The Book of John WhitmerFrom Historian to Dissident
The Book of John Whitmer
Bruce N. Westergren, editor

on the cover:
“The disciples increased daily, and miracles were wrought such as healing the sick and casting out devils. The church grew and multiplied in numbers, grace, and knowledge.

“Permit me to say a few things respecting the proceedings of some of those who were disciples…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; and some would slide or scoot on the floor with the rapidity of a serpent, which they termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites, preaching the gospel…

“Thus the devil blinded the eyes of some good and honest disciples. I write these things to show how ignorant and undiscerning children are and how easy mankind is led astray.” —John Whitmer, report on the Church of Christ (Mormon), May 1831.

cover flaps:
Simple and straightforward, John Whitmer’s early history or Mormonism (1831-44) reflects an implicit faith in Jesus’ imminence. To Whitmer, the millennium overshadowed any apparent inconsistencies in ecclesiastical development. For example, a revelation condemning “hireling priests” is followed by a revelation granting Mormonism’s first prophet Joseph Smith a parsonage and salary. Whitmer made no attempt to reconcile such apparent contradictions.

From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer is the earliest commissioned history of Mormonism published for the first time in its entirety from the original manuscript. Although Whitmer’s church commitment never waned, his trust in its leadership did. He was excommunicated in 1838. Thereafter his record book took on a decidedly antagonistic tone.

Best known as a witness to Joseph Smith’s gold plates, Whitmer also served as a Book of Mormon scribe, Messenger and Advocate editor, and member of the Missouri stake presidency. An eye-witness to the most important events of the Restoration, his unflagging honesty lends unusual significance to his work.

about the editor: Bruce N. Westergren holds M.A. degrees in history and library science from Brigham Young University. He has published in the Journal of American Culture and Utah Historical Quarterly, and won the Utah Historical Society’s 1990 Best Article Award.

Currently Westergren is employed by Burrelle’s News Clipping Service. He is a free-lance research historian and member of the Orem City Preservation Commission. He lives in Orem, Utah, with his wife Julie.

title page:
From Historian to Dissident:
The Book of JohnWhitmer
Edited by Bruce N. Westergren
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

copyright page:
dedication: To my parents, Murry and Mary Westergren,
To our kids, Ginger, Nermal, George, Friday,
Mama Cat, Birdie, Smokie, Chino, and Sherlock.
To Elder Michael Carlson, to whom I owe a great many steak dinners.
Jacket Design by Ron Stucki
Jacket Illustration by Carol Norby
From Historian to Dissident was printed on acid-free paper
an was composed, printed, and bound in the United States.
© 1995 Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates.
All rights reserved. Signature Books is a trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
99 98 97 96 95 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Whitmer, John, 1802-1878.
From historian to dissident : the book of John Whitmer/
edited by Bruce Westergren.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—History—19th century.
2.Mormon Church—History—19th century.
3. Whitmer, John, 1802-1878. I. Westergren, Bruce. II. Title.
BX8611.W535 1995
289.3’09’034—dc20 94-46821
ISBN 1-56085-043-4

Editor’s Introduction [see below]
Abbreviations to Frequently Cited Sources [see below]
01 – Preparing the Way
02 – A Paid Ministry
03 – Competing Prophets
04 – Welcoming Unbelievers
05 – Gathering to Ohio
06 – Becoming Scribe
07 – The High Priesthood
08 – A Change of Venue
09 – The Land of Zion
10 – Eviction
11 – “Your Humble Petitioners”
12 – The Court of Public Sentiment
13 – The Armies of Israel
14 – Retreat to Kirtland
15 – Twelve Apostles
16 – Mummies and Murmurings
17 – Anointings
18 – The House of the Lord
19 – Excommunication
20 – War and Bloodshed
21 – Nauvoo
22 – Dispersion


[p.vii]John Whitmer was born on August 27, 1802, in Pennsylvania. He was baptized for the remission of sins by Oliver Cowdery in June 1829 at the age of twenty-six, one year before the organization of the Church of Christ (later Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). He was later ordained an elder on June 9, 1830, and a high priest on June 3, 1831. On February 10, 1833, he married Sarah Jackson in Jackson County, Missouri.

Much of Whitmer’s career in Mormonism was spent in recording its history and publishing its doctrine. He acted as a scribe during part of the translation of the Book of Mormon and also during the new translation of the Bible. Under direction of Joseph Smith he copied a number of revelations and prepared them for publication in what would eventually become the Book of Commandments. He left Ohio in company with Oliver Cowdery in November 1831 to take the Book of Commandments manuscript to Missouri, arriving on January 5, 1832.

Whitmer was officially called as church historian on March 8, 1831, and on June 12 he began keeping his narrative history, “The Book of John Whitmer, kept by commandment.” Upon returning to Kirtland, Ohio, in May 1835 to participate in the dedication of the temple, he was asked to remain in Kirtland [p.viii]and serve as editor of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. This assignment lasted until March 1836, and by July Whitmer was back in Missouri.

