During the Second Great Awakening, the region was a hotbed of religious enthusiasm; and between 18, there were several camp meetings and revivals in the Palmyra area.
Although Smith may have understood the event as a personal conversion, this "First Vision" later grew in importance among Mormons, who today see it as the first event in the "restoration of the Gospel".
These men, known collectively as the Three Witnesses—along with a later group of Eight Witnesses composed of male members of the Whitmer and Smith families—signed statements testifying that they had seen the golden plates; the eight witnesses also said they had actually handled the plates.
According to Smith, the angel Moroni took back the plates once Smith finished using them.
While boarding at the Hale house in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Smith began courting Emma Hale.
When Smith proposed marriage, Emma's father Isaac Hale objected because Smith was "a stranger" who had no means of supporting his daughter other than money digging, of which he disapproved.
In 1816–17, after an ill-fated business venture and three years of crop failures, the Smith family moved to the western New York village of Palmyra, and eventually took a mortgage on a 100-acre (40 ha) farm in the nearby town of Manchester.
Smith said that in 1823, while praying one night for forgiveness from his sins, he was visited by an angel named Moroni, who revealed the location of a buried book made of golden plates, as well as other artifacts, including a breastplate and a set of interpreters composed of two seer stones set in a frame, which had been hidden in a hill in Manchester near his home.
Smith was said to have an ability to locate lost items by looking into a seer stone, which he also used in treasure hunting, including several unsuccessful attempts to find buried treasure sponsored by a wealthy farmer in Chenango County, New York.
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In February 1828, Martin Harris arrived to assist Smith by transcribing his dictation.