The Cultural and Religious Environment of Joseph Smith's Youth

Joseph T. Antley, “The Cultural and Religious Environment of Joseph Smith’s Youth,” in BYU Religious Education 2010 Student Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010), 3–21.

The Cultural and Religious Environment of Joseph Smith’s Youth

Joseph T. Antley

In 1820, when only fourteen years old, Joseph Smith experienced a remarkable theophany. He was visited by God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, who informed him that all denominations were wrong and their creeds were “an abomination in his sight” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). But this vision was only the beginning, and divine manifestations continued as Joseph grew older. In 1823 an angel appeared and described an ancient book of scripture, which was buried in a nearby hill, and the same angel made numerous appearances over the next several years. These visions were an authentic reality that Joseph refused to recant, even in the face of persecution. As he put it, “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25). Joseph’s visions represent the restoration of gospel truths and are evidence of a loving God who communicates from heaven.

Joseph Smith’s social, cultural, and spiritual environment were imperative in preparing the Prophet to seek for truth and receive his visions. Joseph was raised in rural America, where radical sects and visionary claims were somewhat common.[1] The Smiths were pious Christians, but the family was open to new religious ideas and especially to the concept of visions. Several members of Joseph’s family were “seekers,” people who were discontent with orthodox denominations and who struggled to find the church described in the Bible.[2] Frequent revivals urged Joseph at a young age to consider his salvation and join a church. On the boundaries of religion were local beliefs in folk magic, treasure seeking, and seer stones.[3] Together, these factors formed the seedbed for Joseph’s early visions and eventual prophetic identity.

During the eighteenth century, most New England towns had a single church, but this religious uniformity was disrupted as settlement spread west following the American Revolution.[4] When the Smith family relocated “to western New York in the winter of 1816–17, . . . just twenty-five years” after the area “opened for settlement,”[5] they entered the rural surroundings that were common in the formation of New England’s religious sects. According to one historian, this frontier experience “brought with it an incessant demand for new religious reforms.”[6] Joseph Smith was not the first person in this setting to claim visions or display spiritual gifts that culminated in the founding of a new faction.[7] These visionary sects both pluralized and radicalized New England religion, paving the way for Joseph’s own visions and the restoration of the truth.[8]

The radical sects that preceded the Restoration reached the zenith of their influence in the years leading up to Joseph’s First Vision.[9] Among these were the Universalists, who counted among their number Joseph’s grandfather Asael, his uncle Jesse, and, briefly, his father Joseph Sr.[10] Universalism’s unique doctrine was that God would save all human beings at the last day, standing in stark contrast to traditional New England Calvinism.[11] While Joseph Sr. flirted with Universalism because of his father Asael, he was not a lasting convert. He also may have had some association with a Vermont sect later known as the New Israelites, and he would later attend Methodist meetings with his wife, Lucy, but he would eventually denounce denominations altogether. [12] For his part, Joseph Jr. showed no inclination toward Universalism in his youth, but his father’s family’s approval of and involvement in controversial sects reflected the Smiths’ openness toward beliefs that challenged accepted orthodoxies.[13]

Joseph Smith grew up during the Second Great Awakening, a period of tremendous religious excitement that spurred frequent revivals.[14] The area of western New York where the Smiths settled would later be referred to as the “Burned-over District” because the region was so heavily evangelized that there was no “fuel” (or unconverted people) left to “burn” (or convert).[15] Within the first six years of the Smiths’ move to New York, “revivals were reported in more towns and a greater number of settlers joined churches than in any previous period of New York history.”[16] The family attended the occasional meeting but remained separate from organized religion during Joseph’s early childhood. Even so, the deeply religious atmosphere created by the revivals led many in the region, including the Smiths, to search for spiritual fulfillment.

