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The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr.


Much like politics and the entertainment industry, religion is rife with controversy and dispute. Protestants and Catholics argue over the teachings of the Bible, atheists and the devout theorize over the purpose of life and the creation of the world, and Buddhists and Hindus quibble over whether the Ultimate Existence consists of everything or nothing. In some instances this discord erupts to such an extent against a particular religion that it develops its own identity; those who might typically disagree unite in their common disapproval of another.

The anti-Mormon movement is a prominent and historied example of such a coalition. Books, websites and speakers dedicated against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints1 number in the thousands and spring from myriad organizations, from previous church members to the government. Criticisms of the church’s early leadership, specifically statements made by or the actions of claimed LDS prophets,2 are particularly common. This is not surprising considering the puzzle of the establishment of the LDS church,3 and the fact that attacking a movement’s source may be the most direct way to attempt to disprove it.

The fervor and innate bias of those participating in any of these "anti" activities, be it politics, religion or entertainment, require that the truth-seeker carefully investigate claims to obtain objective and verified facts.

Overview of Allegations Concerning the 1826 Incident

One allegation against the foundation of Mormonism concerns an 1826 court incident involving Joseph Smith, Jr. (JS) in Bainbridge County, New York. There have been accounts published of this event from various sources in the 19th century and recently court documentation is said to have surfaced confirming the reality of the proceeding. Uncounted authors and web personalities have offered their interpretations.

Fawn Brodie’s biography of JS provides perhaps the most famous allegation concerning the 1826 event. She claimed, "On the basis of the testimony presented, including Joseph’s own admission of indulging in magic arts and organizing hunts for buried gold, the court ruled him guilty of disturbing the peace."4 Reverend Wesley P. Walters claims to have found court documentation supporting allegations that JS spent part of his early career in southern New York as a "money digger."5 Periodicals and websites have sprung up citing Walters’ findings as evidence against the LDS Church, allegedly fulfilling of a statement made by Hugh Nibley, a well-known LDS author, that (as it is most commonly quoted), "… if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith."6

A detailed analysis of the available information concerning the 1826 event is necessary to evaluate the above claims. Did a trial ever take place, and if so, what were the circumstances and result?

Environment of the Incident

The alleged 1826 trial must be understood in its context. Towards that end, the circumstances of JS, his family, their relationship with the others involved, and their environment must be discussed.

Smith Family Temporal Circumstances

JS’s parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Smith, were married in 1796 and started what was to become a large family. They moved multiple times around Vermont and New Hampshire in search of better circumstances before spending everything they had to transfer to Palmyra, New York in 1816.7

Four years later, they were finally successful in obtaining a farm after building a log house on the adjacent property. By late 1824, however, the Smith family was faced with paying for a recently completed frame house and at least two land payments. The oldest son in the family, Alvin, who had become a significant contributor to the family income, died in late 1823 and the next two boys, Hyrum and Joseph Jr., were forced to scout the surrounding area for work.

Despite the efforts of the entire family, the farm was lost in 1825. The Smiths persuaded a local Quaker landlord to purchase the farm and benefit from their improvements while they rented it.8 The younger sons, Samuel and William, ages eighteen and fifteen, respectively, handled the work on the farm while JS again worked elsewhere. While employed in Bainbridge, Joseph boarded at the Hale house, where he met Emma Hale, with whom he later eloped against the wishes of her devout Methodist father.

Hiring Circumstances

Joseph’s employment in Bainbridge is of particular interest here. JS and his father were hired by Josiah Stowell Sr. in October, 1825 to help dig in search of a Spanish silver mine near Harmony, Pennsylvania.

Although JS had been described by Stowell’s business partner, Joseph Knight, as "the best hand he ever hired,"9 Stowell sought the help of JS "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye."10 Stowell had been unsuccessful in his search for the Spanish mine and, having heard that Joseph had discovered two "seer" stones and used them to help others find lost property, hoped to take advantage.11

Joseph Sr. and JS were to receive two-elevenths of the findings as their wage.12 This arrangement proved fruitless, however, as "[a]fter laboring for the old gentleman about a month, without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations."13 JS continued to work in the area and when Stowell did not require all of his time, he worked for Knight Sr., who ran carding machinery, a gristmill and farms.14

Later, after the end of the digging expedition, Stowell and Knight’s business relationship with the Smiths continued when they visited Palmyra and lent money to the Smith family with the next year’s wheat crop as collateral.15,16

Community Circumstances

The Palmyra area thrived in a culture of superstition in which the Smiths and many others were involved. Willard, a friend of JS, and his sister Sally were each said to have been in possession of "seer stones;" the latter even attempted to use hers to guide a group headed by Willard that searched the Smith house.17,18,19 The Palmyra Herald described "digging for money hid in the earth" as "a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment."20 About half a mile from the Smiths lived a clan of Staffords, the father of which was said to have had a seer stone. According to Cornelius Stafford, "There was much digging for money on our farm and about the neighborhood. I saw Uncle John and Cousin Joshua Stafford dig a hole twenty feet long, eight broad and seven deep."21,22 The money-digging epidemic was not isolated in upstate New York, either. In Vermont, the Nathaniel Woods family in conjunction with one Winchell used a "St. John’s" rod from 1800 to 1802 to find guarded treasure.23 Other examples of money-digging and stone-looking are plentiful in publications of the day.24,25,26

The culture was one full of belief in preternatural powers aiding and impeding human enterprise that the 18th century rationalism had failed to extinguish. Although the newspapers and ministers scoffed at the ideas, they nonetheless persevered among the common people, who had no problem blending Christian belief in angels and devils with belief in guardian spirits and magical powers. For example, the Willard Chase previously mentioned was a Methodist class leader and was described as a minister in his obituary. Josiah Stowell, who employed JS in search of Spanish bullion, was an upright and honored Presbyterian.27,28,29 JS is said to have been partial to the Methodist sect in his youth,30,31,32 while Lucy attended the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra with Hyrum, Syphronia and Samuel.33,34 Yet, the Smiths, like others in their vicinity, probably believed in things like rod and stone divining, as well as the rudimentary astrology found in almanacs.35 Magic and religion melded in the culture of the time.

Character Circumstances

According to the timeline of JS’s own account, the 1826 incident would have come during a period of prophetic preparation. In his History of the Church, JS claims he was visited by God the Father and the Son around 1820 and then the angel Moroni three years later. The latter visitor showed JS the location of "gold plates" and instructed him to return to the place each year on the same date. In 1827, after four years, JS allegedly received the plates which he claimed to translate into the Book of Mormon.36

According to numerous sources, the delay in receiving the plates was due to JS’s lack of preparation. Oliver Cowdery wrote in 1835 that JS was unable to overcome his baser motives at the first visit of Moroni. When he saw the gold plates, Mr. Cowdery said JS began calculating how to "add to his store of wealth … without once thinking of the solemn instruction of the heavenly messenger, that all must be done with an express view of glorifying God." Cowdery’s account states that the angel prevented JS from removing the plates on the first visit, explaining that "the commandment was strict, and … if ever these sacred things are obtained they must be by prayer and faithfulness in obeying the Lord."37 JS’s mother, Lucy Smith, told of the angel Moroni describing, "the operation of a good Spirit and an evil one," urging JS to avoid the greed of money-digging and to follow a different course, to "keep your mind always staid upon God that no evil may come into your heart."38 Martin Harris remembered JS saying that "the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal."39 From these accounts, it is obvious that those close to JS understood the four-year delay as a kind of probation in which he was to abandon any temporal use of his "gift" to concentrate on his divine call.

Published Accounts

Having established the circumstances of those involved, the eight presently identified published accounts mentioning the 1826 event shall be discussed. The first account to mention the 1826 incident was published in 1873 and the last in 1886. Four of the accounts stem from the same claimed source, and the others come from personages ranging from avowed enemies of the LDS Church to those intimately involved with it. While similar enough to assure something happened with JS and the court of Bainbridge, as shown in Table 1, the accounts differ with respect to some of the most pertenent details.


|border’’’Table 1.‘’’ Published accounts summary.

Concerning the accounts collectively, it is odd to note the lapse between the incident and the first published account. William D. Purple, the only eye-witness to the incident who published a detailed account, said he told many people about the trial between 1826 and 1877, recounting the testimonies and verdict in detail.40 Considering the alleged nature and outcome, it would seem natural for those who were against the Mormon Church to talk to someone who had attended the trial, any of those Purple told about the trial or even Purple himself. Yet, such is absent in the abundance of publications critical of the Mormon Church, the Book of Mormon and JS.

In this same vein, Isaac Hale, JS’s future father-in-law with whom he boarded during the 1826 trial period, was strongly against JS and made several critical statements about him and his religion. It seems odd that none of them mentioned the trial, which happened in Hale’s hometown right before JS eloped with his daughter against his wishes.

Benton Account

The first publication to give any detail on the alleged 1826 trial, entitled "Mormonites," was written by Abram W. Benton and published in the Evangelical Magazine & Gospel Advocate in 1831,41 within a year of the legal organization of the Mormon Church and the publication of the Book of Mormon. Its stated motivation was to give a "fuller history of [the Mormons’] founder, Joseph Smith, Jr." by "[making] a few remarks on the character of that infamous imposter." The majority of the account is dedicated to the well-documented 1830 trial of JS, in which Benton filed a "disorderly person" complaint against JS.42 The second and third paragraphs of the account, however, are concerning the 1826 incident:

"For several years preceding the appearance of his book, he was about the country in the character of a glass-looker: pretending, by means of a certain stone, or glass, which he put in a hat, to be able to discover lost goods, hidden treasures, mines of gold and silver, &c. Although he constantly failed in his pretensions, still he had his dupes who put implicit confidence in all his words. In this town, a wealthy farmer, named Josiah Stowell, together with others, spent large sums of money in digging for hidden money, which this Smith pretended he could see, and told them where to dig; but they never found their treasure.

