Kansas City Journal interviews David Whitmer, who reaffirms his testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Jun 5, 1881
David Whitmer
Scribed Verbatim

"Mormonism. Authentic Account of the Origin of This Sect from One of the Patriarchs. Discovery of the Plates, And the Translation of the Book of Mormon—Polygamy an Excresence.," Kansas City Journal, June 5, 1881

Kansas City Journal
Hyrum Smith, Julia A. Jolly, Samuel Harrison Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, Samuel Mitchell, Joseph Smith, Sr., Jacob Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Charles Anthon, David Whitmer, Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Julia Schweich, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Hiram Page, David J. Whitmer
Reading Public

David Whitmer,

THE ONLY LIVING WITNESS, has resided since 1838 in Richmond, Ray county, Mo., and the JOURNAL dispatched a reporter to Richmond, to interview the "last of the eleven."

The reporter called at the residence of Mr. Whitmer and found the patriarch resting in an invalid’s chair looking very pale and feeble, he having but just recovered from a long and very severe illness. In person, he is about medium height, of massive frame, though not at all corpulent, his shoulders slightly bent as with the weight of years. His manly, benevolent face was closely shaven, his hair snow white, and his whole appearance denoted one of nature’s noblemen. The education acquired during his boyhood days and his long life devoted to study and thought, have stored his mind with a vast fund of information.

After introducing himself, the reporter opened the conversation as follows:

"Mr. Whitmer, knowing that you are the only living witness to the translation of the Book of Mormon and also that you were a resident of Jackson county during the Mormon troubles in 1833, I have been sent to you by the Journal to get from your lips

THE TRUE STATEMENT OF FACTS in regard to these matters. For nearly half a century the world has had but one side only, and it is now our desire to present to our readers for the first time the other side."

"Young man, you are right. I am the only living witness to the Book of Mormon, but I have been imposed upon and misrepresented so many times by persons claiming to be honorable newspaper men, that I feel a delicacy in allowing my name to come before the public in newspaper print again."

"I am sorry to hear that, but I promise you that we shall only give your statement as you make it, and will not misrepresent you in any manner."

After a few other remarks of the same tenor the reporter at last induced the patriarch to furnish the desired facts, which he did in the following language:


"I was born near Harrisburg, Pa., January 7, 1805, but when only four years of age my parents removed to the state of New York, settling at a point midway between the northern extremities of Lakes Cayuga and Seneca, two miles from Waterloo, seven miles from Geneva, and twenty-seven miles from Palmyra, where I lived until the year 1831. In the year 1830 I was married to Miss Julia A. Jolly who is still living. The fruit of our union was a son, David J. Whitmer, now aged 48, and a daughter, now Mrs. Julia Schweich, now aged 46 both of whom are now living with me. I first heard of what is now termed Mormonism in the year 1828. I made a business trip to Palmyra, N. Y., and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery. A great many people in the neighborhood were talking about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, jr., a young man of that neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as others, talked about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing it to be only


of the neighborhood. Cowdery said he was acquainted with the Smith family, and he believed there must be some truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the matter. I had conversations with several young men who said that Joseph Smith had certainly golden plates, and that before he attained them he had promised to share with them, but had not done so, and they were very much incensed with him. Said I, "How do you know that Joe Smith has the plates?" They replied: ‘we saw the plates in the hill that he took them out of just as he described it to us before he obtained them.’ These parties were so positive in their statements that I began to believe there must be some foundation for the stories then in circulation all over that part of the country. I had never seen any of the Smith family up to that time, and I began to inquire of the people in regard to them, and learned that one night during the year 1827, Joseph Smith, jr., had a vision, and an angel of God appeared to him and told him where certain plates were to be found and pointed out the spot to him, and that shortly afterward he went to that place and found the plates which were still in his possession. After thinking over the matter for a long time, and talking with Cowdery, who also gave me a history of the finding of the plates, I went home, and after several months Cowdery told me he was going to Harmony, Pa.—whither Joseph Smith had gone with the plates on account of persecutions of his neighbors—and see him about the matter. He did go, and on his way stopped at my father’s house and told me that as soon as he found out anything either


he would let me know. After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph Smith, and shortly after, wrote to me telling me that he was convinced that Smith had the records and that he (Smith) had told him that it was the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in the translation of the plates. He went on, Joseph translated from the plates and he wrote it down. Shortly after this Cowdery wrote me another letter, in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating gave a complete history of these people. When Cowdery wrote me these things and told me that he had revealed knowledge concerning the truth of them, I showed these letters to my parents, and brothers and sisters. Soon after I received another letter from Cowdery, telling me to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s house, giving as a reason therefore that they had received a commandment from God to that effect. I went down to Harmony, and found everything just as they had written me.

