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Historical Documents

A Question on My Mind: Robert McCorkle's 1844 Letter to Joseph Smith

Robert McCorkle (1807–1873) was one of many Americans curious about Mormonism. In 1844 he visited Nauvoo, Illinois, then headquarters of the Latter-day Saints. He hoped to obtain an audience with Joseph Smith but was able only to hear Smith speak at public meetings. When he returned to his home in Tennessee, he wrote to Smith, asking questions and describing his willingness to relocate to Nauvoo... Read more

I Long to Breathe the Mountain Air of Zion's Peaceful Home: Agnes O'Neal's Letter to Brigham Young from War-Torn Virginia

As the Civil War raged in America, thousands of Latter-day Saints hazarded the trip west through this war-torn land. For a variety of reasons, however, some Saints did not reach their desired haven in the Salt Lake Valley, which lay safely within the borders of Utah Territory. One was a Scottish sister named Agnes, who, at age thirty, embarked from her native town of Paisley. Accompanied by her... Read more

Will the Murderers Be Hung? Albert Brown's 1844 Letter and the Martyrdom of Joseph Smith

Albert Brown's November 11, 1844, letter from Nauvoo to his New York relatives adds significantly to the historical record of Joseph Smith's martyrdom. Brown wrote from the perspective of one loyal to Joseph Smith. When studied in connection with antagonistic accounts published earlier in BYU Studies , readers of the letter can sense the views, loyalties, and hostilities of the bitterly divided... Read more

Almanacs in the New England Heritage of Mormonism

The products of early Mormon writers can be classified into twelve main categories: proclamations and warnings, doctrinal treatises, petitions for redress, histories, accounts of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, scriptural guides and helps, replies to anti-Mormon attacks, almanacs, newspapers, hymns and poetry, exposes by former members, and special publications. These constitute a large... Read more

Letters Home: The Immigrant View From Nauvoo

The thousands of immigrants drawn to Nauvoo arrived with expectations and concerns. For many, settling there would afford the first opportunity to meet the Prophet and hear his discourses—a spiritual highlight of their lives. The Saints also looked forward to the promised temple blessings. They gathered to help build the temple and to receive their endowments and sealings. But sacrifices for... Read more

Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting

A newer edition of this article was published as a chapter in Sustaining the Law. Follow this link to view the chapter. Since the subject of the 1826 trial of Joseph Smith has been extensively reported and commented upon, one quite rightly wonders what else is new or old to be said about that blip in Mormon history. However, none of the reports and few of the commentaries have tried to put the... Read more

A Note on Nauvoo Theater

Though Brigham Young was credited with cultivating theatrical affairs in territorial Utah, the inception of such entertainments took place much earlier, with Joseph Smith's endorsement. A little known letter from Joseph Smith reflects his openness to professional drama in Nauvoo and his reluctance to interfere with the Saints' individual choices. Read more

Missouri Persecutions: The Petition of Isaac Leany

As an outgrowth of the Mormon War in Missouri, Joseph Smith spent the winter of 1838-39 confined in the jail at Liberty, Missouri. While there he asked the Saints to prepare affidavits to secure redress from the federal government for their losses caused by their recent maltreatment at the hands of mobocrats. Beginning in December 1839 the Mormons commenced recording these Missouri experiences... Read more

A Shaker View of a Mormon Mission

"You're not the first Mormon missionaries to visit the Shakers," declared the crusty old curator of the Shaker Museum in Old Chatham, N. Y. The two elders were laboring in the Albany district of the Eastern States Mission, where I was serving as their supervising elder in the fall of 1961. I listened with great interest as they enthusiastically related how the old man had gone into another room... Read more

A Mormon and a Buddhist Debate Plural Marriage: The Letters of Elder Alma O. Taylor and the Reverend Nishijima Kakuryo, 1901

In 1901, the first Mormon missionaries went to Japan, including Alma O. Taylor, then eighteen years old. Before leaving Utah, he began a correspondence with Nishijima Kakuryo, a Buddhist missionary of the Jodo Shinshu faith in San Francisco. The content of their five letters was dominated by their discussion of the Mormon practice of polygamy. The letters document the defenses of polygamy... Read more

It Seems That All Nature Mourns: Sally Randall's Response to the Murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

Sally Carlisle was born in New Hampshire in 1805. She married James Randall, and they settled in Warsaw, New York, where they had two sons, George and Eli, and converted to Mormonism. They moved to Nauvoo in 1843. A collection of Sally's letters addressed to friends and family has been preserved. The letter she wrote July 1, 1844, less than a week after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,... Read more

A Superlative Image: An Original Daguerreotype of Brigham Young

In July 2005, the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City published a story with the punning headline "Old Young Photo donated to BYU." Even though Mark and Suzanne Richards had donated the rare 1850s daguerreotype of Brigham Young to BYU in December 2004, the donation did not draw media attention until just days before the July 24 pioneer holiday in Utah. For historians, especially photographic... Read more

