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Did Lucy Harris Steal the 116 Pages?

Although Cook, Turner, and Saunders claimed that Lucy destroyed the pages, her own confession is missing.

Although the scholars that Martin Harris had encountered in eastern New York had not been able to supply him with a translation of the transcript of the characters he carried, he was content that the Lord had indeed endowed Joseph Smith with “spectacles for to read the Book.” As for his spouse, there were few options left to Lucy Harris in 1828 short of either embracing Joseph Smith’s talk of gold plates or continuing her strenuous efforts to undermine Martin’s relationship with him.

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This is an excerpt from Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon. Read the book for the full story.

The book cover of "Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon."
The biography of Martin Harris includes several accounts that claim Lucy Harris stole the 116 pages.

The Lost Manuscript

Ultimately, Lucy Harris would choose separation from Martin to show her disdain for the whole affair. For now, she pursued a course of subtle rejection. Flanders Dyke, a prospective son-in-law, became her willing accomplice. Flanders wanted permission to court Lucy’s oldest daughter and namesake, Lucy Harris. Martin was amenable and quite liked him, as did his daughter. His wife, however, was “decidedly upon the negative” until, according to Lucy Mack Smith, “a scheme entered her brain that materially changed her deportment to Mr. Dikes.”

The scheme was deceptive and unscrupulous, a “cloak and dagger” agreement in which Flanders would take “the Egyptian characters from Mr. Harris’s possession, and procure a room in Palmyra for the purpose of transcribing them, and then bring her the transcript.” His reward for such devious plagiarism was her “consent to his marriage with her daughter.” It does not speak well of her future son-in-law that Flanders “cheerfully consented” or that he would so willingly betray the confidence placed in him by Martin Harris.

Learn more about Lucy Harris and the 116 pages in this video by the Interpreter Foundation.

Flanders stole the facsimile, procured a room in Palmyra, and copied the characters with expert precision. Lucy Harris fulfilled her part of the deception by giving consent to his marriage to her daughter, or, and Mother Smith wrote, “Suffice it to say [Flanders Dyke] succeeded to her satisfaction, and thus received the promised reward.” Feeling smug, if not jubilant, about the success of her scheme, Lucy tucked Flanders’s transcription of the Egyptian characters in her pocket and waited for the right moment to bring the transcription forward.

Such a moment presented itself soon after Martin Harris rented his farmland out on shares and announced that he was making “preparations to start for Pennsylvania for the second time, with the view of writing for Joseph.”

Seizing the moment, Lucy Harris remarked that “she had fully decreed in her heart to accompany him.” Martin had “no particular objections” and “informed her that she might do so,” perhaps thinking that a stay in Harmony could somehow mend their marital discord. Martin anticipated that Lucy would not want to stay long and informed her that within “one or two weeks” he would bring her back to Palmyra.

Lucy, like Flanders Dyke before her, “cheerfully agreed,” confident the moment to show her copy of the characters would soon present itself.

“Perplexed and Disappointed in All Her Undertakings”

As the journey to Susquehanna County began in March 1828, Martin Harris did not suspect the events that would soon transpire. When he first showed a stranger the facsimile that Joseph had copied from the gold plates, to his surprise Lucy presented “an exact copy of the same” and announced “that ‘Joe Smith’ was not the only one who was in possession of this great curiosity, that she had the same characters, and they were quite as genuine as those shown by Mr. Harris.”

The next time Martin showed his copy of the characters, Lucy Harris responded in the same way. “This course she continued to pursue, until they arrived at Joseph’s” small farmhouse in Harmony.

Upon entering the house, Lucy informed Joseph that her sole “object in coming, was to see the plates, and that she would never leave until she had accomplished it.” Joseph refused to acquiesce to her demand. “Without delay, [Lucy Harris] commenced ransacking every nook and corner about the house—chests, trunks, cupboards, &c.” Unable to find the plates inside the home, “she concluded that Joseph had buried them” out-of-doors. It is interesting that Lucy believed there were actual plates to be seen and was in serious pursuit.

Early the next morning, Lucy Harris searched for the plates in the woods. It was not until two o’clock in the afternoon that she returned to the house “rather ill-natured.”

