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Changing First Vision Accounts - 1827 First Vision Account as related to Willard Chase

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Changing First Vision Accounts - 1827 First Vision Account as related to Willard Chase

Joel B. Groat

1827 — Account of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Joseph Smith, Jr., given to Willard Chase, as related in his 1833 affidavit. Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, Rodger I. Anderson, Signature Books, 1990, p. 121.

The value of this account, while from a non-Mormon source, is the early date and the parallels it contains to the account given by Martin Harris. Both Chase and Harris were among the earliest people to hear the story from Joseph Smith and his family, and both place the discovery of a gold book within the context of money-digging.

Principle elements of the account:

  • Several years before obtaining the plates, a spirit appeared to Joseph in a vision telling him of a record on gold plates.
  • When Joseph went to get the plates the spirit, transforming from toad to man, struck Joseph twice and gave him instructions to come back again in a year, a command repeated several years in a row.
  • Approximate age 17 (1823) when spirit first appears.
  • Joseph obtains gold book using the seer stone he found in the well of Willard Chase.
  • Gold book found in the context of money-digging
  • Age 21 (1827) when Joseph retrieves plates
  • No mention of a revival
  • Joseph retrieves plates while out with his wife but hides them in the woods
  • Joseph approaches Martin Harris, a man with money, to say that God has given Joseph a commandment that Harris is the one God wants to assist [financially] in producing the Book of Mormon.

The Account

“In the month of June, 1827, Joseph Smith, Sen. related to me the following story: ‘That some years ago, a spirit had appeared to Joseph his son, in a vision, and informed him that in a certain place there was a record on plates of gold, and that he was the person that must obtain them, and this he must do in the following manner: On the 22nd of September, he must repair to the place where was deposited this manuscript, dressed in black clothes, and riding a black horse with a switch tail, and demand the book in a certain name, and after obtaining it, he must go directly away, and neither lay it down nor look behind him. They accordingly fitted out Joseph with the suit of black clothes, and borrowed a black horse. He repaired to the place of deposit and demanded the book, which was in a stone box, unsealed, and so near the top of the ground that he could see one end of it, and raising it up, took out the book of gold; but fearing some one might discover where he got it, he laid it down to place back the top stone, as he found it; and turning around, to his surprise there was no book in sight. He again opened the box, and in it saw the book, and attempted to take it out, but was hindered. He saw in the box something like toad, which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of his head. – Not being discouraged at trifles, he again stooped down and strove to take the book, when the spirit struck him again, and knocked him three or four rods, and hurt him prodigiously. After recovering from his fright, he inquired why he could not obtain the plates; to which the spirit made reply, because you have not obeyed your orders.

“… In the fore part of September, (I believe,) 1827, the Prophet [Joseph Smith] requested me to make him a chest, informing me that he designed to move back to Pennsylvania, and expecting soon to get his gold book, he wanted a chest to lock it up, giving me to understand at the same time, that if I would make the chest he would give me a share in the book. … “A few weeks after this conversation, he came to my house and related the following story: That on the 22nd of September, he arose early in the morning, and took a one horse wagon, of someone that had stayed over night at their house, without leave or license; and, together with his wife, repaired to the hill which contained the book. He left his wife in the wagon, by the road, and went alone to the hill, a distance of thirty or forty rods from the road; he said he took the book out of the ground and hid it in a tree top, and returned home. … He then observed that if it had not been for that stone [Joseph's money-digging seer stone], (which he acknowledged belonged to me,) he would not have obtained the book. A few days afterwards, he told one of my neighbors that he had not got any such book, nor never had such an one; but that he had told the story to deceive the d—d fool, (meaning me,) to get him to make a chest. His neighbors having become disgusted with his foolish stories, he determined to go back to Pennsylvania, to avoid what he called persecution. His wits were now put to the task to contrive how he should get money to bear his expenses. He met one day in the streets of Palmyra, a rich man, whose name was Martin Harris, and addressed him thus; ‘I have a commandment from God to ask the first man I meet in the street to give me fifty dollars, to assist me in doing the work of the Lord by translating the Golden Bible.’ Martin being naturally a credulous man, hands Joseph the money.”

Next account — 1827 (Harris to Clark)

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