From Historian to Dissident
Bruce N. Westergren, editor
[p.55]I returned from Nelson Ohio where I and Lyman Wight had built a branch of the Church of Christ.
I was appointed by the voice of the Elders to keep the Church record.1 Joseph Smith Jr. said unto me You must also keep the Church history. I would rather not do it but observed that the will of the Lord be done, and if he desires it, I desire that he would manifest it through Joseph the Seer. And thus came the word of the Lord2:
Behold it is expedient in me that my servant John Whitmer should write and keep a regular history, and assist you my servant Joseph, in transcribing all things which shall be given you, until he is called to further duties. Again, verily I say unto you, that he can also lift up his voice in meetings when ever it shall be expedient.
And again, I say unto you, that it shall be appointed unto him to keep the church record and history continually, for Oliver Cowdery I have appointed unto another office. Wherefore, it shall be given him, inasmuch as he is faithful, by the [p.56]Comforter, to write these things: even so. Amen.
Oliver Cowdery has written the commencement of the church history, commencing at the time of the finding of the plates, up to June 12, 1831.3
From this date I have written the things that I have written, and they are a mere sketch of the things that have transpired, they are however all that seemed to me wisdom to write—many things happened that are to be lamented because of the weakness and instability of man. The Devil having a gr[e]at hold on the hearts of the children of men, and the foolish traditions of our fathers, is to be lamented, for they count themselves the children of wisdom, and great knowledge, in consequence of which, the fulness of the gosple finds its way to but few of the hearts of this generation. Although their hearts must be penetrated, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
Permit me here to remark, that David Whitmer,4 Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris,5 were the three Witnesses, whose names are attached to the Book of Mormon according to the prediction of the Book, who knew and seen, for a surety, into whose presence the angel of God came and showed them the Plates, the ball, the directors,6 &c. And also other witnesses even eight Viz. Christian Whitmer,7 Jacob Whitmer,8 John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., Hyram Page,9 Joseph Smith, [Sr.,]10 Hyram Smith11 and Samuel H. Smith12 are men to whom Joseph Smith Jr showed the Plates, these witnesses names go forth also of the truth of this work in the last days. To the convincing or condemning of this generation in the last day.13
Some of the brethren arrived from the State of New York, Samuel H. Smith & Orson Pratt, who were prospered on their journey. The disciples increased daily, and miricles were wrought such as healing the sick casting out devils, and [p.57]the church grew and multiplied in numbers, grace, and knowledge.
Leman Copley14 one of the disciples, who was formerly a shaker quaker,15 he was anxious that some of the elders should go to his former brethren and preach the gospel. He also teased16 to be ordained to preach himself, and desire that the Lord should direct in this and all matters & thus saith the Lord:
Given at Kirtland March 1831. Published in the first edition at Kirtland, page 191. insert the revelation.17
The above named brethren went and proclaimed according to the revelation given to them, but the shakers hearkened not to their words, and received not the gospel at that time; for they were bound up in tradition and priestcraft, and thus they are led away with foolish and vain imaginations.
For a perpetual memory, to the shame and confusion of the devil—permit me, to say a few things, respecting the proceedings of some of those who were disciples, and some remain among us, and will, and have come from under the error and enthusiam, which they had fallen.
Some had visions and could not tell what they saw. Some would fancy to themselves that they had the sword of Laban and would wield it as expert as a light dragoon, some would act like an Indian in the act of scalping, some would slide or scoot ond the floor, with the rapidity of a serpent, which the[y] termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites, preaching the gospel. And many other vain and foolish maneuvers, that are unseeming, and unprofitable to mention. Thus the devil blinded these things to show how ignorant and undecerning children are and how easy man kind is lead as tray, notwithstanding the things of God that are written, concerning his Kingdom.
These things griev[e]d the servants of the Lord, and some [p.58]conversed together on this subject, and others came in and we were at Joseph Smith Jr. the Seers, and made it a matter of consultation, for many would not turn from their folly, unless God would give a revelation, therefore the Lord spoke to Joseph saying. Revelation given Kirtland May 1831. Printed at Kirtland first edition Page 134, Section 17. insert the Revelation.18
2. D&C 47; compare: 190 (Section 63), which was given in March 1831, and an additional revelation given the following November (Wood, 2:155 [Section 38]). For historical background, see Cook, Revelations, 64-65, 133.
