The winter months of 1841-1842 were busy ones for Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints in the young city of Nauvoo, Illinois. Between December and April, Smith opened a new mercantile store for business, was elected vice mayor of the city, took over editorship of the Times and Seasons newspaper, became a Freemason, and helped create the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. He also continued to command the city’s militia, sell land to immigrating Saints, and lead the church.
The rich detail about Joseph Smith and church history captured in Documents, Volume 9 is possible because of a burgeoning of records created during the final years of the prophet’s life. New municipal religious organizations, together with converts and religious organizations, together with converts arriving at the church’s gathering place by the thousands, helped generate a wealth of correspondence, deeds, sermon accounts, meeting minutes, journals, and other documents. Consequently, a more complete view of Smith’s daily activities is available for this span of months than for any earlier period of his life.
As members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles returned from a proselytizing mission in Great Britain, church leadership began to take a more active role in controlling the church’s publication efforts. A revelation instructed the Twelve to assume editorship of the Times and Seasons, the official communication organ of the church. By March 1842 the church purchased the printing establishment and Joseph Smith became the paper’s nominal editor with Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor working as editors and printers. The first issue of the paper edited by Smith included an article titled “Church History” that featured thirteen statements of belief later canonized as the church’s Articles of Faith. In the same issue, Smith began serial publication of another later-canonized text—the Book of Abraham, which he said he translated from ancient Egyptian papayri he had purchased in 1835.
Joseph Smith continued to transmit doctrine through revelation and his sermons, including discourses he presented to the newly organized Relief Society. Some of his instruction to this society helped prepare the Saint for the “endowment” ceremony that he unfolded to a small group of trusted church members in May 1842. Additionally, the quiet introduction of plural marriage led to misunderstanding and lack of awareness among some church members, resulting in abuses related to the practice. Smith issued important correctives and warnings about these abuses in correspondence with and discourses to the Relief Society found herein.
During these months Joseph Smith and his contemporaries faced other challenges as well, including managing personal and church finances. Outstanding business debts from Ohio, more recent land purchases by the church in Illinois and Iowa Territory, and efforts to provide food and homes for vast numbers of impoverished immigrants left Joseph Smith and others in desperate financial circumstances. In April, Smith was compelled to apply for bankruptcy.
Despite these challenges, the overarching narrative of these months is one of progress and growth. The documents in this volume depict the church founder’s myriad responsibilities and his role in building a community and a people. The texts presented her, with their detailed historical annotation, make this volume an invaluable resource for students of the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.