Letter from Robert D. Foster, 24 December 1839

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Dec 24th. 1839
Dear Brother
Since you left this I have been endeavoring to magnify my calling in some measure, and have succeeded so far in my work, by the assistance of God as to show to the Satisfaction of all the inmates of the house where you left me boarding that Mormonism is no bugbear but the truths of Jesus Christ, as testifyed by Paul, Peter and all the Apostles and inspired writers, You are aware that the Lady. Mrs. Baker was very hostile when you left, but her proud heart has come down, and she now says she was once afraid to have me in the house, but is now willing I should stay. The day you left and the next day I kept preaching in the chimney corner, and to Mrs. Baker, who acted as though she was possessed of Seven Devils, but I kept a steady hand. Last night I got up and preached till 11½ P.M., and they listened, said they believd us verily, but they have not courage to come out; they are going to invite their relatives & friends so, as to give me a fair chance to preach; they say I am the greatest preacher they ever heard: God blessed me more in that endeavour than I can express, yea Brothe[r] <​my​> very heart glorifies God for his goodness. what was said I dont know, but I do know I had a feast, and to morrow they are going to have three friends come and see me; that girl says she wants to be ; though her Bro. is coming <​to​> see her in regard to it as he is her guardian. I pray that you would lend me your special prayers in this matter & and verily believe you will. As I was agoing to say they all listened attentively, and after this I asked God to add his blessings to what had been done and said, and they all responded amen; they then [p. 119] said that if there were any body else, they would have no objections in being ; they said if Mr [George G.] Cookman would say it was true, that they would obey the of baptism immediately— I showed them it was no way to risk their salvation, on Mr. Cookman— but they wished I would go and see him— and <​I​> offered to do so provided they would accompany me, and introduce the matter in due form; but they backed out, Well you know I sd. I would not stop untill I got through & am not through yet. I went to bed, thanked God for his goodness to me, & resolved to do any thing, that would further the cause, or plant the seed in <​this​> wicked, and adulterous then I goes and hunts out this Golia[t]h of Methodism (Mr. Cookman), I wrapped at the door, was ushered in with much form, when I very poli[t]ely told him my business; that I had glad tidings of great joy, and he stood and gased [gazed] as though I had been an Angel— He then begged lief [leave]— to introduce his pious friend, (Mr. Wait), and also his wife, which I admitted; I began to tell him by littles, and he asked me to <​if​> I would argue the point, from the Bible; I said amen to it, and we went at it— He, at first, acted like a Gentn., but soon turned black, & awful; looking like a Demon. I kept a steady course, keeping my temper— prayed God to uphold me, and he did it in such a manner, as I never experienced before— I was afraid at first, asked God to strengthen me, and he did it; he showed himself to me, and sent help in time of need, He (Mr. Cookman) could not quote a passage of— scripture right, nor knew anything about the Bible at all; all he could say was, you are deluded you are a fanatick you are crazy, and demanded a sign— The Apostles & Prop[h]ets come on purpose to show a sign, & they— were no longer needed; but Jos. Smith must let me take a Rattlesnake & hold it to him, to bite him— then if he lives I will believe; but he is an imposter, a fanatic and a child of the Devil, & you are another— I begd. him not be so hard, as I preached nothing but the [p. 120] scripture— I asked God to give me the victory, and <​down​> came the Mighty Methodist, by a little— shepherd boy of a Mormon— I asked him to be so kind as to give me his meeting house, to preach in some in the night— but he said he would not— he would not pollute it— I then told him that was not right— he said it was, and would consider my doctrine <​false​> till I performed a miricle— I told him not to forbid others believing, but he said he would—
I told him if he said any thing ungentlemanly from the pulpit, if I heard him I should take the liberty to reply— said if I did he would have me put out of the house— I then requested him to appoint time and place, and we would discuss before the publick— but he said he would not waste his time with such nonsence— and that he was sorry such a promising young man should be so deluded— I told him I asked no sorrow, and begged he would give himself no uneasiness on that head— He was the most whipped <​man​> I ever have seen, and repented having his friends brought in, I know; he is the champion of the Methodist and is whipped well— I did not tell him how I whipped him but I will tell you— I asked God to close his mouth, if he did not receive it gladly, and he did— I can whip as many Methodist as there are blades of grass on the largest Prairie in , if God will assist me— and this is way in which I whipped him— God filled my mouth and my heart— and I was as happy as any mortal could be— While he was writhing in the most awful agony of body & mind.
I cannot tell you all, but I will visit all the Priests in , but what I will find some honest heart to embrace the truth.— I am not discouraged, I am going to hunt them [p. 121] out and leave them without excuse— I preach at Mr. Bakers on Christmas day, or rather in the evening— and then I expect God will bless me, and not let me be confounded— I know nothing about preaching, only, as the Lord shows me while I am speaking— They all say that I preached the best last night they ever heard— I will go on; pray that I may be humble and faithful— I hope by the time you returns, I shall have work for you in the Potomac— I conclude by sending my whole soul <​to you​> wrapped up in the love and power of God through the merits of Jesus— The message come to day & I sent one to & also one to ; but our case is not mentioned at all, is upon the whole better— he is as well where he is as any where, at present— We have no letters, in consequence of the Rail Roads being blocked up— I hope you are all happy in the Lord & Savior— I thank you for all your friendly advise & kind admonitions; may they continue for I have found they are doing me good; but dont whip poor too hard, for he is a faithful Soul— In all your letters to send our love, and we will do the same in our correspondence— I am agoing hunting to morrow after another Priest— please send us a full letter as soon as you please— We shall be happy to receive any good inteligence, and you will send no othe[r]— here ends the letter, and aint it a long one— Yes says you and a rough one too— but it is better than none for you know I was not dead when this was written— I dont know any thing about you only that I love you all, dead or alive am this night your
Brother in Christ
[p. 122]


  1. 1

    It is unclear when JS departed Washington DC, but he arrived in Philadelphia on 21 December 1839. (Orson Pratt to Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt, 6 Jan. 1840, in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, 1:60–61.)  

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

  2. 2

    Possibly the same boardinghouse at which JS and Higbee stayed. They described that boardinghouse, located on the corner of Missouri Avenue and Third Street, as the cheapest available in the capital. (Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 Dec. 1839.)  

  3. 3

    See Luke 8:2.  

  4. 4

    See Matthew 16:4; and Book of Mormon, 1837 ed., 165 [Mosiah 1:13].  

  5. 5

    See Luke 2:10.  

  6. 6

    See Mark 16:17–18.  

  7. 7

    See 1 Samuel 17:4, 33–34.  

  8. 8

    Wesley Chapel, which was located at Fifth and F streets in Washington DC. (Ridgaway, Life of the Rev. Alfred Cookman, 63; Picture of Washington, 113.)  

    Ridgaway, Henry B. The Life of the Rev. Alfred Cookman; with Some Account of His Father, the Rev. George Grimston Cookman. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1873.

    Picture of Washington and Its Vicinity for 1845, with Forty-One Embellishments on Steel and Lithograph; to Which Is Added the Washington Guide, Containing a Congressional Directory, Residences of Public Officers, and Other Useful Information. Washington DC: William Q. Force, 1845.

  9. 9

    In 1874 Foster reminisced about his encounter with Cookman: “On the following Sunday . . . Cookman preached in his church, and told some strange tales; that he had had an interview with Jo Smith, that arch imposter; and that the doctrines he taught were very irreligious and inconsistent with Bible truth.” (Robert D. Foster, “A Testimony of the Past,” True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, 15 Apr. 1875, 228.)  

    Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.

  10. 10

    See Revelation, 27–28 Dec. 1832 [D&C 88:82].  

  11. 11

    The Potomac River, or possibly the Potomac River Valley.  

  12. 12

    President Martin Van Buren sent his annual message to Congress on 24 December 1839. The president’s message (after 1942 commonly referred to as the State of the Union Address) is mandated by article 2, section 3, of the United States Constitution. The church’s delegation to Washington DC was awaiting the publication of this message, which was delayed by a dispute in the House of Representatives. (Message from the President of the United States, Senate doc. no. 1, 26th Cong., 1st Sess. [1839]; Letter to Seymour Brunson and Nauvoo High Council, 7 Dec. 1839.)  

    Message from the President of the United States, to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth Congress. December 24, 1839. Senate Doc. no. 1, 26th Cong., 1st Sess. (1839).

  13. 13

    Wilber was a member of the church who served as clerk to a 10 July 1837 conference in Bath, New York. (“Conference,” Elders’ Journal, Oct. 1837, 15–16.)  

  14. 14

    According to a Washington DC newspaper, heavy snow had closed railroad lines from the nation’s capital to New England, resulting in a “complete interruption of the mails.” (News Item, Madisonian [Washington DC], 25 Dec. 1839, [3].)  

    The Madisonian. Washington DC. 1837–1841.