A (Hostile) Witness of the Book of Mormon
Lucy Harris was born on May 1, 1792, to Rufus Harris and Lucy Hill, in Palmyra, New York. She was raised in a devoutly Christian home. Her family were members of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers.
When Lucy was 15 she married Martin Harris, on March 27, 1808. Martin was a 25-year-old farmer from Saratoga, New York. The two settled in Palmyra and would rear six children. Early in their marriage Martin served his country during the War of 1812, at the Battle of Buffalo and in the Battle of Puttneyville. He had risen from teamster to the rank of First Sergeant in the New York Militia. He returned home to Palmyra and his wife an honored veteran of war. Martin was known for his sincerity, honesty, patriotism and industrious business acumen. He had even been elected by the Palmyra community as road overseer for seven years. To Lucy and their young family he was an excellent provider and father.
After her husband returned from the war he inherited 150 acres of land, which the couple turned into a successful farm. By 1828, they had managed to double the size of their farm to 320 acres. During this time Martin would hire local hands looking for honest work to help with farm tasks. Around 1816, he began hiring the sons of Joseph Smith Sr., a new family that had moved to Palmyra and trying to establish a small farm of their own. The Smith boys, including 11-year-old Joseph Smith Jr., worked for the Harris’ for several years, doing double duty on the Harris farm and their own. The two families became quite affable toward each other.
Sometime in 1824, Joseph Sr. told Martin about Joseph Jr's experiences with the Angel Moroni, and about the golden plates. Lucy and Martin, who viewed himself as an unchurched Christian, talked to Joseph Jr about it and both became enamored with his stories of angels and new scripture, though at times Lucy was more vocal about her skepticism. Over the years Lucy, Martin and Joseph Jr had several conversations about the plates. In 1827, when Joseph Jr. had finally been allowed by Moroni to take the golden plates, Lucy told him,
"Joseph, I will tell you what I will do, if I can get a witness that you speak the truth, I will believe all you say about the matter and I shall want to do something about the translation—I mean to help you any way."
The next morning Lucy came to the Smith homestead to tell them about a remarkable dream she’d had that previous evening. Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, wrote that:
"She said that a personage appeared to her, who told her, that as she had disputed the servant of the Lord, and said his word was not to be believed, and had also asked him many improper questions, she had done that which was not right in the sight of God. After which he said to her, 'Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.' After giving us an account of her dream, she described the record very minutely."
This vision had such a strong impact on Lucy that she insisted on giving Joseph Jr. $28 ($700 in today's money), to assist with the costs associated with the translation and publication of the golden plates. Martin also committed to helping Joseph. By 1828, Martin was assisting Joseph to keep the plates safe and acting as a scribe for Joseph. Joseph needed people to write him because wrote very poorly.
Sadly, this was the height of Lucy’s support for Joseph Smith Jr. Things went completely downhill after that. The gossip and derision toward Joseph Jr. and the rest of his family from the citizens of Palmyra was starting to wear on Lucy. She had always enjoyed the prominence her family had in the community, and their association with The Smith’s was threatening that. And though the vision she’d had convinced her that the plates were real, she wasn’t satisfied with the vision alone. She kept demanding to see the physical plates, despite being told that Joseph Jr. had been commanded not to show them to anyone at that time. Her agitation continued brewing until one day it boiled over. She went to the house where Joseph was staying while no one was there and ransacked the home trying to find where the plates were hidden. As she hunted around outside the house for the plates she encountered a snake which frightened her away. After that she became embittered to Joseph and began siding with his persecutors.
Joseph and his wife, Emma relocated to Harmony, Pennsylvania because persecution had been too intense in Palmyra. In February 1828, Martin went to visit Joseph. While he was there he asked Joseph to copy some of the characters that were written on the plates on to a sheet of paper so he could have them authenticated. Martin brought the written characters to three experts in Utica, New York to examine. He came back from Utica absolutely convinced of their authenticity; so much that he would stay in Harmony to keep scribing for Joseph and would later agree to mortgage his farm to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Lucy began pressuring her husband to visit home and bring some of the pages he had transcribed for her to see. Martin kept asking Joseph to allow him to take the 116 pages of translation they had completed, but each time Joseph prayed about it he was told no. But Lucy wouldn’t relent so neither did Martin. Martin was being called back to Palmyra for jury duty and was going to spend 3 weeks with his family. After repeated requests from Lucy and Martin, Joseph finally received permission from The Lord to let Martin take the 116 manuscript pages. Martin was instructed to show the pages only to Lucy, and 4 other family members. While the pages were in Martin’s possession they were stolen and never seen again. Joseph and Martin were devastated by their loss. Joseph lost the gift of translation for a period and Martin was no longer allowed to be a scribe. Lucy is rumored to have stolen the pages herself and burned them as retribution for not being allowed to see the plates. She was also worried that if the Book of Mormon were published the threatened boycott of the Book in Palmyra and neighboring cities would ruin her family financially.
Martin would repent and in June 1829, he was chosen to became of the Three Witnesses that were shown the physical golden plates by the Angel Moroni, himself. When the printer who reluctantly agreed to publish the Book of Mormon demanded $3000 ($76,923 in today’s money) to cover his losses because of the boycott, Martin mortgaged his farm to cover the cost. This event, along with all the rest of the friction around the Smith’s, The Book of Mormon and the resentment about the loss of the 116 pages effectively put an end to the Harris’ marriage. They separated in June 1830 but didn’t divorce, shortly after the Book of Mormon was published.
When Joseph Smith Jr and the church moved to Kirtland, Ohio, Martin Harris went with them. Lucy Harris stayed behind at her home in Palmyra. She died a few years later in the summer of 1836. She was 44-years-old.
Lucy’s story is tragic. She had been given a divine witness of the truth and as a result knew the plates were real and the Book of Mormon is true. But she let the devil into her heart and allowed fear and insecurity consume and destroy her faith.
Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, MARTIN HARRIS