Mormon History

Memories of Joe Smith - 1877

The Christian Cynosure December 20, 1877



EDITOR CHRISTIAN CYNOSURE: -- Noticing some allusions to my knowledge of Joseph Smith in your columns, I thought I would extract from the written history of my life some facts of the early life and character of Joseph Smith and the commencement of Mormonism. During the time I resided and kept tavern in the large brick house in the north part of Pembroke, Genesee county, New York (twenty-eight miles east of Buffalo and thirteen miles west of Batavia, on the great thoroughfare from Albany to Buffalo), came Joseph Smith to my house, I think, from Vermont. I took him to be about 18 or 19 years old, but he might have been a little older. He seemed to be thoroughly acquainted with the route from Canandaigua to Buffalo. He did not come to take up land on the Holland purchase, which was fast settling at that time, but he seemed to be a tramp. He carried with him three small black stones, with which, placed in the crown of his hat, and his hat placed before his eyes, he pretended to tell the fortunes of individuals; where lost or stolen property could be found; where early settlers had deposited their money. He would tell the girls what kind of a husband they would have, etc. He was very jovial, very cunning, loved to drink juleps, and would often tell fortunes for a drink. It was about the time that the surveying of the route of the canal from Lake Erie to Albany was completed. This project and enterprise of De Witt Clinton had been begun. It was fully in my mind from the facts that transpired at the time. Judge Clark, who resided at Buffalo, was at my house. He laughed at the foolish project of De Witt Clinton, running the State of New York in debt by his folly. The canal, he said, would never be completed. The Judge was on his way to Canandaigua bank for money. As the work on the canal had begun, many came from Connecticut and New England to take up articles for land on the Holland purchase. Many of these men went to work on the land. Another novel cirsumstance occurring at the time made Joe Smith's business quite profitable and popular, and was greatly annoying to me. A man by the name of Huntington, if I remember right, from Norwich, Conn., who brought girls and young women from Connecticut free of expense, to visit their friends and relatives, with the promise that if they did not get married or choose to stay he would take them back for nothing. He brought them to my house, and as I had horses an carriages suitable for the new roads, and knew where all the settlements were made, I was employed to carry them to their places of destination. He brought up three loads, and whether any were returned I never knew, nor did I know whether this man had any contract or bargain. All I knew was, they came to my hpuse, and I took them to the places of destination. Before starting, Joseph Smith would tell their fortunes, and I was greatly annpyed by him and the foolishness of the women, as well as their credulity. Smith would tell some things true and wonderful, like Spiritualism.

But the crowning of his reputation is yet to be told. Judge Clark, mentioned above, went to Canandaigua and got money from the bank. He wore, as was the fashion at that time, a large overcoat with pockets in each side, where a large pocket-book and handkerchief found a deposit. Judge Clark, when he got to my house, found his pocket-book and money missing, and he was extremely troubled about it. Some one said, "Why don't you ask Joe Smith to look into his stones and tell you where you lost it and where it can be found?" And so much was said, the Judge says, "Well, Smith, look into your stones and tell me where it is and whether I shall find it." Smith knew well the road from Canandaigua to Buffalo, and as soon as the cunning scamp looked into his stones, says, "I can see it. Didn't you ride down into the Honeyough to water your horse?" (a living spring of running water, a steep bank down to it, and muddy, between Bloomfield and Genesee river). The Judge thought a moment, and said, "Yes, I believe I did." Smith says in a moment, "I see it You stooped over to let your horse's head down, and your pocket-book fell out of your pocket and fell into the creek, and it floated down the stream, and I can see it lodged against a limb fallen into the creek." The Judge went back to the Honeyough and down the creek, but no pocket-book was to be seen. He returned to the place where he rode into the creek, which was a muddy place, and upon the bank, he saw the object of his search. It seemed, as his horse plunged out of the mud, the pocket-book was thrown out upon the bank. The Judge returned much elated, and although what Smith said and saw was not true, only the shrewd thought to ask the Judge about watering his horse in the Honeyough, knowing, no doubt, it was a steep, muddy place. But it raised Smith's reputation. He was famous, not only for his wonderful knowledge of lost property, but he seemed to know where the early settlers did deposit their money so the Indians would not find it. He got angered at a man who had built a foundation to erect a mill. He saw money deposited by an early settler, who sat down by this river and deposited his money in the earth just where the miller was erecting his abutments. Some of Smith's believers went and dug for the money and one of the walls fell. The diggers were disappointed, and helped rebuild it. This is the only act of mischief I ever heard of him, and of this I never searched the truth. It was a report, and whether true or not, I have no knowledge.

I moved from the brick house to the west part of Pembroke, and Smith went west to Alexander and Buffalo. I moved to Batavia in 1822; opened the Park tavern, and kept it a while. Then opened it as a school and boarding house for Rev. Calvin Colton's wife, as teacher. Subsequently the school was closed and I opened the house again as a tavern.

