Origin of the Baptism for the Dead Doctrine

This is an expanded version (with media) of an article which originally appeared in the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal by Johnny Stephenson and H. Michael Marquardt. (Spring, 2017 Issue)

INTRODUCTION

In 1990 Guy Bishop wrote about baptism for the dead in Nauvoo and made this observation based on his research:

We have been left with scant evidence of how Joseph Smith formulated the Mormon plan of baptism for the dead. But, by the time the beleaguered Saints had crossed the Mississippi River in 1839 and had begun to reestablish themselves in western Illinois, the Prophet apparently knew how the worthy dead were to meet the mandate for baptism.[1]

What was the origin of the baptism for the dead doctrine that Joseph preached in Nauvoo in the late summer of 1840? New evidence and a re-examination of existing evidence may help us to answer this question.

THE GOSPEL GOES TO ENGLAND

In the summer of 1837, Apostles Heber C. Kimball[2] and Orson Hyde[3] left America for a mission to preach the newly restored Gospel in England. After arriving in Liverpool, they made their way north to Preston where they met with the relatives of some Canadian converts such as Joseph Fielding and John Taylor, who had joined the Church due to the efforts of Parley P. Pratt in 1836.[4]

William Clayton & Wife Diantha Farr

The relatives of these Canadian converts readily accepted the Gospel in England, and helped Kimball and Hyde to convert many others including William Clayton[5] who was appointed second counselor to the British Mission President, Willard Richards.[6] By the end of 1837, almost a hundred and fifty souls had been baptized due to the efforts of these Apostles.

A year later, another of the original Quorum of the Twelve, David W. Patten was called on a mission,[7] but before he could fulfill it, he was wounded in the Battle of Crooked River[8] in Ray County, Missouri and died from his injuries on October 25, 1838.

In July, 1838, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, John E. Page and Willard Richards were called to fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve.[9]  In that same July revelation Joseph Smith instructed that the Twelve Apostles were to leave Far West on April 26, 1839 and journey “over the great waters” to “promulgate my gospel.”[10]

In January, 1839 George Albert Smith, Joseph’s cousin was also called to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve.[11]

By April of 1840 eight Apostles had assembled together in the British Isles at Preston, England where they ordained Willard Richards to their quorum. [12] At a general conference held on April 15, 1840 the Apostles announced that there were 1,671 members, 34 elders, 52 priests, 38 teachers, and 8 deacons in England and Scotland.[13]

THE VISION OF ANN BOOTH

One of those English Saints converted by the efforts of William Clayton was Ann Eastwood Booth, the wife of Robert Booth of the town of Manchester.[14] A month before the general conference was held in Preston, Ann claimed to have had a vision about the Spirit World which subsequently came to the attention of Brigham Young.

Mary Ann Angell Young, circa 1850

On May 26, 1840 Brigham wrote to his wife, Mary Ann,[15] about the vision and included a copy of it in his letter.  Young wrote:

I am desposed to wright you a vision in this or som other letter <that> I shall send, it is concerning David W. Patten’s minestry in the world whare he has gon,  it gives my hart joy inexspesable; …

I will now give you the vision * [insert from top of letter] Sister Booth sayes she heard a voice saying she must goe to Paridice then she was cared away in in the vision*

I Ann Booth, Wife of Robert Booth of the Town of Manchster, England, had the following vision of the 12 day of march in the year of our Lord one thousand and forty <1840>.

Being caried away in a vision to the Place of departed spirits I saw 12 Prisons, one abov another, verry large, and builded of soled stone. on ariveing at the <dore of the> upermost Prision I behed one of the 12 apostles of the Lamb who had been martered in America, standing at the dore of the Prison holding a key in his hand with which he opned unlocked the dore and went in and I fol[low]ed him.

he appeard to be of a large sise. thick set, darke hare darke eyes and eyebrows of a smiling countnane, and on <his> head was a crown of gold or somthing brighter, he was dresed in a long white robe, with the sleves plated from the sholder down to the hand.  upon his brest ware fore stares apparently like gold <or briter>. and a golden girdle about his Loins.  his feet was bare from above the Ancles down<w>ard and his hands were also bare.  as he entred the prison he seemed to stand about 3 feet from the floor (which was of Marble) as if the place was not worthy for him to stand upon. a verry brilient and glorie<u>s light surounded him, while the res of the prison was dark. but his light was peculiar to him self, and did not reflect upon others who was in the prison, who ware surounded with a gloom of darkness.

Brigham Young letter to Mary Ann Young, May 26, 1840

on the right hand of the dore stood Jhon Wesley, who on seing the glories personage, rased his hands and shouted >glory, honer, praise, and Power, be ascribed unto God and the Lamb forever and ever— Deliverance has Com-.  the Apostle then commecd to preached the Baptism of repentence for the remision of sins, and the gift of the Holy Gost by the laing of hands when the hundreds of prisners gave a shout with aloud voice saying >Glory be to God for ever and ever.

the marble floor was then remo=ved and a River of watter clere as Cristall seemed to fow in it place.  the Apostle then called to John Wesley by name who came fawrd quickley and both went down in to t[he -damaged] water and the Apostle Baptized him and coming up out of the water he lade his hands upon him for the gift of the Holy Gost, at the same time ordainedng him to the Preasthood of Aaron;

the Apostle then retired to the place ware he first stod and John Wesley then proseded to Baptize a man by the of Kilbham and next John Madison and Wm Scott. and John Tongue <who> ware Methodest Prachers with whome I had ben a quanted personly.  the next he Baptized was my grand father Edmond Whitehead the next was my unkel Johon Whitehead and the next was my sister Elizabath Oland, the <next> was Joseph Lancashere next Samuel Robinson Robinson and the next was my own Mother, all these had lived and died Methodest and I And had ben personly aquanted with them all, and after this he Baptized all the Prisoners amoun=ting to menny hundreds.

after they ware all Baptized, the Apostle Lade his hands on them all and confermed them, then instantly the Darkeness dispersed and they ware all surrounded and envellopd in a Brilint light, such as surounded the Apostle at the first. and they all lifted up theyer voices with one accord giving glory to God for deliverence.

My gra<n>d father then came to me and Blest me saying  the Lord bless forever and ever, art thou com to see us deliverd.  my mother then came to me and clasped me in hir arms and kissed me three times and said the Lord Almightly Bless the for ever and evere.

I then awoke out of my vision and felt so happy and rejoiced that I could not lay in bed.  I awaked my husben we got up.  I then tooke the Bible opened it to 3 different places, first to Isah 24, Chap. 22 v. the next was John C- 1- v-5—  the third time I opned bible was <first> Peater 3-C-18-19-20—ver— not being aquanted with these texts of Cripture and opening to each of them provedencily I was asstonished beyond measure.

I would futher state that at the time I had the vission I had never hered of the deth of David Patten whome I have sence lerned was one of the twelve Apostles of the Later day saynts in America, and was martered in the late percution in the fall of 1838. but in <the> vision I knew that it was an Apostle who had ben slane in America,

I here by sollemly testfy that I actually saw and hered in the vision what I have related, and I give my name and set my seal in witness to same; well know that I must stand before the Judment seet of Christ and ancer to this testmony, amen & amen.[16]

Wilford Woodruff, Nauvoo Era

A few months later, on July 2, 1840 Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal that he,

…spent the day at 149 Oldham road in writing. I was informed of a remarkable vision of Sister Ann Booth which I have written on the following page. I spent the night at Br John Walkers Cookson Strt No 10.[17]

Woodruff then writes “A Remarkable Vision” in his journal and copies the entire vision of Ann Booth below this header. There are some slight differences between the two copies, so Woodruff may not have gotten his copy of the vision from Brigham Young.[18]

DAVID W. PATTEN THE MARTYR

Back in America, David W. Patten was being hailed as a martyr of the faith.  In the Times and Seasons, an account of his death was printed in November, 1839:

The Battle of Crooked River by C.A.A. Christensen

On the retreat of the mob from Daviess, I [Joseph Smith] returned to Caldwell, [County] hoping to have some respite from our enemies, at least for a short time; but upon my arrival there, I was informed that a mob had commenced hostilities on the borders of that county, adjoining to Ray co. and that they had taken some of our brethren prisoners, burned some houses and had committed depredations on the peaceable inhabitants. A company under the command of Capt. Patten, was ordered out by Lieutenant Col. Hinckle to go against them, and stop their depredations, and drive them out of the county. Upon the approach of our people, the mob fired upon them, and after discharging their pieces, fled with great precipitation, with the loss of one killed and several wounded. In the engagement Capt. Patten, (a man beloved by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance,) was wounded and died shortly after.[19]

Seven months earlier, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that

Elder David W. Patten… was martered in Missouri in 1838 for the word of God & the testimony of Jesus Christ. He was the first marter of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints chosen to build up the kingdom of GOD & prepare for the coming of Christ.[20]

After his arrival in England, Woodruff wrote in November, 1839:

I had a dream during the night & had an interview with Mrs Woodruff, But did not see [daughter] Sarah Emma. I travelled a distance with Judge [Elias] Higby in a hard storm in my dream. I also saw Br David Patten who was Martered in Missouri.[21]

Though Ann Booth claims that she never heard of the death of David W. Patten previous to having her vision in March, 1840, he was an important figure that was both written about and spoken of, and had been designated as a martyr soon after his death.

THE GOSPEL IN THE SPIRIT WORLD

Brigham Young, Circa 1840’s

Mary Ann Young most likely received the copy of Ann Booth’s vision from her husband Brigham Young in mid-summer 1840 and then shared it with many of the saints in Nauvoo. This vision excited and inspired many, as it did with the Apostles who had read it.

The vision spoke of David W. Patten as performing an important mission in the Spirit World, a place where many of the Saints felt they too would be called to serve after death.

When Joseph was translating the Bible in 1830, he wrote about the wicked who had died in the days of Noah:

But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them. And that which I have chosen [Jesus Christ] hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment.”[22]

A few years later Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had a vision of the afterlife[23] and in that vision they claimed that, “…concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—they are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial… that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; and who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise… these are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God.”[24]

Those who were locked up in the Spirit Prison, would inherit a lesser glory:

And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament. Behold, these are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.[25]

In 1836, Joseph Smith claimed to have had another vision of the afterlife,[26] during which he saw “Father Adam and Abraham and Michael and my father and mother, my brother, Alvin, that has long since slept” in the Celestial Kingdom. Joseph “marvled how it was that he [Alvin] had obtained this an inheritance <in> this <that> kingdom, [of glory] seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord <had> set His hand to gather Israel <the second time>, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins—”[27]

The answer claimed Joseph, was given to him in the same vision by “the voice of the Lord”:

All who have died with[out] a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God—also all that shall die henseforth with<out> a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; For I, the Lord, <will> judge all men according to their works according to the desire of their hearts—and again I also beheld the Terrestial kingdom also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven—[28]

In 1838, Joseph Smith was asked a question about “those who have died since the days of the apostles.” Joseph’s answer was that,

All those who have not had an opportunity of hearing the gospel, and being administered to by an inspired man in the flesh, must have it hereafter before they can be finally judged.[29]

It is clear that Joseph is claiming that all those who have died and have not heard the gospel must have it administered or preached to them by “an inspired man” in this life, must have it preached to them hereafter. This was evident from the Bible, where it speaks of Jesus preaching the gospel to the spirits in prison:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.[30]

Sidney Rigdon spoke of this authority to administer the gospel in February, 1836:

For take the priesthood away by which the gospel was administered, and of what avail is the gospel? the answer is, it is of none; for the gospel is only of use to man, when there is somebody to administer it to them.[31]

As far as the Church and Joseph were concerned, this settled the matter. The question of baptism was left unanswered. Ann Booth’s vision was innovative in that it spoke of these prisoners being both baptized and confirmed in the Spirit World, after they had the gospel preached to them by one who had the authority to do so. This answered the apparent conundrum about baptism and confirmation of the Holy Spirit for those who had not received these ordinances while they were in mortality.

THE DEATH OF SEYMOUR BRUNSON

In August of 1840, a few months after the vision of Ann Booth had made its way to Nauvoo, Seymour Brunson,[32] a forty year old High Councilman, friend and bodyguard of Joseph Smith was taken with a severe sickness. His son later wrote,

In the month of July 1840, my father having occasion to get up in the night to drive some cattle out of his lot, caught cold which brought on a severe sickness, which ultimately resulted in death. . . . Joseph Smith had previously had him removed to his house thinking the change might prove beneficial to my father’s health, but he still continued to decline, and when Joseph understood that my father would rather go than stay, he and others visited him and bidding him goodby, remaked “Brother Brunson, since it is your desire to go, we shall not hold you by faith any longer.” My father then called his family together, and after asking my mother if all the children were present, he bid us a last farewell, and shortly after his spirit winged its flight from its earthly tenement to take its place amongst the spirits of the just.[33]

In early September (after the Brunson funeral), Vilate Kimball wrote to her husband, Heber, in England:

Semor Brunson is dead. everything was done to save him that could be done, but the Lord had kneed of him a short time before he died he told Joseph not to hold him any longer, for sed he, I have seen David Patten and he wants me and the Lord wants me, and I want to go. they then gave him up. at one time as Joseph entered the room, he told him there was a light incircled him above the brightness of the sun, he exclaimed the room is full of angels, they have come to waft my spirit home, he then bid his family farewell, and sweetly fell asleep in jesus. he requested President Smith to preach his funeral sermon which he did.[34]

John Smith, circa 1850’s

John Smith wrote to his son George Albert in England about the death of Elder Brunson on August 21, 1840:

There has been considerable sickness in Nauvoo and Commerce and many some deaths though I think not so many as last by any means, according to the number of inhabitants, only mention Elder Brunson he Died very happy, David Patton came after him he said with a convoy of Angels David wanted him and Davids God wa=nted him and Joseph held him back but he must go. …Joseph has commen=ced Delivering a course of Lectures to us on this side of the River on the first Princlpals of the gospel particularly the Resur=rection of the Dead and Eternal Judgement has spent two Sabbaths has an appointment tomorrow at Nashville is to ap<p>oint a place o this side to build up a Town as the Saints in Iowa are scattered over a large tract of land[35]

From what Vilate and others wrote later, when Seymour Brunson was on his deathbed he expressed a strong desire to go to the Spirit World, claiming to have “seen David Patten”, who wanted him to help with the work he was performing there on behalf of the dead. By this time, the vision of Ann Booth had probably influenced many about David Patten including Seymour Brunson.

Neither of these letters (written after the funeral) mention the doctrine of Baptism for the Dead. Brunson’s obituary, written by Joseph Smith read,

Colonel Seymour Brunson, aged forty years, ten months and twenty-three days, died at Nauvoo. Colonel Brunson was among the first settlers of this place. He has always been a lively stone in the building of God and was much respected by his friends and acquaintances. He died in the triumph of faith, and in his dying moments bore testimony to the Gospel that he had embraced.[36]

THE FUNERAL OF SEYMOUR BRUNSON

Vilate Kimball in the same September letter to her husband wrote that Seymour Brunson’s funeral,

…was attended by thousands of people, he was buried under arms. the prosession that marched to the grave was judged to be a mile long. a more solm sight I never witnessed, and yet the day was joyful because of the light and glory which Joseph set forth; I can truly say my soul was lifted up.[37]

On November 9th, Heber Kimball conveyed to John Taylor the news of Brunson’s death and funeral that Vilate had written to him about in September:

Semer Bronson is gon. David Paten came after him. the Rom was full of Angels that came after him to waft him home, he was burred under arms, the Procession, that went to the grave was judged to be one mile long, and a more joyfull Season She Ses She never Saw be fore on the account of the glory that Jospeh set forth”[38]

The comments made about David W. Patten by Seymour Brunson to Joseph Smith apparently did not go unnoticed by him. In addition to Patten’s preaching in the Spirit Prison he was also described as performing baptisms and confirmations upon the spirits of the dead. Many, including Brunson, probably had questions about what exactly was happening in the Spirit World.

When Joseph had questions about doctrine he would often refer to the scriptures to find answers. Considering the fact that neither Vilate Kimball or John Smith wrote about this startling new doctrine in their August and September letters, it is doubtful that Joseph did more than mention baptism for the dead in passing at the funeral of Seymour Brunson.[39]

On December 15, 1840 Joseph wrote a letter to the Twelve Apostles in England. In that letter he states that he “first mentioned the doctrine in public while preaching the funeral sermon of Bro Brunson, and have since given general instructions to the Church on the subject.”[40]

THE TESTIMONY OF JANE NEYMAN AND VIENNA JACQUES

Vienna Jacques, circa 1860’s

In 1854, Jane Harper Neyman[41] and Vienna Jacques[42] stopped by the Church Historian’s Office in Salt Lake City and gave brief statements about their experiences concerning Baptism for the Dead in Nauvoo. Curiously, there are two versions of their testimony in the Church History Library. The first document reads,

Front:

Sept 13th 1840

*Jane Neymon States that at the funeral of Col Seymour Brunson that Joseph Preached Seymour Brunsons funeral sermon & then first introduced the subject of Baptism of the Dead & said to the people I have laid the subject of Baptism for the Dead before you you may Receive or Reject it as you choose. Sept 13th (Aug 15th 1840 written in pencil)

The them [They then] went & was baptized for her son Cyrus Livingston Neymon by Harvey Olmstead. Joseph ^on hearing of it at Table in the evening^ asked what he said o his telling what the Ceremony was it prooved that father Olmstead had it Right

Vaenna Jaques witnessed the same by Riding Into the River on horseback to get close so as to hear what the ceremony would be

These statements given by Jane Neymon & Vienna Jaques in history office GSL City Nov 29th 1854 1/2 past 10 oclock AM

Back:

Smith, Joseph

Statement in

Regard to Baptism for

the Dead Nauvoo

Sept 13th 1840[43]

This document states that according to Jane Neyman, Joseph first introduced the subject of Baptism for the Dead at Seymour Brunson’s funeral, claiming that he laid the subject before them and that it was up to them to receive it or reject it. Then under the date of September 13th, she claims that she was baptized for her son Cyrus Livingston[44] and that Harvey Olmstead performed the ceremony of which Joseph later approved. Vienna Jacques testifies that she witnessed the ceremony on the 13th of September and rode her horse into the water so she could hear what was said.

What is interesting is the second document that is in the same folder. It reads,

Front:

Mrs Jane Neymon States that her husband Wm [William] Neymon died at nauvoo on the 10th day of Sept – they had frequently conversed together concerning their son who had died before they heard the gospel on hearing Joseph sermon which was delivered the Sabath after her husbands Death she immediately applied to the Elders for baptism they hesitated, but finaly Elder Harvey Olmstead consented

Vienna Jaques Rode into the water on horseback from curiosity to hear the ceremony & she asserts that it was precisely the same as was afterwards used by the Elders while Joseph was at supper that evening he was told that his doctrine was already taken effect, he ^says^ what are they baptizing for the dead on being told what had been done he inquired what form or words they

Back:

used in the performance of  Ceremony.  on being[45]

This document claims that Jane Neyman had frequently conversed with her husband William before his death in early September[46] concerning their son Cyrus who had died before they heard the gospel, and that on hearing Joseph’s sermon which he delivered the Sunday after her husband’s death (September 13th) she was baptized for her son by Harvey Olmstead. It is difficult to determine which of these statements was made first, but other accounts of these events may help to clarify the apparent contradictions here.

THE SEPTEMBER 13TH DISCOURSE AND THE FIRST BAPTISMS FOR THE DEAD

In the Journal History of the Church[47] under the date of 15 AUG 1840, Andrew Jenson wrote:

Joseph the Prophet according to the document hereunto attached preached the funeral sermon in memory of Elder Seymour Brunson who had died Aug 10, 1840.

The following document was found by Andrew Jenson at the Historian’s Office, April 9, 1908, while undertaking a careful perusal of original documents. [Then follows the first Neyman Document transcribed above].[48]

The Journal History then continues:

Following is a statement made by Simon Baker in a speech which he delivered:

I was present at a discourse that the prophet Joseph delivered on baptism for the dead 15 August 1840.[49]

After this follows a summary of the speech that Baker claimed to hear, which will be quoted below. The speech by Baker has some problems. First, someone added a date (when the discourse supposedly took place) to the document: August 15, 1840. The original document did not include any date.

In this discourse that Baker speaks of, the widow that Joseph Smith refers to is Jane Neyman, but she didn’t become a widow until after September 2, 1840 when her husband William died. So this discourse that Baker speaks of could not have been given on August 15th, 1840.

The reason why Jenson probably added the dates to these documents was because of Joseph Smith’s December 15, 1840 letter to the Twelve in England. Joseph wrote:

I presume the doctrine of “baptizm for the dead” has ere this reached your ears, and may have raised some inquiries in your mind respecting the same. I cannot in this letter give you all the information you may desire on the subject, but aside from my knowledge independant of the Bible, I would say that this was certainly practized by the antient Churches And. St Paul endeavors to prove the doctrine of the resurrection from the same, and says “else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead” &c &c. I first mentioned the doctrine in public while preaching the funeral sermon of Bro Seymour Brunson, and have since then given general instructions to the Church on the subject. The Saints have the priviledge of being baptized for those of their relatives who are dead, who they feel to believe would have embraced the gospel if they had been priviledged with hearing it, and who have received the gospel in the spirit through the instrumentality of those who may have been commissioned to preach to them while in the prison. Without enlarging on the subject you will undoubtedly see its consistancy, and reasonableness, and presents the the gospel of Christ in probably a more enlarged scale than some have received it. But as the performance of this right is more particularly confined to this place it will not be necessary to enter into particulars, at the same time I always feel glad to give all the information in my power, but my space will not allow me to do it.[50]

Joseph writes that he first mentioned the doctrine of Baptism for the Dead at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, but then states he had “since then given general instructions to the Church on the subject.” Jenson probably thought that these recollections all took place on only one date: August 15th.

According to Joseph, he did mention baptism for the dead on August 15th, but he also said that since then, he gave general instructions to the Church. This would be the sermon that Joseph gave on September 13, 1840 that both Jane Neyman and Simon Baker attended, (which fits the evidence) and further instructions on October 4, 1840 at the General Conference of the Church.

