OliverCowdery.com -- The Premier Web-Site for Early Mormon History

Oliver's Bookshelf  |  Spalding Library  |  Mormon Classics  |  Newspapers  |  Book Vault

Anna "Nancy" Towle (1796-1876)
Vicissitudes Illustrated

(1st ed., Charleston, 1832)
(pagination: 2nd ed., Portsmouth, 1833)

  • Title Page
  • Preface (under construction)
  • Contents (under construction)
  • Pages 149-159 (the Mormons)

  • Transcriber's Comments




    IN  THE








    An Engraving -- and PREFACE by LORENZO DOW.

    (The profits, will be devoted to charitable purposes:)

    I sent before thee Moses, Aaron and Miriam. -- Micah 6. & 4.
    And she (Deborah) said I will surely go with the; notwithstanding
    the journey thou takest, shall not be for thine honor; for the
    Lord shall sell Sistra into the hand of a woman. -- Judges 4. & 9.
    Despise not prophecyings. -- (Paul) 1 Thess. 5. & 20.




                  VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.              149

    ... My health being still low, in comparison of what I had once enjoyed; I thought it might be beneficial, to travel down Lake Erie. A water voyage, though debilitating at first, has usually with myself, a favorable termination: -- and serves to invigorate the system, more than any other means I am able to employ.

    To the State of Ohio, I desired to go, however: from other considerations than these. A very singular people (both of origin and practice) had attracted my attention: whose particular place of gathering, at this time, -- was there. I had heard much of the people: and in many places, the excitement I found considerably in their favor; but many were halting between two opinions, respecting them; and wishing to be informed. What I had learned, -- I imagine, if real, -- was of no small moment, either to myself or others. But if not, the things should be duly investigated, (even of such as were skillful to discern) and exposed as a warning to those, who were laible to founder, upon the same quicksands. My first impression of them, was, that they were a deluded people;

    150               VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.             

    and their writings, were a long time at my side, before I thought them worthy of my notice. -- Wherefore, on seeing some of my acquaintance, if an error, carried away of that error; I began to think it high time, to look into the things, and to know for myself, -- what that error was.

    Accordingly I took the steam-boat in company with Elizabeth, and we travelled down the Lake, and landed at Painsville, (Ohio.) From thence we went direct to Kirtland, where we met with the people, referred to; and were entertained of E. Marsh, from the city of Boston. Just as we reached the place, (which appeared providential), all of their chief Elders arrived home: so that we had every opportunity of informing ourselves respecting them, which was desirable. As there are few, comparatively, who have had any knowledge of the Sect, (so recently arisen,) I will here take the liberty to subjoin some brief hints, -- in regard to, both them, and their persuasion.


    A certain man by the name of Smith, trained in the state of New York; and now about twenty-eight years of age: -- professes to have seen, and held communion with an Angel from God. That, about four years since, as he was lying upon his bed, -- (having just been reclaimed from a backslidden state,) the room, of a sudden became light as day. When a beautiful personage, was presented to his view, -- who requested, That he (Smith) should go to such a place, -- as he had something wonderful, he wished to reveal. He accordingly

                  VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.              151

    went; and was directed by the angel to a certain spot of ground, where was deposited a "Box:" -- which box contained "Plates," that resembled gold: also, a pair of "interpreters," (as he called them,) that resembled spectacles: by looking into which, he could read a writing engraven upon the plates, though to himself, -- in a tongue unknown. These were delivered to him, as he asserts, to publish to the world. And when the things were committed to paper, "The box, &c. were to be sealed up; and deposited in the earth, -- from whence they were taken."

    All these things, he professes, moreover to have done; (though with the assistance of others, being himself, an illiterate youth;) and that the box, according to commandment, is sealed up, and to be seen of him, no more. The Book, consequently taken from the plates, is regarded as the "Word of Inspiration." And which contains the names, of a considerable number of witnesses; that had been once esteemed, men of both intelligence, and veracity.

