Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was born on May 18, 1783, at Easttown, Saratoga County, New York. When in his ninth year he moved with his parents and brothers and sisters to a new, unsettled portion of western New York State, where a settlement called Palmyra was forming. Here he remained until 1831, during which time he acquired a farm of his own and became a prosperous, dependable citizen. He became acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sr., after their settlement in Palmyra in 1816, and frequently hired the boy, Joseph, Jr., to work on his farm.
As an intimate acquaintance of the Smith family, he was early informed of the visions of Joseph Smith, Jr., and manifested a sincere interest in the wonderful events which were taking place in the life of the boy-Prophet. In the fall of 1827 he presented Joseph with fifty dollars to assist him “in doing the Lord’s work.”
Early in 1828 Martin visited Joseph at the latter’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Here he obtained a copy of some of the characters on the gold plates and took them to Charles Anthon, a professor of ancient languages in New York City, to learn the latter’s opinion of the validity of the writings. The story is well known regarding the manner in which Professor Anthon at first admitted that the characters were correct, and later repudiated his statement when he learned that Joseph Smith, Jr., had obtained the ancient records from an angel.
Returning to Harmony, Martin Harris became the young Prophet’s scribe in the translation of the plates. The two worked diligently together from the middle of April, 1828, until the 14th of June following, during which time 116 pages had been written. Martin Harris then made the request of Joseph that he be permitted to carry the writings home and show them to his wife and certain of his relatives. At first Joseph deferred to this request, but after repeated importunings he was allowed to take the sacred manuscript, with the distinct provision that he would show it only to certain persons whom the Prophet named.
In this important transaction Martin Harris did not keep his word. He exhibited the writings promiscuously, and through his carelessness they were lost or destroyed. Tradition has it, in Palmyra, that the wife of Martin Harris, who was bitterly opposed to the work of the youthful Prophet, burned the manuscript, in order to sever the friendly relationship that existed between her husband and Joseph Smith, Jr.
However, although Martin Harris received a severe rebuke for his carelessness in losing the manuscript, he still continued to be friendly to the Prophet. When the translation of the sacred record was completed in the latter part of June, 1829, Martin Harris went from his home in Palmyra to the Whitmer home near Waterloo, a distance of twenty-five miles, to congratulate the Prophet on the successful conclusion of his great work. It was during this visit that he was permitted, in connection with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, to behold the great vision in the grove near the Whitmer home, when the angel Moroni exhibited the plates to the witnesses and a voice from heaven declared that the translation had been correctly made.
After this vision Martin Harris became very enthusiastic about the work. He went with Joseph to a printer in Palmyra and mortgaged a part of his farm for $3,000 to pay for publishing 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. He was thus able to render material assistance when it was greatly needed.
The date when Martin Harris was baptized is not known, but the Prophet Joseph Smith informs us that it was very shortly after the Church was organized.
Early in 1831 Martin Harris left his home in Palmyra and went to Kirtland, Ohio, where the headquarters of the Church was located. In June of the same year he accompanied the Prophet and other elders on a journey to Missouri. Shortly after their arrival, Jackson County was designated as the gathering place of the Saints and the site for the building of a temple was selected and dedicated.
Returning to Kirtland in the fall of 1831, Martin Harris proceeded to make that location his permanent home. In February, 1834, he was made a member of the Kirtland High Council, and one year later he assisted Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer in selecting the members of the first quorum of Twelve Apostles, which task had been assigned by the Prophet to the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. As long as the Saints remained in Kirtland, Martin Harris was active in the Church, but when the majority of the members moved away in 1838, Martin remained behind and gradually lost connection with the Prophet and later with President Brigham Young.
History tells us that shortly after the death of the Prophet, Martin Harris came under the influence of James J. Strang, an apostate from the Church who claimed to be the true successor to Joseph Smith. Under the influence of this man, Martin Harris went to England as a missionary for the Strangites in that country, but he soon saw that his task was hopeless and he left without accomplishing the object of his visit.
Returning to Kirtland, Martin Harris, who had been divorced from his first wife, was married to Caroline Young, daughter of John Young, and by her had several children. Sometime during the pioneer days, Caroline Young Harris left Kirtland and emigrated to Utah, leaving her husband, who refused to accompany her.
Martin Harris remained in Kirtland until 1870, when he was invited to come to Utah by Edward Stevenson, one of the First Council of Seventy, who was visiting in that neighborhood. Martin was eighty-seven years of age and was unable to raise enough money to purchase his ticket to Salt Lake City. The needed amount was furnished and on August 19th of that year, the aged witness of the Book of Mormon, accompanied by Elder Stevenson, began the journey to join his family in the valleys of the mountains.
Arriving in Salt Lake, Martin Harris was rebaptized by Elder Stevenson. He also addressed the Saints in the Tabernacle and visited among old friends whom he had known in the early days of the Church. His last years were spent at the home of his son, Martin Harris, Jr., in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah. Here he died on July 10, 1875, a few months after his ninety-second birthday. A granite pillar, designating him as one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, now marks the site of his grave.
In March 1830, a revelation [D&C 19] was received in which the Lord admonished Martin to sell a portion of his land, all save that needed for the support of his family, and to pay the debt which he had contracted with Mr. Grandin.
Martin Harris had mortgaged [240 acres] his farm to Mr. E. B. Grandin on August 5, 1829, for the sum of three thousand dollars. This amount was to pay for the printing of five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon. The terms of the agreement were, in effect that Martin was to pay Mr. Grandin the three thousand dollars within a time limit of eighteen months. Should Harris default, Grandin was authorized to have the real estate sold at public auction and allow Mr. Harris the sum in excess of the amount of the contract. . .
Any remaining doubts as to the financial status of the publishing were quickly assuaged when a notice appeared in the Wayne Sentinel on March 26 1830, indicating that the Book of Mormon was published and was for sale at the Palmyra Bookstore.
Martin Harris expected that the book would find ready sale and that there would be no difficulty in paying off the mortgage. Because of a general boycott placed on the book, however, it became necessary for him to take steps to redeem the mortgage which was to come due February 5, 1831. One hundred and fifty-one acres of the farm were sold at private sale on April 1, 1831, to Thomas Lakey. . .
Although this was not a foreclosure, the time element of the mortgage was two months overdue, and the terms of the agreement would indicate that Mr. Grandin would not likely receive full payment for another eighteen months. We have no definite information that this agreement was unsatisfactory to Mr. Grandin, but the following account of transaction would indicate that perhaps the printer wanted his money sooner than Mr. Lakey could furnish it.
[Quoting from Cook, Palmyra, p. 205] “When Martin Harris sold his farm to Thomas Lakey to raise money to print the Book of Mormon it had to be paid for in gold. In 1831 John Graves came from England accompanied by his wife and daughter. . . Mrs. Grainger also brought with her $3,000 in gold, wrapped in a belt and fasted around her waist. Mr. Graves purchased the farm from Mr. Lakey and paid the $3,000 which was passed on to pay for the printing of the Book of Mormon.”
Martin Harris was a farmer of marked ability. For two decades prior to 1829, he had managed over 240 acres of productive land, together with associated interests. . .
The Ontario County Agricultural Society was not organized until 1819, and after 1823 Palmyra belonged to Wayne County, which lacked such an association in the remainder of Martin Harris’s Palmyra residence. During this period of probable participation, he is visible. He won two fair prizes in 1822, eight in 1823, and three in 1824. He was named as one of the two town managers of the society for Palmyra in 1823. His prominence gives some insight into his farming activity. Since he was named in 1824 to judge swine, he had obvious ability in raising animals. But his prizes in the above years are all in the category of cloth manufacturing. He produced linen, cotton and woolen ticking, blankets, and worsted and flannel fabrics. The degree of this activity points to sheep raising and regular textile manufacturing on his farm. According to the contract of sale of part of his property in 1831, however, a great portion of his land was sown in wheat, then the staple crop of the area. . .
But the most consistent community service of Martin Harris tells most about him. He was elected by his neighbors in the annual township meetings as overseer of highways for his district in the years 1811, 1813, 1814, 1815, 1825, 1827, and 1829. In almost all of the above years these officials were also assigned to be fence viewers. Such positions might be compared with the function of a non- commissioned officer who deals on a familiar level with small groups and therefore must possess tact and personal respect to succeed. The overseer of highways directed the work of neighbors on the roads in his district. It is obvious that Martin Harris was not a person with talents for high leadership as much as a trustworthy local leader. . .
If the public credentials of Martin Harris are impressive, they can be verified by recovering his confidential credit report. Loan officers measure both ability and reliability in venturing money, and one of considerable stature recalled Martin Harris’s loan application in detail. The Book of Mormon witness had a professional assessment from Charles Butler, who in 1830 was a lawyer and regional loan officer for the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company, and in later life was an impeccable New York financier and philanthropist. Early in 1830 it is evident that Martin Harris lacked ready cash to pay the printer of the Book of Mormon, though valuable land was pledged as security. It was probably at this time that he traveled thirty miles to Geneva to see Butler about a loan, taking with him the recommendation of the prominent Palmyra businessman Henry Jessup. Butler left several recollections of this event but comments most specifically upon the appraisal of Harris’s financial and personal capacities in the following account:
“He brought a letter of introduction to me from a highly respectable citizen of that town, a Mr. Jessup, who was a leading man and an elder in the Presbyterian Church and on whose judgment I depended in respect to the character of the borrower and the value of the property in all cases of applications for loans from that quarter. From the letter of Mr. Jessup the bearer was introduced to me as a very worthy and substantial farmer, possessing a very excellent farm, which would furnish a very ample security for the amount of money which he wished to obtain, viz. $1,300.00, and he commended Mr. Harris to me as a desirable borrower.”
It does not particularly concern this discussion that Butler determined that the purpose of the loan was to finance the Book of Mormon and rejected the application. In another memorandum recollection, Butler reports “my agent’ as indicating that “this was one of the most respectable farmers in Wayne County.”
The most unusual tribute to this Book of Mormon witness came in an obituary written thirty-four years before his death. . . Alvah Strong at Rochester had relied upon the nationally circulated story of the murder and had written his detailed estimate of his former acquaintance. Strong, a distinguished editor and respected community leader in Rochester, and earlier worked as a young printer in Palmyra just after the publication of the Book of Mormon and during the peak of Martin Harris’s public preaching in that community. Based upon this and other personal knowledge, he summarized the admiration for this witness and the prejudice against his testimony that characterized the community that knew him:
“We have ever regarded Mr. Harris as an honest man. We first became acquainted with him at Palmyra, in the spring of 1828, shortly after the plates from which the Book of Mormon is said to have been translated, were found. . . Though illiterate and actually of a superstitious turn of mind, he had long sustained an irreproachable character for probity. . .By his neighbors and townsmen with whom he earnestly and almost incessantly labored, he was regarded rather as being deluded himself, than as wishing to delude others knowingly; but still he was subjected to many scoffs and rebukes, all of which he endured with a meekness becoming a better cause.” (Rochester Daily Democrat, June 23, 1841).
The only extended evaluation of Martin Harris made in the early period is also the most complimentary. His exodus from Palmyra occasioned a touching tribute placed before the public by E.B. Grandin. Editor of the Wayne Sentinel in the crucial years of 1827-32 and printer of the Book of Mormon, Grandin perhaps knew Harris more intimately than any other non-Mormon. . .
[Grandin wrote,] “Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune–and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion.” (Wayne Sentinel, May 27, 1831).
[Salt Lake City, September 4, 1870, Sunday morning: Testimony of Martin Harris, written by my hand [Edward Stevenson] from the mouth of Martin Harris]:
In the year 1818, fifty-two years ago I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians. I was taught I could not walk together unless agreed. What can you not be agreed in? In the trinity, because I cannot find it in any Bible. Find it for me and I am ready to receive it. Three persons in one God–one personage I can not concede to, for this is anti-Christ, for where is the Father as Son. I have more proof to prove nine persons in the trinity than you have three. How do you do so? John tells us of the seven spirits sent into all the world. If you have a right to make a personage of one spirit, I have of the seven–and the Father and Son are two more, making nine. Other sects also tried me. They say three persons in one God, without body, parts or passions. I told them such a God I would not be afraid of. I could not please or offend him. [I] would not be afraid to fight a duel with such a God. The Methodists teach two [one word illegible] them exceed from one. I told them to [retract] to my saying, “God would hold me accountable for the use I made of it. All of the sects called me “Bro” [Brother] because the Lord had enlightened me.
The spirit told me to join none of the churches, for none had authority from the Lord, for there will not be a true church on the earth until the words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled. When interrogated closely, I told them, “If any church [be] the church of Christ, the Christians then claim me. But join and lectuien [?] as much as any other. The time has not come for you to take that name. At Antioch they were called Christians in derision. No thanks for your name, so I remained, for there was no authority, for the spirit told me that I might just as well plunge myself into the water as to have any one of the sects baptize me.
So I remained until the Church was organized by Joseph Smith, the Prophet. Then I was baptized by the hands of Oliver Cowdery, by Joseph Smith’s command, being the first after Joseph and Oliver Cowdery. And then the spirit bore testimony that this was all right, and I rejoiced in the established Church. Previous to my being baptized, I became a witness of the plates of the Book of Mormon in 1829. In March the people rose up and united against the work, gathering testimony against the plates, and said they had testimony enough, and if I did not put Joseph in jail and his father for deception, they would me. So I went from Waterloo twenty-five miles southeast of Palmyra to Rogerses, Suscotua [sic] County, New York, and to Harmony, Pennsylvania, 125 [miles] and found Joseph. Rogers, unknown to me, had agreed to give my wife one hundred dollars if it was not a deception, and had whet his knife to eat the [word illegible] of the plates as the Lord had forbid Joseph exhibiting them openly.
[The following historical sketch is a quotation from a letter to Thomas Gregg from Stephen S. Harding, former governor of Utah territory, written February 1882.]
. . . The fact that such a man as Martin Harris should mortgage his farm for a large sum, to secure the publisher for printing the book, should abandon the cultivation of one of the best farms in the neighborhood, and change all his habits of life from industry to indolence and general shiftlessness, was truly phenomenal. He, at the same time was the only man among the primitive Mormons who was responsible in a pecuniary sense for a single dollar. Nevertheless, he had become absolutely infatuated, and believed that an immense fortune could be made out of the enterprise. The misfortune that attended Harris from that day did not consist in the loss of money merely, and the general breaking up of his business as a farmer; but the blight and ruin fell upon all his domestic relations–causing his separation from his wife and family forever.
