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.

NOTES

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)

Cordially
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 @ ancestry.com, 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” Go To New York

Anthon & Harris 1828 Columbia UniversityPart II of “19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s ‘Caractors’ Found”

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

There are several different accounts, and opposing claims, relating to Martin Harris’ attempts to get Professor Charles Anthon to verify the authenticity of the “caractors” used to translate the Book of Mormon. This part of the article surveys the available historic accounts relating to what has become known as “The Anthon Affair”…

In 1887 David Whitmer wrote what is probably one of the quintessential examples of what has become known as the “Anthon Affair”:

David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks

David Whitmer by Jacob Hicks

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.

“And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.” (Verses 11 and 12.)

No man could read it, but God gave to an unlearned boy the gift to translate it.[89]

The late Mormon Apologist Robert Cloward wrote about the importance of Isaiah 29 as it relates to the Book of Mormon,

Even among Latter-day Saints for whom most of Isaiah’s writings remain obscure, phrases from chapter 29 are familiar. This is the chapter of “a marvellous work and a wonder” (verse 14); “a book that is sealed,” delivered to “one that is learned” (verse 11); and a voice “out of the dust” (verse 4). It speaks of people who “draw near [to the Lord] with their mouth … but have removed their heart far from [him]” (verse 13); and of those who “seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord”; or who “make a man an offender for a word” (verse 21). In the doctrinal and devotional writings of this dispensation, no chapter of Isaiah is more often cited. The words of Isaiah 29 speak truths about the marvelous work of God, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the foreknowledge by ancient prophets of the transcendent role of the Prophet Joseph Smith.[90]

As far back as 1834, Eber D. Howe wrote in Mormonism Unvalied  “that the story about Mr. Anthon’s declarations, was one upon which they [The Mormons] placed great reliance.”[91]

The reason for Howe’s observation was a letter he had received from W. W. Phelps in 1831 who wrote that,

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.[92]

Unfortunately, what Phelps wrote to Howe in 1831 could not be true, because Charles Anthon could not have translated the characters; and no one else has been able to do so in over 180 years. “It is asserted in the Mormon Bible,” wrote Howe,

“that the engravings upon the plates, were in the “Reformed Egyptian.” In conformity to this, the Mormonite preachers, and others of the sect, have frequently declared that the engravings upon the plates were, by some of our learned men, who had a specimen shown them, pronounced to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics,” or “ancient short hand Egyptian.” — Among others, Professor Anthon, of New York, was frequently mentioned as giving such an opinion.”[93]

Howe subsequently wrote to Charles Anthon and received from him this account of the events that transpired during the visit of Martin Harris:

New York, Feb. 17, 1834.   

Dear Sir — I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronouncd the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.

When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles”! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face.  Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered “by the gift of God.” Everything, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin.  So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.

Professor Charles Anthon

Professor Charles Anthon

On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact 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. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”  Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.

I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.

Yours respectfully,

CHAS. ANTHON.[94]

Anthon’s version of events clearly has him declaring that the characters supposedly taken from Smith’s gold plates were, in his opinion “any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”  Anthon was also adamant that he could not decipher the “singular scrawl” that Harris handed to him. In addition he claimed that Harris carried with him a note by one Dr. Mitchell[95] who had sent Harris to Anthon with a request to “decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand.” Harris also told Anton that he had received urgent solicitations for money  to have the contents of the gold plates (when they were translated) printed, which would “produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin.”

There was, declared Anthon, no translation furnished by Harris of the strange characters; still the latter informed the Professor that the person who had the plates in his possession also had discovered with them “an enormous pair of gold spectacles,” so large that when one tried to look through them their eyes were drawn to only one of the lenses. With these spectacles Harris informed Anthon, the person who had the gold plates “was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning.” The incredulous Anthon then asked Harris how the spectacles worked, and was told “by the gift of God.”

What Anthon initially thought was a “hoax upon the learned,” now became to him a “scheme to cheat the farmer of his money,” and so the Professor advised Harris to have the gold plates and the spectacles (which he was told were locked in a trunk) examined by a magistrate. Harris refused, claiming that the “curse of God’ would come down upon him if he did so; but Anthon pressed him about pursuing this course of action to which Harris agreed to comply with if the Professor took upon himself this “curse” that so frightened the superstitious Harris. Anthon agreed to do so, and Harris left him.

In 1842 the Times and Seasons published the following version of events taken from the 1839 History that Joseph Smith was still in the process of completing:

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 Pennsylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim 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, and the February following. Some time in this month of February the aforementioned, Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances as he related them to me after his return which was as follows. “I went to the city of New York and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof to Professor Anthony, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments; Professor Anthony stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldeac, Assyriac, and Arabac, and he said that they were true characters. He gave me a certificate certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving when Mr. Anthony called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.

He then said to me, let me see that certificate, I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that a part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them, he replied, `I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchel who sanctioned what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”[96]

Samuel H. Smith by grindael

Samuel H. Smith by grindael

Notice that in this account the person that Martin Harris visited in New York is called Professor Anthony, just as Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith named him in Boston in August, 1832.[97]

Months before this, Orson Pratt and Lyman E. Johnson, on a mission in Pennsylvania had repeated this error:

On Wednesday, the 8th of this month, two strangers called at my house and stated that they were sent by God to preach the gospel to every creature and said if a number should be convened they would deliver a discourse. On the question, what is your profession? they answered, the world call us Mormonites: this excited my curiosity, and at early candle light they commenced an address to the people convened. The substance for which I took down while they were speaking, and afterwards in conversation.

“We are commanded by the Lord to declare his will to effect his intended purpose. — In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved — he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited: – Smith awoke, and after due preparation and agreeably to the information given by the angel, he went into the township of Manchester, and there, on the side of a hill, found in a stone box, or a separate space enclosed by stone on every side, the plates on which the revelation was inscribed. The box in thickness was about 6 inches, and about 7 by 5 otherwise; the plates themselves were about as thick as window glass, or common tin, pure gold, and well secured by silver rings or loops in the box as an effectual defence against all weather. Smith, being entirely ignorant of any language but the English, and knowing that itself in a very imperfect manner was unable to read or decypher a single word — he therefore sent the plates to the city of New York to be translated by Professor Anthony, who could make nothing of them; — here seemed to be an insurmountable difficulty.

It was supposed that the language of the plates was Arabic, Chaldean, and Egyptian; but God by his goodness inspired Smith himself to translate the whole. — Smith, however, not being qualified to write, employed an amanuensis, who wrote for him…[98]

The earliest newspaper account found thus far of the trip by Martin Harris to New York City, was published in the Palmyra Freeman on August 11, 1829, which claimed that,

Orson Pratt by grindael

Orson Pratt by grindael

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.[99]

Both of the accounts above  have the respective men of learning not able to translate the characters. There is no mention of Professor Anthon (or Anthony) in the earlier account from the Palmyra Freeman, which only mentions Professor Mitchell [Mitchill] by name, though the article does say that he visited others besides Samuel L. Mitchill. William W. Phelps recalled that Harris went to New York City by way of Albany, the state capital. Pomeroy Tucker mentioned that “he sought . . . the interpretation and bibliological scrutiny of such scholars as Hon. Luther Bradish,[100] Dr. Mitchell, Professor Anthon, and others.”

In the very next issue of the Times and Seasons mentioned above there was published a letter written by G. Walker[101] from Manchester England, who happens to mention the Anthon incident:

After this another minister sent a lengthy article extracted from an American paper, purporting to be the production of a Mr. Anthony, with a request that I would “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the same.” I replied to the statements of Mr. A. and after disposing of them paragraph for paragraph, I told him that I was obliged by his favoring me with it, inasmuch as it satisfied my mind, and was confirmatory of the prediction of Isaiah being fulfilled, seeing that Mr. A. admitted that “the words of the book were delivered to the learned &c. I then proceeded to contrast the Church of England with the churches established by the Apostles; but he has not acknowledged the receipt of my letter as yet.[102]

It is interesting that this scenario happens to appear in a letter sent from England (dated January 26, 1842) at the same time that the events involving Charles Anthon are printed in the Times and Seasons , and it appears in the next issue after that installment, and claims to dispose of Anthon’s arguments “paragraph by paragraph”.  “G. Walker” also happens to misspell Anthon’s name in the exact same way that Joseph does in his History, which was edited by Joseph, as was that issue of the Times and Seasons.[103]

A few things struck me as odd in this account. First, that G. Walker claimed that he had been sent Anthon’s letter to the Reverend T. W. Coit by someone who had clipped it out of an American newspaper. As far as I am aware, this letter never appeared in any newspaper articles from the period, as B.H. Roberts attested to in 1909:

I copy the [1841] letter from “Gleanings by the Way,” by Rev. John A. Clark, D. D., where Anthon’s letter is published in full. It is frequently quoted, or at least parts of it are, in various anti-Mormon works, but nowhere in full, so far as I am aware, except in Gleanings by the Way, never in full and in connection with Prof. Anthon’s letter to Mr. E. D. Howe. This doubtless, for the reason that this second letter of Profosser Anthon’s contradicts several statements that he makes in his letter to E. D. Howe.[104]

The letter from Anthon did however appear in two periodicals, one called The Church Record (Vol. I, no. 22), and the other was the Times and Seasons,  (Vol. 2, No. 22, September 15, 1841) which published only an excerpt from the letter. It also was published in 1842 in John A. Clark’s book Gleanings by the Way as mentioned by B. H. Roberts above. In all of these instances Anthon’s name is spelled correctly. The relevant portion from the Times and Seasons article published in 1841 reads:

The Episcopal D. D. at this place had the curiosity to write to Proff. C. Anthon of New York to know if our statement concerning the “words of the book” were correct: Proff. Anthon answered him by letter with permission to publish it, which he did. You will find it in a periodical entitled “The Church Record,” Vol; 1, No. 22. Although it was written with the avowed purpose of stoping [stopping] the progress of this gospel, yet I consider it to be a great acquisition to us in proving the Book of Mormon to be a genuine record, by comparing it with the researches of Humboldt, Raffinesque, Stephens and others. The following is a short extract from Proff. Anthon’s letter:

“Many years ago, the precise date I do not now recollect, a plain looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchel, requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon a certain paper, marked with various characters, which the Doctor confessed he could not decipher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew, and all sort of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfullness or from actual designs, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican Zodiac.”

