Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon
by Dan Vogel
The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
 Whoso shall hide up treasures in the earth shall find them again no more, because of the great curse of the land, save he be a righteous man and shall hide it up unto the Lord. — Samuel the Lamanite (He. 13:18)
Behold, I am Moroni … And I am the same who hideth up this record unto the Lord; the plates thereof are of no worth, because of the commandment of the Lord. For he truly saith that no one shall have them to get gain; but the record thereof is of great worth. —Moroni (Morm. 8:12, 14)
In the autumn of 1830 missionaries from the infant Church of Christ, organized on April 6, launched a mission to the Indian tribes in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Kansas. Standing in the Kansas wilderness, Oliver Cowdery, second elder of the new church, told the Delaware braves:
Once the red men were many; they occupied the country from sea to sea—from the rising to the setting sun; the whole land was theirs; the Great Spirit gave it to them…
Thousands of moons ago, when the red men’s forefathers dwelt in peace and possessed this whole land, the Great Spirit talked with them, and revealed His law and His will, and much knowledge to their wise men and prophets. This they wrote in a Book; together with their history, and the things which should befall their children in the latter days…
This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario county.1
Samuel Smith, brother of church prophet Joseph Smith and the first Mormon missionary, also tried to stir one prospective convert’s interest in the Book of Mormon by introducing it as “a history of the origin of the Indians.”2 In fact, the Book of Mormon, which rolled from the press of Egbert B. Grandin of Palmyra, New York, in late March 1830, was but one of many books purporting to reveal the true origin and history of the American Indians.
 But this book was different. It did not explain the Indian mystery through natural philosophy or argumentation but rather claimed to be a heavenly-inspired translation of a record engraved on gold plates and deposited anciently in a stone box at the summit of a hill in western New York. By means of a “seer stone” used for divining things unseen to the natural eye, Joseph Smith said he translated the ancient hieroglyphics into English. Joseph was twenty-four years old when the Book of Mormon was published, but his story began several years earlier.
The publication of the Book of Mormon did not occasion the first suspicion of Joseph Smith’s claims. Even before the Book of Mormon appeared, young Joseph had gained a local reputation as a “stone-peeper” or “crystal-gazer.” By looking into a stone, he claimed to know where treasures were hidden in the earth. And at one time he belonged to a money-digging company which traveled the countryside in search of Spanish and Indian treasure in Palmyra, Manchester, Colesville, South Bainbridge, Harmony, and other places in New York and Pennsylvania.
In October 1825 Josiah Stowell, a well-to-do farmer, traveled from South Bainbridge (now Afton), New York, to the Smith farm in Manchester township to ask the nineteen-year-old Joseph to help him locate a lost Spanish silver mine in the Susquehanna Valley. Lucy Smith, Joseph’s mother, records that Stowell came to her son “on account of having heard that he [Smith] possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.”3 Stowell had previously informed the Smiths about the mine, but Joseph had apparently warned him that “the treasure must be guarded by some clever spirit.”4 Unsuccessful in his attempt to locate the treasure, Stowell now sought the help of Joseph and his stone.
A money-digging company was formed and a contract drawn up spelling out the terms by which the treasure would be divided among the interested parties.5 According to Joseph’s later recollection, he was paid fourteen dollars a month for his services.6 After less than a month of discouraging work, the little group of speculators disbanded, although Smith stayed on four additional months in Stowell’s employ. According to Smith, he had been successful in locating the treasures, but the diggers were unable to unearth them. The men did not give up easily, however, and followed Smith’s directions in attempting to break the spirit’s enchantment.
Smith reportedly used various magic devices—animal sacrifice, magic circles, zodiac, and other formulae—in order to win the treasures from their guardian spirits.7 Although many of the religiously orthodox would have been appalled by such practices, others of the devout participated in folk religion and the occult without such apprehension. Thus Lucy Smith spoke freely of her family’s involvement with the “faculty  of Abrac,” “magic circles,” and “sooth saying,” adding that such pursuits did not cause them to neglect their other work.8
Joseph Smith’s stay in South Bainbridge was not without trouble. Peter G. Bridgman, Stowell’s nephew, believed Joseph was swindling money from his uncle and swore out a warrant against him as a disorderly person and imposter. According to notes of the 20 March 1826 trial recorded in the docket book of Judge Albert Neely, Joseph testified that he could “determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were” and that he had been stone-gazing for “three years.”9 Josiah Stowell also took the witness stand and said he “positively knew” Smith possessed the gift of “seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.” Horace Stowell testified that Joseph would look into the stone placed in a hat to exclude light and then claim to see a chest of money buried several miles away. Jonathan Thompson described one money-digging excursion during which Smith said he located an Indian treasure by looking into his stone placed in a hat. However, an enchantment kept the men from obtaining the treasure. Two witnesses, Arad Stowell and a Mr. McMaster, gave the only negative appraisals of Smith’s ability with the stone, both claiming that they could see through his tricks. According to the court record, Smith was found guilty of disorderly conduct but apparently, as a first offender, was allowed to escape quietly.10
Back in Palmyra, Joseph resumed his money-digging operations. Martin Harris, a prominent member of the community and financial backer of the Book of Mormon, remembered the money diggers:
There was a company there in that neighborhood, who were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients. Of this company were old Mr. Stowel—I think his name was Josiah—also old Mr. Beman, also Samuel Lawrence, George Proper, Joseph Smith, jr., and his father, and his brother Hiram Smith. They dug for money in Palmyra, Manchester, also in Pennsylvania, and other places … It was reported by these money diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth.11
In September 1827 Josiah Stowell came to visit the Smiths in Palmyra and to dig for money.12 Joseph Knight, Sr., Alvah Beaman, a “great rodsman” in his own right, and Samuel Lawrence, a “seer,” were also there.13 It was during this reunion of money diggers that Joseph claimed to have come into possession of the gold plates.
Joseph Smith dictated an account of how he obtained and translated the Indian record as part of a history of the church begun in 1838. Here he drew a distinct line between his earlier money-digging experiences and his discovery of the gold plates. But earlier versions of the story, which can be reconstructed from the accounts of those involved at the time, did not make such a clear distinction.
 According to these early accounts, Joseph reported that one night in September 1823 a “spirit” appeared to him three times to tell him of an ancient Indian history engraved on gold plates.14 The book, the messenger explained, had been deposited (about A.D. 421) in a stone box hidden under a large rock near the summit of a large mound of earth only a few miles south of his father’s farm. The following day, Smith reportedly climbed the near-by hill and located the stone box by looking into his seer stone.15 Using a lever, he pried the large rock away from the ancient vault and gazed in at the gold plates. The accounts differ as to what happened next. However, all agree that Smith encountered difficulty in obtaining the plates. For example, a neighbor, Willard Chase, himself a money digger, learned of the matter from Joseph’s father in 1827. He recalled that the elder Smith said Joseph
took out the book of gold; but fearing some one might discover where he got it, he laid it down to place back the top stone, as he found it; and turning round, to his surprise there was no book in sight. He 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.16
Martin Harris’s controversial account closely resembles that of Chase. If authentic, Harris relates the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in words understood by those familiar with money-digging and early nineteenth-century folk magic. Harris’s account blurs the distinction between Joseph the money digger and Joseph the prophet and translator of the Book of Mormon. According to Harris, Smith reportedly told him in 1827:
I found it [the “gold bible”] 4 years ago with my stone but only just got it because of the enchantment[.] the old spirit came to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold[.] but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times & held the treasure & would not let me have it because I lay it down to cover over the hole when the spirit says do not lay it down[.]17
Oliver Cowdery, whom Smith aided in preparing a history of the rise of the church published in 1835, provides yet another version of the story:
On attempting to take possession of the record a shock was produced upon his system, by an invisible power which deprived him, in a measure, of his natural strength. He desisted for an instant, and made another attempt, but was more sensibly shocked than before … he  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. He therefore made the third attempt with an increased exertion, when his strength failed him more than at either of the former times.18
The money-digging and folk magic elements are an integral part of Joseph’s attempt to get the plates in the Chase and Harris accounts. In Cowdery’s account Joseph struggles to get the plates but has otherwise only heard stories about money-digging and magic. Finally, Joseph’s own 1838 account describes no enchantment and no struggle. He simply states: “I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger.”19 The Harris letter may thus throw some light on how the story of Joseph’s first seeing the plates has evolved since the late 1820s.
According to some accounts, the spirit reappeared after Joseph failed to obtain the plates to inform him that he had not followed instructions. Joseph had been told not to let the plates out of his sight until he found a safe place to put them. He also failed to obtain the plates, as he later confessed, because he could not look upon the plates without thinking about their monetary worth.20 The spirit therefore told him to return to the same spot on the exact day the following year.
