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Daniel Peterson

The Shiftless, Lazy, Lying Smith Family

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On a rather venomous evangelical "countercult" discussion board that I look in on every few weeks, one of the posters declares that Mormonism can be explained as part of an effort by the Smith family to evade work.

Apparently both dishonesty and sloth ran in the Smith family's veins (in Emma's too, which is something of a genetic miracle).

I immediately thought of an article that I wrote quite some time ago: â??Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?â? Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, September 1993 Update. Reprinted in John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s (Provo: FARMS, 1999), 285-288.

Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?

The character and claims of Joseph Smith are fundamental to the claims of the Church he founded. Knowing this, critics of the Prophet have contended for more than a century and a half that he and his family were the kind of people from whom nobody would want to buy a used car, much less receive a plan of salvation.

The original anti-Mormon book, Eber D. Howeâ??s 1834 Mormonism Unvailed (sic), featured affidavits gathered from former Smith neighbors by the excommunicated and bitter Philastus Hurlbut describing the Prophetâ??s family as, among many other derogatory things, "lazy" and "indolent." Joseph Capron, for example, declared that the Smithsâ?? "great object appeared to be, to live without work." "It was a mystery to their neighbors," said David Stafford, "how they got their living."1

Over the past several decades, Mormon scholars have subjected these affidavits and other such alleged "reminiscences" to sharp criticism.2 Nevertheless, these early documents have remained an anti-Mormon treasure trove to which generations of critics have turned and returned for years.

However, in a path-breaking article just recently published, Donald L. Enders, a senior curator at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, presents hard evidence that deals a serious blow to the credibility of the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits.3 Working from land and tax records, farm account books and related correspondence, soil surveys, horticultural studies, surveys of historic buildings, archaeological reports, and interviews with agricultural historians and other specialistsâ??sources not generally used by scholars of Mormon originsâ??Enders concludes that, on questions of testable fact, the affidavits cannot be trusted.

The Smithâ??s farming techniques, it seems, were virtually a textbook illustration of the best recommendations of the day, showing them to have been, by contemporary standards, intelligent, skilled, and responsible people. And they were very hard working. To create their farm, for instance, the Smiths moved many tons of rock and cut down about 6,000 trees, a large percentage of which were one hundred feet or more in height and from four to six feet in diameter. Then they fenced their property, which required cutting at least six or seven thousand ten-foot rails. They did an enormous amount of work before they were able even to begin actual daily farming.

Furthermore, in order to pay for their farm, the Smiths were obliged to hire themselves out as day-laborers. Throughout the surrounding area, they dug and rocked up wells and cisterns, mowed, harvested, made cider and barrels and chairs and brooms and baskets, taught school, dug for salt, worked as carpenters and domestics, built stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, washed clothes, sold garden produce, painted chairs and oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, and hauled stone. And, along the way, they produced between one thousand and seven thousand pounds of maple sugar annually. "Laziness" and "indolence" are difficult to detect in the Smith family.

What resulted from the Smithsâ?? hard work? The 1830 tax records for Manchester Township appraise the familyâ??s holdings at the average level per acre for farms in the vicinity. Of the ten farms owned by the Staffords, Stoddards, Chases, and Capronsâ??residents of the neighborhood who affixed their signatures prominently to affidavits denigrating the Prophetâ??s familyâ??only one was assessed as more valuable per acre than the Smithsâ??. The others received lower appraisalsâ??and, in some cases, significantly lower ones.

The conclusion to be drawn? If the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits cannot be trusted on matters that can be quantified and tested, there seems little reason to trust their judgments in the less tangible matter of character. Clearly, they reflect religious hostility and perhaps envy from their less successful neighbors. As the Prophetâ??s brother William expressed it, "We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable til then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in wonderful ways."4

Notes

1. E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834), 262, 260, 249.

2. See, for example, Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Joseph Smithâ??s New York Reputation Reappraised," BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 283-314.

3. "The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee," in Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 213-25.

4. Deseret Evening News, 20 January 1894, p. 11; compare the verdict of Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1984), 190.

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On a rather venomous evangelical "countercult" discussion board that I look in on every few weeks, one of the posters declares that Mormonism can be explained as part of an effort by the Smith family to evade work.

Apparently both dishonesty and sloth ran in the Smith family's veins (in Emma's too, which is something of a genetic miracle).

I immediately thought of an article that I wrote quite some time ago: â??Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?â? Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, September 1993 Update. Reprinted in John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s (Provo: FARMS, 1999), 285-288.

I can understand how a non believer could believe that they were dishonest. Lazy though? That is just absurd. No lazy person accomplishes a fraction of what Joseph Smith did in his short life time.

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I can see how a lazy person could write a 500 page book... :P

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I know this may be off topic, and I may have no right to weigh in here, so I guess I'll start off with "I'm sorry."

I've read a few bios of Joseph Smith, and the best I can come up with is, "inconclusive." It's not my intent to hijack your thread, but you've got me thinking...you've got to question the utility of going into Smith's history and the origins of the LDS Church to see if it yields any credibility, primarily for the Book of Mormon.

I'm kind of a collector of anti-Mormon propaganda; I tend to like the stuff I find the most offensive and therefore most entertaining. Take for instance the South Park version of the Joseph Smith story, titled "All about The Mormons". http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&...hl=en&emb=0 . The story, as they portray it, seems completely nutty--like a complete and utter dupe. Nevertheless, in terms of the cold, hard facts, it's at least more accurate than you'd expect it to be.

So what am I getting at? I'm saying the origins of the Church sound absolutely absurd, perhaps disturbing, to any rationally-minded person. And you can't blame them. The reason I believe such a wacky story is because the Book of Mormon itself, together with his other revelations and sermons, informs my belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet and a righteous man. Without the Book of Mormon, he's WAY too easy to dismiss. However--with it--if people would read it sincerely and not with a mind to discredit it, Smith all of the sudden becomes very difficult to dismiss.

Thus, instead of pedalling a JS story with numerous half-truths to non-believers (I think these stories are wonderful for Mormons; I cried like a baby at the JS movie and get at least teary over the Work and the Glory trilogy...but these are both watered down to the point of being firmly in the category of fiction. I think they're good for "culture-building", but they serve as poor conversion tools), we need to say, "Here's a book. Read it, think about it, ponder over it, soak it in, pray about it, and apply its teachings (according to Alma 32). The promise is that those who truly believe in the Bible will believe in the Book of Mormon also. I truly believe that (at least if people can put the anti-literature on hold for a while), and it's a gamble I'm willing to take on others.

I don't believe anybody can properly tackle the history of Joseph Smith and the Church without first believing in the Book of Mormon. Therefore, I believe the Book of Mormon, and your testimony of it, must inform your testimony of Joseph Smith...and not the other way around. While the Joseph Smith story is seemingly absurd; the Book of Mormon is simply phenomenal....Often those non-believing scholars who do pick it up can't quite wrap their heads around its peculiarities. In fact, I believe the Book of Mormon, when set against the Joseph Smith story, only confirms the truth of both (that a book so theoretically sound and consistent could be borne of something so outrageous). It's a paradox of sorts, and God and the gospel are rife with paradox as well. But we need to get the order right. It's the Book of Mormon that will silence our critics in the end, not Joseph Smith.

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I can see how a lazy person could write a 500 page book... :P

Me too. Especially since this lazy person was a super genius on par with Einstein.

Wait, er, now I am confused. ;)

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It's the Book of Mormon that will silence our critics in the end, not Joseph Smith.

I agree. Any Tom, **** or Harry can claim to be a Prophet, but what do they have to show for it? Joseph Smith offered the Book of Mormon. That is the first thing critics are going to have to go through. (That and the Witnesses, IMO.)

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I agree. Any Tom, **** or Harry can claim to be a Prophet, but what do they have to show for it? Joseph Smith offered the Book of Mormon. That is the first thing critics are going to have to go through. (That and the Witnesses, IMO.)

I have an odd testimony in that the Doctrine and Covenants not the Book of Mormon is what really built my testimony about the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. I always liked the Book of Mormon and prayed about it...but it never made me really believe in a Prophet like section 76, section 88 or section 136 of the D&C. In reading these sections, I really felt that the spirit touched my mind and heart.

Sparty

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On a rather venomous evangelical "countercult" discussion board that I look in on every few weeks, one of the posters declares that Mormonism can be explained as part of an effort by the Smith family to evade work.

Apparently both dishonesty and sloth ran in the Smith family's veins (in Emma's too, which is something of a genetic miracle).

I immediately thought of an article that I wrote quite some time ago: â??Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?â? Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, September 1993 Update. Reprinted in John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s (Provo: FARMS, 1999), 285-288.

Wonderful piece, and it is short enough that noone has the excuse to not read it. Thank you!

By the way, a few months ago (probably over a year ago) I read an article of yours that I believe was an editor's introduction in which you broadly addressed the various naturalistic theories that have enjoyed seasons of popularity throughout the years. I would like to read it again, and I also want to recommend it to a friend (a TBM friend). Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it anymore. I don't remember which issue it was in. In fact, I might be completely mistaken about the venue in which it was published, but I'm confident that you were the author.

Does this article ring a bell?

Thanks.