In 1827 I hired the Russell house, in the central part of the village of Batavia, and old stand, and a much larger house. All at once came Joseph Smith, with James [sic - Jacob?] Cockrane and James [sic - George?] Harris. Cockrane and Smith boarded with me; Harris lived in Batavia. The history of James Cockrane, as I learned it, was that he was a preacher down somewhere in Maine, who held the doctrine that men and women, when converted, became innocent as Adam and Eve before the fall, and had no shame -- went naked. He was taken up and lodged in jail for his blasphemy and crime, tried and sentenced to State prison for ten years. In 1826 his crime was out, and he came west to Batavia and found Joe Smith a fit companion. Cockrane wanted to preach in the court house and was permitted. I went to hear him, and a flow of words thick and fast, like hail upon a shingled roof, was about all I could hear, not a word spoken intelligently. He and Smith were very intimate.

There was living in Bethany, a Rev. M. Spaulding, a Presbyterian minister, whose mind was unbalanced. He had written some chronicles on the ruins of Central America and some Bible truths mixed up together. Some early history of the character of the inhabitants, connected with bigamy, etc. Joe Smith and Cockrane got some knowledge and borrowed it, and from the help of Spaulding's manuscript they made the Mormon Bible. Rev. Mr. Spaulding called and sent for it a great many times, and his wife came for it, but Smith would not let them have it. Smith told Spaulding, and I heard him, that they had made a Mormon Bible of it, and the Lord had taken it into the wilderness. And he, Joe Smith, prophesied where it was deposited in Palmyra woods about twelve miles east of Rochester, New York. James Harris was appointed to go and get it. He went and pretended he found it beside a log, just where Smith said it was. This, together with Freemasonry in Morgan's book, which Smith and Cockrane studied, and Smith's observations on the kidnapping of Morgan, made him quite popular. Mormonism was introduced and quite a number fell in with it. Smith went to Victor and in a schoolhouse opened his doctrine. At the close of his speech he fell flat on the floor, and claimed that God had met him, who did Paul at Damascus, and had converted him to the true doctrine of Mormonism. Some said Smith was drunk and fell down, but Smith held to the fact that Mormonism was approved of the Almighty, and the true state of society, as of old, was returning to bless and confirm the true doctrine of a multitude of wives and no absolute distinction of families.

The last month of 1829 I moved from Batavia to Boston, and about this time, or soon after, Smith and his followers moved to Nauvoo, and there he was killed.

This is the true history of Joe Smith and the beginning of Mormonism, and the people who subsequently settled at Salt Lake, and till recently were governed by Brigham Young. After Mr. Spaulding died, his wife came east to Munson, Massachusetts, while I lived there, to visit her friends or relatives, Dr. McKingsbury's family, my near neighbor. Mrs. Spaulding said her husband never got his manuscript from Smith.

On the 2d inst., December, 1877, an elderly lady called at my house. She was raised in Cunnebunk, Maine, and when about 15 years old she knew James Cockrane and many of his followers, and confirms the statement I have made of his doctrine and followers.

Note 1: The above text was taken from the files of the National Christian Association's Christian Cynosure, 1868-1984, preserved in the Special Collections of Wheaton College. See the Christian Cynosure of July 25, 1878 for a follow-up article. The Erie Canal was completed during the last week of October, 1825. Mr. Greene's recollection of Joseph Smith, Jr. passing through Pembroke twp., Geneseee Co., N. Y. must date to a time well prior to the canal's completion. Smith turned nineteen in February of 1824, and so an 1822-24 time period for his reported westerly wanderings are perhaps the years Greene had in mind. The nearby Orleans Advocate noticed an instance of some money-diggers using a seer-stone in a hat, near the end of 1825, but this event probably occurred two years or more after Mr. Greene's reported encounter with young Smith and his "three small black stones."

Note 2: The Dec. 13, 1899 issue of the RLDS Saints' Herald, contains these interesting remarks: "Rev. Samuel D. Green wrote an article entitled, "Joseph Smith the Mormon. (see Christian Cynosure, December 20, 1877.) When letters were written to him correcting his false statements, he replied: "Smith borrowed Spalding's manuscript, Spalding sent for it, Smith refused to give it back. Smith told Spalding, and I heard him, that he had made a Mormon Bible of it. I saw Mr. Spalding as late as 1827, and I have a letter from William Jenkins, that he saw Spalding in 1829."... Spalding died in 1816, yet one of the reverend gentlemen talked with him in 1827, the other in 1829.... Surely it is a Spalding romance." This information became the basis for a lengthier set of comments on the subject, offered by RLDS Elder J. S. Roth, in the June 25, 1908 issue of the Independence, Mo. Zion's Ensign. The 1877 Samuel D. Green assertions that most bothered the RLDS writers were: "There was living in Bethany, a Rev. M. Spaulding. * * * He had written some chronicles on the ruins of Central America and some Bible truths mixed up together. Some early history of the character of the inhabitants, connected with bigamy, etc. Joe Smith and Cochrane got some knowledge and borrowed it, and from the help of Spaulding's manuscript they made the Mormon Bible... After Mr. Spaulding died, his wife came east to Munson, Massachusetts, while I lived there, to visit her friends or relatives, Dr. McKingsbury's family, my near neighbor." The "Mr. Spalding," who "as late as 1827" was living near Batavia, New York (in either Bethany or Bennington twp.) was obviously Dr. Solomon Spalding (1797-1862), a cousin of the Spalding who wrote the Oberlin manuscript, etc., (see notes accompanying the Zion's Ensign article of Mar. 24, 1894 which constituted the very first RLDS report on the matter). The "Dr. McKingsbury" recalled by Mr. Green was Dr. Oliver W. McKinstry, who lived in Monson, Massachusetts, not far from Mr. Green, in later years. Dr. McKinstry's wife was the foster daughter of Solomon Spalding (1761-1816) and, thus, a shirt-tail relative of the Dr. Solomon Spalding (1797-1862) who resided near Batavia when Samuel D. Greene was there (during the infamous William Morgan affair).

