Story of bringing home a Record
The following is an excerpt from chapter 5 of Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record.
© 1994 by H. Michael Marquardt. All Rights Reserved.
Clearly the gold plates story had
been repeated outside the Smith family before September 1827, and no doubt seemed familiar to
those who heard it and were acquainted with stories about the treasure-digging activities of the
Smith family. A number of accounts have survived describing how Smith obtained possession of
the gold plates. According to his mother's detailed account, on 20 September 1827 Joseph Knight
and his friend Josiah Stowell arrived at the Smith family house.15 Knight had heard
that Joseph was to get the record on 22 September. This was why he was at the Smith home
before Joseph went to get the plates,16 and "they remained with us untill
Early on the morning of the 22nd, Joseph and Emma left the Smith home "taking Mr. Knight's horse and wagon" without to travel to the hill about two miles away.18 When they arrived at the hill, Joseph left Emma with the wagon while he went to the side of the hill. Joseph said he then took the plates out of a box in the ground and hid them in a fallen treetop, concealing them with the bark of the tree.19 He returned to Knight's wagon, where Emma was waiting, and they started back to the house.
Meanwhile at the Smith home, according to Lucy, "When the male part of the family sat down to breakfast Mr. Smith enquired for Joseph, <for no one but myself knew where he was> as no one knew where he had gone but myself. I told him that I thought I would not call Joseph, that I would have him set down with his wife." Lucy asked her husband to cover her son's absence--"do let him eat with his wife this morning. "20
Joseph Knight soon discovered his "horse and Carriage was gone."21 Lucy remembered that "Mr. Knight came in quite disturbed, Why, Mr. Smith, said he, my horse is gone. I can't find him on the premises and I want to start home in half an hour. Never mind the horse, said I, Mr. Knight does not know all the nooks and corners in the pasture. I will call William (this <was> my 5th son), he will soon bring him. This satisfied him for a little while but he soon made another discovery, his waggon was go, & now he concluded that the Horse and waggon had gone together and some rogue had gone with them both." Knight evidently went out to look for them, and "while he was absent Joseph returned."22 Knight recalled, "after a while he [Joseph] Came home and he turned out the Horse. All Come into the house to Brackfirst [breakfast]. But no thing said about where they had Bin [been].23
The plates were now, according to Joseph,24 hidden in a fallen treetop, but a better place to deposit them was needed. According to Lucy, Joseph "asked my advice what it was best to do about getting a chest." They decided to have one made but lacked the money to pay for it until
The next day <Mr. Warner> came to him and requested <Joseph> to go with him to a widows house <in Macedon by the name of Wells>, that she wanted <a wall in a well and as she wanted some labor done>, would pay him the money for it. <He accompanied> Mr. Warner to Macedon <according to> Mrs. Wells <request. This> woman [n]one of the family had ever seen or heard of before although she sent purposely for Joseph. We considered it a provision of Providence to enable us to pay the money we were owing the cabinet maker.25
The story now went abroad
from the Smith family that Joseph had obtained some gold plates which had been buried under the
ground. Since Joseph and his father had been involved with a treasure-seeking group, his former
partners wanted their share of the find. As Martin Harris explained, "The money-diggers claimed
that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in the company together.
They claimed that Joseph had been [a] traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which
belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them."26
According to Lucy, Joseph Sr. was informed that a group of "10 or 12 men were club[b]ed together with one Willard Chase a Methodist class leader at their head," and they had sent for an unnamed conjuror "to divine the place where the record was deposited by magic art." "Accordingly," she continued, "the morning after we heard of their plans Mr. Smith went over a hill that <lay> east of <us> to see what he could discover among the neighbors there. At the first house he came to he found the conjurer, Willard Chase and the company all together. This was the house of one Mr. Laurence."27 Joseph Knight later wrote: "I will say there [was] a man near By the name Samuel Lawrance. He was a Seear [Seer] and had Bin [been] to the hill and knew about the things in the hill and he was trying to obtain them."28
While Joseph Jr. was working and living in Macedon, helping Mrs. Wells with her well, Emma took a stray horse that had been on the Smiths' premises two days (according to Lucy) and rode to Macedon. Joseph came up out of the well because he had perceived that Emma was coming to see him. She informed him that the money-diggers claimed to have located where he had hidden his golden book. Joseph looked in his peep-stone and said to Emma that the plates were safe. Joseph promised Mrs. Wells that he would come back when he could, then mounted a horse "in his linen frock" (smock or work apron), and rode back home with Emma.29
Joseph then walked by himself to where he had hidden the gold plates on or near the hill. Several people remember the story they heard of how he brought the plates back to the Smith house. According to Lucy's version,
he took the plates from their [hiding] place and wrapping them in his linen frock put them under his arm and started for the house. After walking a short distance in the road, he concluded it would be safer to go across through the woods. In a moment he struck through the timber where there was a large windfall to cross. He had not proceeded far in this direction till, as he was jumping over a log, a man spran[g] up and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph <leveled> him to the ground.30
Smith claimed he knocked down several men as he ran home, arriving out of breath. When
all the commotion settled, Smith showed those in attendance his dislocated thumb, which his
father put back in place.31 Smith then "related to our guests [Joseph Knight and
Josiah Stowell] the whole history of the record."
After this Smith went to Willard Chase's house and talked with him. Chase recalled the story that Smith told him, which is similar to the accounts of Smith's mother and his friend Joseph Knight
That on the 22d of September, he arose early in the morning, and took a one horse wagon, of some one that had stayed over night at their house, without leave or license; and, together with his wife, repaired to the hill which contained the book. He left his wife in the wagon, by the road, and went alone to the hill, a distance of thirty or forty rods from the road; he said he then took the book out of the ground and hid it in a tree top, and returned home. He then went to the town of Macedon to work. After about ten days, it having been suggested that some one got his book, his wife went after him; he hired a horse, and went home in the afternoon, staid long enough to drink one cup of tea, and then went for his book, found it safe, took off his frock, wrapt it round it, put it under his arm and run all the way home, a distance of about two miles. He said he should think it would weigh sixty pounds, and was sure it would weigh forty. On his return home, he said he was attacked by two men in the woods, and knocked them both down and made his escape, arrived safe and secured his treasure. -- He then observed that if it had not been for that stone, (which he acknowledged belonged to me,) he would not have obtained the book.32
Martin Harris, a wealthy farmer of Palmyra who knew the Smiths as money-diggers, heard about the find. Lucy Smith said that Harris was aware of the existence of the gold plates for sometime: "here let me mention that no one knew anything of this buisness [sic] <from us> except one confidential friend of My Husband's to whom he named it some 2 or 3 years before."33 However, Harris said he heard about the gold plates "about the first of October, 1827." He remembered that
The first time I heard of the matter, my brother Presarved [Preserved] Harris, who had been in the village of Palmyra, asked me if [I] had heard about Joseph Smith, jr., having a golden bible. My thoughts were that the money-diggers had probably dug up an old brass kettle, or something of the kind. I thought no more of it. This was about the first of October, 1827.
He also recalled being told by the Smith family how Joseph obtained the gold plates. (The horse and wagon which Harris remembered belonging to Stowell, as we know, belonged to Joseph Knight):
After this, on the 22nd of September, 1827, before day, Joseph took the horse and wagon of old Mr. Stowel[l], and taking his wife, he went to the place where the plates were concealed, and while he was obtaining them, she kneeled down and prayed. He then took the plates and hid them in an old black tree top which was hollow. Mr. Stowel[l] was at this time at old Mr. Smith's, digging for money.....
When Joseph had obtained the plates he communicated the fact to his father and mother. The plates remained concealed in the tree top until he got the chest made. He then went after them and brought them home. While on his way home with the plates, he was met by what appeared to be a man, who demanded the plates, and struck him with a club on his side, which was all black and blue. Joseph knocked the man down, and then ran for home, and was much out of breath. When he arrived home, he handed the plates in at the window, and they were received from him by his mother. They were then hidden under the hearth in his father's house. But the wall being partly down, it was feared that certain ones, who were trying to get possession of the plates, would get under the house and dig them out.
Harris recalled that the above events occurred before he talked with Joseph:
A day or so before I was ready to visit Joseph, his mother came over to our house and wished to talk with me. I told her I had no time to spare, she might talk with my wife, and, in the evening when I had finished my work I would talk with her. When she commenced talking with me, she told me respecting his bringing home the plates, and many other things, and said that Joseph had sent her over and wished me to come and see him.
