A year after Joseph Smith organized the Church, the young prophet began to gather about him a management team that helped direct the Church’s early business affairs. These officers assisted him before the principal quorums of Church leadership were formed or fully developed. This growing board of managers printed the first collection of Joseph Smith’s revelations; planned for the new city of Zion and its temples, as it did for Kirtland; operated the Lord’s storehouses; and fostered other commercial interests. These members, directed by revelations given to Joseph Smith, formed a sometimes little-understood business partnership or firm through which they functioned. Diverse aspects of the firm are here brought together to enable those interested in early Church history to better understand it as a whole. Thus, to examine the wide scope of the firm, its influence, and particularly the complex revelation (now D&C 104) that discontinued it is the focus of this article.
While Latter-day Saints may not typically think of Joseph Smith as an energetic businessman or an assertive entrepreneur, multiple business interests captured his attention beginning shortly after the Church was organized. By February 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio, he began to inquire about economic matters, and by July, the twenty-five-year-old Joseph Smith embarked on a path of land acquisition, community planning, and other commercial ventures. He operated his businesses under the principles of consecration and stewardship and coordinated his enterprises through a business management company he named the United Firm. He supervised the firm by revelation, including a final lengthy revelation in April 1834 that terminated the company.1 Most of the revelations about the firm he then published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, cautiously substituting an array of replacement words or unusual pseudonyms not found in their manuscript copies. These words, which had a tendency to obscure the company’s activities, replaced the names of the firm’s officers, businesses, and operational details. Most notably, the Church leader replaced the company’s name with what Orson Pratt called a new “fictitious” title—the United Order. And, using another pseudonym, Joseph renamed the revelation that terminated the firm “Revelation given to Enoch,” which later added to its misunderstanding. Confusion increased, inadvertently perhaps, when in territorial Utah, Brigham Young borrowed the firm’s pseudonym for a new pioneer enterprise of his own—the Utah United Order. For some, Brigham’s reuse of the substitute title colored their interpretation of Joseph Smith’s already enigmatic organization. The purpose, therefore, of this discussion of the United Firm—including the text and annotation of the revelation that disbanded it—is to affirm its existence as a business partnership and to better understand Joseph Smith as the manager of an extensive though troubled business enterprise.
A Lengthy and Complex Revelation
The United Firm emerged in 1832 when Joseph Smith and other Church leaders gathered at Independence, Missouri, and founded a branch mercantile business. They joined the new branch with an already established business in Kirtland and named the unified enterprise the United Firm. While functioning privately, the officers of the firm supervised these and other properties in Ohio and Missouri under a strict but tenuous spiritual bond. Then, after the firm had experienced two years of lively financial activity, debt encroached, and Joseph Smith received a revelation on April 23, 1834, to retrench and set the firm in order. This lengthy revelation, Doctrine and Covenants 104, directed the Prophet to terminate the firm as then organized and redistribute its Kirtland business properties and urban and rural real estate to its officers for their own use or management. While naming the properties, the revelation provides readers with a rich inventory of the company’s Kirtland holdings. Although the revelation did not include the properties located in Missouri, all of the firm’s properties will be considered.
The revelation also separated the growing branch of the United Firm at Kirtland from the branch in Missouri. It affirmed the owners of the Church’s new publishing business in Kirtland, which Joseph referred to as the “literary firm,” and it assigned business and residential lots to some of its officers. It also assigned to Joseph Smith a large temple lot, which had been selected to accommodate three “houses” of the Lord. It granted authority to another officer to sell city lots in the expanding Latter-day Saint community and planned a treasury for the now separate United Firm at Kirtland. The revelation also expressed disapproval and marked chagrin over unnamed officers of the firm because problems arose from their sometimes discordant leadership, but it ended agreeably while encouraging the leaders in their future pursuits.
The revelation as recorded in our current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is used here for convenience, but the full text of the annotated revelation (pp. 41–57 herein) is taken from its earliest known manuscript, written April 26, 1834, by Orson Pratt under the direction of Joseph Smith (three days after the Prophet received it).2 Pratt copied the revelation from its original transcription (now lost) into a book currently designated as Book C, the third of three manuscript notebooks containing an intermediate copy of the revelations of the Ohio and Missouri period.3 The first of the three notebooks bears on the worn cardboard cover the title “Book of Commandments Law and Covenants,” and inside the cover is written faintly, “Orson Hyde Bk A.” Hyde was Joseph Smith’s principal scribe in recording these revelations into the three notebooks.4 Four months after Pratt recorded the revelation into Book C, Orson Hyde copied it and other revelations from there into the larger and better-known “Kirtland Revelation Book,” sometimes used as an early source for publication.5 At the end of this revelation in the larger record, Hyde wrote, “Recorded by O. Hyde 18 Augt. 1834 upon this Book.”6
The Beginning: Three Early Commanding Interests of Joseph Smith
In 1831, following a revelation that directed the Saints to gather to Ohio from New York, Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland about the first of February with Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge, Ohioans who had gone to New York to meet him.7 Once in Ohio, the Prophet attended to three emerging Church interests: economics, Zion’s location, and the publication of his revelations.
An Economic Plan for Zion. On February 9, just five days after appointing Partridge, a Painesville merchant, to be the Church’s first bishop, Joseph Smith received a revelation containing an economic plan of operation based upon frugality, industry, virtuous living, and certain core management principles of consecration and stewardship, precepts he believed would be necessary in building Zion, the millennial New Jerusalem. This economic plan was part of an extensive revelation known as “the law,” given for the government of the Saints.8 The plan directed the faithful who would gather to Zion—soon to be identified as being in western Missouri—to consecrate or grant their property by certificate to Bishop Partridge, the Church agent there over temporal affairs. Then, Bishop Partridge would return to them as stewards their personal property, adding tracts of agricultural land by lease, to provide them stewardships or inheritances. By this grant and lease transfer system, the gathering Mormon settlers to Missouri, even the poor, were positioned to prosper as farmers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers. By their diligence and faith as wise stewards and faithful laborers, the Saints could then generate a sufficient profit or surplus to help the Church build its Zion community.9
At Kirtland, while the law of consecration and stewardship pertained loosely to all the Saints in principle, its implementation was soon applied directly to the future partners of the United Firm.10 In December 1831, a revelation appointed Newel K. Whitney bishop at Kirtland and directed him to consecrate his properties to the Church. Obediently, he consecrated his two-story, white-frame store, the anchor of his N. K. Whitney and Company, to the service of the Church. After doing so, he continued to operate the store not only for public use but also for use as the Lord’s storehouse, which sometimes helped poor Saints, needy missionaries, and later the officers of the United Firm.11 Whitney also consecrated his other properties and managed them as holdings of the United Firm after it was organized the following spring. These included a residential lot on the hill near the site of the future temple and properties near his store at the crossroads in the main village center, located a half mile north of the temple lot and in the valley or flats of the east branch of the Chagrin River. The properties near his store comprised a lot for his residence and another house, a commercial lot he owned with a business partner, and a profitable ashery.12
The Location of Zion. Joseph Smith’s second interest, a pressing one, was to identify the location for the city of Zion. Before Joseph left New York, the Saints already knew that the site for the sacred gathering place was somewhere in western Missouri on the “borders by the Lamanites.”13 Now in Ohio, Joseph Smith was determined to locate the site precisely. In response to a revelation received in June 1831, Joseph Smith, Edward Partridge, Sidney Rigdon, and two dozen other elders left Kirtland for the West. Once in Missouri, the Prophet identified the site for the future holy city as Jackson County, on the western edge of the state, next to the Indian lands, and Independence, the county seat, as the center place.14 He also met with Oliver Cowdery and other vanguard missionaries, who had arrived several months earlier and briefly taught the Indians on their lands and the settlers in the county. At Independence, a revelation appointed Bishop Partridge to administer the new economic program of consecration and stewardship in Missouri; Algernon Sidney Gilbert, Whitney’s mercantile partner in Kirtland, to establish a store at Independence; and William W. Phelps to serve there as “printer unto the church” with Oliver Cowdery as his assistant.15 Phelps, who had converted to the Church only a month before, was suited to the job, having served as editor or publisher of newspapers in New York.16 On August 2, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and others met eight miles west of Independence and two miles east of the Indian border and dedicated the land for Zion. The next day Rigdon consecrated the future temple lot17 a half mile west of the new Jackson County courthouse.18 The brick courthouse was in the center of the ax-hewn and rugged frontier village of Independence; both the town and its citizens reflected “the backwoods style,” said Emily Partridge, Bishop Partridge’s daughter.19
The First Literary Firm. After his return from Missouri, Joseph Smith’s next notable interest, his publication pursuits, prompted him in September 1831 to move from Kirtland, Geauga County, to neighboring Hiram, Portage County. At Hiram, he worked on his papers while he and his family lived for a year with John and Elsa Johnson, interrupted only by another visit to Missouri. Important to Joseph were editing the “New Translation” of the Bible and preparing his own revelations for publication. In September he sent William W. Phelps to Cincinnati on Phelps’s return to Missouri to purchase a press for use in Independence where Joseph would publish his revelations.
