Introduction to Nauvoo City Sexton Records

Document Transcript

Introduction to Nauvoo City Sexton Records
The Nauvoo City Sexton Records consist of documents created by , sexton of the city of , Illinois. Included are reports of weekly deaths as published in local newspapers and a cemetery record book kept by Huntington. If other records were kept, they are no longer extant.
Section 9 of the Nauvoo city charter gave the city council power to appoint “all such . . . officers as may be necessary, and to prescribe their duties, and remove them from office at pleasure.” One of the officers deemed necessary was that of city sexton. At the 1 May 1841 city council meeting, a committee was formed to procure a burying ground. At that same meeting, a motion was passed “that the sexton be fined to the extent of the Charter if he refuses to act in his office & that the Marshal give him notice thereof.” It is unknown who the city sexton was in May 1841. At the 4 September 1841 meeting, the city council authorized the committee to purchase two blocks for the burying ground and appointed sexton of Nauvoo.
The duties of the city sexton were defined by various city council resolutions and ordinances in 1842 and 1843. These responsibilities included digging graves in the city, interring bodies of deceased persons, helping families and friends of the deceased to locate burial sites, and keeping detailed records of deaths in the city. In a 15 January 1842 meeting, the city council resolved “that the Sexton have Two Dollars for digging each Grave, & interring a Body, & that no other Person or Persons shall have the priviledge so to do, in any Case, unless by permission of the Sexton, & that the Sexton do keep a Record of all the Interments.” In cases where no family or friends of the deceased could pay the sexton, the city was responsible for making the payment.
The sexton was also required “to make a weekly report for publication to the Editor of some Newspaper published in this City.” These records and reports were to include, to the best of the sexton’s knowledge, “the number of interments, & the names & ages of the Persons Deceased, with the nature of the diseases of which they Died.” Weekly reports of deaths were published in the Wasp starting with the 27 August 1842 issue and continued in the Nauvoo Neighbor after the Wasp was dissolved in April 1843. Publication of these reports continued through the 1 October 1845 issue of the Nauvoo Neighbor, the second-to-last regular issue printed. Some issues of the newspaper do not include any reports and others include reports from two or more weeks. Some weekly reports are missing, either because Huntington did not make a report or because the newspaper failed to print it. In 1845, the weekly reports often included deaths from multiple weeks.
As part of his duties, the sexton was also to keep a record book of all deaths in the city. ’s cemetery record book includes deaths from 1839 through 1846, but Huntington likely started the record book after a January 1843 ordinance was passed requiring him to keep one. The ordinance stated that “the City sexton shall keep a Book of Record in which he shall Record the names and ages of all Persons deceased, coming to his knowledge, & the nature of the diseases of which they died.” Records of persons who died and were buried before 30 January 1843 were likely added to the record book from other records (no longer extant). The entries are in roughly chronological order, except that Huntington recorded some earlier deaths at the end of the book. The first death recorded in the cemetery record book is that of Huntington’s mother, Zina Baker Huntington, who died on 7 July 1839. The latest date recorded is John Prier’s death on 11 May 1846.
Though clearly related, the exact relationship between ’s record book and the newspaper reports is unclear. Both the book and the newspaper reports record the decedent’s name; date (or week) of death; age given in years, months, and days; and the cause of death. Before January 1844, deaths recorded in the book are grouped under a weekly date, similar to the newspaper reports. Exact death dates are given in the book starting in mid-January 1844. The record book sometimes includes the block, lot, and grave number where the individual is buried in the Nauvoo City Cemetery.
The Nauvoo City Sexton Records can be found under Nauvoo City Records on the Joseph Smith Papers website. Links are provided between the record book and the newspaper reports to the corresponding information.


  1. 1

    Huntington’s manuscript originals of the reports he submitted to the newspapers are not extant.  

  2. 2

    Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo, 16 Dec. 1840.  

  3. 3

    Minutes, 1 May 1841, Copy. Section 11 of the Nauvoo Charter allowed for fines “not exceeding one hundred dollars” for any misconduct in office for city officers. (Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo, 16 Dec. 1840.)  

  4. 4

    Minutes, 4 Sept. 1841.  

  5. 5

    See Minutes, 15 Jan. 1842; Minutes, 20 Aug. 1842; Minutes 14 Jan. 1843; Minutes, 30 Jan. 1843; Minutes, 11 Feb. 1843; and Ordinance, 30 Jan. 1843.  

  6. 6

    Minutes, 15 Jan. 1842; see also Minutes, 11 Feb. 1843.  

  7. 7

    Minutes, 30 Jan. 1843; Ordinance, 30 Jan. 1843; see also Minutes 14 Jan. 1843.  

  8. 8

    Minutes, 20 Aug. 1842.  

  9. 9

    Minutes, 20 Aug. 1842; see also Minutes, 15 Jan. 1842; and Ordinance, 30 Jan. 1843.  

  10. 10

    “Prospectus of a Weekly Newspaper, Called the Nauvoo Neighbor,” Wasp, 26 Apr. 1843, [2].  

  11. 11

    See William D. Huntington, Reports, ca. 26 Aug. 1842–ca. 29 Sept. 1845.  

  12. 12

    Ordinance, 30 Jan. 1843.  

  13. 13

    See also Woods, “Cemetery Record,” 131–163.  

    Woods, Fred E. “The Cemetery Record of William D. Huntington, Nauvoo Sexton.” Mormon Historical Studies, 3, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 131–163.

  14. 14

    See Huntington, Cemetery Records, [15].