Rodger I. Anderson

J. Smith's NY Reputation Reexamined
(SLC: Signature, 1990)

Title Page   Contents
excerpts   R. L. Anderson's 1991 rebuttal

Transcriber's comments

Entire contents copyright © 1990
Signature Books, Inc. All rights reserved

full text from Signature Books

R. L. Anderson's Studies article (1970)   |   "Crisis at Kirtland"   |   D. P. Hurlbut Chronology
A. B. Deming's Naked Truths (1888)   |   1992 Hullinger book   |   J. Townsend letter (1834)



Rodger I. Anderson

Signature Books




[ v ]


001   Chapter 1. The Issues

011   Chapter 2. The Myth Makers

027   Chapter 3. The Hurlbut Affidavits Part One

043   Chapter 4. The Hurlbut Affidavits Part Two

063   Chapter 5. The Deming Affidavits

075   Chapter 6. The Kelley Interviews

107   Chapter 7. The Recollections of Lucy Mack Smith and William Smith

113   Chapter 8. Conclusion

117   Appendix. The Affidavits, Statements, and Interviews
117  A. The Philastus Hurlbut/Eber D. Howe Affidavits

152  B. The Arthur B. Deming New York Affidavits

170  C. A Typescript of the Handwritten Notes of the 1881 William H. Kelley Notebook.
175  Index.


[ 1 ]

Chapter 1


On 1 April 1842 the Times and Seasons, official organ of the Nauvoo, Illinois, based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, published another chapter in the serialized history of its founder and prophet, Joseph Smith. In this latest installment, the thirty-six-year-old Smith publicly recounted his adolescence during the 1820s in western New York, including the admission that as a youth, "I was left to all kinds of temptations, and mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the corruption of human nature, which I am sorry to say led me into divers temptations, to the gratification of many appetites offensive in the sight of God." 1

The spiritual leader of some 20,000 Mormons worldwide, Smith did not cite specific offenses in his confession, an oversight his more vocal critics were only too eager to correct. According to them, at the same time Smith was receiving his first revelations during the 1820s, which would eventually lead to his founding the Mormon church

1 Joseph Smith's confession was originally recorded in the Times and Seasons 3 (April 1842): 749. An amended version, denying any inference of serious wrongdoing on the part of Smith, later appeared in Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1902-12), 1:9-10.



on 6 April 1830, he was also deceiving credulous neighbors by pretending to see buried treasure in the earth and was notorious throughout the frontier New York community as a drunkard, blasphemer, and cheat. Not content with branding him a moral incompetent, these critics attempted to prove him a willful fraud, a confidence man who was perpetrating one of the great hoaxes of modern times. Discovering that he could dupe the unwary by claiming magical powers, they alleged, Smith turned his questionable talents to religion, where he could exploit the superstitious on a truly grand scale. Through one fabrication after another, according to detractors, he finally succeeded in organizing a church, whose primary purpose was to bring wealth to its founder.

Those who continue to view Joseph Smith in this decidedly negative light have traditionally depended upon the efforts of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, a one-time Mormon who was excommunicated in 1833 for, among other offenses, saying "that he deceived Joseph Smith's God, or the spirit by which he was actuated." 2

Convinced that Mormonism was a deception, Hurlbut offered his services to an anti-Mormon group based in the Kirtland, Ohio, area interested in investigating rumors about Smith's early life and the possibly fraudulent origin of Smith's new scripture, the Book of Mormon. To accomplish this end, they sent Hurlbut to Palmyra, New York, where Smith had spent most of his youth and early manhood. There Hurlbut collected the signatures of over eighty people testifying to the allegedly bad character of the Smith family and of Joseph Smith in particular.

In affidavit after affidavit the young Smith was depicted as a liar and self-confessed fraud, a cunning and callous knave who delighted in nothing so much as preying upon the credulity of his neighbors. A money digger by profession, Smith spent his nights digging for treasure

2 Times and Seasons 6 (Feb. 1845): 785. Hurlbut had earlier been disfellowshipped from the church for using obscene language in the presence of young women.


        THE ISSUES         / 3

and his days lounging about the local grocery store entertaining his fellow tipplers with tales of midnight enchantments and bleeding ghosts, the affidavits maintained. 3

Once published in 1834 Hurlbut's affidavits became especially dangerous to the newly founded church and its leader. To defuse the potentially explosive documents, Smith read them aloud at public meetings, denouncing them as the work of Satan. More importantly, Hurlbut's affidavits stimulated Smith to publish the first official history of the new church, "Early Scenes and Incidents in the Church," authored by Smith's closest associate at the time, Oliver Cowdery. Just as Hurlbut had revealed the "real" Joseph Smith, so Cowdery's "History" revealed another "real" Joseph Smith -- though without supporting affidavits. Rather than a moral leper, Cowdery's Joseph Smith was simply a man like other men "and liable, without the assisting grace of the Savior, to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk." 4

Hurlbut's witnesses remembered Smith as "entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits." 5

The only sins of Cowdery's Smith "were a light, and too often, vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation." 6

Hurlbut's Smith was animated by no loftier purpose than the love of money, but Cowdery's Smith was in contrast motivated by a sincere desire "to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion." 7 Hurlbut's Smith was a money digger who told marvelous tales of enchanted treasure and infernal spirits, but Cowdery's Smith had only "heard of the power of enchantement, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth." 8

Oliver Cowdery's "History" was the first, but by no means the last, attempt by Mormon writers to discredit Hurlbut's scandalous allegations. In 1881 two leading elders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter

3 These affidavits, among others, were first published by Eber D. Howe as part of his book, Mormonism Unvailed... (Painesville, OH: Printed and published by the author, 1834).

4 Messenger and Advocate 1 (Dec. 1834): 40. This and note 6 are from a letter written by Smith to introduce Cowdery's history.

5 Statement dated Palmyra, 4 Dec. 1833, Howe, 261. This statement was signed by fifty-one residents of Palmyra.

6 Messenger and Advocate 1 (Dec. 1834): 40.

7 Ibid. (Feb. 1835): 78.

8 Ibid. 2 (Oct. 1835): 198, emphasis mine.



Day Saints (founded in 1860), brothers William and E. L. Kelley, interviewed a number of old Palmyra-Manchester, New York, residents in order to, in the Kelleys' words, "'beard the lion in his den,' and hear the worst, let it hurt whom it would." 9

According to the published report of their efforts, the Kelleys could find virtually no one who knew anything firsthand against the Smiths and a number who remembered the family as being quite respectable. The worst the Kelleys could report was one account of money digging and an occasional reference to Joseph Smith's drinking.

Non-Mormons were no less zealous in collecting additional information about the young Mormon prophet. In 1880 Frederic G. Mather published an article in Lippincott's Magazine entitled "The Early Days of Mormonism." Mather had visited not only Palmyra but also central Pennsylvania, where Joseph Smith lived and worked for some time before the Book of Mormon appeared in late March 1830. Like Hurlbut, Mather found many people willing to talk about the young man who, in the words of one, "did not look as if he knew enough to fool people so." 10

And like Hurlbut, Mather heard stories of gold digging and drinking, although many of these same witnesses also considered Smith "a good and kind neighbor." 11 Later in the 1880s Arthur Buel Deming also acted the sleuth, publishing the results of his investigations in a short-lived, two-issue newspaper bearing the lurid title Naked Truths About Mormonism. Deming's results were also unlike those of the Kelleys, for he encountered no difficulty in finding people who claimed firsthand knowledge of the Smiths. Deming's informants willingly repeated all that Hurlbut's witnesses had charged over half a century before, even adding a number of new accusations to the growing list.

Together with other, widely scattered recollections and statements, these four sources -- Hurlbut, the

9 William H. Kelley, "The Hill Cumorah... The Stories of Hurlbert, Howe, Tucker, &c. from Late Interviews," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 162. The following year Mormon writer George Reynolds quoted at length from the Kelley interviews (though without acknowledging the Saints' Herald) in an article for the Mormon church's Juvenile Instructor (1 Oct. 1882), entitled "Joseph Smith's Youthful Life." "Joseph was undoubtedly not perfect," Reynolds noted, "none of us are -- but he was far superior in almost every respect to his neighbors and associates" (p.299).

10 Lippincott's Magazine 26 (1880): 199.

11 Ibid., 201.


        THE ISSUES         / 5

Kelleys, Mather, and Deming -- contain almost everything that is known about the young Joseph Smith from non-Mormon sources. Despite the obvious importance of these testimonials, few contemporary scholars have investigated their reliability as primary documents. Non-Mormons generally have been content to reject reports favorable to Smith on the grounds of obvious prejudice, and those sympathetic to the Saints and their church have similarly rejected testimony portraying Smith in an unfavorable light.

Occasionally, some have attempted to evaluate the reports themselves. When it first became known that Isaac Hale, Joseph Smith's father-in-law, had written a letter condemning his son-in-law as an imposter, one of Smith's early supporters, Martin Harris, responded by calling Hale's letter a forgery because "Hale was old and blind and not capable of writing it." 12

William R. Hine, who knew Hale, challenged Harris, saying that "Hale was called the greatest hunter on the Susquehanna, and two years before had killed a black deer and a white bear, which many hunters had tried to kill, also that he was intelligent and knew the Scriptures." 13

Faced with such conflicting testimony, Eber D. Howe wrote to Hale directly, reporting the charge and requesting that Hale attest his letter before a magistrate. "I hope no one has attempted to deceive us," Howe wrote, "deception and falsehood in the business will do no good in the end, but will help build up the monstrous delusion." 14 Hale responded by affirming his affidavit before a justice of the peace. He included testimonials to his veracity and an affidavit from his minister attesting that though old and occasionally requiring the use of an amanuensis, Hale yet "retains his sight and is still capable of writing." 15

As the most ambitious attempt to disprove Hurlbut's affidavits, the Kelley interviews proved to be just as disappointing. At least three of those interviewed were

12 Statement of W. R. Hine, see Naked Truths about Mormonism 1 (Jan. 1888): 2.

13 Ibid.

14 The Susquehanna (PA) Register, 1 May 1834.

15 Ibid. The affidavit of Nathaniel Lewis, Hale's minister, was also attested by W. M. Thompson, who testified that Lewis was "a man of veracity, and good moral character."



so incensed with the published report that they produced affidavits of their own charging the Kelleys with misrepresentation. Among them was John H. Gilbert, who on 12 July 1881 appeared before Justice M. C. Finley and made the following deposition: "John H. Gilbert of Palmyra, Wayne county, N.Y., being duly sworn deposes and says, that in the article published in 'The Saints' Herald,' at Plano, Ill., June 1, 1881, purporting to give an interview with him on the subject of Mormonism &c., signed by Wm. H. Kelley, he is grossly misrepresented in almost every particular, words being put into his mouth that he never uttered, and the answers to questions he did give, totally at variance from the answers given by him, and as he believes, designedly." 16

Faced with the questionable reliability of the Kelley report and the lack of credible testimony discounting the affidavits collected by Hurlbut and others, most scholars outside of Mormonism have tended to accept the non-Mormon side of the issue. The number of witnesses, the unanimity of their testimony, the failure to impeach even a single witness, and the occasional candid reminiscence by Martin Harris, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, William Smith, Joseph Knight, or other early Mormons have contributed to the conclusion that Hurlbut and his followers were probably reliable reporters. Even those who suspected that the witnesses against Smith may have been motivated by more than a simple desire to inform have not questioned the depictions of Smith as a basically self-seeking charlatan. 17

In 1961 and 1970 two notable Mormon efforts were launched to discredit the Smith family neighbors. The first, Hugh Nibley's The Myth Makers, was a book-length attempt to prove that the witnesses against Joseph Smith "told the best stories they could think of, without particularly caring whether they were true or not." 18

The second and more

16 Copied from the original on file in the Ontario County, New York, Clerk's Office. Gilbert's statement, among others, was first published in The Ontario County Times (Canandaigua, NY), 27 July 1881, and later in the Cadillac (MI) Weekly News. See the undated clipping from that paper in the archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri.

17 J. H. Kennedy, Early Days of Mormonism... (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888), 17-18.

18 Hugh Nibley, The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961), 6.


        THE ISSUES         / 7

substantial effort was a lengthy article by Richard L. Anderson entitled, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised." 19

In it Anderson argued that Hurlbut and Deming infected their reports with their own animosity and that their witnesses really knew very little about Joseph Smith. Anderson found the Kelley report more reliable, both because of the Kelleys' superior objectivity and because the witnesses they contacted who actually claimed to know the Smiths praised rather than condemned the family. Since the witnesses who knew Joseph Smith best were most positive in their opinions of him, Anderson argued, it follows that the most reliable authorities on the early life of Joseph Smith are members of Smith's own family.

Many Mormons have since accepted the arguments advanced by Nibley and Anderson, declaring the matter settled. Hurlbut's testimonials, explained one Mormon historian, are significant only as evidence of how "suspicious, sensitive critics reacted to Joseph's testimony by manufacturing a variety of preposterous myths." Another noted that any of Hurlbut's sources after the appearance of Anderson's article "must now be seriously questioned." 20

Unfortunately, there has been little effort to reexamine the influential works of Nibley and Anderson to discover whether their arguments are equal to their conclusions. The following study attempts to fill this void. I believe that the testimonials collected by Hurlbut, Deming, and others are in fact largely immune to the attacks launched against them by Nibley, Anderson, and others. 'Hurlbut's witnesses may not have left history "of the purest ray serene," but there can be no doubt that these reports, in early twentieth-century German historian Eduard Meyer's words, "give us the general opinion of his [Smith's] neighbors in their true, essential form." 21

Whether or not it follows that the conclusions of the Smiths' neighbors about the events they witnessed are in fact justified is a task I

19 Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314. Anderson has dealt with later money-digging episodes in Smith's life in an article entitled "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Seeking," Brigham Young University Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 489-560. Because this recent article falls outside the scope of the present study, I will not treat it in what follows. Readers are nonetheless advised to approach Anderson's analysis in light of what is said hereafter about the Smiths and money digging. Considering the degree of family involvement with the seeking of hidden treasure by occult means, later events would most naturally be interpreted as continuing expressions of the same interest.

20 Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision... (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971), 116; Marvin S. Hill, "Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Winter 1972): 77. Perhaps the most candid response from a Mormon scholar came from Richard L. Bushman, a sympathetic biographer of Joseph Smith, who wrote in 1984, "The affidavits have been challenged for their authenticity because of Hurlbut's and Howe's undisguised animosity, but while questionable in detail, there is little reason to believe the [Palmyra-Manchester] neighbors felt otherwise." Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 190.

21 Heinz F. Rahde and Eugene Seaich, trans., The Origin and History of the Mormons... (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, n.d.), 4.



leave to other researchers. In the meantime, it is clear that a broader picture of Joseph Smith emerges from these early affidavits and interviews than is otherwise available from family and followers.


(pp. 8-10 endnotes moved to respective pages as footnotes)


[ 11 ]

Chapter 2


The fundamental argument of Hugh Nibley, one of contemporary Mormonism's leading scholars, presented in his 1961 classic response to Mormon detractors, The Myth Makers, is a simple one. According to Nibley, "The whole structure of anti-Mormon scholarship rests on trumped-up evidence." 1

Everywhere in these unfriendly sources he found exaggeration, pretended knowledge, prevarication, and "intrinsically absurd and thoroughly conflicting [stories]." 2In fact, Nibley argues, these qualities infect the whole body of non-Mormon literature from Doctor Philastus Hurlbut to the present. Joseph Smith's neighbors, he concludes, were simply "a pack of story-tellers who have been getting away with too much for too long." 3

Although praised by some as a long-needed expose of anti-Mormonism, Nibley's work unfortunately suffers from serious failings. Its errors are many, but a number stand out because of their ubiquity. First is the unqualified scope of its generalization. Because he found some writers who were less than careful with the truth,

1 Hugh Nibley, The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961), 5.

2 Ibid. 189

3Ibid. 6.



(The remainder of this chapter is not transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)


[ 27 ]

Chapter 3



When Brigham Young University religion professor Richard L. Anderson's "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised" appeared in Brigham Young University Studies in 1970, it provided for many, readers the long-awaited scholarly answer to "Hurlbut's hurlings," offering evidence where others had offered only conjecture 1

Anderson's findings confirm what should have been suspected all along," one of Anderson's colleagues at BYU afterwards wrote, that "they [Hurlbut's affidavits] were at best highly colored and at worst deliberately misrepresentative accounts." 2 Hailed as a minor classic in Mormon historiography, Anderson's analysis has since been relied on as the last word in primary scholarship on the subject of Joseph Smith's New York reputation. 3

Superior as it is to Nibley's analysis in method and scholarly apparatus, Anderson's article still falls short on several counts. Its errors may be summarized under three main headings: misrepresentation of the contents and circumstances surrounding the compilation of the

1 Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314.

2 Marvin S. Hill, "Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7 (Winter 1972): 77.

3 For evidence of Anderson's continuing influence on the historiography of early Mormonism, see the relevant sections of James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976); Donna Hill, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1977); Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience... (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979); and Dean Jessee, "Joseph Smith's Reputation among Historians," Ensign 9 (Sept. 1979): 57-61. For a dissenting voice, see Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith's Bainbridge, N.Y., Court Trials," Westminster Theological Journal 36 (Winter 1974): 152-53; and D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 41-52, 125-28.



affidavits; failure to consider alternative interpretations for the evidence; and invalid conclusions based on faulty premises. In Anderson's analysis these errors recur regularly and sometimes flagrantly.

Anderson's first charge of substance is that Hurlbut either composed or heavily edited the depositions he collected. Anderson finds evidence of this contention in the similar structuring of the affidavits and the use of certain recurring words: "acquainted with," "entitle," "digging for money," "addicted to," "lazy," "liar," "intemperate," "pretended," "visionary," "general employment," etc. What Anderson did not mention is that other statements about Joseph Smith dating from the early 1830s, statements which Hurlbut did not collect and which are not dependent on him, display many of the same characteristics. In the Pennsylvania statements made during the same period certain words recur: "acquainted with," "pretended," "liar," "digging for," "money-diggers." In an 1833 letter written by Jesse Townsend, minister of Palmyra's Presbyterian church, the following words appear: "intemperate," "pretended," "digging for money," and "visionary." This letter is similar in structure with Hurlbut's general Palmyra statement and also with the statement of Parley Chase. 4

The structure and wording of all of these statements seem to reflect more about the period, geographic location, and level of education than an undisclosed common authorship.

Even if Hurlbut did contribute to the style and structure of the affidavits, it does not necessarily follow that he "contaminated" them by interpolation. Similarities such as those noted by Anderson may only mean that Hurlbut submitted the same questions to some of the parties involved. The question "Was digging for money the general employment of the Smith family?" repeated to each witness would explain Peter Ingersoll's "The general employment of the family, was digging for money," William

4 Townsend's letter, dated 24 December 1833, originally appeared in Pomeroy Tucker, The Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 288-91. Later on 16 August 1834, Townsend wrote another letter containing essentially the same information. A copy of this second letter, clipped from an unidentified newspaper, which reprints it from the Sacket's Harbor (NY) Courier, is in the J. B. Turner collection in the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois.


        HURLBUT AFFIDAVITS, ONE         / 29

Stafford's "A great part of their time was devoted to digging for money," Parley Chase's "Digging for money was their principle employment," and David Stafford's "The general employment of the Smith family was money-digging and fortune telling." 5

This kind of question would not pass contemporary standards of opinion polling, but neither would statements gathered by Joseph Smith, including the testimonies of the witnesses to the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, for example. One must remember the time and place and disregard the polemics which colored most of the writing of the period.

Other questions which Hurlbut could have submitted include: How long were you acquainted with the Smith family? What was the general reputation of the Smiths? Was it such as to entitle them to respectability among their neighbors, or were they addicted to indolence, intemperance, or lying? Were the pretended revelations of the Smiths accepted by the community in which they lived or was the family notorious for visionary projects? Answers to questions such as these would explain all the similarities in structure and language noted by Anderson without making Hurlbut the author of the statements and only indirectly responsible for their sometimes similar phraseology.

Even if Hurlbut had written out some of the statements after interviewing those concerned, the individuals either signed the statements, thus affirming their supposed accuracy, or swore to the statements before a magistrate. For example, Peter Ingersoll appeared before Judge Thomas P. Baldwin "and made oath according to law, to the truth of the above statement." William and Barton Stafford appeared before the same judge, affirmed, and then signed their respective statements. Willard Chase and David Stafford each appeared before Frederick Smith, a local justice of the peace, and "made oath that the foregoing statement to which he has subscribed his name, is true, according to

5 Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed... (Painesville, OH: Printed and published by the author, 1834), 232, 237, 249.



his best recollection and belief." Henry Harris similarly attested to the truthfulness of his statement before a justice of the peace, Jonathan Lapham. 6Not all of Hurlbut's statements are in the form of affidavits, but all were signed by the respective parties as true reflections of their beliefs, and none of them ever corrected the statements or accused Hurlbut of misrepresentation. 7

Besides these considerations, there is another which suggests that Hurlbut was not the unprincipled purveyor of false information depicted by Anderson. When Hurlbut submitted his collected statements to newspaper editor Eber D. Howe for publication, Hurlbut was embroiled in legal difficulties with Joseph Smith which made Howe suspect Hurlbut's motives. The Mormons were also denouncing Hurlbut's statements as fabrications, a charge which Howe had no way of controverting without independently verifying Hurlbut's statements. Accordingly Howe decided upon a "spot check" of Hurlbut's affidavits, hoping thereby to determine their authenticity without having to reinterview every witness. He first wrote to Isaac Hale and received in reply a long notarized statement and an affidavit from Hale's son Alva testifying that the notarized statement was "correct and true." 8

Howe then traveled to Conneaut, Ohio, to see if the statements Hurlbut had collected there accusing Smith of plagiarism in writing the Book of Mormon were authentic. While there he "saw most of the witnesses... and was satisfied they were not... mistaken in their statements." 9 Apparently this was enough to satisfy Howe of the integrity of Hurlbut's reports. He promptly published them as part of his book, Mormonism Unvailed. 10

Anderson is most concerned with the general Palmyra and Manchester statements, arguing that somebody had to write them "and Hurlbut is the best candidate" 11 Granting this, however, does not mean that the statements are inaccurate reflections of their signers'

6 Ibid., 237, 240, 248, 250, 251, 252.

7 This was through no lack of opportunity. Mormon missionaries periodically visited the region throughout the lifetimes of those interviewed by Hurlbut, and some of them actually went from house to house in an effort to controvert Hurlbut's witnesses. Apparently none of these efforts resulted in anything that could be used against Hurlbut, for nothing appeared in the Mormon press on the subject until the Kelleys published their doubtful report in 1881. Their failure, coupled with this almost total silence, argues in favor of Hurlbut's own statement of 1879: "All the affidavits procured by me for Mr. Howe's book, including all those from Palmyra, N.Y., were certainly genuine." Statement of D. P. Hurlbut, 19 Aug. 1879, Gibsonburg, OH, in Ellen D. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism (New York: Funk & Wagnals, 1885), 260.

8 The Susquehanna Register, 1 May 1834.

9 Statement of E. D. Howe, 8 April 1885, Painesville, Lake County, Ohio. Original in the Arthur Deming file, Mormon collection, Chicago Historical Society.

10 It is regrettable that Howe did not contact any of the Palmyra-Manchester witnesses, but his oversight is understandable considering the issues involved. The main target of the Mormon attack was the statement of Isaac Hale, which Howe had already authenticated, and the statements alleging that the Book of Mormon had been copied from a novel by Solomon Spaulding, which again Howe had verified.

11 Anderson, 286.


        HURLBUT AFFIDAVITS, ONE         / 31

(The remainder of this chapter is not transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)


[ 43 ]

Chapter 4



Richard Anderson's treatment of Philastus Hurlbut's longer affidavits follows a pattern similar to his approach to the shorter ones. He rejects Willard Chase's testimony because of Chase's "nearly total lack of personal observation" and because Chase himself was a money digger. He rejects William Stafford's affidavit because he finds Stafford's "black sheep" story dubious. Anderson suggests that Hurlbut wrote the statement and merely had Stafford sign it. Anderson then dismisses Peter Ingersoll's testimony because it mainly "consists not in observation, but supposed admissions in conversation" and because Anderson finds reason to doubt one of those reported confessions. 1

Of these criticisms, some are based on entirely erroneous information and some reflect partial truth and partial error. But none justify Anderson's conclusion that the affidavits are essentially "non-evidence."

Anderson claims that of the three longer affidavits, Willard Chase's is probably the most authentic. He finds less Hurlbut in the Chase affidavit and observes that

1 Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 296, 293, 298.



"the Chase statement contains more parallels to Mormon sources." Chase was probably more careful in making his deposition, Anderson suggests, because of his standing in the Methodist church. But despite these strengths, Anderson still considers Chase essentially a non-witness. According to Anderson, Chase's information was hearsay. Chase tells the "familiar story" of finding an unusual stone while digging a well with Alvin and Joseph Smith, and accuses Joseph and Hyrum of duplicity in keeping the object. Beyond that, according to Anderson, he discloses no direct knowledge that the stone was utilized in treasure digging, but only alleges that Joseph claimed to discover "wonders" by its use. 2

A number of points should be made concerning this statement. First, the so-called "familiar story" recounted by Chase is familiar only because it is so well authenticated. Chase was in the well at the time the stone was discovered, and it was he, not Smith, who brought it to the surface in order to examine it more closely. According to Chase, "Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat... The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alledging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but would lend it. After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of [the] community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again." 3

Chase, as Anderson observes, does not say explicitly what "wonders" Smith saw in the stone, but other witnesses have not been so reserved. Joseph Smith himself acknowledged in 1826 that he used the stone "to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were," and Smith's mother recorded that her son had in his possession a marvelous instrument "by which he could discern

2 Ibid., 296.

3 Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed... (Painesville, OH: Printed and published by the author, 1834), 241.


        HURLBUT AFFIDAVITS, TWO         / 45

things invisible to the naked eye" and that it was this which led Josiah Stowell to hire him as a money digger in 1825. 4

Many other witnesses mention Smith's stone and the "ghosts, infernal spirits, mountains of gold and silver" which he claimed to see within its depths. 5

Anderson briefly mentions, but without comment, Chase's accusation that Smith and his brother Hyrum were guilty of duplicity in keeping the stone without Chase's permission. Chase asserts as a matter of personal observation that Smith borrowed the stone from him in 1822, returned it about two years later, and borrowed it again in 1825. In 1826 Chase asked Smith for the stone and was refused and in 1830 was refused again by Hyrum Smith, who would not return the object because "Joseph made use of it in translating his Bible." When Chase reminded Smith of his promise to return the rock, Smith called him a liar and "in a rage shook his fist at me, and abused me in a most scandalous manner." 6 Since Joseph Smith acknowledged to others that the stone was borrowed, 7 and since he never returned it to Chase despite repeated requests, the conclusion seems justified that, at least on this occasion, Smith retained possession of an object that was not lawfully his.

Anderson finds it necessary to discredit Chase's description of Smith as a money digger by arguing that Chase claimed no firsthand knowledge of the fact and that since Chase was a money digger himself, "the conclusion follows that the Smiths did not have a connection with the money digging circles in the area." 8 Anderson's conclusion would follow only if the various money-digging circles operating in the area were acting in concert, but all available evidence suggests that they were competitive rather than cooperative. Many contemporaries remarked on the secrecy which attended money-digging operations. The reason for this is not difficult to guess. A person who believes that he will shortly uncover a treasure of tremendous value is not

4 (Charles Marshall), "The Original Prophet," Fraser's Magazine 7 (Feb. 1873): 229; Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches... (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 92.

5 Howe, 259; compare pp. 237-38.

6 Ibid., 247.

7 See, for example, W. R. Hine's statement in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 (Jan. 1888): 2.

8 Anderson, 297.



likely to tell too many others, fearing they will find it first. The trouble Joseph Smith had with other money diggers after he was said to have unearthed gold plates illustrates perfectly why each band of diggers was secretive in its operations, rarely consulting each other unless it was to their mutual advantage. Much of Smith's attention for the next few years was devoted to concealing the location of the unearthed plates. Under such conditions it would be unlikely that Chase, whose sister was a seeress, would ever observe the operations of Smith's company, although he would probably have heard of them indirectly. 9

Anderson dismisses Chase's secondhand descriptions of Smith's money digging in Pennsylvania as "highly distorted" because Chase's descriptions of known events in Smith's Fife differ from later, Mormon sources. He lists as a typical example Chase's "exaggerated, ridiculing details" about Smith's first failure to obtain the plates. 10 Anderson assumes what must first be proved, namely that other, later accounts are more accurate because they lack the "exaggerated" details remembered by Chase. It is equally reasonable to assume, however, that Smith himself later deleted such details so as to give no support to those who charged that his story of finding the gold plates was just another adaptation of the old money-digging theme.

To a considerable degree this can be shown to be the case. Smith's official report of his first visit to the Hill Cumorah is spartan when compared with the more richly detailed accounts preserved by those who heard the story from Smith or his father before 1830. The descriptions of Smith's mother, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Knight, Hiel and Joseph Lewis, Lorenzo Saunders, and Fayette Lapham confirm to an impressive degree the details remembered by Chase, including such specifics as Joseph Smith being struck or shocked when he attempted to touch the plates; the vanishing of the plates when Smith laid them on the ground

9 Chase's sources of information could have been his sister Sallie and Samuel Lawrence. After Smith returned the stone in 1824 and before he borrowed it again in 1825, he would ask Sallie to consult the stone regarding the best place to search for buried treasures (so Sallie told Mrs. S. F. Anderick. See her statement in Deming 1:2). Samuel T. Lawrence, a local farmer whom Chase names as the source for his description of Smith's gold hunting in Pennsylvania, was one of Smith's regular supporters until some time after Smith announced the existence of the gold plates. Apparently the two men were once quite intimate, for according to Chase it was Lawrence whom Smith first showed the spot where the plates were deposited. Later Smith claimed that he had not shown Lawrence the right place because, in the words of early Mormon Joseph Knight, Lawrence "was a Seear and he had Bin to the hill and knew the things in the hill and was trying to obtain them." Dean Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History," Brigham Young University Studies 17 (Autumn 1976): 32. Later Lawrence joined Willard and Sallie Chase in their efforts to locate Smith's elusive treasure.

10 Anderson, 297.


        HURLBUT AFFIDAVITS, TWO         / 47

(Pages 47-56 have not been not transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)


        HURLBUT AFFIDAVITS, TWO         / 57

his old habits of digging for money and looking into stones" and gratefully accepted Hale's offer of financial support if Smith "would move to Pennsylvania and work for a living." According to Hale's independent account of the same conversation, "Smith stated to me, that 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," and Hale's son Alva remembered Smith as saying "that he intended to quit the business, (of peeping) and labor for his livelihood." Ingersoll also stated that on this same occasion, Smith "acknowledged he could not see in a stone now, nor ever could." This was remembered by Alva Hale, who quoted Smith as saying "that this 'peeping' was all d--d nonsense. He (Smith) was deceived himself but did not intend to deceive others." 37 These parallels do not substantiate Ingersoll's "white sand" story, but they confirm that Smith publicly acknowledged his career as a "glass looker" and money digger.

Anderson asserts that Hurlbut purposely avoided collecting any information that would have been positive. "Obviously, the attempt was made only to discredit -- not to gather authentic information. Because history is the art of seeing both sides of the balance sheet, Hurlbut produced mere propaganda." 38

Granting that Hurlbut was not impartial does not mean that an investigator less biased would have produced significantly different results. 39

For example, when newspaper reporter James Gordon Bennett visited western New York in 1831 to find out the truth about Joseph Smith and the famous "gold Bible," he was told that Smith was "a careless, indolent, idle, and shiftless" money digger and that the whole Smith family were "readier at inventing stories and tales than attending church or engaging in any industrious trade." 40

Similarly, when John S. Carter, a Mormon, visited the area in 1833, he found "The people greatly opposed to the work of God. Talked with

37 Howe, 234-35, 264, 268. Other parts of Ingersoll's affidavit can also be independently confirmed. His claim that he was hired by Smith to go to Pennsylvania and move Emma's furniture back to Manchester was confirmed by Isaac Hale; his account of Smith's unsuccessful attempt to get Willard Chase to make a box for the gold plates was confirmed by Chase; and his report that Smith approached Martin Harris with the remark, "I had a command to ask the first honest man I met with, for fifty dollars in money, and he would let me have it" was confirmed by both Chase and Jesse Townsend. More significant than these confirmations, however, is his claim that Joseph Smith, Sr., possessed a magical rod. This is significant not only because many others mention the elder Smith's rod but also because it can now be shown that the report by no means originated with Ingersoll or even the vitriolic editorials of Abner Cole in 1831. On 17 June 1829, Jesse Smith, the brother of Joseph Smith, Sr., wrote a letter to Hyrum Smith in which he mentions a messenger sent by the elder Smith to tell his relatives of young Joseph's wonderful "gold book." This messenger "believes all to be a fact... [H]e says your father has a wand or rod can tell the distance from India to Ethiopia..." (copy in archives, historical department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah).

38 Anderson, 299.

39 John A. Clark's comment is typical of many others: "There are no Mormons in Manchester, or Palmyra, the place where this Book of Mormon was pretended to be found. You might as well go down into the Crater of Vesuvius and attempt to build an ice house amid its molten and boiling lava, as to convince any inhabitant of either of these towns, that Jo Smith's pretensions are not the most gross and egregious falsehood. It was indeed a wise stroke of policy, for those who got up this imposture, and who calculated to make their fortune by it, to emigrate to a place where they were wholly unknown." Gleanings by the Way (Philadelphia: W. J. & J. K. Simon, 1842), 346.

40 New York Morning Courier and Enquirer, 31 Aug. 1831, in Leonard J. Arrington, "James Gordon Bennett's 1831 Report on 'The Mormonites,'" Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 357-58.



many of them & found them unable to make out anything against Joseph Smith, altho they talked hard against him." 41

The only real difference between Carter's and Hurlbut's experience was that the latter was apparently more successful in finding witnesses who could provide reasons for their opinion of Joseph Smith.

