Letterbook 1

for the salvation of the nations, for the Lord will have a place from whence  his word will goforth in these last days in purity, for if Zion, will not purify  herself so as to be approved of in all things in his sight he will seek  another people for his work will go on untill Isreal is gathered & they  who will not hear his voice must expect to feel his wrath, Let me say  unto you, seek to purefy yourselves, & also all the inhabitants of Zion  lest the Lords anger be kindled to fierceness, repent, repent, is the  voice of God, to Zion, & yet strange as it may appear, yet it is true  mankind will presist in self Justification until all their eniquity is  exposed & their character past being redeemed, & that which is treasured  up in their hearts be exposed to the gaze of mankind, I say to you—  (& what I say to you, I say to all) hear the <warning> voice of God lest Zion fall, & the  Lord swear in his wrath the inhabiteints of Zion shall not enter into  my rest, The Brethren in Kirtland pray for you unceasingly, for know ing the terrors of the Lord, they greatly fear— for you; you will see that the  Lord commanded us in Kirtland to build an house of God, & establish a  school for the Prophets, this is the word of the Lord to us, & we must—  yea the Lord helping us we will obey, as on conditions of our obedience, he  has promised <us> great things, yea <even> a visit from the heavens to honor us with  his own presence, we greatly fear before the Lord lest we should fail of this great honor  which our master proposes to confer on us, we are seeking for humility & great  faith lest we be ashamed in his presence, our hearts are greatly greaved  at the spirit which is breathed both in your letter & that of Bro G----s [Sidney Gilbert’s]  the very spirit which is wasting the strength of Zion like a pestalence, and if  it is not detected & driven from you it will ripen Zion for the threatened  Judgments of God, remember God sees the secret springs of human action, & knows  the hearts of all living, Br suffer us to speak plainly for God has respect to the  feelings of his saints & he will not let them be tantalized with impunity.  tell Br. G- t [Gilbert] that low insinuations God hates, but he rejoices in an honest heart  and knows better who is guilty than he does, we send him this worning [warning] voice  & let him fear greatly for himself lest a worse thing overtake him, all we can  say by way of conclusion is, if the fountain of our tears are not dried up we  will <still> weep for Zion, this from your brother who trembles greatly for Zion,—  and for the wrath of heaven which awaits her if she repent not,— —  P.S. I am not in the habit of crying peace, when there is no peace, and  knowing the th[r]eatened Judgments of God, I say Wo,— unto them who are at ease [p. 19]
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.