excerpt – Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 4


In October 1825, Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, made his way up the newly-opened Erie Canal to visit his oldest son, Simpson Stowell, in Manchester, Ontario County, New York. By this time, Joseph Smith, Jr.’s, activities as a treasure seer were well known in Palmyra and Manchester. For years, Josiah had attempted to locate a lost Spanish silver mine along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. This mutual interest in treasure seeking drew Stowell to the Smiths’ Manchester residence. Stowell was amazed by young Joseph’s ability to see distant places in his seer stone and therefore hired him on the spot (I.A.15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 8; I.B.5, LUCY SMITH HISTORY, 1845, 1853:91-92; IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826).

Both Joseph Sr. and Jr. accompanied Stowell back to South Bainbridge, and after gathering a small band of treasure seekers proceeded on to Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, where on 1 November 1825 “Articles of Agreement” were drawn up and signed stipulating how the treasure would be divided among the interested parties (V.E.I, ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT, 1 NOV 1825). According to Isaac Hale, at whose home the money diggers boarded, the company disbanded about 17 November (V.A.1, ISAAC HALE STATEMENT, 1834). Although Smith’s later accounts limited his treasure seeking activities to this one episode in Pennsylvania, he apparently continued similar ventures in Chenango and Broome Counties until his arrest and court hearing in March 1826. Peter Bridgeman, a nephew of Josiah Stowell who evidently believed Smith was conning his uncle, issued a warrant accusing Smith of being “a disorderly person and an Impostor.” While the court’s findings remain a matter of controversy, conclusions of innocence or guilt are less important than evidence of Smith’s continued employment as a treasure seer (IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826; IV.F.2, ALBERT NEELY BILL OF COSTS, 20 MAR 1826; IV.F.3, PHILIP DEZENG BILL OF COSTS, 1826; see also IV.C.2, ABRAM W. BENTON REMINISCENCE, MAR 1831; and IV.D.2, WILLIAM D. PURPLE REMINISCENCE, 28 APR 1877).

Immediately following his legal troubles in South Bainbridge, Joseph Smith, Jr., returned to Manchester, where he remained through the summer. It was perhaps the prospect of marriage that lured him back to South Bainbridge about November 1826. Unable to hire Smith, Stowell referred him to Joseph Knight, Sr., of Colesville, Broome County, New York, located along the Susquehanna River about ten miles south of South Bainbridge. Smith worked for Knight until his marriage to Emma Hale, whom he had met while boarding at her father’s residence in Harmony. Against the wishes of her parents, Emma married Joseph on 17 January 1827. The nuptials took place at the home of South Bainbridge justice of the peace Squire Tarbell (IV.A.1, JOSEPH KNIGHT, SR., REMINISCENCE, CIRCA 1835-1847, 1; V.A.1, ISAAC HALE STATEMENT, 1834). Very soon afterwards, Josiah Stowell helped convey the newlyweds to Manchester where they moved in with the Smith family.

Joseph Smith home, Harmony, Pennsylvania. The center portion is where Emma gave birth to their first child, Alvin, who died the same day, 15 June 1828. Here Joseph dictated most of the Book of Mormon. Courtesy Utah State Historical SocietyIn December 1827, however, Joseph and Emma relocated to Harmony. As the work of translation progressed, Joseph Knight occasionally visited them and gave them supplies. In late March 1830, Knight took Smith to Manchester and witnessed the organization of the church (IV.A. I. JOSEPH KNIGHT, SR., REMINISCENCE, CIRCA 1835-1847, 6-7). Knight’s son Newel was the first in the family to receive baptism during a visit to Fayette in May 1830. Other family members, including Joseph Knight, Sr., were baptized at a special meeting held in Colesville on 28 June (I.A. 15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 43; IV.A.3, NEWEL KNIGHT AUTOBIOGRAPHY, CIRCA 1846, 55). The Knight family, together with brother-in-law Hezekiah Peck’s family, formed the nucleus of a small branch of the church in Colesville. Regarding this event, Richard L. Bushman has noted: “Altogether twenty-eight people came into the church through the Knight-Peck connection in the first few months. … The Knights and the other families [in Colesville] accounted for sixty baptisms in the first nine months” (Bushman 1984, 151).

