Reviews – An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton
Illinois Historical Journal, Stanley B. Kimball
This is a must read for all students of early Mormonism, nineteenth-century Illinois, or American religious history. This fifth volume in a limited edition series of early Mormon journals and autobiographies is composed of six journals and three appendices. Although most of the journals are in print elsewhere, here they are conveniently collected and abridged into a single volume covering the years from 1840 to 1853, from William Clayton’s conversion to Mormonism in England, through the Great Trek west, to his return to England to try to explain polygamy. Since Clayton was a confidant of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, he records as an insider. He was unsophisticated, faithful, and an excellent observer. He was also candid, wrote much that is not recorded elsewhere, told some tales out of school, and was an enthusiastic polygamist–ten wives, forty-seven children.
Readers of the Illinois Historical Journal will find his intimate account of the secular and religious life during the Illinois period of Mormonism (from 1842, when Clayton arrived in Nauvoo, to 1846 when he left) compelling reading. He includes polygamy (especially his unique account of its practice before the revelation of 1834 and his own ardor to live it), temple work and other “secret” affairs, the Word of Wisdom, money family troubles, and his warts-and-all-portraits of some Mormon leaders. Furthermore, his journal of the 1846-1847 Mormon Exodus is simply unparalleled, a classic in the field of westering.
Of lesser interest will be the journals on “England and Emigration, 1840-42,” “Visit to Utah Settlements, 1852,” and “Polygamy Mission to England, 1852-53,” and the appendixes. The book is enriched with a preface, introduction, a chronology, lists of wives and children, twenty-six photographs, five maps, notes, and an index. As previously noted, these journals have been abridged. Keeping in mind the old adage that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, some readers may wish to consult the unedited versions, even though Signature Books has an excellent record in careful and thoughtful editing. Readers interested in the trek west are especially advised to read the original. Editor George D. Smith and the publisher are to be commended for their work. Enjoy!
Church History, Klaus J. Hansen
The publication of an inexpensive paperback edition of the journals of William Clayton in the same year that saw the appearance in print of the much-publicized journals of William E. McLellin may well be accidental, but such a coincidence is not without significance for Mormon history and historiography. As I have indicated in an earlier review of the McLellin diaries in these pages (December 1995, p. 693), the editors were staking out a position on highly contested ground in an attempt to Protestantize early Mormonism into a biblical religion more similar to than different from its evangelical contemporaries, with the ultimate goal of shaping modern Mormonism into a mainline Protestant religion. The Clayton diaries may well be a major obstacle to this Orwellianization of the Mormon past, presenting as they do a clear and striking alternative picture of a Mormon religion deeply at odds with its evangelical adversaries.
Born in Lancashire in 1814, William Clayton was baptized into the Mormon faith in 1837, migrated to the United States in 1840, and settled in Mormon Nauvoo, where his talents as a scribe and record-keeper brought him to the attention of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and gained him entry into the very highest levels of the Mormon leadership. In 1842 he was appointed “private clerk” to Smith, temple recorder, and later that year city treasurer of Nauvoo, as well as recorder and clerk of the Nauvoo city council.
It was in these years that Joseph Smith launched the most radical and controversial theological, social, and political innovations of his career, most notably temple ritual, plural marriage, and a Mormon theocratic state—events which Clayton was participant, and which he recorded in meticulous detail in his journal. Clayton was initiated into the secrets of plural marriage by Brigham Young in March 1843, performed the plural marriage of Almera Johnson to Joseph Smith on 2 April and took his own first plural wife (a sister of his first wife) on 27 April (altogether he married ten wives and fathered forty-seven children). It was Clayton who on 12 July recorded Joseph Smith’s revelation authorizing plural marriage. In 1844 he was initiated into the secret Council of Fifty—a theocratic political organization called the Kingdom of God—and appointed as its clerk, thus becoming a major historical source for an organization that eluded scholarly investigation for nearly a century.
