Martin Harris





The CES Letter seeks to discredit Martin Harris by making him appear to be ignorant and untrustworthy. Let's address each claim below.


Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness... He was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man.


Martin Harris was anything but a skeptical witness. He was known by many of his peers as an unstable, gullible, and superstitious man. Brigham Young once said of Martin:

As for Martin Harris, he had not much to apostatize from; he possessed a wild, speculative brain. I have heard Joseph correct him and exhort him to repentance for teaching false doctrines.

Reports assert that he and the other witnesses never literally saw the gold plates, but only an object said to be the plates, covered with a cloth.

Additionally, Martin Harris had a direct conflict of interest in being a witness. He was deeply financially invested in the Book of Mormon as he mortgaged his farm to finance the book.

The following are some accounts of the superstitious side of Martin Harris:

Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop. Another time he excitedly awoke from his sleep believing that a creature as large as a dog had been upon his chest, though a nearby associate could find nothing to confirm his fears. Several hostile and perhaps unreliable accounts told of visionary experiences with Satan and Christ, Harris once reporting that Christ had been poised on a roof beam.

No matter where he went, he saw visions and supernatural appearances all around him. He told a gentleman in Palmyra, after one of his excursions to Pennsylvania, while the translation of the Book of Mormon was going on, that on the way he met the Lord Jesus Christ, who walked along by the side of him in the shape of a deer for two or three miles, talking with him as familiarly as one man talks with another.

According to two Ohio newspapers, shortly after Harris arrived in Kirtland he began claiming to have ‘seen Jesus Christ and that he is the handsomest man he ever did see. He has also seen the Devil, whom he described as a very sleek haired fellow with four feet, and a head like that of a Jack-ass.’


CES Letter, Page 88-89



Martin Harris was considered a credible individual until he teamed up with Joseph Smith... Then the prejudices against the Prophet expanded to include those that associated with him, including Martin Harris.

Harris’ neighbors and anti-Mormon contemporaries called him “honest,” and “industrious,” “benevolent,” and a “worthy citizen” even when considering him deluded by Joseph.

One contemporary critic wrote, “How to reconcile the act of Harris in signing his name to such a statement [his Book of Mormon testimony], in view of the character of honesty which had always been conceded to him, could never easily be explained.”

Martin Harris sought tangible proof of the divine process of translation by substituting a rock in place of the seer stone, but Joseph discovered the switch.

Martin personally carried copies of the Book of Mormon characters to Charles Anthon looking for verification. This is not the behavior of a gullible dupe.


Before Harris became a Mormon, he had already changed his religion at least five times.


Martin Harris was a religious seeker but the Book of Mormon was his conviction... Historical evidence only shows Martin to have been a Methodist and a Universalist before joining the church.

Palmyra sources do not prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was, and there is no evidence yet associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches.

In one autobiography, Martin Harris indicated that “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.” 

This is an old charge from one of the earliest anti-Mormon works. Richard L. Anderson noted:

The arithmetic of Martin's five religious changes before Mormonism is also faulty. The claim comes from the hostile Palmyra affidavits published by E. D. Howe; G. W. Stoddard closed his in sarcasm against Martin Harris: "He was first an orthodox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon."[1] Palmyra sources do not yet prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was.[2] And no evidence yet associates Martin with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches. Note that the other two names are religious positions, not necessarily churches—philosophical Universalists dissent from traditional churches in believing that God will save all, and Restorationists obviously take literally the many Bible prophecies of God's reestablished work in modern times. An early Episcopal minister in Palmyra interviewed Martin and reduced his five positions to two: "He had been, if I mistake not, at one period a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalists."[3] Of course Martin could have been a Universalist and Restorationer simultaneously. This view fits what other Palmyra sources say about Martin Harris. In the slanted words of Pomeroy Tucker, who knew him personally, "He was a religious monomaniac, reading the Scriptures intently, and could probably repeat from memory nearly every text of the Bible from beginning to end, chapter and verse in each case."[4]

These charges are simply ad hominem--to deny Harris' testimony because of beliefs he had prior to the restoration.


After Joseph’s death, Harris continued this earlier pattern by joining and leaving 5 more different sects


Martin was a religious seeker... He explored a number of LDS offshoots after the church but nothing matched his love for the Book of Mormon and church. He ultimately came back.


Martin Harris followed James Strang... He even served a mission for him


Any interested Martin showed in Strang was short-lived... Martin was in-and-out of the Strangite movement within a year. His England mission was testifying of the Book of Mormon.


Martin Harris claimed he had as much evidence for the Shaker book as the Book of Mormon.


The quote is likely false... Martin had a lifelong testimony of the Book of Mormon and a short-lived stint with Shakers. Minister Clark Braden has dubious credibility and made this claim in a debate years after Martin had died.

