Title: The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 6: February 1838–August 1839
Editors: Mark Ashurst-McGee, David W. Grua, Elizabeth A. Kuehn, Brenden W. Rensink, Alexander L. Baugh
Publisher: The Church Historian’s Press
Genre: documentary history
2017, 775p, hardback, $54.95
Reviewed by Bryan Buchanan for the Association for Mormon Letters
[Note: this is the first of two reviews. Andrew Hamilton will submit his shortly. Bryan Buchanan has given us a nice summation of the live event. Thanks, Bryan, for the thoughts. JN]
In connection with the release of the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, AML was invited to an interview with several of the editors: Mark Ashurst-McGee, Elizabeth Kuehn and David Grua. Rather than a formal review, here is a report (paraphrased from notes) of what we learned about this interesting period of Mormon history.
Mark Ashurst-McGee: This volume has 4 parts—the first two are about Far West/Adam-ondi-Ahman/DeWitt, the third is Joseph Smith under arrest and the fourth is the period following the escape from Missouri and the rebuilding process in Iowa/Illinois. I was mainly responsible for the first two sections, David for the third and Elizabeth for the fourth.
Q—This volume includes content from Wilford Woodruff’s “Book of Revelations.” What do we know about its creation and usage? How does it differ from journal entries?
Elizabeth Kuehn: Woodruff gets it from his brother, Asahel, and then starts using it in the summer of 1839 when Joseph Smith is preparing the 12 to leave for a mission in England. The Church History Library got parts of his collection from different branches of the family over the years. The provenance for this particular item is given in the source note in this volume [see p. 575]. Where the same discourse is reported in his journal, the “Book of Revelations” entry is more expansive. He also uses his cursive hand than his more familiar block printing. One discourse starts as grouped thoughts and then he strikes it out and expands it into a full entry.
Q—How does one determine what is most contemporary among Woodruff’s various sources?
Elizabeth: We do line ups to compare two texts line by line and word by word. The first entries are revelations dealing with the Twelve—these are key things to take to England relating to his responsibilities. Willard Richards’ “Pocket Companion” copies from the “Book of Revelations.” Some of the Twelve also have personal copies of things like this, not necessarily kept in a notebook.
Q—How did this item come to the attention of the Joseph Smith Papers team?
Mark: We heard about it five years ago when it came over from the First Presidency vault.
Elizabeth: However, it came into our document lineup later—Robin Jensen asked if we were going to use it as a source partway through the writing process for this volume.
Q—What can you tell us about the “Letter to the Citizens of Jackson County?” [see p. 282]
David Grua: Joseph Smith and others are arrested in August 1838 and then transported in November 1838 to Independence. Their fate is uncertain, they have heard rumors and think maybe if we are nice, butter up residents, maybe we can sway public opinion. The letter is published in a newspaper and we don’t have the original. It was published several miles away which makes us think maybe it was published as a broadside.
Q–Does this letter line up with Dean Jessee’s article “‘Walls, Grates and Screeking Iron Doors’: The Prison Experience of Mormon Leaders in Missouri, 1838-1839?” [published in New Views of Mormon History: Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington]
David: In a letter Joseph wrote to Emma, he mentions how surprised they were at how nice residents were. Some have wondered if he was being sarcastic—however, Parley P. Pratt writes to his wife with same message so probably not.
Mark—When you look at the documents for this period, there are some things that tweak the general narrative.
Q—During this period, vigilante violence becomes state-sponsored. What triggers the shift? What documents illuminate this? How might this volume help as course correction to curriculum, for example?
David: At the end of part 2 going into part 3 of this volume, there is very little extant here. No journal, no correspondence, but we know from other sources that there were some letters mobilizing troops that don’t survive. When they go to Daviess County and sack Millport and Gallatin, some say that Joseph Smith sends a letter to Rigdon announcing their victory. Albert P. Rockwood keeps a contemporary journal that describes a “Northern Campaign.” John Smith also has a journal for 22 October noting that “all the enemy has been driven from the county.” These types of sources conform to the John Corrill and Reed Peck narratives. There are hints in the Liberty Jail letters—for example, the 16 December 1838 letter has two versions, both of which seem to make their way out of jail and are copied. In one version, Joseph Smith calls the Mormon raids “just retaliation.” We struggled with terminology in this volume—Stephen LeSueur [in 1838 Mormon War in Missouri] calls anti-Mormons vigilantes and Mormons troops. We finally decided we had to recognize both sides are acting as vigilantes. Civil authority has broken down and both sides have no other recourse in order to achieve their goals.
