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Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts

Rich Kelsey





John Andreas Widtsoe, (1872-1952) member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said, 


"Carefully examined, the charges against the Smith family and Joseph Smith, the boy and young man, fail to be proved. There is no acceptable evidence to support them, only gossip, and deliberate misrepresentation. The Smith family were poor but honest, hard-working, and religious people. Joseph Smith was not a money digger, nor did he deceive people with peepstone claims. It is almost beyond belief that writers who value their reputations, would reproduce these silly and untrue charges. It suggests that they may have set out to destroy 'Mormonism,' rather than to detail true history." (The Improvement Era, John A. Widtsoe, "What Manner of Boy and Youth Was Joseph Smith?", August, 1946)





Unknown Details - The Real Golden Plates Story:


Every Latter-Day Saint 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 golden plates story which mention that Joseph 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.


Here Mr. Harris seemed to wander from the subject, when we requested him to continue and tell what Joseph then said. He replied, '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)


And, how many are aware that Joseph Smith looked in his "glass" to discover who the right person was to bring with him to obtain the gold plates?


"Joseph says, 'who is the right Person?' The answer was you will know. Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale..." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)


Then, after Joseph obtained the golden plates he was able to see another person who would assist him by looking into a pair of spectacles:


"He [the angel] told him to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163)


The above quotes are early accounts of the rise of Mormonism taken from none other than one of the Book of Mormon's Three Witnesses: Martin Harris; and, Joseph Knight who assisted with Joseph Smith's needs in the mid to late 1820s.  These two men were Smith's close associates, who became early members in the Church and were trying to bolster Smith's image as a man with a gift.  


Glass Looking and Treasure Seeking:            


On September 22nd 1827, Joseph Smith borrowed Joseph Knight's carriage to go and obtain the plates; Josiah Stowell was also at the Smith's house that day; Martin Harris explains why:


"Mr. Stowel [Stowell] was at this time at old Mr. Smith’s, digging for money." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163) 


Was it only a coincidence that September 22, 1827 occurred on the autumnal equinox, a date with astrological and magical significance!  Perhaps Josiah Stowell was at the Smith home that day to get Joseph's advice on where to dig for treasure?


One thing is certain: Joseph Smith's father spoke[1] of his son's wonderful power:


"He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures…” (1826 Trial, Purple account, Joseph Smith Sr. testimony) 


His mother spoke of her son's ability to

"discern things invisible to the natural eye."[2] 

Their accounts have to do with a money digging venture involving Josiah Stowell in 1825:


“Josiah Stowell wanted Joseph to help him in his quest to find treasure in an ancient silver mine. Joseph was reluctant, but Stowell persuaded Joseph to come by offering high wages.” (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Volume 4, Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2002, p. 252)


A few of Stowell's sons who became disillusioned with Smith’s influence over their father were partly responsible for Mrs. Stowell's nephew Peter Bridgeman bringing criminal charges against Smith. In 1826 Smith was brought to court on Bridgeman's complaint of Smith being a disorderly person and an imposter; Bridgeman felt Smith was cheating his uncle out of his money.  Yet, during that hearing Josiah Stowell spoke highly of Smith's gift: 


   Josiah Stowell said “…that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone… that he had been in company with prisoner digging for gold and had the most implicit faith in prisoner's skill.” (1826 TrialTuttle account)


   Stowell also said, “that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed, and declared he could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth…” (1826 TrialPurple account)

Isaac Hale had his own perspective on this 1825 moneydigging venture:


"I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825. He was at that time in the employ of a set of men who were called 'money diggers;' and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasure. His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man -- not very well educated, and very saucy and insolent to his father. Smith, and his father, with several other 'money-diggers' boarded at my house while they were employed in digging for a mine that they supposed had been opened and worked by the Spaniards, many years since. Young Smith gave the 'money-diggers' great encouragement, at first, but when they had arrived in digging, to near the place where he had stated an immense treasure would be found -- he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see." (TESTIMONY  OF  ISAAC HALE, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, p.262-263)


