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William Pilkington-Interview With Martin Harris

April 3, 1934

I first met Martin Harris, "One of the Three Witnesses To The Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," in Smithfield in October 1874. I was hired by his son, "Martin Harris Jr." to live in the Harris family for one year. Martin Harris Senior was living with his son.

When I would ask him Questions pertaining to the Early rise of the Church his eyes would radiate with interest. he related Experiences in connection with Translation of the Book of Mormon. He told me it was he who took some of the copied Characters along with the Interpretation "which Joseph Smith had made through the gift and Power of God" to Proffesor Charles Anthon, who pronounced them genuine Egyptian Characters, and that the Translation was correct and he gave me a Certificate to that Effect. Afterwards when I told him whome the man Joseph Smith got the plates from, and who delivered the Gold plates to him, he demanded the Certificate back again and destroyed it, Saying, There is no such thing as ministering of Angels in these days, but if I would bring him the Gold Plates, he would Translate them. I told him that a considerable portion of the Plates were sealed and could not be opened to human gaze.

He then Exclaimed, "I Can not Read a Sealed Book."

And thus the Prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled, which will be found in the 29 chapter and 11 verse, but I did not know that I was fulfilling it at the time. I was then convinced it was true, and I offered my services as a scribe for the Prophet in the work of Translating. Joseph gladly accepted my Offer, it was the 12th day of April 1828, when I commenced to write for the Prophet from this time on until the 14th day of June 1828. Joseph dictated to me from the Plates of Gold, as the characters thereon assumed through the Urim and Thummim the forms of Equivelent modern words, from the 12th day of April until the 14th day of June he said he had written One Hundred and Sixteen pages Foolscap of the translation he said at this period of the Translation a circumstance happened that he was the cause of the One Hundred and Sixteen pages that he had written being lost, and never was found. He said he believed his Wife burned it up, as she was very bitter against him having any thing to do with Joseph Smith.

So you see Willie, it was stolen from me, and I could not take it back, but he said, the Lords work cannot be stopped by mortal man, and Joseph was told in a Revelation to retranslate from the Small Plates of Nephi, and thereby thwart the plans of wicked men, but I was never permitted to write for the Prophet anymore. Oliver Cowdery did all the rest of the writing, he said when the Saints moved to Missouri he stayed in Kirtland, he was the Custodian of the Kirtland Temple.

I asked him, Is it not true that you were active in the performance of your duties in the Early rise of the Church, and that you give your money literally to help the Prophet and the Church along?

That is all True, replied Harris!

Everything was all right then, I was honored while the Saints were in Kirtland, but now that I am old and Poor it is all different. I mortgaged my Farm to pay for the first publication of 5000 copys of the Book of Mormon. I asked him if he still believed that the Book of Mormon was True, and that Joseph Smith was indeed a true Prophet of God?

His whole being became Electrified and it seemed that a changed man stood before me.

It was no longer a man with an Imagined grievance. It was a man with a message, a man with Noble Conviction in his Heart, Inspired of God, and indowed with a Divine Knowledge. He said, Just as sure as you see the Sun shining, Just as sure am I that I stood in the presence of an Angel of God with Joseph Smith, and saw him hold the Gold Plates in his Hands. I also saw the Urim and Thummim, The Breastplate, and the Sword of Laban. I saw the Angel descend from Heaven. The Heavens were then opened and I heard the voice of God declare, that every thing the Angel had told us was True, and that the Book of Mormon was Translated correct. I was commanded by Gods Voice to testify to the whole World what I had seen and heard.

I cried out in my Esticy, Tis Enough; Tis Enough; Mine Eyes have beheld of the glories of God.

Hosanna; Hosanna; Hosanna; To God and The Lamb and I fell on my face on the ground. The next thing I knew the Prophet was helping me up.

I said, Brother Harris, This is Electrifying to me to have the priviledge of conversing with a man that has stood and talked with angels of the Lord, it is grand to hear you Bare your Testimoney.

I asked him, Did you, or Either one of the other Witnesses ever at any time deny your Testimoney as recorded in the Preface of the Book of Mormon?

He answered, No! No one of the Three Witnesses to the Authenticity of The Book of Mormon ever at any time deny his testimoney.

They all Died reaffirming it with their last Breath; His voice throbbed with sincerity and the conviction of his message. He was then the real Martin Harris whose burning Testimoney, no Power on Earth could Quench. He said again, he spent his money freely for the Church, I was the first scribe for Joseph Smith in the Translating of the Book of Mormon.

I had many interviews with Martin Harris as I lived in the Harris family Eighteen Months, about Ten Months prior to this death. "While my name is not Harris." I became a member of the family through living with them so long.

I am the only one alive today of his immediate family that knows anything pertaining to his Testimoney, as taken from his own Lips. In his talks with me he would say, Now Willie, I am not going to live very long; and after I am dead I want you to tell the people what I have told you, for it is all True; and he would hold up his right hand and sware himself that he was telling the Truth. I would Invariably tell him;

Yes Grandpa I will sure tell the people what you have told me, for I know you have told me the truth.

