Book of Mormon Witnesses

Did anybody besides Joseph Smith see the golden plates?

Yes. The historical record includes over 20 people who testified that they saw and/or handled the gold plates.[1] Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scholars recognize that the weight of the historical evidence favors the claim that Joseph must have had some kind of a material object (e.g., metal plates) that he showed people or let others handle, even if not all scholars accept the antiquity of the plates or the existence of angels.[2]

Who were the "official" Book of Mormon witnesses?

Eleven men served as "official" witnesses of the Book of Mormon (see below). Three of them—Oliver Cowdery,[BIO] David Whitmer,[BIO] and Martin Harris[BIO]—were specifically called by revelation to bear testimony of their experience seeing and handling the golden plates.[3]

A front piece for the 1883 Contributor magazine, engraved by H. B. Hall & Sons with portraits of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon witnesses

Name of witness


Age at time of seeing the plates (years)

Relationship to Joseph Smith

Oliver Cowdery[BIO]

Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, and newspaper editor


Friend, supporter, scribe

David Whitmer[BIO]

Farmer and livery keeper


Friend, supporter

Martin Harris[BIO]



Friend, supporter, scribe, financial benefactor

Christian Whitmer[BIO]



Friend, supporter

Jacob Whitmer[BIO]

Shoemaker and farmer


Friend, supporter

Peter Whitmer, Jr.[BIO]



Friend, supporter

John Whitmer[BIO]

Farmer, stock raiser, and newspaper editor


Friend, supporter, scribe

Hiram Page[BIO]

Physician and farmer


Friend, supporter

Joseph Smith, Sr.[BIO]

Cooper, farmer, teacher, and merchant



Hyrum Smith[BIO]

Farmer, and cooper



Samuel H. Smith[BIO]

Farmer, logger, scribe, builder, and tavern operator



Expand Table

Did the witnesses have any personal or financial incentive for giving their testimonies?

Yes. Martin Harris, for example, mortgaged his farm to finance the publication of the Book of Mormon.[4] Some of the Eight Witnesses were Joseph Smith's immediate family.[5]

Were the witnesses ever persecuted for their testimony?

Yes. Several first and secondhand accounts confirm that some of the witnesses, including David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Hiram Page, and Christian Whitmer, suffered mob violence.[6] Oliver Cowdery also reportedly suffered professional reputational damage for his testimony.[7]

Did the witnesses have reputations for being honest?

Yes. According to accounts from both skeptics and believers, the witnesses were reported to be honest and sincere,[8] though skeptics typically tried to depict the witnesses as superstitious or gullible.[9]

Did the witnesses say they only saw the plates with "spiritual eyes?"

Martin Harris reportedly said that he saw the plates and the angel with "spiritual eyes"[10] or with the "eye of faith."[11] None of the other witnesses, however, appeared to have used this language to describe their experience.[12]

Does that mean Martin Harris only imagined seeing the plates?

No, probably not. Martin repeatedly affirmed that he "handled the plates containing the record of the Book of Mormon" and that the plates were tangible.[13]

Why would Martin Harris use the term "spiritual eyes" if he saw and handled the plates?

Martin Harris may have used the term "spiritual eyes" because it was often used by Christian writers in the context of describing authentic religious experiences.[14] The term was also used by nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints to describe visionary experiences.[15]

However, examples of the term used in the nineteenth century can also be found to describe intangible objects.[16]

Is it true that Martin Harris once claimed he saw Jesus in the form of a talking deer?

Possibly, but probably not. This unsourced, thirdhand anecdote was published in an anti-Mormon book in 1840, and there are no known corroborating accounts.[17]

Did John Whitmer once say he saw the plates by a "supernatural power?"

Yes. He reportedly used this language once to describe his experience with the plates to Theodore Turley.[18] However, in the same account, he also said, "I handled those plates, there was fine engravings on both sides—I handled them."[19]

Didn't the witnesses say they only handled the plates wrapped in a cloth or locked in a box?

