Letter to Oliver Cowdery, December 1834

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Brother :
Having learned from the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that you were, not only about to “give a history of the rise and progress of the ;” but, that said “history would necessarily embrace my life and character,” I have been induced to give you the time and place of my birth; as I have learned that many of the opposers of those principles which I have held forth to the world, profess a personal acquaintance with me, though when in my presence, represent me to be another person in age, education, and stature, from what I am.
I was born, (according to the record of the same, kept by my parents,) in the town of , Windsor Co. Vt. on the 23rd of December, 1805.
At the age of ten my father’s family removed to , N.Y. where, and in the vicinity of which, I lived, or, made it my place of residence, until I was twenty one—the latter part, in the town of .
During this time, as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies; but as my accusers are, and have been forward to accuse me of being guilty of gross and outragious violations of the peace and good order of the community, I take the occasion to remark, that, though, as I have said above, “as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies,” I have not, neither can it be sustained, in truth, been guilty of wronging or injuring any man or society of men; and those imperfections to which I alude, and for which I have often had occasion to lament, were a light, and too often, vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation.
This being all, and the worst, that my accusers can substantiate against my moral character, I wish to add, that it is not without a deep feeling of regret that I am thus called upon in answer to my own conscience, to fulfill a duty I owe to myself, as well as to the cause of truth, in making this public confession of my former uncircumspect walk, and unchaste conversation: and more particularly, as I often acted in violation of those holy precepts which I knew came from God. But as the “” of this church are plain upon this particular point, I do not deem it important to proceed further. I only add, that I do not, nor never have, pretended to be any other than a man “subject to passion,” and liable, without the assisting grace of the Savior, to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk!
By giving the above a place in your valuable paper, you will confer a lasting favor upon myself, as an individual, and, as I humbly hope, subserve the cause of righteousness.
I am, with feelings of esteem, your fellow laborer in the gospel of our Lord.
JOSEPH SMITH jr. [p. 40]


  1. 1

    Cowdery had told readers in the October 1834 issue of the Messenger and Advocate that he would “hereafter give [them] a full history of the rise of this church, up to the time stated in my introduction; which will necessarily embrace the life and character of this brother [JS].” (Oliver Cowdery, Norton, OH, to William W. Phelps, 7 Sept. 1834, in LDS Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, 1:16.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  2. 2

    In October 1834, JS, Oliver Cowdery, and other church leaders left Kirtland, Ohio, for Michigan Territory. Along the way, they encountered a man named Ellmer, who, without knowing that JS was in the company, professed an acquaintance with JS and said he “had heard him preach his lies.” Cowdery asked the man for details about JS’s “appearance, size, age, &c.” and “found that the man was guilty of falsehood.” (Oliver Cowdery, Editorial, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1834, 1:3–4.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  3. 3

    Although no such written record kept by JS’s parents has been located, the Smith family apparently considered it important to keep records of births, deaths, and marriages. Both JS and Hyrum Smith had family Bibles that contained such information. In addition, a family Bible kept by Asael Smith, JS’s grandfather, contains genealogical information. (JS Family Bible; Hyrum Smith Family Bible; Asael Smith Family Bible, 3–14; see also Youngreen, “From the Prophet’s Life,” 33.)  

    JS Family Bible / Joseph Smith Family Bible, ca. 1831–1866. Private possession. Copy of genealogical information in Joseph Smith Sr. Family Reunions Files, 1972–2003. CHL.

    Hyrum Smith Family Bible, 1834. In Hyrum Smith, Papers, ca. 1832–1844. BYU.

    Asael Smith Family Bible, 1795–1950. Private possession. Copy of genealogical information at CHL. MS 19012.

    Youngreen, Buddy. “From the Prophet’s Life: A Photo Essay.” Ensign, Jan. 1984, 32–41.

  4. 4

    JS’s family moved from Norwich, Vermont, to the village of Palmyra, New York, in 1816. The family likely first lived in a home on the southeast corner of the intersection of Johnson and Vienna streets. The following year they were living in the vicinity of West Main Street. In 1818 or 1819, the family moved two miles south of Palmyra and built a log house just inside the Palmyra Township line. They remained in the log home until 1825 or 1826, when they moved into a frame house about seven hundred feet to the south, in Manchester Township. (Coray, Notebook, ca. 1841–ca. 1850, [23]; Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 3:412; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 3, [7]–[8]; Berrett, Sacred Places, 2:197, 200.)  

    Coray, Martha Jane Knowlton. Notebook, ca. 1841–ca. 1850. BYU.

    Vogel, Dan, ed. Early Mormon Documents. 5 vols. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003.

    Smith, Lucy Mack. History, 1844–1845. 18 books. CHL. MS 2049. Also available at josephsmithpapers.org.

    Berrett, LaMar C., ed. Sacred Places: A Comprehensive Guide to Early LDS Historical Sites. 6 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999–2007.

  5. 5

    For an example of such an accusation, see David Stafford, Statement, in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 249.  

    Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion, from Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of the Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous Golden Bible Was Brought before the World. To Which Are Added, Inquiries into the Probability That the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written by One Solomon Spalding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, and by Him Intended to Have Been Published as a Romance. Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834.

  6. 6

    In his 1832 history, JS stated that as a youth he “fell into transgressions and sinned in many things which brought a wound upon my soul.” A later JS history states that he “frequently fell into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the corruption of human nature.” (JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 4; JS History, vol. A-1, 5.)  

    JS History / Smith, Joseph, et al. History, 1838–1856. Vols. A-1–F-1 (original), A-2–E-2 (fair copy). Historian’s Office, History of the Church, 1839–ca. 1882. CHL. CR 100 102, boxes 1–7. The history for the period after 5 Aug. 1838 was composed after the death of Joseph Smith.

  7. 7

    See Articles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830 [D&C 20:5–6].  

  8. 8

    See James 5:17.