage. Lorenzo Saunders, whose sister had become close friends with Emma, said that Emma was “disappointed and used to come down to our house and sit down and cry. Said she was deceived and got into a hard place.”26 Perhaps Emma was beginning to fear that her parents’ assessment of Joseph had been correct. She may not have been happy having to live with her in-laws and worried that Joseph was doing little to remedy the situation.
The turning point for Joseph came in August 1827 when he, Emma, and Peter Ingersoll visited Harmony to retrieve some of Emma’s furniture, clothes, and other belongings. According to the accounts of Ingersoll and Isaac Hale, an emotional confrontation occurred between Smith and his father-in-law, during which Smith promised to give up money digging and stone gazing.
Ingersoll remembered that Hale was gushing “a flood of tears” when he scolded Joseph. “You have stolen my daughter,” he said, “and married her. I had much rather [p. 92]have followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for money—pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive people.” Joseph wept too, Ingersoll said, and “acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor never could; and that his former pretensions in that respect, were all false. He then promised to give up his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones.”27 Emma’s brother, Alva, reported that Smith made a comparable confession to him. Alva’s memory may be more precise in that, in his account, Joseph doesn’t confess to fraudulent behavior. According to Alva, Joseph said that “‘peeping’ was all d—d nonsense” and that he “was deceived himself but did not intend to deceive others;—that he intended to quit the business, (of peeping) and labor for his livelihood.”28 In this account, Smith doesn’t take responsibility but rather passes it on to an undisclosed scapegoat such as the stone, guardian spirits, or other treasure-seeking enthusiasts.
Isaac Hale said that Joseph told him “he had given up what he called ‘glass-looking,’ and that he expected to work hard for a living, and was willing to do so.”29 Ingersoll remembered that Hale responded by saying that if Joseph “would move to Pennsylvania and work for a living, he would assist him in getting into business.”30 Joseph and Emma accepted his offer. Arrangements were made for Alva Hale to go to Manchester the following winter to help them move. Emma must have been pleased by this surprising development, and she anticipated being reunited with her family in the familiar surroundings of her hometown. For the first time in her marriage, she could look to the future with the hope of living in her own home and beginning her own family.
Joseph was no doubt sincere in promising to quit the money digging business, but the break would not be easy. He told Ingersoll on their return trip to Manchester that “he intended to keep the promise which he had made to his father-in-law: but, said he, ‘it will be hard for me, for they will all oppose, as they want me to look in the stone for them to dig money.’” Joseph’s prediction proved true, for Ingersoll remembered that “they urged him, day after day, to resume his old practice of looking in the stone.—He seemed much perplexed as to the course he should pursue.”31 Although he was feeling the pull from both family and friends, Joseph knew he had to change.
One day, probably in early September 1827, Joseph was sent to Manchester Village on business. When he returned home about three hours later than expected, he was met by an anxious father and mother who wanted to know why he was so tardy. Collapsing into a chair, Joseph said, “I have had the severest chastisement that I ever had in my life.”
Indignant, Joseph Sr. responded: “Chastisement indeed! … I would like to [know] who has been taking you to task and what their pretext was. Its pretty well too, if you [p. 93]are to be detained till this time of night to take lectures for your bad practices.”
Smiling, Joseph Jr. replied: “Father … it was the angel of the Lord. … I have been negligent. … The time has now come when the record should be brought forth and that I must be up and doing, that I must set myself about the things which God has commanded me to do. But father give yourself no uneasiness as to this reprimand for I know what course I am to pursue and all will be well.”32 Beyond this general statement, Joseph said nothing more specific about getting the gold plates, according to Lucy.
Perhaps it was while passing the Robinson hill on his way to Manchester that Joseph began to think more seriously about procuring the plates and beginning a new career. He could thus keep his promise to Emma’s family and fulfill his father’s expectation about his gift. He would renounce, but not deny, his former activity as a seer and redefine his calling as a purely religious one. Joseph the magician would become Joseph the seer, called of God to translate the golden plates.
On 20 September, Josiah Stowell and Joseph Knight stopped in Manchester to visit the Smiths on their way home from conducting business in Rochester.33 Martin Harris claimed that Stowell’s and Knight’s visit included “digging for money.”34 In any case, Lucy was up late that night when Joseph came to ask her for a chest that had a good lock. She knew immediately the purpose of his request, but she informed him that every lock had been broken during the move from Vermont. Fearing that this would prevent him from completing his duty, she became distressed. Sensing her anxiety, Joseph said: “Never mind, I can do very well for the present without it—be calm—all is right.”35 Lucy had difficulty staying composed because, as she explained, “I had not forgotten the first failure.”36
Soon after, Joseph and Emma left in Knight’s wagon. At the hill, Emma stayed in the wagon while Joseph disappeared into the moonless night. The sun was beginning to rise when Joseph finally descended the hill, empty-handed, and rejoined Emma. Turning the horse around, he headed for home.
Lucy had spent the entire night praying for Joseph’s success and anxiously awaiting his return. The men and boys assembled at the table for breakfast that morning without Joseph, and his father inquired about hm. Lucy covered for her son, stating that she did not think she would call him down just then, but perhaps, she said, “I would like to have him take breakfast with his wife.”
“No, no,” Joseph Sr. insisted. “I must have Joseph come down here and eat with me.”
“Well, now, Mr. Smith,” Lucy responded, “do let him eat with his wife this morning; he almost always takes breakfast with you.” At this, Joseph Sr. consented.
Not long after, Joseph Knight came in with a troubled look. “Why Mr. Smith,” [p. 94]he said. “My horse is gone, and I can’t find him on the premises, and I wish to start for home in half an hour.”
“Never mind the horse,” Lucy injected. “Mr. Knight does not know all the nooks and corners in the pastures; I will call William, he will bring the horse immediately.”37 Satisfied, Knight went back out only to discover that his wagon was also missing and concluded that they had both been stolen. Lucy assured Knight that William would be coming soon with his horse and wagon and suggested that he go out and talk with Mr. Smith until her son arrived.
The two men were outside when they were both astonished to see Joseph and Emma riding up to the house. Joseph unharnessed the horse and turned him out into the pasture, and then he and Emma went into the house without saying a word.