In early life he had been brought up a Quaker, then took to Methodism as more congenial to his nature. He was noted as one who could quote more scripture than any man in the neighborhood; and as a general thing could give the chapter and verse where some important passages could be found. If one passage more than another seemed to be in his mind, it was this: `God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the wise.’ His eccentricities and idiosyncrasies had been charitably passed over by all who knew him, until his separation from his wife and family, when he was looked upon as utterly infatuated and crazy. I had been acquainted with this man when a little boy, until my father emigrated from that neighborhood in 1820. He was intimately acquainted with my father’s family, and on several occasions had visited our house, in company with Mrs. Harris. None in all that neighborhood were more promising in their future prospects than they.
Upon my return to Palmyra, and learning that Martin Harris was the only man of any account, as we say in the West, among all his near associates, it was but natural that I should seek an early interview with him. I found him at the printing office of the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra, where the Book of Mormon was being printed. He had heard several days before of my arrival in the neighborhood, and expressed great pleasure at seeing me. [The interview consisted of a discussion of the lost 116 pages.]
It was early in the autumn of 1827 that Martin Harris called at my house in Palmyra, one morning about sunrise. His whole appearance indicted more than usual excitement, and he had scarcely passed the threshold of my dwelling, before he inquired whether he could see me alone, remarking that he had a matter to communicate that he wished to be strictly confidential. Previous to this, I had but very slight acquaintance with Mr. Harris. He had occasionally attended divine service in our church. I had heard him spoken of as a farmer in comfortable circumstances, residing in the country a short distance from the village, and distinguished by certain peculiarities of character. He had been, if I mistake not, at one period, a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalists. At this time, however, in his religious views he seemed to be floating upon the sea of uncertainty. He had evidently quite an extensive knowledge of the scriptures, and possessed a manifest disputatious turn of mind. As I subsequently learned, Mr. Harris had always been a firm believer in dreams, and visions, and supernatural appearances, such as apparitions and ghosts, and therefore was a fit subject for such men as Smith and his colleagues to operate upon.
On the occasion just referred to, I invited him to accompany me to my study, where, after having closed the door, he began to draw a package out of his pocket with great and manifest caution. Suddenly, however, he stopped, and wished to know if there was any possibility of our being interrupted or overheard? When answered in the negative, he proceeded to remark, that he reposed great confidence in me as a minister of Jesus Christ, and that what he had now to communicate he wished me to regard as strictly confidential. He said he verily believed that an important epoch had arrived – that a great flood of light was about to burst upon the world, and that the scene of divine manifestation was to be immediately around us.
In explanation of what he meant, he then proceeded to remark that a Golden Bible had recently been dug from the earth, where it had been deposited for thousands of years, and that this would be found to contain such disclosures as would settle all religious controversies and speedily bring on the glorious millennium. That this mysterious book, which no human eye of the present generation has yet seen, was in the possession of Joseph Smith, Jr., ordinarily known in the neighborhood under the more familiar designation of Jo Smith; that there had been a revelation made to him by which he had discovered this sacred deposit, and two transparent stones, through which, as a sort of spectacles, he could read the Bible, although the box or ark that contained it, had not yet book [been?] opened; and that by looking through those mysterious stones he had transcribed from one of the leaves of this book, the characters which Harris had so carefully wrapped in the package which he was drawing from his pocket.
The whole thing appeared to me so ludicrous and puerile, that I could not refrain from telling Mr. Harris, that I believed it a mere hoax got up to practice upon his credulity, or an artifice to extort from him money; for I had already, in the course of the conversation, learned that he had advanced some twenty-five dollars to Jo Smith as a sort of premium for sharing with him in the glories and profits of this new revelation. For at this time, his mind seemed to be quite as intent upon the pecuniary advantage that would arise from the possession of the plates of solid gold of which this book was composed, as upon the spiritual light it would diffuse over the world. My intimations to him, in reference to the possible imposition that was being practiced upon him, however, were indignantly repelled. He then went on to relate the particulars in regard to the discovery and possession of this marvelous book. As far as I can now recollect, the following was an outline of the narrative which he then communicated to me, and subsequently to scores of people in the village, from some of whom in my late visit to Palmyra, I have been able to recall several particulars that had quite glided from my memory.
Before I proceed to Martin’s narrative, however, I would remark in passing, that Jo Smith, who has since been the chief prophet of the Mormons, and was one of the most prominent ostensible actors in the first scenes of this drama, belonged to a very shiftless family near Palmyra. They lived a sort of vagrant life, and were principally known as money-diggers. Jo from a boy appeared dull and utterly destitute of genius; but his father claimed for him a sort of second sight, a power to look into the depths of the earth, and discover where its precious treasures were hid. Consequently long before the idea of a Golden Bible entered their minds, in their excursions for money-digging, which I believe usually occurred in the night, that they might conceal from others the knowledge of the place, where they struck their treasures, Jo used to be usually their guide, putting into a hat a peculiar stone he had through which he looked to decide where they should begin to dig.
According to Martin Harris, it was after one of these night excursions, that Jo, while he lay upon his bed, had a remarkable dream. An angel of God seemed to approach him, clad in celestial splendor. This divine messenger assured him that he, Joseph Smith, was chosen of the Lord to be a prophet of the Most High God, and to bring to light hidden things, that would prove of unspeakable benefit to the world. He then disclosed to him the existence of this Golden Bible, and the place where it was deposited – but at the same time told him that he must follow implicitly the divine direction, or he would draw down upon him the wrath of heaven. This book, which was contained in a chest, or ark, and which consisted of metallic plates covered with characters embossed in gold, he must not presume to look into, under three years . . .
After his marriage and return from Pennsylvania, he became so awfully impressed with the high destiny that awaited him, that he communicated the secret to his father and family. The money-digging propensity of the old man operated so powerfully, that he insisted upon it that they should go and dig and see if the chest was there — not with any view to remove it till the appointed time, but merely to satisfy themselves. Accordingly they went forth in the stillness of the night with their spades and mattocks to the spot where slumbered this sacred deposit. They had proceeded but a little while in the work of excavation, before the mysterious chest appeared; but lo! instantly it moved and glided along out of their sight. Directed, however, by the clairvoyance of Jo, they again penetrated to the spot where it stood, and succeeded in gaining a partial view of its dimensions. But while they were pressing forward to gaze at it, the thunder of the Almighty shook the spot, and made the earth to tremble – a sheet of vivid lightning swept along over the side of the hill, and burnt terribly around the place where the excavation was going on, and again with a rumbling noise, the chest moved off out of their sight. They were al terrified and fled towards their home. Jo took his course silently along by himself.
On his way homeward, being alone and in the woods, the angel of the Lord met him, clad in terror and wrath. He spoke in a voice of thunder: forked lightnings shot through the trees, and ran along upon the ground. The terror which the appearance of the divine messenger awakened, instantly struck Smith to the earth, and he felt his whole frame convulsed with agony, as though he were stamped upon by the iron hoofs of death himself. In language most terrific did the angel upbraid him for his disobedience, and then disappeared. Smith went home trembling and full of terror. Soon, however, his mind became more composed. Another divine communication was made to him, authorizing him to go along by himself and bring the chest and deposit it secretly under the hearth of his dwelling, but by no means to attempt to look into it. The reason assigned by the angel for this removal, was that some report in relation to the place where this sacred book was deposited had gone forth, and there was danger of its being disturbed. According to Harris, Smith now scrupulously followed the divine directions. He was already in possession of the two transparent stones laid up with the Golden Bible, by looking through which he was enabled to read the golden letters on the plates in the box. How he obtained these spectacles without opening the chest, Harris could not tell. But still he had them; and by means of them he could read all the book contained. The book itself was not to be disclosed until Smith’s child had reached a certain age. Then it might be published to the world. In the interim, Smith was to prepare the way for the conversion of the world to a new system of faith, by transcribing the characters from the plates and giving translations of the same.
This was the substance of Martin Harris’ communication to me upon our first interview. He then carefully unfolded a slip of paper, which contained three or four lines of characters, as unlike letters of hieroglyphics of any sort, as well could be produced were one to shut up his eyes and play off the most antic movements with his pen upon paper. The only thing that bore the slightest resemblance to the letter of any language that I had ever seen, was two uprights marked joined by a horizontal line, that might have been taken for the Hebrew character. My ignorance of the characters in which the pretended ancient record was written, was to Martin Harris new proof that Smith’s whole account of the divine revelation made to him was entirely to be relied on. . . .
[Journey to New York] He [Martin Harris] was so much in earnest on this subject, that he immediately started off with some of the manuscripts that Smith furnished him on a journey to New York and Washington to consult some learned men to ascertain the nature of the language in which this record was engraven. After his return he came to see me again, and told me that, among others, he had consulted Professor Anthon, who thought the characters in which the book was written very remarkable, but he could not decide exactly what language they belonged to. Martin had now become a perfect believer. He said he had no more doubt of Smith’s commission, than of the divine commission of the apostles. The very fact that Smith was an obscure and illiterate man, showed that he must be acting under divine impulses: – “God had chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised – yea, and things that are not to bring to nought – things that are – that no flesh should glory in his presence:” that he was willing to “take of the spoiling of his goods” to sustain Smith in carrying on this work of the Lord; and that he was determined that the book should be published, though it consumed all his worldly substance.
It was in vain I endeavoured to expostulate. I was an unbeliever, and could not see afar off. As for him he must follow the light which the Lord had given him . . . The way that Smith made his transcripts and translations for Harris was the following. Although in the same room, a thick curtain or blanket was suspended between them, and Smith concealed behind the blanket, pretended to look through his spectacles, or transparent stones, and would then write down or repeat what he saw, which, when repeated aloud, was written down by Harris, who sat on the other side of the suspended blanket. Harris was told that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to draw near the sacred chest, or look at Smith while engaged in the work of deciphering the mysterious characters. This was Harris’ own account of the matter to me. What other measures they afterwards took to transcribe or translate from these metallic plates, I cannot say, as I very soon after this removed to another field or labor where I heard no more of this matter till I learned the Book of Mormon was about to be published . . . This book, which professed to be a translation of the Golden Bible brought to light by Joseph Smith, was published in 1830–to accomplish which Martin Harris actually mortgaged his farm.
“Golden Bible.” — The Palmyra. Freeman Says, the greatest piece of superstition that has ever come within our knowledge, now occupies the attention of a few individuals of this quarter. It is generally known and spoke of as the “Golden Bible.” Its proselytes give the following account of it: In the fall of 1827, a person by the name of Joseph Smith of Manchester, Ontario County, reported that he had been visited in a dream by the spirit of the Mighty, and informed that in a certain hill in that town, was deposited this Golden Bible, containing an ancient record of a divine nature and origin. After having been thence thus visited, as he states he proceeded to the spot and after having proceeded to the spot and after having penetrated “mother earth a short distance, the Bible was found together with a huge pair of spectacles! He had directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, under no less penalty than instant death! They were therefore nicely wrapped up and excluded from the vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals!” It was said that the leaves of the Bible were plates of gold about eight inches long, six wide and one eighth of an inch thick, on which were engraved characters or hieroglyphics by placing the spectacles in a hat, and looking into, Smith could (he said so at least) interpret the characters.
An account of this discovery was soon circulated. The subject was almost invariably treated as it should have been with contempt. A few however believed the “Golden” story, among whom was Martin Harris, an honest and industrious farmer of the town of Palmyra. So blindly enthusiastic was Harris, that he took some of the characters interpreted by Smith, and went in search of some one; besides the interpreter, who was learned enough to English them; but to all whom he applied (among the number was Professor Mitchell, of New York,) happened not to be possessed of sufficient knowledge to give satisfaction! Harris returned, and set Smith to work at interpreting the Bible. He has at length performed the task, and the work is soon to be put to press in Palmyra. Its language and doctrines are said to be far superior to the book of life!
Martin Harris, another chief of the Mormon impostors, arrived here last Saturday from the bible quarry in New York. He immediately planted himself in the bar-room of the hotel, where he soon commenced reading and explaining the Mormon hoax, and all the dark passages from Genesis to Revelations. He told all about the gold plates, angels, spirits, and Jo Smith. He had seen and handled them all, by the power of God! Curiosity soon drew around thirty or forty spectators, and all who presumed to question his blasphemous pretentions, were pronounced infidels. He was very flippant, talking fast and loud, in order that others could not interpose an opinion counter to his. Every idea that he advanced, he knew to be absolutely true, as he said, by the spirit and power of God. . . . [He] had a fair specimen of the Mormon slang, in this display of one of their headmen. The meeting was closed, by a request of the landlord that the prophet should remove his quarters, which he did, after declaring, that all who believed the new bible would see Christ within fifteen years, and all who did not would absolutely be destroyed and damned.
[For additional information on this article see Leonard J. Arrington, “James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on `The Mormonites’,” BYU Studies 10 (Spring 1970):353-64. Arrington includes in his work the same article cited above which appeared in the Morning Courier and Enquirer, 1 Sep 1831.]
It is probable that Joe Smith is well acquainted with the trick, but Harris the farmer and the recent converts, are true believers. –Harris was the first man who gave credit to the story of Smith and the ex-preacher. He was their maiden convert – the Ali of the Ontario Mahomet, who believed without a reason and without a murmur. They attempted to get the Book printed, but could not raise the means till Harris stepped [sic] forward, and raised money on his farm for that purpose. Harris with several manuscripts in his pocket, went to the city of New York, and called upon one of the professors of Columbia College for the purpose of showing them to him. Harris says that the professor thought them very curious, but admitted that he could not decipher them. Said he to Harris, “Mr. Harris you had better go to the celebrated Doctor Mitchell and shew them to him. He is very learned in these ancient languages, and I have no doubt will be able to give you some satisfaction.” “Where does he live?” asked Harris. He was told, and off he posted with the engravings from the golden plates to submit to Doctor Mitchell – Harris says that the Doctor received him very “politely,”[?] looked at his engravings – made a learned dissertation on them – compared them with the hieroglyphics discovered by Champollion in Egypt – and set them down as the language of a people formerly in existence in the East, but now no more.
. . . In December following we [our] move to Susquehana [Susquehanna] by the assistance of a man by the name of Martin Haris [Harris] who became convinced of the visions and gave me fifty dollars to bear my expenses and because of his faith and this righteous deed the Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto him his marvelous work which he was about to do and he immediately came to Susquehanna and said the Lord had shown him that he must go to New York City with some of the characters, so we proceeded to copy some of them and he took his journey to the eastern cities and to the learned saying read this I pray thee and the learned said I cannot but if he would bring the plates they would read it but the Lord had forbidden it and he returned to me and gave them to me to translate and I said [I] cannot for I am not learned but the Lord had prepared spectacles [for] to read the book, therefore I commenced translating the characters and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled which is written in the 29 chapter concerning the book.