Joseph reportedly met with the spirit annually from 1823 to 1827. During this time, Lucy Smith recalled that
Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.21
When Joseph Smith received custody of the plates on 22 September 1827, his money-digging friends believed that they also had rights to the treasure, sacred or not. Harris said, “The money diggers 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 traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them.”22 This forced Joseph to sever his relationship with his friends. According to Harris, “Joseph said 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.”23
Matters worsened in Palmyra after the money diggers made several attempts to take the plates forcibly from Joseph. On one occasion, Lucy Smith later recalled, the money diggers tore up the floor of the cooper’s shop near the Smith farm. They had been led to the spot by Sally Chase, sister of Willard, who had “found a green glass, through which she could see many very wonderful things, and among her great discoveries she said that she saw the precise place where `Joe Smith kept his gold bible hid.'”24 Conditions eventually became so bad that Joseph moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania, near the home of his father-in-law, Isaac Hale. There he was able to work on the Book of Mormon without much interference.
Joseph apparently used the same method to translate the gold plates that he had used to discover hidden treasures. Harris, who acted as Smith’s scribe during the early part of the translation, reportedly said in 1829 that Smith could “interpret” the hieroglyphics “by placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it.”25 David Whitmer, who was present during the latter part of the translation of the Book of Mormon, published a pamphlet in 1887 in which he described the translation process:
I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principle scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.26
Joseph Smith and the money-digging company were not unique; many in New England and New York dug for money. Smith’s early belief in seer stones and enchanted treasures was also shared by others. In 1825 the local Wayne Sentinel reprinted an article from the Windsor [Vermont] Journal, stating that many believed in the “frightful stories of money being hid under the surface of the earth, and enchanted by the Devil or Robert Kidd.”27 The Wayne Sentinel that same year reprinted another article from the Orleans [New York] Advocate, which reported:
A few days since was discovered in this town, by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it, provided he is fortune’s favorite,) a monstrous potash kettle in the bowels of old mother Earth, filled with the purest bullion. Some attempts have been made to dig it up, but without success. His Satanic Majesty, or some other invisible agent, appears to keep it under marching orders; for no  sooner is it dug on to in one place, than it moves off like “false delusive hope,” to another still more remote [place].28
In his book Legends of the West (1832), James Hall related a story about a money digger named Anderson. According to Hall, Anderson tried to locate a treasure in some hills with his “divining rod” but was prevented from getting possession of the treasure by its guardian spirit.29 Sarah Josepha Hale in Traits of American Life (1835) reported a story which she claimed was based on a late eighteenth-century legend originating from Newport, New Hampshire. According to Hale a Deacon Bascom, one of the area’s original settlers, was one night 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. Although the deacon was greatly tempted, he concluded that the dream was inspired by the devil and never uncovered the mine.30 These and other such stories circulated widely, no doubt inspiring many New Englanders and New Yorkers to search for hidden treasures.
Ancient Indian mounds which dotted the countryside were often targets for those searching for treasures since the Indians had frequently buried valuables with their dead.31 Even some early Puritan and Pilgrim settlers had become grave robbers, taking articles from mounds and other Indian graves.32 Ephraim G. Squier remarked in 1851 that most of the burial mounds in western New York “have been excavated, under the impulse of an idle curiosity, or have had their contents scattered by `money diggers.'”33
Only in the post-1830 period do sources explicitly mention the Indian mounds as targets of Joseph Smith’s interests. On 2 June 1834, Smith and a small company of Mormons visited an Indian burial mound near the Illinois River. After a skeleton was unearthed, Smith revealed that it belonged to a “white Lamanite” named Zelph who had died during the last struggle of the Nephite nation.34 In 1838, while traveling through Missouri, Smith again visited some Indian mounds which he believed “were probably erected by the aborigines of the land, to secrete treasures.”35 A few days later, Joseph wrote his brother Hyrum to come and obtain “grate [sic] treasure in the earth.”36
However, several early accounts make it clear that Smith and the money diggers were interested in Indian treasures. During the 1826 trial, Jonathan Thompson testified that Smith said he could see in his stone the “two Indians who buried the trunk, that a quarrel ensued between them, and one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside the trunk, to guard it as he supposed.”37 According to Fayette Lapham’s 1830 interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., the younger Smith and Stowell dug for “hidden treasure supposed to have been deposited there [Harmony, Pennsylvania] by the Indians or others.”38  Harris reported that Joseph and the money diggers hunted for treasures hidden by “the ancients.”39 The mounds would have been the most obvious place to search for Indian treasures.
