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Join Us for a Special Presentation on Joseph Smith and the Council of Fifty

November 4, 2016

The Joseph Smith Papers is pleased to invite you to a special presentation that general editor Matthew J. Grow will be giving on November 10.

In his presentation, titled “‘We, the People of the Kingdom of God’: Joseph Smith, the Council of Fifty, and Religious Freedom,” Grow will share insights about Joseph Smith’s teachings on religious liberty, about the recently published minutes from Council of Fifty meetings, and about the role of the council in finding a place of refuge for the Saints in the 1840s.

We hope you will join us at this special event.

Date: Thursday, November 10, 2016

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: Assembly Hall, 50 West South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

Explore Locations Mentioned in The Joseph Smith Papers

October 6, 2016

With numerous events and locations connected to Joseph Smith, it can be difficult to keep them all straight. Did you know that our website can make that task easier?

Our Places page includes information on more than 300 locations referenced in the papers—a helpful resource to learn more about the events and geography of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On the Places page, you’ll find a world map with markers pointing to historical sites. For example, if you zoom in to the Nauvoo area, you will see markers identifying significant buildings located throughout the city, including Joseph Smith’s home, the printing office, and the Nauvoo Temple. Simply click on a marker to learn more about the site. The locations scattered across this map highlight not only the movements of Joseph Smith but also the expansion of the Church throughout the prophet’s lifetime—beginning in upstate New York and spreading throughout the United States and the world.

For additional details about each location on the map, click the link on the location marker or refer to the alphabetized directory below the map. You’ll be directed to a page containing a map of the area and various information for the site, such as the county and state, a summary of significant events, and a list of alternate place names. You will also find links to Joseph Smith documents referencing the location and, in some cases, photographs of the site. For example, the page for the House of the Lord in Kirtland Township, Ohio, contains photographs and a summary of events, including the 1832 revelation directing the Saints to build the temple and the 1836 restoration of priesthood keys in the temple.

You can also access the location information when reading document transcripts on the Joseph Smith Papers website. Click on a location mentioned in the transcript to see a brief summary of the location; for more information, click on the link in the summary.

With its information about locations from Adam-ondi-Ahman to Zion, the Places feature can be a worthwhile resource in your study of Joseph Smith’s papers, enriching your understanding of Joseph Smith and church history.

Revelations and Translations, Volume 3 Recognized by Mormon History Association

September 23, 2016

In June, the Joseph Smith Papers won the Mormon History Association’s Best Documentary Editing/Bibliography award for Revelations and Translations, Volume 3, Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon.

The association’s awards focus on recognizing publications that are “comparable to the best work produced by those writing for other genres of historical publication.” The main criteria the judges look at are creativity and originality, solid and thorough research, and application of accepted stylistic forms of presentation. Previous volumes in The Joseph Smith Papers that have won the Best Documentary Editing/Bibliography award are volume 1 of the Journals series, volumes 1 and 2 of the Histories series, and volumes 1 and 2 in the Documents series.

Revelations and Translations, Volume 3 features the most complete early text of the Book of Mormon—the printer’s manuscript, which was used to set type for the first edition of the book, published in 1830. In this facsimile edition, each page of the printer’s manuscript is presented as a high-resolution, full-color photograph, accompanied by a color-coded transcript indicating which scribe made each change to the manuscript. As with the other volumes in The Joseph Smith Papers, this volume also contains introductory essays explaining the historical context of the manuscript, annotation throughout the manuscript, and photographs of a seer stone that Joseph Smith likely used when translating the Book of Mormon.

Revelations and Translations, Volume 3 is separated into two parts. The first part covers the title page of the Book of Mormon to Alma chapter 35, and the second part covers Alma chapter 36 to Moroni chapter 10, as well as the testimonies of the three witnesses and the eight witnesses.

To learn more about Revelations and Translations, Volume 3, we invite you to various resources on our website, including a detailed description of the volume and several videos on the printer’s manuscript. You can also view photostatic copies of the printer’s manuscript and read essays explaining Joseph Smith’s roles as a revelator and translator and describing the seer stone shown in the volume.

Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, Is Now Available

September 9, 2016

The Church Historian’s Press today announced the release of the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers. The new book, titled Administrative Records: Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, publishes the complete minutes of the meetings of the Council of Fifty held in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Council of Fifty was a lesser-known organization created by Joseph Smith, founder and first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in March 1844, a few months before he was murdered. Council meetings resumed the following year under the direction of his successor, Brigham Young, and continued until shortly before the mass Mormon migration out of Illinois.  A complete list of members of the council in Nauvoo can be found on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

The council was formed in part to plan for possible new settlements for church members. Members of the council also saw its formation as the beginning of the literal kingdom of God on earth.

The minutes reveal much about early Mormon thought on earthly and heavenly governments as council members wrestled with what it meant to establish the kingdom of God on earth and how that kingdom related to the church and to existing civil governments. Though council members generally used the term “theocracy” to describe the ideal form of government for the kingdom of God, their model also incorporated democratic elements, such as freedom of religion.

At the practical level, the Nauvoo-era Council of Fifty had perhaps three primary accomplishments. First, the council helped manage Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign. Second, the council provided a forum for making practical decisions about matters in Nauvoo, including construction of the Nauvoo temple. Third and most important, the council played a major role in exploring possible settlement sites and in planning the church’s migration to the American West (as illustrated in the maps below).

(View a high-resolution version of the maps above highlighting the council’s role in helping plan the migration.)

In assessing the new publication, historian Richard E. Bennett stated, “The Council of Fifty minutes are a treasure trove to anyone wanting to understand the last days of Joseph Smith, the martyrdom [of Joseph Smith], the last twenty months in Nauvoo, the revocation of the Nauvoo charter, the plans for exodus, and the apostates and renegades who inflicted so much damage upon the Saints. . . . They add a fabulous richness to our understanding. . . . The work of the editors places every matter of importance into excellent Mormon, American, and international historical context.”

The minutes of the Nauvoo-era Council of Fifty, which were inscribed by council scribe William Clayton in three small volumes, have never before been available for scholarly research. The minutes were brought across the plains by Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley. By the 1880s, the volumes were in the custody of the Office of the First Presidency, where they remained until the 21st century. In 2010, the First Presidency transferred the volumes to the Church History Library, after which Joseph Smith Papers scholars began preparing the records for publication.

While many of the actions taken by the council have been known through other documents, the minutes chronicle the deliberations that led to these decisions, providing an unparalleled view of decision making at the center of what participants viewed as the nascent kingdom of God on earth.

Elliott West, the prominent historian of the American West from the University of Arkansas, notes that the new volume from the Joseph Smith Papers “opens a wide window onto a previously shrouded, but extraordinarily revealing, part of Mormon leadership and life during what were arguably the most turbulent and treacherous months of the church’s history.” He adds, “Students of these pivotal events will be forever grateful for the insights and understanding they will find in these pages.”

Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, was edited by Matthew J. Grow, Ronald K. Esplin, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Jeffrey D. Mahas.

Gain New Insight By Examining Multiple Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision

September 5, 2016

Although the most well-known account of Joseph Smith’s first vision of Deity is the version recorded in JS History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, this version isn’t the first or most personal account to be made. It is actually one of four written by or under the direction of Joseph Smith. Additionally, individuals who had heard Joseph Smith speak about his first vision prepared five additional accounts. All of these accounts are available on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Each account differs in tone and details depending on the context in which it was written. “There was a different purpose in mind, a different audience in mind” with each iteration, says historian Karen Davidson in the video Firsthand Accounts of the First Vision. You can view this and other videos about the first vision accounts by visiting our Videos page.

Firsthand Accounts at a Glance

Secondhand Accounts at a Glance

The Joseph Smith Papers provides images and full transcripts of each account. The four firsthand accounts are also available with regularized spelling and punctuation in ten languages. We encourage you to explore these accounts to discover additional insight on Joseph Smith’s first vision.

