Frederic G. Mather
"Early Days of Mormonism"
Lippincott's Magazine 26:152
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, Aug. 1880)
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Vol. LXXIII. Binghamton, N. Y., Wed., July 28, 1880. No. 6.
THE EARLY MORMONS.
JOE SMITH OPERATES AT SUSQUEHANNA.
His Advent Among the First Settlers -- He Marries a Daughter of a Pioneer
-- Digging in the Hills for Treasure -- Professing Miracles and Winning
Converts at Harpersville.
Scribner's Magazine for August contains an interesting reminisence of early Mormonism from the pen of Ellen E. Dickinson, the grand-niece of Rev. Solomon Spaulding who is believed to have prepared the manuscripts for the Mormon Bible while engaged in a very unsuccessful attempt to write a popular book of religious fiction. In this Miss Dickinson substantiates very well what has been often said of the origin of the Book of Mormon.
The Scribner Magazine article is noticed elsewhere in the REPUBLICAN. For the purposes of this article it will not be necessary to go into the earlier or the later history of Joe Smith, for the sketch is purely local, and relates to his operations in Broome and Susquehanna counties.
There are very trustworthy living witnesses by whom to prove that some of the earlier years of Joe Smith's prophetic career were spent in Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, where, in fact his prophesy with the "peek-stone" began. It was here that the Prophet married his wife, and it was here, on a corner of her ancestral estate, that the spiritual pair, the originator of the Latter Day Saints and the "Daughter of God" settled down to the material occupation of housekeeping. It was here that the first male child in the line of chief of the house of Latter Day Saints was born; and it is here the first born of the Father of Latter Day Saints and the "Electa Cyria" is buried. The prophesy went forth from Joseph that this son was to be a worker of miracles, who should open the golden bible while in his swaddling bands, and interpret the hieroglyphics "which no fellah could find out." The young prophet was stillborn, In other words he drove through time to that "undiscovered country" without stopping to feed in this sublunary sphere. He never had any swaddling bands; he never had any colic that his father knew of; he never had any milk roil on his stomach, and what gives more relief when contemplating the ills of human nature, he never cut teeth. Truly the wise die young. The early death of this prophet shows that he was too wise to go into the book publishing business on a limited capital, as a member of the firm of Joe Smith & Son, "peepers," and jobbers in new religion.
Recently a reporter of the REPUBLICAN visited Susquehanna and other towns on the Susquehanna river for the purpose of authenticating rumors of Mormon history, and interviewed several of the oldest inhabitants. It was a very pleasant work, as they were mostly intelligent and time-wise. The July sun was scalding hot which suggested that it might have been hot in Joe Smith's days, and turned the prophet's fertile mind to thoughts of "a land that is hotter than this." To our readers who have not seen Susquehanna -- there are even some old people in that county who have not seen Susquehanna, and never rode on a railroad -- a sketch of a few words descriptive of the country as it was and as it is may not be uninteresting in this connection. Then it was pretty much a dense wilderness, and the primeval pines and hemlocks which grew out of the rocky hills and reached their long shady arms over the narrow, deep valleys, must have made Susquehanna the "Black Hills" of the East. Now the pines, except some left for specimens, are gone. And the woodsman doesn't spare the tree any more, even though it be hemlock. All the tillable land, and quite a good deal more, is cleared up. Rattlesnakes always seemed to be a natural production of the hill soil, and for that reason, perhaps, the Indians never regretted that they had to give up the country.
The river, when it cut a channel through the mountain, was economical of its strength, and like an Irishman who ditches a swamp by the yard, it made a cut only just wide enough to stand in. Whatever else undertakes to get in the valley must either hang on the sides or swim.
But notwithstanding the natural drawbacks, a busy humming, and thriving village has grown there. The houses hang in clusters on the sides of the mountain, suggestive of swallow houses under the eaves. By the natural laws of adaptation, it is probable that in future ages children in Susquehanna will be born with wings; and there is no reason why they will not stand as good a chance there as people generally do to all be angels some day. The great railroad shops made the town, and they occupy all the level ground there is in it. Even their sites had to be leveled artificially,
Joe Smith came into this country on a divine mission, at a time when the first few settlers were struggling with the wilds. They always struggle with the wilds here, as has been suggested, but at the time of the advent of the Mormon father Indians and not engines went screeching through the valley. His first mission here was to get a wife. The Lord sent him after one -- so he said -- and told him he would know her when he saw her; that is, he would know this particular Mrs. Smith in prospect from any other coming Mrs. Smith. It was to be a courtship like Cain's, in which the usual long drawn out sweets of juvenile spooning were cut short for the necessities of the case -- a succession to the house of Joseph.
The exact time of his advent here is chronicled only in legends, and legend never kept a diary. However, the inscription upon the tomb of the little prophet, when considered in connection with the urgency before mentioned, would indicate that the Abraham of the Latter Day Saints tramped here in the summer or fall of 1827. The little prophet was buried June 15, 1828.
The tramp stopped at the house of Isaac Hale, a farmer living about a mile and a half below the present borough of Susquehanna, on the north side of the river, Mr. Hale had three daughters; two of them were married; but Emma, the second daughter, was single, and Joseph "knew his wife." He told her what he knew about it, and in the language of the boys, she "tumbled." But her "old man" didn't. He said "not for Joe." He did not believe in Latter Day Saints; he was not much of a man for saints, anyhow; he did not believe in any species of tramps -- in those days there were no lightning rod peddlers nor book agents -- and told Joe he did not want any son-in-law of his stamp, even though the Lord had sent him. Joe persuaded Emma to elope; they crossed the State line into Windsor, and were married. The "oldest inhabitant" fails to remember who performed the ceremony. The "Lady of the Lard" is understood to be still alive, at Nauvoo, and it seems to be quite important that she should produce her marriage certificate and settle the question so that no doubtful questions will ever hover about the illustrious name of Smith.
