A Fredonia Censor 1832 Article and the First Vision
Perhaps the most obscure alleged early reference to the First Vision comes from a newspaper called the Fredonia Censor. Fredonia is a small town in upstate New York on the coast of Lake Erie, about 130 miles west of Joseph Smith’s home town of Palmyra. The LDS apologetics website FAIR claims that a March 7, 1832 article in the Censor referred to the First Vision:
There are several other significant references to the First Vision in published documents from the 1830s…. LDS missionaries were teaching with regard to Joseph Smith: “Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer” (The Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).1
According to another FAIR article, this “report in a non-LDS newspaper” shows “that Mormon missionaries were teaching at least six of the beginning elements of the First Vision story (Fredonia Censor, vol. 11, no. 50, 7 March 1832).”2 I count only five possible “elements” in the quote that FAIR provides, regardless of how well or poorly they correlate with the official First Vision story:
- Joseph repented of his sins.
- He did not attach himself to any party of Christians.
- He decried the numerous divisions among Christians.
- He was in doubt as to what his duty was.
- He had recourse to prayer
These five elements—there are simply no more—do not correlate particularly with the official First Vision story in Pearl of Great Price. In that account, Joseph had not joined any church (#2) because the divisions among Christians troubled him (#3), and he went to God in prayer (#5). However, in Pearl of Great Price, Joseph’s repentance of sins (#1) came only after his First Vision. Here the LDS apologists are correlating this account with Joseph Smith’s unpublished handwritten account from later in 1832, not with the official account in LDS scripture. Furthermore, the official account claims that Joseph prayed to know which church to join, not because he wanted help to know “what his duty was.”
More significantly, what is obviously missing from this alleged “First Vision” story is, of course, a vision! Without a vision, this quotation simply does not qualify as a First Vision story. Does the newspaper article mention any vision in this context? Actually, it does. Here is a bit more of the article, with the above-quoted sentence placed in context:
Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse [to] prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates.3
So there is a vision in the Censor article, but it is the vision that Joseph allegedly had of an angel telling him about the Book of Mormon. This part of the article—which the FAIR web article “censors”—disproves the claim that it was referring to the First Vision. As the report presents matters, the angel’s visit was the answer to Joseph’s prayer. There is nothing about a visit by the Father and the Son, or even by Christ alone, as in the handwritten account that Joseph produced several months after the Censor article was published.
Ironically, then, this March 1832 newspaper article confirms that right into the early months of 1832, the story that was circulating publicly was that Joseph Smith’s first supernatural visitation was of an angel. Indeed, this was the story that continued to circulate publicly for years after 1832, because Joseph’s handwritten account of “the Lord” appearing to him sometime prior to the angel’s visit was never published or circulated or repeated publicly. Far from evidence that the First Vision story was public knowledge in 1832, the Fredonia Censor article confirms that such a story was unknown at the time.
1“First Vision/No reference to First Vision in 1830s publications.” These titles state objections that the FAIR article then proceeds to try to rebut.