Resistance to the emergence of Mormonism in the Colesville area was headed by the Presbyterians. On the day before the June 1830 baptismal meeting, the Reverend John Sherer attempted to abduct young Emily Colburn in order to prevent her baptism, but was intercepted by her sister Sally (Colburn) Knight, wife of Newell Knight, and others. The following morning, Emily’s brother-in-law arrived with a power of attorney ordering her immediate return to Sandford, Broome County, New York (IV.D.7, EMILY [COLBURN] AUSTIN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, 1882, 38-48; I.A.I 5, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839,42-43; IV.C. I.JOHN SHERER TO ABSALOM PETERS, 18 NOV 1830). Presbyterians Abram W. Benton, Nathan Boynton, and Cyrus McMasterwere responsible for Joseph Smith’s further legal difficulties in Colesville. On 30 June 1830, Smith was arrested there for being a “disorderly person” and taken before Justice Joseph Chamberlin of South Bainbridge the following day (I.A. 15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 44-45; IV.F.5, EBENEZER HATCH BILL OF COSTS, 4 JUL 1830; IV.F.4, JOSEPH CHAMBERLIN BILL OF COSTS, 1 JUL 1830; I.B.5, LUCY SMITH HISTORY, 1845, MS:114, 1853:157; IV.A.l, JOSEPH KNIGHT, SR., REMINISCENCE, CIRCA 1835-1847, 8; IV.A.5, JOSEPH KNIGHT, JR., HISTORY, 1862, 215; IV.A.3, NEWEL KNIGHT AUTOBIOGRAPHY, CIRCA 1846, 55-56; IV.B.2, MARTHA CAMPBELL TO JOSEPH SMITH, 19 DEC 1843; IV.C.2, ABRAM W. BENTON REMINISCENCE, MAR 1831). Smith was acquitted but was immediately served with another warrant for trial in Colesville. The following day, 2 July, Smith appeared before Justice Joel K. Noble on the same charge but was eventually acquitted (I.A.15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 44-45; I.B.5, LUCY SMITH HISTORY, 1845, MS: Frag. 6, 1853:157; IV.A.3, NEWEL KNIGHT AUTOBIOGRAPHY, CIRCA 1846, 55-56; IV.C.6, JOHN S. REED REMINISCENCE, 1844; IV.D.l, JOHN S. REED TO BRIGHAM YOUNG, 6 DEC 1861; IV.F.5, EBENEZER HATCH BILL OF COSTS, 4 JUL 1830). Legally frustrated, Smith’s enemies came to mob him, but he escaped and fled back to Harmony.

A “few days” after his return home, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery attempted to visit Colesville “intending to confirm those who had been baptized” but they were forced to flee. Richard L. Bushman has speculated that Smith and Cowdery received the Melchizedek priesthood from ancient apostles Peter, James, and John at this time (Bushman 1984, 163, 240-41 n. 55); Smith said the visitation took place “in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broom[e] county, on the Susquehanna River” (I.A.21, JOSEPH SMITH TO THE CHURCH, 6 SEP 1842, 936), and a late account connects the angelic visitation with the events of 3 July 1830 (I.A.29, ADDISON EVERETT ACCOUNTS, 1881 & 1882). In this setting, the visitation would not have been connected with the already established office of elder, as is commonly assumed, but rather with the apostleship (see Doctrine and Covenants 27:12; hereafter D&C; see also Vogel 1988, 111-12).

Soon after Newel and Sally Knight visited Joseph and Emma Smith in Harmony in early September 1830 for the purpose of having Sally confirmed (see BofC XXVIII, heading), Joseph and Hyrum Smith, John Whitmer, and David Whitmer visited Colesville and finally confirmed those who had been baptized in June. The next day, Smith returned to Harmony (I.A.15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 52-53; IV.A.2, NEWEL KNIGHT JOURNAL, CIRCA 1846; IV.A.3, NEWEL KNIGHT AUTOBIOGRAPHY, CIRCA 1846, 63-64; IV.A.5, JOSEPH KNIGHT, JR., HISTORY, 16 AUG 1862; I.A.3, JOSEPH SMITH TO COLESVILLE SAINTS, 28 AUG 1830).