There were certain things which Joe could not do till he had a wife. He reported that the Lord had told him so. There was money buried at Palmyra, he said, which he had tried to get, but had been driven away by a headless Spaniard. Almost anybody would leave when a warrior came around who was proof against braining; and Joe did not want to toe the scratch against a man who had that advantage. However, in this case it was only an imaginary advantage, for Joe couldn't be brained either. It wasn't in his head, even though he had his head on. But he left. Then the Lord told him he did not need money as much as a man who had millinery and dry goods to buy; but if he had such things to purchase he should have the hidden treasure. Prophetic visions are never fulfilled in a day, and when good Elijah prayed for rain the storm appeared a great way off, and no bigger than a man's hand. The necessity of taking one step at a time was evident enough.
A live saint must have pork and beans and cabbages, etc., and the first woman saint [sic - sent?] to the House of Mormon brought with her a small piece of ground -- the amount is stated at six to thirteen acres; probably six is correct. Down here the valley is wide enough so that an industrious man, if he has a farm paid for, can get most of his living without stealing from the railroad. There was no railroad company to steal from then, and it appeared as though Smith would have to earn his own living when he could not live off his father-in-law.
The house he procured, and in which the monkery of translating the characters on the golden plates was gone through with, is still standing, and is part of the farmhouse of Benjamin McKune, the Sheriff of Susquehanna county. It is the one-story portion of the building, and is 26 feet front, 18 feet deep, and 14 feet posts. The Saint did not build it, but purchased it partly finished, and moved it upon his wife's six acres. This little piece of land had been set off the Isaac Hale farm for a son, who disposed of it to his sainted sister. The house was never finished entirely, notwithstanding that since the ownership of the Saint it has been owned and occupied by persons of means. The Saint put a stovepipe up through the roof, and that is the style of chimney it sports today. It is doubtful however, if it still retains the original stovepipe run up by Joe. After Smith left the country Martin Harris -- the Frank Moulton of Mormonism, for a long time the chief witness -- came back to settle up the Saint's estate, and sold the real estate to Joseph McKune, father of Sheriff McKune. The elder McKune constructed the upright portion from a shed he purchased of another farmer. The structure has had no paint outside to this day, and the only thing cheering about it is a well of cold water in front, with a Dutch sweep and an "old oaken bucket."
For some reason the future ruler of Zion did not start immediately after commencing to suffer the hardships of marriage to claim the purse promised by the Lord whose prophet he was, but used his "peek-stone" (a curiously shaped stone found by Joe Smith while digging a well at Palmyra) to discover a greater treasure nearer home. On a wilderness hill about half a mile north of his house, and now a part of the farm of Jacob I. Skinner, he discovered a ton of silver bars, hid deep in the bowels of the earth. This treasure was placed there by weary Spaniards as they trudged up the Susquehanna river, and became unequal to the task of hauling so much luggage. Just what band of Spanish adventurers they were does not appear, and profane history throws no light upon the mystery. Neither do we ascertain what they were doing with a ton of silver bars several hundred miles from any silver producing country before the advent of Goodenough, the Osborn Hollow and Ross Park mines. No matter how it got there, there can be no doubt that a ton of silver bars was buried in the hill, for the Prophet saw it through his "peek-stone."
Before proceeding further with this narrative we will give a description of the Prophet as it was given to the reporter by several aged persons who saw him. He was six feet or a trifle over in height; stout built but wiry; light complexion; light hair and light blue eyes. One aged lady said "he didn't look as though he knowed enough to fool people so." He wore a tall white stovepipe hat. Now imagine this athletic form kneeling down and burying his face in his white stovepipe hat in which was placed the "peek-stone," and you have in your mind's eye a view of the first Latter Day Saint discovering the treasures in the earth which no other fellow ever discovered. It was just like looking into water, he said; he could not tell just how deep it was any more than a man can who looks down into a lake; and the deflection of light sometimes took him out of the right course a few inches. Then too, the "rock-ribbed hills" -- and the hills about here are "rock-ribbed" with a vengeance -- were so insecure, and treasure so unstable that things in the bowels of the earth were liable to get mixed up every day. When his party would dig almost to a great treasure the enchantment would move it sometimes several rods out of the way. That sort of enchantment must have "tried the patience of a saint," and all the saints of Mormondom.
As soon as he could collect followers enough about him to do the work -- the Latter Day Saint, unlike St. Paul, did not labor with his own hands -- an excavation was commenced to recover the lost Spanish silver bars. The followers had to strengthen their faith, the visible certainty that if there was anything in that immediate vicinity worth working for it must be under ground. And in this line of reasoning there was no objection to believing it was pretty deep. Still they were not despondent. Their greatest excavation was about thirty feet broad on top, and about thirty-five feet deep. The ground was wet, and it was necessary also to dig a drain to this immense hole in order to let off the water. As the hole was on the crown of a hill a drain was opened by digging a few rods to the south.
The excavation, as the work progressed, was covered with a wooden structure to hide it from the eyes of the profane and scoffers. Down, down they went, the distance being measured by slow shovelfuls and tedious blasts in the rocks until they were just ready, or would be the next day, to stoop down and pick up the ton of silver bullion. "Hocus, pocus, presto, change." The "charm" moved the silver away three hundred feet to the north-east. It was an uphill job, but the charm was sufficient for the task. This was terribly hard on the new church, but the ambitious Saint was not to be cheated in that way. He got down on his marrow bones with his peek-stone and tracked it to its exact hiding place. It was not so far under ground this time -- only about twenty feet. The faithful went for it again with sleeves rolled up. It was a case of necessity. While they had been digging the large hole they had boarded around. Considerable of the prophetic hash had been furnished by Mr. Hale, the Saint' s father-in-law. who was a stiff old Methodist, and by force of circumstances was taking altogether more stock in this Big Bonanza than was agreeable to his judgment of matters of business. It became necessary, therefore, to get to that silver in the shortest possible time, Goodenough might have pinned it with a drill, but the saints who had no steam engine had to dig with pick and shovel.
