JS, Letter, [, Hancock Co., IL], to “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” 7 Sept. 1842; handwriting of ; signature of JS; nine pages; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes address, docket, and archival marking.
Two bifolia and a single leaf, likely torn from another bifolium, all measuring 9¾ × 7¾ inches (25 × 20 cm). Embossed in the upper left corners of the first and fifth pages is an oval surrounding text: “J[.] AMES”. The letter was trifolded twice in letter style and sealed. There are remnants of a red wafer seal and red wax on the final leaf. The letter was refolded for filing. The pages were numbered 1–9, likely at a later date. The leaves of both bifolia appear to have been detached and then reattached through conservation work. The last leaf is torn along the right side of the recto.
The document was docketed by , who served as JS’s scribe from 1843 to 1844 and as clerk to the church historian and recorder from 1845 to 1865. By 1983 the letter was included in the Revelations Collection at the Church Historical Department (now CHL). The letter’s docket and inclusion in the Revelations Collection suggest continuous institutional custody.
The embossment may be that of D. & J. Ames, a paper mill. (Whiting, “Paper-Making in New England,” 309; Gravell et al., American Watermarks, 235.)
Whiting, William. “Paper-Making in New England.” In The New England States: Their Constitutional, Judicial, Educational, Commercial, Professional and Industrial History, edited by William T. Davis, vol. 1, pp. 303–333. Boston: D. H. Hurd, 1897.
Gravell, Thomas L., George Miller, and Elizabeth Walsh. American Watermarks: 1690–1835. 2nd ed. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2002.
Best, “Register of the Revelations Collection,” 20.
Best, Christy. “Register of the Revelations Collection in the Church Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” July 1983. CHL.
On 7 September 1842, JS dictated a letter addressed to the giving further instructions on performing and recording for the dead. He wrote from the home of , where he was hiding from men sent to arrest him on charges of complicity in the attempted murder of former governor . This letter expanded on JS’s 1 September 1842 letter to the church, which included some instructions on recording baptisms for the dead and promised to give additional instructions in the future.
Since the founding of the church, record keeping had served as an important theme in both the revelations and teachings of JS and had influenced the day-to-day operations of the church. With the instructions in both this and the 1 September letter, however, JS outlined a more detail-oriented approach to record keeping than had previously been practiced among the Latter-day Saints. JS’s discussion of record keeping in this 7 September letter was a vital step toward the procedural systematization of baptisms for the dead and the attendant records of those , as record keeping had been limited prior to September 1842 and often varied from to branch. The enhanced record-keeping efforts that JS suggested resembled those that contemporaneous state and county recorders were making to maintain official copies of deeds and other records. JS explained, however, that the Saints needed to maintain an accurate record of these ordinances because the record would subsequently be written in heaven and become a book that the Saints would offer to God.
In the letter, JS also tied baptisms for the dead to his -era teachings regarding and of the gospel. He explained that through the ordinance, the Saints could forge a generational chain between parents and children, just as there would be a “welding together” of the various and dispensations from Adam down to JS in the “dispensation of the fulness of times.” Building on this teaching, JS used the letter to recount briefly that he had been visited by ancient prophets who provided him with the necessary keys.
At JS’s request, this letter was “read to the saints at the near the ” on 11 September 1842. reported in JS’s journal that the letter “made a deep and solemn impression on the minds of the saints,” who “manifested their intentions to obey the instructions to the letter.” Soon thereafter, general church recorder began keeping a new record for baptisms for the dead. The first entry in the book was for proxy baptisms performed on the evening of 11 September 1842, with the entries for that date reflecting the new instructions contained in this letter.
