Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism
John Phillip Walker, editor
Intimations of a Church
[p.298]By June 14, 1828, Joseph Smith and Martin Harris had brought into being something over 116 foolscap pages of manuscript. As the history grew in size, Harris’s excitement and self-importance swelled in proportion, and he began to badger Joseph to be allowed to take the manuscript home and exhibit it to his family. Joseph put him off time and again, but finally yielded when Emma’s labor began and the work had to be suspended for a season.1
Promising that he would show it to none but those Joseph had sanctioned, Harris set off for Palmyra with the precious manuscript. For two weeks, Joseph hardly had a moment’s peace. Emma’s child was born June 15, a son as Joseph had foretold, but still-born, and the mother herself for days hovered between life and death.2 It was not until she began to mend that her distracted husband could begin to think again about his book. The more he thought about it, the more worried he became, for after three weeks Harris had not returned and the mail brought no word from him. Finally, urged by Emma, Joseph took the stage for Palmyra.
Arriving at his parents’ home after a fatiguing journey, Joseph sent peremptorily for Harris. Harris responded to this summons with something less than his usual alacrity, and when he dragged into sight, it was to bury his face in his hands and cry out in anguish, “Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul!” Joseph sprang from his seat. “Martin! Have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath?” “Yes, it is gone,” Harris replied, “and I know not where.”
“Oh, my God!” Joseph cried, clenching his hands. “All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession.” He wept and groaned, and walked the floor continually. All the family, Lucy Smith says, were in the same frame of mind; “sobs and groans, and the most bitter lamentations filled the house;” but Joseph was the most deeply affected, for he alone fully “understood the consequences of disobedience.”3
Shamefacedly Harris explained what had happened. He had brought the manuscript home and shown it first to his wife and family, and then to any and all who came desiring to see it. Then, [p.290] suddenly, it had vanished from the drawer in which he kept it. His wife denied knowing anything about it; he had searched for it in vain, and it would appear that she had continued in her professions of silence even when he administered a judicious beating to her. No one else, however, had so excellent a motive for making off with the manuscript, but Joseph dared not assume that her motives were so transparent. Theoretically it should only have been necessary to start again at the beginning, the method of translation being such that he would be able to reproduce the text in its entirety. But though his family and Harris might hope that in this way he would retrieve the situation, no one knew better than Joseph how impossible it was to reproduce word for word the text he had dictated to Harris. Well might he feel that all was lost, that this was a deep-laid plot to bring him low. Later he would explain that those who had gained possession of the manuscript designed to alter the words he had dictated so that they would read contrary to what he had translated and caused to be written. True, he could, if he chose, abandon the book and Harris would have no legal recourse. But Joseph’s conspicuous progress with the book during the spring had given him confidence and incentive; to give it up was the last thing he desired. In deep gloom he set out for home. “We parted,” his mother remembers, “with heavy hearts, for it now appeared that all which we had so fondly anticipated, and which had been the source of so much secret gratification, had in a moment fled, and fled for ever.”4
Too ebullient to be cast down for long, soon after his return Joseph hit upon a way out of his difficulties. It was an expedient which gave a final decisive turn to his life. In his book he had not hesitated to speak in the name of the Lord, and in this present crisis he went one step further. Others before him had laid claim to revelation, and there was no lack of precedent. In this turmoil of spirit it is quite possible that he also believed in the revelation he now dictated to Emma:
The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God, can not be frustrated, neither can they come to nought, for God doth not walk in crooked paths; neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said…. Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men: for although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet, if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at nought the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will, and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.
Behold, you have been intrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember, also, the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them; and behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men: for behold, you should not have [p.291] feared man more than God, although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words, yet you should have been faithful and he would have extended his arm, and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.
Behold…thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall, but remember God is merciful. Therefore, repent of that which thou hast done, and he will only cause thee to be afflicted for a season, and thou art still chosen, and wilt again be called to the work: and except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as Other men, and have no more gift.
And when thou deliveredst up that which God had given thee sight and power to translate, thou deliveredst up that which was sacred, into the hands of a wicked man, who has set at nought the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises, which were made before God, and has depended upon his own judgment, and boasted in his own wisdom, and this is the reason that thou hast lost thy privileges for a season, for thou hast suffered the counsel of thy director to be trampled upon from the beginning.
