CES Letter Core Question
Is Pomeroy Tucker a reliable source for information about Joseph Smith?
Pomeroy Tucker was highly biased, making claims beyond what his experience and informants could actually document.
The CES Letter quotes an 1867 publication by Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, rise, and progress of Mormonism, saying that because the author was born in 1802, “He is considered to be a contemporary source.” This is untrue since it was not printed until twenty-three years after the Prophet’s death and decades more after the described activities occurred.
To justify using this source, The CES Letter explains: “FairMormon has an article where they quoted Tucker 4 times from his book as support for Joseph and even referred to Tucker as an ‘eye witness’ to Joseph and his family.” This is deceptive because the author, Craig Ray, in his article: "Joseph Smith's History Confirmed," references Tucker four times only to establish a timeline for event in the 1810s. None of his other claims are treated as credible and multiple observations indicated he was highly biased and not reliable.
For example, Tucker wrote that Joseph Smith’s polygamous “children could not be enumerated with any degree of accuracy.” (Pomeroy Tucker, The Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism [New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867], 171). While two or three children can be documented having been born to the Prophet’s plural wives (click here), no person even remotely associated with the Latter-day Saints during the latter periods could have accurately made any such estimate. This statement demonstrates that Tucker was capable of over-the-top allegations that were devoid of any connection to reality.
Undeniably, Pomeroy Tucker was an antagonistic author. While his claims should not be dismissed out of hand, a secondary source indicating the Joseph Smith knew about Captain Kidd would be sought by sincere scholars seeking to document the Prophet’s early life's experiences.
The idea that learning about Captain Kidd might have impacted Joseph Smith's involvement with the Book of Mormon might make sense to individuals who have not read it, but the complexity of the Book of Mormon inherently argues against such simplistic "sound bite" analyses.