We thought that our report from this very interesting presentation would be a good teaser for tonight’s event with Gerrit Dirkmaat and Brent Rogers!
**click on any image to enlarge**
On Monday, we were invited to attend a release event at the Church History Library for the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers–Documents, vol. 3: February 1833-March 1834. We enjoyed seeing friends and bloggers and hearing from four people associated with the Joseph Smith Papers project. First, our good friend Matt Grow gave an update on forthcoming volumes. 2015 will see first the publication of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon (in two volumes)—release date will probably be in the summer. Like the oversize Revelations & Translations. Manuscript Revelation Books – Facsimile Edition volume, these volumes will feature a full-color scan of the original and the transcription on the facing page. The estimated retail at this point is $89.95/vol. Next, in the fall, the long-awaited third and final volume in the Journals series.
2016 will be an even busier year. First, in the spring, volume 4 in the Documents series will be released. Then, sometime in the middle of the year, a blockbuster release—the first volume in the Administrative series. This volume will include the complete minutes from the Nauvoo-era Council of Fifty. These minutes—long held in the First Presidency vault and unavailable to scholars—are a very welcome inclusion in the project. Finally, in the second half of the year, the first volume in yet another series—Legal and Business—will be released.
Grow also discussed the revamped JSP website—elements of the website now being added include photos, topic/area pages, improved document viewer (with table of contents for large documents), updated search capability (sorting, quicker, suggested search, filters), individual pages for each print volume and, perhaps most intriguing, lesson plans that integrate the JSP with curriculum (geared to university classes—perhaps with church curriculum in the future?).
Following Grow’s introductory remarks, we heard from co-lead editor Gerrit Dirkmaat. He noted that this volume starts off benignly with great hopes—church leaders were trying to expand Kirtland (several documents discuss how to purchase more land). Though the Peter French farm purchase is fairly well-known, they intended to acquire much more land than this. Gerrit noted jokingly that “I don’t think they had two dimes to rub together” but somehow they came up with the money.
A particularly intriguing entry in this volume is minutes from 18 March 1833—it appears to be a School of the Prophets meeting. The scribe, Frederick G. Williams, nonchalantly recorded that “many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the savior and concourses of angels.” We discussed why, despite Williams’ statement that “each one has a record of what they saw,” no other contemporary reference to this event exists (Zebedee Coltrin was famously asked about this vision fifty years later, also in a School of the Prophets setting). Following this experience, “the wheels come off very quickly” both in Kirtland and Independence at roughly same time (mid-summer 1833). In Kirtland, this was due more to internal factors—disgruntled former Mormon Philastus Hurlbut created serious problems with his allegations and efforts to collect affidavits attesting to perceived Mormon shortcomings (this endeavor, funded by Eber D. Howe, resulted in the publication of Mormonism Unvailed—an annotated edition of this important work will be issued soon by Signature Books). One of the most durable claims Hurlbut made was that he had seen a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding that was tweaked by Joseph Smith and then reported to be the Book of Mormon translation. By summer 1833, most documents are of “response” type dealing with the fallout of Hurlbut’s determined efforts.
Next, Gerrit discussed the evolving concept of township poor funds and how these could affect residence within the township. Due to frequent abuse of the fund, the overseers could “warn out” people and, in some cases, physically deport them. Once this happened, those “warned out” could not establish legal residence in the township. The aforementioned Eber D. Howe noted that “every legal means” was used to prevent Mormon dominance in Kirtland and this strategy very well may have been in his mind when he wrote that. An October 1833 warrant in this volume relates to the “warning out” effort.
Alison Palmer, lead production editor for this volume, next got to employ some very impressive “show and tell” to demonstrate some of the challenges involved in producing a print volume for this time period. The plans and plats included here demonstrate the wider talents and goals of Mormon leaders and are key pieces to understanding these individuals. However, since the documents themselves are huge, they presented a unique obstacle to represent typographically. For example, how to include the colored Kirtland plat in a useful way—with the temple block in the center and residential plots around the edges thereof—gave them some heartburn. The solution they devised was to divide the large image into smaller sections, include an image of the original and transcribe anything written on it. Though today these documents are priceless, at the time they were certainly not seen as such. For example, the plan for the Kirtland temple was used as “scratch paper” and served as backing for some of the papyri associated with the Book of Abraham. The plans and plats were revised continually—this is best seen in the iconic plat for the city of Zion. Only by seeing this in person can one see that the center temple block has actually been pasted over an earlier version (we asked if we could just peel that back and see the original—everyone agreed that archivists would have no problem with that…).
The conflict in Jackson is beginning to rage as these particular documents were being created—the drive to create Zion was at the forefront even amidst these difficulties.
The final presenter was the second lead editor, Brent Rogers. He began by pointing out that this volume includes a healthy amount of material on women and lesser known figures. One particular person we discussed was Vienna Jaques who appears several times in the volume. The only woman mentioned by name in the D&C besides Emma Smith, Jaques was a wealthy convert from the East who provided very welcome financial assistance at a critical moment. Another prominent theme in Documents, vol. 3 is the difficulty in managing church growth in various places in a letter-only world. With a lag of three weeks (one way!) for the delivery of a letter, leaders in Kirtland were woefully behind in trying to keep on top of the growing crisis in Missouri. The first hint of trouble there arrived in a letter from John Whitmer—he had just received a package from the leadership in Ohio with city and temple plans. This juxtaposition of Zion and conflict is a perfect symbol for the nature of this time period—the bulk of the documents reflect these two themes.
As has come to be expected, this volume includes cutting edge scholarship with exhaustive documentation. Future research and publications on the conflicts in Missouri and the plans for building Zion as well as the Kirtland Temple will greatly benefit from the insight and painstaking analysis from the editors of this volume.