Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism

Smithin suhteista metodisteihin teoksessa Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, University of Illinois Press, 1984. Richard L. Bushman Huom. alaviitteet alkavat ykkösestä joka luvussa, minkä vuoksi samoja numeroita esiintyy toistuvasti.


In their sensitive and unsettled frames of mind, the Smiths responded to the stimulus of the revival preaching much as they had before. At some unspecified date Lucy finally overcame her reservations and joined the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, probably the best established church in the village and before 1823 the only one with a building of its own. Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel joined with her.32 Joseph, Sr., and [p.54] the other sons held back. Joseph, Jr., "became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect," and came close to joining, but could not overcome his reservations. Two printer's apprentices at the Palmyra Register who knew Joseph remembered his Methodist leanings. One said he caught "a spark of Methodism in the camp meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road." The other remembered that Joseph joined the probationary class of the Palmyra Methodist Church. Joseph himself confessed "some desire to be united with them." He later said "he wanted to get religion too, wanted to feel and shout like the rest but could feel nothing."33


Joseph did tell a Methodist preacher about the vision. Newly reborn people customarily talked over their experiences with a clergyman to test the validity of the conversion. The preacher's contempt shocked Joseph. Standing on the margins of the evangelical churches, Joseph may not have recognized the ill repute of visionaries. The preacher reacted quickly, not because of the strangeness of Joseph's story but because of its familiarity. Subjects of revivals all too often claimed to have seen visions. In 1825 a teacher in the Palmyra Academy said he saw Christ descend "in a glare of brightness exceeding tenfold the brilliancy of the meridian Sun." The Wayne Sentinel in 1823 reported Asa Wild's vision of Christ in Amsterdam, New York, and the message that all denominations were corrupt. At various other times and places, beginning early in the Protestant era, religious eccentrics claimed visits from divinity. Nathan Cole, a Wethersfield, Connecticut, farmer and carpenter, recorded in his "Spiritual Travels" that in 1741 "God appeared unto me and made me Skringe: before whose face the heavens and the earth fled away; and I was shrinked into nothing. . . ."50


The visions themselves did not disturb the established clergy so much as the messages that the visionaries claimed to receive. Too often the visions justified a breach of the moral code or a sharp departure in doctrine. By Joseph's day, any vision was automatically suspect, whatever its content. "No person is warranted from the word of God," a writer in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine said in 1805, "to publish to the world the discoveries of heaven or hell which he supposes he has had in a dream, or trance, or vision. Were any thing of this kind to be made known to men, we may be assured it would have been done by the apostles, when they were penning the gospel history." The only acceptable message was assurance of forgiveness and a promise of grace. Joseph's report on the divine rejection of all creeds and churches would have sounded all too familiar to the Methodist evangelical, who repeated the conventional point that "all such things had ceased with the Apostles and that there never would be any more of them."51


The forces of eighteenth-century rationalism were never quite powerful enough to suppress the belief in supernatural powers aiding and opposing human enterprise. The educated representatives of enlightened thought, newspaper editors and ministers particularly, scoffed at the superstitions of common people without completely purging them. The scorn of the polite world put the Palmyra and Manchester money diggers in a dilemma. They dared not openly describe their resort to magic for [p.72] fear of ridicule from the fashionably educated, and yet they could not overcome their fascination with the lore that seeped through to them from the past. Their embarrassment shows in the affidavits Hurlbut collected. William Stafford, who admitted participation in two "nocturnal excursions," claimed he thought the idea visionary all along, but "being prompted by curiosity, I at length accepted of their invitations." Peter Ingersoll made much more elaborate excuses. One time he went along because it was lunchtime, his oxen were eating, and he was at leisure. Secretly, though, he claimed to be laughing up his sleeve: "This was rare sport for me." Another time he said he "thought it best to conceal my feelings, preferring to appear the dupe of my credulity, than to expose myself to his resentment. . . ." Willard Chase and the Staffords said nothing about their personal quests for treasure and reliance on stones other than Joseph's.93