Some of the unofficial witnesses who were not called to view the plates directly, such as Emma Smith and William Smith, said something to this effect,[20] but the official witnesses were consistent about seeing the plates uncovered. (See the chart below.)

Couldn't the witnesses have been hallucinating or on drugs?

No, probably not. There is no evidence to support the theory that any of the witnesses were in a state of altered consciousness due to ingesting entheogens or other chemical substances.[21] Many of the witnesses specifically reported being clear-minded, aware of their surroundings, and under no hallucinogenic influence at the time of the experience.[22]

Did any of the witnesses leave the Church?

Yes. All of the Three Witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) were excommunicated from the Church at some point, but Oliver and Martin were rebaptized. Of the Eight Witnesses, John Whitmer was excommunicated from the Church, and Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page became disaffected (see below).

Church affiliation of the Official Book of Mormon Witnesses


Day of Death

Church Membership Status at Time of Death


Oliver Cowdery

March 3, 1850

Rebaptized member

Oliver was excommunicated on April 12, 1838, and rebaptized on November 5, 1848.[23]

David Whitmer

January 25, 1888


David Whitmer was excommunicated on April 13, 1838, and never returned to the Church.[24]

Martin Harris

July 10, 1875

Rebaptized member

Martin Harris was excommunicated in December 1837 and rebaptized on September 17, 1870.[25]

Christian Whitmer

November 27, 1835


Christian died at the age of thirty-seven and was eulogized in the Church's newspaper as a faithful member.[26]

Jacob Whitmer

April 21, 1856


There are no records of Jacob ever being formally excommunicated. From later sources, it appears he disassociated from the Church when members of his family in Missouri were excommunicated and started the "Whitmerite" faction of Mormonism ("Church of Christ").[27]

Peter Whitmer, Jr.

September 22, 1836


As with his brother Christian, Peter Whitmer, Jr. was eulogized as a faithful member at the time of his death.[28]

John Whitmer

July 11, 1878


John was excommunicated on March 10, 1838, and never rejoined the Church.[29]

Hiram Page

August 12, 1852


There is no record of Hiram's formal excommunication, but later sources indicate he disassociated himself from the Church in 1838.[30]

Joseph Smith, Sr.

September 14, 1840


Joseph Smith Sr. was the Church patriarch at the time of his death.[31]

Hyrum Smith

June 27, 1844


Hyrum was murdered alongside his brother Joseph in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844.[32]

Samuel H. Smith

July 30, 1844


Samuel was remembered as a "faithful saint" and Book of Mormon witness in his August 1, 1844 eulogy.[33]

Did any of the witnesses ever recant their testimonies after they left the Church?

No. The 1861 edition of the New American Cyclopædia claimed the witnesses "avowed the falsity of their testimony" after leaving the Church,[34] but there are many historical records that contradict this claim.[35]

An 1841 poem claims Oliver Cowdery "denied" the Book of Mormon,[36] but this claim is contradicted by other sources.[37]

Did Oliver Cowdery publish a renunciation of the Book of Mormon after his excommunication?

No. However, there is a document, considered by historians to be a forgery,[38] titled Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints, in which Oliver allegedly expressed some skepticism about the inspiration of the Book of Mormon.[39]

Did the witnesses of the Book of Mormon testify to it on their deathbeds?

Yes. Reportedly each of the Three Witnesses[40] and several of the Eight Witnesses[41] bore testimony of the Book of Mormon shortly before their death.[42]

Who wrote the witness statements that appear in the Book of Mormon?

Joseph Smith indicated in his manuscript history that the witnesses collectively "drew up and subscribed" the statements, suggesting collaborative authorship.[43] Some modern scholars think Oliver Cowdery may have been the principle author of the witness testimonies.[44]

Do we have the original signed witness statements?

No. The original manuscript of the witnesses' testimonies no longer exists.[45]

If we don't have the original witness statements, how do we know they actually signed them?

