|November 1841 letter to Bernhisel|
A November 1841 letter written from Nauvoo to Dr. John Bernhisel (an LDS leader in New York City) has created a historical narrative that I think contradicts the facts and has led to considerable confusion.
No one knows who wrote the letter; the handwriting remains unidentified. However, it is written in first person and signed in the name of Joseph Smith, which had led historians to assume Joseph dictated the letter.
The letter (essentially a brief thank-you note) thanks Bernhisel for the gift of a two-book set about ruins in Central America. The books were written by John Stephens and illustrated by Frederick Catherwood. Stephens also discusses North American archaeology.
The note states that the Stephens book "unfolds & developes [sic] many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of The Book of Mormon."
An explanation in the Joseph Smith papers (JSP) refers to the Stephens books this way: "JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting."
That claim, like the others, is based on the Bernhisel letter. I don't think Joseph greeted the letter at all, much less enthusiastically.
Because I think JSP and others are making an erroneous inference. I summarized the historical data in a chapter of my next book titled The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos.
- Thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers project, new information has been brought to light that suggests a different reality. In this article, I offer evidence showing that 1) the thank-you note originated with Wilford Woodruff, 2) Joseph never read the Stephens books, and 3) Joseph had nothing to do with the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons.