Richard L. Anderson
"Reliability of Early History of Lucy & Joseph Smith," 1969

Document: 1969 Richard Lloyd Anderson comments (excerpts)

Source: Anderson, R. L. "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith,"
Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought UT, 1969 IV:2 pp.13-28.

Note: Copyright 1969 by the Dialogue Foundation
Quotations presented here have been limited to "fair use" excerpts.

Excerpts from this copyrighted text limited to "fair use" length.


[p.15 - p.16]
The first scene of activity for this affidavit prospector was Conneaut, Ohio, the former home of the amateur historical novelist, Solomon Spaulding. Taking formal statements from relatives and friends who could equate the names and historical portions of Spaulding's fiction with the Book of Mormon plot and personalities, Hurlbut produced eight different statements that prove the point too well. Mrs. Brodie observes:
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 . . . The very tightness with which Hurlbut here was implementing his theory rouses an immediate suspicion that he did a little judicious prompting. (Brodie, pp. 423-4.)
. . . Since it is fairly demonstrable that Hurlbut heavily contaminated the Spaulding affidavits with his own theories and language, the question is why the Palmyra-Manchester affidavits should be treated as infallible sources . . . one may wonder why Mrs. Brodie relies upon them in outlining a detailed picture of supposed moneydigging on the part of the Smiths. This is completely open to question as an after-the-fact distortion of the same dimension as the discredited Spaulding story, falsely enshrined in Hurlbut's other affidavits. If Mrs. Brodie finds Joseph Smith more credible in a simple statement than fifty-one neighbors swearing on the same issue, it is time for all Mormon historians to seriously examine the detailed histories of Joseph Smith and his mother as potentially the most reliable sources for Mormon foundations because they are essentially the only ones who wrote about the period from consistent first-hand knowledge . . .
[p.25 - p.26]
. . . A set of statements about this period exists from Joseph Smith's in-laws and their Pennsylvania friends. Although appearing in the same publication with E. D. Howe's first publication of the Hurlbut affidavits, they were apparently procured by Howe's direct correspondence independent of Hurlbut. (Letter of E. D. Howe to Isaac Hale, February 4, 1834, Painesville, Ohio, cit. Susquehanna Register, May 1, 1834, cit. New York Baptist Register, Vol. 11 (1834). Howe's letter discloses that Hale had written to Hurlbut but that Howe wished verification and sought an attested statement "to lay open the imposition to the world." . . .)
. . . Like a law case, the point of history is to allow the participants to tell their own story. The historian of Mormonism really disqualifies himself if he cannot empathize with the spiritual experience at the heart of this new religion. If this is preposterous, then perhaps he should write about other phases of Mormonism where his naturalistic bias does not so limit him. History may be poorly equipped to affirm or deny the truth of Joseph Smith's visions, but it can nevertheless assess the credibility of the historical tradition that asserts those visions. Credit ratings are compiled by instances of reliability. Whereas one can document the lack of such reliability in Hurlbut's Palmyra-Manchester affidavits, the factual content of the histories. of Joseph and Lucy Smith is demonstrably high. The logical conclusion from these realities is that the narratives of the Prophet and his mother must stand as the essential sources for Mormon origins.

Document: 1970 Richard Lloyd Anderson comments (excerpts)

Source: Anderson, Richard L. "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised,"
BYU Studies UT, 1970 X:3 pp.283-314.

Note: Copyright 1970 by Brigham Young University
Quotations presented here have been limited to "fair use" excerpts.


[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 . . .

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. . ."
. . . 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 . . .

. . . 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 . . .
[p. 289]
. . . [in individual affidavits] 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 . . .

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 . . .

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 . . .?"
[p. 295]
. . . The longest Hurlbut affidavit is that of Willard Chase, in which instances of dishonesty and treasure digging are minimal. In fact, the Chase statement contains more parallels to Mormon sources than any other affidavit. This would lead to the inference that Chase imposed his individuality to a large extent, though many of the Hurlbut stock phrases and formulae are still apparent . . .

Document: 1984 Richard Lloyd Anderson comments (excerpts)

Source: Anderson, Richard L. "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,"
BYU Studies UT, 1984 XXIV:4 pp.489-546.

Note: Copyright 1984 by Brigham Young University
Quotations presented here have been limited to "fair use" excerpts.


. . . Mormon histories easily prove Hurlbut's bias and impeach his motives, but unpublished sources also verify the defects noted by virtually every person who mentioned him . . .

[pg.493] In 1833 and 34 . . . many leading citizens of Kirtland and Geauga Co. employed and defrayed the expenses of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut . . . and sent him to Palmyra, N.Y. and Penn. to obtain affidavits showing the bad character of the Mormon Smith Family. . . . Hurlbut returned to Ohio and lectured about the county on the origins of Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. I heard him lecture in Painesville. He finally came to me to have this evidence he had obtained published. I bargained to pay him in books. (Statement of E. D. Howe, 8 April 1885, Painesville, Ohio, Chicago Historical Society.)

Since Hurlbut's support came from those who sought to expose Joseph Smith, a balanced picture would not be expected. The Prophet was apprehensive even before Hurlbut gathered his New York evidence. Hurlbut had been "expelled from the Church for lewd and adulterous conduct, and to spite us he is lying in a wonderful manner, and the people are running after him and giving him money to break down Mormonism." (Joseph Smith to William Phelps et al., 18 August 1833, cited in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 287.)

His New York affidavits were gathered in November and December 1833, and his employers were happy with the result. Early the following year they advertised that they had "employed D.P. Hurlbut" and that his evidence proved that Solomon Spaulding really wrote the Book of Mormon and that Joseph Smith could now be stripped" of all claims to the character of an honest man." ("To the Public," Painesville Telegraph, 31 January 1834.)

Joseph Smith soon took successful legal action against Hurlbut's physical threats, but the point here is the Prophet's response to the negative testimonials. The First Presidency warned Missouri leaders that unreliable material was circulating:
Doctor Hurlbut, an apostate elder from this Church, has been to the state of New York and gathered up all the ridiculous stories that could be invented, and some affidavits respecting the character of Bro. Joseph and the Smith family, and exhibited them to numerous congregations in Chagrin, Kirtland, Mentor, and Painesville, and fired the minds of the people with much indignation against Bro. Joseph and the Church. (First Presidency to the Brethren in Christ Jesus Scattered from the Land of Their Inheritance, 22 January 1834, Kirtland, Ohio, Letter Book 1, p. 81 . . .)

. . . Editor Howe added long histories of the Book of Mormon and Mormonism, and by October 1834 his copy was ready . . . On 28 November, he advertised that Mormonism Unvailed was "just published" and contained the truth about "the Mormonite imposition." (Painesville Telegraph, 28 November 1834) . . .


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