Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, circa 22 March 1839
JS, , , , and , Letter, [, Clay Co., MO], to and the church, , Adams Co., IL, [ca. 22 Mar. 1839]; handwriting of , with insertion by JS; signatures of JS, , , , and ; nine pages; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes address and dockets, with a redaction in graphite.Three bifolia measuring 12½ × 7¾ inches (32 × 20 cm). The document was trifolded twice in letter style for mailing and was then addressed. The final leaf has marked soiling, and there is separation at the folds, with some loss of paper. Likely after being damaged at the folds, the bifolia were fastened with staples; subsequently, the staples were removed. The document has undergone conservation more than once. When cellophane tape was removed, the paper was damaged, reducing the legibility of portions of the document. Mold and then bleaching to remove the mold have caused the ink to fade, further reducing legibility.The Times and Seasons published an edited version of the letter in July 1840. Church clerk copied the letter into JS’s multivolume manuscript history in 1845. The letter was included in inventories for the Church Historian’s Office in about 1904, and it was cataloged in the Revelations Collection in 1983, indicating continuous institutional custody.
Around 22 March 1839, JS composed this epistle in the in , Missouri. Addressed to and the , the letter offered counsel on a range of issues. The epistle was the second letter JS wrote to the church in March 1839, and he evidently planned to write additional general epistles that month, offering guidance and comfort to the church after the devastating setbacks of 1838 and amid church members’ forced removal from in early 1839. The first epistle, addressed to the church in general and Partridge in particular, was drafted on 20 March 1839 and included meditations on persecution and the church’s divine destiny. At the conclusion of the missive, JS stated that the prisoners’ intent was to “continue to offer further reflections in our next epistle.” This undated letter appears to be the promised sequel. JS was the primary author of the epistle, although the other prisoners may have assisted in its composition. Like the 20 March 1839 epistle, the undated letter shifts between three rhetorical perspectives: the first-person plural of all the prisoners, the first-person singular of JS, and the voice of Deity directed to JS. Each prisoner signed the letter.Dating the letter presents significant challenges. On 21 March 1839, JS informed , “I have sent an Epistle to the church,” presumably referring to the 20 March letter. He then told her that he intended to “send an other as soon as posible,” likely referring to this undated epistle. The undated letter could have been written anytime between 21 March and 6 April, the day the prisoners left for , Missouri, to appear before the Circuit Court. However, JS likely wrote it around 22 March, the day he composed a letter to land speculator , who had offered to sell the church land in and . In the 20 March 1839 epistle, JS deferred to the judgment of church leaders in , Illinois, regarding whether to accept Galland’s offer. JS’s thinking evidently changed by the time he wrote the letter to Galland on 22 March. In that letter, JS remarked that “the church would be wise in making the contract” and requested that Galland reserve the land for the Saints. JS used similar language in the undated epistle, stating that “the church would do well to secure to themselves” Galland’s land offer.In the epistle, JS revisited other major themes of the 20 March 1839 letter and also included new insights. In the earlier epistle, JS reflected on lessons learned from past mistakes; in the undated missive, JS further contemplated previous errors and suggested ways to avert similar problems in the future. The second epistle also contained an extended meditation on the righteous use of power; during the meditation, the perspective transitioned from the combined voice of JS and his companions addressing a general church audience to the voice of Deity addressing JS with regard to his future influence. After reviewing JS’s recent arrest, forced separation from his family, and incarceration, the divine voice assured JS that his suffering would provide necessary experience. The letter then returned to the voice of JS and his companions, alternating between first-person singular and first-person plural. The epistle also instructed the Saints to prepare affidavits describing their losses in , to be submitted to government officials. The letter then concluded with an extended affirmation of the inspired nature of the Constitution and the principle of religious liberty.JS presumably dictated the rough draft of the epistle, which is in the handwriting of , who acted as scribe for other lengthy documents produced in the jail. This draft contains corrections by JS. When it was completed, each of the prisoners signed the epistle before it was folded in letter style and addressed to JS’s wife in . For reasons that remain unclear, McRae then produced a fair copy that incorporated JS’s revisions to the rough draft. After McRae and JS made additional minor corrections to the fair copy, the prisoners signed it, and then it was folded and addressed to Emma Smith. The fair copy is featured here because it appears to be the most complete version of the letter sent to .The undated general epistle may have been among the “package of letters” that church member obtained from the on 22 March 1839. Alternatively, if the letter was not yet completed at the time of Ripley’s visit, other visitors to the jail in late March and early April, including and , may have been entrusted with the letter. The letter was presumably delivered to , as it was addressed to her. On 11 April 1839, ’s wife, , indicated that both the 20 March 1839 epistle and the undated letter had arrived in . “We have seen the Epistols to the Church and read them several times,” she wrote to her husband. “They seem like food for the hungrey we have taken great pleasure on perusing them.” The undated epistle evidently was circulated widely among church members in Illinois, as indicated by the early copies that and made. An edited version of the letter was published twice in 1840—in church newspapers in , Illinois, and in , England—further increasing the letter’s circulation.
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