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Letterbook 1

with regard to the all importent concerns of for the well fare of my immortal Soul which led me to search ing the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that  they contained the word of God thus applying  myself to them and my intimate acquaintance  with those of differant denominations led me to  marvel excedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn> instead of  adorning their profession by a holy walk and God ly conversation agreeable to what I found contain ed in that sacred depository this was a grief to  my Soul thus from the age of twelve years  to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart  concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind  the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and  abominations and the darkness which pervaded  the of the minds of mankind my mind become  excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my  sins and by searching the scriptures I found  that mand <mankind> did not come unto the Lord but that  they had apostatised from the true and liveing  faith and there was no society or denomination  that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as  recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn  for my own sins and for the sins of the world  for I learned in the scriptures that God was  the same yesterday to day and forever that he was  no respecter to persons for he was God for I  looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of  the earth and also the moon rolling in their  magesty through the heavens and also the stars  shining in their courses and the earth also upon whic h I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of  heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking  forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in  the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence  in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2]
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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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