And it came to pass that after we had translated 116 pages that he desired to carry them to read to his friends that peradventure he might convince them of the truth therefore I inquired of the Lord and the Lord said unto me that he must not take them and I spoke unto him (Martin) the word of the Lord and he said inquire again and I inquired again and also the third time and the Lord said unto me let him go with them only he shall covenant with me that he will not shew them to only but four persons and he covenanted with the Lord that he would do according to the word of the Lord, therefore he took them and took his journey unto his friends to Palmira [Palmyra], Wayne County and state of New York and he broke the covenant which he made before the Lord and the Lord suffered the writings to fall into the hands of wicked men and Martin was chastened for my transgression and I also was chastened for my transgression for asking the Lord the third time wherefore the plates was [were] taken from me by the power of God and I was not able to obtain them for a season. . . .
The spiritual condition at this time is gloomy also. I called the High Council together last week and laid before them the case of dissenters; 28 persons were, upon mature discussion, cut off from the Church; the leaders were Cyrus Smalling, Joseph Coe, Martin Harris, Luke S. Johnson, John F. Boynton and W. W. Parrish. We have cut off between 40 and 50 from the Church since you left. . .
Source: George A. Smith to Josiah Fleming, 30 Mar 1838, cit. JH, 30 Mar 1838, p. 1.
The state of affairs in Kirtland is very unsettled; the Warren Parrish party has become divided, three against two, and two against three, and they are entering into a long debate upon the Book of Mormon and the revelations. One of them told me that Moses was a rascal and the Prophets were tyrants, and that Jesus Christ was a despot, Paul a base liar and all religion a fudge. And Parrish said he agreed with him in principle . . . .
Last Sabbath a division arose among the Parrish party about the Book of Mormon; John F. Boyington, Warren Parrish, Luke S. Johnson, and others said it was nonsense. Martin Harris then bore testimony of its truth and said all would be damned if they rejected it. Cyrus Smalling, Joseph Coe and others declared his testimony was true. In this way a division arose to bring about the above-mentioned debate and thus the enemies of truth are divided, while the Saints are growing in grace and in union and knowledge and increasing in number. . .
Source: Justin Brooks to Joseph Smith, 7 Nov 1842, cit. JH, 7 Nov 1842, p. 2.
The labors of the elders seem to have effected a union of all parties; and if I must give my opinion I think upon the right principle.
Twelve persons were baptized yesterday and information has just reached me that Brother Martin Harris has been baptized, and is now on his way home from the water. I would further state that Bro. Wight expects to administer baptism to several persons in Painsville [Painesville], on his way east.
Source: Phineas H. Young to Brigham Young, 31 Dec 1844, cit. JH, 31 Dec 1844, p. 3.
There are in this place all kinds of teaching; Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was of the Book of Mormon. Luman Heath is running after them continually. Hiram Kellog, the presiding officer here is a Rigdonite and says Sidney is the man God has called to lead his people, that Bro. Joseph was cut off for transgression and the Twelve are carrying out his principles; and if we follow them, we shall all be cut off. . . .
[The following is an account of Martin Harris’ mission to Great Britain during the fall of 1846:]
Another blow at Brighamism was the appointment of a mission to raid the rich proselyting field of industrial England. Moses Smith, Leicester Brooks, Hazen Aldrich, and Martin Harris, the last of whom had financed and been one of the three witnesses of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon, were delegated to leave in the fall for the British Isles . . . .
The English mission, on which Strange had counted for reinforcements in money and souls, ended in disaster. Without the stalwart Moses Smith, who was detained at Voree to help Strange fight the schisms and apostasies which threatened to shatter the walls of Zion, the mission lacked a dependable leader. Moreover, the other two members of the mission, Martin Harris, and Leicester Brooks, had been preceded to England by Orson Hyde and John Taylor, the Brighamite Apostles and scourges of Strangism, who had prepared a hot reception for them.
The landing of Harris and Brooks at Liverpool was the signal for Hyde and Taylor to let loose a torrent of scorn. Unfortunately, both of the Strangite missionaries were vulnerable to impeachments of their honesty. The Brighamites lost no time in publishing the fact that Martin Harris had once been a follower of Anne Lee in Shakerism as well as a recidivist Mormon. “Any one can see that he must have been a wicked man, and no wonder that a man without revelation should join Anne Lee, Strang, or any other imposition or strong delusion, having rejected the truth.
Source: Orson Hyde, “Martin Harris,” MS 8 (15 Nov 1846):124.
One of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, yielded to the spirit and temptation of the devil a number of years ago–turned against Joseph Smith and became his bitter enemy. He was filled with rage and madness of a demon. One day he would be one thing, and another day another thing. He soon became partially deranged or shattered, as many believed, flying from one thing to another, as if reason and common sense were thrown off their balance. In one of his fits of monomania, he went and joined the “Shakers” or followers of Anne Lee. He tarried with them a year or two, or perhaps longer, having had some flare ups while among them; but since Strang has made his entry into the apostate ranks, and hoisted his standard for the rebellious to flock to, Martin leaves the “Shakers,” whom he knows to be right, and has known it for many years, as he said, and joins Strang in gathering out the tares of the field. We understand that he is appointed a mission to this country, but we do not feel to warn the Saints against him, for his own unbridled tongue will soon show out specimens of folly enough to give any person a true index to the character of the man; but if the Saints wish to know what the Lord hath said of him, they may turn to the 178th page of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and the person there called a “wicked man” is no other than Martin Harris, and he owned to it then, but probably might not now. It is not the first time the Lord chose a wicked man as a witness. Also on page 193, read the whole revelation given to him, and ask yourselves if the Lord ever talked in that way to a good man. Every one can see that he must have been a wicked man, and the Lord said that that revelation was the last he should receive; and no wonder that a man without revelation should join Anne Lee, Strang, or any other imposition or strong delusion, having rejected the truth.
Source: Orson Hyde, “Notices,” MS 8 (15 Nov 1846):128.
[After the arrival of Martin Harris and Leicester Brooks in England, Elder Orson Hyde published two additional articles in the Star. One of the editorial notes pertained to their visit in Birmingham; the second was prompted by the arrival of Harris and Brooks in Liverpool.]
We stop the press to say that our letters by this morning’s mail (October 31) bring cheering accounts from our elders in various parts. They are baptizing in almost all directions. We also learn, from Elder Wheelock’s letter of Birmingham, that Martin Harris and his escort have paid them a visit. He introduced himself to their conference meeting and wished to speak, but on being politely informed by Elder Banks that the season of the year had come when Martin sought a more genial climate than England, he had better follow. On being rejected by the united voice of the conference, he went out into the street and began to proclaim the corruption of the Twelve; but here the officers of government honored him with their presence–two policemen came and very gently took hold of each arm and led Martin away to the Lock-up. We would insert Brother Wheelock’s letter entire if we had room. Elder Wheelock will remember that evil men, like Martin Harris, out of the evil treasure of their hearts shall bring forth evil things.
Just as our paper was going to press, we learned that Martin Harris, about whom we had written in another article, had landed in Liverpool, and being afraid or ashamed of his profession as a Strangite, and we presume both, for we are confident we should be, he tells some of our brethren on whom he called, that he was of the same profession with themselves–that he had just come from America and wished to get acquainted with the Saints. But there was a strangeness about him, and about one or two who came with him, that gave them plainly to see that the frankness and honest simplicity of true hearted brethren were not with them. A lying deceptive spirit attends them, and has from the beginning. They said they were of the same profession with our brethren, when they knew they lied. If they were of our profession, why not call at our office and get their papers endorsed? Because they know that they are of their father, the devil, who was a liar from the beginning, and abode not in the truth. The very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him. . . . Source: Wayne Gunnell, “Martin Harris,” p. 55.
Upon the failure of his British Mission, Martin Harris withdrew from the ranks of Strang and joined William E. McLellin, formerly one of the Twelve Apostles and who had been excommunicated from the Church in 1838. On January 23, 1847, a small group under the leadership of McLellin and Harris proceeded to organize a church. “It was moved by McLellin and seconded by Martin Harris that this following take upon them the name of `The Church of Christ,’ and wear it henceforth shorn of all appendages or alterations, which motion was carried.” Soon after the organization was effected, McLellin communicated with the Whitmer brothers who had remained in Missouri, and in September of 1847, he visited them.
(From a manuscript found in the Millennial Star Office, written by Elder D. B. Dille.)
Be it known to all whom this may concern that I, David B. Dille, of Ogden City, Weber County, Salt Lake, en route to Great Britain, having business with one Martin Harris, formerly of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and residing at Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio, did personally wait upon him at his residence, and found him sick in bed; and was informed by the said Martin Harris that he had not been able to take any nourishment for the space of three days. This, together with his advanced age, had completely prostrated him. After making my business known to Mr. Harris, and some little conversation with him, the said Martin Harris started up in bed, and, after particularly inquiring concerning the prosperity of the Church, made the following declaration: “I feel that a spirit has come across me – the old spirit of Mormonism; and I begin to feel as I used to feel; and I will not say I won’t go to the valley.” Then addressing himself to his wife, he said, “I don’t know but that, if you will get me some breakfast, I will get up and eat it.”
I then addressed Mr. Harris relative to his once high and exalted station in the Church, and his then fallen and afflicted condition. I afterward put the following questions to Mr. Harris, to which he severally replied with the greatest cheerfulness: “What do you think of the Book of Mormon? Is it a divine record?”
Mr. Harris replied and said, “I was the right-hand man of Joseph Smith, and I know that he was a Prophet of God. I know the Book of Mormon is true.” Then smiting his fist on the table, he said, “And you know that I know that it is true. I know that the plates have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice declared it unto us; therefore I know of a surety that the work is true.” “For,” continued Mr. Harris, “did I not at one time hold the plates on my knee an hour and a half, whilst in conversation with Joseph, when we went to bury them in the woods, that the enemy might not obtain them? Yes, I did. And as many of the plates as Joseph Smith translated I handled with my hands, plate after plate.” Then describing their dimensions, he pointed with one of the fingers of his left hand to the back of his right hand and said, “I should think they were so long, or about eight inches, and about so thick, or about four inches; and each of the plates was thicker than the thickest tin.”
I then asked Mr. Harris if he ever lost 3,000 dollars by the publishing of the Book of Mormon. Mr. Harris said, “I never lost one cent. Mr. Smith,” he said, “paid me all that I advanced, and more too.” As much as to say he received a portion of the profits accruing from the sale of the book.
Mr. Harris further said, “I took a transcript of the characters of the plates to Dr. Anthon, of New York. When I arrived at the house of Professor Anthon, I found him in his office and alone, and presented the transcript to him, and asked him to read it. He said if I would bring the plates, he would assist in the translation. I told him I could not, for they were sealed. Professor Anthon then gave me a certificate certifying that the characters were Arabic, Chaldaic, and Egyptian. I then left Dr. Anthon and was near the door, when he said, “How did the young man know the plates were there?” I said an angel had shown them to him. Professor Anthon then said, “Let me see the certificate!” – upon which I took it from my waistcoat pocket and unsuspectingly gave it to him. He then tore it up in anger, saying there was no such thing as angels now – it was all a hoax. I then went to Dr. Mitchell with the transcript, and he confirmed what Professor Anthon had said.”
Mr. Harris is about 58 years old [he was in reality 70 years old], and is on a valuable farm of 90 acres, beautifully situated at Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio.
Elder Snow, Editor of the Luminary:
Dear Brother — At the conference held in St. Louis, in October, 1854, Brother W. W. Rust and myself received a mission to travel in the northern and eastern states, to hunt up the lost sheep and endeavor to gather them into the fold. Accordingly, we left St. Louis on or about the middle of the month on the Reindeer, stopped at Alton a few days, visiting the Saints, and then passed on to Springfield, Illinois, called on a Brother Palmer, when behold, William Smith, brother of the Prophet Joseph, had taken up his abode here for the time being. He grasped me by the hand, said it did him good to take an old Mormon by the hand. I inquired of him (in Yankee style) what his business was in Springfield. He said he was preaching the first principles of the Gospel. I wished to know whether he preached the gathering and acknowledged the authorities of the Church as organized in Utah. His reply was rather evasive, said he and the authorities had had some misunderstanding, the same as Peter and Paul, that he had written to President Young saying he was willing to abide his decision. He wished me to give him the hand of fellowship. I told him under existing circumstances I could not, and advised him, if he was honest- hearted, as he appeared to be, he had better repair immediately to the valleys of the mountains and report himself and abide the decision of the First Presidency. He told me he had written and he wrote a letter to Brother Brigham before we left, whether he sent it or not I know not.
In answer to questions from a number in Springfield as to the authority of William Smith, I replied that it was with him as it would be with a branch severed from the vine, it would wither and die and would be ready to be burned, receiving no nourishment from the vine.
From Springfield we went to Chicago, there I found an uncle that I had not seen in thirty years. I stopped a few days with him and partook of his hospitality, and in return I gave him an offer of salvation on Gospel terms. He said he would consider on it and give me an answer on my return.
We emptied our purses at the depot, and wished the agent to pass us as far as he felt justified in doing, as we were heralds of salvation, alias, Mormon elders; he gave us tickets to Marshall, Michigan, deducting about half the regular fare. No accident occurred until our arrival at Marshall. We partook of the hospitality of the landlord, i.e. supper, lodging and breakfast free of cost.
In the morning we left Marshall on foot, the snow being about six inches deep and storming. It was hard traveling, but we reached Parma, about thirty miles, stayed with a relation over Sunday, gave our testimony and passed on. We traveled some two hundred miles through mud and mire, sometimes we could get shelter for the night, and occasionally a bowl of bread and milk.
We made it a rule to inquire for Saints and places to preach, but no sooner than we had informed them that we were ministers of the Gospel from Salt Lake, their doors were closed against us; we traveled hundreds of miles in Michigan, but obtained but one house to preach in. The fact is, Strang, the Beaver Island Mormon, as he styled himself, is sending his emissaries out to rob, steal, plunder, preaching another Gospel, but styling themselves Mormons; hence, the prejudice that exists in the minds of the people against the servants of God that are sent abroad by the authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We called at Kirtland, found a few that called themselves Saints, but very weak, many apostates who have mostly joined the rappers. We had a lengthy interview with Martin Harris. At first he was down on polygamy, but before we left he informed me that he never should say a word against it. He confessed that he had lost confidence in Joseph Smith; consequently, his mind became darkened, and he was left to himself; he tried the Shakers, but that would not do; then he tried Gladden Bishop, but no satisfaction; he had concluded he would wait until the Saints returned to Jackson County and then he would repair there. He gave us a history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and his going to New York and presenting the characters to Professor Anthon, etc. He concluded before we left that “Brigham was governor,” and that the authorities were there, and that he should go there as soon as he could get away.
We traveled together until we arrived at New York City, preaching by the way wherever an opportunity offered. From thence, Brother Rust went to Boston, and I went to Tom’s River, New Jersey, found the Saints enjoying much of the spirit of God. They number nearly one hundred, and are calculating to emigrate next season. My labor has been in New Jersey and New York, with what success time will determine. I feel clear, and have obtained permission to return home, which I shall with joy, and not with grief. May God bless and sustain you, is my prayer, Amen. Yours as ever, Thomas Colburn.
