History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, Chapter 23

Chapter 23 Detailed description of the breastplate. Mob action. Hiding the plates under the hearthstone in the house and then in the cooper’s shop. Martin Harris involves himself in the work. Dealing with Lucy Harris. Lucy Harris’s remarkable dream. Joseph and Emma move to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Martin and Lucy Harris visit soon thereafter. Lucy Harris actively tries to destroy Joseph’s reputation.End of September 1827 to March 1828

Mormon Joseph Smith First VisionAfter bringing home the plates, Joseph now commenced work with his father on the farm in order to be as near as possible the treasure that was committed to his care.

Soon after this, he came in from work one afternoon, and after remaining a short time, he put on his greatcoat and left the house. I was engaged at the time in an upper room in preparing some oilcloths for painting. When he returned, he requested me to come downstairs. I told him that I could not leave my work just then, yet upon his urgent request, I finally concluded to go down and see what he wanted, upon which he handed me the breastplate spoken of in his history.

It was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief, so thin that I could see the glistening metal and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty.

It was concave on one side and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of two of my fingers (for I measured them), and they had holes in the end of them to be convenient in fastening.

The whole plate was worth at least five hundred dollars. After I had examined it, Joseph placed it in the chest with the Urim and Thummim.

Shortly after this circumstance, Joseph came to the house in great haste and inquired if there had been a company of men there. I told him no one had come to the house since he left. He then said that a mob would be there that night, if not before, to search for the record, and that it must be removed immediately.

Soon after, one Mr. Braman came from the neighboring village of Livonia, a German man in whom we reposed much confidence and who was well worthy of the same. Joseph told him his apprehensions of a mob being there that night and that they must prepare themselves to drive them away; but the first thing to be attended to was to secrete the record and breastplate.

It was resolved that a portion of the hearth should be taken up and the plates and breastplate should be buried under the same, and then the hearth relaid to prevent suspicion.

This was carefully and speedily done, but the hearth was scarcely relaid when a large company of armed men came rushing up to the house. Joseph threw the door open and, taking a hint from the stratagem of his Grandfather Mack, hallooed as if he had a legion at hand, giving the word of command with great importance. At the same time, the males that belonged to the house, from the father down to little Carlos, ran out with such vehemence upon the mob that it struck them with terror and dismay, and they fled before our little Spartan band away into the woods, where they dispersed themselves to their several homes.

We had but a few days rest, however, before Joseph received another intimation of the approach of a mob and the necessity of removing the record and breastplate again from their hiding place. Consequently, Joseph took them out of the box in which they had been placed, wrapped them in clothes, carried them across the road to a cooper’s shop, and laid them in a quantity of flax which was stowed in the shop loft. He then nailed up the box as before and tore up the floor and put the box under it.

As soon as it was dark, the mob came and ransacked the place, but did not come into the house. After making a satisfactory search, they went away.

The next morning we found the floor of the cooper’s shop taken up and the wooden box which was put under it split to pieces.

In a few days we learned the cause of this last move and why their curiosity had led them in the direction of the cooper’s shop. A young woman, who was a sister to Willard Chase, had found a green glass through which she could see many wonderful things, and among the rest of her discoveries, she said she had found out the exact place where “Joe Smith kept his gold bible.” And so in pursuance to her directions, they gathered their forces and laid siege to the cooper shop, but went away disappointed.

This did not shake their confidence in Miss Chase, for they still went from place to place by her suggestion, determined to get possession of the object of their research.

Not long after the circumstance of the mob’s going into the cooper’s shop, Joseph began to take some measures to accomplish the translation of the record into English. The first step that he was instructed to take in regard to this work was to make a facsimile of the characters composing the alphabet, which were called reformed Egyptian, and send them to all the most learned men of this generation and ask them for the translation of the same.

Joseph was very solicitous about the work, but as yet no means had come into his hands of accomplishing it.

The reader will notice that on a preceding page of this book, I spoke of a confidential friend to whom Mr. Smith mentioned the existence of the record two or three years before it came forth. This was no other than Martin Harris, one of the witnesses to the Book of  Mormon after it was translated.

To him Joseph desired me to go one afternoon, as he wished to see him. But this was an errand that I somewhat disliked, for his wife was a peculiar sort of a woman, one that was habitually of a very jealous temperament, and being hard of hearing, she was always suspicious that it was some secret which was designedly kept from her. So I told Joseph that I would rather not go, unless I could approach her upon the subject before I spoke to him about it. Joseph consented to this, and I went according to his request.

When I arrived there, I carefully detailed the particulars of Joseph’s finding the record, as far as wisdom dictated and necessity demanded, in order to satisfy Mrs. Harris’s mind, but she did not wait for me to get through with my story till she commenced urging me to receive a considerable amount of money, which she had at her own command, a kind of private purse which her husband permitted her to keep to satisfy her peculiar disposition. She also had a sister living in the house who was extremely anxious to help to the amount of seventy-five dollars to get the record translated.

