Martin Harris was born on May 18,1783. In 1808, he married Lucy Harris. They eventually had six children. During the War of 1812, Harris enlisted and was eventually promoted to first sergeant in the Thirty-ninth New York Militia. He was known as an honored veteran when he returned.Martin Harris was a skilled farmer and by 1828 owned 320 acres of land in the Palmyra area. Physical descriptions of Martin Harris say that he was five foot eight inches tall, had blue eyes, brown hair and a beard that was shaved to grow off the edge of his jaw and chin. He was described as industrious, an excellent provider and father, honest, sincere, shrewd in business, and devoted to civic affairs.
In his religious life he did not attend church but instead believed in the “restorationist” ideal, and looked for the return of Christianity as described in the Bible. He is quoted as saying that “in the year 1818…I was inspired of the Lord and taught of the Spirit that I should not join any Church” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 170). By 1824, Martin had met Joseph Smith and knew of his vision, the gold plates and the appearance of Moroni. He helped Joseph Smith protect the gold plates and provided him with financial support.
In 1828, he took copies of some of the characters in the ancient writings and their translations to scholars in Utica, Albany, and New York City. A couple scholars when they saw the characters said they were original and true to form, but upon learning how Harris had obtained them would not give their scholarly endorsement.
Martin Harris worked as Joseph’s scribe from April to June of 1828. During that time they completed 116 pages of manuscript. Martin’s family was annoyed with his devotion to Joseph Smith and wanted proof that he was not wasting his time. He convinced Joseph to let him take the pages of the manuscript to show his family. While there the pages were stolen. After this loss, Martin stopped working as Joseph’s scribe.
In June of 1829, while Harris was with Joseph Smith, they were shown a vision. Martin Harris testified that he heard God’s voice telling him that Joseph’s translation of the gold plates was correct and that he was to testify of their truthfulness. His testimony can now be found in the front of the Book of Mormon under the title The Testimony of the Three Witnesses.
The book was now complete and there was the problem of finding someone who would print it as well as a way to pay for printing. They were finally able to find a printer, but an agreement was reached only after Martin Harris promised to mortgage part his farm for the $3,000 that was needed up front. On April 7, 1831, he sold a part of his farm to pay for the rest of the printing.
In 1831 Martin moved to Kirtland, Ohio, but his wife refused to follow. So he had to spend time between his two homes. He helped Joseph Smith find and purchase land in Missouri, and was one of the first to be asked to live the law of consecration. He served a mission in 1832 wherein he baptized over a hundred people. In 1834 he volunteered to go to Missouri with Zion’s camp, and helped Joseph Smith select the first members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 1836 his wife Lucy passed away, and he married Caroline Young, Brigham Young’s niece, on November 1, 1836. They eventually had seven children.
Martin Harris had a falling out with the other elders of the Church when the Kirtland Safety Society, an “anti-bank,” was established. Martin did not believe in the use of paper money and thought the bank was folly. He was, for a time, because of this situation, alienated from the Church, but was never excommunicated. The Kirtland Safety Society failed, which caused many Saints in Kirtland to apostatize.
The following years were hard for the [Mormon] Church; Martin preached in England, and then stayed behind in Kirtland watching over the Kirtland Temple, after Brigham Young and other members of the Church migrated to Utah. The Utah Saints invited Martin and his family to join them there. His children and Caroline left for Utah in 1856, but Martin remained behind until 1870. In 1869 members of the [Mormon] Church sent money to help Martin come to Utah. He was 87 years old but took the journey and arrived in Utah on August 30, 1870. In Utah he repeatedly verified his testimony of the Book of Mormon. He lived in Utah among the Saints until his death on July 10, 1875.