The Full Wiki

Kinderhook plates: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Front and back of four of the six Kinderhook plates are shown in these facsimiles, which appeared in 1909 in History of the Church, vol. 5, pp. 374–75.

The Kinderhook plates were a set of 6 small, bell-shaped pieces of brass with strange engravings which were claimed to have been discovered in 1843 in an Indian mound near Kinderhook, Illinois.

According to Wilbur Fugate in 1879[1], the plates were carefully forged by three men (Bridge Whitten, Robert Wiley, and Wilbur Fugate) from Kinderhook who were hoping to trick the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) headquartered in nearby Nauvoo. According to Latter Day Saint belief, the Book of Mormon was originally translated from a record engraved on Golden Plates by the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.


Purported discovery of the plates

An account of the purported discovery of the plates was published in the May 3, 1843 Quincy Whig:[2]

It appears that a young man by the name of Wiley, a resident in Kinderhook, dreamed three nights in succession, that in a certain mound in the vicinity, there was treasures concealed. Impressed with the strange occurrence of dreaming the same dream three nights in succession, he came to the conclusion, to satisfy his mind by digging into the mound. For fear of being laughed at, if he made others acquainted with his design, he went by himself, and labored diligently one day in pursuit of the supposed treasure, by sinking a hole in the centre of the mound. Finding it quite laborious, he invited others to assist him. Finally, a company of ten or twelve repaired to the mound, and assisted in digging out the shaft commenced by Wiley. After penetrating the mound about 11 feet, they came to a bed of limestone, that had apparently been subjected to the action of fire, they removed the stone, which were small and easy to handle, to the depth of two feet more, when they found SIX BRASS PLATES, secured and fastened together by two iron wires, but which were so decayed, that they readily crumbled to dust upon being handled.


By whom these plates were deposited there, must ever remain a secret, unless some one skilled in deciphering hieroglyphics, may be found to unravel the mystery. Some pretend to say, that Smith the Mormon leader, has the ability to read them. If he has, he will confer a great favor on the public by removing the mystery which hangs over them. We learn there was a Mormon present when the plates were found, who it is said, leaped for joy at the discovery, and remarked that it would go to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon – which it undoubtedly will.


The plates above alluded to, were exhibited in this city last week, and are now, we understand, in Nauvoo, subject to the inspection of the Mormon Prophet. The public curiosity is greatly excited, and if Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent, than any man now living.

Bartlett & Sullivan

The Quincy Whig account also notes that the plates were discovered with a small number of human bones, perhaps those of a person or a family of distinction. Another account of the "discovery" was given in the May 1, 1843 Times and Seasons:[3]

On the 16th of April last, a respectable merchant, by the name of Robert Wiley, commenced digging in a large mound near this place; he excavated to the depth of ten feet and came to rock. About that time the rain began to fall, and he abandoned the work.

On the 23rd, he and quite a number of the citizens, with myself, repaired to the mound; and after making ample opening, we found plenty of rock, the most of which appeared as though it had been strongly burned; and after removing full two feet of said rock, we found plenty of charcoal and ashes; also human bones that appeared as though they had been burned; and near the encephalon a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, and a ring through them all, and clasped with two clasps. The rings and clasps appeared to be iron very much oxydated.

The plates appeared first to be copper, and had the appearance of being covered with characters.

It was agreed by the company that I should cleanse the plates. Accordingly I took them to my house, washed them with soap and water and a woolen cloth; but, finding them not yet cleansed, I treated them with dilute sulphuric acid, which made them perfectly clean, on which it appeared that they were completely covered with hieroglyphics that none as yet have been able to read.

Wishing that the world might know the hidden things as fast as they come to light, I was induced to state the facts, hoping that you would give it an insertion in your excellent paper; for we all feel anxious to know the true meaning of the plates, and publishing the facts might lead to the true translation.

They were found, I judged, more than twelve feet below the surface of the top of the mound.

W.P. Harris

Public reaction

The same issue of the Times and Seasons that described the discovery contained an editorial that illustrates its importance to the Saints and the excitement it created:[4]

Circumstances are daily transpiring which give additional testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon...The following...will, perhaps have a tendency to convince the sceptical, that such things [metal plates] have been used, and that even the obnoxious Book of Mormon, may be true.


