Critics claim Joseph made up the vision in 1832 and the story evolved from there. This is simply not true, given what we can find in the historical record.
You can read the PDF from the link below:
I’ll include the conclusion below:
“Historical analysis of Joseph Smith’s earliest religious experiences
raises the larger question of what documentation can reasonably be
expected for such events. A few writers on this subject virtually claim that
one could not accept the vision if it were not headlined by the regional
press in the spring of 1820. But that is projecting twentieth century journalism
onto the patterns of another age, for precious little local news
reached the columns of the country newspaper of Joseph Smith’s youth.
A more realistic criterion is the outside publicity given the rise of Christianity.
Contemporary mention of this obscure religious reform is absent
until it became an influential force, and at that point comment emerges in
Roman sources. Non-Mormon references to the First Vision follow this
parallel. The earliest known newspaper allusion is a reaction to the first
great success of Latter-day Saint proselyting, the Ohio-Missouri mission.
“Our Painesville correspondent” forwarded a report of the 1830 preaching
of “Cowdery and his friends” in Ohio: “Smith (they affirmed), had seen
God frequently and personally.”88
At the peak of his career in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith was a creative religious
innovator, but every important First Vision account antedates that
period. The visions of the 1820’s were historically recorded in the 1830’s,
with the first detailed account of the First Vision framed in 1831–32, about
a decade after the event. This compares favorably to the best parallel, the
New Testament record of Christian revelations. For instance, Paul’s first
vision occurred about A.D. 33, but his only detailed descriptions are
speeches given in the period A.D. 58–60, also the earliest date for the composition of Acts, in which these speeches and Luke’s historical account of
Paul’s vision appear.
In present terms, many readers of this article in 1969 remember very well certain episodes of December 7, 1941 (a quarter of a century ago), because of their aroused emotions on “a day that will live in infamy.” Some twenty years after the death of his brother Alvin, Joseph Smith said that the vivid memories of that event had not left him.89 The First Vision, an experience of greater emotional impact, was entered in the early ledger book after about half that time. This paper has shown that Joseph Smith’s memory is basically accurate for the external events of his early life.
Although not commenting upon the circumstances of the First Vision,
Joseph Smith’s father alluded to the experience itself. The occasion was a
formal gathering of the entire Smith family and a few trusted Church leaders
in 1834 to receive their blessings from the appointed patriarch of the
Church. The meeting was opened by brief observations of the sixty-threeyear-old leader, surveying his personal and family history. He recalled that
the Lord had “often” given him “visions” and “dreams,” a supporting statement
for the seven related in detail by his wife, the last of which is dated
1819 by her. He reviewed God’s favor on the family in their “many afflictions,”
mentioning specifically the tragedies of the “untimely birth” of a
son (about 1797), the death of another child “in his infancy” (1810), and
the 1823 death of Alvin, “taken from us in the vigor of life, in the bloom of
youth.”90 Obviously, Joseph Sr. was voicing the personal convictions and
traditions of an entire household. After a prayer, the initial blessing was
given to his prophet-son.
The opening words of Joseph Smith, Sr., summarized the spiritual career of the twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr., as then accepted by those who knew him most intimately: The Lord thy God has called thee by name out of the heavens; thou hast heard his voice from on high from time to time, even in thy youth.91
In a series of revelations given “from time to time,” the initial experience
mentioned is not the coming of an angel, but an incident in which the
youth is addressed personally by God from the heavens.92 Thus the patriarch
spontaneously gives the same sequence for the First Vision as found in
the writings of his wife and prophet-son.
To recapitulate, the reality of the First Vision has recently been challenged
on the ground that no revivals are found in the village of Palmyra in
the years immediately surrounding Joseph Smith’s date of 1820. But a
study of the leading non-Mormon recollection of the Prophet’s early religious
investigations makes this line of investigation largely irrelevant.
Orsamus Turner, printer’s apprentice in Palmyra until about 1820, recalled
young Joseph’s “catching a spark of Methodism in the camp meeting, away
down in the woods…” Thus the “religious excitement” that the Prophet
identifies as preceding his First Vision must be seen in a rural setting, what
a contemporary minister of the Genesee Conference termed “forest gatherings.”93
The documented camp meeting near Palmyra in 1820 is no doubt
typical of many others not noted in the press. But a constellation of
Methodist preachers comprising all circuits of western New York gathered
in their annual meeting at nearby Phelps in 1819. The impact of their public
preaching is measured by the description of the “crowds which gathered
from far and near” for the conference of the previous year.94
A careful study of the quality of recollection found in the writings of
William Smith and Oliver Cowdery render them not prime sources for
the First Vision itself. This means in essence that recent challenges to the
Prophet’s first religious experience have set up the problem with improper
sources and have attempted a solution by studying only one type of revival
in an unduly restricted locality. When the personal recollections that reach
back to 1820 are isolated, the few Mormon and non-Mormon sources that
qualify are in basic agreement. Though scornful of Mormon claims and
preoccupied with money-digging gossip, Orsamus Turner and Pomeroy
Tucker agree that Joseph Smith loosely affiliated with Methodism but
shortly announced a negative evaluation of all Christian churches. A study
of Turner’s early life, combined with the shortness of Joseph Smith’s
Methodist association indicated in Tucker, requires a date of approximately
1820 for these events.
By far the best independent source on Joseph’s early personal life is his mother, who confirms the religious excitement about 1819 “in the surrounding country,” relates his vision, describes his ostracism afterwards, and emphasizes that his conviction that the churches were wrong prevented his following the majority of the adults of his family in participation in the local revivals of 1824–25.
Beyond these historical details, it is most impressive that both parents express acceptance of the First Vision. An exacting study of existing recollections of the early 1820 period leaves the distinct impression that Joseph Smith is more accurate on his early history than any of his current critics.