Zion high council and bishopric, Minutes, , Caldwell Co., MO, 12 Apr. 1838. Featured version copied [between 1 Oct. 1842 and 14 Sept. 1843] in Minute Book 2, pp. 118–126; handwriting of ; CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for Minute Book 2.
On 12 April 1838, JS testified in the trial of in , Missouri. The rift between church leaders who were loyal to JS and those who were not had been widening for several months, beginning in , Ohio, in 1837 and extending into later that year. The 12 April trial as well as another trial on 13 April represented the culmination of ecclesiastical efforts to cull dissent and division within the church. At the 12 April trial, JS testified that prior to Cowdery’s dissension, he had been JS’s “bosom friend.” In 1829, Cowdery had served as JS’s principal scribe for the Book of Mormon translation, and since that time the two men had jointly experienced visions, witnessed angelic visitations, and served as the church’s first teachers and leading . Further, in 1834 JS designated Cowdery as first assistant in the church . Despite these experiences, by 1837 Cowdery began to express displeasure with JS’s leadership of the church. As Cowdery noted in a letter included in the 12 April minutes, a central issue for him and others who opposed JS was the extent that the church and its leaders were involved in the “temporal interests” of its members. As another factor contributing to Cowdery’s dissent, by summer 1837 he was deeply in debt, likely in part because he previously purchased wholesale goods for a mercantile firm he operated with JS and . In addition, as noted in his trial, Cowdery had insinuated since 1837 that JS was guilty of adultery. Nevertheless, in a 3 September 1837 conference of the church in Kirtland, Cowdery was accepted as one of the “assistant Councilors” in the First Presidency. The next day, JS wrote to church leaders in Missouri, warning them that although Cowdery had been “chosen as one of the Presidents or councilors” in the First Presidency, he had “been in transgression” and that if he did not “humble himself & magnify his calling . . . the church will soon be under the necessaty of raising their hands against him.” In October 1837, Cowdery moved to Missouri, where he evidently devoted much of his time to improving his dire financial situation. He sold personal property in , Missouri, and to bolster his emerging clerical and legal practice, he encouraged lawsuits against church members. Both of these activities were included in the ’s charges against Cowdery in the 12 April trial.
The sale of land by , , and was the impetus for some of the earlier charges against the members of the . John Whitmer and Phelps, who had served as counselors to Zion president , were removed from office in early February. Cowdery showed implicit support for the deposed Zion presidency by attesting a letter the former presidency members wrote to , protesting the trial of Phelps and John Whitmer. On 7 April, submitted nine charges against Cowdery, most relating to accusations of misconduct and disloyalty to JS and the church. Two days later, church leaders wrote letters to Cowdery, , and —an and frequent associate of the dissenters in and —informing them of their trials before the high council. Cowdery received his letter the day it was written. On 12 April, instead of attending his trial in person, Cowdery sent a letter to that underscored Cowdery’s opposition to the actions of the church and asked that he be allowed to withdraw his membership.
’s trial was held at ’s office in . The trial proceeded according to official instructions for trying “a ” before a “common council of the church,” which consisted of a bishop, acting as a “common judge,” and twelve . In this case, Partridge conducted the case with the assistance of his counselors in the and the twelve members of the high council. The letter in which Cowdery requested to withdraw from the church was read to the bishopric and high council, and the court proceeded to investigate the charges. Most of the testimony centered on Cowdery’s emerging legal practice, his accusations that JS had committed adultery, and his alleged connection to counterfeiters in . JS testified twice during the trial. As a result of the testimony JS and others offered, Partridge and his counselors decided to excommunicate Cowdery; the high council concurred. Minutes of the council meeting were taken by clerk . They were later copied into Minute Book 2 by .
Harper, Steven C. “Oliver Cowdery as Second Witness of Priesthood Restoration.” In Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, edited by Alexander Baugh, 73–89. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009.
Whitmer, John. Letter, Far West, MO, to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, Kirtland Mills, OH, 29 Aug. 1837. Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
shall lay them carefully away, and take such a course with regard to them, as I may feel bound by my honor, to answer to my rising posterity.
I beg you, sir, to take no view of the foregoing remarks, other than my belief on the outward government of this . I do not charge you, or any other person who differs with me on those points, of not being sincere; but such difference does exist, which I sincerely regret.
With considerations of the hi[gh]est respect, I am,
Your obedient servent.
of the Church of Latter day Saints
testifies that some time last fall Marcellus Cowdery came to him and requested him to pay certain notes, against Joseph Smith jr but he declined, soon after a writ was served on him; he supposed that it was through the influence of that the writ was served. From circumstances, he is of the impression that has used his influence to urge on lawsuits, which have taken place of late in this place. Also, that said to him “the law is my theme.[”]
testifies that, from circumstances, he believes that has been influential in causing lawsuits in this place, as a number more lawsuits have taken place since he came here than before
. testifies, that called to him one day evening as he was passing through the street, and said that he Smelt a Skunk (an enemy &c.) and if he knew who it was he would put the screws to him. and also informed if he [p. 122]