31764

John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847

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Editorial Note
John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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’s conclusion to Chapter 19, which acknowledged his formal excommunication on 10 March 1838, originally marked the end of this history. At a later time, however, Whitmer returned to the manuscript to cancel his plea for forgiveness; he then added three more chapters. Before he was expelled from Far West

Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...

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in June 1838 along with other excommunicants, Whitmer was a witness of some of the 1838 events of which he wrote. In contrast, because Whitmer had to rely entirely on the reports of others for his description of developments in Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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from autumn 1836 to spring 1838, in Caldwell

Located in northwest Missouri. Settled by whites, by 1831. Described as being “one-third timber and two-thirds prairie” in 1836. Created specifically for Latter-day Saints by Missouri state legislature, 29 Dec. 1836, in attempt to solve “Mormon problem.” ...

More Info
and Daviess

Area in northwest Missouri settled by European Americans, 1830. Sparsely inhabited until 1838. Created from Ray Co., Dec. 1836, in attempt to resolve conflicts related to Mormon settlement in that region. County is transected diagonally from northwest to ...

More Info
counties, Missouri, in late 1838, and in Illinois

Became part of Northwest Territory of U.S., 1787. Admitted as state, 1818. Population in 1840 about 480,000. Population in 1845 about 660,000. Plentiful, inexpensive land attracted settlers from northern and southern states. Following expulsion from Missouri...

More Info
beginning in 1839, the final chapters of his narrative exhibit significant historical shortcomings. For example, his comment that the Mormons “commenced a difficulty in Daviess Co.” and his brief explanation of the events leading up to JS’s imprisonment and the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

More Info
fail to place Mormon acts of aggression in Daviess County in the context of a broader and rapidly developing conflict, including previous violence against the Mormons. He stands alone among his contemporaries in claiming that an organization resembling the Danites originated in Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

More Info
, and his generalization about “spiritual wife doctrine, that is pleurality of wives” in Kirtland suggests his narrative was colored by a later perspective, one based on charges leveled at the Mormons in Nauvoo

Principal gathering place for Saints following expulsion from Missouri. Beginning in 1839, LDS church purchased lands in earlier settlement of Commerce and planned settlement of Commerce City, as well as surrounding areas. Served as church headquarters, 1839...

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in the 1840s.

Chapter 20

Chapter 20, 1837.
In the fall of 1836, Joseph Smith Jr. Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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& others of the Leaders of the church at Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

More Info
Ohio, Established a bank for the purpose of Speculation and the whole church partook of the same Spirit, they were lifted up in pride, and lusted after the forbiden things of God such as covetousness, & in secret combination, spiritual wife doctrine, that is pleurality of wives, and gadianton bands in which they were bound with oaths &c. that brought divisions and mistrust among those who were pure in heart, and desired the upbilding of the Kingdom of God—
J. Smith Jr. & Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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& Hiram [Hyrum] Smith

9 Feb. 1800–27 June 1844. Farmer, cooper. Born at Tunbridge, Orange Co., Vermont. Son of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. Moved to Randolph, Orange Co., 1802; to Tunbridge, before May 1803; to Royalton, Windsor Co., Vermont, 1804; to Sharon, Windsor Co., by...

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moved their families to this place Far West

Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...

More Info
in the Spring of 1838. As soon as they came here they began to enforce their new organized plan which caused disensions and difficulties, threatnings and even murders. Smith called a counsel of the leaders together in which council he Stated that any person who said a word against the heads of the church should be driven over these prairies as a chaced deer by a pack of hounds, having an allusion to the gideanats [Gideonites] as they were then termed to Justify themselves, in their wicked designes
Thus on the 19th of June 1838 they preached a sermon called it the Salt sermon in which these gideonites understood that they should drive the disenters as they termed those who believed not [p. 86]

Editorial Note
John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

View Full Bio
’s conclusion to Chapter 19, which acknowledged his formal excommunication on 10 March 1838, originally marked the end of this history. At a later time, however, Whitmer returned to the manuscript to cancel his plea for forgiveness; he then added three more chapters. Before he was expelled from Far West

Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...

More Info
in June 1838 along with other excommunicants, Whitmer was a witness of some of the 1838 events of which he wrote. In contrast, because Whitmer had to rely entirely on the reports of others for his description of developments in Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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from autumn 1836 to spring 1838, in Caldwell

Located in northwest Missouri. Settled by whites, by 1831. Described as being “one-third timber and two-thirds prairie” in 1836. Created specifically for Latter-day Saints by Missouri state legislature, 29 Dec. 1836, in attempt to solve “Mormon problem.” ...

