David Whitmer Interviewed by
James H. Hart, 21 August 1883
Source: JH, 23 Aug 1883, p. 3
[James H. Hart was president of the St. Louis Stake from 1855-1857, was the financial agent for the Church in the St. Louis region, and served as Emigrant Agent for the Church in New York from 1881 to 1888. He was known for this honesty and his ability to accurately observe events, as is partly evident by the various records which he kept. He interviewed David Whitmer on 21 August 1883, took notes in shorthand during the interview and within a few days wrote an wrote an account of the interview in one of his notebooks. Accounts of this interview was then given to David Whitmer. After reading these accounts, David Whitmer endorsed them as “a correct expression of his sentiments.” In one of his notebooks, under the date 21 Aug 1883, James H. Hart included a longhand transciption of his shorthand notes. This account of the interview has been published in Edward L. Hart, Mormon in Motion: The Life and Journals of James H. Hart 1825-1906 (Windsor Books, 1978), p. 216. A poem based upon this interview was published in the Contributor (October 1883):9-10). Another account of the interview was sent by Hart from New York and was printed in the Bear Lake Democrat, 29 Aug 1883. The following account is an expanded treatment of the interview that was sent from Missouri on 23 August to the Deseret News. This account was published in that newspaper on 4 Sep 1883 and was subsequently included in the JH, 29 Aug 1883, p. 5, and was cit. in Hart, Mormon in Motion, pp. 217-19 and in Richardson, “David Whitmer,” pp. 194-95. Paging is according to recording in JH.]
Having some business in Richmond, Ray County, [Missouri] I took occasion to call upon Mr. David Whitmer, who was suffering considerably from the intense heat, but had, notwithstanding, a long and pleasant conversation with him and his son David Whitmer, Jr. After mutual introductions, I remarked that although I had no doubt of the truth of his published statement and testimony in the Book of Mormon, I should be pleased to hear the testimony from his own lips. He said, “Persons may attempt to describe the presentation of the plates as shown to himself and other witnesses, but there was a glory attending it that no one could describe, no human tongue could tell the glorious scenes that were presented to them. Joseph Smith, [Jr.], was there and Oliver Cowdery and himself. Martin Harris did not come as expected, but they were shown to him a short time after.
“Did the personage or angel who showed you the plates tell you his name?” I asked.
Mr. Whitmer replied, “No, he did not. The idea has obtained ground that it was Moroni, the last of the Nephite prophets. It may have been Moroni or it may have been one of the three Nephite Apostles who were promised that they should not taste of death. It is not important who he was, but I know that he was a messenger from God.” “I have been visited by thousands of people,” he remarked, “believers and nonbelievers, amongst them a governor of this state, gentlemen and ladies of all degrees and from many nations, sometimes 15 or 20 in a day, all wanting to know if these things are true. I have been surrounded by hostile mobs, on one occasion numbering four or five hundred, demanding I should deny what is published over my name in the Book of Mormon; but the testimony I gave to that mob made them fear and tremble, and I escaped from them. One gentleman, a doctor, an unbeliever, told me afterwards that the bold and fearless testimony borne on that occasion and the fear that seemed to take hold of the mob had made him a believer in the Book of Mormon.” Mr. Whitmer said further, “I heard the voice of the angel, and saw the engravings on the plates, just as stated in the Book of Mormon. And we were demanded to bear record of these things and that the book was translated by the gift and power of God.” “You see that small table by the wall,” he remarked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well there was a table about that size, and the heavenly messenger brought the several plates and laid them on the table before our eyes, and we saw them, and bore testimony of them, and our testimony is true. And if these things are not true then there is no truth, and if there is no truth there is no God, and if there is no God there is no existence. But I know there is a God for I have heard his voice and witnessed the manifestations of his power.”
He said, moreover, that when they were first commanded to testify of these things they demurred and told the Lord the people would not believe them for the book [Book of Mormon], concerning which they were to bear record, told of a people who were educated and refined, dwelling in large cities; whereas all that was then known of the early inhabitants of this country was the filthy, lazy, degraded and ignorant savages that were roaming over the land.
“The Lord told us in reply that he would make it known to the people that the early inhabitants of this land had been just such a people as they were described in the book [of Mormon] and he would lead them to uncover the ruins of the great cities, and they should have abundant evidence of the truth of that which is written in the book, all of which,” said Mr. [David] Whitmer, “has been fulfilled to the very letter.”
Mr. David Whitmer, Jun., spoke of the strange and wonderful preservation of the written copy of the book which Oliver Cowdery left in his father’s charge, and the hieroglyphics which Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon of New York. In the cyclone that devastated the town of Richmond, [Missouri] a few years ago, the courthouse and many other buildings were swept entirely away. Some books belonging to the courthouse were carried over 40 miles, and the Whitmer house was all destroyed, except the small room in which the said documents were kept, in which not a window was broken. A few minutes after the catastrophe he met an unbelieving scoffer in the street who said, “Well, Dave, how about those records?” “and I told him they were all right, although I had not then had an opportunity to look after them. My father was hurt by the flying timber, for the house on the west side of the road was blown through ours, and thirty-two persons were killed and many badly wounded, but when matters had subsided a little and we had examined the room and the box where the manuscript was kept, we found it to our satisfaction as we had left it, and as it is now, in a good state of preservation.”
[Editor’s Note: Another account of Hart’s interview with David Whitmer appeared in the Improvement Era 12 (October 1909):955-59; see also Edward L. Hart, James H. Hart’s Contribution to Our Knowledge of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, ” BYU Studies 36, no. 4, 1996-97, pp. 118-124]