Letter from William W. Phelps, with Appended Letter from Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 29 June 1840
, Letter, , Montgomery Co., OH, to JS, [, Hancock Co., IL], 29 June 1840, with appended letter from and , [, Montgomery Co., OH], to JS, , and , [, Hancock Co., IL], 29 June 1840. Featured version copied [ca. 22 July 1840] in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 155–157; handwriting of ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 2.
On 29 June 1840, wrote a letter to JS asking to be forgiven for past transgressions and to have his membership restored. Phelps had been one of the church’s leading figures for several years, serving as a printer and as a member of the church in . In 1837 and 1838, however, he clashed with other church leaders, mainly over issues with church finances and the sale and control of land in and counties, Missouri. In March 1838, he was excommunicated. Sometime thereafter his membership was restored, and a July 1838 revelation stated that if he was to be saved he should be an and sent out to preach. But Phelps evidently continued to have difficulties with the church. In November 1838, during hearings held in , Missouri, for JS and other church leaders charged with treason, Phelps testified against the men, stating, among other things, that they intended to kill any sheriff trying to serve writs on them and that they wanted to declare the church independent from earthly governments. Phelps was again excommunicated in March 1839.
’s testimony and excommunication created hard feelings on both sides. In December 1838, JS called Phelps and other dissenters from the church “so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society” and accused the dissenters of having eyes “full of adultery.” Phelps wrote disparagingly of church leaders in a May 1839 letter to his wife, , stating the were unable to see “the saw log in their own eyes while they are endeavoring to pull the slab out of the neighboring nations.” Despite the contention, in spring 1839, Phelps offered to sell a mill in on behalf of JS told Phelps to mind his “own affairs” because JS had “already experienced much over officiousness at your [Phelps’s] hand.”
By summer 1840, ’s views toward the church had softened. Having relocated to , Ohio, Phelps followed the counsel of apostles and , who were preaching in the area, and wrote this 29 June 1840 letter, expressing contrition for his past actions and seeking forgiveness. Hyde and Page appended a note to Phelps’s letter, explaining to JS and his counselors in the that they believed Phelps’s repentance to be genuine. The original letter has not been located, but JS received it and wrote a reply to Phelps on 22 July 1840, accepting Phelps’s apology. At some point around 22 July 1840, copied both letters into JS Letterbook 2.
William W. Phelps, Testimony, Richmond, MO, Nov. 1838, State of Missouri v. JS et al. for Treason and Other Crimes (Mo. 5th Jud. Cir. 1838), in State of Missouri, “Evidence.”
Missouri, State of. “Evidence.” Hearing Record, Richmond, MO, 12–29 Nov. 1838, State of Missouri v. Joseph Smith et al. for Treason and Other Crimes (Mo. 5th Cir. Ct. 1838). Eugene Morrow Violette Collection, 1806–1921, Western Historical Manuscript Collection. University of Missouri and State Historical Society of Missouri, Ellis Library, University of Missouri, Columbia.
I am alive and with thee help of God I mean to live still. I am as the prodigal Son, though I never doubt or disbelieve the fulness of the gospel: I have been greatly abased and humbled: And I blessed the God of Israel, when I lately read your prophetic blessing on my head, as follows:—
“The Lord will chasten him because he taketh honor to himself, and when his soul is greatly humbled he will forsake the Evil: Then shall the light of the Lord break upon him as the noon day, and in him shall be no darkness” &c. I have Seen the folly of my way and I tremble at the gulf I have passed. so it is, and why I know not. I prayed and God answered, but what could I do? Says I, I will repent and live, and ask my old brethren to forgive me, and though they chasten me to death, yet Iwilldie with the[m]— for their God is my God. The least place with them is enough for me, yea it is bigger and better than all Babylon. Then I dreamed “That I was in a large house with many mansions, with you and and , and when it was said Supper must be made ready, by one of the cooks, I saw no meat, but you said there was plenty and shewed me much, and as good as I ever saw; And while cutting to cook, you and looked very pleasant and smiled, but ’s heart and mine beat within us, and we took each others hand and cried for Joy”. and I awoke and took courage
I I know my situation, you know it, and God knows it, and I want to be saved if my friends will help me. Like the Captain that was cast away on a desert Island, when he got off he went to sea again, and made his fortune the next time. So let my lot be. I have done wrong and I am Sorry. The beam is in my own eye.
I have not walked with my friends according to my holy : I ask forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ of all the saints for I will do right God helping me, I want your fellowship: If you cannot grant that, grant me your peace and friendship, for we are brethren, and our communion used to be Sweet, and [p. 155]
In January 1836, several church leaders, presumably including Phelps, were anointed with “holy oil” in “the loft of the printing office” in Kirtland, Ohio. This anointing prepared individuals for the endowment of power they were to receive in the Kirtland House of the Lord. (JS, Journal, 21 Jan. 1836; Partridge, Journal, 21 Jan. 1836; William W. Phelps to Sally Waterman Phelps, [18 Jan. 1836], William W. Phelps, Papers, BYU.)
Partridge, Edward. Journal, Jan. 1835–July 1836. Edward Partridge, Papers, 1818–1839. CHL. MS 892, box 1, fd. 2.