One of the gifts Santa brought me was Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2015). I had asked the old guy for this book with the thought that it would help me in preparing my introductory lesson this coming Sunday, in which I wanted to focus on the production and publication of the book. That meant I had to read it quickly, but it was an easy read and I just finished it yesterday.
This book brings to bear insights gleaned from the JSPP, and so represents the state of the art on these issues. I was already familiar with most of the material in the book, but there were some things that were new to me. For instance, this contained the most detailed treatment of the interpreters that I have encountered; most references to them that I have seen in the past have been brief and vague.
The aspect of the coming forth of the BoM that I learned the most about from this volume was the actual publication of the book.
The translation process had been quite an ordeal, but as it concluded and Joseph and Martin began to look for a printer, they were in for quite a shock. The first printer Martin approached was E.B. Grandin of the Wayne Sentinel in Palmyra. Granville’s terms to produce a print run of 5,000 high quality, lengthy books were $3,000, paid in advance. (Printers usually shared in the risk of publication and expected to be repaid out of book sales, but Grandin didn’t believe these books would sell and wanted to protect himself for the large capital investment in type, paper and employees he would have to make for such a job.) The authors point out that this was probably the first time that the financial magnitude of what they were trying to accomplish hit Joseph and Martin, which I thought was a great insight. They would have had no way of knowing what to expect in terms of a quote for such a job. As the authors write (p. 165):
To put the cost in perspective, Joseph had purchased his fourteen-acre, already cultivated farm with accompanying house, in Harmony for only $200. The Book of Mormon cost, by comparison, was fifteen times that of his house and farm. Day laborers in New York often worked for a dollar per day, making the cost of the Book of Mormon printing at least ten times the amount Joseph Smith could have made digging wells for an entire year.
Grandin tried to talk Harris out of financing this venture, as the amount required was almost the value of his entire farm, and he knew Harris would never get his money back. Grandin actually refused to go through with the print job in an effort to spare Harris his farm.
So Joseph and Martin then tried to negotiate with a series of printers: Jonathan Hadley, also in Palmyra, Thurlow Weed in Rochester, and Elihu Marshall, also in Rochester. Hadley and Weed declined the job, partly for lack of experience printing actual books, and partly for the same scruples Grandin had shown. Marshall was willing to do it, having actual book printing experience, but the location in Rochester was a problem, especially since after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages Joseph wanted to exercise close control over the manuscript. So Joseph and Hyrum took Marshall’s offer back to Grandin and used it as leverage. Since it appeared the book would actually be printed anyway, Grandin finally agreed to do it.
As mentioned above, Grandin refused to begin work until he was paid in advance. And now the reality of what he was doing hit Martin, and he began to drag his feet. Eventually, he got the revelation he had requested: D&C 19 (which was originally dated to 1830, but the authors convincingly make the case that the correct date is summer, 1829. A couple of years ago the Church changed the headnote to make that correction.)
Finally, Martin gave Grandin a mortgage on his farm for the $3,000. The term of the mortgage was 18 months, and if Martin paid the $3,000 in cash during that time he could keep the farm, but if not the farm would belong to Grandin. Using a mortgage rather than cash enabled Martin to farm his land during the interim and to redeem his farm if he came up with the money to do so.
In October 1830, four months before the payment from Harris was due, Grandin assigned the mortgage to Thomas Rogers II for $2,000. In April 1831, with the mortgage foreclosed, Rogers sold the Harris farm property to Thomas Lakey for $3,000, who in turn sold the property two years later for $3,300. Needless to say, Martin never got his farm back
I’ve always been struck by D&C 19:26:
The line “thou shalt not covet thine own property” I find really striking. We’re talking about Martin’s entire net worth–his farm–which he in fact was unable to redeem and lost. Apparently the original plan was for all proceeds of sale of the first print run of the Book of Mormon to go towards building up the Church, with no provision for Martin to recover his “gift.” That was later changed, by giving Martin an equal right to sell copies of the BoM until his investment was recouped, but at first at least the books wouldn’t sell, for nobody wanted them. It’s unclear to me whether Martin eventually recouped some of his investment from BoM sales, but even if so it would have been a small fraction of what he had lost.
This kind of puts the actions of Martin’s wife, Lucy Harris, into a certain perspective. She made Martin deed to her her dower interest in the farm (80 acres) to make sure he couldn’t alienate it to finance the BoM. Although we don’t know for sure, the best guess is that it was Lucy who destroyed the 116 manuscript pages in an effort to prevent her husband from doing what he in fact ended up doing.
I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about it before, but what Martin did was absolutely remarkable. Paying tithing is hard enough, but if the Prophet came to me and said, “Brother Kevin, I need your house, your furniture, your cars, your bank accounts and your 401(k),” in other words everything I’ve spent my entire life working for, would I have the faith to comply with such a request? I sincerely doubt it. Which to me makes what Martin did all the more remarkable.