American Antiquities (1835)   p. 122

American Antiquities (1835) p. 122

I suppose that Proff. Anthon considered that this would be an incontrovertable argument against the Book of Mormon; but let us see: The celebrated antiquarian Proff. Rafinesque says, in speaking of the writing found on the ruins of the stone city found in Mexico, “The glyphs of Otolum are written from top to bottom like the Chinese, or from side to side, indifferntly [indifferently] like the Egyptian and the Demotic Libian.-Although the most common way of writing the groubs [groups] is in rows and each groub [group] seperated [separated], yet we find some framed, as it were in oblong squares, or tablets like those of Egypt.” American Antiquities page 127. Also on page 122 of the same work, is a fac simile of American hieroglyphics found in Mexico.-They are arranged in columns, the 1st column consists of four “Delineations of half moons,” the 2nd of three suns, the 3rd of the letter I and the human scabula, the 4th of one R and two O’s, the 5th column consists of 2 hands, the 6th of a triangle and two squares, the 7th of 2 fishes, the 8th of an S and a quill, the 9th consists of the letter N and blaze of fire, &c., &c.

Now let us look for a few moments at facts as they are. A plain looking man came to Proff. Anthon with a paper containing various delineations of half moons, and other natural objects, interspersed with various sorts of letters, and these characters of letters were inscribed on the paper by a young man who was without means of information, with regard to the researches of antiquarians; and this was done sometime previous to the year 1831. And in the year 1838 (the date of the book of Antiquities in my possession,) a book is published containing a fac simile of American glyphs which consists of “visions, delineations of half moons, and other natural objects interspersed with various sorts of letters.”-I leave your readers to draw their own conclusion.[105]

Why would G. Walker spell Anthon’s name with the same spelling that appears in the 1839 History? Why would Anthon’s name be misspelled at all in that History, since the correct spelling had appeared in the Times and Seasons just a year earlier? Did that spelling come from Martin Harris, since Joseph claimed to be quoting him directly in that History? There is evidence that it probably did not. For example, in his 1831 Diary James Gordon Bennett  writes:

C[harles]. Butler saw [Martin]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 [106]

Charles Butler, Courtesy of The New York Historical Society

Charles Butler, Courtesy of The New York Historical Society

Harris gives Butler the name Anthon in 1831, not Anthony, so “Anthony” likely did not come from Harris; but perhaps from Joseph himself, which reference was picked up by missionaries and repeated in the early 1830’s. Harris tells Butler that Anthon stated “he did not know what language they were,” which contradicts Joseph’s version, and  later versions of Harris himself,[107] which state that Anthon claimed the translation was “correct” and that the characters were “genuine”.

It is likely then,  that Joseph was not using an account written by Martin Harris for his 1839 Official History, and either relied upon his memory or purposefully changed Harris’ original account.

Butler also claimed that Martin Harris told him that he returned to Anthon a second time after being directed to visit Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill, and this might account for the contradictions in Anthon’s second account of these events, which was written in 1842:

Rev. and Dear Sir,-I have often heard that the Mormons claimed me for an auxiliary, but, as no one, until the present time, has ever requested from me any statement in writing, I have not deemed it worth while to say anything publicly on the subject. What I do know of the sect, relates to some of their early movements; and as the facts may amuse you, while they will furnish a satisfactory answer to the charge of my being a Mormon proselyte, I proceed to lay them before you in detail.

Many years ago, the precise date I do not now recollect, a plain looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon, a certain paper, marked with various characters which the Doctor confessed he could not decypher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns, like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I had ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew, and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfulness or from actual design, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac. The conclusion was irresistible, that some cunning fellow had prepared the paper in question, for the purpose of imposing upon the countryman who brought it, and I told the man so without any hesitation. He then proceeded to give me the history of the whole affair, which convinced me that he had fallen into the hands of some sharper, while it left me in great astonishment at his own simplicity.

Samuel Latham Mitchill

Samuel L. Mitchill

The countryman told me, that a gold book had recently been dug up in the western of [or] northern part (I forget which,) of our State, and he described this book as consisting of many gold plates, like leaves, secured by a gold wire passing through the edge of each, just as the leaves of a book are sewed together, and presenting in this way the appearance of a volume. Each plate, according to him, was inscribed with unknown characters, and the paper which he had handed me, was, as he assured me, a transcript of one of these pages. On my asking him by whom the copy was made, he gravely stated, that along with the golden book there had been dug up a very large pair of spectacles! so large in fact, that if a man were to hold them in front of his face, his two eyes would merely look through one of the glasses, and the remaining part of the spectacles would project a considerable distance sideways! These spectacles possessed, it seems, the very valuable property, of enabling any one who looked through them, (or rather through one of the lenses,) not only to decypher the characters on the plates, but also to comprehend their exact meaning, and to be able to translate them! My informant assured me, that this curious property of the spectacles had been placed in the garret of a farm-house, with a curtain before him, and, having fastened the spectacles to his head, had read several pages in the golden book, and communicated their contents in writing to certain persons stationed on the outside of the curtain. He had also copied off one page of the book in the original character, which he had in like manner handed over to those who were separated from him by the curtain, and this copy was the paper which the countryman had brought with him. As the golden book was said to contain very great truths, and most important revelations of religious nature, a strong desire had been expressed by several persons in the countryman’s neighbourhood, to have the whole work translated and published. A proposition had accordingly been made to my informant, to sell his farm and apply the proceeds to the printing of the golden book, and the golden plates were to be left with him as security until he should be reimbursed by the sale of the work. To convince him the more clearly that there was no risk, whatever in the matter, and that the work was actually what it claimed to be, he was told to take the paper, which purported to be a copy of one of the pages of the book, to the city of New York, and submit it to the learned in that quarter, who would soon dispel all his doubts, and satisfy him as to the perfect safety of the investment. As Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell was our “Magnus Apollo” in those days, the man called first upon him; but the Doctor, evidently suspecting some trick, declined giving any opinion about the matter, and sent the coutnryman down to the college, to see, in all probability, what the “learned pundits” in that place would make of the affair. On my telling the bearer of the paper that an attempt had been made to impose upon him, and defraud him of his property, he requested me to give him my opinion in writing about the paper which he had shown to me. I did so without any hesitation, partly for the man’s sake, and partly to let the individual “behind the curtain” see that his trick was discovered. The import of what I wrote was, as far as I can now recollect, simply this, that the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetic characters, and had in my opinion no meaning at all connected with them. The coutnryman then took his leave, with many thanks, and with the express declaration that he would in no shape part with his farm or embark in the speculation of printing the golden book.

The matter rested here for a considerable time, until one day, when I had ceased entirely to think of the countryman and his paper, this same individual, to my great surprise, paid me a second visit. He now brought with him a duodecimo volume, which he said was a translation into English of the “Golden Bible.” He also stated, that, notwithstanding his original determination, he had been induced eventually to sell his farm, and apply the money to the publication of the book, and had received the golden plates as a security for repayment. He begged my acceptance of the volume, assuring me that it would be found extremely interesting, and that it was already “making a great noise” in the upper part of the State. Suspecting, now, that some serious trick was on foot, and that my plain-looking visitor might be in fact a very cunning fellow, I declined his present, and merely contented myself with a slight examination of the volume which he stood by. The more I declined receiving it, however, the more urgent the man became in offering the book, until at last I told him plainly, that if he left the volume, as he said he intended to do, I should most assuredly throw it after him as he departed. I then asked him how he could be so foolish as to sell his farm and engage in this affair; and requested him to tell me if the plates were really of gold. In answer to this latter enquiry, he said, that he had never seen the plates themselves, which were carefully locked up in a trunk, but that he had the trunk in his possession. I advised him by all means to open the trunk and examine its contents, and if the plates proved to be of gold, which I did not believe at all, to sell them immediately. His reply was, that if he opened the trunk the “curse of Heaven would descened upon him and his children.” “However,” added he, “I will agree to open it, provided you will take the ‘curse of Heaven’ upon yourself, for having advised me to the step.” I told him I was perfectly willing to do so, and begged him to hasten home and examine the trunk, for he would find he had been cheated. He promised to do as I recommended, and left me taking his book with him. I have never seen him since.

Such is a plain statement of all that I know respecting the Mormons. My impression now is, that the plain-looking countryman was none other than the prophet Smith himself, who assumed an appearance of greater simplicity in order to entrap me, if possible, into some recommendation of his book. That the prophet aided me, by his inspiration, in interpreting the volume, is only one of the many amusing falsehoods which the Mormonites utter relative to my participation in their doctrines. Of these doctrines I know nothing whatever, nor have I ever heard a single discourse from any one of their preachers, although I have often felt a strong curiosity to become an auditor, since my friends tell me that they frequently name me in their sermons, and even go so far as to say that I am alluded to in the prophecies of Scripture!

If what I have here written shall prove of any service in opening the eyes of some of their deluded followers to the real designs of those who profess to be apostles of Mormonism, it will afford me a satisfaction equalled, I have no doubt, only by that which you yourself will fell on this subject.

I remain very respectfully and truly,

Your friend,

CHAS. ANTHON.[108]

Concerning the two letters by Anthon and their supposed contradictions, Mormon Historian Stanley B. Kimball writes,

Much has been made of the fact, however, that these two letters, which are very critical of the Mormons, insist that “the paper contained anything else but Egyptian Hieroglyphics,” and they are widely quoted by anti-Mormon writers.  Why should Harris’ story be accepted above that of the professor?  One good reason is that the two letters contain glaring inconsistencies.[109]

One of those “glaring inconsistencies” is that in the second letter to Reverend  Coit, Professor Anthon claims that Martin Harris “requested me to give him my opinion in writing” which Anthon did “without hesitation”; while in the first letter to Eber D. Howe he wrote that he refused to give Harris his opinion in writing.

I believe that Harris spoke to Anthon not two but three times and became confused about what happened during each visit when he recounted them seven and thirteen years later.  Charles Butler reported to James Gordon Bennett in 1831 that Harris came to him because “they wanted to borrow money to print the Book”.[110]

Butler then told Bennett that Harris had told him (this was before the Book of Mormon was printed) that “he carried the engravings from the plates to New York” and “showed them to Professor Anthon” who told Harris that “he did not know what language they were”.  Anthon then tells Harris “to carry them to Dr. Mitchell” who “examined them and compared them with other hieroglyphics”, and then told Harris he “thought them very curious” and that “they were the characters of a nation now extinct which he named.” After his visit with Mitchill according to what Harris told Butler, “he returned to Anthon who put some questions to him and got angry”.

James Gordon Bennett

James Gordon Bennett

I believe that Anthon’s two accounts can be reconciled with this information. Harris first goes to see Anthon, who writes him an opinion and letter of introduction to Mitchill. Harris then visits Mitchill, who could not answer his questions satisfactorily and returns to Anthon, perhaps for a more favorable opinion, bolstered by what Mitchill told him. James Gordon Bennett’s expanded account reads,

They attempted to get the Book printed, but could not raise the means till Harris stept forward, and raised money on his farm for that purpose. 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. Harris says that the Professor thought them very curious, but admitted that he could not decypher them. Said he to Harris, “Mr. Harris you had better go to the celebrated Doct. Mitchell and shew them to him. He is very learned in these ancient languages, and I have no doubt will be able to give you some satisfaction.” “Where does he live,” asked Harris. He was told, and off he posted with the engravings from the Golden Plates to submit to Doc. Mitchell—Harris says that the Doctor received him very “purlitely,” looked at his engravings—made a learned dissertation on them—compared them with the hieroglyphics discovered by Champollion in Egypt—and set them down as the language of a people formerly in existence in the East, but now no more.[111]

Richard E. Bennett writes,

Four elements in Bennett’s account demand serious study. First, written in 1831, it is the earliest known record of Harris’ visit to New York City. Second, Bennett states that Anthon “did not know what language they were.” This we now understand is correct, since Anthon was a grammarian, a promising but youthful scholar who knew virtually nothing about Egyptian, reformed Egyptian, or whatever kind of writings or characters were on the “Anthon Transcript.” Third, the statement that Mitchill “compared” the transcript that Harris brought him with “other hieroglyphics” conforms to what we now know of Mitchill. He not only had many such writings on hand in his cabinets of antiquities, but he had also translated ancient writings for others. Whether he tried to translate Harris’ characters on the spot is not known, but he certainly seems to have studied them carefully enough to deliver a “learned dissertation” on them and to identify them as those of “a nation now extinct which he named.” Finally, and almost certainly, he saw in these characters additional evidence for his own richly developed theories on the extinct “delicate” Australasian race that had been destroyed by the more ferocious Tartars somewhere in upstate New York not far from where Harris lived in Palmyra.[112]

It may be that Anthon tore up not his own opinion, but that of Mitchill, because it would have perhaps lent weight to what he clearly thought was a hoax. Anthon may have then wrote Harris an opinion, which Harris didn’t keep for obvious reasons.  Richard E. Bennett also writes that

“The discrepancies in his two accounts may be best explained, however, by a faulty memory.[113]

Joseph Smith 1839 History with Professor "Anthony"

Joseph Smith 1839 History with Professor “Anthony”

Of course, this scenario would only work if Martin Harris’ account to Charles Butler was an accurate rendering of events.  If Dr. Mitchill was so positive in his views about the characters, why is there virtually nothing said about him by Martin Harris? Perhaps because Joseph had sent Martin Harris to New York with the expectation that the scholars would fail? In the first account written by Charles Anthon in 1834, he mentions that Harris told him that Joseph “was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning.”  By all accounts it is clear that Harris had convinced himself of Joseph’s spiritual bone fides, but still had lingering doubts about whether or not he could “make money” from the venture, and that it was not the former’s idea to seek out the learned, but Joseph’s.[114]

According to Robert N. Hullinger,

An important clue as to who was controlling events might be seen in Harris’s mood on his return. His enthusiasm to publish the book seems strange in view of what he had learned, that the scholars could not translate the transcript characters. In fact, Harris was even more convinced of Smith’s divine commission after his visit with the eastern sages. John Clark reported that Harris was willing to “take of the spoiling of his goods … though it consumed all his worldly substance” to help Smith publish the book, because Harris thought it was “the work of the Lord.”

If Harris had gone expecting the scholars to confirm the authenticity of the transcript, if his only model had been the one often replayed in contemporary newspapers—taking a new find to scholars for explanation and clarification—then he would have returned disappointed. Luther Bradish told Harris that there was not enough “to make anything out.” Anthon told him that the transcript was a “trick, perhaps a hoax,” that it was “part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money” that “some cunning fellow had prepared the paper in question, for the purpose of imposing” upon him. When Harris returned to Palmyra he told Clark that Anthon could not pinpoint the language of the characters.

But these results did not discourage Martin Harris. On the contrary, according to Clark, “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. It was in vain I endeavoured to expostulate. I was an unbeliever, and could not see afar off.” Clark added, “My intimations … in reference to the possible imposition that was being practiced upon him … were indignantly repelled.”

Given Harris’s joy at scholarly ignorance and disregard of their warnings, one can only conjecture that Harris had been prepared for such reactions. Smith must have forewarned Harris that the scholars’ failure would be a sign that Smith’s story was true. Harris said that he did not know that he was fulfilling Isaiah 29 until he returned from the consultation. Anthony Metcalf asked him in 1873 if he had known about the passage, and Harris replied that “Joseph Smith had shown that chapter to him after his return.” Smith apparently had told him—and he believed—”that Smith was to prepare the way for the conversion of the world to a new system of faith, by transcribing the characters from the plates and giving translations of the same.”  But after the fact Harris explained the scholars’ failure to translate the characters with a paradox: since the scholars failed, Smith must be right.[115]

Times & Seasons History of Joseph Smith with Professor  "Anthony"

Times & Seasons History of Joseph Smith with Professor “Anthony”

Harris seems to have been sent on an errand whose outcome made little difference to him. And why would it really matter, when Harris himself stated that he had already received a witness from the “still small voice” that Joseph was acting on orders from above?

As Palmyra native Pomeroy Tucker noted in his book on Mormonism,

Harris, nevertheless, stood firm in his position, regarding these untoward results merely as “proving the lack of wisdom” on the part of the rejecters, and also as illustrating the truth of his favorite quotation, that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” This was always his self-convincing argument in reply to similar adversity…[116]  

In his evaluation of the evidence about the Harris visit to New York in 1969, Stanley Kimball asked these questions that still seem to have no real answer:

What was the meaning and significance of the event?  Would the Restoration have been significantly altered in any way if the Harris-Anthon incident had never taken place? [117]

Yet Kimball still made an effort to do so:

The standard answer regarding the why and purpose of the Harris-Anthon incident is that it was necessary to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah and Nephi.  Such an answer, however, is really begging the question, for then one must ask why the prophecies were made in the first place.  It could be argued that the prophecies represent nothing more than the fact that God rewarded two faithful servants with a glimpse of the future, and that these two men dared not leave unrecorded such a vision. [118]

It could also be argued (as Robert Hullinger did) that,

Smith fleshed out Isaiah 29:11-12 with his interpretation of the Harris-Anthon consultation. The biblical scenario dictated that Smith (“him that is not learned”) would read what Anthon (“one that is learned”) could not—namely, the transcribed characters (“the words of a book that is sealed ). The issue of time was important: the “sealed” book could not be translated before it was presented to the “learned.” Smith had been talking about these conditions since his marriage to Emma in January 1827. In his 1832 draft Smith told of the consultation, the scholars’ failure, Harris’s return and request that Smith translate the characters, and his reply to Harris: “I cannot for I am not learned.” Smith went on to tell of translating the characters with the aid of the glasses and then commented: “and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which is written in the 29 chapter concerning the book.” This evidence that Smith was fulfilling prophecy is strengthened by the Cowdery account three years later, where emphasis is placed on appropriate procedure: first the scholars had to see the characters and then the translating could begin.

Soon after the translation work, the identity of what Charles Anthon could not read was changed in the Book of Mormon account; instead of the transcript characters he held during the consultation with Harris, the Book of Mormon account identifies the plates as that which he was not allowed to see. After that, changes in the story Joseph Smith first told in 1828 about the Anthon  consultation can be seen to fall into several stages. Originally (1) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could not translate the characters, and went home. Later, possibly as early as the summer of 1829, (2) Harris visited the scholars and found they could authenticate but not translate the characters. Then, in late 1830 or early 1831, (3) Harris visited the scholars and found that they could identify and translate the characters. Finally, in 1838 the story had evolved to the point that (4) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could authenticate the characters, identify the language, and verify Smith’s sample translation. Harris received Anthon’s certificate to the Palmyrans and then saw Anthon tear it up. Also, the account expanded talk about reformed Egyptian characters to a discussion of the Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic alphabets. [119]

It appears that it was Smith rewarding himself with a glimpse of a future already seen which he then retrofitted into the Book of Mormon (and his forthcoming New Translation of the Bible), taking advantage of the loss of the Book of Lehi to do so. [120]  

Robert J. Matthews writes that when Joseph later reedited the Bible,

Joseph himself called his work a “translation.” This is apparently the sense in which he understood the work he was doing with the Bible. Since in part he was effecting a restoration of lost meaning and material, and since the Bible did not originate in English, his work to some degree would amount to an inspired, or revelatory, “translation” into English of that which the ancient prophets and apostles had written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and/or Greek.[121]

Times & Seasons, Letter from G. Walker

Times & Seasons, Letter from G. Walker

In a rather novel approach to the problem of Joseph’s retrofit of the reworked Isaiah 29 prophecy in the Book of Mormon and Joseph’s “New Translation”, Robert Cloward writes:

Isaiah foresaw both the fate and the future restoration of Jerusalem and her people. Nephi … likened Isaiah’s words to his people in a new prophecy, showing how Nephite writings would advance the Lord’s work in the latter days. Book of Mormon prophets perpetuated Nephi’s likening among their people until the time of Moroni.  Then, the Savior and the resurrected Moroni taught the significance of Nephi’s likening for this dispensation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith, in turn, replaced Isaiah’s words in his inspired translation of the Bible with his new understanding of how they had been likened to him and to the Lord’s latter-day work.

In this process, Isaiah’s sealed book was reinterpreted as Nephi’s gold plates and as Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon. Isaiah’s dust of death was reinterpreted as Nephi’s source of renewed life and as Joseph Smith’s Cumorah. Isaiah’s “learned” and “not learned” both denied access to spiritual vision, became Nephi’s future translator, Joseph the seer, and his foil, Professor Charles Anthon. This is the process of likening. Prophets do it readily. Students of the scriptures are urged to liken as well. When readers in any era are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, there is no impropriety in their giving old scripture new meaning for their lives. As readers do this, the Lord can reveal new truths to them and enlarge their understanding.[122]

Cloward would have us believe that when Joseph restored Isaiah 29, he simply “likened” it to “our dispensation” instead of what W. W. Phelps (a close friend and confidant of Joseph’s who was authorized by him to set forth doctrine)[123] described in 1832:

As to the errors in the bible, any man possessed of common understanding, knows, that both the old and new testaments are filled with errors, obscurities, italics and contradictions, which must be the work of men. As the church of Christ will soon have the scriptures, in their original purity it may not be amiss for us to show a few of the gross errors, or, as they might be termed, contradictions.[124]

Isaiah 29 in its “original purity” would not necessarily be a “likened” or reworked Isaiah 29, according to what Robert J. Matthews writes,

Opinions vary among those who have considered the nature of the New Translation. Some feel that it is a restoration of material lost from the Bible as a result of transmission through the centuries. This position requires a belief that direct revelation and inspiration played major roles in the Prophet’s work of Bible translation. In connection therewith is a concept that during the translation process the Prophet himself received a knowledge of what should be written in the text.

 Others regard the New Translation primarily as an effort by the Prophet to render the biblical text more acceptable to his particular theology. This premise generally minimizes the need for direct and immediate revelation and carries the thought that changes were more or less incorporated into the biblical text so as to produce the desired effect. This position presupposes that the Prophet had determined beforehand what changes needed to be made. Associated with this view is a tendency to regard the changes more as commentary material than as actual restorations. This position naturally has difficulty accommodating an idea that the work should be called a translation.[125]

Yet Cloward insists that,

The replacement of Isaiah 29:8-24 with 2 Nephi 27:3b-35 in the JST could fit the third of the four categories Robert J Matthews proposes for types of changes in the JST. He describes the third category as follows:

“Portions may consist of inspired commentary by the Prophet Joseph Smith, enlarged, elaborated, and even adapted to a latter day situation. This may be similar to what Nephi meant by ‘likening’ the scriptures to himself and his people in their particular circumstance” (Matthews, “A Plainer Translation,” 253). In the case of the JST Isaiah 29, the replacement process itself, in addition to the chapter content, was commentary.[126]

The full Matthews quote reads,

“To regard the New Translation [JST] as a product of divine inspiration given to Joseph Smith does not necessarily assume that it be a restoration of the original Bible text. It seems probable that the New Translation could be many things. For example, the nature of the work may fall into at least four categories:

1. Portions may amount to restorations of content material once written by the biblical authors but since deleted from the Bible.

2. Portions may consist of a record of actual historical events that were not recorded, or were recorded but never included in the biblical collection.

3. Portions may consist of inspired commentary by the Prophet Joseph Smith, enlarged, elaborated, and even adapted to a latter-day situation. This may be similar to what Nephi meant by ‘likening’ the scriptures to himself and his people in their particular circumstance. (See 1 Nephi 19:23-24; 2 Nephi 11:8)

4. Some items may be a harmonization of doctrinal concepts that were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith independent of his translation of the Bible, but by means of which he was able to discover that a biblical passage was inaccurate.

The most fundamental question seems to be whether or not one is disposed to accept the New Translation as a divinely inspired document. Once this has been decided upon, it seems unlikely that any of us could determine with unerring accuracy which parts were of a particular category. Unless one has the same spiritual insight that Joseph Smith possessed, it would be futile to attempt such a categorization. The Prophet said he was inspired of God to do this work. Just what type of material that inspiration caused Joseph Smith to produce is not entirely clear. As outlined above, there are evidences in the style and content of several different types of material, but at the present time we just do not have the information or the requisite tools (ancient manuscripts, specific revelation, and the like) to obtain the information needed to establish empirically what parts are restoration, what parts commentary, and what parts simply the result of good judgment. In the absence of these things it would be premature to attempt to list specific items in particular categories. There is, however, sufficient evidence to show that Joseph Smith declared himself to be divinely inspired to make the translation and that he expected those who believed in his mission so to accept the work.[127]

Even Matthews, with his decades of study devoted to the JST, could not make the determination that Cloward makes so assuredly. It may be worth noting that the Official Church Manuel Gospel Principles states that,

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord has expanded our understanding of some passages in the Bible. The Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph to restore truths to the Bible text that had been lost or changed since the original words were written. These inspired corrections are called the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. In the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible, selected passages from the Joseph Smith Translation are found on pages 797–813 and in many footnotes.[128]

Further evidence that the New Translation was a restoration of lost or changed text is given by Matthews:

While doing the work of translation, the Prophet said he was given a particular wording of John 5:29. The wording, which “was given by the Spirit” (D&C 76:18), differs from that of the King James Version. Being given words by the Spirit meant that something extraordinary was associated with this translation, which supplied variant wordings independent of a supplementary manuscript. Since this was done with one passage, it is possible that it could have been done with many.

Another passage of scripture which bears upon this subject is the writing known as Doctrine and Covenants, section 7. This revelation, in English, is said to be “the translated version of a record made on parchment by John, and hidden up by himself” (D&C 7, prefatory note). John would have written in Aramaic, or perhaps in Greek. At that time in Joseph Smith’s life (1829), he could not read either of these languages. It might be asked whether the Prophet actually had the parchment that was written and hidden up by John, or even a copy of it. If so, how did he obtain it and what became of it? Currently we have no information with which to answer these questions. However, it would not be necessary for the Prophet to have or to see John’s parchment, or a copy of it, in order to get the information it contained. It was the content, more than the document, that was important. An even more significant question is, If he had the document, how could he read it? Had he been given the parchment, neither the Prophet nor his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, could have read it except through revelation. Would it not be possible for the Lord to reveal the contents to the Prophet as it would be to give him the parchment and then inspire him to be able to read it? Either case would be miraculous, and both would have the same end result: either could qualify (in substance) as a translation and as a restoration.

Another incident may shed further light upon the subject. In June 1830 the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith the “Visions of Moses,” a record of a manifestation once given to Moses. (See Moses 1:1, 42.) In this vision Moses was informed that designing men would take many things out of the book he (Moses) would write, but through another prophet the information would “be had again among the children of men,” at least “among as many as believe” (Moses 1:40-41). Today Moses’ writings are in the Old Testament, but we are thus warned that some of what he wrote is missing from present Bible versions. However, the new translation of Genesis appears to be a restoration of some of Moses’ writings-a restoration brought about through the use of the King James Version plus divine revelation, but without an ancient manuscript. If the Prophet could have recorded Moses’ writing and thus fulfilled the prophecy without actual possession of an ancient manuscript, he could have done the same with the records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and with other books of the Bible. The necessary ingredient for a prophet is not a manuscript, but a revelation.[129]

Matthews also observes that,

it is significant that the changes made by the Prophet Joseph in the New Translation contain numerous and lengthy additions. He made very few deletions. A restoration would be expected to follow the same pattern-that is, have more additions than deletions. While the foregoing items are not proof that the New Translation is a restoration of the original text, they are factors that must be considered in making a judgment in the matter.[130]

Given the evidence above, it is clear that Joseph Smith meant to restore the scriptures “in their original purity”,  as Ronald V. Huggins also concludes:

That Joseph Smith felt the KJV contained many errors and corruptions is well known. The kinds of modifications he made in Romans 7 lead us further to conclude that he understood such corruptions to consist primarily of things removed or left out. This observation confirms certain of Smith’s own statements from around the same time. In Joseph Smith’s History of the Church, prefacing a “revelation” dated 16 February 1832 (now D&C 76; 1835 ed., XCI), Smith reports: “Upon my return from the Amherst conference, I resumed the translation of the Scriptures. From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled” (italics added).

