Juvenile Instructor » 1829 Mormon Discovery Brought to you by…Guest Erin Jennings
 


1829 Mormon Discovery Brought to you by…Guest Erin Jennings

By: Robin - August 21, 2012

The following post comes from intrepid researcher by Erin Jennings. Erin (BS, Cameron University; MSE, Arkansas State University) is an independent historian and current board member of the John Whitmer Historical Association. Among her areas of focus, Erin has extensively researched Jesse Gause, Charles Anthon, and the Whitmer family. She has published, “The Consequential Counselor: Restoring the Root(s) of Jesse Gause,” in the Journal of Mormon History, and “The Whitmer Family Beliefs and Their Church of Christ,” in the book Scattering of the Saints: Schism Within Mormonism, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and John C. Hamer. The Juvenile Instructor thanks Erin for kindly sharing an important document she recently found:

A relentless eight-year search has finally come to an end for me. Thanks to an ever-growing trove of digital tools, I’ve finally located an elusive Oliver Cowdery letter that in February 1830 Cornelius Blatchly claimed was reproduced in a New York newspaper in 1829.

Less than two years before his death, Blatchly, then a recently disowned Orthodox Quaker, wrote to Martin Harris[1] inquiring about the soon-to-be published Book of Mormon. Blatchly’s inquiry was prompted in part by his reading of the Title Page, which early believers circulated to advertise the forthcoming book. Cowdery’s reply, dated 9 November 1829, is possibly the earliest extant account of his role as one of the three witnesses to the gold plates. He also discusses the translation and printing of the Book of Mormon along with an interesting if idiosyncratic defense of Joseph Smith as “Author” as used on the Title Page of the 1830 edition.

I plan on presenting the letter more formally in a forthcoming paper. There are undoubtedly other such letters waiting to be rediscovered[2]—never give up the search!

[Gospel Luminary 2, no. 49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194, brackets in original, spacing for punctuation is standardized to single or no space, block format is applied throughout.]

For the Gospel Luminary.
THE NEW BIBLE,

Written on plates of Gold or Brass.

This is said to be written in Egyptian, and an inspired translation of this wonderful record, by Joseph Smith, who styles himself the author, is now in the press, to be ready for subscribers the commencing part of next year:—

Copies of the title page, and other means, have been taken to sell next year this wonderful translation. Wishing success to the affair, if it could be substantiated by indisputable evidences and witnesses, I wrote to those concerned in, and witnesses to the facts and circumstances; and requested them to educe and publish to the world the clearest and strongest evidences possible. For Deists, Atheists, and Infidels to Christianity on one hand; and sectarianism, phariseism, bigotry and Orthodoxy on the other, would attack, oppose and examine the witnesses and testimonies with the utmost severity; and rightly would they do so. For why, should the world be duped, gulled, or imposed on. Those, who take such means to make and sell their books to a wondering community, ought to afford incontrovertible truths.

But what is the answer to so rational a solicitation? You shall have it readers in their own words, after they had been digesting it for many weeks:—and judge ye, if it is satisfactory.

“Palmyra, Wayne, co., N. Y., Nov. 9th, 1829.

Sir;—You wrote to Mr. Harris, some time since, respecting the book of Mormon, of which he was concerned in the publication.”—

“Your first inquiry was, whether it was proper to say, that Joseph Smith Jr., was the author? If I rightly understand the meaning of the word author, it is, the first beginner, or mover of any thing, or a writer. Now Joseph Smith Jr., certainly was the writer of the work, called the book of Mormon, which was written in ancient Egyptian characters,—which was a dead record to us until translated. And he, by a gift from God, has translated it into our language. Certainly he was the writer of it, and could be no less than the author.”

