Martin Harris

One of the three witnesses 
to the Golden Plates

What religion did Martin Harris belong to before joining the Mormon Church? How trustworthy was Martin? Did he ever leave the church? Did he ever deny his testimony of seeing the golden plates?

Martin's witness 
of Christ & the Devil

Jamestown Journal, 1831

Martin Harris, one of the original Mormon prophets, arrived in this village last Saturday, on his way to the ‘Holy Land.’ He says he has seen Jesus Christ, and that ‘he is the handsomest man he ever did see.’ He has also seen the Devil, whom he describes to be a very sleek haired fellow, with four feet, and a head like a jackass" 

[Jamestown Journal, "Progress of Mormonism", 
June 29, 1831].

G. W. Stoddard 

28 November, 1833

George W. Stoddard was an aquaintance of Martin Harris for at least thirty years. He was bapitzed into the FIrst Baptist Church of Palmyra in 1820, but later disfellowshipped in 1823 "for immoral conduct (viz) profane swearing &c" and was reinstated in 1825.

Having been called upon to state a few facts which are material to the characters of some of the leaders of the Mormon sect, I will do so in a concise and plain manner. I have been acquainted with Martin Harris, about thirty years. As a farmer, he was industrious and enterprising, so much so, that he had, (previous to his going into the Gold Bible speculation) accumulated, in real estate, some eight or ten thousand dollars. 

Although he possessed wealth, his moral and religious character was such, as not to entitle him to respect among his neighbors. He was fretful, peevish and quarrelsome, not only in the neighborhood, but in his family. He was known to frequently abuse his wife, by whipping her, kicking her out of bed and turning her out of doors &c. Yet he was a public professor of some refigion. He was first an orthadox Quaker, then a Universalist, next a Restorationer, then a Baptist, next a Presbyterian, and then a Mormon. By his willingness to become all things to all men, he has attained a high standing among his Mormon brethren. The Smith family never made any pretentions to respectability.


I hereby concur in the above statement.



Historian, Dan Vogel clarifies a few things concerning Stoddard's statment: 

"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. John A. Clark, former pastor of Palmyra’s Zion’s Episcopal Church, said that before 1828 Harris “had occasionally attended divine service in our Church” and “had been, if I mistake not, at one period, a member of the Methodist Church, and subsequently had identified himself with the Universalist." Harris himself said that in 1818 “I was Inspired of the Lord and Taught of the Spirit that I Should not Join Eny Church, although I Was anxiousley Sought for by meny of the Sectarians” [Early Mormon Documents Vol. 2, p. 29-30]

Before joining the Church Martin Harris belong to the following churches:

  • Quaker
  • Universalist
  • Restorationist
  • Methodist
  • Episcopal

[Link to original source]

Abigail Harris

28 November, 1833

Abigail (“Nabbie”) Harris (?-?) was married to Peter Harris (17781849), Lucy Harris’s brother. In November 1825 Peter helped Lucy Harris transfer some of Martin’s property into her own name. 

Palmyra, Wayne Co. N.Y. 11th mo[nth]. 28th, 1833. In the early part of the winter in 1828, I made a visit to Martin Harris’ and was joined in company by Jos[eph]. Smith, sen. and his wife. The Gold Bible business, so called, was the topic of conversation, to which I paid particular attention, that I might learn the truth of the whole matter.—They told me that the report that Joseph, jun. had found golden plates, was true, and that he was in Harmony, Pa. translating them—that such plates were in existence, and that Joseph, jun. was to obtain them, was revealed to him by the spirit of one of the Saints that was on this continent, previous to its being discovered by Columbus. Old Mrs. Smith observed that she thought he must be a Quaker, as he was dressed very plain. They said that the plates he then had in possession were but an introduction to the Gold Bible—that all of them upon which the bible was written, were so heavy that it would take four stout men to load them into a cart—that Joseph had also discovered by looking through his stone, the vessel in which the gold was melted from which the plates were made, and also the machine with which they were rolled; he also discovered in the bottom of the vessel three balls of gold, each as large as his fist. The old lady said also, that after the book was translated, the plates were to be publicly exhibited—admitance 25 cents. She calculated it would bring in annually an enormous sum of money—that money would then be very plenty, and the book would also sell for a great price, as it was something entirely new—that they had been commended to obtain all the money they could borrow for present necessity, and to repay with gold. The remainder was to be kept in store for the benefit of their family and children. This and the like conversation detained me until about 11 o’clock. Early the next morning, the mystery of the Spirit being like myself (one of the order called Friends) was reveal[ed] by the following circumstance: The old lady took me into another room, and after closing the door, she said, “have you four or five dollars in money that you can lend until our business is brought to a close? the spirit has said you shall receive four fold.” I told her that when I gave, I did it not expecting to receive again—as for money I had none to lend. I then asked her what her particular want of money was; to which she replied, “Joseph wants to take the stage and come home from Pennsylvania to see what we are all about.” To which I replied, he might look in his stone and save his time and money. The old lady seemed confused, and eft the room, and thus ended the visit.

