Letter to Hiram Barney, 3 March 1842

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Copy of a Letter to Esqr 52 John St—
Hancock Co— Ill
Mch 3rd. 1842
Dear Sir
Yours of the 24th. of January in relation to Mr Fishers [Abijah Fisher’s] Land in this is received, and I feel to reciprocate the friendly sentiments therein contained and hope I may again have the pleasure of your society, & also of Messrs Silliman & Mitchell, when it shall suit your convenience to grant it
The Land you refer to, is so situated that it is not likely to be a source of great profit to any one at present, there are several difficulties in the way of rendering it as valuable as are some other Lots in the vicinity, which I have not time to enumerate at present; but if we can come to any conclusions for an exchange, which might <​prove​> to our mutual advantage in the end I will be glad so to do.
Our city Lots are one acre each, and while good lands and near by, can be had for $3. and $5. pr acre, the citizens will not consent to be circumscribed to 1/12 of an acre; unless it be in some peculiar instances which have no prospect of any bearing upon the land in question for a long period, if ever— [p. 227]
I make these observations that it may be understood in the commencement, that at the prices you suggest it would be useless to prosecute a correspondence on this subject; But, Sir, if the Lands can be furnished at a fair & honourable valuation, & pay according to the spirit of the Times, I am ready to purchase. I say spirit of the Times.— because it seems to be that Spirit, for so many Banks to break, that it renders the circulating medium of the country so uncertain in its real value, that little is to be had, consequently property in general, the real articles themselves, must take the place of circulating medium; or become that article itself.—
If you would prefer— or Mr. Fisher,— to receive Eastern lands for the 20 acres included within the limits of our , which you have refered to in your letter, I shall be able soon to accommodate you & will give $100. pr Lot, or acre; payable in lands or property in the Eastern States, as soon as convenience will admit of the exchange.
Or if you prefer, to make me an for the sale of the Lots at a stipulated sum, which I will name in the Letter of Attorney I will pay for the same, so fast as I shall collect on the Lots; though I do not think this would be as well for you, as to take Eastern Lands at once for collections on Lands must be uncertain, while the currency remains unchanged, or continues to grow worse: & why I say I will name the sum is, that I have no time to be troubled with an agency, for Lots held so high, that they could not be sold with a tolerable dispatch.
Should either of the above propositions meet your approbations, you will please communicate; and be free to make any communications you may think proper, in relation to the matter.
With sentiments of high consideration, I remain, Sir, most respectfully, your friend & servant.
Joseph Smith
P. S. The first Number of the Times & Seasons which I have issued as Editor, comes from the press this evening.— And I shall take the liberty to express my friendship to you by mailing a copy of the same to your address, in connexion with this Letter.— [p. 228]


  1. 1

    Letter from Hiram Barney, 24 Jan. 1842.  

  2. 2

    Likely William Mitchell, a partner in Barney’s law practice, and possibly William Silliman, Mitchell’s father-in-law. In a January 1842 letter to JS, Barney referred to a previous meeting that he and two men named Mitchell and Silliman had with JS in Nauvoo. (Bowman, 8000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, 1804–1850, 163; Alexander, St. John Genealogy, 229; Obituary for Hiram Barney, New York Times [New York City], 20 May 1895, 2; Holley, New-York State Register, for 1843, 391, 396; Letter from Hiram Barney, 24 Jan. 1842.)  

    Bowman, Fred Q. 8,000 More Vital Records of Eastern New York State, 1804–1850. Rhinebeck, NY: Kinship, 1991.

    Alexander, Orline St. John. The St. John Genealogy: Descendants of Matthias St. John of Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1634. . . . New York: Grafton Press, 1907.

    New York Times. New York City. 1857–.

    Holley, O. L., ed. The New-York State Register, for 1843. Containing an Almanac, Civil Divisions, and Census of the State; with Political, Statistical and Other Information, Relating to the State of New-York and the United States. Also, a Full List of County Officers, Attorneys, &c. Albany: J. Disturnell, 1843.

