The translation of the Book of Mormon, completed by Joseph Smith in June 1829, was an amazing feat. By any standard, this 588-page holy book is extraordinary. Isaiah’s words, “a marvelous work and a wonder” (Isa. 29:14), which can be translated from the Hebrew more literally as “a miraculous work and a miracle,” readily describe the coming forth of this key restoration text.
Divine manifestations of several kinds directed the rapid course of the translation. Through angelic ministrations, the gift of powers to translate, the guidance of visions, and in many other ways, the hand of God was evident in the truly astounding work of bringing forth the ancient Nephite record. Through the Book of Mormon came many crucial revelations opening the heavens for all to receive: vital testimonies of the divinity of Jesus Christ, abundant declarations of God’s plan of salvation, heavenly dispensations of ethical teachings, and prophetic patterns for religious rites and ordinances. It is impossible to imagine Mormonism without the Book of Mormon. Its translation was a key event that unlocked a treasury of God’s dealings with mankind in the past and, in so doing, opened the way for his work to go forward in the present and on into the future.
While the embedding had occurred centuries earlier, the unfolding process commenced in September 1823, when Joseph Smith Jr. was visited several times by the angel Moroni, who informed him that God “had a work for [him] to do” (JS–H 1:33). The angel went on to state that a book written upon gold plates containing the fullness of the gospel was deposited in a stone box in a nearby hill, and that in due time he, Joseph Smith, would be given stewardship over that book. This extensive record had been compiled mainly by the final Nephite leader, Mormon, who lived in the fourth century ad. Painstakingly, he had engraved onto the final set of plates carefully quoted, purposefully abridged, and paraphrased materials that he drew from a much larger collection of historical and religious records that had been written by his predecessors over the previous centuries. Most prominently, Mormon’s account featured numerous instances of angelic and divine manifestations, including appearances of Jesus Christ during the year after his resurrection. In about AD 385, Mormon, after adding his own concluding narrative, gave the plates to his son Moroni (who died about AD 421). After appending his abridgement of the Jaredite records, a few ecclesiastical documents, and his own farewell, Moroni finally deposited the plates in the Hill Cumorah in modern-day western New York. On September 22, 1827, Moroni released those plates to Joseph, thus inaugurating one of the most important stages in the Restoration of the gospel.
Numerous approaches can and should be taken in approaching the Book of Mormon. This complex book has been read and scrutinized in many ways: textually, doctrinally, historically, comparatively, literarily, legally, statistically, geographically, philosophically, practically, biographically, intellectually, prayerfully, and spiritually—to name some of the most obvious. The richness of this book inevitably invites several questions: How was this book written? Where did it come from? Joseph Smith testified that he translated the Book of Mormon miraculously, by the gift and power of God. Is that testimony credible?
The following set of over two hundred documents assembles data pertinent to that ultimate question. In particular, from these contemporaneous historical records, this study focuses on determining, as precisely as possible, when the Book of Mormon was translated, how long it took to complete this impressive task, and where to place the translation into the few known surrounding events of Joseph Smith’s life. The overwhelming accumulation of the consistent historical details provided by eyewitness participants and local observers leads to the solid conclusion that the Book of Mormon was translated in a very short period of time. Inside of three astonishingly compressed months, Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon. Its text simply emerged as it fell from his lips, line after line, recorded by his attentive scribe. The rapidity of the translation left no time for steps normally taken in producing translations.
The historical records corroborating the translation of the Book of Mormon are indeed copious and quite detailed. In addition to several contemporaneous references in the Doctrine and Covenants to the translation as it was under way (documents 1–9 below), accounts were left by many of the participants, eyewitnesses, or observant people who were closely associated with the unfolding translation. These people include Joseph Smith (documents 10–37) and Emma Smith (documents 38–43). Next come the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon—Martin Harris (documents 44–68), Oliver Cowdery (documents 69–78), David Whitmer (documents 79–100). The thirty-seven accounts given by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who were most directly involved in the translation process, are notably specific and powerfully consistent. Next comes John Whitmer (documents 101–4), who was another of Joseph’s scribes. Further statements by members of the Joseph Smith Sr. family come from Joseph Smith Sr., Lucy Mack Smith, William Smith, and Katharine Smith Salisbury (documents 105–13), and additional testimonies were left by other people who were close to those involved with the translation: Sarah Conrad, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, Alva Hale, Isaac Hale, Joseph Knight Sr., and Joseph Knight Jr. (documents 114–19).1
Many other accounts listed chronologically by publication date (documents 120–206) have survived from people who were not personally involved with or close to the work of translating the Book of Mormon but who may have had contact with some who were; some of these contemporaneous reports or rumors were circulated by people who were farther removed from these events. Even though their words are patently less useful in reconstructing the historical sequence of events regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, all such identifiable accounts, including the hostile statements, are interesting to compare and analyze.