    That book, I have both seen, and read: -- which is very voluminous. It pretends, for itself to shew -- by whom, and at what period, it was concealed in the rock. -- By Jews, -- (according to its own testimony,) -- of the ten tribes of Israel, in the fifth century, of the Christian Era: -- Who, for liberty of conscience left the Old World in a ship of their own construction; and sailed over the 'Great Waters,' they knew not whither, until they reached land. -- And that, a number of centuries, anterior to the day of Christ.

    It shews, furthermore, what darkness prevailed

    152               VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.             

    over all the country: -- how the earth shook, -- and what strange phenomenon was represented to many, the day the Son of God was crucificed! It also shews, that from the wickedness of some tribes, how their complexion became changed; and how the "Good Book," came to be lost, from among them. It foretells their fall; -- also, how long and they shall rise again; -- and that their end will then be great, -- till "time shall be no more."

    The Book enjoins, 1st, "Baptism, by emersion, as a condition of acceptance with God:" -- (which they consider, an acknowledgement of faith, in His Inspired Word: and a "being born again of water, and of the Spirit.") Hence, such only, as yield submission to this ordinance, and assent to the things contained in the Book; are with them, the avowed subjects of the kingdom of grace; and the favorites of Heaven.

    It inculcates, 2dly, "That every such member, shall come out from the world: forsake father, mother, wife and children; nor call aught of his possessions, his own." Hence, they are to embody thmselves together, at some particular place; "have all things common;" and so live together, in love; as the peculiar people, and the household of God.

    It enjoins, 3dly, "That every distinct member, be found at the Lord's Table every Sabbath day, to commemmorate His death and sufferings, -- until He come. -- And, moreover, that such exercise faith in God of working miracles; -- according to the attainment of the primitive disciples: viz. Of healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devils, and of imparting the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, &c." (To the faith of the Apostles,

                  VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.              153

    some of them profess already to have attained; particularly Mr. S----, whom they call their "Seer." He could do, many wonderful things.)

    They believe, according to the Book: "That a day of great wrath, is bursting upon all the kindred, of the earth; and that in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, alone, shall be deliverance in that day," (even in the land, which the Lord Jesus had given to them, for a dwelling-place, and an everlasting possession). The place where they then had their stay, was not the "Land of Promise;" -- but that, lay, on the western boundary of the State of Missouri; In which place, they were then assembling; and where they believed, In process of time, they should have a temple; and a city, of great magnificence, and wealth; and that shortly, they should increase, and tread down all their enemies, and bruise them beneath their feet. After which period, Christ Jesus should descend and reign with them, personally one thousand years upon the earth. And then their enemies should be loosed for a season; (or, as one said to me, for the space of three months,) when, -- should take place, the General Judgment; and the "final consummation of all things."

    These things, accordingly, they had prevailed upon some thousands to believe. Of their numbers, I found, ministers, of different persuasions; and some, it appeared, who had once been eminent for piety. I found, also, many men, of both influence and wealth. Husbands, who had left their wives: and wives, that had left their husbands. -- Children, that had left their parents: and parents, their children; -- that they might be "accounted

    154               VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.             

    worthy," as they said, "to escape all the things that should come to pass and to stand before the Son of Man."

    On the evening that we arrived, they had a meeting for searching hearts; which we were too weary, to attend. The next day, (which was the Sabbath,) we had the privilege of going to hear them, -- but they allowed us to say nothing. We were present, at their communion season; also by the river side, where the ordinance of baptism was administered. Thus, through all their exercises I had followed them for one day, with the strictest scrutiny, -- and I wished to be away. I had travelled the world extensively; and had a chance of visiting some, of almost every religious fraternity; (at least within the bounds, of the United States) and I now, thought myself prepared to say of Mormonism, * "That it was one of the most deep-concerted plots of Hell, to deceive the hearts of the simple; that had ever come within the limits of my acquaintance."

