Question: Did Levi Lewis claim that Joseph tried to seduce Eliza Winters in 1830?

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Question: Did Levi Lewis claim that Joseph tried to seduce Eliza Winters in 1830?

We have no evidence of Levi and Hiel Lewis making the charge until the affidavits were gathered five years later

One affidavit was provided by Levi Lewis, Emma Hale Smith's cousin and son of the Reverend Nathaniel Lewis, a well-known Methodist minister in Harmony. Van Wagoner uses this affidavit to argue that:

[Joseph’s] abrupt 1830 departure with his wife, Emma, from Harmony, Pennsylvania, may have been precipitated in part by Levi and Hiel Lewis's accusations that Smith had acted improperly towards a local girl. Five years later Levi Lewis, Emma's cousin, repeated stories that Smith attempted to "seduce Eliza Winters &c.," and that both Smith and his friend Martin Harris had claimed "adultery was no crime."

Van Wagoner argues that this "may" have been why Joseph left. But, we have no evidence of Levi and Hiel Lewis making the charge until the affidavits were gathered five years later. (Hiel Lewis' inclusion adds nothing; he gave no affidavit in 1833, and in 1879 simply repeated third hand stories of how Joseph had attempted to "seduce" Eliza. At best, he is repeating Levi's early tale.)

Levi Lewis made a number of other unlikely claims about Joseph

A look at Lewis' complete affidavit is instructive. He claimed, among other things, that:

  • he heard Joseph admit "God had deceived him" about the plates, and so did not show them to anyone.
  • he saw Joseph drunk three times while writing the Book of Mormon
  • he heard Joseph say "he...was as good as Jesus Christ...it was as bad to injure him as it was to injure Jesus Christ."
  • he heard Martin Harris and Joseph Smith claim "adultery was no crime."
  • he heard Martin say that Joseph attempted to "seduce Eliza Winters," and that he didn't blame him.

There are serious problems with these claims. It seems extraordinarily implausible that Joseph "admitted" that God had deceived him, and thus was not able to show the plates to anyone. Joseph insisted that he had shown the plates to people, and the Three and Eight Witnesses all published testimony to that effect. Despite apostasy and alienation from Joseph Smith, none denied that witness.

The claim to have seen Joseph drunk during the translation is entertaining. If Joseph were drunk, this only makes the production of the Book of Mormon more impressive. But, this sounds like little more than idle gossip, designed to bias readers against Joseph as a "drunkard."

A study of Joseph's letters and life from this period make it difficult to believe that Joseph would insist he was "as good as Jesus Christ"

Joseph's private letters reveal him to be devout, sincere, and almost painfully aware of his dependence on God.

Three of the charges that are unmentioned by Van Wagoner are extraordinarily implausible and are clearly efforts to simply paint Joseph in a bad light

Thus, three of the charges that are unmentioned by Van Wagoner are extraordinarily implausible. They are clearly efforts to simply paint Joseph in a bad light: make him into a pretend prophet who thinks he's better than Jesus, who admits to being deceived, and who gets drunk. Such a portrayal would be welcome to skeptical ears. This Joseph is ridiculous, not to be taken seriously.

Martin Harris, who risked and defended a libel suit for reproving Eliza for fornication, would be highly unlikely to state that adultery is "no crime"

We can now consider the claim that Martin and Joseph claimed that adultery was no crime, and that Joseph attempted the seduction of Eliza Winters. Recent work has also uncovered Eliza Winters' identity. She was a young woman at a meeting on 1 November 1832 in Springville Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. While on a preaching mission with his brother Emer, Martin Harris announced that Eliza "has had a bastard child."

Eliza sued Martin for slander, asking for $1000 for the damage done to her "good name, fame, behavior and character" because his words "render her infamous and scandalous among her neighbors." Martin won the suit; Eliza could not prove libel, likely because she had no good character to sully.

This new information calls the Lewis affidavit into even greater question. We are to believe that Martin, who risked and defended a libel suit for reproving Eliza for fornication, thinks that adultery is "no crime"? Eliza clearly has no reason to like Joseph and the Mormons—why did she not provide Hurlbut with an affidavit regarding Joseph's scandalous behavior? Around 1879, Eliza gave information to Frederick Mather for a book about early Mormonism. Why did she not provide testimony of Joseph's attempt to seduce her?

It seems far more likely that Eliza was known for her low morals, and her name became associated with the Mormons in popular memory, since she had been publicly rebuked by a Mormon preacher and lost her court suit against him. When Levi Lewis was approached by Philastus Hurlbut for material critical of Joseph Smith, he likely drew on this association.

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