"At length the public, becoming wearied with the base imposition which he was palming upon the credulity of the ignorant, for the purpose of sponging his living from their earnings, had him arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice. But, considering his youth, (he being then a minor,) and thinking he might reform his conduct, he was designedly allowed to escape. This was four or five years ago. From this time he absented himself from this place, returning only privately, and holding clandestine intercourse with his credulous dupes, for two or three years."43

According to this account, the public brought the disorderly person charges against JS because they thought him a "disorderly person," or con-artist. According to the Laws of the State of New-York, a disorderly person includes, "All jugglers44 and all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretending to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found … shall be deemed and adjudged disorderly persons."45,46,47 According to John S. Reed, JS’s 1830 council, this crime was punishable by a fine and imprisonment.48

The witnesses present in the trial or their testimony are not mentioned, but Benton states that JS was condemned before the court. This does not imply a guilty verdict in a trial setting, however. John Reid, JS’s attorney at the 1830 trial, indicated JS was condemned in that setting despite the fact that he was found not guilty.49 Being "condemned" appears to be equivalent to being given a court tongue-lashing and then released, which would be consistent with a court that disbelieved the JS account of his religious claims, but recognized he did nothing against the law. This could be what Benton indicates as an intentional release of JS by the court due to his age.

It is notable that the account does not mention an indictment or verdict. Rather, Benton dismisses the release as being a result of JS’s age and moves on. Given the general demeanor of the publication, it seems probable that an indictment or conviction just four years earlier on the same charges would have been emphasized.

Benton mentioned that JS avoided publicly returning to the area, which would be expected if JS was found guilty of a misdemeanor offense. According to the Laws of the State of New-York in 1813, justices had power in misdemeanor cases "to impose a fine not exceeding twenty-five dollars, or imprisonment in the common goal of the county not exceeding six months, or both, as the case may require."50 The same statute stipulated that nonresidents of the county, upon payment of the fine and/or release from prison, should be "immediately ordered or transported out of the said county to his last place of settlement or abode if known; and if any person so ordered or transported shall remain in the said county for forty-eight hours, or return thereto within six calender months after such order or transportation, he shall be again fined as aforesaid, or confined as aforesaid …"51 However, such action does not appear to have been taken or enforced, as JS and Emma’s marriage was solemnized on January 18, 1827 in the very same county by Justice Zechariah Tarble.52

The objectivity of the account is questionable. Benton states that a Mormon’s testimony cannot be trusted in court and he has an obvious dislike for members of the religion in general and JS in particular.

Oliver Cowdery Account

Cowdery was close to JS, but did not know him until after 1826. He most likely gained his knowledge concerning the incident from JS and his family/friends, which he then mentioned in a letter to W. W. Phelps in 1835.53 The segment pertaining to the topic at hand, as printed in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, is as follows:

"On the private character of our brother I need add nothing further at present, previous to his obtaining the records of the Nephites, only that while in that country, some very officious person complained of him as a disorderly person, and brought him before the authorities of the county; but there being no cause of action, he was honourably acquitted."54

Image error (Cowdery.JPG, 55, Article). Check that [[Image:Cowdery.JPG]] exists.

His motivation is to explain the "private character of our brother." He does not name the accuser, but mentions a "very officious" person, which implies the motive. His recollection of the "disorderly person" charge is in line with Benton and, also like Benton, he does not mention the witnesses, their number, or the content of their testimony. He said that "there being no cause of action, he was honorably acquitted," which reflects a much different tone than Benton, but the result is essentially the same: JS was released without imprisonment.

Cowdery’s objectivity is also questionable. Cowdery was close to JS and had an interest in the success of the church which JS founded due to his membership.

Noble Account

The Noble account consists of an 1842 letter written by Joel K. Noble,55 the Colesville Justice before whom JS would appear in 1830. The letter was said to have been written to Jonathan Turner when he was preparing his 1842 book, Mormonism In All Ages.56 The section of the letter directly applicable to the 1826 trial reads as follows:

"Jo. engaged the attention of a few indiv[iduals] Given to the marvelous Duge for money Salt Iron Oar Golden Oar Silver Oar and almost any thing every thing until Civil authority brought up Jo. standing (as the Boys say) under the Vagrant act[.] Jo. was condemned whisper came to Jo. off off – took Leg Bail (or gave [Leg_Bail]) all things straight: Jo. was not seen in our town for ~~ 2 years or more (except in Dark corners) [H]is haunt was Palmyra and Harmony (Penn.) Bainbridge (in the Dark) making a triangle – here for 2 Y. and more"57


|border’’’Figure 2.‘’’ Page one of the Noble letter.^^^Image courtesy of Illinois Historical Society.^^^

Noble writes to explain the "character of the Mormons" in response to an inquiry from Turner.58 He touches on the 1826 trial only briefly in the beginning of the second paragraph. There is no evidence that Noble attended the trial, so the account appears to be hearsay, as is mentioned in the letter. The charges are specified to be "under the Vagrant Act," which does not line up with what we have already established concerning JS’s employment at the request of Josiah Stowell, and brought against JS by the "civil authority." The motivation of the charges and any information concerning the witnesses are absent. Noble states that JS "was condemned" but that a "whisper came to Jo. off off" and that he "took leg bail."

The discussion earlier concerning the use of the word "condemned" in conjunction with the Benton account holds true here. The reality of the solemnization of Joseph and Emma’s marriage should also be mentioned again, as Nobles states incorrectly that "Jo. was not seen in our town for of 2 Years or more (except in Dark corners)."

Pearsall Accounts

Up until this point, all published accounts have come from obviously biased sources on both sides. In 1873, however, an account claiming to have been torn directly from the docket book of the Justice of the Peace presiding at the "trial" was published in London.

According to her Episcopalian bishop, Daniel S. Tuttle, Ms. Emily Pearsall came to Salt Lake City from Bainbridge in 1870 to assist her church and died after two years of faithful service.59 She is said to have brought with her from Bainbridge a record of the "examination" that she tore from her uncle,60 Judge Neely’s docket book.61 After her death on November 5, 187262 Tuttle inherited the record. He later gave the record to the Methodists, after which it was lost. The account was published four times.


The London account came in the English periodical Fraser’s Magazine, published as part of the text of an article entitled, "The Original Prophet," which was signed with the initials "C. M." The author is presumably Charles Marshall, who had published other articles in the same magazine previously based on his 1871 visit to Utah. Mr. Marshall claimed in the publication, "The original papers were lent me by a lady of well-known position, in whose family they had been preserved since the date of the transactions." This woman is assumed to be Ms. Pearsall. The account reads as follows:63

"State of New York v. Joseph Smith.
bq. "Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an impostor.
bq. "Prisoner brought before Court March 20, 1826. Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been employed in looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially his eyes, making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business.
bq. "Josiah Stowel sworn: says that prisoner had been at his house something like five months; had been employed by him to work on farm part of time; that he pretended to have skill of telling where hidden treasures in the earth were by means of looking through a certain stone; that prisoner had looked for him sometimes; once to tell him about money buried in Bend Mountain in Pennsylvania, once for gold on Monument Hill, and once for a salt spring; and that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did possess the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone; that he found the [word illegible] at Bend and Monument Hill as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attleton for a mine, did not exactly find it, but got a p—-[word unfinished] of ore which resembled gold, he thinks; that prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; that he and prisoner had been in search of it; that prisoner had said it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail feather; that said Stowel and prisoner thereupon commenced digging, found a tail feather, but money was gone; that he supposed the money moved down. That prisoner did offer his services; that he never deceived him; that prisoner looked through stone and described Josiah Stowel’s house and outhouses, while at Palmyra at Simpson Stowel’s, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree, with a man’s head painted upon it, by means of said stone. That he had been in company with prisoner digging for gold, and had the most implicit faith in prisoner’s skill.
bq. "Arad Stowel sworn: says that he went to see whether prisoner could convince him that he possessed the skill he professed to have, upon which prisoner laid a book upon a white cloth, and proposed looking through another Stone which was white and transparent, hold the stone to the candle, turn his head to book, and read. The deception appeared so palpable that witness went off disgusted.
bq. "McMaster sworn: says he went with Arad Stowel, and likewise came away disgusted. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; that prisoner rather declined looking into a hat at his dark coloured stone, as he said that it hurt his eyes.
bq. "Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look for chest of money; did look, and pretended to know there it was; and that prisoner, Thompson, and Yeomans went in search of it; that Smith arrived at spot first; was at night; that Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, told how the chest was situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried, [which] came all fresh to his mind. That the last time he looked he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk, that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner’s professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but on account of an enchantment the trunk kept settling away from under them when digging, that notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them. Says prisoner said that it appeared to him that salt might be found at Bainbridge, and that he is certain that prisoner can divine things by means of said stone. That as evidence of the fact prisoner looked into his hat to tell him about some money witness lost sixteen years ago, and that he described the man that witness supposed had taken it, and the disposition of the money:
bq. "And therefore the Court find the Defendant guilty. Costs: Warrant, 19c. Complaint upon oath, 25 1/2c. Seven witnesses, 87 1/2c. Recognisances [sic], 25c. Mittimus, 19c. Recognisances [sic] of witnesses, 75c. Subpoena, 18c. – $2.68. "

Peter G. Bridgman, Mr. Stowell’s wife’s nephew and a trustee of the West Bainbridge Methodist Episcopal Church,64 is said to have brought the disorderly person and imposter charges, although the motivation of the charges is not mentioned. Four witnesses are quoted after JS is first "examined;" Josiah Stowell, Arad Stowell, McMaster, and Jonathan Thompson are sworn. It is apparent that three witnesses are missing, as the charges at the end of the publication indicate seven witnesses, but only these four are quoted. The conclusion of the trial and the activities after are addressed very briefly, indicating only that the "court [found] the defendant guilty."


