Letterbook 2

William W. Phelps to JS and Others, with Appended Letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page • 29 June 1840

Dayton, Ohio June 29. 1840
Brother Joseph
I am alive and with thee help of God I mean  to live still. I am as the prodigal Son, though I never doubt  or disbelieve the fulness of the Gospel: I have been greatly abased  and humbled: And I blessed the God of Israel, when I lately  read your prophetic blessing on my head, as follows:—
“The Lord will chasten him because he taketh honor to himself,  and when his soul is greatly humbled he will forsake the  evil: Then shall the light of the Lord break upon him as the  noon day, and in him shall be no darkness” &c. I have  Seen the folly of my way and I tremble at the gulf I have  passed. so it is, and why I know not. I prayed and God  answered, but what could I do? Says I, I will repent  and live, and ask my old brethren to forgive me, and  though they chasten me to death, yet I will die with the—  for their God is my God. The least place with them is enough  for me, yea it is bigger and better than all Babylon. Then  I dreamed “That I was in a large house with many mansions,  with you and Hyrum [Smith] and Sidney [Rigdon], and when it was said  Supper must be made ready, by one of the cooks, I saw no  meat, but you said there was plenty and shewed me much,  and as good as I ever saw; And while cutting to cook, you  and Hyrum looked very pleasant and smiled, but Sidney’s  heart and mine beat within us, and we took each others  hand and cried for Joy”. and I awoke and took courage
I I know my situation, you know it, and God  knows it, and I want to be saved if my friends will help  me. Like the Captain that was cast away on a desert  Island, when he got off he went to sea again, and made  his fortune the next time, So let my lot be. I have  done wrong and I am sorry. The beam is in my own eye.
I have not walked with my friends according to my  holy Annointing: I ask forgiveness in the name of Jesus  Christ of all the saints for I will do right God helping  me, I want your fellowship: If you cannot grant  that, grant me your peace and friendship, for we are  brethren, and our communion used to be Sweet, and [p. 155]
On 27 November 1832, while residing at Kirtland, Ohio, JS wrote a lengthy letter to William W. Phelps at Independence, Missouri. JS’s missive emphasized the importance of record keeping and history writing in the young church. JS began by noting that he wished “to communicate some things which . . . are laying great with weight upon my mind.” He then observed, “Firstly, it is the duty of the lord[’s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church reccord of all things that transpire in Zion . . . and also there manner of life and the faith and works.” (Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 Nov. 1832.)
This emphasis on record keeping was not widespread at the time. 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.) During a brief span in the early 1830s, JS and those working under his direction commenced the systematic collecting and recording of critical documents pertaining to church governance and administration. From that time to the end of JS’s life, correspondence-copying, revelation-recording, minute-taking, journal-keeping, and history-writing activities remained imperative commitments.
Items of correspondence were first recorded in what was subsequently designated Letterbook 1. Created from circa November 1832 to circa August 1835, it consisted of ninety-three pages preserving a record of early church-related communications dated 14 June 1829 through 4 August 1835. A second letterbook, featured here, was apparently begun in 1839 and continued to circa summer 1843. It became a repository primarily for letters, but also other items dated from 17 June 1829 through 9 February 1843. Items were copied into the volume, later designated Letterbook 2, by JS-appointed scribes including James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, Howard Coray, Willard Richards, William Clayton, John Fullmer, and George Walker. Letterbook 2 contains over 150 items of correspondence and other documents, arranged primarily in chronological order. An index created at the time outlines the contents of the 246 pages of letters and other documents. Previously, the volume had been used as a business ledger for the Rigdon, Smith and Company store in Chester, Ohio.
A title page designates the volume as “Copies of Letters, &c. &c. 1839, AD.” The first entry in the letterbook, labeled “Speech of General Clarke, To the Saints at Far West. 6th. Novr 1838,” contains the text of General John B. Clark’s oration on that occasion. Among its varied contents, the volume includes copies of a letter from JS to Emma Smith in June 1834; four letters written by Emma to JS from 1837 and 1839; three letters from Edward Partridge, Sidney Rigdon, and Elias Higbee, respectively, written in March and April 1839 to JS and other prisoners confined in the jail in Liberty, Missouri; two letters sent by JS and Elias Higbee while in Washington DC in December 1839 to Hyrum Smith and others in Nauvoo, Illinois; a letter sent from England by Brigham Young in May 1840 to JS in Nauvoo; a poignant exchange of letters between William W. Phelps, who had been cut off from the church, and JS in summer 1840; and an exchange in June and July 1842 between JS and Illinois governor Thomas Carlin. The ledger also preserves nine sets of minutes from various meetings, five petitions concerning the Saints’ treatment in Missouri, an 1840 memorial ascribed to JS, and an 1841 inventory of the contents of the Nauvoo House cornerstone, among other miscellaneous documents.
The last document copied into Letterbook 2 appears on manuscript page 245, a letter from JS to Richard M. Young, U.S. senator from Illinois, dated 9 February 1843. Though there are a substantial number of blank pages preceding the index beginning on manuscript page 369, it is not known why the copying of documents into Letterbook 2 ceased. However, the following circumstances regarding JS’s clerks may have been factors: James Mulholland died in December 1839, Robert B. Thompson died in August 1841, and Howard Coray served a mission to Pennsylvania during 1842–1843. Willard Richards and William Clayton began extensive work on Joseph Smith’s history in early 1843 while continuing to perform other clerical and secretarial duties. Documents dated after 9 February 1843 that might have been expected to be copied into the letterbook were, in many instances, recorded in JS’s history. In any event, the record closed with the 9 February 1843 letter, and there is no evidence that a third letterbook was either contemplated or begun.