Meanwhile in Hiram, Joseph Smith and leading elders held five conferences, November 1–13, 1831, to prepare his revelations for publication. At their final meeting, they organized a “literary firm,” an antecedent to the United Firm, to manage Church publications and provide an income for its officers. Named at a meeting with a “claim on the church for recompense” for past publishing services were Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, and Martin Harris.20 The conference of elders then elected these men, whom a revelation ratified, and added the name of Phelps to help manage the literary firm in Zion.21 The revelation appointed the men “stewards over the revelations” and guardians over both their publication and sales; hence, they were to be the beneficiaries of the revenue because “this is their business in the church,” it declared.22 Until the literary firm could generate enough income of its own, however, the officers were allowed to draw from the Lord’s storehouses for their needs; once acquired, surplus earnings from the sales of publications were to be turned over to the storehouse for the Church’s use.23 John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery left Ohio on November 20 with manuscript copies of the revelations and arrived in Independence on January 5, 1832, to assist Phelps in operating the new printing house.24 Quickly, with Phelps’s help, they began preparing a printer’s copy of the revelations from which they set type for the prospective “Book of Commandments.” The following June, their new publishing firm, W. W. Phelps and Co., began printing the Church paper The Evening and the Morning Star, which contained imprints of the revelations awaiting fuller publication in the Book of Commandments.25
Establishing the United Firm
Meanwhile in Ohio, the Prophet learned that he needed a system to better manage the Church’s growing commercial and financial interests. “The time has come,” stated a revelation (D&C 78) in March 1832, for Newel K. Whitney, Joseph Smith, and Sidney Rigdon to “sit in council” with the Saints in Missouri.26 A crucial but unpublished part of the revelation informed the Prophet as to their specific purpose for going to Missouri. There “must needs be . . . an organization of the literary and mercantile establishments of my church both in this place and in the land of Zion,” it declared.27 This new unified enterprise should be “for a permanent and everlasting establishment and firm unto my Church.”28 The revelation instructed Joseph Smith and others, including the leaders in Zion, to be “joined together in this firm” as partners by an “everlasting covenant” and thereby be equal in both heavenly and earthly things.29 Thus they were directed to operate the Church’s mercantile and literary interests as a united enterprise to be governed by a single board of mangers.
Joseph Smith, Newel K. Whitney, and the Prophet’s two newly appointed counselors in the presidency of the high priesthood, Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause, left Kirtland on April 1, 1832, for Missouri to organize the new firm.30 On April 26, two days after they arrived, the visiting Church officers met with the leaders in Independence and discussed the instructions of the commandment (revelation) that had sent them west.31 Later that day in Independence, the Prophet received another revelation designated as a “new commandment” (D&C 82) that gave additional instructions and named the leaders who would compose the firm.32 It then announced that these officers would also have authority over “all things” pertaining to both bishoprics. And it reminded them that in serving the new firm they were to be “bound together by a bond and covenant.”33 The following day, April 27, compliant to the March commandment to organize the mercantile establishment in Missouri, they established Gilbert, Whitney and Company, a business that would manage the store in Independence to serve the public and the Saints as the bishop’s storehouse in Zion. At the meeting, the leaders joined this new company with the N. K. Whitney and Company of Kirtland and named the newly integrated mercantile establishment the United Firm.34 This was a defining step toward the Church more widely managing its financial and commercial interests for the next two years—the life of the firm. For the United Firm had a broader mission than just uniting the two stores and connecting the publishing and mercantile firms.35 On April 30, the officers of the United Firm met and shaped a guiding policy allowing the firm to expand when “special business” was introduced to it.36 Nine of the firm’s ten members attended this meeting. The ten officers of the firm were Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Newel K. Whitney, Jesse Gause, and Martin Harris37 of Kirtland, and Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Edward Partridge, John Whitmer, and Algernon Sidney Gilbert of Independence.38 Phelps and Gilbert drafted a bond to bind the members of the partnership, and Whitney and Gilbert were appointed as financial agents for their respective branches.39 Jesse Gause soon left the Church, and Frederick G. Williams40 and John Johnson41 joined the firm at Kirtland the following year.
Possessing managerial, financial, or publishing skills, members of the United Firm consecrated their time, money, property, and energy and pledged their cooperation to advance the business of their new joint stewardship. While income from the firm’s various enterprises was stated to be available for the temporal needs of the officers,42 each member was to manage his own stewardship or responsibility within the firm for the benefit of the Church, requiring at times the need to help one another. For example, in June 1833, the Presidency wrote to Bishop Partridge at Independence that inasmuch as “all members of the United Firm are considered one,” currently the stewardship of the “literary firm . . . is of the greatest importance” and should be supported by the profits generated by the store in Zion.43 At that time, the leaders were concerned about the expenses associated with printing the Book of Commandments, which by then was well advanced and costly.44 Thus, members of the firm believed that by seeking the interest of one another and effecting the success of their united cause, but without ever holding “any property in common,” according to Whitney, they could achieve the firm’s ultimate fiscal goal of enabling the Church to stand financially “independent above all other creatures.”45
The United Firm as a company did not own the properties it managed, nor indeed did its officers own them collectively. The deed titles to its businesses remained in the names of individual Latter-day Saint landowners or business proprietors. Various officers of the United Firm owned and managed the following properties: N. K. Whitney and Company; Gilbert, Whitney and Company; W. W. Phelps and Company (entities previously identified); F. G. Williams and Company; Whitney’s Kirtland ashery; the firm’s real estate—including a commercial lot owned jointly by Whitney and Gilbert; the farm of Frederick G. Williams; the former Peter French farm at Kirtland; and Bishop Partridge’s stewardship lands in Missouri—and other properties. The revelations admonished the partners to be wise in their stewardships and manage them righteously under the bond of the sacred covenant they had made; otherwise they placed themselves in jeopardy, and, in doing so, they understood that judgment might befall them.46
The Frederick G. Williams Farm
Shortly after his arrival in Kirtland in February 1831, Joseph Smith settled his parents on a farm owned by Frederick G. Williams. Williams, one of the earliest Kirtland converts, owned a 144-acre farm that he made available to help the newly arriving Saints.47 The farm was located on high ground a half mile south of the Whitney store (see fig. 5). An unpublished revelation received in May 1831 gave the Prophet’s parents, Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, and others access to the farm for their support. The revelation states, “Let mine aged servant Joseph govern the things of the farm . . . inasmuch as he standeth in need.”48 Father Smith quickly began to manage the farm for his livelihood. Concerning the Smiths, Philo Dibble, a resident of nearby Chardon, wrote, “I held myself in readiness to assist the Smith family with my means or my personal services as they might require, as they were financially poor. They were living on a farm owned by F. G. Williams, in Kirtland.”49 Lucy spoke of the economy of the farm: “My family were all established with this arrangement, that we were to cultivate the farm, and, from the fruits of our labour, we were to receive our support.” Consecration and stewardship seemed to apply to the efforts of the Smiths. At harvest time, anything “over and above” their needs became available “for the comfort of strangers,” Lucy said.50 When he could free himself from his scribal chores for the Prophet and other duties, Williams sometimes worked with the Smiths on the farm.51 By the end of 1835, the increased burden of the farm upon the aging Smith couple forced them to move to a less demanding place.52
On January 5, 1833, a different use of the Williams farm than farming would come to light, however, when a revelation directed Frederick G. Williams to give up his farm. “Let thy farm be consecrated for bringing forth the revelations,” it stated.53 Joseph Smith apparently hoped that the cost of publishing the scriptures in Missouri could be covered by the sale of lots from the Williams farm, which he integrated into the United Firm. Furthermore, five months later, on June 5, 1833, Church leaders broke ground for the construction of the Kirtland Temple on a lot on the southeast edge of the adjacent Peter French farm, which the United Firm had just acquired. This was an early step in the much larger vision of Kirtland municipal planning, in which both the Williams farm and the French farm would play a major role, as Joseph Smith and other officers of the United Firm began to lay the foundation for an expanded Latter-day Saint Kirtland.