Consisting of 206 documents, the entire collection is presented in the document section following this article. Underlining is reproduced from the original document. Editorial marks include angle brackets < > to indicate insertions made by the author of the document. Strikeouts are shown by strikeouts. Brackets [ ] indicate editorial comments.
By way of introducing these documents, an annotated chronology is first given, detailing the main events and heavenly manifestations that transpired during the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon from 1827 through 1830. Despite a few minor uncertainties in this historical data, most of the information falls clearly into a single logical sequence of events. The historical record abundantly sustains the basic narrative concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The sheer number of witnesses, friendly or otherwise, who were aware of this work as it progressed and who sensed its importance enough to speak or write to others about it renders alternative accounts of fabrication or deception unlikely. At least, perpetrating such a ruse would have necessarily involved the willing collusion of many others who do not appear likely to have been willing coconspirators.
In sum, it is shown that nearly all the 590 pages printed in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon were translated, dictated, and written within an extremely short and intensely busy period of time, almost entirely from April 7 to the last week of June 1829. Virtually no excess time existed during those three months for Joseph Smith to plan, to ponder about, to research, to hunt for sources, to organize data, to draft, to revise, or to polish the pages of the original manuscript of this book. Although Joseph became aware of and began contemplating this assignment in September 1823, and while he translated the 116 pages containing the book of Lehi from April 12, 1828, to June 14, 1828, which were sadly lost that summer, once Joseph and Oliver set to work on April 7, 1829, the pages of the Book of Mormon flowed forth in rapid succession. The text of the Book of Mormon was dictated one time through, essentially in final form. This was done despite significant interruptions and distractions. Such a feat, in and of itself, constitutes a considerable achievement, given the length, quality, and complexity of the Book of Mormon alone.
Further details concerning the description of the plates, complex structure of the Book of Mormon, and what can be gathered concerning Joseph Smith’s means and methods of translating the Book of Mormon can be found conveniently at the beginning of published editions of the book, in standard histories of the Church,2 in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,3 or in other surveys of scholarship about the Book of Mormon.4 More than this brief mention of these additional topics, however, goes beyond the limited purpose of this documentary presentation.
I am grateful to several people who have assisted over the years in gathering and editing these documents and processing this information for this publication, in particular Erick Carlson, Heather Seferovich, and Jed Woodworth. While everyone involved has attempted to be as thorough as possible, I recognize that further research may yet discover additional information to clarify various individual points. If there are faults, they are ours alone. Dates listed in the chronology are, for the most part, historically verifiable, but some have been approximated. Taken together these details coalesce into a clear picture of the miraculous time of translation of the Book of Mormon.
Chronology of Events from September 1827 to
April 1830 relating to the Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon
September 21–22, 1827. This was the appointed time when Joseph Smith received the plates from Moroni (documents 107, 110, 119, 149).5 In 1831, Joseph described the box, the plates (which “resembled gold”), the interpreters (which “resembled spectacles”), and explained that by looking into them “he could read a writing engraven upon the plates” (document 14) by the gift and power of God (documents 16, 20, 21, 22, 32, 33, 34, 37, and several others). Moroni charged Joseph that he “should be responsible for them” and that he would be “cut off” if he should let them go carelessly (JS–H 1:59), that is, by “tattling the secrets of the work among his neighbors” (document 95). This charge was strict, for there were reasons to know that “strenuous exertions” would soon be made to try to get the plates from Joseph (JS–H 1:60). Joseph Knight wrote sometime before 1847, but possibly as early as 1835, that he was in Palmyra for several days in September 1827 and that “Joseph [Smith] was some affraid of him [Samuel Lawrence] that he mite be a trouble to him” (document 119). Joseph sent his father to watch Lawrence’s house that evening, but no trouble materialized.6 Joseph (leaving Emma7 with Joseph Knight’s carriage) then went after midnight to the site on the hill, which was two to three miles southeast of the Smith home, and received the plates from Moroni.8 Joseph then hid the plates “in an old black oak tree top which was hollow”9 according to Martin Harris, or in “a birch log” according to Lucy Mack Smith. Shortly thereafter, he retrieved the plates and brought them home wrapped in a linen frock.10
A few days later a mob (possibly consisting of Samuel Lawrence, Luman Walters, Willard Chase, and others) attempted to get the plates from Joseph. According to Lucy Mack Smith’s history (a preliminary manuscript transcribed from Lucy’s dictation by Martha Jane Coray around 1844–45) and according to Brigham Young in 1855, during this time a conjuror (likely Luman Walters of Sodus, Pultneyville, New York) and several others attempted to get the plates from Joseph, which were hidden at his father’s home in Manchester Township.11
October 1827. Joseph “commenced work with his Father on the farm.”12 Several attempts were made to get the plates from Joseph, such as the one by Willard Chase’s sister, who used a green glass to see the precise place where Joseph had hidden the plates,13 and another attempt by a mob of fifty.14