After warming herself by the fire for a few moments, Lucy asked Joseph’s wife, Emma Smith, if snakes were commonly seen in the area. Emma assured her that snakes were not present during the cold season. Lucy countered Emma’s words by relating a brief tale of her morning exploits. At a spot of ground “where she judged, from the appearance of things” the plates were buried, she stooped “down to scrape away the snow and leaves.” While clearing the area, a “horrible,” “tremendous” black snake “stuck up his head before me, and commenced hissing at me,” she said. “Lucy explained that this “gave her a terrible fright” and she “ran with all possible speed to the house.”

The tale ended as quicky as Lucy’s search for the gold plates. Feeling “perplexed and disappointed in all her undertakings,” she left the Smith farmhouse and ventured to a neighbor’s dwelling, seeking goodwill and lodging.

During her remaining days in Harmony, Lucy Harris lived with a neighbor and “did all that lay in her power to injure Joseph in the estimation of his neighbors—telling them that he was a grand imposter, and, that by his specious pretensions, he had seduced her husband into the belief that he (Joseph Smith) was some great one, merely through a design upon her husband’s property.”

Visibly upset by her words and actions, a disgruntled and very embarrassed Martin took his wife, Lucy Harris, back to Palmyra. Along the route, she “endeavored to dissuade her husband from taking any further part in the publication of the Record; however, Mr. Harris paid no attention to her.”

Once she was situated at home, Martin “arranged his affairs, and returned” to the Smith home in Harmony “about the 12th of April, 1828.”

Immediately after her husband’s departure, Lucy Harris continued her personal assault on the character of Joseph Smith in Palmyra. The Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, informs us that Lucy Harris had gone

from house to house, telling her grievances, and declaring that Joseph Smith was practising [sic] a deception upon the people, which was about to strip her of all that she possessed, and that she was compelled to deposit a few things away from home in order to secure them. So she carried away her furniture, linen, and bedding; also other movable articles, until she nearly stripped the premises of everything that could conduce either to comfort or convenience, depositing them with those of her friends and acquaintances, in whom she reposed sufficient confidence to assure her of their future safety.

Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, 124; Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 407.

“I Loved My Wife and Wanted to Please Her”

As soon as he returned to Harmony, Martin Harris commenced writing as Joseph Smith translated the book of Lehi, the first book in a series of books inscribed on the gold plates. The writing and Book of Mormon translation process took place in the east end of an upstairs room of the Joseph Smith farmhouse.

According to Martin, “a thick curtain or blanket was suspended” from the ceiling in the room. Once Joseph “concealed [himself] behind the blanket,” he looked “through his spectacles, or transparent stones” to read the inscriptions.

Various secondhand accounts of the translation indicate that Joseph Smith was translating with either the interpreters or a seer stone in his hat. Martin himself later explained the translation process in which Joseph employed both the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone to accomplish the task. He reported, “The Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone.”

She was terrible bitter against Joseph Smith.

Martin further explained, “By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, ‘Written,’ and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place.” However Martin affirmed that if the sentence was “not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used.” Thus, the mechanics of translation and scribing commenced.

Martin Harris said that after extended periods of translation, the pair would become weary and take a break down by the river where they could “exercise by throwing stones out on the water” [skipping the surface’. On one such occasion Martin explained that he found a stone that closely resembled the one being used in the translation process.

On returning to their labors Martin substituted the new stone for the old and awaited the reaction.

Not all of the evidence points to Lucy Harris stealing the 116 pages. See why historian Don Bradley think she may have been innocent—or at least not as guilty as she’s often portrayed.

He observed: “The Prophet remained silent unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing.” Greatly surprised at the result, the Prophet exclaimed, ‘Martin! What is the matter? All is dark as Egypt.'”

At this point “Martin’s countenance betrayed him,” causing Joseph to inquire why he had acted in this fashion. Martin replied, “To stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them.” Martin would continue to query Joseph in the future about the nature of the translation process, his own scribal labors, and desire to see the plates themselves, but for now he had just experienced a very satisfying moment.

During the two months of their translation to date, Martin was not without concerns, especially about his wife, Lucy Harris, who was very apprehensive of the validity of the work he was performing on the Susquehanna. William Pilkington reported Martin’s declaration of Lucy’s contempt for the Prophet and recounted the conditions:

Martins Wife said that Joe Smith was deluded, and crazy, and [she] was unalterably 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 he knowing by this time that it was true persisted in helping the Prophet[.] [A]fter the Translation commenced his wife wanted him to ask Joseph “Joe as she called him” if he would let him bring the manuscript home with him so that she could see it. Martin loved his Wife and wanted to satisfie her in relation to the matter.

William Pilkingon, Autobiography and statements 1934–39.

