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A Treasury of Latter-Day Saint Letters

A Treasury of Latter-Day Saint Letters

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A Treasury of Latter-Day Saint Letters

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275 pages
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Oct 23, 2017


What did David O. McKay say about the theory of evolution, or George Albert Smith about Saints thinking for themselves? Why did Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow and others write a heartfelt letter of appreciation to the governor of the Utah territory? With fifteen new letters, this revised edition of A Treasury of Latter-day Saint Letters answers these and other intriguing questions through the words of early Church figures, from apostles to Joseph Smith's relatives. Historian Larry Morris, formerly with the Ensign and the Joseph Smith Papers, explains the historical context of each epistle and presents the text of the letter itself. Preserving the exact words and spelling of the writer, this inspiring and thought-provoking volume offers a glimpse into the personal lives and candid feelings of a host of prominent Church members--a rare view not often seen from the pulpit or in history books.
Oct 23, 2017

À propos de l'auteur

Larry E. Morris is the author of The Fate of the Corps: What Became of the Lewis and Clark Explorers after the Expedition, a History Book Club selection favorably reviewed by such publications as The Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, and The Missouri Historical Review. Morris is one of six authors whose work on Lewis and Clark is recommended by Encyclopedia Britannica. Choice named Fate an Outstanding Academic Title and said it “ranks among the best books in the crowded world of Lewis and Clark hagiography.” In 2005, the Washington State Library selected thirty-three “essential core books about the expedition.” That list included Fate, which, according to the WorldCat database, has been placed in more libraries than any of the other books except those by Ambrose, Bernard DeVoto, and Ken Burns. Morris is also the author of The Perilous West: Seven Amazing Explorers and the Founding of the Oregon Trail (given a Starred Review by Library Journal) and co-author of Gloomy Terrors and Hidden Fires: John Colter and the Mystery of Yellowstone (called a “definitive biography” by Booklist), both published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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A Treasury of Latter-Day Saint Letters - Larry E. Morris





Joseph Smith to Emma Hale Smith, June 6, 1832

In May 1832, after visiting the Saints in Independence, Missouri, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Newel K. Whitney began their return journey to Kirtland, Ohio, traveling by stagecoach. As they approached New Albany, Indiana, the horses bolted. Joseph leaped from the runaway stage to safety, but Newel caught his foot in the wheel and broke his leg in several places. Sidney proceeded on to Ohio, but Joseph stayed with his injured companion until Newel was able to travel. During the four-week period during which he cared for Newel, Joseph, twenty-six, wrote the following letter to his wife, Emma, twenty-seven, unaware that she was being shuffled from one residence to another.

June 6th, Greenville, Floyd County, Indiana, 1832

Dear Wife,

I would inform you that Brother Martin [Harris] has arrived here and brought the pleasing news that our families were well when he left there, which greatly cheered out hearts and revived our spirits. We thank our Heavenly Father for his goodness unto us and all of you.

Martin arrived on Saturday the same week he left Chagrin [Ohio] having a prosperous time. We are all in good health. Brother Whitney’s leg is gaining, and he thinks he shall be able to perform his journey so as to get home about the 20th. My situation is a very unpleasant one although I will endeavor to be contented, the Lord assisting me.

I have visited a grove which is just back of the town almost every day, where I can be secluded from the eyes of any mortal and there give vent to all the feelings of my heart in meditation and prayer. I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and am left to mourn and shed tears of sorrow for my folly in suffering the adversary of my soul to have so much power over me as he has had in times past. But God is merciful and has forgiven my sins, and I rejoice that he sendeth forth the comforter unto as many as believe and humbleth themselves before him.

I was grieved to hear that Hyrum [Smith] has lost his little child. [Mary Smith, the three-year-old daughter of Hyrum and Jerusha Barden Smith, had died a week earlier, on May 29, 1832, in Kirtland.] I think we can in some degree sympathize with him, but we all must be reconciled to our lots and say the will of the Lord be done. Sister [Elizabeth Ann] Whitney wrote a letter to her husband [Newel] which was very cheering, and being unwell at that time and filled with much anxiety, it would have been very consoling to me to have received a few lines from you, but as you did not take the trouble, I will try to be contented with my lot, knowing that God is my friend. In him I shall find comfort. I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his call. I desire to be with Christ. I count not my life dear to me, only to do his will.

I am not pleased to hear that William McLellin has come back [from his mission] and disobeyed the voice of him who is altogether lovely for a woman [Emeline Miller, whom McLellin had married]. I am astonished at Sister Emeline, yet I cannot believe she is not a worthy sister. I hope she will find him true and kind to her but have no reason to expect it. His conduct merits the disapprobation of every true follower of Christ. But this is a painful subject, I hope you will excuse my warmth of feeling in mentioning this subject and also my inability in conveying my ideas in writing.

I am happy to find that you are still in the faith of Christ and at Father Smith’s. I hope you will comfort Father and Mother in their trials and Hyrum and Jerusha and the rest of the family. Tell Sophronia I remember her and Calvin in my prayers. My respects to the rest. I should like to see little Julia—and once more take her on my knee and converse with you on all the subjects which concerns us, things I cannot, is not prudent for me to write. I omit all the important things which, could I see you, I could make you acquainted with.

Tell Brother [Frederick G.] Williams that I and Brother Whitney will arrange the business of that farm when we come. Give my respects to all the Brethren, Br. Whitney’s family—tell them he is cheerful and patient and a true brother to me. I subscribe myself your husband. The Lord bless you. Peace be with you, so farewell until I return.

Joseph Smith Jr.

(Martin [Harris] will come with us.)¹

Although Newel had been bedridden for an entire month, Joseph soon prophesied that if they left the next day they would promptly find a ferry to take them across the Ohio River and then a wagon to take them to a landing. These events unfolded as Joseph said, and they were soon traveling up the Ohio toward Kirtland.

Joseph and Emma moved into three rooms above the Whitney store, and Emma began taking in boarders, her chief means of income for the next four decades. Early in the fall, Joseph and Newel again departed, this time for New York City.


Emma Hale Smith to Joseph Smith, April 25, 1837

During the mid-1830s, the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, were caught up in the spirit of the times and incurred heavy debts in their efforts to build personal as well as community economic strength.…But the Saints, like other western settlers, had little liquid capital, and their business enterprises were begun on credit.² Late in 1836, Church leaders organized the Kirtland Safety Society Bank and applied for a charter. When the application was denied (the fate of virtually all charter requests in Ohio that year), the Church formed a joint-stock company called the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company and began issuing currency. The Kirtland economy boomed and then quickly collapsed, a common occurrence in the nationwide Panic of 1837.

As the value of the bank notes rapidly decreased, disillusioned investors criticized Joseph and some threatened him physically. Emma, thirty-two, wrote the following letter not long after Joseph, thirty-one, went into hiding.

Dear Husband,

Your letter was welcomed both by friends and foes; we were glad enough to hear that you was well, and our enemies think they have almost found you, by seeing, where the letters were mailed. We are all well as usual except Mother [Lucy Mack Smith] is not quite as well as common. Our family is small and yet I have a great deal of business to see to. Brother [name not legible] has not moved yet, and he does not know when he will; we have taken possession of all the room we could get. I have got all the money that I have had any chance to, and as many goods as I could [not legible]. I have not got much at Chester, no money at all, there is so many a watching that place that there is no prospect of my getting anything of consequence there.

Brother [Vinson] Knight will tell you better about the business than I can write, as there is but a moment for me to improve. I cannot tell you my feelings when I found I could not see you before you left, yet I expect you can realize them; the children feel very anxious about you because they don’t know where you have gone; I verily feel that if I had no more confidence in God than some I could name, I should be in a sad case indeed, but I still believe that if we humble ourselves and are as faithful as we can be, we shall be delivered from every snare that may be laid for our feet, and our lives and property will be saved and we redeemed from all unrenderable encumbrances.