This remark provides insight into Smith’s approach to the Bible within at most only a few months of his “translation” of Romans 7.8 A similar statement occurs in a “revelation” dated June 1830 in which God tells Moses of a time when: “[T]he children of men shall esteem my words as nought, and take many of them from the book which thou shall write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee [i.e., Joseph Smith], and they shall be had again among the children of men . . .” (italics added; HC 1:245-52; Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:41 [1851 ed., 10]). The conservatism in handling the SCB [the Joseph Smith-Oliver Cowdery Bible] for Romans 7, then, in light of these statements, suggests that Joseph Smith did intend to restore the ancient text of the New Testament. He apparently felt this could be best accomplished by rearranging the words of the SCB, leaving out as little as possible, and then adding whatever seemed to be lacking.[131]

This conclusion presents problems for Mormon Apologists, since the Isaiah 29 passages quoted in The Book of Mormon differ from those “restored” in the New Translation of the Bible. This is why Cloward has gone at lengths to proclaim the changes in the New Translation as “commentary.”[132] These inexplicable contradictions by Joseph Smith in his “translations” and in his retelling of events were not limited to Smith alone. For instance, Martin Harris gave this scenario of events to Anthony Metcalf in 1873 concerning his visit to Charles Anthon:

Harris told me about his trip to New York and what Prof. Anthon told him. He (Anthon) said the characters were translated correctly. After Harris had told the professor how the plates had been found, the professor said that it was his opinion that he (Harris) was being duped by sharpers, and advised Harris to take care of himself. I asked him if he knew what the prophet Isaiah had said about that event. He said, “No,” but that Joseph Smith had shown that chapter to him after his return.[133]

In 1871 Harris wrote a letter to H. B. Emerson and stated that “the translation that I carried to Professor Anthon was copied from these same [gold] plates; also, that the professor did testify to it being a correct translation…[134]

In 1875, Simon Smith spoke with Martin Harris and wrote that the latter “by command, took part of the manuscript with the translation thereof to one Professor Anthon … to get his opinion in regard to the language and translation.”[135]

This directly contradicts what Harris told Charles Butler in 1830, for Harris told Butler that Anthon was unable to translate the characters.  Harris also contradicts Joseph, who originally wrote in 1832 that “the Lord” appeared to Martin “in a vision” and told him to take the characters to “the learned”. The whole “Anthon Affair” then, was a story that was reworked and refined to fit the needs of Joseph’s “restoration”:

Soon after the translation work, the identity of what Charles Anthon could not read was changed in the Book of Mormon account; instead of the transcript characters he held during the consultation with Harris, the Book of Mormon account identifies the plates as that which he was not allowed to see. After that, changes in the story Joseph Smith first told in 1828 about the Anthon [p.91] consultation can be seen to fall into several stages. Originally (1) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could not translate the characters, and went home. Later, possibly as early as the summer of 1829, (2) Harris visited the scholars and found they could authenticate but not translate the characters. Then, in late 1830 or early 1831, (3) Harris visited the scholars and found that they could identify and translate the characters. Finally, in 1838 the story had evolved to the point that (4) Harris visited the scholars, found that they could authenticate the characters, identify the language, and verify Smith’s sample translation. Harris received Anthon’s certificate to the Palmyrans and then saw Anthon tear it up. Also, the account expanded talk about reformed Egyptian characters to a discussion of the Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic alphabets.

In 1838 Smith stayed for a time with George and Lucinda Morgan Harris. Lucinda was the widow of William Morgan, whose 1826 disappearance was the immediate cause of the anti-Masonic excitement in New York. (Smith would later marry Lucinda polygamously.) William Morgan had received only the Royal Arch degree of Masonry, and in 1829 David Bernard had added the Royal Arch to his reprint of Morgan’s exposé of Masonry’s first three degrees, including the Royal Arch word for God, said to have been known to ancient Hebrews, lost during the Babylonian exile, and restored when the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem. The holy word, JAH-BUH-LUN, was compounded from “three different languages, (i.e. Hebrew, Chaldaic, and Syriac.)” Bernard had also added a secret alphabetical code, some letters of which correspond to characters on the Anthon Transcript.84 Bernard’s enormously popular book found its way into many Palmyra homes. By further identifying the characters as he did in 1838, Smith appealed to those with Masonic backgrounds.[136]

Martin Harris circa 1875

Martin Harris circa 1875

So what does this say about Martin Harris? Contemporary accounts give us some idea of the impact that Harris’ actions in regard to the gold plates had on his community. When it came to business matters, Harris was looked upon with favor as being trustworthy and honest; but when it came to religious matters, it was said that Harris was prone to exaggerate and change his story frequently. In 1831 E. B. Grandin wrote that ,

“Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune–and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion.”[137]

Stephen S. Harding, once Governor of Utah Territory was a native of Palmyra and later wrote an account of a visit that he made to the town in 1830 during which he visited with the Smith family, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris. About Martin Harris he wrote:

 The fact that such a man as Martin Harris should mortgage his farm for a large sum, to secure the publisher for printing the book, should abandon the cultivation of one of the best farms in the neighborhood, and change all his habits of life from industry to indolence and general shiftlessness, was truly phenomenal. He, at the same time, was the only man among all the primitive Mormons who was responsible in a pecuniary sense for a single dollar. Nevertheless, he had become absolutely infatuated, and believed that an immense fortune could be made out of the enterprise. The misfortune that attended Harris from that day did not consist in the loss of money merely, and the general breaking up of his business as a farmer; but the blight and ruin fell upon all his domestic relations — causing his separation from his wife and family forever. In early life he had been brought up a Quaker, then took to Methodism as more congenial to his nature. He was noted as one who could quote more Scripture than any man in the neighborhood; and as a general thing could give the chapter and verse where some important passage could be found. If one passage more than another seemed to be in his mind, it was this: ‘God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise,’ His eccentricities and idiosyncrasies had been charitably passed over by all who knew him, until his separation from his wife and family, when he was looked upon as utterly infatuated and crazy. I had been acquainted with this man when a little boy, until my father emigrated from that neighborhood in 1820. He was intimately acquainted with my father’s family, and on several occasions had visited our house, in company with Mrs. Harris. None in all that neighborhood were more promising in their future prospects than they.[138]

About two weeks after speaking with what he called “a most remarkable quartette of persons”, (Joseph Smith Jr. & Sr., Oliver Cowdery & Martin Harris), at E. B. Grandin’s Printing Office, Harding again visited with Harris.

First Title Page of the Book of Mormon given to Stephen S. Harding by Orasmus Turner.

–Title Page of the Book of Mormon given to Stephen S. Harding by Pomeroy Tucker.

Previous to this visit Harding had been invited to the Smith cabin for dinner and a reading from the Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, where he spent the night.  Before retiring for the evening, Lucy Smith remarked to Harding that,

‘You’ll have visions and dreams, mebby, to-night; but don’t git skeered; the angel of the Lord will protect you.’[139]

Harding then recounts that the next day,

“After breakfast, in the morning, Mother Smith followed me as I arose from the table, and plied me with questions as to whether I had had dreams, and whether I had seen a vision that ‘skeered’ me. I told her I had a dream, but so strange that I could not tell it to her or any one else. The fact was communicated to Harris and the rest. All saw that I looked sober, and I determined to leave them in doubt and wonder.

“We started back to Palmyra, Cowdery bearing in his hand the sacred scroll [The Book of Mormon Manuscript]. Martin was exceedingly anxious that I should give him at least some glimpse of the strange things I had seen in my dream. I told him that was impossible, and I began to doubt whether I ought to tell it to any human being. They all became interested in my reply; and the prophet himself forgetting his taciturnity, said: ‘I can tell you what it was. I have felt just as you do. Wait, and the angel of the Lord will open your eyes.’ Here we parted, and I returned to the home of my brother.”[140]

When Harding saw Harris again (two weeks later) he related that,

He [Harris] was glad to see me; inquired how I felt since my dream. He told me that since he saw me at Mr. Smith’s, he had seen fearful signs in the heavens. That he was standing alone one night, and saw a fiery sword let down out of heaven, and pointing to the east, west, north, and south, then to the hill of Cumorah, where the plates of Nephi were found. At another time, he said, as he was passing with his wagon and horses from town, his horses suddenly stopped and would not budge an inch. When he plied them with his whip, they commenced snorting and pawing the earth as they had never done before. He then commenced smelling brimstone, and knew the Devil was in the road, and saw him plainly as he walked up the hill and disappeared. I said, ‘What did he look like?’

“He replied: ‘Stephen, I will give you the best description that I can. Imagine a greyhound as big as a horse, without any tail, walking upright on his hind legs.’

“I looked at him with perfect astonishment. ‘Now, Stephen,’ continued he, ‘do tell me your dream.’ I dropped my head and answered: ‘I am almost afraid to undertake it.’ He encouraged me, and said it was revealed to him that another vessel was to be chosen, and that Joseph had the gift of interpreting dreams the same as Daniel, who was cast into the lion’s den. I said, ‘Mr. Harris, after considering the matter, I conclude that I ought not to repeat my dreams to you, only on one condition: that you will pledge your honor not to tell it to any one.’ ‘Oh, do let me tell it to Joseph. He can tell all about what it means,’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘What I mean is, you may tell it to whom you please, only you shall not connect my name with it,; ‘I’ll do it! I’ll do it!’ said he, hastily. ‘Joseph will be able to tell who it was, the same as if I told the name.'”

(Here the narrator proceeded to relate a wonderful dream that never was dreamed, during the course of which, he took occasion to describe some characters that had appeared to him on a scroll — presenting some of them with a pencil, a picture of stenographic characters and the Greek alphabet, rudely imitated. These were handed to Mr. Harris.)

“Speechless with amazement, he looked at them for a moment, and then springing to his feet, and turning his eyes toward heaven, with uplifted hands, cried out:

“‘O Lord, God! the very characters that are upon the plates of Nephi!’

“He looked again at the characters, and then at me, with perfect astonishment. His excitement was such that I became positively alarmed, for it seemed to me that he was going crazy. I began to have some compunctions of conscience for the fraud that I had practiced upon him; for I might as well say just here, as well as anywhere, that the dream had been improvised for the occasion. He suggested that we go to the house of old Man Smith and there relate my dream. I told him that I would never repeat it again to anybody. He bade me good-bye, saying: ‘You are a chosen vessel of the Lord.’