The 1826 Court record made it clear that the treasure sought by the money diggers was being watched over by a dead Indian:


“… 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)


The words,

 “as he supposed,”

are noteworthy!  They give us a glimpse into Smith’s mindset.  Joseph Smith was caught up in the understanding that a dead man, who was now a spirit, could keep watch over buried treasure.  This was during the same time period when the spirit of another dead man was watching over the golden plates.  And, it is similar to an account of the golden plates story published by Fayette Lapham in 1870 of an earlier interview with Joseph Smith, Sr., about the golden plates; which maintains that the person guarding the "treasure" appeared to Joseph Smith in bloody clothes, and told him,


"... he was murdered or slain on the spot and the treasure had been under his charge ever since." (Money-Digging Folklore and the Beginnings of Mormonism: An Interpretive Suggestion, Marvin S. Hill, BYU Studies, p. 480)


Enchantments and Bleeding Ghosts:


"The statement that the prophet Joseph Smith, jr. made in our hearing, at the commencement of his translating his book, in Harmony, as to the manner of his finding the plates, was as follows.
Our recollection of the precise language may be faulty, but as to the substance, the following is correct:
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. And when Smith saw Miss Emma Hale, he knew that she was the person, and that after they were married, she went with him to near the place, and stood with her back toward him, while he dug up the box, which he rolled up in his frock, and she helped carry it home. ... All his 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, Amboy, Illinois, Wednesday, April 30, 1879, page 1.)   (See entire account)


"I, [Lewis] with Joshua McKune, a local preacher at that time, I think in June, 1828, heard on Saturday, that Joe Smith had joined the [Methodist] church on Wednesday afternoon, (as it was customary in those days to have circuit preaching at my father's house on week-day). We thought it was a disgrace to the church to have a practicing necromancer, a dealer in enchantments and bleeding ghosts, in it..."  (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, p.1) (See entire account)


"Alva Hale [Emma’s brother] says: 'Joe Smith never handled one shovel full of earth in those diggings. All that Smith did was to peep with stone and hat, and give directions where and how to dig, and when and where the enchantment moved the treasure.'" (Joseph Lewis, Emma Smith’s cousin, "Review of Mormonism: Rejoinder to Elder Cadwell," Amboy Journal (IL), June 11, 1879 (see page on enchantment)



Folklore Associated With Buried Treasure:


"It was reported by these money-diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth. A candid old Presbyterian told me, that on the Susquehannah flats he dug down to an iron chest, that he scraped the dirt off with his shovel, but had nothing with him to open the chest; that he went away to get help, and when they came to it, it moved away two or three rods into the earth, and they could not get it." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris)




"Thompson went on to say, 'Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. …Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness… making a circuit around the spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them... but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.'" (Dr. William Purple’s account of the 1826 trial — Greene, April 28, 1877)


Another point of interest:


"When the Manchester treasure seekers came looking for the plates, they brought divining rods and seer stones to assist them—the same kind of objects Joseph, and later Oliver, used to receive revelation."  ('I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God': Joseph Smith's Account of the Angel and the Plates, Larry R. Morris, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005).


Some may wonder why the Manchester treasure seekers came looking for the plates.  The answer: They wanted their share of the treasure.  Joseph had belonged to the group and entered into an agreement which stipulated that any treasure they found would be split amongst the group:


"The money-diggers claimed that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in company together. They claimed that Joseph had been [a] traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them..." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris)


That agreement was similar to another one involving the Smiths which was written up[3] during the same time-period.  Speaking of the Smith family's money digging ventures, it is written in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:  


"The events of the four-year interval between 1823 and 1827 doubtless helped Joseph Smith to mature in preparation for the responsibilities and challenges that subsequently came to him. There is some evidence that his father was involved in treasure hunting, a common activity among poor New England farmers who hoped through the use of magic to discover buried money, and it was necessary for Joseph to extricate himself from the mistaken notions of that superstition. The angel told Joseph that one of the reasons for the delay in giving him the gold plates was that he had dwelt on their monetary worth (PWJS, p. 7). In November 1825, Joseph and his father worked briefly with a man named Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge (Afton), New York, who believed a Spanish treasure was located in Harmony, Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, "History of the Church: c. 1820-1831, Background, Founding, New York Period Author: BUSHMAN, RICHARD L. Copyright © 1992 Brigham Young University")


In the above Encyclopedia of Mormonism quote, speaking of the use of magic to discover buried money, it is recorded:

" ... it was necessary for Joseph to extricate himself from the mistaken notions of that superstition."

