Life of Joseph Smith from 1827 to 1830
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The life of Joseph Smith from 1827 to 1830 includes some of his life's most significant events, and some of the most important history of the Latter Day Saint movement, the Restorationist religious movement he initiated during this period. This movement gave rise to Mormonism, and includes such denominations as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ. The period covered by this article begins in late 1827, after Smith announced he had obtained a book of golden Plates buried in a hill, guarded by an angel, near his home in Manchester, New York (near Palmyra village). See Early life of Joseph Smith Because of opposition by former treasure-seeking colleagues who believed they owned a share of the golden plates, Smith prepared to leave the Palmyra area for his wife's home town of Harmony, Pennsylvania (now Oakland). From late 1827 to the end of 1830, Smith would translate the golden plates, publish the Book of Mormon, and establish the Church of Christ.
To translate the golden plates, Smith enlisted the assistance of Martin Harris, a wealthy Palmyra landowner who acted as Smith's scribe. To translate, Smith used seer stones (one set of which Smith called the Urim and Thummim), and Smith said the stones showed him the translation. Translation ceased, however, when Harris lost 116 manuscript pages of uncopied text. Translation resumed in earnest when Smith was joined in May 1829 by a Smith family associate named Oliver Cowdery. Translation was completed near the end of July 1829, and the resulting manuscript was published as the Book of Mormon on March 26, 1830, in Palmyra.
By the time the Book of Mormon was published, Smith had baptized several followers who called themselves the Church of Christ. On April 6, 1830, Smith and five others formally established the Church of Christ in western New York. Among the most notable early converts was Sidney Rigdon, a Disciples of Christ (Campbell Movement) minister from Kirtland, Ohio, who already shared many early beliefs of the Latter Day Saint movement. With Rigdon came most of Rigdon's congregation, and at the end of 1830, Smith decided that all members of his new church should move to Kirtland.
- 1 Translation of the golden plates
- 2 Completion and publication of the Book of Mormon
- 3 Early ecclesiastical leadership
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
Translation of the golden plates
Recruitment of Martin Harris
When Smith said he had obtained the book of golden plates from the Angel Moroni (see Early life of Joseph Smith), he also said the angel commanded him "that the plates must be translated, printed and sent before the world" (Tiffany 1859, p. 169). To do so, however, he needed money, and at the time he was penniless (Smith 1853). Therefore, Smith sent his mother (Smith 1853, p. 110) to the home of Martin Harris, a local landowner said at the time to be worth about $8,000 to $10,000 (Howe 1834, p. 260).
Harris had been a close confidant of the Smith family since at least 1826 (Howe 1834, p. 255), and he may have heard about Smith's attempts to obtain the plates from the angel even earlier from Joseph Smith, Sr. (Smith 1853, p. 109). He was also a believer in Smith's powers with his seer stone (Tiffany 1859, p. 164). When Lucy visited Harris, he had heard through the grapevine in Palmyra that Smith said he had discovered a book of Golden Plates, and he was interested in finding out more (Tiffany 1859, pp. 167–168). Thus, at Lucy Smith's request, Harris went to the Smith home, heard the story from Smith, and hefted a glass box that Smith said contained the plates (Tiffany 1859, pp. 168–169). Smith convinced Harris that he had the plates, and that the angel had told him to "quit the company of the money-diggers" (Tiffany 1859, p. 169). Convinced, Harris immediately gave Smith $50 (Smith 1853, p. 113; Roberts 1902, p. 19), and committed to sponsor the translation of the plates (Smith 1853, p. 113).
The money provided by Harris was enough to pay all of Smith's debts in Palmyra, and for him to travel with his new bride Emma and all of their belongings to Harmony Township, Pennsylvania (now in Oakland Township), where they would be able to avoid the public commotion in Palmyra over the plates. (Tiffany 1859, p. 170). Thus, in late October 1827, they moved to Harmony, with the glass box purportedly holding the plates hidden during the trip in a barrel of beans (Tiffany 1859, p. 170).
Early transcription and translation
When Joseph and Emma arrived in Harmony, they stayed temporarily in the home of Emma's father Isaac Hale, while Hale set them up in a home on an adjoining 13-acre (53,000 m2) property a few hundred yards from the Susquehanna River. (Porter 1971, pp. 132–34). Skeptical that Smith had found golden plates, Hale asked to see them, but was only allowed to lift the glass box in which Smith said they were kept. (Howe 1834, p. 264). Nevertheless, Hale refused to allow the plates in his home if he could not see them, so the glass box was hidden in the woods nearby, where the plates are said to have remained during much of the translation process that followed (Howe 1834, p. 264); (Jesee 1976, p. 3).
After a short stay in the Hale home, Joseph and Emma arranged to live in a house moved onto the Hale property (Mather 1880, p. 201). Emma said that for at least part of the time, Joseph kept the plates in this house on a table, wrapped in a linen tablecloth (Smith 1879). Beginning in December 1827, Smith began transcribing the characters he said were engraved on the plates, and dictating what he said was a translation of some of them (Roberts 1902, p. 19). While transcribing, he reportedly sat behind a curtain and looked at the plates through the Urim and Thummim, passing the written transcriptions to Emma, who was sitting on the other side of the curtain (Howe 1834, pp. 270–271). Eventually, after some transcription, he began to dictate what he said was a translation of the plates to Emma or her brother Reuben. (Smith 1879). To translate, he reportedly "put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkened his Eyes than [sic] he would take a sentance [sic] and it would apper [sic] in Brite [sic] Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it." (Jessee 1976, p. 4). Reportedly, Smith did not need the physical presence of the plates to create the translation (Stevenson 1882; Howe 1834, pp. 264–65), and the plates remained in the nearby woods (Howe 1834, p. 264); (Jesee 1976, p. 3) during the translation.
