JS, Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to , [, Jackson Co., MO], 2 May 1833. Recipient’s copy, [ca. June 1833]; handwriting of ; one page; JS Collection, CHL. Includes docket and archival marking.
One leaf, measuring 12⅛ × 7½ inches (31 × 19 cm). copied this letter on the back of a printed deed for leasing lands in , Missouri. The document was folded in fourths for filing, and Partridge added a filing notation: “Copy of a letter received from | Joseph Smith Jun. June 1833”. Four pinholes align when the leaf is folded along its original filing folds, indicating the document was pinned after being folded. The document was later folded twice more, possibly to fit in a pocket. The original folds are partially broken, with a slight loss of inscription from the resulting separations and holes. The letter has undergone conservation.
This letter is a contemporaneous copy made by . It was in the Partridge family’s possession until at least the mid-1880s, sometime after which it came into the possession of the Church Historian’s Office.
See Whitney, “Aaronic Priesthood,” 5–7; and Partridge, Genealogical Record, 1, 28–29; see also the full bibliographic entry for the Edward Partridge Papers in the CHL catalog.
Whitney, Orson F. “The Aaronic Priesthood.” Contributor, Apr. 1885, 241–250.
Partridge, Edward, Jr. Genealogical Record. 1878. CHL. MS 1271.
This letter from JS in , Ohio, to in , Missouri, clarified aspects of JS’s nascent economic order, which was based on and . The first revelation concerning these arrangements, dictated on 9 February 1831, directed church members to transfer, or “consecrate,” their property to the church via the bishop and his two assistants, or counselors, by a “ and Deed which cannot be broken.” In addition, a May 1831 revelation directed the bishop to give “a writing” to an individual who consecrated his or her property to the church to “secure unto him his portion that he shall hold it of the Church untill he transgress.” In the writing, the bishop would apportion property (both land and personal items), called an , to individual church members, who would then act as stewards over the property. The amount appropriated to a person was determined by what was deemed “sufficient for him self and family.” Whatever property or money remained after the bishop deeded the stewardships was used for supporting the poor and for “building up of the .” The wording of these revelations was ambiguous regarding who legally owned the stewardships assigned to church members.
After relocating to , began to issue property to church members. He initially gave members land by lease, rather than by deed, for their stewardship. Sometime between 28 January and 12 October 1832, Partridge provided deeds of stewardship, which were still, in effect, a type of lease, to faithful members of the church who consecrated money, possessions, or property in , Missouri. The deeds of stewardship stipulated that the land assigned to them was to be considered an inheritance over which they held responsibility as stewards, but not as owners. This agreement also mandated that the steward pay property taxes and that all surplus income generated from the property be given to the bishop. In the case of the steward’s defection or excommunication, the church would retain possession of the inheritance. Thus, the church, not the steward, remained the owner of the property in Missouri.
Scholars have argued that ’s use of leases rather than deeds offered at least three advantages. First, he was unsure how many Mormons would settle in , and with leases, he retained control over the properties and could more easily reapportion the inheritances if needed. Second, if the lands were leased and not deeded, then greedy settlers who had no intention of building up the church would be dissuaded from settling in hopes of acquiring free land. And finally, since a land stewardship could be revoked if members were not considered in good standing, Partridge could ensure that the tenants avoided idleness and conformed to the church’s ethical standards.
Despite these advantages, this land program as implemented by caused problems for both the bishop and the church in . For instance, some members who withdrew from the church wanted to retain their property despite the program’s requirement that they relinquish their inheritances. Some sued for their leased properties and won in Missouri courts. One case, reported in the July 1833 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, involved “one Bates from New-London, Ohio,” who won a lawsuit against Partridge for fifty dollars. It appears the same case was reported by Benton Pixley in a 4 March 1833 letter written to the editor of the Cincinnati Journal. Pixley reported that an unnamed plaintiff sued Partridge “to recover certain moneys sent to him [Partridge] . . . for certain objects . . . [that] had not been fulfilled.” The plaintiff complained of coercion, stating that if he and others did not conform to expected church behavior, they risked losing the “poor privilege of living on these lands.” Pixley also noted that “several others on this decision stand ready to make s[i]milar demands on the Bishop.”
