Letter from William W. Phelps, 24 August 1834

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

, Mo. Aug. 24, 1834
Dear Brethren:—
Because I feel a great interest in the cause of our Redeemer, I take a little more time and paper than usual, and write. You are, in general, so well informed of all that is going on in this region of the Lord’s vineyard, that I cannot give any news. When I say all that is going on, I mean between us and the mob, for there are many other things, I presume, that you and the Saints abroad are ignorant of for months.
From petitions sent to Congres by the inhabitants of and other counties, a bill was got up in the house of Representatives, to annex all the land between this county and the , to this , together with a considerable quantity on the north, but it has all fell through, and I have understood that the Wyandots have selected that on the west, for their spot of gathering. A party of Pottowottomies passed through , not long since, on their way to the Kickapoos, whom they will join for the sake of their religion. Their prophet preached in just before the brethren came up last June, on the subject of their religion, and if he had had a true interpreter, would have given great light.
We have had several High Councils for the benefit of the scattered brethren; at one, the following letter was issued to four brethren, viz: , , , and .
To the Latter Day Saints who have been driven from the land of their inheritance, and also those who are gathering in the regions round about, in the western bounderies of ,—the , established according to the pattern given by our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, send greeting:
Dear Brethren, We have appointed our beloved brother and companion in tribulation, , to meat you in the name of the Lord Jesus. He, in connexion with others duly appointed also, will visit you alternately, for the purpose of instructing you in the necessary qualifications of the Latter Day Saints; that they may be perfected, that the officers and members of the body of Christ, may become very prayerful and very faithful, strictly keeping all the commandments, and walking in holiness before the Lord, continually. That all that mean to have “the Destroyer pass over them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them,” may live according to the “word of wisdom;” that the Saints by industry, diligence, faithfulness, and the prayer of faith, may become purified, and enter upon their inheritance, to build up according to the word of the Lord.
We are sure, If the Saints are very humble, very watchful and very prayful, that few will be deceived by those who have not authority to teach, or who have not the Spirit to teach according to the power of the Holy Ghost, in the scriptures. Lest any man’s blood should be required at your hands, we beseech you, as you value the salvation of souls, and are within, to set an example which is worthy to be followed by those without the k[i]ngdom of our God and his Christ, that peace by grace, and blessings by rightousness, may attend you till you are sanctified and redeemed.”
(Signed) “. Aug. 1, 1834.”
Since this document was issued, meetings have been held alternately at twelve different places, to the joy of the scattered brethren, and so far as I learn to the satisfaction of those who are “without” the kingdom. And they will be continued. It is very sickly now. There has been no rain of note since the first of July; every thing looks sorry for the want of it; and, what is here called “the chill fever” is attacking hundreds. * * * * * * * * , a worthy elder died on Saturday. There is a great deal to humble the Saints and make them possess their souls in patience. The great drought is an index of famine, and so much sickness denotes chastisment, and the Saints have only to say: “Though he slay us, yet will we trust in him.”
* * * * * * * * * *
We are looked upon as slaves, and in many instances, treated so. In fact, we are treated just as the Saints of God ever have been: despised, belied, slandered, whipped, mocked, buffeted, reproached, and considered, by other professors among the sects, as “the jest and riddle of the world,” to be laughed at, and “rendered any thing by every body:” and so be it, for Christ’s sake. The truth is in common meter, (as I have thought in poetry,) as follows:—
There is a land the Lord will bless,
Where all the Saints shall come;
There is a day for righteousness
When Israel gathers home.
Before the word goes forth—Destroy!
And all the wicked burn,
With songs of everlasting joy,
The pure-in-heart return.
Their fields beyond ’s flood,
Are in perspective seen,
As unto Israel “Canaan stood
While Jordan flow’d between.”
Though wicked men and Satan strive,
To keep us from that land,
And from their homes the Saints they drive
To try the Lord’s command:—
There all the springs of God will be;
And there an end of strife;
And there the righteous rising free
Shall have eternal life.
There shall the will of God be done,
And Saints and Angels greet;
And there, when all in Christ is one,
The best from worlds shall meet.
There, in the resurrection morn’,
The living live again,
And all their children will be born
Without the sting of sin.
How long our Father, O how long
Shall that pure time delay?
Come on, come on, ye holy throng,
And bring the glorious day.
As ever, .
To . [p. 191]


  1. 1

    An October 1832 treaty moved the Kickapoos to a site on the west bank of the Missouri River, north of Fort Leavenworth. (Articles of a Treaty [24 Oct. 1832], Public Statutes at Large, vol. 7, pp. 391–393.)  

    The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845. . . . Edited by Richard Peters. 8 vols. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846–1867.

