Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Martin Harris, age abt 87 Martin Harris

1783 - 1875
  • Born 1783 Easttown, New York
  • Married first cousin Lucy Harris; three children
  • Scribe to Prophet in transcribing the Book of Mormon 1828
  • One of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon 1829
  • Ordained Priest by 1830
  • Ordained High Priest 1831
  • Helped select and ordain the Twelve Apostles 1835
  • Married Caroline Young 1837 (after Lucy's death); five children
  • Excommunicated 1837
  • Rebaptized 1842; subsequently excommunicated
  • Rebaptized and received endowments 1870
  • Died 1875 Clarkston, Utah

    This biographical sketch is adapted from the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, compiled and edited by Andrew Jenson, Vol. 1, p.271.
    Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, was born May 18, 1783, in Easttown, Saratoga county, New York, and moved with his father's family in his ninth year to the town of Palmyra, Wayne county, New York.

    In the fall of 1827 he made the acquaintance of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who at that time was severely persecuted by his enemies, he having received from the angel Moroni the holy plates, from which the Book of Mormon afterwards was translated. Martin Harris made Joseph a present of fifty dollars, which enabled the latter to remove from Manchester, N.Y., to Pennsylvania. In February, 1828, Martin Harris visited Joseph Smith at his temporary home in Harmony, Penn. The latter had copied some of the ancient characters from the plates and translated them, which he gave to Martin Harris, who made a visit to New York city and showed the characters with their translation to the celebrated Professor Charles Anthon, skilled in ancient and modern languages.

    The learned professor, after examination, spoke favorably of the characters and of the translation and proffered his assistance; but on learning from Mr. Harris that the book was given to Joseph Smith by an angel and that a part of the book was sealed, etc., he sarcastically remarked that "he could not read a sealed book," and then demanded back a certificate, which he had given to Mr. Harris, testifying to the correctness of the translation. After getting it back he tore it to pieces. Mr. Harris then went to Dr. Mitchell, another man of learning, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation. Martin Harris having returned from his tour to New York city and reported the incidents of his journey to the Prophet, went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs and returned again to Joseph in Pennsylvania about the 12th of April, 1828.

    Immediately after his arrival he commenced to write for the Prophet, thus becoming his first scribe. Joseph translated from the plates and Martin Harris wrote after his dictation, which work they continued until the 14th of June following, by which time 116 pages of manuscript were written on foolscap paper. The Prophet writes: "Some time after Mr. Harris had begun to write for me, he began to tease me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and show them; and desired of me that I would inquire of the Lord, through the Urim and Thummim, if he might not do so. I did inquire, and the answer was that he must not. However, he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should inquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented, but insisted that l should inquire once more. After much solicitation I again inquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions, which were, that he show them only to his brother Preserved Harris, his own wife, his father and his mother, and a Mrs. Cobb, a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer, I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in the most solemn manner, that he would not do otherwise than he had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings, and went his way. Notwithstanding, however, the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others, and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again unto this day." Many have speculated that Martin's wife, Lucy, was the one who pilfered the writings.

    For these doings Martin Harris was severely censured and called a "wicked man" in a revelation given through the Prophet shortly afterwards (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 3); and the Lord would not permit Joseph Smith to translate that part of the record again, because of the cunning and evil designs of wicked men. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 10.)

    After the Prophet's removal to Fayette in the summer of 1829, Martin Harris again visited him and was permitted to be one of the Three Witnesses. Subsequently, he furnished $3,000 toward the expenses of printing the first edition of the book. He was baptized shortly after the organization of the Church, and is mentioned as a Priest in the Church records as early as June, 1830. He was ordained a High Priest by Lyman Wight, June 3, 1831, at Kirtland, Ohio, whence he had removed from the State of New York. In that same month (June, 1831) he was called by revelation' to accompany the Prophet Joseph and other Elders to Missouri. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 52.) He started on this journey on the 19th of June, and when Jackson county, Mo., two months later, was designated by the mouth of the Lord as a gathering place for the Saints—as the land upon which the new Jerusalem should be built, and where a full consecration of all properties should be required and the holy United Order of God established—Martin Harris was the first one called of God by name to set an example before the Church in laying his money before the Bishop. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 58, Verse 35.)

    He was a member of the first High Council of the Church, which was organized in Kirtland, Ohio, Feb. 17, 1834, and in 1835 he assisted in electing, ordaining and instructing the twelve Elders, who were called to constitute the first quorum of Twelve Apostles in this dispensation.