Cleveland, Ohio, February 27, 1862.
Dear Brother Cannon,–Your assurances of the progress of the work of the Lord in Europe are indeed gratifying. That the dark night of Zion’s sorrow and mourning is about to be chased away by the brightness of her rising sun of righteousness, is now, to many, a fact most palpable. Her beauty and her glory cannot longer be obscured.
In contrast with the almost utter rejection of the heavenly message of peace by the people here, it is truly refreshing to contemplate the remarkable success of God’s messengers among the inhabitants of Great Britain, as also among those of other European countries.
A singular feeling is now stealing over the minds of many in this country — a desire to inquire after and investigate “Mormonism:” whether from intrinsic love of truth, or with a hope to find shelter from the increasing fury of the storm, God knows. There are very many in the regions where I have been laboring who, when I first gave them the privilege of hearing and obeying the truth, turned away in holy abhorrence of the precious gift proffered to them; but now none are more eager to give audience — yea, to solicit information, than this same class. As events are now shaping, there is little likelihood of their being soon again tortured with the sound of “Mormonism.” Was it not to this class that Jesus exclaimed — “O generation of vipers! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” But it is decreed that there shall come a famine, not for bread, but for hearing the word of God, and that they shall not find it; and if the day of such famine on this land is not at their doors, I have mistaken the signs of the times.
Amid the general gloom of despondency, in the crushing of hopes, the breaking of hearts, and the ruining of fortunes, the demolition of public and private credit and confidence, approaching the verge of universal bankruptcy, of all who stand upon the edge of the pit, to me it seems that the ease of those wretched apostates who go whining through this country about Brigham Young is most hopeless. Disregarded by man — the enemies of God and his servants, they may befittingly prove to all Saints the imperative duty of striving to do as they are told.
While at Kirtland, a few days since, Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, came to see me. If any wish ocular demonstration of the fact that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, they need only look at Martin Harris in his present state, and then read the words given through the martyred Joseph concerning him. He is failing perceptibly. Of his property there is little or none left. He has now no home; his son, a worthless scapegrace, with whom he lived, being in prison, and the house deserted. Yet, as you have doubtless often heard, he has never failed to confirm his testimony of the truth of that Book. He says he is going to Utah as soon as the Lord will release him!
The news from “our mountain home” is cheering indeed. Having vainly and repeatedly petitioned for admission as a state prior to the dissolution of the union, and though having since that event given renewed and unlooked-for proofs of what had in years long past been shown beyond all controversy — that they were unflinching defenders of the constitution, yet still coldly spurned, as though menial vagrants, from the door of the union, — who or what shall interpose to prevent the people of Utah from assuming the right of self-government? Who more worthy to govern them than the man of their confidence and choice, President Brigham Young? Who else has shown himself so worthy of their confidence, or so capable of governing that people? Truly and justly did his honor Alfred Cumming, governor of Utah during Mr. Buchanan’s administration declare “Brigham Young is my governor.” (“His yoke shall be taken from off from thy neck, because of the anointing.”) Heaven bless you in your labors. My kind regards to the brethren. Yours truly, James McKnight.
Salt Lake City, November 30, 1881.
Editor Deseret News:
Having been interrogated recently regarding Martin Harris, the time of his arrival in this city, and other incidents of his life, and as at the present time newspaper reporters are interesting themselves regarding David Whitmer, the only surviving witness of the Book of Mormon, now living at Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, having resided there as long as Martin Harris did at Kirtland, Ohio, which has been since 1831, 50 years ago, and 39 years previous to his removal to Utah; for these reasons I feel prompted to offer a few facts relating to his removal from Ohio to Utah, his various testimonies, and incidents of personal observation of his life for the past 48 years.
While I was living in Michigan, then a territory, in 1833, near the town of Pontiac, Oakland County, Martin Harris came there, and in a meeting, where I was present, bore testimony of the appearance of an angel exhibiting the golden plates, and commanding him to bear a testimony of these things to all people whenever opportunity was afforded him to do so; and I can say that his testimony had great effect in that vicinity. Martin had a sister living in our neighborhood. About this time Oliver Cowdery, one of the other three witnesses also, in company with Joseph Smith the Prophet bore the same testimony, and further, Joseph the Prophet promised those who with honest hearts obeyed the Gospel should receive the Holy Ghost, and signs would follow them.
As a proof of their testimony, several of that branch of the church enjoyed various gifts; one, Elijah Fordham, who recently died in this territory, spoke in tongues, and as two French travellers were passing they heard him speaking and said to a boy outside the house where they were, that he was speaking in French, bearing testimony to the gospel, he having no knowledge of that language. Martin often bore his testimony while in that neighborhood.
In the year 1869 I was appointed on a mission to the United States. Having visited several of the eastern states, I called at Kirtland, Ohio, to see the first temple that was built by our people in this generation. While there, I again met Martin Harris, soon after coming out of the temple. He took from under his arm a copy of the Book of Mormon, the first edition, I believe, and bore a faithful testimony, just the same as that I had heard him bear 36 years previous. He said that it was his duty to continue to lift up his voice as he had been commanded to do in defense of the book that he held in his hand, and offered to prove from the Bible that just such a book was to come forth out of the ground, and that, too, in a day when there were no prophets on the earth, and that he was daily bearing testimony to many who visited the temple.
After patiently hearing him, I felt a degree of compassion for him, and in turn bore my testimony to him, as I had received it through obedience to the gospel, and that the work was still [going] onward, and the words of Isaiah, second chapter, were being fulfilled, that “the house of the Lord was in the tops of the mountains,” and that under the leadership of President Brigham Young all nations were gathering to Zion to learn of God’s ways and to walk in His paths, and that the worst wish that we had, was for him to also prepare himself and go up and be a partaker of the blessings of the House of the Lord. My testimony impressed him. A Mr. Bond, who held the keys of the temple, and who had been present at the dedication, and then a faithful Latter-day Saint, said to me he felt as though he would have been far better off if he had kept with the Latter-day Saints, and that if I would preach in the temple, he would open the doors to me. I promised to do so at some future time.
After my arrival in Utah in 1870, I was inspired to write to Martin Harris, and soon received a reply that the Spirit of God, for the first time prompted him to go to Utah. Several letters were afterward exchanged. President Brigham Young, having read the letter, through President George A. Smith, requested me to get a subscription and emigrate Martin to Utah, he subscribing twenty-five dollars for that purpose. Having raised the subscription to about $200.00, on the 19th of July, I took the railroad cars for Ohio, and on the 10th of August, filled my appointment, preaching twice in the Kirtland Temple, finding Martin Harris elated with his prospective journey.
A very singular incident occurred at this time. While Martin was visiting his friends, bidding them farewell, his pathway crossed a large pasture, in which he became bewildered. Dizzy, faint and staggering through the blackberry vines that are so abundant in that vicinity, his clothes torn, bloody and faint, he lay down under a tree to die. After a time he revived, called on the Lord, and finally at twelve o’clock midnight, found his friend, and in his fearful condition was cared for and soon regained his strength. He related this incident as a snare of the adversary to hinder him from going to Salt Lake City. Although in his 88th year he possessed remarkable vigor and health, having recently worked in the garden, and dug potatoes by the day for some of his neighbors.
After visiting New York and calling to visit the sacred spot from where the plates were taken, upon which the characters of the Book of Mormon were engraven, I found there an aged gentleman, 74 years old, who knew Martin Harris, and said that he was known in that neighborhood as an honest farmer, having owned a good farm three miles from that place. He further said, he well remembered the time when the Mormons used to gather at Mormon Hill, as he termed it, where it was said the plates came from.
On the 21st of August , Martin was with me in Chicago, and at the American Hotel bore testimony to a large number of people, of the visitation of the angel, etc. The following is from the Iowa State Register, Des Moines, August 26, 1870:
“Elder Stevenson, of Salt Lake, together with Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses of the Mormon Bible, called at our sanctum yesterday. Mr. Harris is now in his 88th year, hale and hearty, with many interesting things to relate in reference to the finding of the tablets of the testament. We shall have occasion to mention some of these in another issue.”
While in Des Moines, the capitol of Iowa, Brother Harris had opportunity of bearing testimony to many, and at a special meeting held in a branch of our Church, brother James M. Ballinger, president, Brother Harris bore testimony as to viewing the plates, the angel’s visit, and visiting Professor Anthon, with characters from the plates, who after giving him a certificate, etc., as to the correctness of the characters, asked him to fetch the plates for him to see. Martin said that they were sealed, and that an angel had forbidden them to be exhibited. Mr. Anthon then called for the certificate, tore it up and consigned it to the waste basket, saying that angels did not visit the earth in our day, etc.
On the following day, I baptized a sister to President Ballinger, in the Des Moines River. The branch here contributed a new suit of clothes to Brother Harris for which he felt to bless them. On the 29th of August  we landed in Ogden, and the Ogden Junction said:
“Martin Harris arrived, (with Elder Edward Stevenson) whose name is known almost throughout the world as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. They left Kirtland on the 19th of August.”
August 31st , the Salt Lake Herald said:
“Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, arrived in Salt Lake City last night, accompanied by Elder Edward Stevenson. Two members of the Des Moines Branch of the Church accompanied them to our city.”
The Deseret News of August 31, 1870, in over one column, notices the arrival of Martin Harris last evening, at 7:30, “who is in his 88th year. He is remarkably vigorous for one of his years, his memory being very good, and his sight, though his eyes appear to have failed, being so acute that he can see to pick a pin off the ground . . . He has never failed to bear testimony to the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He says it is not a matter of belief on his part, but of knowledge. He with the other two witnesses declared, and their testimony has accompanied every copy of the book, 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. This declaration he has not varied from in 41 years . . . We are glad to see Martin Harris once more in the midst of the Saints.”
The Salt Lake Herald, September 3,  said:
“We had a call yesterday morning from Elder Edward Stevenson, who introduced Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Mr. Harris is now 88 years of age, and is remarkably lively and energetic for his years. He holds firmly to the testimony he has borne for over forty years, that an angel appeared before him and the other witnesses, and showed them the plates upon which the characters of the Book of Mormon were inscribed. After living many years separated from the body of the Church, he has come to spend the evening of life among the believers in that book to which he is so prominent a witness. Mr. Harris, who has a number of relatives in the territory, came from the east under the care of Elder Edward Stevenson.”
Monday Evening News, September 5, 1870, contains the following:
“SABBATH MEETINGS. The congregation in the morning was addressed by Elder Edward Stevenson, Martin Harris and President George A. Smith. In the afternoon the time was occupied by Elder John Taylor, the house was crowded to overflowing.”
Martin Harris related an incident that occurred during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seerstone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seerstone. Martin explained the translation as follows: By aid of the seerstone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used. Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translation, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, “Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!” Martin’s countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, “to stop the mouths of fools,” who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc.
Martin said further that the seerstone differed in appearance entirely from the Urim and Thummim that was obtained with the plates, which were two clear stones set in two rims, very much resembling spectacles, only they were larger. Martin said there were not many pages  translated while he wrote, after which Oliver Cowdery and others did the writing.
Brother Harris was taught the necessity of being rebaptized. He said that was new doctrine to him. Revelation, second chapter, was explained, that those who had lost their first love and had fallen into evils and snares, were called on to “repent and do their first works,” and that rebaptism was a part of the Gospel. He claimed that he had not been cut off from the Church, but said if that was required of him it would be manifested to him by the Spirit. Soon after his arrival in Utah, he applied for baptism, saying that the Spirit had made known to him that it was his duty to renew his covenant before the Lord.
He was also taught a principle that was new to him — baptism for the dead, as taught and practiced by the ancient Saints, and especially taught by Paul the Apostle in the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead.” After consideration he came and said it had been made known to him that baptism for the dead was a correct principle, for he had seen his father in vision at the foot of a ladder, and he was above, and had to go down and help him up. In a short time the baptismal font was prepared, and by his request I baptized him, and President George A. Smith, and Apostles John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt confirmed him by the laying on of hands, Orson Pratt being mouth. As soon as he was confirmed he returned to the font and was baptized for several of his dead friends — fathers, grandfathers, etc. Then his sister also was baptized for the female relatives, and they were confirmed for and in behalf of those who they were baptized for, by the same brethren, Joseph F. Smith being mouth. It was a time of rejoicing for all who were present.
Brother Martin visited many of the wards, continuing to bear his testimony both of what he had beheld with his own eyes, and verily knew to be true. He publicly said that many years ago, in Ohio, a number of persons combined and sought to get Martin to drink wine for the purpose of crossing him in his testimony. At the conclusion they asked him if he really believed the testimony that he had signed in the Book of Mormon to be true? He replied no, he did not believe it, but, much to their surprise, he said he knew it to be true!
Soon after receiving his blessings in the house of the Lord, he went to Smithfield, Cache Valley, and lived with his son until he left this mortal life. Just before he breathed his last he sat up in his bed holding the Book of Mormon in his hand, and bore his last testimony to those who were present. Edward Stevenson.
Source: Edward Stevenson, “The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon,” MS 48 (21 Jun 1886):389-91.
The economy of Martin Harris was particularly illustrated on the occasion of our visit to the Fifteenth Ward of Salt Lake City. The meeting was crowded, as usual, with those anxious to see him, and to hear his constant, undeviating testimony. Sister M. H. Kimball, of the Fifteenth Ward, eminent in the Relief Societies, on their behalf offered to have a new set of artificial teeth made for Brother Harris, to which he replied, “No, sisters, I thank you for your kindness, but I shall not live long. Take the money and give it to the poor.”
This calls to my mind a little incident or two that he related to me while we were on our journey from Ohio to Utah. He said that Joseph Smith, the Prophet, was very poor, and had to work by the day for his support, and that he (Harris) often gave him work on his farm, and they had hoed corn together many a day, Brother Harris paying him fifty cents per day. Joseph, he said, was good to work and jovial and they often wrestled together in sport, but the Prophet was devoted and attentive to his prayers. Brother Harris gave Joseph $50.00 on one occasion to help translate the Book of Mormon. This action on the part of Martin Harris so displeased his wife that she threatened to leave him. Martin said that he knew this to be the work of God, and that he should keep the commandments of the Lord, whatever the results might be. His wife, subsequently, partially separated from him, which he patiently endured for the Gospel’s sake.
He also stated that the Prophet translated a portion of the Book of Mormon with a seerstone in his possession. The stone was placed in a hat that was used for that purpose, and with the aid of this seerstone the Prophet would read sentence by sentence as Martin wrote, and if he made any mistake the sentence would remain before the Prophet until corrected, when another sentence would appear. When they became weary, as it was confining work to translate from the plates of gold, they would go down to the river and throw stones into the water for exercise. Martin on one occasion picked up a stone resembling the one with which they were translating, and on resuming their work, Martin placed the false stone in the hat. He said that the Prophet looked quietly for a long time, when he raised his head and said: “Martin, what on earth is the matter, all is dark as Egypt.” Martin smiled and the seer discovered that the wrong stone was placed in the hat. When he asked Martin why he had done so he replied, to stop the mouths of fools who had declared that the Prophet knew by heart all that he told him to write, and did not see by the seerstone; when the true stone was placed in the hat, the translation was resumed, as usual.
At an evening visit of some of my friends at my residence in Salt Lake City, to see and hear Brother Harris relate his experience (which always delighted him), Brother James T. Woods, who is now present while I am writing this article, reminds me that himself and G. D. Keaton were present on that occasion, and asked him to explain the manner in which the plates containing the characters of the Book of Mormon were exhibited to the witnesses.
Brother Harris said that the angel stood on the opposite side of the table on which were the plates, the interpreters, etc., and took the plates in his hands and turned them over. To more fully illustrate this to them, Brother Martin took up a book and turned the leaves over one by one. The angel declared that the Book of Mormon was correctly translated by the power of God and not of man, and that it contained the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Nephites, who were a branch of the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and had come from the land of Jerusalem to America. The witnesses were required to bear their testimony of these things, and of this open vision to all people and Harris testified not only to those present but to all the world, that these things were true, and before God whom he expected to meet in the day of judgment, he lied not. Brother Woods testifies that he was present at the time above mentioned, and to him it was marvelous to see the zeal that was manifested, and to him it was marvelous to see the zeal that was manifested by Martin Harris, and the spirit of the Lord that accompanied his words.
That Martin Harris was very zealous, somewhat enthusiastic, and what some would term egotistical, is no doubt the case; but the Lord has shown this generation that He can carry on His work independently of all men, only as they live closely and humbly before Him. I will give one or two instances of Martin’s enthusiasm.
When President George A. Smith and others of us were being driven by John Henry Smith in a carriage to take a bath in the warm springs, near Salt Lake City, while passing over a high hill, President Smith directed the curtains of the carriage to be raised, giving a magnificent view of the city below. The immense tabernacle and the temple — and in fact the beautiful city in full view — looked wonderful to Brother Harris, who seemed wrapped in admiration and exclaimed, “Who would have thought that the Book of Mormon would have done all this!” On one occasion while celebrating a baptism, several persons being in attendance, Brother Harris with joyful feelings said, “Just see how the Book of Mormon is spreading.” Having been absent so long from the body of the Church and considering his great age, much charity was necessary to be exercised in his behalf. His abiding testimony, and his assistance with his property to publish the Book of Mormon, have earned a name for him that will endure while time shall last. Soon after he had received his endowments and performed some work for his dead, he retired to live with his son, Martin Harris, at Smithfield in Cache Valley, where he was comfortably cared for in his declining old age.
On the afternoon of his death he was bolstered up in his bed, where, with the Book of Mormon in his hand, he bore his last testimony to those who were present. Brother Harris was over ninety years of age at the time of his death, and had always enjoyed good health. Bishop Rigby, who preached his funeral sermon, placed the Book of Mormon on his breast, while he lay in his coffin, and it was buried with him. Edward Stevenson.
Source: Edward Stevenson, “The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon,” MS 48 (5 Jul 1886):421-22.
Before Oliver Cowdery’s demise, he left with David Whitmer the manuscript from which the Book of Mormon was printed, or at least, it is claimed to be the same; but this is in dispute, as it is claimed that there were two manuscripts, one being a copy of the other, and that the original one was deposited by the Prophet in the corner stone of the Nauvoo House, at Nauvoo. Be this as it may, it would be hard to convince David Whitmer of it, and would make very little difference, as we have the substance in the book itself, while the difference in either of them would merely be the shadow. There was also a transcript of a portion of the characters as found on the golden plates taken or copied on a small piece of paper, perhaps about six or seven inches by four or five. Seven or eight lines of them were very carefully transmitted to this paper as the words of this book, which were taken to Professor Charles Anthon, of New York, Martin Harris being the bearer of them. Oliver Cowdery also left this relic with David Whitmer.
I had the pleasure of seeing and handling this choice piece of paper last February, and was very much gratified at seeing the singular characters of curious workmanship placed regularly in lines, in system and order. Martin Harris stated to me that the professor pronounced them correct Egyptian characters, but somewhat changed, and gave him a certificate accordingly; but after asking him (Harris) regarding the book of plates, Professor Anthon desired Mr. Harris to bring the plates or book to him. The reply was that they were sealed and he could not do so. Then Mr. Anthon replied that he could not read a sealed book. Upon inquiry how they came by them, Martin replied that an angel from heaven delivered them to the Prophet Joseph Smith. At this juncture of the conversation, the professor asked Brother Harris to let him see the certificate that he had given him. As soon as Brother Harris handed him the paper, Mr. Anthon tore it up, saying there were no angels who visited men in this enlightened day and age of the world. Martin Harris’ statement having been published, was disputed by some, and a Mr. E. D. Howe of Painesville, Ohio, addressed a letter of inquiry to Professor Anthon, and obtained the following reply:
“Dear Sir, — I received your letter of the 9th, and lose no time in making a reply . . . Some years ago a plain, apparently simple-hearted farmer called on me with a note from Dr. Mitchel, requesting me to decipher, if possible, a paper which the former would hand me . . . He gave me the following account: ‘A gold book, consisting of a number of plates . . . was dug up in the northern part of the State of New York,'” etc. etc.
In the 29th chapter, and 11th to 14th verses, is found an excellent illustration of the above as viewed in vision by the Prophet Isaiah: “And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned (Professor Anthon), saying, read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed; and the book (not the words or transcript) is delivered to him that is not learned, (Joseph Smith), saying, read this, I pray thee, and he saith, I am not learned.” In the following verses, the Lord said He would proceed to do “a marvelous work and a wonder,” and did He not verily do so? Edward Stevenson.
Source: Edward Stevenson, “The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon,” MS 48 (7 Jun 1886):367-68.
[In 1886 Edward Stevenson described an incident that occurred while he was traveling to Utah with Martin Harris:]
While on our journey [to Utah], and more particularly at the Des Moines River, at the baptism of the woman spoken of, I took occasion to teach Brother Martin the necessity of his being rebaptized. At first he did not seem to agree with the idea, but I referred him to the scriptural words, “Repent and do the first works having lost the first love,” etc. Finally, he said if it was right, the Lord would manifest it to him by His spirit, and he did do so, for Martin, soon after his arrival in Salt Lake City, came to my house and said the spirit of the Lord had made it manifest to him, not only for himself personally, but also that he should be baptized for his dead, for he had seen his father seeking his aid. He saw his father at the foot of a ladder, striving to get up to him, and he went down to him taking him by the hand and helped him up. The baptismal font was prepared, and by arrangement I led Martin Harris down into the water and rebaptized him. Five of the apostles were present, viz., John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, and Joseph F. Smith, also J. D. T. McCallister, and others . . . . The occasion was one which interested all present, and reminded us of Christ’s parable of the lost sheep . . . .
[While Martin Harris was traveling from Kirtland, Ohio, to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1870 with Edward Stevenson, he was interviewed by a non-Mormon reporter. Although this testimony which was printed by a Sunday morning edition of the Iowa State Register is similar to many other statements made by this witness, it is the only known statement by one of the eleven witnesses in which an estimate is given of the weight of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.]
A witness to the Book of Mormon.–The main facts, or fiction, as the case may be, relative to the discovery of the golden plates from which was translated the present, Book of Mormon, are doubtless as familiar to many of our readers as to ourselves. None of us can claim to have been an eye witness, by those who claimed to have been there, to have seen and handled the tablets of gold, and afterwards, under the divine commission, to have assisted in the translation of the mystic characters inscribed upon them.
A few days since we acknowledged a call at our sanctum, from Martin Harris, who was on his way from Ohio to take up his residence at Salt Lake City, to spend the remainder of his days with the “chosen people.” Mr. Harris was now in his 88th year, though still quite vigorous and sprightly, and he is Mormon, soul and body. He, as he claims, and as Mormons claim, together with two others, Oliver Cowdery deceased, and David Whitmer, now an apostate living in Missouri, were the divinely appointed witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The old gentleman evidently loves to relate the incidents with which he was personally connected, and he does it with wonderful enthusiasm.
In September, 1828, as the story goes, Joseph Smith, directed by an angel, proceeded to a spot about 4 miles from Palmyra, New York, and upon the point of a hill, extending northward, dug up a very solid stone chest within which were the tablets of gold, inscribed with the characters which no man could read. Joseph Smith was the first to handle the tablets, and Martin Harris, one of the appointed witnesses, the second. Mr. Harris describes the plates as being of thin leaves of gold, measuring seven by eight inches, and weighing altogether, from forty to sixty lbs. There was also found in the chest, the Urim and Thummim, by means of which the writing upon the plates was translated, but not until after the most learned men had exhausted their knowledge of letters in the vain effort to decipher the characters.
It had been revealed to Joseph Smith that the writing upon the tablets contained a history of the aborigines of this country down to the time of Columbus’ discovery, and after, all human means had failed to secure a translation, Smith was commissioned to undertake the task. By means of the Urim and Thummim “a pair of large spectacles,” as Mr. Harris claims to have written, of the translations as they were given by Smith, “116 solid pages of cap.” The remainder was written by others.
Soon after the finding of these plates of gold, Mr. Harris sold his farm, of which he owned a large one, and consecrated himself to the new religion, to which he has adhered himself tenaciously throughout a long life, and still adheres to its tenets and advocates its genuineness with all the earnestness of an enthusiast. He believes in visitation of angels in bodily form, he has seen and conversed with them, as he thinks and is satisfied.
The old gentleman related some incidents, which, could one feel that they were verities, would be interesting, but as they seem largely imaginative they lose interest.
Martin Harris, who still lives here, is tolerably well, and has a great desire to see Utah, and his children that live there; and although the old gentleman is in the 88th year of his age, he still bears a faithful testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, being one of the three original witnesses. He says he saw the plates, handled them and saw the angel that visited Joseph Smith, more than 40 years ago. I have made arrangements to emigrate him to Utah, according to his desire, and will start in about two weeks.
Source: “Local and Other Matters, Deseret News, 30 Aug 1870, p. 3.
August 30, (1870)–Arrived.–By a telegram, per Deseret Telegraph Line, received at half-past three o’clock this afternoon, we learn that Martin harris, accompanied by Elder E. Stevenson of this city, arrived at Ogden by the 3 o’clock train, he comes to this city tomorrow morning.
Source: “Martin Harris, One of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Deseret News, 31 Aug 1870, p. 3.
Considerable interest has been felt by our people in the arrival in this city of Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He arrived here at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, in the compnay of Elder Edward Stevenson, who left this city on the 19th of last July for the purpose of bringing him out from Kirtland, Ohio, where he has been living since the Saints first moved there–1831–thirty-nine years ago. Bro. Stevenson has had a strong desire to have Martin Harris brought here. But he himself has thought for years that his mission was in Kirtland, he feeling that the Lord required him to stay there and bear testimony to the Book of Mormon and the first principles, which he has been earnest in doing, and he has felt reluctant to leave. But when Bro. Stevenson corresponded with him about coming out to the Valley, he replied that the spirit testified to him that he should come here, and in every letter that he afterwards received from him he expressed a still stronger desire to come. Bro. Stevenson made a collection, and after raising sufficient means, went to Kirtland and brought him here.
Martin Harris is in his 88th year. He is remarkably vigorous for one of his years, and still retains the use of his faculties, his memory being very good, and his sight, though his eyes appear to have failed, being so acute that he can see to pick a pin off the ground. He has experienced many changes and vicissitudes; but one point, so far as we have heard, he has never changed:–he has never failed to bear testimony to the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He says it is not a matter of belief on his part, but of knowledge. He with the other two witnesses declared, and their testimony has accompanied every copy of the book, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon.’ This declaration he has not varied from in forty-one years; and it is a remarkable fact that, thought away from the Church, and not maintaining their connection with the Prophet Joseph Smith, not one of the three witnesses has ever failed, so far as known, to bear testimony to the truth of their united declaration contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon!
We are glad to see Martin Harris once more in the midst of the Saints. He feels that this people are led by God, that they are a happy and a blessed people and have the appearance of enjoying God’s favor. They are doing the very work which the Book of Mormon said should be done, and are the only people, who as a people, believe in that Book.
The history of this veteran member of the Mormon church would no doubt be as interesting, if written, as his course, since the severance of his connection with the Prophet Joseph Smith at the early rise of the church has been singular. One of the original witnesses of the Book of Mormon, he saw the angel, and handled the plates from which that book was translated. In relation to this, his testimony has never wavered, yet he, for some cause or other, has kept himself aloof from the church for many years, and has taken no part in carrying on the great work, of which he, in connection with Joseph and others, laid the foundation. No greater proof could be given, than the history and course of this man, that the work of God is not dependent upon any man, however great, talented, illustrious or favored he may be. Martin Harris having seen that which few in the flesh are favored to behold, and having received a testimony of the divinity of this work, and of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon that it was utterly impossible to destroy, one might have supposed, viewing things from a merely human standpoint, that the progress and prosperity of this work would have depended to some considerable extent on his co-operation, and that, lacking that, it would have been retarded. But such is not the case, and in this fact human pride, vanity and talent may learn a salutary lesson if it will.
Mr. Harris saw fit to withdraw himself from the cause, but its course, owing to the workings of Divinity through faithful agents, has been onward to a most remarkable degree.
Sr. H. B. Emerson, of New Richmond, Ohio, wrote to Martin Harris, asking certain questions; the replies to the questions we are permitted to publish, by the kindness of Sr. Emerson. It will be seen that the writer supposed his questioner to be a man.
Smithfield, Utah November 23d, 1870
Mr. Emerson, Sir: — I received your favor. In reply I will say concerning the plates, I do say that the angel did show to me the plates containing the Book of Mormon. Further, the translation that I carried to Professor Anthon was copied from these same plates; also, that the professor did testify to it being a correct translation. I do firmly believe and do know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; for without I know he could not have had that gift; neither could he have translated the same. I can give if you require it one hundred witnesses to the proof of the Book of Mormon. I defy any man to show to me any passage of scripture that I am not posted on or familiar with. I will answer any questions you feel like asking to the best of my knowledge, if you can rely on my testimony of the same. In conclusion, I can say that I arrived at Utah safe, in good health and spirits, considering the long journey. I am quite well at present, and have been, generally speaking, since I arrived.
With many respects I remain your humble friend, Martin Harris.
Smithfield, Cache County, Utah January, 1871.
To H. Emerson, dear sir: — Your second letter, dated December 1870, came duly to hand. I am truly glad to see a spirit of inquiry manifested therein. I reply by a borrowed hand, as my sight has failed me too much to write myself. Your questions: Question 1, “Did you go to England to lecture against ‘Mormonism?'”
