TESTIMONY OF MARTIN HARRIS RECORDED BY WILLIAM PILKINGTON
I received your kind and welcome letter all right, and was more than pleased to hear from you. It always gives me great joy to have the privilege of talking of my acquaintance with Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I have spoken in a number of wards in Cache Valley lately, in part it is as follows:
This is to certify that I, William Pilkington, was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England on the 13th day of November 1860, and immigrated to Smithfield, Utah with my parents in the latter part of September 1874, when 13 years of age. I was soon hired out to work for a man named Martin Harris, Jr., who was living in Smithfield, Utah. I soon found out that Martin Harris, Sr., one of the Three Witnesses of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, was living in the same house with his wife and family. Thus, it became my good fortune to behold and have the privilege of conversing with this man who had been favored of God, to the extent of being privileged to be chosen as one of the three men that stood in the presence of an angel of God, who held in his hands the golden plates that Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni, which contained the contents of what is now called the Book of Mormon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I took great pleasure in listening to him relate the part he took in the early rise of the Church, how he stood in the presence of the angel of the Lord, and after the angel ascended into heaven, he saw the heavens open and heard the voice of God declare that everything was correct that the angel had told them, and that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly.
I testify to the world that I held up his right arm while he bore his dying testimony that he with the Prophet Joseph Smith did stand in the presence of an angel of God, while he held the gold plates in his hands and turned the leaves over one by one, and that he saw the engravings on the plates. He also saw the Urim and Thummim, the breast plate and the sword of Laban. And after the angel ascended into heaven, the heavens were opened and he heard the voice of God declare that all that the angel had told him was verily true and that the Book of Mormon which contains the everlasting gospel was translated correctly. While I held his right arm up, he also bore his testimony to the whole world and I thought he could see the whole world. He died the next day, the 10th day of July, 1875.
I wish I was with you to talk to the people face to face, as I can only give you a little in this letter of what he told me pertaining to the early rise of the Church as I talked to him hundreds of times and he would always tell me that he wanted me to tell the people what he had told me after he was dead. He would raise his right hand up and tell me he was telling me the truth.
I have a powerful testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I had a voice strong enough and could stand on a hill high enough, I would like to bear my testimony to the whole world, because I know by the spirit of God that that man told me the truth. I went to his funeral and helped to fill in the grave.
I think I know more about Martin Harris than any living person, as I am the only one of the old stock that is alive today. I had the privilege of preaching the funeral sermon over the last of the old Harris stock about six weeks ago. This was the last Harris that knew anything about Grandpa Harris, and the older I get the more the spirit whispers to my spirit and prompts me to tell the people what that man of God told me.
Brother Poulter, you are at liberty to use this letter anywhere you want to, any place, to get it before the people, and if anyone wishes any more information, I will only be too pleased to give it to them.
I received a nice letter from a lady missionary who is laboring in the state of New York, asking for the same information that I am sending to you. I accordingly wrote her a nice letter, which I am satisfied she will appreciate and perchance be a help to her.
Now Brother Poulter, I will stop my rambling remarks by asking the Lord to bless you and all that are laboring for the spreading of truth and righteousness, and hope that you will be rewarded by bringing in many honest-hearted people to the fold of Christ.
Your brother in the gospel of Christ, William Pilkington, Smithfield, Utah. 1
The Dying Testimony of Martin Harris, as given to William Pilkington by Martin Harris Himself, in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah.
I first met Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, in Smithfield [Utah] in 1874. I was hired by his son, Martin Harris, Jr., to live in the Harris family [home] for one year. Martin Harris, Senior, was living with his son.
I found him a poor emaciated little man in whom the winters of life were weighing heavily. In his face might be read the story of his life. There were the marks of spiritual upliftment, there were the marks of disappointment. There were the strain and worry of mind, the contentment, the divine calm that it seemed could come no more into his life. He was a pathetic figure, and yet he seemed strong in body and mind. There was something about that little man which you could tell that he had lived richly. Noble experiences had come into his life which had come to the lives of but very few men. At times he would let his mind go back to the early rise of the Church, and would mention the name of Brigham Young very reluctantly, as it seemed that he did not have a great deal of respect for Brigham Young. Although he told me that when he arrived in Salt Lake City from Kirtland, Ohio which was on the 30th day of August, 1870, he was taken to the office of President Young and had a long talk with him, and all their differences were settled and he tried not to hold any ill feelings against President Young.
