Question: How old was Peter Whitmer, Jr. , one of the eight witnesses, when he died in Missouri?
Answer: Peter Whitmer, Jr. was born September 27, 1809, in Fayette, Seneca, New York to Peter Whitmer, Sr. and Mary Musselman. They were the parents of eight children: Christian, Jacob, John, David, Catherine (who married Hyrum Page), Peter Jr., Nancy (died as a baby), and Elizabeth Ann (who married Oliver Cowdery).
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. Peter Jr. was baptized on June 1, 1929, and was confirmed on April 6, 1830, the day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized. For an occupation, Peter became an accomplished tailor.
The first conference with contemporary minutes was held at the Whitmer home on June 9, 1830, with six elders–then the highest office. Joseph Smith and Oliver were listed as senior to the others and three of the remaining four were Whitmers: David, who had brought the translators to Fayette; John, who had been an important scribe, and Peter Jr., who had assisted during the first printing of the Book of Mormon in the winter of 1829–30. These three men were also singled out with special revelations during the translation of the Book of Mormon, and were given special missionary callings by revelation during 1830. The revelation for Peter Jr. is in D&C 16.
Of the eight Whitmer children, David became one of the three witnesses. Christian, Jacob, John, and Peter Jr. became four of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. One son-in-law, Hyrum Page, also became one of the eight witnesses, and one son-in-law (Oliver Cowdery) became one of the three witnesses. It has been said that more members of their family saw the gold plates than any other family, including the Joseph Smith Sr. family.
These first missionaries to Missouri included Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jr.; and their phenomenal success at Kirtland, Ohio, soon led the whole Church to migrate there. Their work was written in fire in the hearts of converts, but a precious single-page journal from Peter Whitmer, Jr., shows his spirit as he “declared the Book of Mormon’ to Indians and the “fulness of the gospel’ during the conversion of 130 in Ohio. The hardships of that winter in Missouri he passes by, though mentioning his sickness on arriving home: “I … was taken sick with the ague and fever for the space of four weeks.’ Here we see the personal cost of early missionary labors.
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. Peter Jr. married Vashit Higley on October 14, 1832 in Jackson, Missouri. She was the last of eleven children of Josiah Higley III and Deliverance Carpenter.
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. Oliver and John Whitmer were assigned to “carry’ the revelations to be printed in Independence, a project involving “the foundation of the Church and the salvation of the world.’ 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 everything a short two years later when mobs drove out the Jackson County Saints.
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.
Eight Witnesses Monument
On September 22, 1836, Peter Jr., died within days of turning twenty-seven, leaving his pregnant wife and two small daughters. He was buried in the Arthur Cemetery in Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, next to his brother Christian Whitmer.
Note: “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.’ (Richard L. Anderson)
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
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