Forgeries related to Mormonism/Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates/Accounts

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Accounts of the recovery of the Kinderhook plates

Summary: There are 11 important documents to deal with when dealing with the Kinderhook Plates. This article examines all of them.



Accounts

There exist several accounts that describe the plates. Not all of the account agree on the details.

William Clayton 1 May 1843

I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County by some persons who were digging in a mound. They found a skeleton about 6 feet from the surface of the earth which was 9 foot high. [At this point there is a tracing of a plate in the journal.] The plates were on the breast of the skeleton. This diagram shows the size of the plates being drawn on the edge of one of them. They are covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharoah king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth. [1]

Charlotte Haven 2 May 1843

Charlotte Haven claimed to have heard from a friend that Joseph:

said that the figures or writing on them was similar to that in which the Book of Mormon was written...thought that by the help of revelation he would be able to translate them. So a sequel to that holy book may soon be expected.[2]

Brigham Young 3 May 1843

Brigham Young also drew an outline of one of the Kinderhook plates in a small notebook/diary that he kept. Inside the drawing he wrote:

May 3—1843. I had this at Joseph Smith’s house. Found near Quincy.[3]

The Quincy Whig 3 May 1843

The Quincy Whig (a newspaper from a local town near Kinderhook) published their reaction to the plates. It reads:

Finally, a company of ten or twelve repaired to the mound, and assisted in digging out the shaft commenced by Wiley. After penetrating the mound about 11 feet, they came to a bed of limestone, that had apparently been subjected to the action of fire, they removed the stone, which were small and easy to handle, to the depth of two feet more, when they found SIX BRASS PLATES, secured and fastened together by two iron wires, but which were so decayed, that they readily crumbled to dust upon being handled. The plates were so completely covered with rust as almost to obliterate the characters inscribed upon them; but after undergoing a chemical process, the inscriptions were brought out plain and distinct... [4]

Times and Seasons Editorial 3 or 4 of May 1843

Mr. Smith has had those plates, what his opinion concerning them is, we have not yet ascertained. The gentleman that owns them has taken them away, or we should have given a fac simile of the plates and characters in this number. We are informed however, that he purposes returning with them for translation; if so, we may be able yet to furnish our readers with it.

Joseph Smith Journal 7 May 1843

Joseph Smith's journal entry for 7 May 1843 reads:

May 7[th] Sunday 1843. forenoon visited by several gentlemen concerning the plates which were dug out of a mound near quncy [Quincy] sent by Wm Smith to the office for Hebrew Bible & Lexicon— Mr Vickers the wire dancer called. A.M.— court of 1st Preside[n]cy met & adjond [adjourned] one week, 2 P.P. [p.m.] 399President not well— councellors acted.—

evening preaching by Elder [Orson] Hyde text Luke 21 chapter.[5]

Parley P. Pratt's account 7 May 1843

Parley P. Pratt's account conflicts with Clayton's in some regards:

Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah. His bones were found in the same vase (made of Cement). Part of the bones were 15 ft. underground. ... A large number of Citizens have seen them and compared the characters with those on the Egyptian papyrus which is now in this city. [6]

Comparison of Clayton and Pratt Accounts of Kinderhook Plates

Story Element Clayton Account Clayton Correct? Pratt Account Pratt Correct?
Skeleton Yes Incorrect Yes Incorrect
Size skeleton 9 feet Incorrect Normal size Incorrect
Depth buried 6 feet Incorrect 15 feet Incorrect
Location plates On breast of skeleton Incorrect No mention N/A
Dig site Adams county Incorrect Pike county Correct
Cement vase No mention Correct Mention Incorrect

John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff broadside 24 June 1843

The contents of the Plates, together with a Fac-simile of the same, will be published in the ‘Times & Seasons,’ as soon as the translation is completed.[7]

Wilbur Fugate 30 June 1879

Wilbur Fugate, one of the perpetrator's of the hoax, wrote a few decades later:

Our plans worked admirably. A certain Sunday was appointed for the digging. The night before, Wiley went to the Mound where he had previously dug to the depth of about eight feet, there being a flat rock that sounded hollow beneath, and put them under it. On the following morning quite a number of citizens were there to assist in the search, there being two Mormon elders present (Marsh and Sharp). The rock was soon removed but some time elapsed before the plates were discovered. I finally picked them up and exclaimed, 'A piece of pot metal!' Fayette Grubb snatched them from me and struck them against the rock and they fell to pieces. Dr. Harris examined them and said they had hieroglyphics on them. He took acid and removed the rust and they were soon out on exhibition. Under this rock (which) was dome-like in appearance (and) about three feet in diameter, there were a few bones in the last stage of decomposition, also a few pieces of pottery and charcoal. There was no skeleton found. [8]

Later he declared in affidavit:

[Those plates are a HUMBUG, gotten up by Robert Wiley, Bridge Whitton and myself. … None of the nine persons who signed the certificate knew the secret, except Wiley and I.



We read in Pratt’s prophecy that ‘Truth is yet to spring out of the earth.’ [The quote is from Parley P. Pratt’s 1837 missionary tract Voice of Warning.] We concluded to prove the prophecy by way of a joke. We soon made our plans and executed them. Bridge Whitton cut them out of some pieces of copper; Wiley and I made the hieroglyphics by making impressions on beeswax and filling them with acid and putting it on the plates. When they were finished we put them together with rust made of nitric acid, old iron and lead, and bound them with a piece of hoop iron, covering them completely with the rust.[9]

Stanley Kimball Article (Ensign, Aug 1981)

Stanley Kimball published findings demonstrating the plates a hoax:

A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate (one of six original plates) brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was—a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates.[10]

Notes

  1. William Clayton Diary, 1 May 1843. Printed in William Clayton and George D. Smith (editor), An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1995), 100.
  2. Charlotte Haven, “A Girl’s Letters from Nauvoo,” Overland Monthly 16, no. 96, December 1890, 630; letter written May 2, 1843.
  3. L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University
  4. Quincy Whig Wednesday, 3 May 1842.
  5. "Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843," p. [195], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 30, 2019, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-december-1842-june-1844-book-2-10-march-1843-14-july-1843/203
  6. Parley P. Pratt letter to John Van Cott, Sunday, 7 May 1843, original in John Van Cott correspondence, Church Archives.
  7. See “A Brief Account of the Discovery of the Brass Plates Recently Taken from a Mound near Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois,” (Taylor & Woodruff, June 24, 1843).
  8. W. Fugate to Mr. Cobb, 30 June 1879, Mound Station, Illinois and Fugate affidavit of same date; cited in Welby W. Ricks, "The Kinderhook Plates," reprinted from Improvement Era (September 1962).
  9. W. Fugate to Mr. Cobb, 30 June 1879, Mound Station, Illinois and Fugate affidavit of same date
  10. Stanley Kimball, "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to be Nineteenth Century Hoax," Ensign 10 (August 1980).