Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 16 August 1842
, Letter, , New Utrecht, Kings Co., NY, to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 16 Aug. 1842; handwriting of ; four pages; JS Materials, courtesy of Community of Christ Archives, International Headquarters, Independence, MO. Includes address and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 9⅛ × 7½ inches (23 × 19 cm). A paper mill insignia, embossed in the top left corner of the first leaf recto, reads “D. FELT & Co. | NEW YORK”, encircling an eagle. The document was trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, and sealed with a red adhesive wafer, the wafer remaining on the recto of the second leaf.
, who served as scribe to JS from 1842 to 1844, docketed the document, as did an unidentified scribe. The letter was likely retained by JS and passed down among Smith family descendants. By 1961, the family had donated the letter to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ), and it is now housed in the Community of Christ Library and Archives.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936.
Richard Howard, email to Rachel Killebrew, 5 June 2017, copy in editors’ possession.
On 16 August 1842, , a prominent educator and journalist, wrote a letter to JS detailing his thoughts on various members he had encountered and outlining his position on and the allegations Bennett had made against JS. Although Bennet had not met JS in person, he had become acquainted with the Latter-day Saints earlier in 1842 and had—apparently at John C. Bennett’s instigation—received an honorary degree from the University of Nauvoo; had the “freedom of the city” of , Illinois, conferred upon him; had a street in Nauvoo named after him; and received a commission as inspector general in the . In May 1842, he had proven himself a friend to JS and the Saints by defending them against charges of free love and communalism in a letter he published in the New York Herald under the pseudonym “Cincinnatus.” Bennet’s letter to JS answered one JS had written to him on 30 June 1842, which had delivered to Bennet while in his company from 5 to 7 August.
explained in his 16 August letter that had asked him to help publish an exposé of JS and the church but that he had refused. Bennet believed that , the editor of the New York Herald, planned to publish and promote the book, but Bennet advised JS not to worry about John C. Bennett’s allegations. Bennet was confident that John C. Bennett’s claims would bring greater attention to and interest in the church and that his exposé would not present anything that JS had not already been charged with in various newspapers. James Arlington Bennet also expressed his satisfaction with leaders of the church he had met, including , a church and JS’s scribe; , who presided over the church’s in ; and , who was in New York City.
Although there are no postal markings on the letter, an entry in JS’s journal states that the letter was conveyed to JS by mail and that he received it a few days before 7 September 1842. On 8 September, he dictated a reply.
Dear Sir. Your polite & friendly note was handed to me a few days since by Dr. , who I must say is a very fine specimen of the Mormon people if they are all like him, and indeed I think him a very excellent representative of yourself, as I find he is your most devoted admirer & true diciple. He spent two days with me & from his arguments & extremely mild & gentlemanly demeanor almost made me a Mormon.
You have another representative here, (who spent a day with me some time since), of the Name of , who is I think President of the in & most unquestionably is a most excellent & good man & would be so if he were Turk, Jew or Saint. He is Ab initio a good man & to you a most true enthusiastic & devoted disiple. He has no guile. of too, is a most excellent man & true Christian. These are men with whom I could associate with forever even if I never joined their Church or acknowledged their faith.
Gen. called on me last Friday & spent just two hours when he left as he said for the Eastern States. Being aware that was here he had very little to say. <This letter is strictly Confidential as regards the Bennetts.> [p. 1]
In his 9 August 1842 letter to JS, Richards stated that “neither time nor distance, can obliterate those emotions of Love, of friendship, of attachment, to yourself & the cause you have espoused, which are interwoven with my very existence.— & which grow Stronger & stronger eve[r]y day.” JS felt similarly about Richards, stating that he was “a man in whom I have the most implicit confidence and trust” and that he had never had “greater intimacy with any man.” (Letter from Willard Richards, 9 Aug. 1842; Letter to Jennetta Richards Richards, 23 June 1842.)
Richards had informed JS that Bennet “belongs to no sect or party, & were he to Join any would as soon Join the mormons as any other.” Richards also wrote that if JS made vegetarianism “a starting point in his creed,” Bennet “would join his church.” (Letter from Willard Richards, 9 Aug. 1842.)
Bernhisel was appointed bishop in the New York Citybranch on 15 April 1841. Typically, a presiding elder led a branch, and bishops were present only in stakes. It is unclear why the New York City branch had both a presiding elder (Foster) and a bishop (Bernhisel). (Minutes, New York City, NY, 15 Apr. 1841, in Times and Seasons, 2 Aug. 1841, 2:499.)
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
The New York Herald reported in its 20 August 1842 issue that Richards was in New York City “in opposition to Bennett” and “to upset Bennett’s movements.” (“The Mormons,” New York Herald, 20 Aug. 1842, .)