The Histories of Joseph Smith, 1832–1844

The eight histories in the main body of this volume were all part of Joseph Smith’s own record-keeping endeavors, though they vary widely in their creation date, purpose, format, length, and scope. These documents all qualify as Joseph Smith histories; that is, Smith wrote or supervised the writing of each, under circumstances that allowed him to be closely involved in their creation. Although he had considerable assistance from scribes and other associates, Smith himself assumed authorial responsibility for the histories herein.1

The first of these narratives was probably begun in Hiram, Ohio, in summer 1832, when Joseph Smith hired Frederick G. Williams to serve as his scribe. The circa summer 1832 history is the earliest extant attempt by Smith to write an account of his life, and it is the only narrative history that contains his own handwriting. The document alternates between the handwriting of Smith and of Williams.

Joseph Smith’s 1834–1836 history, which includes the handwriting of four of his scribes—Warren Parrish, Warren Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, and Oliver Cowdery—was written in Kirtland under Smith’s supervision. The bulk of the history was copied from two sources: a series of historical letters written by Oliver Cowdery in 1834–1835 and Smith’s 1835–1836 journal. Although the history was not written by Joseph Smith, he clearly took ownership of it, referring to the book as “my large journal,” in which “my scribe commenced writing . . . a history of my life.”2

Following the 1834–1836 history are transcripts of three related documents that narrate in detail Joseph Smith’s formative visionary experiences, the production of the Book of Mormon, and the first few months of the church he organized. These documents, which together trace the progression of history writing in the late 1830s and early 1840s, are labeled herein Draft 1, Draft 2, and Draft 3. The first, an incomplete draft in the hand of scribe James Mulholland, was probably penned in June and July 1839. It was evidently the continuation of a history, no longer extant, that Smith initiated a year earlier in April 1838, with assistance from Sidney Rigdon and scribe George W. Robinson.

Next is a later draft of the same material, as it existed in about 1841. Draft 2 was written in the same large volume as Joseph Smith’s 1834–1836 history, turned over so the back cover became the front; it now constitutes the first sixty-one pages of the initial volume of Smith’s multivolume history. It is transcribed here as it appeared in about 1841, excluding later redactions and additions. Mulholland inscribed the first fifty-nine pages sometime before his death in November 1839. The first seventeen pages of Draft 2 have no surviving source, though they were apparently copied from the nonextant 1838 history. Beginning on manuscript page 18, Draft 2 contains an edited version of Draft 1. The two texts correspond until the end of page 59 of the large volume, where Draft 1 concludes and Mulholland’s handwriting in the large history manuscript ends. Draft 2 continues for two more pages, which recount the October 1830 beginnings of the mission to the West undertaken by Oliver Cowdery and others. These pages were inscribed by Robert B. Thompson and are included in the present volume because they correspond to the end of Draft 3.

Draft 3 is a 102-page manuscript written in the hand of Howard Coray. It is a lightly edited version of Draft 2, taken from the large history volume. Coray began work on this draft in late 1840 or early 1841, and he later made a fair copy. His project was discontinued, however, and his efforts on this iteration of the history went unused as writing and revising proceeded in the large bound volume.

By the time historians and clerks concluded their work on Joseph Smith’s history in 1856, twelve years after his death, it consisted of more than 2,300 pages in six large volumes. The first sixty-one pages of the history reproduced in the present volume facilitate comparison with the earlier draft in Mulholland’s hand and the later draft in Coray’s hand. Of the massive six-volume manuscript, the excerpt reproduced as Draft 2 in the present volume includes the material Smith worked on most closely.

Extract, from the Private Journal of Joseph Smith Jr.” was printed in the church’s periodical in Illinois, Times and Seasons. The article gives an account of the conflicts between the Mormons and other citizens of northwestern Missouri. Despite its name, “Extract” was not excerpted from any known journal account; the principal source for the article was Smith’s petition for the redress of losses in Missouri. The petition, titled “Bill of Damages against the State of Missouri,” is in the hand of scribe Robert B. Thompson.3

Joseph Smith was also named as the author of the last two documents in this volume: “Church History,” published in the Times and Seasons; and its later version, “Latter Day Saints,” published as an essay in an 1844 anthology of religions. Although he relied on scribal assistance, and although “Church History,” and therefore “Latter Day Saints” also, drew in part from Orson Pratt’s earlier work, Smith assumed authorial responsibility for both histories in their final form.

The appendix to the present volume reproduces Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records, a thirty-one-page pamphlet published in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1840 as part of the author’s proselytizing efforts in Great Britain. Although the pamphlet was not written by Joseph Smith or created by his assignment, it is included as an appendix because of its importance as a source for the historical article “Church History.”