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"Doctor" Philastus Hurlburt

An examination of several incidents in the life of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut (Doctor was a given name rather than a professional title) reveals that the man hired by the Kirtland committee to expose Mormonism was a vindictive apostate of the Church. In 1833 Philastus Hurlburt had been excommunicated by a Church council for immoral conduct. Following his excommunication on June 3, 1833, a council of high priests listened to his confession and decided that he should be reinstated. Three weeks later, on June 23, another tribunal was called into session, and this body agreed that Hurlbut's repentance was not genuine. He was therefore excommunicated a second time. After he was employed to collect damaging information against the Prophet, Hurlbut publicly threatened the life of Joseph Smith. This led to his arrest and a subsequent trial on March 31, 1834, in Chardon, county seat of Geauga County. The court issued an order restraining Hurlbut for six months from injuring the person and property of Joseph Smith. He was also ordered to post a bond of two hundred dollars to pay the costs of the proceedings, which amounted to $112.59. (Backman 1983, 202)

Since Philastus Hurlbut's excommunication from the Church and his conviction at the trial at Chardon had discredited him, the information he gathered was not published under his name. Instead, it was published in 1834 under the authorship of Eber D. Howe. The book, titled Mormonism Unvailed [sic], was the first book of significance printed with the design of destroying the Church. (Backman 1983, 207)

Richard L. Anderson outlines the events behind the initial collection of statements against Joseph Smith. "D. P. Hurlbut, excommunicated twice by LDS tribunals for immorality, became so personally vindictive that he was put under a court order restraining him from doing harm to the person or property of Joseph Smith. He was next `employed' by an anti-Mormon public committee to gather evidence to `completely divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man. . .' To achieve this goal he travelled to New York and procured statements at Palmyra Village, the largest business center adjacent to the Smith farm and also at Manchester, the rural district that included `Stafford Street.' Cornelius Stafford, then twenty, later remembered that Hurlbut arrived at `our school house and took statements about the bad character of the Mormon Smith family, and saw them swear to them.'" (Anderson 1970, 284-85)