At it they went again, with a will known only to those who work with a religious zeal or a worldly hope of a "bar'l of money." Hush, it's here! pick it up! No, it's gone again. Not a rumble nor a jar marked its going, but it went like riches on wings. Softly and silently it flitted away, and lighted fifty feet beyond the big hole. The Saint and faithful followers were exasperated, and fully determined to capture it if they had to take the hill to pieces and shake it through a sieve.
But just mark the valuable services of the Saint's "peek-stone." Every time it got track of the treasure, and enabled the faithful to dig toward it. The third hole was sunk about fifteen feet, when the treasure waltzed around on the other side of the big hole. Now the Saint had a vision; blood must be shed; it must be the blood of a black sheep, sprinkled all around the diggings. The faithful were mighty glad to hear of this, for they were tired of trying to catch a ton of silver which went like a nimble sixpence, and had so much the advantage of them in dodging about. There was a charm about it, for the Prophet said so, but ten prophets could not make them believe there was a charm about the work. That wasn't the kind of men they were, and the Mormons have never been that kind of men.
In all the country around Susquehanna there was not a black sheep. The nearest thing to a black sheep was a black dog, and the Prophet thought that might answer. The dog was killed, and its blood sprinkled about the ground where the silver was. The silver never went away any great distance after that, but it waltzed around the big hole in a manner to defy the dexterity of pick and shovel. Frequent drifts were struck out from the big hole, but the silver couldn't be coaxed with the blood of a black dog, nor cornered by tunneling. The Prophet decided that some man must be killed; that some of their number must be slaughtered and become a sacrifice to appease the charm that had the silver under its arm and was playing hide and seek with them. Until that was done the prize would escape them, and there was no use of digging against fate. He called for a volunteer, but none of the faithful could spare themselves for that purpose. For the simple reason that no Marcus Curtius could be found to throw his manhood into the breech, to step forward and have his head cut off for the great benefit of those who were left, this magnificent enterprise was abandoned, and all the silver there ever was in that mountain lies there until this day. When we reflect upon the great number of people who sacrifice themselves for wealth, it seems strange that the founder of Mormonism could find no sacrifice except a black dog which was little better than nothing in its operations. And it is not likely that he obtained the consent of the dog.
Oliver Harper, one of the number employed in the digging, and who furnished some of the sinews of war, was soon afterward shot by Jason Treadwell, near Joe Smith's house, while returning from a rafting expedition down the Susquehanna. The Saint thought this would answer for a sacrifice, and rallied the faithful to dig some more; but the charm remained stubborn, and would not come within sight of anybody with the silver, except the Prophet with his "peek-stone," and the "peek-stone" business was pretty nearly played out in this neighborhood. There was too much hard work and perspiration about it to be clearly connected with a day of miracles.
The Prophet turned his attention again toward Palmyra, and the hidden treasure in that neighborhood, but was supposed by Mr. Hale and his family to be in pursuit of furniture for housekeeping. He was accompanied by his wife's brother Alvah, who officiated as teamster. When they returned to Susquehanna it was learned that the Saint had brought with him the wonderful golden plates. It is recorded in the Book of Mormon that after the prize was won and delivered to the Prophet by angles, his eyes were opened and he saw legions of devils contending against a celestial host to keep the golden bible hid. What the devils wanted to keep it hid for is hard to understand. Such conduct certainly showed great shortsightedness in them, and they are not supposed to be a superficial race. The Book of Mormon does not record all. It does not tell where the Prophet went immediately after the golden plates were won and delivered to him.
He returned to Susquehanna with his head heavily bandaged, and reported that he had had a personal encounter with the chief devil, and that he (the Prophet) was severely wounded by a blow struck right from the shoulder. The Book of Mormon does not record this magnificent fisticuff. One could easily wish that the devil had prevailed for once, instead of wounding and then meeting with defeat, though this is not equal to wish the devil success. The fact was established, however, that the devil is a hard-hitter, and when one says he "is not afraid of the devil" he does not know just what he is talking about. Joe Smith found out.
The golden plates were brought from the West secreted in a barrel of beans. They were brought to Joe Smith's house, but were not to be seen nor opened until a prophet should come who would be sufficient for the task. This prophet was sadly laid away in his little earthly cradle, as has been stated, and his infantile mouth was never opened to interpret golden plates. Then the father was miraculously helped out of a great difficulty by finding a pair of spectacles -- perhaps they were presented to him by angels -- which would cause the hieroglyphics to appear written in a language the Latter Day Saint could understand. Joe's language, as nearly as can be ascertained at the present day, was a compound of bad English and Mohawk Dutch. These spectacles were supposed to be something entirely new in the line of spectacles, for at that time it was not well understood that translators and commentators generally use glasses constructed on similar principles. There is a slightly different shade of coloring to different denominational spectacles, but the principle of being cut on the bias, and tinted to order is about the same in all of them.
Joe Smith would write the translation from his plates upon a slate, or dictate what to write, and others would copy upon paper. His assistants were witness Martin Harris, and brother-in-law Reuben Hale. The translating and writing were done in the little low chamber of Joe Smith's house. The Prophet and his precious trust were screened even from the sight of his clerks by blankets nailed to the walls. The nails remained for many years just as they were driven by the Prophet, and it was not until some repairing was done a short time ago that they were drawn out. Neighbors were free to call at the house as much as they pleased while the bible was concocting, and the matter of the golden bible would be talked over. Some persons were permitted to lift the pillow case in which it was kept, and feel the thickness of the volume the plates made, but no one was permitted to see them.