    As long as the Saints remained in Kirtland, Martin Harris continued active and assisted in the public labors of the Church, but when the Saints vacated that place and removed to Missouri, Martin Harris remained in Ohio. This gave rise to many conjectures that he had apostatized. But notwithstanding his long absence from the head-quarters of the Church, he never faltered nor swerved in the least degree from the great testimony given in the Book of Mormon. It is true that he went to England in 1846, while under the influence of the apostate James J. Strang, ostensibly for the purpose of opposing the Elders laboring there, but he returned to America without doing any harm to anybody, except, perhaps, to himself. ("Millennial Star," Vol. 8, pages 124 and 128.)

    After residing for many years in Kirtland, Ohio, he emigrated to Utah, arriving in Salt Lake City Aug. 30, 1870, in care of Elder Edward Stevenson, who gives the following account: "While I was living in Michigan, then a Territory, in 1833, near the town of Pontiac, Oakland county, Martin Harris came there, and in a meeting, where I was present, bore testimony of the appearance of an angel exhibiting the golden plates, and commanding him to bear a testimony of these things to all people whenever opportunity was afforded him to do so; and I can say that his testimony had great effect in that vicinity. Martin had a sister living in our neighborhood.

    About this time, Oliver Cowdery, another of the Three Witnesses, also, in company with Joseph Smith, the Prophet, bore the same testimony, and further, Joseph the Prophet promised those who with honest hearts obeyed the gospel should receive the Holy Ghost, and signs would follow them. As a proof of their testimony, several of that branch of the Church enjoyed various gifts; one, Elijah Fordham, who recently died in this Territory, spoke in tongues, and as two French travelers were passing they heard him speaking and said to a boy outside the house, where they were, that he was speaking in French, bearing testimony to the gospel, he having no knowledge of that language. Martin often bore his testimony while in that neighborhood.

    In the year 1869 I was appointed on a mission to the United States. Having visited several of the Eastern States. I called at Kirtland, Ohio, to see the first Temple that was built by our people in this generation. While there, I again met Martin Harris, soon after coming out of the Temple. He took from under his arm a copy of the Book of Mormon, the first edition, I believe, and bore a faithful testimony, just the same as that I heard him bear thirty-six years previous. He said that it was his duty to continue to lift up his voice as he had been commanded to do in defense of the book that he held in his hand, and offered to prove from the Bible that just such a book was to come forth out of the ground, and that, too, in a day when there were no Prophets on the earth, and that he was daily bearing testimony to many who visited the Temple.

    After patiently hearing him, I felt a degree of compassion for him, and in turn bore my testimony to him, as I had received it through obedience to the gospel, and that the work was still onward, and the words of Isaiah, 2nd chapter, that 'the house of the Lord' was in the tops of the mountains, and that under the leadership of Pres. Young all nations were gathering to Zion to learn of God's ways and to walk in His paths, and that the worst wish that we had, was for him to also prepare himself and go up and be a partaker of the blessings of the House of the Lord. My testimony impressed him. A Mr. Bond, who held the keys of the Temple, and who had been present at the dedication, and then a faithful Latter-day Saint, said to me he felt as though he would have been far better off if he had kept with the Latter-day Saints, and that if I would preach in the Temple he would open the doors to me. I promised to do so at some future time.

    After my arrival in Utah in 1870, I was inspired to write to Martin Harris, and soon received a reply that the Spirit of God, for the first time prompted him to go to Utah. Several letters were afterwards exchanged. Pres. Brigham Young, having read the letters, through Pres. Geo. A. Smith requested me to get up a subscription and emigrate Martin to Utah, he subscribing twenty-five dollars for that purpose.

    Having raised the subscription to about two hundred dollars, I took the railroad cars for Ohio, July 19, 1870, and on the 10th of August, filled my appointment, preaching twice in the Kirtland Temple, finding Martin Harris elated with his prospective journey. A very singular incident occurred at this time. While Martin was visiting his friends, bidding them farewell, his pathway crossed a large pasture, in which he became bewildered. Dizzy, faint and staggering through the blackberry vines that are so abundant in that vicinity, his clothes torn, bloody and faint, he lay down under a tree to die. After a time he revived, called on the Lord, and finally at 12 o'clock midnight found his friend, and in his fearful condition was cared for and soon regained his strength. He related this incident as a snare of the adversary to hinder him from going to Salt Lake City.

