Introduction to Kirtland Mercantile Firms

Document Transcript

, Ohio, experienced significant growth from 1835 to 1837 as from the and gathered there. This growth, in addition to expanding economic opportunity, allowed church members to open new businesses in 1835 and 1836, including several mercantile stores. The first of these stores was started by the , composed of , , and . One of the purposes of the was to help fund the construction and completion of the , while another may have been to provide goods for those working on the temple. According to extant records, the three men, operating under the firm name of , started selling goods in the summer of 1835.
A year later, Cahoon, Carter & Co. was joined by a second mercantile firm, , a partnership of JS, , and . A third firm, operated by under the name , was started by July 1836. In September 1836, JS and Sidney Rigdon opened a store in , Ohio, about six miles south of , under the name This store appears to have sold the goods purchased by the firm of Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery, but it is unclear if the store was an extension of the firm, using an abbreviated form of the firm name, or if it was a new firm created to operate the store, possibly signaling that Cowdery withdrew as a partner.
In need of goods to sell in their stores, the new firms sent to purchase an assortment of items from wholesale merchants in , relying on merchant and his business contacts to make connections. For example, traveled to in October 1835 with Whitney to purchase goods for the Cahoon, Carter & Co. . Surviving invoices for the firms indicate that agents made two significant trips to New York in 1836, one to Buffalo in June and one to in October, and purchased goods from twenty-four merchants. Other records indicate that additional purchases, for which invoices are no longer extant, were made during these trips and at other times.
’s reputation and credibility allowed the -area firms to buy more goods on credit than their new ventures would otherwise have allowed. These purchases were made with promissory notes assuring repayment in the future, usually three to six months later. The firms hoped to make the required payments by selling the goods they had purchased. When the goods arrived, presumably after having been shipped across the Great Lakes to in northern , Whitney and others would review the contents to ensure that they matched the invoices. Graphite notations in the form of checkmarks and x’s appear on many of the invoices, showing their contents were reviewed. These notations have not been included in the transcripts of the invoices featured here. Several of the invoices also have notations written by Whitney indicating when items were missing or broken or when amounts varied; such notations are included in the transcripts.
The stores had opened with the hope of good economic prospects, but they soon faced financial difficulties and appear to have closed amid the economic downturn in 1837. had purchased goods for his firm H. Smith & Co. in October 1836, but invoices indicate that he sold these and other goods soon after and apparently closed his firm by November. It is not clear when the run by Cahoon, Carter & Co. closed, but the last known extant business records related to the company are dated March 1837. The Rigdon, Smith & Co. store in operated from September 1836 to May 1837, with efforts to collect payment from customers extending into August 1837.
Although the stores had closed, the debts they had amassed to purchase goods remained. When the firms failed to pay the promissory notes on time, the merchants in possession of the notes hired lawyers to pursue debt litigation in the local courts. Because of the debts owed to New York merchants, the -area firms faced significant litigation in the summer of 1837. However, for smaller debts the costs of litigation could supersede the amount owed, leading some merchants to renegotiate with the Kirtland-area firms to avoid going to court. In July 1837, for example, JS, , , , , and mortgaged the Kirtland to the mercantile firm Mead, Stafford & Co. to offset the debts they owed. As part of this mortgage, Mead, Stafford & Co. agreed to forgive a debt of $16,000 owed by Cahoon, Carter & Co. and allowed the Latter-day Saints continued access to the temple for the duration of the mortgage.
In early September 1837, , a , Ohio, lawyer with the firm Perkins & Osborn, proved instrumental in renegotiating unpaid debts owed to the merchants. Perkins, who had served as an attorney for JS and other Latter-day Saints, was hired by four New York merchants to pursue debts owed by Cahoon, Carter & Co. and by Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery. The renegotiation resulted in each of the original debts being divided into three payments due in one, one and a half, and two years, respectively. As part of this agreement, new promissory notes were created, signed by the original partners of the principal firm, and then cosigned by thirty Latter-day Saints living in . JS cosigned the notes for the debts of Cahoon, Carter & Co. Another renegotiation, this time with the wholesale mercantile firm Bailey, Keeler & Remsen, occurred in late September.
Because of unrest among dissenters and excommunicated church members, and at the direction of a revelation, JS left in January 1838. Although his critics accused him of leaving to avoid repaying his debts, JS had appointed as his agent in 1838 to settle unresolved debts and litigation, both for him personally as well as for the church. While many church members moved to in 1838, Granger remained in Kirtland and worked to settle debts with local merchants in and with several wholesale firms. As JS’s agent, he repaid the amount owed on the mortgage of the Kirtland to Mead, Stafford & Co.
By August 1839, the renegotiated promissory notes remained unpaid, and and attempted to arrange another compromise through partial repayment in land. In the process of these debts being consolidated, JS, through Granger, became the main source for repayment, even though JS had direct ties to only two of the four debts. Granger’s central involvement in the negotiations for all four suggests either that JS was willing to assume responsibility for the debts and had directed Granger to do so or that Perkins & Osborn was focusing primarily on JS in efforts to obtain payment.
died in August 1841, leaving much of JS’s finances in a state of disarray. Because Granger had been personally negotiating with the merchants or their lawyers, JS was unaware of many of the business agreements being made on his behalf. JS had urged Granger to share information about these and other arrangements, but Granger had not done so by the time of his death, which meant that JS had little knowledge of the state of his finances managed by Granger. Complicating matters further, Granger’s son , who had taken possession of land and other assets held by his father as a church agent, refused to return deeds, promissory notes, and other financial records to JS. This made it difficult for JS to repay the merchants or otherwise fulfill the arrangements the elder Granger may have made.
Because of the uncertain finances and the pressure of these and other debts, JS, who was now residing in , petitioned for bankruptcy in April 1842. He included the debts owed to several merchants in the schedule of debts he created as part of his application. However, JS’s bankruptcy was unresolved at the time of his death in June 1844, and several of these debts resurfaced later as claims filed against his estate.