Joseph began to “take some measures to accomplish the translation of the record into English but he was instructed to take off a fac simile of the alphabet Egyptian characters” (document 108).15
November 1827. “[The Smiths] had to garde the house until some time in November. He [Joseph] obtaind fifty Dollars in money and hired a man to move him and his wife to Pennsylvany to hir Fathers,”16 namely Isaac Hale. Alva Hale, Emma’s brother, arrived to assist Joseph and Emma in moving to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Martin Harris gave Joseph fifty dollars to pay off debts (including a debt to Lucy Harris) and move (document 67).17
December 1827. Joseph moved from his parents’ frame house in the Manchester township, New York, to Emma’s parents’ house in Harmony, while hiding the plates in a barrel of beans.18 Isaac Hale recalled Joseph’s arrival at this time as follows: “In a short time they returned . . . and subsequently came to the conclusion they would move out and reside upon a place near my residence.”19 Records of the Hale family suggest that Joseph and Emma lived with Emma’s parents until February 1828, when a small frame home built by Emma’s brother Jesse Hale became available.20 Immediately after arriving in Harmony, Joseph with Emma “Drew of[f] the Caricters exactley like the ancient”21 (document 119; see also 25). Before his departure from Manchester township, Joseph had made arrangements with Martin Harris to join him in Harmony for a specific purpose:
it was agreed that Martin Harris should follow him as soon as he <Joseph> should have sufficient time to transcribe the Egyptian alphabet which Mr. Harris was to take to the east and through the country in every direction to all who were professed linguists to give them an opertunity of showing their talents.22
December 1827–February 1828. Joseph translated some characters.23 According to one description of this process given by Joseph, he would put his finger “on one of the characters and imploring divine aid, then looking through the Urim and Thummin, he would see the import written in plain English on a screen placed before him” (document 23). Emma and Reuben Hale acted as scribes: “Now when he Began to translate he was poor and was put to it for provisions and had no one to write for him But his wife, and his wifes Brother would sometimes write a little for him through the winter”24 (document 119). David Hale substantiated the idea that his brother played some role when he said that Reuben “assisted Joe Smith to fix up some characters such as Smith pretended were engraven on his book of plates”25 (document 178). Also, Joseph McCune boarded in the neighborhood and attended school at Hickory Grove during the time Joseph Smith was translating at Harmony. He was “quite often in Smith’s house,” and stated that “Reuben Hale acted as scribe a part of the time”26 (document 200). At this time, Joseph and those working with him were “thretned By a Mob” and Joseph Knight “came Down” from Colesville (Coleville) on one occasion (document 36).
Apparently during this time, when the book of Lehi was being translated and Emma was acting as scribe, Joseph translated a passage describing Jerusalem as a walled city (compare 1 Ne. 4:4) and stopped to ask Emma if Jerusalem indeed had walls. In 1856, Emma Smith described how she wrote down part of the translation as Joseph
dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. Even the word Sarah he could not pronounce at first, but had to spell it, and I would pronounce it for him.
When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, “Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?” When I answered, “Yes,” he replied “Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived.” He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.27 (document 38; details corroborated in documents 40, 54, 90, 95, 97, and others)
Several further accounts similarly focus on the point that Joseph Smith was poorly equipped educationally to produce the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer stated that “Joseph Smith was a man of limited education” who was “ignorant of the Bible” (document 97). In 1875, David Whitmer expressed a similar view:
So illiterate was Joseph at the time, said Mr. Whitmer, that he didn’t even know that Jerusalem was a walled city and he was utterly unable to pronounce many of the names which the magic power of the Urim and Thummim revealed, and therefore spelled them out in syllables and the more erudite scribe put them together.28
On January 1, 1828, Joseph Smith hired David Hale, Emma’s brother, to cover his mittens with leather so he could perform farm labor. He likely worked for a neighbor, James Westfall.29
February 1828. Martin Harris arrived in Harmony as Joseph and Martin had planned (document 12). Martin then left for Palmyra, Utica, Albany, New York City, and Philadelphia, visiting with Professor Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill (the vice president of Rutgers Medical School, located in New York City) (documents 122, 135, 151), and with Professor Charles Anthon (documents 51, 66, 88, 135, 151, 161, 168) at Columbia College and others concerning the characters copied from some part of the unsealed plates of Mormon, perhaps even calling upon Lt. Governor Luther Bradish for consultation.30 Joseph wrote in 1832 that the Lord appeared to Martin in a vision, instructing him to go to New York City “<with> some of the c<h>aracters so we proceeded to coppy some of them” (document 12). Martin took with him the transcript of the characters and a translation.31 That Philadelphia was possibly among the “Eastern Cittys” mentioned by Joseph is contained in Joseph Knight Sr.’s recollection that Emma and Joseph drew off some of the characters exactly like the ancient and sent Harris to Albany, Philadelphia, and New York City to get them translated.32