Joseph Smith’s uncle, Jason Mack, was a product of this revivalist environment. Like the Smiths, Jason was a “seeker,” and as his nephew would later do, began searching for spiritual answers in his youth. Jason would eventually become a preacher, but he believed as a young man that “by prayer and faith, the gifts of the gospel, which were enjoyed by the ancient disciples of Christ, might be obtained” and that “God would, at some subsequent period, manifest his power as he had anciently done—in signs and wonders.”[17] Jason sought New Testament religion, complete with the spiritual gifts and miracles that characterized the ancient Christians. Joseph later mirrored his uncle’s adolescent search.

Lucy Mack Smith was similar to her brother. Joseph Sr. and Lucy were present for the waves of revivals and camp meetings that swept through Vermont and New York—and both had the family’s characteristic craving for religion. Lucy wanted to join a church and briefly attended Methodist meetings, but she finally reasoned, “If I remain a member of no church all religious people will say that I am of the world; and, if I join some one of the different denominations, all the rest will say I am in error.” She ultimately mourned, “How can I decide in such a case as this, seeing they are all unlike the church of Christ, as it existed in former days!”[18]

After Lucy married Joseph Sr., her spiritual quest took a hiatus until, in 1802, she became deathly ill. Although doctors dismissed any chance of recuperation, she made a miraculous recovery, and afterward Lucy’s mind once again became “wholly occupied upon the subject of religion.”[19] She began seeking someone who could teach her about “the way of life and salvation.” Lucy visited a deacon named Davies but left dissatisfied. She subsequently found a preacher who would baptize her without requiring that she join his denomination.[20] Lucy sought the religion of the New Testament but found no church that satisfied her. Even before Joseph’s visions, she felt that none of the present sects resembled the church of the Bible. This vain search for the right church would be a recurring theme in the Smith family.

Joseph Sr. was also religiously minded, and he too stood apart from the local denominations. Around 1811 he became “much excited upon the subject of religion; yet he would not subscribe to any particular system of faith, but contended for the ancient order, as established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his apostles.”[21] In a dream that he and Lucy considered a vision, Joseph Sr. stood in a dreary and silent field, utterly alone save a spirit who stayed by his side. The spirit explained that the field represented the world in its current state of apostasy, devoid of “the true religion, or plan of salvation.” After waking, he “seemed more confirmed than ever in the opinion that there was no order or class or religionists that knew any more concerning the kingdom of God, than those of the world, or such as made no profession of religion whatever.”[22] Like his wife, Joseph Sr. desperately sought religion, but he was dissatisfied with the sects of his day; and, like Lucy and her brother Jason, he sought the church described in the Bible but did not find it in the denominations he attended. When his son Joseph Jr. searched among the different churches and asked himself the question familiar to both parents, “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?” he would have remembered his father’s incredulity toward the Palmyra churches (Joseph Smith—History 1:10). Significantly the answer Joseph received during the First Vision confirmed his father’s distrust of the local denominations.

Lucy Smith described her son Joseph Jr. as “a remarkably quiet, well disposed child . . . less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of the children, but far more given to meditation and deep study.”[23] She remembered that he “always seemed to reflect more deeply than common persons of his age upon everything of a religious nature.”[24] Joseph Sr. said in a blessing he gave his son in 1834, “Thou hast sought to know his [God’s] ways, and from thy childhood thou hast meditated much upon the great things of his law.”[25] One man remembered Joseph’s father describing him as the “gen[i]us of the family.”[26] A Palmyra newspaper apprentice and an acquaintance of Joseph’s described him as “inquisitive” and remembered that he attended meetings of a “juvenile debating club” where he participated in discussions to “solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics.” [27] In these and other recollections of family and neighbors, Joseph appears as a naturally curious and thoughtful child but also religiously minded due to his family’s influence and the spiritual atmosphere in which he was raised. Like his uncle Jason before, this combination led him to begin searching for answers early in his youth.

