|Home||The Catalog of Accusations|
|Accusation: Joseph Smith was a scam artist.|
Answer: This incorrect idea stems from gossip over the gold plates. It triggered thoughts of riches, buried treasure, and monetary schemes, and many people assumed Joseph Smith was running some kind of a fraud. This natural tendency was spurred by antimormons.
In the decades just previous to Joseph Smith, there were at least three charlatans who operated in upper New York State, who were immortalized by antis:
1. Luman Walters conned men to pay him to locate treasure for them to dig. He must have had a hard time keeping a straight face, sitting on a stump smoking his pipe while they grunted and sweat, digging away by the light of a lantern. The trick was to milk the thing as long as possible, coming up with creative reasons why the treasure wasn't where he said, and extract yet another fee for finding a new spot; and to know when to skedaddle when their credulity finally snapped.
At right I have provided the text of Abner Cole's article about Walters from the 1831 Palmyra Reflector.
Cole provides a lot of detail about Walters but doesn't say how he knows so much about him. He's also attacking Joseph Smith here, trying to connect him to Walters, but he doesn't give any evidence to connect them - just "It is well known that..." and "There remains but little doubt..." Cole didn't know much about Joseph, he gets details about him wrong - for instance, in the first half of the first paragraph, he tells us that Joseph didn't meet with, but he did meet with, the angel or guardian spirit.
This kind of thing was not unusual; the gossip about Joseph was inconsistent. He himself told one consistent story, but Cole didn't go get that story. He relied on gossip.
Joseph Smith said that as a young man, he hired out as a laborer, doing farm work, digging wells and cellars; and one of his employers, Josiah Stoal, had him on a crew digging for treasure. Joseph finally persuaded the old man to give it up. That was away off in Pennsylvania, at least a hundred miles away. Cole says this digging happened right there in Manchester. It wasn't the same treasure hunt.
Why did Cole attack Joseph Smith? He attacked Joseph, he attacked Walters, he attacked other targets after he moved to Rochester later. Cole was on a crusade to expose frauds.
One of the places Walters had men digging was Abner Cole's property, so it seems probable that Cole himself had been one of Walters' credulous dupes. See how he calls Walters' scam a diabolical farce?
That would explain how Cole knew so much about his methods, and why he doesn't say how he knew this - it was very embarrassing. And that's why he hated frauds.
And he misidentified Joseph Smith as one.
And he accused Joseph of being in cahoots with old Luman Walters, even tho he knew it wasn't true - Joseph Smith wasn't anywhere around when Cole was digging away, guided by the fraud Walters.
This is yellow journalism, ie. falsehood.
If it sounds like early Americans must have been always ready to jump at the mention of gold or buried treasure, remember that the whole continent was colonized by Europeans, many of whom came to get exactly that.
2. An earlier Smith family had a son who was said to locate buried treasure with a magic stone.
At right I've provided the text of an 1830 Rochester, NY paper. First there was an account of the Book of Mormon (much distorted by embellishment), then this.
In this account we are informed that a Smith boy in the Rochester, New York area used a stone to find treasure. It wasn't our Joseph Smith who was born in 1805; this young man was about a decade older, lived in a different place, and the author indicates they were not the same. The author here is trying to connect them... but they were never connected.
In the stories told about Joseph Smith and his family by antagonistic neighbors, every one of these elements are included. Since those stories appear to be contrived, we may well suppose that the neighbors were simply adapting the older tales to discredit the real prophet, whom they did not want to believe. Certain details of the story must have naturally suggested this usage to them: the name of the family, their having a son, his finding a stone, etc. (Joseph Smith found with the Book of Mormon plates an instrument which had two "stones", for the purpose of translating them, and apparently for seeing other things as well.)
Joseph Smith always denied the money-digging, with the exception of the one occasion detailed above. He said that he actually persuaded the old gentleman to abandon the search, so he couldn't have been a very avid money-digger, in fact this persuasion terminated his employment and source of income at that time. This says that rather than being devious and avaricious, he was open and truthful, and not over-concerned about money.
It was only Joseph's enemies who told these outlandish tales of money-digging, glass-looking, etc., and they were the source of the contradictions and aburdities.
3. A son of the Belcher family. Hugh Nibley mentions him, and other sources say that Joseph purchased Belcher's seer stone. I will present more information on this soon.
Hugh Nibley, The Myth Makers (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, 1991, vol. 11) p.188.
The bottom line is this: "The excitement, however, still continued, and rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating falsehoods about my father's family, and about myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them, it would fill up volumes." -Joseph Smith, History of the Church 1:19