Harris came to assist with the translation in February 1828 (Roberts 1902, p. 19). Around this time, Smith reportedly confided to Emma's uncle that he had doubts about whether or not he should translate the plates, because despite the commandment from God, "he was afraid of the people" (Howe 1834, p. 266). Thus, when Harris arrived, he reportedly had to convince Smith to continue translating, saying, "I have not come down here for nothing, and we will go on with it" (Booth 1831a).
Smith then sent Harris to several well-known scholars to see if they could translate or authenticate some of the transcribed characters (Jessee 1976, p. 3), but Harris was unable to get any of the scholars' help or backing (Howe 1834, pp. 270–272). After visiting his home in Palmyra, Harris then returned to Harmony in the middle of April 1828 and began acting as Smith's scribe while Smith dictated what he later would call the Book of Lehi (Smith 1830b, p. 1). Harris reported that for at least part of Smith's early translation, Smith used his seer stone to translate, rather than the Urim and Thummim, because the stone was more convenient (Stevenson 1882, p. 86). Smith also at least sometimes made use of a curtain (Cole 1831); Harris stated that one time during the translation, Smith raised a curtain between him and Harris, because "the presence of the Lord was so great", or sometimes Smith dictated to Harris from upstairs or from a different room (Howe 1834, p. 14).
Loss of 116 manuscript pages
By the middle of June 1828, Smith had dictated about 116 manuscript pages of text (Roberts 1902, p. 20), beginning with a story about a man named Lehi in Jerusalem, and ending with a story about King Benjamin, one of his descendants, in the Americas (Smith 1835, sec. 36, v. 41). Harris, however, was having marital problems with his wife Lucy, who was upset about not being able to see the plates (Smith 1853, p. 116). Hoping to appease her, and to quell his own doubts, Harris convinced a reluctant Smith to allow him to take the 116 manuscript pages with him on a visit back home in Palmyra (Smith 1853, p. 117). Because the manuscript was the only copy, however, Smith made Harris sign a written oath that he would show the pages only to five specified people in his family (Roberts 1902, p. 20); (Smith 1853, pp. 117–118).
While Harris visited Palmyra, Emma gave birth to the young couple's first child (Smith 1853, p. 118), but the boy was deformed and stillborn (Howe 1834, p. 269), leaving Emma deathly ill for about two weeks (Smith 1853, p. 118). Not hearing word from Harris for three weeks, Smith traveled in July 1828 to Palmyra and learned that Harris had lost the manuscript pages, and had been avoiding him (Smith 1853, pp. 118–121). Despite his oath, Harris had been exhibiting the manuscript to numerous visitors, and somehow it had disappeared from the drawer where he kept it (Smith 1853, pp. 122–123).
Smith was despondent over losing his child and the manuscript. He had had great hopes for his first-born child, reportedly telling people that the child would see the plates (Howe 1834, p. 264), and that he would assist in the translation (Howe 1834, p. 267). When he heard the manuscript was lost, he exclaimed, "Oh, my God! ... All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God." (Smith 1853, p. 121). After returning to Harmony without Harris, Smith dictated to Emma his first written revelation, which rebuked him for losing the manuscript pages, but pinned most of the blame upon Harris (Phelps 1833, sec. 2:5). However, the revelation assured Smith that all was not lost, because if Smith repented of what he had done, God would "only cause thee to be afflicted for a season, and thou art still chosen, and wilt again be called to the work" (Phelps & 1833 2:7).
During this period, Smith also reportedly joined a local Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday school class in Harmony (McKune 1879). This church was attended by Emma's family, and led by Nathaniel Lewis (Lewis & Lewis 1879), Isaac Hale's brother-in-law (Porter 1969, p. 332). His membership, however, was resisted by several members who were aware of his treasure hunting activities, and Smith voluntarily withdrew his membership (Lewis & Lewis 1879).
Resumption of translation in anticipation of a "marvelous work" coming forth
As part of the penalty for losing the manuscript, Smith said the angel took away the Urim and Thummim (Smith 1853, p. 125), returning it once again on September 22, 1828, the autumn equinox and the anniversary of the day he first received the plates (Smith 1853, p. 126). Smith said the angel also temporarily took back the plates during that time (Smith 1832, p. 5); (Phelps 1833, 9:1, p. 22).
By February 1829, Smith had begun translating sporadically with Emma as scribe (Smith 1853, p. 126). Smith resumed the translation beginning at the story of King Benjamin now found in the Book of Mosiah, where Smith had left off with Harris before losing the 116 pages. (Phelps 1833, 9:10, p. 25). In February, when Smith's parents visited Harmony, and Smith dictated a revelation for his father, an optimistic description of the translated book as a "marvelous work…about to come forth among the children of men" (Phelps 1833, ch. III, p. 9).
According to Emma, Smith no longer used the Urim and Thummim in translation after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages; rather, he began using exclusively his dark seer stone (Bidamon 1876). He translated by sitting "with his face buried in his hat with the seer stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us" (Smith 1879). While looking at the stone, he "rest[ed] his elbows upon his knees" (Blair 1879), and drew the hat "closely around his face to exclude the light", so that the "spiritual light" would shine (Whitmer 1887, p. 12).
