Background on Martin Harris

A) Martin's relationship with Joseph and the Smith family

Martin Harris was born May 14, 1783 in Saratoga County, NY.  At the age of eight, he moved with his family to a new settlement called Palmyra.  He remained there until 1831 when he moved with the saints to Kirtland.   Martin was a successful businessman and farmer.  Even before the first vision in 1820, Martin was familiar with the Smith family as he had employed some of the Smith brothers to work on his farm.  In the late 1820's, Martin was a close associate of the Smiths and was keenly interested in the recent events of young Joseph's life.  Life by G. Stevenson (p. 164) records a journal entry from Edward Stevenson in which he records Martin's religious sentiment in this 1870 statement from Martin Harris:

"In the year 1818, fifty-two years ago I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the spirit that I should not join any church, although I was anxiously sought for by many of the sectarians....

"...The spirit told me to join none of the churches, for none had authority from the Lord, for there will not be a true church on the earth until the words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled. When interrogated closely, I told them, 'If any church [be] the church of Christ, the Christians then claim me. But join and lectuien [?] as much as any other. The time has not come for you to take that name. At Antioch they were called Christians in derision. No thanks for your name', so I remained, for there was no authority, for the spirit told me that I might just as well plunge myself into the water as to have any one of the sects baptize me.

"So I remained until the Church was organized by Joseph Smith, the Prophet. Then I was baptized by the hands of Oliver Cowdery, by Joseph Smith's command, being the first after Joseph and Oliver Cowdery. And then the spirit bore testimony that this was all right, and I rejoiced in the established Church."

B) Martin delivers the Book of Mormon characters to Charles Anthon

Martin's search for truth found its fruition in Joseph Smith and the record he had obtained.  Martin provided Joseph with much needed money to pay off his debts and continue the work of the Lord.  In 1827, Martin gave Joseph $50 for his move to Harmony.  Later that year, Martin visited Joseph and received a copy of some of the ancient Book of Mormon characters in order to show them to the leading linguists of the day.  Church History in the Fullness of Times records the following:

"Martin visited at least three men with reputations as able linguists.  In Albany, New York, he talked with Luther Bradish, a diplomat, statesman, world traveler, and student of languages.  In New York City he visited Dr. Samuel Mitchill, vice president of Rutgers Medical College.  He also visited a man who knew four languages including Hebrew and Babylonian.  This was Professor Charles Anthon of Columbia College in New York City, who was perhaps the most qualified of Martin's contacts to judge the characters on the document.  He was among the leading classical scholars of his day...

"According to Martin Harris, Professor Anthon examined the characters and their translation and willingly gave him a certificate stating to the citizens of Palmyra that the writings were authentic.  Anthon further told Martin the characters resembled Egyptian, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Arabic, and expressed his opinion that the translation was correct.  martin put the certificate in his pocket and was about to leave when Anthon called him back and asked how Joseph Smith found the gold plates in the hill.  Martin explained that an angel of God revealed the location to Joseph, whereupon Charles Anthon asked for the certificate, which Martin gave to him.  'He took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I [Martin] would bring the plates to him, he would translate them.  I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them.  He replied, 'I cannot read a sealed book.'"

C) The lost 116 pages

In the Spring of 1828, Martin had acted as a scribe for Joseph.  Their industry had produced 116 pages translated from Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi containing the story of the Nephites from prophet Lehi to the days of king Benjamin.  His wife, Lucy, thought Martin was wasting his time and money on Joseph Smith.  She accompanied Martin on one of his trips to Harmony with the intent to see the plates for herself.  Lucy Mack Smith records in History of Joseph Smith (pp.119-123):

"As soon as she arrived there, she informed him that her object in coming, was to see the plates, and that she would never leave until she had accomplished it. Accordingly, without delay, she commenced ransacking every nook and corner about the house--chests, trunks, cupboards, etc.; consequently, Joseph was under the necessity of removing both the breast-plate and the Record from the house, and secreting them elsewhere. Not finding them in the house, she concluded that Joseph had buried them, and the next day she commenced searching out of doors, which she continued to do until about two o'clock p.m. She then came in rather ill-natured...

"The woman was so perplexed and disappointed in all her undertakings, that she left the house and took lodgings during her stay in Pennsylvania with a near neighbor, to whom she stated that the day previous she had been hunting for the plates, and that, after a tedious search, she at length came to a spot where she judged, from the appearance of things, they must be buried; but upon stooping down to scrape away the snow and leaves, in order to ascertain the fact, she encountered a horrible black snake which gave her a terrible fright, and she ran with all possible speed to the house."

