Introduction to New York and Pennsylvania Financial Records
JS spent much of his early life in and , from 1817 to 1831. During this time, he experienced some of the most significant events of his life, including his early visions, the discovery and translation of the , his marriage to , and the organization of the . Though not primarily financial in nature, these events had financial aspects and implications, as demonstrated by the surviving JS documents from the period.
During JS’s youth, his family depended primarily on farming for their livelihood, and his enterprising parents were involved in a variety of financial endeavors. Eventually, economic setbacks led the family to move from to western , where they worked to purchase and manage a farm. As part of these efforts, JS and his brothers were hired out to neighboring farmers to perform physical labor such as clearing rocks or digging wells.
In November 1825, hired JS and his to help locate and unearth a rumored Spanish silver mine in northeastern . Some people in the early nineteenth century believed it was possible for gifted individuals to see lost objects by means of material objects such as stones. JS possessed a that he had reportedly used to seek out mineral wealth and buried treasure. After Stowell enlisted his aid, JS and his father traveled from , New York, to , Pennsylvania, to join Stowell in his expedition. Once in Harmony, JS and several others, including his father and Stowell, apparently signed an agreement concerning the search for the mine and how they would divide any treasure they might discover. The original agreement has not been located, and the earliest extant copy was first published over half a century later in a Utah newspaper that was critical of the church. While the document has poor provenance, the text appears to be authentic. The agreement is generally consistent with JS’s personal history and with several other contemporaneous sources.
, who signed as a witness to the agreement, later explained that the group, including JS, boarded at his house in November 1825. Likely referring to his time working with , JS later said that the search for treasure “was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.” After a month of digging for the treasure “without success,” he finally persuaded Stowell “to cease digging after it.” Instead of returning to with his , JS followed Stowell to his home in , New York, to work as a hired hand. By November 1826, JS began working as a farm laborer for , who lived in , New York.
JS had been courting ’s daughter , and he eventually asked her father’s permission to marry her. Hale refused, saying that JS “followed a business that [he] could not approve”—apparently a reference to either his money digging or his work as a hired laborer. However, in January 1827, JS and Emma were married in . Afterward they returned to the Smith family farm in where JS farmed with his . A note dated 10 March 1827 records one of JS’s financial transactions at the time. It acknowledged the receipt of four dollars from JS, received by C. E. Thayer on behalf of Joel and Levi Thayer, to be credited to the account of Abraham Fish, who believed JS’s spiritual claims.
That same year brought a significant development in JS’s life, one that would have long-lasting ramifications. In 1823, JS reported, an angel had revealed to him the location of gold plates containing a history of ancient inhabitants of the Americas. On 22 September 1827, the angel allowed JS to take possession of the plates in order to translate them. In response to the threats of having the plates stolen, JS and decided to move to in late 1827. , a wealthy farmer who had befriended JS, gave him fifty dollars to help finance this relocation. The Smiths moved to her parents’ farm, living in a small home that Emma’s older brother David Hale had recently vacated. The terms JS agreed to when he moved into the house are unknown.
In April 1829, JS met , a schoolteacher who had learned about the gold plates from the Smith family while living with them in . Cowdery had traveled to to assist JS with translating. Shortly after his arrival, Cowdery prepared an agreement for JS to purchase property from . JS agreed to pay Hale $200 by 1 May 1830 for thirteen and a half acres of land that included the home in which JS and were already living. Cowdery likely contributed some or all of the sixty-four dollars that JS gave Hale as the down payment. By August 1830, JS had made all the payments on the property, and Hale provided him with a deed. JS and Emma would later sell the property to in June 1833.
As JS translated the plates with as his scribe, they quickly ran out of financial resources. In May 1829, traveled from to , bringing food as well as paper for the translation. Then, by June 1829, JS, , and Cowdery had left Harmony and moved in with the family of and in , New York.
The translation was soon completed, and JS and began trying to find a printer for the manuscript, which was titled “the Book of Mormon.” After several attempts to arrange the publication, they reached an agreement with printer in June 1829. During negotiations with Grandin, the cost for printing five thousand books was estimated at $3,000, a figure that included a profit for Grandin. The contract with Grandin was apparently executed shortly after a JS revelation and directed Harris to use a portion of his property to “pay the printer’s debt.” As part of the arrangement, Harris personally assured payment on the costs of publication by mortgaging a large part of his farm for $3,000. If enough copies sold, Harris could recoup his money and the book might even make a profit. After the publishing arrangements were in place, and oversaw the printing of the Book of Mormon. JS returned home to in October 1829.
In early January 1830, , a editor who used ’s shop on the weekends, began publishing unauthorized excerpts from the Book of Mormon in his newspaper. This piracy threatened the ability for JS and to cover the costs of publication with sales. JS returned to Palmyra and apparently threatened legal exercise of his copyright in order to convince the newspaper editor to desist. Cole discontinued his publication of Book of Mormon passages after the 22 January 1830 issue. While in Palmyra, JS made an agreement with Harris on 16 January 1830 that he would have “an equal privilege” with JS and others “of selling the Book of Mormon” up to and until he had been reimbursed for the value of his mortgaged property.
In late March 1830, the Book of Mormon was finally available for purchase. Shortly thereafter, on 6 April 1830, JS and other believers organized the Church of Christ at the home in . Throughout 1830, JS and his followers began experiencing increased persecution in the region. By the end of the year, this persecution and the growth of the church in led JS and his followers to make plans to leave and for states farther west. In late January 1831, JS and left New York and relocated to Ohio.
There are only six extant financial documents from JS’s years in and . As with other periods of his life, there were likely many more documents that were destroyed or lost. Nevertheless, the surviving fragments of his financial record are significant, documenting key events in JS’s life as he worked to make a living, practiced his spiritual gifts, started a family, and produced a new work of scripture.
Gilbert, John H. Memorandum, 8 Sept. 1892. Photocopy. CHL. MS 9223.
MacKay, Michael Hubbard, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat. From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.
Martin Harris to E. B. Grandin, Indenture, Wayne Co., NY, 25 Aug. 1829, Wayne Co., NY, Mortgage Records, 1823–1873, 1753–1959, vol. 3, pp. 325–326, microfilm 479,556, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.