April 12, 1828. Martin Harris returned from New York to Joseph’s home in Harmony and consulted with Joseph (document 25). Apparently during this time, Harris stated in 1859, “did I not at one time hold the plates on my knee an hour-and-a-half, whilst in conversation with Joseph, when we went to bury them in the woods” (document 46). Harris then returned to his farm in Palmyra township where he “arranged his affairs” for an extended absence.33 On this date, he and his wife, Lucy, returned to Pennsylvania, where Martin joined Joseph as his scribe for the translation of the plates of the Book of Mormon (documents 45, 49) beginning with the book of Lehi34 (document 86). Lucy Harris wanted to see the plates:
She began to by ransack<ing> every nook & corner of the house chest cupboard trunk &c the day after she went out and hunted the ground over adjacent to the house she kept up the search till 2 oclock in <the> afternoon when she came in very ill natured . . . The woman was so disapointed and perplexed in everything she undertook that [she] left the house and took lodgings at the nearest tavern <the house of a near neighbor> here.35
Isaac Hale also wrote of this time: “About this time, Martin Harris made his appearance upon the stage; and Smith began to interpret the characters or hieroglyphics which he said were engraven upon the plates, while Harris wrote down the interpretation. It was said, that Harris wrote down one hundred sixteen pages”36 (document 117; see also 49, 86, 95, 119). Although usually kept indoors, the plates were apparently placed in a box and sometimes secreted in the woods or “in the Mountin” (according to Joseph Knight, document 119; see also 105), or elsewhere, when they were not being employed.37
April 12–June 14, 1828. The book of Lehi was translated (document 10). According to Martin Harris’s account, “The Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone”38 (documents 52, 56; see also 94–96, 100, 108, 110–12). Harris once tested Joseph with the seer stone by replacing the stone with one of a similar shape and color, but Joseph immediately apprehended the difference, thus satisfying Martin (document 55).39
June 15, 1828. Joseph and Emma’s first child, Alvin (Alva?), was born but died shortly thereafter.40
Late June or Early July 1828. The 116 pages of the book of Lehi, which Martin Harris had borrowed from Joseph around June 14 and taken to Palmyra to show to his wife and family, were lost. Lucy Smith and others suspected that Martin Harris’s wife, Lucy, stole the 116 pages.41 Joseph tried with “utmost exertions” to recover these pages (document 10).
July 1, 1828. Joseph remained with Emma for two weeks after the death of their child.42 He then left for his father’s farm in Manchester, New York, and asked Martin to come to his father’s house to tell him what happened to the 116 pages. The 116 pages were lost. The interpreters and the plates were then taken from Joseph by an angel43 (documents 87, 94–96, 113, 119).
July 1828. Joseph returned to Harmony and stayed “for nearly two months.”44 There the spectacles were returned to him long enough to receive a revelation from the Lord chastising him for allowing “the counsel of thy director to be trampled upon,” and assuring him that “nevertheless, my work shall go forth” (D&C 3:15, 16).45 The spectacles were taken again.46 Portions of Doctrine and Covenants 10 may have been received around this time (document 2), although it took its final form essentially in 1829, as discussed below, May 15–May 25, 1829. On August 12, 1828, Joseph purchased items from David Hale’s store, including a pocketknife and a pocketbook, possibly indicating that he planned to do some writing. In September, he hired someone to help him dig a well, slaughtered farm animals to provide meat for the winter, and sold pork for credit.47
September 22, 1828. It was promised that Moroni would return the plates to Joseph on this familiar date.48 David Whitmer said of this time that “the plates, however, were not returned, but instead Smith was given by the angel a Urim and Thummim of another pattern” (document 95; see also 96, 99, 108).
1828–1829 in general. A February 1879 interview with Emma Smith detailed information about the translation during this time period:
Q. Who were scribes for father when translating the Book of Mormon?
A. Myself [Emma Smith], Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and my brother, Reuben Hale. . . .
Q. What is the truth of Mormonism?
A. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us. . . .
Q. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
A. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. . . .
Q. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
A. Joseph Smith [and for the first time she used his name direct, having usually used the words “your father” or “my husband”] could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else. (document 41)
A generally reliable non-Mormon journalist stated that “the little low chamber in Smith’s house was used as a translating-room,” naming the scribes as Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and Reuben Hale.49 Later, Harris stated that he “wrote for him about one third of the first part of the translation” of the 116 pages (document 53).
Winter 1828–29. Joseph and Emma visited Joseph Knight: “He and his wife Came up to see me [Joseph Knight] the first of the winter 1828 and told me his Case.”50 Probably during this season, David Whitmer made a business trip from Fayette, New York, to Palmyra, where he met Oliver Cowdery for the first time and learned of Joseph and the golden plates (document 88).51 Joseph labored for neighbors to provide for himself and Emma.52
February 1829. Joseph’s parents came from New York and visited him in Harmony.53 Joseph received Doctrine and Covenants 4 for his father. Joseph Sr. and Lucy returned to Manchester. Oliver, who was boarding with Joseph Sr. and Lucy at this time, began “importuneing Mr. Smith” for information concerning the plates and after “a long time” succeeded in receiving information.54 About this time, Joseph Smith wrote in 1832, “[the] Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdry and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me his unworthy servant therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate” (document 13).