New Content on the Joseph Smith Papers Website

August 17, 2016

The Joseph Smith Papers Project announces the addition of the following new content to its website,

  • Transcription for volume F-1, the final volume, of the Manuscript History of the Church.
  • Seventy-six documents from June and July 1842, including letters, land deeds, and Nauvoo city council resolutions.
  • Documents from the Court of Inquiry in November 1838, at which Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints were charged with treason and other crimes after the Missouri Mormon War.
  • New and updated reference material, including updates to the glossary.

Also recently added are documents and annotation as published in Documents, Volume 3: February 1833–March 1834, more documents from 1842, and the transcript for volume E-1 of the Manuscript History of the Church. In the coming months more documents from the Documents, Journals, Histories, Revelations and Translations, Administrative Records, and Legal, Business, and Financial Records series will be added. Eventually the website will contain images and/or transcripts of all extant and available Joseph Smith papers.

Staff Member Receives Fellowship from Buffalo Bill Center of the West

August 5, 2016

In May, Joseph Smith Papers historian Brent Rogers was selected for a fellowship from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, located in Cody, Wyoming. The purpose of the fellowship is to expand scholarship on the western United States, and Rogers will focus on examining the cultural, environmental, and economic connections between Latter-day Saints and William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in the West during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Buffalo Bill reached international renown as a symbol of the American West. At the same time, the Latter-day Saints were establishing themselves in the West, and they were mentioned—often negatively—in Buffalo Bill’s autobiography, the dime novels he was featured in, and the Wild West stage performances he produced. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, Buffalo Bill’s perspective of and relationship with the Saints changed in a surprising way: he not only considered them friends but also encouraged them to settle in the Cody area.

Roger’s research has the potential to provide great insight on the relationship of an American icon and an American religion, illuminating their places in the history and development of the West.

Videos: A Treasure Trove of Information

July 21, 2016

You may be familiar with some of the resources on the Joseph Smith Papers website, such as the geographical directory and the descriptions of major events mentioned in our volumes. But did you know that the site also contains more than forty videos? The Videos page is a treasure trove of information related to the contents of our volumes and to the Joseph Smith Papers Project in general.

Many of the videos correspond with a specific series or volume of The Joseph Smith Papers. Several of these videos feature volume editors discussing highlights from the Papers, with topics ranging from the House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio, to Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign. Other videos examine the historical context surrounding the Restoration, including the Second Great Awakening and Palmyra, New York; discuss accounts of the First Vision; and provide character sketches of Joseph Smith’s father and grandparents.

One of the most recent additions is a video containing interviews with Larry and Gail Miller of the Miller Family Foundation, which funds a large portion of the project. In this video, the Millers describe how seeing pages from the original Book of Mormon manuscript eventually led to their involvement in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The Millers also explain the project’s significance and discuss their personal commitment to the publication of Joseph Smith’s papers. The video is of particular significance because it captures Larry's thoughts on the Project before he passed away in 2009.

We encourage you to explore the videos on our website. Though short, they contain a wealth of information and offer insight into the life of Joseph Smith and the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Staff Give Presentations at Mormon History Association Conference

July 8, 2016

In early June, several staff members delivered presentations at the Mormon History Association’s annual conference, sharing insight from their research for the Joseph Smith Papers as well as research on personal topics of interest.

Matthew C. Godfrey focused his presentation, “A Season of Blessings,” on ordinations and patriarchal blessings given in Kirtland, Ohio, from 1834 to 1835. Through analyzing documents included in Documents, Volume 4 of The Joseph Smith Papers, Godfrey found that Joseph Smith used ordinations and patriarchal blessings to unite the Saints and legitimize new callings in the eyes of church members.

Brent M. Rogers delivered the presentation “Gendered Memories of the 1838 Missouri War,” in which he discussed public and private letters sent and received by Latter-day Saints. Public letters typically focused on political advocacy, with the goal of seeking redress for the Saints' losses in Missouri. In contrast, private letters were faith affirming and faith promoting. Similar to Rogers, David W. Grua focused on written correspondence in his presentation titled “Joseph Smith’s 1838–1839 Missouri Jail Letters and Mormon Persecution Memory.” Grua shared his findings from analyzing the letters sent to and from the jail in Clay County, Missouri, where Joseph Smith was imprisoned in winter 1838–1839.

