Palmyra Magic Timeline

Note: this began as me trying to find out what happened to the Chase family after Joseph left. They built an estate, which was passed down. I couldn’t find specifics on Sally Chase, other than she married and had children (which I found via family history). Otherwise, they seem to be in obscurity. I’ve included links to a post about their ancestry file on the grandfather/grandmother’s time for those interested.

This entry won a 2012 Brodie Award for history

1679 – Luman Walter’s family arrives in Salem, Mass. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 p. 151-152

12 July, 1735 – Elizabeth Durfee born (Sally Chase’s Grandma)[1]

29 January, 1737 – Benjamin Chase born (Sally’s Grandfather)[2]

approx. 1800 – Luman Walter’s family arrives in Vermont

1818 – Luman Walter escapes from jail in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire. Convicted of “imposing himself upon the credulity of people” (Fraud). The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 p. 151-152

August, 1818 – Luman Walter arrives in Ontario County. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 p. 151-152

September, 1819 – Joseph Smith finds his first seer stone (whitish, opaque) by borrowing Sally Chase’s green glass. He describes it in mystical, even Masonic, terms. Looking in Sally Chase’’s glass, he “saw the stone a hundred and fifty miles away buried under a tree.” The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 p. 151-152

The vision probably occured in 1819, but he actually found the seer stone in 1822, according to FAIR[3]

1820 – Joseph Smith, Sr. and older sons begin operation with group of “money diggers.” Alvin is reportedly the leader

Early 1820s – Jack Belcher (of Gibson, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania) purchases a stone from someone in Salina, New York[4]

1822 – Luman Walter serves as a seer for a treasure dig on the property of Abner Cole in Palmyra, Wayne County, New York. Joseph Smith, Sr., Alvin Smith and Joseph Smith, Jr. participate in this dig. Walter digs three times on the hill Cumorah and suggests that Joseph might find the treasure there.[5] originally sourced from D. Michael Quinn’s Magic and the Early World View

Joseph Smith finds his favorite seer stone (brown, egg shaped) by digging a well at the Chase residence. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 p. 151-152

“Until the Book of Mormon thrust young Smith into prominence, Palmyra’s most notable seer was Sally Chase, who used a greenish-colored stone. William Stafford also had a seer stone, and Joshua Stafford had a ‘peep stone which looked like white marble and had a hole through the center.'” D. Michael Quinn, Magic and the Early World View

Chauncy Hart and an unnamed man in Susquehanna County also had stones with which they found lost objects. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, p. 70

Martin Harris recounted that Joseph could find lost objects with the second, white stone about this time

1823 – Joseph Smith spends time with an itinerant magician and diviner visiting Palmyra. The magician has magic stones and claims to be able to find water and treasure. Some residents hire the magician at $3.00 per day. Joseph Smith later gets stones of his own and used them to locate lost tools, thereby gaining a reputation as a seer. C. Clark Julius, Joseph Smith, (No citations provided)

21 September, 1823 – Moroni Visit Willard Chase Testimony: Joseph Smith Senior tells Willard Chase (a neighbor and friend to the Smiths) that a spirit appeared to Joseph Smith on 21 September, 1823 and told him of gold plates to be retrieved on 22 September. The spirit instructed him to dress in black clothes, ride a black horse with a switch tail, demand the book in a certain name and, after getting it, take it away without laying it down. Joseph complied and found the box, opened the cover, removed the plates, but laid them down to put the cover back on the box. The plates disappeared and returned to the box. Smith tried to re-take the plates, but he saw something like a toad which soon assumed the appearance of a man and struck him [Smith] on the side of his head. It struck him again when he tried to take the plates again. The spirit told Smith he could not have them, as he had not obeyed the orders, and was instructed to return in one year with his oldest brother (Alvin)

22 September, 1824 – Joseph Smith (18) tells of second attempt to get plates, but without Alvin (died). Smith told to return in one year with another that would be known to him as the right person. Smith decides the person was Samuel T. Lawrence (another treasure seeker and a seer). Lawrence tells Smith to use his seer stone to look into the box and he asks Smith if he sees anything else in the box. Smith says no. Lawrence asks him to look again and asks Smith if he sees a large pair of specks with the plates; Smith says he sees the specks. Lawrence says the plates should not be seen by anyone for about two years. Joseph Smith changes his mind about Samuel Lawrence being the right man to bring

