Joseph Smith: Guilty

Posted by: Andee / Category: , , , , ,

Seth, a believing Mormon who visits WindySydney agreed to let me share this on the blog in the form of an article. I think this is good because it opens the lines of communication and lets people get a different perspective on things...

There are many believing Mormons who read my blog but don't leave comments as Seth does. They usually send me email because they don't want to be "caught" on an "Anti-Mormon" blog. I hate that people feel they have to hide their online activities or keep things from their family just because it's an opposing point of view. As a matter of fact, seeking out the opposite point of view should be a good thing. If you close yourself off to new things and ideas you get stuck and you stop growing and learning. Any religion that tells you what you should and shouldn't read isn't good for you. I wish more Mormons would realize that.

Anyway, back on topic.

Seth and I were debating on my post about lying for the lord. I asked Seth to reply to just a couple of the list of over 100 proven lies the church has told over the years. This is his reply and as usual I will jump in when I feel the need... To help keep things straight, Seth's words are quoted and italicized, and other quotes will not be italicized. Hope that helps.

Very well, here goes.

"He was found guilty of glass looking. The modern term for Smith would be a con artist."

Joseph Smith was arraigned, but there is no record of a court conviction. Previous records of court hearings have been supplemented by new documents allowing a better legal analysis. There just isn't any firm ground to argue a conviction ever happened. You can read more about it here:

You see, Seth... I have quotes stating the exact opposite.

I do believe that your apologist sources don't want to admit the damning proof of Joseph Smith's conviction of fraud. If you were to look at non-Mormon sources you might find something like this...

Joseph Smith was indeed convicted when he was brought up on charges of money digging or glass looking. This is a quote of a report by Alan Butler who wrote an article for AC:

By 1826 Joseph Smith had developed a reputation as a glass looker (also known as a money digger). Smith used a seer stone rather than a piece of glass. He would place the seer stone into a stovepipe hat which he would then cover with his face. By peering at the stone while in the hat he could see things which were far removed from him, even buried under the ground.

Early in 1826 a man by the name of Josiah Stowell had come to Smith to hire him for his money digging abilities. Stowell believed that there was a treasure buried on his land, left by Spaniards long ago. With Smith's great powers Stowell would be able to find the great Spanish treasure.

For a month Smith worked on the Stowell farm, but nothing was ever found. Stowell himself never doubted Smith's abilities, but many of those close to Stowell felt the old man was being taken for a ride by Smith and brought him up on charges.

Arad Stowell, Josiah's son, testified that he had personally tested Joseph Smith's abilities and saw clearly that it was nothing but a con job. With his testimony and that of two other men involved with Josiah Stowell, Joseph Smith was found guilty of disturbing the peace.

To those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints this episode in the life of their founder and first prophet has been a very embarrassing one that they have fought very hard to deny. The danger lies not just in the fact that Smith was a convicted con man prior to his creation of the Church, but that the details of his confidence trickery are so similar to those of the story of Joseph Smith finding and translating the golden plates which would become the Book of Mormon.

This is something Steve Benson (grandson of a former prophet and well-known ex-Mormon) wrote about Joseph Smith's conviction:

Let the record show that Joseph Smith was indeed officially (and criminally) convicted of fraud by a New York court--during the time, no less, that he claimed to be receiving inspired instructions pertaining to the translation of supposedly divinely-unearthed gold plates which he said he had dug up during an angel-led scavenger hunt.


In 1961, Nibley authored a book entitled "The Myth Makers," in which he ventured to boldly debunk assertions that Joseph Smith had committed, or had been arrested for, the crime of "glass-looking." Nibley (in words he probably later wished he could retract) went so far as to declare that if, in fact, Smith was actually proven guilty of such nefarious activity, it would constitute the most damning blow that could be imagined to Smith's claim of divine prophetship.


Under the sub-section, "Guilty! Next Case!," Hartshorn exposes the serious nature of the charges against Smith and how they have plunged a dagger into the heart of Smith's claims to divine guidance:

"It was charged that Joseph Smith was accused and found guilt of parting a local farmer from his money in a less than honest scheme, commonly known as 'money-digging' or 'glass-looking.' It was reported to have been an activity that brought him rebuke from his soon-to-be father-in-law, Isaac Hale. It is also historically recorded that he was removed from membership in a local Methodist church because of the activity and trial results.


"Of course, when that was first published back in 1961, Dr. Nibley undoubtedly felt that after 130 years no such record would turn up in 1971. Once again, the actual evidence, which the Mormon Church had denied ever existed came to light in 1971. You can read about how it was discovered as well as the relevance of other historical documents of that time that Joseph used a 'seer' stone to find money, etc. in the 54-page brochure 'Joseph Smith’s Bainbridge, N.Y., Court Trials.'

Mormon scholar Francis W. Kirkham stated:

"'Careful study of all facts regarding this alleged confession of Joseph Smith in a court of law that he had used a seer stone to find hidden treasure for purposes of fraud, must come to the conclusion that no such record was ever made, and therefore, is not in existence . . .

"'If any evidence had been in existence that Joseph Smith had used a seer stone for fraud and deception, and especially had he made this confession in a court of law as early as 1826, or four years before the Book of Mormon was printed, and this confession was in a court record, it would have been impossible for him to have organized the restored Church.'

he went on...

"'. . . [I]f a court record could be identified, and if it contained a confession by Joseph Smith which revealed him to be a poor, ignorant, deluded, and superstitious person unable himself to write a book of any consequence, and whose Church could not endure because it attracted only similar persons of low mentality if such a court record confession could be identified and proved, then it follows that his believers must deny his claimed divine guidance which led them to follow him. . . . How could he be a prophet of God, the leader of the Restored Church to these tens of thousands, if he had been superstitious fraud which the pages from a book declared he confessed to be? . . . '

"Well, in spite of 140 years of silence, the records did surface. Rev. Wesley Walters discovered the documents in the basement of the Chenango County, New York, jailhouse at Norwich, N.Y. in 1971. The records, affidavits, and other data show conclusively that Joseph Smith was arrested, went to trial, was found guilty as an imposter in the Stowell matter of "glass-looking." It is not a matter of debate, opinion or religious preference. It is a proven historical fact.

This is a type-written copy of the words found on the court records in question. All the words that have been crossed out are in fact crossed out on the handwritten record:

""People of the State of New York vs. Joseph Smith. Warrant issued upon written complaint upon the oath of Peter G. Bridgman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an imposter. Prisoner was brought into before court March 20 (1826). Prisoner examined. Says that he came from the town of Palmyra, and had been at the house of Josiah Stowel in Bainbridge most of the time since; … and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and informed him where he could find those these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them; … that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through this stone to find lost property for three years, but of late had pretty much given it up on account its injuring his health, especially his eyes— made making them sore; …

""Josiah Stowel sworn. Says … that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did posses professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone; that he found the digging part at Bend and Monument Hill as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attelon, for a mine—did not exactly find it, but got a p*iece* of ore, which resembled gold, he thinks; that the prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; …

""Horace Stowel sworn. Says he sees prisoner look into hat through stone, pretending to tell where a chest of dollars were buried in Windsor, a number of miles distant; marked out size of chest in the leaves on ground.

""Arad Stowel sworn. Says that he went to see whether prisoner could convince him that he possessed the skill that he professed to have, upon which prisoner laid a book open upon a white cloth, and proposed looking through another stone which was white and transparent; hold the stone to the candle, turn his back head to the book and read. The deception appeared so palpable, that witness went off disgusted.

""McMaster sworn. Says he went with Arad Stowel to be convinced of prisoner’s skill, and likewise came away disgusted, finding the deception so palpable. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discern discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; …

""Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look Yeomans for chest of money; … that Smith arrived at the spot first (was in night); … After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board of or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed the last time that he looked, on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried came all fresh to his mind; that the last time that he looked, he discovered distinctly the two Indians who buried the trunk; that a quarrel ensued between them, and that one of said Indians was killed by the other, and thrown into the hole beside of the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says … that he is certain that prisoner can divine things by means of said stone and hat; …

""And thereupon therefore the Court find*s* the defendant guilty. Costs: Warrant, 19c. Complaint upon oath, 25 1/2c. Seven witnesses, 87 1/2c. Recognisances [sic], 25c. Mittimus, 19c. Recognisances [sic] of witnesses, 75c. Subpoena, 18c. – $2.68." "

We can go back and forth on this all the time, though.

It is clear to me and millions of other people that Joseph Smith was a convicted con artist, but to some there will never be enough evidence to make that connection. Not because the evidence isn't good enough, but because they won't allow themselves to admit that their beloved prophet was indeed a liar and a thief.

Seer activities were rather common in that part of the country early 1800s. Many people claimed to be seers. Some where actual cons cheating people out of money. Others actually sincerely believed themselves to be possessed of these spiritual gifts and did their best to act honorably with what they honestly believed they had.

Yes, seer activities were very common in that part of the country in the 1800s. I wont argue with that truth. As a matter of fact, it was one of Joseph Smith's teenage neighbors that showed him her seer stone before he went out to find one in the bottom of a well.

When you say, "Others actually sincerely believed themselves to be possessed of these spiritual gifts and did their best to act honorably with what they honestly believed they had." You are giving people too much credit.

It was clear to those that Joseph Smith conned that he wasn't a seer or a man with spiritual gifts. I do believe it was clear to Joseph Smith as well. This is why he was caught in so many lies during his lifetime. When he was caught doing something wrong he formed an excuse immediately. He was good at convincing people. From polygamy to seer stones to pressuring people to sign documents that they didn't 100% agree with... he wasn't an honorable man even though so many want to believe in their hearts he was.

Joseph Smith appears to have been of the latter kind. The role of diviners, seers and so forth was waning by the early 1800s as the Enlightenment took greater hold - even in rural backwaters like Joseph's neighborhood. But the "old ways" were by no means dead, and you could still find seers serving their communities in respected capacity. There were several cases of fraud, but Joseph doesn't seem to fit with them. Dan Vogel writes:

"A typical confidence scheme in Smith's time involved a transient who entered an area that was known for its tales of lost treasures and the charlatan's magical powers could be put to good advantage. Using a a "peep" stone or mineral rod, he would lead the credulous to a remote spot where he had previously deposited a few coins and was able to impress them by "finding" the coins. In the ensuing excitement, he would ask to be paid for his services or, more boldly, suggest that a company be established and that shares be sold. Thereupon, he would disappear with the money. On the other hand, he might string the people along by leading them to subsequent spots, then offer magical explanations for the failure to locate or secure the treasure. For instance, he might tell them that the treasure was protected by an evil spirit or that they had not precisely followed the magical formula he had given them. Eventually he would suggest that the undertaking be abandoned, whereupon he would slip out of town with the money."

Dan Vogel, "Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet", xiv.

That is really quite typical of some of the stories I have read about Joseph Smith and his seer stone con jobs. I read that he would tell a farmer that they had treasure on their land, get a deposit, start looking for the treasure and then when they couldn't find it they claimed it had been taken away by a spirit of some kind. In fact, Joseph Smith even used animal sacrifices to get rid of these "evil spirits" so they could locate the treasure.

This is an affidavit published in 1834 by William Stafford who was a neighbor of the Smith family:

Joseph Smith, Sen., came to me one night, and told me that Joseph Smith Jr. had been looking in his glass, and had seen, not many rods from his house, two or three kegs of gold and silver…

Joseph, Sen. first made a circle, twelve or fourteen feet in diameter. This circle, said he, contains the treasure. He then stuck in the ground a row of witch hazel sticks, around the said circle, for the purpose of keeping off the evil spirits. Within this circle he made another, of about eight or ten feet in diameter. He walked around three times on the periphery of this last circle, muttering to himself something which I could not understand. He next stuck a steel rod in the centre of the circles, and then enjoined profound silence upon us, lest we should arouse the evil spirit who had the charge of these treasures.

After we had dug a trench about five feet in depth around the rod, the old man… went to the house to inquire of young Joseph the cause of our disappointment. He soon returned and said, that Joseph had remained all this time in the house, looking in his stone and watching the motions of the evil spirit – that he saw the spirit come up to the ring and as soon as it beheld the cone which we had formed around the rod, it caused the money to sink… another time, they devised a scheme, by which they might satiate their hunger, with the mutton of one of my sheep. They had seen in my flock a sheep, a large, fat, black weather.

Old Joseph and one of the boys came to me one day, and said that Joseph Jr. had discovered some very remarkable and valuable treasures, which could be procured only in one way. That way, was as follows: That a black sheep should be taken to the ground where the treasures were concealed that after cutting its throat, it should be led around in a circle while bleeding. This being done, the wrath of the evil spirit would be appeased: the treasures could then be obtained, and my share of them was to be four fold. To gratify my curiosity, I let them have a large fat sheep.

They afterwards informed me, that the sheep was killed pursuant to commandment; but as there was some mistake in the process, it did not have the desired effect. This, I believe, is the only time they ever made money-digging a profitable business. (Mormonism Unvailed, 1834, pages 238-239; also reproduced in Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 2, pp.59-61)

So, again we see a case where Joseph Smith scammed yet another person with his magic seer stone. He wasn't formally charged in this example or taken to court, but it's obvious that he didn't have the skills that the promised he did.

He lied.

People attempting to paint Joseph Smith as fraud are missing a rather key and important point:

Joseph never made much money off his endeavors, and he never "skipped town." He stuck around and stood behind his work. No one with purely fraudulent motives would have done so.

We don't really have to attempt to paint Joesph a certain way. He did a pretty good job of that on his own. The facts and evidence speak for themselves.

Joseph probably never made much on his endeavors because he didn't find the treasure he promised to them. That is why he was prosecuted for fraud in the first place. Just because he didn't make money on the deal or didn't run away from the accusations doesn't mean that he wasn't the fraud he was! He was lying to people all the time, telling them of his powers and never being able to give the treasures he promised. That is okay to you? Interesting.

Now, if we want to question whether or not Joseph Smith ever skipped town, we can. Remember when he ordered that the Nauvoo Expositor be burned down? He was going to be thrown in jail and he took off? He did come back, but he still took off ;)

I personally count Joseph Smith among those honorable community seers who were a fixture in American communities in 18th and early 19th century America. Sure, there were con artists. But the presence of a few bad doctors for instance (and believe me - there were a LOT of those in 1800s America) does not render the entire profession as frauds.

Of course you do.

That shouldn't surprise anyone.

Unfortunately, though... most people not looking at this through the Mormon rose-colored glasses see this the same way I do. I am aware that there were bad doctors and con artists, but that doesn't mean that God would choose one of those con artists for a prophet. Makes no sense. Especially after he lied and continued to lie for the rest of his life.

No one today would claim that just because a man was a doctor, or a lawyer, or a newspaper man in the 1800s, he was automatically a disreputable person.
So why do essentially the same thing with seers? Like any profession, you had your good eggs and your bad eggs. Joseph appears to have been one of the good ones.

It shouldn't shock you, but I don't believe in seers.

Joseph Smith never once found treasure that he promised to people. In order to believe someone as an honest seer or psychic on modern-day terms, I would have to see the proof. There is no proof for any psychic or person claiming to have abilities that others do not. Also, it's quite telling that when people tell you they have a seeing gift of some kind they usually want money from you. Interesting, isn't it? Money is the bottom line in these kinds of scams.
You can read more on this subject here:
So there's one response. More to come. Unless you want to stop and respond to this point...
Thank you for the response.

I have read the fairlds website many times over... hahaha... believe me. If you could only see the list of Mormon apologetics webpages I have scoured and searched over the past three years... whew. It's unreal.

The issue of money digging, being convicted for fraud and believing himself to be a seer is just one of the examples of Joseph's lies. He lied about polygamy as well, and instructed others to lie for him as well. It wasn't honest, he wasn't honorable.

In my opinion, those who are in the church want to believe so desperately that they are willing to excuse Joseph's behavior when in fact they should be taking it into account as evidence that he wasn't who he claimed to be.

Why would a God choose a liar as a prophet if no one would believe him? Not that there is a God... haha...



  1. Seth R. Says:

    OK, I finally got a bit of free time, so time to get off my butt and get moving on this.

    Before I start in on the substance of the court proceedings, I think the quote from Hugh Nibley needs to be addressed, since it kind of frames this whole issue and clarifies what exactly is at stake here. Here's the quote as you are using it in your post:

    "if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith."

    Hugh Nibley, "The Myth Makers" pg. 246.

    Andee, when I first heard this quote from Nibley, it left me scratching my head for a couple reasons.

    First, because it seemed so incongruous with other stuff I had read from Hugh Nibley on Joseph Smith. It just seemed obvious to me that Nibley's testimony of Joseph Smith was a bit deeper than the result of a single court case. His case for Joseph seemed to be built on so much more. For him to state that it would all be nullified by a single court case seemed extremely careless to me.

    Secondly, it made no logical sense.

    Why would a single court case have the ability to nullify all of Joseph Smith's prophetic claims? Why would the truth of Joseph's message be dependent on a backwoods New York judge? Even if Joseph Smith was guilty, it seemed obvious to me that this would not be remotely sufficient to discredit him as a prophet.

    So why would Nibley, in essence, admit that a single conviction would be the "most damning" piece of evidence against Joseph Smith when it clearly couldn't be of such importance?

  1. Seth R. Says:

    Well, as it so happens, Nibley didn't claim that. The book that provides the limited quote that you used above Andee is, as we've seen in so many anti-Mormon works, yet another example of a critic deliberately taking a small portion of a quote out of context and in isolation to make someone say something they weren't actually claiming.

    Here is the actual FULL quote from Hugh Nibley:

    "You knew its immense value as a weapon against Joseph Smith if its authenticity could be established. And the only way to establish authenticity was to get hold of the record book from which the pages had been purportedly torn. After all, you had only Miss Pearsall's word for it that the book ever existed. Why didn't you immediately send he back to find the book or make every effort to get hold of I? Why didn't you "unearth" it, as they later said you did? . . . The authenticity of the record still rests entirely on the confidential testimony of Miss Pearsall to the Bishop. And who was Miss Pearsall? A zealous old maid, apparently: "a woman helper in our mission," who lived right in the Tuttle home and would do anything to assist her superior. The picture I get is that of a gossipy old housekeeper. If this court record is authentic, it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith. Why, then, [speaking to Tuttle] was it not republished in your article in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge after 1891? . . . in 1906 Bishop Tuttle published his Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop in which he blasts the Mormons as hotly as ever. . . yet in the final summary of his life's experiences he never mentions the story of the court record - his one claim to immortal fame and the gratitude of the human race if it were true!"

    (Nibley "The Myth Makers", 246)

    I know that's a long quote, but you need to read it carefully. What Nibley is doing here is basically taunting Episcopalian Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle for not actually using the trial record that he had. He was questioning why he would do that if it was so important. Basically, his statement about it being "damning" was merely said in a mocking tone, and referred only to the specific argument Tuttle was trying to make.

    Basically, this isn't even close to an admission by Nibley that a conviction would be sufficient to discredit Joseph Smith. All it is, is an apologist having some fun at the expense of an anti-Mormon writer who had not yet produced the documents he was boasting of.

    So let me be clear here Andee. The result of this limited debate topic does not prove anything about Joseph Smith one way or the other.

    There could have been a conviction, and it wouldn't prove anything about Joseph's other claims.

    In fact, Joseph could have been totally making up his spiritual gifts with Josiah Stowell, and still have had a turnaround in his life such that his work on the Book of Mormon was 100% bona fide.

    Not that I'm claiming that you are putting all your eggs in this one basket. You have a lot of reasons for rejecting the LDS Church, this being only one of them.

    I'm certain that even if you have to admit that I'm right at the end of this debate topic, it will not have too huge of an impact on your overall conviction of Mormonism being false.

    Just realize that the same is true for me. Losing this particular debate won't change much in my mind either about the overall claims of Mormonism.

    One final housekeeping issue.

    I would ask that we keep the Nauvoo Expositor and any other specific incidents you think invalidate Joseph's overall character out of this limited debate. We are here to discuss his seerstone activities and that alone. I can go back to your earlier post and leave something on the Expositor later.

    With that out of the way, on to the rest of the article.

  1. Seth R. Says:

    One more thing Andee,

    It would be really, really helpful if you could turn off the word limit on comments for this.

    These are historical analysis posts, and they simply take a lot of text to explain adequately. I'm going to have a hard time responding to things in segments of less than 4,000 characters.

  1. Andee Says:


    I will work on the response tomorrow. :) I don't have time to even read everything right now.

    Get back to you asap.


  1. Anonymous Says:

    God says, "The FOOL has said in his HEART there is no God."

    It means the FOOL REBEL says, "NO, God!"