Nauvoo Journals, December 1841–April 1843
The journals presented in this volume cover a seventeen-month period marked by the continued growth of the church, significant doctrinal developments, the ongoing settlement of the community, and the maturing of Joseph Smith as a political and religious leader. Like most of the journal entries found in volume 1 of the Journals series, the Nauvoo journals were written entirely by scribes who accompanied Joseph Smith, not by the Mormon leader himself. Though not a comprehensive history of events, the journals are an essential source for reconstructing Joseph Smith’s life and the history of the church he founded.
The journals in volume 1 ended as the Latter-day Saints, having been driven from , began to gather at , Illinois. Shortly after Joseph Smith left Commerce for a journey to in autumn 1839, , the scribe who was keeping Smith’s journal, died. Smith asked , who accompanied him on part of the trip east, to keep a journal, but the extent to which Foster complied is unclear; Joseph Smith wrote him in March 1840 that he wanted “to get hold of your journal very much,” but no record is known to exist. Scribes were employed to compile and write the history of the church and to copy Joseph Smith’s correspondence, but there is no evidence that anyone was keeping a record of his daily activities in until ’s appointment in December 1841.
arrived in in August 1841 after a four-year mission to England. Joseph Smith found him to be “a man after his own heart, in all things, that he could trust with his business” and appointed him temple recorder and “Scribe for the private office of the President” on 13 December 1841. Richards began “the duties of his office” immediately, apparently writing the first entry of Joseph Smith’s journal on the day of his appointment. Richards kept the journal for the remainder of Smith’s life, with the exception of the period from 30 June through 20 December 1842, when he moved his wife and son from to Nauvoo. During Richards’s absence, kept the journal, with occasional assistance from and . References in the journal to the recorder, scribe, or secretary always refer to Richards; the other scribes did not make reference to themselves.
During the two-year interruption in journal keeping, much happened to set the stage for the events detailed in the journals. In October 1839, Joseph Smith left for , seeking government redress for the Saints’ losses in . Failing to win any promises of support from either president or Congress, Smith returned to in March 1840. Shortly after, the post office at Commerce changed its name to Nauvoo, a word derived from a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful.” The Illinois legislature granted Nauvoo a city charter in December 1840, and Joseph Smith was elected a member of the city council in the first municipal election in February 1841.
In many ways, ’s charter was similar to other city charters in at the time. Each limited the terms of office for city officials to either one or two years, for example, and the legislative powers granted to the Nauvoo City Council were essentially the same as those granted to and . On the other hand, Nauvoo’s charter required a much shorter residency period for voters and aspiring officeholders than many other charters and also eliminated the citizenship requirement for the same—the first, perhaps, in an effort to allow recently returned missionaries to participate in politics, and the second in response to the anticipated growth in the number of foreign-born residents. Other important differences were various powers granted the city council, such as the authority to organize a university and a city militia, and the authority granted the municipal court to issue writs of habeas corpus “in all cases arising under the ordinances of the city council.” Broad in its scope and forward-looking in its provisions, the Nauvoo charter gave the Mormons in Nauvoo the authority and autonomy necessary to integrate newcomers into the city, establish civic order, and provide for the safety, education, and prosperity of the city’s inhabitants.
Strong support from Democrats for the charter had important ramifications for the Mormons’ political life in . Most members of the church voted the Whig ticket in 1840 in both national and local elections, in part as a result of their disappointment with Democrat and his failure to help them obtain redress for their losses in . Several months before the 1842 gubernatorial elections in Illinois, however, Joseph Smith published a lengthy article endorsing Democratic candidates Adam W. Snyder and John Moore (running for Illinois governor and lieutenant governor, respectively), citing their support for the charter as a primary consideration. Snyder and Moore were “free from the prejudices and superstitions of the age,” Smith wrote, “and such men we love, and such men will ever receive our support, be their political predilections what they may. . . . We will never be justly charged with the sin of ingratitude—they have served us, and we will serve them.” State supreme court justice replaced Snyder as the gubernatorial candidate after the latter’s untimely death shortly before the election and received, predictably, a significant majority of the Mormon vote. Whig leaders chafed at the Saints’ apparent political capriciousness, and Whig papers like the Sangamo Journal excoriated the Mormons in spirited editorials and articles throughout 1842.
For all there was to do in , Joseph Smith’s trip to in 1839–1840 demonstrates his continued preoccupation with . A revelation dated 19 January 1841,
however, marked a turning point in his history. In effect, the revelation released Smith and the church from their obligation—for the time being, at least—to build a city and temple in Missouri and refocused their attention on Illinois. “When I [the Lord] give a commandment to any of the sons of men, to do a work unto my name,” the revelation read, “and those sons of men go with all their mights, and with all they have, to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them, and hinder them from performing that work; behold, it behoveth me to require that work no more. . . . Therefore for this cause have I accepted the offerings of those whom I commanded to build up a city and a house unto my name, in , Missouri, and were hindered by their enemies.” Freed from the immediate responsibility to build a and the city of in Missouri, Joseph Smith and the church turned their attention to Nauvoo.
The same revelation identified several priorities for the Saints in , including the need to construct two buildings in —neither one of which Joseph Smith would live to see completed. One, the , was to serve both as a residence for Joseph Smith and his family and as a “house for boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein . . . that the weary traveller may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord.” Money for construction was to come through selling stock in the project for at least $50 per share, with the amount one person could invest limited to $15,000. , , , and were appointed as trustees of the newly created on 23 February 1841, and the cornerstone of the building was laid 2 October 1841.
The other building was the —an edifice dedicated to God in which the “fulness of the ” could be restored. The revelation declared that the various ordinances and ceremonies that would be performed in the temple were the “foundation of Zion” and the means through which God would bestow “honor, immortality, and eternal life” upon the faithful. Like the Israelites’ wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, the Nauvoo temple was to be built of the finest materials available and would demonstrate that the church would faithfully perform “all things whatsoever” the Lord commanded them. With sixteen companies of local militia looking on and thousands of people vying for a view, Joseph Smith directed the laying of the temple cornerstones on 6 April 1841.
One of the specific ordinances to be performed in the was vicarious baptism for deceased persons. Briefly referenced in the New Testament, the doctrine of “baptism for the dead,” as it came to be called, was taught by Joseph Smith in his funeral sermon for on 15 August 1840. Smith later elaborated: “The Saints have the privilege of being baptized for those of their relatives who are dead, whom they believe would have embraced the Gospel, if they had been privileged with hearing it, and who have received the Gospel in the spirit, through the instrumentality of those who have been commissioned to preach to them” in the afterlife. Such baptisms were performed in the by September 1840. Revelation dictated that the ordinance be performed in a
temple and that God would accept such baptisms performed elsewhere only for a time; otherwise, the revelation read, “ye shall be rejected as a church with your dead, saith the Lord your God.” Taking the words seriously, church members dedicated a baptismal font in the basement of the unfinished temple on 8 November 1841, a mere seven months after laying the cornerstones.
During the two years preceding the commencement of these journals, important
changes were made in church leadership as well. Canadian convert and
businessman took the place of ,
Smith’s older brother, as counselor
in the . Hyrum, in turn, was
appointed “a prophet and a seer and a revelator” to the church, to
“act in concert” with Joseph Smith, who would “shew unto him the
whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with
the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts
of the priesthood, that once were put upon . . . .” Hyrum Smith was also appointed , in which office he held “the keys of the
patriarchal blessings” for individual members of the church.
Joseph Smith received additional assistance from the Quorum of the
, whose members began
returning to in
July 1841 after a two-year
mission in England. Before the apostles’
English mission, their responsibilities had been limited to
overseeing scattered branches of the church lying outside the
organized stakes. Upon their return, however, Joseph Smith explained
to a conference of the church on 16
August 1841 that the Twelve “should be authorized to
assist in managing the affairs of the Kingdom in this place
[Nauvoo].” A sustaining
vote of the conference formalized the new arrangement, allowing
Smith to delegate an increasing number of church administrative
responsibilities to the Twelve in the coming months and years.
Shortly after the Quorum of the Twelve assumed their new responsibilities, members of the church who had been involved with Freemasonry prior to the church’s move to requested the establishment of a Masonic lodge in . Seeing the Mormons as potential allies who might help him obtain his political goals, , Grand Master of the Columbus Lodge, endorsed the request and created a temporary lodge in Nauvoo on 15 October 1841. Joseph Smith, who had not been a Mason earlier, was not involved with these early efforts to establish a local lodge, although he served as Grand Chaplain at the installation of the permanent Nauvoo lodge on 15 March 1842. He and were admitted as members of the lodge that same day. Perhaps attracted to the ideals of “brotherhood, justice, learning, and character development” Masons espoused, Smith occasionally participated in the proceedings of the lodge throughout the remainder of his life.
