[William D. Purple]
In the year 1825 we often saw in that quiet hamlet, Joseph Smith, Jr., the author of the Golden Bible, or the Books of Mormon. He was an inmate of the family of Deacon Isaiah [Josiah] Stowell, who resided some two miles below the village, on the Susquehanna. ... About this time  he took upon himself a monomaniacal impression to seek for hidden treasures which he believed were buried in the earth. He hired help and repaired to Northern Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Lanesboro, to prosecute his search for untold wealth which he believed to be buried there. Whether it was the "Ninety bars of gold And dollars many fold." that Capt. Robert Kidd, the pirate of a preceding century, had despoiled the commerce of the world, we are not able to say, but that he took his help and provisions from home, and camped out on the black hills of that region for weeks at a time, was freely admitted by himself and family. ... There had lived a few years previous to this date, in the vicinity of Great Bend, a poor man named Joseph Smith [Sr.], who, with his family, had removed to the western part of the State, and lived in squallid poverty near Palmyra, in Ontario County. Mr. Stowell, while at Lanesboro, heard of the fame of one of his sons, named Joseph, who, by the aid of a magic stone had become a famous seer of lost or hidden treasures. ... In due time he arrived at the humble log cabin, midway between Canandaigua and Palmyra, and found the sought for treasure in the person of Joseph Smith, Jr., a lad of some eighteen years of age. He, with the magic stone, was at once transferred from his humble abode to the more pretentious mansion of Deacon Stowell. Here, in the estimation of the Deacon, he confirmed his conceded powers as a seer, by means of the stone which he placed in his hat, and by excluding the light from all other terrestrial things, could see whatever he wished, even in the depths of the earth. This omniscient attribute he firmly claimed. ... In February, 1826, the sons of Mr. Stowell, who lived with their, father, were greatly incensed against Smith, as they plainly saw their father squandering his property in the fruitless search for hidden treasures, and saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire. They made up their minds that "patience had ceased to be a virtue," and resolved to rid themselves and their family from this incubus, who, as they believed, was eating up their substance, and depriving them of their anticipated patrimony. They caused the arrest of Smith as a vagrant, without visible means of livelihood. The trial came on in the above mentioned month, before Albert Neeley, Esq., the father of Bishop [Henry Adams] Neeley, of the State of Maine. I was an intimate friend of the Justice, and was invited to take notes of the trial, which I did. There was a large collection of persons in attendance, and the proceedings attracted much attention. The affidavits of the sons were read, and Mr. [Joseph] Smith [Jr.] was fully examined by the Court. ... He said when he was a lad, he heard of a neighboring girl some three miles from him, who could look into a glass and see anything however hidden from others; that he was seized with a strong desire to see her and her glass; that after much effort he induced his parents to let him visit her. He did so, and was permitted to look in the glass, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light. He was greatly surprised to see but one thing, which was a small stone, a great way off. It soon became luminous, and dazzled his eyes, and after a short time it became as intense as the mid-day sun. He said that the stone was under the roots of a tree or shrub as large as his arm, situated about a mile up a small stream that puts in on the South side of Lake Erie, not far from the New York and Pennsylvania line. He often had an opportunity to look in the glass, and with the same result. The luminous stone alone attracted his attention. This singular circumstance occupied his mind for some years, when he left his father's house, and with his youthful zeal traveled west in search of this luminous stone. ... After traveling some one hundred and fifty miles he found himself at the mouth of the creek. He did not have the glass with him, but he knew its exact location. He borrowed an old ax and a hoe, and repaired to the tree. With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye. ... On the request of the Court, he exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen's egg, in the shape of a high instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. ... Joseph Smith, Sr., was present, and sworn as a witness. He confirmed at great length all that his son had said in his examination. He delineated his [Joseph Smith, Jr.] characteristics in his youthful days--his vision of the luminous stone in the glass--his visit to Lake Erie in search of the stone--and his wonderful triumphs as a seer. He described very many instances of his finding hidden and stolen goods. He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures, and with a long-faced, "sanctimonious seeming," he said his constant prayer to his Heavenly Father was to manifest His will concerning this marvelous power. He trusted that the Son of Righteousness would some day illumine the heart of the boy, and enable him to see His will concerning him. ... The next witness called was Deacon Isaiah [Josiah] Stowell. He confirmed all that is said above in relation to himself, and delineated many other circumstances not necessary to record. He swore that the prisoner possessed all the power he claimed and declared he could see things fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plain as the witness could see what was on the Justices' table, and described very many circumstances to confirm his words. ... Mr. [Jonathan] Thompson, an employee of Mr. Stowell, was the next witness. He and another man were employed in digging for treasure, and always attended the Deacon and Smith in their nocturnal labors. He could not assert that anything of value was ever obtained by them. The following scene was described by this witness, and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm. In a few feet from the surface the box of treasure was struck by the shovel, on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach. After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or of some untoward mental emotion, was the cause of their failure. In this emergency the fruitful mind of Smith was called on to devise a way to obtain the prize. Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. Shortly after the venerable Deacon might be seen on his knees at prayer near the pit, while Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness, might be seen making a circuit around the pit, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon, the ground, as a preparation to the spirit that thwarted them. They then descended the excavation, but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained. ... These scenes occurred some four years before Smith, by the aid of his luminous stone, found the Golden Bible, or the Book of Mormon. The writer may at some subsequent day give your readers a chapter on its discovery, and a synopsis of its contents. It is hardly necessary to say that, as the testimony of Deacon Stowell could not be impeached, the prisoner was discharged, and in a few weeks left the town. Greene, April 28, 1877.
[W[illiam]. D. Purple, "Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism. Historical Reminiscences of the Town of Afton," Chenango Union (Norwich, New York) 30 (3 May 1877): 3. Two reprints of Purple's article are also available: an unidentified newspaper clipping, c. May 1877, W. D. Purple Scrapbook, 60-, Moore Memorial Library, Greene, New York; and unidentified newspaper clipping, c. May 1877, in Charles L. Woodward, The First Half Century of Mormonism. Papers, Engravings, Photographs, and Autograph Letters, Collected and Arranged by Charles L. Woodward, 2 vols. (New York, 1880), 2:248-51, New York Public Library, New York, New York., as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents: William D. Purple Reminiscence]
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