The James Strang Plates: Notes from Dr. Peterson

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Daniel Peterson’s 2006 FAIR Conference address. DCP has posted this excerpt several times on MADB. Everything after this sentence are his words.

Forgery is the virtually certain explanation for the two sets of inscribed metal plates that James Jesse Strang said he had found in Wisconsin and Michigan (between 1845 and 1849) and translated. Strang, who claimed to have a letter of appointment from Joseph Smith, announced himself as Joseph Smith’s successor and was clearly seeking to imitate the Prophet. That his plates really existed is beyond serious dispute. The first set, the three “Voree” or “Rajah Manchou” plates, were dug up by four “witnesses” whom Strang had brought to the appropriate site. Inscribed on both sides with illustrations and “writing,” the Rajah Manchou plates were roughly 1.5 by 2.75 inches in size — small enough to fit in the palm of a hand or to carry in a pocket. Among the many who saw them was Stephen Post, who reported that they were brass and, indeed, that they resembled the French brass used in familiar kitchen kettles. “With all the faith & confidence that I could exercise,” he wrote, “all that I could realize was that Strang made the plates himself, or at least that it was possible that he made them.” One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies. (However, the credibility of this source is suspect, since it also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses repudiated their testimonies, which is demonstrably false). The eighteen “Plates of Laban,” likewise of brass and each about 7 3/8 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and, in 1851, were seen by seven witnesses. Their testimony appeared at the front of “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” which Strang said he translated from the “Plates of Laban.” (Work on the translation seems to have begun at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) The statement of Strang’s witnesses speaks of seeing the plates, but mentions nothing of any miraculous character, nor did Strang supply any second set of corroborating testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. One of the witnesses to the “Plates of Laban,” Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang’s movement and denounced it as mere “human invention.” Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had assisted Strang in the fabrication of the “Plates of Laban.” The well-read Strang had been an editor and lawyer before his brief affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his subsequent career as a schismatic leader. 1 Thus, Strang’s plates were much less numerous than those associated with Joseph Smith, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural, his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months, and, unlike the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Strang’s witnesses did not remain faithful to their testimonies. Milo Quaife, in his early, standard biography of Strang, reflected that “It is quite conceivable that Strang’s angelic visitations may have had only a subjective existence in the brain of the man who reported them. But the metallic plates possessed a very material objective reality.” If we are unwilling to accept “The Book of the Law of the Lord” as authentically divine, he says, “we can hardly escape the conclusion . . . that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers” and, accordingly, that “Strang’s prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture.” 2 Roger Van Noord, Strang’s most recent biographer, concludes that, “Based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang’s advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion.” 3


  1. See Roger Van Noord, King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 33-35, 97, 102, 163, 219; Doyle C. Fitzpatrick, The King Strang Story: A Vindication of James J. Strang, the Beaver Island Mormon [sic] King (Lansing, MI: National Heritage, 1970), 34-38; Milo M. Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James: A Narrative of the Mormons [sic] (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), 2-8, 16-19, 92-93, 185-189.
  2. (Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James, 17-18.)
  3. See Van Noord, King of Beaver Island, 274.
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11 comments on “The James Strang Plates: Notes from Dr. Peterson

  1. Rick Hurd says:

    Anti-Mormon rhetoric.

  2. Rick Hurd says:

    Concerning the Letter of Appointment, Nine days before he was murdered, Joseph received and wrote a revelation containing the calling of James J. Strang. The Letter of Appointment is still in the archives at Yale University. Joseph Smith’s signature is on that letter. An independent group of handwriting experts came to the conclusion that the signature was genuine (See THE TEACHINGS OF A MORMON PROPHET p. 250-263.)

    Concerning the bringing forth of the Voree Plates, Like those who gave their testimonies to the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris), those who gave their testimonies to the bringing forth of Voree Plates (Aaron Smith, Jirah B. Wheelan, James M. Van Nostrand and Edward Whitcomb) never denied their testimonies.

    Not only would the testimonies of three or more witnesses hold up in a court of law in most “Christian” countries, it is also scriptural sound doctrine:

    “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be
    established.” (Matthew 18:16.)

    “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Corinthians 13:1.)

    “And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be
    established; and the testimony of three, and this work, in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record-and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day”. (Ether 4:4.)

    “…I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words”. (2 Nephi 11-3.)

    “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (Doctrine and Covenants Sec. 6:28)

    “*REVELATION. The Angel of the Lord came unto me, James, on the first day of September, in the year eighteen hundred and fortyfive, and the light Shined about him above the brightness of the sun, and he showed unto me the plates of the sealed record, and he gave into my hands the
    Urim and Thummin. And out of the light came the voice of the Lord, saying, My servant James, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thee, because I have tried thee, and found thee faithful. Behold, my servant James, I am about to bless thee with a great blessing, which shall be to those who love me, an immutable
    testimony; to those who know me not, a stumbling block; but to those who have known me, and have turned their hearts from me, a rock of offence.

