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The blog of Robert Bowman, president of Faith Thinkers, Inc.
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Doubling Down on Diversionary Polemics: Robert Boylan’s Response on Moroni’s Move

Sat, 05/30/2020 - 20:20
As I expected, Boylan issued a hasty “response” to the previous post in which he failed to address any of the substantive issues I presented there. Instead, he engaged in a poorly done tu quoque (“you too”) fallacious argument. First, … Continue reading →

Moroni’s Marvelous Move from Mesoamerica to Manchester

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 17:00
Moroni Delivering the Plates to Joseph Smith (C.C.A. Christensen)

Robert Boylan, a Mormon apologist blogger, has written a series of blistering attack posts attempting to discredit my book Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions. Boylan has described it as a “joke of a book”[1] and a “mess of a book,”[2] and he has churned out at least twenty posts in the past few weeks attacking it (and at least a couple more posts about me that are not about the book!). Given Boylan’s quantity (which is not the same as quality) of output, it is doubtful that I will be able to respond to all of his posts in which I am mentioned (I tend to be almost Monk-like in writing, laboring long to make everything I write as close to perfect as I can get it).

Bibliographical Nitpicking

In one of his attack pieces, Boylan takes me to task for a brief comment I made in the book about Moroni’s supposed journey from Mesoamerica to what is now upstate New York.[3] Boylan characterizes my comment as “an attempt to call its plausibility into question.” He quotes part of what I said on the matter, offers a defense of the plausibility of Moroni’s journey, and lambasts me for failing to interact with Book of Mormon scholar/apologist John L. Sorenson’s defense. Not content to make his point, Boylan engages in his usual poke-in-the-eye style of polemical rhetoric:

This only proves again, notwithstanding the attempted appearance of producing a scholarly work, in reality, it is just typical counter-cult “boundary maintenance” that is cleaned up (basically, the literary form of a pig with lipstick—it is still a pig you are trying to make look pretty). The target audience is clearly not informed Latter-day Saints but gullible Evangelicals who know next to nothing about “Mormonism”….

This harsh assessment is rather absurd, given that the book in question is just 300 pages long but has over 600 footnotes citing 475 sources—including citations from over 230 sources pertaining to Mormon studies.[4] Boylan justifies his dismissive comments about the whole book on the basis of two sentences in the book that Boylan apparently thinks should have been turned into a page or more of interaction with a particular Mormon scholar on the issue. Sorry to disappoint those who wanted a book of three thousand pages, but I wanted to produce a book people might actually read.

Avoiding the Main Point

Let’s put my full comment about Moroni’s journey on the record here:

The fact that Joseph did not look at the gold plates when dictating his “translation” means that the Book of Mormon need have no relation to the supposed gold plates at all. Joseph’s method of producing the text of the Book of Mormon in effect renders the gold plates irrelevant. There was no need for Moroni, whom the Book of Mormon identifies as its last ancient author, to carry the gold plates (weighing forty pounds or more according to Joseph’s associates, though if they really were gold they should have weighed closer to two hundred pounds) thousands of miles from Central America to upstate New York (a tall order, to put it mildly) in order to bury them for Joseph to discover fourteen centuries later. (The people of ancient Mesoamerica had no pack horses or other beasts of burden, so Moroni would have had to carry the plates, along with the stone spectacles and the breastplate, on his own.) Yet Joseph did not need the plates, the stone spectacles, the breastplate, or anything other than what he already had, his small treasure-hunting seer stone and his hat, along with the divine revelation Mormons claim he received.[5]

As anyone can see by reading the whole paragraph, the point I was making was that Joseph did not need the plates, the stone spectacles, the breastplate, or anything else Moroni might have carried from Central America to upstate New York, in order to translate the Book of Mormon. Of course, it would be possible. I merely mentioned the difficulty of him doing so while carrying perhaps two hundred pounds of stuff (and it would still have been very heavy even if we accept the 40+ pounds estimates for the plates Joseph had, since the stone spectacles and the breastplate would have added to the burden). I did not elaborate or argue the point because I was not arguing that Moroni could not possibly have pulled it off but that he need not have done so because there was no reason for him to do so. I made this point explicitly four times in four of the five sentences in the paragraph, three of which Boylan omitted from his quotation. Although this was clearly the point I was making, Boylan said nothing about it. Thus, Boylan made absolutely no attempt to respond to the main point of the paragraph that he partially quoted. Instead, he focused on arguing that the trip was “plausible” and “not fantastic.”

Did Moroni Leave the Land of the Lamanites?

Boylan, like most contemporary Mormon apologists, assumes that Moroni traveled from Mesoamerica (probably starting somewhere in southeast Mexico or possibly northwest Guatemala) to what is now upstate New York, depositing the gold plates in the hill near Joseph’s home where he would obtain them fourteen centuries later. This scenario appears to be required by the conventional LDS academic model of Book of Mormon geography, according to which essentially all of the events described in the Americas took place in that small region of Mesoamerica, and the conventional understanding that Joseph found the gold plates buried in a box near his home because that is where Moroni had buried them shortly before his death. Hence, John Sorenson (the LDS scholar Boylan scolds me for not engaging on the issue of Moroni’s journey), referring to the gold plates as “the Codex,” wrote, “How did the Codex get to a hill in New York from southern Mexico after the final battle involving the Nephites? The obvious answer is that someone carried it there, over a vast distance.”[6]

One problem with this scenario is that there does not seem to be any basis for it in the Book of Mormon itself. Here are the relevant bits of information that the narrative provides:

  • ca. AD 385: The final battle at Cumorah, just before which Mormon hid most of the plates in the hill Cumorah except the ones he gave to his son Moroni, who had led an army of ten thousand and was one of a dozen Nephite survivors (Mormon 6:1-12)
  • ca. AD 400: Mormon has died along with others of the few surviving Nephites; Moroni is alone, with no friends or relatives, and nowhere to go (Mormon 8:1-7)
  • ca. AD 400—: The Lamanites engage in seemingly endless warfare with one another (Mormon 8:8)
  • Undated: Moroni is finished writing about the Lamanites and is going to hide the record (Mormon 8:13-14)
  • Undated: Moroni has abridged the record of the people of Jared (the Book of Ether). He is taking care not to make himself known to the Lamanites, who are still killing Nephites, and so is wandering to remain safe from them (Moroni 1:1-3)
  • ca. AD 421: Moroni adds some final words before sealing up the records (Moroni 10:1-2)

The precise dates are not particularly important here since our focus is on the relative dating of these events in relation to one another. The key passage is Moroni 1:1-3, in which Moroni states that he is randomly moving around from place to place to keep from falling into the hands of the Lamanites, who are still killing whatever Nephites still remain. We are not told when Moroni wrote this, but it would have to be after about 400 and before about 420. His statement entails that the Lamanite threat remained a significant issue throughout his wandering, which means that he is not referring to a journey taking him thousands of miles from the Lamanite-dominated region. The text does not absolutely preclude such a journey that does not happen to be mentioned, but the natural reading of the text is that Moroni’s wandering to stay out of the Lamanites’ grasp continued until at least close to his death.

One other chronological consideration should be mentioned here, and that concerns Moroni’s age. There is no precise information about his age given, but it is reasonable to surmise that he would have been at least in his 20s if not older when he led an army of ten thousand men. From Mormon 2:3 we are given to understand that Mormon was born about AD 310, making him about 75 years old at the final battle at Cumorah, when he says he was getting old (Mormon 6:6). This information suggests a rough date of around 350 for the birth of Moroni, which would make him about 35 years old at Cumorah and a little over 70 years old when he finished the record.

If Moroni had made a journey from Mexico to Manchester, it would have begun sometime after AD 400 and been completed shortly after AD 420. The implication of Moroni 1:1-3 is that he spent at least a considerable amount of those twenty years, if not all of them, on the run from the Lamanites. Boylan is flat wrong, then, when he asserts that “Moroni had 35+ years” to make the trip, “from ~AD 385 with the final battle at Cumorah to AD 421 with the burial of the plates.” According to Mormon 8:1-7 and Moroni 1:1-3, sometime after AD 400 Moroni was still in the land dominated by the Lamanites and moving around to avoid capture by them. This means that Moroni had less than twenty years to make the trip, if we assume that he must have made it (again, Moroni 1:1-3 is against any such trip occurring).