Despite the disdain of the educated, ordinary people apparently had no difficulty reconciling Christianity with magic. Willard Chase, perhaps the most vigorous of the Palmyra money diggers, was a Methodist class leader at the time he knew the Smiths, and in his obituary was described as a minister. When Josiah Stowell employed Joseph to use his seerstone to find Spanish bullion, Stowell was an upright Presbyterian and an honored man in his community. The so-called credulity of the money diggers can be read as a sign of their faith in the reality of the invisible powers described in scripture. Christian belief in angels and devils made it easy to believe in guardian spirits and magical powers.94


Sometime in this dark period Joseph attended Methodist meetings with Emma, probably to placate her family. One of Emma's uncles preached as a Methodist lay minister, and a brother-in-law was class leader in Harmony. Joseph was later said to have asked the circuit preacher to be enrolled in the class. Joseph Lewis, a cousin of Emma's, rose in wrath when he found Joseph's name, objecting to inclusion of a "practicing necromancer." Lewis confronted Joseph and demanded repentance or [p.95] removal of his name. For some reason Joseph Smith's name remained on the roll for another six months, although there is no evidence of his attendance.50


  1. In recounting her baptism around 1803, Lucy Smith by implication suggested a date for her membership in the Presbyterian church in Palmyra. She had searched for a minister who would baptize her without the requirement of commitment to one church. She found such a man, who left her "free in regard to joining any religious denomination." After this, she says, "I stepped forward and yielded obedience to this ordinance; after which I continued to read the Bible as formerly until my eldest son had attained his twenty-second year." Biographical Sketches, pp. 48-49.
    Alvin was twenty-two in 1820. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian records that could confirm this date are lost. In an 1893 interview William Smith said that Hyrum, Samuel, and Catherine were Presbyterians, but since Catherine was only eight in 1820, and Sophronia, whom Joseph named, was seventeen, Sophronia was more likely to be the sister who joined. Interview with William Smith, Nov., 1893, Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Jan. 20, 1894, reprinted in Kirkham, New Witness, 1:44; Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:3.
    Later Western Presbyterian Church records mention Lucy, Hyrum, and Samuel, but neither Catherine nor Sophronia. Sophronia meanwhile had married and possibly transferred her membership. Porter, "Study of Origins," pp. 45-46.
    All the circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, the date of Lucy Smith's engagement to Presbyterianism remains a matter of debate. It is possible to argue plausibly that she did not join until later Palmyra revivals in 1824. Hill, "First Vision Controversy," pp. 39-42.
  2. Tucker, Origin, p. 28: Turner, History, p. 214; Backman, Joseph Smith's First Vision, p. 177. On the careers of Pomeroy Tucker and Orsamus Turner, see Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation," p. 377.
  3. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:6; Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra), Oct. 22, 1823; John Samuel Thompson, Christian Guide (Utica, N.Y.: A. G. Danby, 1826), p. 71: "The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole," ed. Michael Crawford, William and Mary Quarterly, 3d set., 33 (Jan., 1976):96.
  4. Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, 5 (1805):349; Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:6-7. The New England divines Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins both argued against personal revelations. Joseph Bellamy, True Religion Delineated ... (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1750), p. 92; Samuel Hopkins, The System of Doctrines ..., 2 vols. (Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews, 1793), 1:603-4.
    The announcement of a general apostasy among the churches would have been familiar to the Methodist preacher. That was the common message of the visions; see, for example, The Sense of the United Non-conforming Ministers (London, 1693), p. 6. I am indebted to Michael Crawford for this reference. Asa Wild carried the same information away from his vision. Cf. Elias Smith, The Life, Conversion, Preaching ... of Elias Smith (Portsmouth, N.H.: Beck and Foster, 1816).
    Marvin Hill enlarges on the belief in apostasy among a number of lay Christians in the early nineteenth century, in "Role of Christian Primitivism in the Origin and Development of the Mormon Kingdom, 1830-1844" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1968). See also Marvin Hill, "The Shaping of the Mormon Mind in New England and New York," B.Y.U. Studies, 9 (Spring, 1969):351-72.
  5. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, pp. 238, 232-33. Hurlbut himself may have injected some of the excuses into the affidavits to polish up the respectability of his informants.
  6. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation," p. 296; Kirkham, New Witness, 2:363.
  7. Amboy Journal, Mar. 30, 1897. I am indebted to Linda Newell and Valerie Avery for this reference.

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