Question: Was Christian Whitmer one of the eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon?
Answer: Christian Whitmer was born on January 18, 1798, in Pennsylvania to Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman, the oldest of their eight children. He removed while quite young with his parents from Pennsylvania to Seneca County, western New York. Here he met and married Anne Schott on February 22, 1825, and established himself as a shoemaker.
Christian was commissioned ensign in his New York militia regiment in 1825 and was elected one of the six town constables of Fayette in both 1828 and 1829.
Christian became one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Of the Book of Mormon’s eleven witnesses, seven were Whitmers by blood or marriage. The Book of Mormon translation was finished at the Whitmer home in Fayette, and near it the Three Witnesses saw Moroni and the plates. There the organization of the Church and early New York conferences were held, and half of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants from the New York period (twenty) were received there. “Joseph Smith’s family had carried the first burden in inquiry and persecution in the gospel’s restoration, but the Whitmers were the family that nourished the Church.’ (Richard L. Anderson)
Christian was among the number who first embraced the fullness of the gospel as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, together with his wife, in Seneca Lake on April 11, 1830, by Elder Oliver Cowdery. This was only five days after the Church was organized. Christian received a license to preach the Gospel on June 9, 1830 in Fayette Township, Seneca, New York.
As early as June 1830, Christian held the office of Teacher in the Church and was ordained an Elder in 1831. In that same year he removed with the rest of the Whitmer family and other Saints from New York State to Ohio. The following year they moved to Jackson County, Missouri, where Christian, at a council meeting held September 15, 1832, was appointed to preside over the Elders in Jackson County. In a council of High Priests held August 21, 1833, he was ordained a High Priest by Simeon Carter.
Christian passed through all the scenes of persecutions and mobbings which took place in that part of the country until he, in connection with the rest of the Saints, was driven out of Jackson County in November 1833. He settled temporarily in Clay County, where he was chosen as one of the High Councilors of the Church in Missouri on July 3, 1834. This position he occupied until his death.
After Jackson County was designated the gathering place, the Whitmers moved there, establishing the “Whitmer Settlement.’ By then there were many Whitmer households. David had married in 1830 and the youngest, Elizabeth Ann, would marry Oliver Cowdery in 1832. Peter Whitmer, Jr. and John would marry in 1832 and 1833.
Conference minutes at Hiram, Ohio, on 12 November 1831 give special insight into the family’s migration to Missouri. The Prophet and Oliver Cowdery were present, along with John, David, and Peter Whitmer, Jr. The assembly voted that “inheritances’ in Zion be given to some who had given much to the kingdom–among these were Christian, Jacob, David and Peter, Jr., and Hiram Page. The Whitmers lost all a short two years later when mobs drove them out with the other Jackson County Saints.
Christian Whitmer was threatened at gunpoint and Hiram Page was severely beaten during these mobbings, but the family’s faith did not weaken under persecution. David Whitmer, along with other leading Mormons, was herded into Independence Square “at the point of a bayonet.’ The mob’s leader threatened his Mormon prisoners with “instant death unless they denied the Book of Mormon and confessed it to be a fraud.’ The clicks of guns being cocked backed up his ultimatum, but the special witness to the Book of Mormon met that challenge dramatically: “David Whitmer, hereupon, lifted up his hands and bore witness that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God. The mob then let them go.’ Years later David recalled the episode: “The testimony I gave to that mob made them fear and tremble, and I escaped from them.’
The exiled Mormons temporarily moved to Clay County, north across the Missouri River. In this location, both Christian and Peter, Jr., the oldest and youngest Whitmer sons, served as High Councilors. But the burden of persecution and exposure was heavy. Peter, Jr. died within days of turning twenty-six, leaving a small family.
Christian Whitmer died two months later, at age thirty-seven, on November 27, 1835, leaving a wife but no children. His brother John, then editing the church newspaper in Kirtland, records: “He died of severe affliction upon one of his legs, which he bore for a long time with great patience. He has gone home to his Creator rejoicing in the new and everlasting covenant.’ He was buried in the Arthur Cemetery in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, where there is a monument to the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
After Christian died, his wife returned to her parents in New York State, where she married again, but was divorced from her second husband. She died in November 1866 in Seneca County, New York.
Source: Joseph Smith Papers.org; “Christian Whitmer,’ Family Search.org; Clay County Missouri Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate V 2 No 3 Dec 1835 page 249; “The Whitmers: A Family That Nourished the Church,’ August 1979, Ensign, by Richard Lloyd Anderson; LDS Biographical Encyclopedia; FindAGrave.com