When Joseph Smith temporarily located in Fayette, New York, in late September, the focus of church affairs shifted from the Colesville branch. Yet, Smith kept in close contact with the Colesville church. In early October, Hyrum Smith and family moved in with Newel Knight, and the two men began traveling and preaching in the area (IV.A.3, NEWEL KNIGHT AUTOBIOGRAPHY, CIRCA 1846; Porter 1971, 109). In early December, recent convert and newly ordained elder Orson Pratt arrived in Colesville from Fayette to help in the missionary effort (IV.A.2, NEWEL KNIGHT JOURNAL, CIRCA 1846; VI.F.8, ORSON PRATT ACCOUNT, 1858; I.A.5, JOSEPH SMITH TO COLESVILLE SAINTS, 2 DEC 1830). In January 1831, Joseph Smith and Ohio convert Sidney Rigdon visited the Colesville branch for “several days,” during which time Rigdon preached in Joseph Knight’s barn (IV.A. I.. JOSEPH KNIGHT, SR., REMINISCENCE, CIRCA 1835-1847, 8; IV.D.7, EMILY [COLBURN] AUSTIN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, 1882, 37-38; VI.B.l, JOHN WHITMER HISTORY, 1831, 9-12; IV.D.5, GEORGE COLLINGTON, SMITH BAKER, HARRIET MARSH, AND REBECCA NURSE INTERVIEWS WITH FREDERICK G. MATHER. JUL 1880).

Although Joseph Smith had left Fayette for Kirtland, Ohio, in late January and urged others to do likewise, the Colesville branch waited for spring before leaving New York (IV.A.2, NEWEL KNIGHT JOURNAL, CIRCA 1846). The Knights left on 21 April and rendezvoused with other Colesville Saints in Ithaca, where they boarded a canal boat and departed on 25 April, arriving the following day at Cayuga Bridge situated at the north end of Cayuga Lake. At the bridge, they changed their lading to another canal boat and departed for Buffalo, arriving on 1 May. At Buffalo, they were joined by another group of Saints from Waterloo, New York, headed by Lucy Smith (IV.D.13, HARVEY BAKER REMINISCENCE, 1900; IV.D.15, HARRIET E. SHAY AFFIDAVIT, 27 MAR 1903; Porter 1971, 302-307). When the ice momentarily separated, Lucy’s group left Buffalo, but the Colesville group was unable to follow. Jared Carter led a small group of brethren on land to Dunkirk, New York, where they boarded a steamboat to Fairport, Ohio, and then continued on to Kirtland. The Saints remaining in Buffalo finally left by schooner on 11 May, reaching Fairport three days later (Porter 1971, 307-308).

The following collection documents Joseph Smith’s experiences as a treasure seer and laborer in Chenango and Broome Counties as well as his later activities as founder of the Church of Christ. The testimonies of the Knight and Stowell families—faithful converts—are of particular importance, as are the unfavorable statements of other residents. Non-resident sources, such as from Sidney Rigdon, bring additional information to Mormon studies. Miscellaneous civil documents pertaining to Joseph Smith’s legal difficulties in 1826 and 1830 are also indispensable to understanding the hostilities engendered by Smith’s activities as a treasure seer and later as a religious leader.

17 FEBRUARY 1843

Josiah Stowell, Jr., to John S. Fullmer, 17 February 1843, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.


Josiah Stowell, Jr. (1809-1875), youngest of eight children born to Josiah and Miriam Stowell, was raised on a farm about two miles southwest of South Bainbridge (now Afton), New York. He states in the letter that he went to school “one winter” with Joseph Smith when Smith was “about 20 years old or there about,” probably in the winter of 1825-26. Stowell also states that he was intimately acquainted with Smith “about 2 years.” Josiah Jr. did not believe in Smith’s religious claims, although he did not believe him to be a bad man. His opinion differed from that of his older brothers who were evidently angry about Smith’s influence with their father and were partly responsible for bringing charges against him in March 1826 (see IV.D.2, WILLIAM D. PURPLE REMINISCENCE, 28 APR 1877). By 1840, Josiah Jr. was living in Tioga Township, Tioga County, New York, at which time his father was evidently living with him (Porter 1971, 209). When he wrote the present letter, he was living in Chemung, Chemung County, New York, where at age thirty-nine, he is listed in the 1850 census along with his wife Martha (1850:76); they are absent from the 1860 New York census. He died on 15 June 1875 in Sugar Run, Pennsylvania (Stowell 1922, 428).

Writing from Cambria, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, on 10 February 1843, John S. Fullmer (1807-83),1 then serving a mission for the LDS church in northern Pennsylvania, sought information from Stowell about Joseph Smith. Fullmer’s letter follows2:

Cambria, Luzeme Co. Penn.
February 10th 1843

Josiah Stowell Jr. Esq.
Elmyra N.Y.

