David Whitmer never occupied a presiding or governing
role as a General Authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints though he did serve for a time as the President of the Church in
Missouri. He is included in these pages only because of his position as
one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
He was the son of Peter Whitmer and Mary Musselman
and was born January 7, 1805 at a small trading post near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
While he was yet an infant, his father, who served his country through
the revolutionary war, moved with his family to western New York and settled
on a farm in Ontario County where David lived until the year 1831.
His father, who was a hard-working, God-fearing man,
was a strict Presbyterian and brought his children up with rigid sectarian
discipline. Besides a daughter who married Oliver
Cowdery, there were five sons—Peter, Jacob, John, David and Christian—all
of whom helped their father on his farm until they reached adulthood.
Fortunately, David has left us an account of his
first acquaintance with Joseph Smith and the Gospel. In a statement to
a reporter of the Kansas City "Journal;" published June 5, 1881: "I first
heard of what is now termed Mormonism, in the year 1828. I made a business
trip to Palmyra, N. Y., and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery.
A great many people in the neighborhood were talking
about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, jun., a
young man of the neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as many others, talked
about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing
it to be only the idle gossip of the neighborhood. Mr. Cowdery said he
was acquainted with the Smith family, and he believed there must be some
truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the
I had conversation with several young men, who said
that Joseph Smith had certainly golden plates, and that before he had obtained
them he had promised to share with them, but had not done so, and they
were very much incensed with him.
Said I, 'How do you know that Joe Smith has the plates?'
They replied, 'We saw the plates in the hill that
he took them out of, just as he described it to us before he had obtained
These parties were so positive in their statements
that I began to believe there must be some foundation for the stories then
in circulation all over that part of the country. I had never seen any
of the Smith family up to that time, and I began to enquire of the people
in regard to them, and learned that one night during the year 1823, Joseph
Smith, jun., had a vision, and an angel of God appeared to him and told
him where certain plates were to be found, and pointed out the spot to
him, and that shortly afterward he went to that place and found the plates,
which were still in his possession. After thinking over the matter for
a long time, and talking with Cowdery, who also gave me a history of the
finding of the plates, I went home, and after several months, Cowdery told
me he was going to Harmony, Penn., whither Joseph Smith had gone with the
plates, on account of the persecutions of his neighbors, and see him about
the matter. He did go, and on his way he stopped at my father's house and
told me that as soon as he found out anything, either truth or untruth,
he would let me know.
After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph
Smith, and shortly after wrote to me, telling me that he was convinced
that Smith had the records, and that he (Smith) had told him that it was
the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in
the translation of the plates. He went on and Joseph translated from the
plates, and he wrote it down. Shortly after this Mr. Cowdery wrote me another
letter, in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and
he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people
that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating
from gave a complete history of these people.
When Cowdery wrote me these things, and told me that
he had revealed knowledge concerning the truth of them, I showed these
letters to my parents, and brothers and sisters. Soon after I received
another letter from Cowdery, telling me to come down to Pennsylvania, and
bring him and Joseph to my father's house, giving as a reason therefor
that they had received a commandment from God to that effect. I went down
to Harmony and found everything just as they had written me. The next day
after I got there they packed up the plates and we proceeded on our journey
to my father's house, where we arrived in due time, and the day after we
commenced upon the translation of the remainder of the plates.
I, as well as all of my father's family, Smith's
wife, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, were present during the translation.
The translation was by Smith, and the manner as follows: He had two small
stones of a chocolate color, nearly egg shape, and perfectly smooth, but
not transparent, called interpreters, which were given him with the plates.
He did not use the plates in the translation, but would hold the interpreters
to his eyes and cover his face with a hat, excluding all light, and before
his eyes would appear what seemed to be parchment, on which would appear
the characters of the plates in a line at the top, and immediately below
would appear the translation, in English, which Smith would read to his
scribe, who wrote it down exactly as it fell from his lips. The scribe
would then read the sentence written, and if any mistake had been made,
the characters would remain visible to Smith until corrected, when they
faded from sight to be replaced by another line. The translation at my
father's occupied about one month, that is from June 1 to July 1, 1829."
Joseph and Oliver remained in the Whitmer household
until the translation was finished and the copyright secured.
In the meantime David, John and Peter Whitmer, jun.,
became the Prophet's zealous friends and assistants in the work, and being
anxious to know their respective duties, and having desired with much earnestness
that Joseph should enquire of the Lord concerning them, Joseph did so,
through the means of the Urim and Thummim, and obtained for them in succession
three revelations. (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 14, 15 and 16.) In June, 1829,
David Whitmer was baptized by Joseph Smith, in Seneca lake, and was soon
afterward Privileged to behold the plates of the Book of Mormon as one
of the Three Witnesses. Some accounts or claims indicate the possibility
that he was ordained an Apostle at that time. Note that this was before
the Church was organized on April 6, 1830.
Years later in an interview with Elders Orson
Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, David gave an
account of the events of witnessing the Golden Plates: "It was in
June, 1829, the latter part of the month, and the Eight Witnesses saw them,
I think, the next day or the day after (i.e. one or two days after). Joseph
showed them the plates himself, but the angel showed us (the Three Witnesses)
the plates, as I suppose to fulfill the words of the book itself. Martin
Harris was not with us at this time; he obtained a view of them afterwards
(the same day). Joseph, Oliver and myself were together when I saw them.
