Richard Anderson: All eleven Book of Mormon witnesses publicly reaffirmed their testimony as printed
Richard Anderson described multiple accounts of all the Witnesses bearing testimony and reaffirming their published testimony:
The three Smiths who formally gave their names as seeing and handling the plates were the Prophet’s father, Joseph Smith, Sr.; the Prophet’s older brother, Hyrum; and his immediately younger brother, Samuel Harrison. They sometimes joined the other Book of Mormon witnesses to reaffirm their testimony printed in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon regarding lifting and turning the leaves of the plates. After quoting the published statements of the Three and Eight Witnesses, and describing the experience of the latter group, Lucy Smith relates, “The ensuing evening, we held a meeting, in which all the witnesses bore testimony to the facts as stated above.” Two years later, in the period of dynamic preaching of the early elders, a conference was held near Cleveland, Ohio, remembered by Luke Johnson as follows: “At this conference the eleven witnesses to the Book of Mormon, with uplifted hands, bore their solemn testimony to the truth of that book, as did also the Prophet Joseph.”
Did the Three Witnesses consider Joseph Smith a “fallen prophet” after they left the Church?
Some of the Three Witnesses considered Joseph Smith to be a “fallen prophet” after they left the Church
The Three Witnesses left the Church for a variety of reasons, among with was the initiation of the practice of polygamy. David Whitmer felt that Joseph had restored the true Church, but that he had ultimately taken the Church in directions that he shouldn’t have. Yet, all three of the witnesses never denied their testimony of the plates and the angel.
If the witnesses felt that Joseph had perpetuated a scam, they would have exposed it after their falling out with him
Just following their excommunication from the Church, Thomas B. Marsh approached Cowdery and Whitmer about their witness. If there was any time for them to deny their witness, this was it:
I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to the testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.
The witnesses had every reason to recant their experience, and no reason to lie to support either themselves, or Joseph Smith, with whom they were at odds for many years. The only compelling reason for persisting with their story was their essential honesty and honor, and their conviction that they had indeed seen the angel and the plates, and heard the voice of God.
The charge that the witnesses abandoned their testimonies is groundless: they did not recant their story, even when given ample opportunity to do so. There is abundant evidence that the witnesses remained faithful to their testimonies. It is even more impressive that all of them left the Church, and for many years expressed extremely bitter feelings toward Joseph Smith and the Church. Despite this, they continued to insist that their experience was real and undeniable.
Did the Witnesses who left the Church continue to maintain their witness of the Book of Mormon?
All of the Three Witnesses and three of the Eight Witnesses left the Church in 1838 and were hostile, at least for a time, against Joseph Smith. Yet, they clung to their witness and continued to affirm it
Oliver would later return to the Church and seek rebaptism.
During his estrangement from the Church, he insisted upon his witness as true.
Also see the article Oliver Cowdery statements as one of the Three Witnesses
Martin Harris would later return to the Church and seek rebaptism.
During his estrangement from the Church, he insisted upon his witness as true, and sought to bear his witness often.
Also see the article Martin Harris statements as one of the Three Witnesses
David Whitmer never returned to the Church, but left an extensive record validating his testimony. When Thomas B. Marsh, an excommunicated apostle, approached Whitmer and Cowdery to learn “the real truth” about the Book of Mormon (since they, like him, were now excommunicated and hostile to it) Marsh reported:
I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.
Also see the article David Whitmer statements as one of the Three Witnesses
Hiram Page never returned to the Church, but continued to bear his witness. Even when approached by the excommunicated William McLellin, Page replied:
As to the Book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself, and to the work of God of the last days, to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830, and know the same thing to be false in 1847.
Also see the article Hiram Page statements as one of the Eight Witnesses
Jacob Whitmer never returned to the Church, but bore his testimony on his deathbed, with no record of denial.
Also see the article Jacob Whitmer statements as one of the Eight Witnesses
John Whitmer never returned to the Church, but maintained his testimony as the second-longest lived witness (after his brother David Whitmer).
When asked how he could leave in view of his testimony of the plates’ literal reality, John rationalized his choice to disbelieve the translation of the Book of Mormon (despite knowing that the plates were literal and physical):
I cannot read it, and I do not know whether it is true or not.
Whitmer would not, then, deny what he had seen and hefted, even when estranged from Joseph and the Church.