Yet, is that what primary source material records at any point in time before the golden plates were obtained:


"The place where treasure was supposed to lie buried was on the place now owned by J. M. Tillman, near the McCune Farm, then the property of William Hale. Excavations were also made on Jacob Skinner's Farm, some of which remain well marked today. It was while pursuing this unsuccessful search for treasures, that the Prophet Smith pretended that he unearthed his famous 'tablets.'" (The Daily Tribune, Salt Lake, Friday morning, April 23, 1880, quoted in Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History)


Even after Joseph Smith supposedly obtained the plates, he still claimed he

 "can see anything"

 through the medium of stone gazing:

"When Joseph returned with the horse and carriage, he exclaimed, “It is ten times better than expected… Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates’ and said, 'they appear to be Gold…' But he seemed to think more of the glasses… [Joseph Smith said] ‘I can see anything; they are Marvelus (sic).'" (Joseph Knight’s Recollection - Joseph Smith’s Early History).


 This is similar to a statement Smith made under oath during questioning in his 1826 Glass Looking trial:

“With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye.” (Purple account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 trial)





"There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith, who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squalid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. … as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth." (CHENANGO UNION, Vol. 30, Norwich, N. Y., Thursday, May 2, 1877, No. 33, Joseph  Smith  The  Originator  of  Mormonism, Historical  Reminiscences  of the town of Afton, BY  W. D. PURPLE)  




"Manchester, Ontario Co. N. Y. 1833.

I became acquainted with the Smith family, known as the authors of the Mormon Bible, in the year 1820. At that time, they were engaged in the money digging business, which they followed until the latter part of the season of 1827. In the year 1822, I was engaged in digging a well. I employed Alvin and Joseph Smith to assist me; the latter of whom is now known as the Mormon prophet. After digging about twenty feet below the surface of the earth, we discovered a singularly appearing stone, which excited my curiosity.


I brought it to the top of the well, and as we were examining it, Joseph put it into his hat, and then his face into the top of his hat. It has been said by Smith, that he brought the stone from the well; but this is false. There was no one in the well but myself. The next morning he came to me, and wished to obtain the stone, alledging that he could see in it; but I told him I did not wish to part with it on account of its being a curiosity, but would lend it. After obtaining the stone, he began to publish abroad what wonders he could discover by looking in it, and made so much disturbance among the credulous part of community, that I ordered the stone to be returned to me again.  He had it in his possession about two years. --I believe, some time in 1825, Hiram Smith (brother of Joseph Smith) came to me, and wished to borrow the same stone, alledging that they wanted to accomplish some business of importance, which could not very well be done without the aid of the stone. I told him it was of no particular worth to me, but merely wished to keep it as a curiosity, and if he would pledge me his word and honor, that I should have it when called for, he might take it; which he did and took the stone.


In the fall of 1826, he wanted to go to Pennsylvania to be married; but being destitute of means, he now set his wits to work, how he should raise money, and get recommendations, to procure the fair one of his choice. He went to Lawrence with the following story, as related to me by Lawrence himself. That he had discovered in Pennsylvania, on the bank of the Susquehannah River, a very rich mine of silver, and if he would go there with him, he might have a share in the profits; that it was near high water mark and that they could load it into boats and take it down the river to Philadelphia, to market. Lawrence then asked Joseph if he was not deceiving him; no, said he, for I have been there and seen it with my own eyes, and if you do not find it so when we get there, I will bind myself to be your servant for three years.  By these grave and fair promises Lawrence was induced to believe something in it, and agreed to go with him. L. soon found that Joseph was out of money, and had to bear his expenses on the way. When they got to Pennsylvania, Joseph wanted L. to recommend him to Miss H., which he did, although he was asked to do it; but could not well get rid of it as he was in his company. L. then wished to see the silver mine, and he and Joseph went to the river, and made search, but found nothing. Thus, Lawrence had his trouble for his pains, and returned home lighter than he went, while Joseph had got his expenses borne, and a recommendation to his girl.


