The Golden Plates of Joseph Smith — Rich Kelsey

The golden plates
Image of the Golden Plates from

Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was raised in one of the most intriguing periods in American religious history. If one were to experience this era with today’s knowledge, they would have an opportunity to evaluate that history better than some who actually lived it. That is what we can do as we journey to 19th century America, to experience the mindset and lifestyle of Joseph Smith and his colleagues.

At one time Smith’s stories had all the flair one would expect from someone with his unique upbringing. Yet, over the years The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sterilized the over-the-top lifestyle and activities Smith was once known for. Many plain and precious truths have been taken away. Come with me as we turn back the hands of time to a period in Smith’s life which barely resembles what is taught by the LDS Church today. Together we will open the Church’s vault,[1] sift through various historical records, and document early Mormon history before the sugar-coating was applied. For some, this will be too bitter of a pill to swallow.[2] Others will find healing through digesting its message.[3] 

Joseph Smith’s world consisted of:

■   A “heavenly messenger”[4] guarding the golden plates.[5] 

■   “… telling where hidden treasures in the earth were by means of looking through a certain stone …”[6]


■   Being able to “see anything” by looking through mysterious “glasses.”[7]

Joseph Smith’s father testified that God had given his son,

“marvelous power”[8]

Smith himself claimed,

“[he] possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye.”[9]

What Joseph was actually talking about was a seer stone.[10]

Joseph claimed that when he,

“placed it in his hat … [he] discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; [and] that all intervening obstacles were removed.”[11]

This is the stuff that dreams are made of!

Imagine waking up in New York to find a world brimming with folklore,[12] interspersed with folk-magic,[13] and steeped in strong religious views; that would be a dream come true for some. Meeting friends and neighbors with limited educations, who believe in the superstitions of the day, would certainly add color to the dream.

A Humble Beginning:

When the Mormon prophet was 10 years old his father moved the family from Sharon Vermont to Palmyra New York. The year was 1816. New York was frontier country; it had yet to be settled. Lumber was plentiful, game was abundant; the land was fertile.

For many, New York was a land of opportunity; yet for the Smith family, this move was just another stop on a long road of broken dreams. Hard work was necessary[14] to secure enough food to make it through the winters; and to procure enough cash to pay state imposed land taxes. The Smith family struggled with poverty ever since Joseph Smith Sr. lost the family farm, along with his wife’s dowry, in a money-making scheme exporting ginseng to China. 

When they arrived in Palmyra, they bought another farm by making payments on a loan; they ended up losing this farm too; because they were not able to make the final payment in time. Once again the Smith family moved, this time to a nearby town in Western New York called Manchester, in Ontario County. Western New York was a land of mystery. Burial mounds blanketed the landscape.

Common folktales of the time included stories of the Vikings, or the lost ten tribes of Israel, being responsible for the numerous burial mounds found in America. Yet these folktales, unlike some of the tall tales that were common[15] in the 1800s, were thought to be true.

People in the 1800s had several reasons to doubt that American Indians had constructed the burial mounds scattered across the land. The term “mound builder” back then had connotations of a mysterious,[16] ancient race. Envision Joseph Smith, in his formative years,[17] being raised[18] in an atmosphere[19] where the mystery of the “mound builders” was the talk of the town.

The false belief that the Indians were not the peoples who built the mounds, but had actually killed off the “mound builders” was popular in Smith’s time. Driving Indians from their land was justified[20] in the minds of many who believed the dark skinned[21] Indians had wiped out the ancient white skinned[22] “mound builders.”[23]

Finding The Golden Plates:

Joseph Smith was living on the family farm in Manchester, New York, when he became famous for his story of finding the golden plates. According to the story, Smith brought forth the Book of Mormon from this golden record, which had been buried by America’s former inhabitants.

Speaking about the golden plates and how Joseph Smith first discovered them, Martin Harris, who was one of the Book of Mormon’s Three Witnesses, said:

“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 …” (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, in Tiffany’s Monthly, 1859, New York, p. 163-164)

In this interview Martin Harris described a well documented event in Josephs Smith’s life, in which Smith used a seer stone to search for buried treasure.[24] Smith himself talks about this briefly[25] in the History of the Church.

His father in law adds more detail to the story:

“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 could be found—he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see. They then became discouraged, and soon after dispersed. This took place about the 17th of November, 1825 …” (Affidavit from Isaac Hale, Joseph Smith’s father in law – March 20, 1834)

Joseph Smith’s father in law spelled out the word “enchantment” while describing what Smith said. 

