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Lesson One: Am I

a Seeker of Truth?


The Unofficial LDS Family Home Evening Resource Book




An earnest discussion of important early, yet often overlooked LDS history, including events documented in the 1826 Glass Looking Trial.




This lesson teaches us what it means to be seekers of Truth and encourages us to embrace the Truth. 


Seeking after, understanding, and defending the Truth is such a noble cause; because as the scriptures attest,


"the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)


Think of the freedom our families could enjoy, if every member were to seek after and then abide in the truth.




This lesson was prepared for families who are ready to go beyond a milk only diet and indulge on teaching with substance. It is meant to bring about meaningful thought and discussion; and, challenge the participants to obtain a deeper understanding of the LDS faith. Therefore, parents are advised to first carefully read the lesson all the way through in order to make sure it is appropriate for each and every family member.




(Optional) Go online and look up the site Mormon Scholars Testify 

Note that it is a site in which LDS scholars express their views and feelings about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And, that on each of the site's pages is a testimony from the various LDS scholars, and, at the bottom of the pages you can read the credentials of the individual scholars who shared their testimony.

(Optional) Then, either do a search from the site's main page or follow this link to read the testimony of Gordon A. Madsen.

Read Gordon A. Madsen's credentials at the bottom of the page, or, in the quote below: 

Gordon A. Madsen earned B.S. and J.D. degrees from the University of Utah, and, early in his career, served as a deputy district attorney and then, from 1959 to 1964, as assistant Utah attorney general. After 1964, he worked as a lawyer in private practice, also serving from 1969 to 1971 in the Utah House of Representatives. Thereafter, at various times, he has been a member of the Utah State Constitutional Revision Commission, the Utah Judicial Qualifications Commission, and the Judicial Nominating Commission (Third District).

Now retired, he is a co-editor of the business and legal papers in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Among his important Mormon-related works are “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” BYU Studies 30/2 (1990), “Joseph Smith and the Missouri Court of Inquiry: Austin A. King’s Quest for Hostages,” BYU Studies 43/4 (2004), and a 1996 presentation to the Mormon History Association in which he argued that William Law’s accusations of fraud against Joseph Smith, Jr., were demonstrably false.

He is married to the historian Carol Cornwall Madsen, and they are the parents of six children.


Our lesson involves Gordon A. Madsen's comments and narrative from his work: “Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,” BYU Studies. It also includes quotes from records of the 1826 trial which Gordon A. Madsen uses throughout his work — W.D. Purple's notes on the 1826 Trial; and, also the Tuttle account; along with other well documented primary source material. 




Explain that in a Court of Justice people who are called to testify are told to tell, not just the truth, but the whole truth. The Court then hears testimony from both the witnesses and the person who was accused of breaking the law. Then, it is up to the judge and/or jury to sort out the facts. In this lesson, we will examine evidence from what is commonly called The 1826 Glass Looking Trial of Joseph Smith; which was most likely a preliminary examination. Then, as a family, we will sort out the facts to determine the truth.




Read the following:

First of all we might ask:

Why is the 1826 trial of Joseph Smith called a "Glass Looking Trial."


Because, Judge Albert Neely had written:

"... Joseph Smith the Glass Looker" (see document)

on the 1826 Trial's Bill of Justice.




John S. Reed, Smith's legal counsel during his 1830 trials, remembered that Smith had been arrested


"for the crime of glass looking …" (John S. Reed to Brigham Young, 6 December 1861, p. 1, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT).


Ask the family members:

Does anyone know what "glass looking" is?


A close friend of Joseph Smith named Joseph Knight wrote something in his history which sheds light on this question:

"Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)


Knight was speaking about what Joseph Smith had told him:

 "he looked in his glass"

to find out who the right person was to bring with him to obtain the gold plates.


Back in Joseph Smith's day, a "glass" was another way to describe a seer-stone.


Martin Harris spoke of a [seer] stone that Joseph Smith used: 

"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." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163)


Tell the family that Joseph Smith had a history of making money by telling people that he could see treasure underground; and, it got him into trouble at times:


"... a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in Chenengo County to sware out a warrent against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground. A little Clause they found in the york Laws against such things." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, BYU Studies, Dean C. Jessee)


Then, tell the family what Joseph Smith told Judge Neely in court:


“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. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.” (Purple account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 trial)


Also, tell the family what Joseph Smith's father told Judge Neely in court:


"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..." (Purple account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 trial)


Read to the family what a man working for Mr. Stowell testified to in court:


"Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm." (Purple account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, 1826 Trial)


Explain to the family that it was Joseph Smith who told Mr. Stowell that there was a box of treasure buried on his property; and, it was also Joseph Smith who showed Mr. Stowell the spot where it could be found. Also, explain that if any treasure had been found, the case would have never ended up in court. 


