James Toner, Letter, Newberry, Lycoming Co., PA, to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 4 Dec. 1842; handwriting of James Toner; one page; JS Collection, CHL. Includes address, postal notation, and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 9¾ × 7¾ inches (25 × 20 cm) when folded. The document was inscribed in blue ink on the recto of the first leaf. The letter was trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, and sealed with a red adhesive wafer. The postal markings were handwritten, rather than stamped, and appear to be in the same ink and handwriting as the letter and addressing. The second leaf was torn when the letter was opened, and there is wafer residue on that leaf.
After receipt, the letter was docketed by , who identified the sender as “James Town or Tour.” Richards served as JS’s scribe from December 1841 until JS’s death in June 1844 and served as church historian from December 1842 until his own death in March 1854. The letter was later refolded and docketed for filing by , who served as JS’s scribe from 1843 to 1844 and as clerk to the church historian and recorder from 1845 to 1865. The document was listed in inventories that were produced by the Church Historian’s Office (later Church Historical Department) circa 1904. By 1973 the document had been included in the JS Collection at the Church Historical Department (now CHL). The document’s early dockets as well as its inclusion in the circa 1904 inventories and in the JS Collection by 1973 indicate continuous institutional custody.
See the full bibliographic entry for JS Collection, 1827–1844, in the CHL catalog.
On 4 December 1842, James Toner of Newberry, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to JS in , Illinois, seeking information about occupational prospects in Nauvoo and requesting a copy of the Book of Mormon. Toner claimed to be the president of a “Nauvoo Temperance Society” headquartered in Newberry. Based on Toner’s limited description, this society—if it existed—appears to have mirrored other contemporary temperance organizations, such as the Washingtonians. These organizations sought to popularize the temperance cause among lower-class artisans or laborers who were still struggling to recover financially from the Panic of 1837. However, there is no other record of such a society existing, and there is no apparent connection between the city of Nauvoo and any temperance society in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the . Although JS had revealed a dietary health code in 1833 that condemned the use of “wine or Strong drink,” Latter-day Saints in the United States had not actively participated in the national temperance movement.
Toner appears to have been largely unfamiliar with the and its beliefs. He addressed JS as “revered” or “reverend,” a title not commonly used by Latter-day Saints. Similarly, while he knew the correct name of the Times and Seasons, the church’s newspaper, he referred to the Book of Mormon as the “Mormon Bible,” typically a derisive term used by people critical of the church. Because Toner’s primary object seems to have been to inquire about possible jobs in or around , he may have been attempting to curry favor with JS by coupling his request with feigned involvement or interest in the church.
Toner apparently mailed the letter to JS one day after writing it. There are, however, irregularities in the postal markings on the letter. Although it has what appear to be postal markings indicating that it was paid for and mailed from Newberry, both notations were handwritten rather than stamped and appear to be in the same handwriting and ink as the letter itself. These irregularities suggest that Toner worked in a post office or that he fraudulently or improperly mailed the letter to JS. JS presumably received this letter around four weeks after it was sent—a typical travel time for a letter sent from the eastern . If JS responded to Toner’s letter, that response is not extant.
Revelation, 27 Feb. 1833 [D&C 89:5]. As mayor of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett had championed temperance in his February 1841 inaugural address, and the city council responded nearly two weeks later by passing an ordinance that forbade the sale of whiskey and other spirituous liquors in small quantities. However, there is no evidence that a formal temperance society was ever formed in Nauvoo. Around the same time that Toner wrote to JS, there was evidently some discussion in Nauvoo regarding the propriety of the Saints joining temperance societies; JS and other church leaders opposed such efforts. In May 1843, Willard Richards responded to an unidentified inquirer in the Times and Seasons who apparently questioned if it would be appropriate to form a temperance society for the church. Richards praised temperance but dissuaded church members from participating in temperance societies that would cause them to become “unequally yoked with unbelievers.” (John C. Bennett, “Inaugural Address,” Times and Seasons, 15 Feb. 1841, 2:316–317; Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, 15 Feb. 1841, 8; Discourse, 7 Nov. 1841; Willard Richards, “To the Editor of the Times and Seasons,” Times and Seasons, 15 May 1843, 4:199.)
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
The postmaster of Newberry in 1842 was James Cummings. (U.S. Post Office Department, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, reel 111, vol. 9, pp. 133–134.)
U.S. Post Office Department. Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832–September 30, 1971. National Archives Microfilm Publications, microcopy M841. 145 microfilm reels. Washington DC: National Archives, 1977.
At a meeting of the Temperance Society in this place held last evening a resolution was passed requesting the President to write to you for the purpose of ascertaing what encouragement there is for young mechanics to emigrate to your place, as there are a number of Young men belonging to the Society, wish to <go> if sufficient inducements are offered. Also a request that you would forward a Mormon Bible for the use of our Society, which is increasing Very rapidly, Hoping that you will take the trouble of giving us a brief sketch of the prosperity & progress of your
I remain Very Respectfully Your Obt. Servt.
Prst of the N. T. S.
P.S. If it is not convnint [convenient] for you to forward us a Bible please send a few numbers of the Times and Seasons for the success of our cause [p. ]