This hide-covered traveling case belonged to David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. It has a rough-hewn wood frame that is covered with animal hide. The iron handles, nails, and lock are hand forged, and brass studs adorn the lid with David’s initials.1 Although it is unclear when or where David may have used this case, it is a tangible link to a key figure in early Latter-day Saint history.
A Friend to Joseph
David Whitmer first heard of Joseph Smith and the golden plates in 1828, when he was on a business trip in Palmyra, New York. He dismissed the rumors as “idle gossip” until he met Oliver Cowdery, who believed there might be truth in the stories.2
Oliver had learned about the Book of Mormon while boarding with the Joseph Smith Sr. family, and he planned to visit Joseph Smith Jr., who was then living in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to learn the truth for himself.
When Oliver stopped at the Whitmer farm on his way to Pennsylvania the next spring, he promised David that “as soon as he found out anything either truth or untruth he would let [him] know.”3 Oliver became Joseph Smith’s scribe, and he wrote to David what he had learned to be true.4
When it became difficult for Joseph and Oliver to continue translating the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Oliver asked David if they could continue their work at his father’s farm. The Whitmer family welcomed them, and they were able to finish the translation. In addition, the Whitmer family became converted to the gospel and became some of the earliest members of the Church.
A Witness of the Book of Mormon
While they worked on the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery read passages teaching that three people would serve as witnesses to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and its contents.5
David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris asked Joseph Smith many times whether they might be privileged to be those witnesses.6
One day, while David Whitmer was working in his fields, he heard “a voice saying, ‘Blessed is the name of the Lord and those that keep his commandments.’ After [he] had plowed one more round, the prophet and Oliver Cowdery came along, and said: ‘Come and be one of the witnesses.’”7
Not long afterward, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris walked to a wooded area near the Whitmer farm and knelt in prayer, asking for the promised witness. When the men received no answer, Martin Harris felt that he was the reason for the delay and left the group. After the men prayed again, they had the following experience:
We beheld a light above us in the air of exceeding brightness, and behold, an angel stood before us; in his hands he held the plates which we had been praying for these to have a view of: he turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly: He addressed himself to David Whitmer, and said, “David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps his commandments”: when immediately afterwards we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying “These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God; the translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.”8
After this experience, Joseph Smith sought Martin Harris and found him praying. The Prophet joined him, and together they saw the same vision that Joseph, David, and Oliver had seen.
Faithful to His Testimony
Although David Whitmer later left the Church over difficulties in Kirtland and Missouri,9 he remained faithful to his witness of the Book of Mormon. In 1881, he published “A Proclamation” to refute claims that he had denied his testimony:
It having been represented . . . that I, in a conversation with [John Murphy] last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the “Book of Mormon.”
To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement:
That 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 my statements, as then made and published.10
David Whitmer’s legacy may best be summed up in a blessing he received from Joseph Smith in Kirtland: “Blessed of the Lord is brother David, for he truly is a faithful friend to mankind. . . . His name shall be a blessing among all nations, and his testimony shall shine as fair as the sun, and as a diamond, shall it remain untarnished.”11