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Mormonism LIVE: 099: The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith The Glass Looker

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On this week’s episode we take a deeper look at the 1826 trial in Bainbridge, NY. We examine what led to the trial, what witnesses claimed, what we know about the trial proceedings, how Smith and Stowell got introduced to each other, and a few other interesting facts along the way that make this such an interesting episode in Church history.

This outline was used in preparation for Mormonism LIVE: 099 : The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith, The Glass Looker –

On this week’s episode we take a deeper look at the 1826 trial in Bainbridge, NY. We examine what led to the trial, what witnesses claimed, what we know about the trial proceedings, how Smith and Stowell got introduced to each other, and a few other interesting facts along the way that make this such an interesting episode in Church history.

r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker


  1. Spring of 1825, Joseph Smith is at Simpson (Simeon in some records) Stowell’s home in palmyra when Simpson’s father Josiah Stowell visits him and Joseph Smith uses his seer ability, presumably the stone in the hat and proceeds to amaze those in attendance with a couple of “Remote Viewing” performances such as describing Josiah’s house and outhouses correctly while all of them are at palmyra and Stowell’s property for which presumably Joseph Smith had never seen, is located in Bainbridge NY
  2. Josiah Stowell, so amazed at the Prophet’s ability, hires him to both work the farm and to lead treasure digs near Stowell’s property in NY (SLIDE 1)
  3. Several Members of Stowell’s family, Joseph Smith Jr. and Sr., Isaac Hale and other members of the Hale family and a few others make a “mining” agreement on Nov 1st 1825 (SLIDE 2 & 3) and the Church agrees it is Authentic
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker
  1. Joseph Smith is living on Stowell’s property for about half a year working the farm and doing these treasure digs but they are finding absolutely nothing and these digs are failing at every turn.
  2. Members of Stowell’s family along with others in the community perceive that Stowell is being taken advantage of and on March 20th 1826 Joseph Smith is brought before the court on charges of being a “disorderly person and an imposter”
  3. The trial is first printed in Fraser Magazine February 1873 Edition and then reprinted again in the Utah Christian Advocate January 1886 Edition (SLIDE 4 & 5)
    Frasers Magazine 12 July 1873 (Document page 229 [pdf 248])

r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker

B.) Where does the author in Fraser’s Magazine locate this trial record?

  1. In Bainbridge? Nope. From enemies? Nope. Rather from an old lady in Salt Lake City who kept records of Joseph Smith’s altercations with the Law. (SLIDE 6)
  2. It gets worse though because the Utah Christian Advocate says this was taken directly from the record books of a bainbridge justice of the peace by a daughter or niece (suspicion since he doesn’t know) who tore the record out of the books and the author claims he verified. (SLIDE 6)

C.) Capt’n Kidd

  1. W.D Purple is in 1877 in the Chenango Union is giving us info about these treasure Digging activities and implies that Stowell is looking for Capt’n Kidd’s treasure.
    1. Notice the implication that Stowell knows the story of Capt’n Kidd – hence we should expect that Joseph is informed about said stories too. Not appropriate to start with the assumption he may not have known them. More rational to start with he did. (SLIDE 7)
      1. According to J. H. Kennedy, Joseph “made confession” that the autobiography of Captain Kidd “made a deep impression upon him.” Kennedy does not say in what context Smith made this “confession.” Palmyra native Philetus B. Spear recalled in an 1873 interview that as a boy Joseph “had for a library a copy of the ‘Arabian Nights,’ stories of Captain Kidd, and a few novels.”89 Pomeroy Tucker also mentions Joseph’s youthful fascination with Captain Kidd, Stephen Burroughs the counterfeiter, and others, noting that such stories “presented the highest charms for his expanding mental perceptions.”90 Ellen E. Dickinson similarly wrote: It is said that Joseph at an early age could read, but not write; and when quite young committed these lines to memory from the story of Captain Kidd, the notorious pirate, which seemed to give him great pleasure: “My name was Robert Kidd, As I sailed, as I sailed; And most wickedly I did As I sailed, as I sailed.”91
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker

D.) The Proceedings themselves

  1. Living w/ Stowell (5 Months) most of the time and a small part of time out looking for mines. But mostly farm work and going to school
  2. Some quotes indicate that Smith used treasure digging as a way to get out of farm work while still bringing in the needed income.
  3. Had been employed to work at the farm part time

E.) Joseph Smith claims he is in Bainbridge “spending a small time looking for mines but mostly working for Stowell on the farming and “Going to School”

  1. He is 20/21 during the time of these digs. What school would a frontier adult go to that he could be speaking of? College/university? Trade School?

F.) He mentions his seer stone and his seeing ability.

