We were privileged to attend the release event for the latest volume of the Joseph Smith PapersHistories, vol. 2: Assigned Histories (1831-47) held at the Church History Library on September 25, 2012.  In attendance physically were several members of the Joseph Smith Papers staff including two of the volume editors: Karen Lynn Davidson and Richard L. Jensen (David J. Whittaker couldn’t make it).  Attending by webcam were several bloggers from BCC, JI and other blogs. Elder Steven Snow (recently called as Church Historian and Recorder to succeed Marlin Jensen) welcomed us—it was fun to meet him.

Matt Grow (director of publications for the Church Historical Department) gave a brief overview of the project, noting that there will eventually be five series in print (Journals, Revelations and Translations, Histories, Documents, Legal and Business), of which three have been initiated.  He also mentioned that they will begin the Documents series next year—the first two of ten projected volumes in that series will be published.

Next, Karen Lynn Davidson discussed the nature of the Histories series.  She began by noting that the two Histories volumes overlap chronologically (both types of histories were being written simultaneously) and that the individual documents therein are ordered by the date they were assigned, not written. The first assigned history was to John Whitmer.  This assignment was a narrative history—he “had to compose” not just collect documents, copy documents, etc. Whitmer was reluctant to consider himself an author—he had already scribed revelations and other similar tasks but never “composed.” Only after a “commandment” (D&C 47) was he willing to attempt this.

The second assignment went to W.W. Phelps by letter when he was editor of The Evening & Morning Star. Joseph specifically tasked him with writing about the rise of church to “render the Star as interesting as possable.” Three months later, his history appeared.

John Corrill was the third—he was called to replace John Whitmer who had recently been excommunicated. Following his own disaffection from Mormonism shortly thereafter, he self-published his history in 1839.  His account served as his personal declaration of why he both joined and left the church. Davidson mentioned that she feels he is the best writer of the four.  She also noted this is the first time Corrill’s history has been readily available to public (a service to the scholarly community).

The fourth assigned history in this volume was written by Edward Partridge.  He wrote in response to Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail—Joseph singled out Partridge to gather up materials on the persecutions in Missouri.  Three installments of his history were published in the Times & Seasons in Nauvoo before Partridge’s untimely death in 1840.  The editors of the Times & Seasons (Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith) took up his work and published eight more installments.  The Missouri experience comes through as a key event through these “synoptic” histories (major three, not including Phelps’ effort).

Joseph Smith did not maintain control over the Whitmer and Corrill projects—following their respective exits from Mormonism, Whitmer writes in an angry tone in later chapters while Corrill is simply “heartbroken.” Davidson highlighted that people will ask why are these statements critical of Joseph Smith (Corrill, for example, sees Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims as “empty”) published by the Church?  She was very clear that if they are going to have any credibility as a documentary editing project, they have to do it.  She then raised the question of how does printing such accounts help church members?  She pointed out to the bloggers in attendance that this sounds like a good topic for blog posts.  She also noted that people leave the church today—we get a vivid idea of what was going on in Missouri (people being spiritually overwhelmed by circumstances) to give a historical parallel.

Richard Jensen then took a few minutes to focus on the Partridge history.  He began by pointing out that Edward Partridge was in a good position to write what Joseph Smith wanted and that those writing in response to Smith’s directions were not writing unbiased history. History keeping was important to ordinary members also, not just people like Partridge. In his serial, Partridge traces the development of hostile attitudes toward Saints—Jensen noted that such sentiments arose very quickly.  In spring 1832, the possibility of a major move against Saints was very real.  A county-wide meeting was held to see “how we could get rid of the Mormons.”  Jensen credits the dissolution of these feelings to “certain patriotic individuals” including Indian sub-agent Marston Clark who confronted those wanting to drive out Saints.  He related that Clark felt it would be better for him and a single opponent to fight it out one-on-one rather than hundreds dying. Following this, the situation was functionally defused until summer 1833.

At this juncture, Partridge was frank about anti-Mormons offering to allow Mormons to stay if they denied their faith.  Some appear to have taken them up on the offer and lived peaceably in Jackson County. Partridge became sick for several months before dying in 1840.  Following his death, the Times & Seasons editors now had to use other sources to piece together the remaining eight installments.  Jensen mentioned that Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith may have written a “bridging” fourth installment before beginning to excerpt Parley P. Pratt’s History of the Late Persecution. In his account, Pratt calls these elements “robbers” that would capitalize on the improvements Mormons had made on land, etc.  After relating the election day battle at Gallatin, the rendezvous of anti-Mormons, and the siege of DeWitt, Pratt’s coverage ends.

