Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881
Authentic Account of the Origin of This Sect from One of the Patriarchs.
Discovery of the Plates, And the Translation of the Book of Mormon—Polygamy an Excresence.
In view of the large Mormon immigration that is now pouring into this country, and also in view of difficulties that have heretofore existed between that sect and the people of Jackson county, the JOURNAL has taken the trouble to ascertain the facts as to the origin of the sect, as well as the history of their expulsion from Jackson county in 1833.
For the benefit of a great many persons who probably do not know of what the Book of Mormon consists, an exact copy of the title page of the first edition published is given here:
The Book of Mormon. An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi. Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the People of Nephi; and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, which are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way the commandment, and also by the spirit of Prophesy and Revelation. Written, and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God, unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God; an abridgment taken from the Book of Ether, Also, which is a Record of the People of Jared, which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to Heaven: which is to shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever; and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting Himself unto all nations. And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ. Translated from the golden plates by Joseph Smith, jr., Palmyra, N. Y., 1830. Printed by E. B. Grandin for the author.
The translator of the book is said to have been witnessed by eleven persons, as follows: Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Christian Whitmer, Hiram Page, Jacob Whitmer, Joseph Smith, sr., Peter Whitmer, jr., John Whitmer, Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith, all of whom except David Whitmer are long since dead. David Whitmer,
THE ONLY LIVING WITNESS,
has resided since 1838 in Richmond, Ray county, Mo., and the JOURNAL dispatched a reporter to Richmond, to interview the "last of the eleven."
The reporter called at the residence of Mr. Whitmer and found the patriarch resting in invalid's chair looking very pale and feeble, he having but just recovered from a long and very severe illness. In person, he is about medium height, of massive frame, though not at all corpulent, his shoulders slightly bent as with the weight of years. His manly, benevolent face was closely shaven, his hair snow-white, and his whole appearance denoted one of nature's noblemen. The education acquired during his boyhood days and his long life devoted to study and thought have stored his mind with a vast fund of information.
After introducing himself, the reporter opened the conversation as follows:
"Mr. Whitmer, knowing that you are the only living witness to the translation of the Book of Mormon and also that you were a resident of Jackson County during the Mormon troubles in 1833, I have been sent to you by the JOURNAL to get from your lips
THE TRUE STATEMENT OF FACTS
in regard to these matters. For nearly half a century the world has had but one side only, and it is now our desire to present to our readers for the first time the other side."
"Young man, you are right. I am the only living witness to the Book of Mormon, but I have been imposed upon and misrepresented so many times by persons claiming to be honorable newspapermen, that I feel a delicacy in allowing my name to come before the public in newspaper print again."
"I am very sorry to hear that, but I promise you that we shall only give your statement as you make it and will not misrepresent you in any manner."
After a few other remarks of the same tenor the reporter at last induced the patriarch to furnish the desired facts, which he did in the following language:
"I was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 7, 1805, but when only four years of age my parents removed to the state of New York, settling at a point midway between the northern extremities of Lake Cayuga and Seneca, two miles from Waterloo, seven miles from Geneva, and twenty-seven miles from Palmyra, where I lived until the year 1831. In the year 1830 I was married to Miss Julia A. Jolly who is still living. The fruit of our union was a son, David J. Whitmer, now aged forty-eight, and a daughter, now aged 46 years, both of whom are now living with me. "I first heard of what is now termed Mormonism in the year 1828. I made a business trip to Palmyra, New York, and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery. A great many people in the neighborhood were talking about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, Jr., a young man of the neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as others, talked about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing it to be only
THE IDLE GOSSIP
of the neighborhood. Cowdery said he was acquainted with the Smith family, and he believed that there must be some truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the matter. I had conversations with several young men who said that Joseph Smith had certainly golden plates and that before he attained them he had promised to share with them, but had not done so and they were very much incensed with him. Said I, 'how do you know that Joe Smith has the plates?' They replied, 'we saw the plates [place] in the hill that he took them out of just as he described it to us before he obtained them.' These parties were so positive in their statements that I began to believe there must be some foundation for the stories then in circulation all over that part of the country. I had never seen any of the Smith family up to that time, and I began to inquire of the people in regard to them, and learned that one night during the year 1827 Joseph Smith, jr., had a vision, and an angel of God appeared to him and told him where certain plates were to be found, and pointed out the spot to him, and that shortly afterward he went to that piece and found the plates which were still in his possession. After thinking over the matter for a long time, and talking with Cowdery, who also gave me a history of the finding of the plates, I went home, and after several months Cowdery told me he was going to Harmony, Pa.—whither Joseph Smith had gone with the plates on account of persecutions of his neighbors—and see him about the matter. He did go and on his way stopped at my father's house and told me that as soon as he found out anything either