March 1829. A few pages were translated. Emma acted “some” or “but little” as scribe (documents 38, 43, 80, 81, 88, 108), as did Samuel Smith also (document 13).55 During this month, Martin Harris visited Joseph from Palmyra, “seemingly for the prime purpose of being permitted to see the plates. According to other testimonies Martin had not seen the plates during the time he was writing for the Prophet, and he wanted to know of their existence.”56 This visit was the catalyst for Doctrine and Covenants 5. Joseph was told to translate “a few more pages” and then to “stop for a season” (D&C 5:30; document 3).
April 5, 1829. Oliver Cowdery arrived in Harmony to assist Joseph with the translation of the Book of Mormon.57 This was their first meeting in person. Joseph told Oliver “his entire history as far as it was necessary for his information in those things which concerned him” (document 108). Oliver was given assurances that “the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true” (D&C 6:17, 1833 ed.; document 4), and he was offered “a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph” (document 4; see also 5). David Whitmer, who was first among the Whitmers to hear of Joseph Jr., recalled speaking with Oliver about the matter in 1828.58
Oliver explicitly dates his first meeting with Joseph Smith Jr. as April 5, 1829: “Near the time of the setting of the Sun, Sabbath evening, April 5th, 1829, my natural eyes, for the first time beheld this brother”59 (document 70; see also 119). On the same page printed in 1834, Oliver said he had endured many “fateagues and privations . . . for the gospel’s sake, since 1828, with this brother.” Apparently Oliver had begun suffering criticism as early as 1828 for his interest in Joseph and the plates. In 1835 he said he had known Joseph intimately for “almost seven years.”60 From 1829 to 1835 is seven years inclusive. Clear evidence supports April 5, 1829, as the date for the first meeting of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.
April 6, 1829. Oliver recorded: “On Monday the 6th, I assisted [Joseph] in arranging some business of a temporal nature”61 (document 70). The business was Joseph’s payment of $64 to Isaac Hale as a first payment on his purchase of the small house and thirteen acres on which he and Emma were already living.62 This ownership gave Joseph more control, privacy, and security as he recommenced translating.
April 7, 1829. Oliver began writing as scribe to Joseph Smith, as he remained for the greater part of the translation. Joseph and Oliver probably started writing at or shortly after the beginning of the book of Mosiah. Several considerations point to this conclusion.
First, 2 Nephi 27:12, 22, and not Ether 5:2–4, was most likely the scripture that triggered the experience of the Three and the Eight Witnesses toward the end of June 1829. If they were translating 2 Nephi in June, that would mean that they had begun with Mosiah in April and had returned, after finishing Moroni and the title page in May, to translate the small plates of Nephi in June. The History of the Church first appeared in print as a serial in the Times and Seasons in 1842.63 A blank was left in the sentence that was to tell which passage in the Book of Mormon inspired the manifestation to the Three Witnesses.64 Page 25 of one of the manuscripts of the History of the Church, however, contains a note that the relevant scripture was found “in the 1st ed. . . . page 110 [2 Nephi 27:4–14].” This information was added to the manuscript sometime after 1852, as is evident since that scribe also refers to a European edition of the Doctrine and Covenants of that date.65 Therefore, the earliest recorded understanding saw 2 Nephi 27 as the relevant scripture, working together with the previously translated passage in Ether to authorize the manifestation to the Witnesses.66
Second, Joseph and Oliver were prompted by 3 Nephi 11 to pray about baptism and remission of sins on May 15, when John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood (document 70). Beginning with Mosiah allows five weeks (from April 7 to May 15) for the translation of Mosiah 2 through the account of the ministry of Christ among the Nephites in 3 Nephi, and for the completion in June of the entire translation moving at about the same rate.67 It also allows for a significant number of pages being translated at the Whitmer home in Fayette.
Third, the title page of the Book of Mormon was translated before June 11, 1829, the date on which this text appears on the copyright application. Since the title page was written by Moroni and was found at the end of the plates of Mormon,68 this would require that the books up to and including the title page, namely 4 Nephi, Mormon, Ether, Moroni, and the title page itself, were translated after May 15 and probably before the move from Harmony to Fayette the first week in June.
Finally, although no pages of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon have survived for the book of Mosiah, handwriting of Scribe 2 on the original manuscript of 1 Nephi has been identified as John Whitmer (probable) and Scribe 3 as Christian Whitmer (possible), which would situate the translation of the small plates in Fayette in June.69 And so, while we are left without direct manuscript evidence in Mosiah,70 the conclusion that Joseph and Oliver began on April 7 very near the beginning of the book of Mosiah is widely accepted.71
Oliver said he transcribed all of the Book of Mormon “with the exception of a few pages” (document 76). Joseph remembered that Oliver wrote “with little cessation” (document 25). Oliver later recalled, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated . . . ‘The book of Mormon’”72 (document 70; see also 72).
