Elden J. Watson
© copyright 1999 Elden J. Watson

In his monumental Comprehensive History of the Church, B. H. Roberts included the following statements relative to the background of Joseph Smith's first vision (1820), documenting as his source, an 1893 interview of the Prophet's brother, William Smith:

Meantime the revival was nearing its close. These questions were evidently pressing. Ministers began to present their respective claims to the converts that had been made by their united efforts. The local agitation before the revival was organized was doubtless begun by the Methodists. The Reverend Mr. Stockton, however, insisted that the work done was largely Presbyterian work as he had been a dominating influence in the movement, and presided at the meetings. The Reverend Mr. Lane of the Methodist church preached a sermon on the subject, "What church shall I join?" He quoted the golden text of James --

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and up-braideth not, and it shall be given him."

The text made a deep impression on the mind of the Prophet. He read it on returning home, and pondered it deeply. Here was a message from the word of God. A message to all men; but to him especially, since he had been made to feel that of all men he lacked wisdom, in respect of a matter to him vital.[1]

Accepting the 1893 William Smith statement places Reverend Benjamin B. Stockton and Reverend George Lane in the milieu of the first vision (spring, 1820), instead in the time frame of the visitation of the angel Moroni (fall, 1823) where they actually belong. This did not present any serious difficulty until 1967, when it became a pivotal point in a publication by Rev. Wesley P. Walters, designed to discredit the actuality of the first vision.[2] Rev. Walters essentially argued that William Smith's statements were accurate because they were supported by Oliver Cowdery's 1834 account [3] (that Rev. Walters was wrong in this assessment will be shown below), and they were quoted by prominent LDS historians.[4] He then went on to claim that they fit an 1824-1825 time frame instead of the 1819-1820 time frame in which they are presented. He therefore concluded that the account of the first vision must be inaccurate, and that this "will force upon Mormon writers a drastic re-evaluation of the foundation of their church."[5] Rev. Walters publication sent Mormon historians researching for evidence that William Smith's statements (which they also assumed to be reasonably accurate) fit adequately into the 1819-1820 time frame, and hence were no indictment of the first vision.[6] A good background and review of the attendant controversy can be found in Marvin Hill, "The First Vision Controversy: A Critique and Reconciliation," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 15, No 2 (Summer 1982). It is time to re-evaluate our position--William Smith was simply wrong.

There are four separate accounts relating to Joseph Smith's first vision which came to us through William Smith. These four accounts will be sequentially discussed and compared with other, more widely recognized accounts.[7] Because of the nature of the William Smith narratives, it will also be necessary to include portions of Joseph Smith's 1823 vision of the angel Moroni. Only those segments of the William Smith accounts which are pertinent to the first vision and the initial visitations of Moroni will be quoted here. William Smith was five years younger than Joseph, which made him nine at the time of Joseph's first vision and twelve at the time of the visitation of the angel Moroni.[8]

The first William Smith account is from the report of a personal interview by Rev. James Murdock. It was first published in the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, Peoria, Illinois, on September 3, 1841. This report, published in a small Illinois newspaper may have been the impetus which led John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat to enquire of Joseph Smith about the origin and history of the church which he directed. William's account appeared just five months prior to the March 1842 publication in the Times and Seasons of Joseph Smith's Wentworth Letter, which contained the first official published account of the first vision by Joseph Smith.[9] At the time of this interview, William was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In this 1841 account, William is depicted by the reporter, James Murdock, as having explained that:

Joseph Smith, now 35 years of age, is the eldest of five brothers, all born at Norwich, in the state of Vermont. The family originated in the south part of New-England, but my informant could not tell precisely where. In the year 1816 or 1817, the whole family removed to the state of New-York, and lived sometimes in Palmyra, and sometimes in the adjacent town of Manchester. They were in rather low circumstances, and followed farming.[10]

The first portion of this statement must have been mis-reported by Rev. Murdock from confused or incomplete notes, because it is inconceivable that William would not have known that Joseph was the third of six brothers (of whom William was the fifth), or that he had three sisters.[11]

Curiously, after this brief introduction, the narrative begins in 1823 instead of in 1820:

About the year 1823, there was a revival of religion in that region, and Joseph was one of several hopeful converts. The others were joining, some one church, and some another, in that vicinity, but Joseph hesitated between the different denominations. While his mind was perplexed with this subject he prayed for divine direction, and afterwards was awaked one night by an extraordinary vision. The glory of the Lord filled the chamber with a dazzling light, and a glorious angel appeared to him and told him that he was a chosen vessel of the Lord to make known true religion. The next day he went into the field, but he was unable to work, his mind being oppressed by the remembrance of the vision. He returned to the house, and soon after sent for his father and brothers from the field; and then, in the presence of the family--my informant one of them--he related all that had occurred. They were astounded, but not altogether incredulous.[12]

Anyone acquainted with Joseph Smith's history will immediately recognize this as describing the visitation by the angel Moroni, not his first vision. However, the present discussion will benefit from an examination of this account, and from making a few brief comparisons with accounts of Joseph Smith's first vision. Specifically, events are here described as taking place in 1823, not in 1820.[13] Also, the vision here described occurred at night and the glory of the Lord "filled the chamber", whereas the first vision occurred in a grove, out of doors, and in the morning. The account of Joseph working in the field, returning to the house, sending for his father and brothers, and relating to the family what had happened--all of these are at home in the account of the 1823 visitation of the angel Moroni, but conspicuously out of place in an account of the 1820 first vision. One is left to wonder why the more significant first vision is passed over without a word, deferring to the account of the angel Moroni's visitation. It is tempting to again assume that the omission originated through misunderstandings by Rev. Murdock. However, since Rev. Murdock knew almost nothing about Mormonism, he could only report information which he received from William Smith. The description here depicts a real event, just that it is the later of Joseph Smith's two early visions. Since there is no mention of any events relating to Joseph's first vision in this account, we ascribe the difficulty to William in relating the events, not to Rev. Murdock in reiterating them. The earlier Oliver Cowdery history similarly vaults the first vision account to particularize on the angel Moroni's visit, as will be discussed below.[14]

In his 1838 account, Joseph recalls that after his 1820 vision, he went home, and:

... as I leaned up to the fireplace, Mother enquired what the matter was. I replied, never mind, all is well,--I am well enough off. I then told my Mother I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.--[15]

But there is no indication that Joseph explained to her, or anyone else in his immediate family, what had happened, or how he arrived at his new found knowledge.

The idea that Joseph Smith did not share the experience of his first vision with members of his immediate family, is supported by his personal accounts of his 1823 vision. Joseph states that he did not relate to his family any information about the three repetitions of his nocturnal vision which occurred the night previous, until after the angel appeared to him a fourth time in the fields the next morning and directed him to go and tell his father. Lucy adds the information that Joseph explained to the angel that the reason he had not done so was that he was afraid he would not be believed. If the family had already been familiar with his 1820 experience, it is likely he would have been anxious to share these new experiences with them earlier that morning. Joseph states that when he told his father of his experiences "the old man wept and told me that it was a vision from God, and to attend to it."[16]

A plausible explanation for the omission is suggested as the narrative continues: when Joseph related to his family what had occurred, "They were astounded, but not altogether incredulous." These descriptive words do not fit the context of a family who were familiar with and already believed that three years previously Joseph had experienced an even more glorious vision in which he had both seen and spoken with God and also with Jesus Christ. It would appear from this report that at least William, and in William's perception the rest of the family also, knew nothing about any vision before the narration occasioned by Moroni's visit in September 1823. In other words, in William's mind, the visitation of the angel Moroni was Joseph's first vision.

William's narrative as reported by Rev. Murdock continues:

After this he had other similar visions, in one of which the existence of certain metallic plates was revealed to him, and their location described--about three miles off, in a pasture ground. The next day he went alone to the spot, and by digging discovered the plates in a sort of rude stone box. They were eight or ten inches long, less in width, about the thickness of panes of glass, and together made a pile of about five or six inches high. They were in a good state of preservation, had the appearance of gold, and bore inscriptions in strange characters on both sides.[17]

It would appear from these comments that either William or the narrator did not directly connect the events surrounding the appearance of the angel Moroni, which events he had just described, with the revelation of the location of the plates of the Book of Mormon. This visitation of the angel Moroni was perceived to have been the first of Joseph's visions. There is no indication anywhere in this narrative that Joseph had a prior vision of the Father and the Son. That the apparent confusion is William's becomes more evident as we leave this 1841 narrative and examine the contents of William's 1883 history.

