Early Account - History

Early Account - History

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By Jubal Early

I LANDED and reported to General Magruder on the morning of the 9th of April.

After the abandonment of the line of Bull Run by our troops, McClellan had moved the greater part of his army to the Peninsula, and by the 4th of April had landed about 100,000 men at or near Fortress Monroe. Magruder at that time occupied the lower Peninsula with a force which did not exceed in effective men 7,000 or 8,000. Upon this force McClellan advanced with his immense army, when Magruder fell back to the line of Warwick River, extending from Yorktown on York River across James River, and checked the enemy's advance. McClellan then sat down before the fortifications at Yorktown and along Warwick River and began a siege by regular approaches.

When I arrived at Magruder's headquarters, I was informed by him that his force, before the arrival of mine, amounted to 12,000, he having been reinforced since the enemy's advance, by troops from the south side of James River and Wilcox's brigade of G. W. Smith's (now D. R. Jones') division, the said brigade having been detached from the army under Johnston. The division carried by me now numbered about 5,000 men and officers for duty, it having been increased to that amount by the return of those on furlough and some recruits; so flat Magruder's force now amounted to 20,000 men and officers for duty. McClellan, in a telegram to President Lincoln, dated the 7th of April, says: 'Your telegram of yesterday received. In reply I have to state that my entire force for duty amounts to only about eighty-five thousand men." At that time, except Wilcox's brigade, not a soldier from General Johnston's army had arrived, and my division constituted the next reinforcement received from that army by Magruder.

Yorktown had been previously strongly fortified, and some preparations had been made to strengthen the other part of the line, which, however, had not been completed. Warwick River runs diagonally across the Peninsula from the vicinity of Yorktown, and its course for the greater part of the way is through low, marshy country. Though at its head it is quite a small stream, it had been dammed up to within about a mile of the works at Yorktown by dams thrown across at several points, so as to be impassable without bridging at any other points than where the dams were, which later we defended with earthworks.

Between Warwick River and Yorktown were two redoubts, called respectively Redoubt No. 4 and Redoubt No. 5, which were connected by a curtain, with wings or lateral breastworks extending to Warwick River on the one side, and the head of a deep ravine between Redoubt No. 4 and Yorktown on the other. Redoubt No. 4, which was the one nearest York-town, was sometimes called Fort Magruder. Gloucester Point, across York River from Yorktown, was occupied by a small infantry force with some heavy batteries. The whole line was nearly fifteen miles in length. The assuming and maintaining the line by Magruder, with his small force in the face of such overwhelming odds, was one of the boldest exploits ever performed by a military commander, and he had so manoeuvered his troops, by displaying them rapidly at different points, as to produce the impression on his opponent that he had a large army. His men and a considerable body of negro laborers had been and were still engaged in strengthening the works by working night and day, so that their energies were taxed to the utmost limit.

Before my arrival, Kershaw's brigade had been ordered to the right of the line and assigned to that part of it under the command of Brigadier GeneralMcLaws, and Rodes' brigade had been posted at the works between the defences of Yorktown and the head of the obstructions on Warwick River. On my arrival I was ordered to move my own brigade near the point occupied by Rodes, and I was assigned to the command of that part of the line extending from the ravine south of Yorktown to the right of Wynn's Mill as far as the mouth of the branch leading into the pond made by Dam No. 1, which was the first dam below that at Wynn 's Mill. There were two dams on the line thus assigned me, the dam at Wynn's Mill, etc. The troops defending the part of the line thus assigned me consisted of Rodes' brigade; my own, now under the command of Colonel D. K. McRae, of the 5th North Carolina Regiment; the 2nd Florida Regiment, Colonel Ward; the 2nd Mississippi Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Taylor; Brigadier General Wilcox's brigade; and two regiments temporarily attached to his command under Colonel Winston of Alabama; and the 19th Mississippi Regiment, Colonel Mott. The latter regiment was, however, transferred to another part of the line in a few days.

The only portions of my line exposed to the view of the enemy were Redoubts Nos. 4 and 5 and the works attached to them, the works at Wynn 's Mill and part of a small work at the upper dam of Wynn's Mill-the works at Wynn's Mill and the upper dam with the intervening space being occupied by Wilcox's command. Between the works designated, including Dam No. 1, the swamps on both sides of Warwick River were thickly wooded, and it would have been impossible to cross without cutting away the dams, which could not have been done without first driving away our troops. This was also the case below Dam No. 1 to a greater or less extent. Redoubts Nos. 4 and 5 with the curtain and lateral works had been from necessity constructed on ground sloping towards the enemy, and the interior and rear of them were therefore much exposed to his fire. This was also the case at Wynn's Mill, and at both points it had been necessary to cut zig-zag trenches, or bayous, to enable the men to pass into and from the works with as little exposure as possible.

Our side of the Warwick River, between the exposed points, was occupied by thin picket lines. Besides the infantry mentioned, there were several batteries of field artillery in the works, and in Redoubt No. 4 there were two heavy guns and a large Howitzer. Brigadier General Raines had charge of the immediate defences of Yorktown and Gloucester Point.

When I took command I found the enemy busily engaged in constructing trenches and earthworks in front of Redoubts 4 and 5 and of Wynn's Mill. In front of Redoubt No. 5 was a dwelling house, with several out-houses and a large peach orchard extending to within a few hundred yards of our works, under cover of which the enemy pushed forward some sharpshooters, with long-range rifles, and established a line of rifle pits within range of our works, which annoyed us very much for several days, as nearly our whole armament for the infantry consisted of smooth-bore muskets, and our artillery ammunition was too scarce to permit its use in a contest with sharp-shooters. On the 11th of April General Magruder ordered sorties to be made by small parties from all the main parts of the line for the purpose of fooling the enemy. Wilcox sent out a party from Wynn 's Mill which encountered the skirmishers the enemy had thrown up towards his front, and drove them back to the main line.

Later in the day Colonel Ward, with his own regiment and the 2nd Mississippi Battalion, was thrown to the front on the right and left of Redoubt No. 5, driving the enemy's sharp-shooters from their rifle pits, advancing through the peach orchard to the main road beyond, from Warwick Court-House and Fortress Monroe, so as to compel a battery, which the enemy had posted at an earthwork on our left of said road, to retire precipitately. Colonel Ward, however, returned to our works on the approach of a large force of the enemy infantry, after having set fire to the house above mentioned and performed the duty assigned him in a very gallant and dashing manner without loss to his command. These affairs developed the fact that the enemy was in strong force both in front of Wynn's Mill and Redoubts 4 and 5.

On the night following Ward's sortie, the 24th Virginia Regiment, under Colonel Terry, moved to the front, and cut down the peach orchard and burned the rest of the houses which had afforded the enemy shelter; and on the next night Colonel McRae, with the 5th North Carolina Regiment, moved further to the front and cut down some cedars along the main road above mentioned, which partially screened the enemy's movements from our observation, both of which feats were accomplished without difficulty or loss; and after this we were not annoyed again by the enemy's sharp-shooters. About this time Major General D. H. Hill arrived at Yorktown with two brigades from General Johnston's army, and was assigned to the command of the left wing, embracing Raines' command and mine. No change, however, was made in the extent of my command, but I was merely made subordinate to General Hill.

The enemy continued to work very busily on his approaches, and each day some new work was developed. He occasionally fired with artillery on our works, and the working parties engaged in strengthening them and making traverses and epaulments in the rear, but we very rarely replied to him, as our supply of ammunition was very limited.

During the month of April there was much cold, rainy weather, and our troops suffered greatly, as they were without tents or other shelter. Their duties were very severe and exhausting, as when they were not on the front line in the trenches they were employed in constructing heavy traverses and epaulments in the rear of the main line, so as to conceal and protect the approaches to it. In addition to all this, their rations were very limited and consisted of the plainest and roughest food. Coffee was out of the question, as were vegetables and fresh meat. All this told terribly on the health of the men, and there were little or no hospital accommodations in the rear.

In a day or two after General Hill's arrival, Colston's brigade reported to me and occupied a position between the upper dam of Wynn's Mill and Redoubt No. 5. On the 16th the enemy made a dash at Dam No. 1 on my right and succeeded in crossing the dam and entering the work covering it, but was soon repulsed and driven across the river with some loss. This was not within the limits of my command, but a portion of my troops were moved in the direction of the point at-tacked without, however, being needed. By the 18th, the residue of General Johnston's troops east of the Blue Ridge, except Ewell's division and a portion of the cavalry which had been left on the Rappahannock and a small force left at Fredericksburg, had reached the vicinity of Yorktown, and on that day General Johnston, having assumed the command, issued an order assigning Magruder to the command of the right wing, beginning at Dam No. 1 and extending to James River; D. Hill to the command of the left wing, including Yorktown, and Redoubts 4 and 5, and their appertinent defences; Longstreet to the command of the centre, which extended from Dam No. 1 to the right of the lateral defences of Redoubt No. 5; and G. Smith to the command of the reserve.

This order, as a necessary consequence, curtailed my command, which was now confined to Redoubts Nos. 4 and 5 and the works adjacent thereto, and they were defended by Rodes' and my brigades, and the 2nd Florida Regiment, 2nd Mississippi Battalion, and 49th Virginia Regiment, the latter regiment having been lately assigned to me for the defence of the head of the ravine south of Yorktown. Shortly afterwards General Hill made a new arrangement of the command, by which Rodes' brigade was separated from mine and General Rodes was assigned to the charge of Redoubt No. 5 and the defences on its right, while I was assigned to the charge of Redoubt No. 4 and the defences on the right and left of it, including the curtain connecting the two redoubts.

The enemy continued to advance his works, and it was while we were thus confronting him and in constant expectation of an assault, that the reorganization of the greater part of the regiments of our army, under the Conscript Act recently passed by Congress, took place. Congress had been tampering for some time with the question of reorganizing the army and supplying the place of the twelve months' volunteers, which composed much the greater part of our army; and several schemes had been started and adopted with little or no success and much damage to the army itself, until finally it was found necessary to adopt a general conscription. If this scheme had been adopted in the beginning, it would have readily been acquiesced in, but when it was adopted much dissatisfaction was created by the fact that it necessarily violated promises and engagements made with those who had re-enlisted under some of the former schemes. The reorganization which took place resulted in a very great change in the officers, especially among the field-officers, all of whom were appointed by election, and as may well be supposed this state of things added nothing to the efficiency of the army or its morals.

