Question: What Church sources discuss Joseph Smith's involvement with seer stones, treasure seeking or "money digging?

Table of Contents

Question: What Church sources discuss Joseph Smith's involvement with seer stones, treasure seeking or "money digging?

Joseph the "money digger"

Far from being hidden from general Church membership and the world at large, the Church, the prophet, and his associates have taken many occassions to acknowledge and explain Joseph Smith's early connection to digging crews.

Larry C. Porter, "Joseph Smith’s Susquehanna Years," Ensign (Feb 2001): "Josiah 'came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye'"

An enterprising farmer by the name of Josiah Stowell came 30 miles from his farm in Bainbridge Township, Chenango County, New York, carrying a purported treasure map and accompanied by a digging crew. The company took their room and board with the Hale family. On the crew were Joseph Smith Jr. and his father. Lucy Mack Smith records that Josiah “came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.” The Smiths had initially refused Josiah’s invitation in October 1825. However, the reality of the family’s difficulty in meeting the $100 annual mortgage payment on their farm and Stowell’s promise of “high wages to those who would dig for him” finally persuaded them both to join in the venture. [1]

Note that this article in the Ensign cites such anti-Mormon or hostile sources as

  • Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress: of Mormonism.... (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 41-42. (describes Martin Harris' trip to Charles Anthon)
  • Baptist Register, Utica, New York, 13 June 1834, 68. (reprint of Susquehanna Register material, below)
  • Susquehanna Register, Montrose, Pennsylvania, 1 May 1834. (the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits, with focus on money-digging)

Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (Oct 1987): "Treasure-seeking was a cultural phenomenon of that day...Joseph Smith accepted employment with Stowel"

Treasure-seeking was a cultural phenomenon of that day. It was indulged in by upright and religious men such as Josiah Stowel. Young Joseph Smith accepted employment with Stowel at fourteen dollars a month, in part because of the crushing poverty of the Smith family. Joseph and his older brothers had to scour the countryside for work in order to construct their home and make the annual payment on the farm, which they were in imminent danger of losing and finally lost for nonpayment shortly after this period. [2]

Some sources close to Joseph Smith claim that in his youth, during his spiritual immaturity prior to his being entrusted with the Book of Mormon plates, he sometimes used a stone in seeking for treasure. Whether this is so or not, we need to remember that no prophet is free from human frailties, especially before he is called to devote his life to the Lord’s work. Line upon line, young Joseph Smith expanded his faith and understanding and his spiritual gifts matured until he stood with power and stature as the Prophet of the Restoration. [3]

Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction," Ensign (Aug 1987): "Though evidence involves the Smiths and their neighbors in treasure searching—a common practice in many American communities at the time—this was not their main occupation"

It is unfortunate that the writers who did the earliest work of gathering information about the Smith family were more concerned with blackening their reputation than with finding the facts. Interviewers not only ignored the positive things about the Smiths, but distorted many answers to mean what the interviewer wanted them to mean. For instance, Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlburt collected affidavits in 1833 that contain repetitious variations on the theme that “digging for money was their principal employment.” Though evidence involves the Smiths and their neighbors in treasure searching—a common practice in many American communities at the time—this was not their main occupation. Their true “principal employment” was conversion of one hundred acres of timbered wilderness into a cleared farm with dwellings, fences, and wheat and maple-sugar production....

Alvin is notably absent in most of these reports, except when listed as a member of the family or mentioned as in demand as a hard worker. He made no lasting impact on community memory as a religious leader, though he was included in one detailed money-digging tale evidently intended to suggest that magical activities were involved somehow in finding the Book of Mormon. [4]

History of the Church Volume 3, p. 29: "'Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?' Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it"

"Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?" Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.[5]

Millennial Star 26 (1864): 264-6: "The idea that the Lord would communicate his will to, or in any way have anything to do with, a ‘money digger,’ was deemed preposterous and blasphemous"

Editorial [editor was George Q. Cannon], “The Truth Vindicated by the Conduct of its Enemies” “The most serious charge that was brought against the Prophet Joseph, by the enemies of the Church in its early days, was that he had been a ‘money digger’—had been engaged with some person or persons in searching in the earth for the precious metals. This was considered by them so disreputable an avocation, that the mere report that he had been engaged in it was deemed sufficient to forever debar him from the society of those who prided themselves upon their respectability and social standing. The idea that the Lord would communicate his will to, or in any way have anything to do with, a ‘money digger,’ was deemed preposterous and blasphemous” (264)[6]