I was sorry they could not perceive, how improper it was, that the translator, should assume authorship of the Egyptian book of Mormon; written it seems, by the real author in hieroglyphics. Hooker explains, (says Dr. Samuel Johnston,) author to be the first beginner or mover of any thing. But Joseph Smith is not the first beginner, or mover of the book of Mormon; or he is. And if he is, he must be an imposter. But if he is not: then he is not the author, or first beginner; but the translator, or last copyist, or translator of a golden leaved book, written ages ago, in Egyptian symbolical pictures, or hieroglyphics. Dryden explains Author, to be the efficient, that produces any thing: the first writer of any thing. Was J. Smith Junr., the first writer of the book of Mormon? If he was not, why does he call himself the author? as though the book of Mormon was a fiction of his own invention? We may as well say, that the copyists of the scriptures of truth, were the authors of the writings of Moses, the prophets and apostles, as to say (if Joseph Smith Junr., speaks truly,) that Joseph is the author of Mormon, written ages ago, on golden plates or leaves.

The letter continues to say,—“This record which gives an account of the first inhabitants of this continent,[3] is engraved on plates, which have the appearance of gold; and they are of very curious workmanship.”[4]

What a pity it is the golden leaves of about 30 lbs., (as I have heard,) cannot be examined and attested by more than three or four persons? But say they—

“The reason stated in a prophecy written before the coming of Christ in the flesh, why the record should not be shown to all the world, [i. e. only to three or four, it seems] at the time of its coming forth to the children of men is that the book should be sealed, by the power of God.”[5]

The two witnesses, the two candle sticks, or olive branches are (I believe,) revelation and reason: or divine and rational truth. Are we to be unjustly deprived of rational testimony in this case, by preventing men and women of virtue and veracity, from seeing and attesting to these plates of brass or gold? Yes, they answer, “that the book may be sealed by the power of God.”[6] A book which is written by the power of God is sealed, to all those, who have not this power, even while they read, hear, or posess the writing. “For the things of God, knoweth no man but the spirit of God.”[7] Spiritual things being always sealed or hidden from those, who have not spiritual discernment; the gospel being always hid to them, who are lost;—or are in a wicked state; why then should plates written in hieroglyphics, (which they incorrectly call Egyptian characters) be kept out of sight? who could interpret them, when seen? Of if they could,—could they, unless in God’s spirit, understand them without special revelation to unseal them? It appears, therefore, a very unreasonable thing to deprive mankind of good, sufficient and incontrovertible testimony, of evidence that shall silence bigoted pharisees, sectarian heretics, sneering and sapient infidels, Jews, Mahommedans or pagans. Such an ancient, curious, and most precious golden relic of primitive ages, I should judge, would be estimable beyond conception, and would be preserved, with the greatest care by good or wise beholders, from any violence or rudeness; But they say—

“The prophecy also states there shall also be a revelation sealed in the book, which will reveal all things from the foundation of the world to the end thereof.”[8] And because of the iniquity of the world, at the time of its coming forth; it shall be hid from the eyes of the world; that the eyes of none shall behold it, (save it be that three witnesses shall behold it by the power of God) besides him, to whom the book should be delivered. And none other should see it, only a few,—if it should be wisdom in God.”[9]

These I understand are the three, that were favored with a sight of it by the angel from heaven, in a clear day, and in an open field. By this it would seem, that the book came from heaven. The letter farther says:—

“And after that which was not sealed, was translated, the book should again be hid-up, unto the Lord, that it might not be destroyed; and come forth again, in the own due time of him, who knows all things [coming] unto the children of men.”[10]

“You also wished Mr. Harris to inform you respecting his seeing this book, whether there could not possibly have been some juggling at the bottom of it. A few words on that point may suffice.—

“It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven.”[11]

“Now if this is human juggling—judge ye.”

Yours with much esteem,

OLIVER H. P. COWDERY.

“P. S. I write this at the request of Messrs. Harris, and others. The edition of this work now printing will not possibly be finished before the first of next February 1830.

I am thankful for their esteem, and replying, and from their saying “Judge ye”—I presume they expected I and my friends should read and judge. And I think the public ought to judge too; on so important a matter as a new bible; as wondrous as the Koran of Mahomet, and requiring the most incontrovertible facts, circumstances and proofs. The above statement appear to me to be far from being of this character.

CORNELIUS C. BLATCHLY.

Gospel Luminary (click to enlarge)

 


[1] Note that in the February 1830 article, Blatchly says that he had addressed the letter to Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer (C. C. Blatchly, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 [Feb. 20, 1830]: 150), but the 1829 reproduction only mentions Martin Harris as the intended recipient.