  1. Work had slowed down because this line of work was bad for his eyes. They were sore
  2. He was turning down most work
  3. But with stowell he found some “oar” (ore) that looked like gold
    1. But its not gold…. So why is such promising?
  4. They would find a tail feather though not the buried treasure that was supposed to be with it. (Could the foretold item have been planted by Smith before or during the dig? Does this not best explain what is happening?)
  5. He describes Stowell’s house and outhouse from Palmyra while staying at “Simpson Stowell’s” (Is this a relative of Josiah? Sources claim this is Josiah’s son) Could Stowell’s son have described Josiah’s property at an earlier time? Could Joseph have had enough info to make an educated guess? (This is how psychics work)

G.) Testimony of Others

  1. Horace Stowell testified
  2. Arad Stowell Testified
  3. Pretends to read a book with his back turned to the book, with the book open lying upon a white cloth, while using the stone
    1. This seems significant as if it points to a photographic memory and that as far as an outside observer could tell, he is doing the same sort of “translation work” as he did with the Book of Mormon
    2. Rather than exclude all light he instead places his stone near a candle
      1. Several seem disgusted as the fraud was so noticeable that they said it was palpable (almost a physical knowledge that he was a frauding them)
      2. McMaster said Joseph claimed if he held his stone to the sun or candle (excluding light hurt his eyes so he declined to use the hat and instead choosing instead the Sun (or a candle)
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker
  1. Johnathon Thompson – Joseph told them where a trunk was buried and they dug 5’ and (someone or the group) heard the shovel hit what sounded like a plank or board.
    1. “Two indians had buried the chest” – Lamanites. Joseph’s tales already have “Indians” involved. These indians fought and one killed the other and buried him in the hole “to Guard It”.
      1. Isn’t Moroni a guardian Spirit of the same sort? (SLIDE 11 then back to 12) Below is a second hand report of how Joseph Smith Sr. described his son’s interaction with Moroni
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker
  1. He believes without seeing a chest that he certainly must of hit it (most rational explanation in his mind for the sound)
    1. in spite of it sinking into the earth but as outsiders can we see how irrational that perspective is. That a sound can provide one a conclusion in spite of needing magic in order to not see what should have been there and visible?
    2. The trunk stayed at distance, just out of reach to touch or to be seen.
      1. Isn’t that convenient
  2. “Salt might be found in bainbridge”
    1. Stolen items, ancient treasures, salt deposits
  3. Thompson believes JS can discern with his stone and hat
  4. “Witness lost some money and Joseph was able to describe the man Witness thought had taken it.”

H.) Court Costs

  1. The costs themselves

Court Charges: (Is this all in cents?)

Court found defendant guilty

Cost warrant – 19 cents

Complaint upon Oath – 25.7

Witnesses – 87.5

Recognizince – 25

Mitimus – 19

Recognizince for Witness – 75

Subpoena – 18

TOTAL? $2.68 (verified by the docket commentary on such in next section)


The Mormon writer Francis W. Kirkham just could not allow himself to believe that the 1826 court record was authentic. He, in fact, felt that if the transcript were authentic it would disprove Mormonism:

“A careful study of all facts regarding this alleged confession of Joseph Smith in a court of law that he had used a seer stone to find hidden treasure for purposes of fraud, must come to the conclusion that no such record was ever made, and therefore, is not in existence…. had he [Joseph Smith] made this confession in a court of law as early as 1826, or four years before the Book of Mormon was printed, and this confession was in a court record, it would have been impossible for him to have organized the restored Church. (A New Witness For Christ In America, vol. 1, pages 385-387)

“If a court record could be identified, and if it contained a confession by Joseph Smith which revealed him to be a poor, ignorant, deluded, and superstitious person — unable himself to write a book of any consequence, and whose church could not endure because it attracted only similar persons of low mentality — if such a court record confession could be identified and proved, then it follows that his believers must deny his claimed divine guidance which led them to follow him…. How could he be a prophet of God, the leader of the Restored Church to these tens of thousands, if he had been the superstitious fraud which ‘the pages from a book’ declared he confessed to be?” (Ibid., p. 486-487)

The noted Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley published a book in which this statement appeared: “…if this court record is authentic it is the most damning evidence in existence against Joseph Smith.” (The Myth Makers, 1961, page 142) On the same page we read that such a court record would be “the most devastating blow to Smith ever delivered.” Because he could see the serious implications of the matter, Dr. Nibley tried in every way possible to destroy the idea that the court record was an authentic document.

