Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints)
|Latter Day Saint Apostle|
|date unknown – ca. 1837|
|Called by||Joseph Smith, Jr.|
May 18, 1783
Eastown, New York, United States
|Died||July 10, 1875
Clarkston, Utah Territory, United States
|Resting place||Clarkston City Cemetery, Utah, United States
Martin Harris (May 18, 1783 – July 10, 1875) was an early convert to the Latter Day Saint movement who underwrote the first printing of the Book of Mormon and also served as one of Three Witnesses who testified that they had seen the golden plates from which Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon had been translated.
Early life 
Martin Harris was born in Eastown, New York, the second of the eight children born to Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham. According to historian Ronald W. Walker, little is known of his youth, "but if his later personality and activity are guides, the boy partook of the sturdy values of his neighborhood which included work, honesty, rudimentary education, and godly fear." In 1808, Harris married his cousin Lucy Harris.
Until 1831, Harris lived in Palmyra, New York, where he was a prosperous farmer. Harris's neighbors considered him both an honest and superstitious man. A biographer wrote that Harris's "imagination was excitable and fecund." For example, Harris once perceived a sputtering candle to be the work of the devil. An acquaintance said that Harris claimed to have seen Jesus in the shape of a deer and walked and talked with him for two or three miles. The local Presbyterian minister called him "a visionary fanatic." A friend, who praised Harris as being "universally esteemed as an honest man," also declared that Harris's mind "was overbalanced by 'marvellousness'" and that his belief in earthly visitations of angels and ghosts gave him the local reputation of being crazy. Another friend said, "Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks." Nevertheless, even early anti-Mormons who knew Harris believed that he was “honest,” “industrious,” “benevolent,” and a “worthy citizen.”
On Harris's departure from New York with the Latter Day Saints the local paper wrote: "Several families, numbering about fifty souls, took up their line of march from this town last week for the 'promised land,' among whom was Martin Harris, one of the original believers in the 'Book of Mormon.' Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune—and he has left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion."
Book of Mormon witness 
On September 22, 1827, Joseph Smith, Jr. is believed by Latter Day Saints to have obtained a record of ancient inhabitants of the Americas engraved on golden plates. Smith said he had been directed by the angel Moroni to translate this work from reformed Egyptian into English. In December 1827, to avoid persecution by locals who were making efforts to steal the plates, Harris helped Smith and his wife Emma move from Palmyra to Harmony, Pennsylvania. In early 1828, Harris traveled to Harmony to help Smith translate. Harris assisted Smith both financially and by serving as his scribe. Mormon tradition holds that through the use of Urim and Thummim and/or a seer stone, Smith saw a translation of the writing on the plates and dictated the words to Harris. By June 1828, Smith and Harris's work on the translation had resulted in 116 pages of manuscript.
Because Harris desired assurance of the work's authenticity, Smith transcribed characters from the plates to a piece of paper, perhaps the one now known as the Anthon transcript. Harris took this document to New York City, where he met with Charles Anthon, a professor of linguistics at Columbia College. Although Harris and Anthon later told conflicting versions about their encounter, the episode apparently satisfied Harris's doubts about the authenticity of the golden plates. Nevertheless, Harris's wife continued to oppose his collaboration with Smith. Harris asked Smith for permission to take the 116 pages of manuscript back to his wife in order to convince her of its authenticity; Smith reluctantly agreed. After Harris had shown the pages to his wife and some others, the manuscript disappeared. The loss temporarily halted the translation of the plates, and when Smith began again, he used other scribes, primarily Oliver Cowdery. Nevertheless, Harris continued to support Smith financially. The translation was completed in June 1829. By August, Smith contracted with publisher E. B. Grandin of Palmyra to print the Book of Mormon. Harris mortgaged his farm to Grandin to ensure payment of the printing costs, and he later sold 151 acres of his farm to pay off the mortgage.
