JS, Letter, , Hancock Co., IL, to the Quorum of the Twelve, , 15 Dec. 1840; handwriting of ; signature of JS; eight pages; JS Collection, CHL. Includes dockets and notations.
Bifolium measuring 12¼ × 7¾ inches (31 × 20 cm) when folded. The text was cross-written: wrote horizontally on the first three pages and then returned to the first page and began writing up the page at a right angle, continuing this cross-writing through the recto of the second leaf. In other words, six pages of text were inscribed on one and a half leaves of the document. The document was then trifolded in letter style, with the blank fourth page on the outside, thereby creating an address panel in the middle of the fourth page, with flaps above and beneath the panel. Thompson inscribed text on those two flaps (which together constitute page  of the document), then added a postscript and addressing at a right angle over the initial writing (page ). Thompson wrote “To the ‘Twelve’” on the address panel. The document was trifolded again in letter style. Folding and wear indicate this was the sent copy. The letter was refolded for filing twice, and each time a docket was added. The earliest docket was written by ; the second docket was written in an unknown hand. Andrew Jenson inscribed two notations.
The dockets and the inclusion of the document in a later inventory suggest this letter was in the custody of the Church Historian’s Office by the mid-nineteenth century. In 1973 the document was included as part of the JS Collection.
“Index to Papers in the Historian’s Office,” ca. 1904, draft, 5; “Index to Papers in the Historian’s Office,” ca. 1904, 5, Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL. The circa 1904 Historian’s Office inventories listed this item as “President Joseph Smith to the Twelve (published under date of Oct. 19, 1840),” reflecting that the letter had been misdated when transcribed into the multivolume manuscript history of the church and subsequently published under that date in the Deseret News. (See JS History, vol. C-1, 1115–1119; and “History of Joseph Smith,” Deseret News [Salt Lake City], 26 Oct. 1854, .)
Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.
Johnson, Register to the Joseph Smith Collection, 8; see also the full bibliographic entry for the JS Collection in the CHL catalog.
Johnson, Jeffery O. Register of the Joseph Smith Collection in the Church Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973.
On 15 December 1840, JS wrote a letter to the members of the then serving a mission in . At the time of this letter, eight of the eleven apostles then making up the were in Great Britain. Seven—, , , , , , and —departed , Illinois, in 1839, and one——was an apostle in April 1840 while in England. and were expected to pass through Great Britain in the coming months on their mission to the Jews in Europe and Palestine, and considered himself too poor to make the journey.
By the time of this letter, membership in had increased to over thirty-five hundred. Under the apostles’ direction, missionaries had been sent to Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and the East Indies. The apostles had also published a hymnal and several issues of a new monthly periodical, the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. They additionally had made significant progress toward republishing the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon. Since leaving , the apostles had written several letters to JS and received one known letter from him in return, dated 19 July 1840.
While JS acknowledged the multiple unanswered letters he had received from the Twelve, he seems to have written this 15 December letter in response to a series of questions and posed in a 5 September 1840 letter. JS responded to what he considered the most pertinent questions, particularly those that asked about the timing of the Twelve’s return to , Illinois; the publication of the scriptures in Great Britain; and the migration of British Saints to Nauvoo. Additionally, JS shared local news, reporting on the plans for the Nauvoo , efforts to get the legislature to pass the Nauvoo city charter, the death of , and recent conversions. He also briefly instructed the apostles on for the dead, a practice instituted the previous August and September in Nauvoo, making this the earliest firsthand source from JS to explain this teaching.
The letter is in the handwriting of . The lack of postage markings suggests that it was hand carried rather than mailed to Great Britain. The apostles received the letter by 30 March 1841. A significant excerpt was published in the 1 January 1841 issue of the Times and Seasons and then was reprinted in the Millennial Star in March 1841.
JS first spoke on baptism for the dead on 15 August 1840. The first baptisms for the dead occurred in the Mississippi River as early as 13 September 1840. (Jane Harper Neyman and Vienna Jaques, Statement, 29 Nov. 1854, Historian’s Office, JS History Documents, ca. 1839–1860, CHL; Simon Baker, “15 Aug. 1840 Minutes of Recollection of Joseph Smith’s Sermon,” JS Collection, CHL.)
Historian’s Office. Joseph Smith History Documents, 1839–1860. CHL. CR 100 396.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
May Grace, Mercy, and Peace rest upon you, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Having several communications laying before me, from my Brethren the “” some of which have ere this merited a a reply, but <from> the multiplicity of business which necessarily engages my attention I have delayed communicating to them, to the present time. Be assured, my beloved brethren, that I am no disinterested observer of the things which are transpiring on the face of the whole earth and amidst the general movements which are in progress, none is of more importance, than the glorious work in which you are now engaged, and consequently, I feel some anxiety on your account, that you may, by your virtue, faith, diligence, and charity, commend yourselves to one another, <to the > and <to> your Father which is in heaven, by whose grace you have been called to so holy a calling, and be enabled to perform the great and responsible duties which rest upon you. And I can assure you, that from the information I have received, I feel satisfied, that you have not been remiss, <in your duty> but that your diligence and faithfulness have been such, as must secure you the smiles of that God, whose servants you are, and the good will of the saints throughout the world.
The spread of truth throughout is certainly pleasing; the contemplation of which, cannot but afford feelings of no ordinary kind in the bosoms of those who have had to bear the heat and burthen of the day, and who were its firm supporters, and strenuous advocates, in infancy, while surrounded with circumstances the most unpropitious, and its destruction threatened on all hands. But like the gallant Bark, that has braved the storm unhurt, spreads her canvass to the breese, and nobly cuts her way through the yielding wave, more conscious than ever of the strength of her timbers and the experience and capabilities of her Captain, Pilate and crew.
It is likewise very satisfactory to <my> mind, that there has been such a good understanding existing between you, and that the saints have <so> cheerfully, hearkened to council and vied with each other in their labors of love; and in the promotion of truth and righteousness; this is as it should be in the church of Jesus Christ. Unity is strength. “How pleasant [p. ]
On 27 February 1835, JS explained the duties of the apostles: “They are to hold the keys of this ministry— to unlock the door of the kingdom of heaven unto all nations and preach the Gospel unto every creation. This is the virtue powr and authority of their Apostleship. . . . It is your duty to go and unlock the kingdom of heaven to foreign nations, for no man can do that thing but yourselves.” (Minutes and Discourses, 27 Feb. 1835.)
In addition to directly receiving letters from members of the Twelve in England, JS would have been familiar with correspondence published in the Times and Seasons, such as a letter Parley P. Pratt, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Orson Pratt wrote to the church in Commerce, Illinois, on 19 February 1840 and a letter Wilford Woodruff addressed to Don Carlos Smith and Ebenezer Robinson on 29 April 1840. JS also would have had the opportunity to discuss the church in Great Britain with British immigrants and a returning missionary, Theodore Turley, who arrived in Nauvoo on 24 November 1840. (Parley P. Pratt et al., New York City, NY, to “the Church of Jesus Christ,” Commerce, IL, 19 Feb. 1840, in Times and Seasons, Mar. 1840, 1:70–71; Wilford Woodruff, Ledbury, England, 29 Apr. 1840, Letter to the Editor, Times and Seasons, June 1840, 1:122; Clayton, Diary, 24 Nov. 1840.)
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.