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David Whitmer
David Whitmer
Full name David Whitmer
Born January 7, 1805(1805-01-07)
Place of birth Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Died January 25, 1888
Place of death
LDS Church Apostle
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Ordained
Ordination reason
LDS Church General Authority
'
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Start of term


David Whitmer (January 7, 1805 – January 25, 1888) was an early adherent of the Latter Day Saint movement who eventually became the most interviewed of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon's Golden Plates.

Contents

Early life

David Whitmer was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the fourth of nine children of Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Musselman Whitmer. By the 1820s, the Whitmer family had moved to a farm in Fayette, in New York's Finger Lakes area. [1]

Role in the early Latter Day Saint movement

Whitmer and his family were among the earliest adherents to the Latter Day Saint or Mormon movement. Whitmer first heard of Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates in 1828 when he made a business trip to Palmyra, New York, and there talked with his friend Oliver Cowdery, who believed that there "must be some truth to the matter."[2]

Whitmer eventually accepted the story and brought his father's family to join the Smiths in Palmyra. David Whitmer was baptized in June 1829, nearly a year prior to the formal organization of the Latter Day Saint church. Perhaps during that same month, Whitmer said that he, along with Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery saw an angel present the Golden Plates in a vision.[3] Martin Harris reported that he experienced a similar vision with Smith later in the day. Whitmer, Cowdery, and Harris then signed a joint statement declaring their testimony to the reality of the vision. The statement was published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon and has been included in nearly every subsequent edition.[4]

Whitmer later said that Smith had received a revelation that Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon in Toronto. After Page and Cowdery returned from Canada empty handed, Whitmer asked Smith why they had been unsuccessful, and Joseph received another revelation "through the stone" that "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil."[5]

When Smith organized the Latter Day Saint "Church of Christ" (as it was initially called) on April 6, 1830, Whitmer was one of six original members. (In his 1838 history, Joseph Smith said the church was organized at the home of David's father, Peter Whitmer, Sr., in Fayette, New York, but in an 1842 letter, Smith said that the church was organized at Manchester, New York.)[6]

Whitmer had been ordained an elder of the church by June 9, 1830, and he was ordained to the office of High Priest by Oliver Cowdery on October 5, 1831. Soon after the organization of the church, Joseph Smith, Jr. set apart Jackson County, Missouri as a "gathering place" for Latter Day Saints. According to Smith, the area had both once been the site of the biblical Garden of Eden, and would be the "center place" of the City of Zion, the New Jerusalem. On July 7, 1834, Joseph Smith ordained Whitmer to be the president of the church in Missouri and his own successor, should the Prophet "not live to God".

Although early church documents state that Whitmer, like Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery, was ordained to the priesthood office of apostle,[7] there is no record of this ordination, and Whitmer—as with Cowdery—was never a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Rather, Cowdery and Whitmer were chosen to be a selection committee, empowered to choose and ordain the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve,[8] which they did in 1835 with the assistance of Harris.[9]

Excommunicated as a "Dissenter"

Whitmer continued to live in Kirtland and his counselors, W.W. Phelps and John Whitmer (David's brother) presided over the church in Missouri until the summer of 1837. After the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society bank, Smith and his counselor Sidney Rigdon, battered by creditors and hauled before several courts, moved to Far West, Missouri. The ensuing leadership struggle led to the excommunication of the presidency of the church in Missouri — David Whitmer, W.W. Phelps and John Whitmer — as well as other prominent leaders, including Oliver Cowdery.

Whitmer and the other excommunicated Latter Day Saints became known as the "dissenters." The dissenters owned a great deal of land in Caldwell County, Missouri, which they wanted to retain. The church presidency, however, publicly called for their expulsion from the county. A number of Latter Day Saints formed a secret society known as the Danites, whose stated goal was removal of the dissenters. Eighty prominent Mormons signed the so-called Danite Manifesto, which warned the dissenters to "depart or a more fatal calamity shall befall you." Shortly afterward, Whitmer and his family fled to nearby Richmond, Missouri.