The period between journals (1839–1841)
had its share of challenges as well. One of the most significant
came in 1840 when governor
issued a requisition to the
governor of , , to
extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri as a
fugitive from justice. This requisition arose from alleged treason
and other charges brought against Joseph Smith, , and others during the 1838 Mormon conflicts in Missouri. Carlin signed the
extradition order in September 1840,
but no arrest attempt was made until 5
June 1841. Joseph Smith obtained a writ of habeas corpus
in , Illinois, and
was discharged five days later in Monmouth after circuit court judge ruled that
the arrest warrant was invalid. Adding
to Smith’s difficulties that summer were the deaths of his young son
, his brother
, and another of his
When began writing the journals in this volume, and the surrounding area were experiencing a population boom. In 1839, Joseph Smith identified Nauvoo as an important gathering place for the Saints; by January 1843, he estimated that twelve thousand Saints lived in the area. Many lived on land the church had purchased from and brothers and Hugh White in 1839; others lived on the five hundred acres known as “the Flats” that Smith had contracted to purchase from land speculators , , and . Joseph Smith planned to make the required payments for some of these properties by selling lots to those moving into the city. Speculators holding land in nearby areas such as , , and also solicited Joseph Smith, leading to similar land contracts in some of these areas. Other land speculators who owned land in Nauvoo on “the Hill” or “the Bluffs,” located to the east of the Flats, however, sold their land to new arrivals at a lower price, making it difficult for Smith to meet the terms of his real estate contracts and creating tensions between the competing interests. The numerous references throughout the journals to the buying and selling of these lands reflect the frontier nature of Nauvoo, the growth of the church, and Joseph Smith’s prominent role in developing the community.
Many journal entries deal with building the and the . Despite support from many church members, both undertakings suffered from a lack of capital, complaints of mismanagement, and competition with private developers’ projects. The economic jealousies between promoters of the Flats and the Hill that plagued Joseph Smith’s efforts to pay off land debts also affected the building of the temple and the Nauvoo House. As a result, Joseph Smith publicly denounced other developers like , , and , whose business enterprises, he believed, impeded these church building projects. Addressing workers’ concerns, improving the methods for collecting funds, and keeping church members on task with these construction projects occupied much of the Mormon leader’s time and energy.
At the same time, concerns for the temporal well-being of his family and members of the community vied for Joseph Smith’s attention. By the end of 1842, Joseph and had four children to support, as well as others who lived in their home as household help or as wards. One means of providing for the family was Smith’s on Water Street. While Joseph Smith seems to have spent relatively little time directly managing or operating the store, journal entries indicate his continued involvement in stocking the store with hard-to-find goods. Similarly, although he turned the management of his farm over to , Joseph Smith rode the three miles from to visit Lott and hoe potatoes during the summer. Both the store and the farm—as well as his other business concerns and the building projects he oversaw as trustee for the church—affected the economic lives of numerous residents. “Let me assure you,” wrote Emma to governor in August 1842, “that there are many whole families that are entirely dependant upon the prosecution and success of Mr Smiths temporal business for their support.”
Administrative concerns also occupied a large part of Joseph Smith’s time. As lieutenant general of the , he oversaw the training, staffing, and supplying of more than two thousand troops of the militia. As a city councilman and later as mayor of , he helped draft ordinances and resolutions, attended city council meetings, and served as a judge for both the mayor’s court and Nauvoo Municipal Court. Cases involving slander, assault, petty thievery, and disorderly conduct occupied much of the court docket, although more specialized and technical cases occasionally appeared, such as the Dana v. Brink medical malpractice suit. The forty-one pages of the journal dedicated to recording the graphic testimony of witnesses in this trial probably reflect scribe Dr. ’s interest in the medical details more than Smith’s, but the technical language about legal precedents and procedure illustrates how Joseph Smith understood and applied the law.