Footnotes

  1. 1

    Backman, Heavens Resound, 139–140.  

    Backman, Milton V., Jr. The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983.

  2. 2

    Committee to Build the House of the Lord; see also Minutes, 6 June 1833.  

  3. 3

    See Introduction to Cahoon, Carter & Co.  

  4. 4

    See Introduction to Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery.  

  5. 5

    See Introduction to H. Smith & Co.  

  6. 6

    See Introduction to Rigdon, Smith & Co.; and Rigdon, Smith & Co., Ledger, 23 Sept. 1836–2 Aug. 1837.  

  7. 7

    Whitney had purchased goods for his store through wholesale merchants in New York for years. Extant records show such business transactions dating from 1833. (See “New York Account Book Sept 1834,” 17 Oct. 1833 and 15 Oct. 1834, Newel K. Whitney, Papers, BYU.)  

    Whitney, Newel K. Papers, 1825–1906. BYU.

  8. 8

    JS, Journal, 7 and 29 Oct. 1835. The Cahoon, Carter & Co. store was often informally called the “committee store.”  

  9. 9

    Invoices for Buffalo Merchandise, 15–27 June 1836; Invoices for New York City Merchandise, 8–15 Oct. 1836, JS Office Papers, CHL; see also Historical Introduction to Constitution of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, 2 Nov. 1836. Extant invoices from Buffalo show the firms purchasing over $16,000 of goods on credit, with nearly $12,000 of goods purchased by the firm of Cahoon, Carter & Co. Extant invoices from New York City merchants show the firms purchasing goods amounting to almost $12,000 on credit. Most of these purchases were made by the firm of Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery.  

  10. 10

    A pocket notebook kept by Willard Richards in 1837 records debts related to the Kirtland-area firms that exceed the debts recorded on the extant invoices from the 1836 buying trips. Litigation for unpaid store debts further demonstrates that purchases were made for which there are no surviving invoices. (See Richards, Journal, Mar.–Nov. 1837; and Introduction to Halsted, Haines & Co. v. O. Granger et al.)  

    Richards, Willard. Journals, 1836–1853. Willard Richards, Papers, 1821–1854. CHL. MS 1490, boxes 1–2.

  11. 11

    William Perkins, Statement, 23 July 1867 [Halsted, Haines & Co. v. Granger et al.]; see also Historical Introduction to Blessing to Newel K. Whitney, 7 Oct. 1835.  

  12. 12

    See Invoice and Letter, Gardner & Patterson to Cahoon, Carter & Co., 15 June 1836; Receipt, Norton & Carlisle to John Ayer, 20 June 1836; and Receipt, H. Smith & Co. to H. Phelps & Co., 30 Nov. 1836.  

  13. 13

    See, for example, Invoice, Mead, Stafford & Co. to H. Smith & Co., 8 Oct. 1836; Invoice from H. Smith & Co., 12 Nov. 1836; Invoice, H. Smith & Co. to William Smith, 15 Nov. 1836; and Invoice, H. Smith & Co. to Jared Carter, Nov. 1836; see also “Joseph Smith Documents from October 1835 through January 1838.”  

  14. 14

    N. K. Whitney & Co., Daybook, 192.  

    N. K. Whitney & Co. Daybook, Nov. 1836–Apr. 1837. Microfilm. CHL. Original at CCLA.

  15. 15

    Rigdon, Smith & Co., Ledger, 23 Sept. 1836–2 Aug. 1837; see also Notes Receivable from Rigdon, Smith & Co., 22 May 1837.  

  16. 16

    See, for example, Introduction to Patterson and Patterson v. Cahoon, Carter & Co. and Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery; Introduction to Newbould v. Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery; and Introduction to Halsted, Haines & Co. v. O. Granger et al.  

