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 from 1835 to 1844. JS resided in , , and during this period, and the documents are associated with his various ecclesiastical and civic responsibilities in those areas. A coterie of clerks and scribes, as well as agents and others appointed by JS, managed the routine and mundane business that 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 , Ohio, , to various settings in , Illinois, including rooms in JS’s home and his . 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 and and church leaders like , , and . Outgoing JS office correspondence includes items addressed to , , , , and , among many others. Legal documents relate to mob activity, efforts to obtain redress in , and habeas corpus petitions related to failed extradition attempts. The collection includes bills, receipts, and invoices that 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 majority of the Joseph Smith Office Papers are archived in MS 21600 in the Church History Library, with some other items found in other collections such as the Joseph Smith Collection, MS 155. The documents are represented chronologically on this website, rather than following the box-and-folder order currently found in the physical collection. In addition to their digital publication in the Administrative Records of the Joseph Smith Papers, some of these documents may also appear as individual entries in the Documents or Legal, Business, and Financial Records series.