“There is but one excuse for my conduct on this occasion; that was, to fathom the depth of his credulity.[141]

As to the authenticity of the “Caracters”, Historian Dale Morgan wrote,

Accepting the authenticity of the “Anthon transcript,” a young Mormon attorney, Ariel L. Crowley, in four articles published in the Improvement Era, January to March 1942, and September 1944, attempted to establish by visual demonstration that the characters on the transcript not only derive from demotic Egyptian but that they make “connected thought.” Crowley’s researches having been received by the Saints as “evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon,” I have referred them to an Egyptian scholar, Carleton T. Hodge. Under date of April 21, 1949, Hodge wrote me:

I do not believe the transcript to be a copy, even a very rough copy, of a demotic manuscript. If  a demotic text was before Joseph Smith at the time the transcript was made, only random characters were copied (and that rather badly), with no continuity and interspersed with signs totally unrelated to demotic. My reasons for this are as follows:

The characters used in demotic are not readily isolated. A “word” or other unit of writing was a fairly closely knit group of signs, with many ligatures. The original hieroglyphs from which demotic writing developed appear in radically different forms according to their position in such a unit. So in order to have a demotic document or even a rough facsimile, a sequence of signs is necessary—a group forming a complete “word.” The “Anthon transcript” is almost totally devoid of any sequences which could be so interpreted and has no sequences whatsoever which could form a brief utterance or statement in demotic. The signs which are similar to demotic forms are isolated and hence without any significance. The similarities given in detail in the photographic reproductions [of actual demotic characters compared with characters from the “transcript”] are often forced and just as often parallels could be found in any number of scripts. (Compare David Diringer, The Alphabet [New York, 1948], passim.) Mr. Crowley himself points out some of the coincidental parallels with completely irrelevant scripts. Any parallels from Assyrian, Sabean, Arabic (Improvement Era, Feb. 1942, Figs. 110, 120, 132, etc., March, 1942, passim) are not only irrelevant but detrimental to the argument. Egyptian was at no time influenced by any of these scripts (with the possible exception of the so-called “syllabic orthography,” which has no bearing on the case). None of the similarities have any meaning without being in a meaningful sequence.

Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar, frequently quoted by Mr. Crowley, has an excellent specimen of demotic with a hieroglyphic transcription. This gives one a good idea of how an actual text looks, and an attempt to connect similar hieroglyphs in the transcription with any particular sign in the demotic will readily show my point about the relation of signs in groups. Mr. Crowley himself admits defeat on the translation of the transcript and on the identification of many signs. Had there been any basis to the contention that this was a demotic document, I am sure his industry would have been rewarded.

Improvement Era February 1942, pages 78-79

Crowley’s comparisons in the Improvement Era

The Mormon appeal from this verdict would take the ground that the “Anthon Transcript” is a transcript from “reformed” rather than demotic Egyptian, and therefore not amenable to demotic criticism. This, however, returns the argument to where it was before—a private language interposed between Joseph Smith and the world of scholarship.[142]

The problem with Crowley’s comparisons is that they come from scripts spanning over a thousand years, some of them well after the period from which “reformed Egyptian” is supposed to date. There is, of course much more to be said about the possible origins of the Book of Mormon characters, but that is beyond the scope of this article. I will have more on this at a future time.

Today, the “Anthon Incident” is an integral part of Mormon doctrine which is still used to tout the supposed fulfillment of an Isaiah prophecy that in reality has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. Exactly when Joseph came up with the idea to use Isaiah as a selling point for his new scripture is unclear; but from the accounts presented above it is clear that Smith himself could not reproduce the details of events about the “Anthon Incident” with any prolonged coherence without embellishing them and contradicting his own–and others–version of events.

Still, a prediction of the Book of Mormon contained in the Bible had a powerful impact upon Martin Harris and the other chosen witnesses, and helped cement their belief that Joseph had brought forth “by the gift and power of God” a new revelation that in their minds would change the world.

Part III: Tracing the Various “Caractor” Documents, here.

NOTES

[89] David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, pp.11-12.

[90] Robert A. Cloward, “Isaiah 29 and the Book of Mormon” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998], p. 191.  Online here (PDF), accessed, July 5, 2013.As far as the Book of Mormon is concerned, Cloward writes that it is not what Isaiah prophesied about in chapter 29:

“Isaiah lamented in Isaiah 29:11 that the vision of Jerusalem’s people had become as the words of a sealed book. No specific book is mentioned. Isaiah’s concern was the lost vision of his people, not books. His expression is symbolic—a simile, one of many similes and metaphors in Isaiah 29. Isaiah’s symbolic book is still sealed today. Jerusalem’s vision has not yet been opened. Her people that erred in spirit have not yet come to understanding, and they that murmured have not yet learned doctrine (see verse 24).

It was Nephi [Joseph Smith] who made Isaiah’s symbolic book into a literal book. Nephi likened the symbolic book in Isaiah’s simile to a literal, specific record the Lord had commanded him to write on gold plates. Nephi also foretold the  latter-day role of his record in restoring vision, understanding, and doctrine to the house of Israel.  (Cloward, pp. 200-201)

The Church still teaches that Isaiah 29 directly speaks of the Book of Mormon:

Sometimes people who are familiar with the Bible and are not members of the Church will ask us something like “If the Book of Mormon is such an important part of the work of God, why is it not mentioned in the Bible?” There are several answers to that question, and one of them is “It is!” Isaiah 29 is one place in the Bible where the Book of Mormon is referred to, even though it is not mentioned by name. As you read this chapter, look for prophecies of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the impact this book will have on the world. (Online here, at lds.org, accessed July 5, 2013.)

[91] Mormonism Unvailed, p. 273. When this work is cited, I often see the appellation [sic], or spelling incorrect after it. I’m pretty sure the Eber D. Howe did not misspell the word. It is simply an archaic rendering of the word, as in this example,

2 Corinthians 3:18 and we all, with unvailed face, the glory of the Lord beholding in a mirror, to the same image are being transformed, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (YLT)

Or the title of this book from the 18th Century: The Mystery of Magistracy Unvailed: Or, God’s Ordinance of Magistracy Unvailed,  By Robert Franklin, Edinburgh, England, 1708.

One archaic work cited by Howe was from Junius Juvenal’s Satire XV, as translated by John Dryden and Nahum Tate:

How Egypt, mad with Superstition grown,
Makes Gods of Monsters, but too well is known:
One Sect, Devotion to Nile’s Serpent pays;
Where, Thebes, thy Hundred Gates lie unrepair’d,
And where maim’d Memnon’s Magick Harp is heard,
Where These are Mouldring left, the Sots combine
With Pious Care a Monkey to Enshrine!
Fish-Gods you’ll meet with Fins and Scales o’re grown;
Diana’s Dogs ador’d in ev’ry Town,
Her Dogs have Temples, but the Goddess none!
‘Tis Mortal Sin an Onion to devour,
Each Clove of Garlick, is a Sacred Pow’r.
Religious Nations sure and Blest Abodes,
Where ev’ry Orchard is o’re-run with Gods.
To Kill, is Murder, Sacrilege to Eat
A Kid or Lamb,–Man’s Flesh is lawful Meat!Mormonism Unvailed Title Page

I rather like the spelling. It is unique among modern works, which I’m sure Eber D. Howe had in mind when he spelled it that way.

[92] Mormonism Unvailed, page 273.

[93] ibid, p. 269.

[94] ibid, pp. 270-273.

[95] For a well researched article about Luther Bradish, Samuel Latham Mitchill and Charles Anthon, see Richard E. Bennett’s “Read This I Pray Thee”: Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East”, found in Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 1 (winter 2010): 178–216. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[96] Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.13, p.773, 2 May 1842. Wilford Woodruff speaks of a George Walker from Manchester England in his Journal from 1840:

July 8: Moved & Carried that Elders Thomas Kington, Alfred Cordon, & Thomas Smith be ordained High Priest And John Albiston, John Blezard, William Berry, John Sanders, John Parkinson, James Worsley, & John Allen be ordained Elders & Joseph Slinger George Walker John Smith Robert Williams, William Black John Melling & John Swindlehurst be ordained Priest. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.481).

On October 6, 1840 Woodruff writes that

“Elder George Walker was Chosen Clerk” of the General Conference. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.526).

[97] Boston Investigator, op. cited.

[98] Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205, Cincinnati, Ohio. Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania. I am again indebted to H. Michael Marquardt for these references, who writes:

Lyman and Orson started their mission on 3 February 1832 and traveled to Mercer County, Pennsylvania on 8 February and stopped at the home of Benjamin Stokely in Cool Spring Township. The missionaries then preached at the courthouse in Franklin, Venango County, northeast of Mercer County, on Saturday, 11 February.

