Early Mormon Documents: Volume Four

A record of Joseph Smith’s time in Harmony, Colesville, and South Bainbridge as he organized the Church of Christ and prepared the Book of Mormon for publication.

John Whitmer Historical Association Best Documentary Series Award

Out of Print

September, 2002


In Volume Four:
Bainbridge court record, 1826.
Sidney Rigdon interview, 1831
Jared Carter reminiscence, 1832
Joseph Knight reminiscence, ca. 1835
Justice Joel K. Noble letter, 1842
Josiah Stowell Jr. letter, 1843
Attorney John S. Reed reminiscence, 1844
Emily Colburn Austin autobiography, 1882
And thirty-seven other documents
Articles of Agreement, 1825
Anthon Transcript, 1827
Tax assessment record, 1828-31
Joseph Smith mortgage, 1830
Headmistress Hupman’s ledger, 1830
Isaac Hale statement, 1834
Charles Anthon letter, 1834
Emily Blackman history, 1873
And twenty-nine other documents


Today when we think of Joseph Smith as a young man, we tend to picture him in a Palmyra, New York, setting. He also spent three years in Harmony, Pennsylvania. When he first arrived there, he boarded with Isaac Hale and worked for Josiah Stowell. Later, after he married Hale’s daughter Emma, he became a permanent resident and property owner. He also spent about six months across the border in South Bainbridge, New York, where Stowell lived, and in neighboring Colesville, where he was employed by Joseph Knight. During this period, he made brief visits back to Palmyra and Fayette to monitor the typesetting and printing of the Book of Mormon and to organize the Church of Christ. In September 1830 he and Emma left Hamony for good, moving first to Fayette, then to Ohio.

The documentary record relating to the Smiths’ experiences in Harmony, Colesville, and South Bainbridge is fairly extensive. From tax assessments, we learn that the young couple owned thirteen acres of land, a cow worth ten dollars, and a house worth ten dollars. The small house, an outbuilding provided by Emma’s father, was where her brother Jesse lived when the house was not being used to dress deer skins. Joseph and Emma tried to make it habitable. Neighbors commented on the “beautiful hardwood” floors and the “nice fireplace.” The bulk of the Book of Mormon was dictated there

In addition, editor Dan Vogel has assembled court documents relating to Joseph’s money-digging adventures and statements by Joseph’s acquaintances, letters, diary entries, reminiscences, and news articles that shed considerable light on the family’s circumstances and activities, including the dictation of the Book of Mormon and the first sermons and baptisms of the new church.

Perspectives contained within these documents are varied. When Joseph was brought to trial in South Bainbridge, his supporters considered it a nuisance suit and agreed with attorney John S. Reed who hoped the “Boy Joseph,” whose “cheeks blossomed with the beauty of youth, and … eyes sparkled with innocence,” would be “deliver[ed] from them wicked sons of bitc[h]es”. The community, for their part, agreed with Josiah Stowell’s sons who thought their father was being tricked and cheated and that Reed was an opportunist—an “old pettyfogger,” as they phrased it.

Also interesting is that Joseph’s famous hat, used for stone gazing, was a white stovepipe. Neighbors knew Joseph as “the peeker,” and some spoke with respect for his gift of “second sight” and for the seer stone, which they called the “All-Seeing Eye.”

Finally is the enthusiasm with which people embraced the new gospel. Newell Knight described the first church conference: “Much good instruction was given, and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a marvelous manner. Many prophesied, while others had the heavens opened to their view. It was a scene long to be remembered. I felt my heart filled with love, with glory, and with pleasure unspeakable.”

Dan Vogel is the editor of Early Mormon Documents, a five-volume series that won Best Documentary awards from both the Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association. He is the editor of The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture; author of Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon; Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet and Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism; and co-editor of American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon. He is also a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith and Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, among others. He has presented research papers at the annual Mormon History Association meetings, Sunstone Theological Symposium, and similar conferences. He is currently preparing a definitive edition of Joseph Smith’s multi-volume History of the Church. He and his wife live in Westerville, Ohio.

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