Letter to Wilford Woodruff, circa 18 June 1838

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Sir, your Letter of the 9th. of March, directed to , Joseph Smith Jr., , <​and​> , and the in , came safely <​to​> them, some day’s since. And on account of the press of business now on their hands, <​and the request of J Smith Jr.,​> I have taken it upon me to answer it. You say, that you have heard of the deplorable state of things in ; and it gave me much Joy to learn by your letter, that you viewed those things in their true light. Great has been the afflictions of the saints in that place, particularly our beloved Brotheren Joseph Smith Jr., and .
During In the past summer; I Journeyed from this place in company with , and , to , for the purpose of meeting in Conference thare with the 12 <​.​>. On our arrival, we soon learned the dificulties that then existed thare: these however ware all appearantly settled, preveiously to my leaving : And , who has since become so notoriously wicked <​an unbeliever in the book of Mormon, reveiled religion,​>, affected to repent and become sattisfied, with Br. Joseph and the Church: Others also did the same: But this settlement was not of long duration. Soon after this, President and I, left for the upper : and President Joseph Smith, President , and <​Prest.​> , soon followed us to : and during their absence, it seemes that , , , , and some others, plotted <​united​> togeather in for the overthrow <​refuting the procedings​> of the Church. President Smith and his company returned on or about the 10th. of December; soon after which this gadianton <​decenting [dissenting]​> band, openly, and publickly, renounced the , and claimed, themselves to be the old standard, called themslves the Church of Christ, excluding excluded that of saints, and set at naught Br. Joseph and the whole Church, denounceing them as Heriticks [p. [1]] How blind and infatuated are the minds of men, when once turned from Rigteousness to wickedness? They did not understand, that by taking upon them the name of , did not do away that of the Church of Christ. Neither did they consider, that the ancient church, was the Church of Christ, and that they were Saints. And again, it appears that they did not consider the Prophesy, of Daniel, which <​says​> saith; “The saints shall take the King[d]om” &c “Again, “the Kingdom, and the greatness of the Kingdom, under the whole Heaven, was given to the people, (the Saints) of the most High” &c And the Saints here alluded to, were certainly Latterday Saints; inas much, as the above prophesy is to be fulfilled, in the Last days; and is yet future, as all professed readers of the bible will confess. We have of late learned, that , and the most of this wicked band <​combination​>, have openly renounced the Book of Mormon, and <​and​> be[c]ome deists—— I will now Leave , and give you some acount of the movement of things here, as they are and have been.
You, undoubtedly, will remember the visit, which I, in company with , made to the Churches in Kentucky and Tennessee, in the summer of 1836. You also may reecollect, the nature and result, of our visit. We came to solisit assistance, for Poor bleeding zion: And we obtained, through the goodness of the Children of God, in those regeons, the sum of fourteen hundred and fifty dollars, which we delivered unto & , on our arrival to this place. But these men, instead of laying out the money for the benefit of Poor bleeding zion, purchased Land for their own emolument. They generally did their business, independant<​ly​> of the aid, or council of <​either​> the or . This gave some uneasiness to the two authorities of : not only because they purchased land with Church funds, in their own name, for their own agrandisement, but because they selected the place of the City and appointed the spot for the to be built on, drew the plan of said , and appointed and ordained a committee to build the same, without asking or seeking council, at the hand of either , High Council, or ; when it was well understood that these authorites wer <​appointed​> for the purpose of counciling on all important matters pertaining to the saints of God.
These two presidents also managed to get the town plott into their own hands, that they that they might reap the avails ariseing from the sale of the lots. In consequence of these, with many other things, the Council met by themselves on the 3d. day of April 1837, and resolved to meet on the 5 invite the two president<​s​>, the and his council, and the two , namely and , to meet with them, on the 5th. inst. to which time they adjourned. Acordingly the above named authorites met, on the [p. [2]] 5th., and after lbouring dilegently three days in succession, it was unanimously agreed upon, that the town plott Plat, with four eighties adjacent to the plat, should be given at the disposal of the and his council the , the two , and the two . During this labour the two presidents acknoledged they were wrong, and they to all appearance, willingly suffered themselves to be corrected by the Council.
In the begining of May following, the Council again met, and resolved to to have the above named property transfered into the hands of the , as an equivalent to the Poor bleeding zion money, and that the avails, of said land, should be thareafter applied to the benefit of the poor, and the other public purposes. The business of the transfer of said property, was transacted by the two presidents, the and his council, and by some means they managed to bind the in a heavy mortgage <​of three thousand four hundred and fifty dollars​> to apply two thousand dollars of the avails of the town plat <​which they had subscribed​> to the building of the , which they intended to build <​have erected.​> Since that time, the affair of building the has falen through. Consequntly, many people have withdrawn ther subscription to it, and these two men, claiming this two thousand dollars as their subscription, chuse to withdraw it, and put it into their own pockets. A small part of which has been already paid to .
The Council, not feeling <​willing​> that the Church should be defrauded o[ut?] of two thousand dollars of her public funds, and also know<​ing​> that the Church in general as well as themselvs, had become dissattisfied with their conduct as Christians, in many things, appointed a committee to labour with them; after which, they called the whole church in togeathe[r], who almost unanimously voted them out of their presidenceal office.
Not long after this, the Council saw cause to appoint a seccond committee, to wait on these men who still presisted in their opposition to the interests of the Church. After which, charges were prefered against them before the Council, which were substantiated, and they were cut off excommunicated. Also, the Church has had much sorrow during the past winter, on account of the unfaithfulness of , , and , and in consequence of this, and their opposition to our beloved Brothr Joseph Smith Jr., and the best interests of the , for presisting in the same, a number of Charges have been substantiated against them, before the Councils & of the Church, and they have also been excluded from the Church fellowship. “How has the gold become dim the most fine gold changed”!!! But I mus[t] drop this subject for want of room. Suffice <​it​> to say Bretheren, J. Smith Jr. & are now with us, the Church now flourishes, and the Saints rejoice, and the <​internal​> enemies of the Church are down. You will see by the above prospectes, that your anxious desires for the Journal are about to be granted.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, bless you, and keep you unto his coming and Kingdom, Amen. My love to all the saints in those regeons.
Yours in the Love of God.
[p. [3]]
P. S. Since Br. Joseph came to this place, we have been favored with a lengthy revelation, in which many important items are shown forth. First, that he the , shall hereafter be Called, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints” Second it saith <​says​> “Let the City be a holy and a consecrated land unto me, and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is holy: Therefore, I command you to build an unto me, for the geathering togeather of my Saints, that they may worship me” &c It also teaches, that the foundation or corner stone must be laid on the 4th. of July nex, and that a commencement must be made in this following season, and in one year from the 26th. of April last, the foundation must be again commenced, and from that time, to continue the worke untill it is finished. Thus we see that the Lord is more wise than men, for and thought to commence it long before this, but it was not the Lords time, tharefore, he overthrew it. and has appointed his own time. The plan is to yet be shown to the , and all the saints, in all the world, are commanded to assist in building the
Fox Islands
Mo. JUNE 18
23 [p. [4]]


