Chapter Five: Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon and Restoration of the Priesthood

Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003), 52–66


The young prophet and the Church he was to restore faced an important year in 1829. At the end of 1828, Moroni returned the plates and the Urim and Thummim and promised a new scribe to assist in the translation. That fall Joseph’s parents, who had worried about him, came to Harmony and were pleased to find him in good spirits and learn that the plates and the Urim and Thummim were safe in Emma’s red morocco trunk. When his father and mother left for home they were “relieved of a burden which was almost insupportable, and … joy far overbalanced all [their] former grief.”1The Lord’s promise to send a scribe was fulfilled in the spring of 1829 when Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony. He and Joseph labored diligently to complete the translation. In the process they learned important gospel principles, some that were the catalyst for new spiritual experiences and for the restoration of the priesthood. The way was being prepared for the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ the following year.

Oliver Cowdery’s Arrival

During the winter of 1828–29, Joseph Smith periodically worked on the translation with the help of Emma and her brother, but earning a living left little time for translating. Emma’s brother, Jesse Hale, was suspicious of Joseph’s claims about the plates and showed little sympathy. Hence, in March of 1829, Joseph said, “I had not where to go and I cried unto the Lord that he would provide for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me.”2The Lord told him to stop for the present and wait “until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee” (D&C 5:34). Confidently the Prophet awaited the arrival of a new scribe, and on 5 April, Oliver Cowdery came.

Oliver Cowdery was born 3 October 1806 in Wells, Rutland County, Vermont. He was the youngest of eight children. As he grew up he received an education consisting of reading, writing, and the basic rules of arithmetic. Several of the elder Cowdery brothers had found that business opportunities were limited in Vermont and had moved to western New York. In 1825 Oliver followed and took employment as a clerk in a village general store. He also engaged in blacksmithing and farming. Oliver was slight of build, about five feet five inches tall, with dark, wavy hair and piercing dark eyes.

Early in 1829 one of Oliver’s older brothers, Lyman Cowdery, was hired to teach at the village school in Manchester township close to where Joseph Smith’s family lived. Lyman was unable to fulfill his commitment and suggested that the trustees hire his brother Oliver. Approved by the trustees, one of whom was Hyrum Smith, Oliver commenced teaching and was invited to board at the home of Joseph Smith, Sr. Lucy Smith related that almost immediately “he began to hear from all quarters concerning the plates, and as soon began to importune Mr. Smith upon the subject, but for a considerable length of time did not succeed in eliciting any information.”3The Smiths were reluctant to share their experiences because they had been ridiculed by neighbors in the past.

When Oliver gained the trust of the Smiths, Joseph Smith, Sr., told him about the plates. Oliver prayed privately and meditated upon the matter, even confiding in Joseph Smith, Sr., that he felt “impressed … that he should yet have the privilege of writing for Joseph,” who he had not yet met. He told the family that it was the “will of the Lord” that he go with Samuel to visit Joseph in the spring following the school term. He said, “If there is a work for me to do in this thing, I am determined to attend to it.”4Accordingly, in the first part of April, Samuel Smith and Oliver Cowdery left for Harmony, Pennsylvania. The cold, wet weather would have discouraged most people, but Oliver was not to be deterred from meeting and speaking with Joseph Smith.

Before meeting the Smiths in Manchester, Oliver Cowdery had met and become close friends with David Whitmer of Fayette, New York. En route to Harmony, Oliver and Samuel stopped to see David, who asked Oliver to “write him his impressions as to the truth or untruth of Joseph Smith’s having an ancient record.”5This friendship with the Whitmer family later had significant impact on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the Church.

When Oliver arrived in Harmony on Sunday, 5 April, Joseph Smith recognized him as the assistance the Lord had promised. They discussed Joseph’s experiences until late in the evening. The next day they attended to some business, and on Tuesday, 7 April, they began the work of translation in earnest.

The Translation Accelerated

Joseph and Oliver labored “with little cessation” on the translation throughout April. With Oliver’s help, Joseph proceeded faster than ever before. During the next three months Joseph and Oliver completed the amazing task of translating approximately five hundred printed pages. This was a glorious period in their lives. Oliver wrote: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven. … Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim … the history, or record, called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”6

During April significant revelations came to Oliver Cowdery through Joseph Smith. The first one (now D&C 6) commended Oliver for his righteous desires in calling upon the Lord and reminded him that “as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time” (v. 14). Apparently, however, Oliver desired a further witness of the truthfulness of the work, so the Lord told him:

“Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22–23). Only after this revelation did Oliver tell Joseph that one night while boarding with the Smith family he had called upon God in prayer to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet and had received the peaceful assurance that he was.

When Oliver asked the Lord for the power to translate, his request was granted and he became a second witness (see v. 28). Oliver translated for a brief time, and then the Lord told him: “I have taken away this privilege from you” (D&C 9:5). The Lord explained:

“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.

“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me” (D&C 9:8–9).

About this time an old friend, Joseph Knight, Sr., came from Colesville, New York, a distance of twenty-eight miles, with provisions, including potatoes, mackerel, and several bushels of grain. He also brought lined paper and money to purchase more. Knight’s visit was important in keeping the work moving because Joseph and Oliver, being in great need, had recently been looking for employment. If they were forced to work, even temporarily, the translation would be delayed. Therefore, they were deeply grateful for the timely assistance, which they considered a gift from heaven.

Restoration of the Priesthood and Baptism

Joseph and Oliver were thrilled as such doctrines as the resurrected Savior’s visit to the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere and his teachings about baptism were unfolded during the translation (see 3 Nephi 11:18–38). At this point their souls were driven to mighty prayer to learn how they could obtain the blessing of baptism. On 15 May 1829, Joseph and Oliver went into the nearby woods along the Susquehanna River to pray. Oliver described the scene that followed: “On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance!—What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world were racked and distracted … our eyes beheld—our ears heard.”7

The angel introduced himself as “John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and [told them] that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John” (Joseph Smith—History 1:72). He laid his hands upon Joseph and Oliver and said, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (Joseph Smith—History 1:69; see also D&C 13:1). John explained that the Melchizedek Priesthood would be bestowed upon them at a later time. For the first time in centuries, the priesthood was again on the earth.

John directed Joseph to baptize Oliver, and Oliver to then baptize Joseph. They were then to confer the Aaronic Priesthood upon each other. As they came out of the water from their baptisms, they were filled with the spirit of prophecy. Oliver predicted “many things which should shortly come to pass,” and Joseph prophesied “concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men.” They were “filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of [their] salvation” (Joseph Smith—History 1:73). They were also given insight into the meaning of the scriptures. They had to keep these things secret, however, because of persecution from local religious leaders. Isaac Hale, Joseph’s father-in-law, had stepped in to provide protection, but his ability to control the situation waned.

During this time, Joseph received some visitors in Harmony. The first was his younger brother, Samuel. Joseph and Oliver eagerly told Samuel about their recent experiences, told him what the Lord was about to do, and showed him what had thus far been translated from the plates. Samuel was not convinced, even after Joseph and Oliver showed him passages from the Bible about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He went to the woods to try to resolve his doubts through prayer. Joseph reported, “The result was that he obtained revelation for himself sufficient to convince him of the truth of our assertions to him; and on the twenty-fifth day of that same month in which we had been baptized and ordained, Oliver Cowdery baptized him; and he returned to his father’s house, greatly glorifying and praising God, being filled with the Holy Spirit.”8

Joseph’s older brother Hyrum was the next to arrive. At Hyrum’s request, Joseph asked the Lord through the Urim and Thummim to ascertain the Lord’s will concerning him. The Lord told Hyrum he would be the “means of doing much good in this generation” (D&C 11:8), but that he should be patient and study the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon which was then being translated, and prepare himself for the day when he would be called to preach the gospel of repentance (see D&C 11).

Soon afterward Joseph and Oliver went to Colesville. On their return trip near the end of May 1829,9 the Lord’s chief Apostles, Peter, James, and John, appeared to them on the banks of the Susquehanna River (see D&C 128:20). The angelic visitors conferred upon Joseph and Oliver the holy Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of the apostleship (see D&C 27:12). Joseph and Oliver now had the authority to act as legal agents for the Lord in building the kingdom of God upon the earth.