What appears to have transpired is that the vision of Ann Booth had been circulated among the Saints at Nauvoo after being sent from overseas by Brigham Young to his wife, Mary Ann. This excited and inspired those like Seymour Brunson who took ill about the time the vision was first being noised about Nauvoo. Through Seymour Brunson or perhaps Mary Ann Young, Joseph learns about the vision of Ann Booth and addresses some of the questions about the vision at the funeral of the High Councilman, correcting the notion that spirits can be baptized. Joseph does not reveal much at this time, because those that attended the funeral do not mention anything about baptism for the dead. Joseph continues to study and ponder the scriptures and focuses on the verses in 1st Corinthians that speak of Baptism for the Dead. He now has his answer for how those who have died without the Gospel (such as his brother Alvin) can be saved in the Celestial Kingdom.

A few weeks after the funeral of Seymour Brunson, Joseph’s father (Joseph Smith, Sr.) took ill and Lucy Mack Smith later wrote that she concluded that her husband “was appointed unto death,” so she “sent for Joseph and Hyrum.”[51]

Joseph and Hyrum arrived home on Saturday, September 7th, 1840 and gave their father a blessing. The next day Joseph had a conversation with his father and informed him that it was now “the privilege of the Saints to be baptized for the dead,” and Joseph Smith, Sr. requested that his son Joseph “should be baptized for Alvin immediately.”[52]

Six days later Joseph Smith Sr. died, and the next day Joseph Smith preached his first real sermon on baptism for the dead. As Simon Baker recalled:

He read the greater part of the 15th chapter of Corinthians and remarked that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought glad tidings of great joy, and then remarked that he saw a widow in that congregation that had a son who died without being baptized, and this widow in reading the sayings of Jesus ‘except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,’ and that not one jot nor tittle of the Savior’s words should pass away, but all should be fulfilled. He then said that this widow [Jane Neyman] should have glad tidings in that thing. He also said the apostle [Paul] was talking to a people who understood baptism for the dead, for it was practiced among them. He went on to say that people could now act for their friends who had departed this life, and that the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God. He went on and made a very beautiful discourse”[53]

After Joseph spoke to the assembled group of Saints on that mild day in mid-September, 1840, the new widow Jane Neyman applied to the Elders to baptize her as a proxy for her son Cyrus, and Harvey Olmstead stepped up and performed the ceremony, which Joseph Smith later that night approved of.[54]

On Sunday, October 4, the Prophet again addressed the Saints on Baptism for the Dead, this time at some length. The Minutes of the General Conference taken by Robert B. Thompson record that,

Pres Smith then arose and spoke on the subject of being baptized for the dead at considerable length.”[55]

According to Vilate Kimball, who wrote to her husband Heber in England a few days after the October Conference:

President Smith has open[e]d a new and glorious subject of late which has caused quite a revival in the church. that is, being baptised for the dead. Paul speaks of it, in first Corinthians 15th chapter 29th vers[e].

Joseph has received a more full explaination of it by Revelation. He says it is the privilege of this church to be baptised for all their kinsfolks that have died before this Gospel came forth; even back to their great Gran[d]father and Mother if they have be[e]n personally acquainted with them. by so doing we act as agents for them, and give them the privilege of comeing forth in the first resurection.[56]

Vilate added that Joseph urged them “to be up and a doing and liberate their friends from bondage as quick as posable.” Vilate then spoke of her own need to redeem her dead, writing that “I want to be baptized for my mother.” She adds that “Since this order has been preached here, the waters have been continually troubled. During the conference there were some times from eight to ten elders in the river at a time baptizing.” She also informed Heber that “there is a number of the neighbors going forward,” and “[s]ome have already been baptized a number of times over. They have to be baptized and confirmed for one person before they can be baptized for another. Those that have no friends on the earth to be baptized for them can become ministering spirits to whom so ever they will and make known their request.”[57]

“There is a chance for all,” she happily writes, “[i]s not this a glorious doctrine? Surely the gentiles will mock, but we rejoice in it.”[58]

THE IMPORTANCE OF ANN BOOTH’S VISION

In her October letter to Heber C. Kimball, Vilate also wrote that Joseph Smith “says they [the dead] will have the Gospel preached [to] them in Prison, but there is no such thing as spirits being baptized.” As for Ann Booth’s glimpse of the afterlife, Vilate wrote that Joseph “doesn’t wholly discard sister Booth’s vision,” and “says it was to show her the necessity of being baptized.”[59]

Vilate Kimball, circa 1860’s

It is clear that the vision of Ann Booth was the impetus for Joseph’s instigation of proxy baptisms for the dead. Joseph claimed that all who would have accepted the gospel would become heirs to the Celestial Kingdom, including his brother Alvin who he claimed to have seen there in a vision in 1836. Instead of the baptisms and confirmations taking place in the Spirit World, Joseph proclaimed that they were to be performed on earth, using the verse in 1st Corinthians as a proof text. As Wilford Woodruff journalized in 1842:

Joseph the seer …made some edifying remarks concerning Baptism for the dead. He said the Bible supported the doctrin. “Why are ye Baptized for the dead if the dead rise not &c.” If their is one word of the Lord that supports the doctrin it is enough to make it a true doctrin. Again if we can baptize a man in the Name of the Father of the Son & of the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins it is just as much our privilege to act as an agent & be baptized for the remission of sins for & in behalf of our dead kindred who have not herd the gospel or fulness of it.[60]

In 1845 Brigham Young preached a sermon and mentioned how he first learned about the Baptism for the Dead doctrine:

The doctrine of baptism for the dead you have been taught for some time, and the first account that I heard of it was while I was in England; it was there I got the glad tidings that the living could go forth and be baptized for those who had fallen asleep. This doctrine I believed before anything was said or done about it in this church; it made me glad when I heard it was revealed through his servant Joseph, and that I could go forth, and officiate for my fathers, for my mothers, and for my ancestors, to the latest generation who have not had the privilege of helping themselves; that they can yet arise to the state of glory and exaltation as we that live, have a privilege of rising to ourselves. The next year I came home and requested Brother Joseph to preach upon the subject, which he did, I also heard many of the elders preach upon the same subject. [61]

Here Young admits that he first learned about Baptism for the Dead in England, and that would have been from the vision of Ann Booth.

AFTERMATH

On November 5, 1840, Robert B. Thompson penned a letter to Heber C. Kimball about what he termed as “the old doctrine of Baptism for the Dead”:

You will have heard ere this of the death of our beloved Bishop Partridg Bro Seymour Brunson and the patriarch of the Church Joseph Smith Senr. You will likewise probably have heard of the old doctrine of Baptism for the Dead which has been introduced by President Joseph Smith Jr. So that the Saints have the priviledge of being baptised for their relatives and friends who have not had the priviledge of hearing the gospel while in the flesh but who probably receive while in the spirit in prison. so they can claim them at the ressurrection of the just. this is certainly a glorious doctrine and shews forth the gracious purposes of our God, and the grandeour of that scheme which is to raise mankind from the ruins of the fall. Hundreds have allready Gone forth and been baptized for their friends who are deceased. There has been many things said, and notions imbibed concerning this doctrine. Allow me to advance an idea, and it is this; except we attend to this ordinance according to the law of heaven in all things it will not be valid or be of any benefit either to the living or the dead; when it was first revealed all the order of it was not made known, afterwards it was made known…[62]

When Joseph first explained the doctrine of baptism for the dead in the fall of 1840, he had no idea what the ramifications of it would be. He simply claimed that men and women could act “as agents” for their dead, by being baptized for them. Anyone could be baptized for any deceased relative or friend. According to her 1854 statement, Jane Neyman was baptized for her dead son Cyrus on September 13, 1840,[63] and Joseph approved of her doing so and the ceremony that was used. After this, thousands of baptisms were performed in the Mississippi River and in the basement of the Temple in the next few years.[64]

Joseph would not produce any formal revelation on baptism for the Dead until January 19, 1841 when he called upon the Saints to erect a new Temple. Joseph proclaimed that the word of the Lord to him was:

I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.[65]

In the same revelation Joseph (like Ann Booth) also mentions David W. Patten who he claims “is with me at this time, and of who the Lord had “taken unto myself; behold, his priesthood no man taketh from him.”[66]

These willy-nilly baptisms went on for almost two years before Joseph set more stringent parameters of how the Saints were to perform them.[67]  Even with these further instructions, which Joseph outlined in two letters written in September, 1842, Joseph still did not forbid men being baptized for women or women for men. Brigham Young would change this, and explained why in a later discourse from 1873:

Do you recollect that in about the year 1840-41, Joseph had a revelation concerning the dead? He had been asked the question a good many times; “What is the condition of the dead, those that lived and died without the Gospel?” It was a matter of inquiry with him. He considered this question not only for himself, but for the brethren and the Church. “What is the condition of the dead? What will be their fate? Is there no way today by which they can receive their blessings as there was in the days of the Apostles, and when the Gospel was preached upon the earth in ancient days?” When Joseph received the revelation that we have in our possession concerning the dead, the subject was opened to him, not in full but in part, and he kept on receiving. When he had first received the knowledge by the spirit of revelation how the dead could be officiated for, there are brethren and sisters here, I can see quite a number here who were in Nauvoo, and you recollect that when this doctrine was first revealed, and in hurrying in the administration of baptism for the dead, that sisters were baptized for their male friends, were baptized for their fathers, their grandfathers, their mothers and their grandmothers, &c. I just mention this so that you will come to understanding, that as we knew nothing about this matter at first, the old Saints recollect, there was little by little given, and the subject was made plain, but little was given at once. Consequently, in the first place people were baptized for their friends and no record was kept. Joseph afterwards kept a record, &c. Then women were baptized for men and men for women, &c. It would be very strange, you know, to the eyes of the wise and they that understood the things pertaining to eternity, if we were called upon to commence a work that we could not finish. This, therefore, was regulated and all set in order; for it was revealed that if a woman was baptized for a man, she could not be ordained for him, neither could she be made an Apostle or a Patriarch for the man, consequently the sisters are to be baptized for their own sex only.[68]

The origin of the baptism for the dead doctrine had its genesis in wake of the claimed vision of an early English convert, a woman who has fallen into relative obscurity. The vision of Ann Booth inspired many to feel concern and joy for their dead friends and relatives, and to look forward in carrying on the work of the gospel in the world to come. The questions raised from the promulgation of her vision both intrigued and inspired Joseph Smith to further explore and solve the conundrum of how those like his brother Alvin could be heirs to the celestial kingdom.

NOTES

[1] Guy Bishop, “’What Has Become of Our Fathers?’ Baptism for the Dead at Nauvoo,” Dialogue 23 (Summer 1990): 86.

[2] Heber C. Kimball, [1801-1868] was ordained an Apostle on February 14, 1835.

[3] Orson Hyde, [1805-1878] was ordained an Apostle on February 15, 1835.

[4] Parley P. Pratt, [1807-1857] was ordained an Apostle on February 21st 1835, and like the rest of the Twelve was urged to begin preaching the gospel, and subsequently went on a mission to New York, New England, and eastern Canada.  In the spring of 1836 Pratt started out on another mission, this time to Toronto, Canada. There he met and converted John and Lenora Taylor, and with the help of John Taylor he baptized Joseph Fielding, John Snider, Isaac Russell, Robert B. Thompson and others into the church. It was the relatives of these converts that Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde visited in England a few years later.

[5]  William Clayton, [1814-1879] was baptized on October 21, 1837 and ordained a High Priest on April 1, 1838. He quit his job as a factory worker to help start a branch of the Church in Manchester, England where he was called as a counselor to Mission President Willard Richards. Clayton and his wife Ruth Moon [1817-1894] immigrated to the United States in 1840, arriving on November 24 in Nauvoo where he became a clerk and scribe for Joseph Smith. James B. Allen writes,

“It was a formidable challenge for the twenty-four-year-old Clayton to try to establish a branch of Mormonism in this industrial center. He proselytized, however, mainly among the working classes, and within six months he had converted about seventy people. Among them was the Hardman family, who ran a boardinghouse at No. 2 Maria Street. Clayton himself eventually took up residence there, staying until he was released from his church assignment. Other early converts included James Bewshaw, a coachman, and his wife, Ellen, who were particularly kind in providing meals and other help for Clayton while he was in Manchester; and Robert Booth, whose wife, Ann, later received a remarkable vision foreshadowing the introduction of the doctrine of baptism for the dead.”(James B. Allen, William Clayton, Trials of Discipleship, p.21)

[6] Willard Richards [1804-1854], was baptized on December 31, 1836 by his cousin Brigham Young and ordained an elder in February, 1837. He was called on a mission to England where he met his wife Jenetta, [1817-1845] daughter of the Reverend John Richards, who he married on September 24, 1839. Brigham Young [1801-1877] was ordained an Apostle on February 14, 1835.

[7] David W. Patten, [1799-1838] was ordained an Apostle on February 15, 1835. He was called on a mission on April 11, 1838. See, Doctrine and Covenants 114:1.

[8] The Battle of Crooked River was a skirmish that took place on October 24, 1838 between Mormon settlers under the command of David W. Patten (codenamed “Captain Fearnought”) and a Missouri State Militia unit under the command of Samuel Bogart. See, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, by Stephen C. LeSueur, University of Missouri Press, 1987, 286 pages.

[9] John Taylor, [1808-1887] was ordained an Apostle on December 19, 1838; Wilford Woodruff, [1807-1898] was ordained on April 26, 1839; John E. Page, [1799-1867] was ordained on December 19, 1838; Willard Richards was ordained on April 14, 1840.

[10] Doctrine and Covenants 118:4-6.

[11] George Albert Smith, [1817-1875] was ordained an Apostle on April 26, 1839.

[12]  The ordination of Willard Richards brought the number of Apostles to 11. Two of the remaining Apostles, William Smith, [1811-1893] who was ordained on February 15, 1835 and John E. Page, [1799-1867] who was ordained on December 19, 1838, never went to England. Lyman Wight, [1796-1858] would bring the number to 12 with his ordination on April 14, 1841.

[13] Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983,), 438.

[14] Ann Eastwood Booth [1794-1874] and Robert Booth [1785-1846] were married in Manchester, England in 1817. They had a son Thomas who was born in 1836. They immigrated to the United States in 1840 with William Clayton’s company.  Not much is known about Robert Booth, but he is mentioned in Clayton’s diary in 1844:

“Sister [Ann] Booth tells me that Sara Ann [Whitney] is very unhappy and wants to see me she says Jane Charnock is perfectly unhappy and if there is any way she can be loosed she wants me to take her. Mary Aspen is ready to unite to me as her savior and Sister Booth says she shall not risk her salvation in Roberts [Booth] hands and wants me to interfere. We had considerable conversation on many subjects and felt pretty well.” (George D. Smith, An Intimate Chronicle; The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 151, October 21, 1844.) Ann Booth immigrated west with the Saints and died in Utah.

[15] Mary Ann Angell Young [1803-1882] was Brigham Young’s second wife. They were married on March 31, 1834.

[16] Brigham Young, letter, Manchester and Lancashire [England] to Mary A. Young, Commerce, IL, 1840, May 26. MS 15616, Box 1, Folder 7, CHL, 1-2.  Original spelling and punctuation retained. Paragraph breaks are taken from Woodruff’s Journal copy.

[17] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.475, July 2, 1840.

[18] For example, in the first paragraph Young writes out then inserts the date, “one thousand and forty <1840>”; while Woodruff simply writes the date; in paragraph two Young  writes: “departed spirits”; Woodruff writes: “departed souls”; Young writes: “in his hand”; Woodruff omits this; in the third paragraph Young writes: “down to”; Woodruff omits this; Young writes: “or briter”; Woodruff omits this; in the fourth paragraph Young writes: “right hand of the dore”; Woodruff writes: “right hand near the door”; in the fifth paragraph Young writes: “the Apostle Baptized him”; Woodruff writes: “he Baptized him”; in the sixth paragraph Young writes: “Kilbham and next”; Woodruff writes: “Killham the leader of the New Connection of Methodist and next”; Young writes: “Wm Scott; Woodruff omits “Wm”;  Young writes: “who ware Methodest Prachers with whome I had ben a quanted personly”; Woodruff writes: “The three latter were Methodist Preachers with whom I had formerly been acquainted”; in the seventh paragraph Young writes: “confermed them”; Woodruff writes: “oncfermed them evry one”; in the eighth paragraph Young writes,: “Lord bless forever”; Woodruff writes: “Lord bless thee forever”; in the ninth paragraph Young writes: “happy and rejoiced that I could not lay in bed”; Woodruff writes: “happy & overjoyed that I knew not how to remain in bed”; Young writes: “awaked my husben we got up”; Woodruff writes: “waking my husband we arose”; Young writes: “Bible opened it to 3 different places first to”; Woodruff writes: “the Bible I opened Providentially to the text”; Young writes: “Chap. 22v.”; Woodruff writes, “they shall be gathered together &c. More and more astonished”; Young writes: “the next was John C- 1- v-5— “; Woodruff writes: “I again opened the Bible to the 1st of St John The light shineth in darkness &c.”; Young writes: “the third time I opned bible was first Peater 3-C-18-19-20—ver— not being aquanted with these texts of Cripture”; Woodruff writes: “And again the third time I opened it & immediately cast my eyes upon the 3d chapter of Peter 18, 19, 20 speaking of the spirits in Prison. Being before ignorant of these texts”; in the tenth paragraph Young writes, “was martered”; Woodruff writes, “was slain”; in the last paragraph Woodruff writes, “Perhaps many will think lightly of this vision”; Young omits this; Young writes, “I have related”; Woodruff writes, “I have here related”; Young writes, “amen & amen”; Woodruff omits this. There are other minor differences in spelling and punctuation. Woodruff also does not mention that Ann Booth “heard a voice” that she “must go to Paradise” and was then “carried away in the vision.”

[19] Times and Seasons, Vol.1, No.1, p.5, November 1839.

[20] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.328, April 26, 1839.

[21] ibid., 368, November 11, 1839.

[22] Moses 7:38-39.

[23] “The Vision,” Hiram Township, OH, 16 February 1832; signed by Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, Revelation Book 2, 1-10; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams and Joseph Smith; CHL. See also, Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God, And Compiled by Joseph Smith Junior, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, [Presiding Elders of said Church.] Proprietors, Kirtland, Ohio, Printed by F. G. Williams & Co., For the Proprietors, 1835,  Section XCI, “A Vision”, 225-231.

[24]  1835 Doctrine & Covenants, Section XCI:5, (page 228); Doctrine and Covenants (modern edition), Section 76: 50-51, 52, 70.

[25] ibid., Section XCI:6, (page 229); D&C 76:71-75.

[26] Visions, Kirtland, OH, 21 January 1836, in Joseph Smith’s Journal, September 1835-April 1836, handwriting of Warren Parrish, CHL; Doctrine and Covenants (modern edition) Section 137. Original spelling and punctuation retained.

[27] ibid., 136; D&C 137:5-6. Original spelling and punctuation retained.

[28] ibid., 137; D&C 137:7-10. Original spelling and punctuation retained.

[29] Elders’ Journal of The Church of the Latter Day Saints, 1 (July 1838): 43. Whether or not Joseph meant ordinances here is ambiguous. He does not mention the need for ordinances in his January vision of 1836, but couples those who would have received the gospel “with all their hearts” and attain the Celestial Kingdom with children who die under the age of eight, who are not required to be baptized.

[30] 1 Peter 3:18-20, NIV.

[31] The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. II, No. 5, Feb. 1836, 262. In early 1840 an titled “The Gospel” appeared in the Times and Seasons which explained the authority to administer the Gospel:

“Being thus endowed with the spirit and power from on high, they [the Apostles] were capable of teaching that system which Christ delivered to them, without alteration; for the comforter brought to their minds what they had forgotten, and lead them into all truth and prevented the introduction of error. The Lord never called a man to that office, unless he qualified him in that manner, for that qualification is absolutely necessary for the salvation of the world; for without it the gospel never was and never will be preached in purity, and administered in righteousness, consequently will not make those pure to whom it is administered. Therefore, as Paul said, so say I, how can a man preach, except he be sent. Answer he can teach for doctrine, the commandments of men, and make void the law of God through the traditions of the fathers, as did the Scribes and Pharisees of old. The lack of that calling and qualification in the multitude of modern divines, is evidently the cause of contentions, differences, and divisions in the christian world, and of the dublety that rest upon the minds of the religious world, relative to the true points of Christ’s doctrine.”  (“The Gospel”, Times & Seasons, Vol. I, No. 5, March, 1840, p.76)

[32] Seymour Brunson was born December 1, 1798 in Orwell, Vermont to Reuben Brunson and Sally Clark. He married Harriet Matilda Gould from New York about 1823. They became the parents of seven children between the years of 1825 and 1839, namely: Reuben, Lewis, Lucretia, Joseph ,Jerusha, Seymour, and William Morgan. He died on August 10, 1840 in Nauvoo, Illinois. He was a Lieutenant Colonel of the Illinois Militia and was buried with military honors in Nauvoo.

[33] Short Sketch of Seymour Brunson, Sr., by his son Lewis Brunson, submitted by Darlinda Gorley, Hyrum, Ut, Nauvoo Journal 4 (spring 1992): 4. Online here, accessed July 20, 2016.

[34] Vilate Kimball, Nauvoo, to Heber C. Kimball, Liverpool, England, September 6, 1840, MS 3276, Folder 2, CHL.

[35] John Smith, Lee County, Iowa to George Albert Smith, London, England, August 21, 1840, MS 1322, Box 9, Folder 2, CHL.

[36] History of the Church, 4:179.

[37] Vilate Kimball, Commerce, Illinois, to Heber C. Kimball, September 6, 1840, CHL.

[38] Heber C. Kimball, Clitheroe, England to John Taylor, Liverpool, England, November 9, 1840, MS 24689, CHL. This would be the information from Vilate’s September 6, letter to Heber which does not mention baptism for the dead.

[39] John Smith mentions the death of Seymour Brunson but nothing about his funeral, it is possible that he was in Montrose and did not attend it. It is strange that even after almost a week after the funeral he still does not mention baptism for the dead, though he does mention David Patten. Vilate Kimball writing almost a month after Brunson’s funeral, also does not mention anything about baptism for the dead, even though she obviously attended the funeral. She also mentions David Patten. This leads us to believe that even though Smith claims to have first mentioned it at the funeral, (in December, 1840) it was probably only briefly and many did not understand the ramifications of what he spoke about.

[40] Joseph Smith, Letter, Nauvoo, IL, to the Council of the Twelve, England, 15 Dec. 1840; handwriting of Robert B. Thompson; eight pages; JS Collection, CHL, 6, added emphasis.

