Dan Vogel
Early Mormon Documents: II

Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998

Title Page

D. P. Hurlbut Collection

Transcriber's comments

Copyright 1998 Signature Books. All rights reserved.
Quotations provided here are limited to "fair use" excerpts.











Doctor Philastus Hurlbut 1 (1809-83), born in Chittenden County, Vermont, joined the Mormon church in Ohio in 1833. But within a few months he was excommunicated for "immorality" and became a major antagonist of Joseph Smith (see Jessee [[The Papers of Joseph Smith: Journal, 1832-1842]] 1992, 556).

Perhaps inspired by the affidavit appearing in the Painesville Telegraph in 1831 regarding Smith's treasure-seeking activities and signed by ten Palmyra residents (III.I.3, PALMYRA RESIDENTS TO PAINESVILLE (OH) TELEGRAPH, 12 MAR 1831), Hurlbut interviewed Smith's former neighbors in western New York. E.D. Howe reported that "in 1833 and [18]34 Grandison Newel[,] Orrin Clapp[,] Nathan Corning of Mentor and many leading citizens of Kirtland and Geauga Co. employed and defrayed the expenses of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut who had been a Mormon preacher and sent him to Palmyra NY and Penn to obtain affidavits showing the bad character of the Mormon Smith family" (E.D. Howe, Affidavit, 8 April 1885, Arthur B. Deming Collection, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois). 2

Visiting Palmyra in November and December 1833, Hurlbut began collecting affidavits about Smith's reputation. On 4 December 1833 the Wayne Sentinel announced that  "Doct. P. Hurlbert" was "now at this place

1 "Doctor" was his given name.

2 James A. Briggs named other members of this committee, who met again to examine the evidence Hurlbut had collected: "In the winter of 1833-34, or in the early spring of 1834, a number of gentlemen in Willoughby who felt an interest in the Mormon question appointed themselves a committee to look into the matter. They were Judge Nehemiah Allen, who had been an Associate Judge of the county of Cuyahoga, a representative in the Legislature; Dr. George W. Card, an intelligent physician; Samuel Wilson, an active and energetic business man; Jonathan Lapham, a lawyer of many years at the bar, and myself, a very young lawyer. We met at the house of Mr. W. Coming, in Mentor, now the Garfield place, a well-to-do and independent farmer. Dr. P. Hurlbut also met with us. He lived in Kirtland and during the winter and spring had given much in looking up evidence and documents to prove that Mormonism was a delusion" James A. Briggs to Arthur B. Deming, 22 March 1886, Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 [January 1888]: 4).


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as a missionary in behalf of the people of Kirtland for the purpose of investigating the origin of the Mormon sect." Cornelius R. Stafford remembered that "a man (Hurlbut) came to our school house and took statements about the bad character of the Mormon Smith family, and saw them swear to them" (III.D.4, CORNELIUS R. STAFFORD STATEMENT, [23] MAR 1885). That Hurlbut had a specific kind of testimony in mind as he collected his affidavits is attested to by Benjamin Saunders, who said that Hurlbut "came to me but he could not get out of me what he wanted; so [he] went to others" (III.B.13, BENJAMIN SAUNDERS INTERVIEW, CIRCA SEP 1884, 29).

Although there were undoubtedly those like Saunders who were more sympathetic towards the Smiths, 3 Hurlbut had no difficulty finding hostile witnesses. When Mormon missionary John S. Carter visited the Palmyra/Manchester area in early September 1833, less than two months before Hurlbut's visit, he noted in his diary: "The people greatly opposed to the work of God. Talked with many of them, & found them unable to make out anything against Joseph Smith, altho they talked hard against him" (cited in Bitton 1977, 62). Likewise, following his own investigations in Palmyra, Henry Pratt told his believing son Addison Pratt in a May 1838 letter, "They informed me at Palmyra that the character & conduct of Jo Smith & Martin Harris, did not correspond at all with the character & conduct of christians" (Henry Pratt to Addison Pratt, 20 May 1838, private possession; photocopy LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah). Unlike Hurlbut, however, Carter and Pratt did not supply the names of those whom they consulted.

If Hurlbut was guilty of choosing negatively biased witnesses and ignoring those more favorable towards the Smith family, the suggestion that Hurlbut put words into the mouths of his witnesses is doubtful (R. L. Anderson [["Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised"]] 1970, 286-90; and 1991 [["Review"]], 52-80). 4 Despite minor similarities in

3 Within a year following the publication of Hurlbut's affidavits, Jonathan H. Hale, Thomas B. Marsh, and David W. Patten visited Palmyra to make inquiry about Smith's reputation. Hale recorded in his journal: "We went about in the Neighbourhood from house to house to inquire the Character of Joseph Smith jr previous to his receiving the Book of Mormon[.] the amount was that his Character was as good as young men in General" (cited in Bitton 1977, 134). Unlike Hurlbut, however, these men collected no affidavits and made no attempt to publish the results of their investigation.

4 In an attempt to impugn Hurlbut, Mormon apologist Richard L. Anderson has compared Hurlbut's Palmyra/Manchester affidavits to those Hurlbut also collected from witnesses in Ohio and Pennsylvania in September and August 1833 pertaining to the so-called "Spaulding theory" of the


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terminology, which might be due to Hurlbut's method of questioning, the affidavits are signed and in several instances notarized. Moreover, none of Hurlbut's witnesses ever recanted or corrected their statement. For these reasons, Rodger I. Anderson has concluded that Hurlbut's affidavits "can be relied on as accurate reflections of their signers' views" (R. I. Anderson [[Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined]] 1990, 114).