A very important accident occurred at his house while the translation was going on, which materially abridged the Book of Mormon. Witness Harris was a man of moderate means, but he had become the Mormon treasurer, using his own funds for a treasury. His wife became thoroughly alarmed about the manner in which their property was wasting away, and came on from the West to arrest their destruction and reclaim her husband if possible. The husband, infatuated more with Joe Smith than with her, sought to persuade her to hold her peace, by showing her the sacred writings they had made, and which were now nearly completed. She hid the manuscript, and when she was asked to give it up, said Joe Smith might peek for it. Joe brought his "peek-stone" into use, and pointed to several places, but the roll was not found where he directed his attendants to search. He accused her of being unfair, and of removing the manuscript every time, just before the attendant reached it. In other words the bible disappeared just as the silver had done under the influence of an evil charm. After a while Mrs. Harris surrendered part of the manuscript which she took from her straw bed, just to show the Prophet she knew he was a fraud. But a portion was never given up. The Mormons say she retained it. Joe Smith never undertook to use his spectacles for a second translation of the matter on the missing sheets, as he feared Mrs. Harris would produce a different bible consisting of his first translation of the golden plates. The woman, however, was not so shrewd as they suspected she was, and instead of setting the cunning trap they feared she spitefully burned the manuscript, hoping that if it could not be found the religious partnership between her husband and Joe Smith would be dissolved.
The clap-trap of Smith and Harris failed to make any favorable impression at Susquehanna, in Smith's own neighborhood, proving again that "a prophet is not without honor, save in his own land." The scene of his ministry was changed to Harpersville, where one of Mrs. Smith's sisters, Mrs. Wasson, resided, and to Nineveh and Afton. Harpersville is about twenty miles above Susquehanna; Nineveh is about two miles further up the river, and Afton is about three miles above Nineveh, and lies just in the edge of Chenango county. When the country was new, and traversed by narrow and muddy roads through the dense forests, people who lived twenty miles apart seldom met, and when Smith went up to Harpersville to operate he had left his country, substantially, and went to a distant one.
Brother-in-law Benjamin Wasson, of Harpersville, was a cabinet-maker, and made a box in which to carry the golden bible after it was deemed to be unsafe in the pillow-case, Neither Mr. Wasson nor his wife inclined toward Mormonism, but one of their sons joined the Mormons and became a Mormon preacher.
In the days of Joe Smith's early operations people were often found who were actuated by a desire to become suddenly rich. He operated largely upon their cupidity. There are no such people now, consequently adventurers who hold out promises of sudden great wealth never deceive anybody, not even by mining and stock operations, patent wagon-tongue lifters and the like. But Joe Smith was able, by the using of his "peek-stone," to gather around him a band at Harpersville. He procured the following of Joseph Knight, who possessed a small farm, a grist mill, and a carding mill, situated upon a small stream from Perch Pond to the Susquehanna, directly across the river from the present village of Harpersville. Having enlisted Knight's pocket-book, the Latter Day Saint had something to operate with. Knight's two sons, William and Newell, also joined the fortunes of the "peek-stone" man. William Hale, uncle of the "Electa Cyria," or Daughter of God, as Joe's wife was called, joined the band. Among other converts here -- about sixty finally emigrated from the neighborhood -- were William Stringham and wife, men named Blowers and Culver, and Josiah Stowell. Stowell was a man of some means when he became a Mormon.
This point on the river is north of the Apalachin mountains, and widens from a narrow cut to a broad and open plane, now divided into as fine and productive farms as the sun shines upon. The place was originally settled by emigrants from Vermont, who were known as "Vermont sufferers." The appellation did not attach to them because they suffered privations on the Susquehanna, but because they had settled on a strip of land off Washington county, on grants from New York State, when the land was subsequently proved to belong to Vermont. As compensation for this loss they were given homes at Nineveh. The antecedents of these settlers is mentioned here because it is a noticeable fact that Vermonters of the poorer class were peculiarly susceptible to the influence of bugaboo religions.
The "peek-stone" discovered a salt spring in a marsh on the plane opposite Center Village, and brawny hands and sinewy arms were found to take up shovels and picks and dig for it. This portion of the plane was then owned by Bostwick Badger. It is now owned by George Collington, one of the very substantial farmers of Broome county. Mr. Collington was then a lad about sixteen years old, and one evening about twilight he discovered Joe Smith, the elder and the younger Knights, Stringham and Culver and Blowers dodging through the woods with digging implements on their shoulders. He followed them, keeping under cover of the brush until they stopped and held a council. They decided to commence digging the next day. Young Collington saw that Mr. Badger had felled an oak tree near the place a few days before, and had drawn out the timber. He went and got Mr. Badger's permission to cut the top for wood, and the next day, soon after the Prophet and followers began to dig, Collington's ax began in the tree top. In a few moments the lad walked out and inquired what they were doing. They were cross to him, and told him he had better be off about his business. As Mr. Collington now expresses it, he was "pretty spry boy, and did not care much for the Mormon scowls and scolds." He published them about the neighborhood, and every day the salt diggings had unwelcome visitors. They dug the hole down almost thirty-five feet. It was necessary to pump out water by hand to keep the mine from flooding, and operations were very laborious. Frederick Davenport furnished young Collington with half a bushel of salt, which was deposited in the hole one night. There was sufficient water at the bottom to dissolve the salt, and in the morning the Mormons discovered a briny flavor. As many bottles as they could muster were filled with the water and exhibited about the neighborhood. This was the first success of the famous "peek-stone." But the salt well speculation came to grief one night by caving in and burying the picks, crowbars, shovels, etc., which were never taken out. Since Mr. Collington has owned the farm some of his own and his neighbors' cattle were drowned in it, and to avoid further losses of the kind he filled the hole to nearly level with the surrounding plane.