Completion of the Translation

Shortly after beginning to assist Joseph Smith with the work of translation, Oliver wrote to David Whitmer in Fayette township. He enthusiastically testified that Joseph Smith had the ancient records and that the work was divine. Soon he sent a few lines of the translation and bore witness that he knew the plates contained a record of the people who once inhabited this continent. David Whitmer, then twenty-four years of age, eagerly showed these letters to his parents and brothers and sisters. Persecution began to intensify in the Harmony area, so late in May, Oliver communicated with David about the possibility of Joseph and Oliver going to stay with the Whitmers in Fayette. In response Peter Whitmer, Sr., David’s father, invited Joseph to stay at his farm home as long as was needed to finish the work of translation. David’s brother John offered to help as Joseph’s scribe. Many people in the Fayette area were anxious to hear more about the work.10

A late May planting was essential for successful fall crops; therefore, David Whitmer had to plow and prepare the soil before he could take his two-horse wagon to pick up Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. At the end of a day of plowing he found he had accomplished in one day what normally would have taken two days to do. David’s father was likewise impressed by this apparent miracle. Peter Whitmer, Sr., said, “There must be an overruling hand in this, and I think you would better go down to Pennsylvania as soon as your plaster of paris is sown.”11(Plaster of paris was used to reduce the acidity of the soil.) The next day David went to the fields to sow the plaster, but to his surprise he found the work had been done. His sister, who lived near the field, said that her children had called her to watch three strangers the day before spread the plaster with remarkable skill. She assumed they were men David had hired.12

Grateful for this divine intervention, David Whitmer hurried off on the three-day journey to Harmony. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery met him as he approached the town. Although David had not told them exactly when he was coming, Joseph had seen in vision the details of David’s trip to Harmony.13These three miracles witnessed by David Whitmer exemplified the Prophet’s seership and the Lord’s intervention for the successful inauguration of the Restoration.

This was the first meeting between Joseph Smith and David Whitmer. As had happened with Oliver Cowdery, David and Joseph quickly became friends. Soon they were on their way to Fayette, some one hundred miles away. On this occasion Moroni took the plates to avoid danger while transporting them. Another unusual event occurred en route. It happened while they were riding along in the wagon. David Whitmer described the event:

“A very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, ‘good morning, it is very warm,’ at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and, by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, ‘No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around enquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared. …

“… It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony.”14

The group arrived in Fayette about the first of June. Emma, who had remained behind to care for the house in Harmony, soon joined her husband in Fayette. Meanwhile, the translating resumed at once. The Whitmer family was most gracious in providing for the needs of Joseph, Emma, and Oliver Cowdery.

While the translation progressed, the gospel was being taught in Seneca County, and Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer, Jr., were baptized in June for the remission of sins. Peter Whitmer’s three sons, David, John, and Peter, Jr., became devoted assistants in the work. Eager to learn of the Whitmers’ duties, Joseph sought the Lord, and a revelation was granted to each of them. Each was told to help in building the kingdom of God by declaring repentance (see D&C 14–16). All these activities were not easy on Peter and Mary Whitmer, who were hosting the Smiths and Oliver Cowdery in their home. Their son, David, said that this added burden greatly increased the anxiety of his mother. She did not complain, but she felt overwhelmed. David later related what happened one day as his mother went to the barn to milk the cows: “She was met out near the yard by the same old man [seen earlier by David] (judging by her description of him) who said to her: ‘You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.’ Thereupon he showed her the plates.”15This event strengthened Mary Whitmer and her family as they continued to support Joseph Smith and the important work he was engaged in.

Process of Translation

Little is known about the actual process of translating the record, primarily because those who knew the most about the translation, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, said the least about it. Moreover, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Emma Smith, who assisted Joseph, left no contemporary descriptions. The sketchy accounts they recorded much later in life were often contradictory.

The Prophet was reluctant to give the details about the translation. In a Church conference held 25–26 October 1831 in Orange, Ohio, Hyrum requested that a firsthand account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon be given. But the Prophet said, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.”16Joseph explained in an open letter to a newspaper editor in 1833 the heart of the matter, but he gave few particulars, stating that the Book of Mormon was “found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power of God.”17His explanation is consistent with the Doctrine and Covenants, which says that he was granted “power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon” (D&C 1:29) and that the Lord “gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon” (D&C 20:8).

Clearly the most important feature of the translation, as the title page of the Book of Mormon states, is “the interpretation thereof by the gift of God.” Moroni, the last custodian of the ancient text, challenged every reader of the Book of Mormon to learn through prayer the truthfulness of the book; he promised that by the power of the Holy Ghost all people could know that it was true (see Moroni 10:4–5). The Lord’s own testimony of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith “has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true” (D&C 17:6).

Some critics have suggested that Sidney Rigdon was a principal author of the Book of Mormon. They say that he used a romance by Solomon Spaulding called either Manuscript Found or Manuscript Story as a guide for the historical portions of this work. There is no evidence, however, that Sidney Rigdon knew Joseph Smith before the Book of Mormon was published. Elder Rigdon’s own testimony is that the first time he heard of the book was in October 1830 when a copy was handed to him by Parley P. Pratt (see pages 80–81 of this text). Solomon Spaulding’s manuscript was discovered in the 1880s, and it bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon. This obviously fabricated yet widely-propounded Spaulding-Rigdon theory is an attempt by Satan to discredit the word of God.

When Joseph Smith began translating in 1827, he evidently started with the book of Lehi from Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi (see heading to D&C 10). After the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript, Joseph apparently started with the book of Mosiah, also found on the large plates. He had just begun the book of Mosiah when Oliver Cowdery was sent to him in early April of 1829. Five weeks later, 15 May 1829, they were on 3 Nephi and the Savior’s sermon on baptism to the Nephites. Not until arriving at the Whitmer residence in Fayette did Joseph translate the small plates of Nephi, which contain 1 Nephi through the Words of Mormon. The Prophet was commanded to translate the small plates to replace the 116 lost pages (see D&C 10:43–45). In the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, John Whitmer’s work as a scribe only dealt with material from the small plates, thus substantiating this conclusion.18

Witnesses to the Book of Mormon

Very soon after Joseph Smith translated Nephi’s writings about the need for witnesses (see 2 Nephi 27:12–14; Ether 5), Martin Harris went to Fayette from Palmyra to ask about the progress of the translation. Martin along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer asked Joseph to pray and ask the Lord if they could be the promised witnesses. He did so and obtained a revelation in which they were told that if they exercised faith “with full purpose of heart” they would be granted the privilege of beholding the sacred plates, the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim used by the brother of Jared, and the Liahona—“the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness” (D&C 17:1). The Lord declared, “It is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old” (D&C 17:2). The Lord also told them that after viewing these items, they would be bound to testify of them to the world.

As soon as the translation was completed, Joseph Smith sent word to his parents in Manchester to come to the Whitmer home in Fayette. When they arrived, bringing Martin Harris, they spent a joyful evening reading from the manuscript. The next morning the prospective witnesses and the others who were staying with the Whitmers gathered in their usual morning devotional to read the scriptures and to sing and pray. Lucy Smith wrote, “Joseph arose from his knees, and approaching Martin Harris with a solemnity that thrills through my veins to this day, when it occurs to my recollection, said, ‘Martin Harris, you have got to humble yourself before God this day, that you may obtain a forgiveness of your sins. If you do, it is the will of God that you should look upon the plates, in company with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.’”19

Thereafter the four men retired to the woods and sought for the promised fulfillment of the revelation. After two unsuccessful attempts, however, Martin Harris felt that his presence was the reason for their failure to receive an answer. He withdrew a distance and offered his private prayers. The other three had no sooner resumed their prayers when Moroni appeared in glory holding the plates in his hands. Joseph recorded, “He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly. … We heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, ‘These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.’

“I now left David and Oliver, and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, whom I found at a considerable distance, fervently engaged in prayer. He soon told me, however, that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested me to join him in prayer, that he might also realize the same blessings which we had just received. We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view, at least it was again opened to me, and I once more beheld and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, ‘’Tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld.’”20

When Joseph returned to the Whitmer home, he told his parents of his relief that others had now seen the angel and the plates and would have to bear witness of these truths, saying, “Now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.”21The Three Witnesses testified of their experience: “We, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record. … And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.”22They went on to testify that the angel showed them the engravings on the plates. Their testimony has been included in each edition of the Book of Mormon since that time.

