Origin of Mormonism


Wayne County Whig H., J. A.

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H., J. A. “Origin of Mormonism.” Wayne County Whig (Lyons) 3, no. 51 (14 September1842).


We find the following letter in a late number of the Lowell (Mass.) Journal. It was not intended for the public eye, but giving as it does a history of the origin of Mormonism, it was solicited for publication by a number of gentlemen of that city.—We copy it, believing that many of the facts it contains may be new to a large proportion of our readers.

Rochester, N. Y., July 14, 1842.

Dear Brother:—Yours of the 10th thst., making inquiries about Jo Smith and the origin of Mormonism, I proceed to answer without delay.

I went to Palmyra, the residence of the Smiths and of the early dupes of Jo, in the Spring of 1828, a year or two after the pretended finding of the plates from which the book of Mormon was translated. The story of the manner in which it is said the plates were found, I have often had from Martin Harris, (the only honest man, if there was one, among the original Mormons,) which is briefly as follows:

Jo was one night visited by an angel, and told that in a certain hill in Manchester, a town adjoining Palmyra, was deposited a record of God’s ancient people, which he was cammanded to disinter and cause to be translated, for the benefit of the present and future generations. In the morning, as Jo afterwards said, he supposed this “vision,” as he used to call it, to be no more nor less than “the baseless fabric of a dream,” and paid no attention to it. Soon afterward he was visited again, and told that through his agency, the Lord purposed to do wonderful things for fallen man; the locale of the record was distinctly brought before his mind’s eye, and he was still more strongly urged to execute the command previously made. On awakening from his slumbers, Jo said the hair of his head stood on end, like the quills of “the fretful porcupine;” that he hardly knew what to think of his holy visitor; but still he hesitated, thinking, after all, that the matter must have been only the creature of a disordered imagination. A third time was Jo visited, and threatened with the most direful calamities in this world, and eternal damnation in the next, if he did not immediately enter upon the glorious task to which he had been appointed. As there appeared to be no longer any room for doubt in the mind of Jo, the next night he took a lantern and proceeded to the spot indicated, and applying a crow-bar to the end of a flat stone which projected an inch or two from the surface of a small mound, the plates were revealed to his anxious eyes! They had been deposited in a miniature vault, and rested on a flat stone, and were preserved from contact with the earth above, by the first-mentioned stone being placed upon four small stone pillars, one at each corner of the vault.

Now, understand me; these are the circumstances under which it is claimed that the plates were found—not that I credit a single word of the story; on the contrary, I have every reason for believing that this is only the first of the numerous humbugs hatched by Jo and his Mormon horde. Indeed, Mormonism originated in humbug, has ever since been a humbug, will continue a humbug until fully exploded, and will hereafter be remembered only as a humbug.

But to proceed: These plates were said to be some dozen in number, and of the purest gold, not in the least tarnished with age, about the thickness of tin, and some nine inches long and six wide. They were fastened on the back by gold wire, which enabled them readily to open like a book; and hence the name of the “Golden Bible.” These plates were covered with hieroglyphics, the like of which man had never before seen, and probably will never see again.

Now it was that Jo first noised abroad his precious discovery. At first, no one would listen to his absurd story; but he soon let some knowing ones into the secret, and by dint of their united efforts, a few of the unlearned and superstitious of their neighbors were made to gulp down the story. No one, however, was allowed to examine the plates, except three or four, to whom the privilege was specially granted by the angel. These individuals, the more successfully to prosecute their imposition, signed a paper, (and I believe made affidavit to its correctness,) stating that they had seen and examined the plates, &c.

Fac similes of these pretended hieroglyphics were shown to some of the most learned in this section of the country, but they proved quite too ignorant to render them into English. Some lines of them were even sent to the late Dr. Mitchell, of New-York, but notwithstanding his profound literary researches, he was equally unsuccessful.

But, fortunately, a translator was soon found, believed to be in the person of a fellow of some learning, by the name of Cowdery. Now mark: An old manuscript historical novel, the property of a deceased clergyman in Pennsylvania, had previously fallen into Jo’s possession, by means best known to himself—the novel having been written during the college days of the deceased, and preserved in the family as a relic by no means devoid of interest, showing as it did its design, a genius of no ordinary stamp. It was never offered to the printer, for the reason that the writer became pious, soon after it was finished, and determined to devote the energies of his mind to divinity, instead of law, could not consent to lend the influence of his pen in multiplying the works of fiction then extant. The existence of this manuscript volume was known, however, to his neighbors, many of whom had read it with much interest, all the scenes being laid in America.

If I recollect right, it was about a year after Jo obtained possession of this volume, (he having spent a few months in the neighborhood of the widow,) that the Mormon plates were alledged to have been found. It is believed that the locality of its scenes, and the historical nature of its contents, first suggested to him the origin of this miserable humbug. Hence the coined story of the angel’s visits, the finding of the plates, their wonderful contents, &c.

The “translator,” whether Cowdery or some other person, dressed up this old manuscript, merely adding to it whatever the Book of Mormon can be said to contain of a religious cast, and adapting its general phraseology as far as possible to that of the bible; but preserving the general original narative so nearly, as to enable every one who read the manuscript, readily to detect the plagiarism on a perusal of the Book of Mormon. Affidavits to this effect are already before the public.

Soon after the translation was completed, I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon. This was in the summer of 1829, at which time I was carrying on the printing business at Palmyra. Harris owned a good farm in that town, and offered to mortgage it to secure the expense of printing. Though he was a subscriber to my paper, and had frequently “labored” to convert me to the Mormon faith, I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any “part or lot” in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang. He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed “THE GOLDEN BIBLE,” giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.

I have not the patience, nor do I consider it necessary, to trace all the movements of the Mormons up to the time of their emigration to the “Land of Promise” in the West.

The appearance of their Bible, (which, by the way, cost Harris his farm,) seemed to inspire them with fresh hopes, and in the course of a few months they were able to muster for their Western [???] some hundred and fifty or two hundred souls, including women and children.

Since that time their position has been sufficiently public to render anything further from me in regard to it, an unnecessary task.

But you wish to know something about the earlier history of the Smiths. They were always considered by their own townsmen as a lazy, vicious, profane, unlearned, superstitious family. They lived “from hand to mouth,” spending most of the time not required for the provision of their immediate wants, in digging in the hills of Manchester for money, under the belief often expressed by them, that Capt. Kidd or some other person of wealth, had there deposited their treasures. For many, many years to come, traces of these excavations will be visible—monuments alike of the superstition and folly of the Smith family.

As for Jo, he is altogether too stupid to write an ordinary newspaper paragraph of common sense, as the columns of the Mormon paper will bear abundant testimony. Before he got up his humbug, he was so illiterate as scarcely to be able to write his name intelligibly or to spell it correctly.—He could have had no farther agency in the preparation of the Book of Mormon for the press, than that which I have already awarded him.

I may here add, that Harris, disgusted with Mormonism, left the tribe nearly two years since, as have also all of the honest persons of ordinary intelligence, who had become the dupes of Jo and his assistant wire-pullers.

Thus have I complied with your request, though with great haste; but imperfect at this sketch is, I doubt not that if you have not always thought so, you will now concur with me in the opinion, that, to say the least, Mormonism was “conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity.”

Ever yours,

J. A. H.

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