Joseph's next move was to get married; the girl's parents being opposed to the match: as they happened to be from home, he took advantage of the opportunity, and went off with her and was married. 

Now, being still destitute of money, he set his wits at work, how he should get back to Manchester, his place of residence; he hit upon the following plan, which succeeded very well.  He went to an honest old Dutchman, by the name of Stowel, and told him that he had discovered on the bank of Black River, in the village of Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. a cave, in which he had found a bar of gold, as big as his leg, and about three or four feet long. --That he could not get it out alone, on account of its being fast at one end; and if he would move him to Manchester, N.Y. they would go together, and take a chisel and mallet, and get it, and Stowel should share the prize with him. Stowel moved him.


A short time after their arrival at Manchester, Stowel reminded Joseph of his promise; but he calmly replied, that he would not go, because his wife was now among strangers, and would be very lonesome if he went away. Mr. Stowel was then obliged to return without any gold, and with less money than he came.  
Signed,                                       WILLARD CHASE.

On the 11th December, 1833, the said Willard Chase appeared before me, and made oath that the foregoing statement to which he has subscribed his name, is true, according to his best recollection and belief. FRED'K. SMITH,
Justice of the Peace of Wayne County."  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, pp. 240-249)




"... Joseph Smith. This man has been known, in these parts, for some time, as a kind of Juggler, who has pretended, through a glass, to see money under ground..."  (Early Mormon Documents 4, pp. 92-93, Nov. 18, 1830)


In 1831, the local Palmyra newspaper spelled out:


"We are not able to determine whether the elder Smith was ever concerned in money digging transactions previous to his emigration from Vermont, or not, but it is a well authenticated fact that soon after his arrival here, he evinced a firm belief in the existence of hidden treasures, and that this section of country abounded in them. --  He also revived, or in other words, propagated the vulgar, yet popular belief that these treasures were held in charge by some evil spirit...

This opinion however, did not originate by any means with Smith, for we find that the vulgar and ignorant from time immemorial, both in Europe and America, have entertained the same preposterous opinion.

It may not be amiss in this place to mention that the mania of money digging soon began rapidly to diffuse itself through many parts of this country; men and women without distinction of age or sex became marvellous wise in the occult sciences, many dreamed, and others saw visions disclosing to them, deep in the bowels of the earth, rich and shining treasures, and to facilitate those mighty mining operations, (money was usually if not always sought after in the night time,) divers devices and implements were invented, and although the spirit was always able to retain his precious charge, these discomfited as well as deluded beings, would on a succeeding night return to their toil, not in the least doubting that success would eventually attend their labors.


Mineral rods and balls, (as they were called by the imposter who made use of them,) were supposed to be infallible guides to these sources of wealth -- 'peep stones' or pebbles, taken promiscuously from the brook or field, were placed in a hat or other situation excluded from the light, when some wizzard or witch (for these performances were not confined to either sex) applied their eyes, and ... declared they saw all the wonders of nature, including of course, ample stores of silver and gold." (THE REFLECTOR February 1, 1831)




"It is well known that Jo Smith never pretended to have any communion with angels, until a long period after the pretended finding of his book, and that the juggling of himself or father, went no further than the pretended faculty of seeing wonders in a 'peep stone,' and the occasional interview with the spirit, supposed to have the custody of hidden treasures."  (THE REFLECTOR, Feb. 18, 1831)





