Eventually young Joseph told his family about his visitation from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and they believed him because he was always a truthful boy. Then, thinking that any religious man would be delighted to hear of such a miraculous occurrence, Joseph talked with some of the traveling preachers about what happened to him. But his story was met with derision and contempt, and he was told that it was all of the devil.
As the boy's story was passed around Palmyra, men of high standing from all the various religious sects united in persecution of young Joseph, saying all kinds of evil things about him. Joseph could not understand how such hatred could be aroused by his simply telling the truth. Though his family stood by him, Joseph lost many friends as the years passed. One night after retiring to bed when Joseph was 17, he earnestly prayed to God for direction.
Suddenly his attic bedroom was filled with light and a holy angel appeared at Joseph's bedside and said, "I am Moroni, an ancient prophet who once lived here on the American continent." He told Joseph about a record of his people written on gold plates that had been hidden underground for 1,400 years. "You are to translate this record and publish it," said Moroni, "and you will become known for good and for evil among all people."
Joseph was given a vision of the location of these plates—they were about three miles from his house. "Satan will tempt you to sell these gold plates to help your family out of poverty," warned Moroni. The angel then quoted prophecies from the Old Testament, though with variations from how it appears in the Bible. Finally, he told Joseph that Elijah would visit him to restore the priesthood to earth.
When the angel ascended, Joseph heard a rooster crow and realized the visitation had lasted all night. He went outside to attend to his farm work, but his father noticed his weakened state and told him to go rest. On his way back to the house, Joseph collapsed. He heard his name being called, and when he looked, he again saw the angel Moroni who repeated his entire message from the night before, and then instructed him to tell his father about his vision.
Upon hearing Joseph's account of the previous night's angelic visit, his father assured him that it was indeed a message from God, and that he should do as the angel instructed him. So Joseph traveled to the place he had seen in his vision—the Hill Cumorah. On the west side of the hill near the summit, Joseph found a large stone on the ground. So he used a lever to move the stone aside.
Underneath was revealed a box containing the gold plates as well as an instrument with which to translate them known as the Urim and Thummim—a breastplate accompanied by two seer stones set inside a metal bow. Joseph reached for the plates, but received a shock that threw him backward. He attempted twice more before shouting in frustration, "Why can I not obtain this book?"
"You still have thoughts of your family's poverty and how these plates might be used to gain wealth," said the angel Moroni, appearing once again. "This is why you cannot obtain the records, for these sacred things must only be used for the glory of God. Learn to keep the commandments of God, and return to this place on this day for each of the next four years."