Lucy could see that Joseph did not have the plates. Fearing that he had met with another failure, she began to shake uncontrollably and left the room rather than hear the disappointing news. Joseph caught her by the arm and said, “Do not be uneasy mother, all is right—see here, I have got a key.”38 He thrust something heavy into her hands, wrapped in a large silk handkerchief. It felt like what Joseph described as being “2 smooth … stones connected with each other in the same way that old fashioned spectacles are made.”39 It was the pair of spectacles that Lawrence had seen. Joseph took back the bag and left without saying anything more.
After breakfast, Knight recalled, “Joseph called me into the other room and he set his foot on the bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, ‘well I am disappointed.’”
“Well,” said Knight, “I am sorry.”
“Well,” said Joseph, “I am greatly disappointed, it is ten times better than I expected.” Knight remembered that Joseph “went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates.” “They appear to be gold,” Joseph continued. “They are written in [strange] characters and I want them translated.”40
Although Knight did not mention having seen or handled the spectacles, he remembered that Smith “seemed to think more of the glasses … than he did of the plates.” They were more powerful than any stone the Manchester seers had ever found. “I can see any thing [with them],” Smith exclaimed. “They are marvelous.”41
Subsequently, Joseph would describe the “spectacles” as consisting of “two stones in silver bows” and as “two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow.”42 A skeptic might suggest that Smith had simply bent an iron rod into a figure eight, into which he had wedged two stones.43 Under the cloth, Lucy would not have been able to tell if the stones were of transparent glass or if they were smooth creek stones, nor did she know if the rims were of silver or iron. Yet, Lucy’s experience was singular because no one else ever claimed to have seen or felt the spectacles.44 Perhaps Joseph [p. 95]was testing and preparing Lucy for what was to come with the plates.
Later that morning, Joseph sought Lucy’s advice about how to get a storage chest made. She directed him to a cabinetmaker who was making furniture for Sophronia and instructed Joseph to tell the carpenter that she would pay him in the usual manner: half in produce and half in cash. Joseph replied that he would follow her instructions, but he did not know how they would pay for the work as “there was not a shilling in the house.”45
The cabinetmaker was probably Willard Chase, who said Smith came to him about that time and “requested me to make him a chest, informing me that he designed to move back to Pennsylvania, and expecting soon to get his gold book, he wanted a chest to lock it up, giving me to understand at the same time, that if I would make the chest he would give me a share in the book.” Chase declined because he had other more pressing work, but he volunteered to lock the plates in his own chest if Smith would bring them to him. Joseph refused, stating that “he was commanded to keep it two years, without letting it come to the eye of any one but himself.” Chase said he would make the chest provided that Smith would bring the metallic book to “convince me of its existence.” Joseph answered that he could not get the plates until he had a chest to lock them in.
A “few days after” their encounter, Chase said, Joseph returned and insisted that he make a storage chest. “I told him plainly that I could not,” Chase said, “upon which he told me that I could have no share in the book.”46 Despite his skepticism about the gold plates, Chase would soon join other treasure seekers in an effort to find where Smith had hidden them.
The discussion with Chase tipped off the other treasure seekers, who became angry with Smith for keeping the plates from them. “The money-diggers,” Martin Harris said, “claimed that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in company together. They claimed that Joseph had been a traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them.”47 Recalling a visit to the area in 1828, David Whitmer stated: “I had conversations with several young men who said that Joseph Smith had certainly golden plates, and that before he attained them he had promised to share with them, but had not done so, and they were very much incensed with him.”48
Reinforcing their claim was the fact that sometime in 1825 or 1826, the money diggers had excavated the northeastern slope of the Robinson hill to unearth a treasure that both Smith and Lawrence had said existed. Lorenzo Saunders visited the hill within days after Smith said he had removed the plates and found no disturbance of the earth except “a large hole” which had been dug by the “money diggers” about “a year or two before.”49 While the excavation was undoubtedly related to the time [p. 96]Joseph had revealed the location of the gold plates to Lawrence, the extent to which Joseph himself had participated in the digging is unknown.50 Later, Smith told Lawrence and others that he had not shown them the “right place.”51
About this same time, treasure seekers had hired Luman Walters to find the true location of Smith’s plates. According to Brigham Young, who likely heard the details from his father-in-law Alvah Beaman, who was a friend of the Smiths and a fellow treasure seeker from Livonia, New York, the adept Luman Walters was summoned three times to the hill in Manchester prior to when Smith got the plates. “People knew there was treasure there,” Young said in an 1873 interview. “Beman was one of those who sent for [Walters]. He came. Each time he said there was treasure there, but that he couldn’t get it; though there was one that could. The last time he came he pointed out Joseph Smith, who was sitting quietly among a group of men in the tavern, and said there was the young man that could find it, and cursed and swore about him in a scientific manner: awful!”52
On learning that Smith possessed the plates, his former colleagues in the money-digging business began immediately to plot how they would rob him of them. The church-going part of the population could safely ignore Joseph, or so they thought, but the money-diggers could not. The greed that had motivated them to dig on the Robinson hill was the same motivation that drew them to the Smith farm.
The first attempt on the rumored artifact came within a few days of receiving word that Joseph had obtained it. Shortly following his first conversation with Chase, Joseph was approached by a Mr. Warner from Macedon who wanted to hire him on behalf of a widow named Wells, also of Macedon, to remove stones from the wall of a well. At first it seemed that God was providing the money Joseph needed for the cabinetmaker, but the true nature of the stranger’s request would soon become apparent. Joseph had not been absent long when Joseph Sr. learned that a group of ten or twelve men under the direction of Willard Chase had organized and that they had sent for a conjuror who lived sixty miles away.
