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Historical Documents

An Epistle of the Twelve, March 1842

On March 20, 1842, ten members of the Twelve Apostles composed a long epistle to the Saints in Europe providing directives for immigration. The document reveals the way the Twelve planned to move converts from Europe to the Nauvoo area and the way resources would be provided for the Nauvoo Temple and Nauvoo House. The document also provides a window into the broader contours of Church governance... Read more

Sidney Rigdon's Plea to the Saints: Transcription of Thomas Bullock's Shorthand Notes from the August 8, 1844, Morning Meeting

At meetings held in Nauvoo, Illinois, on August 8, 1844, Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young each asserted their claims to succeed Joseph Smith as leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thomas Bullock, the clerk for the Church Historian's Office, recorded notes of the morning meeting, including speeches by Rigdon and Young, in Taylor shorthand. Until recently, Bullock's notes have... Read more

Two Massachusetts Forty-Niner Perspectives on the Mormon Landscape, July–August 1849

For some people, an unbridgeable gap stands between the gospel of Jesus Christ and feminism. To them, a Christian feminist or a Mormon feminist is an oxymoron, a person who has not thought seriously about either the gospel or feminism. However, there are devoted Latter-day Saints, both women and men, who consider themselves feminists. They declare that, far from being antithetical to the gospel,... Read more

Revelations in Context: Joseph Smith's Letter from Liberty Jail, March 20, 1839

While Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, he wrote or dictated eight surviving letters. Four were addressed to Emma, his wife, and all of them display the sterling character of the Prophet Joseph under trials of the most extreme conditions imaginable. His letter of March 20, 1839, directed to the Saints and to Bishop Partridge in particular, is one of the most revealing and most significant letters... Read more

The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A Collective Spiritual Witness

On August 8, 1844, six weeks after the Prophet Joseph Smith's martyrdom, a meeting of the Saints was held in Nauvoo, Illinois. Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and several other Apostles had just returned from missions. The purpose of the meeting was to determine by vote who had the right and responsibility to lead the Church--Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First... Read more

Eliza R. Snow's "Sketch of My Life": Reminiscences of one of Joseph Smith's Plural Wives

The weather in Daviess County, Missouri, was exceedingly warm in July 1838. It had also been very dry for some time. By the first Monday of August, which was election day, the weather was still warmer, and at the county seat of Daviess County, Gallatin, it was very hot. On that day the heat caused by the emotions and tensions between the Mormons and gentiles in Missouri matched that of the... Read more

The "Hymn of the Pearl": An Ancient Counterpart to "O My Father"

One of the most endearing writings found in early Christianity is known as the "Hymn of the Pearl." This text has immediate appeal to readers of all levels and resonates a beautiful message of a soul's journey from a premortal home, through mortality, and back to heavenly parents. To this extent, the poem can be seen as an early Christian counterpart to the early Latter-day Saint hymn "O My... Read more

Brothers across Enemy Lines: A Mission President and a German Soldier Correspond during World War I

The First World War destroyed millions of lives and billions of dollars' worth of property. In peacetime, each death is a tragedy, while in war the deaths of millions become a statistic. One of the lives lost among the statistics is that of Wilhelm Kessler (fig. 1), a German citizen and Latter-day Saint who cut short his mission to enlist in the German army. His correspondence with his mission... Read more

Jesse Smith's 1814 Protest

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"They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet"—The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding

Joseph Fielding's journal clarifies Joseph Smith's calling as a prophet and also offers a specific yet sweeping survey of key moments in the Nauvoo era in their context. It affords us first-hand glimpses of the struggle for survival in Nauvoo; of the unlawful seizure of Joseph Smith near Dixon; of the growth of opposition to the Prophet's leadership by the Fosters, the Higbees, and the Laws and... Read more

"With God's Assistance I Will Someday Be an Artist": John B. Fairbanks's Account of the Paris Art Mission

In 1890, John B. Fairbanks and other Utah artists were sent as Latter-day Saint missionaries to study art in Paris. Their goal, which they fulfilled, was to improve their artistic skill in order to return and paint beautiful murals in the Salt Lake Temple. Fairbanks wrote weekly to his family during his two-year stint in Paris, providing a record of the experience. Six letters are included in... Read more