The second of William Smith's four accounts is from a history entitled "William Smith on Mormonism," which was published by the Herald Steam Book and Job Office in Lamoni, Iowa in 1883. Joseph's 1838 account had been published over 40 years previously, and William even alludes to it in this narrative. Since this account was personally written and prepared by William, it is not the result of an inefficient interview or even of faulty dictation or reporting. Of the four accounts, this is the most likely to be presented in proper context and in conformity with William's personal views. It is in conjunction with this second account that it becomes evident that several of the irregularities found in the earlier account originated with William, and not with the reporter. Dr. Richard Lloyd Anderson has pointed out that although William relied upon his own memory for the appearance and message of the angel in this narrative, he appears to have relied heavily upon the published Oliver Cowdery account for the background events.[18]

In this 1883 account, written when he was 71 years old, and 60 years after the event he is remembering, William again begins by placing the events he is depicting in 1823.

In 1822 and 1823, the people in our neighborhood were very much stirred up with regard to religious matters by the preaching of a Mr. Lane, an Elder of the Methodist Church, and celebrated throughout the country as a "great revival preacher."

Then, after a lengthy introduction which is descriptive of the contending factions in the religious revival, he says:

At length he [Joseph Smith] determined to call upon the Lord until he should get a manifestation from him. He accordingly went out into the woods and falling upon his knees called for a long time upon the Lord for wisdom and knowledge. While engaged in prayer a light appeared in the heavens, and descended until it rested upon the trees where he was. It appeared like fire.
But to his great astonishment, did not burn the trees. An angel [19] then appeared to him and conversed with him upon many things. He told him that none of the sects were right; but that if he was faithful in keeping the commandments he should receive, the true way should be made known to him; that his sins were forgiven, etc.[20]

Obviously William now accurately depicts the location of Joseph's first vision as out of doors and in the woods, and most of the details of the general events correctly agree with those described by Joseph Smith. But it is evident that William is still confused as to the time, sequence, and some of the details of Joseph's visions, because he again specifies 1823 as the time in which the above events occurred. Also, William says that Joseph "called for a long time upon the Lord." The length of the prayer is emphasized in Oliver Cowdery's account of the events preceding Joseph's 1823 visitation, but is not found in any of the normative accounts of the first vision. Then, after presenting the above, most of which clearly describes Joseph's first vision, William immediately continues:

The next day I was at work in the field together with Joseph and my eldest brother Alvin. Joseph looked pale and unwell, so that Alvin told him if he was sick he need not work; he then went and sat down by the fence, when the angel again appeared to him, and told him to call his father's house together and communicate to them the visions he had received, which he had not yet told to any one; and promised him that if he would do so, they would believe it.[21]

William then relates further events of September 22, 1823: Joseph's trip to Cumorah and seeing the plates etc. All this, he said, happened on the day following the first manifestation. William is clearly superimposing the events of the first vision with those of the visitation of the angel Moroni. Here, William says that prior to this time Joseph had not told anyone about his visions. Joseph stated otherwise, mentioning that he told a local minister about his first vision and indicating that the minister had perhaps told a few other individuals.[22] It was William's perception, however, that Joseph had not told anyone, not even his immediate family, about his visions prior to this time. The confusion is therefore in William's own comprehension of the events, and may have been occasioned because he never heard about Joseph's (1820) first vision until after learning of Joseph's second vision. William appears to have become confused and never separated these two distinct visitations in his own mind.[23] In this 1883 account, William specifically and sequentially details events from both visions, which were separated by more than three years, and then wrote: "A more elaborate and accurate description of his vision, however, will be found in his own history." The words "his vision" make it clear that he considered the two visions to be a single event. By the above comment William also acknowledges that Joseph's account is more accurate than his own. Remember that this account was personally composed and hand written, as opposed to being recorded by someone taking notes of a verbal discussion. William incorrectly perceived the 1820 first vision and the 1823 visitation of the angel Moroni as a single event, which he believed occurred on September 21, 1823.

