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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.

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To see all the installments, published in order, click here.

Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother—
Chapter 20
By Lucy Mack Smith

A man tries to unify the churches in Palmyra. Joseph gives a prophecy about Deacon Jessup that is fulfilled. Joseph goes to the hill September 22, 1824, and is unable to obtain the plates. A lesson from the angel on keeping all the commandments. Joseph works for Josiah Stowell in Harmony, Pennsylvania. The frame house is completed. Joseph becomes acquainted with Emma Hale.

Winter 1824 to December 1825

Shortly after the death of Alvin, a man began laboring in the neighborhood to effect a union of all the churches, that all denominations might be agreed and thus worship God with one mind and one heart.

This, I thought, looked right. I wished to join them, and I tried to persuade my husband to do so, and it was the inclination of all the family to unite with their numbers, except Joseph. He refused from the first to attend the meetings with us.[1] He would say, “Mother, I do not wish to prevent you from going to meeting or joining any church you like, or any of the family who desire the like; only do not ask me to do so, for I do not wish to go. But I will take my Bible and go out into the woods and learn more in two hours than you could if you were to go to meeting for two years.”[2]

To gratify me, my husband attended some two or three meetings, but peremptorily refused going any more, either for my gratification or any other person’s. But he did not object to myself and such of the children as chose to go or to become church members, if we wished.

During this excitement, Joseph said, “It will do you no hurt to join them, but you will not stay with them long, for you are mistaken in them. You do not know the wickedness of their hearts. I will,” said he, “give you an example, and you may set it down as a prophecy. Now, you look at Deacon Jessup. You hear him talk very piously. Well, you think he is a very good man, but suppose that one of his poor neighbors owes him the value of one cow. This man has eight small children. Suppose the poor man should be taken sick and die, leaving his wife with one cow but destitute of every means of support for herself and family. Now, I tell you that Deacon Jessup, religious as he is, wouldn’t hesitate to take the last cow from the widow and orphans rather than lose the debt, although he has an abundance of everything.” This seemed impossible, but it was not one year from the time this was spoken until we saw the very thing fulfilled.

Very sad notice which appeared in the Wayne Sentinel, Wednesday, September 29, 1824, ten months after Alvin’s death.

After a short time, the first shock occasioned by Alvin’s death passed off, and we began to resume our usual avocations.[3]

The angel had informed Joseph that he might make an effort to obtain the plates on the twenty-second of the ensuing September [1824].[4] Accordingly, when the time arrived he visited the place where the plates were hid; and supposing at this time that the only thing required, in order to possess them until the time for their translation, was to be able to keep the commandments of God-and he firmly believed he could keep every commandment which had been given him-he fully expected to carry them home with him. Having arrived at the place appointed, he removed the moss and grass from the surface of the rock, and then pried up the flat stone, according to the directions which he had received. He then discovered the plates lying on four pillars in the inside of the box. He put forth his hand and took them up, but when he lifted them from their place, the thought flashed across his mind that there might be something more in the box that would be of a pecuniary benefit to him. In the excitement of the moment, he laid the record down in order to cover up the box, lest someone should come along and take away whatever else might be deposited there. When he turned again to take up the record, it was gone, but where he knew not, nor did he know by what means it had been taken away.

He was much alarmed at this. He knelt down and asked the Lord why it was that the record was taken from him. The angel appeared to him and told him that he had not done as he was commanded, for in a former revelation he had been commanded not to lay the plates down, or put them for a moment out of his hands, until he got into the house and deposited them in a chest or trunk having a good lock and key; and contrary to this, he had laid them down with the view of securing some fancied or imaginary treasure that remained.

In the moment of excitement, Joseph was overcome by the powers of darkness and forgot the injunction that was laid upon him.

After some further conversation, Joseph was permitted to raise the stone again, and there he beheld the plates, the same as before. He reached forth his hand to take them, but was hurled to the ground with great violence. When he recovered, the angel was gone, and he arose and returned to the house, weeping for grief and disappointment.