More Info
and Daviess

Area in northwest Missouri settled by European Americans, 1830. Sparsely inhabited until 1838. Created from Ray Co., Dec. 1836, in attempt to resolve conflicts related to Mormon settlement in that region. County is transected diagonally from northwest to ...

More Info
counties, Missouri, in late 1838, and in Illinois

Became part of Northwest Territory of U.S., 1787. Admitted as state, 1818. Population in 1840 about 480,000. Population in 1845 about 660,000. Plentiful, inexpensive land attracted settlers from northern and southern states. Following expulsion from Missouri...

More Info
beginning in 1839, the final chapters of his narrative exhibit significant historical shortcomings. For example, his comment that the Mormons “commenced a difficulty in Daviess Co.” and his brief explanation of the events leading up to JS’s imprisonment and the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

More Info
fail to place Mormon acts of aggression in Daviess County in the context of a broader and rapidly developing conflict, including previous violence against the Mormons. He stands alone among his contemporaries in claiming that an organization resembling the Danites originated in Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

More Info
, and his generalization about “spiritual wife doctrine, that is pleurality of wives” in Kirtland suggests his narrative was colored by a later perspective, one based on charges leveled at the Mormons in Nauvoo

Principal gathering place for Saints following expulsion from Missouri. Beginning in 1839, LDS church purchased lands in earlier settlement of Commerce and planned settlement of Commerce City, as well as surrounding areas. Served as church headquarters, 1839...

More Info
in the 1840s.

Chapter 20

Chapter 20, 1837.
In the fall of 1836, Joseph Smith Jr.  S[idney] Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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& others of the Leaders of the  church at Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

More Info
Ohio, Established  a bank for the purpose of Speculation  and the whole church partook of the same  Spirit,255

The Kirtland Safety Society was established in January 1837 to facilitate economic development in Kirtland and vicinity. It faltered early and finally closed in November 1837. Other observers, including John Corrill, recalled a prevailing attitude of speculation and greed in Kirtland. (Corrill, Brief History, 26–27; see also Hill et al., Kirtland Economy Revisited.)  


they were lifted up in pride, and  lusted after the forbiden things of God such  as covetousness, & in secret combination,  spiritual wife doctrine, that is pleurality of  wives,256

JS’s 1831 work on the revision of the Bible evidently led to a revelation sanctioning polygyny as practiced by Old Testament patriarchs.a Later accounts reported that JS and a young woman named Fanny Alger had a relationship in Kirtland and that JS and Alger’s family considered it to be a divinely authorized plural marriage; Oliver Cowdery later characterized the relationship as adulterous.b John Whitmer could have learned of a relationship between JS and Alger from Cowdery, but the phrase “spiritual wife doctrine” was introduced publicly by dissident John C. Bennett in 1842, indicating that Whitmer wrote this portion of the history after that date.c  


aSee Revelation, 12 July 1843, in Revelations Collection, CHL [D&C 132]; Bachman, “Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage,” 24–28.

bOliver Cowdery, Far West, MO, to Warren Cowdery, [Kirtland, OH], 21 Jan. 1838, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 80–83; see also JS, Journal, 12 Apr. 1838; and Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, chap. 1.

c“Further Mormon Developments!! 2d Letter from Gen. Bennett,” Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 15 July 1842, [2]; Bennett, History of the Saints, 223–225.

and gadianton bands257

Gadianton was the leader of a band of robbers in the Book of Mormon, which chronicles periodic resurgences of a secret society bearing his name. Whitmer used these same phrases, “spiritual wife” and “gadianton bands,” a few pages later when discussing events in Nauvoo, and it seems that his narrative merged events of late 1836 and 1837 Kirtland and 1840s Nauvoo. (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 423 [Helaman 6:18]; see also Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 79–80; Corrill, Brief History, 30–32; and JS, Journal, 27 July 1838.)  


in which  they were bound with oaths &c. that brought  divisi[o]ns and mistrust among those who were  pure in heart, and desired the upbilding  of the Kingdom of God—
J. Smith Jr. & Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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& Hiram [Hyrum] Smith

9 Feb. 1800–27 June 1844. Farmer, cooper. Born at Tunbridge, Orange Co., Vermont. Son of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. Moved to Randolph, Orange Co., 1802; to Tunbridge, before May 1803; to Royalton, Windsor Co., Vermont, 1804; to Sharon, Windsor Co., by...