A few days later eight additional witnesses—faithful men who were close to the Prophet during the translation—were also chosen to see the plates. These eight men were Joseph Smith’s father, Joseph Smith, Sr.; Joseph’s brothers, Hyrum and Samuel; four of the Whitmer brothers—Christian, Jacob, Peter, and John; and a brother-in-law to the Whitmers, Hiram Page. Joseph was permitted to show them the plates near the Smith residence in Manchester when he was making arrangements for the printing of the book.23The Eight Witnesses testified that they handled and lifted the plates and saw the engravings on the individual leaves. Their testimony is also contained in all published editions of the Book of Mormon. Thus, according to the divine law of witnesses, the truth of the Book of Mormon is further substantiated and the inhabitants of the earth are held accountable for what is contained in it.

Each of the eleven special witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates went on to serve in important ecclesiastical positions in the restored Church. Five of them, the three Smiths and Christian and Peter Whitmer, Jr., died while they were actively involved in Church service. But each of the Three Witnesses—Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer—later turned away from the Church. John and Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page of the Eight Witnesses also fell away from the faith. None of these six, however, ever denied his witness, although they had many opportunities to do so. Each pointedly maintained the truthfulness of his testimony whenever asked about it. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris eventually returned to the Church and died in full fellowship.

Publication of the Book of Mormon

A few days after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery arrived in Fayette in June of 1829, Joseph felt he was far enough along in the translation that he should apply for a copyright. Accordingly, on 11 June, Joseph Smith filed for and was granted a copyright for the Book of Mormon by the Northern District of New York.24This secured the book from plagiarism.

As the work of translation drew to a close in late June, the Prophet turned his attention to the publication of the book. Repeated negotiations were held with Egbert B. Grandin, a twenty-three-year-old printer in Palmyra. A few sheets of the manuscript with the title page were submitted to him for an estimate of the cost. Grandin and his businessmen friends were reluctant to undertake the project of printing the “golden Bible,” as they called it. So Joseph and his companions went to Rochester where they contacted a prominent citizen and printer, Thurlow Weed, who turned them down because he did not believe Joseph’s account of the translation. They then visited Elihu F. Marshall also of Rochester who was willing to print and bind the manuscript, but his price was exorbitant. The brethren returned to Grandin and finally persuaded him to print the book if Martin Harris would sign a mortgage agreement guaranteeing payment for the printing through the sale of part of his Palmyra farm if necessary. By then the Prophet had received another bid from a Rochester printer, so Grandin agreed to publish. An agreement was made on 17 August 1829 to print five thousand copies for three thousand dollars.25This was an extremely large number of copies in those days, especially for a small local printer.

Joseph had learned an important lesson from the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript. He assigned Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith to supervise the printing while he returned to Harmony to be with Emma and care for his temporal concerns. He also left them with strict instructions to produce a second manuscript for the printer and to keep the original at the Smith home for security. Accordingly, Oliver prepared a printer’s copy of the manuscript.26For security reasons this manuscript was taken piecemeal to Grandin’s printshop as the work proceeded. For several months Hyrum made almost daily trips to the printer’s shop to oversee the work.

With such a process it is understandable how a few transcribing and printing errors could creep into the book. Moreover, the original manuscripts contained no punctuation or paragraphing. With the permission of Hyrum Smith, Grandin’s typesetter, John H. Gilbert, provided the punctuation and paragraphing. The 1837 edition, prepared by Parley P. Pratt, and the 1840 edition, carefully prepared by the Prophet himself, corrected most of the early printing errors and revised some of Gilbert’s work.

During the printing of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery “learned the printing business in the office of E.B. Grandin, setting much of the type for the book by his own hands.”28

Opposition to the new scripture surfaced even before the printing was completed. Abner Cole used Grandin’s building and press on Sundays and evenings to publish his Palmyra Reflector under the pseudonym Obediah Dogberry. He considered the Book of Mormon rubbish; and with his access to the printer’s manuscript, he pilfered a few pages and began to publish them. One Sunday in December, Hyrum and Oliver felt uneasy and went into town to the printing office where they found Cole feverishly working on an extract from the Book of Mormon.

