Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “Fourth Witness” Gives Additional Perspective

Mary Whitmer Sees the Plates-min
Fourth Witness tells Mary Whitmer's personal experience with the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube.

This week we continue on with church history films. As I browsed Hard-to-Find Mormon Videos, I came across Fourth Witness—a brief film that tells the story of Book of Mormon Translation from the perspective of Mary Whitmer.

In June 1829 Peter and Mary Whitmer opened their home to Joseph and Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdrey. The men proceeded with the translation and Mary was left to manage the family and farm.

We open on Mary Whitmer in bed. She wonders aloud if Joseph will like dumplings and is worried about his visit. She asks Peter if there is anything else she should know but he is asleep. She also hopes their minister will change his perception of them and Joseph after he meets Joseph.

The scene fades to black and then opens on a window framing a rainy night. We hear a hymn speaking of “being who we are meant to be.” We see Mary staring out the window. Peter asks her to come back to bed but she chooses to watch the rain.

Cut to a wagon on the road. Joseph has arrived and the Whitmer children run to meet him. He goes inside and as Mary and the others prepare the meal Joseph relates an interesting story from his travels. As they headed to the Whitmer farm they were stopped in the road by a mysterious man carrying something heavy in a burlap sack. He said he was going to Cumorah. They are about to find out who this traveler is but they are interrupted by a knock at the door.

It’s Reverend Willard—the Whitmers’ (former) minister. He is there to check up on the Whitmers and meet the man who has lured away some of his most faithful members. Joseph greets him cordially and suggests that even Reverend Willard may be won away in time.

We hear the hymn again and we see Mary toiling on the farm interspersed with a small choir practice. The camera lingers on an empty chair that was Mary’s before she started following the Prophet Joseph.

Later we see Mary arranging the wash. She glances into the house just as Joseph pulls the curtain to obscure the plates from her view. She brings water back to the house and Reverend Willard stops her. He says how the congregation misses her and asks Mary how she is doing. Mary says she is fine but appears tired and just looks at the house and sighs. The Reverend persists and invites Mary and her family on a picnic. Mary thanks him but says she is needed at home.

“You have a family to care for and crops to plant and you are busy feeding grown men who are too busy with a golden book to help you!” he says.

She takes the water back and bids him good day. She continues to look tired, strained and unhappy.

Later that evening Mary chats with a friend who is there with her baby. Mary misses her choir and church community. Her friend suggests she participates with both churches but Mary again says she is needed at home. Her friend suggested she ask to see the plates, but Mary doesn’t think God will allow it.

Mary overhears singing from the Reverend’s picnic as she goes about her chores. She is about to milk the cows when the same mysterious stranger who stopped Joseph on the road approaches her.

“Are you looking for the Prophet?” Mary asks.

“No. I am looking for you.

The stranger unwraps his heavy parcel with the exception of a final layer of cloth. He holds it out to Mary.

“It’s alright, Mary. You may remove the wrap.”

Mary carefully pulls back the cloth and although we don’t really see it in the film we know Mary is looking at the gold plates. She begins to cry. The parcel is wrapped again and the stranger departs. She enters the yard to tends to the cows with a sense of purpose. For the first time we see her content and at peace. Fade to black and end credits.

Fourth Witness does a good job of telling this unique story. Although some of the scene cuts are a bit awkward, this account helps you to feel the stress, frustration and doubt plaguing Mary as she tried to keep everything running as translation progressed. I am sad to admit it is not a story I remembered before watching this film, but definitely appreciate it more now than I did before.


Thoughts, Musings & Trivia

  • Barta Heiner played Mary Whitmer. She also appeared in Once I was a Beehive, Brigham City, The Cokeville Miracle and various other films and television projects.
  • For additional information on Mary Whitmer’s story you can read this Church News article or watch this brief video.

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