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New Joseph Smith Papers volume shows the Mormon prophet's 'toughness'

SALT LAKE CITY — If you want to know how resilient Joseph Smith was, consider all he experienced over a 19-month span in the late 1830s.

Although he would continue to deal with the fallout of Kirtland for some time, Joseph Smith fled Ohio for his personal safety in early 1838 and traveled to Missouri.

He threw himself into developing the cities of Far West, Adam-Ondi-Ahman and De Witt, reorganizing and building up the church.

Because of Mormon growth, a violent conflict ensued. Joseph and others were arrested and imprisoned. While incarcerated, the prophet essentially held the church of refugees together through correspondence.

When Joseph finally escaped from prison, he hit the ground running and helped the church establish a new home in Illinois.

The newest edition of the Joseph Smith Papers, "Documents Vol. 6: February 1838 to August 1839," offers new insight into this tumultuous period for Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to volume editors Mark Ashurst-McGee and Elizabeth A. Kuehn.

"You see how tough Joseph is," Ashurst-McGee said. "I think it shows this amazing sense of personal mission. He is just so driven. The Saints have a terrible time but push through it."

"We see this determined perseverance," Kuehn said. "They're not going to win but they are going to keep going, keep moving forward. Joseph, above all, demonstrates this."

"Documents, Vol. 6" includes personal letters, revelations, images, discourses, minutes, legal documents and financial papers and more mostly from this era of church history. The release date is Monday, Sept. 25.

David W. Grua, a historian with the Joseph Smith Papers, will deliver a presentation about Joseph Smith's Liberty Jail Letters in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m.

Among many in the volume, Kuehn pointed out three sets of noteworthy documents in the new volume.

Perhaps the most compelling documents are Joseph Smith's letters written from Liberty Jail to his family and the church, the historians agreed.

The violent episodes experienced by the Saints would normally shatter and destroy most new religious movements, but somehow they maintained the spirit of the gathering even through and after their expulsion. It's not every man for himself, they organize to oversee and facilitate the evacuation, Ashurst-McGee said.

Joseph's letters of guidance, encouragement and counsel helped.

"Joseph is really holding the church together from Liberty Jail, and you see that in the letters," Ashurst-McGee said. "It's quite a feat."

Joseph is especially tender in his letters home to his wife and children. In a letter dated Nov. 4, 1838, Joseph writes to Emma:

"Those little children are subjects of my meditation continually, tell them that Father is yet alive, God grant that he may see them again Oh Emma for God sake do not forsake me nor the truth but remember, if I do not meet you again in his life may God grant that we may we meet in heaven, I cannot express my feelings, my heart is full, Farewell oh my kind and affectionate Emma I am yours forever your husband and true friend …"

In a letter dated April 4, 1839, Joseph wrote:

"Dear and affectionate wife … I think of you and the children continually … I bare with fortitude all my oppression, so do those that are with me, not one of us have flinched yet, I want you (should) not let those litte fellows, forgit me, tell them Father loves them with a perfect love, and he is doing all he can to git away from the mob to come to them …"

The letters are poignant and in his own handwriting, which is fairly rare, Kuehn said.

"They do love each other," Kuehn said of Joseph and Emma. "In 19th century terms, it's not overly flowery, but in that low moment he is begging her to remember him, to have the children remember him, because he's not sure he's going to make it out of that jail to be reunited with his family and the Saints."

The second set of documents is titled "Bills of Damages." They were compiled by the Latter-day Saints as they sought redress from the federal government for general sufferings, persecutions endured and property losses.

"The loss of property which I have sustained is as follows — losses sustained in Jackson County, Davies County, Caldwell County including lands: houses, horses, cattle, hogs, books and store goods; expenses while in bonds, of money paid out, expenses of moving out of the state and damages sustained by false imprisonment, threatenings, intimidation, exposure, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. (all equal to) $100,000," Joseph Smith wrote in the summer of 1839.

It's not an eye-popping document, but it does give insight into what Joseph experienced in Missouri, Kuehn said.

"I think it's one of the undervalued but really amazing documents we still have," she said. "It's his account of how things fell apart, what he experienced."

Ashurst-McGee couldn't help but smile when he saw the five et ceteras.

"He isn't interested in tallying up figures, he's lost so much it's incalculable," he said. "I think that's kind of insightful about what kind of person Joseph Smith was."

Finally, Joseph Smith was ever mindful of his honor, integrity and reputation, which not only reflected on himself but on the church. The First Presidency called agents such as Oliver Granger to go in Ohio and New York to resolve debts and other matters, Kuehn said.

In a document dated May 13, 1839, the First Presidency authorized Granger to "go forth and engage in vast and important concerns as an agent for the church."

"It was not a fun job but he did it with a lot of integrity and effort until the end of his life," Kuehn said. "He worked extremely hard to … uphold Joseph's name."

For more information about the Joseph Smith Papers project, visit