In the second month following, Martin Harris and his wife were at my house. In conversation about Mormonites, she observed, that she wished her husband would quit them, as she believed it was all false and a delusion. To which I hea[r]d Mr. Harris reply: “What if it is a lie: if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!. [”] I was both an eye and an ear witness of what has been stated above, which is now fresh in my memory, and I give it to the world for the good of mankind. I speak the truth and lie not, God bearing me witness.


[Link to original source]

Lucy Harris

29 November, 1833

Lucy Harris is Martin Harris' wife. She was his first cousin. According to Dan Vogel, Lucy was a "strong-willed, independent women, who in 1825 demanded eighty acres and a house apart from her husband and controlled a portion of his finances. Lucy stronged resented her husband's invovlement with Joseph Smith and is suspected of steal and burning the mansucript that Smith and her husband had produced in 1828." The couple separated when Martin followed Smith to Ohio. 

Being called upon to give a statement to the world of what I know respecting the Gold Bible speculation, and also of the conduct of Martin Harris, my husband, who is a leading character among the Mormons, I do it free from prejudice, realizing that I must give an account at the bar of God for what I say. Martin Harris was once industrious attentive to his domestic concerns, and thought to be worth about ten thousand dollars. He is naturally quick in his temper and in his mad-fits frequently abuses any who may dare to oppose him in his wishes. However strange it may seem, I have been a great sufferer by his unreasonable conduct. At different times while I live with him, he has whipped, kicked, and turned me out of the house. About a year previous to the report being raised that Smith had found gold plates, he became very intimate with the Smith family, and said he believed Joseph could see in his stone any thing he wished. After this he apparently became very sanguine in his belief, and frequently said he would have no one in his house that did not believe in Mormonism; and because I would not give credit to the report he made about the gold plates, he became more austere towards me. In one of his fits of rage he struck me with the but end of a whip, which I think had been used for driving oxen, and was about the size of my thumb, and three or four feet long. He beat me on the head four or five times, and the next day turned me out of doors twice, and beat me in a shameful manner.—The next day I went to the town of Marion, and while there my flesh was black and blue in many places. His main complaint against me was, that I was always trying to hinder his making money.

When he found out that I was going to Mr. Putnam’s, in Marion, he said he was going too, that they had sent for him to pay them a visit. On arriving at Mr. Putnam’s, I asked them if they had sent for Mr. Harris; they replied, they knew nothing about it; he, however, came in the evening. Mrs. Putnam told him never to strike or abuse me any more; he then denied ever striking me; she was however convinced that he lied, as the marks of his beating me were plain to be seen, and remained more than two weeks. Whether the Mormon religion be true or false, I leave the world to judge, for its effects upon Martin Harris have been to make him more cross, turbulent and abusive to me. His whole object was to make money by it. I will give one circumstance in proof of it. One day, while at Peter Harris’ house, I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false; to which he replied, if you would let me alone, I could make money by it.

It is in vain for the Mormons to deny these facts; for they are all well known to most of his former neighbors. The man has now become rather an object of pity; he has spent most of his property, and lost the confidence of his former friends. If he had labored as hard on his farm as he has to make Mormons, he might now be one of the wealthiest farmers in the country. He now spends his time in travelling through the country spreading the delusion of Mormonism, and has no regard whatever for his family.

With regard to Mr. Harris’ being intimate with Mrs. Haggard, as has been reported, it is but justice to myself to state what facts have come within my own observation, to show whether I had any grounds for jealousy or not. Mr. Harris was very intimate with this family, for some time previous to their going to Ohio. They lived a while in a house which he had built for their accommodation, and here he spent the most of his leisure hours; and made her presents of articles from the store and house. He carried these presents in a private manner, and frequently when he went there, he would pretend to be going to some of the neighbors, on an errand, or to be going into the fields.—After getting out of sight of the house, he would steer a straight course for Haggard’s house, especially if Haggard was from home. At times when Haggard was from home, he would go there in the manner above described, and stay till twelve or one o’clo[c]k at night, and sometimes until day light.