As the translation neared completion, Smith revealed that three men would be called as "special witnesses" to the existence of the golden plates. Harris, along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, was chosen as one of these Three Witnesses, although Smith clearly indicated that Harris's experience in seeing the plates occurred separately from that of Whitmer and Cowdery. The Three Witnesses' attestation was printed with the book, and it has been included in nearly every subsequent edition.
In part due to their continued disagreement over the legitimacy of Smith and the golden plates, and because of the loss of his farm, Harris and his wife separated.
In 1830, Smith established the Church of Christ; Harris was one of its earliest baptized members. Although he was excommunicated from the church in late 1837, Harris remained true to his testimony of the Book of Mormon. In response to the question of whether he had ever denied his original testimony of the book, Harris wrote: "I answer emphatically, No, I did not;—no man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates; nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, under the administration of Joseph Smith Jun., the prophet whom the Lord raised up for that purpose, in these the latter days, that he may show forth his power and glory. The Lord has shown me these things by his Spirit—by the administration of holy angels—and confirmed the same with signs following, step by step, as the work has progressed, for the space of fifty-three years."
Marital conflict 
Lucy Harris was described by Lucy Mack Smith as a woman of "irascible temper," but claims have been made that Harris had abused her. Lucy Harris also claimed that her husband may have committed adultery with a neighboring "Mrs. Haggart."
LDS High Priest 
Harris became an early member of the Church of Christ, which Joseph Smith organized on April 6, 1830. On June 3, 1831, at a conference at the headquarters of the church in Kirtland, Ohio, Harris was ordained to the office of High Priest and served as a missionary in the Midwest, Pennsylvania, and New York.
On February 17, 1834, Harris was ordained a member of Kirtland High Council, which was then the chief judicial and legislative council of the church. In response to the conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri, Harris joined what is now known as Zion's Camp and marched from Kirtland to Clay County, Missouri. Afterwards, Harris—along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer—selected and ordained a "traveling High Council" of twelve men that eventually became the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (Some early church leaders claimed that Harris, like Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery, was ordained to the priesthood office of apostle; however, there is no record of this ordination, and Harris—as with Cowdery—was never a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.)
Lucy Harris died in the summer of 1836, and on November 1, 1836, Harris married Caroline Young, the 22-year-old daughter of Brigham Young's brother, John. Harris was thirty-one years older than his new wife; they had seven children together.
In 1837, dissension arose in Kirtland over the failure of the church's Kirtland Safety Society bank. Harris called it a "fraud" and was among the dissenters who broke with Smith and attempted to reorganize the church. Led by Warren Parrish, the reformers excommunicated Smith and Sidney Rigdon, who relocated to Far West, Missouri. Parrish's church in Kirtland took control of the temple and became known as The Church of Christ. In its 1838 articles of incorporation, Harris was named one of the church's three trustees. By 1839, Parrish and other church leaders had rejected the Book of Mormon and consequently broke with Harris, who continued to testify to its truth. By 1840, Harris returned to communion with Smith's church—now called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—which had subsequently relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois.
Strangite, Whitmerite, Gladdenite, Williamite, Shaker 
Even before he had become a Mormon, Harris had changed his religion at least five times. After Smith's death, Harris continued this earlier pattern, remaining in Kirtland and accepting James J. Strang as Mormonism's new prophet, who claimed to have a new set of supernatural plates and witnesses to authenticate them. In August 1846, Harris traveled on a mission to England for the Strangite church, but the Mormon conference declined to listen to him; when he insisted on preaching outside the building, police removed him.
By 1847, Harris had broken with Strang and accepted the leadership claims of fellow Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer. Mormon Apostle William E. McLellin organized a Whitmerite congregation in Kirtland, and Harris became a member. By 1851, Harris had accepted another Latter Day Saint factional leader, Gladden Bishop, as prophet and joined Bishop's Kirtland-based organization. In 1855, Harris joined with the last surviving brother of Joseph Smith, William Smith and declared that William was Joseph's true successor. Harris was also briefly intrigued by the "Roll and Book," a supernatural scripture delivered to the Shakers. By the 1860s, all of these organizations had either dissolved or declined. In 1856, his wife Caroline left him to gather with the Mormons in Utah Territory while he remained in Kirtland and gave tours of the temple to curious visitors.
