Martin Harris, the Careful Investigator

Martin Harris, the Careful Investigator April 4, 2018


Emer's brother, a witness to the BofM
Martin Harris (1783-1875), near the end of his life
A retouched and colorized photograph, prepared by Bryce M. Haymond for the Interpreter Foundation


Here are a few short quotations from Martin Harris, taken from a somewhat longer selection given in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, Personal Glimpses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2009):


When they were taken from there, they were put into an old Ontario glass-box.  Old Mr. Beaman sawed off the ends, making the box the right length to put them in, and when they went in he said he heard them jink, but he was not permitted to see them.  He told me so.  (32)


Martin Harris is often derided by critics of Mormonism as a gullible fool, despite the clear evidence of his own apparently rather hard-headed financial success and of the regard in which he was held, before his affiliation with Joseph Smith and Mormonism, by his fellow-citizens in the Palmyra, New York, area.  He doesn’t sound especially credulous in these reminiscences, either:


These things had all occurred before I talked with Joseph respecting the plates.  But I had the account of it from Joseph, his wife, brothers, sisters, his father and mother.  I talked with them separately, that I might get the truth of the matter.  (33)


I sent my boy to harness my horse and take her [Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother] home.  She wished my wife and daughter to go with her; and they went and spent most of the day.

When they came home, I questioned them about them [the plates].  My daughter said, they were about as much as she could lift.  They were now in the glass-box, and my wife said they were very heavy.  They both lifted them.  (34)


I found that Joseph had gone away to work for Peter Ingersol to get some flour.  I was glad he was absent, for that gave me an opportunity of talking with his wife and the family about the plates.  I talked with them separately, to see if their stories agreed, and I found they did agree.  (34)


I’ve always found this remark of Martin’s quite funny, though he may not have intended it so:


While at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold; and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead.  (35)


I hefted the plates many times, and should think they weighed forty or fifty pounds.  (32)


Eventually, as one of the Three Witnesses, Martin Harris was permitted to see the plates and other objects associated with the Book of Mormon (to say nothing of seeing an angel and hearing the voice of God):


These plates were seven inches wide by eight inches in length, and were of the thickness of plates of tin; and when piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches thick; and they were put together on the back by three silver rings, so that they would open like a book.

The two stones set in a bow of silver were about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the centre; but not so thick at the edges where they came into the bow.  They were joined by a round bar of silver, about three-eighths of an inch in diameter, and about four inches long, which, with the two stones, would make eight inches.

The stones were white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks.  (31)



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