Answer. I answer emphatically, No, I did not; — no man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates; nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under the administration of Joseph Smith, Junior, the prophet whom the Lord raised up for that purpose, in these the latter days, that he may show forth his power and glory. The Lord has shown me these things by his Spirit — by the administration of holy angels — and confirmed the same with signs following, step by step, as the work has progressed, for the space of fifty-three years.
The Lord showed me there was no true church upon the face of the earth, none built upon the foundation, designated by the Savior, “The rock of revelation,” as declared to Peter. See Matthew 16:16,17,18 verses. He also showed me that an angel should come and restore the holy priesthood again to the earth, and commission his servants again with the holy gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth. See Revelation 14:6,7 verses — He further showed me that the time was nigh when he would “set his hand again the second time to restore the kingdom to Israel,” when he would gather the outcasts of Israel and the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth,” “when he would bring the record of Joseph which was in the hand of Ephraim, and join with the record of Judah, when the two records should become one in the hand of the Lord to accomplish his great work of the last days.” See Exodus 36 and 37 chapters; also Isaiah 29 chapter; also from the 58 chapter to the end of the book; also Psalms 50.
Question 2. What became of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated?
Answer. They were returned to the angel Moroni, from whom they were received to be brought forth again in the due time of the Lord; for they contain many things pertaining to the gathering of Israel, which gathering will take place in this generation, and shall be testified of among all nations according to the old prophets; as the Lord will set his ensign to the people, and gather the outcasts of Israel:– See Isaiah 11 chapter.
Now, dear sir, examine these scriptures carefully, and should there still be any ambiguity relative to this great work of the last days, write again and we will endeavor to enlighten you on any point relative to this doctrine.
I am, very respectfully, Martin Harris, Senior.
STATE OF UTAH County of Cache
“No, I don’t believe anything about it. Knowledge supercedes belief. I know it is true. I saw the angel and saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated and heard the voice of God declare it was translated correctly.” He said this so that all present could hear.
On another occasion I heard him talk about his visit to Professor Charles Anthon, and this is his story: “I drove a team from western New York to New York City and presented the characters to him, taken from the plates of the Book of Mormon, and the professor made the statement that they were the best characters of Egyptian, and the translation accompanying it was also the best he had ever seen; and he gave me a statement to that effect. Then he asked me where the original was and I told him that an angel gave them to a young man in western New York State. He then asked for the statement. Thinking he was going to add something to it, I handed it to him, and the professor tore it up, saying that there were no angels and to bring the plates to him and he would translate them. I told him I could not bring them because part of them were sealed, and he said, ‘No one can read a sealed book.’ I then went to Professor Mitchell, and this learned man also corroborated the statement that had previously been made by Professor Anthon. Martin Harris said he then went home satisfied that it was the truth. /s/ Thomas Godfrey
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 2nd day of July, 1933.
/s/ Jesse P. Rich
Jesse P. Rich, City Judge
[Affidavit of John E. Godfrey, dated June 2, 1933]
STATE OF UTAH County of Cache
“The Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdrey [Cowdery], and David Whitmer and myself went into the woods to pray that we might have the privilege of seeing the golden plates. We bowed our heads in prayer, but we seemed to be praying with no results. The prophet was the spokesman. He prayed with no results twice, then I withdrew from them, telling them that it was on my account that their prayer was not answered. After they had been visited by the angel, the Prophet then came over to me where I was praying, and I asked the Prophet to pray with me so that I might have the privilege also of seeing the golden plates, and after praying some time, the angel appeared with the golden plates and I saw with these two eyes the angel stand with the gold plates in his hands, and I saw him turn leaf by leaf the plates of gold, and I also heard the voice of the lord saying that these words were true and translated correctly.”
One of the brethren who visited Martin Harris asked him as my brother, Thomas Godfrey, did if he believed the Book of Mormon to be true, and he said, “No, I KNOW it is true.”
I was standing in back of one of the other brethren, and while Martin Harris was bearing his testimony, I have never had such a feeling go over me from my head to my feet. I had never had such a feeling in my life, and I knew that Martin Harris was bearing a faithful testimony.
I am 79 years of age, I came to Clarkston in 1865, and have lived here ever since. I was 21 years of age when I heard Martin Harris bear his testimony. /s/ John E. Godfrey
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 2nd day of June, 1933, A.D.
/s/ Jesse P. Rich
Jesse P. Rich, City Judge
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 2nd day of July, 1933.
/s/ Jesse P. Rich
City Judge of Logan City, Utah
In the summer of 1875, my father, Ole A. Jensen, then a counselor to Bishop Jardine of Clarkston, Utah, told me that a man by the name of Martin Harris was living in Clarkston, Utah, and that the said Martin Harris was one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and that he had seen and heard an angel from God testify to the truth of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Being of an inquisitive nature, I determined to learn for myself as to what the testimony of Martin Harris would be. I asked two of my chums, James Barker and Isaac Stokes to go with me to see Martin Harris. We called on him July 4, 1875, this being on my 11th birthday. Thomas Godfrey introduced us to Mr. Harris who was living at the home of William Carbine.
In introducing us, Mr. Godfrey said, “Brother Harris, I have brought these young men to hear your statement as to whether or not you believe the Book of Mormon to be true.” His face was turned to the wall. He turned and faced us and said, “Now I don’t believe, but I know it to be true, for with these eyes I saw the angel and with these ears (pointing to them) I heard him say it was a true and correct record of an ancient people that dwelt upon this the American continent, and I hereby testify to you young men that it is true.”
I had such a feeling come over me that I shall never forget. I was convinced he spoke the truth.
This statement is made by me of my own free will and choice this 1st day of June, 1936. ADDITIONAL TESTIMONY OF MARTIN HARRIS RECORDED BY OLE A. JENSEN
Source: Ole A. Jensen, “Testimony of Martin Harris (One of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon),” pp. 1-6, BYU.
It was in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah, July in the year 1875. Early in the morning a thought came to me that I would go and see how Brother Harris was. He was staying at his son’s and was only three blocks from my home. I had heard he was not feeling well.
People came from other towns during the day to see how Brother Harris was and to hear his testimony on the Book of Mormon. When I arrived, there were already two men present. Brother Harris lay on his bed, leaning on his elbow.
I said, “How are you, Brother Harris, this morning?” He answered slowly, “Pretty well.”
“We came to hear your testimony on the Book of Mormon,” I said. “Yes!” he said in a loud voice as he sat up straight in bed. “I wish I could speak loud enough that the whole world could hear my testimony.” He then stretched out his hand and said, “Brother, I believe there is an angel here to hear what I shall tell you and you shall never forget what I say.”
“The Prophet Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer and myself, went into a little grove to pray to obtain a promise that we should behold it with our natural eyes, that we could testify of it to the world. We prayed two or three times and at length an angel stood before Oliver and showed them the plates, but I had gone off by myself for I knew it was me that was keeping the angel from appearing. In my desperation I asked the Prophet seer to kneel down with me and to pray for me also that I may also see the plates, and we did kneel down and pray. Immediately, the angel stood before me and said, “Look” and when I glanced at the angel, I fell, but I stood on my feet and saw the angel turn the leaves of gold and I said, “It is enough, my Lord and my God.” I then heard the voice of God say, “The book is true and translated correctly.”
Brother Harris then turned himself as though he had no more to say and we made ready to go. He then spoke again and said, “I will tell you a wonderful thing that happened after Joseph had found the plates: three of us took a notion to take some tools and go to the hill and hunt for some more boxes or gold or something, and indeed we found a stone box; we got quite excited about it; and dug quite carefully around it. We were ready to take it up, but behold, by some unseen power, it slipped back into the hill. We stood there and looked at it. One of us took a crowbar and tried to drive it through the lid to hold it; but it glanced and only broke one corner off of the box.”
“Sometime that box will be found and you will see the corner broken off; then you will know I have told you the truth. Again brethren, as sure as you are standing here and see me, just that sure did I see the angel with the golden plates in his hand for he turned the golden leaves and showed them to me. I have promised that I would bear witness both here and hereafter.”
His lips trembled and his eyes filled with tears; tears also came to my eyes. I should have liked to ask another question, but I failed to do so. I then shook his hand and thanked him and left.
When I think of the day when I stood before Martin Harris and saw him stretch forth his hand and raise his voice to bear his wonderful testimony, the feeling that thrilled my whole soul, I can never forget nor can I express the joy that filled me through and through.
This is a true statement. Ole A. Jensen.
While we lived in the Fort, Brother Martin Harris came here and lived with his son, Martin, and Mary Harris, his wife. They lived in a house in the Fort owned by Andrew Quigley. From here they moved into a house owned by William V. O. Corbine. While living in this house old Martin Harris died Sat., July 10th 1875. And I was called in to wash and dress him and lay him out.
I at one time took a couple of apostates, Henry and John Sermon, to see Martin Harris and to talk to him. One of them asked Mr. Harris if he believed the Book of Mormon to be true, and he told them, “No.” They told him they had heard that he had never denied the truth of the Book [of Mormon]. He told them that he knew it was true and that was past believing. After that John Sermon went to Salt Lake City, joined the Church and married a bishops’s daughter and lived a good life after.
[Simon Smith] Clifton, Bristol, England; December 29, 1880
President Joseph Smith: . . .
I have often thought of writing a few lines to you since my conversion to the doctrine of Christ for which your father spent his days and life to establish, respecting an interview I had with Martin Harris, Senior, a few days before his decease.
I will give you in substance the answers he gave me to a few prominent questions respecting his knowledge of your father, the plates, and etc. First I asked him if he could still testify that he saw the plates and the angel of God. His answer was that he could; and he did truly testify to me that he both saw and handled the plates that the Book of Mormon was translated from, that an angel of God did lay them before him and the other two witnesses as recorded in the Book of Mormon, and said he, “I tell you of these things that you may tell others that what I have said is true, and I dare not deny it; I heard the voice of God commanding me to testify to the same.”
He said also he knew not the reason why the Lord had suffered him to live to such a great age unless it was that he might testify of these things. He was nearly ninety-three years old. He said also that he acted as scribe for him, when your father was translating from the plates by the Urim and Thummim, for nearly one-third of what is published. He mortgaged his property to get the first edition of the Book of Mormon published to the world. He, by command, took part of the manuscript with the translation thereof to one Professor Anthon, Professor of Language, in New York City, to get his opinion in regard to the language and translation, and said that what had been published concerning the same by the Church was true. I asked him of your father’s education at the time of those circumstances and he said: “Joseph Smith’s education was so limited that he could not draw up a note of hand.”
These were Martin Harris’ exact words to me. I do not mention this part to throw any gloom upon your father’s mission; but to the contrary. I mention it to show that it was out of his power with such a limited education to produce such a book as the Book of Mormon, much less to translate such a book from foreign language, unless he did it by the gift and power of God. I might mention more that he told me; but it is so irksome for me to write, and will give you too much trouble to prepare it for the press, even if you thought it proper to publish it. One more item, however, I will mention. He (Martin Harris, Senior) assured me that polygamy was not taught or practiced by Joseph Smith (your father) nor was it a doctrine of the Church in his day.
Before the mortal remains of Martin Harris, Senior, were conveyed to their last resting place in Clarkston grave yard, I placed in his right hand a Book of Mormon, which was buried with the remains. Some may think that a strange affair; but I did it out of respect for a man so highly favored of the Lord, and because of the interest he took to help bring forth to the world that record of divine truth. I also had a head board placed at his grave, and on it written his name, nativity, and his age; also his testimony concerning the plates, and etc., as recorded in the forepart of the Book of Mormon. Your brother in the cause of truth, Simon Smith.
Death of Martin Harris
Died at Clarkston, Cache County, Utah, July 10th 1875, of old age . . . . . . aged 92 years, 1 month, 22 days. . . . . .
He went by the request of the Prophet Joseph Smith to the city of New York, and presented a transcript of the records of the Book of Mormon to Professor Anthon and Dr. Mitchell and asked them to translate it. He also presented the same transcript to many other learned men at the different schools of learning in Geneva, Ithica, and Albany with the same request but was unsuccessful in obtaining the translation of the transcript from any of them. After his return from the City of New York he was employed as a scribe to the Prophet Joseph in the translation of the records of the Book of Mormon.
After the translation was completed he was called by divine revelation to be one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The testimony of the three witnesses forms part of the preface to the book. He paid for the printing of 5,000 copies and labored as proof reader of the book. He traveled some 2,500 miles in its interest before the book was finished and bore his own expenses.
He was one of the six members of the organization of the Church . . . . . .
He went up to Missouri in company with the Prophet Joseph Smith and others at the time when they were afflicted with the cholera and was one of those who were afflicted but was healed instantly by the power of God. He was one who witnessed the dispensing of the mob by a terrible storm, which, while it proved fatal to many of the mob brought salvation to the Saints. He was one who assisted in purchasing land in Missouri for the gathering of the Saints, he having paid Bishop Partridge the sum of $1,200. He was present at the dedication and witnessed the powerful manifestations of God on that momentous occasion. He figured conspicuously in nearly all of the early movements of the Church and was one who never withdrew his substance or means when it was requested to establish and forward the interests of the Church. He always thought and said that his mission was to stay in Kirtland where the first temple was built, as he did not move with the Church but remained in Kirtland till the year 1870 when he came to Utah.
Since coming to Utah he has resided with his son Martin Harris, Jun., in Cache County. He was in his 88th year when he came to the territory. He has enjoyed good health and a good appetite, and has been industrious all the time since his arrival. He would never be idle so long as there was anything that he could do. He has always borne a faithful and undeviating testimony to the divinity of the Book of Mormon, whether in Kirtland in the midst of the riched and ungodly, or in Utah, or in any of the different places where the Saints have resided.
He was in his happiest mood when he could get somebody to listen to his testimony and he never appeared to get tired of talking about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and testifying to its truth. And if at any time he felt dull or tired from any cause whatever and he could get an opportunity of testifying to the truth of that book he would revive immediately.
His health first began to fail him about 8 or 9 days before his death. He first experienced severe pains in his legs, and finally lost the use of his limbs so that he became entirely helpless and was confined to his bed. He continued to talk at intervals until a few hours before his death. His last audible words were something about the Book of Mormon and the three witnesses. He sank gradually day after day and finally expired on Saturday, July 10, 1875.
Martin Harris, Jr.
