Peter Sr. and Mary Musselman Whitmer

Q: Peter Whitmer, Sr. is mentioned in D&C 14: Introduction; 21: Introduction; 34: Introduction; 128:21.  How many children did Peter and his wife, Mary, have, and how many of them became witnesses to the Book of Mormon?  How important was Peter Whitmer, Sr.’s home in Fayette, New York, to the Prophet Joseph and the beginning days of the Church?

A: Peter Whitmer, Sr. married Mary Musselman, and they became the parents of eight children: Christian, Jacob, John, David, Catherine (who married Hyrum Page), Peter Jr., Nancy (died as a baby), and Elizabeth Ann (who married Oliver Cowdery).  

Of these eight children, David became one of the three witnesses.  Christian, Jacob, John, and Peter Jr. became four of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. One son-in-law, Hyrum Page, also became one of the eight witnesses, and one son-in-law (Oliver Cowdery) became one of the three witnesses. It has been said that more members of their family saw the gold plates than any other family, including the Joseph Smith, Sr. family.

By 1809 the Whitmer family had settled on farmland in the German-extraction township of Fayette, New York.  Peter was known as a hard-working, God-fearing man, and a worthy and industrious citizen. He belonged to a German Reformed church known as Zion’s Church.

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Peter built a one-and-a-half story log home on his property. This home played a significant role in the early days of the Church. In 1829 the Prophet Joseph completed the translation of the Book of Mormon in this home; on this property three witnesses beheld the angel and saw the Book of Mormon plates; and on 6 April 1830 the Church was organized in this home.  The first three conferences of the Church were also held there.

One evening, while Joseph was staying in their home while translating the Book of Mormon, Peter’s wife, Mary, under much distress from all the persecution and hardships put upon her family by their association with the Joseph, went outside to milk the cows. A “stranger” approached her and said, “You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.” The stranger then showed her the gold plates. With her faith fortified, Mary found that she now could perform her many duties with relative ease, and that any inclination she had “to murmur because her lot was hard” was gone. Mary is known as the “thirteenth witness” to the Book of Mormon. (Keith W. Perkins, “True to the Book of Mormon---the Whitmers,” Ensign, February 1989, p. 36; Millennial Star, 40:773.)

Peter embraced the truths being taught by the Prophet Joseph, and just twelve days after the Church was organized, on 18 April 1830, Peter and his wife were baptized in Seneca Lake by Oliver Cowdery.  The following year, Peter moved his family to Kirtland.  By 1832 they were residing in Jackson County, Missouri.  The Zion existence they had hoped to establish there ended as mobs drove the Whitmers to the swamp lands of Clay County.  Father Whitmer, as he was affectionately known, and his family suffered greatly from the persecution. 

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Peter’s faithfulness to the restored gospel remained strong until he relocated with his family to Far West. In 1838, due to allegations from some of the Church leaders, some of the living Whitmer family made the decision not to affiliate with the Church any more, but they always remained true to their testimony of the Book of Mormon. They established themselves on some land in Richmond, Missouri. Peter died on 12 August 1854 in Richmond at the age of eighty-one.  Mary died about a year and a half later in 1856 in Richmond.

Source: Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black; "The Whitmers: A Family That Nourished the Church." Ensign, August 1979