In the meantime the enemy's army had been greatly augmented by reinforcements, and by the last of April his approaches in our front had assumed very formidable appearances. McClellan, in his report, states the strength of his army as follows: present for duty, April 30, 1862, 4,725 officers, and 104,610 men, making 109,335 aggregate present for duty, and 115,350 aggregate present. This was exclusive of Wool's troops at Fortress Monroe. General Johnston's whole force, including Magruder's force in it, could not have exceeded 50,000 men and officers for duty, if it reached that number, and my own impression, from data within my knowledge, is that it was considerably below that figure.

After dark on the night of Thursday the 1st of May, General Hill informed his subordinate commanders that the line of Warwick River and Yorktown was to be abandoned, according to a determination that day made, upon a consultation of the principal officers at General Johnston's headquarters; and we were ordered to get ready to evacuate immediately after dark on the following night, after having previously sent off all the trains. This measure was one of absolute necessity, and the only wonder to me was that it had not been previously resorted to.

The line occupied by us was so long and our troops had to be so much scattered to occupy the whole of it, that no point could be sufficiently defended against a regular siege or a vigorous assault. The obstacles that had been interposed to obstruct the enemy, likewise rendered it impossible for us to move out and attack him after he had established his works in front of ours; and we would have to await the result of a regular siege, with the danger, imminent at any time, of the enemy's gunboats and monitors running by our works on York and James Rivers, and thus destroying our communication by water. About twelve miles in rear of Yorktown, near Williamsburg, the Peninsula is only about three or four miles wide, and there are creeks and marshes intersecting it on both sides at this point, in such way that the routes for the escape of our army would have been confined to a very narrow slip, if our line had been broken. The most assailable point on our whole line w&s that occupied by Rodes and myself, and when the enemy could have got his heavy batteries ready, our works on this part of the line would have soon been rendered wholly untenable.

Owing to the fact that the ground on which these works were located sloped towards the enemy's position, so as to expose to a direct fire their interior and rear, it would have been easy for him to have shelled us out of them; and when this part of the line had been carried, the enemy could have pushed to our rear on the direct road to Williamsburg and secured all the routes over which it would have been possible for us to retreat, thus rendering the capture or dispersion of our entire army certain. Nothing but the extreme boldness of Magruder and the excessive caution of McClellan had arrested the march of the latter across this part of the line in the first place, as it was then greatly weaker than we subsequently made it.

During the night of the 1st of May, after orders had been given for the evacuation, we commenced a cannonade upon the enemy, with all of our heavy guns, in the works at Yorktown and in Redoubt No. 4. The object of this was to dispose of as much of the fixed ammunition as possible and produce the impression that we were preparing for an attack on the enemy's trenches. This cannonading was continued during the next day, and, on one part of the line, we were ready to have commenced the evacuation at the time designated, but a little before night on that day (Friday the 2nd) the order was countermanded until the next night, because some of Longstreet 's troops were not ready to move. We therefore continued to cannonade on Friday night and during Saturday. Fortunately, after dark on the latter day the evacuation began and was conducted successfully-Stuart's cavalry having been dismounted to occupy our picket line in front, and then men attached to the heavy artillery remaining behind to continue the cannonade until near daylight next morning, so as to keep the enemy in ignorance of our movements. There was a loss of some stores and considerable public property which had been recently brought down, for which there was no transportation, as the steamboats expected for that purpose did not arrive, and the whole of our heavy artillery including some guns that had not been mounted had to be abandoned.

Hill's command, to which I was attached, moved on the direct road from Yorktown to Williamsburg, but our progress was very slow, as the roads were in a terrible condition by reason of heavy rains which had recently fallen. My command passed through Williamsburg after sunrise on the morning of Sunday, the 4th, and bivouacked about two miles west of that place. The day before the evacuation took place the 20th Georgia Regiment had been transferred from my brigade, and its place had been supplied by the 38th Virginia Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Whittle. The 2nd Florida Regiment and the 2nd Mississippi Battalion continued to be attached to my command. No supplies of provisions had been accumulated at Williamsburg, and the rations brought from Yorktown were now nearly exhausted, owing to the delay of a day in the evacuation and the fact that our transportation was very limited.

We rested on Sunday, but received orders to be ready to resume the march at 3 o'clock A. M. on next day, the 5th. My command was under arms promptly at the time designated, but it had been raining during the night, and it was very difficult for our trains and artillery to make any headway. My command, therefore, had to remain under arms until about noon, before the time arrived for it to take its place in the column to follow the troops and trains which were to precede it, and was just about to move off when I received an order from General Hill to halt for a time. I soon received another order to move back to Williamsburg and report to General Longstreet, who had been entrusted with the duty of protecting our rear.

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Early Account - History

Dean C. Jessee, "The Earliest Documented Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision," in Exploring the First Vision, ed. Samuel Alonzo Dodge and Steven C. Harper (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2012), 1–40.

In light of his background, it is not surprising that Joseph did not record his experience that spring morning in 1820 after returning from the grove. (Walter Rane, If Any of You Lack Wisdom, © Intellectual Reserve, Inc.)

This essay was originally published as “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” in BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (Spring 1969): 275–95. It was later revised and published in its current form in John W. Welch and Erick B. Carlson, eds., Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005).

First Vision Accounts in Context

From the beginning of his public ministry, Joseph Smith struggled to record the events of his life. The conditions in which he was raised did not facilitate a literary course—indigent circumstances, which required the labor of the entire Smith family to meet their daily needs, limited Joseph’s schooling. He later wrote that he had been “deprived of the bennefit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which const[it]uted my whole literary acquirements.” [1]

In light of his background, it is not surprising that Joseph did not record his experience that spring morning in 1820 after returning from the grove. Years later, still harboring misgivings about his inability to communicate with the pen, he yearned for deliverance from what he called “the little narrow prison . . . of paper pen and ink and a crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.” [2] And his writings contain occasional apologies for his lack of writing skill. Even if his literary preparations had been ideal, disruptive forces in his life had an impact upon his record-keeping ventures. Large gaps in his record coincide with periods of unrest and disorder in his life, and many important portions of his life’s story were either lost or never recorded.

Another factor that shaped the historiography of the First Vision grew out of the process of developing a record-keeping plan in the early years of the Church. Problems of defining the nature, scope, and format of a historical record limited the resultant archive, as did difficulties in finding and retaining capable clerical help to assist in the creation and care of the records. Following the 1830 revelation that initiated Joseph Smith’s record keeping, [3] procedures for creating pertinent records were slow to develop. It took several years marked by false starts before a format was settled on and the enduring work began on Joseph Smith’s History of the Church. As evidence of the challenges he faced, by October 29, 1839 (when Joseph left Nauvoo for Washington, DC, to present the Missouri grievances of his people before the federal government), only fifty-nine pages of his history had been written and six days after his departure, his scribe, James Mulholland, died. [4] After returning to Nauvoo in March 1840, Joseph lamented the passing of his “faithful scribe” and expressed disappointment that an adequate record of his Washington trip had not been kept: “I depended on Dr. Foster to keep my daily journal during this journey, but he has failed me.” [5] Robert B. Thompson, who was appointed general Church clerk on October 3, 1840, continued writing the history where Mulholland left off. Nevertheless, only sixteen pages were added to the manuscript before he too met an untimely death on August 27, 1841. [6]

I was just recently in a Church setting where I reviewed those accounts of the vision and a lady came up and said, “My goodness—that’s the most marvelous thing I’ve ever heard.” Obviously, she thought it was wonderful to be able to hear details about the First Vision that she wasn’t aware of before. (Dean C. Jessee, interview by Samuel Alonzo Dodge, July 27, 2009, Provo, UT)

By the time Willard Richards was appointed general Church clerk and private secretary to the Prophet in December 1841, a mere 157 pages had been written of a history that would eventually number more than 2,000 pages. The history would not be finished during Joseph’s lifetime. [7] Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith summarized the problems that had beset his record keeping:

Since I have been engaged in laying the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I have been prevented in various ways from continuing my Journal and the History, in a manner satisfactory to myself, or in justice to the cause. Long imprisonments, vexatious and long continued Law Suits—The treachery of some of my Clerks the death of others and the poverty of myself and Brethren from continued plunder and driving, have prevented my handing down to posterity a connected memorandum of events desirable to all lovers of truth.

He added, “I have continued to keep up a Journal in the best manner my circumstances would allow, and dictate for my history from time to time, as I have had opportunity, so that the labors and sufferings of the first Elders and Saints of this last kingdom might not wholly be lost to the world.” [8] The historical records of Joseph Smith’s life, including those pertaining to the First Vision, are best seen in this context.

The Church records created during these turbulent years include eight documents in which Joseph Smith recorded details of his initial vision experience. Three of these, with minor differences, are duplications of a previous one.

The first of these was a six-page autobiographical narrative intended to be a history of his life and “an account of the rise of the Church,” but it was abruptly discontinued, evidently when a new plan for the history was conceived. It was most probably written between February and November 1832 on three leaves that were later cut from the ledger book that contained them. [9] This 1832 narrative contains the earliest known account of Joseph’s First Vision and the only account in his own handwriting. In the transcription that follows, the bold-faced type indicates the portions of the document written in the Prophet’s handwriting. The remainder is in the handwriting of his secretary, Frederick G. Williams. Underlining is reproduced from the original document. Editorial marks include angle brackets < > to indicate above-the-line insertions. Strikeouts are shown by strikeouts. Brackets [ ] indicate editorial comments.