View Full Bio
 moved their families to this place Far West

Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...

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 in the Spring of 1838.258

JS reached Far West on 14 March, Rigdon on 4 April, and Hyrum Smith in late May. (JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, [undated entry]; JS History, vol. B-1, 786; Hyrum Smith, Commerce, IL, to “the Saints Scattered Abroad,” Dec. 1839, Times and Seasons, Dec. 1839, 1:20–24.)  


As soon as they came  here they began to enforce their new organized  plan in force which caused disensions and  difficulties, threatnings and even murders[.]  Smith called a counsel of the leaders259

No other record exists of this “counsel of the leaders.” After JS’s arrival in Far West, the high council met several times to discipline dissident leaders and reestablish JS’s authority. Whitmer was excommunicated by this time and therefore was not in attendance. (See Minute Book 2, 12, 13, and 14 Apr. 1838.)  


to gether in which council he Stated that any  person who said a word against the heads of  the church should be driven over these  prairies as a chaced deer by a pack of  hounds, having an allusion to the  gideanats [Gideonites]260

The warrior Gideon and his followers are described in Judges chapter 8, in the Old Testament. Whitmer used both “gadiantons” and “gideonites” to refer to the Danites.  


as they were then termed to  Justify themselves, in their wicked designes
Thus on the 19th of June 1838 they  preached a sermon called it the Salt sermon261

According to Reed Peck’s 1839 recollection, Sidney Rigdon’s 17 June 1838 “Salt Sermon” applied Jesus’s reference to salt that had lost its savor to unfaithful Mormons: “He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency laying plans to take their lives &c., accused them of counterfeiting lying cheating and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and ride [rid] the county of such a nuisance He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth and if the county cannot be freed from them any other way I will assist to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation.” According to Peck, “Joseph Smith in a short speech sanctioned what had been said by Rigdon, though said he I don’t want the brethren to act unlawfully.” (Reed Peck, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839, pp. 24–25, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; see also JS, Journal, 4 July 1838.)  


 in which these gideonites understood  that they should drive the disenters as  they termed those who believed that not [p. 86]
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“I would rather not do it” was John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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’s reponse when JS requested in 1831 that he “keep the Church history.”1

Whitmer, History, 24.  


Whitmer was no stranger to record-keeping duties; he had already assisted JS as scribe for portions of both the Book of Mormon and JS’s revision of the Bible, and about the time of his call as historian, he began scribal work on the “Book of Commandments and Revelations” (Revelation Book 1), of which he inscribed nearly all 205 pages.2

See Historical Introduction to Revelation Book 1.  


Yet the role of historian was one he was reluctant to assume, perhaps because the responsibility it carried went beyond clerical duties to writing a more comprehensive narrative. Only after asking for and receiving a revelation through JS affirming that it was God’s will that he “be appointed . . . to keep the church record and history continually” did Whitmer agree to serve as historian.3

Revelation, ca. 8 Mar. 1831–B, in Doctrine and Covenants 63:2, 1835 ed. [D&C 47:3].  


His formal appointment came a month later on 9 April 1831, when he was assigned “to keep the Church record & history by the voice of ten Elders.”4

Minute Book 2, 9 Apr. 1831.  


The 1831 commandment to serve as historian of the church was not the first revelation addressed to Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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. A revelation of June 1829 instructed him to “declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me,” and revelations in July and September 1830 urged him to diligently study and preach and promised him divine guidance in those labors.5

Revelation, June 1829–C, in Doctrine and Covenants 40:3, 1835 ed. [D&C 15:6]; Revelation, July 1830–B, in Doctrine and Covenants 49:1, 1835 ed. [D&C 26:1]; Revelation, Sept. 1830–E, in Doctrine and Covenants 52:3, 1835 ed. [D&C 30:9–11].  


Whitmer was one of eleven to sign his name as a witness of the Book of Mormon, testifying that he saw and touched the gold plates, and he was among the first members of the Church of Christ. He was a devoted Latter-day Saint, trusted with clerical and administrative assignments. Few were as well positioned to observe and record the important events of the church. Whitmer undertook his history assignment as one who accepted JS’s revelations as the word of God, and he considered himself “commanded of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” to document the rise of the church.6

Whitmer, History, 1.  


