Part 2: April 1829–March 1830

The translation and printing of the Book of Mormon played a predominant role in JS’s life in the period from April 1829 to March 1830. From early April to the end of June 1829, JS dictated the translation of the plates to , who thereafter created a copy for the printer, of , New York. Printing of the book began in early September, and the first copies of the 588-page Book of Mormon were available by the end of March 1830. This productive period began when Cowdery, who had been staying with and in , moved to , Pennsylvania, to serve as JS’s scribe.
Before meeting JS, reportedly had a divine manifestation concerning the gold plates after learning about them in the fall of 1828. JS’s history recounts that “one night after he [Cowdery] had retired to bed, he called upon the Lord to know if these things were so,” and “the Lord . . . manifested to him that they were true.” In JS’s earliest account, the manifestation included a vision of the Lord and of the plates. Following this experience, Cowdery told that he “had been in a deep study all day and it had been put into his heart that he would have the priviledge of writing for Joseph.” Cowdery then traveled to around the end of March 1829 to work with JS on the translation. On his way, he stopped in , Seneca Co., New York, to meet with , with whom he had spoken about JS and the gold plates in 1828. After arriving in Harmony on 5 April 1829, Cowdery corresponded with Whitmer to inform him about the translation process. On 6 April, Cowdery helped JS conclude an agreement to purchase a home and property from JS’s father-in-law, ; the next day, he began recording JS’s dictation from the plates.
From that time to June 1829, JS and spent most of their time on the translation, and Cowdery also recorded eleven of JS’s revelations and, if its dating is correct, likely recorded Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10]. Three of the four April revelations were directed to Cowdery and concerned translation, the two in May were for and , and the five in June were addressed to members of the Whitmer family and to the three witnesses of the plates. One of the revelations called and Cowdery to the “same calling” as “Paul mine apostle.” In May 1829, apparently in response to a commandment conveyed to him by letter, David Whitmer moved JS and Cowdery from to . After the move, the pair stayed at the home of Whitmer’s father, , where they completed the translation by the end of June. JS’s history stated, “From this time forth many became believers, and were baptized, whilst we continued to instruct and persuade as many as applied for information.”
Several JS revelations and events during this period anticipated the formation of a church. A March 1829 revelation declared, “I will establish my Church yea even the church which was taught by my Desiples,” and a revelation the next month commanded to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.” The translation also prompted JS and Oliver Cowdery to inquire about key foundational matters described in the Book of Mormon, such as obtaining the authority to baptize. According to JS’s history, in May 1829 John the Baptist appeared in response to prayer and gave them that authority and promised them further authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost. JS and Cowdery later reported being “confirmed . . . apostles” and given “the keys of my kingdom” by Peter, James, and John, though the date of this event is not known. In June 1829, according to JS’s history, “the word of the Lord” came in the “chamber” of ’s home, authorizing JS and Cowdery to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost and directing them to ordain each other elders at some future date, after they gathered believers to form an organization. That same month a revelation commanded Cowdery and others to “build up my church,” and about the same time, Cowdery produced a document called “Articles of the Church of Christ,” written as “a commandment from God unto Oliver how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof.” “Articles of the Church of Christ” may have served as an early governing document before the church was formally established; it described some of the duties of priests and teachers and included instructions and prayers for the administration of the sacrament by the priests. The number of believers in JS’s message continued to grow during this period. “Almost daily,” explained JS in his history, “we administered the ordinance of Baptism for the remission of sins, so [to] such as believed.”