Joseph’s brother Hyrum once told a visitor that the Smith home was “a visionary house,” an appropriate description, as having visions was accepted and relatively common in the family.[28] Joseph Sr. had a series of visions during Joseph Jr.’s childhood and teenage years. One of these, according to Lucy’s memory, was similar to Lehi’s vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon.[29] Joseph Sr.’s vision, as already discussed, reinforced his belief that “the ancient order” as found in the New Testament was not present in the sects of the day.[30] The year before his son’s First Vision, Joseph Sr. dreamed that a peddler informed him that he lacked one thing to secure his salvation, but he awoke before discovering what it was.[31] Likewise Lucy once had a visionary dream after praying that Joseph Sr.’s “heart might be softened.”[32] She also heard the voice of God comforting her while she was sick.[33] When Joseph experienced the First Vision and successive visits from the angel Moroni, he was continuing in a family visionary tradition.

Without doubt Joseph Smith’s most prominent influence was his family. He inherited and emulated the spiritual quests and inclinations of his parents and grandparents. Unlike them, however, Joseph received the long-sought answers. His family’s spiritual questions even foreshadowed the answers his visions provided; the First Vision confirmed his parents’ belief that Christ’s original church was no longer on the earth, while the visitations from Moroni provided the Church’s restoration (see D&C 19). Joseph’s visions gave purpose to a wandering family and gratified their spiritual hunger. Lucy Smith remembered the visions caused “the sweetest union of happiness . . . and tranquility reigned in our midst.”[34] Joseph was conscious of the effect his visions had on his family. Years later, he wrote to his brother William, “I brought salvation to my father’s house, as an instrument in the hands of God, when they were in a miserable situation.”[35] Joseph’s cousin remembered their grandfather Asael remarking that he “always knew that God was going to raise up some branch of his family to be a great benefit to mankind.”[36]

The quest for the correct church, a persistent question in the Smith family, provided the seeds which led to Joseph experiencing his First Vision. Throughout the eighteenth century, New England towns were usually dominated by a single Congregational church. But in Palmyra there were five churches vying for converts, making the once-obvious decision about church membership more difficult.[37] While the Smiths were, as mentioned, never active in a church during Joseph’s early childhood, their religious views were grounded in basic Christianity. Joseph said that his parents “spared no pains to instruct me in the Christian religion,” and his brother William recalled the family singing hymns and their father insisting that they have morning and evening prayers.[38] Joseph’s family was unquestionably spiritually inclined; part of his family, including Joseph’s mother Lucy and brothers Hyrum and Samuel, eventually joined Palmyra’s Western Presbyterian Church (see Joseph Smith—History 1:7).[39] But in his own quest, Joseph stood apart from the family and leaned toward the Methodists.

Joseph said that sometime before the First Vision, “My mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them (Joseph Smith—History 1:8).” His brother William later recalled attending Methodist meetings with Joseph, and Pomeroy Tucker remembered him attending Methodist classes.[40] Orsamus Turner described Joseph as “catching a spark of Methodism” at one of their camp meeting revivals.[41] Outside his own family, the first person Joseph told about his vision of the Father and the Son was a local Methodist preacher, not the Presbyterian minister of his mother and brothers’ church (see Joseph Smith—History 1:21). Joseph yearned for Christian fellowship, but he was held back by his reservations about denominations and what he saw among them as Christian hypocrisy (see Joseph Smith—History 1:6, 8).[42] Joseph recalled in a later reminiscence that he wanted “to get Religion too wanted to feel & shout like the Rest” but lamented that he could “feel nothing.”[43] As with others in his family, religious satisfaction for Joseph Smith was not to be found among the established churches.