[41] Jane Harper Neyman was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on September 22, 1792. She was baptized in 1838  with her husband William and moved to Nauvoo in 1840.  William died shortly after on September 2, 1840. She remarried a brother Fisher, and moved west with the Saints with her daughters Rachel Neyman Fullmer [1832-1912] and Mary Ann Neyman Nickerson [1823-1916] in 1850.  She died in Beaver, Utah on May 3, 1880 from a stroke.  She had eight other children,  Margaret Jane, [1813-1899] Cyrus Livingston, [b. June 14, 1815] Annis, [1818-1845] Hiram [1819-1904], Ebenezer [abt. 1820] Matilda [abt. 1821] Frederick [abt. 1824] and Shilo [abt. 1834] See, Obituary, The Woman’s Exponent, Vol. 9, No. 1, June 1, 1880, 4, Online here, Accessed July 20, 2016; Genealogy records retrieved from Family Central, Online here, Accessed July 20, 2016.

[42] Vienna Jacques was born on June 10, 1787 and died on February 7, 1884. She was baptized by E. Harris on July 12, 1831. She married Daniel Shearer in 1839 in Missouri. She moved to Nauvoo by 1840. She left Nauvoo on June 21, 1847 and arrived in Salt Lake City on October 2, 1847. She died in Salt Lake City, Utah.

[43] Jane Neyman Statements, November 29, 1854, CR 100 396, Box 1, Folder 45, document 1, CHL.

[44] Cyrus Livingston Neyman was born on June 14, 1815, we could find no information on his death.

[45] Jane Neyman Statements, November 29, 1854, CR 100 396, Box 1, Folder 45, document 2, CHL.

[46] Thursday, the 10th of September was the date that William was buried, according to genealogical records. He died on the 2nd of September. The Sunday following this would be September 13, 1840.

[47] The Journal History of the Church was a daily history taken from newspapers, minutes, letters and other documents and kept in a series of scrapbooks compiled by Andrew Jenson in 1906. By 1913, Jenson had completed the years 1830-1852. By his death in 1941 he had reached the year 1930. After his death the History was continued by staff working in the Church Historians Office. In 2008 work on the project ceased.

[48] Journal History of the Church, 15 August 1840, CR 100 137, Reel 4, Volume 12, CHL.

[49] ibid

[50] Joseph Smith, Letter, Nauvoo, IL, to the Council of the Twelve, England, 15 Dec. 1840; handwriting of Robert B. Thompson; eight pages; JS Collection, CHL, 6.

[51] Lucy Mack Smith, Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir, ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 713-714.

[52] ibid., 714.

[53] Joseph Smith Addresses, 1839-1842, MS 155, Box 4, Folder 4, CHL.

[54]  Jane Neyman Statements, November 29, 1854.

[55] Minutes of General Conference, October, 1840, CR 100 318, Box 1, Folder 6, CHL.

[56] Vilate Kimball, Nauvoo, Illinois to Heber C. Kimball, London, England, October 11-13, 1840, photocopy, MS 18732, Folder 1, CHL.

[57] ibid.

[58] ibid.

[59] ibid.

[60] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,  Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.165, March 27, 1842.

[61] “Speech”, Delivered by President Brigham Young, in the City of Joseph, April 6. 1845, Times &Seasons, Volume VI, No. 12, July 1, 1845, 954.

[62] Letter, Robert B. Thompson to Heber C. Kimball, November 5, 1840, CHL.

[63] In the Nauvoo Baptisms for the Dead, Book A, attached note, film no. 183, 376, LDS Family History Library, Salt Lake City, it states that “Jane Neyman was baptized for her son Cyrus Livingston Neyman, Sund. Sept 12 1840”. This date is mistaken, for that Sunday would have been the 13th, and her 1854 statement gives the date as Sunday, the 13th.

[64] See Guy Bishop, “’What Has Become of Our Fathers?’ Baptism for the Dead at Nauvoo,” Dialogue 23 (Summer 1990): 85–97.

[65] Doctrine and Covenants 124:31-32.

[66] ibid., 19, 130.

[67] See Alexander L. Baugh, “For This Ordinance Belongeth to My House”: The Practice of Baptism for the Dead Outside the Nauvoo Temple, Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, (Spring 2002), 47-58.

[68] Journal of Discourses, Volume 16, 165-66, Aug. 31, 1873. See also, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner,  The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, The Smith-Pettit Foundation, Salt Lake City, 2009, 76-80. Conference Address given at Nauvoo, Illinois, 6 April, 1845.  In that address Young declared:

I do not say that you have not been taught and learned the principle; you have heard it taught from this stand from time to time, by many of the elders, and from the mouth of your beloved and martyred prophet Joseph; therefore my course will not be to prove the doctrine, but refer to those things against which your minds are revolting. Consequently I would say to this vast congregation of Saints, when we enter into the Temple of God to receive our washings, our anointings, our endowments and baptisms for the saving of ourselves, and for the saving of our dead: that you never will see a man go forth to be baptized for a woman, nor a woman for a man. If your minds should be in any dubiety with regard to this, call to mind a principle already advanced, that when an infinite being gives a law to his finite creatures, he has to descend to the capacity of those who receive his law, when the doctrine of baptism for the dead was first given, this church was in its infancy, and was not capable of receiving all the knowledge of God in its highest degree; this you all believe. I would keep this one thing in your minds, and that is, that there is none, no not one of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, that ever received the fullness of the celestial law at the first of the Lord’s commencing to reveal it unto them….

Joseph in his life time did not receive every thing connected with the doctrine of redemption, but he has left the key with those who understand how to obtain and teach to this great people all that is necessary for their salvation and exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our God. We have got to learn how to be faithful with the few things, you know the promise is, if we are faithful in a few things we shall be made rulers over many things. If we improve upon the small things, greater will be given unto us.

I have said that a man cannot be baptized for a woman, nor a woman for a man, and it be valid. I have not used any argument as yet; I want now to use an argument upon this subject, it is a very short one; and I will do it by asking this congregation, if God would call a person to commence a thing that would not have power and ability to carry it out? Would he do it? (no.) Well then, what has been our course on former occasions? Why, here goes our beloved sisters, and they are baptised [baptized] in the river or in the fount for their uncles, for their fathers, for their grandfathers and great grandfathers.

Well, now I will take you and confirm you for your uncles, for your fathers, for your grandfathers, and let you go; after a while here comes our beloved sisters, saying. I want to be ordained for my uncle, and for my grandfather, and great grand-father; I want my father ordained to the high priesthood, and my grandfather, I want to be patriarch, and you may ordain me a prophet for my uncle! What would you think about all that, sisters, come now you have been baptised [baptized] and confirmed for your father, wont you be ordained for him? You could cast on a stocking and finish it.-You could take wool and card and spin it and make it into cloth, and then make it into garments. A person that commences a work and has not ability and power to finish it, only leaves the unfinished remains as a monument of folly. We will not commence a work we cannot finish: but let us hearken to the voice of the spirit and give heed to his teachings and we will make ourselves perfect in all things.

The John Whitmer Conference (2017)

 I was privileged to be a presenter at this year’s John Whitmer Historical Association Conference, which just wrapped in Nauvoo, Illinois. I drove in from New York, and it was an exhausting drive, but when I arrived on Wednesday night, I was treated to a BBQ at the home of Joseph Johnstun in Fort Madison, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo. There, I was in good company, as the Historical Luminaries Mike Marquardt, Bill & Diane Shepherd, Brent & Erin Metcalfe and Joe Geisner had already arrived. (The pulled pork was out of this world)!

Joseph Johnstun (on right)

Mulholland Street, Entering Nauvoo

84 Degrees! (And this was in the morning)

View from West End of Mulholland Street (The Temple is to the right)

Nauvoo Temple

The Conference opened for Registration on Thursday afternoon, and I got to meet some more great people. I had never been to Nauvoo, and having my own vehicle I got to drive around and see the sights. It was like going back in time.

Joseph Smith Mansion House

It was very hot! As I drove into town on Thursday , it was 84 degrees and it got much hotter as the day progressed. Storm clouds gathered in Thursday night, and there was a little rain, but it cleared up by Friday Morning which was another scorcher! On Saturday it was close to 100 degrees outside. I was sure glad I drove and when I got too hot could go sit in my SUV and blast the air and cool off! And the Visitor’s Center was air conditioned of course.

Community of Christ Visitors Center

The Outside “Tabernacle” (The Joseph Smith Homestead is in the background)

There I met the two women who were instrumental in making this Conference a success, Rachel Killebrew and Cheryle Grinter. Cheryle was very kind to me, but had a no nonsense way about her that I knew I would not want to get on the wrong side of. The Staff and volunteers there were pleasant and informative, and eager to help if you had any difficulties. And the Red Brick Store Rootbeer was tasty.

Rachel Killebrew (Awards Committee Chair) & Cheryle Grinter (Executive Director JWHA)

Shuttle to the COC Camp Nauvoo Lodge

Dr. Michael Van Wagenen gave the Richard P. Howard Lecture on Divergent Memories of the Restoration Movement at the COC Camp Nauvoo Lodge.

Bill Morain (Editor JWHAJ) & his wife Sherry Mesle-Morain (President-Elect) They are leaning forward.

Joe Geisner, jack of all knowledge

H. Michael Marquardt, Historian, Author, Researcher and friend

As I was leaving Nauvoo on Thursday night, four deer pranced across the road and I almost hit them, but since it was in town and I wasn’t going very fast, I stopped in time.

I was struck with how eerie and quiet Nauvoo is at night, (probably why it attracts the deer) and even though it’s lit up, it feels almost like a ghost town. So many of the residences are empty and silent, no Saints making these beautiful buildings their homes now.

Joseph Smith Gravesite & Homestead

Driving back to the condos where I was staying, I was struck by how dark it was on the highway and took a picture. I guess I was just in a somber mood, contemplating the historical significance of the place I had spent the day at.

The Condo where I stayed (Courtesy of Bill Shepherd, Mike Marquardt & Joe Geisner)

I was pretty beat up from my drive in on Wednesday, and so I missed the Friday morning presentations, but made it in time for the Awards Luncheon.

The Lunch Line

Friday Awards Luncheon

Presenter Meg Stout

There I finally got to meet Don Bradley who was presenting in a few hours, which I was looking forward to hearing.

Researcher, Author & Historian Don Bradley just before his presentation

I met lots of people, and had many conversations about Church History. There was a lot of time in between presentations and that was great one on one time, to have discussions with various attendees and presenters. During one break, I got to hear Brent Metcalfe’s “Caractors” Presentation he gave to a past Conference. He was nice enough to put the Power Point on his computer and take me through it. There were lots of fascinating and informative moments such as this.

Mike Riggs & Mark Staker

Mr. & Mrs. Bruce Van Orden  (The only place in town to get food, drinks & gas)

Ron & Anne Romig

I had fun tramping around with my friend Mike Marquardt, and we took some snacks and ate them by the Temple and then went to the Grove where Joseph used to preach. Mike took this picture of me hamming it up on the Stand.

 

Johnny at the Stand

So many presentations to see and you had to choose one out of many in each block, so it was kind of hard to decide. I chose Meg Stout and Don Bradley’s, and so missed Mark Staker’s presentation which I also really wanted to see. But that’s how it is.

As I was leaving Nauvoo on Friday night, four deer pranced across the road and I almost hit them, but since it was in town and I wasn’t going very fast, I stopped in time.

I was struck with how eerie and quiet Nauvoo is at night, (probably why it attracts the deer) and even though it’s lit up, it feels almost like a ghost town. So many of the residences are empty and silent, no Saints making these beautiful buildings their homes now.

Leaving Nauvoo at Night

Driving back to the condos where I was staying, I was struck by how dark it was on the highway and took a picture. I guess I was just in a somber mood, contemplating the historical significance of the place I had spent the day at.

President Peter Judd (Presidents Banquet)

Awards Luncheon

Awards Luncheon

The Richard P. Howard Lecture at Camp Nauvoo Lodge

I stayed up late Friday night to fine tune my presentation, and I followed Taunalyn Rutherford, who also presented on Emma Smith. I could not have asked for a better set up for my own presentation on Emma and the 1869 Utah Affidavits. Of course, the Auditorium was packed and I was nervous, but my Power Point saved me.

The Mansion at Night

As I walked back to my car on Saturday Night after the President’s Bauquet, Bryce Blankenagel interviewed me for a podcast about my presentation which he will be posting on his “Naked Mormonism” site.

Visiting Nauvoo is a great experience. The John Whitmer Conference was kind of a love fest, everyone was kind, smiling, and having fun. On my drive back to New York I stopped for Gas near Cleveland, Ohio and a man was in line in front of me whose car had gotten a flat on the Turnpike and he had to spend all his money to get it towed to the gas station and the tire repaired. He was just trying to get home, but had $5 and a ways to go. I was at first impatient to get waited on to be on my way, but listened as the attendant told him he had over $10 to pay in tolls. The man was distraught and didn’t know what to do. So I ponied up the money for his tolls, and he, with genuine surprise (and some feeling) thanked me and said, “God is good”. I told him that people were also good and to just pay it forward as I was doing. I guess I was still feeling the spirit of John Whitmer and that beautiful place, Nauvoo.

Tracing the Various “Caractors” Documents

4 CaractorsPart III of 19th Century Photo of Joseph Smith’s “Caractors” Discovered

If you missed the Introduction or Part I or Part II of this Article, just click on the respective link.

After finishing his translation of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith spoke little about the events surrounding its origins, the original manuscripts or the copies he made of the characters he claimed were taken from the gold plates.

A little more than a year after the Book of Mormon was published, at an 1831 Church conference in Orange, Ohio, Joseph’s older brother Hyrum,

said that he thought best that the information of the coming forth of the book of Mormon be related by Joseph himself to the Elders present that all might know for themselves.

Joseph’s answer was no.  He then explained,

that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon, & also said that it was not expedient for him to relate these things &c. . . .[143]

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery

Less than a year later (in the summer of 1832) Joseph would privately attempt to write up those “particulars”, but abandoned that history after only six pages.  In the intervening years up to his death Joseph would show the Book of Mormon characters to certain individuals, but he seldom elaborated about them in public or in private (that we have record of); and gave conflicting details about when he copied and translated them in his 1838 official history. On the introductory page of the Joseph Smith Papers website they write that,

Smith understood early on that he must keep an account, even though his training did not qualify him to write such a record himself. He had only a modest education and no literary aspirations. He keenly felt the limitations of writing.[144]

In a letter to W.W. Phelps written after his first attempt at penning his history, Joseph lamented:

“Oh Lord God deliver us in thy due time from the little narrow prison almost as it were totel darkness of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.”[145]

This frustration that Smith felt may have been one reason for abandoning the 1832 history.  On April 6, 1830, Oliver Cowdery was assigned to keep the records of the newly organized Church, and thus began his own history, helped along by Joseph. Joseph had relied on Oliver as his chief scribe for the Book of Mormon manuscript and to help him with literary projects, and later on others:

Only gradually did Smith establish a pattern of assigning scribes to work on histories, journals, letters, minutes, and other documents. Spotty at first, his record keeping eventually settled into more consistent patterns. By the early 1840s, he and his clerks were composing a comprehensive history, keeping a continuous diary, accumulating minutes from meetings and councils, preserving correspondence, and taking notes of many of his numerous discourses.[146]

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

One of Joseph’s early scribes was John Whitmer. John was the third son of Peter and Mary Whitmer. He was born August 27, 1802, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As a young boy he moved with his family to New York in 1809, and they settled amongst some other German families near Fayette. It was there that he learned from Oliver Cowdery and his younger brother David about Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon. With the removal of Joseph Smith from Harmony to the Whitmer home in June of 1830, John became more interested in Joseph and his translation. John was baptized that same month and would help Joseph with the translation. Smith’s official history notes that John Whitmer “assisted us very much in writing during the remainder of the work”[147]

In July, 1830 Joseph wrote these instructions to Whitmer:

Behold, I say unto you, that you shall let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures, and to preaching, and to confirming the church at Colesville; and to performing your labors on the land, such as is required, until after you shall go to the west, to hold the next conference; and then it shall be made known what you shall do.[148]

In July of 1830, Joseph Smith and John Whitmer “began to arrange & copy the revelations and commandments which we had received from time to time.”[149]

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

Revelation Book 1, Page 1 Handwriting of John Whitmer

A few weeks earlier, Joseph Smith had begun to dictate what would be called his New Translation of the Bible, which was actually a revision of the King James Version of the Bible which Joseph felt had been corrupted by “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests …”[150]

About his method of translation Richard P. Howard writes,

For Smith, translation was something very different. Through what he perceived as the power of the Holy Spirit, his mind and heart intuited language symbols and a flow of ideational content which was specified as the stories of Book of Mormon migrations, wars, and civilizations, propositional information about John the beloved, propositional truth about forms and functions of ministry and mission in the church of Jesus Christ, and divine laws and procedures by which the economic life of the community is to be governed, and on and on.

Employing his notion of translation, Smith began a task of Bible revision which was to engage his mind and energies from 1830 until his death in 1844. Of significance is the fact that his early work (summer 1830 through 7 March 1831) in Genesis was almost entirely devoted to “receiving revelations” for the benefit of the church. This carried him through Genesis 19:35. Then on 8 March he began working on the New Testament with Sidney Rigdon. At the top of the very first page of manuscript was inscribed “A Translation of the New Testament translated by the Power of God.”[151]

John Whitmer along with Sidney Rigdon and a few others, would be crucial in helping Joseph with this project.  It took three years for Joseph to complete his New Translation which totaled over four hundred pages.   According to Kent P. Jackson and Scott Faulring, John Whitmer took dictation for the following portions of the New Translation:

Genesis 4:18–5:11; Moses 5:43–6:18 21 October 1830; 30 November 1830

Moses 6:52–7:1 Between 1 December and 10 December 1830

Matthew 26:1–Mark 9:1 26 September 1831 to before 20 November 183[152]

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 1, Handwriting of Oliver Cowdery

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 1, Handwriting of Oliver Cowdery

The “New Translation” was written on foolscap paper, a common stock used in Europe and the British Commonwealth and in turn America in Joseph Smith’s day. A full foolscap paper sheet was actually 17 x 13 ½ in (432 x 343 mm) in size, and this was folded or cut in half to get the traditional folio size of 8 1/2 × 13 1/2 in. Joseph Smith’s Genesis revision is on a manuscript designated Old Testament Manuscript 1 (OTman1), and the part of the translation called The Book of Moses is on the first twenty-one pages, written in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Emma Smith and Sidney Rigdon.[153]

After OTman1 was completed, a copy was made which was completed by April 5, 1831 which is now designated OTman2.[154] Whitmer had been set apart as a historian for the church on March 8, 1831 by Joseph Smith who dictated that,

John should write and keep a regular history, and assist you, my servant Joseph, in transcribing all things which shall be given you, until he is called to further duties. Again, verily I say unto you, that he can also lift up his voice in meetings, whenever it shall be expedient.[155]

Various "New Translation" Covers

Various “New Translation” Covers

As Kent Jackson and Scott Faulring explain,

That same month, [March 1831] Joseph Smith interrupted his Old Testament translation at Genesis 24 to work on the New Testament as he had been instructed in a revelation (see D&C 45:60–61). When the New Testament was finished in July 1832, he returned to finish the Old Testament. But when he did, he used OT2 rather than OT1 as the working document. It was on OT2 that he continued his translation to the end of Malachi, which he finished in July 1833. And it was on OT2 that he made additional revisions to the work in Genesis that he had already translated. When it was completed, OT2 was 119 pages long.

Unlike OT1, which was an original dictation and contains very few later changes, OT2 shows signs of subsequent correcting, editing, and emending. In the Book of Moses section (pages 1–27), some editing was done to correct copying errors or errors made when the Prophet was dictating from his Bible and his eyes skipped from one line to the next, resulting in omitted material. The manuscript shows that John Whitmer made corrections to his own copying, and Sidney Rigdon made corrections when he compared the transcription to corresponding Bible passages. OT2 contains verse divisions and verse numbers that were inserted by Joseph Smith’s clerks, as well as punctuation and capitalization changes that were made by unknown hands. [156]

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 14, Handwriting of Emma Smith (first 3 words) and John Whitmer (rest of page)

Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 14, Handwriting of Emma Smith (first 3 words) and John Whitmer (rest of page)

These two manuscripts, according to Jackson and Faulring were kept by Joseph and in his possession throughout his life, and were among his private property when he died. [157] In January 1831 John Whitmer (who was still in New York) started a third manuscript copy of the New Translation which is now designated as OTman3, which was actually completed before OTman2. This manuscript is sixteen pages long and is also written on foolscap paper.  It covers Genesis 1:1–5:32 (Moses 1:1–8:12), which is the entire book of Moses except for the last eighteen verses.[158] According to Jackson and Faulring,

OT3 probably was created for Church purposes originally, but eventually it became Whitmer’s private copy, and it remained with him throughout his life. It was not as conscientiously transcribed as were the manuscripts he prepared after his revealed call, and it never became part of the documents that led to later publications.[159]

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus #7

In the summer of 1830 when John Whitmer was assisting Joseph Smith “to arrange & copy the revelations and commandments which we had received”; no mention is made of the facsimile of the characters that Joseph said that he copied from the gold plates. Like the New Translation Manuscripts, we know by several accounts that Joseph had access to a copy of the characters that he would show people from time to time.  The first mention of the characters being shown by Joseph was in 1835, when he showed them to Michael Chandler who had in his possession some Egyptian mummies and papyrus scrolls that Joseph was interested in purchasing:

The morning Mr. Chandler first presented his papyrus to bro.-Smith, he was shown, by the latter, a number of characters like those upon the writings of Mr. C. which were previously copied from the plates, containing the history of the Nephites, or book of Mormon.[160]

Not long after Joseph Smith showed the Book of Mormon characters to Michael Chandler both Oliver Cowdery and Frederick G. Williams produced translation documents that supposedly utilized characters from the gold plates. These documents date to about December, 1835 according to Edward H. Ashment:

Frederick G. Williams Document - front

Frederick G. Williams Document – front

Frederick G. Williams Document - back

Frederick G. Williams Document – back

Both Cowdery and Williams served as scribes to Smith from 1832 to 1835. Cowdery’s tenure effectively ceased in late October 1835, while Williams’s ended in January 1836. The previous summer Smith had purchased some Egyptian papyri and had been trying to decipher one of the scrolls as well as develop an Egyptian alphabet and grammar. Both Williams and Cowdery were connected with the Egyptian papyrus project. It is certainly conceivable that there would be heightened interest in the language of the Book of Mormon at this time, with its peculiar mix of Egyptian and Hebrew, just as Smith and his close associates were beginning to study Hebrew in earnest.