Joseph Smith was certainly not the first to claim the discovery of a stone box, metal plates, or an Indian book. It was known that the Indians sometimes buried their dead in stone boxes similar to the one described by Joseph Smith. In 1820, for example, the Archaeologia Americana reported that human bones had been discovered in some mounds “enclosed in rude stone coffins.”40 A similar stone box, described by John Haywood of Tennessee, was made by placing “four stones standing upright, and so placed in relation to each other, as to form a square or box, which enclosed a skeleton.”41 Stone boxes of various sizes and shapes had reportedly been found in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, New York, and other places.42
According to various accounts, some of the North American mounds also contained metal plates. Plates constructed by the Indians were usually made of hammered copper or silver and were sometimes etched. Plates made of other metals were most likely of European manufacture. In 1775 Indian trader James Adair described two brass plates and five copper plates found with the Tuccabatches Indians of North America. According to Adair, an Indian informant said “he was told by his forefathers that those plates were given to them by the man we call God; that there had been many more of other shapes, … some had writing upon them which were buried with particular men.”43 The Reverend Thaddeus Mason Harris stated in 1805 that “plates of copper have been found in some of the mounds, but they appear to be parts of armour.”44 Orsamus Turner reported that in 1809 a New York farmer ploughed up an “Ancient Record, or Tablet.” This plate, according to Turner, was made of copper and “had engraved upon one side of it … what would appear to have been some record, or as we may well imagine some brief code of laws.”45 The Philadelphia Port Folio reported in 1816 that “thin plates of copper rolled up” were discovered in one mound.46 In 1823 John Haywood described “human bones of large size” and “two or three plates of brass, with characters inscribed resembling letters” found in one West Virginia mound.47 In 1883 John Rogan of the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology excavated a mound near Peoria, Illinois, and discovered ten stone boxes, several containing a single skeleton and “a thin copper plate ornamented with stamped figures.”48 Thus the connection of metal plates with stone boxes may have been a natural one.
Perhaps such discoveries of metal plates encouraged the persistent legend of a lost Indian book.49 The legend, as related by Congregational minister Ethan Smith of Poultney, Vermont, held that the Indians once had “a book which they had for a long time preserved. But having lost the knowledge of reading it, they concluded it would be of no further  use to them; and they buried it with an Indian chief.”50 The legend further stated that the Indians “once, away in another country, had the old divine speech, the book of God; they shall at some time have it again, and shall then be happy.”51
Solomon Spalding (sometimes spelled Spaulding) of Ohio, at one time a Congregational minister, took advantage of the lore of his generation to spin a fanciful romance of ancient America. The romance, written sometime before Spalding’s death in 1816 but not published until the late 1800s, pretended to be a translation of an ancient record. In his introduction, Spalding wrote that he found the ancient record in “a small mound of Earth” near the west bank of the Conneaut River in Ohio. On top of the mound was “a flat Stone,” which he raised up with a lever. This stone turned out to be a cover to “an artificial cave,” about eight feet deep and lined with stones. After descending into the pit, he discovered “an earthan [sic] Box with a cover.” Removing its lid, he found that the box contained “twenty eight sheets of parchment … written in an eligant [sic] hand with Roman Letters & in the Latin Language … [containing] a history of the authors [sic] life & that part of America which extends along the great Lakes & the waters of the Missisippy.”52 Spalding told the story of Roman sailors driven off course by a storm to North America about the time of Constantine. They found the land inhabited by two groups of natives.
Given the currency of such stories, Joseph Smith’s own claim that he found a stone box, metal plates, and an Indian record in the hill near his father’s farm certainly would have seemed credible to his money-digging friends as well as to others of his contemporaries.
4. Joseph Smith to Josiah Stowell, 18 June 1825, in Church News, 12 May 1985, 10. The letter is discussed in Marvin S. Hill, “Richard L. Bushman—Scholar and Apologist,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 130-33; and in Time, 20 May 1985, 44. See note 17.
5. “Articles of Agreement” [dated 1 November 1825], Daily [Salt Lake City] Tribune, 23 April 1880, in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., enl. ed. (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing Co., 1947-59), 1:492-94.
6. “Answers to Questions,” Elders’ Journal, 1 (July 1838): 43; cf. Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1932-51), 3:29.