Perhaps best remembered as one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Whitmer and seven other people had gone with Joseph Smith into the woods near the Smith family farm in Manchester Township, New York, in June 1829 where Smith had allowed all to see and handle the gold plates from which he had dictated the Book of Mormon. Whitmer joined with the rest in signing a written testimony of their experience, which has been published in every edition of the Book of Mormon since.1

Whitmer figured prominently in the leadership of the church in Missouri as well. At the time of vigilante action against the Saints in Jackson County, he served on the committee which negotiated a final settlement with residents allowing Mormons to leave peacefully—an agreement later violated by agitators. Moving to Clay County, he sent several petitions for redress of his losses to Governor Daniel Dunklin and handled a great deal of business as an agent for the church. On July 8, 1834, Whitmer was ordained a member of the presidency of the church in Missouri and served as a counselor to his brother David.

On April 7, 1837, Whitmer was appointed to serve on a committee responsible for the purchase and sale of town lots in Clay County, Missouri. Lands had been purchased in May 1836, but the increasing number of Mormon immigrants moving into the region made the acquisition of additional land imperative. Using church money, John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps purchased the site for the town of Far West, entering land in their names and, instead of turning over the full proceeds from the sale of lots to the church, apparently kept a [p.ix]commission for themselves. Bitter feelings developed, and in November 1837 John Whitmer and the rest of the Missouri presidency were publicly questioned in a church conference. Explanations were made, and the congregation was satisfied. However, in January and February 1838 it was discovered that the presidency had sold their own property in Jackson County, in essence capitulating to the vigilantes. At the time such an act was considered tantamount to denying the faith. In addition, all three faced charges of violating the Word of Wisdom by periodically drinking tea and coffee. After considering the evidence, church members rejected the entire presidency. On March 10, 1838, all three men were excommunicated from the church.

John Whitmer remained in Missouri after the Mormons were later driven out of the state by state militia. Whitmer farmed and raised livestock. He never rejoined the church, nor did he ever retract his testimony of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith. He died at Far West on July 11, 1878.2

Whitmer’s history is a continuation of an account kept by Oliver Cowdery which began with the discovery of the Book of Mormon plates and ended on June 12, 1831. Cowdery’s record is not extant; its material, however, was probably used in creating the Messenger and Advocate account which covered the years 1823-27. Whitmer’s narrative provides a detailed picture of events in New York prior to the move to Ohio, including the reasons for that move; the text of a number of Joseph Smith’s revelations, primarily those found in the Doctrine and Covenants; and an account of the Missouri troubles, with copies of petitions and correspondence between Mormon leaders and state and federal officials.

Whitmer’s first-hand account ends with his excommunication in March 1838, which he duly recorded in chapter 19, [p.x]followed by a prayer for eventual forgiveness and a farewell. This is continued in chapter 20, written at least a year later, which is a bitter recital of persecution of his family and those of other Mormon dissenters by former fellow believers. After Whitmer’s excommunication, he and other dissenters continued to live peaceably among the Latter-day Saints—until Sidney Rigdon delivered his famous June 19, 1838, “Salt Sermon.” Although no copy of the speech exists in its entirety, from various journal accounts it appears that Rigdon declared open war on any and all dissenters.3 According to Whitmer’s record, it was shortly after this time that he, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and others, along with their families, were forced to flee Far West for the town of Richmond in Clay County. John Whitmer blamed the Danites—or “Gideonites,” as he referred to them-for the formers’ flight, and he ultimately held Smith and Rigdon responsible for what he saw as a new, rigid structure of church discipline, completely contrary to the spirit of the restored Mormon gospel.

Through information from friends still among the Mormons, Whitmer stayed in touch with events following the church’s expulsion from Missouri in 1839. He recorded in his manuscript the rise of Nauvoo, Illinois, and the 1844 murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum at the hands of the mob in Carthage. He blamed the church’s problems in Missouri and Illinois on polygamy, the continued operations of the Danite band, Joseph’s “pride” and “lust after the forbidden things of God,” and the Saints’ “vile behavior” toward non-Mormons.

Whitmer also discussed the rivalry for leadership of the church after Joseph Smith’s death, sympathizing, at least initially, with James J. Strang. There is no evidence, however, that Whitmer ever formerly allied himself with that group.

[p.xi]This manuscript is apparently a later draft; the whereabouts of the original is not known. There are several things which indicate that this volume is not the original. First, the last sentence is incomplete and the remaining pages are blank. Second, on page 22 of this draft Whitmer first records the date of a church conference as taking place on June 4, 1831, then afterwards inserts the word “March” in the space above it. Finally, on page 28, when listing some of the names of those ordained to various priesthood offices during an 1831 church conference, Whitmer lists the names of some who later left the church, specifically Ezra Booth, Harvey Whitlock, and Joseph Wakefield. These men did not leave the church until 1833. In the same entry he lists his own name among those who fell from the faith, although he was not excommunicated until 1838. He also lists the names of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Joseph Smith, Sr., which shows his feelings that Joseph Smith, Jr., had become a fallen prophet—feelings he did not entertain until 1838.