The featured version of the letter is a loose copy in ’s handwriting. It is the earliest known extant manuscript copy and may be the original dictated letter. The letter was copied into JS’s journal by on or around 11 September. Differences between the Clayton version and the version copied in JS’s journal are noted. Although both versions date the letter 6 September, JS’s journal entry for 7 September notes that he “wrote—or rather dictated a long Epistle to the Saints which he ordered to be read next Sabbath.” The letter may have been misdated in the loose copy, with the error copied into the journal, or Clayton may have mistakenly attributed the letter to 6 September while making entries in JS’s journal. The letter was subsequently published in the 1 October 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons. At some point between September 1842 and July 1843, inscribed onto a single leaf excerpts from the letter pertaining to how the records were to be kept. Water damage and other markings on the page suggest he may have kept this document with the baptisms for the dead records that he made pursuant to the instructions in the letter. The letter was later included in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
For example, the record book of the churchbranch in Quincy, Illinois, includes records of thirteen baptisms for the dead between 9 November 1840 and 27 February 1841. In addition to recording the names of those who were baptized, the names of the deceased, and the relationship between the person baptized and the deceased, the book noted the exact dates of the baptisms. However, the earliest records are generally less detailed than the Quincy record book, often including only the year rather than a specific date. An inserted page in book B of the Nauvoo proxy baptism records includes some additional details, but a notation on the reverse side of the page indicates that the page had been found among the Nauvoo high council papers, suggesting that it was added to the book later and was not created at the same time as the other records contained in that book. (Quincy, IL, Branch, Record Book, 9 Nov. 1840 and 17 Nov. 1840–27 Feb. 1841, 20, 22; Nauvoo Temple, Record of Baptisms for the Dead, bk. A; bk. B, 2–3.)
Quincy, IL, Branch, Record Book / “Record of the Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in Quincy, (Ill),” 1840–1846. CHL. LR 5361 21, fd. 1.
Nauvoo Temple. Record of Baptisms for the Dead, 1841, 1843–1845. CHL.
Nineteenth-century Christians frequently referred to dispensations, such as the Mosaic dispensation, defining them as periods of divine involvement with humanity. During the previous years in Nauvoo, JS had addressed the topics of priesthood and gospel dispensations on several occasions. Like other nineteenth-century Christians, he taught that there had been gospel dispensations prior to Christ, although JS held that people during these dispensations were aware of and taught about Christ. JS’s comments on these earlier dispensations also emphasized that Adam, Noah, and others “held the Keys” of the priesthood “from genration to Generation.” Teaching that the church and its priesthood were linked to those earlier prophets, JS urged the Latter-day Saints to “seek for the Glory of Abraham. Noah. Adam.” (“Dispensation,” in Buck, Theological Dictionary, 127–128; Discourse, between ca. 26 June and ca. 4 Aug. 1839–A, underlining in original; see also Instruction on Priesthood, ca. 5 Oct. 1840; and Minutes and Discourse, 1–5 Oct. 1841.)
Buck, Charles. A Theological Dictionary, Containing Definitions of All Religious Terms: A Comprehensive View of Every Article in the System of Divinity. . . . Philadelphia: W. W. Woodward, 1818.
Nauvoo Temple, Record of Baptisms for the Dead, bk. C, 1. Loose slips of paper inserted throughout the book indicate that the general church record was compiled from loose records that were subsequently given to the general church recorder.
Nauvoo Temple. Record of Baptisms for the Dead, 1841, 1843–1845. CHL.
While it is possible that Clayton inadvertently misdated the letter in JS’s journal, his description of 6 September 1842 in JS’s journal seems to indicate otherwise. Describing the events of that day, Clayton noted, “The evening was spent cheerfully but nothing of special importance transpired.” (JS, Journal, 6 Sept. 1842.)
that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead which are truly made out so also are the records in Heaven This therefore is the and binding power, and in one sense of the word the of the kingdom which consists in the key of knowledge. And now my dearly and beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that there are principals in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation; For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation see as Paul says concerning the fathers “That they without us can not be made perfect”; Neither can we without our dead be made perfect. And now in relation, to the for the dead I will give you another quotation of Paul 1 Corinthians 15 chap— verses 29 “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead.” And again in connexion with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the Prophets which had his eye fixid on the restoration of the the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial <manner> this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel viz the baptism for the dead, for Malachi says last Chapter verses 5th & 6. [“]Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the [p. 5]