Dozens of individuals around the world claimed to have had heavenly visions, much like Joseph Smith Jr. This page highlights many of those account that occurred before Joseph first gave his account in 1832 (with the exception of a member of the Church, James G. Marsh, whose experience came to light around when Joseph's 1838 account was recorded).
[See episode 18 of the Analyzing Mormonism Podcast for a reading of each of these accounts.]
Catharine Hummer, 1786
“…and looking about I saw an angel standing at my right hand, who said: “Yes, my friend, it is midnight and late; the hour of midnight is approaching; alas, what shall I sav? love has grown cool among the members. Oh, that this were not so among those who are Brethren in the faith!” … And the Saviour and the Father stood on the other side of the water, and the Saviour called the innocent by name, one after the other, to go in. …These two, the Father and the Son, stood together on the other side. Then they also came to the water and preached, the Father to the godless, the Son to the pious.” [Chronicon Ephratense, pp. 268-276]
Richards Brothers, 1794
“I was, to prepare me for the designation of God, carried up to heaven . in a vision, and saw on my right side at a small distance, a beautiful silver white bird in the shape of a Dove, but a little larger; it was the HOLY GHOST, and was the very same that descended on the head of my BLESSED SAVIOUR, when he came up from being baptized in the river Jordan ; he kept between me and Satan who was then revealed that I might witness it and great power given him to visit the Earth, The LORD GOD then spoke to me from the middle of a white shining cloud…
…I was in a Vision and being carried up to heaven the Lord God spoke to me from the middle of a large white cloud, and said in a strong clear voice—-ALL, ALL I pardon London, and all the people in it, for your sake : there is no other man On earth that could stand before me to ask for so great a thing. ” [A REVEALED KNOWLEDGE OF THE PROPHECIES AND TIMES. Book the First., Rishard Brothers, 1794, pp. 29-30]
David Brainerd, 1812
“…as I was walking in a dark thick grove unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view of my soul: I do not mean any external brightness, nor any imagination of a body of light, or any thing of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension, or view that I had of God, such as I never had before. I stood still, and admired. I knew that I had never seen before any thing comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, or things divine. I had no particular apprehension of any one person in the Trinity, either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be divine glory that I then beheld: and my soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable to see such a glorious divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever..” [The Life Of David Brainerd, 1812, p. 23]
Benjamin Abbott, 1813
” …at that instant I awoke, and saw by faith the Lord Jesus Christ standing by me, with his arms extended wide, saying to me, “I died for you.” I then looked up, and by faith I saw the Ancient of Days, and he said to me, “I freely forgive thee for what Christ has done.” At this I burst into a flood of tears, and with joy in my heart cried and praised God, and said, Oh! that there were a minister to give me the Lord’s Supper! Then by faith I saw the Lord Jesus come to me as with a cup in his hand, and he gave it me, and I took it and drank thereof ; It was like unto honey for sweetness. At that moment the scriptures were wonderfully opened to my understanding.” [The Experience, and Gospel Labours, of the Rev. Benjamin Abbott p. 20]
Lorenzo Dow, 1814
“When past the age of thirteen years… I went out of doors, and was taken up by a whirlwind and carried above the skies : at length I discovered, across a gulph as it were through a mist of darkness, a glorious place, in which was a throne of ivory overlaid with gold, and God sitting upon it, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, and angels, and glorified spirits, celebrating praise — Oh ! the joyful music !” [Journal of Lorenzo Dow, 1814]
Rachel Baker, 1814
Rachel Baker had visions “once a day for about three years, or from the time of her second baptism she has suffered paroxism, which usually continues an hour” [p. 5].
Q. What is your greatest grief?
A. My greatest grief is, that the hand of the Lord is lying heavy upon me, and that he has made to differ from my brethren and sisters in a strange and unnaccountable manner; also, that I am not sufficiently resigned to the will of my heavenly father in this my affliction, and I also grieve because I do not live as near to God as I should" [The Surprising Case of Rachel Baker by Charles Mais. 29].
Norris Stearns, 1815
“At length, as I lay apparently upon the brink of eternal woe, seeing nothing but death before me, suddenly there came a sweet flow of the love of God to my soul, which gradually increased. At the same time, there appeared a small gleam of light in the room, above the brightness of the sun, then at his meridian, which grew brighter and brighter… At length, being in an ecstasy of joy, I turned to the other side of the bed, (whether in the body or out I cannot tell, God knoweth) there I saw two spirits, which I knew at the first sight. But if I had the tongue of an Angel I could not describe their glory, for they brought the joys of heaven with them. One was God, my Maker, almost in bodily shape like a man. His face was, as it were a flame of Fire, and his body, as it had been a Pillar and a Cloud. In looking steadfastly to discern features, could see none, but a small glimpse would appear in some other place. Below him stood Jesus Christ my Redeemer, in perfect shape like a man—His face was not ablaze, but had the countenance of fire, being bright and shining. His Father’s will appeared to be his! All was condescension, peace, and love!” [The Religious Experience of Norris Stearns by Divine Command by Norris Stearns]
Elias Smith, 1816
“I went into the woods … a light appeared from heaven … My mind seemed to rise in that light to the throne of God and the Lamb … The Lamb once slain appeared to my understanding, and while viewing him, I felt such love to him as I never felt to anything earthly … It is not possible for me to tell how long I remained in that situation." [The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels, and Suffering of Elias Smith by Elias Smith, p. 58-59]
Charles G. Finney, 1821
“Just at that point this passage of Scripture seemed to drop into my mind with a flood of light… I instantly seized hold of this with my heart.” …I turned and bent my course toward the woods, feeling that I must be alone, and away from all human eyes and ears, so that I could pour out my prayers to God …I crept into this place and knelt down for prayer”
…But when I attempted to pray I found that my heart would not pray… But lo! when I came to try, I was dumb; that is, I had nothing to say to God; or at least I could say but a few words …An overwhelming sense of my wickedness in being ashamed to have a human being see me on my knees before God, took such powerful possession of me …In attempting to pray I would hear a rustling in the leaves, as I thought, and would stop and look up to see if somebody were not coming… Just at this moment I again thought I heard some one approach me, and I opened my eyes to see whether it were so. …Finally I found myself verging fast to despair …I felt almost too weak to stand upon my knees…” [Memoirs of Rev. Charles G. Finney written by himself]
Benjamin Putnam, 1821
“I had never as yet attempted to pray . . . I instantly had a view as I thought, of the Lord Jesus Christ with his arms extended in an inviting posture—and at the same time this passage of scripture came forcibly to my mind as though he spoke it, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven’” [Benjamin Putnam [b. 1788], A Sketch of the Life of Elder Benj. Putnam, Embracing His Christian Experience, Call to the Ministry, Together with An Account of the Religious Changes Through Which He Has Passed . . . Woodstock, [Vermont]: Printed by David Watson, 1821, pp. 15-19].
