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Mormonism LIVE: 111: Joseph Smith’s Secret Education – The Dartmouth Connection

The running narrative within Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was an uneducated backwoods farm boy and that his lack of sophistication leaves the the Restoration as a miracle that no country bumpkin could have pulled off. But what happens when, with critical thinking skills, we take a look at the the Education he did have or had potential access to. Was Joseph Smith uneducated? Was he a middle school dropout as a surface level reading intimates? And what do we see when we look at the education of those around Joseph Smith and specifically within his family?

CORRECTIONS [ There were two errors in the video presentation for this episode. #1 Randall Bell conflated incorrectly that Joseph’s uncle, John Smith (July 16, 1781 – May 23, 1854) was same John Smith (December 21, 1752 – April 30, 1809) who played a prominent role in the early history of Dartmouth. #2 The letter put up on the screen of Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdrey, is in the handwriting of Frederick G Williams.]


Dartmouth Arminianism And Its Impact on Hyrum Smith And the Smith Family –

PDF Reassessing Joseph Smith Jr.’s Formal Education William Davis Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (2016) 49 (4): 1–58. –

Randall Bell’s PDF Presentation –

Joseph Smith’s Pre-1830 Education –

List of Books Joseph Smith owned –

Treasures and a Trash Heap: An Early Reference to the Joseph Smith Family in Palmyra (Page 201 of the document) –

William Davis wrote an article “reassessing Joseph Smith Jr’s Formal Education” and notes that when one tallies up all the evidence including the final term with Stowell’s son in Bainbridge such “increases the overall estimated time that Joseph spent in formal education to the equivalent of approximately seven full school years —a notable increase to that proposed in previous historical representations, and one that will require the careful evaluation of future historians”

reddit discussion around the Dartmouth Connection –

Adam Clarke’s Book on Tobacco –,among%20religious%20people….%20by%20Clarke%2C%20Adam%2C%20approximately%201762-1832

History of Moor’s Indian Charity School –


3 thoughts on “Mormonism LIVE: 111: Joseph Smith’s Secret Education – The Dartmouth Connection”

  1. Regarding the question of why Joseph Smith may have used the term “we” in the quote about his family not having enough money to afford an education for the children, I look at this through the lens of Joseph being the type of personality that typically leads a high demand group. We know that other such leaders tend to have the need to be the best, to be on top, to be “the greatest.” If this was the case with Joseph, then I think it is possible that it bothered him that his brother received this amazing education. I would also be curious if Hyrum was considered “the smart one” in the family, which would also be a sore spot for someone with narcissistic tendencies. My guess is that Hyrum’s role, like everyone else in Joseph’s orbit, was to stand in Joseph’s shadow. Acknowledging these achievements would have brought too much attention to Hyrum, which would have been a threat to Joseph’s ego.

  2. Very fascinating. Thank you for doing this research.
    A thought about the idea of the Smith family not having access to “education”, as Joseph describes it in his history: is it possible he meant education in the sense of higher education? Hyrum received what was probably the best available prep school education in the US at the time, but it was technically not what would be regarded as a higher education now, and probably then as well, I think. When we say someone is uneducated now, we often mean lack of college education, but I don’t know how the word was used 200 years ago. I see three possible interpretations of that passage of Joseph’s history: (1) he was being intentionally disingenuous, (2) he was intentionally stating something that was only true in a narrow technical sense because it served the narrative he was trying to tell, or (3) he was using the term “education” in a way that would have been widely understood as meaning higher education and saying his family didn’t have access to education wouldn’t have excluded the possibility of a really good prep school education. The plausibility of the third option may be a useful question for future research.

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