Report by Chicago Tribune of
Death of David Whitmer, 1888
DAVID WHITMER DEAD
Source: “David Whitmer Dead,” The Saints’ Herald 35 (4 Feb 1888): 67-68
From the Chicago Tribune of January 24th, 1888, we clip the following:
“David Whitmer Passing Away.
Richmond, Missouri, January 23—David Whitmer, the last one of the three witnesses to the truth of the Book of Mormon, is now in a dying condition at his home in Richmond. Last evening he called the family and friends to his bedside, and bore his testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the Bible. He is past eighty-three years of age. Mr. Whitmer is an old citizen of this town, and is known by everyone here as a man of the highest honor, having resided here since the year 1838. He is not and never has been a believer in polygamy. He left the Mormon Church in 1838 on account of their departure from the faith as he believes. His mind is still clear. He is in no pain whatever, but is gradually sinking, and death is expected every hour. During the evening he affixed his signature to several papers in the closing up of his earthly affairs. His hand was wonderfully firm.
“David Whitmer, who played an important part in the translation of the Mormon Bible, and who was one of the pillars of the Church during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, was born in Pennsylvania, January 5th, 1805. During his early childhood his father moved from Pennsylvania up into Ontario County in New York, and settled on a farm in the vicinity of Watkin’s Glen.
“It was during the early part of June, 1829, that David first heard that a young man named Joseph Smith had found an exceedingly valuable golden treasure in the northern part of the county. In company with his brother-in-law, Oliver Cowdery, young Whitmer set out to ascertain the truth or falsity of the story. Smith, who was at that time living with his father on a farm near Manchester, was indisposed at first to exhibit his treasure, but was finally persuaded to do so. The treasure consisted of a number of golden plates about eight inches long, seven inches wide, and of the thickness of ordinary sheet tin. They were bound together in the shape of a book by three gold rings. A large portion of the leaves were so securely bound together that it was impossible to separate them, but upon the loose leaves were engraved hieroglyphics which were unintelligible to any person who had seen them. With the tablets was an immense pair of spectacles set in a silver bow. Smith announced that he had been commanded to translate the characters upon the plates as soon as possible, and stated further that the work must be done in the presence of three witnesses, Smith, his wife, Cowdery, and Whitmer then proceeded to the house of Whitmer’s father, where the work of translation was carried out, Smith reading the characters by means of the magic spectacles, Cowdery, Christian Whitmer, a brother of David, and Smith’s wife acting as amanuenses.
“The work of translation occupied nearly eight months. Smith carelessly tattled to the neighbors of the secrets which they were working out, and as a consequence the plates were taken from him by the angel of the Lord who in place of them gave him a Urim and Thummim of a different shape which he was to place in his hat and on covering his face with the hat he received straightway a direct revelation. After the completion of the translation David Whitmer became an ardent disciple of the new revelation, and for some time preached throughout the neighborhood on its behalf. His efforts, and those of Cowdery and some others met with such success that a Mormon Church was founded April 6th, 1830, in which year the Book of Mormon was first published to the world. In the year following the Church and its disciples moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where Brigham Young first joined the Church. The original manuscript from which the Book of Mormon was printed has been in the possession of Mr. Whitmer from the time it was written. It is stated that the Mormon Church has of late years made strenuous efforts to induce Mr. Whitmer to part with it, but all offers made by them were steadfastly refused.
“Leaving Kirtland, Whitmer set out as a missionary, preaching the truth as he saw it and exhorting all his hearers to come to Christ. He was very successful in this field, making many converts, and assisted in establishing the settlement in Jackson County, Missouri. When the Church had been compelled to flee from Kirtland the members came to Jackson County, but trouble soon arising between them and the Missourians, the Mormons moved to Caldwell County. Whitmer then moved to Richmond, Missouri, where he has since resided.”
And in the same journal for January 26th we find these words:
“A telegram received yesterday announced the death at five p.m., at Richmond, Missouri, of David Whitmer, 83 years old.”
And so “the last of the three witnesses,” David Whitmer, has passed into the presence of that God who called him by revelation through Joseph Smith, the translator, in connection with Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, to be a “witness” to the divinity of the Book of Mormon, and to the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet, seer, revelator and translator, called and accepted and approved of God. He from first to last has maintained this testimony unshaken and undismayed, and that, too, under great pressure, temptation and trial. For this, all who are called to be Saints should honor him and hold his memory in veneration.
As to his views in respect to the ministerial labors of Joseph Smith, and as to his own ministerial policy and doings, they are quite separate and somewhat different matters. To us it is painful to think that, almost from his first acquaintance with Joseph Smith, David Whitmer held dissimilar views from him in respect to doctrinal matters and methods of church government, which gradually increased up to 1836-8, when it culminated, first in accusations being laid against him by Isaac Rogers, Artemas Millet, Abel Lamb and Harlow Redfield, before a high council in Kirtland, May 29th, 1837; and afterwards before the “General Assembly” of the Church in Far West, Missouri, February 5th, 1838; and finally in his being disfellowshipped in Far West, April 13th, 1838, after due trial before the bishop and high council.
In after times he was persuaded by William E. McLellin (who was expelled from the Church by the Bishop’s Court at Far West, May 11th, 1838; see Millennial Star, 16:151) to attempt to lead the Church, was baptized and ordained by him, accepting at the same time the strange ministerial work of William E. McLellin and others just previous at Kirtland, Ohio. But this movement failed to make progress. At different times after this, yielding as we believe to the persistent persuasions of disappointed, officious and meddlesome men, Mr. Whitmer has displayed his views, opinions, explanations and interpretations relative to the teachings of the sacred books of the Church in respect to Church doctrine and government, and also as to wherein he thought Joseph Smith erred in judgment, in policy, and in personal conduct.
As to the correctness and wisdom of Mr. Whitmer’s opinions on these matters, all must judge for themselves. But out of all this seeming disagreement and evil, we have confidence that God will bring great good, for none can say that David Whitmer bore testimony to the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the inspiration of its translator because of personal fear, favor, [page 68] worldly interest, or those interests and influences arising from intimate church associations. God may have suffered the foregoing conditions to exist for wise and all-glorious ends to the Church and the world. If all will carefully study the Book of Mormon with unbiased minds they will readily earn what that book is and is intended for, and there, too, they will learn of the respective and diverse callings of Joseph Smith the Seer and David Whitmer, one of the “three witnesses” to its divinity.
Let all think charitably and speak kindly of David Whitmer. His life-work is ended; and however much we may disagree with his views and opinions and statements relative to Church affairs, his steadfast and undeviating testimony touching the Book of Mormon, even up to his dying moments, commands our admiration and our love.