Letter from William W. Phelps, 15 December 1833

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

, Dec. 15, 1833.
Dear Brethren:
It has been some time since I have dropt you a line, and in the midst of solitude, I write. I need not give you new details of our persecutions—for, as all true christians, that have gone before us, from Abel down to the beginners of re-establishing Zion now, have invariably suffered all manner of affliction, from common scourging even unto death:—it would not alter the decrees of God, nor lessen the necessary chastisement of them that are chosen from the foundation of the world, but who have to be tried as gold seven times purified before they are found faithful and true for that kingdom, where the sons of God only are made equal with Jesus Chrift [Christ] having overcome, by righteousness.
The situation of the saints, as scatered, is dubious, and affords a gloomy prospect. No regular order can be enforced; nor any usual discipline kept up—among the world; yea, the most wicked part of it, some commit one sin, and some another, (I speak of the rebellious, for there are saints that are as immovable as the everlasting Hills,) and what can be done? we are in , , , &c. and cannot hear from each other oftener then we do from you: I know it was right that we should be driven out of the land of , that the rebellious might be sent away. But brethren, if the Lord will, I should like to know what the honest in heart shall do? Our cloths are worn out—we want the necessaries of life, and shall we lease, buy, or otherwise obtain land where we are, to till that we may raise enough to eat? Such is the common language of the honest, for they want to do the will of God. I am sensible that we shall not be able to live again in , till God, or the president rules out the mob.
The is willing to restore us, but as the constitution gives him no power to guard us, when back, we are not willing to go. The mob sware, if we come we shall die! If, from what has been done in , we, or the most of us, have got to be persecuted from city to city, and from synagogue to synagogue, we want to know it; for there are those among us that would rather earn eternal life on such conditions, than lose it: But we hope for better things; and shall wait patiently for the word of the Lord. Isaiah says in the tenth chapter and 24 and 25 verses, something on the subject of Zion; and there is something also in the forth and twelfth chapters, whether we live to enjoy the sayings or not.
I do not write this letter to entertain you with news, or for to wake you up to our dreadful condition, but that you may timely give us some advice what is best to do in our tarry till Zion is redeemed! Some times I think I will go right to work upon a small piece of land and obtain what I want for my growing family: then again I feel like writing the Horrid History of the mob against the “mormons”—preambuling it with the Martyrs that have been nailed to the cross, burned alive, thrown to wild beasts and devowered, fryed in pans, broiled on Grid Irons, or beheaded for the sake of their religion and faith in Jesus Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, &c. If this world embraced much of Eternity, I should soon be sick of it—but for all our sorrow we shall have joy!
Our people fair very well, and when they are discreet little or no persecution is felt. The militia in the upper counties is in readiness at a moment’s warning, having been ordered out by the , te [to] guard a court martial, and court of Enquiry, &c. but we can not attend a court of Enquiry, on account of the expense, till we are restored and protected!
Till the Lord delivers,
Or brings us together, I am,
[p. 128]


  1. 1

    William W. Phelps likely last wrote to Kirtland church leaders on 14 November 1833. (Letter from William W. Phelps, 14 Nov. 1833.)  

  2. 2

    See 2 Timothy 3:12.  

  3. 3

    See Psalm 12:6; and Zechariah 13:9.  

  4. 4

    See John 1:12; and 1 John 3:1–2.  

  5. 5

    See Revelation 3:21; and Revelation, 27–28 Dec. 1832 [D&C 88:106].  

  6. 6

    Initially church members sought refuge where they could, but some places proved inhospitable to the Mormons. On 6 November 1833, Phelps wrote that church members planned to attempt settling in Van Buren County, which was located south of Jackson County. However, the following day he noted, “All hopes of going to the south was given up last night, when it was resolved that we should be driven forthwith into Clay county.” Edward Partridge later wrote, “A few families moved into Van Buren county, . . . but the hostile spirit of the inhabitants, which was manifested by their threatnings; induced them to move back again to Jackson.” Some church members still remained in Jackson County when Phelps wrote his 15 December 1833 letter. On 23 December 1833, for instance, “four aged families living near the village of Independence, whose penury and infirmities, incident to old age, forbade a speedy removal, were driven from their houses . . . by a party of the mob.” (Letter from William W. Phelps, 6–7 Nov. 1833; [Edward Partridge], “A History, of the Persecution,” Times and Seasons, Dec. 1839, 1:19; Parley P. Pratt et al., “‘The Mormons’ So Called,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Extra, Feb. 1834, [2].)  

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

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  7. 7

    Phelps was not alone in feeling that church members’ suffering was due in part to “the rebellious” among them. On 29 July 1833, just days after the riot in Independence, John Whitmer reported, “My daily prayer is that the Lord will cleanse Zion of all the remaining wickedness that is on this Holy Land, for is their cup not already full. I greatly fear for some of they who call themselves disciples; but they are in the hands of a merciful God & he will do them no injustice.” Oliver Cowdery observed on 10 August 1833 that rebellions, ignorance, falsehoods, and “tattlers” were in great part responsible for the tribulations in Jackson County, and he urged that those guilty of such things should be purged from the church. (Letter from John Whitmer, 29 July 1833, underlining in original; Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson Co., MO, 10 Aug. 1833.)  