A History of the life of Joseph Smith Jr. an account of his marvilous experience and of all the mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Ch[r]ist the son of the living God of whom he beareth record and also an account of the rise of the church of Christ in the eve of time according as the Lord brough<t> forth and established by his hand <firstly> he receiving the testamony from on high seccondly the ministering of Angels thirdly the reception of the holy Priesthood by the ministring of Aangels to adminster the letter of the Gospel—<—the Law and Commandments as they were given unto him—> and the ordinencs, forthly a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinence from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Kees of the Kingdom of God confered upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him &c—I was born in the town of Charon [Sharon] in the <State> of Vermont North America on the twenty third day of December AD 1805 of goodly Parents who spared no pains to instruct<ing> me in <the> christian religion at the age of about ten years my Father Joseph Smith Siegnior moved to Palmyra Ontario [now Wayne] County in the State of New York and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine chilldren and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructtid in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements. At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest [p. 1] with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn> instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[0]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mand <mankind> did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons for he was God for I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and [p. 2] marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him <them> and when I considired upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said the <it is a> fool <that> saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when I, considered all these things and that <that> being seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in <the> attitude of calling upon the Lord <in the 16th year of my age> a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the <Lord> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph <my son> thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy <way> walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life <behold> the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not <my> commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which <hath> been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud <clothed> in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but [1] could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart. [10]

The 1832 History

In 1969 I had not spent enough time with the manuscript of Joseph Smith’s 1832 History to see all that was there—for example, the handwriting changes between Frederick G. Williams and Joseph Smith and the fact that Joseph actually wrote part of it himself. Also, there is an insertion in the part of the text written by Joseph Smith stating that the vision occurred in his sixteenth year. Upon closer inspection it is evident that the insertion was written by Frederick G. Williams, a fact that may help explain the discrepancy between this account and others in dating the vision. (Dean C. Jessee, interview by Samuel Alonzo Dodge, July 27, 2009, Provo, UT)

On November 27, 1832, Joseph began keeping a journal, a practice he continued intermittently to the end of his life. Although the beginning pages were in his own handwriting, much of the journal was dictated to scribes and was eventually written entirely from their own observations. Extensive gaps in the journal must be bridged, so far as possible, by reference to outside sources. Under the date of November 9, 1835, Joseph dictated to his clerk Warren Parrish the visit of a religious eccentric by the name of Robert Matthias who claimed to be Joshua, a Jewish minister. During the ensuing conversation, Joseph Smith related his early vision experience:

After I had made some remarks concerning the bible I commenced giving him a relation of the circumstances connected with the coming forth of the book of Mormon, as follows—being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequ[e]nces being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bow[e]d down before the Lord, under a realising sense that he had said (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive knock and it shall be opened seek and you shall find and again, if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men libarally and upbradeth not information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called upon the Lord for the first time, in the place above stated or in other words I made a fruitless attempt to p[r]ay, my toung seemed to be swolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some person walking towards me, I strove again to pray, but could not, the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my feet, and [p. 23] and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking, I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testifyed unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God <and I saw many angels in this vision> I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication. [11]

This journal entry soon found its way into another historical document, Joseph Smith’s History, 1834–1836. This particular effort to compile materials toward the publication of a history of the Church had commenced in October 1834 when Oliver Cowdery, the editor of the Church’s magazine, the Messenger and Advocate, began publishing the history in Kirtland, Ohio. The work appeared serially, initially in the form of correspondence between Cowdery and William W. Phelps, and was anticipated to become a “full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time.” It was announced at the outset by the editor that “our brother J. Smith Jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensible. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative.” [12] In the series of eight letters that followed, Cowdery presented various historical events, beginning in the October 1834 issue with an account of the priesthood restoration and concluding in the October 1835 issue with the visit of Joseph Smith to Harmony, Pennsylvania, shortly after receiving the Book of Mormon plates in 1827.

Toward the end of 1835, Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish, two of Joseph Smith’s clerks, then copied the eight Cowdery-Phelps letters into a large record book that was designated to become “a history” of Joseph’s life. Following the transcription of the eight published letters, the format of the anticipated “history” was changed when another clerk, Warren Cowdery, began copying Joseph Smith’s journal into the record, commencing with the September 22, 1835, entry. Warren prefaced his addition with this statement: “Here the reader will observe that the narrative assumes a different form. The subject of it becoming daily more and more noted, the writer deemed it proper to give a plain, simple, yet faithful narration of every important item in his every-day-occurrences.” [13] There then follows 142 pages of Joseph Smith’s journal entries covering the period from September 22, 1835, to January 18, 1836, when the record was abruptly discontinued, evidently as a different approach to organizing the history again became desirable. Except for a few grammatical alterations to the text, including introductory sentences changed from first to third person, the entry included by Warren Cowdery for November 9, 1835, in which Joseph related his 1820 vision experience to Matthias, is a duplication of the Joseph Smith journal entry for the same date (document 2 above) and thus these two accounts are listed together.

The conversation soon turned upon the subject of Religion, and after the subject of this narrative [Joseph] had made some remarks concerning the bible, he commenced giving him [Matthias] a relation of the circumstances, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which were nearly as follows. [“]Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of Religion, and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong, but considered it of the first importance to me that I should be right, in matters of so much moment, matter[s] involving eternal consequences. Being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and there bowed down before the Lord, under a realizing sense, (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find, and again, if any man lack wisdom, let [him ask] of God who giveth to all men liberally & upbraideth not. Information was what I most desired [p. 120] at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called on the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray My tongue seemed to be swoolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter. I heard a noise behind me like some one walking towards me: I strove again to pray, but could not the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer I sprang upon my feet and looked round, but saw no person, or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with unspeakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication.[”] [14]

On November 14, 1835, five days after the Robert Matthias visit, Joseph Smith related his vision to Erastus Holmes, from Newberry, Clermont County, Ohio, who had called “to make inquiry about the establishment of the church of Latter-day Saints and to be instructed more perfectly in our doctrine.” Joseph dictated a summary of his conversation with Holmes that his clerk Warren Parrish recorded in the Prophet’s journal.

I commenced and gave him a brief relation of my experience while in my [p. 36] juvenile years, say from 6 years old up to the time I received the first visitation of Angels which was when I was about 14. years old and also the visitations that I received afterward, concerning the book of Mormon, and a short account of the rise and progress of the church. [15]

In a fashion similar to the inclusion of the November 9 journal entry explained above, the November 14 entry was also incorporated into the 1834–1836 History as follows:

He (Smith) commenced and gave him a brief relation of his experience while in his youthful days, say from the age of six years up to the time he received the first visitation of Angels which was when he was about 14 years old. He also gave him an account of the revelations he had afterward received concerning the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and a succinct account of the rise and progress of the church up to this date. [16]

In March 1838, Joseph Smith moved his family and the center of the Church from Kirtland, Ohio, to Far West, Missouri. Only a month later, on April 27, 1838, while engaged in establishing a new gathering place for the Latter-day Saints in Caldwell County, Missouri, he again began writing a history of the Church “from the earliest period of its existance,” [17] this time with the help of his counselor Sidney Rigdon and his secretary George W. Robinson. Only a small segment of the history was written before the project was suspended, no doubt due to the conditions that forced the removal of the Latter-day Saints from the state later that year and resulted in the imprisonment of the Prophet. Not until June 1839, shortly after his arrival in Illinois from his six-month confinement in Missouri, and again only one month after moving his family into a small log house near Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois, to begin anew the process of community building, did Joseph Smith turn his attention back to writing the History. Dictating to James Mulholland, [18] Joseph continued the work he had commenced the previous year—a work that some sixty years later would be edited by the Church historian Brigham H. Roberts and published in six volumes as the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period I, History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, by Himself. The beginning pages of this history were in time canonized as scripture in the Pearl of Great Price and contain the best-known account of the First Vision. [19]

Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil disposed and designing persons in relation to the rise and progress of the Church of <Jesus Christ of> Latter day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a church, and its progress in the world I have been induced to write this history so as to disabuse the publick mind, and put all enquirers after truth into possession of the facts as they have transpired in relation both to myself and the Church as far as I have such facts in possession.

In this history I will present the various events in relation to this Church in truth and righteousness as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now the eighth year since the organization of said Church. I was born in the year of our Lord One thousand Eight hundred and five, on the twenty third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor County, State of Vermont. <see page Note A 131> [20] My father Joseph Smith Senior [21] left the State of Vermont and moved to Palmyra, Ontario, (now Wayne) County, in the State of New York when I was in my tenth year. <or thereabout.>

In about four years after my father’s arrival at Palmyra, he moved with his family into Manchester in the same County of Ontario. His family consisting of eleven souls, namely, My Father Joseph Smith, My Mother Lucy Smith whose name previous to her marriage was Mack, daughter of Solomon Mack, My brothers Alvin (who <died Nov. 19th: 1823 in the 25 year of his age.> is now dead) Hyrum, Myself, Samuel—Harrison, William, Don Carloss, and my Sisters Soph[r]onia, Cathrine and Lucy. Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country, indeed the whole district of Country seemed affected by it and great [p. 1] multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division among the people, Some crying, “Lo here” and some Lo there. Some were contending for the Methodist faith, Some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist for notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great Zeal manifested by the respective Clergy who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling in order to have everybody converted as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased yet when the Converts began to file off some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the Priests and the Converts were mere pretence more pretended than real, for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued Priest contending against priest, and convert against convert so that all their good feelings one for another (if they ever had any) were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.

I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My Fathers family was<ere> proselyted to the Presbyterian faith and four of them joined that Church, Namely, My Mother Lucy, My Brothers Hyrum, Samuel Harrison, and my Sister Soph[r]onia.

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness, but though my feelings were deep and often pungent, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties though I attended their several meetings <as often> as occasion would permit. But in process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them, but so great was the confusion and strife amongst the different denominations that it was impossible for a person young as I was and so unacquainted with men and things to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. My mind at different times was greatly excited for the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all their powers of either reason or sophistry to prove their errors, or at least to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally Zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

In the midst of this war of words, and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself, what is to be done? Who of all these parties are right? Or are they all wrong together? And if any one of them be right which is it? And how shall I know it?

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, First Chapter and fifth verse which reads, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man [than] this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did, for how to act I did not know and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had would never know, for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same [p. 2] passage of Scripture so differently as <to> destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. At length I came to the Conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion or else I must do as James directs, that is, Ask of God. I at last came to the determination to ask of God, concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally and not upbraid, I might venture. So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful clear day early in the spring of Eightteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had <made> such an attempt, for amidst all <my> anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

After I had retired into the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God, I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was <siezed> upon by some power which entirely overcame me and <had> such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had siezed upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, not to an imaginary ruin but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world who had such a marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being. Just at this moment of great alarm I saw a pillar <of> light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gracefully gradually untill it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages (whose brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in the air. One of <them> spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) “This is my beloved Son, Hear him.” My object in going to enquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner therefore did I get possession of myself so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right, (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their Creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all Corrupt, that “they draw near to me with their lips but their hearts are far from me, They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of Godliness but they deny the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them and many other things did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again I found myself lying on <my> back looking up into Heaven. <B See Note P 132 > [22] Some few days after I had this vision I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist Preachers who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement and conversing with him on the subject of religion I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behaviour, he treated my communication not only lightly but with great contempt, saying it was all of the Devil, that there was no such thing as visions or revelations in these days, that all such things had ceased with the [p. 3] apostles and that there never would be any more of them. I soon found however that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion and was the cause of great persecution which continued to increase and though I was an obscure boy only between fourteen and fifteen years of age <or thereabouts,> and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficiently to excite the public mind against me and create a hot persecution, and this was common <among> all the sects: all united to persecute me. It has often caused me m serious reflection both then and since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy of a little over fourteen years of age and one too who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintainance by his daily labor should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day so as to create in them a spirit of the bitterest persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and was often cause of great sorrow to myself. However it was nevertheless a fact, that I had had a vision. I have thought since that I felt much like as Paul did when he made his defence before King Aggrippa and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light and heard a voice, but still there were but few who believed him, some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad, and he was ridiculed and reviled, But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision he knew he had, and <all> the persecution under Heaven could not make it otherwise, and though they should persecute him unto death yet he knew and would know to his latest breath that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise. So it was with me, I had actualy seen a light and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did in reality speak <un>to me, or one of them did, And though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true and while they were persecuting me reviling me and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart, why persecute <me> for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision, “and who am I that I can withstand God” or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen, for I had seen a vision, I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dare I do it, at least I knew that by so doing <I> would offend God and come under condemnation. I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned, that it was not my duty to join with any of them, but continue as I was untill further directed, for I had found the testimony of James to be true. [23]

In 1842, John Wentworth, the twenty-six-year-old editor of the Chicago Democrat, requested from Joseph Smith a “sketch of the rise, progress, persecution and faith of the Latter-day Saints” for a friend of his, George Barstow, who was writing a history of New Hampshire. Joseph Smith responded to his request and even included a short account of his First Vision with the response. The historical sketch supplied to Wentworth was apparently not used by Barstow, but it was published in the March 1, 1842, issue of the Nauvoo paper Times and Seasons, the first published account of the vision in the United States.