The third William Smith account is the report of a discourse which he delivered in a church meeting in Deloit, Iowa on June 8, 1884. This account conforms in most specifics with the earlier and longer 1883 account. During his discourse, William related:

It will be remembered that just before the angel appeared to Joseph, there was an unusual revival in the neighborhood. It spread from town to town, from city to city, from county to county, and from state to state. My mother attended those meetings, and being much concerned about the spiritual welfare of the family, she persuaded them to attend the meetings. Finally my mother, one sister, my brothers Samuel, and Hyrum became Presbyterians. Joseph and myself did not join; I had not sown all my wild oats. At the close of these meetings the different ministers began to beat around to see how many converts they could get to join their respective churches. All said, Come and join us, we are right. Where is the gospel of Christ? Where is the church of Christ? There is a lost gospel. There is a lost church. And here let me say, that it was at the suggestion of the Rev. M_____, that my brother asked of God. He said, "Ask of God." It was the church of Christ he was seeking for, what all should seek. God promised to give knowledge to all who lacked, if they would ask. Accordingly he went and bowed in prayer, he saw a pillar of fire descending. Saw it reach the top of the trees. He was overcome, became unconscious, did not know how long he remained in this condition, but when he came to himself, the great light was about him, and he was told by the personage whom he saw descend with the light, not to join any of the churches. That he should be instrumental in the hands of God in establishing the true church of Christ. That there was a record hidden in the hill Cummorah which contained the fulness of the gospel. You should remember Joseph was but about eighteen years old at this time, too young to be a deceiver.[24]

Here again William is seen to confuse the two visions in precisely the same manner: Joseph bowed in prayer, a pilar of fire descending, was told not to join any of the churches etc. All these are from the 1820 vision, while the idea that there was a record in the hill Cummorah, and that Joseph was eighteen (in the 1883 account William specified that Joseph was seventeen) belong to the 1823 vision.

In this account William apparently speaks of the Rev. M_____, but that is an error, possibly occasioned by something as simple as the words "the Reverend Minister" being misunderstood by the stenographer. In both his 1883 and his 1893 accounts, William identifies Reverend Lane as the Methodist preacher involved with the 1823 revival. This is substantiated by Oliver Cowdery's early (1834) account. In his third letter to W.W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery stated:

You will recollect that I informed you, in my letter published in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J. Smith Jr. one of the presidents of this church, and for information on that part of the subject, I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life.
It is necessary to premise this account by relating the situation of the public mind relative to religion, at this time; One Mr. Lane, a presiding Elder of the Methodist church, visited Palmyra, and vicinity. Elder Lane was a tallented (sic) man possessing a good share of literary endowments, and apparent humility. There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion, and much enquiry for the word of life. Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches.--Mr. Lane's manner of communication was peculiarly calculated to awaken the intellect of the hearer, and arouse the sinner to look about him for safety--much good instruction was always drawn from his discourses on the scriptures, and in common with others, our brother's mind became awakened.[25]

This association of Rev. Lane with a religious revival in the 15th year of Joseph Smith's life might seem to support the idea of Rev. Lane being in the Palmyra area in 1819 or 1820, and leaves one anticipating a discussion of events leading up to Joseph's first vision. As the narrative unfolds in letter IV, however, Oliver states that "15th" was a typographical error--it should have been "17th" and then he explains that the revival spoken of with Rev. Lane was in 1823.[26]

You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our Brother J. Smith Jr's, age--that was an error in the type--it should have been in the 17th.--You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823.[27]

