An examination of the lives of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, beyond the testimony printed with each copy of the book for nearly two centuries, reveals the depth and consistency of their convictions.
Joseph Smith’s younger brother Samuel undertook the first missionary journey of the newly organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1830. He took the Book of Mormon through parts of western New York — a mission that famously led to the conversion of such people as Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young. Orson Hyde, who knew Samuel Smith well from having traveled with him a couple of years later as a missionary, described him as “a man slow of speech and unlearned, yet a man of good faith and extreme integrity.” And, reminiscing decades later, Daniel Tyler recalled the visit of Samuel Smith and Hyde to Erie County, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1832, which resulted in his own conversion.
They “came to our neighborhood and held a few meetings. Elder 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. His speech was more like a narrative than a sermon.”
Samuel Smith died a month after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage, Illinois, weakened by a dangerous and ultimately fruitless ride on horseback to save his brothers and, no doubt, deeply grieved at their assassinations. He can reasonably be counted as the family’s third martyr.
Hiram Page too paid a significant price for his testimony of the Book of Mormon. During the Missouri persecutions, according to one source, he was nearly whipped to death. Although he separated himself from the church after 1838, Page continued to insist on what he had seen. In fact, in a letter to William E. McLellin dated May 30, 1847, he even alluded to supplemental sacred experiences that weren’t directly connected to his role as one of the Eight Witnesses:
“You want to know my faith relative to the Book of Mormon and the winding up of wickedness. 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 had 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 600 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.”
Hiram Page died in 1852, when his second son was 20 years old. Later, that son told Andrew Jenson, who served as assistant historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 20th century, “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.”
Jacob Whitmer died on April 21, 1856. He had separated himself from the Latter-day Saints in 1838, and he lived the remainder of his life in the vicinity of Richmond, Missouri.
In 1888, Whitmer’s second son told Jenson, “My father, Jacob Whitmer, was always faithful and true to his testimony to the Book of Mormon, and confirmed it on his death bed.”
In fact, Jacob Whitmer seems to have confirmed his witness of the book even after his death: His marble tombstone featured both the Bible and an open copy of the Book of Mormon with a blooming rose set upon it.
Investigation into the testimonies and lives of the other witnesses reveals a completely consistent picture. That’s why the foremost authority on them, Richard Lloyd Anderson, emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, can truthfully say, “No testimony of direct revelation in the world’s history is better documented than the testimony of the Book of Mormon witnesses.”
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson and speaks only for himself.