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W. W. Phelps-Letter To Sally Phelps


In the letter, one senses Phelps’ apostate attitude and embitterment toward the Mormon leadership, as he informs his wife of several events he notes had recently transpired-most notable the return on 26 April (only five days previous to his writing the letter) of several members of the Twelve to rededicate the temple site before taking leave of their mission to Great Britain. In addition, Phelps had learned of the escape of Joseph Smith and his companions from the local Missouri authorities but was not aware of all the facts surrounding their release. He also described the abandoned conditions of the once-prosperous and thriving Far West community, noting that John Whitmer had returned to take up his former residence, Finally, the letter reveals William’s genuine devotion to their children, his love for Sally, his hope that she would write more often, and his desire to be reunited with her. The letter, which is located in the LDS Archives in Salt Lake City, is as follows:

Far West (Mo.) May 1, 1839

Dear Sally: One month has gone and having received but one letter in this time I sit down heavy hearted to write out this page which I had reserved to answer yours. You must certainly have forgotten the run of the mails. A letter should be handed to the St. Louis post office on Saturday evening, or Monday evening to reach Far West on Tuesday week. Your first letter’s last date was Apr. 10 mailed Sunday 14 and reached April 23d. By the last mail I received the second letter from McCombe. He is in Springfield with Burr Riggs, and likes it well.

The children being disappointed at your not writing every mail feels melancholy and cast down. The best way I can fix it considerable time before I can move, and without your writing in answer to to what I want answered, it will take longer. I have directed Mr. Wood and Reed Peck to see you if they can and state the thing as it is.

I hardly know what to say, but I hope you are contented, and will wait patiently. Whether you write to comfort us or not, for God knows I want you happy whether I am or not.

One of the least of all the forcible tricks of of the Mormons, was performed on the morning of the 16th of April in secret darkness about three o clock in the morning. Probably seven shepherds [apostles] and eight principle men, from Quincy [Ill.] and elsewhere, assembled on the big house cellar, and laid one huge stone in addition to those already there, to fulfill the revelation given the 26th of April one year ago. I think they strained at a camel and swallowed a gnat. They cut off from their Church all the Canadians here and put off. They give no notice, nor no trial to these unoffending men, women and children, but "off with their heads," like the day Buckingham. I think the people of Caldwell on the 4th of next July will remove those untimely laid stones and spoil the Mormons glory as awfully as God smashed their Liberty pole, with a flash of lightning last Summer. Norman Shearer and Darwin Chase have got clear; the rest are indicted, at Richmond.

The widow Gilbert and Rachel Kingsley, I am informed have formed a connection in business for the purpose supplying the Far West market with fresh fish in time of need. Suckers and Cod! (I suppose.)

If you would take pains to call on John N. Cheney, lottery vender, you might get $3.04 and I could pay her here after you send me word of the collection. I believe $2.12 is hers.

John Whitmer is enlarging his buildings-has bought and removed Henry Woods house just before his south door, for a kitchen. He seems to be preparing to stick in Far West a while.

As I sometimes feel a little practical, I hope you will not be offended at the following libertanza (a new word) addressed to you in your absence:-So All I Well.

’Tis sweet to think of days gone by,

When hope expected pleasures double,

Would leave no room for care of trouble;

When love was sparkling in thine eye,

And rose bloom’d upon thy cheek,

And all thy words and ways were meek:-

When married life was truly pleasant;

And all the varied pass’d and present-

Time, had not evil tales to tell

Of you and I-so all is well.

’Tis sweet to think of day go ’long.,

While we were blessed with heirs, as treasure,

To share their lot of care and pleasure,

And mingle with the mighty throng;-

Had upper deep its tongues of glee,

"As well as starry eyes to see;"

They’d say the married life was pleasant;

And all the varied pass’d and present-

Time, had no evil tales to tell.

Of you and I, so all is well.

’Tis sweet to think of days to come,

When we can taste the bliss of heaven,

And bid adieu to earthly heaven,

And be, O be always at home:-

Where none are known but real friends,

And love and beauty never ends;

And where united life is pleasant-

And all eternal pass’d and present-

Time, has no evil tales to tell

Of you and I, So all is well.

The weather the past week, has been beautiful and very growing. Everything appears like a sea of green. Vegetation is nearly a month in advance of last year.