[2] A few years ago, for instance, I found a previously unknown Charles Anthon letter (Erin B. Jennings, “Charles Anthon—The Man Behind the Letters,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 2 [Fall 2012]: forthcoming).

[3] Early Mormons frequently portrayed the Book of Mormon as an etiological saga.

[4] Cf. The Testimony of Eight Witnesses.

[5] Cf. 2 Nephi 11:3; 27:1–35.

[6] Blatchly’s quote from Cowdery’s letter differs slightly from his previous transcription: “that the book should be sealed, by the power of God” (bold emphasis added).

[7] 1 Corinthians 2:11.

[8] Cf. 2 Nephi 27:10.

[9] Cf. 2 Nephi 27:12–13 (see also v. 22).

[10] Cf. Book of Mormon Title Page (see also 2 Nephi 27:22; Mormon 5:12).

[11] Compare Smith’s account in which he and Harris see the plates independently of the other two witnesses; compare also Smith’s recollection that he and the three witnesses “retire[d] into the woods … convenient, to Fat[her] Mr Whitmer’s <house>” to Cowdery’s “open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field.” See Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Histories, Volume 1: 1832–1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 318–21.

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31 Comments

  1. What an awesome find, Erin! And thanks for sharing it here at JI. I look forward to reading your fuller treatment of the letter when it appears in print.

    Comment by Christopher — August 21, 2012 @ 8:20 am

  2. Thanks for Sharing this Erin. This really is a remarkable find. Sources this early don’t often surface. It will be interesting to see what is uncovered next.

    Comment by Robin — August 21, 2012 @ 8:57 am

  3. Do you know whether Blatchly 1829 reproduces the entire letter? Is the letter itself gone?

    Either way, a really exciting and important early source. I imagine lots of people will want to read this.

    Comment by g.wesley — August 21, 2012 @ 10:20 am

  4. Extraordinary find, Erin. Would you be willing to share how you came to look for this document (as hinted in the beginning) and then how you came to find it?

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 21, 2012 @ 10:28 am

  5. Thanks everyone! My initial quest started back in 2004 when Mike Marquardt asked me to help locate the reprinted letter. All the clues Blatchly gave in his 1830 NY Telescope article as to where he had published the letter pointed to a dead end. I researched everything I could about Blatchly in hopes that I could track down the reprint somewhere. I combed the internet and looked at a lot of microfilm back then. I was finally able to locate it last week in the digitized American Antiquarian periodicals series.

    I assume the letter itself is long gone, but you never know what’s still out there waiting to be found.

    Comment by Erin — August 21, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  6. Awesome letter. Let us know when you publish it, as I for one would like to cite your edition of it in my project on translation.

    Comment by smb — August 21, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  7. Absolutely fantastic; I wish we had a “like” (or “love”) button on the blog, as I’d hit it for both the post and your comment #5.

    Outside of the importance to Mormonism, it’s fascinating that Blatchley uses Johnson and Dryden as authorities on the English language. Just shows the intellectual authority British sages still held, even in religious debates, in the early republic.

    Comment by Ben P — August 21, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

  8. What a cool exchange about the appropriateness of using “author” rather than translator! Blatchley seems to have a proficient understanding of the provenance of the Book of Mormon, even before he read it.

    Thanks for sharing this with JI, Erin. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — August 21, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  9. Great find, Erin. It seems Blatchly did not find Cowdery’s letter response all that satisfying to the standard Blatchly set forth:

    “Wishing success to the affair, if it could be substantiated by indisputable evidences and witnesses, I wrote to those concerned in, and witnesses to the facts and circumstances; and requested them to educe and publish to the world the clearest and strongest evidences possible. For Deists, Atheists, and Infidels to Christianity on one hand; and sectarianism, phariseism, bigotry and Orthodoxy on the other, would attack, oppose and examine the witnesses and testimonies with the utmost severity; and rightly would they do so. For why, should the world be duped, gulled, or imposed on. Those, who take such means to make and sell their books to a wondering community, ought to afford incontrovertible truths.