7. Emily M. Austin, for example, testified that Joseph Smith told the money diggers to sacrifice a dog (Emily M. Austin, Mormonism; or, Life Among the Mormons [Madison, WI, 1882], 32-33). This incident was apparently discussed at Smith’s 1830 trial in Colesville; Judge Joel K. Noble remembered testimony to that effect. See Wesley P. Walters, “From Occult to Cult with Joseph Smith, Jr.,” Journal of Pastoral Practice 1 (1977), 2: 125, 135. Another example of the Smith family’s use of magic devices is given by neighbor William Stafford who described Joseph Smith, Sr., drawing a magic circle and placing stakes around the supposed treasure (E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed [Painesville, OH, 1834], 238-39). See Andrew Barton [Thomas Forrest], The Disappointment; or, the Force of Credulity, David Mays, ed. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1976), esp. 89, for a satire on money digging originally published in New York in 1767 which contains an interesting parallel to the placing of stakes in a circle around the treasure. On the reliability of Stafford’s and others’ testimony regarding Joseph Smith’s early magic and money-digging practices, see Rodger I. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s Early Reputation Revisited,” Journal of Pastoral Practice 4 (1980), 3: 71-108, and 4 (1980), 4: 72-105.
8. The preliminary draft of her history is located in Mormon church archives, Salt Lake City, and is quoted in Walters, “From Occult to Cult,” 127. On the blend of folk magic and popular religion, see Jon Butler, “Magic, Astrology, and the Early American Religious Heritage, 1600-1760,” American Historical Review 84 (April 1979): 317-46. See also Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribners, 1971), for a general treatment of folk magic and its suppression by the religiously orthodox.
9. Charles Marshall, “The Original Prophet,” Fraser’s Magazine 7 (Feb. 1873): 229. A discussion of the documentation on the 1826 trial can be found in Wesley P. Walters, “Joseph Smith’s Bainbridge, N.Y., Court Trials,” Westminster Theological Journal 36 (Winter 1974): 123-55.
14. Although Smith would later use “angel” when referring to the personage, many of the early sources use “spirit”: e.g., Howe, 242, 275-76; The [Rochester] Gem, 5 Sept. 1829; and Martin Harris to W. W. Phelps, 23 Oct. 1830 (see note 17). Smith, in the History of the Church 1:14, and in an earlier version of the story in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), 7, reported that the messenger appeared three times.
17. Harris to Phelps, 23 Oct. 1830, in Church News, 28 April 1985, 6. The letter is discussed in Hill, 130-33, and in Time, 20 May 1985, 44. I am aware of the recent controversy surrounding this letter, as well as the Joseph Smith, Jr., to Josiah Stowell letter (see note 4). It is beyond the scope of this analysis to deal with either of these documents at great length. The particulars they reveal can be found in other contemporary sources. See, for example, John Phillip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 219-319. Consequently, while they are important to the early years of Joseph Smith and, I believe, are valuable documents that deserve critical scrutiny, they are not essential to my approach to the Book of Mormon.
25. The Gem, 5 Sept. 1829; Advertiser and Telegraph (Rochester), 31 Aug. 1829. Both sources are quoted in full in Kirkham, 2:31-32. The use of “spectacles” in the early part of the translation and the use of a “seer stone” in the latter part is discussed in James E. Lancaster, “`By the Gift and Power of God,'” RLDS Saints’ Herald, 15 Nov. 1962, 15-17; and Richard Van Wagoner and Steven Walker, “Joseph Smith: `The Gift of Seeing,'” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 53-54.
27. Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra), 16 Feb. 1825. For a survey of early American folklore about money digging, consult Wayland D. Hand, “The Quest for Buried Treasure: A Chapter in American Folk Legendry,” in Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl, eds., Folklore on Two Continents: Essays in Honor of Linda Degh (Bloomington, IN: Trickster Press, 1980), 112-19; Gerard T. Hurley, “Buried Treasure Tales in America,” Western Folklore 10 (July 1951): 191-216.
29. James Hall, Legends of the West (Philadelphia, 1832), 59. In the preface Hall claims: “The legends now presented to the public are entirely fictitious; but they are founded upon incidents which have been witnessed by the author during a long residence in the Western States, or upon traditions preserved by the people, and have received but little artificial embellishment.”
30. Sarah Josepha Hale, Traits of American Life (Philadelphia, 1835), 100-110. Although writing a work of fiction, Hale insists that the story, places, and names are true. Her verse narrative The Genius of Oblivion (Concord, NH, 1823) describes fugitives from Tyre who sail to ancient America.