Martin Harris verifies that Smith used the word “enchantment” in the interview with Joel Tiffany.

Tiffany Interview Continued:

“… and then he [Joseph Smith] told them the enchantment was so strong that he could not see, and they gave it up.” (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, in Tiffany’s Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163-164)

Joseph Smith was brought to court over this money digging venture.[26] In the courtroom, while under oath, a fellow worker also used the term “enchantment” to describe why they gave up digging. This court hearing is commonly called Joseph Smith’s 1826 Glass Looking Trial.[27]

Over the course of history some of the details have become sketchy. It’s possible that this ‘Trial’ was just a pre-trial hearing. However, there are several separate records of this court case, among the least biased we find these words:

“Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner’s professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, not withstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.” (1826 Trial, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, Miss Pearsall Account)

Thompson was among the men who were out digging for buried treasure during this dark hour[28] in Smith’s life.

We have just documented various accounts of people saying that when Joseph Smith used the word “enchantment,” the money diggers became discouraged. “Enchantment” was once a common term used by those who spoke of, believed in, and/or practiced folk magic. The problems Smith and the rest of the money diggers were experiencing supposedly had to do with a treasure guardian[29] and/or a magic charm.[30]

The 1826 Trial Record Spelled Out:

“… he [Joseph Smith] discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed.” (1826 Glass Looking Trial, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, Miss Pearsall Account)

The words,

“as he supposed”

are noteworthy! They give us a glimpse into Smith’s mindset. Joseph Smith was caught up in the understanding that a dead man, who was now a spirit, could keep watch over buried treasure. This was during the same time period when the spirit of another dead man was watching over the golden plates.

Also, when Joseph Smith said,

“the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see”[31]

he clearly indicated that he was dealing with an evil spirit. Joseph Smith believed that men who were evil in this life could remain on earth as evil spirits after death. In Smith’s mind he was waging

“war against this spirit of darkness.”[32]

Spirits guarding treasure in Smith’s day were usually evil.[33]

“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.”[34]

The Record Gets Worse:

Included in Joseph Knight’s account of Smith’s first attempt at obtaining the golden plates is this troubling dialog:

Knight records:

●    He took hold of the book, but this time he could not move it.

●    Smith asked, “Why …?”

●    He was answered, “You can’t have it now.”

●    Smith asked, “When can I have it.”

●    He was answered, “The 22nd day of next September if you bring the right person.”

●    “Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’”

●    “The answer was, ‘Your oldest Brother.’”

●    “But before September came his oldest Brother died.”

(Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)

Knight’s record corresponds with another account:

“He said to him that he [Joseph Smith Jr.] had not followed his directions; and, in consequence of laying the article down before putting it in the napkin, he could not have the article now; but that if he would come again, one year from that time, he could then have them. The year passed over before Joseph was aware of it, so time passed by; but he went to the place of deposit, where the same man appeared again, and said he had not been punctual in following his directions, and, in consequence, he could not have the article yet. Joseph asked when he could have them; and the answer was, ‘Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.’ During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died; but, at the end of the year, Joseph repaired to the place again, and was told by the man who still guarded the treasure, that, inasmuch as he could not bring his oldest brother, he could not have the treasure yet; but there would be another person appointed to come with him in one year from that time, when he could have it. Joseph asked, ‘How shall I know the person?’ and was told that the person would be known to him at sight.” (Fayette Lapham Interview with Smith Sr.)

According to the Bible, God knows,

“the end from the beginning.”[35]

Smith’s oldest brother Alvin died[36] 10 months before, “the 22nd day of next September.” If the spirit watching over the golden plates really was an,

“angel of the Lord,”[37]

the angel should have known that Alvin could not possibly accompany Joseph to the Hill Cumorah[38] to obtain the golden plates the following year. Therefore, if an actual spirit did appear to Smith, what are the odds it was a messenger from God? One would think that after Alvin died, Smith himself would have realized that he was merely dealing with an evil spirit, once again, just like in his money digging ventures.

Alvin’s death over this period of time is no doubt the reason this version[39] of Smith’s story is unknown to most Mormons today. Knowledge of it would certainly hinder those trying to build faith in Smith as a prophet.