The following morning, Joseph Sr. went over the hill on the eastern border of his property to the home of Samuel Lawrence, where he saw Willard and the company of men gathering near the house. Pretending to be on an errand, he went into the house. Sitting near an open door and holding a newspaper, Joseph Sr. could hear the men talk outside in the yard. They were “devising many plans and schemes to find Joe Smith’s ‘gold bible,’ as they termed it.”53 Lawrence’s wife, feeling uneasy about the disclosures they were making, went into the yard and called to her husband in a low voice, “Sam, Sam, you are cutting your own throat.” The conjuror, animated despite his long and hurried journey, bellowed out, “I am not afraid of any body—we will have them plates in spite of Joe Smith or all the devils in hell.”54
[p. 97]When Joseph Sr. returned home, he and Lucy went to Emma and asked if she knew if Joseph had removed the plates from the place of deposit or if he had left them where they were. Emma did not know but said that if Joseph was meant to get the record, no one could prevent it. “Yes,” said Joseph Sr., “he will [obtain them], if he is watchful and obedient; but remember, that for a small thing, Esau lost his birthright and blessing. It may be so with Joseph.”55 Emma then mounted a horse and rode off to warn Joseph, who was still at work in Macedon.
When she arrived, her husband had just come up out of the well. He told her he had seen her coming in his seer stone, which he kept on his person. After Emma related what his father had discovered, Joseph assured her that the plates were momentarily safe. Nevertheless, he decided it was best that he and Emma return immediately. Borrowing a horse from widow Wells, he and his wife rode off together.
He found his father pacing the ground anxious for the safety of the plates. Joseph told him they were secreted in the woods about three miles away. Martin Harris said that Joseph had hidden the plates “in an old black oak tree top which was hollow,”56 and Lucy remembered that the plates were hidden “in a cavity” of an old decaying “birch log.”57 Joseph said he had removed the plates but was unable to bring them home until a means of securing them could be found.
Following a cup of tea, Joseph sent for Hyrum to bring a chest with a good lock and to have it ready when he returned. There would be no time to construct a special box, so he would have to borrow one from Hyrum. Joseph then directed his father to return to the Lawrence home to determine what the intentions of the money diggers were. Knight, who had decided to stay with the Smiths a few more days, remembered that Joseph “sent his father up to Sam [Lawrence]’s [place] … near night to see if there was any signs of his going away that night. He told his father to stay till near dark and if he saw any signs of his going, ‘you tell him, if I find him there [in the woods,] I will thrash the stumps with him.’”58 Joseph then left on foot.
There was no movement by the Lawrence company so Joseph Sr. struck out for home, where he found a small group of family and friends awaiting Joseph Jr.’s return. It was well after dark when the young man suddenly burst in, out-of-breath and seemingly frightened, tightly clutching something under his left arm that was securely wrapped up in his coat. After catching his breath, he told his mother that he had been chased home by several men. Lucy sent eleven-year-old Don Carlos to find Joseph Sr. and tell him about the men, with instruction from Joseph Jr. that his father, together with Knight and Stowell, should pursue the men. Don Carlos was to tell Hyrum to immediately bring his chest.
Hyrum had forgotten about his errand and was entertaining two of his wife’s sisters who had come to see Jerusha’s new baby girl, Lovina. As soon as his brother [p. 98]touched his shoulder, Hyrum recalled his task, dropped his tea cup, and sprang from the table. Grabbing a chest, he emptied its contents onto the floor and ran out the door to the bewilderment of his guests.
Soon Joseph Sr., Knight, and Stowell returned to report that they had been unable to find Joseph’s pursuers. Joseph Jr. said, “Father, I have got the plates.” As he carefully transferred the plates to a pillow case, Joseph Sr. said: “What, Joseph, can we not see them?”
“No,” Joseph responded. “I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time; for I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them.”59 While he was unable to provide a set of plates for visual inspection, a tangible artifact could be handled through the pillow case.
Stowell claimed that he was the first person who was privileged to receive the plates out of Joseph’s hands.60 While Lucy, Hyrum, and Katharine later said that they too handled the covered plates on various occasions, William gave the most detailed descriptions. He said that he once “hefted the plates as they lay on the table wrapped in an old frock or jacket in which Joseph had brought them home. That he had thumbed them through the cloth and ascertained that they were thin sheets of some kind of metal.”61 On another occasion, William said that he believed the plates “weighed about sixty pounds” and that he “could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back.”62
Smith’s own description had “each plate … six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin … bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed.”63 His remark that a plate was not quite as thick as common tin may have been meant to divert attention from the possibility that they were actually made from some material otherwise readily available to him. Indeed, his prohibition against visual inspection seems contrived to the skeptic who might explain that the would-be prophet constructed a set of plates to be felt through a cloth.
The construction of such a book would have been relatively easy. There were scraps of tin available on the Smith property and elsewhere in the vicinity,64 and during the several hours Joseph was separated from Emma the night they went to the hill and on other occasions, he could have easily set up shop in the cave on the other side of the hill or in some corner of the forest. Using a pair of metal shears, it would have been easy to cut a number of 6 x 8-inch sheets. A hole punch, nail, or some similar instrument could have been used to make three holes along one edge of each plate. Then it would have been a matter of passing three wires or rods through the holes and bending them into rings. A book made of tin plates of the dimensions (6 x 8 x 6 inches) [p. 99]described by Smith would have weighed between fifty and sixty pounds, corresponding to the weight that was mentioned by eye-witness accounts.65
In any case, after Joseph locked the plates securely in the chest, he threw himself onto a nearby bed to rest. Moments later, he joined his family and guests in the sitting room and began relating what had occurred prior to reaching home. He said that after he had taken the plates from their hiding place and wrapped them in his coat, he decided it would be safer to walk home through the woods rather than on the roads. But he had not proceeded far before a man sprang up from behind a log and struck him with a gun. Knocking the man down with a single punch, Joseph ran as fast as he could for about a half mile before he was attacked by a second man trying to get the plates. After similarly overpowering the man, Joseph continued to run, but before he reached the house, a third man hit him with a gun. In striking the last man, Joseph said, he injured his thumb. By this time, he was within sight of the house and threw himself at a fence corner to catch his breath, then sprang for the door. He showed everyone his injured thumb and asked his father to help reset it as he believed is was dislocated.
While Joseph may have injured his thumb in any number of ways, it is within the realm of possibility that he injured it while putting the finishing touches on his plates, bending rods into rings, for instance.66 Regardless of how this happened, his harrowing tale helped unite his family and friends against conspiring forces outside their small circle, while also reinforcing the reality of the plates and the importance of Joseph’s task.
