The statement of Stephen Burnett in a letter dated April 15, 1838, indicates that the witness testimonies involved visions, imagination, and persuasion:
“I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it loth (sic) to give it up – but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] & that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins.” (Stephen Burnett letter to Lyman E. Johnson dated April 15, 1838. Typed transcript from Joseph Smith Papers, Letter book, April 20, 1837 – February 9, 1843, microfilm reel 2, pp. 64-66, LDS archives.).
Burnett also reported Harris saying that he had:
‘hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain.’ Nonetheless, Harris said he believed the Book of Mormon to be true. In the revelation given the three witnesses before they viewed the plates they were told, ‘it is by your faith that you shall view them’ and ‘ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith Jr. has seen them, for it is by my power that he has seen them’.