I was born in the town of Sharon Windsor co., Vermont, on the 23d of December, a.d. 1805. When ten years old my parents removed to Palmyra New York, where we resided about four years, and from thence we removed to the town of Manchester.

My father was a farmer and taught me the art of husbandry. When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed. Believing the word of God I had confidence in the declaration of James “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him,” I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a [p. 706] heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me. [24]

In 1843, Israel Daniel Rupp, a Pennsylvania historian, planned to publish a work containing the history and doctrine of religious organizations in the United States as written by representatives of each church. In July 1843, Rupp requested from Joseph Smith a chapter on the Mormons. The book containing the Prophet’s response was published the following year under the title An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States. The portion of the chapter dealing with the First Vision was essentially a reprint of the statement sent to John Wentworth the previous year with very slight changes.

When about fourteen years of age, I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state and upon inquiring the place of salvation, I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment if I went to one society they referred me to one place, and another to another each one pointing to his own particular creed as the “summum bonum” of perfection. Considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion, I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church, it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed. Believing the word of God, I had confidence in the declaration of James, “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.”

I retired to a secret place in a grove, and began to call upon the [p. 404] Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enrapt in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light, which eclipsed the sun at noonday. They told me that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me. [25]

In addition to the eight accounts of Joseph Smith’s vision directly formulated by him, five others were written by witnesses who heard him relate the experience and reported what he said during his lifetime.

As one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who assisted in introducing Mormonism in the British Isles in 1840–41, Orson Pratt arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, in May 1840. To arouse interest in his message, Pratt published in September 1840 a pamphlet titled A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records in which he drew from his personal acquaintance with Joseph Smith for details of the Prophet’s First Vision. The significance of the Pratt pamphlet is that it was the first time an account of the vision had been published. The Pratt pamphlet shows some evidence that it was used by the Prophet to formulate the letter he sent to John Wentworth in 1842.

When somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old, he [Joseph Smith] began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence: but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind: he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. He saw, that if he understood not the [p. 3] way, it would be impossible to walk in it, except by chance and the thought of resting his hopes of eternal life upon chance, or uncertainties, was more than he could endure. If he went to the religious denominations to seek information, each one pointed to its particular tenets, saying—“This is the way, walk ye in it” while, at the same time, the doctrines of each were, in many respects, in direct opposition to one another. It, also, occurred to his mind, that God was not the author of but one doctrine, and therefore could not acknowledge but one denomination as his church and that such denomination must be a people, who believe, and teach, that one doctrine, (whatever it may be,) and build upon the same. He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines, now, in the world, which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind, was—if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it? Until he could become satisfied, in relation to this question, he could not rest contented. To trust to the decisions of fallible man, and build his hopes upon the same, without any certainty, and knowledge, of his own, would not satisfy the anxious desires that pervaded his breast. To decide, without any positive and definite evidence, on which he could rely, upon a subject involving the future welfare of his soul, was revolting to his feelings. The only alternative, that seemed to be left him, was to read the Scriptures, and endeavour to follow their directions. He, accordingly, commenced perusing the sacred pages of the Bible, with sincerity, believing the things that he read. His mind soon caught hold of the following passage:—“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.”—James i.5. From this promise he learned, that it was the privilege of all men to ask God for wisdom, with the sure and certain expectation of receiving, liberally without being upbraided for so doing. This was cheering information to him: tidings that gave him great joy. It was like a light shining forth in a dark place, to guide him to the path in which he should walk. He, now, saw that if he inquired of God, there was, not only, a possibility, but a probability yea, more, a certainty, that he should [p. 4] obtain a knowledge, which, of all the doctrines, was the doctrine of Christ and, which, of all the churches, was the church of Christ. He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind and he was enabled to pray, in fervency of the spirit, and in faith. And, while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed, that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fullness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him after which the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable. [26]

"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Joseph Smith—History 1:17) (Sacred Grove photo by Brent R. Nordgren)

At the 1840 April conference in Nauvoo, Elder Orson Hyde spoke of a prophecy calling him to “a great work” among the Jews, a work that would “prepare the way” for the gathering of that people. He felt the time had come to fulfill that prophecy by visiting the Jews of Europe and the Holy Land, whereupon the conference authorized him to proceed on his mission. After arriving in London, he wrote, with Joseph Smith’s sanction, a treatise on the faith, doctrine, and history of the Church. Continuing this journey, he stopped in Germany, where he studied German, then proceeded on to the Middle East, where he dedicated the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. Returning to Germany in 1842, he translated his book into German and published it in Frankfurt before returning to the United States. Written “in something the manner” of Orson Pratt’s 1840 pamphlet, Hyde’s work was titled Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, the first time an account of the First Vision was published in a foreign language. [27]

When he had reached his fifteenth year, he began to think seriously about the importance of preparing for a future [existence] but it was very difficult for him to decide how he should go about such an important undertaking. He recognized clearly that it would be impossible for him to walk the proper path without being acquainted with it beforehand and to base his hopes for eternal life on chance or blind uncertainty would have been more than he had ever been inclined to do.

He discovered the world of religion working under a flood of errors which by virtue of their contradictory opinions and principles laid the foundation for the rise of such different sects and denominations whose feelings toward each other all too often were poisoned by hate, contention, resentment and anger. He felt that there was only one truth and that those who understood it correctly, all understood it in the same way. Nature had endowed him with a keen critical intellect and so he looked through the lens of reason and common sense and with pity and contempt upon those systems of religion, which were so opposed to each other and yet were all obviously based on the scriptures.

After he had sufficiently convinced himself to his own satisfaction that darkness covered the earth and gross darkness [covered] the nations, the hope of ever finding a sect or denomination that was in possession of unadulterated truth left him.

Consequently he began in an attitude of faith his own investigation of the word of God [feeling that it was] the best way to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. He had not proceeded very far in this laudable endeavor when his eyes fell upon the following verse of St. James [1:5]: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” He considered this scripture an authorization for him to solemnly call upon his creator to present his needs before him with the certain expectation of some success. And so he began to pour out to the Lord with fervent determination the earnest desires of his soul. On one occasion, he went to a small grove of trees near his father’s home and knelt down before God in solemn prayer. The adversary then made several strenuous efforts to cool his ardent soul. He filled his mind with doubts [p. 15] and brought to mind all manner of inappropriate images to prevent him from obtaining the object of his endeavors but the overflowing mercy of God came to buoy him up and gave new impetus to his failing strength. However, the dark cloud soon parted and light and peace filled his frightened heart. Once again he called upon the Lord with faith and fervency of spirit.

At this sacred moment, the natural world around him was excluded from his view, so that he would be open to the presentation of heavenly and spiritual things. Two glorious heavenly personages stood before him, resembling each other exactly in features and stature. They told him that his prayers had been answered and that the Lord had decided to grant him a special blessing. He was also told that he should not join any of the religious sects or denominations, because all of them erred in doctrine and none was recognized by God as his church and kingdom. He was further commanded, to wait patiently until some future time, when the true doctrine of Christ and the complete truth of the gospel would be revealed to him. The vision closed and peace and calm filled his mind. [28]

A native of Massachusetts, Levi Richards was the older brother of Willard Richards, Church historian and Joseph Smith’s secretary, and a cousin of Brigham Young. Levi was a skilled Thompsonian physician. Shortly after his conversion to Mormonism in 1835, he moved to Kirtland, Ohio. He was present during the difficulties that beset the Church in Ohio and Missouri and assisted in the evacuation of the Saints when they were forced out of Missouri in 1838–39. After resettling with the Church at Nauvoo, Illinois, he continued his medical practice, served as surgeon general of the Nauvoo Legion, and was elected a member of the city council. On Sunday, June 11, 1843, after Joseph Smith had spoken to the Saints gathered near the temple, he announced that George J. Adams would lecture that evening on the Book of Mormon. Levi Richards attended the lecture and reported the following:

At 6 PM. heard Eld. G J Adams upon the book of Mormon proved from the 24th, 28th & 29 of Isaiah that the everlasting covenant which was set up by Christ & the apostles had been broken . . . —Pres. J. Smith bore testimony to the same—saying that when he was a youth he began to think about these things but could not find out which of all the sects were right—he went into the grove &, enquired of the Lord which of all the sects were right—he received for answer that none of them were right, that they were all wrong, & that the Everlasting covenant was broken—he said he understood the fulness of the Gospel from beginning to end—& could Teach it & also the order of the priesthood in all its ramifications—Earth & hell had opposed him & tryed to destroy him—but they had not done it & they <never would.> [29]

A visitor to Nauvoo who heard Joseph Smith speak of his vision was David Nye White, the senior editor of the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette. On August 28, 1843, while traveling through the western frontier of America, White stopped in Illinois to visit the Prophet. Two days later, he wrote his perceptions of the “far-famed kingdom of the ‘Latter-day Saints,’” which were published in the September 15 issue of the Gazette. Included in the article was his report of what the Prophet told him about his 1820 vision. Joseph said:

The Lord does reveal himself to me. I know it. He revealed himself first to me when I was about fourteen years old, a mere boy. I will tell you about it. There was a reformation among the different religious denominations in the neighborhood where I lived, and I became serious, and was desirous to know what Church to join. While thinking of this matter, I opened the [New] Testament promiscuously on these words, in James, “Ask of the Lord who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” I just determined I’d ask him. I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and went to the stump where I had stuck my axe when I had quit work, and I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, “O Lord, what Church shall I join?” Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said to the second, “Behold my beloved Son, hear him.” I then, addressed this second person, saying, “O Lord, what Church shall I join.” He replied, “don’t join any of them, they are all corrupt.” The vision then vanished, and when I come to myself, I was sprawling on my back and it was some time before my strength returned. When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since. They thought to put me down, but they hav’nt succeeded, and they can’t do it. [30]

Another Latter-day Saint who heard Joseph Smith relate his First Vision experience and recorded what he heard was Alexander Neibaur, a convert originally from Germany. After studying dentistry in his native land, Neibaur moved to England, where he set up his practice in Preston. When Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in England in 1837, Neibaur was among the first converts to the Church. Four years later, he and his family migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois, where he continued his dental practice and, as a linguist, taught German and Hebrew to Joseph Smith. On May 24, 1844, Neibaur, still struggling to master the English language, recorded in his diary what the Prophet had said that day while Neibaur visited in Joseph’s home.

