In regard to finding the plates, he [David Whitmer] was told by Smith that they were in a stone casket, and the place where it was deposited, in the hill Cumorah, was pointed out to him by a celestial personage, clad in a dazzling white robe, and he was informed by it that it was the history of the Nephites, a nation that had passed away, whose founders belonged to the days of the tower of Babel. The plates which Mr. Whitmer saw were in the shape of a tablet, fastened with three rings, about one-third of which appeared to be loose, in plates, the other solid, but with perceptible marks where the plates seemed to be sealed, and the guide that pointed it out to Smith very impressively reminded him that the loose plates alone were to be used; the sealed portion was
NOT TO BE TAMPERED WITH.
After the plates had been translated, which process required about six months, the same heavenly visitant appeared and reclaimed the gold tablets of the ancient people, informing Smith that he would replace them with other records of the lost tribes that had been brought with them during their wanderings from Asia, which would be forthcoming when the world was ready to receive them. At that time Mr. Whitmer saw the tablet, gazed with awe on the celestial messenger, heard him speak and say: "Blessed is the Lord and he that keeps His commandments;" and then, as he held the plates and turned them over with his hands, so that they could be plainly visible, a voice that seemed to fill all space, musical as the sighing of a wind through the forest, was heard, saying: "What you see is true: testify to the same." And Oliver Cowdrey and David Whitmer, standing there, felt, as the white garments of the angel faded from their vision and the heavenly voice still rang in their ears, that it was no delusion--that it was a fact; and they so recorded it....
The tablets or plates were translated by Smith, who used a small oval or kidney-shaped stone, called Urim and Thummim, that seemed endowed with the marvelous power of converting the characters on the plates, when used by Smith, into English, who would then dictate to Cowdrey what to write. Frequently one character would make two lines of manuscript, while others made but a word or two words. Mr. Whitmer emphatically asserts, as did Harris and Cowdrey, that while Smith was dictating the translation he had
NO MANUSCRIPT NOTES OR OTHER MEANS OF KNOWLEDGE save the seer-stone and the characters as shown on the plates, he being present and cognizant how it was done.
[Source: "The Last Man. Of the Men Who Attested to the Truth of the `Book of Mormon,' David Whitmer Only Is Left. In the Sunset of Life He Bases His Hopes of Heaven on the Records of the Lost Tribe. And Solemnly Reiterates All that He Has Ever Said Regarding Them," Chicago Times, 17 October 1881; reprinted in the Saints' Herald 28 (15 November 1881): 346-47., as cited in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents: David Whitmer Interview With Chicago Times]