The “Caractors” From The Gold Plates

Characters On Desk

Part I of “19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s ‘Caractors’ Found”

Farmer Martin Harris

Farmer Martin Harris

If you missed the Introduction to this article, click on the link.

There are many differing accounts that have been given about the history of the characters that Joseph Smith supposedly copied from the gold plates he claimed a “messenger from the skies” informed him of in the fall of 1823.

At the center of these accounts is a prosperous farmer named Martin Harris, who came to believe the story Joseph told him about a messenger who revealed to him that there was a record of the former inhabitants of this continent [7] written on gold plates which had been buried on a hill about five miles from the Harris farm. Joseph, who was apparently told by the messenger that he would be able to translate the plates by means of “spectacles”[8] that were buried with them, left conflicting accounts about the characters.

There are also many accounts that do not agree with the details that Smith wrote in 1832, 1834 and 1839 concerning the “caractors” he claimed were copied from the plates.

These conflicting details have raised questions by many who have studied the various accounts about the characters related by Joseph Smith, Martin Harris and others. For instance,

Why did Joseph state in his 1832 History that “the Lord had shown him [Martin Harris] “in a vision” that he must go to New York City with some of the characters”?

Why did Joseph’s mother Lucy and others state that Joseph Jr. copied the characters before his move to Pennsylvania?

Why did Joseph state in his 1839 History that it was only after his arrival in Pennsylvania that he began to copy and translate some of the characters with the aid of the urim and thummim?

Why would Joseph do so if he was told by the messenger to wait until they were taken to the “learned” to fulfill scripture?

In an article which tries to explain some of the above questions, Mormon apologist David E. Sloan writes that “it is a mistake to allow a limited historical perspective to control the interpretation of an inspired prophecy.”[9]

But it is a historical fact that Joseph “translated”  the contents of the Book of Mormon after the events that it purported to prophecy about.[10] Mr. Sloan continues,

This is especially so [the limited historical perspective] considering that the relevant portion of the 1839 history was written approximately ten years after the actual event, by a clerk under the Prophet’s direction, and without explicit reference to the prophecy. In contrast, the first historical account of this event, discussed below, was personally written by Joseph only four years later, specifically refers to the prophecy, and is consistent with the interpretation of the prophecy given above. According to Elder Neal A. Maxwell, most “great spiritual events went unseen by eyes spiritually untrained. . . . One day, the historical record will be complete; but, meanwhile, the scriptures will be our guide concerning those transcending spiritual events in human history which are saturated with significance.” [11]

Letterbook 1

Letterbook 1

The historical account that Mr. Sloan refers to was written by Joseph in 1832 but was subsequently abandoned by him and left in the back of a Letterbook.[12] This account was not used by Joseph and Oliver in their 1834-5 History, nor was it referenced by Joseph in his 1839 History. Joseph did have the 1834 History copied into his large journal in 1835-36, but not the abandoned 1832 history.[13] Still, the 1832 History is the closest contemporary account written by Joseph dealing with the characters he supposedly copied off of the gold plates.  Joseph wrote,

“on the 22d day of Sept of this same year [1827] I obtained the plates and the in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Haris who became convinced of the visions and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto him his marvilous work which he was about to do and he imediately came to Su[s]quehanna and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City with some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them”[14]

According to this account it was Martin’s idea (supposedly inspired by a vision) to have some of the characters copied so he could go to New York City with them. This version of events is remembered differently by Lucy Smith who spoke to the assembled Church in 1845 as recorded by William Clayton:

[I] Want to speak about the dead. 18 years ago last September that J[oseph] took the plates out of the earth. 18 years last Monday since J[oseph]. S[mith]. the prophet of the Lord got the plates from the earth.  J[oseph]. came to me and told me he had taken those plates out of the ground. Tell all three of them (Harris[es]) that I have got them I want Martin to assist me and take some of the characters off to send them to N.Y.” [15]

Norton Jacob

Norton Jacob

Norton Jacob also wrote an account of Lucy Smith’s speech and verified what Clayton wrote,

Br Brigham [Young] commenced in the morning.… after he got through Mother Smith, Joseph’s mother addressed the congregation abou<t> an hour concerning of the history of herself & family in bringing forth the Book of Mormon[.] she said it was eighteen years ago last monday since she commenced preaching the gospel being cal[l]ed upon by Joseph Smith to go & tell Mar=tin Harris & family that he had got the Plates & he wanted him to take an alphabet of the characters & carry them to the learned men to decypher.…” [16]

An account given by Martin Harris himself in 1859 also does not agree with Joseph’s 1832 history. In this account by Harris he states that “I had a revelation the summer before, [1827 ] that God had a work for me to do.” It is notable that Harris does not say that God revealed anything specific to him. Harris then affirms that,

The first time I heard of the matter, [the gold plates] my brother Presarved Harris, who had been in the village of Palmyra, asked me if [I] had heard about Joseph Smith, jr., having a golden bible. My thoughts were that the money-diggers had probably dug up an old brass kettle, or something of the kind. I thought no more of it. This was about the first of October, 1827.[17]

Harris then states that he first visited Lucy Smith who told him the story of the gold plates and then “a day or so” later he went and visited Joseph.[18]  Martin stated that Joseph told him that, “An angel had appeared to him, and told him it was God’s work,” and that “he found them [the plates] by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason Chase. [19] The family had likewise told me the same thing,” wrote Harris.[20] Harris then stated that,

“Joseph said the angel told him he must quit the company of the money-diggers. That there were wicked men among them. He must have no more to do with them. He must not lie, nor swear, nor steal. He told him to go and look in the spectacles, and he would show him the man that would assist him. That he did so, and he saw myself, Martin Harris, standing before him. That struck me with surprise. I told him I wished him to be very careful about these things. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I saw you standing before me as plainly as I do now.’ I said, if it is the devil’s work I will have nothing to do with it; but if it is the Lord’s, you can have all the money necessary to bring it before the world. He said the angel told him, that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world. I said, Joseph, you know the doctrine, that cursed is every one that putteth his trust in man, and maketh flesh his arm; and we know that the devil is to have great power in the latter days to deceive if possible the very elect; and I don’t know that you are one of the elect. Now you must not blame me for not taking your word. If the Lord will show me that it is his work, you can have all the money you want. [21]

Harris then recounts that he,

retired to my bedroom and prayed God to show me concerning these things, and I covenanted that if it was his work and he would show me so, I would put forth my best ability to bring it before the world. He then showed me that It was his work, and that it was designed to bring in the fullness of his gospel to the gentiles to fulfill his word, that the first shall be last and the last first. He showed this to me by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord’s work, and I was under a covenant to bring it forth. [22]

Martin does not claim that he had a vision about the plates. If Harris had already become “convinced of the visions” (as Joseph recounts), then it seems rather strange that he would ask God to acknowledge if “it was his work”, and then pester Joseph to have the characters verified by “the learned”. In this account Martin does not even mention his errand to New York City. Copying the BOM CharactersJoseph states in his 1832 History that it was after his move to Harmony that he transcribed some of the characters from off of the gold plates, [23] but Lucy Smith writes that it was before he moved that this happened:

It soon became necessary to take some measure to accomplish the translation of the record into English but he was instructed to take off a facsimile of the  characters <composing the alphabet which were called reformed egyptian>  Alphabetically and send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for the translation of the same. [24]

It was then, after Joseph had copied some of the characters; that Lucy mentions Martin Harris who she said was a “confidential friend to whom Mr. Smith [Joseph Smith, Sr.] mentioned the existence of the record 2 or 3 years before it came forth.” [25] Lucy then states that ,

To him [Harris] Joseph desired me to go and one afternoon as he wished to see him[.] But this was an errand that I somewhat disliked for his wife [Lucy Harris] was a peculiar sort of a woman one that was habitually of an a very jealous temperment and being hard of hearing she was always suspicious of some secret being in agitation that was designedly kept from her hearing[.] on this account I would rather not go unless I could approach her upon the subject before I spoke to him about it[.] Joseph consented to this and I went away according to his request. [26]

This account agrees with the Harris account in 1859 which states that Lucy came to visit Martin, and here we see that it was at the instigation of Joseph, not the other way around, although Harris did say that he had already intended to see Smith.

Lucy Mack Smith

Lucy Mack Smith

In Lucy Smith’s account it is Lucy Harris that first gives Joseph money to help translate the plates, because she supposedly sees the plates in a dream.[27]  Lucy writes that it was after this, “in Palmira at a public house”  that Martin shows up with a bag of silver totaling $50 and gives it to Smith for his expenses.[28] Also, Martin Harris states in 1859 that he first learned of the record from his Brother Preserved in 1827, not from Joseph Smith Sr. “2 or 3 years before it came forth.” In 1870 Fayette Lapham gave an account of an interview with Joseph Smith Sr. that probably took place in 1829 for the Historical Magazine and recalled that,

Under the first plate, or lid, [of the gold plates] he found a pair of spectacles, about one and a half inches longer than those used at the present day, the eyes not of glass, but of diamond. On the next page were representations of all the masonic implements, as used by masons at the present day. The remaining pages were closely written over in characters of some unknown tongue, the last containing the alphabet of this unknown language. Joseph, not being able to read the characters, made a copy of some of them, which he showed to some of the most learned men of the vicinity. [29]

Lapham relates that there was an “alphabet” of the unknown language written on the last page of the plates, and that Joseph “made a copy of some of them.” Lapham also states in his account that it was Joseph himself who took copies of the characters to “learned men of the vicinity” and that it was after this that he chose Martin Harris to be his scribe.  It should be noted that Dan Vogel writes that “some of Lapham’s statements are inaccurate” though “many of the details are supported by contemporary sources” unpublished in 1870.[30] Lapham also said that Joseph “one day tried the spectacles, and found that, by looking through them, he could see everything—past, present, and future—and could also read and understand the characters written on the plates.”[31] Lucy Smith’s account agrees with Lapham’s about an Alphabet, and that the stones in the “spectacles” were made of diamonds. [32] David Sloan, in trying to prove that Joseph could not translate the characters on the plates until Martin Harris came back from his trip to New York (thereby fulfilling Joseph’s reworked Isaiah prophecy found in 2 Nephi Chapter 27) states:

Joseph’s parents also believed that their son could not at first translate the characters and understood that one reason for sending Martin Harris to New York City was to obtain help with the translation. In 1830, Joseph Smith Sr. was reported as saying that “his son, “not being able to read the characters, made a copy of some of them, which he showed to some of the most learned men of the vicinity.” The Prophet’s mother also recorded that during this time, “Joseph was very solicitous about the work but as yet no means had come into his hands of accomplishing it”—this despite the fact that he possessed the Urim and Thummim. [33]