He couched much of his history in biblical language, perhaps envisioning a fifth gospel on the pattern of the New Testament, a latter-day “Book of John”—his original title for the work before appending his last name—chronicling the growth of a divine kingdom.
Documents from the early 1830s show that Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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remained uncertain about his role as historian and that JS continually placed responsibility for keeping the official church history squarely on Whitmer’s shoulders. Eight months after the revelation commanding Whitmer to keep a history, a November 1831 revelation directed Whitmer to “continue in writing and making a history of all the important things which he shall observe and know, concerning my church” and to travel “from place to place, and from church to church, that he may the more easily obtain knowledge.”7

Revelation, 11 Nov. 1831–A, in Doctrine and Covenants 28:1–2, 1835 ed. [D&C 69:3, 7].  


The next year JS wrote a letter telling Whitmer, “I exhort Bro John also to remember the commandment to him to keep a history of the church & the gathering and be sure to shew him self approoved whereunto he hath been called.”8

JS, Hiram, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, MO], 31 July 1832, copy, JS Collection, CHL.  


In July 1833 Whitmer asked Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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to request further instructions on record keeping, and a detailed response was sent the following January.9

John Whitmer, Independence, MO, to JS and Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland Mills, OH, 29 July 1833, in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 52–55; Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland, OH, to John Whitmer, Missouri, 1 Jan. 1834, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 14–17.  


Again in a September 1835 blessing, JS expressed concern for Whitmer’s history, promising (and reminding) the historian that he “shall make a choice record of Israel.”10

JS to John Whitmer, Blessing, 22 Sept. 1835, in Patriarchal Blessings, 1:14.  


Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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worked on his history throughout the 1830s and into the 1840s as noteworthy events developed and as time allowed. On 12 June 1831, three months after the revelation appointing him to keep the church history, Whitmer began writing or at least making notes for a history.11

Whitmer, History, 1, 25.  


Summer 1831 provided ample opportunity to start the work: while two dozen elders traveled to Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

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, Whitmer remained in Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

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, providing him something of a sabbatical from other church duties. Whitmer’s occasional use of the present tense and disclosure of composition dates in early chapters show that he recorded some of his history contemporaneous to the events described. For example, in chapter 10 he wrote concerning conditions in Jackson County

Settled at Fort Osage, 1808. County created, 16 Feb. 1825; organized 1826. Named after U.S. president Andrew Jackson. Featured fertile lands along Missouri River and was Santa Fe Trail departure point, which attracted immigrants to area. Area of county reduced...

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, Missouri, that “Zion is prospering at presnt”—an observation he would not have made after opposition against the church grew increasingly intense in 1833. He also noted the church population in Missouri around March 1832 (“there are at this time 402, disciples living in this land Zion”) and on the next page noted, “Decmbr 1, 1832, there are now 538 individuals in this land b[e]longing to th[e] church.”12

Whitmer, History, 38, 39.  


Although language in the first chapters of the history shows that Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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drafted some of his narrative in the early 1830s, textual evidence indicates that the extant “Book of John Whitmer” was created no earlier than 1835 and in fact probably dates from 1838. Most of the revelations Whitmer copied into or cited in the first eight chapters (including the first copied revelation, on page 2 of his manuscript) came from the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, so the existing Whitmer history could not have been written earlier than 1835. A note at the end of page 85 dates the completion of chapter 19 in March 1838, and the entire history to that point may have been copied at the same time. (The final three chapters following chapter 19 were written after Whitmer’s 1838 excommunication, as explained later.) Chapter 12 opens with the inscription “May 10, 1838,” which Whitmer apparently intended as “May 10, 1834.” It is implausible that Whitmer mistakenly wrote a year that lay in the future; more likely, he inadvertently wrote the current year when he was copying the text, suggesting he was copying chapter 12 in 1838.13

Historical evidence also suggests that Whitmer made the extant copy of the entire history in 1838. Following Whitmer’s excommunication in March 1838, church leaders made a concerted effort to obtain the records in his possession. This effort was partially successful: Whitmer apparently turned over a copied list of names of members who had resided in Missouri and possibly made available some minutes he had kept. Whitmer may have copied his history in order to turn it over to church leadership but then changed his mind and retained the volume. (“Names of the Members of the Church in Missouri. Then Situated Most in Caldwell County,” 2–14; Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal History of the Editor,” The Return, Sept. 1889, 133; compare items copied in Minute Book 2.)  


