Mormon History

Memories of Joe Smith - 1858

Wayne Democratic Press May 26, 1858

Mormonism and Joe Smith.

The Book of Mormon or Golden Bible.

The story of the printing of the first edition of the "Book of Mormon" is truthfully as follows: -- Joe Smith, the pretended prophet, and finder of the original "metallic records." Oliver Cowdery, amanuensis of Smith, and Martin Harris, the "chosen" dupe for the payment of expenses, constituting, as they claimed, the "inspired" nucleus of the dawning "Church of the Latter Day Saints," applied about the month of June, 1829, to Mr. Egbert B. Grandin, the then publisher of the Wayne Sentinel newspaper, and a job printer at Palmyra, for the printing of the book referred to, commonly called the "Golden Bible." Harris, who was a forehanded farmer at that town, an honest and respectable citizen, but noted for his superstitious and fanatical peculiarities in religious matters, was the only man of the party whose pecuniary responsibility was worth a dollar, and he offered to give security by a mortgage upon his unencumbered farm for the cost of printing and binding of the book. Grandin at once advised them against the supposed folly of the enterprise, and with the aid of other neighbors and friends of Harris sought to influence the latter to desist and withdraw his countenance from the imposture. All importunity of this kind, however, was resisted with determination by Harris, (who no doubt firm;y believed in the genuineness of Smith's pretensions,) and resented with assumed pious indignation by Smith. Cowdery took but little part in the conversations. After repeated interviews and much parleying on the subject, Grandin was understood to refuse to give it further consideration. Harris, it was thought, became for a time somewhat staggered in his confidence, but Joe could do nothing in the matter of printing without his aid, and so he persevered in his seductive arts, as will be seen with ultimate success.

About this time, in the fore part of the year 1829, (as recollected,) the same party, or a portion of them applied to Mr. Weed, of the Anti-Masonic Inquirer at Rochester, (who by the way, seems in his reminiscences to have confused Mormonism with Anti-Masonry.) and there met a similar repulse, as stated by the Journal. Mr. Marshall, of Spelling Book notoriety, who was also engaged in the printing and publishing business at Rochester, gave his terms to Smith and his associates for the execution of their work, and his proffered acceptance of the proposed mode of security.

The "Saints" then returned and renewed their request to Mr. Grandin, assuring him that the printing was to be done at any rate, and explaining that they would be saved much inconvenience and cost of travel, (as the manuscripts were to be delivered and the proof sheets examined daily at the printing office,) by having their work done at Palmyra, where they resided. It was upon this state of facts and view of the case, that Mr. Grandin, after some further hesitation, reconsidered his policy of refusal, and finally entered into a contract for the desired printing and binding of 5,000 copies of the book, for the price of $3,000, to be secured by mortgage as proposed; which contract was faithfully performed on his part, completing the work in the summer of 1830, and as faithfully fulfilled in the payment by Harris. Major Gilbert, as stated by the Troy Times, took the foremanship of the printing, and did most of the press and composition work of the job. He still retains an original copy of the book in sheets as he laid them off in a file from the press in working, The manuscripts, in Cowdery's handwriting, were carried to the printing office in daily installments, generally by Joe or his trusty brother Hiram, and were regularly withdrawn for security and preservation at evening. The pretension was that they were written out by the amanuensis Cowdery from translations verbally given by the Prophet Joe, who alone was enabled to read the hieroglyphics of the sacred plates by means of a wonderful stone and magic spectacles that were found in the earth with the "records." In the performance of this task the "chosen" decypherer was always concealed in a dark room, and by special revelation neither Cowdery or other persons than the said "chosen" was permitted to see the plates on penalty of instant death. Such was the pretension. The hand press which did the printing (Smith's patent) has been in continual use (in the Sentinel office) since that important era in the rise of Mormonism, and in the course of changes of ownership and partizan apostacy, it has finally in its degeneracy (quite appropriately) now come to be used for the printing of a Know Nothing newspaper!

A word in regard to the origin of Mormonism, whose advent has furnished so marked an illustration of the susceptibilities of human credulity even at the present age of boasted enlightenment, may not be without interest in this connection, now after the lapse of some thirty years. As early as 1820, Joe Smith, at the age of about 19 years, began to assume the gift of supernatural endowments, and became the leader of a small party of shiftless men and boys like himself who engaged in nocturnal money-digging operations upon the hills in and about Palmyra. These labors were always performed in the night, and during their continuance, many marvellous accounts and rumors in regard to them were put afloat in the neighborhood. Joe professed from time to time to have "almost" secured the hidden treasure, which, however, just at the instant of attempting to grasp it, would vanish by the breaking of the spell of his magic power. -- Numbers of men and women, as was understood, were found credulous enough to believe "there might be something in it," who were induced by their confidence and cupidity to contribute privately towards the cost, of carrying on the imposture, under the promise of sharing in the expected gains; and in this way the loaferly but cunning Smith, who was too lazy to work for his living, (his deluded followers did all the digging,) was enabled to obtain a scanty subsistence for himself without pursuing any useful employment.

