Origin of the Mormon Imposture.
The Rochester American publishes the following from a forthcoming work, by Mr. Turner, entitled “History of Philip and Gorham's Purchase."— Though not entirely new, it is succinct, and com-municates some facts coming within the author's personal knowledge:
"As we are now at the home of the Smith family—in sight of 'Mormon Hill'—a brief pioneer history will be looked for, of the strange, and singularly successful religious sect—the Mormons; and brief it must be, merely starting it in its career, and leaving to their especial historian to to trace them to Kirtland, Nauvoo, Beaver Island, and Utah, or the Salt Lake.
Joseph Smith, the father of the prophet Joseph Smith, Jun., was from the Merrimack river, N. H. He first settled in or near Palmyra village, but as early as 1819 was the occupant of some new land on 'Stafford street,' in the town of Manchester, near the line of Palmyra.* 'Mormon Hill' is near the plank road about half way between the villages of Palmyra and Manchester. The elder Smith had been a Universalist, and sub-sequently a Methodist; was a good deal of a smat-terer in scriptural knowledge, but the seed of revelation was sown on weak ground; he was a great babbler, credulous, not especially industrious, a money digger, prone to the marvellous; and withal, a little given to difficulties with neighbors, and petty law-suits. Not a very propitious account of the father of a prophet,—the founder of a state; but there was a 'woman in the case.'
Mrs. Smith was woman of strong, uncultivated intellect; artful and cunning; imbued with an ill regulated religious enthusiasm. The incipient hints, the first givings out that a prophet was to spring from her humble household, came from her; and when matters were maturing for denouement, she gave out that such and such ones—al ways fixing upon those who had both money and credulity—were to be instruments in some great work of new revelation. The old man was rather her faithful co-worker, or executive exponent.—Their son, Alvah was originally intended, or designated, by fireside consultations and solemn and mysterious out-door hints, as the forthcoming prophet. The mother and the father said he was the chosen one; but Alvah, however spiritual he may have been, had a carnal appetite; ate too many green turnips, sickened and died. Thus the world lost a prophet; and Mormonism a leader; the design, impiously and wickedly attributed to Providence, was defeated; and all in consequence of surfeit of raw turnips. Who will talk of the cackling geese of Rome, or any other small ..nd innocent causes of mighty events, after this? The mantle of the prophet which Mrs. and Mr. Joseph Smith and one Oliver Cowdery had wove themselves—every thread of it—fell upon their next eldest son, Joseph Smith, Jr.
And a most unpromising recipient of such a trust was this same Joseph Smith, Jr., afterwards 'Jo Smith.' He was lounging, idle, (not to say vicious.) and possessed of less than ordinary intellect. The author's own recollections of him are distinct. He used to come into the village of Palmyra, with little jags of wood, from his backwoods home; sometimes patronising a village grocery too freely; sometimes finding an odd job to do about the store of Seymour Scovell; and once a week he would stroll into the office of the old Pal-myra Register for his father's paper. How impious in us young 'dare devils,’ to once and awhile blacken the face of the then meddling, inquisitive lounger—but afterwards prophet—with the old-fashioned balls, when he used to put himself, in the way of the working of the old-fashioned Ramage press! The editor of the Cultivator at Albany—esteemed as he may justly consider him-self for his subsequent enterprise and use ulness—may think of it, with contrition and repentance, that he once helped thus to disfigure the face of a prophet, and, remotely, the founder of a state.
But Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations; the mother's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us to solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics, in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school-house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; and subsequently, after catch-ing a spark of Methodism in the camp meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings.
Legends of hidden treasure had long designated Mormon Hill as a repository. Old Joseph had dug there, and young Joseph had not only heard his father and mother relate the marvellous tales of buried wealth, but had accompanied, his father in the midnight delvings, and incantations of the spirits that guarded it.
If a buried revelation was to be exhumed how natural was it that the Smith family, with their credulity, and their assumed presentiment, that a prophet was to come from their household, should be connected with it; and that Mormon Hill was the place where it would be found.