After this incident which did not satisfy his wife's curiosity at all, Martin requested that he be permitted to take the 116 pages home.  Joseph asked permission of the Lord but the answer was "No."  A Martin's continual request, Joseph asked the Lord again for permission.  In the History of the Church, vol. 1, p.21 Joseph records:

"Some time after Mr. Harris had begun to wrote for me, he began to importune me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and show them; and desired of me that I would inquire of the Lord, through the Urim and Thummim, if he might not do so.  I did inquire, and the answer was that he must not.  However, he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should inquire again.  I did so, and the answer was as before.  Still he could not be contented, but insisted that I should inquire once more.  After much solicitation I again inquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions; which were, that he show them only to his brother, Preserved Harris, his own wife, his father and his mother, and a Mrs. Cobb, a sister to his wife.  In accordance with  this last answer, I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in a most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed.  He did so.  He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings, and went his way.  Notwithstanding, however, the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did show them to others, and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered unto this day."

Joseph deferred to Martin because of his age (Joseph was 22, Martin was 45) and because he was the key financier and scribe at the time.  This deference to Martin is referred to by the Lord in D&C 3:7, For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God.  The subsequent weeks and months were a time of gloomy introspection and repentance for the young prophet.

Many have speculated about what happened to the 116 pages.  Daniel H. Ludlow in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p.575, records, "It is reported that Lucy Harris said that she burned them. Ill and suffering the insecurity of progressive deafness, she reportedly feared that Palmyra's boycott of the Book of Mormon would lead to her and her husband's financial ruin. After the loss of the manuscript, Harris ceased his work as scribe."

D) Joseph's remorse at losing the 116 pages

The prophet began to worry about the fate of the 116 pages long before Martin gave him the bad news.  Not long after Martin had left for Palmyra with the 116 pages, Emma gave birth to their firstborn child, a son.  The child soon died leaving both parents devastated.  Emma mourned as only a mother can and Joseph couldn't sleep.  He was troubled over the loss of his son, Emma's ill and dejected state, and Martin's unusual delay.  After about three weeks, Emma requested that Joseph go to Palmyra to bring his mother to her aid and to inquire about the record.  Joseph went at his wife's request.  During his stagecoach ride to Palmyra, Joseph neither ate nor slept.  This became a concern for the only other passenger, who took care to provide for Joseph and deliver him safely to his parents' home.  In History of Joseph Smith, pp. 128-129, Lucy Mack Smith records:

"When Joseph had taken a little nourishment, according to the directions of the stranger, he requested us to send immediately for Mr. Harris. This we did without delay. And when we had given the stranger his breakfast, we commenced preparing breakfast for the family; and we supposed that Mr. Harris would be there, as soon as it was ready, to eat with us, for he generally came in such haste when he was sent for. At eight o'clock we set the victuals on the table, as we were expecting him every moment. We waited till nine, and he came not--till ten, and he was not there--till eleven, still he did not make his appearance. But at half past twelve we saw him walking with a slow and measured tread towards the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully upon the ground. On coming to the gate, he stopped, instead of passing through, and got upon the fence, and sat there some time with his hat drawn over his eyes. At length he entered the house. Soon after which we sat down to the table, Mr. Harris with the rest. He took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them. Hyrum, observing this, said 'Martin, why do you not eat; are you sick?' Upon which Mr. Harris pressed his hands upon his temples, and cried out in a tone of deep anguish, 'Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul!'

"Joseph who had not expressed his fears till now, sprang from the table, exclaiming, 'Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?'

"'Yes; it is gone,' replied Martin, 'and I know not where.'

"'Oh, my God!' said Joseph, clinching his hands. 'All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned--it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession.' He wept and groaned, and walked the floor continually.

"At length he told Martin to go back and search again.

"'No'; said Martin, 'it is all in vain; for I have ripped open beds and pillows; and I know it is not there.'

"'Then must I,' said Joseph, 'return with such a tale as this? I dare not do it. And how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the Most High?'"

E) Why didn't Joseph just retranslate the 116 pages?

The first edition of the Book of Mormon contains Joseph Smith's explanation of what happened with the 116 pages and why they couldn't be retranslated (the same explanation can be found in DC 10).  As the Preface to that edition, he wrote:


            As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again-and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing; therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which he have translated, which ye have retained; and behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and this I will confound those who have altered by words.  I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.  Wherefore to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have through His grace and mercy, accomplished that which He hath commanded me, respecting this thing.  I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York. [see also DC 10:10-45]

                                                                                    THE AUTHOR