James

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I'm kind of a collector of anti-Mormon propaganda; I tend to like the stuff I find the most offensive and therefore most entertaining. Take for instance the South Park version of the Joseph Smith story, titled "All about The Mormons". http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&...hl=en&emb=0 . The story, as they portray it, seems completely nutty--like a complete and utter dupe. Nevertheless, in terms of the cold, hard facts, it's at least more accurate than you'd expect it to be.

They got a lot of facts right but the one they got egregiously wrong is the one they kept repeating over and over to the refrain of "Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb."

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They got a lot of facts right but the one they got egregiously wrong is the one they kept repeating over and over to the refrain of "Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb."

Ahh, yes. Touche.

There's a dark side to me that really enjoys that kind of tripe.

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I can understand how a non believer could believe that they were dishonest. Lazy though? That is just absurd. No lazy person accomplishes a fraction of what Joseph Smith did in his short life time.

Could not say it better...so I won't. Amen!

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By the way, a few months ago (probably over a year ago) I read an article of yours that I believe was an editor's introduction in which you broadly addressed the various naturalistic theories that have enjoyed seasons of popularity throughout the years. I would like to read it again, and I also want to recommend it to a friend (a TBM friend). Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it anymore. I don't remember which issue it was in. In fact, I might be completely mistaken about the venue in which it was published, but I'm confident that you were the author.

Does this article ring a bell?

That would be my Editor's Introduction to FARMS Review 16/2, "'In the Hope That Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for the Book of Mormon." It's available on line at

http://farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?...um=2&id=544

It's a bit of a sketch, something that I've wanted to return to and to flesh out more. But I haven't yet gotten around to doing so.

It's the Book of Mormon that will silence our critics in the end, not Joseph Smith.

I don't believe that I disagree. Although, as Sparty points out, for some it may be a different aspect of the revelations, doctrines, and scriptural writings that he produced that will be most compelling.

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On a rather venomous evangelical "countercult" discussion board that I look in on every few weeks, one of the posters declares that Mormonism can be explained as part of an effort by the Smith family to evade work.

Apparently both dishonesty and sloth ran in the Smith family's veins (in Emma's too, which is something of a genetic miracle).

I immediately thought of an article that I wrote quite some time ago: â??Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?â? Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, September 1993 Update. Reprinted in John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s (Provo: FARMS, 1999), 285-288.

It's been a few years since I read it, but I seem to recall Bushman relying on the affidavits from "Mormonism Unveiled" quite a bit in RSR. Did you have any reservations about this book being used as a source?

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instead of pedalling a JS story with numerous half-truths to non-believers
Not sure what you are concerned about here, perhaps a few details to flesh it out...?

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It's been a few years since I read it, but I seem to recall Bushman relying on the affidavits from "Mormonism Unveiled" quite a bit in RSR. Did you have any reservations about this book being used as a source?

IIRC, Bushman used those sources to provide a historical context for the reaction of Joseph Smith's claims by his neighbors and to provide a framework for the different responses to the Church.

It goes along with what William Smith, IIRC, said. Before his visions and revelations, Joseph Smith and his family were well respected in the community. It was after he started claiming divine manifestations that the neighbors got all indignant and scandalized against the Smiths.

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Found this quote today...

"On Sunday I attended one of their meetings, in front of the Temple, now building, and one of the largest buildings in the State. There could not have been less than 2,500 people present, and as well appearing as any number that could be found in the State. Mr. Smith preached in the morning, and one could have readily learned then the magic by which he built up this Society, because as we say in Illinois "they believed in him" and in his honesty". Correspondent to the Juliet Courier, June 1841

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Wonderful piece, and it is short enough that noone has the excuse to not read it. Thank you!

Fine, then! I'll go back and read it.

:P

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And they were very hard working. To create their farm, for instance, the Smiths moved many tons of rock and cut down about 6,000 trees, a large percentage of which were one hundred feet or more in height and from four to six feet in diameter. Then they fenced their property, which required cutting at least six or seven thousand ten-foot rails.

Great. Now you've provided ammo for the environmentalists to discredit Joseph Smith. :P

Nice article, BTW.

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What about the Deming interviews? Roger Anderson has written an interesting piece on this issue

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Richard Lloyd Anderson discusses Roger Anderson's treatment of the Deming materials in "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined," in FARMS Review 3/1 (1991):

http://farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?...num=1&id=56

Still, according to certain critics, Richard's essay is nothing more than typical FARMS Review mudslinging, name-calling, and character assassination. So beware.

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JSH 1:33 He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me,

and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do;

and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues,

or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.

Among All people?

How could this be?

Prophetic I say!

and so it is today...

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Found this quote today...

