Question: Was Jacob Whitmer one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon?
Answer: Jacob Whitmer was born on January 27, 1800, in Harrisburg, Dauphin, Pennsylvania, the second son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Elsa Musselman. Shortly before 1810 the Peter Whitmer family had moved from Pennsylvania to the New York farmlands of Fayette township.
Peter and Mary had eight children: Christian, Jacob, John, David, Catherine, Peter Jr., Nancy (died as a baby), and Elizabeth Ann.
Richard Lloyd Anderson, a professor of religion and history at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, wrote in an Ensign article in August 1979 about the Whitmer family:
“By 1820, Peter had already paid $1,050, about half of the purchase price of their 100-acre farm, where the Church would be later organized. Farming was an operation that required the industry of the entire family…The decade between 1820 and 1830 saw the growth of the family and their community activities. There were three weddings in 1825: Christian and Jacob married sisters from a prominent family of the area, and Catherine married Hiram Page, later a witness of the Book of Mormon.’ Jacob married Elizabeth Ann Schott on September 29, 1825 in Fayette, Seneca, New York. They would have six children together.
“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. David later told how he had met Oliver Cowdery on a visit to the Palmyra area. Both were intensely curious about the reports of new scripture written on gold plates. As Oliver went to Pennsylvania, where the young Prophet was working on the translation, he stopped at the Whitmer house.’ …
Jacob was one of eight witnesses to the “golden plates.” In June 1829, he signed a statement testifying that he saw and handled the golden plates; the source from which Joseph Smith Jr. translated the Book of Mormon. Jacob Whitmer was baptized the day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, on April 6, 1830.
“After Jackson County was designated the gathering place, the Whitmers moved there, establishing the ‘Whitmer Settlement.’ …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 out the Jackson County Saints.’
“Problems arose in Missouri where the Whitmers had pioneered the new Mormon county of Caldwell. David presided over the Missouri Church with John as his counselor. But great dissatisfaction arose from what seemed profiteering in the land sales…The actual issues discussed in the 1838 excommunication trials of Oliver Cowdery, David, and John Whitmer are not as central as their attitudes…Thus personal pride was the real force in estranging prominent members of this valuable family…
“Later that year, the Church was forced to migrate to Nauvoo. The Whitmers did not go…Father and Mother Whitmer died in Richmond in 1854 and 1856. Jacob Whitmer, Book of Mormon witness and Missouri high councilor, became a farmer and shoemaker in Richmond and was buried near his parents in 1856.’ (Richard L. Anderson, Ensign)
“Hiram Page and Jacob Whitmer were not formally dealt with, but they took sides with their relatives and from that time were alienated from the Church. Because the Whitmer group had sacrificed so much, it is understandable that each of these men was angered and permanently hurt at often inconsiderate treatment from former friends. This is not to justify their very real rebellion against priesthood authority, but to observe that their steadfastness in testimony is remarkable in face of their resentment against former associates.’ (Richard L. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Whitneses, p. 127-128)
Jacob settled in Richmond, Missouri, and he faced life in 1838 with few assets and a family of seven. From 1840 to 1843, Jacob was virtually an invalid and depended on his sons. A shoemaker by trade, he worked from 1843 to 1845 to buy a small acreage and erect a shoe shop on it. He would farm during the summer and work in his shop during the winter. At the time of his death, Jacob had 113 acres. Although alienated from his Mormon associates for eighteen years, Jacob never waned in his conviction regarding the plates. Jacob Whitmer died on April 21, 1856, in Ray, Missouri, and was buried in the Richmond Pioneer Cemetery.
Source: Excerpts from “The Whitmers: A Family That Nourished the Church,’ August 1979 Ensign, By Richard Lloyd Anderson, FamilySearch.org; Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, by Richard Lloyd Anderson; FindAGrave.com
Note: Richard L. Anderson wrote:
Eight Witnesses Monument, Liberty, Missouri
“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; near it the Three Witnesses saw Moroni and the plates; there the organization of the Church and early New York conferences were held; half of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants from the New York period–twenty–were received there, a record unequaled by any other dwelling in the state. 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.’