Documents from before the time when Joseph Smith visions had become widely known can provide a reliable glimpse into how the Smiths were regarded in their community before negative rumors and gossip had sullied their reputations. Such pieces of evidence are in short supply. But some do exist. Perhaps the most compelling example come from the legal proceedings involving members of the Smith family, including Joseph Smith Jr., about a year before the first vision, according to one researcher, New York law and local practice permitted the use of child persons under 14 testimony subject to the court’s discretion to determine the witnesses competency.
The test for competency required a determination that the witness was of sound, mind and memory. This determination as to competency rested within the discretion of the judge. Assuming that the justice followed proper procedure in the Smith’s case, Joseph Jr. must have proved himself competent of a sound mind, good memory, strong intellect and a moral and religious understanding beyond his years from this fairly recently discovered court record, readers today learned that during the very time Joseph was in the midst of his wrestle over which church to join, neighbors regarded him as a boy with a sound mind and memory, competent character and perhaps even one given to serious religious thought.
As an eyewitness, they viewed him sympathetically, credibly and reasonably. Joseph Smith deserves to be regarded as an honest, sincere and credible witness. But he told people in 1820 that he had seen God, the father and Jesus Christ. And now you know why.