In the presentation “Dr. Hirschell and Mr. Hyde,” Mason K. Allred discussed Orson Hyde’s increasing use of nationalistic language when writing letters reporting on his mission in Jerusalem. Allred also addressed common misconceptions about Hyde’s Judaic connections. Brett D. Dowdle likewise presented research on Hyde in the presentation “Promised Gatherings to Promised Lands.” Dowdle discussed Hyde’s 1840 mission to Jerusalem in relation to Latter-day Saint gatherings and the fervor of Zionism among early Latter-day Saints.

Jeffrey D. Mahas’s presentation, “‘As Good an Institution as We Should Want’: The Council of Fifty, the Whistling and Whittling Movement, and the Quest for a Theocratic Government,” was the result of his work on a forthcoming volume in the Administrative Records series of the Papers. Mahas learned that the short-lived whistling and whittling movement (March to May 1845) was part of Brigham Young’s attempt to replace the Nauvoo City Charter, police, and militia with a theocratic government. The young men involved in the movement attempted to fulfill the roles of the police and militia by following those suspected of troublesome behavior, whistling and whittling behind them.

Jeffrey G. Cannon presented on the mid-1900s practice of banning South Africans with black African ancestry from being ordained to the priesthood and from entering Latter-day Saint temples. Cannon focused on the policies of a mission president set apart the same year that apartheid was instituted in South Africa, and then Cannon contrasted the mission president’s policies and actions with the policies and actions of secular organizations that attempted to protect white identity.

As the conference concluded, staff members were already preparing to present at other conferences in the coming months, sharing additional insight and learning from their colleagues. Staff will be presenting next at the FairMormon conference, Brigham Young University's Educational Week, and the John Whitmer Historical Association conference.

New Content on the Joseph Smith Papers Website

May 24, 2016

The Joseph Smith Papers Project announces the addition of the following new content to its website,

Also recently added are images of the Joseph Smith Office Papers collection, a transcript of volume E-1 of the Manuscript History of the Church, and the earliest manuscript copy of the revelation on eternal marriage (now D&C 132). In the coming months more documents from the Documents, Journals, Histories, Revelations and Translations, Administrative Records, and Legal, Business, and Financial Records series will be added. Eventually the website will contain images and/or transcripts of all extant and available Joseph Smith papers.

Documents, Volume 4 Is Now Available

May 9, 2016

The Church Historian’s Press today announced the release of the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers. Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835 contains ninety-three documents, including revelations, minutes of meetings, and correspondence. Documents in this volume pertain to major events in early Latter-day Saint history, including the construction of the House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio; the publication of Joseph Smith’s revelations in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; the calling of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and the expedition to reclaim Latter-day Saint lands in Jackson County, Missouri.

“This volume shows Joseph Smith confronting one of the church's first major setbacks—the Saints' expulsion from Jackson County, Missouri,” says Matthew C. Godfrey, who served as coeditor for the book. “He is trying to understand why God allowed the expulsion, and this is really where we see Joseph Smith beginning to develop into a seasoned leader and experienced prophet.”

In May 1834, Joseph Smith led a company of about two hundred individuals, known as the Camp of Israel and later as Zion’s Camp, to Missouri to aid the beleaguered Saints there. Smith also sought to prepare the Saints to redeem Zion through the construction of the House of the Lord (or temple) in Kirtland and through the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations that provided instruction to the Saints on church doctrine and theology. Funding these projects proved difficult, however. Several documents in this volume describe these projects and the church’s financial strain. Other documents demonstrate Joseph Smith’s response to challenges of continuing church growth—during this period, he further developed the church’s governing bodies and instituted new leadership positions in the church, including the offices of apostle, seventy, and church patriarch.