The "peek-stone" discovered an extensive and rich silver mine on the farm of Abraham Cornell, at Bettsburgh, nearly opposite Nineveh, and a hole was dug there to the depth of over thirty feet, but no silver was found except what was contributed by Josiah Stowell to provide for the expenses of the diggers. Mr. Stowell is represented as being not a very bright man, but he had saved considerable money for those times, and Joe Smith managed to get and spend about the whole of it. Searches were made in other places about the neighborhood for treasure. It is not necessary to state with what success.
But now we come to a stage in these early reminiscences of Mormonism when Joe Smith was more successful. Already it has been noticed that he was successful in getting the wife the Lord sent him to find, and the golden bible, which was a sort of sequel to the marriage. These he got at Susquehanna and Palmyra, the only two neighborhoods where he had operated extensively before he squatted at Harpersville. At Harpersville he made his first successful efforts to found a church. A large barn, 30 by 40 feet -- which was standing until very recently -- on Joseph Knight's farm, was the first Mormon tabernacle. Joe Smith tried to preach there, but is described as not a very great success at preaching. But Sidney Rigdon was sent for, and did better. The excitement ran high; there was a semblance of persecution on the part of the Gentiles, principally among the lads and young men, and converts came in until a church was formed which must have been a great deal more numerous than any other church in that neighborhood. A dam was constructed in the stream upon which Knight's mills were situated, and in this the Mormon converts were baptized by immersion. The young Gentiles often tore the dam away, but the faithful rebuilt it as often as they needed it for baptismal purposes.
The numerical size and character of the new church was such that other people were exceedingly glad when they shook the dust of Harpersville from their feet and emigrated westward. The train as they departed consisted of eleven passenger wagons and three baggage wagons. There were sixty passengers. Some of them were led by a desire for travel and adventure -- polygamy had not yet been introduced into the church -- but others were so much in earnest that they pooled their property, what there was of it, and determined to follow their Prophet at least to the end of his earthly kingdom. Possibly some believed in his heavenly kingdom. His followers were people who would embrace any creed which had for its object the tearing down of other creeds. They were about such people as the communists, and the rank and file of spiritualists of to-day. They were of the class described by Dr. Holmes, "Whose hair's in the mortar of every new zion," but who are ready to believe anything but the Bible.
There are several stories told in the neighborhoods of Susquehanna and Harpersville about miracles performed by Joe Smith. Joe was in the habit of drinking liquor too freely for the founder of a religion, and perhaps he often mistook a hilarious condition for a very spiritual condition, and undertook to perform on a grand scale very much as other drunken men do without realizing the magnitude of his task and his own utter inability to perform it. He got pretty drunk at one time while out with a party who fished the river with a drag net. The catch was very good, but unlike the fishermen of Galilee, the men were able to pull in all the fish.
One night when a heavy frost was expected, Joe Smith volunteered to go into the cornfield of Michael Morse, his brother-in-law, and pray the frost away. The cornfield was on the hill south of the Susquehanna depot, and fairly exposed to north and west atmospheric influences. Joe went and prayed, but he was not equal to the emergency. The frost came and destroyed the corn. He couldn't warm up equal to the occasion.
At Nineveh the Prophet announced that on a certain evening, at twilight, he would walk upon the water. The place where he was to walk was watched by the Gentiles, and one of the followers was seen to come there and construct a bridge just under the water. When the bridge builder left, congratulating himself that he had done a good job for his Prophet, the boys -- it is the boys always who do such things -- slyly removed a portion of the planks. At twilight that evening the Prophet came out to walk upon the water, and before starting he exhorted his followers to have faith, as faith on their part was absolutely indispensable to enable him to perform a miracle. For a few steps he had a sort of "go as you please," then he didn't go as he pleased, but plunged down and had to swim as he pleased for shore. "Woe unto you of little faith!" was his salutation to his followers as he reached terra firma; "your faith would not hold me up!"
He was sent for to come to Harpersville and bring to life an old Mormon convert named John Morse, who died. He had professed to be able to raise the dead, and his followers wanted an exhibition of his skill in that direction. But when he saw how old the man was he argued that it would be a pity to bring him to life and cause him to suffer death again in a short time, for old age had already rendered him helpless. He was happy in heaven, and it would be cruel to bring him back to struggle with rheumatism and poverty in this world. The argument prevailed and the old man was not prayed back to life with Mormon prayers.
The Prophet found it necessary, however, to pray for the return to life of a deceased shoemaker at Greene. The shoemaker had joined the new church, and was expected to put all his property, consisting of a few hundred dollars, into the Joe Smith treasury, and prepare for the exodus toward the western Zion. The widow would not turn over the property until prayers had been offered for the return of her husband. If the shoemaker was in heaven he preferred staying there to being brought back by Joe Smith. His executors afterwards sought to recover the shoemaker's property, and Judge Thomas A. Johnson, afterwards of Corning, but then a law student in Greene, was sent to Harpersville to get possession of it.
The saints were encamped in Knight's barn, and threatened to shoot Mr. Johnson. By the advice of friends he compromised after they surrendered a valuable horse, prized in those cheap times at $200.
Perhaps the most remarkable miracle ever performed by Joe Smith, and which proved beyond a doubt that he was all he professed to be, was casting the devil out of elder Knight. Knight solemnly declared the devil was cast out of him in the form of a black cat, and when he was cast out he ran into a brush heap. It is not recorded that he ever returned to Knight, and entered his former habitation, but those who knew Knight are of the opinion that the premises were not a great while without a tenant like the one who had vacated.
The Mormon exodus from Harpersville was by the way of the old State road north of Binghamton to Ithaca, and from there they journeyed toward Palmyra by water on Cayuga Lake.
THE SOURCES OF INFORMATION.The strictly narrative portion of the foregoing account of early Mormonism, as has been stated, was gathered from very creditable eye witnesses, who are now among the aged, and honored, and trusted of their townships. They were among the youth at the time of Joe Smith's earlier adventures and personally pried into every undertaking and watched every movement.
