Letter to Church Leaders in Geneseo, New York, 23 November 1833
JS on behalf of the , Letter, Kirtland Township, Geauga Co., OH, to “Dearly beloved brethren,” , Livingston Co., NY, 23 Nov. 1833. Retained copy, [between ca. 23 and 27 Nov. 1833]; handwriting of ; three pages; CHL.
Bifolium measuring 12⅜ × 8 inches (31 × 20 cm). The text of the letter is on the recto and verso of the first leaf and on the recto of the second leaf. The letter was originally cataloged with Minute Book 1, though its provenance is unknown.
, Livingston County, New York, was the home of a small congregation of the in the early 1830s. By fall 1832, , , and , and had all preached in the , and the latter three helped found the congregation in Geneseo. Kimball remembered that during that fall, “I was an by Joseph Young and in company with himself and his brother Brigham I labored in Genesee, and Lyonstown, where we baptized many and built up churches.” , who had recently been baptized into the Church of Christ—likely by Kimball or one of the Young brothers—also preached in Avon and Geneseo that fall and brought “eighteen or twenty” persons into the congregation. Kimball reminisced that, on at least one occasion, “the fell upon” the Geneseo church members. After the Youngs and Kimball departed from the region, Landon became the presiding officer over the Geneseo congregation.
On 23 March 1833, and , who had spent most of 1832 proselytizing in the East, received another “, through the prophet” to preach and visit the churches in the eastern . They left , Ohio, on 26 March to fulfill their mission. Sometime before 1 May 1833, they arrived in and discovered that refused to accept JS’s vision of the three degrees of afterlife glory as a revelation. He had also persuaded others in the congregation to reject the vision as well.
, another missionary who left about the same time as and , was also in the area at the time. In his journal, Murdock recorded that on 1 May 1833, “Br L Johnson came to me said he & O Pratt had visited in who denied the vision & other Revelations & other members joined him & they wanted to get help[.] Br & my self went with him.” According to Murdock, Landon claimed that the “vision was of the Devil & he believed it no more than he believed the devil was crucified . . . & that he Br Landing would not have the vision taught in the church for $1000.” Over a two-day period, Pratt, Johnson, Murdock, and Rich labored with Landon and other members of the branch. Eventually Landon declared that “he heartily received all we taught & would teach it to the church & said he would not for $2000 be put back where he was before we came to him. We forgave him allowing him to stand in his office We taught the same things to the church they promised obedience to all the commands of God.” Landon retained his leadership position, and the missionaries continued their journey through the eastern in mid-May 1833.
However, in September 1833, when and stopped in on their way back to , Pratt noted that “some of the brethren received not our teachings among whom was .” Pratt and Johnson arrived in Kirtland on 28 September and reported on their missionary efforts, mentioning the unbelief of Landon and his congregation, to JS and others. As the letter featured here indicates, on 23 November, a council of tasked Pratt and Johnson with a special assignment to visit Geneseo and other churches in the East. Four days after the council of high priests met, Pratt and Johnson departed Kirtland with JS’s letter of introduction, featured here, authorizing them as official representatives of the Church of Christ sent to settle the disharmony among the church members in Geneseo. The letter made clear that disagreement with church doctrine, and particularly disbelief in JS’s revelations, was grounds for excommunication.
Nearly a month after they left , and again arrived in . On 29 December 1833, Pratt attended a meeting with , who was still preaching in the area. Pratt recorded in his journal, “ did not ask us to preach but preached himself however Bro. John did say a few words to the congregation after Bro. Landen had got through. after meeting we went to visit Bro. Landen & found that he still rejected the vision & said that it was of the Devil in the evening Bro. Murdock preached upon the Priesthood.” Murdock confirmed that Landon continued to speak against JS’s vision. Pratt, Johnson, and Murdock scheduled a of elders for 31 December to discuss Landon’s attitudes and actions. At the conference, Johnson served as the moderator and Pratt as the clerk. Landon, however, refused to attend—an act that was interpreted as treating the visiting church representatives “with contempt & ridicule.” After examining Landon’s case, the elders at the conference “unanimously gave their voices against him & he was cut off from the church the same day we demanded his but he refused to give it up.” Johnson reported to The Evening and the Morning Star that Landon had been “silenced by the voice of said conference for promulgating unscriptural principles, and refusing to give proper satisfaction for his conduct.” The Star further reported that when Landon refused to give up his elder’s license, he was excommunicated “according to the rules and regulations of the church.”
influenced others in the congregation, and over the next month, over two dozen other people in were also cut off from the church. The congregation, however, continued to function under the leadership of . In March 1834, JS and others traveled to Geneseo while recruiting men for the expedition. During their visit, JS attempted to reclaim Ezra Landon and show him “his rong,” but his effort was “all in vane.” JS, however, was successful in recruiting men from the Geneseo area for the Camp of Israel expedition.
