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Gifted early leader witness of Restoration

Scholars shed multiple insights on a life often misunderstood today

PROVO, Utah — With Joseph Smith, he was a participant in the angelic restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods; he was the scribe for most of the Book of Mormon text as translated and dictated by Joseph Smith; with two other witnesses, he was shown the Nephite plates by the Angel Moroni; he saw in vision the Savior and several scriptural figures.

Due to disputes with some of the leading Brethren, he spent a decade out of the Church but was rebaptized and died in full fellowship a year later, having never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon.

The man, of course, is Oliver Cowdery, and this year marks the 150th anniversary of his birth on Oct. 3, 1806, in Wells, Vt.

"It is appropriate this symposium be held to honor this remarkably gifted early Church leader," said Alexander L. Baugh, associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, at the outset of a Nov. 10 event co-sponsored on the university campus by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and the BYU Religious Studies Center.

Fourteen presentations by scholars at the symposium covered various topics about the life and accomplishments of Brother Cowdery. One presentation, by Patrick A. Bishop of Casper, Wyo., pertaining to a daguerreotype probably of Oliver and recently discovered in the Library of Congress collection, was covered in last week's Church News. On these facing pages are excerpts and summaries from some of the other presentations.

Brother Baugh read this e-mailed statement from Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, Church historian and recorder, who was unable to attend the symposium: "Possessing the same New England heritage as Joseph Smith, and being just a year younger, Oliver was chosen to stand at Joseph's side during many of the remarkable events of the Restoration. With both voice and pen, he eloquently and courageously witnessed to the reality of those events. His support of Joseph and assistance with the restored Church in its first decade helped lay a foundation of doctrine and practice that blesses Latter-day Saints to this present day. Oliver Cowdery deserves to be remembered and appreciated."

The exact location of his birth is known, and the foundation is still clearly visible, Brother Baugh noted. "The Church has marked the location by presenting a beautiful commemorative marker at the site."

He said Oliver married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, youngest daughter of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary (sometimes Miriam) Musselman Whitmer, on Dec. 18, 1832, in Jackson County, Mo., and that he had a nine-year association with Joseph Smith from April 1829 to June 1838, and continued in correspondence with the Prophet thereafter.

"Oliver's name is associated with many name-titles," he said, including Church Historian, missionary, assistant or associate president of the Church, author, editor, banker and lawyer."

Brother Baugh introduced 83-year-old Lorene E. Pollard, the great-great-granddaughter of John and Mary Whitmer, and their oldest living descendant. "Sister Pollard is representing the Whitmer and Cowdery families," he said. (With only one child who survived to adulthood, Oliver has no living descendants.) "Lorene and her sister Marjorie (who also attended the symposium) joined the Church in 1963 and were the first Whitmer descendants that we know of to join the Church."

Also introduced was Diane Grandbois of Enoch, Utah, daughter of Lorene's sister Marjorie and also a Church member.

At the symposium — and that evening at the Junius F. Wells Awards Banquet — a newly commissioned portrait of Oliver Cowdery was unveiled. Painted by artist Ken Corbett, it was modeled after the Library of Congress daguerreotype, which is believed with 95 percent certainty to be of Oliver.

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