Emma Smith’s Copy of the 1841 Book of Mormon Found
Contributed By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer
“It’s thrilling that there is a copy of the Book of Mormon out there with such a wonderful background.” —Lynn Bascom
Lynn and Tanya Bascom, an LDS couple from Bountiful, Utah, went on vacation this past June, touring some of the nation’s historical sites in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. At the home of John Quincy Adams, they found an 1841 copy of the Book of Mormon that originally belonged to someone very special in Church history—Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
“We went back east for a wedding in Nantucket,” said Lynn Bascom. “My wife was born in Cape Cod, and we love to visit the New England area.” While they were there, Brother and Sister Bascom decided to visit some historical sites associated with the family of John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts.
The final stop on the Adams historical sites tour is the Old House at Peacefield, the home of John Quincy Adams. “In his will, John Quincy Adams requested that his library of books be preserved in a fireproof structure,” said Brother Bascom. “The library is actually a quaint little cottage that is a separate stone building [housing] more than 14,000 volumes. They put in sky lights so you can see the vast array of books there.”
The National Park Service oversees the tour of the Adams’ historic homes, and a park ranger led the tour that the Bascoms attended. “The guide doing the tour asked us where we were from, and we told him we were from Utah,” said Tanya Bascom. “He asked us if we would be interested in seeing a copy of the early edition of the Book of Mormon and directed us to a table in the library that contained several books. About six feet away from us was an 1841 copy of the Book of Mormon given to Charles Francis Adams by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
“My wife asked if we could touch the Book of Mormon, but we were told ‘no,’” said Brother Bascom. “There was also no photography allowed in the home. It was nice the guide threw it out there that the book existed. There was a large table of books that were out for display, and we could see it just a few feet away. We had taken this tour before and never noticed the Book of Mormon.”
The story might have ended there without the help of Utah historian Ron Fox, a member of the Salt Lake 14th Ward. The Bascoms shared their experience with him when they returned home from their vacation and then he went to work trying to find out more. Working with the National Park Service, he obtained photos of the Book of Mormon. The results were astonishing.
The photos showed the spine of the book, indicating that it had been Emma Smith’s personal copy. “A few of the copies of the 1841 Book of Mormon, the first to be published in England, were engraved with the names of early Church leaders,” said Brother Fox. “Joseph, Emma, and Hyrum all had their own copies, as well as the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and their wives. No one knew where Emma's copy was until now. Now I wonder where Joseph Smith’s copy is. Somebody might have an 1841 copy of the Book of Mormon with the name Joseph Smith engraved on it and not realize it was his personal copy.”
The photos also revealed that Joseph Smith had personally signed the book and Adams had documented the receipt on the same page underneath Joseph Smith’s name. Adams wrote in the Book of Mormon he received, “The above is the autograph of the chief of the Mormons who gave me this book at Nauvoo on the 15th of May 1844.” It was signed C. F. Adams.
“Joseph Smith did not sign more than a handful of copies of the Book of Mormon,” said Brother Fox. “This signature and the fact that it was Emma’s copy means the book would be worth a great deal if it were on the public market, probably in excess of a million dollars or more.”
The signature of the Prophet Joseph Smith can be seen in the Book of Mormon given to Charles Francis Adams. Very few copies of the Book of Mormon were ever signed by Joseph Smith. Photo courtesy Adams National Historical Park.
To understand the significance of this discovery, it is important to substantiate the historical accuracy with the journal accounts of the two men who visited Nauvoo in May of 1844. Charles Francis Adams Sr. was the son of President John Quincy Adams and grandson of President John Adams. He was serving in the Massachusetts State Senate at the time of his visit and would later become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. His traveling companion was Josiah Quincy Jr. He was serving as a member of the Boston City Council at the time of his visit and was elected the mayor of Boston the following year in 1845. They decided to make a stop in Nauvoo. Both of them recorded separate experiences in their journals.
From the journal of Charles Francis Adams, May 14, 1844: “As we went on it became very necessary that we should settle upon our course. Quincy [Josiah Quincy Jr., Adams's traveling companion] wished to stop at Nauvoo, the city of the Mormons and see something of Joe Smith, the prophet.”
Traveling on the Steamer boat Amaranth, the two stopped in Nauvoo. “At the door of a two-story wooden house with a sign post before it, we stopped and were introduced to the celebrated Joe Smith,” writes Adams. “A middle-aged man with a shrewd but rather ordinary expression of countenance, unshaved and in clothes neither very choice nor neat. The whole air of the man was that of frank but not coarse vulgarity. He received us civilly and forthwith introduced us into his house.” (In the early 19th century, “vulgar” meant “common, but not necessarily disgusting” [A Guide to Eighteenth-Century English Vocabulary, Jack Lynch, April 14, 2006, 21].)
While they were in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith entertained, housed, and fed them. They visited the construction site of the Nauvoo Temple, discussed religion and politics, and Adams and Quincy both saw the Egyptian mummies and manuscript Joseph had procured. Adams writes, “He then took us down into his mother's chamber and showed us four Egyptian mummies stripped and then undertook to explain the contents of a chart or manuscript which he said had been taken from the bosom of one of them.”
“I think it important to note that Joseph was happy to meet with these men,” said Brother Fox. “They were important in their time, a son of the president of Harvard and son and grandson of the president [of the United States], and at the time President John Quincy Adams was still alive. These were both elected officials and I believe Joseph was looking to build the credibility of the Church in the East and to get help for the Church from the attacks of its enemies.”
The possibility that two copies of the Book of Mormon were given out, one to each visitor, is hinted at in the book Figures of the Past From the Leaves of Old Journals by Josiah Quincy Jr. He writes, “I have before me some relics of my visit to Nauvoo. Here is the Book of Mormon, bearing the autograph which its alleged discoverer and translator wrote, at my request.”
Quincy also shared his impressions about his visit with the Prophet Joseph Smith. “He had already traversed the roughest part of the way to that coveted position,” he wrote. “Born in the lowest ranks of poverty, without book-learning and with the homeliest of all human names, he had made himself at the age of thirty-nine a power upon earth. Of the multitudinous family of Smith, from Adam down (Adam of the “Wealth of Nations,” I mean), none had so won human hearts and shaped human lives as this Joseph. His influence, whether for good or for evil, is potent today, and the end is not yet.”
“It’s thrilling that there is a copy of the Book of Mormon out there with such a wonderful background,” said Brother Bascom. “It’s fascinating to think that it is part of the Quincy Library and interesting how it fits his diary. Establishing these historical moments with historical artifacts dispels a lot of the misconceptions out there that Joseph Smith was not real or Mormonism is fiction.”
Sister Bascom said, “From the whole experience I was left with this thought: John Adams and his family were part of bringing new freedoms to the people of the United States. Through freedom of religion, the Book of Mormon and the gospel of Jesus Christ were allowed to flourish. This is a token of what Adams fought for and therefore he passed the blessing of the Restoration of the gospel on to us. Not a lot of people know how much they have been blessed by his efforts. This is one of the hidden gems about this historical tour.”