JS, Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to , , St. Lawrence Co., NY, 26 Sept. 1833. Featured version copied [ca. Oct. 1855] in Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 2–5; handwriting of Jesse Smith; CHL.
Jesse Smith’s autobiography and journal was inscribed in a large, commercially produced blank book. The book’s ledger paper is horizontally ruled with two red lines above forty faint blue lines on each page. The book underwent conservation efforts in the mid-1990s. The leaves measure 14 × 8⅝ inches (36 × 22 cm). The volume measures 14½ × 10 × 2¼ inches (37 × 25 × 6 cm). The volume contains 655 inscribed pages followed by 31 blank pages. The first 23 pages contain Smith’s autobiography and his family history. Included in those 23 pages are a transcript of the letter featured here; the conversion story of his father, ; a copy of Jesse’s patriarchal blessing; and Jesse’s family history to October 1855. In October 1855, Jesse Smith began using the ledger as a journal. This volume was used as Smith’s personal journal in Utah and Arizona from 1855 until his death in 1906. The last entry is dated 5 June 1906.
It is likely that passed the original letter to his son Jesse Smith, who kept it but wanted to make a second copy. It is unknown when Jesse Smith’s volume was donated to the Church History Library or by whom. This journal was labeled “Journal #174” by staff of Church History Library and was received by the Church Historian’s Office prior to the 1940s when clerk Alice M. Rich transcribed its contents.
Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, typescript, CHL.
Smith, Jesse Nathaniel. Autobiography and Journal, 1855-1906. Typescript, not before 1940. CHL. MS 1489, fd. 2.
JS wrote this 26 September 1833 letter, defending the idea of modern-day revelation, to his uncle , who resided in , New York. Besides Silas and his family, several other relatives of JS lived in the Stockholm area at this time, including his grandmother Mary Duty Smith and his uncles Jesse and and their families.
, then a Presbyterian, was aware of his nephew’s revelations and of the Book of Mormon. According to a later history written by Silas’s son Jesse Smith, and his son visited Silas and other family members in 1830. Although Silas received the testimony of his family members “concerning the Latter day Work,” he was “slow about yielding obedience to the Gospel owing to the determined opposition” of his wife, Mary Aikens, and his brother Jesse, an ardent opponent of JS and the . Silas likely discussed the Church of Christ and its beliefs in new scripture and modern-day revelation with his brother in the year prior to receiving this letter. John was in January 1832, and from July 1832 to late April 1833, he proselytized and held church meetings around the area. Sometime in late 1832, John “went to Stockholm [and was] put up for the night at my Brothers,” and in early March 1833 he spent an evening with “Br. Silas” and had a conversation with him on “spiritual things.” John returned to , Ohio, in late May 1833 and undoubtedly told JS of his proselytizing efforts.
JS’s objective in this 26 September letter was to persuade his uncle that it was both scripturally sound and reasonable that God would speak to prophets in modern times as he did in biblical times. Most Christians of the era believed that the canon of scripture was closed and found the idea of additional canonical revelation to be repugnant, even blasphemous. This letter is a prime example of the Mormon argument for modern and continuing revelation. In the letter, JS heavily referenced books from both the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate that each age needs to hear the voice of God anew. The ideas expressed in this letter appeared again in the second installment of a serialized letter written by “the of the Church in ” and published in The Evening and the Morning Star in early 1834.
JS closed this letter by expressing his hope that would eventually join the Church of Christ. Jesse Smith, Silas’s son, recorded that his father received this letter from JS and that Silas “was baptized in the summer of 1835 by , and in the spring of 1836 emigrated to , Ohio,” with family members, including his aged mother, Mary Duty Smith.
Jesse Smith transcribed the letter featured here in its entirety into the family history portion of his journal in 1855. He apparently copied the original letter sent by JS, which was evidently still in the possession of the family at the time because the transcript included postal information not contained in any other extant version; Jesse’s copy appears to be the most complete and accurate extant copy. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray transcribed a copy of JS’s letter to for ’s history in the mid-1840s. However, that version varies significantly from the text featured here in words, phrases, and punctuation. Some of the variants in the Coray copy make the wording of the letter less clear when compared to Jesse Smith’s transcript. In addition, the Coray copy includes some later, Utah-era redactions and insertions that appear to have been made to match the version in Jesse’s journal. Significant differences between these two versions are noted in footnotes throughout the following transcript.
John Smith, Journal, [Dec. 1832], 11; 8 Mar. 1833. John did not specify that he stayed with Silas, and he could have been referring to his other brother, Asahel Smith, who also lived in Stockholm. It is likely, but not certain, that the “Br. Silas” in John’s journal refers to Silas Smith. (Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 2.)
Jesse Smith, Autobiography and Journal, 6. According to a letter from Hyrum Smith, “[It is the will] of god that uncle Silas Should fetch granmother in spite of [all the devils there] are out of Haadees & god will Bless Him in So doing & give her Strinth [to endure the jou]rney.” John Smith wrote in his journal that he returned to Kirtland on 18 May 1836 and “found our mother and brethren from the east.” (Hyrum Smith, Kirtland, OH, to Elias Smith, East Stockholm, NY, 27 Feb. 1836, CHL, missing text supplied from Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 116; John Smith, Journal, 18 May 1836; Elias Smith, Journal, 17–18 May 1836.)
Smith, Jesse Nathaniel. Autobiography and Journal, 1855-1906. CHL. MS 1489, fd. 1.
Smith, Hyrum. Letter, Kirtland, OH, to Elias Smith, East Stockholm, NY, 27 Feb. 1836. CHL. MS 4950.
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Life of Joseph F. Smith, Sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1938.
Respected :— It is with feelings of deep interest for the welfare of mankind which fill my mind on the reflection that all were formed by the hand of Him who will call the same to give and an impartial account of all their works in that great day to which you and myself in common with them are bound, that I take up my pen and seat myself in an attitude to address a few though imperfect lines to you for your perusal.
I have no doubt but you will agree with me that men will be held accountable for the things they have, and not for the things they have not, or, that all the light and intelligence communicated to them from their Beneficent Creator, whether it is much or little, by the same they in justice will be judged; and that they are required to yield obedience to, and improve upon that, and that only, which is given; for man is not to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.