Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 152.A main safeguard exists for testing claims that a witness modified his testimony—be sure that all statements come from the witness himself.
Anderson's safeguard provides an interesting measuring stick for reviewing some anti-Strangite writings by LDS apologists.
In an Interpreter article published in December 2017 titled "The Book of Mormon Witnesses and Their Challenge to Secularism," Daniel Peterson compares the Book of Mormon witnesses to the witnesses to James Strang's two sets of plates, arguing that "the two sets of witnesses and their experiences were very different." Dismissing Strang's plates as "almost certainly forgeries," Peterson asserts that "[o]ne source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies" (xx). Peterson does not identify the source beyond noting that his discussion was drawn from Milo M. Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James: A Narrative of the Mormons (New York: Oxford University Press, 1930) and Roger Van Noord, The King of Beaver Island (Champaign/Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988) (see xix, n.26). (In a footnote, Quaife's biography identified the names of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates before baldly asserting: "Like the witnesses to Joseph Smith's plates, most of these [witnesses] later apostatized and repudiated Strang" (Kingdom of Saint James, 17).)
Peterson made the identical claim regarding the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates in a 2011 Deseret News column, "Defending the Faith: The story behind James Strang and his sect." A FairMormon page quotes passages from the same column, including the sentence in question.
Note that in a January 2006 message board post (quoted here), Peterson commented on the source, admitting that "the credibility of this source is suspect, since it also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses repudiated their testimonies, which is demonstrably false." In an August 2006 FairMormon conference address, however, Peterson did not repeat this comment. Instead, he stated: "One not altogether reliable source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies" (6, emphasis added).
J. Runnells has commented as follows on Peterson's 2011 claim regarding the four witnesses:
Daniel C. Peterson’s [2011 Deseret News] article states, "One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies." What FAIR and Peterson fail to tell their readers about this source is that this source also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses likewise repudiated their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. Apparently, however, this is not a problem to these Mormon apologists since the “good” portions of this source work nicely with their agenda of “discrediting” the Strangite witnesses.
LDS apologists would immediately cry foul and demand evidence and sources to back up the above claims. Why then is FAIR operating under a completely different standard than what would be expected – even demanded – if the table was turned around?
Further, LDS apologists would not accept any evidence other than first accounts and affidavits/interviews from the witness himself making the claim. Hearsay (indirect evidence of someone claiming that someone said) would be dismissed and discarded in light of what is at stake.
Peterson's article also states (xx):
One of the witnesses to the “Plates of Laban,” Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang’s movement and denounced it as mere “human invention.” Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had actually assisted Strang in the creation of the plates.
Again, Peterson does not provide a source beyond general attributions to the biographies by Quaife and Van Noord.
J. Runnells has previously questioned the source of Peterson's claim regarding Bacon. Van Noord's biography of Strang notes that Warren Post, who presented a resolution accusing Bacon and another Strangite church leader of apostasy, "later wrote that Bacon had 'denied the work being done was the inspiration of God' and had called it 'human invention'" (King of Beaver Island, 219). Would R.L. Anderson accept this as credible evidence that a witness modified his testimony?
What is the source of Peterson's assertion that Graham later claimed that he had helped Strang create the Plates of Laban? Again, he does not cite a specific source. However, the FairMormon site may provide a clue. It quotes from a letter written by Chauncy Loomis to Joseph Smith III dated 10 November 1888. FairMormon introduces an excerpt from Loomis' letter as follows:
Chauncy Loomis, in a letter to Joseph Smith III dated 10 Nov. 1888 and published in the Saint's Herald, talked of a conversation that he had with George Adams. Adams described how Strang had asked him to dress in a long white robe and use phosphorous to impersonate an angel. Adams also reported that Samuel Graham talked about how he and Strang fabricated the Plates of Laban. Loomis reported that Samuel Bacon discovered fragments of the plates hidden in the ceiling of Strang's house, and then left the Strangite Church.
The letter stated, in part (719):
I shall now make some statements in regard to others who were the chief men of the kingdom. Bro. Samuel Graham, I think, president of the Twelve, declared that he and Strang made those plates that Strang claimed to translate the Book of the Law from. But they in the first place prepared the plates and coated them with beeswax and then formed the letters and cut them in with a pen knife and then exhibited them to the rest of the Twelve. The facts were Graham apostatized and left the island.
As indicated, the FairMormon page states: "Adams also reported that Samuel Graham talked about how he and Strang fabricated the Plates of Laban." However, it isn't clear from the letter itself that Loomis' report regarding Graham's declaration was based on a conversation with Adams. In any case, the declaration didn't come from Graham himself. To repeat R.L. Anderson's words:
A main safeguard exists for testing claims that a witness modified his testimony—be sure that all statements come from the witness himself.
A final note: Peterson's article reports Quaife's evaluation of Strang (xx-xxi):
“We can hardly escape the conclusion,” writes Quaife, “that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers”; and, accordingly, that “Strang’s prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture."
For the record, here is the fuller context of Quaife's words:
Kingdom of Saint James, 17-18.It is quite conceivable that Strang's angelic visitations may had only a subjective existence in the brain of the man who reported them. But the metallic plates possessed a very material objective reality; and we can hardly escape the conclusion either that Strang knowingly fabricated and "planted" them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers, or that they were what they purport to have been, ancient records divinely preserved, in the discovery and translation of which Strang was divinely guided. If the former alternative be accepted, it follows that Strang's prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture; if the latter be the true one, we are confronted by the sad fact that of all the people now on earth only a few score at the most have comprehended it.