On August 2, 1833, a revelation instructed the Church at Kirtland to commence building the “city of the stake of Zion” with the temple to be in the city’s center.54 The Williams farm would provide most of the southwest quarter of the proposed city and the French farm would provide most of the northwest quarter. Joseph Smith and other leaders of the firm quickly platted the area into a one-mile-square community with a Kirtland plat map showing the temple lot on the city’s center block (fig. 4). The plat map showed the city divided into forty-nine ten-acre blocks and the blocks subdivided into twenty half-acre building lots. The temple lot on the southeast edge of the French farm was combined with a similar, adjacent temple lot on the northeast edge of the Williams farm; together they formed the eastern third of the city’s new center block (see fig. 5). This larger temple lot would provide space for three major Church buildings, houses, or temples, as had been directed by the August revelation (D&C 94). The first temple was to be used for worship and for schooling, and on the Williams portion of the temple lot, immediately south and parallel to the temple under construction, were to be two additional large edifices—an office building for the Presidency and next to it a substantial Church printing house.55 Later, the April 1834 revelation (D&C 104), which distributed the properties of the United Firm, assigned these two small contiguous lots to Joseph Smith to manage as a single larger temple lot while the Saints built the city around it.56 Two weeks after Joseph received the April revelation, Frederick G. Williams transferred title of his farm to Joseph Smith in two separate deeds, one for the temple lot on his farm and the other for the rest of his farm, which then was just over 142 acres.57
The Peter French Farm
Meanwhile, to prepare for population growth and economic development at Kirtland, the Church had already purchased the Peter French farm. Joseph Coe, a short-term Church land agent but not a member of the United Firm, had paid Peter French $2,000 down on his 103-acre farm located on the flats of the Chagrin River and southward up the hill to the Williams farm (see fig. 5). The farm also included French’s dwelling house and inn. Coe purchased the farm in April 1833 for total price of $5,000 with a mortgage contract to pay the remaining balance of $3,000 in two equal payments in April 1834 and 1835. But on June 4, a revelation directed Bishop Whitney to “take charge” of the farm, and within a few days N. K. Whitney and Company, serving as a holding agent for the United Firm, acquired the farm (and its debt) from Coe and managed it.58 Together, the Williams and French farms composed most of the west half of the proposed new Latter-day Saint city of Kirtland. Lots were to be surveyed and sold to the Saints “to benefit the firm for the purpose of bringing forth” the scriptures being published in Missouri.59 In about 1813, Peter French had constructed a two-and-a-half-story brick house or inn on the river flats of his farm. The inn was located at the village’s principal intersection on the township’s main road, across from the future Whitney store. The township’s primary north-south route, Chillicothe Road, now bordered the two Church farms lying west of it and, like other existing land features, was not represented on the new plat map. Four years later, Church leaders filed an expanded community plat with the county, petitioning for a two-mile square city, still showing the large temple lot in the center.60
In March and June 1833, Frederick G. Williams and John Johnson, respectively, were added as officers in the United Firm.61 Williams entered the firm that spring as he replaced Jesse Gause in the Church Presidency and possibly as a reward for the consecration of his farm.62 Johnson entered possibly because of his many acts of service to Joseph Smith at Hiram and because of the hope that the firm would receive funds from the sale of his farm in Portage County, Ohio.63 As Johnson moved to Kirtland, he received the former French Inn as his stewardship and residence and was authorized with Bishop Whitney to sell town lots surveyed from the farm.64 In 1836, N. K. Whitney and Company, which still held title to the French farm, transferred ownership to Johnson.65
The Ashery and Other Properties
Members of the United Firm operated other businesses in Kirtland as named in the April 1834 revelation that dissolved the firm (see fig. 5). Perhaps the most profitable of these was an ashery owned by Bishop Whitney as part of his N. K. Whitney and Company. Years before, on September 5, 1822, Whitney, as a newlywed, had bought a lot from Peter French for an ashery a few rods south of his future Whitney store. He started his ashery business by January 1824, which proved successful, and then expanded it with a smaller lot to the south. During that period, asheries often provided a profitable cash product for mercantile institutions, and a number of stores in northeastern Ohio did business with asheries or owned them outright as did Whitney.66 Whitney’s Kirtland ashery produced potash and the more refined pearlash, both of which had robust markets in New York and England as ingredients in the production of soap, glass, gunpowder, and other products. After he consecrated his ashery, Whitney continued to operate it profitably for the United Firm.67
Other industries used or operated at Kirtland by Latter-day Saints included a brickyard, a stone quarry, a sawmill, and a tannery, some of which were supervised by the United Firm. Frederick G. Williams superintended a brickyard a half mile northwest of the Whitney store.68 Joseph Coe had purchased the brickyard as part of the French farm, intending to use brick from it to help build the community. At first, even the builders of the temple considered using brick for its walls but later changed the project to stone.69 The brickyard, however, was not singled out as a separate business of the United Firm sufficient enough to have it listed in the April revelation. To build the temple, the Church used stone from a quarry two miles south of the temple lot and also built a water-powered sawmill near the ashery to assist in its construction, but, again, the April revelation did not include these enterprises. The revelation, however, did name a commercial lot owned jointly by Whitney and Gilbert, across the street from the Whitney store, and a tannery.70 Arnold Mason, a non-Mormon, had purchased an acre lot from French in 1832, immediately east of the Whitney store, and built a tannery on it. On April 2, 1833, a council of high priests authorized Ezra Thayer to purchase the tannery from Mason for the Church,71 but no purchase was made until May 3, 1834, ten days after the April revelation that distributed the firm’s properties. The revelation awarded the tannery to Sidney Rigdon, who afterwards managed it as a successful personal stewardship and business.72
The United Firm Properties in Missouri
With the expected gathering of the Saints to Jackson County, Joseph Smith, during his first visit to Missouri in July 1831, quickly stressed the need to purchase land. Buy “every tract lying westward” to the Indian border and southward “every tract bordering by the prairies,” pronounced a revelation in Independence that July.73 The Prophet Joseph and others immediately scouted much of the area in Kaw township from the Blue River west of town to the Indian line, ten miles west of the Jackson County courthouse.74 That same month, Bishop Edward Partridge purchased 356 acres in four tracts in Kaw township. Two tracts were on the Indian border near the government’s Shawnee-Delaware Indian Agency, and two tracts were just east of them, all of which were on the edge of the prairie about five miles south of the Missouri River and twelve miles southwest of Independence.75 Then, on August 8, a day before Joseph Smith left Independence for Ohio, Partridge bought two adjacent town lots, one for Phelps’s printing house, a half block south of the courthouse.76 That fall and during the next two years, Partridge continued buying land. Most of it was in the heavily forested area of Kaw township toward the Missouri River and some along the north-flowing Blue River where Kaw and Blue townships met, including the crossing where Orrin Rockwell later operated a ferry. As funds became available, Bishop Partridge acquired a total of 2,136 acres in Jackson County, most of which he distributed to the Latter-day Saints as stewardships of about twenty acres each.77 The bishop held title to all the land he purchased, including the sixty-three acres of the temple lot a half mile west of the courthouse, which he acquired on December 19, 1831, for $130.78
Other officers of the United Firm bought stewardship land in Jackson County. Shortly before the firm was organized, Sidney Gilbert bought a town lot on Lynn Street, a block southeast of the courthouse, with a log building on it that he used for his own residence and temporarily as the Church store.79 Then in November 1832, six months after the leaders organized the United Firm, the recently established Gilbert, Whitney and Company at Independence purchased a lot facing the courthouse on the northwest corner of the intersection of Lexington and Liberty streets as a permanent site for their mercantile firm—the Gilbert and Whitney store—with Gilbert continuing as storekeeper.80 Later, Gilbert, Whitney and Company bought four adjacent lots on Liberty Street a block south of the courthouse.81 Meanwhile, Phelps, Cowdery, and Whitmer, as managers of W. W. Phelps and Company, together bought four lots on Liberty Street across from the future Gilbert and Whitney lots.82 In April 1833, Gilbert, Whitney and Company bought a tract of 154 acres on the Missouri River five miles northeast of Independence. This riverfront land was immediately west of the Blue Mills landing, Independence’s principal freight landing, and just two miles north of the main road from neighboring Lexington, Lafayette County, to Independence.83 Although Church leaders never left a record as to their intended use of this riverfront property, they probably considered it valuable in developing a landing for their use in the mercantile business and for Mormon immigration to the county. Since Independence was the chief departure point for the far West, the Church leaders probably desired that their people avoid contact with the brutish if not sometimes rough behavior of Rocky Mountain fur trappers, western adventurers, and Santa Fe Trail freighters who used the public landings.84 Through these land purchases by officers of the United Firm and through immigration, the Saints were vigorously laying the foundation of Zion.
