In the process of trying to undermine the image of Joseph Smith it is understandable that the statements we have received would make very strong statements about his family and ancestors. Hurlbut's goal was to gather information which would "completely divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man" (Anderson 1970, 284) and so he did not include any statements which might reflect positively on Joseph Smith. He was only interested in gathering affidavits which would achieve his purpose.
When Benjamin Saunders who lived near the Smith was later asked if Hurlbut had talked to them, Saunders replied, "He came to me, but he could not get out of me what he wanted; so he went to others." (Anderson 1991, 67)
To examine these claims let's review the character and circumstances of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s grandparents: Solomon Mack and Lydia Gates on his Mother's side and Asael Smith and Mary Duty on his father's side.
Solomon Mack. Although Solomon Mack was born into a prosperous family, a steep decline in the economy when he was four, meant that he was indentured to a another family in the village. This family was not fair to Solomon, neglected his education and keep him past the required age for servitude.
Regardless of difficulty in many ventures, he continued to forge ahead. "Defeated in one venture after another wounded by falling trees and spills from houses, afflicted with fits and permanently lame after the most severe accident, shipwrecked, betrayed by business associates, he always recovered his health and courage and set forth on new undertakings. After a religious conversion in 1811 he turned his energies to telling the folly of worldly pursuits, and traveled the countryside describing the peace that faith had at last brought to his life." (Bushman 1984, 12)
"Although they suffered reverses, the Mack family did not dwell in mean poverty. At various times they owned farms and houses. Solomon had the capital to purchase land, freight vessels, buy a schooner, and to owe and be owed hundreds of dollars. In 1786 his daughter Lydia married Samuel Bill from one of Gilsum's prominent families." (Bushman 1984, 16)
Lydia Gates. Lydia Gates was the oldest daughter of Daniel Gates, a tanner, and known as "a man of wealth." "Baptized as an infant, Lydia Gates made her own profession of faith as an adult and was enrolled in the Congregational Church." At one time when she was deathly ill she gathered her children around her and encouraged them "always to remember the instructions which she had given them to fear God and walk uprightly before him." Solomon said of his wife, that not only did she exhibit "the polish of education, but she also possessed that inestimable jewel which in a wife and mother of a family is truly a pearl of great price, namely, a pious and devotional character." (Anderson 1971, 26-27)
Solomon Mack praised Lydia, "She, besides instructing them in the various branches of an ordinary education, was in the habit of calling them together both morning and evening, and teaching them to pray; meanwhile urging upon them the necessity of love towards each other, as well as devotional feeling towards him who made them. In this manner my first children become confirmed in habits of piety, gentleness, and reflection, which afforded great assistance in guiding those who came after them, into the same happy channel. The education of my children would have been a more difficult task if they had not inherited much of their mother's excellent disposition." (Roberts 1957, 19)
Asael Smith. Joseph Smith's grandfather, Asael Smith, from Topsfield, Mass., was "the fourth generation of Smiths in the town. His father, Samuel, had received all the honors the town could bestow. He was repeatedly chosen assessor, selectman, town clerk, representative to the General Court (the Massachusetts name for the legislature), and delegate to the Provincial Congress. Most important, he was chosen twenty times as moderator of the town meeting, a position reserved for one who commanded universal respect." (Bushman 1984, 20)
Asael showed strength of character as he was more willing to endure serious hardships than let his father's debts go unpaid on his death. "When the barter economy of New England caught Samuel Smith, Father Smith's grandfather, by surprise and he died insolvent, Father Smith's father, Asael, said, `I am not willing that my father, who has done so much business, should have it said of him that he died insolvent.' Thus Asael, who had been too sick to do any but small clerical tasks for three years, and while burdened with the responsibilities of a large and growing family, concluded, in his own words, `Notwithstanding all my embarrassments, I will undertake to settle my father's estate and save his name from going down to posterity as an insolvent debtor.'" (McConkie 1993, 150)
