Saturday, March 03, 2007

Did Prophet Joseph Profit?

Mormons often claim that Joseph suffered non-stop persecution for his role as founder and leader of Mormonism and that no fraud would have been willing to suffer all of those persecutions while receiving no benefits. They can point to the fact that he and his family filed for bankruptcy in the early 1840s and that when he died he left his family deeply in debt and destitute. Why would he suffer so much privation in order to perpetrate a fraud? Even reputable historians such as Richard Bushman have claimed that Joseph never gained anything from his position as Mormonism's leader and that he had nothing to gain.

The first biography of Joseph Smith I read was Fawn Brodie's “No Man Knows My History”. In order to check her facts I read “Joseph Smith: The First Mormon” by Donna Hill, a faithful Mormon. Other than the interpretation, I found that Hill confirmed the facts of Joseph's life. As I was reading it struck me how often Joseph received material support based on his position as the Book of Mormon translator and then head of the church. In fact, it struck me that he never supported himself or his family and was always dependent on others for his livelihood. The last time he truly worked for his own support was right after he married and his father in law gave him a plot of farmland to work. But he quickly gave that up for his Book of Mormon translation and started receiving support. This completely contradicts the apologists claims that he didn't profit. In fact, his role as prophet was the only means of support that he had ever had as an adult. The following are just some examples from notes that I kept as I read.
  • $50 from Martin Harris to move to Harmony
  • House and land from Isaac Hale in Harmony
  • Samuel Smith tilled land and did labor while Joseph translated
  • Food, shoes, money from Knight.
  • Got $200 from somewhere to pay mortgage to FIL Hale.
  • Transport to Fayette, NY.
  • Room and board with Whitmer family while translating.
  • $3000 advance from Martin Harris to publish BOM.
  • Transport to Kirtland.
  • Room and board in Kirtland with Whitney's.
  • Met two of his future wives living in that household.
  • Revelation for a house to be built for the Smiths. Cabin built by Isaac Morley on his land.
  • September 2, 1831: Moved in with John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, OH 36 miles south of Kirtland. Met Nancy Marinda Johnson, age 16 (future wife). Rumors of improper conduct with her may have contributed to tar and feathering by some of Johnson boys along with fear for their inheritance.
  • Law of consecration required members to sell or deed property to the church of which Joseph was the sole trustee.
  • Sexual access to young women: Fanny Alger, etc. Most prominently displayed in Nauvoo but started very discreetly much earlier. (Rumors were already circulating in Kirtland and required denial). Most church historians now agree that Alger was probably Smith's first plural wife in Kirtland.
  • Emma spent summer of 1832 shuttling between several homes while Joseph went to MO.
  • Lived briefly with Johnsons again on return.
  • Lived in 3 storage rooms above Newell Whitney's store. Emma made money by keeping boarders there. Emma began lifelong practice of taking in domestic helpers, usually young women who did household work in return for room and board. (I wonder if Joseph encouraged this or perhaps even suggested it. Did he and Emma have an arrangement?)
  • September/October 1832 traveled to NYC to get loans. Who paid for this? Traveled with Newel K. Whitney so probably him. Bought goods for a store which he ran into the ground. Did his leadership position allow him to get loans? How else does a landless, unemployed man get extensive loans?
  • Power: Made commander-in-chief of the Armies of Israel. Best armed with a big bulldog, a pair of brass-barreled horse pistols with silver fittings, a fine sword, a rifle, and a horse.
  • 1836 trip to Salem, MA to find treasure in an old house.
  • 1836: Eliza R. Snow boarded w/ Smiths. Again curious that a later polygamous wife boarded with the Smiths in Ohio.
  • Bought river boat in Nauvoo, threw large parties.
  • 1842 bankruptcy: $73,066.38 in debts (over $500,000 in today's dollars).
  • Many wives in Nauvoo. Initially other mens' wives, teenagers, older women.
  • Anointed king.
  • Presidential candidate
  • Mansion house started based on revelation and built with church funds.
  • Master mason
  • Nauvoo house
  • Red brick store: another unprofitable business funded at church expense
  • Trips to St. Louis to buy goods
  • Carriage and horses for Emma.
  • Lived like a king in Nauvoo with extensive civil as well as religious power.
  • Able to pick winners and losers in local political elections.
This is just a partial list, but it is clear that Joseph's livelihood was completely dependent on the church. He couldn't just quit and give it up because he didn't have any independent means of support, didn't seem inclined to participate in labor such as farming, and was a very poor businessman as evidenced by several failed businesses that he ran and the failed bank that he founded in Kirtland.


Dave Sigmann said...

Great post! It is nice to have all of these things catalogued like this. I think from Joseph's earliest days as a paid peepstone user looking for buried treasure, Joseph wanted to get rich by duping others into thinking he had special powers.

Bull said...

I like how Bushman compared Joseph's peepstone swindling to a preparatory priesthood that prepared him for his future as a prophet. Hmmm. Yes, that's actually a pretty apt comparison although not in the way that he meant it.

Honestly, as I've read Joseph's biographies I can almost imagine the intoxicating quality of the life he lived. Whether demonized or adored he was the center of attention and he apparently relished being in the spotlight and hated to share it with anyone.

Anonymous said...

I think Brigham young and his follows made up storys about smith and his family. I also think they were behind his murder.I think smith had money I think its a big morman cover up to cover youngs tracks to utah

Anonymous said...

im 5th gen smith story goes That young was behind the murder. And the story behind the plates. was a lie, from utah.smith got the plates from somewhere else. family known over seas. He told family this And mr young.Young changed story after smiths death.To hide his tracks.Something about joseph and the plates/ young was to afaid of real story.Plates are form free masons/teplares.passed on In family circle Smiths person family secret is that plates are from this,It was a planed idea to bring over, A smith letter stated.maybe it could help someone some day.His battle will young was to much for his family /C.O.smith