Letter from Thomas B. Marsh, 15 February 1838
Thomas B. Marsh, Letter,
1 Nov. 1800–Jan. 1866. Farmer, hotel worker, waiter, horse groom, grocer, type foundry worker, teacher. Born at Acton, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. Son of James Marsh and Molly Law. Married first Elizabeth Godkin, 1 Nov. 1820, at New York City. Moved to ...View Full BioFar West, MO, to JS, en route to
Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...More InfoMissourifrom
Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...More InfoOhio, 15 Feb. 1838; Elders’ Journal, July 1838, pp. 44–46.
French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...More Info
In early February 1838, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and William W. Phelps—who composed the presidency of the church in Zion—were removed from office and replaced by apostles Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten as presidents pro tempore. Marsh wrote to JS on 15 February 1838 to inform him of the change and to convey formal statements exculpating JS from an implied accusation of adultery made by Oliver Cowdery. The letter also included copies of minutes from the meetings in which the former presidency was removed and replaced.Problems with the presidency had been developing for over a year. While David Whitmer was in Kirtland, Ohio, in summer 1836, counselors William W. Phelps and John Whitmer presided over the Saints in Missouri. In late June, non-Mormon residents in Clay County, Missouri, demanded that the Saints leave the county. Consequently, in July the Missouri Saints met in a “general assembly” and appointed Phelps, John Whitmer, and the Zion bishopric to find a new area to settle. The Saints also appointed Marsh and Elisha Groves to collect donations and obtain loans from the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere to give to Phelps and Whitmer for resettlement efforts. While Marsh and Groves collected donations, Phelps and Whitmer purchased the land for what would become Far West, Missouri. After Marsh and Groves returned from Kentucky and Tennessee, where they borrowed $1,450 from church members, Phelps and Whitmer used the money to buy more land in the vicinity of Far West. However, they did not consult with the bishopric and the high council before selecting and purchasing the land, and they appointed a committee to help build a temple in Far West.The Missouri Saints followed Phelps and Whitmer to Far West, but the high council and bishopric questioned the control Phelps and Whitmer were asserting. On 3 April 1837, the high council met without Phelps and Whitmer and drew up a list of questions for the two men. The council challenged the authority of the two men to unilaterally select and purchase the land for the new settlement, to sell lots in the city plat for their own profit, to designate the temple site, to appoint a committee to help build the temple, and to take other actions. The council resolved to meet again in two days and invited Phelps and Whitmer to answer the questions. The council also invited the bishopric and resident apostles Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten to the meeting.At the beginning of the council meeting held 5 April 1837, Phelps and Whitmer requested that the bishopric and apostles leave, to which everyone else objected. Phelps insisted that they leave or he would dissolve the high council. Marsh declared that if Phelps took such action, Marsh would prefer formal charges against Phelps in a church court held by the bishop. Phelps relented, and the members of the high council proceeded with their questions. Phelps and Whitmer were unable to answer the questions to the council’s satisfaction, which “led the Council & others to strongly rebuke the late improper proceedings of the Presidents.” Patten, who was particularly incensed, stated that their actions “had been iniguitous [iniquitous] & fraudulent in the extreme, in the unrighteously appropriating church funds to their own emolument.” Similarly, Marsh wrote in a letter to Wilford Woodruff that the two presidents had purchased the land in Far West “with Church funds, in their own name, for their own agrandisement.”After further discussion over the next few weeks, church officers approved the Far West plat as planned by Phelps and Whitmer and approved of their authority to supervise the construction of a temple and appoint the temple building committee. In response, Phelps and Whitmer agreed to turn over ownership of the Far West plat and surrounding property to Bishop Edward Partridge and to relinquish control of the pricing and sale of this property to a combined council of the presidency, the bishopric, and other officers. Furthermore, the proceeds would be dedicated to the general building up of Zion in Missouri. In spite of these resolutions, the underlying issues persisted.In the following months, the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society and the general state of depression that followed the nationwide financial panic contributed to significant upheaval in Kirtland. At this time some of JS’s closest associates, including former secretary Warren Parrish and several apostles, became disaffected. Discontent and dismay with JS’s financial or religious leadership eventually spread to nearly one-third of the church’s general leadership and over one-tenth of the membership in Ohio. Declaring JS a fallen prophet, Parrish and others attempted to establish a church of their own, which they called the Church of Christ—the original name of the church JS had founded. They also attempted to take control of the House of the Lord. Further, some dissidents sought to replace JS with David Whitmer as church president. Even Oliver Cowdery, who had been close to JS since the time they had worked together on translating the Book of Mormon, began criticizing JS about financial issues and leadership concerns.Dissent against JS’s leadership was apparently also fueled by the beginnings of plural marriage. JS’s introduction of the