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To celebrate the study of the Doctrine & Covenants and Church History this year, Meridian is serializing The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother.
To see the previous installment, click here.
To see all the installments, published in order, click here.
Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother—
By Lucy Mack Smith
Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell arrive at the Smith home on September 20, 1827. Joseph and Emma go to the Hill Cumorah. Joseph receives the plates from the angel Moroni. Description of the Urim and Thummim. Money diggers gather and by evil means conjure to find the gold plates. Joseph hides the plates in an old birch log. Joseph brings the plates home and is accosted by three men. Admonition of Moroni to Joseph.
On the twentieth of September[i] Mr. Knight came with his friend Mr. Stowell to see how we were managing matters with Mr. Stoddard and company. They remained with us until the twenty-second. On the night of the twenty-first, I sat up very late, as my business pressed upon my hands, and I did not retire until past twelve. About twelve o’clock, Joseph came to me and asked me if I had a chest with a lock and key. I knew in a moment what he wanted it for and was alarmed,[ii] fearing that this might be a matter of great importance to him at that time. But Joseph replied, “Never mind, I can do very well just now without it. Be calm. All is right.” But I found it very difficult to do so, for I had not forgotten the first failure.
Shortly after this, Joseph’s wife passed through the room with her bonnet and riding dress; and in a few minutes they left together, taking Mr. Knight’s horse and wagon.[iii] I spent the night in prayer and supplication to God, for the anxiety of my mind would not permit me to sleep. At a reasonable time for rising, I went to preparing breakfast, my heart fluttering at every footfall, for I now expected Joseph and Emma every moment and was in dread of a second disappointment in his obtaining the plates.
When the male part of the family sat down to breakfast, Mr. Smith inquired for Joseph (as no one knew where he had gone but myself). I told him that I thought I would not call Joseph, for I would like to have him take breakfast with his wife that morning.
“No, no,” said my husband. “I must have Joseph come and eat with me.”
“Well, now, Mr. Smith,” said I, “do let him eat with his wife this morning. He almost always takes breakfast with you. Just indulge him a little this time.”
His father finally consented to eat without him, and I thought that there would be no danger of any further inquiry as to the cause of Joseph’s absence, but in a few minutes Mr. Knight came in quite disturbed.
“Why, Mr. Smith,” said he, “my horse is gone. I can’t find him on the premises and I want to start home in half an hour.”
“Never mind the horse,” said I. “Mr. Knight does not know all the nooks and corners in the pasture. I will call William;[iv] he will soon bring the horse.”
This satisfied him for a little while, but he soon made another discovery. His wagon also was gone, and now he concluded that some rogue had stolen them both.
“Well, now,” said I, “do be quiet. I would be ashamed to have you go about gearing your own horse and waiting upon yourself. Just go out and talk with Mr. Smith till William comes. If you really must go home, you shall be attended upon like a gentleman.” He went, and while he was absent, Joseph returned.[v]
I trembled so much with fear lest all might be lost again by some small failure in keeping the commandments, that I was under the necessity of leaving the room to conceal my feelings. Joseph saw this and followed me. “Mother,” said he. “Do not be uneasy. All is right. See here,” said he, “I have got the key.”
I knew not what he meant, but took the article in my hands and, examining it with no covering but a silk handkerchief, found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows connected with each other in much the same way that old-fashioned spectacles are made. He took them again and left me, but did not tell me anything of the record.[vi]
Soon after he came again and asked my advice what was best to do about getting a chest made. I told him to go to a cabinetmaker who had been making some furniture for my oldest daughter,[vii] and tell the man we would pay him for making a chest as we did for the other things he had made for us, namely one-half in cash and one-half in produce.
Joseph said that he would, but that he did not know where the money would come from, for there was not a shilling in the house.[viii]
The next day Mr. Warner came to him from Macedon and requested Joseph to go with him to a widow’s house in Macedon. The widow, by the name of Wells, wanted a wall of a well taken up, and she would pay Joseph money for the labor. As this afforded us an opportunity to pay the cabinetmaker for the chest, Joseph accompanied Mr. Warner to Macedon according to Mrs. Wells’s request. Since this woman had never seen one of the family before, but had sent purposely for Joseph, we considered it a provision of Providence to enable us to pay the money we were owing the cabinetmaker.
