The book Mormonism Unvailed (sic)1 by Eber D. Howe, printed in 1834, contains sworn testimonies from neighbors and acquaintances of Joseph Smith concerning the dubious character of him and his family. The testimonies were gathered by a Mr. Philastus Hurlbut and were included in E. D. Howe's Book. Many of the witnesses deal specifically with Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and show him being involved in money digging, divination, and lacking moral integrity.
If these testimonies were true about Joseph Smith, then it would be difficult for Mormons to continue to proclaim him as a true and virtuous prophet of God. For this reason, many Mormons have attempted to discredit the accounts contained in Mormonism Unveiled as well as other equally damaging testimonies by other witnesses concerning Joseph Smith's character. This is to be expected.
Some Mormons have felt that they have an ally in Fawn McKay Brodie. Though Mrs. Brodie's biography of the Mormon prophet is anything but faith-promoting, she also was suspect of the Hurlbut testimonies. She says this on page 143 of her book No Man Knows My History:2
The past, which Joseph had hoped to bury in New York, now returned to plague him. He had made a vindictive enemy of Philastus Hurlbut, a handsome, ambitious convert whom he had excommunicated in June 1833 for "unchristian conduct with the ladies." In vengeful mood, Hurlbut began an investigation of the beginnings of the Mormon Church.
First, I suspect the past that Joseph Smith was trying to bury in New York was his money digging ventures, being a drunkard, and various schemes to acquire wealth, for these he had become well known. Nevertheless, if what Mrs. Brodie says is true, that Mr. Hurlbut was excommunicated from the LDS church, it does not necessarily discredit the information presented by him. After all, the affidavits are sworn testimonies by eyewitnesses. Mr. Hurlbut is merely the messenger.
Second, to label Mr. Hurlbut as one who is excommunicated is, in my opinion, a type of character assassination. I have seen this approach used by Mormons many times. In twenty years of dealing with them, I have spoken with many ex-Mormons who had discovered that Mormonism was false, left the church, and then spoke out against it. Many have told me how they later discovered that they had been ex-communicated, in absentia, and were now the victims of vicious rumors that involved accusations of immorality--charges they flatly denied. That way, any testimony against the Mormon Church could be easily dismissed by its members. I am not denying that there are people who truly deserve excommunication. It is just that I've seen the same accusation falsely raised against ex-Mormons too many times. Therefore, I am not surprised by the charge against Hurlbut considering the defensive agenda that Mormons often take.
Third, I would like to add that through word of mouth from Mormon missionaries, from emails, and on my website, I, too, have been accused by Mormons of various things--things I have not done. I can remember speaking to Mormon missionaries--not letting them know who I was and listening to them talk about this guy named "Matt Slick" and saying things about me that were not true. This has happened more than once. In the case of my website, I have been accused of lying and great efforts have been taken by Mormons to attempt to prove this. Why? To discredit the messenger.3
Again, the Mormons have a strong need to discredit the critics of Mormonism. Character assassination is the most common and easiest way to accomplish it.
Richard L. Anderson's Article, Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised
Richard L. Anderson, a religion professor at Brigham Young University, authored one article in particular that was written against the Hurlbut Affidavits. It can be found at: Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised, BYU Studies, Vol. 10, Spring 1970, pages 283-314. Many Mormons have used his article as a springboard from which to pose rebuttals against the Hurlbut Affidavits. However, a Mr. Roger Anderson, not to be confused with Richard L. Anderson mentioned above, wrote a book "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined," published in Salt Lake City by Signature Books in 1990.4
He has taken Richard L. Anderson's article and found many glaring weakness in it. I will use his comments as a springboard of my own to counter the general claims of those attempting to discredit Mr. Hurlbut's affidavits. The section by Roger Anderson is more than 30 pages and cannot be reproduced here.
