Hey guys, so in the last episode, we talked about Joseph Smith finally obtaining the long-awaited golden plates and other Nephite relics from a hill south of his family’s farm. We talked about how he was attacked while bringing the plates home, and we talked about how his family members reacted to the whole situation. But getting the plates home was only the beginning. Later in life, Katharine Smith’s grandson remembered her saying that after Joseph got the plates, “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.” In this episode, we’re going to talk about those attempts to find and take the golden plates. Stay tuned!
No one in Joseph’s family was allowed to directly see the plates when they were brought home, and for more on why that may have been, go watch this episode. Nonetheless, many of Joseph’s family members and family friends had incredibly tangible experiences with the plates. We’ve talked about those experiences in other episodes, but feel free to pause and read about some of them here if you’re curious. And I should also mention that once the plates had been translated in 1829, a few members of Joseph’s family were selected to be official witnesses of the plates and were permitted to actually see and handle them.
All of the Smiths were absolutely convinced that the plates were real. And they weren’t the only ones. Word got around that Joseph had recovered the plates. Joseph Knight remembered that “peopel Come in to see them, But he [Joseph] told them that they Could not for he must not shoe them. But many insisted and oferd money and Property to see them. But, for keeping them from the Peopel, they persecuted and abused them and they ware obliged to hide them….”
Katharine Smith remembered that after Joseph brought the plates home, “From that time on, our house was searched all around, and our field and our wheat stacks were searched. The mob was around our house nearly every night … And from that time until we went to Pennsylvania, we had to keep watch for the enemy.”
There are two specific attempts that show up repeatedly in the historic record. On one occasion, Joseph had been informed about a mob set on taking the plates later that evening. Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recalled, “It was resolved that a portion of the hearth should be taken up and the plates and breastplate should be buried under the same, and then the hearth relaid to prevent suspicion. This was carefully and speedily done, but the hearth was scarcely relaid when a large company of armed men came rushing up to the house. Joseph threw the door open and … hallooed as if he had a legion at hand, giving the word of command with great importance. At the same time, the males that belonged to the house, from the father down to little Carlos, ran out with such vehemence upon the mob that it struck them with terror and dismay, and they fled before our little Spartan band away into the woods, where they dispersed themselves to their several homes.”
Lucy also tells us that just a few days later, “Joseph received another intimation of the approach of a mob and the necessity of removing the record and breastplate again from their hiding place. Consequently, Joseph took them out of the box in which they had been placed, wrapped them in clothes, carried them across the road to a cooper’s shop, and laid them in a quantity of flax which was stowed in the shop loft. He then nailed up the box as before and tore up the floor and put the box under it.”
Now, east of the Smith’s property, lived a guy named Willard Chase. His sister, Sally Chase, was known in the area for being able to use a seer stone, similar to Joseph. Joseph’s mother later learned that Sally had led the mob to the Smith’s cooper shop, right to where the decoy box had been buried. Lucy reported,
“As soon as it was dark, the mob came and ransacked the place, but did not come into the house. After making a satisfactory search, they went away. The next morning we found the floor of the cooper’s shop taken up and the wooden box which was put under it split to pieces.”
Now, as a side note, the plates were initially kept in an old toolbox previously owned by Joseph’s brother, Alvin. They probably didn’t fit super well, and probably for that reason, were soon transferred to a cherry-wood box that had been built specifically for the plates. This was likely the box that had been smashed in the cooper shop. After that box was destroyed, the plates were eventually transferred to a third box, often referred to as the “Ontario glass-box.” It was not a box made of glass. Glass-boxes were normally meant to hold panes of glass.
Martin Harris recalled, “The excitement in the village upon the subject [of the plates] had become such that some had threatened to mob Joseph, and also to tar and feather him. They said he should never leave until he had shown the plates. It was unsafe for him to remain, so I determined that he must go to his father-in-law’s in Pennsylvania … I advised him to take time enough to get ready so that he might start a day or two in advance: for he would be mobbed if it was known when he started.”
And that was almost the case. Joseph’s mother reported, “When it became generally known that Joseph was about moving to Pennsylvania, a mob of fifty men collected and went to Dr. McIntyre and requested him to take the command of the company, stating that their object was to ‘follow Joe Smith and take his gold bible away from him.’” Dr. McIntyre told the men to mind their own business, and the mob ended up dispersing. Martin Harris continued,
“We put the box of plates into a barrel about one-third full of beans and headed it up … It was understood that they were to start on Monday, but they started on Saturday night and got through safe.”
And thus, our journey through church history takes us to Harmony, Pennsylvania. For more info on today’s subject, check out the resources in the YouTube description, watch some of our other videos while you’re here, subscribe if you haven’t yet, and have a great day!
— “‘All My Endeavors to Preserve Them’: Protecting the Plates in Palmyra, 22 September–December 1827,” by Andrew H. Hedges, BYU Studies: https://bit.ly/3KPtXz5
— “A True Treasure Chest,” by Heidi Bennett, via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3n3d0sI
— Recommended reading:
— “The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother,” by Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Proctor & Proctor.
— “Obtaining and Protecting the Plates,” by H. Dean Garrett, in “Joseph: Exploring the Life and Ministry of the Prophet” (chapter 7), edited by Susan E. Black & Andrew Skinner.
— Chapter 3 of “Rough Stone Rolling,” by Richard Bushman.
— Chapters 1 & 2 of “From Darkness unto Light,” by Michael H. MacKay & Gerrit J. Dirkmaat.
— “United by Faith: The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family,” edited by Kyle R. Walker.