David Whitmer recalled that each of the witnesses either signed their name to the original statement directly or had Oliver Cowdery sign for them.[46]

Additionally, John Whitmer said that he had "no hesitancy" to affirm that the Book of Mormon "is a revelation from God" and "with all confidence" had "signed [his] named to it as such."[47] When Martin Harris was asked if he "put [his] name to that testimony," Martin reportedly answered, "I did."[48]

Did the witnesses ever reaffirm their printed statements?

Yes, many times. Although we do not have records from all the witnesses, there are many first and secondhand accounts where witnesses independently reaffirmed their commitment to their original printed testimonies (see below).

Statements of reaffirmation from the eleven witnesses

Name of witness

Date of statement


Oliver Cowdery

November 9, 1829

"It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven."[49]

Ca. Fall–Winter 1830–1831

"Late in the fall a number of them came to visit the Believers. One by the name of Oliver Lowdree [Cowdery], who stated that he had been one who had been an assistant in the translation of the golden Bible, and had also seen the Angel, and had been commissioned by him to go out & bear testimony, that God would destroy this generation."[50]

Ca. November 1830

"About two weeks since some persons came along here with the book, one of whom pretends to have seen Angels, and assisted in translating the plates. . . . In the neighboring township of Kirtland, we understand that twenty or thirty have been immersed into the new order of things; many of whom had been previously baptised.—The name of the person here, who pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, is Cowdray."[51]

July 22, 1833

"In 1833, when mobbing reigned triumphant in Jackson Co. Mo. I and O. Cowdery [fled] from our homes, for fear of personal violence on Saturday the 20th day of July. The mob. . .offered eighty dollars reward for any one who would deliver Cowdery or McLellan in Independence. . .I slipped down into the Whitmer's settlement, and. . .I met with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery. I said to them, 'brethren I never have seen an open vision in my life. . . Is that book of Mormon true?' Cowdery looked at me with solemnity depicted in his face, and said, 'Brother William, God sent his holy Angel to declare the truth of the translation of it to us, and therefore we know. And though the mob kill us, yet we must die declaring its truth.'"[52]

October 21, 1848

"I wrote with my own pen the intire book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the prophet as he translated by the gift and power of God, by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it was called by that book holy interpreters I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated."[53]

David Whitmer

July 18, 1831

"Mr. Whitlock arose and gave some particulars respecting the book and some reasons why he believed it to be a divine revelation. Spoke some of the Signs of the times then he expounded the Gospel the plainest I thot that I ever heard in my life, which astonished me. D. Whitmer then arose and bore testimony to having seen an Holy angel who had made known the truth of this record to him."[54]

October 1838

"I enquired seriously of David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a god in heaven, he saw the angel according to his testimony in that book."[55]

January 9, 1872

"Mr Whitmer turned towards Mr. Lefler and said well God Almighty requires at my hand to bear Testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon It is the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ Translated from the Plates By the gift and Power of God by Joseph Smith it contains the pure Gospel of Christ as he taught it to his Disciples on this Continent I know I tell the truth."[56]

December 8, 1875

"You have heard that I am a witness to the origin of the Book of Mormon. As you read my testimony given many years ago, so it stands as my own existence; the same as when I gave it, and so shall stand throughout the cycles of eternity."[57]

December 22, 1877

"Wee walked through A clearing & all Sat on a log it was about 11 A. M. When A Light appeared & it Grew Brighter until an Angle Stood before us and on the appearance of A table Was laid the Plates Urum & Thumin Ball or Director Sword of Laban &c & A voice Declared & Bore record of the truth of the Translation turning the Leaves over & thus the vision ended."[58]

September 7, 1878

"It was in June 1829, the very last part of the month, and the eight witnesses, I think, the next day. Joseph showed them the plates himself. We (the Three Witnesses) not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but the Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world, and many other plates. The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting right here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun, nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light, immediately before us, about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer who was sitting 2 or 3 feet from him) there appeared, as it were, a table, with many records on it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon; also the sword of Laban, the Directors (i. e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), and I heard the voice of the Lord as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life declaring that they (the plates) were translated by the gift and power of God."[59]

