The Mormons and Mormonism
Concerning the character and characteristics of Joseph Smith, Jr., I am able to
present some testimony never before published and some that has been published
but in a very limited way. The series of letters which this is the fourth has
elicited several communications, two of which are very pertinent and striking.
The first is from the Rev. Nelson Moon:
INTERIOR VIEW OF THE SMITH FAMILY
MINN., Jan. 23, 1905.
To the Editor of The Christian Advocate --
Dear Brother: Your editorial letter on Mormonism brought to my mind what my mother told me about the Smith family.
My mother was an honored member of the Presbyterian church in Palmyra, N. Y. She was left a widow with four little boys to bring up, and had very limited means.
At one time she lived in the same house with the Smith family.
Seventy years ago I left my mother at Palmyra, being then about eighteen years of age, and removed to Ohio. On my departure she warned me against everything bad, and finally said, "You know enough about Mormonism to avoid it entirely."
In speaking of the Smith family, illustrating their laziness, she said that she had known the girls to live a number of days on water gruel rather than to go out to work, and that the man who owned the house, in order to get them out of the house, made arrangements with her to move in when they were all out of the house, and thus take possession and hold it, which she did.
She informed me that the Smith family moved three or four miles south of town, and she (my mother) finally moved a half a mile south, on the same road, and supported the family by weaving. On a certain Saturday night she had a piece in the loom of about twenty yards woven. On Sunday the family went to church as usual. When they returned the woven part was cut out and gone. The next morning Joe Smith came along and mother told him of her loss, and Joe took out his peep-stone, and put it into his hat, and of course saw the man and described him, and the way he went from the house. To cut the story short, the talk in the neighborhood was that Joe Smith knew all about it before looking into his peep-stone. Excuse any errors and my writing, as I am past eighty-seven years old.
Your brother in Christ, Nelson Moon.
This letter reflects light upon the character, circumstances, and reputation in the community of Joe Smith, Jr., and the family at that time.
The second letter, equally interesting, relates to other circumstances:
THE SENTIMENTS OF
AND CITIZENS FIFTY YEARS AGO
MASS., Jan. 25, 1905.
The Rev. J. M. Buckley -- Dear Brother: I have just read with great interest your first chapter on Mormonism. I have been pastor and presiding elder in the East Genesee and the Genesee Conferences and am now a superannuated member of the last-named Conference. Nearly fifty years ago Bishop Simpson stationed me at Manchester, Ontario County, N. Y. One of my members owned the farm that included Mormon Hill, where Joseph Smith dug and pretended to find his book of revelation.
I took time to inquire of the oldest and most reliable families in regard to Joseph Smith, and by comparing what they told me found all you have written fully corroborated. Smith and his family were poor, lazy, and thirftless. No confidence was placed in the veracity of the Smith family.
Mormon Hill was located in the northwest corner of Manchester, but a short distance from Palmyra on the north and Farmington on the west. In both of the last-named towns I made the same inquiry, and received the same reply as was given in Manchester. No stir, nor converts of any standing did Smith make in all these towns. The families gave the Smith history and smiled upon the people at a distance who were being humbugged by a man of the ignorance of Joseph Smith. In the town and surrounding country where this fraud began they have no converts, no saints, no place of worship. Sincerely yours, A. F. Morey.
At Manchester Joseph Smith, Jr., kived after the family removed from Palmyra, and there he took his wife, Emma, under the circumstances detailed in the first letter.
DIRECT LIGHT ON IMPORTANT FACTS
In the autumn
of 1903 I had some correspondence with Mr. John Bills. He is a cousin of the
late Dr. James E. Bills, one of the best known of our ministers in western New
York. Mr. John D. Bills informed me that he was then in his eighty-seventh year.