It is apparent that Joseph did not perceive all the implications of this point of departure from his past life, for the concluding passage of the revelation did not look beyond the completion of his book: Nevertheless, my work shall go forth and accomplish my purposes, for as the knowledge of a Savior has come into the world, even so shall the knowledge of my people, the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites, which dwindled in unbelief, because of the iniquities of their fathers, who have been suffered to destroy their brethren, because of their iniquities, and their abominations: and for this very purpose are these plates preserved which contain these records, that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people; and that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name; and that through their repentance they might be saved: Amen.5
Catastrophe though the loss of the manuscript may have been, there were compensations. The child of Emma’s who was to have been the first person to see the plates had been born dead, but Joseph was relieved of any embarrassment upon this score through being enabled to point to the transgression of Martin Harris. He let it be known that for a season both plates and Urim and Thummim had been taken from him, and meanwhile, as he relates in his [p.292] autobiography, he went to laboring with his hands upon his farm, in order to provide for his family.6 His mother tells us that although it was not until that day of recurring wonders, September 22, after much supplication to God, that Joseph received back the Urim and Thummim, the angel who delivered this instrument seemed much pleased with him and told him the Lord loved him for his faithfulness and humility.7
Joseph himself has left almost nothing on record about his labors upon his book during the fall and winter of 1828-29, but when his parents came to Harmony for a visit in February 1829, they learned that he had resumed translating, with Emma as his scribe. More important still, he signalized the occasion of their visit by the second of his revelations, addressed rather abstractly to his own father:
Now, behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men, therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day: Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work, for behold, the field is white already to harvest, and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perish not, but bringeth salvation to his soul, and faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualifies him for the work.
Remember temperance, patience, humility, diligence, etc., ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you: Amen.8
Chiefly remarkable in this revelation is what it reveals of the continued drift on Joseph’s part toward a definitive partnership with God. Both its language and ideas are largely borrowed from the Bible,9 and the origin of the passages shows how impressed Joseph had been with Martin Harris’s interview with Charles Anthon and what it had developed concerning sealed books, the learned, and the unlearned.10 But his second revelation had followed his first by only seven months, and now he was prepared to use revelation as a moving force as need might require. His third revelation, which would come a month after his second, would show that his command of the language and his self-assurance in the employment of it were nearly complete. A church was becoming implicit in all that Joseph said and did.
Martin Harris sometime during the winter of 1828-29 had returned to Harmony to take up again his labors as Joseph’s scribe. It would seem that Harris had not been permanently subdued by his transgression of the preceding summer, for Joseph’s father-in-law says that as time went on, he began to pester Joseph for a view of the plates. “Martin Harris informed me that he must have a greater witness, and said that he had talked with Joseph about it—Joseph [p.293] informed him that he could not, or durst not show him the plates, but that he (Joseph) would go into the woods where the Book of Plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his track in the snow, and find the Book, and examine it for himself. Harris informed me afterwards, that he followed Smith’s directions, and could not find the Plates, and was still dissatisfied.”11 Joseph’s first revelation of far-reaching implications was in response to this situation, but it has an importance far beyond the immediate purpose it served. In this revelation, for the first time, a church is fore-shadowed. Later Joseph was to repent of this revelation and rewrite it from beginning to end, the Lord having been much too explicit on some points and insufficiently informed on others. But in this month of March 1829 the Lord intoned:
Behold, I say unto you, that my servant Martin [Harris] has desired a witness from my hand, that my servant Joseph has got the things of which he has testified, and borne record that he has received of me.
And now, behold, this shall you say unto him:—I, the Lord am God, and I have given these things unto my servant Joseph, and I have commanded him that he should stand as a witness of these things, nevertheless I have caused him that he should enter into a covenant with me, that he should not show them except I command him, and he has no power over them except I grant it unto him; and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.12
And verily I say unto you, that wo shall come unto the inhabitants of the earth, if they will not hearken unto my words, for, behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe my servant Joseph, if it were possible that he could show them all things. O ye unbelieving, ye stiffnecked generation, mine anger is kindled against you! Behold, verily I say, I have reserved the things of which I have spoken, which I have intrusted to my servant, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations: But this generation shall have my words, yea and the testimony of three of my servants shall go forth with my words unto this generation; yea, three shall know of a surety that these things are true, for I will give them power, that they may behold and view these things as they are, and to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation. And the testimony of three witnesses will I send forth and my word, and behold, whosoever believeth in my word, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit, and they shall be born of me, and their testimony shall also go forth….
And now I speak again concerning the man that desireth a witness: behold I say unto him, he exalteth [p.294] himself and doth not humble himself sufficiently before me, but if he will go out and bow down before me, and humble himself in mighty prayer and faith, in the sincerity of his heart, then will I grant unto him a view of the things which he desireth to know: and then he shall say unto the people of this generation, behold I have seen the things and I know of a surety that they are true, for I have seen them, for they have been shown unto me by the power of God and not of man. And I command him that he shall say no more unto them, concerning these things, except he shall say, I have seen them, and they have been shown unto me by the power of God.
And these are the words which he shall say.—But if he deny this he will break the covenant which he has before covenanted with me, and behold he is condemned. And now except he humble himself and acknowledge unto me the things that he has done, which are wrong, and covenant with me that he will keep my commandments, and exercise faith in me, behold I say unto him, he shall have no such views, for I will grant unto him no views of the things of which I have spoken. And if this be the case, I command him that he shall do no more, nor trouble me any more concerning this matter.
And if this be the case, behold I say unto you, Joseph, when thou hast translated a few more pages thou shalt stop for a season, even until I command thee again, then thou mayest translate again.
Altogether, this revelation was a remarkably sophisticated document. Harris was given to understand that he would be permitted to view the plates only if he were not under transgression, so that it was his own fault if thereafter he should not succeed in his object. On the other hand, if he did see the plates, he was forbidden to say anything about them except that he had seen the plates and they had been shown him by the power of God. In either event, he was not to heckle Joseph further, the seer being authorized to cease work entirely if Harris did not behave himself.
