The printing of the Book of Mormon would seem like a mundane process, undeserving of special attention; but like many things learned in Sunday School, the true history varies greatly from the official narrative. It is insightful to explore the circumstances and motivations of the Smith family both before and after bringing forth the work.
The Smith family remained perpetually strapped with debt and was avoiding creditors while living off the charity of friends around the time of the printing. Lucy Mack Smith stated that when Joseph brought plates home in Sept 1827 “There was not a shilling in the house.” (History of Joseph Smith p. 104) While there is no shame in being poor, an economic theme runs throughout the translating and printing years.
In the years immediately preceding the publication of the Book, Joseph Smith Sr. had been sued for repayment of debt (Feb 1825) and lost the family land and house for failure to pay the long delinquent mortgage (Dec 20, 1825), while Smith Jr. was arrested for his ongoing money digging enterprise (The Glass Looker Trial, March 20, 1826). During these early years, Joseph’s employ revolved primarily around a tight-knit group of money digging associates. Smith later recounted, “I brought salvation to my father’s house…when they were in a miserable situation.” (History of the Church, 2: 343))
Joseph and Martin Harris first approached E. B. Grandin, the well established printer of the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra, N.Y. He declined the job, counseling his friend not to part with any additional funds, that he was being duped. The pair then approached a number of printers throughout the region, without satisfaction.
“While many printers were content to publish books and then share the proceeds of the expected sales with the author, this arrangement was predicated upon the printer’s belief that the Book of Mormon would sell well enough to recoup the costs of production. Grandin was adamant that the Book would not sell, and refused to consider such an arrangement.” He approached influential mutual friends, attempting to dissuade Harris from pledging his farm on the hopes of book sales. (Joseph Smith’s Negotiations to Publish the Book of Mormon, BYU Religious Studies Center)
Negotiations continued through July and August 1829, yet Grandin did not trust the Smiths to pay him and would not extend credit or begin work without securing collateral. Smith’s ambitions were pinned exclusively on Harris. Grandin’s brother-in-law later recalled, “Harris became for a time in some degree staggered in his confidence; but nothing could be done in the way of printing without his aid.”
Thus, sometime between Aug 11-25, God threatened Harris, via Smith’s D&C 19 revelation, with endless punishment, torment and eternal damnation if he did not encumber his valuable land to cover Smith’s printing needs. Harris was repeatedly chastised to repent, specifically instructed to “Pay the printers debt…release thyself from bondage…impart freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon.” The revelation’s original suggested date does not align with the historical record, so the Church recently corrected the headnote introduction.
D&C 19 also contains a very unique admonition which seldom receives attention. Verse 25 chastises Martin to “not covet thy neighbor’s wife”; it immediately precedes the demand to part with his land. Lucy Harris provided corroboration when she later suggested that her husband may have committed adultery with Mrs. Haggart, their neighbor. (Lucy Harris affidavit, Mormonism Unveiled, Nov. 29, 1833)
The revelation immediately shook him sufficiently to collateralize his farm. Years later, when recounting his history, Smith carefully introduced this revelation as “a commandment of God and not of man, to Martin Harris, given by him who is Eternal.”
Unsuccessful in his efforts to dissuade Harris, Grandin entered into a secured transaction on August 25, 1829 to print 5,000 copies for $3,000. While the agreement stipulated that half the sum was to be paid by Harris, the other half by Joseph and Hyrum, Martin’s farmland provided sole collateral. Full payment was due within 18 months. Lucy Harris also confirmed that the financial obligation was mutually shared. Such a large sum nearly equaled the entire value of Martin’s land, which Grandin was authorized to liquidate in the event of default.
Smith promptly got about soliciting funding and promoting the sale of the book, unsuccessfully attempting to obtain a loan from George Crain. Joseph wrote Oliver Cowdery on Oct 1829 to declare that “Josiah Stowell had a chance to obtain five or six hundred dollars and that he was going to buy copies of the Book of Mormon,” though the money never materialized.