Despite his ultimate dissatisfaction, Methodism appealed to Joseph. The Methodists permitted wider latitude of belief than most contemporary sects and emphasized spiritual gifts.[44] Methodism’s influence was ironically partly responsible for Joseph’s vision of God that led him away from organized churches—Methodism included. In 1818, when twelve years-old, Joseph began to worry about his sins and later recalled, “My mind became Seriously imprest [sic] with regard to the all important concerns for the wellfare [sic] of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the Scriptures.”[45] The source of Joseph’s concern for his salvation and his subsequent study of the Bible can be traced to a Methodist camp meeting that occurred during that year which Joseph likely participated in—perhaps his first major encounter with organized religion.[46] Joseph’s wanting to know which church to join was not his only motive for entering the Sacred Grove; when he went to “call upon God,” one of Joseph’s principal objectives was to receive “mercy” for his sins, a desire driven by the Methodist’s traditional evangelicalism.[47]

Around this time, Joseph experienced grief over Christian hypocrisy. He later remembered, “My intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel exceedingly for I discovered that they did not . . . adorn their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository[. T]his was a grief to my Soul.”[48] This likely resulted from the 1818 Palmyra camp meeting as well. If Joseph attended, he would have witnessed hundreds professing to be converted Christians but quickly returning to their secular behavior. This was not uncommon for the period’s camp-meeting revivals. One contemporary Methodist minister openly acknowledged, “It is objected that many who are, or profess to be converted in revivals, soon relapse into their old habits and are as bad, and sometimes even worse than they were before. We are frank to admit that these statements are too true.”[49] When he recounted the First Vision, Joseph said God reaffirmed what he and his family had already realized: “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Joseph would have witnessed this lip service firsthand in the wake of the Methodist camp meetings.

At these camp meetings, the “revivalists ‘almost continually’ participated in days and nights of singing.”[50] Joseph would have heard hymns sung (and may have sung them himself) about people seeing Christ and looking to God for wisdom. One common hymn was even based on James 1:5, the verse that inspired Joseph to seek wisdom from God and led to the First Vision.[51] Another hymn described how such a vision might be experienced:

“One ev’ning, pensive as I lay, / Alone upon the ground, / As I to God begin to pray, / A light shone all around.”[52]



Despite his yearning toward Methodism, Joseph and his family also practiced forms of folk religion. Rural Americans often believed in folklore and superstitions which blended imperceptibly with traditional Christian religion.[54] This belief in folk magic permeated the region, and the Smiths were not beyond its influence. Elder B. H. Roberts, historian and member of the Seventy, commented, “Indeed it is scarcely conceivable how one could live in New England during those years and not have shared in such beliefs. To be credulous in such things was to be normal people.”[55] Likewise, historian Richard L. Bushman writes, “Standing on the margins of instituted churches, [the Smiths] were as susceptible to the neighbors’ belief in magic as they were to the teachings of orthodox ministers.”[56] Magic and folklore were part of Smith family beliefs, and this context made accounts of the supernatural—such as the manifestation of divine beings or the appearance of spirits—more believable.[57]

As one example, Joseph would have been aware of seer stone lore at an early age. There were many traditions in English and early American folklore that approved of looking into stones to both see hidden objects and commune with spirits or angels.[58] Joseph possessed at least two seer stones in his youth with which he had a reputation for being talented in finding lost objects, and he was occasionally hired to use them on treasure hunts.[59] When Moroni finally allowed Joseph to take the golden plates, Joseph was most excited about receiving the Urim and Thummim, two transparent stones resembling eyeglasses.[60] In the area around Palmyra, there were other users of magical stones with whom Joseph was acquainted.[61] One of these, Sally Chase, used a green glass seer stone, and Lucy Smith attested that Chase could see in it “very many wonderful things.”[62] A newspaper in the nearby town of Rochester compared Joseph to another seer who, by looking into a stone, claimed to locate buried treasure and predict enemy movements in the War of 1812.[63] Before any heavenly manifestations, the Smith family believed in seer stone folklore, which helped prepare Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon, most of which was accomplished by peering into one of the stones from his youth.[64]

