From the moment a fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith decided to enter a grove of trees near his home to pray to the Lord about which church he should join, the stage was set for the eventual translation and publication of the Book of Mormon. In How We Got the Book of Mormon, authors Richard Turley and William Slaughter recount in words and pictures the trials, setbacks, and eventual successes that have led to more than 150 million copies printed over the lifetime of the book.
Beginning with Joseph Smith's initial visit from the angel Moroni, How We Got the Book of Mormon marks each major step in the production of the Book of Mormon, from its translation to the difficulties Joseph Smith and his followers had finding its first printer, then on to each major edition, detailing the changes and refinements that each edition brought to the book.
Photographs and other illustrations enhance the text, bringing history to life with portraits of the individuals involved, historical photographs of the locations under discussion, and scans of pages of the various editions of the Book of Mormon to illustrate how its presentation has changed over years. How We Got the Book of Mormon gives readers a unique look at the history of a unique book, the keystone of the Restoration.
- The Golden Plates
- The Translation
- The First Edition, 1830
- The Second Edition, 1837
- The Third Edition, 1840
- The First European Edition, 1841
- Chapter and Verse
- The 1920 Edition
- The 1981 Edition
- "The Keystone of Our Religion" Notes
- Size: 7x10¾
- Pages: 208
- Published: 08/2011
About the Authors
Richard E. Turley Jr., Assistant Church Historian and Recorder for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the chairman of the editorial board for The Joseph Smith Papers series. He is the author or co-author of several books, including How We Got the Book of Mormon, with William W. Slaughter; Massacre at Mountain Meadows, with Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard; and Stories from the Life of Joseph Smith, with Lael Littke. In addition, he is the coeditor of the series Women of Faith in the Latter Days, with Brittany A. Chapman. He and his wife, Shirley, live in Taylorsville, Utah.
William W. Slaughter is a photograph historian and consultation archivist for the LDS Church History Department. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Joseph Smith’s America with Chad Orton and Trail of Hope with Michael N. Landon. William and his wife, Sheri, live in Salt Lake City.
The First Edition, 1830
Joseph’s thoughts turned to publishing the Book of Mormon even before he finished the translation. On June 11, 1829, he took a break from translating and visited the federal court for the Northern District of New York. There he applied for a copyright to the Book of Mormon, depositing a printed copy of a title page he had brought with him.
Federal law granted copyrights to “authors and proprietors,” and the term “authors” included translators. The court clerk dutifully filled out a copyright certificate, copying information onto it from the title page of the Book of Mormon. He entered a copy of the certificate in a bound register for future reference before giving the document to Joseph.1
Around the same time, Joseph began looking for a publisher, which proved challenging. He went to Egbert B. Grandin, a young printer in Palmyra, New York, near where Joseph’s parents lived. Together, Grandin and his friend Luther Howard ran a three-story book business on Main Street. Grandin printed pages on the third story and lowered them down to Howard, who bound them in his second-story shop. They then sold the books in the first-story bookstore.2
Printing the Book of Mormon in Palmyra was Joseph’s first choice. He planned to go back to Harmony to live with Emma in their new home, leaving Oliver, Martin, and Hyrum to oversee the printing. Oliver could stay with the Smiths, who lived south of Palmyra village on Stafford Road, saving costs. But the strong attitudes that drove Joseph from Palmyra in the first place led Grandin to turn down the first invitation to print the book.3
Joseph and Martin next went to Rochester, which was more than twenty miles away. Rochester was a fast-growing city up the Erie Canal from Palmyra where they hoped to find someone open-minded and ambitious enough to take on the project. After being turned down twice more, they finally found a Rochester publisher willing to print the book. Before signing a contract with him, however, the men decided to return to Grandin and try one more time.
Grandin had two concerns. First, he doubted the book would sell well enough to cover his costs and turn a profit. The project was big for a young country printer, and he wasn’t eager to tie up his equipment on a losing proposition. Second, not all of his neighbors were enthusiastic about the book, and he didn’t want to disappoint them or make them think he bought into this newfangled faith in any way.
