Kinderhook Plates

Every Latter-day Saint knows the story of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from the gold plates a stone in a hat. What they may not know is that Joseph Smith also translated a different set of plates found in Kinderhook, IL.

How come the church doesn’t talk about these plates? Well, it did for 140 years… until the plates were proven to be a forgery.

The Sept. 19, 1962 Improvement Era related the discovery of the Kinderhook plates:

“On April 23, 1843, a group of men excavated an old earth mound just outside the town of Kinderhook, Illinois, and came up with a most interesting find. The excavation was headed by Robert Wiley, a local merchant. After digging down about twelve feet, they came upon “fire burned rock, charcoal, ashes, and badly decomposed human bones. Near the [corner] a bundle was found that consisted of six plates of brass of a bell shape, each having a hole near the small end, a ring through them all and clasped with two clasps.”The plates appeared to have some kind of writing on them but were so badly oxidized they could not be clearly distinguished until Dr. W. P. Harris, MD, treated them with a dilute solution of sulphuric acid which made them perfectly clear. They were completely covered with “hieroglyphics” on both sides. A certificate stating the facts of the find was drawn up and signed by nine of the men present and sent to nearby newspapers. Since Nauvoo was only a short distance away, the church periodical Times and Seasons, received the story quickly and published it with all details.”

Joseph Smith wrote in his diary on May 1, 1843:
“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. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton and were covered on both sides with ancient characters. 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.” (

The problem? The plates were a total forgery. Despite the fact that the makers of the plates had exposed them, church members kept believing that they were authentic.

The 1962 Improvement Era article stated:
“The [Kinderhook] plates are now back in their original category of genuine.

“What scholars may learn from this ancient record in future years or what may be translated by divine power is an exciting thought to contemplate.

“This much remains. 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.”

Then, in 1981, an Ensign article stated:
“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.”

If the Kinderhook plates were a lure, then Joseph took the bait, hook and sinker. He was duped into translating bogus plates. For over a century, church leaders duped themselves into believing that Joseph had translated an actual record.

Both of Joseph Smith’s translations for which we have original sources (the other being the Book of Abraham) have proven to be fraudulent. What does this say about Joseph’s capacity as a translator or a prophet? What does it say about the later prophets who were unable to recognize this forgery or the later Mark Hoffman forgeries?

It says they are frauds.

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland
  • As with your tweets from last week (see here:, this simplistic post (predictably) does not hold up to historical scrutiny:

    The formatting issues with the post aside, Neal (drawing from the latest scholarship of Don Bradley, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian Hauglid) does a fine job exposing the flaws in the ex-Mormon retelling of the Kinderhook Plates episode.

    • Col. Shitzengiggles

      You are one of the only believers I know personally that stick to these thoroughly debunked claims. Re; Kinderhook. There are plenty of areas in Church history where both sides can disagree & it’s not so point blank, painfully obvious to the intellectually honest.

      Things that vehemently were denied & defended from the pulpit just a few short years ago, are now being admitted by leadership as incorrect. Frequently. Confessions if you will, common, and you won’t have to wait much longer Mr. Smoot.

      As Church historians gradually refuse to defend the indefensible, leaders have no choice. Unfortunately, it’s far too little, far too late for many who truly choose to put our shekels where are mouth is re being “a truth loving people.” Are you a truth loving person? Or one engaged in the bizarrest type of intellectual & factual twister? Time is not on your side. Nor is truth. I know exactly where you are, and I know it’s a painful place. I was there, even a decade after becoming inactive, I couldn’t definitively answer the question. Am I a truth loving person, willing to honor God given intellect and truth, wherever it may lead me. Opposite to what I believed, it unleashed spiritual happiness & progress that surprised me. It’s not my hope to convince another person, it’s my hope all find peace & contentment. I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my path is the only means to reaching it. I’m not inferring that’s your position. I truly wish it for every brother & sister on planet erf. Stay Frosty, Stay Aerodynamic, Thank You, Drive Through.

  • “Joseph Smith wrote in his diary on May 1, 1843:”

    This isn’t from Joseph Smith’s diary. It’s from “History, 1838–1856, volume D-1,” which was begun in 1845, a full year after Joseph Smith’s death.

    From the link you provided:

    “According to the Church Historian’s Office journal, Bullock finished the third volume of the series, volume C-1, on Thursday, 3 July 1845, in Nauvoo, Illinois. He began work on the fourth volume, D-1, the next day, beginning on page 1362 with the entry for 1 August 1842.1 (The pages in volumes A-1–E-1 were numbered consecutively.) Bullock continued work on the record, drawing upon Richards’s draft notes, until 3 February 1846—the day before D-1 and the other volumes were packed up in preparation for the Latter-day Saints’ exodus from Nauvoo.”

    This entry in particular is derived from William Clayton’s journal entry for 1 May 1843, and was retold in the first person (a common 19th century scribal phenomenon) when it was cited in the D-1 history to make it sound like it was Joseph Smith saying it himself.

    There is a mention in Joseph Smith’s journal on 7 May 1843 of him being “visited by several gentlemen concerning the plates” now known as the Kinderhook Plates, but that’s not the citation above. That citation comes from Clayton.

    Come on dude. At least cite your sources properly.

  • Oh, and for the record:

    “No further mention of the plates is made in JS’s journal after this 7 May entry, and no translation endorsed by JS has been located, suggesting that whatever JS initially thought about the plates, he soon lost interest in them.”

    Hedges et al, JS Papers, Journals (2015), 3:13.

  • Dan Hoen

    @stephensmoot:disqus, while I realize your position is tough sledding to say the least, why don’t you at least attempt to address the content of the post?

    Here are the facts:
    1. The Kinderhook plates were a hoax designed to expose Joseph
    2. Joseph could not detect that the plates were a hoax
    3. Joseph started a translation on these plates
    4. Subsequent church leaders perpetuated the story that the plates and translation were legitimate

    Instead, the only thing we get from you are ad hominem attacks, obfuscating with irrelevant technical details, and criticizing the formatting of the post. Well done, you’re officially grasping at straws.

  • PEDRO Victor

    Only Joseph Smith is the truth..

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