Joseph Smith founded in 1830 what he initially called the Church of Christ. Later it would become known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or more commonly, the Mormons. Smith and the Church got their start in Palmyra, New York, some 200 miles west of Albany, and a short distance from the Erie Canal. By 1831, the fledgling religious community had moved to Kirtland, Ohio. Although there were a few Mormon converts in the Albany area in the 1830’s and 1840’s, nearly all migrated west to follow the rest of the ‘Saints.’ Hence, it was not until 1978 that an LDS Stake or ‘parish’ was established in Albany.
But Albany has some interesting connections with the foundation of the Latter Day Saints. One such has to do with the foundational LDS scripture, the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith claimed that in 1823, on the Hill Cumorah, outside of Palmyra, the angel Moroni revealed to him a series of golden tablets which the angel told Smith to copy. In 1827, Smith showed the copy he had made to his friend and neighbor Martin Harris. Smith told Harris that the markings were in ‘reformed Egyptian.’ A somewhat skeptical Harris insisted on taking the manuscript with its strange writing to some ‘experts’ to verify its authenticity.
The first ‘expert’ Harris approached was Luther Bradish, a first term Assemblyman from Franklin County. Before beginning his political career, Bradish had served for several years as a special agent in Constantinople for the Monroe Administration. In that capacity, Bradish had travelled widely through the Middle East and Egypt, where he gained a reputation as an amateur linguist and Egyptologist. Harris did not choose Bradish as a man to visit out of thin air. Bradish’s parents lived at that time in Palmyra, and were known to Harris.
Martin Harris met Bradish in Albany in January or February 1828. Bradish may have been staying at the Temperance Hotel on Broadway (it would be his temporary residence in a later year). Bradish thought he recognized some of the markings on Smith’s manuscript, but referred Harris to two men with more expertise than himself, Dr. Charles Anthon, professor of Latin and Greek at Columbia College in New York City, and Dr. Samuel Mitchill, said to be a ‘living encyclopedia.’ Bradish would later remark that he believed Harris was being duped by Smith, and hoped that Anthon and Mitchill would be able to dissuade Harris from being taken in. They did not, and Harris returned to Palmyra and became one of Smith’s leading disciples, putting up the money for the first publication of the Book of Mormon.
Bradish would serve in the NYS Assembly for a total of six years, including two years as Speaker. He served as Lieutenant Governor for two terms under Governor Seward. A strange aside for Luther Bradish: while in Egypt, he, like so many others through the ages, left a graffito on an ancient structure. He wrote: “L. BRADISH 1821 OF NY US”. The structure was the Temple of Dendur, which was transported in its entirety in 1978 and deposited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Little did Bradish suspect that his small act of vandalism would be put on display for all to see in his adopted home of New York City. An added irony: Bradish was the president of the New York Historical Society!