The translation during this time was sporadic, in part because Emma was busy running the household, and Joseph was working outside the home (Jessee 1976, p. 4). They received some support for the translation, however, including money for paper, from Joseph Knight, Sr., Smith's associate from his treasure hunting expeditions. (Jessee 1976, p. 4)
In March 1829, Harris returned to Harmony and wanted to see the plates first hand. Smith reportedly told Harris that Smith "would go into the woods where the Book of Plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his tracks in the snow, and find the Book, and examine it for himself"; after following these directions, however, Harris could not find the plates (Howe 1834, pp. 264–265). The next day (Howe 1834, p. 265), Smith dictated a revelation (Phelps 1833, ch. IV, pp. 10–13) indicating that there was no need for the present "unbelieving" generation of humanity to see the plates because—in the words of God—"if they will not believe my words" written on the plates, "they would not believe my servant Joseph, if it were possible that he could show them all things." (Phelps 1833, 4:3—4:4, pp. 10—11). Nevertheless, according to the revelation, the words of the plates would go forth to "this generation" accompanied by the testimonies of three witnesses who would have the exclusive privilege to "view [the plates] as they are" (Phelps 1833, 4:4, pp. 11–12). Harris could be one of those three witnesses if he would "go out and bow down before me [God], and humble himself in mighty prayer and faith" (Phelps 1833, 4:4, 4:8, pp. 11–12).
Arrival of Oliver Cowdery
Part of Smith's March 1829 revelation told Smith to stop translating for a while, until there was a means whereby he could continue the translation (Phelps 1833, 4:10, p. 13). That "means", in Smith's view, arrived on April 5, 1829, in the form of Oliver Cowdery (Cowdery 1834, p. 14).
Cowdery, a school teacher born in Vermont, had heard about Smith's golden plates while he boarded with the Joseph Smith, Sr. family during the school year, and had traveled with Joseph's brother Samuel Harrison Smith to Harmony hoping that he could serve as Smith's scribe (Smith 1853, pp. 128–29). Smith was happy to have his assistance, and on April 7, 1829, Smith and Cowdery began translating full-time (Cowdery 1834, p. 14). During this time, they received financial support from Joseph Knight, Sr. (Jessee 1974, p. 5; Roberts 1902, p. 47).
An April 1829 revelation by Smith soon stated that Cowdery had a "gift" that could allow Cowdery to translate ancient hidden records, and that the "keys of this gift" to translate would be given both to Smith and to Cowdery (Phelps 1833, 5:5, 5:11, pp. 15—16). According to Smith's revelations, this gift to translate was not limited to the golden plates, but included other ancient hidden records. For example, Smith's next revelation was what he said was the translation of a hidden parchment written by John the Apostle (Phelps 1833, 6, p. 18), and presumably still hidden at the time of the translation.
While Cowdery, too, was to have the "gift" to translate, when Cowdery attempted his own translation of some unknown hidden record, he was unsuccessful, and he returned to acting as Smith's scribe (Phelps 1833, 8, pp. 20–21). Consequently, a revelation by Smith stated that Cowdery's translation of hidden records would have to wait until after Smith had fully translated the golden plates. (Phelps 1833, 8, pp. 20–21).
With Cowdery as scribe, Smith continued dictating what he said was the translation of the golden plates. On or before May 1829, Smith dictated a revelation warning him that whoever had stolen the 116 manuscript pages was planning to wait until Smith re-translated that section of the golden plates, and then alter it, to show Smith could not translate the same words twice (Phelps 1833, 9:2, p. 22). Therefore, according to the revelation, God's plan was for Smith to "go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work as you [Smith] had begun" (Phelps 1833, 9:1, p. 22), and instead of going back and re-translating the original 116 manuscript pages, Smith was to substitute a translation which he would create from another set of plates, called the "plates of Nephi", which covered roughly the same material, except in more detail (Phelps 1833, 9:10–11, p. 25).
On May 15, 1829 (Roberts 1902, p. 40), according to Cowdery's later reminiscences, the translation of what is now the book of Third Nephi led Smith and Cowdery to pray so that they could receive authority to baptize (Cowdery 1834, p. 15). Thus, they said that an angel appeared, granting them that authority (Cowdery 1834, pp. 15–16), and then they baptized each other in a river near their home in Harmony (Roberts 1902, 1:39). Ten days later, they baptized Samuel, who was still residing with them (Smith 1853, pp. 131); (Roberts 1902, 1:44).
In late May 1829, Samuel Smith returned home to Palmyra, reporting to the Smith and Harris families that Smith's translation with Cowdery as scribe was proceeding rapidly (Smith 1853, p. 132). Samuel's report excited Martin Harris, but angered Harris's wife Lucy, who gathered witnesses and filed a criminal complaint against Smith in Lyons, New York, in an attempt to prove that Smith was pretending to have the golden plates in order to defraud her husband (Smith 1853, p. 132). A trial proceeded in absentia against Smith, but was dismissed after the judge heard the testimony of Martin Harris (Smith 1853, pp. 132–135).
Meanwhile, a group of people in Harmony began to threaten the progress of Smith's translation (Smith 1853, p. 135). Therefore, Oliver Cowdery wrote to one of his acquaintances named David Whitmer in Fayette, New York, who had previously shown an interest in the golden plates, and got permission for Smith and Cowdery to stay at David Whitmer's parents' house in Fayette], while they completed the translation (Smith 1853, pp. 135–37). The Whitmers were happy to oblige, and offered free room and board (Roberts 1902, p. 48). Thus, David Whitmer took a large wagon to Harmony at the beginning of June 1829, and moved Smith and Cowdery to Fayette (Roberts 1902, p. 48). This time, rather than hiding the golden plates in the wagon during the travels as he said he did on his trip to Harmony, Smith said he gave the plates to an angel, who transported the plates and then delivered them to Smith in Fayette (Smith 1853, p. 137). However, by this time, Smith was not directly using the plates in the process of translation (Van Horn 1881). Emma did not initially accompany Smith to Fayette (Smith 1853, pp. 137, 143), although she came later for a time (Hart 1884; Van Horn 1881).