- LDS.org: D&C 19
SELL THE RIGHTS
Joseph and his brothers remained unable to raise funds, so God spoke again through Smith in the winter of 1829, instructing Oliver Cowdrey, Joseph Knight, Hyrum Page and Josiah Stowell to enter into a covenant to sell the Book of Mormon copyright for $8,000 (over $200,000 today). Joseph used his peep stone to vision that they were to travel to Toronto, where they would secure a buyer. (Book of Commandments and Revelations, p. 30-31)
Hiram Page, a direct participant in the event, shared that “Joseph thought this would be a good opportunity to get a hand on a sum of money which was to be (after expenses) for the exclusive benefit of the Smith family and was to be at the disposal of Joseph. (Hiram Page to William McLellin, Feb 2, 1848) Page is also reported to have said that the group traveled to Canada covertly to prevent Martin Harris from sharing in the dividend. Smith evidently believed that Harris was well enough off while his own family was destitute.
David Whitmer recounted, “Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram and Oliver went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father’s house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.” When pressed about the revelation, Joseph replied, “Some revelations are of God, some are of man, and some are of the devil.” (An Address to All Believers in Christ, Whitmer, 1887, p. 30-31)
The original revelation manuscript recently came to light in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. As it mentions the city of Kingston, some LDS apologists attempt to discredit Whitmer’s recollection and interpretation of Smith’s financial motivations. They fail to mention that Oliver Cowdery, himself a participant in the copyright adventure, also corroborated both the city and peep stone method of revelation.
Cowdery stated, “That some among you will remember which sent Bro. Page and me, so unwisely, to Toronto, with a prediction from the Lord by Urim and Thummim (Joseph’s brown peep stone), that we would there find a man anxious to buy the First Elder’s copyright.” (Defense, Oliver Cowdery p. 229)
- Revelation Book 1, Joseph Smith Papers
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
Martin Harris was beginning to recognize that the full $3,000 fee would fall solely upon him if not repaid by early 1831. Harris was understandably reluctant to forfeit the majority of his land and net worth. He learned of Smith’s attempt to sell the copyright without informing him or including him in the expected proceeds. Prodded by his concerned wife, Harris considered breaching his contract to pay for the printing.
In response, Smith promptly traveled from Harmony to Palmyra, placating his patron by entering into a contract on January 16, 1830 affording him equal right to sell books. “I hereby agree that Martin Harris shall have an equal privilege with me and my friends of selling the Book of Mormon of the edition now printing by Egbert B. Grandin until enough of them shall be sold to pay for the printing of the same.”
Smith’s signed contract granting Harris right to sell Book of Mormon, Jan 16, 1830.
Regarding Martin’s role in publishing of the Book of Mormon, his wife Lucy said, “Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge…His whole object was to make money by it. I will have one circumstance in proof of it. One day, while at Peter Harris’ house, I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false; to which he replied, if you would let me alone, I could make money by it.”
“… Mrs. Harris, knowing her husband’s credulity and Smith’s trickery, did all she could to stop the expenditure of money; but Smith not only plied [Martin] Harris with ‘revelations,’ but explained the certainty of making a spec out of the publication of the manuscripts… Joseph had a revelation that the books would sell for $1.25 each, and he went on to assure his victim that there was a chance to clear $3,250. (A Mormon Saint, Death of Martin Harris, The Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept 12, 1875)
Operating with the full assurance of Martin’s land, Grandin promptly undertook the printing preparations. Any early delay would only have been the result of Grandin’s requirement of full payment or collateral, followed by the need for thousands of corrections and edits. Not a single punctuation mark existed in the entire original manuscript, which supports the recently official LDS account of Joseph dictating the story from his hat. The typesetter recounted, “The sentences were all run in without capitals or other marks to designate where one left off and another began…I have frequently to stop and read half a page to find how to punctuate it.”
On March 26, 1830, a notice appeared in the Wayne Sentinel indicating that the Book of Mormon was published and available for sale at $1.75 per volume at the Palmyra Bookstore. Martin Harris was said to have “given up his entire time to advertising the book”, while the price soon reduced to $1.25.
