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John Corrill, “Brief History,” Manuscript, circa 1838–1839

John Corrill, “Brief History,” Manuscript, circa 1838–1839

John Fletcher Darby Papers, Missouri History Museum Archives, St. Louis.
as they supposed. They saw marvelous <wonderful>  lights in the air and on the ground, and  would relate many great and marvelous  things which they saw in their visions.  They conducted themselves in a strange  manner, sometimes imitating Indians  in their maneauvres, sometimes runn ing out into the fields, getting on stumps  of trees and there preaching as though  surrounded by a congregation,— all the  while so completely absorbed in visions  as to be apparently insensible to all  that was passing around them. I would  here remark, however, that it was but  a very few of the church that was <who were>  exercised in that way. The more  substantial minded looked upon it  with astonishment, and were suspicious  that it was from an evil source. I  joined the church on the tenth of Janu ary, 1831, and in the course of three  or four days I was ordained an  elder. Shortly after this, the church  from the state of New York removed to  Kirtland, Ohio. Smith and Rigden [Sidney Rigdon]  were among the number; for after  Rigden had joined the church in  Kirtland, he was afraid that he had  been deceived, so he and Edward  Partridge went to the state of New York  to enquire further into it. Rigden  said he went to the enemies of the  church to find out their feelings and [p. 23]
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Even while the embers of the 1838 Mormon War smoldered in Missouri, John Corrill labored on the manuscript for his 1839 publication, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, (Commonly Called Mormons;) Including an Account of Their Doctrine and Discipline; with the Reasons of the Author for Leaving the Church. Corrill had begun serving the church as a historian after John Whitmer’s excommunication in March 1838, replacing Whitmer in that role in April. Whatever his initial labors as historian, Corrill completed A Brief History after distancing himself from JS and the Saints, as the full title implies.
Corrill, a careful observer, had enjoyed a close association with Mormon leaders, and consequently his account provides valuable insights into the development and structure of the early church. He summarized many of the doctrines taught by JS and provided a detailed description of the conflict between the Latter-day Saints and other Missouri settlers. But his chronicle also related the story of a personal spiritual journey into and then out of the church as Corrill came to disapprove of the church’s course in 1838 in Missouri. Yet despite his estrangement from the church and his excommunication in 1839, he retained a degree of sympathy for the Saints and maintained some contact.
Corrill apparently began compiling portions of his account while serving as an officially appointed church historian in Far West. He probably completed his narrative by 11 February 1839, when he secured a copyright with the Missouri district federal copyright office. He arranged for Thomas Watson & Son of St. Louis to print A Brief History. The entire print run may have included up to twelve hundred copies.
The document presented here, Corrill’s circa 1838–1839 rough draft of his history, is incomplete. It includes the title page, copyright notice, and preface but is missing twenty-one pages, including the nineteen pages that constitute chapters 1 through 6. The manuscript is almost entirely in Corrill’s handwriting, though some of the chapter summaries (added after he drafted the narrative) were written in a different hand, possibly that of the printer.
Corrill’s published version of A Brief History will receive comprehensive treatment in volume 2 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers and will eventually be posted to this website.

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