Historical Documents | BYU Studies

Historical Documents

David Hale's Store Ledger: New Details about Joseph and Emma Smith, the Hale Family, and the Book of Mormon [Long Version]

In December 1827, Joseph and Emma Smith arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to live while Joseph translated the gold plates. Harmony was the home of Emma's family, and Emma's brother David Hale had a small store that was used for trading goods and work among the neighbors. David kept a ledger that records Joseph's purchases of leatherwork, a shovel, a pocketbook, a pocketknife, and a comb. Joseph... Read more

Atchison's Letters and the Causes of Mormon Expulsion from Missouri

This article will explain the Atchison letters from the 1838 Mormon conflict. He and Alexander W. Doniphan knew Joseph Smith's policies, since they had negotiated with both parties for some two months prior to the Mormon surrender on 1 November 1838. Doniphan's views have great interest because he consistently saw the Mormons as victims of intolerance throughout their Missouri experience. But... Read more

The Joseph/Hyrum Smith Funeral Sermon

As the hearse bearing the "bodies" of Joseph and Hyrum Smith (actually sandbagged coffins) passed the Nauvoo meeting ground the afternoon of Saturday, 29 June 1844, "William W. Phelps was preaching the funeral sermon." The choice of Phelps as eulogist to the Prophet and the Patriarch is strange, the content of his sermon stranger, the tone of that sermon strangest of all. Read more

The Textual Development of D&C 130:22 and the Embodiment of the Holy Ghost

The unique LDS doctrine of the embodiment of the Holy Ghost has a fascinating history. Ron Bartholomew looks at the text of Doctrine and Covenants 130: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." The text went through several... Read more

A Long-Awaited Visit: President Heber J. Grant in Switzerland and Germany, 1937

In 1937, just two years before Hitler invaded Poland, President Heber J. Grant made a memorable journey from Salt Lake City to Europe (fig. 1). President Grant had served as president of the European and British Missions from 1903 to 1906 and was now returning to Europe as prophet of the Church. He was the second Church President to visit Europe while serving in that capacity. His predecessor,... Read more

Pentecost Continued: A Contemporaneous Account of the Kirtland Temple Dedication

The significance of what transpired at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836, is well established among Latter-day Saints. The historical record affirming an outpouring of divine manifestations is rich. Even so, precious few contemporaneous reports by observers are available. Recently, however, the richness of the historical record increased with the discovery of an eyewitness... Read more

Katharine Smith Salisbury's Recollections of Joseph's Meetings with Moroni

Katherine Smith Salisbury, the last surviving member of the Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family was frequently sought out by converts, missionaries, and reporters for her recollections of those early events of the Restoration. Such visitors reported that she was a willing and able conversationalist on matters pertaining to her family and was quick to share her testimony of the truth of the work... Read more

The Record of the Twelve, 1835: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles' Call and 1835 Mission

In 2011, the Joseph Smith Papers Project of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made public a document created in 1835 by Orson Hyde and William E. McLellin. That document is presented in its entirety here with an introduction and editorial notes. Ronald Esplin and Sharon Nielsen, members of the editorial team of the Joseph Smith Papers, give historical context of the document: in... Read more

The Last Months of Mormonism in Missouri: The Albert Perry Rockwood Journal

Few events in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had the impact of the last months in Missouri. One of the best contemporary Mormon records of the last weeks in Missouri is that of Albert Perry Rockwood. With other faithful members of the Church, Rockwood gathered his family to Nauvoo, where they assisted in the building of a new city. When the Nauvoo Legion was... Read more

Mourn with Those That Mourn . . . Comfort Those That Stand in Need of Comfort: Dean Byrd's Diary of the Kosovar Refugee Camps

If you've ever wondered how the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Latter-day Saint Charities responds to emotional aftermath and trauma of human catastrophes, then this original publication of a diary detailing a psychologist's work with Kosovar refugees will comprehensively explain the joy inherent in an effort to share each other's burdens. Operating under the umbrella of Welfare Services and... Read more

Shaping the Stones: Lorenzo Snow's Letters to Priesthood Leaders of the London Conference, November 1842

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 23, 1837, in Preston's Vauxhall Chapel, Heber C. Kimball preached the first Latter-day Saint sermon to be delivered in England. Heber presided over England's first baptisms one week later, after which he and his six companions parted company to cover more territory. People flocked to hear the missionaries' message, and by the time Elder Kimball left England nine... Read more

The Constitution of the State of Deseret

For the collector of Utahiana, the 1849 Kanesville Constitution of the State of Deseret is a fascinating book. It is the founding document of government in the Intermountain West, and it is a great rarity. Most intriguingly, Constitution of the State of Deseret clarifies the perplexity that has long existed over why Mormons made competing, apparently independent applications for territorial... Read more

Brigham Young and the Mission of Mormonism

For the most part, Brigham Young chose to ignore his critics, but on occasion he personally responded to them. The letter printed below contains Brigham Young's 1869 answer to a newspaper editor's question, "What is the mission of the Mormons?" Mormonism's fruits, Brigham attested, substantiated its faith claims. Read more