The silly imposture was persevered in by Smith and the digging performances occasionally continued by his gang without success, for some eight or ten years, when in 1828 or '29 the climax was reached in the discovery of the wonderful golden record of hieroglyphics, of great antiquity, "written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi," the translation and publication of which are the foundation of Brigham Young's polygamous empire at Salt Lake, were, according to the published testimony of Joe Smith, "found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York."

The intervening annals of the rise and progress of this Mormon imposture, and of the career and martyrdom of Joe Smith, need no particular notice in this sketch, for these are to be found in various forms of recorded history already extant.

The discovery of the pretended ancient plates, "resembling plates of gold," has a significant connection with a scheme of cupidity plotted by one Sydney Rigdon, a deposed clergyman of Pennsylvania. He had surreptitiously possessed himself of a curious manuscript from the pen of a Rev. Mr. Spaulding, late of Ohio -- a romance, written primarily as a pastime exercise during a lingering decline of health, in 1812 and 1813 -- and Smith's marvellous revelation was an opportune event in the furtherance of Rigdon's speculation. Whether the resulting connection of these two conspiring schemes was incidental or contrived, or whether Smith's part in the conspiracy was the invention of his own cunning or the emanation of his co-worjer's perverted mind, are questions that have never been satisfactorily settled in public opinion. Spaulding's production, purporting to have been written by one of the lost nations of Israel, recovered from the earth by some miraculous interposition of Providence, was to have been entitled, if published, "Manuscript Found." An effort was made by the writer, shortly before his death, to procure its publication as a source of profit, but no printer could be found of sufficient faith in its paying expenses to undertake the printing. He died in 1816, and Rigdon, with this manuscript dishonestly procured, as before intimated, happening or designedly appearing in Palmyra about the time of Smith's pretended unearthing of the mysterious plates, the two speculations were joined together, and the two well matched schemers conspired to start the fraud from which originated the myth of the Golden Bible or Book of Mormon, with the attendant fame of Joe Smith, and the world renowned belligerent power of Mormonism in Utah.

The pretended translations of Smith were no doubt transcripts from the Spaulding romance as altered for the occasion by Rigdon. The latter was the first preacher of the newly revealed "Gospel according to Mormon," and made his appearance at Palmyra in that capacity immediately after the publication of the book, but his mission was there a dead failure. Whether he is now alive or dead, or what finally became of him, is not publicly apparent. His Mormon fame appears to have been of short duration. Of course there were never any converts to the Mormon gospel at the locality of its advent, beyond the cases of Harris and three or four similar victims of fanaticism or lunacy. Where its founders were known, the imposture was regarded as too stupid for serious notice by any body possessing a rightful claim to common intelligence or sanity.

Note 1: The above article was written by Pomeroy Tucker, who had been the editor of the Wayne Sentinel at the time the Smith family were living in Palmyra. Although he retained an interest in the business, Tucker was succeeded in that editorship by his partner since 1823, Egbert B. Grandin. A few years later Tucker was elected the Representative from Wayne County to the New York State Assembly, (Jan. 3 - May 16, 1837); he also served as the postmaster at Palmyra between 1839 and 1841. The entry for him in Herringshaw's Encyclopedia of American Biography reads: TUCKER, POMEROY, journalist, author, was born Aug. 10, 1802, in Palmyra, N.Y. He was a Canandaigua journalist who published a work on The Origin of Mormonism. He died June 30, 1870, in Palmyra, N.Y."

Note 2: The end of Tucker's article is of interest, in that he there barely at all develops the theme of Rigdon having visited Smith in New York on various occasions prior to 1830, as a "mysterious stranger." The mysterious stranger motif is more pronounced in Tucker's 1867 book. However, Tucker adds to his early thoughts on this theme somewhat in his follow-up article in the Press, even going so far as to insinuate that the older Smith girl had an illegitmate child as a consequence of Rigdon's secret visits.

Note 3: As he is generally prone to do, editor Dan Vogel eliminated the "brief discussion of the Spaulding theory" at the end of the writer's article, when he reprinted the May 26, 1858 text in his Early Mormon Documents III; (see Vogel's note #12, p. 67).

Wayne Democratic Press June 2, 1858

The Mormon Imposture

The Mormon Aborigines.

It is believed there has never been published a particular and connected biography or description of the chief founders of the "Church of Latter-Day Saints." or as they may be fitly denomited, the Aborigines of Mormonism. ...

It is presumed, therefore, that as a supplement to the reminiscential sketch given in last week's "Press," the following additional recollections on the subject may possess a compensating interest in meeting public curiosity.