After writing me a letter of considerable length he referred me to Dr. Charles
W. Winchester, a friend of his, now president of Taylor University at Upland,
Ind., to whom he had dictated his Reminiscences; and from that dictation, which
was printed in a paper of limited circulation, of which Dr. Winchester was then
editor, and which under his successor went out of existence, we reprint the
I was born in Groton, New London County, Conn., Nov. 2. 1817, and came to Palmyra in 1825. I came up in the first canal boat which ever made a trip on the Erie Canal. It ran only as far as Rochester that year, I lived with my grandfather and uncle at Palmyra. My father was a sailor. I first met Joe Smith on the farm of Martin Harris, where he came to work. I was between ten and twelve years old at that time. Martin Harris's farm joined my grandfather's farm * * * He worked for Martin Harris, off and on, for about two years. He never worked long at one place. He had very little education.
Of Martin Harris, he says: "He was naturally an intelligent man, but had very little education. His farm was just north of Palmyra village; my grandfather's farm joined it on the north."
When I used to be at Harris's I heard Harris, Sidney Rigdon, and Joe Smith talking about the new bible they pretended they had found. They said they found a lot of gold plates in the ground in a hill on the road to Canandaigua. Admiral Sampson afterward bought the ground where they pretended to dig those plates of gold. His nrother's widow owns it now. Martin Harris used to come to my grandfather's and tell about the gold plates they had found, and I heard a great deal about them. They kept those pretended gold plates in a chest bound with iron and locked with a padlock. I knew the man that made the chest and I saw the chest when it was being made. The padlock was bought of my cousin, Johnnie Haven, who at that time was a dealer in hardware.
He decsribed the publication by Grandin, who owned the printing office, and Gilbert, who did the printing and then proceeds:
I knew Major Gilbert well. I saw the manuscript in Martin Harris's house in a clothespress. I took the manuscript out of the chest myself. I went to Harris's house one night to play games, and one of the daughters (there were three children, two daughters and one son) said shee would show me something if I would promise never to tell. She took me upstairs to this closet and there was the chest. Smith had gone away in a great hurry that day and in locking the chest he did not push the padlock in far enough; so when he turned the key it did not lock. So we opened it, and found this manuscript of the Mormon book. There were several bundles. They were written on old-fashioned foolscap paper. Holes were made through the sheets of paper and tied with black tape. They were written with a goose-quill pen and the paper was ruled by hand with a piece of lead, They were written in a very heavy hand, John Hancock style. My grandfather had a copy of the first edition of the printed book in his house for years. My grandfather's niece had the book after his death. She was offered one hundred dollars for it, but would not accept it.
Mr. Bills says that at the time when he "first saw Joseph Smith, Jr., he was a fine looking man, about thirty years of age." In that recollection he must be wrong, as the manuscript was off the press in June, 1829, and at that time he was about twenty-four years old.
He states that "the manuscript of the book was written in such a way that Mr. Gilbert, the printer, had to punctuate it, set the type, and read the proof, thereby making the expense much greater than they expected; and it took the whole value of the farm to pay the bill, except six hundred dollars." Mr. Bills states that he heard Joseph Smith say a great many times that he read the gold plates by going into a dark place and putting them in his hat, and then holding the hat close to his face. He states also that the second edition of the book contained many changes.
THE TESTIMONY OF MRS. ABIGAIL HARRIS
Harris, a sister-in-law of Martin Harris, a member of the Society of Friends,
and universally respected,
states that early in the winter of 1828 she "made a visit to Martin Harris,
and was joined in company by Joseph Smith, Sr., and his wife. They had a long
conversation about the golden plates," and old Mrs. Smith said that "after the
book was translated the plates were to be publicly exhibited, admission
twenty-five cents." "She calculated it would bring in annually an enormous sum
of money, and they had been commanded to obtain all the money they could borrow
and repay with gold." The old lady took her into another room, and after closing
the door said, "Have you four or five dollars of money that you can lend me
until our business shall be brought to a close?" "The Spirit says you shall
receive four-fold." Abigail Harris told her that when she gave she "did not
expect to receive it again; and as for money, she had none to lend." She stated
further that the following month Martin Harris and Lucy Harris, his wife, were
at her house. "In conversation about the Mormonites, Lucy Harris observed that
she wished her husband would quit them, as she believed it all false and a
delusion," to which, says Abigail Harris, "I heard Mr. Harris reply, 'What if it
is? If you will let me alone I will make money out of it.'" Mrs. Martin Harris
herself made an affidavit to the statement that she heard what Abigail Harris
declares was said to her.
