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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]

had given us, viz: that provided we continued faithful; we should also have  the Melchesidec Priesthood, which holds the authority of the laying on of hands  for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We had for some time made this matter a  subject of humble prayer, and at length we got together in the Chamber of Mr  Whitmer’s house in order more particularly to seek of the Lord what we now  so earnestly desired: and here to our unspeakable satisfaction did we realize  the truth of the Saviour’s promise; “Ask, and you shall recieve, seek, and  you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you;” for we had not long  been engaged in solemn and fervent prayer, when the word of the Lord, came  unto us in the Chamber, commanding us; that I should ordain Oliver  Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ, and that he also  should ordain me to the same office, accordin and then <to> ordain others as it  should be made known unto us, from time to time: we were however comman ded to defer this our ordination untill, such times, as it should be practicable  to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled  together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each  other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us  as spiritual teachers, or not, when also we were commanded to bless bread  and break it with them, and to take wine, bless it, and drink it with them,  afterward proceed to ordain each other according to commandment, then  call out such men as the Spirit should dictate, and ordain them, and then  attend to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, upon all those  whom we had previously baptized; doing all things in the name of the Lord.
The following commandment will further illus trate the nature of our calling to this Priesthood as well as that of others who  were yet to be sought after.
Revelation to Joseph Smith Jr, Oliver  Cowdery, and David Whitmer, making known the calling of twelve apostles  in these last days, and also instructions relative to building up the Church  of Christ, according to the fulness of the gospel: Given in Fayette, Seneca  County New York, June 1829.
1 Now behold, because of the thing which you, my servant, Oliver Cowdery  have desired to know of me, I give unto you these words: behold I have manifest ed unto you by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you  have written are true: wherefore you know that they are true; and if you  know that they are true, behold I have given unto a you a commandment, that  you rely upon the things which are written, for in them are all things written  concerning the foundation of my Church, my gospel and my rock; wherefore  if you shall build up my Church upon the foundation of my gospel and my [p. 27]
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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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