Rebaptism into the LDS faith 
In 1870, at age 87, Harris moved to the Utah Territory and shortly thereafter was rebaptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Harris, who had been left destitute and without a congregation in Kirtland, accepted the assistance of members of the LDS Church, who raised $200 to help him move west to Utah. Harris lived the last four and a half years of his life with relatives in Cache Valley. He died on June 10, 1875, in Clarkston, Utah, and was buried there. A pageant about Harris called "Martin Harris, The Man Who Knew", sponsored by LDS Church, is performed every other year in August in Clarkston.
Testimony to the Book of Mormon 
Although he was estranged from Mormon leaders for most of his life, Harris continued to testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, at least during the early years, Harris "seems to have repeatedly admitted the internal, subjective nature of his visionary experience." The foreman in the Palmyra printing office that produced the first Book of Mormon said that Harris "used to practice a good deal of his characteristic jargon and 'seeing with the spiritual eye,' and the like." John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the book, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.'" Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with "the eye of faith" or "spiritual eyes." In 1838, Harris is said to have told an Ohio congregation that "he never saw the plates with his natural eyes, only in vision or imagination." A neighbor of Harris in Kirtland, Ohio, said that Harris "never claimed to have seen [the plates] with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision."
In March 1838, disillusioned church members said that Harris had publicly denied that any of the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon had ever seen or handled the golden plates—although Harris had not been present when Whitmer and Cowdery first claimed to have viewed them—and they claimed that Harris's recantation, made during a period of crisis in early Mormonism, induced five influential members, including three apostles, to leave the church. Even at the end of his long life, Harris said that he had seen the plates in "a state of entrancement." Nevertheless, in 1853, Harris told one David Dille that he had held the forty- to sixty-pound plates on his knee for "an hour-and-a-half" and handled the plates with his hands, "plate after plate." But even later, Harris affirmed that he had seen the plates and the angel with his natural eyes: "Gentlemen," holding out his hand, "do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Or are your eyes playing you a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the Angel and the plates." The following year Harris affirmed that "No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon [or] the administration of the angel that showed me the plates."
At the end of his life, Harris responded when he was asked if he still believed in Smith and the Book of Mormon: "Do I believe it! Do you see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fulness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith."
On his death bed Harris said: "The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true."
- Biography of Martin Harris, The Joseph Smith Papers (accessed January 9, 2012)
- Walker 1986, p. 31
- More "than a dozen of Harris's Palmyra contemporaries left descriptions of the man that describe his honor, honesty, industry, peacefulness, and respectability, his hard-headed Yankee shrewdness and his wealth." (Walker 1986, p. 35)
- "Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle's sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop. Another time he excitedly awoke from his sleep believing that a creature as large as a dog had been upon his chest, though a nearby associate could find nothing to confirm his fears. Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts told of visionary experiences with Satan and Christ, Harris once reporting that Christ had been poised on a roof beam." (Walker 1986, pp. 34–35)
- John A. Clark letter, August 31, 1840: "No matter where he went, he saw visions and supernatural appearances all around him. He told a gentleman in Palmyra, after one of his excursions to Pennsylvania, while the translation of the Book of Mormon was going on, that on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another." (Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 271)
- According to two Ohio newspapers, shortly after Harris arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, he began claiming to have "seen Jesus Christ and that he is the handsomest man he ever did see. He has also seen the Devil, whom he described as a very sleek haired fellow with four feet, and a head like that of a Jack-ass." (Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 271, note 32)
- Walker 1986, pp. 34–35
- Pomeroy Tucker reminiscence, 1858, in Vogel 1996-2003, 3: 71
- Lorenzo Saunders Interview, November 12, 1884, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 149
- Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 96–98. ISBN 0877478465.