Smith’s Mother Lucy explained:

“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347 / Preston Nibley, Edition reprint p. 84)

Joseph Knight’s account also has the golden plates returning to the box due to Smith laying them on the ground against the personage’s direction.  What’s interesting is what Knight records next:

“He had heard people tell of such things.” (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)

Joseph Knight was obviously speaking of the folklore associated with treasure seeking at that time.

Inconsistencies In The Golden Plates Accounts:

The accounts of Martin Harris, Joseph Knight and Lucy Smith paint a far different picture than what is spelled out in the final version of Joseph Smith’s story:

Nowhere[40] in Joseph Smith’s 1838 History is it mentioned that:

●  Joseph Smith discovered the golden plates with his seer stone.

● He laid the golden plates down contrary to the spirit’s instruction.

●  He was hurled back when trying to obtain the golden plates a second time.

●  He was told to bring his oldest brother Alvin, and if he did, he could have the golden plates next September 22nd.

●  Yet, Alvin died before another attempt could be made.

●  Smith didn’t know what to do.

● He was told once more that he might have the golden plates next September 22nd if he brought the right person.

In early versions of the golden plates stories, bringing the right person was the central theme.

Inconsistencies — Continued:

Joseph Knight records:[41]

● [Once again] “… the personage appeared and told him he could not have it now. But the 22nd day of September next he might have it if he brought the right person.”

● “Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’ the answer was, ‘You will know.’”

● “Then he [Joseph Smith] looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale.”

These details are also left out of Smith’s 1838 History, which is the version the LDS Church maintains today.

The Record Gets Even Worse:

The LDS Church admits that Joseph Smith left his wife in the carriage on the night of September, 22nd, 1827; then he proceeded up the hill alone to meet Moroni and receive the golden plates. Why would Joseph Smith not bring Emma to meet Moroni if Emma was the right person to bring? One would think leaving Emma in the carriage would be a violation of the angel’s instructions. Could it be that in reality there was no angel for her to meet?

Also, in Knight’s account we see that Smith has a “glass” or in other words a “stone” in which he can discern spiritual things. This brings to mind images of a clairvoyant looking into a crystal ball. Back in Smith’s day this type of activity was called soothsaying:

Joseph’s mother: Lucy Mack Smith speaks of the family drawing “magic circles,” “abrac” — which is short for (abracadabra), and “sooth saying:”

“Let not the reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt (sic) our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business.” (Biographical Sketches… Smith, Lucy Mack, Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853)

Magic circles are used to form a space of magical protection from the spirit the person is invoking. Soothsaying is the supernatural ability to perceive things, including what may happen in the future.

Inconsistencies — Continued:

Smith’s Mother Lucy said,

“… for in a former revelation he had been commanded not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key, and, contrary to this, he had laid them down …”[42]

According to Lucy: The “angel of the Lord”[43] had made it very clear to her son, that he was not to put the golden plates out of his hands, even for a moment! Years before, the angel had chastised Joseph by violently hurling him for disobeying this primary instruction!

Yet, on the morning that Joseph Smith supposedly did get the golden plates, what he actually came home with was another story. He told his family that he had hidden the plates in the woods three miles away.

Hiding the golden plates in the woods is without a doubt a major violation of the angel’s instructions. It certainly falls into the category of letting them out of his hands before he brings them into the house.[44]


Joseph Smith’s accounts of finding the golden plates have been re-written. Many details have been left out, leaving the average person with a version of LDS history that doesn’t come close to what was recorded back in the day.  

Other articles of interest:

LDS Lesson 1 — Rich Kelsey

LDS Lesson 2 — Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith on Trial — Rich Kelsey

Full Article Index / LDS SERIES


[1] The LDS Church has certain documents containing primary source material locked away.  On this subject, Mormon historian and former professor at BYU, Dennis Michael Quinn, wrote: “President Hinckley telephoned in June 1982 to say that he was sympathetic about a request I had written to obtain access to documents in the First Presidency’s vault but that my request could not be granted…” (Article, THE SEPTEMBER SIX – ‘THE LDS CHURCH SANCTIONS SIX PROMINENT SCHOLARS’ 1993, Malcolm J. Vickery)

[2] “I, along with colleagues, and drawing from years of research, find the evidence employed to support many traditional claims about the church to be either nonexistent or problematic. In other words, it didn’t all happen the way we’ve been told.” (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Grant H. Palmer, Signature Books, 2002, p. xii)

[3] “The foundation events were rewritten by Joseph and Oliver and other early church officials so the church could survive and grow. This reworking made the stories more useful for missionary work and for fellowshipping purposes. But is this acceptable?” (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, Grant H. Palmer, Signature Books, 2002, p. 260)

