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New Joseph Smith Papers volume features ‘impostors,’ plural marriage and poetry

The Nauvoo Temple at sunset on Monday April 29, 2002.
The Nauvoo Illinois Temple at sunset on Monday April 29, 2002.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most interesting documents in the newest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers goes by the unassuming title, “Revelation, 27 July 1842.”

It happens to be one of the few contemporary records from Joseph Smith that talks about plural marriage, according to Elizabeth A. Kuehn, the lead historian on “Documents, Volume 10: May-August 1842.

Sarah Ann Whitney, circa 1867. Whitney was sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife on July 27, 1842.
Joseph Smith Papers, Church History Library

The revelation, dictated by Joseph Smith, provided Latter-day Saint Newel K. Whitney with instructions to use in performing the plural marriage sealing of his daughter, Sarah Ann Whitney, to the Prophet. The Whitney family kept and preserved the document, which gives readers a “rare glimpse” into the early days of plural marriage, the historian said.

“We have this rare glimpse into Joseph’s thoughts,” Kuehn said. “Of course, because this is a revelation, it sometimes leaves us with more questions than answers, but I think it’s helpful to see how they are characterizing the marriage. ... One challenge of working on this volume is that it really confronts plural marriage head on.”

The revelation is one of 105 documents found in “Documents, Volume 10,” which also features letters, discourses and other writings. The new volume was released Monday.

“Documents, Volume 10” is the 21st installment of the Joseph Smith Papers series, which launched in 2008. Along with Kuehn, Jordan T. Watkins, Matthew C. Godfrey and Mason K. Allred served as editors on Volume 10.

In an interview with the Deseret News, Kuehn discussed various documents and items featured in “Documents, Volume 10” that enhance and provide greater insight into the events surrounding the summer of 1842.

Busy Joseph

The new volume covers a four-month period of change and increasing tension for Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Nauvoo era.

“Documents, Volume 10: May-August 1842” is the latest installment of the Joseph Smith Papers series.
ChurchofJesusChrist.org

During this time, the 36-year-old church leader introduced new religious rituals, directed missionary work and church affairs, assisted the developing Female Relief Society, served as a military leader in the Nauvoo Legion, participated in Freemasonry, edited the Times and Seasons newspaper, navigated financial difficulties and fought legal battles, in addition to being a husband and father.

In a letter dated June 18, 1842, Wilford Woodruff told fellow apostle Parley P. Pratt that he had “never seen Joseph as full of business as late” and that “he hardly gets time to sign his name,” it states in the book’s introduction.

“I think we tend to forget everything that he’s doing,” Kuehn said. “He’s invested in so many parts of the community.”

As busy as Joseph Smith was, two events had a dramatic impact on his life. The first was the excommunication of John C. Bennett. The second was an attempted assassination by an unknown assailant on former Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs in early May 1842. Boggs was shot in his home but somehow survived. Bennett publicly accused Joseph of masterminding the attack.

Bennett the ‘impostor’

Bennett joined the church in 1840 and quickly rose to prominence. He was instrumental in drafting and securing the Nauvoo city charter. He became a major general and inspector general of the Nauvoo Legion. He also served as an assistant president in the First Presidency.

Then it came to light that Bennett had abandoned a wife and children in Ohio. He was also guilty of seducing women in Nauvoo and claimed it was sanctioned by the church. When it became clear to Joseph Smith that Bennett didn’t intend to change, he was excommunicated for adultery on May 11, 1842.

“He really becomes an anti-hero, a foil for Joseph, and complicates so much,” Kuehn said. “He dramatically alters these months in Joseph’s life.”

Joseph Smith denounced Bennett in a letter to the church dated June 23, 1842.

“It becomes my duty to lay before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the public generally, some important facts relative to the conduct and character of Dr JOHN C. BENNETT, who has lately been expelled from the aforesaid church; that the honorable part of community may be aware of his proceedings and be ready to treat him and regard him as he ought to be regarded, viz: as an impostor and base adulterer.”

Letter to the editor

Sylvester Bartlett, editor of the Quincy Whig, published an article on May 21, 1842, saying there was “plenty of foundation” to the rumor that Joseph Smith had a role in the attempted assassination on Boggs.

Sylvester Bartlett, editor of the Quincy Whig newspaper.
Joseph Smith Papers, Church History Library

Joseph fired back a response the next day denouncing the newspaper’s implications that he was involved. It was published on June 4, 1842.

“Dear Sir: In your paper, (the Quincy Whig,) of the 21st inst., you have done me manifest injustice, in ascribing to me a prediction of the demise of Lilburn W. Boggs, ex-governor of Missouri, by violent hands. (...) My hands are clean, and my heart pure, from the blood of all men. I am tired of the misrepresentation, calumny and detraction heaped upon me by wicked men; and desire and claim only those privileges guaranteed to all men by the Constitution and Laws of the United States, and of Illinois.”

With Bennett’s false information continuing to spread across the country, Apostle John E. Page wrote a letter to Joseph Smith from Pittsburgh on Aug. 15, 1842, imploring him to do more to refute the accusations.

“He’s begging Joseph to mount a stronger defense,” Kuehn said. “We are losing converts and people are turning away from the church because of Bennett’s lies.”

