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.