William B. Smith Statements as a Witness

The Old Soldier’s Testimony

Sermon preach[ed] by William B. Smith, in the Saints’ chapel, Deloit, Iowa, June 8th, 1864. Reported by C. E. Butterworth:

Bro. [William] Smith arose and said: Ladies, gentlemen, brothers, sisters and friends:–The subject I have under contemplation is the presentation of some particulars of history concerning the rise of Mormonism. While traveling among the Latter-day Saints, and others who are not of our faith, I am subjected to a great deal of criticism, or am asked a great many questions in regard to the opening of this new dispensation.

. . . I hold in my hand the Book of Mormon. In the past I have had some experience and personally know something about this matter. The world has been filled with articles for the purpose of making it appear a falsehood; and they have gathered these articles and statements together and printed them in books, in order that they might show to the world that it was not true, or worthy of their credit. I have examined these books, and have found that they have been pleased to have their assertions circulated far and near. The great effort of the Christians to advance science and increase knowledge, is commendable; but the great effort put forth in this direction is for the purpose of keeping the people in ignorance.

One of the great hobbies raised upon which to fight is the angel’s visit to Joseph Smith. They do not undertake to show that it is not the way God has dealt with his people from the beginning. God has always communed with his people, by dreams, vision, revelations, and the administering of angels. They have never undertaken to show that there are no such beings as angels, or that angels can not be seen by men. Is it impossible for God to send them? “Angels are ministering spirits.” God sent his angels at the birth of Christ. One appeared to Zachariah, to Elizabeth, and to Mary. Joseph was warned when to flee into Egypt, and was told when to return. This work came forth in fulfillment of the predictions made by the holy prophets.

Ministers take a great deal of pains to make it appear that this book was compiled from a manuscript written by one Solomon Spaulding. Many statements have been made and circulated far and wide, even printing some of them in books to be used in our schools. It has been printed and placed between the lids of the bible, in order that in time it might become sanctified. They could not tell bigger lies. Ministers of old called Christ a wine bibber. I know that this Spaulding story is a falsehood. I remember when Joseph called his father’s family together, and told them that he had seen an angel, and what this angel had told him. When Joseph received the plates, he did not say they were the Spaulding manuscript.

. . . I well remember the effect produced upon my father’s family, when he told them he was to receive the plates; how they looked forward with joy, and waited until the time should come. The circumstances that occurred, and the impressions made on my mind at that time, I can remember better than those which occurred two years ago. We were all looking forward for the time to come, father, mother, brothers and sisters. He did not receive the plates at the time he expected, but some four years afterward. He had not lived as directed. When he went to get the plates he found them as he was told he should. He took them from the stone box in which they were found, and placed them on the ground behind him, when the thought came into his mind that there might be a treasure hidden with them. While stooping forward to see, he was overpowered, so that he could not look farther. Turning to get the plates, he found they had gone; and on looking around found that they were in the box again; but he could not get them, and cried out, “Why can’t I get the plates as Moroni told me I could?” The angel then appeared to him, and told him it was because he had not done as directed. That the plates could not be had for the purpose of making money. That he could not have them for four years.

I remember how the family wept when they found Joseph could not get the plates at that time. It has generally been stated that my father’s family were lazy, shiftless and poor; but this was never said by their neighbors, or until after the angel appeared and the story of the golden Bible was told.

After my father’s family moved to New York State, in about five years they cleared sixty acres of land, and fenced it. The timber on this land was very heavy. Some of the elms were so large that we had to n****r them off. They were too large to be cut with a cross-cut saw. We built a frame dwelling house and out buildings. My brothers Joseph and Hyrum had to work. Joseph did not have time to make gold plates.

The time to receive the plates came at last. When Joseph received them, he came in and said: “Father, I have got the plates.” All believed it was true, father, mother, brothers and sisters. You can tell what a child is. Parents know whether their children are truthful or not. The proof of the pudding is not in chewing the string, but in eating the pudding. Father knew his child was telling the truth. When the plates were brought in they were wrapped in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, “What, Joseph, can we not see them?”

“No, I was disobedient the first time, but I intend to be faithful this time; for I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them.”

We handled them [the plates] and could tell what they were. They were not quite as large as this Bible. Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood.

. . . Where is the Spaulding Story? I am a little too old a man to be telling stories. There is no money in telling this story. I expect to stand before angels and archangels and be judged for how I have told it. When Joseph received the plates he also received the Urim and Thummim, which he would place in a hat to exclude all light, and with the plates by his side he translated the characters, which were cut into the plates with some sharp instrument, into English. And thus, letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence, the whole book was translated. It was not written from the Spaulding Romance. That story is false. Some say this romance was stolen by Sidney Rigdon while at Pittsburg. This is false. Sidney Rigdon knew nothing about it. He never saw or heard tell of the Book of Mormon until it was presented to him by P. P. Pratt and others. He was never at my father’s house to see my brother until after the book was published. If he had wanted to see Joseph at that time and remained very long, he would have had to be in the field rolling logs or carrying brush.

I was too young to be as much concerned about this matter as the others, but all were anxious that I should obey the gospel. I have seen the three witnesses, and have questioned them closely. They all tell the same story. They are all dead but one. David Whitmer, the only living witness, still lives and may be found at Richmond, Missouri. Now is the time to go and see him and make a scientific examination of his physiognomy and see if he can see angels where there are none.