The controversies surrounding these events led to the assassination of Joseph and his brother Hyrum by a mob on 27 June 1844. In the ensuing succession controversy, Clayton cast his lot with Brigham Young, who led a body of supporters to the Rocky Mountains in 1846 and 1847, with Clayton recording the epic event in his journal. When Clayton died in 1879 (two years after Brigham Young), plural marriage and the theocratic kingdom were under siege by the federal government and Protestant denominations, and ceased officially and de facto by the early twentieth century. Had Clayton lived to see this happen he would no doubt have been deeply shocked, as indeed was true of most Mormons who lived through those tumultuous days. Acceptance of such traumatic changes cannot be easy, and it may be all too tempting to facilitate accommodation through a revision of the historical record. Clayton’s journals remind Mormons of some uncomfortable truths they would rather forget, while McLellin’s journals provide access to an earlier, less complicated and less controversial Mormonism more amenable to the creation of a “usable past.” Historians are thus indebted to George Smith, whose superb and professional edition of the Clayton journals will help preserve the past “as it actually happened.”
Journal of Mormon History, Kenneth W. Godfrey
In editing and publishing the diaries of William Clayton, George D. Smith has produced a work of true significance. Historians of Mormonism can ill afford to ignore this volume. Clayton’s diaries contain information about the beginnings of plural marriage, the relationship of Joseph and Emma Smith, the initial meetings of the Council of Fifty, and the historical development of the temple endowment, as well as many entries regarding Latter-day Saint theology. Clayton, a meticulous, accurate record keeper, was often in the right place at the right time. His journals, together with Wilford Woodruff’s, the writing of Joseph Smith, and a few others, represent the foundation stones upon which the house of Mormon history rests. This book is required reading for serious students of the restoration.
An introductory essay, a chronology, a listing of William Clayton’s families, photographs, and map sections of the book are well done and greatly add to its appeal. They contribute to more fully understanding the man and his journals. Six of Clayton’s journals and three appendices either written by or attributed to Clayton comprise the reminder of this almost six-hundred page volume.
Even though this book represents a major contribution to Mormon history, I would have preferred that Smith handle some things differently. His sixty-page introduction describes the setting, the historical context, and the significance of Clayton’s journals. Although it is both well written and well documented, Smith tries to tease the reader with intriguing statements that, regrettably, lead to some distortions.
For example, in the very complex issue of Joseph Smith and plural marriage, careful descriptions, clear explanations, and impeccable documentation should be the rule. The second sentence in the paragraph introducing plural marriage reads baldly: “Although he eventually married more than forty women, Joseph Smith never publicly acknowledged that he had practiced polygamy. . . .Even while the prophet issued denials Clayton recorded his secret marriages” (p. xxv). This tone struck me as deliberately provocative, even sensationalizing. A similar statement was an undiscussed partial quotation from Clayton that Joseph had “warn[ed] Clayton that Emma wanted to ‘lay a snare’ for him and ‘indulge’ herself with him. Clayton worried that he might be cut off from celestial glory if he accepted any advances from Emma” (p. xxvii, 108). Surely these imputations of possible adultery deserve more detailed discussion and a more thorough context? Why was plural marriage secret in Nauvoo? Why did Clayton record this warning against possible advances from Emma? What does the incident reveal about relations between Joseph and Emma? Why would Joseph issue this warning to Clayton? Both flattering and frightening to Clayton, was it an attempt to isolate the beleaguered Emma in her battle against her husbands plural marriages?
As a second example, George Smith too boldly, too confidently, and too broadly, paints the activities, purposes, and goals of the controversial Council of Fifty. He claims, “A shadow government for the city of Nauvoo, the Council of Fifty planned strategy and finances, provided bodyguards for church leaders, dealt with enemies, secured obedience to church directives, and planned for the growth of the kingdom” (p. xxxiii). Was the Council of Fifty really this powerful? Michael Quinn views the kingdom of God more moderately.1 Some historians do not believe that the existence of this council was a secret to the Nauvoo Saints, as Smith asserts. There is little evidence that it was a shadow government in Nauvoo; and although Joseph’s ordination as “King in the Kingdom of God” is clearly documented, the ceremony may have been related to the temple but not to the Council of Fifty. Nor is there unanimity that this council took responsibility for the political and economic development of both Nauvoo and Salt Lake City.
