There is no place more foundational in Mormon history than Fayette, New York, in the context of the Church’s establishment. Smith’s connection to Fayette was originally dependent upon his relationship with the Peter Whitmer Sr. family, whom he met in June 1829. While translating the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in April and May 1829, Smith likely only had a passing knowledge (from his parents and Oliver Cowdery) of this German immigrant family. The accented voices of Peter and Mary Whitmer Sr. offered Smith support and a safe haven to finish the translation, and their sons quickly became zealous believers and eventually the earliest leaders of the Church. Upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery arriving in early June 1829, the Whitmer family swelled with enthusiasm, but they had little knowledge of how foundational their home would become to the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It took very little time before the Whitmers began reporting miracles amongst each other. An angel apparently assisted David Whitmer, who drove his wagon well over one hundred miles to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to move them to Fayette. Once they began traveling back to Fayette, an angel apparently transporting the gold plates hitched a ride on David’s wagon for some time before mysteriously disappearing. The angel was apparently transporting the plates from Harmony to Fayette for Smith. Once they arrived, Mary Musselman Whitmer (David’s mother) was apparently shown the gold plates by an angel after an exhausting day preparing for Smith and Cowdery’s arrival. The Whitmers’ house was quickly transformed into a space for Joseph Smith to finish the translation of the Book of Mormon and arrange for its publication. John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., and possibly Christian Whitmer even assisted Joseph Smith by recording a few lines of the translation, and Oliver Cowdery described this period as a “time never to be forgotten.”
Anthony Sweat, By the Gift and Power of God. See Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015).
The upstairs chamber became the central space where Smith dictated the words of the Book of Mormon to Cowdery, along with a handful of personal revelations for those who were seeking to know the Lord’s will for them. In June 1829, Smith and Cowdery worked on compiling both the Articles of the Church of Christ and the Articles and Covenants (D&C 20), which became the original governing documents of the Church. As the Church developed there at the Whitmer household, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were also commanded to call twelve Apostles (D&C 18), a commandment that would eventually come to fruition in February 1835. Along with that call from God, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery were called to be witnesses of the gold plates. After having a vision of an angel and the plates, their testimonies were printed along with five thousand copies of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Their foundational vision was experienced near the Whitmer home, just weeks after Mary Musselman Whitmer had her vision of the plates and an angel.
Representation of the chamber of Peter Whitmer Sr.’s house in Fayette, New York, site of the translation of the Book of Mormon. Photograph by Ray L. Huntington.
For over a year before Joseph Smith established the Church in April 1830, a few of those who were close to him began to anticipate and prepare for its organization. In March 1829, Smith dictated a revelation to Martin Harris (D&C 5) that gave a few indicators for when the Church would be established. It prophesied that a church would be organized after three witnesses were chosen and had seen the gold plates, and as soon as the words found on the plates were “sent forth.” They saw the plates in June. Over the next three months, Smith continued to prophesy that he and his followers would establish a church, and the text translated from the gold plates prompted Smith and Cowdery to consider essential foundational matters and provided them with an example of when Christ had organized his Church in America. Oliver Cowdery recalled that in May 1829 when Joseph Smith translated about the ministry of Christ, they realized that they did not yet have the “authority from God to administer the ordinances of the gospel.” Smith’s history explained that they received that authority from an angelic messenger shortly thereafter, and that when they had baptized each other, they prophesied concerning the rise of the Church. The history also stated, “I prophecied concerning the rise of this church, and many other things connected with the Church and this generation of the children of men.” Just a week after their experience, a revelation directly commanded Cowdery to “build up my [God’s] church.” In an attempt to fulfill that commandment, Cowdery borrowed text from the Book of Mormon manuscript to compile a document, which he titled “A commandment from God unto Oliver how he should build up his Church & the manner thereof.”
However, according to Joseph Smith’s history, Smith and Cowdery were instructed by revelation “in the chamber of old Father Whitmer” in Fayette, apparently in June 1829 at the very place where they completed translation of the Book of Mormon, to delay the organization of the Church of Christ until after believers could be gathered together. The two men were instructed to ordain each other elders, but to “defer this our ordination until, such times, as it should be practicable” to meet with all the believers, who would vote “to accept us as spiritual teachers, or not.” Christ told them that they should “then call out such men as the Spirit should dictate, and ordain them, and then attend to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” All these steps pertained to the planned formal organization of the Church of Christ. Smith’s history further explained that at the time of or soon after, revelation “pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once again, here upon the earth.” That revelation survives today as the preface to “Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ,” the foundational document that describes the ecclesiastical order and how to perform religious ordinances.
