Home Page  Christian Articles  JW Articles  LDS  Series  Catholic  SDA  Contact  Donation Page

LDS (Mormon) Golden Plates Stories — Rich Kelsey



Disturbing Early Versions of

The Golden Plates Accounts:



Every Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) is aware of Joseph Smith's claim that he discovered golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. But, how many know of accounts of the gold plates story which mention Smith first discovered the plates with a seer stone?


Here is one example:


"These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.
'Joseph had before this described the manner of his finding the plates. He found them by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing.'" (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163)
(Four more examples)


American folklore:


The Golden Plates exhibited many of the same qualities as stories of buried treasure from early American folklore.


On this subject, Joseph Smith’s Mother Lucy Smith wrote:


“In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness, and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him. Having some further conversation with the angel on this occasion, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, when he beheld the plates as he had done before. He immediately reached forth his hand to take them, but instead of getting them, as he anticipated, he was hurled back upon the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house weeping for grief and disappointment.” (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 347)


Joseph Smith's neighbor Willard Chase substantiated Lucy's account:


"... he [Joseph Smith] again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he enquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders. He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them." (MORMONISM, p.242)

Joseph Smith's neighbor Fayette Lapham gave a similar account, adding more details:


"Taking up the first article, he saw others below; laying down the first, he endeavored to secure the others; but, before he could get hold of them, the one he had taken up slid back to the place he had taken it from, and, to his great surprize and terror, the rock immediately fell back to its former place, nearly crushing him in its descent. His first thought was that he had not properly secured the rock when it was turned up, and accordingly he again tried to lift it, but now in vain; he next tried with the aid of levers, but still without success. While thus engaged, he felt something strike him on the breast, which was repeated the third time, always with increased force, the last such as to lay him upon his back. As he lay there, he looked up and saw the same large man that had appeared in his dream, dressed in the same clothes. He said to him that, when the treasure was deposited there, he was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since.

He said to him that he had not followed his directions; and, in consequence of laying the article down before putting it in the napkin, he could not have the article now; but that if he would come again, one year from that time, he could then have them. The year passed over before Joseph was aware of it, so time passed by; but he went to the place of deposit, where the same man appeared again, and said he had not been punctual in following his directions, and, in consequence, he could not have the article yet. Joseph asked when he could have them; and the answer was, 'Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.' During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died; but, at the end of the year, Joseph repaired to the place again, and was told by the man who still guarded the treasure, that, inasmuch as he could not bring his oldest brother, he could not have the treasure yet." (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, pp. 307-308)

Fayette Lapham had heard the story directly from the father of Joseph Smith in 1830. Not only does Lapham's account agree on many details with the other early versions: Knight, Lucy Smith, as well as Chase; it tells us how the treasure [golden plates] came to be under [Moroni's] charge. And, bringing the right person, in early versions of the gold plates stories, was the central theme.

Joseph Smith's close friend Joseph Knight’s wrote:


● He took hold of the book, but this time he could not move it.
● Smith asked, “Why..?”
● He was answered, “You can’t have it now.”
● Smith asked, “When can I have it.”
● He was answered, “The 22nd day of next September if you bring the right person.”
“Joseph says, ‘Who is the right person?’”
“The answer was, ‘Your oldest Brother.’”
“But before September came his oldest Brother died.”
(BYU Studies, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Dean Jessee, 1976)


A BYU Apologist Explains:


"Chase's recollection of what Joseph Smith, Sr., told him and the history by Knight both have a folklore tone to them. They both relate that Joseph must secure the plates on a certain day, 22 September; that he must take the book and "go directly away"; that for disobeying the orders he was prevented from obtaining the book; that the book appeared, disappeared, and reappeared after he violated orders by laying it down; that he subsequently had to bring the right person with him to secure the record, first his brother and then his wife; and that a stone or glass was effective in helping him secure the record at last.


That the Chase account appears in a collection of testimonials published by an anti-Mormon while the Knight narrative comes from a faithful Latter-day Saint whose statement was not published until very recently suggests that the anti-Mormon material cannot be lightly dismissed because of its origin. The anti-Mormon statements have to be checked against what is admitted by the Mormons themselves. Willard Chase very likely heard his story from Joseph Smith, Sr., as he reported this is further evidenced by an independent account published by Fayette Lapham in 1870 of an earlier interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., as to the origin of the golden plates. This report corresponds closely in some respects to what Knight and Chase recounted." (Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion, Marvin S. Hill, BYU Studies, p. 479)



As mentioned, Knight's record also corresponds with what Fayette Lapham wrote:

"Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.' During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died" (Fayette Lapham, Interview with Smith Sr. — see entire account)


Testing the Spirits:


According to the Bible, God knows,


“the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10)

Smith’s oldest brother Alvin died 10 months before,


"the 22nd day of next September."

