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Letterbook 1

the Lord of hosts yea thus saith the still small voice which  whispereth through and pierceth all things and often times it  maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest saying  and it shall come to pass that I the Lord God will send one  mighty and strong holding the scepter of power in his hand  clothed with light for a covering whose mouth shall  utter words Eternal words while his bowels shall be a fou ntain of truth to set in order the house of God and to arr ange by lot the inheritance of the saints whose names  are found and the names of their fathers and of their chi ldren enroled in the Book of the Law of God while tha t man who was called of God and appointed that puteth  forth his hand to steady the ark of God shall fall by  the shaft of death like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid  shaft of lightning and all they who are not found writen  in the book of remmemberance shall find none inheritence  in that day but they shall be cut assunder and their por tion shall be appointed them among unbelievers where  is wailing and gnashing of teeth these things I say not  of myself therefore as the Lord speaketh he will also fu lfill and they who are of the high Priesthood whose names  are not found writen in the book of the Law or that are  found to have appostitized or to have been cut off out  of the church as well as the lesser Priesthood or the mem bers in that day shall not find an inheritence among the  saints of the most high therefore it shall be done unto  them as unto the children of the Priest as you will find  recorded in the second chapter and sixty first and  second verses of Ezra now Broth— William if what I say  have said is true how careful then had men aught  to be what they do in the last days lest they are cut as sunder short of their expectations and they that think [they] stand  should fall because they keep not the Lords commandments  whilst you who do the will of the Lord and keep his comman dments have need to rejoice with unspeakable Joy for such  shall be exalted very high and shall be lifted up in [p. 3]
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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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