The Hicks “Caractors” Photo


David Whitmer at Hicks Photo Gallery 1867 by grindaelPart IV of 19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s “Caractors” Discovered

If you missed the Introduction or Part IPart II or Part III of this Article, just click on the respective link.

With the discovery of the “Caractors” photo in the Hicks Collection in December of 2012, we now know a little bit more about the “Caractors” document than we did before. Through an analysis of the handwriting found on the original (complete) document, it is possible to make some reasonable guesses about its origins, which I will provide below.

Joseph Smith employed many scribes who helped him write his “revelations” over the years. During the Book of Mormon dictation, Smith used his wife Emma as a scribe, along with Reuben Hale (Emma’s brother), Martin Harris, Samuel H. Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and a few that were “unidentified”.  According to H. Michael Marquardt,

There were a number of periods when Joseph Smith dictated or wrote the text of what became the Book of Mormon.

1. ca. January – April 1828 scribes:

Emma Hale Smith (wife of Joseph Smith Jr.)
Reuben Hale (brother of Emma Hale Smith)

2. ca. 12 April – 14 June 1828 scribe:

Martin Harris (farmer)
Note: About 116 manuscript pages were lost (ca. June – July 1828)

3. ca. September 1828 – March 1829 scribes:

Emma Hale Smith (wife of Joseph Smith Jr.)
Samuel H. Smith (brother of Joseph Smith Jr.) (farmer)

Note: Not known how many manuscript pages were written

4. ca. 7 April – 26 June 1829 scribes:

Oliver Cowdery (school teacher, printer assistant)
Unknown Scribe – Scribe 1
Unknown Scribe – Scribe 2[217]

In 1884 David Whitmer gave an interview to the Daily Missouri Republican recalling that,

The manuscript was written from the dictation of Joseph Smith by the following amanuenses: Oliver Cowdery, Emma Smith, wife of Joseph Smith; Christian Whitmer and Martin Harris, and it is supposed that Alva Hale was also employed as one of the scribes, but Hale only wrote a small portion.[218]  

Joseph Smith himself stated that “John Whitmer, in particular, assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work.”[219] More than likely David Whitmer confused Reuben Hale with Alva Hale, but he affirmed in many interviews that his brother Christian’s handwriting was to be found on the Manuscript that he had in his possession; and since David constantly claimed that the Printer’s Manuscript in his possession was actually the Original Manuscript (the one that Joseph had placed in the foundation of the Nauvoo House), it is a good assumption that Christian Whitmer is one of the “unknown scribes” on both manuscripts.  Dean Jessee wrote in 1970 that,

of the 144 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript in the Church Historian’s Office, 124 pages are in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; eleven were probably written by John Whitmer; and twelve others are the work of an unidentified scribe.[220]

In a lecture given on February 26, 2013 titled “The Original and Printer’s Manuscript”, Royal Skousen proposed that the unknown scribes (from period 4) were Christian and John Whitmer. (The identification begins at the 31min mark).[221] 

In analyzing the Hicks Photo two things become clear. The first is that if the Book of Mormon characters had been written first on a blank sheet of paper, then there would have been plenty of room for the copyist of those characters to transcribe all of the them without bunching them up, or making some of them smaller, because the characters are actually written at the top of the sheet. The second is that the phrase “The Book of the Generations of Adam” is from the Book of Moses.[222]

OT Manuscript 1, pg. 12, first appearance of the phrase "The Book of the generations of Adam" handwriting of John Whitmer c. December, 1830

OT Manuscript 1, pg. 12, first appearance of the phrase “The Book of the generations of Adam” handwriting of John Whitmer, October 21, 1830.

These two observations generate a lot of questions. Unfortunately there will never be any sure answers to some of them unless more discoveries come to light, so we can only make guesses or reasonable conclusions.

The Book of Moses is part of the Joseph Smith New Translation (or revision), parts of which can be found on three manuscripts. The part of the Book of Moses that has the phrase the book of the generations of Adam was written between October and December of 1830, depending on the manuscript.

In January of 1831 the Church had a Conference in Fayette, New York and on January 2, Joseph dictated a “revelation” which was later to become Doctrine and Covenants Section 38, which elaborated on a previous command for the Church to move to Ohio. This is important for a number of reasons as H. Michael Marquardt explains,

After the January 1831 conference John [Whitmer] was commanded to go to Kirtland, Ohio, to preside over church members in the area. He copied more of Joseph Smith’s revelations including all of the revision of Genesis completed in New York. [223]

The text worked on in New York that Whitmer copied included the introductory revelation of June 1830, RLDS D&C 22; LDS Moses 1 and Genesis 1:1-5:32 (KJV); LDS Moses 2:1-8:12; RLDS Holy Scriptures, Genesis 1:1-7:85. [224]

Concerning the New Translation and the Manuscript now designated OTman3, Kent Jackson writes that,

When John Whitmer traveled for the first time to the Kirtland, Ohio, area in January 1831, Joseph Smith instructed him to “carry the commandments  and revelations” with him.  Among them was a manuscript copy of Joseph Smith’s new text of the early chapters of Genesis. The manuscript was a transcription, in Whitmer’s hand, of all of Joseph Smith’s Bible revision that had been produced to that point. It corresponded with Genesis 1B5 and with Moses 1:1B8:12 in the current Latter-day Saint Book of Moses.

Joseph Smith had begun the process of preparing a corrected translation of the Bible in June 1830. It is now commonly called the Joseph Smith Translation, but the Prophet and his contemporaries referred to it as the New Translation. Over the course of about three years, he dictated the text to his scribes, the final product eventually totaling 446 pages. Whitmer was an important contributor to the project, both as a scribe and as a transcriber (copyist) of previously dictated pages. Altogether, his handwriting appears on 136 of the pages. The manuscript Whitmer took to Ohio is now known by the archival designation Old Testament Manuscript 3 (OT3). It was a copy of Old Testament Manuscript 1 (OT1), the original dictated text of the Genesis translation. Whitmer probably made the transcription at about the beginning of January 1831. It appears that he made it for the purpose of the trip, but it soon became his private copy, and it remained with him throughout his life. [225]

If one analyzes the Hicks photo, it is obvious that it had been folded in the same way that John Whitmer’s OTman3 was folded (into fourths). Here is a comparison of the two:

OTMan3 and the Hicks Photo of the "Caractors" Document

OTMan3 and the Hicks Photo of the “Caractors” Document

As you can see from the photos, the right hand side of OTMan3 is very frayed, as is the document in the Hicks photo.

One possibility is that the document in the Hicks photo was a cover that had been made for John Whitmer’s OTMan3; and that perhaps while Whitmer was copying other documents he added the Book of Mormon characters also.

Joseph initially misspells the word “character” (leaving out the “h”) in his 1832 History,[226], so it is possible that Joseph in 1829 may have misspelled the word when he prepared the original document, and then when John Whitmer copied it, he kept the original spelling.[227]

Another possibility is that the top portion of the document was created by Joseph Smith, and was then used as the cover for OTMan3. Why would they do so? Possibly because of the wipe erasures[228] that are in the document; that may have caused Joseph to discard it and so it was never finished. This scenario though, seems very tenuous, because Joseph Smith’s handwriting can’t be matched to the document. [229]

Wipe Erasures on the "Caractors" Document

Wipe Erasures on the “Caractors” Document

So why are the characters so large at the top, but then smaller at the bottom? It may be that they were originally this way on the copy made by Smith and given to Harris in 1828. In March of 1831 an article appeared in the Palmyra Reflector, which has David Whitmer describing the Book of Mormon characters:

This witness [David Whitmer] describes the book as being something like 8 inches square; (our informant did not recollect precisely,) the leaves were plates of metal of a whitish yellow color, and of the thickness of tin plate; the back was secured with three small rings of the same metal, passing through each leaf in succession; — that the leaves were divided equi-distant, between the back & edge, by cutting the plates in two parts, and united again with solder, so that the front might be opened, as it were on a hinge, while the back part remained stationary and immovable and in this manner remained to him and the other witnesses a sealed book, which would not as yet be revealed for ages to come, and that event the prophet himself was not as yet permitted to understand. On opening that portion of the book which was not secured by the seals, he discovered inscribed on the aforesaid plates, divers and wonderful characters; some of the large and some small, but beyond the wisdom of man to understand without supernatural aid.[230] 

When Martin Harris showed the BOM characters to John Clark in the fall of 1827 (before his trip to New York City), Clark recalled that the paper “contained three or four lines of characters .”[231]

It may be possible then, that the smaller characters were added in later, from the document that Joseph had finished which supposedly included both columns and concentric circles as described by Orasmus Turner and Charles Anthon.

This scenario presupposes that Harris would have been showing a long piece of foolscap paper with only four lines of characters on it, which Joseph may have discarded because of mistakes in copying, and that later the other characters were added to it from the one taken to Charles Anthon, and then it was used as a cover for John Whitmer’s OTMan3. This scenario also seems very tenuous.

These (of course) are only conjectures; but one thing is certain, Joseph had his own copy of the characters that he kept with him that he showed to various people until shortly before his death.

I have often thought that like the Whitmer “Caractor” document (which was kept by John Whitmer as a cover for OTMan3), Joseph may have kept the original “Anthon Transcript” with the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and that when he placed it into the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1841 it was destroyed along with a large portion of that manuscript. [232]

Charles Anthon described the document he was shown as,

a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived.[233]

Orasmus Turner wrote that “an informant” described the document that Harris showed to them as “the manuscript title-page” and that “on it was drawn, rudely and bunglingly, concentric circles, between, above, and below, which were characters, with little resemblance to letters, apparently a miserable imitation of hieroglyphics.” [234]

This description seems to agree with the one made by Charles Anthon, but since Turner’s book was published long after the Anthon letters were written, there is a chance that he may have borrowed from them, but again, that seems very tenuous.

As for the calendar that Anthon mentions, there are actually two calendars in Alexander Von Humbolt’s books, one called the “Calendrier Lunaire des Mayseas” or the Lunar Calendar of the Muiscas, who were an ancient people that inhabited the northern Andes in Columbia, Central America, and the other the more famous Aztec Sun Stone discovered in 1790 in Mexico City.

Humboldt's Mexican & Musica Calanders pp. 104, 276.

Humboldt’s Mexican & Musica Calanders pp. 276, 104.

In 1795, Dr Jose Domingo Duquesne, a priest of the church of Gachancipa in Columbia published a paper detailing the Muisca calendar, which information he claimed to have received from the Indians themselves. His paper was later ridiculed as being nothing but an invention of his.[235]

In his description of the Muisca numbers, father Duquesne says that they used written signs to denote them, and gives a plate showing the graphic symbols for each name and number.[236]

Joseph Smith was familiar with this work and published an article in 1842 in the Times and Seasons titled ““Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Aztaeca Nations,” which quoted from Humboldt’s books.[237]

The Musica Calander is depicted with concentric circles divided into compartments, not unlike the magic circles on the Holiness to the Lord Parchment, one of three “lamans” inscribed with signs and names of ceremonial magic which were found among Hyrum Smith’s possessions after his death.[238] D. Michael Quinn writes in his groundbreaking work, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View that,

Smith Family Ceremonial Magic Parchment

Smith Family Ceremonial Magic Parchment

The three magic parchments attributed to the Joseph Smith family have three different, but interrelated, purposes. The “Holiness to the Lord” parchment is a lamen of ceremonial magic, the “Saint Peter bind them” parchment is a talisman for personal protection, and the faded “Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah” parchment is a talismanic house charm. [239]

Pages 334-335 of the "Discoverie of Witchcraft" by Reginald Scot, published in 1584 (1886 reprint)

Pages 334-335 of the “Discoverie of Witchcraft” by Reginald Scot, published in 1584 (1886 reprint can be viewed here)

Quinn also notes that,

At the lower right quadrant of the “Holiness to the Lord” lamen is an emblem of five points and seven internal spaces that combines the Jehovah (JHVH) “Tetragrammaton” with “Adonay”. Whoever put this symbol on the “Holiness to the Lord” lamen incorrectly drew it with seven internal compartments, for as early as 1656, an English translation of Paracelsus’ writings specified that the figure should have “six spaces, and outwardly five angles, wherein are written five syllables of the supreme name of God; to wit, Tetragrammaton” .[240]

One could describe the Smith lamans as drawn, rudely and bunglingly, with concentric circles, between, above, and below”, which were “divided into various compartments, [and] decked with various strange marks, to quote Anthon and Turner.

Another possible scenario is that Joseph gave Martin a document in the fall of 1827 with only four lines of characters on it. Harris took this to John Clark, which according to Lucy Smith were copied by his future son-in-law Flanders Dyke at the behest of his wife Lucy Harris.[241]

Reuben Hale supposedly later helped Joseph prepare the transcript that was to be presented to Charles Anthon and Samuel L. Mitchill which would have included more of the characters.[242]

Then, when Martin Harris returned to Harmony, Pennsylvania, three additional lines of characters were added to the first copy, written smaller than the first four lines. A few years later in 1831, John Whitmer made an exact copy of that document, while Joseph Smith kept the original; which he subsequently showed to various people in Kirtland and Nauvoo, from which the 1844 broadside characters were copied.

If Joseph did place the transcript shown to Anthon with the Book of Mormon manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1841, then he would have been left with a copy of the characters that was almost exactly like the Whitmer copy, and from which the 1844 Stick of Joseph Broadside was produced.

These are of course conjectures that may or may not bear out in the light of further discoveries.

In analyzing the characters from the last three lines, I noticed something peculiar. There are a lot of “stand alone” dash like characters between groups of characters.  There are quite a few in between groups of characters, which I reproduce below:

Dash like (--) Characters within the last three lines of the "Caractors" Document

Dash like (–) Characters within the last three lines of the “Caractors” Document

These “stand alone” dash like characters do not appear to be found on the first four lines of the larger drawn characters.[243] Perhaps these smaller groups of characters were originally within the concentric circles (the two larger groups around the outside or inside edges) or were in vertical columns on the document taken to Anthon, and the dashes were inserted to separate them.

Grouping of Characters, lines 5-7

Grouping of Characters, lines 5-7

These are intriguing possibilities, and perhaps someone will someday see a pattern in the numbers.  It does though, seem hard to believe that this document is one that took Joseph “a whole week to copy” as David Whitmer later recalled,[244] but it must also be remembered that Whitmer was prone to exaggerate and that he clung tenaciously to his erroneous testimony that he had both the Original Manuscript and the original Anthon Transcript .

It is very clear though, from analyzing the Hicks photo, that whoever copied the document would have had plenty of room to enlarge the bottom four lines of characters or copy more of them (if there were more), even if the document had already been folded, but only if the characters were drawn before the Cover Title.

Cover Title is left justified

Cover Title is left justified

During my study of the photo below, I noticed that the Cover Title was not written out in one line, but in three, and that it is “left justified”. This may indicate that the “Caractors” portion of the document was written first, or that the paper was folded before the Cover Title was written and Christian used the fold to the left to justify the Title. If the Cover Title was written before the “caractors”, then why not just write the Title across the entire page? This (to me) is a good indicator that the Cover Title and the “Caractors” were written after the page was folded in an effort to fit them in between the folds.

Hicks photo of "Caractors" Document

Hicks photo of “Caractors” Document

Would someone who thought those characters so important to copy and keep – only copy some of them? And why wasn’t the document that Harris took to Anthon reproduced in it’s entirety? Was Whitmer directed not to reproduce the circles? If so, why?

Or did Joseph (by 1831) only have a copy of the Book of Mormon characters that looked like the one that Whitmer copied? If so, what happened to the “Anthon Transcript”? Was it the copy that Harris took to New York that Flanders Dyke made a copy of? If so, was Joseph leery of keeping the original “Anthon Transcript” for the same reason that he did not “retranslate” the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon that were lost by Martin Harris? Could Joseph have produced another copy of the characters after this that were entirely different from the ones that Harris took to Anthon to thwart the designs of Lucy Harris?

This line of thought brings to mind what Anthon himself said, that the copy that he saw was “evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived.” If this criticism was related to Joseph by Martin Harris, perhaps Joseph destroyed the document, or entombed it with the Original Manuscript to avoid having to answer such criticisms. Perhaps in the light of facing such criticism, (and the problems he might encounter because of the Flanders Dyke copy) Joseph made another copy with the changed format and absence of concentric circles and other symbols.

Also, if the ‘Caractors’ document had been folded, it would have been newly folded and so it probably would have been easy to write over the fold and include more characters if there were any – if it was created before the Cover Title had been written.

One thing that lends credence to the theory that this document was created in 1831 or later is the handwriting on the document itself.  For many years those who only could analyze the top portion of the document have speculated about who may have written it.

Some, like Dean Jessee, thought it might have been Joseph Smith’s handwriting, possibly because of the spelling of the word “Caractors” which was initially misspelled by Joseph in his Summer 1832 History.[245]

Others thought it might have been John Whitmer who wrote the word. With the publication of the Book of Mormon Original Manuscript pages and other items in the Church of Christ Archives, I believe I can identify the handwriting on the document.

As I mentioned above, Royal Skousen identifies the two unknown Book of Mormon scribes from the Original Manuscript as John and Christian Whitmer.[246] Since there is a large body of evidence which identifies John Whitmer as one of the scribes, I will focus here on identifying the other one.

Christian Whitmer Marriage Notice, Geneva Gazette, March 9, 1825, which misspells his name as "Wilmer" instead of "Witmer".

Christian Whitmer Marriage Notice, Geneva Gazette, March 9, 1825, which misspells his name as “Wilmer” instead of “Witmer”.

Christian Whitmer was born on January 18, 1879, in Pennsylvania, and was the oldest son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman Whitmer. Christian moved from Pennsylvania to Seneca County New York, and in 1825 he married Anna Schott[247] and took of the trade of shoe making.

In that same year Christian joined the New York State Militia and received the commission of an Ensign with the 102 Regiment of the Seneca County Grenadiers. His brother-in-law, Daniel Schott[248] was made a Captain of the same Regiment a few days earlier. Christian’s brother David Whitmer would join the Grenadiers a month later as a Sargent.[249]

February 26, 1825 Christian Witmer, "Ensign of Grenadiers in the 102d Regt. of Infantry (Seneca County)

February 26, 1825 Christian Witmer, “Ensign of Grenadiers in the 102d Regt. of Infantry (Seneca County)

There are few accounts that mention Christian Whitmer  during the New York period of the church, and most are the later reminiscences of his brother David Whitmer. In this interview from 1878, he spoke to Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith about how his family became involved with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon:

Before I knew Joseph, I had heard about him and the plates from persons who declared they knew he had them, and swore they would get them from him. When Oliver Cowdery went to Pennsylvania, he promised to write me what he should learn about these matters, which he did. He wrote me that Joseph had told him his (Oliver’s) secret thoughts, and all he had meditated about going to see him, which no man on earth knew, as he supposed, but himself, and so he stopped to write for Joseph.[250]

In 1881 David gave a more expanded account of how Joseph came to reside at the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr.:

Peter Whitmer Reconstructed Log Cabin

Peter Whitmer Reconstructed Log Cabin

“I first heard of what is now termed Mormonism in the year 1828. I made a business trip to Palmyra, New York, and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery. A great many people in the neighborhood were talking about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, Jr., a young man of the neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as others, talked about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing it to be only the idle gossip of the neighborhood. Cowdery said he was acquainted with the Smith family, and believing there must be some truth in the story of the plates, he intended to investigate the matter. I had conversation with several young men who said that Joseph Smith had certainly golden plates, and that before he had attained them he had promised to share with them, but had not done so and they were very much incensed with them. Said I, ‘how do you know that Joe Smith has the plates?’ They replied, ‘we saw the plates [sic, place] in the hill that he took them out of just as he described it to us before he obtained them.’ These parties were so positive in their statements that I began to believe there must be some foundation for the stories then in circulation all over that part of the country. I had never seen any of the Smith family up to that time, and I began to inquire of the people in regard to them, and learned that one night during the year 1827, Joseph Smith, jr., had a vision, and an angel of God appeared to him and told him where certain plates were to be found, pointing out the spot to him, and that shortly afterward he went to that place and found the plates which were still in his possession. After thinking over the matter for a long time, and talking with Cowdery, who also gave me a history of the finding of the plates, I went home, and after several months Cowdery told me he was going to Harmony, Pa. — whither Joseph Smith had gone with the plates on account of persecutions of his neighbors — and see him about the matter. He did go, and on his way he stopped at my father’s house and told me that as soon as he found out anything, either truth or untruth he would let me know. After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph Smith and shortly after, wrote to me telling me that he was convinced that Smith had the records and that he (Smith) had told him that it was the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in the translation of the plates. He went on, and Joseph translated from the plates and he wrote it down. Shortly after this, Cowdery wrote me another letter in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating gave a complete history of these people. When Cowdery wrote me these things and told me that he had revealed knowledge concerning the truth of them, I showed these letters to my parents, brothers and sisters. Soon after I received another letter from Cowdery telling me to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s house, giving as a reason therefore that they had received a commandment from God to that effect. I went down to Harmony and found everything just as they had written me. The next day after I got there they packed up the plates and we proceeded on our journey to my father’s house, where we arrived in due time, and the day after we commenced upon the translation of the remainder of the plates. I, as well as all of my father’s family, Smith’s wife, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, were present during the translation. The translation was by Smith and the manner was as follows:  “He had two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg-shape and perfectly smooth, but not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates. He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top and immediately below would appear the translation, in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they faded from sight to be replaced by another line. The translation at my father’s occupied about one month, that is from June 1 to July 1, 1829.”[251]

When George Q. Cannon visited David Whitmer in 1884 he reported that David told him that his brother “Christian” was one of those “who assisted the Prophet Joseph” in transcribing what was dictated by Joseph.[252]

?????????????????A year later in another interview for the Chicago Tribune, David related that “The work of translating the tablets consumed about eight months, Smith, acting as the seer and Cowdery, Smith’s wife, and Christian Whitmer, brother of David, performing the duties of amanuensis…”[253]

From these statements it is clear that David believed that his brother Christian was involved as a scribe for Joseph Smith during the translation of the Book of Mormon. In 1887 David wrote that while “the Book of Mormon was still in the hands of the printer” his “brother, Christian Whitmer, had copied from the manuscript the teachings and doctrine of Christ, being the things which we were commanded to preach.”[254]

Christian Whitmer and his wife Anna were baptized on April 11, 1830 according to Joseph’s 1839 History,[255] just a few days after the organization of the church. When Hiram Page was receiving “revelations” through a peep stone like Joseph did, the whole Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery believed the revelations were of God. Joseph later declared them to be of Satan [256] and according to Joseph’s account of the matter it was Christian Whitmer that helped convince the others to side with Joseph in the matter.[257]

Christian Whitmer like his brother John, was sent to Jackson County Missouri in 1832, where he was called as President of the Elders Quorum there. With the expulsion of the Mormons in 1833 he moved into Clay County and was chosen to be one of the high council on July 3, 1834. He died there in 1835 “of severe affliction upon one of his legs, which he bore for a long time with great patience.” [258]

As I mentioned above, there are many examples of John Whitmer’s handwriting and so it is relatively easy to identify him as Unknown Scribe 1. Identifying Unknown Scribe 2 has been a bit more difficult because that handwriting is very similar to John Whitmer’s handwriting; and there are few known samples of Christian Whitmer’s handwriting. Still, the signature of Christian Whitmer from 1825 has some striking similarities with Unknown Scribe 2.

Christian Whitmer Signature comparison with Unknown Book of Mormon Scribe

Christian Whitmer Signature comparison with Unknown Book of Mormon Scribe

It is immediately apparent that Christian Whitmer has some common style characteristics in his signature that John Whitmer does not. For example, his ‘s’ is very elongated in his signature, he makes his “i” and “t” stand alone, and there are other unique style characteristics documented in the photo above.

Though John Whitmer has some of them, and used some of them in his handwriting, (like the elongated first “s” in his double “s” combos), he does not consistently do so as Christian Whitmer does. I am therefore very confident that the unknown scribe’s handwriting from the Book of Mormon (sampled above) is that of Christian Whitmer, and that using those handwriting samples, Christian can also be identified as the author of various “revelations” authored by Joseph Smith and the Cover Title for OTMan3.

Since this article has taken me longer than I anticipated to finish and get up on the Blog, I now know a bit more about what others who have been working on this have concluded about the document. Brent and Erin Metcalfe have concluded that the entire document was written by Christian Whitmer. [259]

In the current issue of Mormon Historical Studies, Michael Hubbard Mackay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Robin Scott Jensen have concluded that the entire document was written by John Whitmer.[260]

They write, “Upon examination, the title exhibits significant signs that it was not written by Joseph Smith but by John Whitmer.” [261]

John Whitmer's Handwriting compared with "Caractors" Document. Samples Taken from Revelation Book 1.

John Whitmer’s Handwriting compared with “Caractors” Document. Samples Taken from Revelation Book 1.

I concur with this conclusion (in part), as my own comparison shows. This would include the characters themselves, of which they write,

Because it seems likely that there was one continuous flow of the document, the characters were also likely in John Whitmer’s handwriting. This was confirmed by x-ray florescence done in September 2012 at the Community of Christ Library – Archives by the authors. [262]

Since the bottom half of the document is not extant, no ink tests can be done, and therefore it is impossible to determine if the entire document was written at the same time. We must therefore rely on handwriting analysis for the portion of the document which contains the Cover Title, “The Book of The Generations of Adam”. It is here where I diverge with Mackay, Dirkmatt and Jensen.

When I first studied the handwriting on the Hicks photo, I thought the entire document was written by John Whitmer.  The reason I thought so, was because John Whitmer always writes his capital “A” in the traditional way. Christian, on the other hand, always makes his capital “A” as a large lowercase “a”. But a document in the Community of Christ archives, (JST185) has helped to clarify this important distinction between John and his brother Christian and provide a scenario that explains my two authorship theory.

But there was another problem with identifying John Whitmer as the person who wrote “The Book of the Generations of Adam” on the “Caractors” document, which has to do with the style characteristics of the capital “G”. In all of the samples of John Whitmer’s handwriting, he never makes his capital “G” in the same way it appears on the “Caractors” document.  But Christian Whitmer does, very consistently.

I was helped in my identification of the handwriting by a number of documents from the Community of Christ archives supplied by H. Michael Marquardt via Dan Vogel, who was kind enough to provide them when I asked him for anything written by the Whitmer brothers or unknown scribes that could be one of the Whitmers.

Having the phrase “The Book of the Generations of Adam” to go on, Rachel Killebrew at the Community of Christ Archives was contacted,[263] and she found a document in the Joseph Smith Translation Collection (JST185) that has two sentences written on it.  On one side is written,



The bok of the Generations of adam
The Book of the generations of Adam

Analysis of the top line from the document above has yielded the following result:

JST 185 Top Line Comparison with Christian Whitmer Handwriting

JST185 Top Line Comparison with Christian Whitmer Handwriting

I believe that John asked Christian to write the cover for OTMan3. This document (pictured above) is (I believe) the Title chosen for the cover that John Whitmer asked his brother Christian to write for OTMan3, which Christian then wrote down on this sheet of paper.

The top line is written by Christian, and below that is what I believe is the corrected way that John wanted it written. The handwriting on the top line matches the handwriting of the same phrase on the “Caractors” document, while the bottom line does not, but that line does match John’s handwriting from other documents. John’s capital “T” has a distinct style characteristic which is different from Christian’s, and John does not make his capital “G” in quite the same way as the person who wrote the top line.

JST185 Bottom Line Comparison with John Whitmer Handwriting

JST185 Bottom Line Comparison with John Whitmer Handwriting

In comparing the two sentences with the known handwriting samples of Christian and John Whitmer, it is obvious (to me) that Christian wrote the top line, and John the bottom one.  It may be possible that John asked Christian to write the Cover Title for OTMan3, and Christian wrote it down, (the top line) and John then corrected it with what Christian eventually wrote on the Cover Page (Note that the word “book” is misspelled, and “Adam” is written with a lower case “a”, which Christian was prone to do with names). [264]

Why did John ask Christian to write the Title for the cover of his manuscript? That remains a mystery. Perhaps he was busy with other projects and so assigned this task to his brother. But I believe that both of them contributed to the document because the similarities between John’s handwriting and the word “Caractors” are significant, and John’s handwriting can’t be matched to the sentence “The Book of the Generations of Adam” that appears below (or to the right of depending on how the page is displayed) the Book of Mormon characters.