My time is out, I pray that God will keep you in purity and safety till we all meet again.

Emma Smith

Kirtland, April 25th³

The crisis in Kirtland escalated throughout the rest of 1837; within months, the bank notes were worthless. Many Church members spoke out against Joseph, and early in 1838, he and Sidney Rigdon fled Kirtland for Missouri. Emma and the children followed, but any peace in Missouri was short-lived. Late in 1838, Joseph and several others were imprisoned in Liberty Jail. In February 1839, with Joseph still in prison, Emma and the children were forced to leave Missouri. Traveling in a group headed by Stephen Markham, Emma led her family across the frozen Mississippi River. Carrying two-and-a-half-year-old Frederick and eight-month-old Alexander—as well as two heavy bags filled with Joseph’s papers—Emma kept Julia, eight, on one side and little Joseph, six, on the other as the five of them pushed on through the frigid wind toward Illinois, hoping that the ice would not crack. No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart, she wrote, when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving Joseph shut up in that lonesome prison. But the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken.


Phoebe Carter Woodruff to Wilford Woodruff, July 18, 1840

Wilford Woodruff married Phoebe Whitmore in April 1837. One month later, he left on a six-month mission to the Fox Islands. Wilford and Phoebe’s first child, Sarah Emma, was born in July 1838. In the summer of 1839, Wilford departed on a mission to England, and his and Phoebe’s second child, Wilford Jr., was born in March 1840. A few months later, while he was still in England, he received the following letter from Phoebe.

My Dear Wilford, what will be your feelings, when I say that yesterday I was called to witness the departure of our little Sarah Emma from this world. Yes, she is gone. The relentless hand of death has snatched her from my embrace. But Ah! She was too lovely, too kind, and too affectionate to live in this wicked world. When looking on her I have often thought how I should feel to part with her. I thought I could not live without her, especially in the absence of my companion. But she has gone. The Lord hath taken her home to himself for some wise purpose.

It is a trial to me, but the Lord hath stood by me in a wonderful manner. I can see and feel that he has taken her home and will take better care of her than I possibly could, for a little while until I shall go and meet her. Yes Wilford, we have one little angel in heaven, and I think it likely her spirit has visited you before this time.

It is hard living without her. She used to call her poor papa many times in a day. She left a kiss for her papa with me just before she died. She ate her dinner as well as usual Thursday. Was taken about 4 O’clock with a prestness for breath. The elders laid hands upon her and anointed her a number of times, but the next day her spirit took its flight from this to another world without a groan.

Today Wilford and I with quite a number of friends accompanying us came over to Commerce to pay our last respects to our little darling in seeing her decently buried. She had no relative to follow her to the grave or to shed a tear for her but her Ma and little Wilford. I have just been to take a pleasing melancholy walk to Sarah’s grave; she lies alone in peace. I can say that the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away and blessed be the name of the Lord.

Phoebe W. Woodruff

Although Sarah Emma died on July 17, three days after her second birthday, Wilford did not receive the letter until October 26. One year later, in the fall of 1841, he returned to England to find both Phoebe and young Wilford sick. Wilford Sr. set to work harvesting hay, and although he himself soon fell ill, he continued working and preaching and moved the family into a house in Nauvoo in October.

Of Wilford and Phoebe’s nine children, five died in infancy, two of them on the trek west in November and December 1846. Phoebe, frequently separated from Wilford because of his missions, lived to age seventy-eight and died in Salt Lake City in 1885. Wilford became Church president in April 1889 and died in 1898 at age ninety-two. Little Wilford was the last surviving member of the family when he died in 1921 at age eighty-one.