Nevertheless, Roger Anderson says of Richard L. Anderson's article:
Superior as it is to Nibley's analysis in method and scholarly apparatus, Anderson's article still falls short on several counts. Its errors may be summarized under three main headings: misrepresentation of the contents and circumstances surrounding the compilation of the affidavits; failure to consider alternative interpretations for the evidence; and invalid conclusions based on faulty premises. In Anderson's analysis these errors recur regularly and sometimes flagrantly (p. 27-28).
He also says:
Anderson's first charge of substance is that Hurlbut either composed or heavily edited the depositions he collected. Anderson finds evidence of this contention in the similar structuring of the affidavits and the use of certain recurring words: "acquainted with," "entitle," "digging for money," "addicted to," "lazy," "liar," "intemperate," "pretended," "visionary," "general employment," etc. What Anderson did not mention is that other statements about Joseph Smith dating from the early 1830s, statements which Hurlbut did not collect and which are not dependent on him, display many of the same characteristics. In the Pennsylvania statements made during the same period certain words recur: "acquainted with," "pretended," "liar," "digging for," "money-diggers." In an 1833 letter written by Jesse Townsend, minister of Palmyra's Presbyterian church, the following words appear: "intemperate," "pretended," "digging for money," and "visionary." This letter is similar in structure with Hurlbut's general Palmyra statement and also with the statement of Parley Chase.5 The structure and wording of all of these statements seem to reflect more about the period, geographic location, and level of education than an undisclosed common authorship (p. 28).
Here we have evidence that similar language used to describe Joseph Smith was used by another source not even connected with Hurlbut. It seems, then, that Mr. Anderson's charge isn't a very good one.
It is worth noting, that Fawn Brodie makes an identical comment against the Hurlbut Affidavits in her book, No Man Knows My History:
It can clearly be seen that the affidavits were written by Hurlbut since the style is the same throughout. It may be noted also that although five out of the eight had heard Spaulding's story only once, there was a surprising uniformity in the details they remembered after twenty-two years. Six recalled the names Nephi, Lamanite, etc.; six held that the manuscript described the Indians as descendants of the lost ten tribes; four mentioned that the great wars caused the erection of the Indian mounds; and four noted the ancient scriptural style. The very tightness with which Hurlbut here was implementing his theory rouses an immediate suspicion that he did a little judicious prompting.6
This comment has already been addressed above. But, it is worth noting that Mr. Roger Anderson states that the same questions given to different people who knew Joseph Smith can easily result in common answers. For example, "How long were you acquainted with the Smith family? What was the general reputation of the Smiths? Was it such as to entitle them to respectability among their neighbors, or were they addicted to indolence, intemperance, or lying?"7
There is nothing wrong with asking the same question to different people. It could easily explain the similarities in answers. This is something that neither Mrs. Brodie nor Richard L. Anderson addressed. Therefore, the negative opinions of Anderson and Brodie on this issue carry far less weight and amount to nothing more than what they are: opinions.
What we do have along the lines of hard evidence are written affidavits sworn to and signed by people who claimed to know Joseph Smith. The documents were attested to be true by the witnesses and signed off as being true affidavits. In fact, these affidavits were signed in front of Thomas P. Baldwin, a Judge of Wayne County Court in New York; Fred K. Smith, Justice of the Peace of Wayne County; Jonathan Lapham, Justice of the peace; Charles Dimon, Justice of the Peace; and, some of the signers of the testimonies even had people who signed off as character references for them! (Mormonism Unveiled, p. 248).
In Howe's book on pages 261-262, are two affidavits dated 12/4/1833 from Palmyra New York and 11/3/1833 from Manchester, New York. The first states that the Smith family was "destitute of moral character" among other things. It is then signed by 51 people. The second of the accounts is much shorter and is signed by 11 people. I reproduce it here:
We, the undersigned, being personally acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. with whom the celebrated Gold Bible, so called, originated, state: that they were not only a lazy indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon; and that we are truly glad to dispense with their society. Parton Butts, Warden A. Reed, Hiram Smith, Alfred Stafford, James Gee, Abel Chase, A.H. Wentworth, Hoses C. Smith, Joseph Fish, Horace N. Barnes, Silvester Worden. (Mormonism Unveiled, page 262).
