Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Oliver Cowdery Oliver Cowdery

1806 - 1850

  • Born 1806 Wells, Vermont
  • Scribe to the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1829
  • Received Aaronic Pristhood, 1829
  • Baptized for Remission of sins, 1829
  • Received Melchizedek Priesthood, 1829
  • Witness to Book of Mormon, 1830
  • Baptized a member of the Church, 1830
  • Second Elder of the Church, 1830
  • Married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer 1832; six children
  • Assistant President of the Church, 1834
  • Excommunicated for Apostacy, 1838
  • Rebaptized into Church 1848
  • Died 1850 Richmond, Missouri

    Oliver Cowdery, Second Elder of the Church snd Scribe to the Prophet, was born at Wells, Vermont in 1806 to a New England family with strong traditions of patriotism, learning, and religion. At the age of twenty, he left Vermont and traveled to New York to be near his older brothers. He made a living as a clerk at a store until he secured a position as a school teacher. It was while boarding in the home of Joseph Smith's parents that he learned of Joseph's vision and the Golden Plates. His prayers concerning the matter were answered. Joseph records,  "[The] Lord appeared unto…Oliver Cowdery and shewed unto him the plates in a vision and…what the Lord was about to do through me, his unworthy servant. Therefore he was desirous to come and write for me to translate"

    Oliver served the Prophet Joseph as a scribe during most of the translation of The Book of Mormon. Reading the work as the translation continued, it became their practice to pray about doctrines mentioned in the work. Thus while praying concerning the ordinance of baptism, they were visited by John the Baptist who conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on them. They were then authorized to baptize one another. Soon afterward Peter, James, and John appeared as a result of their prayerful entreaties and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon the young men. Oliver was chosen to be one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, thus before twenty-five years of his life were over, he had been visited and seen with his own eyes at least five angelic visitors.

    On December 18, 1832, Oliver married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, daughter of Peter Whitmer and sister of David Whitmer. Elizabeth would bear him six children, only one of whom, Maria Louise Cowdery, reached the age of accountability.

    In 1835, the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, of whom Oliver was one, were charged to select and ordain the Twelve Apostles. They received a special blessing from Joseph Smith to this end.

    Oliver was to become the Second Elder of the Church. Indeed, it was he who ordained Joseph First Elder. As Second Elder, he held all the keys of the restoration and the priesthood jointly with Joseph. With Joseph he was ordained to the Holy Apostleship. Should Joseph have died, he would have been empowered to continue the process of the restoration with all the authority Joseph held. Likely, he would have also been called to shed his blood in Carthage.

    Alas, though he had seen angels, though he stood through the early persecutions of the saints, he began to question the works of Joseph. Though there were many issues, it appears that an unwillingness to accept the revelations concerning plural marriage was the final breaking point. Bitterness crept into his soul and he became accusatory toward the brethren. He actually filed charges against Joseph for adultery. Accordingly, he was excommunicated in 1838. His place as Second Elder of the Chuch was taken from him and placed on the shoulders of Hyrum Smith who was empowered to follow his brother into martyrdom on the streets of Carthage.

    Financially these were good years for Oliver. Removed from the persecution he would have endured as a saint, he studied the law and became an attorney. He also became politically active. But like many, he could not get the Gospel out of his soul. He never recanted his testimony that he had seen angels and the Golden Plates. And ten years later, Joseph, now having been martyred, Oliver applied for and received permission to be rebaptized. Oliver sought only to be baptized, not honor or place of position in the Church.

   Oliver Cowdery died in March of 1850 at Richmond, Missouri at the age of forty-three surrounded by family members to whom he bore a deathbed testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

   The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Lyndon W. Cook, p.14
   LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 1, p.246
   Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, COWDERY, OLIVER
   History of the Church, Multiple citations; see index
   2005 Church Almanac, p. 56

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