Letterbook 2

JS to Newel K. Whitney • 24 May 1839

Commerce Ill, 24th May 1839
Dear Sir
This is to inform you that Elder Grainger has succeeded  in obtaining the house which he had in contemplation when he left here, and as we feel  very anxious to have the society of Bishop [Newel K.] Whitney and his family here, we hope that  he will [make?] every exertion consistent with his own business and convenience to come up  to us here at Commerce as soon as possibly in his power.
Joseph Smith Jr

JS and Vinson Knight to John Bigler • 27 May 1839

Commerce Hancock Co Ill, 27th May 1839
Father Biggler [John Bigler]
Dear Sir
We have thought well to write you  by Brother Markam [Stephen Markham], on the subject of our purchase of lands here, in order to stir up  Your pure mind to a remembrance of the situation in which we have been placed  by the act of councils of the Church having appointed us a committee  to transact business <here> for the Church. We have as is known to the Church in  general; made purchases, And entered into contracts and promised payments  of monies for all which we now stand responsible.
Now as money seems to come in too slowly in order that  that we may be able to meet our obligations— we have determined to call upon  the liberality of Father Biggler through the agency of Br Markam, and request  that he will place in his hands for us, the sum of five or six hundred dollars  for which he shall have the security of the said committee, also, through the  agency of Br Markham, and the thanks of the Church besides.
Joseph Smith Jr
Mr John Biggler, Quincy Ill.

JS to Lyman Wight • 27 May 1839

Commerce Ill, 27th May 1839
Dear Sir
Having last week received a letter from Br. R[obert] B. Thompson  concerning your late writings in the Quincy whig, and understanding thereby that  the church in general at Quincy were rather uneasy concerning these matters  we have thought best to consider the matter of course, and accordingly being in  council on Saturday last, the subject was introduced, and discussed at some  length, when an answer to Br Thompson’s letter was agreed to, and sanctioned  by the Council, which answer I expect will be published, and of course you  will have an opportunity to see it. It will be seen by that letter that we do not [p. 13]
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.