Joseph Smith Tells His Own Story — Part 4
The Book of Mormon
Finding the Plates at Hill Cumorah
Joseph View's the Plates,
By Joseph Lewis
Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario County, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood; on the west side of this hill not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates deposited in a stone box: this stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth.
Having removed the earth and obtained a lever which I got fixed under the edge of the stone and with a little exertion raised it up, I looked in and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim and the Breastplate as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement; in the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.
I made an attempt to take them out but was forbidden by the messenger and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would be until four years from that time, but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates. Accordingly as I had been commanded I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews respecting what the Lord was going to do and how and in what manner His Kingdom was to be conducted in the last days.
The Four Intervening Years
As my father’s worldly circumstances were very limited, we were under the necessity of laboring with our hands, hiring by day’s work and otherwise as we could get opportunity, sometimes we were at home and sometimes abroad and by continued labor were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance.
In the year eighteen hundred and twenty-four my father’s family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin. In the month of October, eighteen hundred and twenty-five, I hired with an old gentleman, by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango County, State of New York.
He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehannah County, State of Pennsylvania, and had previous to my hiring with him been digging in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him he took me among the rest of his hands to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money digger.
During the time that I was thus employed I was put to board with a Mr. Isaac Hale of that place; it was there that I first saw my wife (his daughter) Emma Hale. On the eighteenth of January eighteen hundred and twenty-seven we were married while yet I was employed in the service of Mr. Stoal.
Owing to my still continuing to assert that I had seen a vision persecution still followed me, and my wife’s father’s family were very much opposed to our being married. I was therefore under the necessity of taking her elsewhere so we went and were married at the house of Squire Tarbill, in South Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York. Immediately after my marriage I left Mr. Stoal’s and went to my father’s and farmed with him that season.
The Plates Obtained and The Persecution Increases
At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the Breastplate; on the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me, with this charge that I should be responsible for them: that if I should let them go carelessly or through any neglect of mine I should be cut off; but that if I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he the messenger should call for them, they should be protected.
I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required of my hand, he would call for them; for no sooner was it known that I had them than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me; every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose; the persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continually to get them from me if possible; but by the wisdom of God they remained safe in my hands until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand, when according to arrangements the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.
The excitement, however, still continued, and rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating tales about my father’s family, and about myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them it would fill up volumes. The persecution, however, became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester, and going with my wife to Susquehannah County in the State of Pennsylvania: while preparing to start (being very poor and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise,) in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, who came to us and gave me fifty dollars to assist us in our afflictions. Mr. Harris was a resident of Palmyra Township, Wayne County, in the State of New York, and a farmer of respectability.
By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December, and the February following.
Martin Harris Takes the Characters to Professor Anthon
Some time in this month of February the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances as he related them to me after his return which was as follows:
I went to the city of New York and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof to Professor Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the [reformed] Egyptian.
I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic, and he said that they were the true characters. He gave me a certificate certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct.
I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.
He then said to me, "Let me see that certificate." I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, "I cannot read a sealed book." I left him and went to Dr. Mitehill, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and translation.
The 116 Pages Are Lost
Mr. Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me, while I translated from the plates, which we continued until the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen pages of manuscript on foolscap paper. 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 shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim if he might not do so.
I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented, but insisted, that I should enquire once more. After much solicitation I again enquired 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 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.
In the meantime while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family, at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pennsylvania. Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance when behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummim again, (for it had been taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression,) and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the following revelation ... (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 2).
After I had obtained the above revelation, both the plates and the Urim and Thummim were taken from me again; but in a few days they were returned to me, when I enquired of the Lord, and the Lord said thus unto me:
Now behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them: and you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened; nevertheless, it is now restored unto you again, therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun. . . .
Behold, wicked men have taken them from you; therefore, you have delivered them up; yea, that which was sacred unto wickedness. And, behold, Satan has put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands; and, behold, I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written; and on this wise the Devil has sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work. . . .
Behold, I say unto you, that you shall not translate again those words which have gone forth out of your hands. . . . And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those [same] things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, are engraven upon the plates of Nephi [another part of the Book of Mormon plates]. . . . Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi . . . and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. (See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 3)
On the fifteenth day of April, eighteen hundred and twenty-nine, Oliver Cowdery came to my house—until then I had never seen him. He stated to me that having been teaching school in the neighborhood where my father resided; and my father being one of those who sent to the school; he went to board for a season at my father’s house, and while there the family related to him the circumstance of my having received the plates, and accordingly he had come to make inquiries of me.
Two days after the arrival of Mr. Cowdery, (being the 17th of April), I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he commenced to write for me.
We still continued the work of translation, when in the ensuing month, (May, 1829) we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, as we found mentioned in the translation of the plates.
Navigating Joseph Smith Tells His Own Story
|Part 1 — Beginnings
|Part 2 — The Vision in the Grove
|Part 3 — The Angel Moroni Appears
|Part 5 — The Aaronic Priesthood Restored
|Part 6 — The Book of Mormon Witnesses
|Part 7 — The Organization of the Church