Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, vol. 13--7/12/22

Tuesday, Jul 12, 2022


We are excited to announce that several editors of The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843 (published by Church Historian's Press) will be here Tuesday, July 12, to speak about their book. They will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will speak at 6:00 and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make it that night but, if not, we can mail a signed copy or hold one here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here.

We were part of a release event for this volume recently—here is our summary of the remarks as a teaser. Volume editors Christian Heimburger, Jeff Mahas, Chase Kirkham, Matt McBride and Brent Rogers, and associate editorial manager Riley Lorimer were on hand to share their expertise.

Jeff Mahas—An important event during this is the beginning of the anti-Mormon party. They published documents, calling for JS extradition and calling out Mormon aggressions and declaring they would defend their lives and properties. They want to bring Mormons to justice in Missouri and finally get an opportunity to do this. In November 1843 Mark Childs is arrested for stealing horses and makes an agreement that, if they let him go, he’ll take them to the hub of theft and takes them to Philander Avery. Avery goes to Warsaw and is then taken to Missouri. He is threatened at knifepoint and makes a forced confession of stealing three horses. Levi Williams then forms a mob of anti-Mormon folks and take Daniel Avery (father of Philander) to Missouri also. He is then imprisoned on a theft charge. These events kick off a hornet’s nest in the region. We see a feedback loop of violence and aggression begin which continues toward the end of December when Joseph Smith begins to try and quiet tensions. He tells police to keep “cool as a cucumber on a frosty morning.”

An ordinance is presented to the city council, saying that if someone attempts to kidnap Joseph Smith or anyone else for something that occurred in Missouri, they can be arrested. They can be pardoned by the governor or by Joseph Smith’s approval—this, of course, means a felony charge. This is an example of overreaction during this period—legal-ish attempts to protect Joseph Smith. This ordinance is covered by newspapers countywide, including the Warsaw Message who see Joseph Smith as thinking he is above the law. Overreaction, yes, but the threats Mormons face are real. The Avery kidnapping is a dress rehearsal for the events of June 1844.

Chase Kirkham—After Mormons were expelled from Missouri, Joseph Smith sought justice. For the rest of his life, he sought redress for what happened in Missouri. One of these attempts was the trip to Washington DC. Nothing came of it but Mormons continued to appeal to government officials. One of these later attempts came when John Frierson, a sympathizer, came to Nauvoo and offered to create a new petition to the government. The memorial that was then created was not included in the book because it was 50 feet long with 3400+ signatures! Petitioning Congress was not the only option. During this time, Joseph Smith employed a broad strategy including sending letters to presidential candidates and other prominent figures. Everyone that could wield a pen was asked to write to their home states. Smith asked WW Phelps to write a letter to the citizens of Vermont, possibly due to a visit from two Vermonters to Nauvoo. The level of Joseph Smith’s involvement isn’t completely clear but he met several times about it. The pamphlet broadly requested help from Vermont citizens. It directed its message to the Green Mountain Boys, a group that had fought in the Revolutionary War and had become a nickname for Vermonters. The pamphlet reviewed Joseph Smith’s heritage and recounted their failed attempts at redress. The document indicated Vermonters would be unworthy of their heritage if they did not help.

Christian Heimburger—During the fall of 1843, Mormon leaders broadened their efforts to achieve justice. On October 1, apostle and editor John Taylor published an essay in Times and Seasons on who will be the next president. The article encouraged Mormons to vote for the candidate who would be most likely to help them gain redress. On November 2, several leaders met to talk about “political matters.” They decided to write to five presidential candidates to see what their course would be toward Mormons if they were elected. Willard Richards prepared a draft form of the letter and then mailed “virtually identical” copies to the five men. I say that because Martin Van Buren’s letter included a unique addendum, asking whether his feelings had changed since the meeting with him in Washington DC a few years earlier. This volume includes the letter sent to John Calhoun, the only sent copy extant. Three candidates replied with terse, noncommittal responses. Henry Clay was the first to respond. Clay had initially been in favor of the Mormon cause, noting that they had been “suffering under injustice.” Calhoun reiterated his previous position that their case did not come under the jurisdiction of federal government, being a states’ rights advocate. Mormons argued that Missouri did not protect their rights and thus the federal government had a larger responsibility to step in. Lewis Cass wrote that the government did not have the right to act in the matter. Mormons responded that the federal government did have the right. Joseph Smith then decided to run for president, which will be covered in a future Documents volume.



Q—What happened to the Averys? Did they stay in jail or come home?
A (Jeff)—Philander escaped—we don’t know the details, but he pops up in Nauvoo. There is a note on some of the documents indicating this. Eventually the courts let Philander go. William Clayton and others suspected that this was a ruse to get other Mormons to come to Missouri to testify. There is a somewhat threatening letter saying essentially “sure would be a shame if they had to stay in jail if you don’t come and testify in their behalf.” The statute of limitation for theft had passed and they shouldn’t have been tried for it. The dates are fudged in Missouri to try and get around this. Two days after the indictment, he is released.