As they were studying Hebrew with the prophet in December 1835 they must have asked him a question about the language of the Book of Mormon, requesting a back-transliteration, according to Williams: “Question asked in English & answered in Hebrew.” Then they asked Smith to decipher four Book of Mormon Egyptian signs. Each man recorded the results for his own “profit and learning,” in the words of Cowdery.

Transliterations from English into Book of Mormon Hebrew

Questions asked in English & answered in Hebrew

English For it grieveth me that I should lose this tree & the fruit thereof
Hebrew Ans. ofin Zimim ezmon E, Zu onis i f s veris etzer ensvonis vineris
[Modern transliteration: ki car li ki yo’bad li ha’ec hazzeh upiryo]
English Brethren I bid you adieu
Hebrew Ans. i f s E Zamtri
[Modern transliteration: ‘aHay ‘omar lakem shalom]

The textual selections in the documents are from Jacob 5:13 and 7:27. Fresh out of Palestine, the Hebrew known to Jacob should have been biblical Hebrew. But as Figure 1 illustrates, it [The highlighted translation by Joseph] bears no resemblance to Hebrew at all.

Lack of any resemblance between Book of Mormon “Hebrew” and actual Hebrew from material on the small plates (written only fifty years after Lehi left Jerusalem) further confirms that the Cowdery and Williams documents date prior to January 1836, when Smith began his formal study of Hebrew. After that time all of Smith’s Hebrew transliterations are recognizable as such.[161]

This entire document had long been unreleased by the Mormon Church, but was recently released through the Joseph Smith Papers.[162]

Oliver Cowdery document - Book of Mormon Characters

Oliver Cowdery Book of Mormon characters

One of these characters (from the Cowdery and Williams documents) bears a striking resemblance to one of the glyphs from the bogus Kinderhook plates, and with that in mind it may be one reason that Joseph Smith was interested enough in those plates to make a partial translation of one of them. [163]Kinderhook Cowdery Comparison

The next instance of Joseph showing the Book of Mormon characters took place seven years later in Nauvoo, when Joseph showed them to the Reverend George Moore of Quincy Illinois in December of 1842. Moore wrote in his diary,

Rev. George W. Moore

Rev. George W. Moore

Called on the “Prophet Jo Smith.” His carriage was at the door and he was about going away, but he received me very kindly, asked me into his house. I remained about 10 minutes. He was very communicative. We conversed about the golden plates, which he professes to have dug up and translated into the Book of Mormon. “Those plates are not now in this country,” he said–“they were exhibited to a few at first for the sake of obtaining their testimony–no others have ever seen them–and they will never again be exhibited.” He showed me some specimens of the hieroglyphics, such as, he says, were on the gold plates.  . . . He expressed a desire to have a long conversation with me, but he had an engagement, and I was soon going away, so that we could not have much conversation. Our interview was short, but pleasant.[164]

A few months later on May 7, 1843 Joseph once again displayed a copy  of the Book of Mormon characters, this time to an anonymous person who called himself  “A Gentile”, who described the encounter in a letter published in the New York Herald on May 30:

Another set of plates have been found in Pike county, in this State; they were dug out of a large mound, fifteen feet from the summit, by a company of persons, fifteen in number, who all affirm to the fact of their situation when found. There were six in number, about three inches in length, and two and a half broad at one end, and one inch broad at the other, being something of the form of a bell, about the sixteenth of an inch thick, with a hole in the small end of each, fastened together with a ring, apparantly of iron or steel, but which was so oxidised as to crumble to pieces when handled. The plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hyerogliphics.  They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared them in my presence with his Egyptian alphabet, which he took from the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them. There can be no doubt but they are a record of some kind, buried with an individual, centuries ago; a skeleton was found with them – some of the bones in such a state of preservation as to show the size of the individual, whose height must have been eight and a half feet. You may expect something very remarkably pretty soon.[165]

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843.

The New York Herald, May 30, 1843 with Letter from “A Gentile” in Nauvoo.

After the death of Joseph Smith the Book of Mormon characters were finally printed for the public on a limited placard or broadside of which only a few have survived.  In an article that appeared in 1980 which discussed the then recent discovery of what some thought was the original “Anthon Transcript” (but was proved to be a forgery by Mark Hofmann) that Martin Harris had in his possession in 1828, Danel Bachman included this about the 1844 publication of the characters,

Book of Mormon Characters as Published in "The Prophet", December 1844

Book of Mormon Characters as Published in “The Prophet”, December 1844

The two published versions of portions of the document Martin Harris took to New York both appeared in 1844. The first version is a broadside or placard printed in gold on black stock exhibiting three lines of characters. Among the few known copies of this version are two copies in the LDS Church Archives and a copy in special collections Harold B Lee library Brigham Young University. A statement in the hand of Thomas Bullock written on the back of the broadside in the Church Archives reads, “1844 placard Stick of Joseph. This was formerly owned by Hyrum Smith and sent to the Historians Office March 22, 1860, by his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.”  What appears to be the pencil signature of Mary Fielding Smith, who died in 1852, is also on the back. The title of the broadside reads:

“The Stick of Joseph taken from the hand of Ephraim. A correct copy of the characters taken from the plates of the BOOK OF MORMON!! Was translated from–the same that was taken to professor Anthon of New York, by Martin Harris, in the year 1827 in fulfillment of Isaiah 29:11, 12.” This placard contains characters which are on the Hofmann document but not on the Whitmer text.

The broadside most likely was published in early December 1844 by Samuel Brannan, editor of The Prophet, a Church-owned newspaper in New York City. The following announcement appeared in The Prophet on 14 December 1844:

“We have published a very neat specimen of the original characters on hieroglyphics that were copied from the plates which the book of Mormon was translated from, and were presented by Martin Harris to professor Anthon for translation. –We have been to some trouble in having it en graved by Mr. Strong: one of the most skillful engravers in the city of New York; those who wish to obtain a copy to preserve as a memorial, can procure them by applying to the Prophet Office New York .”

The second version was published on 21 December 1844 by Brannan in The Prophet. It duplicates the same three lines of characters as the placard, but the last half of the third line is inverted, or upside down and backwards. The text printed with the characters on the broadside was also printed in this second version.” [166]

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

1844 Broadside of Book of Mormon Characters

What happened to the copy of the Book of Mormon characters that Joseph had in his possession is something of a mystery. Could it have been the same document that Martin Harris once possessed? Was it given to “Mr. Strong” so he could copy the characters for the 1844 broadside? If so, was it taken to New York and then lost; or did Samuel Brannan take it with him to California? It is hard to imagine that if it was still in Nauvoo at the death of Joseph Smith that it would not have been conveyed by the Church to Utah; or kept by the Smith family along with the New Translation manuscripts.

Samuel Houston Brannan

Samuel Houston Brannan

Here the story of the characters might have ended, but another copy was to turn up, this time in the hands of Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer, who would claim that he had the same copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York in 1828. With information gleaned from the discovery of Jacob Hicks photograph, it is possible now to trace the history of the Whitmer character document.

In the fall of 1831 Church leaders decided that some of the revelations written by Joseph should be prepared for publication as a Book of Commandments.[167] Joseph was appointed to prepare the revelations for publication and Oliver Cowdery was chosen to carry them to Independence, Missouri, where the church printing press was located.  Joseph then wrote another revelation which designated himself, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Sidney Rigdon, and W. W. Phelps as “stewards over the revelations and commandments.”[168]

This group was called the “Literary Firm,” and was created in part to give additional personal income for the temporal salvation of church leaders who had the promise that “the things of this world shall be added unto him even an hundred fold.”[169]

Oliver and John left for Missouri in November 1831, followed by Joseph and Sidney in April 1832.[170] When Oliver Cowdery left for Independence in the fall of 1831, John Whitmer went with him, taking OTman3, which had now become his own personal copy. John Whitmer wrote,

About this time it was in contemplation for Oliver Cowdery to go to Zion and carry with him the revelations and commandments; and I also received a revelation to go with him. We left Ohio on the 20th of November, 1831, and arrived in Zion, Missouri, January 5, 1832.[171]

John Whitmer settled with the rest of the body of the Church in Jackson County, Missouri, purchased lands and wrote that by December 1, 1832 there were “five hundred and thirty-eight individuals in this land belonging to the Church.”[172]  

Less than a year later, Whitmer wrote that “the Church was driven by the mob of Jackson County on the 4th of November, 1833.”[173] Whitmer then took refuge with the rest of the church in Clay County Missouri, and wrote that ,

We had hard struggling to obtain a living, as may well be understood, being driven, having no money or means to subsist upon, and being among strangers in a strange place; being despised, mocked at, and laughed to scorn by some, and pitied by others; thus we lived from November, 1833, till May 1834, and but little prospect yet to return to our homes in Jackson County in safety–the mob rages and the people’s hearts are hardened, and the Saints are few in number, and poor, afflicted, cast out, and smitten by their enemies.

I will further state, because of the scattered situation and the many perplexities, I am not in possession of all the letters and information that I wish I was, and some that are in my possession are not arranged according to date because of the situation I am in, being poor, and write as I can obtain intelligence, and find time between sun and sun to write.[174]

Having failed to persuade the State of Missouri to have their lands in Jackson County returned to them by the spring of 1834, Joseph Smith left Kirtland, Ohio with an armed body of men for Missouri to “reedeem Zion”. Whitmer wrote that,

The Saints here are preparing with all possible speed to arm themselves and otherwise prepare to go to Jackson County, when the camp arrives; for we have had some hints from Joseph the Seer, that this will be our privilege; so we were in hopes that the long wished-for day will soon arrive, and Zion be redeemed to the joy and satisfaction of the poor suffering Saints.[175]

Marching to Zion, 1834

Marching to Zion, 1834

Upon arriving in Missouri Joseph’s camp was stricken by cholera, and disbanded. According to Whitmer,

The camp immediately scattered in the counties of Ray and Clay. Some returned immediately while others tarried. Received a revelation that it was not wisdom to go to Jackson County at this time, and that the armies of Israel should become very great and terrible first, and the servants of the Lord (shall have) been endowed with power from on high previous to the redemption of Zion. Thus our fond hopes of being redeemed at this time were blasted at least for a season.[176]

John Whitmer would later write that,

After the camp dispersed at Fishing River, Smith and F. G. Williams came to Clay County together with many others who scattered in Clay County and elsewhere, Smith called a conference at the house of Lyman Wight, three miles west of Liberty, in which conference the most of the official members belonging to Zion were present, where Smith organized the high council of Zion, as I said in a former chapter, in which David Whitmer was ordained president of Zion, and John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps his counselors. Here at the same time, he ordained David Whitmer prophet, seer and revelator and translator.[177]

Whitmer was called back to Kirtland, Ohio by Joseph Smith and left Missouri in April of 1835, and began editing the Church publication, The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate.  A year later, Whitmer would be back in Missouri writing that, “Edward Partridge, I[saac] Morley, John Corrill, and W. W. Phelps were appointed wise men and were sent to Missouri with some money to purchase land for the Saints, to seek a place for them &c.”[178]

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Joseph Smith & Sidney Rigdon Flee Kirtland, 1838

Two years later Joseph would flee Kirtland for good, leaving it in the hands of those who were called “the dissenters”, which included Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris. If Harris still had any of the original character documents in his possession, they have never come to light. The difficulties dividing the Church at that time arose from the demise of the Kirtland Safety Society and land purchases in made in Kirtland and by the Presidency in Missouri.[179] Reed Peck, an early convert of the Church from New York wrote that in Kirtland,

A bitter quarrel originated in these transactions between the Smith’s and S. Rigdon on one part and Cowdery[,] [Lyman]Johnson[,] and David Whitmer on the other[,]and each party having their particular friends the church in Kirtland became partially divided and their animosities carried many of them to great extremes, producing confusion and cruel oppression when either party could wield the balance of power[.] Very many credible persons in the Society have assented that while the “mon[e]y fever raged in Kirtland the leaders of the church and others were, more or less, engaged in purchasing and circulating Bogus money or counterfeit corn and a good evidence that the report is not without foundation is that, each of these contending parties accuses the other of this crime[.] In the latter part of March 1838[,] the Smith families[,] S. Rigdon and many of their favorites arrived in Far West[,] one of the “Stakes of Zion” and found the church in prosperous circumstances—O. Cowdery[,] D Whitmer[,] an[d] Lyman Johnson had preceded them which placed in Caldwell County all the materials for an explosion.[180]

The explosion came, and resulted in many of the “dissenters” being expelled from the church:

In order to pay the debts in New York, and elsewhere, many of the Church in Kirtland turned out their farms and stripped themselves of property, took orders on the bishop in Far West, and in their poverty followed [Joseph] Smith and [Sidney] Rigden [Rigdon] to Far West as soon as practicable. Some of the dissenters came also, and notwithstanding, they affected a sort of reconciliation of their difficulties, yet it was plain that hard feelings existed. W.[William] W. Phelps and John Whitmer had served as presidents of the Church, in the upper country, from the time they came from Kirtland, but some time in the winter of 1836-7, a difficulty arose between them and the Church, on account of their having entered the town plot and some other lands in their own names, but on an investigation of the matter they gave the town plot and some other lands into the hands of the bishop, as the property of the Church. However, a perfect reconciliation of feelings was not restored; but in the fall of 1837, Smith and Rigden [Rigdon] and others came to Far West on a visit. A general meeting was called for the Church to choose whether they would have the old Presidency rule any longer over them or not. Their old difficulties were talked over, and so far reconciled, that they still choose to have Phelps and Whitmer their presidents; but in the winter following, the old difficulty broke out again, and the excitement rose so high that they turned them out of their presidential office, and T.[Thomas] B. Marsh and two others served as presidents , pro tempore, until Smith and Rigden [Rigdon] arrived…[181]

William Wines Phelps

William Wines Phelps

John Whitmer would write in his history that,

The situation of the Church both here and in Kirtland is in an unpleasant situation in consequence of the reorganization of its authorities, which was not satisfactory to all concerned. And has terminated in the expulsion of some members, as also some temporal movements, have not proved satisfactory to all parties has also terminated in the expulsion of many members among whom is W. W. Phelps and myself.[182]

Following the expulsion of John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps came the excommunication of Book of Mormon witnesses David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery a month later, in April, 1838. When Cowdery left the church, he took the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon with him.  After the church was driven from Missouri, Joseph would settle in Illinois with the Saints; Cowdery would move back to Ohio; and the Whitmers would remain in Missouri, David in Richmond and John in Far West, who purchased large amounts of land there including the temple site.

John Whitmer kept possession of his copy of the Genesis manuscript, along with the history he had written “by commandment”, later called the Book of John Whitmer. After the death of Oliver Cowdery in 1850 at the home of David Whitmer, the printers manuscript to the Book of Mormon was kept by his brother-in-law David Whitmer.  Along with his Genesis Manuscript (OTman3) John Whitmer also had in his possession a copy of the Book of Mormon characters.  This interview by RLDS church member E.C. Brand,places the character document in the hands of John, not David Whitmer in 1875:

“I visited Mr. John Whitmer at his residence at Far West, Caldwell Co., Mo., on the 18th of February, 1875. He also bore his testimony to me concerning the truth, and declared that his testimony, as found in the testimony of “Eight Witnesses,” in the Book of Mormon, is strictly true. He showed me a facsimile of plates, copied from the plates in the handwriting of Joseph Smith. Both of these men (David and John) are respectable, and looked up to as truthful, honorable men, in the vicinity where they live. The above is a brief and correct statement of my interview with them. . . .”[183]

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

Joseph Smith III, Israel L. Rogers & Ebeneezer Robinson

The manuscripts, at Cowdery’s death, in 1844, were left in the hands of his widow, where they remained until the spring of 1866, when they were delivered to Wm. Marks, I. L. Rogers, and Wm. W. Blair, a committee appointed by the Annual Conference, of April, 1866, to procure them for publication; and were, by them, delivered to the Committee of Publication consisting of Joseph Smith, Israel L. Rogers, and Ebenezer Robinson.[184]

During the 1850’s and 60’s John and David Whitmer gave few interviews that were recorded, and none of them (that I am aware of) mention the Book of Mormon Characters.   After settling in Richmond,  Whitmer ran a successful Livery Stable and in 1867, David was elected  the Mayor of Richmond . That same year Whitmer sat for a portrait by a photographer named Jacob Hicks. The Richmond Conservator ran this article about the sitting,

Handsome. –The poet has well said “a thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and glancing at some porcelan pictures taken by our friend Jake Hicks, we were struck with the application of the thought.  What is more pleasing than to have a fac simile of one’s self, or some loved one taken by an artist in a style that must evoke praise from all, and such are the pictures now before us, perfect likenesses of Mayor Whitmer, and D. J. Whitmer. They are taken in Hicks happiest manner, and reflect great credit upon him as an artist.[185]

David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

“Handsome” David Whitmer 1867 by Jacob Hicks

At about this time, Joseph Smith III decided to publish the New Translation that his father [Joseph Smith, Jr.]had worked on and completed on July 2, 1833. In a letter to her son in 1867, Emma wrote,

My own dear Joseph . . . Now as it regards the M of the new translation if you wish to keep them you may do so, but if not I would like to have them. I have often thought the reason why our house did not burn down when it has been so often on fire was because of them, and I still feel there is a sacredness attached to them.[186]

It was after his stint as a Mayor that Whitmer began giving more interviews and speaking about the Book of Mormon manuscript he had acquired from his brother-in-law Oliver Cowdery. In 1875, David Whitmer claimed to a reporter for the Chicago Times that,

he had in his possession the original records, and was conversant with the history of the Church of Christ from the beginning, but was under obligation to hold both history and records sacred until such time as the interests of truth and true religion might demand their aid to combat error. [187]

Whitmer did not speak of the Book of Mormon characters in that interview. A little over a year later, David Whitmer organized what he called the Church of Christ, as explained by the Editor of The Return in 1892:

For about forty years, during which time the original manuscript and historical records came into his possession, he [David Whitmer] made a “morale” for the Book of Mormon, and placed it before the world as one of the books that has come to stay. In September, 1875, John C. Whitmer, becoming convinced that he should be baptized, asked the same of David Whitmer, which was accomplished, and your correspondent was a witness to his ordination, January 28, 1876. Like a tree growing in its proper season arose the necessity to perpetuate the Church of Christ. Since this time membership has been slowly advancing, and here and there are small congregations.[188]

In 1875 Martin Harris died in Utah, leaving David Whitmer the last of the three witnesses, and consequently he was interviewed far more often at this time than at any other in his life.[189]

In addition to giving interviews, David would sometimes display what he called “the original manuscript” of the Book of Mormon. David would also sometimes display for visitors what he called “the original characters presented to Professor Anthon of New York by Martin Harris”, but there are no accounts that have been discovered of him displaying the characters before 1878.

Whitmer kept these documents at his house in Richmond, and had the same attitude about them that Emma Smith had about the New Translation Manuscripts, that they were sacred and those who possessed them would be protected with them. This was affirmed in the mind of David Whitmer and others when in May of 1878 a cyclone (tornado) ravaged the city of Richmond.[190]

In the summer of 1878 Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt were sent on a mission to the east “in the interest of the history of the Church.”[191] In the fall of that year they visited Richmond and Joseph F. Smith wrote in his diary of the cyclone’s devastation:

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

Joseph F. Smith c. 1875

After breakfast Brother Pratt and I took a walk several blocks around the ruined district of the town. We were satisfied that the reports of the cyclone were not at all exaggerated if sufficiently drawn. Although rapid improvements have been made, the whole breadth of the town visited by the tempest presents a wrecked, desolate and ruined aspect. The debris of wrecked houses, fences, sidewalks and trees bitterly strewing the face of the ground. Scarcely a tree was standing in the wake of the tornado, much less a house, shed or fence. The very bark stripped from the trunks and stumps of many of the trees which were left standing. Many houses have been rebuilt on the sites of those blown down, and the work of clearing up debris, rebuilding houses, fences, board sidewalks, etc., still goes on.[192]

It appears that David Whitmer was injured when the cyclone struck Richmond. Sarah Whitmer (the daughter of John Whitmer) wrote to P. W. Poulson that,

“I visited Richmond directly after the storm and it was a sad looking-sight to behold. Uncle David has about recovered from his injuries and is out once more on the street.”[193]

Smith reported that “a large mechanic’s shop” behind the Whitmer property “with all its contents was literally demolished by the cyclone. I saw the remains of a carriage just finished for Whitmer and Co.’s livery service, but not delivered when the cyclone passed over. It was absolutely smashed, twisted and riven to atoms. Such a wreck I could not have conceived, even the tires were twisted into inconceivable shapes and not a spoke, felloe, or scarcely a bolt left in its place. Some of the spokes being taken clean out of the hubs, where they had just been compressed by powerful machinery with a pressure of 20 tons. One man from this shop was blown a great distance right through a house.”[194]

Later that year an account of their visit appeared in the Millennial Star where it was reported that David Whitmer told them that,

While camping around here in a tent, all my effects exposed to the weather, everything in the trunk where the MSS. [manuscripts] were kept became mouldy, etc., but they were preserved, not even being discolored (we supposed his camping in a tent, etc., had reference to his circumstances after the cyclone, in June last). As he and others affirm, the room in which the MSS. were kept was the only part of the house which was not demolished, and even the ceiling of that room was but little impaired. “Do you think,” said Philander Page, a son of Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses, “that the Almighty cannot take care of his own?”[195]

In a second meeting the next day with Whitmer, Joseph F. Smith recorded in his diary that,

After the usual ceremony of introduction, David Whitmer brought out and showed us the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, mostly in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, some of the writings was thought to be in the handwriting of John and Christian Whitmer, but only comparatively a few pages.[196]

Smith also wrote in his entry for that day that,

Brother Pratt felt closely after the subject of procuring the Ms., but we found that this was impossible to all human appearances. The whole Whitmer family are deeply impressed with the sacredness of this relic, and are actually so imbued with the idea and faith that it is under the immediate protection of the Almighty, that not only the Ms. itself is safe from all possible contingencies, but that it is a souvenir of protection to the place, or house, in which it might be kept, to the possessor. I do not therefore believe they could be induced to part with it for love or money, nor fear or favor.[197]

Richmond Cyclone 1878

Richmond Cyclone 1878

What is interesting about this visit of Smith and Pratt is that there is no mention of the Book of Mormon characters.  Where was the document that John Whitmer showed to E.C. Brand in 1875? An answer may lie in two interviews given by P. Wilhelm Poulson,  who Dan Vogel describes as “an eccentric Mormon with serious involvement with psychic and spiritualistic phenomena.”[198]

Poulson claimed that he interviewed John Whitmer in April of 1878, a few months before his death on July 11, 1878. In this interview it is reported by Poulson that,

John Whitmer was in possession of copies from the plates with the translation below and showed that to me and also of other valuable records. I shall correspond with Sarah Whitmer, and hope she will be willing, with the permission of David Whitmer, to restore those documents to the Church.[199]

Dan Vogel writes:

Unfortunately, John Whitmer was dead when Poulson’s account was published and could not challenge the accuracy of the reported interview. However, Poulson’s subsequent publication of his interview with David Whitmer was challenged by the interviewee as containing invented conversation. In a letter to S. T. Mouch, 18 November 1882, David Whitmer complained about Poulson’s account of the interview: “As to what you Say about the correspondence published by P Wilhelm Poulson M D Aug[ust] 20th 1878. I surely did not make the Statement which you Say he reports me to have made, for it is not according to the facts. And I have always in the fear of God, tried to give a true statement to the best of my recollection in regard to all matters which I have attempted to Explain. And I do not now remember of talking to Mr Poulson on the subject referred to.” Unfortunately, we do not know what portion of the interview Whitmer referred to since we do not have Mouch’s letter of inquiry. That there was an inaccuracy suggests that Poulson probably did not keep careful notes during his interviews. At the end of the present account, Poulson states that his conversation “was mostly written down word for word half an hour after the interview.” “Mostly” suggests that in some instances it may have gone beyond his notes and drew from memory about four months later.[200]

John Whitmer

John Whitmer

If this part of Poulson’s account can be trusted, John Whitmer may have had the “Caractor” document in his possession until his death in 1878.  Poulson also may have seen the entire document, and thought that the words “The Book of the Generation of Adam” may have been part of a translation.