    As a people, wherefore in common with the world; I will do them the justice to say, I saw nothing indecorous: nor had I an apprehension, of any thing of the kind. But in their public performances, I no more looked upon them, as sanctioned by the Lord of Hosts, than if they had merely intended, to mimic the work of the Lord. Rather, to the contrary, I viewed the whole, with utmost indignation and disgust: and as a mere profanation and sacrilege of all religious things.

    * So called from the writer of the plates whose name was "Mormon."

                  VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.              155

    I really viewed it strange, that so many men of skill, should be thus duped of them. I pitied, and loved them too; believing that many had actually intended, forsaking all for Christ. But, If christians, is the question, how come they to be the votaries of such "cunningly devised fables as these?" I answer, "By not adhering to the rule-of-life which God had given, as they should have done: thus, in the hour of temptation, they were left to believe a lie. Although I believe, they may be saved at last, -- yet so, as by fire!"

    Having, by this time understood that they could neither flatter, nor frighten us, to their belief; they then undertook by threats, if possible, to drive us thereto: and said one, --

    Phelps, * "You are in the gall of bitterness, and the strong bonds of inquity. And I have authority to say to you, 'You shall not be saved, unless you believe that Book!'"

    Ans. "If I had the Book, Sir, I would burn it! And permit me, in return to prophecy respecting yourself. You will go away, into your Zion; (as you term it) and you will very shortly find, your faith to fail you. Then, you will reel and stagger as a drunken man; and as a bullock, unaccustomed to the yoke, you will run to and fro: Your substance, at length, is wasted: your System of Doctrine, has come to the ground: your family is in wretchedness; and your children around you, crying for bread! -- Then you will be

    * Formerly, an Editor of the paper published in New-York, called the Phoenix.

    156               VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.             

    glad, though in disgrace, to return to the place from whence you had come out."

    Harris. * "I, have authority to say to you -- You shall not enjoy, the comforts of God's grace, until you believe that book!"

    Ans. "You look like an artful, designing man: and I think you mischievous enough, to be the inventor of that plot!"

    Har. "I should be willing to bear all the sins of the human family, beyond the grave -- if these things, are not so!"

    Rigdon. † "You are in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity: You never were "born again." You never were called, to preach the Gospel: And all, that you have ever done in the world, was mischief."

    Ans. "The Lord of Heaven, knows the man to be a liar!"

    Ques. "Mr. Smith, -- Can you, in the presence of Almighty God, give your word by oath -- That, an Angel from Heaven, shewed you the place of those Plates? -- and that, you took the things, contained in that Book, from those plates? And at the direction of the Angel, you returned said Plates, -- to the place, from whence you had taken them?"

    Ans. "I will not swear at all!"

    Upon this, being about to leave the place, he turned to some women and children in the room;

    * One of the writers of the Book; (and as he stated to me) that had expended $5000 for its publication.
    † A Baptist preacher, formerly in the State of Ohio; and once, much beloved.

                  VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.              157

    and lay his hands upon their heads; (that they might receive the Holy Ghost;) when "Oh!" cried one, * to me, "What blessings, you do lose! -- No sooner, his hands fell upon my head; than I felt the Holy Ghost, -- as warm-water, go over me!"

    But I was not such a stranger, to the spirit of God, as she imagined; -- that I did not know its effects, from that of warm water! And I turned to Smith, and said, "Are you not ashamed, of such pretentions? You, who are no more than any plough-boy of our land! Oh! blush at such abominations! and let shame, forever cover your face!"

    He only replied, by saying, "The gift, has returned back again, as in former times, to illiterate fishermen." So he got off, as quick as he could, he recollected himself, wherefore, and returned to pass the compliment of "Good-by!" A good natured, -- low-bred sort of a chap; that seemed to have force enough, to do no one any harm. Another, of their Elders threatened, to put us off the ground; and that he would have no more such blasphemy there. I said, "Sir, you need not trouble yourself to do that; we will go without. We were invited to this place, by the woman of the house; and did not think of being carried out, -- by any other person."