Having registered my protest at the introduction’s tilt toward the sensational, I acknowledge that it is well crafted and constitutes an appealing introduction to Clayton’s diaries.
Clayton’s record begins 1 January 1840, when he was twenty-five years old, serving as second counselor in the British Mission presidency. In 1974, historians James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander published Clayton’s British diaries in Manchester Mormons: The Journals of William Clayton 1840-1842 (Santa Barbara; Peregrine Smith, Inc., 1974). While Allen and Alexander expanded abbreviations and provided proper names, Smith preserves original abbreviations, uses brackets when providing missing information (such as names or parts of names), and puts his notes at the bottom of the page—a system that is easier for the reader than the Allen/Alexander notes, which follow the daily entry, wherever that happens to fall on the page.
Smith’s explanation of nineteenth-century British currency is valuable to readers not familiar with the British monetary system. His geographical footnotes, too, are insightful and clearly explicated. Although adequate, some of Smith’s footnotes could have been even more detailed. The standard for Mormon diary editors for me is Juanita Brooks’s exhaustive footnoting in the Hosea Stout diaries, which includes background, additional documentation on the diarist’s life, and full explanations of associates, activities, mission, geography, and cultural milieu. I must admit, however, that few editors could satisfy me completely.
The Nauvoo diaries of William Clayton, housed in the LDS Historical Department Archives, are not available to scholars. Thus, Smith was forced into the unenviable position of publishing an “Abridgement of the William Clayton Journals” based “upon scrutiny—either my own or that of others [unnamed]—of the holographs of five of the journals. The text of the sixth, the ‘Nauvoo, Illinois’ Journal, has been compiled from published and unpublished transcripts of the holograph, and checked against the History of the Church and other contemporary sources for thematic and chronological consistency” ( p. iv). Compelled to publish an abridgement and being unable to verify the printed manuscript against all the holographs would cause many, if not most historians, including me, not to publish this uncheckable text and thus to fault Smith’s decision in doing so. Only through close scrutiny of the originals can a documentary editor produce a manuscript with some confidence that it is error free. Dean C. Jesse, an editor of legendary meticulousness, told me that he reads his typescript at least five times against the original manuscript before it is published.
The “Nauvoo Temple Journal” of Clayton presents still another challenge. Just how much of the material in Clayton’s handwriting involved Heber C. Kimball in some way? Smith clearly informs us that the change in handwriting from “Kimball to Clayton occurs on 10 December 1845” (P. 199, note 1). He also tells us that “My wife” in the text is Vilate Kimball, not one of Clayton’s. Still, one wonders if Clayton also wrote as if he were Kimball at other times. More than a quarter of a century ago, I read two small diaries that Assistant Church Historian A. William Lund informed me were Heber C. Kimball’s. Some of my notes, taken while reading these diaries, resemble material in Clayton’s handwriting. Smith, to his credit, clearly identifies the mixed roles but still leaves some doubt as to just how much and exactly where in the journal such intermingling occurs.
A far more significant issue involves propriety. In the discussion of the temple endowment, comments George Smith, “Joseph Smith characteristically regarded the most sacred aspects of his new religion as secret” (p. xxxviii). George A. Smith, Joseph’s cousin and an apostle, admonished Clayton, “Whatever transpires here ought not to be mentioned anywhere else,” and Heber C. Kimball quotes Joseph Smith as saying that “for men and women to hold their tongues was their salvation” (p. xxxviii). Should material that describes and quotes from the endowment ceremony, considered both sacred and secret by Latter-day Saints from then to now, be published? While I do not believe that Mormons need to be “protected from materials located in the Church’s archives,” I do hold the view that documents quoting the temple ceremony are the best left there.