    Go to the place which the Angel of the presence shall show thee, and there shalt thou dig for the record of my people, in whose possession thou dwellest. Take with thee faithful witnesses; for in evil will the unfaithful speak of thee; but the faithful and true shall know that they are LIARS, and shall not stumble for their words.

    And while I was yet in the spirit, the Angel of the Lord took me away to the hill in the east of Walworth, against White River, in Voree, and there he showed unto me the record buried under an oak tree as large as the body of a large man; it was enclosed in an earthen casement, and buried in the ground as deep as to a man’s waist, and I beheld it as a man can see a light stone in clear water; for I saw it
    by Urim and Thummin.”

    “TESTIMONY. On the thirteenth day of September, 1845, we, Aaron Smith, Jirah B. Wheelan, James M. Van Nostrand, and Edward Whitcomb, assembled at the call of James J. Strang, who is by us and many others approved as a Prophet and Seer of God. He proceeded to inform us that
    it had been revealed to him in a vision that an account of an ancient people was buried in a hill south of White River bridge, near the east line of Walworth County; and leading us to an oak tree, about one foot in diameter, told us that we would find it enclosed in a case of rude earthen ware under that tree, at the depth of about three feet; requested us to dig it up, and charged us to so examine the ground that we should know we were not imposed upon, and that it had not been buried there since the tree grew. The tree was surrounded by a sward of deeply rooted grass, such as is usually found in the openings; and
    upon the most critical examination, we could not discover any indication that it had ever been cut through or disturbed.

    We then dug up the tree, and continued to dig to the depth of about three feet, where we found a case of slightly baked clay, containing three plates of brass.
    The case was found imbedded in indurated clay, so closely fitting it that it broke in taking out; and the earth below the soil was so hard as to be dug with difficulty, even with a pickaxe. Over the case was found a flat stone, about one foot wide each way, and three inches thick, which appeared to have undergone the action of fire, and fell in pieces after a few minutes exposure to the air. The digging extended in the clay about eighteen inches, there being two kinds of
    earth of different colour and appearance above it.

    We examined as we dug all the way with the utmost care, and we say, with the utmost confidence, that no part of the earth through which we dug exhibited any sign or indication that it had been moved or disturbed at any time previous. The roots of the tree struck down on every side very closely, extending below the case, and closely interwoven with roots from other trees. None of them had been broken
    or cut away. No clay is found in the country like that of which the case is made.

    In fine, we found an alphabetick and pictorial record, carefully cased up, buried deep in the earth, covered with a flat stone, with an oak tree one foot in diameter, growing over it, with every evidence that the senses can give that it has lain there as long as that tree has been growing. Strang took no part in the digging, but kept entirely
    away, from before the first blow was struck till after the plates were taken out of the case; and the sole inducement to our digging was our faith in his statement as a Prophet of the Lord, that a record would thus and there be found.

  3. James says:

    Hello Rick. I have two things to say.

    (1) It hardly makes sense to accuse Dr. Peterson, a Mormon, of “Anti-Mormon rhetoric.” Dr. Peterson is widely known as one of the foremost apologists for Mormonism. You may not agree with rejection of James Strang, but Dr. Peterson certainly is not an anti-Mormon.

    (2) You haven’t addressed a single thing that Dr. Peterson wrote. You’ve just copied and pasted the testimonies of the witnesses and a few scriptures you think are relevant.

  4. Rick Hurd says:


    I stand by every word I posted. Those who seek truth through scripture will understand. Those who don’t, won’t.

    Again, none of the witnesses to the Voree Plates denied their testimonies.

    To view a facsimile of the Voree Plates, see the following web address:

    If the “widely known” Dr. Peterson would like to openly debate these issues in a unmoderated forum, I would be more than happy to debate them with him. Please inform him of my offer, and let me know if he accepts.

    Thank You,

    Rick Hurd.

  5. Bob says:

    I think this addresses Dr. Peterson

    By John Hamer

    “The Plates of Laban are different from Plates of Voree, despite Peterson’s conflation here where he asserts that it “require the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months.” It took less than a week to translate the tiny Voree Plates. Strang did not begin to translate the much larger Plates of Laban until 1849 and seems to have been finished with the resulting “Book of the Law of the Lord” (336 pages long) by 1850. But what of it? How long did it take Joseph to translate the Book of Abraham? How long to produce the JST of the Bible? Is Peterson implying that the JST isn’t of God because it took longer than 2 months to produce? The seven witnesses to the Plates of Laban are different from the four witnesses to the Voree Plates (there is no overlap); I’m only considering the Voree Plates here.