practice of polygamy—following the model of Old Testament patriarchs—was well attested in Nauvoo in the 1840s. A few individuals who knew JS well recounted later that he had received a revelation about the doctrine of plural marriage as early as 1831, possibly in connection with his work on the revision, or new “translation,” of the Bible. Several Latter-day Saints who lived in Kirtland in the 1830s later reported that JS married Fanny Alger, a young Latter-day Saint who worked in the Smith household. These reports, some of which were from members of Alger’s family, include statements that a wedding “ceremony” or “sealing” had taken place or that Alger and her parents agreed to the marriage beforehand. Little is known of JS’s marriage to Alger, which was largely kept confidential and which ended in separation before JS’s move to Missouri. Other Kirtland Mormons, including Cowdery, viewed the relationship as immoral. Patten recounted that in summer 1837, Cowdery insinuated that JS was guilty of “committing adultery with a certain girl,” an allegation that Cowdery repeated in a letter to one of his brothers in January 1838. On 12 April 1838, Cowdery faced a church trial over a variety of issues. At the trial, JS stated that as Cowdery had been his bosom friend, therefore he entrusted him with many things, and JS then “gave a history respecting the girl buisness.” After his separation from Alger and the controversy arising from Cowdery’s accusations, JS set aside the practice of plural marriage for several years.In autumn 1837, JS began to reassert his authority as church president. On 3 September, he convened a conference in Kirtland, during which he was sustained as president and several dissenting church leaders were rejected. This conference was considered a “re-organization of the Church in Kirtland.” The following day, JS wrote a letter to the Saints in Missouri, informing them of the “difficulties in Kirtland which are now about being settled.” He included a copy of the conference minutes and referred the Missouri Saints to his brother Hyrum Smith and Marsh, who were traveling to Missouri, for further information about the reorganization in Kirtland so they would know “how to proceed to set in order & regulate the affairs of the Church in zion.” The letter also warned them of Cowdery, David Whitmer, and others who were or would soon be in Missouri and whose support JS questioned. JS indicated that Cowdery had been in transgression and that if he did not humble himself and magnify his calling, the Saints would “soon be under the necessaty of raising their hands against him.” The letter also stated that Whitmer had transgressed and that he had been warned that if he did not “make sattisfaction to the Church,” he would lose his standing.On the same day JS wrote this letter, 4 September, he dictated a revelation declaring that John Whitmer and William W. Phelps must repent of their offenses or they would be removed from office. JS sent the letter, and presumably the revelation, to Missouri with Marsh, who had likely informed JS of the Missouri leadership issues. Together, these documents raised questions about Cowdery and the entire Zion presidency, all of whom were in Missouri by the time JS and other leaders arrived there to hold a reorganization conference similar to the one they had held in Ohio.JS arrived in Far West in late October or early November 1837. On 6 November, JS, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and other leaders from Kirtland met with Phelps, John Whitmer, Marsh, and other church leaders living in Missouri to further resolve problems. After those at the council meeting discussed the recent land purchases, the Far West plat, and related issues, “all difficulties were satisfactorily settled except a matter between J. Smith jr. Oliver Cowdery and T. B. Marsh, which was refered to themselves with the agreement that their settlement of the affair should be sufficient for the Council.” This unresolved matter was apparently Cowdery’s contention that JS was guilty of adultery. The three met to discuss the issue later that evening or sometime before JS returned to Kirtland.At the 7 November reorganization conference, which was also called a “general assembly,” Marsh served as the moderator. JS was sustained as president of the entire church, and Sidney Rigdon was sustained as a counselor in the First Presidency. Marsh and others objected to the other counselor, Frederick G. Williams, who was consequently rejected by the general assembly and replaced by Hyrum Smith. When the names of David and John Whitmer were presented for reappointment to the Zion presidency, Marsh and others objected. However, apostle William E. McLellin “made satisfaction” on behalf of David Whitmer, and John Whitmer offered words of confession, after which the two men were retained in office. When Phelps’s name was presented, he also offered a confession and was reappointed to the Zion presidency. In another meeting, held 10 November, the problems with John Whitmer and Phelps were further resolved and the authority of the bishopric to oversee land issues was reaffirmed.Having addressed the problems in Missouri, JS and his party from Kirtland departed for home. Although the church had been reorganized in Kirtland, JS returned only to face continued efforts by dissidents to undermine his leadership. Marsh’s 15 February 1838 letter suggests that rumors of JS committing adultery were circulating in Kirtland or that Marsh understood that to be the case based on a letter he had recently received from JS.Such rumors and the spirit of dissent were also spreading in Missouri. As tensions involving Cowdery and the Zion presidency resurfaced, it became evident that the dissension required further attention. In a letter JS wrote to Partridge in Missouri on 7 January 1838, JS included a revelation warning the Saints to “be aware of dissensions among them lest the enemy have power over them” and commanding church leaders to warn the members, “for behold the wolf cometh to destroy