I first saw Martin Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, about the last of December, 1869. On my return from a mission to England, I stopped to visit some of my relatives in Pennsylvania. On resuming my journey, one of my cousins, James A. Crockett, who was not a member of the Church, came as far as Kirtland, Ohio, with me. We remained in Kirtland over night, and the next morning after breakfast we asked the landlord who was custodian of the Mormon temple at Kirtland, and he informed us that Martin Harris was custodian and pointed out to us where we would find the old gentleman. Accordingly we went to the door and knocked. In answer to our knock there came to the door of the cottage a poorly clad, emaciated little man, on whom the winter of life was weighing heavily. It was Martin Harris. In his face might be read the story of his life. There were the marks of spiritual upliftment. There were the marks of keen disappointment. There was the hunger strain for the peace, the contentment, the divine calm that it seemed could come no more into his life. It was a pathetic figure, and yet it was a figure of strength. For with it all there was something about the little man which revealed the fact that he had lived richly; that into his life had entered such noble experiences as come to the lives of but few.
I introduced myself modestly as a brother-in-law of Martin Harris, Jr. – as he had married my eldest sister and as an elder of the Church who was returning from a foreign mission. The effect of the introduction was electric. But the fact of relationship was overwhelmed by the fact of Utah citizenship. The old man bristled with vindictiveness. “One of those Brighamite Mormons, are you?” he snapped. Then he railed impatiently against Utah and the founder of the Mormon commonwealth. It was in vain that I tried to turn the old man’s attention to his family. Martin Harris seemed to be obsessed. He would not understand that there stood before him a man who knew his wife and children; who had followed the Church to Utah.
After some time, however, the old man said, ” You want to see the temple, do you?” “Yes, indeed,” I exclaimed, “if we may.” “Well, I’ll get the key,” he answered. From that moment, Martin Harris, in spite of occasional outbursts, radiated with interest. He led us through the rooms of the temple and explained how they were used. He pointed out the place of the school of the prophets. He showed where the temple curtain had at one time hung. He related thrilling experiences in connection with the history of the sacred building. In the basement, as elsewhere, there were many signs of dilapidation the plaster had fallen off the ceilings and the walls; windows were broken; the woodwork was stained and marred. Whether it was the influence of these conditions or not it is difficult to tell, but here again Martin Harris was moved to speak against the Utah Mormons. An injustice, a gross injustice had been done to him. He should have been chosen president of the Church.
When the old man was somewhat exhausted, I asked, “Is it not true that you were once very prominent in the Church; that you gave liberally of your means, that you were very active in the performance of your duties?” “That is very true,” replied Martin. “Things were all right then. I was honored while the people were here, but now that I am old and poor it is all different.”
“Really,” I replied, “how can that be?” “What about your testimony to the Book of Mormon? Do you still believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet?” Again the effect was electric. A changed old man stood before me. It was no longer a man with an imagined grievance. It was a man with a message, a man with a noble conviction in his heart, a man inspired of God and endowed with divine knowledge. Through the broken window of the temple shone the winter sun, clear and radiant.
“Young man,” answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, “Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the moon and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fullness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.”
It was a sublime moment. It was a wonderful testimony. We were thrilled to the very roots of our hair. The shabby, emaciated little man before us was transformed as he stood before us with hand outstretched toward the sun of heaven. A halo seemed to encircle him. A divine fire glowed in his eyes. His voice throbbed with sincerity and the conviction of his message. It was the real Martin Harris, whose burning testimony no power on earth could quench. It was the most thrilling moment of my life.
I asked Martin Harris how he could bear such a wonderful testimony after having left the Church. He said, “Young man, I never did leave the Church; the Church left me.”
Martin Harris was now in a softer mood. He turned to me and asked, “Who are you?” I explained again our relationship. “So, my son Martin married your sister,” repeated the old man, shaking my hand. “You know my family then?” “Yes,” I replied. “Wouldn’t you like to see your family again?” “I should like to see Caroline and the children,” mused Martin naming over the children, “But I cannot, I am too poor.” “That need not stand in the way,” I answered, “President Young would be only too glad to furnish means to convey you to Utah.” “Don’t talk Brigham Young,” warned Martin, “he would not do anything that was right.” “Send him a message by me,” I persisted, now deeply concerned in the project. “No,” declared Harris emphatically, “yet, I should like to see my family.” “Then entrust me with the message,” I pleaded. Martin paused. “Well,” he said slowly, “I believe I will. You call on Brigham Young. Tell him about our visit. Tell him that Martin Harris is an old, old man, living on charity, with his relatives. Tell him I should like to visit Utah, my family and children – I would be glad to accept help from the Church, but I want no personal favor. Wait! Tell him that if he sends money, he must send enough for the round trip. I should not want to remain in Utah.” For twenty-five years he had nursed the old grudge against the leaders of the Church, probably because nobody had had the patience with him that I had shown.
After we had bidden Martin Harris good-bye, and had taken a few steps from the temple, my cousin placed his hands on my shoulders and said, “Wait a minute.” Looking me squarely in the eyes, he said, “I can testify that the Book of Mormon is true. There is something within me that tells me that the old man told the truth. I know the Book of Mormon is true.”
In due time I reached my home in the Seventh Ward in Salt Lake City. I recounted to my father the experience with Martin Harris and we two set out immediately to report at the office of President Young. The president received us very graciously. He listened attentively to my recital of my visit with Martin Harris. President Young asked questions now and again to make clear on certain points. Then, when the story was told, he said, and it seemed to me that he beamed with pleasure, “I want to say this: I was never more gratified over any message in my life. Send for him! Yes, even if it were to take the last dollar of my own.” “Martin Harris spent his time and money freely when one dollar was worth more than one thousand dollars are worth now. Send for him! Yes, indeed I shall send! Rest assured, Martin Harris will be here in time. It was Martin Harris who gave the Prophet Joseph Smith the first money to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris was the first scribe to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon from the original plates, as dictated by the Prophet, who was led by the Holy Ghost. It was Martin Harris who was called, by revelation, to assist in the selection and ordination of the first quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the newly organized Church. It was Martin Harris who was called upon to accompany the Prophet to Missouri to assist in the selection of the land of consecration. Martin Harris also aided in the selection of the first high council of the Church, and he was a member of said council. When the new presidency of the Church was chosen, Martin felt greatly disappointed that he was not called to leadership, but Martin Harris never denied the faith, never affiliated with any other sect or denomination, but when the Church came west, Martin Harris remained behind. It is true that Martin Harris did not apostatize; he was never tried for his fellowship; he was never excommunicated.”
During the summer of 1870, Elder Edward Stevenson was authorized to collect money by subscription to bring Martin Harris to Utah. About two hundred dollars was raised; and on August 30, 1870, Martin Harris arrived in Salt Lake City, in the company of Elder Stevenson.
When Martin Harris reached Salt Lake City, he visited Brigham Young at his home. They became reconciled, and Martin Harris was invited to speak in the tabernacle, and he bore a faithful testimony. He went to Smithfield, and later to Clarkston and made his home with his son, Martin Harris, Jr., and in course of time he returned to full fellowship and communion with the Saints.
Early in July, 1875, five years after he had come to Utah, Martin Harris was stricken with a kind of paralysis. It was the venerable witness’ last illness, but through it all he remained true to his faith. At that time I and my small family lived in Clarkston. With other members of the Clarkston ward, I called at the Harris home to relieve them in the care of the old man.
We began to think that he had borne his last testimony. The last audible words he had spoken were something about the Book of Mormon but we could not understand what it was, but these were not the aged witness’ last words.
The next day, July 10, 1875, marked the end. It was in the evening. It was milking time, and Martin Harris, Jr., and his wife, Nancy Homer Harris, had gone out to milk and to do the evening’s chores. In the house with the stricken man were left my mother, Eliza Williamson Homer, and myself, who had had so interesting a day with Martin Harris in Kirtland. I stood by the bedside, holding the patient’s right hand and my mother at the foot of the bed. Martin Harris had been unconscious for a number of days. When we first entered the room the old gentleman appeared to be sleeping. He soon woke up and asked for a drink of water. I put my arm under the old gentleman, raised him, and my mother held the glass to his lips. He drank freely, then he looked up at me and recognized me. He said, “I know you. You are my friend.” He said, “Yes, I did see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written; I did see the angel; I did hear the voice of God; and I do know that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God, holding the keys of the holy priesthood.” This was the end. Martin Harris, divinely-chosen witness of the work of God, relaxed, gave up my hand. He lay back on his pillow and just as the sun went down behind the Clarkston mountains, the soul of Martin Harris passed on. When Martin Harris, Jr., and his wife returned to the house they found that their father had passed away, but in the passing, Martin Harris, favored of God, repeated an irrefutable testimony of the divine inspiration and the prophetic genius of the great Prophet, Joseph Smith. (Signed) William Harrison Homer.
[Written by Joseph William Summerhays while traveling on business in Richmond, Missouri, about incident that occurred in August 1884.]
. . . Now in regard to Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery. I want to tell you about them. Oliver Cowdery I never met, he died before my time; he was buried in Richmond, Missouri. I have been to his grave. He remained true to his testimony until the day of his death. Martin Harris I have seen, been in his company and talked to him. I was one time within about four feet of him when he raised the Book of Mormon over his head and bore a faithful testimony to the truth of what he signed his name to as one of the Three Witnesses. I visited David Whitmer in Richmond, Missouri a few months before he died. He and his son David and myself were in a room together. He was feeling poorly and lying down on a couch. I read to him his testimony from the Book of Mormon and he pointed his finger at me and the book I held in my hand, and he then bore a faithful testimony that what he had signed his hand to was the very truth.
Martin Harris drifted away from the Church but finally came back to Utah and died in Clarkston, Cache County. Oliver Cowdery was cut off from the Church but joined it again at Winter Quarters (Council Bluffs), died and was buried at Richmond, Missouri. David Whitmer was cut off from the Church and never joined again. He died and was buried in Richmond, Missouri. All three of these men were true to their testimony as the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. I hope I have made this all plain to you and that you can make it out . . .
Smithfield, February 28, 1930
Mr. Vern C. Poulter: My Dear Brother Poulter:
I received your kind and welcome letter all right, and was more than pleased to hear from you. It always gives me great joy to have the privilege of talking of my acquaintance with Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I have spoken in a number of wards in Cache Valley lately, in part it is as follows:
This is to certify that I, William Pilkington, was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England on the 13th day of November 1860, and immigrated to Smithfield, Utah with my parents in the latter part of September 1874, when 13 years of age. I was soon hired out to work for a man named Martin Harris, Jr., who was living in Smithfield, Utah. I soon found out that Martin Harris, Sr., one of the Three Witnesses of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, was living in the same house with his wife and family. Thus, it became my good fortune to behold and have the privilege of conversing with this man who had been favored of God, to the extent of being privileged to be chosen as one of the three men that stood in the presence of an angel of God, who held in his hands the golden plates that Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni, which contained the contents of what is now called the Book of Mormon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I took great pleasure in listening to him relate the part he took in the early rise of the Church, how he stood in the presence of the angel of the Lord, and after the angel ascended into heaven, he saw the heavens open and heard the voice of God declare that everything was correct that the angel had told them, and that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly.
I lived with him nearly one year prior to his death, which took place in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah on the 10th day of July, 1875, at 92 years of age.
I testify to the world that I held up his right arm while he bore his dying testimony that he with the Prophet Joseph Smith did stand in the presence of an angel of God, while he held the gold plates in his hands and turned the leaves over one by one, and that he saw the engravings on the plates. He also saw the Urim and Thummim, the breast plate and the sword of Laban. And after the angel ascended into heaven, the heavens were opened and he heard the voice of God declare that all that the angel had told him was verily true and that the Book of Mormon which contains the everlasting gospel was translated correctly. While I held his right arm up, he also bore his testimony to the whole world and I thought he could see the whole world. He died the next day, the 10th day of July, 1875.
I wish I was with you to talk to the people face to face, as I can only give you a little in this letter of what he told me pertaining to the early rise of the Church as I talked to him hundreds of times and he would always tell me that he wanted me to tell the people what he had told me after he was dead. He would raise his right hand up and tell me he was telling me the truth.
I have a powerful testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I had a voice strong enough and could stand on a hill high enough, I would like to bear my testimony to the whole world, because I know by the spirit of God that that man told me the truth. I went to his funeral and helped to fill in the grave.
I think I know more about Martin Harris than any living person, as I am the only one of the old stock that is alive today. I had the privilege of preaching the funeral sermon over the last of the old Harris stock about six weeks ago. This was the last Harris that knew anything about Grandpa Harris, and the older I get the more the spirit whispers to my spirit and prompts me to tell the people what that man of God told me.
Brother Poulter, you are at liberty to use this letter anywhere you want to, any place, to get it before the people, and if anyone wishes any more information, I will only be too pleased to give it to them.
I received a nice letter from a lady missionary who is laboring in the state of New York, asking for the same information that I am sending to you. I accordingly wrote her a nice letter, which I am satisfied she will appreciate and perchance be a help to her.
Now Brother Poulter, I will stop my rambling remarks by asking the Lord to bless you and all that are laboring for the spreading of truth and righteousness, and hope that you will be rewarded by bringing in many honest-hearted people to the fold of Christ.
Your brother in the gospel of Christ, William Pilkington, Smithfield, Utah.
The Dying Testimony of Martin Harris, as given to William Pilkington by Martin Harris Himself, in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah.
I first met Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, in Smithfield [Utah] in 1874. I was hired by his son, Martin Harris, Jr., to live in the Harris family [home] for one year. Martin Harris, Senior, was living with his son.
I found him a poor emaciated little man in whom the winters of life were weighing heavily. In his face might be read the story of his life. There were the marks of spiritual upliftment, there were the marks of disappointment. There were the strain and worry of mind, the contentment, the divine calm that it seemed could come no more into his life. He was a pathetic figure, and yet he seemed strong in body and mind. There was something about that little man which you could tell that he had lived richly. Noble experiences had come into his life which had come to the lives of but very few men. At times he would let his mind go back to the early rise of the Church, and would mention the name of Brigham Young very reluctantly, as it seemed that he did not have a great deal of respect for Brigham Young. Although he told me that when he arrived in Salt Lake City from Kirtland, Ohio which was on the 30th day of August, 1870, he was taken to the office of President Young and had a long talk with him, and all their differences were settled and he tried not to hold any ill feelings against President Young.
After staying a few days in Salt Lake City and Ogden, he went to live with his wife and family who were living in Smithfield, Cache County, Utah. His family consisted of his wife Caroline, Martin, Jr., John, Solomon, Ida and Julia.
When I would ask him questions pertaining to the early rise of the Church, his eyes would radiate with interest as he related experiences in connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon. He told me it was he who took some of the copied characters, along with the interpretation “which Joseph Smith had made through the gift and power of God” to Professor Charles Anthon, who pronounced them genuine Egyptian characters, and that the translation was correct and “he gave me a certificate to that effect.” ” Afterward when I told him where the man Joseph Smith got the plates from and who delivered the gold plates to him, he demanded the certificate back again and destroyed it, saying there is no such thing as ministering of angels in these days, but if I would bring him the gold plates, he would translate them. I told him that a considerable portion of the plates were sealed and could not be opened to human gaze. He then exclaimed, ‘I cannot read a sealed book,’ and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled, which will be found in the 29th chapter and 11 verse, but I did not know that I was fulfilling it at the time.”