Extradition to Missouri

Although the Saints had departed, the state of Missouri continued to haunt Joseph Smith, especially once rumors circulated about his ties to the Boggs’ assassination attempt.

Efforts were made to arrest Joseph and bring him back to Missouri but he used legal means to evade capture or escaped into hiding.

During the summer of 1842, Emma Smith, the Prophet’s wife, corresponded with Illinois Gov. Thomas Carlin seeking her husband’s safety.

Eliza R. Snow’s poem

While Joseph Smith was in is own form of self-isolation, hiding from arresting lawmen, Eliza R. Snow wrote him a poem on Aug. 20, 1842. Snow was sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife only a few months earlier on June 29.

Eliza R. Snow, 1856. Snow was sealed to Joseph Smith in June 1842 and wrote him a poem two months later.
Joseph Smith Papers, Church History Library

In the poem, titled, “Your Portrait,” Snow lamented Joseph’s need to be in hiding based on false charges. One part reads:

“Sir, we looked at ‘your portrait’ and see it enclos’d

In its frame like a prisoner bound,

And regret its original, thus is expos’d

To the malice of men that surround!

“O, how strange, in this boasted, republican land,

Where all claim to be happy and free;

That a prophet of God is forbidden to stand,

And is forced like a culprit to flee!”

“She uses the metaphor of a portrait — we don’t have you in person, we just have a picture of you. We don’t have your guidance or voice. You are like a prisoner bound in this fugitive role,” Kuehn said. “I think it also captures the community’s loss. They miss Joseph and want him to return.”

‘To save souls’

Almost all of Joseph Smith’s discourses to the Relief Society in Volume 10 encourage mercy, compassion and helping people repent, a timely message following the immoral actions of Bennett and others, Kuehn said.

Elizabeth A. Kuehn, seen here speaking in 2017, was the lead historian for latest Joseph Smith Papers release, “Documents, Volume 10.”
Elizabeth A. Kuehn, seen here speaking in 2017, was the lead historian for latest Joseph Smith Papers release, “Documents, Volume 10.”
R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News

“I think Joseph is trying to navigate people through the repentance process,” Kuehn said. “Some people have made poor choices. We can’t tolerate sin but at the same time, be kind and allow people to repent.”

In a discourse on June 9, 1842, the Prophet taught:

“The best measure or principle to bring the poor to repentance is to administer to their wants — the (Relief) Society is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.”

‘Reflections and Blessings’

While in hiding, Joseph reflected on the unwavering support of family and friends. He wrote an extended journal entry in the Book of the Law of the Lord, “a kind of record of everyone’s good deeds,” Kuehn said.

This image circa 1848 shows islands in the Mississippi River where Joseph Smith sometimes met with family and friends while in hiding.
Joseph Smith Papers, Church History Library

One part of the document, dated Aug. 16 and 23, 1842, and titled “Reflections and Blessings,” reads:

“How good, and glorious, it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not; and whose knees are confirmed and do not faulter; while they wait upon the Lord, in administering to my necessities in the day when the wrath of mine enemies was poured out upon me.”

Later in the same document, Joseph penned a tender and heartfelt tribute to his wife, Emma. Kuehn believes it’s the “singular best quote about their relationship.”

“With what unspeakable delight, and what transports of joy swelled my bosom, when I took by the hand on that night, my beloved Emma, she that was my life, even the wife of my youth; and the choice of my heart. Many were the re-vibrations of my mind when I contemplated for a moment the many scenes we had been called to pass through. The fatigues, and the toils, the sorrows, and sufferings, and the joys and consolations from time to time had strewed our paths and crowned our board. Oh! what a co-mingling of thought filled my mind for the moment, Again she (is) here, even in the seventh trouble, undaunted, firm, and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma.”

Temple editorial

Eight issues of the Times and Seasons are included in “Documents, Volume 10.” Historians believe that one editorial, titled “The Temple,” was written by Joseph Smith. The article, published on May 2, 1842, applauds the progress of temple construction, praises the Saints for their contributions and endorses the value of sacrificing to build Zion. It concludes with these words:

“The blessings of the Most High will rest upon our tabernacles, and our name will be handed down to future ages; our children will rise up and call us blessed; and generations yet unborn will dwell with peculiar delight upon the scenes that we have passed through, the privations that we have endured; the untirtng (untiring) zeal that we have manifested; the insurmountable difficulties that we have overcome in laying the foundation of a work that brought about the glory and blessings which they will realize; a work that God and angels have contemplated with delight, for generations past; that fired the souls of the ancient patriarchs and prophets — a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.”

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple on May 3, 2002.
The Nauvoo Illinois Temple on May 3, 2002.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The statement shows Joseph’s prophetic vision of temple work, Kuehn said.

“They are at the cusp of developing these temple ordinances, and yet Joseph knows that this will affect so many generations down the road,” she said. “It’s a testament to me of his prophetic foresight and knowing the importance of the sealing keys and what it would mean to the Latter-day Saints.”

Content from the Joseph Smith Papers project is online at josephsmithpapers.org. “Documents, Volume 11” is scheduled for release in the fall.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly quoted Elizabeth A. Kuehn as saying Bennett was a spoil for Joseph Smith instead of a foil.