Harris waited a day or two," had breakfast, and then "told my folks I was going to the
village, but went directly to old Mr. Smith's." While there Harris requested Smith "to tell me the
story, which he did as follows. He said: 'An angel had appeared to him, and told him [Joseph] it
was God's work.'" According to Harris, the angel "told him he must quit the company of the
Harris discussed Smith's story with the Reverend John A. Clark. Clark later recalled, "According to Martin Harris, it was after one of these night excursions, that Jo, while he lay upon his bed, had a remarkable dream. An angel of God seemed to approach him, clad in celestial splendor."35
Almost all who heard versions of the story remembered in particular Smith's interaction with this messenger or spirit associated with the gold records. Abigail Harris remembered a visit by Smith's parents, "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 of the Saints that was on this continent, previous to its being discovered by Columbus."36
Henry Harris heard about the gold plates from Joseph Smith and remembered Smith's interaction with an angel and his use of the seer stone:
After he pretended to have found the gold plates, I had a conversation with him, and asked him where he found them and how he come [sic] 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; that an angel appeared, and told him he could not get the plates until he was married, and that when he saw the woman that was to be his wife, he should know her, and she would know him.37
Benjamin Saunders, who was thirteen years old at the time, remembered hearing the story at his home:
I heard <Joe> tell my Mother and Sister how he procured the plates. He said he was directed by an angel where it was. He went in the night to get the plates. When he took the plates there was something down near the box that looked some like a toad that rose up into a man which forbid him to take the plates. He found a big pair of spectcles <also with the plates>. As he went home someone tried to get the plates away from him. He said he knock[ed] the man down and got away. He had two or three skirmishes on the way. I saw his hand swel[l]ed up and he said it was done hitting the enemy.38
During the time Smith
reportedly had the gold plates in Manchester, they were said to have been hidden in several
places. Several accounts have survived which detail the help of Alvah Beeman. Lucy Smith
remembered that Beeman "came from the village <of Livonia>, a man in whom we reposed
much confidence...it was resolved that a portion of the hearth should be taken up and the plates
buried under the same." This was just before a "large company of men came rushing up to the
house armed with guns" looking for the gold plates.39 Martin Harris mentioned
"old Mr. Beman" as one of the treasure seekers who had been "digging for money supposed to
have been hidden by the ancients."40 The gold plates were eventually "put into an
old Ontario glass-box." Martin Harris, said, "Old Mr. Beman sawed off the ends, making the box
the right length to put them in, and when they went in he said he heard them jink [clink], but he
was not permitted to see them. He told me so."41
Beeman's daughter Mary related what she heard about her father and the gold plates:
Father became acquainted with Father Joseph Smith, the Father of the Prophet, he frequently would go to Palmira to see Father Smiths and his family, during this time Brother Joseph Smith came in possession of the plates which contained the Book of Mormon. Soon as it was noised around that there was a golden Bible found (for that was what it was called at that time) the minds of the people became so excited and it arose at such a pitch that a mob collected together to search the house of Father Smith to find the records. My Father was there at the time and assisted in concealing the plates in a box in a secluded place where no one could find them.42
After being hidden under the
hearth, they reportedly were placed in the Smith's cooper's shop.43 Finally the plates
were "nailed up in a box and the box put into a strong cask made for the purpose, the cask was
then filled with beans and headed up."44 The barrel-making skills of the
Smiths may have been useful here.
15. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary
MS, 66; Biographical Sketches (1853), 99; History of Joseph Smith
(1958), 102; and Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 32. Martin Harris said that
Josiah Stowell "was at this time at old Mr. Smith's digging for money" (Tiffany's Monthly
5 [Aug. 1859]: 165). According to Knight, it was Stowell who took Joseph and his new
wife to Manchester after their marriage (Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 32).
16. Joseph Knight wrote that "He [Joseph] had talked with me and told me the Conversation he had with the personage which told him if he would Do right according to the will of God he mite obtain [the plates] the 22nt Day of Septem[b]er Next and if not he never would have them" (Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 32).
17. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 66; Biographical Sketches (1853), 99; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 102. Lucy's narration later has Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell still at their home after Joseph locked up the plates in a chest. Knight wrote, "I went to Rochester on Buisness [sic] and return[e]d By Palmyra to be there about the 22nt of September. I was there several Days" (Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 32).
18. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 66; Biographical Sketches (1853), 100; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 102.