Before I reach the strange scenes and events which followed the publication of the book, there is one question to be answered, if possible. That is, Where did the materials of the Book of Mormon originate?
The problem is, if Joseph Smith, Jr., was an ignorant as ALL THE FACTS SHOW THAT HE WAS, whence came the contents of the Book of Mormon? He could not write it. It would have been impossible for him to conceive this history. To show the impossibility of it, as far as the alleged historical parts are concerned, no argument is needed. But it was quite possible for him to add some of the matter, consisting of long exhortations, visions, parables, and religious meditations which are in the style of the preachers of various denominations which Smith had heard from his youth, and to be the author of many of the grammatical errors. Much of the lurid exhortations of the Millerites and of the more excitable and less educated Methodists, Baptists, and others are introduced, repetitious and ungrammatical.
But after this is allowed, it is necessary to account for the history, the systematic character of the different books, and the amount of invention which they contain. To do this two theories have been brought forth, which by the more astute have been connected. I fully agree with the statement made by Linn (and in substance by many others), that the most careful student of the career of Joseph Smith, Jr., and of his family and associates up to the year 1827, will fail to find any ground for the belief that he alone or simply with their assistance was capable of composing the Book of Mormon, crude in every sense as that work is. I cannot go as far as he does, however, when he says, "We must therefore accept, as do the Mormons, the statement that the text was divinely revealed to Smith, or must look for some directing hand behind the scene, which supplied the historical part and applied the theological." I do agree that there was a directing hand behind the scene as respects the historical part, and also another with respect to certain other portions. But the theological part, with a few exceptions, was at that time practically the orthodox evangelical view.
THE SPAULDING MANUSCRIPT
unpublished manuscript was found, known in this controversy as the Spaulding
manuscript. It is necessary to know who Spaulding was and how he was connected
with this subject.
No one pretends that he ever heard of Mormonism, and all admit that Mormonism did not rise until long after he died. Solomon Spaulding, a native of Ashford, Conn., was born in 1761, and was a student in Dartmouth College of the Class of 1785, and afterwards for some years had charge of a church. Later he gave up preaching, and conducted an academy at Cherry Valley, N. Y. Still later he moved to Conneaut, O., and in 1809 he and Henry Lake built and conducted a forge at Salem (former name of Conneaut), and it was there he began to write with a view to publication. I condense all the facts and theories until the crucial point is reached.
Spaulding was not successful in business and was overwhelmed with debts. While at Conneaut his attention was directed to the mounds in that vicinity, from which had been exhumed some human bones that were portions of gigantic skeletons, and also various relics. He concluded to write a fanciful history of the anciemt races of this country, and wrote a work called The Manuscript Found. This work, with the partiality of a parent, he considered to be of great literary merit. He "counted on being able to pay his debts from the proceeds of the sale," and frequently read to his neighbors selections from his manuscript. He diligently tried to find a publisher, and in order to do so took his family to Pittsburg. There a printer by the name of Patterson spoke well of it, but he never succeeded in finding anyone willing to publish it. After this he settled in Amity, Pa., where he died in 1816. Joseph Smith, Jr., being at that time only eleven years of age. The next point is that his widow and their only child, a daughter, went to live with Mrs. Spaulding's brother, Mr. W. H. Sabine, at Onondaga Valley, N. Y., and moved all their effects there.
In 1834 more than four years after the first appearance of the Book of Mormon, the theory that it was a plagiarism from an unpublished novel of Solomon Spaulding was broached. In the next letter I shall introduce testimonies in the plagiarism. J. M. B.
WORD FAITH INDEX
CATHOLIC CHURCH INDEX