Upon his return to Ohio, Hurlbut resumed his attack on Joseph Smith and Mormonism, reading from the affidavits he had collected at public meetings (see introduction to V.A.1, ISAAC HALE STATEMENT, 1834). "Hurlbut returned to Ohio and lectured on the Origin of Mormonism and the Book of Mormon," Howe remembered. "I heard him Lecture in Painesville" (E.D. Howe, Affidavit, 8 April 1885, Arthur B. Deming Collection, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois).

The bitterness between Hurlbut and Joseph Smith eventually resulted in a trial. J. C. Dowen, Justice of the Peace in Kirtland, Ohio, recalled that "Hurlbut said he would kill Jo Smith. He meant he would kill Mormonism. The Mormons urged me to issue a writ against him. I did, as recorded in my docket, Dec. 27, 1833 on complaint of Joseph Smith, warrant returnable to William Holbrook, Esq., at Painesville, Ohio. He was brought to trial and

Book of Mormon's origin (see Howe 1834, 278-87). "Since historians generally dismiss the 'Spaulding theory,'" argues Anderson, "Hurlbut's affidavits supporting it now appear as prompted propaganda" (1991, 60). As with the New York affidavits, the similarity in terminology of the statements does not necessarily prove Hurlbut's heavy-handedness. Regardless, the signers were responsible for the content of the affidavits, not Hurlbut. Despite the assertion that Hurlbut prompted his witnesses and somehow controlled the content of the Spaulding affidavits, the theory had an origin and a life of its own quite apart from Hurlbut. Hurlbut did not invent the Spaulding theory, but was drawn to Spaulding's former residence in Conneaut, Ohio, to investigate claims that some residents were making about the Book of Mormon. Had Hurlbut invented the theory and falsely extracted testimony from his witnesses, he would not have made strenuous efforts to recover Spaulding's manuscript. Contrary to Anderson, the two sets of Hurlbut documents are not comparable. In the first instance, the Palmyra/Manchester residents testify to either first-hand or second-hand information about the Smith family that occurred in the recent past; whereas in the case of the Spaulding affidavits the witnesses made literary comparisons based on memories at least twenty years old. Thus even E.D. Howe, when publishing Hurlbut's Spaulding affidavits in 1834, noted their weakness as testimony (1834, 278). I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of either Hurlbut or his Ohio witnesses, although the memories of the latter were certainly mistaken.


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over 50 witnesses were called. The trial lasted several days and he was bound over to appear at the court of common pleas at Cardon. Hurlbut let E.D. Howe, of Painesville, have his manuscript to publish" (J.C. Dowen, Affidavit, 2 January 1885, Arthur B. Deming Collection, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois). However, on 4 April 1834 the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas found sufficient evidence to support "the opinion that the said complainant [Joseph Smith] had ground to fear that the said Doctor Ph[ilastus] Hurlbut would wound, beat or kill him, or destroy his property" ("Ohio v. Dr. P. Hurlbut," 9 April 1834, Book M, p. 193, Geauga County Courthouse, Chardon, Ohio; cited in Jessee 1984, 647, n. 90). The court therefore set bail at $200 and charged Hurlbut to keep the peace.

Perhaps because of his questionable reputation, together with his limited writing abilities, Hurlbut turned his affidavits over to E.D. Howe of Painesville to have them published. Howe recalled, "He [Hurlbut] finally came to me to have the evidence he had published. I bargained to pay him in books which I sent to him at Conneaut[,] O." (E.D. Howe, Affidavit, 8 April 1885, Arthur B. Deming Collection, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois). Howe published many of Hurlbut's affidavits in his book Mormonism Unvailed, which was released on 28 November 1834 (see ibid.). The Mormons, of course, denounced Howe's book as full of lies (Messenger and Advocate 1:116 2:296, 314; J. Smith 1948, 2:268-70).

Recalling his association with Hurlbut in 1885, Howe remarked: "I was not acquainted with Hurlbut untill he came to me to have his evidence published. He was [a] good sized fine looking [man] full of gab but illiterate and had lectured on many subjects[.] About five years ago he wrote me for Manuscript Found. I thought he was very forgetful or demented. I had been informed he had a pyralitic attack" (E.D. Howe, Affidavit, 8 April 1885, Arthur B. Deming Collection, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois).5

5 Howe's comment that Hurlbut was illiterate brings up additional questions about the latter's affidavits. As Dale Morgan noted, "If he was indeed illiterate, this would seem to suggest that Howe must have put the affidavits into proper English unless, as has been doubted, the interviewed people wrote them" (J.P. Walker 1986, 142). However, a number of letters written by Hurlbut in the 1840s and published in the Religious Telescope would tend to challenge Howe's characterization of Hurlbut as illiterate, or at least mark it as an exaggeration. See Religious Telescope, [[Circleville, Ohio]] 3 December 1845, 150; 4 February 1846; 29 July 1846, 6-7; 16 June 1847, 368; 23 August 1848; 20 September 1848, 59. My thanks to Dale W. Adams of Ohio State University for bringing these sources to my attention.


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Of the fifteen statements, only six are presented in affidavit form. On 9 December 1833 Peter Ingersoll, William Stafford, and Barton Stafford appeared before Thomas P. Baldwin, who was a Wayne County judge from February 1830 to February 1835 (see Braden and Kelley 1884, 382-93), to formalize their previously written statements. On 11 and 12 December 1833, Willard Chase and David Stafford appeared before Frederick Smith, a justice of the peace for Wayne County. One affidavit, that of Henry Harris, was taken at Cuyahoga County, Ohio, before justice of the peace Jonathan Lapham. The Hurlbut affidavits are presented in the order in which they were composed.


Transcriber's  Comments

Dan Vogel's 1998 book

(this section under construction)


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