He then proceeds with the story of the visitation of the angel Moroni, and there is no mention of Joseph's first vision at all. This has led some to believe that Joseph felt at this early date that his first vision was considered a more personal experience, and not directly a part of the history of the Church. Dr. Richard L. Anderson has demonstrated that when Oliver wrote his 1834 history, he had in his possession Joseph Smith's 1832 manuscript account of his first vision, but, probably at the request of Joseph Smith, he neglected to print that information. It is clear that some material about Joseph Smith's first vision was disseminated publicly, because as early as 1830 an anti-Mormon article appeared in the Palmyra newspaper stating that Joseph affirmed "that he had seen God frequently and personally."[28] Edward Stevenson wrote that in 1834 he heard Joseph Smith testify "with great power concerning the visit of the Father and the Son, and the conversation he had with them."[29] Orson Pratt must have heard a detailed account of Joseph's first vision before August, 1839, when he left for his mission to England. Similarly, Orson Hyde left for his mission to the Holy Land in April 1840. They each published an account of Joseph Smith's first vision before returning to Nauvoo.[30] Nevertheless, it would appear that details were sparse and hesitatingly shared prior to the 1842 publication of the Wentworth Letter in the Times and Seasons. Regardless of why Oliver Cowdery did not include the first vision information which was available to him in his 1834 history, there is no support for the idea that the Oliver Cowdery account places Reverend Lane in Palmyra prior to 1823.

The 1893 account by William Smith was his fourth and final account. It appears as an interview conducted by E. C. Briggs and recorded by J. W. Peterson. The report of the interview was originally printed in Zion's Ensign and later copied into the Deseret News.[31] It is the best known, and the most frequently quoted of William's four accounts. It is also the fountain from which has sprung much of the difficulty in the controversy over the first vision. This last interview took place at Bradtville, Wisconsin, in November of 1893, less than two weeks before William's death at age 82. Although William only responded to questions and did not relate a narrative of the first vision, it is clear that mentally he still superimposed the events of the 1820 first vision and those of the 1823 appearance of the angel Moroni. The pertinent portion of the interview follows:

"Did you not doubt Joseph's testimony sometimes?" asked Brother Briggs.
"No," was the reply by William Smith. "We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful. No, sir, we never doubted his word for one minute."
"Were your folks religiously inclined before Joseph saw the angel?" asked Brother Briggs.
"Yes, we always had family prayers since I can remember.
"Hyrum, Samuel, Katherine, and Mother were members of the Presbyterian Church. My father would not join. He did not like it because a Rev. Stockton had preached my brother's funeral sermon and intimated very strongly that he had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy, and my father did not like it."
"What caused Joseph to ask for guidance as to what church he ought to join?" asked Brother Briggs.
"Why, there was a joint revival," was the reply, "in the neighborhood between the baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, and they had succeeded in stirring up quite a feeling and after the meeting the question arose which church should have the converts. Rev. Stockton was the president of the meeting and suggested that it was their meeting and under their care, and they had a church there and they ought to join the Presbyterians, but as father did not like Rev. Stockton very well, our folks hesitated and the next evening a Rev. Mr. Lane of the Methodists preached a sermon on `what church shall I join,' and the burden of his discourses was to ask God, using as a text, `If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally.' And of course when Joseph went home and was looking over the text, he was impressed to do just what the preacher had said, and going out in the woods with childlike, simple trusting faith, believing that God meant just what he said, he kneeled down and prayed; and the time having come for the reorganization of His Church, God was pleased to show him that he should join none of these churches, but if faithful he should be chosen to establish the true Church."[32]

William here stated that Hyrum, Samuel, Katherine, and his mother, Lucy, became members of the Presbyterian church, but that his father would not join because of some feelings engendered at Alvin's funeral. Thus, by implication, these family members joined near the time of Alvin's death. Lucy Smith, in her account, indicated that she and several of her family became interested in joining with a church shortly after Alvin's death. This would indicate that they probably joined the Presbyterian church early in 1824.[33] Note that William said that it was "the next evening" when Reverend Lane preached his sermon, after which Joseph went home and looked over the text. This would fit well with the visitation of the angel Moroni, in the chamber in the late evening, but not quite so well with going into the woods the next morning to pray. This is another implication that William mentally confused the two experiences. William also stated that it was Rev. Stockton who had intimated at Alvin's funeral sermon that Alvin had gone to hell. Alvin died November 23, 1823,[34] and although Rev. Stockton's name began appearing in the Wayne Sentinel in December of 1823, he was not installed in his ministry in Palmyra until February 18, 1824.[35] When William stated that Rev. Stockton was the president of the revival meeting, and that Rev. Lane preached a sermon on "what church shall I join," he was almost certainly speaking of a meeting held during the 1823 revival just prior to the visitation of the angel Moroni, not of the 1819-1820 revival prior to Joseph's First Vision. William said that it was Rev. Lane who called Joseph Smith's attention to James 1:4-5 which attracted him into the sacred grove to test its statement that God will give liberally to those who seek in faith. William was probably wrong in that too. In Joseph's accounts, he relates that "I opened the Testament promiscuously on these words in James ...";[36] "I was one day reading the epistle of James ..."[37] and "... opened his Bible & the first Passage that struck him was ..."[38] Joseph nowhere intimates that he was directed toward the verse in James through hearing a sermon. Oliver Cowdery also mentioned Rev. Lane in his account, but as shown above, it was only in the sense of a great and successful revivalist in the Palmyra vicinity in 1823.

