Question: How did the erroneous story of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright develop over time?


Question: How did the erroneous story of the attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright develop over time?

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin

Hiram Page’s 1848 account of the Canadian Mission trip was sent to William McLellin. Because it was private correspondence, its existence and details were unknown until the 1930’s, when the letter was donated to the RLDS Church’s archives as part of a larger collection of McLellin materials.[1] The content of the letter was not broadly known until after the document was stolen in 1985, but a copy of the original was donated by a private collector around the year 2000 who had made a copy prior to the theft of the original.

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada

In 1872 William McLellin wrote about the journey to Canada.[2] He had no first hand knowledge of the event, as he did not join the Church until 1831. He apparently got the description of the event from Martin Harris, who was likewise not there and had no first hand knowledge. From the published account, McLellin ignores Hiram Page’s 1848 letter, and asserts that all involved in the Canadian Mission viewed it as a complete failure. Since all involved were dead, and the only known account by one of the participants, who obviously viewed it as a success, was in McLellin's possession, he apparently did not worry about being corrected.

In about 1881 J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event

In 1881 or shortly thereafter a man by the name of J.L. Traughber wrote a letter to a German correspondent, who published it in 1886, retelling McLellin’s second or third hand knowledge of the event.[3]

In 1886, David Whitmer mentions the trip to sell the copyright for the first time

Beginning in 1886, David Whitmer reports for the first time of the Canadian Mission.[4] Initially Whitmer reports the event in the third person, but by the time of his 1887 pamphlet An Address to All Believers in Christ, 57 years after the event occurred, he reports to having been a first hand witness, and Joseph Smith having given a false prophecy. Whitmer states,

Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copyright of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copyright, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.

Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copyright, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copyright was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.[5]

Whitmer was looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet

One must remember that not only was Whitmer looking for evidence to support his conclusion that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet, but he also wrote with no fear of contradiction, as all the witnesses to the event were dead.

Notes

  1. Ibid., page 257
  2. William McLellin to Joseph Smith III, September 8, 1872. See Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, page 328.
  3. John L. Traughber correspondence, which appears to date from 1881. Dan Vogel’s editor comments in “Early Mormon Documents”, Vol. 5, page 333, explain his assumption this was written to James T. Cobb. See page 334 for relevant statements concerning the Mission to Canada.
  4. David Whitmer Interview with Omaha (NE) Herald, Oct. 10, 1886, as quoted by Dan Vogel in Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, pages 174-181. See page 180 for relevant material.
  5. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).