They ordered him to desist because they held a legal copyright, but he defied them and published extracts in the Reflector . Joseph Smith, Sr., immediately went to tell the Prophet and bring him back to Palmyra. Upon his arrival Joseph demanded that Cole stop his literary piracy. Cole wanted to fist fight, but the Prophet remained levelheaded, and reason prevailed. The last installment appeared in the 22 January 1830 issue.29

Cole’s mockery reflected the general feeling in Palmyra at the time. A number of people held a meeting and passed resolutions not to purchase the book when it came from the press. When Grandin grew nervous, Joseph returned to Palmyra to reassure him that the printing costs would be paid.30Martin Harris, fearing that he might lose his farm if the Book of Mormon did not sell, approached the Prophet and requested guidance. By revelation Martin was commanded not to “covet” his own property, but to “impart it freely” for the purpose of covering the costs of printing the Book of Mormon (see D&C 19:26). One hundred and fifty-one acres of Martin Harris’s farm were sold at a public auction in April 1831 to pay off Mr. Grandin. This sacrifice made the printing of the Book of Mormon possible.31The Wayne Sentinel announced that the first copies of the Book of Mormon would be available for public sale on 26 March 1830.

The Book of Mormon represents the mind and will of God for the people of these last days. Our generation is privileged to have the Lord’s own assessment of this great book:

The Book of Mormon “contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;

“Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—

“Proving to the world that the holy scriptures [the Holy Bible] are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old” (D&C 20:9–11).

Events Associated with the Publication of the Book of Mormon

11 June 1829 . Copyright for the Book of Mormon was obtained.

1 July 1829 . Translation of the Book of Mormon was completed.

July 1829 . Oliver Cowdery began making the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon.

17 August 1829 . Joseph Smith and Martin Harris contracted with Egbert Grandin to publish five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon.

August 1829 . Oliver Cowdery delivered the first pages of manuscript to the printer. Typesetting commenced and the first uncut sheets came off the press. Stephen Harding was given the first title page.

25 August 1829 . Martin Harris mortgaged his farm for three thousand dollars to pay for the printing.

October 1829 . Joseph Smith returned to Harmony, Pennsylvania.

6 November 1829 . Oliver wrote to Joseph explaining that the printing was delayed because of sickness and because Grandin was waiting for additional type. Oliver was up to Alma 36in the printer’s manuscript.

2 January 1830 . Abner Cole illegally published extracts of the Book of Mormon in his Reflector newspaper.

16 January 1830 . Joseph Smith, Sr., and Martin Harris entered an agreement that they would have equal privilege in selling the Book of Mormon until Grandin was paid.

January 1830 . Grandin stopped printing because of a threatened boycott of the Book of Mormon. Joseph returned to Palmyra from Harmony to deal with Cole and to convince Grandin to complete the printing.

19 March 1830 . Wayne Sentinel advertised that the Book of Mormon would be ready for sale in a week.

26 March 1830 . Wayne Sentinel advertised that the Book of Mormon was for sale.

Time Line

Date

 

Significant Event

Fall 1828

Joseph Smith again received the plates and the Urim and Thummim

7 Apr. 1829

Joseph resumed translation with the help of Oliver Cowdery

15 May 1829

John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood

May–June 1829

Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood

1 June 1829

Joseph and Oliver moved to Fayette to complete the translation

Fall 1829–Winter 1830

The Book of Mormon first printed in Palmyra

26 Mar. 1830

The Book of Mormon went on sale in Palmyra

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver Cowdery (1806–50)

Joseph and Oliver translating

Painting by Del Parson of Joseph and Oliver translating.

Smith home in Harmony

Joseph and Emma Smith’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. The center portion is the original home. This is where Emma gave birth to their first child, Alvin, who died the same day, 15 June 1828.

Here Joseph Smith translated a large portion of the Book of Mormon. While living in Harmony, the Prophet received several revelations (see D&C 3–13, 24–27).

map of Harmony

In Harmony, Joseph and Emma resided with her parents until Isaac Hale became angry because Joseph would not let him see the plates. Joseph and Emma then purchased a home with 13 1/2 acres of land from Emma’s brother, Jesse Hale, for two hundred dollars. It was a long narrow strip that ran south to the Susquehanna River.

The Aaronic Priesthood was likely restored on the banks of the river somewhere on the Smith property or nearby. Between 1947–56 the Church purchased three parcels of land in this area to obtain as much of the original site as possible. In 1960 a monument was erected near the Joseph Smith homestead commemorating the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood.

Isaac and Elizabeth Hale gravestone

Emma’s parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, are buried in McKune Cemetery. Joseph and Emma’s first son, Alvin, is also buried there.

Isaac Hale’s tombstone reads, “ISAAC HALE died Jan. 11, 1839, age 75 yrs. 10 mo. & 10 ds.

