Mary Musselman Whitmer, the only woman who saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, was born Aug. 27, 1778, and became the wife of Peter Whitmer. Together with her husband she was baptized by Oliver Cowdery in Seneca lake, April 18, 1830. Among the early members of the Church she was familiarly known as Mother Whitmer, she being the wife of Peter Whitmer, sen., and mother of five of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Her son, David Whitmer, before his death, testified on several occasions that his mother had seen the plates, and when Elders Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson visited Richmond, Missouri, in 1888, John C. Whitmer, a grandson of the lady in question, testified in the following language: “ent in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true. She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.” Mother Whitmer died in Richmond, Ray county, Missouri, in January, 1856 (Andrew Jensen, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1901, vol 1, p. 283; see also sketch of David Whitmer and Peter Whitmer: Historical Record, vol. 7, p. 621; Juvenile Instructor, vol. 24, p. 22).
Soon after our arrival home, I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father’s barn. I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, he told me it was. Some time after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man who said to her:
“You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase in your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”
Thereupon he showed her the plates.
My father and mother had a large family of their own; the addition to it, therefore, of Joseph, his wife Emma, and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained, she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so.
This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities (Interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, September 1878. Source: “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, 40 (9 Dec 1878), pp. 771-74; Deseret News, 16 Nov 1878; Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, pp. 42-43).
[When] Elders Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson visited Richmond, Missouri, in 1888, John C. Whitmer, a grandson of the lady in question, testified in the following language:
“I have heard my grandmother say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by a holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi. It was at the time, she said, when the translation was going on at the house of the elder Peter Whitmer, her husband. Joseph Smith with his wife and Oliver Cowdery, whom David Whitmer a short time previous had brought up from Harmony, Pennsylvania, were all boarding with the Whitmers, and my grandmother in having so many extra persons to care for, besides her own large household, was often overloaded with work to such an extent that she felt it to be quite a burden.
One evening, when she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction.
He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end.
The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell.
From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard.
I knew my grandmother to be a good, noble and truthful woman, and I have not the least doubt of her statement in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true.
She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.” Mother Whitmer died in Richmond, Ray county, Missouri, in January, 1856.
(Interview of John C. Whitmer with Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson in Richmond, Missouri, 1888, in Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saints Biographical Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p.283; Historical Record, vol. 7, p. 621; Juvenile Instructor, vol. 24, p. 22; The Children’s Friend, Deseret News, vol. II, 1903, pp. 190-191)
The Fourth Witness: The Mary Whitmer Story – DVD
“As persecution increased, Joseph Smith and his companions took refuge in the humble home of Peter and Mary Whitmer. During this respite the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed. While her husband and sons labored with the prophet, Mary shouldered the responsibilities of running the farm. While acknowledging the strain of caring for so many in such small quarters, she did not complain. Her willing sacrifice and quiet faith led to a powerful experience as Mary became the fourth witness to the Book of Mormon” (Three LDS Film Classics on DVD: Fourth witness: the Mary Whitmer story; Eliza and I; Woman, the pioneer: Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio, 2004).