Mr. Smith has had those plates, what his opinion concerning them is, we have not yet ascertained. The gentleman that owns them has taken them away, or we should have given a fac simile of the plates and characters in this number. We are informed however, that he purposes returning with them for translation; if so, we may be able yet to furnish our readers with it.

Editor of the Times & Seasons

A month and a half after Times and Seasons published their article it was reprinted in the Nauvoo Neighbor complete with facsimiles of the plates. The Nauvoo Neighbor additionally included added the statement "The contents of the Plates, together with a Fac-Similie of the same, will be published in the 'Times & Seasons,' as soon as the translation is completed."[5]

A May 1 letter by Parley P. Pratt stated:[6]

Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah. His bones were found in the same vase (made of Cement). Part of the bones were 15 ft. underground...


A large number of Citizens have seen them and compared the characters with those on the Egyptian papyrus which is now in this city...

—Parley P. Pratt

Joseph Smith's response to the plates

Upon receiving the plates, Smith sent for his "Hebrew Bible & Lexicon,"[7] suggesting that he was going to attempt to translate the plates by conventional means, rather than by use of a seer stone or direct revelation.[8] Smith's private secretary William Clayton recorded:[9]

I have seen 6 brass plates...covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.

—William Clayton

An altered version of this statement placing Smith in the first person was included in the History of the Church. Instead of "Prest J. has translated a portion..." the account was rephrased as "I have translated a portion of them..." as though Joseph Smith wrote it himself. However, Diane Wirth, writing in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (4: 210), discredits the first-person account by writing: "A first-person narrative was apparently a common practice of this time period when a biographical work was being compiled. Since such words were never penned by the Prophet, they cannot be uncritically accepted as his words or his opinion."

Charlotte Haven, a young woman visiting with Latter-Day Saint relatives in Nauvoo, wrote a letter on May 2 relating a third-hand account of the events:[10]

We hear very frequently from our Quincy friends through Mr. Joshua Moore, who passes through that place and this in our monthly zigzag tours through the State, traveling horseback. His last call on us was last Saturday and he brought with him half a dozen thin pieces of brass, apparently very old, in the form of a bell about five or six inches long. They had on them scratches that looked like writing, and strange figures like symbolic characters. They were recently found, he said, in a mound buried a few miles below quincy. When he showed them to Joseph, the latter said that the figures or writing on them was similar to that in which the Book of Mormon was written, and if Mr. Moore could leave them, he thought that by the help of revelation he would be able to translate them. So a sequel to that holy book may soon be expected.

—Charlotte Haven

Rediscovery, analysis, and classification as a hoax

The Kinderhook Plates were presumed lost, but for decades The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published facsimiles of them in its official History of the Church. In 1981, the official magazine of the LDS Church ran an article concluding that the plates were a hoax. In it, the author claimed that there was no proof that Joseph Smith made any attempt to translate the plates: "There is no evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever took up the matter with the Lord, as he did when working with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham."[6]

In 1920, one of the plates came into the possession of the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum). Some determined the engravings were engraved, whereas others concluded they were acid etched as Fulgate attested. In 1980 Professor D. Lynn Johnson of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University used various scanning devices and concluded the “the plate owned by the Chicago Historical Society is not of ancient origin” and that the plates were in fact etched with acid.[6]

In 1966, one of the Kinderhook Plates was recovered and tested at Brigham Young University and Northwestern University. The inscriptions matched facsimiles of the plate published contemporaneously, and the presence of a dent that had been interpreted in the facsimile as part of a character indicated that the plate was one of the Kinderhook Plates. The tolerances and composition of its metal proved entirely consistent with the facilities available in an 19th century blacksmith shop, and, more importantly, traces of nitrogen were found in what were clearly acid-etched grooves. The tests were deemed conclusive and today there is general agreement that the plates are a hoax.

However, the Kinderhook plates are not universally accepted as a forgery. Some Mormon researchers question the reliability of the Fugate confession and point to evidence that the plates could have been authentic.[11]

See also



External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address