Joseph had been absent but a little while when one of the neighbors began to ask Mr. Smith many questions about the plates. Here let me mention that no one knew anything of them from us except one of my husband’s confidential friends to whom he had spoken of them some two or three years before.[ix] It now seemed that Satan had stirred up the hearts of those who had in any way gotten a hint of the matter, to search into it and make every possible move towards preventing the work.[x]
Mr. Smith was soon informed that ten or twelve men were clubbed together, with one Willard Chase, a Methodist class leader, at their head, and what was more ridiculous, they had sent some sixty miles for a conjuror to come to divine by magic art the place where the record was deposited.
We supposed that Joseph had taken the plates and secreted them somewhere, and we were somewhat uneasy lest they might be discovered by our enemies. Accordingly, the morning after we heard of their plans, Mr. Smith went over a hill which lay east of us to see what he could discover among the neighbors. At the first house he came to, he found the conjuror and Willard Chase, together with the company. This was the house of one Mr. Lawrence.[xi] Making an errand, he went in and sat down near the door, leaving it ajar, for the men were so near that he could overhear their conversation. They stood in the yard near the door and were devising many plans and schemes to find “Joe Smith’s gold bible,” as they termed it. The conjuror was really animated, although he had traveled sixty miles during the latter part of the day and the night before.
Presently, the woman of the house became uneasy at the exposures they were making. She stepped through a back door into the yard and called to her husband in a suppressed voice (but so loud that Mr. Smith heard every word distinctly). “Sam, Sam,” said she. “You are cutting your own throat.” At this, the conjuror bawled out at the top of his voice, “I am not afraid of anybody. We will have the plates in spite of Joe Smith or all the devils in hell.”
When the woman came in again, Mr. Smith laid aside a paper which he had been holding in his hand with the pretense of reading, and coolly remarked that he believed he could not then finish the article which he was reading. He then left the house, and returned home.
Mr. Smith, on returning home, asked Emma if she knew anything of the record-whether Joseph had taken them out of their place of deposit or where they were. She said she did not know. My husband then related what he had both seen and heard.
Upon this, Emma said that she did not know what to do, but she thought if Joseph was to have the record, he would get it, and that they would not be able to prevent him.
“Yes,” said Mr. Smith, “he will, if he is watchful and obedient; but remember that for a small thing Esau lost his birthright and blessing. It may be so with Joseph.”
“Well,” said Emma, “if I had a horse I would go and see him.”
Mr. Smith said she should have one in fifteen minutes, for although his team was gone, there had been a stray horse on the premises for two days. So he sent William immediately for the horse.
In a few minutes William brought the horse with a large hickory withe around his neck (as it was according to law to put a withe round the neck of a stray horse before turning him into an enclosure), and Emma was soon on her way to her husband.
Joseph kept the Urim and Thummim constantly about his person, by the use of which he could in a moment tell whether the plates were in any danger. Having just looked into them before Emma got there, he perceived her coming, came up out of the well, and met her. When she informed him of what had occurred, he told her that the record was perfectly safe, for the present; nevertheless, he concluded to return with his wife, as something might take place that would render it necessary for him to be at home where he could take care of it.[xii]
He went immediately to Mrs. Wells and told her that he must return home to attend to some important business. She was not willing for him to leave, but upon his promising to come back when he was at liberty again, she consented. She sent a boy to bring him a horse, which he mounted in his linen frock, with his wife by his side on her horse, decorated as before with a green hickory withe on his neck. And thus they rode through the village of Palmyra.
When he came, he met his father about a mile from the house pacing back and forth in great anxiety of mind. “Father,” said Joseph, “there is no danger. All is perfectly safe. There is no cause of alarm.”
When he had refreshed himself a little, he sent Carlos, my youngest son, to his brother Hyrum’s to ask him to come up immediately, as he wished to see him.[xiii] When Hyrum came, Joseph requested him to get a chest that had a good lock and key and, “Have it here,” said Joseph, “so that it may be ready by the time I get home.”