I also disagree with Smith’s editorial policy of deleting redundant material, “abridging within an entry,” and “silently” removing some entries, relying on the reader to notice “the gaps between the dates” (p. 1xi). Such practices run contrary to my historical training. Noted editor Juanita Brooks once described her work of publishing pioneer diaries “jest a copyin’—word fir word.”2 This is the policy I subscribe to. While publishing diaries and journals in toto increases their length and risks boring readers, it can be argued that no life is unimportant and that no record left behind is completely devoid of meaning. “Boring” passages are important for establishing context for the “exciting” ones, if nothing else; furthermore, each time the historian removes something from the record as unimportant, he or she has made a subjective judgement which may well deprive future readers of important material. Surely Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s discussion of earlier editing of Martha Ballard’s diary should be convincing on this point.3 Again, my professional opinion also represents my personal preference: I would prefer trying to digest the whole meal, not just the dessert. Smith’s scholarship certainly cannot be faulted in handling such passages; he is consistent in bracketing additions and indicating omitted words with ellipses.
The Clayton journal I found most valuable was the “Polygamy Mission to England.” We learn that while making their way east by wagon, the missionaries presided over by Orson Pratt spent not a few October evenings discussing the resurrection, the “baby resurrection,” how Adam came to be, the creation, progression from degree to degree of glory after death, when God continues to progress in knowledge, and Pratt’s arguments that “The God we worship is the same God that is worshipped by millions of other worlds” (p. 445). On another night, Pratt contended that it is not the person of God we worship but the attributes or properties, and that a substance called the Holy Spirit fills the immensity of space. In perhaps his most appealing moment we find the apostle pleading for tolerance and an outpouring of love for those with whom we might have theological disagreements (p. 431). This traveling theological feast seems striking and important, in itself, in my opinion, justifying the existence of this book.
Because of Smith’s editorial hand, this collection of William Clayton’s diaries is easy to read and historically important. In spite of its weaknesses, historians cannot afford to neglect this volume. Moreover, its historical importance is not likely to wane.
Beehive Sentinel, Dennis Lythgoe
The year was 1840. Twenty-five year old William Clayton, who had been a Mormon for only two years wrote to his friend Willard Richards about his total commitment to his new church. “I desire and strive, brethren to keep my account right with the Lord every day that I may meet him with joy.”
But like other Mormon pioneers, his effort to remain dedicated to his faith in the midst of illness, financial problems and other adversities was a constant struggle. The hymn he wrote on the pioneer trek to Utah, “All is Well” later re-named “Come, Come Ye Saints,” illustrated his resolve. “Gird up your loins, Fresh courage take, Our God will never forsake us.”
Clayton, a scribe and confidant of Joseph Smith, made a distinctive contribution to Utah’s history. BYU historian James B. Allen analyzed it in his excellent study, The Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon.
Allen based much of his insightful work on Clayton’s fascinating journals. Now Signature Books has made the account complete by publishing an abridgement of his journals, covering the years 1840-1853, under the title, An Intimate Chronicle, edited by Signature’s president, George D. Smith.
Since Clayton was a writer rather than a church leader, his fascinating observations cover the gamut of LDS experience. Utah’s celebration of Days of ’47 in July calls out for reflection on his experience as a pioneer.
In February of 1846, an advance party left Nauvoo, Illnois, and headed West. After wintering in Nebraska, they settled the following year in the Great Salt Lake Valley. It was extremely difficult. On April 1, Clayton recorded that he was very sick with a lot of pain in his limbs. After getting the tents fixed and fires made, he “went to wrestling and jumping to try to get well” but he over-exerted himself and went to bed without any symptoms of perspiration.
“On April 6, there was more heavy rain. The camp is very disagreeable and muddy.” By 8 o’clock in the evening a gale blew in with “heavy rain, hail, lightning and thunder.” Almost every tent in the company was blown down, “but in the midst of it all, the camp seems cheerful and happy and there are but few sick.”
On such a difficult journey there were bound to be a few lost tempers. Clayton says Thomas Tanner took Aaron Farr prisoner and put him under a guard part of the night. “Perhaps Aaron was a little out of order in conversing loud after the horn blew for prayer, but I think Brother Tanner’s angry spirit more blamable.”
As they approached the Salt Lake Valley on July 1847, they “began to ascend and wind around the mountains. We found the road exceedingly rough and crooked and very dangerous on mountains.” Large cobblestones occasionally caused the wagons to “slide very badly.”
While a number of men went to work cutting a road around Donner Hill, Clayton climbed up the Donner road to the top of the hill so he could see the Salt Lake Valley. He said he was “much cheered by a handsome view of the great Salt Lake. There is an extensive, beautiful level looking valley from here to the lake which I should judge from the numerous deep green patches must be fertile and rich.”
Except for an evident lack of timber, Clayton thought it to be “one of the most beautiful valleys and pleasant places for a home for the Saints which could be found.” He thought it was possible to be very happy living with the Saints in “this wild looking country.” On July 24, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball arrived and there was unanimous agreement in regard to the richness of the soil and good prospect of sustaining and fattening stock with little trouble.”
In many years until his death in 1879, Clayton devoted himself to “public service, music drama, dancing, reading, associating with friends and family and preaching the doctrines of the Kingdom” notes Allen. But those pleasures, says Allen, were balanced by trials and disappointments, some of which would sorely test his ability to retain the attitude of his famous pioneer hymn: “All is Well! All is Well!”
Journal of the Early Republic, Kenneth H. Winn
William Clayton lived his life on the periphery of early Mormon leadership circles. Welcomed as a scribe, he never played an important role in church decision-making and the occasional pointedness of his exclusion hurt his feelings. How ironic it is then that through his journal writing his significance has eclipsed most of those who exercised greater authority in the early church.
Clayton was twenty-three years old and living near Preston, England, when he embraced Mormonism in 1838. In 1840 he ventured with other British converts to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the ten year old church had settled following its forcible expulsion from Missouri. There he became a church clerk and, in 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s private secretary, serving in that capacity until Smith’s murder two years later. When in 1846 the church at last despaired of American society, Clayton joined the main body of the Saints in emigrating to the Great Basin, rather incidentally composing Mormondom’s best known hymn, “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” en route. Although he subsequently served in a number of minor political offices, Clayton gradually drifted away from those in power. Chosen in 1852 as a member of a Mormon mission to England to justify the church’s adoption of polygamy, the trip proved a personal debacle when his license to preach was briefly revoked after his being charged with immorality. Sent back to Utah after a mere three months service, he lived an active but quieter life until his death in 1879.
Since most of these journals (covering 1840-1855) have been both previously published and extensively mined by historians, there is little here that will come as news. Still historians of Mormonism will turn perennially to them. Clayton’s writing is remarkable neither for its acuity nor for its literary grace, he was no Phillip Hone much less a Samuel Pepys, but he provides a richness of information found nowhere else. His 1845-1846 Nauvoo Temple journal, for example, offers a fascinating theological discussion of the subordination of women to men. Moreover, one can see clearly in Clayton’s chronicle of everyday life the turbulence among the rank and file and better appreciate the necessity of Brigham Young’s marked sternness in regulating the behavior of his flock. And, as is frequently noted, Clayton’s story of Joseph Smith’s introduction of polygamy and the trials and tribulations Clayton experienced in adopting the practice is wonderfully vivid.
In recent years Signature Books has come to publish some of the most important works on Mormon history. This particular volume is the fifth in a series dedicated to the publication of early Mormon journals and diaries, and follows, among others, a highly useful collection of Joseph Smith journals. Unfortunately, it must be noted that the current Mormon Church continues to suppress those portions of the historical record it deems embarrassing and a significant part of Clayton’s writings from the Nauvoo period are consequently missing from the volume. That unhappy fact excepted, this edition is in other ways definitive. The journals are prefaced with a lengthy biographical sketch of Clayton, a life chronology, lists of his wives and children, maps and photographs, and three appendices comprised of some of his personal shorter writings. The method of annotation, however, is quite irregular. One is surprised that generally known places and events in American history are explained in the notes, as is a passing reference to the city of Detroit, while much about Mormon history is left unexplained, as are Clayton’s relatively cryptic references to the trial of Joseph Smith’s assassins. Still, the comprehensiveness of the volume will make it the standard reference for Clayton’s writings.
