“Such ridiculous folly”

“Such ridiculous folly” March 25, 2019


The JS log home near Palmyra
At the Joseph Smith family farm between Palmyra and Manchester, New York
(Image from LDS Media Library)


I’ve reading Susan Easton Black and Larry C. Porter, Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon (Provo: BYU Studies, 2018).


In March 1829, Lucy Harris having filed a legal complaint against Joseph Smith, a judicial hearing was held in Lyons, New York, and sworn witnesses for the prosecution were called.  Lucy Mack Smith provides an account of the proceedings.  Here’s a passage from her summary, dealing with a box and the claim that it contained ancient metal plates.  It is cited by Professors Black and Porter:


The first arose and testified, that Joseph Smith told him that the box which he had, contained nothing but sand; and he, Joseph Smith, said it was gold, to deceive the people.

Second witness swore, that Joseph Smith had told him that it was nothing but a box of lead, and he was determined to use it as he saw fit.

Third witness declared, that he once inquired of Joseph Smith what he had in that box, and Joseph Smith told him that there was nothing at all in the box, saying, that he had made fools of the whole of them, and all he wanted was, to get Martin Harris’s money away from him, and that he (witness) was knowing to the fact that Joseph Smith had, by his persuasion, already got two or three hundred dollars.  (126)


Then, after an affidavit from Lucy Harris herself was entered, Martin Harris was sworn in as a witness.  Lucy Mack Smith records his testimony, in part, as follows:


I can swear, that Joseph Smith never has got one dollar from me by persuasion since God made me.  I did once, of my own free will and accord, put fifty dollars into his hands, in the presence of many witnesses, for the purpose of doing the work of the Lord.  This, I can pointedly prove; and I can tell you, furthermore, that I have never seen, in Joseph Smith, a disposition to take any man’s money, without giving him a reasonable compensation for the same in return.  (127)


“The magistrate,” continue Black and Porter, “wasted no time in pronouncing that it would not be necessary to call other witnesses.  He ordered the court clerk to bring him ‘what had been written of the testimony already given.  This he tore in pieces before their eyes, and told them to go home about their business, and trouble him no more with such ridiculous folly.'”  (127)


It is unfortunate that we have only Lucy Smith’s account of the hearing.  But, say Black and Porter, “In spite of an intense search, none of the official court documents related to the trial appear to have survived.”  (127 note 14)



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