Since the Book of Mormon provides no information about this supposed journey, we cannot determine its route. The most direct route for someone walking from the Veracruz region in southeast Mexico (where Sorenson’s model would indicate as the starting point) to Palmyra, New York, would be over 2,700 miles. This calculation assumes a route that hugged the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico up into east Texas, through modern-day Houston, then northeast through Memphis, Cincinnati, and then along Lake Erie and east to Palmyra. Of course, this is a best-case scenario and ignores the specific challenges that Moroni would have faced along the way. If we accept the Mormon tradition that Moroni traveled through the American Southwest to Utah and then east before getting to upstate New York, the trip would have been over 5,000 miles![7]

Critics of Mormonism are not the only ones who think Moroni would not have made the trip. First of all, many Mormons are convinced that the climactic events of the Book of Mormon took place in the Great Lakes region where Joseph’s boyhood home was located. There is a bustling cottage industry devoted to this model of Book of Mormon geography that produces books, videos, and websites defending this view, and that holds regular conferences and provides guided tours of supposed Book of Mormon locations in America.[8]

Second, at least one fairly prominent Mormon scholar who adheres to the more academically conventional Mesoamerican model has concluded that Moroni probably did not travel to upstate New York during his mortal lifetime. Brant Gardner, a Mormon anthropologist who has written a six-volume commentary on the Book of Mormon, admits in that work that the book’s narrative suggests that Moroni never left Mesoamerica during his lifetime. Commenting on Moroni 1:2-3, Gardner observes, “The danger he feels confirms that he is still in Mesoamerica.”[9] Earlier, in his comment on Mormon 8:4, Gardner offers some speculation as to how the gold plates got to the hill in the Palmyra/Manchester area: “If Moroni as an angel could take them away at the close of the translation, then as an angel he could also deposit them within walking distance of Joseph Smith’s home.”[10] In other words, Moroni as a mortal might have hidden the plates somewhere in or near Mesoamerica, where they remained until the 1820s when Moroni as an angel was able to retrieve them and bury them near Joseph’s home! The explanation is so obviously ad hoc (why rebury the plates rather than simply handing them to Joseph?) that Gardner himself does not seem confident about it. Rightly so: Joseph’s accounts of the discovery of the plates tacitly indicate that Moroni had buried the plates in the hill near Joseph’s future home before Moroni’s death. This understanding is close to explicit in Joseph’s 1838 statement reported in the Elders’ Journal:

Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them.[11]

Gardner is at least partially correct: Moroni hypothetically could have hidden the plates anywhere in Mesoamerica, died, become an angel, and then miraculously whisked the plates from their hiding place to Manchester in order to deliver them to Joseph Smith. The reason why no one (to my knowledge) really believes this is what happened is that Joseph claimed to have found the plates buried in a stone box in a hill near his home and that this was the place where Moroni had buried them. It would make no sense for Moroni to rebury the plates and other artifacts in a stone box in the ground, and it would even have been deceptive, making it appear as though that was where they had been buried for fourteen centuries. Moreover, Joseph’s own statement reported in the Elders’ Journal appears to rule out that explanation.

At the end of his commentary, Gardner admits, “There is no way to know how the plates arrived at Cumorah,”[12] meaning the place near Joseph’s home that Mormons traditionally have called Cumorah.

Sorenson’s Defense of the Trip’s Plausibility

Boylan’s main criticism in his blog post is that I failed to engage Sorenson’s argument for the plausibility of Moroni’s journey. As I have already emphasized, Sorenson’s argument was irrelevant to the point I was making in my book. My point was that there seems to have been no need for Moroni to have undertaken such a journey carrying such a heavy load, since Joseph did not even look at the plates while dictating the text of the Book of Mormon.

That having been said, Sorenson’s treatment of the matter is far from successful in defending the plausibility of Moroni making such a journey.

In 1589 three English sailors trekked 3,000 miles from Tampico, on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, to Nova Scotia, more or less the same length as the journey Moroni(2) would have made to reach New York. They had been put ashore in Mexico from their privateer ship and decided to try to reach northeastern North America in hope of being found by a ship from Europe that might put in there. The original party was as large as 100 but en route all but three stopped off to join Amerindian groups. Upon completing the nine-month trip, the three men happened upon a French ship in Nova Scotia that agreed to take them back to England. Years later, a royal inquiry in their home country elicited from the only survivor, one David Ingram, his account of the journey through dozens of American Indian “kingdoms.” Some of the story he told is laced with fantastic detail, but the basic facts remain plausible and in some ways confirmed.[13]

Sorenson’s source for this story is a 1979 article in American Heritage magazine by Charlton Ogburn. According to Ogburn, if Ingram’s story is true it was “perhaps the outstanding walk in human history.”[14] One should not pass over this statement lightly. Granted that such a journey might be accomplished, it would still be an extremely unusual, spectacular accomplishment. And yet Moroni says nothing whatsoever about it!

Ingram’s journey to Nova Scotia, if it happened, took place in a period of about twelve months in 1567-1568, reaching England in 1589, not nine months in 1589, as Sorenson mistakenly claimed.[15] One fact that Sorenson omits is that Ogburn is not sure that the journey actually happened, at least the way Ingram told it. Ogburn admits, “I am not so sure about anything involving Ingram. I seem to have been left in the midst of intractable, if fascinating, contradictions.”[16] One of those contradictions concerns the starting point of Ingram’s journey. Was it near Tampico in Mexico, as the story of Ingram’s fellow sailor Miles Phillips indicated, or was it on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico in western Florida, as Ingram’s own account stated? Putting the starting point of Ingram’s journey in western Florida would, as Ogburn observes, shorten the journey by some 1,200 miles and make it far more plausible. He concludes that Ingram’s account was deliberately falsified “to make Ingram’s walk more credible” as support for the cause of financing the search for a “northwest passage” across the American continent.[17] The “fantastic detail” that Sorenson admits to have been part of Ingram’s story appears alongside descriptions that were either inaccurate or common knowledge, making it difficult to corroborate that Ingram made the walk at all.[18] One historian, David B. Quinn, concluded that a French ship likely picked up Ingram along the Gulf of Mexico or perhaps the Atlantic coast of Florida or South Carolina, which would have cut the distance they walked by more than half.[19] Ogburn himself concludes, rather tentatively, that we should probably accept Ingram’s story, but its reliability on the question of the actual route taken seems far from settled. Nathan Probasco points out in his dissertation that “scholars have long doubted its reliability,” though he admits, “The walk was clearly possible, whether or not Ingram completed it.”[20] Probasco concludes, “He probably made the walk, but during his interrogation he also exaggerated and forgot details.”[21] Unfortunately, Probasco does not address the issue of where Ingram’s walk actually began.

One detail worth pointing out is that Ingram did not make his journey (whatever its actual course) alone. He started with a large group of men, most of whom dropped out along the way, and he arrived in Nova Scotia with two other English sailors. It would be much easier for three men to make such a long journey together than for one man alone. Three men would be much less likely to be attacked than one man. They could take turns keeping watch at night if necessary, work together in complementary ways by utilizing their differing skill sets, and provide encouragement and moral support to each other.

Finally, Sorenson’s example of the three sailors walking from southern Mexico to Nova Scotia completely ignores the difficulty of transporting the materials Moroni supposedly carried a similar distance. The issue is complicated by disagreement as to the composition of the plates. The lowest estimate of their weight according to Joseph’s handpicked witnesses was about 40 to 50 pounds. If they were pure or mostly gold, they would have weighed closer to 200 pounds. In addition to the plates themselves, Moroni would have been carrying the breastplate and the stone spectacles. We have even less information about these objects, but presumably these items weighed close to ten pounds. One assumes that Moroni would have carried other objects—perhaps a weapon, surely some personal items—and would have needed one or more sturdy packs in which to carry all of these things. Accepting the lowest estimate of the weight of the plates, Moroni’s total load would have weighed at least 50 or 60 pounds, likely more. Given the chronological information we have in the Book of Mormon (as discussed above), he would have been carrying this load when he was in his late 60s.

Appeals to supernatural help here are completely ad hoc and therefore out of order, since the Book of Mormon does not even mention the journey, let alone indicate any supernatural aid in carrying the plates and other items. With this in mind, I will offer some very brief answers to the crucial questions regarding this alleged journey of Moroni from Mexico to Manchester.

Is it possible? Yes.

Is it plausible? Not really.

Would there have been any point to it? No.

That last point was, as I have explained, the point I was making in the paragraph of my book that Boylan quoted out of context. Granting for the sake of argument that such an arduous trip might have been possible for Moroni, the fact remains that there was no need for him to make it. Joseph was not going to use the plates when producing the English text known as the Book of Mormon. The historical evidence also shows that Joseph did not use the stone spectacles, at least when dictating the translation to Oliver Cowdery.[22] Yet Joseph claimed, as we documented above, that Moroni had buried the plates and other artifacts in the hill near Joseph’s future home while Moroni was still a mortal, then appeared to him in the 1820s to reveal where Joseph would find them.

We are left, then, with the notion, for which there is no evidence within the Book of Mormon narrative, that Moroni as an old man made an extremely difficult journey of some three thousand miles on foot, carrying a load of likely 50 to 60 pounds or more, in order to bury the plates and other items in the ground near what would become Joseph Smith’s home. The purpose of this herculean journey was to provide Joseph with the plates as a prop assuring his family and supporters that they existed, though most of them would never see the plates and though Joseph did not actually look at the plates when producing his translation.

No, Mr. Boylan, that’s not credible.