- “Several families ...,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, New York) (27 May 1831)
- "The Life and Ministry of Joseph Smith", Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2011, Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church), xxii–25.
- Vogel 1996-2003, 4: 377-86
- Joseph Smith-History, 1839.
- Martin Harris, Letter of Martin Harris, Sr., to Hanna B. Emerson, Smithfield, Utah Territory, in Early Mormon Documents, 2: 338., January 1871.
- Lucy Mack Smith, 1853, in Vogel 1996-2003, 1: 367
- Lucy Harris statement: "In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the butt end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner....Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make hi more cross, turbulent and abusive to me." (Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 34-36)
- In March 1830, a revelation from Smith warned Harris not to "covet thy neighbor's wife." ()
- Joseph Smith, B.H. Roberts (ed.), (1902) History of the Church, 2:186-87.
- See, e.g., Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:29.
- In 1838, Joseph Smith called the Three Witnesses Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer "too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them." B.H. Roberts, ed. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905), 3: 232.
- Harris had been a Quaker, a Universalist, a Restorationist, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and perhaps a Methodist. (Walker 1986, pp. 30–33)
- Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 260.
- Walker 1986, pp. 29–30
- Roper, Matthew (1993), "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 2 (2): 164–193
Harris never actually joined the Shakers: they advocated celibacy, and Harris was married. But Phineas H. Young told Brigham Young that Harris's testimony of Shakerism was "greater than it was of the Book of Mormon." Letter of Phineas H. Young to Brigham Young, Dec. 31, 1844.
- Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 258
- Martin Harris Pageant
- Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 255
- Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), p. 71, in Vogel 1996-2003, 3: 122
- John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 548
- Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 270
- Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833, in Vogel 1996-2003, 3: 22
- Stephen Burnett to Lyman E. Johnson, 15 April 1838, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 291
- Reuben P. Harmon statement, c. 1885, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 385
- Stephen Burnett to Luke S. Johnson, 15 April 1838, in Joseph Smith's Letterbook, Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 290-92
- Metcalf in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 347
- Martin Harris interview with David B. Dille, 15 September 1853, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 296-97
- Martin Harris interview with Robert Barter, c. 1870, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 390
- Letter of Martin Harris, Sr., to Hanna B. Emerson, January 1871, Smithfield, Utah Territory, Saints' Herald 22 (15 October 1875):630, in Vogel 1996-2003, 2: 338
- Anderson 1981, p. 118
- William Harrison Homer, "The Passing of Martin Harris," Improvement Era vol. 29, no. 5 (March 1926): 472.
- (Martin Harris on his death bed. Cited by George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his descendants, quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971], 65–66.)
- Anderson, Richard L. (1981), Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, ISBN 978-0-87747-846-1, OCLC 6942562.
- Black, Susan Easton (1997), Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, ISBN 1-57008-292-8, OCLC 36759343.
- Marquardt, H. Michael (Fall 2002), "Martin Harris: The Kirtland Years, 1831-1870", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 (3): 1–40.
- Oaks, Dallin H. (May 1999), "The Witness: Martin Harris", Ensign.
- Romig, Ron (2007), Martin Harris's Kirtland, Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, ISBN 1-934901-04-0, OCLC 213098788.
- Stevenson, Edward (1882), "One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,", The Latter Day Saints' Millennial Star 44: 78–79, 86–87.
- Vogel, Dan (1996-2003), Early Mormon Documents, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 978-1-56085-072-4, OCLC 31374045.
- Walker, Ronald W. (Winter 1986), "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (4): 29–43.
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Media related to Martin Harris at Wikimedia Commons
- Quotations related to Martin Harris at Wikiquote
- Martin Harris (Latter Day Saints) at Find a Grave
- "Martin Harris," on Grampa Bill's G.A. Pages, by William O. Lewis III, courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine
- Clarkston Pageant - Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew, "Places to Visit: Pageants", LDS.org (LDS Church)
- Nathan Harris and Rhoda Lapham Family, parents of Martin Harris, annotated genealogy.