1825 – Joseph Smith is given a green stone by Jack Belcher in Susquehanna Valley. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 page 151-152

Joseph Smith later (in or after 1825) tells a story about retrieving the plates to Joseph Knight. Smith says he looked into his glass (seer stone) and saw that the right person to bring was Emma Hale. Joseph Smith later tells Henry Harris that he had a revelation from God that the plates were hid in a certain hill and he looked in his stone and saw them, but an angel said he couldn’t get them until he was married.

— Statements by Joseph Knight and Henry Harris

Sally Chase’s Brother, Durfee Chase, expelled from the Palmyra Royal Arch chapter for “Unmasonic Conduct.” The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 page 151-152

1826 – Joseph is tried, found guilty of glass looking, and is fined[6]

Fall, 1826 – Joseph Smith, Jr. and Samuel Lawrence go to Pennsylvania where Joseph proposes to Emma Hale and is rebuffed by Isaac Hale. Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir, Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson, 2001, Signature Books

22 September, 1827 – Joseph Smith tells Henry Harris that he used the seer stone upon instructions from an angel to find the plates per Henry Harris affidavit in E. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed[7] .

26 September, 1827  Joseph Smith, Sr. sent to spy on Samuel Lawrence’s house until dark. Joseph recovers plates with Emma at midnight. Ten to twelve money diggers are clubbed with Willard Chase. Chase sends for his own conjurer (Samuel Lawrence) to determine where the plates are hidden. Conjurers, including Sally Chase with her green glass and another diviner brought in from sixty miles away (Samuel Lawrence according to Lucy Mack Smith), tried to locate the plates by the stone. To elude Chase and Lawrence, Joseph moved the plates from the hearth to the cooper’s shop in the yard where Joseph Smith, Sr. carried on his trade. He buried the box under a floorboard and hid the plates themselves in a pile of flax in the shop loft. That night, Willard Chase and his sister, Sally Chase (with her green glass), came with their friends to search. They rummaged around outside but did not come in. Lucy learned later that Sally Chase told the men the plates were in the coopering shop. The next morning, the Smiths found the floor torn up and the box smashed. To their relief, the plates were safely buried in the flax. Richard L. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling

Fall, 1827 – Smith approaches Willard Chase, a carpenter, and asks him to make him a strong chest to hold the golden plates. In lieu of payment, Smith offers to give Chase a share in the profits generated by the plates[8]

2 October, 1827 – Emma Smith rides to Macedon, New York and tells Joseph about the money diggers’ plan to take the plates. Joseph looks in to his seer stone and says the plates are safe. Joseph and Emma return to the Smith home. Joseph walks to the hill and retrieves the plates from his hiding place. While carrying them back through the woods (off regular path), he is attacked by a man who sprang up and hit him with a gun, knocking him down. Joseph leveled him and ran home, knocking several more men down as he ran. He dislocates his thumb, which is reset by Joseph Smith, Sr. Joseph relays the story to Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell then goes to Willard Chase’s house and tells him the story [per Joseph Smith per Lucy Mack Smith]. Smith tells Willard Chase that it was two men that attacked him and that, if not for the stone that he got from Chase’s well, he would not have obtained the book [per Willard Chase]. Smith tells Martin Harris that he was attacked and struck with a club by what appeared to be a man who wanted the plates [per Martin Harris interview]

28 October, 1827 – Plates and breastplate are buried under the hearth

4 November, 1827 – Plates are removed to cooper’s shop loft

November/December, 1827 – Plates hidden in barrel of beans

1828 – Joseph Smith tells Emma’s cousins, Hiel and Joseph Lewis, that while trying to get the plates, he was knocked down three times. A man that looked like a Spaniard appeared, with a long beard and his throat cut from ear to ear with blood flowing down. Smith opened the box and saw the plates, but before trying to take anything, looked in the box to see if there was any other treasure. Smith says he then tried to take the plates but received a shock. An angel then appeared and told him he couldn’t have the plates because he didn’t obey the commandment of the Lord. Oliver Cowdery Letters