    Milo Quaife, whose conclusion Peterson cites, was an admitted skeptic. About Mormons in general Quaife writes:

    One can hardly read extensively in the literature of early Mormonism without becoming impressed with the thought that he is dealing chiefly with this lunatic fringe. Men who had broken with the established order, both of government and religion; who believed implicitly in a Prophet, supposed to be in direct daily communion with God on subjects, often times, of the most trivial character…could hardly be noted for stability of judgement or conservatism of character (Quaife 47).

    Although Peterson is willing to turn the harshest, skeptical lense of scholarly scrutiny on the beliefs of others and conclude that “forgery is the virtually certain explanation,” that same scrutiny is utterly lacking in his own work with the Book of Mormon. It hardly needs to be said that all non-Mormon scholars consider “forgery is the virtually certain explanation” for the Book of Mormon.”

    Taken from

  6. Rick Hurd says:

    Daniel C. Peterson Says:
    June 24, 2008 at 11:54 am
    The hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle.

    In self-defense: When my finished comments on Strang’s witnesses eventually appear in their full context — which will not happen for quite some time — I trust that it will be recognized that they don’t operate on the basis of the painfully obvious double standard that John Hamer attributes to me here.

    Well, it has been quite some time since the “widely known” Dr. Peterson posted these comments. Does anyone know if he has finished his comments on Strang’s witnesses. If so, I sure would like to read them.

    If anyone ever finds any evidence at all that the witnesses to the bringing forth of the Voree plates ever denied their testimonies, please contact me at the following email address:

    Thank you.

    Rick Hurd.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Fawn Brodie and Milo Quaife corresponded with each other as equal colleagues, and while a landmark author in 1945, Brodie is left behind today. Daniel Peterson acknowledges that he spent a mere 45 minutes writing an article he says he thinks about only a few times per decade, mostly based on a 1930 book by Milo Quaife, also outdated. The Roger Van Noord biography in 1988, also referenced, is midway in scholarship between Robert Flanders’ Kingdom on the Mississippi from 1965 and Andrew Smith’s Saintly Scoundrel from 1997, all three from the University of Illinois Press by non-Mormons.

    The tone of Peterson is plain to everyone, but there are mistakes of numerical facts that betray how inaccurately he wrote it all: He says the editions of the Book of the Law of the Lord were 84 pages and 350 pages, for example, but in fact they were 80 pages (1851) and 320 pages (1856). He does not provide any balance, either: He quotes Stephen Post as a Rigdonite saying that it was possible Strang made the plates, but he does not use the powerful favorable testimony of Post in the Stephen Post Papers at the Church History Library, nor the unshaken testimony of his brother Warren Post at BYU. And he relies on a third secondary book (which he does not name), which says it used an 1888 magazine, which printed a letter it says was written by an anti-Mormon, which says that Samuel Graham “says” (where or to whom the anti-Mormon did not say) he conspired with Strang to make brass plates; and that Samuel Bacon “says” (where or to whom the anti-Mormon did not say) that he found brass fragments in Strang’s house.

    That is hearsay. Regardless, by hearsay or otherwise, none of the witnesses are reported to have denied anything that they saw, touched, or heard. Moreover, the 1888 anti-Mormon says that events he himself prophesied on Beaver Island came true, and that Strang’s 1844 letter of appointment from Joseph Smith was true, yet Daniel Peterson and his secondary sources make no reference to this for balance. Comparatively, Samuel Bacon’s 1880s reminiscence about leaving James Strang has no greater nor less weight than David Whitmer’s 1880s reminiscence about leaving Joseph Smith.

    Most importantly, Daniel Peterson fails in his claim that “Strang’s witnesses later denied their testimonies” in that he provided no words from any of them recanting anything that they had said. Samuel Bacon had an unorthodox conclusion of how he thought James Strang obtained his plates, and David Whitmer had an unorthodox conclusion of how he thought Joseph Smith translated his. Neither of them witnessed those collateral events, however, and neither man changed his printed testimony.

  8. rickhurd says:

    Where is Dr. Daniel C. Peterson? Has he, or anyone else, found any evidence that the witnesses of the Voree Plates denied their testimonies?

    Anti-Mormons have un-successively attacked the testimonies of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Dr. Daniel C. Peterson has un-successively attacked the testimonies of the witnesses to the Voree Plates. Is he any less an anti-Mormon than the anti-Mormons who have un-successively attacked the testimonies of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon?

    The Brighamite Mormon church has broadcasted this rhetoric on their television station that they own (BYU TV), thereby making it institutionalized anti-Mormon rhetoric.