    We attended a meeting of Presbyterians, on Monday evening; and were invited to join them, in prayer in exhortation. That we accordingly did, with a degree of satisfaction. Two christian

    * Eliza Marsh, formerly of Boston: but born in Ireland.

    158               VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.             

    people came in the next morning, and invited us to Perry. To which place, we rejoiced to go; believing that God had sent them.

    As we left the Mormonites, (for so they are called), a number of families, * started for the "Promised-Land." One turned to us, with much apparent animation, and said, "We are now going to that Land, which is to be our dwelling-place, forever-more!" And they renewed their charge to us, That if we could not see with them; to be careful, and not oppose them. I returned, "I shall think it my duty, -- to speak, and write against you, wherever I may go!"

    At Perry, I spoke in a school-house, where all seemed to hear with much surprise. Next night, I spoke at the Methodist Chapel in Painesville. There we found some husbands and wives at variance, about Mormonism. The one, detesting such a mass of absurdities -- (or rather the evils resulting therefrom;) had burned the Book: -- while the other, wished to unite with the people, -- and held the same as sacred. I now rejoiced that I could give them such advice -- if heeded, as would prevent the unhappy division; (if not the ruin of themselves,) before it was too late: and I now understood more especially, why duty had led me hither. Because, as I found, Here were many staggered at these things; that dared not for their lives oppose them; neither did they dare embrace them: -- While they were threatened with destruction, in case they did not: (for example, as myself had been.) And that were rejoiced, to

    * Phelps, and others.

                  VICISSITUDES  ILLUSTRATED, &c.              159

    meet with any one; from whom they could hear, the right side of the question.

    From the consideration, that not only these but many others over the world, (even as far as they, or their writings have extended,) were liable to be carried away of the same delusion; I therefore, have been the more particular here, in my remarks respecting them. So I now, leave my friendly Reader, to think and act for himself. And I proceed, with the account of my journeyings still, among many others, -- (though not to the same extent,) in divers ways, "deceiving and deceived..."

    Transcriber's Comments

    Writer Fawn Brodie (on pp. 103-4 of her 1945 No Man Knows My History) identifies Nancy Towle as a "female preacher traveling through Ohio in 1831" who "blundered into" the scene of early Mormonism at Kirtland. A decade later (on pp. 59-66 of their 1958 Among the Mormons) William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen provide an excerpt from Miss Towle's recitation of her experience at Kirtland and placing the date of the visit by the "New Hampshire schoolmistress" in "September, 1831."

    Mormon Historian Richard Van Wagoner (on p. 108 of his 1996 Sidney Rigdon) apparently places Towle's visit with the Saints shortly before Smith and Rigdon moved out of Kirtland and onto the John Johnson farm at Hiram "in mid-September" of 1831. LDS historical sources compiler Dan Vogal reproduces a brief excerpt from pp. 138-39 of Towle's first edition in his Early Mormon Documents I but provides no comments regarding her account. The authors of the 2000 CD-ROM book, The Spalding Enigma, reproduce a lengthier excerpt from Nancy Towle's account on pp. 877-883 of their report, there assigning the date of the visit as "having occurred during the weekend of 15-16 October..."

    Towle's account places Martin Harris, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, jr. all at Kirtland during a single weekend. Phelps arrived in Kirtland in mid-June of 1831 and kept his home there until early 1832. Although Smith and Rigdon were in Hiram during the first part of October, they were "appointed to go to Kirtland" not long after Oct. 11th and were likely to have been in that town during the middle of the month.

    Miss Towles mentions that "a number of families" were leaving Kirtland for Missouri at the time she ended her visit. These were, perhaps, stragglers of the Colesville group of Mormons, the main body of which had departed Ohio for Jackson County, Missouri earlier that summer.

    Towle's documentation of early Mormon beliefs in the "raising the dead" may sound strange to modern ears. This unusual LDS ordinance was, however, generally included among the Saints' earliest claims to latter day spiritual gifts.

    Return to top of the page

    Return to: Oliver Cowdery's Bookshelf  |  Oliver Cowdery Home Page

    last revised 8-16-2009