After leaving the Church, John said:
It may not be amiss in this place, to give a statement to the world concerning the work of the Lord, as I have been a member of this church of Latter Day Saints from its beginning; to say that the book of Mormon is a revelation from God, I have no hesitancy; but with all confidence have signed my named to it as such; and I hope, that my patrons will indulge me in speaking freely on this subject, as I am about leaving the editorial department. Therefore I desire to testify to all that will come to the knowledge of this address; that I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the book of Mormon is translated, and that I have handled these plates, and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, jr. has translated the book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, and in this thing the wisdom of the wise most assuredly has perished: therefore, know ye, O ye inhabitants of the earth, wherever this address may come, that I have in this thing freed my garments of your blood, whether you believe or disbelieve the statements of your unworthy friend and well-wisher.
Also see the article John Whitmer statements as one of the Eight Witnesses
Did Oliver Cowdery ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?
There is a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that Oliver never denied his testimony, even after his disagreements with Joseph Smith
As a lawyer, while writing to Phineas Young, Oliver said:
I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest.
Surely Oliver’s concern for his testimony included his testimony as a witness.
Eventually Oliver left the law practice he had started after leaving the Church, and journeyed to Kanesville, Iowa, with his wife and daughter and finally reunited with the Church in 1848. Before he was baptized he bore his testimony to the congregation that had gathered for a conference.
I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. …It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high.
Oliver rejoined the Church and prepared to journey to Utah to unite with the main body of the Latter-day Saints but he died while living temporarily in Richmond, Missouri. Oliver Cowdery had contracted tuberculosis. In March 1850, while on his deathbed, Oliver used his dying breaths to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Lucy P. Young, his half-sister, was at his bedside and reported:
Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle.
In November 1881, over 30 years after Oliver’s death, his former law partner Judge W. Lang claimed in a letter that Oliver had admitted that the Book of Mormon was a fraud. Lang’s letter claimed that the Book of Mormon was derived from the Spalding manuscript by Oliver, and that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith approved the final draft. This claim cannot be considered credible for a number of reasons, among them the fact that the Spalding manuscript bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon (something even the critics agree with), and the fact that Sidney Rigdon was never associated with Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. The basis for Lang’s claim seems to be the standard Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship.
What did Oliver Cowdery say about his witness experience after Joseph died?
Oliver continued to affirm his witness experience after Joseph’s death
As a lawyer, well after he had left the Church and two years after Joseph’s death, Oliver wrote the following to Phineas Young:
I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest. 
Did Martin Harris ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?
Even after Martin Harris had left the Church and was openly criticizing Church leadership, he still held to his testimony of the Book of Mormon
See the FAQ question What were Martin Harris’ “Eye of Faith” and “Spiritual Eye” statements?
When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: “Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.”
An LDS author reported in 1870:
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 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 are 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 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 crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin 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 the brightness of day.”
And, at his death, Harris reported:
The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.
Did David Whitmer ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?
David Whitmer was very vocal about his testimony of the Book of Mormon up until the end of his life, even though he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophetThroughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen. When one anti-Mormon lectured in David’s hometown, branding David as disreputable, the local (non-Mormon) paper responded with “a spirited front-page editorial unsympathetic with Mormonism but insistent on ‘the forty six years of private citizenship on the part of David Whitmer, in Richmond, without stain or blemish.’”
…The following year the editor penned a tribute on the eightieth birthday of David Whitmer, who “with no regrets for the past” still “reiterates that he saw the glory of the angel.”
This is the critical issue of the life of David Whitmer. During fifty years in non-Mormon society, he insisted with the fervor of his youth that he knew that the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed. Relatively few people in Richmond could wholly accept such testimony, but none doubted his intelligence or complete honesty.
David Whitmer—like the other witnesses—had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. One observer remembers when David was such accused, and said:
How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: ‘No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!’
When another anti-Mormon published an article claiming that David had denied his testimony, David printed a “proclamation” testifying to the truth of the Book of Mormon and reiterating the fact that he had never denied that testimony. He wrote:
It is recorded in the American Cyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the Three Witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon: and that the two other witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that book. I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery nor Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. They both died affirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Apostate William E. McLellin wrote:
I saw him [David Whitmer] June 1879, and heard him bear his solemn testimony to the truth of the book—as sincerely and solemnly as when he bore it to me in Paris, Ill. in July 1831.
Following Whitmer’s death the Richmond Conservator wrote:
On Sunday evening before his death he called the family and his attending physician, Dr. George W. Buchanan, to his bedside and said, “Doctor do you consider that I am in my right mind?” to which the Doctor replied, “Yes, you are in your right mind, I have just had a conversation with you.” He then addressed himself to all present and said: “I want to give my dying testimony. You must be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all that the Bible and the record of the Nephites, (The Book of Mormon) are true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony on my death bed….
On Monday morning he again called those present to his bedside, and told them that he had seen another vision which reconfirmed the divinity of the “Book of Mormon,” and said that he had seen Christ in the fullness of his glory and majesty, sitting upon his great white throne in heaven waiting to receive his children.
The Richmond Democrat also added this comment:
Skeptics may laugh and scoff if they will, but no man can listen to Mr. Whitmer as he talks of his interview with the Angel of the Lord, without being most forcibly convinced that he has heard an honest man tell what he honestly believes to be true.
Did Oliver Cowdery privately admit to his law partner that the Book of Mormon was actually a hoax?
William Lang’s letter repeats the standard Spalding theory and disingenuously assigns this claim to Oliver Cowdery
It is claimed that Oliver Cowdery admitted to his law partner that the Book of Mormon was a hoax, and that it was derived from the Spalding manuscript.
If not among the forgeries promulgated by Robert Neal, William Lang’s letter repeats the standard Spalding theory and disingenuously assigns this claim to Oliver Cowdery, who had been dead for over thirty years and was not available to rebut the claim.
Letter from Judge W. Lang
The following letter was published in an anti-Mormon flyer in November 1881. The letter is said to have been written by Judge W. Lang, a law partner of Oliver Cowdery during the period between his excommunication and re-baptism. The entire letter is reproduced below:
TIFFIN, O., Nov. 5, 1881,
DEAR SIR: — Your note of the 1st inst. I found upon my desk when I returned home this evening and I hasten to answer. Once for all, I desire to be strictly understood when I say to you that I cannot violate any confidence of a friend, though he be dead.
This I will say, that Mr. Cowdery never spoke of his connection with the Mormons to anybody except to me. We were intimate friends.
The plates were never translated and could not be, were never intended to be. What is claimed to be a translation is the “Manuscript Found” worked over by Cowdery. He was the best scholar amongst them. Rigdon got the original at the job printing office in Pittsburg, as I have stated. I often expressed my objection to the frequent repetition of “And it came to pass” to Mr. Cowdery, and said that a true scholar ought to have avoided that, which only provoked a smile from Cowdery. Without going into detail or disclosing a confided word, I say to you that I do know, as well as can now be known, that Cowdery revised the “manuscript,” and Smith and Rigdon approved of it before it became the “Book of Mormon.”
I have no knowledge of what became of the original. Never heard Cowdery say as to that.
Smith was killed while Cowdery lived here. I well remember the effect upon his countenance when he read the news in my presence. He immediately took the paper over home to read to his wife. On his return to the office we had a long conversation on the subject, and I was surprised to hear him speak with so much kindness of a man that had so wronged him as Smith did. It elevated him greatly in my already high esteem, and proved to me more than ever the nobility of his nature. Cowdery never gave me a full history of the troubles of the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois, but I am sure that the doctrine of polygamy was advocated by Smith and opposed by Cowdery.
Then when they became rivals for the leadership, Smith made use of this opposition by Cowdery, to destroy his popularity and influence, which finally culminated in the mob that demolished Cowdery’s house the night when he fled.
This Whitmer you speak of must be the brother-in-law of Cowdery, whose wife was a Whitmer. It may be true that Whitmer has the original MS.
Now as to whether Cowdery ever “openly denounced Mormonism,” let me say this to you: No man ever knew better than he how to keep one’s own counsel. He would never allow any man to drag him into a conversation on the subject. Cowdery was a Democrat and a most powerful advocate of the principles of the party on the stump. For this he became the target of the Whig stumpers and press, who denounced him as a Mormon and made free use of Cowdery’s certificate * at the end of the Mormon Bible to crush his influence. He suffered great abuse for this, while he lived here on that account.
In the second year of his residence here, he and his family attached themselves to the Methodist Protestant Church, where they held fellowship to the time they left for Elkhorn.
I have now said about all that I feet at liberty to say on these points, and hope it may aid you some in your researches. If Mrs. Cowdery is still living, I would be glad to learn her post-office address, so as to enable me to write to her.
You have now the substance of all I remember on the subject and if it proves of any benefit to your enterprise (to which I wish you success), you are certainly welcome. I could only answer your questions in the manner I did, because some of them were not susceptible of a direct answer by me.
Respectfully yours, W. LANG.
There are a number of items mentioned in the letter which make this claim suspect
- The letter was written over thirty years after Oliver Cowdery’s death.
- The idea that Oliver would claim that the Book of Mormon was derived from the Spalding’s “Manuscript found.” This claim was made by Lang in 1881, while the Spalding theory still had some traction. The theory collapsed three years later in 1884 with the discovery of Spalding’s manuscript. The primary support for the Spalding theory were the affidavits collected by Doctor Phiastus Hurlbut from Solomon Spalding’s family and neighbors published in E.D. Howe’s 1834 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. With the discovery that the Spalding manuscript did not support their theory, critics postulated the existence of a second Spalding manuscript in order to explain the affidavits of Spalding’s neighbors. Critic Fawn Brodie actually discounted these affidavits, suggesting that some “judicious prompting” by Hurlbut may have been involved in the affidavits that were gathered to support the Spalding theory. 