It is believed by those who were best acquainted with the Smith family, and most conversant with all the Gold Bible movements, that there is no foundation for the statement that their original manuscript was written by a Mr. Spaulding of Ohio. A supplement to the Gold Bible, 'The Book of Commandments,' in all probability was written by Rigdon, and he may have been aided by Spaulding's manuscripts; but the book itself is without doubt a production of the Smith family, aided by Oliver Cowdery, who was school teacher on Stafford street, an inmate of the Smith family, and identified with the whole matter. The production, as all will conclude, who have read it, or even given it a cursory review, is not that of an educated man or woman. The bungling attempt to counterfeit the style of the Scriptures; the intermixture of modern phraseology; the ignorance of chronology and geography; its utter crudeness and baldness, as a whole, stamp its character, and clearly exhibit its vulgar origin. It is a strange medley of scripture, romance, and bad composition.
The primitive design of Mrs. Smith, her husband, Jo and Cowdery, was money making; blended with which perhaps, was a desire for notoriety, to be obtained by a cheat and fraud. The idea of being the founders of a new sect was an after thought in which they were aided by others.
The projectors of the humbug, being destitute of means for carrying out their plans, a victim was selected to obviate that difficulty. Martin Harris was a farmer of Palmyra, the owner of a good farm, and an honest, worthy citizen; but especially given to religious enthusiasm, new creeds, the more extravagant the better; a monomaniac, in fact. Joseph Smith, upon whom the mantle of prophecy had fallen after the sad fate of Alvah, began to make demonstrations. He informed Harris of the great discovery, and that it had been revealed to him that he (Harris) was a chosen instrument to aid in the great work of surprising the world with a new revelation. They had hit upon the right man. He mortgaged his fine farm to pay for printing the book, assumed a grave, mysterious and unearthly deportment, and made here and there among his acquaintances solemn annunciations of the great event that was transpiring. His version of the discovery, as communicated to him by the prophet Joseph himself, is well remembered by several respectable citizens of Palmyra, to whom he made early disclosures. It was in substance as follows:
The prophet Joseph was directed by an angel where to find, by excavation, at the place afterwards called Mormon Hill, the gold plates; and was compelled by an angel, much against his will, to be interpreter of the sacred record they contained, and publish it to the world. That the plates contained a record of the ancient inhabitants of this country, ‘engraved by Mormon, the son of Nephi.' That on the top of the box containing the plates, 'a pair of large spectacles were found, the stones or glass set in which were opaque to all but the prophet.'—that ‘these belonged to Mormon, the engraver of the plates, and without them the plates could not be read.' Harris assumed that himself and Cowdery were the chosen amanuenses, and the prophet Joseph, curtained from the world and them with spectacles, read from the gold plates what they committed to paper.
Harris exhibited to an informant of the author, the manuscript title-page. On it was drawn, rudely and bunglingly, concentric circles, between, above and below which were characters, with lit-little resemblance to letters, apparently a miserable imitation of hyeroglyphics, the writer may somewhere have seen. To guard against profane curiosity, the prophet has given out that no one but himself, not even his chosen co-operators, must be permitted to see them, on pain of instant death. Harris had never seen the plates, but the glowing account of their massive richness excited other than spiritual hopes, and he, upon one occasion, got a village silversmith to help him estimate their value, taking as a basis, the prophet's accounts of their dimensions. It was a blending of the spiritual and utilitarian, that threw a shadow of doubt upon Martin's sincerity. This, and some anticipations he indulged in as to the profits that would arise from the sale of the Gold Bible, made it then, as it is now, a mooted question whether he was altogether a dupe.
The wife of Harris was a rank infidel and heretic, touching the whole thing, and decidedly opposed to her husband's participation in it. With sacrilegious hands she seized over a hundred of the manuscript pages of the new revelation, and burned or secreted them. It was arranged by Smith and family, Cowdery and Harris, not to transcribe these again, but to let so much of the new revelation drop out, as the 'evil spirit would get up a story that the second translation did not agree with the first.' A very ingenious method, surely, of guarding against the possibility that Mrs. Harris had preserved the manuscript with which they might be confronted, should they attempt an imitation of their own miserable patchwork.
