Near the end of 1843, Latter-day Saint father and son Daniel and Philander Avery were accused of stealing horses, kidnapped by mobs and taken from Illinois into Missouri.

Philander Avery was forced to sign a confession implicating his father and other Latter-day Saints.

The Avery kidnapping set in motion a series of events that had long-lasting repercussions for Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“These kidnappings ignited a firestorm in Nauvoo as the church and city tried to protect Joseph Smith and other Saints from further violence,” said Jeffrey Mahas, an associate historian and Joseph Smith Papers volume editor.

Nearly a quarter of the documents found in “The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843,” relate to the aftermath of the Avery kidnapping.

“Documents, Vol. 13,” released Thursday, is the newest and 24th volume overall in the Joseph Smith Papers project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

What’s in Joseph Smith Papers Vol. 13?

“Documents, Vol. 13” features 98 documents that reflect Joseph Smith’s multiple roles as an ecclesiastical and civic leader between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, 1843.

More than half of the documents are correspondence with political leaders, church leaders and members, business partners, attorneys, religious seekers and even an excommunicated church member. Readers will also find business and legal documents, meeting minutes, city ordinances and discourses, said Christian Heimburger, a historian and the lead editor for Vol. 13.

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Some of the notable documents in Vol. 13 include:

  • Letters discussing the formation of and dangers posed by the Anti-Mormon Party, a group of Hancock County residents in Illinois.
  • Documents related to the Avery kidnapping include affidavits and city ordinances designed to protect Joseph.
  • Letters to and from prospective candidates for the U.S. presidency, such as John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Lewis Cass.
  • A Joseph Smith interview conducted by Pittsburgh Gazette editor David Nye White, which, among other things, includes details about Joseph’s First Vision and his views on local politics.
  • A memorial to Congress and petition to Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys.
  • A letter from a council of Potawatomi Indians.
  • Meeting minutes discussing an internal conflict with Sidney Rigdon.
An Anti-Mormon meeting is on the front page of the Warsaw Signal.
An anti-Mormon meeting is advertised on the front page of the Warsaw Signal. The Anti-Mormon Party, a group of Hancock County residents in Illinois, was formed in 1843. | Joseph Smith Papers

What readers will learn about Joseph Smith

Heimburger believes readers will gain a deeper appreciation of Joseph Smith’s resilience as they read the documents in this volume.

“The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843” features 98 documents and was released on June 23, 2022.
“The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843” features 98 documents and was released on June 23, 2022. | Joseph Smith Papers

“Despite all of the turmoil that he and the Latter-day Saints encountered during this period— from the violent threats of the Anti-Mormon party to the anxiety generated by the Avery kidnappings — it’s amazing to me that Joseph is still focused on spiritual matters,” he said.

The documents and historical annotation in Vol. 13 will provide readers with a stronger context for the events of the last year of Joseph’s life, said Brent M. Rogers, managing historian for the Joseph Smith Papers project.

“So much of what happens in the period covered by this volume is essential background for understanding the death of Joseph Smith,” Rogers said. “In these documents one can see how the political, legal, social and cultural opposition solidified against Joseph Smith and the church. Readers can also see how that opposition created a very polarized environment for Latter-day Saints and their neighbors. These documents show Joseph Smith’s creative ways to navigate and resist the swelling tide of antagonism. The documents also reveal the pressures, stresses and anxieties he had leading the church amid this growing polarization and opposition.”

‘Extreme’ fallout from the Avery kidnapping

In response to the Avery kidnapping, the city of Nauvoo created a full-time police force — among the earliest in the United States — and passed a law forbidding anyone from arresting Joseph Smith, as well as other laws.

Daniel Avery’s affidavit describes his kidnapping in 1843 and is included in the Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13.
Daniel Avery’s affidavit describes his kidnapping in 1843 and is included in the “Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13.” | Joseph Smith Papers

The Nauvoo Legion was twice mobilized and the city council petitioned the U.S. Congress to grant Joseph the authority to call upon federal troops to defend Nauvoo.

“The actions of Joseph Smith and other church leaders seem at times extreme or even paranoid,” Mahas said. “However, it is important to remember that while their reaction was extreme, the fear and threat of violence was real.”

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Daniel and Philander Avery were eventually released from prison but the Anti-Mormon Party was only getting started and threats continued.

The prophet charged John C. Elliott, a member of the Anti-Mormon Party and one of the Averys’ kidnappers, with plotting to murder him. Joseph later forgave Elliott and withdrew his legal complaint as a gesture of kindness towards the Anti-Mormon Party. He even offered to host Elliott and his friends for the night, free of charge.

Despite Joseph’s forgiveness and hospitality, Elliott was part of the mob that stormed Carthage Jail six months later and murdered him and his brother Hyrum Smith, Mahas said.

“This example is important because it shows that while Joseph and the Saints may have exceeded their legal authority in defense of Joseph or the city, the threats they faced were very real,” the historian said. “The Anti-Mormon Party had already shown themselves willing to ignore legal process and kidnap Latter-day Saints in the name of justice. Six months later they were willing to kill.”

Daniel Avery’s affidavit describing his kidnapping and a copy of Joseph Smith’s letter to Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford informing him of the kidnappers are among the kidnapping documents featured in Vol. 13.

Joseph’s interview with Pittsburgh Gazette editor

In August 1843, David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Gazette, interviewed Joseph Smith over breakfast in his home.

An 1844 illustration of the Nauvoo Mansion where Joseph Smith was interviewed by David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Gazette.
An 1844 illustration of the Nauvoo Mansion where Joseph Smith was interviewed by David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Gazette. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

White’s interest was primarily in the prophet’s political views and he did not portray Joseph in a favorable light in his newspaper article.

