David Whitmer

From Academic Kids

David Whitmer (1805–1888) is remembered in the Latter Day Saint movement as the most interviewed of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon's Golden Plates.


1 The most interviewed Book of Mormon witness
2 External link

Early Life

David Whitmer was born January 7, 1805 near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — the fourth of nine children of Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Musselman. By the 1820s, the Whitmer family had moved to a farm in Fayette, in New York's Finger Lakes area.

Role in the early Latter Day Saint movement

Whitmer and his entire family were some of the earliest members of the Latter Day Saint or Mormon movement. According to Whitmer:

"I first heard of what is now termed Mormonism, in the year 1828. I made a business trip to Palmyra, N. Y., and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery. A great many people in the neighborhood were talking about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, jun., a young man of the neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as many others, talked about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing it to be only the idle gossip of the neighborhood. Mr. Cowdery said he was acquainted with the Smith family, and he believed there must be some truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the matter."

Whitmer eventually accepted the story of the Smith family and brought his father's family with him to join the Smith family in the early Latter Day Saint experience. David was baptized in June 1829, nearly a year prior to the formal organization of the Latter Day Saint church. That same month he said that he, along with Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery saw an angel present the Golden Plates in a vision. Martin Harris reported that he experienced a similar vision with Smith later in the day. David, along with Cowdery and Harris, then signed a joint statement declaring their testimony of the vision. Known as the "Testimony of the Three Witnesses", this statement was published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon and has been included in nearly every subsequent edition.

When Smith organized the Latter Day Saint "Church of Christ" (as it was originally known) on April 6, 1830, David was one of six original members. Traditionally, the organization of the church occurred at the home of David's father, Peter Whitmer, Sr., but historians have recently argued that the event actually took place at the Smith home near Palmyra, New York.

David was ordained an elder of the church by June 9, 1830, and he was ordained to the High Priesthood by Oliver Cowdery on October 5, 1831. Soon after the organization of the church, Joseph Smith Jr. set Jackson County, Missouri apart as a "gathering place" for Latter Day Saints. According to Smith, the area had both once been the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden, and would be the "center place" of the City of Zion, the New Jerusalem. As Latter Day Saints began to settle the county, they came into conflict with non-Mormon Missourians and by 1834 the non-Mormons had expelled them from the county. Whitmer joined an armed militia known as Zion's Camp which marched from the church's headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio to Clay County, Missouri to aid the refugees. The expedition failed to return the Latter Day Saints to their lands in Jackson County. At its conclusion, however, on July 7, 1834, Joseph Smith ordained Whitmer to be the President of the church in Missouri. At the same time, Whitmer was also named as the successor of Joseph Smith, should the Prophet "not live to God".

Excommunicated as a "Dissenter"

Whitmer continued to live in Kirtland and his counselors, W.W. Phelps and John Whitmer (David's brother) presided over the church in Missouri until the summer of 1837. During 1837, problems relating to the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society bank led Smith and his counselor Sidney Rigdon to relocate to Far West, Missouri. A brief leadership struggle led to the excommunication of the presidency of the church in Missouri — David Whitmer, W.W. Phelps and John Whitmer — as well as other prominent leaders, including Oliver Cowdery.

Whitmer and the other excommunicated Latter Day Saints became known as the "dissenters". The dissenters owned a great deal of land in Caldwell County, Missouri which they wanted to retain. The church presidency, however, publically called for their expulsion from the county. A number of Latter Day Saints formed a confraternity known as the Danites, whose stated goal was the removal of the dissenters. 80 prominent Mormons signed the so-called Danite Manifesto, which warned the dissenters to "depart or a more fatal calamity shall befall you." Shortly afterward, Whitmer and his family fled to nearby Richmond, Missouri.

Whitmer and the other dissenters complained to the non-Mormons in northwestern Missouri about their forcable expulsion and the loss of their property, and they began to file lawsuits to recover it. His story raised alarm among the non-Mormons and contributed to the 1838 Mormon War. As a result of the conflict most of the Latter Day Saints had been expelled from Missouri by early 1839.

President of the Church of Christ (Whitmerite)

Although the main body of the Latter Day Saints eventually relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois, Whitmer continued to live in Richmond, where he operated a livery stable and became a prominent and respected citizen.

After the assassination of Joseph Smith in 1844, several rival leaders claimed to be Smith's successor, including Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon, and James J. Strang. Many of Rigdon's followers became disillusioned by 1847 and some, including apostle William E. McLellin and Benjamin Winchester remembered Whitmer's 1834 ordination to be Smith's successor. At McLellin's urging, Whitmer exercised his claim to be Smith's successor. Around this time, fellow Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery, began to correspond with Whitmer. Cowdery argued that he and Whitmer had priesthood "keys" that Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles lacked. Cowdery met with member's of Young's group at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where he was re-baptised into the church. Cowdery then travelled to meet with Whitmer in Richmond to coordinate their leadership claims. While staying with Whitmer, however, Cowdery succumbed to an illness and died.

Whitmer continued to live in Richmond and in 1867, he was elected to fill an unexpired term as mayor (1867–1868). In 1876, Whitmer again asserted his claim to be the successor of Joseph Smith and organized a second Church of Christ (Whitmerite). In 1887, he published a pamphlet entitled An Address to All Believers in Christ, in which he affirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon, but denounced the Latter Day Saint church in Utah. At the end of his life, Whitmer ordained a nephew to be his successor. David Whitmer died January 25, 1888 in Richmond. The Whitmerite church survived until the 1960s.

The most interviewed Book of Mormon witness

Because Oliver Cowdery died in 1850 at age 43 and Martin Harris died in 1875 at age 91, David Whitmer was the only living of the Three Witnesses for 13 years. During these years he resided at Richmond, Missouri, where he sometimes received several visits daily inquiring about his connection to the Book of Mormon. Common among these visitors were missionaries traveling from Utah to the eastern United States and Europe, including Joseph F. Smith. Despite his hostility toward the LDS Church, David Whitmer always stood by his claim that he had actually seen the gold plates; in fact, he insisted upon it. At one time he purchased space in major newspapers and placed public notices for the purpose of correcting rumors that he had varied from his claims about his vision of the golden plates. At the end of his life, David had his testimony of the Book of Mormon placed on his tombstone.

External link


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