Dear Sir,

I hope you will pardon pardon me for the liberty I am taking in addressing you this letter, which is intended, not as an obtrusion, but to elicit a statement of facts which came under your own personal observation, or such as you know to be facts from circumstance with which you are well acquainted, relative to the youthful, and also more matured character of Joseph Smith Jun.<,>3 your play mate and school fellow, but now leader of the “Latter day Saints.”

I have been laboring now for some weeks in this section of the Country, by way of preaching the gospe[l] as understood by the said Smith and others, and find here a great deal of opposition & persecution, in consequence of the reputed bad character of Mr. Smith in his youth, and the consequent deception <it is said> he is practicing upon the public.

Being convinced of the great injustice done him everywhere in alleging charges of the most haineus ch[ar]=acter against him, which are verily believed by the people here, and greatly to the prejudice of the spread of the gospel in this section; and having recently had an opportunity of conversing with you, (while at your house together with Mr. Bird) on the subject and learned that you were his youthful companion, and had, on many occasions, defended his character from the fulsome abuse of the slanderer; I cannot forbear to solicit from <you> a statement of such things as you feel warranted in making in his defence and in defence of the truth, & more especially as you are not a member of the <church.>

It is here stated and verily believed, that he, Smith, was a gambler,4 a Blackleg,5 a notorious horse jockey,6 an adept at the slight of hand or juggling,7 and was notorious for frequenting grog shops, and intemperance, and that he was also exceedingly profane, &c. &c. Now<,> if this matter can be answered to the satisfaction of some half [p. 1] a Dozen persons in this neighborhood, it would have quite a beneficial effect here; besides, it would be a vindication of the character and reputation of one who is receiving more than his share of misrepresentation and abuse. I have openly and boldly denied these char=ges, and although not required to prove a negative, have <still> agreed to do so in several instances, which if I can do, through you, will set this matter at rest in this place.

I hope you will take the trouble, (if you think me reasonable in requesting it,) to answer in reply to those charges as soon as circumstances will posibly admit of your doing so; and <I should be pleased to have vou> make also such general remarks as the occasion seems to require. I should be pleased also to have the old gentleman, your father, subscribe to as much of your reply as he is knowing to.

Address to Cambria &c. as above.

Give my compliments to all that I had the pleasure of seeing at y[ou]r. house. & to Mr. Bird, should you see him.

Very Respectfully

Jno: S. Fullmer

P.S. I would gladly pay the postage on this letter, but tell the truth I have not got it. am laboring with<out> purse or scrip, & without compensation, only such good as I may be the means of doing while on my Mission. <& may God bless you and yours.> Send yours without paying postage.


Stowell responded with the following. The letter’s cover page reads:

“J. S. Fullmer Esq / Cambria / Luzerne Co. / PA / Post Comers NY / Feb 18th,” and was postmarked at twelve and a half cents.


Chemung Peb 17th 1843

Mr J S Fullmer

I rec[eive]d yours of the 10 Feb on the 14th and have binn So Busy that I could not answer it until now & now I will as nere as I Can at this time[.] you well know tis a Perplexing time for business men & My mind is fully Engaged in my business on ac[coun]t of the great derangement of the Curency[.]8 I will give you a Short history of what I know about Joseph Smith Jr I have binn Intemetely acquainted with him about 2 years [.]9 he then was about 20 years old or there about[.] I also went to schoal with him one winter]10 he was a fine likely young man & at that time did not Profess religion[.] he was not a Profain man although I did once in a while hear him sware[.] he never gambled to my knowledge)] I Do not believe he Ever did[.] I well know he was no Hoars Jocky for he was no Judge of Hoarses I Sold him one[.]11 that is all I ever knewd he dealt in the kind I never new him to git drunk I believe he would now and then take a glass[.]12 he never Pre-tend=ed to Play the Slight of hand nor Black leg, it was fashionable at that time to drink Liquor[.] I do not Believe in any religion & there fore am friendly to all I Believe that there is a heaven & hell & those that do not right here through there lives will be damn=ed but still I believe I do right myself[.] I State this for facts that any thing from waht I have Said about Joseph Smith that is wors[e] than I Say is fals & untrue [p. 1]

I am fraid you Cannot read what I have Wrote my penn is Poor I am in a glassy & tired after doing a hard Days work

I am yours truly
Josiah Stowell Jr.

