Letter from John Laws, 18 October 1841

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

October 18’ 1841
Sir. The undersigned having embarked in a controversy with some of the traducers of the will be viewed I trust as a sufficient apology for my troubling you with this communication, If however your opinion should not accord with my own I have no excuse to offer and you may dismiss the subject as a matter of no moment
It is possible that one or more communications published in the public Ledger and Daily Chronicle of this over the signature of J L in refutation of the aspersions cast upon the “Latter Day Saints” has met your eye if this shall have been the Case you can more readily estimate the motives of the writer in seeking for information from the only source that will be relied on. The authors of the communications refered to was prompted to the task by feelings of indignation at what he believed to be a conspiracy of News Paper Editors and others to overthrow Mormonism by the summary process of exterminating its proselytes by sanguinary means and not by reason and argument It is very evident that the unexpected and unwished for oppositions to their schemes has had a salutary effect in causing a cessation of hostilities for the present but whether to be revived again time will make manifest.
But what I wish to call your attention to is this. In a number of the Saturday Courier of August last may be found the following “last Saturday we were at the plantation of a friend of ours in and there we learned that the Mormon Preachers took the Deed of a Farm belonging to a that they pretended to give him a Claim for land in for $6000 the sum which [p. [1]] his late farm was worth and the very next week afterwards they sold the same farm which they had pretended to purchase at $6000 to a grocer in for the sum of $3000 just one half, the poor duped farmer has a wife and Children and their little homestead has now been forever lost to them by the swindlings of these pretended latter day Saints, are there no thunders in Heaven”
Now although I firmly believe that the whole of the above Charge (as regards its criminality) is utterly destitute of truth like the “cruel Murder of I think it proper to be prepared in case of another attack by the Press and to enable me to be so if resides in (as informs me he does) I wish to obtain his deposition touching the facts of the Case.
The following form I suggest for the benefit of the functionary who may be employed.
) ss
County of [blank])
Be it Known that on the [blank] day of [blank] AD 1841 Before me A B [blank] a Justice of the Peace (or Judge of the Court of &c as the case may be) in and for the said County personally appeard [blank] of the City of in the county and state aforesaid Farmer late of in the state of Pennsylvania who being duly sworn according to law doth depose and say that (state the facts touching the sale and all the materials points concerning it) and such other matters as may be deemed by you important and comporting with the truth) and further deponent saith not.
Sworn to and subscribed the Day and year first above written, Before me
Justice of the Peace or Judge of &c (as the case may be) [p. [2]]
You will please send me the affidavit as soon as you can conveniently do so.
Very respectfully
Jno Laws
No 74 Green Street
Rev Joseph Smith Jr.
<Sold to for 6500—
Received upwards of 3500 of th[e] pay, & hold obligation I or Joseph Smith, , & .> [p. [3]]
<​ Pa OCT 22​>
Rev Joseph Smith. Jr.
City of
Hancock Co Illinois
<​Single​> [p. [4]]


  1. 1

    Latter-day Saints generally accepted Laws’s detailing of events, stating that they were “a statement of facts as they are” and could be “perused with pleasure.” (Notice, Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1841, 2:558.)  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  2. 2

    “Anti-Mormon Slanders Refuted,” Public Ledger (Philadelphia), 28 Aug. 1841, [2]; “Anti-Mormon Slanders Refuted,” Public Ledger, 11 Sept. 1841, [3]; John Laws, Northern Liberties, PA, 15 Sept. 1841, Letter to the Editor, Daily Chronicle (Philadelphia), 18 Sept. 1841, [2].  

    Public Ledger. Philadelphia. 1836–1925.

    Daily Chronicle. Philadelphia. 1828–1834.

  3. 3

    The Public Ledger was published from 1836 to 1925 in Philadelphia. Following its 1836 founding, the paper gained public appeal and an immediate readership because it cost one cent per issue rather than the five to six cents that other papers cost. Between 1840 and 1850, the paper’s circulation grew from 15,000 to 40,000. (Rottenberg, Man Who Made Wall Street, 73.)  

    Rottenberg, Dan. The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2001.

  4. 4

    The Daily Chronicle was published between 1841 and 1847 in Philadelphia.  

  5. 5

    JS had been aware of one of Laws’s articles since at least 1 October 1841, when it was reprinted in the Times and Seasons. (“Anti-Mormon Slanders Refuted,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1841, 2:558–562.)  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  6. 6

    The Saturday Courier had apparently advocated exterminating the Latter-day Saints as the only answer to the problems surrounding them. Laws declared his “utter detestation and abhorrence” for the Courier’s stance, calling it “the most illiberal unjust, unchristian-like . . . and dangerous in its tendency, that ever emenated from the American Press.” (“Anti-Mormon Slanders Refuted,” Public Ledger [Philadelphia], 28 Aug. 1841, [2], italics in original.)  

    Public Ledger. Philadelphia. 1836–1925.

  7. 7

    The Saturday Courier was published from 1841 to 1848 in Philadelphia.  

  8. 8

    Robert and Hannah Peirce transferred lands in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to Almon Babbitt, who was acting on behalf of the church, on 30 March 1841. The property was likely intended to be used as payment to Horace Hotchkiss; Babbitt subsequently transferred the property to Isaac Galland on 8 April 1841. Galland sold the property to Chester County resident John McClure, whose property bordered Peirce’s properties, in June 1841. (Chester Co., PA, Deeds, 1688–1903, vol. U-4, pp. 82–83, 185–188, microfilm 557,205, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; see also Letter from Robert Peirce, 20 Aug. 1841.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

  9. 9

    Chester Co., PA, Deeds, 1688–1903, vol. U-4, pp. 82–83, microfilm 557,205, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

  10. 10

    Isaac Galland sold the property to John McClure on 25 June 1841 for $3,800. (Chester Co., PA, Deeds, 1688–1903, vol. U-4, pp. 187–188, microfilm 557,205, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

  11. 11

    “The Mormons,” Saturday Courier (Philadelphia), 14 Aug. 1841, [2]; see also “A Mormon Champion,” Saturday Courier, 4 Sept. 1841, [2].  

    Saturday Courier. Philadelphia. 1841–1848.

  12. 12

    In late June 1841 several national newspapers, including Philadelphia’s Public Ledger, accused the Latter-day Saints of murdering Martin Harris, a witness of the Book of Mormon who had been excommunicated from the church nearly four years earlier. By 7 July 1841 it was apparent that the reports of Harris’s murder were mistaken, with papers sarcastically noting that although Harris had been “so recently murdered,” he was still “alive and well at his home in Kirtland.” (“The Mormons,” Public Ledger [Philadelphia], 21 June 1841, [4]; “Not Dead,” New-York Tribune, 7 July 1841, [2]; “Quite Probable,” Public Ledger, 10 July 1841, [2].)  

    Public Ledger. Philadelphia. 1836–1925.

    New-York Tribune. New York City. 1841–1842.

  13. 13

    As of 20 August 1841, Peirce was still a resident of Chester County, Pennsylvania, although he had a right to property in Nauvoo at the time. (Letter from Robert Peirce, 20 Aug. 1841.)  

  14. 14

    Page, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was in Philadelphia between August and December 1841. (“Mormon Preaching,” Public Ledger [Philadelphia], 5 Aug. 1841, [2]; “Mormon Preaching,” Public Ledger, 4 Sept. 1841, [2]; “Mormon Preaching,” Public Ledger, 4 Dec. 1841, [2]; George W. Gee, Pittsburgh, PA, to Sidney Rigdon, Nauvoo, IL, 30 Dec. 1841, Sidney Rigdon, Collection, CHL.)  

    Public Ledger. Philadelphia. 1836–1925.

    Rigdon, Sidney. Collection, 1831–1858. CHL. MS 713.

  15. new scribe logo

    This notation appears to be a later addition in John C. Bennett’s handwriting. It refers to the land transaction between Robert and Hannah Peirce and Almon Babbitt, the transaction about which John Laws was requesting more information.  

  16. new scribe logo

    Circular postmark stamped in blue ink.  

  17. new scribe logo

    Payment receipt stamped in blue ink.  

  18. new scribe logo

    Postage in unidentified handwriting.  

  19. new scribe logo

    Notation in unidentified handwriting.