On the morning of September 22, 1823, after being so directed by the angel, Joseph Smith called his family together and related to them his vision and experiences of the previous evening with Moroni, an angel sent to him from God. Twelve year old William Smith was there with the rest of his family as Joseph explained the events of Moroni's visit of the evening of September 21, 1823. It appears that prior to this time Joseph had not related to his family his initial visionary experience of some three and one half years earlier in which he saw both God the Father, and Jesus Christ. It would also appear from the published text of an interview by Rev. Murdock that William was unaware of Joseph's first vision as distinct from his visitation by the angel Moroni, as late as 1841. William superimposed in his mind the accounts of these two distinct visitations, and in all of his subsequent life he never adequately distinguished between them. When in his declining years William related accounts of Joseph's first vision, he intertwined in his narrative events from both visions, and depicted them as though they had been a single event. Ascribing undue authority to William Smith's statements in interpreting Joseph Smith's own personal accounts has caused some to find inconsistencies in LDS church history. The most apparent of these is the transporting of Revs. Lane and Stockton into Palmyra in the period of Joseph Smith's 1820 first vision, when in fact they did not arrive upon the scene until the 1823 time frame. Joseph Smith never mentioned either of these two Protestant ministers by name, and William Smith should not have, at least in relation to his brother's first vision.


1. Brigham Henry Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:52-53. The Biblical quote is from James 1:5.

2. Rev. Wesley P. Walters, "New Light on Mormon Origins, From the Palmyra (N.Y.) Revival," Utah Christian Tract Society, 1967, 26 pages. This has also been published in Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society, 10:227-244 (Fall, 1967). Rev. Walters wrote: "Information which we have recently uncovered conclusively proves that the revival did not occur until the fall of 1824 and that no revival occurred between 1819 and 1823 in the Palmyra vicinity. To maintain that Smith's story is true that an 1820 revival occurred is therefore no longer possible." (p 3).

3. Oliver Cowdery's history was originally published as a series of eight letters in the Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate between October 1834 and October 1835. These letters were later reprinted in several church periodicals. For a critical edition, see Dean C. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1989, 1:26-95. The segment relating to Reverend Lane is quoted below.

4. In addition to the B. H. Roberts quote above, Rev. Walters cites John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith, Seeker After Truth, 1952, p 16, 22fn.

5. Walters, p 18.

6. See for example Milton V. Backman, Jr. Joseph Smith's First Vision, Bookcraft, 1971, especially Appendix Q, "A Reply to the Critics," pp 195-206, and Larry C. Porter, "A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816-1831," unpublished doctoral dissertation, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1971, pp 45-63.