Journal of Thomas Bullock

Here is presented a transcript of the journal of Thomas Bullock during the period of 31 August 1845 to 5 July 1846. Bullock (1816-1885) was a historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints much of his life. This journal records the persecutions the Mormons endured in Nauvoo, Illinois. He writes of the life and trials of the Saints as well as his associations with Brigham Young,... Read more

An Analysis of the Padilla Gold Plates

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An Islander's View of a Desert Kingdom: Johnathan Napela Recounts His 1869 Visit to Salt Lake City

Jonathan (Ionatana) Hawaii Napela (fig. 1) bridged cultures. As one of the first Hawaiian converts to Mormonism, he helped George Q. Cannon translate the Book of Mormon into the Hawaiian language in 1852-53, he instigated the first language training center for foreign missionaries in 1853, and he helped establish the first gathering place for the Hawaiian Saints in 1854. in 1869 Napela visited... Read more

John Taylor's June 27, 1854, Account of the Martyrdom

On June 27, 1854, John Taylor, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave what appears to be his first public address sharing his eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Two scribes, George D. Watt and Thomas Bullock, recorded the meeting. George D. Watt's skill with Pitman shorthand enabled him to work quickly. He recorded these sermons virtually... Read more

Play It Again, Sam: The Remarkable "Prophecy" of Samuel Lutz, Alias Christophilus Gratianus, Reconsidered

I recall traveling, as a brand-new missionary in Germany in the summer of 1960, with my senior companion by train from Freiburg to several cities in and around the Black Forest which made up our mission district. On one such occasion, I acquired a most intriguing note from a fellow missionary: a "prophesy" by a Catholic monk named Lutius Gratus from the year 1739, the original of which was said... Read more

Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History

Joseph Knight, Sr., was born 3 November 1772 at Oakham, Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1809 he moved to Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York and two years later to Colesville, Broome County, New York where he remained for nineteen years. He owned a farm, a gristmill and carding machine, and according to his son, Newel, "was not rich, yet possessed enough of this world's goods to secure to himself... Read more

The Zelph Story

When the twenty men who formed the vanguard of Zion's Camp left Kirtland, Ohio, on 1 May 1834, they could not know that one of their most lasting and intriguing contributions to Latter-day Saint history would take place, not on a Missouri battlefield but rather on top of a large mound in Illinois. There, on 3 June 1834, members of Zion's Camp located a few bones, including a broken femur and an... Read more

Introduction to the Journal of Emma Lorena Barrows Brown

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A Jesuit Interpretation of Mid-Nineteenth-Century America: "Mormonism in Connection with Modern Protestantism"

As historians of Mormonism have long since established, Europeans took note of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints almost from the beginning. Mormon missionaries, converts, and expatriates, as well as European visitors to the United States, put the church on the European map early on. The result was a great deal of animated... Read more

Every Book . . . Has Been Read Through: The Brooklyn Saints and Harper's Family Library

On February 4, 1846, two groups of Latter-day Saints in the United States began their emigration out of the United States. The main body of the Church was leaving from Nauvoo, Illinois, under the leadership of Brigham Young, going overland to the West. The same day, also under instruction from Brigham Young, Samuel Brannan led a group from New York aboard the ship Brooklyn , going by sea around... Read more

The Fraudulent Archko Volume

Would you like the views of Mary and Joseph about Jesus? An interview with the shepherds on the miracles at his birth? Reports of his last hours from Pilate, Herod Antipas, and Caiaphas? All these and more are promised to those who take the Archko Volume seriously. No scholar does; witness its quick dismissal by the apocrypha expert, M. R. James, who called it a "ridiculous and disgusting... Read more

Emma Lorena Barrows Brown Journal, January 1878-September 1879

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Photographs of Joseph F. Smith and the Laie Plantation, Hawaii, 1899

On January 7, 1899, Joseph F. Smith, then a Counselor to Church President Lorenzo Snow, left Salt Lake City to visit the Church's plantation in Laie, Hawaii. The main purpose of this trip to Hawaii was to benefit the health of President Smith's wife Sarah Ellen Richards Smith, who had just passed through a "very severe illness." They were accompanied by two of his daughters, Minerva and Alice... Read more

A Mysterious Image: Brigham Young with an Unknown Wife

Of the hundreds of images of Brigham Young, until recently only two were known that show Brigham posing with one of his wives. While rumors of a third such image have existed for some time, no one could find a copy of it until this year. What we found was a photograph of the original daguerreotype (fig. 1); the original itself, printed on a small copper plate, is still missing. This rumored image... Read more

A New Look at the Alleged Little Known Discourse by Joseph Smith

Only in comparatively recent times have Mormon scholars taken a real interest in the authenticity of documents purportedly written by early apostles, prophets, and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the latest "forgeries," that can now be proved beyond reasonable doubt to be just that, is the so-called Little Known Discourse by Joseph Smith. Many thoughtful... Read more