Just as Joseph Smith and other members of the United Firm at Kirtland were making plans to develop that community, the same leaders were also developing plans for a similar city of the Saints at Independence. On June 25, 1833, Joseph Smith mailed a package to the firm’s leaders at Independence, containing a plan for the New Jerusalem, and reminded them that “all members of the United Firm” were considered equal in their ventures. The package contained a plat map for a proposed mile-square city with streets and lots laid at right angles like those planned for Kirtland. The plat map with the temple lot in the center had the numbers one to twenty-four to mark the location for temples or houses of the Lord to be built on two fifteen-acre center blocks.85 It also contained drawings for the buildings, architecturally similar to the Kirtland Temple, and a letter of instructions from the Presidency.
On August 6, Joseph Smith and other leaders of the firm at Kirtland sent another package—one containing a revised city plat for Zion, for a larger city with new temple plans, and another letter of instruction. The revised city plat now had two ten-acre blocks in the center, with sketches of twenty-four line-drawn temples or “houses” to be built on the two center blocks, and, like the first plat, it divided each of the rest of the blocks into twenty half-acre lots but added five more tiers of blocks (fig. 7). The package also contained a pattern for larger buildings. Oliver Cowdery, who had recently returned to Kirtland, helped to prepare the August package. He wrote:
Those patterns [of the temple] previously sent you [June 25, 1833], per mail, by our brethren are incorrect in some respects; being drawn in grate haste. They have therefore drawn these, which are correct. The form of the city was also incorrect being drawn in haste. We send you another.86
The new city plat named some of the city streets with titles such as “Jerusalem Street” and “Bethlehem Street.” The new, modified temple designs, which were drawn for the larger buildings, depicted two tiers of nine windows on each side compared to five windows shown on the earlier design.87
Both packages contained instructions for building the first three of the twenty-four temples planned for Zion. Moreover, the Kirtland plan for the three “houses of the Lord” and the sequence of building them was also to be the pattern for Independence.88 Like the Kirtland Saints, Church members in Independence had an urgent need for a meetinghouse and school.89 Therefore, the first building was to be “for all purposes of religion and instruction,” said the Presidency in their June letter, and it was to be “built immediately.”90 The Missouri leaders learned that the Lord approved of the building plan for Independence from a revelation dated August 2, 1833, that accompanied the second package. The first temple was to be “a place of thanksgiving” or worship for the Saints and for “a school in Zion,” reported the Lord in that revelation; it was to be like the “pattern which I have given you.”91 Then after the first structure was built, the Presidency wrote, you “are to build two others,” one for the use of “the presidency and one for the printing” of the scriptures. Moreover, they were “to be built as soon after the other as means can be obtained.”92 But the instructions from Ohio were never acted upon; disturbances against the Saints commenced before the second package of instructions arrived.
Exiled from Jackson County
The growing Mormon presence in Missouri began to annoy local settlers, and trouble soon erupted. Hostilities against the Latter-day Saints in Jackson County began early in 1832 and mounted until the Saints were driven from the county in November 1833. Severe conflict flared up on July 20, 1833, when the local citizens demonstrated against the Mormons by tarring and feathering Edward Partridge and Charles Allen on the courthouse square. That same day, the brawling citizens next attacked the store, which Gilbert quickly closed to save it, and tore down the nearby two-story brick house and printing shop of W. W. Phelps and Company. They threw the type and unfinished papers of the Book of Commandments and The Evening and the Morning Star into the street, demolished the building to its foundation and gave the Saints an ultimatum that required them to leave the county beginning at the end of the year.93
Encouraged by Missouri Governor Daniel Dunklin, who advised them to seek redress in the courts, the Saints decided to hold their ground. Upon learning of their revised plans, the restless citizens began attacking Mormon settlements on October 31, 1833. During the first week of November, the mobs continued their assault on the residents of the five Latter-day Saint settlements—three in Kaw township, another at the township line at the ford of the Blue River, and one in Independence.94 The Gilbert and Whitney store was damaged by the citizens, goods were destroyed, and accounts receivable were left unpaid.95 The attack severely damaged Gilbert’s log house and the homes of other Church members in the town and throughout the settlements.96 The most severe violence was caused by the rougher Jackson County citizens who harassed, whipped, and drove the 1,200 Latter-day Saints in an unprepared condition from the county.97 Traveling mainly northward, the refugees crossed the Missouri River into Clay County.98 By the end of November, most Church members were scattered over fifteen miles of wild river bottom in Clay County, south and east of Liberty, the county seat, with many of the assets managed by the United Firm either destroyed or unavailable.99
Joseph Smith and Governor Dunklin advised the exiled people to continue seeking redress in the courts for the damages they had suffered.100 Efforts at criminal and civil prosecution in Jackson County, beginning in February 1834, failed because of the hostile climate at Independence, even with the state militia sometimes serving as a guard and with the presence at Independence of the state’s Mormon-friendly attorney general, Robert W. Wells.101 Receiving a change of venue to nearby Richmond, Ray County, leaders of the United Firm pressed for two test cases from events that had occurred in Independence on July 20, 1833. The charge of “trespass” was leveled against the Jackson County defendants both for assaulting Bishop Partridge and for destroying the house and press of W. W. Phelps. The two men claimed civil damages of $50,000 each.102 The Circuit Court, in its July 1836 term at Richmond, ruled against the mob defendants, but the judge awarded Partridge the frivolous damages of “one cent” and Phelps “seven hundred and fifty Dollars.”103 Meanwhile, Phelps’s press was salvaged and bought by Robert N. Kelly and William H. Davis of Liberty, who paid $300 to the Mormon-retained attorneys as part payment of their $1,000 legal bill.104 The Missouri officers of the United Firm received little recompense from the Missouri courts of law.
The New Kirtland Literary Firm
After the printing office in Independence was destroyed, the leaders of the United Firm turned their attention to establishing a press in Kirtland. On August 18, 1833, Joseph Smith wrote to Phelps and others in Missouri: “We shall get a press immediately in this place and print the Star until you can obtain deliverence and git up again.”105 On September 11, five officers of the United Firm met in Kirtland to establish the new press. The officers, Smith, Rigdon, Williams, Whitney, and Cowdery, who had recently arrived from Jackson County as a “delegate to represent the residue” of the United Firm in Missouri, established the Kirtland publishing firm of F. G. Williams and Company, with Williams as publisher.106 At the meeting, they authorized the new company to print The Evening and the Morning Star in Kirtland, which it did for ten months, and at the same meeting they established a replacement paper, the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate, with Oliver Cowdery as editor of both papers.107
A temporary shop for the new press was provided, and early in December 1833, Cowdery and Bishop Whitney arrived from New York with press and type. On December 18, Joseph Smith and others dedicated the press in a room in the French Inn, where Cowdery and others worked until a new building became available near the temple.108 “Our office,” Oliver wrote of their location in the inn, the soon-to-be-renamed Johnson Inn,109 “is yet in the brick building, though we expect in the spring to move on the hill.”110 They printed the first issue of the Star in December 1833 and the first issue of the Messenger and Advocate the following October. By then they were in the printing shop on the upper floor of the newly finished schoolhouse behind the unfinished temple.111 Plans to publish Joseph Smith’s revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, his translation of the Bible, and other projects prompted the Church to bring Phelps and John Whitmer from Clay County to work in the new printing shop. Whitmer arrived on May 17, 1835, and commenced working at the press the next day.112 By June 1835, Whitmer replaced Cowdery as editor of the Messenger and Advocate, and Phelps began setting type for the revelations to be published in the new Doctrine and Covenants.