  1. 1

    JS spent most of late May and early June in Daviess County, surveying the land and directing the construction of houses. (JS, Journal, 18 May–5 June 1838.)  

  2. 2

    Letter from Wilford Woodruff et al., 9 Mar. 1838.  

  3. 3

    After hearing reports of “much evil” regarding fellow apostles Luke Johnson, John F. Boynton, and Lyman Johnson, Marsh called for the apostles to meet in Kirtland on 24 July 1837 so he could help resolve problems and give counsel regarding the quorum’s proselytizing plans. Marsh, William Smith, and Patten—who were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—departed Far West sometime in late May or June and arrived by 8 July 1837. (Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten, Far West, MO, to Parley P. Pratt, Toronto, Upper Canada, 10 May 1837, in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 62–63; “T. B. Marsh,” [2], Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861, CHL; Mary Fielding, Kirtland, OH, to Mercy Fielding Thompson, Upper Canada, 8 July 1837, Mary Fielding Smith, Collection, CHL.)  

    Historian’s Office. Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861. CHL. CR 100 93.

    Smith, Mary Fielding. Collection, ca. 1832–1848. CHL. MS 2779.

  4. 4

    At the reorganization conference held in early September 1837, members in Kirtland voted to retain in office JS and church leaders who were loyal to him. (See Minutes, 3 Sept. 1837.)  

  5. 5

    Marsh and Hyrum Smith left Kirtland in early September and arrived in Far West by mid-October 1837. (See Vilate Murray Kimball, Kirtland, OH, to Heber C. Kimball, Preston, England, ca. 10–12 Sept. 1837, Heber C. Kimball, Collection, CHL; and Power of Attorney to Hyrum Smith, 5 Sept. 1837.)  