TRUTH OR UNTRUTH
he would let me know. After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph Smith, and shortly after, wrote to me telling me that he was convinced that Smith had the records and that he (Smith) had told him that it was the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in the translation of the plates. He went on and Joseph translated from the plates and he wrote it down. Shortly after this Cowdery wrote me another letter in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating gave a complete history of these people. When Cowdery wrote me these things and told me that he had revealed knowledge concerning the truth of them I showed these letters to my parents, and brothers and sisters. Soon after I received another letter from Cowdery, telling me to come down to Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father's house, giving me a reason therefore that they had received a commandment from God to that effect. I went down to Harmony, and found everything just as they had written me. The next day after I got there they packed up the plates [did not say "packed up the plates"] and we proceeded on our journey to my father's house where we arrived in due time, and the day after we [he, Smith] commenced upon the translation of the remainder of the plates. I, as well as all of my father's family, Smith's wife, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris were present during the translation. [I did not wish to be understood as saying that those referred to as being present were all the time in the immediate presence of the translator, but were at the place and saw how the translation was conducted.] The translation was by Smith and
THE MANNER AS FOLLOWS:
"He had two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg-shape and perfectly smooth, but not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates. He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top and immediately below would appear the translation, in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they faded from sight to be replaced by another line. The translation at my father's occupied about one month, that is from June 1 to July 1, 1829."
"Were the plates under the immediate control of Smith all the time?"
"No, they were not. I will explain how that was. When Joseph first received the plates he translated 116 pages of the book of 'Lehi,' with Martin Harris as scribe. When this had been completed they rested for a time, and Harris wanted to take the manuscript home with him to show to his family and friends. To this Joseph demurred, but finally
ASKED THE LORD
if Harris might be allowed to take it. The answer was 'no.' Harris teased Joseph for a long time and finally persuaded him to ask the Lord a second time, pledging himself to be responsible for its safe keeping. To this second inquiry the Lord told Joseph Harris he might take the manuscript, which he did, showing it to a great many people, but through some carelessness allowed it to be stolen from him. This incurred the Lord's displeasure, and he sent an angel to Joseph demanding the plates, and until Joseph had thoroughly repented of his transgressions would not allow him to have the use of them again. When Joseph was again allowed to resume the translation the plates were taken care of by a messenger of God, and when Joseph wanted to see the plates this messenger was always at hand. The 116 pages of the book of 'Lehi' which were stolen were never recovered nor would the Lord permit Joseph to make a second translation of it.
[It is my understanding that the seer stone referred to was furnished when he commenced translating again after losing the 116 pages. My statement was and now is that in translating he put the seer stone in his hat and putting his face in his hat so as to exclude the light and that then the light and characters appeared in the hat together with the interpretation which he uttered and was written by, the scribe and which was tested at the time as stated.]
"A few months after the translation was completed, that is, in the spring of 1830, Joseph had the book published and this (showing a well worn volume) is a copy of the first edition which I have had in my possession ever since it was printed."
"When did you see the plates?"
"It was in the latter part of June, 1829. Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and myself were together, and the angel showed them to us. We not only saw the plates of the book of Mormon, but he also showed us the brass plates of the book of Ether and many others. They were shown to us in this way. Joseph and Oliver and I were
SITTING ON A LOG
when we were overshadowed by a light more glorious than that of the sun. In the midst of this light but a few feet from us appeared a table upon which were many golden plates, also the sword of Laban and the directors. I saw them as plain as I see you now, and distinctly heard the voice of the Lord declaiming that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and the power of God."
"Who else saw the plates at this time?"
"No one. Martin Harris, the other witness, saw them the same day and the eight witnesses, Christian Whitmer, Hiram Page, Jacob Whitmer, Joseph Smith, sr., Peter Whitmer, jr., Hyram Smith, Jno. Whitmer and Samuel H. Smith saw them next day."
"Did you see the angel?"
"Yes, he stood before us. Our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is absolutely true, just as it is written there."
"Can you describe the plates?"
