Essay on Sources Cited in Documents, Volume 5
The sources used in the annotation for this volume are drawn from a variety of genres, ranging from personal writings to official ecclesiastical records and published books. The volume’s featured texts themselves constitute a significant collection of contemporary sources. Many of these documents are copies preserved in institutional records such as Minute Book 1 (1832–1837), Minute Book 2 (1838, 1842, 1844), Letterbook 2 (1839–1843), the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (1834–1837), and the Elders’ Journal (1837–1838). These records also provide contextual details for JS’s papers and the history of the early Latter-day Saint church in general.
Letters, minutes, and revelations compose nearly two-thirds of the documents in this volume. To preserve letters and minutes of church meetings, official church historians and clerks copied texts from loose sheets of paper into more permanent record books. began compiling minutes from meetings in , Ohio, into Minute Book 1 in late 1832. Minute Book 2, begun in 1838 and likely copied from an earlier compilation, contains minutes of church meetings in , , and . began copying surviving letters, including several from 1837, into Letterbook 2 beginning in 1838. Besides containing many JS documents, the minute books and letterbook are also a rich source of other documents that aid in understanding the Ohio and Missouri periods of Mormon history.
The other third of the volume comprises documents of various genres, with records related to ecclesiastical matters, legal involvement, and financial transactions. The financial documents range from land transactions and promissory notes to documents related to JS’s involvement in banking as an officer of the . The legislative sources and collections of bank records held by the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, also provide indispensable information relative to the Kirtland Safety Society. Likewise important are documents produced for the Kirtland Safety Society itself, including the stock ledger, discount and loan papers, and banknotes, which provide essential financial information on that institution and JS’s involvement in it. Other contemporary financial sources include ’s store records; the Rigdon, Smith & Co. store ledger; and account books kept by , , and . Records from the Geauga County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas as well as ’s docket book from his tenure as a justice of the peace in furnish legal and financial context for the litigation JS faced beginning in early 1837. In addition to supplying some of the source texts for the volume, land deeds from helped verify information regarding land transactions and places of residence. Local and federal government documents, such as legislative proceedings, statutes, county taxes, and censuses, were also consulted for contextual information.
One unique genre related to Documents, Volume 5 includes papers containing Egyptian characters. The larger body of JS’s Egyptian-related documents can be viewed on the Joseph Smith Papers website. Additionally, the H. Donl Peterson Collection at Brigham Young University’s L. Tom Perry Special Collections was an invaluable source for information on and the Egyptian mummies and papyri that JS purchased.
While several JS revelations were dictated between October 1835 and January 1838, the majority of these were never canonized and were directed to individuals rather than to the church. Most of JS’s revelations during this period were recorded in his 1835–1836 journal and were not inscribed in the revelation books, which had previously been used to compile revelations. These revelations were generally not disseminated. In contrast, the prayer of dedication for the , a pivotal sacred text found in this volume, was printed as a broadside and published in the Messenger and Advocate, as well as copied into JS’s journal.
Other records from the period, such as journals and correspondence, help contextualize the documents between October 1835 and January 1838. Journals of JS’s contemporaries provide helpful details regarding the church in this era. Among the most essential journals for understanding these years include those kept by , , , , and . JS’s own 1835–1836 journal records his efforts to complete the in and prepare church leaders for the promised endowment of power. Unfortunately, no JS journal exists for the period from 4 April 1836 to 12 March 1838. Letters written by Oliver Cowdery, , , , , and Hepzibah Richards also contain key information for understanding the events in this volume.
Newspaper articles, editorials, correspondence, and other materials published in the church newspapers, namely the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate and the Elders’ Journal, contribute additional context. Regional newspapers in and also included significant coverage of JS and the church, as did national newspapers and journals published in larger cities such as , , , and . For example, articles and exhibit notices in newspapers in the eastern and Ohio were crucial for understanding the popular interest in Egyptian artifacts as well as re-creating ’s travels. The collection of regional Ohio newspapers held by the Western Reserve Historical Society was particularly useful in gauging public knowledge of and reactions to the Kirtland Safety Society. These newspaper accounts often provide details not otherwise available and added important non-Mormon perspectives.
Legal, financial, and legislative papers were drawn upon when possible.
Sometimes, the only sources for a specific event in this volume’s period are personal recollections, reminiscences, and autobiographies written several years or even decades later. Notable among these is JS’s multivolume manuscript history, which was compiled by scribes who used JS’s journal, institutional documents, and private papers to produce a documentary history of JS and the church. Reminiscent accounts from , , , , and other church members also supply important details. The sources used to contextualize JS’s 6 August 1836 revelation (D&C 111) are later reminiscences, most prominently ’s editorials in the Return, written a half-century after JS’s stay in , Massachusetts. Few contemporaneous documents related to JS’s summer trip to the eastern in 1836 are extant, and current historiography is based almost solely on Robinson’s account. In general, reminiscences and later recollections are helpful for filling gaps in the contemporaneous historical record. They have been used cautiously when necessary to annotate documents in this volume.
Minutes and Prayer of Dedication, 27 Mar. 1836 [D&C 109]; JS, Journal, 27 Mar. 1836.