Joseph Smith and money digging

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Articles about Joseph Smith

Was Joseph Smith's participation in "money digging" as a youth a blot on his character?

Money digging was a popular, common and accepted practice in their frontier culture

Joseph Smith and some members of his family participated in "money digging" or looking for buried treasure as a youth. This was a common and accepted practice in their frontier culture, though the Smiths do not seem to have been involved to the extent claimed by some of the exaggerated attacks upon them by former neighbors.

In the young Joseph Smith's time and place, "money digging" was a popular, and sometimes respected activity. When Joseph was 16, the Palmyra Herald printed such remarks.

The local newspapers reported on "money digging" activities

  • "digging for money hid in the earth is a very common thing and in this state it is even considered as honorable and profitable employment"
  • "One gentleman...digging...ten to twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a commodious house.
  • "another...dug up...fifty thousand dollars!" [1]

And, in 1825 the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra reported that buried treasure had been found "by the help of a mineral stone, (which becomes transparent when placed in a hat and the light excluded by the face of him who looks into it)." [2]

The Smith's attitude toward treasure digging was similar to a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket

Given the financial difficulties under which the Smith family labored, it would hardly be surprising that they might hope for such a reversal in their fortunes. Richard Bushman has compared the Smith's attitude toward treasure digging with a modern attitudes toward gambling, or buying a lottery ticket. Bushman points out that looking for treasure had little stigma attached to it among all classes in the 17th century, and continued to be respectable among the lower classes into the 18th and 19th.[3]

Despite the claims of critics, it is not clear that Joseph and his family saw their activities as "magical."

Three Concerns to Address about Joseph's digging

There are generally only a few questions that need to be addressed regarding Joseph's money-digging: his motives, his success, and the extent of his involvement. The first question is a question of what Joseph was doing while treasure seeking. Was he simply seeking to con people out of money in an easy way? The second question seems to be one of his abilities. How could he produce the Book of Mormon with something that didn't provide him any miraculous experience?


With regards to his success, it is, at the very least, plausible that he could see things in the stone that were invisible to the naked eye—just not treasure. There is, in fact, no recorded instance indicating that Joseph could see and locate treasure in the stones. There is, however, evidence that he could use the stone for more righteous purposes. A few pieces of historical testimony indicate this.

  • Josiah Stowell. In the spring of 1825 Josiah Stowell visited with Joseph Smith, according to Joseph's mother Lucy, "on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys, by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye."[4] There was a Spanish gold mine that Josiah believed Joseph might be able to help locate. When Joseph was brought to court in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York on trial for charges of being a "disorderly person", Josiah testified in Joseph's defense that he could see things in the stone. There are two records of Josiah's testimony: that of a WD Purple and a Miss Pearsall. The Purple account is quoted first and the Pearsall, second:
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."
Josiah Stowel [sic] 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 on 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 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 piece 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 said that it was in a certain root of a stump five feet from 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 that money moved down; that prisoner did not offer his services; that he never deceived him; that prisoner looked through stone, and described Josiah Stowel’s house and out-houses while at Palmyra, at Simpson Stowel’s, correctly; that he had told about a painted tree with a man’s hand 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.

There are a few other historical evidences that can be read to demonstrate Joseph's ability to see things in the stone.

  • Martin Harris reminisced in an interview in 1859:
"I…was picking my teeth with a pin while sitting on the bars. The pin caught in my teeth and dropped from my fingers into shavings and straw… We could not find it. I then took Joseph on surprise, and said to him–I said, ‘Take your stone.’ … He took it and placed it in his hat–the old white hat–and place his face in his hat. I watched him closely to see that he did not look to one side; he reached out his hand beyond me on the right, and moved a little stick and there I saw the pin, which he picked up and gave to me. I know he did not look out of the hat until after he had picked up the pin.[5]

In the same interview, Martin testified to Joseph's finding of the plates by the power of the seer stone:

In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge. It was by means of this stone he first discovered these plates.
  • Henry Harris
"He [Joseph Smith] said he had a revelation from God that told him they [the Book of Mormon plates] were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his stone and saw them in the place of deposit.[6]
  • On 7 August 1875, The Chicago Times reprinted an interview of David Whitmer conducted by Jacob T. Child, editor of the Richmond Conservator. Whitmer told Child that while witnessing the translation of the Book of Mormon, that he (Whitmer) would put the seer stone Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon to his own eye and see nothing.
I have seen Joseph, however, place it to his eyes and instantly read signs 160 miles distant and tell exactly what was transpiring there. When I went to Harmony after him he told me the names of every hotel at which I had stopped on the road, read the signs, and described various scenes without having ever received any information from me.[7]
  • Willard Chase and Sally Chase. As Richard Bushman has noted:
Willard Chase, one of the Smith's neighbors and a friend of Joseph's, found one of the stones. Chase let Joseph take the stone home, but as soon as it became known "what wonders he could discover by looking in it," Chase wanted it back. As late as 1830, Chase was still trying to get his hands on the stone. His younger brother Abel later told an interviewer that their sister Sally had a stone too. A nearby physician, John Stafford, reported that "the neighbors used to claim Sally Chase could look at a stone she had, and see money. Willard Chase used to dig when she found where the money was." After Joseph obtained the plates, Willard Chase led the group that searched the Smith's house, guided by Sally Chase and a "green glass, through which she could see many very wonderful things.[8]

Why would Willard and Sally chase after Joseph and his stone if he was utterly ineffective at seeing things in it?

