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History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]

History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]

passage of Scripture so differently as <to> destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to  the Bible. At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion  or else I must do as James directs, that is, Ask of God. I at last came to the determination to  ask of God, concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give  liberally and not upbraid, I might venture. So in accordance with this my determination to ask  of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful clear day  early in the spring of Eightteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had  <made> such an attempt, for amidst all <my> anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
After I had retired into the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked  around me and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my  heart to God, I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was <siezed> upon by some power which  entirely overcame me and <had> such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so  that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me and it seemed to me for a time  as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to de liver me out of the power of this enemy which had siezed upon me, and at the very moment  when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, not to an im aginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world who had such a  marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being. Just at this moment of great alarm  I saw a pillar <of> light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended  gracefully gradually untill it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself  delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw  two personages (whose brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in the air.  One of <them> spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) “This is my  beloved Son, Hear him.” My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know  which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore  did I get possession of myself so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who  stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right, (for at this time it had never  entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join. I was answered that  I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said  that all their Creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all  corrupt, that “they draw near to me to with their lips but their hearts are far from me, They  teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of Godliness but they deny  the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them and many other thing[s]  did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again I  found myself lying on <my> back looking up into Heaven. <B see Note P 132> Some few days later after I had this  vision I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist Preachers who was very  active in the before mentioned religious excitement and conversing with him on the subject  of religion I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had.  I was greatly surprised at his behaviour, he treated my communication not only  lightly but with great contempt, saying it was all of the Devil, that there was no such  thing as visions or revelations in these days, that all such things had ceased with the [p. 3]
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This document, volume A-1, is the first of the six volumes of the “Manuscript History of the Church.” The collection was compiled over the span of seventeen years, 1838 to 1856. Volume A-1 encompasses the period from JS’s birth in 1805 to 30 August 1834, just after the return of the Camp of Israel (later known as Zion’s Camp) from Missouri to Kirtland, Ohio. For a fuller discussion of the entire six-volume work, see the general introduction to the history.
In April 1838 JS renewed his effort to draft a “history” with the aid of his counselor Sidney Rigdon. George W. Robinson served as scribe. JS’s journal for late April and early May 1838 notes six days on which JS, Rigdon, and Robinson were engaged in “writing history.” Though not completed and no longer extant, that draft laid the foundation for what became a six-volume manuscript eventually published as the “History of Joseph Smith,” and at least a portion of its contents are assumed to have been included in the manuscript presented here.
On 11 June 1839 in Commerce, Illinois, JS once again began dictating his “history.” James Mulholland now served as scribe. Apparently the narrative commenced where the earlier 1838 draft left off. When work was interrupted in July 1839, Mulholland inscribed the draft material, including at least some of Robinson’s earlier material, into a large record book already containing the text of an incomplete history previously produced over a span of two years, 1834–1836. For the new history, Mulholland simply turned the ledger over and began at the back of the book. The volume was later labeled A-1 on its spine, identifying it as the first of multiple volumes of the manuscript history.
Prior to his untimely death on 3 November 1839, Mulholland recorded the first fifty-nine pages in the volume. Subsequently, his successor, Robert B. Thompson, contributed about sixteen more pages before his death in August 1841. William W. Phelps then added a little over seventy-five pages. However, it was not until Willard Richards was appointed JS’s “private secretary and historian” that substantial progress was made on the compilation of the history. Richards would contribute the remainder of the text inscribed in the 553-page first volume. The narrative recorded in A-1 was completed in August 1843. Thomas Bullock and Charles Wandell subsequently added sixteen pages of “Addenda” material, which provided notes, extensive revisions, or additional text to be inserted in the original manuscript where indicated. For instance, several of the addenda expanded on the account of the Camp of Israel as initially recorded.
JS dictated or supplied information for much of A-1, and he personally corrected the first forty-two pages before his death. As planned, his historian-scribes maintained the first-person, chronological narrative format initially established in the volume. When various third-person accounts were drawn upon, they were generally converted to the first person, as if JS was directly relating the account. After JS’s death, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, and others modified and corrected the manuscript as they reviewed material before its eventual publication.
Beginning in March 1842 the church’s Nauvoo periodical, the Times and Seasons, began publishing the narrative as the “History of Joseph Smith.” At the time of JS’s death only the history through December 1831 had been published. When the final issue of the Times and Seasons, dated 15 February 1846 appeared, the account had been carried forward through August 1834—the end of the material recorded in A-1. The “History of Joseph Smith” was also published in England in the church periodical the Millennial Star beginning in June 1842. Once a press was established in Utah and the Deseret News began publication, the “History of Joseph Smith” once more appeared in print in serialized form. Beginning with the November 1851 issue, the narrative picked up where the Times and Seasons had left off over five years earlier.
Aside from the material dictated or supplied by JS prior to his murder, the texts for A-1 and for the history’s subsequent volumes were drawn from a variety of primary and secondary sources including JS’s diaries and letters, minutes of meetings, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, church and other periodicals, reports of JS’s discourses, and the reminiscences and recollections of church members. The narrative in A-1 provides JS’s personal account of the foundational events of his life as a prophet and the early progress of the church. It also encompasses contentions and disputations that erupted between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri. While it remains difficult to distinguish JS’s own contributions from composition of his historian-scribes, the narrative trenchantly captures the poignancy and intensity of his life while offering an enlightening account of the birth of the church he labored to establish.

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