43991218

Letterbook 1

to the middle line each lot is four perches  in front and 20 back making 1/2 of an acre  in each lot so that no one street will be built  on intirely through the street but one squ[a]re  the houses will stand on one street and on the  next one another except the middle range of  squ[a]res which runs north and south in which  range are the painted squ[a]res the lots are laid  off in their squ[a]res North and South all of them  because their squ[a]res are 40 perches by 60 being  twenty perches longer than the other the long  way of them being east and west and by  running all the lots in their squ[a]res North  and South it makes all the lots in the city  of one size the painted squ[a]res in the middle  are for public building, the one without any  figures is for store houses for the Bishop and  to be devoted to his use[.] Figure 1 is for temples  for the use of the Presidency, the circles inside  of the squ[a]re are the places for the temples you  will see it contains twelve[.] figures 2 is for  the temples for the lesser Priesthood it also  is to contain 12 Temples the whole plot  is supposed to contain from 15 to 20 thousand  people you will therefore see that it will  require 24 buildings to supply them with  houses of worship Schools houses &c and  none of these temples are to be smaller then  the one of which we send you a draft. This  Temple is to be built in squ[a]re marked <Fig–> one  and to be built where the circle is which has a  cross on it on the North and south of the plot  where the line is drawn is to be Laid off  for barns stables &c for the use of the City  so that no barns or stabls will be in the  city among the houses the ground to be [p. 39]
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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.

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