Joseph related to family and friends the angel’s warning about the custodianship of the plates: “Now you have got the record into your own hands, and you are but a man, therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust, or you will be overpowered by wicked men, for they will lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get them away from you, and if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed.”67 From what Joseph told his family about being attacked, the angel’s warning seemed already to have been proven true.
In the days following, Joseph remained in Manchester and helped his father work the farm while keeping a close watch on the plates. One day, as reported in the final version of Lucy’s history, Joseph came to his mother and showed her another artifact that was also hidden under a cloth. He handed her “the breast-plate spoken of in his history.” It was wrapped in a “thin muslin handkerchief, so thin that I could see the glistening metal, and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty.” She did not say what kind of metal she saw through the cloth, but she remembered that the breastplate was “concave on one side, and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards, as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary [p. 100]size.” Considering the fact that Joseph was six feet tall and large-chested, the plate must have been large indeed. Lucy described the mechanism used to fasten the plate to the chest. At each of the four corners of the plate, there were straps constructed “of the same material,” she said. These straps were the width of two of her fingers and had holes in the ends much like a belt. After examining the breastplate, which she estimated was worth $500, Joseph placed it into the box with the Book of Mormon plates and spectacles.68
There is reason to question this story which Lucy’s scribes, Martha and Howard Coray, attributed to her. As with the spectacles, her experience with the breastplate was unique, unconfirmed, and uncorroborated by others. Why would Joseph allow others to lift and feel the plates through a cloth but permit only his mother to examine the breastplate and spectacles?69 When Martin Harris lifted the box, he understood that it contained only the gold plates. The same was true for Isaac Hale in Harmony, Pennsylvania. When Joseph moved to Pennsylvania, the plates were placed into an Ontario glass box measuring approximately 10 x 12 inches and then placed snugly into a barrel of beans which was too small for the breastplate Lucy described. Perhaps the Corays mistook something Lucy said as hearsay for personal experience.
As news of the gold plates spread through the neighborhood, the curious were drawn to the Smiths’ door for a glimpse. Knight remembered: “Now it soon got about that Joseph Smith had found the plates and people came in to see them. But he told them that they could not, for he must not show them. But many insisted and offered money and property to see them.”70 While there were plenty of skeptics, others were curious enough to try to entice Smith into showing them the artifact. This neighborhood sensation was threatening to get out of control. Especially importunate were the money diggers who, when refused a viewing, turned aggressive.
Lucy remembered that one day Joseph rushed in and asked if a company of men had been there. Lucy said that no one had been to the house all day. Joseph said he expected a mob that night. As evening approached, it was determined that the plates should be hidden under the hearth. Alvah Beaman, who had arrived from Livonia earlier that day and had been permitted to feel the plates through the cloth, helped to take up the bricks and bury the plates under the house.71
The hearth stones were barely replaced when a large group of armed men came rushing up. Joseph had reason to fear these men. If they found the box, they could expose him before his family and friends. Desperate to protect the plates, he decided to bluff his way out of the predicament. He flung the door open and, like a general, commanded his small army to rush the crowd. At once the men and boys in the Smith house charged out and startled the mob, which dispersed in several directions.
[p. 101]Joseph’s bold act drew inspiration from a story in Grandfather Mack’s chapbook in which Solomon escaped death by charging four Indians. “I saw no other way to save myself,” he wrote, “only to deceive them by stratagem.”72
While the Smith family counted such intrusions as undesirable, Joseph actually benefitted from the “persecution.” The more earnestly his enemies tried to get the gold plates, the more convinced Joseph’s family and friends became of their reality and of the divine purpose for which they had been preserved.
Soon after the appearance of the mob, Beaman brought Samuel Lawrence to Joseph, perhaps hoping for a reconciliation. As Knight reported, Lawrence and Beaman “proposed to go shares with him and tried every way to bargain with him, but could not.” Angered by Joseph’s unwillingness to compromise, Beaman, whom Knight described as “a great rodsman,” then “took out his rods and held them up and they pointed down to the hearth.” “There,” Beaman said, “it is under that hearth.”73 Oblivious to the religious value of the plates, Beaman was convinced by the reasons Lawrence gave for sharing the profit.
Joseph had to remove the plates to another hiding place now that the location had been revealed. As Harris noted, “the wall [of the house] being partly down, it was feared that certain ones, who were trying to get possession of the plates, would get under the house and dig them out.”74 Joseph removed the plates and concealed them across the road under the floor of his father’s cooper shop. This time, however, only Joseph knew the spot.
Upon entering the shop the next morning, Joseph discovered that someone had taken up the floor boards and smashed the box that held the plates. Not to worry, he explained. The plates were safe. A premonition had guided him to remove the plates and hide them in the loft under some flax.75 The Smiths surmised that the mob of treasure seekers had come during the night and searched the premises without entering the house, then left unsatisfied.
A few days later, Lucy said, the Smiths learned from an unidentified source that the mob had been directed through the assistance of Sally Chase, who claimed to have seen the plates in her seer stone.76 It did not occur to Lucy that if Sally had correctly ascertained the location of the box, she could have just as easily seen the plates in the loft.
In fact, there is something incongruent about Joseph’s explanation. Would men who went so far as to dig up the floor leave the shop without searching elsewhere in the building? Joseph was alone in the shop when he hid the box. Perhaps he was the one who damaged it.
The immediate effect of the intrusion was an increased level of intensity, the air filling with danger, excitement, and purpose. As with the attack on the Smith home, [p. 102]the episode helped bond his followers more securely to him and to define more clearly friend from foe. If Beaman had any lingering doubts about Joseph’s need to be independent from Lawrence and other treasure seekers, this event convinced him. The treasure seekers had become a band of thieves and would have stolen the Lord’s treasure had Joseph’s gift not proven superior to Sally Chase’s stone.
The destruction of Hyrum’s box may have been Joseph’s way of procuring a chest that was more satisfactory. About this time, he revisited Willard Chase to again ask for a chest, but Chase again refused. This and other actions on Joseph’s part contributed to the atmosphere surrounding his family and home. This, in turn, made it impossible for him to begin translating the plates. Even this may have worked to his benefit since he had more time to prepare for the demanding process of a more or less impromptu dictation.