The everlasting fields, certainly present a wilderness of beauty with but few spots of timber; and, when the thermometer in April ranges in the shade, at 80o and 85o, you may readily calculate that we feel a good deal like summer:-

"That oft has swept the toiling race of men,

"And all their labor’d monuments away."

There is such a wide difference in the aspect and prospect of Far West, that I hardly know how to describe it to you. The inhabitants are gone. The sound of the hammer, and the bustle of business have ceased; The grass is growing in the streets, or where they were: The fences have disappeared, and nothing but empty houses, and the moaning of the Spring breeze, tell what was in Zion (so revealed.) My love of it has vanished.

Since I wrote to you about the escape of Joseph and Co. it has been reported that he bribed a guard with six thousand dollars. I presume he did. I have also learned that, at the sham meeting at the big house cellar, there not being a quorom of the old "Twelve" present, they had recourse to "shift," and ordained Wilford Woodruff and Geo. Smith as apostles, which H C Kimbel, Orson Pratt, Brigham Young (old ones) and John E Page and John Taylor (new ones), made seven. They prayed (in vain) Sung Adam ondi Ahman and closed. There were others there. This looks a little like choosing or loving darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. You know I think as much of pure religion as ever, but this foolish mocking disgusts me, and all decent people. Force the fulfillment of Jo’s revelation! You might as well dam the waters of the Missouri River with a lime siddle! It was undoubtedly done to strengthen the faith of weak members, and for effect abroad: as I understand the Twelve are a going to try their luck again among the nations: Tis really a pity they cannot get a looking glass large enough to see the saw log in their own eyes while they are endeavoring to pull the slab out of the neighboring nations. All I can say is: "Physician save thyself!"

Whether you laugh or cry, I have one thing to confess, and that is I never was so lonesome before. I have copied and corrected your letter and it has been read by many-all of whom pronounce it a very good one; but one person has discoursed anything that could be bettered. Mr. Scott said: if you had said you wanted to see your husband as much as your children, you would have told this truth, and finished the story.

The children are very lonesome. I know from their actions, and more so, since Waterman went to work at Liberty. James says Father are you going to let me go where mother is? Lydia says she wants to see mother. I have got some cloth for James and Henry some clothes. I shall have to get some also for Lydia, but I hardly know how they will be made, as I know of nobody that can be had to sew.

Cleminson is now proposing to move as soon as he can. Reed Peck, and his folks, Maynard and his family, mean to leave this week.

The people that have been staying and trading here this winter past, now the Mormons have gone, show visible signs of discontent. I think myself they are quite lonesome.

There is a mysterious hanging back about resettling Far West. Some say it is on account of John’s mortgage; some one thing and some another. God save the Just.

Joseph came out from Liberty on Sunday last to see me. He feels very bad. He owes about two hundred dollars which he cannot pay, and he wants to move out of the state when I go. I do not know how to advise him. Waterman does not go ahead much: he cannot [page torn] work. If I do not seel the cows I [page torn] of letting him ride Gin and drive them by land.

There was a steam boat sunk last week between Liberty and Lexington landings–I have sold both wheels for linen cloth.

The April of the Ladies Book is a grand one and had you wrote as I expected I should have sent it to you. I hope hereafter, whether you see us or not you will not fail to weekly lodge a letter on Saturday in the post office–My next one will be directed to "Sally Waterman" and franked so you will know how to enquire. If you want to see us, hurry your letters. If you want the Ladies Book say so. If you want money say so. I may have some for you.

Even So,

W. W. Phelps

To Sally Phelps

 The story of William’s return to Mormonism is frequently cited in Mormon circles. He also subsequently abandoned Far West. Precisely when he and the children left is not know. However, by 1840, the entire family was living in Dayton, Ohio. Orson Hyde and John E. Page, both members of the Twelve, met up with Phelps while passing through Dayton in June. By this time, William desired reconciliation with the Church’s leadership. Considering his former prominent church station and the circumstances relating to his excommunication, Hyde and Page advised Phelps to write Joseph Smith. The prodigal wrote a heartfelt letter requesting forgiveness and fellowship. Believing his confession to be sincere, the two apostles attached a letter recommending clemency. The Prophet’s reply was written in prose to the poetic Phelps: "Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends at last."

Nauvoo Journal vol. 10 pp. 24-27