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.


In conversing with my friends, I have been frequently  asked, “how did you come to join the Mormons?”— “how could you  yield to their delusions?” These inquiries and others of the same  nature, I have always answered frankly and fully, as it is my  intention to do in the present little work, which, indeed, I have  [un]dertaken not less for the satisfaction of my friends who have  [adv]ised me to it, than to explain the motives which have  [gov]erned my conduct. I know of no better way of doing this, than  [to] give a brief history of the circumstances that have come to  [m]y knowledge had from personal observation as well as from  [ot]her sources. It is not pretended, however, that these pages will  contain a complete account of all the doctrinal particulars connected  with the Mormons. Such an account would not, perhaps, be of  interest to the general reader. I shall confine myself to  so much of their history as will enable men him to judge  correctly of the true character of the “Church of Christ of  Latter day Saints,” as well as to understand the reasons  of my own own conduct.
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.