The Fraser’s Magazine article was reprinted in the American periodical Eclectic Magazine in the same year.65


Ten years later, Ms. Pearsall’s Episcopalian bishop, Daniel S. Tuttle, published the account again in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.66 The entry began with a short description of JS and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and then included the Pearsall account, although it differed slightly from the previously published version.

To enable easier comparison with the Fraser’s publication, the content additions are bolded below and the subtractions lined-through. Sections reflecting the previously published Fraser’s account exactly, or differeing only in punctuation, are omitted:

"Daniel S. Tuttle, "Mormons," Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1882"
bq. "…67
bq. "In what light he appeared to others may be gathered from the following extract, never before published from the records of the proceedings before a Justice of the peace of Bainbridge, Chenango County, N. Y.:—

""People of the State of New York vs. Joseph Smith. Warrant issued upon written complaint upon the oath of Peter G. Bridgman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter. Prisoner was brought into before court March 20 (1826). Prisoner examined. Says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of the time since; … and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and informed him where he could find those these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them; … that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account its injuring his health, especially his eyes— made making them sore; …

""Josiah Stowel sworn. Says … that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did posses professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone; that he found the digging part at Bend and Monument Hill as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attelon, for a mine—did not exactly find it, but got a p*iece* of ore, which resembled gold, he thinks; that the prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; …

""Horace Stowel sworn. Says he sees prisoner look into hat through stone, pretending to tell where a chest of dollars were buried in Windsor, a number of miles distant; marked out size of chest in the leaves on ground.

""Arad Stowel sworn. Says that he went to see whether prisoner could convince him that he possessed the skill that he professed to have, upon which prisoner laid a book open upon a white cloth, and proposed looking through another stone which was white and transparent; hold the stone to the candle, turn his back head to the book and read. The deception appeared so palpable, that witness went off disgusted.

""McMaster sworn. Says he went with Arad Stowel to be convinced of prisoner’s skill, and likewise came away disgusted, finding the deception so palpable. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discern discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; …

""Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look Yeomans for chest of money; … that Smith arrived at the spot first (was in night); … After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board of or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed the last time that he looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his mind; that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says … that he is certain that prisoner can divine things by means of said stone and hat; …

""And thereupon therefore the Court find*s* the defendant guilty. Costs: Warrant, 19c. Complaint upon oath, 25 1/2c. Seven witnesses, 87 1/2c. Recognisances [sic], 25c. Mittimus, 19c. Recognisances [sic] of witnesses, 75c. Subpoena, 18c. – $2.68." "

The motivation of this account is clearly listed as to show "in what light [JS] appeared to others." Peter G. Bridgman is again said to have brought charges of being a disorderly person and an impostor, and his motivation is again missing. Five witnesses are listed this time, with the addition of Horace Stowell after Josiah Stowell and before Arad Stowell. The verdict and afterwards are again summarized simply with the court finding the defendant "guilty." The court costs are omitted.

Utah Christian Advocate

The fourth and final time the Pearsall account came when Mr. Tuttle again published the account three years following in an 1886 Utah Christian Advocate.68 This time Tuttle expounds on the origin of the alleged court record, claiming, "The Ms. was given me by Miss Emily Pearsall who, some years since, was a woman helper in our mission and lived in my family, and died here. Her father or uncle was a Justice of the Peace in Bainbridge Chenango Co., New York, in Jo. Smith’s time, and before him Smith was tried. Miss Pearsall tore the leaves out of the record found in her father’s house and brought them to me."

The account is again included herein, with differences from the Tuttle account listed in the manner described previously. Sections exactly reflecting the Schaff-Herzog account in all but punctuation are omitted.


"Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an Impostor. Prisoner brought before court 20 March 1826. Prisoner examined, says, that he came from town of Palmyra, and, had been at the house of Josiah Stowel*s* in Bainbridge most of time since, … that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were at a distance under ground, … that at Palmyra he had pretended to tell by looking at this stone, where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, … that he has occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for 3 years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his Health, especially his eyes, made them sore …

"Josiah Stowel sworn, says … that Prisoner had looked for him some times once to tell him about money buried on Bend Mountain in Pennsylvania, once for gold on Monument Hill, and once for a Salt Spring and that he positively knew that the Prisoner could tell and possessed professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone; that he found the digging part at Ben and Monument Hill, as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attlton Attelon; for a mine did not exactly find it but got a (piece*)* of oar ore which resembled gold, he thinks; that the Prisoner had told by means of this stone where, a Mr. Bacon had buried money, that he and prisoner had been in search of it; that prisoner said that it was on in a certain Root of a stump 5 five feet from surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail fail feather that said Stowel and prisoner thereupon commenced digging, found a fail feather, but money was gone, that he supposed that money moved down"”that prisoner did not offer his services; …

"Horace Stowel sworn, says he see_s_ Prisoner look into that strange hat through stone …

"Arad Stowel sworn, … held hold the stone to the candle, turn*ed* his back to the book and read ….

"McMaster, sworn …

"Jonathan Thompson, … told how the chest was situated after digging several feet struck upon something sounding like a board or of plank … Says Prisoner said that it appeared to him that salt might be found in at Bainbridge, … Prisoner looked into his hat to tell him about some money Witness lost 16 sixteen years ago …

"And therefore thereupon the court find_s_ the defendant guilty*; cost Warrant, 19cts, complaint upon oath 25. Witnesses 87 1/2, Recognizance 25, Mittimus 19, Recognizance or witness 75, Subpoena 18"”$268.*

The accuser, charges, witnesses and verdict are consistent with the previous Tuttle account, but this account differs on two important details. The Tuttle published account reads, "prisoner did offer his services; that he never deceived him," while the Utah Christian Advocate, however, adds an important word: "prisoner did not offer his services; that he never deceived him" (emphasis added). Also, the previous account reads, "Horace Stowel sworn. Says he see prisoner look into hat through stone," but the Utah Christian Advocate again makes a small but important change, saying, "Horace Stowel sworn. Says he see prisoner look into that strange stone" (emphasis added).

Pearsall Accounts Analysis

While the publication of this account four times seems to give it more weight, it is important to recognize that it is said to have come from one source – and even more important to know the original is not available. At present, only the testimony of Ms. Pearsall relayed through Bishop Tuttle is available to support the idea that the original document ever existed. Considering that Bishop Tuttle published one of the accounts and that he is decidedly against the Mormon faith, all four accounts cannot be said to be verifiable or without bias. There is no evidence that someone sympathetic to the LDS movement ever saw, possessed or examined the alleged record.

With that being said, the information in the accounts can still be analyzed. The monetary charges at the end of most of the Pearsall accounts particularly offer some insight into the nature of the incident. According to The Justice’s Manual in 1825, the charge for a pretrial mittimus69 is 19 cents,70 71 72 suggesting the account was not of a three-Justice "Court of Special Sessions" that would be required for an indictment or verdict. A pre-trial setting would also make sense according to the Justice of the Peace instructions from 1825, given that JS was examined first and then the witnesses were questioned under oath.73 The charges for the seven witnesses also indicate a pre-trial hearing, as they include 12½ cents for each witness’ subpoena and oath, totalling 87½ cents.74 On the contrary, the charge is 25 cents when a witness is held for a Court of Special Sessions. The 75 cent charge for "Recognisances [sic] of witnesses," then, could possibly indicate that three of the seven witnesses were selected to remain in custody to testify in a later trial.75

The inclusion of the guilty verdict at the end seems disjointed and has been argued by some to be "a later inclusion" or "an afterthought supplied by whoever subsequently handled the notes."76 77 Gordon A. Madsen points to the record’s consistent reference to Smith as "prisoner" except for the judgment where he is called "defendant,"78 while Paul Hedengren believes it is inappropriate for pretrial hearings to pronounce judgment.79 If, in fact, it was a pre-trial setting, the pronouncement of guilt would not indicate an indictment or verdict, but that a three Justice "Special Court of Sessions" would be held. According to The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York in 1829:

"If it shall appear that an offence has been committed, and that there is probable cause to believe the prisoner to be guilty thereof, the magistrate shall bind by recognizance the prosecutor, and all the material witnesses against such prisoner, to appear and testify at the next court having cognizance of the offence, and in which the prisoner may be indicted."80

Being an "imposter" is listed in the charges, but such is not a criminal offense.81

Another indication of the pre-trail setting is that there is no mention of JS’s counsel, although counsel is documented as being present in the more complete records from the 1830 trial held concerning the same charges.

There are also apparently two missing witnesses, given testimony is listed only for five, but charges are included for seven. One could possibly be Joseph Smith, Sr., who is identified in the Purple account discussed later, but the other is completely absent from all records. It is possible that the testimonies were intentionally withheld, as New York law at the time required that only testimony "relative to the fact" or "material to prove the offence" be recorded,82 but until the witnesses are identified and their testimony detailed, it is impossible to make a complete decision concerning the trial happenings.

It is also interesting to consider what the court’s reaction might be to JS’s testimony concerning his self-professed seer status. He alleged that he was a real seer, not a pretended one, and Josiah Stowell and Jonathan Thompson attested that they believed him, but New York law made no distinction between fraudulent and real seers.

Purple Account

William Purple published what he called a first-hand account in 1877 in the Chenango Union.83 Purple is said to recall the event as follows from memory:

"Joseph Smith The Originator of Mormonism.
Historical Reminiscences of the town of Afton.

"…84 [The writer] will now present them as historical reminiscences of old Chenango, and as a precursor of the advent of that wonder of the age, Mormonism.

"In the year 1825 we often saw in that quiet hamlet, Joseph Smith, Jr., the author of the Golden Bible, or the Books of Mormon. He was an inmate of the family of Deacon Isaiah [sic] Stowell, who resided some two miles below the village, on the Susquehanna. …85

"About this time [Mr. Stowell] took upon himself a monomaniacal impression to seek for hidden treasures that he believed were buried in the earth. …86


"In February 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, who lived with their father, were greatly incensed against Smith, as they plainly saw their father squandering his property in the fruitless search for hidden treasures, and saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire. They made up their minds that "patience had ceased to a virtue," and resolved to rid themselves and their family from this incubus, who, as they believed, was eating up their substance, and depriving them of their anticipated patrimony. They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood. The trial came on in the above mentioned month, before Albert Neeley, Esq., the father of Bishop Neeley, of the State of Maine. I was an intimate friend of the Justice, and was invited to take notes of the trial, which I did. There was a large collection of persons in attendance, and the proceedings attracted much attention.