Martin Harris solved the first problem by agreeing to mortgage his farm to assure Grandin that he would be paid. And passing up the offer wouldn’t stop the book from being printed, Joseph and Martin pointed out, since a Rochester publisher was willing to print it. Not wanting to lose a sure profit, Grandin counseled with friends, who agreed with his printing the book as long as he did it strictly for business reasons. Grandin told Joseph he would do it.4
The contract called for Grandin to print five thousand copies for three thousand dollars, a large print order for its day. Grandin went to work advertising for more help in his print shop and ordering a new type font—he would need a lot of metal type for this job.5
Joseph, meanwhile, made preparations. First, he asked Oliver to make a copy of the whole manuscript of the Book of Mormon. After losing the 116 pages, Joseph didn’t want to risk losing pages again. Second, he charged Oliver to take only one copy of the manuscript to the printer at a time “so that if one copy should get destroyed, there would still be a copy remaining.” Third, he said “that in going to and from the office, he [Oliver] should always have a guard to attend him” to protect the manuscript. Finally, he directed that a guard keep watch over the house “both night and day” to keep “malicious persons” from coming in to destroy the manuscript. “After giving these instructions,” his mother remembered, “Joseph returned to Pennsylvania.”6
It took Oliver, Hyrum, and another scribe more time to copy the manuscript than it took Joseph to dictate it originally. That was partly because Oliver and Hyrum also had other duties to perform. They worked hard to stay ahead of the printer, but at one point, the printing may have gotten ahead of the copying, and the original manuscript, instead of the copy, was used to set type for the printed book.7
The printing job was reportedly the largest ever done in the county, and both Grandin (the printer) and Howard (the binder) had to take on extra help to do the job.8
Grandin invited an experienced printer named John H. Gilbert to set type for the Book of Mormon. According to Gilbert, when Grandin was ready to start the printing, he notified Martin Harris, who lived nearby. Martin got word to the Smith family, and Hyrum carried the first twenty-four pages of the manuscript to the print shop. Gilbert remembered that when Hyrum walked into the shop, he had part of the manuscript “under his vest,” with his “vest and coat closely buttoned over it.” That night, Hyrum retrieved the pages and took them home, repeating the routine “with the same watchfulness” the next morning.9
The manuscript remained safe, just as Joseph had hoped, but soon another problem arose. The printers set the type to create large sheets of sixteen pages each that would later be folded, bound, and trimmed to form books. After printing five thousand copies of the first sheet, they set them aside and set type for the second sixteen-page sheet. It took from August 1829 to March 1830 to print the nearly three million pages needed for the first edition of the Book of Mormon.10
Grandin allowed his friend Abner Cole to use his print shop at nights and on Sundays when Grandin’s own employees rested. Cole published a small-format newspaper called The Reflector that he used to poke fun at others under his pen name, Obadiah Dogberry. As Cole was working in the print shop, he noticed the uncut sheets of the Book of Mormon waiting for binding and decided to pirate the book in his paper. In his last issue of the paper for December 1829, he published a teaser, “‘Gold Bible’ next week,” which let his readers know of his plan.
Oliver and Hyrum confronted Cole about his wrongdoing one Sunday morning at the print shop. “Mr. Cole,” Hyrum said, “what right have you to print the Book of Mormon in this manner? Do you not know that we have secured the copyright?”
“It is none of your business,” Cole replied. “I have hired the press, and will print what I please.”
The more Hyrum tried to dissuade him, the angrier Cole became. Hyrum finally went home and consulted with his father, who said Joseph needed to know about the problem. Father Smith left for Harmony and returned with Joseph the next Sunday.
Going to the print shop, Joseph approached Cole about his piracy. Cole took off his coat and went at Joseph, pounding his fists together and yelling: “Do you want to fight, sir? Do you want to fight? I will publish just what I please. Now, if you want to fight, just come on.”
Joseph calmly assured the agitated man he did not want to fight and then added quietly, “Mr. Cole, there is law, and you will find that out, if you do not understand it.”
At that, Cole cooled down and finally agreed to submit the matter to arbitration. He was ultimately ordered to stop his unethical activity and did so.11 Cole’s piracy, however, cost him at least one subscription. On March 11, Luther Howard, the binder for the Book of Mormon, wrote to Cole, “When the present series of the Reflector is completed, you will please to erase my name from your list of subscribers.”12
Finally, on March 26, 1830, a notice appeared in Grandin’s own newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel. It reproduced the information from the title page of the Book of Mormon and announced, “The above work, containing about 600 pages, large Duodecimo, is now for sale, wholesale and retail, at the Palmyra Bookstore, by howard & grandin.”13 At last, the book was available to the public in an authorized form.
Despite the book’s notoriety, people in the Palmyra area resolved to boycott its sale. The volume sold for $1.75 a copy, but few people bought it, and the price soon dropped to $1.25. Martin Harris tried selling copies and was grieved when they wouldn’t sell. He asked Joseph Smith for a revelation on the subject, and Joseph received one commanding Martin, “Thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon.”14
A year after the book was released, it still hadn’t sold enough copies to cover the printing costs, and Martin fulfilled the commandment he had received. On April 7, 1831, he sold 150¼ acres of his farm for $3,000 to Thomas Lakey, who agreed to pay him over the next year and a half. On January 28, 1832, Lakey sold the property for $3,300 in gold, keeping $300 and giving Martin the $3,000 he needed to meet his obligation to Grandin.15
Martin’s sacrifice had made it possible to publish the Book of Mormon to the world.