    Although in his 88th year he possessed remarkable vigor and health, having recently worked in the garden, and dug potatoes by the day for some of his neighbors. After visiting New York and calling to visit the sacred spot from where the plates of the Book of Mormon were taken, I found there an aged gentleman. 74 years old, who knew Martin Harris, and said that he was known in that neighborhood as an honest farmer, having owned a good farm three miles from that place. He further said he well remembered the time when the 'Mormons' used to gather at Mormon Hill, as he termed it, where it was said the plates came from.

    Aug. 19, 1870, in company with Martin Harris, I left Kirtland for Utah, and on the 21st he was with me in Chicago, and at the American Hotel bore testimony to a large number of people of the visitation of the angel, etc. * * * While in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, Brother Harris had opportunity of bearing testimony to many, and at a special meeting held in a branch of our Church (Brother Jas. M. Ballinger, president) Martin Harris bore testimony as to viewing the plates, the angel's visit, and visiting Professor Anthon. On the following day I baptized a sister to Pres. Ballinger, in the Des Moines river. The branch here contributed a new suit of clothes to Brother Harris, for which he felt to bless them.

    On the 29th of August we arrived in Ogden, and the following day in Salt Lake City. Two members of the Des Moines branch of the Church accompanied us to Utah." ("Mill. Star," Vol. 44, p. 78.)

    In another article Elder Stevenson gives the following additional particulars: "Many interesting incidents were related by Martin on our journey (from Ohio to Utah in 1870), one of which I will relate. He said that on one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk, they put the following question very carefully to him: 'Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that is so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest, good farmer and neighbor of ours, but could not believe that you ever did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel when you were awake?' 'No,' said Martin, 'I do not believe it.' The anticipation of the delighted crowd at this exclamation may be imagined. But soon a different feeling prevailed, when Martin Harris, true to his trust, said, 'Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was in the brightness of day.' Martin Harris related this circumstance to me substantially as I give it, adding that, although he drank wine with them as friends, he always believed in temperance and sobriety.

    While on our journey, and more particularly at the Des Moines river, at the baptism of the woman spoken of, I took occasion to teach Brother Martin the necessity of his being rebaptized. At first he did not seem to agree with the idea, but I referred him to the scriptural words, 'Repent and do the first works, having lost the first love, etc., (Rev., 2:5.) Finally, he said if it was right, the Lord would manifest it to him by His Spirit, and He did so, for Martin, soon after his arrival in Salt Lake City, came to my house and said the Spirit of the Lord had made it manifest to him, not only for himself personally, but also that he should be baptized for his dead, for he had seen his father seeking his aid. He saw his father at the foot of a ladder, striving to get up to him, and he went down to him taking him by the hand and helped him up. The baptismal font was prepared, and by arrangement I led Martin Harris down into the water and rebaptized him. Five of the Apostles were present, viz,. John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, Geo. A. Smith and Joseph F. Smith; also John D. T. McAllister and others. After baptism, Orson Pratt confirmed him, being joined with the rest of the brethren, by the laying on of hands; after which he was baptized for some of his dead friends, and to add to the interest of the occasion, Martin's sister also was baptized for their female friends.

    * * * I wish to add that Brother Harris having been away from the Church so many years did not understand more than the first principles taught in the infantile days of the Church, which accounts for his not being posted in the doctrine of the gospel being preached to the spirits who are departed, which was afterwards taught by Joseph Smith, the Prophet.

* * * The economy of Martin Harris was particularly illustrated on the occasion of our visit to the Fifteenth Ward of Salt Lake City. The meeting was crowded, as usual, with those anxious to see him and to hear his constant, undeviating testimony.     Sister Sarah M. Kimball, of the Fifteenth Ward, eminent in the Relief Societies, on their behalf offered to have a new set of artificial teeth made for Brother Harris, to which he replied, 'No, sisters, I thank you for your kindness, but I shall not live long. Take the money and give it to the poor.' This calls to my mind a little incident or two that he related to me while we were on our journey from Ohio to Utah. He said that Joseph Smith, the Prophet, was very poor, and had to work by the day for his support, and he (Harris) often gave him work on his farm, and that they had hoed corn together many a day, Brother Harris paying him fifty cents per day. Joseph, he said, was good to work and jovial and they often wrestled together in sport, but the Prophet was devoted and attentive to his prayers.

    Brother Martin Harris gave Joseph $50 on one occasion to help translate the Book of Mormon. This action on the part of Martin Harris so displeased his wife that she threatened to leave him. Martin said that he knew this to be the work of God, and that he should keep the commandments of the Lord, whatever the results might be. His wife subsequently, partially separated from him, which he patiently endured for the gospel's sake.

