After Joseph Smith allowed Martin Harris to take the 116 Book of Mormon manuscript pages, which Martin lost, the plates and Joseph’s gift to translate were taken from him. After repenting and humbling himself in prayer, the plates were returned to him with a promise that someone would come to help him with the translation.
On the 5th day of April, 1829, Oliver Cowdery came to my house. … He stated to me that [while] teaching school in the neighborhood where my father resided, … [my] 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 … I commenced to translate the Book of Mormon, and he began to write for me.
Whilst continuing the work of translation, during the month of April, Oliver Cowdery became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him, and in relation to this desire the following [revelation was] obtained:
“Ask … that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you” (D&C 8:11).
Oliver Cowdery translated a few words, but was not able to continue. The Lord revealed the reason why:
“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:7–8.)
About the same time an old gentleman came to visit us … Mr. Joseph Knight, Sen., … who … very kindly and considerately brought us a quantity of provisions, in order that we might not be interrupted in the work of translation by the want of such necessities of life; … he several times brought us supplies, a distance of at least thirty miles. …
Shortly after commencing to translate, I became acquainted with Mr. Peter Whitmer, … and also with some of his family. In the beginning of the month of June, his son, David Whitmer, came … and brought with him a two-horse wagon, for the purpose of having us accompany him to his father’s place, and there remain until we should finish the work. It was arranged that we should have our board free of charge, and the assistance of one of his brothers to write for me, and also his own assistance when convenient. … There [we] resided until the translation was finished and the copyright secured.
Our translation drawing to a close, we went to Palmyra, Wayne county, New York, secured the copyright, and agreed with Mr. Egbert B. Grandin to print five thousand copies for the sum of three thousand dollars.
I wish to mention here that the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, … and that said title page is not by any means a modern composition.
Oliver Cowdery made a copy of the entire manuscript for the printer so that the original translation could be kept safe. The printer was given only a small number of pages at a time. When manuscript pages were delivered to the printer, whoever was taking them was accompanied by a guard. The guard also guarded the house where the manuscript was kept. All these precautions were taken so that the manuscript wouldn’t be lost or tampered with again. In March 1830 the printing was completed and copies of the book were available for sale.
(See History of the Church, vol. 1, pages 32–76.)