Joseph apparently did not tell his mother the reason why the characters needed to be sent out to be deciphered; only that he was “instructed” to do so.[34] Joseph Smith Sr. gives the reason why Lucy states that Joseph did not have the “means” to accomplish this task:

Joseph was directed not to make the translation where there was so much opposition; hence, after procuring the necessary materials, he and Martin went to Harmony, in Pennsylvania, where they would be less persecuted, and where Joseph, with spectacles on, translated the characters on the gold plates, and Harris recorded the result. [35]

This had nothing to do with Joseph’s ability to translate by means of the spectacles; he just didn’t have the means to move to Harmony Pennsylvania where he could translate without “so much opposition”.  It certainly does not mean that Joseph couldn’t translate, or that he didn’t translate a few of the characters to show to others. Also, if Joseph couldn’t read the characters, then how did he know that the last page of the book was an alphabet? What were the necessary materials? According to Lucy and Joseph Smith, Sr., certainly not Joseph having Martin Harris take a copy of the characters to the “learned” of the day. Mr. Sloan states that the purpose of his article “is not to challenge the 1839 history,” but that is exactly what he does whether intentionally or not. What Joseph and Oliver wrote in 1832 and again in 1834-5 does indeed claim that Joseph was told not to translate until Harris returned from New York, but by 1839 Joseph had changed his account, possibly to match up with the historical facts that had been slowly coming forth. There are simply no published accounts (except for Joseph’s in 1834-5) that support the story of a messenger telling him that prophecy must be fulfilled before he could translate. In 1832 Joseph wrote that it was the Lord telling Martin Harris to go to New York, and in 1834-5[36] it was “the messenger from the skies” telling Joseph.[37] Golden_Plates_with_Urim_and_ThummimJohn A. Clark, a resident of Palmyra who spoke to Harris in the fall  of 1827, included recollections of this interview in his book Gleanings by the Way in 1842, and recalled that when Harris showed up at his house he drew “a package out of his pocket with great and manifest caution,”[38] and told Clark that contained in the package were characters that Joseph “had transcribed from one of the leaves” of a “mysterious book, which no human eye of the present generation had yet seen” but “was in the possession of Joseph Smith, jr.”[39] Harris also told Clark that there “had been a revelation made to him [Joseph Smith] by which he had discovered this sacred deposit, and two transparent stones, through which, as a sort of spectacles, he could read the Bible [gold plates], although a box or ark that contained it had not yet been opened, and that by looking through those mysterious stones” Joseph had written down some of the characters for Martin Harris. [40] “How he” [Joseph], writes Clark, “obtained these spectacles without opening the chest, Harris could not tell.”[41] Clark writes that when Harris carefully unfolded the slip of paper he saw that it,

“contained three or four lines of characters, as unlike letters or hieroglyphics of any sort, as well could be produced were one to shut up his eyes and play off the most antic movements with his pen upon paper. The only thing that bore the slightest resemblance to the letter of any language that I had ever seen, was two upright marks joined by a horizontal line, that might have been taken for the Hebrew character Clark Hebrew Character[42]

If Joseph did give Harris “three or four lines of characters” before he obtained the “spectacles”, could Joseph have seen the characters on the plates without them? Joseph Knight wrote that Smith said that “he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummem then:[than] he Did of the Plates, for, says he, “I can see any thing; they are Marvelus.”[43] Joseph Translating with SpectaclesClark writes that Joseph obtained the spectacles without opening the box.[44] Since Joseph also used a peep stone (also called a seer stone) which was also called the urim and thummim,[45] it may be possible that Joseph saw some of the characters that were on the plates before he had them in his possession, by way of his peep stone. [46] When Joseph first began translating and copying the characters (according to John Clark’s interviews with Harris) he hung up a curtain or blanket:

“The way that Smith made his transcripts and translations for Harris was the following: Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket. Harris was told that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to draw near the sacred chest, or look at Smith while engaged in the work of decyphering the mysterious characters. This was Harris’s own account of the matter to me.” [47]

What is clear from Clark’s account is that when Harris visited him in the fall of 1827 he had a slip of paper with lines of characters written on it. Others report that after Joseph moved to Harmony he prepared more documents for Martin’s trip to the east. It was in December of 1827 that Joseph finally got the means to make the move to Harmony Pennsylvania, aided by a monetary gift from Martin Harris and the help of Emma’s brother Alva Hale.[48] Martin Harris later related that this move was prompted by the repeated insistence of those in Joseph’s “company of money diggers” to see the plates.  Initially, Joseph and Emma stayed at the home of her father Isaac Hale, who later wrote,

After they had arrived at Palmyra [Manchester] N.Y., Emma wrote to me inquiring whether she could have her property, consisting of clothing, furniture, cows, &c. I replied that her property was safe, and at her disposal. In short time they returned, bringing with them a Peter Ingersol[l], and subsequently came to the conclusion that they would move out, and resided upon a place near my residence.

Smith stated to me, that he had given up what he called “glass-looking,” and that he expected to work hard for a living, and was willing to do so. He also made arrangements with my son Alva Hale, to go to Palmyra, and move his (Smith’s) furniture &c. to this place. He then returned to Palmyra, and soon after, Alva, agreeable to the arrangement, went up and returned with Smith and his family.

Soon after this, I was informed they had brought a wonderful book of Plates down with them. I was shown a box in which it is said they were contained, which had, to all appearances, been used as a glass box of the common sized window-glass. I was allowed to feel the weight of the box, and they gave me to understand, that the book of plates was then in the box – into which, however, I was not allowed to look.

I inquired of Joseph Smith Jr., who was to be the first who would be allowed to see the Book of Plates? He said it was a young child. After this, I became dissatisfied, and informed him that if there was any thing in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not, I was determined to see it. After that, the Plates were said to be hid in the woods. [49]

Joseph purchased a home built by Emma’s older brother Jesse Hale along with thirteen acres of farmland acquired from her father Isaac. [50] Joseph Knight wrote that,

[Sometime in November 1827] He [Joseph Smith, Jr.] obtaind fifty Dollars in moneySmith-home1 and hired a man to move him and his wife to Pensylvany to hir Fathers, his wife Being onwell and wanted to go to her Fathers. He Bout [bought] a piece of Land of hir Father with a house and Barn on it. Here the People Began to tease him to see the Book and to offer him money and property and they Crouded so harde that he had to hide it in the Mountin. He now Began to be anxious to git them translated. He therefore with his wife Drew of[f] the Caricters exactley like the ancient and sent Martin Harris to see if he Could git them Translated. [51]

Knight claims that Joseph “drew off the caricters exactly like the ancient” and doesn’t mention that they were copied “alphabetically”, as Lucy Smith’s account does. Knight also states that he copied the characters after his move to Pennsylvania, which also differs from Lucy’s account.[52] In 1873 Emily C. Blackman wrote in her History of Susquehanna County that Isaac Hale’s son Reuben, “assisted Joe Smith to fix up some characters such as Smith pretended were engraven on his book of plates.” [53] In an interview given in 1886, David Whitmer stated that it “took Joseph Smith a whole week to copy, [the characters] so particular was he that the characters should be perfectly reproduced, and that the “reformed Egyptian” language should be shown up in all its native simplicity, for, it must not be forgotten, there was a singular significance in errand which this scrap of paper was destined to perform. [54]

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery

In 1834-5 Oliver Cowdery (aided by Joseph Smith) wrote what Oliver described as “a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints” which was published in the Messenger and Advocate. [55] Cowdery relates that when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in 1823 he was told that,

it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same [record of the Nephites] by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record. “Yet,” said he, “the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save.” A part of the book was sealed, and was not to be opened yet. The sealed part, said he, contains the same revelation which was given to John upon the isle of Patmos, and when the people of the Lord are prepared, and found worthy, then it will be unfolded unto them. [56]

This is the first mention of a requirement to fulfill scripture before the translation could begin. Joseph’s 1832 history does not mention this requirement by Moroni, only that Martin,

took his Journ[e]y to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned saying read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the plates they would read it but the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to me to translate and I said I said [I] cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectticke spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters and thus the Prop[h]icy of Isiaah was fulfilled which is writen in the 29 chapter concerning the book  [57]

Joseph only adds the fulfillment of scripture as an afterthought in this account. In the first known published account about the Book of Mormon six months later, we also find no mention of the fulfillment of prophecy, only that,

A few however, believed the “golden” [Bible] story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of this town. So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one, besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but all to whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible. [58] 

This account does not portray a doubting Harris, or that he was commanded to go by God, only that he was “enthusiastic”. The account also states that Joseph had already translated some of the characters, and the enthused Harris went to New York to confirm the translation. A month later the Rochester Gem published an article about Martin Harris’ visit to the village, and again there is no mention of fulfilling prophecy in relation to his journey to New York City:

A man by the name of Martin Harris was in this village a few days since endeavouring to make a contract for printing a large quantity of a work called the Golden Bible. He gave something like the following account of it. “In the autumn of 1827 a man named Joseph Smith of Manchester, in Ontario County, said that he had been visited by the spirit of the Almighty in a dream, and informed that in a certain hill in that town was deposited a Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of divine origin. He states that after a third visit from the same spirit in a dream, he proceeded to the spot, removed earth, and there found the bible, together with a large pair of spectacles. He had also been directed to let no mortal see them under the penalty of immediate death, which injunction he steadfastly adheres to. The treasure consisted of a number of gold plates, about 8 inches long, 6 wide, and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved hieroglyphics. By placing the spectacles in a hat and looking into it, Smith interprets the characters into the English language.

