Aside from Joseph Smith, The First Person to View the Gold Plates Was a Woman

Mary Whitmer and Moroni by Robert T. Pack
Mary Whitmer and Moroni by Robert T. Pack

There is so much about church history that we don’t know, but technology and time have allowed us to learn so much more.

As an example, did you know that Mary Whitmer was the only woman to see the gold plates, and she saw them even before the three witnesses did?

In the new church history series, Saints, they share countless stories about the women of the church who have left a legacy of faith.

The following excerpt shares the story of Mary Whitmer’s faith and sacrifice which led to a miracle visit from Moroni.

“Once Joseph, Emma, and Oliver moved to Fayette, David’s mother had her hands full. Mary Whitmer and her husband, Peter, already had eight children between the ages of fifteen and thirty, and the few who did not still live at home resided nearby. Tending to their needs filled Mary’s days with work, and the three houseguests added more labor. Mary had faith in Joseph’s calling and did not complain, but she was getting tired.

The heat in Fayette that summer was sweltering. As Mary washed clothes and prepared meals, Joseph dictated the translation in an upstairs room. Oliver usually wrote for him, but occasionally Emma or one of the Whitmers took a turn with the pen.

Sometimes, when Joseph and Oliver tired of the strain of translating, they would walk out to a nearby pond and skip stones across the surface of the water.

Mary had little time to relax herself, and the added work and the strain placed on her were hard to bear.

One day, while she was out by the barn where the cows were milked, she saw a gray-haired man with a knapsack slung across his shoulder. His sudden appearance frightened her, but as he approached, he spoke to her in a kind voice that set her at ease.

“My name is Moroni,” he said. “You have become pretty tired with all the extra work you have to do.” He swung the knapsack off his shoulder, and Mary watched as he started to untie it.

“You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors,” he continued. “It is proper, therefore, that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”

Moroni opened his knapsack and removed the gold plates. He held them in front of her and turned their pages so she could see the writings on them. After he turned the last page, he urged her to be patient and faithful as she carried the extra burden a little longer. He promised she would be blessed for it.

You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors

The old man vanished a moment later, leaving Mary alone. She still had work to do, but that no longer troubled her.”¹

Book of Mormon Central provides the references for the full detail of Mary Whitmer, whose encounter is described in three separate accounts. The most famous is from her son, David:

…my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (judging by her description of him) [whom David had seen on the roadside in a prior incident] who said to her, ‘You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.’ Thereupon he showed her the plates.[2]

John C. Whitmer recalled this further tidbit from his grandmother’s story:

[The personage] turned the plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell.[3]

More insights are offered by another granddaughter, who said Mary Whitmer was irritated when Joseph and Oliver took breaks from translating and skated rocks on a pond.”  “[She] thought they might just as well carry her a bucket of water or chop a bit of wood . . .” and planned to order them out of her house. Such anxieties were relieved by Moroni’s timely visitation.[4]

BYU Studies also published an article by Robert T. Pack about Mary Whitmer and Moroni which gives some more context to the experience:

Our knowledge of Mary Whitmer’s experience comes mainly from an interview with her son David, recorded forty-nine years following the event.

In 1878, Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith were called on a history fact-finding mission to Church historical sites in the Midwest and New England.3 On their way, they visited Richmond, Missouri, to interview David.

By that time, he had been separated from the Church for many years. Joseph F. Smith described David as “a good-sized man, 73 years of age last January, and well preserved. . . . He has a large head and a very pleasant manly countenance that one would readily perceive to be an index to a conscientious, honest heart.”4 David told the story of what happened during the first week of June 1829:

Joseph sent for me (D. W.) to come to Harmony to get him and Oliver and bring them to my father’s house. I did not know what to do, I was pressed with my work. I had some 20 acres to plow, so I concluded I would finish plowing and then go, I got up one morning to go to work as usual, and on going to the field, found between 5 and 7 acres of my ground had been plowed during the night.

I don’t know who did it; but it was done just as I would have done it myself, and the plow was left standing in the furrow.

This enabled me to start sooner. . . . When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an oldfashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon who saluted us with, “good morning, it is very warm,” at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, “No, I am going to Cumorah.” This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round enquiringly of Joseph the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.

F. S. [Joseph F. Smith] – Did you notice his appearance?

W. [David Whitmer] – I should think I did, he was, I should think, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches tall and heavy set, about such a man as James Vancleave there,5but heavier, his face was as large, he was dressed in a suit of brown woolen clothes, his hair and beard were white like Brother Pratt’s, but his beard was not so heavy. I also remember that he had on his back a sort of knapsack with something in, shaped like a book. It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony. Soon after our arrival home, I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father’s barn. I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, and he told me it was. Sometime after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (judging by her description of him) who said to her, “You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tried because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened?” Thereupon he showed her the plates. My father and mother had a large family of their own, the addition to it therefore of Joseph, his wife Emma and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so. This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings, and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities.6

You can read more about Mary, and other stories of the early members of the Church, in Saints.

