In the early morning of September 22, 1827, the 21-year-old Joseph Smith Jr. returned to the Hill Cumorah. There the angel Moroni handed him the gold plates, the breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim, and warned him of the great responsibility of handling these sacred objects. He was given a strict command not to show the plates to anyone else, and was told that if he lost them due to carelessness, he would be cut off.
As soon as word spread through town that young Mr. Smith was in possession of valuable metal plates, men began making every effort to steal them. One neighbor named Willard Chase hired a sorcerer to discover where he was hiding the plates, so Smith went to retrieve them, wrapping them in linen, but he was then pursued through the woods and struck from behind with a gun as he leapt over a log.
Smith was able to knock down his assailant and flee, only to be assaulted twice more on the way home. After hiding the plates under the hearthstone of his fireplace, a large group of men gathered at the front of the Smith family house. But Smith and his brothers managed to scare them away, feigning a counter-assault by running out the front door screaming as if they were a large contingent of men.
Realizing his life was in danger, Smith decided to move with his wife back to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Before they left, a wealthy 45-year-old weaver, farmer, and businessman named Martin Harris told Joseph that he had received several manifestations that convinced him that Joseph was a prophet, and that he should assist him with his work of translation. Harris paid off Smith's local debts and supplied him with $50 to help with his journey.
In Harmony, the young couple purchased a house along the Susquehanna River, and Joseph set to work, spending three months familiarizing himself with plates and the Urim and Thummim, learning how to translate. The records were written in an unknown language referred to as "reformed Egyptian". Joseph copied down many of the characters from the plates and wrote next to them his translations.
Martin Harris visited Smith in February of 1828 and then traveled to New York City, bringing with him a paper on which Smith had written and translated some of the characters. He presented them to Professor Charles Anthon at Columbia College, an expert on ancient languages, who stated that the characters resembled Egyptian, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Arabic. He gave his opinion that the translations were correct, and he wrote a certificate vouching for the authenticity of the writings.
Harris was about to leave when Anthon asked him how Mr. Smith had found the gold plates, and whether he could bring them to New York City for him to translate. When Harris explained that an angel had given Smith the plates, and that he could not bring them because they are sealed, Anthon took back the certificate and tore it up, saying, "I cannot read a sealed book," thus fulfilling the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 29:11-12.
Martin Harris's wife was suspicious of Smith, and had demanded to see the gold plates, only to be told that no one except Joseph was allowed to view them. She became angry that her husband was spending so much time away from home, and worried he was being defrauded by "a grand impostor", so she came with him to Harmony, and ransacked the house looking for the plates.
Harris brought his wife home and then returned to assist with the translation. Harris acted as a scribe, sitting across the table from Smith as he dictated his translation one sentence at a time. Smith translated by pressing his face into a hat into which he had put the Urim and Thummim. Sentences would appear, Joseph would read them aloud, and when Harris had copied them down, he would reply, "Written."