41 Diary of John S. Carter, in Davis Bitton, Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 62.



(pp. 58-62 endnotes moved to respective pages as footnotes)


[ 63 ]

Chapter 5


Next in his reappraisal of Joseph Smith's New York reputation, Richard Anderson describes the depositions collected by Arthur B. Deming in the mid-1880s as "biased" and "one-sided." Anderson accuses Deming of "Hurlbut-like prompting or editing" and dismisses Deming's firsthand reports of Joseph Smith's drinking and fighting because their language is "standard enough to have come from a common compiler." He alleges that the reports contain no actual observation of Smith's money digging. Deming himself Anderson characterizes as "neurotically resentful" and "a pathetic reincarnation of the disgruntled Hurlbut." 1

Of these various charges, most simply lack serious thought. Among Deming's informants was one who described Smith's mother Lucy Mack as a kind old woman who "doctored many persons in Palmyra" and another who described Smith's younger brother Samuel as "a good, industrious boy." 2

Obviously these are not "one-sided reports from biased people," nor do they lend credence to Anderson's claim that Deming used Hurlbut-like tactics in

1 Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 300.

2 Statements of Mrs. M. C. R. Smith and C. M. Stafford, in Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism 2 (April 1888): 1.



collecting his depositions. According to Anderson, Hurlbut's methods of gathering information resulted in the "unmodified condemnation of Joseph Smith and his entire family," yet Anderson admits that Deming "does not totally damn the Smiths as Hurlbut-Howe." 3Deming is thus condemned because he displays Hurlbut-like qualities which Anderson admits are not really Hurlbut-like at all.

Actually, few early writers on Mormonism are less deserving of the epithet "Hurlbut-like" than Deming. There exists no evidence that Deming adversely influenced his witnesses, edited their recollections, or contacted only those unfriendly to the Smiths. Not only do the depositions themselves belie such charges, but evidence exists suggesting that Deming was aware of such possible objections and had taken precautions against them. Having acted as moderator and research consultant for Clark Braden during the latter's famous debate with E. L. Kelley in 1884, Deming was more than aware of the Kelleys' continuing efforts to discredit all unfavorable testimony about the character of Joseph Smith. He had not long been engaged in the work of collecting affidavits about Smith when he discovered that the Kelleys had interviewed at least one of his witnesses before him. 4

Deming consequently tried whenever possible to have the affidavits attested to by more than just the interviewee. Most were notarized, witnessed by friends or relatives present at the time, and printed complete with addresses of the original testators. 5

In this manner Deming not only guaranteed the authenticity of the statements but also provided potential critics with the information necessary to discredit him if they suspected that any of the statements were false.

In Deming's case, a few supporting documents have survived which better enable one to evaluate his competence as an historian. In the Chicago Historical Society are the original of one published deposition and other

3 Anderson, 299, 300.

4 This was W. R. Hine, who told Deming (1:2) "that the Kelly's Mormon elders from Kirtland, called on him the day of the Ohio State election in Oct., 1884, and asked him questions and he replied, They wrote down something but did not read it to him and he does not know that it is correct."

5 Deming originally meant to preserve the originals of all his depositions but was prevented from doing so when many were lost in Chicago. Letter of A. B. Deming to A. C. Williams, 13 Jan. 1885, Painsville, Ohio, on file in the Western Reserve Historical Society.



statements which Deming had no opportunity to publish. 6

None support Anderson's allegation that Deming led his witnesses or improperly edited their remarks. The original statement of K. E. Bell, published in the first issue of Deming's newspaper, seems to be in Bell's own hand and is signed by the author, witnessed by another person, and notarized by a justice of the peace. It does not differ significantly from the printed version. In other statements Deming apparently acted as an amanuensis for his witnesses, but even in these instances I can find no evidence that he recorded more (or less) than his testators remembered. The statement of Eber D. Howe, for example, is signed by Howe, witnessed by Deming and a grandson, and concludes: "This statement was read in presence of Mr. Howe his daughter and grand son before being signed." 7

Also among this collection is the unpublished statement of J. C. Dowen, which similarly concludes: "I have heard Mr. Deming read this statement distinctly and make it as the last important act of my li[fe]." The statement was then witnessed by a granddaughter and grandson, notarized by a justice of the peace, and concluded with a note from that same justice: "At J. C. Dowen's request I was present and heard A. B. Deming read distinctly this statement to Mr. Dowen before being signed, which he said was correct." 8

After studied analysis, Deming's report must stand as one of the most careful, conscientious, and energetic efforts to gather information about Joseph Smith from still living witnesses. Deming's methods would not be considered satisfactory today, but they were for the time above the norm and reveal a determination on his part to escape the sorts of criticisms leveled against Hurlbut. The effort cost Deming heavily in time and money, and he later came to deeply regret the "nearly four years hard labor, self-denial, and persecutions" he underwent while completing the project. 9

Deming's primary deficiency was that he had

6 There is also one statement preserved in the Western Reserve Historical Society among the A. C. Williams papers. Deming had forwarded to Williams his notes of a conversation with a Mrs. S. W. Hanson, requesting Williams to read it to her "and amend to suit her and request her signature when you have made a new copy." This Williams did, and Deming published the corrected version in the second issue of his Naked Truths about Mormonism (p. 3). Significantly Mrs. Hanson did not change Deming's rough draft except to rearrange it into more orderly form.

7 Statement of E. D. Howe, 8 April 1885, Painesville, Lake County, Ohio. At the bottom is a note signed "ABD" which reads: "Two lines erased before the signature."

8 Statement of J. C. Dowen, 20 Jan. 1885, Willoughby, Lake County, Ohio.

9 A. B. Deming to A. C. Williams, 26 Jan. 1900, Philadelphia, PA; original in the Western Reserve Historical Society.



(Pages 66-70 have not been transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)



around... in a manner to defy the dexterity of pick and shovel." 21

From this and other evidence it appears that Joseph Smith was viewed by many of his neighbors and contemporaries both in New York and in Pennsylvania as an occasionally intemperate village seer who led his followers in various occult adventures but produced little in the way of promised treasure.

21 Ibid. Other references to Smith's activities in the Colesville, Bainbridge, and Harmony areas include a letter by John Sherer, dated 18 Nov. 1830 (original in the Amistad Research Center, Dillard University, New Orleans); (A. W. Benton), "Mormonites," Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, 9 April 1831, 120; a letter of Joel King Noble, dated 8 March 1842 (reproduced in Walters, "From Occult to Cult with Joseph Smith, Jr.," 133-37); Emily C. Blackman, History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, & Haffelfinger, 1873), 577-82; the recollections of W. D. Purple in the Chenango Union (Norwich, NY), 2 May 1877; the exchange of letters between Hiel and Joseph Lewis and Edwin Cadwell in the Amboy Journal, issues of 30 April, 21 May, 4 June, 11 June, 9 July, 30 July, and 6 Aug. 1879; the Salt Lake Daily Tribune 23 April 1880; and Emily M. Austin, Mormonism; or, Life among the Mormons (Madison, WI: M. J. Cantwell, Book and Job Printer, 1882), 31-33.

Of these various sources, Emily Austin, who lived in the area from her birth in 1813 until she joined the Mormons in 1830, described Smith on his first appearance in the country as a fortune teller and money digger, and remembered one occasion in which she and her sister, Sarah Knight, visited the place where Smith, Joseph Knight, Sr., and others had dug over in their quest for buried treasure. The Daily Tribune article contains what is claimed to be a signed document, dated 1 November 1825, pledging Smith and others to equitable shares "if anything of value should be obtained at a certain place in Pennsylvania... supposed to be a valuable mine of either Gold or Silver.…" The Amboy Journal articles contain much information about Smith's activities in the Harmony area, including an abortive attempt on Smith's part to join the Methodist church in 1828. Joshua McKune and Joseph Lewis successfully contested his membership on the ground that Smith was "a practicing necromancer, a dealer in enchantments and bleeding ghosts." The Chenango Union article contains an account by W. D. Purple of Smith's court hearing as a "glass looker'' in 1826. Purple, who attended the hearing and took notes at the request of his friend Justice Neely, repeats much of what was said on the occasion, including a moving speech by Joseph Smith, Sr., in which the old man lamented the fact that his son's "wonderful power... should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures.…" Emily Blackman recorded the testimony of some who had known Smith during his stay in Susquehanna County, and provided a detailed diagram identifying the holes Smith had ordered sunk during his association with Josiah Stowell. The letter by J. K. Noble, who was one of the justices involved in Smith's 1830 Colesville trial, contains information about Smith's money digging and describes his general character as that of "a Vagrant idler Lazy (not Drunkard) but now and then Drunk Liar Deceiver." The Benton article, like the accounts of Noble and Purple, asserts that Smith was convicted in 1826 of money digging and repeats testimony later given by Josiah Stowell demonstrating Stowell's faith in Smith's occult talents. The Rev. John Sherer's letter, written from Colesville, New York, only a few months after Smith had left the area, contains the statement: "This man has been known, in these parts, for some time, as a kind of juggler, who has pretended, through a glass, to see money under ground, &c, &c."



(pp. 71-74 endnotes moved to respective pages as footnotes)


[ 75 ]

Chapter 6


According to Richard Anderson, the published account of the 1881 interviews with old citizens from the Palmyra-Manchester, New York, area conducted by Reorganized Mormons William H. and E. L. Kelley, "can be trusted as the most comprehensive investigations ever made there." 1

The reason for this is William Kelley's published report of an interview he conducted with David Whitmer, an early Mormon and one of three "witnesses" to the reality of the Book of Mormon gold plates. Because Kelley's report "is detailed and minutely agrees with known writings and comments of the Book of Mormon witness," Anderson considers it a fair test of Kelley's ability at note-taking. However, in the case of the Palmyra-Manchester interviews there is considerable disparity between Kelley's original notes and the published report based on those notes. Furthermore, Anderson has not taken into account Kelley's own possible prejudice as an apostle of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which, like its Utah cousin, bases its faith claims on Joseph Smith's teachings. As a believer in

1 Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 305.



the Book of Mormon, Kelley would have little reason to misinterpret or embellish Whitmer's testimony. But it does not necessarily follow that Kelley would retain the same impartiality when recording hostile testimony. 2

Another consideration which lessens Kelley's reliability is the fact that he published his reconstruction of the interviews without supporting documentation. Unlike Deming, Kelley did not write up the account of his interviews at the time and then have the person interviewed read it for correctness, sign it, and have it attested by independent witnesses. Rather Kelley took only brief notes, later using these and his own memory to reconstruct what had been said. The notes themselves and the responses of some of those interviewed show that Kelley sometimes depended upon imagination as well as memory.

In his analysis of the Kelley interviews Anderson relegates the story of these negative responses to a footnote, remarking that only one interview "raises a significant issue on Kelley misquotation." 3This judgment seems particularly inept to anyone familiar with the historical circumstances prompting the Kelley report and the reaction which followed it. About a year before the Kelley brothers visited the Palmyra-Manchester area to "hear the worst, let it hurt whom it would," there appeared in a Michigan newspaper an article purporting to contain reminiscences of the Smiths from former neighbors. These statements, collected by the Reverend C. C. Thorne, described the Smith family as "too low to associate with" and Joseph Smith as "a lazy drinking fellow, and loose in his habits in every way." 4

The Kelleys believed these statements were "a trumped up thing" and decided to reinterview the three parties "and ascertain whether this pious Rev. told the truth about what they said or not." 5

The first of the three former neighbors they called upon was William Bryant, although for some unknown reason the Kelleys did not record

2 The Saints' Herald 29 (March 1, 1882): 68.

3 Anderson, 305 n47.

4 Cadillac (MI) Weekly News, 6 April 1880, in E. L. Kelley and Clark Braden, Public Discussion of the Issues Between the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Church of Christ (Disciples)... (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Co., 1884), 119. I have been unable to locate an original copy of this newspaper.

5 William H. Kelley, "The Hill Cumorah... The Stories of Hurlbert, Howe, Tucker, &c. From Later Interviews," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 162.


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 77

having asked him about the statement he allegedly signed for Thorne. The next party they called upon was Danford Booth, to whom they reportedly posed the question:

Do you know Rev. Thorn, a Presbyterian minister at Manchester?
"Yes; I know him."
What kind of a fellow is he?
"He is a pretty sharp fellow, and will look after his bread and butter, you may depend on that."
Did he ever interview you on this subject?
"No, sir; he never did."
Did he not call to see what you knew about the Smiths and Cowderys about a year ago?
"No, he never did to my recollection."
Did you know he had a statement of yours published in Michigan in regard to this, last year?
"No, sir; I never heard of it before."
Did you ever give him one to publish?
"I never did -- did not know he wanted one."
He will look out for himself, will he?
"He will that; that is him." 6
Also among those the Kelleys called upon was Orin Reed, with whom the Kelleys reportedly had the following conversation:

Do you know Mr. Thorn, the Presbyterian minister at Manchester, over here? "Yes, I know him slightly."
Did you not make a statement to him in regard to the character of these men; that they were low persons, and not good associates, or something of the kind?
"I never did."
6 Ibid., 162-63.



Did he call on you to find out what you knew about it?
"No, sir, he never did; at least he never let me know anything about it, if he did."
Did you ever see a statement he sent to Michigan, last year, and had published, purporting to be what you and others knew about the Smiths and Cowderys?
"No, I never did; did not know that one was ever published before." 7
When Orin Reed, his wife Amanda, and Danford Booth read the account of these questions and answers in the Reorganized church's official Saints' Herald, they promptly made affidavits before a justice of the peace accusing the Kelleys of lying. 8 Reed testified that the statement he had signed for Thorne was authentic and that "the matters set forth therein alleged to have been stated by deponent to said Thorne were so stated by deponent at the time and as mentioned in said published article." His wife, Amanda, testified that she was a witness to her husband's interview with Thorne, and "that the statements alleged to have been made by said Thorne as published in the Cadillac Mich Weekly News... were in fact so made, and that the language employed by her said husband was substantially as therein set forth." Danford Booth confirmed that he had been interviewed by Thorne and that the statement published by the minister was correct, and denied the Kelleys' report of his remarks about Thorne. He did not even recall their having asked him about the subject. Anderson's only remark concerning these statements is that the publication of the Kelley interviews "sparked a skirmish of affidavits." Incredibly, he denies that these affidavits cast any suspicion on the Kelleys as competent reporters.

The only statement Anderson does address that could raise doubts about the Kelley interviews is that of John H. Gilbert, principal typesetter for the Book of Mormon.

7 Ibid., 165.

8The following affidavits are copied from the originals in the Ontario County Clerk's Office: State of New York
County of Ontario

Danforth Booth, of the town of Manchester in said County, being duly affirmed deposes and says, that he has read the article published in the Cadillac Mich Weekly news of April 6, 1880, respecting "Cowdery and the Smith family" over the signature of C. C. Thorne, that the interview therein mentioned, between deponent and said Thorne, did in fact take place, and that the matters set forth therein, alleged to have been stated by deponent to said Thorne were so stated by deponent.

Deponent further says that he has read a paper called the "Saints Herald" purporting to give an interview between one Wm H Kelley and another person and deponent, in which they state that deponent informed them that said Thorne and deponent never had an interview as alleged by said Thorne. Deponent says that he did not so inform them, and has no recollection of such question being asked him.

[Signed] D. Booth

Subscribed and affirmed to before me July 1, 1881
N. K. Cole
Justice of the Peace
State of New York
County of Ontario

Orrin Reed of the town of Manchester, in said County being duly affirmed, deposes and says, -- that his age is 77 years, -- that he was born in the town of Farmington, and about four miles from Mormon Hill (so called) that for forty six years last past he has resided in said town Manchester, and in the same school district in which Joseph Smith, and family -- of Mormon notoriety -- resided and three fourths of a mile from Mormon Hill aforesaid. Deponent says that he has read the article published in the Cadillac (Mich) Weekly News of April 6, 1880, respecting "Cowdery and the Smith family" over the signature of C. C. Thorne, -- that the matters set forth therein alleged to have been stated by deponent to said Thorne were so stated by deponent at the time and as mentioned in said published article.

[Signed] Orin Reed

Affirmed and subscribed to before me June 29, 1881

N. K. Cole
Justice of the Peace
State of New York
County of Ontario

Amanda Reed being duly affirmed deposes and says that she is the wife of Orin Reed, whose deposition appears above, that she was present and heard a conversation between her said husband and C. C. Thorne -- that the statements alleged to have been made by said Thorne as published in the Cadillac Mich Weekly News, over the signature of said Thorne were -- in fact so made, and that the language employed by her said husband was substantially as therein set forth.

[Signed] Amanda Reed

Affirmed and subscribed to before me June 29, 1881
N. K. Cole
Justice of the Peace.


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 79

In an affidavit Gilbert said he had been "grossly misrepresented in almost every particular, words being put into his mouth that he never uttered, and the answers to questions he did give, totally at variance from the answers given by him." In this affidavit Gilbert did not go into particulars, but in a letter to Thomas Gregg, written only days after he received William Kelley's article in the Saints' Herald, Gilbert claimed a number of specific errors. 9

Below are extracts from Kelley's purported interview with Gilbert and from Gilbert's letter to Gregg. Gilbert's alleged responses to Kelley are in quotation marks:

Kelley Interview

"[Hyrum Smith] said at the
time it was translated by the
power of God."