What may be said about Joseph's abilities to see is that he could see things that allowed him to do good. He could not see that which he was not meant to see.

W.I. Appleby:

If Mr. Smith dug for money he considered it was a more honorable way of getting it than taking it from the widow and orphan; but few lazy, hireling priests of this age, would dig either for money or potatoes.[9]

Joseph's tongue-in-cheek response to one of a list of questions that were asked of him during a visit at Elder Cahoon's home:

Was not Joseph Smith a money digger? Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.[10]

Motives and Extent of Involvement

It is currently[11] in debate what Joseph's motives were and how much he was involved.

Richard Bushman has written:

At present, a question remains about how involved Joseph Smith was in folk magic. Was he enthusiastically pursuing treasure seeking as a business in the 1820s, or was he a somewhat reluctant participant, egged on by his father?[12] Was his woldview fundamentally shaped by folk traditions? I think there is substantial evidence of his reluctance, and, in my opinion, the evidence for extensive involvement is tenuous. But this is a matter of degree. No one denies that magic was there, especially in the mid 1820s. Smith never repudiated folk traditions; he continued to use the seer stone until late in life and used it in the translation process.[13] It certainly had an influence on his outlook, but it was peripheral--not central. Biblical Christianity was the overwhelming influence in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. Folk magic was in the mix but was not the basic ingredient.[14][15]

What we do know is that after the Angel Moroni's appearance in 1823, Joseph began to turn away from treasure seeking. Again from Richard Bushman:

Joseph Jr. never repudiated the seer stones or denied their power to find treasure. Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end. But after 1823, he began to orient himself away from treasure and toward translation. Martin Harris, another early supporter, remembered Joseph saying that "the angel told him he must quite the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor seal." After 1823, he continued to be involved in treasure expeditions but not as the instigator or leader; perhaps he resisted by dragging his feet. William Stafford depicts Joseph Sr. hunting for gold and going back to the house to seek further instructions from Joseph Jr., as if the son was trying to stay out of the picture while the father pushed on. In 1825, when the family needed money, Joseph Jr. agreed to help Stowell find the Spanish gold, but with misgivings. Lucy said of Stowell's operation that "Joseph endeavored to divert him from his vain pursuit." Alva hale, a son in the household where the Smiths stayed in Harmony while digging for Stowell, said Joseph Jr. told him that the "gift in seeing with a stone" was "a gift from God" but that " 'peeping' was all d—d nonsense"; he had been deceived in his treasure-seeking, but he did not intend to deceive anyone else. By this time, Joseph apparently felt that "seeing" with a sone was the work of a "seer," a religious term, while "peeping" or "glass-looking" was fraudulent.[16]

So, in summary, we may say that:

  • Joseph found a seer stone in 1822 and may have used it to look for treasure.
  • Many people believed that he could see things in the stone. There are testimonials that suggest that he could see things in the stone yet no record that he could find any treasure.
  • His motives, cosmological influences, and extent of involvement for early treasure seeking (1822–25) are still in debate. His motives for his later treasure seeking (1825–26) are to help with finances of his family.
  • Beginning in 1823, after the claimed appearance of the angel Moroni, Joseph oriented himself away from treasure seeking.
  • His scriptural and revelatory productions were largely based in Biblical Christianity. Folk magic was a peripheral ingredient to his work (and there is even explicit condemnation of magic in those scriptural productions [Alma 1:32; 3 Nephi 21:16; Mormon 1:19; 2:10; Doctrine and Covenants 63:17; Doctrine and Covenants 76:103)

Did Joseph Smith "retrofit" his "treasure seeking" to have a religious explanation?

