On September 22 of 1823, a teenager named Joseph Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni. The angel informed him of an ancient record engraved on metal plates that was buried in a hill (later called the Hill Cumorah) about three miles south of his family’s log home. The angel instructed Joseph to visit a certain location on the hill on the same day in September once a year until the time came on September 22, 1827, to finally turn the plates over to Joseph. In this episode, we’re going to talk about Joseph’s recovery of the plates, largely through the eyes of the first people to receive the record into their home, Joseph’s own family.
By 1827, Joseph Smith, his wife, Emma, his parents, and 6 of his siblings lived in a frame home on the family farm while his brother, Hyrum, had occupied the log home with his wife, Jerusha, just a stone’s throw away. Also visiting the home for a couple of days were family friends Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell.
Joseph’s mother remembered that at about midnight on September 21st, “Joseph came to me and asked me if I had a chest with a lock and key. I knew in an instant what he wanted it for, and not having one, I was greatly alarmed, as I thought it might be a matter of considerable moment. But Joseph, discovering my anxiety, said, ‘Never mind, I can do very well for the present without it—be calm—all is right.’”
Joseph and Emma hopped into Joseph Knight’s wagon and rode off into the night towards the hill. Richard Bushman noted that “To be precise in his compliance [with Moroni] and still to throw off meddlers who knew of the date, Joseph chose to go to Cumorah in the dead of night, almost the minute September 22 arrived.”
Emma stayed with the wagon at the base of the hill while Joseph met with Moroni, where the plates were hidden. Moroni gave Joseph a grave warning, which you can pause and read.
Not yet having a box prepared for the plates, instead of immediately taking the plates home, Joseph used his pocketknife to cut a flap in the bark of a decaying birch log. He bent the flap back and hollowed out a spot large enough for the plates. He put the plates inside, closed the flap, laid some debris over the hiding place, and went back home with Emma. But he didn’t come home empty-handed. Also buried with the plates were what the Book of Mormon calls “Interpreters.” These were two whitish-clear stones set within essentially large metal spectacles. These stones, later referred to as the Urim and Thummim, were a tool designed to help Joseph translate the Book of Mormon plates.
Joseph Knight recalled, “After breakfast, Joseph called me into the other room, and he set his foot on the bed and leaned his head on his hand and says, ‘…It is ten times better than I expected.’ Then he went on to tell the length and width and thickness of the plates, and, said he, they appear to be gold. But he seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did of the plates for, says he, ‘I can see anything. They are marvelous.’”
The next day, Joseph took a job working for a lady in Macedon, about 5 miles from home, in order to help pay for a proper box for the plates. While Joseph Jr. was gone, Joseph Sr. learned that a group of about 10 men had hired a “conjurer” to help them find the plates. The group was led by a couple of local men, Willard Chase and Samuel Lawrence, who had previously been involved in Joseph’s earlier treasure-digging endeavors. They felt that as Joseph’s former associates, they had a right to a share of the “treasure.”
Emma rode to Macedon and told Joseph of the situation. He used the Urim and Thummim to confirm that the plates were still safe but immediately rode home nonetheless to move them to somewhere more secure. Before moving on to the hill, he told Hyrum to find a box with a lock and have it ready by the time he got back.
Joseph got to the birch log. Wrapped the plates in his shirt and headed home. Joseph got off the road and traveled more discreetly through the woods. Nonetheless, he was attacked 3 different times on his way home but managed to fight the men off, dislocating his thumb in the process. He arrived at home “altogether speechless from fright and exhaustion.” Joseph told his mother to send the young Don Carlos to find Joseph Sr., Joseph Knight, and Josiah Stowell and have them look for the men who had attacked him. Don Carlos was also sent to the log home to have Hyrum bring the chest. Hyrum had resorted to an old tool chest that used to belong to his brother, Alvin, who had died in 1823.
“Just as Hyrum was raising a cup [of tea] to his mouth, [Don] Carlos touched his shoulder. Without waiting to hear one word from the child, [Hyrum] dropped the cup, sprang from the table, caught the chest, turned it upside down, and emptying its contents on the floor, left the house instantly with the chest on his shoulder.”
At this time, as per the angel’s instructions, no one in the family was allowed to see the plates. They were always either in a chest or wrapped in something. That said, some family members did later become witnesses of the plates, and others had very tangible experiences with them that we’ve talked about in past episodes. Needless to say, no one in Joseph’s family had any doubt that he actually had real metal plates. In fact, as we’ve seen, many of Joseph’s enemies also believed — enough so that they even resorted to actual violence to take them.
So, Joseph had finally gotten the plates home, and this is where we’re going to end this video, but this story is far from over. The immediate danger had passed, but “The atmosphere of the home became charged with watchfulness, obligation, and care lest someone might at an unguarded moment seize the plates and make away with them.” And interested parties certainly tried, but we’ll talk more about that in the next episode. Check out the links in the YouTube description for more info on this topic, watch some of our other videos while you’re here — don’t forget to subscribe — and have a great day.
— “Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations,” by Lucy Mack Smith: http://bit.ly/3lkTpnC
— “Close Friends as Witnesses: Joseph Smith and the Joseph Knight Families,” by William G. Hartley (BYU Studies): http://bit.ly/40fIw5s
— “A True Treasure Chest,” by Heidi Bennett, via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3n3d0sI
— “Interactive Map: Smith Family Farm and Sacred Grove,” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3lblyxp