Inasmuch as the original literary firm established in Hiram and implemented in Independence preceded the United Firm, it functioned independently at first.113 But at Independence, W. W. Phelps and Company operated as a stewardship of Phelps, Cowdery, and Whitney, officers of the United Firm.114 In the meeting of September 11, 1833, the leaders established the new literary firm at Kirtland as F. G. Williams and Company, under the aegis of the United Firm.115 This publishing business was the printing office referred to in the April 1834 revelation that disbanded the United Firm and distributed its properties.116
The United Firm Is Replaced by the High Councils
In February 1834, two months before the April revelation was received, Joseph Smith organized a standing high council of the Church in Kirtland. This council of fifteen high priests, three presidents and a body of twelve counselors, possessed legislative and ecclesiastical authority.117 Six members of the high council were also members of the United Firm.118
After the Prophet received the April revelation ending the firm’s joint association between Independence and Kirtland, the United Firm’s policy-making functions at Kirtland soon shifted to the new high council rather than to the newly designated “United Firm of . . . the City of Kirtland,” as directed in the revelation.119 At a high council meeting on September 24, 1834, its leaders uncharacteristically began to discuss administrative and financial concerns previously handled by the United Firm. For example, the high council planned a forthcoming project for the new literary firm and elected the presidency of the high council (Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams) and high counselor Oliver Cowdery, all former members of the United Firm, to manage the undertaking.120 The high council authorized them to take charge of “arranging and publishing” the revelations in the forthcoming Doctrine and Covenants and of receiving “the avails” from its sales.121 Increasingly, the Kirtland high council made financial decisions that typically had been made by the United Firm. It advised Bishop Whitney on the operation of his store, directed the payment of debt, and counseled Church members on their land purchases in Missouri.122 The support gained from the wide leadership base of the high council seemed beneficial. Accordingly, the leaders of the high council, who also had been officers of the original United Firm, functioned implicitly as the leaders of the new so-called United Firm of Kirtland.
Events in Missouri eventually followed a similar course. About two months after he received the April revelation on distributing United Firm properties, Joseph Smith was in Clay County with Zion’s Camp delivering relief to the Saints. While there, the Prophet organized a Missouri high council to govern the spiritual affairs of the Saints in exile; this high council would later also extend its ecclesiastical reach beyond spiritual duties. On July 7, 1834, at the Zion’s Camp discharge site two miles south of Liberty, Joseph Smith appointed David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer presidents of the Missouri high council, with twelve high councillors to advise them, as at Kirtland. Following the Prophet’s return to Ohio, this high council slowly began to direct financial matters. For example, in 1836 it appointed elders to canvas Church branches in several eastern states to borrow and collect money for the “benefit of ‘Poor Bleeding Zion.’”123 Later, it acknowledged that the “High Council and Bishop of Zion” were appointed “to do business for Zion.”124 Consequently, the proposed new separate United Firms of Kirtland and Zion, as named in the revelation to disband the firm, remained irrelevant and nonexistent apart from their embodiment in the high councils. Put another way, the high councils fulfilled that part of the revelation by each temporarily functioning in the role of the local firm. Likewise, the work of the treasurer and treasury, also named in the revelation, was later performed by the bishop and superintended by the Church Presidency, as later developments show.125 Clearly, the admininstrative and financial activities of the United Firm at Kirtland were continued by the same leaders but in their developing ecclesiastical roles.
Tension in the United Firm
The April 1834 revelation speaks of jarring problems among the members of the United Firm. The “transgressor” among them “cannot escape my wrath,” the revelation stated.126 Dissonance among them had roots early in the firm’s organization and continued during the two years of its existence. In fact, problems between the leaders in Ohio and Missouri arose as early as July 1831 at the time Zion was dedicated. That summer, Bishop Partridge had reservations about the Prophet’s conjectured size of the branch that awaited their arrival in Jackson County. According to Ezra Booth, one of the elders traveling to Missouri that summer, the Prophet expected a large branch of the Church resulting from Oliver Cowdery’s missionary work there the previous spring, but when they arrived there were only a few members. What Booth believed was Joseph’s errant prediction and his other shortcomings soon contributed to his own apostasy, and he attempted to take others with him. In a lengthy letter to Edward Partridge reviewing his complaints, Booth remonstrated with the bishop to join him and leave the faith, but his appeal bore no fruit.127 Nevertheless, Sidney Rigdon kept alive his own complaint against Partridge for his doubts and possibly for other concerns until the two men met at Independence in April 1832. There the disagreements were “settled” and “the hearts of all run together in love,” wrote John Whitmer.128 Then, in a climate of peace, they organized the United Firm.
As the United Firm was established, its leaders made a covenant of solidarity. Sometimes, however, they had trouble fulfilling their ideal. Distance, differing views on administrative policy, misunderstandings, and perhaps personality variances sometimes got in their way. In November 1832, a problem between the leaders in Kirtland and in Independence prompted a chastising revelation directed at Bishop Partridge that threatened to replace him as bishop in Zion if he did not repent. He is the “man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God,”129 it said. But after an accompanying rebuke, the crisis passed and a successor was never named.130 In January 1833, when another problem between the two groups arose, the Prophet sent Phelps a copy of a revelation that Joseph termed the “olive leaf” to uplift the Saints in Missouri, but he sent it with a letter containing a grim message: “If Zion will not purify herself, . . . [God] will seek another people.”131 Also in an accompanying letter, two representatives of a council of high priests at Kirtland censured Partridge, Gilbert, and Phelps individually for hasty words; the representatives then added a caution from Joseph Smith, that if Zion did not improve “the Lord will seek another place.” In their letter, the two spokesmen, Hyrum Smith and Orson Hyde, excoriated the three men. “We feel more like weeping over Zion,” they wrote, “than we do like rejoicing over her.”132
After the Saints were driven from Jackson County, however, the leaders in Ohio expressed sympathy and love for their exiled brethren. On December 10, 1833, the Prophet wrote to Partridge, Phelps, and others in Missouri: “Brethren, when we learn [of] your sufferings it awakens ev[e]ry sympathy of our hearts; it weighs us down; we cannot refrain from tears.”133 Nevertheless, problems continued. From Clay County, Phelps wrote “sharp, piercing, & cutting reproofs” against the Kirtland leaders, as Joseph quoted him in a letter dated March 30, 1834. The Prophet answered Phelps, Partridge, and “others of the firm”: “O, how wounding, & how poignant must it be to receive chastisement & reproofs, for things that we are not guilty of from a source we least expect them, arising from a distrustful, a fearful, & jealous spirit.”134 Perhaps to soften his reprimand, however, Joseph Smith added that he would “forgive, and . . . forebear, with all long suffering and patience.”135
During the winter of 1834, alarm in Kirtland was heightened for another reason. A former Church member, Philastus Hurlbut, threatened the life of Joseph Smith and helped excite local hostility against the Saints.136 That winter, a mob passed through Kirtland at night threatening to tear down the walls of the partially built temple. Heber C. Kimball remembered, “We had to guard ourselves night after night, and for weeks were not permitted to take off our clothes, and were obliged to lay with our firelocks in our arms.”137 Joseph feared also that the press office and schoolroom near the temple might be damaged. These tense times prompted Joseph to write to Partridge about his fears: “We know not how soon [the enemy] may be permitted to follow the example of the Missourians,” he wrote December 5, 1833.138 In January the Prophet “united in prayer” with other members of the firm. Sympathetically, he prayed on behalf of the exiled Saints in Clay County “that they perish not with hunger nor cold.” Then, turning to local concerns, Joseph prayed “that the Lord would also hold the lives of all the United Firm, and not suffer that any of them shall be taken” and added that Bishop Whitney “will have means sufficient to discharge every debt that the Firm owes.”139
Debt of the United Firm at Kirtland
Besides threats from their neighbors, Joseph Smith and other firm leaders found that by March 1834 the mounting debt of the United Firm at Kirtland had become a haunting concern. Funds were scarce and payments were either due or soon would be. When the United Firm was organized at Independence in 1832, Joseph and the partners authorized a loan for $15,000, which Whitney was appointed to acquire for the firm.140 Of this the Prophet wrote, “Arrangements were . . . made for supplying the saints with stores in Missouri and Ohio,” and he later authorized the use of credit to buy paper for Phelps’s press.141 Whitney made yearly trips to Buffalo or New York City to restock the store in Kirtland and probably the store in Independence as well. In October 1832, the Prophet traveled to New York with Whitney on one of his buying trips. “It is [a] tedious Job to stand on the feet all day to select goods,” Joseph wrote to his wife, Emma, concerning the task that faced Whitney. While the two men stayed in a boardinghouse on Pearl Street in the merchant district of New York City, Joseph further observed that “Brother Whitney is received with great kindness by all his old acquaintance[s].”142 In December 1833, Whitney was again in New York, this time with Oliver Cowdery to buy the press for Kirtland. A month before the April 1834 revelation was received, Joseph Smith wrote to Edward Partridge, “We have run into debt for the press, and also to obtain money to pay the New York debt for Zion.”143 Additionally, their first payment on the French farm was due, further stressing their resources.144