Critics claim that Moroni was originally conceived of as a treasure guardian by Joseph, and only later came to be seen as a divine messenger, an angel

The attitude of acceptance toward money-digging in general society changed later in the century, and certainly became a liability for Joseph among the educated and sophisticated, such as newspaper publishers and clergy. His use of a seer stone provided further ammunition for his critics. For example, it is now claimed by one critic of the Church that "As a youth and young adult Joseph Smith engaged in folk magic and treasure digging, promoting himself as one who could help others find buried treasure by placing a magic stone in a hat." [17]

The earliest documents strongly suggest that Joseph and those close to him always understood Moroni as an angelic messenger, with a divine role

Claims that Joseph "retrofitted" his visions with religious trappings after the fact often beg the question, and ignore crucial evidence. In fact, the earliest accounts treat the matter as religious; this is true even of skeptical newspaper reports, as well as a Smith family letter which shows that Joseph or his father considered Moroni "the Angel of the Lord" as early as 1828.[18]

Joseph and those around him may have also seen some aspects of Moroni in a "treasure guardian" role (and he certainly did guard something of both material and spiritual value—the gold plates) but this seems to have been a secondary conclusion, as they interpreted Joseph's experience through their own preconceptions and understanding.

However, Moroni's status as an angel and messenger from God, is well attested in the early sources. Interestingly, the "treasure guardian" motif becomes more common and distinct in later sources, especially those gathered by enemies of Joseph, who sought to discredit him through ridicule and association with the (increasingly disreputable) practice of "treasure digging." [19]

The Hofmann forgeries exaggerated "magic" and "occult" elements of treasure digging even further

The Hofmann forgeries gave great emphasis to the "money-digging" and "occult" aspects of Joseph's experience, and they unfortunately shaded a good deal of the initial scholarly discussion surrounding these issues. Hofmann's documents made the case "air-tight," so to speak, and so other clues along the way were given more weight. When the Hofmann documents collapsed, some authors were not willing to abandon the shaky interpretive edifice they had constructed.[20]

Was "money digging" Joseph Smith's primary source of income during his early years?

Tax records indicated that the Smith family was intensely engaged in activities related to improving their farm

The primary evidence–especially tax records, which provide a relatively unbiased look at the Smiths' work ethic—cannot support the argument that Joseph and his family were not intensely engaged in the duties related to farming.

See also: Lazy Smiths?

LDS scholar Daniel C. Peterson notes,

[I]n order to pay for their farm, the Smiths were obliged to hire themselves out as day laborers. Throughout the surrounding area, they dug and rocked up wells and cisterns, mowed, harvested, made cider and barrels and chairs and brooms and baskets, taught school, dug for salt, worked as carpenters and domestics, built stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, washed clothes, sold garden produce, painted chairs and oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, and hauled stone. And, along the way, they produced between one thousand and seven thousand pounds of maple sugar annually. "Laziness" and "indolence" are difficult to detect in the Smith family.[21]

The data shows that the Smith farm increased in value, and was worth more than 90% of the farms owned by their neighbors

The data shows that the Smith farm increased in value, and was worth more than 90% of the farms owned by the four families—the Staffords, Stoddards, Chases, and Caprons—who would later speak disparagingly of the Smiths' work ethic.[22] How did they manage this without doing farm work? These are physical improvements. They were too poor to pay someone else to do it. So, are we to believe that Joseph's family let Joseph just sit around doing his "magic business" while the rest of them worked their fingers to the bone?

The Smith farm had a perimeter of a one and 2/3 miles. To fence that distance with a standard stone and stinger fence required moving tons of stone from fields to farm perimeter, then cutting and placing about 4,000 ten-foot rails. This does not include the labor and materials involved in fencing the barnyard, garden, pastures, and orchard, which, at a conservative estimate, required an additional 2,000 to 3,000 cut wooden rails (McNall 59, 84, 87, 91, 110-11, and 144). Clearly, this work alone—all of it separate from the actual labor of farming—represents a prodigious amount of concerted planning and labor....

In comparison to others in the township and neighborhood, the Smiths' efforts and accomplishments were superior to most. In the township, only 40 percent of the farms were worth more per acre and just 25 percent were larger. In the "neighborhood," only 29 percent of the farms were worth more and only 26 percent were larger (Assessment Rolls 1-34).[23]

Orlando Saunders: "They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died"

What did Joseph's associates have to say about Joseph's work? Former neighbor Orlando Saunders recalled,

They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died....[The Smiths] were very good people. Young Joe (as we called him then), has worked for me, and he was a good worker; they all were. . . . He was always a gentleman when about my place."[24]

John Stafford, eldest son of William Stafford said that the Smiths were "poor managers," but allowed as how Joseph "would do a fair day's work if hired out to a man...."[25]

Mrs. Palmer's father "loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys"

According to Truman G. Madsen,

Mrs. Palmer, a non-Mormon who lived near the Smith farm in Palmyra, said of Joseph that "her father loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys. She was about six years old, she said, when he first came to their home. . . .She remembered, she said, the excitement stirred up among some of the people over the boy's first vision, and of hearing her father contend that it was only the sweet dream of a pure-minded boy."[26]

Martha Cox's father said "that the boy [Joseph Smith] was the best help he had ever found

