Charges against Joseph Smith Preferred to Bishop’s Council, 29 May 1837
and , Charges against JS Preferred to “the & his council in Kirtland,” , Geauga Co., OH, 29 May 1837; handwriting of ; signatures of and probably ; one page; Newel K. Whitney, Papers, BYU. Includes archival marking.One leaf, measuring 4⅞ × 7¾ inches (12 × 20 cm). The leaf is ruled with eleven blue-green lines (now faded) on the recto and has an unlined verso. The lines incline toward the right side of the page and end 1⅞ inches (5 cm) from the bottom. The left and bottom edges of the recto have the square cut of manufactured paper. The top and right edges were possibly torn. The leaf was folded twice.This manuscript, along with many other personal and institutional documents kept by , was inherited by his daughter Mary Jane Whitney, who married Isaac Groo. This collection was passed down in the Groo family and donated by members of the family to the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University between 1969 and 1974.
Andrus, Hyrum L., and Chris Fuller, comp. Register of the Newel Kimball Whitney Papers. Provo, UT: Division of Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 1978.
On Monday, 29 May 1837, and , both of whom were members of the , signed charges accusing JS of lying, extortion, and speaking disrespectfully of members. The charges were written by and were addressed to and his , following the direction given in an 1831 revelation that “inasmuch as the shall transgress he shall be had in remembrance before the common court of the church”—that is, the . These charges may relate to earlier accusations Orson Pratt’s brother made against JS in a letter written on 23 May. They may also have resulted from Johnson and other members of the Twelve earlier being charged with creating divisions within the church in , Ohio.A handful of prominent church members had spoken against JS by the end of May 1837. , , and other dissenters referenced JS’s involvement in financial affairs, such as land transactions and the , in their objections to his leadership. Temporal concerns were likely also a factor in ’s and ’s dissatisfaction with JS, and they may have blamed him for their recent financial reversals. The previous fall, after returning to from proselytizing in and , Orson Pratt began selling stoves and ironware, while Johnson had started a dry goods store with , another member of the Twelve. According to reminiscent accounts, Johnson and Boynton financed their mercantile efforts by buying a large amount of goods on credit and borrowing money from church members in the area. When the nationwide financial panic of 1837 brought economic decline and demands by creditors for repayment, Johnson, Boynton, and Pratt may have felt JS was responsible for their financial troubles, since he had encouraged the Saints to develop Kirtland and they had consequently expected success in their commercial ventures. Describing the changes in Kirtland, contrasted the activity and industry of 1836, which brought “buyonant hope, lively anticipation and a firm confidence that our days of pinching adversity had passed by,” with a “desponding gloom” in the summer of 1837, brought on by the “derangement of the currency, the loss of credit, the want of confidence” in the economy, and overextension of credit.The Kirtland Safety Society also caused financial concerns and uncertainty for church members. By May 1837, amid the Panic of 1837, the society had produced none of the profits anticipated by its stockholders. In May and June, many of those stockholders transferred their stock shares or withdrew the money they had paid to the bank for stock, signaling their lack of confidence in the institution. Although neither nor were themselves stockholders in the Safety Society, they had personal and family connections to it, and its instability likely influenced their signing of the complaint featured here. Lyman Johnson had taken out loans from the institution, and his father, , was one of the largest shareholders, owning three thousand shares of stock, and he had paid around six hundred dollars on his shares. On 20 May, John Johnson and Lyman’s sister Emily Johnson withdrew their money from the Safety Society. Orson Pratt’s brother likewise cut ties with the institution, selling his shares of stock to on 10 June 1837.As the economy foundered, dissent among church members increased. On 23 May 1837 accused JS of extortion and other dishonest business practices as Pratt’s debts for land came due. and echoed these grievances in their 29 May complaint. The day before this complaint was signed, Sunday, 28 May, described a “thick cloud of darkness” hanging over Kirtland and a meeting in the that ended with speaking against JS., who wrote out the charges against JS featured here, appears to have acted as a leader of those opposed to JS. He may have been the one to instigate the charges against JS as well as charges brought the same day against two other members of the church , and Different individuals signed each complaint: the charges against JS featured here were signed by and , Parrish himself signed charges against Rigdon, and signed the charges against Joseph Smith Sr. No extant documents record whether or not bishop acted on these charges, nor is it known if a council was convened to try JS or the others.
Pratt, Orson. Account Book and Autobiography, 1833, 1836–1837. CHL.
Cowdery, Oliver. Docket Book, June–Sept. 1837. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.
Ames, Ira. Autobiography and Journal, 1858. CHL. MS 6055.
Kimball, Heber C. “History of Heber Chase Kimball by His Own Dictation,” ca. 1842–1856. Heber C. Kimball, Papers, 1837–1866. CHL. MS 627, box 2.
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
Kimball, Heber C. Collection, 1837–1898. CHL. MS 12476.
Whitney, Newel K. Papers, 1825–1906. BYU.