Completion and publication of the Book of Mormon
Initial publication attempt
At the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, Smith proceeded to complete the translation of the golden plates, with Cowdery acting as scribe as he did in Harmony, but with the additional assistance of David Whitmer, David's brother John Whitmer (Roberts 1902, p. 48), and another scribe whose handwriting has not been identified (Jessee 1970, pp. 10–11). Smith proceeded translating to what he said was the very last of the golden plates in the translated collection, where he said he found a title page (Roberts 1902, p. 71). Smith's translation of this title page indicated that the book was called The Book of Mormon: An account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the Plates of Nephi (Smith 1830b, title page).
On June 11, 1829, to secure his copyright, Smith deposited a copy of the title page with the local federal district court (Smith 1830b, title page 2). In the early part of June 1829 (Gilbert 1892), Smith also took a copy of the title page and a few pages of translation (Tucker 1867, pp. 50–51) to Palmyra village and attempted during several interviews to make arrangements to have his translation published by E. B. Grandin, publisher of The Wayne Sentinel and friend of Martin Harris (Tucker 1867, p. 51). Although Grandin provided an approximate estimate of the costs, he initially declined to publish the book (Gilbert 1892; Tucker 1867, pp. 51–52). As for funding, Smith attempted unsuccessfully to secure the financial assistance from several family acquaintances (Tucker 1867, pp. 36–37).
Twelve witnesses and the completion of translation
During the remainder of June 1829, Smith continued the work of translation in Fayette by dictating a replacement section for the 116 pages previously lost by Harris (Phelps 1833, 9:10–11, p. 25; Jessee 1970, p. 13). Some time before June 14, 1829, a revelation by Smith commanded Cowdery and Whitmer to seek out twelve "disciples", who desired to serve, and who would "go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature", and who would be ordained to baptize and to ordain priests and teachers (Phelps 1833, p. 37). Soon thereafter in the second half of June 1829 (Van Horn 1881), a group of Three Witnesses and a separate group of Eight Witnesses were selected, in addition to Smith himself, to testify that Smith had the golden plates.
The Three Witnesses were selected soon after a visit by Harris to the Whitmer home in Fayette, accompanied by Smith's parents (Smith 1853, p. 138), to inquire about the translation (Roberts 1902, p. 51). When Harris he arrived, he joined with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to request that the three be named as the Three Witnesses referred to in the much earlier revelation directed to Harris, and also referred to in a recently translated portion of the plates called the Book of Ether (2:2–4) (Roberts 1902, p. 51). In response, Smith dictated a revelation that the three of them would see the golden plates (Roberts 1902, pp. 51–53). Thus, Smith took the three of them to the woods near the Whitmer home and they had a shared vision in which they all claimed to see (with their "spiritual eyes", Harris reportedly said (Gilbert 1892)) an angel holding the golden plates and turning its leaves (Roberts 1902, pp. 54–55; Smith 1830b, appendix). The four of them also said they heard "the voice of the Lord" telling them that the translation of the plates was correct, and commanding them to testify of what they saw and heard (Roberts 1902, pp. 54–55; Smith 1830b, appendix).
The Eight Witnesses were selected a few days later when Smith traveled to Palmyra with the males of the Whitmer home, including David Whitmer's father Peter, his brothers Christian, Jacob, and John, and his brother-in-law Hiram Page. Smith took this group, along with his father Joseph Smith, Sr. and his brothers Hyrum and Samuel to a location near Smith's parent's home in Palmyra where the angel had transported the plates (Smith 1853), where Smith said he showed them the golden plates (Roberts 1902, p. 57). Like the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses later signed an affidavit for inclusion at the end of the Book of Mormon (Smith & 1830b appendix). Though the Eight Witnesses did not refer, like the Three, to an angel or the voice of God, they said that they had hefted the plates and seen the engravings on them (Smith & 1830b appendix).
After the experiences of the twelve witnesses, Smith continued the translation at the Whitmer home in Fayette (Roberts 1902, p. 59). On June 26, 1829, E.B. Grandin published in The Wayne Sentinel a copy of the Book of Mormon title page Smith had given him earlier, and offered it to his readers as a "curiosity", stating that "[m]ost people entertain an idea that the whole matter is the result of a gross imposition, and a grosser superstition" (Grandin 1829). Possibly because of this article and Smith's growing notoriety, the late stages of Smith's translation were interrupted periodically with curious visitors (Roberts 1902, p. 59). Translation was completed around July 1, 1829 (Van Horn 1881), after which Smith reportedly returned the plates to the angel (Smith 1853, p. 141).
Publication of the Book of Mormon and associated notoriety
Smith's first attempt at arranging publication of the Book of Mormon with E.B. Grandin was unsuccessful. Harris had also unsuccessfully approached Jonathan A. Hadley, another Palmyra printer who published the anti-Masonic Palmyra Freeman (Hadley 1842). Smith and Harris also traveled to Rochester, New York and approached Thurlow Weed, an anti-Masonic publisher who, like Grandin and Hadley in Palmyra, also refused to publish the book, even though Harris offered his farm as security (Weed 1884, p. 1:359; Tucker 1867, p. 52). Smith next approached Weed's competitor in Rochester, Elihu F. Marshall, who agreed to publish the book (Weed 1884, p. 1:359; Tucker 1867, p. 52). With Marshall's offer in hand, Smith and Harris then approached Grandin a second time, hoping for a better offer that wouldn't require travel to Rochester (Tucker 1867, p. 52). Negotiations with Grandin continued from July to August 1829. On August 25, 1829, Grandin entered into a secured transaction, using Harris's land as collateral (Harris 1829), to print 5,000 copies of the book for $3,000 (Gilbert 1892; Roberts 1902, p. 71), to be paid within 18 months after printing began (Harris 1829). Half the sum was to be paid by Harris, and the other half was to be paid by Smith and his brother Hyrum (Smith 1853, p. 142).