- The idea that Sidney Rigdon obtained the Spalding manuscript while in Pittsburgh. Sidney Rigdon did not meet Joseph Smith until after he saw the Book of Mormon for the first time. There is absolutely no source which indicates a connection between Sidney and Joseph prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon.
- The author’s insistence that he cannot “violate any confidence of a friend, though he be dead,” yet share a detail which would be as devastating as this, then conclude by saying that he “really can’t say much more “[w]ithout going into detail or disclosing a confided word” of his friend. Lang even covers the fact that Oliver never said this to anyone else by claiming that “Mr. Cowdery never spoke of his connection with the Mormons to anybody except to me.”
The 1881 letter is no longer extant and there is reason to believe that all or part of the letter is a forgery
The 1881 letter is no longer extant and there is reason to believe that all or part of the letter is a forgery. After reviewing claims made about the letter’s provenance, Spalding theory researcher Dale Broadhurst concludes, “Judge Lang’s purported 1881 reference to Solomon Spalding’s Manuscript Found should be viewed with a modicum of scholarly distrust.” Broadhurst proposes a scenario where William Lang’s surviving son could have been duped into authenticating the handwriting and reproduction of the letter.
It seems unlikely that two Spalding theorists (William Lang and Thomas Gregg) suppressed Oliver’s devastating admission in their own publications. A third Spalding theorist, Rev. Robert B. Neal, printed the 1881 letter between the first two only after their deaths. In the same 1906 tract, Neal also published the known forgery Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-day Saints. That he pointed out his sensational Oliver Cowdery material to his readers specifically to raise money may indicate an additional motive for fabricating evidence.
As noted, William Lang’s own writings published in his lifetime do not use Oliver Cowdery to support the Spalding theory. Lang’s 1880 History of Seneca County mentions Cowdery multiple times. For example, Lang became a legal apprentice to Cowdery soon after his 1840 move to Tiffin, Ohio (p. 387). In a lengthy appendix on Mormonism (p 646- ), Lang makes a reference to Cowdery being “a respected citizen” who had lived there, and a few paragraphs later introduces the Spalding theory without using Cowdery as a source. He also has a two-page biography (p. 364-5) about Oliver Cowdery where he hints that “Cowdery had more to do with the production of the Mormon Bible than its history ever gave him credit for,” but nothing connects Oliver to the Spalding manuscript.
The supposed recipient of the letter, Thomas Gregg, was a long time newspaper publisher in the Hancock, Illinois, area. His intermittent associate in the newspaper business, Thomas Sharp, had played a large role in stirring up anti-Mormons to kill Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Frank Worrell, Gregg’s brother-in-law, had failed to protect the Smiths as a guard at Carthage jail and was later shot by the deputized Porter Rockwell at the behest of the non-Mormon sheriff, Jacob Backenstos. Many of his publications over a 50-year span set forth his less-than-impartial version of Mormon history. For example, his 1880 History of Hancock county contained a lengthy Mormon section. More to the point, in 1890 he published the 550 page The Prophet of Palmyra. Gregg’s biographer describes it thusly:
It is not so much a biography of Smith as a history of the Latter Day Saints’ Church from the appearance of The Book of Mormon through the exodus from Illinois. Here, too, Gregg’s attitude toward the Prophet and other Mormon leaders is consistently negative. He views The Book of Mormon as a carefully planned deception, based partly on Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Found (c. 1813), and he relies on a number of Mormon exposes – such as E. D. Howe’s Mormonism Unveiled (1834) and William Harris’s Mormonism Portrayed -for information about Smith.
Despite a desire to defend and document the Spalding theory, Thomas Gregg did not print William Lang’s supposed 1881 letter. This may point to the letter being a forgery. An alternative is that Gregg found it unethical to print the letter because it betrayed confidential information or was deemed not credible enough. Robert Neal was clearly less burdened by ethical considerations or less discerning about what he published. None of these proposed scenarios inspires any confidence that Oliver, did in fact, retract his testimony of the Book of Mormon to William Lang in private and to no one else.
Oliver Cowdery made many statements during his life, even during the period during which he had been excommunicated from the church, in which he confirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon
Oliver Cowdery made many statements during his life, even during the period during which he had been excommunicated from the church, in which he confirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Oliver even testified of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as he was dying.
Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle. 
