Editor's note: A portion of this was previously published on the author's blog.
William E. McLellin was selected as one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1835, but he was excommunicated in 1838. However, he never abandoned his faith in the Book of Mormon, and among the pillars of that faith were his early, searching interviews with the book’s witnesses. McLellin was a highly intelligent man, intent upon (and very careful about) getting at the truth. He left several statements regarding his investigations, including one that he wrote between January 1871 and January 1872, and from which I draw some excerpts:
McLellin tells a striking story about one of those eight witnesses:
“While the mob was raging in Jackson Co. Mo. in 1833 some young men ran down Hiram Page in the woods, one of the eight witnesses, and commenced beating and pounding him with whips and clubs. He begged, but there was no mercy. They said he was a … Mormon, and they meant to beat him to death! But finally one then said to him, 'If you will deny that … book, we will let you go.' Said he, 'How can I deny what I know to be true?' Then they pounded him again. When they thought he was about to breathe his last, they said to him, 'Now what do you think of your God, when he don’t save you?' Well said he, 'I believe in God' — 'Well,' said one of the most intelligent among them, 'I believe the … fool will stick to it though we kill him. Let us let him go.' But his life was nearly run out. He was confined to his bed for a length of time. So much for a man who knows for himself. Knowledge is beyond faith or doubt. It is positive certainty.”
Finally, McLellin relates a personal experience with John Whitmer:
“In company with a friend, I visited one of the eight witnesses in 1869 — the only one who is now alive, and he bore a very lucid and rational testimony, and gave us many interesting particulars. He was a young man when he had those testimonies. He was then sixty-eight years old, and still he is firm in his faith. Now I would ask what will I do with such a cloud of faithful witnesses, bearing such a rational and yet solemn testimony? These men while in the prime of life, saw the vision of the angel, and bore their testimony to all people. And eight men saw the plates, and handled them. Hence, these men all knew the things they declared to be positively true. And that too while they were young, and now when old they declare the same things.”
Note: McLellin’s reminiscences have been published in “William E. McLellin’s Lost Manuscript,” edited by Mitchell K. Schaefer, published by Eborn Books in 2012, pages 166-167. (For ease of reading, I have slightly corrected McLellin’s spelling, capitalization and punctuation.)
Lead image of William E. McLellin, an early apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photograph taken circa 1870, provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson, and speaks only for himself.