Witnesses of the Gold Plates of the Book of Mormon
June 2024

Witnesses of the Gold Plates of the Book of Mormon

In addition to the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, whose testimonies appear in the introduction to the Book of Mormon, several others saw or felt the gold plates.

In 1823, when the angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith, he told Joseph about the gold plates, saying “there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates. … He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith—History 1:34).

Four years later, on September 22, 1827, Moroni committed the plates into his charge. As Joseph later explained: “He told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken … I should not show them to any person; … only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them” (Joseph Smith—History 1:42).

Hill Cumorah

The Hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith received the gold plates from Moroni.

The plates were sacred, and Joseph did not show them to others without permission; however, many individuals felt the plates while covered and even heard the metal sounds of the plates. When the translation was finished, the Three and the Eight Witnesses saw the plates uncovered, and the Eight Witnesses handled them uncovered. The plates were, therefore, witnessed with three senses: seeing, touching, and hearing.

  • Witnesses saw the full stack of plates, as well as the rings that bound it; the sealed and unsealed portions, as well as the seal binding the sealed portion; each of the individual plates of the unsealed portion; and the engraved inscriptions on each side of each leaf.

  • Witnesses touched the plates when they hefted the full stack in their arms to assess its weight, thumbed the side of the stack like thumbing the pages of a book, and felt every single plate in the unsealed portion as they turned the leaves one by one.

  • Witnesses heard the metal plates rustle, tinkle, and clink when moved.


Locations from top: Manchester, New York; Fayette, New York; Harmony, Pennsylvania.

Over time, the plates were witnessed in three places: Manchester, New York; Harmony, Pennsylvania; and Fayette, New York.

Witnesses in Manchester

home of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith

Home of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, near the Sacred Grove. Joseph and Emma were living there in 1827, when Joseph first received the gold plates.

The Smith family and others in their area were given opportunities to heft the ancient record and feel its individual plates at the Smith family home in Manchester Township, New York. Joseph’s younger brother William, age 16 in 1827, had a vivid memory of witnessing the plates, which he later shared in a sermon: “When the plates were brought in they were wrapped up in a tow frock. My father then put them into a pillow case. Father said, ‘What, Joseph, can we not see them?’ [Joseph responded,] ‘No. … I was forbidden to show them until they are translated, but you can feel them.’ We handled them and could tell what they were. … Could tell whether they were round or square. Could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him). One could easily tell that they were not a stone, hewn out to deceive, or even a block of wood.”

On another occasion, William provided further information: “I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back.” He also wrote that in addition to feeling the individual plates and rings, he had hefted the entire artifact: “I was permitted to lift them. … They weighed about 60 pounds according to the best of my judgment.” Joseph’s younger sister Katherine, age 14, also got to hold the plates the day Joseph brought them home. She “rippled her fingers up the edge of the plates and felt that they were separate metal plates and heard the tinkle of sound that they made.”

Lucy Mack Smith

Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith

Mother Lucy later shared her experiences with a neighbor, Sally Bradford Parker, who wrote: “I asked her if she saw the plates. She said no, it was not for her to see them, but she hefted and handled them and I believed all she said for I lived by her eight months and she was one of the best of women.” Though she never saw the plates uncovered, Lucy was certain of their authenticity and the validity of their translation. She remembered being visited by a deacon from one of the local churches who asked to see the plates. When she refused to produce the record, he asked her to stop talking to others about it. Lucy replied, “If you should … burn me at the stake, I would declare that Joseph has got that record.”

Others in the Palmyra and Manchester area, where the Smith family lived, were permitted to heft the plates while they were stored inside a box or in some other kind of container. Martin Harris reported that his wife, Lucy Harris, and one of their daughters—probably Lucy or Duty—visited the Smiths and were allowed to heft the plates. Both told Martin that they were quite heavy. Then Martin Harris himself visited the Smiths and had the same experience.

Martin Harris related that Alvah Beman, who lived in the area as well, was also permitted to heft the plates in a box and “said he heard them jink.” The plates had presumably moved when the box was handed to Alvah, making the sound of clinking metal.

Witnesses in Harmony

By December 1827 there had been several attempts to steal the plates, so Joseph decided to move with Emma to the home of her parents in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania.

Emma Smith

Emma Smith

When Joseph and Emma arrived, Joseph allowed Isaac Hale, Emma’s father, to heft the plates in a box. Isaac later stated, “I was allowed to feel the weight of the box, and they gave me to understand, that the book of plates was then in the box.” Yet he was unconvinced and dissatisfied with the situation. He told Joseph to either show him the plates or remove them from his house. Joseph hid the plates in the nearby woods until he and Emma moved into their own home on the Hale property.

An adjacent farm was owned by Joseph and Sarah McKune. Their granddaughter later reported that Joseph McKune had been allowed “to take in his hands a pillow-case in which the supposed saintly treasure was wrapped, and to feel through the cloth that it had leaves.”

In Harmony, Joseph Smith began his translation of the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. His initial scribes were his wife, Emma, and his friend Martin Harris. Like members of the Harris and Smith families, Emma hefted the plates, as she “would lift and move them” while cleaning. She also felt the individual leaves and heard the sound they made when moved, describing them in this way: “I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.”

Witnesses in Fayette

By the end of May 1829, the same kind of persecution Joseph had experienced in Manchester began occurring in Harmony, and Joseph realized he would need to move again to complete the translation. Along with his wife, Emma, and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph was taken into the household of some acquaintances: Peter and Mary Whitmer of Fayette Township, New York.

