Letters to John Burk, Sally Waterman Phelps, and Almira Mack Scobey, 1–2 June 1835
Letters, JS, , , and , , Geauga Co., OH, to , , Clay Co., MO, 1 June 1835; , , Geauga Co., OH, to , , Clay Co., MO, 2 June 1835; JS, , Geauga Co., OH, to , , MO, ca. 2 June 1835; handwriting of and JS; signatures of JS, , , and ; four pages; JS Collection, CHL. Includes docket.
These letters were inscribed on a large single sheet folded in half, creating two leaves measuring 16¾ × 10½ inches (42 × 27 cm). The top, bottom, and outside edges of the leaves were irregularly cut. The document was tri-folded twice in letter style for mailing. Three of the center panels on the verso of the second leaf have residue from an adhesive wafer; one of the panels contains a largely complete adhesive wafer with the letters “WWP”, for , still visible. Opening of the seal resulted in some minor loss to the text of the recto of the second leaf. Soiling is heaviest on the address panel and the other exterior panel, suggesting that it was kept folded in letter style for some time. All the folds are weak, and many folds and corners have loss of text because of wear. Some folds have been mended with Japanese paper. A docket in the handwriting of Andrew Jenson is inscribed vertically in graphite on the address panel and reads: “June 2 1, 1835”. Asterisks (redactions) inscribed in graphite in the margins throughout the manuscript suggest the letter may have been copied at some point.
The custodial history is uncertain. The address label specifies the letter was sent to “Mr or ” in , Clay County, Missouri, but the absence of any postmark indicates it was hand carried, even though a statement in the letter speaks of postage. Manuscript materials relating to were donated to the Historian’s Office incrementally starting in the 1860s. Sometime between 1906 and 1913, Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson copied the letters into the Journal History of the Church, stating that they were “on file” at the Church Historian’s Office.
Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, 1–2 June 1835; Bergera, “Commencement of Great Things,” 23, 30.
Historical Department. Journal History of the Church, 1896–. CHL. CR 100 137.
Bergera, Gary James. “The Commencement of Great Things: The Origins, Scope, and Achievement of the Journal History of the Church.” Mormon Historical Studies 4, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 23–39.
On 1 June 1835, JS, , , and wrote a letter to , president of the in , Clay County, Missouri, explaining that elders did not have the authority to conduct disciplinary councils in . They also provided more general information on the duties of elders, , , and . Phelps and Whitmer had left their homes in where they served as two of the presidents of the Missouri high council, on 28 April 1835, and they arrived in , Ohio, on 17 May 1835. On 20 May, they participated in a meeting that determined that a Missouri disciplinary council held for , an elder in Missouri, was not authorized. Phelps then served as the scribe for this letter—signed by himself, JS, Cowdery, and Whitmer—informing Burk of that decision.
The letter suggests that there was some confusion regarding the responsibilities of elders, especially in terms of church discipline. In the past, conferences of elders had filled a disciplinary role. In 1834, the and the high council were formed and given the responsibility of disciplining members accused of transgressions in , or Missouri, and Kirtland, a of Zion, although maintained a role in this as well. Yet in of the church outside of Kirtland and Missouri, conferences of elders continued to serve as disciplinary bodies. Further complicating matters in Missouri was the fact that, as of 1 June 1835, the presidency of the Missouri high council—, , and —and at least ten of the twelve counselors had gone to Kirtland or were serving on missions elsewhere. With only two counselors in Missouri, the high council could not function. and his counselors, and , had also gone to Kirtland, leaving the Saints in Missouri essentially leaderless and without the ability to conduct disciplinary proceedings. Burk may have supposed that, given this situation, the elders had to take charge of disciplinary matters. This letter corrected Burk, explaining that the elders did not have the authority to discipline in areas where a high council was organized. Instead, the Missouri high council, its presidency, and the Missouri would regulate the Missouri church from Kirtland for the time being. An August 1835 letter reiterated that the Saints in Missouri “should let the high counsel which is appointed of God and for that purpose, make and regulate all the affairs of Zion.” Those priesthood officers who remained in Missouri were to “confine themselves to teaching the first principles of the Gospel: not endeavoring to institute regulations or laws for Zion.”