Licensing in the Early Church

Even in its infant stages The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instituted various procedures which would allow its members to be organized and regulated more effectively. One such procedure was the practice of licensing. Church leaders issued licenses to all men holding priesthood offices and also to all missionaries called to preach the gospel. Licenses provided a means of regulating... Read more

New Photograph of the Granite Shaft for the Brigham Young Monument

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"The Testimony of Men": William E. McLellin and the Book of Mormon Witnesses

William E. McLellin (1806-1883) was an early Mormon apostle who later left the church. In his later years he questioned the authority of founder Joseph Smith, but he always said he believed that the Book of Mormon was truly the word of God. In 1871 he wrote a notebook in which he recorded his contacts with men who had filled special roles as Book of Mormon witnesses in 1829. McLellin described... Read more

The Archive of Restoration Culture, 1997-2002

When I first began work on Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling in 1996, I realized that reconstructing the cultural environment of the Prophet would be one of my largest tasks. I could scarcely conceive how to go about probing the huge quantities of sermons, newspapers, journals, pamphlets, books, artworks, and private diaries that possibly bore on the restoration of the gospel in the 1820s through... Read more

An Original Daguerreotype of Oliver Cowdery Identified

During my graduate studies I took on the project of obtaining photographic images of each apostle of this dispensation. The task proved difficult, but I found photographic likeness for all but seven members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My interest in collecting daguerreotypes has continued since that day, and it has... Read more

The Reverend Dr. Peter Christian Kierkegaard's "About and Against Mormonism" (1855)

Born on July 6, 1805, the Danish Lutheran priest Peter Christian Kierkegaard, brother of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, was an exact contemporary of Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both men devoted their lives to the refinement and advancement of their believes, albeit within very different sociohistorical contexts, and both had profound impacts... Read more

The Stephen Post Collection

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Authorship of the History of Joseph Smith

Leland Nelson has compiled an interesting narrative of first-person passages from the History of the Church in an attempt to expand the familiar "Joseph Smith Story" into an entire volume. In doing this he has included a great deal of material that was not authored by Joseph Smith at all. In spite of this fact, he claims on the dust cover and in the introduction that "this book is exactly what... Read more

"Myself . . . I Consecrate to the God of Heaven": Twenty Affidavits of Consecration in Nauvoo, June–July 1842

Early in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith taught the Saints that the Lord had revealed a law of consecration, in which members would consecrate all their time, talents, and possessions to the Church and its purposes. It has been commonly believed that the law of consecration was not practiced in Nauvoo, where the Church was headquartered from 1839 to... Read more

President Buchanan Receives a Proposal for an Anti-Mormon Crusade, 1857

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"Is Not This of God?": An 1847 Proposal for Mormon Settlement

On September 30, 1847, Charles Root Dana, who had been sent on a fund raising mission to the East by Brigham Young, got off the train in Washington, D.C. For the next month he worked diligently in the capital city to enlist support for his fellow Mormons, asking for "Liberal donations commensurate with the suffering circumstances of an afflicted and oppressed people." If the Washington campaign... Read more

The Flag of the Kingdom of God

The "Kingdom of God" in Mormon thought and practice during the nineteenth century exceeded the confines of religion alone. The Kingdom of God was regarded by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor, presidents of the Church, as more than the ecclesiastical church. The Kingdom of God was at once millenarian and contemporary, spiritual and temporal. One characteristic which has been overlooked... Read more

A Brigham Young Letter to George Q. Cannon, 1859

In late 1859, Utah and the Mormon church were trying to return to conditions as they were prior to the disruptions of the Utah War. The full effects of the disruptive "move south" were not yet entirely realized or reconciled, and the citizens were trying to adjust to a new political situation in which the Mormons were no longer in control of any of the appointive government offices in the... Read more

New Photographs of Joseph F. Smith's Centennial Memorial Trip to Vermont, 1905

President Joseph F. Smith and a group of other Latter-day Saint Church leaders, accompanied by family and friends, left Salt Lake City on December 15, 1905, for Vermont to dedicate a memorial honoring the prophet Joseph Smith, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. During their trip they visited Church historical sites in Ohio, New York, and Vermont and Smith family sites in Massachusetts,... Read more

The Josiah Stowell Jr.-John S. Fullmer Correspondence

In 1843, Mormon missionary John S. Fullmer encountered difficulties proselyting in Pennsylvania due to widespread rumors regarding Joseph Smith's youthful activities in that state and in New York. In an effort to overcome local opinion, Fullmer wrote to Josiah Stowell Jr. asking for a statement regarding Joseph Smith's character. Josiah and Joseph had been schoolmates and friends from 1825 to... Read more

