Letter from Joel and Joseph Johnson, circa 13 May 1842
and , Letter, , Hancock Co., IL, to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, ca. 13 May 1842; handwriting of ; three pages; JS Collection; CHL. Includes address, dockets, and notation.
Bifolium measuring 12½ × 7⅝ inches (32 × 19 cm). The letter was inscribed in blue ink. It was trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, and then sealed. A remnant of the wax wafer is found on the recto of the first leaf and the verso of the second leaf; when the letter was opened, the wafer tore a hole in the second leaf. The letter was later folded twice horizontally for filing.
The document bears two dockets. , who served as JS’s scribe from December 1841 until JS’s death in June 1844 and served as church historian from December 1842 until his own death in March 1854, likely docketed the letter shortly after it was received. Another docket by , who was JS’s scribe from 1843 to 1844 and clerk to the church historian and recorder from 1845 to 1865, reads, “May 13. 1842 | | To Joseph Smith”. A graphite notation in unidentified handwriting was also inscribed on the letter. The letter was listed in an inventory that was produced by the Church Historian’s Office circa 1904. By 1973 the document had been included in the JS Collection at the Church Historical Department (now CHL). The document’s early dockets and notation, the circa 1904 inventory, and inclusion in the JS Collection by 1973 indicate continuous institutional custody.
See the full bibliographic entry for JS Collection, 1827–1844, in the CHL catalog.
In mid-May 1842, and , brothers who were living in , Illinois, sent a letter containing two obituaries and two poems to JS in nearby , Illinois; the letter asked JS to publish the materials in the church newspaper, the Times and Seasons. The Johnsons had recently lost two family members: the infant daughter of Joel and Susan Bryant Johnson, Nancy Maria, who died on 5 May; and the thirteen-year-old brother of Joel and Joseph Johnson, Amos P. Johnson, who died on 13 May. The obituaries and poems, written from the perspective of the mourning family, memorialize their deaths and reflect broader Christian notions of divine will and an eventual heavenly reunion.
The poems are unattributed but are likely the work of , who was a self-taught poet. Johnson had published several poems in in 1838 and contributed poetry to the Times and Seasons in 1840 and 1841. The first poem in the letter featured here, written about Nancy, was titled “The Mother’s Reflection.” The title and voice of the poem suggest that it was written from the perspective of the mother of the deceased infant, rather than that of Joel Johnson as the grieving father. This was not the first time Joel Johnson had adopted a female point of view when writing; in 1838, while living in Ohio, he published a poem titled “The Prodigal Daughter,” which was written from a mother’s perspective. The second poem, written about Amos Johnson, was a brief plea for his younger brother to rest in peace until the resurrection.
While the poems appear to be the work of , the letter was written by . Joseph acted as a clerk for his brother, who was the president of the ; as clerk, Joseph frequently wrote correspondence and other materials on his brother’s behalf. The letter, along with the obituaries and poems, was addressed to JS in his position as editor of the Times and Seasons. The brothers asked that JS include at least the obituaries in the newspaper. The letter is undated but was sent after 13 May 1842, the day Amos P. Johnson died. A docket written by also supports a creation date around 13 May. The missive bears no postal markings, and a courier likely carried it the approximately twenty-one miles from to . Although the letter appears to have been received by JS’s office, neither the obituaries nor the poems were printed in the Times and Seasons.
Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:75–76; Joel H. Johnson, Carthage, IL, 6 Feb. 1840, Letter to the Editors, Times and Seasons, Mar. 1840, 1:77; Joel H. Johnson, “A Poem on the Suffering of the Saints in Missouri,” Times and Seasons, 1 Apr. 1841, 2:273–274; “Poetry,” Times and Seasons, 15 July 1841, 2:483; Joel H. Johnson, “Baptism for the Dead,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1841, 2:565.
Crawley, Peter. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. 3 vols. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997–2012.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
A second newspaper, the Wasp, was founded in Nauvoo in April 1842, possibly in an effort to divide news coverage topically, with the Wasp covering local and political matters and the Times and Seasons focusing on ecclesiastical issues. However, neither paper consistently printed obituaries in 1842, which may have been the result of a lack of space or the high number of deaths among the Saints. In a March 1842 discourse, JS commented on the frequency of death among the Saints in Nauvoo: “What chanc[e] is their for infidelity when we are parting with our friends almost daily none at all.” (Discourse, 20 Mar. 1842; see also Cook, Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1–87.)
Cook, Lyndon W., comp. Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1839–1845. Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1994.
For the Times & Seasons
Died at Hancock Co. Ill. May 5th 1842 Nancy Maria, Daughter of & Susan [Bryant] Johnson, aged 9, months & 13, days.
Joel and Joseph Johnson had a sister named Nancy Maria Johnson Clark, who died in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836. It appears that Joel and Susan Johnson named their daughter after this deceased sister. (Johnson, “A Life Review,” 2, 21; Vital Records of Grafton, Massachusetts, 185.)
Johnson, Benjamin Franklin. “A Life Review,” after 1893. Benjamin Franklin Johnson, Papers, 1852–1911. CHL. MS 1289 box 1, fd. 1.
Vital Records of Grafton, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849. Worcester, MA: Franklin P. Rice, 1906.
In a 20 March 1842 discourse on death and resurrection, JS taught that “the Lord takes many away even in infancy that they may escape the envy of man.” He further counseled that “instead of mo[u]rning we have reason to rejoice, as they are deliverd from evil & we shall soon have them again.” (Discourse, 20 Mar. 1842.)