David Whitmer was born on January 7, 1805, in Pennsylvania. While he was still a baby, David’s father moved the family to Western New York, where they stayed until 1831. There were five boys and one girl (who later married Oliver Cowdery).
Relationship with Joseph Smith
I first heard of what is now termed Mormonism, in the year 1828. I made a business trip to Palmyra, N. Y., and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery. A great many people in the neighborhood were talking about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, jun., a young man of the neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as many others, talked about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing it to be only the idle gossip of the neighborhood. Mr. Cowdery said he was acquainted with the Smith family, and he believed there must be some truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the matter. I went home, and after several months, Cowdery told me he was going to Harmony, Penn., whither Joseph Smith had gone with the plates, on account of the persecutions of his neighbors, and see him about the matter. He did go, and on his way he stopped at my father's house and told me that as soon as he found out anything, either truth or untruth, he would let me know. After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph Smith, and shortly after wrote to me, telling me that he was convinced that Smith had the records, and that he (Smith) had told him that it was the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in the translation of the plates. He went on and Joseph translated from the plates, and he wrote it down. Shortly after this Mr. Cowdery wrote me another letter, in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating from gave a complete history of these people ("Millennial Star", Vol. 43, page 421).
David Whitmer and his family were influential in helping Joseph Smith during the translating of the Book of Mormon. They also knew Oliver Cowdery, who worked as a scribe for Joseph Smith. In an 1829 letter, Oliver Cowdery asked if he and Joseph could finish the work of translation in the safety of David’s home. It was recorded by Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph's mother) that David lived in his parent’s home. Her record says that David showed the letter "to his father, mother, brothers, and sisters, and their advice was asked in regard to the best course for him to take." In the family council Father Whitmer was practical: "Why, David [you] know you have sowed as much wheat as you can harrow in tomorrow and next day, and then you have a quantity of plaster to spread." So they decided that David should not go for Joseph and Oliver unless he got “a witness from God that it is very necessary.” David agreed but secretly asked the Lord that if he should go, he would be able “to do this work sooner than the same work had ever been done on the farm before.” To everyone’s amazement, two days’ work was done in one, and the impressed father counseled David to finish fertilizing and leave to “bring up the man with his scribe;” Father Whitmer was convinced that “there must be some overruling power in this thing.” (From Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith Revised and Enhanced, ed. Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor)
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery stayed in the Whitmer home until the translation of the Book of Mormon was complete. In 1829, Joseph baptized David Whitmer as a member of the Church, and just a short time later, David Whitmer was a witness of the Gold Plates from which the Book of Mormon had been translated. David was ordained as an elder on April 6, 1830, and was one of the original six members of the Church. David Whitmer was eventually excommunicated from the Church in 1838 for joining with people who were persecuting the Church. Although he remained outside of the Church for the rest of his life, he never denied his witness of the Book of Mormon. He even defended it publicly in the Richmond (Missouri) "Conservator" on March 25, 1881:
Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues and People, unto whom these presents shall come: ... I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once [and] for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony [of the Book of Mormon] or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the Three Witnesses. Those who know me best well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;" it was no delusion; what is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand. "And if any man doubt, should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning the light, which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life as pointed out by the unerring hand of God?" In the Spirit of Christ, who hath said: "Follow thou me, for I am the life, the light and the way," I submit this statement to the world; God in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life. My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of the truth. And all the honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen!
- (Signed) DAVID WHITMER SEN.