145 years ago today - Aug 23, 1877

Half a century ago there lived on a farm in Afton, Chenango County, then called South Bainbridge, a good settler named Isaiah [Josiah] Stowell. ... As it was he contented himself with the faith (and practice) that untold sums of gold had been hidden in the earth by some extinct tribes of Indians or highwaymen or something of the sort, and that it was to be his especial good luck to find all this gold. Northern Pennsylvania, near Lanesboro and Susquehanna, was believed by him to be the gold bearing region, and with assistants and the proper tools he made frequent journeys to the wild country about Starrucco Creek and spent weeks in delving in the rocky mountain side at the rise of the Blue Ridge range. ... It was during one of his digging excursions near Lanesboro that Deacon Stowell heard of the remarkable powers which Joseph Smith, a young fellow who had lived near Great Bend, about twenty miles south on the Susquehanna River, was reported to possess. Smith, it was said, could see objects which lay fifty feet below the surface of the earth with entire distinctness. ... Stocking a wagon with enough provisions to last him for the journey, the Deacon harnessed a team and started for Palmyra. ... He [Joseph] pretended to possess the power of second sight, and had no hesitation in saying that he had been brought into the world by God to work out certain plans of the Almighty on earth. ... Crazy Deacon Stowell became Smith's disciple at once, and Smith told him the story of a wonderful stone he had found. According to this story Smith, when quite a boy, heard of a young girl living within a few miles of his father's house, who possessed a magic glass by looking into which she could see objects that were invisible to others. Young Joe was seized with an irresistible desire to see this wonderful glass, and obtained that boon. The glass, was put into a hat to exclude the light, and the boy gazed. For a long time he saw nothing, but finally a speck appeared which assumed the proportions of a small stone, seemingly a long way off. The stone, grew brighter and brighter, until it finally glowed like a calcium light or--since this was 1820 --like the sun at noonday. At last the glass showed him that the stone was hidden under the roots of a small tree on the south side of Lake Erie, not far from tha [the] boundary line between New York and Pennsylvania. Often afterwards Smith looked in the glass seeing only the same sight, and, after thinking and pondering on the subject for several years, determined to find the stone. Equipped with a few shillings in cash and a bundle of provisions, he started on foot toward the West. When money and food gave out, he supplied himself by working at farm houses on the way until he was able to renew his travels. After walking 150 miles he found himself at the mouth of a creek which he remembered seeing in the glass. A farmer lent [him] a pick and shovel, and he soon found the tree and the magic stone. The latter he carried to the creek, washed the dirt from its smooth surface and gazed "into" it. To his great joy he found that he was possessed of an all-seeing eye, whose vision penetrated water and annihilated space. The stone was of the size of a hen's egg, curved in the shape of a high-stepped shoe, and was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. ... The good Deacon used his powers of entreaty so well that young Smith agreed to return with him and aid in the search for gold. ... Smith, by the aid of his magic stone, ascertained that many years before a band of robbers had buried a box of treasure in certain flat lands on the deacon's farm. To protect this treasure, Smith said, the robbers had by sacrifice laid a charm upon it, so that it could not be recovered except by faith and certain talismanic influences. The diggers prepared themselves for work by fasting and prayer for several days. Smith assured the Deacon that it was utterly useless for him to begin digging without an absolute faith that the labor would be successful. When the Deacon had banished all his doubts the party went to work with awe in the presence of the charm. A few feet from the surface a shovel in the hands of the Deacon touched a hard substance, and hastily throwing back the dirt he discovered the top of a square wooden chest, bound with hoops of iron. But while Smith, Stowell and their assistant, one [Jonathan] Thompson, were gazing with awe and wonder on the sight[,] the box gradually sank in the ground and was soon gone. They dug and uncovered it again, and it disappeared again. This was kept up till it ceased to be amusing, and Smith was called upon to dispel the charm. He gave Deacon Stowell some instructions. The latter, sending his Presbyterian training to the wind, went to his stock yard and selected a ewe lamb, the finest in the fold, with pure white skin and fleece. It was washed until it was perfectly spotless. Meanwhile darkness settled down over the Susquehanna Valley, and the rites for the propitiation of the demon who guarded the treasure was carried on by the light of a single lantern. The lamb was brought to the edge of the pit, and a bowl placed in readiness to catch its blood. The Deacon got upon his knees and prayed, probably to the demon, while Smith drew the sacrificial butcherknife across the lamb's throat, and then moved in circles about the pit, sprinkling the blood around it. Then the party resumed their picks and shovels, but couldn't even find the top of the box any more. Deacon Stowell and Joe Smith kept up this circus in various promising places for awhile, but the Deacon never got any hidden treasury, and slowly but surely was spending the competence he had amassed. ... In February 1856 [1826], the sons caused Joe's arrest as a vagrant, and the trial occur[r]ed before Albert Neely, esq., father of Bishop [Henry Adams] Neely, of Maine. The country folks for miles around attended the trial. The affidavits of the sons were read, and the prophet was put upon the stand. He testified to but little concerning the charge on which he was arrested, but gave the history of his youthful days, told about the finding of the magic stone, and claimed to possess all the powers which the infatuated Deacon believed to reside in him. The magic stone was exhibited in court. Joseph Smith, Sr., the father of the prophet, who is described as having been a most disreputable looking person, testified in his son's behalf describing his wonderful success as a seer. Deacon Stowell also testified in the prophet's behalf, and gave many circumstances corroborative of the supernatural powers possessed by the young man. Young Smith, he said, could see things fifty feet below the surface of the ground as plainly as he could see the articles on the Judge's table. "Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under solemn oath you have taken, that you believe that?" "Do I believe it?" was the reply, "Do I believe it! No; it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true." Thompson, one of the employe[e]s of Deacon Stowell, related the story of the mysterious sinking of the box told above. Smith was discharged mainly on the testimony of Deacon Stowell, and he continued to reside in the neighborhood. About four years after, it is said, Smith, by the aid of his magic stone, found the Book of Mormon. This Elder [Orson] Pratt, of the Mormon Church, says it was when he was but fourteen years old, but the people of Susquehanna say he was nearer twenty-five.

["Joe Smith's Youthful Days. Deacon Stowell's Long Hunt for God--His Belief that Smith Could See Fifty Feet into the Earth," Bainbridge (NY) Republican, 23 August 1877, 2. Reprinted in Montrose (PA) Democrat, 19 September 1877., as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents: Bainbridge (Ny) Republican]

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