As part of Willard Richard’s JS journal, LDS Scholars from the Joseph Smith Papers Project discuss Joseph Smith’s translation of the Kinderhook plates.

Retrieved 2018-05-01

[397] On 23 April 1843, Robert Wiley and several other men unearthed human bones and six bell-shaped brass plates from a mound near Kinderhook, Illinois, some twenty miles southeast of Quincy. Each plate was roughly 4 inches long and 1¾ inches wide at the top, flaring out to 2¾ inches at the bottom. Each was inscribed with symbols on both sides; two metal clasps and a metal ring passing through a hole near the top bound them together. The plates were brought to Nauvoo for JS to decipher. Evidence suggests that they arrived in Nauvoo by 29 April and that they remained there at least through 3 May; whether or not JS had them when this 7 May journal entry was recorded is unknown. They may also have been in Nauvoo for a time in June 1843, when the Nauvoo Neighbor published a broadside featuring facsimiles of the plates. On 1 May 1843, William Clayton wrote that JS had “translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found & he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven & earth.” Parley P. Pratt gave a similar report about JS translating the plates in a letter to John Van Cott dated 7 May 1843. No further mention of the plates is made in JS’s journal after this 7 May entry, and no translation endorsed by JS has been located, suggesting that whatever JS initially thought about the plates, he soon lost interest in them. Later statements by W. P. Harris and William Fugate, as well as tests performed on one of the plates at Northwestern University in 1980, indicate that the plates were a hoax. (“Ancient Records,” “To the Editor of Times & Seasons,” and “Singular Discovery,” Times and Seasons, 1 May 1843, 4:185–187; Kimball, “Kinderhook Plates,” 66–74; Brief Account of the Discovery of the Brass Plates [Nauvoo, IL: 24 June 1843], copy at CHL; Young, Journal, 3 May 1843; Clayton, Journal, 1 May 1843; Parley P. Pratt, Nauvoo, IL, to John Van Cott, Canaan Four Corners, NY, 7 May 1843, CHL.)

Comprehensive Works Cited

Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

Kimball, Stanley B. “Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax.” Ensign, Aug. 1981, 66–74.

A Brief Account of the Discovery of the Brass Plates Recently Taken from a Mound Near Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois. [Nauvoo, IL: 24 June 1843]. Copy at CHL.

Young, Brigham. Journals, 1832–1877. Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–1878. CHL. CR 1234 1, boxes 71–73.

Clayton, William. Journals, 1842–1845. CHL.

Pratt, Parley P. Letters, 1838–1839. CHL. MS 5828.

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