Whitmer and the other dissenters complained to the non-Mormons in northwestern Missouri about their forcible expulsion and the loss of their property, and they began to file lawsuits to recover it, raising alarm among non-Mormons and contributing to the 1838 Mormon War. As a result of the conflict most of the Latter Day Saints were expelled from Missouri by early 1839.[10]

Whitmer used his position as one of the Three Witnesses to condemn Joseph Smith's church. "If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon," wrote Whitmer, "if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens and told me to 'separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.'"[11]

President of the Church of Christ (Whitmerite)

Although the main body of the Latter Day Saints eventually relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois, Whitmer continued to live in Richmond, where he operated a livery stable and became a prominent and respected citizen.

After the assassination of Joseph Smith in 1844, several rival leaders claimed to be Smith's successor, including Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon, and James J. Strang. Many of Rigdon's followers became disillusioned by 1847 and some, including Apostle William E. M'Lellin and Benjamin Winchester, remembered Whitmer's 1834 ordination to be Smith's successor. At M'Lellin's urging, Whitmer exercised his claim to be Smith's successor and the Church of Christ (Whitmerite) was formed in Kirtland, Ohio. However, Whitmer never joined the body of the new church and it dissolved relatively quickly.

Around this time, fellow Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery, began to correspond with Whitmer. After traveling from Ohio to Kanesville (Council Bluffs), Cowdery met in the Kanesville Tabernacle meeting, called to sustain Brigham Young as the new President of the Church; Cowdery bore his testimony with a conviction to the truthfulness of everything that had happened spiritually with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Meeting with Young at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, he requested readmission into the Church, where he was re-baptised into the church. Cowdery then travelled to meet with Whitmer in Richmond, to persuade David Whitmer to move west with him to rejoin the Saints in Utah. While staying with Whitmer, however, Cowdery succumbed to consumption (Tuberculosis) and died.

Whitmer continued to live in Richmond and in 1867, he was elected to fill an unexpired term as mayor (1867–1868). In 1876, Whitmer again asserted his claim to be the successor of Joseph Smith and organized a second Church of Christ (Whitmerite). In 1887, he published a pamphlet entitled An Address to All Believers in Christ, in which he affirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon, but denounced the other branches of the Latter Day Saint Movement. At the end of his life, Whitmer ordained a nephew to be his successor. David Whitmer died January 25, 1888 in Richmond. The Whitmerite church survived until the 1960s.

The most interviewed Book of Mormon witness

Because Oliver Cowdery died in 1850 at age 43 and Martin Harris died in 1875 at age 91, David Whitmer was the only survivor of the Three Witnesses for 13 years. At Richmond, Missouri, he sometimes received several inquirers daily asking about his connection to the Book of Mormon, including Mormon missionaries who were traveling from Utah to the eastern United States and Europe. Despite his hostility toward the LDS Church, Whitmer always stood by his claim that he had actually seen the Golden Plates.[12]

Nevertheless, his testimonies differed from one retelling to another. Recounting the vision to Orson Pratt in 1878, Whitmer claimed to have seen not only the Golden Plates but the "Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world....the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed...."[13] On other occasions, Whitmer's vision of the plates seemed far less corporeal. When asked in 1880 for a description of the angel who showed him the plates, Whitmer replied that the angel "had no appearance or shape." Asked by the interviewer how he then could bear testimony that he had seen and heard an angel, Whitmer replied, "Have you never had impressions?" To which the interviewer responded, "Then you had impressions as the Quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?" "Just so," replied Whitmer.[14] A young Mormon lawyer, James Henry Moyle, who interviewed Whitmer in 1885, asked if there was any possibility that Whitmer had been deceived. "His answer was unequivocal....that he saw the plates and heard the angel with unmistakable clearness." But Moyle went away "not fully satisfied....It was more spiritual than I anticipated."[15] Yet Whitmer ordered his testimony to the Book of Mormon placed on his tombstone.