"On Sunday I attended one of their meetings, in front of the Temple, now building, and one of the largest buildings in the State. There could not have been less than 2,500 people present, and as well appearing as any number that could be found in the State. Mr. Smith preached in the morning, and one could have readily learned then the magic by which he built up this Society, because as we say in Illinois "they believed in him" and in his honesty". Correspondent to the Juliet Courier, June 1841

How did you find this?

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choose who you will believe, and be prepared the outcome.

John Taylor knew him well, he saw him while he lived and he saw him die.

###############

I have not come here to answer nor to reply to stories. Somebody has heard another say, that they were informed that a gentleman, whom their neighbor knew, was acquainted with a lady who had a cousin, who heard it reported that there were a number of stories about the plates, Book of Mormon, etc. And I am expected to answer to this nonsense? Gentlemen, it is too ridiculous; and, upon the whole, I would remark, that the gentlemen are now, or ought to be, examining the character of Joseph Smith. When they take up the subject of the Book of Mormon, I am prepared to go into that subject with them, but I wish not to confound the two together.

He asks me if I believe that people will be damned if they do not believe Joseph Smith's words. If I did not believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, I should not have been here. If he was a true prophet, and spake the word of the Lord, that is just as binding on the human family as any other word spoken by any other prophet. The scriptures tell us that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." As my time, however, is nearly closed, I would just remark, that it is strange that so ignorant a man, as Mr. Cater represents Joseph Smith to be, should be enabled by sheer cunning to get up a book that Mr. Cater cannot gainsay, nor prove anything unscriptural in, nor all the divines of this age, although many have tried. It is also strange that he should invent a delusion that should introduce the fullness of the gospel as it existed in former days, when all the theologians of this age, with all their literary attainments, cannot produce a correct system. I am at the defiance of these gentlemen, or the world, to prove from the scriptures an incorrect doctrine in it; yet it was this so-called ignorant man who revealed it. Why do these gentlemen not try it?

Mr. Smith is called a wicked man. Can an impure fountain send forth pure streams? or a bad tree bring forth good fruit? Gentlemen, I again say that Joseph Smith was a virtuous, high-minded, honorable man, a gentleman and a christian; but he introduced principles which strike at the root of the corrupt systems of men. This necessarily comes in contact with their prepossessions, prejudices, and interests; and as they cannot overturn his principles, they attack his character; and that is one reason why we have so many books written against his character, without touching his principles, and also why we meet with so much opposition. But truth, eternal truth, is invulnerable; it cannot be destroyed, but like the throne of Jehovah, it will outride all the storms of men, and live forever. . . .

I testify that I was acquainted with Joseph Smith for years. I have travelled with him; I have been with him in private and in public; I have associated with him in councils of all kinds; I have listened hundreds of times to his public teachings, and his advice to his friends and associates of a more private nature. I have been at his house and seen his deportment in his family. I have seen him arraigned before the tribunals of his country, and seen him honorably acquitted, and delivered from the pernicious breath of slander, and the machinations and falsehoods of wicked and corrupt men. I was with him living, and with him when he died, when he was murdered in Carthage gaol by a ruthless mob, headed by a Methodist minister, named Williams, with their faces painted. I was there and was myself wounded; I at that time received four balls in my body. I have seen him, then, under these various circumstances, and I testify before God, angels, and men, that he was a good, honorable, virtuous man--that his doctrines were good, scriptural, and wholesome--that his precepts were such as became a man of God--that his private and public character was unimpeachable--and that he lived and died as a man of God and a gentleman. This is my testimony; if it is disputed, bring me a person authorized to receive an affidavit, and I will make one to this effect. . . .

John Taylor

###################

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DCP, do you ever think that somewhere in Mormonthinkland that Richard Anderson might have got it wrong? I understand that the Kelly Brothers (RLDS) collection was rather lacking in detail whereas Demming's was more methodiccal. By the way some statements mention the Smith family and drinking. I have seen a photocopy of an account book of a Palmyra storekeeper which has him paying the Smiths for hoeing and the Smith's purchasing cider liquer. Strange behaviour for a family that was suposed to be poor. BTW your comments about Richard Anderson seem pointless. I don't accept the LDS church as God's true church so I do not need to nail down every negative detail about Smith. I am just interested if it may or may not be true. If not no big deal. There is plenty of other material to assess Smith's legitimacy.

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[...] the Smith's purchasing cider liquer. Strange behaviour for a family that was suposed to be poor. [...]

I don't know that it's all that strange for a poor family. Unless human nature has changed substantially over the last 150 years, I tend to notice an increase in liquor stores in less affluent neighborhoods. I very much doubt that the companies that produce such drinks as Steel Reserve stay in business because of rich people.

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