Question: What did the Hurlbut affidavits say about Martin Harris?

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Question: What did the Hurlbut affidavits say about Martin Harris?

Lucy and Abigail Harris claimed that Martin Harris said that Mormonism was false and that he could "make money out of it"

Claimant Claims Comments

Abigail Harris (28 Nov. 1833)

  • Claimed that Martin Harris said regarding Mormonism: "What if it is a lie; if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!"
  • Abigail embellishes her version of what she heard by implying that Martin Harris "admitted" that Mormonism was a lie.

Lucy Harris (29 Nov. 1833)

(Wife of Martin Harris)

  • Claimed that Martin Harris said that he could make money out of Mormonism, and that "if you would let me alone, I could make money by it."
  • Claimed that Martin Harris "has whipped, kicked, and turned me out of the house."
  • Claimed that Martin Harris may or may not (though clearly using language that favors the former) have had an affair with a neighbor's wife (a "Mrs. Haggard"). She wrote: "If his intentions were evil, the Lord will judge him accordingly, but if good, he did not mean to let his left hand know what his right hand did."
  • Despite the fact that Lucy Harris makes no mention of the lost 116 pages of manuscript from the Book of Mormon, Fawn Brodie in her book No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith actually concludes that Harris beat his wife in order to get her to divulge what she had done with the lost 116 pages of manuscript.

Lucy and Abigail Harris are the only two individuals who claimed that Martin Harris was hoping to make money from Mormonism

It is interesting to note the similarity between the testimony for both women. It is more interesting however, to note how Abigail Harris has added the phrase "What if it is a lie," while Martin's wife, Lucy, did not. Abigail states that she stated what she did "for the good of all mankind". If Martin actually believed that Mormonism was a lie, why would his wife Lucy not have mentioned this?[1]. She in fact makes it clear in her affidavit that Martin did believe in Mormonism to the point of having "no one in his house that did not believe in Mormonism"[2]

With regards to the motives to make money, it makes sense that both Abigail and Lucy would testify this way against Martin. But they may have been selectively remembering this. Keep in mind that Martin had a firm conviction of the Book of Mormon, which Lucy makes more than clear in her statement. What if Martin, in the first instance of the statement being made, meant to assuage Lucy's concern over mortgaging the Harris farm to fund the publication of the Book of Mormon? It's a plausible interpretation that can cut back some of the exaggerations in their statements fomented by Howe's impetus and their shared prejudice of Martin looking back. It would be especially understandable if Martin's history of abuse reported by Lucy is true (which it likely is).

Martin may have had feelings towards the supposed "Mrs. Haggard" but evidence of adultery is simply inconclusive.

In regard to Mrs. Haggard, it seems as though Martin may have had some feelings for this woman. Lucy seems to be very honest in her portrayal of Martin's behavior. Additionally, a contemporary revelation given to Joseph Smith (summer of 1829) states: "25 And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife; nor seek thy neighbor’s life." (D&C 19:25). Beyond this, however, there does not seem to be any conclusive evidence of Martin committing adultery with this woman.

Lucy still testifies to Martin's industriousness and implies that he was a respected individual in the community prior to publication of the Book of Mormon.

Lucy wrote:

Martin Harris was once industrious[ly] attentive to his domestic concerns, and thought to be worth about ten thousand dollars.
[. . .]
It is in vain for the Mormons to deny these facts; for they are all well known to most of his former neighbors. The man has now become rather an object of pity; he has spent most of his property, and lost the confidence of his former friends. If he had labored as hard on his farm as he has to make Mormons, he might now be one of the wealthiest farmers in the country. He now spends his time in travelling through the country spreading the delusion of Mormonism, and has no regard whatever for his family.

Lucy implies that Martin was considered respected in the community prior to the mortgaging of his farm in support of the Book of Mormon.

Addressing the Abuse

Lucy's report of abuse is the most disheartening of the affdavit. While on one hand Lucy may have exaggerated some of the elements about Martin, these claims are those to take most seriously. She stated:

He is naturally quick in his temper and his mad-fits frequently abuses all who may dare to oppose him in his wishes. However strange it may seem, I have been a great sufferer by his unreasonable conduct. At different times while I lived with him, he has whipped, kicked, and turned me out of the house. About a year previous to the report being raised that Smith had found gold plates, he became very intimate with the Smith family, and said he believed Joseph could see in his stone any thing he wished. After this he apparently became very sanguine in his belief, and frequently said he would have no one in his house that did not believe in Mormonism; and because I would not give credit to the report he made about the gold plates, he became more austere towards me. In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the but end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner. --
The next day I went to the town of Marion, and while there my flesh was black and blue in many places. His main complaint against me was, that I was always trying to hinder his making money.
When he found out that I was going to Mr. Putnam's, in Marion, he said he was going too, but they had sent for him to pay them a visit. On arriving at Mr. Putnam's, I asked them if they had sent for Mr. Harris; they replied, they knew nothing about it; he, however, came in the evening. Mrs. Putnam told him never to strike or abuse me any more; he then denied ever striking me; she was however convinced that he lied, as the marks of his beating me were plain to be seen, and remained more than two weeks. Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me. His whole object was to make money by it.

Perhaps we can demonstrate a little skepticism towards the event since it comes years after the fact.[3] But that should be balanced with how we've interpreted Lucy's statements in the rest of the affidavit--as reliable. If we rely on her to dispel the claim from Abigail, and we rely on her to not give a definitive declaration of Martin's involvement with Mrs. Haggard, and if we rely on her as reliable to establish Martin as industrious and well-respected, then we should give Lucy some trust in stating that she was abused. Abuse connected to disagreement over the legitimacy of Joseph's claims is a more than plausible reason for Lucy and Martin's separation in 1830. While on one hand we may use Lucy's affirmation of Harris' industriousness and his firm conviction of the Book of Mormon as a positive evidence for the Book of Mormon, we should also recognize, like two accomplished historians noted about Martin, that "Martin was certainly not free from inherent human frailties and foibles, some of which are enumerated in Mormonism Unvailed."[4] We can recognize his contributions to the Book of Mormon and the work of God while also condemning and also extending charity to his more negative qualities.

Notes

  1. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 115. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link
  2. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 255. http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/1834howf.htm
  3. Susan Easton Black and Larry C. Porter, Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2018), 253. ISBN: 9781942161554: "Anderson suggests in his set of criteria, it is necessary to be aware of 'statements of contemporaries [that] show a distinct tendency to report community rumor, not personal experience.'" Citing Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," BYU Studies 10, no. 3 (1970): 283-314.
  4. Black and Porter, "Uncompromising Witness" Ibid.