Early 1828 – Isaac Hale statements (including first born would translate the book) made about this time

Summer, 1828 – Lorenzo Saunders reports seeing Samuel Lawrence taking dinner with Sidney Rigdon at Lawrence’s house

June 15, 1828 – Joseph Smith’s first born son dies

April 1829 – Book of Mormon translation begins

1830 – “Walters the Magician” parody in The Reflector, referring to Luman Walter contributing the the formation of the Book of Mormon[1]

6 April, 1830 – Church of Christ founded in Manchester or Fayette, NY. Founding members: Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Samuel Harrison Smith, and David Whitmer

After June, 1830 – Joseph Smith tried in South Bainbridge and Broom County for disorderly conduct, acquitted. Newel Knight Biography

August, 1830 – Hiram Page acquires a seer stone of his own and starts receiving revelations (contrary to Joseph Smith’s). The Whitmers (including David Whitmer) and Oliver Cowdery believe Page’s revelations. Church History Vol. I, Newel Knight autobiography, and Mormon Controversies site

September, 1830 – Joseph Smith receives a revelation denouncing Hiram Page’s seer stone. Page relents and renounces the stone. Church History Vol. I

4 November, 1830 – “he asked Joseph [Smith, Jr.] whether he could not ascertain what his [Orson Pratt] mission was and Joseph answered that he would see. & asked Pratt and John Whitmer to go up stairs with him. and arriving there Joseph produced a small stone called a seer stone. and putting it into a hat soon commenced speaking.” Orson Pratt’s recollection at David Whitmer home[2]

January, 1831 – Joseph Smith moves to Ohio. Luman Walter stays behind

1833 – William W. Phelps speculates that the ancient Nephite interpreters mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and by Joseph Smith, might be the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament. This is the first mention of the Urim and Thummim on record

11 December, 1833 – Willard Chase Affidavit published in E. Howe’s book[3]

1834 – E. Howe’s book published containing quotes like this: “I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. in November, 1825. 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. ” – Isaac Hale, Emma’s father

Affidavit from Isaac Hale that Joseph had given up “glass looking.” Joseph Smith also answers Isaac Hale’s question (as to who will be the first to see the plates) that a child will be the first to see them. Isaac Hale demands to see the plates if Joseph is to stay at his house. Joseph Smith refuses and hides the plates in the wood.  Isaac Hale later related that the Book of Mormon was to be translated  by a 3-year-old, his oldest male son.

“Joseph Smith, Jr. told him that (Smith’s) first-born child was to translate the characters, and hieroglyphics, upon the Plates into our language at the age of three years;” -Joshua M’Kune (no date provided)


“I inquired of Joseph Smith Jr., who was to be the first who would be allowed to see the Book of Plates? He said it was a young child.”-Isaac Hale (Emma’s father, March 20th 1834)


“In the Spring 1829 [date might be off on this one], Harris went to Pennsylvania, and on his return to Palmyra, reported that the Prophet’s wife, in the month of June following would be delivered of a male child that would be able when two years old to translate the Gold Bible.”-Willard Chase (11th December, 1833)


She states that she heard Smith say “the Book of Plates could not be opened under penalty of death by any other person but his (Smith’s) first-born, which was to be a male.” -Sophia Lewis (no date given)

7 October, 1835 – Joseph Smith uses white stone to give Newel K. Whitney a Patriarchal blessing

1842 – Jack Belcher stone claimed to be acquired by Philo Dibble from Joseph Smith or the Nauvoo Mansion House near the time of Joseph’s death[4]

1881 – Mason Chase (son of Willard) claims the stone was his and that Lucy Mack Smith got the stone from Mason’s mother. [Abel Chase (Mason’s brother) 1881 interview]

1859 – Martin Harris tells about money digging in Tiffany’s Monthly magazine: “Samuel Lawrence told me that while they were digging, a large man who appeared to be eight or nine feet high, came and sat on the ridge of the barn, and motioned to them that they must leave… These things were real to them, I believe, because they were told to me in confidence, and told by different ones, and their stories agreed, and they seemed to be in earnest”