Also, mention that it was Mr. Stowell's children and extended family who believed Stowell was wasting his money paying Joseph Smith, along with several other men, to dig for treasure. Yet, Mr. Stowell never lost faith in Joseph Smith; Gordon A. Madsen proves that in his BYU Studies work:


"... he [Josiah Stowell] emphatically denied that he had been deceived or defrauded; on the contrary he positively knew the accused [Joseph Smith] could discern the whereabouts of subterranean objects..." (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 105)


Explain that the words


"subterranean objects"


means, "things that are underground;" such as buried treasure.




Tell the family that back when Joseph Smith lived, many of his friends and neighbors believed in folk-magic; which is:


"The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to control natural or chance events..." (The Free Dictionary)


Explain that stories about folk-magic are described as folklore; which is:


"a body of widely held but false or unsubstantiated beliefs." (Dictionary.com)


Then, read the family an example of folklore from the 1826 Glass Looking Trial:


“Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner's professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but, on account of an enchantment, the trunk kept settling away from under them while digging; that, not withstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them.” (1826 Trial, Tuttle account)


Point out that the word "enchantment" has to do with magic and it involved a spirit who was watching over the treasure.


Also mention that respected LDS author/scholar Richard Bushman used the word "enchantment" while describing the golden plates:


“The plates walk a fine line between magic and religion, between enchantment and disenchantment, between fraud and religious genius...  They make the claim that the supernatural has entered into the natural world.” (Presentation given at Utah State's Eccles Science Learning Center on March 22, 2012) 


Tell the family that when Richard Bushman said:

"... the supernatural has entered into the natural world"

he was speaking of the golden plates; so, Richard clearly acknowledged that in some way the "supernatural" was associated with the golden plates.


Explain that one possible reason Richard Bushman linked the golden plates with the supernatural is because in early accounts of obtaining them; they too, could move about by some unseen power:


"And after he had Covered the place he turned round to take the Book [golden plates] and it was not there and he was astonished that the Book was gone. He thot he would look in the place again and see if it had not got Back again. He had heard people tell of such things."  (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, BYU Studies, Dean C. Jessee p. 2)


Ask the family if they had ever heard about the golden plates going back into the stone box after Joseph Smith took them out?


Then, tell the family that when Joseph Smith told Joseph Knight:


"He had heard people tell of such things."


Joseph Smith was most likely referring to stories he had heard about money digging.


Then, read the family the following example of Martin Harris describing how a box of treasure "moved away:"


"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)


Read one more statement from Martin Harris:


“I will tell you a wonderful thing that happened after Joseph had found the plates. Three of us took some tools to go to the hill and hunt for some more boxes of gold or something, and indeed we found a stone box. We got quite excited about it and dug quite carefully around it and we were ready to take it up, but behold by some unseen power the box slipped back into the hill. We stood there and looked at it and one of us took a crowbar and tried to drive it through the lid and hold it but the bar glanced off and broke off one corner of the box. Sometime that box will be found and you will see the corner broken off and then you will know I have told the truth again.” (Martin’s death-bed statement - signed as witnesses Clarkston, Utah, July, 1875 - John Godfrey, Ole A. Jensen and James Keep — photocopies at Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah; LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; and Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah)


Then, ask the family:


 "Does any one of us believe what Martin said is true?


Listen intently as answers are given.


Then, read what a teacher from BYU said about early accounts of Joseph Smith obtaining the golden plates: 


"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 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... 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) [Also see Joseph Smith Papers, Lucy Smith History, pp.44 - 45]



Tell the family that while speaking of the 1826 trial records, Gordon A. Madsen said:


"The pivotal testimony, in my view, was that of Josiah Stowell. Both accounts agree on the critical facts. The Pearsall account states: '[Joseph] had been employed by him [Stowell] to work on farm part of time; ... that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.'

The Purple account states:

Justice Neeley soberly looked at the witness and in a solemn, dignified voice, said, 'Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plainly as you can see what is on my table?' 'Do I believe it?' says Deacon Stowell, 'do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true.'" (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 105)


Explain to the family that:


"The opposite of truth is falsehood..." (Wikipedia, Truth)


"Falsehood" is a nice way of calling what someone believes in, a lie.


Then ask:


"Is it possible that Josiah Stowell was wrong about what he positively knew to be true?"


Let each family member answer,




to the question.


Then, explain to the family:


"In reality, there wasn't any buried treasure on Mr. Stowell's property. There wasn't any magic involved. Neither was the spirit of a dead man watching over any silver or gold.


Look for the reactions on the faces of the various family members.