MRS. METHETABLE DOOLITTLE, who is now living alone on a little place in Susquehanna borough, lived in Wurtsboro, Sullivan county, and visited at the house of Isaac Hale, Joe Smith's father-in-law, when she was seventeen years old. She remembers Emma, afterwards the wife of the Prophet, as a handsome and attractive girl, about her own age. She says Emma was decoyed away for a ride, and married in Windsor, very much against the wishes of her parents.
MRS. SALLIE McKUNE, widow of Joseph McKune and mother of Sheriff McKune, is now eighty years old. She was between twenty-five and thirty years old when Joe Smith was performing about Susquehanna, and lived upon a farm adjoining Joe Smith's lot and the Isaac Hale farm, and in sight of the place where they dug for the ton of silver on Jacob I. Skinner's farm. Smith's residence was between the residence of Joseph McKune and Isaac Hale. Her husband bought the Smith place, built an addition to the house, and Mrs. McKune lived in the house about forty years. She remembers the arrangement of the nails used for hooks to hang blankets on during the translation of the golden bible. The anecdotes of the Spaniard without a head; of Smith's being sent out to find his wife; the charm that moved the silver; the human sacrifice asked for; the relations of Robert Harper with the silver hunt, and his tragic death; the circumstances of bringing the golden plates home; and of the translation by the aid of miraculous spectacles and the trick of Mrs. Harris, are related by her with great clearness. Smith and his conspirators gave out that the Book of Mormon would make them and the Hale family rich. She understands that the Joe Smith place consisted of only six acres. Mrs. McKune told the story of the miracle in the corn field; of Joe Smith's getting drunk; and of the young prophet who failed to connect with time. She says her husband strongly suspected that Joe Smith and his gang were counterfeiters.
MRS. ELIZABETH SQUIRES, who is about seventy years old, was present at the interview with Mrs. McKune. She always lived in that neighborhood, and thoroughly corroborated Mrs. McKune in all her statements, and often prompted her in her recollections of fifty years ago. The interview occurred at Mrs. Squires' residence, where Mrs. McKune chanced to be visiting. They unite in saying that Joe Smith never made a convert at Susquehanna, and also that his father-in-law became so incensed by his conduct that he threatened to shoot him if he ever returned. Isaac Hale is represented as a sturdy but somewhat eccentric man, who would have been likely to fulfill his promise toward his unpromising son-in-law. As an instance of his unyielding disposition it is stated that he never forgave the trustees of the neighborhood cemetery with whom he had a dispute, and that in his will he made it obligatory upon his executors to bury him on his farm instead of placing him in the family plot in the cemetery where the remains of his wife, and the young prophet, and other descendants repose.
JACOB I. SKINNER, who now owns and occupies the farm where Smith end his followers dug for silver, was then about sixteen years old. He has been engaged for years in dumping stones into the holes to fill them up, because they were dangerous traps for his cattle. The smaller hole, which is in the edge of a wood, is still used by the boys in wet weather for a swimming pond. Mr. Skinner is sure that the Prophet claimed to have found the golden bible in the big hole on his farm, but in that he is not corroborated by another witness. Yet he has the hole to show in support of his claim, and that must be regarded as a big thing when he comes in controversy with a man who has less proof. Mr. Skinner is clear in his statements about the manner of digging; of going down in the big hole, then going to a hole in the woods, and then coming back to sink shafts and run drifts along the big hole. He is authority saying the big hole was covered by a rough board house; also for the story of the black dog; and that Mr. Hale threatened to shoot his son-in-law if he ever came back. He described Joe Smith's appearance, and his manner of searching for hidden treasure. He was not aware that Joe ever performed any other miracles, or attempted any. He remembers how the Prophet's residence was built, and thinks that his place consisted of thirteen acres. His opinion is that the place was worth about $500 to $600, but doubts if anything was paid on it. Mr. Skinner was present at the net fishing excursion when Joe Smith got drunk. The Prophet carried a bottle of whiskey in his pocket. His good father-in-law also imbibed more tanglefoot than was compatible with patriarchical dignity and good example, and he and Joe had a good natural rough and tumble.
SAMUEL BRUSH, a smart old gentleman about seventy-five years of age, who is now running a large farm and lumber-mill about three miles southwest of Susquehanna, lived in the Hale neighborhood in the time of Joe Smith's exploits there. While the translation of the gold bible was going on he called often to see Reuben Hale, the scribe. Reuben would always quit work and come down stairs; and sometimes would go away from home with him. Old Mr. Hale gave Joe Smith the sobriquet of "Peeker." Mr. Brush understood that it was a ton of Spanish silver, and not the golden bible they were digging for on the hill. Martin Harris was a believer in second sight, (which accounts, to a very great extent, for his connection with Joe Smith, for spending his money, and for his testimony to the genuineness of the Mormon revelation.) His faith in second sight was badly shaken when he never got the second sight of his money placed in Joe Smith's hands. Reuben Hale explained to Mr. Brush why the Prophet could not tell the precise location of an object he could see through his "peek-stone" on the supposition of deflected light. Miss Blackman, author of a history of Susquehanna county, gives Joe Smith the reputation of being tricky. That Mr. Brush claims is a mistake. Mr. Brush was not catechized as to what, in his opinion, constitutes a tricky man. He says Joe Smith was a good, kind, neighbor; and that is the testimony of Mrs. McKune, Mrs. Squires and Mr. Skinner,
GEORGE COLLINGION, ESQ., gave a pretty full account of the Mormon transactions about Harpersville. He told the story of the salt well; and of the first Mormon meetings in Knight's barn; of the baptismal ponds, etc. Mr. Collington was very careful not to appear to know overmuch about the Mormons, and said he was not present when Joe Smith tried to walk upon the water. But others accuse Mr. Collington of taking up the Prophet's bridge and letting him souse into the river, and of playing various other tricks with him. If this accusation is correct, young Collington's absence from the water-walking scene is easily explained. He could see just as well a little further off when the Mormons' dander was certain to come up.