While Smith was attempting to arrange for publication during July and August 1829, several area newspapers ran harshly critical articles on the Book of Mormon, and reprinted the title page published on June 26, 1829, in The Wayne Sentinel (Grandin 1829). This began with a Palmyra Freeman article written by Jonathan A. Hadley (Hadley 1829). Between August and October 1829, the Hadley article was reprinted in Lockport, New York (Spalding 1829), Rochester, New York (O'Reilly 1829), Painesville, Ohio (Howe 1829), and Salem, Massachusetts (Foote 1829). In July and August, the Biblical-sounding language style of the Book of Mormon's title page was satirized by a series of articles in a Rochester paper (Pry 1829).
In October, Smith moved to Harmony, Pennsylvania to rejoin his wife Emma, leaving Oliver Cowdery in charge of supervising the publication in Palmyra (Smith 1853, pp. 142–143). Before leaving, Smith said he had a revelation that the original manuscript should remain in the Smith home while Cowdery made a copy, then Hyrum Smith would take only enough of the transcript for each day's typesetting to Grandin's office per day, accompanied by a guard, while Peter Whitmer guarded the Smith home (Smith 1853, pp. 142–145).
Smith arrived in Harmony on October 4, 1829, where he found the opposition that had caused his move to Fayette had abated (Smith 1829). In order to pay his $1500 share of the costs for printing the Book of Mormon, Smith attempted unsuccessfully to raise at least $500 from his old friend Josiah Stowell (Smith 1829). He also sent Cowdery and Hiram Page as missionaries to Toronto, unsuccessfully, to raise money by selling the book's Canadian copyright. (Whitmer 1887, p. 31).
In January 1830, Hyrum Smith and Cowdery discovered that Abner Cole, publisher of the Palmyra newspaper The Reflector, had taken portions of the pre-published Book of Mormon and began printing them in his newspaper (Cole 1830). The paper was printed at E. B. Grandin's printing shop on nights and weekends, and therefore Cole had access to the unpublished Book of Mormon text (Smith & 1853 148). Unable to convince Cole to stop printing, Hyrum and Oliver sent for Smith, who returned briefly from Harmony and convinced Cole to submit the matter to an arbitrator, who held that Cole's publication was a copyright infringement and ordered him to stop (Smith 1853, pp. 149–150).
Later in January 1830, a group of Palmyra citizens passed a resolution calling for a local boycott of the Book of Mormon (Smith 1853, p. 150). As a result, Grandin stopped printing in January 1830. In addition, Harris was coming to realize that the full share of the $3000 cost of printing the book would fall on his shoulders when it came due in early 1831, and under the prodding of his wife Lucy, was considering breaching his contract to pay his share. In response, Smith traveled once again from Harmony Palmyra, and placated Harris by entering into a contract on January 16, 1830 stating: "I hereby agree that Martin Harris shall have an equal privilege with me and my friends of selling the Book of Mormon of the edition now printing by Egbert B. Grandin until enough of them shall be sold to pay for the printing of the same" (Smith 1830a). Smith and Harris then went to Grandin's office, and convinced Grandin to resume printing (Smith 1853, pp. 150–151), which he did on January 26, 1830.
In late March 1830, Smith travelled once again from Harmony to Palmyra (Jessee 1976, p. 5; Phelps 1833, p. 39). The first advance copies of the Book of Mormon were becoming available, and Harris was attempting to sell them, but not getting any buyers (Jessee 1976, p. 5). Harris, therefore, waffled on his commitment to pay the printing costs (Jessee 1976, p. 5). In response, Smith dictated a revelation commanding Harris, upon penalty of eternal damnation he could not imagine, to: "Impart a portion of thy property; Yea, even a part of thy lands and all save the support of thy family. Pay the printer's debt." (Phelps 1833, p. 42, XVI:36–37). Harris renewed his commitment to pay the printing costs, and on March 26, 1830, Grandin made copies of the Book of Mormon available for purchase at the bookshop on the ground floor of his shop (Grandin 1830).
Early ecclesiastical leadership
Informal "Church of Christ" in 1829 and early 1830
Even before translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, Smith and Cowdery began baptizing several converts to the new faith (Roberts 1902, p. 59). These adherents referred to themselves as the Church of Christ (Cowdery 1829; Whitmer 1887, p. 32). In June 1829, in response to concerns by Cowdery, Smith dictated a revelation commanding Cowdery to "build up my church", based upon the theological principles Smith had been dictating, he said, from the golden plates (Phelps 1833, XV:3–4, p. 35). Possibly in conformance with this revelation, some time later in 1829 Cowdery said he received his own revelation, called the Articles of the Church of Christ, about "how he should build up his church & the manner thereof" (Cowdery 1829). Cowdery was described in his revelation as "an Apostle of Jesus Christ" (Cowdery 1829). Similarly, several of the other Twelve Witnesses to the Book of Mormon were described by people of the Palmyra area as "apostles" (Cole 1829) or "elders" (Whitmer 1887, p. 32) in this new faith, and beginning in August 1829 some of them were given missions to preach the gospel. (Cole 1829)
During the winter of 1829, when Smith was attempting to raise money for the publication of the Book of Mormon, Smith is said to have received a revelation through his seer stone (Whitmer 1887, p. 31) sending Cowdery and Hiram Page on a mission to Canada to sell the Book of Mormon's Canadian copyright for $8,000 (Page 1848). This mission, however, was unsuccessful, and the group returned empty-handed to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, where Smith was then visiting (Whitmer 1887, p. 31). As the group did not understand why the previous revelation had directed the group to carry out an unsuccessful mission, according to the recollection of David Whitmer, Smith received another revelation indicating that "[s]ome revelations are of God: some revelations are of men; and some revelations are of the devil." (Whitmer 1887, p. 31). In early 1830, Smith reportedly discontinued the use of his seer stones in dictating revelations, from then on dictating the revelations based solely upon the impressions the Holy Spirit was said to have put in his mind (Whitmer 1887).