According to a contemporary, Martha Cox,

She stated that one of their church leaders came to her father to remonstrate against his allowing such close friendship between his family and the "Smith boy," as he called him. Her father, she said, defended his own position by saying that the boy was the best help he had ever found.[27]

Joseph's brother William noted that derogatory comments about Joseph's character came only after he reported his visions,

We never heard of such a thing until after Joseph told his vision, and not then, by our friends. Whenever the neighbors wanted a good day's work done they knew where they could get a good hand and they were not particular to take any of the other boys before Joseph either… Joseph did his share of the work with the rest of the boys. We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision.[28]

Joseph Knight said that Joseph Smith, Jr. was "the best hand [my father] ever hired"[29]

Martin Harris described what a good hand Joseph was: "He lived close by my farm, and often worked for me hoeing corn for fifty cents a day, which was the biggest wages given in those times." [30] "He also said that he had hoed corn with Joseph often, and that the latter was a good hand to work."[31]

The Smith family produced maple sugar and constructed barrels

Furthermore, the Smiths produced maple sugar, a difficult and labor-intensive occupation:

Sources document over two dozen kinds of labor the Smiths performed for hire, including digging and rocking up wells, mowing, coopering, constructing cisterns, hunting and trapping, teaching school, providing domestic service, and making split-wood chairs, brooms and baskets. The Smiths also harvested, did modest carpentry work, dug for salt, constructed stone walls and fireplaces, flailed grain, cut and sold cordwood, carted, made cider, and "witched" for water. They sold garden produce, made bee-gums, washed clothes, painted oil-cloth coverings, butchered, dug coal, painted chairs, hauled stone, and made maple syrup and sugar (Research File).

Joseph Jr.'s account suggests honest industry in the face of difficult conditions: "Being in indigent circumstances," he says, "[we] were obliged to labour hard for the support of [our] Large family and . . . it required the exertions of all [family members] that were able to render any assistances" (Jessee 4). The Smith men had a reputation as skilled and diligent workers. William Smith asserted that "whenever the neighbors wanted a good day's work done they knew where they could get a good hand" (Peterson 11). Eight wells in three townships are attributed to the Smiths (Research File). They likely dug and rocked others, including some of the 11 wells dug on the farm of Lemuel Durfee, who lived a little east of Martin Harris. The Smiths did considerable work for this kindly old Quaker; some of their labor served as rent for their farm after it passed into his ownership in December 1825 (Ralph Cator; Lemuel Durfee Farm books).

Father Joseph, Hyrum, and Joseph Jr. were coopers. Coopering was an exacting trade, particularly if the barrel was designed to hold liquid. Dye tubs, barrels, and water and sap buckets were products of the Smiths' cooper shop. They also repaired leaky barrels for neighbors at cidering time (Research File).

Sugaring was another labor-intensive work. William recalls, "To gather the sap and make sugar and molasses from [1,200-1,500 sugar] trees was no lazy job" (Peterson 11). Lucy said they produced an average of "one thousand pounds" (50) of sugar a year. One neighbor reportedly said that the Smiths made 7,000 pounds of sugar one season and won a premium for their effort at the county fair (Brodie 10-11). Many people could make maple syrup, but it required considerable skill to make sugar and particularly good skill, dexterity, and commitment to make high quality sugar.[32]

Did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power?

Every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power believes in supernatural entities with real power

So, did Joseph Smith and his contemporaries believe in supernatural entities with real power? Yes—and so does every Christian, Jew, or Muslim who believes in God, angels, and divine power to reveal, heal, etc. However, to label these beliefs as "magic" is to beg the question—to argue that Joseph believed in and sought help from powers besides God. Nobody disputes that Joseph and his family believed in the Bible, which condemns divination and witchcraft:

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Deuteronomy 18:10

Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under Biblical condemnation

Therefore, Joseph and his family viewed folk magic and the use of seer stones as not falling under this Biblical condemnation. It is clear that Joseph and his contemporaries believed that one could gain knowledge from such activities as dowsing (using a rod to find water, ore, or buried treasure) and the use of the seer stones. This does not mean, however, that Joseph understood such activities to be a form of magic.

In Joseph's day, the power of (for example) dowsing was seen as a manifestation of "how the world worked." An article published in 1825 described how the downward bob of a divining rode "closely resembles the dip of the magnetic needle, when traversing a bed or ore."[33] A journal of science reported the idea that "the rod is influenced by ores."[34]

An early British dowser denounced the idea that dowsing for ore was based on magic. "it [the rod] guided mee to the Orifice of a lead mine. [The rod is] of kin to the Load-stone [magnet], drawing Iron to it by a secret vertue, inbred by nature, and not by any conjuration as some have fondly imagined."[35]

Using a divining rod was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law, and requiring the grace of God to operate

Thus, divining was seen in these examples as a manifestation of natural law. Just as one might use a compass or lode-stone to find true north, without understanding the principles or mathematics of magnetism which underlay it, so one could use dowsing as a tool, without understanding the principles by which it operated.