On the 9th day of July 1875, while he was dying I knelt by his Cot, as he was lying on a Cot in the South West Corner of the room in a House owned by a man name of Carbine, it was situated on the North Side of Clarkston, Cache Country, Utah.

I wanted to get what I thought would be his last words, but he could not talk Audible, I could not understand what he wanted to tell me, he tried hard to tell me.

So I stroked his Hair back on his Forehead and Knelt down and prayed to the Lord and asked him in the name of Jesus to strengthen his Servents voice so that I could understand his last words, but I could get no responce, he was lying on his left side, facing in the room, and as I knelt down I placed my Hands on his right arm; and as I moved to stand up I saw in the act of moving my hands and he shook his Hand, as if he did not want me to move. I then Knelt down again and prayed to the Lord as before, and I was Inspired by the Lord to ask Grandpa, if he wanted me to hold up his right Hand so that he could bare his Testimoney. I asked him and his answer came clear, Yes! While I held his right hand up strength was given to him and he bore his Testimoney, as he had done many times before, and I understood every word.

He then bore the same Testimoney to the whole World, and then layed back Exhausted. There were Two other men standing in the room and heard him bare his Testimoney One of the them was Thomas Godfrey of Clarkston who Just recently Died.

Martin Harris’s spirit departed the next day, the 10th Day of July 1875, in Clarkston Cache Country, Utah, aged 92 years. I attended his Funeral and assisted in his burial in the Clarkston Cemetary.

Signed William Pilkington

Smithfield, Utah.

Early Mormon Documents vol. 2 Dan Vogel pp. 351-357

One dark night we had been in our new home a few days. A knock came on the door while we were all singing the songs of Zion; we stopped singing and Father opened the door. A strange man walked in. He was given a chair and he sat down. He said, "What is your name?" Father promptly told him our name was Pilkington. He said, "Are you immigrants?" He was told that we had just immigrated from England. He said he wanted to hire a boy to go ad live with him for one year. My brother, Richard, and I were sitting together on the right of the stranger. He looked at us and said, "I think this one will do." That one was "Willie," – me. He then asked if I would like to go and live with him for a year. He said he had just sold out his property in Smithfield, and was going to a place across the valley, called Clarkston. Father asked him how much that I would get if I went for a year. He thought for a little while and then said, "I will give Willie a two-year old heffer and his board and clothes if he will work for me." I asked Father what he thought about the proposition. He said it was alright- I could go and work for him a year, and for me to be a good boy.

I put on my coat and hat, kissed Father, Mother, and all the rest of the family and went with him. It was a very dark night, and the country being strange to me, he took hold of my hand. We walked for about ten minutes, and entered a log house– the first log house I was ever in. The rest of the family had all retired to bed. Or at least I thought so. I thought it very strange the man that was strange did not tell me what his name was; he gave me a chair and sat down close by a little round table. He then asked me if I had my supper. I said, "yes," and he said, "maybe you can eat a little more." So he got a pan of milk, some bread, and a bowl and a spoon, and told me the folks had all gone to bed, and "now I will go to bed, but before going I will show you where you will sleep on the floor," and then he went to bed. I was enjoying the bread an milk when my attention was attracted to an object over in the northward corner of the room. As the little oil lamp gives a very little light, I was a little puzzled as to what it could be, so I ate a little faster so that I could go to bed, and I was obliged to go between the table and this object, and in going round the table I discovered the form of a man. He made a motion with his hand as if he wanted me. Rather timidly I went over to him. I still felt rather a crawly sensation creeping over me, but I pulled up the chair alongside the chair he was sitting in and sat down. He asked me what my name was, I promptly told him my name was William Pilkington. He asked me if we were immigrants. I told him our family immigrated from England. He then asked me if I was going to live with them. I told him I thought I would them for a year.