But there was much more that was remarkable about this revelation. It did not contain any of the resounding intimations of things to come with which Joseph later inflated it. It did not tell Joseph that hereafter he should be ordained and go forth and deliver God’s words unto the children of men. It did not tell him that the three witnesses should be “called and ordained,” nor say that “from heaven” God would declare unto these witnesses the truth of “these things.” It did not assert that “this [was] the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my Church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” Joseph was not told that he must wait yet a little while, being as yet unordained. All this and much else Joseph wrote into the revelation later, when he had become a prophet whom it was seemly [p.295] the Lord God should have given some prevision of the future. But this, at least, the Lord did say to Joseph that March day in 1829, and out of it a church was formed:
If the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, and I will put down all lyings, and deceivings, and priestcrafts, and envyings, and strifes, and idolatries, and sorceries, and all manner of iniquities, and I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.
And now if this generation do harden their hearts against my word, behold I will deliver them up unto satan, for he reigneth and hath much power at this time, for he hath got great hold upon the hearts of the people of this generation: and not far from the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah, do they come at this time:…Behold I tell you these things even as I also told the people of the destruction of Jerusalem, and my word shall be verified at this time as it hath hitherto been verified.
How much of the Book of Mormon was written during the period when Joseph first resumed work on it, Emma and Harris serving as scribes, is not known, though Harris many years later asserted that he had taken down nearly a third of the text that was finally published.13 The exasperation to which Joseph gave vent in his revelation shows, nevertheless, that Harris was not an ideal scribe, and it was a stroke of unexpected good fortune that the Lord a few weeks later sent a more tractable instrument to replace him. Oliver Cowdery, a dark-haired, thin-faced, serious-eyed young man destined to play a prominent part in the completion of Joseph’s book and the founding of his church, surprisingly sought out Joseph at Harmony the first week in April 1829. Like Joseph, he was a native Vermonter, and was nearly of an age with him. Perhaps neither of them knew it, but they were blood relatives, Cowdery being a third cousin of Joseph’s mother.14 Much was similar in their backgrounds, for Wells and Poultney, Vermont, where Cowdery spent the first nineteen years of his life, had not been unfavored with dowsers, scryers, prophets, and revelators. About 1799 one Winchell or Wingate, a practitioner with divining rods, had made his appearance at Wells, staying for a time, it is said, with Cowdery’s father. By the spring of 1800 Winchell had gathered about himself a considerable number of believers in the hazel rod, and that summer and fall there was much digging after money, precisely after the fashion later so popular at Palmyra. Winchell and his rod were taken up by a local dissenter, Nathaniel Wood, of Middletown, and by the fall of 1800 dozens of the townsfolk had put hazel rods to use as a medium for divine revelation, calling them “St. John’s” rods. The excitement climaxed in a determination that God’s judgment would be visited upon the wicked Gentiles on January 14, 1801, when destroying angels would pass through the community and slay a [p.296] portion of the unbelievers, this work of destruction to be completed by an earthquake that would follow the same night. The dreadful day passed without untoward event, however, and the Wood family soon after removed to New York, some among them eventually going on to Ohio, where one of the sons became state governor.15 These exciting events had occurred five years before Oliver Cowdery was born, but the countryside roundabout Wells, Poultney, and Middletown had remained pitted by the excavations of the money diggers, and he had grown up within a tradition which predisposed him to accept Joseph Smith’s claims, he himself being an experimenter with forked rods and peepstones. About 1825 he had moved to western New York, and in the winter of 1828-29 was employed as a school teacher in Manchester, some of the younger Smith children being among his students.
David Whitmer, who was of nearly the same age as Cowdery and Joseph, and who was to become the brother-in-law of the one and a witness of the other, says that he made a business trip to Palmyra from Fayette in 1828 and discussed with Cowdery and others the story of the golden plates. He himself supposed the tale mere idle gossip, but Cowdery admitted to a belief that there was some truth in the story and announced his intention of investigating it.16 In the course of “boarding ’round,” Cowdery came to stay with the Smith family, and, according to Joseph’s mother, gained the elder Joseph’s confidence “so far as to obtain a sketch of the facts relative to the plates. Shortly after receiving this information, he told Mr. Smith that he was highly delighted with what he had heard, that he had been in a deep study upon the subject all day, and that it was impressed upon his mind, that he should yet have the privilege of writing for Joseph.” In short, he determined to accompany Joseph’s younger brother Samuel to Harmony as soon as school should close and, from this time on, was “so completely absorbed in the subject of the Record, that it seemed impossible for him to think or converse about anything else.”17
They set out late in March, stopping off en route at the Whitmer farm near Seneca Lake, where Cowdery promised the Whitmer family that he would soon write them the truth of the matter. “After he got there,” David Whitmer adds, “he…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.”18 Cowdery himself has related, more grandly but rather more vaguely, that he arrived at Joseph’s home near sunset on April 5, 1829, and “on Tuesday, the 7th, commenced to write the book of Mormon. These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost of gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters; the history, or record, called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”19 Still later, even after a rift had [p.297] opened between the two men, Cowdery wrote, “Although favored of God as a chosen witness to bear testimony to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, and honored of the Lord in being permitted, without money and without price, to serve as a scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses when we would be translating from plates through ‘the Urim and Thummim’, and the plates not be in sight at all. But I believed both in the Seer and in the ‘Seer Stone,’ and what the First Elder announced as revelation from God, I accepted as such, and committed to paper with a glad mind and happy heart and swift pen; for I believed him to be the soul of honor and truth, a young man who woud die before he would lie…. I felt a solemn awe about me, being deep in the faith, that the First Elder was a Seer and Prophet of God, giving the truth unsullied through ‘Urim and Thummim; dictated by the will of the Lord, and that he was persecuted for the sake of the truth which he loved.”20
Grateful for this first of the many humble converts who were to make possible the church he brought into being, Joseph rewarded Cowdery with a revelation from God which went so far as to promise the scribe “a gift…to translate, even as my servant Joseph,” records containing much of the gospel having been kept back because of the wickedness of the people. “I command you,” the oracle continued, “that if you have good desires, a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven, then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity. And now behold I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established.”21
These rash promises Joseph shortly had cause to repent of, for Cowdery was soon yearning to start translating himself, and God had to intervene. Verily, verily, the Lord said unto Oliver, he should receive a knowledge of whatever things he asked in faith, including “the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which have been spoken, by the manifestation of my Spirit…. Now, behold this is the Spirit of revelation:—behold this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red sea on dry ground: therefore, this is thy gift; apply unto it and blessed art thou, for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies…. Remember this is your gift. Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God; and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know.”22
Even this revelation did not suffice. Before the month of April was out, God had to put his foot down absolutely:
[p.298] Behold I say unto you my son, that, because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant Joseph, even so I would that you should continue until you have finished this record, which I have intrusted unto you: and then behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate.
Be patient my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. Behold the work which you are called to do, is to write for my servant Joseph; and behold it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you begun to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. Do not murmur my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.
Behold you have not understood, you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought, save it was to ask me; but behold I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right, I will cause that your bosom shall bum within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right; but if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought, that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred, save it be given you from me.
Now if you had known this, you could have translated: nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now. Behold it was expedient when you commenced, but you feared and the time is past, that it is not expedient now; for, do you not behold that I have given unto my servant Joseph sufficient strength, whereby it is made up? and neither of you have I condemned.
Do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper.23
Thus finally Cowdery was shaped into an instrument suited to Joseph’s need. No more is heard of those precious ancient records he was to bring before the world, for Joseph’s church was now fast ripening in his mind, and he would find other means of rewarding Cowdery for his steadfastness and his untiring labor. Meanwhile, however, these revelations had become increasingly bold in their language, and Joseph had shown himself increasingly inclined to revelation to smooth the path. The first of the revelations to Cowdery had begun with much the same language employed in the revelation to Joseph’s father in February, and which was repeated time and again during the next three months: “A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto the children of men…. Behold, the field is white already to harvest, therefore whoso desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might…if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.” But that first [p.299] revelation to Cowdery, with all else it had contained, had included the concept that the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon was in itself a ministry:
Behold I give unto you, and also unto my servant Joseph, the keys of this gift, which shall bring to light this ministry; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established.
Verily, verily I say unto you, if they reject my words, and this part of my gospel and ministry, blessed are ye, for they can do no more unto you than unto me; and if they do unto you, even as they have done unto me, blessed are ye, for you shall dwell with me in glory: but if they reject not my words, which shall be established by the testimony which shall be given, blessed are they; and then shall ye have joy in the fruit of your labors….Fear not little flock, do good, let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my Rock, they cannot prevail. Behold I do not condemn you, go your ways and sin no more: perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you: look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not: behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet: be faithful; keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven: Amen.24
