George Q. Cannon’s
Interview with David Whitmer, 1884
Source: George Q. Cannon in Juvenile Instructor 19 (1 April 1884): 106-107
[George Q. Cannon was ordained an apostle in 1860 and was counselor to three presidents of the Church. Following his interview with David Whitmer in 1884, he wrote and account of David Witmer’s testimony which was published in the Juvenile Instructor 1 9 (April 1, 1884):106-7.]
[page 106] On my return from my visit to the East I took the opportunity of calling at Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, to see the last surviving witness of the three to whom the angel exhibited the plates of the Book of Mormon—David Whitmer.
From Kansas City I took train for Lexington Junction, and there changed cars for Richmond. Upon arriving at the station I inquired of a gentleman who was standing there if he knew Mr. Whitmer. He told me that his son, David J. Whitmer, would be there presently, as he owned the omnibus which carried passengers from the station to the hotels. In a short time the omnibus drove up, and the gentleman of whom I had made the inquiry pointed Mr. Whitmer out to me. I found him very courteous, and upon informing him who I was he appeared to have been expecting me, having heard through some of the papers that I was intending to make such a visit. He said his father was growing very feeble and he did not like to have him interviewed, but he would arrange for me to see him as soon as he could.
I drove to the hotel, and after dinner Mr. Whitmer called upon me and conducted me to the residence of his father. On the way there he pointed out the track of a cyclone which had visited the town in 1878, and which had left their house, or rather the room in which the mansucript of the Book of Mormon was kept, in such a condition as to astonish all the people. The roof of the house was blown off; but nothing in this room was disturbed. The glass was not even broken. This was a cause of astonishment to the neighborhood, and the family evidently ascribe the protection of the room and its contents to the fact of the manuscript being there.
[page 107] David Whitmer, who was born in January, 1805, is growing feeble, but his mind is bright and apparently unimpaired. He is rather slender now and probably stood in his early manhood five feet ten or perhaps five feet eleven inches in height. I noticed in shaking hands with him that the thumb of his right hand is missing and the hand has a long scar in the center from some injury that he had received. His hair is thin and he is rather bald. His nose is aquiline; his eyes black, or a dark brown. I noticed a slight German accent or tone his talk. The Whitmer family is of German origin, his mother, I believe, having been born on the Rhine. He has evidently been a man who in his prime must have been quite interesting, and, I should think, fine-looking. I was shown a likeness of his, painted in oil, when he was thirty-two years old. This makes him appear as handsome, of marked features, rather Jewish-looking, with a head of thick hair inclined to curl.
After some little conversation he inquired of me if I would like to see the manuscript, and gave his son a key and told him to bring it in. I found it wonderfully well preserved, written in different handwritings. He says they are the writings of Oliver Cowdery, Emma Smith, Martin Harris, and perhaps, some of it that of his brother Christian [Whitmer], who assisted the Prophet Joseph [Smith, Jr.]. This is the manuscript, Mr. [David] Whitmer says, from which the printers set the type of the Book of Mormon, and he pointed out to me where it had been cut for conveniences as “copy.” I noticed some printer’s marks on the manuscript. Still it seemed unusually clean for “copy” that printers had handled. I commented upon the cleanness of the manuscript and he explained that it was in consequence of the care taken of it by Oliver Cowdery in watching it while in the printer’s hands. It was fastened together, not as a whole, but a few sheets—probably not more than a dozen—with woolen yarn, which he said was his mother’s. I examined this manuscript with great interest and with a feeling of reverence. How many associations cluster around this! What wonderful changes have occurred since the few who were interested in this work labored in its preparation under the direction of the Prophet! Everything connected with the work then was in the future. Their minds were filled with anticipation concerning the greatness of the work, the foundation of which they were assisting to lay. But how little conception after all, probably, these men had, with the exception of Joseph, of the wonderful character of the work to be accomplished. Thoughts like these passed through my mind while looking at this manuscript.
But there was a paper with this, which, if anything, was still more interesting than the manuscript. It was the characters drawn by Joseph [Smith, Jr.] himself from the plates for Martin Harris to take to show the learned professors, so wonderfully predicted in the 29th chapter of Isaiah. There were seven lines of these characters, the first four being about twice as large in size as the last three. In English Joseph had written over the lines the word “characters.” He had spelled this word, “caractors.” Though these characters had evidently been written for a long time, they were as clear and distinct as though just penned. Here was the very paper which Isaiah saw in vision about 2,600 years before, and which he called “the words of a book.” How wonderfully God in his own way brings to pass the fulfillment of the predictions of his servants! To the ordinary person it might seem like a trifling thing to copy these characters and send them “to one that is learned;” but it was of sufficient importance in the mind of the Lord for him to inspire his servant Isaiah to describe exactly the occurrence. This shows how much importance the Lord attached to these details connected with the foundation of this work and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
David Whitmer told me he was plowing when Joseph [Smith, Jr.] and Oliver [Cowdery] came to him to speak about his being one of the witnesses. He already knew that the Lord had promised to show the plates to three witnesses. Joseph then informed him that he was chosen to be one of the three. They went out and sat upon a log, conversing upon the things to be revealed, when they were surrounded by a glorious light which overshadowed them. A glorious personage appeared unto them and exhibited to them the plates, the sword of Laban, the Directors which were given to Lehi (called Liahona), the Urim and Thummim, and other records. Human language cannot, he said, describe what they saw. He had had his hours of darkness and trial and difficulty since that period; but however dark upon other things his mind had been, that vision had ever been a bright and beautiful scene in his memory, and he had never wavered in regard to it. He had fearlessly testified of it always, even when his life was threatened. Martin Harris was not with them at the time Joseph and Oliver and he saw the angel; but he and Joseph afterwards were together, and the angel exhibited the plates to Martin Harris also, and he thus became a witness.
I spent several hours there, and to me they were very interesting. The old gentleman was able to stay in the room only a portion of the time; he had to retire to rest; but I had the company of his son, David J. Whitmer, and his nephew, John C. Whitmer (who is a son of Jacob Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon), while I remained.
The old jail in which the Prophet Joseph [Smith, Jr.] and other brethren were imprisoned at Richmond had long ago disappeared; a brick one had been built in its stead, and it had passed away, having been replaced by a stone building which now stands. The town contains, I was informed, about 3,500 inhabitants, including coal miners, of whom there are a large number, there being good coal found here. I was not favorably impressed with the appearance of the country and improvements. There is not much enterprise shown, and the buildings are not of a superior kind. I have no doubt the soil is rich and produces plentifully, but there seems to be very little push among the people.