I remember being told at an early age that I was related to Martin Harris, one of the “Three Witnesses” to the Book of Mormon. I always regarded this as an interesting tidbit, but it was not until recently that I sought genealogical proof.
As you can see, Martin Harris is my 4th great grand uncle and the younger brother of Emer Harris (1781-1869), my 4th great grandfather.
Martin Harris (May 18, 1783 – July 10, 1875)
Emer was born on May 29, 1781 in Cambridge, Washington County, New York to Nathan and Rhoda Lapham Harris. In 1793, at the age of 12, Emer and his family moved to Palmyra, New York where he helped cultivate the acreage his father had purchased from John Swift.
Eastern View of Main Street, Palmyra
Emer was married three times during his lifetime. His first wife, Roxanna Peas, bore six children. After sixteen years of marriage, Emer and Roxanna divorced. Deborah Loft, Emer’s second wife, died shortly after giving birth to their fourth child. On March 29, 1826, Emer married Parna Chapell, a 34-year-old spinster willing to become the stepmother of Emer’s three small children.
It was during this time that Emer’s brother Martin began assisting Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Pennsylvania. There is a family tradition that Emer walked 25 miles (some accounts say 50 miles) to hear about the “Golden Bible” from his brother.
In another story, Emer traveled on March 26, 1830 to the old Grandin Publishing Company in Palmyra, New York to receive from Martin the first bound copy of the Book of Mormon. This volume is currently in the vault of the Deseret Book Company.
It turns out Emer read the Book of Mormon and believed in its truth. In the journal of Newel Knight, it states that “[a] few believed and were baptized, among whom was Emer Harris, brother to Martin, who proved to be a useful laborer in the vineyard.”
On July 19, 1830, Parna gave birth to Joseph Mormon Harris, who is said to be the first child born to converted LDS parents.
On October 25, 1831, Emer was ordained a High Priest by order of Joseph Smith. In addition, Emer was appointed scribe for Joseph Smith.
Along with many other early members of the LDS Church, Emer was called to serve a mission. At some point, Emer served with his brother Martin. In a letter sent to some church members in Brownheim, Ohio, Emer writes: "Brother Martin is with me and has been the greater part of the time since we left Kirtland. We have traveled much, and preached much. Eighty-two have been baptized and many more have believed. We find no end to the call for our labors, and many miracles have been done in the name of Jesus Christ, and signs follow them that believe…”
It turns out that Emer was a skilled carpenter, and in the Fall of 1835, he began working on the Kirtland Temple. Emer was responsible for making the window sash in the temple, as well as other details.
The Kirtland Temple
Eventually, Emer and his family were driven out of Ohio. In one story, it is said that Emer transported copies of the Book of Mormon in a chest with a false bottom lined with Fuller’s cloth. In an encounter with a mob, Parna was asked if she was a Mormon. She replied, “yes, and thank God for it!” The mob eventually searched the Harris’ wagon, found the chest, but left it alone after tapping its bottom and determining it was solid.
Emer and his family settled in Nauvoo, Illinois on 40 acres of land. In 1841, Emer worked on the Nauvoo temple and is credited with building its winding stairway.
Nauvoo Temple (1840’s)
Recreated Stairway in the Nauvoo Temple (Present Day)
In the Fall of 1846, the Harris’ were expelled from Nauvoo and eventually settled in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. In 1852, Emer arrived in Utah via Captain Cutler’s Company. He ultimately settled in Provo, Utah.
On November 28, 1869, Emer passed away in Logan, Utah while living with his son Alma (my 3rd great grandfather). Emer was 88 years old. He is buried at the Logan City Cemetery.
Headstone of Emer Harris, Logan City Cemetery