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[1]Mary Whitmer and Moroni

[2] David Whitmer, interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, September 1878, published 16 November 1878 in the Deseret News, reproduced by Dan Vogel in Early Mormon Documents, 5:51-52 (Salt Lake City, Utah: 2003)

[3] John C. Whitmer, 1878 account, as recorded by Andrew Jenson (see his Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia 1:283, Salt Lake City, Utah: 1901).

[4] “Elvira Pamela Mills”, Cox Bulletin II (1958), written by Orville Cox Day (O C Day). Mary Musselman Whitmer’s recorded encounters are compiled for individual review in Royal Skousen, “Another Account of Mary Whitmer’s Viewing of the Golden Plates,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 10 (2014): 35–44.


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  • Mormon historical revisionism, sometimes on a daily basis, is that substance on which “official” Mormon history is predicated. Just like the seven accounts Joe Smith gave of his first vision, all very different, and all after 1834. The same applied to Smith’s and Cowdery’s account of their visits with angels when the Mormon priesthoods were supposedly “restored.” No mention of it was made until during 1835. No mention of it was made in the 1833 Book of Commandments and Smith couldn’t even remember the exact date when the Mormon high priesthood was given by three angels. Now, a Mormon apologist is attempting to change what Mormon full-time missionaries have recited in their five-discussion spiels since around 1955. When the apostate witness of Mormonism’s golden plates, David Whitmer, has stated, as Joe Smith’s wife, Emma, that old Joe didn’t translate the golden plates to produce the Book of Mormon, but instead used a “seer stone” in a hat to produce what is written in the BOM, someone is now saying that David Whitmer had possession of the golden plates before Joe Smith allowed his three special witnesses to see them with your “spiritual eyes,” whatever that meant. That person is trying now to say that Whitmer had the golden plates in his possession and showed them to his wife, Mary.

    My assessment of Whitmer’s original story, in his “An Address to All Believers in Christ,” is that he sincerely believed that he had seen something resembling golden plates through his “spiritual eyes.” I believe that Joe Smith was so charismatically tuned into folk magic, mysticism, and the occult, that he mesmerized those three witnesses, Whitmer, Cowdery, and Harris, into seeing what he had crafted as golden plates. If that savvy farmer had actually deceived Joe Smith into believing that the Kinderhook plates, which that farmer had crafted for the specific purpose of showing Smith for what he was, a false prophet, Smith could have deceived his witnesses into believing that what they saw were actual gold plates.

    The official record recited by the Mormon Church, from around 1850 until the present-day, has stated that “no one” had witnessed the golden plates but Cowdery, Harris, David Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr. John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr. Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. Those were quite a few mesmerized Whitmers and Smiths. Of course, the official biography of Joe Smith, Jr. by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, did not jibe with what Brigham Young wanted the world to read and think about old Joe; so he revised it without Lucy’s permission to reflect some things that were totally untrue.

  • I frankly do not agree with or understand why you let apostates publish anything in a Mormon publication. What is the thought process here? The apostates and non-believers are certainly entitled to disagree, not believe, and do their anti-Mormon ranting if they wish to, BUT NOT ON A Mormon site that should be intended for lifting the Saints, enlightening their minds and increasing their faith. I encourage ALL Latter Day Saints to Refuse and Rebuke all apostate material, inspired by satan himself, the Anti-Christ. Why would you want to fill your mind with garbage, lies, and deceit. Reject all apostate material, in all it’s forms. It is intended to make you DOUBT your FAITH. Jesus said Doubt Not. Why read or study something that will make you doubt? Doubt is the opposite of Faith. So what do you want to be full of, FAITH or doubt. For many or most Latter Day Saints many parts of our faith has moved over to knowledge as Alma taught. Yet apostate garbage can make you doubt what you KNOW to be true. So Stop It! And please stop publishing that garbage in this Mormon Venue.

  • Our prophets have warned members to get their own personal testimonies of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Read and apply Moroni 10: 4-5. I did many years ago. I did receive a divine witness as to the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. I testify the Book of Mormon is trtrue!

  • I agree with Philip. Pull that garbage off of there. There are many great stories in my own life that I have not put down on paper yet. When I do, if someone was to say that I fabricated the story because I waited until later in life to record it, he would be a LIAR, just like Norton is.