    * * * At an evening visit of some of my friends at my residence in Salt Lake City, to see and hear Brother Harris relate his experience (which always delighted him), Brother James T. Woods, who is now present while I am writing this article, reminds me that himself and G. D. Keaton were present on that occasion, and asked him to explain the manner in which the plates, containing the characters of the Book of Mormon, were exhibited to the witnesses.

    Brother Harris said that the angel stood on the opposite side of the table on which were the plates, the interpreters, etc., and took the plates in his hand and turned them over. To more fully illustrate this to them, Brother Martin took up a book and turned the leaves over one by one. The angel declared that the Book of Mormon was correctly translated by the power of God and not of man, and that it contained the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Nephites, who were a branch of the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and had come from the land of Jerusalem to America.

    The witnesses were required to bear their testimony of these things, and of this open vision to all people, and he (Harris) testified, not only to those present, but to all the world, that these things were true, and before God whom he expected to meet in the day of Judgment he lied not. Brother Woods testifies that he was present at the time above mentioned, and to him it was marvelous to see the zeal that was manifested by Martin Harris, and the spirit of the Lord that accompanied his words. That Martin Harris was very zealous, somewhat enthusiastic, and what some would term egotistical, is no doubt the case; but the Lord has shown this generation that he can carry on His work independently of all men, only as they live closely and humbly before Him.

    I will give one or two instances of Martin's enthusiasm. When Pres. Geo. A. Smith and others of us were being driven by John Henry Smith in a carriage to take a bath in the Warm Springs, near Salt Lake City, while passing over a high hill Pres. Smith directed the curtains of the carriage to be raised, giving a magnificent view of the city below. The immense Tabernacle and the Temple—and in fact the beautiful city in full view—looked wonderful to Brother Harris, who seemed wrapped in admiration and exclaimed, 'Who would have thought that the Book of Mormon would have done all this?' On one occasion, while celebrating a baptism, several persons being in attendance, Brother Harris with joyful feelings said, 'Just see how the Book of Mormon is spreading.' Having been absent so long from the body of the Church and considering his great age, much charity was necessarily exercised in his behalf. His abiding testimony, and his assistance with his property to publish the Book of Mormon, have earned a name for him that will endure while time shall last. Soon after he had received his endowments and performed some work for his dead, he retired to live with his son, Martin Harris, jun., at Smithfield, Cache valley, where he was comfortably cared for in his declining old age.

    On the afternoon of his death he was bolstered up in his bed, where, with the Book of Mormon in his hand, he bore his last testimony to those who were present." ("Mill. Star," Vol. 48, p. 367.) Soon after his arrival in Utah Martin Harris located in Smithfield, and later in Clarkston, Cache county, where he died July 10, 1875, nearly ninety-three years old. A few hours before his death, when prostrated with great weakness. Bishop Simon Smith came into his room; Martin Harris stretched forth his hands to salute him and said, "Bishop, I am going."

    The Bishop told him that he had something of importance to tell him in relation to the Book of Mormon, which was to be published in the Spanish language, by the request of Indians in Central America. Upon hearing this, Martin Harris brightened up, his pulsation improved, and, although very weak, he began to talk as he formerly had done previous to his sickness. He conversed for about two hours, and it seemed that the mere mention of the Book of Mormon put new life into him.

    His son Martin Harris, jun., in a letter addressed to Pres. Geo. A. Smith and dated Clarkston, July 9, 1875, says: "He (Martin Harris) was taken sick a week ago yesterday, with some kind of stroke, or life became so weak and exhausted, that he has no use in his limbs. He cannot move, only by our aid. * * * He has continued to talk about and testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and was in his happiest mood when he could get somebody to listen to his testimony; if he felt dull and weary at times, and some one would come in and open up a conversation and give him an opportunity of talking, he would immediately revive and feel like a young man for a little while. We begin to think that he has borne his last testimony. The last audible words he has spoken were something about the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, but we could not understand what it was."

    At his funeral every respect that could be paid to him was manifested by the people. In dressing him, a Book of Mormon was put in his right hand and the book of Doctrine and Covenants in his left hand. On the head board of his grave was placed his name, date and place of his birth and death, with the words, "One of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon." Also their testimony.

   Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol.1, p.271
   History of the Church; multiple citations, see index
   Brooks, LDS Reference Encyclopedia, pp.170-172

Hosted by