Mormon History, Oct 12, 1849

Second General Epistle-- Leonard Arrington in his Great Basin Kingdom (ix) has said: The church holds, of course, that it is based on divine revelation. The body of revealed knowledge, however, at least to the Latter-day Saint, is not static, but constantly changing and expanding. Revelation is continuous and expedient-'suited to the people and the times.' Moreover it is impossible to separate revelation from the conditions under which it is received."
The Fourteen General Epistles of The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued between April 4, 1849 and December 10, 1856 with some few other documents which follow are a classic example of Arrington's statement.
The purpose of these General Epistles may perhaps be summarized by a brief extract from the opening paragraphs of the first and fourteenth Epistles.
From the First General Epistle, April 4, 1849:
". . . Many events have transpired, interesting in their nature as pertaining to the advancement of the church preparatory to the coming of the Son of Man; and we cheerfully improve this, the earliest opportunity, to communicate to you a brief history of these events, together with such counsel as the Holy Spirit shall indite."
And from the Fourteenth General Epistle, December 10, 1856:
"Feeling impelled by the Spirit of our God to write unto you concerning the things of the kingdom, and having greater boldness therein by reason of the faith and testimony of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Ghost, of which we have received and bear record unto the whole world, we proceed to manifest unto you such intimations of the Spirit pertaining to the Church and kingdom of God as are or may be presented unto us, trusting that they may prove instructive and beneficial unto the Saints."
Here then, in the very words of The First Presidency, seems to be a claim that these Epistles are revelation to the Church-or-"such counsel as the Holy Spirit shall indite."
The first of these General Epistles was included in volume one of this work. The remaining thirteen are here presented in sequence.
One of the purposes of issuing these General Epistles seems to have been to keep the "Saints scattered throughout the earth" informed on the developments taking place in the Church but primarily in Utah and the Great Basin where the Kingdom was receiving its new foundation and base of operations. They provide not only an official but an excellent running commentary on the progress of the Church during this critical seven year period when Brigham Young and the leadership of the Church sought to colonize the Great Basin and establish a world-wide missionary system.
The General Epistles seem to be their own best commentary. However both B. H. Roberts in CHC 3:329-544; 4:1-180 and Berrett and Burton in RCH 473 have discussed the main developments of this period.
Valuable as background for an understanding of the instructions given in these General Epistles also are the works of individual authors. Notable among these are:
Larson, Gustive O., Prelude to the Kingdom, Francestown, New Hampshire, Marshall Jones Company, 1947, 321p.
Outline History of Utah and the Mormon, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1965. pp. 1-186.
Neff, Andrew Love, History of Utah 1847 to 1869 Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press, 1940, pp. 89-310.
Arrington, Leonard J., Great Basin Kingdom, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1958, pp. 1-160.
For a more personal view of the events portrayed in the General Epistles individual diaries of the period are invaluable but usually inaccessible. The Life of Heber C. Kimball adds a personal touch of one member of The First Presidency who issued these Epistles and of course the Manuscript History of Brigham Young is primary but not readily available. Biographies have been written of all three members of the First Presidency who issued these General Epistles, i.e. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards.
The above notes will serve as an introduction to all thirteen General Epistles which follow as well as to the few other Messages or communications to individual officers of the Church which are included in chronological sequence with the Epistles. All of the documents here presented as issued by the First Presidency between April 4, 1849 and December 10, 1856 seem enough of a unit to be covered by this one introductory note.
SECOND GENERAL EPISTLE, of the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from the Great Salt Lake Valley, to the Saints Scattered Throughout the Earth.
(From the Frontier Guardian.)
Greeting:-Beloved brethren, since our communication of April, many events interesting in their nature, as relating to the progress of truth, and the happiness of the faithful have transpired, and we improve the earliest moment to write of the same, that the hearts of all may be united with us in praise to Israel's God for the fulfillment of His promises and of the prophecies in these last days.
On the 12th of April, Elder Amasa Lyman left this place in company with several brethren for Western California, carrying our former epistle; and Capt. Allen Compton started with a mail containing the same, for the States, two days after; and although the snow was unusually deep, and had been long considered impassible, we are happy in having learned that Brother Compton and the little band of the brethren accompanying him, arrived safe in Kanesville after a speedy and toilsome journey.