While a child Asael had his neck burned which contracted the cords of his neck on one side and rendered them stiff. His crooked neck has been sometimes used to indicate that his mind might have been affected. In response, B. H. Roberts said, "As to the `distortion' of Asael's mind, two documents of his exist which reflect the quality of his mind so clearly, that the reader will need no other evidence to establish the soundness of his understanding, the clearness of his intellect, or the refinement of his nature, than their perusal." (Roberts 1957, 6)
Asael was able to establish himself well in Tunbridge. "By the time the third son, Asael, Jr., married in 1802, the Smiths had a 300-400-acre compound of adjoining farms. . . . Beginning in 1793 he was frequently elected one of three selectmen to manage town affairs, and occasionally served as moderator and highway surveyor." (Bushman 1984, 23- 24)
Mary Duty. "From a family of courageous Revolutionary solders, Mary Duty distinguished herself in rearing eleven children. She was an example of industry to her family, for John remembered his mother as `a first rate dairy woman.'" (Anderson 1971, 109)
"Her family had superior care or health for its time, since all children lived to maturity. Certain other patterns appear in this group. Educational exposure was marginal in New Hampshire and Vermont, but native intelligence is plain. Eldest Jesse took his father's place in Tunbridge as a civic leader, holding most offices, including selectman and town clerk" (Anderson 1971, 109)
Donna Hill in reviewing how Joseph Smith and his family felt about their ancestors said, "Joseph and his parents knew that they were from early American families of more than average means and influence." (Hill 1977, 15-16)
Such a charge of restlessness would seem ill conceived today when it is not unusual for families to move often and end up having lived in 15 to 20 different locations. Even in the 18th century there was no fault in participation in the migrations which took place to find better soil and habitats. Both Solomon Mack and Asael Smith might have moved to Vermont sooner if the land titles had not been in question. It wasn't until a payment of $30,000 was made to New York in 1790 to quiet the New York claims, that the way was finally opened for Vermont to enter the Union and settlements to begin in earnest. (Bushman 1984, 22)
B. H. Roberts comments on this charge of restlessness:
"And what is there in this `restlessness' that was reprehensible. And why should it subject these men to the spiteful epithets of `tramp' and `vagabond'? It was only such `restlessness as sought to better industrial conditions by change of habitat; and the soil of New England, sterile at best, and the uncertainty of the climate in the hill country of Vermont and New Hampshire, at least justified if they did not compel the removals. It was the `restlessness' that sent the people of New England, Pennsylvania and Maryland through the gateway to the west provided by the head waters of the Ohio, into the Western Reserve; and the people of Virginia and the South Atlantic States, over the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee; and finally westward to the Pacific coast. It was `restlessness' that led Americans to take possession of their heritage-was this reprehensible?
"The biographers of Lincoln have to meet this same charge of a `restless,' migratory spirit in the great president's immediate ancestors; and Mr. Henry C. Whitney, in his biographical treatise Lincoln the Citizen, published in 1907, in defense of the migrations of the Lincoln family, says: `Migration is an American institution. Instances are not rare of men who have actually lived in a dozen different states; and California, Oregon, and Washington are largely peopled by men who commenced their tours of migration in the Atlantic States, and by slow approaches ultimately reached the ultimate limits of western civilization. The Marshall family, whence came the great Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshal, could be charged with the same `fault' if such it be. Thomas Marshall, father of John Marshall, left the ancestral farm in Westmoreland county, abandoned it in fact; and settled in Prince William county farther up the Potomac; thence a few years later, he moved into a valley of the Blue Ridge mountains. Years later came another `restlessness' which carried Thomas Marshall over the Blue Ridge into the far distant new settlements of Kentucky. And what of it? (Roberts 1957, vol. 1, 24-25)
The Smiths were all literate as can be observed by their public service and writings. Joseph Smith, Sr. taught school in Sharon in the winter and farmed in the summer. (Bushman 1984, p. 31) Although Solomon Mack did not get the simple learning that the law required masters to provide, he apparently kept a rather extensive journal. (Anderson 1971, 31)
"Such illiteracy, then, as may be, in a limited way, attributed to the ancestors of the Prophet, or himself, was that enforced upon them by environment, by lack of opportunity by the fault of the times, of their location and of their fortunes; not a deliberate choice of illiteracy in the midst of opportunities to have it otherwise; and hence they bear the charge sans reproach." (Roberts 1957, vol. 1, 26)
This charge essentially contradicts the later charge of being irreligious.