March 1881

"It is recorded in the American Cyclopædia and the Encyclopædia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon; and that the other two witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that Book. I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery or Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. They both died reaffirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. . . . I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that Book, as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as then made and published."[60]

June 5, 1881

"It was in the latter part of June, 1829. Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and myself were together, and the angel showed them to us. We not only saw the plates of the book of Mormon, but he also showed us the brass plates of the book of Ether and many others. They were shown to us in this way. Joseph and Oliver and I were SITTING ON A LOG when we were overshadowed by a light more glorious than that of the sun. In the midst of this light, but a few feet from us, appeared a table upon which were many golden plates, also the sword of Laban and the directors. I saw them as plain as I see you now, and distinctly heard the voice of the Lord declaiming that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and the power of God."[61]

April 1887

"In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. . . . A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon."[62]

Martin Harris

Ca. March 15, 1831

"Martin Harris, another chief of Mormon imposters, arrived here last Saturday from the bible quarry in New-York. He immediately planted himself in the bar-room of the hotel, where he soon commenced reading and explaining the Mormon hoax, and all the dark passages from Genesis to Revelations. He told all about the gold plates, Angels, Spirits, and Jo Smith.—He had seen and handled them all, by the power of God!"[63]

Ca. September 1845

"We continued on our journey to Cleveland, Ohio. On this rout we met with many things of interest; we saw Mr. Martin Harris, he bore testimony to the Book of Mormon, said he wrote part of it while Mr. Joseph Smith translated it from the plate of Gold."[64]


"When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting that he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when he was asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: 'Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.'"[65]

November 23, 1850

"I went to see Martin Haris he was one of the 3 witnesses to the Book of Mormon and said he knew it was true for he saw the plates and knew for himself. . . ."[66]

Ca. September 15, 1853

"Mr. Harris replied and said—'I was the right-hand man of Joseph Smith, and I know that he was a Prophet of God. I know the Book of Mormon is true.' Then smiting his fist on the table, he said—'And you know that I know that it is true. I know that the plates have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice declared it unto us; therefore I know of a surety that the work is true. For,' continued Mr. Harris, '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, that the enemy might not obtain them? Yes, I did. And as many of the plates as Joseph Smith translated I handled with my hands, plate after plate.['] Then describing their dimensions, he pointed with one of the fingers of his left hand to the back of his right hand and said, 'I should think they were so long, or about eight inches, and about so thick, or about four inches; and each of the plates was thicker than the thickest tin.'"[67]

Ca. 1869

"I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith."[68]

Ca. August 28, 1870

"Joseph Smith was the first to handle the tables, and Martin Harris, one of the appointed witnesses, the second. Mr. Harris describes the plates as being thin leaves of gold, measuring seven by eight inches, and weighing altogether, from forty to sixty points. . . .He believes in the visitations of angels in bodily form, for he has seen and conversed with them, as he thinks, and is satisfied."[69]

November 23, 1870

"In reply I will say concerning the plates, I do say that the angel did show to me the plates containing the Book of Mormon. Further, the translation that I carried to Prof. Anthon was copied from these same plates; also, that the Professor did testify to it being a correct translation."[70]

January 1871

"[N]o man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates. . .The Lord has shown me these things by his Spirit—by the administration of holy angels—and confirmed the same with signs following, step by step, as the world has progressed, for the space of fifty-three years."[71]


"As we sat together under the shade tree, I had a very pleasant interview with Martin: 'Did you see the golden plates? Did you see the angel?' He replied in substance: 'It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel and he showed them unto me.'"[72]

July 1875

"The Prophet and Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and myself went into a little grove to pray, to obtain a promise that we should behold it with our own eyes. That we could testify to the world We prayed two or three times, and at length the angel stood befor Oliver and David, and showed them the plates, But, Behold I had gone myself to pray and in my desperation I asked the Prophet to kneel down with me, and pray for me, that I may see the plates. and we did so and immediately the angel stood before me and said 'look' and when I glanced at him I fell, But I stood on my feet and saw the angel turn the golden leaves over, and I said 'it is enough, my Lord and my God! Then I heard the voice of God say the book is true, and translated correctly. He then turned himself as though he had no more to say; and we made ready to go.'"[73]

Christian Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr.

