Joseph Smith’s 1832 account of the First Vision preserves personal and intimate details that are not recorded elsewhere.
The only known account in Joseph Smith’s own handwriting of his early spiritual experiences—including the First Vision—are included in his 1832 personal history. This unique history can be read on The Joseph Smith Papers website. Reading the account in Joseph’s handwriting is like stepping through a portal to the past.
From the historical introduction to this account, we learn that for Joseph Smith, “scriptural record keeping overshadowed personal and institutional record keeping” until 1832. Prior to that time, Joseph was focused on recording the Book of Mormon and other revelations rather than recording his own story or the Church’s history. After 1832, he tried to make it a priority to keep a journal of his life, although—like many of us—he had a hard time writing consistently.
Reading opening paragraph of the history, we might think Joseph will include a comprehensive account of the coming forth of the Church, including the restoration of the priesthood. But this account ends after six pages, telling the story only up through the beginning of the Book of Mormon translation. Even though it doesn’t include everything promised in its introduction, however, this account gives us priceless information, such as Joseph Smith’s earliest account of his First Vision and visits by the angel Moroni.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the idea that perhaps Joseph Smith did not initially tell the public about the First Vision because he did not consider it to be a revelation for the world. The historical introduction states, “Initially, JS may have considered this [his first] vision to be a personal experience tied to his own religious explorations.”
The manuscript and historical introduction are overflowing with rich details about Joseph’s personal experiences and include physical clues that reflect the documentation processes of the time. It is amazing what we can discover by analyzing a person’s scribbles, smudges, and writing styles.
Read some excerpts from Joseph’s handwritten history
Joseph was enlisted from an early age to help support his large family. He says, “therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructtid in reading writing and the ground of Arithmatic which const[it]uted my whole literary acquirements” (p. 1).
Joseph Smith also shares what sparked his testimony of an omnipotent and everlasting God. “I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood . . . and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed . . . fool saith in his heart there is no God” (pp. 2–3).
Joseph writes the following about his vision: “A piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord” (p. 3).[/su_expand]
Read Joseph Smith’s full History circa Summer 1832.
Source: The Joseph Smith Papers
—Amber Dalton, Mormon Insights
Joseph Smith Painting photo courtesy of LDS Media Library