Why did you not change it
[the Book of Mormon] and
correct it?
"Because they would not allow
us to; they were very particular
about that. We never
changed it in the least. Oh,
well; there might have been
one or two words that I
changed the spelling of; I
believe I did change the spelling
of one, and perhaps two, but
no more."

Did you set all of the type, or
did some one help you?
"I did the whole of it myself,
and helped to read the proof,

Gilbert's Letter

[This is] utterly false. I never
had any conversation with
Hyrum in regard to the translation.

In regard to the change of
spelling two words, he
words my answer entirely
different from what I said to
him. I told him distinctly
that I changed the spelling of
one word, which occurred
twice in one form -- no believing
about it. The word
changed was "travail,"
spelled "travel" in both
instances, showing that the
copyist did not know the

I did not tell him I set all the
type, as he reports me saying.

9 Letter dated 19 June 1881, Palmyra, NY, in Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1914), 37-38.



too; there was no one who
worked at that but myself."

"If you ever saw a Book of
Mormon you will see that
they changed it afterwards.
...Here on the title page it
says," (reading) "'Joseph
Smith, Jr, author and
proprietor.' Afterwards, in
getting out other editions they
left that out, and only claimed
that Joseph Smith translated it."

Well, did they claim anything
else than that he was the
translator when they brought
the manuscript to you?

"Oh, no; they claimed that he
was translating it by means of
some instruments he got at
the same time he did
the plates, and that the Lord
helped him."

"I told [Lorenzo Saunders]
about [James] Cobb, of Utah,
and asked him if he would
and Cobb his affidavit that
he saw [Sidney] Rigdon before
the book was published,
if he (Cobb), would write to
him; he fmally said he would,
and I wrote to Cobb about it,
and gave Saunders' address,
and after a long time, I got a
letter from [Cobb], saying he
had written three letters to
Saunders, and could get no

In regard to Smith claiming
to be the author, etc., I told
him I understood in later
editions he only claimed to
be translator, etc.; the balance
of the story in regard to
this authorship, is all his
own coining and answering.

The long paragraph in
relation to Mr. Cobb and
Lorenzo Saunders is a mixed
mess of truth and falsehood.


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 81

answer. I then sat down
and wrote Saunders a letter
myself, reminding him of his
promise, and wrote to Cobb
also about it; and after a long
time Cobb wrote me again,
that Saunders had written to
him; but I have never learned
how satisfactory it was, or
whether he made the affidavit

If you could only connect
Sidney Rigdon with Smith
some way, you could get up a
theory [to explain the Book of
"Yes; that is just where the
trouble lies;... But I think I
have got a way out of the
difficulty now. A fellow that
used to be here, by the name
of Saunders, Lorenzo
Saunders, was back here
some time ago, and I was
asking him about it. At first he
said he did not remember of
ever seeing Rigdon until after
1830 sometime; but after
studying it over a while, he
said it seemed to him that one
time he was over to Smiths,
and that there was a stranger
there he never saw before,
and that they said it was

When I asked Mr.
S[aunders] if he knew
whether [Sidney] Rigdon
was hanging around Smith
previous to the publication
of the M[ormon] B[ible], he
said, "Yes, at least eighteen
months before." There was
no hesitancy about it; and
this is what I told Kelley.
You can see how he reported
the matter.  



What will you take for your
copy of the Book of Mormon;
or will you sell it? ...
"I will take Five Hundred
Dollars for it, and no less; I have
known them to sell for more
than that."

"Oh, I don't think the Smiths
were as bad as people let on
for. Now Tucker, in his work,
told too many big things; nobody
could believe his stories."

From the interview with
Hyram Jackway:]
"Joe and his father got drunk
What did they drink to make
them drunk?
"They drank cider."
Got drunk so they could not
walk, on cider, did they?
I did not tell Kelley that I
had known a copy or copies
of the M.B. to sell for $500,
or more than that; that is
one of his misrepresentations.

What he charges me with
saying about the Smiths and
Tucker's book, is all his own

Mr. Jackaway tells me he did
not tell Kelley that Joe and
his father got drunk on
cider, but on whiskey.

In a footnote Anderson observes that Gilbert's letter "is a source of confirmation of the basic accuracy of the Kelley reports." He writes: "Without claiming perfection for the Kelleys (or any other nineteenth-century interview), one can see that Gilbert admits the main direction of conversation, and quarrels with certain details. Some of Gilbert's 'misrepresentations' are trivial." 10

Considered as an answer to Gilbert's letter, this statement is inadequate. Gilbert never denied that the Kelleys contacted him and asked certain questions; rather, he charged them with putting words in his mouth and reporting answers differently from those he in fact gave them.

10 Anderson, 305.


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 83

Anderson has done nothing to correct this except to note that some of Gilbert's denials are "trivial," an implicit admission that others are not. The larger issue of William Kelley's accuracy in reporting the words of others is ignored, while readers are left with the impression that Gilbert's criticisms of Kelley misquotations are insignificant.

Actually, even Gilbert's most "trivial" corrections are not wholly irrelevant to the issue of Kelley misquotations. The errors Gilbert alleges might be unimportant if the Kelleys had claimed to report only the gist of their conversation, but both claimed far more than that. William emphasized that the interviews were reprinted "just as they occurred," and his brother later remarked that the language of those interviewed "was taken down at the time -- the parties own words." 11

Gilbert's complaints are thus serious ones. If what he says is correct, either the Kelleys were exceptionally poor note-takers or they were exaggerating when they claimed to be reporting the exact words of those interviewed.

It now seems apparent that the Kelleys were guilty on both counts. The notes from which they constructed these interviews are on file in the archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Independence, Missouri. These notes consist mainly of brief entries only a few words long and are rarely sufficiently comprehensive to give a respondent's exact words. For example, only about one hundred words were used to construct Gilbert's lengthy interview, often brief entries like "James L. Cob of Salt Lake corresponds with Colonel Gilbert." 12

From this the Kelleys constructed the lengthy paragraph which Gilbert later branded "a mixed mess of truth and falsehood." Statements Gilbert claimed he never made do not appear in the notes, and others are so abbreviated as to be all but useless in accurately reconstructing conversations. Such inadequate methodology characterizes

11 Kelley, "Interviews," 168; Braden and Kelley Debate, 122.

12 Kelley, "Notes," back of p. 9, archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri.



the reporters Anderson praises for their precise note-taking abilities.

Many of William Kelley's errors can be ascribed to simple carelessness. Equipped only with his inadequate notes, Kelley was forced to rely on his own evidently often unreliable memory to retrieve the information. Vaguely recalling that Gilbert had qualified his remark about not changing the Book of Mormon, Kelley no doubt added the account of changing one or two words, forgetting that Gilbert had said he changed the spelling of one word. 13

Possessing the brief note, "Major Gilbert of Palmyra Sat up the type of B. of M." 14

Kelley interpreted this to mean that Gilbert alone had set the type, which Gilbert refuted. 15  

Kelley's errors in reporting Gilbert's statements about Cobb and the cost of an original edition of the Book of Mormon are probably related to the same problem of abbreviated notes and imprecise memory.

Kelley's note-taking and faulty memory may thus explain some of Gilbert's charges, but they do not excuse all of them. In fact, Gilbert called Kelley a "great falsifier" and "the champion liar of America" and charged him in an affidavit with gross and willful falsification. 16

A further comparison of Gilbert's letter and the Kelley notes tends to support Gilbert's allegation. For example, according to Kelley, Gilbert maintained that the Smiths were not "as bad as people let on" and that Tucker "told too many big things; nobody could belive his stories." Gilbert denied having said this and nothing appears in Kelley's notes which might have prompted such a recollection. Either Kelley was remembering something Gilbert said but could not remember, which is unlikely considering how carefully Kelley recorded in his notes each and every favorable mention of the Smiths, or Kelley created the exchange for the express purpose of increasing the number of witnesses who did not share the prevailing opinion of the family. Add to this

13 Compare Gilbert's letter to Cobb, 10 Feb. 1879, Palmyra, Wayne County, NY: "In one instance he [Cowdery] was looking over the manuscript, when the word 'travail' occurred twice in the form, but spelled in the manuscript travel. Mr. Grandin when reading the proof pronounced the word correctly, but Cowdery did not seem to know the difference." Original in the New York Public Library. Gilbert also alluded to this same change in a letter to Clark Braden, dated Palmyra, 27 Feb. 1884, in Braden and Kelley Debate, 382.

14 Kelley, "Notes," back of p. 5.

15 In numerous statements, Gilbert was careful to explain that he did not set all of the type. See, for example, the Detroit Post & Tribune, 3 Dec. 1877.

16 In his 27 February 1884 letter to Braden, Gilbert maintained: "Mr. Kelley misrepresented me in every important particular in his article.... If Mr. Kelley has to resort to falsehood and mis-representation to defend Mormonism, he had better leave them and become an honest man if possible."


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 85

the fact that Gilbert was interviewed many times on the subject of Mormonism, and that in none of these did he venture an opinion of the Smiths like that attributed to him by Kelley, and it becomes evident that the remark cannot be assigned to Gilbert as an authentic reflection of his views. It seems more likely that Gilbert said nothing about the Smiths' general reputation, a silence which Kelley interpreted to mean he thought well of the family.

This tendency to "interpret" his witnesses in order to have them say things that in Kelley's estimation should have been said is evident in other parts of his interview with Gilbert. For example, in that part of the interview in which Gilbert and Kelley supposedly discussed the question of whether Smith claimed to be "translator" or "author" of the Book of Mormon, Gilbert is made to bring up the objection that Smith changed the title page of the Book of Mormon. To this Kelley responded, "Well, did they claim anything else than that he was the translator when they brought the manuscript to you?" Gilbert answered in the negative, thus disposing of one common objection to the Book of Mormon. The argument appears even tighter when the reader remembers Gilbert's earlier remark about Hyrum Smith claiming that the book had been "translated by the power of God."

The problem with this exchange has nothing to do with the merits of Kelley's argument; rather, the question is whether Gilbert said any such thing as Kelley alleges. Gilbert admitted that he made a remark about Smith claiming in later editions to be only the "translator" of the Book of Mormon, but claimed that "the balance of the story in regard to this authorship, is all his [Kelley's] own coining and answering." He further denied having had any conversation with Hyrum Smith about the translation, which if true means that Kelley indulged in dramatic license to make a point. Gilbert's remembered remark about the



change on the title page of the Book of Mormon gave Kelley an opportunity to refute what was then a common objection to the book, and it apparently mattered little to him whether he and Gilbert had actually discussed the matter. The opportunity to confound his critics was simply too good to miss.

If Kelley was writing a dramatic dialogue whose primary purpose was to persuade and convince, there would of course be no question concerning the propriety of such an argument. Kelley, however, was writing a report professing to be a sober recital of facts "just as they occurred." He did allow "for a possible mistake, or error, arising from a misapprehension, or mistake in taking notes," 17 but he did not grant himself the freedom to have those interviewed say what could or should have been said. It was probably for this reason that Kelley did not afford those interviewed the chance to read or confirm their testimonies. If Kelley had wanted to gather only authentic information, he would probably have granted his informants this courtesy.

Another example of Kelley's, manipulation can be seen in his report of Hyram Jackway s story about Joseph Smith's drinking. According to that report, Jackway remembered seeing Smith and his father drunk in a hayfield. "What did they drink to make them drunk?" Kelley asked. "They drank cider," Jackway answered. To this Kelley replied, "Got drunk so they could not walk, on cider, did they?" Kelley here implied that Jackway was exaggerating, since cider was not generally classified at the time as an "ardent spirit." According to Gilbert, however, Jackway said the Smiths did not get "drunk on cider, but on whiskey."

Gilbert's letter suggests a tendency on the part of Kelley to "play down" any statement potentially harmful to his faith. In discussing the origin of the Book of Mormon, for example, Kelley has Gilbert express considerable uncertainty about the testimony of Lorenzo Saunders, who

17 Kelley, "Interviews," 168.


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 87

Gilbert names as his source for the theory that Sidney Rigdon helped Smith write the Book of Mormon. According to Kelley's rendering of the conversation, Gilbert said that Saunders initially could not remember seeing Rigdon with Smith before the book came off the press in 1830, and only "remembered" seeing the two men together before that time after repeated promptings by Gilbert. Why Kelley should choose to report the conversation in this way when Gilbert said that Saunders responded promptly, with none of the "hesitancy" reported by Kelley, was obviously to discredit the then dominant theory that Smith had help in writing the Book of Mormon. By altering Gilbert's words Kelley provided readers with a good reason to discount the theory on the basis of one of its chief exponent's own admissions.

It is, of course, possible that Saunders was mistaken in his recollection, but there is little ground for supposing that the mistake -- if mistake it was -- was due to Gilbert's having planted the idea in the first place. The notes from which Kelley constructed this part of the interview read simply, "Lorenzo Saunders says Rigdon was in the neighborhood before B of M was published 18 months." 18

There is nothing here indicating the uncertainty Gilbert allegedly attributed to Saunders, nor does Gilbert, in a letter he wrote some months before his interview with Kelley, indicate hesitancy on the part of Saunders: "says he knows that Rigdon was hanging around Smith's for eighteen months prior to the publishing of the Mormon Bible." 19

Finally, in 1885 and 1887 Saunders himself wrote two statements in which he described his alleged meeting with Rigdon in the spring of 1827, and in neither did he hint that he was less than certain about the recollection. 20

There is additional evidence which throws light on Gilbert's conversation with Saunders. On 17 September 1884, William Kelley was in Reading, Michigan, and there

18 Kelley, "Notes," 9.

19 Letter of J. H. Gilbert to James T. Cobb, dated Palmyra, 14 Oct. 1879, in William Wyl, Mormon Portraits... (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing & Publishing Co., 1886), 231.

20 Saunders's statements appeared in Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1914), 134-35; and Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 (Jan. 1888): 2.



spoke with Lorenzo Saunders himself about his knowledge of the Smith family and his memory of seeing Rigdon in Palmyra before 1830. On this occasion Kelley was considerably more careful than he had been in the past, for he wrote out the report on the spot and had Saunders sign it as being correct.

Kelley asked Saunders if he had seen Rigdon in the Smiths' neighborhood before 1830, and Saunders answered, "Yes. In March 1827." Kelley asked if Saunders knew Gilbert, to which he replied, "Yes. Four years ago I went to Palmyra to see my Brothers, and I met Gilbert. He wanted to know if I remembered seeing Sidney Rigdon in that neigh-borhood previous to 1830 when he come preaching the Mormon Bible... Says I to Gilbert Sidney Rigdon was about Smiths before 1830 in my opinion. Gilbert asked me if I would make affidavit that I saw Rigdon at Smiths before that time? I told him I would think the matter over... When I got ready to come home Gilbert said he wanted to see me before I left... He came to me as I was about to start home and it was then that I told him that I had thought the matter over and made up my mind that I could swear that I saw Rigdon in the neighborhood in the spring of 1827." 21

Two observations should be made concerning Saunders's statement. First, there is no mention of Saunders's initial inability to remember seeing Rigdon before 1830. He answered Kelley promptly and remembered saying to Gilbert, "I saw Rigdon in the neighborhood in the spring of 1827." Had Kelley been able to persuade Saunders to admit that he could not initially remember seeing Rigdon before 1830, Kelley would certainly have done so. But Saunders was firm in his recollection despite Kelley's questions about the time, place, and circumstances of the alleged meeting. Second, in Kelley's published report of his conversation with Gilbert, Gilbert is said to have

21 Unpublished statement of Lorenzo Saunders, 2, 4-5, 13, RLDS church archives.


        THE KELLEY INTERVIEWS         / 89

(Pages 89-99 have not been transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)


[ 107 ]

Chapter 7


Richard Anderson's final argument in his defense of Joseph Smith's New York reputation is that the recollections of Smith's own family provide the best refutation of the Hurlbut and Deming affidavits. Certainly the Smiths were in a better position to report accurately on young Joseph s activities and character than Hurlbut's or Deming's witnesses, but granting this does not mean that they necessarily did so. Indeed, from evidence to follow, the family was as intent on concealing certain facts as Hurlbut's and Deming's witnesses were to reveal them. The Smith family reminiscences, while valuable, cannot therefore be opposed to the testimony of more hostile witnesses simply on the grounds of their unsupported say-so.

An illustration of how the Smiths reacted to adverse criticism may be found in William Smith's recollection of the family's drinking habits. According to him, "I never knew my father Joseph Smith to be intoxicated or the worse for liquor, nor was my brother Joseph Smith in the habit of drinking spiritous liquors." 1

1 Notes written on Chambers' Miscellany, 6, in Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 314. Born in 1811, William was in his teens during much of the 1820s.



(Pages 108-111 have not been transcribed
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[ 113 ]

Chapter 8


Four conclusions emerge from the foregoing reexamination of Joseph Smith's New York reputation. First, I can find no evidence that the primary source affidavits and other documents collected by Philastus Hurlbut, Eber D. Howe, and Arthur B. Deming are other than what they purport to be. The men and women whose names they bear either wrote them or authorized them to be written. Ghost-writing may have colored some of the testimony, but there is no evidence that the vast majority of testators did not write or dictate their own statements or share the attitudes attributed to them.