Poulson also interviewed David Whitmer in April of 1878, and asked him about the engravings on the gold plates.  According to Poulson, Whitmer replied that,

They were characters. We copied some, and if you visit my brother John, one of the eight witnesses, who wrote for Joseph, John can show you some of the old manuscript which he borrowed from me. I must have it returned to me again, as it belongs to the Church, in connection with other records.[201]

If this part of the interview is accurate[202] then David did not have a copy of the characters in his possession at this time and referred Poulson to his brother John if he wanted to see them. David also states that “we copied some of them”, which doesn’t agree with what Whitmer always said about the “Caractor” document –  that it was the original document that Martin Harris took to Charles Anthon in 1828.

Could Poulson have heard this (“we copied some”) from John Whitmer since he interviewed both of the brothers during the same month in 1878? It is also possible that David knew the actual history of John’s document, and that it was a copy of the original transcript, and then changed his story later. It is hard to know for sure until further information comes to light.[203]

Also, what “old manuscript” was David Whitmer talking about? OTman3? Possibly. So, if David had a copy of the characters in 1878 why aren’t they mentioned by Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt?  It is hard to imagine that they were simply left out of the account written by Smith, so they must not have been shown to the Utah Mormons.

Joseph F. Smith may give us a reason why they were not shown to them in his diary account. After leaving David Whitmer in Richmond, Smith and Pratt took the short journey to Far West where they visited with Jacob D. Whitmer, the son of John Whitmer, who Smith reported was “insolently gruff and abrupt.”[204]

After asking if he could show them around Far West (to which Jacob refused), the conversation turned to the matter of John Whitmer’s papers:

O[rson] P[ratt]. — Your father was once the historian of the Church, and I am the present historian; we are anxious to preserve all the items of history we can, we would therefore like to see the MS. your father kept, and if possible, to make satisfactory arrangements with you, to purchase the same, provided there is anything in the MS. which we have not already published. I suppose you are aware that the history of the Church has already been published.

J[acob] W. — We’ve got no history here, all father’s papers have gone to Richmond long ago.

O. P. — We had a very pleasant interview with your uncle David, at Richmond. We arrived there last Friday, and remained two days, he showed us the MS. of the Book of Mormon, but said nothing about having any other papers.

J. W. — We have got no papers here.

Convinced that there was no use of making any further efforts where the spirit of bigotry and opposition was so intense, we turned away… [205]

In 1881 the Richmond Conservator reported that,

There is no doubt that Mr. Whitmer, who was one of the Three Witnesses of the authenticity of the gold plates, from which he asserts that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (a fac simile of the characters he now has in his possession with the original records), is firmly convinced of its divine origin, and while he makes no effort to obtrude his views or beliefs, he simply wants the world to know that so far as he is concerned there is no “variableness or shadow of turning.” [206]

At this time Whitmer began to claim that the copy of the Book of Mormon characters in his possession was the original document taken by Martin Harris to Charles Anthon.  Jesse R. Badham wrote,

He, Whitmore [Whitmer], has in his possession the original manuscript—and the original characters presented to Professor Anthony [Anthon] of New York by Martin Harris both of which I saw and handled. Also heard a blessing read pronounced for him by Joseph the Prophet which he holds very sacred.[207] 

Whitmer also had published in 1881 a “Proclamation” in which he stated that,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon, of New York, for him to read “the  words of a book that is sealed:” but the learned professor, although a great linguist could not read the  language of the Nephites.[208]

Des Moines Daily News 16 Oct 1886, with facsimile of the torn "Caractors" Document.

Des Moines Daily News 16 Oct 1886, with facsimile of the torn “Caractors” Document.-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

In 1884 James H. Hart included a description of the document that David Whitmer had in his possession:

I was shown the reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, that were copied from the plates by the Prophet Joseph, and taken by Martin Harris to Profesors Anthon and Mitchell, of New York City, in Febuary, 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches by seven, and fill up seven lines, making about thirty-five inches of writing. They remind me very much of some Egyptian hieroglyphics I have seen in the British Museum, London, and in other collections. [209]

Hart also gave an account to the Bear Lake Democrat a few days later which reads,

I was shown, moreover, the Egyptian characters copied by the Prophet Joseph Smith and taken by Martin Harris to Profs. Anthon and Mitchell of this city, in February 1828. They are written on unruled paper, about three and a half inches deep, by seven inches wide. The writing is in seven lines, making about 34 inches; and reminds me very much of some hieroglyphics I have seen in the British Museum, London, and other collections.[210]

During that same year, George Q. Cannon paid a visit to David Whitmer at his home in Richmond, who showed him the Book of Mormon manuscript he had in his possession.  But Cannon seemed far more interested in

George Q. Cannon

George Q. Cannon

a paper with this, which, if anything, was still more interesting than the manuscript. It was the characters drawn by Joseph [Smith, Jr.] himself from the plates for Martin Harris to take to show the learned professors, so wonderfully predicted in the 29th chapter of Isaiah. There were seven lines of these characters, the first four being about twice as large in size as the last three. In English Joseph had written over the lines the word “characters.” He had spelled this word, “caractors.” Though these characters had evidently been written for a long time, they were as clear and distinct as though just penned. Here was the very paper which Isaiah saw in vision about 2,600 years before, and which he called “the words of a book.”[211]

In 1886 Whitmer was still affirming that he had a copy of the characters taken by Martin Harris, but in this interview added some new details:

At this particular state of the recital, an inspection of a copy of the hieroglyphics made from the first of the gold plates by Joseph Smith and preserved with the same solicitude that is thrown around the original manuscript, becomes of curious interest. The accompanying cut is a perfect fac-simile of the little sheet which took Joseph Smith a whole week to copy, so particular was he that the characters should be perfectly reproduced, and that the “reformed Egyptian” language should be shown up in all its native simplicity, for, it must not be forgotten, there was a singular significance in errand which this scrap of paper was destined to perform.[212]

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886

Omaha Herald 17 Oct 1886-Image courtesy of Dan Vogel

The year before he died, Whitmer published a rambling, 75 page pamphlet which he titled An Address To All Believers In Christ, that condemned the Utah branch of the Mormon Church, called Joseph Smith a fallen prophet, and admonished all men to believe in the Book of Mormon. Endeavoring to correct those that claimed he had denied his testimony; Whitmer also reprinted his “Proclamation” from 1881 which stated that,

I have in my possession the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery and others, also the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates…[213]

Thus David Whitmer would affirm until his death that he had possession of the original Book of Mormon Manuscript and the copy of the characters that Martin Harris took to New York City in 1828.

After David Whitmer’s death, these items were passed to his son, David J. Whitmer, along with John Whitmer’s Church History and OTMan 3.  This collection of documents were eventually given into the care of George Schweich, a nephew of David J. Whitmer, who subsequently sold them to the RLDS Church for $2450 in 1903.[214]

George Schweich

George Schweich

Interest in the “Charactors” document has only increased over the years, but little could be determined about it because it was obviously torn from a larger document. In 1942 Ariel Crowley published an in-depth study of the document in the Improvement Era, and analyzed all of the conclusions about it that had been written up to that time.  Crowley writes that the document was in the hands of the Whitmer family,

in early 1903 at the time of the preparation of Chapter V in volume 2 of B. H. Roberts’ New Witnesses for God.” In April, 1903, the Whitmer heirs transferred the transcript to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, where it now remains. This is confirmed by a recent letter from President Frederick M. Smith of the Reorganized Church.[215]

The letter to John A. Widtsoe from Frederick Smith was written on May 9, 1941, and Smith wrote:

“Without reasonable doubt we have the original paper taken by Martin Harris to Professor Anthon. In 1884, a committee of the Reorganized Church had a conference with David Whitmer. From July 8 to August 17 of that year this committee worked with Father Whitmer in comparing published Books of Mormon with the manuscript then in his possession. At this time this paper was with the manuscript, and it was exhibited by him to the committee and he stated it was the original taken to Professor Anthon.

In 1890 a “cut” was made which was published in a book written by William H. Kelley called Presidency and Priesthood: and in 1896 it was reproduced in our Church History, Vol. 1, p. 22.

When the Book of Mormon manuscript was delivered to my father [Joseph Smith, III] in April, 1903, this fragment was tied up with it and has remained in our possession.

Our historical department states that “possibly the first published reference to such a document was a letter of Professor Anthon dated February 17, 1834, published by E. D. Howe in his book that year.”

In the Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, p. 773, appears the statement of Martin Harris doubtless made some time before.

Of course many published accounts are now to be found.

Mr. S. A. Burgess comments:  “In addition to the history of the fragment, the word ‘caractors,’ their uneven size and growing smaller with each line, all indicate an unskilled copyist. Also, the paper itself is old, and of the same quality and appearance of the paper of the manuscript and of early revelations, manuscripts undoubtedly made before 1833.”

The appearance of the fragment, eight inches by three and one-fourth inches, evidences its antiquity, and since 1924 we have kept it under glass.[216]

There the matter has stood since 1924. But with my discovery of the photo taken by Jacob Hicks sometime around 1867, perhaps a little bit more can be added about the origin of this mysterious fragment that has had so much written about it over the years.

Go to Part IV.

NOTES

Dan Vogel was instrumental in helping me with research on this part of the article.

[143] “Minutes of a General Conference held at the dwelling of br. Serenes Burnet in the Town of Orange, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, October 25, 1831,” Far West Record, p. 13.

[144]  The Joseph Smith Papers website, online here, accessed, August 5, 2013. (Hereafter, JSPW). 

[145] JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, [Independence, MO], 27 Nov. 1832, in JS Letterbook 1, p. 4. Online here, accessed August 5, 2011.

[146] JSPW, op. cited, here.

[147] Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.20, p.885.

[148] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected From the Revelations of God, F. G. Williams & Co.,1835,),  Section 50:1.

[149] Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1,p. 128.

[150] Documentary History of the Church, (D.H.C.), Vol. 4, p. 57.

[151] Dan Vogel, The Word of God, p.12.

[152] “Old Testament Manuscript 3: An Early Transcript of the Book of Moses”, Kent P. Jackson and Scott H. Faulring, Mormon Historical Studies No. 8, Fall 2004, pages 113-114. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013. (Hereafter, Jackson & Faulring, 2004).

[153] Kent P. Jackson, The Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), p. 1–52. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.(Hereafter, Jackson, 2005).

[154]  ibid.

[155] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected From the Revelations of God, F. G. Williams & Co.,1835, Section 63:2. See also, Times and Seasons, Vol.5, No.2, p.401.

[156] Jackson, 2005.

[157]  ibid.

[158] Jackson & Faulring, 2004, pages 114-115.

[159] ibid, page 114.

[160] Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2,  No. 3, December 1835, page 235.

[161]  Edward R. Ashment, “A Record in the Language of My Father”, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, ed. Brent Metcalfe, pp..334-335, online here, accessed August 5, 2013. These are curious documents to be sure, because they contain more than just a showcase of Joseph Smith’s translation abilities. The History of the Williams document is fascinating, and there is some interesting background about it as some letters (found here in the online Church History Library) that passed between Nancy A. C. Williams, George Albert Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith attest. The letter from Nancy A. C. Williams (Mrs. Frederick G. Williams, II) and addressed to George Albert Smith is dated November 28, 1949. She writes,

Dear Brother Smith:

I have in my possession an acknowledgement signed by Joseph Fielding Smith, dated August 4, 1934, wherein he had received from me eighteen (18) miscellaneous letters and papers of Frederick G. Williams filed in big green safe. Brother Alvin Smith carefully covered them with Scotch paper. On different occasions I have looked them over. Then they were reported lost. Now they seem to be mutilated and some are gone, one which read, “turn deed to Joseph Smith, Jr. May 5, 1834”. These were numbered, with a typewritten account of  contents of each to compare with the originals. …

The idea is this. Inasmuch as all proof concerning his life and labors were in the historian’s office and no one used them but me, I desire to withdraw and preserve with is left of them. …

I am asking if you would write an order to release all my notes and papers, and, if the Lord wills to spare my life, I will preserve all in book form. … (williams to Smith, page 1)

Williams also included this post-script:

The following is an appendage taken from my book, Chapter Six:

 A number of years ago the author, in comparing he writing of Dr. William’ notes with that in the Historian’s Office, was shown the original paper written in pencil, bearing the revelation given in the Kirtland Temple concerning Lehi’s travels. Recently, February 25, 1949, she was shown the ink transcript which the Doctor made on his return home, which she had never seen before and with which she received a wonderful manifestation that it was indeed a revelation given to Frederick G. Williams for him and his family.” The pencil original cannot be found at this time.

 The following is recorded in Dr. Frederick G. Williams ledger, page 321, claiming that at the time of receiving the revelation an angel appeared to him and sat between him and Joseph Smith, Sr. Frederick G. Williams then transcribed the message on paper, which he kept during his life time and Mrs. Williams kept it sacred until her demise. It then came into possession of Dr. Ezra G. Williams, who loaned it to Apostle George A. Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Williams tried several times to secure the manuscript again but were unsuccessful. This revelation later appeared in print in the Compendium, page 289, and was accredited to Joseph Smith, the Prophet. From an interview with Mrs. Henrietta E. Williams, wife of Ezra G. Williams at Ogden, Utah. Signed – Merlin J. Stone.

 Nancy A. C. Williams

Anthon H. Lund then wrote to Joseph Fielding Smith,

January 10, 1950
Dear Brother Smith:

Sometime ago the First Presidency sent you a letter, signed only in typewriting, from Nancy A. C. Williams. I have tried to locate all of the letters, notes, journals, etc. that she mentions in her letter and attached to this letter is a list of these articles mentioned as far as I can locate them.

Also her letter needs some answering as her statements are not altogether correct. I am trying to five you an account of just what has been said to her in regard to these matters.

I have taken each paragraph in her letter and given my answers in the spirit of trying to defend our Office and not to harm Sister Williams. (Lund to Smith, page 1)

Cordially
Anthon Lund

In his answers addressing Williams letter, Lund comments about the “Lehi’s Travels” portion of the Williams Document:

On page 2 of the Postscript – Paragraph One In all of the years I have been with the Historian’s Office, I have never seen any other account of “Lehi’s Travels” than the one we have locked in the Small Safe. I gave Sister Williams a photographic copy of this information which I thought was much better than a typed copy. (see note at bottom of page)

The material mentioned in this paragraph Sister Williams claims was written by pencil on paper that Brother Frederick G. Williams had in his pocket while at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and later copied by ink on the paper which is filed in our Library. She also claims that this paper upon which Frederick G. Williams transcribed his revelation was in the possession of Mrs. Williams, then came to Dr. Ezra G. Williams and then loaned to Apostle George Albert Smith. On the paper which is in our possession there is the following written upon it in the handwriting of Ezra G. Williams: “G.S.L. City, April 11, 1864. This paper is in the handwriting of my father, Frederick G. Williams. The characters there on I believe to be a representation of those shown to him at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Ezra G. Williams.”

Brother Ezra G. Williams does not say anything about the revelation (Doc. & Cov. Sec. 7) at the top of one of the pages, nor the answers to questions asked in English and answered in Hebrew, nor the characters from the Book of Mormon in the center of the page, nor the course of Lehi and his family being revealed to his father, but only that they were in the handwriting of his father.

The statement of Sister Williams that “The following is recorded in Dr. Frederick G. Williams ledger” might lead one to believe that he wrote that which is written there. However, that which is written on page 321 of that ledger is a statement made by the wife of Ezra G. Williams to Merlin J. Stone on January 24, 1913.

The words of the course of Lehi and his family as written in the ledger are word for word as written in the Compendium 1882 edition page 289. However, these words are not exactly the same as on the paper claimed to be the paper upon which Frederick G. Williams transcribed his pencil notes. On the paper it reads: “The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship” and from the Compendium: The course Lehi and his company traveled from Jerusalem to the place of their destination.”

I am inclined to believe Dr. Frederick G. Williams may only have copied all that is on this one side of the page for the following reasons:

Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given in 1829 and published in the Book of Commandments in 1833.

The center could be copied from writings of Oliver Cowdery, which we have, and by inference the course of Lehi could have been copied also.(Lund to Smith, pp. 2-3)

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote a postscript at the bottom of the last page of the Williams letter which reads,

P.S. The family is very desirous to have possession of the “Revelation” [which?] he wrote in his own hand, as loaned to Uncle Geo A. Smith & which [no] one has ever believed he received but his family who knows. (Williams Letter, page 2)

Thank you kindly-
Pres. Smith

Joseph Fielding’s comment is interesting in that he seems to perceive that Lehi’s Travels portion of the document as a “revelation”, but not to Williams, but probably to Joseph Smith. It is also obvious that they were familiar with the Cowdery copy (pictured beolw). I’m sure there must have been follow up letters, but they are not posted at this time.

[162] The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, by  Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William J. Hartley, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, p. 362. The document is small, and I don’t have a hi-res photo of it yet, but this will give you an idea of what it looks like. The first three sections are the English/Hebrew “translations” given by Joseph Smith, then the Book of Mormon  and the Interpreter of languages section. The last line says “Written and kept for profit & learning by Oliver.”

"Written and kept for learning & profit"

“Written and kept for profit & learning Oliver”

[163] As much as I would like to write about the Kinderhook Plates here, I’ll have to save it for another time. There are, however some serious studies in progress concerning them being undertaken by Don Bradley (a good overview which may be found here) and Brent and Erin Metcalfe. I will have to disagree however, that Don had “solved” the “mystery” of the Kinderhook Plates. But his 2011 FAIR presentation is insightful and informative. My own study will be published next year. I will mention that there are dozens of striking matches between the Kinderhook Plates glyphs and the “caractors” from the Book of Mormon which more than outweigh Don’s tentative “match” with a G.A.E.L. character and make his scenario much less likely to have occurred.

[164] Diary of George Moore, Tuesday, December 20,1842, pp. 105-106, cit. Donald Q. Cannon, “Reverend George Moore Comments on Nauvoo, the Mormons, and Joseph Smith,” Western Illinois Regional Studies 5 (Spring 1982):6-16.

[165] The New York Herald, May 30, 1843. I believe that “a Gentile” was an “undercover” member of the Church who knew that James Gordon Bennett was friendly to the Mormons and wrote to the paper for that reason.

Many thanks to Erin Metcalfe for finding this article. It is important not only in the study of Joseph’s “caractors”, but also crucial in helping to understand how Joseph Smith viewed the Kinderhook Plates, which was as a Jaredite record, or as one of the editors of the Times and Seasons put it, “A sequel to the Book of Mormon.”

I am writing a lengthy article (“Is there Wisdom in Zion?”) on this fascinating chapter of Mormon History which will be published here in 2014.

[166] “Sealed in a Book: Preliminary Observations on the Newly Found “Anthon Transcript”” by Danel W. Bachman,  B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 20 No. 4, 1980, pages 324-325. This article focuses on the transcript forged by Mark Hoffmann, but has valuable analysis about the Book of Mormon characters. Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

Whoever “Mr. Strong” was, he did a poor job of copying the characters. Because of this, it is difficult to determine if there are different characters on the 1844 placard when compared to the Whitmer “caractors” document. I will be addressing this and other concerns in my article “Is there Wisdom In Zion?”.

[167] History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 221-22.

[168] Doctrine and Covenants, Section 70, v. 3.

[169] Kirtland Revelation Book, page 146.

[170] History of the Church, 1:266.

