Minutes, 12 April 1838
- Source Note
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.
Whitmer, John. Daybook, 1832–1878. CHL. MS 1159.