Sunday, November 6, 2016

1842 Bernhisel letters released by JSP

The 1842 documents recently released by the Joseph Smith Papers include 3 new Bernhisel letters. One is from Joseph to Dr. Bernhisel. Two are from Bernhisel to Joseph. In all three cases, the salutation is to Brother, not Dear Sir.

This is awesome.

Better than I expected. I didn't know we'd get more Bernhisel letters, and these three confirm the pattern that I previously identified.

The letters are found here:

I realize this is a relatively obscure point of evidence, but it corroborates a very important point in Church history that refutes the basic assumption long held by Church historians that Joseph Smith wrote a November 16, 1841, letter to Dr. Bernhisel.

I'm going to digress here a moment to explain how this relates to Book of Mormon geography.

In addition, it refutes a longstanding argument made by the advocates of the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography.

Mesoamerican advocates frequently cite a November 16, 1841, letter* purporting to be from Joseph Smith to Dr. Bernhisel, a Church leader in New York. The letter is a thank-you note, recognizing the two John Lloyd Stephens books that Bernhisel gave to Wilford Woodruff to deliver to Joseph Smith. Because the note claims the books support the testimony of the Book of Mormon, Mesoamerican advocates argue the note is evidence that Joseph Smith 1) read the Stephens books and 2) embraced them as evidence for the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

Of course, that assertion is a stretch on its face, but the key point is, there is no evidence that Joseph wrote, dictated, or even saw the letter. No one knows who actually wrote the letter because the handwriting has never been identified.

Those who have read my book The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith have seen my chapter on the November 1841 Bernhisel letter. I take the position that Wilford Woodruff drafted the letter and had the unidentified person write it out in final draft. I reference several categories of evidence.

One category is the salutation. When I wrote the book, I had only 7 letters between Joseph and Dr. Bernhisel. In all but the November 16, 1841, letter, Joseph and Bernhisel address each other as Brother.

The November 16, 1841, letter instead uses the salutation Dear Sir, which is how Woodruff addressed every subsequent letter he wrote to Bernhisel.

IOW, the November 16 letter is an outlier.

The just-released 1842 Bernhisel letters confirm the pattern between Joseph and Bernhisel, as they are addressed "Dear Brother" and "Dr & respected Brother."

I already considered it a high probability that Wilford Woodruff wrote the November 16th letter, but now the probability is even higher.

This is a significant development in understanding Church history that hopefully will be recognized in future papers and books that discuss the Bernhisel letter.

*The relevant portion of the letter reads:

I received your kind present by the hand of Er. [sic] Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes [sic] many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of The Book of Mormon; I have read the volumnes [sic] with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprehensive.—

Saturday, November 5, 2016

1842 Benjamin Winchester letter

Readers of my books know that one of my assertions has been that Benjamin Winchester was mailing articles from Philadelphia to William Smith in Nauvoo, who was editing the Wasp in Nauvoo. I have also proposed that William was editing the Times and Seasons.

Recently the Joseph Smith Papers announced some new material on their website. Among the material was a letter from Benjamin Winchester to the First Presidency, dated August 8, 1842.

Here's the link:

I hadn't seen this before today. This is highly significant because now we know Benjamin mailed at least this letter to Nauvoo exactly in the time frame in which I had proposed he was mailing articles and extracts to Nauvoo. This isn't proof that he wrote the anonymous articles, as I have proposed based on a number of facts itemized in The Lost City of Zarahemla and Brought to Light, but it is a nice confirmation of one of my basic proposals.

I think it's also significant to see the familiarity he has with the First Presidency. He is short and to the point. He is almost demanding that they take the action he wants, supporting his demand with a vote of 500 to 0.

The letter involves George Adams, who is the subject of the August Times and Seasons articles I think Winchester wrote under the pseudonym "Q" as explained in my books. Even in this brief letter, he refers to the "great excitement on the subject of our holy religion," the exact kind of exaggeration ans zeal typical of "Q" and Winchester's other writings.

Of course, I still hope someday we find a cover letter from Winchester to William Smith that accompanies the anonymous articles...


Unfortunately, the Joseph Smith Papers made a mistake (or oversight) in the biographical summary of Benjamin Winchester, here: They say he arrived in Nauvoo by 12 November 1841, but we know he was there at least on October 31, 1841, because of the disciplinary council he faced on that date. I'll send a suggested correction and see if they incorporate it.

Here's Winchester's letter in the original and as transcribed:

 Aug 8th [1842]
To the first presidency of [the churc]h at 
This is to certify that [upon] [conve]ning a vote was called in a congregation of more than five hundred to express their desire that   should [re]turn to this   to preach and there was not, a dissenting voice
For my own part I thought it altogether advisable for him to return immediately for there is now a great excitement on the subject of of our holy religion and a prospect of bringing scores into the kingdom