Second, every contemporary attempt to impugn these accounts failed. Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris's effort to prove Isaac Hale's letter a forgery was contradicted by Hale himself. The attempts by Lucy Mack Smith and William Smith to exonerate the Smith family of certain charges were undone by the more candid admissions of friends or other family members. And RLDS apostle William Kelley's report, designed to discredit Joseph



Smith's debunkers, was itself discredited by many of those contacted by Kelley. The fact that these efforts resulted in impeaching not a single witness who testified against Smith, though many of these same witnesses were still alive and willing to repeat their testimony, supports the conclusion that the statements collected by Hurlbut and Deming can be relied on as accurate reflections of their signers' views.

Third, with the possible exception of Peter Ingersoll, there is no evidence that the witnesses contacted by Hurlbut in 1833-34 and Deming in 1888 perjured themselves by knowingly swearing to a lie. In fact, existing evidence goes far to substantiate the recorded stories. The harmony of the accounts, the fact that they were collected by different people at different times and places, and the sometimes impressive confirmations supplied by independent witnesses or documents never intended for public consumption discredit the argument that the work of Hurlbut and Deming contains nothing but "trumped-up evidence."

Fourth, there is no evidence that the majority of witnesses indulged in malicious defamation by repeating groundless rumors. Many based their descriptions on close association with the Joseph Smith, Sr., family. They did not always distinguish hearsay from observation, fact from inference, but they generally state whether or not the source of the information is firsthand, and several witnesses provided enough information to demonstrate that much of what was previously thought to be popular rumor about the Smiths was not wholly groundless.

Having survived the determined criticism of Mormon scholars Hugh Nibley and Richard L. Anderson, the Hurlbut-Deming affidavits must be granted permanent status as primary documents relating to Joseph Smith's early life and the origins of Mormonism. In using the reminiscences, however, several measures of reliability should be followed. For one, preference should be given to witnesses


        CONCLUSION         / 115

speaking from personal, direct knowledge, not hearsay or obvious neighborhood gossip. The recitals of Isaac Butts, Joseph Capron, Willard Chase, Isaac Hale, Abigail Harris, Henry Harris, W. R. Hine, and William Stafford are primary examples of witnesses having firsthand experience with members of the Smith family and Martin Harris. The general Manchester and Palmyra, New York, affidavits are less useful in this regard.

For another, two or more accounts relating specific incidents in essentially identical detail are probably more reliable than recitals of events relying on one source only. Abigail Harris and Lucy Harris left separate but similar accounts of Martin Harris's initial financial interest in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith's promise that the plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon were to be placed on public display as evidence of the truth of the book was remembered by Nathaniel Lewis, Joshua M'Kune, and Alva Hale, among others. Sophia Lewis and Joshua M'Kune also recalled Joseph Smith's statement that his first born son would be able to open and read the Book of Mormon plates. And the unanimity of individual testimony regarding the consumption of alcohol and treasure hunting is striking.

Finally, accounts by non-Mormons containing information that can be substantiated by Mormon witnesses, such as Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, Martin Harris, Joseph Knight, Oliver Cowdery, or David Whitmer, may also be accurate in their uncorroborated claims.

In general terms, the Hurlbut, Howe, Deming, and Kelley testimonials paint a portrait of a young frontiersman and his family struggling to eke out a minimal existence in western New York, facing the discouraging realities of life on the margins of society. Intelligent and quick-witted, if not always a hard worker, Joseph Smith, Jr., had been brought up by parents who believed in angels, evil spirits, and ghosts; in buried treasures that slipped into



the earth if the proper rituals were not performed to exhume them; in divining rods and seer stones; in dreams and visions; and that despite their indigent status, their's was a family chosen by God for a worthy purpose.

Following the death of their eldest son Alvin, on whom the family had placed their dreams, Joseph Jr. seems to have assumed the role of favored son. Whether hunting for buried treasure or the ancient record of a lost civilization, neither Joseph nor his family saw any conflict between the secular pressures of earning a living, even by so esoteric a means as money digging, and a religious quest for spiritual fulfillment. If they could accomplish one goal by pursuing the other, so much the better.

Nondescript and of little consequence until he started attracting others to his peculiar blend of biblical Christianity, frontier folk belief, popular culture, and personal experience, Joseph Smith was an enigma to his incredulous New York neighbors. For them, he would always remain a superstitious adolescent dreamer and his success as a prophet a riddle for which there was no answer.


[ 117 ]



[Note: The following documents are reproduced exactly as they appear in the original published or unpublished sources, with the exception of arranging them either alphabetically or chronologically. As with any endeavor of this kind, however, it is possible that some errors of transcription may exist.]

A. The Philastus Hurlbut/Eber D. Howe Affidavits, From: E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed [Sic]: or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion, From Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of the Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous Gold Bible Was Brought Before the World, to Which Are Added, Inquiries Into the Probability that the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written By One Solomon Spaulding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, and By Him Intended to Have Been Published As a Romance. (Painesville, Ohio: Printed and Published By the Author, 1834), Pages 232-69.




(Pages 118-154 have not been transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)


        APPENDIX B         / 155

which were four or five feet square and three or four feet deep. Jo and others dug much about Palmyra and Manchester. I have seen many of the holes. The first thing he claimed to find was gold plates of the "Book of Mormon," which he kept in a pillowcase and would let people lift, but not see. I came to Ohio in 1818, and became acquainted with Sydney Rigdon in 1820. He preached my brother's funeral sermon in Auburn, O., in May, 1822. I returned to Palmyra twice and resided there about two years each time. Many persons whom I knew in New York joined the Mormons and came to Kirtland. They told me they saw Sidney Rigdon much with Jo Smith before they became Mormons, but did not know who he was until they came to Kirtland. [Signed.] ISAAC BUTTS. South Newbury, Geauga Co, O.

3. W. R. Hine

I was born February 11, 1803, at Colesville, Windsor Township, Broome County, N.Y. Jo Smith, who became the Mormon prophet, and his father came from Palmyra, or Manchester, N.Y., and dug for salt two summers, near and in sight of my house. The old settlers used to buy salt from an Indian squaw, who often promised to tell the whites where the salt spring was, but she never did. Jo Smith claimed to be a seer. He had a very clear stone about the size and shape of a duck's egg, and claimed that he could see lost or hidden things through it. He said he saw Captain Kidd sailing on the Susquehanna River during a freshet, and that he buried two pots of gold and silver. He claimed he saw writing cut on the rocks in an unknown language telling where Kidd buried it, and he translated it through his peep-stone. I have had it many times and could see in it whatever I imagined. Jo claimed it was found in digging a well in Palmyra, N.Y. He said he borrowed it. He claimed to receive revelations from the Lord through prayer, and would pray with his men, mornings and at other times. His father told me he was fifteen years old. I called him half-witted. He was miserably clad, coarse



and awkward. He had men who did the digging and they and others would take interests. Some would lose faith and others would take their places. They dug one well thirty feet deep and another seventy-five at the foot and south side of the Aquaga Mountain, but found no salt.

My nephew now owns the land he dug on. Asa Stowel furnished the means for Jo to dig for silver ore, on Monument Hill. He dug over one year without success. Jo dug next for Kidd's money, on the west bank of the Susquehanna, half a mile from the fiver, and three miles from his salt wells. He dug for a cannon the Indians had buried, until driven away by the owner of the land. He dug for many things and many parties, I never knew him to find anything of value. He and his workmen lived in a shanty while digging for salt. When it rained hard, my wife has often made beds for them on the floor in our house. Jo became known all over New York and Pennsylvania. Sometimes his brothers were with him. Isaac Hale, a good Methodist, lived seven miles below me on the river. I often stopped with him when rafting. I have attended many prayer-meetings at his house, evenings. Emma was fine looking, smart, a good singer, and she often got the power. Jo stole his wife, Sunday, while Hale was at church. My wife and I saw him on an old horse with Emma on behind as they passed our house on their way to Bainbridge, N.Y., where they were married.

Jo and his father were all the time telling of hidden things, lead, silver and gold mines which he could see. I called him Peeker. About the spring of 1828, Jo came in front of my house where several men were pitching quoits. I said, "Peeker, what have you found?" He said he had found some metal plates which would be of great use to the world. He had them in a box in a handkerchief which he carried in one hand. I said, "Let me see them." Jo Smith said they must first be sent to Philadelphia to be translated. He said the only man in the world who could translate them lived there. After they were translated the world could see them. Calvin Smith, whose farm joined mine, said with an oath, he would see them. Jo said if he laid his hands on him he would prosecute him. I told Calvin he better not. Since I


        APPENDIX B         / 157

have seen the conduct of the Mormons, I have many times regretted that I interfered. Citizens wrote to parties in Philadelphia, where Jo said he had sent the plates and word was returned they had not received them. Jo said they could not be translated in Philadelphia and they had been sent to New York City. Justice N. K. Nobles wrote to New York and could learn nothing about them. Soon I learned that Jo claimed to be translating the plates in Badger's Tavern, in Colesville, three miles from my house. I went there and saw Jo Smith sit by a table and put a handkerchief to his forehead and peek into his hat and call out a word to Cowdery, who sat at the same table and wrote it down. Several persons sat near the same table and there was no curtain between them. Martin Harris introduced himself to me, and said they were going to bring the world from darkness into light. Martin's wife cooked for them, and one day while they were at dinner she put one hundred and sixteen pages, the first part they had translated, in her dress bosom and went out. They soon missed the one hundred and sixteen pages and followed her into the road and demanded them of her. She refused, and said if it was the Lord's work you can translate them again, and I will follow you to the ends of the earth.

Dr. Seymour came along and she gave them to him to read, and told him not to let them go. Dr. Seymour lived one and a half miles from me. He read most of it to me when my daughter Irene was born; he read them to his patients about the country. It was a description of the mounds about the country and similar to the "Book of Mormon." I doubt if the one hundred and sixteen pages were included in the "Book of Mormon." After I came to Kirtland, in conversation with Martin Harris, he has many times admitted to me that this statement about his wife and the one hundred and sixteen pages, as above stated, is true. I heard a man say who was a neighbor to the Mormon Smith family, in Palmyra, N.Y., that they were thieves, indolent, the lowest and meanest family he ever saw or heard of. Hyrum was the best of the family. Many letters were received from Palmyra, stating the bad character of the Smith's. Calvin Smith and I, while burning brush, found a hole which, when cleaned out, was



fifteen feet deep; it was covered with poles which had been split with tomahawks; a tree near by was marked each side for seventy feet. Gun barrels and various Indian implements were found later near by. The hole was within twenty rods of Jo's salt digging. Newel Knight, who lived a few miles from me was brought before Justice N. K. Nobles as a witness for reporting Prophet Jo Smith had cast three devils out of him. Knight testified the first was as large as a wood chuck, the second was as large as a squirrel, the third about the size of a rat. Noble inquired what became of them. Knight said that they went out at the chimney. Jo was discharged. Noble told me later that it made his heart ache to hear the puppy swear. This occurred during the pretended translation of the plates. I met Prophet Jo's father on the dock at Fairport, O., in July, 1831. He inquired if I came on in the Mormon faith, I replied that I did: a crowd soon gathered about us. One of them asked what my faith was. I said the Mormons were the damd'st set of liars and scoundrels I ever knew. My reply caused a shout from many on the dock. We all took a drink.

I rented Claudius Stannard's farm and stone quarry, two miles south of the temple in Kirtland. (Before I rented the quarry, a combination had been formed not to let the Mormons have any stone). I quarried and sold the Mormons the stone used in the construction of the temple, except a few of the large ones which came from Russell's quarry. Prophet Jo and his father frequently talked over with me their experience along the Susquehanna. Jo could scarcely read or write when he lived in New York. He had a private teacher in Kirtland and obtained a fair education. While the temple was building the workmen lived in temporary buildings. Prayer meetings were held mornings by the workmen for the success of the work before beginning their labors. One day while I was at the Flats, a meeting was held in which the Spiritual Wife Doctrine was discussed. Rigdon said if he had got to go into it he might as well begin. He put Emma, Jo Smith's wife, on the bed and got on himself. Jo became angry. It was in everybody's mouth for miles about Kirtland. When I first saw Emma on the streets in Kirtland, she threw her arms around me and I think kissed me, and inquired all about her father's


        APPENDIX B         / 159

family. I brought her letters and took some later to Mr. Hale from her. Jo told Emma he had a revelation about the plates, but that he could not obtain them until he had married her. I became acquainted with D. P. Hurlbut before he left the Mormons. He courted Dr. Williams' beautiful daughter, and told her he had a revelation to marry her; she told him when she received a revelation they would be married. Everybody about Kirtland believed he had left the Mormons because she refused him. Other Mormons and Black Pete claimed to receive revelations to marry her. I was often in Hurlbut's company, and once while fishing with him on Lake Erie, after he had left the Mormons, he told me he was going to ferret out Mormonism and break it up; I replied you had better break up a nest of yellow jackets. I told him I knew the Mormons in New York State would as soon swear to a lie as to the truth. Later I told Hurlbut to write to Isaac Hale, Jo's father-in-law, and he did.

Hale's reply is published in Howe's "Book on Mormonism." I heard Hurlbut lecture in the Presbyterian Church in Kirtland. He said he would, and he did prove that the "Book of Mormon" was founded on a fiction called "Manuscript Found," written by Solomon Spaulding, at Conneaut, Ohio, in the early part of the century. He said Spaulding was consumptive and could not work, and wrote stories to procure a living. He said he had seen Mrs. Spaulding, and she said a good share of the "Book of Mormon" was the same as "Manuscript Found," which was written by her husband, Solomon Spaulding. Spaulding's brother asked him, as he was an educated man, why he wrote in old style. He said his title was "Manuscript Found" and therefore he wrote it in old style. Hurlbut said Spaulding tried to obtain money to pay for printing it. While traveling he slept in the woods nights, took cold and finally died. Sydney Rigdon stole the copy left with the printer in Pittsburgh. Hurlbut had a copy of Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" with him. He and others spoke three hours. Hurlbut read Hale's letter in the lecture. Martin Harris said Hale was old and blind and not capable of writing it. I stated that Hale was called the greatest hunter on the Susquehanna, and two years before had killed a black deer and a white bear, which



many hunters had tried to kill, also that he was intelligent and knew the Scriptures. The night the meteors fell in 1833, the Mormons sent men on horseback for miles about Kirtland to arouse the people. They got me up at three o'clock A.M., they claimed it was the fore-runner of some wonderful event, and it was said and believed. Prophet Jo said there would be no more stars seen in the heavens. All the time I was in Kirtland many persons were becoming disgusted with Mormonism, and many left them and exposed their secrets. Squire J. C. Dowen lived half a mile from me, he was physically and mentally a capable man. His reputation as a citizen was very good. This statement was read to me and my daughter before being signed. I heard Hurlbut lecture before, and after he saw Spaulding's widow.

W. R. HINE X. Witnessed by: A. B. Deming Chester, Geauga County, Ohio

4. Joseph Rogers

I was born in Wester, Oneida Co., N.Y., Feb. 10, 1805. Our family moved to Phelpstown a few miles south of Palmyra, N.Y., in 1815, where I resided until 1842. I was often in Palmyra, and was well acquainted with Jo Smith, who became the Mormon prophet. When a young man he claimed to receive revelations from the Lord where treasures were buried. He told Peter Rupert and Mr. Cunningham, a blacksmith (simple-minded old men), that there was a chest of gold buried on my brother-in-law, Henry Murphy's farm, under a beech tree. Henry's younger brother, Jack, said that must be stopped, and he obtained some filth in a sap bucket and got up in the beech tree before they arrived in the evening. They came and Mr. Rupert held the Bible open and a lighted candle as prophet Jo directed, while Peter dug for the chest of gold. Jack called Peter three times and he looked up and said, "Here am I, Lord," and received the filth in


        APPENDIX B         / 161

(Pages 161-169 have not been transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)



A Typescript of the Handwritten Notes of the 1881 William H. Kelley Notebook (Courtesy Library-Archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Auditorium, Independence, Missouri; Compare Saints' Herald 28 [June 1881]: 161-68)

(page 1) Dr. Stafford Rochester [lives] near Genisee Call Monger Street -- Knows of the Latter day Saints Anthony Pratt in Manchester knows of them Thomas H. Taylor. we met in Manches[ter]. Was with John Brown. Says Smith [was] ducked in the creek in Manchester They did nothing Says nothing had been sustained against Smith

(page 2) Mary Bryant Born 1806 Says Cowd[e]r[y]s "were low Shacks." Cowd[e]r[y]s did not [join] Baptist Church or Methodist. Wm Brryant b[o]rn 1795. Says Smith was a drun[k]ard, but never saw him drunk. Says he remembers seeing Smith, but says he never saw him drunk. He knew nothing of the fam[i]ly on[ly] what was based on rumor. One he was acquainted with of the Smiths was [18]25 or [18]30 Mrs. Robinson of Jackson Mich[igan] lives with Mr. Withy. She lived at Mormon Hill.