Through all of this, and especially during the year 1842, Joseph Smith directed and oversaw important developments in the doctrine and organization of the church. These included publishing writings of the biblical patriarch Abraham that Smith said he translated from papyri he had obtained from an antiquities dealer several years earlier in , Ohio. Written as a first-person account of Abraham’s experiences, the record recounts the patriarch’s calling to the priesthood, his escape from idolatrous priests in “the land of the Chaldeans,” and his and Sarah’s journey toward Egypt. Teachings about the priesthood, the Abrahamic covenant, premortal life, astronomy, and the Creation overshadow the more familiar elements of the biblical narrative and were considered significant enough for the church to accept the record into its official canon in 1880. The same status was eventually given to two lengthy letters Joseph Smith wrote during this time that further discuss the doctrine and practice of baptism for the dead. Explaining the need and procedure for making an official record of each baptism, the letters—both of which were copied into the journal—discuss the ordinance in terms of an unfolding objective to provide for the salvation of the whole human family through priesthood ordinances whose efficacy reached beyond the grave.
During the years covered in these journals, Joseph Smith also delivered important discourses on a variety of topics ranging from gospel basics, such as obedience and gaining knowledge, to the second coming of Christ, the nature of God, and the ultimate destiny of the earth. Some of these discourses were copied into his journal, and a few, such as the writings of Abraham and the letters about baptism for the dead, were eventually canonized. Smith also shared with a few trusted associates new rituals that would later be performed in the and that added to the ceremonies that had earlier been introduced in the . Building on Sarah Kimball’s efforts to create a women’s benevolent society, Joseph Smith also assisted in organizing the of during this period. At the society’s initial meeting, he charged the women with “searching after objects of charity” and “correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community,” after which ordained to preside over the organization. The Relief Society, as it came to be called, quickly grew to a membership of over one thousand Mormon women in the Nauvoo area.
By December 1842, the end of the first year covered in these journals, Joseph Smith had explained the doctrine of plural marriage to a few of his closest associates and was practicing
it himself. Glimpses into the reasons for introducing the practice and his understanding of the doctrine behind it are provided in some of his translations and revelations. The Book of Mormon, for example, taught that monogamy was the rule but that it was permissible for one man to have multiple wives when God commanded. A revelation recorded 12 July 1843—the general outlines of which were reportedly understood much earlier—accordingly taught that Abraham, who was married to Sarah, was under no condemnation for taking Hagar as a second wife because the Lord had commanded him to do so. According to the revelation, other ancient prophets in addition to Abraham had the keys or authority from God to participate in or perform plural marriages, and those who received plural wives under the direction of these prophets stood blameless before God. The stipulation of prophetic direction meant that the practice was carefully controlled, however, and those who took plural wives on their own initiative faced serious consequences. Joseph Smith believed that this ancient authority had been conferred upon him as part of the latter-day restoration of the keys and power of the priesthood and that his authorization of plural marriages was justified before God. With these checks in place, a man might legitimately take plural wives “to multiply & replenish the earth, . . . & for thire exaltation in the eternal worlds,” while plural relationships that were undertaken without Joseph Smith’s direct approval were unauthorized and adulterous.
The nature of the extant sources precludes a thorough understanding of the extent to which Joseph Smith and others practiced plural marriage in and the nature of the relationships between the men and women in these marriages. Most of the information on the practice during this period comes either from later affidavits and reminiscences or from reports of disaffected members of the church at the time—none of which, for a variety of reasons, can be considered entirely reliable historical sources for delineating how plural marriage was understood and practiced by those involved at the time. provides the best contemporaneous evidence that at least some plural marriages in Nauvoo during Joseph Smith’s lifetime involved conjugal relations—just as they did later in Utah—and nothing in the 12 July 1843 revelation on plural marriage provides any doctrinal reason for why any authorized plural marriage could not have included such relations. At the same time, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that all Nauvoo plural marriages or sealings were consummated. Although Joseph Smith had many children with , no progeny from any of his plural marriages have been identified.
Given the sensitivity of the topic, it is no surprise that clear references to plural marriage are virtually absent from Joseph Smith’s journals. Some entries, however, may be best understood—or at least partially understood—in light of the practice, although a significant amount of ambiguity remains even after a careful examination of the context and supporting sources. For example, a revelation dated 2 December 1841 for (recorded in a 25 January 1842 entry of Smith’s journal) closes by counseling her to “hearken to the counsel of my servant Joseph in all things whatsoever he shall teach unto her, and it shall be a blessing upon her and upon her children after her.” Decades later, Hyde reported that this revelation had been delivered to her shortly after Joseph Smith had taught her the “doctrine of celestial marriage” and that she “followed the council of the prophet Joseph as above instructed” and continued to hope for “the fulfilment of the promises and blessings” contained in the revelation. In addition, a 1 May 1869 affidavit signed by Hyde attests that she was “married or sealed” to Joseph Smith in May 1843. Assuming Hyde’s memory accurately reflects events of 1841–1843 and that the “doctrine of celestial marriage” about which she learned included plural marriage, it would be reasonable to conclude that the revelation’s reference to “all things whatsoever” Smith would teach her included a marriage or sealing to the Mormon leader. But Joseph Smith could have counseled Hyde about many other issues in 1841 as well. Her husband, of the , for example, had left on a mission to Europe and the Middle East in April 1840, leaving Hyde and her children to rely on others for much of their support until his return in December 1842.
