Joseph Smith/Early Smith family history/No positive witnesses
Critics claim that there are "no contemporary pro-Mormon statements from reliable and informed sources who knew the Smith family and Joseph intimately."
There are certainly no "contemporary" documents from the anti-Mormon side. All the negativity comes after Joseph's announcement about his vision and the plates. Most of the negative reports (such as the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits) came well after the Church's organization.
But, the critics' claim is false, as will be shown below—there are contemporary legal documents and later remembrances of those who knew the Smiths, and regarded them as trustworthy and hard-working.
Smiths as lazy
Many affidavits claim that the Smiths were lazy. Yet, contemporary documents and tax records (which are surely reliable, surely informed, and cannot be the victims of bias like neighbors' testimony can be) tell a very different story.
For a detailed response, see: Lazy Smiths?
A year prior to the First Vision, Joseph Smith was thirteen years old. His family sued a neighboring farmer over a dispute regarding some horses they had purchased. One author explained that Joseph's use as a witness indicates that the trial judge and jury found him both trustworthy and competent to give evidence:
- Under New York law, being just thirteen, Joseph's testimony about the work he had performed was admissible only after the court found him competent. His testimony proved credible and the court record indicates that ever item that he testified about was included in the damages awarded to the Smiths. Although Hurlbut [the farmer they were suing] appealed the case, no records have survived noting the final disposition of that case; perhaps it was settled out of court. The significance of this case is not limited to the fact that a New York judge found the young Joseph, just a year prior to his First Vision, to be competent and credible as a witness....
- The trial was held on February 6, 1819. Twelve jurors were impaneled, all men and property owners. The Smiths called five witnesses, Hurlbut seven. Both Joseph Jr. and Hyrum were called to testify. This appears to be young Joseph's first direct interaction with the judicial process. He had turned thirteen years old a month and a half previously. New York law and local practice permitted the use of child testimony, subject to the court's discretion to determine the witness' competency. The test for competency required a determination that the witness was of 'sound mind and memory.' A New York 1803 summary of the law for justices of the peace notes that 'all persons of sound mind and memory, and who have arrived at years of discretion, except such as are legally interested, or have been rendered infamous, may be improved as witnesses.' This determination of competency rested within the discretion of the judge....
- From the record it appears that Judge Spear found Joseph Jr. competent, and he indeed did testify during the trial. This is evident in a review of the List of Services that was part of the court file. Joseph Jr.'s testimony would have been required to admit those services he personally performed. His testimony was certainly combined with Hyrum's. Hyrum was born February 11, 1800, and was therefore nineteen years old at the time this case was tried.
Reminiscence Concerning 1825
Josiah Stowell, Jr. (a non-Mormon): “I will give you a short history of what I know about Joseph Smith, Jr. I have been intimately acquainted with him about 2 years. He then was about 20 years old or thereabout. I also went to school with him one winter. He was a fine, likely young man....”
Despite charges brought against Joseph Smith for glasslooking, his employer (Josiah Stowell) testified that Joseph had not defrauded or deceived him.
Two of Josiah Stowell's daughters (probably Miriam and Rhoda) were called during a June 1830 court case against Joseph:
- the court was detained for a time, in order that two young women (daughters to Mr. Stoal) with whom I had at times kept company; might be sent for, in order, if possible to elicit something from them which might be made a pretext against me. The young ladies arrived and were severally examined, touching my character, and conduct in general but particularly as to my behavior towards them both in public and private, when they both bore such testimony in my favor, as left my enemies without a pretext on their account.
- [note] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 190. ( Index of claims )
- [note] Jeffrey N. Walker, "Joseph Smith's Introduction to the Law: The 1819 Hurlbut Case," Mormon Historical Studies 11/1 (Spring 2010): 129-130.
- [note] Letter, Josiah Stowell Jr. to John S. Fullmer, 17 February 1843.
- [note] Dean C. Jessee (editor), The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Vol. 1 of 2) (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 254n252. ISBN 0875791999
- [note] Joseph Smith, "History of Joseph Smith Continued," Times and Seasons 4 no. 3 (28 October 1842), 41. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) See also History of The Church, 1:90. BYU Studies link