Other witnesses to the Book of Mormon

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Other witnesses to the Book of Mormon

Question: Are there any other witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates besides the Three and Eight witnesses?

Emma Smith

Emma Smith said in later interviews:

Q.-Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?

A.-The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book....

"Q-Could not [Joseph Smith] have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery, and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?

"A.-Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, 'a marvel and a wonder,' as much so as to anyone else.

"Q.-I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?

"A.-I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so.

"Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

"A.-I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.[1]


Q: "Do you believe that your husband, Joseph Smith died true to his profession?"

A: "I believe he was everything he professed to be."[2]

Lucy Mack Smith

I trembled so with fear, lest all might be lost in consequence of some failure in keeping the commandments of God, that I was under the necessity of leaving the room in order to conceal my feelings. Joseph saw this, and said, "Do not be uneasy mother, all is right—see here, I have got a key."

I knew not what he meant, but took the article of which he spoke into my hands, and, upon examination, found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows, which were connected with each other in much the same way as old fashioned spectacles. He took them again and left me, but said nothing respecting the Record.[3]

Mary Whitmer

Mary Musselman Whitmer (August 27, 1778 - January 1856) was the wife of Peter Whitmer, Sr. Through her son David Whitmer, she and her family became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. around 1828. In 1829, probably during June, she was caring for three boarders (Joseph Smith, Emma Hale Smith, and Oliver Cowdery) in addition to her large household while the Book of Mormon was being translated. She said she was often overloaded with work to the extent she felt it quite a burden. During this time, the male boarders and members of her household were speaking of being shown the Golden Plates. One evening when she went to milk the cows, she said that a stranger with a knapsack spoke to her, explained what was going on in her house, comforted her, then produced a bundle of plates from his knapsack, turned the leaves for her, showed her the engravings, exhorted her to faith in bearing her burden a little longer, then suddenly vanished with the plates. She always called the stranger "Brother Nephi."

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Another Account of Mary Whitmer’s Viewing of the Golden Plates"

Royal Skousen,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2014)
The most interesting aspect of this story is that Mary Whitmer’s difficulty with the household situation was more than just being tired from all the extra work. She was irritated by Joseph and Oliver’s indifference to all the work she was doing, with their not helping out and instead skipping rocks for relaxation, so “she was about to order them out of her home.” Thus Moroni’s intervention was perhaps more purposeful than we might have previously thought. Undoubtedly, many others exerted much effort on behalf of providing help to Joseph and Oliver (such as Emma Smith had just done in Harmony, Pennsylvania, for the previous three months). Here, however, Moroni needed to deal with a more difficult situation, one that could have forced Joseph to find another place – and a secure one – to do the translating. Moroni (and the Lord) weren’t in the habit of just showing the plates to people to encourage them to act as a support team for the work of the translation.

Click here to view the complete article

Question: Did one of the Book of Mormon witnesses actually only handle the plates while they were covered in a "tow frock"?

William Smith, who was not one of the Three or Eight Witnesses, described handling the plates covered by a "tow frock" when Joseph brought them home from the Hill Cumorah

It is claimed by some that at least one of the Book of Mormon witnesses said they only handled the plates while they were covered in a "tow frock," and that this is evidence that the witnesses were simply imagining that they saw the plates because they believed in "second sight."

All of the statements regarding seeing the plates covered by a "tow frock" come from one person: William Smith. William was Joseph Smith's younger brother, but he was not one of the Three or Eight Book of Mormon witness. William is instead describing his experience when Joseph brought the plates home from the hill later known as "Mormon Hill" and ultimately, "Hill Cumorah." Joseph had wrapped the plates in a frock in order to keep them from being seen. William was allowed to handle the plates while they were still wrapped in the frock.

Critics of the Church who employ this statement as evidence do not reveal that this report is actually from William Smith and instead attempt to portray Williams description of handling the plates as coming from one of the Three or Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. They also fail to tell us that William insisted in the same statement that he was convinced Joseph was not lying about the plates. William also dismissed the Spalding hypothesis of Book of Mormon authorship as nonsense.

William Smith's statement actually confirms that Joseph did have something in his possession that fit the dimensions, form, and weight of the plates he claimed to have. So William, although not a direct witness, is an accessory who confirms Joseph Smith's story.

William Smith (1883): "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"

William Smith describes when his brother Joseph first brought the plates home:

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.[4]

This report that they were not allowed to see the plates applies only to when Joseph first brought the plates home. Joseph's father and two of his brothers (Hyrum and Samuel) were to be allowed to see them, and William says so explicitly later in the same work.

After the work of translation, William says:

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.

William Smith (1884): "When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, 'What, Joseph, can we not see them?'"

William Smith describes how his family was not allowed to see the 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 up 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 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 a 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. [5]

William Smith (1893): "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds"

William Smith describes the physical characteristics of the plates:

Bro. Briggs then handed me a pencil and asked Bro. Smith if he ever saw the plates his brother had had, from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

He replied, "I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back. Their size was as described in mother's history."

Bro. Briggs then asked, "Did any others of the family see them?"

"Yes," said he; "Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family."

"Was this frock one that Joseph took with him especially to wrap the plates in?"

"No, it was his every day frock such as young men used to wear then."

"Din't [sic] you want to remove the cloth and see the bare plates?" said Bro. B[riggs].

"No," he replied; "for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; "No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again." Besides we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before."5

"Did you not doubt Joseph's testimony sometimes?" said Bro. Briggs.

"No," was the reply. "We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and mother believed him, why should not the children? I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That Father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that [p.512] belief shows that he was truthful. No sir, we never doubted his word for one minute." [6]

William again insists that despite not seeing the plates, he and the others were convinced that Joseph had them. He talks of the future witnesses (Hyrum, Samuel, and his father) seeing through the cloth--but only when Joseph first brought them home. He includes himself and the rest of the family in this group. He is not talking about the three and eight witnesses' experience at all.


  1. [Emma Smith interview], The Saints' Herald, vol. 26, pp. 289, 290 [1 Oct 1879]; cited in Joseph Smith, Heman Conoman Smith, and F. Henry Edwards, The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Independence, Mo: Herald House, 1967), 3:353–358.
  2. Interview by Parley P. Pratt, Jr. recorded by Nels Madsen, 27 November 1931, LDS Archives; cited by Mormon Enigma, 2nd ed., 297–298.
  3. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 101.
  4. William B. Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam Book and Job Office, 1883), 5-19. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:497.
  5. "The Old Soldier's Testimony. Sermon preached by Bro. William B. Smith, in the Saints' Chapel, Detroit, Iowa, June 8th, 1884. Reported by C.E. Butterworth," Saints' Herald 31 4 October 1884): 643-44. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:505.
  6. "Wm. B. Smith's last Statement," Zion's Ensign 5 (13 Jan. 1894): 6; reprinted in the Deseret Evening News 27 (20 Jan. 1894): 11; Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 56 (26 Feb. 1894): 132. Reproduced in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:510-512.