Somewhere perhaps in our view of this photograph, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith met for the first time on Sunday evening, April 5, 1829. Oliver had been staying with the Smith family in Manchester, New York, had obtained a testimony of the work and was compelled by the Spirit to help Joseph as a scribe in the work of translation.
Joseph and Oliver could not take the time to tend to the fields and make a living that spring of 1829 due to the translation of the gold plates. Timely aid arrived from Joseph Knight Sr. (a friend who lived about 30 miles away). “I did buy a barrel of mackerel and some lined paper for writing. When I returned home, I bought some nine or ten bushels of grain and five or six bushels of taters and a pound of tea. I left to see them and they were in want. Joseph and Oliver were gone seeking employment for provisions, but they found none. They returned home and found me there with the provisions and they were glad for they were out.” The provisions, providentially, lasted until the end of the translation.
Of this sacred time Oliver recorded: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom!”
Oliver continued: “Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”
Emma Hale Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph, had been born in this home, just a few hundred yards from where they were now living in Harmony township, Pennsylvania. If it wasn’t enough to receive persecution from neighbors, it added so much to the Smiths’ burdens to have Emma’s parents turn against them.
Thirty-eight days into the translation of the record, Joseph and Oliver were deep in discussion about the true mode and authority of baptism. They retired to these woods to ask guidance from God.
For many years, most thought (and we were generally taught) that they went down by the Susquehanna River to pray. Careful and more thorough research showed that they went into “the sugar bush” a stand of trees where Joseph and Emma were tapping the sugar maple trees. Joseph sometimes hid the gold plates here. He also came here to ponder and pray. This area has now been identified.
“The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble…condescended to manifest to us His will,” wrote Oliver.
“On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity…the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory…What joy! What wonder! What amazement!…He said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John.”
“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah,” John said as he laid his physical hands upon their heads, “I confer the priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.”
“I shall not attempt to paint to you,” Oliver recalled, “the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but…earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage.”
By commandment from John, the two of them retired to the nearby Susquehanna River and then baptized each other by immersion, using the priesthood authority that had just been conferred upon them by this glorious angel.
Upon coming up out of the water, each was filled with joy unspeakable. “No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men.”
Oliver gave some impressions of John the Baptist: “His voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened, we gazed, we admired! ’Twas the voice of an angel from glory, ’twas a message from the Most High!”
Oliver continued about John: “And as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were wrapped in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!”
Joseph records a wonderful blessing that came after this glorious visitation: “Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.”
This was a time of great revelation. The translation of the ancient record naturally brought questions that Joseph brought to the Lord. At least 15 revelations were received in or near this home.
The Aaronic Priesthood was restored near this home. A good portion of The Book of Mormon was translated here (Mosiah – Moroni inclusive).
The Melchizedek Priesthood, according to one account, was received about 17 miles from Joseph and Emma’s home—somewhere along the banks of the Susquehanna near this farm. It was likely given within two weeks of the reception of the Aaronic Priesthood—so around the end of May 1829.
Emma Hale Smith gave her testimony of her husband and of The Book of Mormon: “The Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”