The following is excerpted from the Deseret News. To read the full report, CLICK HERE.
Photo: “The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843” features 98 documents and was released on June 23, 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Near the end of 1843, Latter-day Saint father and son Daniel and Philander Avery were accused of stealing horses, kidnapped by mobs and taken from Illinois into Missouri.
Philander Avery was forced to sign a confession implicating his father and other Latter-day Saints.
The Avery kidnapping set in motion a series of events that had long-lasting repercussions for Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These kidnappings ignited a firestorm in Nauvoo as the church and city tried to protect Joseph Smith and other Saints from further violence,” said Jeffrey Mahas, an associate historian and Joseph Smith Papers volume editor.
Nearly a quarter of the documents found in “The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 13: August-December 1843,” relate to the aftermath of the Avery kidnapping.
“Documents, Vol. 13,” released Thursday, is the newest and 24th volume overall in the Joseph Smith Papers project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
What’s in Joseph Smith Papers Vol. 13?
“Documents, Vol. 13” features 98 documents that reflect Joseph Smith’s multiple roles as an ecclesiastical and civic leader between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, 1843.
More than half of the documents are correspondence with political leaders, church leaders and members, business partners, attorneys, religious seekers and even an excommunicated church member. Readers will also find business and legal documents, meeting minutes, city ordinances and discourses, said Christian Heimburger, a historian and the lead editor for Vol. 13.
Some of the notable documents in Vol. 13 include:
- Letters discussing the formation of and dangers posed by the Anti-Mormon Party, a group of Hancock County residents in Illinois.
- Documents related to the Avery kidnapping include affidavits and city ordinances designed to protect Joseph.
- Letters to and from prospective candidates for the U.S. presidency, such as John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Lewis Cass.
- A Joseph Smith interview conducted by Pittsburgh Gazette editor David Nye White, which, among other things, includes details about Joseph’s First Vision and his views on local politics.
- A memorial to Congress and petition to Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys.
- A letter from a council of Potawatomi Indians.
- Meeting minutes discussing an internal conflict with Sidney Rigdon.
What readers will learn about Joseph Smith
Heimburger believes readers will gain a deeper appreciation of Joseph Smith’s resilience as they read the documents in this volume.
“Despite all of the turmoil that he and the Latter-day Saints encountered during this period— from the violent threats of the Anti-Mormon party to the anxiety generated by the Avery kidnappings — it’s amazing to me that Joseph is still focused on spiritual matters,” he said.
The documents and historical annotation in Vol. 13 will provide readers with a stronger context for the events of the last year of Joseph’s life, said Brent M. Rogers, managing historian for the Joseph Smith Papers project.
“So much of what happens in the period covered by this volume is essential background for understanding the death of Joseph Smith,” Rogers said. “In these documents one can see how the political, legal, social and cultural opposition solidified against Joseph Smith and the church. Readers can also see how that opposition created a very polarized environment for Latter-day Saints and their neighbors. These documents show Joseph Smith’s creative ways to navigate and resist the swelling tide of antagonism. The documents also reveal the pressures, stresses and anxieties he had leading the church amid this growing polarization and opposition.”
‘Extreme’ fallout from the Avery kidnapping
In response to the Avery kidnapping, the city of Nauvoo created a full-time police force — among the earliest in the United States — and passed a law forbidding anyone from arresting Joseph Smith, as well as other laws.
The Nauvoo Legion was twice mobilized and the city council petitioned the U.S. Congress to grant Joseph the authority to call upon federal troops to defend Nauvoo.
“The actions of Joseph Smith and other church leaders seem at times extreme or even paranoid,” Mahas said. “However, it is important to remember that while their reaction was extreme, the fear and threat of violence was real.”
Daniel and Philander Avery were eventually released from prison but the Anti-Mormon Party was only getting started and threats continued.
The prophet charged John C. Elliott, a member of the Anti-Mormon Party and one of the Averys’ kidnappers, with plotting to murder him. Joseph later forgave Elliott and withdrew his legal complaint as a gesture of kindness towards the Anti-Mormon Party. He even offered to host Elliott and his friends for the night, free of charge.
Despite Joseph’s forgiveness and hospitality, Elliott was part of the mob that stormed Carthage Jail six months later and murdered him and his brother Hyrum Smith, Mahas said.
“This example is important because it shows that while Joseph and the Saints may have exceeded their legal authority in defense of Joseph or the city, the threats they faced were very real,” the historian said. “The Anti-Mormon Party had already shown themselves willing to ignore legal process and kidnap Latter-day Saints in the name of justice. Six months later they were willing to kill.”
Daniel Avery’s affidavit describing his kidnapping and a copy of Joseph Smith’s letter to Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford informing him of the kidnappers are among the kidnapping documents featured in Vol. 13.
Joseph’s interview with Pittsburgh Gazette editor
In August 1843, David Nye White, editor of the Pittsburgh Gazette, interviewed Joseph Smith over breakfast in his home.
White’s interest was primarily in the prophet’s political views and he did not portray Joseph in a favorable light in his newspaper article.
What impressed Mahas, however, is how boldly Joseph spoke about his revelatory experiences, including an account of his First Vision. In the interview, Joseph told White that he came across James 1:5 after randomly opening the Bible.
“Even though this account is cloaked with White’s disapproval and dismissal of Joseph’s claims, Joseph’s testimony still shines through to me,” Mahas said. “Because of that, I find this interview to be one of the most powerful accounts of Joseph’s First Vision.”
Dear candidate, will you help the Latter-day Saints?
Between 1833 and 1839, the Latter-day Saints endured persecutions and lost property in Missouri. Joseph Smith and the Saints continued to seek redress in 1843, despite no help from state or federal officials.
That year Smith wrote to five potential nominees for the presidency of the United States asking “What their course would be towards the Saints if they were elected” in 1844? He wrote to a former president, Martin Van Buren, former Vice President John C. Calhoun, two-time presidential hopeful Henry Clay, and former Secretary of War Lewis Cass.
Clay, Calhoun and Cass all responded with curt, noncommittal responses. Their letters are featured in Vol. 13.
“Joseph Smith strongly believed that the federal government had the greater potential and even the responsibility to protect the individual liberties and rights of the nation’s citizens,” Heimburger said.
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