In June 1829, eleven men were chosen to see and bear witness of the gold plates. A March 1829 revelation, directed to , prophesied that the testimony of three witnesses of the reality of the plates and the words found on them would be “[sent] forth” and that they would “work a reformation” among the people. Sometime in late June, according to their later published statement, , , and Martin Harris saw an angel who “brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon.” A few days later, eight other witnesses also saw and handled the plates and were charged to testify of them.
Likely by early July 1829, began copying the original text of the translation to create the printer’s manuscript, and by November he had finished about 261 of 464 manuscript pages. JS wrote the Book of Mormon preface, possibly in August, and late that summer, after mortgaged his farm on 25 August to pay for the publication of the book, and his team began typesetting. By early October, JS left and returned to his family in , Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, in , Cowdery continued to copy the Book of Mormon manuscript for the printer and to oversee its publication.
Reminiscent evidence suggests that by late summer 1829 believers began using teachings from the Book of Mormon manuscript in their preaching. JS and his followers also shared unbound pages of the Book of Mormon before the printing was finished. When visited at the printing office, for instance, he was given proof sheets of the first gathering, or sixteen printed pages, which led to his eventual conversion and baptism in 1830. William Hyde, another early investigator of JS’s claims, recalled that his family was granted early access to proof sheets of the Book of Mormon through ’s brother . Hyde family members were finally baptized after JS and preached in their neighborhood in March 1834. According to JS’s history, “Whilst the Book of Mormon was in the hands of the printer, we still continued to bear testimony, and give information, as far as we had opportunity.” They also apparently continued to baptize. Believers likely met together between the time the translation was completed in June 1829 and the formal organization of the Church of Christ in April 1830, but JS’s history passes silently over the period. Cowdery’s 1829 “Articles of the Church of Christ” stated that “the church shall meet together oft for prayer & suplication” and gave instructions for the administration of the sacrament. ’s history implies that there were meetings, but the actual worship practices and frequency of meetings is unknown.
During the winter of 1829–1830, JS returned to to handle a problem related to publication of the Book of Mormon. The Reflector, a local newspaper, was printed in ’s printshop on the weekends, giving editor access to the uncut sheets of the Book of Mormon. In its 9 December 1829 issue, the Reflector notified readers that it would begin printing portions of the Book of Mormon. Whether any of JS’s family or associates were aware of this notice is unknown, but later recalled that and felt prompted to go to Grandin’s shop one Sunday and discovered Cole printing excerpts of the Book of Mormon in the Reflector. They confronted Cole, but when their efforts to dissuade him proved unsuccessful, they sent word to JS in . JS briefly returned to Palmyra and ultimately convinced the newspaper editor to desist. Cole agreed to what Lucy Smith termed “arbitration” and discontinued his publication of Book of Mormon passages after the 22 January 1830 issue.
On 16 January 1830, JS signed an agreement permitting , financier of the Book of Mormon, to sell enough copies of the book to recoup the costs he had incurred in paying for its publication. About this time a revelation directed , , , and to go to Kingston, Upper Canada, to sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon for the provinces. Sometime between late January and early March 1830 all four likely traveled to Kingston, but they returned without success.
finished printing the Book of Mormon by the middle of March and then employed Luther Howard to bind the volume. By the end of March, when JS returned to in company with of , New York, copies of the Book of Mormon were available for purchase and JS was now prepared to formally organize a church. Knight later wrote that upon their arrival in Palmyra, JS was confronted by a distraught , who had been busily attempting to sell the books but claimed no one would buy them. Knight’s account suggests that they had to wait a day or two in Palmyra for additional books to be bound, but JS soon left for , where the church was organized on 6 April 1830.
The scarcity of contemporaneous documents and the existence of misdated documents make it difficult to create a detailed narrative for this period. Although not without dating problems of its own, JS’s history offers one of the most detailed records and is JS’s only firsthand account that attempts to date most of the important events. The portion of JS’s history covering this time period is transcribed and annotated in Histories, Volume 1 of the Joseph Smith Papers.
  1. 1