31. That the Indians buried treasures with their dead is reported in James Adair, The History of the American Indians (London, 1775), 178; Thaddeus Mason Harris, The Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Alleghany Mountains; Made in the Spring of the Year 1803 (Boston, 1805), 165.
32. James Axtell, The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 117-20; Dwight B. Heath, ed., A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth: Mourt’s Relation (New York: Corinth Books, 1963), 21, 27-28, 34. This book was originally published in London in 1622.
40. Caleb Atwater, “Descriptions of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States,” Archaeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 1 (1820): 162. Other contemporary accounts of stone boxes can be found in John Haywood, The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee (Nashville, 1823), 196, 199-203, 348; Nashville Whig, 12 Dec. 1818, 5 July 1820.
42. Squier, 224; J. W. Powell, ed., Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1890-1891 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894), 334-36, 351-53, 690-701; David I. Bushnell, Jr., Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 71 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1920), 44-58; William A. Ritchie, The Archaeology of New York State (Garden City, NY: Natural History Press, 1965), 214.
47. Haywood, 82. Joseph Smith may have combined these stories of plates coming from the mounds with detailed descriptions of metal books used by the Jews and others in the Old World. In 1842 he described the plates as “bound together … with three rings” (History of the Church, 4:537). The Apocrypha mentions that the Jews wrote on “tables of brass” (1 Mac. 8:22, 14:18-19). Johann Jahn wrote in 1823 that “those [ancient] books, which were inscribed on tablets of wood, lead, brass, or ivory, were connected together by rings at the back, through which a rod was passed to carry them by” (Jahn’s Biblical Archaeology, Thomas C. Upham, trans. [Andover, 1823], 95-96). Cf. The Evening and the Morning Star 1 (Jan. 1833), in which W. W. Phelps quotes from Jahn’s book. Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Study of Bibliography, 2 vols. (London, 1814), 1:33-35, discusses the ancient use of lead books and brass and copper plates; Claudius Buchanan, The Star in the East, 10th Amer. ed. (Boston, 1811), 48-49, says that the Jews of Cochin, India, who Buchanan believed were remnants of the lost ten tribes, kept a history of their journey to those parts on “plates of brass”; Bernard de Montfaucon, Antiquity Explained, and Represented in Sculptures, 2 vols. (London, 1721), 2:241-42, contains a description and drawing of an Egyptian gnostic book of lead. See also H. Curtis Wright, “Metallic Documents of Antiquity,” Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Summer 1970): 469, who points out that curses and black magic are usually found on lead or tin whereas beneficial texts are inscribed on gold or silver. In this context Jesse Smith’s 17 June 1829 letter to Hyrum Smith that “the story is that the gold book proved to be lead” takes on added significance (Joseph Smith Letter Books, Mormon church archives).
49. Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews; or the Tribes of Israel in America, 2nd ed. (Poultney, VT, 1825), 130, 217-25; Elias Boudinot, A Star in the West; or a Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (Trenton, 1816), 110-11; Charles Beatty, The Journal of a Two Months Tour (London, 1768), 90; Israel Worsley, A View of the American Indians (London, 1828), 116, 182.
50. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 223. The first edition of Smith’s book appeared in 1823, but its popularity required a second 1825 edition. The first edition was reviewed in various contemporary periodicals, excerpts of which were included in the second edition. A lengthy selection of Smith’s book was included in Josiah Priest’s The Wonders of Nature and Providence, Displayed (Albany, 1825), 297-332 (Manchester Library, accession number 208). Israel Worsley relied heavily on Smith’s work, and many other writers used Smith’s book as an authoritative source. Moreover, one review from the Christian Advocate (Saratoga, NY) and two letters from New York—one from the Reverend Hyde of Eden, the other from the Reverend Proudfit of Salem—preface the second edition. The book was also reviewed in the Utica Christian Repository, May 1825, and Priest published his book in Albany. These and other references indicate that Ethan Smith’s book was widely read and known in the New York area.
52. Solomon Spalding, The “Manuscript Found.” Manuscript Story, by Rev. Solomon Spaulding, Deceased (Liverpool: Millennial Star Office, 1910), 1-2. Spalding’s manuscript was published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1885, and by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1886, 1903, 1908, and 1910. The mound on the Conneaut River referred to by Spalding is possibly the same one described in Atwater, 124. For an interesting parallel to Spalding’s imaginary discovery, see the account of a stone-lined vault containing a skeleton and some engraved brass rings which Irishman Thomas Ashe discovered under a large stone at the summit of a mound of earth (Travels in America [London, 1808], 1:308-18).