Notes

  1. ^ On March 12, 1825 David was elected sergeant in a newly organized militia called the Seneca Grenadiers.Seneca Farmer, March 23, 1825.
  2. ^ David Whitmer interview with Kansas City Journal, June 1, 1881, in Early Mormon Documents 5: 74.
  3. ^ No date nor place for this vision was ever specified.
  4. ^ Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 77-79.
  5. ^ "Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copyright, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: 'Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil.' So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man." David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, in EMD 5: 198.
  6. ^ For evidence regarding these contradictory statements, see Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 109, 586, n.2.
  7. ^ Doctrine and Covenants, Covenant 18:9
  8. ^ Doctrine and Covenants, Covenant 18:37
  9. ^ Joseph Smith, B.H. Roberts (ed.), (1902) History of the Church, 2:186-87. Whitmer recalled that he had "moved Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to my father[']s house in Fayette[,] Seneca County New York, from Harmony, Penn. in the year [June] 1829 [so they could finish translating the Book of Mormon. O]n our way I conversed freely with them upon this great work they were bringing about, and Oliver stated to me in Joseph presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command ... I never heard that an Angel had ordained Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic priesthood until the year 1834[, 183]5[,] or [183]6--in Ohio. My information from Joseph and Oliver upon this matter being as I have stated, and that they were commanded so to do by revealment through Joseph. I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some. I regard that as an error, a misconception." David Whitmer, interview by Zenas H. Gurley Jr., 14 Jan. 1885, typescript, LDS archives. See Edward Stevenson Journal, 9 Feb. 1886, cited in Joseph Grant Stevenson, Stevenson Family History (Provo, UT: by the Author, 1955), 1:177-78. Quoted in Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books), 217.
  10. ^ Bushman, 328-55.
  11. ^ Whitmer also denounced the RLDS church, now known as the Community Of Christ): "God commanded me by his voice to stand apart from you." (Metcalfe, 1993, p. 176)
  12. ^ The earliest known signed testimony of David Whitmer was recorded in a letter to Mr. Mark H. Forscutt of March 2, 1875. "Dear Sir: My testimony to the world is written concerning the Book of Mormon. And it is the same that I gave at first, and it is the same as shall stand to my latest hour in life, linger with me in death and shine as gospel truth beyond the limits of life, among the tribunals of heaven. And the nations of the earth will have known to[o] late the divine truth written on the pages of that book is the only sorrow of this servant of the Almighty Father." (Davis, 1981, p. 75)
  13. ^ David Whitmer interview with Orson Pratt, September 1878, in EMD, 5: 43.
  14. ^ Whitmer interview with John Murphy, June 1880, in EMD 5: 63.
  15. ^ "I induced him to relate to me, under such cross-examination as I was able to interpose, every detail of what took place. He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. . . . I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, "No." I asked him, then, why he had left the Church. [He answered by talking about the policies that differentiated him from Joseph Smith.] He said he knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that through him had been restored the gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days. To me this was a wonderful testimony. Moyle diary, June 28, 1885 in EMD 5: 141.

References

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

David Whitmer (7 January 180525 January 1888) was an early adherent of the Latter Day Saint movement and one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon's Golden Plates.

Sourced

  • BE IT KNOWN unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, 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; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen. OLIVER COWDERY DAVID WHITMER MARTIN HARRIS
    • Book of Mormon, 1830 Edition, p. 585 (1830)
  • No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!
    • Whitmer's response when asked if he "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban." Interview with Joseph Smith III et al. (Richmond, Missouri, July 1884), originally published in The Saints' Herald (28 January 1936). Also quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 88.
  • Joseph Smith drifting into errors after translating the Book of Mormon, is a stumbling-block to many, but only those of very weak faith would stumble on this account. Greater abominations are recorded of David in the Bible, than is recorded to-day of Joseph Smith; but do you reject the Psalms on this account? Do you reject the Proverbs because Solomon was a polygamist? Stop and think, you who are hasty to condemn. If you desire to know whether or not the Book of Mormon is true, read the book and investigate it, for Christ has promised that he who seeks in the right way shall find the truth of all things. We are commanded to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
  • It is recorded in the American Cyclopaedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon; and that the other two witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that Book. I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery or Martin Harris ever at an time denied their testimony. They both died reaffirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I was present at the death bed of Oliver Cowdery, and his last words were, “Brother David, be true to your testimony to the Book of Mormon."
  • In June, 1829, the Lord called Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and myself as the three witnesses, to behold the vision of the Angel, as recorded in the fore part of the Book of Mormon, and to bear testimony to the world that the Book of Mormon is true. I was not called to bear testimony to the mission of Brother Joseph Smith any farther than his work of translating the Book of Mormon, as you can see by reading the testimony of us three witnesses.
  • Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time.
    • Letter of David Whitmer to Anthony Metcalf, March 1887. Quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 86.
  • The record of the Jews and the record of the Nephites are one.
    • Inscription on David Whitmer's tombstone.

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