(back of page 2) made these visits March 6 1881

(page 3) D. Booth Says O[liver]. Cowdry was a low pettifogging lawyer & Mason. guess he was no church member and Mason. Was Cowd[e]ry a drunkard[?] Every body drank then. Cowd[e]ry [was] known as ["]loos[e] Cowdry" Orin Reed Ezry Pierce lives in the Smith Neighborhood

(back of page 3) Orland[o] Sanders lives on the Road leading from Palmyra to Manches[ter] Wallace Minors Dorius Peirce lives in Chesea Mich[igan]. Able Chase on Palmyra and Manchester Road

(page 4) Ezra Peirce. Says Joes did not know anything more about Hyglyerics Lyman Cowd[e]ry was a lawyer. O[liver]. Cowd[er]y [was a] School Teacher. Characters good. ["]I know that Joe Smith


        APPENDIX B         / 171

was ignorant." Has pulled sticks with Joes for a gallon of Brandy but never knew [him] to get drunk. Born 1806.

(page 5) Orin Reed Lived in time of Smiths. in Town of farmington. I know nothing about the Smiths only by hearsay. [back of page 5] Major G[i]lbert of Palmyra sat up the type of B[ook]. of M[ormon].

(page 6) Orlando Saunders Say 78 year old in April Smiths worked for him and they were good fellows to work Hyram and the old man were coopers very good people. Every bod[y] drank in those days and the Smith[s] drank also. but they never got drunk. They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness. One was at my house nearly all the time when my father died. Martin Haris was one of the first ones of the Town

(page 7) Able D. Chase 67 years old. Old man Smith was a cooper Alvin was the oldest 6 boy[s] 2 girls -- &c Alvin Hyr[um] -- Josep[h] [Samuel] Harrison Wm & Carlos. Every one drank. I was young and don[']t remember only general character -- poorly educated -- ignorant and selfish -- supersticious Shiftless but do a good days work. -- Soby Joe --

(back of page 7) E B Graanden printed B[ook]. of Mormon Whitmers went from Senaca Co Dr. [Philastus] Hurlbert lives at Coneaut. Ohio

(page 8) Jo[sep]h [Smith] got a s[ingular?] looking stone which was dug up out of my fathers well [A?] Sister that [had] a stone she could see in, but it was not the one that Smith had Jackway ) Hyram Jessie

(page 9) Colonel John H Gilbert Sat up B[ook] of M[ormon]: Says he changed nothing about it. He punctuated it. Hyrum Brought Manuscrip[t] 24 Sheets at a time -- B[ook]. of M[ormon] was commenced to be printed in August 1829 -- and finished in March 1830 Lorenzo Saunders says [Sidney] Rydon was in the neighborhood befor[e] B of M was published 18 months Lorenzo



Saunders lives in New Adr[i]an Mich[igan].

(back of page 9) James L. Cob[b] of Salt Lake [City] corresponds with Colonel Gilbert.

(page 10) He knew Lyman and Oliver [Cowdery] Lyman was a petifogge[r]. Oliver was a school teacher -- [Martin] Harris was a very honest farmer but very supersticious -- He saw the Book with his spiritual eyes. 79 years of age.

(page 11) Hyram Jackway 65-6 Saw Joe and his Father Drunk in a hay field. Knows nothing about them stealing. Stafford was a Sailor. Wm Stafford He was the one that furnished the Black Sheep. Smiths translated in the farm hous[e]. Maj Gilbert said they translated in a cave

(page 12) Hyram and his Father owed Mr. Jaynes 1505 Martin Harris was an honest man Harrison was a good worker for one day or a month. There were 6 boy[s] and 3 girls: The old lady Smith was kind in sickness. Cowd[e]rys good as the general run. Mrs. Jayn[e]s says [Pomeroy] Tucker never asked Willard Chase about what he knew

(page 13) John Stafford He [Joseph Smith] was a real clever jovial boy -- What [Pomeroy] Tucker said about them was false absolutely -- My father was never connected with them in any way -- Smiths with others were hunting for money previous to obtaining plates My father Wm S -- had a stone which some

(back of page 13) thought they could look through -- and old Mrs. S[mith]. came there for it but never got it. -- 76 years old -- Common then for any body to have drink in field those days one time Joe while working for some one on[c]e after he was married They had boiled cider Joe came in with his shirt torn -- his wife felt bad about it & when they went

(page 14) home. She put shawl on him -- had not been fighting -- he was a little contentious but never saw him fight -- known him to scuffle -- Do a fair days work if hired out to a man but were poor managers. I lived a mile from them -- My father is said to


        APPENDIX B         / 173

have furnished a sheep -- but I don[']t think my father was there at time they say sheep was

(back of page 14) sacrificed -- Cousin Christopher Stafford Aburn Geauga Co. Ohio, Oliver Cowd[e]ry Taught school in house 3[ ] miles from Palmyry -- Cowd[e]ry good Character. [Martin] Harris not very religious before B[ook] of M[ormon] -- Was an Honorable farmer. Don[']t know whether he was sceptical or visionary -- old Joe claimed he

(page 15) understood Geology and could tell all kinds of minerals -- & they fixed up a dose for him. Joe was quite illit[erate] -- until after they began to have school at at their house -- they had school at their house, and studied their Bible -- think Sidney R[igdon]. might have been there for the reason I can't account for the manuscript [Book of Mormon?] in

(back of page 15) any other way -- Don[']t know that Sidney was ever there before Book [of Mormon] was published. Sidney was never there that [Philastus] Hurlburt or [Eber D.] Howe or [Pomeroy] Tucker Could find out -- Have been thinking and [hearing] about it for the last 50 years. Saw them dig 3 or 4 years before B[ook of Mormon] was found -- Joe not there -- The

(page 16) neighbors use[d] to Claim Sally Chase Could look through [a] stone she had & find money -- Willard Chase use[d] to dig when she found where the money was Peaceable among themselves -- old woman Had a great deal [of] faith [that] their Child[ren] -- was going to do something great.

(The remainder of this book is not transcribed
due to the publisher's copyright restrictions)


Richard Lloyd Anderson

Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised

(BYU Studies Vol. 10 No. 3, Spring 1970, pp. 283-314)

Entire contents copyright © 1970, Brigham Young University -- All rights reserved -- "fair use" excerpts only presented here

R. I. Anderson's 1990 text from Signature Books


[ 283 ]

Joseph Smith's New York
Reputation Reappraised

by Richard Lloyd Anderson

The biographer of Joseph Smith's early life will know his subject when he relies on sources that know their subject. This truism is more obvious in statement than application, for non-Mormon biography has not faced the severe limitations of the uniformly hostile affidavits taken by a sworn enemy of the Mormon Prophet. The image thus obtained is sharply discordant from the Joseph Smith documented in the 1830's: a leader of physical prowess and vigorous manhood, a profound idealist with spontaneous humor and warmth, who displayed personal courage under tremendous odds. A similar youth in the 1820's is discovered, not by editing out non-Mormon sources, but finding those non-Mormon sources that reflect definite contact with Joseph Smith. Such a study shows that collecting informed statements about the Prophet will produce a substantial favorable judgment. [[1 This subject could not have been researched without the generous cooperation of the LDS Church Historian and assistants, the aid of the BYU Research Division and its director, Lane Compton, and of the Institute of Mormon Studies and its director, Truman Madsen. In writing, I am indebted to the critique of an admired friend, Professor Leonard J. Arrington of Utah State University. end1]]


[ 284 ]

Most books on Joseph Smith claim reliance on evidence, but the glaring contradictions show that many apparent historical sources are highly unreliable. Obviously Joseph Smith was a topic of warm controversy in his own community. Consequently one must not take at full value the statement of a contemporary without raising the following issues:

1) Verification of person. Besides meeting the possibility of fictitious invention, vital statistics show whether a person was old enough to be a capable observer and may furnish clues on whether the observations are based on close or distant contact.

2) Accuracy of reporting. Here the question is whether the person purportedly making the statement really did so. Second and third hand statements are obviously suspect, but the interviewer recording an apparent first-hand statement may superimpose his preconceptions on the statement of another.

3) Opportunity for observation. The basic qualification for any historical source is firsthand contact with the person or event described. Yet the anti-Joseph Smith statements of contemporaries show a distinct tendency to report community rumor, not personal experience.

4) Bias of the source. Historians today recognize that no observer is free from bias, but intense prejudice tends to exaggeration. One must therefore be rigorous in examining the factual basis of the conclusions of Joseph Smith's contemporaries.

Although initial collection of statements against Joseph Smith is an oft-told story, its outline is a necessary background for the affidavits to be analyzed. D. P. Hurlbut, excommunicated twice by LDS tribunals for immorality; became so personally vindictive that he was put under a court order restraining him from doing harm to the person or property of Joseph Smith. [[2 For a fuller discussion of Hurlbut's personal vindictiveness, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 4 (Summer 1969), p. 15. end2]]

He was next "employed" by an anti-Mormon public committee to gather evidence to "completely divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man..." [[3 "To the Public," official committee statement published in the Painesville Telegraph, January 31, 1834. Early nineteenth century spelling of names is not always consistent, and "Hurlburt" appears in LDS records. The quoted statement and autographs favor the "Hurlbut" of this article. end3]]

To achieve this goal he travelled to New York and procured statements at Palmyra Village, the largest business center adjacent to the Smith farm and also at Manchester, the rural district that included "Stafford Street." Cornelius Stafford, then twenty, later remembered that Hurlbut arrived at "our school house and took statements about the bad character of the Mormon Smith family, and saw them swear to them." [[4 Statement of C. R. Stafford, March 1885, Auburn, Ohio, cit. Naked Truths About Mormonism, Vol. 1, No. 1 (January 1888), p. 3. Hurlbut's published affidavits will be analyzed in the article. They include two general statements with multiple signatures and also the following individual statements: Joseph Capron, Parley Chase, Willard Chase, Abigail Harris, Henry Harris, Lucy Harris, Peter Ingersoll, Roswell Nichols, Barton Stafford, David Stafford, Joshua Stafford, William Stafford, and G. W. Stoddard. end4]]


[ 285 ]

The Painesville, Ohio, editor, E. D. Howe, replaced Hurlbut as a respectable author, and published the affidavits in Mormonism Unvailed (1834), laying the cornerstone of anti-Mormon historiography. Howe lived to see the solidity of the edifice, observing forty-four years afterward in his memoirs that the book "has been the basis of all the histories which have appeared from time to time since that period touching that people." [[5 Eber D. Howe, Autobiography and Recollections of a Pioneer Printer (Painesville, Ohio, 1878), p. 45. end5]]

More accurately, Howe's writing was insignificant, but the Palmyra-Manchester affidavits published by him have introduced Joseph Smith in every major non-Mormon study from 1834 to the present. Yet even supposedly definitive studies display no investigation of the individuals behind the Hurlbut statements, nor much insight into their community.

Some simple arithmetic ought to shake the canonical status of the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits. The Smith family lived on the line between Wayne and Ontario counties, well settled with substantial populations. All who claimed to know Joseph Smith in this area had contact in the townships of either Palmyra or Manchester, and the 1830 census contains about 2,000 males old enough to know the Smiths in these two localities. From that possible number, Hurlbut procured the signatures of seventy-two individuals who claimed firsthand experience with Joseph Smith. At best, Hurlbut selected one-half of one percent of the males who potentially knew anything about the Smiths. Although Howe presented these as representative, they are matched by approximately the same number in those communities known to have a favorable opinion of the Smiths in the late 1820's. Dr. Gain Robinson, uncle of the Smith family physician, gathered sixty signatures on a certificate attesting the Smiths' reliability in an attempt to prevent loss of their farm in 1825. [[For full discussion, see Anderson, Dialogue, pp. 16, 19. end6]]

Yet the crucial issue is not signatures, but individual testimony with supporting details. In this category there are only ten individual statements on Joseph Smith to be considered. [[7 This statistic excludes three Palmyra declarations. Lucy Harris talks only of her husband. G. S. Stoddard's single sentence on the Smiths is merely a gratuitous comment: "The Smith family never made any pretensions to respectability." And Abigail Harris reports a single conversation with Lucy Smith that is strictly not relevant to the character of Joseph Smith. For Abigail's evident tendency to maliciousness, see Hugh Nibley, The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City, 1961), pp. 20-22. end7]]

But three times this number of individual recollections have been preserved from non-Mormons of Palmyra-Manchester that do not appear in Hurlbut-Howe.


[ 286 ]

Until Hugh Nibley's Myth Makers opened the subject, detailed study of deficiencies in the Hurlbut-Howe evidence was not easily found. Nibley drew the net broadly and exposed the contradictory nature of anti-Mormon testimonials on Joseph Smith. The purpose here is more specific: to analyze Hurlbut's statements for firsthand information -- then to suggest major insights from other non-Mormon statements from Palmyra-Manchester. Although this will exclude a number of Susquehanna Valley and Fayette recollections, the more abundant Palmyra-Manchester evidence is based on longer contact with Joseph Smith, much of which extended to pre-Mormon days.

Hurlbut's General Affidavits

Hurlbut heavily influenced the individual statements from Palmyra-Manchester, as can be shown by his phrases regularly appearing in affidavits of the Staffords, Chases, etc. His language evidently appears in two community affidavits: names of fifty-one residents of Palmyra appear on one document and names of eleven residents of Manchester appear on another. One must make a necessary assumption here. The signers of a petition or declaration are normally not authors, merely ratifiers. When Hurlbut appeared in the Manchester schoolhouse, he undoubtedly had penned the statement that eleven rather nonliterary farmers signed. One would envision the same procedure as inevitable for the fifty-one signers from Palmyra. Someone authored the general statements, and Hurlbut is the best candidate.

Not only does identifiable phrasing appear, but similar structuring of the affidavits. In the following comparison, significant word correlations are indicated, but the more significant point is the similarity of basic structure from two purportedly different authors:


[ 287 ]

General Palmyra Affidavit

We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family, for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying, that we consider them destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures. Joseph Smith, Senior, and his son, Joseph, were in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character and addicted to vicious habits....

It was not supposed that any of them were possessed of sufficient character or influence to make any one believe their book or their sentiments, and we know not of a single individual in this vicinity that puts the least confidence in their pretended revelations.

Parley Chase Affidavit [[8 These two documents (and all Hurlbut affidavits cited) are in E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834), pp. 261-262 and p. 248. For purposes of comparison, the sentence about money digging has been placed before its preceding sentence, and Hurlbut's italics removed and mine added. Deletions in the general Palmyra affidavit are restricted to the non-Smith paragraph. Since the affidavits appear in this work of Howe (pp. 232-262) arranged by the name of the deponents, further reference will be made by name and not footnoted pages. end8]]

I was acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. both before and since they became Mormons, and feel free to state that not one of the male members of the Smith family were entitled to any credit whatsoever.

Digging for money was their principal employment.

They were lazy, intemperate and worthless men, very much addicted to lying. In this they frequently boasted of their skill.

In regard to their Gold Bible speculation they scarcely ever told two stories alike. The Mormon Bible is said to be a revelation from God, through Joseph Smith, Jr., his Prophet, and this same Joseph Smith, Jr. to my knowledge, bore the reputation among his neighbors of being a liar.

The foregoing statement can be corroborated by all his former neighbors.


[ 288 ]

The words italicized in the above comparisons are a key to equivalent portions of the two affidavits. Both progress formally through a recital of knowledge of the Smiths, their disreputability in the community, money digging, and being "addicted to" evil practices, closing with application of general character to religious claims and the assertion that no one in that area takes them seriously. It is highly unlikely that Parley Chase would write following the identical outline of Hurlbut's Palmyra affidavit -- rather Hurlbut composed both.

Moving to the general Manchester affidavit, one can see from the similar language that Hurlbut obviously prepared it for signing. The sole claim there against the Smiths is found in the first sentence on the following chart, which contains three negative patterns mirrored in other affidavits of supposed independent authorship: [[Statements respectively from the general Manchester affidavit, Parley Chase, David Stafford (the first phrase appears in the sentence following "a drunkard and a liar"), Henry Harris, Joshua Stafford, and Joseph Capron. end9]]

lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon. lazy, intemperate ...very much addicted to lying. lazy set of fellows. . . a drunkard and a liar lying and indolent set of men, and no confidence could be placed in them became indolent and told marvellous stories notorious for indolence, foolery and falsehood

Once more, the combination of similar vocabulary and similar thought pattern is apparent. The "indolent-intemperate-lying" pattern of four affidavits, with slight modification in another two, was not independently created by six spontaneous declarations. Hurlbut either suggested this language, penned it for signing, or interpolated it afterwards. A greater point is being made than common phrases, however. Hurlbut's redundancies reveal what he most wanted to prove--and what the reader must be cautious of accepting. This would not necessarily be so, if independent language gave support to independent statements, but the opposite is true on his themes of laziness, drunkenness, and untruthfulness. The first of this triad is Hurlbut's variation on his favorite theme, the Smith's constant money digging: [[10 Statements respectively from David Stafford, Peter Ingersoll, Parley Chase (sentence inverted), William Stafford, and the general Palmyra affidavit. end10]]


[ 289 ]

...the general employment of the Smith family was money digging. . . The general employment of the family was digging for money. their principal employment. Digging for money was A great part of their time was devoted to digging for money. . . ...spent much of their time in digging for money. . .

