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Letterbook 1

JS to Oliver Cowdery • 22 October 1829

Frederick G. Williams handwriting begins.  

 
Harmony— Oct. 22d— 1829——
<Let[ter], 6> Respected sir I would in form you that I  arrived at home on sunday morning the 4th. after  having a prosperous journy, and found all well  the people are all friendly to <us> except a few who  are in opposition to evry thing unless it is some thing that is axactly like themselves and two  of our most formadable persacutors are now  under censure and are cited to a trial in  the church for crimes which if true are  worse than all the Gold Book business. we do not  rejoice in the affliction of our enimies but  we shall be glad to have truth prevail there  begins to be a great call for our books in this  country the minds of the people are very  much excited when they find that there is a  copy right obtained and that there is really  books about to be printed I have bought a  horse of Mr. [Josiah] Stowell and want some one to  come after it as soon as convenient Mr Stowell  has a prospect of getting five or six hundred dol lars he does not know certain that he can get  it but he is a going to try and if he can get the  money he wants to pay it in immediately  for books we want to hear from you and  know how you prosper in the good work, give  our best respects to Father & Mother and all our  brothers and Sisters to Mr. [Martin] Harris and all  the company concerned tell them that our  prayers are put up daily for them that they  may be prospered in evry, good word and work  and that they may be preserved from sin here  and and from the consequen[c]e of sin here after  and now dear brother be faithful in the discharge  of evry duty looking for the reward of the righteous  and now may God of his infinite mercy keep an<d> pre serve us spotless untill his coming and receive us all to rest with him in  eternal repose through the attonement of Christ our Lord Amen
Joseph Smith Jr
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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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