"They appeared to be of gold, about six by nine inches in size, about as thick as parchment, a great many in number and bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passing through the back edges. The engraving upon them was very plain and of very curious appearance. Smith made facsimilies of some of the plates, and sent them by Martin Harris to Profs. Anson and Mitchell, of New York city, for examination. They pronounced the characters reformed Egyptian, but were unable to read them."
"Did Joseph Smith ever relate to you the circumstances of his
FINDING THE PLATES?"
"Yes; he told me that he first found the plates in the early spring of 1828; that during the fall of 1827 he had a vision, an angel appearing to him three times in one night and telling him that there was a record of an ancient people deposited in a hill near his fathers house called by the ancients 'Cumorah,' situated in the township of Manchester, Ontario county N. Y. The angel pointed out the exact spot and some time after he went and found the records or plates deposited in a stone box in the hill just as had been described to him by the angel. It was some little time, however, before the angel would allow Smith to remove the plates from their place of deposit."
"When was the church first established?"
"We had preaching during the time the book was being translated, but our church was not regularly organized until after the book was printed in the winter of 1829-30. The first organization was in Seneca county, New York, under the name of 'The Church of Christ.' The first elders were Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer and myself. On the 6th of April, 1830, the church was called together and the elders acknowledged according to the laws of New York. Our instructions from the Lord were to teach nothing except the old and new testaments and the Book of Mormon. From that time the church spread abroad and multiplied very rapidly. In the summer of 1830, Parley Pratt, Peter Whitmer, and S. Peterson went to Kirtland, O., and established a branch of the church, which also grew very fast, and soon after a fine temple was erected, which is still standing. During the winter of 1830, the same parties went to Independence, Missouri, established a church, and purchased very large tracts of land in all parts of Jackson county as well as a large amount of property in the town of Independence, including the site for the temple. The reason for the emigration to Jackson county was that Smith had received a revelation from God designating Independence as the place of the gathering of the Saints together in the latter days. Joseph Smith and Elder Sidney Rigdon, of the Kirtland church, established the church in Jackson County, but soon after returned to Ohio. The temple has never been built at Independence, but the site still remains vacant and the title deeds are held by the church. I have no doubt but that at some future day
IT WILL BE BUILT.
About 500 people emigrated from Ohio to Jackson county and the church thence increased in numbers with extraordinary rapidity during the ensuing two years. They lived in peace in Jackson county until early in the summer of 1833, when difficulties arose between the church and the citizens of the county. What first occasioned these difficulties I am unable to say, except that the church was composed principally of Eastern and Northern people who were opposed to slavery, and that there were among us a few ignorant and simple-minded persons who were continually making boasts to the Jackson county people that they intended to possess the entire county, erect a temple, etc. This of course occasioned hard feelings and excited the bitter jealousy of the other religious denominations.
"The church at Independence established a newspaper called the Morning and Evening Star, which published the revelations of Joseph Smith and the doctrines of the church, which also caused a great deal of hard feelings among the citizens. I was at that time living three miles east of Westport, and the first intimation I ever had that the people intended driving us out of the county was an affray between an organized mob of about eighty citizens and about eighteen Mormons, which occurred at Wilson's store, near Big Blue, about the middle of the summer of 1833. The mob destroyed a number of our dwellings and fired upon the little party of Mormons, killing one young man and wounding several others. The Mormons returned the fire, killing the leader of the mob, A Campbellite preacher named Lovett. The next difficulty was in Independence, about the middle of July, of the same year, when
A LARGE MOB
of armed men gathered in front of the court house under the leadership, I think, of three men, named Wilson, Cockrell, and Overton. A committee of ten was appointed to wait upon the leaders of the church and state their demands, which were that the Morning and Evening Star newspaper office and all other places of business be closed, and that we immediately leave the county. This was so sudden and unexpected that we asked time to consider the matter, which was refused and a battle immediately ensued, during which the newspaper office, which stood on the southwest corner of the square, just south of the present site of Chrisman & Sawyer's bank. was torn down and the type scattered to the four winds. Bishop Partridge and another of the saints were dragged from their houses and tarred and feathered upon the public square, and numerous other indignities heaped upon us, but no one was killed. After this, difficulties of a like nature occurred almost daily until some time in October when the final uprising took place, and we were driven out at the muzzles of guns from the county, without being given an opportunity of disposing of our lands. Our houses were burned and our property destroyed, and several of our number killed. The indignities that were heaped upon us were
"We were beaten, our families grossly assaulted and fled for our lives out of the county. We scattered in every direction, the larger portion going to Van Buren and Grand river. A short time after the citizens of Clay county invited us to come there, which we did, and were treated with the utmost kindness,"
"Did your people ever have an opportunity of selling their lands in Jackson county?"
