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Letterbook 1

for now I had been tempted of the advisary and saught  the Plates to obtain riches and kept not the commandme[n]t  that I should have an eye single to the Glory of God  therefore I was chastened and saught diligently to obtain the  plates and obtained them not untill I was twenty one  years of age and in this year I was married to Emma  Hale Daughtr of Isaach [Isaac] Hale who lived in Harmony  Susquehan[n]a County Pensylvania on the 18th January  AD, 1827, on the 22d day of Sept of this same year I ob tained the plat[e]s—and the in December following we  mooved to Susquehana by the assistence of a man by the  name of Martin Har[r]is who became convinced of th[e]  vision and gave me fifty Dollars to bare my expences  and because of his faith and this rightheous deed the  Lord appeared unto him in a vision and shewed unto  him his marvilous work which he was about to do  and <h[e]> imediately came to Suquehannah and said the Lord  had shown him that he must go to new York City  <with> some of the characters so we proceeded to coppy some  of them and he took his Journy to the Eastern  Cittys and to the Learned <saying> read this I pray thee  and the learned said I cannot but if he w ould bring the blates [plates] they would read it but  the Lord had forbid it and he returned to me  and gave them to <me> <to> translate and I said I said  cannot for I am not learned but the Lord  had prepared spectticke spectacles for to read  the Book therefore

Frederick G. Williams handwriting begins.  

 
I commenced translating the char acters and thus the Propicy [prophecy] of Isiaah was fulfilled which  is writen in the 29 chaptr concerning the book and  it came to pass that after we had translated 116  pages that he desired to carry them to read to his  friends that peradventur he might convince them  of the truth therefore I inquired of the Lord and the  Lord said unto me that he must not take them  and I spake unto him (Martin) the word of the Lord [p. 5]
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On 27 November 1832, while residing at Kirtland, Ohio, JS wrote a lengthy letter to William W. Phelps, who earlier that year had settled at Independence, Missouri. JS’s missive included a reminder stressing the importance of record keeping and history writing to the young church. Portions were later added to the Doctrine and Covenants, the church’s official collection of commandments and revelations. JS began by noting that he wished “to communicate some things which . . . are laying great with weight upon my mind.” He then went on to observe, “Firstly, it is the duty of the lord’[s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion . . . and also the[ir] manner of life and the[ir] faith and works.” (JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, Independence, MO, 27 Nov. 1832, JS Letterbook 1, pp. 1–4 [D&C 85:1–2].)
JS’s dispatch to Phelps reminding those in Missouri of the importance of record keeping coincided with a new record-keeping initiative in Ohio. This letter became the first entry, identified as “Letter first” and “Letter 1,” recorded in what was subsequently designated Letter Book A or Letterbook 1. This record of ninety-three manuscript pages, now published in the Administrative Records series on the Joseph Smith Papers website, preserves copies of early church-related communications dated 14 June 1829 through 4 August 1835. The transcribed text is in the handwriting of JS, Frederick G. Williams, Orson Hyde, and Oliver Cowdery.
Correspondence captured in Letterbook 1 includes six early letters composed or received by Oliver Cowdery, four from 1829 and two from 1831. Other letters reflect ongoing communications between the two centers of the early church located in Kirtland and Independence. Two entries describe the plat of the proposed “City of Zion” to be built at Independence and the dimensions of the “house of the Lord” to be erected there. The concluding item in the collection is a letter that incorporates a set of minutes from a council held in Kirtland on 4 August 1835 censuring the Twelve Apostles for failing to fully comply with their fund-raising responsibilities as they conducted a mission among the branches of the church in the East. Note that letters from Letterbook 1 written to or from JS will also appear with individual introductions in the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers.
Letterbook 1 was initiated during a remarkable surge in record keeping, beginning with the calling of Oliver Cowdery and later John Whitmer as church historians in 1830 and 1831. Revelations and commandments recorded in Revelation Book 1 were sent to Missouri in late 1831 to be published on the church’s first press, and Revelation Book 2 was in use in Kirtland by February 1832. Sometime in 1832, probably between July and September, JS and Frederick G. Williams worked together on a brief history of JS’s early visionary experiences. JS purchased the small volume that contains his first journal in November 1832 and began penning entries that same month. That fall another record, containing the minutes of early church conference and council meetings and now designated Minute Book 1, was commenced. In January of the following year, in another epistle recorded in Letterbook 1, JS again wrote to Phelps encouraging him as editor of the church’s first periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, then printed in Independence, to set “forth the rise and progress and faith of the church,” that is, to begin publishing items on the history of the church.
This upwelling in record keeping was unusual for the time. As scholar Dean C. Jessee has observed, “So primitive were some aspects of record keeping in nineteenth-century America that much of the early Latter-day Saint experience was a pioneering effort. . . . Although Mormon record keeping was inaugurated by [an] 1830 revelation, details for carrying out that commandment were largely hammered out on the anvil of experience in the years that followed.” (Dean C. Jessee, “The Reliability of Joseph Smith’s History,” Journal of Mormon History 3 [1976]: 27.) Thus, during a brief span in the early 1830s, JS, along with those working under his direction, commenced the systematic collection and recording of critical documents pertaining to church governance and administration. Throughout the remainder of JS’s lifetime, correspondence-copying, revelation-recording, minute-taking, journal-keeping, and history-writing activities would remain imperative commitments.

Facts