SMITH BAKER, about eighty years old (Mr. Baker died since the interview), and the owner of a handsome property on the plains, had a rich font of early Mormon incidents. He was one of the teamsters who assisted the Mormon exodus from Harpersville. He imparted the information about the shaft sunk at Bettsburgh, opposite Nineveh, for silver, at the expense of Josiah Stowell. He heard Sidney Rigdon preach, and said he was a decent speaker as preachers averaged in those days. He related incidents of Mormon baptisms in the stream from the Perch Pond, and how the boys tore out the dam until the Mormons found it necessary to rebuild it in the night and watch it every time they had a baptism rite to perform. According to Mr. Baker, Josiah Stowell once sent the Prophet to mill and he lost a bag of wheat through a hole in the wagon box. Col. Stow, a prominent settler, saw it fall and picked it up and carried it to his house. The Prophet resorted to his "peep-stone" and saw a man come out of the woods, seize the bag, and make off with it. The robbery was noised about thoroughly for several days, when Col. Stow confessed the part he had played and surrendered the wheat to the great confusion of Stowell and Smith. Mr. Baker was authority for saying that Joseph was sent to pray John Morse back to life, but discouraged the scheme on the ground that the deceased was an old man and had better remain dead. Mr. Baker said that the widow of Benjamin Peck, of Afton, who took her two children and went off with the Mormons, placing in the hands of Joe Smith considerable money, repented in great agony of mind while on the road to Ithaca, but the Mormons would not restore her property, and she was forced to remain with them,
MRS. HARRIET MARSH, an estimable lady of Harpersville, now about eighty years of age, and wonderfully well preserved in bodily and mental vigor, remembers much of Joe Smith's career, though she only saw him once. She was traveling with her husband toward Susquehanna, and stopped at Waller's tavern where the Prophet and "Electa Cyria" were stopping for a meal. Joe had his head wound in thick bandages and Mrs. Marsh was told by landlord Waller the story of the Prophet's great fight with the devil. This was about two weeks after Smith returned from Palmyra with the golden plates, and he was then on his way to brother-in-law Wasson's to get a box made for it. She thought the "Electa Cyria" below the ordinary grade of intellect for women. Mrs. Marsh told the story of the shoemaker at Greene, whom the Prophet failed to bring to life. Judge Johnson, who recovered the horse for the shoemaker's executors, was Mrs. Marsh's brother. The Mormon exodus went past her house. She saw Josiah Stowell and his daughter after they returned from the Mormons, and thinks that Mrs. Stowell, who died while West, was poisoned. Mrs. Marsh remembers the attempt of Joe Smith to walk on water. She also remembers that the Knights, while working for her husband in haying, said that Joe Smith could perform miracles, and Joseph, the elder of the Knights, said that Joe Smith had cast the devil out of him; that he was in the shape and style of a black cat, and ran into a brush heap.
MRS. REBECCA NURSE. an elderly lady now residing in Binghamton, lived near Nineveh at the time of the Mormon doings there, and remembers that the Prophet set a day to sink Nineveh after the manner of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But after a great deal of coaxing he was persuaded to withdraw his curse, or at least to postpone it, otherwise the Albany and Susquehanna railroad would now have to ferry across a Dead Sea.
In a little briar and fern grown cemetery, on a knoll a few rods above the place where they bored for oil on the McKune farm, by the side of the Erie Railway, a few years ago, is the legend of the prophet which was to be and wasn't. It is engraved upon a little rude headstone of black sand-stone, and reads: "In memory of an infant son of Joseph and Emma Smith, June 15, 1828. The lettering is rude, in the style of the manuscripts of those days, and the figures' 8's look like a cross between a $ character and the letter S bent the wrong way. They bring to mind visions of an old-fashioned school-master. The embryo prophet is buried in a row with the Hale family, and around him are the McKunes and other pioneers who have passed away, leaving honorable names and honorable descendants.
Transcriber's CommentsThe information compiled by Frederic G. Mather for his "Early Days of Mormonism" saw near simultaneous publication in the pages of The Republican, a newspaper, issued at Binghamton, Broome Co., New York. Details Mather provided in these two respective sources do not always match perfectly, although the basic story they tell is the same. It appears likely that the editors of both publications emmended Mather's account to some degree. The Lippincott's proof-reader probably pared Mather's prose down considerably. The account given in the Binghamton Republican probably more closely reflects Mather's own chatty style of writing. And, although both articles relate essentially the same narrative, the Lippincott's version may prove to be slightly more reliable in its concise wording.
Broome and Chenango Counties, with Great Bend Region Below
Sidney Rigdon at Colesville in mid-1830?
Both of Mather's accounts make use of Mr. Smith Baker's recollection of Sidney Rigdon having preached effectively in the Colesville-Afton region, along the county line between Broome and Chenango counties. Unfortunately Mather does not relay the critical information from Baker as to the date of Rigdon's preaching there. The context in both sources gives the impression that this was after the Church of Christ had been formally organized, that is, after April of 1830. Rigdon is known to have briefly visited this area, in company with Joseph Smith, Jr., just prior to their both attending a conference of the Church in Fayette on Jan 2, 1831. Sec. 37 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants commands Rigdon and Smith to preach "in those parts... and more especially at Colesville." This document is believed to have been written down in Canandaigua at the end of December 1830, when the two Elders were already on the road to Colesville. It thus appears almost certain that Rigdon and Smith made a very quick preaching visit to Colesville township on or about Dec. 31, 1830. See also the Painesville Telegraph of Feb. 15, 1831, which speaks of Rigdon returning from New York on Feb. 1, 1831 with "a transcript from the docket of two magistrates, where Smith had been tried as a disturber of the peace, which testified that he was honorably acquitted." According to Fawn Brodie, Rigdon obtained his transcript after having gone "south to interview the magistrates at Colesville and South Bainbridge (Brodie, pp. 95-96).