Why did all those who first believed this story continue to do so until they passed into the other world?

I am satisfied that all who have believed in this work and continue to the end, will have no cause to regret it. I am glad for the privilege I have in telling these things. Glad to find so many who believe with this people. May God bless you all. Amen.

A gentleman in the congregation asked, ”Where are these plates?”

Ans.–“They were delivered to the angel again.”

Ques.–“How much did they weigh?”

Ans.–“As near as I could tell, about sixty pounds.”[1]

William Smith on Mormonism

[Following the visitations of Moroni to Joseph Smith,] we . . . all gathered. He [Joseph Smith] arose and told us how the angel appeared to him. . . He continued talking to us sometime. The whole family were melted to tears, and believed all he said. Knowing that he was very young, that he had not enjoyed the advantages of a common education; and knowing too, his whole character and disposition, they were convinced that he was totally incapable of arising before his aged parents, his brothers and sisters, and so solemnly giving utterance to anything but the truth. All of us, therefore, believed him and anxiously awaited the result of his visit to the hill Cumorah, in search of the plates containing the record of which the angel told him. He went, and upon his return told us that in consequence of his not obeying strictly the commandments which the angel had given him, he could not obtain the record until four years from that time.

During this four years, I spent my time working on the farm, and in the different amusements of the young men of my age in the vicinity. I was quite wild and inconsiderate, paying no attention to religion of any kind, for which I received frequent lectures from my mother and my brother Joseph. He occupied himself part of the time working on the farm, and part of the time in Pennsylvania where he courted a young lady by the name of Emma Hale, whom he afterwards married. At the end of the appointed time he went and obtained the plates which were pointed out to him by the angel. The story being noised abroad, he was pursued while on his way home with the plates, by two persons who desired to obtain the possession of the plates to convert them into money. However, he escaped to the house and brought the plates with him, wrapped up in a tow frock. He could not permit us to see them, because he said the angel told him not to do so, and he was determined to obey strictly this time; for he had disobeyed before and was compelled to wait four years before he could come into possession of the plates.

In consequence of his vision, and his having the golden plates and refusing to show them, a great persecution arose against the whole family, and he was compelled to remove into Pennsylvania with the plates, where he translated them by means of the Urim and Thummim, (which he obtained with the plates), and the power of God. The manner in which this was done was by looking into the Urim and Thummim, which was lying near by covered up), and reading off the translation, which appeared in the stone by the power of God. He was engaged in this business as he had opportunity for about two years and a half. In the winter of 1829 and thirty, the Book of Mormon, which is the translation of part of the plates he obtained, was published. He then showed the plates to my father and my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, who were witnesses to the truth of the book which was translated from them. I was permitted to lift them as they laid in a pillow case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received. They [plates] weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgment.

We were all very much scoffed at and persecuted during all this time, while Joseph was receiving his vision and translating the plates. A particular account of his visions and life during this period, will be found in his biography, and therefore I omit it here. From the time that Joseph received his first vision until the completion of the translation of the Book of Mormon, I was engaged as a farmer boy in working on the farm of my father.[2]

Richard Lloyd Anderson in “Joseph Smith’s Brothers: Nauvoo and After”:

In later years William issued doctrinal letters with his old argumentive fire. … In writings and interviews he crisply insisted that his family was poor but honest, deeply religious but not superstitious. Above all, he supported Joseph’s testimony of finding the plates and translating them, for he had been there, had known the circumstances, and had even lifted the covered plates. William is the best guide to what is significant in his own Church career and personal testimony. He printed his story of Mormonism in 1883, closing his story with the peak of his career as an apostle at Kirtland. In conclusion he insisted that the world know “the fact of my unshaken confidence in my brother Joseph Smith as a true Prophet of God.”[3] This knowledge was still firm upon his death a decade later.[4]

From Moroni’s Latter-Day Saint Page:[5]

A few years before his death, William Smith wrote and published books and articles about his life in the church, his experiences as an apostle and “the fact of my unshaken confidence in my brother Joseph Smith as a true Prophet of God”. He still believed even though he wasn’t associated with the church anymore. He also described being able to lift the golden plates while they were covered in a pillow case. He wrote,

“I was permitted to lift them as they lay in a pillow case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received. They weighed about sixty pounds according to my best judgment. They were not quite as large as this Bible. … One could easily tell that they were not stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood. Being a mixture of gold and copper, they were much heavier than stone, and very much heavier than wood.”


[1] William Smith, ”The Old Soldier’s Testimony,” The Saint’s Herald 31(1884):643-44. http://www.fullerconsideration.com/images/Old_Soldiers_Testimony_from_Saints_Herald.pdf As quoted at Book of Abraham Project http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/BOM-Witn.html.
[2] William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism. (Lamoni, Iowa, 1883) pps. 9-12. https://archive.org/details/williamsmithonmo00smit/.
As quoted on Book of Abraham Project http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/BOM-Witn.html.
[3] William Smith on Mormonism, p. 28.
[4] “Joseph Smith’s Brothers: Nauvoo and After”, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Ensign, September 1979. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1979/09/joseph-smiths-brothers-nauvoo-and-after?lang=eng.