Joseph Smith, father of the Prophet, came from Merrimac River, N.H., and first settled in Palmyra, but in 1819 removed to this place. He was a Methodist; but had formerly been a Universalist, and was quite an adept at Scriptural arguments. Credulity seems to have been a pretty large ingredient in his composition, as he was a great digger, always seeing "sights;" but never realizing his expectations, he was noted for his indolence, and for generally being in some difficulty with his neighbors. Joe's mother was a far different person from his father: she is described as a woman of strong uncultivated intellect, artful and cunning, and strongly imbued with an illy regulated religious enthusiasm, and much given to vague visions of riches and greatness. As is usually the case, she had much more to do with forming the character of the son than his father, though he had more of the atrocities of the latter, so far as his habits were concerned. Mrs. Smith seems to have been the head and front of the movement; she it was who first gave vague hints that a prophet was to arise from her humble household, and as arrangements progressed towards a consummation, she named those who had been fixed upon as instruments to assist them in getting out the new revelations--always selecting men who were noted for their credulity. In these affairs her husband assisted, and was her executive officer.
ALVAH [Alvin], the eldest son, was originally intended for the prophet, but alas for all human designs, "the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak;" and one day, ALVAH being rather hungry, he indulged too freely in raw turnips, sickened and died; so the incipient prophet was lost to the world and to Mormonism. Joe Smith thereby became a great man, for it was immediately given out that the mantle of Alvah [Alvin] had fallen upon him, unworthy though he was--for rumor says he was as lazy as his father, rather intemperate in his habits, and possessed of less than ordinary intellect. He had previously professed religion at a camp meeting, and was quite an exhorter at evening meetings; but this did not last long. "Mormon Hill" had been long designated "as the place in which countless treasures were buried;" Joseph, the elder, had "spaded" up many a foot of the hill side to find them, and Joseph Jr., had on more than one occasion accompanied him. Taking all these circumstances together, how perfectly natural was it for the Smith family to be selected as the means of finding, and Mormon Hill as the repository of the long buried revelation, known as the "Gold Bible."
It has been generally believed that this celebrated book was written by Mr. Spaulding, of Ohio, but for this belief there is no foundation; the original production undoubtedly emanated jointly from the Smith family, and a schoolmaster of this village by the name of OLIVER COWDERY, who was intimately connected with the Smiths in all their movements...
The original design of the movers was undoubtedly to make money and to gain a certain notoriety, of which, as we have said, Mrs. Smith had often had visions, and they had no idea at this time of founding a sect. Joe Smith has himself said as much. As soon as the Bible had been discovered Joe commenced to prophesy and to name individuals who were, as he said, called of God, as chosen instruments to assist him in the translating, &c., of the revelation. The most noted of their assistants was MARTIN HARRIS, a respectable and honest farmer residing at Palmyra--much given to new creeds, and a monomaniac upon the subject of "spiritual manifestations." He mortgaged his farm to pay for the printing of the Gold Bible, but a contract signed by JOSEPH, and witnessed by COWDERY, secure to Harris and his heirs one half the proceeds of the sale of the Gold Bible, until he was reimbursed in the sum of $2500--the cost of printing. This, together with the fact that Harris had procured the services of a village jeweler to help him estimate the value of the plates, taking as a basis Joe Smith's description, leaves us in doubt as to whether he was altogether a dupe.
The Prophet's account of finding these plates was--that an angel appeared, and directed him where to dig; he was then compelled, against his will, to interpret them, and promulgate their contents to the world; that on the plates were the names of the ancient residents in this country, "engraved by Mormon the son of Nephi;" that in the box containing them was "a large pair of spectacles, the stone or glass set in them being opaque to all but the prophet;" that "these belonged to Mormon the engraver, and that the plates could not be read without them." Harris was the principal amanuensis, and having nearly a hundred pages of the manuscript translation in his house, his wife, who was an unbeliever, seized them, and either burned or secreted them--it was supposed the former--but for fear that she should confront them with the lost documents at some future day, the Smiths, Cowdery and Harris, agreed not to translate these again, but to let so much of the new revelation drop out, lest "the evil spirit should get up a story that the second translation did not agree with the first." . . .
ASHES [anonymous author, probably relying on an 1851 account by Orsamus Turner]
["Mormonism in Its Infancy," Newark (New Jersey) Daily Advertiser, Circa August 1856, Charles Woodward Scrapbook, New York Public Library, New York, New York (Woodward 1880, 1:125)., as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents: Manchester Resident Reminiscence]