Hoping to quiet the intense degree of disbelieve exhibited by Lucy Harris, the Prophet recorded that Martin “began to importune me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and show them; and desired of me that I would inquire of the Lord, through the Urim and Thummim, if he might not do so.” Joseph posed the question, but Martin’s request was denied. Martin was unquestionably very disappointed because he had risked his reputation and marriage to support Joseph Smith and did not view his request as unreasonable.

A disheartened Martin Harris left Harmony and made a hurried trip to Palmyra. Although not stated, it is conceivable that his journey was to attend to a family matter of importance. His eldest daughter, Lucy, was married to Flanders Dyke on May 8, 1828, by the Reverend Mr. Blakesley in the town of Palmyra. Martin would very likely have taken occasion to be present.

The newlyweds occupied a dwelling house on the south line of Main Street in Palmyra. A four-acre lot situated there belonged to Martin Harris. In the following month, on June 30, 1828, Martin and his wife, Lucy, would convey one quarter of an acre from that lot to Flanders for the sum of $200.

Joseph explained to him that only a limited number of family members were to view the manuscript.

It may be that Martin received another scolding from his wife at the time of the wedding. William Pilkington reported: “When he arrived home [at Palmyra] he related the answer to his Wife [that his request to take the manuscript had been denied], 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 to ask ‘Joe’ the third time, at this time Martin said she was awfully worked up, and threatened to kick him out of the House if he didn’t bring the manuscript.” Martin again reiterated to Pilkington, “Willie I loved my Wife and wanted to please her. So I told her I would ask the Prophet the Third Time.”

Upon returning to the Smith homestead in Harmony, Martin Harris scribed the remainder of the book of Lehi translation as dictated by the Prophet. Their work comprised a total of 116 foolscap pages, or the English translation of one book from a series of ancient books inscribed on the gold plates. The 116 pages probably represented five complete “gatherings” of pages. If so, a benchmark had been reached, perhaps a momentary stopping point, and in Martin’s way of thinking, the right time to ask Joseph again.

With unabashed boldness, Martin asked the third time for permission to take the manuscript to Palmyra. Pilkington wrote, “Joseph again took the Urim and Thummim and Enquired of the Lord.” Martin then mused, “I found out Willie that the Lord could get out of patience as well as a human, but this time, Joseph was told that at his own peril he was [to] let Martin take them.”

The response to Martin’s third plea was thus positive—but conditional. Joseph explained to him that only a limited number of family members were to view the manuscript, namely “his brother, Preserved Harris, his own wife [Lucy Harris], his father [Nathan Harris] and his mother [Rhoda Lapham Harris], and a Mrs. Cobb [widow Polly (Mary) Harris], a sister to his wife.”

A black-and-white photo of the home of Martin and Lucy Harris in Palmyra.
Lucy Harris kept the 116 pages in her bureau in her home in Palmyra township.

Joseph then stipulated that it was imperative that he bind himself in a solemn covenant that he would not vary from this agreement. Martin agreed to the specified conditions. He entered into a written covenant with Joseph “in a most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed . . . [and] required of him.”

He then “took the writings, and went his way” on June 14, 1828, about two months after the translation process had begun. Martin Harris carried with him 116 pages of dictation for the desired enlightenment of selected family members. The day following Martin’s departure, Emma Smith gave birth to her first child, “a son, which, however, remained with her but a short time before it was snatched from her arms by the hand of death.” The slate headstone in what was then the Isaac Hale burying ground (now part of the McKune Cemetery) read simply, “In Memory of an Infant Son of Joseph and Emma Smith June 15th 1828.” The boy was later named Alvin after Joseph’s brother.

“He Did Show Them to Others”

Martin had the manuscript in his possession for some three weeks or until about July 7, 1828. Soon after his arrival in Palmyra, he fulfilled a portion of the covenant made with Joseph by showing the manuscript to his wife and the named family members. Upon seeing the manuscript, Lucy was placated to a degree, just as Martin had hoped.

Her immediate plans and purposes seemed to have been met. In fact, she was so pleased with the manuscript that she let Martin lock the foolscap papers in her bureau, which gave Lucy ease of access to the manuscript. As to the reactions of Martin’s extended family—parents, his brother Preserved, and Lucy’s sister Polly Cobb—to the manuscript, nothing appears to have been written on the subject.

I have lost my soul!

Initially, Martin kept the covenant he had made and was most circumspect in showing the manuscript only to the prescribed family members. This process changed, however, during a period of absence from his wife.