The heat of summer began to be exhibited at mid-day about the middle of April, which rapidly dispersed the snow upon the mountains, though more or less continues in sight of our beautiful valley perpetually, and the weather continued variable until the 23rd of May, when it was very severe, accompanied by a heavy fall of snow, and was followed the succeeding day by a severe frost; since which time the weather has been mild and warm, generally, with occasional slight frosts in the valley every month and almost every week, until the last, when two or three successive and severe frosts put an end to vegetation generally.
The Nauvoo Legion has been re-organized in the valley, and it would have been a source of joy to the Saints throughout the earth, could they have witnessed its movements on the day of its great parade; to see a whole army of mighty men in martial array, ground their arms, not by command but simply by request, repair to the temple block, and with pick and spade open the foundation for a place of worship, and erect the pilasters, beams and roof, so that we now have a commodious edifice 100 by 60 feet, with brick walls, where we assemble with the Saints from Sabbath to Sabbath, and almost every evening in the week, to teach, counsel, and devise ways and means for the prosperity of the Kingdom of God: and we feel thankful that we have a better house or bowery for public worship the coming winter, than we have heretofore had any winter in this dispensation.
The inhabitants of this great Basin have instituted a provisional state government, adopted a constitution, elected officers, and we anticipate that, at the next session of Congress, we shall be admitted into the Union, free and independent like our sister States. Our city lies near the Great Salt Lake, which borders on the west on an extensive desert which runs through the Basin from north to south. We call our new state, Deseret.
A number of the brethren left here in May, and established a ferry on the Upper Platte during the high water, and another company opened a ferry at each crossing of Green river. Both companies have returned in safety, and we anticipate the same ferries will be re-opened in season for the emigration next spring.
The 24th of July was a day long to be remembered by all present in this valley, and all Saints who shall learn of our celebration, as the anniversary of the arrival of the Pioneers two years previous. To behold twelve or fifteen hundred feet of tables, filling the bowery and all adjoining grounds, loaded with all luxuries of the field and gardens, and nearly all the varieties that any vegetable market in the world could produce, and to see
the seats around those tables filled and re-filled by a people who had been deprived of those luxuries for years by the cruel hand of oppression, and freely offering seats to every stranger within their borders, and this too, in the valley of the mountains, a thousand miles from civilization, where two years before, nought was to be found save the wild root of the prairie, and the mountain cricket, was a theme of unbounded thanksgiving and praise to the Giver of all good, as the dawning of a day when the children of the Kingdom, can sit under their own vines and fig-trees, and inhabit their own houses, having none to make them afraid. May the time be hastened when the scattered Israel may partake of such like banquets from the gardens of Joseph.
Thousands of emigrants from the States to the Gold Mines have passed through our city this season, leaving large quantities of domestic clothing, wagons, &c., in exchange for horses and mules, which exchange has been a mutual blessing to both parties.
The Elders who received appointments for foreign missions last spring, were generally detained in the valley, to raise grain and locate their families, until recently; when Elder Addison Pratt, started on his return mission to the Society Islands accompanied by Elders James Brown and Hiram H. Blackwell. Elder Charles C. Rich left on the 8th inst., to join Elder Amasa Lyman in the Presidency of Western California.
Elder Orson Spencer arrived from England on the 23rd ult., in good health, welcomed by many friends, having travelled from the States with a company of Saints, in connexion with a large quantity of merchandize, now open in this place by merchants from St. Louis; and several others, who started with goods for the mines, have left them in this place this season.
Elder Dan Jones from Wales is within a few days travel, accompanied by a portion of the Welsh brethren: and the remainder are located on Pottawatamie lands.
Elders Geo. A. Smith and Ezra T. Benson are in the same vicinity with Dan Jones, accompanied by their families, and large companies of Saints from whom we received an express five days since, which left them in universal health and prosperity. They will probably be here in two weeks. We have sent teams to help them on their journey.
The direct emigration of the Saints to this place will be some five or six hundred wagons this season, besides many who came in search of gold, have heard the Gospel for the first time and will go no farther, having believed and been baptized.