I.) Additional Documentation

  1. Neeley’s Fee Bill – (SLIDE 13)
  1. Why this is important – Because once we find the additional documentation that verifies $2.68 as the total, we add credibility to the trial proceeding retelling (SLIDE 14)
  1. 2nd Fee Bill – Philip M. De Zeng (SLIDE 15)
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker

J.) Surrounding Statements that shape our perception

  1. Oliver Cowdery claims Joseph was acquitted at the 1826 trial
    1. “Oliver Cowdery, who did not attend the hearing (he met Joseph Smith about three years later), mentioned the most likely result in light of missing documentation, that Joseph was acquitted of being a disorderly person.”
      (SLIDE 16)
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker
  1. Cowdery may be confusing an 1830 trial that he took part in where Joseph actually was acquitted though the Church’s footnote makes sense to me.
  2. Should Cowdery’s non first hand telling be considered strong enough evidence to dismiss the alleged court proceeding? no
    1. Defer to RFM
  3. The first 1830 Trial – Court Case before Justice of the Peace Joseph Chamberlin, South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York: Constable Ebenezer Hatch arrested Joseph Smith on June 30, 1830, held him over night, and brought him before Justice Joseph P. Chamberlin on a charge of being a disorderly person.
  4. Abram Willard Benton, the man who filed the disorderly person complaint against Smith in 1830, also wrote an account of this 1830 trial.8 Benton also relates Stowell’s testimony: (
  5. Josiah Stowell, a Mormonite, being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never had lied to, or deceived him, and did not believe he ever tried to deceive anybody else. (SLIDE 17)
    1. “Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain place which he mentioned? Yes.
      Did he tell you, you could find it by digging?
      Did you dig?
      Did you find any money?
      Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you?
      NO, the money was there, but we did not get quite to it!
      How do you know it was there?
      Smith said it was( A. W. Benton, “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, April 9, 1831, p. 120, as reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America*, (Brigham Young University, 1959) II:467-468)*
      1. This is called circular reasoning and it is exemplified by Kerry Muhlstein (soundbite)
  1. “It is reported, and probably true, that he commenced his juggling by stealing and hiding property belonging to his neighbors, and when inquiry was made, he would look in his stone, (his gift and power) and tell where it was.”
    1. Remember the Miners hill episode where in the “Mormon Cave” were found various animal remains and debris or items. (I think every instance of claims that Joseph Smith found lost property through a seer stone should note the most rational explanation is something other than the supernatural or magic.)
      1. Compare to the feather story – Could Joseph have hid the feather before or during the dig? How’s that not the most rational answer especially in light of not finding the treasure that went with it.
  2. SECOND 1830 TRIAL(actual newspaper article) – (easier to read transcript)
    Church description
    “that he had been acquainted with Smith, the prisoner, for several years; that prisoner pretended to look in a certain glass, or stone, and said he could tell where stolen goods were, and could discover mines of gold and silver under ground (THOUGH NONE EVER FOUND); made some pretence at telling fortunes, but he, witness, never knew of prisoner’s finding any thing by his pretended art.”
  3. Harris Stowell “hid a bag of grain in his barn, told Smith he had lost a bag of grain, and wished prisoner to find it; prisoner looked in his glass in vain, for he could not find it; prisoner, after using all his art for a number of days, offered to give witness’ brother fifty cents (so his brother told witness,) to find where the grain was, and tell him, prisoner, unbeknown to witness, so that Smith, the prisoner, might have the credit of finding the grain.” –
  4. Again we have Joseph Smith allegedly using deception to to give off the impression that he can find lost items.
  5. Could not Joseph Smith have employed a similar tactic to have Simpson Stowell describe his father’s property so that Smith could later imply supernatural ability in describing Josiah Stowell’s farm?
  6. The 2 1830 Trials (Only important as Cowdery said Smith was acquitted and likely was misremembering the 1830 rather than 1826

K.) Other Interesting data points

  1. Ronald Jackson, a believing member forged a reprint of Wesley Walters discovery of the 1826 court docket Why does Jackson feel the need to do this? Because he believes the original is damning to Mormonism.
r/exmormon - The 1826 Trial of Joseph Smith the Glass Looker


  1. Witness testimony implies that Joseph never found any treasure and that while many believed him to have real power, it was them accepting such on his word with either no results OR the belief on others that he had deceptively created the appearance of supernatural ability
    1. Setting up the deception so that objects could be hidden and then discovered later under alleged magic
      1. Through stealing property and then locating it for the victim
      2. Placing items in places to be found later
      3. Bribing individuals to give him information that he could then “reveal” to others later

(feather but not the accompanying treasure, stolen items, bribing a person’s family to tell him where their loved one hid the thing

  1. When the rubber met the road and Joseph had any ample opportunity to actually locate something of value, he came up empty every single time.



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