Question: What happened to Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery after her husband, Oliver Cowdery, died?
Answer: Elizabeth Ann Whitmer was born 22 January 1815 in Fayette, Seneca, New York, the last of eight children born to Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Elsa Musselman. Elizabeth had five brothers and two sisters. Her two sisters were Catherine and Nancy. Nancy, died as a baby. Her five brothers were Christian, Jacob, John, David, and Peter Jr.
“The Whitmers first knew Joseph Smith in 1829, a time when David, John, Peter, Jr., and Elizabeth Ann were still living in the parents’ home with the married sons and daughter nearby.’ (Richard Anderson)
Elizabeth Ann married Oliver Cowdery in 1832. They had six children. Elizabeth’s oldest daughter, Maria, was born in Kirtland in August 1835. Her next daughter, Elizabeth, was born in November 1836 in Kirtland, but died in May 1837. Her next child, Josephine, was born in Ohio in May 1838, but died in October 1844. She then had a son, Oliver Peter, who was born in Ohio August 8, 1840 but died August 13, 1840. Her next two little daughters, Adelline, born in 1844, and Julia, born in 1846, both died soon after birth.
Elizabeth’s husband Oliver Cowdery, and her brother, David, became two of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Four of her brothers, Christian, Jacob, Peter, and John became four of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Her sister’s husband, Hiram Page, also became one of the eight witnesses. Her mother, Mary, was also shown the gold plates.
Elizabeth stood by her husband as he supported the Prophet Joseph through many days and years of trial and persecution. In 1838 when Oliver was excommunicated from the Church in Missouri, due to misunderstandings, Elizabeth stayed with him.
“Much more is known of Elizabeth Ann Cowdery, who followed her excommunicated husband to three locations as he practiced law in their decade out of the Church. She returned with Oliver to Council Bluffs and a reconciliation with the General Authorities there in 1848, her husband displaying a cooperative spirit that would have prevented his excommunication in 1838. Real and imagined hurts were set aside. But this great-souled man died of a chronic lung condition within two years of his rebaptism, leaving Elizabeth and his surviving daughter Maria.
“They lived for a time with their Whitmer relatives; then her daughter, Maria married Dr. Charles Johnson, who admired both women and respected their religion. Mother and daughter shared the same home until their deaths within days of each other in 1892. William Lang, prominent Ohio attorney who began his career in Oliver’s office, called Mrs. Cowdery ‘a beautiful woman, whose quiet nature, sweet temper and kind disposition won her friends wherever she was known.’ A Mormon missionary, James H. Hart, found her ‘well-preserved’ at age sixty-eight and added that ‘in features she resembles very much her brother David.’ To the end of her life Elizabeth’s visitors found that she shared her husband’s testimony. A rare letter from her proudly insists that he ‘always without one doubt or [shadow] of turning affirmed the divinity and truth of the Book of Mormon’.’ (Richard L Anderson)
Elizabeth and Marie share a gravestone in Southwest City, Missouri
Elizabeth lived forty-two years longer than her husband. She lived with her daughter, Maria and her husband, Dr. Charles Johnson throughout those years. Elizabeth died on January 7, 1892 in Southwest City, McDonald, Missouri. Her daughter, Maria, died two days later on January 9, 1892. They are buried in the Southwest City Cemetery. There were no children listed for Maria and her husband in any of the census records.
Memorial placed in 2001
“Charles Johnson was born in the year 1826, in Yates county, New York. He attended a medical school in New York, from which he received his diploma. The school was subsequently moved to Philadelphia. He began the practice of medicine in 1817, in New York state, but has practiced, also, in Indiana and Illinois. In 1856 he came to Richmond, Ray county, Missouri, and continued the practice of his profession until 1874, in which year, on account of failing health, he moved to Colorado, and continued the practice of medicine at Silver Spring ranch, near Colorado Springs. In the spring of 1878 he went to Wilson county, Kansas, where he owned a farm, and practiced about one year, after which, in the spring of 1881, he returned to his former home, Richmond, Missouri, where he intends spending the remainder of his days. Doctor Johnson was married in September, 1856, to Maria L. Cowdery, of Ray county. She was born in Ohio. He never belonged to any church society, religious or secret organization of any kind.’ (History of Ray County, Missouri, p. 566)
Given by Lorene Elizabeth (Burdick) Pollard. Place: Southwest Cemetery, Southwest, Missouri Date: September 19, 2001:
“Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery, on this site she lies in restful slumber. One of the forgotten ones. Her grave site remained in obscurity for over 100 years.
This gateway and Memorial Plaque are erected lest future generations forget her contributions to the establishment of the early Mormon Church. She was in attendance when the church was organized on April 6, 1830 and was one of the first baptized members.
“She married on December 18, 1832 to one the leaders of the church, Oliver Cowdery.
The love story of Oliver and Elizabeth is a sweet yet tragic one. They spent much of their marriage separated not by choice, but by circumstances, as her husband assisted in the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“To their marriage was born 6 children, only one of whom lived to maturity. She [Marie] is buried now at her mother’s side. All the other children died tragically while young. Her life was one of great sorrows and persecutions for her religious beliefs. Yet she always held true to them. It is hoped that this memorial will remind all who read it of the courage of these early pioneer women separated from their loved ones in life, but, triumphantly reunited with them in Heaven.’
Source: FamilySearch.org, Talk at Dedication of Elizabeth (Whitmer) Cowdery Gravesite.