The letter also clarifies the role of different officers in the church, a common topic of church leaders’ meetings and writings around this time because of the recent designation of some men as or members of the . The letter reiterates the duties of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons and emphasizes the importance of mercy in dealing with wayward members. In addition, the letter explains the need for elders to preach and call people to repentance. According to notations made on the letter, these general instructions were meant for all members of the church and for “each grade of officers.” Accordingly, they were published, with several additions and modifications by Phelps, in the June 1835 issue of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate under the title “To the Saints Scattered Abroad.” Not published in the Messenger and Advocate were portions of the letter explaining the specific decision in ’s case, expressing hope that an “Elder Fosdick” would “improve his talent,” and chastising for not traveling to as he had been instructed in June 1834.
Included in the transmission of this letter to Burk was a separate letter from to his wife, , and their six children who remained in . In addition, the letter includes a short postscript from JS to his cousin , who was also living in Clay County. Phelps’s letter provides counsel to Sally about raising their children in his absence and conveys information about the church in , especially the preaching of elders sent from there. On the letter to his wife, Phelps drew part of what appears to be the original plat of the , which was created in June 1833. Phelps gives no reasons for providing this to Sally, saying only that she should keep the drawing confidential. The plans for the city of Zion had been sent to church leaders in , Missouri, in summer 1833, not long before the Saints were expelled from the county in November 1833. However, redeeming Zion by reclaiming their lands in Jackson County was still an item of concern to JS and other leaders.
Just a month before this letter was written, JS made “some very appropriate remarks, relative to the deliverance of Zion” to a gathering of church officers. Those present at the meeting then unanimously voted “that we never give up the struggle for Zion, even until Death. or until Zion is Redeemed.” JS had also told others that church members needed to be ready to move back to Jackson County by 11 September 1836, which he called “the appointed time for the redemption of Zion.” In 1835, he was already making plans for this return, including, as recorded in an earlier letter to Sally, “the order of receiving inheritances in Zion when it is redeemed.” Church leaders in were thus regularly addressing the topic of returning to Zion (including a brief mention in the letter to ), which may have prompted Phelps to provide the drawing in the letter. The theme of Zion’s redemption also appears in JS’s short note to .
Although statements in the letter to refer to the cost of postage for the letter, there are no postage markings on it. It appears to have been received in , however, because a later letter from states that informed him in July 1835 that the letter “had checked the Elders in their crusade for exaltation.” In addition, was laboring as a missionary by 1836, indicating that he was in good standing with the church, and arrived in in November 1835, presumably as a result of the chastisement he received in the letter to Burk.
In a later letter to his wife, Sally Waterman Phelps, William W. Phelps referred to a letter that “checked the Elders in their crusade for exaltation.” He called the letter “my letter,” indicating that he likely drafted the letter on behalf of the other three. (William W. Phelps, Kirtland, OH, to Sally Waterman Phelps, Liberty, MO, 20 July 1835, in Historical Department, Journal History of the Church, 20 July 1835.)
Historical Department. Journal History of the Church, 1896–. CHL. CR 100 137.
McLellin, William E. Journal, July 1834–Apr. 1835. William E. McLellin, Papers, 1831–1836, 1877–1878. CHL. MS 13538, box 1, fd. 4. Also available as Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
Letter to Church Officers in Missouri, 31 Aug. 1835; see also William W. Phelps to Sally Waterman Phelps, 20 July 1835, William W. Phelps, Papers, BYU. Perhaps foreseeing the lack of leadership in Missouri, a November 1834 council decided “that there be no more stated meetings” there, although the elders could “administer the sacrament if they see a convenient opportunity.” (Minute Book 2, 5 Nov. 1834.)
A resolution accepted at a 2 May 1835 meeting of church officers stated that “all the Elders of the Church are bound to travel in the World to preach the gospel with all their might mind & Strength.” (Minutes and Discourse, 2 May 1835.)
JS History / Smith, Joseph, et al. History, 1838–1856. Vols. A-1–F-1 (original), A-2–E-2 (fair copy). Historian’s Office, History of the Church, 1839–ca. 1882. CHL. CR 100 102, boxes 1–7. The history for the period after 5 Aug. 1838 was composed after the death of Joseph Smith.
Copy this half and let each grade of officers have one copy.