^1. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Copyright, June 11, 1829, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Joseph Smith Jr., [trans.], The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), [ii]; Nathaniel Hinckley Wadsworth, “Copyright Laws and the 1830 Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 45, no. 3 (2006): 77, 97–99.
^2. Larry C. Porter, “Grandin, Egbert Bratt,” in Dennis L. Largey, gen. ed., Book of Mormon Reference Companion (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2003), 307–9; Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, Volume One, 1830–1847 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 29–30; John H. Gilbert, Recollections, September 8, 1892, typescript, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; John H. Gilbert, Recollections, in Mark L. McConkie, Remembering Joseph (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2003), 235.
^3. Porter, “Grandin, Egbert Bratt,” in Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 309; Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:29–30; Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1853), 142–43; Gilbert, Recollections.
^4. Porter, “Grandin, Egbert Bratt,” in Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 309; Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:29. The Rochester publisher who first agreed to print the book was Elihu F. Marshall.
^5. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 241, 300; Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 141–42; Gilbert, Recollections; Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:29; Larry C. Porter, “Book of Mormon, printing and publication of,” in Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 134–35.
^7. Royal Skousen, The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, Part One (Provo, UT: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2001), 3–4; Royal Skousen, “Book of Mormon, manuscripts of,” in Largey, Book of Mormon Reference Companion, 126.
^9. Gilbert, Recollections. Over time, Gilbert recalled, Hyrum began bringing twice as many pages, which “would last for several days.” He came to trust Gilbert enough to let him take pages home at night to punctuate so printing would go faster the next day. “The Book of Mormon,” The American Bookseller 4 (December 15, 1877): 618. Gilbert had owned the Wayne Sentinel newspaper but sold it to Grandin, “after which he worked for Grandin as a compositor.” Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:379.
^11. The Reflector, December 9, 22, 1829; January 2, 13, 22, 1830; Lucy [Mack] Smith, Biographical Sketches, 148–50; Wadsworth, “Copyright Laws and the 1830 Book of Mormon,” 78–91; Andrew H. Hedges, “The Refractory Abner Cole,” in Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2002), 447–75. Before stopping his piracy, Cole published what is currently 1 Nephi 1:1–2:3, 1 Nephi 2:4–15, and Alma 43:22–40. Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:30.
Well sourced, quick read.
by Joel - reviewed on January 02, 2012
The two things I liked most about the book were the reference section and the pictures. On any given topic you'd need to read much more to get the details. I would consider this book to be a brief literature review on the topic, so don't expect it to be comprehensive. Also, I really wished they had discussed some of the more modern changes to the Book of Mormon (e.g., DoubleDay version, online version) where chapter headings and the Introduction were edited. It would have been interesting to hear more about how that came about. All-in-all a good a quick read.
Intelligent, brings uncommon facts to light.
by Customer - reviewed on August 16, 2011
This book contains in-depth research bringing out uncommonly known facts about the coming into being, the Book of Mormon. Graciously summarizing history that would have taken the average person, like myself, years to find, facts that help me understand circumstances surrounding the obtaining,printing and distribution of the Book of Mormon I could not have retained in memory any other way than to have the facts summarized in such a beautiful book. Descriptive illustrations bring clarity to concepts I've never known about the Book of Mormon. Great job! Thank you!
Insightful history of the Book of Mormons
by Erik - reviewed on August 06, 2011
How we got the Book of Mormon is a very well written description of the history of the Book of Mormon. Richard E Turley Jr does a fantastic job describing the events surrounding the different editions and how the Book of Mormon has evolved over time. This book is very insightful and help to solidify my testimony of the Book of Mormon. I felt the author had multiple visual aids of documents throughout the book that helped to understand the Process of each edition.
Well Documented Text
by Brian - reviewed on November 07, 2011
I enjoyed reading How We Got the Book of Mormon. The text flows well and sources are well documented. I learned more about the history of the different editions. I also enjoyed the images included in the text. It is a very fast read and I read the entire book in a few hours on a Sunday morning. I would have also liked to read about other editions such as RLDS version 1908 edition. Chapters on publication in other languages would have also been helpful. This book focuses just on English editions. Perhaps these would be good topics for a second edition or a new text.