Harris states that he went in search of some one to interpret the hieroglyphics, but found that no one was intended to perform that all important task but Smith himself. Smith has interpreted the whole, and it is now in press in Palmyra, Wayne Co. The subject attracts a good deal of notice among a certain class, and as it will be ere long before the public, we shall endeavor to meet it with the comment it may deserve.–Ed Gem. [59]

Here again we see no explanation why Harris needed to find someone to “interpret” the characters. We also see that Joseph was using the same translation method with the “spectacles” as he did with his peep stone: placing them into a hat. John A. Clark writes that the “earnest” Martin Harris takes “some of the manuscripts that Smith furnished him” to New York; but there is again no mention of the fulfillment of any prophecy or angelic command to do so:

“He [Martin Harris) was so much in earnest on this subject, that he immediately started off with some of the manuscripts that Smith furnished him on a journey to New York and Washington to consult some learned men to ascertain the nature of the language in which this record was engraven. After his return he came to see me again, and told me that, among others, he had consulted Professor Anthon, who thought the characters in which the book was written very remarkable, but he could not decide exactly what language they belonged to. Martin had now become a perfect believer. He said he had no more doubt of Smith’s commission, than of the divine commission of the apostles.  The very fact that Smith was an obscure and illiterate man, showed that he must be acting under divine impulses:– “God had chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised — yea, and things that are not to bring to nought—things that are—that no flesh should glory in his presence:” that he was willing to “take of the spoiling of his goods” to sustain Smith in carrying on this work of the Lord; and that he was determined that the book should be published, though it consumed all his worldly substance.” [60]

Harris does link his journey to scripture, but uses Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, not Isaiah.  According to Lucy Smith,

Joseph started [in]Dec[ember] for Penn[sylvania] and[a few lines blank] it was agreed that Martin Harris should follow him as soon as he <Joseph> should have sufficient time to transcribe the Egyptian alphabet which Mr. Harris was to take to the east and through the country in every direction to all who were professed linguists to give them an opertunity of showing their talents—as soon as Mrs H[arris] Heard this she declared her intention of accompanying her husband but he concluded that it would be better to go without her and left sudenly not giving her any intimation of his intention[.] Hyrum went with him. [61]

The “Egyptian Alphabet” that Lucy and Joseph Sr. speak of may have been the document that Harris ultimately showed to the “professed linguists”, which was apparently more than the “three or four lines of characters” described by John Clark and W. W. Phelps, and which David Whitmer described as taking a week to complete. It may have been that Harris coaxed out of Joseph some of the characters, (the seven lines that ultimately was passed on to David Whitmer) and that after Joseph was settled in Harmony and had more time he transcribed the “Alphabet” that Harris took to New York, along with a translation of some of the characters. [62] Orson Pratt wrote in 1840 that,

Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt

Having provided himself with a home, he [Joseph] commenced translating the record, by the gift and power of God, through the means of the Urim and Thummim; and being a poor writer he was under the necessity of employing a scribe, to write the translation as it came from his mouth.  In the mean time, a few of the original characters were accurately transcribed and translated by Mr Smith, which, with the translation, were taken by a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, to the city of New York, where they were presented to a learned gentleman by the name of Anthon, who professed to be extensively acquainted with many languages, both ancient and modern. He examined them; but was unable to decipher them correctly; but he presumed, that if the original records could be brought, he could assist in translating them. [63]

It was about this time according to Lucy Smith that Martin’s wife Lucy came into possession of a copy of the characters:

A young man had been paying his addresses to Lucy Har[r]is[,]Martins oldes<t> daughter[,] of Mrs by the name of Dikes[.] <of> this young gentleman[,] the Father of <the> girl was very fond and the young Lady was not at all averse to him[,] but of course Mrs. Harris was decidedly upon the negative. But just at this juncture a scheme enter=ed her brain that changed her deportment to Mr Dikes very materially—She told Mr Dikes that if he would contrive to get the egyptian characters out of Martins possesion and hire a room in Palmira & take transcribe them accurately and bring her the tra=nscript that she would give him her daughter Lucy to wife Mr Dikes readily agreed to this and sufice it to say he succeeded to the [p.353] woman’s satisfaction and received the promised reward.

When Mr. Haris began again to prepare to set out for Penn[sylvania] again in order to set himself about the writing of the translation of the plates His <wife> told <him>that she fully decreed in her heart to go also[.] He proposed to her that she should go with him and stay a week or two on a visit and then he would take her home and go again to do the work of writing the Book[.]

She acceeded to this very cheerfully—But her husband did [not] suspect what he was to encounter[.] The first time he exhibited the egyptian characters she took out of her pocket an exact copy of them and informed those present that Joe smith was not the only one that was in possesion of this great curiosity that she herself had as the same characters and they were quite as gen=uine as those displayed <to> them by Mr H[arris][.] she pur=sued this course wherever she went untill she reached My sons house. when [they] arrived there she said she had come to see the plates and would never leave untill she attained her objec<t>

The next day Joseph was comp[e]lled to take them out of the house and bury both the breast plate & the record for she began by [w.o. to] ransack<ing> every nook & [p.354] corner of the house[,]chest[,] cupboard[,] trunk &c[.] the day after she went out and hunted the ground over ajacent to the house[.] she kept up the search till 2 oclock in <the> afternoon when she came in very ill natured and after warming herself a little enqired of Emma if they had snakes there in the Winter time[.][64]

It is not known what happened to the copy of the characters that Lucy Harris had in her possession, but all of her mechanizations (which included a lawsuit) to embarrass Joseph and stop Martin from helping him failed.

John H. Gilbert

John H. Gilbert

John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for the Book of Mormon would later recall that,

sometime in 1828, Martin Harris, who had been furnished by someone with what he said was a fac-simile of the hyroglyphics of one of the plates, started for New York.” Before getting there, Gilbert relates that Harris “stopped at Albany and called on Lt. Gov. Bradish,—with what success I do not know.”  After this, Harris “proceeded to New York, and called on Prof. C. Anthon, made known his business and presented his hyroglyphics.”  “Martin”, observed Gilbert, “returned from his trip east satisfied that “Joseph” was a “little smarter than Prof. Anthon.”[65]

In 1831 William W. Phelps responded to a letter written by Eber D. Howe and spoke about Harris’ trip to New York City, but again, did not mention any fulfillment of prophecy in relation to it:

Joseph Smith is a person of very limited abilities in common learning — but his

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

knowledge of divine things, since the appearance of his book, has astonished many. Mr. Harris, whose name is in the book, is a wealthy farmer, but of small literary acquirements; he is honest, and sincerely declares upon his soul’s salvation that the book is true, and was interpreted by Joseph Smith, through a pair of silver spectacles, found with the plates.  The places where they dug for the plates, in Manchester, are to be seen. When the plates were said to have been found, a copy of one or two lines of the characters, were taken by Mr. Harris to Utica, Albany and New York; at New York, they were shown to Dr. Mitchell, and he referred to professor Anthon who translated and declared them to be the ancient shorthand Egyptian. So much is true. The family of Smiths is poor, and generally ignorant in common learning. [66]

Though Phelps does not mention any fulfillment of scripture in this reply to Eber D. Howe, a few months later he would write in the Ontario Phoenix:

We live in an eventful day. According to the Psalmist, truth springs out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven, and as twin-angels they will sweep through the world like a mighty torrent, till mankind, untrammelled by secret bondage, sing as the sons of glory, ‘we are one — peace on earth — virtue endures forever!” [67]

In August 1832 two Mormon missionaries were asked some questions about events surrounding the finding of the Gold Plates. The two missionaries were Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde. In early August the Boston Investigator contained the following notice:

NOTICE-It is expected that a meeting will be held at the Julien [Julian] Hall, next Sunday, to commence at 10 o’clock, A. M. by one or two of the Elders of the Church of Christ, from Ohio, who have received a commandment of God to go forth and preach Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, declaring to the people that the earth is about to be visited with heavy judgments for the wickedness of its inhabitants. The above meeting will be held gratis. We cheerfully insert the above notice; but lest it should not be fully understood, we observe, the “Elders” above named are professed believers in the “Golden Bible” said to have been found pursuant to revelation by, Joseph Smith.-EDITOR.[68]

The following was recorded in Orson Hyde’s Journal for August 5, 1832:

5 preached at Julian Hall an infidel establishment and the infidels came out generally a number of hundred and paid good attention told them about the coming forth of the Book &c and also that they must repent or they would perish afternoon met with the Brethren and Sisters at Sister Brewers broke bread &c had a good time Evening went to the infidel meeting upon their invitation, and then spoke had written down I should think about a dozen or more Questions, and he called me to him and asked me to read the questions, I read them he then asked me if I was willing to answer them before the congregation I told him I was, and I did so, he then took up the subject and commenced arguing against it and we prayd that he might be confounded, and really he did not make out much or raise any insurmountable objections he gave us liberty to speak after he got through & we took away his objections and showed the people that he had contradicted his own statement &c came away.[69]

Samuel H. Smith, the missionary companion of Orson Hyde and one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, wrote this entry in his journal for that date:

5th Sunday held a meeting in Julian hall where Infidels hold a meetings this was in the forenoon & we declared these things faithfully a large congregation of People & a great Part Infidels & in the afternoon had a meeting at Fan[n]y Brewers with Brother & Sisters & Partook of the Sacrement & in the Evening Brother orson & I went to the inifidel hall & a man by the name of kneelan asked us Some questions concerning this work the way & manner the reccord was found & translated & we answered them before the Publick congregation & then kneelon Preached against the work & he made Some [w]rong Statements or difrent from what we had it said was about the record & the testimony after he had got through he gave us liberty to Speak & remove his objections & then Brother orson Spake a few minutes & Showed the incorrectness of his Statements & then told them to repent & we left them[70]

Mormon Missionaries 1832In this 1832 article from the Boston Investigator, which appeared a week after the Notice above,  Smith & Hyde answer questions about the characters and use the term “Urim and Thummim”, (possibly one the first times publicly) in connection with the method of Joseph’s translation of the plates:

Question — Where is Joseph Smith now or where is he supposed to be? Answer — In the state of Ohio — town and county stated, but not taken down.

Q. — By what means did he discover the golden plates and who was with him when he made the discovery? A. — The golden plates were discovered through the ministration of an angel of the Lord, by Joseph Smith — no one else was with him at the time of the discovery.

Q. — By whom was a fac simile of some part of the language and characters taken, and on what material. A. — It was taken by Joseph Smith on paper from the original plates themselves.

Q. — By whom was this presented to Dr. Mitchell, and at what period? A. — By Martin Harris, one of the witnesses who had seen the plates — do not exactly know at what time.

Q. — Is that fac simile, now in being, and if so where is it? A. — It is, or it was in being — I have seen it.

Q. — In what manner was the interpretation, or translation made known, and by whom was it written? A. — It was made known by the spirit of the Lord through the medium of the Urim and Thummim; and was written partly by Oliver Cowdery, and partly by Martin Harris.

Q. — What do you mean by Urim and Thummim? A. — The same as were used by the prophets of old, which were two crystal stones, placed in bows, something in the form of spectacles, which were found with the plates.