It is obvious where all this was trending, and Joseph and Oliver stepped across the dividing line in mid-May 1829. No men in their sober senses, Oliver Cowdery says, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites from the mouth of the Savior as to the precise manner in which men should build up his church, “especially, when corruption had spread an uncertainty over all forms and systems practiced among men, without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave.” He and Joseph waited only for the commandment to be given, “Arise and be baptized.” They had not long to wait, for on a May day as they walked in the woods, “as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the vail was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance…His voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant; dispelled every fear…as he said: ‘Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer this priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon earth, that the sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.’”25 Cowdery’s own account, thus stripped to essentials, is full of cloudy glory and somewhat deficient as to detail.26 Joseph himself, working some years after the event, writes that Cowdery and he were “forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a sprit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood. We had been [p.300] threatened with being mobbed from time to time, and this, too, by professors of religion. And their intentions of mobbing us were only counteracted by the influence of my wife’s father’s family (under Divine providence), who had become very friendly to me, and who were opposed to mobs, and were willing that I should be allowed to continue the work of translation without interruption; and therefore offered and promised us protection from all unlawful proceedings as far as in them lay.”27
The services done him Joseph repaid in the coin he now minted so freely, and which was received at so gratifyingly high a valuation, the word of the Lord. Revelations came for David, John, and Peter Whitmer, Jr., declaring as usual the great and marvelous work about to come forth unto the children of men, the field white to the harvest and the sickle to be thrust in. All the brothers were instructed to declare repentance unto the people and bring souls to Christ, but David was also promised that if he should ask the Father in the name of the Son, having faith, he should receive the Holy Ghost and stand as a witness of things to be seen and heard: in short, with Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris he should be one of the promised special witnesses to the truth of the Book of Mormon.28
As the long and arduous labor on the Book of Mormon approached its end, Joseph had to come to grips at last with the problem of authenticating the golden plates from which this precious record had been translated. In March, before the coming of Oliver Cowdery to Harmony, a revelation through Joseph to Martin Harris had promised that the testimony of three should go forth, “Yea, three shall know a surety that these things are true,” and this promise appeared as a prophecy in the Book of Mormon itself. It may be that Joseph originally had intended that he himself should be one of the witnesses; and a conditional promise had been made to Harris, but the context of the revelation was such that Harris could be judged as being in transgression, and Joseph did not feel bound to include him among his special witnesses. After the coming of Cowdery, he too was granted a hope of seeing the plates, though in language so phrased that Joseph need not feel embarrassed by it, for God said only that as respecting this “knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient…behold I will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.”29
In the case of both Harris and Cowdery, Joseph had so hedged about the viewing of the plates with the necessity of faith as to make it a reflection upon either should he not be shown them finally. When Joseph, after reaching Fayette, decided that David Whitmer should also be one of his witnesses, the revelation made the point again, but more gently: “It shall come to pass, that if you shall ask the Father, in my name, in faith believing, you shall receive the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance, that you may stand as a witness of the things of which you shall both hear and see.”30 [p.301]
It may be that Joseph announced finally his authorization to exhibit the plates to three witnesses aside from himself with a special revelation, though it is a suspicious circumstance that this revelation was not included in the Book of Commandments but was first given to the world in 1835.31 And according to the story Joseph’s own mother tells, it was more or less by accident—or rather, her own innate kindness—that Harris figured in the episode at all.
As soon as the translation was finished, she says, Joseph sent his parents word to this effect, asking that they come immediately to Waterloo. “The same evening, we conveyed this intelligence to Martin Harris, for we loved the man, although his weakness had cost us much trouble. Hearing this,” Lucy writes, “he greatly rejoiced, and determined to go straightway to Waterloo to congratulate Joseph upon his success. Accordingly, the next morning, we all set off together, and before sunset met Joseph and Oliver at Mr. Whitmer’s.” The following day, after morning prayer, “Joseph arose from his knees, and approaching Martin Harris with a solemnity that thrills through my veins to this day, when it occurs to my recollection, said, ‘Martin Harris, you have got to humble yourself before your God this day, that you may obtain a forgiveness of your sins. If you do, it is the will of God that you should look upon the plates, in company with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.’”32 A few minutes later, the four men retired to a grove, a short distance from the Whitmer house, and there they had the supernal experience that had been promised them. They returned after a time to draw up the Testimony of Three Witnesses which has since been printed in each edition of the Book of Mormon: 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, his brethren, and also of the people of Jared, which 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 behold 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 [p.302] in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgement seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
Oliver Cowdery has left no independent account of this episode, and it was not until near the close of his life that Martin Harris had much to say about it either, though it was freely said that “an angel” had shown them the plates.33 When, in January 1859, Joel Tiffany questioned Harris on this score, all he would say was, “I am forbidden to say anything how the Lord showed them to me, except that by the power of God I have seen them.”34 Later, he was more free with details. To the Saints who hung upon his words, he explained that the angel who appeared to him stood on the opposite side of a table “on which were the plates, the interpreters, etc., and took the plates in his hands,” turning them over like the pages of a book, meanwhile declaring that the Book of Mormon had been correctly translated “by the power of God and not of man.”35 Just before his death, however, he informed an inquirer that he had seen the plates “only in a visionary or entranced state,” which agreed with what John A. Clark had heard a generation before.36
