The British Library at St Pancras, London has a first edition Book of Mormon available for view in its rare book reading room. I initially discovered this as a BYU London Centre study abroad student in 2007. As I looked up sources on Sir Robert Walpole for British Politics research at the BL, I also decided to see what LDS sources the Library might also hold. I discovered the first edition in the catalogue. As a former BYU Nauvoo student, the prospect of holding and paging through a first edition Book of Mormon was extremely exciting. I quickly requested the item, as well as those for my other research, and then raced over to King’s Cross/St Pancras.
The first edition Book of Mormon did not disappoint. What I had not expected, however, was what had been pasted into the British Library’s Book of Mormon. I came across this letter, dated 28 June 1900:
“My dear Sir:
In reply to your letter of the 11th inst. concerning Joseph Smith, the alleged Mormon prophet, I will say that the newspaper extract quoted therein has little or no foundation in fact. Joe Smith and his followers resided at various places in Missouri and very frequently were in armed collision with the citizens but there is no record of Smith’s having been wounded and his leg amputated. Smith was killed by a mob on May [crossed out in pencil and written “June”] 27th,1844, at Carthage, Illinois.
Secretary of State”
My curiosity was piqued, as I had never previously heard such a rumour of this manner. A handwritten note also included in the beginning of this copy of the Book of Mormon shed further information on this situation:
“From the Chardon (Ohio) Spectator July 12, 1834
‘A Mormon Battle. A Letter has been received by a Gentleman in this neighbourhood, direct from Missouri, stating that a body of well armed Mormons, led on by their great Prophet Joe Smith, lately attempted to cross the river into Jackson County. A party of the citizens of Jackson County opposed their crossing and a battle ensued in which Joe Smith was wounded in the leg, and the Mormons obliged to retreat; that Joe Smith’s limb was amputated, but he died three days after the operation”
Boston Weekly Messenger
July 24, 1834”
I am wondering if perhaps this false story has ties to the story of Joseph Smith’s near-amputation and surgery on his leg when he was a young child? Nevertheless, I find the British Library’s first edition copy fascinating not only for what it is, but what it contains inside and the obvious curiosity of an individual in possession of this copy in the early twentieth century.