Letterbook 2

JS and Elias Higbee to Hyrum Smith • 5 December 1839

Robert B. Thompson handwriting ends; Howard Coray begins.  

Washington City Corner of Missouri & 3d. Street,
Dec 5th 1839.
Dear Brother Hiram [Hyrum Smith]. President and to the Honor able High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter  day Saints. To whom be fellowship, love and the peace  of Almighty God extended and the prayer of faith  forever and ever Amen, Your fellow labourers, Joseph  Smith Jr, Elias Higbee and Agents, as well as the  servants that are sent by you, to perform one of the most  arduous and responsible duties, and also to labour  in the most honorable cause that ever graced the  pages of human existance; and respectfully show  by these lines, that we have taken up our cross thus far  and that we arrived in this City on the morning of  the 28th. of November, and spent the most of that day  in looking up a boarding house which we succeeded in  in finding. We found as cheap boarding as can be  had in this city. On friday morning 29th we proceeded  <to> the house of the President— We found a very large and  splendid palace, surrounded with a splendid enclosure  decorated with all the finery fineries and elegancies of this  world we went to the door and requested to see the  President; when we were immediately introduced into  an upper apartment where we met the President  and were introduced into his parlor, where we prese nted him with our Letters of introduction;— as soon as  he had read one of them, he looked upon us with  a kind of half frown and said, what can I do?  I can do nothing for you,— if I do any thing, I shall  come in contact with the whole State of Missouri— But  we were not to be intimidated, and demanded a  hearing and constitutional rights— Before we left him  he promised to reconsider what he had said, and  observed that he felt to sympathise with us on ac count of our sufferings,— Now we shall endeavor to  express our feelings and views concerning the President, as  we have been eye witnesses of his Majesty— He is a small  man, sandy complexion, and ordinary features; with [p. 85]
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.