, 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.
and stiff, and only observed that it was the opinion of the people, that Sharp did not intend ever to pay that money. has been very anxious to for some time past to get the little mare, and I do not know but it would be your will to have him have her, but I have been so treated that I have come to the determination not to let any man or woman have any thing whatever without being well assured, that it goes to your own advantage, but it is impossible for me to do any thing, as long as every body has so much better right to all that is called yours than I have.
Brother Holmes went directly to keeping house. Brother Tenny has not moved yet nor does not act much like it. I do not know every thing by considerable, but it is my anxiety for your company at home, or else it is realy so that your matters would and things would be much bettered by your presence just as soon as consistant, it is impossible for me to write what I wish you to know.
If you should write after you get this, I want you to let me know as much as possible about the situation of your business, that if possible I can benefit by the information; And speak some word of encouragement to , for he is very faithful not only in business, but in taking up his cross in the family.
There was a young man came with Brother Baldwin and ’s folks took him in while br B was gone and he is here <yet and is> very sick with the measles which makes much confusion and trouble for me, and is also a subject of much fear and anxiety unto me, as you know that neither of your little one boys have ever had them, I wish it could be possible for you to be at home when they are sick, you must remember them for they all remember you, and I could hardly pacify and when they found ou[t] you was not coming home soon.
Br Robinson must the rest as he is waiting so adieu my Dear— Joseph.
If you should give anyone a power of attorney, you had better give it to , as he is the only man that has not manifested a spirit of indifference to your temporal interest. I mean the only one I have had occasion to say muct [much] to about your business. You may be astonished because I have not accepted some but when I see you I will tell you the reason—, be assured I shall do the best I can in all things, and I hope that we shall be so humble and pure before God that he will set us at liberty to be our own masters in a few things at least, Yours for ever.
Possibly H. A. Sharp from Willoughby, Ohio. Sharp was listed as a subscriber to the Kirtland Safety Society in the March issue of the Messenger and Advocate and named on the society’s petition for a bank charter presented in the Ohio Senate 10 February 1837. He does not appear to have been a member of the church. (“Minutes of a Meeting,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Mar. 1837, 3:476–477; Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio, 365.)
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio, for the Regular Session of the Thirty-Fifth General Assembly. Columbus, OH: The Westbote Co., State Printers, 1837.
Possibly Jonathan Harriman Holmes, who married Marietta Carter on 13 April 1837 and probably transitioned from boarding to keeping a house of his own. (Woodruff, Journal, 13 Apr. 1837; Geauga Co., OH, Probate Court, Marriage Records, 1806–1920, vol. C, pp. 215, 220, microfilm 873,461, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.)
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
Three men with the surname Baldwin may have been living in Kirtland in 1837: Blake Baldwin, Charles N. Baldwin, and Nathan B. Baldwin. It is not clear which of the men Emma was referring to here. (Backman, Profile, 4.)
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.
Neither Joseph III, born in 1832, nor Frederick, born in 1836, had contracted measles. Measles, a highly infectious disease, was a leading cause of death for children five years old and younger in the nineteenth century. In 1832, Joseph and Julia Murdock, the twins Emma and JS adopted, contracted measles, leading to little Joseph’s death. (Hardy, Epidemic Streets, 28.)
Hardy, Anne. The Epidemic Streets: Infectious Disease and the Rise of Preventive Medicine, 1856–1900. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.