Also, When Christian wrote Titles to documents, they look nothing like the “Caractors” Line, but John Whitmer’s title lines do. If the document was entirely written by Christian Whitmer, then why are the style characteristics of the two title lines (“Caractors” and “The Book of the Generations of Adam”) so different?[265]

After Christian wrote the Cover Title, John most likely added the “Caractors” which he copied from another document to the Cover of OTMan3 so that he would have them with his personal manuscript of the Book of Moses. I believe that this was done hurriedly and on impulse by John, to preserve a copy of the “caractors” before the move to Ohio.

This seems, to me, like the most likely scenario, because the word “Caractors” is more like the style of John Whitmer’s writing, and they seem to have been made to fit in the section above the first fold of the document.

Also, Christian Whitmer’s Cover Title was justified to fit between the folds of the document, and so the manuscript was probably already folded into fourths, and the Cover Title was positioned in a way to display it within the middle fold – as was done with a later “revelation” penned by Christian Whitmer which he titled “Commandment to the Churches”. (See picture of June 15, 1831 “revelation” below).

John & Christian Whitmer Title Comparison

John & Christian Whitmer Title Comparison

But why would John Whitmer put the characters there, on the cover, when he had a whole blank sheet of paper that only had two sentences on it (The book of the generations of Adam), which could have easily been flipped over and used, and then inserted inside the manuscript?

It may well be that the “Caractors” part of the document was made first, and then the title was added. The smaller characters may have been copied smaller because that was the way they appeared on the document that John Whitmer was copying. I find this scenario less likely, and only present it as a possibility.

If you look closely as JST 185, (click to enlarge) you can see some faint writing that looks like it was transferred (from being kept together) from another document.  H. Michael Marquardt was told by Rachel Killebrew (the Librarian at the Church of Christ) that this has been identified by Brent Metcalfe as the January 2, 1831 “revelation” that is now Doctrine and Covenants Section 38. The flip side of this “unnumbered flyleaf” (as it is catalogued by the COC) is completely blank.[266]

On December 9, 1830, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation to Edward Partridge which is now known as Doctrine and Covenants Section 35 (COC) or 36 (LDS).[267] This document was copied (as were many others) by one of Joseph’s scribes and taken to Missouri where Joseph and others traveled to “lay the foundation of Zion”. [268]

Part of "revelation" given on Dec. 9, 1830. Handwriting of Christian Whitmer

Part of “revelation” given on Dec. 9, 1830. Handwriting of Christian Whitmer

Some of those revelations were inadvertently left in Missouri or unattended for a time, and came into the hands of Symonds Ryder, possibly by way of Ezra Booth, who had been sent on a mission there with Isaac Morley.[269] Ryder was an early convert to the Church in Ohio who became disaffected with Joseph Smith after reading those revelations; then allegedly participated in an 1832 assault upon the persons of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.[270] In a letter written to A.S. Hayden in 1868, Ryder wrote:

“* * * To give particulars of the Mormon excitement of 1831 would require a volume — a few words must suffice. It has been stated that from the year 1815 to 1835, a period of twenty years, ‘all sorts of doctrine by all sorts of preachers had been plead;’ and most of the people of Hiram had been disposed to turn out and hear. This went by the specious name of ‘liberal.’ The Mormons in Kirtland, being informed of this peculiar state of things, were soon prepared for the onset.

Symonds Ryder

Symonds Ryder

“In the winter of 1831 Joseph Smith, with others, had an appointment in the south school-house, in Hiram. Such was the apparent piety, sincerity and humility of the speakers, that many of the hearers were greatly affected, and thought it impossible that such preachers should lie in wait to deceive.

“During the next spring and summer several converts were made, and their success seemed to indicate an immediate triumph in Hiram. But when they went to Missouri to lay the foundation of the splendid city of Zion, and also of the temple, they left their papers behind. This gave their new converts an opportunity to become acquainted with the internal arrangement of their church, which revealed to them the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Joseph Smith the prophet. This was too much for the Hiramites, and they left the Mormonites faster than they had ever joined them, and by fall the Mormon church in Hiram was a very lean concern.

“But some who had been the dupes of this deception, determined not to let it pass with impunity; and, accordingly, a company was formed of citizens from Shalersville, Garrettsville, and Hiram, in March, 1832, and proceeded to headquarters in the darkness of night, and took Smith and Rigdon from their beds, and tarred and feathered them both, and let them go. This had the desired effect, which was to get rid of them. They soon left for Kirtland.

“All who continued with the Mormons, and had any property, lost all; among whom was John Johnson, one of our most worthy men; also, Esq. Snow, of Mantua, who lost two or three thousand dollars.


Scott Faulring believes that Ryder stole the documents himself, which were hidden by Ryder and found years later and returned to the church by Ryder’s descendants:

Ryder was in Kirtland on June 6, 1831, when he was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith. Two weeks after Symonds’s ordination, the Prophet, accompanied by many of the leading brethren in Ohio, departed from Kirtland on their first visit to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri—the site of the prophesied city of the New Jerusalem and the land designated as Zion. Allegedly, with the Church leaders away, Symonds Ryder traveled north from his farm in Hiram, Ohio, up to the Church headquarters in Kirtland. Somehow, without being discovered, he accessed the Church records. Symonds apparently knew what he was looking for. He secured a certain group of manuscript revelations. The documents he took detailed, in one way or another, the organization, procedures, or laws of the Church. Included in these materials was Oliver Cowdery’s 1829 Articles. Ironically, also among the manuscripts was a copy of the revelation in which Ryder’s name was misspelled. More than 125 years later, in 1958, Symonds Ryder’s descendants discovered these manuscript revelations tightly rolled up in a linen handkerchief inside the drawer of a dresser that had been in the Ryder family for many years. The family believes that Ryder himself hid these documents for unknown reasons and they remained untouched until being discovered in 1958. It was his great-great-granddaughter who unrolled the precious old documents and flattened them in books. Two years later, the Ryder family, assisted by a Latter-day Saint family living in the community of Ravenna, Ohio, forwarded these priceless historical revelation documents to the Church historian in Salt Lake City.[272]

June 15, 1831 "Revelation" (D&C 56) Handwriting of Christian Whitmer

June 15, 1831 “Revelation” (D&C 56) Handwriting of Christian Whitmer and the cover title for this document, made to fit after it was folded.

Using these “revelations” that have now been identified as having been written by Christian Whitmer, one can see that they are the same handwriting as the Cover Title for John’s OTMan3.

Christian Whitmer Handwriting Comparison with Cover Title from the "Caractors" Document

Christian Whitmer Handwriting Comparison with Cover Title from the “Caractors” Document

Another mystery that begs to be solved is when the document was photographed and cut from the larger page.  Mackay, Dirkmatt and Jensen write,

“…a recent discovery has helped clarify the format and content of the original “Caractors” document and provides a more likely time frame for its creation. Sometime before early 1886, a photographer from Clay County, Missouri, Jacob T. Hicks, photographed the “Caractors” manuscript in David Whitmer’s possession. His photograph reveals that the currently extant portion of the document is only between one-fourth or one-third the size of the original document it was once attached to. …The 1886 image opens the possibility that the copies of the characters were written onto the document as a secondary thought and that the original document had a completely different purpose initially than to capture a copy of the characters.[273]

Modern Photo of cut off 'Caractors' Document

Photo of cut off ‘Caractors’ Document

To support this theory that the document was photographed in 1886, they reference George Edward Anderson’s[274] diary entry for May 12, 1907, which contains an interview Anderson had with Julia Schweich, the daughter of David Whitmer.[275] The entry reads,

Mrs. Julia [Whitmer] Schweich says they promised her father [?], David Whitmer, a nice Book of Mormon. She would like to have it. “Considerable Thomas about me. I must see before I believe.”

“Oh, he never deviated from what he told us at first. What he taught us that high [blank?]. No one could harm my father. I could knock him down and drag out.”

Reporter called. She would not admit him. Shut the door in his face. Wrote an article saying David Whitmer died in his arms.

Jacob T. Hicks, Liberty, Missouri, Clay County, photographer, made picture when he, [David Whitmer], [was] 82 years old. “The day I am at my own table am eighty-two years old and can carve my own turkey.” [p. 33]

Mrs. Josephine [Helen Schweich] Van Cleave lives in Springfield, Illinois. Josie, her daughter, has the trunk the manuscript was kept in. Mrs. Van Cleave’s mother is a relative of Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben Hur.

Parties came to purchase the manuscript and said it would help Father Whitmer in his old age and his grandchildren and others. He said, “they could work for their living as he had. I have never wanted for bread.”

“Name your price.”

“Would I sell my soul?”

The characters that Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon of New York were with the manuscript.

Once, Father WHitmer had not looked at the manuscript for a long time, and when they opened the trunk, found it was mouldy. But on examining the manuscript, it was not mold. Tied with the same yarn strings for years.[276]

Mackay, Dirkmatt and Jensen seem to be unaware that David Whitmer sat for two portraits by Jacob Hicks, one in 1867 when he was mayor and the other probably between 1880 and 1882, as you can see below, and so the document could have been photographed anytime during that period, but was most certainly not photographed by Hicks after 1884.

Photos of David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks. Left Photo taken in 1867 when David was 62 years old, Right Photo taken in 1882 when David was 77 years old.

Photos of David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks. (Left Photo) taken in 1867 when David was 62 years old, (Right Photo) probably taken in 1882. (See Note#276)

Why? Because there are witnesses who, well before 1886, attest that the “Caractors” document was the same size when they examined it as it is today, about 3 1/4 inches by 8 inches.[277]

One witness was James H. Hart who wrote in 1884:

James H. Hart

James H. Hart

I was shown the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, that were copied from the plates by the Prophet Joseph, and taken by Martin Harris to Profesors Anthon and Mitchell, of New York City, in Febuary, 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches by seven, and fill up seven lines, making about thirty-five inches of writing. [278]

Another was a reporter for the Daily Missouri Republican who interviewed Whitmer in 1884 and wrote that,

Mr. Whitmer showed those present a specimen of the characters copied from the plates. It is on a piece of strong paper about four by eight inches, and covered with one hundred or more hieroglyphics and figures. [279]

So when was the document cut? My guess is shortly after David acquired it from his brother John after his death in July of 1878.[280] Remember, P. Wilhelm Poulson interviewed John and David just a few months prior to this, and wrote that,

John Whitmer was in possession of copies from the plates with the translation below, and showed that to me, and also of other valuable records.[281]

Then, when he asked David about the engravings on the gold plates, Poulson was told that,

They were characters. We copied some, and if you visit my brother John, one of the eight witnesses, who wrote for Joseph, John can show you some of the old manuscript which he borrowed from me. I must have it returned to me again, as it belongs to the Church, in connection with other records. [282]

Two things about these statements are striking. David doesn’t relate the later claim that the characters were the original paper that Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon. If there were more than one character document in possession of the Whitmers as some have speculated, why didn’t David show him his document? David instead tells Poulson that “we copied some” (of the characters), and links them with an “old manuscript”.

He then says that John could show him “some of the old manuscript”. What manuscript? Perhaps it was OTMan3, which had the copy of the characters David spoke of written on the wrapper. If Poulson saw that, he would have seen the phrase “The Book of the Generations of Adam” which he could have mistaken for a “translation below”, and which he may have concluded was continued in the short manuscript of less than 20 pages.  David Whitmer had told others that just one character could generate a whole sentence or more of translation material,[283] and this may also have been related by Whitmer to Poulson.

The evidence does not bear out that this was David’s manuscript that he “loaned” to John. It was John’s manuscript, written in his own hand. It may be that John loaned the wrapper to David for a brief time and that David had Jacob Hicks take a photo of it when he posed for his portrait in 1867.

David then returned the wrapper to John, but still thought of it as his. It was quite the feather in his cap to have both the Original Manuscript to the Book of Mormon and the original transcript of the “Caractors” in his possession, and David stuck to this story for the rest of his life, even when faced with evidence from the Utah Mormons that this was incorrect, and knowing that his copy of the characters was not the original. It may have been the reason that the document was cut, to give David’s story more credibility. John may have also promised his papers to David, as the new head of the church (Church of Christ) they had established in 1876.

It is also possible that David had Hicks take a photo of the “Caractors” document sometime after 1878, when he posed for the second portrait. So why did David cut the document? I believe that it was to bolster his story that it was the original “Anthon Transcript”. Others believe that it was done to keep people (like Poulson) from thinking that the line below the characters was translated from them. [284]

But why cut the document when it would be very easy to just explain that they were not a translation of the characters? Perhaps because Whitmer had started telling others that he had the original “Anthon Transcript” and he did not want to change his story, or have others (like Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt did) claim that because it was only a copy, it was less valuable than an original.[285]

It certainly must have been frustrating to Whitmer to have the Utah Mormons come to Missouri, correct him, and then devalue his Printer’s Copy of the Book of Mormon manuscript as they did in 1878.

It may be of interest to note that Hicks took two photos of the “Caractors” Document.[286] Here is the other one:

Alternate Photo of 'Caractors' by Jacob Hicks

Alternate Photo of ‘Caractors’ by Jacob Hicks

It looks as if Hicks tried to focus on the characters themselves in this photo, (perhaps at the behest of David Whitmer) but still got some of the Manuscript Cover Title in the picture. This photo is centered better, but it is darker and some of the characters on the right edge are hard to see. It is impossible to know in what order the two photos were taken.

There is also the possibility that David actually believed that Joseph Smith had authored the “Caractor” portion of the document and that it was taken to Anthon, but if this is so, why did he tell Poulson that “we copied some of them”, and how could Whitmer reconcile his copy to the description that Anthon gave of the transcript shown to him by Martin Harris, of which David was well aware of and had quoted in his Address to All Believers In Christ?[287]

David Whitmer’s own knowledge about the “Anthon Incident” and his penchant for exaggeration discredit his later statements about the “Caractors” document and give credence to the theory that he cut the document to bolster those later statements.


Understanding the history behind the characters supposedly copied from the gold plates that Joseph Smith claimed to have found in the fall of 1827 has been difficult, but also of great importance to many.

This was well understood by Mark Hoffman who created his famous forgery of the “Anthon Transcript” in 1980. For almost two centuries historians have been trying to add pieces to the puzzle of historical accounts left behind; and discover more evidence that will bring answers to the many questions that still linger about the “Caractors” that Jospeh Smith claimed were “Reformed Egyptian” writing.

We now know that the document that was in the possession of John and David Whitmer was not the original transcript that was taken to Charles Anthon in 1828 by Martin Harris, but that it was a copy made by John and Christian Whitmer a few years later.

What we still don’t know is what happened to the original “Anthon Transcript”, or some of the other copies that are mentioned in various accounts during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, and how they relate to the reproductions produced after his death.

The Hicks Photos are important pieces of evidence that answer some of those questions; but as with other discoveries generate even more. Still, finds like this one give hope to future historians that answers can be found, and that more discoveries are still out there waiting to be uncovered by diligent researchers and students of Mormon History.


[217] Online here, accessed August 30, 2013.

[218] Daily Missouri Republican, July 16, 1884. Online here, accessed August 30, 2013. In an interview with by her son in February, 1879, Emma Smith answered some questions about the Book of Mormon scribes,

Q. Who were scribes for father when translating the Book of Mormon?
A. Myself, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and my brother, Reuben Hale.
Q. Was Alva Hale one?
A. I think not. He may have written some; but if he did, I do not remember it.… (Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, p. 541).

In another interview with the Chicago Times in November 1881 David Whitmer said,

“Christian Whitmer, his brother, occasionally assisted Cowdery in writing, as did Mrs. Joseph Smith, [Jr.], who was a Miss Hale before she was married.”

[219] History of the Church, 1:49.

[220] Dean C. Jessee, “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript,” Brigham Young University Studies, 10:3, Spring 1970, page 276.

[221] Royal Skousen, “The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts” (Book of Lecture, 1 of 3), The Maxwell Institute YouTube Page, published on July 17, 2013. Online here, accessed August 20, 2013.

[222] Moses 6:8

[223] H. Michael Marquardt, “John Whitmer and the Revelations of Joseph Smith”, Web Version © 2009 by H. Michael Marquardt, Online here, accessed August 20, 2013.

[224] ibid, note 11.

[225] Kent P. Jackson, “The Sword of My Indignation”: John Whitmer’s Genesis Manuscript and 1861 Revelation, Mormon Historical Studies, Spring 2008, page 119. Online here, (PDF), accessed August 30, 2013.

[226] Revelation Book 1, page 11, Online here, accessed August 30, 2013.

[227] For more on the spelling issue and its possible ramifications about who may have authored the document, see note #259.

[228] Dan Vogel brought this to my attention during our email discussions about the document last summer, which was pointed out to him by Brent Metcalfe. He wrote,

Those are called wipe erasures and are done while the ink is still wet. Note that one of them is an erasure of a repeated character. These tend to show that the document was visually copied from another document. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t JS copying his own material. It may be because of these erasures that the document was discarded and restarted and when complete included the circle. Although Anthon says the characters were arranged in columns, he adds that the “whole ended” with the circle. (Email, July 7, 2013)

Note: at this time we were discussing possible scenarios for the authorship of the document before all of the handwriting samples were analyzed; therefore it doesn’t mean that Dan thinks that Joseph authored the document.

[229] See “The ‘Caractors’ Document: New Light on an Early Transcription of the Book of Mormon Characters, by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmatt, and Robin Scott Jensen, Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 140-141.

[230] “Gold Bible No. 6”, The Reflector, Palmyra, New York, March 19, 1831.

[231] Gleanings by the Way, p. 227.

[232] There is an amazing amount of historical documents that were kept, copied and saved by the efforts of Joseph Smith and those that he put in charge of Church records during his time. Smith himself developed a theology which made the saving of documents imperative, (See D&C 127), and Joseph had always stressed the importance of writing down the minutes of meetings as he explained to the Kirtland High Council in 1835:

Here is another important idea. If you assemble from time to time, and proceed to discuss important questions, and pass decisions upon the same, and fail to note them down, by & by you will be driven to straits, from which you will not be able to extricate yourselves because you may be in a situation not to bring your faith to bear with sufficient perfection or power to obtain the desired information, or perhaps, for neglecting to write these things, when God revealed them, not esteeming them of sufficient worth the Spirit may withdraw and God may be angry, and here is or was a vast knowledge of infinite importance, which is now lost. What was the cause of this? It came in consequence of Slothfulness, or a neglect to appoint a man to occupy a few moments in writing all these decisions. Here let me prophesy. The time will come, when, if you neglect to do this thing, you will fall by the hands of unrighteous men. Were you to be brought before the authorities, and, be accused of any crime or misdemeanor, and be as innocent as the angels of God, unless you can prove yourselves to have been somewhere else, your enemies will prevail over you, but if you can bring twelve men to testify that you were in a certain place at that time, you will escape their hands. Now, if you will be careful to keep minutes of these things, as I have said, it will be one of the most important records ever seen for every such decision will, ever after remain as items of doctrine and covenants. I have now placed before you these items, for your consideration, and you are left to act according to your own judgments. The council then expressed their approbation, concerning the foregoing remarks of President Smith, and proceeded to appoint Elders, Orson Hyde & Wm. E. McLelin, to serve as clerks for the meeting. (Kirtland Council Minute Book, February 27, 1835)

Still, Joseph was not above having church records destroyed, as William Clayton records in a diary entry from June of 1844:

Joseph whispered and told me either to put the r[ecords] of K[ingdom] into the hands of some faithful man and send them away, or burn them, or bury them. I concluded to bury them, which I did immediately on my return home. (George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle; The Journals of William Clayton, p.135, June 22, 1844).

The next day, Clayton recorded that “ I went to Joseph and got all the public and private records together and buried them.” (ibid, June 23, 1844).

Concerning the Book of Mormon Original Manuscript, Ebeneezer Robinson would later write that,

The foundation [of the Nauvoo House] was prepared, and the ceremony of laying the corner stone was attended to on the 2nd day of October, 1841. One thing transpired on that occasion worthy of note.

After the brethren had assembled at the southeast corner of the foundation, where the corner stone was to be laid, President Joseph Smith said: ‘Wait, brethren, I have a document I wish to put in that stone,’ and started for his house, which was only a few rods away, across Main Street. I went with him to the house, and also one or two other brethren. He got a manuscript copy of the Book of Mormon, and brought it into the room where we were standing, and said: “I will examine to see if it is all here,” and as he did so I stood near him, at his left side, and saw distinctly the writing, as he turned up the pages until he hastily went through the book and satisfied himself that it was all there, when he said: “I have [had] trouble enough with this thing,” which remark struck me with amasement, as I looked upon it as a sacred treasure.

It was written on foolscap paper, and formed a package, as the sheets lay flat, of about two or two and a half inches thick, I should judge. It was written mostly in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting, with which I was intimately acquainted, having set many pages of type from his handwriting, in the church printing office at Kirtland, Ohio. Some parts of it were written in other handwriting.

He took the manuscript and deposited it in the corner stone of the Nauvoo House, together with other papers and things, including different pieces of United States’ coin. I put in some copies of the Times and Seasons; all were carefully encased in sheet lead to protect the contents from moisture, and a stone had been cut to closely fit into the cavity which had been made in the corner stone to receive these things, which stone was fitted in its place and cemented, when it was thought the papers and other articles would be preserved without decay or injury for ages, if not disturbed.

From this circumstance we know there must have been at least two manuscript copies of the Book of Mormon, which necesssarily must have been the case, as the printer who printed the first edition of the book had to have a copy, as they would not put the original copy into his hands for fear of it being altered. This accounts for David Whitmer having a copy and Joseph Smith having one. They were both mostly written in Oliver Cowdery’s hand writing, as I have seen both. He was scribe for Joseph most of the time he was translating the Book of Mormon. (Ebeneezer Robinson, The Return, Vol. 2, No. 8, August, 1890, pp. 314-315, online here, accessed August 20, 2013, bolded italics mine).

Dean Jessee in his article “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript” for some reason does not quote Robinson in full, but leaves off before Joseph’s statement that he had “had enough trouble” with the manuscript. He does quote Warren Foote who wrote in his diary that,

“I was standing very near the cornerstone, when Joseph Smith came up with the manuscript of the Book of Mormon and said he wanted to put that in there, as he had had trouble enough with it. It was the size of common foolscap paper, and about three inches thick.” (Dean C. Jessee, “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript”, B. Y. U. Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1970, pg. 4. Online here, accessed August 20, 2013.)

In his footnote to the Foote citation Jessee writes,

This statement agrees with that of John Brown, who also witnessed the proceedings. He quoted Joseph Smith as saying: “I have had a great deal of trouble to preserve it. I now deliver it up to the Lord and will not have the care of it any longer.” (ibid, pg. 14)

Unfortunately, these two statements do not agree, for Foote and Robinson say nothing about Joseph having trouble preserving the manuscript or that he wanted to “deliver it up to the Lord”. Brown’s statement was written in a letter to John Taylor on December 20, 1879 and seems to want to interpret the event in a different, or more faith promoting light. If Joseph had actually placed the manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo house with the intention of simply “delivering it up to the Lord” to preserve it, Ebeneezer Robinson’s account surely would have reflected this, as would Warren Foote’s journal entry for that date. One also wonders why Joseph could not have simply given it to an angel to “preserve”, as he claimed to have done with the gold plates. (See, Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials In Church History, p. 68).

[233] See Note #92.

[234] Orasmus Turner, History of Pioneer Settlement of Phelps And Gorham’s Purchase, 1849, page 215.

[235]“Cracking the Muisca Calendar”, online here, accessed, August 25, 2013.

See also, Manuel Arturo Izquierdo Pe~na, “The Muisca Calendar: An approximation to the timekeeping system of the ancient native people of the northeastern Andes of Colombia,” Dissertation presented to the Departament d’Anthropologie, Faculte des etudes superierures, Universite de Montreal, as prerequisite to obtain the diploma of Maitre es Sciences en Anthropologie, v. 3, 2008. Online here, accessed August 25, 2013.

[236] ibid, pp. 28-29. These are the Hieroglyphs given in Humboldt’s Researches Concerning The Institutions & Monuments of The Ancient Inhabitants of America, published in 1814.

[237] Times and Seasons 3, no. 16, June 15, 1842, 818–20, See also, “An Analysis of Joseph Smith’s Statements Associated with the Origins of the Aztecs in the Country of Aztlan”, by Ted Dee Stoddard, Online here, accessed, August 25, 2013.

[238] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Chapter 4. An excerpt from this book may be found here, accessed, August 30, 2013.

[239] ibid, p.97.

[240] ibid. The page taken from “The Discoverie of Witchcraft” by Reginald Scot, first published in 1584 may be found here. Part of the ritual for conjuring the dead reads,

“And about eleven a clocke in the night, go to the place where he was buried, and saie with a bold faith & hartie desire, to have the spirit come and thou doost call for, thy fellow having a candle in his left hand, and in his right hand a CHRISTALL STONE, and saie these words following

And I will sweare to thee an o[a]th, by the perill of my soule, that if thou wilt come to me, and appeare to me this night, AND SHEW ME TRUE VISIONS IN THIS CHRISTALL STONE, …

[241] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. I, pg. 352. See Note 64. Vogel writes,

Lucy Harris (?-c. 1841), oldest daughter of Martin and Lucy Harris, was evidently born in Palmyra, New York. She married Flanders Dyke, probably in the late 1820s. She had seven children (Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 26 [July 1935]: 108).

According to Lavina Fielding Anderson, Dyke was reported to have died in the Civil War. (Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s family memoir, Signature Books, 2001, pg. 814.)

[242] See Note #53.

[243] There are four possible instances of the dash like character that appear in the first four lines, but they all appear to be part of another character (except perhaps No. 2), not “stand alone” characters. I include them here for study.

BOM Dash Characters

Left to Right: A. Line 1, 4th character; B.Line 1, 17th & 18th character; C. Line 2, 1st character; D. Line 2, 13th character

[244] See Note #212.

[245] See Note #259. Stanley B. Kimball wrote in 1970:

One interesting, and possibly very meaningful, detail about the RLDS transcript is the word “Charactors” written across the top. Four students of early Church history, R.D. Webb, Ariel Crowley, Dean Jessee of the LDS Church Historian’s Office, and the anti-Mormon writer, I. Woodbridge Riley, think that this word is in the hand of Joseph Smith. If so, the authenticity of the RLDS transcript would be strengthened greatly. (Stanley B. Kimball, “The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems,” B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring, 1970, p. 349).

[246] See Note #221.

[247] The Geneva Gazette, March 9, 1825.

Anne [Anna] Schott was probably born at Fayette, Seneca, New York about 1804. She was the daughter of Frederick Schott and his wife Anne. They had moved from the vicinity of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1802 to Fayette. Anne married Christian Whitmer on 22 Feb 1825 in Seneca County. Anne was baptized on 11 Apr 1830 at Seneca Lake by Oliver Cowdery, along with her husband. Moved to Ohio and then Missouri in 1831, settling in Jackson County. From there the couple moved to Clay County where Anne’s husband died 27 Nov 1835. After this Anne returned to New York to live with her parents. She married Francis Hulett, but later divorced him. She died in Seneca County, New York. There is no indication in any records of any children being born to Anne and Christian. (Lyman D. Platt, “Members of th Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints baptized by September 26, 1830,” (PDF) p. 23, Online here, accessed August 20, 2013.

At the time of Christian Whitmer’s marriage, he was spelling his name “Witmer” without the “h”. I am grateful to Brent Metcalfe who informed me that he has seen the signature of Christian’s grandfather and that he also spelled his last name without the “h”. I discovered the marriage notice of Christian and Anna Witmer while doing research for this article.

[248] Frederick Schott (1766-1858) was married to Anna Rathfon, (1752-1853) and had 7 children, Mary Esther, Anna, Elizabeth, Edwin, Sally, Vincent, and Daniel who was born in 1799 and died the same year as John Whitmer, in 1878. He joined the Seneca County Grenadiers in 1825 and became a Justice of the Peace in 1829. (See the Geneva Mercantile Advertiser, Dec. 9, 1829)

[249] The Seneca Farmer, March 23, 1825.

[250] “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):771-7.

[251] Kansas City Daily Journal, June 5, 1881.

[252] Juvenile Instructor 19 (1884):107

[253] Chicago Tribune, 15 Dec 1885.

[254] David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.33.

[255] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Vol. 1, p. 99.

[256] Hiram Page was,

Born in the state of Vermont in 1800, little has been Iearned of his earlier life. He became a physician, traveling through New York and Canada before locating in Seneca County, New York. Here he married Katherine Whitmer 10 Nov 1825. He became one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He and his wife were baptized by Oliver Cowdery at Seneca Lake on 11 Apr 1830. They moved to Kirtland in 1831 and to Jackson County, Missouri in 1832. During the persecutions in Jackson County, Hiram was brutally whipped by the mob. In 1836 he was one of the settlers at Far West. In 1838 he left the church and moved to Ray County. He died near the present site of Exelsior Springs, some fourteen miles northwest of Richmond, 12 Aug 1852. He and Katherine were the parents of nine children. (Platt, op. cited, p. 22-23)

Michael Quinn writes,

The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon were also involved in folk magic. Oliver Cowdery was a rodsman before he met Smith in 1829 and was soon authorized by divine revelation to continue the revelatory use of his “rod of nature.” David Whitmer revered Smith’s use of a seer stone, may have possessed one of his own, and authorized a later spokesman for his own religious organization to obtain revelations through a stone (figs. 11-12). Martin Harris endorsed Smith’s use of a seer stone for divination and treasure seeking, and participated in treasure digging himself after the discovery of the gold plates. Of the remaining Eight Witnesses, John Whitmer possessed a seer stone which his descendants preserved (fig. 13), his brothers Christian, Jacob, and Peter were included in their pastor’s accusation of magic belief, and Hiram Page, their brother-in-law, had a stone for revelations.

The influence of magic was equally pervasive among the twelve men [p.195] who comprised the first quorum of apostles in 1835. As will be seen, almost half of the first apostles—Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, and Orson Pratt—gave specific evidence of a belief in various magical practices, while William Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and Lyman E. Johnson may have shared the views that their brothers expressed and implemented. Thus, at least two-thirds of Mormonism’s first apostles may have had some affinity for magic. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pp. 194-195).

Page’s continued use of his stone created a problem for Joseph in September 1830 when Page claimed that he was receiving “revelations” about Zion and other matters concerning the new church. In 1864, George A. Smith recounted that,

When the Church was organized, persons came into it bringing along some of these enthusiastic notions individuals who professed to have revelations on every subject, and who were ready to banish every moral principle under the guidance of false spirits. Joseph the Prophet had also to learn by experience, and to teach the Elders and the early members of the Church, how they should judge of the manifestation of spirits. (Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 17, Par. 7.)

“Wherefore it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus, and if he give not unto you that spirit, that you may know that it is not of God: and it shall be given unto you power over that spirit, and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice, that it is not of God; not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome; neither with boasting, nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith,” and refers to Hiram Page who began to get revelations through the medium of a black stone, certain characters appearing on that stone which he wrote down.

Joseph Smith in his history wrote thus:

“To our great grief, however, we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive, and seeking whom he might devour. Brother Hyrum Page had got in his possession a certain stone, by which he had obtained revelations concerning the up-building of Zion, the order of the Church, &c., &c., all of which were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament, as well as our late revelations. As a Conference had been appointed for the first day of September, I thought it wisdom not to do much more than to converse with the brethren on the subject, until the Conference should meet. Finding, however, that many, especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery, were believing much in the things set forth by this stone, we thought best to inquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter; and before Conference convened, we received the revelation to Oliver Cowdery given at Fayette, New York, September, 1830, in the 4th paragraph of which the Lord says:[p.3] “And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hyrum Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me, and that Satan deceived him; for, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this Church contrary to the Church covenants, for all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the Church, by the prayer of faith.”

Joseph’s history continues:

“At length our Conference assembled. The subject of the stone previously mentioned, was discussed, and after considerable investigation, brother Page, as well as the whole Church who were present, renounced the said stone, and all things connected therewith, much to our mutual satisfaction and happiness.” (Journal of Discourses Vol. 11, p.3, November 15, 1864).

Emer Harris brother of Martin Harris, would later recount that,

…the Apostle said we have to fight against principalities and powers in high places. Bro. Hiram Page dug out of the earth a black stone [and] put it in his pocket. When he got home, he looked at it. It contained a sentence on paper to befit it. As soon as he wrote one sentence, another sentence came on the stone, until he wrote 16 pages. Bro. Joseph was told of the fact. One person asked Joseph if it is right. He said he did not know, but he prayed and got revelation that the stone was of the devil. Then it was broke to powder and the writings burnt. It was a work of the power of darkness. Amen.” (Emer Harris statement, 6 Apr. 1856, Utah Stake general minutes, archives, Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah).

Quinn writes that,

In this instance, Smith’s move away from instruments of folk magic as church president contributed to the apostasy of early Mormon folk believers. Members of the Whitmer family were so devoted to the importance of seer stones that David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Hiram Page later dated the beginning of ,their own disenchantment with Mormonism at the time when Joseph Smith stopped using the seer stone as an instrument of revelation. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.201).

For more on Page’s stone see “Hiram Page’s Seer Stone and Checking Your Sources,” found here, accessed August 20, 2013.

[257] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents Vol. I, p. 129, see also Times and Seasons, Vol.4, No.7, p.109, which account reads,

Shortly after we had received the above revelations, Oliver Cowdery returned to Mr. Whitmer’s, and I began to arrange and copy the revelations which we had received from time to time; in which I was assisted by John Whitmer, who now resided with me. Whilst thus (and otherwise at intervals) employed in the work appointed me, by my heavenly father, I received a letter from Oliver Cowdery, the contents of which gave me both sorrow and uneasiness. Not having that letter now in my possession, I cannot, of course, give it here in full, but merely an extract of the most prominent parts, which I can yet, and expect long to remember. He wrote to inform me that he had discovered an error in one of the commandments: Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Sect. 2d, page 7th-“And truly manifested by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of sins.” The above quotation, he said, was erroneous, and added, I command you in the name of God to erase these words, that no priestcraft be amongst us!! I immediately wrote to him in reply, in which I asked him by what authority he took upon him to command me to alter or erase, to add or diminish to or from a revelation or commandment from Almighty God. In a few days afterwards I visited him and Mr. Whitmer’s family, were I found the family, in general, of his opinion concerning the words above quoted; and it was not without both labor and perseverence that I could prevail with any of them to reason calmly on the subject. However Christian Whitmer at length got convinced that it was reasonable, and according to Scripture, and, finally, with his assistance, I succeded in bringing, not only the Whitmer family, but also Oliver Cowdery, to acknowledge they had been in error, and that the sentence in dispute was in accordance with the rest of the commandments. And thus was their error rooted out, which having its rise in presumption and rash judgment, was the more particularly calculated (when once fairly understood) to teach each and all of us the necessity of humility and meekness before the Lord, that he might teach us of his ways, that we might walk in his paths, and live by every word that proceedeth forth from his mouth.

In an interview given in 1881 David Whitmer related that “The first good suit of clothes he [Joseph Smith, Jr.] had ever worn was presented to him by (my brother) Christian Whitmer.” (“David Whitmer Interviewed,” Saints’ Herald, November 15, 1881, 347.)

It may also be of interest that in 1829 Solomon Chamberlain published A Sketch of the Experience of Solomon Chamberlin, and mentioned that he had stopped in Palmyra and visited the Smith Farm where he met Christian Whitmer and Hyrum Smith:

I soon arrived at the [Smith] house, and found Hyrum walking the floor; as I entered the room, I said peace be to this house; he looked at me and said “I hope it will be peace.” I then said is there any one here that believes in visions and revelations. He [Hyrum] said yes, we are a visionary house. I then said I will give you one of my pamphlets, (which was visionary and of my own composition). . . .
* * *
They then called the people together, which consisted of five or six men who were out at the door. Father Smith was one and some of the Whitmer’s. They then sat down and read my pamphlet. Hyrum read first, but was so affected he could not read it, He then gave it to a man, which I learned was Christian Whitmer, he finished reading it. I then opened my mouth and began to preach to them, in the words that the angel had made known to me in the vision, that all Churches and Denominations on the earth had become corrupt, and [that] no Church of God [was] on earth but that he would shortly raise up a Church, that would never be confounded nor brought down and be like unto the Apostolic Church. They wondered greatly who had been telling me these things, for said they we have the same things wrote down in our house, taken from the Gold record, that you are preaching to us. (Marquardt & Walters, Inventing Mormonism, Ch.6, p.129).

This incident would probably have made a strong impression on Christian Whitmer and may have helped him overcome any doubts raised about Joseph Smith by others.

But Smith was to have further problems and challenges to his desire to be the president and spokesman for the Church. A year before the Church was organized, Joseph penned a “revelation” to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris which stated that they should not go “beyond things which are written; for in them are all things written, concerning my church, my gospel, and my rock,” and that they “had received the same power, the same faith, and the same gift like unto him [Joseph Smith].” (Book of Commandments, Chapter XV:1,3, History of the Church, Vol. I., p. 53)

David Whitmer later wrote that,

I was present when Brother Joseph received it [the above “revelation”] through the stone. It is Chapter 15 Book of Commandments, Sec. 16 Doctrine and Convenants. In the Book of Commandments it reads thus:

“Behold I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written, concerning my church, my gospel, and my rock. Wherefore if you shall build up my church, and my gospel, and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”

But in the Book of Doctrine and Convenants it has been changed and reads thus: “Behold I give unto you a commandment, that you rely “upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written, concerning `the foundation of’ my church, my gospel, and my rock; wherefore, if you shall build up my church `upon the foundation of’ my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”

The change in this revelation is of great importance; the word “them” refers to the plates–the Book of Mormon: We were commanded to rely upon it in building up the church; that is, in establishing the doctrine, the order of offices, etc.: “FOR IN THEM ARE ALL THINGS WRITTEN CONCERNING MY CHURCH, my gospel, and my rock.” But this revelation has been changed by man to mean as follows: That therein is not all things written concerning the church, but only all things concerning “the foundation of” the church–or the beginning of the church: that you must build up the church, beginning according to the written word, and add new offices, new ordinances, and new doctrines as I (the Lord) reveal them to you from year to year: As a Seer to the Church; High Priests; Three of the First Presidency; Baptism for the Dead; Polygamy, etc., etc. When the Book of Doctrine and Convenants was compiled in 1834, the church had then received many revelations to establish new offices and doctrines that are not even mentioned in the New Convenant of either of the two sacred books. They changed this revelation in order to sustain these new doctrines: If they had not made this change, the plain language of the original revelation would have condemned the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. I want to repeat that I was present when Brother Joseph received this revelation through the stone: I am one of the persons to whom it was given, therefore I know of a surety that it was changed when printed in the Doctrine and Convenants in 1834. Likewise concerning all these changes of which I will speak, I know that these changes were made. I was present when nearly all the early revelations were received. There are several of the old Books of Commandments yet in the land; bring them to light and see for yourselves that these revelations were changed just as I tell you.

These changes were made by the leaders of the church, who had drifted into error and spiritual blindness. Through the influence of Sydney Rigdon, Brother Joseph was led on and on into receiving revelations every year, to establish offices and doctrines which are not even mentioned in the teachings of Christ in the written word. In a few years they had gone away ahead of the written word, so that they had to change these revelations, as you will understand when I have finished. (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.58-59).

[258] The Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol.2, No.3, December, 1835, p.240.

[259] Brent and Erin Metcalfe have discovered another signature of Christian Whitmer from a petition that he signed in 1834, which Brent assure me “exhibits an evolution in style that even more closely resembles” the “Caractors” ms. and Scribe 3 in the Book of Mormon Original Manuscript and other documents. Since I have not seen this discovery, I can’t make any kind of determination about it, other than to give some evidence of what I feel may bolster the fact that Christian may have written the word “Caractors” in addition to the Cover Title. One strong reason that bolsters Brent and Erin’s conclusion (without their additional discovery) is that Christian Whitmer was a notorious bad speller. Below are some examples, (and this is only from four pages of material and it isn’t all of them):
Christian Whitmer Handwriting spelling mistakesThe reason I bring this up, is that I feel it is a weak spot in my analysis. John Whitmer also had misspellings, but not near as many as Christian Whitmer did. When Joseph Smith initially misspelled the word characters in his 1832 Summer History, he did not do so with an “o” in it. He merely left out the “h”. Now, it is possible that by 1832 his spelling had improved, and that he may have had problems misspelling the word. But this is not definitive proof, and my conclusion that it is John Whitmer who wrote the word “Caractors” depends on him copying a misspelling, which even I have problems with, given that John corrected Christians rendering of the Cover Title (JST 185).

But the handwriting analysis to me, still weighs in the favor of John Whitmer for the word “Caractors” and Christian Whitmer for the Cover Title.

[260] Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2013, p. 138.

[261] ibid.

[262] ibid, p. 144.

[263] I would like to thank Don Bradley for his help with this, and his encouragement and interest in this project.

[264] See Note #259.

[265] Even though I have great confidence in Brent and Erin Metcalfe’s research and conclusions, I am still troubled by the obvious differences in those style characteristics. The word “Caractors” and the fact that it is misspelled seem to point towards Christian Whitmer, yet the style of writing seems to point to his brother John. One possible explanation may be that there was an original document with that spelling on it penned by Joseph Smith himself, and John Whitmer wanted to preserve the original as it was written (which I’m not entirely convinced of, but have no better explanation at this time).

If Christian penned the entire “Caractors” document, why would John not have his brother write it out first and spell check it (if he did not want to preserve an original spelling of the word that way), when he went to the trouble to do so with the Cover Title? If the whole document was indeed penned by Christian Whitmer at the same time, then why is the word “Caractors” not included with the Cover Title on JST185?

[266] The identification of D&C 38 was related by H. Michael Marquardt to Dan Vogel, who gave me this information in an Email on July 22, 2013.

[267] For more on Edward Partridge, see D. Brent Collette, “In Search of Zion: A Description of Early Mormon Millennial Utopianism as Revealed Through the Life of Edward Partridge.” M.A., Brigham Young University, 1977, Online here, accessed August 20, 2013.

[268] Thomas G. Alexander writes,

In August 1831 Joseph Smith and a group of Mormon converts originally from Colesville, New York, met near Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, to lay the foundation for an American Zion. Designated as a place of refuge where church members could escape the tribulations preceding Jesus Christ’s second coming, Jackson County was to be the location of a communitarian enterprise called The Law of Consecration and Stewardship or the United Order of Enoch and as a site for a temple for the most sacred rites associated with Mormon worship. (Thomas G. Alexander, Things in Heaven and Earth, The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet, p.26).

The Smith family was to be immortalized and instrumental in bringing this to pass, as a portion of a blessing by Church Patriarch John Smith to his son George A. Smith emphasizes, according to Irene Bates and E. Gary Smith:

In a blessing to his eldest son, George A., on September 20, 1853, he promised that “all the inhabitants of the earth shall know that the Lord did choose the Smith family to build up Zion & did by them lay the foundation of this Church which shall never be overthrown neither shall the name of the Smith family be blotted out under Heaven.” (Irene M. Bates, E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch, p.117).

Concerning the events that took place in Jackson County Missouri in August 1831, John Whitmer wrote,

I hereby give a copy of the proceedings of the laying of the first logs of the City of Zion. As written by Oliver Cowdery. “After many struggles and afflictions, being persecuted by our enemies, we received inteligence by letter from our brethren, who were at the East. That br[others] Joseph and Sidney, and many others elders, were commanded to take their journey to this land, the Land of Missouri. Which was promised unto us should be the land of the inheritance of the Saints, and the place of the gathering in these last days. Which inteligenc cheered our hearts, and caused us to rejoice exceedingly. And by the special direction protection of the Lord, br Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon, in company with eight other elders, with the church from Colesville New York, consisting of about sixty souls, arivd in the month of July and by Revelation the place was made known where the Temple shall stand, and the City should commence. And by commandment twelve of us assembled ourselves together Viz. Elder Joseph Smith Jr. the Seer, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Newel Knight,4 William W. Phelps, and Ezra Booth who denied the faith.

On the second day of August 1831, Brother Sidny [p. 32] Rigdon stood up and asked saying: Do you receive this land for the land of your inheritance with thankful hearts from the Lord? answer from all we do, Do you pledge yourselves to keep the laws of God on this land, which you have never have kept in your own land? We do. Do you pledge yourselves to see that others of your brethren, who shall come hither do keep the laws of God? We do. After prayer he arose and said, I now pronounce this land consecrated and dedicated to the Lord for a possession and inheritance for the Saints, (in the name of Jesus Christ having authority from him.) And for all the faithful Servants of the Lord to the rimotest ages of time Amen.

The day following eight Elders viz. Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Peter Whitmer Jr., Frederick G. Williams,6 Wm. W. Phelps, Martin Harris, and Joseph Coe. assembled together where the temple is to be erected. Sidney Rigdon dedicated the ground where the city is to Stand: and Joseph Smith Jr. laid a stone at the North east corner of the contemplated Temple in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth. After all present had rendered thanks to the great ruler of the universe. Sidney Rigdon pronounced this Spot of ground wholy dedicated unto the Lord forever: Amen.

Some of the Elders who travelled to the land of Missouri and preached by the way tarried here in this land, among whom is the Bishop E[dward] Partridge[,] Isaac Morley[,] and John Corrill. Some were sick on their way to this land but all were restored to health[.] among those who were sick was John Murdock Parley P. Pratt and Thomas B. Marsh—They all tarried until after they attended a conference in this land. They have since all gone to preach [p. 33] the gospel and call sinners to repentance.

There were some churches built by the way as they journeyed to this land (Mo.) and the people were warned of the danger they were in, if they did not repent.

And now when the Elders had returned to their homes in Ohio,9 the churches needed much exortation in the absence of the Elders[.] many apostitized: but many have returned again to from the fold from whence they have strayed—And many mighty miracles were wrought by the Elders—one in particular which I shall here notice—which was wrought by Elders Emer10 Harris Joseph Bracke[r]berry11 and Wheeler Baldwin.12 [This] Is [an incident regarding] an infirmity in an old lady who had been helpless for the space of eight years confined to her bed. she did not belong to this church but sent her request to the Elders who immediately attended to her call, and after their arrival praid [prayed] for her and laid their hands on her, and she was immediately made whole and magnified and praised God. and is now enjoying perfect health[.]

And thus the churches again prospered and the work of the Lord spread[.]

Shortly after Joseph Smith Jr[,] Oliver Cowdery[,] and Sidney Rigdon Returned [to Ohio] Sidney wrote a discription and an epistle according to commandment.13 And Oliver Cowdery and Newel K. Whitney14—were commanded to go and visit the churches speedily—as you will see by reading the Revelation given August thirty at Kirtland15— The following is a copy of the Epistle written by S. Rigdons own hand.

I sidney a servant of Jesus Christ by the will of God the Father and through the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ unto the Saints who are scattered abroad in the last days, may grace [p. 34] mer[c]y and peace, rest upon you from God the father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who is greatly to be feared, among his saints and to be had in reverance of all them who obey him.

Beloved brethren,

It has pleased God even the Father to make known unto us m these last days, the good pleasure of his will concerning his Saints; and to make known unto us, the things which he has decreed upon the nations even wasting and destruction until they are utterly destroyed, and the earth made desolate by reason of the wickedness of its inhabitants according as he has made known in times past by prophits and apostles, that such calamities should befall the inhabitants of the earth in the last days, unless they should repent and turn to the living God. And as the time is now near at hand, for the accomplishment of his purposes and the fulfilment of his prophesies, which have been spoken by all the holy prophets, ever since the world began, he has sent and signified, unto us by the mouths of his holy prophets, that. he has raised up in these last days—the speedy accomplishment of his accomplish ment purposes which shall be accomplished, on the heads of the rebellious of this generation—among whom he has been pleased in much mercy and goodness, to send forth the fulness of his gospel in order that [p.89] they might repent and turn to the living God, and be made partakers of his Holy Spirit[.]

But by reason of their wickedness and rebellion against him and wicked and unbelieving hearts the Lord withdrew his spirit from them, and gives them up to work all uncleanness with greediness, and to bring swift destruction on themselves—[p. 35] and through their wickedness to hasten the day of their calamity, that they may be left without excuse in the day of vengeance.
But it has pleased our heavenly Father to make known some better things, concerning his Saints and those who serve him in f[e]ar and rejoice in meekness, before him, even things which pertain to life everlasting, for godliness has the life promise of the life, that now is, and that which is to come; Even so it has pleased our heavenly Father to make provisions for his saints in these last days of tribulation that they through faith and patience, and by continuing in well doing may preserve their lives; and attain unto rest and endless felicity—but by no other means, than that of a strict observance of his commandments and teachings in all things as there is and can be no ruler nor lawgiver in the Kingdom of God save it be God our Saviour himself—and before him he requires that all his saints & those who have named the name of Jesus, should be carful to depart from iniquity—and serve him with fe[a]r and rejoicing and trembling least he be angry and they perish from their way.
According to the prediction of the ancient profits that the Lord would send his messengers in the last days, and gather his elect. (which is the elect according to the covenant, viz. those who like Abraham are faithful to God and the word of his Grace.) from the four winds even from one end of the earth to the other as testified of by the Savior himself—so in these last days he has commenced to gather together, into a place provided before of God and had in reserve in days of old, being kept by the power and providence of of God, for this purpose and which he now holds in his own hands, that they through faith, and patience may inherit the blessings promises—A land which God by his own [p. 36] commandment has consecrated to him self where he has said, that his laws shall be kept, and where his saints can dwell in safety, through their perseverance in well doing and their unfeigned repentance of all their sins, our heavenly Father has provided this land himself because it was the one which was [best] adapted, for his children, where Jew and Gentile might dwell together: for God has the same respect to all those who call upon him in truth and righteousness whether they be Jew or Gentile; for there is no respect of persons with him.

This land being situated in the center of the continent on which we dwell with an exceeding fertile soil and ready cleared for the hand of the cultivator bespeaks the goodness of our God, in providing so goodly a heritage, and its climate suited [to] persons from every quarter of this continent. wither East West North or South yea I think I may say, for all constitutions from every part of the world and its productions nearly all varieties of both grain and vegitables which are common in this country together with all means, [for] clothing: in addition to this it abounds with fountains of pure water[,] the soil climate and surface all adapted to health[.] indeed I may say that the whole properties of the country invite the Saints to come and partake their blessings[.] but what more need I say about a country. which our Heavenly Father holds in his own hands[,] for if it were unhealthy he could make it healthy and if barren he could make it fruitful. Such is the land which God has provided for us, in these last days for an inheritance, and truly it is a goodly land, and none other as well suited for all the saints as this and all those who have faith and confidence in God who has ever seen this land will bear the same testimony. In order that you may understand the will of God respecting this land and the way and means [p. 37] of possessing it, I can only refer you to commandments which the Lord has delivered by the mouth of his Prophet which will be read, to you, by our brethren Oliver Cowdry and Newel K. Whitney whom the Lord has appointed, to visit the churches and obtain means for purchasing this land of our inheritance that we may escape in the day of tribulation which is coming on the earth. I conclude by exhorting you to hear the voice of the Lord your God, who is speaking to you in much mercy and who is sending forth, his word and his revelation in these last days, in order that we may escape impending vengeance; and the Judgements which await this generation, and which will speedily overtake them—Brethren pray for me, that I may be counted worthy to obtain an inheritance in the land of Zion and to over come, the World through faith, and dwell with the sanctified, forever, and ever Amen.

Written at Kirtland Ohio Aug. 31, 1831. (Bruce N. Westergren, From Historian to Dissident:The Book of John Whitmer, pp. 86-91).

[269] For more on Ezra Booth, see H. Michael Marquardt, Ezra Booth on Early Mormonism: A Look at His 1831 Letters , John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 28 (2008):65-87. He writes,

Ezra Booth was an early convert in the Church of Christ. At the June 3, 1831, church conference he was ordained to the high priesthood. Called by revelation to go to Missouri he witnessed the laying of the foundation of the latter-day Zion including the cornerstone of the proposed New Jerusalem temple. Ezra wrote nine letters explaining his experiences with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He also touched on what he regarded as failures in prophetic leadership. The letters to Rev. Ira Eddy were written during the period of September 12 through December 6, 1831. As an eye witness and participant Booth explores some of the earliest teachings of church leaders. (page 31)

That Booth had some early “revelations” in his possession is attested to in his letters. For example, Marquardt mentions that,

In his eighth letter Booth discussed the Book of Mormon. He wrote, “We now know that the Natives who inhabit the forests of America, are a ‘branch of the House of Israel;’ and by the means of this blessed book, they are soon, even in this generation, to be restored to the knowledge, and the true worship of the God of Israel.”

Booth then reproduced two documents written before he joined the church. One was an early text of a September 1830 revelation for Oliver Cowdery to preach the gospel to the Lamanites and “cause my Church to be established among them.” The second item was two covenants made by the four missionaries that they would bring the gospel to the Lamanites and is dated Manchester, October 17, 1830. Also mentioned was the New York episode relating to Hiram Page having revelations that appeared and disappeared from a stone, this being termed a satanic fraud. (pages 42-43)

For a debunking of the Mormon myth that Symonds Ryder left the church simply because of a misspelling of his name in a “revelation” dictated by Joseph Smith, see “Symonds Ryder and a Crisis of Faith,” found online here, at the Mormon Matters Blog.

[270] I will have more on this subject in an upcoming article scheduled for publication in 2014.

[271] A. S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples In the Western Reserve, Ohio, (Cincinnati: Chase & Hall Publishers, 1876), pp. 220-221. Online here, accessed August 20, 2013.

[272] Scott H. Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants”, B.Y.U. Studies 43, No. 4, (2004) pg. 76. Faulring’s scenario that Ryder somehow accessed Church records in Kirtland and stole a few “revelations” is a tenuous allegation.

On July 20, 1831 Smith dictated a “revelation” which stated that,

And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant William W. Phelps be planted in this place, and be established as a printer unto the church. And lo, if the world receive his writings—behold here is wisdom—let him obtain whatsoever he can obtain in righteousness, for the good of the saints. And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him, even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him. (Revelation, 20 July 1831, in 1835 Doctrine and Covenants Section 27:5).

Also during the summer of 1831 “Edward Partridge purchased a lot near the center of town upon which the building that likely became the printing office already stood”. (The JSP Website, see also, Berrett, LaMar C., ed. Sacred Places: A Comprehensive Guide to Early LDS Historical Sites. 6 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999–2007, 4:51–52).

Since Kirtland was to be a temporary refuge for the church until the move to Missouri as attested to by many statements from the period, and the “revelations” were soon to be published there, it is entirely feasible that Smith carried them with him to Missouri, and that some were inadvertently left unattended for a time, (or left behind as Ryder thought) giving Ezra Booth the opportunity to read them and take several of them.

