An Unsigned Letter to Edward Hunter: Any Guesses Who and When?

By September 10, 2013

Edward Hunter was perhaps the wealthiest convert to early Mormonism.[1] His coming to Nauvoo was a major boon to Joseph Smith as he set up a factory and brought a lot of store goods.[2]  ?My wife and myself had made up our minds to let Joseph have all of our means,” Hunter wrote in his autobiography, “until Joseph came to me and said, ?Keep it.??[3]  The following unsigned and undated letter seems to confirm that narrative.  It seems to have been written by a dissenter who was irritated by Hunter’s consecration.

Mr. Hunter, This morning I had a manifestation from some source you may think from the Devil for aught I care?what was the cause of your Apostacy.  It is the fact that you surrendered your judgment and prosperity to Joseph Smith, in consequence of which your prosperity is in such a situation that you cannot dispose of it to your own advantage, and this view is sustained by the revelation to Joseph, where he is told that is not qualified for the management of the temporal business, but that his work was to attend entirely to the spiritual part of the Kingdom.  I know he labored mighty hard to prove to the contrary, with that too, against the plain declaration that the Bishop shall attend to the Temporal business, had Bishop Whitny had the care of all the Church property hundreds and thousands of Dollars would saved for the church, but poor blind men worshippers like you all in Nauvoo are suffered themselves to be led by the nose [2] one word in regard to those rascals  that are seeking my life if their God has more power than mine they may accomplish their designs, now Mr. Hunter what do you think of a set of men who have their captain of stealing company, and murdering club &c. as I told Bishop Whitney in a letter sent to him, I tell you there are men in your midst who are supporting the views of the 12, and with all their mighty power with the Devil they cannot discern nor discover them but they put as much confidence in them as they do in each other, and the time will come soon when their [sic] will be one of the greatest revelation published from Nauvoo that has been seen lately, so keep a look out for big discoveries God knows Mr Hunter that there are many men in Nauvoo with whom I can sympathize, but you are not deserve no sympathy for you have an abundance to make you and your family comfortable if you must sacrifice ¾ of your property, and therefore under greater condemnation?I should like to see you and try to reason with you once more if you are not ashamed to call & see me.  I can tell you thing you little dream of.

So who do you think wrote this? The writer makes clear that his/her biggest beef with Joseph was the Prophet’s financial meddling. Evidence suggests that this was a concern of Law and his faction.[4] There also seems to have been some competition between Law and Hunter over factory building.[5] Furthermore, when was the written? The statement “I tell you there are men in your midst who are supporting the views of the 12” sounds like a reference to succession, but the letter also seems to refer to Joseph in the present tense. Guesses?

[1] On Hunter’s wealth see my ??Congenial to Nearly Every Shade of Radicalism?: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism? Religion and American Culture, 17, no. 1 (2007): 129-64.

[2] Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), 161-63.

[3] Edward Hunter, ?Autobiography of Edward Hunter,? in William E. Hunter, Edward Hunter: Faithful Steward, edited by Janath Russell Cannon (1976), 318-19.

[4] Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 529.

[5] Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 156.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Interesting, Steve. Can you tell us anything more about the document’s provenance?

    Comment by Christopher — September 10, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  2. It’s in the Edward Hunter collection at the Church archives (as opposed to the BYU Edward Hunter collection). Last time I checked (a few of years ago) it wasn’t listed in the catalogue. It’s with a bunch of other letters. Also, after JS’s death, Hunter seemed to be a kind of go-between between some dissenters and Brigham Young. He got a bunch of letters in that respect.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — September 10, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

  3. The reference to the Twelve threw me for a little bit of a loop. Like you, I thought of the Laws. They were aware of the polygamy revelation, and of the 12’s involvement in the new institutions established between 1843-1844. I’m guessing that it would date to Jan-April 1844.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 10, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

  4. Had Oliver Olney disappeared by then? Does read as if it’s post-1844, and my vague memory is that Olney had disappeared by like 1842. Reads like one of the anxious players like Olney.

    Comment by smb — September 10, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

  5. Interesting, Sam, thanks.

    J., sounds like a good guess. If you’re right, what does that tell us about the Laws?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — September 11, 2013 @ 9:22 am

  6. No idea on the letter besides what others have said, but now you have me wanting to check out the letters dissidents sent to Hunter during the succession period.

    Comment by Ben P — September 11, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  7. Ben, the letters to Hunter from dissenters are from individuals (Charles Ivins in particular) who see themselves as unbelieving but not hostile. They feel they’ve been targeted by means of petty crime as a kind of revenge. They really complain about Almon Babbitt. There are some of these letters in the BY collection as well. I get the sense that they felt that Young was unresponsive so they wrote to Hunter for help. That sort of thing.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — September 12, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

  8. Well, the Laws were willing to agitate, but I don’t have any real handle on their personalities. There is a fair amount of extant Law writings, though. So the handwriting should be verifiable if it were the case.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 12, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

  9. Cool, I’m very interested to find out who wrote it.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — September 12, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

  10. Steve, considering that the author of the letter speaks of Joseph in the past tense and of those who support the twelve in the present tense, I would guess that this was written sometime soon after the murders of Joseph and Hyrum.

    The author mentions writing a letter to Newel K. Whitney and describes some of the content of that letter. Perhaps you should look for letters that were received by Whitney and see if you can find one with similar content.

    I am very interested in finding these letters from dissidents. I have ancestors who I believe were a part of the Law movement and am looking for information that can confirm/deny that supposition. Can you give me any more direction as to how to find the Edward Hunter collection that is not cataloged at the Church Archives? What about the BY collection you mention? Thanks for your help.

    Comment by Bob — October 16, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

  11. Bob, the BY collection is listed so just ask for the letters for the period. For unlisted stuff, you can often get it by putting in a request.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 17, 2013 @ 12:29 pm


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