“Treasure Seeking,” Church History Topics
Joseph Smith’s critics often tried to disparage him by calling him a money digger or a treasure seeker. Rather than deny the charge, Joseph acknowledged in his official history that Josiah Stowell had hired him in 1825 to assist in a treasure-seeking venture in northern Pennsylvania.1 Stowell wanted his help because Joseph was reputed by some of his neighbors to be a “seer”—someone who could look into a special stone and find lost or hidden objects.2
“Seeing” and “seers” were part of the culture in which Joseph Smith grew up. Some people in the early 19th century believed it was possible for gifted individuals to see lost objects by means of material objects such as stones. Joseph Smith and his family, like many around them, accepted these familiar folk practices.
In the 1820s, a fascination with purported Spanish treasure deposits led prospectors like Josiah Stowell to enlist the aid of seers like Joseph in their search for treasure.3 Stowell trusted Joseph, sought his assistance in seeking treasure, and even took his advice to finally give up the hunt. Joseph Smith Sr. considered his son’s ability sacred and hoped he would cease using it to look for earthly treasures.4 As Joseph prepared to translate the Book of Mormon, he was commanded to have nothing further to do with those who sought treasure and instead use his gift to translate and seek revelation.
Though it was not uncommon in Joseph Smith’s time and place to encounter people who claimed to use stones to search for lost or hidden objects, using a seer stone to translate an ancient record was unheard of. God gave Joseph Smith power to translate the Book of Mormon, redirecting Joseph’s use of the seer stone toward work of a spiritual nature.