In the past few days, the Church published the first volume of Saints, a massive volume that addresses the history of the early years of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as led by Joseph Smith Jr.
With slightly less fanfare, the Church has uploaded hundreds of pages of new sermons from the 1800s that had previously only been available to scholars, none of whom were able to read the archaic Pitman shorthand used by George D. Watt. LaJean Carruth is the pioneering scholar who learned how to decode the archaic Pitman. 1 You can find these new transcriptions by logging in at history.lds.org, then searching for “CR 100 912” under Research: Church History Catalog.
As in the game “Mastermind,” it is by accumulating clues we trust that we are able to narrow down the possibilities for when events occurred. This was of particular interest to me this week. The new Church History, Saints, contained a sentence which, if accurate, would completely overturn a major portion of my conjectures regarding how plural marriage evolved in Nauvoo.
We Had Not Been Home Over Six Days…
The sentence that, if correct, would significantly overturn my conjectures, is found in Chapter 37 of Saints on page 443:
“The [summer of 1841], less than a week after the apostles returning from England arrived in Nauvoo, [Joseph Smith] had taught the principle [of plural marriage] to a few of them and instructed them to obey it as a commandment of the Lord.”
The footnote cites the Heber C. Kimball discourse of Sept. 2, 1866. 2 Unfortunately, the link in the book doesn’t point to the proper sermon, nor did the Church History Catalog on 4 September 2018. But since that time the Church History Catalog reference has been corrected. 3 The pertinent text reads:
“I can recollect well when Joseph Smith the prophet received revelation I received a revelation from God through him myself once in the presence of President B Young and Willard Richards and it was thus saith the Lord what was it now I am going to tell it right out as people do not believe that polygamy started with prophet the prophet it was thus saith the Lord for my servant Willard and Brigham and Heber to take more wives for this is pleasing in my God’s sight and now they [say?] we established polygamy and when we came home in 1841 we had not been home over six days before Joseph called us together and laid these things before us the first time we knew of them and then he received a revelation and now I am telling what I know and I you I4 [sic] was experienced it if do not anybody believe it try it one of the greatest that is I never felt more sorrowful”
The obvious conclusion is that Heber is speaking of an event in early July, shortly after he and Brigham returned from England, having traveled from Liverpool to New York aboard the Rochester.
But though Willard Richards traveled aboard the Rochester, he did not arrive in Nauvoo in early July. Willard Richards returned to Nauvoo on 16 August 1841.
When, then, could Heber be speaking of, a time in 1841 when Brigham and Heber and Willard all returned “home” to Nauvoo?
Succoring the Joseph Fielding Company
On 9 November 1841 the Tyrian arrived in New Orleans. Aboard the ship was Joseph Fielding with a company of 204 Saints from England.
The Joseph Fielding Company traveled up the Mississippi, but were forced to debark at Warsaw, Illinois, on 25 November 1841. Overland travel the short distance from Warsaw to Nauvoo was prevented by heavy snows.
Upon hearing of the stranded Saints, Brigham Young and Heber Kimball traveled to Warsaw, where Willard Richards had moved in September 1841. Various accounts 4 describe how the apostles visited the stranded converts.
In Willard Richards’s 1858 obituary 5 it specifies that Willard Richards returned to Nauvoo on 11 December 1841. It seems reasonable that Willard Richards traveled back home to Nauvoo with his fellow apostles, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.
This indicates that the date when Joseph Smith spoke with his three apostles about plural marriage was in mid December, likely 17 December 1841.
According to Martha Brotherton’s affidavit in July 1842, she held a discussion in the Red Brick Store with Brigham, Heber and a third man “near three weeks” after arrival at Nauvoo, presumably the debarkation at Warsaw given the correlation of her description of apostolic visits to homes with the visits of the apostles to the snow-bound converts in Warsaw. Shaving a couple days from the 21 days in a full three weeks, it appears Martha Brotherton’s interview in the Red Brick Store likely occurred around 14 December 1841.
I know not everyone accepts my 14 December dating for the Brotherton incident, and therefore they would not accept my assertion that the Brotherton incident was an instance of proposed spiritual wifery versus Joseph’s plural marriage. But for those who were inclined towards my conjectural timeline, I am pleased to show how the reference used by Saints aligns with that timeline, despite the apparent disagreement between the verbiage in Saints and my proposed timeline.
Hundreds of Pages
Through the excellent work of LaJean Carruth, there are now several hundred pages of new content. It remains to be seen what additional clues we will discover in these pages that will potentially resolve historical questions.
Beyond these new pages that have been published, we have been promised that the totality of the William Clayton journals will be published in the relatively near future.
As for me, I can’t wait.
- Modern Pitman is very different from the original Pitman that was available to George Watt, see the Wikipedia article on Pitman shorthand. ↩
- George D. Watt Papers, Church History Library, as transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth. ↩
- Many thanks to the fine folks at the Church History Library for correcting the link. ↩
- Martha Brotherton’s affidavit also mentions the visits of the apostles to the homes of the English converts. ↩
- “History of Willard Richards,” Deseret News, 30 June 1858, 77, cited in the biography of Willard Richards. ↩