Letter to John M. Bernhisel, 13 April 1841

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

City of April 13, 1841
Dear ,
Yours of the 6th. ultimo is received, which should have been answered before, had not I been so much engaged in the business of the .
In reply, I have to say, that I allways feel glad to do all I can for the interest of the and for individuals.
I think it will be impossible to enter any land at Congress price excepting prairie, about 4 or 5 miles from town. But there is frequently persons who want to sell lands in the neighborhood and who, would be induced to sell very low for cash.
If you were here; I think you would have plenty of oppertunities of making good bargains if you were here, but if you cannot come I will endeavour to obtain a suitable place for you if you advise me so to do.
If you were to send what means you can conveniently spare for that purpose to me, I will lay it out to the best advantage for you, and if I should not meet with a suitable purchase soon, I will allow you good interest for the same, but I have no doubt but I shall have plenty of oppertunities of laying out your money to good advantage.
I approve of your plan of letting out the land you purchase, as it must soon be verey valuable indeed, and at the same time be doing a favor to some of the poor brethren whose property has been taken away from them by a ruthless mob.
Our conference is just over; we have [p. [1]] had a glorious time indeed; the particulars you will see in the Times and Seasons which will be out in a few days.
The health of the people is good, and we are expecting great blessings and enjoyments, and are anxously looking for, and expecting our eastern friends to come and share in the toils and blessings
With sentiments of respect I am yours &c in the gospel
Joseph Smith
P.S. If you should send any means on, you can send it by or who I expect are somewhere in your neighborhood or with any of the when they come, or a draught on by mail.
J. S.
The Brethren in wrote to me sometime ago on the subject of for the dead please to inform them I well attend to it as soon as I possibly can.
J. S. [p. [2]]
[page [3] blank] [p. [3]]
<, Ill
April 24th> <​April 10 May 10​>
176 Hudson Street
[p. [4]]


  1. 1

    JS likely received Bernhisel’s 6 March letter by the end of March; his inability to respond to Bernhisel’s letter right away was likely due in part to the commemorative events of early April. The church had just commemorated its eleventh anniversary with a church conference and the laying of cornerstones for the Nauvoo temple on 6 April. (See Benediction, 6 Apr. 1841; and Report of the First Presidency to the Church, ca. 7 Apr. 1841.)  

  2. 2

    Congress passed a land law in 1820 that made public lands available from the federal government for a minimum price of $1.25 per acre, which was known as the “congress price.” JS had also applied for land patents in Missouri with the congress price in 1836. Land at this price in Illinois was made available to veterans of the War of 1812, who in turn often sold their large purchases for a profit to land syndicates in the East. JS and the church purchased their Illinois land from one of these land syndicates, namely the partnership of Horace Hotchkiss, Smith Tuttle, and John Gillet. By the time Bernhisel wrote his letter, any news of available land in Illinois at congress price was outdated and unrealistic. (Rohrbough, Land Office Business, 141; Application for Land Patent, 22 June 1836; Carlson, Illinois Military Tract, 7–9, 25–26, 40; Anthony Hoffman, Rushville, IL, to John Reid, Argyle, NY, 1 Nov. 1833, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, IL; Bond from Horace Hotchkiss, 12 Aug. 1839–A.)  

    Rohrbough, Malcolm J. The Land Office Business: The Settlement and Administration of American Public Lands, 1789–1837. New York: Ocford University Press, 1968.

    Carlson, Theodore L. The Illinois Military Tract: A Study of Land Occupation, Utilization, and Tenure. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1951.

    Hoffman, Anthony. Letter, Rushville, IL, to John Reid, Argyle, NY, 1 Nov. 1833. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.

  3. 3

    Bernhisel’s initial letter presumably outlined the details of his real estate desires; his response a few months later to the letter featured here made it clear that he prioritized the size of the land and availability of timber over location. (Letter from John M. Bernhisel, 12 July 1841.)  

  4. 4

    Members of the church had lost property and suffered injury during a conflict with other Missourians in 1838 that culminated in the expulsion of the Saints from the state. For more on the Missouri conflict see Introduction to Part 3: 4 Nov. 1838–16 Apr. 1839.  

  5. 5

    The general conference was held 7–11 April. (See Minutes, 7–11 Apr. 1841.)  

  6. 6

    Samuel Bent and George W. Harris, who were members of the Nauvoo high council, had been sent as agents for the church to the “branches of the church in the east.” (Recommendation for Samuel Bent and George W. Harris, between ca. 17 and ca. 28 July 1840; Minutes, 17 July 1840; Letter from Samuel Bent and George W. Harris, 23 Sept. 1840.)  

  7. 7

    JS introduced the doctrine of baptism for the dead during a funeral for church member Seymour Brunson in August 1840. He later expanded on the doctrine at a church conference in October 1840. By December 1840, JS realized the doctrine “may have raised some inquiries” and wrote some additional instruction to the twelve apostles. (Minutes and Discourse, 3–5 Oct. 1840; Letter to Quorum of the Twelve, 15 Dec. 1840.)  

  8. new scribe logo

    Postage in unidentified handwriting.  

  9. new scribe logo

    Postal place and likely date of postage from Nauvoo in different unidentified handwriting.  

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    John M. Bernhisel handwriting. Bernhisel appears to have recorded the date of receipt. The 10 May date of receipt and the Nauvoo postage date of 24 April indicate the letter was two and a half weeks en route. (For a similar system of recording postage and receipt dates, see Letter to John M. Bernhisel, 16 Nov. 1841.)  

  11. 8

    This address was located in the lower west side of Manhattan Island.