Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts

Money digging was almost always done at night, under the moon.

Money digging accounts from Joseph Smith’s neighbors, family, friends, the local Palmyra Newspaper & Lippincott’s Magazine:

William Stafford:

“Manchester, Ontario Co. N. Y. Dec. 8th, 1833.   

I, William Stafford, having been called upon to give a true statement of my knowledge, concerning the character and conduct of the family of Smiths, known to the world as the founders of the Mormon sect, do say, that I first became acquainted with Joseph, Sen., and his family in the year 1820.

They lived, at that time, in Palmyra, about one mile and a half from my residence. A great part of their time was devoted to digging for money: especially in the night time, when they said the money could be most easily obtained. I have heard them tell marvellous tales, respecting the discoveries they had made in their peculiar occupation of money digging.  They would say, for instance, that in such a place, in such a hill, on a certain man’s farm, there were deposited keys, barrels and hogsheads of coined silver and gold — bars of gold, golden images, brass kettles filled with gold and silver — gold candlesticks, swords, &c. &c. They would say, also, that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands, and in them were large caves, which Joseph, Jr., could see, by placing a stone of singular appearance in his hat, in such a manner as to exclude all light; at which time they pretended he could see all things within and under the earth, — that he could see within the above mentioned caves, large gold bars and silver plates — that he could also discover the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress. At certain times, these treasures could be obtained very easily; at others, the obtaining of them was difficult. The facility of approaching them, depended in a great measure on the state of the moon. New moon and good Friday, I believe, were regarded as the most favorable times for obtaining these treasures. These tales I regarded as visionary. However, being prompted by curiosity, I at length accepted of their invitations, to join them in their nocturnal excursions. I will now relate a few incidents attending these excursions.

Joseph Smith, Sen., came to me one night, and told me, that Joseph Jr. had been looking in his glass, and had seen, not many rods from his house, two or three kegs of gold and silver, some feet under the surface of the earth: and that none others but the elder Joseph and myself could get them. I accordingly consented to go, and early in the evening repaired to the place of deposit. Joseph, Sen. first made a circle, twelve or fourteen feet in diameter. This circle, said he, contains the treasure. He then stuck in the ground a row of witch hazel sticks, around the said circle, for the purpose of keeping off the evil spirits.  Within this circle he made another, of about eight or ten feet in diameter. He walked around three times on the periphery of this last circle, muttering to himself something which I could not understand. He next stuck a steel rod in the centre of the circles, and then enjoined profound silence upon us, lest we should arouse the evil spirit who had the charge of these treasures. After we had dug a trench about five feet in depth around the rod, the old man by signs and motions, asked leave of absence, and went to the house to inquire of young Joseph the cause of our disappointment. He soon returned and said, that Joseph had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit–that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and as soon as it beheld the cone which we had formed around the rod, it caused the money to sink. We then went into the house, and the old man observed, that we had made a mistake in the commencemnt of the operation; if it had not been for that, said he, we should have got the money.

William Stafford.

State of New York, Wayne County, ss:

I certify, that on this 9th day of December, 1833, personally appeared before me, William Stafford, to me known, and made oath to the truth of the above statement, and signed the same.

TH. P. Baldwin,   

Judge of Wane County Court.”  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, pp. 237-240)

Isaac Hale:

“I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825. He was at that time in the employ of a set of men who were called ‘money diggers;’ and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasure. His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man — not very well educated, and very saucy and insolent to his father. Smith, and his father, with several other ‘money-diggers’ boarded at my house while they were employed in digging for a mine that they supposed had been opened and worked by the Spaniards, many years since. Young Smith gave the ‘money-diggers’ great encouragement, at first, but when they had arrived in digging, to near the place where he had stated an immense treasure would be found — he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see.” (TESTIMONY OF ISAAC HALE, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, p.262-263)

Alva Hale:

“Alva Hale [Emma’s brother] says: ‘Joe Smith never handled one shovel full of earth in those diggings. All that Smith did was to peep with stone and hat, and give directions where and how to dig, and when and where the enchantment moved the treasure.'” (Joseph Lewis, Emma Smith’s cousin, “Review of Mormonism: Rejoinder to Elder Cadwell,” Amboy Journal (IL), June 11, 1879

