Question: Do contemporary documents shed any light on the possible persecution of the Smith family after Joseph Smith's First Vision?

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Question: Do contemporary documents shed any light on the possible persecution of the Smith family after Joseph Smith's First Vision?

Contemporary newspaper articles report an episode that likely provides some window into the persecution which the Smiths endured

Milton Backman recounts the events surrounding the death of Alvin, Joseph's elder brother:

After the death of Joseph's brother, Alvin, who died November 19, 1823, someone circulated the rumor that Alvin's body had been "removed from the place of his interment and dissected." In an attempt to ascertain the truth of this report, Joseph Smith, Sr., along with neighbors gathered at the grave, removed the earth, and found the body undisturbed. To correct the fabrication, designed in the opinion of Joseph's father to injure the reputation of the Smith family, Joseph, Sr., placed in the Wayne Sentinel (which appeared on successive Wednesdays from September 30 to November 3, 1824) a public notice reciting his findings that the body was undisturbed. [1]

This kind of malicious gossip is cruel and requires some motive. The notice that Joseph Smith Sr. placed in the Wayne Sentinel appeared four years after the first vision and one year after the first visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith, the visit in which Joseph was first shown the location of the plates but was not allowed to obtain them. This event is thus three years before Joseph's more-widely-known acquisition of the plates and five years before the publication of the Book of Mormon. If the Smith family could be the subject of such malicious gossip when faced with a tragedy like Alvin's death, without any other known motive for the ill treatment, we need look no further for a motive than the four-year-prior local response to Joseph's claims about his first vision, as he reported in his 1838 history.

Notes

  1. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 114.