The manuscript ends at the bottom of page 96 with the succession of Brigham Young and the Twelve to the presidency of the LDS church. The last sentence is incomplete. Whitmer’s original manuscript is a book of ordinary ledger-size paper approximately 300 pages long. Ninety-six of the pages were written on. Thus, although it may seem unusual for the last sentence in the record to end in the middle, apparently that was all Whitmer wrote.4


The original manuscript remained in John Whitmer’s possession until his death in 1878. It then came into the possession of one of his nieces, a daughter of David Whitmer, and her husband, George Schweich. After two previous attempts, in [p.xii]1893 Assistant LDS Church Historian Andrew Jenson was finally allowed to see the original manuscript and make a handwritten copy of it to take back to Salt Lake City with him. Schweich, a non-Mormon, helped Jenson proofread his copy against the original manuscript. Once back in Salt Lake City Jenson made a typewritten copy of his handwritten duplicate. After several more close comparisons, Jenson placed a copy on file in the LDS Church Historian’s Office and sent a second copy to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Independence, Missouri.5

Whitmer’s history has previously appeared in print three times. In 1908 the RLDS church published it in its periodical, Journal of History; in 1966 a version edited by Jerald and Sandra Tanner was published by Modern Microfilm in Salt Lake City; and in 1980 Herald House published a new version edited by F. Mark McKiernan and Roger D. Launius.6 This third edition differs in places from the Jenson typescript and the original document.

“The Book of John Whitmer” is reproduced here by permission of the Library and Archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints headquartered in Independence, Missouri. Special thanks to Steve Sorensen, director of LDS church archives in Salt Lake City, and to Ron Romig, church archivist for the RLDS church, for the material they shared. They saved me from several egregious blunders.

Editorial Style

The following conventions have been adopted for this book. Chapter titles are my creation, not Whitmer’s. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been retained as they appear in the original. Where the source was unclear, current usage has been substituted. Insertions placed above the line with [p.xiii]a caret (^) have been placed between angle brackets on the line at the point of insertion: <the blessing given>.

Characters and words stricken out in the original have been retained. Missing or illegible characters or words are indicated by dots and dashes within square brackets, dots [..] representing the approximate number of missing letters and dashes [–] the approximate number of missing words.

Editorial insertions that enlarge the original text or supply missing or illegible words are enclosed in square brackets: W[illia]m. Editorial comments not part of the text are enclosed in square brackets and italicized [page ends]. Underlined words are italicized; if the source was a published pamphlet, italics are used.

Bracketed page numbers designate the beginning of each new page: [p, 15]. The beginning of unnumbered pages are shown by parentheses within square brackets: [(p. 11)].

Superscripted letters are lowered: Jr to Jr.

Paragraph indentations are, for the most part, modern and done for the convenience of the reader. Annotations have been supplied where needed.[p.xv]


1. See Anderson, Witnesses, 123-34.

2. LDSBE, 1:251-52; Cook, Revelations, 25-26. Cook claims that beginning in 1836-37 Whitmer and W. W. Phelps started “to administer affairs of the Church in Missouri independent[ly] of [the] high council.” However, the minutes of the meetings in which Whitmer was appointed to purchase and sell land and the subsequent disciplinary hearings indicate that the surveys and purchases were carried out in accordance with his instructions. Whitmer and Phelps were charged with skim-[p.xiv]ming the profits for compensation and for selling their personal land in Jackson County. See Far West Record, 103-106, 121-27, 135-41, 145-50.

3. See Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 37-40.

4. Andrew Jenson to Franklin D. Richards, 5 Sept. 1893, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

5. “Andrew Jenson and the History of John Whitmer,” typescript, LDS archives. A comparison of Jenson’s typescript with Whitmer’s original manuscript shows no significant variations.

6. F. Mark McKiernan and Roger Launius, eds, An Early Latter Day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1980).

Abbreviations to Frequently Cited Sources

[p.xv]Anderson, Witness: Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the  Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book   Co., 1981).

Backman, Heavens: Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983).

Cook, Revelations:  Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Provo, UT: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981).

D&C: Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), section and verse numbers.

Far West Record: Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1841 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983).

[p.xv1]HC: Joseph Smith, et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. 2d rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978).

LDSBE: Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901; reprint ed., Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1971).

Pratt, Autobiography: Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985).

Wood: Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Wilford C. Wood, 1958, 1962).

Wood’s two volumes contain photolithographic reproductions of the 1830 Book of Mormon, the 1833 Book of Commandments, and the 1835 Kirtland edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Lectures on Faith. Since this work is an exact reproduction, pagination is the same as the original publication. Consequently, to avoid confusion, when the 1833 Book of Commandments text is referred to, it is cited as Wood, 2[1833]:, followed by page numbers. The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants text is cited as Wood, 2[1835]:, followed by page numbers.