JS and , Letter, , Caldwell Co., MO, to , [, Caldwell Co., MO], 9 Apr. 1838; attested by . Featured version copied [ca. mid- or late Apr. 1838] in JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, p. 28; handwriting of ; CHL. Includes use marks. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838.
On 9 April 1838, JS and wrote to former church historian , requesting that he give them the writings he had been preparing since 1831 for a church history. When asked in 1831 to serve as the church’s historian, Whitmer initially declined. However, after JS dictated a revelation appointing Whitmer to “keep the Church Record & History continually,” Whitmer accepted a formal appointment to perform these duties. Within a few months of his appointment, Whitmer began writing the history of the church. In late 1832, JS referred to Whitmer in his role of church historian as “the lord[’s] clerk.” Nevertheless, Whitmer remained somewhat uncertain about his roles, and JS had some concerns about Whitmer fulfilling his responsibilities. By the time of his excommunication on 10 March 1838, Whitmer had apparently written eighty-five manuscript pages recounting the history of the church up to that time. These writings placed several revelation texts and other important documents in context and provided firsthand information regarding significant episodes in the church’s history. However, as the 9 April letter suggests, Whitmer’s writings may not have met JS’s expectations.
Following ’s excommunication, the church needed to fill his roles as church clerk, record keeper, and historian. In a meeting held 6 April 1838, the in appointed two new historians as well as two clerks. This and other business conducted in the meeting organizationally prepared the church for the quarterly conference held over the next two days. Perhaps in response to business conducted at the 7–8 April conference, church leaders wrote letters on 9 April to address administrative matters. sent a letter notifying of his upcoming trial on 12 April, and sent letters to and , notifying them of their upcoming trials on 13 April. JS and wrote the featured letter to Whitmer, criticizing his capabilities and performance as a church historian and requesting that he turn over his historical writing to the church. Whitmer evidently refused to relinquish his writings. By the end of April 1838, JS, Rigdon, and their clerk, , began writing a new history, which included much more detail than Whitmer’s effort did.
Although no written reply from Whitmer exists, his refusal to turn over his history is apparent from subsequent events, including the creation of a substitute history. A few years later, Whitmer offered to sell his history, which he titled the “Book of John Whitmer,” to the church. By the time Whitmer offered to sell his history, JS’s new history was well under way, and Whitmer’s offer was declined. (JS, Journal, 27 Apr. 1838; John Whitmer, Far West, MO, to William W. Phelps, Nauvoo, IL, 8 Jan. 1844, JS Office Papers, CHL; Willard Richards, Nauvoo, IL, to John Whitmer, Far West, MO, 23 Feb. 1844, copy, Willard Richards, Papers, CHL; for an introduction to and a transcript of Whitmer’s history, which is now owned by the Community of Christ church, see Whitmer, History.)
Richards, Willard. Journals and Papers, 1821–1854. CHL. MS 1490.
Sir. We were desireous of honouring you by giving publicity to your notes on the history of the , after such corrections as we thaught would be necessary; knowing your incompetency as a historian, and that your writings coming from your pen, could not be put to the press, without our correcting them, or elce the Church must suffer reproach; Indeed Sir, we never supposed you capable of writing a history; but were willing to let it come out under your name notwithstanding it would realy not be yours but ours. We are still willing to honour you, if you can be made to know your own interest and give up your notes, so that they can be corrected, and made fit for the press. But if not, we have all the materials for another, which we shall commence this week to write
Decades later, Ebenezer Robinson recounted that the church attempted to obtain Whitmer’s historical writings and other church records before JS and Rigdon wrote the letter but that Whitmer refused to relinquish the items. This failed attempt, which may have influenced the insulting tone of the subsequent letter from JS and Rigdon, may have been made by Ebenezer Robinson or George W. Robinson after the Zionhigh council meeting held on 6 April. (Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal History of the Editor,” Return, Sept. 1889, 133.)
The Return. Davis City, IA, 1889–1891; Richmond, MO, 1892–1893; Davis City, 1895–1896; Denver, 1898; Independence, MO, 1899–1900.
When a mob razed the Mormon print shop in Independence, Missouri, in 1833, the church formed a new printing establishment in Kirtland, Ohio. Now that JS was living in Far West and loyal Saints in Kirtland were preparing to follow him, he may have planned to reestablish the church’s printing operations in Missouri. (See Crawley, Descriptive Bibliography, 1:17–20.)
Crawley, Peter. A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. 3 vols. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997–2012.