JS must have been aware of ’s legal problems, which were likely outlined in Partridge’s letter to JS, no longer extant, to which JS here responds. On 21 April 1833, JS wrote to leaders, counseling them to align their interpretation of the law of consecration and stewardship with previous revelations concerning these matters and with Missouri’s laws: “On the subject of giving deeds & receiving contrabutions from brethren &c I have nothing further to say on the subject but to make yourselves acquainted with the of the Lord and the Laws of the State and govern yourselves accordingly.” In the letter featured here, JS further counseled Partridge to grant inheritances by deed. The steward would receive an “everlasting inheritance”—a “private stewardship.” If the steward apostatized or was excommunicated, he or she would retain the property. However, the portion from the steward’s original consecration that was given freely for the poor could not be returned, for legally it was considered a charitable donation. JS also told Partridge that if he allotted land in this manner, “no man can take any advantage of you in law.” No deeds reflecting this change in the implementation of consecration are known. This may be because in late July 1833, less than two months after Partridge received this letter, open hostilities against church members broke out in Missouri, and by the end of the year, the Mormons had been expelled from .
How these inheritances were understood and managed is partly revealed in the text of extant inheritance forms. One of Partridge’s forms, for instance, reads that Benjamin Eames gave his consecrated property, valued at $95.75, “for the purpose of purchasing lands in Jackson County Mo, and building up the New Jerusalem, even Zion, and for relieving the wants of the poor and needy. For which I the said Benjamin Eames do covenant and bind myself and my heirs forever, to release all my right and interest to the above described property, unto him the said Edward Partridge, bishop of said church. And I the said Edward Partridge, bishop of said church, having received the above described property, of the said Benjamin Eames do bind myself, that I will cause the same to be expended for the above mentioned purposes of the said Benjamin Eames to the satisfaction of said church; and in case I should be removed from the office of bishop of said church, by death or otherwise, I hereby bind myself and my heirs forever, to make over to my successor in office, for the benefit of said church, all the above described property, which may then be in my possession.” A partial inheritance form for the lease to Joseph Knight Jr. reads: “And as a consideration for the use of the above described property, I the said Joseph Knight junr do bind myself to pay the taxes, and also to pay yearly unto the said Edward Partridge bishop of said church, or his successor in office, for the benefit of said church, all that I shall make or accumulate more than is needful for the support and comfort of myself and family. . . . during the life of the said Joseph Knight Junr unless he transgress, and is not deemed worthy by the authority of the church, according to its laws, to belong to the church. And in that case I the said Joseph Knight Junr do acknowlydge that I forfeit all claim to the above described leased and loaned property, and hereby bind myself to give back the leased, and also pay an equivalent for the loaned, for the benefit of said church, unto the said Edward Partridge bishop of said church, or his successor in office.” (Benjamin Eames and Edward Partridge, Deed of Stewardship, on verso of Edward Partridge, to “Honored Father” et al., 22 Oct. 1834, draft, Edward Partridge, Papers, CHL, emphasis in original; Joseph Knight Jr. and Edward Partridge, Deed of Stewardship, 12 Oct. 1832, CHL, italics added.)
Partridge, Edward. Papers, 1818–1839. CHL. MS 892.
Knight, Joseph, Jr., and Edward Partridge. Deed of Stewardship, 12 Oct. 1832. CHL. MS 5589.
A 15 May 1839 affidavit demonstrates that Partridge was the actual owner of the consecrated property. Regarding his landholdings at the time of his expulsion from Missouri, Partridge testified, “Nov. 1833 I was compelled by a mob to leave Jackson county, at which time I held the title to two thousand one hundred and thirty six acres of land all lying in that county and also two village lots situated in the village of Independence.” (Edward Partridge, Petition for Redress, 15 May 1839, copy, Edward Partridge, Papers, CHL; see also the partial deeds of stewardship on verso of Edward Partridge, to “Honored Father” et al., 22 Oct. 1834, draft, Edward Partridge, Papers, CHL.)
“The Elders Stationed in Zion to the Churches Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, July 1833, 110; “Still Later from Mount Zion,” Cincinnati Journal, 22 Mar. 1833, 46, italics in original. Pixley, according to the Cincinnati Journal, was a Presbyterian clergyman who apparently resided in Jackson County at this time. Because of the timing and other similarities of the cases reported in the Star and Journal (for instance, Pixley also reported that the plaintiff sued for fifty dollars), it is possible that Bates was the plaintiff in both reports. Pixley reported that the case was heard “last Friday.” If Bates was the plaintiff in Pixley’s report and if the March 4 date for the newspaper report is accurate, then the date of Bates’s court appearance was Friday, 1 March 1833.
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
A redaction made to JS’s 20 May 1831 revelation specifically addressed this issue but does not appear in any version of the revelation predating the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. The revision reads, “If he shall transgress, and is not accounted worthy to belong in the church, he shall not have power to claim that portion which he has consecrated unto the bishop for the poor and the needy of my church: therefore, he shall not retain the gift, but shall only have claim on that portion that is deeded unto him.” (Revelation, 20 May 1831, in Doctrine and Covenants 23:1, 1835 ed. [D&C 51:5].)
