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History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]

History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]

to assist us in our affliction, Mr Harris was a resident of Palmyra township Wayne County  in the State of New York and a farmer of respectability. By this timely aid was I enabled  to reach the place of my destination in Pensylvania, and immediately after my arrival  there I commenced copying the characters of all the plates. I copyed a considerable number  of them and by means of the Urim and Thummin I translated some of them which I did  between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December, and  the February following. Some time in this month of February the aforementioned Mr  Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off of the plates  and started with them to the City of New York. For what took place relative to him  and the characters I refer to his own account of the circumstances as he related them  to me after his return which was as follows. “I went to the City of New York and presented  the Characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor <Charles> Anthony a  gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthony stated that the trans lation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian.
I then shewed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were  Egyptian, Chaldeak, Assyriac, and Arabac, and he said that they were true charac ters. He gave me a certificate certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true char acters and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct.
I took the Certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when  Mr Anthony called me back and asked me how the young man found out that there were  gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an Angel of God had  revealed it unto him. He then said to me, let me see that certificate, I accordingly took  it out of my pocket and gave it [to] him when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that  there was no such thing now as ministring of angels, and that if I would bring the plates  to him, he would translate them.<*> <I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them, he replied  “I cannot read a sealed book”.> I left him and went to Dr Mitchel [Samuel L. Mitchill] who sanctioned  what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the Characters and the translation.”

April–June 1828

Mr Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged  his affairs, and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, Eighteen hundred and  twenty eight, and commenced writing for me while I translated from the plates, which we  continued untill the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one  hundred and sixteen <pages> of manuscript on foolscap paper. Some time after Mr Harris  had began to write for me, he began to tease me to give him liberty to carry the writings  home and shew them, and desired of me that I would enquire of the Lord through the Urim  and Thummin if he might not do so. I did enquire, and the answer was that he must  not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire  again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented but insis ted that I should enquire once more. after After much solicitation I again enquired  of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain condit ions, which were, that he shew them only to his brother. Preserved Harris, his own wife [Lucy Harris Harris],  his father [Nathan], and his mother [Rhoda Lapham Harris], and a Mrs [Polly Harris] Cobb a sister to his wife. In accordance with this  last answer I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me [p. 9]
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This document, volume A-1, is the first of the six volumes of the “Manuscript History of the Church.” The collection was compiled over the span of seventeen years, 1838 to 1856. Volume A-1 encompasses the period from JS’s birth in 1805 to 30 August 1834, just after the return of the Camp of Israel (later known as Zion’s Camp) from Missouri to Kirtland, Ohio. For a fuller discussion of the entire six-volume work, see the general introduction to the history.
In April 1838 JS renewed his effort to draft a “history” with the aid of his counselor Sidney Rigdon. George W. Robinson served as scribe. JS’s journal for late April and early May 1838 notes six days on which JS, Rigdon, and Robinson were engaged in “writing history.” Though not completed and no longer extant, that draft laid the foundation for what became a six-volume manuscript eventually published as the “History of Joseph Smith,” and at least a portion of its contents are assumed to have been included in the manuscript presented here.
On 11 June 1839 in Commerce, Illinois, JS once again began dictating his “history.” James Mulholland now served as scribe. Apparently the narrative commenced where the earlier 1838 draft left off. When work was interrupted in July 1839, Mulholland inscribed the draft material, including at least some of Robinson’s earlier material, into a large record book already containing the text of an incomplete history previously produced over a span of two years, 1834–1836. For the new history, Mulholland simply turned the ledger over and began at the back of the book. The volume was later labeled A-1 on its spine, identifying it as the first of multiple volumes of the manuscript history.
Prior to his untimely death on 3 November 1839, Mulholland recorded the first fifty-nine pages in the volume. Subsequently, his successor, Robert B. Thompson, contributed about sixteen more pages before his death in August 1841. William W. Phelps then added a little over seventy-five pages. However, it was not until Willard Richards was appointed JS’s “private secretary and historian” that substantial progress was made on the compilation of the history. Richards would contribute the remainder of the text inscribed in the 553-page first volume. The narrative recorded in A-1 was completed in August 1843. Thomas Bullock and Charles Wandell subsequently added sixteen pages of “Addenda” material, which provided notes, extensive revisions, or additional text to be inserted in the original manuscript where indicated. For instance, several of the addenda expanded on the account of the Camp of Israel as initially recorded.
JS dictated or supplied information for much of A-1, and he personally corrected the first forty-two pages before his death. As planned, his historian-scribes maintained the first-person, chronological narrative format initially established in the volume. When various third-person accounts were drawn upon, they were generally converted to the first person, as if JS was directly relating the account. After JS’s death, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, and others modified and corrected the manuscript as they reviewed material before its eventual publication.
Beginning in March 1842 the church’s Nauvoo periodical, the Times and Seasons, began publishing the narrative as the “History of Joseph Smith.” At the time of JS’s death only the history through December 1831 had been published. When the final issue of the Times and Seasons, dated 15 February 1846 appeared, the account had been carried forward through August 1834—the end of the material recorded in A-1. The “History of Joseph Smith” was also published in England in the church periodical the Millennial Star beginning in June 1842. Once a press was established in Utah and the Deseret News began publication, the “History of Joseph Smith” once more appeared in print in serialized form. Beginning with the November 1851 issue, the narrative picked up where the Times and Seasons had left off over five years earlier.
Aside from the material dictated or supplied by JS prior to his murder, the texts for A-1 and for the history’s subsequent volumes were drawn from a variety of primary and secondary sources including JS’s diaries and letters, minutes of meetings, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, church and other periodicals, reports of JS’s discourses, and the reminiscences and recollections of church members. The narrative in A-1 provides JS’s personal account of the foundational events of his life as a prophet and the early progress of the church. It also encompasses contentions and disputations that erupted between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri. While it remains difficult to distinguish JS’s own contributions from composition of his historian-scribes, the narrative trenchantly captures the poignancy and intensity of his life while offering an enlightening account of the birth of the church he labored to establish.

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