  17. 17

    Mortgage to Mead, Stafford & Co., 11 July 1837.  

  18. 18

    William Perkins, Statement, 23 July 1867 [Halsted, Haines & Co. v. Granger et al.]; Historical Introduction to Statement of Account from Perkins & Osborn, ca. 29 Oct. 1838. These wholesale firms included Mead & Betts, John A. Newbould, Holbrook & Ferme, and Halsted, Haines & Co. Both Kirtland-area firms—Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery and Cahoon, Carter & Co.—appear to have combined their debts in the renegotiation with the firm of John A. Newbould. However, Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery was responsible for the debt owed to Holbrook & Ferme, while Cahoon, Carter & Co. was responsible for the debts to Halsted, Haines & Co. and Mead & Betts. (Agreement with John A. Newbould, ca. 2 Aug. 1839; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–A; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–B; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–C; Promissory Note to Holbrook & Ferme, 1 Sept. 1837–A; Promissory Note to Mead & Betts, 1 Sept. 1837–C.)  

  19. 19

    Statement of Account from Perkins & Osborn, ca. 29 Oct. 1838; see also Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–A; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–B; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–C.  

  20. 20

    Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–A; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–B; Promissory Note to Halsted, Haines & Co., 1 Sept. 1837–C; see also Promissory Note to Holbrook & Ferme, 1 Sept. 1837–A.  

  21. 21

    Promissory Note to Bailey, Keeler & Remsen, 26 Sept. 1837–A; Promissory Note to Bailey, Keeler & Remsen, 26 Sept. 1837–B; Promissory Note to Bailey, Keeler & Remsen, 26 Sept. 1837–C; see also Historical Introduction to Power of Attorney to Oliver Granger, 27 Sept. 1837.  

  22. 22

    Revelation, 12 Jan. 1838–C.  

  23. 23

    Historical Introduction to Letter of Introduction from John Howden, 27 Oct. 1838; Historical Introduction to Power of Attorney to Oliver Granger, 27 Sept. 1837.  

  24. 24

    Mortgage to Mead, Stafford & Co., 11 July 1837.  

  25. 25

    The August 1839 agreements allowed Granger to pay a portion of the debt in land and have the remaining debt forgiven. The agreements required that all four of the New York merchants accept the conditions. It is unclear if Halsted, Haines & Co. or Holbrook & Ferme accepted the proposed arrangement; the only surviving agreements are those signed by John A. Newbould and Mead & Betts. (Agreement with Mead & Betts, 2 Aug. 1839; Agreement with John A. Newbould, ca. 2 Aug. 1839.)  

  26. 26

    By 1839, JS took financial responsibility for not only the Kirtland debts related to Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery, in which he had been a partner, but also the firms of Cahoon, Carter & Co. and H. Smith & Co. He had no personal financial responsibilities to the latter two firms but likely assumed these debts because of the companies’ ties to the church. JS could also have been legally held accountable because he cosigned the renegotiated promissory notes in September 1837. (See Historical Introduction to Statement of Account from Perkins & Osborn, ca. 29 Oct. 1838; and Agreement with Mead & Betts, 2 Aug. 1839.)  

  27. 27

    In a May 1841 letter to Granger, JS wrote, “Your health is precarious and if any thing should occur— so that you were to bid adieu to mortality it would be impossible for me ever to get the run of the business and I should be again involved in difficulties from which it would be impossible for me to extrecate myself.” (Letter to Oliver Granger, 4 May 1841.)  

  28. 28

    Memorandum of Deeds, 3 Mar. 1842; Letter from Reuben McBride, 3 Jan. 1842; Receipt, 8 July 1842.  

  29. 29

    Application for Bankruptcy, ca. 14–16 Apr. 1842, in JSP, D9:360–372.  

    JSP, D9 / Smith, Alex D., Christian K. Heimburger, and Christopher James Blythe, eds. Documents, Volume 9: December 1841–April 1842. Vol. 9 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2019.

  30. 30

    See Historical Introduction to Application for Bankruptcy, ca. 14–16 Apr. 1842, in JSP, D9:363; Notice to Creditors and Others, 17 June 1842, in JSP, D10:162–164; and “Joseph Smith Documents from May through August 1842,” in JSP, D10:xxii–xxiv.  

    JSP, D9 / Smith, Alex D., Christian K. Heimburger, and Christopher James Blythe, eds. Documents, Volume 9: December 1841–April 1842. Vol. 9 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2019.

    JSP, D10 / Kuehn, Elizabeth A., Jordan T. Watkins, Matthew C. Godfrey, and Mason K. Allred, eds. Documents, Volume 10: May–August 1842. Vol. 10 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2020.

  31. 31

    See, for example, Hancock Co., IL, Probate Records, 1831–1912, Probate Records, 1841–1849, pp. 229, 245, 16 Sept. and 16 Nov. 1848, microfilm 947,494, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.