This similar phrasing suggests a common author, and the last example is demonstrably Hurlbut's, since it comes from the general Palmyra affidavit. Similar language is found in every Palmyra-Manchester declaration under study here, with the exception of Barton Stafford's.

Other favorite words from the general affidavits are "pretended," "visionary," and a stressed concept is the lack of "influence in this community," which finds its counterpart in individual statements such as "The Smith family never made any pretensions to respectability"-- or, "In short, not one of the family had at least claims to respectability." [[11 Statements respectively of G. W. Stoddard and Barton Stafford. end11]]

Virtually every affidavit bearing on the Smiths opens with several sentences similar to the general Palmyra affidavit, clear evidence of regular outside structuring.

Placing Hurlbut's vocabulary under a magnifying glass in this manner reveals his specific goals Common language is most frequent on the points of intemperance, lying, and laziness, with the last redundantly emphasized as vocational money digging. Since Hurlbut's hand is plain on these general charges, the careful historian must be skeptical of stories supporting these charges throughout many affidavits. Hurlbut's language in ostensibly non-Hurlbut affidavits shows that all his specific evidence is highly suspect, especially on the point of money digging. Careful study of the pre-1830 Smith economics proves they were anything but lazy. And if that contention in fact falls, Hurlbut's related accusation of money digging is seriously suspect. In fact, the extreme language of almost every affidavit on this subject raises doubt. Had the Smiths been regularly observed in money digging, reasonable statements to that effect would be expected. As it is, the collected depositions describe a large family living under marginal frontier economy "without work" or by laboring "very little." [[12 Statements respectively of Joseph Capron and Henry Harris. Responsible investigation dismisses these contentions. See Anderson, Dialogue, p. 15. end12]]

Their "general employment" of money digging never gave them income, but they somehow survived doing little else. Such exaggerations indicate more than overstatement -- they suggest invention.


[ 290 ]

Yet the historian must study the content of all documents, and the one striking characteristic of Hurlbut is reliance on vague generalities. The two community statements combined accuse the Smiths of being "a lazy, indolent set of men" who were "entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits." Such phrases really do not say anything, as both critic and friend of Hurlbut agree. The rules of evidence in the United States insist that a witness tell specific experiences, and leave to the court or jury the function of forming opinions from them. For lack of specific evidence, the general Palmyra and Manchester statements of Hurlbut merely prove that sixty-two signers found the Smiths objectionable; they fail to state what direct observation led to this conclusion. Similarly, the individual statement of Parley Chase, quoted above with the general Palmyra affidavit, is historically insignificant. It merely parades conclusions without substantiation, and to make matters worse, in Hurlbut's concepts and language.

Hurlbut's Shorter Affidavits

The arithmetic of the Hurlbut witnesses from Palmyra-Manchester can now be summarized. From a total of fifteen statements, the three affidavits just discussed must be subtracted as insignificant: the general Manchester statement, the general Palmyra statement, and its echo, the Parley Chase affidavit. Three more are irrelevant: statements of Lucy Harris, Abigail Harris, and G. W. Stoddard mainly concern Martin Harris and contain nothing observed about Joseph Smith. With these half-dozen excluded, there remain three long statements and six of the one-page variety. The latter are typically deficient in evidence about Joseph Smith, Jr.


[ 291 ]

Analysis of Hurlbut-Howe will lose its way in pointless detail without constant reiteration of a single question: What firsthand experiences do the Hurlbut affidavits allege concerning Joseph Smith? For instance, Henry Harris reports certain conversations with Joseph Smith, close enough to the Prophet's own claims to be garbled in the telling, but the sole observation of the "lying" nature of "the pretended Prophet" is the failure of a jury in a "justice's court" to decide a case according to Smith's testimony when Harris was a juror. Since many a truthful man has failed to gain the vote of a jury, the point is trivial regarding Joseph Smith's character. Only three of the shorter affidavits seriously detail Smith money digging, and none in convincing terms. Roswell Nichols ties the supposed treasure searches entirely to conversations with Joseph Smith, Sr., that resemble his known belief in the Book of Mormon. Joshua Stafford claims that Joseph Smith, Jr. showed him a piece of wood from a money box and also claimed to have discovered buried watches. As will be shown later, Joshua Stafford himself is named by relatives as leading in money digging in the neighborhood, which renders such indirect evidence against Joseph Smith suspect. After all, Stafford's claim is limited to reported (and possibly garbled) conversations with Joseph Smith, not observation of any act of the Mormon founder. Likewise, Joseph Capron tells details of a fantastic dig "north west of my house," but alleges no personal observation. The "money digging" subject must be further discussed--the point for now is that direct experience with Joseph Smith is strictly lacking in the smaller affidavits raising the issue.

The remaining two shorter affidavits allege Joseph Smith's human failings. Barton Stafford, a few years younger than Joseph, accuses the young Prophet of undignified conduct. Sometime in 1827 or afterward Joseph was allegedly intoxicated on cider, scuffled with a fellow-worker, tore his shirt, and was escorted home by Emma. Since even here 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. David Stafford does describe a personal experience, claiming that Joseph had "drinked a little too freely," and while working together a dispute led to "hard words," which led to a fight, and "he got the advantage of me in the scuffle." One Ford, who attempted to intervene, supposedly came off little better, for "we both entered a complaint against him, and he was fined for the breach of the peace."


[ 292 ]

Joseph Smith's only known response to a particular Hurlbut affidavit presents another version of the David Stafford incident. It appears in Willard Richards' memo entries of 1843 conversations of the Prophet:

While supper was preparing Joseph related an anecdote. While young, his father had a fine large watch dog, which bit off an ear from David Stafford's hog, which Stafford had turned into the Smith corn field. Stafford shot the dog, and with six other fellows pitched upon him unawares. And Joseph whipped the whole of them and escaped unhurt, which they swore to as recorded in Hurlburt or Howe's book. [[13 Joseph Smith's Journal, kept by Willard Richards, Jan. 1, 1843. I am indebted to Professor Marvin S. Hill of Brigham Young University for pointing it out. The Richards' statement is an official record, kept daily from current minutes. end13]]

Since the above incident takes on such a different context in being told by Stafford or Smith, it is a striking reminder that controversial events cannot be settled by hearing only one side.

If David Stafford took his complaint to the local justice of the peace, the extant record does not show it, though it only covers the years 1827-1830. The record does give certain factual insights into the characters of both the Smiths and David Stafford. It lists three suits in the above period against "Hiram" (or "Hyram") Smith and two against Joseph Smith. Since there were other Joseph Smiths in the Manchester area, and since one "Hiram" Smith signed Hurlbut's general Manchester affidavit, [[14 This Hiram Smith is evidently the same person who was elected highway supervisor in the Smith neighborhood both before and after the Joseph Smith family had moved west. Microfilms of the Manchester Town Record, as well as the Justice's Rcord being discussed, are at Brigham Young University Library. end14]] it cannot be proved that these five actions pertain to the family of the Prophet. The one that evidently does, however, shows the attempt of the Smiths to be honest in their financial obligations. The abbreviated trial notation of June 28, 1830, records the following in a suit against "Hyram" Smith:

Joseph Smith, father of the defendant, appeared, and the case was called, and the plaintiff declared on a note and account. Note dated 7th April, 1830, for $20.07 on interest and on account for shoeing horses, of balance due on account $.69. Joseph Smith sworn and saith that his son the defendant engaged him to come down at the return of the summons and direct the Justice to enter judgment against the defendant for the mount of the note and account. Judgment for the plaintiff for twenty one dollars, seven cents. [[15 Justice's Record  of Nathan Pierce, 1827-1830. end15]]

If all of the Smith actions in the Manchester record pertain to the Joseph Smith family, they indicate only that the family was poor--a condition which the Smith autobiographies also portray with considerable emotion. Thus Roswell Nichols' comment (based on "two years" as a neighbor) is gratuitous: "For breach of contracts, for the non-payment of debts and borrowed money, and for duplicity with their neighbors, the family was notorious." By this standard, the neighborhood justice of the peace record indicts David Stafford, not the Smiths. From 1827 to 1830, he was plaintiff in three suits and defendant in six suits of collection, a record in the locality. With this streak of legal cantankerousness, one is not inclined to think that Joseph Smith was necessarily the guilty party in quarreling with David Stafford. Nor is Stafford's ex parte affidavit likely to represent the character of the Smiths without guile.


[ 293 ]

Hurlbut's Longer Affidavits

Since the shorter affidavits contain essentially non-evidence, a study of Hurlbut-Howe must focus on the only three substantial statements in the collection. The shortest of these comes from William Stafford, the father of Barton Stafford, and there is fortunately additional family information by which to test it. The Hurlbut touch in vocabulary is unmistakable here, as a closing comment imitates the close of the general Palmyra affidavit: "No one apprehended any danger from a book, originating with individuals who had neither influence, honesty or honor." Pomeroy Tucker portrays Stafford as a former sailor without education, which if true would considerably heighten the possibility that Hurlbut composed Stafford's affidavit and merely had him sign it. [[Pomeroy Tucker, The Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York, 1867), p. 24, note. Compare the nearly identical reports supposedly remembered spontaneously for some years by two different affiants: "...for he had often said, that the hills in our neighborhood were nearly all erected by human hands" (Roswell Nichols); "They would say, also, that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands..." (William Stafford). end16]]

There is one clear firsthand testimony of participating with Joseph Smith, Sr. in a treasure dig (with Joseph Smith, Jr. supervising from the house), but the accompanying sheep story throws a great deal of doubt on the digging story as authentically coming from Stafford. As told by the Hurlbut affidavit, the Smiths "devised a scheme" to cheat their neighbor out of "a large, fat, black wether." Hearing the Smiths represent that the sacrifice of such a sheep must appease the spirit guarding a treasure, Stafford contributed the sheep "to gratify my curiosity." But the treasure was lost, and with it the sheep, which "I believe, is the only time they ever made money-digging a profitable business." Oddly, after the "only time," the Stafford statement adds a comment about "a worthless gang" (a typical Hurlbut phrase) which surrounded the Smiths and "had more to do with mutton than money," an intended implication of the Smiths in repeated sheep stealing.


[ 294 ]

Hurlbut evidently did not represent Stafford accurately. In 1932 M. Wilford Poulson took notes as Wallace Miner recalled a conversation with William Stafford on the subject:

I once asked Stafford if Smith did steal a sheep from him. He said no, not exactly. He said, he did miss a black sheep, but soon Joseph came and admitted he took it for sacrifice but he was willing to work for it. He made wooden sap buckets to fully pay for it. [[17 M. Wilford Poulson, Notebook of 1932 interviews, Brigham Young University Archives. The obvious error of writing "Smith" for "sheep" in the first sentence has been corrected. end17]]

A more elaborate version of the Miner-Stafford conversation was reported in the village history of Thomas Cook, which agrees that Joseph took the initiative to admit the taking and that he did the work to repay Stafford for the sheep.18 Of course William Stafford died in 1863 (at which time Miner was twenty), and there are obvious limitations in recalling the details of what one had said almost seventy years earlier. Nevertheless, it is significant that Miner's recollection of Stafford exonerates the Smiths of dishonesty, a reversal of Hurlbut reporting Stafford. An earlier insight into William Stafford's opinion is available, however. His second son was born the same year as Joseph Smith (1805), had the personal ambition to gain a good education for the day, and qualify by examination as a physician, practicing until about 1870 in the general area of Manchester and thereafter at Rochester. There Dr. John Stafford was interviewed by the Reorganized Latter Day Saint apostle William H. Kelley in 1881. The Kelley question-answer notes on this point read as follows:


[ 295 ]

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[ 310 ]

William Smith's Refutation

In sum, major non-Mormon biographies treating Joseph Smith's New York life and reputation are historically sub-standard. This judgment unfortunately applies as well to twentieth century productions as nineteenth, since both fall into an unsophisticated acceptance of Hurlbut's contrived and slanted statements, without apparent awareness of non-Mormon sources favorable to the Smiths from Palmyra-Manchester. Nor do other independent statements from that area confirm the Hurlbut evidence. Some merely repeat rumors of the time, but compound hearsay does not suddenly become evidence when spoken by a genuine Palmyra-Manchester resident. [[53 Indiscriminate quotation reaches its lowest ebb when supposed Palmyra residents are relied upon without investigation. Daniel Hendrix is typically quoted on early Joseph Smith biography as remembering that "Parson Reed told Joe that he was going to hell for his lying habits." Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York, 1946), p. 26, cited recently for this quote in Edmund Wilson's acrid excursus into Mormon history, The Dead Sea Scrolls 1947-1969 (New York, 1969), p. 280. The lateness of the "recollection" demands verification, since it comes from a purported interview printed in the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, February 21, 1897, p. 34. To date rather diligent investigation has failed to verify the existence of Daniel Hendrix (whose other rambling descriptions are not notably accurate), or "Parson Reed." end53]]

For all of his prejudice, crusty Orsamus Turner was honest enough to distinguish between his own rather complementary recollections and the stories that later circulated about Joseph Smith. He knew that community reports had various qualities, for he ruled out the Spaulding theory of the Book of Mormon because it was not accepted "by those who were best acquainted with the Smith family.... " [[54 O. Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve (Rochester, 1852), p. 214. The recollections of Turner and Tucker regarding Joseph Smith have been studied in Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences," Brigham Young University Studies , Vol. 9, No. 3 (Spring 1969), pp. 376-386. end54]]

History begins when that issue is raised.

But anti-Mormon literature is overcrowded with non-witnesses. For instance, Rev. Jesse Townsend can prate about the "impostures and low cunning" of the "Mormonite" leader and yet say not that he knows Joseph Smith, but that he knows of him. The reason why more accurate data on Joseph Smith was not of easy access is suggested in Townsend's own words: "He lived in a sequestered neighborhood...." [[55 Townsend to Stiles in Origin of Mormonism, p. 288. end55]]

In simple terms, the Smiths lived away from any village by two miles or more. To add to the problem of a villager really knowing the young prophet, within a few months of obtaining the ancient plates, he moved to other neighborhoods, only occasionally visiting Palmyra-Manchester during the publication of the Book of Mormon. Consequently, John Gilbert, chief compositor for the Book of Mormon stated in interviews that he saw Joseph Smith only once or twice, even though Gilbert was in public life in Palmyra from 1824 through the Mormon Exodus of 1831. [[56 Numerous interviews with Gilbert establish that he dealt with Hyrum Smith and Martin Harris in the Book of Mormon production. His letter to James T. Cobb, March 16, 1879, Palmyra, New York is clear: "Hyrum Smith was the only one of the family I had any acquaintance with, and that very slight." A microfilm of this letter was kindly loaned me by Larry Porter, Brigham University field research representative in New York State. end56]]

Albert Chandler, later a prominent editor in Michigan, worked as a bookbinder's apprentice on the Book of Mormon in 1829-30. Yet he knew Joseph Smith, Jr. "but slightly." "What I know of him was from hearsay, principally from Martin Harris, who believed fully in him." [[57 Letter of Albert Chandler to William Alexander Linn, December 22, 1898, Coldwater, Mich., cit. William Alexander Linn, Story of the Mormons (New York, 1902), pp. 48-49. end57]]

Some of the fifty-one signers of the general Palmyra condemnation probably had no more than this degree of knowledge of the Smiths. [[58 Lemuel Durfee knew the Smiths indirectly as a landlord from 1825 to 1829, but prior to that evidently did not know them at all, according to Lucy Smith's account, pp. 96-98. end58]]


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Richard Lloyd Anderson

Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised

(Review of Books on the Book of Mormon No. 3, 1991, pp. 52-80)

Entire contents copyright © 1991, FARMS -- All rights reserved -- fair use excerpts presented here
e-text from the FARMS Web-site

R. I. Anderson's 1990 text from Signature Books

[ 52 ]

Rodger I. Anderson,
Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined.
Salt Lake City: Signature, 1990.
178 pp., with subject index. $9.95.

Reviewed by Richard Lloyd Anderson

This short paperback is the latest but not the final installment in the continuing fulfillment of the Moroni-Joseph Smith prophecy: "my name... should be both good and evil spoken of among all people" (JS-H 1:33). Rumor and ridicule had intensified for ten years before angry ex-Mormon Philastus Hurlbut collected the worst in signed statements from Joseph Smith's former townsmen. [[1 For Hurlbut's personal problems and gathering of New York affidavits, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,"BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984; appeared in 1986): 492-94. For additional insights, see my other articles: "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 284-85, and "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue 4 (Summer 1969):15-16. end1]]

Negative studies of the Prophet rely heavily on these hostile declarations of 1833; but examinations of the religious integrity of Joseph Smith have minimized such statements, maintaining basically that this modern prophet is the ultimate expert on his own spiritual story.

Some forty testimonials of 1833 and later are printed in the last third of Rodger Anderson's short book, but they could not be studied in depth in his 116-page commentary. He mostly argues that Hugh Nibley and I have made a weak case against Hurlbut's work, concluding that these 1833 statements and certain later ones "must be granted permanent status as primary documents relating to Joseph Smith's early life and the origins of Mormonism" (p. 114). But not quite -- the concluding chapter is laced with rules on when to trust a testimonial. For instance, "ghost-writing may have colored some of the testimony" (p. 113), and "they did not always distinguish hearsay from observation" (p. 114). In other words, the Nibley-Anderson analysis is attacked, but its main cautions are at least verbally accepted.

