Podcast | Episode #7

On March 20, 1826 Joseph Smith Jr. was put on trial for being a “glass looker”. Join America and me as we read some of the trial accounts for Joseph Smith Jr. The first document comes from the article “Mormonism” published in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge in 1883. (Which is nearly identical to the court notes published in Frazer’s Magazine in 1873). Another document comes from W. D. Purple, published in the Chenango Union on May 2, 1877. The final account that we read is from the New England Christian Herald published on November 7, 1832. I also want to ask that you check out Mark Elwood’s book “The Glass Looker.” The book is filled with gorgeous illustrations and intriguing sources for Joseph Smith as a treasure digger. You can purchase his book on https://theglasslooker.com

. Joseph Smith's beginnings as a treasure digger and his using multiple seer stones, gives a whole new side to the origins of the Church and to the prophet himself.

Judge Neely's 
Court Notes 

Fraser's Magazine, 1873 
State of New York v. Joseph Smith

Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an impostor.

Prisoner brought 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 time since; had small part of time been employed in looking for mines, but the major part had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school. That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stowel several times, and had informed him where he could find these treasures, and Mr. Stowel had been engaged in digging for them. That at Palmyra he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; 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 of its injuring his health, especially his eyes, making them sore; that he did not solicit business of this kind, and had always rather declined having anything to do with this business.

Josiah Stowel sworn: says that prisoner had been at his house something like five months; had been employed by him to work on farm part of time; that he pretended to have skill of telling where hidden treasures in the earth were by means of looking through a certain stone; that prisoner had looked for him sometimes; once to tell him about money buried in Bend Mountain in Pennsylvania, once for gold on Monument Hill, and once for a salt spring; and that he positively knew that the prisoner could tell, and did possess the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone; that he found the [word illegible] at Bend and Monument Hill as prisoner represented it; that prisoner had looked through said stone for Deacon Attleton for a mine, did not exactly find it, but got a p-[word unfinished] of ore which resembled gold, he thinks; that prisoner had told by means of this stone where a Mr. Bacon had buried money; that he and prisoner had been in search of it; that prisoner had said it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from the surface of the earth, and with it would be found a tail feather; that said Stowel and prisoner thereupon commenced digging, found a tail feather, but money was gone; that he supposed the money moved down. That prisoner did offer his services; that he never deceived him; that prisoner looked through stone and described Josiah Stowel's house and outhouses, while at Palmyra at Simpson Stowel's, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree, with a man's head painted upon it, by means of said stone. That he had been in company with prisoner digging for gold, and had the most implicit faith in prisoner's skill.

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

McMaster sworn: says he went with Arad Stowel, and likewise came away disgusted. Prisoner pretended to him that he could discover objects at a distance by holding this white stone to the sun or candle; that prisoner rather declined looking into a hat at his dark coloured stone, as he said that it hurt his eyes.

Jonathan Thompson says that prisoner was requested to look for chest of money; did look, and pretended to know where it was; and that prisoner, Thompson, and Yeomans went in search of it; that Smith arrived at spot first; was at night; that Smith looked in hat while there, and when very dark, and told how the chest was situated. After digging several feet, struck upon something sounding like a board or plank. Prisoner would not look again, pretending that he was alarmed on account of the circumstances relating to the trunk being buried, [which] came all fresh to his mind. That the last time 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 the trunk, to guard it, as he supposed. Thompson says that he believes in the prisoner's professed skill; that the board which he struck his spade upon was probably the chest, but on account of an enchantment the trunk kept settling away from under them when digging; that notwithstanding they continued constantly removing the dirt, yet the trunk kept about the same distance from them. Says prisoner said that it appeared to him that salt might be found at Bainbridge, and that he is certain that prisoner can divine things by means of said stone. That as evidence of the fact prisoner looked into his hat to tell him about some money witness lost sixteen years ago, and that he described the man that witness supposed had taken it, and the disposition of the money:

And therefore the Court find the Defendant guilty. Costs: Warrant, 19c. Ccomplaint upon oath, 25 1/2c. Seven witnesses, 87 1/2c. Recognisances, 25c. Mittimus, 19c. Recognisances of witnesses, 75c. Subpoena, 18c. - $2.68

[Link to Judge Neely's Court Notes, pg. 229-230]

W. D. Purple 

2 May 1877

 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 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 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. Smith was fully examined by the Court. It elicited little but a history of his life from early boyhood, but this is so unique in character, and so much of a key-note to his subsequent career in the world, I am tempted to give it somewhat in entenso. 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 Now 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.