[4] “At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge: that I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected.” (History of the Church Vol. 1, 1:59)

[5] “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (History of the Church Vol. 1. 1: 34)

[6] “Josiah Stowel sworn. Says that prisoner had been at his house something like five months. … and that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone…” (1826 Trial, Miss Pearsall Account, Josiah Stowell Testimony)

[7] “When Joseph returned with the horse and carriage, he exclaimed, “It is ten times better than expected… Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates’ and said, ‘they appear to be Gold…’  But he seemed to think more of the glasses… [Joseph Smith said] ‘I can see anything; they are Marvelus (sic).'” (Joseph Knight Recollection of Mormon History)

[8] “Joseph Smith, Sr., was present, and sworn as a witness. He confirmed, at great length all that his son had said in his examination. He delineated his [son’s] characteristics in his youthful days–his vision of the luminous stone in the glass–his visit to Lake Erie in search of the stone–and his wonderful triumphs as a seer. He described very many instances of his finding hidden and stolen goods. He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures…” (1826 Trial, Purple Account, Joseph Smith Sr. Testimony)

[9] “With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.”  (Purple Account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 Trial)

[10] D. Michael Quinn, former Mormon professor and historian at BYU spelled out:  “During this period from 1827 to 1830, Joseph Smith abandoned the company of his former money-digging associates, but continued to use for religious purposes the brown seer stone he had previously employed in the treasure quest. His most intensive and productive use of the seer stone was in the translation of the Book of Mormon. But he also dictated several revelations to his associates through the stone.” (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, D. Michael Quinn, Signature Books, SLC, 1987, p. 143)

[11] (Purple Account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 Trial)

[12] Pratt’s note: … “The fact that Joseph Smith with others did at one time seek for treasure, either that contained in mines, or that supposed to have been gathered by others and deposited by them in places of safety, the traces of which were lost, has formed a serious objection to Mormonism… It was rumored that in or near to Harmony, Pennsylvania… there had been found at some time in the past, rich silver deposits, from which the discoverers had taken fabulous sums, considerable portions of which had been coined, and left in safe places waiting the convenience of its owners to remove it; that owing to the uncertain and shifting nature of the times these hidden treasures had not been removed, but that the secret of their places of deposit and the mines whence they were taken had been lost.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, Coray, Pratt, 1853, endnote 82)

[13] ‘When the Manchester treasure seekers came looking for the plates, they brought divining rods and seer stones to assist them—the same kind of objects Joseph, and later Oliver, used to receive revelation.”  (‘I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates, Larry R. Morris, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005)

[14] “I was born in the town of Charon in the (State) of Vermont North America on the twenty third day of December A D 1805 of goodly Parents who spared no pains to instructing me in (the) christian religion at the age of about ten years my Father Joseph Smith Siegnior moved to Palmyra Ontario County in the State of New York and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine chilldren and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructed in rules reading and writing and the ground (rules) of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements.” (The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Dean C. Jessee, BYU Studies, copyright 1969, p.3) [original spelling: the words in brackets were written in above the original text]

[15] The 1800s is known for its clever folklore, including tales about Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and John Henry.

[16] “Mound Builders, in North American archaeology, name given to those people who built mounds in a large area from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mts. The greatest concentrations of mounds are found in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. The term “Mound Builders” arose when the origin of the monuments was considered mysterious, most European Americans assuming that the Native Americans were too uncivilized for this accomplishment. In 1894, Cyrus Thompson of the Smithsonian Institution concluded that the Mound Builders were in fact the Native Americans…” (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press)

[17] “By 1825 Joseph’s fame as a ‘peeper’ was wide spread. Josiah Stoal came from Chenango County to get Joseph’s assistance in digging for a silver mine…” (The Founder of Mormonism, Woodbridge Riley, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903, p.189)

[18] “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…” (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)

[19] Over the last two decades, many historians have reconsidered the origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the context of the early American tradition of treasure hunting. Well into the nineteenth century there were European Americans hunting for buried wealth. Some believed in treasures that were protected by magic spells or guarded by preternatural beings. (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, BYU, NY Faculty, p 1., 1999, FARMS – Review, 2006)

[20] “The US removal in the 1830s of most American Indians from the mound builder regions, by means of the forced Trail of Tears, was partly justified by the theory that the Indians had destroyed the mound builders. Because some thought that the mound builders may have been ancient Europeans, the removal of the Indian tribes was justified to reclaim European land, as well as to ensure the safety of civilization.” ( 

[21] Mormonism teaches that America’s former inhabitants were white and had sailed to America from the Holy Land:

“O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.” (Jacob 3:8) This verse in Jacob 3:8 implies that when dark skinned people repent of their wickedness, their curse will be lifted, and their skins will once again become white.