    JS History, vol. A-1, 15.  

  2. 2

    JS History, ca. Summer 1832, [6].  

  3. 3

    Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 8, [1].  

  4. 4

    “Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1.  

    Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.

  5. 5

    Agreement with Isaac Hale, 6 Apr. 1829; JS History, vol. A-1, 13; Oliver Cowdery, Norton, OH, to William W. Phelps, 7 Sept. 1834, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, 1:14.  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  6. 6

    Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10], may have been dictated around this same time. The three revelations dictated to Cowdery are Revelation, Apr. 1829–A [D&C 6]; Revelation, Apr. 1829–B [D&C 8]; and Revelation, Apr. 1829–D [D&C 9]. Another April revelation was Account of John, Apr. 1829–C [D&C 7].  

  7. 7

    Revelation, May 1829–A [D&C 11]; Revelation, May 1829–B [D&C 12].  

  8. 8

    Revelations, June 1829–A through E [D&C 14–18].  

  9. 9

    Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18:9].  

  10. 10

    In a published interview, David Whitmer stated, “I received another letter from Cowdery, telling me to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s house, giving as a reason therefor that they had received a commandment from God to that effect.” (“Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1; see also Gurley, “Questions Asked of David Whitmer,” 2.)  

    Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.

    Gurley, Zenos. “Questions Asked of David Whitmer at His Home in Richmond Ray County Mo,” 14–21 Jan. 1885. CHL. MS 4633.

  11. 11

    JS recommenced translating soon after he arrived, with John and Christian Whitmer serving as scribes along with Oliver Cowdery. (JS History, vol. A-1, 21–22; “Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1; “The Last Man,” Times [Chicago], 17 Oct. 1881, 5.)  

    Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.

    Times. Chicago. 1854–1895.

  12. 12

    JS History, vol. A-1, 23. David Whitmer reported decades later that he was baptized, confirmed, and ordained an elder in June 1829. (Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 32.)  

    Whitmer, David. An Address to All Believers in Christ. Richmond, MO: By the author, 1887.

  13. 13

    Revelation, Mar. 1829 [D&C 5:18].  

  14. 14

    Revelation, Apr. 1829–A [D&C 6:6]; see also, for example, Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10:53].  

  15. 15

    JS History, vol. A-1, 17–18.  

  16. 16

    Revelation, ca. Aug. 1830, in Doctrine and Covenants 50:3, 1835 ed. [D&C 27:12–13]. The 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants is the earliest extant record of the angelic visitation of Peter, James, and John. For discussions of this event and its dating, see Porter, “Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods,” 30–47; Quinn, Origins of Power, chap. 1; Prince, Power from on High, 3–15, 47–57; and Hartley, “Upon You My Fellow Servants,” 49–72.  

    Porter, Larry C. “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 30–47.

    Quinn, D. Michael. The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature Books with Smith Research Associates, 1994.

    Prince, Gregory A. Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995.

    Hartley, William G. “‘Upon You My Fellow Servants’: Restoration of the Priesthood.” In The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, edited by Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black, 49–72. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988.

  17. 17

    JS History, vol. A-1, 27; see also Revelation, 6 Apr. 1830 [D&C 21:1–3, 10–12].  

  18. 18

    Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18:5]; “Articles of the Church of Christ,” June 1829.  

  19. 19

    JS History, vol. A-1, 26.  

  20. 20

    Revelation, Mar. 1829 [D&C 5:18].  

  21. 21

    Testimony of Three Witnesses, Late June 1829.  

  22. 22

    Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Late June 1829.  

  23. 23

    Letter from Oliver Cowdery, 6 Nov. 1829.  

  24. 24

    Martin Harris to Egbert B. Grandin, Indenture, Wayne Co., NY, 25 Aug. 1829, Wayne Co., NY, Mortgage Records, vol. 3, pp. 325–326, microfilm 479,556, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; see also Historical Introduction to Preface to Book of Mormon, ca. Aug. 1829. John H. Gilbert, who proofread the manuscript and set most of the type, said they began “about the middle of August, 1829, and the printing was completed in March, 1830.” (John H. Gilbert, Palmyra, NY, to James T. Cobb, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, 10 Feb. 1879, in Theodore Schroeder Papers . . . Relating to Mormonism.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

    Gilbert, John H. Letter, Palmyra, NY, to James T. Cobb, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, 10 Feb. 1879. Theodore Schroeder Papers: Corres., Writings and Printed Ephemera Relating to Mormonism. Microfilm. New York: New York Public Library Photographic Service, 1986. Copy at CHL.

  25. 25

    Letter to Oliver Cowdery, 22 Oct. 1829.  

  26. 26

    See Letter from Oliver Cowdery, 6 Nov. 1829.  

  27. 27

    Whitmer, Address to All Believers in Christ, 32. Daniel Hendrix’s late recollection stated, “Not only were pretended copies of the engraved plates exhibited, but whole chapters of what were called translations were shown; meetings were held at the Smith house and in the barns on the adjoining farms.” (Henry G. Tinsley, “Origin of Mormonism,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 May 1893, 12.)  

    Whitmer, David. An Address to All Believers in Christ. Richmond, MO: By the author, 1887.

    San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco. 1865–1925.

  28. 28

    “T B Marsh,” [1], Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, ca. 1858–1880, CHL; see also C. C. Blatchly, “Caution against the Gold Bible,” New-York Telescope, 20 Feb. 1830, 150.  

    Historian’s Office. Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861. CHL. CR 100 93.

    New-York Telescope. New York City. 1824–1831.

  29. 29

    Hyde, Journal, 46.  

    Hyde, William. Journal, ca. 1868–1873. CHL. MS 1549.

  30. 30

    JS History, vol. A-1, 37.  

  31. 31

    The Reverend Diedrich Willers reported from Fayette that by June 1830 the “Mormonites” had baptized Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and members of the German Reformed Church in that vicinity, amounting to perhaps “at least 100 persons.” (Diedrich Willers, Fayette, NY, to L. Mayer and D. Young, York, PA, 18 June 1830, in Quinn, “First Months of Mormonism,” 331.)  

    Quinn, D. Michael. “The First Months of Mormonism: A Contemporary View by Rev. Diedrich Willers.” New York History 54 (July 1973): 317–333.

  32. 32

    The narrative may skip over these months because the history was compiled using the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, with the revelations and their dates of reception serving as a chronological outline. During the period from June 1829 to the end of March 1830, only one JS revelation is known, and that revelation (Revelation, ca. Early 1830) was not published in the Doctrine and Covenants and is not mentioned in the history.  

  33. 33

    “Articles of the Church of Christ,” June 1829. Lucy Mack Smith implicitly suggested that meetings had taken place earlier in 1829 when she wrote, “During the fall and winter [of 1829–1830] we held no meetings because of the plotting schemes of the people against us.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 9, [12].)  

  34. 34

    “Gold Bible,” Reflector (Palmyra, NY), 9 Dec. 1829, 39..  

    Reflector. Palmyra, NY. 1821–1831.

  35. 35

    Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 9, [9]–[11]; “Book of Mormon,” The Reflector (Palmyra, NY), 22 Jan. 1830, 27–28.  

    Reflector. Palmyra, NY. 1821–1831.

  36. 36

    Agreement with Martin Harris, 16 Jan. 1830.  

  37. 37

    Revelation, ca. Early 1830.  

  38. 38

    See Grandin, Diary, 14 July 1831.  

    Grandin, Egbert Bratt. Diary, 1831–1841. CHL. MS 7228.

  39. 39

    “The Book of Mormon,” Wayne Sentinel (Palmyra, NY), 26 Mar. 1830, [3].  

    Wayne Sentinel. Palmyra, NY. 1823–1852, 1860–1861.

  40. 40

    Knight, Reminiscences, 6–7.  

    Knight, Joseph, Sr. Reminiscences, no date. CHL. MS 3470.

  41. 41

    JSP, H1:187–464.  

    JSP, H1 / Davidson, Karen Lynn, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds. Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844. Vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012.