1826 Glass Looking Trial Record:

“Thompson went on to say, ‘Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. …Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness… making a circuit around the spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them… but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.'” (Dr. William Purple’s account of the 1826 trial — Greene, April 28, 1877)

W. D. Purple:

“There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. … as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth.” (CHENANGO UNION, Vol. 30, Norwich, N. Y., Thursday, May 2, 1877, No. 33, Joseph  Smith  The  Originator  of  Mormonism, Historical  Reminiscences  of the town of Afton, BY  W. D. PURPLE

Willard Chase:

“Manchester, Ontario Co. N. Y. 1833.

I became acquainted with the Smith family, known as the authors of the Mormon Bible, in the year 1820. At that time, they were engaged in the money digging business, which they followed until the latter part of the season of 1827. In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me; the latter of whom is now known as the Mormon prophet. After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity.

I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat. It has been said by Smith, that he brought the stone from the well; but this is false. There was no one in the well but myself. The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alledging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but would lend it. After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again.  He had it in his possession about two years. –I believe, some time in 1825, Hiram Smith (brother of Joseph Smith) came to me, and wished to borrow the same stone, alledging that they wanted to accomplish some business of importance, which could not very well be done without the aid of the stone. I told him it was of no particular worth to me, but merely wished to keep it as a curiosity, and if he would pledge me his word and honor, that I should have it when called for, he might take it; which he did and took the stone.

In the fall of 1826, he wanted to go to Pennsylvania to be married; but being destitute of means, he now set his wits to work, how he should raise money, and get recommendations, to procure the fair one of his choice. He went to Lawrence with the following story, as related to me by Lawrence himself. That he had discovered in Pennsylvania, on the bank of the Susquehannah River, a very rich mine of silver, and if he would go there with him, he might have a share in the profits; that it was near high water mark and that they could load it into boats and take it down the river to Philadelphia, to market. Lawrence then asked Joseph if he was not deceiving him; no, said he, for I have been there and seen it with my own eyes, and if you do not find it so when we get there, I will bind myself to be your servant for three years.  By these grave and fair promises Lawrence was induced to believe something in it, and agreed to go with him. L. soon found that Joseph was out of money, and had to bear his expenses on the way. When they got to Pennsylvania, Joseph wanted L. to recommend him to Miss H., which he did, although he was asked to do it; but could not well get rid of it as he was in his company. L. then wished to see the silver mine, and he and Joseph went to the river, and made search, but found nothing. Thus, Lawrence had his trouble for his pains, and returned home lighter than he went, while Joseph had got his expenses borne, and a recommendation to his girl.

Joseph’s next move was to get married; the girl’s parents being opposed to the match: as they happened to be from home, he took advantage of the opportunity, and went off with her and was married.

Now, being still destitute of money, he set his wits at work, how he should get back to Manchester, his place of residence; he hit upon the following plan, which succeeded very well.  He went to an honest old Dutchman, by the name of Stowel, and told him that he had discovered on the bank of Black River, in the village of Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. a cave, in which he had found a bar of gold, as big as his leg, and about three or four feet long. –That he could not get it out alone, on account of its being fast at one end; and if he would move him to Manchester, N.Y. they would go together, and take a chisel and mallet, and get it, and Stowel should share the prize with him. Stowel moved him.

A short time after their arrival at Manchester, Stowel reminded Joseph of his promise; but he calmly replied, that he would not go, because his wife was now among strangers, and would be very lonesome if he went away. Mr. Stowel was then obliged to return without any gold, and with less money than he came. 

Signed, Willard Chase.

