David Whitmer was born on January 7, 1805, in Pennsylvania. While he was still a baby, David’s father moved the family to western New York where they resided until 1831. There were five boys and one girl in the family. David Whitmer left an account of his first meeting with Joseph Smith as follows,
I first heard of what is now termed Mormonism, in the year 1828. I made a business trip to Palmyra, N. Y., and while there stopped with one Oliver Cowdery. A great many people in the neighborhood were talking about the finding of certain golden plates by one Joseph Smith, jun., a young man of the neighborhood. Cowdery and I, as well as many others, talked about the matter, but at that time I paid but little attention to it, supposing it to be only the idle gossip of the neighborhood. Mr. Cowdery said he was acquainted with the Smith family, and he believed there must be some truth in the story of the plates, and that he intended to investigate the matter. I went home, and after several months, Cowdery told me he was going to Harmony, Penn., whither Joseph Smith had gone with the plates, on account of the persecutions of his neighbors, and see him about the matter. He did go, and on his way he stopped at my father’s house and told me that as soon as he found out anything, either truth or untruth, he would let me know. After he got there he became acquainted with Joseph Smith, and shortly after wrote to me, telling me that he was convinced that Smith had the records, and that he (Smith) had told him that it was the will of heaven that he (Cowdery) should be his scribe to assist in the translation of the plates. He went on and Joseph translated from the plates, and he wrote it down. Shortly after this Mr. Cowdery wrote me another letter, in which he gave me a few lines of what they had translated, and he assured me that he knew of a certainty that he had a record of a people that inhabited this continent, and that the plates they were translating from gave a complete history of these people (Millennial Star, Vol. 43, page 421).
David Whitmer and his family were influential in helping Joseph Smith during the translating of the Book of Mormon. They also knew Oliver Cowdery, who worked as a scribe for Joseph Smith. In 1829 in a letter, Oliver Cowdery asked if he and Joseph could finish the translation in the safety of David’s home. It was recorded by Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph’s mother) that David lived in his parent’s home. Her record says that David showed the letter “to his father, mother, brothers, and sisters, and their advice was asked in regard to the best course for him to take.” In the family council, Father Whitmer was practical: “Why, David [you] know you have sowed as much wheat as you can harrow in tomorrow and next day, and then you have a quantity of plaster to spread.” So they decided that David should not go for Joseph and Oliver unless he got “a witness from God that it is very necessary.” David agreed but secretly asked the Lord that if he should go, he would be able “to do this work sooner than the same work had ever been done on the farm before.” To everyone’s amazement, two days’ work was done in one, and the impressed father counseled David to finish fertilizing and leave to “bring up the man with his scribe”; Father Whitmer was convinced that “there must be some overruling power in this thing” (from Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor).
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery stayed in the Whitmer home until the translation of the Book of Mormon was complete. In 1829, Joseph baptized David Whitmer as a member of the Church, and just a short time later, David Whitmer became a witness of the Gold Plates that the Book of Mormon had been translated from. David was ordained as an elder on April 6, 1830, and was one of the original six members of the Mormon Church. David Whitmer was eventually excommunicated from the Church in 1838 for joining with people that were persecuting the Church. Although he remained outside of the Mormon Church for the rest of his life, he never denied his witness of the Book of Mormon. He even defended it publicly in a Missouri paper in 1881.