June 1st 1835
: You will not value the postage of <a> letter I presume when you learn that this part of the sheet is for the benefit of the saints of God. According to the order of the kingdom begun in the last days, to prepare men for the rest of the Lord, the in or <in> her immediate region have no authority, nor right to medelle [meddle] with her affairs to regulate, or evenholdanycourts. The has been organized expressly <to> administer over <in> all her spiritual affairs; And the and his are set over her temporal matters: so thus the elders’ acts are null and void: Now the Lord wants the tares and wheat to grow to gether <while and in an organized states,>; Zion must be redeemed with Judgments and her Converts by righteousness: Every elder that can, after he has provided for his family (if any he has) and paid his debts must go forth and clear his skirts from the blood of this generation: while they are there, instead of holding courts to stop communion, or any thing <else,> let every one laber to bind up the broken hearted; reclaim the wanderer, and persuade back into the Kingdom, such as have been cut off. by encouraging <them> to lay to and work rightousness, and prepare with one heart and one mind to redeem Zion, that goodly land of promise, where the willing and the obedient shall be blessed. Souls are as precious in the sight of God as they ever were, and the elders were never called to drive any down to hell, but entice <invite> and persuade men every where to repent— It is the acceptable year of the Lord. The too, should not be <idle> their duties are plain and unless <they> do them, they can not expect to be approved. Righteousness must govern the saints in all things, and <when> the new covenants come forth the priests will learn that great <things> may be expected <at> their hands.
The and are the standing ministers of the , and in the absence of other officers, they will have great things required at their hands— They must strengthen the members;— persuade such as are out of the way to repent, and meekly urge and persuade every one to forgive each other all their trespasses, offences, and sins; Bear and forbear one with another, brethren, for so God does with us. Cease to find fault and learn to do well: Pray <for> your enemies in the church, and curse not <your> foes <with>out: for vengence belongs to God. Know you not, that “there is more Joy in heaven over One sinner that repents, than over there is oever <ninety> nine Just persons, that need no repentance!” Strive not about the mysteries of the kingdom; to one is given the word of wisdom; to another the power of healing difficulties: To every officer we say be merciful and you shall find mercy. Your Brethren, who leave their families and go forth to warn the present generation of the great things to <come>, expect great things of those who enjoy the society of the sain[ts] and their families— They pray that they may be very prayerful and very humble, will working diligently for spiritually <&> temporally for the redemption of , when all the pure in heart can return with songs, of everlasting Joy, to enjoy the good of the land of Zion: Brethren, in the name of Jesus we entreat you to live worthy [p. ]
That is, not be concerned about the postage that Burk, as the recipient of the letter, needed to pay. Postage on a letter consisting of one piece of paper and traveling more than four hundred miles was twenty-five cents. If the letter consisted of two pieces of paper, the cost was fifty cents; three pieces, seventy-five cents; and four pieces, one dollar. Letters weighing more than an ounce were “charged at the rate of single postage for each quarter of an ounce, or quadruple postage for each ounce according to their weight.” As noted in the source note, however, this letter was probably hand delivered rather than mailed. (Force, National Calendar, 140.)
Force, Peter. The National Calendar for MDCCCXXIX. Vol. VII. Washington DC: By the author, 1829.Force, Peter. The National Calendar for MDCCCXXX. Vol. VIII. Washington DC: By the author, 1830.
The published version of this letter changed this part of the sentence to “the elders in Zion, or in her immediate region, have no authority or right, to meddle with her spiritual affairs, to regulate her concerns, or hold councils for the expulsion of members, in her unorganized condition.” (Letter to the Saints Scattered Abroad, June 1835.)
The Instruction on Priesthood states that high priests and elders were “to administer in spiritual things” and had “a right to officiate in all these offices of the church when there are no higher authorities present.” This apparently was not the case in Zion, however, because a high Council had been organized and a bishop and counselors had been called. Phelps noted to his wife, Sally, in another letter, “The high Council and the Bishop’s Council, are the proper authority to give advice to the Saints, and in time of need they will do what the Lord requires.” (Instruction on Priesthood, between ca. 1 Mar. and ca. 4 May 1835 [D&C 107:9–12]; William W. Phelps to Sally Waterman Phelps, no date, William W. Phelps, Papers, BYU.)
See Isaiah 61:1–2; Luke 4:18–19; and Revelation, 6 May 1833 [D&C 93:51]. “The acceptable year of the Lord” was equated with the Jewish jubilee, a “solemn sabbatical year, held every seventh sabbatical year, that is, at the end of every forty-nine years.” More generally, the phrase could be interpreted as “the Gospel state and dispensation, which proclaims spiritual liberty from the bondage of sin and satan, and the liberty of returning to our own possession, even the heavenly inheritance.” (Horne, Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, 3:345–347.)
Horne, Thomas Hartwell. An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. 2nd ed. 4 vols. London: T. Cadell, 1821.