On the 11th December, 1833, the said Willard Chase appeared before me, and made oath that the foregoing statement to which he has subscribed his name, is true, according to his best recollection and belief. Fred’k. Smith,

Justice of the Peace of Wayne County.”  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, pp. 240-249)

Rev. John Sherer:

“… Joseph Smith. This man has been known, in these parts, for some time, as a kind of Juggler, who has pretended, through a glass, to see money under ground…”  (Early Mormon Documents 4, pp. 92-93, Nov. 18, 1830)

The Reflector:

In 1831, the local Palmyra newspaper spelled out:

“We are not able to determine whether the elder Smith was ever concerned in money digging transactions previous to his emigration from Vermont, or not, but it is a well authenticated fact that soon after his arrival here, he evinced a firm belief in the existence of hidden treasures, and that this section of country abounded in them. —  He also revived, or in other words, propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit…

This opinion however, did not originate by any means with Smith, for we find that the vulgar and ignorant from time immemorial, both in Europe and America, have entertained the same preposterous opinion.

It may not be amiss in this place to mention that the mania of money digging soon began rapidly to diffuse itself through many parts of this country; men and women without distinction of age or sex became marvellous wise in the occult sciences, many dreamed, and others saw visions disclosing to them, deep in the bowels of the earth, rich and shining treasures, and to facilitate those mighty mining operations, (money was usually if not always sought after in the night time,) divers devices and implements were invented, and although the spirit was always able to retain his precious charge, these discomfited as well as deluded beings, would on a succeeding night return to their toil, not in the least doubting that success would eventually attend their labors.

Mineral rods and balls, (as they were called by the imposter who made use of them,) were supposed to be infallible guides to these sources of wealth — ‘peep stones’ or pebbles, taken promiscuously from the brook or field, were placed in a hat or other situation excluded from the light, when some wizzard or witch (for these performances were not confined to either sex) applied their eyes, and … declared they saw all the wonders of nature, including of course, ample stores of silver and gold.” (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)

Lippincott’s Magazine:

“Certain ceremonies were always connected with these money-digging operations. Midnight was the favorite hour, a full moon was helpful, and Good Friday was the best date. Joe would sometimes stand by, directing the digging with a wand. The utmost silence was necessary to success. More than once, when the digging proved a failure, Joe explained to his associates that, just as the deposit was about to be reached, some one, tempted by the devil, spoke, causing the wished-for riches to disappear. Such an explanation of his failures was by no means original with Smith, the serious results of an untimely spoken word having been long associated with divers magic performances. Joe even tried on his New York victims the Pennsylvania device of requiring the sacrifice of a black sheep to overcome the evil spirit that guarded the treasure. William Stafford opportunely owned such an animal, and, as he puts it, ‘to gratify my curiosity,’ he let the Smiths have it. But some new ‘mistake in the process’ again resulted in disappointment. ‘This, I believe,’ remarks the contributor of the sheep,’ is the only time they ever made money-digging a profitable business.’(The Smiths ate the sheep)

These money-seeking enterprises were continued from 1820 to 1827 (the year of the delivery to Smith of the golden plates). This period covers the years in which Joe, in his autobiography, confesses that he ‘displayed the corruption of human nature.’ He explains that his father’s family were poor, and that they worked where they could find employment to their taste; ‘sometimes we were at home and sometimes abroad.’ Some of these trips took them to Pennsylvania, and the stories of Joe’s ‘gazing’ accomplishment may have reached Sidney Rigdon, and brought about their first interview. Susquehanna County was more thinly settled than the region around Palmyra, and Joe found persons who were ready to credit him with various ‘gifts’; and stories are still current there of his professed ability to perform miracles, to pray the frost away from a cornfield, and the like.” (quotes from Lippincott’s Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, n. j., 1901).

Peter Ingersoll:

Palmyra, Wayne Co. N. Y. Dec. 2d, 1833.

I, Peter Ingersoll, first became acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1822. — I lived in the neighborhood of said family, until about 1830; during which time the following facts came under my observation.

The general employment of the family, was digging for money.

Another time, the said Joseph, Sen. told me that the best time for digging money, was, in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. You notice, said he, the large stones on the top of the ground — we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are, in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.

Peter Ingersoll.

State of New York, Wayne County, ss:

I certify, that on this 9th day of December, 1833, personally appeared before me the above named Peter Ingersoll, to me known, and made oath, according to law, to the truth of the above statement.