In responding to this charge, B. H. Roberts replied, "Yes; the Prophet's
ancestors were credulous in that some of them believed that they were healed
of bodily ailments by the power of faith in God. Others had dreams, as
their neighbors had, that they could refer to no other than the spiritual
forces of this God's world. . . . To be credulous in such things was to
be normal people. To have been incredulous in such matters in that age
and locality, would have stamped them abnormal." (Roberts
Were Joseph Smith ancestors, "basically irreligious", "degenerate", did they take a "path away from Christianity?"
"The error has been perpetuated by some of Joseph Smith's biographers, who were influenced perhaps by the gossip of his day, that he came from shiftless and irreligious forebears. Careful research reveals this to be entirely untrue . . . when Joseph was born and during his boyhood the Smiths were nearly destitute. Nevertheless, as the writing of Joseph and his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, amply demonstrate, the family had retained the values of their colonial forebears, the respect for education, . . . the strict moral conscience, the ethic of hard work, the preoccupation with salvation, and the Yankee independence and pride which are not consonant with the shiftless character that some have endeavored to attach to them." (Hill 1977, 15)
"No responsible biographer can call Asael irreligious, for he held deeply personal convictions about God. `Put your whole trust solely in him,' he counseled his wife: `He never did nor never will forsake any that trusted in him.' To his children he stressed daily reverence:
Do all to God in a serious manner. When you think of him, speak of him, pray to him, or in any way make your addresses to his great majesty, be in good earnest. Trifle not with his name nor with his attributes, nor call him to witness to anything but is absolute truth." (Anderson 1971, 106-7)
After Asael's oldest children were married, Asael wrote his family a letter of counsel in the form of a will. "Asael devoted about one-fifth of this `will' to scriptural proof that no salvation comes through selfrighteousness, but that `sinners must be saved by the righteousness of Christ alone.'" (Anderson 1971, 107)
Although Solomon Mack lacked a religious foundation until late in life,
"Lucy said that all of her religious instruction came from her `pious and
affectionate' mother" (Bushman
How reliable are the non-Mormon affidavits about Joseph Smith and his family?
Joseph said, "Rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating falsehoods about my father's family, and myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them, it would fill volumes."(Smith 1980, vol 1, 19) This was also acknowledged in the Painsville Telegraph newspaper in Ohio, "to record the thousand tales which are in circulation respecting the book and its propagators would be an endless task and probably would lead to the promulgation of a hundred times more than was founded on truth." (Kirkham 1942, vol 2, 43)
When we read statements from the neighbors of Joseph Smith and his family, we assume that they have observed the Smiths and therefore arrived at these conclusions. However they don't tell us what they observed. Without specific actions, verified by more than one witness, we don't have anything more than gossip. It is understandable for a community which did not share Joseph Smith's beliefs to be offended for the notoriety which he brought their town.
Because of the assumed integrity of the witnesses and their Palmyra connection, these several witnesses are initially believed and the burden of proof falls on the Smith family to prove otherwise. This is a most difficult task even if all the witnesses were lying. I can claim that I saw you once steal candy from a store. For you to disprove my claim you will have to itemize all the times you might have been in the store and have witnesses to prove that at those times you didn't steal any candy. The claim is simple to put forth, but the rebuttal is long and involved and never very satisfying.