Up to this time neither one of them had told me what their name was, and it rather puzzled me. Then he asked me if I was a Mormon. I told him our whole family were Mormons. He told me he was going to call me Willie. I told him that Mother called me Willie too. Then he said, "Willie, tomorrow night after your chores are done and we have had supper, and all the folks have gone to bed, I want you to sit down in this chair, close to mine, for I have lots to tell you." I told him I would do that, and then we retired to bed and the floor. I was wondering all day long what that old man wanted me for–an old decrepid man who wanted to talk to a boy, that he found out was a Mormon boy. At last night came, supper was over, and after having family prayer, they all retired to bed. The old gentleman sat down in his arm chair, put his elbow on the arm of the chair and crooked his finger as he did scores of times afterwards, and that was a signal for me to bring another chair alongside of his. He then said, "Willie, did you ever got to Sunday School?" I promptly told him, "Yes, sir." "What class were you in?" I promptly told him the Book of Mormon class. His eyes sparkled and his whole body seemed to reviberate. He seemed like a changed being. He was very excited, trembling as I gazed in his eyes. He said, "Did you ever read the Book of Mormon?" "Yes, sir," was the reply. "Well, if you have read the Book of Mormon, what is the first reading in the preface of the book that we find?" After a little thinking, I said, "The first reading in the Book of Mormon is the testimony of the three men testifying to the whole world that they saw an angel come down from Heaven. That they saw the Gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and the angel told them that the translation was correct and we bear record that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet of God, and that there Names will forever go before the world testifying that the Book of Mormon I true." He then said, "I know, now, Willie that you have read that glorious book. Willie, I am going to ask you one more question. What were those three men’s names?" I told him they were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. This little, old man, then ninety-one years of age, of whom in my mind had likened to Rip Van Winkle, whose whole being at this time was wonderful to behold, all lit up with the Spirit of God, whose eyes now were sparkling, whose whole being was transformed, stood up before me on the memorable occasion, and putting his walking can in his left hand, straightened up and striking his breast with his right hand, exclaimed, "I am Martin Harris," one of the three witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. A man who had the priviledge of standing before angels, a man whose eyes beheld the golden plates, a man whose ears heard the voice of God from heaven declare that the Book was translated correct, and that commanded him to testify to all the world that it was correct. I saw again, can you imagine me a mere boy not yet fourteen years of age until the next month, November, as this was October of the year 1874.

From that time on until his death, he never tired of telling me of the beauties of the Gospel, and especially about the early rise of the Church, and the trials and tribulations that beset the Prophet Joseph Smith and Himself.

The act was as follows: Martin’ wife [Lucy] said that Joe Smith was deluded and crazy, and was opposed to her husband having anything to do with him. She was terrible bitter against Joseph Smith, and forbid her husband having anything to do with him, but knowing by this time that it was Joseph, Joe as she called him, if he would let him bring the manuscript home with him so that she could see it. (However, knowing of the manuscript, she told Martin to inquire of Joseph if he could bring it home and show it to her.) Martin loved his wife and wanted to satisfy her in relation to the matter. So accordingly he asked the Prophet if it would be possible for him to take the 116 pages of manuscript home with him to satisfy his wife, also his father and mother, his brother, Preserved Harris, and a Mrs. Polly Harris Cobb, his wife’s sister. Possibly Joseph would like to satisfy Martin, so he asked the Lord through the Urim and Thummim; and the answer was no,–he was not to be permitted to take them away. When he arrive home, he related the answer to his wife. He told me she became very angry, and persuaded him to ask Joseph again, which he did, with the same result. She still persisted and wanted him to ask Joe the third time. At this time Martin said she was awful worked up and threatened to kick him out of the house if he did not bring the manuscript. He told me again, "Willie, I loved my wife and wanted to please her, so I told her I would ask the Prophet the third time. Joseph Smith took the Urim and Thummim and inquired of the Lord. I found out, Willie, that the Lord could get out of patience as well as a human;" But this time Joseph asked him how many he desired to show it to. Martin said to five,–his wife, his father and mother, his brother, Preserved Harris, and a Mrs. Cobb, his wife’s sister. So he was allowed to take them home with him. On arrival home he found his wife had told other people beside their family. She took the manuscript from him and she was perusing them when someone jerked them from her, and then another got it, and Martin told me it disappeared, and he never saw it any more.

He told me he was active in the Church as long as the body of the Church remained in Ohio. He said when the Church moved to Missouri he remained behind; he said that the people said he had apostatized, but not so, nor was he ever officially excommunicated from the Church. He remained in Kirtland, Ohio, for over twenty-five years after the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were murdered. He remained separated from the Church, he was like a sheep without a shepherd, outside the flock, but remained true and faithful to the testimony he had given, nor did he ever in his life deny it.

He told many, many times that he did stand in the presence of the angel of the Lord, with Joseph Smith, and heard the voice of God from heaven declare that everything the angel told them was true and that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly. He said he was commanded by the voice of God to testify to all the world what he had seen and heard was correct, and in his talks with me he would say, he had asked me many times if I would tell the people what he had told me and he repeated, "Now, Willie, you won’t forget to tell the people what I have told you, will you, after I am dead and gone?" And he would hold up his hand to the square and say that he was telling the truth. And I would tell him, "No, Grandpa, I won’t; I will sure tell the people what you have told me, for I know that you have told me the truth."

I attended his funeral and helped to fill his grave. I was between fourteen and fifteen years of age when he died. I lived in the Harris family one year and a half. At this writing I am 77 years of age. I have lectured in 37 wards in the Church on the life of Martin Harris, also Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, the other two witnesses. I have lectured from Cache County on the north to Carbon County on the south. In lecturing, hundreds of people have told me that the Lord had permitted me to live to an advanced age to fulfill the promise that I made to Martin Harris. My life has been miraculously preserved on five or six different occasions when it seemed that death was nigh, and of course I have thanked and praised the Lord, that he spared my life to this wonderful and truthful story.

Early Mormon Documents vol.2 Dan Vogel pp. 358-362