Formal organization of the Church of Christ
By the spring of 1830, Smith had in mind the idea that his informal body of believers who called themselves the Church of Christ should be organized as a formal, legal body (Jessee 1976, p. 5). Therefore, Smith traveled from Harmony to the Manchester-Palmyra area. In March 1830 (Phelps 1833, p. 39, sec. XVI), just before publication of the Book of Mormon. Smith stayed in Palmyra until April 6, 1830, the date he had chosen to formally organize the church. While in Manchester that day, a Tuesday, Smith dictated a series of short revelations (Phelps 1833, pp. 43–46, secs. XVII–XXII), including a revelation stating that Smith was to be considered "a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church" (Phelps 1833, p. 45, sec. XXII). The revelation stated that Smith was to be the first "elder" in the Church of Christ, while Cowdery was to be the "first preacher" (Phelps 1833, p. 46, sec. XXII). Then several people, including Martin Harris and Joseph Smith, Sr. (Jessee 1976, p. 5), but apparently not Joseph Smith himself (Tucker 1867, p. 59), were baptized that night in a nearby dammed-off stream Tucker 1867, p. 58. Although the baptisms were performed after dark "because of persecution" (Jessee 1976, p. 5), the event was witnessed by a few non-believing Palmyra residents (Tucker 1867, p. 58). The majority of witnesses say this organizational event took place in the log home of Joseph Smith, Sr. in the Manchester area (Smith 1844; (Smith 1883, p. 14); (Jessee 1976); Tucker 1867, p. 58), followed by a meeting the next Sunday in Fayette, New York (Tucker 1867, p. 58). Nevertheless, one of Smith's histories (Roberts 1902, p. 78), and a later statement by David Whitmer place the event in Fayette (Whitmer 1887, p. 33).
On April 11, 1830, the first Sunday after the Tuesday, April 6 organization date, the newly formed church held its first worship services in Fayette (Roberts 1902, p. 81), attended by a much larger group of about 30 people Tucker 1867, p. 59. At least six other people were baptized that day in the nearby Seneca Lake, and at least seven others were baptized on the following Sunday, April 18 (Roberts 1902, p. 81), after a revelation two days earlier had stated that new converts had to be rebaptized into "a new and an everlasting covenant" regardless of any prior baptism (Phelps 1833, p. 47, sec. XXIII). Oliver Cowdery, as the "first preacher", took the lead in both baptism and the giving of sermons (Roberts 1902, p. 81; Tucker 1867, pp. 59–60). Smith and the leaders of his church also began teaching and baptizing in Colesville, New York, near Smith's home in Harmony, where his friend Joseph Knight, Sr. lived. The Colesville meetings were "well-attended" and led to several baptisms, particularly after word got out that Smith had performed an exorcism of one of Joseph Knight's sons ((Roberts 1902, pp. 81–83); Roberts 1902, p. 83).
Thus, by June 1830, the new church had about 30 members (Roberts 1902, p. 84). On June 9, 1830, the church held its first conference in Fayette. It was on this occasion that Smith called for a vote on the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ (Howe 1831), which would serve as the church's constitution (Cowdery 1830). At the conference, several said they had visions, others fainted and had to be laid on beds, others shouted hosannas (Roberts 1902, p. 84).
In addition to the members in the Palmyra-Manchester area and in Fayette, Smith soon found followers in Colesville, New York, a town near Harmony on the Susquehanna River. Smith's friend Joseph Knight, Sr. lived there, and the Universalist Knight had been receptive to Smith's ideas (Jessee 1976, p. 5). In April 1830, Smith visited Colesville and held several "well-attended" meetings (Roberts 1902, p. 81). Smith achieved a great deal of notoriety (Cole 1830) when he reportedly performed an exorcism on one of Knight's sons, Newel Knight (Roberts 1902, pp. 82–83). This exorcism convinced several Colesville residents to be baptized (Roberts 1902, p. 83), including eventually Newel, who traveled to Fayette in late May to be baptized, and was present during the June 9, 1830 conference, where he fell into a trance and awoke saying he'd had a theophany (Roberts 1902, p. 84).
After the June 9, 1830 conference and a brief return home to Harmony, with Knight's exorcism in recent memory, Smith dictated what was described as a secret vision of Moses (Roberts 1902, p. 98), not to be shown "unto any except them that believe" (Roberts 1902, p. 98), in which Satan attempted to convince Moses that he was Jesus (Roberts 1902, p. 98). Much later, while speaking about the early history of the church, Smith said he had heard "[t]he voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light" (Smith 1842, p. 936). Although Smith did not give a date for this event, it could have occurred during this time when he was thinking about exorcisms and appearances of the devil near the Susquehanna.
In late June 1830, Smith, Emma, Cowdery, and John and David Whitmer visited Colesville and baptized Joseph Knight, Sr., many of his family, and several others in the area (Roberts 1902, pp. 86–87). This activity, and the recent exorcism of Newel Knight, aroused the animosity of a group of local residents, leading to Smith's arrest by the local constable on "disorderly person" (vagrancy) charges (Roberts 1902, p. 88). Smith was transported to South Bainbridge, New York. His two-day trial took place in late June, ending on July 1, 1830 (Walters 1974, p. 124), and he was defended by two attorneys hired by Joseph Knight, who got him acquitted (Roberts 1902, pp. 89–90). Immediately after his release, however, he was arrested again and transported back to Colesville for a second trial, for which he was also acquitted (Roberts 1902, pp. 90–96).