Br Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival meeting his mother & Br & Sist got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & sho shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible f the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberallity & upbraidat[h] not went into the Wood to pray kneelt himself down his tongue was closet cleavet to his roof—could utter not a word, felt easier after a while = saw a fire towards heaven came near & nearer saw a personage in the fire light complexion blue eyes a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a wile a other person came to the side of the first Mr Smith then asked must I join the Methodist Church = No = they are not my People, all have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one, but this is my Beloved son harken ye him, the fire drew nigher Rested upon the tree enveloped him [page torn] comforted Indeavoured to arise but felt uncomen feeble = got into the house told the Methodist priest, [who] said this was not a age for God to Reveal himself in Vision Revelation has ceased with the New Testament. [31]

Should the foregoing historical sources pertaining to Joseph Smith’s First Vision seem sparse in some respects, those gaps are primarily the result of inadequate record keeping of his many conversations and discourses on the subject or related topics. If record keeping in the harsh literary environment of the early years of the Church had commenced at the level of efficiency that it later achieved, no doubt other contemporary reports of the vision would be available. This conclusion is strongly suggested by occasions when Joseph is known to have talked about the experience, but no official report was made.

For example, William Phelps, writing to his wife, Sally, in Missouri in June 1835, noted that “President Smith preached last Sabbath, and I gave him the text: ‘This is my belovd Son hear ye him!’ He preached one of the greatest sermons I ever heard—it was about 3 ½ hours long—and unfolded more mysteries than I can write at this time.” [32]

A year later, in November 1836, Parley P. Pratt informed the Saints in Canada that one of the most interesting meetings he ever attended had been held recently in the Kirtland Temple:

One week before word was publicly given that Br. J. Smith Jr. would give a relation of the coming forth of the records and also of the rise of the church and of his experience. Accordingly a vast concourse assembled at an early hour. Every seat was crowded and 4 or 5 hundred People stood up in the Aisles. Br. S[mith] gave the history of these things relating many Particulars of the manner of his irst visions &c. the Spirit and Powr of God was upon him in Bearing testimony insomuch that many if not most of the congregation were in tears—as for my self I can say that all the reasonings in uncertainty and all the conclusions drawn from the writings of others . . . however great in themselves dwindle into insignificance when compared with the living testimony when your Eyes sea and your Ears hear from the living oracles of God. [33]

Aside from the Pratt letter, there are no known additional reports of this discourse, which gave many details of Joseph’s First Vision the date on which it was given coincides with a large gap in the Prophet’s journal.

After the death of Joseph Smith, other witnesses wrote of occasions on which they had heard him speak about his First Vision. For example, on the “special request of a few particular friends,” Mary Isabella Hales Horne recalled the time when she had heard Joseph “relate his first vision when the Father and Son appeared to him: also his receiving the Gold Plates from the Angel Moroni. . . . While he was relating the circumstances, the Prophet’s countenance lighted up, and so wonderful a power accompanied his words that everybody who heard them felt his influence and power.” [34]

Similiarly, Joseph Curtis recalled a visit of Joseph Smith to Pontiac, Michigan, in spring 1835, where the Prophet, in a meeting there, “stated the reason” for the doctrines he taught:

As a revival of some of the sec[t]s was going on some of his fathers family joined in with the revival himself being quite young[.] he feeling an anxiety to be religious his mind some what troubled this scriptures came to his mind which sayes if a man lack wisdon let him ask of god who giveth liberaly and upbradeth not[.] believeing it he went with a determinati[on] to obtain to enquire of the lord himself after some strugle the Lord minifested to him that the different sects were rong also that the Lord had a great work for him to do. [35]

The devoted record keeper Edward Stevenson, while also living in Pontiac, heard Joseph speak to the branch of the Church there:

A great stir was made in this settlement at so distinguished visitors the meetings held were crowded to see and hear the testamonies given which were very powerful I will here relate my own experience on the ocaision of a meeting in our old log school House The Prophet stood at a table for the pulpit whare he began relateing his vision and before he got through he was in the midst of the congregation with uplifted hand. I do believe that there was not one person presant who did at the time being or who was not convicted of the truth of his vision, of an Angle to him his countanance seemed to me to assume a heavenly whiteness and his voice was so peirseing and forcible for my part it so impressed me as to become indellibly imprinted in my mind. [36]

A secondhand report of Joseph Smith relating his vision, remembered many years later, comes from the pen of the diligent southern Utah diarist Charles Walker. In 1893, he attended a testimony meeting one Sunday at which one of the local elders, John Alger, said that when he was a small boy he heard Joseph Smith “relate his vision of seeing the Father and the Son, That God touched his eyes with his finger and said, ‘Joseph this is my beloved Son hear him.’ As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior.” At the close of the meeting Walker and others questioned the speaker:

He told us at the bottom of the meeting house steps that he was in the House of Father Smith in Kirtland when Joseph made this declaration, and that Joseph while speaking of it put his finger to his right eye, suiting the action with the words so as to illustrate and at the same time impress the occurrence on the minds of those unto whom He was speaking. [37]

The primary historical sources of Joseph Smith’s First Vision are best understood in the broad record-keeping setting in which they were created. In 1830, a revelation commanded that records be kept in the Church, and the Prophet entered upon the stage of record keeping without the benefit of a well-defined tradition of doing so. He first farmed out the task to others, but when he saw that their effort did not adequately chronicle his personal experience, he belatedly commenced his autobiography. For years he struggled with a format for his personal history, as indicated by the haphazard nature of his earliest attempts to create a record of his life. Another factor that had an impact upon the historical record was the inability of those who heard Joseph speak to make a verbatim report of what he said.

Furthermore, public knowledge of his religious claims and intentions had been the source of much of the persecution against him and his people, which also affected the writing and dissemination of his history. A little more than a year before his death, he told the Saints, “The History is going out by little & little in the papers & cutting its way, so that when it is completed it will not raise a persecution against us.” [38] The extraordinary opposition and hardships he faced in his role as religious reformer, and the problems associated with the development of a historical record, had a significant impact upon the timing and nature of the records he produced. This context is the lens through which the collection of the pieces of the historical record of Joseph Smith’s First Vision is best seen and appreciated.

In the process of reading through the documents and writings of Joseph Smith over the years, my conviction of the credibility of his story and the nature of his mission has increased immensely. The evidence has built detail upon detail, document upon document, to the point where it has become a compelling reality to me. Once I was able to separate the thoughts Joseph Smith put on paper with his own hand from those written by others for him, there was a whole new light cast upon him. I found that his personal writings—few in number compared to his entire archive—were like a vein of gold threading through a mountain. I saw in them a different spirit I saw a sensitive, caring man whose prose was born of religious experience. I could well believe his words when he said: “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me,” and “God is my friend in him I shall find comfort I have given my life into his hands I am prepared to go at his call. . . . I count not my life dear to me only to do his will.” (Dean C. Jessee, interview by Samuel Alonzo Dodge, July 27, 2009, Provo, UT)

[1] Joseph Smith History, 1832, in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, MS, 1, Joseph Smith Collection, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

[2] Joseph Smith to William Phelps, November 27, 1832, in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, 4 The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. and comp. Dean C. Jessee, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 287.

[3] The opening words of the revelation presented by Joseph Smith at the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830, were “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (D&C 21:1).

[4] Joseph Smith Jr., “History of the Church,” MS, C-1, 1023, Church History Library History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971): 4:88–89.

[5] Smith, “History,” C-1, 1023 History of the Church, 4:89.

[6] Smith, “History,” C-1, 1223 History of the Church, 4:89.

[7] The manuscript of the History shows that the first fifty-nine pages were written by James Mulholland, that Robert B. Thompson wrote at least part of the next sixteen, and that William W. Phelps had written eighty-two pages before Willard Richards began writing. It was not until after Richards’s appointment in December 1841 that any significant progress was made on writing the History. Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11, no. 4 (1971): 429–73.

[8] Smith, “History,” C-1, 1260. See History of the Church, 4:470. Speaking to the newly appointed Twelve in February 1835, Joseph remarked:

If I now had in my possession every decision which has been had upon important items of doctrine and duties, since the commencement of this work, I would not part with them for any sum of money but we have neglected to take minutes of such things, thinking perhaps that they would never benefit us afterwards. . . . [A]nd now we cannot bear record to the church and to the world of the great and glorious manifestations which have been made to us, with that degree of power and authority we otherwise could, if we now had these things to publish abroad. (“A Record of the Transactions of the Twelve Apostles . . . ,” MS, 1–2, Church History Library compare History of the Church, 2:198–99)

[9] Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, 1 Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 9–10. Evidence for the 1832 date comes from handwriting identification and inspection of the ledger book that contained the severed pages. The handwriting reveals that the document was alternately penned by Joseph and Frederick G. Williams, Joseph’s scribe and counselor in the First Presidency. Williams converted to the Church in fall 1830 and immediately left for Missouri. His handwriting in the beginning pages of the Kirtland Revelation Book shows that by February 1832, Williams was writing for Joseph Smith, after returning to Ohio. And according to his own statement, he was officially appointed on July 20 as the Prophet’s scribe. From this, it is evident that the writing of the History could have occurred as early as February 1832.