Ca. 1830–1836

"Among those who have gone home to rest, we mention the names of our two brothers-in-law, Christian and Peter Whitmer, jr. the former died on the 27th of November 1835, and the other the 22nd of September last, in Clay county, Missouri. By many in this church, our brothers were personally known: they were the first to embrace the new covenant, on hearing it, and during a constant scene of persecution and perplexity, to their last moments, maintained its truth—they were both included in the list of the eight witnesses in the book of Mormon, and though they have departed, it is with great satisfaction that we reflect, that they proclaimed to their last moments, the certainty of their former testimony: The testament is in force after the death of the testator. May all who read remember the fact, that the Lord has given men a witness of himself in the last days, and that they, have faithfully declared it till called away."[74]

Jacob Whitmer

Ca. 1830–1856

"My father, Jacob Whitmer, was always faithful and true to his testimony to the Book of Mormon, and confirmed it on his deathbed."[75]

Peter Whitmer, Jr.

December 13, 1831

"...the word of the Lord came unto me by the Prophet Joseph Smith on the tenth month saying Peter thou shalt go with thy Brother Oliver to the Lamanites we started on the same month to the west to the tribe of Bufolow and there we declared the Book of [M]ormon..."[76]

John Whitmer

March 31, 1837

". . .to say that the book of Mormon is a revelation from God, I have no hesitancy; but with all confidence have signed my named to it as such. . . . Therefore I desire to testify to all that will come to the knowledge of this address; that I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the book of Mormon is translated, and that I have handled these plates, and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, jr. has translated the book of Mormon by the gift and power of God."[77]

April 5, 1839

"I now say, I handled those plates, there was fine engravings on both sides—I handled them . . . they were shewn to me by a supernatural power."[78]

March 18, 1861

"I rode into Far West & called upon John Whitmer one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. . . . he still testified that the Book of Mormon is true & that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Lord . . ."[79]

March 5, 1876

"I desire to do good when it is in my power. I have never heard that any one of the three, or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon[.] There are only two of the witnesses to that Book now living to wit. David Whitmer one of the three and [myself,] John Whitmer[,] one of the eight[.] Our names have gone forth to all Nations tongues and People as a Divine Revelation from God. And it will bring to pass the designs of God according to the declaration therein contained, &c."[80]

December 11, 1876

"From what you have written, I conclude you have read the Book of Mormon, together with the testimonies that are thereto attached; in which testimonies you read my name subscribed as one of the Eight witnesses to said Book. That testimony was, is, and will be true henceforth and forever."[81]

Ca. Winter 1877–1878

"[T]hat record which old Father John Whitmer told me last winter, with tears in his eyes, that he knew as well as he knew he had an existence that Joseph translated the ancient writing which was upon the plates which he 'saw and handled,' and which, as one of the scribes, he helped to copy, as the words fell from Joseph's lips, by supernatural or almighty power."[82]

Ca. Early 1878

"Mr. John Whitmer delivered the discourse. It will be remembered by a great many readers, that Mr. Whitmer is one of the only two now living that helped (were witnesses) to the translation of the Book of Mormon, or generally known as the Mormon Bible. Mr. Whitmer is considered a truthful, honest and law abiding citizen by this community, and consequently, his appointment [to preach] drew out a large audience. Mr. Whitmer stated that he had often handled the identical golden plates which Mr. Smith received from the angel, he said it was of pure gold, part of the book was sealed up solid, the other part was open and it was this part which was translated, and is termed to-day the Mormon Bible."[83]