    Comment by sock puppet of Mormon Discussions board — August 21, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  10. Erin, this is really great. Robin’s right–it makes one wonder what else is out there just waiting …

    Comment by Gary Bergera — August 21, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  11. Thanks for your persistence Erin. This is the only instance that I know of where Cowdery discusses his vision of the angel and plates. Great work! Keep it up!

    Comment by Dan Vogel — August 21, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

  12. Fantastic

    Comment by SC Taysom — August 21, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

  13. What a remarkable find! I’m so glad you shared it here, and can’t wait for your full-length treatment.

    Comment by Nate R. — August 21, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

  14. Nice work, Erin.

    Comment by Ryan T. — August 21, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

  15. Erin:
    I stand in awe of your work and look forward to learning more. I was particularly surprised that Cowdrey compared the early Book of Mormon to the “wondrous” Koran. No doubt others of Cowdrey’s time made similar comparisons. I just overlooked them until now, although recent suggestions that Mormonism may be as distinct as Islam, the fourth of the major Abrahamic religions, resonates. Perhaps it is an issue that will be fully resolved before we get to the presidential election in November (wink).

    Comment by R.B. Scott — August 22, 2012 @ 6:45 am

  16. Congrats on your excellent find Erin.

    This seems to confirm that the “sealing” of the plates was originally understood to be a metaphorical sealing (in the sense that court records are sealed) rather than a physical sealing (leaves bound or stuck together).

    Comment by Andrew Cook — August 22, 2012 @ 9:43 am

  17. Great find Erin!

    I was especially interested in the note that Blatchley has heard by 1829 that the plates only weighed “about 30 lbs.” That seems awfully light, given their stated size and metallurgical composition. Is this the earliest account of their weight? Connell

    Comment by Connell O'Donovan — August 22, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

  18. Connell:

    I think 1829 is now the earliest. The earliest estimate I was aware of before this post from 1831; the second came from 1833.

    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/adjusting-the-chemistry-of-the-gold-plates/

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 22, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

  19. Fascinating. Well worth multiple readings. Thanks very much.

    Comment by Scott Vanatter — August 22, 2012 @ 10:13 pm

  20. You’re amazing, Erin!

    Comment by John Hamer — August 23, 2012 @ 9:43 am

  21. Awesome find, Erin! You are a fantastic researcher.

    Comment by Vickie Speek — August 23, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  22. Outstanding. This is a monumental find. I spent a good deal of time searching for this letter and came up empty handed. Thanks for posting it. I’m looking forward to your paper.

    Comment by Larry Morris — August 23, 2012 @ 11:58 am

  23. High fives all around!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 23, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

  24. Thanks so much everyone! I’m really glad you’re all enjoying it.

    Comment by Erin — August 23, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  25. Great job, Erin!

    Comment by Hueffenhardt — August 23, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

  26. Nice work Erin. Absolutely fascinating!

    Comment by Dallas Robbins — August 23, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

  27. My congratulations as well. Now, have you found the New York Sun that predicts that Joseph Smith will be elected President?

    Comment by John A. Tvedtnes — August 24, 2012 @ 9:31 am

  28. Just for clarification in response to a comment above, the way I read the text it is Blatchly, not Cowdery, who makes the comparison to the Koran.

    Comment by Todd Knowles — August 24, 2012 @ 11:40 am

  29. It seems almost implausible to me in this digital age of instant web-crawling, quasi-robotic internet search engines that the requisite effort to locate the quoted newspaper reference would require such obvious painstaking sleuth work. It seems obvious now in hind-site that the incredible effort expended would be rewarded so handsomely. But in actuality, I’m sure that Erin had no idea how wonderfully these few printed words would resonate in our hearts so many years after their burial. I suspect that once she managed to “dig” them up, her intuition of their possible impact was rightly justified. Excellent exhaustive work. Thank you for not giving up, thank you for your hours of research, thank you for a job well done.

    Comment by Tim Ernst — August 24, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  30. Fabulous, Erin. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — August 26, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

  31. Really amazing find Erin — and you didn’t even need Mark Hoffman to find it! The implications of such an early statement and interaction before the Book of Mormon was even published are fairly far reaching.

    Comment by Blake — August 27, 2012 @ 7:56 pm