JOSEPH SMITH senior, with a family consisting of a wife and eight children, including Joe the Prophet (as foreordained to be,) settled upon a lot of mostly uncultivated land located on the northern border of the town of Manchester, about two miles south of Palmyra village, (on what is called Stafford Street,) in the year 1817 or '18. They removed there from the suburbs of said village, where they had resided since 1815, having then emigrated to that place from Vermont. The title of the lot was in non-resident minor heirs, uncared for by any local attorney or agent, and Smith took possession of it only as a "squatter sovereign;" though subsequently he purchased it by contract, paying little or nothing thereon. The same premises are now embraced in the well cultivated farm owned and occupied by Morgan Robinson. Smith's children, in the order of their ages, were Hiram, (so spelled by his father,) Alvin, Samuel H., Sophronia, Joseph minor, William, Catharine and Carlos. They lived there for a number of years, in a small, smoky log hut, of their own construction, which was divided into two rooms, with a garret. The age of the junior Joe at that time was about 17 or 18, though he did not know his own age, nor did any of the family remember it precisely. From the oldest to the youngest, they were a an illiterate, shiftless, indolent tribe, without any visible means of a respectable livelihood, nor was it apparent that they earned an honest living -- young Joe being the laziest of the crew. It was for this reason, in part perhaps, and also because of divers petty thefts from time to time occurring in the neighborhood; that they were so far under suspicion, (may be undeservedly) as to suggest to the inhabitants the observance of especial vigilance in the care of their sheep yards, smoke houses, pork barrels. &c. The senior Smith and his elder boys (Joe generally excepted) did some work upon the land which they occupied, in a slovenly, half-way manner, producing small crops or corn, "taters and garding sass," which, added to limited operations in raising pigs and poultry, with the making of maple sugar in the spring season, contributed towards their necessary subsistence. Old Joe also gathered and sold "rutes and yarbs" -- occasionally exchanged a load of wood in the village for tobacco, whiskey, or other notions of trade -- and on training and anniversary days, pocketed a few shillings from the peddling of gingerbread, boiled eggs, and root beer. The boys, who were frequently seen lounging about the stores and shops in the village, were distinguished only for their vagabondish appearance and loaferly habits. The female portion of the household were pretty much ditto. The money-digging humbug soon afterwards introduced, of which the junior Joe was the reputed inventor, was participated in more or less by all the male members of the family.

Such were the character and circumstances of the Smith generation, when young Joe's money-digging experiment commenced, which after a few years' continuance grew to the magnitude of his miraculously discovered golden "plates of Nephi" hidden in the earth by the hand of Mormon the Israelite, resulting in the wonderful revelation and publication of the Mormon Bible. ...

JOE SMITH junior, who became the world-renowned translator of the recovered Israelitish records or scriptures -- the publisher of the new revelation, in the Book of Mormon or Golden Bible, and founder of the politico-religious institution of Mormonism -- was, at the period referred to, a dull-eyed, flaxen-haired, ragged boy. He was of taciturn habits-- seldom speaking unless first spoken to while out among folks -- but apparently a thinking, calculating, mischief-brewing genius, whose whole secretive mind seemed devoted to some mysterious scheme or marvellous invention. In his mental composition the organ of "conscientiousness" might have been marked by phrenologists as not there. His word, by reason of his propensity for exaggeration, was never received with confidence by any body who knew him, (excepting of course his bigoted dupes.) He was proverbially considered by his neighbor contemporaries "the meanest boy" of the family. Subsequent developments and results, however, have demonstrated that he knew "some things as well as others," and that the hopping capacity of a toad cannot be estimated by the length of its tail.

A single instance of the many anecdotes remembered, in connection with Joe's magic pretensions and undertaking, will sufficiently illustrate his unprincipled cunning, and the strange infatuation of his dupes. Assuming his accustomed air of mystery, on one occasion, he pretended to know exactly where the sought-for iron chest of gold was deposited in the earth; and in order to the glittering prize, means must be contributed to pay for digging, and a black sheep would also be required for a sacrifice before engaging in the labors of the necromantic enterprise. Joe knew that his neighbor S., one of his interested listeners -- a respectable farmer in good circumstances, now living -- had a fine fat black wether, and that meat was scarce at home. So it was agreed that the farmer should give the noble wether as his share of the contribution; while others were to contribute their labor, with a small sum of money. At the approach of the appointed hour at night, the digging gang having been rallied and the black sheep provided, Joe led his party with a lantern to the enchanted spot upon a hill near his residence, where he described a circle upon the ground, within which the sacrifice was to be performed, and the prize exhumed. Not a word was to be spoken during the entire performance. Such was the programme. All things being ready, the throat of the animal was cut as previously arranged, (the carcass withdrawn and reduced to mutton by the Smiths,) and the excavation entered upon in good earnest by the expectant diggers. For some three hours the work was continued in utter silence -- when, tempted by the devil, one of the party spoke! The spell was broken -- and the precious treasure, which was just within reach, vanished!