This is not consistent with Lang’s story of a man who readily admitted to a hoax of the magnitude that he suggests.
What did the Book of Mormon witnesses say about the faithfulness of other witnesses?
Some Book of Mormon witnesses emphasized that they had never renounced their testimony, and insisted that they had never heard other witnesses do so either.
- John Whimter: “I have never heard that any one of the three, or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon.”
- David H. Cannon: The thing which impressed me most of all was, as we stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery the other Witness, who had come back into the Church before his death, and [David Whitmer] in describing Oliver[‘]s action, when bearing his testimony, said to the people in his room, placing his hands like this upon his head, saying ‘I know the Gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter[,] James and John laid their hands and confer[r]ed the Holy Melchisedic Priesthood.’ 
- David Whitmer, interview with James H. Hart: “Mr Whitmer felt very indignant while speaking of certain statements published recently to the effect that he and Oliver Cowdery had denied their statement as published in the Book of Mormon. This he denounced as false in every particular. He said: “Oliver never wavered in his testimony, and when he was on his death bed, I was there, with many of his friends, until he passed away. He bore the same testimony on his dying bed that he had always borne through life, and earnestly called upon all to cleave to the truth revealed through the Prophet Joseph, and to serve the Lord. As for myself, I have never denied my testimony that is published in the Book of Mormon, for I know that God has revealed these things for the salvation of the children of men, and to Him belongs all the honor, the power and the glory.”
- Said Oliver Cowdery of a testimony by John Whitmer: “A thousand things may be conjectured, but when a man declares openly, candidly, and seriously, of what he has seen, hefted and handled with his own hands, and taht in the presence of a God who sees and knows the secrets of the heart, no man possessed of common reason and common sense, can doubt, or will be so vain as to dispute.”
Also see the FAQ questions What was the experience of the Eight Witnesses viewing the “gold” plates? and
What about Oliver Cowdery's 1839 Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints?
This is a document, critical of Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling, that purports to have been published in 1839 by Oliver Cowdery. The earliest copies in existence are dated 1906. The document was “discovered” by the Reverend R. B. Neal, who was a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association. No references to this document exist prior to 1906. This document was believed to be authentic for many years, until it was discovered that it consists primarily of three sources:
- A selection of Cowdery’s phrases taken from various issues of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate that were removed from their original context and inserted into statements that are not Oliver’s
- Criticisms of Joseph Smith borrowed from David Whitmer’s 1887 An Address to All Believers in Christ
- Original material (i.e., written by the forger) in which most of the serious attacks on Joseph Smith are to be found.
Historians now agree that the 1906 document is a forgery.
Richard Lloyd Anderson summarized the difficulties with the provenance of the document in an Ensign article in 1987:
In 1906 the “mountain evangelist” R. B. Neal, a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association, published a document with much fanfare but without evidence of the document’s authenticity. Reverend Neal claimed that the publication was a reprint of an 1839 document explaining Oliver Cowdery’s apostasy: Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints. “No more important document has been unearthed since I have been engaged in this warfare,” R. B. Neal asserted. With such convictions, one can be sure that Reverend Neal would have produced evidence to prove that the original actually existed. But all we have is his 1906 first printing, which is silent about why no one had ever heard of the document until a half century after Oliver Cowdery’s death.
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, April 1987.
Ronald Huggins has recently summarized the problems with the content of the document:
This makes it all but certain that the Defence was plagiarized from the Messenger and Advocate. The only way someone could make a case for its authenticity at this stage would be to prove that Cowdery was in the regular habit of plundering phrases and paragraphs from his earlier writings and dropping them without rhyme or reason into his later ones.
—Ronald V. Huggins, “Jerald Tanner’s Quest for Truth – Part 3,” Salt Lake City Messenger, Issue 111 (November 2008)
A detailed analysis showing the reliance of the forged Cowdery document on the two historical sources is presented below.
Comparison against sources
The text of the alleged Cowdery document was produced using a combination of phrases written by Oliver Cowdery in the Messenger and Advocate during the time that he was editor, and a rephrasing of information from David Whitmer’s An Address to All Believers in Christ.
