Joseph Smith's First Vision/Smith family place of residence in 1820
Critics claim that there are discrepancies in Joseph's account of his family's early history, which make his 1820 and subsequent revelations impossible. (See related criticism about the 1820 revivals.) Specifically, they insist that there is no evidence that the Smith family was in the Palmyra area in 1820 for the religious excitement and First Vision which Joseph reported.
Joseph Smith was living in the area at the right time to be near the Sacred Grove where God and His Son appeared to him. Eyewitnesses, critical of Joseph Smith, do verify that the Smiths were there, where Joseph said they were. Critics now try to claim that he was not there. The evidence proves these new critics wrong.
Documentary evidence came to light in 1970 to show that the Smiths were living in a log cabin within the Palmyra borders as late as April 1822. This discovery led Donald Enders, of the LDS Church’s Historical Department, to do an in-depth study of this matter and publish an article in the Church’s Ensign magazine that concluded “Although the farm was located on the Manchester side of the Palmyra-Manchester township line, the Smith’s inadvertently built their cabin on the Palmyra side” on property owned by someone else.
Road tax records that the LDS Genealogical Department copied indicates Joseph Smith, Sr. was in Palmyra Road District #26 from 1817 till 1822. Since the road tax records were done in April, this indicates that Father Smith did not arrive in Palmyra to stay until after April 1816 and yet before April 1817.
The U.S. Census Bureau listed the Smiths in Farmington (now Manchester) in 1820. The Smith farm, clearing the land and a log house, all supported evidence that the Smiths, and most everyone else, considered themselves in Manchester, even though they technically lived about 59 feet off their property. Legal U.S. documents now considered the Smiths in Farmington (later called Manchester) even though, technically, the log house was 59 feet away on the Palmyra side of the line.
Moving to Manchester, it seems probable that the Smiths did not formally move to the new frame house on the east side of Stafford Road until after the winter of 1822. The log house that everyone says they built in 1818 or 1819 was inadvertently built on the wrong side of the Farmington (Manchester)-Palmyra line. Such an “accident” is entirely possible in a day when boundary lines may not have been well established. This would mean that the Smith family did not actually dwell on the Manchester side of the line until after November of 1822, when according to Mother Smith, “the frame was raised, and all the materials necessary for its [their frame house] speedy completion were procured.” “An unidentifiable newspaper article on microfilm at Brigham Young University library” mentions that after some time, it was discovered that the cabin originally built by the Smiths was not on the land originally contracted by them. Arrangements were then made with Samuel Jennings to purchase the land on which the log cabin was erected.
Finding the Smiths not on their property by just under 60 feet, the Palmyra road tax overseers recorded the Smiths on their road tax lists until 1822 when the Smiths were able to raise the frame of a larger house (this time, on their property), move into the house, and work to complete the house after the move. This move occurred before the tax liens were completed in 1823. The tax liens on the property increased $300 to reflect the move. The move to the log house by the Smiths in 1818 was considered a move to Manchester by Joseph Jr., in his history, for it was a move to their farm where he was going to labor for many years to come. An imaginary line separated them from physically being in Manchester.
- [note] Palmyra, N.Y., Copies of Old Village Records, 1793–1867 (Salt Lake City: LDS Church Genealogical Dept., 1970), film 812869, hereafter referred to as: Road Tax Records.
- [note] Donald L. Enders, "A Snug Log House," Ensign (August 1985), 16. off-site
- [note] Road Tax Records.
- [note] Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 87.
- [note] Rand Hugh Packer, “History of Four Mormon Landmarks In Western New York: The Joseph Smith Farm,…,” A Thesis Presented to the Department of Church History and Doctrine (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, August 1975), 43.
- [note] Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 86–87. AISN B000FH6N04.; See also Packer, thesis, 43.
- [note] Manchester, New York, Assessment Roll, Ontario County Historical Society, 16–17.