Note: As described below, this history was dictated by Joseph Smith and written by James Mullholland. The inserted and deleted phrases were done by Willard Richards, who was with the prophet when he was martyred at Carthage.
“The writing of Joseph Smith’s History of the Church in its present form was begun on April 30, 1838, at Far West, Missouri. How much was completed before the Prophet left Missouri in the Spring of 1839 is not known; but by May 2 the writing had progressed to the eighth page of the manuscript, which contains the account of obtaining the Book of Mormon plates. Since work on the history is mentioned on only two additional days following May 2, probably not much more was written while Joseph was in Missouri. 1
Less than three weeks after the Prophet arrived in Quincy, Illinois, in 1839, he moved his family to Commerce, sixty miles to the north, where he began to establish a new gathering place for the Saints. In the midst of this resettlement activity, he renewed work on his history. On June 11 James Mulholland2
wrote that Joseph “commenced to dictate and I to write history.”3 Recognizing that succeeding portions of the History were also dictated, I have included only the beginning pages of this work here.
…I continued to pursue my common avocations in life untill the twenty first of September, One thousand Eight hundred and twenty three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hand of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious because I continued to affirm that I [had] seen a vision. During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year Eighteen hundred and twenty three, (having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends, and to have treated me kindly and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavoured in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me) I was left to all kinds of temptations, and mingling [with] all kinds of society I frequently [fell] into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the corruption [foibles]4 of human nature which I am sorry to say led me into divers temptations to the gratification of many appetites offensive in the sight of God [See Note C. p.133].5 In consequence of these things I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when on the evening of the above mentioned twenty first of september, after I had retired to my bed for the night I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me that I might know of my state and standing before him. For I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation as I had previously had one. While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in the room which continued to increase untill the room was lighter than at noonday and [when] immediately a personage [appeared] at my bedside standing in the air for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond any[thing] earthly I had ever seen, nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedin[g]ly white and brilliant, His hands were naked and his arms also a little above the wrists. So also were his feet naked as were his legs a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him I was afraid, but the fear soon left me. He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi[Moroni]6 That God had a work for me to do, and that my [name] should be had for good and evil among all nations kindreds and tongues. or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it as delivered by the Saviour to the ancient inhabitants. Also that there were two stones in silver bows and these (put [stones fastened] in to a breast plate) which constituted what is called the Urim & Thummin deposited with the plates, and [the possession and use of these stones] that was what constituted seers in ancient or former times and that God [had] prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. After telling me these things he commenced quoting the prophecies of the old testament, he first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as reads in our books he quoted it thus, “For behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud [yea] and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble, for [they day] that cometh shall burn them saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” And again he quoted the fifth verse thus, “Behold I will reveal unto you the Priesthood by the hand of Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” He also quoted the next verse differently. “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers, if it were not so the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” In addition to these quotations he quoted the Eleventh Chapter of Isaiah saying that it was about to be fulfilled. He quoted also the third chapter of Acts, twenty second and twenty third verses precisely as they stand in our new testament. He said that that prophet was Christ, but the day had not yet come when “they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people,” but soon would come.
He also quoted the second chapter of Joel from the twenty eighth to the last verse. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled but was soon to be. And he further stated the fullness of the gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here. Again he told me that when I got those plates of which he had spoken (for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled) I should not show [them] to any person, neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummin only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them. If I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it.
After this conversation [communication] I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so untill the room was again left dark except just round him, when instantly I saw as it were a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended up till he entirely disappeared and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.
I lay musing on the singularity of the scene and marvelling greatly at what had been told me by this extraordinary messenger, when in the midst of my meditation I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside. He commenced and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit without the least variation which having done, he informed me of great judgements which were coming upon the earth, with great desolations by famine, sword, and pestilence, and that these grievous judgments would come on the earth in this generation: Having related these things he again ascended as he had done before.
By this time so deep were the impressions made on my mind that sleep had fled from my eyes and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard; But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bed side, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family) to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich, This he forbid me, saying that I must have mo no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive but that of building his kingdom, otherwise I could not get them. After this third visit he again ascended up into heaven as before and I was again left to ponder on the strangeness of what I had just experienced, when almost immediately after the heavenly messenger had ascended from me the third time, the cock crew, and I found that day was approaching so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night. I shortly after arose from my bed, and as usual went to the necessary labors of the day, but in attempting to labor as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as rendered me entirely unable. My father who was laboring along [with] me discovered something to be wrong with me and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house, but in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me and I fell helpless on the ground and for a time was quite unconscious of any thing. The first thing that I can recollect was a voice speaking unto me calling me by name. I looked up and beheld the same messenger standing over my head surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received.
I obeyed. I returned back to my father in the field and rehearsed the whole matter to him. He replyed to me, that it was of God, and to go and do as commanded by the messenger. I left the field and went to the place where the messenger had told me the plates were deposited, and owing to the distinctness of the vision which I had had concerning it, I knew the place the instant that I arrived there.7 Under a stound stone of considerable size, lay the plates deposited in a stone box, This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all round was covered with earth. Having removed the earth off the edge of the stone and obtained a lever which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up, I looked in and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummin and the Breastplate as stated by the messenger The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement, in the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them. I made an attempt to take them out but was forbidden by the messenger and was again informed that the time [for] bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would untill four years from that time, but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so untill the time should come for obtaining the plates. Accordingly as I had been commanded I went at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days. As my father’s worldly circumstances were very [limited] we were under the necessity of laboring with our hands, hiring by days works and otherwise as we could get opportunity, sometimes we were at home and some times abroad and by continued labor were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance.