April 1878

"John Whitmer received me as a dear father would receive a son, and answered readily all my questions. I said: I am aware that your name is affixed to the testimony in the Book of Mormon, that you saw the plates? He—It is so, and that testimony is true. I—did you handle the plates with your hands? He—I did so!"[84]

Hiram Page

May 30, 1847

"As to the book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself, and to the work of God of the last days, to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830, and know the same thing to be false in 1847. To say my mind was so treacherous that I have forgotten what I saw. To say that a man of Joseph's ability, who at that time did not know how to pronounce the word Nephi, could write a book of six hundred pages, as correct as the book of Mormon without supernatural power. And to say that those holy Angels who came and showed themselves to me as I was walking through the field, to confirm me in the work of the Lord of the last days—three of whom came to me afterwards and sang an hymn in their own pure language; yea, it would be treating the God of heaven with contempt, to deny these testimonies, with too many others to mention here."[85]

Ca. 1830–1852

"I knew my father to be true and faithful to his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon until the very last. Whenever he had an opportunity to bear his testimony to this effect, he would always do so, and seemed to rejoice exceedingly in having been privileged to see the plates and thus become one of the Eight Witnesses."[86]

Hyrum Smith

Ca. August 1838

"For I have not heard but one sermon since we have been in the place and that by Hyrum Smith. As he was moving to Missouri he tarried with us a little while. His discourse was beautiful. We were talking about the Book of Mormon, [of] which he is one of the witnesses. He said he had but two hands and two eyes. He said he had seen the plates with his eyes and handled them with his hands and he saw a breast plate and he told how it was made."[87]

December 1839

". . .I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast; and I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enabled to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life. My confidence in God, was likewise unshaken."[88]

Ca. June 1843

"We have seen Hiram Smith, a brother of Joseph's and heard him preach, and conversed with him about his religion, its origin and progress; and we heard him declare, in this city in public, that what is recorded about the plates, &c. &c., is God's solemn truth."[89]

Ca. 1843–1844

"When I was but ten years of age, I heard the testimony of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, one of the eight witnesses, to the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the appearance of the plates from which it was translated."[90]

June 26–27, 1844

"Patriarch <​Hyrum Smith​> read and commented upon extracts from the Book of Mormon, on the imprisonments and deliverance of the servants of God for the gospel’s sake. . . . Both Brothers Joseph & Hyrum bore a faithful testimony to the latter day work, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon."[91]

Samuel H. Smith

April 1830

"I took the book, and by [Samuel H. Smith's] request looked at the testimony of the witnesses. Said he, 'If you will read this book with a prayerful heart, and ask God to give you a witness, you will know of the truth of this work.' I told him I would do so, and then asked him his name. He said his name was Samuel H. Smith. 'Ah,' said I, 'you are one of the witnesses.' 'Yes,' said he, 'I know the book to be a revelation from God, translated by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, and that my brother Joseph Smith, jun., is a Prophet, Seer and Revelator.'"[92]

Ca. Spring 1832

"Elder [Samuel] Smith read the 29th chapter of Isaiah at the first meeting and delineated the circumstances of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, of which he said he was a witness. He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon."[93]

June 1844

"His [Samuel Smith's] labors in the church from first to lats [sic], carrying glad tidings to the eastern cities; and finally his steadfastness as one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and many saintly traits of virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity, shall be given of him hereafter, as a man of God."[94]

Expand Table

Were any women called to be official witnesses of the Book of Mormon?

No. However, some women did leave accounts of handling or seeing the plates.[95] (See table below.)

Who were the other "unofficial" witnesses?

These were individuals who reported handling or interacting with the plates in some capacity, or in some cases being shown the plates by an angel (see below).

Unofficial Book of Mormon witnesses

Name of witness


Age at time of experience

Relationship to Joseph Smith


Emma Smith[BIO]

Scribe, editor, boardinghouse operator, and clothier



"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 metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book."[96]

Lucy Mack Smith[BIO]

Oilcloth painter, nurse, fund-raiser, and author



"I asked her if she saw the plates. She said no, it was not for her to see them, but she hefted and handled them."[97]

Lucy Harris[BIO]




"Martin's wife had hefted [the plates] and felt them under [a] cover."[98]

William Smith[BIO]

Farmer and newspaper editor



"In the winter of 1829 and thirty, the Book of Mormon, which is the translation of part of the plates he obtained, was published. He then showed the plates to my father and my brothers Hyrum and Samuel, who were witnesses to the truth of the book which was translated from them. I was permitted to lift them as they laid in a pillow-case; but not to see them, as it was contrary to the commands he had received. They weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgment."[99]

Katherine Smith Salisbury[BIO]

Seamstress and weaver



"When Joseph was bringing the plates home from their hiding place to work on the translation he was followed to his father's very door at one time by some men who were determined to get "Joe Smith's Gold Plates" as they were called. Ever watchful for her brother's safety and hearing an unusual commotion outside Catherine flew to the door and threw it open just as Joseph came rushing up, panting for breath. He thrust a bundle into her arms, and in a gasping voice whispered hoarsely, "Take these quickly and hide them," then he disappeared into darkness. Closing the door Catherine ran hurriedly to the bedroom where she and Sophronia slept. Sophronia threw back the bedding and Catherine put the bundle on the bed, quickly replacing the bedding. Both of them lay down on the bed and pretended sleep. The mob, failing to find Joseph outside, returned to the house to search, but they did not disturb the girls since they appeared to be sleeping."[100]

Catherine Smith Salisbury

Seamstress and weaver



"She told me Joseph allowed her to "heft" the package but not to see the gold plates, as the angel had forbidden him to show them at that period. She said they were very heavy."[101]

Seamstress and weaver



"Catherine Smith Salisbury then told me that while dusting up the room where the Prophet had his study she saw a package on the table containing the gold plates on which was engraved the story of the Book of Mormon. She said she hefted those plates and found them very heavy like gold and also rippled her fingers up the edge of the plates and felt that they were separate metal plates and heard the tinkle of sound that they made."[102]

Josiah Stowell[BIO]

Farmer and sawmill owner


Employer, friend, supporter

"...witness saw a corner of it; it resembled a stone of a greenish caste; should judge it to have been about one foot square and six inches thick; he would not let it be seen by any one; the Lord had commanded him not; it was unknown to Smith, that witness saw a corner of the Bible, so called by Smith; told the witness the leaves were of gold; there were written characters on the leaves."[103]

Alvah Beaman[BIO]



Supporter, friend

"Joseph then took them [the plates] out, and hid them under the old cooper's shop, by taking up a board and digging in the ground and burying them. When they were taken from there, they were put into an old Ontario glass box. Old Mr. Beman [Alvah Moses 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."[104]

Harrison Burgess[BIO]



Convert, missionary

"The next day while laboring in the field something seemed to whisper to me, 'Do you know the Book of Mormon is true?' My mind became perplexed and darkened, and I was so tormented in spirit that I left my work and retired into the woods. The misery and distress that I there experienced cannot be described. The tempter all the while seemed to say, 'Do you know the Book of Mormon is true?' I remained in this situation about two hours. Finally I resolved to know, by exercising faith similar to that which the brother of Jared possessed, whether I had proclaimed the truth or not, and commenced praying to the God of heaven for a testimony of these things. Suddenly a glorious personage clothed in white stood before me and exhibited to my view the plates from which the Book of Mormon was taken."[105]

Mary Musselman Whitmer[BIO]



Friend, supporter

"John C. Whitmer, a grandson of the lady in question, testified in the following language: "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.) . . . One evening, when (after having done her usual day's work in the house) she went to the barn to milk 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 unexpressible 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."[106]

Luke Johnson[BIO]

Farmer, teacher, and doctor

ca. 23–28 (?)