Besides its outside debt, the United Firm was also burdened with unpaid bills among its officers. Partners of the firm in Kirtland accrued debt as they drew from the Whitney store either as paying customers or as beneficiaries of the Lord’s storehouse. Nevertheless, Whitney kept a record of accounts receivable on members of the firm. In spring 1834, Joseph sought to have these internal debts canceled. Frederick G. Williams wrote that when the Prophet received the revelation to distribute the assets of the United Firm, he received another revelation, but one “not written,” he said. It required “every one of which were then called the firm to give up all notes and demands that they had against each other . . . and all be equal.”145 Whitney stoically wrote, “Joseph said it must be done.”146 Whitney’s account showed that the debt owed to him by the five principal Kirtland members of the United Firm totaled $3,635.35.147 Compliant, Whitney accepted Joseph’s direction “without any value recd,” he noted.148 Williams was also asked to relinquish his claim on all members of the firm, “which was the cause,” he wrote, “that I never got any thing for my farm.”149
Meanwhile in February 1834, the Prophet received a revelation to go east with others to raise recruits and funds for Zion’s Camp to help the Saints in Missouri. Joseph decided to use the trip also for raising money to pay on the Kirtland debt. Joseph Smith and Parley P. Pratt, his companion, left Kirtland on February 26, as did Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt and other traveling pairs.150 Three weeks later, at a conference of elders in Livingston County, New York, Joseph reviewed his Kirtland financial concerns: “Two Thousand Dollars . . . will deliver Kirtland from Debt for the present,” he told the audience.151 In response, the conference appointed five elders to raise the funds. The next few weeks, however, saw them raising but little money. On April 7, after he returned to Kirtland and while lamenting the poor collection, Joseph wrote to Hyde: “If this Church . . . will not help us, when they can do it without sacrifice . . . God shall take away their talent.”152 On that same day, Joseph met with Whitney, Cowdery, and Williams and prayed that the Lord would “deliver the firm from debt.”153 On April 10, while pondering their difficulty, Joseph discussed the problem with the officers of the “united firm . . . [and] agreed that the firm should be desolv[ed].” He wrote, “Each one [is to] have their stewardship set off to them.”154
Thirteen days later, on April 23, 1834, the day before Orson Pratt returned to Kirtland,155 Joseph Smith received the revelation to distribute the Kirtland resources of the United Firm to its members and directed them to manage the properties as personal stewardships. Two days after he arrived, Orson Pratt copied the revelation into the Book of Commandments Law and Covenants, without providing any heading other than the date. Four months later, Orson Hyde copied the revelation from that book into the Kirtland Revelation Book and added the heading: “Revelation given April 23d 1834 appointing to each member of the united firm their Stewardship.”156
Orson Pratt’s Copy of the Revelation in Book of Commandments Law and Covenants That Became Doctrine and Covenents 104
April 23, 1834
Verily I say unto you my friends, I give unto you council & a commandment concerning all the properties which belong to the Firm,157 which I commanded to be organized & established to be a United Firm,158 & an everlasting Firm,159 for the benefit of my church, & for the salvation of men until I come, with a promise immutible & unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded160 were faithful, they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings; but inasmuch as they were not faithful, they were nigh unto cursing. Therefore [p. 19]161 inasmuch as some of my servants have not kept the commandment but have broken the covenant, by coveteousness162 & with feigned words,163 I have cursed them with a verry sore & grievous curse; for I the Lord have decreed in my heart, that inasmuch as any <man> belonging to the Firm, shall be found a transgressor, or in other words, shall brake the covenant with which ye are bound,164 he shall be cursed in his life & shall be trodden down by whom I will; for I the Lord am not to be mocked in these things; & all this that the innocent among you may not be condemned with the unjust, & that the guilty among you may not escape because I the [p. 20] Lord have promised unto you a crown of glory at my right hand.165 Therefore, inasmuch as ye are found transgressors, ye cannot escape my wrath in your lives; & inasmuch as ye are cut off by transgression ye cannot escape the buffetings of Satan166 unto the day of Redemption. And I now give unto you power from this verry hour, that if any man among you, of the Firm, is found a transgressor, & repenteth not of the evil, that ye shall deliver him over unto the buffetings of Satan, & he shall have no more power to bring evil upon you; but as long as ye hold communion with transgressors, behold, they [p. 21] bring evil upon you.167 It is wisdom in me, therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves, & appoint every man his stewardship,168 that every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him; for it is expedent, that I the Lord, should make every man accountable, as stewards over earthly Blessings, which I have made & prepared for my creatures. I the Lord stretched out the heavens; & builded the earth as a verry handy work, & all things therein are mine,169 & it is my business to provide for my saints, for all things are mine; but it must needs be done in mine [p. 22] own way: & behold, this is the way that I the Lord hath decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted in that the rich are made low; for the earth is full, & there is enough & to spare; yea, I have prepared all things, & have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.170 Therefore if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, & impart not his portion according to the law of my gospel unto the poor & the needy, 171 he shall with [the] Diveles172 lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment. And now verily, I say unto you concerning the properties of the Firm,173 Let my servant [p. 23] Sidney [Rigdon]174 have appointed unto him the place where he now resides,175 & the lot of the Tanery for his stewardship176 for his support while he is labouring in my vinyard,177 even as I will, when I shall command him; & let all things be done according to counsel of the Firm, & united consent, or voice of the Firm which dwells in the land of Kirtland.178 And this stewardship & blessing, I the Lord confer upon my servant Sidney [Rigdon] for a blessing upon him, & upon his seed after him, & I will multiply blessings upon him & upon his seed after him inasmuch as he shall be humble [p. 24] before me. And again let my servant Martin [Harris] have appointed unto him for his stewardship the lot of land which my servant John [Johnson] obtained in exchange for his farm,179 for him & his seed after him; & inasmuch as he is faithful I will multiply blessings upon him & his seed after him. And let my servant Martin [Harris] devote his moneys for the printing of my word, according as my servant Joseph [Smith Jr.] shall direct.180
And again let my servant Frederick [G. Williams] have the place upon which he now dwells;181 and let my servant Oliver [Cowdery] have the lot which is set off joining the house which [p. 25] is to be for the printing office182 which is lot number one;183 & also the lot upon which his father resides;184 & let my servants Frederick [G. Williams] & Oliver [Cowdery] have the printing office & all things that pertain unto it; & this shall be their stewardship which shall be appointed unto them;185 & inasmuch as they are faithful, behold, I will bless them, & multiply blessings upon them, & this is the beginning of the stewardship which I have appointed unto them; for them & their seed after them; & inasmuch as they are faithful I will multiply blessings upon them & their seed after them, even a multiplicity of blessings. [p. 26] And again, let my servant John [Johnson] have the house in which he lives,186 & the farm,187 all, save the ground which has been reserved for the building of my houses, which pertains to that farm,188 & those lots which have been named for my servant Oliver [Cowdery];189 & inasmuch as he is faithful I will multiply blessings upon him. And it is my will that he should sell the lots that are laid off for the building up of the city of my saints,190 inasmuch as it shall be made known to him by the voice of the spirit & according to the counsel of the Firm;191 & by the voice of the Firm, & this is the beginning of the steward <ship> [p. 27] which I have appointed unto him, for a blessing unto him & his seed after him;192 & inasmuch as he is faithful I will multiply a multiplicity of blessings upon him.
And again let my servant Newel [K. Whitney] have appointed unto him the houses & lot where he now resides,193 & the lot & building on which the store stands,194 & the lot also which is on the corner south of the store,195 & also the lot on which the Ashery is situated.196 And all this I have appointed unto my servant Newel [K. Whitney] for his stewardship, for a blessing upon him & his seed after him, for the benefit of the mercantile establishment of my Firm, which [p. 28] I have established for my Stake in the land of Kirtland;197 yea, verily, this is the stewardship which I have appointed unto my servant Newel [K. Whitney], even this whole mercantile establishment, him & his agent, & his seed after him,198 & inasmuch as he is faithful in keeping the commandments which I have given unto him, I will multiply blessings upon him, & his seed after him, even a multiplicity of blessings.
And again let my servant Joseph [Smith Jr.] have appointed unto him the lot which is laid off for the building of my houses,199 which is forty rods long and [p. 29] twelve wide,200 & also the farm201 upon which his father now resides;202 & this is the beginning of the stewardship which I have appointed unto him, for a blessing upon him & upon his father; for behold, I have reserved an inheritance for his father, for his support;203 therefore he shall be reckoned in the house of my servant Joseph [Smith Jr.]: & I will multiply blessings upon the house of my servant Joseph [Smith Jr.] inasmuch as he is faithful, even a multiplicity of blessings.