In March of 1831 Martin Harris was reported to have declared “that all who believed the new bible [The Book of Mormon] would see Christ within fifteen years, and all who did not would absolutely be destroyed and dam’d. (Painsville Telegraph, March 15, 1831)

On June 14, 1831 the Painesville Telegraph (edited by Eber D. Howe) reported that,

After all the good followers of Jo. Smith from York state had got fairly settled down in this vicinity, which Rigdon had declared to be their “eternal inheritance,” Jo must needs invent another ‘command from God.’ At a meeting of the tribe on the 3d. inst. the fact was made known to them that 28 elders must be selected and ordained, to start immediately, for Missouri. Jo accordingly asked the Lord in the assembly whom he should select, and the Lord named them over to him, as he made them believe. The ceremony of endowing them with miraculous gifts, or supernatural power, was then performed, and they were commanded to take up a line of march; preaching their gospel, (Jo’s Bible) raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out devils, &c. This squad comprises Jo himself, Rigdon, Martin Harris, Gilbert, Morley, Murdock, Partridge, and all the other leading and influential men among them. The flock are to be left to shirk for themselves the best way they can. It is said they are about to commence an establishment some 500 miles up the Missouri, where they contemplate building the New Jerusalem, and they have expressed doubts whether few if any of them will ever return to this “land of promise”; but in due time a command will be sent for the remainder of their deluded and infatuated followers to move — we opine however, that very few will obey the summons. The chosen few are to be off during the present week, going by pairs in different routes, all on foot, except Jo., Rigdon, and Harris, the contrivers and commanders of the expedition. (Painesville Telegraph, June 14, 1831)

A month later it was reported by the same source that “the leaders have already departed,” and that,

Before Jo left, he had a special command for all those of his followers who had located themselves in the township of Thompson, to depart forthwith for Missourie, and all those who did not obey were to be deprived of all the blessings of Mormonism. There were in that township about twenty families, the most of whom started last week for the Ohio River, leaving their spring crops all upon the ground. Those who preferred staying to following Jo any farther, were handed over to the devil. It is verily a melancholy spectacle to view with what facility the human mind may be enslaved, under the name of religion. The main object of the Mormons leaders appears now to be, to drag their deluded followers from pillar to post, leaving behind all those who presume to doubt the infallibility of Jo Smith or question any thing he may say as being a command of God — thereby obtaining in the end a certain set of slaves who will obey most implicitly every thing which is suggested. Many have left them on account of the various, diversified, and contradictory commands which Jo has given out to his slaves. (Painesville Telegraph, June 28, 1831)

Those “followers” were mostly immigrants from the New York Colesville Branch of the Church, who were promised by Smith that they could settle on land owned by Elder Lemon Copely, who, when they arrived in Thompson refused to settle them on his land.

On September 13, 1831 the Telegraph published a “revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants Section 42) which the article titled the “Secret Bye Laws Of The Mormonites,” which Howe claimed he received from “a responsible and intelligent individual, who has devoted much time to make himself acquainted with the principles, practices and objects of the Mormon leaders…” In a note at the end of the article Howe wrote,

(We have no hesitation in giving our unqualified belief that the above is a true extract from the Mormon records. We have had the same communicated to us verbally from other sources. They have also manuscripts among them sufficient to make several [copies] of similar [ones], which are, however, kept from the view of the weaker brethren. Jo Smith pretends that they are communicated to him by the Deity. Smith dictates to another, who writes them down, generally but a few sentences at a time. All among them who make bold to even doubt that these “commands” are the words of God, [who] made known to them, are immediately expelled as heretics. Such is human nature. (Painesville Telegraph, Sept. 13, 1831)

It is of interest to note that if Symonds Ryder had stolen the “revelations” he had in his possession sometime after the leadership of the church left for Missouri in June of 1831, why did he then wait until the fall, when Ezra Booth had returned from Missouri, to have them published? In the very next issue of the Telegraph, Howe publishes Booth’s first letter to the Reverend Ira Eddy.

Evangelist Nancy Towle interviewed some of the Mormon leadership in Kirtland on October 15, 1831 and wrote in 1832 that,

They believe, according to the Book: “That a day of great wrath, is bursting upon all the kindred, of the earth; and that in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, alone, shall be deliverance in that day,”(even in the land, which the Lord Jesus had given to them, for a dwelling-place, and an everlasting possession). The place where they then had their stay, was not the “Land of Promise;” – but that, lay, on the western boundary of the State of Missouri; In which place, they were then assembling; and where they believed, In process of time, they should have a temple; and a city, of great magnificence, and wealth; and that shortly, they should increase, and tread down all their enemies, and bruise them beneath their feet. After which period, Christ Jesus should descend and reign with them, personally one thousand years upon the earth. And then their enemies should be loosed for a season; (or, as one said to me, for the space of three months,) when, — should take place, the General Judgment; and the “final consummation of all things.” (Anna Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, Charleston, 1832, p. 153. (2nd Edition, 1833).

By 1832 the Mormons were preaching that they, “should never die, but be translated, after the manner of Enoch, and that in eighteen months Mormonism would be the prevailing religion; and, that in five years the wicked were to be swept from the face of the earth.” (The Liberal Advocate, April 14, 1832).

By the end of 1832 many had gathered to the “New Jerusalem” in Missouri, and were observed by Alexander Evans, a Baptist Missionary who wrote about the Mormons in a letter from the Shawnee Mission on December 20, 1832:

Among the wonders of the present day, you may record the following. Many of the people called Mormons, have arrived at this place, and it is said, more are on the way. The condition of those that are here, must be very unpleasant, and their sufferings are, in no small degree, from the want of comfortable houses, and something on which to subsist. Their settlement extends to the West line of Missouri State, two miles and a half from this place; they manifest a disposition to, and no doubt soon would, go among the Indians, were they permitted; which by the way is not the case. They call this place the Mount Zion, or New Jerusalem, so often spoken of in Scripture; — though it is not more elevated than the common face of the country, nor yet is there in it any thing strange or peculiarly prepossessing in its favor, more than any other portion of the West.

Here, they tell us, will be gathered the Gentiles from the east, and the Jews (the Indians) from the west, to their temple, which shall subsequently be built on the very spot now selected by them, to which, they say, their God will come in person, destroying all who shall be so daringly wicked, as to reject their Gospel; when Christ comes, which at most will not be more than fifteen years, he will bring all the Apostles, and old saints, and will reign with them here a thousand years; during this reign, the rest of the dead, shall not live (that is, all who are not Mormons,) for this is the first resurrection. To support the idea of their Christ suddenly coming to their temple, to purify and refine them, they read Malachi, 3d chapter to the 6th verse inclusive, with other Scriptures found in Zephaniah, Zechariah, and elsewhere, all of which refer to the coming of Christ.

They have a revelation of their own, which, they affirm. was given to the people of this continent, (the Indians,) on plates and deposited in the earth and kept concealed in the earth of the Lord, till the fulfilment of its time, which has now been accomplished; and to prove that Joseph Smith is that wonderful prophet, to whom these marvelous plates and their profound mysteries should be revealed, they recite the 29th chapter of Isaiah, saying that the prophet Smith is that unlearned man, to whom the book was given, to read, and he said I cannot, for I am not learned! But this difficulty was soon removed by the spirit which came upon him, and blest him with the gift of tongues. The Book then was clearly opened to his understanding, and he translated it to one of the witnesses, who wrote it in our language. Thus according to the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, say they, the sticks there spoken of, (the Mormon book and our Bible,) are become one, in the hand of the prophet Smith; or shall, when our Bible shall be rightly translated by him, under the outpouring of his holy spirit, and its directions. Every person, who tells them that he wishes to forsake sin, is, without further ceremony, taken by the Elder, and baptized for the remission of his sins; he is now told that he shall soon receive the spirit; this being accomplished, the Elder lays his hands on him, and imparts to him his holy spirit, which they say they then feel immediately, and know that it is the truth. The Elder now sings to the new converts, consecrating songs of their own diction, (composing,) and to them he reads prophecies about giving their possessions to the Lord’s store, which if they fail to do, they forfeit the fellowship of the fraternity, nor will they long be considered worthy members with them. When their property is thus laid at the Bishop’s feet, he places it in the store, and they lose sight of it forever; their store-keeper will not trust them for a single dollar, though he willingly gives credit to others.

If the brotherhood is once taken, and any should choose to leave them, he must go out empty, however much he had deposited in the Treasury. Much is said among them about the Holy Ghost being given, by the laying on of the Elder’s hand, about prophecying, healing the sick, and the interpretation of tongues; all this however they carefully avoid, saying that these things can only be done, when they are in the spirit, which perhaps but seldom happens in this land of pilgrims; since no miracles have been done here at any time by them, though greatly needed, and they have been abundantly pressed to it. They eat, they drink, are sick, and die, as all others do. When they are sick, unfortunately, they have not faith to be healed. Of the dying they say, their work is done, they must go: they also say, it is self-evident that disease is the natural effect of unbelief. If this be true, I am sure, their faith cannot be as large as a mustard seed, for none are more liable to sickness, and all contagions than themselves, the cholera not excepted, even among their preachers. Perhaps when their Christ comes, and brings their old Apostles and saints, some of them may profess more power and faith than these, that are already here; if this should not be so, I shall finally despair of seeing miracles done by them.

Although they have prophesied, the graves have not yet opened: the bones are yet dry, nor are they yet collecting; we have heard no voice in the valley; we know some have professed, but nothing is moved; if others have spoken to the winds they have not obeyed them; there are no symptoms of life among the slain, all these things continue, just as they were.

Let none be anxious, or burn with desire, to set their faces for the mount (or rather I would say for the Valley Zion,) of the west, supposing they will see the Lord in person, for he is not here; nor will they live more holy, more free from temptation, or sin, in this land of pilgrims, than any other place. Let me say once for all, that if any come hither, whether they expect it or not, they will be sure to meet all if not more than all, the difficulties that emigrants to other new countries meet. Of these the Mormons have their share. (Alexander Evans, “Mormonites, In Their Promised Land”, December 20, 1832, as published in the Baptist Weekly Journal of the Mississippi Valley, February, 1833, and excerpted in the Christian Register, April 6, 1833. Online here, accessed August 25, 2013.)

Once again we see a contemporary account that the Mormons were preaching that only in “Zion” or Missouri would anyone be safe, and that the destruction of the wicked would occur “in not more than fifteen years” from that time.

Also, we see the writings of Isaiah and Ezekiel being used to support the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

[273] Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2013, p. 145.

[274] A biography of George Edward “Ed” Anderson may be found here, as well as a link to his diaries.

[275] A short biography of Julia Ann Whitmer Schweich may be found here.

[276] George Edward Anderson Diary, May 12, 1907, Sunday, Richmond, pg. 32, online here, accessed August 25. 2013. Julia may have been mistaken about her grandfather’s age. I believe that Hicks took the photo in 1882, not 1886 and that Julia confused the year with her grandfather’s age. (She was recalling an event which happened over 20 years past).  Since Whitmer was born in 1805, he would have been 77 years old in 1882.

This is Brent Metcalfe’s theory, and it has a sold basis, for the “Caractors” document was most certainly cut before 1884 and so would have to have been photographed before that time. Brent has communicated to me that he is trying to find the bank records that would show when the safe where the documents were kept was accessed, and this would bolster this theory, especially if there is a description of the documents that were kept there.

If Hicks did indeed take the later photo of David Whitmer in 1886, it does not preclude him (or John) from having had the “Caractors” document photographed at an earlier time, say between 1867 (when Hicks first photographed David Whitmer) and 1884 (for by 1884 we have accounts that prove it was cut).

And according to David Whitmer’s Proclamation, published in 1881 “a facsimile of the characters he now has in his possession with the original records…”

Even though his Proclamation does not reveal anything about the document, we know that Whitmer had it “in his possession” by 1881, and that it had been removed from the safe where it was kept by Van Cleave sometime between 1878 and 1881.

Hicks lived about 25 miles from Richmond, which was not that long of a journey to make for whatever reason, even to photograph a document, but it would have been much more convenient to have both done at the same time and this is the more likely scenario.

[277] See Note above. For the size of the document, see the Improvement Era, Vol. 14, No. 1, January, 1842.

[278] James H. Hart, Deseret News, March 25, 1884.

[279] Daily Missouri Republican, 16 July, 1884.

[280] See Note #214. It reads in part,

At some point, some of John Whitmer’s papers apparently passed into the possession of James R. B. Van Cleave, a Chicago newspaper reporter and Illinois politician.

In March 1881, Van Cleave conducted a significant interview with David Whitmer that subsequently appeared in the October 17, 1881, Chicago Times. Then Van Cleave successfully courted and married David Whitmer’s granddaughter, Josephine Helen Schweich. Van Cleave planned to write a history of Mormonism from the Whitmers’ perspective. In preparation, he “obtained consent of John Whitmer’s daughters to remove the papers he had selected . . . and brought them to Richmond, Mo.”

John Whitmer’s papers were deposited in a Richmond, Missouri, bank vault. But Van Cleave was ultimately unable to compile his book, and Whitmer’s papers next passed to George Schweich (fig. 4)—Van Cleave’s brotherin-law and David Whitmer’s grandson. In 1903, when Schweich sold the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon and “Caractors” document, four leaves of BCR materials also passed to the RLDS Church.

Brent Metcalfe has shared with me that he believes that the “Caractors” document was among those that Van Cleave was given by John Whitmer’s daughter who then placed them in a Richmond bank vault. Sometime after this David Whitmer removed the document from the vault and had it photographed by Jacob Hicks in the fall of 1880. He then cut the document so that people would not think that the English text below was a translation of the “Caractors”.

David may have had the document photographed in 1880 or 1882, and further discoveries may help to determine this. The document may also have been photographed by Hicks in 1867. I do not ascribe to the theory that David cut the document to avoid confusion; but rather to bolster his story that what he possessed was the original “Anthon Transcript”.

[281] See Note #199.

[282] See Note #201.

[283] Richmond Conservator, 18 November, 1881. Whitmer was reported to have said that “Frequently one character would make two lines of manuscript, while others made but a word or two words.”

[284] See Note #280 (above). An example of David’s penchant for exaggerating is with this story that he told to Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith in 1878:

Joseph sent for me to come to Harmony to get him and Oliver and bring them to my father’s house. I did not know what to do, I was pressed with my work. I had some 20 acres to plow, so I concluded I would finish plowing and then go. I got up one morning to go to work as usual and, on going to the field, found between five and seven acres of my ground had been plowed during the night. I don’t know who did it; but it was done just as I would have done it myself, and the plow was left standing in the furrow.

Thirty years earlier, Lucy Smith remembered the incident a little differently and wrote,

In the mean time Joseph was 150 miles distant and knew naught of the matter [A complaint by Lucy Harris against Joseph Smith to a Magistrate in Lyons, New York] e[x]cept an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied the to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and his back to his house which was 135 miles that they might remain with him there untill the trans lation should be completed for that an evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph’s life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world This was accordingly done and the letter received and Mr Whitmore showed it to his Father mother sisters and brothers and asked their advice as to what it would be best for him to do his Father said why David know you have sow ed as much wheat as you can harrow in tomorrow and next day and then you have a quantity of plaster to spread that is much needed on your land and you cannot go unless you get an evidence from God that it is very necessary. This suggestion pleased David and he asked the Lord for a testimony of the fact if it was his will that he should go he was told by the voice of the spirit to (sow) <(har) inn his wheat> his wheat and then go straightway to Penn In the morning he went to the field and found that he had 2 heavy days work before him He then asked the lord to enable him to do this work sooner than the same work had ever been done on the farm before and he would receive it as an evidence that it was the will of God for him to engage in forwarding the work which was begun by Joseph Smith. he then fastened his horses to the harrow and drove round the whole field he continued on till noon driving all the way round at every circuit but when it came to be time to eat dinner he discov ered to his surprize that he had harrowed in full half the wheat. after dinner he again went on as before and by evening he finnished the whole 2 days work 

[285] “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):771-7, Online here, accessed August 25, 2013.

[286] The alternate photo of the “Caractors” may be viewed here, accessed August 25, 2013.

[287] In his 1887 publication “An Address to All Believers In Christ”, Whitmer wrote,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon, of New York, for him to read “the words of a book that is sealed:” but the learned professor, although a great linguist could not read the language of the Nephites. There is some evidence in the American Cyclopædia favorable to the Book of Mormon that I will speak of. It is as follows:

“Martin Harris called upon Prof. Anthon, of New York, with a transcript on paper which Smith had given him of the characters on one of the golden plates. ‘This paper,’ Prof. Anthon said, in a letter dated New York, Feb. 17, 1834, ‘was in fact a singular scroll. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters, disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters, inverted or placed sideways, were arranged and placed in perpendicular columns,” etc. The “learned” could not read it, and the book was delivered to him that is not learned. I will quote two verses from the twenty-ninth chapter of Isaiah, which is the prophecy regarding this matter.

The entry from The American Cyclopædia of 1879 reads,

The printing of the “Book of Mormon” was done at the expense of Martin Harris, who had some property, and was persuaded that he could make money by the speculation. While the work was in progress, this man called upon Prof. Anthon of New York with a transcript on paper which Smith had given him of the characters on one of the golden plates. “This paper,” Prof. Anthon says in a letter dated New York, Feb. 17, 1834, “was in fact a singular scroll. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters, disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters, inverted or placed sideways, were arranged and placed in perpendicular columns; and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle, divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican calendar given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived.” This letter was written to contradict a report set afloat by Smith that Prof. Anthon had pronounced the characters to be Egyptian hieroglyphics. (The American Cyclopædia (1879))

If one reads the entire quote, it is hardly “favorable” to the Book of Mormon. It is obvious that the complete description of the Book of Mormon characters given by Anthon was reproduced by the American Cyclopædia, including the last part about the circle; but Whitmer conveniently leaves that part out of his account.

This proves that Whitmer was well aware of Anthon’s description of the original transcript, which did not match up with the document that he was promulgating as the original, and that he left out the part of the description which would have cast doubt on his story that he had the “original transcript” taken to Charles Anthon in 1828 by Martin Harris.

Whitmer also published in his Address in 1887 that he had the “Original” Book of Mormon Manuscript, knowing full well that this was not true. This creates a serious credibility issue for David Whitmer which is not answered by the theory that he cut the document simply to avoid confusion, when it would have been very easy for Whitmer to simply say the document was a copy and that the text below had nothing to do with the characters that appeared above the Cover Title.

This leads me to believe that David Whitmer did not have the document photographed in 1880 or 1882, but that it was photographed much earlier, (in the 1860’s) before Whitmer had established his Church, and perhaps felt that having original documents in his possession somehow bolstered his credentials and importance.

Tracing the Various “Caractors” Documents

4 CaractorsPart III of 19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s “Caractors” Discovered

If you missed the Introduction or Part I or Part II of this Article, just click on the respective link.

After finishing his translation of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith spoke little about the events surrounding its origins, the original manuscripts or the copies he made of the characters he claimed were taken from the gold plates.

A little more than a year after the Book of Mormon was published, at an 1831 Church conference in Orange, Ohio, Joseph’s older brother Hyrum,

said that he thought best that the information of the coming forth of the book of Mormon be related by Joseph himself to the Elders present that all might know for themselves.

Joseph’s answer was no.  He then explained,

that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c. . . .[143]

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Less than a year later (in the summer of 1832) Joseph would privately attempt to write up those “particulars”, but abandoned that history after only six pages.  In the intervening years up to his death Joseph would show the Book of Mormon characters to certain individuals, but he seldom elaborated about them in public or in private (that we have record of); and gave conflicting details about when he copied and translated them in his 1838 official history. On the introductory page of the Joseph Smith Papers website they write that,

Smith understood early on that he must keep an account, even though his training did not qualify him to write such a record himself. He had only a modest education and no literary aspirations. He keenly felt the limitations of writing.[144]

In a letter to W.W. Phelps written after his first attempt at penning his history, Joseph lamented:

“Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were totel darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.”[145]

This frustration that Smith felt may have been one reason for abandoning the 1832 history.  On April 6, 1830, Oliver Cowdery was assigned to keep the records of the newly organized Church, and thus began his own history, helped along by Joseph. Joseph had relied on Oliver as his chief scribe for the Book of Mormon manuscript and to help him with literary projects, and later on others:

Only gradually did Smith establish a pattern of assigning scribes to work on histories, journals, letters, minutes, and other documents. Spotty at first, his record keeping eventually settled into more consistent patterns. By the early 1840s, he and his clerks were composing a comprehensive history, keeping a continuous diary, accumulating minutes from meetings and councils, preserving correspondence, and taking notes of many of his numerous discourses.[146]

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

One of Joseph’s early scribes was John Whitmer. John was the third son of Peter and Mary Whitmer. He was born August 27, 1802, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As a young boy he moved with his family to New York in 1809, and they settled amongst some other German families near Fayette. It was there that he learned from Oliver Cowdery and his younger brother David about Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon. With the removal of Joseph Smith from Harmony to the Whitmer home in June of 1830, John became more interested in Joseph and his translation. John was baptized that same month and would help Joseph with the translation. Smith’s official history notes that John Whitmer “assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work”[147]

In July, 1830 Joseph wrote these instructions to Whitmer:

Behold, I say unto you, that you shall let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures, and to preaching, and to confirming the church at Colesville; and to performing your labors on the land, such as is required, until after you shall go to the west, to hold the next conference; and then it shall be made known what you shall do.[148]

In July of 1830, Joseph Smith and John Whitmer “began to arrange & copy the revelations and commandments which we had received from time to time.”[149]

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

A few weeks earlier, Joseph Smith had begun to dictate what would be called his New Translation of the Bible, which was actually a revision of the King James Version of the Bible which Joseph felt had been corrupted by “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests …”[150]

About his method of translation Richard P. Howard writes,

For Smith, translation was something very different. Through what he perceived as the power of the Holy Spirit, his mind and heart intuited language symbols and a flow of ideational content which was specified as the stories of Book of Mormon migrations, wars, and civilizations, propositional information about John the beloved, propositional truth about forms and functions of ministry and mission in the church of Jesus Christ, and divine laws and procedures by which the economic life of the community is to be governed, and on and on.

Employing his notion of translation, Smith began a task of Bible revision which was to engage his mind and energies from 1830 until his death in 1844. Of significance is the fact that his early work (summer 1830 through 7 March 1831) in Genesis was almost entirely devoted to “receiving revelations” for the benefit of the church. This carried him through Genesis 19:35. Then on 8 March he began working on the New Testament with Sidney Rigdon. At the top of the very first page of manuscript was inscribed “A Translation of the New Testament translated by the Power of God.”[151]

John Whitmer along with Sidney Rigdon and a few others, would be crucial in helping Joseph with this project.  It took three years for Joseph to complete his New Translation which totaled over four hundred pages.   According to Kent P. Jackson and Scott Faulring, John Whitmer took dictation for the following portions of the New Translation:

Genesis 4:18–5:11; Moses 5:43–6:18 21 October 1830; 30 November 1830

Moses 6:52–7:1 Between 1 December and 10 December 1830

Matthew 26:1–Mark 9:1 26 September 1831 to before 20 November 183[152]

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 1, Handwriting of Oliver Cowdery

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 1, Handwriting of Oliver Cowdery

The “New Translation” was written on foolscap paper, a common stock used in Europe and the British Commonwealth and in turn America in Joseph Smith’s day. A full foolscap paper sheet was actually 17 x 13 ½ in (432 x 343 mm) in size, and this was folded or cut in half to get the traditional folio size of 8 1/2 × 13 1/2 in. Joseph Smith’s Genesis revision is on a manuscript designated Old Testament Manuscript 1 (OTman1), and the part of the translation called The Book of Moses is on the first twenty-one pages, written in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Emma Smith and Sidney Rigdon.[153]

After OTman1 was completed, a copy was made which was completed by April 5, 1831 which is now designated OTman2.[154] Whitmer had been set apart as a historian for the church on March 8, 1831 by Joseph Smith who dictated that,

John should write and keep a regular history, and assist you, my servant Joseph, in transcribing all things which shall be given you, until he is called to further duties. Again, verily I say unto you, that he can also lift up his voice in meetings, whenever it shall be expedient.[155]

Various "New Translation" Covers

Various “New Translation” Covers

As Kent Jackson and Scott Faulring explain,

That same month, [March 1831] Joseph Smith interrupted his Old Testament translation at Genesis 24 to work on the New Testament as he had been instructed in a revelation (see D&C 45:60–61). When the New Testament was finished in July 1832, he returned to finish the Old Testament. But when he did, he used OT2 rather than OT1 as the working document. It was on OT2 that he continued his translation to the end of Malachi, which he finished in July 1833. And it was on OT2 that he made additional revisions to the work in Genesis that he had already translated. When it was completed, OT2 was 119 pages long.

Unlike OT1, which was an original dictation and contains very few later changes, OT2 shows signs of subsequent correcting, editing, and emending. In the Book of Moses section (pages 1–27), some editing was done to correct copying errors or errors made when the Prophet was dictating from his Bible and his eyes skipped from one line to the next, resulting in omitted material. The manuscript shows that John Whitmer made corrections to his own copying, and Sidney Rigdon made corrections when he compared the transcription to corresponding Bible passages. OT2 contains verse divisions and verse numbers that were inserted by Joseph Smith’s clerks, as well as punctuation and capitalization changes that were made by unknown hands. [156]

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 14, Handwriting of Emma Smith (first 3 words) and John Whitmer (rest of page)

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 14, Handwriting of Emma Smith (first 3 words) and John Whitmer (rest of page)

These two manuscripts, according to Jackson and Faulring were kept by Joseph and in his possession throughout his life, and were among his private property when he died. [157] In January 1831 John Whitmer (who was still in New York) started a third manuscript copy of the New Translation which is now designated as OTman3, which was actually completed before OTman2. This manuscript is sixteen pages long and is also written on foolscap paper.  It covers Genesis 1:1–5:32 (Moses 1:1–8:12), which is the entire book of Moses except for the last eighteen verses.[158] According to Jackson and Faulring,

OT3 probably was created for Church purposes originally, but eventually it became Whitmer’s private copy, and it remained with him throughout his life. It was not as conscientiously transcribed as were the manuscripts he prepared after his revealed call, and it never became part of the documents that led to later publications.[159]

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

In the summer of 1830 when John Whitmer was assisting Joseph Smith “to arrange & copy the revelations and commandments which we had received”; no mention is made of the facsimile of the characters that Joseph said that he copied from the gold plates. Like the New Translation Manuscripts, we know by several accounts that Joseph had access to a copy of the characters that he would show people from time to time.  The first mention of the characters being shown by Joseph was in 1835, when he showed them to Michael Chandler who had in his possession some Egyptian mummies and papyrus scrolls that Joseph was interested in purchasing:

The morning Mr. Chandler first presented his papyrus to bro.-Smith, he was shown, by the latter, a number of characters like those upon the writings of Mr. C. which were previously copied from the plates, containing the history of the Nephites, or book of Mormon.[160]

Not long after Joseph Smith showed the Book of Mormon characters to Michael Chandler both Oliver Cowdery and Frederick G. Williams produced translation documents that supposedly utilized characters from the gold plates. These documents date to about December, 1835 according to Edward H. Ashment:

Frederick G. Williams Document - front

Frederick G. Williams Document – front

Frederick G. Williams Document - back

Frederick G. Williams Document – back

Both Cowdery and Williams served as scribes to Smith from 1832 to 1835. Cowdery’s tenure effectively ceased in late October 1835, while Williams’s ended in January 1836. The previous summer Smith had purchased some Egyptian papyri and had been trying to decipher one of the scrolls as well as develop an Egyptian alphabet and grammar. Both Williams and Cowdery were connected with the Egyptian papyrus project. It is certainly conceivable that there would be heightened interest in the language of the Book of Mormon at this time, with its peculiar mix of Egyptian and Hebrew, just as Smith and his close associates were beginning to study Hebrew in earnest.

As they were studying Hebrew with the prophet in December 1835 they must have asked him a question about the language of the Book of Mormon, requesting a back-transliteration, according to Williams: “Question asked in English & answered in Hebrew.” Then they asked Smith to decipher four Book of Mormon Egyptian signs. Each man recorded the results for his own “profit and learning,” in the words of Cowdery.

Transliterations from English into Book of Mormon Hebrew

Questions asked in English & answered in Hebrew

English For it grieveth me that I should lose this tree & the fruit thereof
Hebrew Ans. ofin Zimim ezmon E, Zu onis i f s veris etzer ensvonis vineris
[Modern transliteration: ki car li ki yo’bad li ha’ec hazzeh upiryo]
English Brethren I bid you adieu
Hebrew Ans. i f s E Zamtri
[Modern transliteration: ‘aHay ‘omar lakem shalom]

The textual selections in the documents are from Jacob 5:13 and 7:27. Fresh out of Palestine, the Hebrew known to Jacob should have been biblical Hebrew. But as Figure 1 illustrates, it [The highlighted translation by Joseph] bears no resemblance to Hebrew at all.