“And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.” (3 Nephi 2:15)

[22] “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” (2 Nephi 5:21) 

[23] “But, on the other hand, the Lamanites, because of the hardness of their hearts, brought down many judgments upon their own heads; nevertheless, they were not destroyed as a nation; but the Lord God sent forth a curse upon them, and they became a dark, loathsome, and filthy people. Before their rebellion, they were white and exceedingly fair, like the Nephites; but the Lord God cursed them in their complexions, and they were changed to a dark colour; and they became a wild, savage, and ferocious people; being great enemies to the Nephites, whom they sought, by every means, to destroy, and many times came against them with their numerous hosts to battle, but were repulsed by the Nephites, and driven back to their own possessions, not, however, generally speaking, without great loss on both sides; for tens of thousands were frequently slain, after which they were piled together in great heaps upon the face of the ground, and covered with a shallow covering of earth, which will satisfactorily account for those ancient mounds, filled with human bones, so numerous at the present day, both in North and South America.” (A INTERESTING ACCOUNT OF SEVERAL REMARKABLE VISIONS… , Pratt 1840, 1st ed. Edinburgh Scotland pp. 17-18)

[24]  “Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon religion, had participated in several treasure-hunting expeditions in his youth.” (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, BYU, NY Faculty, p 1., 1999, FARMS – Review, 2006)

[25] “… 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)


We, the undersigned, do firmly agree, and by these present bind ourselves, to fulfill and abide by the hereafter specified articles:

First: That if anything of value should he obtained at a certain place in Pennsylvania near a William Hales, supposed to be a valuable mine of either gold or silver and also to contain coined money and bars or ingots of gold or silver, and at which several hands have been at work during a considerable part of the past summer, we do agree to have it divided in the following manner, viz: Josiah Stowell, Calvin Stowell and Wm. Hale to take two-thirds, and Charles Newton, Wm. I. Wiley, and the widow Harper to take the other third. And we further agree that Joseph Smith, Sen. and Joseph Smith Jr. shall be considered as having two shares, two elevenths of all the property that may be obtained, and shares to be taken equally from each third.

Second: And we further agree, that in consideration of the expense and labor to which the following named persons have been at (Johs F. Shepherd, Elijah Stowell and John Grant) to consider them as equal sharers in the mine after all the coined money and bars or ingot are obtained by the undersigned. Their shares to be taken out from each share; and we further agree to remunerate all the three above named persons in a handsome manner for all their time, expense, and labor which they have been or may be at, until the mine is opened, if anything should be obtained; otherwise they are to lose their time, expense and labor.

Third: And we further agree that all the expense which has or may accrue until the mine is opened, shall be equally borne by the proprietors of each third and that after the mine is opened the expense shall be equally borne by each of the shares.

Township of Harmony, Pennsylvania, November 1, 1825 In presence of:

Isaac Hale

Joseph Smith Sen.

David Hale

Isaiah Stowell

P. Newton

Calvin Stowell

Charles A. Newton

Joseph Smith Jr.

Wm. I. Wiley

[27] “William D. Purple took notes at the trial and tells us, “In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell,  …were greatly incensed against Smith, …saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire…”(Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols., (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959[1942], 1:479. ASIN B000HMY138)

[28] “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.” (Lippincott’s Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, N. J., 1901)

[29] Treasure Seeking:

“For the most part, the quest for buried wealth and its associated belief system have slipped away into a forgotten world. Though strange to us today, treasure-seeking beliefs probably influenced hundreds of thousands of Europeans and thousands of early European Americans. Many early Americans believed that treasures had been secreted in the earth by ancient inhabitants of the continent, by Spanish explorers, by pirates, or even by the dwarves of European mythology. Treasure hunters usually looked for caves and lost mines or dug into hills and Native American mounds to find these hidden deposits. A legend, a treasure map, or a dream of buried wealth initiated the hunt. Local specialists were enlisted to use their divining rods or seer stones to locate the treasure. To hide from the scrutiny of skeptics and the notice of other treasure seekers, they worked under the cover of darkness. Gathering at the designated spot, the treasure seekers staked out magical circles around the treasure. They used Bible passages and hymns, prayers and incantations, ritual swords and other magical items, or even propitiatory animal sacrifices to appease or fend off preternatural guardians of the treasure. Excavation usually commenced under a rule of silence. Should someone carelessly mutter or curse, the treasure guardian could penetrate the circle or carry the treasure away through the earth.” (Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian, Mark Ashurst-McGee, FARMS Review Vol. 18  – 1  p.p. 34-100, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2006)