[171] Bruce N. Westergren, From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer, p.108. The Book of John Whitmer can also be read online here, accessed August 5, 2013. The “revelation” spoken of by John Whitmer was dictated by Joseph on 11 November, 1831 and says,

Hearken unto me saith the Lord for verily I say unto  you for my Servent Olivers [Oliver Cowdery’s] sake it is not wisdom  in me that he should be intrusted with the commandments  & moneys which he shall carry unto the Land of Zion  except one go with him who will be true & faithfull  wherefore I the Lord willeth that my Servent John (Whitmer)  shall go with my servent Oliver & also that he observe to  continue in writing & makeing a history of all the  important things which he shall observe & know concerning  my Church & also that he receive council & assistance  from my Servent Oliver & others3 & also that my Saints  which are abroad in the Earth should send forth their accounts  to the Land of Zion for the Land of Zion shall be a seat  & a place to receive & do all these things nevertheless  let my Servnt John travel many times from place  to place & from Church to Church that he may the more  easily obtain knowledge Preaching & expounding writing  cop[y]ing & selecting & obtain[in]g all things which shall be  for the good of the Church & for the rising generations  which shall grow up on the Land of Zion to possess  it from generations to generations forever & ever Amen (The Joseph Smith Papers Website, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

[172] ibid, p.103

[173] ibid. Even this disheartening event was followed by Whitmer adding that “on the 13th of the same month the stars fell” and was written about almost immediately afterward in The Evening and Morning Star, edited by W. W. Phelps who wrote,

“We have received a communication on the subject of the Millennium, which we insert in this number of the Star,” and adds that “we presume we shall be favored with more from the same pen…” (The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. II, No. 15, December, 1833, p.116).

The article reads (in part):

On the morning of the 13th of November last, about 3 or 4 o’clock, was seen a singular appearance in the heavens, which seemed to produce no small excitement in the minds of those who were up in season to gaze upon the sublime, yet strange phenomenon. We were roused from our slumber by the voice of one of our neighbors, “Rise and see the signs in the heavens!” Immediately we were on our feet, and on looking out at the window, beheld a scenery as sublime, apparently, as though the Great Majesty of heaven was riding forth through the firmament upon a cloud that was passing slowly towards the east, from whose presence worlds seemed to be moving with mighty rapidity, whose flaming orbits lighted down through the dark weather and shown upon this earth! But on walking out it was plain to be seen that it was not merely one place in the heavens thus illuminated, but the whole heavens were lit up with the same appearance, except here and there a small cloud as they were moved to the east by a gentle wind.

This scenery continued visible till near sunrise, when it fled by the rising splendor of the “King of day.” While we were gazing upon this new wonder with surprise and admiration, we remembered the exhortation of the Lord to Israel, [Isa. XL. 26.] Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth. This saying seems to be peculiarly well adapted to an occurrence of this kind: for notwithstanding the great commotion in the heavenly bodies, yet, the same power that brought them into existence and regulated their various circumvolutions, was still sufficient to retain them in their proper position by his immutable decree, till the judgement [judgment] of the great day; or until the time of the fulfillment of certain prophecies contained in the holy scriptures. We were also reminded of that remarkable saying of the Savior, [Matt. XXV. 6.] while speaking of his kingdom in the last days, at the time of his second coming, when the cry is to be heard at midnight, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.(ibid)

In January 1833 Joseph had written a letter to to N. O. Saxton, editor of the American Revivalist and Rochester Observer in which he declared that,

I am prepared to say by the authority  of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass  away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the hystory  of our nation pestalence hail famine and earthquake will  sweep the wicked off this generation from off the face of  this Land to open and prepare the way for the  return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north  country— The people of the Lord, those who have  complied with the requsitions of the new covenant  have already commenced gathering togethe[r] to Zion  which is in the State of Missouri. Therefore I decl are unto you the warning which the lord  has commanded me to declare unto this  generation, rembring [remembering] that the eyes of my maker  are upon me and that to him I am accountabl  for evry word I say wishing nothing worse to  my fellow men then their eternal salvation  therefore fear God, and give glory to him for  the hour of his Judgment is come, <Repent  ye> Repent, ye and imbrace the everlasting  Covenant and flee to Zion before the over flowing scourge overtake you, For there are  those now living upon the earth whose eyes  shall not be closed in death until they see  all these things which I have spoken fulfilled (The Joseph Smith Papers Website, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013). 

When this letter was not published in its entirety by the newspaper, Smith wrote a follow up letter and admonished them to do so stating that,

I was somewhat disappointed on receiv ing my paper with only a part of my  letter inserted in that it. The letter which I  wrote you for publication I wrote by the commandment of God, and I am quite anxious  to have it all laid before the public for it is  of importance to them…” (ibid, online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

Smith’s plea was apparently ignored, but this did not deter him from believing that the night of the falling stars was a fulfillment of prophecy:

In the morning at 4 o’clock i was awoke by Brother Davis knocking at my door saying: Brother Joseph come get up and see the signs in the heavens, and I arose and beheld to my great joy the stars fall from heaven; yea, they fell like hail stones, a literal fulfillment of the word of God as recorded in the holy scriptures and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand. O how marvellous are thy works O Lord and I thank thee for thy mercy unto me thy servant. O Lord save me in thy kingdom for Christ sake. Amen.

The appearance of these signs varied in different sections of the country: in Zion, all heaven seemed enwrapped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse, had been suddenly hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether: some at times, appeared like bright shooting meteors with long trains of light following in their course, and in numbers resembled large drops of rain in sunshine. Some of the long trains of light following the meteoric stars, were visible for some seconds; those streaks would cut and twist up like serpents writhing. The appearance was beautiful, grand and sublime beyond description; as though all the artillery and fire works of eternity were set in motion to enchant and entertain the saints, and terrify and awe the sinners on the earth. Beautiful and terrific as was the scenery, which might be compared to the falling figs or fruit when the tree is shaken by a mighty wind; yet, it will not fully compare with the time when the sun shall become black like sack cloth of hair, the moon like blood; Rev. 6:13; and the stars fall to the earth — as these appeared to vanish when they fell behind the trees, or came near the ground. (“History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons, Vol.6, No.1, p.898, See also, Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.14)

David Whitmer would reminisce about this event years later, with a claim that it had been prophesied about just days before,

When Brother Joseph was humble he had the Spirit of God with him; but when he was not humble he did not have the Spirit. Brother Joseph gave many true prophesies when he was humble before God: but this is no more than many of the other brethren did. Brother Joseph’s true prophesies were almost all published, but those of the other brethren were not. I could give you the names of many who gave great prophesies which came to pass. I will name a few: Brothers Ziba Peterson, Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, John Whitmer, myself and many others had the gift of prophesy. Hiram Page prophesied a few days before the stars fell in November, 1833, that the stars would fall from heaven and frighten many people. This prophesy was given in my presence. I could give you many instances of true prophesies which came through the above named brethren, but I desire to be brief. I could also tell you of some false prophesies which some of them gave, when they were not living humble. ( David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.32)

In a footnote to this event in the History of the Church edited by B. H. Roberts, he writes,

 Speaking of this event as it appeared to the exiled Saints bivouacked on the Missouri bottoms, Elder Parley P. Pratt in his Autobiography, (page 110) says: “About 2 o’clock the next morning [November 13th], we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed involved in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God.” Stephens in his History of the United States (page 455), thus speaks of the same event: “During the fall of 1833 occurred a natural phenomenon of a most wonderful character. This was on the night of the 13th of November. It was what is known as the ‘meteoric shower,’ or the ‘falling of the stars.’ It was witnessed with amazement and astonishment throughout the entire limits of the United States.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 1, p.439, Note 13)

W. R. Hine would later recount that,

The night the meteors fell in 1833, the Mormons sent men on horseback for miles about Kirtland to arouse the people. They got me up at three o’clock A.M., they claimed it was the fore-runner of some wonderful event, and it was said and believed. Prophet Jo said there would be no more stars seen in the heavens. (Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, by Rodger I. Anderson, Signature Books, 1990, p. 160)

Others like Philo Dibble would recount that it was Joseph Smith, not Hiram Page that prophesied about the meteor shower. Dibble, whose late reminiscences are full of errors and exaggerations wrote,

On one occasion Joseph was preaching in Kirtland sometime in the fall of 1833. Quite a number of persons were present who did not belong to the Church, and one man, more bitter and skeptical than others, made note with pencil and paper of a prophecy uttered on that occasion, wherein Joseph said that “Forty days shall not pass, and the stars shall fall from heaven.”

Such an event would certainly be very unusual and improbable to the natural man, and the skeptic wrote the words as a sure evidence to prove Joseph to be a false Prophet.

On the thirty-ninth day after the utterance of that prophecy a man and brother in the Church, by the name of Joseph Hancock, who is yet living, in Payson, Utah, and another brother were out hunting game and got lost. They wandered about until night, when they found themselves at the house of this unbeliever, who exultingly produced this note of Joseph Smith’s prophecy, and asked Brother Hancock what he thought of his Prophet now, that thirty-nine days had passed and the prophecy was not fulfilled.

Brother Hancock was unmoved and quietly remarked, “There is one night left of the time, and if Joseph said so, the stars will certainly fall tonight. This prophecy will all be fulfilled.”

The matter weighed upon the mind of Brother Hancock, who watched that night, and it proved to be the historical one, known in all the world as “the night of the falling of the stars.”

He stayed that night at the house of the skeptical unbeliever, as it was too far from home to return by night, and in the midst of the falling of the stars he went to the door of his host and called him out to witness what he had thought impossible and the most improbable thing that could happen, especially as that was the last night in which Joseph Smith could be saved from the condemnation of “a false prophet.”

The whole heavens were lit up with the falling meteors, and the countenance of the new spectator was plainly seen and closely watched by Brother Hancock, who said that he turned pale as death, and spoke not a word.

After that event the unbeliever sought the company of any Latter-day Saint. He even enticed Mormon children to keep him company at his house. Not long afterwards, too, he sent for Joseph and Hyrum to come to his house, which they did, but with no noticeable results, for I believe he never received the gospel. (The Juvenile Instructor, No. 27, p. 23, 1892. For more on Philo Dibble, See my articles, “Playing F.A.I.R” and “Joseph Smith’s Moonmen”)

To see the transformation of this collection of folklore into actual history, see, “How a Meteor Shower Inspired a Favorite Hymn”, in Meridian Magazine, May 30, 2013, where Larry Barkdull claims that the event that took place in November 1833 inspired a poem (which became a Hymn) written by W. W. Phelps almost a year before the event took place.  (Phelps’ Poem, “Now Let Us Rejoice In The Day Of Our Salvation”, first appeared in The Evening and Morning Star, Vol. 1, No. 10, March 1833, p. 80, well before (8 months) the Meteor Shower that took place on the night of November 13, 1833).

Barkdull writes,

On the night of November 12, the mob assembled for a slaughter. Defenseless and with no place to retreat, the Mormons would be easy prey – shooting fish in a barrel. Jackson County was about to see mass murder on an unprecedented scale, and all that the defenseless, starving, shivering Saints could do was huddle in the mud and wait for their demise.

It was in that moment of hopelessness and defeat that the Lord sent a miracle.”

Barkdull then quotes from the Parley P. Pratt account cited by Roberts in The History of the Church (cited above) and claims that the Meteor Shower was a “miracle” sent by God to protect the “Saints” from the evil Missouri mob:

The fiery display in the heavens continued all through the night, striking the mob with such awe that they halted their advance on the Saints to watch the magnificent celestial display. In the morning, they simply turned around and went home, and immediately thereafter, the Saints safely escaped to Clay County. (Meridian Magazine, May 30, 2013, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

The account penned by Parley Pratt reads,

Thursday, November 7. The shore began to be lined on both sides of the ferry with men, women and children; goods, wagons, boxes, provisions, etc., while the ferry was constantly employed; and when night again closed upon us the cottonwood bottom had much the appearance of a camp meeting. Hundreds of people were seen in every direction, some in tents and some in the open air around their fires, while the rain descended in torrents. Husbands were inquiring for their wives, wives for their husbands; parents for children, and children for parents. Some had the good fortune to escape with their families, household goods, and some provisions; while others knew not the fate of their friends, and had lost all their goods. The scene was indescribable, and, I am sure, would have melted the hearts of any people on the earth, except our blind oppressors, and a blind and ignorant community.

Next day our company still increased, and we were principally en gaged in felling cottonwood trees and erecting them into small cabins. The next night being clear, we began to enjoy some degree of comfort.

About two o’clock the next morning we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed enveloped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp.. 109-110, online here, accessed August 5, 2013)

Pratt records no miracle, just makes an observation that was being made by many of the same time period. Abraham Lincoln had a much more pragmatic view of this event, as retold by him years later to Walt Whitman:

“When I was a young man in Illinois,” said he, “I boarded for a time with a Deacon of the Presbyterian church. One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door, & I heard the Deacon’s voice exclaiming ‘Arise, Abraham, the day of judgment has come!’ I sprang from my bed & rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers! But looking back of them in the heavens I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.” (Walt Whitman, “A Lincoln Reminiscence”, Specimen Days & Collect (1882) as quoted in Sky & Telescope, November 1999, pp. 34-35, online here, accessed August 5, 2013)

For more on how this event influenced others besides the Mormons, see “Apocalypse Now? Part I – The Great Disappointment”, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

Joseph Smith would later denounce William Miller (cited in the article above) as a false prophet, declaring that his date of 1843 for the return of Christ was in error, and give his own which was 1891.

The situation was dire for those forced from Jackson County in the winter of 1833, as Whitmer records in Chapter 11 of his History:

The situation of our brethren after leaving their homes in Jackson in the most distressing circumstances, in the cold month of November, found it difficult to preserve life in many instances. Some fled with but few clothes, leaving their beds and bedding; others taking with them what they could carry and running for their lives; women losing some of their children while fleeing for their lives; and thus you may judge how the poor Saints have suffered, after having given only a few hints of the distress.

Whitmer does not mention anything about a mob pursuing them in an effort to pick them off “like fish in a barrel”.

Year later, Brigham Young would speak of the events in Missouri and use the metaphor of falling stars to describe those like John Whitmer who left the faith:

Are the Latter-day Saints ready to receive Zion from above? Have they wisdom and knowledge to receive and conduct themselves properly in the society of angels? I think not. While I was in Far West, and the mob began to gather there, determined to kill Joseph, he preached to the people and said, “If you had faith and would live your religion, you would prove the revelation to be true where the Lord says, ‘I will fight your battles, and, if necessary, send down angels to save you from the wicked grasp of your enemies.'” There was an armed mob of some 3,500 arrayed against some 300 of us. They sent in a deputation, saying they wanted about three persons out of the town, for they were calculating to destroy the people and the place. Some of those self-glorious stars of “Mormonism”—stars that fell in that crisis, looked round for the angels. They did not see them, and straightway turned their backs upon their God and their religion, and joined the enemy. ( Journal of Discouses, Vol. 7, p.143, May 22, 1859)

[174] ibid, p. 125.

[175] ibid, p. 132..

[176]  ibid.

[177] ibid, p. 195.

[178]  ibid, p. 175.

[179] There are many studies that have been done of the Kirtland Safety Society and Joseph’s involvement in land speculation.  Mormon Apologist Marvin S. Hill, with C. Kieth Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer published this one in B.Y.U. Studies: “The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics,” which can be read online here. Also see, “Joseph Smith’s Kirtland Bank Failure”, by Jerald & Sandra Tanner, found online here.

Even though Hill, Rooker and Wimmer have presented an impressive amount of data about the Kirtland economy between 1830 and 1840, they still leave many questions unanswered, or ambiguous.

Yet, they still conclude that “Joseph smith was eventually unable to meet all his financial obligations and in that sense he was obviously responsible for an excessive amount of debt,” (p. 403) and then try to mitigate this by claiming that $102,000 of debt is somehow not as bad as the $150,000 that Fawn Brodie estimated in No Man Knows My History.

“An intriguing question, they ask, “is why Joseph Smith sought to undertake and thereafter continued to support a venture with such high risk as the Safety Society Bank.” (p. 432) To which they answer, “we have suggested perhaps the principal advantage [was] to Joseph Smith himself.”  (p. 432)They add that the failure of Joseph’s “anti-Bank” was primarily due to “its lack of a corporate charter,” (p. 435) which was denied by the State of Ohio.

Why would Joseph still push ahead with the Safety Society when (as Hill, et. all, claim) “it was poorly capitalized”, “the lack of a charter created enormous handicaps, bad publicity and great personal risks”? (p. 436)

They give several answers, among them that Joseph’s credibility as a Church leader would come into question (it did).

This was because Joseph’s bank venture was directly tied to his prophetic claims, for Joseph had not only promised that the Bank would succeed, but that God had promised that it would.  Wilford Woodruff wrote in his Journal that he,

herd President Joseph Smith jr. declare in the presence of F Williams, D. Whitmer, S. Smith, W. Parrish, & others in the Deposit Office that he had receieved that morning the Word of the Lord upon the Subject of the Kirtland Safety Society. He was alone in a room by himself & he had not ownly the voice of the Spirit upon the Subject but even an audable voice. He did not tell us at that time what the LORD said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the Commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well.

May the Lord bless Brother Joseph with all the Saints & support the above named institution & Protect it so that every weapen formed against it may be broaken & come to nought while the Kirtland Safety Society shall become the greatest of all institutions on EARTH. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.120)

Warren Parrish wrote:

“I have listened to him [Joseph Smith] with feelings of no ordinary kind, when he declared that the audible voice of God, instructed him to establish a banking—anti banking institution, who like Aaron’s rod shall swallow up all other banks (the Bank of Monroe excepted,) and grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” (Painesville Republican, February 22, 1838)

At the April 1837 Conference of the Church, Joseph Smith spoke about the “temporal affairs of the church in this place,” and that “large contracts have been entered into for land on all sides”, and that “our brethren abroad have only to come with their money, take these contracts, and relieve their brethren of the pecuniary embarrassments under which they now labor…” Smith then,

closed at about 4 P. M. by uttering a prophesy saying this place must be built up, and would be built up, and that every brother that would take hold and help secure and discharge those contracts that had been made, should be rich. (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 3, No. 7, April 1837, pp. 487-88).

Why would Joseph then, need a bank to relieve him of his debt, especially when they claim that Joseph “owned land equal in value to at least $88,000”? (p. 426) And why would Joseph give heed to (as Hill, et all claim), “some Democratic newspapers and political groups”(page 456) about continuing on without a charter, when God had apparently told him that all that was needed was the brethren to come with their money and take over his land contracts?

Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs tie the problems with Joseph’s finances in Kirtland directly with his obsession to “redeem Zion”:

A look at Joseph Smith’s indebtedness through the lens of Marvin Hill, C. Keith Rooker, and Larry T. Wimmer, The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Place Critique of Sectarian Economics (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), suggests the LDS president was probably not overleveraged. However, sources cited in this study suggest that at least one significant aspect of Smith’s debt problem was not considered for the purposes of their book. Contemporary sources strongly suggest Joseph Smith’s multilayered plan for the redemption of Zion seriously overextended the resources of the young movement. Smith, try though he did, could not extract enough funds from his followers to accomplish his entire prophetic agenda. Something had to be sacrificed and the only priority that did not require immediate attention (would not result in a lawsuit) was his plan for a military operation to retake Jackson County.  (“Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, page 49).

For more on the Bank of Monroe and Oliver Cowdery’s tenure as Vice President, see Mark L. Staker, “Raising Money in Righteousness: Oliver Cowdery as Banker”, in Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, ed. Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 143–254, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

[180] Reed Peck Manuscript, 1839, pages 17-20. Reed Peck was the son of Hezekiah Peck and Martha Long, and was born in Afton, New York in 1814. Previous to the division of the town of Bainbridge, the village and post-office at Afton were known as South Bainbridge.  This is where Joseph Smith married Emma Hale in 1827. Reed Peck married Clarissa M. and they were the parents of four sons:

Presson R, Frank F., Charles D., George W, and a daughter Kate.  Hezekiah Peck was baptized on 28 June, 1830, and most likely Reed was baptized during the same month or shortly thereafter.

The first postmaster [of South Bainbridge] was probably Albert Neely or Joseph P. Chamberlin, at least fifty years ago. Josiah Wright succeeded Chamberlain about 1830. Next was Zaccheus Smith, who came here from Delaware county and kept hotel in the Sullivan House. He held the office till about 1840 and was succeeded by Murlin Jackson. Cornelius Atherton was appointed about 1855 or ‘6, and was followed in 1861 by Lewis Post, who held it till his death February 12, 1863, aged 54 when Daniel A. Carpenter was appointed. Carpenter was succeeded in a short time by E[li]. M. Shay, who held the office till June 12, 1877, when Theodore L. Willey, the present incumbent, was appointed. (“History of Chenango County”, rootsweb @ ancestry.com, online here, accessed August 5, 2013).

In 1903, Harriet E. Shay wrote,

I knew Reed Peck, son of Hezekiah, well after he deserted the Mormon sat Kirtland, Ohio, or Nauvoo. He came back to Afton and spent his days above the village on east side of the river. His place is known as Pecks Mills. He died about three years ago. He was a man highly respected. Mrs. Harriet E. Shay being duly sworn deposes and says, that the above statement is true to the best of her knowledge and belief. (Larry C. Porter, “Colesville, B.Y.U. Studies, 1970, p

The Pecks migrated to Jackson County Missouri in the summer of 1831 and had relocated to Clay County by the fall of 1835. They subsequently moved to Far West in Caldwell County by 1837, where Reed Peck was an eyewitness to the events that led up to the “Mormon War” of 1838. Along with John Corrill and John Whitmer, Reed Peck also wrote a history of those events, which was critical of Joseph Smith and the Kirtland Hierarchy of the Church. Peck called himself an “antiDanite” and helped to broker a deal for the surrender of the Mormon Hierarchy to Generals Atchinson and Doniphan of which John Corrill wrote,

On Sunday, the fourth of November [1838], we heard that Generals Atchinson and Doniphan, with an army, were encamped on Crooked River.

On Sunday evening Smith came to me to have me accompany Reed Peck the next day to meet their army with a white flag, in order to open a correspondence, if possible, and agree upon some terms of peace. We went in company with Colonel Hinkle and about one hundred and sixty horsemen. When we got near Crooked River we learned that the army had moved on to Log Creek, and were making their way to Far West. We thought proper to return, and it was with difficulty that we got back, for the militia had come between us and town. When we arrived, we saw a line of battle drawn up by the militia, and the Mormons also arrayed to meet them, but the militia, for some cause, withdrew to their camp on Goose Creek. About dark, Reed Peck took a white flag, and went into their camp. He saw General Doniphan and others. General Lucas, with his troops from Jackson County, had joined the army, and they were about thirteen hundred strong. When Peck returned he said that General Doniphan had appointed the next morning at eight o’clock to meet a committee of Mormons and make proposals of peace. He promised that no harm should befall us that night; he stated that their object was to bring the guilty to punishment, but the innocent should have an opportunity to escape before they would attack the place.

