Joseph Smith's First Vision/Joseph became "partial to the Methodist sect" in 1820
Critics claim that Joseph didn't become "partial to the Methodist sect" until at least 1823, after Alvin's death, or as late as 1838, rather than in 1820 as he claimed in his 1838 First Vision account.
It is entirely reasonable to conclude that Joseph was telling the truth when he said that he became "partial to the Methodist sect" in 1820. Critics who attempt to place this event later in Joseph's life do so in order to discredit the story of the First Vision.
I became partial to the Methodist sect...
—Joseph Smith's 1838 First Vision account
The Wikipedia article "First Vision" (as of May 18, 2009) contains the assertion:
While [Joseph] almost certainly never formally joined the Methodist church, he did associate himself with the Methodists eight years after he said he had been instructed by God not to join any established denomination.
In John A. Matzko, "The Encounter of Young Joseph Smith with Presbyterianism," Dialogue 40/3 (2007): 71., the author claims:
Although Joseph later wrote that his “Father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith,”—rather than emphasizing his mother’s membership—the death of Alvin and the arrival of Stockton seem to have driven both Smith and his father (who glided easily between religious skepticism and folk mysticism) farther from the Presbyterian church and its Calvinistic doctrine. It was probably during this period that Joseph “became partial to the Methodist sect,” whose opposition to Reformed doctrine was notorious.
When did Joseph become "partial to the Methodist sect?"
The following is taken from a hostile source, Orsamus Turner (Orsamus Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase (Buffalo 1849), p. 429):
And a most unpromising recipient of such a trust was this same Joseph Smith, Jr., afterwards Jo Smith." He was lounging, idle, (not to say vicious,) and possessed of less than ordinary intellect. The author's own recollections of him are distinct. He used to come into the village of Palmyra, with little jags of wood, from his back-woods home; sometimes patronizing a village grocery too freely; sometimes finding an odd job to do about the store of Seymour Scovell; and once a week he would stroll into the office of the old Palmyra Register for his father's paper. How impious in us young "dare devils" *
Turner then inserts a footnote which dates this to 1819-1820:
* Here the author remembers to have first seen the family, in the winter of '19, and '20, in a rude log house, with but a small spot of underbrush around it.
...to once in a while blacken the face of the then meddling, inquisitive lounger -- but afterwards prophet -- with the old-fashioned balls, when he used to put himself in the way of the working of the old-fashioned Ramage press! The editor of the Cultivator at Albany -- esteemed as he may justly consider himself for his subsequent enterprise and usefulness -- may think of it with contrition and repentance, that he once helped thus to disfigure the face of a prophet, and, remotely, the founder of a state. But Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations; the mother's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us to solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics, in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school-house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; amid, subsequently, after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp-meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings.
It is also known that the Methodists held at least one camp meeting in the Palmyra area in mid-1820, prior to their purchase of the property on Vienna Road.
For a detailed response, see: Joseph Smith's First Vision/Methodist camp meetings
Does this mean Joseph became a Methodist?
Turner's source is not talking about Joseph Smith acting as an exhorter in evening meetings of the Methodist denomination, but rather the evening meetings spoken of were the gatherings of the juvenile debate club. This conclusion is supported by a newspaper article in the Western Farmer which announced that the Palmyra debate club would begin meeting in the local schoolhouse on 25 January 1822. We learn from firsthand witnesses that children attended school in Palmyra during the winter months and through the end of March. Since school was in session during the same time period when the debate club was meeting it would not be possible for them occupy the same building at the same time. Therefore, the debate club would have to meet at the schoolhouse during evening hours.
It should also be noted that no critic or advocate of this theory has ever bothered to explain just how Joseph Smith became a Methodist exhorter without first becoming a Methodist. And remember, Pomeroy Tucker stated quite clearly in his book that even though Joseph attended Methodist meetings he did not convert to that faith.
- [note] Western Farmer 1/45 (23 January 1822).
- [note] Lucy Smith, Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Irene M. Bates, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2001), 433. ISBN 1560851376. John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert Esq, Sept[ember]. 8th, 1982[,] Palmyra, N.Y.," Palmyra King's Daughters Free Library, Palmyra, New York, 2-3; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 2:542-548.
- [note] Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 17-18. Reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 3:94-95.