First Announcement Of The Golden Bible

Just when Smith's attention was originally diverted from the

discovery of buried money to the discovery of a buried Bible

engraved on gold plates remains one of the unexplained points in

his history. He was so much of a romancer that his own statements

at the time, which were carefully collected by Howe, are

contradictory. The description given of the buried volume itself

changed from time to time, giving strength in this way to the

theory that Rigdon was attracted to Smith by the rumor of his

discovery, and afterward gave it shape. First the book was

announced to be a secular history, says Dr. Clark; then a gold

Bible; then golden plates engraved; and later metallic plates,

stereotyped or embossed with golden letters.* Daniel Hendrix's

recollection was that for the first few months Joe did not claim

the plates any new revelation or religious significance, but

simply that they were a historical record of an ancient people.

This would indicate that he had possession of the "Spaulding

Manuscript" before it received any theological additions.

* "Gleanings by the Way," p. 229.

The account of the revelation of the book by an angel, which is

accepted by the Mormons, is the one elaborated in Smith's

autobiography, and was not written until 1838, when it was

prepared under the direction of Rigdon (or by him). Before

examining this later version of the story, we may follow a little

farther Joe's local history at the time.

While the Smiths were conducting their operations in

Pennsylvania, and Joseph was "displaying the corruption of human

nature, "they boarded for a time in the family of Isaac Hale, who

is described as a "distinguished hunter, a zealous member of the

Methodist church, "and (as later testified to by two judges of

the Court of Common Pleas of Susquehanna County)" a man of

excellent moral character and of undoubted veracity."* Mr. Hale

had three daughters, and Joe received enough encouragement to his

addresses to Emma to induce him to ask her father's consent to

their marriage. This consent was flatly refused. Mr. Hale made a

statement in 1834, covering his knowledge of Smith and the origin

of the Mormon Bible.** When he became acquainted with the future

prophet, in 1825, Joe was employed by the so-called "money-

diggers," using his "peek-stone." Among the reasons which Mr.

Hale gave for refusing consent to the marriage was that Smith was

a stranger and followed a business which he could not approve.

* Howe's "Mormonism Unveiled," p. 266.

** Ibid., p. 262.

Joe thereupon induced Emma to consent to an elopement, and they

were married on January 18, 1827, by a justice of the peace, just

across the line in New York State. Not daring to return to the

house of his father-in-law, Joe took his wife to his own home,

near Palmyra, New York, where for some months he worked again

with his father.

In the following August Joe hired a neighbor named Peter Ingersol

to go with him to Pennsylvania to bring from there some household

effects belonging to Emma. Of this trip Ingersol said, in an

affidavit made in 1833:--

"When we arrived at Mr. Hale's in Harmony, Pa., from which place

he had taken his wife, a scene presented itself truly affecting.

His father-in-law addressed Joseph in a flood of tears: 'You have

stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have

followed her to her grave. You spend your time in digging for

money--pretend to see in a stone, and thus try to deceive

people.' Joseph wept and acknowledged that he could not see in a

stone now nor never could, and that his former pretensions in

that respect were false. He then promised to give up his old

habits of digging for money and looking into stones. Mr. Hale

told Joseph, if he would move to Pennsylvania and work for a

living, he would assist him in getting into business. Joseph

acceded to this proposition, then returned with Joseph and his

wife to Manchester....

"Joseph told me on his return that he intended to keep the

promise which he had made to his father-in-law; 'but,' said he,

it will he hard for me, for they [his family] will all oppose, as

they want me to look in the stone for them to dig money'; and in

fact it was as he predicted. They urged him day after day to

resume his old practice of looking in the stone. He seemed much

perplexed as to the course he should pursue. In this dilemma he

made me his confidant, and told me what daily transpired in the

family of Smiths.

"One day he came and greeted me with joyful countenance. Upon

asking the cause of his unusual happiness, he replied in the

following language: 'As I was passing yesterday across the woods,

after a heavy shower of rain, I found in a hollow some beautiful

white sand that had been washed up by the water. I took off my

frock and tied up several quarts of it, and then went home. On

entering the house I found the family at the table eating dinner.

They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that

moment I happened to think about a history found in Canada,

called a Golden Bible;* so I very gravely told them it was the

Golden Bible. To my surprise they were credulous enough to

believe what I said. Accordingly I told them I had received a

commandment to let no one see it, for, says I, no man can see it

with the natural eye and live. However, I offered to take out the

book and show it to them, but they refused to see it and left the

room. 'Now,' said Joe, 'I have got the d--d fools fixed and will

carry out the fun.' Notwithstanding he told me he had no such

book and believed there never was such book, he told me he

actually went to Willard Chase, to get him to make a chest in

which he might deposit the Golden Bible. But as Chase would not

do it, he made the box himself of clapboards, and put it into a

pillow-case, and allowed people only to lift it and feel of it

through the case."**

* The most careful inquiries bring no information that any such

story was ever current in Canada.