He took a few shillings in money and some provisions with him. He stopped on the road with a farmer, and worked three days, and replenished his means of support. 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. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.

On the request of the Court, he exhibited the stone. It was about the size of a small hen' a egg, in the shape of a high-instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps by being carried in the pocket.

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 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. These words have ever had a strong impression on my mind. They seemed to contain a prophetic vision of the future history of that mighty delusion of the present century, Mormonism. The "old man eloquent," with his lank and haggard vissage -- his form very poorly clad -- indicating a wandering vagabond rather than an oracle of future events, has, in view of those events, excited my wonder, if not my admiration.

The next witness called was Deacon Isaiah 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. Justice Neeley soberly looked at the witness, and in a solemn, dignified voice said: "Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth; as plainly as you can see what is on my table?" "Do I believe it?" says Deacon Stowell; "do I believe it? No, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true."

Mr. 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 emotions 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 spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation 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.

[Chenango Union - W. D. Purple's Account]

[Watkin's Express - W. D. Purple]

New England 
Christian Herald

7 Nov, 1832

We understand that two Mormonite preachers have lately entered this State, and are now travelling from place to place, diligently laboring to make proselytes to their detestable and wicked system. In order to put the public on their guard against these impostors, we publish the following extract from a letter written by a gentleman in Windsor, Broome Co. N. Y. to his friend in Boston, dated Aug. 30, 1832. We copy it from the Boston Christian Herald.

It is more difficult to obtain information of this kind than one would think, other than hearsay. The fact that J. Smith, Jr., and others, dug in various places for money, is easily proved; at the great bend or near there, that there was a company digging part of two years could be easily proved; -- but that Smith said that there was money buried there by some Spaniards could not be so easily proved, though it is generally believed; and also that toward the last of the digging there, he sold out shares in the treasure to as many as he could, and when he quit digging, said that the money had sunk down to a great depth. I have seen a hole eight or ten feet deep, on the creek back of Captain Waller’s, where it was said Smith said there was treasure. On Monument Hill near to what is called "The Monument," there is a hole dug 25 or 30 feet deep, where it is said Smith said that two veins of gold crossed each other as large as a barrel. On Mr. Samuel Stowe’s flat, a hole was dug one night and filled again, and Smith was said to be one of the number. I might mention a hole on the back side of the hill over the river against where I live, and other places, if it were necessary; but I forbear.

I called on several persons to gain what information I could. The most I could get was hearsay. -- Among others, I called on Mr. William Devenport, who went out with the Mormons to Ohio -- and has since returned. He says that he bore his own expenses out, but was often importuned by their leader to put his money into the common stock, and was told, that those who did not would be struck dead the moment they arrived on the promised land -- like Ananias and Sapphira. He said that the only object of the leaders was in this, to get the money into their own hands and keep it. He mentioned a widow Peck of Bainbridge, who, he said, paid in $500 and went with them; but could not get a cent on the way to procure something for a sick child. Said that he lived between two and three miles from where they settled in Ohio, and that Smith had a new commandment every few days through the summer, a year ago, and that last summer he thought there was not a fortnight in which he did not have a new commandment. Smith pretended to go into the woods and converse with the Almighty. Mr. Devenport said he had lately received a letter from William Youman’s widow, who went out with the Mormons, and had since left them and got married, stating that a Mr. Rigdon, or a name that sounded like it, their principal preacher under Smith, said lately that the Mormon religion was not true, and in consequence had been silenced by Smith. Enclosed I send you some testimony taken on trial in Colesville. Several offered to testify to what N. Knight had said of Smith’s casting a devil out of him; some thought he had returned and would seem to allude to the unclean spirit mentioned in the Gospels."

The following is the report of the trial forwarded by the writer above, and referred to in the letter:


BROOME COUNTY, ss.  }         Justice.

The people,        }
            vs.          }        Samuel Dickenson,
Joseph Smith, jr. }             Complainant.

