Discourse, 30 July 1840, as Reported by John Smith
JS, Discourse, [, Hancock Co., IL], 30 July 1840. Featured version copied in John Smith, Journal, July 1840–Mar. 1841, pp. –; handwriting of ; John Smith, Papers, CHL.
’s journal is a small notebook, measuring 7⅞ × 5⅞ inches (20 × 15 cm). The binding and cover are missing. The journal contains three loose leaves and a gathering of eight leaves that were trifolded for filing. The pages bear stains and smeared ink. The stains are most predominant in the top right-hand corners of the rectos. Tears in the final four leaves have resulted in the loss of some text. A later transcription of the diary into another volume does not include the missing portions, suggesting that the damage to this diary likely occurred early in the volume’s existence. Altogether, the journal comprises twenty-two inscribed pages, with some leaves evidently no longer extant.
The journal was in ’s possession from 1840 until his death in 1854. Following his death, the journal passed into the possession of his son , who evidently transferred it to the holdings of the Church Historian’s Office around 1858. The journal has presumably remained in continuous institutional custody since that time.
“Historian’s Office Catalogue 1858,” 7, Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL; Notation, 31 Aug. 1858, in John Smith, Journal, 1846–1854, 106. The journal is not listed in earlier Historian’s Office inventories.
Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.
On Thursday, 30 July 1840, JS delivered a discourse at a meeting that was likely held on the grounds near ’s house in the southwest part of , Illinois. JS gave the sermon at the monthly fast and prayer meeting. According to a journal entry, the purpose of the meeting was to pray that God “would pasify the elements &c that health may be restored to the Saints.” Summer began the “sickly season” in which malaria—called the ague at that time—and other mosquito-borne diseases caused serious illness and death. In summer 1839, malaria devastated members living alongside the . Although the rate of disease had decreased as Nauvoo received an influx of immigrants (there were only two more recorded deaths in 1840 than there were in the previous year), the number of ill church members was still substantial. In this discourse, JS proposed several means for avoiding or treating disease, including fasting, praying, avoiding “evil speaking” of church members and leaders, receiving aid from the , and with oil those who were sick.
, then serving as of the church in , had traveled to two days earlier to meet with JS about organizing a in Iowa. He recorded these notes from the discourse in his personal journal. No other accounts of the discourse are extant.
The tradition of holding monthly fast and prayer meetings on Thursdays began in Kirtland, Ohio. (Woodruff, Journal, 23 Mar. and 20 Apr. 1837; Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 8 Dec. 1867, 12:115.)
Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.
Journal of Discourses. 26 vols. Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–1886.
John Smith, Journal, 1840–1841, 30 July 1840. Although the week of 30 July included heavy rains on Sunday and Monday, as well as rising temperatures, this entreaty to God to “pasify the elements” seems to relate specifically to the presence of malaria in Nauvoo. (John Smith, Journal, 1840–1841, 26–27 July 1840.)
The dominant understanding of the spread of malaria was miasma theory, which included the idea that “the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter” produced vapors that in turn spread the disease. Certain locations, such as the swampy lowlands on the banks of the Mississippi River, were thought to breed such miasma. (“Westminster Medical Society,” 849–851; see also Gunnison, Mormons, 117.)
“Westminster Medical Society, Saturday, February 23rd, 1839.” Lancet 1 (2 Mar. 1839): 849–851.
Gunnison, J. W. The Mormons; or, Latter-day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake: A History of Their Rise and Progress, Peculiar Doctrines, Present Condition, and Prospects, Derived from Personal Observation during a Residence among Them. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1852.
Joseph said that inasmuch as the will leave of speaking Evil of one another and not speake Evil of the which <is> Speaking Evil of the ar[c]hangel or the holy which he held and the Archangel and if the would ceace from these Bickerings and murmuring and be of one mind the Lord would Visiting them with health and Every needed good for said he this is the Voice of the Spirit. furthermore <if> the Saints are sick or have Sickness in their Families [p. ]
During this period, JS was concerned about the Saints criticizing one another and the church’s leadership. In July 1840, he wrote to Oliver Granger, who was then serving as the church’s presiding authority in Kirtland, Ohio, that “in order to conduct the affairs of the kingdom in righteousness it is all important, that the most perfect harmony kind feeling, good understanding and confidence should exist in the hearts of all the brethren. and that true Charity— love one towards another, should characterize all their proceedings.” JS was also concerned with being the object of the Saints’ criticism, as had recently been the case in Kirtland and Far West, Missouri. He told Granger that he had frequently “been envied in his office by such characters who endeavoured to raise themselves to power at my expense, and seeing it impossible to do so, resorted to foul slander and abuse and other means to effect my overthrow.” (Letter to Oliver Granger, between ca. 22 and ca. 28 July 1840.)