Q. — What became of the plates after the translation was made? A. — They were delivered into the hands of the angel of the Lord by whom they were afterwards shown to the three witnesses, who have testified to that effect.

Q. — At what place was the translation made? A. — Partly at Manchester, Ontario county, N. Y. where the plates were found, and partly on the banks of the Susquehannah river in Pennsylvania.

Q. — How many were present at the time and who? A. — Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris — and several others at least part of the time whose names were mentioned but not taken down.

Q. — When were the plates seen by the eight who saw them, and who have testified to that fact; before they were translated, or since? A. — They were seen at different times while they were in the hands of Joseph Smith and during the time of their translation.

Q. — Did they see the fac simile also, and if so, did they compare the fac simile with the plates to see if they agreed? A. — They saw the fac simile also, but did not compare it with the plates to see whether it agreed or not.

Q. — Who is Mr. Anthony [sic] who saw the fac simile? is he still living, or not? A. — He was a professor of languages in the city of New-York, but we do not know whether he is now living or not.

Q. — By what means was the spot made known to the men who travelled for the purpose, where the city is to be built? A. — It was made known by the spirit of the Lord.

Q. — In what way? A. — In answer to their prayers.

Q. — This is all poetry to me — was there any visible token that unbelievers could have either seen or heard? A. — I do not know that there was — there probably was not.[71]

It appears from the above article that the story of the characters being sent to New York City was being told by Mormon Missionaries, and that Dr. Mitchell and Professor Anthon were mentioned in connection to that story.  There is no mention of the fulfillment of prophecy in connection with the Harris-Anthon-Mitchill encounter, so perhaps it may not have been widely told at this time even though it would have been a good proselytizing tool. Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde do affirm though, that the plates were translated “partly at Manchester”, and that even though the witnesses to the gold plates “saw the fac simile [of the characters] also”, they did not compare them with the characters written on the plates, and that the plates were seen by the eight witnesses “at different times while they were in the hands of Joseph Smith” during the translation. It is of interest to note that when Joseph wrote his 1832 History a few months later, he did not use the words “urim and thummim”, he used the word “spectacles.” [72] In 1838 Joseph began another official history of his life which was written to “put all enquirers after truth into possession of the facts as they have transpired in relation both to myself and the Church as far as I have such facts in possession.” [73] The first part of this history was lost during the conflict in Missouri [74] and was re-transcribed in the spring of 1839 by one of Joseph’s clerks, James Mulholland.[75]  Joseph writes,

The persecution however became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester and going with my wife <to> Susquahanah County in the State of Pensyllvania. While preparing to start (being very poor and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise) in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a Gentleman by <the> name of Martin Harris, who came to us and gave me fifty dollars to assist us in our affliction, Mr Harris was a resident of Palmyra township Wayne County in the State of  New York and a farmer of respectability. By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December [1827], and the February following. Sometime in this month of February the aforementioned Mr Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates and started with them to the City of New York.  [76]

Unlike the 1834-5 History which Joseph wrote with Oliver Cowdery, this account does not mention the messenger’s admonition not to translate any of the characters until they were taken to the “learned” to fulfill prophecy.  In this version of events Joseph “immediately after” his arrival in Pennsylvania “commenced copying the characters of all the plates,” and then after copying “a considerable number of them” he “translated some of them” between December 1827 and February 1828 “by means of the Urim and Thummim.” Thus, according to Joseph’s account in 1839 he copied “a considerable number” of the characters and “translated” some of them for Harris to take to the “learned men” in New York City and according to Orson Pratt, Harris took copies of the characters and the translation of them with him. In 1831 James Gordon Bennett wrote an article called The Mormonites and stated that Harris had “several manuscripts” in his pocket that he took with him. [77] Rev Diedrich WillersDiedrich Willers, a Reverend in the Reformed Church wrote a letter in June of 1830 which included the most credible reports [78] about Joseph Smith and the history and origin of the Book of Mormon. [79] Willers was acquainted with the Whitmer family [80] and wrote that he spoke to Peter Whitmer, Sr. [81] who Willers said was “silent about Smith’s pretension.”[82] Willers then related what information he could gather about the new sect from those “credible reports”:

In the month of July [in 1829], Joseph Smith made his appearance in Seneca County, in the neighborhood of Waterloo, about six miles from my hometown. There a certain David Whitmer claimed to have seen an angel of the Lord, so Smith proceeded to his house, in order to complete the translation of the above work himself. According to the reports, only there could he work–where men who have had association with the other world also reside. This is the eleventh place where he had worked on the translation of his work and where men saw angels.

He asserted that the angel of the Lord appeared to him and made it known that in the neighborhood of Palmyra there were golden plates in the earth, upon which was described the doings of a Jewish prophet’s family, associated with many not yet fulfilled prophecies. The angel indicated that the Lord destined him to translate these things into English from the ancient language, that under these plates were hidden spectacles, without which he could not translate these plates, that by using these spectacles, he (Smith) would be in a position to read these ancient languages, which he had never studied, and that the Holy Ghost would reveal to him the translation in the English language. Therefore, he (Smith) proceeded to Manchester township, Ontario County, and found everything as described, the plates buried next to the spectacles in the earth, and soon he completed the translation of this work.[83]

Willers does not mention anything about a “urim and thummim”, or any fulfillment of prophecy concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.  He does relate that he heard that Smith was told by the angel that he would be able to translate the plates with the aid of the spectacles that were found with the plates by the one who had supposedly buried them. To try and reconcile Joseph’s conflicting accounts, David Sloan writes that,

Although the 1839 history clearly records that Joseph Smith translated a number of characters off the plates before the Harris-Anthon encounter, Nephi’s prophetic account and a number of historical accounts indicate that Joseph Smith was initially unable to translate the Book of Mormon and sought the assistance of learned men to help with the translation. Evidence also exists that Joseph referred to experimental and preliminary attempts as [at] translating, regardless of the outcome. For this reason, Joseph could consistently refer to translated characters even at a time when he had been completely unsuccessful in his efforts. This is exactly the process of human effort and study that one would expect from reading Doctrine and Covenants 9. [84]

Sloan also theorizes that Joseph discarded the original characters document because it may have contained his own failed translation attempt. But in 1840 Orson Pratt, who knew Joseph well and was one of the first members of the church affirmed that,

a few of the original characters were accurately transcribed and translated by Mr Smith, which, with the translation, were taken by a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, to the city of New York, where they were presented to a learned gentleman by the name of Anthon, who professed to be extensively acquainted with many languages, both ancient and modern. He examined them; but was unable to decipher them correctly; but he presumed, that if the original records could be brought, he could assist in translating them.[85]

Also, Joseph supposedly possessed the spectacles which according to Joseph Knight,

he seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and thummem then he Did of the Plates, for, says he, “I can see any thing; they are Marvelus. Now they are writen in Caracters and I want them translated.[86]

Joseph Knight, Sr.

Joseph Knight, Sr.

Knight does not mention any failed attempts at translation by Joseph, but has Joseph seemingly ignoring what the messenger told him, that “the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book.” There is not one contemporary account that mentions Joseph failing to translate any of the Book of Mormon characters correctly.[87]

Joseph declaring in his 1832 history that he did not begin translating the characters because Martin Harris “said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City with some of the characters” is simply not corroborated in any account by Harris. We do know that Joseph did not discard at least one copy (which might have been the original) of the characters, because a different copy other than the one possessed by John and David Whitmer was used in 1844 to create the Stick of Joseph Broadside, and that Joseph showed the Book of Mormon characters to at least two people in Nauvoo.[88]

It is also significant that Joseph did not portray events in his 1839 History in the same way as they were portrayed in earlier accounts but instead wrote that he “copied and translated” a considerable number of the characters before Martin Harris left for New York, and left out that the trip was a fulfillment of an Isaiah prophecy.

Joseph Smith's Chocolate Peep Stone

Artist Rendering of Joseph’s Brown Stone

In bringing forth the Book of Mormon (a religious work) Joseph Smith had transitioned himself from a treasure seeker into a religious seeker.  Naturally, there would be those who doubted Joseph’s motives or credentials to do such a thing.  He needed credibility.  The tale that Martin Harris told of his trip to New York, which Joseph transformed into a fulfilled prophecy of Isaiah which he reworked and added to the Book of Mormon, gave Joseph this much needed credibility and selling point for the newly printed Book.

Go to Part II: The “Caractors” Go To New York.


[7] Joseph Smith’s first handwritten account of the appearance of Moroni can be found at the Joseph Smith Papers website in Letterbook 1, page 10, found here, accessed June 4, 2013.

[8] ibid, page 11.

[9] David E. Sloan, The Anthon Transcripts and the Translation of the Book of Mormon: Studying It Out in the Mind of Joseph Smith, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 5, Issue – 2, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1996, Pages: 57–81. Accessed, June 4, 2013. Sloan’s reasoning is non sequitur:

It might be argued that the meaning of the 1839 history is clear and that the words of the history should be understood according to their plain meaning. However, the words of Nephi’s prophetic account are also plainly written and suggest a different interpretation of the events. Furthermore, Nephi’s words of introduction to his account are compelling: “But behold, I prophesy unto you concerning the last days; concerning the days when the Lord God shall bring these things forth unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 26:14). This prophecy was given to Nephi by the Spirit, which “speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).

He states that Smith’s version is clear and plain and so is Nephi’s from the Book of Mormon. So, which are we to believe? Mr. Sloan says that the 1839 History should not be used to “define” Nephi’s prophecy.  If not Joseph Smith’s own official History (not some abandoned draft) which are the events it speaks of, then what?

[10] Joseph began working on the translation of the Book of Mormon soon after Matrin Harris returned from his trip to the east.  Joseph did not translate the portion of the plates that contained the reworked Isaiah prophecy (2 Nephi 27 & Ether 5:2—4) until approximately June of 1829, more than a year later. The same chapter also speaks of three witnesses, who would view the plates. After writing the verses about the three witnesses to the plates, Joseph Smith later recounted that ,

“Almost immediately after we had made this discovery; it occurred to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and the aforementioned Martin Harris (who had came to enquire after our progress in the work) that they would have me enquire of the Lord, to know if they might not obtain of him to be these three special witnesses; and finally they became so very solicitous, and teased me so much, that at length I complied, and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them the following revelation. (History of the Church, Volume 1:52-53).