The plates were secreted about three miles from home in the following manner: Finding an old birch log much decayed, excepting the bark, which was in a measure sound, he took his pocketknife and cut the bark with some care, then turned it back and made a hole of sufficient size to receive the plates, and laying them in the cavity thus formed, he replaced the bark; after which he laid across the log in several places some old stuff that happened to lie near, in order to conceal, as much as possible, the place in which they were deposited.
Joseph took the plates from their place and, wrapping them in his linen frock, put them under his arm and started for the house. After walking a short distance in the road, he thought it would be safer to go across through the woods. Traveling some distance after he left the road, he came to a large windfall, and as he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind and gave him a heavy blow with a gun. Joseph turned around and knocked him to the ground, and then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further, he was attacked again in precisely the same way. He soon brought this one down also and ran on again, but before he got home, he was accosted the third time with a severe stroke with a gun. When he struck the last one, he dislocated his thumb, which, however, he did not notice till he came in sight of the house. He threw himself down in the corner of the fence to recover his breath. As soon as he was able, he rose and finished his race for the house, where he arrived altogether speechless from fright and exhaustion.[xiv]
After a moment’s rest, he said, “Mother, send Carlos for Father and Mr. Knight and his friend Stowell, and tell them to go and see if they can find some men who have been pursuing me. Then let Carlos go tell Hyrum to bring his chest.”
When Carlos went into Hyrum’s house, he found him at tea with two of his wife’s sisters. Carlos touched his brother’s shoulder just as he was raising his cup to his mouth. Without waiting to hear a word of the child’s errand, Hyrum dropped his cup, sprang from the table, fetched up the chest, turned it upside down, and, leaving the contents on the floor, left the house in an instant with the chest on his shoulder.
The young ladies were much surprised at his singular behavior and protested to his wife (who was bedfast, her oldest daughter, Lovina, being but four days)[xv] that her husband was positively crazy. She laughed heartily, “Oh, not in the least. He has just thought of something that he has neglected, and it’s just like him to fly off on a tangent when he thinks of anything that way.”
When the chest came, Joseph locked up the record and threw himself on the bed. After resting himself a little so that he could converse, he went out and related his adventure to his father, Mr. Knight, Mr. Stowell, and others, who had come back from their scouting expedition without seeing anyone. He showed them his thumb, saying, “I must stop talking, Father, and get you to put my thumb in place, for it is very painful.”
When this was done, he related to our guests the whole history of the record, which interested them very much. They listened and believed all that was told them.
When Joseph first took the plates into his hands, the angel of the Lord stood by and said:
“Now you have got the record into your own hands, and you are but a man, therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust, or you will be overpowered by wicked men, for they will lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get them away from you. And if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed. While they were in my hands I could keep them, and no man had power to take them away, but now I give them up to you. Beware, and look well to your ways, and you shall have power to retain them until the time for them to be translated.”
That of which I spoke, which Joseph termed a key, was indeed nothing more nor less than a Urim and Thummim by which the angel manifested those things to him that were shown him in vision; by which also he could at any time ascertain the approach of danger, either to himself or the record, and for this cause he kept these things constantly about his person.
[i] It appears that Josiah Stowell and Joseph Knight were aware of the date when Joseph would be able to receive the plates. Joseph Knight Jr. recorded that in November 1826 Joseph Smith “made known to us that he had seen a vision, that a personage had appeared to him, and told him where there was a gold book of ancient date buried, and that if he would follow the direction of the Angel, he could get it. We were told this in secret.” (Quoted in William G. Hartley, “The Knight Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet,” Ensign, January 1989, p. 44.)
[ii] In the Preliminary Manuscript the following phrase of Lucy’s is crossed out: “frightened for the issue, as I had broken every lock in the house in moving.”
[iii] It must be noted here that Joseph Smith Jr. and Joseph Knight Sr. had known each other and worked closely together for nearly two years by this time.
[iv] William was sixteen years old.
[v] Heber C. Kimball, who at this time lived just eighteen miles from the Smiths and was as yet unaware of the Restoration, later recorded: “I had retired to bed, when John P. Greene, who was living within a hundred steps of my house, came and waked me up, calling upon me to come out and behold the scenery in the heavens. I woke up and called my wife [Vilate] and Sister Fanny Young [sister to Brigham], who was living with us, and we went out-of-doors.