Note 3: See also the marriage notice for "Doct. Solomon Spalding" in the Rochester Daily Advertiser of April 7, 1832. The "Dr. Spalding" there mentioned, as being married at Bennington twp., Genesee (now Wyoming) County, New York on March 25, 1832, was the author (editor?) of the unpublished religious novel, "Romance of Celes." The manuscript of that "celestial story" is now on file in the Library of Congress and is cataloged under the name of the better known Solomon Spalding of Ashford (1761-1816). The latter Solomon was a cousin, one generation removed, from Dr. Solomon Spalding (1797-1862), later of of Lorain Co., Ohio, who married Arvilla Ann Harris in 1832.

Note 4: Dr. Spalding's "Romance of Celes" (written in the hand of Arvilla Ann, before their 1832 marriage) is largely based upon the plurality of worlds notion championed by the Rev. Thomas Dick during the 1830s. The "Romance of Celes" may have been based upon an earlier literary work by Dr. Spalding's cousin, Solomon Spalding of Ashford. The story contains numerous thematic and phraseology parallels to both the Oberlin Spalding manuscript and the Book of Mormon.

Note 5: It may be more than a coincidence that Dr. Spalding, while he lived in western New York, was a member of the same Masonic lodge as was Oliver Cowdery's friend and subsequent business partner, (Edwin) Alanson Cooley. Another member of the "Olive Branch" lodge of Freemasons living in the Batavia-LeRoy-Attica area was William Morgan, the famous "anti-Masonic martyr." Oliver Cowdery reportedly once served as a scribe for Morgan (who is said to have written a fictional history of ancient America in the time of the Welsh explorer-prince, Madoc). William Morgan's wife, in 1838, became the first or second plural wife of Joseph Smith, Jr. See notes appended to articles in the Dec. 30, 1837 issue of the Niagara Democrat, for more on the Spalding-Cooley-Cowdery connection.

Note 6: Given Samuel D. Greene's erroneous recollection of Dr. Oliver McKinstry (by calling him "Dr. McKingsbury"), it becomes difficult to know where to trust his other memories. There was a "Rev. James Cochran" living in Batavia between 1825 and 1830 and he was likely the same "James Cochran" whom Henry Brown (a Batavia attorney) mentioned in connection with the 1827 funeral held at Batavia, for a man then supposed to have been the drowned William Morgan: "... a funeral oration pronounced by one James Cochran, who, Mr. Brown says, 'sometimes when sober, and sometimes when otherwise, preached in the vicinity, and was then assistant editor to Colonel Miller.'" (See Mr. Brown's 1829 book A narrative of the anti-masonick excitement... for the exact quotation). Did Samuel D. Greene confused Batavia's "James Cochran" with Maine's Prophe Jacob Cochran, or did Jacob Cochran (Cochrane/Cockrane) travel incognito, calling himself "James" during a mid-1820s visit to western New York? Has Greene confused the names "Cowdery" and "Cockrane? or "George W. Harris," "James Harris," and "Martin Harris?" Was George W. Harris (who later "shared" his wife, Lucinda Morgan Harris, with Joseph Smith, Jr.) a disciple of Jacob Cochran? Was the Masonic author, Rob Morris, correct when he identified Lucinda's first husband (William Morgan) as having been "a half way convert of Joe Smith"? Did Joseph Smith's cousin, Oliver Cowdery, reside with his brother Warren near Batavia during the infamous "Morgan Affair?" Did Oliver truly act as a part-time scribe for William Morgan? Did Oliver go from working at the Orleans Co. Newport Patriot to David C. Miller's Republican Advocate in adjacent Genesee Co., in 1825? Did Cowdery assist Morgan and Miller in the preparation of Morgan's 1826 book Illustrations of Masonry? Did a young Joseph Smith travel west, during the early 1820s, in search of a seer-stone, "on the South side of Lake Erie, not far from the New York and Pennsylvania line"? None of these queries are well answered in Mr. Greene's account -- it raises more questions than it answers.