    Kimball, Heber C. Collection, 1837–1898. CHL. MS 12476.

  6. 6

    It is uncertain why Marsh inserted “Pres[iden]t” before William Smith’s name. Smith was called “Pres[ident]” in two instances in JS’s journal in 1836, but extant documents do not mention Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, being appointed president of any church council or quorum. It is possible that, like his brother Hyrum; his father, Joseph; and his uncle John, he was at some point included in the general church presidency, although there is no other evidence of him belonging to the presidency. The designation of Smith as “Pres[iden]t” was omitted in the version of the letter published in the July issue of the church newspaper. (JS, Journal, 28 Jan. and 6 Feb. 1836; Minutes, 3 Sept. 1837; Thomas B. Marsh, [Far West, MO], to Wilford Woodruff, [Vinalhaven, ME], [ca. 18 June 1838], in Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 36.)  

  7. 7

    JS, Rigdon, William Smith, and Vinson Knight departed Kirtland for Far West on 27 September 1837. (Travel Account and Questions, Nov. 1837.)  

  8. 8

    Both John Smith and Vilate Kimball identified Parrish, Boynton, Johnson, Coe, and Martin Harris as “the Leaders” of the dissenting party. Smith also named Cyrus Smalling as a leader. (John Smith and Clarissa Lyman Smith, Kirtland, OH, to George A. Smith, Shinnston, VA, 1 Jan. 1838, George Albert Smith, Papers, CHL; Vilate Murray Kimball, Kirtland, OH, to Heber C. Kimball, Preston, England, 19–29 Jan. 1838, Heber C. Kimball, Collection, CHL.)  

    Smith, George Albert. Papers, 1834–1877. CHL. MS 1322.

    Kimball, Heber C. Collection, 1837–1898. CHL. MS 12476.

  9. 9

    TEXT: Marsh apparently inserted “Prest.” before “Wm. Smith”, inserted “Mr.” before “Parish”, and changed “for the overthrow” to “refuting the procedings” after the retained copy was made. Most of the other substantive revisions to the letter are reflected in the version of the letter published in the Elders’ Journal.  

  10. 10

    Marsh apparently meant that this group intended to overturn the results of the September 1837 reorganization conference in which JS and members loyal to him were retained in their church offices. (See Minutes, 3 Sept. 1837.)  

  11. 11

    In the Book of Mormon, Gadianton was the founder of the “Gadianton robbers”—a secret society of political and religious dissenters who sought to obtain wealth and power through intrigue, murder, and war. (See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 411, 423, 427–428 [Helaman 2:8; 6:17–19; 7:21].)  

  12. 12

    See, for example, 1 Corinthians 14:33; see also Minutes, 3 May 1834.  

  13. 13

    Daniel 7:18.  

  14. 14

    Daniel 7:27.  

  15. 15

    The vision of Daniel culminated with all nations dissolving and with the people of God receiving everlasting dominion over the earth. (Daniel chap. 7.)  

  16. 16

    Early American Deists believed in a singular creator god and rejected all shades of polytheism, including Trinitarian theology. They tended to believe that the creator god was the architect of the universe, who after setting the stars and planets in motion withdrew from any further intervention. Deists rejected miracles, spiritual gifts, and any form of supernatural revelation, including those described in the Bible. They criticized classical Christian theology and espoused in its place a commonsense morality. (Holifield, Theology in America, 162–170.)  

    Holifield, E. Brooks. Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

  17. 17

    Woodruff had encountered Marsh while proselytizing in Kentucky in August and September 1836. (Woodruff, Journal, 29 Aug. and 2–4 Sept. 1836.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  18. 18

    Marsh and Groves were commissioned to raise money to help poor Latter-day Saints moving to Missouri. (Minute Book 2, 25 July 1836.)  

  19. 19

    This money was borrowed at 10 percent interest. (“T. B. Marsh,” [2], Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861, CHL.)  

    Historian’s Office. Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861. CHL. CR 100 93.

  20. 20

    When Marsh and Groves were commissioned to raise money, they were instructed to “put the same into the hands of the Zion Presidency.” (Minute Book 2, 25 July 1836.)  

  21. 21

    Phelps and Whitmer purchased the original square mile for Far West in August 1836 and used the money raised by Marsh and Groves to purchase additional land in the vicinity in November 1836. Because the church was not incorporated in Missouri, church leaders could hold church property in their own names only. The use and administration of such property, however, was often subject to the deliberations of church councils. (Caldwell Co., MO, Original Land Entries, 1835–1859, p. 11, microfilm 2,438,695, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Minute Book 1, 2 Apr. 1836.)  