"Consequently long before the idea of a Golden Bible entered their minds, in their excursions for money-digging, which I believe usually occurred in the night, that they might conceal from others the knowledge of the place, where they struck their treasures, Jo used to be usually their guide, putting into a hat a peculiar stone he had through which he looked to decide where they should begin to dig." (Gleanings By the Way, John A Clark, 1842, Ch. 12. p. 225 "Martin Harris Interview")


Lippincott's Magazine:


“Certain ceremonies were always connected with these money-digging operations. Midnight was the favorite hour, a full moon was helpful, and Good Friday was the best date. Joe would sometimes stand by, directing the digging with a wand. The utmost silence was necessary to success. More than once, when the digging proved a failure, Joe explained to his associates that, just as the deposit was about to be reached, some one, tempted by the devil, spoke, causing the wished-for riches to disappear. Such an explanation of his failures was by no means original with Smith, the serious results of an untimely spoken word having been long associated with divers magic performances. Joe even tried on his New York victims the Pennsylvania device of requiring the sacrifice of a black sheep to overcome the evil spirit that guarded the treasure. William Stafford opportunely owned such an animal, and, as he puts it, ‘to gratify my curiosity,’ he let the Smiths have it. But some new ‘mistake in the process’ again resulted in disappointment. ‘This, I believe,’ remarks the contributor of the sheep,’ is the only time they ever made money-digging a profitable business.’(The Smiths ate the sheep)

These money-seeking enterprises were continued from 1820 to 1827 (the year of the delivery to Smith of the golden plates). This period covers the years in which Joe, in his autobiography, confesses that he ‘displayed the corruption of human nature.’ He explains that his father's family were poor, and that they worked where they could find employment to their taste; ‘sometimes we were at home and sometimes abroad.’ Some of these trips took them to Pennsylvania, and the stories of Joe's ‘gazing’ accomplishment may have reached Sidney Rigdon, and brought about their first interview. Susquehanna County was more thinly settled than the region around Palmyra, and Joe found persons who were ready to credit him with various ‘gifts’; and stories are still current there of his professed ability to perform miracles, to pray the frost away from a cornfield, and the like.” (quotes from Lippincott's Magazine, August, 1880 / narrative from the book: Mormon Origin, William Alexander Linn, Hackensack, n. j., 1901).



Palmyra, Wayne Co. N. Y. Dec. 2d, 1833.
I, Peter Ingersoll, first became acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1822. -- I lived in the neighborhood of said family, until about 1830; during which time the following facts came under my observation.
The general employment of the family, was digging for money.


 Another time, the said Joseph, Sen. told me that the best time for digging money, was, in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. You notice, said he, the large stones on the top of the ground -- we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are, in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.

State of New York, Wayne County, ss:
I certify, that on this 9th day of December, 1833, personally appeared before me the above named Peter Ingersoll, to me known, and made oath, according to law, to the truth of the above statement.
Judge of Wayne County Court. (Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834, p.p. 232-237)

(See entire account)



"Manchester, Ontario Co. N. Y. Dec. 8th, 1833.    

I, William Stafford, having been called upon to give a true statement of my knowledge, concerning the character and conduct of the family of Smiths, known to the world as the founders of the Mormon sect, do say, that I first became acquainted with Joseph, Sen., and his family in the year 1820. 


They lived, at that time, in Palmyra, about one mile and a half from my residence. A great part of their time was devoted to digging for money: especially in the night time, when they said the money could be most easily obtained. I have heard them tell marvellous tales, respecting the discoveries they had made in their peculiar occupation of money digging.  They would say, for instance, that in such a place, in such a hill, on a certain man's farm, there were deposited keys, barrels and hogsheads of coined silver and gold -- bars of gold, golden images, brass kettles filled with gold and silver -- gold candlesticks, swords, &c. &c. They would say, also, that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands, and in them were large caves, which Joseph, Jr., could see, by placing a stone of singular appearance in his hat, in such a manner as to exclude all light; at which time they pretended he could see all things within and under the earth, -- that he could see within the above mentioned caves, large gold bars and silver plates -- that he could also discover the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress. At certain times, these treasures could be obtained very easily; at others, the obtaining of them was difficult. The facility of approaching them, depended in a great measure on the state of the moon. New moon and good Friday, I believe, were regarded as the most favorable times for obtaining these treasures. These tales I regarded as visionary. However, being prompted by curiosity, I at length accepted of their invitations, to join them in their nocturnal excursions. I will now relate a few incidents attending these excursions. 