|Cowdery’s alleged “Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints”||Source text and/or commentary||Actual source|
|Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints
By Oliver Cowdery
Second Elder of the Church of Christ
|This Defence is not protected by a copyright, as I wish no man to be confined alone to my permission in printing what is meant for the eyes and knowledge of the nations of the earth.||The author desires this work circulated as much as possible, and will grant the Privilege of reproduction to any reliable house that will make application to him.||David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).|
|“God doth not walk in crooked paths; Neither doth he turn to the right hand, Nor the left; neither doth he vary From that which he hath said.”|
|Pressley’s Job Office, Norton, Ohio, 1839||There was no “Pressley’s Job Office” in Norton Ohio|
|DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD:-I offer you a “Defence” which I am grieved to make, but my opposers have put me to the necessity, and so far as my memory serves, I pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account.|
|I deny that I have ever conspired with any, or ever exerted any influence to destroy the reputation of the First Elder, although evidence which is to be credited assures me that he has done everything he could to injure my standing and his influence has been considerably exerted to destroy my reputation and, I fear, my life.||While employed here he became acquainted with the family of Isaac Hale, of whom you read in several of the productions of those who have sought to destroy the validity of the book of Mormon. It may be necessary hereafter, to refer you more particularly to the conduct of this family, as their influence has been considerably exerted to destroy the reputation of our brother, probably because he married a daughter of the same contrary to some of their wishes||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:200.|
|You will remember in the meantime, that those who seek to vilify my character have been constantly encouraged by him.||You will remember, in the mean time, that those who seek to vilify his character, say that he has always been notorious for his idleness. This gentleman, whose name is Stowel, resided in the town of Bainbridge, on or near the head waters of the Susquehannah river.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:200.|
|There was a time when I thought myself able to prove to the satisfaction of every man that the translator of the Book of Mormon, was worthy of the appellation of a Seer and a Prophet of the Lord, and in which he held over me a mysterious power which even now I fail to fathom; but I fear I may have been deceived, and especially so fear since knowing that Satan has led his mind astray.||I trust I shall be indulged, for the purpose of satisfying many, who have heard so many slanderous reports that they are lead to believe them true because they are not contradicted; and besides, this generation are determined to oppose every item in the form or under the pretence [pretense] of revelation, unless it comes through a man who has always been more pure than Michael the great prince; and as this is the fact, and my opposers have put me to the necessity, I shall be more prolix, and have no doubt, before I give up the point, shall prove to your satisfaction, and to that of every man, that the translator of the book of Mormon is worthy the appellation of a seer and a prophet of the Lord. In this I do not pretend that he is not a man subject to passion like other men, beset with infirmities and encompassed with weaknesses; but if he is, all men were so before him, and a pretence [pretense] to the contrary would argue a more than mortal, which would at once destroy the whole system of the religion of the Lord Jesus; for he anciently chose the weak to overcome the strong, the foolish to confound the wise, (I mean considered so by this world,) and by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:200.|
|1. When the Church of Christ was set up by revelation, he was called to be First Elder, and I was called to be the Second Elder, and whatever he had of Priesthood (about which I am beginning to doubt) also had I.|
|2. But I certainly followed him too far when accepting, and reiterating, that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, as I had then forgotten that John, the beloved disciple, was tarrying on earth and exempt from death.|
|I am well aware that a rehearsal of these things at this day will be unpleasant reading to the First Elder; yet so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so. Without rehearsing too many things that have caused me to lose my faith in Bro. Joseph’s seership, I regard his frequent predictions that he himself shall tarry on the earth till Christ shall come in glory, and that neither the rage of devils nor the malice of men shall ever cause him to fall by the hand of his enemies until he has seen Christ in the flesh at his final coming, as little short of a piece of blasphemy; and it may be classed with that revelation that some among you will remember which sent Bro. Page and me so unwisely to (3) Toronto with a predication from the Lord by Urim and Thummim that we would there find a man anxious to buy the First Elder’s copyright. I well remember we did not find him, and had to return surprised and disappointed. But so great was my faith, that, in going to Toronto, nothing but calmness pervaded my soul, every doubt was banished, and I as much expected that Bro. Page and I would fulfill the revelation as that we should live. And you may believe, without asking me to relate the particulars, that it would be no easy task to describe our desolation and grief.||Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father’s house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.||David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).|
|Bro. Page and I did not think that God would have deceived us through “Urim and Thummim,” exactly as came the Book of Mormon; and I well remember how hard I strove to drive away the foreboding which seized me, that the First Elder had made tools of us, where we thought, in the simplicity of our hearts, that we were divinely commanded.||Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: “Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil.” So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.||David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).|
|And what served to render the reflection past expression in its bitterness to me, was, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure had no part in the transactions of that day, as the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not.||Not only have I been graciously preserved from wicked and unreasonable men, with this our brother, but I have seen the fruit of perseverance in proclaiming the everlasting gospel, immediately after it was declared to the world in these last days, in a manner not to be forgotten while heaven gives my common intellect. And what serves to render the reflection past expression on this point is, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the angel of God—the first received into this church, in this day.||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:14.|
|When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this “dear” brother was to be in some sense, to me unknown, the herald of this church as the Great Baptist was of Christ.
