I just returned from another trip to Nauvoo and once again, I was struck with the seriousness of the question of Letter VII.
But it has never been published in the Ensign.
The New York setting for Cumorah has been consistently taught even in General Conference at least through the 1970s.
No alternative setting for Cumorah has ever been taught in General Conference.
What I am saying is that every member of the Church today should be as familiar with Letter VII as were the members who lived during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
If people choose to reject Letter VII in favor of the two-Cumorahs theory, fine. But I think it’s a big mistake to suppress the existence of Letter VII just because the dominant LDS scholars and educators disagree with hit.
Richard Lloyd Anderson wrote an excellent article titled “The Credibility of the Book of Mormon Translators” that was a chapter in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1982), 213–37.
You can find the article and book online here: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/book-mormon-authorship-new-light-ancient-origins/9-credibility-book-mormon-translators
I highly recommend the article, which explains why Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery deserve to be believed. It concludes with this:
A secular society hardly recognizes that decisions can be made in terms of future accountability. But the Prophet reveals this perspective in adjusting a conflict with the intense comment, “I would be willing to be weighed in the scale of truth today in this matter, and risk it in the day of judgment.”  The Prophet and Cowdery kept journals with periodic and profound introspection. Thus Cowdery’s editorial farewell rings true in saying that he had well counted the cost of trying to “persuade others to believe as myself,” and he willingly faced the “judgment seat of Christ,” who would see “the integrity of my heart.”  The names of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery led the rest in certifying the truth of the events and teachings of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the first book to name the messengers restoring both the Book of Mormon and the two priesthoods.  The preface, stamped with Oliver Cowdery’s phraseology, expresses their solemn view of eternal responsibility: “We do not present this little volume with any other expectation than that we are to be called to answer to every principle advanced, in that day when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed, and the reward of every man’s labor be given him.”
But there is some tremendous irony here. First, the article doesn’t mention Oliver’s 8 letters about Church history, including Letter VII. Was that an intentional omission, an oversight, or an intervention by an editor who rejects Letter VII and its implications?
Second, the book containing this article was edited by Noel Reynolds, who, I’m informed, is a staunch Mesoamerican proponent who insists Cumorah is not in New York. IOW, he believes Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.
In my ongoing effort to understand why LDS scholars and educators reject Letter VII, this article demonstrates the major problem of the Mesomaniacs who want us to believe Joseph and Oliver were credible and reliable about literally everything except Letter VII.
Today we’re going to see another example of the Mesomania bias in the Joseph Smith Papers and the ongoing rejection of Letter VII (in this case, even when it is cited).
The first edition of the Book of Mormon contained a preface, written by Joseph Smith, that explains the situation with the lost 116 pages.
You can see the original here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/preface-to-book-of-mormon-circa-august-1829/1
Also on pages 93-4 in Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 1, July 1828-1831
Most of the Preface is written in first person, active voice. The exception is the final clause in the last sentence:
“I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York.”5
Note 5 reads: In September 1827, JS removed the plates from a hill in Manchester Township. (See JS History, vol. A-1, 8; and Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:158.)
The citation to Letter VII is awesome, but think about this a moment. Why does Joseph Smith use the passive voice only for this clause? And to what plates is he referring? And why is the hill not named, when it is named in Letter VII itself?
The only plates Joseph refers to in this preface are the plates of Lehi and the plates of Nephi. He mentions “the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon.”
Why is this?
The Preface follows two reproductions of the Title Page (the Title Page itself, followed by the copyright application that quotes the entire Title Page). The Title Page describes the plates as the two sets of abridgments, plus the sealing by Moroni. But it never mentions the plates of Nephi.
Of course, this is the reason the Lord had to tell Joseph about the plates of Nephi in D&C 10; i.e., he didn’t have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony. Don’t forget, he said the Title Page was translated from the last leaf of the plates, and he translated it in Harmony.
I think this explains why Joseph used the passive voice in the Preface. He not only didn’t have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony (because they were not in Moroni’s stone box), but he didn’t get them himself from the Hill Cumorah. Someone else did, and then brought them to Fayette for Joseph to translate.
Consequently, Joseph wrote that “the plates of which hath been spoken,” i.e., the plates of Nephi he translated to replace the lost 116 pages, “were found.” He didn’t find them; someone else did.
Hence, he wrote in the passive voice here.
With this understanding, note 5 in the JSP is incorrect. JS did not remove the plates of Nephi from the Hill Cumorah.
And note 5 is misleading because it refers merely to “a hill” even though Letter VII clearly identifies the hill as the Book of Mormon Cumorah–right there in New York.
Here’s how the conversation typically goes.
Me – “Oliver said Joseph helped him write the letters.”
Meso – “Oliver did say that, but we don’t know how much Joseph assisted.”
Me – “Joseph had his scribes copy the letters into his own history.”
Meso – “Yes, but he wrote another history later, in 1838. If he approved of Oliver’s letters, he could have just used those.”
Me – “First, Joseph did rely on those letters. Second, he didn’t need to repeat the detail Oliver had written, such as when Joseph said Moroni quoted other scriptures he couldn’t relate at that time. Third, Joseph’s history covered topics in addition to what Oliver covered.”
Meso – “But still, Joseph never expressly endorsed Oliver’s letters.”
Me – “He expressly gave Benjamin Winchester permission to reprint them in the Gospel Reflector.”
Today I’m posting an additional detail from my book, The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith, which will be released (finally) this week. I’ve never seen anyone write about this before and I think it’s significant.In the last issue of the first volume of the Times and Seasons (October 1840), Don Carlos announced he was going to expand the paper by publishing it twice a month. (You can see this issue at this link: http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v1n12.htm.)Here is his reason:“We should be pleased to publish our paper weekly, as we have an abundance of matter for the instruction of the saints, as President Joseph Smith jr. is furnishing us with essays on the glorious subject of the priesthood, also giving us extracts of the new translation to lay before our readers, of the second volume,-but our circumstances will not permit us to publish oftener than twice a month.”In the next issue, Don Carlos began the Times and Seasons with “Extract from the Prophecy of Enoch.” That fulfills the promise of “extracts of the new translation.”But what about “essays on the glorious subject of the priesthood” that were promised?Don Carlos does publish an essay “on the restoration of the Priesthood,” presumably also “furnished” by President Joseph Smith, Jr. But what is this essay?It is Letter I of Oliver’s series of letters.You can see it here: http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v2n01.htm
When you go to that page, search for “Priesthood” and you’ll see the term appears only in Oliver’s letter.
Don Carlos proceeded to publish all of Oliver’s letters in the following months, including Letter VII. In fact, the next issue of the Times and Seasons, November 15, 1840, starts off with Letter II. And again, this letter contains the only mention of the Priesthood in an article in that issue.
So here again, we have direct evidence that Joseph Smith formally and fully endorsed Oliver’s letters.