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

  22. 22

    In November 1836, the Zion church presidency “selected and appointed Jacob Whitmer, Elisha H. Groves, and George M. Hinkle for a building committee to assist the Presidency to build the house of the Lord.” In April 1837, the high council and the bishop and his counselors accepted the appointment of this committee and the Zion presidency’s related plans. (Minute Book 2, 15 Nov. 1836 and 7 Apr. 1837.)  

  23. 23

    When the Zion high council was organized in 1834, JS told the council members “that he now had done his duty in organizing the High Council, through which Council the will of the Lord might be known on all importent occasions in the building up of Zion.” (Minutes and Discourse, ca. 7 July 1834.)  

  24. 24

    Among their various holdings, Phelps and Whitmer owned the land for the platted town of Far West. Marsh may have been specifically referring to a map of Far West that was used for allotment—possibly a certified copy of the Far West plat. (“Description of Far West Plat,” BYU Church History and Doctrine Department, Church History Project Collection, CHL.)  

    BYU Church History and Doctrine Department. Church History Project Collection, 1977–1981. Photocopy. CHL.

  25. 25

    Most other members of the Quorum of the Twelve lived in Ohio or were on proselytizing missions. (See Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten, Far West, MO, to Parley P. Pratt, Toronto, Upper Canada, 10 May 1837, in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 62–63.)  

  26. 26

    According to the minutes of the meeting, the council prepared a list of questions for the two men, challenging the presidents’ authority to unilaterally select and purchase the land for the new settlement, sell lots in the city plat for their own profit, designate the temple site, appoint a committee to help build the temple, and take other actions. Two of the questions focused on whether the land and proceeds from selling lots should remain in the hands of Phelps and Whitmer or whether some should be distributed to other church leaders as compensation for their services. (Minute Book 2, 3 Apr. 1837.)  

  27. 27

    The Far West plat was one mile square, constituting 640 acres, half of which were owned by Phelps and the other half by Whitmer. Between August 1836 and January 1837, Phelps and Whitmer purchased additional land in Caldwell County, including nineteen 80-acre tracts. Fourteen of these tracts were adjacent to or near the land platted for Far West. Of these fourteen, Phelps and Whitmer deeded to Edward Partridge the two tracts west of the town plat in sections 10 and 15, a tract located on the northeast corner of the plat in section 11, and a tract located about a half mile south of the plat in section 22 or section 23. (“Description of Far West Plat,” BYU Church History and Doctrine Department, Church History Project Collection, CHL; Caldwell Co., MO, Original Land Entries, 1835–1859, p. 11, microfilm 2,438,695, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Edward Partridge and Lydia Partridge, Mortgage, Far West, MO, to William W. Phelps and John Whitmer, 17 May 1837, John Whitmer Family Papers, CHL.)  

    BYU Church History and Doctrine Department. Church History Project Collection, 1977–1981. Photocopy. CHL.

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

    John Whitmer Family Papers, 1837–1912. CHL.

  28. 28

    The minutes of the meeting clarify that this group would determine the disposition of the property. The minutes indicate the group included the high council, Bishop Partridge and his counselors, and the two apostles, but not Phelps and Whitmer. (Minute Book 2, 5–7 Apr. 1837.)  

  29. 29

    An undated resolution to this effect appears in a note following the minutes of a meeting on 5–7 April 1837. The land was transferred on 17 May 1837. (See Minute Book 2, 5–7 Apr. 1837; and Edward Partridge and Lydia Partridge, Mortgage, Far West, MO, to William W. Phelps and John Whitmer, 17 May 1837, John Whitmer Family Papers, CHL.)  

    John Whitmer Family Papers, 1837–1912. CHL.

  30. 30

    The 640-acre plat and four additional 80-acre tracts totaled 960 acres. Purchased at the usual government fee of $1.25 per acre, the original value of this land totaled $1,200, which was $250 less than the $1,450 Marsh and Groves originally borrowed and delivered to Phelps and Whitmer in fall 1837. By this time, some of the lots would have included improvements that raised the original value of the parcels.  

  31. 31

    According to the conditions of the second of two bonds governing the transfer of the land from Phelps and Whitmer to Partridge, the proceeds from selling land were to be used to support poor Saints, purchase additional land for the church, build a house of the Lord in Far West, and establish a printing office. (Edward Partridge, Bond, Far West, MO, to William W. Phelps and John Whitmer, 17 May 1837, John Whitmer Family Papers, CHL.)  