If Smith Baker's account is derived from Rigdon's whirlwind tour at the end of 1830, that particular preaching visit would present no problems for the traditional chronology of early Mormonism. If, however, Baker's memory comes from earlier in the year 1830, it would help substantiate Emily Coburn Austin's claim that the "Baptist minister" Sidney Rigdon preached in Colesville at an earlier date -- before Emily's own baptism there into the Mormon fold. According to LDS researcher Wade Englund's chronology, the "Probable date of Emily's conversion" was on Sunday, Nov. 14, 1830 -- about six weeks before Rigdon's one, documented visit to Colesville. Unfortunately Mr. Englund ends his chronology on Nov. 18th and does not explore the possibility that Emily mis-dated the Rigdon visit to Colesville by a few weeks.
Mather, in his Lippincott's article, displays an awareness of and a sympathy for the Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship -- including the alleged participation of Rigdon in compiling the final version of that book. However, Mather makes no use of Baker's testimony to strengthen the Spaldimg claims. Had Baker definitely placed Rigdon in Colesville earlier in the year, prior to Rigdon's own Mormon baptism, Mather probably would have relayed that account to his readers.
James A. Briggs and the Card Family of Willoughby
On page 206 of his "Early Days of Mormonism" article Mather retells the story "Judge John Barr, ex-sheriff of Cuyahoga county, Ohio" concerning "Varnem J. Card, the lawyer" who "afterward became prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga county." Apparently Mr. Card was living either in Cleveland or Chagrin in late 1830, when Judge Barr and he went to observe Sidney Rigdon baptizing Mormon converts. Varnum [or Varnem] Joseph Card appears to have been either the nephew or the adopted son of Dr. George W. Card of Willoughby.
According to the March 6, 1885 statement of Rev. Samuel Whitney (brother of Bishop N. K. Whitney) Dr. George W. Card of Willoughby delivered Joseph Smith's first-born son, Joseph Smith, Jr., on the Morley Farm near Kirtland November 6, 1832. Smith's decision to call in Dr. Card, a regular physician, and have him manage the difficult birth was atypical of the Mormons' self-practice of "Thompsonian medicine" during the Kirtland period. This is the same "Dr. Card" spoken of by James A. Briggs in Jan. 1886 as being a member of the anti-Mormon "Committee" which, in 1833, employed D. P. Hurlbut to locate and retrieve the writings of Solomon Spalding. Briggs makes the exact identification of the Doctor's name as "George W. Card, an intelligent physician" in his March 22, 1886 open letter to Joseph Smith III (published in Arthur B. Deming's Naked Truths About Mormonism I in Jan.1888).
It is possible that James A. Briggs' involvement with the northern Ohio anti-Mormons during the winter of 1833-34 came about through his association with fellow lawyer, Varnum J. Card. Varnum and James certainly must have known each other when they lived in the then relatively small city of Cleveland during the 1830s and 1840s. Varnum was a local Justice of the Peace, as well as the Prosecuting Attorney in the Cuyahoga Co. Court of Common Pleas between 1832 and 1836. James was a Cleveland lawyer in the 1830s and served as the Cuyahoga Co. Auditor throughtout most of the 1840s, before becoming Editor of the Cleveland True Democrat and the Cleveland American in 1848-49. The local history, Pioneer Families of Cleveland, Vol. II lists "James A. Briggs" and "Varnum J. Card" (side by side) as maintaining law offices on Superior St. in Cleveland during the 1830s. A news report in the July 30, 1835, issue of the Cleveland Advertiser tells of a recent fire in that city which damaged the law office of James A. Briggs and the "justice office" of County Magistrate Varnum J. Card. The news report gives the impression that the two lawyers' offices were immediately adjacent to each other. Assuming that Varnum was indeed closely related to Dr. George W. Card, James A. Briggs may have met the latter Mr. Card through the former. Also, Briggs studied as a law student at Willoughby Law School at the same time that Dr. Card was the most prominent member on the staff of Willoughby Medical College. Finally, Brigs must have also known Judge John Barr, since the two gentlemen both served on a committee to organize the 4th of July celebration in Cleveland in 1835 (see articles in the July 9 and Aug. 6, 1835 Cleveland Advertiser.
Frederic G. Mather: Just Another D. P. Hurlbut?
In his 1998 book, Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined, Rodger I. Anderson compares the research of Frederic G. Mather to that of D. P. Hurlbut in these words:
"Non-Mormons were no less zealous in collecting additional information about the young Mormon prophet. In 1880 Frederic G. Mather published an article in Lippincott's Magazine entitled "The Early Days of Mormonism." Mather had visited not only Palmyra but also central Pennsylvania, where Joseph Smith lived and worked for some time before the Book of Mormon appeared in late March 1830. Like Hurlbut, 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.' Later in the 1880s Arthur Buel Deming also acted the sleuth, publishing the results of his investigations in a short-lived, two-issue newspaper bearing the lurid title Naked Truths About Mormonism. Deming's results were also unlike those of the Kelleys, for he encountered no difficulty in finding people who claimed firsthand knowledge of the Smiths. Deming's informants willingly repeated all that Hurlbut's witnesses had charged over half a century before, even adding a number of new accusations to the growing list.
Together with other, widely scattered recollections and statements, these four sources --Hurlbut, the Kelleys, Mather, and Deming -- contain almost everything that is known about the young Joseph Smith from non-Mormon sources. Despite the obvious importance of these testimonials, few contemporary scholars have investigated their reliability as primary documents. Non-Mormons generally have been content to reject reports favorable to Smith on the grounds of obvious prejudice, and those sympathetic to the Saints and their church have similarly rejected testimony portraying Smith in an unfavorable light." (pp. 4-5)