** Howe's "Mormonism Unveiled," p. 234.

In line with this statement of Joe to Ingersol is a statement

which somewhat later he made to his brother-in-law, Alva Hale,

that "this 'peeking' was all d--d nonsense; that he intended to

quit the business and labor for a livelihood."*

* Ibid., p. 268.

Joe's family were quite ready to accept his statement of his

discovery of golden plates for more reasons than one. They saw in

it, in the first place, a means of pecuniary gain. Abigail Harris

in a statement (dated "11th mo., 28th, 1833") of a talk she had

with Joe's father and mother at Martin Harris's house, said:--

"They [the Smiths] said the plates Joe 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

discerned 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. The old lady said also that after the book was translated,

the plates were to be publicly exhibited, admission 25 cts."*

* Ibid, p. 253.

But aside from this pecuniary view, the idea of a new Bible would

have been eagerly accepted by a woman like Mrs. Smith, and a mere

intimation by Joe of such a discovery would have given him, in

her, an instigator to the carrying out of the plot. It is said

that she had predicted that she was to be the mother of a

prophet. She tells us that although, in Vermont, she was a

diligent church attendant, she found all preachers

unsatisfactory, and that she reached the conclusion that "there

was not on earth the religion she sought. "Joe, in his

description of his state of mind just before the first visit of

the angel who told him about the plates, describes himself as

distracted by the "war and tumult of opinions. "He doubtless

heard this subject talked of by his mother in the home circle,

but none of his acquaintances at the time had any reason to think

that he was laboring under such mental distress.

The second person in the neighborhood whom Joe approached about

his discovery was Willard Chase, in whose well the "peek-stone"

was found. Mr. Chase in his statement (given at length by Howe)

says that Joe applied to him, soon after the above quoted

conversation with Ingersol, to make a chest in which to lock up

his Gold Book, offering Chase an interest in it as compensation.

He told Chase that the discovery of the book was due to the

"peek-stone," making no allusion whatever to an angel's visit. He

and Chase could not come to terms, and Joe accordingly made a box

in which what he asserted were the plates were placed.

Reports of Joe's discovery soon gained currency in the

neighborhood through the family's account of it, and neighbors

who had accompanied them on the money-seeking expeditions came to

hear about the new Bible, and to request permission to see it.

Joe warded off these requests by reiterating that no man but him

could look upon it and live. "Conflicting stories were afterward

told," says Tucker, "in regard to the manner of keeping the book

in concealment and safety, which are not worth repeating, further

than to mention that the first place of secretion was said to be

under a heavy hearthstone in the Smith family mansion."

Joe's mother and Parley P. Pratt tell of determined efforts of

mobs and individuals to secure possession of the plates; but

their statements cannot be taken seriously, and are contradicted

by Tucker from personal knowledge. Tucker relates that two local

wags, William T. Hussey and Azel Vandruver, intimate

acquaintances of Smith, on asking for a sight of the book and

hearing Joe's usual excuse, declared their readiness to risk

their lives if that were the price of the privilege. Smith was

not to be persuaded, but, the story continues, "they were

permitted to go to the chest with its owner, and see WHERE the

thing was, and observe its shape and size, concealed under a

piece of thick canvas. Smith, with his accustomed solemnity of

demeanor, positively persisting in his refusal to uncover it,

Hussey became impetuous, and (suiting his action to his word)

ejaculated, 'Egad, I'll see the critter, live or die,' and

stripping off the canvas, a large tile brick was exhibited. But

Smith's fertile imagination was equal to the emergency. He

claimed that his friends had been sold by a trick of his."*

* "Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism," p. 31.

Mother Smith, in her book, gives an account of proceedings in

court brought by the wife of Martin Harris to protect her

husband's property from Smith, on the plea that Smith was

deceiving him in alleging the existence of golden plates; and she

relates how one witness testified that Joe told him that "the box

which he had contained nothing but sand, "that a second witness

swore that Joe told him, "it was nothing but a box of lead, "and

that a third witness declared that Joe had told him "there was

nothing at all in the box. "When Joe had once started the story

of his discovery, he elaborated it in his usual way. "I

distinctly remember, "says Daniel Hendrix," his sitting on some

boxes in the store and telling a knot of men, who did not believe

a word they heard, all about his vision and his find. But Joe

went into such minute and careful details about the size, weight,

and beauty of the carvings on the golden tablets, and strange

characters and the ancient adornments, that I confess he made

some of the smartest men in Palmyra rub their eyes in wonder."

Facility Of Human Belief From The Mississippi To The Missouri facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail