USGenWeb Project NYGenWeb Project

Joseph Smith

Seneca County, NY

Source: "History of Seneca Co., 1786-1876"; Ensign, Everts, Ensign, Philadelphia, 1876; reprinted by W.E. Morrison & Co., 1976]

page 34

      "About the year 1820, Seneca Falls and Fayette were visited by an odd-looking boy, clad in tow frock and trowsers, and barefooted. He hailed from Palmyra, Wayne County, and made a living by seeking hidden springs. This boy was Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. On September 23, 1823, an angel appeared to Smith at Manchester, Ontario County, and told him that in the hill 'Cumorah' lay buried golden plates on which was engraved the history of the mound-builders, full and complete. The plates were duly unearthed and the translation commenced. Three men believed the new doctrine, Martin Harris, a well-to-do farmer, David Whitmore, and Oliver Cowdry, whose pen gave the prophet great assistance. Harris mortgaged his farm for money to print the 'Book of Mormon', went to Ohio, lost all, and came back a poorer and wiser man. Mrs. Harris consigned a hundred or more pages of manuscript to the fire, delayed the work; and finding her husband infatuated, left him. Converts embracing the new faith, the first Mormon conference was held June 1, 1830, in the town of Fayette, Seneca County. W.W. Phelps published an anti-Masonic paper in Canandaigua, and Brigham Young is reported to have been a teacher and a religious exhorter in the same place."

page 129 (chapter on Fayette)

      "Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, was at one time a resident of this town. Hon. D.S. Kendig, who furnished the writer this information, remembers him very well. He worked as a day-laborer for old Colonel Jacob Chamberlain, and occasionally for others, when not engaged with his mineral rods digging for gold in various places. He was invariable disappointed, though oftentimes striking with his crowbar an iron chest, supposed to contain the desired gold, when by some mysterious agency it would vanish to some other place. On one occasion, he happened to strike the 'Golden Bible', as he averted, near Palmyra, Wayne County. This Bible he brought to the house of an honest old Dutch farmer, named Whitmer, living in Fayette, about three miles south of Waterloo, and there translated it, and by the aid of one Cowdry, wrote the Mormon Bible, or a portion of it, which was afterwards printed. This was about the year 1829 or 1830. In 1831 he left Fayette, with numerous converts, among whom were the whole Whitmer family and William Jolly. With them also went a family from Junius, named Bennett, and many others. They first stopped at Kirtland, Ohio, and subsequently located at Nauvoo, Illinois. The manner of translating the 'Golden Bible' was a novel one. "Joe" Smith would look into a hat and read, and Cowdry would write down as the mysterious characters on the plates were revealed to his understanding. The first baptism in the Mormon faith was made in this town, by immersion in a small brook, called Thomas Creek."

Source: "Centennial Historical Sketch of Fayette, Seneca Co., NY 1800-1900"; by Diedrich Willers; Press of W.F. Humphrey, Geneva, NY, 1900; reprinted by W.E. Morrison & Co., Ovid, NY, 1982

pages 47-51

      "The Mormon church which has arisen to prominence at the present time, was first organized at the house of Peter Whitmer, a Pennsylvania German farmer (residing upon a farm in the southeast corner of Military Lot No. 13, in Fayette), April 6, 1830.

      The founder of this church was Joseph Smith, born at Sharon, Vermont, Dec. 23, 1805, who in 1815 removed to Western New York with is parents. In after years, he made it known, that as early as Sept. 22, 1823, he had discovered certain plates, known as the 'Golden plates' buried in a hill, in the Town of Manchester, Ontario County, NY, about four miles south of Palmyra, which plates however he did not remove from their place of deposit, until four years afterwards. These plates contained inscriptions in unknown characters, or letters, which soon after he had exhumed them, in Sept. 1827, he began (while living at the home of his wife, in Harmony, Penn.) to translate and transcribe into English, with the aid, as he alleged, of certain mysterious Seer Stones, which he called Urim and Thummim.

      In June 1820, Joseph Smith removed from Pennsylvania to the residence of Peter Whitmer, where the work of translation progressed, assisted by Oliver Cowdery and David and John Whitmer (sons of Peter), and the 'Book of Mormon,' called also the 'Mormon Bible,' first printed by Egbert B. Grandin at Palmyra, N.Y., was issued in the year 1830.

      The organization of April 6, 1830, alluded to, was perfected by Joseph Smith (then known as 'the Prophet') and five others, to wit: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Hyrum Smith and Samuel H. Smith.

      As early as June 1829, David Whitmer and Hyrum Smith were baptized by Joseph Smith by immersion, in Seneca Lake, and one (John Whitmer), was baptized there by Oliver Cowdery.

      The first public meeting after the organization referred to, was held at the house of Peter Whitmer, April 11, 1830, at which Oliver Cowdery preached. On the same day Hiram Page, Catherine Page, Christian Whitmer, Anna Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, and Elizabeth Whitmer were baptized, and on April 18, of the same year, Peter Whitmer, Sr., Mary Whitmer, William Jolly, Elizabeth Holly, Vincent Jolly and Elizabeth Ann Whitmer were baptized.

      In June, 1830, nine coverts in addition to those named, were baptized in Fayette, and a number of others were from time to time baptized by immersion in Seneca lake, Seneca river, Thomas and Kendig creeks, and other streams not far from the Whitmer farm.

      Preaching services were held in 1830 and 1831 at Peter Whitmer's house, and at Whitmer's school house, in District No. 17, Fayette (northeast from Whitmer's near Martin Miller's, and the junction of Military Lots 3,4, and 13). This school district was annulled in 1841, and the school house has since been removed. Another preaching point was at the school house in school district No. 15 (now No. 7), in the locality known as 'The Beach', in northeast Fayette.

      The first Conference of the Mormon church was held in Fayette, June 1, 1830, at which thirty members were present.

      The second General Conference held on Fayette, Sept. 1, 1830, continued for three days, and a third Conference was held in this town, Jan. 2, 1832.

      Joseph Smith removed his family from Harmony, PA, to Peter Whitmer's, the last week in August, 1839.

      Sidney Rigdon and Orson Pratt (who, with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were prominent in the early development of the Mormon church), came to Fayette late in the year 1830.

      In the latter part of January, 1831, Joseph Smith and wife, Sidney Rigdon and others, removed to Kirtland, Ohio. The Whitmer and Jolly families accompanied, or soon after followed there. A brief mention will be made of subsequent movements, especially as relating to former residents of Fayette. At Kirtland, Ohio, a temple was erected and in 1834, Joseph Smith was chosen President of the Mormon church. In 1838, the Mormons then remaining at Kirtland and vicinity, decided to remove to Missouri - whither a large colony had preceded as early as 1831, locating at Independence, in Jackson County, and afterward in Clay County in that State. The Whitmer family were included in the number which removed early to Missouri, but a part of the Jolly family is understood to have remained in Ohio.

      Meeting with much opposition in Missouri, the Mormons removed in May, 1839, to Nauvoo, Illinois, on the Mississippi River. Here a city was founded of which Joseph Smith was several times elected mayor.

      A temple of great proportions and indeed a magnificent structure, was here erected and the membership of the church increased - many foreign converts being of the number of additions. Here again a conflict arose with the local authorities and in 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were incarcerated in the county jail of Hancock County, at Carthage, Illinois, were both were killed by a mob, June 27, 1844.

      The Mormon removal from Illinois to Utah Territory, took place in 1846-1847m in which last named year, Salt Lake City was founded - the semi centennial of the founding of which was celebrated July 24, 1897.

      Utah was admitted as a State of the United States, in January 1896, polygamy having been declared abolished.

      It may here be stated, that at the time of its organization in Fayette, and while the members of the Mormon church remained in this county, polygamy was neither avowed, preached nor practiced, nor indeed until about thirteen years afterwards (1843) was it announced by revelation and in 1852, proclaimed as a doctrine of the Mormon church by Brigham Young, then President of that church.

      The Whitmer family remained in Missouri and took no part in the Mormon removals to Illinois and Utah. Peter Whitmer, Sr., the head of the family - born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 14, 1773, and removing to Fayette about 1810 - was the father of five sons and one daughter, all of whom joined the Mormon church. He died at the house of his son - Hon. David Whitmer in Richmond, Ray Co., Missouri, Aug. 13, 1854. He is spoken of by old Fayette residents, as a worthy and industrious citizen.

      David Whitmer, who bore a leading part in the Mormon movement, while a resident of Fayette, was, after June, 1838, not in sympathy with Joseph Smith and in a pamphlet published by him in 1887, entitled 'An Address to all believers in Christ,' while avowing his belief both in the Holy Bible and in the Book of Mormon, gives a number of reasons for dissenting from the Mormon church of the Salt Lake City organization , as well as from the Re-organized branch of that church. In his pamphlet, Mr. Whitmer strongly denounces certain changes and additions in the Book of 'Doctrines and Covenants,' including polygamy, and says: 'I left the Body in June 1838, being five years before polygamy was introduced.' He says of polygamy: 'I wish here to state, that I do not indorse polygamy or spiritual wifeism. It is a great evil; shocking to the moral sense, and the more so, because practised in the name of religion. It is of man and not of God, and is especially forbidden in the Book of Mormon itself.'

      David Whitmer was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Jan. 7, 1805, and removed with his parents to Fayette, N.Y. He was baptized and ordained an Elder of the Mormon faith by Joseph Smith in June 1829. On Jan. 9, 1831, before removing from Fayette, he married Miss Julia Ann Jolly, daughter of William Jolly of this town. He removed to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831 and from Ohio to Missouri in 1834, locating at the city of Richmond, in the latter State in 1838, where he continued to reside until his death. He was a substantial and prominent resident of that city, having been elected its mayor in 1866, where he died Jan. 25, 1888.

      In his pamphlet of 1887, he divides the Mormon church into three parts - naming his own branch as 'The Church of Jesus Christ' - the second division being the Salt Lake City, Utah branch known as 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,' and the third division with headquarters at Lamoni, Iowa, (known also as the Anti-Polygamy branch) as 'The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.'

      The brothers of David Whitmer were Christian, Jacob, John and Peter, Jr., and his sister married Hiram Page of Fayette.

      Two of the Whitmer brothers - Christian and Jacob - each married a lady by the name of Schott, descending from a Fayette family of that name - before removing West.

      In his pamphlet, David Whitmer says that his brothers, Christian and Peter, died prior to 1838.

      John Whitmer became the first historian of the Mormon Church. He died at Far West, near Kingston, Caldwell County, Missouri, a few years ago. Nothing has been ascertained as to Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page, since leaving Fayette.

      Oliver Cowdery, a school teacher, came to Fayette and taught a district school in the Yost district before 1839, and he with David Whitmer and Martin Harris, constituted the three witnesses certifying to the Book of Mormon. (Mr. Lee Yost, now of Lenawee County, Michigan, aged eighty-five years, attended this term of school.) Mr. Cowdery died at Richmond, Missouri, March 3, 1850.

      Martin Harris, of Palmyra, N.Y., an active participant in the early movements of the church in Fayette, one of the three witnesses, and who it is said gave financial assistance in the publication of the Book of Mormon - was born in East-town, Saratoga Co., NY, May 18, 1783, and died at Clarkston, Cache Co., Utah, July 10, 1875.

      In the year 1899, several missionaries from the Salt Lake City, Utah, branch of Mormons, visited Fayette (and other parts of Seneca County) and devoted considerable time to a personal house-to-house canvass of the localities visited."

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