"No, they did not, and it now, by right, belongs to their descendants."
"What became of the church after their expulsion from Jackson county?"
"In 1836 W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer, accompanied by a large number of our people, went to Far West, Caldwell county, and established a church. They lived there and multiplied very rapidly until a838, when Elders Jos. Smith and Sidney Rigdon came out from Ohio and were dissatisfied with the church, and gave new laws, revelations, etc. The leaders of the Far West church refused to conform to the new laws of Smith and Rigdon, and they issued a decree organizing what was termed the 'Danites, or Destroying Angels,' who were bound by the most fearful oaths to obey the commandments of the leaders of the church. The Danites consisted only of those selected by Smith and Rigdon. They threatened myself, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Lyman Johnson with
THE VENGEANCE OF THE DANITES
unless we took the same oath, but we refused, and fled for our lives to Clay county, and since that time I have had nothing to do with the so-called 'Latter-Day Saints' church, but I still hold to the truth of the original Church of Christ, as organized in New York. During the fall of 1838 the church of Far West became very violent towards the citizens of Caldwell county, which terminated in an uprising similar to that in Jackson county, and they were driven from the state. Smith and Rigdon were arrested and kept prisoners for some time, but finally escaped and went to Nauvoo, Ill., followed by the saints from Far West, and established a church and built a fine temple. They remained in Nauvoo until 1844, when they became very corrupt, upheld polygamy, established an endowment house, etc., which occasioned an uprising of the people, and Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum and John Taylor, the present head of the church in Salt Lake, were arrested and cast into prison, and the two Smiths afterwards shot and killed through the windows of the jail. The temple was destroyed and the church scattered, a portion going to Salt Lake under the leadership of Brigham Young and John Taylor, where they have remained ever since, practicing the vile system of
POLYGAMY AND SPIRITUAL WIFEISM.
"I belong to the original church, organized 1n 1829, and have never associated myself with any other, and never upheld the reorganization or change of name to 'Latter-Day Saints,' at Kirtland, O."
"Where did you go after leaving Far West?"
I went to Clay county and in the latter part of 1838 came here and have lived here ever since. Oliver Cowdery lived in Clay county until 1848, when he came here and died in my father's house in the winter of 1849."
"What kind of people were the Mormons of Jackson county?"
"They were a peaceable, law-abiding and industrious people, and with the exception of a few simple-minded ones, paid strict attention to their own business. There never was a charge of any kind preferred against any of them during their stay in Jackson county. Their only crime was that they were opposed to slavery, and were industrious, progressive and enterprising in their habits and teachings."
"How did the name of Mormons originate?"
"It was given to us by our enemies and was never recognized by us."
"I understand, Mr. Whitmer, that you have the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon."
"I have; here it is."
He produced about 500 pages of manuscript, yellow with age, of large, old-fashioned, unruled foolscap paper, closely written upon both sides with ink, and fastened together in sections with yarn strings. It very plainly showed that it had been through the hands of the printer, the 'take' marks being still upon it.
"This," continued he, "was kept by Oliver Cowdery, and when he came to die he placed them in my care, charging me to preserve them so long as I lived. When I die I will leave them to my nephew, David Whitmer, my namesake. J. F. Smith and Orson Pratt, of Salt Lake City, were here three years ago, and offered me a fabulous price for them, but I would not part with them for all the money in the universe."
"Are you not afraid they will be destroyed or stolen?"
"No, the Lord will take care of his own. When this house was destroyed by the cyclone three years ago to-day (June 1, 1878), nothing in the room where this manuscript was kept was harmed. Everything else was completely destroyed."
Both Mr. Whitmer and his family are thoroughly imbued with the idea that the manuscript is under the immediate protection of the Almighty."
"Are there any relations of Oliver Cowdery now living in this vicinity?
"Yes, his daughter, Mrs. Dr. Chas. Johnson, now resides in town."
The reporter copied the following certificate of the standing of Mr. Whitmer in the community, among his papers, and obtained his permission to use it. It shows the character of the man, and adds to the value of his statement given above.
We, the undersigned citizens of Richmond, Ray county, Mo, where David Whitmer, sr. has resided since the year A. D. 1838, certify that we have been long and intimately acquainted with him, and know him to be a man of the highest integrity, and of undoubted truth and veracity. Given at Richmond, Mo, this March 19, A. D. 1881.