It is further clear that those who used divinization by rods, for example, believed that the rod's natural ability also required the grace of God to operate. Hence, practitioners would consecrate their rods, and pray to God to bless their efforts.[36] Of such matters, Oliver Cowdery was told in an early revelation, "without faith you can do nothing."[37] Like any natural ability, Joseph believed that the gift and tools of seership (in the broader sense) could be misused. As he told Brigham Young, "most...who do find [a seer stone] make an evil use of it."[38] And, Emma Smith's hostile brother Alvah would later remember that Joseph told him "that his gift in seeing with a [seer] stone and hat, was a gift from God."[39]

Was Joseph Smith commanded by the Lord to go to Salem, Massachusetts, to hunt for treasure in the cellar of a house?

Joseph and several other leaders traveled to Salem hoping to find money that could be used to satisfy some of the Church's outstanding debt

The trip was apparently made on their own initiative, and was not commanded by the Lord. Joseph did not "prophesy" that they would find money in Salem, but instead made the trip because he became convinced that the story that the treasure existed might true. Upon failing to locate the money, they spent their time preaching to the people in Salem.

The trip to the East was an effort to find a means to relieve some of the outstanding debt that the Church

On July 25, 1836, Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery began a journey from Kirtland to the East Coast for the purpose of seeking a means to relieve some of the outstanding debt that the Church had incurred. The men visited New York City in order to consult with their creditors regarding their debt.[40] Four days later, upon completing their business in New York, they then continued on to Salem, Massachusetts.

After visiting New York City, the men traveled to Salem upon hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them there

The trip to Salem is the subject of the revelation contained in D&C 111. The introduction states:

At this time the leaders of the Church were heavily in debt due to their labors in the ministry. Hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them in Salem, the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery traveled there from Kirtland, Ohio, to investigate this claim, along with preaching the gospel. The brethren transacted several items of church business and did some preaching. When it became apparent that no money was to be forthcoming, they returned to Kirtland.

This was a period in which great financial difficulties were being experienced by the Church in Kirtland—hence the motivation to search after the alleged treasure.

The revelation itself indicates that the Lord did not command the prophet to go to Salem to obtain money

I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. (D&C 111꞉1) (emphasis added)

B.H. Roberts provides additional information regarding the reason for the trip.

While the Prophet gives a somewhat circumstantial account of this journey to Salem and his return to Kirtland in September, he nowhere assigns an adequate cause for himself and company making it—the object of it is not stated. Ebenezer Robinson, for many years a faithful and prominent elder in the church, and at Nauvoo associated with Don Carlos Smith—brother of the Prophet—in editing and publishing the Times and Seasons, states that the journey to Salem arose from these circumstances. There came to Kirtland a brother by the name of Burgess who stated that he had knowledge of a large amount of money secreted in the cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts, which had belonged to a widow (then deceased), and thought he was the only person who had knowledge of it, or of the location of the house. The brethren accepting the representations of Burgess as true made the journey to Salem to secure, if possible, the treasure. Burgess, according to Robinson, met the brethren in Salem, but claimed that time had wrought such changes in the town that he could not for a certainty point out the house "and soon left."[41]

The trip to Salem was apparently a "venture of their own design"

The trip to Salem was apparently "a venture of their own design, not one of divine direction."[42] Two weeks after receiving the revelation recorded in D&C 111, Joseph wrote the following letter to his wife Emma from Salem.

Salem, Mass., August 19th, 1836.
My beloved Wife:—Bro. Hyrum is about to start for home before the rest of us, which seems wisdom in God, as our business here can not be determined as soon as we could wish to have it. I thought a line from me by him would be acceptable to you, even if it did not contain but little, that you may know that you and the children are much on my mind. With regard to the great object of our mission, you will be anxious to know. We have found the house since Bro. Burgess left us, very luckily and providentially, as we had one spell been most discouraged. The house is occupied, and it will require much care and patience to rent or buy it. We think we shall be able to effect it; if not now within the course of a few months. We think we shall be at home about the middle of September. I can think of many things concerning our business, but can only pray that you may have wisdom to manage the concerns that involve on you, and want you should believe me that I am your sincere friend and husband. In haste. Yours &c., Joseph Smith, Jr.[43]

The letter indicates that Joseph had not yet given up hope of locating the actual physical treasure for which they had originally come. The four men spent their time in Salem preaching and sightseeing.