And now a commandment I give unto you concerning Zion, that you shall no longer be [p. 30] bound as a United Firm, to your brethren of Zion, only on this wise: after you are organized, you shall be called, The United Firm of the Stake of Zion, the City of Kirtland, among your selves. And your brethren, after they are organized, shall be called, The United Firm of the City of Zion,204 & they shall be organized in their own names, & in their own name; & they shall do their business in their own name, & in their own names; & you shall do your business in your own name, & in your own names.205 And this I have commanded to [p. 31] be done for your salvation, as also for their salvation, in consequence of their being driven out, and that which is to come.206 The covenant being broken through transgression, by covetousness & feigned words,207 therefore, you are dissolved as a United Firm with your brethren, that you are not bound only up to this hour unto them,208 only on this wise, as I said, By loan, as shall be agreed by this Firm in counsel as your circumstances will admit, & the voice of the council direct.209
And again, a commandment I give unto you concerning your Stewardship which I have appo[p. 32]inted unto you, behold, all these properties are mine, or else, your faith is vain, & ye are found hypocrites, & the covenants which you have made unto me are broken, & if these properties are mine, then, ye are stewards, otherwise ye are no stewards.210 But, verily, I say unto you, I have appointed unto you to be stewards over mine house, even stewards indeed, & for this purpose have I commanded you to organize yourselves, even to print my word, the fulness of my scriptures, the revelations which I have given unto you, [p. 33] & which I shall hereafter from time to time give unto you, for the purpose of building up my church & kingdom on the earth,211 & to prepare my people for the time of my coming which is nigh at hand.212 213(Therefore, a commandment I give unto you that ye shall take the books of Mormon, & also the copy-right, & also the copy-right which shall be secured of the articles & Covenants,214 in which covenants, all my commandments,215 which it is my will should be printed, shall be printed, as it shall be made known unto you; & also the [p. 34] copy-right to the new translation of the scriptures;216 & this I say that others may not take the blessings away from you which I have conferred upon you.) And ye shall prepare for yourselves a place for a Treasury,217 & consecrate it unto my name & ye shall appoint one among you to keep the treasury218 & he shall be ordained unto this blessing; & there shall be a seal upon the Treasury, & all these sacred things219 shall be delivered into the Treasury, & no man among you shall call it his own or any part of it; for it shall belong to you all with [p. 35] one accord,220 & I give it unto you from this very hour; & now see to it, that ye go to & make use of the stewardship which I have appointed unto you, exclusive of these sacred things,221 for the purpose of printing these sacred things, according as I have said; & the avails222 of these sacred things shall be had in the Treasury, & a seal shall be upon it, & it shall not be used or taken out of the Treasury by any one, neither shall the seal be lo<o>sed which shall be placed upon it only by the voice of the Firm, or by commandment. And thus shall ye preserve [p. 36] all the avails of these sacred things in the Treasury, for sacred & holy purposes, & this shall be called, The Sacred Treasury of the Lord,223 & a seal shall be kept upon it, that it may be holy & consecrated unto the Lord. And again, there shall be another Treasury224 prepared & a Treasurer225 appointed to keep the Treasury & a seal shall be placed upon it, & all monies that you receive in your stewardships by improving upon the properties which I have appointed unto you, in houses, or in lands, [p. 37] or in cattle, & in all things save it be the holy & sacred writings, which I have reserved unto myself for holy and sacred purposes, shall be cast into the Treasury as fast as you receive monies, by hundreds, or by fifties, or by twenties, or by tens, or by fives, or in other words, if any man among you, obtain five dollars, let him cast it into the Treasury, or if he obtain ten, or twenty, or fifty or a hundred, let him do likewise; & let not any man among you say that it is his own; for it shall not be called his, nor any part of it, & there [p. 38] shall not any part of it be ussed, or taken out of the Treasury only by the voice & common consent of the Firm.
And this shall be the voice & common consent of the Firm that any man among you, say unto the Treasurer, I have need of this to help me in my stewardship, if it be five dollars, or if it be ten dollars, or twenty, or fifty, or a hundred. The treasurer shall give unto him the sum which he requires, to help him in his stewardship, until he be found a transgressor, & it is manifest before the counsel of the Firm, [p. 39] plainly that he is an unfaithful & an unwise steward; but so long as he <is> in full fellowship & is faithful & wise in his stewardship, this shall be his token unto the Treasurer, that the Treasurer shall not withhold; but in case of transgression the Treasurer shall be subject unto the counsel & voice of the Firm, & in case the Treasurer is found an unfaithful & an unwise steward, he shall be subject to the counsel & voice of the Firm, & shall be removed out of his place & another shall be appointed in his stead. And again, verily I say unto you concerning [p. 40] your debts, behold, it is my will that you should pay all your debts; & it is my will that you should humble yourselves before me, & obtain this blessing by your diligence, & humility & the prayer of faith; & inasmuch as you are diligent & humble, & exercise the prayer of faith, behold, I will soften the hearts of those to whom you are in debt, until I shall send means unto you for your deliverance. Therefore, write speedily unto New York,226 & write according to that which shall be dictated by my Spirit, & I will soften the hearts of those to whom you are in debt, that [p. 41] it shall be taken away out of their minds to bring affliction upon you. And inasmuch as ye are humble & faithful & call upon my name, behold, I will give you the victory; I give unto you a promise, that you shall be delivered this once, out of your bondage.227 Inasmuch as you obtain a chance to loan228 money by hundreds, or by thousands, even until you shall loan enough to deliver yourselves from bondage,229 it is your privilege, & pledge the properties which I have put into your hands this once by giving your names by common consent, or otherwise as it shall [p. 42] seem good unto you, I give unto you the privilege this once, & behold, if you proceed to do the things which I have laid before you, according to my commandment, all these things are mine, & ye are my Stewards, & the Master will not suffer his house to be broken up;230 even so, Amen.”
The Use of Substitute Words in the Published Revelation
In preparing the revelations about the United Firm for publication in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, the Prophet was concerned about protecting members of the firm. Undoubtedly, hostility against the Latter-day Saints in Ohio motivated Church leaders to protect these revelations from unnecessary scrutiny by a sometimes unfriendly public and peering creditors. At first, the leaders considered not publishing the revelations about the firm because of their sensitive content. Because of the Saints’ great interest in them for their spiritual value, however, the leaders decided to publish them, but only after inserting imaginative code words in place of select words pertaining to the firm. They made fifty-four changes to the names of officers, business properties, and places in the April 1834 revelation, with perhaps the most significant change being the pseudonym “Order” for the word “Firm.” Additionally, they placed substitute words regarding the United Firm in four other revelations.231
After the Doctrine and Covenants was published in Kirtland in 1835, different views on the meaning of the substitute words soon circulated. William S. West, a traveler from Trumbull County, who visited Kirtland two years after the Doctrine and Covenants was printed, said that reading the pseudonyms afforded him “much amusement.” This prompted him to inquire of several Latter-day Saints as to whom the pseudonyms represented. Some answered him that the names were “those of persons and places” from the day of biblical Enoch, but others told him that they were names of “certain persons that lived in Kirtland, and acknowledged that Pelagoram was Sidney Rigdon.”232 This mixed interpretation of the revelation may have been prevalent among members of the Church.
