, Letter, , Ontario Co., NY, to JS, [, Susquehanna Co., PA], 28 Dec. 1829. Featured version copied [between ca. 27 Nov. 1832 and ca. Jan. 1833] in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 4–5; handwriting of JS; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 1.
wrote this letter to JS while still heavily engaged in the publication of the Book of Mormon. JS personally copied this letter into his letterbook approximately three years later, and the original letter, including possible postage information, is not extant. The letter may have been mailed, but more likely delivered it to JS on a planned trip to , Pennsylvania, mentioned in the opening line of the letter.
The purpose of this journey by is not known. He made the trip around the time that and encountered difficulties with , editor of a local , New York, newspaper, the Reflector. In December 1829 Cole announced to his readers his intention to begin publishing extracts from the Book of Mormon, and in January he began circulating portions of the still-unpublished book without JS’s permission. Cole produced his paper on “nights and sundays” at ’s printing office in Palmyra, which gave him access to the pages of the Book of Mormon being printed there. It seems unlikely, however, that Cole’s announced intention to print parts of the Book of Mormon prompted Joseph Smith Sr.’s decision to go, as the letter puts it, “directly” to JS’s home in . There is no evidence that Cowdery or the Smiths knew of the announcement, and the Reflector did not actually publish extracts of the Book of Mormon until the 2 January 1830 issue. ’s account of the Reflector affair, while providing no dates, explains that and Oliver Cowdery were unaware of Cole’s intentions when they went to the printing office on a certain Sunday after Hyrum had a feeling of uneasiness. There they found Cole printing extracts of the Book of Mormon, and a verbal confrontation ensued, resulting in Cole’s refusal to cease his operations. Lucy Smith reported that Joseph Smith Sr. then “set out as soon as possible for ” to alert JS of Cole’s actions. If the confrontation occurred with Cole on 27 December 1829, the Sunday previous to the first distribution of an issue containing Book of Mormon extracts, Joseph Sr. might have left the next day to inform JS of Cole’s intentions, and thus Cowdery’s letter would have been penned to accompany him.
However, it is unlikely for several reasons that a confrontation with over the Book of Mormon was the impetus for this letter. There is no indication of this purpose in the letter itself. Although reported on the progress of the printing, he said nothing about Cole or his intentions to circulate passages of the Book of Mormon in the Reflector. The tone of the letter also lacks the urgency one might expect in a hurried effort to call JS back to . The text of the letter itself, therefore, makes it highly unlikely that it was written the morning after Cowdery and “contended with him [Cole] a long time to dissuade him from his purpose.”
’s account provides additional evidence that the initial confrontation with occurred in January rather than in December, which would make it impossible that the confrontation with Cole led to write this 28 December letter. She explained that JS and his father returned from the Sunday following the confrontation between Cowdery and Cole, and she recalled that the day they arrived in was “the most blustering cold and disagreable that I ever experinced.” After fighting through the storm, they arrived “nearly s[t]iffened with the cold,” and JS “went the same night to the printing office as it was sunday the day in which Mr. Cole published” his paper. Lucy Smith’s reference to the bitter cold makes a mid-January journey by JS much more likely than one occurring a week after 27 December, since the winter was quite mild in the area until 7 January, when a sudden and intense cold front hit. If Lucy Smith’s recollection of the weather is correct, JS’s trip to Palmyra could not have occurred before 10 January, the Sunday following what would have been a 3 January confrontation between , Cowdery, and Cole.
The impetus for this letter, then, was not the episode with , which evidently had not yet occurred. Instead, ’s purpose seems to be to convey some personal feelings to JS and to provide a brief accounting of his activities in . He makes clear to JS that while he had spent much of his time engaged in the publication of the Book of Mormon, he had not neglected his other religious duties.
In the 9 December 1829 issue of the newspaper, Cole (under the pseudonym Obadiah Dogberry Esq.) declared that since the Book of Mormon would “not be ready for delivery for some months to come,—at the solicitation of many of our readers we have concluded to commence publishing extracts from it,” to appear in the near future. (“Gold Bible,” Reflector [Palmyra, NY], 9 Dec. 1829, 39, italics in original.)
There is additional evidence from Cole himself that may support the conclusion that his meeting with JS occurred on 10 January. In the 13 January issue of his paper, Cole explained to his readers that “the appellation of ‘Gold Bible,’ is only a cant cognomen that has been given it by the unbelievers. . . . The true title of the work, as appears from the copy-right, is ‘The Book of Mormon.’” Cole’s reference to the phrasing on the copyright form may suggest that he had discussed the matter of copyright when JS arrived at his shop the previous Sunday to assert his rights to the publication of the Book of Mormon. According to Lucy Smith, after initial belligerence, Cole agreed to an arbitration of the matter. He discontinued his publication of extracts from the Book of Mormon after the 22 January 1830 issue of the Reflector. (“Gold Bible,” Reflector [Palmyra, NY], 13 Jan. 1830, 20; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 9, –; see also Copyright for Book of Mormon, 11 June 1829.)
A June 1829 revelation had commanded Cowdery to “cry repentance unto this people” and “search out the twelve” disciples who were to “go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature.” (Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18:14, 28, 37].)