Martin Harris Farm in Palmyra, New York Transcript

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Martin Harris Farm Palmyra, NY

Craig J. Ostler: In 1829 Martin Harris mortgaged this farm north of Palmyra Village to pay for the printing of the first edition of the Book of Mormon. The original Harris house burned down in 1849, the home you can see here today was built in 1850 using stone from Lake Ontario.[1] Martin first became acquainted with Joseph Smith Sr. and his son, Hyrum, in 1824 when he hired them to dig a rock well on his property.[2] Young Joseph Jr., worked in these fields at fifty cents a day.[3]
    Living in Palmyra Township close to the Smiths, Martin heard rumors regarding young Joseph Jr. and the claims of gold plates. In time Martin further investigated these rumors by speaking with the Smiths and learned from them concerning the truth of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
    In 1828 Martin Harris provided financial aid, in the amount of fifty dollars, to the prophet Joseph Smith enabling him to travel to Harmony, Pennsylvania where he could translate the plates without harassment from the citizens of Palmyra.[4] In February 1829, Martin traveled to Harmony to take some characters that Joseph had copied from the Plates to scholars in New York City. While there he visited with Professor Charles Anthon and Doctor Samuel L. Mitchell who attempted to translate the characters and declared the characters as true and the translation as correct. After returning to Harmony, Pennsylvania, with these scholars’ assessment, Martin assisted the prophet Joseph as his scribe in the translation of the Book of Mormon.[5] Eventually Martin wrote one hundred and sixteen pages of translation.[6]
    After repeatedly pressuring the prophet to allow him to show the manuscript to his wife, Martin brought the manuscript back to this farm in Palmyra. Although Martin had covenanted to show the manuscript only to his wife and four other family members, he broke that solemn promise showing it to others and somehow lost possession of it.[7] It was in the original house on this site that Martin searched in vain for the lost manuscript. When the fateful day came that Joseph traveled to Palmyra to inquire concerning the manuscript, he sent for Martin to come to the Smith home. Soon the Harris house was the scene of a hopeless search for the manuscript, but all of Martin’s frantic efforts and inquiry of his wife yielded nothing.[8] Eventually, Martin Harris humbled himself and repented of his wickedness in breaking his solemn promise regarding the lost manuscript.[9] On August 25, 1829 Martin mortgaged two hundred and forty acres of his farm as security to pay three thousand dollars for the printing of five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon. Proceeds from the sale of the book were to pay for the publishing. If the money could not be raised within eighteen months by selling copies of the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris agreed to deed a sufficient amount of his farm to pay the debt.[10] Naturally Martin was concerned about losing his farm, the Lord commanded Martin,

   ”… thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon…

   Impart a portion of thy property, yea, even a part of thy lands, and all save the support of thy family.

   Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage” (D&C 19: 26, 34-35).

Kent P. Jackson: In Joseph Smith’s time as well as today it is the publisher not the author that takes on the financial liability for the printing of the book, and so Joseph Smith had invested nothing in it in terms of financial resources so he wasn’t going to lose anything himself, if the book was not going to sell; but Grandin needed a guarantee. So Grandin was able to take on the job because he had a guarantee upfront that should the book not sell, and it didn’t sell, he would still be guaranteed his part of the project because Martin Harris’ farm would go up for mortgage and Grandin would receive the proceeds of that, and that is precisely what happened.[11]

Craig J. Ostler: The citizens near Palmyra voted to boycott purchasing the Book of Mormon.[12] When the mortgage on Martin’s farm fell due, there was no money from the sale of the book to pay it. Martin sold one hundred and fifty one acres of the family farm to pay the debt, which included the farm home that he had built earlier in his married life.[13] Martin’s wife, Lucy, did not approve of his involvement in publishing the Book of Mormon and left him, taking their children with her.[14] When the Lord commanded the New York Saints to move to Ohio, Martin was obedient. Now alone in 1831, he moved from his family farm and started a new life in Kirtland, Ohio.[15]

[1] Schmidt, Carl F. Cobblestone Masonry, (Scottsville, NY: Carl F. Schmidt, 1966) 175.
[2] Willard Bean. ABC History of Palmyra and the Beginning of Mormonism (Palmyra, NY: Palmyra Courier Co., 1938), 35.
[3] Edward Stevenson in Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star 48 (21 June 1886): 389. Stevenson heard this from Martin Harris on their journey from Ohio to Utah territory in 1870.
[4] Joseph Smith-History 1:61-62. Joseph Smith, “History Drafts, 1831—Circa 1847,” The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844, eds. Kern Lynn Davidson, David J. Whitaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen, (Salt Lake City: The Church Historians Press, 2012), 1:238.
[5] Joseph Smith-History 1:63; Joseph Smith, The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844, 1:244.
[6] Joseph Smith, The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844, 1:246.
[7] Lucy Mack Smith, Lucy’s Book: A Critical edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir, ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 418.
[8] Ibid. 420.
[9] Joseph Smith, The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844, 1:320. Martin’s repentance is evidenced by the Lord’s acceptance of him as one of the Three Witnesses.
[10] Wayne County Mortgages Book, 3;325-326. Copy printed in Madge Harris Tuckett and Belle Harris Wilson, The Martin Harris Story, (Provo, Utah: Vintage Books, 1983), 42. Copy of Mortgage deed printed on page; Also cited in Susan Easton Black & Larry C. Porter, “for the sum of 3000 dollars,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 14, number 2 (2005); 9.
[11] Wayne County Records, Book H526, Apr. 7, 1831, Martin Harris to Thomas Lakey; also, Thomas L. Cook, Palmyra and Vicinity, (Palmyra, New York: Palmyra Courier – Journal, 1930), 206.
[12] Lucy’s Book, 420.
[13] Wayne County Records, Book H526, Apr. 7, 1831, Martin Harris to Thomas Lakey; also, Cook, Palmyra and Vicinity, 206.
[14] Tuckett and Wilson, The Martin Harris Story, 51.
[15] Ibid., 52.