First Edition of the Book of Mormon, British Library

By February 21, 2011

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.

Yours Respectfully,

A.A. Lesueur

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.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. This is fascinating stuff, Ardis; thanks for sharing. The only first editions I’ve seen myself were at the Library of Congress in DC.

    Comment by Ben — February 21, 2011 @ 5:46 am

  2. That’s interesting. I see on the internet (so it must be true…) that Alexander A. Lesueur was Missouri Secretary of State 1889-1901. Any idea of the provenance of the book, or who might have been the recipient of Lesueur’s letter?

    I once saw the first edition in a locked cabinet in the Detroit Public Library, but unfortunately, I never went back to request access to the book.

    Comment by Left Field — February 21, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  3. I first encountered first edition Book of Mormons in the Special Collections at BYU-Idaho where they have three. I have also heard they have one here at the University of Illinois.

    Comment by Joel — February 21, 2011 @ 9:13 am

  4. Linda King Newell in Mormon Enigma comments on this Spectator article, noting that it appeared two weeks before Joseph returned to Kirtland from the Zion’s Camp march, and that, given communication difficulties, it was possible that until Joseph actually returned to Kirtland Emma may have feared that he was in fact dead.

    Fascinating to see that the same source and its story was believed (to the extent of writing for information, at least) in 1900.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 21, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  5. Several Ohio newspapers reprinted the Chardon article in 1834. George A. Smith also gave this account in his Zion’s Camp “journal” while recounting the trip back to Kirtland in July 1834: “We all arrived at Richmond Indiana in the evening?the Richmond newspaper published that day had announced to the world the astonishing news that ‘Joe Smith’ the Mormon leader had had a battle with the Mob in Jackson Co: had been wounded in the leg, had the limb amputated & 3 days afterwards died of mortification?Joseph visited the Editor but had a difficulty to convince him that he was not really dead, the Editor feeling assured he had published the true state of the case.”

    Comment by Matt Godfrey — February 21, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

  6. Very cool find, Ardis S.

    William and Mary’s special collections also includes a first ed. Book of Mormon, a fact they actively advertise.

    Comment by Christopher — February 21, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  7. Thanks for this very interesting account! Various newspapers reported premature deaths of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris over the years; in fact I cataloged one just this evening.

    There is, indeed, something very meaningful about handling a book or manuscript which carries significance for the viewer. The experience can be even more poignant if the article is simple-looking and unassuming, almost as if to accent the historical or spiritual meaning even more, by contrast. As I wrote in an introduction to a CD-Rom version of the 1830 Book of Mormon in the 1990s, “As with many other famous books, this volume’s relatively nondescript, even homely mien belies the prominence which it would shortly attain. Unpretentious in appearance, the Book of Mormon disappears comfortably on the shelf between other books of similar time and place until some unsuspecting browser turns the front board to reveal the famous title.”

    My own 1830 Book of Mormon is not too pretty, I’m afraid, and it lost its title page long ago. But it was at Hawn’s Mill, owned and marked by the man who built the Mormon mills there, and who had, one day, to carry the bodies from his son-in-law’s blacksmith shop to his son’s well for mass burial. “Sacred” can surprise us at times, and take our breath away for a moment. It has been great to read some of your own moments spent with this important book.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — February 21, 2011 @ 10:54 pm

  8. Thanks for the report, Ardis! (Also, I want to draw attention to Matt Godfrey’s comment that earlier got caught somehow in our filter but which is now posted below)

    I’ve had the incredible fortune to have handled two Books of Commandments, both times quite by accident. At BYU’s Special Collections one was brought out for a visitor when I happened to be there doing research and I was allowed to hold it. Then on another occasion a Book of Commandments that was owned by Hyrum Smith along with one of only two first Edition BoM’s with a Joseph Smith inscription were brought out at the U of U special Collections for a small group. I happened to be researching at the table in front of theirs and just had to stop and take a look. The curator let me handle them as well. Pretty awesome.

    Comment by Jared T — February 21, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

  9. Thank you all for sharing your own experiences with similar significant sources! Rick, I appreciate how you describe what it is like to have such a meaningful experience.

    Lesueur’s letter was addressed to a to J.R. Hindley of Stoke Newington, London. There is no further provenance that I have on this edition and whom owned it. I am very curious as to how it came into the British Library’s possession.

    Ardis and Matt, thank you for sharing further information about this story. It is sobering to think of Emma potentially worrying about Joseph, and the account of Joseph having to assure the editor of his still being alive is rather entertaining.

    Comment by Ardis S. — February 23, 2011 @ 6:49 pm


Recent Comments

Ben S on What’s in a name?: “Ah, never mind. Skimmed too fast past the beginning. How embarrassing.”

Ben S on What’s in a name?: “How did you create that display?! I’d love to do something similar. I’ve looked at timeline software, and it’s all either expensive or useless.”

J. Stapley on What’s in a name?: “I'm that same boat as Ardis with the Mules. Fascinating!”

KLC on What’s in a name?: “I'm 65 and the term 'Jack Mormon' was quite common when I was growing up in the 60s and early 70s. I always understood…”

Ardis on What’s in a name?: “Am I the only one who *never* before recognized that "jack" used this way is connected to mules?? That stuns me. And delights me. I also…”

Questions on CFP: 2020 MHA Poster: “Will MHA accept proposals from students who have already sent in a proposal for a presentation or panel? If so should the poster be a…”