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Introduction to State of New York v. JS–B and State of New York v. JS–C

State of New York v. JS–B
Chenango Co., New York, Justice of the Peace Court, 29 June 1830
 
State of New York v. JS–C
Broome Co., New York, Court of Special Sessions of the Peace, 30 June 1830
 
Historical Introduction
In late June 1830, JS appeared before justices of the peace in two neighboring southern counties— and —for allegedly violating the state’s disorderly persons statute. The charges were filed by individuals who opposed the growth of the Church of Christ in Broome County.
Not long after the organization of the church on 6 April 1830 in , New York, JS visited the family of near in . JS had previously lived and worked with the Knights, and they had financially supported him while he was translating the Book of Mormon. During his April 1830 visit, JS “held several meetings in the neighbourhood,” prompting the Knights and others to consider joining the new church. JS returned to Fayette to preside at the church’s first conference, but by late June 1830 he was again in the Colesville area to oversee the baptisms of about thirteen people, including members of the Knight family. Protestant clergymen and other antagonists in the area viewed JS as a charlatan and sought to impede converts from joining the Church of Christ. Their tactics included destroying the dam that JS and others had constructed in a nearby stream to perform baptisms, abducting potential converts, and accusing JS of violating ’s disorderly persons statute based on his previous use of in the area.
This charge stemmed from JS’s first visit to the region, in November 1825, when wealthy farmer hired him to assist in searching for a Spanish silver mine on the side of the Susquehanna River. According to , Stowell sought out JS after hearing that “he was in possession of certain means by which he could discern things, that could not be seen by the natural eye.” Although the excavation was abandoned within a short time, JS spent winter 1825–1826 living in with Stowell, who employed him to perform various tasks, including using seer stones to locate valuable items that were believed to be buried in the ground. JS also purportedly used his seer stones in during those months. In March 1826, he was arrested and taken before Chenango County justice of the peace , who tried JS for allegedly violating the disorderly persons statute with his seer stone activities. The outcome of the trial remains uncertain. The following winter, JS lived with the Knight family in Broome County until his marriage to in January 1827.
recalled that JS’s opponents “made a Catspaw of a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in ,” who filed a complaint in late June 1830 “against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground,” based on “a little Clause they found in the Laws against such things.” The statute identified several activities as “disorderly,” including “pretending to tell fortunes, or where lost or stolen items may be found.” Practices commonly associated with what some scholars have termed folk religion or folk magic, such as using seer stones, persisted in North America into the nineteenth century, despite growing Enlightenment-era skepticism. The use of the word “pretending” in the act reflected legal assumptions that such practices were categorically deceptive and fraudulent, regardless of sincere beliefs to the contrary. Based on the complaint, Chenango County justice of the peace Joseph Chamberlin issued a warrant for the arrest of JS.
During the evening of 28 June 1830, JS and his followers assembled at the Knight home to confirm those who had previously been baptized. When the meeting was about to begin, constable Ebenezer Hatch arrived and arrested JS on Chamberlin’s warrant. Hatch transported JS to South Bainbridge in Chenango County, and the two men stayed the night in a tavern. Meanwhile, employed the legal services of and , “respectable farmers” who, although not professional attorneys, were “renowned for their integrity, and well versed in the laws of their country.” The next day, Chamberlin presided at a trial to evaluate the charge against JS. According to his fee bill, the justice issued ten subpoenas for witnesses, although twelve ultimately testified, including Joseph Austin, , Joseph Knight Sr., , , two unnamed daughters of Stowell, and Jonathan Thompson. Observers at the trial indicated that their testimony focused on JS’s character and his previous use of a seer stone. The prosecutors questioned the witnesses about events that allegedly took place outside of Chenango County, including how JS used his seer stones to locate the gold plates and to translate the Book of Mormon, the former having occurred in Manchester County and the latter primarily in . The defense counsel argued that such claims extended beyond Chamberlin’s jurisdiction.
While it is evident that JS was not convicted, historical sources are unclear regarding the precise outcome. JS’s history and both stated that JS was acquitted, meaning he could not be charged again for the same offense; however, Reed also used the word “discharge” to refer to the trial’s conclusion, which could result in a later charge. Joel K. Noble, a justice of the peace who presided at the subsequent trial in , indicated that JS’s defense before Chamberlin depended on ’s statute of limitations, which stated that prosecutions needed to be commenced within two years of the alleged offense. The alleged instances of JS using his seer stones in occurred at least four years prior to the bringing of charges.
As the trial was concluding during the night of 29–30 June, JS’s opponents brought a criminal charge against him in , presumably under the same disorderly persons statute cited in the first case. A Broome County constable arrested JS immediately after the Chenango County trial and transported him to , where they stayed at a tavern for the remainder of the night. The constable abused JS and permitted others to riducule him. The next morning, on 30 June 1830, JS was brought before Noble, who was evidently joined on the bench by two other justices of the peace. and a “Lawyer Burch” acted as prosecutors, while and again represented JS. After hearing testimony, the court discharged JS, presumably on similar grounds as in the first trial.
Few documents produced for these cases are extant. Neither the docket books belonging to Justices Chamberlin and Noble nor the case files have apparently survived. However, the fee bills of Chamberlin and Constable Hatch, charging for their services, are extant and are featured here. On 19 September 1832, the Boston Christian Herald published what purported to be a “true copy” of the minutes taken by Noble during the 30 June 1830 trial. The paper obtained the text from an unidentified intermediary from Windsor, Broome County. From the published document, it appears that Noble—or possibly another individual—polished and possibly expanded the original notes into a formal trial report on 28 August 1832. The trial report identified the date of the proceedings; named the complainant, Samuel Dickinson; summarized the charge; provided witness testimonies, including on cross-examination; and concluded with Noble’s certification. The unidentified resident also forwarded a certified copy of an affidavit sworn by Preston T. Wilkins on 28 August 1832 regarding the trial. In the published account, the affidavit was followed by what appeared to be a summary of Noble’s ruling: “Joseph Smith, jr., was discharged; he had not looked in the glass for two years to find money, &c.—hence it was outlawed.” It is unclear whether this sentence originated with Noble, the unidentified letter writer, or the newspaper. Given the uncertain provenance of the trial report, it is included here as an appendix. Additional accounts of the trials are presented as related documents.
 