Leopold Bierwirth's Impressions of Brigham Young and the Mormons, 1872

Tourists frequently passed through Salt Lake City after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Many visitors recorded their impressions of the city and its inhabitants. One visitor, Leopold Bierwirth, a New York City merchant, kept a diary during his 1872 railroad journey from New York to San Francisco. The diary is similar to other travel narratives but contains much more detail... Read more

Officers and Arms: The 1843 General Return of the Nauvoo Legion's Second Cohort

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Moses Thatcher and Mormon Beginnings in Mexico

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Letters on Mormon Polygamy and Progeny: Eliza R. Snow and Martin Luther Holbrook, 1866–1869

Practically I should oppose polygamy of course, believing the one wife system the best," Dr. Martin Luther Holbrook, editor of the New York Herald of Health, wrote to Eliza Roxcy Snow, the well-known Mormon "poetess," in 1869. Nevertheless, Holbrook continued, "unless a cover for vice I have no objection to the experiment being made as you claim to be making it." Read more

Save the Emigrants: Joseph Clewes on the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Occasionally a major, previously published document such as this one falls between the historical cracks and becomes virtually forgotten. Although Joseph Clewe's statement on the Mountain Meadows Massacre was published in 1877 and was widely discussed at the time, current scholars have been little or no use of it. Their omission is unfortunate. Clewe's statement has its limitations. It was... Read more

The Prophet: The Latter-day Saint Experience in the East, 1844–1845

The Prophet was an official newspaper of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints printed in New York City from May 1844 to May 1845. Its articles were an unrelenting defense of Mormonism and Joseph Smith, contending against slanderous claims stemming from anti-Mormons in Illinois and reprinted in eastern newspapers. Topics included Joseph Smith's candidacy for the US presidency, the... Read more

Thomas L. Barnes: Coroner of Carthage

During the latter part of the nineteenth century a one time Carthage, Illinois, physician, Thomas Langley Barnes, wrote two letters to his daughter which have recently come to light and which present some new, firsthand information about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Barnes (1812–1901, son of Michael and Elizabeth West Barnes), one of the earliest settlers of Hancock County, lived at... Read more

Captain Dan Jones and the Blind Man

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New Photographs of Wilford Woodruff's Trip to Alaska, 1895

President Wilford Woodruff and a group of other Latter-day Saint Church leaders accompanied by family and friends, left Salt Lake on June 25, 1895, for the Northwest. Read more

President Young Writes Jefferson Davis about the Gunnison Massacre Affair

John W. Gunnison was a West Point graduate who had been sent to Utah 1849–50 as an assistant for Captain Howard Stansbury's topographical survey. Wintering in the Utah territory, Gunnison found time to study his unusual hosts and their singular religion. The result was his influential book, The Mormons , in which he attempted to navigate the usual extremes of the time, Mormon polemics and gentile... Read more

Photographs of Church Meetings among the U.S. Military in World War II

In the dark days of World War II, U.S. service personnel found themselves suddenly far from home, uprooted not only from the physical safety of their native soil but also from the nourishment of loved ones and religious fellowship. In the spiritual desert of war, Latter-day Saints in the military did what they could to tap into the wellsprings of their faith, as these photographs of Mormon... Read more

The Current State of Primary Historical Sources Online

As a vital first step in substantiating and documenting historical details, there can be no substitute for a primary source derived from as close and contemporaneous an observation of a given event as possible. A historian unable to consult authoritative and honest voices from the past can verify little but is left to tinker with tradition and supposition. Until quite recently, the main mode of... Read more

"Seduced Away:" Early Mormon Documents in Australia

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George Laub's Nauvoo Journal

Despite his unusually informative and moving Nauvoo Journal, George Laub is not well known to Latter-day Saints, or even to students of Mormon history. He was one of a number of faithful followers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young who did not achieve notoriety—either through prominent position or through dramatic apostasy. But he was one of those ordinary Saints whose life was brushed by... Read more

Letters of a Missionary Apostle to His Wife: Brigham Young to Mary Ann Angell Young, 1839–1841

The Quorum of the Twelve's mission to the British Isles impacted not only the Church, but also the personal lives of the missionaries. Brigham Young creates a tender personal portrait in nine never-before-published letters to his wife. Read more

Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books and Volume 2: Published Revelations