As he was aware that we would expect him to bring the plates home with him, he was greatly troubled, fearing that we might doubt his having seen them. As soon as he entered the house, my husband asked if he had obtained the plates. The answer was, “No, Father, I could not get them.”

His father then said, “Did you see them?”

“Yes,” replied Joseph, “I saw them, but could not take them.”

“I would have taken them,” rejoined his father, with much earnestness, “if I had been in your place.”

“Why,” returned Joseph, in quite a subdued tone, “you do not know what you say. I could not get them, for the angel of the Lord would not let me.”[5]

Joseph then related the circumstance in full, which gave us much uneasiness, as we were afraid that he might utterly fail of obtaining the record through some neglect on his part. We, therefore, doubled our diligence in prayer and supplication to God, in order that he might be more fully instructed in his duty and be preserved from all the wiles and machinations of him “who lieth in wait to deceive.”[6]

This spacious frame house was Alvin’s idea. Hyrum and some neighbors would finish it.

Having the building of the house already paid for, we thought it would be well to set the mechanics at work and have it completed. We accordingly did so, and ere long, we had a pleasant, commodious habitation ready to receive us. Mr. Stoddard, the principal workman on the house, would have been very glad to have purchased it for fifteen hundred dollars, but that was no temptation. Nothing could persuade Mr. Smith to abandon the scene of his labor and the toiling of this family, for here they had borne the burden and heat of the day. We contemplated with much happiness the enjoyment of the fruit of our labors.

A short time before the house was completed, a man by the name of Josiah Stowell[7] came from Chenango County, New York, with the view of getting Joseph to assist him in digging for a silver mine.[8] He came for Joseph on account of having heard that he possessed certain means by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.

Mr. Stowell came into the Palmyra district with Joseph Knight Sr.[9] to buy grain. In that way he became acquainted with the Smith family.

This project of Stowell’s was undertaken from this cause-an old document had fallen into his possession, in some way or other, containing information of silver mines being somewhere in the neighborhood in which he resided.

Joseph endeavored to divert him from his vain pursuit, but he was inflexible in his purpose and offered high wages to those who would dig for him in search of said mine, and still insisted upon having Joseph to work for him. Accordingly, Joseph and several others returned with him and commenced digging. After laboring for the old gentleman about a month without success, Joseph prevailed upon him to cease his operations, and it was from this circumstance of having worked by the month, at digging for a silver mine, that the very prevalent story arose of Joseph’s having been a money digger.

The Isaac and Elizabeth Hale home in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania, has recently been restored.

While Joseph was in the employ of Mr. Stowell, he boarded a short time with one Isaac Hale, and it was during this interval that Joseph became acquainted with his daughter, Miss Emma Hale,[10] to whom he immediately commenced paying his addresses, and was subsequently married.

When Mr. Stowell relinquished his project of digging for silver, Joseph returned to his father’s house.[11]

Soon after his return we received intelligence of the arrival of a new agent for the Evertson land, of which our farm was a portion. This reminded us of the last payment, which was still due and which must be made before we could obtain a deed to the place.

Having made the acquaintance of a couple of gentlemen from Pennsylvania, Mr. Stowell and Mr. Knight, who were desirous of purchasing a quantity of wheat, which we had down on the place, we agreed with them that if they would furnish us with a sum of money requisite for the liquidation of this debt, the wheat should be carried to them in flour the ensuing season.

Having made this arrangement, Mr. Smith sent Hyrum to the new agent in Canandaigua to inform him that the money should be forthcoming as soon as the twenty-fifth of December 1825. This, the agent said, would answer every purpose, and he agreed to retain the land until that time. Thus assured that all was safe, we gave ourselves no further uneasiness about the matter.

Josiah Stowell lived in this area when Joseph Smith came to work for him.

