Edward Stevenson’s Journal Entry about Martin Harris

Edward Stevenson (1820-1897)


I’ve recently been doing some research on Martin Harris, and specifically trying to document all the occasions we have on record of when he bore testimony of the Book of Mormon. While reading H. Michael Marquardt’s paper “Martin Harris: The Kirtland Years, 1831–1870,”  I noticed he referenced a journal entry by Edward Stevenson in a footnote (p. 39 n.154, brackets Marquardt’s):
Stevenson recorded in his journal: “[F]ou[n]d Bond Temple & Keeper Mertin harris Who Bore testamoney of the angle [angel] Reccords & the T[—] &c took through Temple” (Edward Stevenson Journal, typed copy, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, original in LDS archives, entry for 9 Feb. 1870).
Edward Stevenson, who was instrumental in bringing Martin Harris back to Utah, published several accounts of his visits with Martin Harris in the 1880s and ’90s, and the Deseret News published a letter he sent about his conversation with Martin in August 1870. But I hadn’t previously been aware of his contemporary documentation in his journal. Since this was an example of the exact thing I was looking for, I decided it was worth it to try hunting down the original source, rather than just rely on Marquardt. I am glad I did.

Marquardt, as you can see, is citing the typed copy of Stevenson’s journal, which is available online from the Church History Library (you’ll want to go to p. 259 of the PDF). First, I noticed that it is not the entry for Feb. 9, 1870, as Martquardt cites it, but rather Feb. 11, 1870, which accords with later sources from Stevenson. On the PDF, you can see the paragraph does start with reference to “Wds 9,” that is Wednesday, Feb. 9, 1870, but the next sentence has “Ths 10,” and before we reach Kirtland and Martin Harris, we have a reference to “Fri 5 A M,” which clearly means they arrived at Willoby  at 5 in the morning on Friday, Feb. 11, 1870.

You can also see that as opposed to Martquardt’s placement of “keeper” after the ampersand (&), it’s actually above:


This is a minor point, to be sure, but it does mean that the choice to place keeper after the ampersand is an interpretation on Marquardt’s part—a reasonable one, based this transcript.

Also note that there is indeed a word beginning with a “T” that was deemed illegible by the transcriptionist, represented as “T[—]” by Marquardt, and as a T with a written squiggling line and a question mark on the official transcript.

Well, I wanted to know what that word was. It’s only a minor thing, but it is something Martin testified to along with the appearance of the angel and the record, so it is important to what I am trying to study here, not to mention that historians in general value getting even the most minute details figured out.

Fortunately for me, the actual handwritten journal is also online from the Church History Library (p. 98/126 in the file):


One of the first things I noticed (not the least of which being because the ink’s been smudged so it sort of glows here) is that “keeper” looks like it was actually wedged in at an angle in front of and above the “+” sign (transcribed as &), suggesting it is actually meant to be read before, not after after the “and”. Whether this means the “Bond Temple Keeper” was someone separate from Martin Harris or not is unclear, but that does become a possible reading here.

More interesting to me, however, is that illegible word at the end of the screenshot above. That’s the word transcribed as T[—]. Here’s a close up:


My initial thought was that it started with a “Tr” toward the end had either an “set” or “slt.” I wracked my brain trying to think what the rest of the word could be, and kept asking myself “What else would Martin Harris testify to with the plates and the angel?” but could not come up with anything that seemed to fit. So I gave up.

Several hours later, however, that same day, I was casually flipping through a recently acquired book, it dawned on me: translation. (Actually, truth be told, I first thought “translated,” but eventually realized “translation” made more sense.) The moment the word came to my mind, it seemed so obvious—in the same vision in which Martin saw the angel and the plates, he heard the voice of God testify that the translation was correct. So in recording what he heard Martin testify of in his journal (no doubt a mere summary of a more detailed conversation), Stevenson could reasonably have written that Martin “bore testimony of the angel, records, and the translation, etc.” (I’ve obviously corrected spelling and punctuation here).

So I naturally went back to look at it again. Carefully scrutinizing the scribbled word, I’ll admit “translation” might seem like a bit of a stretch, but I do think it is plausible, and can’t think of a more sensible word in context. Let me walk you through my thinking:

This looks like the “Tr”:


And this looks like either “slt” or “set”


So that gives us “Tr[…]s{l/e}t[…].”

This would be an incompletely formed “a”, thus looking a more like a “u”:


There is a weird hump on the back of the “s” that looks like nothing, but could be an attempt to add an “n” after the fact:


If the loop after the “s” is read as an “e”, then I assume he used the wrong vowel and accidently omitted the “l.” I think it is more likely that the loop should be read as an “l” and either the “a” was accidentally omitted, or the small jut on the line sloping up into the “t” was intended to be the “a”:


The final part after the “t” is the trickiest. As I read it, I assume that he initially excluded the “i” and so his pen stroke coming down from the “t” leads into a very smushed together “on”:


It then looks like maybe he tried adding the “i” afterwards:


Admittedly, this is not a certain reading. And whether I am right or not, it’s clear enough that Stevenson heard Martin bear witness his testimony as one of the three witnesses—of seeing the angel and the plates. But if I am correct, then it means that Martin also mentioned hearing the voice bear witness of the translation on this occasion.

Perhaps not a momentous observation, but an added detail that, I imagine, most would historians would be happy to have.

Anyhow, I know this was not the most exciting post (especially after several months of not posting anything at all!), but I hope it was of interest to some. I’d welcome any feedback on my reading on this mysterious word and any alternative proposals others can think of.

UPDATE 10/29/2019: In a private conversation, Gregory L. Smith suggested to me that translation is indeed the correct word, but that is it written without vowels in order to abbreviate, i.e. Trnsltn. I won’t do another character-by-character evaluation, but looking over the hard to read word again, I think this is plausible and requires less creative interpretation than my own proposal does. Interested Readers can look over the word and decided from themselves.

UPDATE 10/30/2019: In an article about his visit with Martin Harris in the Millennial Star 48, no. 23 (June 7, 1886), Stevenson mentions a “Mr. Bond” who let him preach in the temple. “Bond Temple Keeper” likely refers to this Mr. Bond and not Martin Harris.

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