Mark: Is this is a war or a battle? We saw this as a chance to step back and be objective. There were four killed at Crooked River—this isn’t exactly the Battle of the Bulge. We decided to simply call it a skirmish.
David: One version of this Liberty Jail letter is copied into Joseph Smith’s Scriptory Book. However, this particular copy [displayed at the interview] is in the hand of Zina D. Huntington. She copies it early on—this serves as an interesting example of a woman acting as copyist. There are no other examples of her copying things—this seems to be her personal copy of this letter. Here is another partial copy of the letter—interestingly, this is in Phebe Woodruff’s hand though we don’t have a sense for when or why it was created. At some point, an unidentified hand adds at the top “Given by Jesus through Joseph Smith” (though there is a good-sized space at the top of the page as though someone may have wanted to add a header”). Others are copying it whole or parts of it—Joseph tells Emma he wants people to copy and circulate these. There are several letters from the jail to Emma—he apparently sees it as his responsibility to write to Emma in his own hand.
Q—What about the Danites?
David: Luman Shurtliff, for example, describes the Danites as a “good organization.” In this connection, we spent some time looking at the Fourth of July discourse which, due to space concerns, is an online appendix to the book.
Mark: A revelation from the late Jackson County period outlines how Mormons were to forgive their enemies three times [D&C 98:39-44]. Rigdon is paraphrasing from Section 98 in the Fourth of July sermon—Mormons feel like they are now scripturally justified in going after their enemies. Vengeance in this period—in my reading—is tied to justice unlike the modern separation of law/justice and personal vengeance. There were very weak judicial institutions that gave way quickly to vigilante means. Mormons had found out at DeWitt that the state would no longer protect them.
David: Sidney warns people in this discourse—in the name of Christ based on the language of D&C 98—then they feel like they are justified. The pattern of settlements outside of Caldwell earlier in June is important background to this sermon. Mormons print the sermon and distribute it as “public notice” (which is very unusual for this period) and then send it to a non-Mormon newspaper and ask them to print it.
Mark: There is a Joseph Smith sermon but we don’t have a text—he’s basically just affirming Rigdon.
David: We also have Joseph Smith as editor of the Elders’ Journal encouraging Mormons to get their own copy.
Q—How did you approach sexual violence during this period? Women’s sources don’t mention it, for example.
David: Joseph Smith mentions it in vague terms: “violated.” Rockwood’s journal reports rapes and it shows up in newspapers. We contacted Andrea Radke-Moss to make sure we were on the same page. We also made it a point to make sure it’s being discussed. On a similar note, we also mention two instances of women dying (one in childbirth, one in old age)—things that often tend to get overlooked.
Mark: As documentary editors, we try to look at everything and produce a balanced viewpoint in annotation.
Q—What can you tell us about the “Bill of Damages?” [see p. 492]
David: In March 1839, Joseph Smith writes to the church from Liberty Jail—a portion of which becomes 123—and instructs them to create a document with their losses in order to seek redress. Then, in the May conference, Mormons are asked to write affidavits. When Joseph goes to Quincy, he finally has some time to sit down and write the bill. With several options before them, they decide that going to Congress is best choice. A cache of affidavits and this bill go to Congress and are actually before them for a short time and then are returned to the Mormons.
Mark: Joseph Smith isn’t a numbers guy so his bill reads more like scripture or sacred history.
Q—Does Fanny Alger play a role in this volume?
Mark: It is well known that she and Joseph have a relationship which is most likely a marriage (even from hostile sources). She does come up indirectly several times—for example, this volume starts as Joseph Smith has left Kirtland. Rumors about Alger pop up several times—the Oliver Cowdery membership trial being a key instance.
The editors mentioned that financial documents—covered by Elizabeth—yielded some of the most interesting new research in this volume.
Elizabeth: Interestingly, the Kirtland Safety Society doesn’t play a part in these documents though it bears on them somewhat. Debts from land purchases and, particularly, litigation are what are looming during this period. Oliver Granger is functioning as an ad hoc agent before he receives an official commission to resolve the debts. He deals with these matters personally and then later presents it to Joseph Smith. Kirtland Temple debts also loom over the Nauvoo era though there is a letter from one creditor that praises Granger for paying debts.
Mark: This was an era in which culture of honor prevailed. Joseph Smith would have seen it as a matter of personal integrity to pay debts and they did so successfully in many cases.