Earliest known edition of Doctrine and Covenants 20, “The Mormon Creed,” Painesville Telegraph, 19 April 1831, . Joseph Smith Papers website.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery ordained each other as elders when the Church of Christ was organized on 6 April 1830. As envisioned in the June 1829 instructions, Smith’s 1839 history explained that those who attended the meeting “consented by an unanimous vote” to Smith and Cowdery’s ordinations. As Smith recounted, “I then laid my hands upon Oliver Cowdery and ordained him an Elder, . . . after which he ordained me also to the office of an Elder of the said Church.” They partook of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and then they “laid [their] hands on each individual member of the Church present that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ.” Then, “whilst yet together,” Joseph Smith received “the following commandment”—the revelation now canonized in LDS scripture as Doctrine and Covenants section 21. This revelation, as it was recorded in early manuscript copies, is essential to understanding the dating and location of the organization of the Church.
Judith Mehr, Revelation Given to Joseph Smith at the Organization of the Church. © Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
After Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith had been ordained elders, once they established the Church under a unanimous vote from those in attendance, Smith’s history explains, “Whilst yet together I received the following commandment” (D&C 21). It prophesied that “there Shall a Record be kept among you” and that within that record Joseph Smith would be known as a “seer & translator & Prophet an Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of the Church.” With knowledge of how the Church would describe Joseph Smith in the future, the point of the revelation was to call “Oliver mine Apostle” to ordain Smith. It explained that since Cowdery was the second elder and because he had been ordained under the hands of Joseph Smith, who was the first elder, he would ordain Smith. When Cowdery was asked, “To what did you ordain Joseph on the 6th of April, 1830?” he replied, “I ordained him to be a Prophet, Seer, &c., just as the revelation says.” David Whitmer, who also said he was at the meeting, wrote, “Joseph received a revelation that he should be the leader.” The revelation, according to Whitmer, also called Cowdery, “that [Joseph Smith] should be ordained by [him] as ‘Prophet Seer and Revelator’ to the church.”
Though it is clear that Joseph Smith acted as a prophet before 6 April 1830, this ordination was a founding event even within itself. Smith was ordained as the prophet of the Church on 6 April 1830. The First Vision in 1820 marked him as one of God’s chosen individuals, but he only began acting as a prophet when he received the gold plates and the Nephite interpreters. Ammon, a missionary in the Book of Mormon, declared that “a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God” (Mosiah 8:16). As Smith dictated the word of God from the Nephite interpreters, he manifested his prophethood, and his revelations identified him as the mouthpiece of God. Yet it was at Peter Whitmer Sr.’s house in Fayette, New York, where Joseph Smith was officially ordained as the prophet of the Church of Christ.
Walter Rane, Oliver Cowdery Ordains Joseph Smith.
The Whitmer house also became the meeting place for Church conferences before the Saints moved to Ohio. On 9 June 1830, at the first conference, leaders of the Church were ordained to priesthood offices, and the Articles and Covenants were read by Joseph Smith to the congregations. These documents were then “received by unanimous voice of the whole congregation.” Soon after that conference, Smith possibly received the Visions of Moses, or the first book of Moses, by revelation at the Whitmer home. Returning home to Harmony, Pennsylvania, for the summer, Smith moved to Fayette just before the second conference of the Church. It was there, on 26 September 1830, that his authority was solidified as the only individual who could receive revelation for the Church. Though his singular prophetic leadership had been challenged that summer by Oliver Cowdery and again in September by Hiram Page, his authority was upheld by the membership at the conference. He also organized the first Lamanite mission of the Church at the conference, after which the missionaries converted Sidney Rigdon’s reformed Baptist congregations in Kirtland, Ohio. At the third Church conference, on 2 January 1831, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation (D&C 38) commanding all of the Church members in New York to sell their houses and move to Ohio—initiating a new era in Church history.
Like the temple lot in Independence, Missouri, that was dedicated as sacred space in the summer of 1831 but was eventually controlled by nonmembers, the Whitmer farm will remain sacred to Latter-day Saints, even if it becomes just a plot of land with no structures—as long as the memories and history remain prevalent in the minds of the believers. Its sacredness is found within the history of the place, and the membership’s knowledge of the events forms a foundation for believing in the Restoration of the Mormon gospel. Many of the events that occurred in Fayette in 1829 and 1830 have been debated and disputed by historians. Disagreement has been normative, while the divide between opinions has widened. This is threatening to the membership only to the extent that the history can change the location or demonstrate that the Church was never established.