Seer stones were commonly used in treasure seeking.[65] This ritualistic search for treasure was a common activity for rural people during the early nineteenth century, and its lore can be traced back several centuries through Colonial America to Europe, where it was practiced by both pious Christians and respected leaders.[66] Early American treasure seekers used seer stones, divining rods, and dreams in their searches.[67] It was a near-universal belief that buried treasures were enchanted.[68] Because of these supernatural elements, treasure seeking had a spiritual appeal, and most treasure seekers were spiritually inclined.[69] It is no coincidence that the Second Great Awakening, the period that saw an enormous boom in church attendance and religious zeal, also saw a drastic increase in treasure seeking.[70]

Like many of their neighbors, Joseph Smith and members of his family were involved in multiple treasure-hunts where Joseph used his seer-stone to see buried treasure.[71] In the minds of some, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was directly connected with this treasure-seeking culture. In one sermon, Brigham Young referred to the golden plates as “that treasure” or “the treasure” five times, using the familiar folk vernacular.[72] One Palmyra newspaper associated the Moroni visits with “legends, or traditions respecting hidden treasures.”[73] Joseph Smith’s personal involvement in treasure hunting was reflected in the angel’s command during his initial visits that Joseph should never consider obtaining “the plates for the purpose of getting rich” as he had in previous treasure-hunting quests (Joseph Smith—History 1:46). According to Oliver Cowdery, Joseph’s first thought when he was kept from taking the plates was the folklore surrounding treasure: “[Joseph] had heard of the power of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth.”[74] Richard Bushman has observed, “Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for [Joseph Sr.] to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates. Joseph Sr. might have dismissed the report had not tales of spirits guarding treasure prepared his mind.” [75] Likewise treasure-seeking lore also likely conditioned Joseph Jr. to accept, or even expect, such a vision.

In the treasure-seeking culture, the belief in spirits guarding buried treasure was routine, so the appearance of Moroni would not have seemed unusual to the Smith family.[76] In the region, according to one town history from the period, “the belief in ghosts, or spooks, as they were often called, was general; and wherever any treasure . . . was concealed, it was believed that the spirit of the perpetrator would guard it ever after.”[77] This is echoed in a statement that, according to Lucy Smith, the angel Moroni made to her son upon giving him the golden plates: “While [the record] was in my hand, I could keep it, and no man had power to take it away.”[78] Joseph never attempted to conceal his involvement in treasure hunting, but Martin Harris reported that the angel commanded Joseph to “quit the company of the money-diggers” and said that there were “wicked men among them.”[79] Although the Smiths had no trouble reconciling treasure seeking with their Christian beliefs, the educated clergy typically denounced such folklore.[80] The Smiths’ acceptance of this aspect of folk religion may have reflected the family’s rebellious attitude toward traditional religion, or conversely may have encouraged it.[81]

Thus we see that several factors were present in the environment and provide valuable context for Joseph Smith’s early visions. The seeker ideology of the Smiths and the local Christian revivals may have prompted his search for the correct church, resulting in the vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in the grove. Similarly if it had not been for the popular superstitions of Joseph’s youth combined with an environment that encouraged radical departures from Christian orthodoxy, the teenage Joseph might not have been receptive to Moroni and his messages. It is difficult to conceive how Joseph Smith’s early visions could have transpired without the medley of spiritual influences and environmental factors. As his friend Oliver Cowdery wrote, “And yet, while young . . . and untaught in the systems of the world, [Joseph] was in a situation to be led into the great work of God.”[82]

Some Latter-day Saints might consider giving Joseph Smith’s environment such credit as a disservice to his visions or prophetic identity. They are perhaps content to see God as the chief instigator of the visions, and in this they are correct. But it would be shortsighted to create a dichotomy between the natural and supernatural, limiting the influence of God only to the latter. President Young once said, “The Lord had his eye upon [Joseph Smith], and upon his father, and upon his father’s father. . . . He has watched that family and that blood.”[83] The Lord is ultimately responsible for molding the surroundings that led Joseph Smith to prophethood, for God carefully “directeth [man’s] steps (Proverbs 16:9).” To acknowledge the factors that spurred Joseph’s visions does not discredit them; rather, it should only increase our understanding of and appreciation for them. Joseph Smith the Prophet lived a providential youth. He was literally, as Brigham Young testified, a “Prophet whom the Lord raised up.”[84]


[1] Stephen A. Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 2.