A Dialogue Between Wilford Woodruff and Lyman Wight

Some fascinating sidelights to Mormon history are often revealed in correspondence between Latter-day Saint leaders and prominent non-Mormons. In this issue of "The Historian's Corner" we present a correspondence edited by Dr. Ronald G. Watt of the Church Historical Department which concerns Lyman Wight, a former apostle who led a colony to Texas after the death of Joseph Smith. Here we see Wight... Read more

The Mission Experience of Spencer W. Kimball

Spencer W. Kimball indicated to his biographers that during his mission he had kept a journal in a little black notebook, but he did not know where he had put it, so the biographers had to rely almost exclusively on his reminiscences for information about his mission experience. During the clearing out of President Kimball's office shortly after his death in November 1985, an inch-high stack of... Read more

Joseph Smith III and the Kirtland Temple Suit

On 23 February 1880, Judge L. S. Sherman of the Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio, announced the decision awarding ownership of the historic Kirtland Temple, the Mormon religious edifice completed in 1836, to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the plaintiff in the case. Members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints might argue that the... Read more

"The Scriptures Is a Fulfilling": Sally Parker's Weave

Sally Bradford Parker is not a name most LDS Church members recognize, but her faith, exemplified through the letter featured below, weaves an important fabric distinctive to early Latter-day Saint women. The limited number of known early Mormon women's voices, especially prior to the organization of the Relief Society in 1842, makes this document particularly valuable. As Sally shares her... Read more

"In Order to Be in Fashion I Am Called on a Mission": Wilford Woodruff's Parting Letter to Emma as He Joins the "Underground"

Rummaging through the contents of a rarely disturbed old trunk in her basement, Maxine G. Daynes of the Salt Lake Monument Park First Ward picked up a framed family photograph. Thinking that the gold frame might serve a better purpose, she emptied its contents. When the cardboard backing was removed from the photograph, out fell a neatly folded piece of old paper. Opening it and quickly scanning... Read more

Joseph Smith’s Iowa Quest for Legal Assistance: His Letters to Edward Johnstone and Others on Sunday, June 23, 1844

Joseph and Hyrum Smith crossed the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Montrose, Iowa Territory, in the early hours of Sunday, June 23, 1844. They were seeking spiritual guidance and considering their options as they were threatened with arrest: going west, going to Washington, or submitting to arrest. This article gives details of the events of that day and presents little-known... Read more

Diversity in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis

In 1840, Douglas Miln, a Scotsman visiting St. Louis, Missouri, wrote a letter to Reverend William Beckett of Aberdeen, Scotland. In it Miln decried mob violence, the usurping of power by the rich, conditions of slaves, the slave trade, and religious diversity as he saw it in the frontier town. Then he spent more than half of his four long pages describing Mormonism, at that time only ten years... Read more

This Is My Testimony, Spoken by Myself into a Talking Machine: Wilford Woodruff's 1897 Statement in Stereo

In March 1844, just weeks before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith "called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and the kingdom of God." Wilford Woodruff noted the events of the day in a terse journal entry. March "26th A rainey day. I met in council with the brethren." Perhaps the sacredness and magnitude of the meeting called for a brief, cryptic note... Read more

Martin Harris's 1873 Letter to Walter Conrad

Editor's Note: Please be aware that the letter described in this article is a Mark Hofmann forgery. For a description of Hofmann's dealings with Brent Ashworth and Ashworth's with the Church regarding this letter, see Richard E. Turley Jr., Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 58–78. A declaration signed by Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery,... Read more

Solomon Chamberlin's Missing Pamphlet: Dreams, Visions, and Angelic Ministrants

Now and then a historian's long-time quest for a particular document that seemed impossible to find is unexpectedly rewarded when the item suddenly materializes. For years I searched to find a pamphlet published by Solomon Chamberlin (1788-1862), an April 1830 convert to the Church in western New York. The pamphlet had been published in 1829 and is mentioned in Chamberlin's autobiography and in... Read more

The Imprisonment of Martin Harris in 1833

With editorial work on Joseph Smith's legal papers in full swing, the attention of several attorneys, historians, archivists, and law students has turned increasingly to American legal culture in the 1820s through the 1840s and specifically to cases involving Latter-day Saints. At the same time, Mark Nelson recently discovered court documents of a trial involving Martin Harris in Susquehanna... Read more

The Wealth of Knowledge, Excerpts from the Writing of Brigham Young

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A Letter to England, 1842

In the year 1837, William Clayton, a clerk in a large factory in Penwortham, England, was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints by Heber C. Kimball. He rose fast in the Church, and a year after his baptism he quit his job and began to devote his entire time to building the Kingdom in England. Through his efforts, the branch in Manchester was organized, and he soon became a... Read more