Latest Joseph Smith Papers Release Covers Zion’s Camp, Events of 1834–1835

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 19 May 2016

The latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers was announced to media in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Monday, 9, 2016. The book includes 93 documents pertaining to Zion's Camp and other events in LDS Church history in 1834–36.  Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • Documents—Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835 was introduced May 9.
  • Subjects include Zion’s Camp, construction of the Kirtland Temple, new leadership positions, and the earliest edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Redeeming their lands in Zion after the Latter-day Saints had been driven from Jackson County, Missouri, in late 1833 comprises much of the focus of the 93 documents published in the latest release of the Joseph Smith Papers project.

Documents—Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835 was introduced May 9 at a “bloggers’ event” at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City and is now available for purchase at Deseret Book and other retail outlets.

“On 2 May 1835, Joseph Smith stood before a ‘grand council’ of Church leaders and ‘moved that [they] never give up the struggle for Zion, even until Death or until Zion is redeemed,’” reads the introduction to the new volume. “Those in attendance unanimously supported Smith’s resolution ‘with apparent deep feeling.’”

What followed was the recruitment of the Camp of Israel, later to be known as Zion’s Camp.

Other matters covered in the new volume—construction of the Kirtland Temple, development of new leadership positions in the Church, and compilation of the earliest edition of the Doctrine and Covenants—relate at least indirectly to the redemption of Zion, said Matthew C. Godfrey, one of five volume editors of the newly released book. “We sometimes think that the purpose of Zion’s Camp was to go to Missouri and to take the Saints over to their lands, and that actually isn’t the primary purpose,” Brother Godfrey observed.

Actually, the plan was that Missouri Governor Daniel Dunklin would call up the state militia to escort the Church members back to their lands, after which the members of Zion’s Camp would provide a “protective force” to keep the Church members from being expelled again.

Matthew Godfrey, general editor and managing historian of the Church History Department, reads documents, found in the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, to media in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Monday, 9, 2016. The book includes 93 documents pertaining to Zion's Camp and other events in Church history in 1834–36. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

“But of course, that doesn’t happen,” Brother Godfrey explained. “When the expedition gets to Missouri, Governor Dunklin is not willing at that time to call up the state militia. There are negotiations going on during that time period between representatives from Jackson County and the Saints that are in Clay County, and it appears that Governor Dunklin wanted to see those negotiations play through before he did anything like call up the state militia.”

He never did so, even after negotiations broke down, and by revelation, Zion’s Camp was disbanded in June 1834.

Matt Grow, director of publications of the Church History Department, answers questions from media about the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Monday, 9, 2016. The book includes 93 documents pertaining to Zion's Camp and other events in LDS Church history in 1834–36. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

The revelation “declared that Zion would not be redeemed until the elders of the Church were ‘endowed with power from on high’ and until God’s people had been ‘taught more perfectly, and have experience and know more concerning their duty,’” reads the introduction to the new volume.

“Two things that are kind of related to that we also see happening in this volume,” Brother Godfrey said. “The construction of the Kirtland Temple—the Kirtland ‘house of the Lord’—continues. And of course, starting in 1833 and throughout the period of this volume, Joseph is trying to find various ways to finance construction of the temple. And this, of course, is directly connected with this revelation saying the elders need to be endowed with ‘power from on high,’ because that is what will occur in the Kirtland Temple.

“And the other thing pertaining to the instruction of the Saints comes in September of 1834, when the Kirtland high council meets and appoints a committee to begin compiling Joseph Smith’s revelations.”

The first attempt to do that had come to naught in 1833, when the Book of Commandments could not be finished because mobs destroyed the printing office in Jackson County.

Letter from Joseph Smith to his cousin Almira Scoby and from William W. Phelps to his wife, Sally Phelps, written on the same document to save on postage, is shown in the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers in Salt Lake City, Monday, 9, 2016. The book includes 93 documents pertaining to Zion's Camp and other events in LDS Church history in 1834–36. Photo by Hans Koepsell, Deseret News.

What would be the first, or 1835, edition of the Doctrine and Covenants would include the seven lectures that had been prepared for the School of the Elders that had been held in Kirtland, Ohio; these today are known as the Lectures on Faith. The lectures would comprise the “doctrine” portion of that early edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, and the covenants revealed by the Lord to Joseph would be the “covenants” portion.

Brother Godfrey said another theme that emerges from the documents included in the new book is “Joseph Smith maturing into a leader, trying to deal with significant issues that the Church has at this time.”

More so than in any previous volume in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers, the role of women is highlighted in the new release, he noted.

Brother Godfrey displayed original copies of a pair of noteworthy documents in the book. One is a list of the donations that were made to the Camp of Israel, or Zion’s Camp, both by outside individuals and by members of the camp itself. “It is really the first contemporary record that we have of who was in the Camp of Israel,” he said.

One of the entries is $50 donated by Jane Clark, an example of the role of women being highlighted in the volume, he noted. It is the second-largest amount of money donated to finance the expedition.

Another document Brother Godfrey displayed contains three letters. One is written by William W. Phelps to his wife, Sally, and one by Joseph Smith to his cousin Almira Scoby. The letters, he said, are another example of how women are showcased a bit more in this than in previous volumes.

“So I’m biased, of course, but I love this volume,” Brother Godfrey said. “I think there’s a lot of really important information for the Church, for historians, for scholars of Mormon studies that really brings us a deeper understanding of Joseph Smith and of the Church during this time period.”

The Zion's Camp donation record is reproduced in the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers in Salt Lake City, Monday, 9, 2016. The book includes 93 documents pertaining to Zion's Camp and other events in LDS Church history in 1834–36.

This Judith Mehr rendition depicts struggles endured by members of Zion's Camp, an expeditionary force to help Church members in Jackson County redeem their lands. The latest Joseph Smith Papers release contains documents pertaining to Zion's Camp.

Letter from Joseph Smith to his cousin Almira Scoby and from William W. Phelps to his wife, Sally Phelps, written on the same document to save on postage, is included in the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers in Salt Lake City, Monday, 9, 2016. The book includes 93 documents pertaining to Zion's Camp and other events in LDS Church history in 1834–36.

Artist's rendition depicts struggles endured by members of Zion's Camp, an expeditionary force to help Church members in Jackson County redeem their lands. The latest Joseph Smith Papers release contains documents pertaining to Zion's Camp.

Artist's rendition depicts struggles endured by members of Zion's Camp, an expeditionary force to help Church members in Jackson County redeem their lands. The latest Joseph Smith Papers release contains documents pertaining to Zion's Camp.