What impressed Mahas, however, is how boldly Joseph spoke about his revelatory experiences, including an account of his First Vision. In the interview, Joseph told White that he came across James 1:5 after randomly opening the Bible.

“Even though this account is cloaked with White’s disapproval and dismissal of Joseph’s claims, Joseph’s testimony still shines through to me,” Mahas said. “Because of that, I find this interview to be one of the most powerful accounts of Joseph’s First Vision.”

Dear candidate, will you help the Latter-day Saints?

Between 1833 and 1839, the Latter-day Saints endured persecutions and lost property in Missouri. Joseph Smith and the Saints continued to seek redress in 1843, despite no help from state or federal officials.

That year Smith wrote to five potential nominees for the presidency of the United States asking “What their course would be towards the Saints if they were elected” in 1844? He wrote to a former president, Martin Van Buren, former Vice President John C. Calhoun, two-time presidential hopeful Henry Clay, and former Secretary of War Lewis Cass.

Former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun was one of several presidential candidates that Joseph Smith wrote to seeking redress.
Former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun was one of several presidential candidates that Joseph Smith wrote to seeking redress for the Latter-day Saints. | Mark Gulezian, National Portrait Gallery

Clay, Calhoun and Cass all responded with curt, noncommittal responses. Their letters are featured in Vol. 13.

“Joseph Smith strongly believed that the federal government had the greater potential and even the responsibility to protect the individual liberties and rights of the nation’s citizens,” Heimburger said.

Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys

Along with seeking redress by writing to presidential candidates, Joseph Smith decided to expand his strategy and instructed Nauvoo citizens to write to their home states for support.

Joseph sent a letter to Vermont, the state where he was born, and addressed it to the Green Mountain Boys, a nickname for Vermont’s citizens, said J. Chase Kirkham, a historian and Joseph Smith Papers volume editor.

Joseph Smith’s appeal to the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont is featured in the Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13.
Joseph Smith’s appeal to the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont is featured in the Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The letter highlights Joseph’s patriotism, describes the Missouri persecutions and urges the citizens of Vermont to assist the Latter-day Saints,” Kirkham said. “It is unclear what Joseph wanted the Green Mountain Boys to do, but he indicated that ‘honorable methods and means’ should be used to obtain justice.”

Joseph Smith on slavery

One line in the minutes of a Nauvoo City Council meeting provides insight into Joseph’s feelings on slavery.

“Mayor (Joseph Smith) suggested the propriety of making all coloured people free,” the line reads in the meeting minutes for Dec. 21, 1843.

“Just over a month after Joseph articulated this position to the city council, he decided to run for president of the United States,” Rogers said. “Among the points of his presidential platform, Joseph advocated for the emancipation of enslaved peoples, two decades prior to that becoming a reality.”

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Nauvoo dinner party

Joseph and Emma Smith hosted a dinner party to celebrate the opening of the Nauvoo Mansion as a home and hotel on Oct. 3, 1843.

At one point, Joseph addressed the gathering and delivered “very touching” and tender remarks on what he and the Saints had endured and expressed the love he had for the citizens of Nauvoo. The prophet acknowledged his gratitude to God and said his “case was similar” to that of Job in the Old Testament. Joseph reminded the party that after Job “had suffered and drank the very dregs of affliction the Lord had remembered him in mercy.”

“Even with the many challenges he faced and the mounting pressure from external and internal foes, Joseph still had faith that the Lord, like he had with Job, ‘was about to bless him abundan(t)ly,’” Rogers said.

Mary Little’s pay order

One of the Latter-day Saint women to emerge from “the margins” of Vol. 13 is Mary Little, whose name is found on “pay order” requesting the city treasurer compensate her for services she provided in 1843.

“Pay orders are a dime a dozen in Joseph Smith’s Papers, but what made this one unique was that it was written on behalf of Joseph by Emma Smith, who signed her name as well as her husband’s name,” Heimburger said. “This was unusual.”

The pay order for Mary Little, dated Oct. 15, 1843, signed by Joseph and Emma Smith.
The pay order for Mary Little, dated Oct. 15, 1843, signed by Joseph and Emma Smith. | Joseph Smith Papers

Heimburger believes it’s possible that Emma was acting as Joseph’s scribe or perhaps penned the pay order in connection with her role as president of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

“We know very little about Mary Little except what was stated in the pay order — that she ministered to some of the city’s citizens during a smallpox outbreak,” he said. “This document reminded me of the vital, but often unnoticed, role that women played in Nauvoo.”

Why did a Potawatomi Indian seek Joseph’s help?

One of the most unlikely figures found in Vol. 13 is a Potawatomi Indian named Paicouchaiby. He and his people lived near what became Chicago, Illinois, until the 1830s, when they were forced by the United States government to leave their homes and move various times around the country.

In 1843, Paicouchaiby and others came to Nauvoo to meet Joseph Smith. Paicouchaiby later wrote to the prophet requesting help with their land problems. Joseph sympathized with their plight, Mahas said, and pledged his support although U.S. law placed strict limits on contact between whites and American Indians. They stayed in contact for years and the Potawatomi Indians later helped the Latter-day Saints after they were driven from Nauvoo.

The whole episode fascinates Mahas because there are so many unknowns.

“How did Paicouchaiby learn about Joseph Smith? Why did he choose to bring his case to Joseph? What was he hoping the Saints could do?,” Mahas said. “We know he kept and treasured a letter from Joseph for several years, yet there is no evidence that Paicouchaiby or any more than a handful of Potawatomi joined the church in the 1840s. What did their interactions with the Saints mean to them? I have so many questions and I find myself fascinated with their experiences.”

Learn more about the Joseph Smith Papers project at josephsmithpapers.org.

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