Dirkmaat, et al, “The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents Vol. 3: February 1833–March 1834” (reviewed by Bryan Buchanan)


Title: The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents Vol. 3: February 1833–March 1834
Editors: Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Brent M. Rogers, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, William G. Hartley
Publisher: The Church Historians’ Press
Genre: Joseph Smith, Mormon History
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 627
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 9781609079871
Price: $54.95

Reviewed by Bryan Buchanan for the Association for Mormon Letters

As always, the Joseph Smith Papers project team is a busy crew. Along with a freshly revamped website, they have released the latest volume: Documents, vol. 3 (February 1833–March 1834). This new offering was edited by Gerrit Dirkmaat, Brent Rogers (lead editors), William Hartley, Robert Woodford and Grant Underwood (“legacy” editors). As the introduction notes, this volume starts off benignly with great hopes—church leaders were trying to expand Kirtland (several documents herein discuss how to purchase more land). Though the Peter French farm purchase is fairly well-known, the leadership intended to acquire much more land than this but they were not always successful in these endeavors.

An early entry in this volume that I found particularly intriguing is the minutes from 18 March 1833 — it appears to be a School of the Prophets meeting. The scribe, Frederick G. Williams, nonchalantly recorded that “many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the savior and concourses of angels.” One would think that such an event would be chronicled by at least one participant but, despite Williams’ statement that “each one has a record of what they saw,” no other contemporary reference to this event exists (Zebedee Coltrin was famously asked about this vision fifty years later, also in a School of the Prophets setting). I wonder here if something might have been said that perhaps Williams was not referring to physical records but simply memories.

Following this experience, things turned ugly both in Kirtland and Independence at roughly the same time (mid-summer 1833). In Kirtland, this was due more to internal factors—disgruntled former Mormon Philastus Hurlbut created serious problems with his allegations and efforts to collect affidavits attesting to perceived Mormon shortcomings (this endeavor, funded by Eber D. Howe, resulted in the publication of Mormonism Unvailed—an annotated edition of this important work will be issued soon by Signature Books). One of the most durable claims Hurlbut made was that he had seen a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding that was tweaked by Joseph Smith and then reported to be the Book of Mormon translation. By summer 1833, most documents in this volume are reactionary in nature dealing with the fallout of Hurlbut’s determined efforts.

Another concept I found very interesting in this volume was “warning out.” Townships at the time would often create poor funds overseen by prominent citizens. Due to frequent abuse of the fund, the overseers could “warn out” people from the township and, in some cases, physically deport them. Once this happened, those “warned out” could not establish legal residence in the township. The aforementioned Eber D. Howe noted that “every legal means” was used to prevent Mormon dominance in Kirtland and this strategy very well may have been in his mind when he wrote that. An October 1833 warrant in this volume relates to the “warning out” effort.

This volume also includes some documents that created serious headaches for the JSP production team. The plans and plats for cities and temples included here demonstrate the wider talents and goals of Mormon leaders and are key pieces to understanding these individuals. However, since the documents themselves are huge, they presented a unique obstacle to represent typographically. For example, how to include the colored Kirtland plat in a useful way—with the temple block in the center and residential plots around the edges thereof—gave them some heartburn. The solution they devised was to divide the large image into smaller sections, include an image of the original and transcribe anything written on it. Interestingly, though today these documents are priceless, at the time they were certainly not seen as such. For example, the plan for the Kirtland temple was used as “scratch paper” and served as backing for some of the papyri associated with the Book of Abraham. The plans and plats were revised continually—this is best seen in the iconic plat for the city of Zion. The conflict in Jackson County was beginning to rage as these particular documents were being created—the drive to create Zion was at the forefront even amidst these difficulties.

This volume includes a healthy amount of material on women and lesser known figures. One particular person discussed is Vienna Jaques (a person I’ve long found very interesting) who appears several times in the volume. The only woman mentioned by name in the D&C besides Emma Smith, Jaques was a wealthy convert from the East who provided very welcome financial assistance at a critical moment. A letter to her from Joseph Smith (unfortunately her original letter is not extant) and a revelation (now Section 90 in the D&C) that mentions her are both included and provide a brief window into the role of women in early Mormonism.

Another prominent theme in Documents, vol. 3 is the difficulty in managing church growth in various places in a letter-only world. With a lag of three weeks (one way!) for the delivery of a letter, leaders in Kirtland were woefully behind in trying to keep on top of the growing crisis in Missouri. The first hint of trouble there arrived in a 29 Jul 1833 letter from John Whitmer—he had just received a package from the leadership in Ohio with city and temple plans. This juxtaposition of Zion and conflict is a perfect symbol for the nature of this time period—the bulk of the documents reflect these two themes.

As has come to be expected, this volume includes cutting edge scholarship with exhaustive documentation. Future research and publications on the conflicts in Missouri and the plans for building Zion as well as the Kirtland Temple will greatly benefit from the insight and painstaking analysis from the editors of this volume. Though some people might be feeling “Joseph Smith Papers fatigue” by this point, the conclusions and research represented in this volume are well worth the effort to carry on (carry on, carry on).

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