Prior to assuming the mantle of a prophet, the young Joseph Smith developed a reputation as a village seer, one who was sought after to locate stray animals or optimal locations to dig for well water or treasure [1-2]. In October of 1825, Josiah Stowell (1770-1844) visited his son Simpson in Palmyra [3-4] and upon learning of Joseph’s abilities, pressured Joseph to join him on a treasure searching expedition. A short while later a company was formed and a profit-sharing pact was signed on November 1st . Among those mentioned in the pact were Josiah, Calvin, Elijah, and Isaiah Stowell. William R. Hines added that another Stowell, Asa, contributed financially to the venture .
We can find more about the Stowell family than has been previously published [7-10] with the aid of local histories and genealogical resources, especially familysearch.org. Asa (1766-1826) and Josiah were third cousins, but intermarriages in this extended family strengthened ties. For example, two of Josiah’s brothers, the aforementioned Calvin (1774-1838) and Elisha (1767-1842), married a couple of Asa’s sisters. The above Elijah appears to be Asa’s brother and Isaiah may just be an alternative to Josiah. Asa’s father, Hezekiah, in 1786 became one of the first settlers in the part of Bainbridge that came to be known as Afton . Hezekiah and Josiah were referred to as Vermont Sufferers, who got caught in the crossfire in a territory dispute between Vermont and New York, for which they were punished by the winning side and recompensed by New York. Hezekiah was found “to be [a sufferer] in opposing the government of the pretended state of Vermont” and was awarded a 840 acres .
After a month of unsuccessful excavation, Joseph persuaded Josiah to quit digging , at least at that particular location . By March of the following year, the Bainbridge conspirators attempted to coerce Josiah to end his association with Joseph. A lawsuit was brought against Joseph under the guise that Josiah’s sons were worried about Joseph eating away their inheritance. However, Josiah Stowell had three sons and four daughters. His son Simpson, did not live in the area and, as we have seen, recommended Joseph to his father.The youngest son, Josiah Stowell Jr. testified in an 1830 trial that Joseph Smith was not a cheat  a position that reiterated later in life . Two daughters also testified favorably of Joseph’s character at that 1830 trial. In fact, the only Stowell son to testify at the 1826 hearing was Horace. Horace’s testimony is rather short and ambiguous as to what his opinion of Joseph was, to the point that most accounts leave his statement out .
If I were to compile a list of the three main antagonists in the 1826 examination, I would include Peter Bridgeman(1804-1872), Arad Stowell (1783-1868), and David McMaster(1804-1888) or (1771-1848) . A corresponding list for the 1830 trial would be Nathan Boynton (1788-1860), Abraham Willard Benton (1805-1867), and Cyrus McMaster (1801-1879) . There are numerous connections between the two groups. The obvious one is that the McMasters were either brothers or father-son. Less obvious is that Cyrus was married to Peter Bridgeman’s sister, Electa, in early 1829. Another set of in-laws were Arad Stowell (Asa’s son) and Nathan Boynton, who had married Lepha Stowell (Arad’s sister) circa 1818 . As a show of his esteem, Arad named a son after Boynton in 1824. Peter Bridgeman was a nephew of Josiah’s wife Miriam and a couple of his other sisters would go on to marry Ebenezer Stowell, nephew of Josiah’s. Benton appears to be unrelated to the rest, but it is known that he studied medicine under Nathan Boynton. Ironically, Harriet Benton, a likely cousin of his, had earlier married Lyman Wight and moved to Ohio. There they became followers of Sidney Rigdon and actually converted to Mormonism within a few months of the 1830 trial Abraham Benton helped precipitate.
Many of the above mentioned individuals have an extended history with the Presbyterian church in the Bainbridge area. In 1819, Calvin Stowell was chosen as a presiding officer and with Asa and Arad Stowell was elected a trustee. Later on “February 7, 1825, at which Deacons Calvin and Arad Stowel, two of the members of said society presided, The South Bainbridge Presbyterian Society was organized, and Arad Stowel, David McMaster and Nathan Boynton were elected trustees.”  Josiah Stowell was also a Presbyterian deacon, according to Purple. There has been some debate on whether A. W. Benton was a Presbyterian or Universalist, but in either case he was a close associate of Nathan Boynton. The odd man out is Peter Bridgeman, who rapidly rose through the ranks to become a reverend for the Methodist church.
