R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News
Within the pages of the latest Joseph Smith Papers Project volume, one finds the perspective of four men assigned to write early histories of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, two of whom remained faithful and two who turned against it and were excommunicated from the church during the course of their writing.
"Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Historical Writings, 1831-1847" is the seventh release in an anticipated two dozen or so volumes in the project.
Introduced Sept. 25 at the Church History Library in a gathering for Internet bloggers and other interested persons, the new book completes the project's two-volume "Histories" series. It differs from the first, which contains histories written, dictated or supervised by Joseph Smith himself, though both books cover roughly the same time period.
The four men whose histories are covered in the book are John Whitmer, William W. Phelps, John Corrill and Edward Partridge.
"The Book of John Whitmer" was undertaken when Joseph Smith appointed him in 1841 to be church historian.
Karen Lynn Davidson, one of the three volume editors, said Whitmer was a reluctant author at first, and only accepted the assignment when, according to his request, Joseph asked for and received a revelation confirming the appointment. That revelation is recorded today in Section 47 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
In 1838, Whitmer was excommunicated from the church on charges of improper financial dealings but continued writing in his history up to about 1847, three years after the death of Joseph Smith.
The second assignment went to Phelps, editor of the church newspaper The Evening and Morning Star. Phelps was instructed to publish an account in the newspaper about the rise and progress of the church. He completed his assignment within three months, Davidson said, and his history is by far the shortest of the four, comprising only a single article as opposed to a multi-chapter history.
"I love Phelps' history," Davidson said. "It's really very charming. At this point in the early history of the church, 1833, it seems like he's hardly able to conceal his own surprise that things are going so well for this little church."
Corrill was assigned to write a history in 1838 to replace the excommunicated John Whitmer, who refused a request to turn over his history to the LDS Church.
Corrill "seized upon this opportunity to write what is, in part, a very wonderful, balanced history of the church, and in part he used it as his own statement, his personal declaration of his reasons for joining the church and for leaving the church," Davidson said. Corrill published the history himself in 1839.
"Corrill, I feel, is the best writer of the four, and one important thing about this volume is that John Corrill's history is now made available to the public in convenient form for the first time," Davidson said.
The fourth historian whose work is included in the new book, Partridge, took his assignment from Joseph Smith's directive written from Liberty Jail in 1838 that the Latter-day Saints gather up an account of the suffering and oppression that had been inflicted upon them by the Missouri mobs. Partridge was named specifically in that directive, and that got his attention.
He published three installments of his history in The Times and Seasons, the church's newspaper in Nauvoo, Ill., but died before he could complete it. The newspaper editors then filled in the incomplete portion by publishing eight installments excerpted from already-published histories by church leaders Parley P. Pratt and Sidney Rigdon.
"We wish we had all Partridge; that would be ideal," Davidson said. "But this history, the fourth in the book, does offer a sampler of the existing Missouri histories of the time."
Davidson commented on what she called "the elephant in the room."
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