The earliest account of the experience by David Whitmer is that “he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alleging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping.”37 In an interview, in 1878, Whitmer related: The angel showed us (the Three Witnesses) the plates, as I suppose to fulfill the words of the book itself. Martin Harris was not with us at this time; he obtained a view of them afterwards (the same day). Joseph, Oliver and myself were together when I saw them. We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the time of their being engraved, and many other plates. The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting just here on a log, when we were Overshadowed by a light. It was not the light of the sun nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell you how far, but in the midst of this light…[a few feet distant] there appeared, as it were, a table with many records or plates [p.303] upon it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the sword of Laban, the directors—i.e., the ball which Lehi had, and the interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God. [Questioned whether he saw the angel at this time:] Yes, he stood before us.38
Whitmer did, however, add this qualification subsequently: “Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it ‘being in vision.’ We read in the Scriptures [that] Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God, Daniel saw an angel in a vision, also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon.”39
Notwithstanding God had declared in March that three only in this generation should be privileged to “know of a surety” that his servant Joseph “has got the things of which he has testified,”40 so successful was Joseph’s experience with his Three Witnesses that some days later he procured an additional testimony from eight more witnesses. Joseph, Oliver, and the Whitmers, Lucy Smith says, came to Manchester on a visit to make some arrangements for getting the book printed. “Soon after they came, all the male part of the company, with my husband, Samuel, and Hyrum, retired to a place where the family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God. They went to this place, because it had been revealed to Joseph that the plates would be carried thither by one of the ancient Nephites. Here it was, that those eight witnesses, whose names are recorded in the Book of Mormon, looked upon them and handled them.”41 Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come, that Joseph Smith, Jr. the Author and Proprietor 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 [p.304] witness unto the world that which we have seen: and we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
|CHRISTIAN WHITMER||PETER WHITMER, Jr.|
|HIRAM PAGE||HYRUM SMITH|
|JACOB WHITMER||JOHN WHITMER|
|JOSEPH SMITH, Sen.||SAMUEL H. SMITH|
In its curious mixture of the vague and the specific, this testimony of the Eight Witnesses has comforted both believers and disbelievers ever since. The faithful point triumphantly to the concreteness of the testimony, “we did handle with our hands,” “we have seen and hefted.” The skeptical dwell upon the shortcomings of the document, with respect to time and place, and the lack of supporting detail, either in the testimony itself or in independent statements by the witnesses. As three of the eight were Smiths, four were Whitmers, and the fifth a Whitmer by marriage, neither have there been wanting those to echo Mark Twain: “I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”
It is understood from Mormon sources that there was no angelic visitation attendant upon this final showing of the plates, Joseph Smith himself having done the honors, but the only purported description of the event, which believers dismiss as “mere drivel,” is that by Thomas Ford: It is related that the Prophet’s early followers were anxious to see the plates; the Prophet had always given out that they could not be seen by the carnal eye, but must be spiritually discerned; that the power to see them depended upon faith, and was the gift of God, to be obtained by fasting, prayer, mortification of the flesh, and exercises of the spirit; that so soon as he could see the evidence of a strong and lively faith in any of his followers, they should be gratified in their holy curiosity. He set them to continual prayer, and other spiritual exercises, to acquire this lively faith by means of which the hidden things of God could be spiritually discerned; and at last, when he could delay them no longer, he assembled them in a room, and produced a box, which he said contained the precious treasure. The lid was opened; the witnesses peeped into it, but making no discovery, for the box was empty, they said, “Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.” The Prophet answered them, “O ye of little faith! how long will God bear with this wicked and perverse generation? Down on your knees, brethren, every one of you, and pray God for the forgiveness of your sins, and for a holy and living faith which cometh down from heaven.” The disciples dropped to their knees, and began to pray in the fervency of their spirit, supplicating God for more than two hours with fanatical earnestness; at the end of which time, looking again into the box, they were now persuaded that they saw the plates.42 [p.305]
The Book of Mormon was completed finally sometime in July or August 1829; it was copyrighted as early as June 11, 1829, but only by deposit of title-page. Negotiations were entered into with E. B. Grandin, publisher of the Wayne Sentinel, for the printing of 3,000 copies, Martin Harris agreeing to stand security for the $5,000 which was the estimated cost. Grandin appears to have been reluctant to see Harris victimize himself through such a project,43 and accordingly Joseph, Harris, and some others rode to Rochester to see about having the book printed there. Thurlow Weed, later one of the great political bosses, but in 1829 only the publisher of a party organ, the Anti-Masonic Inquirer, refused to be interested, but Joseph and his associates persisted and succeeded in securing from another Rochester publisher, Elihu E Marshall, a tentative agreement to publish the book. With the aid of Joseph’s mother, the contract provided that Harris was to put up one-half of the money and the rest was to be paid by Joseph and Hyrum. If her memory is to be relied on in this, the two Smiths must have contemplated paying their share out of profits to be realized after the book was published, for the Smith family had fallen upon such evil times, financially, that there is no possibility that they could have put up the requisite capital in advance; dispossessed from their old farm, all of them, with the exception of Joseph, now living in Hyrum’s crowded little home.44
Having learned a lesson from his earlier experience with Harris, Joseph now, as his mother says, received a commandment: First, that Oliver Cowdery should transcribe the whole manuscript. Second, that he should take but one copy at a time to the office, so that if one copy should get destroyed, there would still be a copy remaining. Third, that in going to and from the office, he should always have a guard to attend him, for the purpose of protecting the manuscript. Fourth, that a guard should be kept constantly on the watch, both night and day, about the house, to protect the manuscript from malicious persons, who would infest the house for the purpose of destroying the manuscript.45
All these things, she adds, were strictly attended to, and Joseph meanwhile returned to Harmony where Emma had patiently remained all this while.
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 [p.306] preach.” For eight months before the church was formally organized, they preached, baptized, and confirmed,46 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.47 “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!”
