Part 6: 20 April–14 September 1837

The documents created from mid-April to mid-September 1837 mark a turbulent period for JS and the in , Ohio. Economic concerns, intensified by the national financial panic of 1837, exacerbated existing dissatisfaction with JS’s leadership, and in May 1837, dissenters—including some prominent church members—accused the church president of dishonesty and misconduct and challenged his ecclesiastical authority.
Discontent with the , and especially with JS, began early in 1837. JS’s supporters gave discourses in January warning church members not to “murmer” against the church president, but during JS’s absence from on business in February, reported, “many were stir’d up in their hearts & some were against him.” Shortly after his return, JS gave a discourse silencing “the complainers,” who according to Woodruff “saw that he stood in the power of a Prophet.”
Expressions of dissatisfaction increased, however, despite another discourse JS gave in April warning against dissension. The reasons for this opposition were not specified in contemporary documents. On 23 May, wrote a letter to JS accusing him of extortion and lying and censuring him for allegedly using his influence as the church president for his own benefit. In Pratt’s estimation, JS had led the church into unfair financial practices, such as speculation. noted that during this period “many and some in high places had risen up against Joseph” and “were striving to overthrow his influence & cast him down.” Then, at a tense meeting on Sunday, 28 May, JS and spoke in defense of JS’s actions. After their remarks , formerly JS’s scribe, rose to speak, and in Woodruff’s words, “stretched out his puny arm and proclaimed against Joseph.” The met the next day to address the concerns of a group of , headed by Abel Lamb, regarding what they saw as inappropriate behavior by five prominent church leaders. On the same day, with encouragement from Parrish, apostles , , and made formal charges against members of the church presidency, including JS, whom Pratt and Lyman Johnson accused of lying, extortion, and disrespect.
For dissenters, temporal difficulties raised questions about JS’s prophetic authority. As the Latter-day Saints faced financial losses, some were troubled by the fact that JS as prophet had encouraged investment and put his confidence in developing what turned out to be a crumbling economy. In early June, JS became gravely ill, and some church members feared he would not survive. characterized JS’s illness as divine punishment for transgression and for teaching “things contrary to godliness.” In mid-June, gave a Sunday morning discourse in in which, according to Mary Fielding, he sought “to show that nearly all the Church had departed from God and that Brother J.S had committed great sins.” Also in June 1837 called JS a “fallen prophet,” a charge that would be repeated by dissenters throughout 1837 and 1838. On 23 July JS dictated a revelation that directed , the leader of the , to rebuke those still opposing JS. By the end of July, the dissent seemed to be waning.
Still, financial concerns remained. JS and his partners faced frequent litigation for their outstanding debts. In July JS, , , , , and mortgaged the to Mead, Stafford & Co. to offset their mercantile debts with the firm. With the help of , Ohio, lawyer , the firms of Rigdon, Smith & Cowdery and Cahoon, Carter & Co. also renegotiated their outstanding debts with five other merchants in September.
By summer 1837, the survival of the had become doubtful, and the situation was further hindered by the discord within the church. Mary Fielding recorded concerns she had heard from JS: “So many of the Bank directors are become unfaithful that Brother J.S says he does not know that it will rise again. he says it can never [get] on while some pull one way and some another it requires the united efforts of all and when this will be the case the Lord only knows.” Possibly in early June, and certainly before 7 July, JS and resigned as the officers of the Kirtland Safety Society and were replaced by and . The Kirtland Safety Society closed sometime during the summer, likely between the end of July and the end of August. The last entry in the society’s stock ledger is dated 19 June 1837, and the last date on extant notes is 20 July 1837. In the August issue of the Messenger and Advocate, JS published a notice cautioning the public against using the notes of the Kirtland Safety Society, and in December 1837 the society was included in the Daily Herald and Gazette’s list of closed or bankrupt banking institutions.
Part 6 of this volume also relates events beyond . Despite dissension and economic fears in the summer of 1837, proselytizing continued and even expanded, with and leaving for the “eastern country” on 31 May and being called to lead the first transatlantic mission to in June 1837. Saints in who were forced to leave in the summer of 1836 moved to the new town of , which by July 1837 had grown considerably and now had a population of fifteen hundred, most of whom were church members.
  1. 1

    In his reminiscent history, Brigham Young recounted that dissenters came together to depose JS as church president and replace him with David Whitmer. It is not clear when this took place, though it may have occurred as early as February 1837. (Historian’s Office, Brigham Young History Drafts, 14; Esplin, “Emergence of Brigham Young,” 235.)  

    Historian’s Office. Brigham Young History Drafts, 1856–1858. CHL. CR 100 475, box 1, fd. 5.

    Esplin, Ronald K. “The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1981. Also available as The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2006).

  2. 2

    Woodruff, Journal, 10 and 15 Jan. 1837; 19 Feb. 1837; Kirtland Elders Quorum, “Record,” 18 Jan. 1837.  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

    Kirtland Elders Quorum. “A Record of the First Quorurum of Elders Belonging to the Church of Christ: In Kirtland Geauga Co. Ohio,” 1836–1838, 1840–1841. CCLA.