7. As widely recognized accounts of the first vision and visitation of the angel Moroni, we include: 1) 1832: The Joseph Smith Letterbook account as published in Jessee 1:3-10. 2) 1835: The Matthias account, as published in Jessee 1:125-128. 3) 1839: The Scriptural account, Joseph Smith History 1: 1-54 (a critical text is published in Jessee 1:267-282). 4) 1840: The Orson Pratt account, "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions," Edinburgh, 1840 as published in Jessee, 1:389-394. 5) 1842a: The Wentworth Letter, as published in Jessee, 1:429-432. 6) 1842b: The Orson Hyde account, as published in Jessee 1:405-421. 7) 1843: The Pittsburgh Gazette Interview, as published in Jessee 1:444. 8) 1844a: The Daniel Rupp account, as published in Jessee, 1:448-450. 9) 1844b: The Alexander Neibauer account, as published in Jessee, 1:459-461. 10) 1850: The John Taylor account, Millennial Star, 12:235-236 (this account is included because John Taylor states, "As near as possible I will give the words as he [Joseph Smith] related them to me.")
For discussions and comparisons of different accounts of the first vision, see: Paul R. Chessman, "An Analysis of the Accounts Relating to Joseph Smith's Early Vision," unpublished master's thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1965; James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith's First Vision in Mormon Thought," Dialogue, 1:40-41 (Autumn 1966); Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision, Second Edition, Bookcraft, 1980; Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Craycroft, "Literary Form and Historical Understanding: Joseph Smith's First Vision," Journal of Mormon History, 7:31-42 (1980); Richard P. Howard, "Joseph Smith's First Vision: An Analysis of Six Contemporary Accounts," Restoration Studies, Herald Publishing House, 1980, 1:95-117.

8. William Smith was born March 13, 1811, and the date of the first vision is only given by Joseph as the Spring of 1820. Orson Pratt indicates that Joseph Smith was fourteen years and four months old at the time of his first vision, (See Journal of Discourses, 12:353) which would place it in late April.

9. See Times and Seasons, 3:706, March 1, 1842. The official account of Joseph Smith's history now contained in the Pearl of Great Price began in the next issue, March 15, 1842 (p 726), with the account of Joseph's first vision appearing in the April 1, 1842 issue (pp 748-749). Orson Pratt published the first printed account of the first vision in Scotland in 1840 in his pamphlet "An interesting account of several remarkable visions, and the late discover of ancient American records."

10. The portions of the 1841 account quoted here are taken from Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, Enlarged Edition, 2:410-413.

11. The children of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith consisted of the following: (For the unnamed son, see Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and The Beginnings of Mormonsim, University of Illinois Press, 1984, p 29 and n 65. For Alvin's birth date, see Porter, p 14, n 12).

unnamed son, approximately 1797 (died at birth)
Alvin, born Feb. 11, 1798 (died Nov 19, 1823)
Hyrum, born Feb. 9, 1800
Sophronia, born May 16, 1803
Joseph, born Dec. 23, 1805
Samuel Harrison, born March 13, 1808
Ephraim, born March 13, 1810 (died March 24, 1810)
William, born July 28, 1814
Catherine, born March 25, 1816
Don Carlos, born March 25, 1816
Lucy, born July 18, 1821.

12. Kirkham, 2:410.

13. It might be argued that "afterwards was awaked one night" could imply a passage of time between the prayer and the vision, but the context will not support a three and one half year interval.

14. A careful comparison shows no dependence of the 1841 William Smith account upon either the 1834 Oliver Cowdery account or the 1840 Orson Pratt account, which were the only two accounts published prior to 1841.

15. Joseph Smith History 1:20.

16. The quote in the text is from the 1835 Matthias account as found in Jessee 1:128. For the other comments see Joseph Smith History 1:48-50, and Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith and his Progenitors. Herald Publishing House, 1969, p 83. It is interesting that in her biography, Lucy does not describe any events surrounding Joseph's first vision, but says: "While these things were going forward Joseph's mind became considerably troubled with regard to religion. The following extract from his history will show, more clearly than I can express, the state of his feelings, and the result of his reflections on this occasion:" (p 77) and then quotes from Joseph's 1838 account. It may be that she had little additional information about the first vision. Lucy's 1845 manuscript makes no mention of the first vision, but describes the visitation by the angel Moroni, and concludes it by saying, "Joseph then promised to do as he was told by the angel and rose up and went to his brother Alvin and requested Alvin to go to the house and ask his Father to come to the field for said he I have something to tell him[.] when his Father went to him Joseph rehersed to him all that he had and seen and heard. When they came into the house in the evening they <Joseph> told made known to the whole family the wonderful things which Joseph had made known to him Joseph told the whole family the wonderful things which had been made known to Joseph When Joseph came in the evening he told all the <whole> family all that he had made known to his father in the field." Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 1:292-293. This was probably the first time the family had heard of Joseph's first vision, and they heard of it in connection with the visitation of the angel Moroni, which may have confused William's young mind regarding the timing and sequence of events.

