Essay on Sources Cited in Documents, Volume 7

After the expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from in winter 1838–1839, church members’ record keeping—both institutional and personal—fell off for a few months. With the establishment of the Saints in the , Illinois, area in summer 1839, church members enjoyed greater stability and again began producing records more actively. However, due to the constraints of constructing a new community and dealing with the effects of malaria, record keeping still lagged through late 1839 and much of 1840, especially in comparison with what would be produced in beginning in 1841. Some institutional records, such as minutes of the Nauvoo high council (created circa 1839–circa 1843) and Letterbook 2 (1839–1843), were started, but JS kept a journal for only a short time in 1839. Regardless, some contemporaneous sources are available, including those used in this volume’s annotation.
Although perhaps not as numerous as documents from other periods, the featured texts found herein, when taken together, are a significant collection of sources—including minutes, correspondence, and other documents—and often provide context for one another. Many of these documents are copies preserved in Letterbook 2, the Nauvoo High Council Minutes, and the church newspaper Times and Seasons (1839–1846). These documents also provide valuable contextual material for understanding JS’s papers and the general history of the early church. Some journals, diaries, histories, reminiscences, and autobiographies of various figures in early Mormon history are also helpful in understanding the period covered in this volume.
Letters, minutes of meetings, accounts of JS discourses, and land records compose the majority of this volume’s documents. To preserve letters and minutes, church historians and clerks often copied texts from loose sheets into more permanent record books. Beginning in 1839, for instance, clerks copied surviving letters into Letterbook 2. Sometime between 1839 and 1841, , clerk of the high council, began recording minutes of council meetings on blank pages in one of ’s earlier diaries. In 1841 assumed the role of recording Nauvoo high council minutes into this book. Records of the high council and the branch at , Illinois, also provide significant contextual information for this volume. These sources all aid in understanding JS and the growth of the church from 1839 to 1841.
Some featured texts come from the Times and Seasons, first published in by and in 1839. The Times and Seasons frequently printed correspondence from individuals proselytizing outside of Nauvoo, including the apostles assigned to preach in , and also published minutes of important church meetings, such as the semiannual general conferences. Additional articles reported on important events that occurred in Nauvoo and in the church. Other source texts—especially accounts of discourses—come from private journals, notebooks, and other writings by individuals living in Nauvoo or , Iowa Territory, including those of JS’s uncle , Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, , and .
A variety of other contemporaneous records—including journals, diaries, and correspondence—help contextualize the featured texts. Because JS’s own journal exists for only the first month and a half treated in this volume, it is necessary to rely on accounts kept by others. Indispensable journals and diaries include those by , , , , , , , and . Elizabeth Haven, a , Illinois, resident, wrote a letter in 1839 that expounded on decisions made at the October conference that year. Autobiographies and reminiscences from , , , , , Warren Foote, , , , , , and are important sources as well.
Legal and financial records—including land records for , Illinois, and , Iowa Territory—contribute additional context. Financial accounts created by , , and provide information about storehouses operated by the church in and financial transactions there. Granger’s records, which were transferred to his son-in-law , also shed light on debts JS and his counselors in the First Presidency owed to merchants. In addition, congressional records—both published and unpublished—prove helpful in outlining the progress of the church’s memorial for redress submitted to the Senate in January 1840, and state records were essential in explicating a bill intended to incorporate the church in Illinois as well as the act that incorporated the city of Nauvoo. Several documents featured in the volume refer to the church’s purchase of the land in Hancock County on which Nauvoo was built. Manuscript sources at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in , Illinois—particularly those in the John Gillet Collection and the Gillett Family Papers—provided essential context for these land transactions. To contextualize documents addressing the expulsion of the Saints from in winter 1838–1839, helpful information was gleaned from records of court proceedings and legal papers stemming from charges against JS and other church leaders for treason and other crimes against the state of Missouri. Correspondence from Missouri militia officers throughout the 1838 conflict with the Saints, compiled and preserved in the Mormon War Papers at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City, further illuminate that period.
Some of the best sources on the growth of and are letters written by and Phebe Carter Woodruff to their respective spouses, apostles and , who were proselytizing in . These letters provide insight into the poverty of the Saints in Nauvoo and Montrose and explain doctrines JS preached, such as the practice of performing proxy baptisms for deceased ancestors. In turn, letters from apostles serving in England give details about the growth of the church in England and the efforts of the apostles there, as do journals, reminiscent accounts, and the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, a church periodical the apostles began publishing in England in 1840.
In addition, regional newspapers in and —as well as newspapers and journals published in larger cities such as , , and —offer important contextual information about JS and the church. These contemporary newspapers give details not otherwise available and add a useful non-Mormon perspective. Finally, JS’s multivolume manuscript history—in which JS’s scribes incorporated JS’s reminiscences, institutional documents, and private papers and collections into a documentary history of JS and the church—supplies invaluable information, as do the history’s draft notes. For more information on those historical manuscripts, see the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers.