Letter from Lorenzo D. Wasson, 30 July 1842

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

, July 30, 1842.
Dear Uncle and :—
With feelings of no ordinary character, and under peculiar circumstances, I now attempt to break the seeming long silence that has not been interrupted since I left your hospitable cottage, and the society of those rendered dear to me by their virtues, their benevolence and their glorious institutions. That, with the assistance of my heavenly Father, has formed my character and habits for the society of saints and angels.
I am in the enjoyment of good health, and I believe entirely free from that miserable, contemptible disease that destroys the constitution of man, (namely ague and fever,) and what causes me greater rejoicing, I have, by the grace of God, abolished the more dangerous malady—one that binds the mind of man in midnight darkness, and obscures their future destiny and eternal happiness in mistic clouds of uncertainty and doubt, namely, sectarian cupidity. I have just returned to this from a short excursion of four weeks through the south part of . Brother I. Ivins and myself were the first that ever proclaimed the everlasting gospel in that region of country; and to the disappointment of the people, and consternation of hireling priests, we preached Christ, and him crucified, and presented new and important truths from their own bibles that they never saw or heard of before. The people of this section are principally Methodists and Presbyterians, but they were inclined to believe the truth as it was presented, until the decrees of their long robed gods went forth commanding them not to hear or entertain these impostors, as we were calledO delusion! O blind philosophy! how long will thy unfortunate dupes be gulled by the ipse dixit of learned fools and holy knaves?
We were frequently obliged to leave the scriptures, or subject under consideration and give lessons on good manners, and advise disorderly priests not to disgrace their parents by showing their bad breeding. We held a discussion with a college bred advocate of Calvinism on the 23d; he would not show that Mormonism was false, as he had stated, so we took him up on Calvinism, and I assure you he found himself in poor picking before we got through. We left many believing [p. 891] our testimony, and intend to return next week and give them the second edition of the same important subject. When I arrived in the saints were in a tremendous flustration for the welfare of brother Joseph, and their friends at . The disclosures of and his sattelites had just arrived, and the faith of some was failing—others doubting, and those founded on the rock were contending against such unheard of falsehoods and slanders, and turning the reproach where it belongs—upon the heads of those black and midnight fiends who have made this bold attempt to destroy a virtuous people.
Great excitement in this at this time—there is a discussion in progression between our beloved and Dr. [George Montgomery] West, the celebrated lion (liar) of sectarianism. It is really amusing to see these two champions contend with stentorian voice, eloquence, and language; and all the tact of argument that God lavishes upon the defenders of truth, and the devil upon his lawyers, is arrayed in this debate. It is appalling to hear the groans of priests—the clamors of infidels, and apparently the last dying struggles of modern Babylon, beneath the ponderous weight of truth. May the time speedily arrive when she shall have kicked her last, and liberty, truth and happiness be the principles that stand as a watch word for the faithful, who by their virtues make glad the city of God.
Although I have left the society of tried friends—the joyous circles of the young and gifted—the endearments of domestic happiness, surrounded with brothers and sisters—an affectionate mother in tearsand the society of those that would deem it a pleasure to administer to my necessities when sickness or adverse fortune had laid upon me her withering hand—I have done it for the cause of truth, and not for worldly gain, applause, or pleasure—but it is my greatest delight to defend the truth against the attacks of holy hypocrites and bible infidels—and by the assistance of God I intend to bring our relatives into the good work unless they persist in believing a lie that they may be damned. I intend going to and this fall, unless I am advised to the reverse. Uncle, if you want any thing of me write to , N. J. I should be pleased to hear from you all. If I can be of any service in this affair I am ready. I was reading in your chamber last summer—yourself and came into the lower room, and I heard you give a tremendous flagellation for practicing iniquity under the base pretence of authority from the heads of the —if you recollect I came down just before you were through talking. There are many things I can inform you of, if necessary, in relation to and his prostitutes. I am satisfied of your virtue and integrity. I have been with you to visit the sick, and time and again to houses where you had business of importance, you requested me to do so—many times I knew not why, but I am satisfied it was that you might not be censured by those that were watching you with a jealous eye, and I now solemnly protest before God and man, I never saw a thing unvirtuous in your conduct. With sentiments of high esteem to the children and family, I am your most obedient nephew.
Mr. Joseph Smith.
Mrs. . [p. 892]


  1. 1

    Wasson left his family’s home in Amboy, Illinois, in October 1840 and moved to Nauvoo, where he lived with JS and Emma Smith. (Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County, 57–58; Letter to David Hale, 12–19 Feb. 1841.)  

    Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County. Dixon, IL: Inez A. Kennedy, 1893.

  2. 2

    Since the Saints began settling Nauvoo in the summer of 1839, they had been afflicted by outbreaks of mosquito-borne malaria—which they called “the ague.” Although draining the marshes in and around Nauvoo helped, some still suffered in 1842. On 16 July 1842, JS informed John E. Page that although “the health of our city continues good,” there were still “some few cases of sickness.” (“Joseph Smith Documents from September 1839 through January 1841”; Letter to John E. Page, 16 July 1842.)  

