Question: What do the Hurlbut affidavits claim about the Smith family's character and reliability?

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Question: What do the Hurlbut affidavits claim about the Smith family's character and reliability?

The affidavits claimed that the Smith family was "lazy" and "worthless" and "destitute of moral character"

A number of individuals signed the following statement, which claims that Joseph Smith's family was "destitute of moral character." This, of course, all occurred several years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. the statement appears in E.D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed in 1834:

We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family, for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying, that we consider them destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures. Joseph Smith, Senior, and his son Joseph, were in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits.

Martin Harris was a man who had acquired a handsome property, and in matters of business his word was considered good; but on moral and religious subjects, he was perfectly visionary -- sometimes advocating one sentiment, and sometimes another. And in reference to all with whom we were acquainted, that have embraced Mormonism from this neighborhood, we are compeled to say, were very visionary, and most of them destitute of moral character, and without influence in this community; and this may account why they were permitted to go on with their impositions undisturbed. It was not supposed that any of them were possessed of sufficient character or influence to make any one believe their book or their sentiments, and we know not of a single individual in this vicinity that puts the least confidence in their pretended revelations.[1]

Joseph Smith responded direct to the accusations against his character in December 1834

Joseph Smith published the following response in the Messenger and Advocate in December 1834:

During this time, as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies; but as my accusers are, and have been forward to accuse me of being guilty of gross and outrageous violations of the peace and good order of the community, I take the occasion to remark, that, though, as I have said above, "as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies," I have not, neither can it be sustained, in truth, been guilty of wronging or injuring any man or society of men; and those imperfections to which I allude, and for which I have often had occasion to lament, were a light, and too often, vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation.

This being all, and the worst, that my accusers can substantiate against my moral character, I wish to add, that it is not without a deep feeling of regret that I am thus called upon in answer to my own conscience, to fulfill a duty I owe to myself, as well as to the cause of truth, in making this public confession of my former uncircumspect walk, and unchaste conversation: and more particularly, as I often acted in violation of those holy precepts which I knew came from God. But as the "Articles and Covenants" of this church are plain upon this particular point, I do not deem it important to proceed further. I only add, that (I do not, nor never have, pretended to be any other than a man "subject to passion," and liable, without the assisting grace of the Savior, to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk!)[2]

If members of the Smith family had been liars, immoral, and "addicted to vicious habits," Lucy, Hyrum and Samuel would have been unable to retain their membership in the Western Presbyterian Church until 1830

Milton V. Backman wrote:

If the belittling statements by men who supposedly were acquainted with the Smith family were correct, and if members of the family had been liars, immoral, and "addicted to vicious habits," Lucy, Hyrum and Samuel would have been unable to retain their membership in the Western Presbyterian Church until 1830. In that era excommunications were frequent in most congregations, including the Presbyterian society of Palmyra. Individuals judged guilty of immorality, profanity, lying, drunkenness, gambling, and other such sins were excommunicated from this society. The reason members of the Smith family were dismissed from the Lord's Supper in the spring of 1830 was not because of any of the above charges but only because they desired to withdraw their membership and had neglected to attend church for a year and a half. [3]

Contrast the accusations against the achievements of the family during the few years of their residence in Palmyra

B.H. Roberts contrasts the achievements of the Smith family with the accusations made against them:

Against this large collection of evil report and false interpretation of the character of the Smiths while at Palmyra, prompted as it was by prejudice and collected by malice, the evidence of accomplished fact, and the subsequent lives of the family may be opposed. Take for example the achievements of the family during the few years of their residence in Palmyra. They arrived there penniless, as all admit, with nothing but their bare hands with which to help themselves. Yet in a few years they built two homes in the wilderness; they cleared sixty acres of heavy timber land, and converted it into a tillable farm. In addition to their farming and gardening, they had a sugar orchard of from twelve to fifteen hundred maple trees, from which they gathered the sap and converted it into syrup or sugar. To aid in making the annual payments upon their farm, as well as to help sustain the family until the farm could be made productive, they took an occasional day's work among the neighboring farmers or the Palmyra village folk, sometimes engaged to dig a well, or harvest a field of grain. It is conceded, in the main, that they did all this; and one marvels in the face of it that the charge of laziness and thriftlessness should be made. But the wonder grows when to all this is to be added the stories of the affidavits about the Smith's "money digging" enterprises. "They * * * spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth, and to this day large excavations may be seen in the earth not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time digging for hidden treasures." fn Truly if the half of what is told in the affidavits about these exploits, usually carried on at night, is to be believed, then it would be utterly impossible to believe the Smiths to be idle or habitually lazy. [4]

Notes

  1. Mormonism Unvailed, 261-262.
  2. Joseph Smith, (December 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:40.
  3. Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980): 120. Backman cites Session Records, Western Presbyterian Church, II, 11-13, 34, 36, 39, 42 and Appendix K.
  4. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:40–41. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)