From The Archives: James C. Brewster to “The Mormon Money Diggers”

By June 4, 2008

James C. Brewster was the leader of a Mormon schismatic group that had its origins in the Kirtland period. After a series of visions, Brewster claimed to receive an abridgment of the first through eighth books of Esdras, an ancient Israelite prophet. Brewster published his abridgment of the Books of Esdras in June of 1842. [1]

In the December 1, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons (page 32), in response to his book, a notice was issued calling Brewster’s Book of Esdras “a perfect humbug” and called Brewster’s credibility into question for his profession of the use of a seer stone to find hidden money around Kirtland, calling it “ridiculous and pernicious”. The article also took to task Brewster’s father and “some of our weak brethren, who perhaps have had some confidence in the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith, about money digging, [who] have assisted him in his foolish plans”. The notice ended by quoting Doctrine and Covenants 28: 2-3, 11-13 [1981 Edition] which section refers to the Hiram Page incident.

Brewster responded by issuing a pamphlet in March of 1843 rebutting this notice point by point. Here follow the portions dealing with money digging:

[2]…As the writer of this notice did not favor the public directly with his name, I shall not pretend to say who it was, although I have good reason to believe it was written by Joseph Smith, or at least by his directions.

Firstly. The writer says he considers it a perfect humbug; but before the pamphlet was printed the manuscript was taken to Joseph Smith; he had it in his possession six days; and, at that time, he stated that he enquired of the Lord concerning it and could not obtain an answer. Since then, he told certain individuals that he did receive an answer that it was not of God.

Secondly. He says Brewster is a minor, but has professed for several years to have the gift of seeing and looking through or into a stone. Now, as for my “seeing and looking through or into a stone,” it is a perfect falsehood, and Joseph Smith and many of the first presidents of the church know it to be false, and at the same time knowing that they could not bring any thing against our moral character have endeavored to injure us by publishing these falsehoods.

Thirdly. “And he has thought that he has discovered money hid in the ground in Kirtland, his father and some of our weak brethren who perhaps have had some confidence in the ridiculous stories that are propapated [sic] concerning Joseph Smith about money digging, have assisted him in his foolish plans.” This is a little nearer the truth than the second statement. The fact is that my father ever regarded money diggers with the utmost contempt, but believing in the Gospel as preached by the Mormons, and, becoming a member of that church removed to Kirtland, Ohio. While residing at that place Joseph Smith Senr. the Prophet’s father, with others of high standing in the church, came to see us, and stated that they knew there was money hid in the earth, that it was our duty to assist in obtaining it, and if we did not the curse of God would rest upon us. We were foolish enough to believe them, not knowing at that time the weakness and folly of those men.

They also told us concerning their digging for money in the state of N. Y., and [3] that the places where the treasures were deposited were discovered by means of the mineral rods and a seeing stone; likewise to prevent the Devil deceiving them they anointed the mineral rods and seeing stones with consecrated oil, and prayed over them in the house of the Lord in Kirtland, and then sent a man into the state of N. Y. to obtain the money that was supposed the mineral rods pointed out, but they found no treasure and returned empty. Soon after this interview, I and my father were requested by J. Smith, Sen’r and Eld. Beaman to come to the house of the Lord. We went in and the door was locked;–after some conversation with J. Smith sen’r, Beaman and Holeman, Eld. Beaman called upon the Lord–they then proceeded to lay their hands upon my head and pronounced a blessing upon me, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and sealed it up on me by the power of the Holy Priesthood, which they held, J. Smith sen’r then acting as first President of the Church in Kirtland.

The prophetic blessing was that I should be a Prophet, a Seer, a Revealer, and Translator, and that I should have power given me of God to discover and obtain the treasures which are hid in the earth. The men above mentioned, went with me and my father several times in pursuit of the money, but it was not obtained. Joseph Smith sen’r and Beaman, being old and feeble, thought best to remain in the Temple, while the remainder of the party went to dig. John and Asel Smith joined with those who remained in the Temple to pray and continue their supplications until a very late hour; this was repeated several times, and at length afraid of being discovered in the Temple they retired to a barn in a remote part of the town, and continued there the most part of the night, still no treasure was obtained.

By this time my father was convinced that we should not succeed, and then gave up the business entirely. All this was carried on privately, being understood only by those concerned. Soon after this my father and his family, Eld. Norris and his family, in company with several others, members of the church, who were knowing to what had transpired, were dealt with by the High Council and Church in Kirtland–Joseph Smith sen’r then acting as first President of the Church in Kirtland. The Brewsterites, as we were called by the Church, were all condemned, although many of the Counsellors, by whose vote we [4] were condemned, had been engaged with us in the money digging business. The writer in the “Times and Seasons” now says that my father was assisted by some of “our weak brethren.”

This is true, but he must remember that the names of those weak brethren are as follows:–Joseph Smith sen’r, John and Asel Smith, Eld. Beaman then President of the Elders’ Corum [sic], Joshua Holeman, and many others, of high standing in the Mormon Church, whose names we can produce if occasion requires. He also says it was those who had “some confidence in the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith about money digging.” The following are the reasons we had fore believing the stories. In Kirtland, Joseph Smith sen’r, the Prophet’s father, said in Council: “I know more about money digging, than any man in this generation, for I have been in the business more than thirty years.” Father Smith, in private conversation with my father, told many particulars, which happened in N. Y. where the money digging business was carried on to a great extent by the Smith family. The writer of the article in the “Times and Seasons” calls it a ridiculous and pernicious practice.

I would ask him who was the author of this practice among the Mormons? If he has a good memory, he will remember the house that was rented in the city of Boston, with the expectation of finding a large sum of money buried in or near the cellar. If he has forgotten these things, I have not. And, if he is not satisfied with what I have written, he can have the remainder shortly…

Fifthly…[5]…I have written the above that the people may know who the “weak brethren” are that assisted us in the money digging business. The Mormons may deny it, but every word it contains is true; and I might have written much more, but I think it unnecessary. But if the Mormons publish another line of falsehood concerning us, they shall have the history of the money diggers from the beginning.

Below will be fond my father’s certificate, which goes to corroborate the statements I have given.

JAMES COLIN BREWSTER

I, Z. H. Brewster, do hereby certify, that the above account of the money digging business is true. In the year 1837, in the month of May or June, we commenced the money digging under the kind care and protection of Joseph Smith sen’r, then first President of the church of Latter Day Saints and, according to my best recollection, the foregoing statements are strictly true…

Z. H. BREWSTER

I found this account fascinating in light of our recent conversation about how Joseph Smith represented his earlier career as a treasure seeker. The month before the Times and Seasons notice was published, John Taylor had apparently taken over the editorship of the paper. One of the more striking portions for me is the Times and Seasons’ comment about the “weak brethren” placing confidence in “the ridiculous stories that are propagated concerning Joseph Smith, about money digging”. Not to mention the overt cynicism about the credibility of those who would go out and use a seer stone to dig for buried money. Was John Taylor really this out of the loop about Joseph Smith’s past treasure seeking activities, or was this another aspect of Joseph Smith’s efforts to distance himself from money digging? Was Joseph Smith Senior only open about his earlier New York activities behind closed doors? How much of Brewster’s account is reliable? Whatever the answers, this is an interesting glimpse at how attitudes about treasure digging had progressed into the Nauvoo era.

—————————————————————————————————————–

[1] For more about Brewster and the Brewsterites, see Dan Vogel, “James Colin Brewster: The Boy Prophet Who Challenged Mormon Authority,” in Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, ed. Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 120-139.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. JSJ didn’t have perfect control over JSS at any point. JSJ was distancing himself by then, and the JT attacks I think were meant to caricaturize the practices (and probably reflected JT’s own bias against the practices).

    They did engage in a lot of splitting to emphasize the divide between what they believed they were doing (living out the deuteronomic prediction of wealth in the sand) and what others did in a superficially similar way (as the LDS believed). You see the same pattern in the spiritual wifery debates.

    Comment by smb — June 4, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  2. The spiritual wifery debates mentioned by smb were even more cynical. Sort of a “depends on what the meaning of is is” type thing.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 4, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  3. So interesting, Jared! Your post sent me back to Differing Visions, which you cite, in order to see why I failed to read Dan’s article. Sure enough, there was my bookmark right in the middle of the part you discuss! Memories fail, as does our time to read so many books.

    Thank you for bringing this account back to life. For those who enjoy bibliographic particulars, I notice entries describing Brewster’s 1843 pamphlet in Flake 810 and Dale Morgan’s A Bibliography of the Churches of the Dispersion 24. Brewster’s title is, Very Important! to the Mormon Money diggers. Why do the Mormons rage, and the People imagine a vain thing? ([Springfield, Illinois, 1843; dated at the end, Springfield, March 20, 1843]).

    Morgan notes that this is a twelve-page pamphlet measuring 18.8 X 12.1 cm. “. . . Brewster had a good deal to say,” adds Morgan, “about the history of Joseph Smith, Senior, Hyrum Smith, and other Saints as money diggers and seers in peepstones back in New York State; this is the principal content of the pamphlet, but it also contains, pp. 9-11, ‘The Songs of Enoch, Written for the Saints,’ and on p. 12 a quotation from the Encyclopedia of Geography, vol. III, p. 195, concerning California.” Flake finds only two copies of this rare publication, at Yale and at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — June 4, 2008 @ 7:56 pm

  4. This is a bit of a threadjack (sorry), but there is a well-known sequel to James C. Brewster’s claims to the status of prophet, although most who know the sequel don’t recognize the connection. The Oatman family who were attacked by Indians in what is now Arizona in 1851 — six were clubbed to death, one survived by playing dead, and two girls were captured as slaves (one died of starvation in captivity; the other returned to white society and had a noteworthy but probably unhappy later life) — were Brewsterites, and were on their way to join Brewster at the place he claimed for the new Zion: the confluence of the Colorado and Gila rivers (near Yuma).