Rodger Anderson often falls into the above historical traps. First, his book regularly assumes that signed testimony contains only the views of the signer, ignoring the many ways an interviewer may superimpose his biases on the statement he is taking. And although Rodger Anderson admits his signed declarations mingle hearsay with observation, he has difficulty keeping the two apart. So the book shows a marked softness in insisting on firsthand evidence: "preference should be given to witnesses speaking from personal, direct knowledge, not hearsay or obvious neighborhood gossip" (p. 115). But why talk of "preference"? Without direct knowledge, responsible history disappears.

The following discussion will give examples of what it means to insist on direct evidence for Joseph Smith's early life. Rebuttal rhetoric is not needed here as much as specific illustrations of the tension between primary and secondary evidence. So my dissent will not be noted for many Rodger Anderson judgments, but the issue between us is nearly always a difference on what is firsthand, reliable documentation. His approach is deficient in the following cases, mainly selected for their relevance in constructing an accurate picture of Joseph Smith's New York character.

Case 1: Atypical Statements in Interviews

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Case 2: Substituting Rumor for Experience

Hurlbut's goal in gathering New York evidence was openly declared: to "completely divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man." [[6 Committee statement, Painesville [Ohio] Telegraph, January 31, 1834, cited in Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's Reputation," 284. end6]]

His case is essentially: "Since Joseph habitually lied and cheated, don't believe he was truthful on his visions." I personally think this causation should be reversed: Since the Palmyra-Manchester communities could not believe in Joseph Smith's visions, they developed the corporate rationalization that the budding prophet lied and cheated. Clearly the affidavits are filled with labels when the documentary historian wants facts, not opinions.

An example of empty vilification is Pomeroy Tucker's Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, an 1867 work chiefly valuable for the author's memories of Martin Harris of and printing the Book of Mormon. Nibley's eye for bluffing caught Tucker telling of Joseph Smith's first money digging, based on "several of the individuals participating in this and subsequent diggings, and many others well remembering the stories of the time." [[7 Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: Appleton, 1867), 22. end7]] Rodger Anderson cries "foul" when Nibley points out hearsay in relying on memory of the "the stories of the time," but Tucker did in part appeal to community rumor.

Yet Tucker has a better illustration of hearsay overcoming firsthand recollection. He says there was a general suspicion in the neighborhood of the Smiths because they were idle and there were unidentified thefts in "sheepfolds" and "hencoops." After thus beheading the Smiths morally, Tucker incidentally adds, "though it is but common fairness to accompany this fact by the statement, that it is not within the remembrance of the writer." [[8 Ibid., 15.]]

This difference between gossip and personal knowledge brought a reaction from John Stafford, a neighbor of Joseph's age who became a respected doctor and later commented about Joseph Smith to inquiring RLDS leaders: "He was a real clever, jovial boy. What Tucker said about them was false absolutely." [[9 Typescript of handwritten notes, William H. Kelley Notebook, 1881, cited in Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined, 172. end9]]

Case 3: Reporting Conflicting "Confessions"

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Case 4: Prompting the Witness

What specific things could Joseph Smith's townsmen tell about his character? Not much, according to Hurlbut's two general affidavits. The Palmyra group signed a declaration that the Smiths "were particularly famous for visionary projects," a report of public reputation, not personal observation. When "spent much of their time in digging for money" follows, it indeed carries the tone of "famous for," not, "I watched them do it." The bottom line was the evaluation of the Prophet and his father, who were "considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits." With "considered" being the same thing as "famous for," the statement is historically empty. We have only learned that 51 prominent men were embarrassed by the Smiths. Eleven more in the Manchester farm area signed a crisper evaluation of the Smith family, "a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon." [[15 These two general affidavits are in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 261-62. end15]]

My 1970 article showed how these similar phrases were sprinkled throughout most New York affidavits. For instance, Parley Chase bunched standard condemnations and signed his own version of "I don't like the Smiths." My 1970 reasoning was that Hurlbut probably wrote the group affidavits (and Parley Chase's cribbed copy), so striking parallels in the other affidavits indicated his influence: "Hurlbut either suggested this language, penned it for signing, or interpolated it afterwards." [[16 Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," 288. end16]]

Rodger Anderson defends the affidavits by noting that these similarities "may only mean that Hurlbut submitted the same questions to some of the parties involved" (p. 28). In this view the interrogator asked the same questions to each party, such as, "Was digging for money the general employment of the Smith family" (p. 28)? Several affidavits using these phrases would then be reflecting Hurlbut's question. Rodger Anderson adds another possible question to explain parallels: Was their reputation respectable, "or were they addicted to indolence, intemperance, or lying" (p. 29)? One of my 1970 possibilities was that Hurlbut "suggested this language." Lawyers call the technique "leading the witness," traditionally forbidden on direct examination because legal theory requires that the witness should speak his own mind, not have thoughts and words prepackaged for him.

Rodger Anderson recoils at my suggestion that the affidavits were "contaminated by Hurlbut," but he has merely argued harder for one road to this same result. Rodger Anderson then contends that Hurlbut's influence does not matter, since many of the statements were signed under oath before a magistrate. This is one of scores of irrelevancies. The question is credibility, not form. As Jesus essentially said in the Sermon on the Mount, the honest person is regularly believable, not just under oath. Nor does the act of signing settle all, since it is hardly human nature to read the fine print of a contract or all details of prewritten petitions. Rodger Anderson finds Ingersoll's sand-for-plates story "the most dubious" (p. 56) and thus admits that Ingersoll is "the possible exception" in "knowingly swearing to a lie" (p. 114). But Ingersoll does not tell taller stories than many others glinting in the hostile statements reprinted by Rodger Anderson. Like the persecuting orthodox from the Pharisees to the Puritans, the New York community was performing an act of moral virtue to purge itself of the stigma of an offending new religion. Hurlbut contributed to the process of mutual contamination of similar stories and catch-words.

Eight Hurlbut testimonials do not appear in Rodger Anderson's collection; he gathered them in Ohio and Pennsylvania with the motive to prove that early minister Solomon Spaulding wrote fiction of pre-Columbian America that was plagiarized to become the Book of Mormon. Since historians generally dismiss this "Spaulding theory," Hurlbut's affidavits supporting it now appear as prompted propaganda. E. D. Howe, the publisher of Hurlbut's interviews, visited some of those making the Spaulding recollections to verify their signatures. The problem, however, is not the signatures but the strange similarities and overdone content. Fawn M. Brodie, for instance, is strangely divided in believing that Hurlbut's New York affidavits "throw considerable light on the writing of the Book of Mormon," [[17 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2d ed. (New York: Knopf, 1971), 432. end17]] but that his Pennsylvania-Ohio statements are factually distorted.

It can clearly be seen that the affidavits were written by Hurlbut, since the style is the same throughout. It may be noted also that although five out of the eight had heard Spaulding's story only once, there was a surprising uniformity in the details they remembered after twenty-two years. Six recalled the names Nephi, Lamanite, etc.; six held that the manuscript described the Indians as descendants of the lost ten tribes; four mentioned that the great wars caused the erection of the Indian mounds; and four noted the ancient scriptural style. The very tightness with which Hurlbut here was implementing his theory rouses an immediate suspicion that he did a little judicious prompting. [[18 Ibid., 446-47.]]

Oberlin College has the only known Spaulding manuscript, with its broad similarity of migrations to America but with details totally at variance with the neighbors' recollections. Diehards can argue for another Spaulding manuscript, but style predicts what any number of manuscripts would show from the old minister's untalented pen: "florid sentiment and grandiose rhetoric" with all of the "stereotyped patterns" of the melodramatic novels of the day. [[19 Ibid., 450.]]

Since no such mind produced the Book of Mormon, affidavits are incorrect that allege similarities between an exaggerated romance and the sober religious exhortations of the Book of Mormon prophets.

My original article outlined an objective test. The standard phrases of the affidavits stressed indolence among the Smith's cardinal sins, a tip-off on what Hurlbut wanted to prove. But as a serious Smith family historian, the "lazy" epithet strikes me as ridiculous. Lucy Smith's detailed history of the family from New England through New York is a saga of industry against unforeseen setbacks. Her home productions combined with the farm income and coopering of her husband, supplemented with scarce cash as her sons regularly hired out. [[20 For a study of the Smiths' impressive work products from 1820 to 1827, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," 19-24. end20]]

With his strange mixture of admiration and skepticism on the Smiths, Lorenzo Saunders objectively described one of their farm operations: "The Smiths were great sugar makers.... They made seven thousand pounds one year and took the bounty in the county -- of $50.00." [[21 E. L. Kelley Interview of Lorenzo Saunders, Sept. 17, 1884, E. L. Kelley Papers, Box 1, Fold. 7, RLDS Archives. end21]]

The bottom line? A half dozen New York statements speak of indolence, which is demonstrably inaccurate. How can the neighbors' declarations be trusted on other main themes if their idleness claim is clearly false?

Case 5: The Best Joseph Smith Source

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Case 6: Loaded Samples

The Saunders family lived nearby and later left many recollections of the Smiths in Palmyra. An interviewer asked Benjamin if he knew D. P. Hurlbut, and got this answer: "He came to me, but he could not get out of me what he wanted; so he went to others." [[34 William H. Kelley report of interview with Benjamin Saunders, 1884, Miscellany, P 19, f. 44, RLDS Archives. end34]]

This Hurlbut procedure is obvious without being documented, since he produced total negatives, and true history will have a credit and debit column for everyone's account. But Rodger Anderson disagrees with the concept: "that does not mean that an investigator less biased would have produced significantly different results" (p. 57). Such language is out of touch with reality -- an unbiased investigator would uncover the full range of those opposed, those indifferent, those unacquainted, and those positive. Rodger Anderson tips his hand when he seriously quotes the smug statement of Palmyra's Episcopal minister, who contended (after Latter-day Saint converts moved away) that "there are no Mormons in Manchester, or Palmyra," and it would be impos-sible "to convince any inhabitant of either of these towns, that Jo Smith's pretensions are not the most gross and egregious falsehood" (p. 62).

Hurlbut and Clark painted the picture that everyone who knew the Smiths rejected their religion because the Smiths' credibility was zero. But that should depend on who talked with whom.

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We could go on -- in every case Gilbert's correction is in the context of getting a main issue straight and misconceiving detail.

The only valuable section in Rodger Anderson's book is the four-page segment at the end transcribing William H. Kelley's raw notes as found in the RLDS archives. They are extremely concise and leave open the possibility of additional memo material from the brother, E. L. Kelley. But taking the simplest scenario, W. H. Kelley expanded about 80 words of jottings into a reconstructed Gilbert interview of about 1500 words. Rodger Anderson generates pages of speculation about what the Kelleys originally heard, what they first wrote down, how they possibly expanded the conversations, etc. Yet each set of raw notes is a true skeleton of the main points rounded out in the reconstructed interviews. Rodger Anderson extols the objectivity of A. B. Deming in recovering memories of a half-century before, and yet he doubts whether the Kelleys could reconstruct conversations from a month before. In fact, the Gilbert interview mostly passed that printer's critical scrutiny; despite his rhetoric of being misrepresented in every "important particular," his actual corrections were few. [[43 John H. Gilbert to Clark Braden, February 27, 1884, cited in Public Discussion, 382. end43]]

As suggested, the reconstructed Kelley interviews are mainly valuable in the case of some who personally knew Joseph Smith. Those in this category are Abel Chase and Orlando Saunders from neighboring farms, Ezra Pierce somewhat south of the Smith property, Hiram Jackway, somewhat north, and John Stafford, Rochester physician about Joseph Smith's age, and his former neighbor. Actually, Saunders and Stafford were clearest in their memories because they had more contact with Joseph and were old enough then to remember. The Kelleys sought to test the labels pasted on the Smith family from Hurlbut on. They asked about money digging. Three had stories but no personal knowledge. Only Stafford "saw them digging one time for money [this was three or four years before the Book of Mormon was found], the Smiths and others. The old man and Hyrum were there, I think, but Joseph was not there." This glimpse hardly amounts to a main activity for the family.

In Hurlbut's general affidavits, the Smiths were "intemperate," or "addicted to vicious habits," intended to mean the same thing. Yet only a few of his testimonials said much on the subject. A. B. Deming's late statements press the theme of the father drinking in the fields, and occasionally the younger Joseph. The Kelleys questioned the survivors candidly and reported honest answers. Here Rodger Anderson is preoccupied enough with the subject to add opinions of the journalist-interviewer Mather, who in 1880 made broad claims with minimal data. But the give and take of the Kelley questionings produced a context. From the five who knew Joseph Smith, there is only one observed incident of Joseph and his father drunk and wrestling -- and John Stafford's report of Joseph intoxicated and tearing his shirt may repeat a family story circulating since Hurlbut. The pioneer culture is prominent in all four who mention drinking. It was the pattern of the time -- whatever the Smiths did was not out of the ordinary. Rodger Anderson is out of touch with this period when he exaggerates Father Smith's drinking and sets up a contradiction to William's forceful refutation: "I never knew my father Joseph Smith to be intoxicated or the worse for liquor nor was my brother Joseph Smith in the habit of drinking spiritous liquors." [[44 Quoted in Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," 314. end44]]

Whatever the father's problem, it was apparently in control as younger William grew up -- and "spiritous liquors" were obviously distinguished from the hard cider then common everywhere.

In 1833, Hurlbut narrowed his interviews to those willing to swear against the Smiths, and targeted limited areas of their lives. Later the Kelleys broadened the type of person consulted, and widened the scope of inquiry. Rodger Anderson proposes the astounding thesis that there really isn't a conflict -- that the individuals contacted just had different experiences: "Hurlbut's witnesses did not accuse the Smiths of unqualified laziness"; the Smiths only gave "a disproportionate share of their time to... money digging" (p. 96). But such subtleties are foreign to the Hurlbut affidavits, where the cumulative case is made that "a lazy, indolent set of men" had to steal and use trickery to survive, and they so consistently lied that they were "entirely destitute of moral character." [[45 The phrases are from the two general Palmyra and Manchester affidavits, which were intended to summarize the community case against the Smiths with dozens of signers. The underlining is in the first printing and apparently theirs. end45]]

This goes far beyond private money digging and drinking in the norms of their society. Those acts by themselves would not diminish the Smiths' reliability. But Hurlbut's statements assailed Joseph Smith's integrity and character. The Prophet got the message, acknowledging that the New York testimony accused him "of being guilty of gross and outrageous violations of the peace and good order of the community." [[46 Joseph Smith public statement, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, December 1834, cit. Jessee, p. 336. end46]]

Parley Chase was spokesman in stating without qualification that Joseph Smith was lazy and a habitual liar, an image to be "corroborated by all his former neighbors." Any statements of neighbors to the contrary would rescue Joseph's reputation and prove at the same time that Hurlbut selected a negative sample. The full community of friends and foes is re-created in Lucy Smith's history, where a positive sample appears in the 1825 letter of recommendation to the land agent when the Smith purchase contract was endangered through misrepresentation. Their respected physician was contacted, and Dr. Gain Robinson "wrote the character of my family, our industry... with many commendations calculated to beget confidence in us as to business transactions." In an hour this testimonial had 60 signatures "in the village." [[47 Lucy Smith, preliminary ms., LDS Archives, slightly rephrased in the published versions. end47]]

Oliver Cowdery taught school in the Smith neighborhood and is generally favorably remembered in later statements of the families of his district. On publication of the Hurlbut affidavits, he said of Joseph, "I have been told by those for whom he has labored, that he was a young man of truth and industrious habits." [[48 Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, Letter 8, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate (October 1835): 200. end48]]

As noted, the Kelleys contacted five with possible personal knowledge, and none were negative on his personal character. Some remembered Joseph as poor and uneducated, but John Stafford said that Joseph "improved greatly" in being taught at home. As mentioned earlier, Stafford admired Joseph's personality, but also said of his ability to work: "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man." Abel Chase's view of the Smith men is most interesting. In 1833 he signed the general Manchester statement that they were "a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon." In 1881 he said nothing about intemperance and dishonesty, though he remembered that his brother Willard wanted to reclaim a seer stone given to the Smiths and could not get it back. In 1881 he clearly modified "lazy": "poorly educated -- ignorant and selfish -- superstitious -- shiftless but do a good day's work." [[49 William H. Kelley Notebook, cited in Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined, 171. end49]]

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A final, highly personal reaction: I once discussed a negative biography with a friend, literature professor Neal Lambert. After pointing out shortcomings in method and evidence, I self-consciously added an intuitive judgment: "and I think there is a poor tone to the book." Instantly picking up my apologetic manner, Neal answered vigorously, "But tone is everything." In reality, attitude penetrates the judgments we make, whether in gathering the Hurlbut-Deming materials or in defending them. With few exceptions, the mind-set of these testimonials is skeptical, hypercritical, ridiculing. But history is a serious effort to understand, and tools with the above labels have limited value.



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