“It was one of the most beautiful starlight nights, so clear that we could see to pick up a pin. We looked to the eastern horizon, and beheld a white smoke arise toward the heavens; as it ascended it formed itself into a belt, and made a noise like the sound of a mighty wind, and continued southwest, forming a regular bow dipping in the western horizon. After the bow had formed, it began to widen out and grow clear and transparent, of a bluish cast; it grew wide enough to contain twelve men abreast.
“In this bow an army moved, commencing from the east and marching to the west; they continued marching until they reached the western horizon. They moved in platoons, and walked so close that the rear ranks trod in the steps of their file leaders, until the whole bow was literally crowded with soldiers. We could distinctly see the muskets, bayonets and knapsacks of the men, who wore caps and feathers like those used by the American soldiers in the last war with Britain; and also saw their officers with their swords and equipage, and the clashing and jingling of their implements of war, and could discover the forms and features of the men. The most profound order existed throughout the entire army; when the foremost man stepped, every man stepped at the same time; I could hear the steps. When the front rank reached the western horizon a battle ensued, as we could distinctly hear the report of arms and the rush.
“No man could judge of my feelings when I beheld that army of men, as plainly as ever I saw armies of men in the flesh; it seemed as though every hair of my head was alive. This scenery we gazed upon for hours, until it began to disappear.
“After I became acquainted with Mormonism, I learned that this took place the same evening that Joseph Smith received the records of the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni.” (Quoted in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Collector’s Edition [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992], pp. 15-17.)
[vi] Joseph Knight recorded:[“[In] the forepart of September , I went to Rochester on business and returned by Palmyra to be there by the 22nd of September. I was there several days. . . . That night we went to bed and in the morning I got up and my horse and carriage were gone. . . . After a while he [Joseph Smith] came home [with] the horse. All came into the house to breakfast but nothing [was] said about where they had been. After breakfast Joseph called me into the other room. . . . He set his foot on the bed, leaned his head on his hand and said, . . . ‘It is ten times better than I expected.’ Then he went on to tell length and width and thickness of the plates; and said he, ‘They appear to be gold.’ But he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plates, for, said he, ‘I can see anything; they are marvellous. Now they are written in characters and I want them translated.'” (In Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, p. 72.)
[vii] The oldest daughter was Sophronia, who was twenty-four years old at this time and would marry Calvin Stoddard in a little over two months-on December 2, 1827.
[viii] This shows the destitute circumstances of the Smiths and emphasizes Joseph’s words about himself, “one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor” (JS-H 1:23).
[ix] This confidential friend was Martin Harris, a respected and well-to-do farmer of Palmyra. Martin Harris was born on May 18, 1783, in Easttown, Saratoga County, New York.
[x] Because of Joseph’s involvement with the Josiah Stowell affair near Harmony (in digging for buried treasure or a silver mine), it appears that those who worked with Joseph may have felt that any of the group who found buried treasure (including Joseph) would share it equally with the others. Martin Harris stated: “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 traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them, and continued concealing the plates.” (Quoted in Porter, “Origins,” pp. 81-82.)
[xi] This was one Samuel Lawrence, “a neighbor who had pretensions to seership and knew about the plates and the annual visits.” Apparently Lawrence was one of the local “money-diggers.” (Bushman, Beginnings, pp. 81, 216.)
[xii] The 1853 edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s history gives a slightly different account of the order of events, reading: “Just before Emma rode up to Mrs. Wells, Joseph, from an impression that he had had, came up out of the well in which he was laboring, and met her not far from the house. Emma immediately informed him of what had transpired, whereupon he looked in the Urim and Thummim, and saw that the Record was as yet safe.” (Biographical Sketches, pp. 103-4.)
[xiii] Don Carlos was at this time eleven years old.
[xiv] Martin Harris estimated the weight of the plates at between forty and fifty pounds. William Smith, who was once allowed to heft the plates while they were covered by a pillowcase, estimated the weight at sixty pounds (see Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, p. 70). It is interesting to note the weight of the plates and observe the physical strength of Joseph running three miles with them under his arm.
[xv] Lucy stated here that Lovina (Lucy’s first grandbaby) was but four days old. In fact, since her date of birth was September 16, 1827, she must have been older at the time of this event. It was clearly at least one or two days after Joseph had obtained the plates on September 22, 1827.