[1] Robert Boylan, “Resurrection vs. First Vision?” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 14, 2020.

[2] Robert Boylan, “Book of Mormon Central, ‘Joseph Smith’s First Vision,’” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 23, 2020.

[3] Robert Boylan, “Could Moroni Have Travelled from Modern-Day Mexico to New York?” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 5, 2020.

[4] See Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Complete Bibliography,” at

[5] Robert M. Bowman Jr., Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism (Tampa, FL: DeWard, 2020), 281–82.

[6] John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2013), 693.

[7] See H. Donl Peterson, “Moroni, the Last of the Nephite Prophets,” in Fourth Nephi, From Zion to Destruction, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1995), 235–49. This itinerary is mentioned as a serious possibility by Michael R. Ash, “Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: How Moroni and the plates may have made it to Hill Cumorah,” Deseret News, Feb. 28, 2011 (originally in Mormon Times).

[8] See, e.g., the website

[9] Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Volume 6: Fourth Nephi–Moroni (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 334.

[10] Gardner, Second Witness, 6:110. Ash, “Challenging Issues,” echoes Gardner’s statement here in almost the same words, without mentioning Gardner, as one possible explanation.

[11] Joseph Smith, “Answers to Questions,” Elders’ Journal 1 (July 1838): 42–43.

[12] Gardner, Second Witness, 6:422, emphasis added. Ash, “Challenging Issues,” is equally noncommittal, saying that “we may never know if Moroni buried the plates during his mortal ministry or as an angel.”

[13] Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 693–94; see also John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Foreword by Leonard J. Arrington, Truman G. Madsen, and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret; Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985), 45.

[14] Charlton Ogburn, “The Longest Walk: David Ingram’s Amazing Journey,” American Heritage 30.3 (April/May 1979): 4–13.

[15] See Nathan J. Probasco, “Researching North America: Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Expedition and a Reexamination of Early Modern English Colonization in the North Atlantic World,” PhD diss. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2013), 126–27.

[16] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 1 (page numbers cited here for this article refer to web pages, not the printed magazine).

[17] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 3–4.

[18] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 2–3.

[19] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 4.

[20] Probasco, “Researching North America,” 132–33.

[21] Probasco, “Researching North America,” 134 (see 126–37).

[22] Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 270–75.

Christianity vs Mormonism: Atheist Bob Seidensticker Cross-Examined

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 11:35
Paul Cézanne, Apples and Oranges (ca. 1900)

Bob Seidensticker is an atheist with a blog at Patheos called Cross Examined. Two days ago (May 20, 2020), another atheist blogger at Patheos, Jonathan M.S. Pearce, posted “Using Common Sense to Not See God: Christianity versus Mormonism,” part of a chapter by Seidensticker in a 2017 book that Pearce edited called Not Seeing God: Atheism in the 21st Century. His thesis is that Christians don’t care about evidence because if they did they would accept Mormonism:

Many Christians declare that they don’t hold their religious beliefs just because they were born into a Christian environment. No, they believe because of the evidence. Let’s test that claim. If they believe because of evidence, they should accept claims that are better evidenced than those of Christianity such as those of Mormonism. The claims of Mormonism have just such a historical record.

Well! I just happen to have published a book two months ago that addresses this very argument: Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism.[1] As I point out in the first chapter, Mormons and skeptics are using a very similar argument. Both start from the same premise: that the evidence for Mormonism is just as good as if not better than the evidence for Christianity. From this premise, Mormons conclude that Christians ought to accept Mormonism, while skeptics conclude that Christians ought to reject Christianity. Seidensticker is thus using an argument that has become rather popular among atheists, whose skepticism is aimed primarily at evangelical Christianity. So, let’s take a look at his argument.

Judging from the skeptic’s piece, apparently I am doing this blogging thing all wrong. There is not a single reference to any source—primary or secondary—in the entire post. I counted perhaps half a dozen specific factual assertions (depending on how rigorously one uses the word specific), none of them backed up with any sources. There are general, dismissive remarks made about the four Gospels and a couple of comments about the Book of Mormon. Yet Seidensticker apparently thinks he has shown that the evidence for Mormonism, such as it is, is better than the evidence for Christianity. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, anyone can seem rational if he doesn’t have to bother with facts.

Documents: First-Century Christianity vs. Nineteenth-Century Mormonism

The core of Seidensticker’s argument consists of a series of issues on which he contends that Mormonism has better evidence than Christianity. The first is “number and breadth of documents.” Mormonism has a much larger corpus of documents pertaining to its early history than does Christianity. Indeed it does! Mormonism arose in the nineteenth century, when literacy was far more advanced (in some ways) than in the first century, and when books, newspapers, and other materials could be printed cheaply. As I point out in my book, “Despite Joseph’s relative lack of literary sophistication and his customary use of scribes (one way in which he and Paul were alike), his literary output in seventeen years (1827–44) was many times greater than Paul’s literary output in a comparable period of time (ca. AD 48–65).”[2] This difference actually accentuates the problems that arise in the documents pertaining to Mormon origins. With a much larger and more diverse corpus of documents at our disposal, one would expect (if Mormonism were true) that we would have abundant documentary evidence corroborating the most important and verifiable elements of Joseph’s story. Such is not the case. Instead, we have radically differing accounts of Joseph’s first vision from Joseph himself (differing on essential elements, not minutia) and external documentation directly undermining key claims Joseph made (e.g., regarding the unusual revival he said led to his vision in early 1820, as well as the intense persecution he said he suffered for many years due to that vision).[3] Somehow, Seidensticker managed to trumpet the supposedly superior documentary sources for Mormonism without mentioning the conflicting accounts that Joseph produced or the fact that the LDS Church suppressed one of those accounts (the 1832 account in Joseph’s own handwriting) for over a century.

Seidensticker also asserts under this first point, “Some of these accounts of the events in the early Mormon church were written within days or even hours of the events,” in contrast, no doubt, to the gap between events and written accounts about them in the Bible. The statement is true but misleading, because those events with near-immediate records are of relatively minor significance. The accounts of the foundational events of Mormonism were written years after they supposedly happened. Notoriously, there is no account of the First Vision (dated 1820) written until 1832, and no account was made public until 1840 (by early Mormon writer Orson Pratt).[4] In that period, Joseph managed to dictate the Book of Mormon and hundreds of revelations that were published as Doctrine and Covenants, another Mormon scripture.

Seidensticker poses this same faulty comparison as a separate point with the heading “oral history gap.” The Gospels were written, he says, “perhaps forty to sixty years” after the events they document, only after a period of oral tradition. Mormonism, though, supposedly “spent no time in the limbo of oral tradition.” That’s more or less true but a liability, not an asset: there was no oral tradition regarding the First Vision because the only person who supposedly had the vision was the same person who waited over a decade before trying out different stories about it in writing. In the meantime, as best we can tell, he did not talk about it to others, so there was no “oral tradition” about it at all.

Oddly, Seidensticker makes the remark, “The Book of Mormon was committed to paper immediately, which means no time for the story to grow into legend with the retelling.” Frankly, this makes me wonder how much he knows about Mormonism. Joseph claimed to have the gold plates in 1827, dictated over a hundred pages that were then lost, and then dictated a new text in 1829. The story might well have changed during those two years. More to the point, the story was supposedly about the histories of people living in the ancient Americas, ending in AD 421—over 1,800 years before Joseph produced the English text. If there was no time for the story to grow into legend, it is because it started out as fiction!

Copies: Ancient Biblical Manuscripts vs. Mormon Publications

The second comparison concerns the “time gap from original to our best copies.” Here Seidensticker makes the easy point that our earliest Greek copies of the New Testament books date a century or more after they were originally written, whereas the Mormon scriptures were published within a few years after they were written. That is another (generally) true but highly misleading statement—and its truth actually undermines the credibility of Mormonism in a big way:

  • The Book of Mormon was indeed published a year after it was composed. The problem is that the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 but claims to have been composed between 600 BC and AD 421!
  • The Book of Abraham was composed between 1835 and 1842 and was published in AD 1842, but Joseph Smith claimed it was written some 3,500 years earlier.[5]
  • Similarly, the Book of Moses was dictated in AD 1830–31, published in part in 1851 and more completely in 1878, but claims to have been a first-person account from Moses, meaning it claims to have been written over 3,000 years earlier.