The documents reproduced in this volume have been transcribed and annotated to the highest standards of documentary editing. They open a window into Joseph Smith’s efforts to establish the kingdom of God on earth and into his development as a leader of a growing religious movement. This volume is an indispensable resource for those studying the life of Joseph Smith during this formative and turbulent period.

Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835 was edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh.

Church Historian’s Press Announces New Publications

April 28, 2016

We are pleased to announce that the Church Historian’s Press, the publisher of The Joseph Smith Papers, has recently released two significant publications that may be of interest to our readers.

First Fifty Years of Relief Society

In February, the press published The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History. This collection of original documents explores the fascinating and largely unknown history of the Relief Society in the nineteenth century.

The story begins with the founding of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society in 1842, and the complete and unabridged minutes of that organization are reproduced for the first time in print. The large majority of the print volume covers the even lesser-known period after the Relief Society was reestablished in territorial Utah and began to spread to areas as remote as Hawaii and England.

The Church Historian’s Press website features selections from The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, including the volume introduction and the entire Nauvoo Female Relief Society Minute Book. The website also includes a bibliography, historical photographs, videos, and four hundred brief biographies of prominent figures from the documents.

Journal of George Q. Cannon

George Q. Cannon (Church History Library, Salt Lake CityOn April 14, the press released the Journal of George Q. Cannon, an online-only publication. Cannon’s remarkable journal, contained in fifty physical volumes and spanning almost five decades, is one of the most insightful and detailed records in Mormon history.

Next to Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon was arguably the best-known Latter-day Saint in the last half of the nineteenth century. Cannon was an editor and publisher, a businessman, an educator, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a territorial delegate in Congress, and a counselor in the First Presidency, the highest council in the Church.

Because Cannon’s journal is so large, the press is publishing it in several phases. This first phase covers the period from 1855 to 1875. Journal entries, photographs of Cannon and his journals, and other information are available.

Hyrum Smith Inscribed Early Version of 1829 Revelation

March 28, 2016

In May 1829, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation for his brother Hyrum. The revelation, which emphasizes God’s “great and marvelous work” and Hyrum’s role in it, was later published as section 11 in the Doctrine and Covenants.

When we featured the revelation in Documents, Volume 1, the earliest version we knew of was the copy printed in the Book of Commandments, which was typeset between November 1 and December 31, 1832. Recently, however, we learned of an early manuscript version of the revelation, probably predating the Book of Commandments copy.

The undated version is of particular interest because it is in the handwriting of Hyrum Smith. The contents of this version and the Book of Commandments version have minor variations, mostly in spelling and punctuation; the Book of Commandments version also contains verse numbers and a heading: “1 A Revelation given to Hyrum, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, May, 1829.

The version in Hyrum’s handwriting has long been in private possession and only recently came to our attention. The individual who owned the manuscript from around 1960 until 1982 attested that he acquired it from Hyrum’s descendants. This manuscript, which is still privately owned, is notable for being the only version in Hyrum’s handwriting. The lack of a heading, date, or other contextual evidence related to its creation suggests the manuscript is likely an early, personal version of the revelation and might be a rare original or dictation copy.

New Content on Joseph Smith Papers Website

January 28, 2016

The Joseph Smith Papers Project announces the addition of the following new content to its website,

  • Transcript for volume E-1 of the Manuscript History of the Church, covering 1 July 1843 through 30 April 1844.
  • Footnotes for volume C-1 and addenda to C-1 of the Manuscript History of the Church pointing readers to the original sources used to compile this history.
  • Images of the Joseph Smith Office Papers collection at the Church History Library. For a discussion of this collection, see its introduction.

Also recently added are documents from 1841, documents from sixteen legal cases from New York and Ohio, and the earliest manuscript copy of the revelation on eternal marriage (now D&C 132). In the coming months more documents from the Documents, Journals, Histories, Revelations and Translations, Administrative Records, and Legal, Business, and Financial Records series will be added. Eventually the website will contain images and/or transcripts of all extant and available Joseph Smith papers.