See Vision, 16 Feb. 1832 [D&C 76]. In a later autobiographical account, Warren Foote wrote that Landon and several others had difficulties accepting the vision “concerning the three glories.” It was not uncommon for early church members to struggle with and accept “the Vision.” For instance, Brigham Young later stated, “Many things which were revealed through Joseph came in contact with our own prejudices: we did not know how to understand them.” Young referred to “the Vision” and acknowledged that “it was directly contrary and opposed to my former education. I said, Wait a little. I did not reject it; but I could not understand it. I then could feel what incorrect tradition had done for me.” (Foote, Autobiography, 5; Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 29 Aug. 1852, 6:280–281.)
Foote, Warren. Autobiography, not before 1903. Warren Foote, Papers, 1837–1941. CHL. MS 1123, fd. 1.
Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–1886.
See Pratt, Diary, 2, 6, 11, and 23 Jan. 1834; and Murdock, Journal, 2, 6, 11, and 21 Jan. 1833; 8, 13, and 16 Feb. 1833; see also “Amasa Lyman’s History,” Deseret News [Salt Lake City], 8 Sept. 1858, 117; and Foote, Autobiography, 4–5.
Pratt, Orson. Journal, 1833–1837. Orson Pratt, Autobiography and Journals, 1833–1847. CHL. MS 587, fds. 2–4.
Murdock, John. Journal, ca. 1830–1859. John Murdock, Journal and Autobiography, ca. 1830–1867. CHL. MS 1194, fd. 2.
Deseret News. Salt Lake City. 1850–.
Foote, Warren. Autobiography, not before 1903. Warren Foote, Papers, 1837–1941. CHL. MS 1123, fd. 1.
Noble, Joseph B., and Mary Adeline Beman Noble. Reminiscences, ca. 1836. CHL. MS 1031, fd. 1.
Pratt, Parley P. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by Parley P. Pratt Jr. New York: Russell Brothers, 1874.
* <We have been informed that when> These two brethren visited you previously, having authority from us to teach you the doctrine of this , and [to] expound the revelations to your understandings, <that they> learned that brother did not believe <all of> the Vision given to us of revelations which had been delivered to this chuch by inspiration by the appointment of heaven. Our brother while reading the Vision to a certain brother, while in ’s house, was threatened of being turned out of at the door except he should desist. They then called a of the to labor with who, when on the point of being cut off from the church said that he believed the Vision and would teach it to the church. On the return of said brethren from the east this fall, they learned that did not teach, neither believe the Vision. We have also learned from other brethren that he does not walk worthy of his high calling before the Lord, and without speedy repentance and deep humility will have his office and also membership in this church taken from him.
We want you to understand, dear brethren, that the conduct of our has greatly grieved us, and this church. We want you to understand, that we hold no communion, nor have no fellowship for those who do not believe the book of Mormon, and the revelations which God has given to us in these last days. We are informed that our endeavors to excuse himself for not believing the Vision, saying, that it is not a revelation, but a Vision. We want you to understand from us, that we pronounce such t◊◊◊ings the works of the devil, and are calculated to ensnare the souls of the saints. We plainly declare, and as men that expect to, and must be judged by the searcher of all hearts, that those who do not believe and <all> the revelations and vision given to this church, by that they do not believe the book of Mormon, and consequently have no fellowship with us. We write plain, for we are bound so to do, and we write in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we hope that what we write may be heeded, for we write in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of our calling in his church. [p. ]
Rejecting the Book of Mormon and the revelations was viewed as repudiating JS’s claim that the texts had divine origins and that he was the prophet who brought them forth. The Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, in dividing individuals into two categories based on how they reacted to the Book of Mormon—those who received it “either to faith and righteousness, or to the hardness of heart in unbelief to their own condemnation”—demonstrated the incongruence of “fellowship” between those who believed the book and those who did not. (Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:14–16].)