Calendar of Documents
This calendar lists all known documents created by or for the court, whether extant or not. It does not include versions of documents created for other purposes, though those versions may be listed in footnotes. In certain cases, especially in cases concerning unpaid debts, the originating document (promissory note, invoice, etc.) is listed here. Note that documents in the calendar are grouped with their originating court. Where a version of a document was subsequently filed with another court, that version is listed under both courts.
State of New York v. JS–B
Chenango Co., New York, Justice of the Peace Court, 29 June 1830
 
State of New York v. JS–C
Broome Co., New York, Court of Special Sessions of the Peace, 30 June 1830
 
Historical Introduction
In late June 1830, JS appeared before justices of the peace in two neighboring southern counties— and —for allegedly violating the state’s disorderly persons statute. The charges were filed by individuals who opposed the growth of the Church of Christ in Broome County.
Not long after the organization of the church on 6 April 1830 in , New York, JS visited the family of near in . JS had previously lived and worked with the Knights, and they had financially supported him while he was translating the Book of Mormon. During his April 1830 visit, JS “held several meetings in the neighbourhood,” prompting the Knights and others to consider joining the new church. JS returned to Fayette to preside at the church’s first conference, but by late June 1830 he was again in the Colesville area to oversee the baptisms of about thirteen people, including members of the Knight family. Protestant clergymen and other antagonists in the area viewed JS as a charlatan and sought to impede converts from joining the Church of Christ. Their tactics included destroying the dam that JS and others had constructed in a nearby stream to perform baptisms, abducting potential converts, and accusing JS of violating ’s disorderly persons statute based on his previous use of in the area.
This charge stemmed from JS’s first visit to the region, in November 1825, when wealthy farmer hired him to assist in searching for a Spanish silver mine on the side of the Susquehanna River. According to , Stowell sought out JS after hearing that “he was in possession of certain means by which he could discern things, that could not be seen by the natural eye.” Although the excavation was abandoned within a short time, JS spent winter 1825–1826 living in with Stowell, who employed him to perform various tasks, including using seer stones to locate valuable items that were believed to be buried in the ground. JS also purportedly used his seer stones in during those months. In March 1826, he was arrested and taken before Chenango County justice of the peace , who tried JS for allegedly violating the disorderly persons statute with his seer stone activities. The outcome of the trial remains uncertain. The following winter, JS lived with the Knight family in Broome County until his marriage to in January 1827.
recalled that JS’s opponents “made a Catspaw of a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in ,” who filed a complaint in late June 1830 “against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground,” based on “a little Clause they found in the Laws against such things.” The statute identified several activities as “disorderly,” including “pretending to tell fortunes, or where lost or stolen items may be found.” Practices commonly associated with what some scholars have termed folk religion or folk magic, such as using seer stones, persisted in North America into the nineteenth century, despite growing Enlightenment-era skepticism. The use of the word “pretending” in the act reflected legal assumptions that such practices were categorically deceptive and fraudulent, regardless of sincere beliefs to the contrary. Based on the complaint, Chenango County justice of the peace Joseph Chamberlin issued a warrant for the arrest of JS.
