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 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.


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.



Poor Martin... The CES Letter manages to cherry-pick a negative comment Brigham Young said about him while he was out of the church. Brigham was elated when Martin came back to the church and funded his trip to join the saints.


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. (FAITHFUL REPLY: The source for this is Pastor John A. Clark's 3rd-hand account. Clark spoke to an unnamed "gentleman in Palmyra" who heard Martin Harris say this. Stephen Burnett also uses this language)

CES Letter, Page 89

...when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel...renounced the Book of Mormon...after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight was false, if it had not been picked out of—–— [him/me?] but should have let it passed as it was...


CES Letter, Page 94

“...he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them...”

– Letter from Stephen Burnett to “Br. Johnson,” April 15, 1838, in Joseph
Smith Letter Book, p.2

CES Letter, Page 100

There is a difference between saying you “beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” and saying you “hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them” or that the plates “were covered over with a cloth” and that you “did not see them as [you] do that pencil-case, yet [you] saw them with the eye of faith” or “with a spiritual eye.”

CES Letter, Page 100


This is a classic case of cherry-picking... The CES Letter cherry-picks a couple of critical sources while disregarding the over 200 consistent faithful sources of the witnesses. There are no less than 40 accounts where Martin Harris strongly affirms his his testimony. He said to one that his experience of seeing the plates was as real as the bed post directly in front of him. 

The CES Letter LOVES these quotes and uses them over and over again while disregarding sources to the contrary. Critics Stephen Burnett and John A. Clark are the sources of the quotes above and addressed elsewhere.

See the fairmormon response here


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.

CES Letter, Page 89



No question Martin was financially invested. But the CES Letter has it backwards. Martin was a rich man and mortgaged half of his farm and financed the Book of Mormon because he firmly believed in it until the day he died. Martin made a major sacrifice and ended up in poverty as an old man. While Martin was on his deathbed he told George Godfrey, "had I been willing to have perjure myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear, I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done." (Early Mormon Documents 2:392)


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. (FAITHFUL REPLY: source Thomas Gregg's 1890 anti-Mormon letter. Details below.) 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. (FAITHFUL REPLY: this was a nightmare Martin had. Details below) 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.” (FAITHFUL: Several anti-Mormon quotes detailed below)


CES Letter, Page 89



More cherry-picking here... Let's read the rest of the quote by walker. Let's also evaluate each of the critics cited.

The CES Letter chose to leave out Walker's next paragraph which spoke highly of Harris:

"Yet despite these eccentricities, more than a dozen of Harris's Palmyra contemporaries left descriptions of the man that describe his honor, honesty, industry, peacefulness, and respectability, his hard-headed, Yankee shrewdness and his growing wealth."

Walker's quote is based upon the following three sources. 

FIRST: "Once while reading scripture, he reportedly mistook a candle’s sputtering as a sign that the devil desired him to stop."

The quote mentioned above Thomas Gregg's 1890 book titled The Prophet of Palymra, which is known for its anti-Mormon perspective. The book includes two chapters featuring an 1882 by S.S. Harding, who claimed to have known the Smiths nearly sixty years earlier. Harding briefly served as the Governor of Utah from 1862-63, but was ousted after two years due to his conflicts with the Mormon community, primarily related to polygamy. The letter is captivating, resembling a novel with its lively dialogue. However, it raises doubts about the the accuracy of recalling such vivid details after almost six decades. It's worth noting that Harding was a cousin of Pomery Tucker, the author of an anti-mormon publication in 1867 titled Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism.

SECOND: "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."

This is a rather funny story actually. Don't we all have nightmares that cause us to awake in the middle of the night feeling disoriented? If Martin can be convicted for this then we're all at risk. Find the original source on page 34 here.

THIRD: "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."

Like Walker says, these last two references are "hostile and perhaps unreliable." Links to both original works can be found here. Walker's sources for the quote are Reverend John A. Clark and a 1880 publication by journalist Fredric G. Mather who was born after Joseph Smith died in 1844.


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.



CES Letter, Page 89



The source is reverend John A. Clark ... It's highly dubious that Martin believed he talked to a Jesus "in the shape of a deer."

Here is a little more background on John A. Clark:

"During the period between 1824 and 1828, the Reverend John A. Clark was quite active in organizing and leading Episcopal congregations in Palmyra and surrounding areas. According to a nineteenth-century history of Wayne County, New York, Clark was elected pastor of Palmyra’s Zion Episcopal Church in 1824 but “was compelled, by severe domestic affliction, to resign, and was succeeded, in 1826, by another pioneer missionary.” On August 14, 1826, Clark presided at the first organization of an Episcopal society in Lyons (fifteen miles east of Palmyra) and twelve days later presided at the organization of a society in Sodus (twenty-two miles northwest of Palmyra). Clark also officiated at meetings in Geneva and Pultneyville. He continued services in Lyons until at least 1828. In the letters featured here, Clark gives every appearance of being open and truthful about what he knows. Indeed, several of his details are confirmed by other sources. The main difficulty, however, is that Clark, like Willard Chase and Fayette Lapham, is a third-hand witness—they all got their information from someone else (Martin Harris for Clark, Joseph Sr. for Chase and Lapham) who reportedly got it from the first-hand source—Joseph Jr. Clark gives no indication that he ever met Joseph Smith."