Church leader, apostle, missionary

"While there I met Luke Johnson, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. I had a curiosity to talk with him concerning the same. We took a walk down on the river bank. I asked him if the statement he signed about seeing the angel and the plates, was true. If he did see the plates from which the Book of Mormon was printed or translated. He said it was true."[107]

Expand Table

Is the story of Mary Whitmer seeing the angel and the plates credible?

Possibly. There exist multiple accounts given by her family members, but they are secondhand and were recorded decades after the incident.[108]

Did Martin Harris act as a witness for James Strang's "Voree Plates?"

No. Although Martin associated with Strang's movement before returning to the Church and moving to Utah,[109] he never gave his name as a witness for either Strang's "Voree Plates"[110] or the claimed translation of the Brass Plates—The Book of the Law of the Lord.[111]

The Facts

  • Eleven men published their names as witnesses to the Book of Mormon; three of these men described seeing an angel in a vision, and eight of them described physically handling the plates without seeing a vision.

  • Some of these men eventually left the Church or were excommunicated and associated with other branches of the Restoration.

  • None of the eleven witnesses are known to have ever recanted their testimonies.

  • Other "unofficial" witnesses also described handling the plates or related Book of Mormon artifacts concealed in a box or under a cloth; others also reported seeing an angel.

  • Some of the witnesses reportedly used language such as "spiritual eyes" or "supernatural power" to describe their experience with the plates.

  • Some of the witnesses potentially had personal or financial motives for maintaining their testimony

  • The witnesses generally had a reputation for being honest and sincere, but were also considered superstitious or prone to visionary experiences by some.

Our Take

It's been said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the claim that an ancient record engraved on metal plates was delivered by an angel to Joseph Smith is an extraordinary claim. While extraordinary spiritual evidence for this claim can come through prayer and the Holy Spirit, the historical evidence is primarily in the form of eyewitness testimonies of those who claim to have seen and handled the plates.

Who were the witnesses? Were they trustworthy? Were they financially or reputationally motivated? Did they all band together to tell a complicated lie? Did they hallucinate, or did they really see an angel? Did they ever recant their testimonies?

While many of the answers to these questions are subjective, the historical record does give us strong evidence that the witnesses believed that they saw and handled tangible metal plates. The record also shows that although many of them left the Church and had bitter feelings towards Joseph, none of the witnesses ever recanted their testimonies, and all of them reaffirmed their testimonies later in life.

Latter-day Saints recognize that the ultimate witness of the Book of Mormon comes from God to our own spirits, but an understanding of the historical data available on those who saw and felt the plates can be a reinforcing part of our own testimonies.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Jonathan G.
    The critics will tear down and dismiss the testimonies of these witnesses because they left the church. If the witnesses remained faithful to the church the critics would argue that they benefited and are biased. We should celebrate the fact that we have “unbiased witnesses”.
  • George R.
    What an amazing part of history the churches history. It appears to be one of the most well documented beginning of any religion, ever. Its got more provable witnesses than the Bible or Quran.
  • Jordan W.
    I’ve never seen the golden plates, but even if I did, it would enhance my testimony of the divine provenance of the Book of Mormon no more than the witness of the Holy Ghost already has. The ancient literary evidence within the text is also just as powerful as any artifact.
  • A. W. Smoot
    So many witnesses – hard to ignore. I can't help but ask, if these witnesses serve as strong evidence of the existence of the plates, where did they come from? And where did they go? And who crafted them? And how were they made? So many questions with no simple answer.
  • Thomas H.
    It's pretty laughable that anyone would have concerns about the witnesses not each affirming that they signed their names to the original testimony document. Wouldn't they ask to have their names removed? Or wouldn't there be evidence of them having issues with the doc as written?
  • Josh
    Great article! In my mind one of the biggest piece of evidence was that none of the witnesses denied their testimony, despite some of them leaving the church (some very bitterly). They had every opportunity and reason to reveal Joseph Smith’s supposed fraud, but they didn’t.