Newest Joseph Smith Papers Volume Released
By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
On the day the Church was organized, April 6, 1830, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith that “there shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1). Early efforts to keep this commandment included histories that the Prophet himself wrote, dictated, or supervised. But he also assigned associates to write Church histories, including John Whitmer, William W. Phelps, John Corrill, and Edward Partridge.
The work of these early historians is featured in a new volume of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, a collection of primary documents that is being assembled over a 20-year period under the direction of the Church History Department and published by the Church Historian’s Press.
Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Historical Writings, 1831–1847 was unveiled September 25 at the Church History Library before a gathering of invited Internet bloggers and other interested persons, both present and attending via Internet teleconferencing.
“I’ve learned to love the folks who work on this Joseph Smith Papers Project and the amazing work they’re doing,” said Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy, Church Historian and Recorder, as he greeted the attendees.
“I like to describe it as, really, the lunar mission of the Church,” he said, alluding to the scientific and technological development stemming from the U.S. space program, “because we are learning so much about early history of the Church from that time, from the life of the Prophet Joseph, which I’m sure will serve us well for decades to come.”
The new book is the second and final volume of the Histories series in the project. Thus far, two volumes have been published in the Revelations and Translations series and two in the Journals series. The plan is to publish two volumes per year, and next year the first two volumes in the Documents series will be published, said Matthew J. Grow of the editorial board.
Pertaining to the newly published book, Karen Lynn Davidson, one of three volume editors, said the two Histories volumes overlap almost entirely in the span of years. “Most of the time, both kinds of history were going on concurrently.” Volume 1, the thicker of the two, contains histories in which Joseph Smith himself participated by writing or supervising. The other contains narrative histories assigned to individuals.
The histories in the newly published book are presented in the order in which they were assigned:
- John Whitmer’s history, undertaken in compliance with divine revelation (see D&C 69:3, 7–8).
- William W. Phelps’s history assigned to him while he was editor of The Evening and Morning Star. He was directed to write about the rise and progress of the Church so as to make the Star more interesting, Sister Davidson explained.
“Phelps was very quick to comply,” she said. “Only three months later, in 1833, his history appeared. It’s by far the shortest. It’s only a single article, as opposed to a multi-chapter history, which the other three are.”
- John Corrill’s history. It was assigned in 1838 when he was asked to become Church Historian to replace the excommunicated John Whitmer. Corrill published the history himself in 1839 because “he seized upon this opportunity to write what was, in part, a very wonderful, balanced history of the Church, and in part, he used it as his own statement, his personal declaration, of his reasons for joining the Church and for leaving the Church,” Sister Davidson said.
With the publication of the new volume, Corrill’s history is now made available to the public in convenient form for the first time, said Sister Davidson, who feels Corrill is the best writer of the four.
- Edward Partridge’s history, undertaken in response to Joseph Smith’s directive written from Liberty Jail that the Saints “gather up a knowledge of their suffering.”