Asa Wild, 1823
“It seemed as if my mind … was struck motionless, as well as into nothing, before the awful and glorious majesty of the Great Jehovah. He then spake … He also told me, that every denomination of professing Christians had become extremely corrupt" [The Prognostication of Asa Wild by Elden J. Watson].
Alexander Campbell, 1824
“Enthusiasm flourishes…. This man was regenerated when asleep, by a vision of the night. That man heard a voice in the woods, saying, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee.’ A third saw his Savior descending to the tops of the trees at noon day” [The Christian Baptist, Vol. 1, pp.148-49].
Billy Hibbard, 1825
“…when I came to the place of prayer, had kneeled down and closed my eyes, with my hands uplifted toward the heavens, I saw Jesus Christ at the right hand of God looking down upon me, and God the Father looking upon him. The look of Jesus on me removed the burden of my sins, while he spoke these words, “Be faithful unto death and this shall be thy place of rest" [Memoirs of the Life and Travels of B. Hibbard: Minister of the Gospel by Billy Hibbard, p. 24-25].
John S. Thompson, 1826
“I dreamed Christ descended from the firmament, in a glare of brightness, exceeding tenfold the brilliancy of the meridian Sun, and he came to me saying, ‘I commission you to go and tell mankind that I am come; and bid every man to shout victory" [The Christine Guide to a Right Understanding of the Sacred Scriptures by John Samuel Thompson, p. 68-69].
Solomon Chamberlin, 1829
“Dissatisfied with the religions he had tried, Chamberlain prayed for further guidance, and in 1816, according to his account, “the Lord revealed to me in a vision of the night an angel,” whom Chamberlain asked about the right way. The angel told him that the churches were corrupt and that God would soon raise up an apostolic church. Chamberlain printed up an account of his visions and was still distributing them and looking for the apostolic church when he stopped in Palmyra.”
Martin Harris, 1831
Martin Harris, one of the original Mormon prophets, arrived in this village last Saturday, on his way to the ‘Holy Land.’ He says he has seen Jesus Christ, and that ‘he is the handsomest man he ever did see.’ He has also seen the Devil, whom he describes to be a very sleek haired fellow, with four feet, and a head like a jackass" [from the Jamestown Journal, "Progress of Mormonism", June 29, 1831].
Harriet Tubman, 1832
Born about 1820, in Dorchester County, Maryland. At around 12 years old, Tubman was at a dry goods store on an errand when an overseer tried to make her help catch one of his slaves who'd gone there without permission. Tubman would not comply. As Sarah Hopkins Bradford writes in her authorized biography Harriet, the Moses of Her People, first published in 1869:
“The overseer caught up a two-pound weight from the counter and threw it at the fugitive, but it fell short and struck Harriet a stunning blow on the head. It was long before she recovered from this, and it has left her subject to a sort of stupor or lethargy at times; coming upon her in the midst of conversation, or whatever she may be doing, and throwing her into a deep slumber, from which she will presently rouse herself, and go on with her conversation or work" [Harriet, the Moses of Her People by Sarah Hopkins Bradford].
According to multiple accounts, including Dunbar's, Tubman began to see visions when she woke up from her sudden slumbers, which she thought to be visions from God. And Harriet did indeed believe that through the visions, God showed her premonitions that helped keep her and the slaves she guided safe during her trips.
James G. Marsh, 1838
OBITUARY. DIED on the 7th of May last, James G. Marsh, second son of Thomas B. Marsh, aged 14 years, 11 months and seven days.
From early infancy he manifested a love and reverence towards his Heavenly Father, while his parents diligently taught him the first principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And having a thirst for knowledge and a love of good principles, he eagerly embraced the gospel, and was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints, early in the spring of 1832, being between eight and nine years of age.
His great love of knowledge led him to take hold of every opportunity to read the most useful books, and as he was a lover of the gospel, he made himself well acquainted with the sacred writings, and even at this early age, he had become well skilled in profane as well as sacred history.
It seems that the Lord had respect unto this lover of righteousness, for when he was but about nine years of age, he had a remarkable vision, in which he talked with the Father and many of the ancient prophets face to face, and beheld the Son of God coming in his glory…” [James G. Marsh obituary, Elder’s Journal Vol.1, No.3, p.48, July 1838].
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