Forgeries related to Mormonism/Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates/Accounts

Accounts of the recovery of the Kinderhook plates

Accounts

There exist several accounts that describe the plates. Not all of the account agree on the details.

Clayton's account details the following:

I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County by some persons who were digging in a mound. They found a skeleton about 6 feet from the surface of the earth which was 9 foot high. [At this point there is a tracing of a plate in the journal.] The plates were on the breast of the skeleton. This diagram shows the size of the plates being drawn on the edge of one of them. They are covered with ancient characters of language containing from 30 to 40 on each side of the plates. Prest J. has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharoah king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth. [1]

There are other accounts as well, although some of the details are not consistent with Clayton's description.

Parley P. Pratt's account reads:

Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah. His bones were found in the same vase (made of Cement). Part of the bones were 15 ft. underground. ... A large number of Citizens have seen them and compared the characters with those on the Egyptian papyrus which is now in this city. [2]

The Quincy Whig's comments read:

Finally, a company of ten or twelve repaired to the mound, and assisted in digging out the shaft commenced by Wiley. After penetrating the mound about 11 feet, they came to a bed of limestone, that had apparently been subjected to the action of fire, they removed the stone, which were small and easy to handle, to the depth of two feet more, when they found SIX BRASS PLATES, secured and fastened together by two iron wires, but which were so decayed, that they readily crumbled to dust upon being handled. The plates were so completely covered with rust as almost to obliterate the characters inscribed upon them; but after undergoing a chemical process, the inscriptions were brought out plain and distinct... [3]

And finally, W. Fugate, one of the perpetrators of the hoax, much later wrote:

Our plans worked admirably. A certain Sunday was appointed for the digging. The night before, Wiley went to the Mound where he had previously dug to the depth of about eight feet, there being a flat rock that sounded hollow beneath, and put them under it. On the following morning quite a number of citizens were there to assist in the search, there being two Mormon elders present (Marsh and Sharp). The rock was soon removed but some time elapsed before the plates were discovered. I finally picked them up and exclaimed, 'A piece of pot metal!' Fayette Grubb snatched them from me and struck them against the rock and they fell to pieces. Dr. Harris examined them and said they had hieroglyphics on them. He took acid and removed the rust and they were soon out on exhibition.
Under this rock (which) was dome-like in appearance (and) about three feet in diameter, there were a few bones in the last stage of decomposition, also a few pieces of pottery and charcoal. There was no skeleton found. [4]

Comparison of Clayton and Pratt Accounts of Kinderhook Plates

Story Element Clayton Account Clayton Correct? Pratt Account Pratt Correct?
Skeleton Yes Incorrect Yes Incorrect
Size skeleton 9 feet Incorrect Normal size Incorrect
Depth buried 6 feet Incorrect 15 feet Incorrect
Location plates On breast of skeleton Incorrect No mention N/A
Dig site Adams county Incorrect Pike county Correct
Cement vase No mention Correct Mention Incorrect

Notes


  1. William Clayton Diary, 1 May 1842. Printed in William Clayton and George D. Smith (editor), An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1995), 100.
  2. Parley P. Pratt letter to John Van Cott, Sunday, 7 May 1843, original in John Van Cott correspondence, Church Archives.
  3. Quincy Whig Wednesday, 3 May 1842.
  4. W. Fugate to Mr. Cobb, 30 June 1879, Mound Station, Illinois and Fugate affidavit of same date; cited in Welby W. Ricks, "The Kinderhook Plates," reprinted from Improvement Era (September 1962).