The Witnesses To The Plates

In his accounts to his neighbors of the revelation to him of the

golden plates on which the "record" was written, Smith always

declared that no person but him could look on those plates and

live. But when the printed book came out, it, like all subsequent

editions to this day, was preceded by the following



"Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto

whom this work shall come, that we through the grace of God the

Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which

contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi,

and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also the people of

Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken; and we

also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of

God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of

a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have

seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been

shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare

with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from

heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld

and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that

it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,

that we beheld and bear record that these things are true; and it

is marvellous in our eyes, nevertheless the voice of the Lord

commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be

obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these

things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall

rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless

before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him

eternally in the heavens. And the honour be to the Father, and to

the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.



"Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto

whom this work shall come, that Joseph Smith, Jun., the

translator of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which

hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many

of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with

our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which

has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship.

And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said

Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of

a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have

spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the

world that which we have seen; and we lie not, God bearing

witness of it.




In judging of the value of this testimony, we may first inquire,

what the prophet has to say about it, and may then look into the

character and qualification of the witnesses.

We find a sufficiently full explanation of Testimony No. 1 in

Smith's autobiography and in his "revelations." Nothing could be

more natural than that such men as the prophet was dealing with

should demand a sight of any plates from which he might be

translating. Others besides Harris made such a demand, and Smith

repeated the warning that to look on them was death. This might

satisfy members of his own family, but it did not quiet his

scribes, and he tells us that Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Harris

"teased me so much" (these are his own words) that he gave out a

"revelation" in March, 1829 (Sec. 5, "Doctrine and Covenants"),

in which the Lord was represented as saying that the prophet had

no power over the plates except as He granted it, but that to his

testimony would be added "the testimony of three of my servants,

whom I shall call and ordain, unto whom I will show these things,

"adding," and to none else will I grant this power, to receive

this same testimony among this generation. "The Lord was

distrustful of Harris, and commanded him not to be talkative on

the subject, but to say nothing about it except, "I have seen

them, and they have been shown unto me by the power of God."

Smith's own account of the showing of the plates to these three

witnesses is so luminous that it may be quoted. After going out

into the woods, they had to stand Harris off by himself because

of his evil influence. Then:--

"We knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in

prayer when presently we beheld a light above us in the air of

exceeding brightness; and behold an angel stood before us. In his

hands he held the plates which we had been praying for these to

have a view of; he turned over the leaves one by one, so that we

could see them and discover the engravings thereon distinctly. He

then addressed himself to David Whitmer and said, 'David, blessed

is the Lord and he that keeps his commandments'; when immediately

afterward we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us

saying, 'These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and

they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of

them is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now

see and hear.'

"I now left David and Oliver, and went into pursuit of Martin

Harris, whom I found at a considerable distance, fervently

engaged in prayer. He soon told me, however, that he had not yet

prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested me to join him

in prayer, that he might also realize the same blessings which we

had just received. We accordingly joined in prayer, and

immediately obtained our desires; for before we had yet finished,

the same vision was opened to our view, AT LEAST IT WAS AGAIN TO

ME [Joe thus refuses to vouch for Harris's declaration on the

subject]; and I once more beheld and heard the same things;

whilst, at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently

in ecstasy of joy, 'Tis enough, mine eyes hath beheld,' and,

jumping up, he shouted 'Hosannah,' blessing God, and otherwise

rejoiced exceedingly."*

* Millennial Star, Vol. XIV, Supt., p. 19.

If this story taxes the credulity of the reader, his doubts about

the value of this "testimony" will increase when he traces the

history of the three witnesses. Surely, if any three men in the

church should remain steadfast, mighty pillars of support for the

prophet in his future troubles, it should be these chosen

witnesses to the actual existence of the golden plates. Yet every

one of them became an apostate, and every one of them was loaded

with all the opprobrium that the church could pile upon him.

Cowdery's reputation was locally bad at the time. "I was

personally acquainted with Oliver Cowdery," said Danforth Booth,

an old resident of Palmyra, in 1880. "He was a pettifogger; their

(the Smiths') cat-paw to do their dirty work."* Smith's trouble

with him, which began during the work of translating, continued,

and Smith found it necessary to say openly in a "revelation"

given out in Ohio in 1831 (Sec. 69), when preparations were

making for a trip of some of the brethren to Missouri, "It is not

wisdom in me that he should be intrusted with the commandments

and the monies which he shall carry unto the land of Zion, except

one go with him who will be true and faithful."

* Among affidavits on file in the county clerk's office at

Canandaigua, New York.

By the time Smith took his final departure to Missouri, Cowdery

and David and John Whitmer had lost caste entirely, and in June,

1838, they fled to escape the Danites at Far West. The letter of

warning addressed to them and signed by more than eighty Mormons,

giving them three days in which to depart, contained the

following accusations:--

"After Oliver Cowdery had been taken by a state warrant for

stealing, and the stolen property found in the house of William

W. Phelps; in which nefarious transaction John Whitmer had also

participated. Oliver Cowdery stole the property, conveyed it to

John Whitmer, and John Whitmer to William W. Phelps; and then the

officers of law found it. While in the hands of an officer, and

under an arrest for this vile transaction, and, if possible, to

hide your shame from the world like criminals (which, indeed, you

were), you appealed to our beloved brethren, President Joseph

Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon, men whose characters you had

endeavored to destroy by every artifice you could invent, not

even the basest lying excepted....

"The Saints in Kirtland having elected Oliver Cowdery to a

justice of the peace, he used the power of that office to take

their most sacred rights from them, and that contrary to law. He

supported a parcel of blacklegs, and in disturbing the worship of

the Saints; and when the men whom the church had chosen to

preside over their meetings endeavored to put the house to order,

he helped (and by the authority of his justice's office too)

these wretches to continue their confusion; and threatened the

church with a prosecution for trying to put them out of the

house; and issued writs against the Saints for endeavoring to

sustain their rights; and bound themselves under heavy bonds to

appear before his honor; and required bonds which were both

inhuman and unlawful; and one of these was the venerable father,

who had been appointed by the church to preside--a man of upwards

of seventy years of age, and notorious for his peaceable habits.

"Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Lyman E. Johnson, united with

a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars and blacklegs of the

deepest dye, to deceive, cheat and defraud the Saints out of

their property, by every art and stratagem which wickedness could

invent; using the influence of the vilest persecutions to bring

vexatious lawsuits, villainous prosecutions, and even stealing

not excepted.... During the full career of Oliver Cowdery and

David Whitmer's bogus money business, it got abroad into the

world that they were engaged in it, and several gentlemen were

preparing to commence a prosecution against Cowdery; he finding

it out, took with him Lyman E. Johnson, and fled to Far West with

their families; Cowdery stealing property and bringing it with

him, which has been, within a few weeks past, obtained by the

owner by means of a search warrant, and he was saved from the

penitentiary by the influence of two influential men of the

place. He also brought notes with him upon which he had received

pay, and made an attempt to sell them to Mr. Arthur of Clay


* "Documents in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons,"

Missouri Legislature (1841), p. 103.

Rigdon, who was the author of this arraignment, realizing that

the enemies of the church would not fail to make use of this

aspersion of the character of the witnesses, attempted to "hedge"

by saying, in the same document, "We wish to remind you that

Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were among the principal of

those who were the means of gathering us to this place by their

testimony which they gave concerning the plates of the Book of

Mormon, that they were shown to them by an angel; which testimony

we believe now as much as before you had so scandalously

disgraced it." Could affrontery go to greater lengths?

Cowdery and David Whitmer fled to Richmond, Missouri, where

Whitmer lived until his death in January, 1888. Cowdery went to

Tiffin, Ohio, where, after failing to obtain a position as an

editor because of his Mormon reputation, he practised law. While

living there he renounced his Mormon views, joined the Methodist

church, and became superintendent of a Sunday-school. Later he

moved to Wisconsin, but, after being defeated for the legislature

there, he recanted his Methodist belief, and rejoined the Saints

while they were at Council Bluffs, in October, 1848, after the

main body had left for Salt Lake Valley. He addressed a meeting

there by invitation, testifying to the truth of the Book of

Mormon, and the mission of Smith as a prophet, and saying that he

wanted to be rebaptized into the church, not as a leader, but

simply as a member.* He did not, however, go to Utah with the

Saints, but returned to his old friend Whitmer in Missouri, and

died there in 1850. It has been stated that he offered to give a

full renunciation of the Mormon faith when he united with the

Methodists at Tiffin, if required, but asked to be excused from

doing so on the ground that it would invite criticism and bring

him into contempt.** One of his Tiffin acquaintances afterward

testified that Cowdery confessed to him that, when he signed the

"testimony," he "was not one of the best men in the world," using

his own expression.*** The Mormons were always grateful to him

for his silence under their persecutions, and the Millennial

Star, in a notice of his death, expressed satisfaction that in

the days of his apostasy "he never, in a single instance, cast

the least doubt on his former testimony," adding, "May he rest in

peace, to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection

into eternal life, is the earnest desire of all Saints."

* Millennial Star, Vol. XI, p.14.

** "Naked Truths about Mormonism," A. B. Demming, Oakland,

California, 1888.

*** "Gregg's History of Hancock County, Illinois," p. 257.

The Whitmers were a Dutch family, known among their neighbors as

believers in witches and in the miraculous generally, as has been

shown in Mother Smith's account of their sending for Joseph. A

"revelation" to the three witnesses which first promised them a

view of the plates (Sec. 17) told them, "It is BY YOUR FAITH you

shall obtain a view of them," and directed them to testify

concerning the plates, "that my servant Joseph Smith, Jr., may

not be destroyed." One of the converts who joined the Mormons at

Kirtland, Ohio, testified in later years that David Whitmer

confessed to her that he never actually saw the plates,

explaining his testimony thus: "Suppose that you had a friend

whose character was such that you knew it impossible that he

could lie; then, if he described a city to you which you had

never seen, could you not, by the eye of faith, see the city just

as he described it?"*

* Mrs. Dickenson's "New Light on Mormonism."

The Mormons have found consolation in the fact that Whitmer

continued to affirm his belief in the authenticity of the Mormon

Bible to the day of his death. He declared, however, that Smith

and Young had led the flock astray, and, after the open

announcement of polygamy in Utah, he announced a church of his

own, called "The Church of Christ," refusing to affiliate even

with the Reorganized Church because of the latter's adherence to

Smith. In his "Address to Believers in the Book of Mormon, "a

pamphlet issued in his eighty-second year, he said, "Now, in 1849

the Lord saw fit to manifest unto John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery

and myself nearly all the remaining errors of doctrine into which

we had been led by the heads of the church." The reader from all

this can form an estimate of the trustworthiness of the second

witness on such a subject.

We have already learned a great deal about Martin Harris's mental

equipment. A lawyer of standing in Palmyra told Dr. Clark that,

after Harris had signed the "testimony," he pressed him with the

question: "Did you see the plates with your natural eyes, just as

you see this pencil case in my hand? Now say yes or no." Harris

replied (in corroboration of Joe's misgiving at the time): "Why,

I did not see them as I do that pencil case, yet I saw them with

the eye of faith. I saw them just as distinctly as I see anything

around me--though at the time they were covered over with a


* "Gleanings by the Way."

Harris followed Smith to Ohio and then to Missouri, but was ever

a trouble to him, although Smith always found his money useful.

In 1831, in Missouri, it required a "revelation" (Sec. 58) to

spur him to "lay his monies before the Bishop." As his money grew

scarcer, he received less and less recognition from the Mormon

leaders, and was finally expelled from the church. Smith thus

referred to him in the Elders' Journal, July, 1837, one of his

publications in Ohio: "There are negroes who wear white skins as

well as black ones, granny Parish, and others who acted as

lackeys, such as Martin Harris."

Harris did not appear on the scene during the stay of the Mormons

in Illinois, having joined the Shakers and lived with them a year

or two. When Strang claimed the leadership of the church after

Smith's death, Harris gave him his support, and was sent by him

with others to England in 1846 to do missionary work. His arrival

there was made the occasion of an attack on him by the Millennial

Star, which, among other things, said:--

"We do not feel to warn the Saints against him, for his own

unbridled tongue will soon show out specimens of folly enough to

give any person a true index to the character of the man; but if

the Saints wish to know what the Lord hath said of him, they may

turn to the 178th page of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and

the person there called a WICKED MAN is no other than Martin

Harris, and he owned to it then, but probably might not now. It

is not the first time the Lord chose a wicked man as a witness.

Also on page 193, read the whole revelation given to him, and ask

yourselves if the Lord ever talked in that way to a good man.

Every one can see that he must have been a wicked man."*

*Vol. VIII, p. 123.

Harris visited Palmyra in 1858. He then said that his property

was all gone, that he had declined a restoration to the Mormon

church, but that he continued to believe in Mormonism. He thought

better of his declination, however, and sought a reunion with the

church in Utah in 1870. His backslidings had carried him so far

that the church authorities told him it would be necessary for

him to be rebaptized. This he consented to with some reluctance,

after, as he said, "he had seen his father seeking his aid. He

saw his father at the foot of a ladder, striving to get up to

him, and he went down to him, taking him by the hand, and helped

him up."* He settled in Cache County, Utah, where he died on July

10, 1875, in his ninety-third year. "He bore his testimony to the

truth and divinity of the Book of Mormon a short time before he

departed," wrote his son to an inquirer, "and the last words he

uttered, when he could not speak the sentence, were 'Book,'

'Book,' 'Book.'"

* For an account of Harris's Utah experience, see Millennial

Star, Vol. XLVIII, pp.357-389.

The precarious character of Smith's original partners in the

Bible business is further illustrated by his statement that, in

the summer of 1830, Cowdery sent him word that he had discovered

an error in one of Smith's "revelations,"* and that the Whitmer

family agreed with him on the subject. Smith was as determined in

opposing this questioning of his divine authority as he always

was in stemming any opposition to his leadership, and he made

them all acknowledge their error. Again, when Smith returned to

Fayette from Harmony, in August, 1830 (more than a year after the

plates were shown to the witnesses), he found that "Satan had

been lying in wait," and that Hiram Page, of the second list of

witnesses, had been obtaining revelations through a "peek-stone"

of his own, and that, what was more serious, Cowdery and the

Whitmer family believed in them. The result of this was an

immediate "revelation" (Sec. 28) directing Cowdery to go and

preach the Gospel to the Lamanites (Indians) on the western

border, and to take along with him Hiram Page, and tell him that

the things he had written by means of the "peek-stone" were not

of the Lord.

* Millennial Star, Vol. XIV, p. 36.

Neither Smith's autobiography nor the "Book of Doctrine and

Covenants" contains any explanation of the second "testimony."

The list of persons who signed it, however, leaves little doubt

that the prophet yielded to their "teasing" as he did to that of

the original three. The first four signers were members of the

Whitmer family. Hiram Page was a root-doctor by calling, and a

son-in-law of Peter Whitmer, Sr. The three Smiths were the

prophet's father and two of his brothers.*

* Christian Whitmer died in Clay County, Missouri, November 27,

1835; Jacob died in Richmond County, April 21, 1866; Peter died

in Clay County, September 22, 1836; Hiram Page died on a farm in

Ray County, August 12, 1852.

The favorite Mormon reply to any question as to the value of

these "testimonies" is the challenge, "Is there a person on the

earth who can prove that these eleven witnesses did not see the

plates?" Curiously, the prophet himself can be cited to prove

this, in the words of the revelation granting a sight of the

plates to the first three, which said, "And to none else will I

grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this

generation." A footnote to this declaration in the "Doctrine and

Covenants" offers, as an explanation of Testimony No. 2; the

statement that others "may receive a knowledge by other

manifestations." This is well meant but transparent.

Mother Smith in later years added herself to these witnesses. She

said to the Rev. Henry Caswall, in Nauvoo, in 1842, "I have

myself seen and handled the golden plates." Mr. Caswall adds:--

"While the old woman was thus delivering herself, I fixed my eyes

steadily upon her. She faltered and seemed unwilling to meet my

glances, but gradually recovered her self-possession. The

melancholy thought entered my mind that this poor old creature

was not simply a dupe of her son's knavery, but that she had

taken an active part in the deception."