After staying a few days in Salt Lake City and Ogden, he went to live with his wife and family who were living in Smithfield, Cache County, Utah. His family consisted of his wife Caroline, Martin, Jr., John, Solomon, Ida and Julia.
When I would ask him questions pertaining to the early rise of the Church, his eyes would radiate with interest as he related experiences in connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon. He told me it was he who took some of the copied characters, along with the interpretation “which Joseph Smith had made through the gift and power of God” to Professor Charles Anthon, who pronounced them genuine Egyptian characters, and that the translation was correct and “he gave me a certificate to that effect.” ” Afterward when I told him where the man Joseph Smith got the plates from and who delivered the gold plates to him, he demanded the certificate back again and destroyed it, saying there is no such thing as ministering of angels in these days, but if I would bring him the gold plates, he would translate them. I told him that a considerable portion of the plates were sealed and could not be opened to human gaze. He then exclaimed, ‘I cannot read a sealed book,’ and thus the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled, which will be found in the 29th chapter and 11 verse, but I did not know that I was fulfilling it at the time.”
“I was then convinced that it was true, and offered my services as a scribe for the Prophet in the work of translating. Joseph gladly accepted my offer. It was the 12th day of April, 1828, when I commenced to write for the Prophet. From this time on until the 14th day of June, 1828, Joseph dictated to me from the plates of gold as the characters thereon assumed, through the Urim and Thummim, the forms of equivalent modern words which were familiar to the understanding of the Prophet and seer.” From the 12th day of April  until the 14th day of June  he said he had written 116 pages foolscap of the translation. He said at this period of the translation, a circumstance happened. He was the cause of the 116 pages that he had written being lost and never found. He said he believed his wife burned it up, as she was very bitter against him having anything to do with Joseph Smith.
It was caused through her insisting that he bring the manuscript home and letting her and the rest of the family handle and see it. His family then consisted of his first wife, his father and mother, his brother Preserved Harris and his wife’s sister, a Mrs. Cobb. “I promised Joseph that I would not let anyone else see it.” Joseph inquired of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim if Harris should be permitted to take them, and was forbidden twice, but the third time he was permitted to take them after promising Joseph that he would not let any more see it. But he said when he arrived home, there were more people in the house besides the five and his wife took the manuscript and he never saw it anymore.
“So you see, Willie, it was stolen from me, and I could not take it back.” “But,” he said, “the Lord’s work cannot be stopped by mortal man, and Joseph was told in a revelation to retranslate from the small plates of Nephi, and thereby thwart the plans of wicked men, but I was never permitted to write for the Prophet anymore. Oliver Cowdery did all the rest of the writing.”
He said when the Saints moved to Missouri, he stayed in Kirtland. He was the custodian of the Kirtland temple and he told how the temple was in a dilapidated condition when he left it in August 1870, and how he left his daughter by his first wife, and her two little children.
He told me how his son-in-law was drafted in the army during the Civil War between the North and South, and that he was killed. Himself, his sick daughter and her two children were left alone. “I was in that condition when found by a Mormon elder, namely, William H. Homer (his oldest son’s brother-in-law), who was on his way home from a mission to England.” He said a great injustice had been done him. He should have been chosen president of the Church after the death of the Prophet.
I asked him, “Is it not true that you were active in the performance of your duties in the early rise of the Church, and that you gave your money liberally to help the Prophet and the Church along?”
“That is all true,” replied Harris. “Everything was all right then. I was honored while the Saints were in Kirtland, but now that I am old and poor, it is all different. I mortgaged my farm to pay for the first publication of 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon.” I asked him if he still believed that the Book of Mormon was true, and that Joseph Smith was indeed a true prophet of God.
