Monday, June 6, 2016

More on David Whitmer, Zina Young, and Cumorah

More on David Whitmer, Zina Young, and Cumorah

David Whitmer, circa 1855
(photo links to JSP)
This post offers more detail on David Whitmer and Zina Young.

I've had some feedback on the previous post that there is no evidence Zina had heard about David Whitmer's Cumorah experience from David himself. It's true we don't have written evidence of when she heard the story or from whom, but Stevenson's journal shows Zina had heard it from somewhere before Stevenson visited Whitmer. That's why she told Stevenson to ask Whitmer about it. I imagine the conversation being something such as this:

Zina: "You're going to visit David Whitmer?"
Stevenson: "I plan to. I hope he'll see me."
Zina: "Ask him about the Nephite he met."
Stevenson: "He met a Nephite?"
Zina (nodding): "And he was carrying the plates to the hill Cumorah because Joseph didn't want the responsibility. David, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were riding in a wagon from Harmony to the Whitmer farm. He'll tell you all about it."
Stevenson: "Sounds interesting."
Zina: "You should publish it when you get back."

Some advocates of non-New York settings reject Whitmer's testimony, relying on the "late" retelling to Stevenson and Joseph F. Smith. Their objection is based on the premise that Whitmer's experience hearing the term "Cumorah" for the first time occurred in 1829, but he did not tell the story before 1878. Certainly, 50 years after the fact could be considered late; each person has to assess that "lateness" in light of the detail of Whitmer's account, the surprising and unusual circumstances, and the presence of Joseph and Oliver when the event occurred.

The Stevenson account undermines the "lateness" objection, however. Whether Zina heard the story directly from Whitmer in 1835, or heard it from someone else, the point is that she did hear it before Stevenson asked Whitmer about it. From his journal, we have to infer that Stevenson had not heard the story before.

There is no record of anyone knowing this story before Stevenson's interview with David, except for Zina. So all the evidence we have suggests that before the interview, the only two people who knew the story were Zina and David (and Oliver and Joseph, if David's testimony is to be believed, but Joseph and Oliver were dead by then).

And the only evidence we have of David and Zina interacting was when David and Hyrum Smith were missionary companions in 1835 in Watertown, NY, where Hyrum baptized her. [This is no minor point. David Whitmer didn't go on a lot of missionary journeys. When you read Zina's account, notice how she emphasizes how hard David worked to persuade her to get baptized. I think it's safe to infer he tried everything he could, including his viewing of the golden plates as one of the Three Witnesses. In this context, his claim he saw one of the Nephites carrying the plates to Cumorah would be another thing to bring up.

Later, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt visited David Whitmer and elicited the same story from him. This suggests they first heard it when Stevenson published it (or told them about it).

Zina published an article, probably taken from parts of her journal we don't otherwise have now, in the April 1893 issue of The Young Woman's Journal. Titled "How I Gained my Testimony of the Truth," the article gives details on how she joined the Church in 1835. It is available online here. In the next section, I show the relevant aspects of Zina's article.

In the following summer Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer came to our house and stayed several days. Father and mother had been baptized in the April of that same year, but neither myself nor my sister were baptized.

David Whitmer persuaded me to be baptized while they were at our home, but some way I did not accept his offer. I had told my sister-in-law, Fanny Huntingdon, that when she was baptized I would go with her.

The morning for the departure of these men from our house arrived, and I had not as yet become a member of the Church. That morning, a short time before they were to start, Hyrum Smith’s cousin rode up with a message that they could not leave that day, as my brother Dimick and his wife Fanny, my dear sister-in-law, were desirous of being baptized.

That morning at prayers I had presented to me a heavenly vision of a man going down into the water and baptizing someone. So when this message came I felt it was a testimony that the time had come for me to receive baptism. Brother Hyrum Smith was mouth in prayer, and in my secret soul I had a wish that he should baptize me. I had refused the coaxing of Brother Whitmer, as I told myself, because mother and father were going away from home, and I had all the home cares on me, and I feared I would be tempted to speak crossly or say something I ought not to after so sacred an ordinance as that; but this strong testimony that the proper time had arrived I did not dare treat lightly.

As soon as I consented to go with my brother and sister-in-law David Whitmer began talking about performing the office for us. Happily for me, however, Brother Hyrum was chosen by the others to be the proper one and I added my preference to their words. Accordingly, we all went down to the water and were baptized by Hyrum Smith, and confirmed under the hands of Hyrum Smith and David Whitmer. [This was on August 1, 1835.]

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