It is possible that the first eleven chapters of the history were copied in 1835 or 1836, but there is no explicit evidence that any of the present history was created before 1838.14

It is not known how extensively Whitmer revised earlier drafts when creating the extant “Book of John Whitmer,” although, as noted, he retained some of his present-tense language from the early 1830s. Some passages suggest that Whitmer was writing later, as when he noted that some who were ordained to the high priesthood at a June 1831 church conference subsequently “deni[e]d the faith.” Also, when describing conditions in Jackson County, Missouri, in March 1832, he alluded to the expulsion that occurred the following year. (See Whitmer, History, 23, 28, 38.)  


In his responsibility as historian, Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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viewed himself as resuming the church record where Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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left off. Whitmer opened his history noting, “I shall proceed to continue this record,” and he explained in chapter 6, “Oliver Cowdery has written the commencement of the church history commencing at the time of the finding of the plates, up to June 12, 1831. from this date I have written the things that I have written.” The revelation assigning Whitmer as historian supported his view that he was replacing Cowdery: “It shall be appointed unto him to keep the church record and history continually, for Oliver Cowdery I have appointed to another office.”15

Revelation, ca. 8 Mar. 1831–B, in Doctrine and Covenants 63:2, 1835 ed. [D&C 47:3].  


There is no other document from the time, however, indicating that Cowdery’s original record-keeping assignment included narrative history, and Whitmer’s initial focus as Cowdery’s replacement was copying revelations and apparently drafting notes and collecting other records. Whitmer may have known or assumed that Cowdery wrote a unified narrative covering the period from JS’s discovery of the gold plates to summer 1831, but no such document is extant.
John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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’s reference to 12 June 1831 as Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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’s stopping point corresponds to his own starting date (which he recorded on the first page of his history) but appears unrelated to an ending date for records kept by Cowdery. The March 1831 revelation officially released Cowdery from his duties, and his term of service effectively terminated even earlier, when he was called in September 1830 to leave the main body of the church and proselytize among Indians on the western frontier of the United States

North American constitutional republic. Constitution ratified, 17 Sept. 1787. Population in 1805 about 6,000,000; in 1830 about 13,000,000; and in 1844 about 20,000,000. Louisiana Purchase, 1803, doubled size of U.S. Consisted of seventeen states at time ...

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(the account of which opens Whitmer’s history). Cowdery’s major historical account was written in 1834–1835 and published in the periodical Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. That history, composed as a series of letters to William W. Phelps

17 Feb. 1792–7 Mar. 1872. Writer, teacher, printer, newspaper editor, publisher, postmaster, lawyer. Born at Hanover, Morris Co., New Jersey. Son of Enon Phelps and Mehitabel Goldsmith. Moved to Homer, Cortland Co., New York, 1800. Married Sally Waterman,...

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, focused on the period from 1823 until shortly before JS retrieved the Book of Mormon plates in 1827.16

The published letters were copied into JS’s 1834–1836 history.  


As noted above, Whitmer’s history cited the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, meaning that the extant version of chapter 6 was written no earlier than 1835. Therefore, when Whitmer referred to Cowdery’s historical writings, beginning “at the time of the finding of the plates,” he may have been referring in part to Cowdery’s Messenger and Advocate letters.
Early in his work, Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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settled upon a format that combined narrative history with significant revelations, letters, petitions, and other documents. He copied many of these documents in full and noted that others should be inserted. In the first eight chapters, Whitmer documented the church’s rise in Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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, Ohio, by incorporating sixteen revelations conveyed by JS between 7 December 1830 and 15 June 1831.17

The revelations dating from this time period but not included by Whitmer in his history are as follows: Revelation, 9 Dec. 1830, in Doctrine and Covenants 57, 1835 ed. [D&C 36]; Revelation, 5 Jan. 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 59, 1835 ed. [D&C 39]; Revelation, 6 Jan. 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 60, 1835 ed. [D&C 40]; Revelation, 15 May 1831, in Revelation Book 1, p. 85; Revelation, 20 May 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 23, 1835 ed. [D&C 51]; Revelation, 8 June 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 66, 1835 ed. [D&C 53]; and Revelation, 14 June 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 68, 1835 ed. [D&C 55]. These seven revelations were directed to individuals and not to the church as a whole.  