The “revelation” that he speaks of would later be categorized as Doctrine and Covenants Section 17, and was given by Joseph in June, 1829. In November, 1829 Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to Cornelius C. Blatchly, and quoted from the 27th Chapter of 2 Nephi:

“This record which gives an account of the first inhabitants of this continent, is engraved  on plates, which have the appearance of gold; and they are of very curious workmanship.” “The reason stated in a prophecy written before the coming of Christ in the flesh, why the record should not be shown to all the world, at the time of its coming forth to the children of men is that the book should be sealed, by the power of God.” “The prophecy also states there shall also be a revelation sealed in the book, which will reveal all things from the foundation of the world to the end thereof.” And because of the iniquity of the world, at the time of its coming forth; it shall be hid from the eyes of the world; that the eyes of none shall behold it, (save it be that three witnesses shall behold it by the power of God) besides him, to whom the book should be delivered. And none other should see it, only a few,—if it should be wisdom in God.”“And after that which was not sealed, was translated, the book should again be hid-up, unto the Lord, that it might not be destroyed; and come forth again, in the own due time of him, who knows all things unto the children of men.” (Gospel Luminary, Vol. II, No. 49, Thursday, December 10, 1829, page 194, New York City).

This is quite possibly the first public mention of the reworked Isaiah prophecy, but unfortunately, Cowdery does not include the Anthon visit.

[11] Sloan, op. cited, note 7. Sloan continues in the same vein here, trying to confuse the issue with a quote by Neal Maxwell that has nothing to do with why Joseph Smith did not recount his 1839 History in the same way he did in 1832. Was Joseph able to grasp this “great spiritual event” in 1832, but not seven years later? This makes little sense, since it was Joseph himself who failed to complete the historical record if the reworked Nephi prophecy was that important to him (as it seemed to be only seven years earlier). It is obvious that there was some other reasons that Joseph left the reworked Isaiah prophecy out of his later account, some of which are discussed in this article. Also, it is hard to believe that Mr. Sloan does not know that Joseph Smith corrected the first 42 pages of his 1839 History, according to Brigham Young and the Joseph Smith Papers website.  See Note #13.

[12] Sometime in 1832 between the months of July and September Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams began what they called,

“A History of the Life Of Joseph Smith Jr an account of his marvilous experience and all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the Church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brought forth and established by his hand…” (Dean C. Jessee, “Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision”, BYU Studies 9. No. 3, 1969, page 3).

According to Dr. Jessee  it was “abruptly discontinued”.  Dr. Jessee  claims that it was because new plans were made to write Joseph’s History, but this is much too simplistic an answer. (See Note 13). This History was written in a “medium sized, commercially produced blank book.” According to the Joseph Smith Papers website,

The first three leaves of the volume contain JS’s earliest extant attempt to write a history of his life. Later, the book was turned over so the back cover became the front and the last page became the first. One or more texts were inscribed in this side (the back) of the book on the eight leaves that were later cut out, as is evident from inscriptions visible on the remaining stubs of the excised leaves.

The volume was also repurposed as a letterbook. The letterbook begins on the recto of the fourth leaf in the front of the book (immediately following the history). The letters occupy ninety-three pages. The book’s pagination also began anew with the copied letters. The first page of letters bore the inscription “1a”, which is only partially extant on the now-trimmed page but is complete in photocopy and microfilm copies at the Church History Library. Page 78 is blank. The front flyleaf is now missing—possibly because it bore a title related to the history and was removed when the volume was converted to a letterbook. The letters were copied with quill pens in ink that is now brown. The pagination appears to have been added at different times and possibly in different hands. There are 101 blank pages between the end of the letter transcripts and the excised pages in the back of the book. There is illegible ink transfer on page [130] from a loose leaf document that was placed between pages [130] and [131] before its ink had dried. There are also smudges of ink on some of the succeeding pages.

At some point, Frederick G. Williams began an index or table of contents that identifies the letters copied into pages 1–25 of the letterbook. This incomplete index is inscribed on paper that does not match the original ledger paper. It was apparently a loose leaf inserted in the volume—as is Williams’s index to the contents of Revelation Book 2—although it is currently bound in the front of the volume as a result of the late twentieth-century conservation. The index is horizontally ruled with forty-three manually inscribed graphite lines.

Dr. Jessee also writes that,

although they were later cut from the volume, the three leaves containing the History match the cut edges still protruding from the binding of the ledger book. The terminal letters of words that were severed when the pages were removed also match. The cut page stubs immediately precede the November 27, 1832, letter entry, the first item in the letterbook. Second, the page numbering indicates this arrangement. The pages of the History were numbered 1 through 6, and the November 27 letter begins on page 1a. Both the last page of the History and the pages of the letter were written by Frederick Williams. He would not have started numbering the pages containing the letter with “1a” had there not been a preceding page 1. (Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision”, BYU Studies, Volume 9:3 (Spring 1969), page 277).

 [13] I find it very troubling that Joseph did not have the 1832 History copied into his Large Journal (A-1), when he went to the trouble of doing so with the History that he helped Oliver Cowdery write in 1834-5. Instead, he left it alone in the back of a letterbook which had the title page removed to possibly obscure its existence in that collection.  On October 29, 1835 Joseph had one of his scribes write in his diary,

Thursday, 29th Br[other] W[arren] Par[r]ish commenced writing for me. Father and Mother Smith visit[ed] us. While we set writing Bishop Partri[d]ge passed our window. [He has] just returned from the East.

Br[other] Par[r]ish commenced writing for me at $15.00 per month. I paid him $16.00 in advance out of the committee Store. Br[other] Parrish agrees to board himself, for which I agree to /allow him/ four Dollars more p[e]r month making $19.00.

I was then called to appear before the High Council which was {page 10} setting to give my testimony in an action brought against Br[other] David El[l]iot for whip[p]ing his Daughter unreasonably. My testimony was in his favour.

[p.42] Returned to our writing room. [We] went to Dr. [Frederick G.] William’s after my large Journal [and I] made some observations to my Scribe Concerning the plan of the City which is to be built up hereafter on this ground consecrated for a Stake of Zion.

While at the Doct[or’s], Bishop E[dward] Partri[d]ge came in in company with President Phelps. I was much rejoiced to see him. We examined the mum[m]ies, returned home, and my scribe commenced writing in /my/ Journal a history of my life, concluding President [Oliver] Cowdery[‘s] 2d letter to W[illiam] W. Phelps, which President Williams had begun. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.41-42).

Historian Scott Faulring explains that Joseph’s large journal,

is Book A-1 of the “Manuscript History of the Church,” which contains some of Joseph Smith’s and his scribes’ earliest attempts to write a detailed history of the church and which was later used to prepare the published History of Joseph Smith. (ibid, note 5)

Dean Jessee writes,

In October 1834 Oliver Cowdery, the editor of the Messenger and Advocate, introduced the first published history of the Church. This work was presented in the form of correspondence between Cowdery and William W. Phelps, and was anticipated as a “full history of the rise of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time.” It was further announced by the editor that “our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative.”

In a series of eight letters that followed, Cowdery presented random historical events, beginning in the October 1834 issue of the paper with an account of the priesthood restoration, and terminating in the October 1835 issue with the visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith. A copy of the eight letters was transcribed into the Prophet’s journal in1835. On October 29 Joseph recorded that he went with his newly appointed scribe, Warren Parrish, to obtain his “large journal” from Frederick G. Williams. Later that same day Parrish began writing “a history” of Joseph’s life by concluding “President Cowdery’s second letter to W. W. Phelps, which President Williams had begun.” A check of the handwriting in the journal reveals the point at which Parrish commenced copying the second Cowdery letter to Phelps. It also shows that Parrish continued writing to the end of the eighth letter. At this point, however, unlike the published account, the journal narrative does not end, but continues in a different style. The transition is marked by a change in handwriting from Warren Parrish to that of Warren A. Cowdery and is prefaced with the following introduction: “Here the reader will observe that the narrative assumes a different form. The subject of it becoming daily more and more noted, the writer deemed it proper to give a plain, simple and faithful narrative of every important item in his every day occurrences…. (Jessee, op. cited, 1969, pages 4-5).

As Scott Faulring explained above, the “large journal” that Joseph Smith had his scribes copy the 1834 History into is what has become known as Manuscript A-1. This journal originally had over 100 pages of material,

“covering the period from 1834 to early 1836, was a composite chronicle consisting of genealogical tables, dated entries adapted from JS’s journal, and transcripts of newspaper articles. Reasons for its discontinuance are unknown.”

When Joseph Smith began his fourth attempt at a History in 1839, his scribes simply flipped over this Manuscript Book and began again. If you go to the Joseph Smith Papers website, and view this manuscript, you will see that they end it at page 575, but at the bottom of the page in the right hand corner you will see the page number 192, which is upside down.

The material recorded in the back part of the Manuscript Book is not to be found on the website at this time. *Correction, this part of the “large journal” has recently been added to the website and may be found here. (Updated and accessed on November 11, 2013).

If, as Mr. Slone contends, the 1832 History is the right interpretation of events, then why did Joseph abruptly discontinue it and leave it uncopied in the back of a letterbook? Why didn’t Joseph have it copied into the large journal in 1835? Even if he was not satisfied with the account of the claimed 1820 vision, why did he not have the portion that had to do with the visit of the messenger copied? It is obvious that Joseph did not want the events as written in 1832 to become part of his Official History.  At the Joseph Smith Papers website they write that,

J[oseph] S[mith] dictated or supplied information for much of A-1, and he personally corrected the first forty-two pages before his death.  (See also, History of the Church, vol. 7, p. 387).

There may be another reason that Joseph did not feel the 1832 History was important; in his 1839 History he changed the name of the messenger from Moroni to Nephi. As you can see in the photo, the name Nephi is not only written, but emphasized. The insertion of the name Moroni into the text above was done much later, by Brigham H. Roberts. When this History was published by Joseph in 1842 in the Times and Seasons, Joseph (who was the Editor at that time) kept the name Nephi.  It was also published as Nephi in the Millennial Star and in the first edition of the Pearl of Great Price. Since Joseph corrected the first 42 pages of this manuscript and did not change the name to Moroni, ascribing the name of Nephi to a clerical error is disingenuous. It is worth noting here that Joseph did not name the messenger who gave him the plates in his 1832 History, though he does reference “Maroni” as one of those who had “engraven” the plates. (Letterbook 1, page 4). As for the messenger, Joseph simply calls him “an angel of the Lord” who “came and stood before me and it was by night and he called me by name…” (ibid). Why Joseph would change the name of this messenger to Nephi is something of a mystery since he had referred to the angel who delivered the plates as Moroni in a prior “revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, L:2) and in the 1838 publication, The Elder’s Journal (Elders Journal, 1, pp. 42-3, July 1838).