Ohio May 2d 1833
I commence answering your letter & sincere request to me, by begging your pardon for not having addressed you, more particularly in letters which I have written to , for I have always felt, as though a letter written to any one in authority in Zion, would be the property of all, & it mattered but little to whom it was directed. But I am satisfied that this is an error, for instruction that is given pointedly, and expressly to us, designating our names as individuals, seems to have double power and influence over our minds, I am thankful to the Lord for the testimony of his spirit, which he has given me, concerning your honesty, and sincerity before him, and the Lord loveth you, and also , for he chasteneth whom he loveth, and scourgeth every son & daughter whom he receiveth, and he, will not suffer you to be confounded, and of this thing you may rest assured, notwithstanding, all the threatning of the enemy, and your perils among false brethren, For verily I say unto you, that this is my prayer, and I verily believe the prayer of all the saints in , recorded in heaven, in these words, Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ thy son, preserve , the of thy , and give him wisdom, knowledge & power, & the holy ghost, that he may impart to thy saints in . their , & to every man his portion of meat in due season, and now, this is our confidence & record on high, therefore fear not little flock, for it has been your fathers good will to giv[e] you the king[dom],. and now, I will proceed to tell you my views, concerning , property, and giving inheritances &c. The law of the Lord, binds you to receive, whatsoever property is consecrated, by deed, The consecrated property, is considered the residue kept for the Lords , and it is given for this consideration, for to purchase inheritaces for the poor, this, any man has a right to do, agreeable to all laws of our country, to donate, give or consecrate all that he feels disposed to give, and it is your duty, to see that whatsoever is given, is given legally, therefore, it must be given for the consideration of the poor saints, and in this way no man can take any advantage of you in law, Again, concerning inheritances, you are bound by the law of the Lord, to give a deed, secureing to him who receives inheritances, his inheritance, for an everlasting inheritance, or in other words, to be his individual prope[r]ty, his privat , and if he is found a transgressor & should be cut off, out of the church, his inheritance is his still and he is dilivere[d] over to the buffetings of , till the day of redemption, But the property which he consecrated to the poor, for their benefit, & inheritance, & stewardship, he cannot obtain again by the law of the Lord, Thus you see the propriety of this law, that rich men cannot have power to disinherit the poor by obtaining again that which they have consecrated, which is the residue, signified in the law, that you will find in the second paragraph of the extract from the law, in the second number, And now , be assured that we all feel thankful, that the brethren in are beginning to humble themselves, & trying to keep the of the Lord, which is our prayer to God, you may all be able to do, and now, may the grace of God be with all, amen.
Joseph Smith Jun
The above is a true copy of a letter, directed & sent, & subscribed agreeable thereto [p. ]
Partridge may have complained to JS that letters containing important administrative counsel had not been addressed to him. JS repeated his displeasure the following month to Missouri church leaders that “some of our letters of a public nature which we sent for the good of Zion have been kept back from the Bishop, this is conduct which we highlydisapprobate.” (Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson Co., MO, 25 June 1833, underlining in original.)
One of the definitions for confounded in Webster’s 1828 dictionary is “put to shame and silence.” (“Confounded,” in American Dictionary; see also Psalm 22:5; 1 Peter 2:6; and Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 76 [2 Nephi 7:7].)
An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. the Origin, Affinities and Primary Signification of English Words, as far as They Have Been Ascertained. . . . Edited by Noah Webster. New York: S. Converse, 1828.
After property was initially consecrated, the bishop was to “appoint every man a Steward over his own property or that which he hath received in as much as shall be sufficient for him self and family & the residue shall be kept to administer to him that hath not that every man may receive according as he stands in need & the residue shall be kept in my store house to administer to the poor and needy.” Given the vague instructions that appear in previous revelations, it is unclear if JS considered the stewardship as private or church property before this letter. The 9 February 1831 revelation, for instance, stated that the bishop “shall appoint every man a Steward over his own property.” The same revelation declared, “It shall come to pass that he that sinneth & rep[e]nteth not shall be cast out & shall not receive again that which he hath consecrated unto me.” Regarding consecrated property, the 20 May 1831 revelation specifically told Partridge that the steward was to “hold it of the Church.” Such ambiguous phrases in the revelations—such as “his own property,” “not receive again,” and “hold it of the Church”—might also explain why Partridge initially considered the inheritances to be property of the church. (Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:32–34, 37]; Revelation, 20 May 1831 [D&C 51:4].)
A week before JS wrote this letter, news of a court case in which an individual sued Partridge over consecrated property was published in the northeastern Ohio area. (“Mormonism,” Painesville [OH] Telegraph, 26 Apr. 1833, ; see also “The Elders Stationed in Zion to the Churches Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, July 1833, 110; and “Still Later from Mount Zion,” Cincinnati Journal, 22 Mar. 1833, 46.)