  3. 3

    Woodruff, Journal, 9 Apr. 1837. For an overview of the different reasons for dissent in 1837, see Esplin, “Emergence of Brigham Young,” 235–238.  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

    Esplin, Ronald K. “The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1981. Also available as The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2006).

  4. 4

    Letter from Parley P. Pratt, 23 May 1837.  

  5. 5

    Woodruff, Journal, 28 May 1837; Mary Fielding, Kirtland, OH, to Mercy Fielding, [Upper Canada], ca. June 1837, Mary Fielding Smith, Collection, CHL.  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

    Smith, Mary Fielding. Collection, ca. 1832–1848. CHL. MS 2779.

  6. 6

    Minute Book 1, 29 May 1837; Letter from Abel Lamb and Others, ca. 28 May 1837.  

  7. 7

    Charges against JS Preferred to Bishop’s Council, 29 May 1837; Complaints against Joseph Smith Sr. and Sidney Rigdon to the Bishop’s Council, 29 May 1837, Newel K. Whitney, Papers, BYU.  

    Whitney, Newel K. Papers, 1825–1906. BYU.

  8. 8

    See, for example, Minutes, 3 Sept. 1837; and Warren Parrish, Kirtland, OH, 5 Feb. 1838, Letter to the Editor, Painesville (OH) Republican, 15 Feb. 1838, [3].  

    Painesville Republican. Painesville, OH. 1836–1841.

  9. 9

    JS History, vol. B-1, 762; Mary Fielding, Kirtland, OH, to Mercy Fielding, [Upper Canada], ca. June 1837, Mary Fielding Smith, Collection, CHL.  

    Smith, Mary Fielding. Collection, ca. 1832–1848. CHL. MS 2779.

  10. 10

    JS History, vol. B-1, 763; Warren Parrish, Kirtland, OH, 5 Feb. 1838, Letter to the Editor, Painesville (OH) Republican, 15 Feb. 1838, [3].  

    Painesville Republican. Painesville, OH. 1836–1841.

  11. 11

    Mary Fielding, Kirtland, OH, to Mercy Fielding, [Upper Canada], ca. June 1837, Mary Fielding Smith, Collection, CHL.  

    Smith, Mary Fielding. Collection, ca. 1832–1848. CHL. MS 2779.

  12. 12

    Heber C. Kimball wrote that as he was preparing to leave for England, Boynton told him he was a “fool as to go at the call of the fallen prophet, Joseph Smith.” Parrish and other dissenters also later characterized JS as a false prophet. (Kimball, “History,” 55; Warren Parrish, Kirtland, OH, 5 Feb. 1838, Letter to the Editor, Painesville [OH] Republican, 15 Feb. 1838, [3]; Thomas B. Marsh, Independence, MO, to Wilford Woodruff, Scarborough, ME, ca. Apr. 1838, in Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 36.)  

    Kimball, Heber C. “History of Heber Chase Kimball by His Own Dictation,” ca. 1842–1856. Heber C. Kimball, Papers, 1837–1866. CHL. MS 627, box 2.

    Painesville Republican. Painesville, OH. 1836–1841.

    Elders’ Journal of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Kirtland, OH, Oct.–Nov. 1837; Far West, MO, July–Aug. 1838.

  13. 13

    Revelation, 23 July 1837 [D&C 112].  

  14. 14

    For more on spring 1837 debts, see Historical Introduction to Letter from Emma Smith, 3 May 1837; and Historical Introduction to Notes Receivable from Rigdon, Smith & Co., 22 May 1837.  

  15. 15

    See Historical Introduction to Mortgage to Mead, Stafford & Co., 11 July 1837.  

  16. 16

    See Historical Introduction to Power of Attorney to Oliver Granger, 27 Sept. 1837.  

  17. 17

    Mary Fielding, Kirtland, OH, to Mercy Fielding, [Upper Canada], ca. June 1837, Mary Fielding Smith, Collection, CHL. It is not clear if the accusation of unfaithfulness described by Fielding was intended to apply to dissenters who were acting against JS and the church, to individuals practicing dishonest lending and speculation, or to both.  

    Smith, Mary Fielding. Collection, ca. 1832–1848. CHL. MS 2779.

  18. 18

    Historical Introduction to Notice, ca. Late Aug. 1837; Kirtland Safety Society, Stock Ledger, 36, 228; Nyholm, Mormon Currency, 45.  

    Nyholm, Douglas A. Mormon Currency: 1837–1937. By the author, 2010.

  19. 19

    Notice, ca. Late Aug. 1837.  

  20. 20

    “Broken Banks and Fraudulent Institutions,” Daily Herald and Gazette (Cleveland, OH), 4 Dec. 1837, [1].  

    Daily Herald and Gazette. Cleveland. 1837–1839.

  21. 21

    See Historical Introduction to Letter from Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan H. Hale, 18 Sept. 1837; and Historical Introduction to Recommendation for Heber C. Kimball, between 2 and 13 June 1837. Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, Joseph Fielding, Isaac Russell, John Goodson, and John Snider, at JS’s direction, left for England in summer 1837. The group secured passage to Liverpool, arriving there by 19 July 1837. (Historical Introduction to Recommendation for Heber C. Kimball, between 2 and 13 June 1837.)  

  22. 22

    Letter from William W. Phelps, 7 July 1837.