  3. 3

    “Brother I. Ivins” is almost certainly Israel Ivins, a twenty-seven-year-old member of the church from Toms River, New Jersey. Ivins had been baptized in March 1838 by Benjamin Winchester. (Erdman, Israel Ivins, 1–3.)  

    Erdman, Kimball Stewart. Israel Ivins: A Biography. [Slippery Rock, PA]: By the author, [1969].

  4. 4

    See 1 Corinthians 2:2.  

  5. 5

    Benjamin Winchester similarly noted that after preaching in Hornerstown, New Jersey, in 1839, “the priests were engaged in fumbling over their old news paper files, and hunting up all the old stories that was told a number of years ago, probably thinking that this would be the most effectual way to stop the spread of truth.” He continued by saying that “three priests, a Methodist, Baptist and Universalist, united, Pilate and Herod like, to combat the truth.” (Benjamin Winchester, Payson, IL, 18 June 1839, Letter to the Editors, Times and Seasons, Nov. 1839, 1:10.)  

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

  6. 6

    According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, one definition of satellite was “a follower; an obsequious attendant or dependant.” To support his accusations against JS, Bennett had produced affidavits from Francis M. Higbee, Melissa Schindle, and others, as well as a statement from Martha Brotherton. (“Satellite,” in American Dictionary [1828]; John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 2 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 15 July 1842, [2]; “Miss Brotherton’s Statement,” Sangamo Journal, 22 July 1842, [2].)  

    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.

    Sangamo Journal. Springfield, IL. 1831–1847.

  7. 7

    See Matthew 7:24–25.  

  8. 8

    In June and July 1842, Adams, a high priest in the church who had formerly been a lay Methodist preacher, debated Presbyterian minister George Montgomery West, first in Boston and then in Philadelphia. In Boston, the debates lasted for five evenings in June. According to one Boston newspaper, Adams defended the church “in a masterly manner, and so ingeniously and fairly supported it by the Bible, as to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mormonism is the doctrine of the Bible; provided it teaches any one particular doctrine more than another.” Apparently, Adams and West had recently resumed their debate in Philadelphia. (Letter from Erastus Snow, 22 June 1842; “The Mormon Discussion,” Boston Investigator, 29 June 1842, [3], italics in original; Advertisement, Public Ledger [Philadelphia], 1 Aug. 1842, [2]; Advertisement, Public Ledger, 2 Aug. 1842, [2].)  

    Boston Investigator. Boston. 1831–1904.

    Public Ledger. Philadelphia. 1836–1925.

  9. 9

    The Times and Seasons reprinted an article from the Boston Investigator stating that in the Boston debates, Adams, “with the whole Bible at his tongue’s end, bore down upon him [West] with a torrent of Scripture that swept away his objections like chaff before the hurricane, and the doughty Dr. was fairly at a loss how to get hold of him.” Another article from the Bostonian, also reprinted in the Times and Seasons, characterized West as “a master of language, and very sarcastic, but his proofs are all assertions, his arguments assumptions, his reasons ridicule; and he seems determined to frighten the Mormons away by looks and expressions of horror, and annihilate their system by a flower of rhetoric, appealing to the well known prejudices of the people, instead of their understanding.” (“Dr. West and the Mormons,” Times and Seasons, 15 July 1842, 3:862; “Great Discussion on Mormonism,” Times and Seasons, 1 Aug. 1842, 3:864.)  

  10. 10

    See Psalm 46:4.  

  11. 11

    Lorenzo had two brothers, Harmon and Warren, and two sisters, Clara and Roxy. His mother was Elizabeth Hale Wasson, Emma Smith’s sister. (Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County, 57.)  

    Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County. Dixon, IL: Inez A. Kennedy, 1893.

  12. 12

    The Times and Seasons reported that Wasson was the first of Emma Smith’s “kindred that have embraced the fulness of the Gospel.” (“Sabbath Scene in Nauvoo,” Times and Seasons, 15 Apr. 1842, 3:751.)  

  13. 13

    Wasson’s family had moved from Harpursville, New York, to Illinois, in 1836. Emma Smith’s mother, Elizabeth Lewis Hale, had passed away earlier in 1842 in Harmony, Pennsylvania. (Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County, 57; Anderson, Ancestry and Posterity of Joseph Smith, 302.)  

    Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County. Dixon, IL: Inez A. Kennedy, 1893.

    Anderson, Mary Audentia Smith. Ancestry and Posterity of Joseph Smith and Emma Hale: With Little Sketches of Their Immigrant Ancestors All of Whom Came to America between the Years 1620 and 1685, and Settled in the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1929.

  14. 14

    Editorials in the Wasp and Times and Seasons implied that Bennett enjoyed frequenting brothels. Wasson may have also been referring to the women who were seduced by Bennett in Nauvoo. (Editorial, Wasp, Extra, 27 July 1842, [4]; Times and Seasons, 1 Aug. 1842, 3:876.)  

    The Wasp. Nauvoo, IL. Apr. 1842–Apr. 1843.