Sidney Rigdon material (drawn from An Appeal to the American People) takes up the effort at this point. Following the events at DeWitt, the Saints took up the offensive.  Rigdon claimed that Doniphan and subsequent orders from Gen. Parks motivated them.  The editors for this volume have included annotation to keep the chronology and conflicting reports straight.  Jensen noted that this is a prime example of crucial differences in how people remember events.  At point, the serial returns to Pratt’s account for the Crooked River battle.  Jensen mentioned that Edward Partridge’s perspective would have been helpful for this portion of the narrative.  He also noted that Pratt discusses whether the threat of Mormons burning towns is real or not and the confrontation with the militia at Far West (Pratt is among those taken prisoner).

Jensen feels that the Times & Seasons editors did good job in creating a “nearly seamless narrative.” The current editors had to deal with sticky points at this juncture (B.H. Roberts inserted long footnote in the History of the Church about this period). A local county history tells the dramatic traditional story of Doniphan refusing an order to execute Joseph and other prisoners. Jensen noted that they tried to be careful with this tale.  Though Pratt claims to have heard the story from Doniphan’s mouth, contemporary documents suggest that Doniphan simply threatened to march his troops back home to defuse the potential executions.  For the section on Hawn’s Mill, the serial’s editors used affidavits (including some from those living there) and the redress petitions. Rigdon’s input is again taken from An Appeal to the American People. One affidavit was removed from the original document that Rigdon created and placed in the collection sent to the House of Representatives.

Nathan Waite (lead production editor) noted that third editor David Whittaker couldn’t make it to the event.  He then spoke about the connections between the print and online versions of the JSP. He noted a web release of new supporting materials online, the handwritten manuscript for John Corrill’s history among them. In addition, the Edward Partridge manuscript (discovered in the First Presidency’s vault along with the Book of Commandments & Revelations) is also available on their website.  Also posted: all six Book of Abraham manuscripts along with Times & Seasons installments, the 1835 hymnbook, a chart showing the location of the revelations. Coming soon: the second Joseph Smith letterbook, more Kirtland Egyptian documents and an improved search function. Matt Grow jumped in and noted the unique benefit of having volume and production editors working so closely.


Highlights from the Q&A


Q–in the Whitmer history, there are a few pages ripped out?

A–Whitmer began writing soon after his assignment (probably using loose notes)—possibly some intermediate version before getting to the bound volume stage.  We don’t believe any content is missing.  Interesting also that he used the 1835 D&C rather than earlier versions when quoting revelations.

Q—what were the most significant/surprising things in this volume?

A—the most welcome item will be the Corrill history (others are more readily available)—we don’t know much biographical information on him other than some basics: counselor to Partridge, Truman Angell described him as “chief mechanic,” a blessing from Joseph described him as the  “finisher” of Kirtland Temple interior, inspector of church schools in Missouri.  His independent thinking did him in in the end, he was a fantastic student of the scriptures.  He also represented the county in the state legislature.

Q—how will the online Manuscript History of the Church differ from Dan Vogel’s project?

A—simple answer is that Dean Jessee’s not working on it!

Q—has the volume lineup changed since Histories 1?

A—there are always adjustments—in the next several years, we will for sure kick off Documents series, Legal series, and the printer’s Book of Mormon manuscript. Welden Andersen is photographing the printer’s manuscript right now in Independence.

Q—there are sermons in the online content—will these appear in the print Documents series?

A—how could you do a JSP project and not do sermons?

Q–do I understand that you question whether Doniphan actually received the order to execute JS?

A–none of Doniphan and his people mention it—however, it’s possible no written order was given since they’re all there and, also, documents may have been destroyed.

Q—Are there any substantial textual differences between Pratt/Rigdon material and the Times & Seasons version?

A—the important differences are all noted—those from the Rigdon material are more significant

Q–will the Edward Partridge histories be included in BYU’s Partridge papers project?

A—we believe they will be

Q—are there any more plans for Book of Mormon manuscripts?

A—the current plan is to do printer’s in facsimile with facing pages of transcript.  As for the original manuscript, we hope to do it also but that is not currently being worked on.

Q—were there any other documents that were considered for this volume but were rejected?

A–Pratt’s The Mormons So Called was one that was not included–not thought of being a Joseph Smith document

Q—when will the project wrap up?

A—should be about a decade (20-25 vols at the end of the day)—plan to stick to a two vols./year schedule

Q—is there a possibility of a Brigham Young Papers project?

A—not something we know at this point

Q—what about the Quorum of 50 minutes?

A—no news on that at this point (“our plan is to publish every JS document”)


This was a very interesting event–it’s always fun to hear from the editors and glean a few tidbits of upcoming things.  We are also pleased to report that we have copies signed by all three editors now available–give us a call or stop by and see us!

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