After the conference called Whitmer to the position, he asked Joseph Smith for a revelation to confirm it instead of the other way around as shown in the documents.
3. The whereabouts of this manuscript is unknown. David Whitmer seems to have made passing reference to it in an 1884 interview (see Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness [Orem, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1991], 114). The manuscript apparently did exist, however, at one time, although who may have had it is uncertain (see Franklin D. Richards to George Schweich, 15 Oct. 1889, Franklin D. Richards Collection, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter LDS archives); Andrew Jenson to Franklin D. Richards, 5 Sept. 1893, Richards Collection; Franklin D. Richards to Andrew Jenson, 9 Sept. 1893, Andrew Jenson Collection, LDS archives; Andrew Jenson to Franklin D. Richards, 24 Sept. 1893, Richards Collection).
[p.59]4. David Whitmer was born on January 7, 1805, to Peter Whitmer and Mary Musselman near Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. In 1829, he, in company with Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, became one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He was baptized in June 1829. On January 9, 1831, he married Julia Ann Jolly; they became the parents of two children. He was ordained an elder on April 6, 1830, and moved his family to Kirtland, Ohio, by June. Here he was ordained a high priest on October 25.
Whitmer and his family moved to Jackson County, Missouri, around October 1832. On July 7, 1834, he was chosen and ordained to be the successor of Joseph Smith and “president of the church in Zion” (Missouri). He left Missouri for Kirtland about September.
On February 14, 1835, Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery, along with Joseph Smith, in accordance with an earlier revelation (D&C 18:26-30, 37-40), met with the veterans of the paramilitary march on Missouri (Zion’s Camp) and chose members for the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; on February 28 the four again met to fill the original First Quorum of the Seventy.
Whitmer remained in Kirtland to participate in the dedicatory services of the Kirtland temple in March 1836. In 1837, however, he allied himself with dissenters and returned to Missouri on July 29 bitterly disillusioned. He was rejected as president of the church in Zion at a conference held February 5, 1838, along with his two conselors, William W. Phelps and John Whitmer. David Whitmer was excommunicated on April 13, his family settled in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, where he operated a livery stable. He was elected to fill an unexpired term of mayor in Richmond from 1867-68.
Whitmer never rejoined the LDS church, nor did he ever become a member of any other church. Throughout the remainder of his life, he constantly reaffirmed his faith in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. He died on January 25, 1888, in [p.60]Richmond (Cook, Revelations, 24-25, 123; LDSBE, 1:263-71; Anderson, Witnesses, 67-92; see also Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, for a summary of Whitmer’s recollections and testimony).
5. Martin Harris, a son of Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham, was born on May 18, 1783, in Easttown, Saratoga County, New York. He married his first cousin, Lucy Harris; they became the parents of three children. A prominent local landowner and farmer, Martin owned 240 acres in the Palmyra area.
In1829 Harris served as a scribe to Joseph Smith during the dictation of the Book of Mormon; that June, along with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, he became one of the Three Witnesses. Harris financed publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830.
Baptized on April 6, 1830, Harris was ordained a priest and on June 3, 1831, a high priest. He became a member of the Kirtland high council in February 1834. The following April he marched with Zion’s Camp to Missouri.
On February 14, 1835, Harris, along with Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Joseph Smith, chose the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; on February 28 they filled the ranks of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Harris married Caroline Young in 1837, following the death of his first wife; they had five children. He was excommunicated that December and rebaptized on November 6, 1842.
Harris never made the move to Nauvoo, Illinois, nor did he initially follow Brigham Young after Joseph Smith was killed in 1844. Instead, he joined with James J. Strang, serving a mission to England in 1846. In January 1847 Harris and William E. McLellan joined together to organize a new church, the Church of Christ, in Kirtland, Ohio. This organization, however, lasted a few years before it eventually disintegrated.