We have zero copies of any of these three alleged ancient scriptures in any language prior to Joseph’s dictated manuscripts in the nineteenth century. The one extant manuscript is something of a smoking gun for Mormonism’s falsehood: The Joseph Smith Papyri fragments include portions of the manuscript he claimed to have translated in the Book of Abraham, but it turns out to be a pagan Egyptian funerary text from about the second century BC.[6]

On the other hand, the gap of one or two centuries between the composition of the New Testament books and our earliest copies is an extremely narrow one as compared to what is typical for ancient works of literature. Moreover, Seidensticker’s claim that the time gap for the New Testament manuscripts “means a long dark period during which undetected ‘improvements’ could’ve been made to the text” is unjustified. We have more than a dozen manuscript fragments from ca. AD 125–225, including complete or nearly complete copies of seven of the epistles and almost all of the Gospel of John. We also have roughly sixty manuscripts from ca. 225–300, including most of the texts of the Gospels and whole copies of other New Testament books. These manuscripts are sufficient for scholars to determine what sorts of changes the scribes made. We also have enough copies that were made independently of one another to be able to detect any “improvements” that scribes made, because they show up in some but not all manuscripts.[7] Like most skeptics, Seidensticker implicitly assumes that the second-century church was a monolithic ecclesiastical power that controlled the copying process and imposed its preferred wording on the texts. Nothing could be further from the truth: the church had no centralized authority and no political or economic power to manage let alone control the transmission of the New Testament texts.[8]

Cultures: The “Aramaic” Jesus and the Anglo-American Joseph

Seidensticker next claims that the New Testament was “one culture removed from the oral Aramaic Jewish culture of Jesus” because the Gospels were written in Greek, whereas the accounts of Mormon origins by the first Mormons were written “in our own language,” that is, in English. It apparently did not occur to Seidensticker that this comparison works only for English readers. If your first language is Spanish, sorry—you don’t have access to the original cultural expressions of Mormonism.

About that “Aramaic Jewish culture of Jesus”: Aramaic was a language, not a culture. The Jewish people in Judea, Galilee, and neighboring regions generally did speak Aramaic, but many if not most of them could speak in Greek, and in any case there was no difficulty talking and writing about Jewish beliefs in Greek, Latin, or any other language.

According to Seidensticker, because the Gospels were written in Greek, “They can only document the Christian tradition within Greek culture, a culture suffused with tales of dying-and-rising gods, virgin births, and other miraculous happenings.” This claim is so ridiculous that it is embarrassing. News flash: Jews could speak and write in Greek. Most people in the Mediterranean world were bilingual (including the majority who were technically illiterate), speaking their native language and either Greek or Latin (or both). The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, did not need to create whole new stories for Greek readers in place of the original Hebrew accounts.

As for the “tales of dying-and-rising gods” business, frankly, the claim that Jesus was a “copycat savior” created from bits and pieces of ancient mythological figures (in another post Seidensticker lists Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, and Baal[9]) is itself a myth. Jesus was a real historical man: that is certain fact. Jesus actually died by crucifixion: that is also certain fact. His Jewish followers (all Aramaic speakers!) very soon after his death became convinced that he had risen from the dead: again, this is bedrock historical fact.[10]

As for Mormonism, it is all too easy to show the cultural mismatch between the Book of Mormon and its alleged ancient cultural setting in the Americas. The Book of Mormon has prophets predicting the coming of Jesus using language straight out of the New Testament in the King James Version. They preach sermons modeled on the revivalist preaching of Methodist and other Protestant evangelists and pastors in the Second Great Awakening. Its pages address such issues as paid clergy, whether infants should be baptized, whether God had ceased to grant miracles or to bestow supernatural gifts. The cultural familiarity of all these elements to modern readers is a selling point from the Mormons’ point of view, but from the perspective of an historian they are compelling evidence against the Book of Mormon’s authenticity. The culture “gap” between us and the Bible is actually a good thing, because it confirms the authenticity of the Bible as a collection of writings from antiquity.

Eyewitnesses: The Gospels vs. the Witnesses to the Gold Plates

Seidensticker makes the common claim that the four Gospels “don’t claim to be eyewitness accounts.” That is more or less true for the first three, but not for the Gospel of John (19:35; 21:24-25). The Gospel of Luke does not claim to be by an eyewitness—indeed, Luke expressly distinguishes himself from the eyewitnesses—but it does claim to be based on eyewitness testimonies (Luke 1:1-4). There is ample evidence to support that claim.[11]

As a supposed contrast to the Gospels, Seidensticker points out that twelve men (whose names we know) gave eyewitness testimony that they had seen the gold plates. These would be Joseph Smith and the two groups of men he hand-picked to be witnesses to the plates (a group of three and another group of eight). Yes, those twelve men all claimed to have seen the gold plates. Without getting into the particulars—which erode any confidence in these testimonies[12]—suppose the groups of three and eight witnesses did see some metal plates that Joseph had. Does this mean that the plates were ancient plates produced by Israelite prophets living in the Americas? Does it mean that they contained texts written in Reformed Egyptian? The eleven witnesses had no knowledge about these things. The eight witnesses reported that the plates had curious markings or engravings on them, but they had no way of knowing if the engravings were a genuine language and said anything meaningful at all, let alone if they contained the narratives of the Book of Mormon.

All of the really important, foundational events of Mormonism were “witnessed” (if they happened at all) either by Joseph Smith alone or by Joseph and a few men he selected. If the First Vision happened, it happened to Joseph alone. If Moroni made his many visits to Joseph between 1823 and 1829, no one else saw him. The three and eight witnesses had one opportunity each to see the plates, with Joseph present, at a time and place he chose. The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, for example, is nothing like this. All sorts of people reported seeing the risen Jesus, on various occasions, with no advance preparation, individually or in differing groups. The evidence of eyewitness testimony is much, much stronger for Christianity than it is for Mormonism.[13]

Provenances: New Testament Authors vs. Joseph Smith

This next argument is a strange one. “The New Testament books were written by ordinary people, not by God himself, or even angels. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was told by an angel about the golden plates, from which the Book of Mormon was written. That his source document was vetted by an angel says a lot about the quality of what he started with (or at least it beats the claims of traditional Christianity).” This comparison is so bad it can’t even be called an apples-to-oranges comparison. Indeed, ordinary men wrote the New Testament books, but one thing everyone seems to acknowledge is that Joseph Smith was also an ordinary man. Yes, Joseph said that an angel told him about the gold plates; but the authors of the New Testament books said that Jesus appeared to them (or to the apostles with whom they were associated, in the case of Mark and Luke).

Seidensticker calls this comparison a matter of “provenance.” His use of this word is especially peculiar. When talking about texts, provenance refers to the place of origin or the known history of the text (or of the manuscripts we have for it). When it comes to provenance, what we know about the New Testament texts authenticates them in a way that a reasonable Mormon could only wish were the case for Joseph’s allegedly ancient texts. Based on internal evidence cross-referenced with external sources, we can date most of Paul’s epistles to within a year or so (with some uncertainty for a couple of them). Our manuscript evidence for Paul’s epistles is especially good, as mentioned earlier, since we have copies of most of them from AD 300 or earlier. We also know the locations (the cities) of the churches to which those epistles were sent and in several cases where Paul was when he wrote them.[14] Even for the six Pauline epistles that many scholars dispute Paul wrote, scholars universally agree that they originated from the same region and in the first century. For the rest of the New Testament, we have varying levels of detailed knowledge of their origins, which is actually what we would expect when dealing with ancient texts. Nevertheless, scholars across a broad spectrum, Christian and non-Christian, date all of the New Testament writings to within a century or less of Jesus’ crucifixion (and most or all of them within seventy years or so of that event).[15]

The situation is far different for the supposedly ancient scriptures Joseph Smith delivered to the world. Even Mormons disagree among themselves as to which part of the Americas was the region in which the Book of Mormon authors lived and wrote. Locations in North America, South America, and Central America all have their defenders today. There is no evidence for the existence of the Book of Mormon prior to the late 1820s. The situation is even worse for the Book of Abraham, which does not correspond to the text on the surviving papyrus Joseph claimed to translate, and for the Book of Moses, for which Joseph did not bother even claiming to have any manuscript or ancient copy.

Martyrs: The Apostles vs. Joseph Smith

Seidensticker questions the historical evidence for the deaths of the apostles as martyrs. As I detail in my book, “We may confidently conclude that at least four of the apostles were martyred (Simon Peter, James the son of Zebedee, James the Lord’s brother, and Paul) and likely at least two others (Andrew and Thomas).”[16] We have plausible information about the martyrdoms of four other apostles, but not strong evidence. As do Mormons, Seidensticker compares the apostles’ willingness to die for their testimonies to the death of Joseph Smith (and one could add his brother Hyrum). The problem here is that Joseph’s death had nothing whatsoever to do with the First Vision, Moroni’s visits, or the Book of Mormon. A mob stormed the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum because of issues arising from Joseph’s actions as the political ruler in Nauvoo, including the reports of his polygamy and his ordering the destruction of a dissident newspaper.

Christianity is true not merely because some of the apostles died as martyrs, but because the totality of the evidence, including their martyrdom but also many other things, shows that it is true. By contrast, the senseless action of the mob that killed Joseph and Hyrum proves only that mobs can be senseless. It does nothing to substantiate even Joseph’s sincerity, let alone the truth of his religious claims.

