Letter from Robert D. and Sarah Phinney Foster, circa 16 August 1842
Sarah Phinney Foster and , Letter, , Madison Co., NY, to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, ca. 16 Aug. 1842; handwriting of ; two pages, JS Collection, CHL. Includes address, postal stamps, postal notation, and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 12½ × 8 inches (32 × 20 cm). The letter was written in blue ink on the verso of the first leaf and the recto of the second leaf. It was trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, sealed with a red adhesive wafer, and stamped for postage. Opening the letter tore a hole in the second leaf.
The letter was docketed by , who served as scribe to JS from 1842 to 1844. It was later refolded for filing and docketed by , who served as a clerk in the Church Historian’s Office (later Church Historical Deparment) in Salt Lake City from 1853 to 1859, then docketed again by an unknown scribe in graphite. The document was listed in an inventory that was produced by the Church Historian’s Office circa 1904. By 1973 the letter had been included in the JS Collection at the Church Historical Department (now CHL). The document’s early dockets, inclusion in 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.
Sometime in the summer of 1842, wrote a letter on behalf of his wife, Sarah Phinney Foster, and himself from , New York, to JS in , Illinois. He updated JS on his arrival in , where Sarah was apparently visiting friends, and denounced , who was in New York giving public lectures against JS and the . In a postscript, Foster also informed JS of church members who were moving to Nauvoo, including the family of Joseph and Sally Stacy Murdock, whom Foster had encountered on his journey. Foster explained that while Joseph Murdock wanted to donate money to support the construction of the Nauvoo , his wife would likely oppose giving their money to the church. Foster asked JS to watch for their arrival and consider meeting with Joseph Murdock.
dated the letter 16 July 1842, but that likely was a mistake. According to the letter, it took Foster twenty days to travel from to , where he wrote the letter. On 1 July 1842, Foster had transferred a portion of land in , Illinois, to JS, indicating that he was in Hancock County at that time. Further, JS’s journal states that on 19 July JS accompanied Foster and Henry Kearns to investigate land in the Nauvoo area. Given the amount of time it took to get to DeRuyter, it would have been impossible for Foster to have left Nauvoo after 1 July and reached DeRuyter by 16 July, and it would also have been impossible for him to have written a letter in DeRuyter on 16 July and then be back in Nauvoo by 19 July. Because the letter is postmarked 17 August, and because the Fosters reached on 30 August, it is likely that Foster mistakenly wrote down the previous month when dating the letter and that it was actually written on 16 August. No reply from JS has been located.
“Extract of a Letter from Robert D. Foster,” Wasp, 24 Sept. 1842, .
The Wasp. Nauvoo, IL. Apr. 1842–Apr. 1843.
subscribing myself & Lady your sincere friends, in the
Sarah [Phinney Foster]. &.
Lieut Genl. Joseph Smith &c
NB I met a family in a near the black Swamp moving to our the Son in Law has been there before and bought a lot for himself of A. Davis & his intentions are to introduce his Father in Law to the same man to all appearan[c]e his name is Green his wife is now at Father Snows house the Old Gentleman is nearly gone with the Consumption and has some 8 or 10 hundrd Dollars besides his teams his wife says she is a Mormon but she is a Devilish noing [knowing?] Hoggish one says she shall look out for No 1 & many such foolish expressions as though we were going to strip her as soon as they arrived— however the old Gent is a worthy man knows him they will probably not come near you if the old woman has her way— but Sir the Old Gent wants to put 400 in the and he will be subject to your Council with all he has if he can get at you— his name is [Joseph] Murdock you had ought to see him on his arrival as he is desirous of seeing you not so with the others if you have any thing for me to do here direct as above as I cant get away Quite as soon as I thought for
This family was likely the Joseph and Sally Stacy Murdock family, who had been baptized in 1836 in New York. The Black Swamp was an area of land in northwestern Ohio, described as “an irregular strip about thirty miles wide, lying parallel to the east bank of the Maumee River from Lake Erie southwest to New Haven, Indiana,” and “some 1,500 square miles in extent.” Although northwestern Ohio saw increasing numbers of white settlers in the 1830s, most avoided the Black Swamp area. (Biographical Sketch of Joseph Murdock, ca. 1844, Nymphas C. Murdock, Collection, CHL; Kaatz, “Black Swamp,” 1, 19.)
Murdock, Nymphas C. Collection, 1803–1931. CHL.
Kaatz, Martin R. “The Black Swamp: A Study in Historical Geography.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 45, no. 1 (Mar. 1955): 1–35.
The son-in-law referred to here was likely Alphonso Green, who married Betsy Murdock, daughter of Joseph Murdock and his first wife, Sally Bonny Murdock, in December 1838 in Hamilton, New York. Green was baptized about the same time as the Murdock family. He apparently went to Nauvoo in the summer of 1841 with Jonathan Dunham and may have purchased land at that time. “A. Davis” may have been Amos Davis, a merchant in Nauvoo. (Esshom, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, 898; Thompson, Advancing the Mormon Frontier, 9; Dunham, Journal, 3 Aug. 1841; Gregg, History of Hancock County, Illinois, 950.)
Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah: Comprising Photographs, Genealogies, Biographies. Salt Lake City: Utah Pioneers Book, 1913.
Thompson, George A. Advancing the Mormon Frontier: The Life and Times of Joseph Stacy Murdock, Pioneer, Colonizer, Peacemaker. Edited by Alan Glen Humpherys. Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2009.
Dunham, Jonathan. Journals, 1837–1846. Jonathan Dunham, Papers, 1825–1846. CHL. MS 1387, fds. 1–4.
Gregg, Thomas. History of Hancock County, Illinois, Together with an Outline History of the State, and a Digest of State Laws. Chicago: Charles C. Chapman, 1880.
Father Snow may have been Oliver Snow, who was apparently living in Walnut Grove Township, Knox County, Illinois, in 1842, after moving from Nauvoo in June. Walnut Grove Township was approximately seventy-five miles northeast of Nauvoo. Snow evidently also held land in Ramus, Illinois. (Eliza R. Snow, Journal, 29 June 1842; Beecher, “Leonora, Eliza, and Lorenzo,” 67; JS, Journal, 28 Feb. 1842.)