John Whitmer

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John Whitmer
Photo of John Whitmer
Official church historians
March 8, 1831 (1831-03-08) – 1835
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Predecessor Oliver Cowdery (Acting)
Successor Oliver Cowdery
Personal details
Born (1802-08-27)August 27, 1802
York, Pennsylvania, United States
Died July 11, 1878(1878-07-11) (aged 75)
Far West, Missouri, United States
Resting place Kingston Cemetery
39°38′51″N 94°02′12″W / 39.6474°N 94.0367°W / 39.6474; -94.0367
Spouse Sarah M Whitmer
Parents Peter Whitmer, Sr.
Mary Elsa Musselman
Relatives Including brothers:
  Christian Whitmer
  Jacob Whitmer
  David Whitmer
  Peter Whitmer, Jr.
Website Brief Biography of John Whitmer
Signature  
Signature of John Whitmer

John Whitmer (August 27, 1802 – July 11, 1878) was an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement. He was one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon's golden plates. He was also the first official Church Historian and a member of the presidency of the church in Missouri.

Foundation of the Latter Day Saint Movement[edit]

Whitmer was born in York, Pennsylvania to Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Musselman. By the 1820s, the Whitmer family had moved to a farm in Fayette, in New York's Finger Lakes area. Whitmer's brother David and his entire family became early believers in Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. Whitmer was baptized into the movement by Oliver Cowdery in June 1829, nearly a year prior to the formal organization of the Church of Christ. In that same month, Whitmer became one of eight men who signed a testimony that they had handled and been shown the golden plates. Known as the "Testimony of the Eight Witnesses", the statement was printed in the first edition of the Book of Mormon and has been included in almost every subsequent edition.

The church was formally organized on April 6, 1830. Whitmer was one of the earliest members and he was ordained an elder of the church on June 9. The next year, on March 8, 1831, Smith said that he received a revelation from God, calling Whitmer to "write and keep a regular history" of the church. This revelation was printed by Latter Day Saints as Book of Commandments 50, and in the Doctrine and Covenants (originally section 63, the revelation is now section 47 of the current LDS edition).

Leader of the church in Missouri[edit]

Later in 1831, Whitmer joined the growing number of Latter Day Saints in Jackson County, Missouri. Local opposition to Mormon settlement in the county resulted in the expulsion of most of the Latter Day Saints by the summer of 1833. Whitmer, along with many of the others, took refugee in neighboring Clay County. At a July 3, 1834 conference of the church, Whitmer's brother David was called to be president of the church in Missouri. John Whitmer and William Wines Phelps were called as David's counselors. Because David returned to Kirtland, John Whitmer and Phelps were left to preside in his absence. Whitmer wrote several petitions to Missouri's governor, Daniel Dunklin, asking that the Latter Day Saints be allowed to return to their lands in Jackson County.

Working with sympathetic non-Mormon residents in Clay County, including Alexander Doniphan, Whitmer and Phelps began to purchase land northeast of Clay in what became a new county, set aside for Mormon settlement. Together with Phelps, Whitmer purchased land for the church in his name in what became Caldwell County and founded the town of Far West.

Whitmer's excommunication[edit]

Problems at church headquarters in Kirtland relating to the Kirtland Safety Society bank caused Smith and Sidney Rigdon to relocate to Far West in early 1838. A brief leadership struggle ensued, which led to the excommunication of the entire Whitmer family as well as Oliver Cowdery, Phelps, and others. These men continued to live in Far West for a time and became known as the "dissenters". Sidney Rigdon, in his Salt Sermon, warned the dissenters to leave the county and his words were soon followed up by perceived threats from the newly formed Mormon confraternity known as the Danites.

The Whitmer family moved to Richmond in neighboring Ray County, Missouri. Their complaints and those of the other dissenters are sometimes cited as one of the causes of the 1838 Mormon War. This conflict between Latter Day Saints and their neighbors in northwestern Missouri ended with the expulsion of the former, who eventually relocated to a new headquarters at Nauvoo, Illinois.

Whitmer returns to Far West[edit]

Whitmer's parents and his brother David remained in Richmond for the rest of their lives, but John and his own family returned to Far West. Emptied of the Latter Day Saints, Far West became a ghost town. Many of its houses were moved off to other settlements, and Far West lost the county seat to nearby Kingston. Whitmer continued to live in Far West, buying up land (including the proposed temple site) and eventually amassing a large farm. He occasionally gave visitors tours of the former settlement.

After Smith's assassination in 1844, several leaders asserted their claims to be his rightful successor. Among these was Whitmer's brother David. In 1847, Whitmer was briefly part of a renewed Church of Christ (Whitmerite).

Whitmer died in Far West. He is buried in Kingston Cemetery in nearby Kingston.

Scholars honor John Whitmer[edit]

An independent body of historians of the Community of Christ is known as the John Whitmer Historical Association.

Whitmer's manuscript[edit]

After his call as Church Historian, Whitmer began to write a record entitled The Book of John Whitmer, Kept by Commandment. His book begins with an account of events leading up to the relocation of the church's headquarters from New York to Kirtland, Ohio. He discusses many of the troubles experienced by the Latter Day Saints in Missouri and ends the work with an account of his own excommunication in March 1838. Afterwards, a continuation tells of the mistreatment he felt he and the other "dissenters" had received at the hands of Smith and Rigdon. Whitmer's manuscript is now in the archives of the Community of Christ.

John Whitmer Historical Association[edit]

On September 18, 1972, historians and scholars associated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) founded the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA) as "an independent scholarly society composed of individuals of various religious faiths who share a lively interest in ... Latter Day Saint history, especially the history of the Community of Christ."[1] The association publishes two academic journals (John Whitmer Historical Association Journal and Restoration Studies) and a newsletter as well as holding conferences and lecture series and giving awards.[2]

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