Mary Whitmer was shown the plates by a heavenly messenger. As far as we know, she never committed her experience to writing. But Mary shared her experience with her children and grandchildren, who later shared it with others. Her grandson John C. Whitmer related, “I have heard my grandmother (Mary M. Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel.”

Mary Whitmer being shown the gold plates

Her son David said that “she was met out near the yard by [an] old man.” Grandson John said this man was “carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack” and that “at first she was a little afraid of him.” However, “when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with unexpressible joy and satisfaction.”

John provided further detail on the wonderful witness of the sacred record that Mary received at that time: “He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates. … This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; the personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell.”

John stated: “I knew my grandmother to be a good, noble and truthful woman, and I have not the least doubt of her statement in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true. She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.”

Mary’s son David would become one of the Three Witnesses, who were shown the plates by an angel when the translation was complete. Moreover, Mary’s other sons would be among the Eight Witnesses to whom Joseph Smith showed the plates, who got to heft and handle the plates uncovered and to turn the plates and observe their ancient engravings.

boy reading a book

Our Own Witness

In matters of faith and history, many people want more evidence. Some might wish that the gold plates were available for all to view in a world-renowned museum. Though Joseph Smith returned the gold plates to the angel Moroni, and we do not get to personally inspect them, we have the testimonies of those who did.

The history of the plates fulfills the divine law of witnesses: “The Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word” (2 Nephi 27:14). The men and women who saw and touched and heard the plates bore witness to the material reality of the plates and their inscriptions, their ancient appearance, and the heavenly approval of their divine translation.

As with the Three and Eight Witnesses, the testimonies of the other witnesses are not meant to convert us to gospel living. Rather, the testimonies of all the various witnesses provide a reason for us to take the Book of Mormon seriously, to read it, and to act on Moroni’s promise: “When ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4).

This promise is addressed to every person in the latter days. It is for you. Maybe this promise has already been fulfilled in your life. Maybe the words of those who saw the gold plates are calling you now to read the sacred scripture that was translated from their engravings. The men and women who saw and held the plates stayed true to their witness and we can do the same. We can hold our witness sacred, and we can share it with others.


  1. William B. Smith, sermon, June 8, 1884, as reported by C. E. Butterworth, in “The Old Soldier’s Testimony,” Saints’ Herald, Oct. 4, 1884, 643–44.

  2. William Smith, interviewed by E[dmund]. C. Briggs and transcribed by John W. Peterson, in J[ohn]. W. Peterson, letter, Bradtville, WI, to “[the] Editor [of Zion’s] Ensign,” Independence, MO, [October or November 1893], as published in “W[illia]m B. Smith’s Last Statement,” Zion’s Ensign, Jan. 13, 1894, 6.

  3. William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (1883), 12.

  4. See H[erbert]. S. Salisbury, interviewed by I[saac]. Birkenhead Ball, Lafayette, CA, Aug. 31, 1954, “The Prophet’s Sister Testifies She Lifted the B. of M. Plates,” [1], Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  5. Sally Bradford Parker, Sunbury, OH, to John Kempton [and Hannah Bradford Kempton], Farmington, ME, Aug. 26, 1838, p. [2], Doris Whittier Pierce File, Delaware, Ohio; spelling modernized; transcribed in Janiece L. Johnson, “‘The Scriptures Is a Fulfilling’: Sally Parker’s Weave,” BYU Studies, vol. 44, no. 2 (2005), 115–16.

  6. Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 163,

  7. See Martin Harris, interviewed by Joel Tiffany, in “MORMONISM—No. 2,” Tiffany’s Monthly, May–July 1859, 168.

  8. See Martin Harris, in “MORMONISM—No. 2,” 169; see also David B. Dille, statement, Sept. 15, 1853, as published in “Additional Testimony of Martin Harris (One of the Three Witnesses) to the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon,” Millennial Star, Aug. 20, 1859, 545.

  9. Martin Harris, in “MORMONISM—No. 2,” 167.

  10. See Isaac Hale, Statement, Mar. 20, 1834, as published in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian, May 1, 1834, p. [1].

  11. “Early Days of Mormonism,” Chenango Union, Apr. 12, 1877, 3.

  12. See Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), 49–51.

  13. See Joseph Smith III, letter, Lamoni, IA, to Mrs. E. Horton, Chicago, IL, Mar. 7, 1900, p. [3], Miscellany, Community of Christ Library and Archives, Community of Christ International Headquarters, Independence, MO.

  14. Emma Hale Smith, interviewed by Joseph Smith III, in “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, 290.

  15. The quotations and information regarding Mary Whitmer are drawn from accounts of interviews with David and John: Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, letter, New York City, NY, to Pres. John Taylor and Council of the Twelve, Sept. 17, 1878, 7–10, in Joseph F. Smith Papers, 1854–1918, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Andrew Jenson, “The Eight Witnesses,” The Historical Record: Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters, Oct. 1888, 621; Edward Stevenson, “The Thirteenth Witness to the Plates of the Book of Mormon,” Juvenile Instructor, Jan. 1, 1889, 23.

  16. See previous note.

  17. Like Mary, the Three Witnesses were shown the plates in Fayette. Soon thereafter, the Eight Witnesses saw and held the plates in Manchester. (See Saints, 1:73–75.)