Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 7 Teaser

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has just released volume 7 of its Documents Series. Recently, Steve Evans and I sat down with three of the editors of the volume and had the chance to ask them about it. Volume 7 covers the Nauvoo foundational era, specifically between September 1839 and January 1841.

Left to right, editor Chris Blythe, lead editor Matthew Godfrey, editor Spencer McBride, associate editorial manager, Riley M. Lorimer

Since these volumes focus on Joseph Smith’s “papers” —the representation of events is naturally focused on Smith. Other personalities who are mentioned in the documents get some time in the extensive explanatory notes and an important Biographical Directory. Maps, geographical and organizational charts, source notes and chronologies are just some of the many materials that assist the reader with context.

Some of the major church events during the period of the volume include the purchase of lands in the Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois region, the mission of the apostles and others to Britain, introduction of baptism for the dead, the planning for a new temple and working out what that means in the way of liturgy, rebuilding church leadership from the collapse of Kirtland and Missouri (D&C 124 is part of the volume). John Cook Bennett was attracted to the Latter-day Saints and eventually joined the church and was a major figure in drafting the city charter and pushing it through the Illinois legislature. The charter was unique among city charters in Illinois, drawing together a number features found in other city charters in the state, it gave important independence and powers to Nauvoo institutions.

Joseph Smith delivered several important sermons during the period, in particular, his sermon in Washington, D.C. in January 1840 and his only pre-written conference address delivered by his clerk, Robert Thompson on October 5, 1840. Both play important roles in Nauvoo cosmology/theology.

Fun materials in the volume include Joseph Smith’s phrenology readings. Here’s one of his charts:
One of the features of early church record keeping is that with few exceptions, women are rarely represented in any extensive way. Riley Lorimer, an associate manager of the project spoke to me about this during our session with the editors. While women may be absent from the documents themselves, the editors have made efforts to bring them into the papers through explanatory notes, document introductions, volume introductions, biographical registers, etc. It’s not a perfect solution but given the base materials, it’s a step in the right direction.

Like all the volumes from the Church Historian’s Press, this one is built with permanence in mind. High quality and attention to detail characterize this volume and the others from the JSPP.

The volume editors have put together some short video introductions to aspects of the volume.

Chris Blythe and Shannon Jorgensen (also an editor with the JSP) on baptism for the dead:

Matt Godrey and Chris Blythe on the apostles’ mission to Britain:

Spencer McBride on Joseph Smith’s journey to Washington, D.C. seeking redress for Missouri’s treatment of the Saints:

Spencer McBride and Matt Godfrey on the building of Nauvoo:

Matt Godfrey on the return of William W. Phelps to Mormonism:


  1. Kristin Brown says:

    WVS, This is excellent. I read the post and watched all the videos. I can see how the church is trying hard to have the lives and sacrifices of the women be included. I appreciated your thoughts on the project. Since you last name is Smith, are you related to Joseph, Hyrum, or a relative?

  2. No relation, Kristin. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Paul Ritchey says:

    Thanks so much for sharing, WVS. Your post inspired me to take a quick look online (I’d not even glanced at any of the volumes yet), where I happened upon an agreement of sale between Isaac Hale and Joseph, regarding some of Hale’s land in Harmony. As a Pennsylvania real estate lawyer, I immediately recognized all of the language and the locations in the agreement (many of which we still use today – the law is a dusty profession), and it was surreal to think about Church history as being so mundanely related to my work (in this one, tiny way). It’s an experience I won’t soon forget. Thank you.

  4. Thanks, Paul. Interesting story.

  5. Why do they have a female historian interviewing the male historian in the video when they are both historians? Ugh.

  6. Christopher James Blythe says:

    Gus, I also don’t like the optics on that! :) Shannon’s actually our editor – she’s smart and knows this material, but wasn’t a researcher/historian on the volume.

  7. Blythe, yes! She obviously knows it, so they should have someone who doesn’t know it so well asking the questions. And maybe they can work on making it look a bit more natural and less staged/stiff/uncomfortable. These church videos are always so, so bad, like I don’t want to share them bad.

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