OLIVER COWDERY, the scribe or amanuensis employed by the Prophet in the translation of the "sacred records, was an unpretending young man, of supposed fair character, who had done some service as a county schoolmaster. He could write a legible hand, such as might be read by the printers, by carefully dotting his i's and crossing his t's -- an accomplishment not possessed by any of the Smiths; but such spelling, punctuation, capitalizing and paragraphizing as his manuscripts exhibited, awfully multiplied the perplexities of the type-setters. He is believed to have been a native of Palmyra, as his father's family resided there as early as 1810. His present whereabouts or destiny (unknown to the writer hereof) may not involve a question of any moment, as his Mormon career was never distinguished beyond his first connection with the speculation as already explained.

SIDNEY RIGDON who furnished the literary contributions, and MARTIN HARRIS who supplied the fiscal means for carrying forward the imposture were indispensable spokes in the great driving wheel of the Mormon car. The former had been a clergyman of the Baptist persuasion in Pennsylvania -- had fallen from grace and been deposed from his clerical estate -- and he "understood the ropes" to be used in the infamous scheme of deception. He was the first "messenger appointed of God," (as he styled himself,) to proclaim the Mormon revelation, and preached his first sermon as such to a general public audience, in the room of the Palmyra Young Men's Association, in the third story of "Exchange Row," in that village. This was in the winter of 1830-'31, soon after the Mormon book was printed. The several churches had been applied to for the desecration of their pulpits, but were very properly refused. It was especially by the importunity of Harris, whose sincerity was unquestioned, that the use of the Association's room was granted. Holding the Book of Mormon in his right hand, and the Holy Bible in his left, the hardened impostor solemnly declared that both were equally true as the word of God -- that they were inseparably necessary to complete the everlasting gospel -- and that he himself was the called minister of Heaven to proclaim the new revelation for the salvation of sinful man! The discourse was a disgustingly blasphemous tirade, though evincing some talent and ingenuity in the speaker, and was received with such manifestations of disfavor that a repetition of the performance was never attempted there.

Up to this time, Rigdon had played his part behind the curtain. The policy seems to have been to keep him in concealment until all things were ready for the blowing of the Mormon trumpet. An unexpected birth occurring in the Smith family, where Rigdon had been a frequent incog. visitor for a year or so, was said to have been accounted for only as a miracle!"

MARTIN HARRIS was the son of Nathan Harris, now deceased, an early settler in Palmyra, and was universally esteemed as an honest man. He was a prosperous farmer, possessing a benevolent disposition, and good judgment in ordinary business affairs. His mind was overbalanced by "marvellousness," and was very much exercised on the subject of religion; and his betrayal of vague superstitions, with a belief in "special providences," and in the terrestrial visits of angels, ghosts, &c., brought upon him the imputation of being "crazy." He was possessed of a sort of Bible monomania, and could probably repeat from memory every line of the scriptures, quoting chapter and verse in each instance. His family consisted of a wife, (from whom he was separated by mutual arrangement on account of her persistent unbelief in Mormonism,) and one son and two daughters. The farm mortgaged and sacrificed by him in the printing speculation is the same now owned and occupied by William Chapman, about a mile and a half north of Palmyra village He long since abandoned Joe Smith and the Mormons, though he bigotedly adheres to Mormonism, and obstinately refuses to acknowledge his deception in the Bogus Bible! His present residence is in some part of Ohio, and his condition that of extreme poverty.

Old Joe Smith, with his family, including the Prophet Joe (under whose spiritual direction the profanity was perpetrated,) were baptized by Rigdon in the immersion form, into the Mormon "Church of Latter Day Saints," about the date last mentioned. And so also were Harris, Cowdery, the Whitmers, and a number of other fanatical followers. -- By "special revelation," the senior Joe was ordained the first Patriarch and President of the Church; and by like authority he was appointed to sell the Mormon Bible at a fixed price, and appropriate a certain percentage of the proceeds to his own use. This was a changed revelation, for in the first instance the "command from above" was that Harris alone should be permitted to sell and receive money for the book until he should be reimbursed the cost of printing.

The exodus of the Smith family, first to some part of Pennsylvania -- preparatory to taking possession of the "Promise Land" at Kirtland, Ohio -- occurred in 1831 or '32. -- The Prophet went first, with Cowdery and a few other followers, and married a wife in Pennsylvania -- Rigdon having been instrumental in the match-making of this affair and was the officiating "clergyman" at its celebration. ...

Note 1: This piece is Pomeroy Tucker's follow-up to his article in the Press issue of May 26, 1858. The expurgated text is taken from Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents III.