Then, mention that Richard Bushman, encouraged LDS Church members to take a new attitude while studying Mormonism:

"... not an aim to prove Mormonism true, but rather to find the truth about Mormonism." (Mormon Times, July 10, 2011 - Deseret News)


Read the following quote:


"Truth is most often used to mean in accord with fact or reality." (Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, truth, 2005)


Tell the family that Josiah Stowell ended up wasting his time and money chasing after a falsehood; yet we as a family have an opportunity to learn from his mistakes.


Then, read one more quote from Gordon A. Madsen:


"The foregoing considerations lead me to conclude that in 1826 Joseph Smith was indeed charged and tried for being a disorderly person and that he was acquitted. Such a conclusion does nothing to 'prove' or disprove the claim that he was reputed to be a 'glass-looker.'" (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 106)




Notice the term "reputed" in the above quote:


past participle: reputed
1. be generally said or believed to do something or to have particular characteristics.


"he was reputed to have a fabulous house"


synonyms: thought, said, reported, rumored, believed, held, considered, regarded, deemed, alleged. (thefreedictionary.com)


How is it possible that Gordon A. Madsen, who is familiar with the charges brought against Joseph Smith, witness testimonies from the 1826 Glass Looking Trial, and even the reason Joseph Smith was acquitted, can have any doubts that Smith was,


 "thought, said, reported, rumored, believed, held, considered, regarded, deemed, [or] alleged,"


to be a glass-looker?


Up until this point Madsen had presented fairly well-thought-out and valid points on the trial; but, with this closing argument, it appears Madsen used a technique known as double-talk.



1: "language that appears to be earnest and meaningful but in fact is a mixture of sense and nonsense." (Merriam-Webster.com, dictionary)


Earlier Madsen had said:


"The pivotal testimony, in my view, was that of Josiah Stowell. ... that he positively knew that the prisoner [Joseph Smith] could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.' ... In short, only Josiah Stowell had any legal basis to complain, and he was not complaining. Hence Purple's concluding comment: 'it is hardly necessary to say that as the testimony of Deacon Stowell could not be impeached, the prisoner was discharged and in a few weeks he left the town.' Indeed Justice Neely had no other choice." (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 105)


Explain to the family, that in reality, it was because Josiah Stowell firmly believed in Joseph Smith's ability as a glass-looker that he was discharged.


Note: To imply that because Joseph Smith was discharged, it was not proven that he was a glass-looker, is a half-truth to say the least:  


noun: half-truth; plural noun: half-truths
a statement that conveys only part of the truth, esp. one used deliberately in order to deceive someone. (encyclopedia.com)




Read the following testimony from the respected Doctor, W. D. Purple, who was asked by Judge Neely to take notes during the 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)


Tell the family that Joseph Smith's own mother helped confirm what Mr. Purple wrote:


“…a man by the name of Josiah Stoal, [Stowell] 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) 


Then, read a statement from LDS scholars on the subject:


"When Moroni took back the interpreters after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages, Joseph completed the translation [of the Book of Mormon] with one of his seer stones. ... In later years, the term 'Urim and Thummin' was retroactively applied to both the Nephite interpreters and to Joseph's seer stone." (Joseph Smith/Seer stones/Used for Book of Mormon translation, online article, Fairmormon.org)  (see full quote)



Listen intently and respond to any questions that may arise?


Then, mention that there is a vast amount of information on the life of Joseph Smith from records written a long time ago; and, reading such accounts would provide us with a clearer understanding of the LDS faith.


For example:


Tell the family that there are accounts explaining how "Moroni" ended up having the golden plates placed under his charge:


" ... he was murdered or slain on the spot, and the treasure had been under his charge ever since." (Interview with the father of Joseph Smith by Fayette Lapham)


Also, mention that a similar account of a treasure guardian was recorded in the 1826 Glass Looking Trial:


"... the last time that he looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his [Joseph Smith's] mind; that the last time that he looked, he 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." (Jonathan Thompson testimony, Tuttle account, (NY) Court Record, 20 March 1826)


Then, explain that the saying,


"as he supposed"


is interesting, because it demonstrates that Joseph Smith had the understanding that the spirit of another dead man could keep watch over buried treasure; just like "Moroni," who Joseph Smith claimed was watching over the golden plates at that time.


Finally, ask if anyone would care to look into this subject further? 


All those who answer:




have proven themselves to be genuine seekers of truth!




For more information on this subject:


Excerpts from LDS.org — Joseph's Seer stones

Defending Mormonism
Enchantment — Magic and Money Digging
Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts 
Chase Account
Peter Ingersol Account
Joseph Knight Account
The Amboy Journal 
Fayette Lapham Account




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