- A. W. Doniphan
- Geo. W. Dunn, judge of the Fifth Judicial circuit.
- T. D. Woodson, president of Ray County Savings bank.
- J. T. Child, editor of Conservator.
- H. C. Garner, cashier of Ray County Savings bank.
- W. A. Holman, county treasurer.
- J. S. Hughes, banker, Richmond.
- James Hughes, banker, Richmond.
- D. P. Whitmer, attorney at law.
- Jas. W. Black, attorney at law.
- L. C. Cantwell, postmaster, Richmond.
- Geo. I. Wasson, mayor.
- Jas. A. Davis, county collector.
- C. J. Hughes, probated judge and presiding justice of Ray county court.
- Geo. W. Trigg, county clerk.
- W. W. Mosby, M. D.
- Thos. McGinnis, ex-sheriff Ray county.
- J. P. Quensenberry, merchant.
- W. R. Holman, furniture merchant.
- Lewish Slaughter, recorded of deeds.
- Geo. W. Buchanan, M. D.
- A. K. Reyburn.
This ended the interview and after bidding the old man adieu and thanking him for his kindness the writer took his leave.
The reporter also interviewed several other old settlers of Richmond, who were present during the Mormon difficulties of 1833, upon the subject, and whose statements will be given hereafter.
[Note: Bracketed comments were corrections later submitted by Whitmer. See his correspondence that follows.][Reprinted in Deseret Evening News 14 (11 June 1881); Saints' Herald 28 (1 July 1881): 197-99; Millennial Star 43 (4 July 1881): 421-23, 437-39; Kingston Times (MO), 27 December 1887.]
David Whitmer to the Editor, June 13, 1881, "A Few Corrections," Kansas City Daily Journal, June 19, 1881.
To the Editor of the Journal.
RICHMOND, MO., June 13.—I notice several errors in the interview had with me by one of your reporters as published in the DAILY JOURNAL of June 5th, '81, and wish to correct them.
I am reported as saying that "the young men in the neighborhood saw the plates in the hill." The language used was, that "we saw the place(not the plates) in the hill from which the plates were taken, just as he described them to use before he obtained them." In regard to my going to Harmony, my statement was that "I found everything as Cowdery had written me, and that they packed up next day and went to my father's, (did no say 'packed up the plates') and that he, Smiith, (not 'we') then commenced the translation of the remainder of the plates." I did not wish to be understood as saying that those referred to as being present were all of the time in the immediate presence of the translator, but were at the place and saw how the translation was conducted. I did not say that Smith used "two small stones" as stated nor did I call the stone "interpreters." I stated that "he used one stone (not two) and called it a sun stone ['Seers Stone' correction did not make it into the paper.]." The "interpreters" were as I understood taken from Smith and were not used by him after losing the first 116 pages as stated. It is my understanding that the stone referred to was furnished him when he commenced translating again after losing the 116 pages.
My statement was and now is that in translating he put the stone in his hat and putting his face in his hat so as to exclude the light and that then the light and characters appeared in the hat together with the interpretation which he uttered and was written by the scribe and which was tested at the time as stated.
As to the killing of the leader of the mob at Independence, I did not say that he was a "Campbellite" preacher, but a "New light" preacher, as he was called, and his name was Lovelady, not Lovett. I stated that "we had preaching during the time the Book of Mormon was being printed," not while the same was being translated, as reported.
I stated that "in the summer of 1830 Oliver Cowdery, Parley Pratt, Peter Whitmer and S. [Ziba] Pereson went to Kirtland, OH, and established a church." In the interview, as reported, the name of Cowdery is omitted. Oliver Cowdery did not live in Clay county, Mo., from 1838 to 1848, as reported, but went to Ohio in 1838 and returned to Richmond in 1848, where he died, as stated, and also the fact that his widow (my sister) Mrs. Elizabeth Cowdery, is now residing here with her daughter, Mrs. Dr. Johnson is omitted in the published report. I made no statement as to who should succeed me in charge of the ancient manuscript referred to; and as to what was done and said by Joseph Smith after leaving Caldwell county in 1838, I did not give as of my knowledge, but from information. I have carefully read the report and think the same is substantially correct except as herein explained and corrected.
[Note.—It is but justice to the reporter who interviewed Mr. Whitmer to say that the errors above referred to were purely accidental and entirely unintentional, as it was his aim and desire as well as that of the Journal to publish Mr. Whitmer's statement just as he made it.—Ed.] [The bracketed comment was in the original.]