Lack of any resemblance between Book of Mormon “Hebrew” and actual Hebrew from material on the small plates (written only fifty years after Lehi left Jerusalem) further confirms that the Cowdery and Williams documents date prior to January 1836, when Smith began his formal study of Hebrew. After that time all of Smith’s Hebrew transliterations are recognizable as such.[161]

This entire document had long been unreleased by the Mormon Church, but was recently released through the Joseph Smith Papers.[162]

Oliver Cowdery document - Book of Mormon Characters

Oliver Cowdery Book of Mormon characters

One of these characters (from the Cowdery and Williams documents) bears a striking resemblance to one of the glyphs from the bogus Kinderhook plates, and with that in mind it may be one reason that Joseph Smith was interested enough in those plates to make a partial translation of one of them. [163]Kinderhook Cowdery Comparison

The next instance of Joseph showing the Book of Mormon characters took place seven years later in Nauvoo, when Joseph showed them to the Reverend George Moore of Quincy Illinois in December of 1842. Moore wrote in his diary,

Rev. George W. Moore

Rev. George W. Moore

Called on the “Prophet Jo Smith.” His carriage was at the door and he was about going away, but he received me very kindly, asked me into his house. I remained about 10 minutes. He was very communicative. We conversed about the golden plates, which he professes to have dug up and translated into the Book of Mormon. “Those plates are not now in this country,” he said–“they were exhibited to a few at first for the sake of obtaining their testimony–no others have ever seen them–and they will never again be exhibited.” He showed me some specimens of the hieroglyphics, such as, he says, were on the gold plates.  . . . He expressed a desire to have a long conversation with me, but he had an engagement, and I was soon going away, so that we could not have much conversation. Our interview was short, but pleasant.[164]

A few months later on May 7, 1843 Joseph once again displayed a copy  of the Book of Mormon characters, this time to an anonymous person who called himself  “A Gentile”, who described the encounter in a letter published in the New York Herald on May 30:

Another set of plates have been found in Pike county, in this State; they were dug out of a large mound, fifteen feet from the summit, by a company of persons, fifteen in number, who all affirm to the fact of their situation when found. There were six in number, about three inches in length, and two and a half broad at one end, and one inch broad at the other, being something of the form of a bell, about the sixteenth of an inch thick, with a hole in the small end of each, fastened together with a ring, apparantly of iron or steel, but which was so oxidised as to crumble to pieces when handled. The plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hyerogliphics.  They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared them in my presence with his Egyptian alphabet, which he took from the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them. There can be no doubt but they are a record of some kind, buried with an individual, centuries ago; a skeleton was found with them – some of the bones in such a state of preservation as to show the size of the individual, whose height must have been eight and a half feet. You may expect something very remarkably pretty soon.[165]

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843.

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843 with Letter from “A Gentile” in Nauvoo.

After the death of Joseph Smith the Book of Mormon characters were finally printed for the public on a limited placard or broadside of which only a few have survived.  In an article that appeared in 1980 which discussed the then recent discovery of what some thought was the original “Anthon Transcript” (but was proved to be a forgery by Mark Hofmann) that Martin Harris had in his possession in 1828, Danel Bachman included this about the 1844 publication of the characters,

Book of Mormon Characters as Published in "The Prophet", December 1844

Book of Mormon Characters as Published in “The Prophet”, December 1844

The two published versions of portions of the document Martin Harris took to New York both appeared in 1844. The first version is a broadside or placard printed in gold on black stock exhibiting three lines of characters. Among the few known copies of this version are two copies in the LDS Church Archives and a copy in special collections Harold B Lee library Brigham Young University. A statement in the hand of Thomas Bullock written on the back of the broadside in the Church Archives reads, “1844 placard Stick of Joseph. This was formerly owned by Hyrum Smith and sent to the Historians Office March 22, 1860, by his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.”  What appears to be the pencil signature of Mary Fielding Smith, who died in 1852, is also on the back. The title of the broadside reads:

“The Stick of Joseph taken from the hand of Ephraim. A correct copy of the characters taken from the plates of the BOOK OF MORMON!! Was translated from–the same that was taken to professor Anthon of New York, by Martin Harris, in the year 1827 in fulfillment of Isaiah 29:11, 12.” This placard contains characters which are on the Hofmann document but not on the Whitmer text.

The broadside most likely was published in early December 1844 by Samuel Brannan, editor of The Prophet, a Church-owned newspaper in New York City. The following announcement appeared in The Prophet on 14 December 1844:

“We have published a very neat specimen of the original characters on hieroglyphics that were copied from the plates which the book of Mormon was translated from, and were presented by Martin Harris to professor Anthon for translation. –We have been to some trouble in having it en graved by Mr. Strong: one of the most skillful engravers in the city of New York; those who wish to obtain a copy to preserve as a memorial, can procure them by applying to the Prophet Office New York .”

The second version was published on 21 December 1844 by Brannan in The Prophet. It duplicates the same three lines of characters as the placard, but the last half of the third line is inverted, or upside down and backwards. The text printed with the characters on the broadside was also printed in this second version.” [166]

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

What happened to the copy of the Book of Mormon characters that Joseph had in his possession is something of a mystery. Could it have been the same document that Martin Harris once possessed? Was it given to “Mr. Strong” so he could copy the characters for the 1844 broadside? If so, was it taken to New York and then lost; or did Samuel Brannan take it with him to California? It is hard to imagine that if it was still in Nauvoo at the death of Joseph Smith that it would not have been conveyed by the Church to Utah; or kept by the Smith family along with the New Translation manuscripts.

Samuel Houston Brannan

Samuel Houston Brannan

Here the story of the characters might have ended, but another copy was to turn up, this time in the hands of Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer, who would claim that he had the same copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York in 1828. With information gleaned from the discovery of Jacob Hicks photograph, it is possible now to trace the history of the Whitmer character document.

In the fall of 1831 Church leaders decided that some of the revelations written by Joseph should be prepared for publication as a Book of Commandments.[167] Joseph was appointed to prepare the revelations for publication and Oliver Cowdery was chosen to carry them to Independence, Missouri, where the church printing press was located.  Joseph then wrote another revelation which designated himself, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Sidney Rigdon, and W. W. Phelps as “stewards over the revelations and commandments.”[168]

This group was called the “Literary Firm,” and was created in part to give additional personal income for the temporal salvation of church leaders who had the promise that “the things of this world shall be added unto him even an hundred fold.”[169]

Oliver and John left for Missouri in November 1831, followed by Joseph and Sidney in April 1832.[170] When Oliver Cowdery left for Independence in the fall of 1831, John Whitmer went with him, taking OTman3, which had now become his own personal copy. John Whitmer wrote,

About this time it was in contemplation for Oliver Cowdery to go to Zion and carry with him the revelations and commandments; and I also received a revelation to go with him. We left Ohio on the 20th of November, 1831, and arrived in Zion, Missouri, January 5, 1832.[171]

John Whitmer settled with the rest of the body of the Church in Jackson County, Missouri, purchased lands and wrote that by December 1, 1832 there were “five hundred and thirty-eight individuals in this land belonging to the Church.”[172]  

Less than a year later, Whitmer wrote that “the Church was driven by the mob of Jackson County on the 4th of November, 1833.”[173] Whitmer then took refuge with the rest of the church in Clay County Missouri, and wrote that ,

We had hard struggling to obtain a living, as may well be understood, being driven, having no money or means to subsist upon, and being among strangers in a strange place; being despised, mocked at, and laughed to scorn by some, and pitied by others; thus we lived from November, 1833, till May 1834, and but little prospect yet to return to our homes in Jackson County in safety–the mob rages and the people’s hearts are hardened, and the Saints are few in number, and poor, afflicted, cast out, and smitten by their enemies.

I will further state, because of the scattered situation and the many perplexities, I am not in possession of all the letters and information that I wish I was, and some that are in my possession are not arranged according to date because of the situation I am in, being poor, and write as I can obtain intelligence, and find time between sun and sun to write.[174]

Having failed to persuade the State of Missouri to have their lands in Jackson County returned to them by the spring of 1834, Joseph Smith left Kirtland, Ohio with an armed body of men for Missouri to “reedeem Zion”. Whitmer wrote that,

The Saints here are preparing with all possible speed to arm themselves and otherwise prepare to go to Jackson County, when the camp arrives; for we have had some hints from Joseph the Seer, that this will be our privilege; so we were in hopes that the long wished-for day will soon arrive, and Zion be redeemed to the joy and satisfaction of the poor suffering Saints.[175]

Marching to Zion, 1834

Marching to Zion, 1834

Upon arriving in Missouri Joseph’s camp was stricken by cholera, and disbanded. According to Whitmer,

The camp immediately scattered in the counties of Ray and Clay. Some returned immediately while others tarried. Received a revelation that it was not wisdom to go to Jackson County at this time, and that the armies of Israel should become very great and terrible first, and the servants of the Lord (shall have) been endowed with power from on high previous to the redemption of Zion. Thus our fond hopes of being redeemed at this time were blasted at least for a season.[176]

John Whitmer would later write that,

After the camp dispersed at Fishing River, Smith and F. G. Williams came to Clay County together with many others who scattered in Clay County and elsewhere, Smith called a conference at the house of Lyman Wight, three miles west of Liberty, in which conference the most of the official members belonging to Zion were present, where Smith organized the high council of Zion, as I said in a former chapter, in which David Whitmer was ordained president of Zion, and John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps his counselors. Here at the same time, he ordained David Whitmer prophet, seer and revelator and translator.[177]

Whitmer was called back to Kirtland, Ohio by Joseph Smith and left Missouri in April of 1835, and began editing the Church publication, The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate.  A year later, Whitmer would be back in Missouri writing that, “Edward Partridge, I[saac] Morley, John Corrill, and W. W. Phelps were appointed wise men and were sent to Missouri with some money to purchase land for the Saints, to seek a place for them &c.”[178]

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Two years later Joseph would flee Kirtland for good, leaving it in the hands of those who were called “the dissenters”, which included Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris. If Harris still had any of the original character documents in his possession, they have never come to light. The difficulties dividing the Church at that time arose from the demise of the Kirtland Safety Society and land purchases in made in Kirtland and by the Presidency in Missouri.[179] Reed Peck, an early convert of the Church from New York wrote that in Kirtland,

A bitter quarrel originated in these transactions between the Smith’s and S. Rigdon on one part and Cowdery[,] [Lyman]Johnson[,] and David Whitmer on the other[,]and each party having their particular friends the church in Kirtland became partially divided and their animosities carried many of them to great extremes, producing confusion and cruel oppression when either party could wield the balance of power[.] Very many credible persons in the Society have assented that while the “mon[e]y fever raged in Kirtland the leaders of the church and others were, more or less, engaged in purchasing and circulating Bogus money or counterfeit corn and a good evidence that the report is not without foundation is that, each of these contending parties accuses the other of this crime[.] In the latter part of March 1838[,] the Smith families[,] S. Rigdon and many of their favorites arrived in Far West[,] one of the “Stakes of Zion” and found the church in prosperous circumstances—O. Cowdery[,] D Whitmer[,] an[d] Lyman Johnson had preceded them which placed in Caldwell County all the materials for an explosion.[180]

The explosion came, and resulted in many of the “dissenters” being expelled from the church:

In order to pay the debts in New York, and elsewhere, many of the Church in Kirtland turned out their farms and stripped themselves of property, took orders on the bishop in Far West, and in their poverty followed [Joseph] Smith and [Sidney] Rigden [Rigdon] to Far West as soon as practicable. Some of the dissenters came also, and notwithstanding, they affected a sort of reconciliation of their difficulties, yet it was plain that hard feelings existed. W.[William] W. Phelps and John Whitmer had served as presidents of the Church, in the upper country, from the time they came from Kirtland, but some time in the winter of 1836-7, a difficulty arose between them and the Church, on account of their having entered the town plot and some other lands in their own names, but on an investigation of the matter they gave the town plot and some other lands into the hands of the bishop, as the property of the Church. However, a perfect reconciliation of feelings was not restored; but in the fall of 1837, Smith and Rigden [Rigdon] and others came to Far West on a visit. A general meeting was called for the Church to choose whether they would have the old Presidency rule any longer over them or not. Their old difficulties were talked over, and so far reconciled, that they still choose to have Phelps and Whitmer their presidents; but in the winter following, the old difficulty broke out again, and the excitement rose so high that they turned them out of their presidential office, and T.[Thomas] B. Marsh and two others served as presidents , pro tempore, until Smith and Rigden [Rigdon] arrived…[181]

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

John Whitmer would write in his history that,

The situation of the Church both here and in Kirtland is in an unpleasant situation in consequence of the reorganization of its authorities, which was not satisfactory to all concerned. And has terminated in the expulsion of some members, as also some temporal movements, have not proved satisfactory to all parties has also terminated in the expulsion of many members among whom is W. W. Phelps and myself.[182]

Following the expulsion of John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps came the excommunication of Book of Mormon witnesses David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery a month later, in April, 1838. When Cowdery left the church, he took the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon with him.  After the church was driven from Missouri, Joseph would settle in Illinois with the Saints; Cowdery would move back to Ohio; and the Whitmers would remain in Missouri, David in Richmond and John in Far West, who purchased large amounts of land there including the temple site.

John Whitmer kept possession of his copy of the Genesis manuscript, along with the history he had written “by commandment”, later called the Book of John Whitmer. After the death of Oliver Cowdery in 1850 at the home of David Whitmer, the printers manuscript to the Book of Mormon was kept by his brother-in-law David Whitmer.  Along with his Genesis Manuscript (OTman3) John Whitmer also had in his possession a copy of the Book of Mormon characters.  This interview by RLDS church member E.C. Brand,places the character document in the hands of John, not David Whitmer in 1875:

“I visited Mr. John Whitmer at his residence at Far West, Caldwell Co., Mo., on the 18th of February, 1875. He also bore his testimony to me concerning the truth, and declared that his testimony, as found in the testimony of “Eight Witnesses,” in the Book of Mormon, is strictly true. He showed me a facsimile of plates, copied from the plates in the handwriting of Joseph Smith. Both of these men (David and John) are respectable, and looked up to as truthful, honorable men, in the vicinity where they live. The above is a brief and correct statement of my interview with them. . . .”[183]

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

The manuscripts, at Cowdery’s death, in 1844, were left in the hands of his widow, where they remained until the spring of 1866, when they were delivered to Wm. Marks, I. L. Rogers, and Wm. W. Blair, a committee appointed by the Annual Conference, of April, 1866, to procure them for publication; and were, by them, delivered to the Committee of Publication consisting of Joseph Smith, Israel L. Rogers, and Ebenezer Robinson.[184]

During the 1850’s and 60’s John and David Whitmer gave few interviews that were recorded, and none of them (that I am aware of) mention the Book of Mormon Characters.   After settling in Richmond,  Whitmer ran a successful Livery Stable and in 1867, David was elected  the Mayor of Richmond . That same year Whitmer sat for a portrait by a photographer named Jacob Hicks. The Richmond Conservator ran this article about the sitting,

Handsome. –The poet has well said “a thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and glancing at some porcelan pictures taken by our friend Jake Hicks, we were struck with the application of the thought.  What is more pleasing than to have a fac simile of one’s self, or some loved one taken by an artist in a style that must evoke praise from all, and such are the pictures now before us, perfect likenesses of Mayor Whitmer, and D. J. Whitmer. They are taken in Hicks happiest manner, and reflect great credit upon him as an artist.[185]

David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

“Handsome” David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

At about this time, Joseph Smith III decided to publish the New Translation that his father [Joseph Smith, Jr.]had worked on and completed on July 2, 1833. In a letter to her son in 1867, Emma wrote,

My own dear Joseph . . . Now as it regards the M of the new translation if you wish to keep them you may do so, but if not I would like to have them. I have often thought the reason why our house did not burn down when it has been so often on fire was because of them, and I still feel there is a sacredness attached to them.[186]

It was after his stint as a Mayor that Whitmer began giving more interviews and speaking about the Book of Mormon manuscript he had acquired from his brother-in-law Oliver Cowdery. In 1875, David Whitmer claimed to a reporter for the Chicago Times that,

he had in his possession the original records, and was conversant with the history of the Church of Christ from the beginning, but was under obligation to hold both history and records sacred until such time as the interests of truth and true religion might demand their aid to combat error. [187]

Whitmer did not speak of the Book of Mormon characters in that interview. A little over a year later, David Whitmer organized what he called the Church of Christ, as explained by the Editor of The Return in 1892:

For about forty years, during which time the original manuscript and historical records came into his possession, he [David Whitmer] made a “morale” for the Book of Mormon, and placed it before the world as one of the books that has come to stay. In September, 1875, John C. Whitmer, becoming convinced that he should be baptized, asked the same of David Whitmer, which was accomplished, and your correspondent was a witness to his ordination, January 28, 1876. Like a tree growing in its proper season arose the necessity to perpetuate the Church of Christ. Since this time membership has been slowly advancing, and here and there are small congregations.[188]

In 1875 Martin Harris died in Utah, leaving David Whitmer the last of the three witnesses, and consequently he was interviewed far more often at this time than at any other in his life.[189]

In addition to giving interviews, David would sometimes display what he called “the original manuscript” of the Book of Mormon. David would also sometimes display for visitors what he called “the original characters presented to Professor Anthon of New York by Martin Harris”, but there are no accounts that have been discovered of him displaying the characters before 1878.

Whitmer kept these documents at his house in Richmond, and had the same attitude about them that Emma Smith had about the New Translation Manuscripts, that they were sacred and those who possessed them would be protected with them. This was affirmed in the mind of David Whitmer and others when in May of 1878 a cyclone (tornado) ravaged the city of Richmond.[190]

In the summer of 1878 Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt were sent on a mission to the east “in the interest of the history of the Church.”[191] In the fall of that year they visited Richmond and Joseph F. Smith wrote in his diary of the cyclone’s devastation:

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

After breakfast Brother Pratt and I took a walk several blocks around the ruined district of the town. We were satisfied that the reports of the cyclone were not at all exaggerated if sufficiently drawn. Although rapid improvements have been made, the whole breadth of the town visited by the tempest presents a wrecked, desolate and ruined aspect. The debris of wrecked houses, fences, sidewalks and trees bitterly strewing the face of the ground. Scarcely a tree was standing in the wake of the tornado, much less a house, shed or fence. The very bark stripped from the trunks and stumps of many of the trees which were left standing. Many houses have been rebuilt on the sites of those blown down, and the work of clearing up debris, rebuilding houses, fences, board sidewalks, etc., still goes on.[192]

It appears that David Whitmer was injured when the cyclone struck Richmond. Sarah Whitmer (the daughter of John Whitmer) wrote to P. W. Poulson that,

“I visited Richmond directly after the storm and it was a sad looking-sight to behold. Uncle David has about recovered from his injuries and is out once more on the street.”[193]

Smith reported that “a large mechanic’s shop” behind the Whitmer property “with all its contents was literally demolished by the cyclone. I saw the remains of a carriage just finished for Whitmer and Co.’s livery service, but not delivered when the cyclone passed over. It was absolutely smashed, twisted and riven to atoms. Such a wreck I could not have conceived, even the tires were twisted into inconceivable shapes and not a spoke, felloe, or scarcely a bolt left in its place. Some of the spokes being taken clean out of the hubs, where they had just been compressed by powerful machinery with a pressure of 20 tons. One man from this shop was blown a great distance right through a house.”[194]

Later that year an account of their visit appeared in the Millennial Star where it was reported that David Whitmer told them that,

While camping around here in a tent, all my effects exposed to the weather, everything in the trunk where the MSS. [manuscripts] were kept became mouldy, etc., but they were preserved, not even being discolored (we supposed his camping in a tent, etc., had reference to his circumstances after the cyclone, in June last). As he and others affirm, the room in which the MSS. were kept was the only part of the house which was not demolished, and even the ceiling of that room was but little impaired. “Do you think,” said Philander Page, a son of Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses, “that the Almighty cannot take care of his own?”[195]

In a second meeting the next day with Whitmer, Joseph F. Smith recorded in his diary that,

After the usual ceremony of introduction, David Whitmer brought out and showed us the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, mostly in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, some of the writings was thought to be in the handwriting of John and Christian Whitmer, but only comparatively a few pages.[196]

Smith also wrote in his entry for that day that,

Brother Pratt felt closely after the subject of procuring the Ms., but we found that this was impossible to all human appearances. The whole Whitmer family are deeply impressed with the sacredness of this relic, and are actually so imbued with the idea and faith that it is under the immediate protection of the Almighty, that not only the Ms. itself is safe from all possible contingencies, but that it is a souvenir of protection to the place, or house, in which it might be kept, to the possessor. I do not therefore believe they could be induced to part with it for love or money, nor fear or favor.[197]

Richmond Cyclone 1878

Richmond Cyclone 1878

What is interesting about this visit of Smith and Pratt is that there is no mention of the Book of Mormon characters.  Where was the document that John Whitmer showed to E.C. Brand in 1875? An answer may lie in two interviews given by P. Wilhelm Poulson,  who Dan Vogel describes as “an eccentric Mormon with serious involvement with psychic and spiritualistic phenomena.”[198]

Poulson claimed that he interviewed John Whitmer in April of 1878, a few months before his death on July 11, 1878. In this interview it is reported by Poulson that,

John Whitmer was in possession of copies from the plates with the translation below and showed that to me and also of other valuable records. I shall correspond with Sarah Whitmer, and hope she will be willing, with the permission of David Whitmer, to restore those documents to the Church.[199]

Dan Vogel writes:

Unfortunately, John Whitmer was dead when Poulson’s account was published and could not challenge the accuracy of the reported interview. However, Poulson’s subsequent publication of his interview with David Whitmer was challenged by the interviewee as containing invented conversation. In a letter to S. T. Mouch, 18 November 1882, David Whitmer complained about Poulson’s account of the interview: “As to what you Say about the correspondence published by P Wilhelm Poulson M D Aug[ust] 20th 1878. I surely did not make the Statement which you Say he reports me to have made, for it is not according to the facts. And I have always in the fear of God, tried to give a true statement to the best of my recollection in regard to all matters which I have attempted to Explain. And I do not now remember of talking to Mr Poulson on the subject referred to.” Unfortunately, we do not know what portion of the interview Whitmer referred to since we do not have Mouch’s letter of inquiry. That there was an inaccuracy suggests that Poulson probably did not keep careful notes during his interviews. At the end of the present account, Poulson states that his conversation “was mostly written down word for word half an hour after the interview.” “Mostly” suggests that in some instances it may have gone beyond his notes and drew from memory about four months later.[200]

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

If this part of Poulson’s account can be trusted, John Whitmer may have had the “Caractor” document in his possession until his death in 1878.  Poulson also may have seen the entire document, and thought that the words “The Book of the Generation of Adam” may have been part of a translation.

Poulson also interviewed David Whitmer in April of 1878, and asked him about the engravings on the gold plates.  According to Poulson, Whitmer replied that,

They were characters. We copied some, and if you visit my brother John, one of the eight witnesses, who wrote for Joseph, John can show you some of the old manuscript which he borrowed from me. I must have it returned to me again, as it belongs to the Church, in connection with other records.[201]

If this part of the interview is accurate[202] then David did not have a copy of the characters in his possession at this time and referred Poulson to his brother John if he wanted to see them. David also states that “we copied some of them”, which doesn’t agree with what Whitmer always said about the “Caractor” document –  that it was the original document that Martin Harris took to Charles Anthon in 1828.

Could Poulson have heard this (“we copied some”) from John Whitmer since he interviewed both of the brothers during the same month in 1878? It is also possible that David knew the actual history of John’s document, and that it was a copy of the original transcript, and then changed his story later. It is hard to know for sure until further information comes to light.[203]

Also, what “old manuscript” was David Whitmer talking about? OTman3? Possibly. So, if David had a copy of the characters in 1878 why aren’t they mentioned by Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt?  It is hard to imagine that they were simply left out of the account written by Smith, so they must not have been shown to the Utah Mormons.

Joseph F. Smith may give us a reason why they were not shown to them in his diary account. After leaving David Whitmer in Richmond, Smith and Pratt took the short journey to Far West where they visited with Jacob D. Whitmer, the son of John Whitmer, who Smith reported was “insolently gruff and abrupt.”[204]

After asking if he could show them around Far West (to which Jacob refused), the conversation turned to the matter of John Whitmer’s papers:

O[rson] P[ratt]. — Your father was once the historian of the Church, and I am the present historian; we are anxious to preserve all the items of history we can, we would therefore like to see the MS. your father kept, and if possible, to make satisfactory arrangements with you, to purchase the same, provided there is anything in the MS. which we have not already published. I suppose you are aware that the history of the Church has already been published.

J[acob] W. — We’ve got no history here, all father’s papers have gone to Richmond long ago.

O. P. — We had a very pleasant interview with your uncle David, at Richmond. We arrived there last Friday, and remained two days, he showed us the MS. of the Book of Mormon, but said nothing about having any other papers.

J. W. — We have got no papers here.

Convinced that there was no use of making any further efforts where the spirit of bigotry and opposition was so intense, we turned away… [205]

In 1881 the Richmond Conservator reported that,

There is no doubt that Mr. Whitmer, who was one of the Three Witnesses of the authenticity of the gold plates, from which he asserts that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (a fac simile of the characters he now has in his possession with the original records), is firmly convinced of its divine origin, and while he makes no effort to obtrude his views or beliefs, he simply wants the world to know that so far as he is concerned there is no “variableness or shadow of turning.” [206]

At this time Whitmer began to claim that the copy of the Book of Mormon characters in his possession was the original document taken by Martin Harris to Charles Anthon.  Jesse R. Badham wrote,

He, Whitmore [Whitmer], has in his possession the original manuscript—and the original characters presented to Professor Anthony [Anthon] of New York by Martin Harris both of which I saw and handled. Also heard a blessing read pronounced for him by Joseph the Prophet which he holds very sacred.[207] 

Whitmer also had published in 1881 a “Proclamation” in which he stated that,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon, of New York, for him to read “the  words of a book that is sealed:” but the learned professor, although a great linguist could not read the  language of the Nephites.[208]

Des Moines Daily News 16 Oct 1886, with facsimile of the torn "Caractors" Document.

Des Moines Daily News 16 Oct 1886, with facsimile of the torn “Caractors” Document.-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

In 1884 James H. Hart included a description of the document that David Whitmer had in his possession:

I was shown the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, that were copied from the plates by the Prophet Joseph, and taken by Martin Harris to Profesors Anthon and Mitchell, of New York City, in Febuary, 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches by seven, and fill up seven lines, making about thirty-five inches of writing. They remind me very much of some Egyptian hieroglyphics I have seen in the British Museum, London, and in other collections. [209]

Hart also gave an account to the Bear Lake Democrat a few days later which reads,

I was shown, moreover, the Egyptian characters copied by the Prophet Joseph Smith and taken by Martin Harris to Profs. Anthon and Mitchell of this city, in February 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches deep, by seven inches wide. The writing is in seven lines, making about 34 inches; and reminds me very much of some hieroglyphics I have seen in the British Museum, London, and other collections.[210]

During that same year, George Q. Cannon paid a visit to David Whitmer at his home in Richmond, who showed him the Book of Mormon manuscript he had in his possession.  But Cannon seemed far more interested in

George Q. Cannon

George Q. Cannon

a paper with this, which, if anything, was still more interesting than the manuscript. It was the characters drawn by Joseph [Smith, Jr.] himself from the plates for Martin Harris to take to show the learned professors, so wonderfully predicted in the 29th chapter of Isaiah. There were seven lines of these characters, the first four being about twice as large in size as the last three. In English Joseph had written over the lines the word “characters.” He had spelled this word, “caractors.” Though these characters had evidently been written for a long time, they were as clear and distinct as though just penned. Here was the very paper which Isaiah saw in vision about 2,600 years before, and which he called “the words of a book.”[211]

In 1886 Whitmer was still affirming that he had a copy of the characters taken by Martin Harris, but in this interview added some new details:

At this particular state of the recital, an inspection of a copy of the hieroglyphics made from the first of the gold plates by Joseph Smith and preserved with the same solicitude that is thrown around the original manuscript, becomes of curious interest. The accompanying cut is a perfect fac-simile of the little sheet which took Joseph Smith a whole week to copy, 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.[212]

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

The year before he died, Whitmer published a rambling, 75 page pamphlet which he titled An Address To All Believers In Christ, that condemned the Utah branch of the Mormon Church, called Joseph Smith a fallen prophet, and admonished all men to believe in the Book of Mormon. Endeavoring to correct those that claimed he had denied his testimony; Whitmer also reprinted his “Proclamation” from 1881 which stated that,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates…[213]

Thus David Whitmer would affirm until his death that he had possession of the original Book of Mormon Manuscript and the copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York City in 1828.