That night, the Mormons built a sort of breast-work of rails, house- logs, boards, etc., on that side of town next to the army, but it was about as good a defence as a common fence would be. Much has been said abroad about the Mormons building forts, entrenchments, etc., but this breast-work spoken of above is all that they ever had. In the night both armies were alarmed more or less, each being afraid of an attack from the other.

Next morning, at the time appointed, Reed Peck, Colonel Hinkle, and myself, went with the white flag, and met Generals Lucas, Doniphan, and some other officers, who informed us that they were waiting for General Clark, whom they expected soon with the Governor’s order; that they were not prepared to make proposals of peace until it arrived, for they knew not what it would require of them or us. They agreed to let us know as soon as they received it. At the same time, General Doniphan informed us that General Lucas had the chief command. Smith appeared to be much alarmed, and told me to beg like a dog for peace, and afterwards said he would rather go to States- prison for twenty years, or would rather die himself than have the people exterminated. About three o’clock in the evening we received word that the Governor’s order had arrived, so we went again to meet them, and see what it was. Colonel Hinkle, W. W. Phelps, Captain Morrison, Reed Peck, and myself went, and General Lucas read the order to us.

Smith had previously requested that after receiving the order, or finding out what the Governor required, we should see him before we agreed to any proposals. We did so, and although the Mormons have accused us of giving up their leaders by intrigue, yet Smith himself was the first man that agreed to the proposals. (John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, pp. 40-41)

For those (called dissenters) who had objected to Joseph Smith’s policies in Missouri, and most especially his involvement with the Danites, the Mormon leader wrote an epistle to the church from Liberty Jail on December 16, 1838, which included this bitter and vindictive rant against them:

Look at the dissenters. Again, “If you were of the world the world would love its own.” Look at Mr. Hinkle—a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Look at his brother John Corrill. Look at the beloved brother Reed Peck, who aided him in leading us, as the Savior was led, into the camp of His enemies, as a lamb prepared for the slaughter, as a sheep dumb before his shearers; so we opened not our mouths.

And now, brethren, we say unto you—what more can we enumerate? Is not all manner of evil of every description spoken of us falsely, yea, we say unto you falsely. We have been misrepresented and misunderstood, and belied, and the purity and integrity and uprightness of our hearts have not been known—and it is through ignorance—yea, the very depths of ignorance is the cause of it; and not only ignorance, but on the part of some, gross wickedness and hypocrisy also; for some, by a long face and sanctimonious prayers, and very pious sermons, had power to lead the minds of the ignorant and unwary, and thereby obtain such influence that when we approached their iniquities the devil gained great advantage—would bring great trouble and sorrow upon our heads; and, in fine, we have waded through an ocean of tribulation and mean abuse, practiced upon us by the ill bred and the ignorant, such as Hinkle, Corrill, Phelps, Avard, Reed Peck, Cleminson, and various others, who are so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society, and whose eyes are full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin. Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them. Marsh and “another,” whose hearts are full of corruption. whose cloak of hypocrisy was not sufficient to shield them or to hold them up in the hour of trouble, who after having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, became again entangled and overcome—their latter end is worse than the first. But it has happened unto them according to the word of the Scripture: “The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

After the conference had fully expressed their feelings upon the subject it was unanimously voted that the following persons be excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, viz.: George M. Hinkle, Sampson Avard, John Corrill, Reed Peck, William W. Phelps, Frederick G. Williams, Thomas B. Marsh, Burr Riggs, and several others. After which the conference closed by prayer. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 3, p.231)

History is an apt judge of the character of those like Reed Peck and John Corrill, who after writing their frank and forthright histories, lived their lives as upstanding members of their respective communities; while it could easily be said of Joseph Smith that his eyes were “full of adultery,” and “cannot cease from sin”.

In fact, Smith would go so far as to say in 1841 that “charity coverd a multitude of Sins & what many people called sin was not sin” to try and justify his Nauvoo adulteries. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,  Vol. 2, 1841–1845, p.136, November 7, 1841).

Just 6 months earlier, Joseph had proposed to Zina Huntington that she be his “spiritual wife,” but she had refused and married Henry Jacobs. This did not deter Smith, who then, according to Huntington,

sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’”. (Brain Stuy, Collected Discourses Vol. 5, p.31)

Joseph had made Zina his spiritual wife a little less than two weeks before telling his apostles that “some sin is not sin”.

In the case of Reed Peck, he returned to Afton, New York, where he labored as a millwright, and served as a Justice of the Peace.  Larry C. Porter writes of the “highly respected” Reed Peck that he,

“turned antagonistic towards Mormonism during the “Missouri Period” and witnessed against the Saints at a trial in Richmond, Missouri in November 1838. He was subsequently excommunicated from the Church at a conference in Quincy, Illinois, March 17, 1839. Peck prepared a strong anti-Mormon treatise containing his observations of the Mormon conflict in Missouri, which manuscript was extensively quoted by Lu B. Cake in his examination of the rudiments of Mormonism.” (Larry C. Porter, “Colesville, B.Y.U. Studies, 1970, pp. 9-10).

To say that Peck was simply “antagonistic towards Mormonism” and therefore wrote an “anti-Mormon treatise”, does an injustice to the man and what he wrote.  Reed Peck was not antagonistic towards  Mormonism, rather, he had a problem with Joseph Smith’s leadership of the church. He writes,

In the course of the fall of 1836 and succeeding winter nearly all all the Mormons in the state had collected in Caldwell county) and by persevering industry <soon> opened extensive farms and it seemed by magic that the wild prairies over a large tract were converted into cultivated fields Persons visiting the county remarked , “that no other people of the same number could build a town like Far West and accomplish as much in the agricultural line in five years as the Mormons had in one” Confidence was established (to a certain degree) among all parties. Merchants did not hesitate to furnish individuals of the society with large stock of goods on credit so that in 1837 there were six Mormon stores in Far West and all doing very good business–The good conduct of the Mormons under the auspices of W. W. Phelps John Whitmer Edward Partridge and John Corrill as leaders had gained them an honorable character among their immediate neighbors, which with their industry and economy bade fair to make caldwell one of the most respectable & thriving counties in Upper Misso[uri.] Land was entered at One dollar and twenty five cents per acre and nearly every family was in possession of a farm & the Summer of 1837 found them actively engaged in cultivating the same… (Reed Peck Manuscript, pp. 11-13).

It was only after Joseph Smith fled Kirtland (because of his massive debts and the failure of the Safety Society and the lawsuits that followed) and arrived in Missouri to “set the church in order” that the problems with Peck and the other “dissenters” began.  He elaborates,

The people of the surrounding country were still friendly & harmony prevailed among the Mormons till the middle of June when the enmity of the two parties from Kirtland manifested itself to an alarming degree At this period measures were concerted no doubt by instigation of the presidency to free the community of the cowderies, Whitmers, Lyman Johnson and some others, to effect which a secret meeting was called at Far West, by Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington two of Smiths greatest courtiers where a proposition was made and supported by some as being the best policy to Kill these men that they would not be capable of injuring the church. All their measures were strenuously opposed by John Corrill and T. B. March one of the twelve apostles of the church and in consequense nothing could be effected until the matter was taken up publicly by the presidency the Sunday following (June 17th) in the presense of a large congregation. S. Rigdon took his text from the fifth chapter of Mathew “Ye are the Salt of the Earth but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted, it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and be trodden underfoot of men” From this Scripture he undertook to prove that when men embrace the gospel and afterwards lose their faith it is the duty of the Saints to trample them under their feet He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency, laying plans to take their lives &c., accused them of counterfeiting lying cheating and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of Such a nuisance He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth, and if the county cannot be freed from them any other way I will assit to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the Square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation

Joseph Smith in a Short speech Sanctioned what had been Said by Rigdon though said he I don’t want the brethren to act unlawfully but will tell them one thing Judas was a traitor and instead of hanging himself was hung by Peter, and with this hint the subject was dropped for the day having created a great excitement and prepared the people to execute anything that should be proposed. (ibid, pp. 21-26)

Having been run out of Kirtland because of his illegal banking practices and the “dissenters” there, Smith was determined not to let this happen to him in Missouri:

On the next Tuesday [June 19, 1838] these dissenters as they were termed were informed that preparations were being made to hang them up and if they did not escape their lives would be taken before night, and perceiving the rage of their enemies they fled to Ray County leaving their families and property in the hands of the Mormons The wrath of the presidency and the threats of haning &c. were undoubtedly a farce acted to frighten these men from the county that they could not be spies upon their conduct or that they might deprive them of their property and indeed the proceedings of the presidency and others engaged in this affair fully justify the latter conclusion, for knowing the probable result, Geo W. Robinson Son in law of S. Rigdon had prior to their flight sworn out writs of attachment against these men by which he took possession of all their personal property, clothing & furniture, much of which was valuable and no doubt very desirable leaving their families to follow to Ray County almost destitute–That the claims by which this property was taken from these men were unjust and perhaps without foundation cannot be doubted by any unprejudiced person acquainted with all parties and circumstances and no testimony has ever been adduced to show that the men were ever guilty of a crime in Caldwell County

These unlawful and tyrannical measures met with the censure of John Corrill W. W. Phelps, John Clemenson myself and a few others but we were soon made sensible that we had excited suspicion, and perhaps endangered ourselves by venturing to speak unfavourably of these transactions

We found that the events of a few days had placed Caldwell County under a despotic government where even liberty of speech was denied to those not willing to unite in support of the new order confidential subjects were appointed to converse with all suspected members and by pretending to be displeased with the antirepublican measures enforced against the dissenters were able to learn the feelings of many, and by reporting to the presidency drew down thundering anathemas from the pulpit upon those so unwary as to speak their sentiments where long tried friendship was swallowed up in bigotry and fanaticism

A friend of long standing asked me if I did not think the dissenters were dealt harshly by and that the presidency did wrong in exciting the people against them[?]

Saying at the same time that he “blamed Joseph &c” I answered that the dissenters deserved punishment if they were guilty as represented. Thinking from my answer that I had become satisfied with what had been done, he acknowledged that he was only endeavouring to learn the true state of my feelings, and then to give me an idea of his attaachment to the cause, said that if Josep Smith Should tell him to cut my throat he would do it without hesitation I hear expressions of this nature from several and shuddered at the thought of living in a community where the nod of one man if displeased would deprive an individual of every privilege and even life if the consequence had not been feared more by him than his following On the Sunday succeeding the flight of the dissenters, S. Rigdon in a public discourse explained satis factorily no doubt to the people the principles of republicanism (After informing them as an introduction that “some certain characters in the place had been crying you have broken the law–you have acted contrary to the principles of republicanism” he said that “when a country, or body of people have individuals among them with whom they do not wish to associate and a public expression is taken against their remaining among them and such individuals do not remove it is the principle of republicanism itself that gives that community a right to expel them forcibly and no law will prevent it” He also said that it was not against the principles of republicanism for the people to hang the gamblers in Vick’sburgh as it was a matter in which they unanimously acted”

Soon after the delivery of this speech he informed the church in an address, that they would soon be called upon to consecrate their property and those who would not comply with the law of consecration should be delivered over to the brother of Gideon, whom he represented as being a terrible fellow. We are[,] said he[,] Soon to commence building the ‘Lords House’in Far West which will enhance the value of property ten fold in its vicinity and such and such proprietors as will not consecrate the whole amount of that increase of value for the building of the house and [p. 35] other church uses should be delivered over to the brother of Gideon and be sent bounding over the Prairies as the dissenters were a few days ago

In short we found that all matters comprising anything not completely subject to the will of the presidency were to be managed by the terrible brother of Gideon. All the requirements of the presidency must be complied with, peacably if you will forcibly if we must always making the brother of Gideon the terror of all that would not heartily join in the Support of their government and views

A few individuals of us were ever after this opposed to the rule of the presidency perceiving that all spiritual and temporal affairs were under their control and no monarch on earth ever had supreme power over his subjects more than they over the inhabitants of Caldwell County only they durst not exercise it to so great a degree Their word was law in religious civil and military matters, but the secret springs of their power and influence we did not yet understand

In the latter part of June a young man from Ohio having reported something about J Smith & S Rigdon, was taken by constable D. B. Huntington Geo W Robinson and a few others compelled <to sign a libel &> to Kneel before S. Rigdon and ask pardon as the only alternative to escape a caining from the constable who held his staff over him in an attitude for striking until be bent the knee

For these offences application was made for writs VS J Smith S. Rigdon D. B. Huntington Sampson Avard and others but they would not permit the clerk of the court to issue them declaring that they would never suffer vexatious lawsuits to be instituted against them in Caldwell county-

Some time previous to this Secret meetings had been held in F West that excited much curiousity among those that had not been permitted to attend as it was easily discovered that something more than ordinary was in progress among the male members of the church Ignorant of the nature of these meetings I attend one about the last of June, and heared a full disclosure of its object=Jared Carter Geo W. Robinson, and Sampson Avard, under the instructions of their presidency, had formed a secret military Society, called the “daughter of Zion” and were holding meetings to initiate members The principles taught by Sampson Aard as spokesman, were that “as the Lord had raised up a prophet in these last days like unto Moses it Shall be the duty of this band to obey him in all things, and whatever he requires you shall perform being ready to give up life and property for the advancement of the Cause When any thing is to be performed no member Shall have the privilege of judging whether it would be right or wrong but Shall engage in its accomplishment and trust God for the result It is not our business or place to know what is required by God, but he will inform us by means of the prophet and we must perform If any one of you see a member of the band in difficulty in the surrounding country contending for instance with an enemy, you shall extricate him even if in the wrong if you have to do with his adversary as Moses did with the Egyptian put him under the Sand and both pack off to Far West and we will take care of the matter ourselves. No person shall be suffered to speak evil or disrespectfully of the presidency The secret signs and purposes of this society are not to be revealed on pain of death” &c &c About 50 persons were initiated into the Society at the time I was introduced and to sam time the oath was administered to all the novices at once of which I took advantage by remaining silent and accordingly avoided taking it (ibid, pp. 26-41)

These “Danites” as they were also called, were affirmed by Joseph Smith in his own diary on July 27, 1838:

Thus far, according to the order /revelation/ of the Danites. We have a company of Danites in these times, to put to right physically that which is not right, and to clense the Church of very  great evil[s?] which has hitherto existed among us inasmuch as they cannot be put to right by teachings and persuasyons. This company or a part of them exhibited on the fourth day of July [ – ] They come up to consecrate, by companies of tens, commanded by their captain over ten (The Joseph Smith Papers website, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

Just a few days before his July 27 diary entry Joseph penned this “revelation” for Thomas Marsh and his “apostles”, which promised that,

 vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants  of the earth. A day of wrath! A day of burning! A day of des olation! Of weeping! Of mourning and of lamentation! And as  a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth saith the Lord.  And upon my house shall it begin and from my house shall it go forth  saith the Lord. First among those among you saith the Lord; who  have professed to know my name and have not known me and  have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house saith the Lord (Revelation, July 23, 1837, JSPW, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

According to Historian D. Michael Quinn:

… it is anachronistic to apply Smith’s later rejection of Avard to the Danite general’s actions four months earlier. In the early summer of 1838, Avard was the stalking-horse for the First Presidency. The Danite constitution specified: “All officers shall be subject to the commands of the Captain General, given through the Secretary of War.” Joseph Smith had held the latter position “by revelation” in the church’s “war department” for three years,  [footnote 87 Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c In Relation to the Disturbances With the Mormons, 102; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:42n2.] and had been commander-in-chief of the Armies of Israel for four years. What the Danites did militarily during the summer and fall of 1838 was by the general oversight and command of Joseph Smith.

In the skirmishes that both sides called “battles,” Mormons used deadly force without reluctance. Benjamin F. Johnson wrote that Danite leader (and future apostle) Lyman Wight told his men to pray concerning their Missouri enemies: “That God would Damn them & give us pow[e]r to Kill them.”

Likewise, at the beginning of the Battle of Crooked River on 25 October 1838, Apostle David W. Patten (a Danite captain with the code-name “Fear Not”) told his men: “Go ahead, boys; rake them down.”  [footnote:  Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. [S.] Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1976), 27; Nathan Tanner reminiscence, in George S. Tanner, John Tanner and His Family (Salt Lake City: John Tanner Family Association/Publishers Press, 1974), 386. At the time of this 1903 letter, Johnson was a patriarch and George S. Gibbs was an assistant in the LDS Church Historian’s Office. His name has often been misread as George F. Gibbs, his father who was secretary to the First Presidency at the same time. The back cover of this publication described editor Zimmerman as “Supervisor of Academic Research for LDS Department of Seminaries and Institutes.”]

The highest ranking Mormon charged with murder for obeying this order was Apostle Parley P. Pratt who allegedly took the careful aim of a sniper in killing one Missourian and then severely wounding militiaman Samuel Tarwater. This was after Apostle Patten received a fatal stomach wound. [footnote:  Indictment of Parley P. Pratt for murder of Moses Rowland, filed 2 Apr. 1839, Boone County Circuit Court Records, Case 1379, fd 17, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri; John D. Lee autobiography in Mormonism Unveiled: or the Life and Confessions of the Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand & Co., 1877), 73, with similar description in Reed Peck manuscript, 99-100 of the unnamed Parley P. Pratt, a “cold hearted villain (I know him well).” Neither History of the Church, 3:170-71, nor The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt, Jr. (New York: Russell Brothers, 1874), 195-97, explains the reason for Pratt’s murder indictment or imprisonment.] In their fury at the sight of their fallen leader, some of the Danites mutilated the unconscious Tarwater “with their swords, striking him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks…and leaving him [for] dead.” He survived to press charges against Pratt for attempted murder.  [footnote:  James H. Hunt, Mormonism…Their Troubles In Missouri and Final Expulsion From the State (St. Louis: Ustick & Davies, 1844), 190-91. Although he did not acknowledge that Tarwater sustained these injuries after he was shot and lying unconscious on the ground, an assistant LDS church historian gave a more gruesome description of his injuries, including “a terrible gash in the skull, through which his brain was plainly visible.” See Andrew Jenson, “Caldwell County, Missouri,” The Historical Record 8 (Jan. 1888): 702.] (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p.485)

On July 19, 1840 Joseph Smith would give a discourse (recorded by Martha Jane Knowlton) that was full of prophetic rhetoric decrying the United States Government, which had refused to interfere in Smith’s Missouri problems.  In this discourse Smith resurrects some of Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Sermon rhetoric, and mentions Reed Peck. Smith declares in this sermon that, “the Land of Zion consists of all N. & S America” instead of just the State of Missouri as recorded in previous “revelations”, and that “the twelve olive trees” or stakes (mentioned in D&C 101) “which are yet to be built” are “not the Temple in Jackson as some suppose”, which directly contradicts his “revelation” (mentioned above) which states that,

there is none other place appointed than that which I have appointed; neither shall there be any other place appointed than that which I have appointed, for the work of the gathering of my saints—

Until the day cometh when there is found no more room for them; and then I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion. (verses 20-21)

Smith reverses this, and claims in this sermon that

“the redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N & S America and those 12 stake must be built up before the redemption of Zion can take place and those who refuse to gather and build when they are commanded to do so cease to be Saviours of men and are thence forth good for nothing but shall be cast out and trodden underfeet of men for their transgression as Reed Peck was when he aplied in the name of an apostate for business in a store in Quincy. They told him that they wanted no apostates round them and showed him the door.”

Smith also claims that they will build Zion “in peace”,  until they begin to lay the foundation of “a great and high watch Tower”, and “they” will begin to say amongst themselves what need have we for this watchtower “seeing this is a time of peace”.  “Then the Enemy shall come,” says Smith, “as a thief in the night and scatter the servants abroad” and when the seed of these 12 stakes are scattered they will “wake up the Nations of the whole Earth,” and that “this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces” and “when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the constitution away from the very verge of destruction.”

Unfortunately, Smith had already set the date for the Redemption of Zion as September 11, 1836, and that date had come and gone.  On August 16, 1834 he wrote from Kirtland “to the brethren in Zion”,

use every effort  to prevail on the churches to gather to those regions  and situate themselves to be in readiness to move  into Jackson Co. in two years from the Eleventh of  September next which is the appointed time for the  redemption of Zion (Letter to Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Isaac Morley, and others, Clay County, MO, 16 Aug. 1834; handwriting of Frederick G. Williams; in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 84–87; JS Collection, CHL, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.)

On September 24th 1835 Joseph recorded in his diary,

September 24th 1835 This day the High Council met at my house to take into consid[e]ration the redeem[p]tion of Zion. It was the voice of the spirit of the Lord that we petition to the Governer [of Missouri]. That is those who have been driven out /should/ to do so to be set back on their Lands next spring. We [should] go next season to live or dy [die] to this end so the dy is cast in Jackson County.

We truly had a good time and Covena[n]ted to strug[g]le for this thing u[n]till death shall desolve [dissolve] this union. And if one falls that the rest be not discouraged but pe[r]sue this object untill it is ac[c]omplished. Which may God grant u[n]to us in the name of Christ our Lord.

September 24th 1835 This day drew up an Arti/c/le of [p.35] inrollment for the redem[p]tion of Zion that we may obtain volunteers to go next spring /to M[iss]o[uri]/. I ask God in the name of Jesus that we may obtain Eight hundred men /or one thousand/ well armed [men] and that they may ac[c]omplish this great work. Even so. Amen. {page 2} (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.34)

On January 21, 1836 Joseph records in his journal that he had a vision where he “beheld the Celestial Kingdom of God” and “the blasing throne of God” upon which was “Seated the Father and the Son”. He also saw “Father Adam, Abraham and Michael” along with his “father and mother,” and “my brother Alvin”.  “I also” wrote Joseph “beheld the redemption of Zion” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.119).

On the 29th of January 1836 Joseph had recorded in his diary some of his father’s patriarchal blessings upon various individuals which promised that they would “stand on earth till [thy] Redeamer corn[es]” and “shall be filled with light [and shall] not sleep in the dust. [Thou shalt] see thy Redeamer come in the clouds of heaven and be caught up to meet him and be ever with him” and “live to see the winding up of this generation.” (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, pp.125-6)

In early March, Joseph wrote in his diary,

Sunday the 13th of March 1836 Met with the Presidency and some of the 12 [Apostles] and counseled with them upon the subject of removing to Zion this Spring. We conversed freely upon the importance of her redemption and the necessity of the Presidency removing to that place, that their influence might be more effectually used in gathering the Saints to that country. We finally come to the resolution to emigrate on or before the 15th of [p.141] May next if kind providence Smiles upon us and opens the way before us.