  3. 3

    Fisher’s property was located in the western portion of the Nauvoo peninsula and included a portion of the platted town of Commerce. In the early 1840s the land in this area was portrayed as being full of swamps and sloughs. (Doyle v. Teas, 4 Scammon 223, 233–234 [Ill. Sup. Ct. 1843]; Abijah Fisher and Oliver Granger, Tax Receipt, 25 May 1841, Hiram Kimball, Collection, CHL; John C. Bennett, “Inaugural Address,” Times and Seasons, 15 Feb. 1841, 2:318; Rollins et al., “Transforming Swampland into Nauvoo,” 133–135.)  

    Illinois State Historical Society. Circuit Court Case Files, 1830–1900. Microfilm. CHL. MS 16278.

    Kimball, Hiram. Collection, 1830–1910. CHL.

    Rollins, Kyle M., Richard D. Smith, M. Brett Borup, and E. James Nelson. “Transforming Swampland into Nauvoo, the City Beautiful: A Civil Engineering Perspective.” BYU Studies 45, no. 3 (2006): 125–157.

  4. 4

    Lots in and around the city of Nauvoo varied in price. In October 1839 the city council set the price for acre lots in the city at $500 (or between $200 and $800). Lots just outside the city were often sold at lower rates. In January 1842 JS sold John M. Bernhisel sixty acres of land two miles southeast of the temple for $8 an acre. Land farther out was apparently even less expensive. In April 1840 Horace Hotchkiss informed JS that timbered land near Springfield, Illinois, was worth $4.50 per acre, while prairie land (without timber) was worth closer to $3 per acre. (Nauvoo Stake High Council Minutes, fair copy, 21 Oct. 1839, 26; Letter to John M. Bernhisel, 4 Jan. 1842; Letter from Horace Hotchkiss, 1 Apr. 1840.)  

    Nauvoo Stake High Council Minutes, ca. 1839–ca. 1843. Fair copy. In Oliver Cowdery, Diary, Jan.–Mar. 1836. CHL.

  5. 5

    Barney proposed to sell Fisher’s property for $1,200 per acre, or $24,000 for the complete twenty-acre plot. (Letter from Hiram Barney, 24 Jan. 1842.)  

  6. 6

    In early 1842 many regions in the United States were still suffering from an economic depression triggered by financial panics in 1837 and 1839. Many banks during this period, including the State Bank of Illinois and the Bank of Illinois, intermittently suspended specie (or “hard currency”) payments to their patrons, causing people to lose confidence in these institutions. Numerous banks ultimately failed, significantly devaluing the banknotes they had issued. These factors meant that many Americans did not have a reliable “circulating medium” that they could exchange for land or for goods and services. (Journal of the Senate . . . of the State of Illinois, 13 Dec. 1838, 45; Marckhoff, “Currency and Banking in Illinois before 1865,” 380; Wallis, “What Caused the Crisis of 1839?,” 11.)  

    Journal of the Senate of the Thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Illinois, at Their Regular Session, Begun and Held at Springfield, December 5, 1842. Springfield, IL: William Walters, 1842.

    Marckhoff, Fred R. “Currency and Banking in Illinois before 1865.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 52, no. 3 (Autumn 1959): 365–418.

    Wallis, John Joseph. “What Caused the Crisis of 1839?” NBER Working Paper Series on Historical Factors in Long Run Growth, Historical Paper 133, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, Apr. 2001. http://www.nber.org/papers/h0133.pdf.

  7. 7

    In October 1841 church leaders encouraged Saints living in the eastern United States to exchange their lands for property in Nauvoo. (Brigham Young et al., “An Epistle of the Twelve,” Times and Seasons, 15 Oct. 1841, 2:568.)  

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

  8. 8

    In other words, JS is requesting power of attorney to sell the land in Barney’s or Fisher’s name.  

  9. 9

    The 1 March 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons. Though the 15 February 1842 issue named JS as the editor, he later asserted that he was not responsible for either the “publication, or arrangement of the former paper.” (Masthead, Times and Seasons, 15 Feb. 1842, 3:702; JS, “To Subscribers,” Times and Seasons, 1 Mar. 1842, 3:710.)