Joseph Smith, Sen., came to me one night, and told me, that Joseph Jr. had been looking in his glass, and had seen, not many rods from his house, two or three kegs of gold and silver, some feet under the surface of the earth: and that none others but the elder Joseph and myself could get them. I accordingly consented to go, and early in the evening repaired to the place of deposit. Joseph, Sen. first made a circle, twelve or fourteen feet in diameter. This circle, said he, contains the treasure. He then stuck in the ground a row of witch hazel sticks, around the said circle, for the purpose of keeping off the evil spirits.  Within this circle he made another, of about eight or ten feet in diameter. He walked around three times on the periphery of this last circle, muttering to himself something which I could not understand. He next stuck a steel rod in the centre of the circles, and then enjoined profound silence upon us, lest we should arouse the evil spirit who had the charge of these treasures. After we had dug a trench about five feet in depth around the rod, the old man by signs and motions, asked leave of absence, and went to the house to inquire of young Joseph the cause of our disappointment. He soon returned and said, that Joseph had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit--that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and as soon as it beheld the cone which we had formed around the rod, it caused the money to sink. We then went into the house, and the old man observed, that we had made a mistake in the commencemnt of the operation; if it had not been for that, said he, we should have got the money.



             WILLIAM STAFFORD.

State of New York, Wayne County, ss:
I certify, that on this 9th day of December, 1833, personally appeared before me, William Stafford, to me known, and made oath to the truth of the above statement, and signed the same.

Judge of Wane County Court."  (Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, pp. 237-240)




"I recollect a conversation I had with a priest who was an old friend of ours, before I was personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph. I clipped every argument he advanced, until at last he came out and began to rail against 'Joe Smith,' saying, 'that he was a mean man, a liar, money-digger, gambler, and a whore-master;' and he charged him with everything bad, that he could find language to utter. I said, hold on, brother Gillmore, here is the doctrine, here is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the revelations that have come through Joseph Smith the Prophet. ... He may get drunk every day of his life, sleep with his neighbor's wife every night, run horses and gamble, I do not care anything about that, for I never embrace any man in my faith. But the doctrine he has produced will save you and me, and the whole world; and if you can find fault with that, find it." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, pp.77-78, November 9, 1856)


Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith:


Speaking of this incidence with Stowel, also spelled (Stoal) Joseph's mother recorded:

“…a man by the name of Josiah Stoal, came from Chenango co., New York, with the view of getting Joseph to assist him in digging for a silver mine.  He came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.” (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations. Smith, Lucy Mack, Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853, pp.91-92)  


Also in her History, Lucy Mack Smith speaks of the family drawing “magic circles,” “abrac” — which is short for (abracadabra), and “sooth saying.”  Magic circles are used to form a space of magical protection from the spirit the person is invoking:


“Let not the reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt (sic) our labor and went at trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of business.” (Rough Rolling Stone, Bushman, 2006, p.p. 50-51; quoted from, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations. Smith, Lucy Mack, Liverpool, England: S. W. Richards. 1853)


Joseph Smith also mentions Josiah Stoal in his history:


“…In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania; and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger.” (History of the Church Vol. 1:56) 


Contrast Smith's account with that of his neighbor Joseph Capron:


"The family of Smiths held Joseph Jr. in high estimation on account of some supernatural power, which he was supposed to possess. This power he pretended to have received through the medium of a stone of peculiar quality. The stone was placed in a hat, in such a manner as to exclude all light, except that which emanated from the stone itself. This light of the stone, he pretended, enabled him to see any thing he wished. Accordingly he discovered ghosts, infernal spirits, mountains of gold and silver, and many other invaluable treasures deposited in the earth. He would often tell his neighbors of his wonderful discoveries, and urge them to embark in the money digging business. Luxury and wealth were to be given to all who would adhere to his counsel. A gang was soon assembled. Some of them were influenced by curiosity, others were sanguine in their expectations of immediate gain." (TESTIMONY  OF  JOSEPH CAPRON, Mormonism Unvailed — Eber Howe's 1834 book, p. 259)




“Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an impostor.

