Source:Echoes:Ch2:10:John Whitmer

John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses

John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses

Another of the Eight Witnesses, John Whitmer, was excommunicated on 10 March 1838, one month before his brother David. Like David, he never returned to the Church. In fact, for a brief period it even appears that John's spiritual confidence in the Book of Mormon had been shaken by his separation from his former associates and by his bitterness over the economic and other issues that had arisen during the Latter-day Saints' brief sojourn in Missouri. (He was sorrowful and dejected about his excommunication, but also, for at least a time, quite angry at the church in general and Joseph Smith in particular.) During an 1839 exchange with Theodore Turley, the Mormon business agent who had stayed behind in Far West to settle financial affairs there after the expulsion of the Saints, Whitmer confessed to doubts about whether the Book of Mormon was true. After all, he had heard no divine voice confirming the accuracy of the translation. Speaking of the original text on the plates, he said, "I cannot read it, and I do not know whether it is true or not." Nonetheless, he insisted, "I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. I handled them."

Thus, even in the depths of his alienation and bitterness, even when he was most inclined to doubt what he could not see for himself—even living, as he did, in the area of the worst anti-Mormon persecutions, when continuing to affirm faith in anything connected with the Latter-day Saint movement could have been personally dangerous—John Whitmer did not deny that he had "lifted and handled a metal object of substantial weight." There was nothing mystical, visionary, or immaterial about his experience. It was a simple matter of hefting and examining something entirely tangible, something quite literally physical.

It appears, however, that John Whitmer's bitterness, or at least his skepticism, was short-lived. By 1856, he was the last survivor from among the Eight Witnesses. In 1861, Jacob Gates spoke with him for more than four hours, thereafter entering the following summary comment in his journal: "[H]e still testified that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Lord."[1]


  1. Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.