The Rest of April, 1829. Sometime during April 1829, Doctrine and Covenants 6 (document 4), 8 (document 5), and 9 (document 6) were received, and Joseph made a quick trip to Colesville (document 31), perhaps at the beginning of the month. Oliver unsuccessfully attempted to translate (document 6). Oliver also wrote two letters to David Whitmer, telling him that “he was convinced that Smith had the records” and giving “a few lines of what they had translated” and assuring David “that he knew of a certainty that [Joseph] had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating gave a complete history of these people” (document 86).
May 1–15, 1829. The work progressed steadily until Joseph and Oliver reached the account of the ministry of the resurrected Christ to the inhabitants of ancient America in 3 Nephi. “After writing the account given of the Savior’s ministry to the remnant of the seed of Jacob, upon this continent,”73 the question arose in the minds of the Prophet and his scribe concerning the mode and authority of baptism (documents 70, 108).
May 15, 1829. The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by John the Baptist. Oliver and Joseph baptized each other as commanded by God.74 (See D&C 13.)
May 16–May 25, 1829. Around this time, Joseph and Oliver ran out of provisions (document 25). They went to Colesville (about twenty miles away, a day’s journey) to see if Joseph Knight would help them with some provisions, but he was in “Cattskill” (document 119). An account attributed to Joseph Smith might relate to this same trip to Colesville, although an occasion in 1830 is possible:
When I first commenced this work, and had got two or three individuals to believe, I went about thirty miles with Oliver Cowdery, to see them. We had only one horse between us. When we arrived, a mob of about one hundred men came upon us before we had time to eat, and chased us all night; and we arrived back again [in Harmony] a little after daylight, having traveled about sixty miles in all, and without food.75
This may have been the time when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored as Joseph and Oliver were returning from Colesville, but the dating of that event is uncertain.76 Joseph and Oliver returned to Harmony and looked to see “if they Could find a place to work for provisions, But found none. They returned home and found me [Joseph Knight] there with provisions, and they ware glad for they ware out” (document 119). Joseph Knight brought writing paper (foolscap) and other provisions for the translation and visited “several times” during May, traveling the distance of at least thirty miles each way (from his farm in Broome County).77 Joseph was admonished by the Lord to “be patient until you shall accomplish it” (document 7).
Apparently after the completion of 3 Nephi, Doctrine and Covenants 7 may have been received, speaking about John not tasting death. Within a couple weeks the final form of Doctrine and Covenants 10 (particularly 10:38–70) was essentially dictated or collated.78 Doctrine and Covenants 10:41 appears to instruct Joseph to translate the small plates of Nephi at a time when he had already translated the account of the reign of King Benjamin: “You shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated.” Katharine Smith Salisbury confirmed in 1895 that Joseph had “fasted and prayed several days,” and the angel told him “to begin where he had left off” (document 113). This would eventually bring him to the portion he still “retained” from his translation apparently of the first pages of the book of Mosiah, which he had not given to Martin Harris (D&C 10:41; document 2).79
May 25, 1829. Oliver Cowdery baptized Samuel Smith,80 who possibly arrived in Harmony in April with Oliver.81 The translation continued after Samuel’s baptism.82 Hyrum visited a few days later.83 Doctrine and Covenants 11 to Hyrum and Doctrine and Covenants 12 to Joseph Knight Sr. were then received. Doctrine and Covenants 11:19 told Hyrum to be patient: “You may assist in bringing to light those things of which has been spoken—yea, the translation of my work” (document 7).
May 15–May 31, 1829. After returning from the trip to Colesville, on about May 17, Oliver wrote a third letter to David Whitmer telling him “to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s [Peter Whitmer Sr.] house, giving as a reason therefor that they had received a commandment from God to that effect” (document 86). David came, met Joseph Smith for the first time (documents 88, 108), and remained in Harmony “long enough to satisfy himself of the divine inspiration of Smith” (document 99).
June 1–4, 1829. Joseph and Oliver moved with David Whitmer from Harmony to Fayette, Seneca County, New York, to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. The journey from Harmony to Fayette (ninety-eight miles direct) would have taken about three days.84 Emma came a short time afterward (document 91).