"The affidavits of the sons were read, and Mr. Smith was fully examined by the Court. It elicited little but a history of his life from early boyhood, but this is so unique in character, and so much of a key-note to his subsequent career in the world, I am tempted to give it somewhat in entenso. He said when he was a lad, he heard of a neighboring girl some three miles from him, who could look into a glass and see anything however hidden from others; that he was seized with a strong desire to see her and her glass; that after much effort he induced his parents to let him visit her. He did so, and was permitted to look in the glass, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light. He was greatly surprised to see but one thing, which was a small stone, a great way off. It soon became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid-day sun. He said that the stone was under the roots of a tree or shrub as large as his arm, situated about a mile up a small stream that puts in on the South side of Lake Erie, not far from the Now York and Pennsylvania line. He often had an opportunity to look in the glass, and with the same result. The luminous stone alone attracted his attention. This singular circumstance occupied his mind for some years, when he left his father’s house, and with his youthful zeal traveled west in search of this luminous stone.

"He took a few shillings in money and some provisions with him. He stopped on the road with a farmer, and worked three days, and replenished his means of support. After traveling some one hundred and fifty miles he found himself at the mouth of the creek. He did not have the glass with him, but he knew its exact location. He borrowed an old ax and a hoe, and repaired to the tree. With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.

"On the request of the Court, he exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen’ a egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.

"Joseph Smith, Sr., was present, and sworn as a witness. He confirmed, at great length all that his son had said in his examination. He delineated his characteristics in his youthful days — his vision of the luminous stone in the glass — his visit to Lake Erie in search of the stone — and his wonderful triumphs as a seer. He described very many instances of his finding hidden and stolen goods. He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures, and with a long-faced, "sanctimonious seeming," he said his constant prayer to his Heavenly Father was to manifest His will concerning this marvelous power. He trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him. These words have ever had a strong impression on my mind. They seemed to contain a prophetic vision of the future history of that mighty delusion of the present century, Mormonism. The "old man eloquent," with his lank and haggard vissage — his form very poorly clad — indicating a wandering vagabond rather than an oracle of future events, has, in view of those events, excited my wonder, if not my admiration.

"The next witness called was Deacon Isaiah Stowell. He confirmed all that is said above in relation to himself, and delineated many other circumstances not necessary to record. He swore that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed, and declared he could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plain as the witness could see what was on the Justices’ table, and described very many circumstances to confirm his words. Justice Neeley soberly looked at the witness, and in a solemn, dignified voice said: "Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth; as plainly as you can see what is on my table?" "Do I believe it?" says Deacon Stowell; "do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true."

"Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them. The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm. In a few feet from the surface the box of treasure was struck by the shovel. on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach, After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war, against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or of some untoward mental emotions was the cause of their failure.

"In this emergency the fruitful mind of Smith was called on to devise a way to obtain the prize. Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. Shortly after the venerable Deacon might be seen on his knees at prayer near the pit, while Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness, might be seen making a circuit around the spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them. They then descended the excavation, but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.


"…89 It is hardly necessary to say that, as the testimony of Deacon Stowell could not be impeached, the prisoner was discharged, and in a few weeks left the town.

"Greene, April 28, 1877."

Purple’s stated motivation is to "provide a precursor to the advent of Mormonism" and he doesn’t seem to have an agenda either sympathetic to or against the LDS movement or JS. He professes to write his account from memory in 1877, with no mention of relying on notes, only on "vivid recollections" that were impressed on his mind because he had written them down and frequently rehearsed them.

The differences in this account and the Pearsall accounts are plentiful and notable. The incident date is off by a month, citing February 1826 instead of March 20, 1826. He attributes the sons of Mr. Stowell as causing JS’s arrest because they were afraid JS was encouraging their father to waste their "anticipated patrimony" in digging mines, with no mention of Peter G. Bridgman (although it is possible that both were involved). The charges are of vagrancy, not deception.

Only four witnesses are mentioned; Joseph Smith, Sr. is included, which may account for one of the two missing from the alleged court record, but McMaster is not included. The order of testimony is also inconsistent; He recalls the Stowell sons gave testimony before JS was examined, opposite of the Pearsall accounts. The testimonies are given in much greater detail than the robotic court record. The details of the testimony of Joseph Smith, Sr. also reveal something of the attitude of he and his son towards working in Mr. Stowell’s mines. He is quoted as saying "both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre" and he expressed his hope, prayer and trust that "the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him."

Perhaps most importantly, JS is said to have been discharged following the incident due to favorable testimony and that he remained in Chenango County a few weeks, much different from the pronouncement of guilt in the Pearsall accounts.

While much better-written than the other accounts and while Dr. Purple seems to have no known bias, the verifiability is questionable due to the lapse of 51 years from the incident to the publication.

Public Records

It wasn’t until 95 years after the most recent published account that two public records pertaining to the 1826 trial were said to be found in the basement of the sheriff’s office in Norwich, New York by Reverend Wesley P. Walters of the United Presbyterian church in Marissa, Illinois.90

Neely Bill

One of the two records, called the "Neely Bill,"91 is a bill of costs for nine cases submitted by Justice Albert Neely, reflecting the 1826 incident with JS as fifth in the list. It identifies JS as "The Glass Looker" and indicates that he was charged at the trial with a "misdemeanor." The total charges are listed at $2.68, which matches the amount shown in Frazer’s Magazine.




This bill, if authentic, confirms some facts but also raises some questions. While JS is referred to as a "glass-looker," there is no way to determine if this confirms JS’s status as an alleged deceiver or alleged prophet-in-training, as both involve the use of seer stones.

The other entries on the bill, and even other bills involving JS’s future trials, specify the charge involved (e.g., "assault and battery," "petit larceny"),92 but JS’s simply says "Misdemeanor." The exact nature of the offense (i.e., what law was allegedly violated and how), then, is left in question.

The bill includes no witness signatures and does not mention any testimony or verdict, as one would expect on an official trial document – another possible indication that the incident was a preliminary examination (as previously conjectured). This would fit with Neely’s statement of "To my fees in _examination _of the above Cause" (emphasis added).

De Zeng Bill

The second record, called the "De Zeng Bill," is a similar item to the Neely Bill but submitted by the arresting officer, Constable Philip De Zeng. It includes De Zeng’s fees in relation to JS’s case and seven others. It indicates that a warrant and mittimus were issued for JS’s arrest. The text of the bill reads:

Serving warrant on Joseph Smith of [Chenango Co.?]
Subpoening 12 witnesses & travel
attendance with Prisoner two days & 1 night
Notifying two justices
10 miles travel with mittimus to take him



Again, the bill, if authentic, provides some information but also raises questions. It mentions twelve subpoenas, but the published accounts provide information on only six testimonies. A fair evaluation cannot be made until the full record is available including who the other witnesses are and what they said (if they were present).

The statement concerning the notification of two Justices is in line with the charges listed on the Pearsall accounts. It also indicates a pre-trial setting; with only one Justice in attendance, it would follow that the other two Justices would need to be notified of the status of the case, whether it will continue to a real trial or was sufficiently terminated.93,94,95

Public Record Analysis

There is no reason to question the objectivity of the bills, if they are found to be authentic. However, the question of the bills’ authenticity must remain open until a study of the handwriting on the documents can be analyzed, given that the finder of the documents cannot be considered an unbiased source and that the documents were not found in their historical environment (they were removed from the basement by Walters).

If the documents are found to be legitimate, they will confirm the following details:

  • JS was before the court due to an unspecified misdemeanor charge.
  • The Justice’s fee was $2.68.
  • The court appearance was on March 20, 1826.
  • JS was held for two days and one night.
  • 12 witnesses were subpoenaed.
  • Two justices were notified.
  • The sheriff had a mittimus.
    None of this information, however, details the testimony or verdict directly.

Other public records revealed after Walters’ finding show the other county Justices were not involved in JS’s case.96 This convinced Walters, who originally claimed it to be a trial,97 to agreed with others98,99 that the Pearsall accounts represent a pre-trial hearing.100


The evidence from published accounts and public records seem to allow one to be fairly certain in concluding that JS was detained and brought before Judge Neely under the disorderly person accusation. However, there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that JS was ever brought before the "Court of Special Sessions" necessary to indict or hand out a verdict.

Further, the use of the Pearsall accounts as official "court records" by Fawn Brodie and others is historically insecure, as the original record is not available for examination or verification. Even if verified, the Pearsall accounts provide incomplete witness accounts, are sometimes self-contradictory, and contradict the only published first-hand account in many critical details.

The accounts are all well removed from the occurrence, the earliest being published forty-seven years after the fact. Given the excitement and negative publicity surrounding the publication of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Mormon Church in 1830, the lack of published concern over the 1826 incident casts doubt as to its significance. Instead, the increased interest in the incident almost fifty years later seems to coincide with a changing culture in which things such as "seer stones" and digging for treasure were not as publically acceptable.

Overall, the accounts taken in context paint a picture of a boy being pulled in two directions: on one hand, the greed of the money diggers, and on the other, the perceived call of God. The incident detailed herein, in conjunction with the related trials of 1830, is indicative of the troubles JS faced due to activites involved in the former, and the verbiage and character of his publications and writings throughout the remainder of his life are proof that he eventually chose the latter.

1 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the official name for the church commonly referred to as "Mormon." Throughout this article, this church is referred to in that manner as well as "the LDS church" and "the Mormon Church."