    A recent and very well written account is Brian McGinty, The Oatman Massacre: A Tale of Desert Captivity and Survival, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 4, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  5. Rick, thanks for the bibliographic particulars. I neglected to give the full citation of Brewster’s pamphlet. It’s scarcity is why I chose to put up so much of it. I came across it while reading Mark Ashurst-McGee’s thesis on Joseph Smith.

    Comment by Jared T — June 4, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

  6. This is fascinating stuff, Jared. Thanks. I don’t feel like I have anything substantial to add to what others have said.

    Ardis, that’s an interesting topic. Though anyone who’s spent time in Yuma in July or August knows there’s no way that it’s the new Zion.

    Comment by Christopher — June 4, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  7. Christopher,
    Come on, everyone knows the essence of true devotion is suffering! As Ignatius of Antioch once said

    I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more

    I can think of fewer places that better fit this image of Zionic bizarro-bliss than Yuma in August.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 4, 2008 @ 8:37 pm

  8. Does any of you have the text of the Song of Enoch? You can’t throw out that tidbit and then not deliver.

    Comment by smb — June 4, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

  9. Ardis, thanks for that account! Brewster was quite the colorful character. Apparently, after failing to establish his Zion community (never making it to California), he returned to Illinois and was baptized into Sidney Rigdon’s group.

    Comment by Jared T — June 4, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

  10. smb…ask and ye shall receive…

    THE SONGS OF ENOCH, WRITTEN FOR THE SAINTS

    1 There is a place beyond the hills,
    Where peace and plenty flow,
    Where rolling waves the valley fills,
    And fishes play below.

    2 Where beauty clothes the spreading plain,
    And decks the varied hills;
    But there unknown it long has lain–
    The mountain and the rills–

    3 The oak that waves along the shore,
    In greenest verdure drest,
    That say to man now weep no more,
    But be forever blest.

    4 There plains extend in glittering pride
    Along the blissful shore,
    While through the air the songsters glide
    They sing but sigh no more

    5 Soon war shall rage about this land
    With all its terrors reign,
    And who in all the earth shall stand
    For thousands shall be slain.

    [From pages 9-10]

    Comment by Jared T — June 4, 2008 @ 9:46 pm

  11. Actually, I think it goes on:

    TRUST NOT IN WORDS.
    1 Trust not in them that say believe,
    For surely they will you deceive;
    Trust not in words
    For they are vain,
    For friendship’s end is death and pain.

    2 Trust not in promises for lies they be,
    Bind not yourselves but stand forth free,
    Trust not in friends
    For they are vain,
    For all that’s joined shall be rent in twain.

    3 Trust not in arms for weak they be,
    Trust not in sped for you cannot flee,
    Trust not to hide
    For you shall be found
    When stern destruction sweeps the ground.

    4 Trust not in ships to escape on sea,
    Trust not in walls though high they be,
    Trust not in towers,
    In bolts or bars,
    In rising hills or lofty spars.

    5 Trust not in strength of walls or towers,
    Trust not to hide in the thickest bowers,
    But trust in him
    Who rules on high,
    Who rides above the stormy sky.

    6 For he will guide to the Western main,
    To the land which has long in darkness lain,
    Where the rivers flow
    And the forest bend,
    There to this land the saints he’ll send.

    7 Where the wide spreading waters reflect the blue sky
    And refreshing cool zephyrs forever draw nigh
    Where birds play in the air
    And the fish in the deep,
    And in the rough mountains the hard minerals sleep.

    8 Where the mountains, the vales, and the wide spreading plains
    Are covered with verdure, with choice herbs and grains,
    Where the righteous may dwell
    And the saints have their fill
    Along the broad river beyond the high hill.

    The sun is greater than the moon
    Yea greater than the earth;
    The time shall come, yea very soon,
    When there shall be an end of mirth,
    For the sun shall shed his hottest rays,
    And there shall be no rain
    Until the end of eighty days,
    And there shall be grief and pain.
    For a sign of this a star shall shine
    Low in the Western skies,
    Although it shall be seen to set,
    It shall not seem to rise.
    Therefore, prepare when ye this sign behold,
    Shine in the West, like a bright diamond gold,
    For want shall come upon this wicked land,
    And none but those who fear the Lord can stand.
    Sign after sign shall fill the evening sky,
    First in the East, the West, and North, the cry
    Repentance to the land and bid it sigh,
    For fears and evils surely shall increase,
    As honor, love and beauty do decrease.

    [p. 10-12]

    Comment by Jared T — June 4, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  12. Thanks Jared, fun stuff.

    Comment by David G. — June 4, 2008 @ 10:01 pm


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