[14] “Letter Book A,” JS Letterbook 1page 11.

[15] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1,  p. 223.

[16] ibid.

[17] Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany’s Monthly, August, 1859, p.167.

[18] ibid, page 168.

[19] ibid, page 169.

[20] ibid, page 167.

[21] ibid, page 169.

[22] ibid, page 170.

[23] Letterbook 1, page 10. The text reads,

in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e] vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord  had shown him that he must go to new York City <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern Cittys and to the Learned <saying> read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the blates[plates] they would read it but the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me and gave them to <me> <to> translate and I said I said cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book therefore I commenced translating the characters

[24] Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, page 343-44, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013.

[25] ibid, page 344. JSP, Accessed, June 4,

[26] ibid.

[27] ibid, page 348, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013. Lucy Smith wrote,

She went to bed  and in the morning told us a very remarkable dream She said that a personage had appeared to her the night before and said to her that inasmuch as she had disputed  the servant of the Lord and said that his word was not  to be believed and asked him many improper questions that she had done that which was not right in the sight of God Now said behold here are the plates look upon them and believe she then described the record minutely and again said that She had made up her mind as to what she would do that She had in her possession 28 dollars that her mother gave her just before she died when She was on her death bed  Joseph should take that and if he would he might give his note but he should certainly accept of it on sone terms this last proposition he acceeded to in order get rid of her importunities

[28] ibid.

[29] The Historical Magazine, page 307, Online here. Accessed June 4, 2013.

[30] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, page 344.

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid, p. 328. JSP, Accessed June 4., 2013.

[33] Sloan, op. cited. In trying to prove that Joseph could not translate at all until after Martin Harris returned from New York, Mr. Sloan writes,

According to Richard L. Bushman, “Lucy implied that once Joseph had a translation of all the basic characters, he could carry on by himself—thus the need to copy a great number of characters.” Lucy’s statements indicate that her son could not translate and for that reason sought out the assistance of learned men. Accordingly, Bushman writes that “The scripture [Isaiah 29] must have struck Joseph with all the more power if at first he did not know how to translate, as his mother said. The protest “I am not learned’ would then have expressed Joseph’s situation in 1827 exactly. Joseph Knight thought the circumstances fit the scripture.” (ibid.)

This is totally misreading what Lucy reports. Before Joseph told his mother that he was “instructed” to copy the characters to “send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for a translation,” he knew that he would be able to translate the plates.  When Joseph returned from the hill with Emma on the night of September 27, 1827 Lucy wrote that,

I trembled so much with fear lest all might be lost agin by some small failure in keeping the commandments that I was under the necessity of l[e]aving the room to conceal my feelings[.] Joseph saw this and followed me[.] Mother[,] said he[,] do not be uneasy all is right here said he I have got the key[.]

I knew not what he meant but took the article in my hands and upon examining it (with no covering but a silk handkerchief)[,] found that it consisted of 2 sm<ooth> ❤ cornered diamonds set in glass and the glass was set in silver bows> stones connected with each other in the same way that old fashioned spectacles are made[.] (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 329, See also, JSP, Accessed, June 4, 2013.

That key, according to Joseph Knight was the “spectacles” through which Joseph could see anything, and to which Lucy later adds,

The thing which [I] spoke of that Joseph termed a Key was indeed nothing more nor less than the urim and Thummim by which the angel manifested those things to <him> that were shown him in vision by which also he could at any time ascertain the approach of danger either to himself or the record and for this cause he kept these thing<s> constantly about his person[.] (ibid, page 339, JSP, Accessed June 4, 2013)

It is unlikely that Joseph kept the over large spectacles about his person at all times, so Lucy must have been referring to Joseph’s peep stone. If Joseph could “see anything”, even the “past, present, and future” then surely he knew that he would be able to translate the record with his “key”. What need then, to study it out in his mind? He could see anything! This may be the reason why Joseph abandoned his earlier History and wrote that after he was

“enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December [1827], and the February following. Sometime in this month of February the aforementioned Mr Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates and started with them to the City of New York. (Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Volume I, p. 70).

Joseph’s “revelation” to Oliver Cowdery about studying it out in his mind first, makes little sense. How do you study out in your mind and come to a translation, of which you then must ask God “is this translation I came up with right or wrong”; when you cannot read the hieroglyphics in front of you? How would you make any kind of translation? Isn’t the whole idea of the “interpreters” to translate the language into another language you can understand by God’s power? Don Bradley writes,

The most specific  translation accounts states that Smith would see, on “something like parchment,” a “Reformed Egyptian” character from the plates and below it the English rendering. A single character would render sometimes just a word or two in English and sometimes several words, with Joseph apparently dictating on average about twenty to thirty words at a time. (“Written by the Finger of God?: Claims and Controversies of Book of Mormon Translation”, Sunstone, online here).

He also writes,

When using the seer stone, Smith did not directly consult the plates, which sometimes lay nearby concealed in a cloth and at other times were hidden in a remote location, such as the woods. (ibid).

How could Joseph study out in his mind the characters on the plates when the plates were not even in front of him? If he only needed the stone, why not leave the plates in the ground? He could have then, later, taken the witnesses to see them. Why go through all the trouble if he really didn’t need them? So the question then becomes, what was there to study out in your mind?  Don Bradley tried to tackle this problem in his article quoted above and wrote,

The revelation [D&C 9] prescribes a process of “studying out” the scriptural text in one’s mind and confirming it through a “burning in the bosom” or disconfirming it through “a stupor of thought” (D&C 9:8–9). A potential objection to the argument from D&C 9 is that the revelation prescribes this process for one translating by “the spirit of revelation,” like Oliver, not for one translating by the gift of seeing, like Joseph (D&C 8:1–4). Thus, on the logic of this objection, because Oliver was not a seer and therefore unable to translate by the seer’s gift, his mode of translation would be nonvisual. But the revelation does not necessarily indicate that Joseph Smith would have translated in this same manner. Instead, D&C 9 can be understood as suggesting that the method of translation was tailored to the gifts of the translator, a concept consistent with Book of Mormon teaching on spiritual gifts (such as Moroni 10:8: “there are different ways that these gifts are administered”). By this logic, Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon, made in his capacity as a seer employing the spectacles or seer stone, would have capitalized on his gift of second sight. (option cited above)

There are all kinds of problems with this logic. If it were true that each person would have a different method of translating, then why prepare spectacles to translate the plates in the first place? And if “seeing” is a spiritual gift, then what is the problem? Why then, would Oliver have failed if it was just a matter of nonvisual “revelation”?  Are the current apostles of the church screened in their use of seer stones before they are set apart as “prophets, seers and revelators” for the church? Why then, would Joseph let Oliver try and translate in the first place and then have a “revelation” that it was because he didn’t study it out in his mind that he couldn’t perform? Why not just tell him that he wasn’t a “seer” and that was why he failed? The problem is that to translate something from what you don’t know to something you know has no criteria which one can apply to the “study it out in your mind” method. Even in the revelation itself it states that God wanted Oliver to know that, “other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate.” (verse 2) It also says that God “took this privilege away” from Cowdery. (verse 5) So he must have been able to translate. He was also told that if he only “knew” that he should have studied it out in his mind, that all would have been just fine. (verse 10)  Then the “revelation” blames it on Cowdery’s “fear”. (verse 11). This “revelation” raises far more questions than it answers.

[34] Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, page 344.

[35] Fayette Lapham Interview, The Historical Magazine, page 308. Online here, accessed June 4, 2013.

[36] Letterbook 1, page, 11. Joseph wrote:

in December following we mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e] vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to new York City  <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some of them

[37] The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835, pages 79-80, (Hereafter LDSM&A). Online here, accessed June 4, 2013. Oliver Cowdery wrote to W. W. Phelps,

“Yet,” said he, [the messenger from the skies] “the scripture must be fulfilled before it is translated, which says that the words of a book, which were sealed, were presented to the learned; for thus has God determined to leave men without excuse, and show to the meek that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save.”

There is one late remembrance that mentions the Isaiah prophecy being spoken about before the plates were translated, and that is by Emily (Colburn) Austin, a younger sister of Sally (Colburn) Knight, the wife of Newel Knight.  In her autobiography from 1882 she writes,

Old Uncle Joe [Joseph] Knight, as we called him, was a wool carder, and a farmer; yet he abandoned all business, and joined with a number of others to dig for money on his premises. While I was visiting my sister, we have walked out to see the places where they had dug for money, and laughed to think of the absurdity of any people having common intellect to indulge in such a thought or action. However, all of those things had long since become oblivious; for in the time of their digging for money and not finding it attainable, Joe Smith told them there was a charm on the pots of money, and if some animal was killed and the blood sprinkled around the place, then they could get it. So they killed a dog, and tried this method of obtaining the precious metal; but again money was scarce in those diggings. Still, they dug and dug, but never came to the precious treasure. Alas! how vivid was the expectation when the blood of poor Tray was used to take off the charm, and after all to find their mistake, that it did not speak better of things than that of Abel. And now they were obliged to give up in despair, and Joseph went home again to his father’s, in Palmyra.