After David Whitmer’s death, these items were passed to his son, David J. Whitmer, along with John Whitmer’s Church History and OTMan 3.  This collection of documents were eventually given into the care of George Schweich, a nephew of David J. Whitmer, who subsequently sold them to the RLDS Church for $2450 in 1903.[214]

George Schweich

George Schweich

Interest in the “Charactors” document has only increased over the years, but little could be determined about it because it was obviously torn from a larger document. In 1942 Ariel Crowley published an in-depth study of the document in the Improvement Era, and analyzed all of the conclusions about it that had been written up to that time.  Crowley writes that the document was in the hands of the Whitmer family,

in early 1903 at the time of the preparation of Chapter V in volume 2 of B. H. Roberts’ New Witnesses for God.” In April, 1903, the Whitmer heirs transferred the transcript to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, where it now remains. This is confirmed by a recent letter from President Frederick M. Smith of the Reorganized Church.[215]

The letter to John A. Widtsoe from Frederick Smith was written on May 9, 1941, and Smith wrote:

“Without reasonable doubt we have the original paper taken by Martin Harris to Professor Anthon. In 1884, a committee of the Reorganized Church had a conference with David Whitmer. From July 8 to August 17 of that year this committee worked with Father Whitmer in comparing published Books of Mormon with the manuscript then in his possession. At this time this paper was with the manuscript, and it was exhibited by him to the committee and he stated it was the original taken to Professor Anthon.

In 1890 a “cut” was made which was published in a book written by William H. Kelley called Presidency and Priesthood: and in 1896 it was reproduced in our Church History, Vol. 1, p. 22.

When the Book of Mormon manuscript was delivered to my father [Joseph Smith, III] in April, 1903, this fragment was tied up with it and has remained in our possession.

Our historical department states that “possibly the first published reference to such a document was a letter of Professor Anthon dated February 17, 1834, published by E. D. Howe in his book that year.”

In the Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, p. 773, appears the statement of Martin Harris doubtless made some time before.

Of course many published accounts are now to be found.

Mr. S. A. Burgess comments:  “In addition to the history of the fragment, the word ‘caractors,’ their uneven size and growing smaller with each line, all indicate an unskilled copyist. Also, the paper itself is old, and of the same quality and appearance of the paper of the manuscript and of early revelations, manuscripts undoubtedly made before 1833.”

The appearance of the fragment, eight inches by three and one-fourth inches, evidences its antiquity, and since 1924 we have kept it under glass.[216]

There the matter has stood since 1924. But with my discovery of the photo taken by Jacob Hicks sometime around 1867, perhaps a little bit more can be added about the origin of this mysterious fragment that has had so much written about it over the years.

Go to Part IV.


Dan Vogel was instrumental in helping me with research on this part of the article.

[143] “Minutes of a General Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831,” Far West Record, p. 13.

[144]  The Joseph Smith Papers website, online here, accessed, August 5, 2013. (Hereafter, JSPW). 

[145] JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, MO], 27 Nov. 1832, in JS Letterbook 1, p. 4. Online here, accessed August 5, 2011.

[146] JSPW, op. cited, here.

[147] Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.20, p.885.

[148] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected From the Revelations of God, F. G. Williams & Co.,1835,),  Section 50:1.

[149] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1,p. 128.

[150] Documentary History of the Church, (D.H.C.), Vol. 4, p. 57.

[151] Dan Vogel, The Word of God, p.12.

[152] “Old Testament Manuscript 3: An Early Transcript of the Book of Moses”, Kent P. Jackson and Scott H. Faulring, Mormon Historical Studies No. 8, Fall 2004, pages 113-114. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013. (Hereafter, Jackson & Faulring, 2004).

[153] Kent P. Jackson, The Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), p. 1–52. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.(Hereafter, Jackson, 2005).

[154]  ibid.

[155] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected From the Revelations of God, F. G. Williams & Co.,1835, Section 63:2. See also, Times and Seasons, Vol.5, No.2, p.401.

[156] Jackson, 2005.

[157]  ibid.

[158] Jackson & Faulring, 2004, pages 114-115.

[159] ibid, page 114.

[160] Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2,  No. 3, December 1835, page 235.

[161]  Edward R. Ashment, “A Record in the Language of My Father”, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, ed. Brent Metcalfe, pp..334-335, online here, accessed August 5, 2013. These are curious documents to be sure, because they contain more than just a showcase of Joseph Smith’s translation abilities. The History of the Williams document is fascinating, and there is some interesting background about it as some letters (found here in the online Church History Library) that passed between Nancy A. C. Williams, George Albert Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith attest. The letter from Nancy A. C. Williams (Mrs. Frederick G. Williams, II) and addressed to George Albert Smith is dated November 28, 1949. She writes,

Dear Brother Smith:

I have in my possession an acknowledgement signed by Joseph Fielding Smith, dated August 4, 1934, wherein he had received from me eighteen (18) miscellaneous letters and papers of Frederick G. Williams filed in big green safe. Brother Alvin Smith carefully covered them with Scotch paper. On different occasions I have looked them over. Then they were reported lost. Now they seem to be mutilated and some are gone, one which read, “turn deed to Joseph Smith, Jr. May 5, 1834”. These were numbered, with a typewritten account of  contents of each to compare with the originals. …

The idea is this. Inasmuch as all proof concerning his life and labors were in the historian’s office and no one used them but me, I desire to withdraw and preserve with is left of them. …

I am asking if you would write an order to release all my notes and papers, and, if the Lord wills to spare my life, I will preserve all in book form. … (williams to Smith, page 1)

Williams also included this post-script:

The following is an appendage taken from my book, Chapter Six:

 A number of years ago the author, in comparing he writing of Dr. William’ notes with that in the Historian’s Office, was shown the original paper written in pencil, bearing the revelation given in the Kirtland Temple concerning Lehi’s travels. Recently, February 25, 1949, she was shown the ink transcript which the Doctor made on his return home, which she had never seen before and with which she received a wonderful manifestation that it was indeed a revelation given to Frederick G. Williams for him and his family.” The pencil original cannot be found at this time.

 The following is recorded in Dr. Frederick G. Williams ledger, page 321, claiming that at the time of receiving the revelation an angel appeared to him and sat between him and Joseph Smith, Sr. Frederick G. Williams then transcribed the message on paper, which he kept during his life time and Mrs. Williams kept it sacred until her demise. It then came into possession of Dr. Ezra G. Williams, who loaned it to Apostle George A. Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Williams tried several times to secure the manuscript again but were unsuccessful. This revelation later appeared in print in the Compendium, page 289, and was accredited to Joseph Smith, the Prophet. From an interview with Mrs. Henrietta E. Williams, wife of Ezra G. Williams at Ogden, Utah. Signed – Merlin J. Stone.

 Nancy A. C. Williams

Anthon H. Lund then wrote to Joseph Fielding Smith,

January 10, 1950
Dear Brother Smith:

Sometime ago the First Presidency sent you a letter, signed only in typewriting, from Nancy A. C. Williams. I have tried to locate all of the letters, notes, journals, etc. that she mentions in her letter and attached to this letter is a list of these articles mentioned as far as I can locate them.

Also her letter needs some answering as her statements are not altogether correct. I am trying to five you an account of just what has been said to her in regard to these matters.

I have taken each paragraph in her letter and given my answers in the spirit of trying to defend our Office and not to harm Sister Williams. (Lund to Smith, page 1)

Anthon Lund

In his answers addressing Williams letter, Lund comments about the “Lehi’s Travels” portion of the Williams Document:

On page 2 of the Postscript – Paragraph One In all of the years I have been with the Historian’s Office, I have never seen any other account of “Lehi’s Travels” than the one we have locked in the Small Safe. I gave Sister Williams a photographic copy of this information which I thought was much better than a typed copy. (see note at bottom of page)

The material mentioned in this paragraph Sister Williams claims was written by pencil on paper that Brother Frederick G. Williams had in his pocket while at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and later copied by ink on the paper which is filed in our Library. She also claims that this paper upon which Frederick G. Williams transcribed his revelation was in the possession of Mrs. Williams, then came to Dr. Ezra G. Williams and then loaned to Apostle George Albert Smith. On the paper which is in our possession there is the following written upon it in the handwriting of Ezra G. Williams: “G.S.L. City, April 11, 1864. This paper is in the handwriting of my father, Frederick G. Williams. The characters there on I believe to be a representation of those shown to him at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Ezra G. Williams.”

Brother Ezra G. Williams does not say anything about the revelation (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 7) at the top of one of the pages, nor the answers to questions asked in English and answered in Hebrew, nor the characters from the Book of Mormon in the center of the page, nor the course of Lehi and his family being revealed to his father, but only that they were in the handwriting of his father.

The statement of Sister Williams that “The following is recorded in Dr. Frederick G. Williams ledger” might lead one to believe that he wrote that which is written there. However, that which is written on page 321 of that ledger is a statement made by the wife of Ezra G. Williams to Merlin J. Stone on January 24, 1913.

The words of the course of Lehi and his family as written in the ledger are word for word as written in the Compendium 1882 edition page 289. However, these words are not exactly the same as on the paper claimed to be the paper upon which Frederick G. Williams transcribed his pencil notes. On the paper it reads: “The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship” and from the Compendium: The course Lehi and his company traveled from Jerusalem to the place of their destination.”

I am inclined to believe Dr. Frederick G. Williams may only have copied all that is on this one side of the page for the following reasons:

Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given in 1829 and published in the Book of Commandments in 1833.

The center could be copied from writings of Oliver Cowdery, which we have, and by inference the course of Lehi could have been copied also.(Lund to Smith, pp. 2-3)

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote a postscript at the bottom of the last page of the Williams letter which reads,

P.S. The family is very desirous to have possession of the “Revelation” [which?] he wrote in his own hand, as loaned to Uncle Geo A. Smith & which [no] one has ever believed he received but his family who knows. (Williams Letter, page 2)

Thank you kindly-
Pres. Smith

Joseph Fielding’s comment is interesting in that he seems to perceive that Lehi’s Travels portion of the document as a “revelation”, but not to Williams, but probably to Joseph Smith. It is also obvious that they were familiar with the Cowdery copy (pictured beolw). I’m sure there must have been follow up letters, but they are not posted at this time.

[162] The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, by  Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William J. Hartley, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, p. 362. The document is small, and I don’t have a hi-res photo of it yet, but this will give you an idea of what it looks like. The first three sections are the English/Hebrew “translations” given by Joseph Smith, then the Book of Mormon  and the Interpreter of languages section. The last line says “Written and kept for profit & learning by Oliver.”

"Written and kept for learning & profit"

“Written and kept for profit & learning Oliver”

[163] As much as I would like to write about the Kinderhook Plates here, I’ll have to save it for another time. There are, however some serious studies in progress concerning them being undertaken by Don Bradley (a good overview which may be found here) and Brent and Erin Metcalfe. I will have to disagree however, that Don had “solved” the “mystery” of the Kinderhook Plates. But his 2011 FAIR presentation is insightful and informative. My own study will be published next year. I will mention that there are dozens of striking matches between the Kinderhook Plates glyphs and the “caractors” from the Book of Mormon which more than outweigh Don’s tentative “match” with a G.A.E.L. character and make his scenario much less likely to have occurred.

[164] Diary of George Moore, Tuesday, December 20,1842, pp. 105-106, cit. Donald Q. Cannon, “Reverend George Moore Comments on Nauvoo, the Mormons, and Joseph Smith,” Western Illinois Regional Studies 5 (Spring 1982):6-16.

[165] The New York Herald, May 30, 1843. I believe that “a Gentile” was an “undercover” member of the Church who knew that James Gordon Bennett was friendly to the Mormons and wrote to the paper for that reason.

Many thanks to Erin Metcalfe for finding this article. It is important not only in the study of Joseph’s “caractors”, but also crucial in helping to understand how Joseph Smith viewed the Kinderhook Plates, which was as a Jaredite record, or as one of the editors of the Times and Seasons put it, “A sequel to the Book of Mormon.”

I am writing a lengthy article (“Is there Wisdom in Zion?”) on this fascinating chapter of Mormon History which will be published here in 2014.

[166] “Sealed in a Book: Preliminary Observations on the Newly Found “Anthon Transcript”” by Danel W. Bachman,  B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 20 No. 4, 1980, pages 324-325. This article focuses on the transcript forged by Mark Hoffmann, but has valuable analysis about the Book of Mormon characters. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

Whoever “Mr. Strong” was, he did a poor job of copying the characters. Because of this, it is difficult to determine if there are different characters on the 1844 placard when compared to the Whitmer “caractors” document. I will be addressing this and other concerns in my article “Is there Wisdom In Zion?”.

[167] History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 221-22.

[168] Doctrine and Covenants, Section 70, v. 3.

[169] Kirtland Revelation Book, page 146.

[170] History of the Church, 1:266.

[171] Bruce N. Westergren, From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer, p.108. The Book of John Whitmer can also be read online here, accessed August 5, 2013. The “revelation” spoken of by John Whitmer was dictated by Joseph on 11 November, 1831 and says,

Hearken unto me saith the Lord for verily I say unto  you for my Servent Olivers [Oliver Cowdery’s] sake it is not wisdom  in me that he should be intrusted with the commandments  & moneys which he shall carry unto the Land of Zion  except one go with him who will be true & faithfull  wherefore I the Lord willeth that my Servent John (Whitmer)  shall go with my servent Oliver & also that he observe to  continue in writing & makeing a history of all the  important things which he shall observe & know concerning  my Church & also that he receive council & assistance  from my Servent Oliver & others3 & also that my Saints  which are abroad in the Earth should send forth their accounts  to the Land of Zion for the Land of Zion shall be a seat  & a place to receive & do all these things nevertheless  let my Servnt John travel many times from place  to place & from Church to Church that he may the more  easily obtain knowledge Preaching & expounding writing  cop[y]ing & selecting & obtain[in]g all things which shall be  for the good of the Church & for the rising generations  which shall grow up on the Land of Zion to possess  it from generations to generations forever & ever Amen (The Joseph Smith Papers Website, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

[172] ibid, p.103

[173] ibid. Even this disheartening event was followed by Whitmer adding that “on the 13th of the same month the stars fell” and was written about almost immediately afterward in The Evening and Morning Star, edited by W. W. Phelps who wrote,

“We have received a communication on the subject of the Millennium, which we insert in this number of the Star,” and adds that “we presume we shall be favored with more from the same pen…” (The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. II, No. 15, December, 1833, p.116).

The article reads (in part):

On the morning of the 13th of November last, about 3 or 4 o’clock, was seen a singular appearance in the heavens, which seemed to produce no small excitement in the minds of those who were up in season to gaze upon the sublime, yet strange phenomenon. We were roused from our slumber by the voice of one of our neighbors, “Rise and see the signs in the heavens!” Immediately we were on our feet, and on looking out at the window, beheld a scenery as sublime, apparently, as though the Great Majesty of heaven was riding forth through the firmament upon a cloud that was passing slowly towards the east, from whose presence worlds seemed to be moving with mighty rapidity, whose flaming orbits lighted down through the dark weather and shown upon this earth! But on walking out it was plain to be seen that it was not merely one place in the heavens thus illuminated, but the whole heavens were lit up with the same appearance, except here and there a small cloud as they were moved to the east by a gentle wind.

This scenery continued visible till near sunrise, when it fled by the rising splendor of the “King of day.” While we were gazing upon this new wonder with surprise and admiration, we remembered the exhortation of the Lord to Israel, [Isa. XL. 26.] Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth. This saying seems to be peculiarly well adapted to an occurrence of this kind: for notwithstanding the great commotion in the heavenly bodies, yet, the same power that brought them into existence and regulated their various circumvolutions, was still sufficient to retain them in their proper position by his immutable decree, till the judgement [judgment] of the great day; or until the time of the fulfillment of certain prophecies contained in the holy scriptures. We were also reminded of that remarkable saying of the Savior, [Matt. XXV. 6.] while speaking of his kingdom in the last days, at the time of his second coming, when the cry is to be heard at midnight, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.(ibid)

In January 1833 Joseph had written a letter to to N. O. Saxton, editor of the American Revivalist and Rochester Observer in which he declared that,

I am prepared to say by the authority  of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass  away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the hystory  of our nation pestalence hail famine and earthquake will  sweep the wicked off this generation from off the face of  this Land to open and prepare the way for the  return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north  country— The people of the Lord, those who have  complied with the requsitions of the new covenant  have already commenced gathering togethe[r] to Zion  which is in the State of Missouri. Therefore I decl are unto you the warning which the lord  has commanded me to declare unto this  generation, rembring [remembering] that the eyes of my maker  are upon me and that to him I am accountabl  for evry word I say wishing nothing worse to  my fellow men then their eternal salvation  therefore fear God, and give glory to him for  the hour of his Judgment is come, <Repent  ye> Repent, ye and imbrace the everlasting  Covenant and flee to Zion before the over flowing scourge overtake you, For there are  those now living upon the earth whose eyes  shall not be closed in death until they see  all these things which I have spoken fulfilled (The Joseph Smith Papers Website, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013). 

When this letter was not published in its entirety by the newspaper, Smith wrote a follow up letter and admonished them to do so stating that,

I was somewhat disappointed on receiv ing my paper with only a part of my  letter inserted in that it. The letter which I  wrote you for publication I wrote by the commandment of God, and I am quite anxious  to have it all laid before the public for it is  of importance to them…” (ibid, online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

Smith’s plea was apparently ignored, but this did not deter him from believing that the night of the falling stars was a fulfillment of prophecy:

In the morning at 4 o’clock i was awoke by Brother Davis knocking at my door saying: Brother Joseph come get up and see the signs in the heavens, and I arose and beheld to my great joy the stars fall from heaven; yea, they fell like hail stones, a literal fulfillment of the word of God as recorded in the holy scriptures and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand. O how marvellous are thy works O Lord and I thank thee for thy mercy unto me thy servant. O Lord save me in thy kingdom for Christ sake. Amen.

The appearance of these signs varied in different sections of the country: in Zion, all heaven seemed enwrapped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse, had been suddenly hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether: some at times, appeared like bright shooting meteors with long trains of light following in their course, and in numbers resembled large drops of rain in sunshine. Some of the long trains of light following the meteoric stars, were visible for some seconds; those streaks would cut and twist up like serpents writhing. The appearance was beautiful, grand and sublime beyond description; as though all the artillery and fire works of eternity were set in motion to enchant and entertain the saints, and terrify and awe the sinners on the earth. Beautiful and terrific as was the scenery, which might be compared to the falling figs or fruit when the tree is shaken by a mighty wind; yet, it will not fully compare with the time when the sun shall become black like sack cloth of hair, the moon like blood; Rev. 6:13; and the stars fall to the earth — as these appeared to vanish when they fell behind the trees, or came near the ground. (“History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons, Vol.6, No.1, p.898, See also, Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.14)

David Whitmer would reminisce about this event years later, with a claim that it had been prophesied about just days before,

When Brother Joseph was humble he had the Spirit of God with him; but when he was not humble he did not have the Spirit. Brother Joseph gave many true prophesies when he was humble before God: but this is no more than many of the other brethren did. Brother Joseph’s true prophesies were almost all published, but those of the other brethren were not. I could give you the names of many who gave great prophesies which came to pass. I will name a few: Brothers Ziba Peterson, Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, John Whitmer, myself and many others had the gift of prophesy. Hiram Page prophesied a few days before the stars fell in November, 1833, that the stars would fall from heaven and frighten many people. This prophesy was given in my presence. I could give you many instances of true prophesies which came through the above named brethren, but I desire to be brief. I could also tell you of some false prophesies which some of them gave, when they were not living humble. ( David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.32)

In a footnote to this event in the History of the Church edited by B. H. Roberts, he writes,

 Speaking of this event as it appeared to the exiled Saints bivouacked on the Missouri bottoms, Elder Parley P. Pratt in his Autobiography, (page 110) says: “About 2 o’clock the next morning [November 13th], we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed involved in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God.” Stephens in his History of the United States (page 455), thus speaks of the same event: “During the fall of 1833 occurred a natural phenomenon of a most wonderful character. This was on the night of the 13th of November. It was what is known as the ‘meteoric shower,’ or the ‘falling of the stars.’ It was witnessed with amazement and astonishment throughout the entire limits of the United States.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 1, p.439, Note 13)

W. R. Hine would later recount that,

The night the meteors fell in 1833, the Mormons sent men on horseback for miles about Kirtland to arouse the people. They got me up at three o’clock A.M., they claimed it was the fore-runner of some wonderful event, and it was said and believed. Prophet Jo said there would be no more stars seen in the heavens. (Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, by Rodger I. Anderson, Signature Books, 1990, p. 160)

Others like Philo Dibble would recount that it was Joseph Smith, not Hiram Page that prophesied about the meteor shower. Dibble, whose late reminiscences are full of errors and exaggerations wrote,

On one occasion Joseph was preaching in Kirtland sometime in the fall of 1833. Quite a number of persons were present who did not belong to the Church, and one man, more bitter and skeptical than others, made note with pencil and paper of a prophecy uttered on that occasion, wherein Joseph said that “Forty days shall not pass, and the stars shall fall from heaven.”

Such an event would certainly be very unusual and improbable to the natural man, and the skeptic wrote the words as a sure evidence to prove Joseph to be a false Prophet.

On the thirty-ninth day after the utterance of that prophecy a man and brother in the Church, by the name of Joseph Hancock, who is yet living, in Payson, Utah, and another brother were out hunting game and got lost. They wandered about until night, when they found themselves at the house of this unbeliever, who exultingly produced this note of Joseph Smith’s prophecy, and asked Brother Hancock what he thought of his Prophet now, that thirty-nine days had passed and the prophecy was not fulfilled.

Brother Hancock was unmoved and quietly remarked, “There is one night left of the time, and if Joseph said so, the stars will certainly fall tonight. This prophecy will all be fulfilled.”

The matter weighed upon the mind of Brother Hancock, who watched that night, and it proved to be the historical one, known in all the world as “the night of the falling of the stars.”

He stayed that night at the house of the skeptical unbeliever, as it was too far from home to return by night, and in the midst of the falling of the stars he went to the door of his host and called him out to witness what he had thought impossible and the most improbable thing that could happen, especially as that was the last night in which Joseph Smith could be saved from the condemnation of “a false prophet.”

The whole heavens were lit up with the falling meteors, and the countenance of the new spectator was plainly seen and closely watched by Brother Hancock, who said that he turned pale as death, and spoke not a word.

After that event the unbeliever sought the company of any Latter-day Saint. He even enticed Mormon children to keep him company at his house. Not long afterwards, too, he sent for Joseph and Hyrum to come to his house, which they did, but with no noticeable results, for I believe he never received the gospel. (The Juvenile Instructor, No. 27, p. 23, 1892. For more on Philo Dibble, See my articles, “Playing F.A.I.R” and “Joseph Smith’s Moonmen”)

To see the transformation of this collection of folklore into actual history, see, “How a Meteor Shower Inspired a Favorite Hymn”, in Meridian Magazine, May 30, 2013, where Larry Barkdull claims that the event that took place in November 1833 inspired a poem (which became a Hymn) written by W. W. Phelps almost a year before the event took place.  (Phelps’ Poem, “Now Let Us Rejoice In The Day Of Our Salvation”, first appeared in The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1, No. 10, March 1833, p. 80, well before (8 months) the Meteor Shower that took place on the night of November 13, 1833).

Barkdull writes,

On the night of November 12, the mob assembled for a slaughter. Defenseless and with no place to retreat, the Mormons would be easy prey – shooting fish in a barrel. Jackson County was about to see mass murder on an unprecedented scale, and all that the defenseless, starving, shivering Saints could do was huddle in the mud and wait for their demise.

It was in that moment of hopelessness and defeat that the Lord sent a miracle.”

Barkdull then quotes from the Parley P. Pratt account cited by Roberts in The History of the Church (cited above) and claims that the Meteor Shower was a “miracle” sent by God to protect the “Saints” from the evil Missouri mob:

The fiery display in the heavens continued all through the night, striking the mob with such awe that they halted their advance on the Saints to watch the magnificent celestial display. In the morning, they simply turned around and went home, and immediately thereafter, the Saints safely escaped to Clay County. (Meridian Magazine, May 30, 2013, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

The account penned by Parley Pratt reads,

Thursday, November 7. The shore began to be lined on both sides of the ferry with men, women and children; goods, wagons, boxes, provisions, etc., while the ferry was constantly employed; and when night again closed upon us the cottonwood bottom had much the appearance of a camp meeting. Hundreds of people were seen in every direction, some in tents and some in the open air around their fires, while the rain descended in torrents. Husbands were inquiring for their wives, wives for their husbands; parents for children, and children for parents. Some had the good fortune to escape with their families, household goods, and some provisions; while others knew not the fate of their friends, and had lost all their goods. The scene was indescribable, and, I am sure, would have melted the hearts of any people on the earth, except our blind oppressors, and a blind and ignorant community.

Next day our company still increased, and we were principally en gaged in felling cottonwood trees and erecting them into small cabins. The next night being clear, we began to enjoy some degree of comfort.

About two o’clock the next morning we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed enveloped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp.. 109-110, online here, accessed August 5, 2013)

Pratt records no miracle, just makes an observation that was being made by many of the same time period. Abraham Lincoln had a much more pragmatic view of this event, as retold by him years later to Walt Whitman:

“When I was a young man in Illinois,” said he, “I boarded for a time with a Deacon of the Presbyterian church. One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door, & I heard the Deacon’s voice exclaiming ‘Arise, Abraham, the day of judgment has come!’ I sprang from my bed & rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers! But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.” (Walt Whitman, “A Lincoln Reminiscence”, Specimen Days & Collect (1882) as quoted in Sky & Telescope, November 1999, pp. 34-35, online here, accessed August 5, 2013)

For more on how this event influenced others besides the Mormons, see “Apocalypse Now? Part I – The Great Disappointment”, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

Joseph Smith would later denounce William Miller (cited in the article above) as a false prophet, declaring that his date of 1843 for the return of Christ was in error, and give his own which was 1891.

The situation was dire for those forced from Jackson County in the winter of 1833, as Whitmer records in Chapter 11 of his History:

The situation of our brethren after leaving their homes in Jackson in the most distressing circumstances, in the cold month of November, found it difficult to preserve life in many instances. Some fled with but few clothes, leaving their beds and bedding; others taking with them what they could carry and running for their lives; women losing some of their children while fleeing for their lives; and thus you may judge how the poor Saints have suffered, after having given only a few hints of the distress.

Whitmer does not mention anything about a mob pursuing them in an effort to pick them off “like fish in a barrel”.

Year later, Brigham Young would speak of the events in Missouri and use the metaphor of falling stars to describe those like John Whitmer who left the faith:

Are the Latter-day Saints ready to receive Zion from above? Have they wisdom and knowledge to receive and conduct themselves properly in the society of angels? I think not. While I was in Far West, and the mob began to gather there, determined to kill Joseph, he preached to the people and said, “If you had faith and would live your religion, you would prove the revelation to be true where the Lord says, ‘I will fight your battles, and, if necessary, send down angels to save you from the wicked grasp of your enemies.'” There was an armed mob of some 3,500 arrayed against some 300 of us. They sent in a deputation, saying they wanted about three persons out of the town, for they were calculating to destroy the people and the place. Some of those self-glorious stars of “Mormonism”—stars that fell in that crisis, looked round for the angels. They did not see them, and straightway turned their backs upon their God and their religion, and joined the enemy. ( Journal of Discouses, Vol. 7, p.143, May 22, 1859)

[174] ibid, p. 125.

[175] ibid, p. 132..

[176]  ibid.

[177] ibid, p. 195.

[178]  ibid, p. 175.

[179] There are many studies that have been done of the Kirtland Safety Society and Joseph’s involvement in land speculation.  Mormon Apologist Marvin S. Hill, with C. Kieth Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer published this one in B.Y.U. Studies: “The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics,” which can be read online here. Also see, “Joseph Smith’s Kirtland Bank Failure”, by Jerald & Sandra Tanner, found online here.

Even though Hill, Rooker and Wimmer have presented an impressive amount of data about the Kirtland economy between 1830 and 1840, they still leave many questions unanswered, or ambiguous.