them!” JS apparently sent a similar letter to Marsh around the same time. Marsh presumably received the letter by 20 January, when he held a meeting at his house to initiate an effort to remove the Zion presidency. Marsh was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which held jurisdiction over only the branches and missionary work outside of Zion and its stakes. However, on 5 February 1838, when Marsh held a meeting to remove the Zion presidency, he stated that he was following special instructions from JS, which were apparently included in a letter from JS. John Murdock, who was also at the meeting, stated that he likewise knew about the instructions from JS to Marsh.In the “social meeting” Marsh hosted on 20 January, he met with fellow apostle Patten and several members of the Zion high council. After considering grievances against the Whitmer brothers, Phelps, and Cowdery, those at the meeting appointed a committee to present their concerns to “the Presidents” and Cowdery, who was serving as the Zion presidency’s clerk, and then report back to the larger group. The chief concern, apparently, was that Phelps, John Whitmer, and Cowdery had recently sold land in Jackson County. The committee also challenged the men regarding their adherence to the “Word of Wisdom,” the church’s dietary code. In general, the men insisted on their individual rights to sell or otherwise control their land and to interpret and observe the dietary revelation as they saw fit. In short, they “would not be controlled by any ecclesiastical power or revelation whatever in their temporal concerns.” When the committee reported this response in a council meeting on 26 January, the council members resolved to reject the presidency and to hold “general assembly” meetings to lay the case before church officers in Far West and in some surrounding settlements. The council members planned the general assembly meetings and resolved that Marsh would inform the Zion presidency and Cowdery of the decisions made at the council meeting.On 30 January, the Zion presidency met with Cowdery and other dissenters, during which the group declared their opposition to JS for “endeavoring to unite ecclesiastical with civil authority and force men under the pretence of incurring the displeasure of heaven to use their earthly substance contrary to their own interest and privilege.” Cowdery copied the meeting minutes into a 4 February 1838 letter to his brothers regarding recent events in Far West. He also explained that the high council had decided not to try him and that the Zion presidency had decided not to attend a meeting to be held in Far West the following day. Also on 4 February, Marsh followed through on a request from JS to send Marsh’s and George W. Harris’s accounts of a meeting with Cowdery in which he discussed Alger.The general assembly meetings began in Far West on 5 February 1838. Marsh served as the moderator, as he had in the general assembly held on 7 November 1837. He began by rehearsing the recent reorganization meetings in Kirtland and Far West and also some of the problems with the Zion presidency. The members of the committee appointed to visit the presidency also spoke. Bishop Partridge, one of his counselors, and his financial agent argued that the proceedings of the general assembly were hasty and improper, while Partridge’s other counselor pleaded for mercy for Phelps and Whitmer. Two members of the high council were sympathetic, but most were against the presidency. Similarly, Marsh, Patten, and high council member Lyman Wight vigorously opposed the presidency. After hearing from the various leaders, the men holding priesthood offices in Far West voted to remove the presidency from office.Over the next four days, sessions of the general assembly were held in four of the smaller outlying settlements, all with the same result. On 10 February a council meeting was held, probably in Far West, in which Cowdery, Phelps, and John Whitmer were removed from their appointments to license church officers and were replaced by Marsh and Patten. At the same time, Marsh and Patten were appointed presidents pro tempore for the church in Missouri. Five days later, on 15 February, George M. Hinkle wrote a statement regarding a conversation with Cowdery about Alger; Hinkle apparently gave his statement to Marsh that day.After receiving Hinkle’s statement, Marsh wrote to JS. Marsh began with copies of the minutes of the general assembly held 5–9 February and of the council meeting held 10 February. Marsh then explained that the high council had acted in order to avoid a widespread rebellion among the general church membership, which strongly opposed the ongoing actions of the presidency. Marsh was probably writing to report on the fulfillment of JS’s earlier instructions. He also wrote to follow through on JS’s request for statements regarding Cowdery and his insinuations that JS was guilty of adultery. Marsh included new versions of his and Harris’s statements and also included the statement from Hinkle.Marsh may have written the letter at his home in Far West. He expressed some concern in his letter that the letter he had sent in the mail on 4 February might be intercepted by enemies before it reached JS, so Marsh may have sent his 15 February letter in the hands of a Latter-day Saint he trusted. As Marsh’s letter indicates, he was not yet aware that JS had already departed Kirtland and was en route to Far West. Because JS had left already, he would not be able to use the statements collected by Marsh to stop the rumors of adultery in Kirtland, but the statements may have been of some use to him after arriving in Far West. If the letter was sent by a Mormon courier rather than through the mail, JS may have received the letter en route and become apprised of the recent developments in Far West prior to his arrival. In any case, he most likely received the original letter or read a retained copy of it before it was published in the July issue of the Elders’ Journal, which he was the editor of.