Salem's "treasure"

The Lord indicates, however, that there is some benefit to be derived from their presence there. The "treasure" referred to has to do with planting seeds for the future preaching of the Gospel:

I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality. Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you...For there are more treasures than one for you in this city. (D&C 111꞉2-3,D&C 111꞉10)

Richard Lloyd Anderson notes that in D&C 111, "the definition of riches came in doublets, a scriptural pattern of restating one idea in two aspects."[44] The following parallels are noted:

Phrase #1 Phrase #2
I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion (verse 2, part a) and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion (verse 2, part b)
Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them. (verse 5) Concern not yourselves about Zion, for I will deal mercifully with her. (verse 6)
I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality. (verse 2) And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours. (verse 4)

Anderson suggests that "such similar phrasing suggests that paying debts and the welfare of Zion were but different forms of the same hope." The "gold and silver" mentioned in Verse 4 is equated with the "treasure" of "many people" in Verse 2, which suggests that "the gathering of the converts is at the same time a gathering of their resources."

Fulfillment of the revelation

It became evident to the leaders of the Church that the "treasure" referred to by the Lord was the conversion of people in Salem to the Gospel. In 1841, five years after the revelation was given, Erastus Snow and Benjamin Winchester were called to serve a mission in Salem. Cannon notes that the elders were sent explicitly for the purpose of fulfilling the revelation:

[Hyrum Smith and William Law] gave Erastus Snow a copy of the Salem Revelation and requested to fulfill it. Snow and Winchester arrived in Salem in September of 1841. They preached at public meetings, published a pamphlet addfressed to the citizens of Salem, and challenged the notorious Mormon apostate, John C. Bennett to debate. Their efforts bore fruit. By March of 1842 they had organized the Salem Branch with 53 members. By the end of that summer, the branch had 90 members.[45]

These conversions were sufficiently noticed to have been commented on by two of Salem's newspapers, the Salem Gazette on Dec. 7, 1841, and The Salem Register on June 2, 1842.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph Smith sacrifice a dog while treasure seeking?

A couple of late reminiscences claim that Joseph Smith sacrificed a dog while treasure seeking. These few references do not come from anyone who might have been involved in the treasure seeking and seem to almost certainly be based on rumors related to the supposedly degenerate nature of Joseph Smith. One report demonstrates the unreliability of the accounts:

On a scorching day in July I visited Susquehanna to obtain an authentic narrative from several parties who were eye-witnesses of the events which they related. At the residence of Mrs. Elizabeth Squires I found both herself and Mrs. Sally McKune, the widow of Joseph McKune. Mrs. Squires is considerably over seventy, and Mrs. McKune is about eighty, years of age. Both these ladies lived in the neighborhood at the time of the Smith manifestations. The statement given above with regard to the digging for treasure is that of Mrs. McKune, supplemented by Mrs. Squires. Jacob J. Skinner, the present owner of the farm, was about sixteen years old at the time of the search. For a number of years he has been engaged in filling the holes with stone to protect his cattle, but the boys still use the north-east hole as a swimming-pond in the summer.[46]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • “The Book of Mormon and the Mormonites,” Athenaeum, Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art 42 (July 1841): 370–74. off-site
  • [Letter on Mormonism, 26 July 1841,] Christian Advocate and Journal (New York) 15, no. 52 (11 August 1841). off-site
  • [Letter on Mormonism, 29 July 1841,] Christian Advocate and Journal (New York) 15, no. 52 (11 August 1841). off-site
  • “Prevalence of Mormonism,” Christian Advocate and Journal (New York) 16, no. 17 (8 December 1841). off-site
  • “Mormonism,” Christian Register (Boston) (20 December 1834): ??. Reprinted from the Sacket’s Harbor Courier, circa December 1834. off-site
  • “Mormonism,” Christian Watchman (Boston) 21, no. 39 (25 September 1840). off-site
  • “Mormonism,” Daily Morning Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) no. 64 (23 November 1842). off-site
    Cites John C. Bennett's claims.
  • “Mormonism,” Dayton Journal and Advertiser (Dayton, Ohio) 5, no. 45 (4 October 1831): 1. Reprinted from the Cincinnati Gazette (26 September 1831). off-site
  • “Complaints of a Mormonite,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (Utica, New York) ( 5 September 1835): 285. off-site
  • “Mormonism,” The Herald of Truth (Philadelphia) (December 1831): 406-7. Reprinted from Broome County Courier (Binghamton, New York) (22 December 1831). off-site
  • “Mormon Religion—Clerical Ambition—Western New York—The Mormonites Gone to Ohio,” Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer (New York City, New York) 7, no. 1331 (1 September 1831). off-site
  • “Mormonism,” Morning Star (Limerick, Maine) 7, no. 20 (16 November 1832). Reprinted from the Christian Herald (Boston), circa November 1832.
  • “History of Mormanism,” The Ohio Repository (Canton, Ohio) (1 September 1836). Reprinted from New York Commercial Advertiser, circa August 1836. off-site
  • “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register (Montrose, Pennsylvania) 9, no. 21 (1 May 1834). off-site
  • “Mr. Alexa[n]der Campbell . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) (21 June 1831). off-site
  • “We have received the following letter,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) (22 March 1831), ??. off-site
  • “Gold Bible, No. 3,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 12 (1 February 1831): 92-93. off-site
  • “Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831): 100-101. off-site
  • “Gold Bible, No. 5,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 14 (28 February 1831): 109. off-site
  • Anon., "Great Discussion on Mormonism Between Dr. West and Elder Adams, at the Marlboro’ Chapel. ” [Quoting from The Bostonian]," Times and Seasons 3 no. 20 (15 August 1842), 886; citing Mormonism Unvailed (Howe, 1834). off-site GospeLink
  • “Origin of the Mormon Bible,” Trumpet and Universalist Magazine (Boston) (3 September 1836). off-site
  • “The Mormons,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (17 June 1836). off-site
  • A.W.B., “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (Utica, New York) 2, no. 15 (9 April 1831): 120. off-site
  • John Warner Barber, The History and Antiquities of New England, New York, and New Jersey (Worcester: Dorr, Howland & Company, 1841)," 370-381.
  • “Mormonism—No. III,” Ezra Booth to Rev. I. Eddy, 24 October 1831 Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio) (27 October 1831). off-site
  • David S. Burnett, “Something New.—The Golden Bible,” Evangelical Inquirer (Dayton, Ohio) 1, no. 10 (7 March 1831): 217–19. off-site
  • Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century, or, the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints : To Which Is Appended an Analysis of the Book of Mormon (London: Printed for J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 27-35. off-site
  • John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the way. No. VI,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) (5 September 1840): 94. off-site
  • John A. Clark, “Gleanings by the Way. No. VII,” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 18, no. 25 (12 September 1840), ??. off-site
  • Clericus, “Mormonism,” Christian Register (Boston) 15, no. 52 (24 December 1836): 1. Reprinted from Hampshire Gazette, circa December 1836. (Cites Mormonism Unvailed). off-site
  • Truman Coe, “Mormonism,” Cincinnati Journal and Western Luminary (25 August 1836). Reprinted from Ohio Observer, circa August 1836. off-site See Milton V. Backman, Jr., "Truman Coe’s 1836 Description of Mormonism," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (Spring 1977), 347-55. See also Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:47.
  • John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  • James H. Eells to Joshua Leavitt, 1 April 1836, New York Evangelist (New York) 7, no. 15 (9 April 1836): 59. off-site
  • Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 231–. (Affidavits examined) off-site
  • James H. Hunt, Mormonism: Embracing the Origin, Rise and Progress of the Sect (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), 29, 37, 56-58. off-site
  • J.A.H., “Origin of Mormonism,” Wayne County Whig (Lyons) 3, no. 51 (14 September 1842). off-site
  • E. G. Lee, The Mormons, or Knavery Exposed (Frankford, Philadelphia: Webber & Fenimore, 1841), 11-12. off-site Full title
  • Richard Livesey, An Exposure of Mormonism, being a statement of facts relating to the self-styled “Latter day Saints,” and the Origin of the Book of Mormon (Preston: J. Livesey, 1838), 2–3. off-site
  • David Marks, [Untitled Remarks on Mormonism], Morning Star (Limerick, Maine) 7, no. 45 (7 March 1833): 177.
  • James M’Chesney, An Antidote To Mormonism, revised by G. J. Bennet (New York, NY: Burnett & Pollard, 1838), 22. off-site Full title
  • James M’Chesney, Supplement to an Antidote to Mormonism, &c. (Brooklyn, 1839), 1–4. off-site
  • website (as of 28 April 2012). Page:
  • George Peck, “Mormonism and the Mormons,” Methodist Quarterly Review (January 1843): 111–27. off-site
  • John Storrs, “Mormonism,” Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts) 24 (19 April 1839). off-site
  • La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 9 (3 March 1838): 34, citing Howe. off-site
  • Amos H. Wickersham, An Examination of the Principles of Mormonism, as Developed in the Recent Discussion Between the Author and Elders Wharton & Appleby, With a Brief Statement of Facts in Regard to Said Discussion (Wilmington, DE: Allderidge, Jeandell, & Miles, 1843), 1-21. off-site Reply
  • S. Williams, Mormonism Exposed (1838), 6. off-site
Past responses


