|David Whitmer, circa 1855|
(photo links to JSP)
I've had some feedback on the previous post that there is no evidence Zina had heard about David Whitmer's Cumorah experience from David himself. It's true we don't have written evidence of when she heard the story or from whom, but Stevenson's journal shows Zina had heard it from somewhere before Stevenson visited Whitmer. That's why she told Stevenson to ask Whitmer about it. I imagine the conversation being something such as this:
Zina: "You're going to visit David Whitmer?"
Stevenson: "I plan to. I hope he'll see me."
Zina: "Ask him about the Nephite he met."
Stevenson: "He met a Nephite?"
Zina (nodding): "And he was carrying the plates to the hill Cumorah because Joseph didn't want the responsibility. David, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery were riding in a wagon from Harmony to the Whitmer farm. He'll tell you all about it."
Stevenson: "Sounds interesting."
Zina: "You should publish it when you get back."
The Mesoamerican advocates who reject Whitmer's testimony rely on the "late" retelling to Stevenson and Joseph F. Smith. Their objection is based on the premise that Whitmer's experience hearing the term "Cumorah" for the first time occurred in 1829, but he did not tell the story before 1878. Certainly, 50 years after the fact could be considered late; each person has to assess that "lateness" in light of the detail of Whitmer's account, the surprising and unusual circumstances, and the presence of Joseph and Oliver when the event occurred.
The Stevenson account undermines the "lateness" objection, however. Whether Zina heard the story directly from Whitmer in 1835, or heard it from someone else, the point is that she did hear it before Stevenson asked Whitmer about it. From his journal, we have to infer that Stevenson had not heard the story before.
There is no record of anyone knowing this story before Stevenson's interview with David, except for Zina. So all the evidence we have suggests that before the interview, the only two people who knew the story were Zina and David (and Oliver and Joseph, if David's testimony is to be believed, but Joseph and Oliver were dead by then).
And the only evidence we have of David and Zina interacting was when David and Hyrum Smith were missionary companions in 1835 in Watertown, NY, where Hyrum baptized her. [This is no minor point. David Whitmer didn't go on a lot of missionary journeys. When you read Zina's account, notice how she emphasizes how hard David worked to persuade her to get baptized. I think it's safe to infer he tried everything he could, including his viewing of the golden plates as one of the Three Witnesses. In this context, his claim he saw one of the Nephites carrying the plates to Cumorah would be another thing to bring up.
Later, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt visited David Whitmer and elicited the same story from him. This suggests they first heard it when Stevenson published it (or told them about it).
Zina published an article, probably taken from parts of her journal we don't otherwise have now, in the April 1893 issue of The Young Woman's Journal. Titled "How I Gained my Testimony of the Truth," the article gives details on how she joined the Church in 1835. It is available online here. In the next section, I show the relevant aspects of Zina's article.