Yet, they still conclude that “Joseph smith was eventually unable to meet all his financial obligations and in that sense he was obviously responsible for an excessive amount of debt,” (p. 403) and then try to mitigate this by claiming that $102,000 of debt is somehow not as bad as the $150,000 that Fawn Brodie estimated in No Man Knows My History.

“An intriguing question, they ask, “is why Joseph Smith sought to undertake and thereafter continued to support a venture with such high risk as the Safety Society Bank.” (p. 432) To which they answer, “we have suggested perhaps the principal advantage [was] to Joseph Smith himself.”  (p. 432)They add that the failure of Joseph’s “anti-Bank” was primarily due to “its lack of a corporate charter,” (p. 435) which was denied by the State of Ohio.

Why would Joseph still push ahead with the Safety Society when (as Hill, et. all, claim) “it was poorly capitalized”, “the lack of a charter created enormous handicaps, bad publicity and great personal risks”? (p. 436)

They give several answers, among them that Joseph’s credibility as a Church leader would come into question (it did).

This was because Joseph’s bank venture was directly tied to his prophetic claims, for Joseph had not only promised that the Bank would succeed, but that God had promised that it would.  Wilford Woodruff wrote in his Journal that he,

herd President Joseph Smith jr. declare in the presence of F Williams, D. Whitmer, S. Smith, W. Parrish, & others in the Deposit Office that he had receieved that morning the Word of the Lord upon the Subject of the Kirtland Safety Society. He was alone in a room by himself & he had not ownly the voice of the Spirit upon the Subject but even an audable voice. He did not tell us at that time what the LORD said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the Commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well.

May the Lord bless Brother Joseph with all the Saints & support the above named institution & Protect it so that every weapen formed against it may be broaken & come to nought while the Kirtland Safety Society shall become the greatest of all institutions on EARTH. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.120)

Warren Parrish wrote:

“I have listened to him [Joseph Smith] with feelings of no ordinary kind, when he declared that the audible voice of God, instructed him to establish a banking—anti banking institution, who like Aaron’s rod shall swallow up all other banks (the Bank of Monroe excepted,) and grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” (Painesville Republican, February 22, 1838)

At the April 1837 Conference of the Church, Joseph Smith spoke about the “temporal affairs of the church in this place,” and that “large contracts have been entered into for land on all sides”, and that “our brethren abroad have only to come with their money, take these contracts, and relieve their brethren of the pecuniary embarrassments under which they now labor…” Smith then,

closed at about 4 P. M. by uttering a prophesy saying this place must be built up, and would be built up, and that every brother that would take hold and help secure and discharge those contracts that had been made, should be rich. (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 3, No. 7, April 1837, pp. 487-88).

Why would Joseph then, need a bank to relieve him of his debt, especially when they claim that Joseph “owned land equal in value to at least $88,000”? (p. 426) And why would Joseph give heed to (as Hill, et all claim), “some Democratic newspapers and political groups”(page 456) about continuing on without a charter, when God had apparently told him that all that was needed was the brethren to come with their money and take over his land contracts?

Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs tie the problems with Joseph’s finances in Kirtland directly with his obsession to “redeem Zion”:

A look at Joseph Smith’s indebtedness through the lens of Marvin Hill, C. Keith Rooker, and Larry T. Wimmer, The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Place Critique of Sectarian Economics (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), suggests the LDS president was probably not overleveraged. However, sources cited in this study suggest that at least one significant aspect of Smith’s debt problem was not considered for the purposes of their book. Contemporary sources strongly suggest Joseph Smith’s multilayered plan for the redemption of Zion seriously overextended the resources of the young movement. Smith, try though he did, could not extract enough funds from his followers to accomplish his entire prophetic agenda. Something had to be sacrificed and the only priority that did not require immediate attention (would not result in a lawsuit) was his plan for a military operation to retake Jackson County.  (“Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, page 49).

For more on the Bank of Monroe and Oliver Cowdery’s tenure as Vice President, see Mark L. Staker, “Raising Money in Righteousness: Oliver Cowdery as Banker”, in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 143–254, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

[180] Reed Peck Manuscript, 1839, pages 17-20. Reed Peck was the son of Hezekiah Peck and Martha Long, and was born in Afton, New York in 1814. Previous to the division of the town of Bainbridge, the village and post-office at Afton were known as South Bainbridge.  This is where Joseph Smith married Emma Hale in 1827. Reed Peck married Clarissa M. and they were the parents of four sons:

Presson R, Frank F., Charles D., George W, and a daughter Kate.  Hezekiah Peck was baptized on 28 June, 1830, and most likely Reed was baptized during the same month or shortly thereafter.

The first postmaster [of South Bainbridge] was probably Albert Neely or Joseph P. Chamberlin, at least fifty years ago. Josiah Wright succeeded Chamberlain about 1830. Next was Zaccheus Smith, who came here from Delaware county and kept hotel in the Sullivan House. He held the office till about 1840 and was succeeded by Murlin Jackson. Cornelius Atherton was appointed about 1855 or ‘6, and was followed in 1861 by Lewis Post, who held it till his death February 12, 1863, aged 54 when Daniel A. Carpenter was appointed. Carpenter was succeeded in a short time by E[li]. M. Shay, who held the office till June 12, 1877, when Theodore L. Willey, the present incumbent, was appointed. (“History of Chenango County”, rootsweb @, online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

In 1903, Harriet E. Shay wrote,

I knew Reed Peck, son of Hezekiah, well after he deserted the Mormon sat Kirtland, Ohio, or Nauvoo. He came back to Afton and spent his days above the village on east side of the river. His place is known as Pecks Mills. He died about three years ago. He was a man highly respected. Mrs. Harriet E. Shay being duly sworn deposes and says, that the above statement is true to the best of her knowledge and belief. (Larry C. Porter, “Colesville, B.Y.U. Studies, 1970, p

The Pecks migrated to Jackson County Missouri in the summer of 1831 and had relocated to Clay County by the fall of 1835. They subsequently moved to Far West in Caldwell County by 1837, where Reed Peck was an eyewitness to the events that led up to the “Mormon War” of 1838. Along with John Corrill and John Whitmer, Reed Peck also wrote a history of those events, which was critical of Joseph Smith and the Kirtland Hierarchy of the Church. Peck called himself an “antiDanite” and helped to broker a deal for the surrender of the Mormon Hierarchy to Generals Atchinson and Doniphan of which John Corrill wrote,

On Sunday, the fourth of November [1838], we heard that Generals Atchinson and Doniphan, with an army, were encamped on Crooked River.

On Sunday evening Smith came to me to have me accompany Reed Peck the next day to meet their army with a white flag, in order to open a correspondence, if possible, and agree upon some terms of peace. We went in company with Colonel Hinkle and about one hundred and sixty horsemen. When we got near Crooked River we learned that the army had moved on to Log Creek, and were making their way to Far West. We thought proper to return, and it was with difficulty that we got back, for the militia had come between us and town. When we arrived, we saw a line of battle drawn up by the militia, and the Mormons also arrayed to meet them, but the militia, for some cause, withdrew to their camp on Goose Creek. About dark, Reed Peck took a white flag, and went into their camp. He saw General Doniphan and others. General Lucas, with his troops from Jackson County, had joined the army, and they were about thirteen hundred strong. When Peck returned he said that General Doniphan had appointed the next morning at eight o’clock to meet a committee of Mormons and make proposals of peace. He promised that no harm should befall us that night; he stated that their object was to bring the guilty to punishment, but the innocent should have an opportunity to escape before they would attack the place.

That night, the Mormons built a sort of breast-work of rails, house- logs, boards, etc., on that side of town next to the army, but it was about as good a defence as a common fence would be. Much has been said abroad about the Mormons building forts, entrenchments, etc., but this breast-work spoken of above is all that they ever had. In the night both armies were alarmed more or less, each being afraid of an attack from the other.

Next morning, at the time appointed, Reed Peck, Colonel Hinkle, and myself, went with the white flag, and met Generals Lucas, Doniphan, and some other officers, who informed us that they were waiting for General Clark, whom they expected soon with the Governor’s order; that they were not prepared to make proposals of peace until it arrived, for they knew not what it would require of them or us. They agreed to let us know as soon as they received it. At the same time, General Doniphan informed us that General Lucas had the chief command. Smith appeared to be much alarmed, and told me to beg like a dog for peace, and afterwards said he would rather go to States- prison for twenty years, or would rather die himself than have the people exterminated. About three o’clock in the evening we received word that the Governor’s order had arrived, so we went again to meet them, and see what it was. Colonel Hinkle, W. W. Phelps, Captain Morrison, Reed Peck, and myself went, and General Lucas read the order to us.

Smith had previously requested that after receiving the order, or finding out what the Governor required, we should see him before we agreed to any proposals. We did so, and although the Mormons have accused us of giving up their leaders by intrigue, yet Smith himself was the first man that agreed to the proposals. (John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, pp. 40-41)

For those (called dissenters) who had objected to Joseph Smith’s policies in Missouri, and most especially his involvement with the Danites, the Mormon leader wrote an epistle to the church from Liberty Jail on December 16, 1838, which included this bitter and vindictive rant against them:

Look at the dissenters. Again, “If you were of the world the world would love its own.” Look at Mr. Hinkle—a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Look at his brother John Corrill. Look at the beloved brother Reed Peck, who aided him in leading us, as the Savior was led, into the camp of His enemies, as a lamb prepared for the slaughter, as a sheep dumb before his shearers; so we opened not our mouths.

And now, brethren, we say unto you—what more can we enumerate? Is not all manner of evil of every description spoken of us falsely, yea, we say unto you falsely. We have been misrepresented and misunderstood, and belied, and the purity and integrity and uprightness of our hearts have not been known—and it is through ignorance—yea, the very depths of ignorance is the cause of it; and not only ignorance, but on the part of some, gross wickedness and hypocrisy also; for some, by a long face and sanctimonious prayers, and very pious sermons, had power to lead the minds of the ignorant and unwary, and thereby obtain such influence that when we approached their iniquities the devil gained great advantage—would bring great trouble and sorrow upon our heads; and, in fine, we have waded through an ocean of tribulation and mean abuse, practiced upon us by the ill bred and the ignorant, such as Hinkle, Corrill, Phelps, Avard, Reed Peck, Cleminson, and various others, who are so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society, and whose eyes are full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin. Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them. Marsh and “another,” whose hearts are full of corruption. whose cloak of hypocrisy was not sufficient to shield them or to hold them up in the hour of trouble, who after having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, became again entangled and overcome—their latter end is worse than the first. But it has happened unto them according to the word of the Scripture: “The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

After the conference had fully expressed their feelings upon the subject it was unanimously voted that the following persons be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, viz.: George M. Hinkle, Sampson Avard, John Corrill, Reed Peck, William W. Phelps, Frederick G. Williams, Thomas B. Marsh, Burr Riggs, and several others. After which the conference closed by prayer. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p.231)

History is an apt judge of the character of those like Reed Peck and John Corrill, who after writing their frank and forthright histories, lived their lives as upstanding members of their respective communities; while it could easily be said of Joseph Smith that his eyes were “full of adultery,” and “cannot cease from sin”.

In fact, Smith would go so far as to say in 1841 that “charity coverd a multitude of Sins & what many people called sin was not sin” to try and justify his Nauvoo adulteries. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,  Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.136, November 7, 1841).

Just 6 months earlier, Joseph had proposed to Zina Huntington that she be his “spiritual wife,” but she had refused and married Henry Jacobs. This did not deter Smith, who then, according to Huntington,

sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’”. (Brain Stuy, Collected Discourses Vol. 5, p.31)

Joseph had made Zina his spiritual wife a little less than two weeks before telling his apostles that “some sin is not sin”.

In the case of Reed Peck, he returned to Afton, New York, where he labored as a millwright, and served as a Justice of the Peace.  Larry C. Porter writes of the “highly respected” Reed Peck that he,

“turned antagonistic towards Mormonism during the “Missouri Period” and witnessed against the Saints at a trial in Richmond, Missouri in November 1838. He was subsequently excommunicated from the Church at a conference in Quincy, Illinois, March 17, 1839. Peck prepared a strong anti-Mormon treatise containing his observations of the Mormon conflict in Missouri, which manuscript was extensively quoted by Lu B. Cake in his examination of the rudiments of Mormonism.” (Larry C. Porter, “Colesville, B.Y.U. Studies, 1970, pp. 9-10).

To say that Peck was simply “antagonistic towards Mormonism” and therefore wrote an “anti-Mormon treatise”, does an injustice to the man and what he wrote.  Reed Peck was not antagonistic towards  Mormonism, rather, he had a problem with Joseph Smith’s leadership of the church. He writes,

In the course of the fall of 1836 and succeeding winter nearly all all the Mormons in the state had collected in Caldwell county) and by persevering industry <soon> opened extensive farms and it seemed by magic that the wild prairies over a large tract were converted into cultivated fields Persons visiting the county remarked , “that no other people of the same number could build a town like Far West and accomplish as much in the agricultural line in five years as the Mormons had in one” Confidence was established (to a certain degree) among all parties. Merchants did not hesitate to furnish individuals of the society with large stock of goods on credit so that in 1837 there were six Mormon stores in Far West and all doing very good business–The good conduct of the Mormons under the auspices of W. W. Phelps John Whitmer Edward Partridge and John Corrill as leaders had gained them an honorable character among their immediate neighbors, which with their industry and economy bade fair to make caldwell one of the most respectable & thriving counties in Upper Misso[uri.] Land was entered at One dollar and twenty five cents per acre and nearly every family was in possession of a farm & the Summer of 1837 found them actively engaged in cultivating the same… (Reed Peck Manuscript, pp. 11-13).

It was only after Joseph Smith fled Kirtland (because of his massive debts and the failure of the Safety Society and the lawsuits that followed) and arrived in Missouri to “set the church in order” that the problems with Peck and the other “dissenters” began.  He elaborates,

The people of the surrounding country were still friendly & harmony prevailed among the Mormons till the middle of June when the enmity of the two parties from Kirtland manifested itself to an alarming degree At this period measures were concerted no doubt by instigation of the presidency to free the community of the cowderies, Whitmers, Lyman Johnson and some others, to effect which a secret meeting was called at Far West, by Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington two of Smiths greatest courtiers where a proposition was made and supported by some as being the best policy to Kill these men that they would not be capable of injuring the church. All their measures were strenuously opposed by John Corrill and T. B. March one of the twelve apostles of the church and in consequense nothing could be effected until the matter was taken up publicly by the presidency the Sunday following (June 17th) in the presense of a large congregation. S. Rigdon took his text from the fifth chapter of Mathew “Ye are the Salt of the Earth but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted, it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and be trodden underfoot of men” From this Scripture he undertook to prove that when men embrace the gospel and afterwards lose their faith it is the duty of the Saints to trample them under their feet He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency, laying plans to take their lives &c., accused them of counterfeiting lying cheating and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of Such a nuisance He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth, and if the county cannot be freed from them any other way I will assit to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the Square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation

Joseph Smith in a Short speech Sanctioned what had been Said by Rigdon though said he I don’t want the brethren to act unlawfully but will tell them one thing Judas was a traitor and instead of hanging himself was hung by Peter, and with this hint the subject was dropped for the day having created a great excitement and prepared the people to execute anything that should be proposed. (ibid, pp. 21-26)

Having been run out of Kirtland because of his illegal banking practices and the “dissenters” there, Smith was determined not to let this happen to him in Missouri:

On the next Tuesday [June 19, 1838] these dissenters as they were termed were informed that preparations were being made to hang them up and if they did not escape their lives would be taken before night, and perceiving the rage of their enemies they fled to Ray County leaving their families and property in the hands of the Mormons The wrath of the presidency and the threats of haning &c. were undoubtedly a farce acted to frighten these men from the county that they could not be spies upon their conduct or that they might deprive them of their property and indeed the proceedings of the presidency and others engaged in this affair fully justify the latter conclusion, for knowing the probable result, Geo W. Robinson Son in law of S. Rigdon had prior to their flight sworn out writs of attachment against these men by which he took possession of all their personal property, clothing & furniture, much of which was valuable and no doubt very desirable leaving their families to follow to Ray County almost destitute–That the claims by which this property was taken from these men were unjust and perhaps without foundation cannot be doubted by any unprejudiced person acquainted with all parties and circumstances and no testimony has ever been adduced to show that the men were ever guilty of a crime in Caldwell County

These unlawful and tyrannical measures met with the censure of John Corrill W. W. Phelps, John Clemenson myself and a few others but we were soon made sensible that we had excited suspicion, and perhaps endangered ourselves by venturing to speak unfavourably of these transactions

We found that the events of a few days had placed Caldwell County under a despotic government where even liberty of speech was denied to those not willing to unite in support of the new order confidential subjects were appointed to converse with all suspected members and by pretending to be displeased with the antirepublican measures enforced against the dissenters were able to learn the feelings of many, and by reporting to the presidency drew down thundering anathemas from the pulpit upon those so unwary as to speak their sentiments where long tried friendship was swallowed up in bigotry and fanaticism

A friend of long standing asked me if I did not think the dissenters were dealt harshly by and that the presidency did wrong in exciting the people against them[?]

Saying at the same time that he “blamed Joseph &c” I answered that the dissenters deserved punishment if they were guilty as represented. Thinking from my answer that I had become satisfied with what had been done, he acknowledged that he was only endeavouring to learn the true state of my feelings, and then to give me an idea of his attaachment to the cause, said that if Josep Smith Should tell him to cut my throat he would do it without hesitation I hear expressions of this nature from several and shuddered at the thought of living in a community where the nod of one man if displeased would deprive an individual of every privilege and even life if the consequence had not been feared more by him than his following On the Sunday succeeding the flight of the dissenters, S. Rigdon in a public discourse explained satis factorily no doubt to the people the principles of republicanism (After informing them as an introduction that “some certain characters in the place had been crying you have broken the law–you have acted contrary to the principles of republicanism” he said that “when a country, or body of people have individuals among them with whom they do not wish to associate and a public expression is taken against their remaining among them and such individuals do not remove it is the principle of republicanism itself that gives that community a right to expel them forcibly and no law will prevent it” He also said that it was not against the principles of republicanism for the people to hang the gamblers in Vick’sburgh as it was a matter in which they unanimously acted”

Soon after the delivery of this speech he informed the church in an address, that they would soon be called upon to consecrate their property and those who would not comply with the law of consecration should be delivered over to the brother of Gideon, whom he represented as being a terrible fellow. We are[,] said he[,] Soon to commence building the ‘Lords House’in Far West which will enhance the value of property ten fold in its vicinity and such and such proprietors as will not consecrate the whole amount of that increase of value for the building of the house and [p. 35] other church uses should be delivered over to the brother of Gideon and be sent bounding over the Prairies as the dissenters were a few days ago

In short we found that all matters comprising anything not completely subject to the will of the presidency were to be managed by the terrible brother of Gideon. All the requirements of the presidency must be complied with, peacably if you will forcibly if we must always making the brother of Gideon the terror of all that would not heartily join in the Support of their government and views

A few individuals of us were ever after this opposed to the rule of the presidency perceiving that all spiritual and temporal affairs were under their control and no monarch on earth ever had supreme power over his subjects more than they over the inhabitants of Caldwell County only they durst not exercise it to so great a degree Their word was law in religious civil and military matters, but the secret springs of their power and influence we did not yet understand

In the latter part of June a young man from Ohio having reported something about J Smith & S Rigdon, was taken by constable D. B. Huntington Geo W Robinson and a few others compelled <to sign a libel &> to Kneel before S. Rigdon and ask pardon as the only alternative to escape a caining from the constable who held his staff over him in an attitude for striking until be bent the knee

For these offences application was made for writs VS J Smith S. Rigdon D. B. Huntington Sampson Avard and others but they would not permit the clerk of the court to issue them declaring that they would never suffer vexatious lawsuits to be instituted against them in Caldwell county-

Some time previous to this Secret meetings had been held in F West that excited much curiousity among those that had not been permitted to attend as it was easily discovered that something more than ordinary was in progress among the male members of the church Ignorant of the nature of these meetings I attend one about the last of June, and heared a full disclosure of its object=Jared Carter Geo W. Robinson, and Sampson Avard, under the instructions of their presidency, had formed a secret military Society, called the “daughter of Zion” and were holding meetings to initiate members The principles taught by Sampson Aard as spokesman, were that “as the Lord had raised up a prophet in these last days like unto Moses it Shall be the duty of this band to obey him in all things, and whatever he requires you shall perform being ready to give up life and property for the advancement of the Cause When any thing is to be performed no member Shall have the privilege of judging whether it would be right or wrong but Shall engage in its accomplishment and trust God for the result It is not our business or place to know what is required by God, but he will inform us by means of the prophet and we must perform If any one of you see a member of the band in difficulty in the surrounding country contending for instance with an enemy, you shall extricate him even if in the wrong if you have to do with his adversary as Moses did with the Egyptian put him under the Sand and both pack off to Far West and we will take care of the matter ourselves. No person shall be suffered to speak evil or disrespectfully of the presidency The secret signs and purposes of this society are not to be revealed on pain of death” &c &c About 50 persons were initiated into the Society at the time I was introduced and to sam time the oath was administered to all the novices at once of which I took advantage by remaining silent and accordingly avoided taking it (ibid, pp. 26-41)

These “Danites” as they were also called, were affirmed by Joseph Smith in his own diary on July 27, 1838:

Thus far, according to the order /revelation/ of the Danites. We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to clense the Church of very  great evil[s?] which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons. This company or a part of them exhibited on the fourth day of July [ – ] They come up to consecrate, by companies of tens, commanded by their captain over ten (The Joseph Smith Papers website, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

Just a few days before his July 27 diary entry Joseph penned this “revelation” for Thomas Marsh and his “apostles”, which promised that,

 vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants  of the earth. A day of wrath! A day of burning! A day of des olation! Of weeping! Of mourning and of lamentation! And as  a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth saith the Lord.  And upon my house shall it begin and from my house shall it go forth  saith the Lord. First among those among you saith the Lord; who  have professed to know my name and have not known me and  have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house saith the Lord (Revelation, July 23, 1837, JSPW, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

According to Historian D. Michael Quinn:

… it is anachronistic to apply Smith’s later rejection of Avard to the Danite general’s actions four months earlier. In the early summer of 1838, Avard was the stalking-horse for the First Presidency. The Danite constitution specified: “All officers shall be subject to the commands of the Captain General, given through the Secretary of War.” Joseph Smith had held the latter position “by revelation” in the church’s “war department” for three years,  [footnote 87 Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c In Relation to the Disturbances With the Mormons, 102; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:42n2.] and had been commander-in-chief of the Armies of Israel for four years. What the Danites did militarily during the summer and fall of 1838 was by the general oversight and command of Joseph Smith.

In the skirmishes that both sides called “battles,” Mormons used deadly force without reluctance. Benjamin F. Johnson wrote that Danite leader (and future apostle) Lyman Wight told his men to pray concerning their Missouri enemies: “That God would Damn them & give us pow[e]r to Kill them.”

Likewise, at the beginning of the Battle of Crooked River on 25 October 1838, Apostle David W. Patten (a Danite captain with the code-name “Fear Not”) told his men: “Go ahead, boys; rake them down.”  [footnote:  Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. [S.] Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1976), 27; Nathan Tanner reminiscence, in George S. Tanner, John Tanner and His Family (Salt Lake City: John Tanner Family Association/Publishers Press, 1974), 386. At the time of this 1903 letter, Johnson was a patriarch and George S. Gibbs was an assistant in the LDS Church Historian’s Office. His name has often been misread as George F. Gibbs, his father who was secretary to the First Presidency at the same time. The back cover of this publication described editor Zimmerman as “Supervisor of Academic Research for LDS Department of Seminaries and Institutes.”]

The highest ranking Mormon charged with murder for obeying this order was Apostle Parley P. Pratt who allegedly took the careful aim of a sniper in killing one Missourian and then severely wounding militiaman Samuel Tarwater. This was after Apostle Patten received a fatal stomach wound. [footnote:  Indictment of Parley P. Pratt for murder of Moses Rowland, filed 2 Apr. 1839, Boone County Circuit Court Records, Case 1379, fd 17, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri; John D. Lee autobiography in Mormonism Unveiled: or the Life and Confessions of the Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co., 1877), 73, with similar description in Reed Peck manuscript, 99-100 of the unnamed Parley P. Pratt, a “cold hearted villain (I know him well).” Neither History of the Church, 3:170-71, nor The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt, Jr. (New York: Russell Brothers, 1874), 195-97, explains the reason for Pratt’s murder indictment or imprisonment.] In their fury at the sight of their fallen leader, some of the Danites mutilated the unconscious Tarwater “with their swords, striking him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks…and leaving him [for] dead.” He survived to press charges against Pratt for attempted murder.  [footnote:  James H. Hunt, Mormonism…Their Troubles In Missouri and Final Expulsion From the State (St. Louis: Ustick & Davies, 1844), 190-91. Although he did not acknowledge that Tarwater sustained these injuries after he was shot and lying unconscious on the ground, an assistant LDS church historian gave a more gruesome description of his injuries, including “a terrible gash in the skull, through which his brain was plainly visible.” See Andrew Jenson, “Caldwell County, Missouri,” The Historical Record 8 (Jan. 1888): 702.] (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p.485)

On July 19, 1840 Joseph Smith would give a discourse (recorded by Martha Jane Knowlton) that was full of prophetic rhetoric decrying the United States Government, which had refused to interfere in Smith’s Missouri problems.  In this discourse Smith resurrects some of Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Sermon rhetoric, and mentions Reed Peck. Smith declares in this sermon that, “the Land of Zion consists of all N. & S America” instead of just the State of Missouri as recorded in previous “revelations”, and that “the twelve olive trees” or stakes (mentioned in D&C 101) “which are yet to be built” are “not the Temple in Jackson as some suppose”, which directly contradicts his “revelation” (mentioned above) which states that,

there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints—

Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion. (verses 20-21)

Smith reverses this, and claims in this sermon that

“the redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N & S America and those 12 stake must be built up before the redemption of Zion can take place and those who refuse to gather and build when they are commanded to do so cease to be Saviours of men and are thence forth good for nothing but shall be cast out and trodden underfeet of men for their transgression as Reed Peck was when he aplied in the name of an apostate for business in a store in Quincy. They told him that they wanted no apostates round them and showed him the door.”

Smith also claims that they will build Zion “in peace”,  until they begin to lay the foundation of “a great and high watch Tower”, and “they” will begin to say amongst themselves what need have we for this watchtower “seeing this is a time of peace”.  “Then the Enemy shall come,” says Smith, “as a thief in the night and scatter the servants abroad” and when the seed of these 12 stakes are scattered they will “wake up the Nations of the whole Earth,” and that “this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces” and “when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the constitution away from the very verge of destruction.”

Unfortunately, Smith had already set the date for the Redemption of Zion as September 11, 1836, and that date had come and gone.  On August 16, 1834 he wrote from Kirtland “to the brethren in Zion”,

use every effort  to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions  and situate themselves to be in readiness to move  into Jackson Co. in two years from the Eleventh of  September next which is the appointed time for the  redemption of Zion (Letter to Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Isaac Morley, and others, Clay County, MO, 16 Aug. 1834; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams; in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 84–87; JS Collection, CHL, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

On September 24th 1835 Joseph recorded in his diary,

September 24th 1835 This day the High Council met at my house to take into consid[e]ration the redeem[p]tion of Zion. It was the voice of the spirit of the Lord that we petition to the Governer [of Missouri]. That is those who have been driven out /should/ to do so to be set back on their Lands next spring. We [should] go next season to live or dy [die] to this end so the dy is cast in Jackson County.

We truly had a good time and Covena[n]ted to strug[g]le for this thing u[n]till death shall desolve [dissolve] this union. And if one falls that the rest be not discouraged but pe[r]sue this object untill it is ac[c]omplished. Which may God grant u[n]to us in the name of Christ our Lord.

September 24th 1835 This day drew up an Arti/c/le of [p.35] inrollment for the redem[p]tion of Zion that we may obtain volunteers to go next spring /to M[iss]o[uri]/. I ask God in the name of Jesus that we may obtain Eight hundred men /or one thousand/ well armed [men] and that they may ac[c]omplish this great work. Even so. Amen. {page 2} (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.34)

On January 21, 1836 Joseph records in his journal that he had a vision where he “beheld the Celestial Kingdom of God” and “the blasing throne of God” upon which was “Seated the Father and the Son”. He also saw “Father Adam, Abraham and Michael” along with his “father and mother,” and “my brother Alvin”.  “I also” wrote Joseph “beheld the redemption of Zion” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.119).