[30] Mr. Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them. The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm. (1826 Trial, Purple Account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony)

[31] (Affidavit from Isaac Hale, Joseph Smith’s father in law – March 20, 1834)

[32] “After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or some untoward mental emotion, was the cause of their failure.” (1826 Trial, Mr. Thompson, An Employee of Mr. Stowell, Purple Account)

[33] —  He [Joseph Smith Sr.] also revived, or in other words, propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit…” (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)

[34] (Lippincott’s Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, N. J., 1901)

[35] “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” Isaiah 46:10, NIV)

[36] Alvin Smith (11 February 1798 – 19 November 1823) was the older brother of Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. (Wikipedia, 2011)

[37] “When he <Joseph> took the plates into his hands at this time the angel of the Lord stood by and said now you have have got the record into your own hands and you are but a man therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust or you will be overpowered by wicked men…” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, First Draft, 1844/45 p. 388)

[38] The Hill Cumorah is located. It is one of many drumlin hills in the Finger Lakes region in Western New York in Manchester, where Joseph Smith Jr. said he found the golden plates.

[39] LDS publication documenting four trusted accounts of Alvin being the right person to bring to obtain the golden plates:

● Chase

● Knight

● Two latter reports

“Willard Chase evidently reported the instructions concerning Alvin correctly. The event was confirmed by Joseph Knight, the LDS convert who supplied Joseph and Oliver with necessities while they translated the Book of Mormon. Brother Knight tells how Joseph first went to the hill but was denied the record because of carelessness: “Joseph says, ‘When can I have it?’ The answer was the 22nd day of September next if you bring the right person with you. Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’ The answer was ‘Your oldest brother.’ But before September came his oldest brother died.” — Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies, Autumn 1976, p. 31. — Two later reports tell similar stories, basically repeating the Chase affidavit. — Fayette Lapham claimed to give particular words of Joseph Smith, Sr., forty years after conversing with him: “The Mormons,” Historical Magazine 7 (2d ser. 1870): 305–9; also cited in Kirkham, 2:283–391. Here the command to bring Alvin is given at a second visit to the hill, and “during that year … his oldest brother died.” See also the Kelley interviews with Lorenzo Saunders. On 17 September 1884, Lorenzo said to William H. Kelley that the ‘angel’ appeared to Joseph ‘in the woods’ and ‘told him where the plates were and he could take his oldest brother with him in a year from that time and go and get them. But his oldest brother died before the year was out.” (E. L. Kelley Papers, box 1, fd. 7, pp. 9–10, historical archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, hereafter cited as RLDS Archives.) On 12 November 1884, Lorenzo said: “he saw the angel and … was notified of these plates … but it was not at that time made known to him, but he must take his older brother and go to the spot and he could obtain them. Before that time his oldest brother died.’” (E. L. Kelley interview with Saunders, E. L. Kelley Papers, box 1, fd., 1884 Nov. and Dec., p. 16, RLDS Archives.) – (Ensign, 1987, August, The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction, By Richard Lloyd Anderson)

[40] “I made an attempt to take them out, [ the golden plates ] but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates.” (History of the Church Vol. 1, 1:53)

[41] (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Dean Jessee, 1976)

[42] “At this, as a natural consequence, he was much alarmed. He kneeled down and asked the Lord why the Record [ the golden plates ] had been taken from him; upon which the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and told him that he had not done as he had been commanded, for in a former revelation he had been commanded not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk, having a good lock and key, and, contrary to this, he had laid them down with the view of securing some fancied or imaginary treasure that remained.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)

[43] Ibid (▲ same reference ▲)

[44] When Joseph “went to bring the record [the golden plates] which he had deposited in a cavity in a birch log 3 miles distant he too and covered it with the bark of the same he took the plates from their place and wrapping them in his linen frock put them under his arm and started for home the house.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, First Draft, 1844/45 p. 385) [original spelling]