Question: What are the differences between the Strangite witness statements and those of the Three and Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon?

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Question: What are the differences between the Strangite witness statements and those of the Three and Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon?

Strang's witnesses saw nothing supernatural

No one doubts that Strang had a set of a few very small metallic plates in his possession, or that they were removed from the earth in the manner reported above. In that sense, there would be nothing for his witnesses to deny.

Wrote Daniel C. Peterson in "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011) off-site

The two sets of inscribed plates that Strang claimed to have found in Wisconsin and Michigan beginning in 1845 almost certainly existed. Milo Quaife's early, standard biography of Strang reflects that, while Strang's angelic visitations "may have had only a subjective existence in the brain of the man who reported them, the metallic plates possessed a very material objective reality."

And they were almost certainly forgeries.

The first set, the three "Voree" or "Rajah Manchou" plates, were dug up by four "witnesses" whom Strang had taken to the plates' burial place. Illustrated and inscribed on both sides, the Rajah Manchou plates were roughly 1.5 by 2.75 inches in size — small enough to fit in the palm of a hand or to carry in a pocket.[1]

Some of Strang's witnesses later repudiated their testimonies, and one witness later admitted helping to fabricate the plates

Ex-strangite Isaac Scott, who was once a leader in the Strangite Church, stated that Caleb P. Barnes told him that he and Strang had actually fabricated the plates. According to Scott, the men,

made the 'plates' out of Ben [Perce]'s old kettle and engraved them with an old saw file, and ... when completed they put acid on them to corrode them and give them an ancient appearance; and that to deposit them under the tree, where they were found, they took a large auger ... which Ben [Perce] owned, put a fork handle on the auger and with it bored a long slanting hole under a tree on 'The Hill of Promise,' as they called it, laying the earth in a trail on a cloth as taken out, then put the 'plates' in, tamping in all the earth again, leaving no trace of their work visible. [2]

Peterson continues:

Among the many who saw them was Stephen Post, who reported that they were brass and, indeed, that they resembled the French brass used in familiar kitchen kettles. "With all the faith & confidence that I could exercise," he wrote, "all that I could realize was that Strang made the plates himself, or at least that it was possible that he made them." One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies.

The 18 "Plates of Laban," likewise of brass and each about 7.5 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and were seen by seven witnesses in 1851. These witnesses' testimony was published as a preface to "The Book of the Law of the Lord," which Strang said he derived from the "Plates of Laban." (He appears to have begun the "translation" at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) Strang's witnesses report seeing the plates, but mention nothing miraculous. Nor did Strang supply any additional supporting testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

One of the witnesses to the "Plates of Laban," Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang's movement and denounced it as mere "human invention." Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had actually assisted Strang in the creation of the plates.[3]

Chauncy Loomis reports that Samuel Graham described how the Plates of Laban were fabricated, and Samuel Bacon finds remnants of the plates hidden in Strang's ceiling

Chauncy Loomis, in a letter to Joseph Smith III dated 10 Nov. 1888 and published in the Saint's Herald, talked of a conversation that he had with George Adams. Adams described how Strang had asked him to dress in a long white robe and use phosphorous to impersonate an angel. Adams also reported that Samuel Graham talked about how he and Strang fabricated the Plates of Laban. Loomis reported that Samuel Bacon discovered fragments of the plates hidden in the ceiling of Strang's house, and then left the Strangite Church.

At this time George [Adams] was gone from the island on some business. When he returned and saw how things were going he left the island with his family. I saw him and wife after this on Mackinaw Island. He said to me, “Brother Loomis, I always thought you to be an honest man, but you are like poor dog Tray; you have been caught in bad company, and now my advice to you is to leave the island, for I tell you Strang is not a prophet of God. I consider him to be a self-confessed imposter. Strang wanted me to get a couple of bottles of phosphoros and dress myself in a long white robe and appear on the highest summit on the island, called Mount Pisgah, break the bottles, make an illumination and blow a trumpet and disappear so that he might make it appear that an angel had made them a visit; that it might beget faith in the Saint.” I said to him, “Brother Adams, how is it that you deny the testimony given by you so long ago, that you knew Strang was a prophet of God?” “Well, brother Loomis, I will tell you: I was in the spirit of Strang then.” I have since thought that if he ever spoke the truth it was then. I speak of these things that you may see how we were Strang led. I was in the spirit of Strang and foretold some things that would befall us which never came to pass; but I believe that myself and another brother at one time had the Spirit of God, for we prophesied that Strang would be killed, and the Saints would be driven from the island, which truly did come to pass. I shall now make some statement in regard to others who were the chief men of the kingdom. Bro. Samuel Graham, I think, president of the Twelve, declared that he and Strang made those plates that Strang claimed to translate the Book of the Law from. But they in the first place prepared the plates and coated them with beeswax and then formed the letters and cut them in with a pen knife and then exhibited them to the rest of the Twelve. The facts were Graham apostatized and left the island, taking his family and Strang’s first wife, Mary, with him to Voree, Wisconsin. At this time Strang was at Detroit, Michigan. His wife never returned to him; he had four others besides and some concubines. Bro. Samuel Bacon says that in repairing Strang’s house he found hid behind the ceiling the fragments of those plates which Strang made the Book of the Law from. He turned infidel and left the island. [3]

Image of page 719 of the Saint's Herald dated 10 Nov. 1888.

Peterson concludes,

"We can hardly escape the conclusion," writes Quaife, "that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers" and, accordingly, that "Strang's prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture." A more recent biographer, Roger Van Noord, concludes that "based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang's advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion."

Thus, Strang's plates were much less numerous than those of the Book of Mormon, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural and his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months. (Quite unlike the semi-literate Joseph Smith, Strang was well-read. He had been an editor and lawyer before his involvement with Mormonism.) Perhaps most strikingly, unlike the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, some (at least) of Strang's witnesses later denied their testimonies.

The contrasts work very much in Joseph Smith's favor.[4]

In summary, Strang and his witnesses:

  • had no supernatural component to their witness
  • had fewer plates in his possession
  • took the better part of 10 years to complete his translation project
  • had one who later denounced his project as mere "human invention"
  • had one who later confessed to helping fabricate the plates

The collective testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses is, in terms of its evidentiary value and strength, far more challenging to critics than is the testimony of James J. Strang's witnesses.


  1. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)
  2. The Saints’ Herald 35 (December 29, 1888): 831–32. See also Wikipedia article "Voree plates".
  3. 3.0 3.1 Letter from Chauncy Loomis to Joseph Smith III, “Experience on Beaver Island with James J. Strang,” Saint’s Herald, 10 Nov. 1888, 718-719.
  4. Daniel C. Peterson, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect," Deseret News (9 June 2011)