Two matters have been cited by Mormon authorities to show that

there was nothing so very unusual in the discovery of buried

plates containing engraved letters. Announcement was made in 1843

of the discovery near Kinderhook, Illinois, of six plates similar

to those described by Smith. The story, as published in the Times

and Seasons, with a certificate signed by nine local residents,

set forth that a merchant of the place, named Robert Wiley, while

digging in a mound, after finding ashes and human bones, came to

"a bundle that consisted of six plates of brass, of a bell shape,

each having a hole near the small end, and a ring through them

all"; and that, when cleared of rust, they were found to be

"completely covered with characters that none as yet have been

able to read." Hyde, accepting this story, printed a facsimile of

one of these plates on the cover of his book, and seems to rest

on Wiley's statement his belief that "Smith did have plates of

some kind." Stenhouse,* who believed that Smith and his witnesses

did not perpetrate in the new Bible an intentional fraud, but

thought they had visions and "revelations," referring to the

Kinderhook plates, says that they were "actually and

unquestionably discovered by one Mr. R. Wiley." Smith himself,

after no one else could read the writing on them, declared that

he had translated them, and found them to be a history of a

descendant of Ham.**

* T. B. H. Stenhouse, a Scotchman, was converted to the Mormon

belief in 1846, performed diligent missionary work in Europe, and

was for three years president of the Swiss and Italian missions.

Joining the brethren in Utah with his wife, he was persuaded to

take a second wife. Not long afterward he joined in the protest

against Young's dictatorial course which was known as the "New

Movement," and was expelled from the church. His "Rocky Mountain

Saints" (1873) contains so much valuable information connected

with the history of the church that it has been largely drawn on

by E. W. Tullidge in his "History of Salt Lake City and Its

Founders," which is accepted by the church.

**Millennial Star, January 15, 1859, where cuts of the plates

(here produced) are given.

But the true story of the Kinderhook plates was disclosed by an

affidavit made by W. Fulgate of Mound Station, Brown County,

Illinois, before Jay Brown, Justice of the Peace, on June 30,

1879. In this he stated that the plates were "a humbug, gotten up

by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton, and myself. Whitton (who was a

blacksmith) cut the plates out of some pieces of copper Wiley and

I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and

filling them with acid, and putting it on the plates. When they

were finished, we put them together with rust made of nitric

acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop

iron, covering them completely with the rust." He describes the

burial of the plates and their digging up, among the spectators

of the latter being two Mormon elders, Marsh and Sharp. Sharp

declared that the Lord had directed them to witness the digging.

The plates were borrowed and shown to Smith, and were finally

given to one "Professor" McDowell of St. Louis, for his museum.*

* Wyl's "Mormon Portraits," p. 207. The secretary of the Missouri

Historical Society writes me that McDowell's museum disappeared

some years ago, most of its contents being lost or stolen, and

the fate of the Kinderhook plates cannot be ascertained.

In attacking Professor Anthon's statement concerning the alleged

hieroglyphics shown to him by Harris, Orson Pratt, in his "Divine

Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," thought that he found

substantial support for Smith's hieroglyphics in the fact that

"Two years after the Book of Mormon appeared in print, Professor

Rafinesque, in his Atlantic journal for 1832, gave to the public

a facsimile of American glyphs,* found in Mexico. They are

arranged in columns.... By an inspection of the facsimile of

these forty-six elementary glyphs, we find all the particulars

which Professor Anthon ascribes to the characters which he says

'a plain-looking countryman' presented to him. "These" elementary

glyphs "of Rafinesque are some of the characters found on the

famous "Tablet of the Cross" in the ruins of Palenque, Mexico,

since so fully described by Stevens. A facsimile of the entire

Tablet may be found on page 355, Vol. IV, Bancroft's "Native

Races of the Pacific States." Rafinesque selected these

characters from the Tablet, and arranged them in columns

alongside of other ancient writings, in order to sustain his

argument that they resembled an old Libyan alphabet. Rafinesque

was a voluminous writer both on archaeological and botanical

subjects, but wholly untrustworthy. Of his Atlantic Journal (of

which only eight numbers appeared) his biographer, R. E. Call,

says that it had "absolutely no scientific value." Professor Asa

Gray, in a review of his botanical writings in Silliman's

Journal, Vol. XL, No. 2, 1841, said, "He assumes thirty to one

hundred years as the average time required for the production of

a new species, and five hundred to one thousand for a new genus."

Professor Gray refers to a paper which Rafinesque sent to the

editor of a scientific journal describing twelve new species of

thunder and lightning. He was very fond of inventing names, and

his designation of Palenque as Otolum was only an illustration of

this. So much for the "elementary glyphs."

* "Glyph: A pictograph or word carved in a compact distinct

figure."--"Standard Dictionary.

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