Question: Was Joseph Smith's family lazy, shiftless and seeking to make a living without performing any labor?

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Question: Was Joseph Smith's family lazy, shiftless and seeking to make a living without performing any labor?

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors

It is claimed by some that Joseph Smith and his family were lazy, shiftless, and sought to make a living without labor. The claims of a "lazy" Smith family come largely from the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits, published in Mormonism Unvailed, the first anti-Mormon book.

The claim that the Smiths were lazy is belied by objective financial data showing them to be more hard-working than most of their neighbors. The attacks on their industry date from after they had become notorious for the Book of Mormon and the Church, and probably spring from religious hostility more than truth.

"The Smiths' farming techniques, it seems, were virtually a textbook illustration of the best recommendations of the day"

Were the Smiths truly lazy? Some research sought to address this question,[1] and Daniel C. Peterson summarized the results:

Working from land and tax records, farm account books and related correspondence, soil surveys, horticultural studies, surveys of historic buildings, archaeological reports, and interviews with agricultural historians and other specialists—sources not generally used by scholars of Mormon origins—Enders concludes that, on questions of testable fact, the affidavits cannot be trusted.

The Smiths' farming techniques, it seems, were virtually a textbook illustration of the best recommendations of the day, showing them to have been, by contemporary standards, intelligent, skilled, and responsible people. And they were very hard working. To create their farm, for instance, the Smiths moved many tons of rock and cut down about six thousand trees, a large percentage of which were one hundred feet or more in height and from four to six feet in diameter. Then they fenced their property, which required cutting at least six or seven thousand ten-foot rails. They did an enormous amount of work before they were able even to begin actual daily farming.

Furthermore, in order to pay for their farm, the Smiths were obliged to hire themselves out as day laborers. Throughout the surrounding area, they dug and rocked up wells and cisterns, mowed, harvested, made cider and barrels and chairs and brooms and baskets, taught school, dug for salt, worked as carpenters and domestics, built stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, washed clothes, sold garden produce, painted chairs and oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, and hauled stone. And, along the way, they produced between one thousand and seven thousand pounds of maple sugar annually. "Laziness" and "indolence" are difficult to detect in the Smith family.[2]

Of four families who gave negative testimonials against the Smiths (Staffords, Stoddards, Chases, and Caprons), only one farm of then ten they owed was worth more than the Smith's farm. The Smith farm was improved to the point that it was worth as much or more per acre than 71% of the farms in the region. Even in Palmyra township, the Smith's farm was worth more than 60% of the farms.[3] Given that the Smiths' property was worth more than 90% of their critical neighbors', and more than over half of all the farms in the area, it is difficult to credit the after-the-fact claims by some neighbors in the Hurlbut affidavits that the Smiths were lazy ne'er-do-wells.

If the Smiths were so lazy in 1825, before the Book of Mormon made them notorious, then why did so many neighbors try to help them save their farm from foreclosure?

Other Smith neighbors tell a story that is more in keeping with the available financial data.

Richard Lloyd Anderson noted that:

All who claimed to know Joseph Smith in this area had contact in the townships of either Palmyra or Manchester, and the 1830 census contains about 2,000 males old enough to know the Smiths in these two localities. From that possible number, Hurlbut procured the signatures of seventy-two individuals who claimed firsthand experience with Joseph Smith. At best, Hurlbut selected one-half of one percent of the males who potentially knew anything about the Smiths. Although Howe presented these as representative, they are matched by approximately the same number in those communities known to have a favorable opinion of the Smiths in the late 1820's. Dr. Gain Robinson, uncle of the Smith family physician, gathered sixty signatures on a certificate attesting the Smiths' reliability in an attempt to prevent loss of their farm in 1825.[4]

If the Smiths were so lazy in 1825 (before the Book of Mormon made them notorious) then why did so many neighbors try to help them save their farm from foreclosure?

Orlando Saunders: ""They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died"

Former neighbor Orlando Saunders recalled that: "They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died....[The Smiths] were very good people. Young Joe (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were. . . . He was always a gentleman when about my place."[5]

John Stafford: Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man"

John Stafford, eldest son of William Stafford said that the Smiths were "poor managers," but allowed as how Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man...."[6]

Notes

  1. Donald L. Enders, "The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee," in Joseph Smith, The Prophet, The Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr., (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993), 213–25.
  2. Daniel C. Peterson and Donald L. Enders, "Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 286–87. off-site
  3. Enders, 220.
  4. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10 no. 3 (1970), 285. For more details, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 2 (Summer 1969), 16, 19.
  5. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," 309; cited by Matthew Roper, "Review of The Truth about Mormonism: A Former Adherent Analyzes the LDS Faith by Weldon Langfield," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 78–92. off-site
  6. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121.