Signature Books Keepsake No. 5

Jani Fleet

Each year at the annual meetings of the Mormon History Association, Signature Books produces a keepsake for those in attendance—a reproduction of a document that is rare, and for which only faint, hard-to-read photographs or photocopies exist. For this year’s meetings, we have reproduced three pages from the November 7, 1832, issue of the New England Christian Herald, published by the Boston Wesleyan Association. It is one of the earliest published articles on the LDS Church, with perhaps the earliest published mention of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (“Smith pretended to go into the woods and converse with the Almighty”).

The complexity of the article’s narrative involves several layers of attribution including an unidentified reporter, an unidentified investigator of sorts, an eyewitness convert to Mormonism, and the judge who presided over Joseph Smith’s 1830 Colesville, New York, trial for crystal-gazing. Of particular interest are the judge’s notes of the trial, quoted at length in the article.

The stimulus for the 1832 news article was the sudden appearance in Boston in the summer of 1832 of LDS missionaries Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde, who succeeded in converting several well-to-do single women. The public attention resulting from the conversions caused the reporter to wonder what kind of religious sect this was. Unable to learn much about the new religion in Boston, he contacted an unnamed investigator in upstate New York to look into it for him. The source lived in Windsor, which is just south of Colesville and nearby Bainbridge where Joseph Smith was tried in 1826 on similar charges.

The investigator complained of the difficulty in finding reliable informants on Mormons, then transmitted reports on the Church founder’s previous money-digging activities in the area. Among the people the investigator located were a former Mormon who had recently abandoned the Church headquarters in Ohio and returned to New York and the trial judge, Joel K. Noble, of Colesville. The judge allowed the informant access to his own notes of the 1830 trial. Of interest to historians will be the fact that the witnesses’ testimonies, as recorded by Noble, are similar to what trial observers wrote in letters—summarized by H. Michael Marquardt in an excursus on the document included with the keepsake.Signature Books Keepsake No. 5

There are only two or three extant copies of this issue of the New England Christian Herald, of which the copy at the American Antiquarian Society Library in Worcester, Massachusetts, is most accessible. As an aide to researchers, Signature Books has re-composed three pages from the newspaper to look exactly like the original document, including exact dimensions. The fourth page of this quarto contains the discussion by Mormon researcher Michael Marquardt of the historical context for the article. Marquardt includes excerpts from Samuel Smith’s and Orson Hyde’s diaries and census data and other information on the individuals who were named in the article. This keepsake, like the previous four, will be available free of charge at the MHA meetings. Like its predecessors, it will be limited to 250 copies, of which about 50 will be sent to libraries with Mormon collections.

Marquardt and the Signature staff spent hours transcribing, researching, typesetting, and comparing the reproduction facsimile against photographs of the original. (See, for instance, the accompanying photograph of Jani Fleet proofing the initial draft.) We hope you drop by our book table at MHA and enjoy your complimentary copy, along with our new catalog, just off the press. The keepsake will be available exclusively for conference attendees.