Dr. P. Wilhelm Poulson Reports
Visit with David Whitmer, 1878
Source: P. W. Poulson to editors of the Deseret News, 13 Aug 1878,
cited from Deseret News, 16 Aug 1878, p. 2.
[Dr. Poulson, living in Ogden, wrote to the editors of the Deseret News concerning a visit he had had with David Whitmer. The News published those portions of the letter it thought would be of interest to its readers in its issue of August 16, 1878.]
Ogden City, August 13, 1878.
Editors Deseret News:
Several persons have inquired of me about David Whitmer, especially since the publication in the News of a letter about the late John Whitmer. If the Deseret News will give the space in its columns it will afford me pleasure to write what I know about him from my visit to Richmond, Missouri, and also my personal conversation with him.
He is now 73 years old but is a wonderfully well-preserved man, tall and erect as a pine, well proportioned, with a military bearing, Roman nose and dark eyes full of fire and expression. His forehead is broad and large, and his head nearly bald, but well-balanced.
In company with a son and grandson, Mr. Whitmer keeps a livery and feed stable at Richmond, Missouri, the old grandfather is principally relieved from business, but he makes his regular trips down to the stables, and to the minute as in olden times.
David Whitmer’s sister [Elizabeth Ann] was married to Oliver Cowdery, whose remains rest in the graveyard at Richmond, and who practiced law in that town from 1838 to 1849, [only intermittently] when he died in full faith and bore testimony about his visions. On his deathbed he requested to be buried without any display or large attendance, and he wanted no gravestone to be erected over his ashes. David Whitmer said his brother-in-law was, in many respects, a peculiar man. David’s brother, Jacob Whitmer, one of the witnesses, lived and died in Richmond, and his grave is only a short distance from Cowdery’s. On Jacob’s grave is erected a fine marble stone. On the top of the stone appears his name and next we discover the cut of the Book of Mormon laid open, with a blooming rose resting on the divine, and the book resting upon the closed-up Bible. Jacob Whitmer died April 21, 1856, aged 56 years, 2 months and 26 days.
After a self introduction to David Whitmer and some general conversation, I remarked to him:
I – You are one of the Three Witnesses?
He – I am one of them.
I – And you saw the angel, and he showed you the plates?
He – The Book of Mormon is true, as true as any record can be, I saw the angel, and I saw the sword of Laban, and the breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim, and the plates and the director, and the angel stood before us, and he turned the leaves one by one.
I – Did the angel turn all the leaves before you as you looked on it?
He – No, not all, only that part of the book which was not sealed, and what there was sealed appeared as solid to my view as wood.
I – How many of the plates were sealed?
He – About half of the book was sealed. Those leaves which were not sealed, about the half of the first part of the book, were numerous, and the angel turned them over before our eyes. There is yet to be given a translation about Jared’s people’s doings and of Nephi, and many other records and books, which all has to be done, when the time comes.
I – How large were the plates?
He – About eight inches wide and six or seven inches long, as they appeared a little wider than long, and three rings kept the plates together; one above, one in the middle, and one below, so the angel could turn every leaf entirely over. The thickness was about of a common sheet of tin used by tinsmiths.
I – How did the engravings look?
He – There were characters. We copied some, and if you visit my brother John, one of the Eight Witnesses, who wrote for Joseph, John can show you some of the old manuscript which he borrowed from me. I must have it returned to me again, as it belongs to the Church, in connection with other records.
I – Martin Harris, who died lately in Smithfield, Utah, gave a testimony in Salt Lake City Tabernacle that he saw the plates by faith and the power of God.
He – Martin Harris is correct. He was not by us at all when he first saw the angel. First when we told him what we had seen, and were the second time in prayer all together, and when the angel appeared for a second time, we saw Martin Harris by us, and he saw, and we saw it, and our testimony which we give to the world is true exactly as you read it, we saw by the gift and power of God. As we were praying, the angel stood before us in his glory, and all things were before us on a table, and we heard the testimony about the plates, and we were commanded to bear that testimony to the world, and our testimony is true. And when the angel had finished his words, and shown us the plates one by one, which were to be translated, then the vision was closed at once, and exactly as it came even so did the sight disappear.
I – But these things which you saw were material things, how could they come and vanish away again?
He – It is the power of God. He does those things and his angels know how to do it. It was wonderful to us, but it was by the power of God. He had appointed his angels to be the guardians of the plates and other things, and the angel knew how it was done.
I – Did the Eight Witnesses not handle the plates as a material substance?
He – We did not, but they did, because of the faith of Joseph became so great that the angel, the guardian of the plates, gave the plates up to Joseph for a time, that those Eight Witnesses could see and handle them.
I – Did not Joseph, at an earlier period, have the full possession of those plates?
He – Yes, he did do in the commencement, but the persecution grew so hot that the angel took possession of the records, and showed those things, as he did, to Cowdery, Harris and me, and in the presence of Joseph, and afterwards he was allowed to show the plates to the Eight Witnesses.
I – Where are the plates now?
He – In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.
I – Where is that cave?
He – In the state of New York.
I – In the Hill Cumorah?
He – No, but not far from that place. I saw the place where the plates were found, and a great many did so, and it awakened an excitement at the time, because the worst enemies of “Mormonism” stirred up the confusion by telling about the plates which Joseph found, and the “gold bible” which he was in possession of, so he was in constant danger of being robbed and killed.
I – How did the place look?
He – It was a stone box, and the stones looked to me as if they were cemented together. That was on the side of the hill, and a little down from the top.
I – How did you know Joseph to be at that time?
He – He was a very humble and meek man, and very simple, indeed. He did the will of the Lord, and an arduous task it was to translate the Book of Mormon.
I – Did Joseph use the Urim and Thummim when he translated?
He – The Urim and Thummim were two white stones, each of them cased in as spectacles are, in a kind of silver casing, but the bow between the stones was more heavy, and longer apart between the stones, than we usually find in spectacles. Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Emma, and my brother John each at different times wrote for Joseph as he translated.
I – When will the temple be built at Independence?
He – Right after the great tribulation is over.
I – What do you mean by that?
He – A civil war more bloody and cruel than the rebellion. It will be a smashing up of this nation, about which time the second great work has to be done, a work like Joseph did, and the translation of the sealed plates, and peace all over.
I – Will you live and see those things?
He – It was said to us, that the second great work should commence when nearly all the witnesses to the first plates had passed away, so I may live and see those things take place.
I – You are in good health?
He – I am in very well indeed for my age. I am not troubled with anything except a little rheumatism or what it is in my hops. I was thrown from a buggy, and feel ever since some weakness over my hips.
This conversation was mostly written down word for word half an hour after the interview with David Whitmer, esq., who will recognize it as his words, and I send it that the public may form a better idea about this truly remarkable man.
P. Wilhelm Poulson, M.D.