I told her I came on no such business, that I did not want her money, and that Joseph would attend to his own affairs; but I would like to speak with Mr. Harris for a moment and then I would return home, as my family would soon be expecting me back. Notwithstanding all this, she said that she was determined to assist in the business, for she knew that he would want money and she could spare two hundred as well as not.

After detaining me a few minutes, finally she went with me to her husband and told him I wanted to speak to him. He said he wasn’t going to stop his work, for, he said, “I am now just laying the last brick of this hearth.”

“You see,” said he, “this is the last work that I have to do for one year on the house or about the house or on the farm, and when this is done, I am going to hire a hand to work a year for me, as I shall travel twelve months before I settle myself at home again.”

He soon left, and after being gone a short time, he came and told me that he was now a free man, his hands were altogether untied to go and come and do as he pleased.

I told him, in short, the errand on which I had come. He said that he would see Joseph in a few days. At this his wife exclaimed, “Yes, and I am coming to see him, too, and I will be there Tuesday afternoon and will stop overnight.”

Accordingly, when Tuesday afternoon arrived, Mrs. Harris made her appearance. As soon as she came in and was well seated, she began to importune my son as to the truth of what he said concerning the record, declaring that if he really had any gold plates, she would see them and she was resolved to help him in publishing them.

He told her that she was mistaken-that she could not see them, as he was not permitted to exhibit them to anyone except those whom the Lord should appoint to testify of them. “And as to assistance,” said Joseph, “I always prefer dealing with men, rather than their wives.”

This highly displeased Mrs. Harris, for she was a woman who considered herself altogether superior to her husband. “Well, now, Joseph,” said she, “are you not telling me a lie? Can you look full in my eye and say before God that you have, in reality, found that record as you pretend?”

He said indifferently, “Why, yes, Mrs. Harris. I would as soon look into your face and say so as not, if you would be at all gratified by it.”

“Now, Joseph,” said she, “I will tell what I will do. If I can get a witness that you do speak the truth, I will believe it, and I shall want to do something about the translation-and I mean to help you anyway.”

This closed the evening’s conversation. She went to bed, and in the morning told us a very remarkable dream. She said that a personage had appeared to her the night before and said to her that inasmuch as she had disputed the servant of the Lord, said that his word was not to be believed, and asked him many improper questions, she had done that which was not right in the sight of God. Then he said, “Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.”

She then described the record minutely and again said that she had made up her mind as to what she would do; namely, that she had in her possession twenty-eight dollars that her mother had given her just before she died, when she was on her deathbed. Joseph should take that, and if he would he might give his note, but he would certainly accept of it on some terms.

This last proposition he acceded to in order to get rid of her importunities.

Shortly after this, Alva Hale, Joseph’s brother-in-law, came to our house from Pennsylvania for the purpose of moving my son and his wife to Joseph’s father-in-law’s house, as word had been sent to them that it was their wish to go there as soon as Joseph could settle up his business in New York. During the short interval of Alva’s stay with us, Alva and Joseph were one day in Palmyra at a public house doing some business with the landlord, when Mr. Harris entered the room. Many strangers were present. When he came in, he walked up to my son, gave him his hand, and said, “How do you do, Mr. Smith?” Then, taking a bag of silver from his pocket, he said, “Here, Mr. Smith, is fifty dollars. I give it to you to do the Lord’s work with. No,” said he, “I give it to the Lord for his own work.”

“No,” said Joseph. “We will give you a note, and Mr. Hale, I presume, will sign it with me.”

“Yes,” replied Alva. “I will.”

But Mr. Harris persisted that he would give the money to the Lord and called upon all present to witness to the fact that he gave it freely and did not demand any compensation or return for the same, that it was for the purpose of helping Mr. Smith do the Lord’s work.

It was soon arranged so that Joseph was ready to set out for Pennsylvania with the breastplate and record. These were securely nailed up in a box and the box put into a strong cask made for the purpose. The cask was then filled with beans and headed up again.

When it became generally known that Joseph was about moving to Pennsylvania, a mob of fifty men collected and went to Dr. McIntyre and requested him to take the command of the company, stating that their object was to “follow Joe Smith and take his gold bible away from him.” Dr. McIntyre’s ideas and feelings did not altogether harmonize with theirs, and he told them they must be a pack of devilish fools and bid them go home and mind their own business; that if Smith had anything of that sort to attend to, he was capable of doing it, and they would do better to busy themselves about that which concerned them more.

A quarrel then arose as to who should be captain and ran so high that it broke up the expedition.

Joseph started in December for Pennsylvania. It was agreed upon that Martin Harris should follow him as soon as Joseph should have sufficient time to transcribe some of the Egyptian characters. Then Mr. Harris was to take the characters to the East and through the country in every direction, and on his way he was to call on all who were professed linguists to give them an opportunity of showing their talents in giving a translation of the characters.