Several later documents suggest that several women who were already married to
other men were, like , married or sealed to Joseph
Smith. Available evidence indicates that some of these apparent
polygynous/polyandrous marriages took place during the years covered by this
journal. At least three of the women reportedly involved in these marriages—, Ruth Vose Sayers, and —are mentioned in the journal, though in contexts very
much removed from plural marriage.
Even fewer sources are extant for these complex relationships than are available for
Smith’s marriages to unmarried women, and Smith’s revelations are silent on them.
Having surveyed the available sources, historian Richard L. Bushman concludes that
these polyandrous marriages—and perhaps other plural marriages of Joseph Smith—were
primarily a means of binding other families to his for the spiritual benefit and
mutual salvation of all involved.
More definitive echoes of plural marriage are apparent in several journal entries that refer to men attempting to seduce women by telling them that Joseph Smith sanctioned extramarital affairs. In these cases, though, the connection is an indirect one, and reflects an abuse or misrepresentation of the practice as reflected in Smith’s translations and revelations rather than the practice itself. Chief among those who invoked Joseph Smith’s name “to carry on their iniquitous designs” was . Bennett had helped obtain the charter for the city and was a major general in the , a prominent Mason, the mayor of , and a member of the of the church. While the journal and other documents indicate that Joseph Smith initially reproved Bennett privately for his immoral behavior, Bennett was eventually expelled from the Masonic lodge, dishonorably discharged from the Nauvoo Legion, and excommunicated from the church. Faced with censure from many directions, Bennett resigned as mayor, left Nauvoo, and wrote emotionally charged letters to the Sangamo Journal and other newspapers accusing Smith and other church leaders of a variety of crimes and improprieties. Bennett also lectured for pay against Joseph Smith and Mormonism in several eastern cities and eventually published a book attacking the church and its leader.
The willingness of the Sangamo Journal and others to publish ’s claims, and the inclination of more recent authors to accept those allegations at face value, obscures the contempt in which many others at the time—including some who opposed Joseph Smith and the church he led—held Bennett and his reports. The Boston Courier, for example, had little regard for the “pretended revelations of J. C. Bennett . . . an offender against decency, who having been punished for his faults now wishes to take vengeance upon his judges for their righteous decisions.” remembered Bennett as “probably the greatest scamp in the western country,” while Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, saw Bennett’s book as “nothing more than a collection of all the newspaper trash about the Mormons that has been published for the last few years.” Similarly, the editor of the Boston Investigator made it clear that although he questioned the claims of Mormonism, he doubted “the notorious John C. Bennett” and his “miserable catch-penny book” even more:
We place no sort of reliance . . . upon any testimony of Bennett himself, and indeed the testimony which he says was given by others is rendered suspicious by his own contemptible treatment of the Mormons. He says he went among them a stranger; they gave him a friendly welcome, elevated him to stations of honor and trust, and for years he lived upon their bounty. When he could no longer fleece them, the ungrateful whelp, in return for their kindness, published to the world a large volume of their pretended vices and immoralities. . . . We have no confidence in the statements of a fellow guilty of such consummate meanness and hypocrisy, and we cannot suffer any extract from his vile work to appear in our paper without saying beforehand, that we heartily despise and detest him.
Even , who had served as a counselor to Joseph Smith before turning against him and publishing the Nauvoo Expositor, remembered Bennett as a “scoundrel” rather than as an ally whose charges against Smith might be used to sustain his own.