  8. 8

    On 11 December 1833, Oliver Cowdery wrote to Phelps and enclosed “near fifty dollars from our liberal brethren here, which we send for your assistance.” Cowdery instructed Partridge and Phelps “to take it and administer to the necessities of the destitute as far as it will go.” In his response to Phelps’s letter here, Orson Hyde mentioned that JS had also sent another fifty dollars to church leaders in Missouri. (Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland, OH, to William W. Phelps, 11 Dec. 1833, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 13; Letter to the Church in Clay Co., MO, 22 Jan. 1834.)  

    Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833–1838. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

  9. 9

    See “To His Excellency, Daniel Dunklin,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 114–115. After being expelled from Jackson County, church members in Missouri petitioned Governor Daniel Dunklin as they had in October. On 6 December, Phelps and other church leaders in Missouri presented Dunklin with a renewed appeal. In their petition, they asked Dunklin for assistance to “be restored to [their] lands, houses & property, and protected in them by the militia of the State, if legal, or by a detachment of the United States Rangers.” They requested permission to organize a militia of their own and asked for a court of inquiry to investigate the “whole matter of the mob against the Mormons.” They also noted that they would not be able to return to Jackson County without armed protection provided by the state. Dunklin did not officially respond to this petition until 4 February 1834, at which time he wrote that the Mormons, like any other group of citizens, could organize as a militia unit and apply to the governor for arms if they wished. However, he noted, “the request for keeping up a military force to protect your people and prevent the commission of crimes and injuries, were I to comply it would transcend the powers with which the Executive of this State is clothed.” Since prior efforts to obtain protection from the state for Mormons to return to their homes in Jackson County had seemingly failed, church leaders may have felt the only option left would be to appeal to United States president Andrew Jackson. On 10 April 1834, church leaders in Missouri prepared two letters requesting assistance from President Jackson. One of these letters informed the president of the people’s desire to “be restored to [their] lands, houses and property in Jackson County, and protected in them by an armed force till peace can be restored.” (William W. Phelps et al., Clay Co., MO, to Daniel Dunklin, 6 Dec. 1833, copy, William W. Phelps, Collection of Missouri Documents, CHL; Letter, 30 Oct. 1833; Daniel Dunklin, Jefferson City, MO, to William W. Phelps et al., 4 Feb. 1834, underlining in original; Edward Partridge et al., Petition to Andrew Jackson, 10 Apr. 1834, William W. Phelps, Collection of Missouri Documents, CHL.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

    Phelps, William W. Collection of Missouri Documents, 1833–1837. CHL. MS 657.

  10. 10

    In November 1833, Bishop Edward Partridge wrote to JS stating that some church members “have their fears that we shall be driven from city to city & from sinagouge to sinagouge & few be left to receive an inheritance in the land.” In the letter he also expressed “hopes that we shall be able to return to our houses & lands before a grea[t] while but how this is to be accomplished is all in the dark to us as yet.” Partridge also observed that “if we are delivered & permitted to return to our homes it must be by the interposition of God, for we can see no prospect of help from goverment & it appears to me that nought but the judgements of God will open the way for our return.” (Letter from Edward Partridge, between 14 and 19 Nov. 1833; see also Revelation, 30 Aug. 1831 [D&C 63:29–31]  

  11. 11

    Isaiah 10:24–25 reads, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt. For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.”  

  12. 12

    Chapter 4 of Isaiah refers to a day when “he that is left in Zion” shall “be called holy,” and the Lord will create a glory “upon every dwelling place of mount Zion.” Zion would then be “a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.” Isaiah chapter 12 speaks of the millennial day when believers will praise God and sing unto the Lord. Zion’s inhabitants will “cry out and shout” because “great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.” (Isaiah 4:3, 5–6; 12:6.)  

  13. 13

    Here Phelps referred to several persecutions recounted in John Foxe’s well-known Book of Martyrs. Foxe, for example, recorded that Laurentius (St. Lawrence) was fastened to a large gridiron placed over a slow fire. (Book of Martyrs, 47–48.)  

    Book of Martyrs; or, A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Triumphant Deaths, of the Primitive as Well as Protestant Martyrs; from the Commencement of Christianity, to the Latest Periods of Pagan and Popish Persecution. . . . Originally Composed by the Rev. John Fox M. A. and Now Improved by Important Alterations and Additions. Edited by Charles A. Goodrich. Hartford, CT: Philemon Canfield, 1830.

  14. 14

    See Matthew 5:3.  

  15. 15

    Missouri Mormons were escorted to Jackson County in early February 1834 to testify before a grand jury in connection with a court of inquiry, but the proceedings were canceled, and the church members returned under armed guard to Clay County. The court-martial mentioned here probably referred to the proceedings against Colonel Thomas Pitcher. (William W. Phelps et al., Petition to Daniel Dunklin, 6 Dec. 1833, copy, William W. Phelps, Collection of Missouri Documents, CHL; “Mormon Difficulties,” Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser [Columbia], 8 Mar. 1834, [1].)  

    Phelps, William W. Collection of Missouri Documents, 1833–1837. CHL. MS 657.

    Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser. Franklin, MO, 1819–1827; Fayette, MO, 1827–1830; Columbia, MO, 1830–1835.