When Mrs. Harris heard this, she declared her intention of accompanying her husband; but he concluded that it would be better to go without her, and without giving her any intimation of his intention, he left quite suddenly with Hyrum.

Mrs. Harris soon missed her husband and came to me to find out if I knew where he was. I told her what he had said to me about leaving, suppressing, however, his remarks pertaining to herself.

She was highly enraged and accused me of framing the whole affair. I told her I had nothing to do with the plan, nor the execution of it, but that the business of the house, which was the natural cares of a woman, was all that I attempted to dictate or interfere with, unless by my husband’s or son’s requests.

Mrs. Harris then said that she had property, and she knew how to take care of it, and she would show me that.

“Now, stop,” I replied. “Do you not know that we never asked you for money or property? Had we been disposed to take advantage of your liberality, might we not have gotten possession of at least two hundred and seventy dollars of your money?” She answered in the affirmative, but went home in anger, determined to have satisfaction in some way for the slight which she had received.

When a short space of time had elapsed, Mr. Harris returned, and his wife’s anger kindled afresh at her husband’s presence, so much so that she prepared a bed and room for him alone, which she refused to enter.

A young man by the name of Dikes had been paying his addresses to Miss Lucy Harris, Martin’s oldest daughter. Of this young gentleman the father of the girl was very fond, and the young lady was not at all averse to him. Of course, Mrs. Harris was decidedly upon the negative, but just at this juncture, a scheme entered her brain that changed her deportment to Mr. Dikes very materially. She told Mr. Dikes that if he would contrive to get the Egyptian characters out of Martin’s possession, hire a room in Palmyra, transcribe them accurately, and bring her the transcript, she would give him her daughter, Lucy, to wife.

Mr. Dikes readily agreed to this, and suffice it to say, he succeeded to the woman’s satisfaction and received the promised reward.

When Mr. Harris began to make preparations to start for Pennsylvania a second time, with the view of writing for Joseph, his wife told him that she fully decreed in her heart to go also. Mr. Harris, having no particular objections, informed her that she might go with him and stay a week or two on a visit, and then he would take her home and go again to do the work of writing the book. She acceded to this very cheerfully, but her husband did not suspect what he was about to encounter. The first time he exhibited the Egyptian characters, she took out of her pocket an exact copy of them and informed those present that “Joe Smith” was not the only one that was in possession of this great curiosity, that she herself had the same characters and they were quite as genuine as those displayed to them by Mr. Harris. This course she continued to pursue wherever she went, until she reached my son’s house.

As soon as she arrived there, she said she had come to see the plates and would never leave until she had accomplished it. Without delay she began ransacking every nook and corner of the house-chest, cupboard, trunk, etc.; consequently, Joseph was compelled to take both the breastplate and the record out of the house and secrete them elsewhere. Not finding them in the house, she concluded that Joseph had buried them, and the next day she went out and hunted the ground over, adjacent to the house. She kept up the search till two o’clock in the afternoon, when she came in very ill-natured and, after warming herself a little, enquired of Emma if they had snakes there in the wintertime. “I was walking around in the woods,” said she, “to look at the situation of your place, and as I turned round to come home, a tremendous, great black snake stuck up its head before me and commenced hissing at me.”

The woman was so disappointed and perplexed in everything she undertook that she left the house and took lodgings at the house of a near neighbor. Here she stated to the hostels that she was in search of the plates, that when she came to a place where she thought they must be buried, upon stooping down to scrape away the snow and leaves in order to examine the spot, she encountered a horrible black snake which frightened her so badly that she ran to the house as fast as possible.

While this woman remained in the neighborhood, she did all that her ingenuity could contrive to injure Joseph in the estimation of his neighbors. She told them that he was a grand imposter, that he had deceived her husband with his specious pretensions and was exerting all his deceptive powers in order to induce Mr. Harris to give his property into Joseph’s hands, that he might, by robbing her husband, make himself rich. When she returned home, which was about two weeks from the time she arrived in Harmony, she endeavored to dissuade Mr. Harris from having anything further to do with the writing or translating of the record. But Mr. Harris paid but little attention to her, and as he had agreed to go back and write for a season at least, he did so.

After Mr. Harris left again for Pennsylvania, his wife went from place to place and from house to house, telling her grievances to everyone she met, but particularly bewailing that the deception which Joe Smith was practicing upon the people was about to strip her of all that she possessed. “But,” said the woman, “I know how to take care of my property, and I’ll let them see that pretty shortly.” So she carried away her furniture, linen and bedding, and other movable articles, till she well-nigh divested the premises of everything which could conduce to comfort or convenience. These things she deposited with her friends in whom she reposed sufficient confidence to assure her of the safety of her property.

Go to chapter 24.

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