Peter Whitmer Farm
The Trials of Translation
On April 6, 1830, Smith gathered with six other men in the home of Peter Whitmer to formally organize the Church of Jesus Christ-of Latter Day Saints. He had been living on the Whitmer farm since 1829, having moved there to finish translating the golden plates he had received from the angel Moroni in 1827.
Moroni had tasked Smith with translating the plates into English. Because Smith was not supposed to show the plates to anybody else, his partners could only provide limited help, mostly acting as scribes. To make sure that no one else saw the plates during the translation process, Smith sat behind a curtain or kept the plates wrapped up in a linen cloth. Because no one other than Smith had seen the plates, skeptics asserted that they did not even exist. To prove the doubters wrong, Smith allowed his father-in-law, Isaac Hale, to feel the heft of the plates inside a box. He allowed his wife, Emma Hale Smith, to actually feel the plates and hear the metallic clang they made when they touched each other.
Over the years, Smith tried a variety of methods for translating the plates and had worked with several different partners including his wife Emma, a farmer he had worked with in Palmyra named Martin Harris, and a man named Oliver Cowdery, who had heard about the plates and showed up at the Smiths’ home wanting to know more. A first, Smith worked to reproduce the symbols that he saw on the plates in order to translate them in a fairly conventional way. Later, he relied heavily on the Urim and Thummim, a pair of interpreters that he had received along with the golden plates. At some point, he stopped referring to the plates entirely. Instead, he would put a seer stone in a hat and then peered inside where he claimed to see the translated text in plain English. As Smith translated, he would dictate aloud to his partners. The most prolific period of the translation process were the two months that Smith worked with Oliver Cowdery, when Cowdery took down approximately 3,500 words a day.