Early Mormon Documents Volume V (5)

Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2003. First edition. Hardcover. 493pp. Octavo [23.5 cm] Yellow boards with title gilt on backstrip. Fine/Fine. New book. Item #2830
ISBN: 1560851708

Volume five in this series deals with Book of Mormon witness, David Whitmer. Unlike Oliver Cowdery's grandiloquence and Martin Harris's mercurial temperament, David Whitmer—third of Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon—was plainspoken, reliable, and straightforward, as one might expect from his Mennonite upbringing. Readers will notice the care he took to avoid exaggeration. "We did not touch nor handle the plates," he affirmed repeatedly. If he felt a reporter erred in detail or in conveying the overall spirit of the Three Witnesses' vision of the gold plates, Whitmer followed up with a letter to the editor to set the record straight.

He often did so due to the number of interviews he granted to reporters from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and elsewhere and to LDS and RLDS leaders whose interviews were published in church periodicals. Through all of these discussions, Whitmer's story remained basically the same, although he occasionally added a detail in response to a specific question or experienced an understandable lapse in memory over a relatively minor point.

What will impress most readers is the effort to be candid. People found him to be friendly despite a no-nonsense approach to LDS history. He was engaging, open, and well grounded in the real world, as his election as mayor of Richmond, Missouri, attests. He believed in spirits and visions, but he was not considered to be a fanatic; people felt that he was someone they could trust.

He "[h]as a good head and honest face," William Kelley and George Blakeslee wrote of their encounter with Whitmer in 1882. "He talks with ease and seemed at home with every subject suggested; and without an effort, seemingly, went on to amplify upon it, so that we had nothing to do but question, suggest and listen. ... [H]e studies to express himself in such a way as not to be misunderstood; and it hurts him to be misrepresented."

In addition to Whitmer, others from Fayette, New York, where the Book of Mormon was transcribed and the first general church conferences were held, related what transpired there. They include David Whitmer's brother John; Hiram Page, who married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer and was one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon; the Whitmer family's pastor in the German Reformed Church, Diedrich Willers; and others. The latter explained why Mormonism moved from Palmyra to Fayette and how its members grew beyond the founding Smith family to include the Whitmers. Among other things, the Peter Whitmer family, like the Smiths, had previously enjoyed unusual spiritual experiences. "In the month of July," the Reverend Willers noted in 1830, "Joseph Smith, Jr., made his appearance in Seneca county in the neighborhood of Waterloo, about six miles from my residence, where a certain David Whitmer had claimed to have seen an angel of the Lord. Joseph Smith made his way to this man's house in order to bring to pass the translation of the named book with the suggestion that only among such people, who had enjoyed commerce with residents of higher worlds, could he work, and that this was indeed the place where he could do so productively, where people had seen angels."

Price: $44.95

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