Sometimes in an attempt to establish a defacto standard of reliability, these witnesses will be introduced as "prominent" residents of Palmyra. Of course one of the problems with "prominent" citizens is to explain their involvement with a those who are "without influence in this community." Also, how many would actually have the close association to make their testimony meaningful. Hugh Nibley questions: "Then how did all the prominent people get to know him so well? Did he seek them out, or did they seek him? If three or four or maybe five people had said about Joseph Smith what all this cloud of witnesses swore to, their testimony might have borne some weight. But when we get up into the 50's and 60's and 70's~isn't it just possible that some of those did not really know Joseph Smith very well after all?" (Nibley 1961, 29)
In reviewing the history of Joseph Smith we are left with the task of deciding how much truth is contained in the tales which have been recorded. We must examine, 1. The motives of the person who acquired the affidavits, 2. The reliability of the witnesses, 3. How well they know the Smith family, 4. The witnesses motives. As we have indicated, one of the motives is that the people of Palmyra did not feel comfortable with the notoriety and wanted to distance themselves or at least explain why they had not taken Joseph Smith's claims seriously.
The major sources of affidavits from neighbors of the Smith family where gathered by 1) D. P. Hurlbut in 1834, 2) Frederic G. Mather in 1880, 3) Kelley brothers from the Reorganized church in 1881 and 4) Arthur B. Deming in 1888.
Although Hurlbut's goal was to "divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man," later affidavits are not consistently negative; "Mather found many people willing to talk about the young man who, in the words of one, `did not look as if he knew enough to fool people so.' And like Hurlbut, Mather heard stories of gold digging and drinking, although many of these same witnesses also considered Smith, `a good and kind neighbor.'" (Anderson 1990, 4) Deming was more careful in allowing the witnesses to sign the completed affidavits and they have more good to say about the Smiths than the affidavits gathered by the vindictive Hurlbut. The Kelley's stated objective was to "hear the worst, let it hurt whom it would." However, "the Kelleys could find virtually no one who know anything firsthand against the Smiths and a number who remembered the family as being quite respectable. The worst the Kelleys could report was one account of money digging and an occasional reference to Joseph Smith's drinking." (Anderson 1990, 4)
Joseph Smith commented about the Hurlbut affidavits to W. W. Phelps and others, "we are suffering great persecution on account of one man by the name of Doctor Hurlburt who has been expelled from the church for lewd and adulterous conduct and to spite us he is lieing in a wonderful manner and the people are running after him and giving him money to break down mormonism" (Jesse 1984, 287)
Although Hurlbut obtained 72 signatures, that does not necessarily represent a large number of those who knew the Smith family. "At best, Hurlbut selected one-half of one percent of the males who potentially knew anything about the Smiths. Although Howe presented these as representative, they are matched by approximately the same number in those communities known to have a favorable opinion of the Smiths in the late 1820's. Dr. Gain Robinson, uncle of the Smith family physician, gathered sixty signatures on a certificate attesting the Smiths' reliability in an attempt to prevent loss of their farm in 1825." (Anderson 1970, 285)
The Smith family had arranged to make the final payment on their farm. However, while Joseph and his father were in Pennsylvania working for Josiah Stole, some men had cunningly lied about why they were gone and succeeded in getting the agent to sell the Smith farm to them. "Hyrum, in a short time, went to an old friend, Doctor Robinson, and related to him the grievous story. Whereupon, the old gentleman sat down, and wrote at some considerable length the character of the family~our industry, and faithful exertions to secure a home, with many commendations calculated to beget confidence in us with respect to business transactions. And keeping this writing in his own hands, he went through the village, and in an hour procured sixty subscribers." (Smith 1912, 108)
Think about what you might say about someone from your community who you knew five or ten years ago. Someone who had ideas which you considered strange and preached doctrines which you considered to be blasphemous and false. Someone who has gone on to develop a considerable following of people who believe him and follow his directions. Now think about someone you have actually known and not seen for two to seven years. How well do you know him. If he fit the description of a successful preacher of what you consider to be false doctrines and lies, what would you say about him? Wouldn't your prejudices show through?