  2. 2

    The prophet mentioned here is probably Kenekuk, a prophet and leader of the Vermillion Kickapoo. Kenekuk, whose belief system was an amalgam of evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, and traditional Kickapoo religion, counseled his followers to attend services on Sunday and to abstain from alcohol. He also promoted a belief “in heaven, hell, and purgatory,” and “Jesus, the Virgin, and the Saints.” He was noted “for his fiery sermons during the great religious revivals of the 1820s and 1830s.” According to one source, “Travelers and missionaries beat a path to the Kickapoo reservation west of Fort Leavenworth to see this ‘Indian Mahomet.’” (Herring, “Kenekuk, the Kickapoo Prophet,” 295–297; Schultz, “Kennekuk, the Kickapoo Prophet,” 38.)  

    Herring, Joseph B. “Kenekuk, the Kickapoo Prophet: Acculturation without Assimilation.” American Indian Quarterly 9, no. 3 (Summer 1985): 295–307.

    Schultz, George A. “Kennekuk, the Kickapoo Prophet.” Kansas History 3, no. 1 (Spring 1980): 38–46.

  3. 3

    When JS formed the Kirtland high council in February 1834, he said that he was doing so after “the order of Councils in ancient days . . . as shown to him by vision.” (Minutes, 17 Feb. 1834.)  

  4. 4

    A February 1833 revelation outlining counsel about what members should eat and drink was known among the Saints as the “Word of Wisdom.” (Revelation, 27 Feb. 1833 [D&C 89:1, 21].)  

  5. 5

    This may correspond to the number of branches that the church had in Clay County. (Parkin, “History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County,” 218–222.)  

    Parkin, Max H. “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County, Missouri, from 1833 to 1837.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1976.

  6. 6

    The Arkansas Gazette reprinted an article from St. Louis, reporting that parts of Missouri and Illinois had experienced a drought in summer 1834 that “entirely destroyed the prospects of the corn grower.” The article stated that “not enough rain has fallen in the last sixty days to wet the ground two inches.” (News Item, Arkansas Gazette [Little Rock], 30 Sept. 1834, [3].)  

    Arkansas Gazette. Little Rock. 1833–1836.

  7. 7

    This refers to “malarial or intermittent fever characterized by paroxysms (stages of chills, fever, and sweating at regularly recurring times) and followed by an interval or intermission.” (Carter, “Disease and Death in the Nineteenth Century,” 294.)  

    Carter, James Byars. “Disease and Death in the Nineteenth Century: A Genealogical Perspective.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 76 (Dec. 1988): 289–301.

  8. 8

    Samuel Drollinger died on Saturday, 16 August 1834. (Moore, Autobiographical Sketch, [2].)  

    Moore, Clarissa Jane Drollinger. Autobiographical Sketch, 18 Mar. 1881. Typescript. Family Histories, ca. 1881–1947. CHL. MS 14866.

  9. 9

    See Luke 21:19; and Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:38].  

  10. 10

    See Job 13:15.  

  11. 11

    TEXT: Asterisks probably denoting ellipses.  

  12. 12

    See Boynton, Complete Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, 142.  

    Boynton, Henry W., ed. The Complete Poetical Works of Alexander Pope. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mi in, 1902.

  13. 13

    In May 1834, John Whitmer noted that church members in Missouri, most of whom were in temporary quarters in Clay County, were “among stranger[s] in a strand [strange] place, being despised, mocked at and laughed to scorn by some, and pitied by others.” He continued, “the mob rages, and the peoples hearts are hardened, and the saints are few in number, and poor, afflicted, caust [cast] out, and smitten by their enemies.” However, Edward Partridge later remembered that “the people of Clay co. were mostly friendly to the saints,” although “there were a few exceptions.” (Whitmer, History, 60–61; “A History, of the Persecution,” Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, 1:50.)  

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

  14. 14

    Phelps appears to have used Isaac Watts’s hymn “A Prospect of Heaven Makes Death Easy” as inspiration for this poem. Watts’s hymn begins, “There is a land of pure delight, / Where saints immortal reign” and includes the line, “So to the Jews old Canaan stood, / While Jordan roll’d between,” which is paraphrased in Phelps’s poem. (Gibbons, Memoirs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, 239–240.)  

    Gibbons, Thomas. Memoirs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D. D. London: James Buckland and Thomas Gibbons, 1780.

  15. 15

    See Revelation, ca. 7 Mar. 1831 [D&C 45:11–12].  

  16. 16

    See Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:18].  

  17. 17

    The 1835 hymnal here has “along” instead of “beyond.” (Hymn 34, Collection of Sacred Hymns, 45.)  

    A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Edited by Emma Smith. Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams, 1835.

  18. 18

    The 1835 hymnal here has “them” instead of “us.” (Hymn 34, Collection of Sacred Hymns, 45.)  

    A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Edited by Emma Smith. Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams, 1835.

  19. 19

    The 1835 hymnal here has “the” instead of “their.” (Hymn 34, Collection of Sacred Hymns, 45.)  

    A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Edited by Emma Smith. Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams, 1835.

  20. 20

    See Revelation, ca. 7 Mar. 1831 [D&C 45:58].