Q: Martin Harris is mentioned in several sections of the D&C, and became one of three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. What happened to him in the later years of his life?
A: Martin was born in 1783 in New York. At age twenty-five, Martin Harris married his sixteen-year-old cousin, Lucy Harris, and they had five children. They resided in Palmyra, New York for over twenty years, on property give to them by Martin’s father. During these years, Martin became known as a “gentleman and a farmer of respectability.”
In 1824, Martin hired Father Smith and his son Hyrum. During their employ, Martin learned about young Joseph. Martin gave fifty dollars to help with the expenses when Joseph journeyed to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Martin hand-carried transcribed characters from the Book of Mormon to linguists Charles Anthon and Dr. Mitchell in New York City. In 1828, Martin became the scribe to the book of Lehi translation, and one hundred and sixteen pages of the manuscript were written. Unfortunately, it is thought that Martin’s wife loaned the manuscript to someone, and Martin never knew what became of the pages.
Martin’s remorse and repentance was sincere, and in June 1829 he became one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Martin mortgaged his farmland for $3,000 to ensure the publication of 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. Eighteen months later, when the mortgage fell due, he was without funds to pay the debt. About this time, he and Lucy separated.
Martin was baptized on 6 April 1830 in the Seneca River by Oliver Cowdery. In 1831 he was sent to Kirtland and then to Missouri. He endeavored to be a good example to the Saints. He served a mission in 1832 with his brother, Emer Harris, and they baptized many. Martin then returned to Ohio, where he marched in Zion’s Camp to Missouri. After the march, he was chosen to be one of three to choose the Twelve Apostles. In 1836 Martin married a young woman, Caroline Young, and from the years 1838-1856, they had seven children.
In 1837, due to some disagreements with the leadership of the Church, Martin chose to estrange himself from the Church. He maintained a residence in Kirtland and became the self-appointed caretaker of the Kirtland Temple.
In 1869 at the age of eighty-six, Martin requested that Brigham Young be told of his impoverished circumstance and his desire to make the trip to Utah to visit his family. Martin’s young wife had gone to Utah with their living children in 1859.
Brigham Young was more than happy to send Martin some money for the trip, and despite his age, Martin traveled to the West. He was rebaptized on 17 September 1870 by Edward Stevenson in the presence of five Apostles. Martin strengthened the faith of the Saints as he visited congregations in Utah. He bore a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon until he died on 10 July 1875 in Clarkston, Utah. He was buried with his Book of Mormon in his right hand and the Doctrine and Covenants in his left.
Source: Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black
Testimony of the Three Witnesses
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.