Nor is it likely that the History was written after November 27, 1832, since on that date the ledger book in which it was written was converted to a letterbook for recording important historical Church documents. The evidence for this is two-fold. First, although they were later cut from the volume, the three leaves containing the History match the cut edges still protruding from the binding of the ledger book. The terminal letters of words that were severed when the pages were removed also match. The cut page stubs immediately precede the November 27, 1832, letter entry, the first item in the letterbook. Second, the page numbering indicates this arrangement. The pages of the History were numbered 1 through 6, and the November 27 letter begins on page 1a. Both the last page of the History and the pages of the letter were written by Frederick Williams. He would not have started numbering the pages containing the letter with “1a” had there not been a preceding page 1.

[10] Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, 1–3. For the entire text of this narrative, see Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 9–14.

[11] Joseph Smith Journal, 1835–36, MS, 23–24, Church History Library Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 104–5.

[12] Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 13.

[13] Joseph Smith, “History, 1834–1836,” MS, A-1, 105 (numbering from the back of the book), Church History Library The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989–92), 1:97.

[14] Smith, “History, 1834–1836,” A-1, 120–22 Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:125–27.

[15] Joseph Smith Journal, November 14, 1835 Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 112–13.

[16] Smith, “History, 1834–1836,” A-1, 129 Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:136–37.

[17] Joseph Smith, Journal, 1838, MS, 34, Church History Library Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:233.

[18] Smith, “History,” C-1, 954. See also History of the Church, 3:375.

[19] See Joseph Smith—History History of the Church, 1:1–20, 32–33, 39–44 and Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:267–86, 288, 290–92. When Joseph began dictating this history to James Mulholland on June 11, 1839, the Prophet’s large record book containing the above 1835 History account was turned over and retitled as book “A-1” of the ensuing multivolume history. Dates in the opening pages of the narrative indicate that the Prophet was dictating from a text that had been written the previous year. On page 1, reference is made to the “eighth year since the organization of said Church,” and on page 8, “this day, being the Second day of May, One thousand Eight hundred and thirty eight.” History of the Church, 1:2, 18–19. Joseph Smith’s journal for April 27, 1838, in the hand of George W. Robinson, notes that he spent the day “writing a history of th<i>s Church from the earliest perion [period] of its existance up to this date.” During the first four days of May, the journal adds, “the First Presidency were engaged in writing church History.” Joseph Smith Journal, April 27 and May 1–4, 1838 Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:233, 237 History of the Church, 3:25–26. The statement on page 8 of the History confirms this was the narrative being written on May 2, 1838.

Further evidence that the beginning pages of the History manuscript volume A-1 were copied in 1839 from the Prophet’s dictation beginning with the account written the previous year is that the first fifty-nine pages of the manuscript are in the handwriting of Mulholland, who did not begin writing for Joseph Smith until September 3, 1838 a short time later, he discontinued writing during the Missouri imprisonment of the Prophet (October 1838–March 1839) and did not recommence until April 22, 1839. James Mulholland Journal, MS, Church History Library. Mulholland’s journal entry for June 11, 1839, notes that he was “writing &c for Church history.” In addition, the Prophet’s History for that date states, “I commenced dictating my history for my Clerk—James Mulholland to write,” and on June 12 and 13, Joseph’s History reads, “I continued to dictate my history.” Smith, “History,” C-1, 954 History of the Church, 3:375–76.

[20] This insertion added by Willard Richards in 1842 contains the Prophet’s account of his 1813 leg operation. See Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:268–69 Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (London: S. W. Richards, 1853), 62–66 see also LeRoy S. Wirthlin, “Joseph Smith’s Boyhood Operation: An 1813 Surgical Success,” BYU Studies 21, no. 2 (1981): 131–54

[21] An insertion here to “Addendum, note E, page 2” gives birth dates and places of Joseph Smith’s paternal ancestors.

[22] This insertion is in the handwriting of Willard Richards on pages 132–33 of the History manuscript. According to Richards’s diary, this note was written on December 2, 1842, which explains why it does not appear in the History in the Times and Seasons that began publication in March of that year. Willard Richards, Diary, December 2, 1842, MS, Church History Library.

[23] Smith, “History,” A-1, 1–4 Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 226–32.

[24] Joseph Smith, “Church History,” Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842, 706–10, in Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 242. Appended to this account was the statement of belief later canonized as the Articles of Faith.

[25] Joseph Smith, “Latter Day Saints,” in I. Daniel Rupp, comp., An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States (Philadelphia: J. Y. Humphreys, 1844), 404–10 Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:448–49.

[26] Orson Pratt, Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and The Late Discovery of Ancient American Records (Edinburgh: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 3–5 Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:389–91.

[27] Joseph Smith Letterbook 2, 201–6 Orson Hyde and John E. Page to Joseph Smith, May 1, 1840, in Joseph Smith Letterbook 2, 144–45 Joseph Smith to Orson Hyde and John E. Page, May 14, 1840, in Joseph Smith Letterbook 2, 146–47 Orson Hyde to Joseph Smith, June 15, 1841, Times and Seasons, October 1, 1841, 551–55. See also History of the Church, 4:105–6, 123–24, 129, 386 and Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:402–4.

[28] Orson Hyde, Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, eine Stimme aus dem Schoose der Erde (A Cry from the Wilderness, a Voice from the Dust of the Earth) (Frankfurt: n.p., 1842), 14–16. The text here is a literal translation from the German by Marvin Folsom, professor emeritus of German, Brigham Young University. The text is also reprinted with a translation in Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:402–25.

[29] Levi Richards Journal, June 11, 1843, MS, Church History Library. See also The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 215.

[30] “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, &c.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, September 15, 1843, 3 Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:438–44.

[31] Alexander Neibaur Journal, May 24, 1844, MS, Church History Library.

[32] William W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, June 2, 1835, MS, Church History Library.

[33] Parley P. Pratt to the Elders and Brethren of the Church of Latter-day Saints in Canada, November 27, 1836, MS, Church History Library.

[34] Woman’s Exponent, June 1910, 6.

[35] Joseph Curtis Reminiscences and Journal, MS, 5, Church History Library.

[36] Edward Stevenson, “The Life and History of Elder Edward Stevenson,” MS, 21, Church History Library. See also Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph the Prophet and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: printed by author, 1893), 4–5 and Edward Stevenson, Juvenile Instructor, July 15, 1894, 444–45.

[37] Charles Walker, diary, February 2, 1893, published as A. Karl Larsen and Katharine Miles Larsen, eds., Diary of Charles Lowell Walker (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1980), 755–56.

[38] Willard Richards, report of Joseph Smith discourse, in Joseph Smith Journal, April 19, 1843 History of the Church, 5:367.

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History of accountancy

Accounting is thousands of years old the earliest accounting records, which date back more than 7,000 years, were found in Mesopotamia amongst the ruins of ancient Babylon, Assyria and Sumeria The people of that time relied on primitive accounting methods to record the growth of crops and herds. Because there is a natural season to farming and herding, it is easy to count and determine if a surplus had been gained after the crops had been harvested or the young animals weaned. Accounting evolved, improving over the years and advancing as business advanced.

Clay tokens, from Susa, Uruk period, circa 3500 BC.

Economic tablet, Uruk period (3200 BC to 2700 BC)

Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer, Iraq 3100-3000 BC

Summary account of silver for the govenor, Iraq 2,500 BCE

Issue of barley rations, 2,350 BCE

Balance sheet Mesopotamia, 2040 BC (Ur III).

Accounting: distribution of food, first half of 2nd millenium BCE

Wooden brewery model (Middle Kingdom). The rightmost figure with a tablet tucked under his arm is a scribe, counting the bottles.

Antiquity Edit

The Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Latin: "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus") is a remarkable account to the Roman people of the Emperor Augustus' stewardship. It listed and quantified his public expenditure, which encompassed distributions to the people, grants of land or money to army veterans, subsidies to the aerarium (treasury), building of temples, religious offerings, and expenditures on theatrical shows and gladiatorial games. It was not an account of state revenue and expenditure, but was designed to demonstrate Augustus' munificence. The significance of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti from an accounting perspective lies in the fact that it illustrates that the executive authority had access to detailed financial information, covering a period of some forty years, which was still retrievable after the event. The scope of the accounting information at the emperor's disposal suggests that its purpose encompassed planning and decision-making.

Early Church History—Life in Ancient Rome & The Early Christians

If you’re interested in and searching for information about early church history, you’ve landed in the right place. All the articles, videos and images here are intended to inform, fascinate and broaden your understanding of how the the small band of early Christians lived, were persecuted, willingly sacrificed their lives as Christian martyrs and ultimately triumphed over the juggernaut of life in ancient Rome. Peruse the article titles under the topic headings and select one that gets your attention. Each article is written to provide the most information in the shortest space. Ancient Rome’s battle against the early Christians was an amazing time in history—one which shaped and in many ways resembles our lives today.

Who Were The Early Christians?

No one can better describe the early Christians than Mathetes who was a 2nd century Christian. In this letter to his friend Diognetus, he explains who the Christians were and how they lived and worshipped. “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity—But inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct….They marry, as do all others they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.” Epistle to Diognetus, 5 CLICK HERE to read entire epistle

Life In Ancient Rome

How did the early Christians live their day to day lives and who were these first believers? If you met them today, how would they differ from you? This blog hopes to give the readers answers to these questions about Early Church History by giving them a multi-media immersion into the Greco-Roman culture of their day and what life in ancient Rome was like. As Diognetus says, the Christians used the same language and looked just like the people around them. They dressed like the people around them. They ate like the people around them. They were, in essence, indistinguishable from the people around them in the markets, on the streets and in their daily routines. But in their minds and hearts, the early Christians were different. They believed a Jewish man by the name of Jesus had risen from the dead and was the Savior for their sins. They talked to others about their inner beliefs and that innocent act got them killed. Why?—Sandra Sweeny Silver

CLICK HERE to read about the Roman’s daily paper, the Acta Diurna.

Early Accounts of Indians in the California Gold Rush

Newspaper reports, letters, and guidebooks from the early days of the Gold Rush clearly indicate the presence of Native Americans working as miners. Reports from 1848 and early 1849 estimate there were about twice as many Indian miners as white miners. From the reports it is not always clear whether Indians were free or unfree, though most were probably working as indentured servants for white miners, continuing a pattern of labor long established under the Spanish and Mexican governments. White observers&rsquo descriptions of Native Americans often are full of stereotypes about savage, childish, or lazy Indians.

New York Journal of Commerce, 29 August 1848

[The people of California] make the most who employ the wild Indians to hunt it for them. There is one man who has sixty Indians in his employ his profits are a dollar a minute. The wild Indians know nothing of its value, and wonder what the pale faces want to do with it they will give an ounce of it for the same weight of coined silver, or a thimbleful of glass beads, or a glass of [alcohol].