Some months after this fruitless enterprise he was married to Miss Emma Hale, a school teacher, a fine girl, of good repute and respectable, though poor parentage. It was at this time, which I have mentioned previously, that the rumor was in circulation concerning the strange doctrine which he was setting forth; and which, indeed, was creating quite a stir among the people, and it surprised us to hear of his return to Colesville with his wife, to meet again with his old money diggers. But now he had entered upon a new project. He declared an angel had appeared to him and told him of golden plates, which were hidden up to come forth on a certain day; and also that the plates were sacred, containing a history of a people who inhabited this continent in ancient days; also it was that which Isaiah the prophet had spoken of; a vision which should become as the words of a book that is sealed; which was delivered to one that was learned, saying “Read this, I pray thee;” and he said, “I cannot, for it is sealed;” and the book is delivered to one that is unlearned, saying: “Read this, I pray thee;” and he said, “I cannot, for I am unlearned; moreover, inasmuch as this people draw near me, with their mouths and with their lips do honor me, therefore I will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”

This is what was circulated throughout the country, and this is the rumor which was now afloat. Smith brought up many prophecies to show that the Lord was about to do a marvelous work in the last days. He also affirmed that he had seen the angel, and had talked with him face to face; and the angel told him at a certain time he would conduct him to the place where the plates could be obtained; also that he was a chosen vessel in the hands of God, to translate them, and bring them to the world. All this was heard and believed by a large number of persons in Colesville, among whom was my own dear sister and her husband.  (Life Among the Mormons, by Emily M. Austin, M. J. Cantwell, Book and Job Printer, King Street, Madison Wisconsin, 1882, pages 32-35)

Unfortunately there are no contemporary accounts that agree with Emily’s statement that the Isaiah passage was being “circulated about the country” before Joseph produced the manuscript to the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note that in 1830, after the Book of Mormon was translated, Lucy Smith was visited by three men from the local Presbyterian Church that some members of the Smith family had joined after Alvin’s death.  It seems that they had not been attending the church for the past 18 months, and they had come to enquire why they had not. Lucy gives this account of the interview,

On the fourth day the 3 men  <delegated> <by> the council came to perform the work assigned them they  began[:] Mrs [Lucy Mack] Smith we hear you have a gold bible and we came to see you <if> be so kind as to show it to us

No gentlemen said I[,]  we have <got><no> gold bible but we  have a translation of some gold plates which was sent to the world to bring the plainess of the Gospel to the children of men and to give a history of the people that used to inhabit this country and I then proceeded to give them the substance of what is contained in the book  of Mormon as also particularly the principles of religion  which it contains. But added I the Universalists come here  wonderfullly affraid that their religion will suffer loss— The  Presbyterians are frightened least their salary will come down The Methodist’s come and they rage for they worship a God  without body or parts and the doctrine we advocate comes  in contact with their views

Well said the foremost gentleman with whom I was acquainted can we see the manuscript,

No sir you cannot see it we have done exhibiting the manuscript altogether I have told you what was in it and that must  <suffice> He did not reply to this but said Mrs Smith you & Hyrum [Smith]  and sophronia [Smith Stoddard] and samuel [Smith] have belonged to our church  a whole year and we respect you very you say a great deal <about the book which your son has found> and believe much of what he tells you  but we cannot beare thoughts of loosing  you and they do wish— I wish that if you do believe those  things that never would say  anything about it I do wish you would not— Deacon  Beckwith said even you should stick my body full of faggots and burn me at the stake I would decla re that Jose[p]h has that record and that I know it to be  true as long as God gave me breath— he then turned  to his companions and said you see it is no use  to say anything more to her— we cannont chan[g]e he[r] mind &  then addressing me Mrs Smith I see that it is not poss ible to persuade you out of your belief and I do not  know that it is worth while to say any more about  the matter— No sir said I it is <of> no use you cannot  effect any thing by all that you can say— he then bid  me farewell and went out to see Hyrum & they asked  him if he really did believe that his brother had got the record  which he pretended to have— Hyrum <testified boldly to the truth and> told him that if he would take  the book of mormon when it was finished and read it asking God  for a witness to the truth of [it] he would receive what he desired  and now said he Deacon Beckwith just try it and see if I do  <not tell you truth.— They went to Samuel who quoted Isa[ia]h.>

Saumel Harrison did not quote Isaiah Chapter 29, he quoted Isaiah 56:9-11,  which reads,

All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.

[38] John A. Clark, Gleanings By The Way, W.J. & J.K. Simon, Philadelphia, 1842, page 224. Online Version, accessed, June 4, 2013.

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid.

[41]ibid, page 228.


[43]Dean C. Jessee, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, BYU Studies 17, no. 1 (1976): 29–39. Online Version,  Accessed, June 4, 2013.

[44]Gleanings, page 224. Clark wrote,

That this mysterious book, which no human eye of the present generation had yet seen, was in the possession of Joseph Smith, jr., ordinarily known in the neighborhood under the more familiar designation of Jo Smith; that there had been a revelation made to him by which he had discovered this sacred deposit, and two transparent stone, through which, as a sort of spectacles, he could read the Bible, although the box or ark that contained it, had not yet been opened; and that by looking through those mysterious stones, he had transcribed from one of the leaves of this book, the characters which Harris had so carefully wrapped in the package which he was drawing from his pocket.

Later, when Joseph actually claimed to be translating from the plates, his father-in-law Isaac Hale observed that,

The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for  [treasure for] the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time in the woods! (Affidavit of Isaac Hale, “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian, May 1, 1834, 9:1). Online here: Accessed June 4, 2013.

[45] ibid, page 242. See also, this article Part II.

[46] Gleanings, page, 231. Joseph seems to have only used the blanket with Martin Harris. In later accounts, Joseph never had the plates with him; he would “translate” by placing his peep stone into his hat, and then reading off what he claimed appeared on the stone. Dan Vogel writes that,

… Joseph Jr. had earned a reputation as a seer who could, by looking into a special stone, find lost articles, foretell the future, and locate buried treasure. In late 1825 he belonged to a treasure-seeking company which traveled the countryside in search of Spanish and Indian treasure in Palmyra, Manchester, Colesville, South Bainbridge, Harmony, and other places in New York and Pennsylvania. Martin Harris, a prominent member of the community and later financial backer of the Book of Mormon, remembered that the Palmyra-Manchester treasure seekers “were digging for money supposed to have been hidden by the ancients” and that “it was reported by these money diggers, that they had found boxes, but before they could secure them, they would sink into the earth.” (Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism, Ch.2, p.32 – p.33).

About the spectacles that Joseph claimed to have found with the gold plates Harris wrote,

“The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks. I never dared to look into them by placing them in the hat, because Moses said that ‘no man could see God and live,’ and we could see anything we wished by looking into them; and I could not keep the desire to see God out of my mind. And beside, we had a command to let no man look into them, except by the command of God, lest he should ‘look aught and perish.’

It is doubtful that Harris ever saw the spectacles, or for that matter anyone else. Joseph himself, in a letter to John Wentworth in 1842 described the spectacles. He wrote,

With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.  (History of the Church, 4:535–41).

Joseph claimed the stones were transparent, Harris said they were opaque white with gray streaks. Emma Smith never mentioned her husband using spectacles,

“In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.” (History of the RLDS Church, 8 vols. Herald House, 1951, Volume 3, page 356).

Edward Traughber interviewed David Whitmer in 1879 and wrote,

With the sanction of David Whitmer, and by his authority, I now state that he does not say that Joseph Smith ever translated in his presence by aid of Urim and Thummim; but by means of one dark colored, opaque stone, called a ‘Seer Stone,’ which was placed in the crown of a hat, into which Joseph put his face, so as to exclude the external light. Then, a spiritual light would shine forth, and parchment would appear before Joseph, upon which was a line of characters from the plates, and under it, the translation in English; at least, so Joseph said. (Saints’ Herald 26 (15 Nov. 1879): 341).

Michael Morse who was the husband of Emma’s sister Trial Hale, gave an interview to W. W. Blair of the RLDS First Presidency and said,

The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph’s placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating word after word, while the scribes—Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other wrote it down. Saints’ Herald 26 (15 June 1879): 190-91

Historian D. Michael Quinn wrote,

Before organizing the church in April 1830, Joseph Smith evidently ceased using the brown seer stone he had employed to translate the Book of Mormon and gave it to his scribe Oliver Cowdery Until his death in 1850, Cowdery kept this brown stone as a sacred relic of the Book of Mormon translation. Brigham Young’s brother Phineas, who was Cowdery’s brother-in-law, obtained the stone from Cowdery’s widow in 1850 and made a gift of it to Brigham Young. Three years later, one of Young’s counselors in the First Presidency confirmed to a Salt lake City congregation that Young had “the Urim and Thummim”.

Following Young’s death in 1877, his widow Zina D.H. Young obtained this seer stone at an estate auction of her husband’s personal effects, and she and her daughter Zina Y. Card eventually gave it to his successor John Taylor . In 1882 Apostle Franklin D. Richards examined “the Seer Stone that Oliver Cowdery gave Phineas Young,” observing that “the pouch containing it [was] made [p.196] by Emma [Smith]” . One of John Taylor’s body guards recorded in 1887, “On Sunday last I saw and handled the seer stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had. It was a dark color, not round on one side. It was shaped like the top of a baby’s shoe, one end like the toe of the shoe, and the other round” (Bateman 1887). At the dedication of the Manti Temple the following year, Wilford Woodruff, who had recently succeeded Taylor as president, wrote, “Before leaving I Consecrated upon the Altar the seers Stone that Joseph Smith found by Revelation some 30 feet under the Earth [and] Carried By him through life”. After Woodruffs death in 1898, his successor Lorenzo Snow displayed the brown, Book of Mormon seer stone to a local bishop of the church. Frederick Kesler wrote in his diary that Snow “showed me the Seerers [sic] Stone that the Prophet Joseph Smith had by which he done some of the Translating of the Book of Mormon with. I handeled [sic] it with my own hands. I felt as though I see & was handling a very Sacred thing. I trust & feel that it will work in his hands as it did in the Prophet Joseph Smiths hands,” and added that this stone’s “color was mahoganey”. This seer stone is now kept in the First Presidency’s private vault. Recently, one of Zina Card’s descendants was allowed to see the stone in the First Presidency’s office. She afterwards stated,

The stone was not chocolate brown but rather the color of brown sugar. It was 3-4 inches long, 2 inches wide, and had a hump in the middle which made it perhaps 2 inches thick at the thickest point. It was fiat on the bottom and had three black, concentric circles on the top 1/2 inch. Below the circles were many small black circles. The stone was not transparent.” The First Presidency’s secretary told her that the presidency’s vault contained two additional seer stones. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.195-6).

Even Martin Harris recalled that Joseph used his peep stone to translate the gold plates,

By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used. Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, “Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!” Martin’s countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc. (Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris”, Millennial Star 44 (6 February 1882): 86-87).

The swapping stones incident that Martin Harris speaks of appears to be an embellishment, perhaps to impress his new Mormon brethren.  As noted above, Joseph’s brown stone that he used to translate the Book of Mormon was unique. So much so that it is hard to believe that Harris could find a stone so similar that Joseph could not tell right away that it was not his stone. Are we really to believe that Harris found a mahogany colored stone that was flat on the bottom and shaped like a baby shoe, and that it also had three circles on the top and many other circles in addition to them?

[47] Gleanings, pages 230-231.