19. Here we follow Martin Harris (Tiffany's Monthly 5 [Aug. 1859]: 165) and Willard Chase (Mormonism Unvailed, 216) that the hiding place was in a fallen tree top. As to the type of tree, Lucy Smith said that Joseph hid the plates in a cavity in a birch log" (Preliminary MS, 72), and Martin Harris mentioned that they were hidden "in an old black oak tree top" (Tiffany's Monthly 5 [Aug. 1859]: 165, see also 166).
20. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 66-67; Biographical Sketches (1853),100; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 103.
21. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 33.
22. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 67; Biographical Sketches (1853), 100-101; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 103.
23. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 33.
24. Affidavit of Willard Chase, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 246. Joseph Sr. asked Emma "if she knew aught of the record, whether Joseph had taken them out or where they were. She said She did not know" (Lucy Mack Smith Preliminary MS, 69-70; Biographical Sketches , 103; History of Joseph Smith , 106).
25. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 68; Biographical Sketches (1853), 101; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 104. Lucy stated, "there was not a shilling in the house."
26. Tiffany's Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 167. David Whitmer in a newspaper interview said: "I had conversations with several young men who said that Joseph Smith had certainly golden plates, and that before he attained them he had promised to share with them, but had not done so, and they were very much incensed with him" (Kansas City Daily Journal 5 June 1881; reprinted in the Deseret Evening News, 11 June 1881; Saints' Herald, 28 [1 July 1881]: 197; and Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 43 [4 July 1881]: 422). See also Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1983), 230, and Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1991), 60.
27. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 68-69; Biographical Sketches (1853), 102; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 105.
28. Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 32. Exactly when Joseph Sr. went to the Lawrence home is not known. Lucy has the visit after Joseph recovered the plates, and this is the account followed in our reconstruction. Knight has the visit to the Lawrence home occurring the night of 21 September. He wrote, "Now Joseph was some affraid of him [Samuel Lawrence] that he mite [might] be a trouble to him. He therefore sint [sent] his father up to Sams, as he Called him, near night to see if there was any signs of his going away that night" (Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 32-33). This would make sense if the group meeting at the Lawrence home knew about the 22 September date.
29. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary Ms, 70-71; Biographical Sketches (1853), 104; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 107. Lucy makes a point that the stray horse had "a large hickory withe around his neck as it was ac[c]ording to law to put a withe round the neck of a stray horse before turning him into an inclosure."
30. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 72; Biographical Sketches (1853), 104-105; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 108. This is the only account that mentions a gun. Martin Harris understood that he was struck by a club (Tiffany's Monthly 5 [Aug. 1859]: 166).
31. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 73; Biographical Sketches (1853), 106; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 109. The story at this point is taken from Lucy Smith's account. Benjamin Saunders said, "I saw his hand all swel[l]ed up" (Benjamin Saunders interview, 1884, in the W. H. Kelley Collection, "Miscellany 1795-1948," 23, Library-Archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Missouri, hereafter RLDS archives). During the scuffles Smith was struck on his side (Tiffany's Monthly 5 [Aug. 1859]: 166; The Reflector 2 [14 Feb. 1831]: 101, Palmyra, New York; Historical Magazine 7 [May 1870]: 307).
Orson Pratt wrote in 1840 concerning this part of the story:
And after having obtained those sacred things, while proceeding home through the wilderness and fields, he was waylaid by two ruffians, who had secreted themselves for the purpose of robbing him of the records. One of them struck him with a club before he perceived them; but being a strong man, and large in stature, with great exertion he cleared himself from them, and ran towards home, being closely pursued until he came near his father's house (Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 1:400).
Orson Hyde further stated when he published his German pamphlet in 1842, on one occasion
he [Joseph] was beaten by two men with clubs so violently, that he still bears the scars on his
body to this day" (ibid., 1:425). In 1844 it was reported that "Joseph Smith was knocked
down with a handspike, and afterwards healed almost instantly" (Times and Seasons 5
[2 Sept. 1844]: 635, emphasis in original).
Josiah Stowell was still at the Smith home at the end of September. Martha L. Campbell wrote, referring to Stowell, "If I understood him right he was the first person that took the plates out of your hands the morning you brought them in" (letter dated 19 Dec. 1843, LDS archives; see Larry C. Porter, "A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816-1831," Ph.D. diss., Aug. 1971, Brigham Young University, 365).