4. I never dreamed however, that he would influence the Prophet, Seer and Revelator to the Church of the Latter Day Saints, in to the formation of a secret band at Far West, committed to depredations upon Gentiles and the actual assassination of apostates from the church, which was done in June last and was only one of many wrong steps.
|Sydney Rigdon was the cause of almost all the errors which were introduced while he was in the church. I believe Rigdon to have been the instigator of the secret organization known as the “Danites” which was formed in Far West Missouri in June, 1838.|
|These are facts which I am rehearsing, and if they shall be called in question, I am able to establish them by evidence which I can bring forward in abundance.||I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother, when he was directed to go and obtain the record of the Nephites. I may have missed in arrangement in some instances, but the principle is preserved, and you will be able to bring forward abundance of corroborating scripture upon the subject of the gospel and of the gathering.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:112.|
|Still, although favored fo God as a chosen witness to bear testimony to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, and honored of the Lord in being permitted, without money and without price, to serve as scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses when he would be translating from plates through “the Urim and Thummim” and the plates not be in sight at all.||No men in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites, from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up his church, and especially, when corruption had spread an uncertainty over all forms and systems practiced among men, without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave, to answer a “good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:15.|
|But I believed both in the Seer and in the “Seer Stone,” and what the First Elder announced as revelation from God, I accepted as such, and committed to paper with a glad mind and happy heart and swift pen; for I believed him to be the soul of honor and truth, a young man who would die before he would lie.|
|Man may deceive his fellow man, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may seduce the unstable, untaught in the ways of righteousness and peace, for I felt a solemn awe about me, being deep in the faith, that the First Elder was a Seer and Prophet of God, giving the truth unsullied through “Urim and Thummim,” dictated by the will of the Lord, and that he was persecuted for the sake of the truth which he loved. Could I have been deceived in him?||Man may deceive his fellow man; deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till nought but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind! The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel; the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage, dictated by the will of God, is to me, past description, and I shall ever look upon this expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving while I am permitted to tarry, and in those mansions where perfection dwells and sin never comes, I hope to adore in that DAY which shall never cease!*||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:16.|
|I could rehearse a number of things to show either that I as then deceived, or that he has since fallen from the lofty place in which fond affection had deemed him secure.|
|I remembered his experience as he had related it to me, and lacking wisdom, I went to God in prayer. I said: “O! Lord, how dark everything is! Let thy glory lighten it, and make bright the path for me. Show me my duty. Let me be led of thy Spirit.”|
|Shall I relate what transpired? I had a message from the Most High, as from the midst of eternity; for the vail was parted and the Redeemer Himself, clothed in glory, stood before me. And He said:||This was not long desired before it was realized. The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us his will. On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the vail 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!||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:15.|
|“After reproving the Latter Day Saints for their corruption and blindness in permitting their President, Joseph Smith, Jr., to lead them forth into errors, where I led him not, nor commanded him, and saying unto them,||The revelation on polygamy was given fourteen years after the translation of the Book of Mormon, and after Brother Joseph had drifted into error and blindness. As I have stated, the scriptures are plain concerning the matter of a prophet or any man once chosen of God, being afterwards deceived and led into error.|
|‘Thus saith the Lord,’ when I said it not unto him, thou shalt withdraw thyself from among them.”||God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to “separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them.”|
|And I testify that Jesus whose words I have been rehearsing, hath even so commanded me in an open vision.||I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, who communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age||Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:112.|
|The Lord revealed to me that the First Elder is leading the Saints astray, and ordered me to quit them after delivering the message which this “Defence” delivers. I shall ever remember this expression of the Saviour’s grace with thanksgiving, and look upon his amazing goodness to me with wonder.||We have seen from a revelation given to Brother Joseph, that he broke the commandments of God from the beginning. Now, as the wicked will be cut off, the people being clean before the Lord, and this Choice Seer being a holy man, the people in this condition will be fitted to give heed to him, and they will not be led astray by him|
|When I had sufficiently recovered my selfpossession to ask in regard to the errors into which Joseph Smith, Jr., was taking the Saints,||God only knows how I have grieved and suffered and plead with him for you for the past forty-eight years, that you might repent and be enlightened by the Holy Ghost to see the errors into which you have been led.|
|the Redeemer instructed me plainly: “He hath given revelations from his own heart and from a defiled conscience as coming from my mouth and hath corrupted the covenant and altered words which I had spoken. He hath brought in high priests, apostles and other officers, which in these days, when the written Word sufficeth, are not in my church, and some of his deeds have brought shame to my heritage by the shedding of blood.||You have changed the revelations from the way they were first given and as they are to-day in the Book of Commandments, to support the error of Brother Joseph in taking upon himself the office of Seer to the church. You have changed the revelations to support the error of high priests. You have changed the revelations to support the error of a President of the high priesthood, high counselors, etc.|
|He walketh in the vain imaginations of his heart, and my Spirit is holy and does not dwell in an unholy temple, nor are angels sent to reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.”||But so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so, because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in unholy temples, nor angels reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.|
|I bowed my face in shame and said: “Lord! I intreat thee, give me grace to bear thy message in print where I fear to take it by word of mouth.”
