Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties
In the late winter of 1826, according to an early account, Peter Bridgeman, a nephew of the wife of Josiah Stowell, presented a written complaint against Joseph Smith at South Bainbridge, New York, which led to his arrest and trial as a “disorderly person.” Since the time that Fawn Brodie in her biography of Joseph Smith accepted as authentic the account of the trial published in the Schaaf-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1883), it has been a source of sharp conflict among the students of early Mormonism. Perhaps the primary reason for Mormon opposition to the record is the alleged admission it contains made by Joseph Smith that he had been searching for lost treasure by means of a stone.
Recently, Reverend Wesley P. Walters of the United Presbyterian church in Marissa, Illinois, discovered some records in the basement of the sheriff ’s office in Norwich, New York, which he maintains demonstrate the actuality of the 1826 trial and go far to substantiate that Joseph Smith spent part of his early career in southern New York as a money digger and seer of hidden treasures. But, despite any new evidence, many contradictions cannot be dismissed and some additional difficulties now appear. This article thoroughly examines the many claims and sources relating to this topic, and concludes by announcing that the deep sense of religious calling in Joseph's personality can no longer be ignored in any serious study of his character.