So what is the point in establishing all these connections among Joseph Smith’s persecutors? The Mormon side of the story has always emphasized the religious bigotry involved in dragging Joseph Smith into vexatious lawsuits. The critics have constructed a narrative that tries to frame Joseph as a con-artist before he became a prophet or pious fraud. It is clear to me that the Bainbridge conspirators were not really concerned about Joseph’s digging activities, given that they did not go after any of the leaders of their society that participated like Calvin and Asa Stowell. Instead they were more concerned at getting a conviction to discredit the religious claims Joseph Smith was making, even in 1826. Modern critics follow their lead. Unsophisticated critics insist that Joseph was found guilty. Sophisticated critics don’t care so much about the verdict so much as joining in a chorus with Benton “So much for the gift and power of God, by which Smith says he translated his book. Two transparent stones, undoubtedly of the same properties, and the gift of the same spirit as the one in which he looked to find his neighbor’s goods.”
Richard Bushman looks at it from the angle that Joseph’s seer abilities spiritually prepared a loyal inner circle to accept him as a prophet. Bushman especially focuses on Joseph’s credibility with his father. To me the most compelling evidence of Joseph’s progression is his father’s testimony at the 1826 hearing where he accepts that his son has a prophetic gift, he would just rather that Jr. use it for something more profound and useful.
 Mark Ashurst-McGee A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet. Masters Thesis (2000), Utah State University.
 Ronald W.Walker, “Joseph Smith, The Palmyra Seer. Brigham Young University Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 461–72. LINK
 Abraham Williard Benton “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, April 9, 1831, vol. 2, p. 120. LINK
 W. D. Purple, “Joseph Smith, The Originator of Mormonism” Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton (Thursday, May 3, 1877) Norwich, NY LINK Note that this account contradicts the account above of Stowell first hearing about Joseph Smith in Palmyra.
 Articles of Agreement, Township of Harmony, Pennsylvania, November 1, 1825, published in Salt Lake Tribune (April 23, 1880) LINK
 William R. Hines, interviewed in Deming Naked Truths About Mormonism (1888)
 John Phillip Walker, ed. Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History Signature Books (1986)
 Wesley P. Walters, “Joseph Smith’s Bainbridge, N.Y. Court Trials” The Westminster Theological Journal 36:2, 123-155, 1974.
 Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Volume 4, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002.
 Marquardt, H. Michael, and Wesley P. Walters. Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record. Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1994.
 James H. Smith, “History of Chenango and Madison Counties,” D. Mason & Co. – Syracuse, NY (1880) LINK
 Benjamin H. Hall, “History of Eastern Vermont, from its Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Eighteenth Century ” Albany, NY (1865) LINK
 JS-H 1:56 LINK
 For other locations and a chronology of Joseph Smith’s digs see Dan Vogel, “Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests” Dialogue Vol.27:3 (1994)197-231 LINK
B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, vol I:88-90., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1967)
Mark Ashurst-McGee, “The Josiah Stowell Jr.-John S. Fullmer Correspondence,” Brigham Young University Studies 38:3 (1999) LINK
 For a comparison of examination (not trial!) accounts see Brandon U. Hansen, “The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith Jr.” LINK The most judgmental word attributed to Horace is “pretending.” However, according to Webster’s 1828 dictionary an alternative definition to pretend is “To put in a claim, truly or falsely; to hold out the appearance of being, possessing or performing.” LINK This is appears to be the working definition used in the accounts, even those who supported Joseph apparently used the term.
 It is unclear which McMaster is being referred to. Morgan, Walters, and Quinn all believe it is David McMaster, but seem unaware that there are two Davids who are father and son. It is likely the son who studied law and then practiced it in Bath, NY, and that makes him more likely to be the instigator behind the 1826 hearing. Someone had to to have knowledge to bring Joseph up on charges on such an obscure point of law. From the testimony of Arad Stowell and McMaster, I would suggest that they approached Joseph with the intent to entrap him by inviting him to demonstrate his gifts as a seer. David McMaster moved to Bath before the 1830 trial, but his fellow conspirators continued on without him.
 see for example John Matzko, “The Encounter of the Young Joseph Smith with Presbyterianism” Dialogue Vol 40:3 (2007)
 “History of Chenango and Madison Counties” (1880) LINK
 John McClintock, “Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature,” Harper Brothers (1889) LINK