The newly established Palmyra Reflector, espousing as it did Alexander Pope’s dictum, “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan! The proper study of mankind is man,” could not resist making sport of such game, and throughout the fall enlivened its columns with a succession of ironical digs at the book, its believers, and the religious community generally. All this the Smiths endured as patiently as might be, but the editor of the Reflector, a certain Esquire Cole, writing in the December 9, 1929, issue, fairly startled them with an announcement concerning the “Gold Bible.” As the work bearing this cognomen was now in press, as them was much curiosity locally concerning it, and as the work itself would not be ready for delivery for some months to come, said the Reflector, “at the solicitation of many of our readers, we have concluded to commence publishing extracts from it.” As good as its word, in its issues of January 2 and 13, 1830, the Reflector published a long extract from the first chapter of Joseph’s book.
Consternation reigned in the Smith household at this development. Notwithstanding what Cole had said about publishing extracts merely, they were appalled to think that he proposed to furnish his subscribers with “the principal portion of the book in such a way that they would not be obliged to pay the Smiths for it.” In his paper, Lucy remembers with more heat than strict justice, Cole “had thrown together a parcel of the most vulgar, disgusting prose, and the meanest, and most low-lived doggerel,” in juxtaposition with the pilfered portion of the book of Mormon. In no wise conciliated by Cole’s observation that he had so far discovered in the book nothing treasonable or having “a tendency to subvert our liberties,” or his advice to those members of the community who professed liberal principles not to give themselves to much uneasiness “about matters that so little concern time,” Lucy says that the Smiths were shocked at such a perversion of common sense and moral feelings, “as well as indignant at the dishonest course which Mr. Cole had taken, in order to possess himself of the work.”48 [p.307]
Forthwith Hyrum hied himself around to the printing office to forbid Cole’s publishing another word. The lawyer, a gamecock of a man, defied him up and down, and thus it became necessary to bring Joseph from Pennsylvania and threaten Cole with the pains and penalties of the law. Meanwhile, in his issue of January 22, Cole printed a third abstract from the sacred work, and he only desisted finally when Joseph threatened him with suit for violation of copyright.49
By no means was this the only crisis which had to be met while the printing of the book was in progress. According to Joseph’s mother, the inhabitants of the surrounding country, seeing that the work still progressed, became uneasy and called a mass meeting on the subject, at which it was resolved to boycott the book when finally published. A committee then awaited upon Grandin and informed him of the resolutions passed, and explained to him “the evil consequences which would result to him therefrom,” at the same time advising Grandin to cease work on the book “as the Smiths had lost all their property, and consequently would be unable to pay him for his work, except by the sale of the books. And this they would never be able to do, for the people would not purchase them.” It became necessary, Lucy adds, to send for Joseph; he then went at once with Martin Harris to Grandin, and “succeeded in removing his fears, so that he went on with the work, until the books were printed.”50
This curious episode is almost the only real evidence that Lucy may have been right in saying that the original contract for the publication of the book provided that Joseph and Hyrum were to have assumed half the cost while at the same time reserving to themselves half of the profits, for when Grandin demanded payment in full before he would complete the printing and the binding, Joseph had no recourse except to figuratively twist Martin Harris’s arm to obtain the necessary funds. Consequently, a revelation, “A commandment of God and not of man to you, Martin, given (Manchester, New York, March 1830,) by him who is eternal,” terrified Harris with the threat of God’s punishment, endless and eternal. On the last great day of judgment, God would visit the inhabitants of the earth, “judging every man according to his works, and the deeds which he hath done. And surely every man must repent or suffer… Wherefore, I command you by my name, and by my Almighty power, that you repent: repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore: How sore you know not! How exquisite you know not! Yea, how hard to bear you know not!” Misery should be his lot if he slighted these counsels, “Yea, even destruction of thyself and property. Impart a portion of thy property; Yea, even a part of thy lands and all save the support of thy family. Pay the printer’s debt. Release thyself from bondage.” The way thus opened up, and Joseph’s new revelation was offered for sale in late March 1830.51
2. Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 118; E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio), pp. 267-69; Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, Ancestry and Posterity of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale (Independence, Missouri, 1929), on the authority of a family Bible, gives the baby’s name as Alva, as does his grave in the old McKune cemetery south of Oakland, Pennsylvania, a few yards from that of Isaac Hale.
7. Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 126. Joseph’s autobiography rewrites these events to reflect his later necessities, for he had given his followers to understand that his first revelations were had through the Urim and Thummim. He explains that this instrument had been taken from him because he had wearied the Lord in asking that Harris be permitted to show the “writings” to his family and neighbors; that it was returned long enough for him to have his first revelation; that the plates and the Urim and Thummim were then again taken from him, but returned in a few days; and that he then inquried of the Lord and was granted a second revelation about the lost portion of the Book of Mormon manuscript. History of the Church, 1:21, 23. Since demonstrably he had this second revelation in May 1829, it is clear how much credence may be given this recital. [La]fayette Lapham, Historical Magazine, 2nd Series, 7 (May 1870): 305-309, says that after the loss of the manuscript “Joseph and Harris returned to Harmony, and found the plates missing—the Lord had taken them also. Then Joseph put on the spectacles, and saw where the Lord had hid them, among the rocks, in the mountains. Though not allowed to get them, he could, by the help of the spectacles, read them where they were, as well as if they were before him. They were directed…[to] begin where they left off, and translate until they were directed to stop.”