Martin had taken Lucy to visit her relatives, some ten to fifteen miles from Palmyra. Martin’s stay with Lucy’s relatives was brief, for he had pressing business matters and a jury duty obligation in town. As he made preparations to return to Palmyra, his wife, wishing to extend her visit, declined to accompany him.

Martin journeyed home by himself. Once at home,

a very particular friend of his made him a visit, to whom he related all that he knew concerning the Record. The man’s curiosity was so much excited, and, as might be expected, he earnestly desired to see the manuscript. Martin was so anxious to gratify his friend, that, although it was contrary to his obligation, he want to the drawer to get the manuscript, but the key was gone. He sought for it for some time, but could not find it. Resolved, however, to carry his purpose into execution, he picked the lock.

Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, 130. Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 421.

In doing so, Martin marred Lucy’s bureau. He made an effort to repair the damage. Not wanting to be inconvenienced when showing the manuscript, he placed it in his own set of drawers for safekeeping.

Having broken his covenant by showing the manuscript to one not named or approved by the Lord, it seemed easier the second time to do the same.

In fact, as the days passed and Lucy delayed her return, Martin showed the manuscript to any “prudent” person who called or as Joseph Smith wrote, “Notwithstanding . . . the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did show them to others.”

Her irascible temper was excited to the utmost pitch

Neighbors and friends who saw the manuscript in the Harris home cautioned Martin about being defrauded. When Lucy returned home, she had more to say than any neighbor or friend. When she saw “the marred state of her bureau, her irascible temper was excited to the utmost pitch, and an intolerable storm ensued, which descended with the greatest violence” upon Martin.

“I Remember the Day of Darkness”

In Harmony, Joseph Smith anxiously attended his wife, Emma Smith, whose life had been despaired of following the birth and loss of their baby. When his wife recovered, Joseph turned his concerns to Martin, who “had been absent nearly three weeks, and Joseph had received no intelligence whatever from him, which was altogether aside of the arrangement when they separated.”

Though much fatigued by his watchful care of Emma, Joseph determined to journey to his family home in Manchester, call for Martin, and recover the manuscript. After a harrowing trip by stagecoach and an exhausting twenty-mile walk through the night, assisted by a compassionate stranger from the stage, Joseph arrived at his father’s frame home.

Mother Smith reported that as soon as Joseph came into the house, he requested that Martin be summoned at once. Anticipating his quick response, at 8 a.m. victuals were set on the table. The Smiths “waited till nine, and he came not—till ten, and he was not there—till eleven, still he did not make his appearance.”

It was not until “half-past twelve” that Martin was seen “walking with a slow and measured tread towards the house, his eyes fixed upon the ground.” When he reached the gate in the yard, “he stopped, instead of passing through, and got upon the fence, and sat there some time with his hat drawn over his eyes.”

When he entered the house, he sat down at the table next to those who were already seated. “He took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them.”

Seeing this, Hyrum Smith asked, “Martin, why do you not eat; are you sick?”

Martin pressed “his hands upon his temples” and cried with “a tone of deep anguish, ‘Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul!'”

Joseph, who was seated at the table, jumped to his feet and asked, “Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head, as well as your own?”

“Yes, it is gone,” replied Martin, “and I know not where.”

“Oh, my God!” said Joseph, clinching his hands. “All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession.” He wept and groaned, and walked the floor continually.

At length, he told Martin to go back and search again.

“No,” said Martin, “it is all in vain; for I have ripped open beds and pillows, and I know it is not there.”

“Then must I,” said Joseph, “return to my wife with such a tale as this? I dare not do it, lest it should kill her at once. And how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the Most High?”

Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, 128–29; Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 418–19.

A shaken and grieving Joseph departed for his Harmony home the next morning to face the consequences of such a disastrous loss.

Lucy Smith, a firsthand observer, recalled that Martin Harris suffered both temporally and spiritually for the violation of his sacred trust. A visible rebuke for his transgression was witnessed the very day he confessed to Joseph the loss of the manuscript. Mother Smith believed it was not a mere coincidence that a “dense fog spread itself over his fields, and blighted his wheat while in the blow, so that he lost about two-thirds of his crop, whilst those fields which lay only on the opposite side of the road, received no injury whatever.”

He was convinced that the culprit was his wife.

Lucy said, “I well remember that day of darkness, both within and without. To us, at least, the heavens seemed clothed with blackness, and the earth shrouded with gloom.”