The timing of book sales was critical for the Smith family, as Joseph Sr. was subject to a collection order for $37.50 on May 7. With the family in dire financial straights, facing little hope of resurrecting faltering book sales, Joseph turned his attention to the budding church, which he had founded just a few months prior. Joseph brought forth revelation (D&C 24) in July which enhanced his position during a time of need, chastising members to support him under threat of God’s curse. It clarified that “temporal labor…not (his) calling.”
Joseph’s wife, Emma, remained understandably troubled by her young family’s tenuous circumstances and constant relocation. Smith’s renewed focus on the church enabled him to deliver D&C 25, instructing her not to “fear for livelihood,” as Joseph would support her “from the church.” The LDS Church later altered this revelation to read “in the church” to soften the original economic meaning.
Difficult times extended into winter, prompting Joesph to write a letter of warning to his brother Hyrum, ”beware of the freemasons…who care more for his body than the debt…heard were in Manchester, got a warrant.” (Smith to Colesville Saints, Dec 2, 1830) Fortunately, his other brother, Samuel, returned home having sold sufficient books to free Smith Sr. from prison before moving their poverty stricken parents to New York.
Opportunity presented itself as Sidney Rigdon persuaded Smith to relocate to Ohio, where he led a communitarian of shared common possessions. Smith revealed D&C 37 in January 1831, within mere weeks of meeting Rigdon, commanding followers to relocate to Ohio. Smith’s ensuing speech included assurances of “greater riches…land of promise…shall be endowed with power from on high.” Smith’s prompt affiliation with influential figures and westward movement into frontier territories established a pattern that would be replicated throughout his life.
- LDS.org: A Treasured Testament – Church confirms rock/hat method.
HARRIS LOSES THE FARM
Martin Harris had counted on Joseph’s assurances of book sales to redeem his mortgage, but buyers remained elusive. Joseph encountered a distraught Harris in late March 1830 near Palmyra. Carrying several copies, he protested, “The books will not sell for nobody wants them,” before requesting another revelation.
Unlike Emma Smith, Lucy Harris could not rely upon a church for support. Witnessing the nature of the relationship between Smith and her husband, she wisely demanded that Martin deed her the dower portion of his land, which prevented those 80 acres from being lost to Smith without her consent.
The repayment deadline came and went with Smith still unable to pay any portion of the printing costs, so Martin’s mortgage was foreclosed upon. Martin’s land was ultimately sold to Thomas Lakey on April 1, 1831, never to return to his possession.
Martin’s wife left him soon after this episode and he became estranged from his family. “… The fact that such a man as Martin Harris should mortgage his farm for a large sum, to secure the publisher for printing the book, should abandon the cultivation of one of the best farms in the neighborhood, and change all his habits of life from industry to indolence and general shiftlessness, was truly phenomenal. He, at the same time was the only man among the primitive Mormons who was responsible in a pecuniary sense for a single dollar. Nevertheless, he had become absolutely infatuated, and believed that an immense fortune could be made out of the enterprise. The misfortune that attended Harris from that day did not consist in the loss of money merely, and the general breaking up of his business as a farmer; but the blight and ruin fell upon all his domestic relations–causing his separation from his wife and family forever. …His eccentricities and idiosyncrasies had been charitably passed over by all who knew him, until his separation from his wife and family, when he was looked upon as utterly infatuated and crazy.” (The Prophet of Palmyra, New York: John B. Alden, 1890 — letter from Stephen S. Harding: former governor of Utah territory Feb, 1882, to Thomas Greg)
By the time Harris was relieved of his farm, and thereby the bulk of his net worth, Smith had already relocated westward to Ohio to affiliate with Sidney Rigdon’s community. Joseph promptly revealed, from Kirtland in Feb 1831, that his followers should consecrate “all thy properties” to the church. (Book of Commandments 44:26)
The Books of Mormon remained behind, stored in a warehouse and largely ignored. Despite the extraordinary sacrifice required to bring the work to light, it remained almost unmentioned within the early Church, seldom spoken of in any of Smith’s numerous sermons. Only decades later, as the official LDS narrative evolved, did it receive renewed focus within the Church.