The discovery of the article below sheds some light on another find of Marquardt’s in 2000, the above article mentioned by him in the Fredonia Censor, which reported on the preaching that took place on February 11. It reads:

We of this place were visited on Saturday last by a couple of young men styling themselves Mormonites. They explained their doctrine to a large part of the citizens in the court house that evening. They commenced by reading the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: also by giving an account of their founder, Joseph Smith, then an inhabitant of the state of New-York, county of Ontario, and town of Manchester. Having repented of his sins, but not attached himself to any party of Christians, owing to the numerous divisions among them, and being in doubt what his duty was, he had recourse prayer. After retiring to bed one night, he was visited by an Angel and directed to proceed to a hill in the neighborhood where he would find a stone box containing a quantity of Gold plates. The plates were six or eight inches square, and as many of them as would make them six or eight inches thick, each as thick as a pane of glass. They were filled with characters which the learned of that state were not able to translate. A Mr. Anthony, a professor of one of the colleges, found them to contain something like the Cyrian Chaldena or Hebrew characters. However, Smith with divine aid, was able to translate the plates, and from them we have the Mormon bible, or as they stated it, another Revelation to part of the house of Joseph. The Revelation commenced about 600 years before Christ, with a prophet of the name of Lehi, of the tribe of Joseph, and a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, who had also warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem of their idolatry, & becoming unsafe in the city, was ordered by God to leave Jerusalem and journey toward the Red Sea. He with another family who accompanied him, built themselves a ship and landed on the coast of South America, where they increased very fast, and the Lord raised up a great many prophets among them. They built cities, and encouraged the arts and sciences.– Their prophecies foretold the appearance of the Messiah on the other continent, and gave as a sign that they should have two days without a night–also of his death, which was the cause of the terrible earthquakes, which rent all the rocks in our hills into the different shapes they now are. After our Savior’s ascension to heaven, that he came down to this continent and appointed twelve disciples, and that Christianity flourished for three or four generations.– After that the inhabitants divided and wars ensued, in which the pagans prevailed.– The first battle was fought nigh to the straits of Darien, and the last at a hill called Comoro, when all the Christians were hewn down but one prophet. * He was directed to hide the plates in the earth, and it was intimated to him that they would be found by a gentile people. The last entry on the plates is 420 years after the commencement of the Christian era. The whole history contains their account of 1020 years. The balance of their discourse was on repentance, and quotations from our prophets to prove their doctrine, and the return of the Jews to Palestine, which was to be done by the gentile nations, accompanied with power from above, far superior to that which brought their fathers out of Egypt. They insisted that our Savior would shortly appear, and that there were some present who would see him on the earth–that they knew it–that they were not deceiving their hearers; that it was all true. They had one of their bibles with them, which was seen by some of our citizens who visited them.

Mr. Editor — I have compiled the foregoing from memory. If you think it worth publishing, it will probably give some outline of the doctrine of this new sect.

____

* This prophet they say was Mormon. (The Fredonia Censor 11 (March 7, 1832):[4], Fredonia, New York. Reprinted from the Franklin Venango Democrat).

Taken together, these two articles give context to what the writer meant by “recourse prayer”.  As the article from April recounts, the Missionaries state that,

In 1827 a young man called Joseph Smith of the state of New York, of no denomination, but under conviction, inquired of the Lord what he should do to be saved — he went to bed without any reply, but in the night was awakened by an angel, whiter and shining in greater splendour than the sun at noonday, who gave information where the plates were deposited…

This of course, is recounting the events that supposedly took place in 1823, not in 1821 or 1822, as Joseph recounted in his Summer 1832 History, and is not as some suppose, a reference to that claimed 1820-22 vision.

Also, in this sermon they refer to Charles Anthon as “Professor Anthony” and add that he (in addition to Arabic, Chaldean and Egyptian) identified Hebrew Characters in the document that Martin Harris presented to him.

[98] Catholic Telegraph 1 (April 14, 1832):204-205, Cincinnati, Ohio. Reprinted from The Western Press, Mercer, Pennsylvania.

[99] The Palymra Freeman, August 11, 1829.   Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[100] See note #95.

[101] See note #96.

[102]Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.14, p. 787.

[103] On February 19, 1842, Wilford Woodruff recorded,

Truly the Lord has raised up Joseph the Seer of the seed of Abraham out of the loins of ancient Joseph, & is now clothing him with mighty power & wisdom & knowledge which is more clearly manifest & felt in the midst of his intimate friends than any other class of mankind. The Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the urim & Thummim Ancient records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam, which causes our hearts to burn within us while we behold their glorious truths opened unto us.

Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God. Joseph has had these records in his possession for several years but has never presented them before the world in the english language untill now.

But he is now about to publish it to the world or parts of it by publishing it in the Times & Seasons, for Joseph the Seer is now the Editor of that paper & Elder Taylor assists him in writing while it has fallen to my lot to take charge of the Business part of the esstablishment.

I have had the privilege this day of assisting in setting the TIPE for printing the first peace of the B00K OF ABRAHAM that is to be presented to the inhabitants of the EARTH in the LAST DAYS.

My Soul has been much edifyed of late from time to time in hearing Joseph the Seer convers about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Truly GOD is with him & is making him mighty in wisdom & knowledge & I am convinced for myself that none of the Prophets Seers or Revelators of the Earth have ever accomplished a greater work than will be accomplished in the Last days through the mercy of God By JOSEPH THE SEER. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,  Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.155, Capital Words in the original, bold emphasis mine).

[104] B.H. Roberts, “History of the Mormon Church”, Americana, (American Historical Magazine), Vol. IV,  January, 1909—December, 1909, page 786 (Note 7).

[105] Letter from Cha[rle]s. W. Wandel , Times and Seasons, Vol. 2, No. 22, September 15, 1841, pp. 544-545).

[106] James Gordon Bennett Diary, August 7, 1831.

[107] For an excellent treatment of Martin Harris see H. Michael Marquardt’s “Martin Harris The Kirtland Years, 1831-1870”, found in Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 9-49. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[108] Dan Vogel,  Early Mormon Documents Vol. 4, pp. 382-83.

[109] Stanley B. Kimball, The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems, BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970): pp. 338-339. PDF Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[110] J.G. Bennett, diary, August 7, 1831.

[111] Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, Thursday, September 1, 1831, Vol. VII, No. 563. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[112] Richard E. Bennett, “Read This I Pray Thee”: Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East”, Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 1, Winter 2010, pp. 215-216. Online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

[113] ibid, p. 194.

[114] As to whose idea it was to seek out the learned, see Part I of this article. About making money off of the Book of Mormon, Lucy Harris wrote:

Palmyra, Nov. 29, 1833.

Being called upon to give a statement to the world of what I know respecting the Gold Bible speculation, and also of the conduct of Martin Harris, my husband, who is a leading character among the Mormons, I do it free from prejudice, realizing that I must give an account at the bar of God for what I say. Martin Harris was once industrious attentive to his domestic concerns, and thought to be worth about ten thousand dollars. He is naturally quick in his temper and his mad-fits frequently abuses all who may dare to oppose him in his wishes. However strange it may seem, I have been a great sufferer by his unreasonable conduct. At different times while I lived with him, he has whipped, kicked, and turned me out of the house. About a year previous to the report being raised that Smith had found gold plates, he became very intimate with the Smith family, and said he believed Joseph could see in his stone any thing he wished.  After this he apparently became very sanguine in his belief, and frequently said he would have no one in his house that did not believe in Mormonism; and because I would not give credit to the report he made about the gold plates, he became more austere towards me. In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the but end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner. – The next day I went to the town of Marion, and while there my flesh was black and blue in many places. His main complaint against me was, that I was always trying to hinder his making money. When he found out that I was going to Mr. Putnam’s, in Marion, he said he was going too, but they had sent for him to pay them a visit. On arriving at Mr. Putnam’s, I asked them if they had sent for Mr. Harris; they replied, they knew nothing about it; he, however, came in the evening. Mrs. Putnam told him never to strike or abuse me any more; he then denied ever striking me; she was however convinced that he lied, as the marks of his beating me were plain to be seen, and remained more than two weeks. Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me. His whole object was to make money by it. I will give one circumstance in proof of it. One day, while at Peter Harris’ house, I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false; to which he replied, if you would let me alone, I could make money by it.

It is in vain for the Mormons to deny these facts; for they are all well known to most of his former neighbors. The man has now become rather an object of pity; he has spent most of his property, and lost the confidence of his former friends. If he had labored as hard on his farm as he has to make Mormons, he might now be one of the wealthiest farmers in the country. He now spends his time in travelling through the country spreading the delusion of Mormonism, and has no regard whatever for his family.

With regard to Mr. Harris’ being intimate with Mrs. Haggard, as has been reported, it is but justice to myself to state what facts have come within my own observation, to show whether I had any grounds for jealousy or not. Mr. Harris was very intimate with this family, for some time previous to their going to Ohio. They lived a while in a house which he had built for their accommodation, and here he spent the most of his leisure hours; and made her presents of articles from the store and house.  He carried these presents in a private manner, and frequently when he went there, he would pretend to be going to some of the neighbors, on an errand, or to be going into the fields. — After getting out of sight of the house, he would steer a straight course for Haggard’s house, especially if Haggard was from home. At times when Haggard was from home, he would go there in the manner above described, and stay till twelve or one o’clock at night, and sometimes until day light.

If his intentions were evil, the Lord will judge him accordingly, but if good, he did not mean to let his left hand know what his right hand did. The above statement of facts, I affirm to be true. (Mormonism Unvailed, pp. 254-257).

[115] Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism, pp. 88-89.

[116] Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, NYC: D. Appleton & Co., 1867, p. 42.

[117] Kimball, op. cited, page 340.

[118] ibid.

[119] Hullinger, op. cited, p.91.

[120] See, “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis”, by Brent Lee Metcalfe, in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, online here, accessed July 25, 2013.

Brent Lee Metcalfe writes,

Smith’s loss of the 116 pages is Book of Mormon interpreters’ gain. The misplacement, theft, or destruction of the Book of Lehi, eventually leading the despondent prophet to dictate 1 Nephi-Words of Mormon last, unveils an unprecedented glimpse into the formation of a sacred text. Intrinsically woven into the Book of Mormon’s fabric are not only remnants of the peculiar dictation sequence but threads of authorship. The composite of those elements explored in this essay point to Smith as the narrative’s chief designer. (page 433)

When Martin Harris lost the first 116 pages of the newly dictated Book of Mormon, many have theorized that he continued on in the saga, right from where he left off, in the Book of Mosiah. Metcalfe asks,

Did he recommence where the Book of Lehi had left off—at Mosiah—then dictate 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon last—which replaced the Book of Lehi? Did he begin with Words of Mormon? Or did he start with 1 Nephi, dictating the document in the same order as in current printed editions of the Book of Mormon? Interpretation of key Book of Mormon passages depends on which view one subscribes to (cf. Welch and Rathbone 1986, 1). It also affects one’s understanding of the dictation history and sheds light on Smith’s role in the volume’s production. Consequently, resolving the order of dictation is an important prelude to any critical Book of Mormon exegesis. (page 397)

With the loss of the Book of Lehi, Smith was then free to rewrite the beginning of the Book of Mormon,  which contains the bulk of the Isaiah material, and the reworked Chapter 29.

Here is Isaiah “mapped” to the Book of Mormon:

Isaiah 2–14 2 Nephi 12–24
Isaiah 29 2 Nephi 27
Isaiah 48-49 1 Nephi 20–21
Isaiah 50–51 2 Nephi 7–8
Isaiah 52 3 Nephi 20
Isaiah 53 Mosiah 14
Isaiah 54 3 Nephi 22
Isaiah 5:26* 2 Nephi 29:2
Isaiah 9:12-13 2 Nephi 28:32
Isaiah 11:4 2 Nephi 30:9
Isaiah 11:5-9 2 Nephi 30:11-15
Isaiah 11:11a* 2 Nephi 25:17a; 29:1b; compare 25:11
Isaiah 22:13* 2 Nephi 28:7-8
Isaiah 25:12* 2 Nephi 26:15
Isaiah 28:10, 13* 2 Nephi 28:30
Isaiah 29:3-4* 2 Nephi 26:15-16
Isaiah 29:5* 2 Nephi 26:18
Isaiah 29:6 2 Nephi 6:15
Isaiah 29:6-10 2 Nephi 27:2-5
Isaiah 29:13 2 Nephi 28:9
Isaiah 29:14a* 1 Nephi 14:7a; 22:8a; 2 Nephi 25:17b; 29:1a
Isaiah 29:15a* 2 Nephi 28:9a
Isaiah 29:21b* 2 Nephi 28:16a
Isaiah 40:3* 1 Nephi 10:8
Isaiah 45:18* 1 Nephi 17:36
Isaiah 45:23* Mosiah 27:31
Isaiah 49:22 1 Nephi 22:6
Isaiah 49:22* 1 Nephi 22:8; 2 Nephi 6:6
Isaiah 49:23a* 1 Nephi 22:8b; 2 Nephi 10:9a
Isaiah 49:23 2 Nephi 6:7
Isaiah 49:24-26 2 Nephi 6:16-18
Isaiah 52:1a* Moroni 10:31a
Isaiah 52:1-2 2 Nephi 8:24-25
Isaiah 52:7* 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 15:14-18; 27:37
Isaiah 52:7-10 Mosiah 12:21-24
Isaiah 52:8-10 Mosiah 15:29-31; 3 Nephi 16:18-20; 20:32-35
Isaiah 52:10* 1 Nephi 22:10-11
Isaiah 52:12* 3 Nephi 21:29
Isaiah 52:13-15* 3 Nephi 21:8 -10
Isaiah 53:8, 10* Mosiah 15:10-11
Isaiah 54:2b* Moroni 10:31a
Isaiah 55:1* 2 Nephi 26:25
Isaiah 55:1-2 2 Nephi 9:50 -51

Source: Book of Mormon Reference Companion, Dennis Largey, Editor, Deseret Book, 2003.

[121] Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, A History and Commentary (BYU Press, 1985), pp. xxvii-xxx.

[122] Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, pages 233-234.

[123] In 1833, Joseph wrote to Phelps,

we wish you to render the Star as interesting as possable by setting forth the rise progress and  faith of the church, as well as the doctrine (Letter, 11 January, 1833).

After Phelps apostatized over the Missouri problems in 1838, he wrote to Joseph to ask for his forgiveness and to rejoin the Church.  Smith recalls their once close friendship in his reply to Phelps:

It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence  of your behavior— the cup of gall already full enough for  mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you  turned against us: One with whom we had oft taken sweet council together, and enjoyed many refreshing seasons  from the Lord “Had it been an enemy we could have borne it”  In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day when  Strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered  into his gates and cast lots upon Far West even thou wast as one of them. But thou shouldst not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day that he became a stranger neither shouldst thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress” (Letter,  Joseph Smith to William Wines Phelps, July 22, 1840).

[124] The Evening and the Morning Star, Vol.2, No.14, p.106, emphasis mine.

[125] Matthews, pp. 234-5.

[126] Cloward, p. 247, n. 82.

[127] Matthews, p. 253.

[128] Gospel Principles, p. 45.

[129] Matthews, pp. 235-236.

[130] ibid, p. 237.

[131] Ronald V. Huggins, “Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Translation” of Romans 7″, Dialogue, Vol.26, No.4, p.163.

[132] Cloward, op. cited.

[133] Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: by the author, 1888), 71.

[134] Letter, Martin Harris to H. B. Emerson, November 23, 1871, cit. The True Latter-day Saints’ Herald 22 (15 Oct 1875):630.

[135] Simon Smith to Joseph Smith III, 30 Dec. 1880, Saints Herald, 1 Feb. 1881 p.  43, cit. Hullinger, p. 90.

[136] Hullinger, pp. 90-91. For more on this see Hullinger, Chapter 8: “Masonic Ritual and Lore”.

[137] Wayne Sentinel, May 27, 1831

[138] The Prophet of Palmyra, by Thomas Gregg, NYC: J. B. Alden, 1890, pp. 136-137. A brief bio of Harding may be found here, accessed July 25, 2013.

As noted above, Harding had quite a sense of humor, and used it on Calvin Stoddard while he was visiting Palmyra. Pomeroy Tucker,  writes,

Stoddard was an early believer in Mormonism, and was quite as eccentric a character as Harris. He was slightly impressed that he had a call to preach the new gospel, but his mind was beclouded with perplexing doubts upon the question. One dark night, about ten o’clock, Stephen S. Harding, then a stalwart, fun-loving, dare-devil genius of eighteen years, late Territorial Governor of Utah (not a Mormon), who well knew Stoddard’s peculiarities, and being bent on making a sensation, repaired with his genial friend,  Abner Tucker, to the residence of the enthusiast; and awakening him from sleep by three signals upon the door with a huge stone, deliberately proclaimed, in a loud, sonorous voice, with solemn intonations — “C-a-l-v-i-n  S-t-o-d-d-a-r-d!  t-h-e  a-n-g-e-l  o-f  t-h-e  L-o-r-d  c-o-m-m-a-n-d-s  t-h-a-t  b-e-f-o-r-e  a-n-o-t-h-e-r  g-o-i-n-g  d-o-w-n  o-f  t-h-e  s-u-n  t-h-o-u  s-h-a-l-t  g-o  f-o-r-t-h  a-m-o-n-g  t-h-e  p-e-o-p-l-e  a-n-d  p-r-e-a-c-h  t-h-e  g-o-s-p-e-l  o-f  N-e-p-h-i,  o-r  t-h-y  w-i-f-e  s-h-a-l-l  b-e  a  w-i-d-o-w,  t-h-y  c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n  o-r-p-h-a-n-s,  a-n-d  t-h-y  a-s-h-e-s  s-c-a-t-t-e-r-e-d  t-o  t-h-e  f-o-u-r  w-i-n-d-s  o-f  h-e-a-v-e-n!”
The experiment was a complete success. Stoddard’s former convictions were now confirmed. Such a convincing “revelation” was final, and not to be disregarded. Early the next morning the subject of this

special call” was seen upon his rounds among his neighbors, as a Mormon missionary, earnestly telling them of the “command” he had received to preach. Luminous arguments and evidences were adduced by him to sustain the foundation of his belief in this his revealed sphere of duty! (Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress: Of Mormonism: Biography of its Founders and History of its Church, New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1867, pp. 80-81)

Apparently this incident made it into the local newspaper, the Palmyra Reflector which reported,

==> Some few evenings since, a man in the town of Mendon, had a loud call to go and preach the doctrines contained in the Gold Bible, under heavy denunciations. (The Palmyra Reflector, September 23, 1829).

Dale Morgan writes of the incident,

Typesetting on the book began in August 1829 and the slow labor of printing on the primitive hand press on which the Wayne Sentinel itself was issued was not finished until March 1830. The intervening months, however, were by no means without event. According to David Whitmer, the elders of the incipient church as early as August 1829 began to preach the gospel. “The Book of Mormon was still m the hands of the printer, but my brother, Christian Whitmer, had copied from the manuscript the teachings and doctrine of Christ, being the things which we were commanded to  preach.” For eight months before the church was formally organized, they preached, baptized, and confirmed, and this was a phenomenon to excite both the wonder and the risibility of the citizens of Palmyra. Pranksters were not lacking, and Joseph’s own brother in law, Calvin Stoddard, who lived a few miles away in Macedon, was set to frantic preaching of the new faith by an Angel of the Lord who came knocking on his door one dark night with a thunderous command to preach “the gospel of Nephi” next day under penalty of having his ashes scattered to the four winds of heaven. “The experiment,” Pomeroy Tucker recalls, “was a complete success…Early the next morning the subject of this ‘special call’ was seen upon his rounds among his neighbors, as a Mormon missionary, earnestly telling them of the ‘command’, he had received to preach. Luminous arguments and evidences were adduced by him to sustain the foundation of his belief in this his revealed sphere of duty!” (John Phillip Walker, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History,p.306).

[139] ibid, p. 43.

[140] ibid.

[141] ibid, pp. 45-47.

[142]  Walker, Dale Morgan, Endnotes, Footnote 17 in Chapter Five, page 415.

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.

NOTES

[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.

[42]ibid.

[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,  http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=46

[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.

Notes

[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, http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=19831&start=84, accessed June 3, 2013. And here, http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/55214-don-bradley-and-the-kinderhook-plates/page__st__160, 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: http://www.fairlds.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Don-Bradley-Kinderhook-President-Joseph-Has-Translated-a-Portion-1.pdf accessed June 3, 2013.