The plates were now placed in an “Ontario glass-box” which was nailed closed. Beaman—who had helped modify the box by sawing off the ends to make it the right length—told Martin Harris that he heard the plates “jink” when placed inside.77 Such stories spread like wildfire through Palmyra and Manchester. Curiously, Martin Harris, although a friend of the family, was among the last to hear. It was not until his brother Preserved made a trip to town in October 1827 and heard people discussing the “gold bible” that the story reached Martin, and he dismissed the report, thinking the treasure seekers had probably dug up an “old brass kettle, or something of the kind.”78
But the next day, Harris went to the village to hear for himself what was being said about Joseph Smith. When those who ridiculed Joseph’s discovery asked Harris what he thought of the “gold Bible,” he replied: “The Scripture says, He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is foolishness unto him. I do not wish to make myself a fool. I don’t know anything about it.”79
When he asked what they knew of the gold Bible, these men related a somewhat accurate account of the angel appearing to Joseph Smith and Joseph subsequently procuring the gold plates—information they said they had coaxed out of a half-drunk Joseph Sr. They added that they did not believe the story. Harris asked them why they were so certain. They replied: “Damn him! angels appear to men in this enlightened age! Damn him, he ought to be tarred and feathered for telling such a damned lie!”80
Harris responded: “Suppose he has told a lie; as old Tom Jefferson said, it did [not] matter to him whether a man believed in one god or twenty. It did not rob his pocket, nor break his shins. … If you should tar and feather all the liars, you would soon be out of funds to purchase the material.”81
From his interviews with the townspeople, Harris was convinced there was something behind the rumors and decided to visit the Smiths as soon as possible. [p. 103]Joseph may have learned of Harris’s open attitude, for he preempted Harris’s visit by sending his mother to the well-to-do farmer and asking him to come to Manchester. Joseph’s motive was financial, although he had made a habit of not making personal solicitations for funds. There was a psychological advantage to this as well: Harris would come to Joseph, not Joseph to Harris.
Lucy dreaded going to see Martin Harris because his wife, Lucy, was brash and had poor hearing, which caused her to be suspicious of people. Lucy Smith decided that when she visited, she would approach Mrs. Harris first, thereby allaying any fear that might arise from asking to talk with her husband. When Lucy arrived, Martin was busy at work, giving Mrs. Smith the opportunity to talk with Mrs. Harris who, at that moment, was entertaining one of her sisters. According to Smith, she had not finished telling the story of Joseph’s discovery of the plates before Mrs. Harris offered a “considerable amount of money” from her private purse to assist Joseph; her sister offered $75. Lucy Smith said she had not come to take their money, that Joseph would have to take care of his own business.
Dale Morgan viewed Lucy’s account skeptically. “Nothing that is known about Lucy Harris and her views about the proper use of money entitles this to any credence,” Morgan asserted. “The story is doubtless explained by the various humiliations Lucy Smith subsequently experienced at the hands of Lucy Harris, and the need that worked upon her memory to put her family in a light befitting their sense of integrity.”82 Indeed, the offer of money does seem incongruent with Lucy Harris’s subsequent behavior. But her change in attitude came about by Joseph refusing to show her the plates. Likely, her offer of money was conditional and with the view of making a profit, perhaps believing that the plates would attract the curious who would pay to see them and that the learned would eventually translate them, that Joseph would make a great deal of money publishing the translation. However, when Joseph refused, she became suspicious of his claims.
Mrs. Harris took Lucy to Mr. Harris, who was laying stones for his new hearth. Not wanting his cement to set, Martin explained that he was unable to stop in the middle of his project. Lucy was forced to pass the afternoon with Mrs. Harris. When at last Lucy told Martin about Joseph’s discovery and relayed her son’s wish to see him, Harris told her he would come in a few days, that he was in the process of making arrangements for the management of his farm and that he would soon be free from such responsibilities for a year. Obviously, his curiosity about the plates was not great enough to overcome his sense of responsibility, at least not yet.
However, Mrs. Harris’s curiosity was piqued and, according to Lucy, she invited herself over, stating that she would visit Joseph sooner than her husband.83 Martin remembered that it was Lucy who invited his wife and daughter to accompany [p. 104]her home that day.84 Having fulfilled her errand, Lucy Smith returned home alone.
As promised, Mrs. Harris and one of her daughters soon came to visit the Smiths and to inquire about the gold plates. When they were seated, Mrs. Harris began asking Joseph seemingly impertinent questions and declared that “if he really had any plates, she would see them, and that she was determined to help him publish them.”
Joseph replied that “she was mistaken—that she could not see them, for he was not permitted to exhibit them to any one except those whom the Lord should appoint to testify of them.” Joseph added something that irritated the independent Mrs. Harris: “And, in relation to assistance, … I always prefer dealing with men, rather than their wives.” Mrs. Harris was “highly displeased” with this because, according to Lucy Smith, she believed herself “superior to her husband.”85 Lorenzo Saunders, who apparently knew Lucy Harris fairly well, corroborated Lucy Smith’s characterization by describing Mrs. Harris as a snob who looked down on most others. He said she had a combative, irritable temper and that she was “a hard piece to live with.”86
The irascible Mrs. Harris challenged Joseph Jr., saying: “Now, Joseph, are you not telling me a lie? Can you look full in my eye, and say before God, that you have in reality found a Record, as you pretend?”
Joseph replied coolly, “Why, yes, Mrs. Harris, I would as soon look you in the face, and say so as not, if that will be any gratification to you.”
Consistent with her Quaker background and its emphasis on personal, spiritual witness, Mrs. Harris concluded: “Joseph, I will tell you what I will do, if I can get a witness that you speak the truth, I will believe all you say about the matter, and I shall want to do something about the translation—I mean to help you any way.”87
Passing the night with the Smiths, Mrs. Harris awoke the next morning to tell of a “very remarkable dream” she had during the night. According to Lucy Smith, Mrs. Harris said a personage appeared to her and told her that God was displeased with her because “she had disputed the servant of the Lord, and said his word was not to be believed, and had also asked him many improper questions.” In the dream, the personage showed her the plates.88 In light of her subsequent demands to see the plates, the dream, if not fabricated by Lucy Smith or her editors, had little lasting effect.89 Lucy claimed that Mrs. Harris gave Joseph $28, which she had received from her dying mother. Joseph accepted the money “in order [to] get rid of her importunities.”90 Mrs. Harris and her daughter then returned home.