Provo Daily Herald, Keith J. Clayton
William Clayton, a trained accountant and early convert to the newly restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, loved order. His accountant’s eye for neatness and balance carried into his work as a journal keeper. He wrote, “I feel I am not my own. I am bought with a price, even the blood of Jesus Christ, and as a servant I must soon give up my account. I desire and strive, brethren, to keep my account right with the Lord ever day that I may meet him with joy.”
An Intimate Chronicle, edited by George D. Smith, brings together for the first time, six journals of William Clayton and three appendices.
The journals chronicle the beginnings of the Mormon Church and end with records of William’s journey to England in 1853. The growing pains of the great American nation are well chronicled by this frontier pioneer. At the same time he records the building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from its beginnings, with a handful of missionaries laying the foundations that now support over 40,000 full-time missionaries, spread out in most of the countries of the world.
The great travail of the members of the Mormon Church, with the principle of plural marriage is told from the perspective of both those who practiced and didn’t practice it.
As a medical doctor, I was especially interested in the accounts of early frontier medicine. William, for example, spent much time recovering from malaria (ague and chills) and dysentery. He made wide use of purges and laxatives as cures for all ails. Many of the little children whose lives are mentioned in the journals died from infectious diseases which are now nearly unknown because of immunization practices and public health measures of the past few decades.
The first of the three appendixes, titled “Extracts from William Clayton’s (Private) Book,” includes first-hand accounts of many of the doctrinal teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as recorded by a faithful follower.
Appendix B.; “An Interesting Journal,” was originally published in the Juvenile Instructor and is a short history of the church ending with the events transpiring shortly after Joseph Smith’s death.
Appendix C, “William Clayton’s Testimony,” deals with William’s introduction to plural marriage.
There is a certain emotional chord that threads through the writings of William Clayton and my own heart. An Intimate Chronicle mirrors the earthly life of a musician, accountant, secretary, pioneer, craftsman, husband, father, confidant of a latter-day prophet and, above all, a disciple of Jesus Christ; the man who gave the Church the rallying hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints,” and at the same time designed the mechanics of the rude wooden odometer that fit on a wagon train wheel and accurately recorded the distance the pioneers traveled each day.
Though the information presented is not new to print, the present collection brings the whole panorama of the early Mormon movement within easy reach of the modern reader. The quaint, simple events of life on the frontier of America accents nearly every page.
An Intimate Chronicle brings personality to a man whose blood I proudly share. My reading in this marvelous volume sparked within me the desire to bring my own life into sharper focus and dedication to helping others and working for a greater cause. It is my feeling that every enthusiast of Americana and every student of Christian thought will find this clearly writen collection exciting reading.
Journal of the West, Dan Erickson
William Clayton was the personal secretary to the founding Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, and this collection consists of an abridgment of six journals spanning 1840 to 1853. Gathered in one volume, they offer important insights into understanding Smith and the Mormon hierarchy during the formative and volatile Nauvoo period.
The work includes three appendices, one of which records Clayton’s introduction into the circle of Smith’s intimates involved in plural marriage. The importance Smith placed on this doctrine is depicted explicitly and forms a major theme of Clayton’s writings. “We were scarcely egver together, alone, but he was talking on the subject. . . . From him I learned that the doctrine of plural marriage is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on the earth, and that without obedience to that principle no man can ever attain to the fullness of axaltation in celestial glory” (p. 559). Yet it was also its practice and secrecy that led to his death. Smith’s widow Emma, an admitted foe of polygamy, two months after his murder confided to Clayton that she believed it was these “secret things which had cost Joseph and Hyrum [Smith] their lives” (p. 144).
Journal three, actually the journal of Heber C. Kimball, is included because a major portion is in Clayton’s handwriting. It details many of the Nauvoo temple ordinances performed by church leaders as the Saints hurriedly prepared for their departure to the West. As a whole this volume provides a valuable perspective on the early Mormon Church during its second decade.