Letters from Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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and Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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form part of chapter 9, which describes the establishment of the city of Zion

A specific location in Missouri; also a literal or figurative gathering of believers in Jesus Christ, characterized by adherence to ideals of harmony, equality, and purity. In JS’s earliest revelations “the cause of Zion” was used to broadly describe the ...

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in Jackson County

Settled at Fort Osage, 1808. County created, 16 Feb. 1825; organized 1826. Named after U.S. president Andrew Jackson. Featured fertile lands along Missouri River and was Santa Fe Trail departure point, which attracted immigrants to area. Area of county reduced...

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, Missouri, in summer 1831. Beginning with chapter 10, Whitmer’s history turns to letters, military communications, and petitions relevant to the conflicts that arose between the Latter-day Saints and neighboring Missourians starting in 1832 and that culminated with the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County in November 1833. Whitmer documented in particular the Mormons’ unsuccessful efforts to obtain government assistance to be restored to their Jackson County properties, through the courts, through appeals to Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

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governor Daniel Dunklin

14 Jan. 1790–25 July 1844. Farmer, tavern owner, businessman, investor, lawyer, politician. Born near Greenville, Greenville District, South Carolina. Son of Joseph Dunklin Jr. and Sarah Margaret Sullivan. Moved to what became Caldwell Co., Kentucky, 1806...

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, and through a petition to United States

North American constitutional republic. Constitution ratified, 17 Sept. 1787. Population in 1805 about 6,000,000; in 1830 about 13,000,000; and in 1844 about 20,000,000. Louisiana Purchase, 1803, doubled size of U.S. Consisted of seventeen states at time ...

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president Andrew Jackson. Chapters 15–18 return to events in Kirtland, where Whitmer journeyed in 1835 to participate in the activities leading up to the dedication of the House of the Lord

JS revelation of Jan. 1831 directed Latter-day Saints to migrate to Ohio, where they would “be endowed with power from on high.” JS Revelation of Dec. 1832 directed Saints to “establish . . . an house of God.” JS Revelation of 1 June 1833 chastened Saints...

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; the last document Whitmer selected to be inserted in the history is the Messenger and Advocate account of the dedication in March 1836. Chapter 19 documents the subsequent relocation of the Missouri Saints from Clay County

Settled ca. 1800. Organized from Ray Co., 1822. Original size diminished when land was taken to create several surrounding counties. Liberty designated county seat, 1822. Population in 1830 about 5,000; in 1836 about 8,500; and in 1840 about 8,300. Refuge...

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to what became Caldwell County

Located in northwest Missouri. Settled by whites, by 1831. Described as being “one-third timber and two-thirds prairie” in 1836. Created specifically for Latter-day Saints by Missouri state legislature, 29 Dec. 1836, in attempt to solve “Mormon problem.” ...

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and briefly mentions problems at Kirtland and at Far West

Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...

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. Whitmer was accused of financial wrongdoing and excommunicated on 10 March 1838. He recorded the excommunication in chapter 19 of his history and then wrote, “Therefore I close the history of the church of Latter Day Saints, hoping that . . . I find favor in the eyes of God.” Later events would compel him to return to his history.
After his estrangement from the church, Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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refused to relinquish the manuscript for printing. Two months after Whitmer’s excommunication, JS and Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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wrote him:
We were desireous of honouring you by giving publicity to your notes on the history of the Church of Latter day Saints, after such corrections as we thaught would be necessary; knowing your incompetency as a historian, and that your writings coming from your pen, could not be put to the press, without our correcting them, or elce the Church must suffer reproach; Indeed Sir, we never supposed you capable of writing a history; but were willing to let it come out under your name notwithstanding it would realy not be yours but ours. We are still willing to honour you, if you can be made to know your own interest and give up your notes, so that they can be corrected, and made fit for the press. But if not, we have all the materials for another, which we shall commence this week to write[.]18

JS and Sidney Rigdon, Far West, MO, to John Whitmer, 9 Apr. 1838. Because Whitmer copied or prepared the extant “Book of John Whitmer” from an earlier draft or notes, it is unknown whether JS and Rigdon meant for Whitmer to turn over the text now known as the “Book of John Whitmer” or whether they hoped to obtain earlier notes or sources Whitmer used for his history.  


There is no record of Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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responding to the condescending letter, and church leaders soon made other arrangements. John Corrill

17 Sept. 1794–26 Sept. 1842. Surveyor, politician, author. Born at Worcester Co., Massachusetts. Married Margaret Lyndiff, ca. 1830. Lived at Harpersfield, Ashtabula Co., Ohio, 1830. Baptized into LDS church, 10 Jan. 1831, at Kirtland, Geauga Co., Ohio. Ordained...