On the 29th of January 1836 Joseph had recorded in his diary some of his father’s patriarchal blessings upon various individuals which promised that they would “stand on earth till [thy] Redeamer corn[es]” and “shall be filled with light [and shall] not sleep in the dust. [Thou shalt] see thy Redeamer come in the clouds of heaven and be caught up to meet him and be ever with him” and “live to see the winding up of this generation.” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, pp.125-6)

In early March, Joseph wrote in his diary,

Sunday the 13th of March 1836 Met with the Presidency and some of the 12 [Apostles] and counseled with them upon the subject of removing to Zion this Spring. We conversed freely upon the importance of her redemption and the necessity of the Presidency removing to that place, that their influence might be more effectually used in gathering the Saints to that country. We finally come to the resolution to emigrate on or before the 15th of [p.141] May next if kind providence Smiles upon us and opens the way before us.

Later that month he wrote,

The Seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redem[p]tion of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lord’s House wherever we find them. I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost. This covenant was sealed unaminously [unanimously] by a hosanna and Amen. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.155, March 30, 1836)

A few days later on April 2, Joseph writes that he,

Transacted business (although of a temporal nature) in company with S[idney] Rigdon, O[liver] Cowdery, J[ohn] Whitmer, F[rederick] G. Williams, D[avid] Whitmer, and W[illiam] W. Phelps which was to have a bearing upon the redemption of Zion. The positive manner in which he [Joseph Smith] expressed himself on this, /his/ favorite theme, was directly calculated to produce conviction in the minds of those who heard him, that his whole soul was engaged in it, notwithstanding on a superficial view of the same subject they might differ from him in judgement.

It was determined in council, after mature deliberation, that he and O[liver] Cowdery should act in concert in raising funds for the accomplishment of the aforesaid object. As soon as the above plan was settled, he and O[liver] Cowdery set out together, and their success was such in one half day as to give them [p.157] pleasing anticipations assuring them that they were doing the will of God and that his work prospered in their hands. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.156)

In July 1836 this article appeared in a Rochester New York newspaper, The World As It Is, and General Advertiser, as reprinted from the Missouri paper, The Far West,

ANOTHER WAR BREWING. — The Far West, published at Independence, Missouri, says information has been received from Kirkland, [sic] Ohio, through various channels of another movement among the Mormons to obtain possession of the “promised land,” and to establish their Zion in Jackson county’ the scene of their former disastrous defeat. They are said to be armed to the number of 1500 or 2000, and to be making way in [detached] parties to the “debatable ground.” The Far West also states that the people of Jackson and their friends in the surrounding counties are taking affective measure for resistance. (The World As It Is, and General Advertiser, July 16, 1836).

Rumors of the pending Mormon reinvasion of Jackson County were prevalent in the spring of 1836. One settler, Louis Cortambert would write that the old settlers were still very much alarmed about the threat of a Mormon incursion because “they had not renounced New Jerusalem”. (Cortambert, “Journey to the Land of the Osages,” p. 208).

Smith’s obsession with the redemption of Zion and his sending “the strength of the Lord’s house” to Missouri began to affect relations between the Mormons in Clay County, and the settlers there.  Anderson Wilson documented his unease at this large influx of “saints”:

July 4, 1836, Clay County, Missouri

…They have been flocking in here faster than ever and making great talk of what they would do. A letter from Ohio shows plainly that they intend to Emigrate here till they outnumber us. Then they would rul the Contry at pleasure. Another letter shows that they are Borrowing all the money that [they] can to procure land here & they Buy all on a credit that they Can get. … They have entered 1600 acres in Clinton Co. in the last few days Besides what they have entered in Clay & Ray co. They settle in towns as we Call them, one of which Contained 250 in our township, Besides another in Washington township nearly as large. … They are living on Rochhoalts panama, in the woods, in wagons in tents in Bark Houses in Cabins etc. This town is 4 miles long & so think that you will not be out of Sight of a den the Whole route. … [They] will elect all their own officers from among the Brethren & even remove the postmaster by petition. … On 24 June we worked the road and nothing else was talked of They passed us in ever way and in Considerable numbers & we got very hot before night to think that we had to work a road for the invaders of our Cuntry to travel. (Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs, “Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, p. 37)

On June 29, 1836 the citizens of Clay County publicly asked the Mormons to leave the county.  Edward Partridge wrote in his diary that “we wanted peace and were willing to make sacrifices, to keep it. … to save the Co. from a civil war.” (ibid, page 38)

The next month, Alexander Doniphan and the church’s lawyers realized that the claims made for the saints’ property in Jackson County would never be realized and relinquished all claims to the land. With no monetary recompense for those lands, “The Mormons began to physically and spiritually disengage from current homes in Clay County and their hoped-for return to Jackson County.” (ibid).

Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs write that,

By June 1836, Smith had surreptitiously assembled the bulk of his immigrant army in upper Missouri. But the prophet’s extensive plan had not succeeded in several critical respects. Designated leaders of the Army of Israel were still mostly in Ohio. Also, public sentiment rapidly turned against the saints. And despite apocalyptic posturing, rank-and-file Missouri Mormons appeared willing to avoid further violence.

Smith had intended to come to Missouri to preside over the triumphant return to Jackson County. However, by the 1836 Kirtland Temple dedication, he had apparently realized his September 11, 1836, deadline was not likely to be achieved. By sending the “wise men” to buy land elsewhere [Ray County], it freed Smith to focus on Kirtland issues, such asa managing the debt accrued by temple construction. Smith’s anticipated May 15, 1836, deadline for moving himself and family to Missouri quietly passed. A massive infusion of cash might have resolved both church debt and funding the final stages of the church’s Jackson County return. Smith’s unsuccessful excursion to Salem, Massachusetts, in April 1836 to obtain secreted treasure was largely an effort to raise the capital necessary for the redemption of Zion. In the end, time ran out before Jospeh Smith could muster either the required number of soldiers or finances.

That the Mormons were experiencing a severe cash flow problem was made clear at a council meeting of June 16, 1836, when President F. G. Williams said, “The Case before us in an important one. The Church [is] poor, Zion [is] to be bulit and we have not the means to do it unless the rich assist & because the rich had not assisted, the heads of the Church have to suffer and are now suffering under severe embarrassments and are much in debt.  …

The severity of the LDS church’s financial needs from March through July 1836 impelled the adoption of an interim course correction that redirectd the Missouri Mormons to northern Ray territory. The decisions to buy land as a temporary gathering for saints from the East and to continue planning to redeem Zion by purchase remained as logical possiblilites within Smith’s readjusted longer-term goals. The move to the north kept alive the possibility in the minds of LDS members that Jackson County could yet serve as their ecclesial seat of government

In the wake of the September 11, 1836 prophesy’s failure to materialize, the Mormons began to redefine the boundaries of Zion and the meaning of its redemption. Before the fall of 1836, the term “Zion,” in Mormon theology, was reserved exclusively for Jackson County, Missouri. As the LDS church was reestablished in Ray County following the removal from Clay County, however, being “in” Zion gradually became less geographically tied to Jackson County.(“Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, page 40).

For more on John Corrill, see note #178 below.

[181] John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, St. Louis, Missouri, by the author, 1839, pp. 26-27, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

John Corill was born on September 17, 1794, near Barre in Worchester County, Massachusetts and was married to Margaret with whom he had at least five children. He was an architect by trade, and also a carriage builder and a surveyor.  Corrill was converted in Harpersville, Ohio after learning that Sidney Rigdon, whom he admired, had joined with the new sect, and after initially rejecting the Book of Mormon as a scheme to make money, upon a reinvestigation of the church was baptized on January 10, 1831. Joseph Smith subsequently directed Corrill to relocate to Zion, where he played a central role in establishing the church there.

On September 24, 1835 a small group of church leaders met to discuss the means of retaking Zion. Spirits ran high. They agreed they would petition Missouri governor Dunklin again for help, but, in Joseph Smith’s words, they determined to “go next season, to live or die on our own lands” and covenanted to struggle with their enemies to the death if need be.40 According to John Whitmer, the meeting produced more than covenants. By revelation the prophet created a “war department” with the prophet at its head and David Whitmer as “captain of the Lord’s Host.” Officers were Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, W. W. Phelps, John Whitmer, John Corrill, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery.41 Curiously, while this event has the flavor of a turn toward the militarism that overtook the Saints a few years later, it is worth noting that six of the men listed became dissenters against the later militaristic policies. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.56)

Corrill was called back to Kirtland a year later to help complete work on the Temple. After this, on March 11, 1836,

 a church council formally appointed Bishop Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Isaac Morley, and W. W. Phelps as the “wise men of Missouri” and gave them money to help buy land to provide for immigrating Saints. A month later, accompanied a short distance by the prophet and other friends, the wise men finally began their journey back home [to Missouri]. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.57).

Through the turmoil of the next two years between the old settlers and the Mormon immigrants, John Corrill was respected by both sides and he would later write that friendship began to be restored between the two parties.

As the relative peace of 1837 drifted into 1838, submerged tension appeared within the Missouri church. They were immeasurably exacerbated when Joseph Smith, in flight from angry apostates and creditors, arrived in the spring. Amid great chaos, the Kirtland settlement had broken up in the wake of economic collapse, most symbolically represented by the failure of an unchartered Mormon bank, whose success, dissenters charged, had been guaranteed by revelation. At the same time, a small but influential group, of whom David Whitmer was the most prominent, had fallen into disaffection over changes in the church. Most appalling in their view was the proliferation of church offices, which they believed took the church away from its primitivist origins. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.58).

The arrival of Smith and Rigdon in Missouri in the spring of 1838 brought with them drastic changes and the ouster of the Missouri Presidency and any that supported them on what many thought were trumped up charges.  With growing concern Corrill watched the Presidency under Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon grow more and more militant, until violence became their only recourse to every problem, spurred on by the Danites that had been organized to cleanse the church of what the Presidency  perceived to be very great evils that could not be dealt with by vocal persuasion.

This was the beginning of the end for John Corrill, who wrote later that he had highly disapproved of their course for many months, and that it was of no use to say anything more, and whose only recourse was to look out for his own safety.

On August 6, 1838 Corrill was elected at Caldwell County’s representative to the Missouri legislature and within weeks of this election was “irretrievably alienated from the church.” (ibid, p.63).

By August’s end the church leadership had had enough. As Smith’s scribe George Robinson wrote at the time, “Br[other] Corril[l]’s conduct for some time past has been very unbecoming indeed, especially a man in whom so much confidence has been placed.” When on August 31 Smith and Rigdon learned that Corrill had told some recently arrived converts “that he had no confidence in the revelation” on communitarianism, they were livid and sought him out publicly. The prophet, beating his fists together, angrily told Corrill, “if you tell about the streets again that you do not believe this or that revelation[,] I will  walk on your neck Sir.” Smith warned Corrill that Peter himself had told him that he had hung Judas for betraying Christ, implying the same sort of fate might await Corrill. Corrill’s behavior, he continued, endangered the dissenter’s salvation. If he did not change his ways, the prophet declared, he would keep him out of Heaven, even if doing so meant Smith meeting Corrill at its entrance with his fists.

Corrill responded to this attack with warmth of his own and, quite bravely, under the circumstances, told Smith he might reach Heaven’s gate first, suggesting that it might be he who kept the prophet out. According to George Robinson, Corrill proceeded to tell Smith that he would “not yeald his Judgement to any thing proposed by the church, or any individuals of the church, or even the voice of the great I Am given through the appointed organ as revelation, but will always act upon his Judgement. Let him believe in whatever religion he may. He says he will always say what he pleases. For he says he is a Republican and as such, he will do, say, act, and believe what he pleases.” Robinson, for his part, was astounded by Corrill’s effrontery. “Mark such Republicanism as this,” he wrote, “that a man should…[pit] his own Judgement…[against] the Judgement of God.” (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, pp. 64-65).

Corrill and others would watch helplessly as Joseph Smith confidently asserted that once the Missourians discovered that the Mormons were willing to fight, they would simply give up and that if they did not, that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, ‘the Alcoran or the Sword.’ So should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’ (History of the Church 3:167).

On October 15, Joseph Smith proposed sending Mormon troops into Daviess County. He asked and received approval from the citizens of Far West that any church member who refused to participate in these operations have their property confiscated for the use of those who did. Even more ominous were the so-called bayonet resolutions whereby dissenters could be forced at bayonet point to lead the Saints into battle. Reed Peck wryly noted that Corrill, W. W. Phelps, John Cleminson, and several others, “had the honor of being enrolled in one of these [military] companies and under the bayonet resolutions and marched into Daviess County.” These resolutions notwithstanding, Corrill did not lead anyone into battle. On October 18, Mormon troops plundered and burned parts of Gallatin, Millport, and a number of other nonchurch settlements. Laid up in camp with a bad leg (or so he claimed), Corrill watched with horror as triumphant Mormon soldiers spoke of vanquishing mob after mob until they reached St. Louis. “Many,” he lamented, “had the weakness to believe that God would enable them to do it.”

Instead, the so-called Mormon War was almost at an end. On October 25, 1838, in an attempt to rescue two of their spies, forces clashed with what they thought was part of the anti-Mormon mob. What they had done instead was attack a duly authorized state militia. Although the militiamen were anti-Mormon in sentiment, the battle changed the whole nature of the conflict. Acting on orders from the governor, troops from all over northwestern Missouri poured into Caldwell County and after the massacre at Haun’s Mill forced most Mormons to retreat to Far West. Joseph Smith had realized by this time that the Saints could not win and asked Corrill and a handful of well-known dissenters with contacts among the non-Mormons to help arrange for a surrender. He told Corrill and Reed Peck “to beg like a dog for peace.” (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.66)

Corrill helped broker a deal with the Missouri militia which included the surrender of Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders and the promise that the saints would leave Missouri.  Smith agreed to these terms but would later blame those like John Corrill and Reed Peck for his incarceration.

In November, Corrill testified at a court of inquiry concerning Danite activities, and church military raids into Daviess County. If Corrill, however, had abandoned his belief in Mormonism, he did not abandon the Mormon people. Although he could have easily left church members to their fate, Corrill not only spoke on their behalf to the authorities but also gave his money to the church’s poor—all he had. By selling his property he was able to distribute about $2,100 to nearly 160 needy families.79 Corrill typically gave each recipient about $3 dollars, although there was a wide difference in contributions based on need. For instance, he gave 18 cents to Sherman Brown but $44.60 to Titus Billings. Although some of the money ended up in the hands of old friends like Edward Partridge ($15.04), the jailed Alexander McRae, a fanatical Danite of whom Corrill disapproved, received $2.88, which Corrill undoubtedly gave to McRae’s wife.  Two of Joseph Smith’s brothers benefited from Corrill’s largesse as well: Samuel ($9.62) and William (75 cents). ((75 cents). (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.67).

It must have seemed particularly cruel to John Corrill to have Joseph Smith threaten to walk on his neck and then label him as one whose “eyes were full of adultery” and who “cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society”; considering the fact that he worked tirelessly in the Missouri Legislature to gain the Mormons recompense for their lands.

John Corrill would not seek another term in the Missouri legislature, after failing to persuade them to recompense the Mormons. Bereft of his lands in Missouri, Corrill with his family moved to Springfield and later to Quincy Illinois, where he died in early 1843, his good name and finances virtually non-existent.

[182]  Westergren, From Historian to Dissident, p.180.  Whitmer later drew a line through this text which appears in the manuscript,

 among whom is W. W. Phelps and myself. Therefore I close this history of the church of Latter Day Saints, Hoping that I may be for given of my faults, and my sins be bloted out and in the last day be saved in the kingdom of God notwithstanding my present situation, which I hope will soon be bettered and I find favor in the eyes of God and <All men> his saints Farewell March. 1848.

[183] E. C. Brand Interview of John Whitmer, Community of Christ Library—Archives; also in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, p. 250.  If Brand’s interview is accurate, then John Whitmer was also making claims about the document in his possession that were not factual.

This interview by Brand has been (in some cases) been given the date of 1845. Here,and here

I emailed Brent Metcalfe who has a copy of the original diary entry, and he was kind enough to send me a photo of the date from Brand’s diary (reproduced below) which shows that Brand’s “7” can easily be mistaken for a “4” because of a crease in the page.

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

[184] The Holy Scriptures: Translated and Corrected by the Spirit of Revelation, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1867, Preface, pg. 3, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.As Richard P. Howard writes,

The RLDS publication committee claimed that Joseph’s purpose in doing this work was to restore biblical texts lost through ancient miscopying or deliberate, evil design. It is in this arena where Joseph’s enormous charisma, mesmerizing his followers and nurturing their sense of deep involvement in the establishment of the imminent kingdom of God, comes sharply into focus. My previous reference to the publication of Genesis 7 from the JSBR manuscripts in W. W. Phelps’s paper in Missouri in 1832 claims more attention. Joseph expands the KJV’s cryptic references to Enoch and his city. By revelation, however, Joseph closes the cosmic chasm between Enoch’s visions and his city and its glory, and Joseph’s own work—to build up the kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, in Missouri, in the last days of human history. The dream would become flesh-and blood achievement, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. Fruition of this mission is Joseph’s obsession and dream, and by extension, his community’s passion and reason for being. They hoped one day to embrace Enoch and his people in a grand celebration of the invincible love and power and justice of community. In a sense, Joseph’s narrative in Genesis 7 infused his own dream into the life of an angel ruling an ancient city. In the same instant Joseph collapsed Enoch’s embellished glory into early Mormonism’s quest for Zion. (Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision: Sources, Claims, and Present Role, 1830-2009, Restoration Studies, Volume XI, pp. 144-145).

[185] Richmond Conservator, December 20, 1867. I am indebted to Erin Metcalfe for this discovery.

[186] Emma Smith Bidamon, letter to Joseph Smith III, Nauvoo, Illinois, December 2, 1867, Emma Smith Papers, P4, f39, Community of Christ Archives.

[187] Chicago Times, 7 August 1875.

[188] The Return, Vol. 3. No. 3, Richmond,  Missouri,  October, 1892.

[189]  Many of these interviews may be found in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Orem: Grandin, 1991. xxvi + 276 pp.

[190] For more on the cyclone of 1878, see The History of Ray County, Mo., Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Missouri, 1881, pp. 389-398, online here, accessed, August 5, 2013.

[191] Joseph Fielding Smith, The Life of Joseph F. Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1838,, pages 236-7.

[192] ibid, pages 240-241.

[193] Deseret News, August 14, 1878.

[194] Smith, op. cited, page 247.

[195] “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):771-74.

[196] Smith, page 245.

[197] ibid, pages 246-7.

[198] Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited, A Response to Richard L. Anderson, Stephen C. Harper, Daniel C. Peterson, Richard L. Bushman, and Alan Goff, by Dan Vogel, online here, accessed, July 20, 2013.

[199] The Deseret News, August 14, 1878. Translation below? Book of the Generations of Adam?

[200] Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited, op. cited above

[201] Deseret Evening News, August 16, 1878.

[202] See note #195.

[203] There are three recent studies about the newly found Hicks photo in addition to this one, that I am aware of, one called “The ‘Caractors’ Document: New Light on an Early Transcription of the Book of Mormon Charactors” by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmann, and Robin Scott Jensen, published in Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 131-152. Another is found in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, by  Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William J. Hartley, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, pp. 353-367.

The third study has been done by Brent and Erin Metcalfe, and is called “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon ‘Caractors’?”and was presented at the John Whitmer Historical Association 41st Annual Meeting, on September 27, 2013.

All of these studies have come to different conclusions about who wrote the document; which I will explore in the last chapter of this article. The first two articles above give no further insights about the possession of the document by the Whitmers while they were in Missouri.

[204] Joseph F. Smith was particularly incensed with Jacob over his referral of Joseph Smith as “Joe Smith” and later wrote,

“I pleasantly remarked, “Have you not enough respect for Joseph Smith to call him by his proper name,” to which Jacob Whitmer replied, “I have no particular respect or disrespect for him; Joe Smith is the name he goes by here.” Smith then replied, “I retorted, I generally respect all men enough, to call them by their proper names.”

Whitmer’s curt answers that “he had no papers here”, and his calling Smith’s uncle “Joe”, was sufficient, it seems, for him to label Jacob Whitmer a bigot.

[205] Deseret News, December 4, 1878.

[206] Richmond Conservator, March 25, 1881.

[207] Jesse R. Badham’s Account of an Interview with David Whitmer, March 1881 Source: Diary of Jesse R. Badham, Whitmer Papers, RLDS Archives.

[208] Richmond Conservator, March 24, 1881. See also An Address to All Believers In Christ, page 10, where Whitmer has the 1881 “Proclamation” and “Explanation”, (which contains the statement about the manuscript and the “caractors”) reprinted, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

[209] James H. Hart, Deseret News, March 25, 1884.

[210] Bear Lake Democrat, March 28, 1884.

[211] Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 19, p. 107,  (1884).

[212] “David Whitmer Talks,” The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, October 17, 1886, see also Omaha Herald, October 10, 1886.

[213] An Address To All Believers In Christ, by the author, 1887, page 11.

[214] Improvement Era, January 1942, p. 58. Ronald Romig writes,

At some point, some of John Whitmer’s papers apparently passed into the possession of James R. B. Van Cleave, a Chicago newspaper reporter and Illinois politician.

R. B. Van Cleave

R. B. Van Cleave

In March 1881, Van Cleave conducted a significant interview with David Whitmer that subsequently appeared in the October 17, 1881, Chicago Times. Then Van Cleave successfully courted  and married David Whitmer’s granddaughter, Josephine Helen Schweich. Van Cleave planned to write a history of Mormonism from the Whitmers’ perspective. In preparation, he “obtained consent of John Whitmer’s daughters to remove the papers he had selected . . . and brought them to Richmond, Mo.”

John Whitmer’s papers were deposited in a Richmond, Missouri, bank vault. But Van Cleave was ultimately unable to compile his book, and Whitmer’s papers next passed to George Schweich (fig. 4)—Van Cleave’s brotherin-law and David Whitmer’s grandson. In 1903, when Schweich sold the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon and “Caractors” document, four leaves of BCR materials also passed to the RLDS Church.( Ronald E. Romig, “Response to the Book of Commandments and Revelations Presentations”, B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2009, pp. 87-88, online here, accessed August 6, 2011).

What is interesting is that the biography of David J. Whitmer published on the findagrave website, claims David J’s father (David Whitmer),

was the custodian, as he claimed, by Divine command of the original manuscript of the Record of the Nephites, (or what is commonly known as the Book of Morman [sic]).

[215] ibid, pp. 58-59.

[216] ibid, page 58.

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.

19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s “Caractors” Discovered

Jacob Hicks Photo  of the 'Caractors'INTRODUCTION

Back in November of last year [2012] I was scouring the internet looking for photographs of David Whitmer that I could use as a basis for a portrait of a younger version of David that I planned to paint. I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a picture of David Whitmer that was included in a collection of photos taken by Jacob Hicks and posted by the Clay County Museum in Missouri.[1]

Curious, I searched through the collection to see if there were any more pictures that I might be interested in and to my surprise I found two photos of the “Caractors” document that was reported to be in the possession of David Whitmer until his death in 1888, which Whitmer had always affirmed [2] was the “original paper” that Martin Harris took to Charles Anthon in 1828.

These photos of the “Caractors” document were taken by Jacob T. Hicks who was (according to the Clay County Museum) “the first professional photographer in Clay and Ray Counties (Missouri).” I noticed at this time that these photos had been posted three years earlier (in 2009).

Jacob T. Hicks

Photographer Jacob T. Hicks

Jacob Hicks “was born in Liberty, Missouri on October 6, 1840 and died in Liberty, Missouri in March of 1924. He retired in 1912. His niece, Mrs. B.P. (Nadine Fisher) Thompson – who lived in Liberty – preserved the collection of his glass negatives.”

The original “caractors” document, also known as the “Anthon Transcript” was described as a “fragment” by Frederick M. Smith (grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr.) in 1941 in a letter to John A. Widtsoe. This “fragment” was “eight inches by three and one-fourth inches” when it came into the possession of the Reorganized Church in 1903, but was believed by some to have been torn from a larger document.[3]

As you can see, the picture that I discovered in December of 2012 shows the complete document before it had been torn off.  The fragment that contained the “caractors” was probably torn off sometime before 1884, because it is described as having the same dimensions then as it did in 1903.[4]

It also may be possible that the “caractors” were torn off in an effort to give strength to the narrative of David Whitmer – that this was the original copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York city in 1828, since the rest of the document could date it to (at the least) a few years after that time.

I immediately searched to see if anyone else had discovered the document, but could find nothing about it anywhere online.  I decided to keep the matter to myself, since I was working on a paper about a possible connection between the Kinderhook plates glyphs and the Book of Mormon characters.

There the matter stood until March of 2013 when I was e-mailed by Don Bradley about my Kinderhook research. Don and I had been corresponding off and on about the Kinderhook plates since 2011 when he had given a presentation about them at a F.A.I.R. Conference that year which resulted in a spirited on-line discussion.[5]

The main focus of Don’s research was a connection to Joseph Smith’s short “translation” of the Kinderhook Plates with the G.A.E.L.,[6]while my approach was oriented towards a Book of Mormon characters connection.  Don had encouraged me to pursue this avenue of thought and would check back with me from time to time to see how I was progressing with my research.  He did so again in March of 2013, and it was then that I decided to share my discovery with him.  He messaged me back, “You’ve found something amazing here.”

Don then offered to help me research the possible origin of the document, and provided some helpful insights about the handwriting on the document and the phrase “The Generations of the Book of Adam”. But Don was very busy with other projects; so I then got in touch with Dan Vogel, who has been instrumental in helping me to reconstruct the possible history and handwriting on the newly revealed portion of the document from the Hicks photo.

I would like to thank Don Bradley and especially Dan Vogel for his insights in helping me flesh out the possible history of the “Caractors” document, which I could not have done without the pictures of various documents (and analysis) he kindly provided me with.

I would also like to thank Brent and Erin Metcalfe, whom I have never met, (or communicated with) who I understand are doing their own treatment of this discovery; who (I am sure) will be able to provide even more insight into this photo. The reason that I wish to thank the Metcalfe’s, is for the clue about the photo sitting of David Whitmer in 1867 that they left at the Hicks Collection earlier this year.

This article will be divided into four parts, the first will be about the early history of the Book of Mormon characters; the second will deal with Martin Harris’s trip to see Charles Anthon and Samuel Mitchill; the third will cover what happened to the various character documents after the Church moved to Ohio; and the last section will be about the Hicks photo and what it adds to understanding the origins of the “Caractor” document.

Go to Part I: The “Caractors” from the Gold Plates.


[1] The two photos from the Jacob Hicks Collection may be found here, and here, accessed June 3,2013.

[2] In 1884, a St. Louis Republican reporter wrote,

 “At this stage of the explanation, Mr. Whitmer showed those present a specimen of the characters copied from the plates. It is on a piece of strong paper about four by eight inches, and covered with one hundred or more hieroglyphics and figures.

 It is the identical specimen which was sent to Prof. Anthon, of New York, and shown by him to Prof. Mitchell, of which the New York papers made mention at the time. The specimen was sent to Prof. Anthon by Martin Harris and returned to him. Profs. Anthon and Mitchell both admitted they were ancient characters, resembling the reformed Egyptian and Hebrew characters. Mr. Whitmer holds these characters, as well as the manuscript of the Book of Mormon and the records of the church, in great reverence, and would not part with them for any money or allow them to go out of his house. ”  (The St. Louis Daily Republican, July 16, 1884).

 [3]The Improvement Era, January 1942, page 58.

 [4] The Deseret News, March 25, 1884. See also, the Bear Lake Democrat, March 28, 1884. On October 10, 1886, the Omaha Herald made a cut or fac-simile of the characters and printed it with an article titled, “David Whitmer Talks.”

 [5] See,, accessed June 3, 2013. And here,, accessed June 3, 2013.

 [6] The G.A.E.L. is Joseph Smith’s Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. For Don Bradley’s Kinderhook Plates presentation, see: accessed June 3, 2013.