Article Categories

The Friction Between Isaac Hale and his son-in-law Joseph Smith


Note: The following was originally printed in the February 2023 edition of MRM Update., sent bimonthly to financial supporters of MRM. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.

By Bill McKeever

Isaac and Elizabeth Hale were married in 1790 and raised their family in an area then known as Harmony, Pennsylvania, located about 17 miles from the New York/Pennsylvania state line. Like many settlers of that time period, they lived in a small cabin. During that time Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter they named Emma. Eventually the family moved into a 2-story framed home.

In the fall of 1825, a local man by the name of Josiah “Deacon” Stowell hired several workers to help him find a lost silver mine. Included in the group was a man named Joseph Smith and his 19 year-old son, also named Joseph Smith.

Stowell’s hiring of the younger Smith was quite deliberate, for he had heard that the young man had the ability to “discern things invisible to the natural eye” (History of Joseph Smith: By His Mother, 91-92).

Isaac allowed Smith to board on his property though his impression of Smith was not at all favorable. In a document he presented to Justice of the Peace Charles Dimon on March 20, 1834, Hale said of Smith:

He was at that time in the employ of a set of men who were called “money-diggers;” and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasure. His appearance at this time, was that of a careless young man—not very well educated, and very saucy and insolent to his father. (Affidavit of Isaac Hale, March 20, 1834)

Smith’s seer stone would get him in trouble in 1826 when he was brought before Judge Albert Neeley in Bainbridge, NY. According to the docket entry of March 20, 1826 (People of State of New York vs. Joseph Smith):

Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgman who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and and an Impostor. Prisoner brought before court 20 March. Prisoner examined, says, that he came from town of Palmyra and, had been at the house of Josiah Stowel[l]s in Bainbridge most of time since, had small part of times been employed in looking for mines,—but the major par[t] had been employed by said Stowel on his farm, and going to school, That he had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were, that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground, and had looked for Mr. Stow[e]l several times and informed him where h[e] could find those treasures., “Appendix: Docket Entry, 20 March 1826 [State of New York v. JS–A]”)

According to William D. Purple, a friend of Judge Neeley who presided over the case, “the sons of Mr. Stowell, who lived with their father, were greatly incensed against Smith, as they plainly saw their father squandering his property in the fruitless search for hidden treasures, and saw that the youthful seer had unlimited control over the illusions of their sire.”, “Joseph Smith, the Originator of Mormonism: Historical Reminiscences of the town of Afton”.

Unlike his sons, Josiah Stowell firmly believed in the alleged spiritual powers Joseph Smith claimed to have. Purple recounts that Judge Neeley, “in a solemn, dignified voice” asked:

“Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under the solemn oath you have taken, that you believe the prisoner can see by the aid of the stone fifty feet below the surface of the earth, as plainly as you can see what is on my table?” “Do I believe it?” says Deacon Stowell, “do I believe it? no, it is not a matter of belief: I positively know it to be true.”

In hindsight, Hale probably regretted allowing Smith to stay on his property for it was here that Smith met his daughter Emma. Hale wrote, “at length [Smith] asked my consent to his marrying my daughter Emma. This I refused,” explaining that Smith was a stranger and that he, Isaac, did not approve of his employment as a  “money digger”(1834 affidavit).  Rather than heed the father’s wishes, the two eloped to nearby Bainbridge, NY where the justice of the peace, Zechariah Tarble, performed the ceremony on January 18, 1827.

After their wedding, Joseph and Emma moved to Manchester, New York to live with Smith’s family. During this time he would claim to have retrieved the gold plates and commenced translating them using the same stone he used to search for buried treasure. Persecution in New York lead the couple to move back to Harmony where they would move into a house built by Emma’s brother Jesse, a mere “stone’s throw” from her parent’s home. It was here that the translation of the plates would continue.

Isaac Hale was a staunch Methodist who believed that Smith’s story of gold plates and the Book of Mormon was “a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary” (1834 Affidavit).

One can only imagine how he felt when he watched his daughter leave Harmony for the last time in 1830 with a man he felt was a charlatan. He would never see her again.

Isaac Hale died nine years after Emma’s departure, no doubt still stinging from the thought that this “pretender” deceived his daughter and stole her faith. Mark Lyman Staker, a senior researcher in the LDS Church, wrote the following in an article titled “Isaac and Elizabeth Hale in Their Endless Mountain Home”:

A grandson recalled the family gathering around Isaac’s bed on January 11, 1839, as he charged them, “You must not believe in Jo Smith or any false doctrines, but believe in the Holy Bible. In it you will find the words of eternal life.”

Perhaps it was a good thing for Hale that he passed in 1839, for had he lived less than a decade longer, rumors may have reached Harmony of his son-in-law’s “new and everlasting covenant” of plural marriage, and how Joseph continued to lie to his daughter about these relationships. 

Share this

Check out these related articles...