JS Letterbook 2, [1839–ca. summer 1843]; handwriting of , , , , , , and ; 245 pages of letters, plus 26 pages of index and 83 pages of company records for Rigdon, Smith & Co.; JS Collection, CHL. Includes redactions.
This letterbook was inscribed in a large, commercially produced ledger book measuring 14¼ × 9½ × 1¾ inches (36 × 24 × 4 cm) with leather-covered boards and pastedowns of marbled paper with grey body and blue and red veins. The letterbook contains endpaper in the front and back of the volume and twenty-four gatherings of 10 leaves each, except for the last gathering, which contains 8 leaves, for a total of 238 leaves. The leaves, which measure 13½ × 8⅞ inches (34 × 23 cm), are ruled vertically with eight single red lines and three interspersed red double lines and horizontally with thirty-nine blue lines and one red double line at the bottom or top of the page, depending on the way the ledger sits. The book was originally used as a financial ledger for Rigdon, Smith & Co., beginning in September 1836; eighty-three pages were paginated and inscribed with account information for customers of that firm. In April 1839, the book was inverted and repurposed as a letterbook; the back of the book for the mercantile firm was used as the front of the letterbook. The cover of the letterbook side bears a handwritten title: “Letters &c. | 1839 | AD.” The title page contains the inscription “Copies of Letters, &c. &c. | 1839, AD.” The spine of the book has a strip of red leather imprinted with “LEGER” in gilt lettering. A paper label from the Church Historian’s Office was attached to the spine; the label reads “LETTER 1838–43” with “LETTER” stenciled or hand-printed. The right side of the label is uneven, brittle, and apparently incomplete. The original inscription was probably “LETTERS | 1838–43”.
Pagination began anew with the letterbook, which contains 245 pages of inscribed letters. Apparently, in 1839 used adhesive wafers to tip in a single leaf between pages 7 and 10. The leaf, containing copies of two 1839 letters, is no longer attached and apparently not extant; however, the letters it contained are included in the volume’s first index. numbered the pages he inscribed, starting with 0 and ending with 74. After died in November 1839, became JS’s scribe and paginated the remainder of the book, from page 75 to 475. created the first index for the volume on page 472, listing the contents of pages 0–13. also created a second, larger index, spanning pages 370–392; this index includes twelve hand-cut index tabs, each containing two hand-printed letters in alphabetical order, with the last tab containing “W” and “Y”.
The letterbook contains a mix of contemporaneous letters, earlier letters, church organizational records, and church business records. The first documents were inscribed by , who was hired by JS to “write for the Church” after JS and others escaped from imprisonment in and reunited with the Saints in on 22 April 1839. It is likely that began inscribing documents into the letterbook in late April, although the exact date is not known. The first several entries in the letterbook are copies of letters that JS or others apparently received while imprisoned in from late 1838 to spring 1839. On pages 7–15, inscribed copies of May 1839 letters between JS and church leaders in and , Illinois, apparently soon after they were written or received. Several of the documents copied next were created during JS’s imprisonment and relate to the 1838 Missouri difficulties or to ’s plans to seek redress from the federal government for the Saints’ losses and mistreatment in . Pages 35–40 contain Smith family correspondence from April 1837 and April 1839. Beginning on page 52, Mulholland copied another section of earlier letters, including a letter written on 29 July 1833 by , with a postscript by , to and JS; a 4 June 1834 letter from JS to ; and a 17 June 1829 letter from Jesse Smith to . Following these letters are three 1837–1838 letters relating to dissent in and then a copy of JS’s 24 January 1839 petition to the Missouri legislature. may have copied these documents at the time that JS’s history began to be written or when the Saints began writing the history of the Missouri troubles, per JS’s instructions in March and May 1839. After these documents, the recording of contemporaneous letters continued until February 1843, interrupted only when inscribed minutes from three church meetings held in April and May 1839 onto pages 138–144, between entries for April and May 1840.
On 27 November 1832, while residing at , Ohio, JS wrote a lengthy letter to at , Missouri. JS’s missive emphasized the importance of record keeping and history writing in the young church. JS began by noting that he wished “to communicate some things which . . . are laying great with weight upon my mind.” He then observed, “Firstly, it is the duty of the lord[’s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church reccord of all things that transpire in Zion . . . and also there manner of life and the faith and works.” (Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 Nov. 1832.)
This emphasis on record keeping was not widespread at the time. 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.) During a brief span in the early 1830s, JS and those working under his direction commenced the systematic collecting and recording of critical documents pertaining to church governance and administration. From that time to the end of JS’s life, correspondence-copying, revelation-recording, minute-taking, journal-keeping, and history-writing activities remained imperative commitments.
Items of correspondence were first recorded in what was subsequently designated Letterbook 1. Created from circa November 1832 to circa August 1835, it consisted of ninety-three pages preserving a record of early church-related communications dated 14 June 1829 through 4 August 1835. A second letterbook, featured here, was apparently begun in 1839 and continued to circa summer 1843. It became a repository primarily for letters, but also other items dated from 17 June 1829 through 9 February 1843. Items were copied into that volume, later designated Letterbook 2, by JS-appointed scribes including , , , , , , and . Letterbook 2 contains over 150 items of correspondence and other documents, arranged primarily in chronological order. An index created at the time outlines the contents of the 246 pages of letters and other documents. Previously, the volume had been used as a business ledger for the Rigdon, Smith and Company store in , Ohio.
A title page designates the volume as “Copies of Letters, &c. &c. 1839, AD.” The first entry in the letterbook, labeled “Speech of General Clarke, To the Saints at Far West. 6th. Novr 1838,” contains the text of General ’s oration on that occasion. Among its varied contents, the volume includes copies of a letter from JS to in June 1834; four letters written by Emma to JS from 1837 and 1839; three letters from , , and , respectively, written in March and April 1839 to JS and other prisoners confined in the in , Missouri; two letters sent by JS and Elias Higbee while in in December 1839 to and others in , Illinois; a letter sent from by in May 1840 to JS in Nauvoo; a poignant exchange of letters between , who had been cut off from the church, and JS in summer 1840; and an exchange in June and July 1842 between JS and governor . The ledger also preserves nine sets of minutes from various meetings, five petitions concerning the Saints’ treatment in , an 1840 memorial ascribed to JS, and an 1841 inventory of the contents of the cornerstone, among other miscellaneous documents.
The last document copied into Letterbook 2 appears on manuscript pages 244–245, a letter from JS to , U.S. senator from , dated 9 February 1843. Though there are a substantial number of blank pages preceding the index beginning on manuscript page 369, it is not known why the copying of documents into Letterbook 2 ceased. However, the following circumstances regarding JS’s clerks may have been factors: died in December 1839, died in August 1841, and served a mission to during 1842–1843. and began extensive work on Joseph Smith’s history in early 1843 while continuing to perform other clerical and secretarial duties. Documents dated after 9 February 1843 that might have been expected to be copied into the letterbook were, in many instances, recorded in JS’s history. In any event, the record closed with the 9 February 1843 letter, and there is no evidence that a third letterbook was either contemplated or begun.