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Luman Walter (c. 1789 – June 2, 1860) is known for his connection with the family of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Little is known of Walter's life. He was born in Winchester, Litchfield County, Connecticut to John Walter and Sarah Walter Gleason around 1789. Sometime between 1798 and 1800, the John Walter family relocated to Burke, Vermont, a town founded by Luman's uncle.[1] Luman reportedly received his higher education in Europe. He is alleged to have there mastered the arts of animal magnetism and Mesmerism, which may indicate that he had some connection with the disciples of Franz Anton Mesmer at the Sorbonne. His interest in alternative medicine may be related to the popularity of Perkinsism during his childhood.[2]

Luman Walter returned to the United States by 1818, and began acting the part of a physician and occult expert.[3] In that year, the deputy sherriff of Boscawen, New Hampshire, one James Giddings, offered a reward for the arrest of a "Transient person, calling himself Laman Walter, [who] has for several days past been imposing himself upon the credulity of the people in this vicinity by a pretended knowledge of magic, palmistry and conjuration...."[4] Since Laman is not uncommon as a spelling variation for Luman, this person is likely Luman Walter. Luman was arrested for "juggling" that August in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, but escaped from jail.[5]

In November 1819 he married Harriet Howard in Vermont. By 1822, Walter had apparently taken up residence in Gorham, Ontario County, New York, moving several years later to Sodus Township, New York. In 1822 and 1823, Luman Walter served as a seer for a treasure dig on the property of Abner Cole in Palmyra, Wayne County, New York. Joseph Smith, Sr., Alvin Smith, and Joseph Smith, Jr. reportedly participated in this dig. Walter possessed a magical book and a seerstone, which he used to locate buried treasure. Walter is said to have conducted three unsuccessful digs on the hill Cumorah, but later suggests that only Smith might be able to find the treasure there.[6]

Abner Cole, a newspaper editor by profession, printed a parody of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Pukei, in his Palmyra paper The Reflector in 1830. This parody described the role of "Walters the Magician" in these treasure digs, who "sacrificed a Cock for the purpose of propitiating the prince of spirits .... And he took his book, and his rusty sword, and his magic stone, and his stuffed Toad, and all his implements of witchcraft and retired to the mountains near Great Sodus Bay".[7] Cole also surmised that Joseph Smith Jr. worked under the inspiration of "Walters the Magician." [8]

Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn has argued that Walter crafted the magical parchments owned by the Smith family, and that the young Joseph Smith, Jr. looked to Walter as an occult mentor.[9] Walter was also one of the early members of Joseph Smith's Church of Christ, but he did not follow the group when they relocated to Ohio.[10] Luman purchased property in Gorham, Ontario County, New York in 1834. He appears on the census rolls there in 1840. Walter died on the 2nd of June 1860.

Walter's second cousin, George Walter, did remain a Mormon.[11] One Dorothy Walter is listed on the rolls of the first Relief Society.[12] Her husband, Benjamin Hoyt, was ordered by his bishop to cease using a divining rod, calling other people wizards and witches, and "burning boards" to heal the bewitched. This decision was upheld by the Church's High Council with Hyrum Smith presiding.[13]

Notes

  1. ^ XX indexVermont
  2. ^ Elisha Perkins, the inventor of the metal rods called "Tractors" which he used in an alternative healing method, was a native of Connecticut. Later writers connected Perkinsism with animal magnetism, although it seems to have developed independently. See http://www.esalenctr.org/display/animag.cfm for the later connection drawn between the two.
  3. ^ On both the 1850 and 1860 census reports for Gorham, Ontario County, New York Walter's profession is listed as physician. Parfitt's genealogy lists his profession as "eclectic physician."
  4. ^ Benes, 123 n. 32.
  5. ^ Brooke, 363 n. 12; Concord Gazette, Sept. 1, 1818; New Hampshire Patriot, Sept. 1, 1818.
  6. ^ Quinn (1998, p. 117).
  7. ^ Dogberry, pseud. [Cole], "Book of Pukei," The Reflector (Palmyra, NY), 1830-06-12, 36.
  8. ^ Bushman, 120.
  9. ^ On the parchments, see Quinn, 131.
  10. ^ See Tucker, Pomeroy (1867), Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism, New York: D. Appleton, p. 38, http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC09549357&id=resQAAAAIAAJ , which lists "Luman Walters" as one of Smith's earliest followers. For his participation in Mormonism, see The Essential Brigham Young, Signature Books, 1992, 35.
  11. ^ Quinn, 128.
  12. ^ M. C. Ward, ""This Institution is a Good One": The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 17 March 1842 to 16 March 1844," Mormon Historical Studies, 140.
  13. ^ History of the Church 5:311-12

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