Years later, Orson Pratt believed the need for the pseudonyms had passed. To encourage their removal, he explained the reason the words had been used. In a letter to Brigham Young in 1852, he wrote that “fictitious names” were put in the revelations so that “their creditors in Cainhannoch (New York) should not take advantage of this Church firm.”233 Then, two years later, while again reflecting upon their early decision to encrypt the revelations, Pratt wrote:
When at length the time arrived to print the manuscripts, it was thought best not to publish them all, on account of our enemies, who were seeking every means to destroy the Prophet and the Church. On account, however, of the great anxiety of the church to see them in print, it was concluded, through the suggestions of the Spirit, that by altering the real names given in the manuscripts, and substituting fictitious ones in their stead, they might thus safely appear in print without endangering the welfare of the individuals whose real names were contained therein.234
In 1873, in his continuing effort to have the substitute words removed from the Doctrine and Covenants, Pratt taught, “The word Enoch did not exist in the original copy; neither did some other names. The names that were incorporated when it was printed, did not exist there when the manuscript revelations were given, for I saw them myself. Some of them I copied,” he said. “Joseph was called Baurak Ale . . . [and] Gazelum. . . . He was also called Enoch.”235 The substitute names, however, remained in the Doctrine and Covenants without clarification until the 1876 edition when Pratt, now Church Historian, added the original words in brackets next to the pseudonyms, as far as he knew them. In the 1981 edition, all original names were restored, and the code names eliminated236 except the words “order” or “United Order,”237 which still have not been replaced by their original words “firm” or “United Firm.” Technically, it is an anachronism for writers to use the terms “order,” “United Order,” or “Order of Enoch” to represent Joseph Smith’s business affairs before 1835, the year these substitute words were placed in the Doctrine and Covenants. And to use them indiscriminately afterwards may distort the Prophet’s history.238 In preparing the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph and other editors also changed the headings to the revelations about the United Firm. The heading for the April 1834 revelation in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants reads, “Revelation given to Enoch, concerning the order of the church for the benefit of the poor.”239 “Enoch,” in this case, was of course a pseudonym for Joseph Smith, confusing some who read it.240
After the United Firm
After the termination of the United Firm, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders still intended to fulfill their dream of building the city at Kirtland. Joseph, who had received the title to Williams’s farm in 1834, transferred it in 1837 to William Marks, a recent arrival in Kirtland, and authorized him to sell building lots on the blocks south of the temple.241 That same year, Joseph Smith and others filed a proposal with Geauga County for a larger two-mile square Kirtland city plat.242 But the building lots on the Williams farm as set out on the Kirtland plat maps were never fully developed, nor were the two additional “houses” of the Lord ever constructed on the Williams side of the temple lot. Moreover, Marks bought the north temple lot from Joseph Smith and, on July 11, 1837, mortgaged the temple to three New York City merchants.243 But John Johnson and Newel K. Whitney continued to sell lots on the French farm near the temple. Johnson, who now had title to the farm, sold the farm’s remaining eighty acres on May 29, 1837, to his son John Jr.244 While details of the actual mortgage payments on the French farm by the United Firm or its agent, the N. K. Whitney and Company, are unknown, the original agreement between Joseph Coe for the Church and Peter French in 1833 was still in force. A final payment was eventually made to French under that contract, and the note was cancelled in 1848 as paid “in full.”245
A year after the Kirtland literary firm was established, Williams and Cowdery, with the help of Phelps and Whitmer, began publishing important imprints. In 1835, besides printing the Messenger and Advocate and the Doctrine and Covenants, they also printed A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints246 and the Northern Times, a short-lived political newspaper.247 In June 1836, shortly after Phelps and Whitmer left their editorial duties in Kirtland and returned to Missouri, Oliver Cowdery bought out Frederick G. Williams, to become the sole editor and proprietor of the Kirtland publishing business, thus ending the existence of F. G. Williams and Company.248
Eventually, with mounting financial and legal problems at Kirtland, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon left Kirtland for Far West, Missouri, as directed by a revelation on the night of January 12, 1838.249 Meanwhile, a local businessman and enemy of the Saints pressed charges against the Church Presidency, forcing the sale of the printing office. Referring to that building, Hepzebah Richards wrote to her brother, Willard, “Last Monday it was sold at auction” into the hands of a Mormon dissenter. The next night, January 16, Hepzebah said she was awakened “at one o’clock,” to see the burning of the printing office. “In one hour it was consumed and all its contents,” she lamented.250 Benjamin F. Johnson, while reporting that the dissenters against Joseph Smith had taken control of both the temple and the printing house, said that Lyman R. Sherman, a high councilman, set fire to the printing house to prevent their enemies from using it to fight against the Church.251
After the United Firm was dissolved in 1834, the leaders in Kirtland continued vigorously in economic endeavors. They organized three new stores in Kirtland, adding more merchandise purchased in New York and more debt,252 organized a banking company in 1836 that later failed,253 and sold town lots that sometimes followed a national trend of inflated prices.254 These conditions, coupled with other local problems and a national financial panic in 1837, caused Kirtland’s economy to fail, which induced a failure of faith among many of the Saints.255 Some members withdrew from the Church, and several leaders in Missouri and Ohio became dissenters or were sympathetic to them, including some former members of the United Firm. Frederick G. Williams, William W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, John Johnson, Martin Harris, and John Whitmer all left the Church. Later, however, Frederick G. Williams followed the Saints to Illinois and was restored to fellowship in April 1840, dying in full faith at Quincy in 1842.256 Bishop Partridge died at Nauvoo as a faithful member just a month after Williams returned to the Church, and Phelps returned to the faith two months later. Years passed before Cowdery and Harris returned.257
Ever since young shopkeeper Newel K. Whitney had built a log store northeast of Kirtland and his first frame store at the crossroads on the flats of the Chagrin River, he had prospered. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, his wife, said, “He had thrift and energy, and he accumulated property faster than most of his companions and associates.”258 Arguably the most prosperous of the Saints in Kirtland, Whitney was the one ordained as bishop to help exalt the poor and humble the rich; but he had his own share of troubles, either with the Saints or with the elements.259 After a severe fire at his ashery in 1835—an economic disaster for the Church—Whitney sold what was left of that company to Jacob Bump on February 11, 1837, who two months later sold it to Jonathan Holmes.260
Though troubled by the late economic failures at Kirtland and the disaffection of his brethren, Newel K. Whitney moved to Far West, Missouri, and then to Nauvoo. After Joseph Smith’s death, he took his family to Utah. He died in Salt Lake City, September 25, 1850, as the Presiding Bishop of the Church. Meanwhile, he had left his properties in Kirtland in the hands of his brother Samuel F. Whitney, who never joined the Church and was resentful against his brother’s role in it.261 In 1857, Samuel, still Newel’s creditor, was appointed executor of his estate. At his death, Newel still owned the Whitney store building, his two houses next door, and a few other minor properties at Kirtland, all of which his brother sold to pay Newel’s debts, including over $1,000 he owed Samuel.262 When Newel died, his property was the cheaply valued remnants of N. K. Whitney and Company, the once vibrant core of the United Firm.263
By 1870, memory of the United Firm had faded, its meaning and the details of its history obscured by the code name “United Order.” In the West, the Church faced new struggles—sometimes monumental ones. One of these was the Saints’ economic survival after the arrival of the transcontinental railroad, the abundant appearance of non-Mormon marketeers, and the increased threat of non-Mormon mining. To answer this collective menace, Brigham Young established a flurry of pioneer cooperative enterprises: manufacturing, agricultural associations, banking, and merchandising, buttressed by the newly established Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution with branches in a hundred Utah communities.264 But their success was threatened by the impact of the economic panic of 1873. In response, one year later, Brigham Young, while in St. George, Utah, established a creative and unique branch to his already remarkable cooperative movement. In organizing the new enterprise, which took several socioeconomic forms, Brigham borrowed for it the name “United Order,” linking the new endeavor by name to the past. Some of these united orders featured communal ownership and thus were markedly different from the United Firm. As President Young’s movement spread to 150 Mormon settlements, it gave a new life to the old pseudonym, and during the approximate decade of its existence, its legacy tended to obscure or color the facts about Joseph Smith’s United Firm.265 Nevertheless, by prudently preserving much of its historical record, the Church has enabled others to reexamine the past and thereby to better reconstruct it.
This treatment of the United Firm is intended to elevate readers’ awareness of the firm’s importance in the early Church. The firm, while applying the principles of consecration and stewardship, was the means by which the infant Church tried to achieve its temporal mission. Thus, the Prophet used its board of managers to help build the Kingdom before the quorums of high-level leadership were developed to assist him in his work. Knowledge about the firm helps furnish the context for much that happened shortly after the Church was organized. This discussion also provides a comprehensive inventory of the properties held by the United Firm in both Ohio and Missouri, while emphasizing certain important properties and clarifying the less-understood ones named in the 1834 revelation. It identifies the later-emerging high councils as fulfilling the assignment given to the two new local United Firms and the bishop and First Presidency as eventually fulfilling by flexible application the assignment given to the treasurer and treasury. It shows that the community plan for Kirtland with its three temples was used as the model for the city of Zion and for the first three temples that were to be constructed in it. In an attempt to help free LDS history from misunderstanding, this review reminds us that the title “Firm” or “United Firm,” as used in the manuscripts of the revelations about it, is still missing from the printed scriptural text. Thus, this briefly sponsored but dynamic institution of the early Church should not be minimized in our historical writings. It was prominent in the early 1830s and deserves a legacy of its own. This discussion may also shed light on the aptness of Joseph Smith in his role as business executive and manager, as he served as the firm’s leader and principal advocate. Most important, perhaps, it helps to underscore the fact that the prayerful Prophet was heavily occupied by the affairs of the United Firm when he also similarly and simultaneously guided the Church in the other demanding dimensions of its prophetic mission.