A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon, Page 88


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, 90


The Geauga Gazetta is NOT credible source... one just needs to read the newspaper to see the blatant sensationalism. 

It's highly improbably that this quote accurately reflects Martin Harris' genuine words. The source of this quote can be traced back to the March 15, 1831 edition of the Geauga Gazette, a newspaper notorious for its negative perception of the church leaders whom it deemed as "gross impostures." The publication had a habit of fabricating stores about the church. To illustrate this, a mere six weeks prior, on February 1st, the Geauga Gazette depicted the process of translating the Book of Mormon in this sensationalized and entirely untrue manner:

It is alleged that some of them have received white stones promised in the second chapter of the Revelations. Such of them as have "the spirit" will declare that they see a white stone moving about the upper part of the room, and will jump and spring for it, until one more fortunate than the others catches it, but he alone can see it. Others however, profess to hear it roll across the floor. These two stories, and others of a similar character, are told by them with solemn asseverations of their truth. 

Among them is a man of color, a chief man, who is sometimes seized with strange vagaries and odd conceits. The other day he is said to have jumped twenty-five feet down a wash bank into a tree top without injury. He sometimes fancies he can fly."

The depiction of flying men, four-legged devils, and a floating Urim and Thummim is hardly accurate reporting. To gain a deeper understanding of this particular publication, one can examine the original copies of the here

It's clear the CES Letter didn't bother to research this quote and lifted it from a footnote in Early Mormon Documents Vol. 2:271The footnote attributes the original source to the Guernsey Times on 16 April 1831 and the American Friend and Marietta Gazette, 30 April 1831. It's worth noting that these two papers simply republished the article originally featured in the Geauga Gazetta's on March 15, 1831. 


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

CES Letter, Page 90


This is likely false... Martin appears to have been open-mind and explored numerous faiths but didn't join any until Mormonism. John A. Clark, a Palmyra pastor and critic, said Martin "seemed to be floating upon the sea of [religious] uncertainty" before Mormonism.

History can be messy. In this case there are accounts that claim three different things. The CES Letter selectively chose to cite the anti-Mormon claim by G.W. Stoddard while neglecting to mention the others. Isn't that witholding information? The likely explanation is Martin had an open mind and explored multiple faiths but didn't join any until Mormonism.


  • BIAS: Anti-Mormon
  • SOURCE: G.W. Stoddard, Mormonism Unveiled
  • DATE: 1834
  • QUOTE: "He was first an orthadox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon."
    • Quaker
    • Universalist
    • Restorationer
    • Baptist
    • Presbyterian
  • COMMENTARY: Non-Mormon historian Dan Vogel Vogel disputes four of the five claims. "There is no evidence that formally connects Harris with the Baptist or Presbyterian churches. Universalist and Restorationist could refer to personal belief, rather than to a specific organization." (Early Mormon Documents, Volume 2, p. 29) Additionally, Palmyra sources do not prove that Martin was a Quaker, though his wife probably was.


  • BIAS: Anti-Mormon
  • SOURCE: John A. Clark, Early Mormon Documents, Volume 2, p. 262
  • DATE: 1840
  • QUOTE: "I had but very slight acquaintance with Mr. Harris. He had occasionally attended divine service in our church. I had heard him spoken of as a farmer in comfortable circumstances, residing in the country a short distance from the village, and distinguished by certain peculiarities of character. He had been, if I mistake not, at one period a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalists. At this time, however, in his religious views he seemed to be floating upon the sea of uncertainty."
    • Episcopal (occasionally attended)
    • Methodist
    • Universalist
  • COMMENTARY: Reverend Clark only knew Martin as a "slight acquaintance" with most of his information about Martin coming from hearsay.


  • BIAS: Pro-Mormon
  • SOURCE: Edward Stevenson, Early Mormon Documents Volume 2, p. 331-332
  • DATE: 1870
  • QUOTE: "in the year 1818-- 52 years ago—I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any church... So I remained until the Church was organized by Joseph Smith the Prophet. Then I was baptized." 
    • Joined none.
  • COMMENTARY: Edward Stevenson says he dictated what Martin Harris said.

Leading scholar of the Book of Mormon witnesses, 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]


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

CES Letter, Page 90


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 and served a mission for him.

CES Letter, Page 90


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.

Martin had a lifelong testimony of the Book of Mormon. In contrast, he had a brief stint with the Shakers in 1845-46. Little is known of Martin's  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.



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