2 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes it is headed by a prophet – a man who is divinely called as the head of the church. For more information about Mormon prophets, see: "Living Prophets." Mormon.org. Accessed March 2006 from http://www.mormon.org/learn/0,8672,1092-1,00.html.

3 Quincy, Josiah. Figures of the Past. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1883. p.400. Available May 2006 from http://olivercowdery.com/smithhome/1880s-1890s/1883Quin.htm. Like many of those who directly witnessed the early church and its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., Josiah Quicy described himself as "[standing] helpless before the puzzle" of Mormonism.

4 Brodie, Fawn. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1945. p.16.

5 Walters, Wesley P. "Joseph Smith’s Bainbridge, N. Y., Court Trials." Westminster Theological Journal. 36:2. Winter, 1974. pp.123-155.

6 Nibley, Hugh. The Myth Makers. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft. 1961. p.142. The full context of the quote is worth consideration. Nibley, speaking to Daniel S. Tuttle, the publisher of the alleged court record, wrote:
"You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall’s word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn’t you immediately send her back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of it? Why didn’t you ‘unearth’ it, as they later said you did? … The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: ‘a woman helper in our mission,’ who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [Speaking to Daniel S. Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? … in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever … yet in the final summary of his life’s experiences he never mentions the story of the court record – his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!"

7 Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2005. pp.15, 17-29.

8 Vogel, Dan, ed. Early Mormon Documents. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books. 1996-2003. 3:429-431.

9 Knight, Joseph Sr. Autobiograpical Sketch. Vol 1. 1862.

10 Smith, Lucy Mack. Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations. Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853. p.91-92.

11 Van Wagoner, Richard S., and Steven Walker. "Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing.’" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Vol 15, No 2. 1982. pp.48-68.

12 Porter, Larry. A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania. Provo, Utah: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for LDS History and BYU Studies. 2000. pp.48-49.

13 Smith, Lucy. "Biographical Sketches." pp.91-92.

14 Bushman. p.48.

15 Smith, Lucy. "Biographical Sketches." p.91-93.

16 Smith Jr., Joseph. "Manuscript History of the Church." The Papers of Joseph Smith. Edited by Dean C. Jesse. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. 1989-92. 1:282.

17 Howe, Eber D. "Willard Chase, Affadavit (1833)." Mormonism Unvailed [sic]: Or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion. Painseville, OH: By the author. 1834. pp.240-41.

18 Tucker, Pomeroy. Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism. New York: D. Appleton. 1867. p.19.

19 Vogel. "Abel Chase, Interview (1881)." 2:85.

20 Palmyra Herald. July 24, 1822.

21 Howe. "William Stafford, Affadavit (1833)" and "Peter Ingersoll, Affadavit (1833)." pp.238-39, 232-33.

22 Vogel. "Cornelius Stafford, Statement (1885)."

23 Quinn. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. 2nd ed., rev. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books. 1998. p.35-36.

24 Some examples of treasure-seeking and stone-looking in the media publications of the time: Lyons (N.Y.) Advertiser, August 29, 1827. Palmyra Reflector, February 1, 1831. Ontario (N.Y.) Depository, February 9, 1825. Wayne Sentinel, October 29, 1823; February 16, March 2, December 27, 1825. Norwich (N.Y.) Journal, July 2, 1828.

25 Priest, Josiah. The Wonders of Nature and Providence, Displayed. Albany, New York: Josiah Priest, 1823. pp.562-563.

26 Tanner, Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Joseph Smith and Money Digging. Salt Lake City, Utah: Modern Microfilm, 1970.

27 Howe. "William Stafford, Affadavit (1833)" and "Peter Ingersoll, Affadavit (1833)." pp.238, 232-33.

28 Anderson, Richard Lloyd. "Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised." BYU Studies 10, no. 3. 1970. p.296.

29 Kirkham, Francis W. A New Witness of Christ in America. 2 vols. Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Printing, 1951. 2:363.

30 Smith Jr., Joseph. "Manuscript History of the Church." 1:270.

31 Tucker, p.18.

32 Turner, Orsamus. History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve. Rochester, N.Y.: William Alling, 1851. p.214.

33 Smith Jr., Joseph. "Manuscript History of the Church." 1:270.

34 Backman, Milton V., and James B. Allen. "Membership of Certain of Joseph Smith’s Family in the Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra." BYU Studies 10, no. 4. 1970. p.482-84.

35 Bushman. p.50.

36 Smith Jr., Joseph. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints_. Vol. 1. Available online from http://scriptures.lds.org/js_h/1/30-59#30h/1/30-59#30 on June 2006.

37 Cowdery, Oliver. Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, Ohio, October 1835. pp.198-99.

38 Smith, Lucy Mack. Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir. ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2001.

39 Bushman. p.51.

40 Purple, William D. "Joseph Smith the Originator of Mormonism." Chenango Union. May 3, 1877.

41 Benton, Abram W. "Mormonites." Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate. Vol. II. Utica, N.Y. April 9, 1831. p.120.

42 "Joel K. Noble to Jonathan B. Turner." Jonathan Baldwin Turner Papers. Springfield, IL: Illinois State Historical Library. March 8, 1842. p.2. JS successfully defended himself in the 1830 trial by pleading statute of limitations.

43 Benton. The full Benton account, including his recollection of the 1830 trial, is as follows:
"For the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate.
"Messrs. Editors —
"In the sixth number of your paper I saw a notice of a sect of people called Mormonites; and thinking that a fuller history of their founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., might be interesting to community, and particularly to your correspondent in Ohio, where, perhaps, the truth concerning him may be hard to come at, I will take the trouble to make a few remarks on the character of that infamous imposter.
"For several years preceding the appearance of his book, he was about the country in the character of a glass-looker: pretending, by means of a certain stone, or glass, which he put in a hat, to be able to discover lost goods, hidden treasures, mines of gold and silver, &c. Although he constantly failed in his pretensions, still he had his dupes who put implicit confidence in all his words. In this town, a wealthy farmer, named Josiah Stowell, together with others, spent large sums of money in digging for hidden money, which this Smith pretended he could see, and told them where to dig; but they never found their treasure.
"At length the public, becoming wearied with the base imposition which he was palming upon the credulity of the ignorant, for the purpose of sponging his living from their earnings, had him arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice. But, considering his youth, (he being then a minor,) and thinking he might reform his conduct, he was designedly allowed to escape. This was four or five years ago. From this time he absented himself from this place, returning only privately, and holding clandestine intercourse with his credulous dupes, for two or three years.
"It was during this time, and probably by the help of others more skilled in the ways of iniquity than himself, that he formed the blasphemous design of forging a new revelation, which, backed by the terrors of an endless hell, and the testimony of base unprincipled men, he hoped would frighten the ignorant, and open a field of speculation for the vicious, so that he might secure to himself the scandalous honor of being the founder of a new sect, which might rival, perhaps, the Wilkinsonians, or the French Prophets of the 17th century.
"During the past Summer he was frequently in this vicinity, and others of baser sort, as Cowdry, Whitmer, etc., holding meetings, and proselyting a few weak and silly women, and still more silly men, whose minds are shrouded in a mist of ignorance which no ray can penetrate, and whose credulity the utmost absurdity cannot equal.
"In order to check the progress of delusion, and open the eyes and understandings of those who blindly followed him, and unmask the turpitude and villany of those who knowingly abetted him in his infamous designs; he was again arraigned before a bar of Justice, during last Summer, to answer to a charge of misdemeanor. This trial led to an investigation of his character and conduct, which clearly evinced to the unprejudiced, whence the spirit came which dictated his inspirations. During the trial it was shown that the Book of Mormon was brought to light by the same magic power by which he pretended to tell fortunes, discover hidden treasures, &c. Oliver Cowdery, one of the three witnesses to the book, testified under oath, that said Smith found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.
"So much for the gift and power of God, by which Smith says he translated his book. Two transparent stones, undoubtedly of the same properties, and the gift of the same spirit as the one in which he looked to find his neighbor’s goods. It is reported, and probably true, that he commenced his juggling by stealing and hiding property belonging to his neighbors, and when inquiry was made, he would look in his stone, (his gift and power) and tell where it was.
"Josiah Stowell, a Mormonite, being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never had lied to, or deceived him, and did not believe he ever tried to deceive any body else. The following questions were then asked him, to which he made the replies annexed.
_"Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain glass which he mentioned?" _
_ "Yes." _
_"Did he tell you, you could find it by digging?" _
_ "Yes." _
_"Did you dig?" _
_ "Yes." _
"Did you find any money?"
_ "No."_
_"Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you?" _
_ "No! the money was there, but we did not get quite to it!" _
_"How do you know it was there?" _
_ "Smith said it was!" _
_"Addison Austin was next called upon, who testified, that at the very same time that Stowell was digging for money, he, Austin, was in company with said Smith alone, and asked him to tell him honestly whether he could see this money or not. Smith hesitated some time, but finally replied, "to be candid, between you and me, I cannot, any more than you or any body else; but any way to get a living." _
"Here, then, we have his own confession, that he was a vile, dishonest impostor. As regards the testimony of Josiah Stowell, it needs no comment. He swears positively that Smith did not lie to him. So much for a Mormon witness. Paramount to this, in truth and consistency, was the testimony of Joseph Knight, another Mormonite. Newell Knight, son of the former, and also a Mormonite, testified, under oath, that he positively had a devil cast out of himself by the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, Jr., and that he saw the devil after it was out, but could not tell how it looked.
"Those who have joined them in this place, are, without exception, children who are frightened into the measure, or ignorant adults, whose love for the marvellous is equalled by nothing but their entire devotedness to the will of their leader; with a few who are as destitute of virtue and moral honesty, as they are of truth and consistency. As for his book, it is only the counterpart of his money-digging plan. Fearing the penalty of the law, and wishing still to amuse his followers, he fled for safety to the sanctuary of pretended religion.
"A. W. B.
"S. Bainbridge, Chen., Co., March, 1831."

