, Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to JS, 3 May 1837. Featured version copied [between ca. 29 May and ca. 27 June 1839] in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 35–36; handwriting of ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 2.
wrote this letter, dated 3 May 1837, to her husband while he was absent from , Ohio. JS’s location during the latter part of April and for much of May 1837 remains unknown. In a previous letter to JS, dated 25 April 1837, Emma discussed her efforts to obtain goods and money, as well as the difficulty she faced at JS’s mercantile store in , Ohio. In this 3 May letter she described how the family’s financial situation had worsened, as money and goods she had expected to receive were not available and creditors were demanding repayment. Because of laws, Emma Smith had no legal identity of her own, no legal right to JS’s goods or property, and no ability to intervene with his creditors. JS was liable not only for his own debts but also for those of his business partners and any individuals for whom he had acted as surety, or guarantor on a loan. Emma specifically noted here that the partnerships in which JS was involved were causing financial problems for their family. Beginning in spring 1837, JS faced litigation on his and others’ outstanding debts. Emma may have been referring to these debts, some of which were being pursued in court at the time, when she wrote that creditors claimed “an unaccountable right to every particle of property or money that they could lay their hands on” and that she felt everyone else had a “better right to all that is called yours than I have.”
told JS she was resolved to do what she could to ensure that any subsequent transactions benefited JS and their family. She also wrote that the situation would be improved if JS returned and addressed the matters she could not. It was perhaps this need for someone to act in financial matters that prompted Emma’s postscript about giving power of attorney to , who served as clerk for the H. Smith & Co. store in and as counselor to . Emma may also have thought if JS returned, he could relieve tensions that were growing among church members and counter a group of dissenters that was forming in his absence. Members of this group, including , , , and others, confronted JS in May after he returned to Kirtland.
When the letter was copied into JS’s second letterbook by scribe James Mulholland, no mailing information was included. The “Brother Robinson” mentioned at the conclusion of the letter may have acted as a courier and personally delivered the letter to JS. For more information about JS’s absence from Kirtland, see Letter from Newel K. Whitney, 20 Apr. 1837.
JS appears to have partnered with Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery in the printing firm of O. Cowdery & Co. in Kirtland, which purchased the church’s printing office after the firm of F. G. Williams & Co. was dissolved in June 1836. When Cowdery became a bank director and vice president of the Bank of Monroe, he dissolved the firm of O. Cowdery & Co., and in February 1837 JS and Rigdon formed a firm named Smith & Rigdon. JS, Rigdon, and Cowdery were also involved in mercantile ventures, using the firm names of Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery; Rigdon, Smith & Co.; and Smith & Cowdery. (“Notice,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, June 1836, 2:329; “Notice,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Feb. 1837, 3:458; Invoices, June and Oct. 1836, JS Office Papers, CHL.)
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
JS Office Papers / Joseph Smith Office Papers, ca. 1835–1845. CHL. MS 21600.
By April 1837 lawsuits had begun on at least five different cases on debts for which JS was liable. (See Transcript of Proceedings, 5 June 1837, Martindale v. JS et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1837], Record Book U, pp. 106–108; Transcript of Proceedings, 5 June 1837, Holmes v. Dayton et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1837], Record Book U, pp. 86–87; Transcript of Proceedings, 5 June 1837, Patterson and Patterson v. Cahoon et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1837], Record Book U, pp. 126–128; Transcript of Proceedings, 5 June 1837, Kelley v. Rigdon et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1837], Record Book U, pp. 97–101; Transcript of Proceedings, 5 June 1837, Bank of Geauga v. JS et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1837], Record Book U, pp. 67–69, Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH.)
Geauga Co., OH, Court of Common Pleas, Record Book U. Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH.
Ever affectionate husband, myself and the children are well and are not very well, tho not dangerous. I do not know what to tell you, not having but a few minutes to write, the situation of your business is such as is very difficult for me to do any thing of any consequence, partnership matters give every body such an unaccountable right to every particle of property or money that they can lay their hands on, that there is no prospect of my getting one dollar of current money or even get the grain you left for our bread, as I sent to the French place for that wheat and brother Strong says that he shall let us only have ten bushel, he has sold the hay and keeps the money. tells me he can’t get money to pay the postage of the office. I spoke to about the money, and he appeared rather indifferent [p. 35]
Legal judgments that involved the collection of money from debtors usually stipulated the seizure of the debtor’s goods or property. The sheriff was responsible for executing the seizure and auctioning off the goods or property to satisfy the amount stipulated in the judgment. Although Emma did not reference a particular debt or judgment, her statement here suggests that creditors were coming after JS’s property and other assets to satisfy outstanding debts. (An Act Regulating Judgments and Executions [1 Mar. 1831], Statutes of the State of Ohio , 467–473, secs. 1–5, 9; Record of Judgment, 5 June 1837, Patterson and Patterson v. Cahoon et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1837], Common Pleas, Journal Book N, p. 190, Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH; Case Costs, 5 June 1837–23 Nov. 1843, Patterson and Patterson v. Cahoon et al. [Geauga Co. C.P. 1838], Execution Docket G, p. 54, Geauga Co. Courthouse, Chardon, OH.)
Statutes of the State of Ohio, of a General Nature, in Force, December 7, 1840; Also, the Statutes of a General Nature, Passed by the General Assembly at Their Thirty-Ninth Session, Commencing December 7, 1840. Columbus, OH: Samuel Medary, 1841.
Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH.
Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, Geauga County Archives and Records Center, Chardon, OH.
“The French place” likely refers to the Peter Frenchfarm bought by the church in 1833 or possibly to another farm or business owned by French, a significant landowner in Kirtland who had sold hundreds of acres of land to JS and the church in 1833 and 1836. (Geauga Co., OH, Deed Records, 1795–1921, vol. 17, pp. 38–39, 359–360, 10 Apr. 1833; vol. 17, pp. 360–361, 17 June 1833, microfilm 20,237, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Mortgage to Peter French, 5 Oct. 1836.)
Probably Ezra Strong, the only known church member in Kirtland with that surname. (Backman, Profile, 69.)
Backman, Milton V., Jr., comp. A Profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio, and Members of Zion’s Camp, 1830–1839: Vital Statistics and Sources. 2nd ed. Provo, UT: Department of Church History and Doctrine and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1983.