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, F. Ross Peterson
The William Clayton Journals elevate Signature Book’s series of nineteenth-century Mormon diaries to a high level of primary documentation. Although excellent biographies of Clayton have already been published, George D. Smith has brought six specific journals together in a single volume. The result is an in-depth view of a unique Mormon life between 1840 and 1853, one of Mormonism’s most dynamic periods.
Clayton’s own words take us from his conversion to Mormonism in England, through his transatlantic crossing, to his position as Joseph Smith’s private secretary in Nauvoo. George Smith also chronicles Clayton’s 1847 migration to Utah, his polygamous activities, and a missionary journey to England in the 1850s. Clayton lived twenty-six years after these journals end, yet Smith’s exceptional introduction gives both context and perspective on his entire life in a biographical sketch. The author’s history of the edited documents is beneficial as well. Elaborate notations throughout the text, utilizing a vast array of complementary sources, add significantly to an understanding of the journals and the man who wrote them. The book’s appendices include a number of notebooks, private books, extracts from writings, and Clayton’s written testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and later leaders, are also helpful additions.
Clayton’s view of the amazing internal workings of Church leadership in Nauvoo is fascinating, as is his lengthy discussion of the building of the Nauvoo Temple. An in-depth reading of these documents adds significantly to an understanding of Mormonism during a number of internal and external crises.
Clayton’s journals depict the life of a man at the footstool of power who was involved in polygamy at an early stage and who obviously believed in the doctrine, felt he should be an exemplary practitioner, and influenced many others to do likewise. His unabashed pursuit of some young women is rather startling and underscores his fervent belief that a righteous posterity was the key to celestial realms. Ten women married him, and he fathered forty-seven children. Though Clayton never reached the highest level within the Mormon hierarchy, that of General Authority, he did serve on the Council of Fifty, which had hopes of world government. He discussed all of these activities very openly in his journals.
George Smith’s careful and detailed presentation of these journals sets a new standard for Signature Books’ series of journals. His attention to detail, much like George Ellsworth’s in The Journals of Addison Pratt, demands elevated standards for editors and publishers. To provide complete historical context, editors of diaries, as Smith has done here, should meticulously research their material, examining and noting contemporary sources. The fascinating details of a life spent in the councils of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other Church leaders—summaries of discussions, off-hand conversations, and reactions to revelatory decisions—give readers a great feel for William Clayton and his times. It is unfortunate that the high price of this edition [the original, limited edition, not the paperback] may limit the number of readers who have access to Clayton’s universally appealing story.
Booklist, Steve Schroeder
The collection of journals kept between 1840 and 1853 by William Clayton, personal secretary to Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church), which was originally published amid some controversy as a limited edition in 1991, is here made available for the first time as a one-volume trade edition. Clayton was a meticulous diarist (probably too meticulous for the taste of most general readers) who was close to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young at the beginning of the polygamy controversy, and he accompanied Young on the westward expedition from Nauvoo, Illinois, that blazed the Mormon trail to Salt Lake City. The journals, along with the editor’s excellent historical introduction and extensive notes, will be particularly relevant to readers with a specific interest in Mormon Church history, but they also provide a fascinating glimpse into nineteenth-century frontier life that may merit a broader readership.
Books of the Southwest
Reprint of 1991 limited edition. William Clayton was Joseph Smith’s personal secretary, and these journals throw considerable light on the early days of the formation of the Mormon Church. While not exactly a Southwestern theme, these six detailed journals, here presented in one volume, provide an interesting insight into the life styles and theological positions of one of the West’s most significant movements. You may not be inspired, but you will be informed.
Deseret Book Club Review
As Joseph Smith’s personal secretary, William Clayton attended nearly every important meeting and recorded many revelations as they fell from the prophet’s lips. His proximity to the prophet and to key events in Church history make his journals invaluable in understanding the early Church. His diaries, abridged and printed together here in one volume for the first time, contain information about the beginnings of plural marriage, the relationship of Joseph and Emma, the initial meetings of the Council of Fifty, and the historical development of temple worship in this dispensation. A must for every student of Church history.