In the year Eighteen hundred and twenty four my fathers family met with a great affliction by the death of my eldest brother Alvin. 8 In the month of October Eighteen hundred and twenty five I hired with an old Gentleman, by name of Josiah Stoal who lived in Chenango County, State of New York.9 He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquahana County, State of Pensylvania, and had previous to my hiring with him been digging in order if possible to discover the mine. After I went to live with [him] he took me among the rest of his hands to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money digger.
During the time that I was thus employed I was put to board with a Mr Isaac Hale of that place, Twas there that I first saw my wife, (his daughter) Emma Hale. On the eighteenth of January Eighteen hundred and twenty seven we were married while yet I was employed in the service of Mr Stoal. Owing to my still continuing to assert that I had seen a vision, persecution still followed me, [and my wife’s father’s family was very much] and so much was my wife’s father excited, that he was greatly opposed to our being married, in so much that he would not suffer us to be married at his house, I was therefore under the necessity of taking her elsewhere, so we went and were married at Mr St the house of Mr Stoal [Squire Tarbill in the South Bambridge. Chenango County, New York.] Immediately after my marriage I left Mr Stoals; and went to my father’s and farmed with him that season.
At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummin and the breastplate. On the twenty second day of September, One thousand Eight hundred and twenty seven, having went as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me with this charge that I should be responsible for them. That if I should let them go carelessly or [through] any neglect of mine I should be cut off, but that if I would use all my endeavours to preserve them untill [he] (the messenger) called should call for them, they should be protected.
I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them, for no sooner was it known that I had them than the most strenious exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be resorted invented was resorted to for that purpose. The persecution became more bitter and severe than before, and multitudes were on the alert continualy to get them from me if possible but by the wisdom of God they remained safe in my hands untill I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand, when according to arrangement the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him and he has them in his charge untill this day, being the Second day of May, One thousand Eight hundred and thirty eight.
The excitement however still continued, and rumour with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating tales about my father’s family and about myself. If I were to relate a thousan[d]th part of them it would fill up volumes. The persecution however became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester and going with my wife [to] Susquahanah County in the State of Pensyllvania. While preparing to start (being very poor and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise) in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a Gentleman by [the] name of Martin Harris, who came to us and gave me fifty dollars to assist us in our affliction, Mr Harris was a resident of Palmyra township Wayne County in the State of New York and a farmer of respectability. By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December, and the February following. Sometime in this month of February the aforementioned Mr Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates and started with them to the City of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters I refer to his own account of the circumstances as he related them to me after his return which was as follows.
“I went to the City of New York and presented the Characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor [Charles] Anthony a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthony stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian.
I then shewed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldeak, Assyriac, and Arabac, and he said that they were true characters. He gave me a certificate certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct.
I took the Certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr Anthony called me back and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an Angel of God had revealed it unto him. He then said to me, let me see that certificate, I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it [to] him when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministring of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. he replied “I cannot read a sealed book.” I left him and went to Dr Mitchel who sanctioned what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the Characters and the translation.”10
Mr Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs, and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, Eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me while I translated from the plates, which we continued untill the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen [pages] of manuscript on foolscap paper. Some time after Mr Harris had began to write for me, he began to tease me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummin if he might not do so.I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented but insisted that I should enquire once more. after After much solicitation I again enquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions, which were, that he shew them only to his brother. Preserved Harris, his own wife, his father, and his mother, and a Mrs Cobb a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in the most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings and went his way.
Notwithstanding however the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again untill this day. In the mean time while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pensylvania. Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance, when Behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummin again (for it had been taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression)…”
- Joseph Smith Journal entitled “The Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr.,” April 30—May 4, 1838, pp.37-38.
- James Mulholland (1804-1839) commenced writing for Joseph Smith September 3, 1838. (James Mulholland Diary.)
- Joseph Smith Journal, 1839, kept by James Mulholland.
- “Foibles” is in the hand of Willard Richards.
- Note C on page 133 of the manuscript, vol. A-1, is in the hand of Willard Richards: “In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins: a disposition to commit such was never in my nature; but I was guilty of Levity, & sometimes associated with Jovial company &c, not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been; but this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth & is acquainted with my native cheery Temperament.” Willard Richards recorded this material on December 2, 1842; hence, like notes A and B, it does nor appear in the Times and Seasons publication of the History that commenced earlier that year.
- When Brigham H. Roberts prepared the History for publication in its seven-volume format at the turn of the century, he wrote “Moroni” above the name of “Nephi” and keyed his insertion to the following reference at the bottom of the page: “Evidently a clerical error; see Book Doc & Cov., Sec 50, par 2; Sec 106, par 20; also Elders’ Journal Vol.1, page 43. Should read Moroni.”
- The asterisk inserted by James Mulholland is keyed to an attached note in the manuscript containing these words on the one side: “I mentioned to President Smith that I considered it necessary that an explanation of the location of the place where the box was deposited would be required in order that the history be satisfactory. J. M.” On the back of the note, Mulholland wrote, “Convenient to the little village of Manchester, Ontario County, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill not far from the top.”
- Alvin’s death occurred on November 19, 1823. (See Rich, “Where Were the Moroni Visits?” pp. 255-58.)
- Josiah Stowell, born in Winchester, New Hampshire, on March 22, 1770, had extensive property holdings on the Susquehanna River near South Bainbridge, New York. The Stowells moved to the area from southeastern Vermont when their New York allegiance during the Revolutionary War forced them to leave that state.