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses: "OLD JOE SMITH. ANTI-CHRIST. MONEY DIGGER, MONEY DIGGER, MONEY DIGGER"

I can sum up all the arguments used against Joseph Smith and "Mormonism” in a very few words, the merits of which will be found in OLD JOE SMITH. IMPOSTOR, MONEY DIGGER. OLD JOE SMITH. SPIRITUAL WIFE DOCTRINE. IMPOSTURE. THE DOCTRINE IS FALSE. MONEY DIGGER. FALSE PROPHET. DELUSION. SPIRITUAL WIFE DOCTRINE. Oh, my dear brethren and sisters, keep away from them, for the sake of your never dying souls. FALSE PROPHETS THAT SHOULD COME IN THE LAST DAYS. OLD JOE SMITH. ANTI-CHRIST. MONEY DIGGER, MONEY DIGGER, MONEY DIGGER. And the whole is wound up with an appeal, not to the good sense of the people, but to their unnatural feelings, in a canting, hypocritical tone, and there it ends.
—Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:109-110.

Millennial Star 9.6 (March 15, 1847): 85-89: "Joseph Smith...his employer requested him on some occasions to dig in certain portions of his estate where money was supposed to have been concealed"

Religious Impostors.

In the second volume of a neat, cheap but, flimsy and ephemeral compilation or periodical, published among the hundreds of similar and better works by W. and R. Chambers of Edinburgh,…. this "Miscellany" of the Messrs. Chambers, Edinburgh…. in this they quote only from the "Rise, Progress and Causes of Mormonism, by Professor J. B. Turner, New York, 1844," and “little work” by a Rev. Mr. Caswall, A.M., Professor of Divinity, Kemper College, Missouri, &c., &c., who visited the city of the Mormons -- Nauvoo -- in the year 1842. …. Again, the article before us reads -- "Joseph Smith, the youthful imposter! followed the profession of a money digger," which being corrected should be read as follows: -- "He was for a time a farmer's assistant; his employer requested him on some occasions to dig in certain portions of his estate where money was supposed to have been concealed" -- and while he thus did what his master required, he followed the profession of a money digger! That money has been concealed in this continent, before and during the times of the late wars in America, as well as aforetime by the ancient inhabitants, is generally believed, and I doubt not this is the fact; and were I an owner of the soil, to get good crops and perhaps money, I might probably induce my posterity to believe I had hid some in my fields; thus would I secure for them, ample irrigation and an abundant reward to satisfy their money digging propensities. Oh! covetous generation, how will ye escape if you dig for silver ore, iron, lead, or copper; or cull and dig for such miserable scraps of falsehood which ye publish for money. Know ye not that thus ye are sealing you own condemnation?[7]

Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, 3.5 (September, 1842): 87-92: "If Mr. Smith dug for money, he considered it was a more honourable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and the orphan"

GREAT DISCUSSION ON "MORMONISM," BETWEEN DR. WEST AND ELDER ADAMS, AT THE MARLBORO CHAPEL, BOSTON.

From the Weekly Bostonian, July 2.

Mr. Editor,—In the haste of my remarks last week. I briefly referred to the proceedings of the first three evenings of the discussion, but necessarily omitted several interesting features which I wish now to notice. The last paragraph of my communication which was inserted as the paper was going to press, stated, that the discussion closed on Friday night; but for want of time and room in your columns, my sketches of the last two evenings were reserved till this week. Dr. West spent much of the second and third evenings in reading from a Mormon pamphlet, containing a history of the rise of their church....Dr. West's chief effort the first part of the evening, was to impeach the character of Smith and the Mormon witnesses; for this purpose, he read from an old pamphlet what appeared to be a certificate from some twenty or thirty citizens of the state of New York, representing Harris and Smith's family as being money diggers, superstitious and visionary, and that they had no confidence in their pretended discoveries. ....In the reply, Mr. Adams said, the certificate from the citizens of New York ..... If Mr. Smith dug for money, he considered it was a more honourable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and the orphan; but a few lazy hireling priests of this age, would dig either for money or potatoes.[8]

Notes

  1. Larry C. Porter, "Joseph Smith’s Susquehanna Years," Ensign (Feb 2001)
  2. Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (Oct 1987)
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, "Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents," Ensign (Oct 1987)
  4. Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction," Ensign (Aug 1987)
  5. History of the Church Volume 3, p. 29
  6. Millennial Star 26 (1864): 264-6.
  7. Millennial Star 9.6 (March 15, 1847): 85-89
  8. Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, 3.5 (September, 1842): 87-92