Sept. 28th, fourteen or fifteen of the brethren arrived from the gold country, some of whom were very comfortably supplied with the precious metal, and others, who had been sick, came as destitute as they went on the ship Brooklyn in 1846. That there is plenty of gold in Western California is beyond doubt, but the valley of the Sacramento is an unhealthy place, and the Saints can be better employed in raising grain, and building houses in this vicinity, than digging for gold in the Sacramento, unless they are counselled so to do. The true use of gold is for paving streets, covering houses and making culinary dishes, and when the Saints shall have preached the Gospel, raised grain and built up cities enough: the Lord will open up the way for a supply of gold to the perfect satisfaction of His people; until then, let them not be over anxious, for the treasures of the earth are in the Lord's store house, and He will open the doors thereof, when and where He pleases.
The grain crops in the valley have been good this season; wheat, barley, oats, rye, and peas, more particularly. The late corn and buckwheat, and some lesser grains and vegetables, have been materially injured by the recent frosts; and some early corn at Brownsville forty miles north, a month since; and the buckwheat was severely damaged by hail at the Utah settlement, sixty miles South about three weeks since; but we have great occasion for thanksgiving to Him who giveth the increase, that He has blest our labours, so that with prudence we shall have a comfortable supply for ourselves, and our brethren on the way, who may be in need, until another harvest; but we feel the need of more laborers, for more efficient help, and multiplied means of farming and building at this place. We want men. Brethren, come from the States, from the nations, come! and help us to build and grow, until we can say, enough-the valleys of Ephraim are full.
Any of the brethren, master workmen in cotton or woollen factories, who will come on with their means, machinery, and hands to work it, will meet a warm reception, and have every possible facility rendered them to prosecute their business, for we need such establishments in our midst.
The Bowery was crowded on the 6th of Oct. Conference, so that the cry was "our place is not large enough." A sweet and heavenly influence prevailed, and much important business was transacted, as may be seen more particularly by the minutes accompanying this.
It was decided to locate a town or city at Brownsville, and also at Utah, near the settlements now existing, the Presidency having previously visited those places and selected sites.
Early in the fall we sent messengers to Sandpitch valley, who selected a place for a settlement, about 200 miles South of this, and we expect that from 50 to 100 families will start for that place in a few days. They also discovered a plentiful supply of good rock, or mountain salt, toward the contemplated settlement.
The walls of our Council house are nearly completed. The baths at the warm spring house are in progress; the foundation is laid, and brick prepared for an extensive store house and granary; and no exertions are wanting on our part to push forward the public works, as fast as tithing and means are put in our hands; and we are happy to say that an increasing spirit of liberality and faithfulness is daily manifest among the Saints.
About one month since we suggested the propriety of creating a perpetual fund for the purpose of helping the poor Saints to emigrate to this place, agreeably to our covenants in the Temple that we would "never cease our exertions, by all the means and influence within our reach, till all the Saints who were obliged to leave Nauvoo should be located at some gathering place of the Saints." The Council approved of the suggestion, and a committee was immediately appointed to raise a fund by voluntary contribution to be forwarded east next mail. The October Conference sanctioned the doings of the committee, and appointed Brother Edward Hunter, a tried, faithful, and approved Bishop, a general agent to bear the perpetual emigrating funds to the States, to superintend the direction and appropriation thereof, and return the same to this place with such poor brethren as shall be wisdom to help.
We wish all to understand, that this fund is PERPETUAL, and is never to be diverted from the object of gathering the poor to Zion while there are Saints to be gathered, unless He whose right it is to rule shall otherwise command. Therefore we call upon President Orson Hyde and all the Saints, and all benevolent souls everywhere, to unite their gold, their silver, and their cattle, with ours in this perpetual fund, and cooperate with Bishop Hunter in producing as many teams as possible, preparatory for next spring's emigration, and let the poor who are to be helped, go to work with their might, and prepare wagons of wood for their journey. Such wagons, without any iron, now exist in this valley, that have come from the states, having done good business; and so great has been the influx of wagons this season, that they are cheap, and iron comparatively plentiful.
This perpetual fund is to be under the special direction of the presidency at all times, and as soon as Bishop Hunter shall return with the same and his freight of Saints to this place, the cattle and teams will be disposed of to the best advantage, and the avails, with all we can add to it, will be sent forth immediately on another mission, and we want you all prepared to meet it and add to it, and so would we continue to increase it from year to year, until, "when
a nation is born in a day," they can be removed the next, if the Lord will; therefore, ye poor and meek of the earth, lift up your heads and rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, for your redemption draweth nigh; but in your rejoicings be patient, for though your turn to emigrate may not be the first year, or even the second, it will come, and its tarryings will be short, if all the Saints who have, will be as liberal as those in the valley.
