Mormon History

Memories of Joe Smith - 1867

Rochester Daily Union and Advertiser October 1, 1867

For the Union & Advertiser.

Joe  Smith,  the  Mormon  Prophet.

Messrs. Editors: -- In your last evening's paper (Saturday) in speaking of Mr. Tucker's forthcoming book on Mormonism, you ask who and what was Joe Smith, and you spoke of men in Western New York who can intelligently answer these and more questions from personal knowledge.

I knew him well before his book was published. He was then a wood-cutter on my farm, more willing to live by his wits than his axe, and worked through the winter in company with some twenty or thirty others, rough backwoodsmen. He and his two associates built a rude cabin of poles and brush, covered with leaves and earth, in the woods open to the south, with a camp-kettle in front for cooking; and here, at night, around a huge fire, he and his companions would gather, ten or a dozen at a time, to tell hard stories and sing songs and drink cheap whiskey, (two shillings per gallon), and although there were some hard cases among them, Joe could beat them all for tough stories and impracticable adventures, and it was in this school, I believe, that he first conceived his wonderful invention of the golden plates and marvelous revelations. And as these exercises were rehearsed nightly to his hearers, and as their ears grew longer to receive them, so his tales grew the more marvelous to please them, until some of them supposed that he also believed his own stories. But of this fact, there is no proof. He was impudent and assuming among his fellows, but ignorant and dishonest, plausible and obsequious to others, with sufficient low cunning to conceal his ignorance, but in my estimation, utterly unqualified to compose even such a jumble of truth and fiction as his book contained.

The most probable theory of the origin that I remember to have heard, is that it was that strange work of an eccentric Vermont Clergyman, written to while away the tedious hours of long confinement by nervous debility, and this idle production, after his decease, fell into Joe's hands, and that having learned something of the gullibility of his cronies, this incidental matter incited in him the first idea of turning his foolish stories to account, and thus enable him to make the surreptitious manuscript the text book of his gross imposition. I speak understandingly in saying he was shameless as well as dishonest, and I relate a small matter to prove it. During the winter he was chopping for me. I was in the habit of riding through the clearing daily to see that the brush was piled as agreed, the wood fairly corded, and no scattering trees left uncut, and in this way became well acquainted with the conduct of every man; and on each Saturday took an account and paid the hands. My mode was to ride around while each party measured their ranks and turned a few sticks on the top to show they had been counted. In this way I one day took Joe's account, he accompanying me and removing the sticks on the top of each rank. After thus going the rounds and returning to the shanty, he said that he had another rank or two that I had not seen, and led me in a different direction in a roundabout way, to wood that I had already measured, but the sticks on top had all been laid back to their places. I saw the trick at once, and could only make him confess his attempt to cheat, by re-measuring the whole lot; and all this he thought would have been a fair trick if I had not found it out. So much for the man in small things.

After he left in the spring, I lost sight of him, until my friend Judge Whiting (long deceased) of the very respectable firm of Whiting and Butler, Attorneys, who was then loaning money on mortgages for a trust company, asked me if I knew anything about Joe Smith. I told him that I knew him for a great rogue in a small way, when he informed me that he pretended to be a prophet, and was about publishing a Book of Revelations, and had induced two credulous men in Palmyra to apply to him (Judge W.) for money on mortgages to publish it.

I learned afterward that Joe and an associate had prevailed on a worthy citizen of Waterloo (Col. C.) who was then in a state of great depression from the recent loss of his wife, to join their fraternity and cast in his lot among them; and that while they were at his home taking inventory of his effects for the purpose, his son, a spirited young man, came in and on finding what they were about threatened them so strongly with a prosecution as swindlers, that they left for the time until his father had recovered from his delusion and escaped them.

I know nothing further of his doings here, but after his removal to Ohio, when he established a bank that failed, I was shown one of his bills, and I recollect that on examining it I thought the device on the face of it was most admirably appropriate, viz.: a sturdy fellow shearing a sheep.      T. D. H.

Note 1: The "Col. C." mentioned in this account may have been Col. James Covill. As for there having been a second financier for the Book of Mormon, other than Martin Harris, see the various later Daniel Hendrix statements, in which Hendrix recalled a Mr. Andrews of Auburn, New York having furnished money for that purpose.

Note 2: The writer's recollection of Joseph Smith, Jr. having been a wood-cutter at one point in his young life may well be a true one. Various early accounts tell of the Smith family men hiring out as temporary common laborers in the Palmyra area, or even farther afield. A Mrs. J. B. Buck recalled Smith having worked at "lumbering" in 1818 or shortly thereafter, this being "some years before he took to 'peeping', and before [money] diggings were commenced under his direction." Also, a corporate agreement between Joseph Smith, Jr. and eight others -- executed at Harmony, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 1, 1825 -- included provision for "the widow Harper," wife of the late Oliver Harper. Harper's business interests included timber cutting and the shipment of logs down the Susquehanna and it appears that Joseph Smith, Sr. and his son Joseph Smith. Jr. were employed as early as 1822 by Harper, in various capacities, up to the time of his murder in May of 1824.