His whole being became electrified and it seemed that a changed man stood before me. It was no longer a man with an imagined grievance. It was a man with a message, a man with noble convictions in his heart, inspired of God and endowed with a divine knowledge. He said, “Just as sure as you see the sun shining, just as sure am I that I stood in the presence of an angel of God with Joseph Smith, and saw him hold the gold plates in his hands. I also saw the Urim and Thummim, the breastplate, and the sword of Laban. I saw the angel descend from heaven, and when he had finished his message, I saw him ascend up into heaven. The heavens were then opened and I heard the voice of God declare that everything the angel had told us was true, and that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly. I was commanded by God’s voice to testify to the whole world what I had seen and heard.”
“I cried out in my ecstacy—’ ’tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld of the glories of God. Hosanna; hosanna; hosanna, to God and the Lamb.’ And I fell on my face on the ground. The next thing I knew, the Prophet was helping me up.”
I said, “Brother Harris, this is electrifying to me – to have the privilege of conversing with a man that has stood and talked with angels of the Lord. It is grand to hear you bear your testimony.”
I asked him, “Did you, or either one of the other witnesses ever at any time deny your testimony as recorded in the preface of the Book of Mormon?”
He answered, “No! Not one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon ever at any time denied his testimony. They all died reaffirming it with their last breath.” His voice throbbed with the sincerity and the conviction of his message. He was then the real Martin Harris, whose burning testimony, no power on earth could quench. He said again he spent his money freely for the Church. “I was the first scribe for Joseph in the translating of the Book of Mormon. I was called by revelation to assist in the selection and ordination of the first Twelve Apostles of the newly organized church.”
It was Martin Harris who was called upon to accompany the Prophet to Missouri to assist in the selection of the land of consecration. It was Martin Harris who also aided in the selection of the first high council to the Church and he was also a member of that body.
No wonder that Martin Harris felt greatly disappointed because he was not appointed president of the Church after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
He said that Edward Stevenson was appointed to collect money by subscription to bring him from Kirtland in Ohio to Utah. He said that he arrived in Salt Lake City on the 30th day of August, 1870. After spending a few days in Salt Lake City and Ogden, he left for Smithfield, Cache County, Utah, to live with his family.
I had many interviews with Martin Harris as I lived in the Harris family [home] eighteen months, about ten months prior to his death. While my name is not Harris, I became a member of the family through living with them so long.
I am the only one alive today of his immediate family that knows anything pertaining to his testimony, as taken from his own lips. In his talks with me, he would say, “Now, Willie, I am not going to live very long; and after I am dead, I want you to tell the people what I have told you. For it is all true.” And he would hold up his right hand and swear himself that he was telling the truth. I would invariably tell him: “Yes, Grandpa, I will sure tell the people what you have told me, for I know you have told me the truth.
On the 9th day of July 1875, while he was dying, I knelt by his cot, as he was lying on a cot in the southwest corner of the room in a house owned by a man by the name of Carbine, it was situated on the north side of Clarkston, Cache County, Utah. I wanted to get what I thought would be his last words, but he could not talk audibly. I could not understand what he wanted to tell me. He tried hard to tell me. So I stroked his hair back on his forehead and knelt down and prayed to the Lord and asked him in the name of Jesus to strengthen his servant’s voice so that I could understand his last words, but I could get no response. He was lying on his left side, facing in the room and as I knelt down I placed my hands on his right arm. As I moved to stand up, I was in the act of moving my hands and he shook his head as if he did not want me to move. I then knelt down again and prayed to the Lord as before, and I was inspired by the Lord to ask Grandpa if he wanted me to hold up his right hand so that he could bear his testimony. I asked him and his answer came clear, “Yes.” While I held his right hand up, strength was given to him and he bore his testimony as he had done many times before and I understood every word.
He then bore the same testimony to the whole world and then laid back exhausted. There were two other men standing in the room and heard him bear his testimony. One of them was Thomas Godfery of Clarkston who just recently died.
Martin Harris’ spirit departed the next day, the 10th day of July, 1875, in Clarkston, Cache County, Utah, aged 92 years. I attended his funeral and assisted in his burial in the Clarkston cemetery.
- William Pilkington to Vern C. Poulter, Smithfield, Utah,28 February 1930, BYU Archives and Manuscripts.
- William Pilkington, Testimony sworn before Joseph W. Peterson, 3 April 1934, BYU-A.