And he said, “The grace is given thee,” and he vanished out of my sight.
|Prepare your hearts, O ye Saints of the Most High, and come to understanding. The prophet hath erred and the people are gone astray through his error. God’s word is open. We may read it.||Prepare your hearts, O ye saints of the Most High, for great things await you! Hasten ye, hasten ye, to the places of gathering, for after a little the indignation of the Lord will cease toward those who are called by his name, and when his arm must fall upon the wicked. His sword is bathed in heaven, and must fall upon Idumea, and who can stand amid the crash and fall of empires?||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1835) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:204.|
|There is no “First Presidency” there, no “High Priesthood” save that of Christ himself, no Patriarch to the church, and wonderful to tell, the “First Elder” hath departed from god in giving us these things,||High Priests were only in the church before Christ; and to have this office in the “Church of Christ” is not according to the teachings of Christ in either of the sacred books: Christ himself is our great and last High Priest.|
|and in changing the name of the church.||but when the heads of the church changed the name of the church to “The Church of Latter Day Saints,” (leaving out the name of “Christ” entirely) when they did this, and compiled the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, God had then given them over to blindness of mind|
|Oh, the misery, the distress and evil attendant upon giving heed unto the “doctrines of men!” The gospel has been perverted and the Saints are wandering in darkness, which a full cup of suffering is poured upon them. A society has been organized among them to inflict death upon those who are deemed apostates, with the knowledge and sanction of the First Elder.||Alas, the calamity of war, the extinction of nations, the ruin of kingdoms, the fall of empires and the dissolution of governments! O the misery, distress and evil attendant on these! Who can contemplate like scenes without sorrowing, and who so destitute of commiseration as not to be pained that man has fallen so low, so far beneath the station in which he was created?||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:159.|
|This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before those whom I am to warn, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth of what I have written.||On Friday, the 5th, in company with our brother JOSEPH SMITH jr. I left Kirtland for this place (New Portage,) to attend the conference previously appointed. To be permitted, once more, to travel with this brother, occasions reflections of no ordinary kind. Many have been the fateagues [fatigues] and privations which have fallen to my lot to endure, for the gospel’s sake, since 1828, with this brother. Our road has frequently been spread with the “fowler’s snare,” and our persons sought with the eagerness, of the Savage’s ferocity, for innocent blood, by men, either heated to desperation by the insinuations of those who professed to be “guides and way—marks” to the kingdom of glory, or the individuals themselves!—This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before our patrons, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth. In fact, God has so ordered, that the reflections which I am permitted to cast upon my past life, relative to a knowledge of the way of salvation, are rendered “doubly endearing.”||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:14.|
|Bearing this message to them is the hardest work of my life, although many have been the privations and fatigues which have fallen to my lot to endure for the Gospel’s sake since April 5th, 1829.||She was driven, last fall, from Jackson county, by the mob, and was necessarily compelled to endure, with others, further afflictions and privations.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:13.|
|It is disgraceful to be led by a man who does not scruple to follow his own vain imagination, announcing his own schemes as revelations from the Lord. And I fear he is led by a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web. Having cleared my soul by delivering the message, I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject now.||The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance, and it is just that it should be; but there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:78.|
|Jesus has saved men in all ages and saves them now, and not by our Priesthood either. The “First Elder” errs as to that. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast as the eternal hills, that to him who knocks it shall be opened, and whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely; but a curse will surely fall upon those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.||“This cannot be brought about until first certain preparatory things are accomplished, for so has the Lord purposed in his own mind. He has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall; perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice, while those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow, and the destruction of those by whose hands it is carried. Therefore, marvel not if your name is made a derision, and had as a by-word among such, if you are the instrument in bringing it, by the gift of God, to the knowledge of the people.”||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:79-80.|
|I no longer believe that all the other churches are wrong.|
|Get right, O! ye people, get right with God, and may the Lord remove his judgments from you, preserve you in his kingdom from all evil, and crown you in Christ.||May the Lord preserve you from evil and reward you richly for all your afflictions, and crown you in his kingdom. Amen.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:112.|
March 3, 1839
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