Later that month he wrote,

The Seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redem[p]tion of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lord’s House wherever we find them. I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost. This covenant was sealed unaminously [unanimously] by a hosanna and Amen. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.155, March 30, 1836)

A few days later on April 2, Joseph writes that he,

Transacted business (although of a temporal nature) in company with S[idney] Rigdon, O[liver] Cowdery, J[ohn] Whitmer, F[rederick] G. Williams, D[avid] Whitmer, and W[illiam] W. Phelps which was to have a bearing upon the redemption of Zion. The positive manner in which he [Joseph Smith] expressed himself on this, /his/ favorite theme, was directly calculated to produce conviction in the minds of those who heard him, that his whole soul was engaged in it, notwithstanding on a superficial view of the same subject they might differ from him in judgement.

It was determined in council, after mature deliberation, that he and O[liver] Cowdery should act in concert in raising funds for the accomplishment of the aforesaid object. As soon as the above plan was settled, he and O[liver] Cowdery set out together, and their success was such in one half day as to give them [p.157] pleasing anticipations assuring them that they were doing the will of God and that his work prospered in their hands. (Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, p.156)

In July 1836 this article appeared in a Rochester New York newspaper, The World As It Is, and General Advertiser, as reprinted from the Missouri paper, The Far West,

ANOTHER WAR BREWING. — The Far West, published at Independence, Missouri, says information has been received from Kirkland, [sic] Ohio, through various channels of another movement among the Mormons to obtain possession of the “promised land,” and to establish their Zion in Jackson county’ the scene of their former disastrous defeat. They are said to be armed to the number of 1500 or 2000, and to be making way in [detached] parties to the “debatable ground.” The Far West also states that the people of Jackson and their friends in the surrounding counties are taking affective measure for resistance. (The World As It Is, and General Advertiser, July 16, 1836).

Rumors of the pending Mormon reinvasion of Jackson County were prevalent in the spring of 1836. One settler, Louis Cortambert would write that the old settlers were still very much alarmed about the threat of a Mormon incursion because “they had not renounced New Jerusalem”. (Cortambert, “Journey to the Land of the Osages,” p. 208).

Smith’s obsession with the redemption of Zion and his sending “the strength of the Lord’s house” to Missouri began to affect relations between the Mormons in Clay County, and the settlers there.  Anderson Wilson documented his unease at this large influx of “saints”:

July 4, 1836, Clay County, Missouri

…They have been flocking in here faster than ever and making great talk of what they would do. A letter from Ohio shows plainly that they intend to Emigrate here till they outnumber us. Then they would rul the Contry at pleasure. Another letter shows that they are Borrowing all the money that [they] can to procure land here & they Buy all on a credit that they Can get. … They have entered 1600 acres in Clinton Co. in the last few days Besides what they have entered in Clay & Ray co. They settle in towns as we Call them, one of which Contained 250 in our township, Besides another in Washington township nearly as large. … They are living on Rochhoalts panama, in the woods, in wagons in tents in Bark Houses in Cabins etc. This town is 4 miles long & so think that you will not be out of Sight of a den the Whole route. … [They] will elect all their own officers from among the Brethren & even remove the postmaster by petition. … On 24 June we worked the road and nothing else was talked of They passed us in ever way and in Considerable numbers & we got very hot before night to think that we had to work a road for the invaders of our Cuntry to travel. (Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs, “Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, p. 37)

On June 29, 1836 the citizens of Clay County publicly asked the Mormons to leave the county.  Edward Partridge wrote in his diary that “we wanted peace and were willing to make sacrifices, to keep it. … to save the Co. from a civil war.” (ibid, page 38)

The next month, Alexander Doniphan and the church’s lawyers realized that the claims made for the saints’ property in Jackson County would never be realized and relinquished all claims to the land. With no monetary recompense for those lands, “The Mormons began to physically and spiritually disengage from current homes in Clay County and their hoped-for return to Jackson County.” (ibid).

Ronald E. Ronig and Michael S. Riggs write that,

By June 1836, Smith had surreptitiously assembled the bulk of his immigrant army in upper Missouri. But the prophet’s extensive plan had not succeeded in several critical respects. Designated leaders of the Army of Israel were still mostly in Ohio. Also, public sentiment rapidly turned against the saints. And despite apocalyptic posturing, rank-and-file Missouri Mormons appeared willing to avoid further violence.

Smith had intended to come to Missouri to preside over the triumphant return to Jackson County. However, by the 1836 Kirtland Temple dedication, he had apparently realized his September 11, 1836, deadline was not likely to be achieved. By sending the “wise men” to buy land elsewhere [Ray County], it freed Smith to focus on Kirtland issues, such asa managing the debt accrued by temple construction. Smith’s anticipated May 15, 1836, deadline for moving himself and family to Missouri quietly passed. A massive infusion of cash might have resolved both church debt and funding the final stages of the church’s Jackson County return. Smith’s unsuccessful excursion to Salem, Massachusetts, in April 1836 to obtain secreted treasure was largely an effort to raise the capital necessary for the redemption of Zion. In the end, time ran out before Jospeh Smith could muster either the required number of soldiers or finances.

That the Mormons were experiencing a severe cash flow problem was made clear at a council meeting of June 16, 1836, when President F. G. Williams said, “The Case before us in an important one. The Church [is] poor, Zion [is] to be bulit and we have not the means to do it unless the rich assist & because the rich had not assisted, the heads of the Church have to suffer and are now suffering under severe embarrassments and are much in debt.  …

The severity of the LDS church’s financial needs from March through July 1836 impelled the adoption of an interim course correction that redirectd the Missouri Mormons to northern Ray territory. The decisions to buy land as a temporary gathering for saints from the East and to continue planning to redeem Zion by purchase remained as logical possiblilites within Smith’s readjusted longer-term goals. The move to the north kept alive the possibility in the minds of LDS members that Jackson County could yet serve as their ecclesial seat of government

In the wake of the September 11, 1836 prophesy’s failure to materialize, the Mormons began to redefine the boundaries of Zion and the meaning of its redemption. Before the fall of 1836, the term “Zion,” in Mormon theology, was reserved exclusively for Jackson County, Missouri. As the LDS church was reestablished in Ray County following the removal from Clay County, however, being “in” Zion gradually became less geographically tied to Jackson County.(“Reassessing Joseph Smith’s “Appointed Time for the Redemption of Zion”, The Missouri Mormon Experience, edited by Thomas M. Spencer, University of Missouri Press, 2010, page 40).

For more on John Corrill, see note #178 below.

[181] John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, St. Louis, Missouri, by the author, 1839, pp. 26-27, Online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

John Corill was born on September 17, 1794, near Barre in Worchester County, Massachusetts and was married to Margaret with whom he had at least five children. He was an architect by trade, and also a carriage builder and a surveyor.  Corrill was converted in Harpersville, Ohio after learning that Sidney Rigdon, whom he admired, had joined with the new sect, and after initially rejecting the Book of Mormon as a scheme to make money, upon a reinvestigation of the church was baptized on January 10, 1831. Joseph Smith subsequently directed Corrill to relocate to Zion, where he played a central role in establishing the church there.

On September 24, 1835 a small group of church leaders met to discuss the means of retaking Zion. Spirits ran high. They agreed they would petition Missouri governor Dunklin again for help, but, in Joseph Smith’s words, they determined to “go next season, to live or die on our own lands” and covenanted to struggle with their enemies to the death if need be.40 According to John Whitmer, the meeting produced more than covenants. By revelation the prophet created a “war department” with the prophet at its head and David Whitmer as “captain of the Lord’s Host.” Officers were Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon, W. W. Phelps, John Whitmer, John Corrill, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery.41 Curiously, while this event has the flavor of a turn toward the militarism that overtook the Saints a few years later, it is worth noting that six of the men listed became dissenters against the later militaristic policies. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.56)

Corrill was called back to Kirtland a year later to help complete work on the Temple. After this, on March 11, 1836,

 a church council formally appointed Bishop Edward Partridge, John Corrill, Isaac Morley, and W. W. Phelps as the “wise men of Missouri” and gave them money to help buy land to provide for immigrating Saints. A month later, accompanied a short distance by the prophet and other friends, the wise men finally began their journey back home [to Missouri]. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.57).

Through the turmoil of the next two years between the old settlers and the Mormon immigrants, John Corrill was respected by both sides and he would later write that friendship began to be restored between the two parties.

As the relative peace of 1837 drifted into 1838, submerged tension appeared within the Missouri church. They were immeasurably exacerbated when Joseph Smith, in flight from angry apostates and creditors, arrived in the spring. Amid great chaos, the Kirtland settlement had broken up in the wake of economic collapse, most symbolically represented by the failure of an unchartered Mormon bank, whose success, dissenters charged, had been guaranteed by revelation. At the same time, a small but influential group, of whom David Whitmer was the most prominent, had fallen into disaffection over changes in the church. Most appalling in their view was the proliferation of church offices, which they believed took the church away from its primitivist origins. (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.58).

The arrival of Smith and Rigdon in Missouri in the spring of 1838 brought with them drastic changes and the ouster of the Missouri Presidency and any that supported them on what many thought were trumped up charges.  With growing concern Corrill watched the Presidency under Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon grow more and more militant, until violence became their only recourse to every problem, spurred on by the Danites that had been organized to cleanse the church of what the Presidency  perceived to be very great evils that could not be dealt with by vocal persuasion.

This was the beginning of the end for John Corrill, who wrote later that he had highly disapproved of their course for many months, and that it was of no use to say anything more, and whose only recourse was to look out for his own safety.

On August 6, 1838 Corrill was elected at Caldwell County’s representative to the Missouri legislature and within weeks of this election was “irretrievably alienated from the church.” (ibid, p.63).

By August’s end the church leadership had had enough. As Smith’s scribe George Robinson wrote at the time, “Br[other] Corril[l]’s conduct for some time past has been very unbecoming indeed, especially a man in whom so much confidence has been placed.” When on August 31 Smith and Rigdon learned that Corrill had told some recently arrived converts “that he had no confidence in the revelation” on communitarianism, they were livid and sought him out publicly. The prophet, beating his fists together, angrily told Corrill, “if you tell about the streets again that you do not believe this or that revelation[,] I will  walk on your neck Sir.” Smith warned Corrill that Peter himself had told him that he had hung Judas for betraying Christ, implying the same sort of fate might await Corrill. Corrill’s behavior, he continued, endangered the dissenter’s salvation. If he did not change his ways, the prophet declared, he would keep him out of Heaven, even if doing so meant Smith meeting Corrill at its entrance with his fists.

Corrill responded to this attack with warmth of his own and, quite bravely, under the circumstances, told Smith he might reach Heaven’s gate first, suggesting that it might be he who kept the prophet out. According to George Robinson, Corrill proceeded to tell Smith that he would “not yeald his Judgement to any thing proposed by the church, or any individuals of the church, or even the voice of the great I Am given through the appointed organ as revelation, but will always act upon his Judgement. Let him believe in whatever religion he may. He says he will always say what he pleases. For he says he is a Republican and as such, he will do, say, act, and believe what he pleases.” Robinson, for his part, was astounded by Corrill’s effrontery. “Mark such Republicanism as this,” he wrote, “that a man should…[pit] his own Judgement…[against] the Judgement of God.” (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, pp. 64-65).

Corrill and others would watch helplessly as Joseph Smith confidently asserted that once the Missourians discovered that the Mormons were willing to fight, they would simply give up and that if they did not, that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, ‘the Alcoran or the Sword.’ So should it be eventually with us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’ (History of the Church 3:167).

On October 15, Joseph Smith proposed sending Mormon troops into Daviess County. He asked and received approval from the citizens of Far West that any church member who refused to participate in these operations have their property confiscated for the use of those who did. Even more ominous were the so-called bayonet resolutions whereby dissenters could be forced at bayonet point to lead the Saints into battle. Reed Peck wryly noted that Corrill, W. W. Phelps, John Cleminson, and several others, “had the honor of being enrolled in one of these [military] companies and under the bayonet resolutions and marched into Daviess County.” These resolutions notwithstanding, Corrill did not lead anyone into battle. On October 18, Mormon troops plundered and burned parts of Gallatin, Millport, and a number of other nonchurch settlements. Laid up in camp with a bad leg (or so he claimed), Corrill watched with horror as triumphant Mormon soldiers spoke of vanquishing mob after mob until they reached St. Louis. “Many,” he lamented, “had the weakness to believe that God would enable them to do it.”

Instead, the so-called Mormon War was almost at an end. On October 25, 1838, in an attempt to rescue two of their spies, forces clashed with what they thought was part of the anti-Mormon mob. What they had done instead was attack a duly authorized state militia. Although the militiamen were anti-Mormon in sentiment, the battle changed the whole nature of the conflict. Acting on orders from the governor, troops from all over northwestern Missouri poured into Caldwell County and after the massacre at Haun’s Mill forced most Mormons to retreat to Far West. Joseph Smith had realized by this time that the Saints could not win and asked Corrill and a handful of well-known dissenters with contacts among the non-Mormons to help arrange for a surrender. He told Corrill and Reed Peck “to beg like a dog for peace.” (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.66)

Corrill helped broker a deal with the Missouri militia which included the surrender of Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders and the promise that the saints would leave Missouri.  Smith agreed to these terms but would later blame those like John Corrill and Reed Peck for his incarceration.

In November, Corrill testified at a court of inquiry concerning Danite activities, and church military raids into Daviess County. If Corrill, however, had abandoned his belief in Mormonism, he did not abandon the Mormon people. Although he could have easily left church members to their fate, Corrill not only spoke on their behalf to the authorities but also gave his money to the church’s poor—all he had. By selling his property he was able to distribute about $2,100 to nearly 160 needy families.79 Corrill typically gave each recipient about $3 dollars, although there was a wide difference in contributions based on need. For instance, he gave 18 cents to Sherman Brown but $44.60 to Titus Billings. Although some of the money ended up in the hands of old friends like Edward Partridge ($15.04), the jailed Alexander McRae, a fanatical Danite of whom Corrill disapproved, received $2.88, which Corrill undoubtedly gave to McRae’s wife.  Two of Joseph Smith’s brothers benefited from Corrill’s largesse as well: Samuel ($9.62) and William (75 cents). ((75 cents). (Launius and Thatcher, Differing Visions, p.67).

It must have seemed particularly cruel to John Corrill to have Joseph Smith threaten to walk on his neck and then label him as one whose “eyes were full of adultery” and who “cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society”; considering the fact that he worked tirelessly in the Missouri Legislature to gain the Mormons recompense for their lands.

John Corrill would not seek another term in the Missouri legislature, after failing to persuade them to recompense the Mormons. Bereft of his lands in Missouri, Corrill with his family moved to Springfield and later to Quincy Illinois, where he died in early 1843, his good name and finances virtually non-existent.

[182]  Westergren, From Historian to Dissident, p.180.  Whitmer later drew a line through this text which appears in the manuscript,

 among whom is W. W. Phelps and myself. Therefore I close this history of the church of Latter Day Saints, Hoping that I may be for given of my faults, and my sins be bloted out and in the last day be saved in the kingdom of God notwithstanding my present situation, which I hope will soon be bettered and I find favor in the eyes of God and <All men> his saints Farewell March. 1848.

[183] E. C. Brand Interview of John Whitmer, Community of Christ Library—Archives; also in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 5, p. 250.  If Brand’s interview is accurate, then John Whitmer was also making claims about the document in his possession that were not factual.

This interview by Brand has been (in some cases) been given the date of 1845. Here,and here

I emailed Brent Metcalfe who has a copy of the original diary entry, and he was kind enough to send me a photo of the date from Brand’s diary (reproduced below) which shows that Brand’s “7” can easily be mistaken for a “4” because of a crease in the page.

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

E.C. Brand-18Feb1875

[184] The Holy Scriptures: Translated and Corrected by the Spirit of Revelation, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1867, Preface, pg. 3, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.As Richard P. Howard writes,

The RLDS publication committee claimed that Joseph’s purpose in doing this work was to restore biblical texts lost through ancient miscopying or deliberate, evil design. It is in this arena where Joseph’s enormous charisma, mesmerizing his followers and nurturing their sense of deep involvement in the establishment of the imminent kingdom of God, comes sharply into focus. My previous reference to the publication of Genesis 7 from the JSBR manuscripts in W. W. Phelps’s paper in Missouri in 1832 claims more attention. Joseph expands the KJV’s cryptic references to Enoch and his city. By revelation, however, Joseph closes the cosmic chasm between Enoch’s visions and his city and its glory, and Joseph’s own work—to build up the kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, in Missouri, in the last days of human history. The dream would become flesh-and blood achievement, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. Fruition of this mission is Joseph’s obsession and dream, and by extension, his community’s passion and reason for being. They hoped one day to embrace Enoch and his people in a grand celebration of the invincible love and power and justice of community. In a sense, Joseph’s narrative in Genesis 7 infused his own dream into the life of an angel ruling an ancient city. In the same instant Joseph collapsed Enoch’s embellished glory into early Mormonism’s quest for Zion. (Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision: Sources, Claims, and Present Role, 1830-2009, Restoration Studies, Volume XI, pp. 144-145).

[185] Richmond Conservator, December 20, 1867. I am indebted to Erin Metcalfe for this discovery.

[186] Emma Smith Bidamon, letter to Joseph Smith III, Nauvoo, Illinois, December 2, 1867, Emma Smith Papers, P4, f39, Community of Christ Archives.

[187] Chicago Times, 7 August 1875.

[188] The Return, Vol. 3. No. 3, Richmond,  Missouri,  October, 1892.

[189]  Many of these interviews may be found in Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness. Orem: Grandin, 1991. xxvi + 276 pp.

[190] For more on the cyclone of 1878, see The History of Ray County, Mo., Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Missouri, 1881, pp. 389-398, online here, accessed, August 5, 2013.

[191] Joseph Fielding Smith, The Life of Joseph F. Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1838,, pages 236-7.

[192] ibid, pages 240-241.

[193] Deseret News, August 14, 1878.

[194] Smith, op. cited, page 247.

[195] “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star 40 (9 Dec 1878):771-74.

[196] Smith, page 245.

[197] ibid, pages 246-7.

[198] Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited, A Response to Richard L. Anderson, Stephen C. Harper, Daniel C. Peterson, Richard L. Bushman, and Alan Goff, by Dan Vogel, online here, accessed, July 20, 2013.

[199] The Deseret News, August 14, 1878. Translation below? Book of the Generations of Adam?

[200] Book of Mormon Witnesses Revisited, op. cited above

[201] Deseret Evening News, August 16, 1878.

[202] See note #195.

[203] There are three recent studies about the newly found Hicks photo in addition to this one, that I am aware of, one called “The ‘Caractors’ Document: New Light on an Early Transcription of the Book of Mormon Charactors” by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmann, and Robin Scott Jensen, published in Mormon Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 131-152. Another is found in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 1: July 1828 – June 1831, by  Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William J. Hartley, Appendix 2: Copies of Book of Mormon Characters, pp. 353-367.

The third study has been done by Brent and Erin Metcalfe, and is called “Who Wrote the Book of Mormon ‘Caractors’?”and was presented at the John Whitmer Historical Association 41st Annual Meeting, on September 27, 2013.

All of these studies have come to different conclusions about who wrote the document; which I will explore in the last chapter of this article. The first two articles above give no further insights about the possession of the document by the Whitmers while they were in Missouri.

[204] Joseph F. Smith was particularly incensed with Jacob over his referral of Joseph Smith as “Joe Smith” and later wrote,

“I pleasantly remarked, “Have you not enough respect for Joseph Smith to call him by his proper name,” to which Jacob Whitmer replied, “I have no particular respect or disrespect for him; Joe Smith is the name he goes by here.” Smith then replied, “I retorted, I generally respect all men enough, to call them by their proper names.”

Whitmer’s curt answers that “he had no papers here”, and his calling Smith’s uncle “Joe”, was sufficient, it seems, for him to label Jacob Whitmer a bigot.

[205] Deseret News, December 4, 1878.

[206] Richmond Conservator, March 25, 1881.

[207] Jesse R. Badham’s Account of an Interview with David Whitmer, March 1881 Source: Diary of Jesse R. Badham, Whitmer Papers, RLDS Archives.

[208] Richmond Conservator, March 24, 1881. See also An Address to All Believers In Christ, page 10, where Whitmer has the 1881 “Proclamation” and “Explanation”, (which contains the statement about the manuscript and the “caractors”) reprinted, online here, accessed August 5, 2013.

[209] James H. Hart, Deseret News, March 25, 1884.

[210] Bear Lake Democrat, March 28, 1884.

[211] Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 19, p. 107,  (1884).

[212] “David Whitmer Talks,” The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, October 17, 1886, see also Omaha Herald, October 10, 1886.

[213] An Address To All Believers In Christ, by the author, 1887, page 11.

[214] Improvement Era, January 1942, p. 58. Ronald Romig writes,

At some point, some of John Whitmer’s papers apparently passed into the possession of James R. B. Van Cleave, a Chicago newspaper reporter and Illinois politician.

R. B. Van Cleave

R. B. Van Cleave

In March 1881, Van Cleave conducted a significant interview with David Whitmer that subsequently appeared in the October 17, 1881, Chicago Times. Then Van Cleave successfully courted  and married David Whitmer’s granddaughter, Josephine Helen Schweich. Van Cleave planned to write a history of Mormonism from the Whitmers’ perspective. In preparation, he “obtained consent of John Whitmer’s daughters to remove the papers he had selected . . . and brought them to Richmond, Mo.”

John Whitmer’s papers were deposited in a Richmond, Missouri, bank vault. But Van Cleave was ultimately unable to compile his book, and Whitmer’s papers next passed to George Schweich (fig. 4)—Van Cleave’s brotherin-law and David Whitmer’s grandson. In 1903, when Schweich sold the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon and “Caractors” document, four leaves of BCR materials also passed to the RLDS Church.( Ronald E. Romig, “Response to the Book of Commandments and Revelations Presentations”, B.Y.U. Studies, Vol. 48, No. 3, 2009, pp. 87-88, online here, accessed August 6, 2011).

What is interesting is that the biography of David J. Whitmer published on the findagrave website, claims David J’s father (David Whitmer),

was the custodian, as he claimed, by Divine command of the original manuscript of the Record of the Nephites, (or what is commonly known as the Book of Morman [sic]).

[215] ibid, pp. 58-59.

[216] ibid, page 58.