I now write you for my father he Says what I have wrote you is true & he has binn acquainted with him 6 years13 & he never knew any thing of him but what was right als[o] knew him to be a Seer & a Prophet & Believe the Book of Mormon to be strue true[,] & all the these Stories is fals & untrue that is told about Joseph Smith

I am yours truly & Reply
you[r] Brother in the Church of Latter day Saints

Josiah Stowell
By J Stowell Jr



1. John S. Fullmer, son of Peter and Susannah (Zerfass) Fullmer, was born in Huntington, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. He was appointed an elder at a church conference in October 1839 and sometime after December 1841 was sent on a mission to northern Pennsylvania (see Jessee 1984, 497-500, 503-504, 688). He returned to Nauvoo by 26 June 1844, at which time he spent the night with Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail. He also served a mission in Britain from 1852 to 1855. He died in Springville, Utah (J. Smith 1948, 4:12-13, 6:600; Bitton 1977, 115;Jessee 1992, 546; Amhurst-McGee 1999, 110, 115-16, nn. 13, 14).

2. The following transcription is taken from what appears to be Fullmer’s original copy, housed in the LDS Church Archives. A note on the reverse side states: “Copy of a Letter / to /Josiah Stowell.” Fullmer’s letter of inquiry and Stowell’s response were both published in the Church News (12 May 1985): 10; and in Ashurst-McGee 1999.

3. This insertion and the one following are written in pencil.

4. At the time, the meaning of “gambler” included “a cheating gamester, sharpe, knave” (Webster 1806, 128). See also Young et al., 1853-86, 4:77-78.

5. A “black leg” was a “swindler,” especially at horse races (see Ashurst-McGee 1999, 116, n. 26).

6. By “horse jockey” was meant “a dealer in horses; one who makes it his business to buy and sell horses for gain” and “[a] cheat; one who deceives or takes undue advantage in trade” (Webster 1828, s.v. “jockey”; cited in Ashurst-McGee 1999, 116, n. 27). Brigham Young mentioned hearing accusations in 1832 that Joseph Smith was a “horse-jockey” and a horse thief (Young et al. 1853-86, 8:15).

7. “Juggling” was “the act of playing tricks, deceit” (Webster 1806, 168). See IV.C. I. JOHN SHERER TO ABSALOM PETERS, 18 NOV 1830, n. 2.

8. Andrew Jackson’s 1836 disestablishment of the Bank of the United States and the subsequent flood of local currency created an unstable situation (see Amhurst-McGee 1999, 117 n. 32).

9. Probably from about November 1825, when Smith came to work for Josiah Stowell, Sr., to January 1 827, when Smith left the area following his marriage to Emma Hale in South Bainbridge. Smith was nineteen when he first met Josiah Jr. and twenty-one when he married Emma. John S. Reed, another resident of South Bainbridge, also said Smith lived in the “neighborhood” for about “two years” (IV.C.6, JOHN S. REED REMINISCENCE, 1844). D. Michael Quinn is probably mistaken in his assertion that the Stowells met Smith in 1823 (Quinn 1998, 49, 55-56). See also note 13 below.

10. At his March 1826 court hearing, Joseph Smith mentioned going to school in South Bainbridge (see IV.F.l, BAINBRIDGE [NY] COURT RECORD, 20 MAR 1826).

11. In a 22 October 1829 letter to Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith mentioned buying a horse from Josiah Stowell, Sr. (see I.A.I, JOSEPH SMITH TO OLIVER COWDERY, 22 OCT 1829).

12. On Joseph Smith’s drinking, see III.A.2, BARTON STAFFORD STATEMENT, 3 NOV 1833, n. 4.

13. Stowell’s six-year acquaintance with Smith likely spans from October 1825, when he first met Smith in Manchester, to January 1831, when Smith left New York. Stowell may have extended the period of his acquaintance to include a possible brief visit to Ohio (IV.D.14, SALLY ANN BEARDSLEY AFFIDAVIT, 27 MAR 1903). D. Michael Quinn’s assertion that Stowell first met Smith in 1823 is probably wrong. In supporting his assertion, Quinn places unwarranted restrictions on Stowell’s being “acquainted” with Smith, arguing that Stowell’s “close association” pertained only to the latter’s various residences in the Susquehanna area (1823-1829), which Quinn thinks ended in June 1829 when Smith moved from Harmony to Fayette (Quinn 1998, 49, 395, n. 166). Quinn is unaware that Smith returned to Harmony in October 1829, not June 1830 (see I.A.I, JOSEPH SMITH TO OLIVER COWDERY, 22 OCT 1829), and did not leave permanently until September 1830 (see BofC XXVIII, heading).