    John Whitmer Family Papers, 1837–1912. CHL.

  32. 32

    At some point prior to May 1837, Phelps and Whitmer each subscribed $1,000 to build a House of the Lord in Far West. The money was to be supplied through selling lots in the town. (Minute Book 2, 5–7 Apr. 1837.)  

  33. 33

    The transfer of the town plat and four 80-acre tracts from Phelps and Whitmer to Partridge was conditioned upon a mortgage and two bonds. The first bond required Partridge to pay Phelps and Whitmer $1,450 for the land and to take responsibility for their subscriptions of $1,000 each for building the House of the Lord. The second bond built on and was conditional upon the terms of the first bond and mortgage. This second bond restated the combined sum of $3,450 due to Phelps and Whitmer and established how the proceeds that Partridge earned from selling town lots could be used. The penalty for the first bond was $10,000, while the penalty for the second was $25,000. (Edward Partridge, Bonds, Far West, MO, to William W. Phelps and John Whitmer, 17 May 1837, John Whitmer Family Papers, CHL.)  

    John Whitmer Family Papers, 1837–1912. CHL.

  34. 34

    The construction of the House of the Lord in Far West was postponed in November 1837. (Minutes, 6 Nov. 1837.)  

  35. 35

    Estate records for Edward Partridge list an undated payment of $187 to Phelps on a $2,000 debt owed to Phelps and Whitmer. (Account, Estate of Edward Partridge with John Whitmer, John Whitmer Family Papers, CHL.)  

    John Whitmer Family Papers, 1837–1912. CHL.

  36. 36

    On 10 November 1837, four days after a conference of church officers voted to halt construction of the House of the Lord, priesthood holders at Far West voted that the funds generated from the sale of town lots would be “consecrated for the public benefit of the church— for building houses for public worship, or such other purposes as the church shall say.” (Minutes, 10 Nov. 1837.)  

  37. 37

    In January 1838, members of the high council appointed George M. Hinkle, Thomas Grover, and George Morey to this committee. They visited the Zion presidency and Oliver Cowdery, who was functioning as the clerk for the Zion presidency and high council. The committee then reported to the high council regarding the sale of land in Jackson County and the Zion presidency’s observance of the revealed dietary code known as the “Word of Wisdom.” (Minute Book 2, 20 and 26 Jan. 1838.)  

  38. 38

    Meetings were held in February 1838 in Far West and in four outlying settlements. Based on the outcome of the meetings, David Whitmer and counselors William W. Phelps and John Whitmer were removed from the presidency of the church in Zion. (See Letter from Thomas B. Marsh, 15 Feb. 1838.)  

  39. 39

    Phelps and John Whitmer were excommunicated in March 1838 for their financial dealings and related offenses. (Minute Book 2, 10 Mar. 1838.)  

  40. 40

    Cowdery, Whitmer, and Johnson were excommunicated on a variety of charges in April 1838. (See Minutes, 12 Apr. 1838; and Minutes, 13 Apr. 1838.)  

  41. 41

    Lamentations 4:1.  

  42. 42

    JS and Rigdon arrived in Far West in March and April, respectively. (JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, p. 16; JS History, vol. B-1, 786.)  

  43. 43

    Woodruff pleaded in his 9 March 1838 letter to church leaders that the Elders’ Journal be recommenced in Missouri. (Letter from Wilford Woodruff et al., 9 Mar. 1838.)  

  44. 44

    This wording echoes language Woodruff used in his letter. (See Letter from Wilford Woodruff et al., 9 Mar. 1838.)  

  45. 45

    See Revelation, 26 Apr. 1838 [D&C 115].  

  46. 46

    Under the direction of the Zion presidency, Latter-day Saints in Far West began excavating for the House of the Lord in July 1837 and then began planning construction, but plans were postponed in November at the direction of the First Presidency. (Letter from William W. Phelps, 7 July 1837; Minutes, 6 Nov. 1837.)  

  47. 47

    JS’s April 1838 revelation regarding Far West and the temple stated that the Latter-day Saints were to build the temple “according to the pattern which I Shall shew unto their presidency.” (Revelation, 26 Apr. 1838 [D&C 115:16].)  

  48. new scribe logo

    Postmark stamped in red ink.  

  49. new scribe logo

    Postage written in red ink in unidentified handwriting.