Naysayers: The Empty Tomb vs. Empty Claims

Seidensticker says that Christian apologists argue “that if the Jesus story were false, naysayers of the time would have snuffed it out,” and he asserts that Mormons could say the same thing about their religion. His argument here is so vague as to be pointless. Let’s be specific. Suppose Jesus was crucified (as virtually all historians acknowledge). Then suppose that some days or weeks later, Jesus’ followers began proclaiming a complete fiction that Jesus had risen from the dead. Christians often point out that if there had been nothing to the Resurrection story, people at the time could have pointed out that Jesus’ dead body was still, well, dead. Now, there are ways around this argument for those who are skeptically inclined, but the point is a valid one in the context of the evidence we have for Jesus’ burial and for the origins of the Christian movement in Jerusalem.

Consider the Mormon origins story by contrast. None of its major claims were public events (as the Crucifixion was, for example), and most of its major claims involved only one witness (Joseph Smith). There was no way that anyone could “snuff out” the story of the First Vision by saying, “Hey, I was there in the woods with Joseph in 1820, and I didn’t see the Father and the Son!” When Joseph did have others present for his founding acts, he was always in control. So, for example, he dictated his “translation” of the gold plates either behind a curtain of some kind or (as he evidently did later) with his face buried in a hat containing a stone that he said revealed the text of his translation to him.

Testable: Christianity vs. Mormonism

Seidensticker concludes by asserting that the Book of Mormon makes testable claims, though they can be falsified, whereas Christianity supposedly does not. What? Has he even read the Bible? The Bible makes hundreds of testable assertions of fact that can and have been tested by archaeologists. Many, many of these statements of fact have been confirmed through the study of external evidence. A fair number of the Bible’s historical statements remain disputed, especially for matters of more distant antiquity (three thousand or more years ago, especially for the periods of the patriarchs and Moses). Here again, that is exactly what we would expect. Naturally, the further back in time the reported events, the less external evidence we will have, and the more difficult it will be to interpret the evidence.

Christians have nothing to fear from a comparison of the evidence for their beliefs with the evidence for Mormonism. In such a comparison, done fairly and with the relevant specific information, Christianity comes out far, far ahead.


[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr., Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism (Tampa: DeWard, 2020).

[2] Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 293.

[3] Relevant primary-source documents are available at the Joseph Smith Papers website and in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003). See further Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, chap. 8, and the numerous references cited there.

[4] Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840).

[5] History of the Church 6:76-77.

[6] See Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition. P. JS 1-4 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq, with contributions by Marc Coenen, H. Michael Marquardt, and Christopher Woods (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2011).

[7] On the study of the New Testament texts and manuscripts, see Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, eds., The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Stanley E. Porter, How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013); Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, ed. Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).

[8] See Michael J. Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018).

[9] Bob Seidensticker, “Jesus: Just One More Dying and Rising Savior,” Cross Examined (Patheos blog), April 16, 2014.

[10] See Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 49–71, 97–103, and the references cited there.

[11] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017).

[12] See Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 206–220.

[13] Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 298–305.

[14] For the details on these matters, see, for example, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993); John D. Harvey, Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, Handbooks for NT Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012); David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).

[15] The Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman, editor-in-chief, 6 Vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992); Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 7th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[16] Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 152. The evidence has been competently and fairly examined in Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015).

Mrs. Palmer and the First Vision: Doing Research Mormon Apologists Won’t Do

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 13:36
Martha J. Cragun Cox (1852-1932)

Serious historical investigation of the First Vision, Joseph Smith’s story of seeing the Father and the Son in the spring of 1820, properly focuses on Joseph’s own multiple accounts of the vision as well as the other accounts from Joseph’s contemporaries, especially those published during his lifetime.[1] However, Mormons often appeal to lesser-known accounts that seem to provide confirmation of the First Vision or at least some aspects of Joseph’s story. One such account that comes up quite often is a story attributed to a “Mrs. Palmer.” According to this account, Mrs. Palmer reportedly heard about Joseph’s first vision early in the 1820s and knew of threats from at least one churchman against Joseph over the matter.

The Mrs. Palmer Story as Told by Martha Cox

Here is the entirety of the account, which is attributed to Martha Cox, as it appears in the typewritten version in the LDS Church’s online archives.[2]

The spirit of the Lord remained with Joseph Smith from the time at which he received his first vision. Mrs. Palmer, a lady advanced in years, came to Utah with her daughter who was a teacher in the Presbyterian schools of our State. The daughter taught in Monroe, Sevier Co, died there and is buried in the Monroe Cemetery.

Mrs. Palmer’s father, according to a story told by her, owned a farm near to that of the Smith family in New York. Her parents were friends of the Smith family, which, she testified was one of the best in that locality, honest, religious and industrious, but poor. The father of the family, she said, was above the average in intelligence. She had heard her parents say he bore the appearance of having descended from royalty. Mrs. Smith was called “Mother Smith” by many. Children loved to go to her home.

Mrs. Palmer said her father loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys. She was about six years old, she said, when he first came to their home. She remembered going into the field on an afternoon to play in the corn rows while her brothers worked. When evening came she was too tired to walk home and cried because her brothers refused to carry her. Joseph lifted her to his shoulder and with his arm thrown across her feet to steady her and her arm about his neck he carried her to their home.

She remembered the excitement stirred up among the people over the boy’s first vision, and of hearing her father content[3] that it was only the sweet dream of a pureminded boy. She stated that one of their church leaders came to her father to remonstrate against allowing such close friendship between his family and the “Smith boy,” as he called him. Her father, she said, defended his own position by saying that the boy was the best help he had ever found. He told the churchman that he always fixed the time of hoeing his large field to that when he could secure the services of Joseph Smith, because of the influence that boy had over the wild boys of the neighborhood, and explained that when these boys worked by themselves much time would be spent in arguing and quarreling which often ended in a ring fight. But when Joseph Smith worked with them the work went steadily forward, and he got the full worth of the wages he paid. She remembered the churchman saying in a very solemn and impressive tone that the very influence the boy carried was the danger they feared for the coming generation, that not only the young men, but all who came in contact with him would follow him, and he must be put down.

Not until Joseph had a second vision and began to write a book which drew many of the best and brightest people of the churches away from them, did her parents come to a realization of the fact that their friend, the churchman had told them the truth. Then her family cut off their friendship for all the Smiths, for all the family followed Joseph. Even the father, intelligent man that he was, could not discern the evil he was helping to promote. Her parents then lent all the aid they could in helping to crush Joseph Smith; but it was too late, He had run his course too long. He could not be put down. Mrs. Palmer recognized the picture of Joseph Smith placed among other pictures as a test, and said of him that there was never a truer, purer, nobler boy than he before he was led away by superstition.

Mormon Apologists’ Treatment of the Mrs. Palmer Story

The story of Mrs. Palmer enjoys widespread circulation evidently due to its inclusion at the beginning of a popular LDS book entitled They Knew the Prophet that was first published in 1974 and was reissued in 2002.[4] It is also included in a similar compilation of memories about Joseph Smith published in 2003 and compiled by Mark McConkie.[5] According to Truman Madsen, the story was discovered by one of the dozens of LDS researchers recruited in the 1960s to answer the historical challenge to the First Vision raised by Presbyterian scholar Wesley P. Walters.[6] Madsen’s comment explains why the Mrs. Palmer story is of interest: “It is the only document yet discovered in which someone outside the church has recorded hearing of Joseph Smith’s first vision at the time he had it.”[7] However, this statement is inaccurate, because the outsider—Mrs. Palmer—did not produce the document, as we shall explain. Robert Boylan expresses the apparent value of the statement more accurately: “This is important as it is a report of the words of a non-Mormon neighbour of the Smith family who witnessed the reaction of one of the persecutors of the young Prophet after his first vision, showing that Joseph Smith was indeed the recipient of some form of persecutions as a result of his claims of heavenly visions.”[8] Indeed, this is apparently still the only document yet discovered (more than fifty years after Madsen’s comment) that reports a specific non-Mormon individual saying that he or she had heard about the First Vision soon after it happened.