32. Affidavit of Willard Chase, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 245-46.
33. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 68; Biographical Sketches (1853), 102; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 104-105. Lucy further stated, "The reader will notice, that on a preceeding page I spoke of a confidential friend to whom Mr. Smith [Joseph Sr.] mentioned the existence of the record 2 or 3 years before it came forth. This was no other than Martin Harris" (Preliminary MS, 76; Biographical Sketches , 109; History of Joseph Smith , 114).
Norton Jacob heard Lucy speak in Nauvoo, Illinois: "mother Smith, Joseph's mother, addressed the congregation about an hour, speaking of the history of herself and family in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. She said it was eighteen years ago last Monday since she commenced preaching the gospel being called upon by Joseph to go and tell Martin Harris and family that he had got the plates and he wanted him to take an alphabet of the characters and carry them to the learned men to decypher" ("The Life of Norton Jacob," 8 Oct. 1845, typescript, 15, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City). See Times and Seasons 6 (1 Nov. 1845): 1,013-14; B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1959), 7:470-72; and "Lucy Mack Smith Speaks to the Nauvoo Saints," Brigham Young University Studies 32 (Winter/Spring 1992): 279.
Martin Harris mentioned that he knew members of the Smith family as treasure seekers and that he (Harris) "had a revelation the summer before, that God had a work for me to do" (Tiffany's Monthly 5 [Aug. 1859]: 163).
34. Tiffany's Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 164-69. In 1829, after the text of the Book of Mormon had been written, Martin Harris traveled to Rochester, New York, to try to obtain a printer and binder. The Gem, a newspaper in Rochester', published the following account of Harris and the story that he told.
A man by the name of Martin Harris, was in this village a few days since endeavouring to make a contract for printing a large quantity of a work called the Golden Bible. He gave something like the following account of it. "In the autumn of 1827 a man named Joseph Smith of Manchester, in Ontario County, said that he had been visited by the spirit of the Almighty in a dream, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited a Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of divine origin. He states that after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream, he proceeded to the spot, removed earth, and there found the Bible, together with a large pair of spectacles. He had also been directed to let no mortal see them under the penalty of immediate death, which injunction he steadfastly adheres to. The treasure consisted of a number of gold plates, about 8 inches long, 6 wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved hieroglyphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language (The Gem, of Literature and Science 1 [5 Sept. 1829]: 70; for a similar account see the Rochester Daily Advertiser and Telegraph 3 [31 Aug. 1829], which reprinted the article from the Palmyra Freeman, about Aug. 1829).
35. The Episcopal
Recorder 18 (5 Sept. 1840), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, letter dated 24 Aug. 1840; cf.
Gleanings by the Way (Philadelphia: W. J. & J. K. Simon; New York: Robert
Carter, 1842), 225; Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration,
211. Oliver Cowdery wrote to William W. Phelps that Joseph had previously been
acquainted with the place where the record was deposited (Messenger and Advocate
1 [Feb. 1835]: 80, Kirtland, Ohio).
36. Statement of Abigail Harris, 28 Nov. 1833, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 253.
37. Statement of Henry Harris, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 252.
38. Benjamin Saunders interview (1884), 22-24, RLDS archives.
39. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 74-75; Biographical Sketches (1853), 108; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 112.
40. Tiffany's Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 164. AIvah (or Alva) Beeman (also spelled Beman and Beaman) was born on 22 May 1775. Joseph Knight wrote, "Beeman took out his [divining] Rods and hild [held] them up and they pointed Dow[n] to the h[e]arth whare they ware hid. 'There,' says Beeman, 'it is under that h[e]arth"' (Jessee, "Joseph Knight's Recollection," 34). Since Lucy Smith and Mary A. Noble said that Alvah Beeman helped hide the plates in the hearth, perhaps he was just demonstrating the power of his rods.
41. Tiffany's Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859), 167. Joseph B. Noble (son-in-law of Alvah Beeman) wrote that Beeman "was permit[t]ed to handle the Plates with a thin cloth covering over them" (Journal of Joseph B. Noble, LDS archives).
42. Journal of Mary Adeline Beeman Noble, written after Sept. 1834, LDS archives.
43. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 75; Biographical Sketches (1853), 108; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 113.
44. Lucy Mack Smith, Preliminary MS, 79; Biographical Sketches (1853), 113; History of Joseph Smith (1958), 118. Also Martin Harris in Tiffany's Monthly 5 (Aug. 1859): 170. Orson Pratt wrote in 1840 that the plates were put "into a barrel of beans" (Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:401).