See also source note for JS History, circa 1841, draft.
was a recent convert to Mormonism when he visited in 1840. There he was immediately engaged by JS as a clerk at his office. Coray later reminisced in his autobiography that after he completed his initial assignment, JS requested that he “undertake, in connection with , the compilation of the Church History.”
At the time received his charge, JS’s and the church’s “history” had been an ongoing project for a decade. Several early attempts had apparently fallen short and been abandoned. However, JS and ’s 1838 effort initiated with , and JS’s ensuing collaboration with , had begun to bear fruit. Unfortunately, Mulholland had died 3 November 1839 after inscribing fifty-nine pages of text in a large record book subsequently designated as volume “A-1” of the manuscript history of the church. was appointed “general church clerk” in October 1840 and succeeded Mulholland as scribe for A-1.
Meanwhile, JS assigned and to draft additional historical material, using sources JS provided. Woolley eventually withdrew from the project and was replaced by a “Dr. Miller,” who remains unidentified. Their work evidently resulted in two different kinds of drafts. According to Coray’s later reminiscences, the first grew out of instructions “not only to combine, and arrange in cronological order, but to spread out or amplify not a little, in as good historical style as may be.” No manuscript matching this description has survived, but their work may have provided the basis for material subsequently copied into the history by other scribes.
did, however, produce an edited version of the narrative inscribed in the large history volume (A-1). According to Coray’s later account, JS was directly involved in this reworking of the history, reading aloud and dictating revisions from the large volume. Two drafts of this work have survived. However, the main history endeavor continued in the large history volume, and there is no indication that either draft was used in subsequent compiling or in publication of the history. Though a short-lived effort, Coray’s manuscript represents the intention to revise the history, suggesting that JS had not yet settled on a final historical product even after he had directed scribes to begin inscribing the history in the large, more permanent volume in 1839.
’s history draft includes departures from the material recorded in A-1 which, though minor, show an intention to refine the story. Coray deleted passages that seemed to be defensive, to plead the cause of the Saints, or to play on the reader’s sympathies—a list of grievances, for example, or complaints against individuals. The draft often softened wording about the persecution of JS and employed more moderate language in describing opposition, avoiding the word “mob” and glossing over accounts of violence.
’s work on JS’s history was not located until 2005, when two manuscripts in Coray’s hand were identified among documents in the possession of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These two manuscripts consisted of a lightly edited draft of the material and had written in the large history volume, and a fair or clean copy of that material that incorporated the revisions Coray made in his earlier draft. The first draft was published in volume 1 of the Histories series of the The Joseph Smith Papers. (See History Drafts, 1838—ca. 1841.) The second or “fair copy” of the two drafts is the document herein featured. An inscription in Coray’s handwriting at the bottom of the first page of this document identifies it as the second copy. In 1869 Coray signed a statement that was later attached to the paper wrapper that enclosed the two drafts: “These hundred pages of History were written by me, under Joseph the Prophet’s dictation. Dr Miller helped me a little in writing the same.”
and zeal, were lost in a strife of words, and contest of opinions. During this excitement I made made <the subject of religion,> it an object of much study and reflection. Although my feelings were deeply interested, still I kept myself aloof from all parties. In process of time however, I became partial to the Methodists, and I felt some desire to unite with them. But the confusion and strife rendered it impossible, for a person of my age and limited acquaintance with men and things, to determine who were right, and who were wrong While in this situation I often said to myself, What is to be done? which of all these are right? or are they all wrong? If any of them are right, which is it <it> and how shall I know it? While in this state of perplexity, I was one day reading the Epistle of St James, 1st Chapter, and fifth verse, where I found the following words— “If any of you lack wisdom, ask let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture make a deeper impression on the heart of man, than was made on mine by this. Knowing I as I did that I needed a wisdom from God, and unless I obtained it, I could not determine which were right.
And the teachers of the different sects, interpreted this passage so <as> to destroy in all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the bible; thus compelling me to conclude, that I must remain in darkness, or do as James directs; which is to “ask of God” Although I came to the conclusion
At length I came to the conclusion to “ask of God him for wisdom, believing that he that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not,” would not refuse to verify his promise to me [p. 2]