[2] For details, see Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2006), 25. For a comprehensive study of Protestant “Seekerism,” see Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988).

[3] For more on the subject, see Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 48–49.

[4] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 30; Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 43.

[5] Bushman, Beginnings of Mormonism, 4–5.

[6] Marini, Radical Sects, 2.

[7] For examples, see Reflector (Palmyra, NY), June 1, 1830; Rochester (New York) Gem, May 15, 1830; Village Chronicle (Danville, NY), September 22, 1831; “The Mormonites,” Geauga Gazette (Painesville, OH), June 21, 1831; Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Telegraph Press, 1834), ix.

[8] Marini, Radical Sects, 7.

[9] Marini, Radical Sects, 1.

[10] Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 133–134; see also Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 17.

[11] Marini, Radical Sects, 6. For a discussion on early nineteenth century Universalism from the Seeker perspective, see Vogel, Religious Seekers, 72–77.

[12] Joseph Smith, Sr.’s involvement with the New Israelites was tentatively asserted in Barnes Frisbie, History of Middleton (Rutland, VT: Tuttle and Co., 1869), 62, where Frisbie states, “I have been told that Joe Smith’s father in Poultney at the time of the Wood movement here, and that he was in it, and one of the leading rods-men. Of this I cannot speak positively.” Stephen Marini accepts Frisbie’s secondhand account as fact in Marini, Radical Sects, 54–55, while Richard L. Anderson rejects the connection in Richard L. Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Seeking,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 521–24. For the relations between the New Israelites, the Smiths, and early Mormonism generally, see D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 35–36, 121. For Joseph Sr.’s attending Methodist meetings, see Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 17, 25.

[13] Joseph was drawn to Methodism, an evangelical sect that stood in contrast to Universalism.

[14] For a history of the Second Great Awakening and its effects generally, see Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973), 415–28.

[15] See Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of New York, 1800–1850 (New York: Harper and Row, 1965).

[16] Milton V. Backman Jr., “Awakenings in the Burned-over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision,” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (Spring 1969): 302.

[17] Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Plano, IL: Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1880), 22.

[18] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 39.

[19] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 50.

[20] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 50.

[21] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 59–60.

[22] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 59–60.

[23] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 75, 92, as quoted in Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 35.

[24] Lucy Smith, preliminary manuscript of Biographical Sketches, as quoted in Richard L. Anderson, “The Early Preparation of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Ensign, December 2005, 17.

[25] My Kingdom Shall Roll Forth: Readings in Church History (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980), 8.

[26] Pomeroy Tucker, Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867), 17.

[27] Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase

(Rochester, NY: William Alling, 1851), 214.

[28] As quoted in Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 113.

[29] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 55–57; compare to 1 Nephi 8.

[30] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 53–54.

[31] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 76.

[32] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 57.

[33] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 41.

[34] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 92.

[35] Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds.,Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, vol. 1 of the Journals series ofThe Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 134.

[36] As quoted in Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage, 147–8.

[37] Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 5.

[38] Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:3; William Smith, Interview (1893), reprinted in Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003), 3:71–73.

[39] See also Smith, Biographical Sketches, 77.

[40] “Wm. B. Smith’s last Statement,” Zion’s Ensign (Independence, MO), January 13, 1894, 13; Tucker, Mormonism: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, 18.

[41] Turner, History, 214.

[42] Joseph was reluctant to join the Methodists because of the “confusion and strife among the . . . denominations” and his view that “the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and converts were more pretended than real.”

[43] History [1832], reprinted in Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:461.

[44] Milton V. Backman Jr., American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 285. For a brief synopsis of early Methodist theology, see Ahlstrom, Religious History, 326–327.

[45] Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:4–5; Bushman, Joseph Smith, 35.