While the two volumes of the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers should intrigue anyone interested in Church history, those particularly interested in the textual history of the Doctrine and Covenants will find them an absolute treasure. Volume 1 consists of verbatim transcriptions of the manuscript books known as Revelation Book 1 and Revelation Book 2, which contain... Read more

N. L. Nelson and The Mormon Point of View

This article discusses the publication of a periodical entitled The Mormon Point of View in 1904. Its ''editor" was Nels Lars (usually known as N. L.) Nelson, a professor of English at Brigham Young University. Intended to provide intellectual food for Latter-day Saints, the quarterly appeared just four times. The story of this brief venture provides a glimpse into the preoccupations of the... Read more

Twenty Years Ago Today: David O. McKay's Heart Petals Revisited

David Oman McKay and Emma Ray Riggs were married January 2, 1901, making them, as David noted, the first couple sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in the twentieth century. As David's public profile rose with his call as Apostle in 1906 and then as President of the Church in 1951, the McKays became known popularly as the Church's happiest couple. During their marriage, President McKay wrote poems and... Read more

Priesthood Restoration Documents

Few events in the history of the Restoration are as consequential as the bestowal of the priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The following excerpts from early Church documents recount all of the known direct statements from the first twenty years of Church history specifically concerning the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. In addition to compiling the... Read more

"A Man That You Could Not Help Likeing": Joseph Smith and Nauvoo, Illinois, Portrayed in a Letter by Susannah and George W. Taggart

The Prophet Joseph Smith's call for members of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints to gather to Nauvoo, Illinois, had a wide effect once the settlement acquired the trappings of civilization. What had been the obscure riverside village of Commerce soon evidenced expansion and progress: new inhabitants and bustling construction. Among those who gathered to Nauvoo were Washington and... Read more

Journal of the Branch of the Church of Christ in Pontiac, . . . 1834: Hyrum Smith's Division of Zion's Camp

On April 21, 1834, Hyrum Smith and Lyman Wight set out from Kirtland, Ohio, for Pontiac, Michigan, to recruit volunteers for the march of Zion's Camp. Their objective was to lead their recruits on a six-hundred-mile march to a prearranged rendezvous with Joseph Smith's Kirtland division in Missouri. Typically, scholarly treatments have overlooked the Hyrum Smith-Lyman Wight division of Zion's... Read more

Mormonism's Encounter with the Michigan Relics

One of the strangest and most extensive archaeological hoaxes in American history was perpetrated around the turn of the twentieth century in Michigan. Hundreds of objects known as the Michigan Relics were made to appear as the remains of a lost civilization. The artifacts were produced, buried, "discovered," and marketed by James O. Scotford and Daniel E. Soper. For three decades these artifacts... Read more

Alma O. Taylor's Fact-Finding Mission to China

In 1909, after serving as a mission president in Japan for eight years, native Utah Mormon Alma O. Taylor visited China as directed by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to determine if Mormon missionaries should be sent there. Taylor did not speak Chinese, so he drew his conclusions by speaking to native English speakers living in China, often Protestant missionaries... Read more

The King Follett Discourse: Joseph Smith's Greatest Sermon in Historical Perspective

On Sunday afternoon, 7 April 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith delivered what has been called his greatest sermon, the King Follett Discourse. It has also been published more frequently than any other of Joseph's discourses. In the speech, which lasted over two hours, the Prophet spoke concerning some twenty-seven doctrinal subjects, including the character of God, the origin and destiny of man, the... Read more

Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, photographs

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Joseph Young's Affidavit of the Massacre at Haun's Mill

Joseph Young, an eyewitness to the 1838 attack on Haun's Mill, gave his testimony of that event as a sworn affidavit on June 4, 1839. The original manuscript of that affidavit is presented here in unedited, annotated form. In March 1839, while imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the Saints in Quincy, Illinois, counseling them to gather "a knowledge of all the facts, and... Read more

Political Motto

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The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text

The King Follett Discourse of April 7, 1844, perhaps the most significant sermon delivered by the Prophet Joseph Smith, was preserved in manuscript form by Thomas Bullock, William Clayton, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff. Though a version of this sermon was published only four months later in the Times and Seasons , the version in general use today is an "amalgamation" made in 1855 by... Read more

Andrew Jenson Chides the Saints

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