After a few days home in Harmony, Smith returned to Joseph Knight's house in Colesville with Cowdery, but after they saw a mob gathering, were quickly forced to run all night back to Harmony, while pursued by the mob, stopping only once to rest under a tree (Roberts 1902, p. 97). A source who said he heard Smith describe this flight in 1844 said that while resting at the tree, Smith and Cowdery were visited by Peter, James, and John who gave them their priesthood "keys" (Everett 1882, p. 5), which according to Smith included "the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the ful[l]ness of times" (Smith 1842, p. 936).
Definition of Smith's role in the church
Back at his home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Smith dictated a revelation indicating that he and Cowdery should begin acting more as full-time clergy (Phelps 1833, pp. 55–57, ch. XXV). After planting crops in Harmony, they would begin visiting the church's branches in Colesville, Fayette, and Manchester, "devote all [their] service in Zion", and while traveling, they would receive clothes, food, and money from the church as needed (Phelps 1833, pp. 55–57, XXV:5, 10, 28). John Whitmer, who had begun living with Joseph and Emma (Roberts 1902, p. 104), was also given a full-time clerical role (Phelps 1833, p. 59, XXVII). Smith's wife Emma also wanted to know her place within the new church, and a second revelation reassured her that Smith would support her with church funds (Phelps 1833, p. 58, XXVI:8). She was not destined to be a witness of the golden plates (v. 8), but she was to act as Joseph's scribe when Cowdery was unavailable (v. 5), and she was to create a church hymnal (v. 11).
Smith, with the assistance of John Whitmer, then began to copy and compile the revelations Smith had dictated up to that point, while Cowdery returned to Fayette. Cowdery and most of the Whitmer family in Fayette became alarmed, however, when they learned that Smith had added a phrase to the "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ" (Howe 1831), requiring good works as a prerequisite for baptism, and Cowdery commanded Smith to retract the added phrase (Roberts 1902, p. 105). Smith had to travel to Fayette to convince Cowdery and the Whitmers "that the sentence was reasonable, and according to Scripture" (Roberts 1902, p. 105).
In August 1830, back in Harmony, Smith began once again to arouse resentment with the neighbors, and Emma's parents finally turned against him (Roberts 1902, p. 108). On the urging of Nathaniel Lewis, a Methodist deacon who was married to Isaac Hale's sister (Porter 1969, p. 332), Isaac Hale indicated he would no longer offer Smith and other church members his protection (Roberts 1902, p. 108). As he began to fear for his safety, he dictated a revelation that it was not safe to buy wine or liquor from the church's enemies, and that any wine or liquor consumed by church members, including sacramental wine, must be made by church members. (Phelps 1833, p. 60, XXVIII).
Given the resentment in Harmony, and the continued open hostility in Colesville (Roberts 1902, p. 108), Smith moved in September 1830 to Fayette, where the Whitmer family had once again offered him residence (Roberts 1902, p. 108). In Fayette, Smith found that Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses, had been dictating revelations using his own seer stone, and that Oliver Cowdery, the Whitmer family, and most church members (Booth 1831b) had been accepting them as the word of God (Roberts 1902, p. 110). Page's revelations had to do with the establishment of Zion (Roberts 1902, p. 109), including the location of the "New Jerusalem" city predicted in the Book of Mormon (Ether, ch. 13).
Page's revelations, and their general acceptance as scripture by the Fayette branch, weighed upon Smith as he prepared for the church's second conference, scheduled for September 26, 1830 (Roberts 1902, p. 110). Prior to that conference, Smith dictated a revelation to Cowdery indicating, for the first time, that Smith alone was "appointed to receive commandments and revelations in the Church" (Booth 1831b). Cowdery would continue to have his own written revelations, but he was to "write them not by way of commandment", and he was particularly forbidden to command Smith, whom the revelation described was to be "at the head of the church" (Booth 1831b). Furthermore, after the conference, Cowdery would be sent on a mission "among the Lamanites" (Native Americans) (Booth 1831b). As to Page's revelations, they originated from Satan, and in fact nobody knew the location of the "New Jerusalem", though it would be somewhere "among the Lamanites" (Booth 1831b).
In preparation for the church's second conference, Smith also dictated his most significant revelation since the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ. (Phelps, XXIX, pp. 61–67). The revelation contained grand eschatological themes, and stated that the "elect" would be "gathered in unto one place, upon the face of this land" in anticipation of the Tribulation (Phelps, p. 61).
At the church's second conference, dated September 26, 1830, the church discussed Page's revelations, and Page agreed to renounce his seer stone and his revelations. Smith then dictated a series of revelations chastizing David Whitmer (Phelps, XXXI, p. 69) and calling several missionaries (Phelps, XXXII–XXXIV, pp. 69–72).
Mission to the "Lamanites" and recruitment of Sidney Rigdon
In October 1830, after the Second Conference, Smith dispatched Oliver Cowdery on his mission to the "Lamanites" (Roberts 1902, p. 118). Cowdery was accompanied by Parley P. Pratt (Smith 1835, LIV, p. 184), a recent convert who had been a missionary for the Disciples of Christ in Amherst, Ohio (Roberts 1902, p. 121). On their way to the "Lamanites", the missionaries passed by Kirtland, Ohio, where there was a Disciples of Christ congregation, and converted its minister Sidney Rigdon and about 20 members of his congregation (Roberts 1902, pp. 121–124). Then Cowdery's delegation continued toward their destination of the "Lamanites" west of the Mississippi River.