Remembering Christmas Past: Presidents of the Church Celebrate the Birth of the Son of Man and Remember His Servant Joseph Smith

This article reviews selected Christmas memories and moments from the lives of the fifteen presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of these glimpses are personal and soul stirring in nature, others are homespun. Some accounts are deeply spiritual, while others reflect the tinsel and festive gaiety of the traditional celebration. Often the prophets' Christmastime... Read more

An Examination of the 1829 "Articles of the Church of Christ" in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants

The 1829 "Articles of the Church of Christ" is a little-known antecedent to section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This article explores Joseph Smith's and Oliver Cowdery's involvement in bringing forth these two documents that were important in laying the foundation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Section 20 was originally labeled the "Articles and Covenants." It was the... Read more

We Navigated by Pure Understanding: Bishop George T. Sevey's Account of the 1912 Exodus from Mexico

During July and August 1912, thousands of Mormon colonists fled the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (fig. 1). As bishop of the Colonia Chuichupa ward, George Sevey led his ward members out of war-torn Mexico and into the United States. The scene was not unfamiliar. During the nineteenth century, Latter-day Saints had fled from Missouri and Illinois, and thousands more had experienced the great... Read more

Salt Lake Tabernacle Interior Photograph: Sabbath School Union Jubilee, July 1875

Most early photographs of the Salt Lake Tabernacle depict a huge, architecturally curious building with relatively few adornments on its exterior or interior. Its oddity sparked the delight of many and the chagrin of many more, causing some travelers and observers to remark that it resembled a large turtle that had lost its way in the desert. However, any disagreement about the exterior of the... Read more

Photographs of the First Mexico and Central America Area Conference, 1972

As Church membership grew to nearly three million in the early 1970s, the Church faced the challenges of extending contact between General Authorities in Utah and many members who lived far from Church headquarters. While some members in the western United States could tune in to radio or television broadcasts of general conference, hundreds of thousands of Church members worldwide did not have... Read more

The English Editor and the "Mormon Scare" of 1911

In 1911 the Latter-day Saints in Great Britain found themselves, to an unprecedented degree, the focus of often intense public and official attention. Extravagant allegations were made against the Church and the missionaries in the national press, and questions were asked on the floor of the House of Commons. Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, conducted an official inquiry in the activities... Read more

Josiah Quincy's 1844 Visit with Joseph Smith

Few traveler accounts are better known to Latter-day Saints than Josiah Quincy's. Massachusetts legislator, son of a Harvard president, and later the mayor of Boston, Quincy and his cousin, Charles Francis Adams, son of former US president John Quincy Adams, spent a day with Joseph Smith in Nauvoo in the spring of 1844 while sight-seeing along the Mississippi River. Quincy wrote up his experience... Read more

Photograph of Children Traveling to the Salt Lake Temple Dedication, 1893

In early 1893, the Latter-day Saints eagerly anticipated the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, the culmination of more than forty years of effort and struggle. To allow as many Saints as possible to participate, President Wilford Woodruff announced that a series of dedicatory sessions would be held. To accommodate the many Sunday School children who had "donated of their means to assist in... Read more

Give Up All and Follow Your Lord: Testimony and Exhortation in Early Mormon Women's Letters, 1831–1839

*This article is being offered free as a courtesy to lds.org as it was footnoted in an expanded Gospel Topic on their site. Women composed a significant portion of the early converts who would follow Joseph Smith over hundreds of miles and through the fires of persecution. Lucy Mack Smith, Rebecca Williams, Phebe Peck, and Melissa Dodge represent well the dedication and testimony of such early... Read more

David Hale's Store Ledger: New Details about Joseph and Emma Smith, the Hale Family, and the Book of Mormon

In December 1827, Joseph and Emma Smith arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania, to live while Joseph translated the gold plates. Harmony was the home of Emma's family, and Emma's brother David Hale had a small store that was used for trading goods and work among the neighbors. David kept a ledger that records Joseph's purchases of leatherwork, a shovel, a pocketbook, a pocketknife, and a comb. Joseph... Read more

The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum by Dan Jones

Dan Jones, a Welsh immigrant and convert, accompanied Joseph and Hyrum Smith to Carthage and was with them in the jail during their last night in mortality. On that occasion the Prophet uttered his final prophecy; he declared that Jones would live through the events in Carthage and return to his native Wales and fulfill the mission to which he had been called earlier." Dan Jones fulfilled Joseph... Read more

A Modern Acts of the Apostles, 1840: Mormon Literature in the Making

Some of the most appreciated parts of the Bible have been the acts and letters of the Apostles, which give us the crucial story, movingly expressed, of the remarkable adventures and teachings of those who established the foundations of Christianity and thus profoundly influenced the ideas, the feelings—the lives—of a large portion of the people on earth who lived after them. In 1839–40 eight... Read more

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