Martin questioned the two women about their experience. “My daughter said, [the plates] were about as much as she could lift,” he recalled. “They were now in the glass-box, and my wife said they were very heavy. They both lifted them.”91 Their report [p. 105]excited Martin, yet he waited a day or two before visiting the Smiths himself. After breakfast one morning, he told his family that he was going to Palmyra Village when he was actually on his way to Manchester to see the Smiths. The necessity of secrecy may have resulted from his wife’s negative assessment of the situation and her insistence that her husband not be duped. If so, Lucy’s claim that Mrs. Harris had given Joseph money becomes even more doubtful.
When Harris arrived at the Smith residence, he found that Joseph had gone to work for Peter Ingersoll. “I was glad [Joseph] was absent,” Harris said, “for that gave me an opportunity of talking with his wife and the family about the plates. I talked with [each of] them separately, to see if their stories agreed, and I found they did agree.” Of course, their stories all originated from the same source—Joseph.
When the young man came home, Harris continued his investigation. “I did not wish him to know that I had been talking with them,” he said, “so I took him by the arm and led him away from the rest, and requested him to tell me the story.” Harris was already familiar with the initial discovery of the plates from previous conversations, but he apparently understood the story in a treasure-seeking context. Now, Joseph was telling him that an angel had reappeared to him and “told him it was God’s work.” Joseph said that “the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal.”92 Joseph’s decision to break with his past had now become the angel’s command.
Joseph told Harris that the angel instructed him to “look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him. That struck me with surprise,” Harris recalled. “I told him,” Harris continued, that “I wished him to be very careful about these things.”
“Well,” Joseph emphasized, “I saw you standing before me as plainly as I do now.”
Harris responded, “If it is the devil’s work I will have nothing to do with it; but if it is the Lord’s, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world.”
Solemnly, Joseph declared that God had called him to translate the plates and to publish them to the world.
Then Harris, who like his wife was of a Quaker background, said: “Joseph, you know my doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh him arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don’t know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want.”93
“While at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates,” Harris later recalled, “and I knew from [p. 106]the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead.”94 Harris’s argument that the plates were gold or lead is contradicted by his own guess that they weighed “forty or fifty pounds.”95 At the dimensions Smith gave, plates of gold or lead would have far exceeded Harris’s estimate.96 Clearly, Harris was not the careful, clever investigator he thought himself to be.
After returning home, Harris retired to his bedroom to pray, asking God for a witness concerning Joseph’s plates. Harris said: “I covenanted that if it was his work and he would show me so, I would put forth my best ability to bring it before the world. He then showed me that it was his work, and that it was designed to bring in the fullness of his gospel to the gentiles to fulfill his word, that the first shall be last and the last first. He showed this to me by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord’s work, and I was under a covenant to bring it forth.”97 Despite his conviction regarding the plates, Harris still proceeded cautiously, always seeking more evidence for his growing faith.
Meanwhile, opposition to Smith was reaching dangerous levels. Harris remembered that “the excitement in the village upon the subject had become such that some had threatened to mob Joseph, and also to tar and feather him. They said he should never leave until he had shown the plates.” Harris concluded that it was unsafe for Joseph to remain in Manchester and began urging his young friend to move to Pennsylvania.98 Emma was also growing anxious. Joseph Knight remembered that she was “unwell,” perhaps from the stress and early stages of pregnancy, “and wanted to go to her Father’s.”99 Clearly, the time for Joseph to make his exit had arrived, although, justifiably, he was apprehensive about his prospects in Harmony.
It was with mixed feelings that he wrote the Hales in the late fall of 1827 informing them of his and Emma’s intention to relocate there. As previously arranged, Joseph’s brother-in-law Alva Hale was sent to Manchester to help with the move. When he arrived, it was early winter.
Before leaving, Harris advised Joseph to pay his debts. “I paid for him,” Harris said, “and furnished him money for his journey.”100 According to Lucy Smith, it was when Joseph and Alva were at a public house in Palmyra Village and transacting business with the owner that Harris approached them, handed Joseph a bag of silver, and before several witnesses said: “Here, Mr. Smith, is $50; I give it to you to do the Lord’s work with,” and then corrected himself by saying: “I give it to the Lord for his own work.” Joseph offered to give Harris a promissory note, but Harris insisted that Joseph take the money without obligation, calling on others present as his witnesses.101
Harris’s public declarations notified Joseph’s enemies that he was planning to leave soon. Lucy said a mob of about fifty men gathered in the village outside the office of Dr. Alexander McIntyre requesting his leadership to “follow Joe Smith and [p. 107]take his Gold Bible away from him.” McIntyre regarded their request as foolish and bid them “go home and mind their own business.” When the doctor refused, the mob became divided on who should lead them and eventually disbanded.102
Harris advised Joseph to leave a day or two early to avoid being mobbed. He also suggested that Joseph and Alva take clubs with them for protection. Harris said, “We put the box of plates into a barrel about one-third full of [dry] beans and headed it up.”103 After the wagon was loaded, Joseph, Emma, and Alva slipped out of Manchester under the cover of a cold December night.104
1. This is Joseph’s description of himself as found in Joseph Smith, Manuscript History, 1839, Book A-1, 133, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT (cf. Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003], 1:144; hereafter EMD).
2. David Stafford, Statement, 5 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), 249 (EMD 2:56-57). Since extant justice of the peace records for Manchester cover only the years 1827-30, Stafford’s claim of an 1826 litigation cannot be verified.
4. Willard Chase, Statement, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 243-44 (EMD 2:69). Samuel Lawrence apparently told Lorenzo Saunders the same story (Lorenzo Saunders, interviewed by William H. Kelley, 17 Sept. 1884, 11, E. L. Kelley Papers, Community of Christ [formerly RLDS Church] Archives, Independence, MO [EMD 2:132]).
7. See Joseph Knight Jr., “Joseph Knight’s incidents of history from 1827 to 1844. Aug. 16, 1862. Compiled from loose sheets in J[oseph]. K[night].’s possession. T[homas]. B[ullock].,” 1, Joseph Knight Jr. File, LDS Church Archives (EMD 4:71).