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and Elias Higbee

23 Oct. 1795–8 June 1843. Clerk, judge, surveyor. Born at Galloway, Gloucester Co., New Jersey. Son of Isaac Higbee and Sophia Somers. Moved to Clermont Co., Ohio, 1803. Married Sarah Elizabeth Ward, 10 Sept. 1818, in Tate Township, Clermont Co. Lived at ...

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had already been assigned as historians, and within three weeks of writing to Whitmer, JS himself began to prepare a new history with the assistance of Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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and scribe George W. Robinson

14 May 1814–10 Feb. 1878. Clerk, postmaster, merchant, clothier, banker. Born at Pawlet, Rutland Co., Vermont. Baptized into LDS church and moved to Kirtland, Geauga Co., Ohio, by 1836. Clerk and recorder for Kirtland high council, beginning Jan. 1836. Married...

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.19

Minute Book 2, 6 Apr. 1838; JS, Journal, 27 Apr. 1838.  


Following his excommunication, Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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was forced to move in June 1838 from the Mormon settlement of Far West

Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...

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, Missouri. He resettled in nearby Richmond

Area settled, ca. 1814. Officially platted as Ray Co. seat, 1827. Population in 1840 about 500. Seat of Fifth Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri; also location of courthouse and jails. JS and about sixty other Mormon men were incarcerated here while awaiting...

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, but he returned to Far West after the main body of Saints left for Illinois

Became part of Northwest Territory of U.S., 1787. Admitted as state, 1818. Population in 1840 about 480,000. Population in 1845 about 660,000. Plentiful, inexpensive land attracted settlers from northern and southern states. Following expulsion from Missouri...

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in 1839. At some point following his separation from the church, Whitmer struck from chapter 19 not only his contrite conclusion but also his own name as one of the excommunicated Saints. He then added three chapters that were, in the words of later assistant church historian Andrew Jenson, “in altogether a different spirit.”20

Whitmer, “The Book of John Whitmer,” Andrew Jenson typescript, ca. Mar. 1894, [70].  


Whitmer accused JS and other leaders of pride, deceit, and despotism, repeating the most sensational reports coming out of the new Mormon settlement in Nauvoo

Principal gathering place for Saints following expulsion from Missouri. Beginning in 1839, LDS church purchased lands in earlier settlement of Commerce and planned settlement of Commerce City, as well as surrounding areas. Served as church headquarters, 1839...

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, Illinois.
In the 1840s, as Willard Richards

24 June 1804–11 Mar. 1854. Teacher, lecturer, doctor, clerk, printer, editor, postmaster. Born at Hopkinton, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. Son of Joseph Richards and Rhoda Howe. Moved to Richmond, Berkshire Co., Massachusetts, 1813. Moved to Chatham, Columbia...

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and William W. Phelps

17 Feb. 1792–7 Mar. 1872. Writer, teacher, printer, newspaper editor, publisher, postmaster, lawyer. Born at Hanover, Morris Co., New Jersey. Son of Enon Phelps and Mehitabel Goldsmith. Moved to Homer, Cortland Co., New York, 1800. Married Sally Waterman,...

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worked in Nauvoo

Principal gathering place for Saints following expulsion from Missouri. Beginning in 1839, LDS church purchased lands in earlier settlement of Commerce and planned settlement of Commerce City, as well as surrounding areas. Served as church headquarters, 1839...

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, Illinois, to compile the history of JS and the church, Phelps apparently inquired after the history in Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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’s possession. In January 1844, Whitmer wrote to Phelps, offering to sell his history “at a fair price.” Whitmer told Phelps that Latter-day Saint land in Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

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was “going to distruction”; he proposed trading his history “for property &c. provided we can agree as to price.” Whitmer reported that the “church history,” which may have been the volume that contained the “Book of John Whitmer,” was “at my controll but not in my Possession.”21

John Whitmer, Far West, MO, to William W. Phelps, Nauvoo, IL, 8 Jan. 1844, JS, Office Papers, CHL.  


Willard Richards responded to this letter, declining the offer from Whitmer and explaining that church historians had “already compiled about 800 pages of church history . . . which covers all the ground of which you took notes, therefore anything which you have in the shape of church history would be of little or no consequence to the church at large.”22

Willard Richards, Nauvoo, IL, to John Whitmer, Far West, MO, 23 Feb. 1844, copy, Willard Richards, Papers, CHL.  