Harris’s wife, Caroline, left him in 1856 to gather with the Utah Saints. Martin eventually followed in August 1870, where he was rebaptized and received his temple endowment the next [p.61]month. He died on July 9, 1875, in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah (Cook, Revelations, 8-9, 121; LDSBE, 1:271-76; Steven L. Shields, Divergent Paths of the Restoration, 4th rev. ed. [Los Angeles, CA: Restoration Research, 1990], 49-50; and Anderson, Witnesses, 95-120).
6. The “ball” and “directors” mentioned here refer to the Liahona, which was given to Lehi to help guide his family in their journey through the desert in the Book of Mormon. (See 1 Ne. 16:10; Alma 37:38-40; D&C 17:1.)
7. Christian Whitmer, oldest son of Peter Whitmer, Sr., and Mary Musselman, was born on January 18, 1798, in Pennsylvania. While quite young, he moved with his parents from Pennsylvania to Seneca County, New York. Here he married Ann Schott on February 22, 1825, and established himself as a shoemaker. Christian and his wife were baptized in Seneca Lake on April 11, 1830, by Oliver Cowdery. By June, Christian had been ordained a teacher and an elder in 1831.
Whitmer and his wife moved to Ohio with the rest of the New York Saints in 1831; in 1832 the family resettled in Jackson County, Missouri. On September 15 he was called to preside over the elders in Jackson County and was ordained a high priest on August 21, 1833, by Simeon Carter.
In November the Whitmer family was driven out of Jackson County, losing their farm and most of their belongings. They settled temporarily in Clay County, where Whitmer was chosen to serve on the high council on July 3, 1834. He occupied this position until his death on November 27, 1835 (LDSBE, 1:276).
8. Jacob Whitmer, another of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was the second son of Peter Whitmer, Sr., and Mary Musselman. He was born in Pennsylvania on January 27, 1800. While still a boy, Jacob moved to New York with his older brother Christian and his parents. On September 29, 1825, he married his sister-in-law Elizabeth Shott; they had nine children.
[p.62]Jacob and his wife were baptized in Seneca Lake on April 11, 1830. With the rest of the Whitmer family, they moved to Ohio in 1831 and subsequently settled in Jackson County, Missouri. With the rest of the church, they were expelled from the county late in 1833. Jacob moved his family to Clay and then to Caldwell County. While in Caldwell County, he acted as a temporary high councilor and also as a member of the building committee for the erection of the projected Far West temple.
Whitmer severed his connection with the LDS church in 1838 and moved to Richmond, Ray County, Missouri. He resided there until his death on April 21, 1856 (LDSBE, 1:276-77).
9. Hiram Page was born in Vermont in 1800. He studied medicine and traveled considerably throughout Canada and the state of New York, finally establishing his practice in Seneca County. There he became acquainted with the Whitmer family and married Catherine Whitmer, a sister of David, Christian, and John Whitmer, and daughter of Peter Whitmer, Sr., and Mary Musselman, on November 10, 1825; they had nine children.
Hiram and his wife were baptized by Oliver Cowdery in Seneca Lake on April 11, 1830. Shortly afterwards, Page came into possession of a “peepstone,” or “seer stone,” through which he received revelations, which contradicted Joseph Smith. A number of church members believed in Page’s revelations, including the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery. Joseph Smith was away from home at the time. A conference held in September 1830 investigated the matter and Page recanted.
The Page family moved to Kirtland in 1831 and settled in Missouri following year. During the 1833 disturbances there, Page was selected, together with three others, to go to Lexington, Missouri, see circuit court judge, and obtain a peace warrant. Upon receiving their affidavits, Judge John F. Ryland issued writs against some of the ringleaders and gave them to the Mormon delegation to return to the sheriff in Jackson County; these writs, however, accomplished little in warding off depredations.
[p.63]Following the exodus from Jackson County, Page took an active part in the church in Clay County. In 1836 he became one of the founders of the town of Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri. In 1838 he severed his connection with the church and moved to Ray County, where he resided until his death on August 12, 1852 (LDSBE, 1:277-78).
