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

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

receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred,  and according to your faith shall it be done unto you. Behold it is I that have spoken it:  and I am the same who spake unto you from the beginning. Amen.
Revelation given to Oliver Cowdery, April 1829.
Behold I say unto you, my son, that because you did not translate according to that  which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant Joseph Smith jr  even so I would that I you should continue untill you have finished this record, which I have  intrusted unto him: and then behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you pow er that you may assist to translate. Be patient my son, for it is wisdom  in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. Behold,  the work which you are called to do, is to write for my servant Joseph; and behold it is because  that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken  away this privilege from you. Do not murmur my son, for it is wisdom in me that I  have dealt with you after this manner.
Behold you have not understood, you have supposed that I would give it unto you,  when you took no thought, save it was to ask me; but behold I say unto you, that you  must study it in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right, I  will cause that your bosom shall burn within you: therefore, you shall feel that it is  right; but if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a  stupor of thought, that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong: therefore  you cannot write that which is sacred, save it be given you from me.
Now if you had known this, you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not  expedient that you should translate now. Behold it was expedient when you commenced  but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now: for do you not behold that  I have given unto my servant Joseph sufficient strength, whereby it is made up? and  neither of you have I condemned. Do this thing which I have comm anded you, and you shall prosper. Be faithful and yield to no temptation. Stand  fast in the work wherein wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost,  and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen.

May 1829

We still continued the  <work of> translation, when in the ensuing month (May, Eighteen hundred and twenty nine)  we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting  baptism for the remission of sins as we found mentioned in the translation of the  plates. While we were thus employed praying and calling upon the Lord, a Messenger  from heaven, descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he  ordained us, saying unto us; “Upon you my fellow servants in the name of Messiah  I confer the priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministring of angels and  of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins,  and this shall never be taken again from the earth, untill the sons of Levi do offer again  an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” He said this Aaronic priesthood had not [p. 17]
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.