“The body of Isaac Hale, the Hunter, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out, and stript of its lettering and guilding, lies here food for worms, yet the work itself shall not be lost for it will as he believed: appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and ammended.”

Elizabeth Hale’s tombstone reads, “ELIZABETH, wife of Isaac Hale Died Feb. 16, 1842, aged 75 years 2 mo. & 28 ds.”

Hyrum Smith

Hyrum Smith (1800–1844) was the older brother of the Prophet Joseph. He was martyred with this brother in Carthage, Illinois, in June of 1844.

David Whitmer

David Whitmer (1805–88) was one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He died in Richmond, Missouri, at the age of eighty-four.

Book of Mormon manuscript page

This is a portion of the Book of Mormon manuscript in the handwriting of John Whitmer. He was one of the people who served as a scribe to the Prophet during the Book of Mormon translation.

The Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon Plates

Name

Date of Birth

Place of Birth

Age When Shown Plates

Occupation

Death

Christian Whitmer

18 January 1798

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

31 years

Shoemaker

27 November 1835
Clay County, Missouri
Remained faithful

Jacob Whitmer

27 January 1800

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

29 years

Shoemaker

21 April 1856
Richmond, Missouri

Peter Whitmer, Jr.

27 September 1809

Fayette, New York

19 years

Tailor
Farmer

22 September 1836
Liberty, Clay County, Missouri
Remained faithful

John Whitmer

27 August 1802

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

26 years

Farmer

11 July 1878
Far West, Missouri

Hiram Page

1800

Vermont

29 years

Physician
Farmer

12 August 1852
Excelsior Springs, Missouri

Joseph Smith, Sr.

12 July 1771

Topsfield, Essex County, Massachusetts

57 years

Farmer

14 September 1840
Nauvoo, Illinois
Remained faithful

Hyrum Smith

9 February 1800

Tunbridge, Vermont

29 years

Farmer

27 June 1844
Carthage, Illinois
Remained faithful

Samuel H. Smith

13 March 1808

Tunbridge, Vermont

21 years

Farmer

30 July 1844
Nauvoo, Illinois
Remained faithful

copyright certificate

Original manuscript copyright of the Book of Mormon. Richard R. Lansing, clerk of the federal district court, prepared two copies of the application for the copyright of the Book of Mormon. One is housed in the Church archives and the second in the Library of Congress.

Egbert B. Grandin

Egbert Bratt Grandin (1806–45). At the age of eighteen, Grandin had begun to learn the printing trade at Palmyra’s weekly newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel. By the time the Book of Mormon manuscript was taken to him for publication, he was well acquainted with the printing business. This is an 1843 portrait by Alonzo Parks.

E. B. Grandin journal

This is an excerpt from E. B. Grandin’s journal begun in January 1831. This entry, dated 14 July 1831, records that he “spent most of day in moving Gold Bibles from Mr. [Luther] Howard’s Bindery to my Bookstore.”

storefront of Grandin print shop

The Grandin shop is identifiable by the two carriages parked in front. The Book of Mormon was printed on the third floor.

old press

This is the “Smith press,” which was used to print the Book of Mormon. Grandin probably acquired it about six months before he began the work. The Church purchased the press in 1906.

Setting type, printing, and binding was arduous labor. Each character or spacer was picked by hand from the type case and set in forms which held eight pages. The type was inked, and large sheets of paper were placed in a frame and positioned over the type. Pulling on a lever lowered the heavy iron platen onto the paper and type.

This process was repeated five thousand times, and each sheet was hung up to dry. Then eight more pages of type were set. The reverse side of the page was then printed. The resulting sixteen pages were folded and sewed into the book and trimmed to size when it was bound. This sixteen page unit is called a signature. It took approximately thirty-five signatures to complete the Book of Mormon.27

The signatures were folded in half three times and stacked. When the printing was complete the signatures were collated, sewn, pressed, glued, and trimmed before the binding was added. For binding, pieces of “cover-board” were covered with white paper and attached to the book. Then thin leather was glued on the outside and gold letters tooled onto it.

uncut sheet from first Book of Mormon

In August 1829, Stephen S. Harding visited Palmyra to see relatives and friends. While he was there, his cousin Pomeroy Tucker, foreman of the Grandin printing operation, gave him the title page and first uncut sheet of the Book of Mormon. Later, as a prominent figure in Indiana politics, he frequently entertained Mormon missionaries on their way to and from the West and showed them the document.