10. Joseph Smith, Sr., the second son of Asahel Smith and Mary Duty, was born on July 12, 1771, in Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts. He moved to Tunbridge, Orange County, Vermont, in 1791 and assisted in clearing a large farm. On January 24, 1796, he married Lucy Mack; they had ten children, including church founder Joseph Smith.
In 1802 Smith rented his farm, engaged in the mercantile business, and later invested in a venture to ship and sell ginseng in China. He was swindled out of his profits by the shipmaster and sales agent and consequently sold his farm to pay his debts.
About 1815 Smith and shortly afterward his family moved to Palmyra, Wayne County, New York, where Smith later bought a farm and cleared 200 acres. The family lost this farm when they were unable to pay the last installment on the mortgage. From here, the Smiths moved to Manchester, Ontario County, New York, where they procured a home with sixteen acres of land. They lived here until they left with the rest of the Saints for Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831.
Smith was baptized on April 6, 1830. The following August, in company with his son Don Carlos, he filled a short mission to St. Lawrence County, New York, distributing a few copies of the Book of Mormon and visiting with and teaching his relatives. This mission resulted in the conversion of the entire family except for his brother Jesse and sister Susan.
Smith was ordained to the high priesthood on June 3, 1831, by Lyman Wight. On December 18, 1833, he was ordained a patriarch and president of the high priesthood under the hands of Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams; on February 17, 1834, he was called as [p.64]a member of the first standing Kirtland high council.
In 1836 Smith was sent on a mission with his brother John. They traveled over 2, 400 miles, covering the states of Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire. They visited the branches of the church, bestowed patriarchal blessings, preached, and baptized.
During the financial panic in Kirtland in 1837, Smith was sent to jail for debts. After his release in 1838, he moved to Far West, Missouri, arriving late that summer. Following the arrest of his sons in October 1838, Smith left Missouri for Quincy, Illinois, with his wife Lucy and their youngest children. They family settled in Nauvoo in the spring of 1839. Smith died of tuberculosis on September 14, 1840, in Nauvoo, Illinois (LDSBE, 1:181-82).
11. Hyrum Smith, a son of Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, was born on February 9, 1800, in Tunbridge, Vermont. He was an older brother of church founder Joseph Smith. When Hyrum was about nineteen years old, the family moved to western New York. On November 2, 1826, he married Jerusha Barden in Manchester, New York; they had six children. Jerusha died on October 13, 1837. Later that year Smith married Mary Fielding; they had two children.
Smith was baptized in Seneca Lake sometime in June 1829. In conference of the church in Far West, Missouri, on November 7, 1837, he was called as second counselor in the First Presidency following a vote which rejected Frederick G. Williams. On January 19, 1841, he was called to the office of patriarch over the whole church, succeeding his father, who had just died.
Hyrum and his brother Joseph were arrested together in Far West, Missouri, in October 1838, spent the winter together in Liberty Jail, and six years later died together at the hands of a mob while incarcerated in Carthage Jail, Illinois, on June 27, 1844 (LDSBE, 1:52-53).
For a summary of the conflicts which led up to the incarcera-[p65]tion of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage on charges of treason against the State of Illinois, see Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 80-120.
12. Samuel H. Smith was born March 13, 1808, in Tunbridge, Orange County, Vermont, to Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith; he was a younger brother of the prophet Joseph Smith. Baptized on May 25, 1829, he became one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon the following June. He was ordained an elder on June 9, 1830, and immediately sent on a six-month mission. He was sent on another mission to Kirtland. Ohio, with Orson Pratt, in February 1831. On June 3 he was ordained a high priest. He served a number of subsequent proselyting missions in the Midwest and eastern states.
In Kirtland Smith attended the School of the Prophets and assisted in laying the foundation stones for the Kirtland temple in July 1833. He moved to Far West, Missouri, in March 1838, and later settled at Marrowbone in Daviess County. A participant in the Battle of Crooked River in October 1838, Smith was forced from Missouri with the rest of the Saints in 1839. He moved to Quincy, Illinois, later moving onto George Miller’s farm at Macomb. In 1840 Smith moved to Nauvoo. In January 1841, he was called to the presiding bishopric of the church and served as bishop of the Nauvoo Ward. He occupied a number of civil positions as wel, being elected an alderman of the City of Nauvoo in February 1841 and serving as a member of the Nauvoo Legion.