Think also about those people who have known you. If you left a community where you have lived for several years, how well could they report several years later on your character? How authoritative could they describe you as being "lazy," "worthless," "intemperate," didn't pay "just debts", "indolent," "low character". I might describe myself as lazy at times, but my wife thinks I work too hard. It is easy to develop epitaphs about someone's character without being complete in your description. We all might have done things which might be considered to be indolent or worthless, without those acts being an accurate portrayal of our character. A lifestyle of actions defines a character, not trumped up charges of low worth.
Even anti-Mormon writers have acknowledged that the affidavits must be treated with care. Riley has said, "No reliance is to be placed in the multiplied affidavits of jealous neighbors, who swore on oath that there was much intoxication among the Smiths; people in those days had the affidavit habit." (Roberts 1965, 41) And Kennedy cautions, "Some portion of this may have been dictated by envy, malice, or that form of righteousness which controls men at times when their neighbors have been more successful than themselves, but the allegations had a foundation in fact." (Roberts 1965, 41)
It will also be noted that the affidavits are long on conclusions but short on facts. They will claim that the Smith family is "lazy," "low character," or "worthless" but they won't supply the specific actions which led them to these conclusions. As can be seen by reading the various affidavits, those who know the Smiths the best have the least damaging testimony. As Richard L. Anderson has observed, "In the study of Joseph Smith's character, it is the distant non-observer of Palmyra-Manchester who tends to be hostile. The better informed the witness, the more affirmative his views." (Anderson 1970, 312)
According to Peter Ingersoll Joseph Smith gathered some white sand in his frock and when asked about it he decided to tell his family that it was a gold Bible and that they couldn't look at it. This particular story can be shown to be doubtful by examining the rest of what Peter Ingersoll says. Roger I. Anderson concluded:
"Of all the information volunteered by Hurlburt's witness, Ingersoll's story is the most dubious for a number of reasons. First, Ingersoll represents the incident as unpremeditated deception on Smith's part. Aside from all other considerations, there exists ample evidence that Smith had been talking about the gold plates some time before the date Ingersoll attaches to this prank. Second, Smith's known regard for his parents makes it unlikely that he would deceive them for the sheer fun of it, call them `damned fools' and perpetrate the hoax for the rest of his life. Third, Ingersoll records that after this confession of duplicity he offered to loan Smith sufficient money to move to Pennsylvania, which is unlikely if Smith was in fact the knave Ingersoll knew him to be. Last~and perhaps the most significant consideration~Pomeroy Tucker remembered that Ingersoll `was at first inclined to put faith in his [Smith's] `Golden Bible' pretension.' If Tucker's statement can be trusted, it seems likely that Ingersoll created the story as a way of striking back at Smith for his own gullibility in swallowing a story he later became convinced was a hoax." (Anderson 1990, 56)
The really remarkable think about much of the testimony against Joseph Smith and his family is the clarity which witnesses can recall conversations which occurred many years before. "The real issue of Mormon scholars is how reliable Hurlbut's, Deming's, or Kelley's witnesses are. There is the problem of lapsed time, which everyone has acknowledged. Just how Chase or Saunders, etc., can recall detailed conversations with people eight to fifty-five years afterward is a weighty question that cannot be brushed aside no matter how many of these late testimonies seem to corroborate each other. That Lorenzo Saunders confirms Chase on the Samuel Lawrence story may be of no value. Most likely Saunders reread Chase in E. D. Howe's book to get the details correct." (Hill 1990, 72-3)
Hugh Nibley observes, "The really damning evidence of Chase, Ingersoll, Tucker, Stafford, and the rest all goes back to the same secret, private conversations. Smith is always brutally frank when he talks to these people~but there is never anyone else present. Mr Howe sneers that the only Mormon reply to these tales was a categorical denial. What other reply is possible?" (Nibley 1961, 160-61)
Hill asks a reasonable and insightful question, "If the Smiths were
so reprehensible, why did the Presbyterian church to which many of these
witnesses belonged admit Lucy and her children to membership in 1824? There
was nothing negative said about their character when they chose to leave
the church in 1828. William Smith was probably right when he said that
his family did not learn that they were bad folks until after the Book
of Mormon appeared." (Hill 1990,
Were the Smith family "lazy", with "a constitutional aversion to labor", "notorious for indolence", planned to "live without work", and "a family that labored very little"?