17. Kirkham, 2:410-411.

18. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences," Brigham Young University Studies, Vol 9, no 3, (Spring 1969), pp 374-376. A microfilm copy of "William Smith on Mormonism," is available in the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The portions quoted here are also available in Kirkham, 1:414-417.

19. The words "an angel" in several of the first vision accounts have caused some concern. That it was a colloquialism then in use is evident from an account of the first vision by John Taylor, where in some introductory comments he states that "... an holy angel appeared unto a young man about fifteen years of age, a farmer's son, named Joseph Smith..." and then in the body of the actual description, states: "... he was surrounded by a brilliant light, and two glorious personages presented themselves before him, who exactly resembled each other in features ..." See Millennial Star, 12:235.29.

20. Kirkham, 2:414-415.

21. Kirkham, 2:415-416.

22. See Joseph Smith History 1:21-22.

23. Others have arrived at the conclusion that William Smith confused the two visions. See Anderson, pp 399-401, and Calvin P. Rudd, "William Smith: Brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith," unpublished masters thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1973, pp 16-17.

24. The Saints' Herald, Vol 31, No 40, p 643, 4 October 1884.

25. Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate, 1:42 (December 1834). See also Jessee 1:45

26. It is interesting to note that when this account was reprinted in the Times and Seasons, while Don Carlos Smith was an editor, the sentence was modified to read "I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the thirteenth year of his life." The spelling of the numeral precludes the possibility that this was a typographical error, and could have been in anticipation of something of import in the 1818-1819 time frame of which Don Carlos was aware, but which never materialized in Oliver Cowdery's account. See Times and Seasons, 2:225.

27. Cowdery to Phelps, "Letter IV," Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate, p 78 (February 1835). See also Jessee 1:48-49.

28. The Reflector, Palmyra, New York, February 14, 1830.

29. Edward Stevenson, "Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon," Published by the Author, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1893, p 4.

30. Although Orson Hyde's account relied heavily upon Orson Pratt's pamphlet, he nevertheless included a number of specific details which do not appear in any other account of Joseph Smith's first vision.

31. Deseret News, 27:11 (January 20, 1894). According to Rev. Walters, no copies of Zion's Ensign have survived. See Walters, p 20, note 8.

32. Kirkham, 1:43-44.

33. See Lucy Mack Smith, p 101. If taken to be strictly sequential, the context of Joseph Smith's 1838 account would indicate that four of his family joined the Presbyterian church prior to his first vision (see Joseph Smith History 1:7). There are, however, several indications that the 1838 account should not be interpreted as historically sequential. For example, in Joseph Smith History 1:3-4 in listing members of the Joseph Smith Sr. family who moved to Palmyra about 1814 and then to Manchester about 1818, Joseph includes his youngest sister Lucy, who was not born until 1821. LDS historians have cautioned against reading too much into the historical sequence of the 1838 account, and have suggested that it represents more of an overall feeling for pre 1838 events than it does a historical sequence. See Backman, pp 196-205, and Anderson, pp 374-376. It is significant that Joseph's 1838 account is the only one of his first vision accounts which mentions revivals.

34. See Russell R. Rich, "Where Were the Moroni Visits?" Brigham Young University Studies, Vol 10, No 3, Spring 1970, pp 255-258.

35. Rev. Benjamin B. Stockton was in Palmyra in October of 1822, but it was only to speak to the youth missionary society, and he was referred to as Rev. Stockton of Skaneateles (See Palmyra Herald, Nov 6, 1822, p 3, col 1). Skaneateles was a small town about 40 miles east of Palmyra. For later references, see Wayne Sentinel, Dec 3, 1823, p 3, col 2; Dec 31, 1823, p 3, col 1; Jan 7, 1824, p 3, col 2; Jan 14, 1824, p 3, col 1; Jan 21, 1824, p 3, col 1; Jan 28, 1824, p 3, col 1. For his installation, see Feb 18, 1824, p3, col 3 and Feb 25, 1824, p 2, col 4.

36. Jessee, 1:444.

37. Joseph Smith History 1:11.

38. Jessee, 1:461.

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