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« Joseph Smith: Translator | Brigham Young »

The Kinderhook Plates

Kinderhook Plate A Kinderhook plate
Bridge Whitten, Robert Wiley and Wilbur Fugate conspired to bait Joseph Smith to see if he would translate another set of ancient plates. This time though, the plates would not come from an angel, but they would be engraven with nonsense characters.
  • They fabricated six plates from brass, engraved "hieroglyphics" on them, and buried them in a hill in Kinderhook, Illinois.
  • They orchestrated a "discovery" of the plates that were hailed as a finding of ancient records.
  • The plates were then sent to Joseph Smith who fell for their trap as he provided an initial translation of them.
  • That the entire episode was a hoax was admitted to later.
  • Despite the hoax, for nearly 140 years Mormon periodicals and historians insisted the plates were authentically ancient:
    Church historians continued to insist on the authenticity of the Kinderhook plates until 1980 when an examination conducted by the Chicago Historical Society, possessor of one plate, proved it was a nineteenth-century creation.

    Mormon historian Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p.490


April 23, 1843 Brass plates "discovered" in Kinderhook, Illinois
April 29, 1843 Plates delivered to Nauvoo, Illinois
May 1, 1843
Joseph Smith I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. Robert Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound ... I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
History of the Church 5:372
John A. Widstoe May 1. [Joseph Smith] Translates a portion of certain brass plates discovered at Kinderhook, Iowa

John A. Widstoe - Mormon apostle
Joseph Smith—Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God, p.366
May 3, 1843
Ancient Records

Circumstances are daily transpiring which give additional testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon ... The following letter and certificate, will, perhaps have a tendency to convince the sceptical, that such things have been used, and that even the obnoxious Book of Mormon, may be true; and as the people of Columbus' day were obliged to believe that there was such a place as America; so will the people in this day be obliged to believe, however reluctantly, that there may have been such plates as those from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Mr. Smith has had those plates, what his opinion concerning them is, we have not yet ascertained. The gentleman that owns them has taken them away, or we should have given a fac simile of the plates and characters in this number. We are informed however, that he purposes returning with them for translation; if so, we may be able yet to furnish our readers with it.

It will be seen by the annexed statement of the Quincy Whig, that there are more dreamers and money diggers, than Joseph Smith, in the world, and the worthy editor is obliged to acknowledge that this circumstance will go a good way to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He further states that, "if Joseph Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent than any man living." We think that he has done that already, in translating and publishing the Book of Mormon, and would advise the gentleman and all interested, to read for themselves, and understand. We have no doubt however, but Mr. Smith will be able to translate them.
The plates above alluded to, were exhibited in this city last week, and are now, we understand, in Nauvoo, subject to the inspection of the Mormon Prophet. The public curiosity is greatly excited, and if Smith can decipher the hieroglyphics on the plates, he will do more towards throwing light on the early history of this continent, than any man now living.
May 7, 1843
Parley P. Pratt Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah. His bones were found in the same vase (made of Cement). Part of the bones were 15 ft. underground ... A large number of Citizens have seen them and compared the characters with those on the Egyptian papyrus which is now in this city.

Parley P. Pratt - Mormon apostle
John Van Cott correspondence, LDS Archives
Joseph Smith In the forenoon I was visited by several gentlemen, concerning the plates that were dug out near Kinderhook.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
History of the Church 5:384
May 10, 1843
The contents of the Plates, together with a Fac-Simile of the same, will be published in the "Times & Seasons," as soon as the translation is completed.
January 15, 1844
Why does the circumstance of the plates recently found in a mound in Pike county, Ill., by Mr. Wiley, together with ethmology and a thousand other things, go to prove the Book of Mormon true?—Ans. Because it is true!
May 22, 1844
These plates were found about eleven feet under the surface of a long mound in the vicinity of Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois. On removing the dust that had collected about them, hieroglyphics were found engraved, the meaning of which no one was able to divine. They were sent to Jo. Smith, in order to get his opinion of their meaning. Jo has a fac simile taken, and engraved on wood, and it now appears... that he is busy in translating them. The new work which Jo. is about to issue as a translation of these plates will be nothing more nor less than a sequel to the Book of Mormon.
The Warsaw Signal, May 22, 1844
Note: if not for Joseph's death the next month (June 27) he may have completed this project.
March, 1904
The plates were submitted to the Prophet, and speaking of them in his journal, under date of May 1, 1843, he says: "I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth." ...

4. The event would go very far towards confirming the idea that in very ancient times, there was intercourse between the eastern and western hemispheres; and the statement of the prophet would mean that the remains were Egyptian. The fair implication, also, from the prophet's words is that this descendant of the Pharaohs possessed a kingdom in the new world; and this circumstance may account for the evidence of a dash of Egyptian civilization in our American antiquities.

Improvement Era, Vol. VII, No. 5
A recent rediscovery of one of the Kinderhook plates which was examined by Joseph Smith, Jun., reaffirms his prophetic calling and reveals the false statements made by one of the finders...

The plates are now back in their original category of genuine... Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well."

Welby W. Ricks - BYU Archaeological Society President
Improvement Era, Sept. 1962
Mark E. Petersen There are the Kinderhook plates, too, found in America and now in the possession of the Chicago Historical Society. Controversy has surrounded these plates and their engravings, but most [Mormon] experts agree they are of ancient vintage.

Mark E. Petersen - Mormon apostle
Those Gold Plates!, p.3
1980 Results from tests performed on one of the plates prove a modern origin.

Up until this time, 137 years after Joseph translated a portion of the plates, Mormon historians and general authorities believed the Kinderhook Plates were authentically ancient.
1981 Mormon periodical admits plates were hoax
A recent electronic and chemical analysis of a metal plate (one of six original plates) brought in 1843 to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, appears to solve a previously unanswered question in Church history, helping to further evidence that the plate is what its producers later said it was—a nineteenth-century attempt to lure Joseph Smith into making a translation of ancient-looking characters that had been etched into the plates... The conclusion, therefore, is that the Chicago plate is indeed one of the original Kinderhook plates, which now fairly well evidences them to be faked antiquities.

Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax, Ensign, August, 1981