A Francis Grice Daguerreotype of Martin Harris, the First Morman Scribe

The upper image is from the Grice Collection in the Library of Congress. [Unidentified man, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right] – color film copy transparency | Library of Congress (loc.gov) The lower image is The Three Witnesses Engraving by H. B. Hall & Sons, 1883, engraving cropped from https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/media/illustrations

Martin Harris (1783-1875), the first scribe of Joseph Smith’s translation of the tablets., in Palmyra, New York, in the spring of 1828 (Gunnell, Wayne Cutler. “Martin Harris—Witness and Benefactor to the Book of Mormon.” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1955). Emma Hale Smith may have been the real first scribe, but Harris somehow lost the first 116 pages of the translation. Harris was 61 years old in the spring of 1844 and lived in Kirtland, Ohio, from 1831 to 1870. The Grice collection contains a daguerreotype of Oliver Cowdery, another scribe for Joseph Smith. see: Francis Henry Grice’s Daguerrean Views – Rod’s Ramblings and Ruminations (genevanotes.com)

Neither Harris nor Cowdery was known to be present in Nauvoo in 1844. If the hypothetical daguerreotype subjects are correctly identified here, one plausible explanation for dating the images to ca1844 is that Foster and Grice, traveling together, stopped in Tiffin, Ohio to see Cowdery and Kirtland, Ohio to see Harris, during their journey to Nauvoo.

Ultimately, Foster and Harris became members of the Mormon Church of James Strang (James Strang – Wikipedia), who himself translated tablets. He studied works by Thomas Paine and the Comte de Volney, whose book Les Ruines exerted a significant influence on the future prophet. Strang was an abolitionist.

The upper image above appears more consistent with about 1850 than 1844 because of the short shirt collar and bow tie. see: 34 Cool Pics Show Fashion Styles of Victorian Men in the 1840s and 1850s ~ Vintage Everyday In addition the man in the upper image might be somewhat older than 61.

The engraving above is taken from this Savage image of 1870, which appears to be an albumin print.

At least one other image in the Grice collection seems to be from about 1850: that of Betsy Kelsey Conant and her daughter Corretta Conant, who appears to be about 7-8 years old. Unidentified woman and girl, seated half-length portrait, facing front – PICRYL Public Domain Image (getarchive.net)

Many hypotheses may be made advanced to explain the apparent clustering of early Mormons within the Grice Collection. Hopefully, further study will resolve whether the “cluster” is a mirage or an image that can be brought into sharper focus.

2 thoughts on “A Francis Grice Daguerreotype of Martin Harris, the First Morman Scribe

  1. I have been to Kirtland, Ohio, briefly, and probably to get some gasoline. It seemed then to have been an unlikely choice for the first Mormon temple, much less in the 1830s, but then I am not a prophet.

    The latter, images of Martin Harris appear to show perhaps the same shirt – certainly a similar collar style – a very similar hair line, and surely the same neck beard style in both of those photos (rather like the neck beard favored by Henry Thoreau).

    I would not have wanted to be the person who lost 116 pages of the first scribal copy of the BOOK
    OF MORMON. Has anyone told Mark Hofmann that they are still missing? Did either or both Foster and Harris follow James Strang to Beaver Island? So many questions.

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    1. The neck beard was a thing in the 1840’s – Augustus Conant sported one. I have not heard from Mark since I declined to sign for a package labeled “The First Five Score and Sixteen” in 1985.

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