10. Significantly, the words of the Lord quoted by Isaiah, “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder,” are only one paragraph removed from the figure of a sealed book; the intervening paragraph reads: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.”"
12. The bearing of this on Joseph’s earlier practice with his seerstone is manifest. But after a church came into being, the language of the revelation became a serious embarrassment, and for the first edition of Doctrine and Covenants (1835) the passage was revised to read: “You have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”
Compare Book of Commandments, Chapter 4, cited here in the text, with Doctrine and Covenants (1921 edition), Section 5.
13. See the letter from Simon Smith to Joseph Smith III, dated Bristol, England, Dec. 29, 1880, in the Reorganized LDS church library, in which he reports an interview with Harris in Utah prior to his death.
20. Oliver Cowdery, Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints (Norton, Ohio, 1839). [Editor's note: There is some question among scholars whether this document, which can only be traced to 1906, is legitimate.]
22. Joseph had later to disembarrass himself of the language of this revelation (see Book of Commandments, Chapter 7). More ambiguously, the key passage was made to read, “Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9.)
26. Curiously, Cowdery wrote four and a half years later that he received baptism from Joseph’s hand, “by the direction of the Angel of God, whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure had no part in the transactions of that day, as the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not.” A Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints. Note Cowdery’s tendency to see not only angels but still more supernal personages. He relates, for example, that the Redeemer himself subsequently appeared to him in open vision to inform him that Joseph had “given revelations from his own heart and from a defiled conscience as coming from my mouth and…corrupted the covenant and altered words which I had spoken.”
Joseph’s account of the “restoration of the priesthood” makes much of two priesthoods, Aaronic and Melchizedek, the first of which was conferred at this time by John the Baptist, the second at a later date by Peter, James, and John themselves. This, however, is only another example of his proclivity for rewriting his early history to answer the logic of later events. The concept of two priesthoods evidently dates back no further than March, 1835 (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 107). Neither “Aaronic” nor “Melchizedek” priesthood was mentioned or even implied in any document of prior date. On this point some of the church’s historians have been led astray, accepting Doctrine and Covenants, Section 28, as a revelation given on Sept. 4, 1830, whereas the text is a rewritten version of the original that postdates Section 107. Compare the original revelation in Book of Commandments, Chapter 28. It should be added that Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 131, makes no more of this “restoration of the priesthood” on which ultimately the Mormon claim to authority rests than that one morning Joseph and Oliver “sat down to their work, as usual, and the first thing which presented itself through the Urim and Thummim, was a commandment for Joseph and Oliver to repair to the water, and attend to the ordinance of Baptism. They did so.” It may be that the incident amounted to no more than this; that Cowdery’s broad imagination later supplied the visitation from John the Baptist, and that Joseph seized upon Cowdery’s story for its value to his legend.
31. “Revelation, to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, at Fayette, Seneca County, New York, June, 1829, given previous to their viewing the Plates containing the Book of Mormon,” printed in the 1835 edition of Doctrine and Covenants as Section 42. If this revelation was extant before 1833, there is no reason why it should not have been included in the Book of Commandments, the only revelation from its period since admitted to the canon, and in view of the wholesale alterations made in the revelations when they were reprinted in Doctrine and Covenants, the historicity of this revelation must remain in question unless and until its 1829 dating can be established from other sources.”
36. A. Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Elk Horn, Idaho, 1888), p. 7. In this interview, Harris said that it was about three days after the other witnesses saw the plates that he was vouchsafed the privilege. He “went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” Clarke, Gleanings by the Way, pp. 256-57: “A gentlemen in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity, told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly, ‘Did you see those plates?’ Harris replied, he did. ‘Did you see the plates, and the engravings on them with your bodily eyes?’ Harris replied, ‘Yes, I saw them with my eyes, they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.’ ‘But did you see them with your natural—your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this: Harris replied, ‘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 any thing around me, though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.’”
38. Report of Orson Pratt and Joseph E Smith, Sept. 17, 1878, in Millennial Star, 40. An account to substantially the same effect was published in Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881, and one not dissimilar in the Richmond, Missouri, Democrat, Jan. 26, 1888, the day after his death; see Millennial Star, 50:139.
47. Stephen Harding, later a governor of Utah, somewhat regretfully admitted to this practical joke some years after; see Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, pp. 80-81, and Thomas Gregg, The Prophet of Palmyra (New York, 1930), pp. 48-49. A contemporary allusion to the escapade is found in the Palmyra Reflector, Sept. 23, 1829.
49. This episode as described by Smith, ibid., pp. 148-51, is one of the few sections of her book which can be checked for accuracy against external sources, and from this criterion it has to be said that all her reminiscences must be received with great caution. In many particulars, her memory was seriously at fault, as becomes at once apparent when recourse is had to the issues of the Reflector itself.