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.
laying of hands for the gift of the Holy  Ghost they think will be attended with Signs  following just in proportion to the faith  and righteousness of the believer.

Chapter 9

Chapter 9th.
Join the church— [Oliver] Cowdery goes to the West— Singular  behavior of some of the younger members— Ordained an elder— Smith’s  arrival at Kirtland— Appointment of a bishop— The new revelation called  the [illegible] Law— An outline of its contents— Start for the West—  Return to Kirtland.
I have thus given a brief account of  the investigation I went through in rel ations <to> these different subjects. Although  I was not fully satisfied, yet viewing  this religion to be much nearer the  religion of the Bible then any other I  could find, I concluded to join the  church, with this the determination that  if ever I found it to be a deception, I  would leave it. There are other doctrines  and discipline of the church which I  shall mention in their proper place, but  will now resume my history. During  the fall and winter of AD 1830 & 31, Kirtland  was continually crowded. Persons came  from all qua[r]ters enquiring after the new  religion. Cowdery and his company  left in the fall for the west, to find the  spot, as some said for the Temple and  place of gathering. Many improprieties  and visionary notions crept into the  church, which tried the feelings of the  more sound minded. Many young  persons became very visionary, and  had divers operations of the Spirit, [p. 22]
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.