1860 – Luman Walter dies in Ontario County[5]

1870 – Martin Harris, speaking to a group of Saints at Clarkston, Utah in the 1870s: “I will tell you a wonderful thing that happened after Joseph had found the plates. Three of us took some tools to go to the hill and hunt for some more boxes, or gold or something, and indeed we found a stone box. …but behold by some unseen power, it slipped back into the hill.” Testimony of Mrs. Comfort Godfrey Flinders, Utah Pioneer Biographies, vol. 10, p. 65, Genealogical Society of Utah, as cited in an unpublished manuscript by LaMar Petersen

17 May, 1888 – Egg shaped stone used for Manti Temple dedication: “The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim were on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is now in the possession of the church.” Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, p. 225

1954 – Egg Shaped stone reported in the Joseph F. Smith vault (later placed inside the First Presidency vault) (SOURCES: Roberts 1930, 6:231n; J. F. Smith 1954a, 3:225; McConkie 1966, 818; Joseph Anderson 1971).

1955 – Apostle Alvin R. Dryer discovers Jacob Whitmer’s seer stone in possession of Whitmer’s granddaughter[6]

1982 – A descendant of Brigham Young, Mary Brown Firmage, was told by the First Presidency’s secretary that there were three seer stones in the First Presidency’s vault. She was allowed to see one when she visited that office. She reported: “The stone was not chocolate brown but rather the color of brown sugar. It was 3-4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and had a hump in the middle which made it perhaps 2 inches thick at the thickest point. It was flat on the bottom and had three black, concentric circles on the top 1/2 inch. Below the circles were many small black circles. The stone was not transparent.” Mary Brown Firmage interview with Richard S. Van Wagoner, 11 Aug 1986. Van Wagoner papers, Marriott Library

February, 1984  Steven F. Christensen buys the Whitmer seer stone

15 October, 1984 – Steven F. Christensen is killed by Mark Hofmann. The Whitmer seer stone remains in private hands

1993 – Belcher seer stone sells for $75,000

Additional Notes

Hiel Lewis (Emma’s cousin) stated that Joseph used the peep stone found while digging a well for the Chase family in 1822. [B.H. Roberts CHC. Salt lake City: Deseret news Press, 1930, vol. 1, 120.] It was used to translate the golden plates and “directed his enchantments and dog sacrifices; and it was all by the same spirit.” [Hiel Lewis, “Review of Mormonism: Rejoinder to Elder Cadwell.” Amboy Journal, June 4, 1879, Quoted in Quinn, 172]

Alva Hale, Emma Smith’s brother said, “Joe Smith never handled one shovel of earth in those diggings [treasure hunts]. All that Smith did was to peep with stone and hat, and give directions where and how to dig, and when and where the enchantment moved the treasure. That Smith said if he should work with his hands at digging there, he would lose the power to see with the stone.” [Alva Hale, Quoted in Joseph Lewis, “Review of Mormonism,” Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, cited in David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2000, 38]

Lucy Mack Smith wrote that Josiah Stowell came all the way from Pennsylvania to see her son “on account of having heard that he possessed certain keys by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye.”

In more recent years, Grant Palmer [three-time director of LDS Institutes of Religion in California and Utah] was “shown by Earl Olson” the three “seer stones in First Presidency Vault.” The first was “milk chocolate [in color], like a baseball [in shape, with] no stripes.” Different from the descriptions of the founding prophet’s dark-colored Book of Mormon seer stone, this first stone’s origin and chain-of-ownership are unknown (at least outside the LDS Presidency’s office). The second was “shiny or polished stone, [with] stripes, dark brown [-] size between egg and handball.” The only description Palmer gave for the third was that it was a “small stone.” The brown and white stones are the only seer stones Joseph Smith definitely used, yet he acquired others as Church T. Young told the apostles in 1855 that Smith had five seer stones.

Young’s statement makes it clear that Smith did not regard his seer stones simply as relics of his youth. Rather, as church president, Smith continued to discover new seer stones (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p. 245 – 246). Salt Lake City Messenger Issue No. 105.

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