  1. Palmyra Herald (24 July 1822); cited in Russell Anderson, "The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith," (2002 FAIR Conference presentation.) FAIR link
  2. "Wonderful Discovery," Wayne Sentinel [Palmyra, New York] (27 December 1825), page 2, col. 4. Reprinted from the Orleans Advocate of Orleans, New York; cited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 170–171.
  3. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith Miscellany," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 2005 FAIR Conference) FAIR link
  4. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his Progenitors for Many Generations (Lamoni, Iowa, 1912; republished by Herald Publishing House, 1969), 103.
  5. Tiffany’s Monthly, June 1859, 163.
  6. Kirkham, A New Witness For Christ in America, 133.
  7. David Whitmer Interview with Chicago Times, August 1875. In Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003), 5:21–22.
  8. Willard Chase, Affidavit (1833), and Peter Ingersoll, Affidavit (1833), in MoU 238-9; Tucker, Origin, 19; Abel Chase Interview (1881), and John Stafford, Interview (1881), in EMD, 2:85, 106, 121; Caroline Rockwell Smith, Statement (1885), in EMD, 2:199; BioS, 102, 109. For another Palmyra seer stone, see Wayne Sentinel, Dec. 27, 1825
  9. W.I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent! Truth Vindicated, and Falsehood Exposed and Refuted: Being A Reply to A. H. Wickersham (Wilmington DE: Porter & Nafe, 1843), 1–24.
  10. Joseph Smith, Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, Ohio] 2 no. 3 (July 1838), 43. Also reproduced in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 120; History of the Church 3:29; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 271.
  11. Line written 17 June 2019
  12. Dan Vogel, "The Locations of Joseph Smith's Early Treasure Quests," Dialogue 27, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 91-108
  13. Susan Staker, "Secret Things, Hidden Things: The Seer Story in the Imaginative Economy of Joseph Smith," in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 235-74
  14. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni: Angel or Treasure Guardian?, Mormon Historical Studies 2, no. 2 (Fall 2001): 39-75
  15. Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith and Money Digging" in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History ed. Laura Harris Hales (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2016) 4
  16. Richard L. Bushman "Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling" (New York City, NY: Alfred Knopf Publishing, 2005) 51
  17. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  18. Mark Ashurst-McGee, "Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 34–100. [{{{url}}} off-site] wiki  (Key source)
  19. Larry E. Morris, "'I Should Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God’: Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel and the Plates (Review of: "From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism")," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 11–82. off-site  (Key source)
  20. Stephen E. Robinson, "Review of D. Michael Quinn Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1987)," Brigham Young University Studies 27 no. 4 (Date?), 88. PDF link; see also John Gee, "Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224. [{{{url}}} off-site]; William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]; Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  21. Daniel C. Peterson and Donald L. Enders, "Can the 1834 Affidavits Attacking the Smith Family Be Trusted?," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 286—87. off-site
  22. Donald L. Enders, "The Joseph Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee," in Joseph Smith, The Prophet, The Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, Jr., (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1993), 220–221.
  23. Enders, "Joseph Smith, Sr., Family," 219, 221.
  24. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 165.
  25. William H. Kelly, "The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon," Saints' Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 167; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:121.
  26. Cited from a typescript by Truman G. Madsen, "Guest Editor's Prologue," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 3 (Spring 1969), 235.
  27. Stories from the Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson, Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah)
  28. Deseret News, 20 January 1894
  29. Autobiography of Joseph Knight Jr., 1, Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah
  30. Martin Harris, quoted in Edward Stevenson to the Editor, 14 October 1893 Deseret Evening News (20 October 1893); reprinted in Millennial Star 55 (4 December 1893): 793-94; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:326.
  31. Martin Harris, quoted in Edward Stevenson Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Edward Stevenson, 1893), 30-33.
  32. Enders, "Joseph Smith, Sr., Family," 222–223.
  33. "The Divining Rod," The Worchester Magazine and Historical Journal (October 1825): 29; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
  34. "The Divining Rod," The American Journal of Science and Arts (October 1826): 204; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 65–66.
  35. Gabriel Platts, A Discovery of Subterraneal Treasure (London: 1639), 11–13, emphasis added; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 66. Buy online
  36. See discussion in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 140, 182–192.
  37. A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized according to law, on the 6th of April, 1830 (Zion [Independence, Missouri]: W.W. Phelps and Co., 1833) 7:4.
  38. Joseph Smith, cited by Brigham Young, "History of Brigham Young," Millennial Star (20 February 1864), 118–119.; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
  39. "Mormonism," The Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian (Montrose, Pennsylvania) (1 May 1834): 1, column 4; cited in Mark Ashurst-McGee, "A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet," (Master's Thesis, University of Utah, Logan, Utah, 2000), 184. Buy online
  40. Donald Q. Cannon, "Joseph Smith in Salem, (D&C 111)" Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (editors), Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), pp. 433.
  41. Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 1:410–411. GospeLink
  42. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000), p. 896.
  43. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 350.
  44. Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
    Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
    Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
  45. Cannon, 436.
  46. Frederic G. Mather, "The Early Days of Mormonism," Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science August 1880, 211.