If the spirit watching over the golden plates really was an,

"angel of the Lord,"

the angel should have known that Alvin could not possibly accompany Joseph to the Hill Cumorah the following year. Therefore, if an actual spirit did appear to Smith, what are the odds it was a messenger from God? One would think that after Alvin died, Smith himself would have realized that he was merely dealing with an evil spirit, once again. Alvin’s death over this period of time is no doubt one of the reasons early accounts of obtaining the golden plates are unknown to most LDS Church members. Knowledge of versions mentioning Alvin as the right person to bring, would certainly hinder those trying to maintain faith in the LDS Church.

Spirits of Dead Men Guarding Treasure:


Joseph Smith's father told Fayette Lapham about the dead man guarding the golden plates:

"He said to him [Joseph Smith jr.] that, when the treasure was deposited there, he was sworn to take charge of and protect that property, until the time should arrive for it to be exhibited to the world of mankind; and, in order to prevent his making an improper disclosure, he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since." (HISTORICAL MAGAZINE, 1870, p. 307)

This was the same type of yarn which was recorded in Joseph Smith's 1826 Glass Looking Trial:


"… he [Joseph Smith] discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed." (1826 Glass Looking Trial, Jonathan Thompson testimony, Tuttle account)


Obviously, a dead Indian was not guarding a trunk of treasure back in 1825; today we call such tales early American folklore. Early versions of Joseph Smith's golden plates stories are along similar lines. Here is one more example:

"He said that by a dream he was informed that at such a place in a certain hill, in an iron box, were some gold plates with curious engravings, which he must get and translate, and write a book; that the plates were to be kept concealed from every human being for a certain time, some two or three years; that he went to the place and dug till he came to the stone that covered the box, when he was knocked down; that he again attempted to remove the stone, and was again knocked down; this attempt was made the third time, and the third time he was knocked down. Then he exclaimed, 'Why can't I get it?' or words to that effect; and then he saw a man standing over the spot, which to him appeared like a Spaniard, having a long beard coming down over his breast to about here. (Smith putting his hand to the pit of his stomach) with his (the ghost's) throat cut from ear to ear, and the blood streaming down, who told him that he could not get it alone; that another person whom he, Smith, would know at first sight, must come with him, and then he could get it." (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)

That last quote was from Joseph and Hiel Lewis, who were neighbors of Joseph Smith and sons of the Rev. Nathaniel Lewis. Their account matches elements in the story Smith's mother told, it matches what Smith's father said, and what other relatives, neighbors and associates recounted back in the day. Yet, it doesn't come close to matching accounts of Moroni's visits with Joseph Smith published by the LDS Church today; and for good reason. If Joseph Smith's real history were ever made known, millions of Latter-Day Saints would abandon the faith.


The Truth:


Joseph Smith Jr. took some of the common folklore of his day and incorporated it into his own stories:




 Peter Ingersoll, who was a neighbor of the Smith's, described a visit with the Smith family in 1822; already there is mention of,


"... a book found, in a hollow tree, that gave an account of the first settlement of this country before it was discovered by Columbus." (Testimony of Peter Ingersoll)


Yet, this is a book that someone else supposedly found in Canada; Peter Ingersoll also described a story Smith's father told of a cave with treasure in it, chest's of gold, and, he spoke of Smith's father looking into a hat with a stone in it to look for buried treasure. Several years later, all of these details became part of the golden plate's story / myth; then, it was given spiritual meaning. 


The sons of Rev. Nathaniel Lewis explained:


[In the early stories] "... there was not one word about 'visions of God,' or of angels, or heavenly revelations. All his [Joseph Smith's] information was by that dream, and that bleeding ghost. The heavenly visions and messages of angels, etc, contained in Mormon books, were after-thoughts, revised to order." (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1)





Full LDS Series Index





TESTIMONY OF ABIGAIL HARRIS: (a sister in law of Martin Harris)


"Palmyra, Wayne Co. N. Y. 11th mo. 28th, 1833.
In the early part of the winter in 1828, I made a visit to Martin Harris and was joined in company by Jos. Smith, sen. and his wife. The Gold Bible business, so called, was the topic of conversation, to which I paid particular attention that I might learn the truth of the whole matter.--They told me that the report that Joseph, jun. had found golden plates, was true, and that he was in Harmony, Pa. translating them--that such plates were in existence, and that Joseph, jun. was to obtain them, was revealed to him by the spirit of one or the Saints that was on this continent, previous to its being discovered by Columbus. Old Mrs. Smith observed that she thought he must be a Quaker, as he was dressed very plain.

