Joseph Smith Papers – Journals Vol 3

The original goods

The original goods

The final volume in the Journals series of the Joseph Smith Papers project came out today. You can read more of the volume here (with better pictures and information than I can provide), but I thought a few highlights might be of worth. This is definitely the juiciest of the Journals volumes, encompassing the period from May 1843 to June 1844. Thus we have church proceedings, minutes, sermon highlights from the last year of the Prophet’s life. Ever wonder what’s in Joseph Smith’s journals about the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor? Wondered what was noted from his famous funeral sermon on April 7? Here you go.

The work of Dean Jessee here cannot be overstated. Remember, Joseph Smith did not actually write these journals, at least nothing in this latest volume. Willard Richards was a diligent scribe, but his cryptic (and sometimes completely indecipherable) writing leads to misunderstanding. This volume gives us a text we can rely on. This period brought amazing turmoil and incredibly high levels of production. The Council of 50. The presidency race. Conspiracies against JSJ’s life. This volume supplements the terse journal writing with annotations from Council of 50 minutes and temple journals, such as the Book of the Law of the Lord. Two new appendices are brought from two new sources for the last days of the Prophet – Willard Richards & William Clayton’s own journals.

Willard Richards is appointed towards the end of 1841 as temple recorder. He also is appointed private secretary and historian to the Prophet. In the Book of law of the Lord, WR is the Recorder (and refers to himself that way). William Clayton takes over as Recorder when Richards is called away, and Richards does not return to role. In Dec and Jan 1842-1843, Richards takes small notebooks along to record happenings. It is a corporate history as much as a personal experience. Sermon accounts, etc., are part of it but it’s an institutional history as much as a personal account.

And yes, this volume will give you Nauvoo fans a lot of what you’re looking for: Temple assemblies, 2nd anointing, Quorum of anointing, etc. are all referenced. But — Willard Richards gives very little detail and did not write for doctrinal development. Instead, expect to see simple notes about a prayer meeting going on one night… and read between the lines. The annotations to the text appear to be invaluable here, giving much needed context for contemporary events. The journals are so brief (and hard to read) that they can be a source of multiple bad interpretations, corrections, etc., but the JSPP Journals volumes have added notes (at times there is more annotation than journal to read) to show how events relate to each other. The Avery kidnappings at the end of 1843, the desperate requests for federal aid, the rise of local police force, etc. all feed into the frenzy of the day and leap from the page.

While this is not the colorful journal of William Clayton, or the pure doctrinal recapping of Wilford Woodruff, these journals are a key to understanding JSJ’s last days. Reading this last volume through may be invaluable. Of particular value is the index, which is cumulative for the Journals series. 173 pages of index, folks. Get writing those monographs.

Overall, this is a watershed moment for the Church Historian’s Press. Earlier this year we saw the publication of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Now we have Journals Vol 3. Next spring we’ll have a volume reviewing the first 50 years of the Relief Society, followed by the 4th volume of the Documents series (including Zions Camp). And we’ll have the 1st volume in the Administrative series, the Council of Fifty minutes. These are exciting volumes that historians even a decade ago could only have dreamed of seeing.

PS – unrelated to the Journals, at the end of October the JSPP dropped online the earliest manuscript copy of D&C 132. Enjoy.


  1. J. Stapley says:

    I really appreciate the write-up Steve. This really is an exciting volume.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, thanks for sharing the nuts and bolts of the new publication for the vast majority of us who were unable to attend the unveiling. Looks fascinating.

  3. Clark Goble says:

    “Willard Richards was a diligent scribe, but his cryptic (and sometimes completely indecipherable) writing leads to misunderstanding.”

    Wow. I feel that way just trying to read my own notes. Thank heavens for laptops.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    BTW – it’s pretty amazing the church is releasing texts related to the temple and especially related to second anointings. It’s usually guarded that. This is openness beyond what many of us ever expected. (Perhaps because they are so vague)

  5. Yes, I think this is really a new day.

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