[46] D. Michael Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience of a Methodist ‘Camp-Meeting’ in 1820,” expanded and definitive, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Dialogue Paperless: E-Paper 3#, December 20, 2006

[47] Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:4–5; Backman, American Religions, 285–86.

[48] Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:270.

[49] James Porter, Revivals of Religion (1848; New York: Nelson & Phillips; Cincinnati: Hitchcock & Walden, 1878), 205, italics removed, as quoted in Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience,” 39.

[50] Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience,” 48.

[51] Hymns on Select Passages of Scripture: With Others Usually Sung at Camp-Meetings, &c. (Poughkeepsie, NY: Paraclete Potter, 1811), 80, as quoted in Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience,” 48. The first line of this hymn was “O when shall I see Jesus,” implying that wisdom could be found through actually seeing Christ.

[52] A Collection of the Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs, with the Choruses Affixed, as Usually Sung at Camp-meetings, &c., 1st ed. (New York: John C. Totten, 1809), 122, as quoted in Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience,” 49.

[53] Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience,” 50.

[54] Peter W. Williams, Popular Religion in America: Symbolic Change and the Modernization Process in Historical Perspective (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980), 64.; Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 71.

[55] B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 1:26–27.

[56] Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 72; Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 72.

[57] Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 54.

[58] Quinn, Early Mormonism, 40.

[59] Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 69–70; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 48–50; Smith, Biographical Sketches, 103.

[60] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 116.

[61] Bushman, Beginnings of Mormonism, 70–71.

[62] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 115.

[63]“Imposition and Blasphemy!!—Money Diggers, &c.,” Rochester Gem, May 15, 1830, 15, reprinted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 3:71–73. The author actually asserts that this unnamed seer was Joseph’s brother, but Alvin Smith, the only brother to meet the description, was not in the Rochester area during the time specified. Likely he confused another Smith seer with Joseph’s brother.

[64] Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 34; Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing,’” The Prophet Puzzle, ed. Bryan Waterman (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 92.

[65] Alan Taylor, “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780–1830,” American Quarterly 38, no. 1 (Spring 1986), 10.

[66] Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 71; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribner, 1971), 234–237, 274, 317–18; B.A. Botkin, ed., A Treasury of New England Folklore, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1947), 536; Newell G. Bringhurst, “Joseph Smith, the Mormons, and Antebellum Reform—A Closer Look,” in The Prophet Puzzle, 115–16.

[67] Taylor, “Supernatural Economy,” 9–10.

[68] Taylor, “Supernatural Economy,” 11.

[69] Taylor, “Supernatural Economy,” 22–25.

[70] Treasure seeking was most popular during the Second Great Awakening from 1790 to 1830. Alan Taylor has documented forty-eight episodes of treasure-seeking in antebellum America; of those, thirty-nine occur between 1790 and 1830 (“Supernatural Economy,” 26–27).

[71] Richard L. Bushman, “Treasure-seeking Then and Now,” Sunstone Magazine, (September 1987), 1; Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 48–52.

[72] Quinn, Early Mormonism, 139, referring to Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 2:180–181.

[73] “Gold Bible,” Reflector (Palmyra, NY), January 6, 1831.

[74] Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, October 1835, 198–99, as quoted in Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 51.

[75] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 54.

[76] See Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Moroni as Angel and as Treasure Guardian,” FARMS Review, 18, no. 1 (2006), 35–100.

[77] William J. Buck, History of Bucks County (Doylestown, PA: John S. Brown, 1855), as quoted in Quinn, Early Mormonism, 25.

[78] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 122.

[79] Martin Harris interview [1859], reprinted in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 2:309.

[80] Smith, Preliminary Manuscript, 72; Alan Taylor, “Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith’s Treasure Seeking,” in Waterman, Prophet Puzzle, 144–45.

[81] For the connection between magic folklore and rebellion towards clergy, see David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgments: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York: Knopf, 1989), 100.

[82] Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VIII,” Messenger and Advocate, October 1835, 197.

[83] John A. Widstoe, ed., Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1925), 108.

[84] Widstoe, Discourses, 458.