This quote by Clark Braden is questionable. Martin had a lifelong testimony of the Book of Mormon and spent around a year with the Shakers in 1845-46. Any feelings Martin had for the Shakers were short-lived. In 1855 LDS missionary Thomas Colburn visited with Martin and said Martin "confessed he had lost confidence in Joseph Smith; consequently his mind became darkened, and he was left to himself; he tried the Shakers, but that would not do." (Colburn Letter, May 2, 1855)

Clark Braden’s reputation as a fierce debater was well known, but he was also known to be fast and free with his accusations and facts.

Braden actively sought debates and spent a great deal of his life debating what he believed to be error. Braden said he had debated people on “baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit, human creeds, justification by faith only, church organization, soul-sleeping, kingdom-come-ism, Seventh-day-ism, . . . Universalism,” and Mormonism."

Clark Braden, a Church of Christ (Disciples) minister, engaged in a debate with an RLDS missionary, Edmund L. Kelly in February to March of 1884. During the debate Braden demonstrated a greater devotion to winning than historical accuracy. Multiple statements, independent of his claims regarding Martin Harris, can be shown to be in error.

This debate occurred nine years after Martin Harris’ death in 1875 so Martin was unable to respond to his claims.

In his debate with E. L. Kelley, Braden provided no supportive evidence. The CES Letter reproduces the allegation without any additional documentation to support it accuracy.


Gladden Bishop claimed to have plates, a Urim and Thummim, and that he was receiving revelation from the Lord. Martin was one of Bishop’s witnesses to his claims.


This is false... Gladden Bishop wanted Martin to be a witness to his claims. There is zero historical evidence that he ever was.

There is no evidence that Martin was actually a witness to Gladden Bishop or any of his claims. Bishop did, however, dictate a revelation in on April 8, 1851 outlining that he "should call witnesses" and lists Martin as on of those that should be called.

The full quote can be found in Gladden Bishop's two-page publication titled Proclamation from the Lord to His people scattered throughout all the Earth. The relevant excerpt says:

"And therefore that my word might be fulfilled, and also that my people might believe, have I caused that my servant Gladden should call Witnesses of these things; even he, who was one of the three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, (viz: my servant Martin [Harris], and also my daughter Phebe [Bishop's wife], whom I have called these many years that she might be a witness in this, my great and glorious work, which I have now begun, and which shall never be overthrown;) and behold! my Witnesses have borne their testimony before my people in this place, yea, and in my house, even that which my people have built and dedicated unto me in Kirtland.

Any encounter Martin had with Gladden Bishop was short-lived. The biography on Martin Harris said:

"To what degree Martin was initially impressed by Francis Gladden Bishop is unknown. He had certainly interacted with Bishop and examined his publications. Elder Thomas Colburn later commented on Martin's standing after visiting with him. He observed that Martin had "tried Gladden Bishop but, no satisfaction." Martin was carefully screening the respective contenders for any legitimate link with the true church of the Restoration."

- Martin Harris Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon, P. 367


With inconsistencies, a conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris have and why should I believe him?

If someone testified to you of an unusual spiritual encounter he had, but he also told you that he...

  • Conversed with Jesus who took the form of a deer (unreliable quote addressed above)
  • Saw the devil with his four feet and donkey head (unreliable quote addressed above)
  • Chipped off a chunk of a stone box that would mysteriously move beneath the ground to avoid capture (first time referencing Ole A. Jensen. Martin and many other reputable citizens did hold a magical worldview)
  • Interpreted simple things like a flickering of a candle as a sign of the devil (unreliable quote addressed above)
  • Had a creature appearing on his chest that no one else could see (a funny story of a nightmare addressed above)

...would you believe his claims? Or would you call the nearest mental hospital?

With inconsistencies, a conflict of interest, magical thinking, and superstition like this, exactly what credibility does Martin Harris have and why should I believe him?

CES Letter, Page 90-91


This conclusion is based upon a series of questionable quotes... Additionally, the CES Letter leaves out the numerous accounts describing how trustworthy Martin was.

David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were initially skeptical of Joseph’s claims, and tested his ability to see things with his seer stone. Click here

One skeptical newspaper wrote, “And no man can look at David Whitmer's face for a half-hour, while he charit[abl]y and modestly speaks of what he has seen, and then boldly and earnestly confesses the faith that is in him, and say that he is a bigot or an enthusiast.”

Twenty-two prominent non-Mormons in town wrote: “We the undersigned citizens of Richmond Ray CO Mo where David Whitmer Sr has resided since the year AD 1838, Certify that we have been long and intimately acquainted with him, and know him to be a man of the highest integrity, and of undoubted truth and veracity....” Click here

It is claimed that the witnesses cannot be trusted, or are unreliable, because they were unstable personalities, prone to enthusiasm and exaggeration. Evidence amply demonstrates that the formal witnesses of the Book of Mormon were men of good character and reputation, and were recognized as such by contemporary non-Mormons.  Click here