The prophet did not get his lesson well upon the start, or the household of the impostors were in fault. After he had told his story, in his absence, the rest of the family made a new version of it to one of their neighbors. They showed him such a pebble as may any day be picked up on the shore of Lake Ontario—the common horn-blend—carefully wrapped in cotton and kept in a mysterious box. They said it was by looking at this stone, in a hat, the light excluded, that Joseph discovered the plates. This, it will be observed, differs materially from Joseph's story of the angel. It was the same stone the Smiths had used in money digging, and in some pretended discoveries of stolen property.
Long before the Gold Bible demonstration, the Smith family had, with some sinister object in view, whispered another fraud in the ears of the credulous. They pretended that in digging for money at Mormon Hill, they came across a chest, three by two feet in size, covered with a dark-colored stone. In the centre of the stone was a white spot about the size of a sixpence. Enlarging, the spot increased to the size of a twenty-four pound shot, and then exploded with a terrible noise. The chest vanished and all was utter darkness.
It may be safely pronounced that in no other instance have the prophets and chosen and designated of angels, been quite as calculating and worldly as were those of Stafford street, Mormon Mill, and Palmyra. The only business contract—veritable instruments in writing, that was ever executed by spiritual agents, has been preserved, and should be among the archives of the new State of Utah. It is signed by the prophet Joseph himself, and witnessed by Oliver Cowdery, an secures to Martin Harris one-half of the proceeds of the sale of the Gold Bible until he was fully reimbursed in the sum of $2,500, the cost of printing.
The after thought which has been alluded to—the enlarging of original intentions— was at the suggestion of S. Rigdon of Ohio, who made his appearance, and blended himself with the poorly devised scheme of imposture, about the time the book was issued from the press. He unworthily bore the title of a Baptist elder, but had by some previous freak, if the author is rightfully informed, forfeited his standing with that respectable religious denomination. Designing, ambitious and dishonest, under the semblance of sanctity and assumed spirituality, he was just the man for the use of the Smith household, and their half dupe and half designing abettors; and they were just the fit instruments he desired. He became at once the Hamlet or more appropritely perhaps, the Mawworm of the play.
Under the auspices of Rigdon, a new sect, the Mormons, was projected. Prophecies fell thick and fast from the lips of Joseph; old Mrs. Smith as sumed all the airs of a mother of a prophet; that particular family of Smiths were singled out and became exalted above all their legion of namesakes. The bald, clumsy cheat founds here and there an enthusiast, a monomaniac, or a knave, in and around its primitive locality to help it upon its start; and soon, like another scheme of imposture, (that had little of dignity and plausibility in it,) it had its Hegira or flight, to Kirtland, then to Nauvoo; then to a short resting place in Missouri—and then on and over the Rocky Mountains to Utah or the Salt Lake. Banks, printing offices, temples, cities, and finally a state have arisen under its auspices. Converts have multiplied to tens of thousands. In several of the countries of Europe there are preachers and organized sects of Mormons; believers in the divine mission of Joseph Smith & Co.
And here the subject must be dismissed. If it has been treated lightly—with seeming levity—it is because it will admit of no other treatment. There is no dignity about the whole thing; nothing to entitle it to mild treatment. It deserves none of the charity extended to ordinary religious fanaticism, for knavery and fraud has been with it incipiently and progressively. It has not the poor merit of ingenuity. Its success is a slur upon the age. Fanaticism promoted it at first; then ill-advised persecution; then the designs of demagogues who wished to command the suffrages of its followers; until finally an American Congress has abetted the fraud and imposition by its acts, and we are to have a State of our proud Union—in this boasted era of light and knowledge—the very name of which will sanction and dignify the fraud and falsehood of Mormon Hill, the gold plates and the spurious revelation. This much, at least, might have been omitted out of decent respect to the moral and religious sense of the people of the old States.
* Here the author remembers to have first seen the family, in the Winter of '19 and '20, in a rude log house, with but a small spot of underbrush around it.
To soften the use of such an expression the reader should be reminded that apprentices in printing offices have since the days of Faust and Gottenburgh, been thus called, and sometimes it was not inappropriate.
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