Martin was excommunicated in 1837 and proceeded to wander in and out of several other religions, as he had done prior to joining Mormonism. Throughout the remainder of his life, he was know to passionately testify of his shifting beliefs and visions. The LDS Church thereafter threw Martin under the bus, such as when they declared, “…an evil man…a strangeness about him…lying deceptive spirit.” (Millennial Star, The Lunacy of Martin Harris 8:124-128) LDS historian Michael Marquardt aptly described Harris as a spiritual gypsy. There is no evidence that Martin ever denied his testimonies of the numerous religions he embraced.
Still penniless and estranged at age 85, Brigham Young provided $200 and logistic support to move Harris to Utah where he reunited with his family. He remained dependent upon the Church for support until his death in 1875. Contrary to Martin’s statements late in life, he was never repaid any portion of the obligation by the Smiths.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
1822 – Peter Ingersoll, Smith family neighbor at the time, later stated “general employment of the family was digging for money.” 72 others made corroborating affidavits. (Peter Ingersoll, Affidavit, Dec 2, 1833)
May 1824 – John Greenwood, NY lawyer, receives power of attorney over Smith’s farm, 18 months overdue mortgage payment. Note deferred until Dec 25, 1825.
Feb 18, 1825 – Russell Stoddard, carpenter on Smith home, sues Joseph Sr. for $66.
Oct 1825 – Both Joseph Sr. and Jr. accompany Josiah Stowell to South Bainbridge to search for buried treasure.
Nov 1, 1825 – Joseph Smith, Isaac Hale, Josiah Stowell and others sign agreement for dividing anticipated proceeds from renewed treasure quest. (Articles of Agreement, reprinted in Kirkham, New Witness for Christ in America)
Nov 1825 – Isaac Hale’s affidavit identifies this as the month he met Joseph in the money digging business.
Dec 20, 1825 – Smith family fails to pay mortgage, lose land and house, while both Joseph Sr. and Jr. dig for money.
Nov 1825 – Mar 1826 – Smith lives at Josiah Stowell’s in Bainbridge, NY, while employed as a treasure seer.
March 20, 1826 – Josiah Stowell’s relative files complaint against Smith, who is arrested for money digging fraud. Justice Albert Neely conducts “The Glass Looker” trial.
Fall 1827 – Joseph and father work on money digging project. (Martin Harris, Lorenzo Saunders Interview)
Dec 1827 – Joseph and Emma move to Harmony to live with her parents. Penniless, earning little money, he borrows $50 from Martin Harris.
Spring 1828 – Isaac Hale wants son-in-law Joseph out of money digging business, extends him credit for farmland on his property.
July 1828 – Martin Harris loses 116 pages of manuscript.
May 1829 – Smith and Cowdery relocate to Whitmer farm in N.Y., at Whitmer’s expense.
June 11, 1829 – Smith applies for Book of Mormon copyright.
June 16, 1829 – E.B. Grandin’s Wayne Sentinel newspaper publishes Book of Mormon title page, a requirement for copyright, along with derisive commentary about the project.
June 1829 – As the work nears completion, Smith family writes many letters to family members promoting the book.
June 1829 – Book of Mormon finished.
July-Aug 1829 – Negotiations with printer continue. Grandin does not trust the Smiths to pay him, will not extend credit or begin work without securing collateral.
Aug 11-25, 1829 – Unable to pay any portion of the printing costs or secure credit, Smith delivers chastising D&C 19 revelation to Martin Harris – “eternal, endless God’s punishment, repent, smite, wrath, anger, suffering, not covet thine own property, impart freely…and not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
Aug 25, 1829 – Martin Harris mortgages 151 acres of his land to E. B. Grandin to pay for printing, repayment due within 18 months.
Oct 1829 – Joseph writes Oliver Cowdery, declaring that “Josiah Stowell had a chance to obtain five or six hundred dollars and that he was going to buy copies of the Book of Mormon.”
Winter 1829 – Smith received revelation via his seer stone to sell Book of Mormon copyright. When the effort fails, Smith declares revelation not of God.