The defendant was brought before me by virtue of a warrant on the 30th day of June, A. D. 1830, on a charge "that he, the said Joseph Smith, Jr., had been guilty of a breach of the peace, against the good people of the state of New York, by looking through a certain stone to find hid treasures, &c., within the Statute of Limitation.["]

To the charge, the defendant plead not guilty. At the instance of the people, Joseph A. S. Austin was by me duly sworn, and says "that he had been acquainted with Smith, the prisoner, for several years; that prisoner pretended to look in a certain glass, or stone, and said he could tell where stolen goods were, and could discover mines of gold and silver under ground; made some pretence at telling fortunes, but he, witness, never knew of prisoner’s finding any thing by his pretended art. Once witness asked prisoner to tell him if he, prisoner, could tell any thing by looking in said glass, and wished a candid and true answer. Prisoner told witness frankly, he could not see any thing, and in answer, prisoner likewise observed to witness, any thing you know for a living: says, two years before this present time, he saw prisoner drink a certain quantity of distilled liquor, and was drunk, as he does believe; for he could not stand up, but lay in the woods for some hours.["]

Harriss Stowel, being by me sworn, saith, "he has been acquainted with the prisoner for a number of years past; that prisoner said he could look in a certain stone or glass, and could tell where money and hid treasures were, and could tell where gold and silver mines, and salt springs were; and that Smith, the prisoner, the pretended prophet and money digger, had followed digging for money, for salt, and for gold and silver mines for a number of years; that others, by his instigation, had followed digging; that at one time, witness hid a bag of grain in his barn, told Smith he had lost a bag of grain, and wished prisoner to find it; prisoner looked in his glass in vain, for he could not find it; prisoner, after using all his art for a number of days, offered to give witness’ brother fifty cents (so his brother told witness,) to find where the grain was, and tell him, prisoner, unbeknown to witness, so that Smith, the prisoner, might have the credit of finding the grain."

Cross questions -- says, he has not known the prisoner to look in the glass within the space of two years last past.

Josiah Stowel, being by me sworn, saith, he has been acquainted with Smith, the prisoner, for quite a number of years; that he did pretend to tell, by looking in a stone, or glass, where money and goods and mines were in a manner peculiar to himself; the prisoner had followed digging for money; pretended to find mines, hid treasures, and lost goods, and frequently others would be digging with him; says that about three years since, prisoner was put under arrest by an officer at Bainbridge in Chenango county, for breaking the peace, and that he escaped from the officer and went to Palmyra; and that about two years since, witness was at Palmyra, and saw prisoner; that prisoner told witness, that the Lord had told prisoner that a golden Bible was in a certain hill; that Smith, the prisoner, went in the night, and brought the Bible, (as Smith said;) witness saw a corner of it; it resembled a stone of a greenish caste; should judge it to have been about one foot square and six inches thick; he would not let it be seen by any one; the Lord had commanded him not; it was unknown to Smith, that witness saw a corner of the Bible, so called by Smith; told the witness the leaves were of gold; there were written characters on the leaves; prisoner was commanded to translate the same by the Lord; and from the Bible got from the hill, as aforesaid, the prisoner said he translated the book of Mormon; prisoner put a certain stone into his hat, put his face into the crown, then drew the brim of the hat around his head to prevent light -- he could then see, as prisoner said, and translate the same, the Bible, got from the hill in Palmyra, at the same time under a lock and in a chest; and the prisoner, when looking for money, salt springs, hid treasures, &c., looked in the same manner; did not know that prisoner could find money lost, &c.; and that prisoner told witness after he was arrested in Bainbridge, he would not look for money, &c. any more; told witness he could see into the earth forty or fifty feet," &c.

Newel Knights, sworn, saith, "prisoner could see in a stone as stated by Stowel; that formerly he looked for money, &c., but latterly he had become holy, was a true preacher of the Gospel of Christ, possessed the power of casting out devils; he knew it to be a fact, that he, (Smith, the prisoner,) had cast a devil from him, witness, in manner following, viz. witness was in mind impressed; he and Smith did conclude and knew the devil was in witness; they joined hands, their faith became united, the devil went out of witness; witness knew it to be a fact, for he saw the devil as he departed; Smith did it by the power of God," &c.

A true copy from minutes taken by me on the trial.

JOEL K. NOBLE,  J. Peace.    

[New England Christian Herald]

[Morning Star]

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