Continuing to write after the death of JS, Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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at first affirmed James J. Strang

21 Mar. 1813–ca. 26 June 1856. Teacher, lawyer, newspaper publisher, postmaster. Born in Scipio, Cayuga Co., New York. Son of Clement Strang and Abigail James. Moved to Hanover, Chautauque Co., New York, 1816. Moved to Ellington, Chautauque Co., 1836. Married...

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as the rightful leader of the Saints, but he later canceled this passage. In September 1847, William E. McLellin

18 Jan. 1806–14 Mar. 1883. Schoolteacher, physician, publisher. Born at Smith Co., Tennessee. Son of Charles McLellin and Sarah (a Cherokee Indian). Married first Cynthia Ann, 30 July 1829. Wife died, by summer 1831. Baptized into LDS church by Hyrum Smith...

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persuaded John and David Whitmer

7 Jan. 1805–25 Jan. 1888. Farmer, livery keeper. Born near Harrisburg, Dauphin Co., Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Raised Presbyterian. Moved to Ontario Co., New York, shortly after birth. Attended German Reformed Church. Arranged...

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and Hiram Page

1800–12 Aug. 1852. Physician, farmer. Born in Vermont. Married Catherine Whitmer, 10 Nov. 1825, in Seneca Co., New York. One of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, June 1829. Baptized into LDS church by Oliver Cowdery, 11 Apr. 1830, at Seneca Lake,...

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to accept ordination in a reformed Church of Christ, which they soon repudiated.23

[William E. McLellin], “Our Tour West in 1847,” Ensign of Liberty, Aug. 1849, 99–105; [Ebenezer Robinson], “Elder David Whitmer,” The Return, Jan. 1889, 10; see also Porter, “Odyssey of William Earl McLellin,” 341–346.  


It was during this time that John Whitmer wrote the end of his history, putting forward the successorship claims of his brother David. As the main body of the Saints moved to the Great Basin, Whitmer remained in Caldwell County

Located in northwest Missouri. Settled by whites, by 1831. Described as being “one-third timber and two-thirds prairie” in 1836. Created specifically for Latter-day Saints by Missouri state legislature, 29 Dec. 1836, in attempt to solve “Mormon problem.” ...

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and at no point did he reestablish affiliation with those who went west. He did, however, continue to affirm his witness of the gold plates.24

Near the end of his life, Whitmer wrote regarding the printed testimony of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, “It is the Same as it was from the beginning, and it is true. . . . I have never denied my testimony as to the Book of Mormon, under any circumstances whatever.” (Joseph R. Lambert, Lamoni, IA, to E. L. Kelley, 29 Jan. 1884, CCLA.)  


A prosperous farmer until his death on 11 July 1878, he left an estate of 625 acres as well as livestock and farm equipment.25

“Executor’s or Administrator’s Inventory, Certificate, and Affidavit,” Estate of John Whitmer, 11 Oct. 1878, photocopy, private possession; Caldwell Co., MO, Probate Court, Inventories, Appraisements, Sale Bills, vol. C, pp. 91–92, microfilm 955,841; Caldwell Co., MO, Probate Court, Records, vol. D, pp. 35–38, microfilm 955,386, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.  


The “Book of John Whitmer” illuminates many important concerns of the early church, including property issues, church discipline, the millenarian beliefs of the Latter-day Saints and their fervor in constructing Zion

A specific location in Missouri; also a literal or figurative gathering of believers in Jesus Christ, characterized by adherence to ideals of harmony, equality, and purity. In JS’s earliest revelations “the cause of Zion” was used to broadly describe the ...

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or the “New Jerusalem,” the treatment of dissidents, and the establishment of a priesthood leadership hierarchy. It also reports on the construction and significance of the temple

JS revelation of Jan. 1831 directed Latter-day Saints to migrate to Ohio, where they would “be endowed with power from on high.” JS Revelation of Dec. 1832 directed Saints to “establish . . . an house of God.” JS Revelation of 1 June 1833 chastened Saints...

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at Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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, the conflicts the Saints had with their neighbors in Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

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, their subsequent attempts to secure redress, and aspects of succession following JS’s death. Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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’s work is particularly significant for the revelations, petitions, and letters that form a large part of his history.

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