Joseph Smith to Emma Hale Smith, June 27, 1844

On June 12, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith and several others were charged with riot for ordering the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press. Although Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois promised a fair and safe trial, Joseph responded with a letter to Ford saying, We shall leave [Nauvoo] forwith— to lay the facts before the General government. The attempt to travel to Washington was short-lived, however, and Joseph concluded that his choice was to give himself up or the City be massacred by a lawless mob. On Monday, June 24, Joseph and his companions said goodbye to their families and departed for Carthage, arriving around midnight.

On Tuesday, June 25, Joseph wrote to Emma, I think the Gov. has & will succeed in enforcing the laws. Then, although the defendants were released on bail—and expected to return to Nauvoo—a charge of treason was filed against them and they were jailed, supposedly for their own safety. A hearing on the treason charge was scheduled for Wednesday and then rescheduled for Saturday. Joseph and Hyrum, along with Willard Richards, John Taylor, Dan Jones and John Fullmer, were thus still in the Carthage jail when Joseph wrote the following letter on Thursday morning.

Carthage Jail Jun. 27th 1844,

20. Past 8. A.M.

Dear Emma

The Gov [Illinois governor Thomas Ford] continues his courtesies, and permits us to see our friends. We hear this morning that the Governor will not go down with his troops to day to Nauvoo as was anticipated last Evening but, if he does come down with his troops you will be protected, & I want you to tell Bro [Jonathan] Dunham [acting major general of the Nauvoo Legion] to instruct the people to stay at home and attend to their own business and let there be no groups of gathering together unless by permission of the Gov—they are called together to receive communication from the Gov—which would please our peple, but let the Gov. direct—Bro Dunham of course, will obey the orders of the Government officers, and render them the assistance they require. There is no danger of any exterminating order Should there be a mutiny among the troops, (which we do not anticipate, excitement is abating) a part will remain loyal, and stand for the deference of the state & our rights: There is one principle which is Eternal, it is the duty of all men to protect their lives and the lives of their households whenever necessity requires, and no power has a right to forbid it. Should the last extreme arrive—but I anticipate no such extreme—but caution is the parent of safety.—

Joseph Smith

PS Dear Emma,

I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am Justified and have done the best that could be done give my love to the children and all my Friends Mr Brower and all who inquire after me and as for treason I know that I have not commited any and they cannot prove one appearance of any thing of the kind So you need not have any fears that any harme can happen to us on that score may God bless you all Amen

Joseph Smith

P.S. 20 min to 10—I just learn that the Govnor is about to disband his troops, all but a guard to protect us and the peace—and come himself to Nauvoo and deliver a speech to the people. This is right as I suppose.

Mrs Emma Smith


Per Mr Joel S. Miles

This letter proved to be the last communication between Joseph and Emma. That same day, while Governor Ford was absent from Carthage, a mob of 200 men, faces blacked, assaulted the jail late in the afternoon. Both Joseph and Hyrum were shot four times and killed. John Taylor was hit five times, but he lived. Willard Richards, also in the jail, survived with only a bullet grazing his ear.


Diantha Farr Clayton to William Clayton, March 16, 1846

William Clayton was thirty years old and had three wives when he proposed to sixteen-year-old Diantha Farr in 1844. Her parents agreed, and she and William were married in January 1845, although Diantha continued to live with her parents. In February 1846, William was required to go west with the Saints. Only a month away from delivering her first child, Diantha was unable to accompany him. She wrote the following letter less than three weeks later.

My beloved but absent William,

It rejoiced my heart to hear a word from you, but it would have given me more joy to have had a line from you, but I am thankful for a little—you know, that is the way to get more. To tell you I want to see you is useless yet true; you are constantly in my mind by day, and I dream about you almost every night. As to my health, it is about the same as when you left only a little more so. I often wish you had taken your house along for it looks so lonesome. It seems a long time since I saw you, but how much longer it will be before I can have

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