44 Noah Webster’s Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. Hartford, CT: Hudson & Goodwin. 1806. p.168. A "juggler" is defined as "one who juggles, a cheat, a deceiver," and "juggling" as "the act of playing tricks, deceit."

45 Laws of the State of New-York, Revised and Passed at Thirty-Sixth Session of the Legislature. 2 vols. Albany, NY: H. C. Southwick and Co., 1813. 1:114, sec. 1.

46 A New Conductor Generalis: Being a Summary of the Law Relative to the Duty and Office of Justice of the Peace, Sheriffs, Coroners, Constables, Jurymen, Overseers of the Poor, &c. &c. Albany, NY: 1819. p.108.

47 Madsen, Gordon A. Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting. Brigham Young University Studies, 30. Spring 1990. p.93.

48 "John S. Reed to Brigham Young." December 6, 1861. p.1. Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives. Salt Lake City, UT.

49 Roberts, B.H., ed. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 7 vols. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1967. p.194, note.

50 Laws of the State of New-York. 2:508, sec. 4.

51 Ibid.

52 Madsen. p.107.

53 "Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps." October 1835, Letter VIII. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2. October 1835. p.201.

54 Letters by Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, on the Origin of the Book of Mormon, and the Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Liverpool, England: Thomas Ward and John Cairns, 1844. p.46. Available online May 2006 at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cgi-bin/docviewer.exe?CISOROOT=/NCMP1820-1846&CISOPTR=2828.

55 Noble. p.1.

56 Turner, Jonathan B. Mormonism In All Ages. New York: Platt & Peters, 1842.

57 Noble. The full transcript of the Noble Account is as follows:
"Chenango County – Bainbridge March 8 – 1842
Sir I write to you under peculiar circumstances
having been confined to my room for 5 weeks and now
sit up but a few houers at a time Your letter came to me
in [the] winter by chance I under stood no answer had been
Given I volunteer to answer being at present not a
Civil Officer what I state as fact I am responsible for
hearsay mark so ~~ Jo. Smith Senior Lived in Vermont
connected with a band of counterfeiters – ran – came to
Mohawk river – eloped (Seduced a marr[i]ed woman to Can[ady]
came to Palmyra in [this] State I firmly believe proof affidavit
may be had to identify – Like father Like Son
Jo. Smith (Morman) came here when about
17 – 18 Y. of age in the capacity of Glass Looker or fortune
teler at that time his physiognomy indicated almost
any thing rather than native Good common Sound Sense
Sir I do think I am not mistaken in the above – - – - -
You may then enquire ask me Behold what Jo. has Don[e]
I [s]ay Jo. Is the cats paw the Lion is behind the curtain You
then en[quire] who Is the Lion I say Mr. Rigdon was not the
Lion until after the Book of Mormon was Printed
he may be the Lion now You Yet en[quire] who the Lion (first)
was I say 2 individuals names of 2 I keep for present – I am well
aware that it went the round in many [P.] papers that
the B. of M. was w[ritten] first for amusement and received a Dressing
by Some individual Said by Some to [be] Mr. Rigdon
Sir this is incorrect I can prove (absolute) Mr. Rigdon
Did not 2 individuals Did (not bostingly) – Pleas – to —

(I have Retired a few hours Commence again) Jo. engaged the
attention of a few indiv[iduals] Given to the marvelous Duge for
money Salt Iron Oar Golden Oar Silver Oar and almost any thing
every thing until Civil authority brought up Jo. standing (as
the Boys say) under the Vagrant act Jo. was condemned
whisper came to Jo. off off – took Leg Bail ( or gave [Leg_Bail])
all things straight: Jo. was not seen in our town for
- – - – 2 years or more (except in Dark corners) his haunt was
Palmyra and Harmony (Penn.) Bainbridge (in the Dark) making
a triangle – here for 2 Y. and more Jos. mind kept Same
tract (only more Hellish) Stimulated by 2 individuals (above)
and perhaps by Supposing himself to be considered – - the
Author of a Bible – - – - – - – - – - – - – – - – - -
After 2 years from the time of Jos. first trial he appeared
_in our place bold as a Lion again Jo. was arrested examination _
had Jo. plead in bar Statute of Limitations
Jo was no Sooner Set on terifirma than arrested again
brought before me in an adjoining County only 6
miles Distant trial protracted 23 hours the proscuti[on] was
Cond[ucted] by a Gent[leman] well Skiled in [the] Science of Law proof
manifested by I think 43 Witnesses Proof Jo. a Vagrant
Idler Lazy (not Drunkard) but now and then Drunk Liar
Deceiver Jo. a nuiscance to Good Society Jo. was asked by witness
_if he could see or tel more than others Jo. said he could not
and says any thing for a living I now and then Get a _
_Shilling the [testimony?] You see made Jo anything _
but a Good man - yours for to Day -

An [anecdote] Jo. and others were Diging for
a Chest of money in night could not obtain—- It
they Procured one thing and an other together with
[a] black Bitch the Bitch was offered a – Sac[rifise]
od Sprinkled prayer made at the time (no money obtained)
_the above Sworn to on trial - Sir a Small volume _
_at least might might be filed Similar to the above _
Sir I had intended to Give you the [caracter]
of the mormons who went from here – here you see was
momanism was gendered pilgrims first started for holy
Land I would say Some were infidel Universalists Some had
been Baptists 2 Presbyterians Several Methodists all I think
with 2 exceptions were rejected Some abandoned Drunkards
_our place Sir well clensed -
Mr. Stowers a plane hones[t] man_
of Property say $5 or 6000 Given to the marvelous followed
Jo. to Ohio – Soon returned and now here or not far from this
place – Sir Some of the mormans were good neigbors

Jo. Did not have connection with individuals in Otsego Co. to my
knowledge Sir I am fatigued I close I write to you in confidense
You will without Doubt Show this to confidential friends If a fact
you wish to make use of Do do please manifest as much patience
In – - – - as I have in – - – - Respec[tfully] Yours – - – Joel K. Noble

Sir Jo condemned in a Justice trials Bar S of [Quinnstown?]
[ ? ]at Jo cost one reprimand

P.S. Sir I Give you no advice – - – - – but were I to write on Mo[rmo]ns
I would begin at Least where Jo. began to Dig for money I would follow
_J. Step by Step with the eye of an eagle by affidavit and certificate I would _
_identify facts but perhaps Your Book may be in press — and new Editi[on] _
may be issued then it might be of use You enquire who could
collect facts You Sir might if here Individuals here could You enquire
could You I say I could and I think have it near right a common
_Blessing attending (circumstances ) I have 8 children 7 of which Look to _
me for Support this Depends principally on my Duly Exerting ([excuse])

_Sir p[l]ease on the Re[ceipt] – of this Send me Your adress – soon Please Send if _
_convenient now and then a Mormon Paper (old Same thing) or paper _
from Your place — Direct J. K. Noble Broome Co. Colesville Ninevey
P. O. I Live one Mile from O[ffice]. 5 from Bainbridge O[ffice]. J.K.N.

Again P. S. anicdote (hellish) a Mormon Swore In open court
Jo. Smith cast a Devil out of him (M[ormo]n and said
how D[evi]l Look’d Said Devil was a body of Light and
Gave a Relation of [the] whole Process ~~ now the man
was P – - – - d man (or some may say Deceived) Jo. present
and Silent – (Silence Gives Consent) – follow the argum[ent]
Sir I think I have written plenty – You may think So (Patience)
Sir the same M[ormo]n (above! said an angel of Light or
some holy being Direct from heaven told him (M[ormo]n)
~ a certain fact – the whole Process above has been Proofed
to be a falsh[oo]d affidavit is now in my Possession

Sir I think I now will be Silent – Sir I have a Great
anxiety fore the success of Your undertaking Sir be Determi[ned]-
onward march &c – - – - – - – - J.K.N. – - – - – - – -
- – - – - – - – – - – - – - – - – -

_ P.S. Sir if you want any information of me Please let me know be [familiar] _
- – - now I Say – - hold on J.K.N. – - – - – - – - – J.K.N. – - – - – - – – - "

58 Image above courtesy of Illinois Historical Society.

59 Tuttle, Daniel S. Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop. New York, 1906, p. 272.

60 Pearsall, Clarence E., Hattie May and Harry L. Neall. History and Genealogy of the Pearsall Family in England and America. San Francisco, 1928. 2:1151. Emily Pearsall’s father’s sister, Phoebe Pearsall, married Albert Neely.

61 Marquardt, H. Michael & Wesley P. Walters. Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record. Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1994. p.227.

62 Pearsall, et. al. p.1151.

63 Marshall, Charles. Fraser’s Magazine. London. February 1873, vol. 7 (New Series), pp.229-230.

64 Smith, James H. History of Chenango and Madison Counties. Syracyuse, NY: D. Mason & Co. 1880. p. 152.

65 The Eclectic Magazine. New York. April 1873, New Series. 17:483.

66 Tuttle, Daniel S. New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 1883. 2:1576-1577.

67 The section not included in the body of the article is as follows:
"Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon sect, was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vt., December 23, 1805. He had six brothers and three sisters. In 1815 his father moved to Palmyra, and afterward to Manchester, contiguous towns in Ontario (now Wayne) County, N. Y. In 1820 an unusual religious excitement prevailed in Manchester and the region round about. Five of the Smith family were awakened, and united with the Presbyterians. Joseph, in his own account of his early life, says he "became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect." He says he prayed to be guided aright; and that finally two heavenly messengers bade him not to join any sect, and three years afterwards, another celestial visitant outlined to him about the golden plates he was to find, and the prophet he was to be. This was on Sept. 22, 1823; and from this time on, he avers, his days and nights were filled, and his life was guided, by "visions," "voices," and "angels." The hill Cumorah was about four miles from Palmyra, between that town and Manchester. Here, in the fall of 1827, he claims he exhumed the golden plates. For more than two years, by the aid of the "Urim and Thummim" found with them, he was engaged in translating their contents into English. In March, 1830, the translation was given into the printer"â„¢s hands. This is his history of himself."

