Josiah Stowell Home

“Stowell Mansion” as it is called by local residents, has only changed ownership three times since it was first built. The current owners have been restoring it to its original glory, as volunteer couples have been living in the home to  provide tours and maintain the home. The Prophet Joseph spent a great deal of time here during the dawn of the restoration and must have thought of it as a memorable place for when he built his own Nauvoo Mansion House, the floorplan was a near replica to the “Stowell Mansion” of Afton, New York.

Josiah’s role in the restoration began in 1825, while visiting his oldest son, Simpson Stowell, in Manchester, not far from the Hill Cumorah. Josiah heard rumors of a young man’s talents in finding buried treasure and soon paid a visit to the Smith home near Palmyra. Josiah believed there was an abandoned mine near his own farm to the south.

With looming debts coming due on their own farm; not only Joseph, but also his father Joseph, Sr. and brother Hyrum agreed on what they considered a lofty wage for such work. Through their efforts, Josiah inquired of Joseph’s reputation and became less convinced of buried monetary treasure and more convinced of a recently uncovered spiritual one through the young Prophet’s testimony.

Throughout the year, Joseph returned to the area to continue work for not only Stowell, but for Joseph Knight in the neighboring town of Colesville, as well as the Hale family of Harmony, Pennsylvania. The Hale’s daughter Emma, many believed, was the main reason for Joseph’s return. Emma’s father, however, was convinced of many of the rumors about the young man. Josiah, seeing Emma’s  turmoil, on several occasions testied to her of the Prophet’s divine appointment and encouraged her to marry him.

Finally, on the night of January 17, 1827; Joseph and Emma appeared at Josiah’s home seeking help. Josiah took them into Afton to the home of Squire Tarbell, Justice of the Peace, where they were married with Stowell as a witness.

After a lengthy honeymoon at the Stowell home, Joseph and Emma returned to Palmyra. Both Josiah and Joseph Knight Sr. often visited the Smiths and were both present the night the Prophet brought the plates to the Smith home. As the Prophet was passing the heavy load through the window to his mother, a portion of the linen was pulled back and Josiah caught a glimpse of the plates.

Although Josiah was not divinely called to be a Witness of the plates as those who placed their testimonies in the Book of Mormon, Josiah’s own witness served its purpose. Soon after this incident the Prophet was accused on warrant of “being a disorderly person, of setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon, and various other such like charges.” Josiah’s daughters were called up to testify of Joseph’s character in their presence both in public and in private, a tactic that failed miserably for the prosecution.

The Prophet wrote of his first trial,

“‘Question: Deacon Stowell, do I understand you as swearing before God, under solemn oath you have taken, that you believe [that Joseph Smith is called by God]?’

Answer: ‘Do I believe it? Do I believe it! No; it is not a matter of belief. I positively know it to be true.'”

Stowell testified that he saw characters written on gold leaves and was even able to tell the court the size  weight, and dimensions of the plates. (Church History and  Modern Revelation, Vol. 1, P.  108-109)

As Joseph was preparing to secure publication for the Book of Mormon, Stowell managed to sell a portion of his farm and donate several hundred dollars to contribute to the  book’s publication. Josiah also attended the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830 at the Whitmer home in Fayette and was baptized immediately following.

Josiah served as a faithful member of the Colesville Branch  until it relocated to Kirtland, Ohio. Josiah, then being in his sixties, was not strong enough to make the exodus with the Church. In 1835 he managed to relocate to Smithboro, New York where he ran a small farm and mill. He remained there  until his death on May 12, 1844.

Shortly before Josiah’s death, a letter was sent to Joseph written by Martha Crosby, his caretaker.

“Brother Smith, by the request of Brother Stowell I now set down to write to you. He is quite unwell & is sometimes fear-full that he cannot stand it through the winter & wishes me to say to you that he wants your prayers & the prayers of all the Saints for the  recovery of his health to in able him to gather  among the Saints & he also wishes to know if you could receive him as a brother. … He says he never staggered at the foundation of the work for he knew too much concerning it. If I understood him right he was the first person that took the Plates out of your hands the morning you brought them in & observed ‘blessed is he that seeth & believeth  & more blessed is he that believeth without seeing’ & says he has seen & believed. He seems anxious to get there [Nauvoo] to renew his covenant with the Lord . . . He gave me stricture to say to you his faith is good concerning the work of the Lord he has ever manifested good feelings toward you & your father’s family  & also the Church.”

When word reached the current home’s owners that Judge Tarbell’s historic home was being demolished, they managed to salvage the fi replace mantle, in front of which the Judge often performed matrimonial ceremonies. The piece is now mounted in the parlor of the Stowell home.

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