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WHITMER, JACOB (1800-1856, md. Elizabeth Schott, 1825. Brother to David Whitmer and Elizabeth Ann (Mrs. Oliver) Cowdery; one of the EIGHT WITNESSES to the Book of Mormon). Richmond, Missouri, 23 February 1856.
DOCUMENT SIGNED two months before giving his final deathbed testimony of the Book of Mormon. Also SIGNED with short probate note shortly afterward by Judge James B. TURNER, one of the state's witnesses against Joseph Smith and the Mormons in 1838.
7½ X 19½ cm. (approximately 3 X 7¾ inches) on light blue paper. Partly printed, accomplished in manuscript to local merchant Andrew H. Ringo. In very good condition. Unobtrusive old folds show light soil on the back.
The signature is large and attractive, measuring 3½ inches in length. Jacob Whitmer has received goods or value for which he is indebted to Ringo for $92.65, payable @ 10% per year calculated from the preceding January 1. Filing docket written horizontally along left margin on the front, signed "DWR[ice]." Whitmer would not live to repay this IOU note: Manuscript probate notes appear on the verso signed by Judge Turner and Ringo's agent Rice.
"BE it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people," reads THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES on the final page of the 1830 Book of Mormon,
. . . that Joseph Smith, Jr. . . . has shewn unto us the plates . . . which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated, we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record, with words of soberness, . . . for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety, that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen: and we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
PETER WHITMER, JR.,
JOSEPH SMITH, SEN.
SAMUEL H. SMITH.
Portrait of Jacob Whitmer from the painting reproduced by Mary Cleora Dear, Two Hundred Thirty-Eight Years of the Whitmer Family (1737-1976) . . . (Richmond, Missouri: Beck Printing Company, 1976), p. 12.
"I could not feel more satisfied and at rest," quipped Mark Twain half a century later, "if the entire Whitmer family had testified." (Samuel Clemens, Roughing It [Hartford, 1872], p. 130). But for a believing Latter-day Saint, here is a piece of paper held and signed - certainly with considerable soberness - by hands which once lifted and handled the Golden Plates of the Book of Mormon.
Jacob and his wife Elizabeth were baptized in Seneca Lake (a few miles from the famed Whitmer Cabin in Fayette, New York, where the Book of Mormon translation was completed) on April 11, 1830, by Jacob's future brother-in-law Oliver Cowdery. "With the rest of the Whitmer family," adds Andrew Jenson,
he removed to Ohio in 1831, and subsequently settled in Jackson county, Mo., from whence he was driven by a mob in 1833. He was also identified with the Church in Clay and Caldwell counties. In the latter county he acted a short time as a temporary High Councilor and also as a member of the building committee for the erection of the Lord's House at Far West. [LDS Biographical Encyclopedia I:276. Portrait of Jacob's wife Elizabeth Schott in later years from a painting reproduced by Cleora Dear, above, p. 12]
Jacob was named, among others, by a special conference in Missouri to "be recommended to the Bishop in Zion as being worthy of inheritances among the people of the Lord" in consequence of his family "administering to their wants in temporal things . . ." (Nov. 12, 1831; Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record . . . [SLC: Deseret Book Co., 1983], p. 32). Jacob later calculated that he had devoted 120 days ". . . serving as a committee for the purpose of building a house to the Lord." He added that ". . . I think I ought to have one dollar per day for time and expense." The council agreed, including travel time. (Dec. 23, 1837; Far West Record, p. 134).
"He severed his connection with the Church in 1838," Jenson adds, cryptically, "after which he settled near Richmond, Ray county, where he remained until his death, which occurred April 21, 1856. He was 56 years, 2 months and 26 days old at the time of his demise. He was a shoemaker by trade and also owned a little farm at the time of his death." (LDS Biog. Ency. I:276-7). Jacob's life was probably never easy. In the original signed document now at hand, we see that Mr. Whitmer was still strapped for money at the end of his life. This was of course no source of shame in a cash-poor economy, and we may likely view this large credit allowance by a local merchant as evidence of the Whitmer Family's good reputation in Missouri. Jacob's son, Capt. David P. Whitmer (1829-83), had displayed surprising industry throughout his youth, and clearly made good on his father's debt for satisfaction of probate by 1860, as seen on the back of the document:
Received of D P Whitmer Ex[ecutor]. of the Est[ate] of Jacob Whitmer dec[ease]d
am[oun]t within allowance & Interest on same to this May 7th 1860
making one hundred thirty four. 85/100 A H. Ringo p[e]r Rice
Jacob's descendant Cleora Dear preserves the following reminiscences about Jacob and his remarkable son who is credited on the back of this manuscript artifact . . .
David P. Whitmer was born July 4, 1829, near Waterloo, Seneca County, New York. His grandparents, Peter Whitmer, Sr., and Mary (Musselman) Whitmer, had moved from Hamburg, Pennsylvania, about 1809 and settled near Waterloo, New York. The father and mother, Jacob Whitmer and Elizabeth (Schott) Whitmer, and his grandparents were all of German descent and all were farmers. . . .