Are we to say that all these people, 66 in total, who signed these documents, were lying or had been coerced or unduly influenced by Mr. Hurlbut? Do the Mormons actually think that Mr. Hurlbut was of sufficient deceit and mesmerizing influence that he could get so many people to sign documents that were not true?
The Mormons often state that the documents were "doctored" by Mr. Hurlbut and are not trustworthy. If this is so, then where is the proof? I have never read any documentation where the signers of the affidavits complained that Mr. Hurlbut had misrepresented what they said. There was ample opportunity for them to complain if things were not accurate. With so many witnesses, surely some evidence of rebuttal would have surfaced. But none has.
Mormons sometimes state that the affidavits are not trustworthy because Mr. Hurlbut had a strongly biased agenda against Joseph Smith, and that any "anti-Mormon" information produced by him is automatically suspect. Well, the sword cuts both ways. If Hurlbut cannot be trusted because he had an agenda to disprove Joseph Smith, then neither can the Mormons who produce positive testimonies concerning Joseph Smith's character be trusted since they, too, had an agenda, namely, to prove the opposite.
Mr. Howe checked from himself.
Mr. Howe was weary about including the affidavits in his book, Mormonism Unveiled, because he knew that Hurlbut was having legal difficulties with Joseph Smith. Mr. Howe was naturally cautious about the trustworthiness of the documents. But, it turns out that Mr. Howe actually conducted some spot checks by interviewing some of the witnesses against Joseph Smith. Consider this comment written by Mr. Roger Anderson on page 30 of his book:
When Hurlbut submitted his collected statements to newspaper editor Eber D. Howe for publication, Hurlbut was embroiled in legal difficulties with Joseph Smith which made Howe suspect Hurlbut's motives. The Mormons were also denouncing Hurlbut's statements as fabrications, a charge which Howe had no way of controverting without independently verifying Hurlbut's statements. Accordingly Howe decided upon a "spot check" of Hurlbut's affidavits, hoping thereby to determine their authenticity without having to reinterview every witness. He first wrote to Isaac Hale and received in reply a long notarized statement and an affidavit from Hale's son Alva testifying that the notarized statement was "correct and true."8 Howe then traveled to Conneaut, Ohio, to see if the statements Hurlbut had collected there accusing Smith of plagiarism in writing the Book of Mormon were authentic. While there he "saw most of the witnesses and was satisfied they were not mistaken in their statements."9 Apparently this was enough to satisfy Howe of the integrity of Hurlbut's reports. He promptly published them as part of his book, Mormonism Unveiled.
Why is it that the Mormons don't include this information in their rebuttals to the Hurlbut affidavits? Is it because they don't do sufficient research, or is it because they don't like the evidence and thus exclude it? This kind of evidence strongly supports the reliability and accuracy of the eyewitness' accounts against the character of Joseph Smith.
Are there other sources that say the same thing? Yes, there are.
Hurlbut's affidavits are not the only place where accusations like this have been made. In the booklet Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, Vernal Holley states that Joseph Smith in 1826 was arrested and stood trial for "glass Looking," a misdemeanor. Smith was allowed "leg bail." Leg bail meant that he had to leave the area.10
Holley also quotes A. W. Benton in a letter to the editor of the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, April 9, 1831, which states: "In this town (South Bainbridge, N.Y.), a wealthy farmer, named Josiah Stowell, together with others, spent large sums of money in digging for hidden money, which this Smith pretended he could see, and told them where to dig; but they never found their treasure."11
Nevertheless, below is a chart where I have gone through the affidavits in Howe's Book, Mormonism Unveiled, and mapped the page numbers where the accusations occur against Joseph Smith. On the left side of the chart are the names of the people. You will notice that many of the witnesses say the same thing. You will also notice that I have included other writings by other authors, some are Mormon, with page numbers under the appropriate category demonstrating that some of the claims of the eyewitness' accounts contained in Howe's book are not solitary.