[48] Hiel Lewis Statement, September 29, 1879. Hiel Lewis was a cousin of Emma Hale Smith. Lewis wrote,

 It is true that Alva Hale went with his team to Palmyra, N. Y., one hundred miles or more, and moved Smith and wife to Harmony. It was stated by Alva Hale, at the time, that the “Gold Bible” was in a barrel of beans in his wagon, and that he (Hale) slept in his wagon to guard that barrel of beams and its treasure. I remember hearing my older brother Joseph tell Alva that if he, Joeph Lewis, had been in your place (Alva Hale’s) he would have known whether that barrel of beans contained any golden Bible or not, perfectly regardless of Smith’s statement that it would be certain death for any one to see the plates. The Hales seemed, for a time, to be kept in awe by Smith’s statements, but that awe did not last long. Alva Hale is over eighty and his memory has failed much in a few years past. Some things he remembers distinctly, and some things I have been able to help him recall; for example, I asked him if he remembered the letter he wrote to Smith and Emma when they eloped. He said, no, and had no recollection of writing a letter to them. When told the contents of the letter; which was as follows — “My Creed! I believe in love-powder, in gun-powder and hell fire,” he replied, I recollect it as plain as if but yesterday. I asked Alva, on one of our late visits, if he remembered weighing the gold Bible; but he did not. My brother tried to refresh his memory, but in vain. Joseph remembers hearing it stated by Alva that he (Hale) was permitted to weigh the gold Bible in a pillow case, and, according to our memory, it weighed thirteen pounds! There were many persons in Harmony who had from Joe Smith positive promises that they should see the plates and the spectacles, but all say that they never saw them. Alva Hale says he never saw them. I presume he saw that old glass-box that Isaac Hale spoke of, said to contain the plates. Smith’s excuse for using his peepstone and hat to translate with, instead of those spectacles, was that he must keep the spectacles concealed; but any and all persons were permitted to inspect the peep-stone; and that he could translate just as well with the stone.

[49] Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834):1

[50]  Isaac Hale Statement, Susquehanna Register, Thursday, May 1, 1834.

[51] Dean C. Jessee, Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History, Maxwell Institute,

[52] EMD Vol 1, pages 343-44..

[53] Blackman, History of Susquehanna County, page 104

[54] “David Whitmer Talks,” Omaha Herald, October 10, 1886, see also The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, October 17, 1886. Whitmer always affirmed that it was Joseph who copied the characters that were given to Harris, and that the “Caractors” document in his possession was the original. This recollection of Whitmer’s may still be credible, if one ascribes it to the actual document that Harris took to Anthon, not the one that Whitmer inherited later, which has many erasures and looks to have been drawn much more hastily.

[55] LDSM&A,  Vol I. No. 1, October, 1834, page 16.  Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[56] LDSM&A,  Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835, page 80. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[57] Letterbook 1, page 11.

[58] Palmyra Freeman August 11, 1829. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[59] “Golden Bible,” Rochester Gem 1 [September 5, 1829]:70, Rochester, New York. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[60] Clark, opt. cited, page 230.

[61] Vogel, EMD Vol. I pages 350-351.

[62]  1839 History, Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 70.

[63] Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (New York City, 1840), p. 14. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[64] Vogel, EMD Vol. 1, pages 352-353.

[65] Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert, Esq., Sept. 8th, 1892, Palmyra, N.Y. Online here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[66]  (W. W. Phelps to “Dear Sir” [E. D. Howe], Jan. 15, 1831 as quoted in Mormonism Unvailed, 273, online here, accessed June 5, 2013.).

[67] Ontario Pheonix, Vol. IV, No. 4, May 25, 1831. The scripture that Phelps quoted is Psalm 85:11, accessed June 5, 2013.

[68] Boston Investigator 2 [August 3, 1832]:3, Boston, Massachusetts. I would like to thank H. Michael Marquardt for his help (through Dan Vogel) with this article, and also thank him for this find, which (from what I have observed) is not well known among Mormon Historians, Critics and Apologists. Mr. Marquardt’s website is invaluable (as is his research and writing), and I hope he continues to post items of interest and historical value there.

[69] Orson Hyde Journal, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[70] Samuel H. Smith Journal, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[71] “Questions proposed to the Mormonite Preachers and their answers obtained before the whole assembly at Julian Hall, Sunday Evening, August 5, 1832,” Boston Investigator 2, August 10, 1832.

[72] The first published use of the term Urim & Thummim was in July, 1832 by W. W. Phelps. I will be discussing this in Part II of this article.

[73] EMD Vol. I, page 56.

[74] EMD Vol. I, page 55.

[75] James Mulholland, Diary, 10 June 1839.

[76] EMD, Vol. 1, pages 69-70.

[77] Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, September 1, 1831. Bennett wrote, Harris with several manuscripts in his pocket, went to the city of New York, and called upon one of the Professors of Columbia College for the purpose of shewing them to him. Historian Leonard J. Arrington, in his article James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on “The Mormonites”, reproduced the original entries from Bennett’s diary for the days that he was in the Palmyra area investigating the claims of Joseph Smith.  Arrington wrote,

The entries for August 7 and 8, 1831, were made at Geneva, a picturesque village situated about sixteen miles southeast of the Joseph Smith farmstead near Palmyra. Internal evidence suggests that Bennett discussed Mormonism with E. B. Grandin, whose firm had printed the Book of Mormon; Charles Butler, the lawyer-philanthropist from whom Martin Harris attempted to borrow money to pay for printing the Book of Mormon; and others. Here are those entries:

Geneva, August 7, 1831: Mormonism. Old Smith [Joseph Smith, Sr.] was a healer — a grand story teller — very glib — was a vender [?] — made gingerbread and buttermints &c&c — Young Smith [Joseph Smith, Jr.] was careless, idle, indolent fellow — 22 years old — brought up to live by his wits–which means a broker of small wants — Harris [Martin] was a hardy industrious farmer of Palmyra — with some money — could speak off the Bible by heart — Henry [Sidney] Rigdon — a parson in general — smart fellow — he is the author of the Bible — they dig first for money — a great many hills–the Golden Bible Hill [Cumorah] where there is a hole 30 or forty feet into the side — 6 feet diameter dug among and the chest fled his approach — turned into a religious plot and gave out the golden plates — the Hill a long narrow hill which spreads out broad to the South — covered with Beech, Maple, Basswood and White Wood–the north end quite naked — the trees cut off in the road from Canandaigua to Palmyra between Manchester & Palmyra — several fine orchards on the east — and fine farms on the west — here the ground is hilly — but small hills — very uneven — the [Lake Canandaigua] outlet runs past part of it — Mormonites went to Ohio because the people here would not pay any attention to them — Smith’s wife [Emma] looked into a hole and the chest fled into a trunk and he lost several of them — [William W.] Phelps of the Phoenix was converted to Mormonism and is now a teacher or elder —

August 8, 1831: Mormonism — C[harles]. Butler saw Harris they wanted to borrow money to print the Book — he told him he carried the engravings from the plates to New York–showed them to Professor Anthon who said that he did not know what language they were — told him to carry them to Dr. Mitchell — Doctor Mitchell examined them — and compared them with other hieroglyphics — thought them very curious — and they were the characters of a nation now extinct which he named — Harris returned to Anthon who put some questions to him and got angry with Harris

Note 3 reads,

Professor Richard L. Anderson of Brigham Young University states that among the Charles Butler Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress is a folder containing correspondence for 1842. One four-page statement dictated by Mr. Butler relates to the Butler-Bennett interview. Butler stated that sometime after Harris’ application for a loan, “as he was walking in the street at Geneva he [Butler] was accosted by a young man who shewed him a letter asking if he knew where he cd find the person to whom it was addressed. The letter was to Mr. B [Butler] from Jas Watson Webb then editor of the N Y Inquirer introducing the bearer James Gordon Bennett who was sent to get information about the discovery of the Mormon Bible.” See also Francis H. Stoddard, The Life and Letters of Charles Butler (New York, 1903), pp. 125-128. (BYU Studies, Number 3, Spring 1970, James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on “The Mormonites”, by Leonard J. Arrington).

What is interesting about these entries is that these are the same kind of comments that were made by the residents of Palmyra to D. P. Hurlbut just three years later, which appear in Eber D. Howe’s book, Mormonism Unvailed.  Dale Broadhurst made some good observations in his notes on the Bennett articles,

Bennett’s report on the recently departed Mormons of Wayne and Ontario counties was a potentially important piece of historical documentation — however, the writer’s imprecise quotation of unsure sources diminished the articles’ future usefulness. For example, Bennett conveys the impression that Martin Harris first took the alleged Nephite writing samples to Charles Anthon, “of Columbia College,” and from there went to visit Dr. Samuel Mitchill, to get his advice regarding the same text — this account reverses the order in which Harris approached the two Gotham savants. Probably there is a good deal of factual information embedded in Bennett’s reporting, but his account contains little information of unique significance that can be independently verified today. A new discovery of some near contemporary, confirming source might render Bennett’s interesting story of Sidney Rigdon’s earliest involvement with the New York Mormons more useful and valuable to historians, however.

[78] Diedrich Willers, The First Months of Mormonism: A Contemporary View by Rev. Diedrich WIllers, Edited and translated by D. Michael Quinn, New York History 54, July, 1873, p. 326. Online, here, accessed June 5, 2013.

[79] ibid.

[80] ibid, page 333.

[81] ibid, page 327.

[82] ibid.

[83] ibid, page 326.

[84] Sloan, op. cited.

[85] Pratt, op. cited.

[86] Jessee, opt. cited.

[87] The only account of someone failing to translate, was that of Oliver Cowdery, which can be found in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9.

[88] Joseph showed the Book of Mormon Characters to to an anonymous letter writer to the New York Herald on May 7, 1843 who called himself “A Gentile”, and to the Reverend George Moore of Quincy Illinois on December 20, 1842, and  I will discuss these accounts in Part III. There may be some evidence that Joseph kept the original copy of the Book of Mormon Characters. There are two documents in existence, one written by Frederick G. Williams, and one by Oliver Cowdery that have Book of Mormon characters on them with an accompanying “translation”. These characters are not found on the document in the Hicks Photo, and the translation of them reads “The Book of Mormon”. This exact phrase appears in the Title Page, which Joseph affirmed is a “literal translation”. I will have more on this in Part II.

3 thoughts on “The “Caractors” From The Gold Plates

  1. “we shall endeavor to meet it with the comment it may deserve.–Ed Gem. [59]”

    Understatement of the ‘latter days’.

    Looking forward to the remainder of the article.

    • Thanks for the comment Hank. Part II is finally up, and II & IV will be up a lot sooner than it took for Part II. As for the Rochester Gem, it was owned by a man named Edwin Scrantom, and a nice historical piece about him can be found here. (It wasn’t all about the Mormons in those days).

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