Smith married Mary Bailey on August 13, 1834; they became the parents of four children; Mary died on January 25, 1841; Smith married Levira Clark of Geneva, Illinois, on May 3, 1841; they had three children. The family moved to Plymouth, Illinois, in the fall of 1842. Smith received his endowment on December 17, 1843. He died on July 30, 1844, in Nauvoo (Cook, Revelations, 34; LDSBE, 1:278-82).
[p.66]14. Leman Copley was born in Connecticut in 1781. By 1800 the Copley family had moved to Pitsford, Vermont, where they joined the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming, more popularly known as the Shaking Quakers, or Shakers. Leman moved to the Cleveland, Ohio, area—then the site of a large Shaker community—around 1820. He married “Salley” sometime during this period, and they had one child, Reuben.
By 1830 Leman held title to large tracts of land in Thompson, Ohio. He was baptized into the Mormon church and ordained an elder sometime around March 1831 and was appointed to accompany Sidney Rigdon and Parley P. Pratt in preaching the gospel to the Shaker community in Union Village, Ohio, near the Cleveland area, a mission which failed when the Shakers rejected the missionaries’ message.
Copley originally agreed to permit members of the church emigrating from New York to settle on his property. By June 1831 he had changed his mind. This situation prompted the Saints of the Colesville, New York, Branch, which had settled on Copley’s land, to move on to Missouri.
Fellowship in the church was withdrawn from Copley sometime during the summer of 1831 but was extended again sometime before October 1832. He testified against Joseph Smith during Philastus Hurlbut’s trial before the Kirtland high council and was subsequently disfellowshipped. Again, he repented and was returned to full fellowship, this time on April 1, 1836.
Copley did not gather again with the Saints when they left the Ohio area. He became a successful farmer, with real estate valued at $3,500 in 1850. He died in Madison Township, Lake County, Ohio, sometime after 1860 (Cook, Revelations, 133-34).
For information on the Shakers, see Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 492-94; Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 21-71; and Stephen J. Stein, The Shaker Experience in America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).
[p.67]15. The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming (the Millennial Church)—otherwise known as the Shaking Quakers, or “Shakers”—came to the United States from England. It was founded by Ann Lee Stanley, who immigrated with eight followers in 1774. Mother Ann Lee was the daughter of a Manchester blacksmith. Unschooled and illiterate, she was converted to the Shaking Quakers by Jane and James Wardley, leaders of the sect.
Lee apparently outshone all of the other members of the sect in the intensity of her piety. Her trances and visions convinced others and then herself that Christ’s second coming would be in the form of a woman, and that she was that woman. She also became convinced that sexual relations were the root of all sin; this idea led to the practice of celibacy of the Shakers in America.
Lee and her small group of believers formed a somewhat radical group within the British Shaker body. Few people in England were persuaded by their noisy worship practices and the irrepressible preachers which she now led. Mistreatment, mob action, and imprisonment seemed to be their lot and only expectation; thus they emigrated to the United States, settling near Albany, New York. Poverty forced the group to establish a Christian communal arrangement, something which had not presiously been part of their message.
Upon Lee’s death in 1784, capable leaders took the reins of leadership of the group and impressive gains were made. Converts were brought in and additional communities were established in New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Ohio; it was in Ohio where the Mormons encountered them for the first time. A few converts were made, but the Shakers largely rejected the Mormon message.
The Shakers prospered through most of the nineteenth century; however, industrialization trends in post-Civil War America and the demands of factory life made communal living arrangements unfeasible. These developments disrupted the communities and caused the eventful disintegration of the sect (Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, 492-94; [p.68]Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality, 21-71; and Women, Family, and Utopia: Communal Experiments of the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and the Mormons [Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991], 17-71).
18. D&C 50; compare Wood, 2:134-36. This section discusses how to discern the presence of the spirit of the Lord from other influences. Properly differentiating spiritual impulses and manifestations for members of the church at this time was a problem. See Cook, Revelations, 67-69, 134.