Letter to Newel K., Elizabeth Ann Smith, and Sarah Ann Whitney, 18 August 1842
JS, Letter, , Hancock Co., IL, to , , and , [, Hancock Co., IL], 18 Aug. 1842; handwriting of JS and ; signature of JS; two pages; CHL.
Single leaf measuring 12¼ × 7¾ inches (31 × 20 cm). The document contains multiple vertical and horizontal folds and indistinguishable folding patterns. There is separation along and tearing at folds. Some discoloration of the paper has occurred on the verso of the page. The document has undergone conservation.
The letter was delivered to the Whitney family and remained in their possession until 1869, when and gave it to the Church Historian’s Office in Salt Lake City. At some point the letter was transferred to the possession of the First Presidency—possibly in 1970, when Church Historian Joseph Fielding Smith became president of the church and took several documents with him from the Church Historian’s Office to the Office of the First Presidency. In 2009, the letter was transferred from the First Presidency’s Office to the Church History Department (CHL).
See the full bibliographic entry for JS, Letter, Nauvoo, IL, to Brother and Sister Whitney, 18 Aug. 1842, in the CHL catalog.
On 18 August 1842, while hiding at ’s home on the outskirts of , Illinois, JS wrote a letter to three individuals, addressing them in the first line of the letter as “Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.” In addition to the directly named recipients, Nauvoo and his wife, , the letter was intended for their seventeen-year-old daughter, , who lived with her parents in Nauvoo. On 27 July, three weeks earlier, Newel K. Whitney had Sarah Ann and JS, with Elizabeth Ann Whitney serving as a witness to the sealing. In early August, sheriff arrived in Nauvoo with a warrant to arrest JS and extradite him to . JS attempted to fight the warrant on legal grounds and was released on a jurisdictional question; then, by 10 August, he went into hiding for the next two weeks to avoid the possibility of arrest and extradition.
In his letter, JS asked the three members of the Whitney family to visit him at ’s home, instructing them to approach the house covertly. JS’s request for stealth was at least partially intended to keep his whereabouts secret, given the threat of arrest and extradition that initially drove him into hiding and the fact that posses were searching for him in and , making him fear for his life. JS’s desire for secrecy also likely arose from his practice of plural marriage, a principle he had shared with only a small group of trusted friends at that time. According to the letter, JS may have wanted to keep knowledge of the Whitneys’ visit from his wife , who had been away from at the time of JS’s sealing to . JS instructed that the letter be destroyed as soon as it was read, possibly because of his dual concerns of maintaining his safety in hiding and the secrecy of his plural marriage to Sarah Ann.
Although vague, JS’s letter suggests that he needed to address some matters with the Whitneys in person. His urgency may have been motivated by his fear that he would be extradited to , which led him to contemplate leaving . In the letter, JS mentioned that one reason he wanted the Whitneys to visit was to bless them. This may indicate that he had not been able to fully bestow the blessings promised to and as part of the 27 July sealing of to JS. Partial journal entries, apparently written by Newel K. Whitney, were copied in two extant versions of the 27 July 1842 revelation that Whitney used to seal JS and Sarah Ann. The journal entries mirror the language and promises found in the revelation. The first of the entries recorded that on 21 August 1842, Newel and Elizabeth Ann Whitney received blessings granting them and their family part in the “first resurrection,” which Latter-day Saints believed would occur as part of the second coming of Jesus Christ. A week later, on 27 August, at which point JS was no longer in hiding, a second journal entry noted that the couple were rebaptized, confirmed, and blessed with long life, , and “all gifts posessed by my progenitors who held the Priesthood before me anciently.”
By 18 August, JS had been in hiding for more than a week, with little opportunity to be outside and with visits from only a few trusted people. JS had a gregarious personality, which probably made his seclusion difficult, and the letter emphasized his loneliness. While most of the letter was directed to all three members of the Whitney family, some sentiments appear to be particularly intended for and suggest that JS wanted to spend time with his recently married plural wife.
JS wrote the letter himself. Before it was delivered, added the date and location. Since JS intended the letter to remain private and to be destroyed once read, it was likely hand delivered to the Whitneys by a trusted courier, possibly Clayton. Though the fact that the letter was kept and passed down in the Whitney family indicates they received the letter, JS’s journal contains no entry for 18 August, and it is unclear whether the proposed visit occurred. On 19 August, JS returned to but remained in hiding. He spent the next three days in the dry goods he owned in Nauvoo before returning home.
Sarah Ann Whitney and Elizabeth Ann Whitney signed an affidavit in 1869 affirming that JS’s letter was also intended for Sarah. (See Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah Ann Whitney Kimball, Affidavit, Salt Lake Co., Utah Territory, 13 Aug. 1869, in Joseph F. Smith, Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, 2:28.)
Smith, Joseph F. Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, 1869–1915. CHL. MS 3423.
No surviving records indicate the extent of Emma Smith’s knowledge about plural marriage and JS’s plural wives in 1842. Some reminiscent sources suggest that Emma knew about the practice in Kirtland, Ohio, because of JS’s apparent marriage to Fanny Alger. Yet Emma’s negative reactions to JS’s 12 July 1843 revelation and to learning that JS had been sealed to Emily and Eliza Partridge without her knowledge suggest that JS had kept aspects of the practice from her. (William E. McLellin, Independence, MO, to Joseph Smith III, [Plano, IL], July 1872, typescript, Letters and Documents Copied from Originals in the Office of the Church Historian, Reorganized Church, CHL; William Clayton, Statement, 16 Feb. 1874, Collected Material concerning Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, CHL; Provo, UT, Central Stake, General Minutes, 4 Mar. 1883, vol. 12, pp. 272–273; Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:74, 89–112; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 496.)
McLellin, William E. Letter, Independence, MO, to Joseph Smith III, [Plano, IL], July 1872. Letters and Documents Copied from Originals in the Office of the Church Historian, Reorganized Church, no date. Typescript. CHL. MS 9090. Original at CCLA.
Collected Material Concerning Plural Marriage, ca. 1869–1964. CHL. MS 2673.
Provo, UT, Central Stake. General Minutes, 1852–1977. CHL. LR 9629 11.
Hales, Brian C. Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. 3 vols. SLC: Greg Kofford Books, 2013.
Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. With the assistance of Jed Woodworth. New York: Knopf, 2005.
I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us, that the time of my abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not live long in this way: and <if you> three would come and see me in this my lonely retreat, it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am alied, do love me, now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these things. I am now at , Just back of farm, it is only one mile from town, the nights are very pleasant indeed, all three of <you>come<can> come and see me in the fore part of the night, let come a little a head, and nock at the south East corner of the house at <the> window; it <is> next to the cornfield; I have a room intirely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect saf[e]ty, I <know> it is the will of God that you should comfort <me> now in this time of affliction, or not all at all now is the [p. ]