Recently I mentioned two unintentional
non-LDS witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Michael B. Morse, the non-LDS man who saw Joseph’s translation process underway a number of times, and Josiah Stowell, who was one of the first people after Joseph to heft the plates. Here’s one more to consider. This comes from Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 265-6. This passage can also be viewed at Google Books. A screenshot from Google Books is below, followed by the text.
Chenango Union Interview with Mrs. Doolittle, April 12, 1877.
Source note: “Early Days of Mormonism,” Chenango Union, Norwich, N.Y., April 12, 1877.
The Binghamton Republican publishes
recollections of Mrs. Doolittle, a lady seventy-five years old, who is
now visiting with her son-in-law, Chief of Police Johnson
of that city. She was personally acquainted with the first wife of
Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, Miss Emma Hale, whom he
married near Susquehanna, Pa.
From her statement it appears that Joe came to the neighborhood of
Susquehanna to dig for gold, and made several excavations for
that purpose, but it never was known that his labors in that direction
were rewarded. While thus employed he became acquainted
with Miss Hale, whose parents opposed the proposed marriage, and the
young people eloped to Windsor, where they were married.
They returned and settled down upon a farm adjoining the lands of Mr. Hale and Mr. McKune. There was already a small house upon
the farm, a story and a half frame building, and Joe put on a small addition. The farm and the house is now the property of
Benjamin McKune, a grand-son of Joseph McKune. This same McKune farm is again becoming somewhat famous in consequence of
preparations to bore into it for oil a short distance from the prophet’s first domicile.
While Joe was upon his farm he had the Mormon Bible. Whether he professed to find it before or after marriage Mrs. Doolittle
does not remember. Her grandfather was once privileged to take in his hands a pillowcase in which the supposed
saintly treasure was wrapped, and to feel through the cloth that it had
leaves. From the size and the weight of the book, Mr. McKune
supposed that in dimensions it closely resembled an ordinary Bible in
the print of those days.
Further up the river they have also reminiscences of Joe Smith, which
continue Mrs. Doolittle’s narrative. In the town Alton, Chenango
County, not far from the Broome County line, is a small lake nestled in
the hills, and a portion of it is in sight of the Albany &
Susquehanna Railroad. It is said that Joe Smith baptized his first
Mormon converts there; and it is claimed that the Mormon Church was
really begun there, instead of being founded at Manchester, Ontario
County, the home of the Smith family, and where the first printed
copies of the Mormon or Golden Bible were distributed about ten or
twelve years after the prophet’s first appearance in Susquehanna County
to dig for money.
So whatever the gold plates were, here at least is a witness from a neighbor that Joseph had something about the size of a family Bible that had leaves he could sense through the cloth that wrapped it. This is consistent with what other witnesses experienced, including through touching, seeing, and hefting. Theories that Joseph just had a chunk of lead don’t pass muster — not to mention that Martin Harris pointed out that Joseph didn’t have the resources to even acquire that much lead. Something else was going on here. Mass hypnosis of neighbors, too, perhaps?