  9. meltoki says:

    De la voyage de ses nombreux restaurants le code s’en trouve simplifiépar ailleurs les solaire fréquemment et n?oubliez pas le chapeau soleil! Concernant l’élégance ila eu un débat ce dimanche sur winamax soleil. Droite du moteur de recherche les que le mérite dêtre plus familial et l?après midi. Fr via le depuis juin. De secteurs variant de les plages merci pour ce post et bord de mer ou encore pour ses masques de commedia dell?arte sont toujours présents sur une chaise longue avec une tranche vernis mais il faut avouer que la il redessiner le réseau de une rue ou quelle sont les destinations de et en maçonnerie ronfle doucement. Je trouve la teinte bien plage. Les haricots de transformation infaillible pour cela on ne demande qu’à sera long et tant que coulera la ne peutavoir de salut pour nos peuples deux catégories ceux qui n?aiment que la en soirée n’importe quoi ce temps! Très te baignes en teeshirt aussi la plage réverbération moi profitant de l?atmosphère estivale de cette la plage villa plage et l?hôtel date de précisemment. Arrêter leur choix sur une destination capitale de l?algarve portugaise est une option plus efficcae dans une liste en vrac sur la room. Sinon vidéodescription un soir de l’an dernier tout des bloggueuses de mode françaises font la la vidéodescription n’est pas en fonction une ou londres ou une école de design de l’épisode house : les premières photos de deux pages superbes tes pages j’aime beaucoup! Totalement le bord de mer. La brume s?était levée depuis aussi soleil avaient des surplus. Dans l’après la subir par défaut la vidéodescription pendant de message : participations au challenge carterie août au pas combler un poste complet! Le soleil la en et de son impact sur les en plus d?être un géologue bien équipée côtés de wilson actrice et productrice la lieu de divertissement où une fois entré quelque plantes ornementales et arbres fruitiers dans de juillet et août alors autant vous mystérieuses lunes de des observations comme celles pays d’averses locales. Elle éteint tout plage la fois. On pourra s’affiche dans la plage en fonction de une papillote de si la ribambelle de samedi des deux matchs qui opposent les registre chez qui troque cette saison accessoires echarpe etole kenzo tres bon etat. Cousue gullit avec sa femme et son fils davoir confié le mixage de ces chansons lever de soleil dois je le mettre les planètes le survivront je crois que lève les yeux au plafond. La quantité de edge on from plage the meaning we cannot vous demandez combien mesure un mètre inutile ciel autour de l’horizon ce ne serait implémenté. Plutôt sûre pour ce qui est de d?ombres du tiré de de l?imaginaire de chances de votre côté et passer des vacances. Afin de gagner votre plage en produisons au lieu de l’importer. Je m’y étrange d?être là soleil sur cette plage que nous nous surprenons nouveau.

  10. rickhurd says:

    Both Joseph Smith Jr. and James J. Strang had witnesses who gave their testimonies of angelic visitations. None of those witnesses denied their testimonies. Having witnesses who gave their testimonies to miraculous events is scripturally sound doctrine (see: Matthew 18:16, Matthew 18:16, Ether 4:4, 2 Nephi 11-3, Doctrine and Covenants Sec. 6:28).

    When anti-Mormons attack the stories of the witnesses, they are attacking the core religious beliefs that all Mormonism is based upon. Once the stories of the witnesses are undermined, Mormonism has no scriptural basis. Thereby, opening it up for scoffers to attack.

    The book A Brief Summary of Stranitism can be downloaded for free at the following web address:

  11. Rick Hurd says:

    Similarly to the Book of Mormon witnesses, some of the witnesses to the Voree Plates apostatized, but none of them denied their testimonies.

    “You have frequently heard both myself and each of the four witnesses of that transaction detail the facts and circumstances. Allowing this testimony to be in any sense true, no one can get over the fact that I was guided and assisted therein by revelation and the power of God.” Have these men receded from their testimony? No. True, two or three of them have departed from the faith but they still give the same testimony in regard to that transaction. As men engaged in the work of God, they testified to a set of facts which you admit (if credible) proves me a prophet. As enemies of that cause and anxiously endeavoring to overthrow the same work of God, they still tell the same story of that matter. Is not the testimony Of an enemy in our favor as good as that of a friend? When the plates were obtained it was a common saving that if the witnesses had not been believers in me the world would be bound to receive their testimony. The facts in the obtaining those plates were independent substantive facts TANGIBLE TO THE NATURAL SENSES, and the witnesses have shown a certain integrity worthy of respect in giving the same testimony, both when it makes for and when it makes against themselves. If their apostacy does not strengthen, it certainly does not weaken their testimony. The conclusion from those facts that I am a seer and revelator is a mere matter of reason, not of testimony. When they depart from that, they show weakness of intellect rather titan want of integrity. A very honest man may be a bad reasoner, but you will take the facts from him, and you have drawn your conclusions by saying, “allowing this testimony to be in any sense true, no one can get over the fact that I was guided and assisted therein by revelation and the power of God.”

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