Martin lost more than a manuscript in Palmyra—he lost the trust and confidence of Joseph Smith. Although he had the talent to scribe and the inclination, the privilege to write as Joseph dictated was now denied him.

Left alone with his thoughts, Martin felt ashamed, despondent, and longing for his former association with the Prophet Joseph Smith. More importantly, he longed to regain the grace of God. Would he be forgiven and have the uppermost desires of his heart satisfied once again?

“Suspicion Fastened Upon Mrs. Harris”

Joseph Smith believed that someone or some persons had stolen the manuscript and that “by stratagem they got them away” from Martin. He would ultimately declare in the preface to the published work of the Book of Mormon that “many unlawful measures [had been] taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work.”

Martin Harris did not believe that it was “some person or persons”; he was convinced that the culprit was his wife. Reverend John Clark recorded that Martin was “indignant at his wife beyond measure [and] he raved most violently.”

Lucy adamantly denied any responsibility for the loss, although many believed her responsible for the theft. Lucy Mack Smith avowed: “There is no doubt but Mrs. Harris took it from the drawer, with the view of retaining it, until another translation should be given, then, to alter the original translation, for the purpose of showing a discrepancy.”

Martin was convinced that Lucy Harris had played a significant role in the manuscript’s disappearance. He believed her capable and accountable for the theft.

She was reported to have given the manuscript to a neighbor when Martin was away from home:

[She] seize[d] the manuscript and put it into the hands of one of her neighbors for safer keeping. When the manuscript was discovered to be missing, suspicion immediately fastened upon Mrs. Harris. She, however, refused to give any information in relation to the matter, but simply replied, “If this be a divine communication, the same being who revealed it to you can easily replace it.”

Clark, Gleaning by the Way, 247.

Following this line of reasoning, the conclusion is that Lucy Harris formulated a plan to expose what she called a “gross deception” being acted out upon her husband. She apparently rationalized or took “for granted” that Joseph would “attempt to reproduce the part she had concealed.” When he did so, she believed that it would be impossible for him to repeat verbatim the same words.

She intended to keep the manuscript until the book was published, and then put these one hundred and sixteen pages into the hands of some one who would publish them, and show how they varied from those published in the Book of Mormon.

Clark, Gleaning by the Way, 247–248. See also Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, 131. Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 422–423.

The prospects of conniving persons taking advantage of the stolen manuscript to suit their purposes under these circumstances in recognizeable.

Thomas Cook claimed that Lucy Harris threw the manuscript into a fire and that there was no attempt made to alter any word of the manuscript. He wrote, “At one time while engaged in a heated argument with her husband [Lucy] grabbed up a bundle of his manuscripts and threw them into the fire.”

Orsamus Turner agreed, but with an interesting allowance: “The wife of Harris was a rank infidel and heretic, touching the whole thing, and decidedly opposed to her husband’s participation in it. With sacriligious [sic] hands, she seized over an hundred of the manuscript pages of the new revelation, and burned or secreted them.”

In an 1884 interview of former Palmyra resident Lorenzo Saunders by E. L. Kelley, Saunders affirmed that Lucy confessed to being a party to the incendiary demise of the manuscript. He stated:

I know what course she took, and when she burned up those papers, she was pretty high on combativeness. . . . She says she burned them up. And there was no mistake, but she did. They never was found; never come to light. I lived till I was 43 years old right there; and she never denied of burning the papers, he [Martin] brought them home to proselyte her and she burned them.”

Lorenzo Saunders, interviewed by E. L. Kelly, November 12, 1884, p. 3, Township of Reading, Hillsdale County, Michigan, Special Collections, Merrill-Cazier Library.

Although Cook, Turner, and Saunders claimed that Lucy destroyed the pages, her own confession is missing. Without this confession and without others claiming the deed, speculation ran rampant as to what happened to the manuscript and what were the ulterior motives behind the theft.

Book excerpt. From Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon by Susan Easton Black and Larry C. Porter. Copyright © 2018 by Brigham Young University. Published by BYU Studies. Used by permission of the publisher.

About the author

Susan Easton Black is the co-author of Martin Harris: Uncompromising Witness of the Book of Mormon. She holds a PhD in Education from Brigham Young University, and is a retired professor of Church History and Doctrine, Black has written several books about Joseph Smith and the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is also the author of a biography of M. Russell Ballard.

Further reading

Lucy Harris and the 116 pages resources

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