JS, Letter, [, Hancock Co., IL], to , [, Hancock Co., IL], 17 May 1842. Featured version copied ca. 17 May 1842; handwriting of ; one page; JS Collection, CHL. Includes docket.
Single leaf measuring 4¾ × 7⅝ inches (12 × 19 cm). The top and right edges have the square cut of manufactured paper. The left and bottom edges are uneven, suggesting they were cut by hand. The document was written in blue ink. The leaf was folded for filing.
Church officials retained this copy of the letter; the original letter, which was in ’s possession, is not extant. , who served as a clerk in the Church Historian’s Office from 1853 to 1859, docketed the document. It was listed in an inventory that was produced by the Church Historian’s Office circa 1904. By 1973 the document had been included in the JS Collection at the Church Historical Department (now CHL). The document’s early docket, the circa 1904 inventory, and inclusion 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 17 May 1842, JS wrote a letter to , general clerk and recorder, instructing him to allow to withdraw his name from church membership if Bennett so desired. Six days earlier, , on behalf of JS and other church leaders, wrote a notice declaring that they had withdrawn fellowship from Bennett, who was accused of seducing several women in , Illinois, and telling those women and others that JS sanctioned such practices. At this time, withdrawing “fellowship” from an individual typically meant that the person was excommunicated from the church. However, in Bennett’s case, as well as in others, being disfellowshipped may not have meant formal excommunication, though Bennett later referred to the 11 May notice of withdrawal of fellowship as a “BULL OF EXCOMMUNICATION.” Whatever the 11 May notice meant, JS allowed Bennett to withdraw from the church voluntarily before making the notice of the disfellowshipment public.
himself may not have known about the notice by 19 May. On 17 May, confronted Bennett about his alleged immoral conduct, giving Bennett a clear indication that church leaders were not pleased with him. also stated in an affidavit that “some four or five days” after 11 May, he “intimated” to Bennett that church leaders had withdrawn fellowship from him, thereby persuading Bennett to withdraw from the church “immediately.” Bennett also told the City Council on 19 May that he hoped to “be restored to full confidence. & fellowship. & my former standing in the chu[r]ch,” suggesting that he knew about the 11 May withdrawal of fellowship by that time. However, a 26 May entry in JS’s journal implies that Bennett was not informed about the withdrawal notice until 25 May. Whatever the case, Bennett later claimed that he decided on 17 May to withdraw from the church without any prompting and that church leaders retroactively prepared the 11 May notice to make it seem as though they had taken action first. JS’s 17 May letter, ’s notation, and various statements Bennett and others made about events that transpired on 17 May and 19 May contradict Bennett’s claims.
JS may have had a scribe, possibly , pen the original letter, which is apparently not extant. Later, when Sloan made a copy of the letter, he noted that JS had signed the original. Sloan evidently received JS’s letter on 17 May in and spoke that same day with . Sloan made a note of Bennett’s withdrawal on his copy of the letter, dating the notation 17 May. The letter from JS and Sloan’s notation were later published in the 8 July 1842 issue of the Sangamo Journal and in Bennett’s book The History of the Saints.
John C. Bennett, Nauvoo, IL, 27 June 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 8 July 1842, ; Bennett, History of the Saints, 40–41.
Sangamo Journal. Springfield, IL. 1831–1847.
Bennett, John C. The History of the Saints; or, an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland and Whiting, 1842.
May 17th. 1842.
You will be so good as to permit to withdraw his Name from the Record, if he desires to do so, and this with the best of feelings towards you and .
In accordance with the above I have permitted to withdraw his Membership from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, this 17th. day of May 1842. the best of feelings Subsisting between all Parties.
City of .
May 17th. 1842.
General Church Clerk, & Recorder.
has the original, which was signed by Joseph Smith. [p. ]
On 17 May, Bennett also swore an affidavit before Daniel H. Wells stating “that he never was taught any thing in the least contrary to the strictest principles of the Gospel, or of virtue, or of the laws of God, or man, under any circumstances” while he was in the church. According to JS’s journal, two days later Bennett stated that he had “no difficulty with the heads of the church” and that he planned to remain with the church. (Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842; John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 2 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 15 July 1842, ; JS, Journal, 19 May 1842.)