|Money Digging||Liar||Drunkard||Buried Treasure||Stone|
242, 243, 245
Nethaniel C. Lewis
Joseph Smith's Story in Pearl of Great Price
|William Smith, A New Witness for Christ in America, Vol. 2||417|
|David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ||t||12, 30, 31, 37|
|A Voice of Warning Or an Introduction to the Faith and Doctrine Of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints||t||71, 75, 81|
Journal of Discourses
|t||Volume 5, page 103 and numerous other references therein.|
What we can see in this chart is that the eyewitnesses are saying the same things. This is exactly what you'd expect of real witnesses. Furthermore, other, independent resources also mention items covered in the Hurlbut affidavits: Gold Plates, putting a stone in a hat to see things in it, and money digging. The eyewitnesses had personal experience with Joseph Smith, so their subjects covered a wider range, whereas the Mormon authors had every opportunity to omit any and all unfavorable accounts that they knew about.
The point is that the affidavits contain many of the same accounts that are documented in LDS church writings. Are the eyewitnesses then wrong in some areas but right in others? Or, are their sworn affidavits before Judges and Justices of the peace indeed accurate?
What is the real issue here?
It seems the real issue behind the Mormon complaints about the affidavits is not concerning their reliability and accuracy. Remember, these are legal documents. Rather, the Mormon is concerned with their content. I do not believe the Mormons want to hear about their prophet's sins and shameful character. They claim a testimony from God that Mormonism is true; and, in their eyes, there is no way the accusations against Joseph Smith could be valid. Therefore, they automatically assume the affidavits must be wrong and react and believe accordingly.
But, I believe they are sufficiently accurate as to reflect the true nature of Joseph Smith: a false prophet.
However, it is not the eyewitness' accounts that convince me of Joseph Smith's error. It is the word of God that contradicts his teachings and condemns his doctrines. Joseph Smith isn't wrong because the eyewitnesses said he is. He is wrong because God's word says he is.
This article is also available in: Español
- 1. "Sic" means the error is in the original quote. In this case, the word "unvailed" is incorrect. It should be spelled "unveiled." Throughout this paper, I use "unvailed" in reference to E.D. Howe's book since that is the original usage.
- 2. Brodie, Fawn M., No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 2nd ed., New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, p. 143. It is obvious when reading the context of this quote, that Mrs. Brodie favors Joseph Smith.
- 3. I would like to add that I have, on occasion, on my website, attempted to vindicate myself of the false charges of lying. However, the Mormons on the boards were incessant, accusatory, and quite rude in their attempts to discredit me. I then decided to not answer them any more.
- 4. Signature books, Inc., 564 West 400 North Street, Salt Lake City UT 84116-3411. Note that this is a Mormon publishing company. There is also a review of this book in "Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought," (Vol. 24, No. 2, p. 146) by Roger D. Launius.
- 5. Townsend's Letter dated 24 Dec., 1833, originally appeared in Pomeroy Tucker, The Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism, New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867, p. 288-291. As referenced in Roger Anderson's Article in his footnote #4. Parley Chase was one of the testifiers against the character of Joseph Smith in the book Mormonism Unvailed.
- 6. Brodie, p. 446-447.
- 7. Anderson, p. 29.
- 8. Susquehanna Register, 1 May 1834. As noted in footnote # 8 of Roger Anderson's article on p. 30.
- 9. Statement of E. D. Howe, 8 April, 1885, Painesville, Lake County, OH. Original in the Arthur Deming File, Mormon Collection, Chicago Historical Society. As noted in Roger Anderson's Article, footnote # 9 on p. 30.
- 10. Letter of Judge Joel K. Noble, Turner Collection, Illinois State Historical Library as cited in the booklet on p. 48, footnote # 40.
- 11. As cited in the booklet by Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, Ogden, UT: Zenos Publications, 1983, p. 48, footnote # 41.