Essay on Sources Cited in Histories, Volume 1
The span of history covered in the documents in this volume breaks naturally into four periods. The early period begins in 1805 with JS’s birth in Vermont and continues into 1831. Unfolding primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, it covers JS’s early visions, the translation of the Book of Mormon, the organization of the church, and the labors of the missionaries who left New York in fall 1830 to proselytize west of Missouri. In early 1831, JS and many other Mormons living in New York migrated to Ohio to join a large group of converts there, commencing the second period of Latter-day Saint history. In this second period, the church built a temple in Kirtland, Ohio, and grew to a membership of about two thousand in that vicinity before most of the Saints migrated to Missouri in 1838. The third period, contemporaneous with the second, covers the church’s activities in Missouri beginning in July 1831 with JS’s declaration that the latter-day Zion was to be built there. The end of the Missouri period is marked by the April 1839 escape of JS and other church leaders from their incarceration in Missouri. The final period, which receives only light treatment in this volume, centers on the church’s activities in western Illinois from 1839 to 1844.
While most sources cited in the annotation focus largely or exclusively on only one of the four periods, a few sources provide essential background for the entire volume. Probably most important of these are the texts of JS’s revelations, which are heavily quoted, paraphrased, and alluded to in the histories. For convenience, the annotation primarily refers to the versions of revelations that were canonized in the early compilations known as the Book of Commandments (1833) and Doctrine and Covenants (1835), but most of the revelations also exist in earlier manuscript form and some were published in church newspapers before being canonized. For detailed background on early efforts to record, preserve, and publish the revelations, consult the first and second volumes of the Revelations and Translations series. To further study the individual revelations in historical context, consult the Documents series. The King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon—which is classified in The Joseph Smith Papers as a translation rather than a revelation—are also useful for identifying many direct and indirect references that appear in most of the histories.
After these works, the source most routinely appearing in the annotation is the multivolume manuscript history of the church, often abbreviated herein as volumes A-1 through F-1 of “JS History.” Compiled from 1838 to 1856, the history consists primarily of copies and adaptations drawn from JS’s journals, letters, and other documents and as such is mostly a secondary source. Nonetheless, it contains a significant amount of original narrative material authored by JS, especially for the years 1805 through 1830. This volume of the Histories series includes three early drafts of this massive history, presenting the work in progress as it appeared in about 1841. Several early histories written by scribes and others under assignment from JS will be published in volume 2 of the Histories series. Researchers may consult that volume for more information about many of the events recounted in the histories found here in volume 1.
Articles, editorials, correspondence, and other materials published in Latter-day Saint newspapers also help contextualize most of the documents transcribed in this volume. The church’s first newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, was edited by William W. Phelps in Independence, Missouri, from June 1832 to July 1833. Printing resumed in Kirtland, Ohio, in December 1833 under the editorship of Oliver Cowdery, who produced another ten issues. Beginning in January 1835, the entire run of twenty-four issues was reprinted with modifications under a shortened title, Evening and Morning Star. In October 1834, the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate replaced The Evening and the Morning Star as the principal church periodical. Edited by Oliver Cowdery and others, it was published monthly in Kirtland until September 1837. The Messenger and Advocate gave way to the Elders’ Journal of the Church of Latter Day Saints, later renamed Elders’ Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Only four issues of the Elders’ Journal were ever published, two in Kirtland in fall 1837 and two in Far West, Missouri, in summer 1838. Following the Elders’ Journal, the primary church organ was the Times and Seasons, published in Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois, from November 1839 to February 1846.
Other sources appearing in the annotation tend to relate more specifically to one of the four periods described previously. The New York and Pennsylvania period is treated most heavily in JS’s circa summer 1832 history, in the 1838–circa 1841 history, and in the Orson Pratt pamphlet found in the appendix, but also figures prominently in most of the other narratives. For this period, the retrospective account of JS’s mother supplies helpful context. Lucy Mack Smith dictated her history in the winter of 1844–1845 to scribe Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, who with her husband, Howard, produced a revised and somewhat expanded manuscript in 1845. The history was published in 1853 in Liverpool by Orson Pratt under the title Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations. Oliver Cowdery’s series of eight historical letters, published in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate from October 1834 to October 1835 and copied into JS’s 1834–1836 history, also provide an account of key events of the New York and Pennsylvania period and can be compared with various passages of the histories in the present volume. One of the best secondary sources for this early period is the updated version of Larry C. Porter’s doctoral dissertation, published as A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816–1831, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).
The Ohio period of church history is treated most heavily herein in JS’s 1834–1836 history. JS’s second journal, created from 1835 to 1836, was the source for the final section of this history. A portion of the records in Minute Book 2, copied from minutes taken in 1831, and Minute Book 1, created from 1832 to 1837, supply helpful information regarding meetings mentioned in the histories.
The Missouri period is the sole focus of “Extract, from the Private Journal of Joseph Smith Jr.” JS’s “Church History” and “Latter Day Saints” articles also track Latter-day Saint activities in Missouri from the initial settlement in Jackson County in summer 1831 through the forced exodus from the state in the winter of 1838–1839. Important contextual material for the middle and late Missouri period is found in the lengthy retrospective account written by Reed Peck, a disaffected Mormon, in fall 1839. JS’s principal Missouri journal, created March through September 1838 and also including copies of documents from as early as September 1837, supplies valuable information for the late Missouri period from the perspective of JS and his scribe, George W. Robinson. Many affidavits, letters, and other documents created during or shortly after the fall 1838 “Mormon War” in Missouri also illuminate the historical accounts of this conflict. Many such documents were gathered by order of the Missouri legislature in the wake of the conflict and now constitute the Mormon War Papers collection, housed in the Missouri State Archives. Some of the materials within this collection were published in 1841 in Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c., in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; and the Evidence Given before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes against the State (Fayette, MO: Boon’s Lick Democrat). The National Archives of the United States and the Church History Library, Salt Lake City, hold hundreds of affidavits and other statements contributed by individual Latter-day Saints in 1839 and 1840 that detail losses and abuses they suffered in Missouri in the 1830s. Most of these and other related documents were published in Clark V. Johnson, ed., Mormon Redress Petitions: Documents of the 1833–1838 Missouri Conflict, Religious Studies Center Monograph Series 16 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1992). Testimony before the municipal court of Nauvoo on 1 July 1843 in connection with the case State of Missouri v. JS for Treason provides additional information about experiences in Missouri. Various dissertations and monographs also help in navigating the Missouri period. Among those relied on here are Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), and Alexander L. Baugh, “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996).
Of the documents featured in this volume, only JS’s brief “Church History” and “Latter Day Saints” articles supply detail for the Illinois period, and therefore annotation pertaining to this period is slim. The Illinois act incorporating the city of Nauvoo, signed into law 16 December 1840 and formally titled “An Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo,” provides essential background for any historical treatment of Nauvoo’s court system, city council, militia, or fledgling university.