On 15 April 1838, Stephen Burnett, an elder who had done missionary work for the church, wrote to Lyman E. Johnson (who was excommunicated two days earlier) that after some consideration he was about to leave the church. He wrote that “Joseph Smith[, Jr.] & Sidney Rigdon are notorious liars I do not hesitate to affirm” and,
“[W]hen I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument [witness testimonies page] for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins.”(1)
Three weeks earlier, on 25 March 1838, in the Kirtland Temple, Stephen Burnett “renounced the Book of Mormon.” He was,
“… followed by W[arren]. Par[r]ish[,] Luke Johnson & John Boynton all of who concurred with me, after we were done speaking M[artin] Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight [witnesses] was false, if it had not been picked out of [h]im but should have let it passed as it was.”(2)
Speaking of the event, member of the seventy, George A. Smith wrote:
“Last Sabbath [Sunday, 25 March 1838] a division arose among the Parrish party about the Book of Mormon, John F. Boyington, W[arren]. Parrish, Luke Johnson and others said it was nonsense. Martin Harris then bore testimony of its truth and said all would be damned, if they rejected it. Cyrus Smalling, Joseph Coe and others declared his [Martin’s] testimony was true.”(3)
(1)Burnett letter: Stephen Burnett, Letter to Lyman E. Johnson (Orange Township, Geauga County, OH, 15 April 1838); (2)Ibid. On 24 May 1838, a copy of the original letter was made. This copy was then recopied in 1839 into a letterbook. The above is from the 1839 copy, located in Joseph Smith Letterbook 2:64-66, LDS Archives; (3)George A. Smith, Letter to Josiah Flemming (Kirtland, OH: Journal History of the Church, 30 March 1838).
For a thorough examination, see H. Michael Marquardt, Martin Harris: The Kirtland Years, 1831-1870 (Salt Lake City, UT: Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, Fall 2002), 1-40.