When David P. was twelve years old [ca. 1841], his father, Jacob Whitmer, took sick and for three years was unable to work. David P., being the oldest son, became the mainstay of the family. He cultivated a rented farm, got up wood, went to mill and to market. In 1845, by close economy, the family had saved enough money to buy two and one-half acres of land in the suburbs of Richmond and they built a small brick building where Jacob lived until he died, April 26 [sic], 1856. Jacob built a small shoe shop on the land mentioned, which he kept up until the day of his death. David P. worked with his father in the shoe shop during the winter and on a farm in summer, cultivating some rented land, and this continued until he was about seventeen, when he worked in the shoe shop summer and winter.
David P. Grew up in obscurity and poverty. He was an expert at the shoe shop and did about one-third more work than any other hand, and found time to read and study at home. In the spring of 1849, he told his father he wanted to qualify to be a lawyer and arranged with his father to attend school. After attending school two weeks, the man upon whom his father relied to do the work in the shop got on a spree and quit work. David quit school and went back to work for his father. He studied at night and did sufficient work in nine months to save . . . for school. When he started to school, he had, by studying at home, kept up with his classes. He continued at school two years at the old Richmond Academy . . .
When David left school, he entered the study of law at Richmond, Missouri . . . On September 4, 1854, he obtained a license to practice law . . . He opened a law office at once in Richmond, accepting the kind offer of ex-governor King to put his law library in the young attorney's office and office together. Young Whitmer was very successful as a lawyer and had a good practice. [Dear, cited earlier, p. 49; portrait of David P. Whitmer, above, p. 13]
This was at the time of the document now offered here. Is it not surprising to see, in the last paragraph quoted above, such close affiliation between a son of one of the Eight Witnesses, and the judge who sent Joseph Smith to the Liberty Jail ? Austin King presided over the famous Richmond Court of Inquiry in November 1838, and later served as Governor of Missouri 1848-52.
The "Richmond Hearings" come even closer to Jacob Whitmer's IOU as seen in a note on the back, written and signed by another judge, who presided over the probate court three months following Jacob's death . . .
This was one of the Missouri state's witnesses who testified at the 1838 hearings, describing a personal encounter with Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders at the height of the Missouri difficulties. Because his handwriting and autograph are preserved here, it will be interesting to read his brief testimony, which he gave as follows:
James B. Turnur [sic], a witness for the State, produced, sworn, and examined, deposeth and saith: The day after Millport was burnt, in the evening I went up to Millport in company with young Mr. Morin: directly after our arrival, I saw Joseph Smith, jr., Hiram Smith, Lyman Wright [sic], and two others, ride up. Mr. Cobb, the mail-rider, and several of the Bleckleys, came up also. Cobb observed, "See what the damned Mormons have done !" speaking of the burning. Hiram Smith asked how he knew it was the Mormons? He said they had burnt Gallatin. Some of the Mormons replied, that Gallatin was burnt by the mob from Platte. Cobb then remarked, that all Clay and Ray were turning out to come against them. Wight, or Smith, observed he did not believe that was true. Lyman Wight said their cause was just: he considered they were acting on the defensive, and he would as soon 50,000 should come as 500. And further this deponent saith not. JAMES B. TURNUR [Missouri. Circuit Court (5th Circuit). . . . Document showing the testimony given before the judge of the fifth judicial circuit of the State of Missouri, on the trial of Joseph Smith, jr., and others, for high treason, and other crimes against that State. February 15, 1841. Ordered to be printed. (Washington), Blair & Rives, printers, 1841 (26th Congress, 2nd Session; Senate Document 189), pp. 33-4]
Clearly, at the time when Jacob Whitmer signed this paper, his family enjoyed the best of relations with not only the leading citizens of Richmond, but with prominent Missourians whom Latter-day Saints might traditionally view as enemies of the Church. "At his death in 1856," concludes Richard L. Anderson, "his industry had resulted in ownership of 113 acres. But alienated from his Mormon associates for eighteen years and preoccupied with material survival, Jacob Whitmer had never waned in his conviction regarding the plates." (Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses [SLC: Deseret Book Company, 1981], p. 129). According to Andrew Jenson (referring to himself in the third person),
John C. Whitmer testified to Elder Andrew Jenson in September, 1888, as follows: "My father (Jacob Whitmer) was always faithful and true to his testimony in regard to the Book of Mormon, and confirmed it on his death-bed." From other sources it is known that Jacob Whitmer ever remained firm and steadfast to his testimony of the divinity of that sacred record, of which he was permitted to be so important a witness. [LDS Biog. Ency. I:277]
Signatures of any of the Book of Mormon witnesses are difficult to obtain, and some are virtually impossible. This is only the second Jacob Whitmer signed item I have had in my career, both coming from the same source.
:: WITH :: SIGNED LETTER OF PROVENANCE from the previous owner, a reputable professional man with whom I have shared occasional correspondence and excellent business transactions over a period of nearly twenty years. He states that this document was part of a group of material which he obtained from an antique dealer in Richmond, Missouri, ca. 1982, presuming it to have descended from David P. Whitmer. As a redeemed note (signed by agent Rice in receipt of all principal and interest due), the document would indeed have been relinquished to Mr. Whitmer on May 7, 1860; Whitmer most certainly would have retained it indefinitely to protect himself against any related financial claims by the firm of Andrew H. Ringo against the estate of Jacob Whitmer. I have handled papers of other families in which such receipts were preserved for generations.
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