10. Emily M. Austin, Mormonism: or, Life Among the Mormons (Madison, WI: M. J. Cantwell, 1882), 32-33 (EMD 4:166-67), which also states that the digging occurred before Smith’s marriage to Emma Hale.
15. William R. Hine, Affidavit, ca. Mar. 1885, Naked Truths About Mormonism (Oakland, CA) 1 (Jan. 1888): 2 (EMD 4:184). See also Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1984), 312, n. 3.
18. Barton Stafford, 3 Nov. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 250-51 (EMD 2:22-23). Richard L. Anderson questions the event by stating that since “Barton Stafford does not clearly say that he observed the event (only that it happened in ‘my father’s field’), some doubt remains whether this is a story or an observation” (Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” BYU Studies 10 [Spring 1970]: 291). Yet, Barton’s cousin, Christopher M. Stafford, claims direct observation of what may be the same instance: “Jo got drunk while we were haying for my uncle, Wm. Stafford; also at a husking at our house, and stayed overnight. I have often seen him drunk” (Naked Truths About Mormonism [Apr. 1888]: 1 [EMD 2:194]; see discussion in Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990], 32).
25. Nathaniel W. Howell, Walter Hubbell, Ansel D. Eddy, Henry Chapin, Jared Willson, and Lewis Jenkins to Ancil Beach, Jan. 1832, 1-2, Walter Hubbell Collection, 1831-33 Correspondence, Princeton University Library, Princeton, NJ (EMD 3:15).
39. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 61-62 (EMD 1:328-29). The intervening phrase—“3 cornered diamonds set in glass and the glass was set in silver bows”—appears in different ink and is probably a later addition to the text. Because the added information seems inconsistent with Lucy’s original “smooth stones” and implies a visual inspection of the object handed her in September 1827, I have deleted it.
42. See Joseph Smith, History, 1832, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 1:5, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives (EMD 1:30), where Smith says “the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the book.” For the two descriptions of the spectacles, see J. Smith, Manuscript History, 5 (EMD 1:64); Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, IL) 3 (1 Mar. 1842): 707 (EMD 1:171). Cf. Mosiah 28:13.
43. William, probably relying on Joseph’s description, said the spectacles were constructed as follows: “A silver bow ran over one stone, under the other, around over that one and under the first in the shape of a horizontal figure 8 much like a pair of spectacles” (“Statement of J. W. Peterson concerning William Smith,” 1 May 1921, Miscellaneous Letters and Papers, Community of Christ Archives [EMD 1:508]).
44. Reuben Miller’s statement that Oliver Cowdery said in 1848 that he both “saw with my eyes and handled with my hands” the “holy interpreters” is probably inaccurate (Reuben Miller, “Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News 9 [13 Apr. 1859] [EMD 2:495]). Miller’s journal, upon which the published version depends, mentions seeing but not handling the interpreters in his June 1829 vision of the angel and the plates (Reuben Miller, Journal, 21 Oct. 1848, 1:, LDS Church Archives [EMD 2:494]).
46. Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 245 (EMD 2:70-71). Chase said Smith came to him in the “fore part of September” and again “a few days after,” but Smith likely visited him after he had procured the plates on 22 September and before he brought them home several days later. Recalling the event in December 1833, Chase probably incorrectly surmised that Smith needed the chest before going to the hill on 22 September; he therefore pushed the two visits back to the early part of September.
49. Saunders’s statement to Gregg is as follows: “I went on the next Sunday following with five or six other ones and we hunted the side hill by course and could not find no place where the ground had been broke. There was a large hole where the money diggers had dug a year or two before, but no fresh dirt” (Lorenzo Saunders to Thomas Gregg, 28 Jan. 1885, in Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon [Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., ], 135 [EMD 3:178]). Saunders similarly told William H. Kelley: “We went there and we examined the hill all over where he claimed to [have] got the plates and we could not find a place that was broke and there was no place on the ground where the hill was not broke. Robinson said he tried many times to find the hole where he took them out, that is on the west hill it was cleared off” (Interview of 12 Nov. 1884, 16-17, E. L. Kelley Papers, Community of Christ Archives [EMD 2:160]). For a discussion of this excavation, see Dan Vogel, “Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994): 211-12.
50. One unidentified Manchester resident said that “‘Mormon Hill’ had been long designated ‘as the place in which countless treasures were buried;’ Joseph, the elder, had ‘spaded’ up many a foot of the hill side to find them, and Joseph Jr., had on more than one occasion accompanied him” (“Mormonism in Its Infancy,” Newark [NJ] Daily Advertiser, ca. Aug. 1856, newspaper clipping in Charles Woodward, Scrapbook, 1:125, New York Public Library, NY [EMD 3:60]). In 1880 Frederick G. Mather said, “Returning to the vicinity of Palmyra [from Pennsylvania], Smith and his followers began to dig for the plates on the eastern side of the hill” (Frederick G. Mather, “The Early Days of Mormonism,” Lippincott’s Magazine [Philadelphia] 26 [Aug. 1880]: 200 [EMD 3:142]; see also O[rsamus]. Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase [Rochester, NY: William Alling, 1851], 216 [EMD 3:53], who also mentions the Smiths’ previous digging on Hill Cumorah).
51. Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 243 (EMD 2:68). In 1835, Oliver Cowdery said that the plates were buried “on the west side of the hill, not far from the top down its side” (Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, Messenger and Advocate 2 [Oct. 1835]: 196 [EMD 2:455]).
52. 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), 72 (EMD 3:405-406). Cf. Young’s similar statements in Journal of Discourses of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 26 vols. (Liverpool, Eng.: Albert Carrington [and others], 1853-86), 2:180-81 (1855); and 5:55 (1857) (EMD 3:336-38).
59. “The Old Soldier’s Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints’ Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C. E. Butterworth,” Saints’ Herald 31 (4 Oct. 1884): 643-44 (EMD 1:505).
61. “Statement of J. W. Peterson Concerning William Smith,” 1 May 1921, 1, Miscellaneous Letters and Papers, Community of Christ Archives (EMD 1:508). See also “The Old Soldier’s Testimony,” 644 (EMD 1:505).
63. Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, Times and Seasons 3 (1 Mar. 1842): 707 (EMD 1:171). Orson Pratt had previously described the plates as being “not far from seven by eight inches in width and length, being not quite as thick as common tin” (Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records [Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840], 13 [EMD 1:157]). William Smith remembered them as being “eight or ten inches long, less in width, about the thickness of panes of glass; and together, made a pile about five or six inches high” (James Murdock to Editor, 19 June 1841, “The Mormons and Their Prophet,” Congregational Observer [Hartford and New Haven, CT] 2 [3 July 1841]: 1 [EMD 1:479]). As early as November 1830, Oliver Cowdery described the Nephite record as “golden plates, or something resembling golden plates, of the thickness of tin—7 inches in length, 6 inches in breadth, and a pile about 6 inches deep” (Observer and Telegraph 1 [18 Nov. 1830]: 3). In describing the ancient practice of writing on metal plates in 1833, William W. Phelps drew upon his knowledge of what Joseph Smith had claimed for his plates: “These plates were generally made from the sixteenth to the thirty second part of an inch thick (of metal) and something like six by eight inches square, and fastened at the back with three rings through which a rod was put to carry them, or hang them” (“The Book of Mormon,” The Evening and The Morning Star 1 [Jan. 1833]: 58).
64. As coopers, the Smiths would have used either sheet iron or tinplate in making straps or hoops for barrels and sap buckets. Tin was also used in making lanterns, candle holders, buckets, pans, kettles, stove pipes, weathervanes, and roofing sheds, chicken coops, and outhouses. On 7 January 1824, the Wayne Sentinel printed the following advertisement: “New Establishment Palmyra Tin-Ware and Stove Pipe Factory. North & Peterson. Having established the business of manufacturing tin & sheet iron, in the village of Palmyra … offer to the public, at wholesale and retail, an extensive assortment of Plain and Japanned tin-ware, superior in quality to that usually manufactured in this state. Also, constantly on hand, stove pipe from 4 to 9 inch; sheet iron, cut to any pattern.” Tinplate was usually available in 10 x 14-inch sheets. Cut into 5 x 7-inch plates, at approximately 1/8 of an inch thick and allowing for space due to unevenness, there may have been perhaps six plates to an inch. Thus, one would have needed about thirty-six plates or nine sheets of tinplate. If the plates were thinner, say 1/16 inch thick, perhaps seventy-two plates or about eighteen sheets would have been needed.
65. William Smith said the plates “weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgment” (William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism [Lamoni, IA: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883], 12 [EMD 1:497]; see also “W[illia]m. B. Smith’s Last Statement,” [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion’s Ensign [Independence, MO] 5 [13 Jan. 1894]: 6 [EMD 1:511]). Martin Harris, who said he hefted the plates many times, estimated that they “weighed forty or fifty pounds” (Tiffany’s Monthly 5 [Aug. 1859]: 166 [EMD 2:306]). A block of solid tin measuring 7 x 8 x 6 inches, or 288 cubic inches, would weigh 74.67 pounds. If one allows for a 30 percent reduction due to the unevenness and space between the plates, the package would then weigh 52.27 pounds. Using the same calculations, plates of gold weigh 140.50 pounds; copper, 64.71 pounds; a mixture of gold and copper, between 65 and 140 pounds.
66. Indeed, bending a rod would have put pressure on the thumb of one hand. Of course, the amount of pressure would depend on the thickness of the rod. That Smith was unable to finish the plates on the night of 21-22 September 1827 may be the best explanation for why he neglected to bring them home.
69. Concerning Lucy’s account of handling the breastplate, historian Dale Morgan stated: “She is the only one who ever claims to have handled this breastplate, and I am inclined to doubt that her memory is substantive” (John Philip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986], 384, n. 53).
71. See L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 67-68 (EMD 1:340-41); Tiffany’s Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 166-67 (EMD 2:307); “A Journal of Mary A. Noble,” 3, LDS Church Archives (EMD 3:308-309); and “Journal of Joseph B. Noble,” 11, LDS Church Archives (EMD 3:310-11).
72. Solomon Mack, A Narraitve [sic] of the Life of Solomon Mack (Windsor, VT: Solomon Mack, [ca. 1811]), 6. Lucy said that Joseph had taken “a hint from the s[t]ratagem of his Grandfather Mack” (L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 68 [EMD 1:341]).
73. Dean C. Jessee notes that “Knight may have been confused on this point. … Alvah Beman helped Joseph Smith conceal the plates” (Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 [Autumn 1976]: 33, n. 12). D. Michael Quinn, on the other hand, believes that Be[a]man became “disaffected” from Joseph Smith and “joined briefly with Palmyra neighbors Willard Chase and Samuel Lawrence who turned against the Smiths and tried to steal the gold plates” (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 2nd rev. ed. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998], 39).
81. Ibid., 168 (EMD 2:308). Jefferson’s statement, to which Harris alludes, is: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” (Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia [Baltimore: W. Pechin, 1800], 160).
100. Tiffany’s Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 170 (EMD 2:310). Jesse Townsend’s 1833 statement that “Joe Smith dare not come to Palmyra, from fear of his creditors,” is not true since Smith did visit the Palmyra/Manchester area several times after December 1827 (Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 Dec. 1833, in Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism [New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867], 290-91 [EMD 3:23]).
101. L. Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 72 (EMD 1:349). For other accounts of Harris giving Smith $50, see J. Smith, Manuscript History, 8 (EMD 1:69); Chase, ca. 11 Dec. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 246 (EMD 2:72); and Townsend to Stiles, 24 Dec. 1833, in Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 289 (EMD 3:22).
103. Tiffany’s Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 170 (EMD 2:310). Concerning the plates being hidden in a barrel of beans, see also Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 18; and Rhamanthus M. Stocker, Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: R. T. Peck and Co., 1887), 554-55 (EMD 4:401). It may have been on this occasion that Alvah Beaman cut off the ends of the lid of the Ontario glass box, thus enabling the box to fit through the mouth of the barrel.
104. Although Harris thought Joseph left Manchester “the last of October, 1827,” or perhaps “the first of November,” Joseph Smith said he left in December 1827 (J. Smith, History, 1832, Joseph Smith Letterbook, 1:5 [EMD 1:30]).