“I was then convinced that it was true, and offered my services as a scribe for the Prophet in the work of translating. Joseph gladly accepted my offer. It was the 12th day of April, 1828, when I commenced to write for the Prophet. From this time on until the 14th day of June, 1828, Joseph dictated to me from the plates of gold as the characters thereon assumed, through the Urim and Thummim, the forms of equivalent modern words which were familiar to the understanding of the Prophet and seer.” From the 12th day of April  until the 14th day of June  he said he had written 116 pages foolscap of the translation. He said at this period of the translation, a circumstance happened. He was the cause of the 116 pages that he had written being lost and never found. He said he believed his wife burned it up, as she was very bitter against him having anything to do with Joseph Smith.
It was caused through her insisting that he bring the manuscript home and letting her and the rest of the family handle and see it. His family then consisted of his first wife, his father and mother, his brother Preserved Harris and his wife’s sister, a Mrs. Cobb. “I promised Joseph that I would not let anyone else see it.” Joseph inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim if Harris should be permitted to take them, and was forbidden twice, but the third time he was permitted to take them after promising Joseph that he would not let any more see it. But he said when he arrived home, there were more people in the house besides the five and his wife took the manuscript and he never saw it anymore.
“So you see, Willie, it was stolen from me, and I could not take it back.” “But,” he said, “the Lord’s work cannot be stopped by mortal man, and Joseph was told in a revelation to retranslate from the small plates of Nephi, and thereby thwart the plans of wicked men, but I was never permitted to write for the Prophet anymore. Oliver Cowdery did all the rest of the writing.”
He said when the Saints moved to Missouri, he stayed in Kirtland. He was the custodian of the Kirtland temple and he told how the temple was in a dilapidated condition when he left it in August 1870, and how he left his daughter by his first wife, and her two little children.
He told me how his son-in-law was drafted in the army during the Civil War between the North and South, and that he was killed. Himself, his sick daughter and her two children were left alone. “I was in that condition when found by a Mormon elder, namely, William H. Homer (his oldest son’s brother-in-law), who was on his way home from a mission to England.” He said a great injustice had been done him. He should have been chosen president of the Church after the death of the Prophet.
I asked him, “Is it not true that you were active in the performance of your duties in the early rise of the Church, and that you gave your money liberally to help the Prophet and the Church along?”
“That is all true,” replied Harris. “Everything was all right then. I was honored while the Saints were in Kirtland, but now that I am old and poor, it is all different. I mortgaged my farm to pay for the first publication of 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon.” I asked him if he still believed that the Book of Mormon was true, and that Joseph Smith was indeed a true prophet of God.
His whole being became electrified and it seemed that a changed man stood before me. It was no longer a man with an imagined grievance. It was a man with a message, a man with noble convictions in his heart, inspired of God and endowed with a divine knowledge. He said, “Just as sure as you see the sun shining, just as sure am I that I stood in the presence of an angel of God with Joseph Smith, and saw him hold the gold plates in his hands. I also saw the Urim and Thummim, the breastplate, and the sword of Laban. I saw the angel descend from heaven, and when he had finished his message, I saw him ascend up into heaven. The heavens were then opened and I heard the voice of God declare that everything the angel had told us was true, and that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly. I was commanded by God’s voice to testify to the whole world what I had seen and heard.”
“I cried out in my ecstacy — ‘ ’tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld of the glories of God. Hosanna; hosanna; hosanna, to God and the Lamb.’ And I fell on my face on the ground. The next thing I knew, the Prophet was helping me up.”
I said, “Brother Harris, this is electrifying to me – to have the privilege of conversing with a man that has stood and talked with angels of the Lord. It is grand to hear you bear your testimony.”
I asked him, “Did you, or either one of the other witnesses ever at any time deny your testimony as recorded in the preface of the Book of Mormon?”
He answered, “No! Not one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon ever at any time denied his testimony. They all died reaffirming it with their last breath.” His voice throbbed with the sincerity and the conviction of his message. He was then the real Martin Harris, whose burning testimony, no power on earth could quench. He said again he spent his money freely for the Church. “I was the first scribe for Joseph in the translating of the Book of Mormon. I was called by revelation to assist in the selection and ordination of the first Twelve Apostles of the newly organized church.”
It was Martin Harris who was called upon to accompany the Prophet to Missouri to assist in the selection of the land of consecration. It was Martin Harris who also aided in the selection of the first high council to the Church and he was also a member of that body.
No wonder that Martin Harris felt greatly disappointed because he was not appointed president of the Church after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
He said that Edward Stevenson was appointed to collect money by subscription to bring him from Kirtland in Ohio to Utah. He said that he arrived in Salt Lake City on the 30th day of August, 1870. After spending a few days in Salt Lake City and Ogden, he left for Smithfield, Cache County, Utah, to live with his family.
I had many interviews with Martin Harris as I lived in the Harris family [home] eighteen months, about ten months prior to his death. While my name is not Harris, I became a member of the family through living with them so long.
I am the only one alive today of his immediate family that knows anything pertaining to his testimony, as taken from his own lips. In his talks with me, he would say, “Now, Willie, I am not going to live very long; and after I am dead, I want you to tell the people what I have told you. For it is all true.” And he would hold up his right hand and swear himself that he was telling the truth. I would invariably tell him: “Yes, Grandpa, I will sure tell the people what you have told me, for I know you have told me the truth.
On the 9th day of July 1875, while he was dying, I knelt by his cot, as he was lying on a cot in the southwest corner of the room in a house owned by a man by the name of Carbine, it was situated on the north side of Clarkston, Cache County, Utah. I wanted to get what I thought would be his last words, but he could not talk audibly. I could not understand what he wanted to tell me. He tried hard to tell me. So I stroked his hair back on his forehead and knelt down and prayed to the Lord and asked him in the name of Jesus to strengthen his servant’s voice so that I could understand his last words, but I could get no response. He was lying on his left side, facing in the room and as I knelt down I placed my hands on his right arm. As I moved to stand up, I was in the act of moving my hands and he shook his head as if he did not want me to move. I then knelt down again and prayed to the Lord as before, and I was inspired by the Lord to ask Grandpa if he wanted me to hold up his right hand so that he could bear his testimony. I asked him and his answer came clear, “Yes.” While I held his right hand up, strength was given to him and he bore his testimony as he had done many times before and I understood every word.
He then bore the same testimony to the whole world and then laid back exhausted. There were two other men standing in the room and heard him bear his testimony. One of them was Thomas Godfery of Clarkston who just recently died.
Martin Harris’ spirit departed the next day, the 10th day of July, 1875, in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah, aged 92 years. I attended his funeral and assisted in his burial in the Clarkston cemetery.
Signed, William Pilkington Smithfield, Utah
One dark night we had been in our new home a few days. A knock came on the door while we were all singing the songs of Zion; we stopped singing and father opened the door. A strange man walked in. He was given a chair and he sat down. He said, “What is your name?” Father promptly told him our name was Pilkington. He said, “Are you immigrants?” He was told that we had just immigrated from England. He said he wanted to hire a boy to go and live with him for one year. My brother, Richard, and I were sitting together on the right of the stranger. He looked at us and said, “I think this one will do.” That one was “Willie,” — me. He then asked if I would like to go and live with him for a year. He said he had just sold out his property in Smithfield, and was going to a place across the valley called Clarkston. Father asked him how much I would get if I went for a year. He thought a little while and then said, “I will give Willie a two-year-old heifer and his board and clothes if he will work for me. I asked father what he thought about the proposition. He said it was alright – I could go and work for him a year, and for me to be a good boy.
I put on my coat and hat, kissed father, mother, and all the rest of the family and went with him. It was a very dark night, and the country being strange to me, he took hold of my hand. We walked for about ten minutes, and entered a log house — the first log house I was ever in. The rest of the family had all retired to bed. Or at least I thought so. I thought it very strange the strange man did not tell me what his name was; he gave me a chair and sat me down close by a little round table. He then asked me if I had had my supper. I said, “Yes,” and he said, “maybe you can eat a little more.” So he got a pan of milk, some bread, a bowl and spoon, and told me to eat all I wanted. He told me the folks had all gone to bed, and “now I will go to bed, but before going I will show you where you will sleep on the floor,” and then he went to bed. I was enjoying the bread and milk when my attention was attracted to an object over in the northwest corner of the room.
As the little oil lamp gives a very little light, I was a little puzzled as to what it could be, so I ate a little faster so that I could go to bed. I was obliged to go between the table and this object, and in going around the table I discovered the form of a man. He made a motion with his hand as if he wanted me. Rather timidly I went over to him and he told me to pull up a chair and sit down close to him. I still felt rather a crawly sensation creeping over me, but I pulled up the chair alongside the chair he was sitting in and sat down. He asked me what my name was. I promptly told him my name was William Pilkington. He asked me if we were immigrants. I told him our family immigrated from England. He then asked me if I was going to live with them. I told him I thought I would live with them for a year.
Up to this time neither one of them had told me what their name was, and it rather puzzled me. Then he asked me if I was a Mormon. I told him our whole family were Mormons. He told me he was going to call me Willie. I told him that mother called me Willie too. Then he said, “Willie, tomorrow night after your chores are done and we have had supper and all the folks have gone to bed, I want you to sit down in this chair, close to mine, for I have lots to tell you. I told him I would do that, and then we retired to bed on the floor. And between the floor being hard and what that old man had told me, Willie did not sleep very much and arose very early the next morning not feeling very much refreshed, as that was the first time I had ever slept on the floor and that with only one quilt under and one over me.
When I arose the next morning I looked for the man that talked to me last night. I knew that I could recognize him as in the darkness of the room he resembled a picture I had once seen of “Rip Van Winkle.” When I found him, I found a very old man, and he walked with a cane. He greeted me with a “good morning, Willie,” and shook my hand and told me not to forget tonight. I told him I wouldn’t forget. I was wondering all day long what that old man wanted me for — an old decrepit man, and wanted to talk to a boy, that he found out was a Mormon boy.
At last night came, supper was over, and after having family prayer, they all retired to bed. The old gentleman then sat down in his arm chair, put his elbow on the arm of the chair and crooked his finger as he did scores of times afterward, and that was a signal for me to bring another chair alongside of his. He again asked me what my name was. I told him. “Oh yes, I am going to call you Willie.” He had already found out that I was a Mormon. He then said, “Willie, did you ever go to Sunday School?” I promptly told him, “Yes, sir.” “What class were you in?” I promptly told him the Book of Mormon class. His eyes sparkled and his whole body seemed to reverberate. He seemed like a changed being. He was very excited, trembling as I gazed in his eyes. He said, “Did you ever read the Book of Mormon?” “Yes, sir,” was the reply. “Well, if you have read the Book of Mormon, what is the first reading in the preface of the book that we find?” After a little thinking, I said, “the first reading in the Book of Mormon is the testimony of the three men testifying to the whole world that they saw an angel come down from heaven. That they saw the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and the angel told them that the translation was correct and we bear record that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God, and that their names will forever go before the world testifying that the Book of Mormon is true.”
He then said, “I know, now, Willie, that you have read that glorious book. Willie, I am going to ask you one more question. What were those three men’s names?” I told him they were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. This little, old man, then ninety- two (91) years of age, of whom in my mind I had likened to Rip Van Winkle, whose whole being at this time was wonderful to behold, all lit up with the Spirit of God, whose eyes now were sparkling, whose whole being was transformed, stood up before me on the memorable occasion, and putting his walking cane in his left hand, straightened up and striking his breast with his right hand, exclaimed, “I am Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.” A man who had the privilege of standing before angels, a man whose eyes beheld the golden plates, a man whose ears heard the voice of God from heaven declare that the Book was translated correctly, and that commanded him to testify to all the world that it was correct. I say again, can you imagine me, a mere boy not yet fourteen years of age until the next month, November, as this was October of the year 1874.
From that time on until his death, he never tired of telling me of the beauties of the gospel, and especially about the early rise of the Church, and the trials and tribulations that beset the Prophet Joseph Smith and himself . . .
He told me he was active in the Church as long as the body of the Church remained in Ohio. He said when the Church moved to Missouri he remained behind; he said that the people said he had apostatized, but not so, nor was he ever officially excommunicated from the Church. He remained in Kirtland, Ohio, for over twenty-five years after the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were murdered. He remained separated from the Church, he was like a sheep without a shepherd, outside the flock, but he said he was never officially excommunicated from the Church but remained true and faithful to the testimony he had given, nor did he ever in his life deny it.
He told me many, many times that he did stand in the presence of the angel of the Lord, with Joseph Smith, and heard the voice of God from heaven declare that everything the angel told them was true and that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly. He said he was commanded by the voice of God to testify to all the world what he had seen and heard was correct, and in his talks with me he would say, he had asked me many times if I would tell the people what he had told me and he repeated, “Now, Willie, you won’t forget to tell the people what I have told you, will you, after I am dead and gone?” And he would hold up his hand to the square and say that he was telling the truth. And I would tell him, “No, Grandpa, I won’t; I will sure tell the people what you have told me, for I know that you have told me the truth.”
At a meeting of the Harris family held at Geneva Resort, Utah County, Utah, August 3, 1928, William H. Homer gave a talk on his personal contacts with Martin Harris, and read a document which he had prepared covering the subject. In addition to this document, he told us that Martin Harris was born May 18, 1783, in East Town, Saratoga County, New York, that he was reared on a farm, and served his country during the War of 1812. After returning from the War he resumed farming and became acquainted with Joseph Smith in 1827, shortly after the Prophet obtained the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
After Brother Homer finished his address, Mrs. Joseph T. (Irinda Crandall) McEwan spoke and said that when Martin Harris came to Salt Lake City, as described by Brother Homer, he stayed at her house in Salt Lake City. While he was there, hundreds of people came to see him, including President Brigham Young, to talk over with him the details regarding his contact with the Book of Mormon story and of the appearance of the angel to him. She said that anyone who heard Martin Harris describe the scenes and bear his testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon could not help but be deeply impressed with his sincerity and his absolute conviction of the truth of what he was saying.
Later Mrs. Sariah Steele, of Goshen, Utah, spoke and said that she was the oldest living granddaughter of Martin Harris and that she was the daughter of Martin Harris, Jr. She told of her experiences with her grandfather whom she knew when she was a little girl. She had sat on his lap many times and heard him bear fervent testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon record and of the part he played in connection with the testimony of the three witnesses. She said that anyone who had ever come in contact with him and had heard him bear his testimony was thoroughly impressed with his sincerity and with the truthfulness of the story which he told.
There were about 100 members of the Harris family present at the meeting and heard these talks.
F. S. Harris