On 8 August 1847, Harding gave the sheet to Robert Campbell, who brought it to Utah. Harding became Lincoln’s appointee as Utah territorial governor in 1861. Upon his arrival in Utah, Campbell met him and asked if he would verify the importance of the document. He did so with an inscription in the upper right corner that reads: “This is the first impression thrown off from the form, on which was printed the Book of Mormon; and handed to me by the Pressman, in the Village of Palmyra New York.” The statement is signed S. S. Harding.

John Hulburd Gilbert, Jr.

John Hulburd Gilbert, Jr. (1802–95), typesetter for the Book of Mormon. Since there was very little punctuation in the original manuscript, Gilbert punctuated a major portion of the book during the printing process. Once Gilbert gained the confidence of Hyrum and Oliver, he was allowed to take the printer’s manuscript home with him for several nights and punctuate it with his pencil.

This photo was taken in 1892 when Gilbert was ninety years old.

written contract between Joseph Smith and Martin Harris

In this agreement, signed 16 January 1830, Joseph Smith, Sr., agreed that the first profits from the sale of the Book of Mormon were to go to Martin Harris toward payment of the printer, thus relieving him of the full burden of payment. Nevertheless, Martin had to sell 151 acres of land in 1831 to meet the debt.

newspaper advertisement for Book of Mormon

On 19 March 1830 the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra ran an advertisement that said, “We are requested to announce that the ‘Book of Mormon’ will be ready for sale in the course of a week.” On 26 March 1830 another advertisement appeared in the same newspaper indicating when the Book of Mormon went on sale.

Show References

    Endnotes

  1.   1.

    Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), p. 137.

  2.   2.

    Joseph Smith, 1832 History, p. 5, cited in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), p. 8; punctuation standardized.

  3.   3.

    Smith, History of Joseph Smith, p. 138.

  4.   4.

    In Smith, History of Joseph Smith, p. 139.

  5.   5.

    History of the Church, 1:32.

  6.   6.

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, p. 14; capitalization standardized; see also Joseph Smith—History 1:71n (LDS edition).

  7.   7.

    In Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, p. 15; spelling standardized; see also Joseph Smith—History 1:71n (LDS edition).

  8.   8.

    History of the Church, 1:44.

  9.   9.

    See Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, p. 33.

  10.   10.

    See History of the Church, 1:48–49; Millennial Star, 9 Dec. 1878, p. 772; Millennial Star, 4 July 1881, pp. 422–23.

  11.   11.

    In Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, p. 148.

  12.   12.

    See Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp. 148–49.

  13.   13.

    See “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star, 9 Dec. 1878, p. 772.

  14.   14.

    “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” p. 772.

  15.   15.

    “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” pp. 772–73; spelling standardized.

  16.   16.

    Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), p. 23; capitalization standardized.

  17.   17.

    History of the Church, 1:315.

  18.   18.

    See Stan Larson, “‘A Most Sacred Possession’: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Sept. 1977, p. 90.

  19.   19.

    Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp. 151–52.

  20.   20.

    History of the Church, 1:54–55.

  21.   21.

    In Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, p. 152.

  22.   22.

    “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” in the Book of Mormon.

  23.   23.

    See History of the Church, 1:58.

  24.   24.

    See History of the Church, 1:58–59, 71.

  25.   25.

    See History of the Church, 1:71.

  26.   26.

    See History of the Church, 1:75.

  27.   27.

    See “Historic Discoveries at the Grandin Building,” Ensign, July 1980, pp. 49–50.

  28.   28.

    Wayne County Journal, Lyons, New York, 6 May 1875; information obtained from Donald E. Enders, Joseph Smith, Sr., Family in Palmyra/Manchester, New York, research file, Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1989; spelling standardized.

  29.   29.

    See Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp. 164–66; Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), pp. 108–9; Russell R. Rich, “The Dogberry Papers and the Book of Mormon,” Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1970, pp. 315–20.

  30.   30.

    See Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, pp. 166–67.

  31.   31.

    See Wayne C. Gunnell, “Martin Harris—Witness and Benefactor to the Book of Mormon,” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1955, pp. 37–40.