Letterbook 1

the Apostolic platform, and who can look at this, and and not exclaim  in the language of Isaiah, [“]the earth is defiled under the inhabitants  thereof because they have transgressed the Laws, changed the ordinances  and broken the everlasting covenant”
The plain fact is this, the power of  God begins to fall upon the Nations, and the light of the latter  day glory begins to break forth through the dark atmosphere of  sectarian wickedness and their iniquity rools [rolls] up into view  and the Nations of the Gentiles are like the waves of the sea casting  up mire and dirt or all in commotion and they hastily are  preparing to act the part allotted them when the Lord rebukes  the nations, when he shall rule them with a rod of iron &  break them in peaces like a potters vessel, The Lord has  declared to his servants some Eighteen months since that  he was then withdrawing his spirit from the earth, and  we can see that such is the fact for not only the churches a  dwindling away, but there are no conversions, or but very  few, and this is not all, the governments of the earth are  thrown into confusion & division, and distruction to  the eye of the spiritual beholder seemes to be writen by  the finger of an invisable hand in Large capitals upon  almost evry thing we behold——
And now what remains to be done  under circumstan[c]es like these, I will proce[e]d to tell you  what the Lord requires of all people high and low, rich  and poor, male and female, ministers & people professors  of religion, and nonproffessors in order that they may  enjoy the holy spirit of God to a fulness, and escape the Judg ments of God which are almost ready to burst upon the nations  of the earth— Repent of all your sins and be baptized  in water for the remission of them, in the name of the  father, and of the son, and of the Holy Ghost, and receive  the ordinance of the laying on of the hands of him who  is ordained and sealed unto this power, that ye may  receive the holy spirit of God, and this according to  the holy scriptures, and of the Book of Mormon; and [p. 16]
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.