The next day after I got there they packed up the plates and we proceeded on our journey to my father’s house, where we arrived in due time, and the day after we commenced upon the translation of the remainder of the plates. I, as well as all of my father’s family, Smith’s wife, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris were present during the translation. The translation was by Smith and


"He had two small stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg shaped and perfectly smooth, but not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates. He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear the characters of the plates in a line at the top, and immediately below would appear the translation in English, which Smith would read to his scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made, the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they faded from sight, to be replaced by another line. The translation at my father’s occupied about one month, that is from June 1st to July 1st, 1829."

"Were the plates under the immediate control of Smith all the time?"

"No, they were not. I will explain how that was. When Joseph first received the plates he translated 116 pages of the book of ‘Lehi,’ with Martin Harris as scribe. When this had been completed they rested for a time, and Harris wanted to take the manuscript home with him to show to his family and friends. To this Joseph demurred, but finally


if Harris might be allowed to take it. The answer was ‘no.’ Harris teased Joseph for a long time and finally persuaded him to ask the Lord a second time, pledging himself to be responsible for its safe keeping. To this second inquiry the Lord told Joseph Harris might take the manuscript, which he did, showing it to a great many people, but through some carelessness allowed it to be stolen from him. This incurred the Lord’s displeasure, and he sent an angel to Joseph demanding the plates, and until Joseph had thoroughly repented of his transgressions would not allow him to have the use of them again. When Joseph was again allowed to resume the translation, the plates were taken care of by a messenger of God, and when Joseph wanted to see the plates, this messenger was always at hand. The 116 pages of the book of ‘Lehi,’ which were stolen were never recovered, nor would the Lord permit Joseph to make a second translation of it.

"A few months after the translation was completed, that is in the spring of 1830, Joseph had the book published, and this (showing a well worn volume) is a copy of the first edition which I have had in my possession ever since it was printed."

"When did you see the plates? "

"It was in the latter part of June, 1829. Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and myself were together, and the angel showed them to us. We not only saw the plates of the book of Mormon, but he also showed us the brass plates of the book of Ether and many others. They were shown to us in this way. Joseph and Oliver and I were


when we were overshadowed by a light more glorious than that of the sun. In the midst of this light, but a few feet from us, appeared a table upon which were many golden plates, also the sword of Laban and the directors. I saw them as plain as I see you now, and distinctly heard the voice of the Lord declaiming that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and the power of God."

"Who else saw the plates at this time? "

"No one. Martin Harris, the other witness, saw them the same day and the eight witnesses, Christian Whitmer, Hiram Page, Jacob Whitmer, Joseph Smith, sr., Peter Whitmer, jr., Hyrum Smith, John Whitmer and Samuel H. Smith saw them next day."

"Did you see the angel? "

"Yes; he stood before us. Our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is absolutely true, just as it is written there."

"Can you describe the plates? "

"They appeared to be of gold, about six by nine inches in size, about as thick as parchment, a great many in number and bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passing through the back edges. The engraving upon them was very plain and of very curious appearance. Smith made facsimiles of some of the plates, and sent them by Martin Harris to Profs. An[th]on and Mitchell, of New York City, for examination. They pronounced the characters reformed Egyptian, but were unable to read them."

"Did Joseph Smith ever relate to you the circumstances of his


"Yes; he told me that he first found the plates in the early spring of 1828; that during the fall of 1827 he had a vision, an angel appearing to him three times in one night and telling him that there was a record of an ancient people deposited in a hill near his father’s house, called by the ancients ‘Cumorah,’ situated in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, N. Y. The angel pointed out the exact spot, and some time after he went and found the records or plates deposited in a stone box in the hill, just as had been described to him by the angel. It was some little time, however, before the angel would allow Smith to remove the plates from their place of deposit."

"When was the church first established?"

"We had preaching during the time the book was being translated but our church was not regularly organized until after the book was printed in the winter of 1829-30. The first organization was in Seneca county, New York, under the name of "The Church of Christ." The first elders were Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, and myself. On the 6th of April, 1830, the church was called together and the elders acknowledged according to the laws of New York. Our instructions from the Lord were to teach nothing except the old and new testaments and the Book of Mormon. From that time the church spread abroad and multiplied very rapidly. In the Summer of 1830, Parley Pratt, Peter Whitmer and S. Peterson went to Kirtland, O., and established a branch of the church, which also grew very fast, and soon after a fine temple was erected, which is still standing. During the Winter of 1830 the same parties went to Independence, Mo., and established a church and purchased very large tracts of land in all parts of Jackson county, as well as a large amount of property in the town of Independence, including the site for the temple. The reason of the emigration to Jackson county was that Smith had received a revelation from God designating Independence as the place of the gathering of the saints together, in the latter days. Joseph Smith and Elder Sidney Rigdon, of the Kirtland church, established the church in Jackson county, but soon after returned to Ohio. The temple has never been built at Independence, but the site still remains vacant, and the title deeds are held by the church, and I have no doubt but that at some future day


BHR Staff Commentary

Transcription from Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1991), 58–65.

Citations in Mormonr Qnas
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