68 Utah Christian Advocate. Vol. 2, No. 13. Salt Lake City, UT. January 1886.

69 A mittimus is defined as: A precept in writing, under the hand and seal of a justice of the peace, or other competent officer, directed to the jailer or keeper of a prison, commanding him to receive and safely keep, a person charged with an offence therein named until he shall be delivered by due course of law.

70 Waterman, Thomas Gladsby. The Justice’s Manual: or, A Summary of the Powers and Duties of Justices of the Peace in the State of New-York. Binghamton, NY: Morgan and Cannoll, 1825. p.199.

71 The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York, 3 vols. Albany, NY: Packard and Van Benthuysen, 1829. 2:749, sec. 1.

72 Walters. p.140.

73 Waterman. p.191. Concerning pretrial examinations: "After the examination of the accused, all witnesses present are to be examined on oath touching the complaint."

74 E.g., Levi Bigelow, 14 January 1825. Chenango County Historical Society, Norwich, NY.

75 The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York, 3 vols. Albany, NY: Packard and Van Benthuysen, 1829. 2:749.

76 Hedengrn, Paul. _In Defense of Faith: Assessing Arguments Against Latter-day Saint Belief _. Provo, UT: Bradford and Wilson, 1985. p.216-217.

77 Madsen. p.106.

78 Ibid.

79 Hedengren. p.216-17.

80 Revised Statutes. 2:709, sec. 21.

81 Madsen. p.94.

82 A New Conductor Generalis. p.141.

83 Purple, William D. "Joseph Smith the Originator of Mormonism." Chenango Union. May 3, 1877.

84 Omitted sections in the Purple Account are included here:
"More than fifty years since, at the commencement of his professional career, the writer spent a year in the present village of Afton, in this County. It was then called South Bainbridge, and was in striking contrast with the present village at the same place. It was a mere hamlet, with one store and one tavern. The scenes and incidents of that early day are vividly engraven upon his memory, by reason of his having written them when they occurred, and by reason of his public and private rehearsals of them in later years."

85 Omitted description of Mr. Stowell in the Purple Account:
"Mr. Stowell was a man of much force of character, of indomitable will, and well fitted as a pioneer in the unbroken wilderness that this country possessed at the close of the last century. He was one of the Vermont sufferers, who for defective titles, consequent on the forming a new State from a part of Massachusetts, in 1791, received wild lands in Bainbridge. He had been educated in the spirit of orthodox puritanism, and was officially connected with the first Presbyterian church of the town, organized by Rev. Mr. Chapin. He was a very industrious, exemplary man, and by severe labor and frugality had acquired surroundings that excited the envy of many of his loss fortunate neighbors. He had at this time grown up sons and daughters to share his prosperity and the honors of his name."

86 Omitted section from the Purple Account describing Mr. Stowell’s pursuit of treasure:
"He hired help and repaired to Northern Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Lanesboro, to prosecute his search for untold wealth, which he believed to be buried there. Whether it was the
""Ninety bare of gold
_"And dollars many fold" _
"that Capt. Robert Kidd, the pirate of a preceding century, had despoiled the commerce of the world, we are not able to say, but that he took his help and provisions from home, and camped out on the black hills of that region for weeks at a time, was freely admitted by himself and family.
"What success, if any, attended these excursions, is unknown, but his hallucination adhered to him like the fabled shirt of Nessus, and had entire control over his mental character. The admonition of his neighbors, the members of his church, and the importunities of his family, had no impression on his wayward spirit."

87 Omitted section of the Purple Account describing Mr. Stowell’s recruitment of Joseph Smith, Jr.:
"There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. These stories were fully received into his credulous mind, and kindled into a blaze his cherished hallucination. Visions of untold wealth appeared through this instrumentality, to his longing eyes. He harnessed his team, and filled his wagon with provisions for "man and beast," and started for the residence of the Smith family. In due time he arrived at the humble log-cabin, midway between Canandaigua and Palmyra, and found the sought for treasure in the person of Joseph Smith, Jr., a lad of some eighteen years of age. He, with the magic stone, was at once transferred from his humble abode to the more pretentious mansion of Deacon Stowell. Here, in the estimation of the Deacon, he confirmed his conceded powers as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth. This omniscient attribute he firmly claimed. Deacon Stowell and others, as firmly believed it. Mr., Stowell, with his ward and two hired men, who were, or professed to be, believers, spent much time in mining near the State line on the Susquehanna and many other places, I myself have seen the evidences of their nocturnal depredations on the face of Mother Earth, on the Deacon’s farm, with what success "this deponent saith not." "

88 Omitted section of Purple Account describing his opinion on the activities described:
"What a picture for the pencil of a Hogarth! How difficult to believe it could have been enacted in the nineteenth century of the Christian era! It could have been done only by the hallucination of diseased minds, that drew all their philosophy from the Arabian nights and other kindred literature of that period! But as it was declared under oaths in a Court of Justice, by one of the actors in the scene, and not disputed by his co-laborers it is worthy of recital as evincing the spirit of delusion that characterized those who originated that prince of humbugs, Mormonism."

89 Omitted section of Purple Account describing later events:
"These scenes occurred some four years before Smith, by the aid of his luminous stone, found the Golden Bible, or the Book of Mormon. The writer may at some subsequent day give your readers a chapter on its discovery, and a synopsis of its contents."

90 Walters.

91 Neely, Albert. Bill of Costs. 1826. Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Chenango County Office Building, Norwich, NY.

92 "H. Michael Marquardt Papers." Accession 900, Manuscripts Division, University of Utah Marriott Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. Bx166, Fd22. This document, also found by Walters, is the 1830 bill of Justice of the Peace Joseph Chamberlain and specifically states the charges against JS in 1830 as being "a disorderly person."

93 DeZeng, Philip. "Bill of Costs." 1826. Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Chenango County Office Building, Norwich, NY.

94 Walters. p.139.

95 Tanner, Jerald, ed., Salt Lake City Messenger. July 1988. p.10.

96 See the following court documents: Zechariah Tarble Bill of Costs, 1826, Levi Bigelow Bill of Costs, 1826, James Humphrey Bill of Costs, 1826. Chenango County Historical Society, Norwich, NY.

97 Walters. pp.139-140.

98 Hedengren. pp.205-210.

99 Madsen. pp.91-108.

100 Tanner. Salt Lake City Messenger. p.9.

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some thoughts by willwaddell

Brandon has compiled a substantial degree of information for this paper and presented it in a very readable fashion. It successfully raises doubt as to whether or not Joseph Smith, Jr. was found guilty of a crime in 1826. But let us look at some simple facts and their obvious interpretations and thereby get to the real point of the whole mechanical enterprise:

This essay makes it all the more certain that Joseph Smith appeared in some legal proceeding related to his habit of claiming to be able to divine the location of ‘buried treasure.’ This fact is even testified to by his devotee Oliver Cowdery. Brandon examines the various accounts of this proceeding and picks at items like the order of witness appearance or who exactly was in attendance. But do these observations really matter all that much? There are hardly any two accounts of anything in the historical record that agree detail for detail. Musing over the gaps, in this case, is much less interesting than recognizing the remarkable congruence. What remains incontrovertible is that Joseph Smith, during his youth, engaged in a hobby whereby he claimed to supernaturally locate ‘buried treasure’ or other valuable commodities. (By the way, no one recounts that he was ever successful at this venture.) Brandon, in his conclusion, honestly concedes that a legal proceeding involving Joseph Smith and ‘money-digging’ did occur in 1826.

And here’s the point to remember: The founder of the Mormon faith made a short-lived career of telling people he could find buried treasure on their property through mystical methods. Perhaps, he was never convicted of any crime (if such is the case) because the only individual with standing, i.e. Josiah Stowell, ‘positively knew’ that Smith could see buried treasure, despite the fact that Smith had never delivered any goods. Everyone else in the case was just harping about ole’ Josiah being made the fool. If Josiah didn’t care, why should the court? This explanation is, of course, simply plausible speculation.

Mormons find some succor in this embarrassment from two basic lines of thought. The first is that ‘digging for money’ was a ‘very common thing.’ in those days. In other words, Joseph Smith was no more or less delusional than those around him, or at least no more delusional than the other money-diggers. But, as always, the idea that everyone is jumping off the bridge is rarely a good justification for doing the same, and is much less valuable if we’re talking about basing an entire religion upon their testimony.

The note of triumph struck by Mormons when it comes to this trial is the idea that Smith’s guilty verdict is unprovable. Maybe this was the case. Let us assume for a moment that Smith was never found guilty of anything. So what? Miss Cleo has been telling people for years that she can divine their futures from the cards. She has been sued numerous times, but never actually incarcerated, as far as I can tell. Perhaps I should begin calling her every day asking for advice or make her the head of new religion. Not having been found guilty of fraud or ‘disturbing the peace’ clearly vindicates her message.

The central point, however, to be gleaned from this essay is that while "New York law made no distinction between fraudulent and real seers," Mormons are able to and have identified Joseph Smith as a prophet of god.

The secondary ruse is to create an atmosphere of conspiracy surrounding all parties who disagree with Smith’s prophetic vision. All too frequently Mormons imply, none too subtly, that if someone disagrees with the Mormon view of cosmology then they are ‘anti-Mormon’ and their ‘bias’ precludes a real evaluation of their evidence. Mormons see a conspiracy against their faith at every turn and discount all contrary evidence as another prop in the elaborate scheme to hide the truth of the Mormon revelation. Were there people violently opposed to the spread of Mormonism? Yes. Is it possible that some documents may have been rearranged or altered to tarnish the Mormon image? It’s possible, even probable. Can we rightly enlarge this explanation to cover every piece of evidence that impugns the Mormon belief system? Not hardly. Does Brandon employ this method? Not exactly, but perhaps by way of inference.