Emigrant&rsquos Guide to California, 1849 (published in Europe)

[Emigrants should hurry to California] to enrich themselves by the gold, which they may gather themselves, or to make the Indians work for them. &hellip[California Indians], being most of them docile, can be made to be of great service, after they are once trained into submission.

Bayard Taylor, Eldorado, Or Adventures in the Path of Empire, 1850 (describing a conversation with a long-time white resident of California)

[She expressed] her resentment against the said emigrants [from the eastern United States], on account of their treatment of the Indians&hellip &ldquoAfore these here emigrants come,&rdquo said she, &ldquothe Injuns were as well-behaved and bidable as could be I liked &lsquoem more &lsquon the whites. When we begun to find gold on the Yuber [River], we could git &lsquoem to work for us day in and day out fur next to nothin&rsquo. We told &lsquoem the gold was stuff to whitewash houses with, and give &lsquoem a [handkerchief] for a tin-cup full but after the emigrants begun to come along and put all sorts of notions into their heads, there was no gettin&rsquo them to do nothin&rsquo.&rdquo

San Francisco Alta California, 1850 (quoting major general of the California militia who criticzed white miners for paying Indians in food and clothing only)

This is not only wrong, but highly disgraceful, when [Indians] would be content with the pay of one-fourth of the wages of a white man.

E. Gould Buffum, Six Months in the Gold Mines, 1850 (describing independent Indian miners)

When the gold was first discovered, they had little conception of its value, and would readily exchange handfuls of it for any article of food they might desire, or any old garment gaudy enough to tickle their fancy. Latterly, however, they have become more careful, and exhibit a profounder appreciation of the worth of the precious metal.

The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History

It’s all a bit of a blur, isn’t it? That little-remembered century� to 1700—that began with the founding (and foundering) of the first permanent English settlement in America, the one called Jamestown, whose endemic perils portended failure for the dream of a New World. The century that saw all the disease-ridden, barely civilized successors to Jamestown slaughtering and getting slaughtered by the Original Inhabitants, hanging on by their fingernails to some fetid coastal swampland until Pocahontas saved Thanksgiving. No, that’s not right, is it? I said it was a blur.

From This Story

The ”peaceful” Pilgrims massacred the Pequots and destroyed their fort near Stonington, Connecticut, in 1637. A 19th-century wood engraving (above) depicts the slaughter. (The Granger Collection, NYC) Historian Bernard Bailyn. (Photograph by Jared Leeds)

Photo Gallery

Enter Bernard Bailyn, the greatest historian of early America alive today. Now over 90 and ensconced at Harvard for more than six decades, Bailyn has recently published another one of his epoch-making grand narrative syntheses, The Barbarous Years, casting a light on the darkness, filling in the blank canvas with what he’s gleaned from what seems like every last scrap of crumbling diary page, every surviving chattel slave receipt and ship’s passenger manifest of the living and dead, every fearful sermon about the Antichrist that survived in the blackened embers of the burned-out churches.

Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization—or in Bailyn’s evocative phrase, the fragile “integument of civility”—that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It’s a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide,” the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call “genocidal,” the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.

“In truth, I didn’t think anyone sat around erasing it,” Bailyn tells me when I visit him in his spacious, document-stuffed study in Harvard’s Widener Library. He’s a wiry, remarkably fit-looking fellow, energetically jumping out of his chair to open up a file drawer and show me copies of one of his most-prized documentary finds: the handwritten British government survey records of America-bound colonists made in the 1770s, which lists the name, origin, occupation and age of the departing, one of the few islands of hard data about who the early Americans were.

“Nobody sat around erasing this history,” he says in an even tone, “but it’s forgotten.”

“Yes,” he agrees. “Look at the ‘peaceful’ Pilgrims. Our William Bradford. He goes to see the Pequot War battlefield and he is appalled. He said, ‘The stink’ [of heaps of dead bodies] was too much.”

Bailyn is speaking of one of the early and bloodiest encounters, between our peaceful pumpkin pie-eating Pilgrims and the original inhabitants of the land they wanted to seize, the Pequots. But for Bailyn, the mercenary motive is less salient than the theological.

“The ferocity of that little war is just unbelievable,” Bailyn says. “The butchering that went on cannot be explained by trying to get hold of a piece of land. They were really struggling with this central issue for them, of the advent of the Antichrist.”

Suddenly, I felt a chill from the wintry New England air outside enter into the warmth of his study.

Tobacco: The Early History of a New World Crop

Hail thou inspiring plant! Thou balm of life,
Well might thy worth engage two nations' strife
Exhaustless fountain of Britannia's wealth
Thou friend of wisdom and thou source of health.
-from an early tobacco label

Tobacco, that outlandish weed
It spends the brain, and spoiles the seede
It dulls the spirite, it dims the sight
It robs a woman of her right.

As these two verses show, tobacco use has long been a controversial subject, considered by turns a vice, a panacea, an economic salvation and a foolish and dangerous habit. However, it was perceived, by the end of the seventeenth century tobacco had become the economic staple of Virginia, easily making her the wealthiest of the 13 colonies by the time of the American Revolution.

The Old World encountered tobacco at the dawn of the European Age of Exploration. On the morning of October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus set foot on a small island in the Bahamas. Believing himself to be off the coast of Asia, the Admiral dressed in his best to meet the local inhabitants. The Arawaks offered him some dried leaves as a token of friendship. Those leaves were tobacco. A few days later, a party from Columbus' ship docked off the coast of Cuba and witnessed local peoples there smoking tobacco through Y-shaped tubes which they inserted in their noses, inhaling smoke until they lost consciousness.

By 1558, Frere Andre Thevet, who had traveled in Brazil, published a description of tobacco which was included in Thomas Hacket's The New Found World a decade later:

There is another secret herb . . . which they [the natives of Brazil] most commonly bear about them, for that they esteem it marvellous profitable for many things. . . . The Christians that do now inhabit there are become very desirous of this herb. . . .

Early on, the medicinal properties of tobacco were of great interest to Europe. Over a dozen books published around the middle of the sixteenth century mention tobacco as a cure for everything from pains in the joints to epilepsy to plague. As one counsel had it, "Anything that harms a man inwardly from his girdle upward might be removed by a moderate use of the herb."

In 1560, Jean Nicot, a French ambassador, learned about the curative properties of tobacco when he was on assignment in Portugal. When he returned to France, he used the New World herb to cure the migraine headaches of Catherine de Medicis. The French became enthusiastic about tobacco, calling it the herbe a tous les maux, the plant against evil, pains and other bad things. By 1565, the plant was known as nicotaine, the basis of its genus name today.

By this time, Europeans were discovering recreational uses of tobacco as well as its medicinal ones. As the opening speech of Moliere's Don Juan explains:

. . . there is nothing like tobacco. It's the passion of the virtuous man and whoever lives without tobacco isn't worthy of living. Not only does it purge the human brain, but it also instructs the soul in virtue and one learns from it how to be a virtuous man. Haven't you noticed how well one treats another after taking it. . . tobacco inspires feelings, honor and virtue in all those who take it.

Although it is likely that both Nicotiana rustica and Nicotiana tabacum, the two major species of tobacco, were grown as curiosities in the gardens of English botanists and apothecaries, smoking the herb for recreation was virtually unknown until mid-sixteenth century. The general English population was most likely first introduced to tobacco by Sir John Hawkins, who displayed it with the riches he accrued from a voyage to Florida in 1565.

Probably the most famous Englishman associated with the introduction of tobacco is Sir Walter Ralegh. Settlers rescued from his Roanoke Island expedition in 1586 had picked up the habit of tobacco smoking (or "drinking" as it came to be called). Hariot remarks in his account of 1588 that:

We ourselves during the time we were there used to suck it after their [the Native Americans'] manner, as also since our return, and have found many rare and wonderful experiments of the virtues thereof, of which the relation would require a volume of itself: the use of it by so many of late, men and women of great calling as else, and some learned Physicians also, is sufficient witness.

In addition to sponsoring this expedition, Sir Walter also is credited with the introduction of pipe smoking in court circles, where it was at first perceived as a strange and even alarming habit. Tradition tells the tale of Sir Walter's own servant coming upon his master with a smoking pipe, thinking he was on fire and drenching him with a bucket of water. Another legend depicts Ralegh introducing the habit of tobacco-drinking to his sovereign Elizabeth I.

Smoking quickly became the rage among the young court dandies, who loitered around in St. Paul's practicing smoke tricks with such evocative names as the "Gulpe," the "Retention" and the "Cuban Ebolition."

There were those, however, who were convinced that the use of tobacco was both unhealthful and aesthetically distasteful. In a 1602 pamphlet Worke for Chimney-sweepers, the anonymous author commands:

But hence thou Pagan Idol: tawny weed.
Come not within our Fairie Coasts to feed,
Our wit-worn gallants, with the scent of thee,
Sent for the Devil and his Company.

Other authors were less reluctant to expose their identities. In 1604, King James I of England published his pamphlet A Counterblaste to Tobacco, in which he describes smoking as:

A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.

Part of James' disaffection for tobacco may be attributed to his personal dislike of Sir Walter Ralegh. Another factor was the Spanish monopoly over the production and distribution of the plant, which was worth its weight in silver at the end of the sixteenth century. James I solved the former problem by beheading his enemy his financial difficulty was at an end a decade after the publication of his pamphlet. An English source had been found for tobacco.

In 1606, two years after the publication of Counterblaste, the King granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London. In addition to claiming land for England and bringing the faith of the Church of England to the native peoples, the Virginia Company was also enjoined both by the crown and its members to make a tidy profit by whatever means it found expedient.

After the settlers landed on Jamestown Island in the spring of 1607, they quickly began searching for ways to make a fortune both for themselves and the Company. The gold and jewels they had hoped to find were nonexistent. Harvesting raw materials like fish, lumber and furs was difficult. Industries such as glassblowing, pitch and tar production, silk cultivation and mining required skilled labor and too much start-up time.

Within a few years of the founding of Virginia, both the settlers and the Company were beginning to give up hope of a profit. Fortunately for all concerned, help was on the way. In the spring of 1610, the young John Rolfe arrived at Jamestown, a member of the party which had been delayed by shipwreck on the Bermuda Islands.

This new settler observed the Powhatan Indians growing N. rustica. An English pamphlet of the time reported that:

The people in the South parts of Virginia esteeme it [tobacco] exceedingly . . . they say that God in the creation did first make a woman, then a man, thirdly great maize, or Indian wheat, and fourthly, Tobacco.

Rolfe, however, was not impressed with the quality of N. rustica, which his contemporary William Strachey characterized as "poore and weake, and of a byting tast. . .," inferior in quality to the fine Spanish weed N. tabacum. Perhaps, however, the crop of the Powhatans gave Rolfe the idea of trying to grow N. tabacum in Virginia soil for himself.