They said that the plates he then had in possession were but an introduction to the Gold Bible--that all of them upon which the bible was written, were so heavy that it would take four stout men to load them into a cart--that Joseph had also discovered by looking through his stone, the vessel in which the gold was melted from which the plates were made, and also the machine with which they were rolled; he also discovered in the bottom of the vessel three balls of gold, each as large as his fist."  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book)


More accounts of Smith using a seer stone to see the buried golden plates, and/or what was with them:  


•  "Hosea Stout, who believed in the Prophet, said that the gold plates were found by means of a seer stone."  (Juanita Brooks, (ed.), On the Mormon Frontier. The Journal of Hosea Stout (2 vols.; Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 1964), II, 593. see the entry of 25 February 1856.  From the article: Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties by Marvin S. Hill BYU Studies Vol 12, Winter '72, p. 223-234, )


•  "... Joseph believed that one Samuel T. Lawrence was the man alluded to by the spirit, and went with him to a singular looking hill, in Manchester, and shewed him where the treasure was. Lawrence asked him if he had ever discovered any thing with the plates of gold; he said no: he then asked him to look in his stone, to see if there was any thing with them. He looked, and said there was nothing; he told him to look again, and see if there was not a large pair of specks with the plates; he looked and soon saw a pair of spectacles, the same with which Joseph says he translated the Book of Mormon."  (TESTIMONY  OF  WILLARD CHASE, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, p. 243)


•  "I had a conversation with him, [Joseph Smith] and asked him where he found them and how he come to know where they were. He said he had a revelation from God that told him they were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his stone and saw them in the place of deposit." (TESTIMONY  OF  HENRY HARRIS, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, p. 251)


A LDS (Mormon) Apologist Explains:


•  "Chase's recollection of what Joseph Smith, Sr., told him and the history by Knight both have a folklore tone to them. They both relate that Joseph must secure the plates on a certain day, 22 September; ... and that a stone or glass was effective in helping him secure the record at last." (Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion, Marvin S. Hill, BYU Studies, p. 479) (see entire quote)


Following is an introduction to the gold plates account by Fayette Lapham:




Vol. VIII. May, 1870. No. 5.


His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates.


I think it was in the year 1830, I heard that some ancient records had been discovered that would throw some new light upon the subject of religion; being deeply interested in the matter, I concluded to go to the place and learn for myself the truth of the matter.


Accompanied by a friend, Jacob Ramsdell, I set out to find the Smith family, then residing some three or four miles South of the village of Palmyra, Wayne-County, New York, and near the line of the town of Manchester. Joseph, Junior, afterwards so well known, not being at home, we applied to his father for the information we wanted. This Joseph Smith, Senior, we soon learned, from his own lips, was a firm believer in witchcraft and other supernatural things; and had brought up his family in the same belief. He also believed that there was a vast amount of money buried somewhere in the country; that it would some day be found; that he himself had spent both time and money searching for it, with divining rods, but had not succeeded in finding any, though sure that he eventually would.

In reply to our question, concerning the ancient records that had been found, he remarked that they had suffered a great deal of persecution on account of them; that many had been there for that purpose, and had made evil reports of them, intimating that perhaps we had come for a like purpose; but, becoming satisfied of our good intentions and that we only sought correct information, he gave us the following history, as near as I can repeat his words:

His son Joseph, whom he called the illiterate, when about fourteen years of age, happened to be where a man was looking into a dark stone and telling people, therefrom, where to dig for money and other things. Joseph requested the privilege of looking into the stone, which he did by putting his face into the hat where the stone was. It proved to be not the right stone for him; but he could see some things, and, among them, he saw the stone, and where it was, in which he could see whatever he wished to see. Smith claims and believes that there is a stone of this quality, somewhere, for every one. The place where he saw the stone was not far from their house; and, under pretence of digging a well, they found water and the stone at a depth of twenty or twenty-two feet.
After this, Joseph spent about two years looking into this stone, telling fortunes, where to find lost things, and where to dig for money and other hidden treasure(Historical Magazine, p.p. 305-307)


gold plates, golden, joseph smith, mormon, lds, accounts, story, stories