WELLS, Vermont — On October 3, 1806, only nine months after Joseph Smith’s birth, and only 60 miles away, Oliver Cowdery was born near the tiny village of Wells, Vermont.  He was raised there and in nearby Poultney, Vermont and went to New York at the age of twenty, where he met the Prophet Joseph.

This is the United Methodist Church in Wells, Vermont, where the Commemoration was held.

There was a Bicentennial Anniversary Commemoration for Oliver Cowdery held in Wells, Vermont, on Saturday, September 23, 2006.  The commemoration was moved from the town green to the Methodist Church due to rain.  The keynote speaker was Fred E. Woods, of the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding at BYU.  He mentioned that, “In Vermont, Oliver learned the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic.  He would then learn another three R’s: Restoration, Revelation and Reconciliation.”

Keynote speaker Fred E. Woods

Oliver Cowdery began as soon as he met Joseph Smith to be a scribe as Joseph translated the Book of Mormon.  He said of their meeting:  “Near the time of the setting of the sun, Sabbath evening, April 5th, 1829, my natural eyes, for the first time beheld this brother… On Tuesday the 7th, commenced to write the Book of Mormon.”

During the year that followed, Oliver Cowdery assisted Joseph Smith in bringing about the Restoration during many momentous occasions:

  • He served as scribe as Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and was given the gift of revelation and the gift to translate. (D&C 6:6:25-26; D&C 8:11; D&C 9)
  • He received revelation giving him a further witness of the truth of the restored Gospel. (D&C 6:22-24)
  • He was present for the visit of John the Baptist, when the Aaronic Priesthood keys were restored (D&C 13; JSH 68-72).
  • He baptized Joseph Smith in the Susquehanna River, and was in turn baptized by Joseph Smith.  (JSH 68-72)
  • He was present for the visit of Peter, James, and John, when the Melchizedek Priesthood keys were restored.  (JSH 72; D&C 27)
  • He was one of the three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon. With the other two witnesses he stated, “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.” (Book of Mormon, The Testimony of Three Witnesses)
  • He was present when the Church was organized on April 6, 1830.

Oliver Cowdery was called to be an apostle and was the second Elder of the Church (D&C18).  He traveled 1000 miles to serve a mission to the Delaware Indians and helped to build up the Church in Kirtland and Missouri.

Oliver Cowdery was told “Beware of pride, lest though enter into temptation.” (D&C 23:1).  Professor Woods asked if any of us is innocent of the sin of pride, and described how it often hurts families and individuals.  It was pride that caused Oliver Cowdery to resign from the Church. 

According to Professor Woods, “He was excommunicated in April 1838 for a variety of issues, which included not supporting the government of the Church.  During the following decade, he continued to practice law, primarily in Tiffin, Ohio.  It is purported that while he was in Wisconsin for a period working as an attorney that Oliver was confronted in a courtroom concerning his written testimony of the Book of Mormon.  In 1855, Brigham Young publicly reported that Oliver responded that his testimony was not an issue of mere belief, but of knowledge.  Oliver stated, “what I have there said that I saw, I know that I saw.” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 58-59.)

After a long correspondence with his brother-in-law, Phineas Young, Oliver Cowdery was ready for reconciliation with the Saints, and in April 1848, he journeyed to Kanesville, Iowa, where a conference was being held.  Orson Hyde, who had been addressing the congregation, welcomed Oliver and invited him to speak to the conference.  With great emotion he said:

“Friends and Brethren:

My name is Cowdery — Oliver Cowdery. In the history of the Church, I stood identified with him, and was in her councils not because I was better than other men was I called to fill the purpose of God. He called me to a high and holy calling. I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and he translated it by the power and gift of God, by means of the Urim and Thummin, or as it is called by that book, the ‘Holy Interpreter’.

I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands, the ‘Holy Interpreters.’ That book is true, Sidney Rigdon did not write it; Mr. Spalding did not write it; I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet. It contains the everlasting Gospel, to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains the principles of Salvation, and if you my hearers, will walk by its light, and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the Kingdom of God.

I was present with Joseph when an Holy Angel from Heaven came down and conferred upon us, or restored the Aaronic Priesthood, and said to us, at the same time, that it should remain on earth while the earth stands. I was also present with Joseph when the Higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred on each other by the will and commandment of God. This priesthood as was then declared, was also to remain upon the earth until the last remnant of time.

Brethren, for a number of years, I have been separated from you. I now desire to come back. I wish to come humble and be one in your midst. I seek no station. I only wish to be identified with you. I am out of the Church, but I wish to become a member. I wish to come in at the door; I know the door, I have not come here to seek precedence. I come humbly and throw myself upon the decision of the body, knowing as I do, that its decisions are right.

Oliver Cowdery.” [1]

Oliver Cowdery was rebaptized by Orson Hyde on November 12, 1848.  He was preparing to join the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, but traveled first to Richmond, Missouri, to visit with his wife’s family the Whitmers.  There the chronic lung condition that he had suffered from was recognized as consumption and he died on March 3, 1850, firm in the Faith that he had helped to restore.  David Whitmer said, “Oliver died the happiest man I ever saw. After shaking hands with the family and kissing his wife and daughter, he said ‘Now I lay down for the last time; I am going to my Saviour’; and he died immediately with a smile on his face.


 

[2]

This is a view of the remains of the foundation with the monument in the foreground.

After Professor Woods spoke, Richard Lambert of the Mormon Historical Sites Foundation presented a portrait of Oliver Cowdery to the mayor of the town of Wells.  This portrait was based on a recently-discovered daguerreotype which had been made of Oliver Cowdery during his days as a prominent lawyer in Tiffin, Ohio, while he was estranged from the Church.  The daguerreotype had been donated to the Library of Congress, but was only rediscovered and identified in 2005.

Oliver Cowdery Commemoration painting

After the meeting, we drove a few miles northeast of Wells to Lamb Hill Road, where Oliver Cowdery was born.  The foundation of the house where he was born is still visible, thanks to the hours of work clearing brush last week by members of the Rutland Branch.  There is a granite monument marking the spot, which was placed there in 1980.  The site is now owned by Scott and Melissa Woodbury, whose home is in the background, and who are accustomed to Church members dropping by to take pictures.

This is my son Stephen. I told him that Oliver Cowdery was born here a long time ago, and he pointed to the swing, saying “When Ollie was a baby, he used to swing on that swing.” I don’t know where he got the Oliver-Ollie connection, but it was very cute.

[1] Stanley R. Gunn, Oliver Cowdery Second Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Division of Religion, Brigham Young University. (Stanley R. Gunn: 1942), 166, as cited in The Improvement Era, number 24, p.620.

[2] Stanley R. Gunn, Oliver Cowdery Second Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Division of Religion, Brigham Young University. (Stanley R. Gunn: 1942), 170-71, as cited in Mill, Star, XII, p. 207.