What does it mean when you say someone is lazy? Either they are engaged in other activities which you don't think are productive, or when they do work you don't think they are working hard enough or fast enough. The witnesses against the Smith family don't tell us why they thought that the Smith family were lazy, but we can probably conclude that they did not approve of Joseph Smith spending his time in the preparation of the Book of Mormon. How easy it seems to evaluate how someone else should spend their time. It is very easy to claim that someone is lazy, but without specific reasons the charge is meaningless.
Hugh Nibley observed, "Everybody says Joseph Smith was lazy because of the things he didn't do, but what about the things he did do? What good does it do to say that you, with your tiny routine of daily busywork, think another man is lazy if that man happens to accomplish more than ten ordinary men in a short lifetime? Joseph Smith's activities are a matter of record and they are phenomenal. You might as well claim that Horowitz doesn't know how to play the piano to a man who owns a library of Horowitz recordings, or that Van Gogh couldn't paint to the owner of an original Van Gogh, or that Dempsey couldn't fight to a man who had fought him, as to maintain that Joseph Smith was a lazy loafer to the historian who gets dizzy merely trying to follow him through a few short years of his tremendous activity. I think this constantly reiterated unfailing charge that Joseph Smith was a raggle-taggle, down-at-the-heels, sloppy, lazy, good-for-nothing supplies the best possible test for the honesty and reliability of his critics. Some of them reach almost awesome heights of mendacity and effrontery when, like Mrs. Brodie, they solemnly inform us that Joseph Smith, the laziest man on earth, produced in a short time, by his own efforts, the colossally complex and difficult Book of Mormon. (Nibley 1961, 49)
The best refutation to the claims in the affidavits is to examine what Joseph Smith did accomplish; "Some who charged Joseph Smith with being lazy contended also that he wrote the Book of Mormon, a contradiction in fact, since the writing of such a work would have been an exhausting task." (Backman 1983, 203)
Orlando Saunders reported, "They have all worked for me many a day. . . they were very good people; Young Joe, (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker they all were" (Kelley 1881, 165)
This charge of idleness is the one charge that can be seriously challenged. We can examine what the Smith family accomplished. William Smith made the observation, "If you will figure up how much work it would take to clear sixty acres of heavy timber land . . . trees you could not conveniently cut down, you can tell whether we were lazy or not." (McConkie 1993, 219) He also stated, "To gather the sap and make sugar and molasses from [1,200-1,500 sugar] trees was no lazy job." (Enders 1993, 223)
As we examine how the Smith farm compared to others in the area we find:
"In comparison to others in the township and neighborhood, the Smiths'
efforts and accomplishments were superior to most. In the township, only
40 percent of the farms were worth more per acre and just 25 percent were
larger. In the `neighborhood,' only 29 percent of the farms were worth
more and only 26 percent were larger." (Enders
Was Joseph Smith, his father and family "intemperate", "noted drunkard", "addicted to intemperance", "entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits."?