Jan 1830 – Palmyra citizens pass resolution to boycott the Book of Mormon.
Jan 16, 1830 – Troubled by Smith’s secretive attempt to sell the copyright, and mounting public opposition to the book, Martin Harris obtains agreement affording him and friends equal right to sell books.
March 26, 1830 – Book of Mormon published, advertised for sale in Grandin’s bookstore.
Late March, 1830 – Smith arrives in Palmyra, encounters Harris in the street soliciting books. “The books will not sell for no body wants them.” Harris requests a commandment.
April 6, 1830 – Joseph Smith establishes Church of Christ.
May 7, 1830 – Collection order issued against Joseph Smith Sr. for $37.50, Constable Sylvester Southworth.
July 1830 – Smith reveals D&C 24 enhancing his position as called and chosen, chastises members to “support him under threat of God’s curse” in exchange for spiritual and temporal blessings, labor not his calling.
July 1830 – Smith reveals D&C 25 instructing Emma not to “fear for livelihood” as Joseph will support her “from the church.” The LDS Church later altered this revelation to read “in the church” to soften the economic meaning.
Oct 26, 1830 – Constable Nathan Harrington attempts to serve warrant on Hyrum Smith, farrier still unpaid from April, Hyrum flees the county to avoid creditors. Joseph Sr. sentenced to 30 days in debtors’ prison.
Oct 1830 – Four months before payment from Harris was due, disbelieving he would be paid, Grandin assigns the mortgage to Thomas Rogers for $2,000.
Nov 1830 – Samuel Smith returns home from selling books, frees Smith Sr. from prison, moves poverty stricken parents to New York.
Dec 2, 1830 – Joseph writes his brother, Hyrum, warning to “beware of the freemasons…who care more for his body than the debt…heard were in Manchester, got a warrant.” (Smith to Colesville Saints, Dec 2, 1830)
Dec 24, 1830 – Sidney Rigdon persuades Smith to relocate to Ohio where he maintains a communitarian, sharing all things in common, many wealthy members.
Jan 2, 1831 – Smith reveals D&C 37, commands followers to relocate to Ohio. Original speech includes assurances of “greater riches…land of promise…shall be endowed with power from on high.” Followers begin selling property.
Feb 1831 – Smith reveals Book of Commandments (Chapter 44:26) from Kirtland, Ohio, commands followers to consecrate “all thy properties” to the church.
Feb 25, 1831 – Martin Harris’s mortgage is due in full.
March 3, 1831 – Smith again writes Hyrum, warning him that creditors were again pursuing Smith Sr. for unpaid debts. “Come to Fayette, bring father, do not go through Buffalo for they lie in wait for you.” (Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith)
April 1, 1831 – With Martin’s mortgage two months overdue and foreclosed, Tomas Rogers sells Harris’s farm to Thomas Lakey for $3,000.
March 1, 1832 – Smith delivers D&C 78 from Kirtland to establishing United Order, aggressively solicits communal property donations.
Q: Does it seem odd that Joseph afforded “me and my friends” the ability to make money selling the Book of Mormon?
Q: Of all the miraculous events presented in Mormonism, the countless times God intervened on the behalf of the Saints, are we to believe an all-capable God could not devise any better solution than to sell the legal rights to his most precious book?
Q: Why did Joseph and others immediately dedicate their efforts to selling the Book of Mormon for profit?
Q: How does this version of the printing differ from what we learned in Sunday School?
Q: Were Smith’s actions and inspired threats against Martin Harris consistent with his lifelong pattern of plying others for money, while skirting debts?
Q: Is it possible that Joseph Smith was aware of the small town rumors and played Martin’s pious guilt like a fiddle?
- Book of Mormon Printing Arrangements
- The Joseph Smith Papers: Agreement with Martin Harris
- Joseph Smith’s Negotiations to Publish Book of Mormon, BYU Religious Studies Center.
- The Making of a Prophet, Dan Vogel, Ch. 28
- Financing the Book of Mormon, By Common Consent, Kevin Barney, Dec 31, 2015