The Church’s emphasis on historic sites has transformed Fayette into something far more than just a plot of land. A simple log home and a chapel have become a destination for thousands of pilgrimages to the place where the Church was established. Challenges, however, do exist about whether the Church was actually established in Fayette, which potentially threaten the sacredness of that site. If the value of the site was formed through experiences at the location and a shared memory of its broader meaning within Mormonism’s sacred history, the history and geography are inseparable from and vital to the sacredness of Fayette.
 For a description of how the relationship between Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer developed and how they ended up moving to Fayette, see Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Joseph Smith Papers, H1:308, Joseph Smith, History, Vol. A-1, 21; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–45, book 8, 8; “Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1; Joseph F. Smith, Journal, 7–8 September 1878, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
 Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer originally corresponded by letter before they moved to Fayette. JSP, H1:308; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–45, book 8, 8; “Mormonism,” 1. For an angel plowing the fields, see Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881; Deseret News, 25 March 1884; and Deseret News, 16 November 1878.
 See Deseret Evening News, 16 November 1878.
 See Deseret Evening News, 16 November 1878. The angel apparently told her, “You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”
 Cowdery recalled that “these were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom!” Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 14.
 See Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley, eds., Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 120–26 and 370–74 (hereafter JSP, D1).
 See D&C 17.
 See Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, 1830), .
 See Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 1: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 241n5; for a list of seventy-three possible attendees, see Larry C. Porter, “Organizational Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ, 6 April 1830,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania, ed. Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman Jr., and Susan Easton Black (Provo, UT: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 154–55. On 6 April 1830, the “Church of Christ” was formally organized “agreeable to the Laws of [the United States]” with six charter members. Porter argues that it is possible that over seventy believers could have been present. Joseph Smith’s history indicated that they may have known when the Church was going to be organized almost a year earlier. It states, “We obtained of him the following, by the Spirit of Prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to use the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once again, here upon the earth.” JSP, H1:334–36; Joseph Smith, History, Vol. A-1, 29.
 See Revelation, March 1829 [D&C 5], in JSP, D1:16–19. In November 1829, Oliver Cowdery informed Joseph Smith that “Mr. Granden [Egbert B. Grandin] still think
we 〈he〉 will finish printing by the first of febuary.” Letter from Oliver Cowdery, 6 November 1829, in JSP, D1:100.
 For example, “And for this cause have I said, if this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.” JSP, D1:37–43. “I will establish my Church yea even the church which was taught by my Desiples.” Revelation, March 1829 [D&C 5], in JSP, D1:17. See also Revelation, April 1829 [D&C 6], in JSP, D1:34–37.
 Oliver Cowdery to William W. Phelps, Letter 1, 7 September 1834, in Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 15.
 JSP, H1:294–98, Joseph Smith, History, Vol. A-1, 18–19.
 Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18], in JSP, D1:71. “Wherefore, if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”
 Appendix 3: “Articles of the Church of Christ,” June 1829, in JSP, D1:369.
 JSP, H1:334, Joseph Smith, History, Vol. A-1, 28.
 JSP, H1:334–36, Joseph Smith, History, Vol. A-1, 29. David Whitmer claimed decades later to support his own ecclesiology after forming his own church with roots in the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Church, that a “spiritual” church had been formed in 1829 and that the organization on 6 April 1830 was a formality to officially and legally organize. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: 1887), 30–36.
 See Articles and Covenants, circa April 1829 [D&C 20], in JSP, D1:116. Joseph Smith’s history introduces Articles and Covenants by explaining, “In this manner did the Lord continue to give us instructions from time to time, concerning the duties which now devolved upon us, and among many other things of the kind, we obtained of him the folowing, by the Spirit of Prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to his will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his Church once again, here upon the earth.” This account suggests that the Articles and Covenants was received in 1829, but John Whitmer dated the earliest known copy of the document as 10 April 1830 in Revelation Book 1. See also Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books, vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011), 75 (hereafter JSP, R1); “Revelation,” Millennial Star, 1 May 1840, 1:8.
 JSP, H1:380–82. Joseph Smith, History, Vol. A-1, 39.
 See Revelation, 6 April 1830 [D&C 21], in JSP, D1:126; Revelation, 6 April 1830 [D&C 21], in JSP, R1:27. The earliest manuscript copy of D&C 21, found in Revelation Book 1, will be discussed below in further detail.
 William E. McLellin, “The Successor of Joseph, the Seer,” Ensign of Liberty, December 1847, 42.
 Whitmer, Address to All Believers, 33.
 See Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015).
 JSP, D1:150–55.
 JSP, D1:183–86, 190–92.
 JSP, D1:211–18.
 JSP, D1:197–200, 229–32.