Orlando Saunders said of the Smith family, "I always thought them honest; they were owing me some money when they left here; that is, the old man and Hyrum did, and Martin Harris. One of them came back in about a year and paid me." (Anderson 1970, 309)
But what does the charge of immorality mean? "They may have been considered immoral for not coming to church and addicted to vicious habits for their drinking, to which Mormon sources attest. The Word of Wisdom had not yet been received, and most people drank. Yet these Palmyrans indicated that they could speak only of what the Smiths were `considered' to be. They probably did not know them well." (Hill 1990, 74)
"An acquaintance of Joseph Smith, a Mr. Bryant, declared in a Michigan newspaper that the young man was `a lazy, drinking fellow, loose in his habits every way.' When William Bryant was interviewed shortly after the account was published, he admitted that he had seen Joseph only once or twice. In answer to the question, `Were they [the Smiths] drunkards,' he replied, `Everybody drank whiskey in them times,' and denied that he had uttered the statement that had been attributed to him." (Backman 1983, 203)
It is obvious that some of the witnesses are tying too hard to make outlandish claims about Joseph Smith and his family. A "skilled liar" would not boast of his skill, since to be skilled in lying you must not be recognized as a liar.
"Then what kind of a community was Palmyra . . . to allow such monstrous goings-on to continue year after year without so much as raising a finger of protest? The Smiths, we are told, `were the terror and torment of the neighborhood,' . . . `a pest to society,' says Mr. Howe; theft, fraud, and `unspeakable lewdness' were the order of the day~but never an arrest or trial. Those who give the most lurid reports claim to have their knowledge from the most intimate and prolonged association with the Smiths: a day or a week of such association would disgust and sicken any normal person, yet these eminently respectable people . . . go on month after month and year after year receiving and encouraging the confidences of Smith and his family." (Nibley 1961, 71)
Nibley also observes, "Here is a nice impasse: Chase and Ingersoll and Stafford, who knew him so well describe his as a brawler, who `frequently got drunk, and when intoxicated was very quarrelsome,' while Tucker and Harding, who knew his just as well assure us that Smith `was noted as never having had a fight or quarrel with any other person. . .' Whom are we to believe?" (Nibley 1961, 78)
Oliver Cowdery had a close association with the Smith family and he reported: "I feel myself bound to defend the innocent always when opportunity offers. Had not those who are notorious for lies and dishonesty, also assailed the character of the family I should pass over them here in silence; but now I shall not forbear. It has been industriously circulated that they were dishonest, deceitful and vile. On this I have the testimony of responsible persons, who have said and will say, that this is basically false; and besides, a personal acquaintance for seven years, has demonstrated that all the difficulty is, they were once poor, (yet industrious,) and have now, by the help of God, arisen to note, and their names are like to, (indeed they will,) be handed down to posterity, and had among the righteous.~They are industrious, honest, virtuous and liberal to all. This is their character; and though many take advantage of their liberality, God will reward them; (Times and Seasons, vol 2. p. 396)
Joseph's brother William gives us these insights into their family life: "My mother, who was a very pious woman and much interested in the welfare of her children, both here and hereafter, made use of every means which her parental love could suggest, to get us engaged in seeking for our soul's salvation. . . She prevailed on us to attend the meetings, and almost the whole family became interested in the matter, and seekers after truth." (Anderson 1971b, 58)
Reading the scriptures, prayers and singing were all part of the environment in the Smith family. William recalled: "[We] always had family prayer since I can remember. I well remember father used to carry his spectacles in his vest pocket, . . . and when us boys saw him feel for his specs, we knew that was a signal to get ready for prayer, . . . After the prayer we had a song we would sing" (Anderson 1971b, 59)
Dr. John Stafford was a neighbor, tells us that Joseph "improved greatly"
in literacy after they started having school in their house. "'they had
school in their house and studied the Bible.' `Who was their teacher?'
the Doctor was asked. `They did not have any teacher; they taught themselves.'
Was Joseph Smith, Sr, a counterfeiter and seducer?
This charge of counterfeiting seems to come from a respectable source. "Judge Woodard went on record in the Historical Magazine in 1870 with a statement to the effect that the elder Smith definitely was a treasure hunter and that `he also became implicated with one Jack Downing, in counterfeiting money, but turned State's evidence and escaped the penalty.'" (Martin 1965, 150)
Although Fawn Brodie totally discredited this hypothesis in 1945, it didn't stop Walters from continuing to use it in both the Kingdom of the Cults and Maze of Mormonism. However, his "quotes" don't end up being identical. In reference to the counterfeiters in Vermont, Brodie indicates: "On the 1st of April 1807 Beniah Woodward passed on to the elder Joseph Smith a false ten-dollar bill, and a fortnight later Abner Hayes paid him thirty-seven dollars in worthless paper. When Joseph launched a complaint in the Woodstock court on April 14, Hayes skipped to Canada, but Woodward paid with thirty-nine stripes and two years at hard labor for this and other misdeeds. Many years later a relative of Woodward took a neat revenge by insinuating that Smith had himself been guilty of making bogus money, and his account was widely believed. . . . I have examined the records of these trials in the Woodstock, Vermont, courthouse. The trial of George Downer, the only name corresponding with Downing, make no mention of Joseph Smith, and the other trials at which Smith was a witness make it clear that he was a victim, not an accomplice." (Brodie 1963, 7)
An example of this same claim is found in an 1842 letter from Joel K. Noble who was a justice of the peace in Colesville, Broome Co., Pennsylvania. Mr. Noble not only repeats the false charge of counterfeiting, but says that it was Joseph Smith, Sr. who escaped to Canada with a married woman. It is interesting how stories can grow in the telling.
Here we are confronted with claims and charges without any facts. We
also are not told what is meant by "extreme" or "trivial." Both Lucy and
Joseph, Sr. had ideas about religion that were not out of place in their
culture. Although Joseph Smith's ancestors had been Congregationalist,
his parents did not join an organized church until later in life. "The
Smiths were religious without being church people. Lucy Smith solemnly
promised to serve God with all her heart when an illness brought her close
to death in 1803, and then was unable to find a pastor to suit her. She
at last persuaded a minister to baptize her without requiring church membership.
For seventeen years she read the Bible and prayed with her family before
becoming Presbyterian. Although averse to minsters and churches, Joseph
Smith, Sr., had seven inspirational dreams over a span of years,all exhibiting
a desire for belief, healing, and direction, all showing dissatisfaction
with religion as it existed." (Bushman
Was Joseph Smith, Sr. a "mystic" who spent most of his time "digging for imaginary buried treasure?"
The charge of money digging is a good example of a charge that seems outlandish to us, but was an accepted practice in the 1800s. "The fact was, however, that in New England and in western New York at that time digging for treasure was widespread among respected citizens and churchgoers, who saw no conflict between that and their religious convictions." (Hill 1977, 67)
A hundred years from now people might ridicule our beliefs in right brain thinking, or that personalities can be classified as Autumn, Winter, etc. They may also think it barbaric that we would pay for the privilege to go into the mountains to kill animals as a sport or find it strange to understand our fascination to watch teams battle over a football with sometimes fatal results.
We can't judge Joseph Smith, Jr. and his father without judging them within their culture. They both were hired by Josiah Stole to dig for buried treasure, but they may have dug for treasure at other times as well. However, even if they did, it was not at the neglect of the responsibilities of clearing land, farming, building and improving their property. In the unpublished 1845 version of Lucy Mack Smith's manuscript she tells us:
Let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business we never during our lives suffered one important interest to swallow up every other obligation but whilst we worked with our hands we endeavored to remmember the service of & the welfare of our souls. (Hill 1984, 482)
Did Joseph Smith, Jr. and his father participate in Money-digging? Most likely. Does that have an impact on their character or the Gospel message restored by Joseph? No. No more than it would reflect on us today to believe in a "lucky" horseshoe, rabbit's foot, or a special hat. We might feel that our superstitions are simple, contained and harmless. But should we really judge Joseph Smith and his culture any differently?