Prisoner brought before Court March 20, 1826. Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of time since; had small part of time been employed in looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account of its injuring his health, especially his eyes, making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business… “ “Costs: Warrant, 19c. Complaint upon oath, 25 1/2c. Seven witnesses, 87 1/2c. Recognisances, 25c. Mittimus, 19c. Recognisances of witnesses, 75c. Subpoena, 18c. - $2.68.”  (Volume II Funk & Wagnalls, Publishers. (Written by the Right Rev. Daniel Sylvester Tuttle.) Mormons, p. p. 1557-6)


Four interesting things about this next account are its early date, how the story of discovering the gold plates still contains the idea that the right person needs to be present to obtain them; and, how Smith could see objects buried with the plates including buried treasure, by looking in his stone:    


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 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)


Following is an introduction to the gold plates account mentioned in the above quote, 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)



For more information on this subject:

 •  LDS.org quotes on seer stones and a hat

 •  Enchantment — Magic and Money Digging 

 •  Chase Account

 •  Peter Ingersol Account

 •  Joseph Knight Account

 •  The Amboy Journal 





[1] “Joseph Smith, Sr., was present, and sworn as a witness. He confirmed, at great length all that his son had said in his examination. He delineated his [son’s] characteristics in his youthful days--his vision of the luminous stone in the glass--his visit to Lake Erie in search of the stone--and his wonderful triumphs as a seer. He described very many instances of his finding hidden and stolen goods. He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures…” (1826 Trial, Purple account, Joseph Smith Sr. testimony) 


[2] link to a section from Kelsey's article Joseph Smith on Trial



We, the undersigned, do firmly agree, and by these present bind ourselves, to fulfill and abide by the hereafter specified articles:

First: That if anything of value should he obtained at a certain place in Pennsylvania near a William Hales, supposed to be a valuable mine of either gold or silver and also to contain coined money and bars or ingots of gold or silver, and at which several hands have been at work during a considerable part of the past summer, we do agree to have it divided in the following manner, viz: Josiah Stowell, Calvin Stowell and Wm. Hale to take two-thirds, and Charles Newton, Wm. I. Wiley, and the widow Harper to take the other third. And we further agree that Joseph Smith, Sen. and Joseph Smith Jr. shall be considered as having two shares, two elevenths of all the property that may be obtained, and shares to be taken equally from each third.

Second: And we further agree, that in consideration of the expense and labor to which the following named persons have been at (Johs F. Shepherd, Elijah Stowell and John Grant) to consider them as equal sharers in the mine after all the coined money and bars or ingot are obtained by the undersigned. Their shares to be taken out from each share; and we further agree to remunerate all the three above named persons in a handsome manner for all their time, expense, and labor which they have been or may be at, until the mine is opened, if anything should be obtained; otherwise they are to lose their time, expense and labor.

Third: And we further agree that all the expense which has or may accrue until the mine is opened, shall be equally borne by the proprietors of each third and that after the mine is opened the expense shall be equally borne by each of the shares.

Township of Harmony, Pennsylvania, November 1, 1825 In presence of:

Isaac Hale

Joseph Smith Sen.

David Hale

Isaiah Stowell

P. Newton

Calvin Stowell

Charles A. Newton

Joseph Smith Jr.

Wm. I. Wiley

(The Daily Tribune, Salt Lake, April 23, 1880)


[Note: Josiah Stowell is also known as Isaiah Stowell in this document, which helps explain why Dr. Purple called him Isaiah Stowell in his statement on the 1826 Glass looking Trial; see Purple Account ]