  • Opposition in all things is a good thing. We should allow both sides to say their piece. For us to try and force the situation makes us like Lucifer who wanted to force the situation. God says let us use our own minds and hearts to choose and furthermore to allow us to see both the good and bad so that we had a full opportunity to choose either way. While it’s difficult to watch people choose to disbelieve and walk down a contrary path, we know that God will judge them by their hearts and intentions and that they’ll be saved either way… God and Jesus Christ have ALREADY won and we need not fear gentlemen, allow Satan to have his time and say his piece, and for those who are lost or fallen or evil to also say their piece, and burn them not, not yet, for they might yet be wheat and we dare not burn the chaff for fear that there is still some wheat in there. Mr Norton might yet become our savior, judge not, and be not judged, only love and forgive and embrace and wait for the change. Remember the White Wizard who wisely told Frodo to NOT kill Smeagle and said Smeagle might yet be wheat and so Frodo spared and somewhat trusted Smeagle who later saved the entire world by biting off Frodo’s finger! We never know when somebody whether good or evil might still have a significant part to play in God’s plan, remember this isn’t Satan’s plan we’re in right now, and so even the villains and demons are playing a beneficial part in this plan… we are commanded to love, wait, embrace, forgive, even trust to some extent these who are still our brothers and sisters and still prince and princesses of an almighty King and Queen and God! Norton’s comments stand! Welcome him and all others with open arms, my dear brethren and God shall reward us all the more in heaven! Did Jesus not go into the bars and brothels? Did Joseph not go in with the Masons? Was Moses not of the Pharoah’s court and once ordered the whipping of thousands of Hebrew slaves? Did not Paul murder the Apostle Stephen? We must be in the world brethren, we must, and we’ll be rewarded for being cast into the ovens. Just as all martyrs.

  • Oops. Unfortunately a typo allowed me to say in the above comment that “ALL people will be saved” and that they’d furthermore be saved, “either way.” What I meant to insert into that sentence was the word, “innocent” and thereby indicate that any “innocent” people i.e.- people who would be righteous and believers if given the chance, but who because of honest mistake were misled by false information not by any evil of their own, will therefore still be saved because it was an innocent mistake and they would’ve chosen the right way had they known better. Some people intentionally choose to lack knowledge (turn a blind eye) which therefore cannot be so easily pardoned and especially if they had evil reasons (love evil) and “knew” their reasons were evil then yes they would be justifiably condemned at judgement day. But most people who lack knowledge were earnest seekers of knowledge and simply had no way of acquiring it and so they’re innocent and meant no ill will nor evil, and will be judged innocent on judgement day. Those being without knowledge are in most cases innocent and found worthy in the end which is a doctrine that Latter-Day Saints embrace wholeheartedly. To say that ALL people are saved, is wrong by any Christian’s Bible based standpoint and doctrine. And so, what I was intending to conclude was the fact that most people are going down the wrong road because they were misled NOT by any intention of their own and not by any unrighteous desire and therefore are innocent and will be plucked out of that path and saved! Whether they’re unwittingly participating in an evil church or evil organization or evil path they’ll be plucked out and saved by the Lord while those who knowingly misled and knowingly followed evil (knew it was evil) will then be cast into the fire. People who accidentally follow Satan are like the Apostle Paul who murdered the Apostle Stephen because of a mistaken thought that Jesus Christ was a false prophet and mistaken thought that Stephen was a false prophet. Later when Paul learned that Jesus Christ was in fact God, immediately Paul followed Jesus! And Paul hence realized Stephen was a true prophet and Paul repented (normally murder is unforgivable and so this further drives home the point that when a person “unknowingly” does evil, he is innocent). Paul is the Chaff who turned into Wheat in an instant! Don’t burn the Chaff, not yet, because there is still Wheat in it! Be like Frodo, sometimes it means losing a finger and going through seeming hell, but in the end we’re saviors on the mount, Frodo saved the whole world by forgiving, embracing, accepting, loving, and waiting on the Chaff. It cost him his finger but was worth it! And even to this day Smeagle will testify that Frodo was ever the friend. When my friends stab me in the back or bite off my finger or kill me, I pray they still cannot ever say that I was their enemy or anything but good to them! The hand ever extended, like the Lord’s, to ALL of His children.

  • This is the silliest thing I’ve read on the internet in a long long time. How can you actually believe these goofy tales from incredibly superstitious 19th century upstate New York hillbillies? Are you insane? Why is Mormon God such a sneaky dork anyway? Sending angels out in disguise and stuff? What?!? Lol. Come back to reality, please.

  • Why did the whitmers follow James strang after jospeh smith was killed ? If she saw the plates wouldn’t she of stayed with Brigham young? James strang also showed Mary golden plates and she did believe

  • “How can you actually believe”. Well, everything starts with faith. As you exercise that faith you then see the miracles. And no, I’m not insane. – but thanks for asking. 🙂

  • Why did all of the 3 witnesses leave the Church? That’s a question for them and pretty involved, but none of them denied that they had seen the plates.

  • i am going to congratulate Ben Arkell, as i too felt that there should be both, sides allowed to speak freely. I have been a member of the Lords true church since 1978, and have recieved my own witness, of the truthfulness of the church and of the Book of Mormon, (testimony) no one can shake or take my testimony from me i am confident that i have to truth and i am not against those who dont understand from giving their veiw, it is only through the Holy spirit that we can know the truth of all things and those who are not able to feel the holy Spirit because of unbelief will not be able to know of spiritual truths.

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There is so much about church history that we don’t know, but technology and time have allowed us to learn so much more. As...
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