Given the apparent importance of the story, one would think that LDS apologists who appeal to it in defense of the First Vision would provide as much detail as possible about Mrs. Palmer and her account. What we are usually told, however, is only that the account came from someone named Mrs. Palmer as recorded by someone named Martha Cox. When additional information is provided, sometimes it is simply erroneous. The LDS apologetics website FairMormon, for example, claims that the account reported what “Martha Cox’s father said” about Joseph Smith, and it describes Martha Cox as “a contemporary” (seemingly of Joseph Smith, although the FairMormon article does not say).[9] BYU scholar Richard Neitzel Holzapfel states that Mrs. Palmer’s remembrance is “one of the earliest word pictures of Joseph Smith by someone outside the family.”[10]

Not one of the many secondary sources that I have found that appeal to the story in defense of Joseph or his first vision give any indication as to when it was written. Boylan, FairMormon, and even BYU professors Holzapfel and Daniel C. Peterson refer to the Mrs. Palmer story without giving any indication of its date.[11] An early reference to the story by James Allen in a 1970 Improvement Era article gives somewhat more information, referring to Mrs. Palmer as “an elderly woman” when she made her statement, but also giving no date (possibly because at the time its date had not been determined).[12] Matthew Brown, in his book on the First Vision, dated Mrs. Palmer’s reference “between April 1820 and September 1823,” meaning of course when she would have heard it originally, without giving any indication as to its actual written source, merely citing Mark McConkie’s compilation.[13]

When Madsen first mentioned the story in 1969, he acknowledged some difficulties in placing any weight on it:

The document has raised many questions and brought to the surface many differing philosophies of history when shown to professionals. In general they agree that we do not know enough about it to rely on its complete authenticity. We can summarize our knowledge of it by saying this is a late recollection of a Mrs. Palmer and that it is apparently not in her words but someone else’s (unknown) who recorded it.[14]

Madsen apparently overcame these qualms later, though without providing any new or additional information to warrant regarding the account as reliable. Indeed, Madsen seems to have been confused as to the origin of the account. In a BYU devotional lecture in 1978, Madsen appealed to the story without any caveats at all. In the lecture, which can be heard on YouTube, Madsen erroneously claimed that the account was given in “a document from a woman who herself was a Presbyterian.”[15] This statement was corrected in the printed version of the lecture as follows:

But a document exists that contains reported recollections about Joseph Smith as recorded by Martha Cox. One of these comes from a woman, identified as Mrs. Palmer, who knew him in his early life when she was a child.

Madsen cited from this “document” reports both of Joseph’s industrious work ethic and of the opposition he received from a “churchman” due to Joseph’s “first vision.” Once again, he gave no information as to the identity of Mrs. Palmer or the date when the account was received or written.[16] Madsen published this lecture in 1989 in a book on Joseph Smith.[17]

One of the very few cautionary remarks about the story comes at the end of a book notice of the Mark McConkie 2003 compilation that includes the story. The author of the notice comments about Mrs. Palmer that “she has no known birth date or death date and the only information about her is that she lived in the Palmyra area and possibly Monroe in Sevier County.”[18] That is more information than is given in all of the Mormon apologists’ sources I have cited combined.

Looking for Mrs. Palmer

The source of the account is a typescript entitled “Stories from Notebook of MARTHA COX, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson” (Church History Library, call no. MS 658). Fern Cox Anderson (1903-1990) was a Mormon schoolteacher in the Salt Lake City School District.[19] Her father, Edward Isaiah Cox (1874-1940), was a lifelong Mormon who resided most of his life either in Bunkerville, Nevada, or in Salt Lake City.[20] His mother, Martha James Cragun Cox (1852-1932), was the author of the notebook in question. Martha was also a lifelong Mormon, having been born just outside Salt Lake City in 1852 and married Isaiah Cox, a polygamous Mormon who already had two wives, in St. George, Utah, in 1869. After retiring from teaching in 1920, she devoted her time to temple work in St. George and elsewhere in Utah.[21]

The document is not dated. According to LDS historian Lavina Fielding Anderson, a typescript of Martha’s undated autobiography, “Biographical Record of Martha Cox,” was produced in 1979 based on the handwritten manuscript.[22] However, the correct date seems to be 1970, as is stated in the Church History Catalog online.[23] The handwritten manuscript is dated 1928-1930 by Catherine A. Brekus in an article published in 2011 in the Journal of Mormon History,[24] while the LDS Church History Library gives 1928 as the date it was written. According to Dan Vogel, Martha Cox made a notation in her “Biographical Record” dated September 18, 1929, stating that the “Stories” document was a group of “little stories of the prophet” that she had copied into a memo book and given to the daughter of President Joseph F. Smith.[25]

According to these historians, then, Martha Cox’s account was first written in 1928, then copied in the “Stories” document by hand in 1929. From Madsen’s comment in 1969 cited earlier, evidently the document was discovered in the 1960s by one of the LDS scholars combing through records looking for information validating the First Vision story. Eventually “Stories” was copied in a typescript in 1970, the year after Madsen first announced its discovery and the same year that James Allen quoted from it in his Improvement Era article. It may well be that it was Allen who discovered the handwritten manuscript in the late 1960s and asked to have the typescript prepared. Perhaps Fern Cox Anderson, whose name is given in the typescript of the “Stories” document, was the one who produced the typed copy.

Already, we have some serious reasons to be concerned. Evidently, this story was not written down until 1928, more than a century after Mrs. Palmer supposedly heard her father and the minister talking about the First Vision. Moreover, the story comes to us from a lifelong member of the LDS Church as part of a group of faith-promoting stories about Joseph Smith. Perhaps we should not be surprised that this information is not disclosed by any of the Mormon apologists who cite the story in support of the First Vision.

While the identity of Martha Cox is easily known, the same cannot be said for Mrs. Palmer.[26] “Stories” introduces her as “Mrs. Palmer, a lady advanced in years,” who had moved to Utah with her daughter. It states that the daughter taught at Presbyterian schools in Monroe, Utah, where she died and was buried.

The daughter of “Mrs. Palmer” is very likely the “Miss Palmer” mentioned in an article in the Salt Lake City-based Christian periodical The Church Review entitled “Monroe Presbyterian Mission Sunday-School,” which states that “Miss Palmer and Miss McPheeters” ran the Sunday school in Monroe in the 1880s and that in 1891 Miss Palmer died.[27] Her full name is given as “Miss Anna M. Palmer” in one Presbyterian Church publication[28] but as “Miss Anna B. Palmer” in another such publication (along with that of “Miss Kate McPheeters”).[29] Other publications confirm the name Anna B. Palmer and give the precise date of her death as January 22, 1891.[30]

Still more precise information appears in a Park College catalogue. Park College, located in Parkville, Missouri (just outside Kansas City), was at the time a Presbyterian college; in the twentieth century it became religiously unaffiliated and is now called Park University. The catalogue states that Anna B. Palmer graduated from the school in 1882 and taught music there until 1887. She then moved to Monroe, Utah, under the auspices of the (Presbyterian) Home Board until her passing on January 22, 1891. This information places her in Monroe only from 1887 until her death in 1891, which would mean that her mother, “Mrs. Palmer,” had moved to Monroe during that four-year period.[31]

Identifying the daughter’s mother “Mrs. Palmer” turns out to be much more difficult. We have no information about her first name, maiden name, or date of birth or death. The several sources cited here referring to Anna B. Palmer do not give any family information. The only information we have other than Anna’s identity is that Mrs. Palmer’s father owned a farm near the Smith farm in the 1820s.

There was a George Palmer[32] who was born in Rhode Island in 1792 and moved to Palmyra and who married Harriet Foster of Palmyra on March 24, 1817. We do not have any information about George Palmer owning a farm. However, he was a tanner in partnership with Henry Jessup, his neighbor in Palmyra, from 1814 to 1828. Jessup’s name does come up in connection with the Smith family. He was the “Deacon Jessup” at Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra whom Joseph Smith harshly criticized as a hypocrite, according to his mother Lucy Mack Smith’s memoirs.[33] In 1830, two years after George Palmer had moved out of the area, Jessup was part of a committee from the church sent to investigate the inactivity there of Lucy and her two children who had joined the church years earlier.[34] Palmer moved to Buffalo, New York, in 1828 and died in September 1864.[35] He donated generously to a Central Presbyterian Church (apparently in Buffalo), which is consistent with the family’s Presbyterianism.[36] George’s wife Harriet cannot be our “Mrs. Palmer” because Harriet also died in Buffalo, in 1874,[37] and because according to the typescript Mrs. Palmer was a child when she knew Joseph in the 1820s. Nor can “Mrs. Palmer” be one of their daughters, since of course Palmer was her married name.

One might wonder, then, if “Mrs. Palmer” had been a child who married one of George and Harriet Palmer’s sons. Their “eldest child” was a daughter, also called Harriet, who was born in 1818, whose married name was Putnam, and who died in 1853.[38] This means that any sons would have been younger than ten years old when the family moved to Buffalo in 1828. This fact makes it extremely unlikely that any of George’s sons married the woman called Mrs. Palmer. We know, in fact, that this was not the case. George did have three sons: Harlow, who “died of the cholera in 1852, leaving one child,” and George and Oscar, both of whom “died in 1846, unmarried.”[39] Another source identifies Harlow’s wife as Emily and states that she died in 1852 or 1853 (one presumes also due to cholera). Emily’s family, the Bancrofts, evidently never lived in the Palmyra area.[40] This means, despite the tantalizing connection of George Palmer to Henry Jessup in Palmyra, that “Mrs. Palmer” cannot have been related to his family. At present, I do not have access to documentation to identify the Mrs. Palmer mentioned by Martha Cox.[41]

Who Told Martha Cox the Mrs. Palmer Story, and When?

