Introduction to Joseph Smith Office Papers
These papers constitute a collection of more than 350 documents that were either received or created in JS’s office from 1835 to 1844. During this period, JS resided in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, and the documents are associated with his various ecclesiastical and civic responsibilities. A coterie of clerks and scribes, as well as agents and others appointed by JS, managed the routine and mundane business which resulted in the reception or creation of most of this material.
The collection includes letters, financial records, legal documents, minutes, and memoranda, as well as mayoral proclamations and orders. Although many of the documents do not contain direct references to JS himself, they do relate to activities and functions that fell under his jurisdiction. Thus, the Office Papers reflect the scope of the official positions JS held.
These documents were originally held in several different physical locations, which ranged from a room in the uppermost floor of the Kirtland, Ohio, temple, to various settings in Nauvoo, Illinois, including rooms in JS’s home and his red brick store. Subsequent repurposing of some of this material for JS’s history (during which various office documents became attached to the drafting effort, and thus were separated from other office operations), together with the common late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century archival practice of organizing manuscripts by name and subject, resulted in the disassociation of these documents from their previous filings. The designation “Joseph Smith Office Papers” is itself a relatively recent archival construct created in an effort to organize a corpus of records that were originally filed in JS’s office.
Given the eclectic nature of this material and its disparate origins, it is not surprising to find manuscripts covering a broad range of activities involving a diversity of people. The collection includes letters from such prominent historical figures as Stephen A. Douglas and Thomas Ford and church leaders like John Whitmer, Wilford Woodruff, and Erastus Snow. Outgoing JS office correspondence includes items addressed to Hyrum Smith, George Miller, William Law, William Smith, and William W. Phelps, among many others. Legal documents relate to Missouri mob activity, efforts to obtain redress in Illinois, and habeas corpus petitions related to failed extradition attempts. The collection includes bills, receipts, and invoices, which were initially in the possession of JS’s agents. Other financial records found here may have originally been interfiled in ledgers recording land transactions, store accounts, or other business activities.
Regardless of their origins, these documents give researchers an expanded and enhanced understanding of the range of activities and responsibilities that fell under JS’s purview, as well as the larger network of communication that then existed—for instance, the fact that some individuals turned over personal correspondence to be filed in JS’s office. The collection also sheds light on the diverse range of office operations managed by JS’s staff.
The Joseph Smith Office Papers are represented chronologically on this website, rather than following the box-and-folder order currently found in the physical collection. For the archival arrangement of the Office Papers, see MS 21600 on the Church History Library catalog. Additionally, some of these documents may also appear as individual entries in the Joseph Smith Papers Documents or Legal series, both in print and online.