We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but also the brass plates,
the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the
wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the
time of their being engraved, and many other plates. The fact is, it was
just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting just here on a log, when
we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun,
nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away
round us, I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light about as
far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer, sitting a few feet from
him), there appeared, as it were, a table with many records or plates upon
it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the sword of Laban,
the directors (i.e., the ball which Lehi had) and the interpreters. I saw
them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with
his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard
anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book
of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God."
Pratt: "Did you see the angel at this time?"
Whitmer: "Yes; he stood before us. Our testimony
as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true, just
as it is there written. "
As one of the original six members of the Church,
David often accompanied Joseph as the two preached the Gospel both locally
and on short missionary journeys. He was privileged to perform a number
of baptisms in those early days. Weakening the claims of an early ordination
to the Apostleship are two ordinations which are well documented. David
was ordained an Elder April 6,1830 when the Church was organized. Later
after moving to Kirtland, Ohio, he was ordained a High Priest by Oliver
Cowdery on 25 October 1831.
Perhaps a preview of later dificulties ocurred about
that time. One Hiram Page obtained a stone through which he claimed to
receive revelations in conflict with the order of the Church. It appears
the entire Whitmer family as well as Oliver Cowdery and others manifested
a belief in the reality of these revelations. In Section 30 of the Doctrine
and Covenants, the Lord reaffirmed Joseph as His Prophet and rebuked both
those who attempted to lead the Church in strange paths and those who followed.
This included David.
David married Julia Ann Jolly, the daughter of William
Jolly on January 9,1831 at Seneca County, New York. The union would
produce two Children: David J. (born in Missouri), and Julia A.E. (born
David and his wife moved to Jackson County, Missouri,
by October 1832 locating on the Big Blue river, at a point three miles
east of the present town of Westport. There, he and his family suffered
the depredations of the mob.In the fall of 1833 he was finally driven out
of that county by the mob, together with the rest of the Saints. Next he
located in Clay county, where he, on July 3, 1834, was appointed president
of the High Council by the Prophet. For nearly four years after this he
acted as one of the leading Elders of the Church in Missouri, and after
the location at Far West, in Caldwell County, Missouri, he was sustained
as president of the Saints there.
He was one of those selected to receive his "endowment"
in Kirtland Temple June 23,1834. the temple not being complete at that
time. It should be noted that this early endowment is not the full ceremony
which is enjoyed by the saints today. Owing perhaps to the persecutions
suffered in Missouri, he returned to Kirtland by September 1834.
While there in 1835 he participated in the singular
event which impels Grampa Bill to include him in these pages. As one of
the Three Witnesses, he was blessed and authorized to organize the Quorum
of the Twelve Apostles. Along with Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, he
selected the original Twelve of this dispensation and assisted in their
ordinations, serving as mouth for some.
The year 1837 brought with it the debacle of the
Kirtland Safety Society and the ensuing apostasy. David expressed sympathy
to apostate sentiments in Kirtland 1837 and elected to return to Missouri
before 29 July 1837. There, falling further into transgression he was rejected
by Missouri Saints as president of Church in Missouri on February
Ultimately he was excommunicated from the Church
by the High Council, at Far West, April 13, 1838, the following charges
having been sustained against him: "lst. For not observing the Word of
Wisdom. 2nd. For unchristianlike conduct in neglecting to attend meetings,
in uniting with and possessing the same spirit as the dissenters. 3rd.
In writing letters to the dissenters in Kirtland, unfavorable to the cause,
and to the character of Joseph Smith, jun. 4th. In neglecting the duties
of his calling, and separating himself from the Church, while he had a
name among us. 5th. For signing himself President of the Church of Christ,
after he had been cut off from the Presidency, in an insulting letter to
the High Council."
After leaving Church he located in Richmond, Clay
County, Missouri; operated a livery stable. For fifty years maintained
strict separation from Church. He was recognized by Missourians as a prominent
citizen and businessman and was, in fact, elected to fill theunexpired
term of mayor in Richmond 1867-68.
Although disaffected from the Church. David Whitmer
remained stalwart in his testimony of the Book of Mormon. The following
was published in the Richmond (Mo.) "Conservator" of March 25, 1881:
"Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues and People, unto whom these presents
"It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell county,
Missouri, that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony
as one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
"To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not
then; and that the world may know the truth. I wish now, standing as it
were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all
to make this public statement:
"That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof,
which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the Three
Witnesses. Those who know me best well know that I have always adhered
[p.269] to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present
views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements
as then made and published.
"'He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;' it was no delusion; what
is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand.
"'And if any man doubt, should he not carefully and honestly read and
understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning
the light, which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life
as pointed out by the unerring hand of God?'
"In the Spirit of Christ, who hath said: 'Follow thou me, for I am the
life, the light and the way,' I submit this statement to the world; God
in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the
faith and hope that is in me of eternal life.
"My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain
and simple statement of the truth.
"And all the honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which
is one God. Amen!
(Signed) "DAVID WHITMER SEN.
David Whitmer died 25 January 1888 at Richmond, Missouri.