The typescript of the “Stories” says nothing about when, where, or from whom Martha heard Mrs. Palmer’s story. It would be a mistake to assume or infer that Martha heard it directly from Mrs. Palmer. Indeed, the evidence rather strongly suggests otherwise. Martha lived in St. George, in the southwest corner of Utah over 150 miles from Monroe where Mrs. Palmer reportedly lived, until about 1881. Martha then spent most of the next three decades living in Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico.[42] During this time when Martha did not live in Utah, Anna B. Palmer (and her mother, assuming the story is accurate) arrived in Utah in 1887 and lived in Monroe, where Anna died in 1891. By the time Martha had returned to Utah in 1911, Mrs. Palmer would certainly have been deceased. The chronology, then, proves that Martha almost certainly did not hear the story directly from Mrs. Palmer (or from her daughter Anna).

This conclusion is confirmed by the glaring vagueness of Martha’s reference to the lady as simply “Mrs. Palmer,” with no first name or initial. In her biographical record, Martha named some of the individuals from whom her stories about Joseph Smith reportedly derived: “Jesse W. Crosby, Allen J. Stout, Joseph I Earl, Aunt Esther Pulsipher, Margaret Burgess, Mrs. Palmer, a Presbyterian lady whose family lived near the Smiths’ in New York.”[43] In this list of six names, Mrs. Palmer is the only one for whom Martha did not provide a first name.

Almost all of Martha’s other stories contain indications as to the circumstances of their origin. In the midst of recounting stories from Jesse W. Crosby, Martha says, “Bro. Crosby told us,” making explicit that he gave this particular story in her hearing.[44] Another story is credited to “an old man named Mc or Mack,” dated “about the year 1884,” and said to have been told at dinner in “the Muddy Valley,” a location in Nevada where Martha lived at that time.[45] Her next story is attributed to “an old man by the name of Jack Reed” living in 1881 in St. Thomas (at the time a town in the Muddy Valley). The rest of Martha’s account about Reed makes it clear she was getting it secondhand at best, since she mentions different men who visited Reed and reported back what he had said. The next story begins, “In 1892 George Hawley of the Reorganized Church came out to Bunkerville, Nevada,” where Martha had lived, along with his lawyer, to enter into a legal dispute with LDS Church leaders in the area. It is clear from the account that Martha was not present during the late-night argument she reports them having.[46]

Martha’s next story is about a conversation between Joseph Smith and “a brother named Cutler” in Montrose (in Iowa, directly across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo) shortly before Joseph was killed. This story probably refers to Alphaeus Cutler, who was a close associate of Joseph in Nauvoo and who later in 1853 founded the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite). Martha comments parenthetically at the end of this story, “A young girl named Henrietta Janes of Montrose sat near enough in that meeting to hear every word of the above conversation and has told it to us.”[47] Henrietta was Martha’s “sister wife,” the first wife of her husband Isaiah Cox.[48]

The next story is about Sylvester H. Earl receiving a blessing from Joseph Smith in Jacksonville, Missouri. Martha also makes explicit her source here: she says it was Sylvester’s son Joseph I. Earl.[49] Her next story, she says, was related by “Aunt” Esther Pulsipher, indicating that Martha heard it directly from Esther. The story is about Indians visiting Joseph in Nauvoo when she was about nine years old. The account leaves it unclear as to whether Esther witnessed this visit herself. Martha then narrates two stories she says came from Allen J. Stout (a fairly well-known figure in Mormonism), but she gives no information as to when or where he told the stories. The language Martha uses (“The question…was asked of Allen J. S[t]out”) suggests she did not hear it directly from him. Finally, Martha recounts two stories from Mrs. Margaret Burgess, daughter of William McIntyre, about her recollections of Joseph in Nauvoo when she was a child there.[50] This person was Margaret Jane McIntire Burgess (1837-1919), who was seven years old when Joseph died. She married Melanchthon Burgess in 1855 and they settled in St. George in 1861, where Martha Cox may well have met her and heard her tell her story personally.[51]

Two lines of evidence, then, lead us to conclude with an extremely high degree of confidence that Martha Cox did not hear the story about Mrs. Palmer from Mrs. Palmer herself: (1) Martha did not live in Utah during the period when Mrs. Palmer would have lived there, and (2) the Mrs. Palmer story is the only one for which Martha does not give any information to explain how she heard the story.

When did this story start being told in Utah? It could not have been told any earlier than 1887, the year that Anna B. Palmer and her mother arrived in Utah. According to Martha’s story, Mrs. Palmer was about six years old when she first met Joseph Smith in Palmyra, apparently sometime before the First Vision. This would imply that she was born sometime around 1812 or so and would make her roughly 75 years of age in 1887. If it was Mrs. Palmer’s daughter Anna who told the story, she would have done so before her death in 1891. This possibility seems rather likely since it would explain why Martha’s story mentions the daughter. Yet Martha would not have heard it from Anna directly, as we have already explained. If Mrs. Palmer herself told people in Utah the story, it seems reasonable to guess that she would have done so before 1900, when she would have been in her late 80s. Thus, we can conclude that the story must have been told between 1887 and 1900, and more likely sometime closer to 1890. This indicates an approximate gap of seventy years or so between the First Vision and when Anna or Mrs. Palmer started telling people in Utah about Mrs. Palmer’s recollections of Joseph Smith. It also indicates an approximate gap of roughly twenty years between the story first being told in Utah and when Martha Cox heard it, which probably was not until after 1911 when she moved back to Utah, and a gap of roughly forty years between Anna or Mrs. Palmer telling the story in Utah and Martha writing it down in 1928 or so.

Let us now reconstruct the chain of transmission for this story as best we can, acknowledging that we do not have precise information in this regard. The story begins with a girl of about seven years of age who reportedly heard her father and a minister talking about Joseph’s first vision (ca. 1820, assuming the standard date for the First Vision). Roughly seventy years later, this girl, Mrs. Palmer, now over 75 years old, or her daughter Anna, tells one or more unknown persons in Utah about what she heard. Then, roughly forty years later, another woman, Martha Cox, herself now just over 75 years old, writes down this story, based on what she had heard from one or more unknown persons (probably not the same persons who had heard it from Mrs. Palmer or Anna) within the previous twenty years or so. The chain of transmission thus looks like this (assuming Mrs. Palmer actually heard her father talk about the First Vision):

Mrs. Palmer’s father (ca. 1820) > Mrs. Palmer > Anna B. Palmer (ca. 1890) > unknown > unknown > Martha Cox (1928) > “Stories” excerpts by Martha Cox (1929) > typescript (1970)

There are obviously manifold opportunities for misunderstanding, confusion, and reinterpretation in these four or five (or more) generations of telling the story through a period of well over a century (assuming the typescript is reasonably accurate). The naïve assumption that is at least implicit in Mormon apologetic use of this story is that Martha Cox heard the story directly from Mrs. Palmer and then wrote it down as she had told it. That assumption does not fit the facts. In particular, the fact that the story would have passed through an unknown number of unknown oral recitations by Mormons even prior to Martha Cox hearing it and later writing it down should give any serious researcher pause. One must take seriously the possibility that the story became altered in some way before taking its current form.

What Is the “First Vision” in the Mrs. Palmer Story?

We have assumed up to now, as all Mormons apparently do, that the “first vision” mentioned in Martha Cox’s account of Mrs. Palmer’s story is the First Vision, the appearance of deity to Joseph Smith in 1820. However, Dan Vogel has proposed a different interpretation. Pointing out that “Palmer’s account is thirdhand and filtered through a traditional Mormon mind,” Vogel suggests that the “first vision” from Mrs. Palmer’s perspective was more likely to have been the first appearance of the angel in 1823 and that the second vision was the angel’s releasing the gold plates to Joseph in 1827.[52]

Vogel’s suggestion has some merit. Cox does say that Joseph’s troubles began when he “had a second vision and began to write a book.” This wording seems to make the connection between the second vision and the Book of Mormon almost immediate, which does not fit easily the nearly five-year gap between 1823 and Joseph’s first attempts to dictate the book in 1828. It also fits the known facts somewhat better, since Joseph did receive quite a bit of attention beginning around the end of 1827 and early in 1828 in regard to the gold plates.

Of course, as Vogel agrees, for Martha Cox the expression “first vision” could only refer to the appearance of the Father and the Son in 1820. This is the story as Martha wrote it, and it is the only version of the Mrs. Palmer story that we have. While the evidence might not be strong enough to validate Vogel’s suggestion, the lack of specifics in the account and the fact of multiple stages of transmission mean that we cannot rule it out, either.