Meanwhile, Rigdon traveled the opposite direction from Ohio to Fayette, New York to see Smith, arriving in December 1830 (Roberts 1902, p. 128). To mark the occasion, Smith dictated a revelation directed to Rigdon (Phelps 1833, XXXVII, pp. 75–77) comparing Rigdon with John the Baptist, stating that like John, Rigdon had previously "baptized by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost" (Phelps 1833, p. 76). But now, when Rigdon would baptize, they would "receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, even as the apostles of old" (Phelps 1833, p. 76). Furthermore, Rigdon was to watch over Smith, that Smith's "faith fail not", and as long as Smith was faithful, he would have the "keys" to reveal all the "mysteries" of God that had previously been "sealed" (Phelps 1833, p. 77). If Smith was not faithful, God would "plant [another] in his stead" (Phelps 1833, p. 77).
In the absence of Cowdery, Rigdon became Smith's new scribe (Phelps 1833, p. 76), and Smith dictated to Rigdon what Smith said was a translation of the Prophecy of Enoch, a "lost book" referred to in the Book of Jude (Roberts 1902, p. 132). The project of translating the "sealed" mysteries of God was soon postponed, however (Phelps 1833, XXXIX, pp. 79–80), as a revelation in late December 1830 indicated that the church headquarters was to move from Fayette to Kirtland to await Oliver Cowdery's return there from his mission to the "Lamanites" (Phelps 1833, XXXIX, pp. 79–80).
- "Gospel Topics", LDS.org (LDS Church)
- These scholars included at least Luther Bradish in Albany, New York (Lapham 1870), Samuel L. Mitchill of New York City (Hadley 1829; Jessee 1976, p. 3), and Charles Anthon of New York City (Howe 1834, pp. 269–272).
- In addition to the gift of translation, a separate revelation stated that Cowdery had "another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod…of nature, …and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know" (Phelps 1833, 7:3, p. 19).
- A section of the Book of Mormon, apparently translated in June 1829, would later refer to this collection of John the Apostle's writings as having been "sealed up to come forth in their purity" in the end times (1 Nephi 14:26).
- There is no record of Cowdery ever attempting the translation of an ancient document after the spring of 1829.
- The date of this revelation (now D&C 10) was listed as May 1829 in the Book of Commandments and the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, and remains so in the edition published by the Community of Christ. In 1902, however, LDS editor B. H. Roberts felt that the date should be changed to the summer of 1828, and that date is found in the most recent editions published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scholars disagree as to whether Roberts's change is consistent with the evidence (Bushman 2005, p. 579 note 63).
- David Whitmer lived with his parents in a rural area about two miles (3 km) from the village of Waterloo, and 27 miles (43 km) from Palmyra (Van Horn 1881).
- Oliver Cowdery had met Whitmer in Palmyra, and he and Samuel Harrison Smith had stayed at the Whitmer home in early April 1929 on their way to Harmony, and Cowdery had been corresponding with Whitmer about his experiences in translating (Van Horn 1881). In addition, Whitmer knew Smith's parents, who had used the Whitmers as a way-point to stay overnight during their trip from Manchester to Palmyra, and had discussed the golden plates (Smith 1853, p. 132).
- The Copyright Act of 1790, in effect until 1831, required the author or proprietor of a book to deposit the title page with the clerk of the local United States district court prior to publication. See 1 Stat. 124, § 3.
- See letter from Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith dated June 14, 1829, quoting the language of this revelation. Joseph Smith letterbook (22 November 1835 to 4 August 1835) 5-6. Commentators generally agree that this letter references the revelation. See, e.g., Larry C. Porter, "Dating the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood", Ensign, June 1979, p. 5.
- According to Smith's mother, this trip was prompted by news that Smith had completed the translation of the plates(Smith 1853, p. 138).
- David Whitmer later stated that the angel showed them "the breast plates, the Ball or Directors, the Sword of Laban and other plates" (Van Horn 1881; Kelley & Blakeslee 1882; see also Smith 1835, p. 171).
- Because of a foreclosure on their Manchester property, the Smith family was then living in a log cabin technically in Palmyra (Smith 1883, p. 14; Berge 1985).
- Some commentators find in the Book of Mormon anti-Masonic references.
- Early Mormon Documents, 2: 540. Gilbert, the typesetter, disputed that there had been a suspension of publication saying that because Harris "had given security for the full amount agreed upon for printing, before the work was commenced...there was no delay because of financial embarrassment."
- The revelation also commanded, "Release thyself from bondage. Leave thy house and home, except when thou shalt desire to see them" (Phelps 1833, p. 42, XVI:38–39). It was about this time that Harris and his wife separated (Tucker 167, p. 54).
- Harris eventually satisfied the $3,000 printing bill by selling a portion of his land when payment came due in early 1831 (Tucker 167, pp. 54–55).
- In March 1829, Smith had dictated a revelation in the voice of the Lord stating that Smith "has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift" (Phelps 1833, p. 10, 4:2). Nevertheless, Smith apparently did not understand this as a limitation on his ability to receive revelation.
- Witnesses refer to these events as taking place in Manchester, but at the time, Smith's family was living in a log cabin located just north of the Manchester border in Palmyra, although their farm was still located in Manchester (Berge 1985).
- The attorneys were John S. Reid and James Davidson (Roberts 1902, p. 89)
- The factual accuracy of this second-hand account by Addison Everett has been questioned, as there are some anachronisms. For example, Everett incorrectly understood the 1830 trial to have taken place in 1829 during the translation of the Book of Mormon
- That one of Page's revelations predicted the location of the "New Jerusalem" is a generally accepted inference, based on Smith's history and the responsive revelation. See, e.g., Joseph Fielding Smith (1946) Church History and Modern Revelation. (Salt Lake City: LDS Church), 1:125n.
- According to David Whitmer, several men other than Joseph Smith had the gift of prophecy in the early days of the Church of Christ, including Ziba Peterson, Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, John Whitmer, and himself (Whitmer 1882, p. 32).
- Although the intended destination was west of the Mississippi, where Andrew Jackson had recently relocated several Native American tribes, the delegation didn't make it that far.
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