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Letterbook 1

in zion fearfulnes will speedily lay hold of the hypocrite, I did not  expect that you had lost commandments, but thought from your  letters you had neglected to read them, otherwise you would not  have writen as you did, it is in vain to try to hide a bad spirit  from the eyes of them who are spiritual for it will shewe itself in  speaking & in writing as well as all our other conduct, it is also useless  to mak[e] great pretentions when the heart is not right before God, for God  looks at the heart, and where the heart is not right the Lord will  expose it to the view of his faithful saints, we wish you to render  the Star as interesting as possable by setting forth the rise progress and  faith of the church, as well as the doctrine for if you do not render  it more interesting than at present it will fall, and the church suffer  a great Loss thereby——
Joseph Smith Jr.

Orson Hyde and Hyrum Smith to “the Bishop his councel and the inhabitents of Zion” • 14 January 1833

Kirtland Mills Geauga Co Ohio Jany. 14-1833
From a conference of 12 High Priests to the Bishop his councel and  the inhabitents of Zion, Orson Hyde and Hyram [Hyrum] Smith being appoint[ed]  by the said conference to write this Epistle in obedience to the commandment  given the 22 & 23 of Sept last which says: [“]But verily I say unto you all those to  whom the kingdom has been given from you it must be preached unto  them that they shall repent of their former evil works for they are to  be upbraided for their evil hearts of unbelief and your brethren in Zion  for their rebellion against you at the time I sent you.” Bro Joseph & certain  <others> have writen to you upon this all important subject, but you have <never> been  apprised of these things by the united voice of a conference of those high priests  that were present at the time this commandment was given, we therefore  Orson & Hyram the committe appointed by said conference to write this Epistle  having received the prayers of sd conference that we might be enabled to write the  mind & will of God upon this subject, now take up our pen to address you in the  name of the conference, relying upon the arm of the Great Head of the Church,  in the commandment above alluded to the Children of Zion were all, yea even  evry one under condemnation, and were to remain in that state until they  repented and remembred the new covenant even the Book of Mormon and the  former commandments which the Lord had given them, not only to say but to  do them and bring forth fruit meet for the Fathers Kingdom otherwise. [p. 20]
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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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