When the time had nearly come for my husband to set out for Pennsylvania to get the money, Joseph called Mr. Smith and myself aside and told us that he had felt so lonely ever since Alvin’s death, that he had come to the conclusion of getting married if we had no objections. He thought that no young woman that he ever was acquainted with was better calculated to render the man of her choice happy than Miss Emma Hale, a young lady whom he had been extremely fond of since his first introduction to her. His father was highly pleased with Joseph’s choice, and told him that he was not only willing that he should marry her but desired him to bring her home with him, that we might have the pleasure of her society.

Since Mr. Smith was going to Mr. Stowell’s and Mr. Knight’s to get the money to bring up the arrearages on the farm, Joseph concluded to set off with him as soon as the necessary preparations could be made.


[1] Probably Joseph did not mingle with other churches at this time, in response to these two statements from the First Vision: “I was expressly commanded ‘to go not after them,’ at the same time receiving a promise that the fullness of the Gospel should at some future time be made known unto me” (History of the Church 4:536). Also, “I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right . . . and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong. . . . He [the Personage who addressed Joseph] again forbade me to join with any of them.” (JS-H 1:18-19, 20.)

[2] Joseph the Prophet would later state: “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject” (History of the Church 6:50).

[3] To add insult to injury, the most horrible rumors began to circulate in Palmyra about Alvin’s interment and what had been done to his body. Preston Nibley wrote of this: “There is something pathetic in the publication of this ‘notice’ by Father Smith. It is evident that various unfounded and harmful rumors were being circulated in the neighborhood regarding the Smith family, probably directed against Joseph, Jr., who had related the story of his visions. Then the rumors grew, and some uninspired yokel put out the story that Father Smith had allowed certain physicians to remove Alvin’s body from its grave to be dissected. Father Smith’s prompt denial and publication of the notice effectually put an end to these rumors.” (In Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Preston Nibley [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954], p. 332.)

[4] In all former versions of this work, Lucy’s story of Joseph’s 1824 visit to the Hill Cumorah has been placed before the death of Alvin. This was because Lucy’s account of his death was recorded as November 19, 1824, rather than the correct year of 1823. In this version the accounts have been placed in their proper chronological order.

[5] Catharine (or Katharine) Smith Salisbury (Joseph’s younger sister) spoke of this time: “I well remember the trials my brother had, before he obtained the records. After he had the vision, he went frequently to the hill, and upon returning would tell us, ‘I have seen the records, also the brass plates and the sword of Laban with the breast plate and interpreters.’ He would ask father why he could not get them. The time had not yet come.” (In Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, p. 53.)

[6] It appears that the Lord was preparing not only Joseph to receive the record but the whole Smith family as well; for all would face severe trials from the world for their support of Joseph.

[7] Josiah Stowell was born at Winchester, New Hampshire (just twenty-three miles south of where Lucy Mack Smith was born), in 1770. Josiah’s last name has also been spelled Stoal and Stowel.

[8] It is well to note that Joseph was, of course, on the Hill Cumorah, September 22, 1825. Joseph recorded in his history: “In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by name of Josiah Stowel” (History of the Church 1:17). At this time, the Smith family house had been under construction for three years, and Joseph first became acquainted with Emma Hale; that is, in late fall 1825.

[9] Joseph Knight Sr. was born in 1772 at Oakham, Massachusetts. He married Polly Peck about 1795 and moved in 1810 to a farm at Colesville, Broome County, New York, where he and his family remained for nineteen years. (See Papers, p. 496.) Joseph and Polly had seven children, including Newel and Joseph Jr. The Knight family would play a critical role in the Restoration by helping provide the means for Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon and being a constant support to him throughout his life.

[10] Emma Hale was born July 10, 1804 (she was seventeen months older than Joseph), in Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Isaac and Elizabeth Hale lived in a comfortable home (foundation dimensions are thirty by forty-two feet) with their nine children.

[11] Clearly Joseph was trying to help raise the money for the last payment on the farm. Joseph came back to the farm sometime in November 1825.