June 5–end of June 1829. The translation of the Book of Mormon recommenced the day after their arrival (document 87) and was finished in the upstairs room of Peter Whitmer’s home by July 1, “about one month” later (document 86). Some of the Whitmers helped as scribes (document 82): “They continued so, boarded and lodged us according to arrangements; and John Whitmer, in particular, assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work” (document 25, see also 81, 82).85 Christian Whitmer is also mentioned as a scribe (documents 80, 88). Oliver B. Huntington records in his journal a conversation in 1897 with Sarah (Sally) Heller Conrad, who may have been a cousin of the Whitmers and who was at the Whitmer home during these days. She recalled seeing the men “come down from translating room several times when they looked so exceedingly white and strange that she inquired of Mrs. Whitmer the cause of their unusual appearance” (document 114). She soon embraced the gospel.86 An affidavit of Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery also pertains to this period: “I often sat by and saw and heard them translate and write for hours together. Joseph never had a curtain drawn between him and his scribe while he was translating”87 (document 115). Concerning the translation in Fayette, David Whitmer reported a time when Joseph was “put out about . . . something that Emma, his wife, had done.” As a result, “he could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, and asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and the translation went on all right”88 (document 89, also 96, 98). Sometime probably during June 1829, Mary Musselman Whitmer, wife of Peter Whitmer Sr., who had taken on extra work because of the guests, was met by an “old man” who showed her the gold plates.89
June 5, 1829. About this day, Joseph began translating the small plates of Nephi, beginning with 1 Nephi 1. About this time, the voice of God was heard in the chamber of Father Whitmer authorizing Joseph and Oliver to ordain each other and others to the office of elder in the Church of Jesus Christ.90
June 11, 1829. Before the end of May, Joseph and Oliver had translated all the plates of Mormon and the title page inscribed by Moroni. On June 11, the copyright for the Book of Mormon was secured at the office of the Federal District Court Clerk, Richard R. Lansing. The application contains the title page of the forthcoming book.91
June 5–14, 1829. Doctrine and Covenants 14, 15, 16 (revelations for David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer Jr.) were received around this time; Doctrine and Covenants 18 was then also received by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer.92
June 14, 1829. Oliver wrote a letter to Hyrum from Fayette, stating, among other things: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (compare D&C 18:10); “behold the Lord your god . . . suffered the pains of all men that all men might repent and come unto him. . . . behold he commandeth all men . . . every where to repent” (compare 2 Ne. 9:21–23); “that there they may be willing to take upon them the name of Christ for that is the name by which they shall be called at the Last day and if we know not the name by which we are called I fear” (compare Mosiah 5:9–10); and instructing Hyrum to baptize all men, women, and children over the age of accountability (compare Moro. 8).93
Mid-June 1829. The translation of 2 Nephi continued. John Whitmer “assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work” (document 25), and previous to that David Whitmer had offered “his own assistance when convenient.”94 Finishing was “slow work, and they could write only a few pages a day” (document 90). Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer Jr. were baptized sometime in the middle of June 1829 in Seneca Lake, Fayette township, Seneca County, New York.95 Discussions were also held in mid-June “with many from time to time who were willing to hear us, and who desired to find out the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and apparently willing to obey the Gospel, when once fairly convinced and satisfied in their own minds. . . . From this time forth many became believers, and some were baptized whilst we continued to instruct and persuade as many as applied for information.”96 A document entitled “Articles of the Church of Christ” was prepared by Oliver Cowdery around this time or later in June 1829.97
Around June 23, 1829. In Fayette, the Three Witnesses were shown the plates (D&C 17:1–4; documents 46, 51, 61–65, 72, 75, 139, 158). It appears that this manifestation was prompted by the translation of 2 Nephi 27:12,98 which reads, “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 shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.” A few days later, around June 29, in Manchester, New York, near the Smith log home, the Eight Witnesses were allowed to see and handle the plates (documents 101, 102). Lucy Mack Smith said that she also, at one point, saw and handled the plates (document 106).
June 26, 1829. The Wayne Sentinel published the Book of Mormon title page, perhaps obtaining the text from the federal copyright application. Probably around this time, Martin Harris approached E. B. Grandin to see if he would publish the book, but Grandin declined, considering it financially a “losing speculation.”99
July 1, 1829. Before this date the translation was completed. David Whitmer later stated that “the translation at my father’s occupied about one month, that is from June 1st to July 1st, 1829” (document 86). The plates were returned to the angel (document 17).
July 1829. Thurlow Weed, owner-editor of the Rochester Telegraph, was approached twice, but he likewise declined to print the book100 (document 198). Sometime during July 1829, the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon was begun by Oliver Cowdery.
August 25, 1829. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm. Harris promised to deliver the sum of $3,000 to Grandin within eighteen months. If Harris defaulted, his land was to be “sold at public auction to satisfy the demand.”101 Around this same time the contract with Grandin for the printing of the Book of Mormon was possibly signed.102 It was agreed that five thousand copies would be printed, which was an unusually large press run for that day.103 Hyrum delivered the first manuscript installment, and typesetting commenced “in August.”104
Fall 1829. The original typesetter was John H. Gilbert; proofs were printed by J. H. Bortles until December. Grandin then hired Thomas McAuley, a “journeyman pressman.” McAuley and Bortles did the “balance of the press-work” until March 1830.105 Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery visited Grandin’s office frequently during this period; Joseph, returning to Harmony on October 4, came only once for a short visit to Grandin’s office.106 Manuscript pages were hand delivered and retrieved frequently. Oliver “held and looked over the manuscript when most of the proofs were read.”107
November 6, 1829. Oliver wrote a letter to Joseph in Harmony: “The printing goes rather Slow yet as the type founder has been sick but we expect that the type will be on and Mr. Granden still think[s] we <he> will finish printing by the first of feb[r]uary.” In a postscript Cowdery noted his progress in preparing the printer’s manuscript: “P S I have Just got to alma[’s] commandment to his son in coppyinng the manuscrip,” that is, to Alma 36.108
January 1830. Abner Cole (alias Obediah Dogberry), in his Palmyra Reflector, January 2, 13, and 22, printed several extracts of the Book of Mormon109 from sheets he pilfered at Grandin’s printing office (where his own newspaper was printed). This made it necessary for Joseph to return to Palmyra from Harmony and to assert his copyright privileges in order to stop this unauthorized publication of sections of the Book of Mormon.110 The issue was settled by arbitration, and Abner Cole desisted. During that winter, Joseph apparently sent Oliver Cowdery, Hiram Page, Josiah Stowell, and Joseph Knight to Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to try to secure the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada.111
January 16, 1830. Joseph Smith Jr. entered into an agreement with Martin Harris which reads:
I hereby agree that Martin Harris shall have an equal privilege with me & my friends of selling the Book of Mormon of the Edition now printing by Egbert B Grandin until enough of them shall be sold to pay for the printing of the same or until such times as the said Grandin shall be paid for the printing the aforesaid Books or copies[.]
Manchester January the 16th 1830—/s/ Joseph Smith Jr
Witness /s/ Oliver H P Cowdery.112
February 12, 1830. Lucius Fenn of Covert, Seneca County, New York, wrote to Birdseye Bronson in Winchester, Connecticut, that the publication of the Book of Mormon was widely awaited; it was expected to tell when “the Millenniam day . . . is a goeing to take place” (document 124). About this time, according to David Whitmer, Joseph gave the seer stone to Oliver Cowdery (document 98).
March 26, 1830. The printing was finished, and the book was offered for sale to the public on March 26, 1830, and announced in the Wayne Sentinel. After printing the complete title page of the Book of Mormon, the newspaper notice continued: “The above work, containing about 600 pages, large Duodecimos, is now for sale, wholesale and retail, at the Palmyra Book Store, by Howard & Grandin.”113 Prices at Grandin’s Bookstore seem to have ranged from $1.25 to $1.75 per book.114
April 6, 1830. The Church of Christ was organized. Affirmations were given that the Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God, that by repenting, humbling himself, and having faith, Joseph received the power to translate (documents 9 and 10). In the ensuing years, Joseph described and bore testimony of the translation process on several occasions (see documents 16–26, 28–30, 32–35, 37).
The question can now be answered, How long did it take for Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon as it was published in 1830? Assuming that he resumed translating on April 7, 1829, “where he had left off” at the beginning of King Benjamin’s reign, the translation of Mosiah 1 to the title page (about 201,143 words in Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text,115 or about 75 percent of the book, which is 390 pages in the current edition, including the “few pages” translated in March) took place from April 7 to the end of May. Subtracting time to eat, to sleep, to seek employment to earn money for supplies, to restore the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, to make at least one (and possibly two) trips to Colesville, to baptize Hyrum and Samuel, to write three letters to David Whitmer, to receive Doctrine and Covenants sections 6 through 13, and to worry about rising persecution, there would seem to be at most 53 possible translating days in this window of time. This would mean that Joseph translated and Oliver wrote down on average 7.4 present Book of Mormon pages per day, working “from morning till night” (document 91).
The translation of 1 Nephi to 2 Nephi 27 (about 100 pages) appears to have taken at most 14 days in June, since one must allow most of the first week of June for the move from Harmony to Fayette, some time to acquire the copyright on June 11, several days for preaching and baptizing near Fayette, and one must get at least to 2 Nephi 11:3 and probably to 27:12 before the Three Witnesses see the plates around June 20. This again would be about 7 pages per day. During this time, Doctrine and Covenants sections 14 through 18 were also received and written.
The last block of translation (about 33 pages) could have taken about 7 days, with Joseph and Oliver working a little slower than their regular translating pace. Assuming the last 33 pages took about 7 days’ time, whenever in the end of June those days may have been finished, the total approximate maximum time involved in translating the entire text can be estimated at 74 days (53 plus 14 plus 7), averaging about 8 pages per day overall.
By any standard, the pace of this sustained productivity was blistering. Consider producing all King Benjamin’s speech—final copy, from start to finish (some 13 pages long, Mosiah 1–6)—in less than a day and a half. This rate alone is staggering.116 As Terryl Givens concludes, “Joseph and Oliver managed a truly prodigious rate of translation during the months of April and May—over 3,500 original words a day essentially set down indelibly as they went.”117 On top of all else that was going on during these weeks, this must have been quite a time. As Oliver Cowdery said, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated . . . ‘The book of Mormon’”118 (document 70).
FARMS circulated a preliminary version of this chronology.
Estimated Day-by-Day Translation in 1829