During the evening of 28 June 1830, JS and his followers assembled at the Knight home to confirm those who had previously been baptized. When the meeting was about to begin, constable Ebenezer Hatch arrived and arrested JS on Chamberlin’s warrant. Hatch transported JS to South Bainbridge in Chenango County, and the two men stayed the night in a tavern. Meanwhile, employed the legal services of and , “respectable farmers” who, although not professional attorneys, were “renowned for their integrity, and well versed in the laws of their country.” The next day, Chamberlin presided at a trial to evaluate the charge against JS. According to his fee bill, the justice issued ten subpoenas for witnesses, although twelve ultimately testified, including Joseph Austin, , Joseph Knight Sr., , , two unnamed daughters of Stowell, and Jonathan Thompson. Observers at the trial indicated that their testimony focused on JS’s character and his previous use of a seer stone. The prosecutors questioned the witnesses about events that allegedly took place outside of Chenango County, including how JS used his seer stones to locate the gold plates and to translate the Book of Mormon, the former having occurred in Manchester County and the latter primarily in . The defense counsel argued that such claims extended beyond Chamberlin’s jurisdiction.
While it is evident that JS was not convicted, historical sources are unclear regarding the precise outcome. JS’s history and both stated that JS was acquitted, meaning he could not be charged again for the same offense; however, Reed also used the word “discharge” to refer to the trial’s conclusion, which could result in a later charge. Joel K. Noble, a justice of the peace who presided at the subsequent trial in , indicated that JS’s defense before Chamberlin depended on ’s statute of limitations, which stated that prosecutions needed to be commenced within two years of the alleged offense. The alleged instances of JS using his seer stones in occurred at least four years prior to the bringing of charges.
As the trial was concluding during the night of 29–30 June, JS’s opponents brought a criminal charge against him in , presumably under the same disorderly persons statute cited in the first case. A Broome County constable arrested JS immediately after the Chenango County trial and transported him to , where they stayed at a tavern for the remainder of the night. The constable abused JS and permitted others to riducule him. The next morning, on 30 June 1830, JS was brought before Noble, who was evidently joined on the bench by two other justices of the peace. and a “Lawyer Burch” acted as prosecutors, while and again represented JS. After hearing testimony, the court discharged JS, presumably on similar grounds as in the first trial.
Few documents produced for these cases are extant. Neither the docket books belonging to Justices Chamberlin and Noble nor the case files have apparently survived. However, the fee bills of Chamberlin and Constable Hatch, charging for their services, are extant and are featured here. On 19 September 1832, the Boston Christian Herald published what purported to be a “true copy” of the minutes taken by Noble during the 30 June 1830 trial. The paper obtained the text from an unidentified intermediary from Windsor, Broome County. From the published document, it appears that Noble—or possibly another individual—polished and possibly expanded the original notes into a formal trial report on 28 August 1832. The trial report identified the date of the proceedings; named the complainant, Samuel Dickinson; summarized the charge; provided witness testimonies, including on cross-examination; and concluded with Noble’s certification. The unidentified resident also forwarded a certified copy of an affidavit sworn by Preston T. Wilkins on 28 August 1832 regarding the trial. In the published account, the affidavit was followed by what appeared to be a summary of Noble’s ruling: “Joseph Smith, jr., was discharged; he had not looked in the glass for two years to find money, &c.—hence it was outlawed.” It is unclear whether this sentence originated with Noble, the unidentified letter writer, or the newspaper. Given the uncertain provenance of the trial report, it is included here as an appendix. Additional accounts of the trials are presented as related documents.
 
Calendar of Documents
This calendar lists all known documents created by or for the court, whether extant or not. It does not include versions of documents created for other purposes, though those versions may be listed in footnotes. In certain cases, especially in cases concerning unpaid debts, the originating document (promissory note, invoice, etc.) is listed here. Note that documents in the calendar are grouped with their originating court. Where a version of a document was subsequently filed with another court, that version is listed under both courts.
 
State of New York v. JS–B, Chenango Co., New York, Justice of the Peace Court
 
State of New York v. JS–C, Broome Co., New York, Court of Special Sessions of the Peace