The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Motivation

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 Saints1number 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.”10Stowell 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,30,31,32while 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.”37JS’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.”38Martin 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.

Accounts
|borderTable 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.”

Cowdery
|borderFigure 1. Applicable page from Oliver Cowdery letter, republished.^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

.^]]

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,54 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.55 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”56

Noble
|borderFigure 2. Page one of the Noble letter.57

Noble writes to explain the “character of the Mormons” in response to an inquiry from Turner. 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.58 She is said to have brought with her from Bainbridge a record of the “examination” that she tore from her uncle,59 Judge Neely’s docket book.60 After her death on November 5, 187261 Tuttle inherited the record. He later gave the record to the Methodists, after which it was lost. The account was published four times.

Fraser’s

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:62

State of New York v. Joseph Smith”.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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:

“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,63 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.”

Eclectic

The ”Fraser’s Magazine article was reprinted in the American periodical Eclectic Magazine in the same year.64

Schaff-Herzog

Ten years later, Ms. Pearsall’s Episcopalian bishop, Daniel S. Tuttle, published the account again in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.65 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 ommitted:

“Daniel S. Tuttle, “Mormons,” Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1882”

“…66

“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 makingthem 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 piece 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 discerndiscover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; …

““Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look Yeomansfor chest of money; … that Smith arrived at the spot first (was in night); … After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board ofor 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 finds 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.67 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 ommitted.

“PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, VS. JOSEPH SMITH.”

“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 Stowels 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 oarore 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 tailfail 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 sees Prisoner look into that strange hat through stone …

“Arad Stowel sworn, … held hold the stone to the candle, turned 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 atBainbridge, … Prisoner looked into his hat to tell him about some money Witness lost 16 sixteen years ago …

“And therefore thereupon the court finds 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 pretrialmittimus68 is 19 cents,69,70,71 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”.72 The charges for the seven witnesses also indicate a pre-trial hearing, as they inc

 

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