Oliver Cowdery was one of the first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He witnessed many things with Joseph Smith and had much authority in the early Church.Oliver was born on October 3, 1806, in Vermont. There is little information about his youth, and the earliest records state that at twenty years old he moved to New York. He worked as a clerk in a store until 1829, and then taught at the school in Manchester. Oliver Cowdery boarded in the home of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack, and while there, learned of Joseph Smith’s visions and the manuscript he was translating. Oliver became convinced of the truth of this information and wanted to become a scribe for Joseph Smith.
Oliver became Joseph’s scribe on April 7, 1829, and worked for him until the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed. Oliver was grateful for the opportunity he had to hear the words of the book. While translating, Joseph and Oliver learned about baptism and went to ask the Lord if they needed to be baptized. While they were praying, they heard the voice of Christ, and John the Baptist appeared to them. He gave them the priesthood authority to baptize and taught them gospel truths. Oliver also witnessed the restoration of the higher priesthood through the ancient apostles. In June of 1829, Oliver was one of the three men to see the gold plates and was commanded to bear testimony of their truthfulness. Oliver was then given the job of overseeing the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Oliver Cowdery was the first member of the Mormon Church to speak in a public meeting after the Church had been officially organized on April 6, 1830. Oliver’s speeches and writings were known for their logic and personal knowledge. Shortly after the organization of the Church, Oliver was asked to lead the first major Mormon missionary expedition of the Church. The group was asked to teach the Native Americans, and through their efforts Church membership doubled, though very few were Native Americans. Cowdery found a rich harvest of converts on the way to teach the Indians. From 1830-1831 Oliver served as the first Mormon Church recorder, and acted as scribe for Joseph Smith while he was translating the Bible. This calling was given to him again from 1835-1837. He kept the official minutes of meetings and was a contributor to many of the Church newspapers. In 1830, Oliver Cowdery was also called as the first counselor to Joseph Smith.
In 1831, Oliver was asked to transport the manuscript of Joseph Smith’s revelations to Missouri for printing. He was asked to stay and help William W. Phelps print the book. Bad relations in Missouri with neighbors made it necessary for these two men to return to Ohio, where they continued printing the book. In 1835, Oliver helped Joseph Smith make final corrections to what is now the Doctrine and Covenants. In 1836, Oliver Cowdery was with Joseph Smith when they witnessed a vision in the Kirtland Temple. In 1838 a rift developed between Joseph Smith and Oliver. Oliver was tried in Mormon Church court for inactivity, accusing Joseph Smith of adultery, and collecting debts after the Kirtland bank had failed. He was excommunicated.
After he was excommunicated, he moved back to Ohio and practiced law. He became a prominent leader in the area. He was known as an able lawyer, brilliant, yet modest and reserved. In 1847, he moved to Wisconsin and continued practicing law. Letters to his family show that he remained a believer in the Mormon Church and was hurt by his rejections. In 1848, Oliver returned to the Church and joined the Saints in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with his wife and young daughter. During the ten years he had been out of the Mormon Church, he did not once deny the Book of Mormon or the visions he saw.
When he returned to the Church, he expressed only the desire to be rebaptized and fellowshipped. Lack of funds and winter forced the family to stay in Missouri in 1849. Unfortunately Oliver was suffering from a respiratory condition and died on March 3, 1850, before he was able to move to Utah with the rest of the Mormon Church membership. His last letter states that he accepted a call to lobby for the Church in Washington, but he never got to fulfill this call. His wife recorded, “He always without one doubt…affirmed the divinity and truth of the Book of Mormon” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p.63).