All the apostles now in the valley have had missions assigned to them. Elder John Taylor, accompanied by Curtis E. Bolton and John Pack, goes to France; Elder Lorenzo Snow to Italy, accompanied by Joseph Toronto; Elder Erastus Snow to Denmark, accompanied by Peter Hanson, and will start in about a week, passing through the States. Elder Franklin D. Richards, accompanied by John S. Higbee, George B. Wallace, Job Smith, H. W. Church, Joseph W. Johnson, Joseph W. Young, and Jacob Gates, will go with the mission to England, to cooperate with President Orson Pratt. Elder John Forsgreen will go out at the same time on a mission to Sweden. For wise purposes Elder P. P. Pratt's mission to the Western Islands will be deferred until spring.
Elder Orson Pratt is doing a great work in England, and the cause of truth is advancing rapidly in all her home dominions, and the rejoicing of the Saints there, causes Satan to howl, for he is compelled to be subject to the power of the Highest. Elder Woodruff is located in Cambridge Port, Massachusetts, and has been comforting and instructing the Saints in Canada and the Eastern States the past year. If Elder Woodruff now will gather up all the Saints in his vicinity, and come with them to this place, he will do a great work, and will be opening the way for a visit to those nations who have both eyes and ears, and are crying to the Elders of Israel, "Come, tell us of the things of God, for we have heard that God is with you.
By the late arrival of our brethren from the west, we learn that they were attacked on the way by the Snake Indians, and that a company of emigrants going west had shared the same fate. These attacks, from a hitherto peaceful tribe, have doubtless arisen from an early company of emigrants that passed through this place from the States to the mines, having shot two or three squaws, and stolen their horses about 150 miles north west of this. It is much to be regretted that such a band of desperadoes and murderers should roam at large, exciting the ignorant Indian to retaliation and revenge on our people, and thousands of honourable men from the States, who are, and will be passing to Western California through the same country; and we make these observations, that such men may be on their guard for their safety, and at the same time by every honourable means endeavour to do away from the Indians the prejudice which a few wicked men have created.
Many of the western emigrants were met by our brethren on this side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and from the low condition of their teams, the scarcity of grass, the lateness of the season, the great amount of old snow on the mountains, and the prospect of new, they thought, more than probable that many would not be able to reach the mountain heights this season, and many had thrown away their provisions, save enough to last them through, also their clothing and other things to make their passage as light as possible, all of which will make their situation more distressing, should they be obliged to winter in the mountains.
Brother Parley P. Pratt is opening a new road through the range of mountains from the Weber to this place, which is already so far advanced that this fall's emigration will pass over it. This road will be accomplished at a great expense, and will be a great blessing to the emigrating brethren, and together with bridges in the valley, over the Weber and Ogden fork, all of which we expect will be completed before the next migrating season, will shorten the distance and greatly facilitate the progress of travellers.
The health of the saints in the valley, is good, and it is so seldom that any one dies, we scarce recollect when such an event last occurred.
Each member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is an agent to collect tithing, and donations for the perpetual fund for the emigration of the poor Saints, and all such collections or funds will be continually subject to our order, and all our agents in Europe will remit all such funds to our office in Liverpool every safe opportunity; and Elder Orson Hyde will receive donations in the States on deposit, for the perpetual fund after our agent leaves that place in the spring.
While kingdoms, governments, and thrones, are falling and rising; revolutions succeeding revolutions; and the nations of earth are overturning; while plague, pestilence and famine, are walking abroad; and whirlwind, fire, and earthquake, proclaim the truth of prophecy, let the Saints be faithful and diligent in every duty, and especially in striving to stand in chosen places, that they may watch the coming of the Holy One of Israel. We remain your brothers in the New Covenant. BRIGHAM YOUNG, HEBER C. KIMBALL, WILLARD RICHARDS. Great Salt Lake City, Deseret, Oct. 12th, 1849. {1849-October 12-MS 12:118-122 (April 15, 1850)}

[source: Clark, James R., Messages of the First Presidency (6 volumes)]

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