Letter from Brigham Young and Willard Richards, 5 September 1840
and , Letter, , Lancashire, England, to JS, , and , [, Hancock Co., IL], 5 Sept. 1840; handwriting of ; twelve pages; CHL. Includes dockets and notation.
Three bifolia and a single loose leaf, making seven leaves of unlined paper measuring 9⅞ × 8⅛ inches (25 × 21 cm). Each of the bifolia has an embossed insignia of a crown that reads “Superfine Bath Post” (a reference to the paper grade) in the upper left-hand corner of the recto. The letter was trifolded horizontally and sealed. At a later time, it was folded once vertically. The recto of the single leaf is blank, and the middle panel of the verso includes a docket: “Copy of a Letter to Joseph Smith Junr & others”. The address panel contains a notation written by : “By Turly or Benbow”. Despite what the docket says, the addressing, folds, adhesive wafer, soiling of exterior panels, and internal textual evidence suggest that this was the original sent letter, apparently carried to by or . A graphite docket indicates the letter was copied by Andrew Jenson.
If this is the original sent letter and not a draft, it was presumably retained by JS. If it was an unsent draft, it was likely kept by with his personal papers or by with the British mission papers. In any case, the letter appears to have been in continuous church custody since the 1840s.
On 5 September 1840, and wrote from , England, to the in , Illinois, regarding the apostles’ mission to . Richards had been serving there since he arrived with fellow apostle in July 1837, and Young had arrived only five months before writing this letter, on 6 April 1840. One of their responsibilities was editing the ’s recently established monthly periodical, the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star—often referred to as the Millennial Star or simply the Star.
In the letter, and reported on their missionary labors and requested instruction on some practical aspects of their work. They devoted the majority of the letter to describing from their American perspective, writing of British culture, society, education, industry, and economy. In particular, Young and Richards wrote at length about the destitute circumstances of much of the populace, including the majority of those converting to the church. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Britain’s agricultural and industrial revolutions resulted in numerous social and economic disruptions for millions of British citizens. Parliamentary enclosure laws meant that common rights to land were replaced by enclosed and controlled land and that small, individual farms were consolidated into larger, legally owned commercial farms. Elimination of many personal farms, concurrent with the growth of factories, left much of Britain’s population impoverished and led many to relocate to urban centers. Young and Richards focused much of their letter on the effects of this social and economic upheaval. They concluded by asking a series of specific questions on subjects such as the anticipated duration of their mission assignments, the propriety of printing church publications in England, and the emigration of British converts.
The version of the letter featured here was inscribed by , but , as the senior apostle and first signatory, may have been the primary author. The style of direct questions in quick succession is reminiscent of Young’s April and May 1840 letters to JS and the First Presidency, and the expression of desires to be back with friends in likewise mirrors earlier statements by Young. The letter’s emphasis on the foreignness of English society and culture may also reflect Young’s curiosity as a recent arrival in , whereas Richards had been in the country for three years by this time. It was also reasonable that Richards, who had more clerical capability than Young, would serve as a scribe for him.
A later docket on the address panel, in ’s handwriting, reads: “Copy of a Letter to Joseph Smith Junr & others.” The version featured here, however, appears to be the original sent letter. The text contains edits throughout that would have been atypical in a later copy. Richards also added a notation “By Turly or Benbow” on the address panel of the letter, indicating that he intended to have the letter hand carried by one of these men. led a company of Latter-day Saints—including —that departed from on 8 September and arrived in on 24 November. Although this version of the letter may have been a draft, the fold lines, the adhesive wafer, the addressing, the note about who was to carry it, and the soiled exterior panels that would have formed the envelope all indicate this was the sent letter. On 15 December 1840, JS responded to this letter, giving instruction on many of the issues raised by and Richards.
Young and Richards were editing the Millennial Star temporarily in the absence of the paper’s principal editor, Parley P. Pratt, who had returned to the United States to bring his family to England. The Star was first issued in May 1840. (Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:108.)
Crawley, Peter. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. 3 vols. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997–2012.
Much has been said in history, & story of the learning & neatness of the English people, of the latter subject we have neither time nor disposition to say much, although we are not short of matter, but of the former how can it be but simply ask how can it be expected that neatness, should be a very prominent trait in the habits of a people who are obliged to improve eve[r]y moment, to get a morsel of bread?— And as to learning such a thing as a news-paper is scarcely to be found among the common people, & if it was it would only the English papers are filled with little else than “cold blooded murder”, “Horrid Tragedies” “Roberies” “Thefts” “Fires” “Notice of the Quens [Queen’s] Dinner” or Prince Alberts Ride out.” or visit to the Theatre,” or Rail Road accidnt,” “&c, <Hunting excursions— excursion> &c, &c, which is calculatd to harden the heart & prepare it for far still greater wickednss. Such is the poverty of the people that but few of the can afford to take the Star we are publishi[n]g once a month, price 6 pence
Neither have the priests much more information than the people, indeed there are many of the common people whom they dare not meet in argume[n]t, although they have their livings, thousands upon thousands, & some of them own whole townsh[i]ps or parishes, & will tell their Parishioners <& tenants> if th[e]y allow any one to preach in their houses they will be turnd out of doors, or if they are they will face no better, & thus may simple souls who believe our message dare not be baptizd, because they have not faith to sufficient, to screen them from the threats of an insolent priest, <or factory master> knowing they will worry them to the utmost if they displease him, our hearts mourn for such. It is apparently, starvation on one hand, & damnation on the other. The Lord have mercy upon them.— Amen. [p. 8]