Mary Musselman Whitmer
A Witness of the Book of Mormon
Mary Musselman Whitmer was born August 27, 1778. Matriarch of the Peter Whitmer Sr. family, she raised eight children in a strict Presbyterian household. Five of her sons would become witnesses for the gold plates, along with her Sons-in-Law: Hiram Page, whom married Catherine Whitmer in 1825; and Oliver Cowdery, whom married Elizabeth Whitmer in 1832.
She assisted her husband and sons on the prosperous farm they ran in Fayette, NY. Each morning her family participated in a devotional of prayers, hymns, and scripture reading. Her family was introduced to Joseph Smith Jr., by their son, David, in 1829. David had previously learned of Joseph through Oliver Cowdery. During the translation of the plates, David received a letter from Oliver stating that things had become hostile in Pennsylvania and asked if they could complete the translation at the Whitmer Farm. David asked his parents for permission to bring the three of them from Harmony, PA to their home. He told them what he had learned about Joseph Smith from Oliver. After a couple of miraculous events on their farm, Mary and Peter Sr. consented. Believing it was God’s will they allowed Joseph, Emma, and Oliver to board in their home free of charge. Martin Harris would join them later.
The Whitmer’s were enthusiastic about the work being done and had total faith in Joseph’s prophetic calling. A couple of her sons even assisted with the translation as scribes. The translation was completed there, and on April 6, 1830, the Church was officially and legally organized and held it’s first meeting in her log home. Mary and her family moved with the Church to Ohio and on to Missouri. During the insufferable times in Missouri, the Whitmer’s had a falling out with Joseph Smith. The surviving members of the Whitmer Family (Peter Jr. and Christian were deceased by this time) moved to Richmond, Mo, where they lived out the rest of their days. Peter Whitmer, sen., died in Richmond, Ray county, Missouri, Aug. 12, 1854, and Mary Died in January, 1856. Even though Mary followed her children and separated herself from the church and Joseph, she never changed or denied her testimony.
Now you’re probably wondering where the whole part about her being a witness of the gold plates is. Mary was most likely the second person, after Joseph, to actually see the physical plates and she was the only female witness to view the plates directly. Her experience actually precedes the account of the 11 official witnesses. As was mentioned, during the translation of the records, Mary was not only supporting her own family, she was supporting Joseph, Emma, and Oliver. This created quite a burden for her. The following is her account she gave to her sons and grandchildren about an experience she had one day, while the work of the translation was commencing. This account is given by her grandson, John C. Whitmer in 1878:
“I have heard my grandmother (Mary Musselman Whitmer) 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. (She undoubtedly refers to Moroni, the angel who had the plates in charge.)
“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 (after having done her usual day’s work in the house) 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.” 1
- LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 1, p.283. See also: B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol.2, p.125. Deseret News, 27 Nov. 1878, p. 674. Historical Record, Vol. 7, p. 621