Such assessments by ’s contemporaries suggest that historians must be cautious when using Bennett’s reports as a means of understanding events in —including some recorded in Joseph Smith’s journal. For example, several entries in the journal reference “certain difficulties” and “surmises which existed” between Smith and during this period, as well as the disaffection of Rigdon’s nineteen-year-old daughter, , from the church. Some authors have found the explanation for these difficulties in Bennett’s claim that Nancy had refused Joseph Smith’s invitation to become one of his plural wives. While the cause of these “difficulties” may have been a rejected proposal of marriage to Nancy, it is far from certain. Other issues also served as a wedge between Rigdon and Smith in Nauvoo, and given the nature of the evidence, it is not certain that such a proposal was even made in the first place. For his own part, Joseph Smith summarily dismissed Bennett’s charges as falsehoods and called for elders to “go forth and deluge the States with a flood of truth” to counteract Bennett’s influence.
similarly accused Joseph Smith of seeking an illicit relationship with ’s wife, , while Orson was on a mission. Sarah supported Bennett’s charge, sending Orson into a fit of despair and distrust. Orson’s subsequent refusal to retract his public statements “against Joseph & others” during the course of a four-day hearing with the led to his excommunication. Joseph Smith emphatically denied the charge: “She lied about me,” he told members of the Twelve. “I never made the offer which she said I did.” According to his journal, Joseph Smith at one point also “stated before the public a general outline of J[ohn] C. Bennetts conduct. . . with regard to Sis P[ratt]”—a cryptic phrase possibly clarified by other sources alleging that Sarah had actually been involved with Bennett in an adulterous relationship during Orson’s absence. Both Sarah and Orson Pratt were eventually rebaptized and reconfirmed under the hand of Joseph Smith himself, thus setting the issue at rest for the time being.
In another dramatic accusation, charged Joseph Smith with masterminding the 6 May 1842 assassination attempt on , the former governor who had ordered the removal of the Mormons from the state in 1838. Although others had started this rumor, Bennett actively circulated it through his letters published in the Sangamo Journal and the Bulletin. Missouri authorities could do little on the basis of these claims, but when Boggs himself signed an affidavit on 20 July 1842 accusing Joseph Smith of complicity in the attempted assassination, Missouri governor requested that governor deliver the accused to Missouri authorities. Carlin issued an arrest warrant, and on 8 August 1842 Smith was arrested in by , undersheriff of . Joseph Smith petitioned the Nauvoo Municipal Court for a writ of habeas corpus, which was granted. King, unsure of the writ’s validity, returned to with the writ of habeas corpus and the governor’s arrest warrant in hand for further direction from Governor Carlin. Unable to hold a prisoner without an arrest warrant in their possession, Nauvoo authorities released Smith, who went into hiding and evaded authorities until federal district judge ruled in early January 1843 that he be discharged from arrest. As more pages and entries in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo journals are devoted to aspects of the extradition attempt than to any other single topic, an appendix providing a summary of the case and the full text of the most important relevant legal documents has been included in this volume.
The journals reproduced here note both the momentous and the mundane. Several of Joseph Smith’s dreams find their way into the journals, as do some of his reminiscences, opinions about current events, and various excursions. Mission calls, church
disciplinary decisions, and references to local politics, economic developments, and newspaper articles find a place as well. Following the 4 March 1843 entry in which Smith criticized for a failure in “naming or noticing surrou[n]ding objects. weather &c,” observations on the weather begin to appear. Other topics covered in these journals include Joseph Smith’s petition for bankruptcy, his emerging friendship with , and discussions in the legislature about repealing or amending the Nauvoo city charter. The journals also include copies of letters, reports of speeches and blessings, and other documents. With the exception of the 16 and 23 August 1842 entries, which include lengthy benedictory statements about individuals who had helped Joseph Smith over the years, it is doubtful that he dictated any portion of these journals. The first-person pronouns that occur in the journals do not appear to be formal dictations but probably reflect the scribes’ conscious efforts to make this document Joseph Smith’s personal journal and to capture, on occasion, his own language.
The journal as kept by differs markedly from some of Joseph Smith’s earlier journals. For example, where Smith’s 1832–1834
journals contain many lengthy, descriptive accounts of his activities—some in his own hand—Richards’s entries are often short and terse and provide only the barest outlines of Joseph Smith’s activities. On numerous occasions, even for several days running, Richards failed to record anything at all. , who had primary responsibility for keeping the journal during Richards’s absence, also wrote in an abbreviated style at times. Nevertheless, the events, teachings, revelations, ordinances, and organizational changes documented in the journals constitute a significant contribution to foundational Latter-day Saint identity, beliefs, and practices. The journals were also part of Joseph Smith’s attempt to fulfill earlier commandments to keep a history—instructions that he took seriously but that often had been beyond his immediate ability to accomplish. Perhaps most important, Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo journals provide scholars and other interested readers with a much-needed window into his life, personality, and religious contributions.