Peter Whitmer Home and Farm, Fayette, NY: Translation, Three Witnesses, and the Church of Christ Organized Transcript

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John Livingstone: The Peter Whitmer home and farm holds a unique place in the history of the Restoration, both as a safe haven for much of the translation of the Book of Mormon and its publication as well as the location for the organization of the Church of Christ in the latter-days.

In the spring of 1829 a letter arrived at the Whitmer home in Fayette Township that would forever change the lives of the Whitmer family. Oliver Cowdery wrote from Harmony, Pennsylvania, requesting that he and the Prophet Joseph Smith be given lodging for a time.1 In granting this request, little did the Whitmer family realize the integral part they would play in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

During the summer of 1829, the Whitmers provided one of their upstairs bedrooms for the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in which to stay and translate the Book of Mormon plates.2 A short time later, Emma Smith also came to stay with the Whitmers. It is most likely that the translation of 1 Nephi through the end of the Words of Mormon took place in one of these upstairs bedrooms.3

Craig James Ostler: During the latter part of June 1829, the Lord called Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris to be three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon.4 If they had sufficient faith, they would be shown the plates, the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, and the Liahona (see D&C 17:1).5 These three men and the Prophet Joseph Smith retired to the woods near Peter Whitmer’s property, praying to obtain the fulfillment of these promises. After much prayer and supplication, Joseph, Oliver, and David were shown a vision of the plates and the other objects.6 It was not until later that day, after he had humbled himself further before God, that Martin Harris was also shown the same vision.7

Following the experience of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, in which they saw the plates and an angel and heard the voice of God declare the truth of the Book of Mormon, Joseph returned with them to the Whitmer home. His mother, Lucy Mack Smith, related that he (Joseph) threw himself down on the bed in the room where his parents and Mrs. Whitmer were sitting together and exclaimed, “Father, Mother, you do not know how happy I am. The Lord has caused the plates to be shown to three more besides me. They have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the truth of what I have said. For they know for themselves.”8 Martin Harris then came into the room. He seemed almost overcome with joy. He then testified to what he had seen and heard, as did also Oliver and David who added that no tongue could express the joy of their hearts and the greatness of the things which they had both seen and heard.9 Most likely, it was also in this bedroom that the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery heard the voice of the Lord directing them how to organize the church of Christ (see D&C 20:1; 128:21).10

John Livingstone: The main room of the house served as a kitchen, dining room, and gathering room for family conversation, reading, amusement, and for receiving guests. Most importantly, on Tuesday, April 6, 1830, according to divine command, a small group of people gathered in the Whitmer home. 11 At that time the Prophet Joseph Smith directed the official organization of the church of Christ. David Whitmer reported that over fifty people filled the lower rooms of the home. 12 The meeting began with solemn prayer after which Joseph conducted the business of organizing the church according to the laws of the state of New York. After all those present sustained Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery as their teachers. After Joseph and Oliver ordained one another to the office of elder, they administered the sacrament of bread and wine to those present. Those who had been previously baptized were confirmed members of the church, given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and other members were ordained to various offices in the priesthood. The meeting was then closed with prayer. 13

During the time that Joseph lived here at the Whitmer home, he received at least seventeen revelations later published in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as worked on the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible.14 For a time, the home was the center of activity of the newly restored church, and in addition to the organization meeting on April 6, 1830, new members gathered to the Whitmer farm for the first three conferences of the church. 15

During the last conference the Lord revealed to the Saints that they must move to Ohio to escape their enemies and promised to reveal his law to them and endow them with power from on high after they gathered to Ohio (D&C 38:31-33). In May of 1831, obedient to the Lord’s command, the Whitmers left their home and farm and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where they continued to build the kingdom of God in a new home. 16

Notes

Chamber of Mr. Whitmer’s house in order more particularly to seek of the Lord what we now so earnestly desired: and here, to our unspeakable satisfaction did we realize the truth of the Savior’s promise; ‘Ask, and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you;’ for we had not long been engaged in solemn and fervent prayer, when the word of the Lord, came unto us in the Chamber, commanding us; that I should ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ, and that he also should ordain me to the same office, accordin and then [to] ordain others as it should be made known unto us, from time to time: we were however commanded to defer this our ordination untill, such times, as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us as spiritual teachers, or not, when we were also commanded to bless bread and break it with them, and to take wine and bless it, and drink it with them, afterward proceed to ordain each other according to commandment…” (Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 326-328).

1 Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir, ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 446.
2 Joseph Smith, “History Drafts, 1838—Circa 1841,” 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), 306-309; Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 1:49.
3 The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 1: July 1828-1831, eds. Michael Hubbard Mackay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, William G. Hartley, (Salt Lake City: The Church Historians Press, 2013), 59; Dean C. Jesse, “The Original Book of Mormon Manuscript,” BYU Studies, 10 (Spring 1970): 272-278; John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestation, 1820-1844, eds. John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, and Salt lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 100-102, 115-117; also see John W. Welch, “I Have a Question: How long did it take Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon?” Ensign, January 1988, 46.
4 See Doctrine and Covenants, section 17.
5 Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 314-317.
6 David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Lyndon W. Cook, (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1991), 25-26; Lucy’s Book, 452.
7 Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 318-323; Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 1:54-55.
8 Lucy’s Book, 453.
9 Ibid.
10 Although the original home is no longer standing, “the reconstructed log house of Peter Whitmer Sr. has the unique distinction of being on the exact site” of the original home and the chamber has been identified as referring to the bedroom [Sacred Places, Volume 2: New York and Pennsylvania, a Comprehensive Guide to Early LDS Historical Sites, eds. Lamar C. Berrett, Larry C. Porter, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 134, 139.) Describing these events, Joseph Smith said, “We had for some time made this matter a subject of humble prayer, and at length we got together in the Chamber of Mr. Whitmer’s house in order more particularly to seek of the Lord what we now so earnestly desired: and here, to our unspeakable satisfaction did we realize the truth of the Savior’s promise; ‘Ask, and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you;’ for we had not long been engaged in solemn and fervent prayer, when the word of the Lord, came unto us in the Chamber, commanding us; that I should ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ, and that he also should ordain me to the same office, accordin and then [to] ordain others as it should be made known unto us, from time to time: we were however commanded to defer this our ordination until, such times, as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us as spiritual teachers, or not, when we were also commanded to bless bread and break it with them, and to take wine and bless it, and drink it with them, afterward proceed to ordain each other according to commandment…” (Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 326-328).
11 Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 364-365.
12 Edward Stevenson Journal, January 2, 1887; LDS Archives.
13 Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 364-372; Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 1:62.
14 The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants received in the Whitmer home include: D&C 14-18, 20-21, 28-37, and 38-40. There is some question regarding where Doctrine and Covenants 35 and 36 were received. These sections have no designated location, but were likely received either at the Whitmer Home in Fayette Township or at the Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith home in the community of Kingdom, New York.
15 These conferences were held 9 June 1830, 26-28 September 1830, and 2 January 1831. Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844, Eds. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983), 1-5. Also see Joseph Smith, Histories, Volume 1, 387-391; 452-453, 552; Joseph Smith, Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 1:84-86, 110, 115-118, 140-143. At this last conference the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation that members of the Church in New York were to sell or rent their properties and move to the Ohio. (D&C 38). 16 Larry C. Porter, “A Study of the Origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816-1831,” Ph.D. dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1971 (reprint: Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2000), 125, note 113.