Q—The election in August involves a political dance with Joseph and Hyrum. Any new details on this?
A (Jeff)—I don’t know that we found anything really new. There is an article by Andrew Hedges that is very compelling [“Extradition, the Mormons, and the Election of 1843,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 109:2]. We did find another account of a Joseph Smith discourse published in the New York Tribune. Both the Whigs and Democrats were courting the Mormon vote. Joseph Smith supported Cyrus Walker but it doesn’t seem like his pledge was public knowledge. Hyrum said that Mormons should vote for Joseph Hoge. William Law stands up and says Joseph indicated we should vote for Walker. A tiff ensues which is reported on. Hyrum declares he has had a revelation on the matter—Joseph says I’ve never known Hyrum to have a revelation that was wrong.
(Christian) In this volume, we see that this election has a big role in the creation of the anti-Mormon party. The Warsaw Message reports how Mormons vote en masse. The fight with Bagby is also mentioned as well as the extradition attempts—they see Joseph Smith as evading legal processes.

Q—Introduction talks about nine public discourses and a revelation. Is there any of this that hasn’t been published before or is of great interest?
A (Christian)—All of it has been published but we do have various accounts, including some from Clayton’s journal. We get a better sense of what Joseph Smith is saying because each scribe includes different details. On the topic of revelation, over time we see Joseph Smith offering this content through discourses rather than written, canonized revelations. This revelation tells John Page to get down to Washington DC and complete his responsibility. He enjoyed staying where he was and didn’t love taking counsel from his colleagues.
(Jeff)—I don’t know that this revelation has been published before. It was discovered in the Brigham Young collection buried in a letter to John Page.

Q. (Riley)—Joseph Smith Papers historians have had to become experts in specific, occasionally odd, things. What can you tell us about that?
A (Jeff)—Some of my favorite documents are letters to and from Joseph Smith and a group of Potawatomi tribe members. I had to familiarize myself with their history and culture and research specific individuals who are leading the talks with Joseph Smith. I tried everything I could to trace these individuals. Some of these names have been known but we have elucidated their life stories in much greater detail. I spent months and months trying to do justice to these letters.
(Chase)—I spent a lot of time researching the John Frierson memorial. I had to become an expert in all the memorials sent to Congress, including one in Documents, vol. 7. It was interesting to see the trajectory and development of these memorials. My question on the Frierson one was, what was he basing it on? I compared it to earlier memorials and concluded he was reading from a copy that Elias Higbee brought back from Washington DC.
(Christian)—I had to become an expert in smallpox. When we were deciding which documents to include, Elizabeth Kuehn found a pay order to Mary Little from the city treasury for taking care of smallpox victims. I had to look at larger trends, thinking that smallpox had been eradicated (which it largely had). There were anti-vaxxers at that time, imagine that. There were pocketed outbreaks around the country. The pay order was in Emma Smith’s handwriting, written to Clayton on behalf of Joseph Smith (she signs his name as well). Women had lesser educational opportunities, etc, and were overshadowed in the history. Historians have to look to the fringes to make sure they are represented. What were the roles involved in the pay order? We have to document the undervalued role women played in these events.
(Brent)—The letter from Jared Carter gives an example of the types of things we track down. He was trying to set up a shoe manufactory to “do away with the sale of Eastern boots.” I have never once wondered about the sale of Eastern boots in Nauvoo or anything approaching footwear prior to researching this letter. There are many things like this that aren’t high profile but we track down these unique aspects of daily life.
(Matt)—It became clear to me how unique the Joseph Smith Papers are in that, when I go about writing an article, I have a choice about what I want to research. Working on the Joseph Smith Papers, we aim to be comprehensive, you get handed a batch of documents and you don’t know what will be in them and need to be explained. Land records took a great amount of time to research. The transition to JS offering doctrinal matters more in discourse medium is another important theme.

Q—You said there were more than 3000 signatures on the Frierson memorial. Have you figured out who they were?
A (Chase)—They were from people living in Missouri or who didn’t but supported the Latter-day Saints. There was a broad attempt after the memorial was created to form a committee of citizens to gather signatures. On some of the backsides of pages, you see things like “first ward.” Since we didn’t feature the document, there wasn’t the normal effort to research the names, etc. We hope when it is put online, people will research on their own.
(Christian)—Memorials are a very interesting genre to include. I worked on one from the Philadelphia branch—would I annotate as many names as possible? The first challenge is to read the handwriting—some were German immigrants writing in a specific hand that was impossible for me, a non-specialist, to read. Annotating 3400+ names would be interesting but daunting. Crowd sourcing for this kind of research would be pretty cool.

Q. Polygamy is mentioned in the introduction—what do the documents in this volume say?
A (Christian)—Not a lot, is the answer. There are no direct links during this period. We have cryptic mentions in Joseph Smith’s journal. We discuss polygamy in the introduction—this period begins the month after the July 1843 revelation [now D&C 132]. We have some excerpts from Clayton’s journal that mention it. Joseph Smith and Emma are not on speaking terms during August. The two closest things we have are a letter that goes out from Jedediah Grant in Philadelphia which is very cryptic. The first ten times I read it, I didn’t understand what I was reading. He visits a member who is having serious faith challenges. Eventually I found out from Clayton’s journal that he had sent a letter to this individual. I was able to identify this woman and learned Joseph Smith had stayed in the family’s home. The reference to burning the letter we have seen elsewhere regarding polygamy. Clayton noted that after reading the letter, Emma became very jealous. All of this led us to conclude this was a failed marriage proposal.
(Jeff)—There are a couple other clues in the letter but they are also cryptic. The only other documents where polygamy is explicit are those connected to Harrison Sagers. He had been taught by Joseph Smith but what that entailed isn’t clear. Sagers is tried before high council and he is acquitted. There are as many questions as answers regarding polygamy in the documents.

The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843. Church Historian's Press. Hardback. 625pp. $54.95 (remember, subscribers to the series save 10%!)--click here to purchase

Joseph Smith Papers
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