This forms the second unassailable wall surrounding the Mormon belief system. The first, of course, is the idea of continuing direct revelation from god. "God told me so, just last week." How can anyone argue with that? The second, as we have seen, is the method of painting all evidence against Mormonism as ‘anti-Mormon’ propaganda. To be fair, Brandon employed this technique in a much more muted fashion than most Mormon apologists and threw in Oliver Cowdery’s ‘bias’ to even the playing field. He also fully admitted that many of the documents (e.g. public records) seem to be free of bias, but caveats this by reminding the reader ‘the finder of the documents cannot be considered an unbiased source.’ He thereupon concludes that "the question of the bills’ authenticity must remain open," implying that these documents are, in all likelihood, another part of the anti-Mormon conspiracy. Is this possible? I suppose. But, then again, it is infinitely more probable, given the welter of corroborating evidence, that Smith went to court for claiming he could find treasure by looking into a magic rock. Brandon, at the end, admits that the ‘alleged’ proceeding took place and takes some small comfort in the ambiguity of Smith’s innocence or guilt. The point of the essay (i.e. to show that one cannot definitely say Smith was convicted) is so narrow as to make victory and defeat a hairsbreadth apart and, in the end, generally unimportant. I could probably write a research paper and convince most everyone that the historical location for the Battle of Cannae is unknown, ambiguous. After much toil and effort historians would look at my work and say, ‘who cares?’ They would argue, rightly, that I had belabored the minor and overlooked the momentous. The fact that Hannibal won in overwhelming terms is the real historical lesson and fact worthy of remembrance.

So what are we left with? Did the court proceeding 1826 take place? Yes. Did Joseph Smith engage in mystical practice whereby he hoped to find buried treasure? Yes. Was he even good at the practice which would at least pseudo-substantiate the Mormon point that he was a ‘real seer?’ No; he was quite bad at it, a total failure actually, unless we consider his discovery of a bird’s tail-feather once to be a notable exception. That is until he claimed to find golden plates inscribed with a message from god, which he ‘translated’ by looking at ‘seer stones’ placed in a man’s hat.

In the final run we are forced to ask even why we should care too much about the not-so-contentious 1826 incident? The only reason is that it was the first substantial and investigated instance of Joseph Smith’s dabbling in fantastical practices. He went on from this humble free-lance mysticism to fabricate much more intriguing stories and outlandish ideas. He later claimed to ‘translate’ a set of papyri that, according to him, revealed an ancient book of the patriarch Abraham hidden in the hieroglyphics. Egyptologists later studied facsimiles of the papyrus and determined that the writings had nothing to with Abraham at all. Smith, who lived in an age when almost no one could read hieroglyphics, just made the whole thing up. In more comical fashion, Smith once claimed that god commanded his people to build a hotel and grant Smith a suite of rooms for use by him and his family ‘from generation to generation.’ (Brodie, 263)

So we are left with a choice between two explanations: 1) Joseph Smith was a well-accomplished liar OR 2) Joseph Smith, Jr.- a man who: said that Native Americans are actually descendants of ancient Hebrews; proclaimed that the black skin of the African is a curse handed down by god; revealed that the Almighty was intimately concerned with his hotel accommodations; used his newfound religious authority to seduce a myriad of women, to his wife’s consternation; contended that the Garden of Eden was in Daviess County, MO; and least of all was brought to court for unsuccessfully looking for buried treasure – was a prophet of god, and that all evidence to the contrary is a product of ‘anti-Mormon’ propaganda.

Allow me to offer my mostly disinterested third party perspective on all of the "baseless argument" claims from both sides:

First, when arguing religion, the person arguing against it always has the upper-hand as religious belief requires the dismissal of logic, reason, and all else that hold true in our physical world. So, Christians, Mormans, Wizards, and Fairies alike, you need to understand that the world assumes you’re crazy because you have nothing more than popularity to back any of your most critical claims. None. Nada. Zilch. Mormon revelations, Catholic miracles … none without massive, gaping holes in any sort of scientific analysis.

Second, Brandon, while you’re article may show that J.S. may have been a good dude in this case, it really establishes nothing. Having been a former military officer, I can recount multiple instances where some of the shadiest humans I’ve ever met managed to walk away clean in court. You can say my claims of their shadiness lack merit given the court’s record, but I’ll say you lack perspective. Moreover, courts do not imply correctness. I seem to recall an interesting verdict in Salem that may have been wrong.

Third, I don’t think Will is tossing out any less facts that Brandon. You both cite semi-credible, but non-conclusive evidence. In the end, we always end up with: J.S./Mormons are crazy, and J.S./Mormons are righteous. I’m waiting for the day I hear a non-Mormon argue that Mormons are righteous or vice-versa, but I’m probably never going to see that day.

If I had to pick a more sensical argument though, I’d say Will has the upper-hand. And it’s not because of anything he did necessary, but rather, his starting point. Allow me to elaborate:

Known: There is no hard evidence to prove or disprove the Mormon faith, J.S., or anything related. The only argument one can make is one based on a personal interaction with God, or drawing conclusions from other things known to be true.

Given: I have never had God tell me anything, Mormon-related or not. I also have never met a Mormon that got a message in their native language (e.g. English) from God, much like J.S. did, though they all talk of "revelations."

Statistical Assessment of Seemingly Ridiculous Claims: Let’s give Mormons the benefit of the doubt and say that there’s a 90% chance that all of their claims are true. To illustrate the point, I’ll list a few:

  • J.S. was completely innocent and never led treasure crusades
  • J.S. talked directly to God and Jesus
  • J.S. read gold plates with seer stones
  • Jesus came to visit America
  • Mormons are of ancient Hebrew decent that migrated to America and were wiped out by native Americans
  • J.S. could read hieroglyphics, even the special kind that only appear in ancient American Hebrew texts … nevermind his translation book that was totally wrong
  • God often changes his mind over the course of human years, despite being a timeless being, and reveals his new, better ideas to Mormons only
  • God offers free hotel stays for top execs
  • God once hated colored people, but in the midst of American Civil Rights Movements, decided to go with the flow
  • Humans lived before they were born

… that’s 10. Forgive me if I misconstrued anything; it’s beside the point. Pick more if you’d like, but 10 will illustrate my point. We all know that the probability of two independent events occuring looks like: P(A and B) = P(A) x P(B). So, in this case we have P(Mormon Truth)=.910 = 35%. Not bad, but also not likely, and that’s only considering 10 events and giving them a high probability of truth. Let’s consider 100 and only assume 50% that they’re true: .5100 = 7.8 × 10-31 … that’s about as "zero" as you get.

Conclusion: I cannot prove God if He doesn’t prove Himself to me, regardless of all the words in the world from religous people. From my perspective, I think of the 100s of events and assign an unbiased 50% probability to all of them. You don’t need math to arrive at a near 0% chance of truth. I believe Mormons as much as I believe people who tell me they’re going to Vegas and going to win big.

So, why do I mention all of this? To show that Will points out the many events that simply don’t make a lot of sense and thus correlate to a very low chance of truth, which in turn lower the probability even more that any one of them is correct, which gets you even closer to 0 than the unbiased look. On top of that, a pro-Mormon bias of 99% chance with 100 events is still less than 1%. Without evidence, the odds are stacked high against Mormans, or any religion for that matter.

Anyway, I don’t know why so much effort and finger pointing goes into arguing religion as any argument is baseless to begin with. Such conversations always boil down to "well, you can’t disprove it," which is not an argument.

I gotta go … Jesus is coming to my backyard tonight to tell me how to do that trick on Super Mario Bros. where you get around 100 free men … I’m serious … what? … you can’t prove he’s not.

0 Votes  - +
JS a con man? by Brandon

The following was moved from a separate thread:

You know I read and re-read that article over and over during the editing process. The more I read it, the more I thought he was a con-man. You did prove that the outcome of the trial may not be what people think … but the research and background on Joseph Smith you provided made him seem less a shimmering prophet of truth and more a manipulator of the public.

I have a big problem with this sort of thinking. The article was not about whether or not JS was a con man. The background, testimony and public record provided was not on that topic and it is incorrect to use that way. I did not comment, document or research in ways other than what I deemed necessary to address the topic at hand – which was whether or not Brodie’s statement that JS was convicted is supported historically.

If you want to judge whether or not JS was a conman, you have a lot more study ahead of you. For starters, you might want to try reading a good biography on him (everyone probably knows the one I recommend by now), reading what he claimed to have translated, or even getting to know the doctrine he alleges God revealed to him.

Lastly, I’m curious if you might be able to lay out logically why you think the information in this article leads to an accurate conclusion that JS was a con man. Is it just that you think things such as heavenly visitations are impossible and thus JS must have been lying to claim them? Or do you there is sufficient evidence to show JS’s main goal was money, as evident (in your opinion) in the established details of his life? Really, the only idea I have as to what might be motivating you to this conclusion is that "so-and-so came along fifty years after JS was acquitted and said JS should have been convicted." How does accepting that opinion seem proper to you?

Brandon – over at On Faith the subject of the glass looking trial has been brought up among other things…. I did post the link to your article, but some weasel is posting more junk. maybe you could go over and help out if you have some time.
friend of Joseph


Brandon, I want to thank you for this. I have read similar accounts by Dallin H. Oaks and others and appreciate having a non-LDS Hierarchy explanation.

To the other posters here, Joseph Smith spent a great deal of his life in court. That is the nature of doing something good in the world. All the offended ones try to break him down. Jesus, Paul, Peter, Stephen, they all had to face their trials and their convictions because satan will not just give up ground easily. But through it all, and through all the study I have made of Joseph Smith myself, and through the depth and breadth of his teachings and explanations, I have to say he was inspired of God in every facet. God did well to call Joseph Smith as His prophet of the restoration, the one who would be the conduit for bringing to pass a new and final dispensation of the Gospel and a restitution of all things.
He was on the Lords side, and all of us can benefit from it and come to the Lord with more capacity to live as Jesus would have us live.

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