Th. P. Baldwin,

Judge of Wayne County Court. (Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834, p.p. 232-237)

Joseph Smith:

“…In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania; and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger.” (History of the Church Vol. 1:56)

Joseph Capron:

“The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess. This power he pretended to have received through the medium of a stone of peculiar quality. The stone was placed in a hat, in such a manner as to exclude all light, except that which emanated from the stone itself. This light of the stone, he pretended, enabled him to see any thing he wished. Accordingly he discovered ghosts, infernal spirits, mountains of gold and silver, and many other invaluable treasures deposited in the earth. He would often tell his neighbors of his wonderful discoveries, and urge them to embark in the money digging business. Luxury and wealth were to be given to all who would adhere to his counsel. A gang was soon assembled. Some of them were influenced by curiosity, others were sanguine in their expectations of immediate gain.” (TESTIMONY  OF  JOSEPH CAPRON, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, p. 259)

Abigail Harris:

“Palmyra, Wayne Co. N. Y. 11th mo. 28th, 1833.

In the early part of the winter in 1828, I made a visit to Martin Harris and was joined in company by Jos. Smith, sen. and his wife. The Gold Bible business, so called, was the topic of conversation, to which I paid particular attention that I might learn the truth of the whole matter.–They told me that the report that Joseph, jun. had found golden plates, was true, and that he was in Harmony, Pa. translating them–that such plates were in existence, and that Joseph, jun. was to obtain them, was revealed to him by the spirit of one or the Saints that was on this continent, previous to its being discovered by Columbus. Old Mrs. Smith observed that she thought he must be a Quaker, as he was dressed very plain.

They said that the plates he then had in possession were but an introduction to the Gold Bible–that all of them upon which the bible was written, were so heavy that it would take four stout men to load them into a cart–that Joseph had also discovered by looking through his stone, the vessel in which the gold was melted from which the plates were made, and also the machine with which they were rolled; he also discovered in the bottom of the vessel three balls of gold, each as large as his fist.”  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book)

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Accounts of Joseph Smith Using a Seer Stone To See the Buried Golden Plates: 

Martin Harris:

“These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates. … The family had likewise told me the same thing.'” (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany’s Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163)

Hosea Stout:

“Hosea Stout, who believed in the Prophet, said that the gold plates were found by means of a seer stone.”  (Juanita Brooks, (ed.), On the Mormon Frontier. The Journal of Hosea Stout (2 vols.; Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 1964), II, 593. see the entry of 25 February 1856.  From the article: Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties by Marvin S. Hill BYU Studies Vol 12, Winter ’72, p. 223-234, )

Willard Chase:

“… Joseph believed that one Samuel T. Lawrence was the man alluded to by the spirit, and went with him to a singular looking hill, in Manchester, and shewed him where the treasure was. Lawrence asked him if he had ever discovered any thing with the plates of gold; he said no: he then asked him to look in his stone, to see if there was any thing with them. He looked, and said there was nothing; he told him to look again, and see if there was not a large pair of specks with the plates; he looked and soon saw a pair of spectacles, the same with which Joseph says he translated the Book of Mormon.”  (TESTIMONY  OF  WILLARD CHASE, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, p. 243)

Henry Harris:

“I had a conversation with him, [Joseph Smith] and asked him where he found them and how he come to know where they were. He said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his stone and saw them in the place of deposit.” (TESTIMONY  OF  HENRY HARRIS, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe’s 1834 book, p. 251)

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John A. Widtsoe:

John Andreas Widtsoe, (1872-1952) member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said,

“Carefully examined, the charges against the Smith family and Joseph Smith, the boy and young man, fail to be proved. There is no acceptable evidence to support them, only gossip, and deliberate misrepresentation. The Smith family were poor but honest, hard-working, and religious people. Joseph Smith was not a money digger, nor did he deceive people with peepstone claims. It is almost beyond belief that writers who value their reputations, would reproduce these silly and untrue charges. It suggests that they may have set out to destroy ‘Mormonism,’ rather than to detail true history.” (The Improvement Era, John A. Widtsoe, “What Manner of Boy and Youth Was Joseph Smith?”, August, 1946)

Articles of interest:

■ Joseph Smith’s Stone In a Hat Routine — Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith and The Bleeding Ghost — Rich Kelsey

First Vision of Joseph Smith — Rich Kelsey

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