How Rolfe came by fine Trinadad tobacco seed is not known, but he was growing it experimentally by 1612 in Virginia. Rolfe's agricultural attempt was an unqualified success. By 1614, Ralph Hamor, a secretary of the Colony, reported:

. . . Tobacco, whose goodnesse mine own experience and triall induces me to be such, that no country under the Sunne, may, or doth affoord more pleasant, sweet and strong Tobacco, then I have tasted. . . . I doubt not, [we] will make and returne such Tobacco this yeere, that even England shall acknowledge the goodnesse thereof.

Although Sir Thomas Dale, deputy-governor of Virginia, initially limited tobacco cultivation in the fear that the settlers would neglect basic survival needs in their eagerness to finally get rich, 2,300 pounds of tobacco were exported to the Mother Country in 1615-16. True, this was a paltry amount compared with the over 50,000 pounds imported from Spain in the same period, but it was a start. In 1616, Rolfe visited England with his new wife Pocohontas and presented James I with a pamphlet in which the Virginian modestly revealed tobacco as "the principall commoditie the colony for the present yieldeth."

Little did Rolfe guess how important his tobacco crop would become to the economic survival of Virginia. Initially, the settlers went overboard, with predictable results. A description of Jamestown in 1617 paints a bleak picture:

"but five or six houses, the church downe, the palizado's broken, the bridge in pieces, the well of fresh water spoiled the storehouse used for the church. . . , [and] the colony dispersed about, planting tobacco."

Conditions eventually stabilized, thanks to tight governmental controls. Virginia economy flourished. By 1630, the annual import of Virginia tobacco in England was not less than half a million pounds. By 1640, London was receiving nearly a million and a half pounds a year. Virginia tobacco was acknowledged as equal, if not superior, in quality to the Spanish weed. Soon English tobacconists were extolling the virtues of Virginia tobacco with labels bearing such verses as:

Life is a smoke! -- If this be true,
Tobacco will thy Life renew
Then fear not Death, nor killing care
Whilst we have best Virginia here.

Tobacco was and is a controversial crop. For Virginians at the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, James I's "noxious weed" would ensure economic survival of the colony by becoming the Golden Weed of Virginia.

Berkeley, Edmund and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, editors. The Reverend John Clayton: The Parson with a Scientific Mind. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1965.

Breen, T. H. Tobacco Culture. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Dickson, Sarah Augusta. Panacea or Precious Bane: Tobacco in Sixteenth Century Literature. New York: New York Public Library, 1954.

Herndon, Melvin. Tobacco in Colonial Virginia: "The Sovereign Remedy." Williamsburg, Virginia: Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation, 1957.

James I. A Counterblaste to Tobacco. London: R. B., 1604 reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1969.

Kulikoff, Allan. Tobacco and Slaves. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Mackinzie, Compton. Sublime Tobacco. Gloucester, England: Allan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1957 reprint, 1984.

Middleton, Arthur. Tobacco Coast. Newport News, Virginia: Mariners' Museum, 1953.

Ray, Oakley. Drugs, Society and Human Behavior. Saint Louis, Missouri: The C. V. Mosby Company, 1978.

Robert, Joseph C. The Story of Tobacco in America. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1949.

Virginia: Four Personal Narratives. New York: Arno Press, 1972.

Lee Pelham Cotton
Park Ranger
Colonial National Historical Park
February 1998

The history of email

Email is much older than ARPANet or the Internet. It was never invented it evolved from very simple beginnings.

Early email was just a small advance on what we know these days as a file directory - it just put a message in another user's directory in a spot where they could see it when they logged in. Simple as that. Just like leaving a note on someone's desk.

Probably the first email system of this type was MAILBOX, used at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1965. Another early program to send messages on the same computer was called SNDMSG.

Some of the mainframe computers of this era might have had up to one hundred users -often they used what are called "dumb terminals" to access the mainframe from their work desks. Dumb terminals just connected to the mainframe - they had no storage or memory of their own, they did all their work on the remote mainframe computer.

Before internetworking began, therefore, email could only be used to send messages to various users of the same computer. Once computers began to talk to each other over networks, however, the problem became a little more complex - We needed to be able to put a message in an envelope and address it. To do this, we needed a means to indicate to whom letters should go that the electronic posties understood - just like the postal system, we needed a way to indicate an address.

This is why Ray Tomlinson is credited with inventing email in 1972. Like many of the Internet inventors, Tomlinson worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman as an ARPANET contractor. He picked the @ symbol from the computer keyboard to denote sending messages from one computer to another. So then, for anyone using Internet standards, it was simply a matter of nominating [email protected] Internet pioneer Jon Postel, who we will hear more of later, was one of the first users of the new system, and is credited with describing it as a "nice hack". It certainly was, and it has lasted to this day.

Despite what the world wide web offers, email remains the most important application of the Internet and the most widely used facility it has. Now more than 600 million people internationally use email.

By 1974 there were hundreds of military users of email because ARPANET eventually encouraged it. Email became the saviour of Arpanet, and caused a radical shift in Arpa's purpose.

Things developed rapidly from there. Larry Roberts invented some email folders for his boss so he could sort his mail, a big advance. In 1975 John Vittal developed some software to organize email. By 1976 email had really taken off, and commercial packages began to appear. Within a couple of years, 75% of all ARPANET traffic was email.

Email took us from Arpanet to the Internet. Here was something that ordinary people all over the world wanted to use.

As Ray Tomlinson observed some years later about email, "any single development is stepping on the heels of the previous one and is so closely followed by the next that most advances are obscured. I think that few individuals will be remembered." That's true - to catalogue all the developments would be a huge task.

One of the first new developments when personal computers came on the scene was "offline readers". Offline readers allowed email users to store their email on their own personal computers, and then read it and prepare replies without actually being connected to the network - sort of like Microsoft Outlook can do today.

This was particularly useful in parts of the world where telephone costs to the nearest email system were expensive. (often this involved international calls in the early days) With connection charges of many dollars a minute, it mattered to be able to prepare a reply without being connected to a telephone, and then get on the network to send it. It was also useful because the "offline" mode allowed for more friendly interfaces. Being connected direct to the host email system in this era of very few standards often resulted in delete keys and backspace keys not working, no capacity for text to "wrap around" on the screen of the users computer, and other such annoyances. Offline readers helped a lot.

The first important email standard was called SMTP, or simple message transfer protocol. SMTP was very simple and is still in use - however, as we will hear later in this series, SMTP was a fairly naïve protocol, and made no attempt to find out whether the person claiming to send a message was the person they purported to be. Forgery was (and still is) very easy in email addresses. These basic flaws in the protocol were later to be exploited by viruses and worms, and by security frauds and spammers forging identities. Some of these problems are still being addressed in 2004.

But as it developed email started to take on some pretty neat features. One of the first good commercial systems was Eudora, developed by Steve Dorner in 1988. Not long after Pegasus mail appeared.

When Internet standards for email began to mature the POP (or Post Office Protocol) servers began to appear as a standard - before that each server was a little different. POP was an important standard to allow users to develop mail systems that would work with each other.

These were the days of per-minute charges for email for individual dialup users. For most people on the Internet in those days email and email discussion groups were the main uses. These were many hundreds of these on a wide variety of topics, and as a body of newsgroups they became known as USENET.

With the World Wide Web, email started to be made available with friendly web interfaces by providers such as Yahoo and Hotmail. Usually this was without charge. Now that email was affordable, everyone wanted at least one email address, and the medium was adopted by not just millions, but hundreds of millions of people.


We have little idea what brought Perpetua to faith in Christ, or how long she had been a Christian, or how she lived her Christian life. Thanks to her diary, and that of another prisoner, we have some idea of her last days&mdashan ordeal that so impressed the famous Augustine that he preached four sermons about her death.

Perpetua was a Christian noblewoman who, at the turn of the third century, lived with her husband, her son, and her slave, Felicitas, in Carthage (in modern Tunis). At this time, North Africa was the center of a vibrant Christian community. It is no surprise, then, that when Emperor Septimius Severus determined to cripple Christianity (he believed it undermined Roman patriotism), he focused his attention on North Africa. Among the first to be arrested were five new Christians taking classes to prepare for baptism, one of whom was Perpetua.

Her father immediately came to her in prison. He was a pagan, and he saw an easy way for Perpetua to save herself. He entreated her simply to deny she was a Christian.

"Father do you see this vase here?" she replied. "Could it be called by any other name than what it is?"

"Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian."


Martyrdom of Justin Martyr

Montanist movement begins

Bishop Hippolytus of Rome is martyred

In the next days, Perpetua was moved to a better part of the prison and allowed to breast-feed her child. With her hearing approaching, her father visited again, this time, pleading more passionately: "Have pity on my gray head. Have pity on me, your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favored you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life."

He threw himself down before her and kissed her hands. "Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers think of your mother and your aunt think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride!"

Perpetua was touched but remained unshaken. She tried to comfort her father&mdash"It will all happen in the prisoner's dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power"&mdashbut he walked out of the prison dejected.

The day of the hearing arrived, Perpetua and her friends were marched before the governor, Hilarianus. Perpetua's friends were questioned first, and each in turn admitted to being a Christian, and each in turn refused to make a sacrifice (an act of emperor worship). Then the governor turned to question Perpetua.

At that moment, her father, carrying Perpetua's son in his arms, burst into the room. He grabbed Perpetua and pleaded, "Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!"

Hilarianus, probably wishing to avoid the unpleasantness of executing a mother who still suckled a child, added, "Have pity on your father's gray head have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor."

Perpetua replied simply: "I will not."

"Are you a Christian then?" asked the governor.

"Yes I am," Perpetua replied.

Her father interrupted again, begging her to sacrifice, but Hilarianus had heard enough: he ordered soldiers to beat him into silence. He then condemned Perpetua and her friends to die in the arena.

Perpetua, her friends, and her slave, Felicitas (who had subsequently been arrested), were dressed in belted tunics. When they entered the stadium, wild beasts and gladiators roamed the arena floor, and in the stands, crowds roared to see blood. They didn't have to wait long.

Immediately a wild heifer charged the group. Perpetua was tossed into the air and onto her back. She sat up, adjusted her ripped tunic, and walked over to help Felicitas. Then a leopard was let loose, and it wasn't long before the tunics of the Christians were stained with blood.

This was too deliberate for the impatient crowd, which began calling for death for the Christians. So Perpetua, Felicitas, and friends were lined up, and one by one, were slain by the sword.


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