Assessing Martha Cox’s Stories

One thing that no Mormon apologist seems to have done is to review the other stories that Martha Cox told about Joseph Smith to see how credible her stories tended to be. As one might expect, all of the stories are “faith-promoting” in the extreme. In one story, a Mormon neighbor of Joseph in Nauvoo recalled that Joseph had the best hay and the best orchard. “If an inferior cow was by any means shoved on to him it would be but a short time before she became a first class milker.” Joseph could build fence twice as fast as most men, and yet he was orderly and cleaned up after himself.[53]

In another story, entitled “Retribution,” an old man named Jack Reed living in Nevada boasted at a meeting of people seeking to drive Mormons out of the valley that he had been “a member of the mob at Carthage Jail and helped to kill the Prophet. He went home from that meeting a very sick man.” The story goes on to say that Reed died of the “Mormon Curse” that had also befallen other members of the Carthage mob. The curse took the form of a disease in which worms ate away at the men’s bodies. The flesh fell off Reed’s body bit by bit, yet it left him the power of speech until the very end so he could keep telling people about the Mormon Curse.[54]

Apparently there are some even more fantastic stories in Martha Cox’s full autobiographical notebook. Lavina Fielding Anderson, in her biographical study of Cox, admits that some of these will strike even Mormons today as lacking in credibility:

She sometimes records tales that we would question today—Jacob Hamblin, for instance, saying that Joseph Smith taught him the earth was convex at the north pole to receive a new planet, the impact of which will cause the mountains to melt, the seas to change positions, and the earth to reel to and fro, obviously prophecies of the last days.[55]

Anderson comments regarding Martha Cox’s writing that “her autobiography becomes a valuable index to the ordinary member’s understanding of the gospel during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”[56] This assessment seems eminently fair-minded. While there may be some truth to some of Martha’s stories about Joseph, it is difficult to assess their historical accuracy. This problem applies especially to the story about the Mrs. Palmer, about whom we know so little and whose story passed through multiple stages of transmission before getting into Martha’s notebook. Madsen’s original assessment that the account has not come down to us in Mrs. Palmer’s own words and that we cannot “rely on its complete authenticity” was right. The bottom line is that the Mrs. Palmer story does not constitute reliable evidence that anyone in the 1820s knew about the First Vision or about Joseph being persecuted during that period of time due to his telling others about it.


[1] For the texts of these accounts, see “First Vision Accounts: Primary Sources for Joseph Smith’s Foundational Vision,” Faith Thinkers, 2020.

[2]Stories from Notebook of Martha Cox, Grandmother of Fern Cox Anderson,” p. 1, Church History Catalog, MS 658. The text also appears in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2003), 3:265–67. It has been reproduced here directly from the online archive.

[3] Martha Cox might have meant either “contend,” as Vogel suggests, or “comment.”

[4] Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts from over 100 People Who Knew the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974; Covenant Communications, 2002), 1–2.

[5] Mark L. McConkie, comp., Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2003), 28.

[6] On this massive project, see Robert M. Bowman Jr., Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism (Tampa, FL: DeWard, 2020), 235–36, and the sources cited there.

[7] Truman G. Madsen, “Guest Editor’s Prologue,” BYU Studies 9.3 (1969): 235 (235–40).

[8] Robert Boylan, “The Recollection of a Non-LDS Neighbour of the Smith Family Affirming Joseph Smith was Persecuted After the First Vision,” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), Nov. 21, 2019.

[9]Question: Was ‘money digging’ Joseph Smith, Jr’s primary source of income during his early years?” FairMormon, n.d.

[10] Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “The Early Years, 18​05–19,” in Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 1–22.

[11] Boylan, “Recollection”; FairMormon, “Question”; Holzapfel, “The Early Years, 18​05–19”; Daniel C. Peterson, “The Sibling Scandals of the Resurrection,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 11 (2014): xxvii–xxviii; Daniel C. Peterson, “What Joseph Smith’s Neighbors Thought of Him, Even When They Disagreed with His Religion,” LDS Living, Nov. 9, 2019. See also “Character: Was Joseph Smith weak in character while gifted in revelation? How did he ‘influence’ people?” Joseph Smith Foundation, March 4, 2013. The story is also cited to document that Joseph worked hard, sometimes without citing it in reference to the First Vision, e.g., “Chapter 1, Joseph Smith,” in Presidents of the Church, Teacher Manual, Religion 345 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2005), 5.

[12] James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision—What Do We Learn from Them?” Improvement Era 73.4 (April 1970): 11 (4–13).

[13] Matthew B. Brown, A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2009), 195, 208 n. 4. Brown’s 2004 FairMormon Conference presentation had given a reference to Martha Cox’s autobiography but without any date or explanation: “Historical or Hysterical: Anti-Mormons and Documentary Sources,” 2004 FairMormon Conference.

[14] Madsen, “Guest Editor’s Prologue,” 235.

[15] Truman G. Madsen, “Joseph Smith Lecture 1: The First Vision and Its Aftermath,” YouTube, posted Aug. 17, 2018. As of April 2020, this video (which has only the audio with a photo of Madsen) had well over 100,000 views.

[16] Truman G. Madsen, “Joseph Smith Lecture 1: The First Vision and Its Aftermath,” BYU devotional, Aug. 22, 1978.

[17] Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), chapter 1.

[18] Book notice of Mark L. McConkie, comp., Remembering Joseph, in Journal of Mormon History 33.2 (2007): 266 (264–66).

[19] “Death: Fern Cox Anderson,” Deseret News, Aug. 1, 1990.

[20] “Edward Isaiah Cox,” Salt Lake Telegram, Oct. 5, 1940; Missionary Database,

[21] On Martha Cox, see Lavina Fielding Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady: Martha Cragun Cox,” in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons, edited by Donald Q. Cannon and David J. Whittaker (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1985), 101–32.

[22] Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady,” 131.

[23]Biographical record of Martha Cox,” Church History Catalog, which states, “Apparently issued in its present form by relatives in 1970.”

[24] Catherine A. Brekus, “Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency,” Journal of Mormon History 37/2 (Spring 2011): 62 n. 8 (59–87). Brekus is a religious historian at the University of Chicago specializing in the study of women in American religion.

[25] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 3:265.

[26] As late as 1990, by which time the United States had a far more heterogenous population than in the nineteenth century, the name Palmer was the 151st most common last name in America; for a list, see

[27] Catherine R. Watt, “Monroe Presbyterian Mission Sunday-School,” The Church Review (Salt Lake City) 4/1 (Dec. 29, 1895): 43.

[28] Sara I. McNeice, “Two Decades in Utah,” Home Mission Monthly 14/7 (May 1900): 153. The title page of the volume states that it was published by the Woman’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, New York.

[29] Notices of Palmer’s death appears in The Twenty-First Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, May 21, 1891 (New York: Presbyterian House, 1891), 24, 157; see also 147 for both Palmer and McPheeters. The notice describes Miss Palmer as “a most consecrated and successful teacher” (24).

[30] “Obituary record of the Alumni,” in Catalogue of Park College 1906-1907 (Parkville, MO: Park College Press, 1907), 109; see also “To the Auxiliaries,” Woman’s Work for Woman 6.3 (March 1891): 85, published by the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Societies of the Presbyterian Church.

[31] Catalogue of Park College, Parkville, Missouri (Cedar Rapids, IA: Superior Press, 1910), 79, 94.

[32] See “George Palmer,”

[33] See Early Mormon Documents, ed. Vogel, 1:307–308.

[34] Vogel, in Early Mormon Documents, 1:308 n. 106.

[35] Josephus Nelson Larned, A History of Buffalo: Delineating the Evolution of the City, Volume 1 (New York: Progress of the Empire State Company, 1911), 262–64.

[36] Memorial and Family History of Erie County, New York, Volume II: Biographical and Genealogical (New York and Buffalo: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1906-1908), 360; Memorial of George Palmer (Buffalo: Courier Printing House, 1864), 40-41.

[37]Harriet Foster Palmer,”

[38]Harriet Foster Palmer Putnam,”

[39] Memorial of George Palmer, 41.

[40] Fanny Cooley Williams Barbour, Spelman Genealogy: The English Ancestry and American Descendants of Richard Spelman of Middletown, Connecticut, 1700 (New York: Frank Allaben Genealogical Co., 1910), 249–50.

[41] A search of volume 1 of the book Palmer Families in America, comp. Horace Wilbur Palmer, ed. Nellie Morse Palmer (Neshanic, NJ: Neshanic Printing, 1966), failed to turn up any candidates. Volumes 2 and 3 are not at present accessible to me. One presumes that George Palmer of Palmyra and Buffalo is likely listed in one of those volumes.

[42] Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady.”

[43] Quoted in Early Mormon Documents, ed. Vogel, 3:265.

[44] “Stories,” p. 2.

[45] “Stories,” p. 3.

[46] “Stories,” pp. 3-4.

[47] “Stories,” p. 4.

[48] Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady.”

[49] “Stories,” p. 4.

[50] “Stories,” p. 5.

[51] “Mrs. Margaret Burgess Dixie Pioneer Passes,” Washington County News, Dec. 25, 1919, 1, image at

[52] Vogel, in Early Mormon Documents, 3:266–67 nn. 1–2.

[53] “Stories,” p. 1.

[54] “Stories,” p. 3.

[55] Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady,” 104, citing Cox, Autobiography, 100.

[56] Anderson, “A ‘Salt of the Earth’ Lady,” 104.