The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was probably organized in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr., where much of the translation of the Book of Mormon also took place. David Whitmer, a son of Peter Sr., was one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. (For a very recent blog entry on David, see “David Whitmer and the Great Richmond Tornado of 1878.”) Four other sons — Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., and John Whitmer — were among the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. And Mary Musselman Whitmer, Peter Sr.’s wife, was what I have called a twelfth witness to the book. Their daughter Elizabeth Ann Whitmer eventually married Oliver Cowdery, another of the Three Witnesses. Another daughter, Catherine Whitmer, had already married Hiram Page, who would himself become one of the Eight Witnesses.
Plainly, the Whitmers were a vitally important family in the early history of the Restoration.
So, over the next while, I’ll occasionally share some notes regarding them that I draw from Ronald E. Romig, Eighth Witness: The Biography of John Whitmer (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2014).
The Whitmers were of German or at least German-speaking extraction. They may have originated in Switzerland as Mennonite religious exiles, and it’s possible that members of the family still spoke with a German accent at the time of the Restoration. (1-3)
Peter Whitmer [eventually Peter Sr.] was born in 1773, in Donegal Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 1797, at the age of twenty-four, he married nineteen-year-old Mary Musselman. She had been born in Strasburg, also in Lancaster County, in 1778. (4-7)
Lengeschder Kaundi, as Lancaster County is still known in Pennsylvania German, is a popular tourist destination today. It is “Amish Country.” The Amish and the Mennonites are closely-related groups with their roots in the Swiss Anabaptist tradition. – dcp]
David Engle Whitmer, Peter Sr.’s uncle, was a Mennonite minister in Spring Garden Township, York County, Pennsylvania, during this period and the evidence suggests that both the Whitmers and the Musselmans came from “Pennsylvania Dutch” heritage. (7-8) [Dutch, of course, in this context, actually means Deutsch or, dialectically, Deitsch, which is to say German. – dcp] As Ron Romig says,
The “Wittmer” surname is common among those of German ancestry throughout Pennsylvania, and the Susquehanna River Valley in the Harrisburg region is still predominantly Mennonite, making a strong circumstantial case that Peter Sr. and Mary were cultural Mennonites, as well as their parents. . . . They were influenced by Mennonite cultural values, probably including a high commitment to religious values and an aversion to the use of force in conflict resolution. (8-9)
To be continued.