If his intentions were evil, the Lord will judge him accordingly, but if good, he did not mean to let his left hand know what his right hand did. The above statement of facts, I affirm to be true.


[Link to original source]

Isaac Hale 

20 March 1834

Isaac Hale was Joseph Smith's father-in-law.

It was said, that Harris wrote down one hundred and sixteen pages, and lost them. Soon after this happened, Martin Harris informed me that he must have a greater witness, and said that he had talked with Joseph about it - Joseph informed him that he could not, or durst not show him the plates, but that he (Joseph) would go into the woods where the Book of Plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his track in the snow, and find the Book, and examine it for himself. Harris informed me afterwards, that he followed Smith's directions, and could not find the Plates, and was still dissatisfied.

The next day after this happened, I went to the house where Joseph Smith Jr., lived, and where he and Harris were engaged in their translation of the Book. Each of them had a written piece of paper which they were comparing, and some of the words were "my servant seeketh a greater witness, but no greater witness can be given him." There was also something said about "three that were to see the thing" - meaning I supposed, the Book of Plates, and that "if the three did not go exactly according to orders, the thing would be taken from them." I enquired whose words they were, and was informed by Joseph or Emma, (I rather think it was the former) that they were the words of Jesus Christ. I told them then, that I considered the whole of it a delusion, and advised them to abandon it.

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From Mormonism Unvailed

E. D. Howe (1834)

 Martin Harris is the next personage of note in the Golden Bible speculation. He is one of the three witnesses to the truth of the book, having been shown the plates through the agency of an Angel, instead of the Prophet Joseph, who always had them in possession. 

Before his acquaintance with the Smith family, he was considered an honest, industrious citizen, by his neighbors. His residence was in the town of Palmyra, where he had accumulated a handsome property. He was naturally of a very visionary turn of mind on the subject of religion, holding one sentiment but a short time. He engaged in the new Bible business with a view of making a handsome sum of money from the sale of the books, as he was frequently heard to say. The whole expense of publishing an edition of 5000 copies, was borne by Martin, to secure the payment of which, he mortgaged his farm for $3000. Having failed in his anticipations about the sale of the books, (the retail price of which they said was fixed by an Angel at $1.75, but afterwards reduced to $1.25, and from that down to any price they could obtain) he adopted Smith as his Prophet, Priest and King. Since that time, the frequent demands upon Martin’s purse have reduced it to a very low state. He seems to have been the soul and body of the whole imposition, and now carries the most incontestible proofs of a religious maniac. He frequently declares that he has conversed with Jesus Christ, Angels and the Devil. Christ he says is the handsomest man he ever saw; and the Devil looks very much like a jack-ass, with very short, smooth hair, similar to that of a mouse. He says he wrote a considerable part of the book, as Smith dictated, and at one time the presence of the Lord was so great, that a screen was hung up between him and the Prophet; at other times the Prophet would sit in a different room, or up stairs, while the Lord was communicating to him the contents of the plates. He does not pretend that he ever saw the wonderful plates but once, although he and Smith were engaged for months in deciphering their contents. He has left his wife to follow the fortunes of Smith. He has frequent fits of prophecying, although they are not held in very high repute among his brethren. A specimen of his prophetic powers we subjoin. They were written for the special information of a friend of his who placed them upon the wall of his office, and are in these words :

“Within four years from September 1832, there will not be one wicked person left in the United States; that the righteous will be gathered to Zion, [Missouri,] and that there will be no President over these United States after that time" -Martin Harris.

“I do hereby assert and declare that in four years from the date hereof, every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States, shall be broken down, and every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human race shall perish. If these things do not take place, I will hereby consent to have my hand separa¬ted from my body." -Martin Harris.”

Martin is an exceedingly fast talker. He frequently gathers a crowd around him in bar-rooms and in the streets.— Here he appears to be in his element, answering and explaining all manner of dark and abstruse theological questions, from Genesis to Revelations; declaring that every thing has been revealed to him by the “power of God.” During these flights of fancy, he frequently prophecies of the coming of Christ, the destruction of the world, and the damnation of certain individuals. At one time he declared that Christ would be on earth within fifteen years, and all who did not believe the book of Mormon would be destroyed.

He is the source of much trouble and perplexity to the honest portion of his brethren, and would undoubtedly long since have been cast off by Smith, were it not for his money, and the fact that he is one of the main pillars of the Mormon fabric. Martin is generally believed, by intelligent people, to be laboring under a partial derangement; and that any respectable jury would receive his testimony, in any case, of ever so trifling a nature, we do not believe; yet, the subjects of the delusion think him a competent witness to establish miracles of the most unreasonable kind...

[Link to original source]

Letter from Stephen Burnett to Br. Johnson

15 April, 1838

 ...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...

-Letter from Stephen Burnett to "Bro. Johnson," April 15, 1838, in Joseph Smith Letter Book, p. 2

[Link to original source]

Elder's Journal

August 1838

Granny Parrish [Warren Farr Parrish] had a few others who acted as lackies, such as Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Cyrus B S/nalling, ete.but they are so Fur beneath contempt that a nouce of them would be too great a sacrifice for a gentleman to make. A

Having said so much, we leave this hope full company, in the new bond of union which they have formed with the priests. While they were held under restraints by the church, and had to behave with a degree of propriety, at least, the priests manifested the greatest opposition to them. But no sooner were they excluded from the fellowship of the church and gave loose, to all kind of abominations, swearing, lying, cheating, swindling, drinking, with every species of debauchery, then the priests began to extol them to the heavens for their piety and virtue, and made friends with them, and called them the finest fellows in the world.

[Link to original source]

John A. Clark 

31 August, 1840

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.”

[Link to original source]

Pomeroy Tucker


How to reconcile the act of Harris in signing his name to such a statement, in view of the characterof honesty which had always been conceded to him, could never be easily explained. In reply to uncharitable suggestions of his neighbors, he used to practise a good deal of his characteristic jargon about "seeing with the spiritual eye," and the like. As regards the other witnesses associated with Harris, their averments in this or any other matter could excite no more surprise than did those of Smith himself. 

Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism by Pomeroy Tucker, 1867, p. 71

[Link to original source]

Ronald W. Walker

BYU Professor

“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.” 

– BYU professor Ronald W. Walker, 
“Martin Harris: Mormonism’s Early Convert,” p.34-35

Brigham Young


“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.”

Brigham Young Addresses, Vol. 4, 1860-1864, Elden J. Watson, p.196-199 

Did Martin Harris ever deny
his testimony of the Golden Plates?

While Martin Harris never denied his testimony or belief that the Book of Mormon was of God, he stated on numerous ocassions that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather by faith. 

After giving his "testimony" in the Three Witnesses Statement, Martin Harris joined the church started by James Strang. For a time he followed William McLellin. Later he followed a self-proclaimed Mormon prophet named Gladden Bishop. Both of these men claimed to have plates, a Urim and Thummim, and to be receiving revelation from the Lord. Martin Harris was one of Gladden Bishop's witnesses to his claims.

Gladden Bishop


Gladden bishop had joined the church in 1832. In 1835 he was disfellowshipped because ""it was proved that he had erred in spirit and in doctrine, and was considerably inclined to enthusiasm, and much lifted up." Bishop was reinstated later that year. In 1844, he was excommunicated for heresy. At the church trial that led to Bishop's final excommunication, Smith commented that Bishop "was a fool and had not sens [sic] sufficient for the Holy Ghost to enlighten him."

Bishop claimed to have the following items:

  • the golden plates that Joseph Smith used
  • The Urim and Thummim which assisted Joseph Smith
  • the breatplate of Moroni
  • the Liahona
  • the sword of Laban
  • a small silver "Crown of Israel" representing the Aaronic Priesthood
  • a larger golden "Crown of Glory" representing the Melchizedek priesthood
  • the 116 pages lost by Martin Harris

[Link to original source]

Clark Braden & E. L. Kelly


Harris declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon. He told Deacon Morley, Maj. Gilbert, Mr. Markell, Mrs. Milliken, Mr. Milliken, Mrs. Whitney, Mrs. Hansbury, and many others that he did not see the plates with his natural sight. He saw them by faith. That is he did not see them, but thought or believed he saw them. He told Mr. and Mrs. Hansbury that he did not see the plates. He saw the box that they were in and heard them rattle. He knew Joe had them.

Public Discussion of the Issues Between the RLDS Church and the Church of Christ, 1884, p. 173

[Link to original source]

 "No man heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates; nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the administration of Joseph Smith, Jr."

Martin Harris
[Journal History, 1 June 1877]


Knowing the character, disposition and magic worldview of Martin Harris it is any wonder that people struggle to accept his testimony as credible?

Martin Harris believed in seer stones, demons, that Jesus could possess the body of a deer, he abused and cheated on his wife, his aim was to make money from the Golden Bible venture. He joined five churches before Mormonism and at least three while he was departed from the main body of the church. Despite his testmony to the contrary, many people did hear him deny that he saw the golden plates with his physical eyes. How is this man to be trusted as a witnesses to the Book of Mormon golden plates?

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