“Letter Book A,” JS Letterbook 1, [ca. 27 Nov. 1832–ca. 4 Aug. 1835]; handwriting of , JS, , and ; ninety-three pages, including one inserted leaf of an incomplete index (table of contents); JS Collection, CHL. Includes redactions, use marks, and archival marking.
This letterbook was inscribed in a medium-size, commercially produced blank book. The book’s ledger paper is horizontally ruled with thirty-six (now faint) blue lines and vertically ruled with four red lines; the paper in the final gathering, however, is missing the horizontal lines. The original book apparently contained nine gatherings of twelve leaves each, but eight leaves were cut from the final gathering. The text block was likely sewn all along over recessed cords, but the book underwent conservation efforts in the late twentieth century and was rebound. The leaves measure 12⅝ × 7¾ inches (32 × 20 cm). The pastedowns and flyleaves are blank white paper. The volume was constructed with front and back covers of pasteboard and a tight-back case binding with a brown calfskin quarter-leather binding. The bound volume measures 12⅞ × 8 × ⅞ inches (33 × 20 × 2 cm). The outside covers are adorned in shell marbled paper, with brown body and veins of blue and red. The front pastedown bears the inscriptions “c=c/i” and “/i=”, possibly original merchandising notes.
The first three leaves of the volume contain JS’s earliest extant attempt to write a history of his life. Later, the book was turned over so the back cover became the front and the last page became the first. One or more texts were inscribed in this side (the back) of the book on the eight leaves that were later cut out, as is evident from inscriptions visible on the remaining stubs of the excised leaves.
The volume was also repurposed as a letterbook. The letterbook begins on the recto of the fourth leaf in the front of the book (immediately following the history). The letters occupy ninety-three pages. The book’s pagination also began anew with the copied letters. The first page of letters bore the inscription “1a”, which is only partially extant on the now-trimmed page but is complete in photocopy and microfilm copies at the Church History Library. Page 78 is blank. The front flyleaf is now missing—possibly because it bore a title related to the history and was removed when the volume was converted to a letterbook. The letters were copied with quill pens in ink that is now brown. The pagination appears to have been added at different times and possibly in different hands. There are 101 blank pages between the end of the letter transcripts and the excised pages in the back of the book.
At some point, began an index or table of contents that identifies the letters copied onto pages 1–25 of the letterbook. This incomplete index is inscribed on paper that does not match the original ledger paper. It was apparently a loose leaf inserted in the volume—as is Williams’s index to the contents of Revelation Book 2—although it is currently bound in the front of the volume as a result of late twentieth-century conservation. The index is horizontally ruled with forty-three manually inscribed graphite lines.
The front cover of the book is labeled “Letter Book | A” in black ink. The “A” is written in a formal style that matches the covers of other manuscript volumes in the holdings of the Church History Library. On the spine, a paper label with the hand-lettered title “KIRTLAND LETTER BOOK” was pasted over an earlier, now only partially visible title, “L[tr?] | B[k?]”, written in black ink. These inscriptions are in unidentified handwriting. A small “3” is stamped in dark brown ink at the bottom of the spine. Graphite use marks and copy notes on some pages were apparently made in connection with work on JS’s 1838–1856 history.
A reconstruction of the physical history of the artifact helps explain the current material context of the document. Photocopy and microfilm images of the book, as well as an inspection of the conservation work now present in the volume, indicate that the text block separated from the binding at some point. The entire volume was rebound, apparently in the 1990s, including the formerly loose leaf containing a partial index of letters. The back flyleaf was replaced with a leaf of laid paper.
Letterbook 1 was used in , Illinois, during the compilation of JS’s 1838–1856 history and is listed in the inventory of church records made in connection with the exodus from Nauvoo. The volume is likely accounted for in subsequent Historian’s Office inventories, which list multiple letterbooks. It is also listed in the 1973 register of the JS Collection. These archival records indicate continuous institutional custody.
JS evidently wrote his history on the first three leaves of the book in summer 1832. The excised pages in the back of the book were apparently inscribed sometime after the history and before the letterbook. On 27 November 1832, while residing at Kirtland, Ohio, JS wrote a lengthy letter to William W. Phelps, who earlier that year had settled at Independence, Missouri. JS’s missive included a reminder emphasizing the importance of record keeping and history writing to the young church. JS’s dispatch to Phelps coincided with a new record-keeping initiative in Ohio and became the first entry recorded in what was subsequently designated “Letter Book A.” Beginning on the recto of the fourth leaf in the front of the book (immediately following the history) are ninety-three pages of copied outgoing letters, dated 14 June 1829 through 4 August 1835. The copy of JS’s 27 November 1832 letter to Phelps was apparently copied into the book from the original letter before the original was sent. In the next nine pages, Frederick G. Williams and JS copied six items of Oliver Cowdery correspondence from 1829 and 1831. The remainder of the book appears to be a register of outgoing correspondence that was continually updated as letters were written (and before they were sent). Williams made most of the copies, with Orson Hyde, Cowdery, and JS occasionally helping. There are copies of thirty-four letters. The letters reflect ongoing communications within the church, especially from the church members in Ohio to the church members in Missouri. Pages 38–44 contain explanations of a plat for the city of Zion (in Jackson County, Missouri) and plans for a temple to be built there. These explanations were also sent from Ohio to Missouri. The volume appears to have been used as an active register of letters throughout 1833 and 1834. A final item copied into the volume was a letter written on or soon after 4 August 1835, the date of a council whose resolutions were transmitted in the letter. The first seven letters in the letterbook are numbered, possibly in an early attempt to create a registry of documents. The entire record was apparently created in Kirtland.
Johnson, Register of the Joseph Smith Collection, 7.
Johnson, Jeffery O. Register of the Joseph Smith Collection in the Church Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973.
It is possible that a fair copy of the letter was made on loose leaves before it was sent, and that this fair copy was later used to make the copy of record in JS Letterbook 1. There is no evidence, however, of an intermediate copy.
JS, Letter, Kirtland, OH, ca. 4 Aug. 1835, in JS Letterbook 1, pp. 90–93.
JS Letterbook 1 / Smith, Joseph. “Letter Book A,” 1832–1835. Joseph Smith Collection. CHL. MS 155, box 2, fd. 1.
On 27 November 1832, while residing at , Ohio, JS wrote a lengthy letter to , who earlier that year had settled at , Missouri. JS’s missive included a reminder stressing the importance of record keeping and history writing to the young church. Portions were later added to the Doctrine and Covenants, the church’s official collection of commandments and revelations. JS began by noting that he wished “to communicate some things which . . . are laying great with weight upon my mind.” He then went on to observe, “Firstly, it is the duty of the lord’[s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion . . . and also the[ir] manner of life and the[ir] faith and works.” (JS, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, Independence, MO, 27 Nov. 1832, JS Letterbook 1, pp. 1–4 [D&C 85:1–2].)
JS’s dispatch to reminding those in Missouri of the importance of record keeping coincided with a new record-keeping initiative in Ohio. This letter became the first entry, identified as “Letter first” and “Letter 1,” recorded in what was subsequently designated Letter Book A or Letterbook 1. This record, consisting of ninety-three manuscript pages, preserves copies of early church-related communications dated 14 June 1829 through 4 August 1835. The transcribed text is in the handwriting of JS, , , and .
Correspondence captured in Letterbook 1 includes six early letters composed or received by , four from 1829 and two from 1831. Other letters reflect ongoing communications between the two centers of the early church located in and . Two entries describe the plat of the proposed “City of Zion” to be built at Independence and the dimensions of the “house of the Lord” to be erected there. The concluding item in the collection is a letter that incorporates a set of minutes from a council held in Kirtland on 4 August 1835 censuring the Twelve Apostles for failing to fully comply with their fund-raising responsibilities as they conducted a mission among the branches of the church in the East. Note that letters from Letterbook 1 written to or from JS will also appear with individual introductions in the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers.
Letterbook 1 was initiated during a remarkable surge in record keeping, beginning with the calling of and later as church historians in 1830 and 1831. Revelations and commandments recorded in Revelation Book 1 were sent to in late 1831 to be published on the church’s first press, and Revelation Book 2 was in use in by February 1832. Sometime in 1832, probably between July and September, JS and worked together on a brief history of JS’s early visionary experiences. JS purchased the small volume that contains his first journal in November 1832 and began penning entries that same month. That fall another record, containing the minutes of early church conference and council meetings and now designated Minute Book 1, was commenced. In January of the following year, in another epistle recorded in Letterbook 1, JS again wrote to encouraging him as editor of the church’s first periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, then printed in , to set “forth the rise and progress and faith of the church,” that is, to begin publishing items on the history of the church.
This upwelling in record keeping was unusual for the time. As scholar Dean C. Jessee has observed, “So primitive were some aspects of record keeping in nineteenth-century America that much of the early Latter-day Saint experience was a pioneering effort. . . . Although Mormon record keeping was inaugurated by [an] 1830 revelation, details for carrying out that commandment were largely hammered out on the anvil of experience in the years that followed.” (Dean C. Jessee, “The Reliability of Joseph Smith’s History,” Journal of Mormon History 3 : 27.) Thus, during a brief span in the early 1830s, JS, along with those working under his direction, commenced the systematic collection and recording of critical documents pertaining to church governance and administration. Throughout the remainder of JS’s lifetime, correspondence-copying, revelation-recording, minute-taking, journal-keeping, and history-drafting activities would remain imperative commitments.
for the salvation of the nations, for the Lord will have a place from whence his word will go forth in these last days in purity, for if Zion, will not purify herself so as to be approved of in all things in his sight he will seek another people for his work will go on untill Isreal is & they who will not hear his voice must expect to feel his wrath, Let me say unto you, seek to purefy yourselves, & also all the inhabitants of Zion lest the Lords anger be kindled to fierceness, repent, repent, is the voice of God, to Zion, & yet strange as it may appear, yet it is true mankind will presist in self Justification until all their eniquity is exposed & their character past being redeemed, & that which is treasured up in their hearts be exposed to the gaze of mankind, I say to you— (& what I say to you, I say to all) hear the <warning> voice of God lest Zion fall, & the Lord swear in his wrath the inhabiteints of Zion shall not enter into my rest, The Brethren in pray for you unceasingly, for knowing the terrors of the Lord, they greatly fear— for you; you will see that the Lord commanded us in to build an , & establish a , this is the word of the Lord to us, & we must— yea the Lord helping us we will obey, as on conditions of our obedience, he has promised <us> great things, yea <even> a visit from the heavens to honor us with his own presence, we greatly fear before the Lord lest we should fail of this great honor which our master proposes to confer on us, we are seeking for humility & great faith lest we be ashamed in his presence, our hearts are greatly greaved at the spirit which is breathed both in your letter & that of the very spirit which is wasting the strength of Zion like a pestalence, and if it is not detected & driven from you it will ripen Zion for the threatened Judgments of God, remember God sees the secret springs of human action, & knows the hearts of all living, Br suffer us to speak plainly for God has respect to the feelings of his saints & he will not let them be tantalized with impunity. tell that low insinuations God hates, but he rejoices in an honest heart and knows better who is guilty than he does, we send him this worning [warning] voice & let him fear greatly for himself lest a worse thing overtake him, all we can say by way of conclusion is, if the fountain of our tears are not dried up we will <still> weep for Zion, this from your brother who trembles greatly for Zion,— and for the wrath of heaven which awaits her if she repent not,— — P.S. I am not in the habit of crying peace, when there is no peace, and knowing the th[r]eatened Judgments of God, I say Wo,— unto them who are at ease [p. 19]