Thursday, August 7, 2014

Launius on Joseph Smith Jr's Red Brick Store

The context of this work seems to have been the reconstruction of the Red Brick Store by a set of self-styled "friends" of the store in preparation of the 1980 sesquicentennial. The group came from within the RLDS movement.

The authors continue as a focal point of heyday-Nauvoo.
The Red Brick Store, built by Joseph Smith Jr, in Nauvoo, Illinois, during the heyday of the Latter Day Saint sojourn there, is a unique building. One of the most important structures in the city, around it revolved much of the economical, political, religious, and social activity of the Mormon stronghold. (Introduction, p.6)

Chapter I: Storekeeping in Nauvoo

The authors mince no words in describing the effect of the Mormon incursion into Western Illinois:
Throughout the first half of the 1840s Nauvoo dominated Hancock County with its wealth, population, cultural achievements, and military and political power. (p.9)
[In footnote 3, they mention: William V. Pooley,  The Settlement of Illinois from 1830 to 1850, Madison 1908), esp. p.509., as a source of their assessment.]

When building started in the summer of 1839 after the eviction from Missouri with a massive effort, the initial impression by year's end was quite a plurality of fits and starts, almost mushroom like, as later Bishop George Miller noted (p.9).
By the end of their first year at Nauvoo, the Saints possessed what was essentially an overgrown wilderness community of log homes, a few shops, and an infantile mercantile and manufacturing economy. Building seemed to be taking place on every side. (p.9)
[In footnote 4, they mention: Donald L. Enders, "Platting the City Beautiful: A Historical and Archaeological Glimpse of Nauvoo Streets", BYU Studies 19 (Spring 1979), p.409-415.]

Though no data is available to track the daily progress, there are estimates from interested and knowledgable parties.
The city continued to grow rapidly thereafter. According to the newspaper editor Thomas Gregg of Warsaw, IL, during the heyday of the Nauvoo, the Saints built about "1,200 hand hewn log cabins, most of them white-washed inside, 200 to 300 good substantial brick houses and 300 to 500 frame houses." (p.9)
[In footnote 7, they mention Thomas Gregg's own History of Hancock County, Chicago 1880, as a source of this assessment.]

Even as of December of 1841, hardly any mills and machinery had arrived though, and Edward Hunter solicited his friends in Pennsylvania to bring such an engine (p.10). The population of Nauvoo is estimated to have doubled every year from 1839 to 1842, and to continue to rise past the martyrdom into 1846 (p.10).

Among the key community efforts in terms of self-identity was the construction of the temple, whose foundations had been attacked as early as the fall of 1840 but whose build-up really got under way with the revelation of January 19t, 1841, commanding its construction. The resulting effort was superlative.
Thereafter, work on the religious edifice continued by the Saints with zest for the next five years. Built of grey limestone, the building came to dominate Nauvoo from its perch atop the bluffs overlooking the city. It stood 165-feet high, measured 88 by 128 feet, and cost something over $1 million---a not inconsiderable sum at the time. (p.10)
Though the authors do not phrase it that way, it is hard not to interpret the temple building project as a giant WPA style effort to feed the hungry mouths and busy the idle hands.  Consider their summary:
The demands of the Temple's construction, as well as other building projects, stretched the Saints' resources almost to the point of breaking. The men of Nauvoo were expected to donate on day in ten to construction work on the Temple and to make at least one tenth of their earnings an offering to the church for this project and other expenses. Those who had cash were expected to donate it to the effort, but if they had none, as was the case with most of the saints, the church accepted the equivalent in goods. As a result, Temple finance rested squarely on barter. Consequently, some men worked full-time on the Temple and received their pay in bartered goods from the resources donated by others. (p.10)
All of this was taking place in the boom-town context of a rising settlement.
[In the Nauvoo of the early 1840s, RCK] ... it was possible for fortunes to be made or lost quickly. The city, therefore, attracted a large number of entrepreneurs, businessmen, investors and speculators. The most substantial economic group within the city were honest businessmen; some were not affiliated with the church, but most were members. (p.10)
Two key business districts developed in these early days:
One was the southern end along Main and Water streets, and the other was in the upper part of the city along Mulholland Street. (p.10)
The distinction was geographical and thus infrastructure-related:
On the southern end nearest the river were several general stores and manufacturing concerns, most notably the store operated by William and Wilson Law, two wealthy church members from Canada, and virtually all of the business enterprises that required water power such as grist mills and lumber yards. (p.11)
[The authors recommend Lyndon W. Cook's "William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter", BYU Studies 22 (Winter 1982), p.47-62, as esp. relevant; see Fn.14. The PDF is not available online.]

In the Mulholland district, several businesses were established between 1841 and 1842:
For instance, M. Adams's boot and shoe repair; Jasper Haven's drugstore; Power and Adams's books, shoes, and matches;  Davis's and Williams's tailor shop; a leather store operated by Joseph Horne, P.D. Cahoon's auctioneering activities; and Joseph Hammer's comb factory all operated along the Mulholland business district. (p.11)
Among the manufactured items of the city, the authors list "textiles and clothing, straw products, matches, soap and candles, leather goods, wagons, and rope." (p.11) Among the craftsmen enumerated are "tanners, blacksmiths, silversmiths, a goldsmith, watchmakers, ironmongers, a coffin maker, a gunsmith, several wainwrights, and a too manufacturer" (p.11)

While there was a large number of professional services available---"nine law firms, three physicians, three newspapers, and several professional teachers" (p.11)---manufacturing was a bit of a step-child; the authors claim the city "held promise for businessmen owning foundries, grist mills, sawmills, butcher shops, and printing establishments" (p.11). But even the plans for the chinaware factory, people with "converts from the pottery works of Staffordshire, England" came to naught (p.11).

Among the thirty five general stores, those owned by Edwin D Wooly and the aforementioned Edward Hunter (see p.10) were profitable, and the Law brothers' the most prosperous (p.11). Joseph Smith Jr's Red Brick store experimented with the same success but could not find it.
... undoubtedly the most important general store in Nauvoo was built by Joseph Smith [Jr] during the fall of 1841 and opened for business the next January. It was housed in a two-story brick building on Water Street not far from his home. The prophet stocked the store with every conceivable item sold by frontier merchants, and enjoyed running it himself until the spring of 1842 when he found that it took too much effort and proved unprofitable. (p.11) 
[The authors mention: Richard P. Howard, The Joseph Smith Store: Church Headquarters at Nauvoo? in: Saints Herald 118 (October 1971), p.34.]

Which in fact means that Smith Jr threw a lot of stock into the project, then became bored with it somewhere between three and six months time (January 1842 to spring 1842). The materials were used were good quality: Joseph Smith III described the turn lathe used (p.11-12); the Francis and David Clark brothers, who owned a "quarry on Parley Street on the outskirts of Nauvoo" (p.12) provided the window and step stones from across the river (p.12).

Newel K. Whitney, the chief financial officer of the Church at the time, had obtained $5,000 worth of goods in the Northeast (p.12), as Joseph Smith Jr recorded on November 8th, 1841. Edward Hunter, who owned Smith Jr $3,500 for land purchased September 1841 and also for the house built thereupon (p.12), repaid part of the credit with a stock of goods, as Smith Jr noted in December 21, 1841. The original goods acquired from Holbrook & Co---Smith Jr dissed them as "innkeeper"---were kept back however, as Holbrook & Co were collecting on a bad debt from 1837, $287 for one note, and an unspecified amount for another. Consequently, new stocks had to be brought in from Warsaw just before Christmas 1841, which Smith Jr described to Hunter as follows:
Thirteen wagons arrived from Warsaw, loaded with sugar, molasses, glass, salt, tea, coffee, &c. purchased in St. Louis. (quoted on p.12)
The authors point out that the pursuit of this mercantile enterprise was decidedly in keeping with Joseph Smith Jr's frontier status as a community leader:
The proprietorship of a store was a very fitting profession for a community leader on the frontier. (p.12)
The size of the store was impressive for the Illinois frontier, and one had to search long and hard for comparable venues.
The leading commercial center on the Upper Mississippi was St. Louis, and the Red Brick Store was as large and well-stocked as most of the establishments in that city. It was considerably more impressive than most of the stores located outside St. Louis. (p.12)
The authors rely on a quote from frontier storekeeping historian Lewis E. Atherton to give an impression of a typical store, here the first store of Davenport in the Iowa Territory:
The framework was of hewed logs, laid lengthwise, and chinks between the logs filled with clay and lime. The structure itself consisted of two rooms, each about 20 feet square ---- one to be used for a sales || room, the other for storing goods. ... Interior walls were whitewashed, except in the salesroom, where there were shelves ranging along all four sides. A counter of boards, 30 inches wide and 12 feet long, extended from the window to the partition wall between the sections, the larger of which could be entered by the front door. The smaller section opened into the storeroom, an arrangement that permitted easy access to supplies not on the shelves and provided an ear in which the clerk could sell goods without hinderance from customers. A large shoebox or hatbox served as a desk, and money was kept in a drawer under the counter, with a small hole cut through the top of the counter for convenience and safety when business was heavy. (quoted on p.12-13)
[The passage is taken from: Lewis E. Atherton, The Frontier Merchant in Mid America, Columbia (University of Missouri Press) 1971, here pp.48-50.]

In contrast, the opulent description of Smith Jr's store is recorded in the letter to Edward Hunter from January 5th, 1842 (recorded in the Church history, 4:491). The Church history also captures the ruckus of the opening day (in 4:491) (p.13).

Simply by virtue of his role in Nauvoo society, the store of the Prophet functioned as a social as well as an economic hub. The authors show this in their summary.
The prophet did brisk business in the Red Brick Store from the very outset. Many of the Saints on the south end of town had accounts there and the only extant daybook of the store, maintaining records for the period between June 23, 1842 and June 22, 1844, contained all the prominent people of the community. Indeed, it read like a "who's who" of early Mormonism. (p.14)
The exemplary page that the authors pull from the store records---the Red Brick Store daybook is now located in the Masonic Library, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa---is for the Saturday before the July 4th celebration of 1842, where the likes of Wilford Woodruff, Wilson & William Law, J.W. Coolidge, Brigham Young, W.W. Phelps, N.K. Whitney, Porter Rockwell and Heber C Kimball purchased leather goods (mostly shoes) and food stuffs for the celebration (p.14-15) [See also the relevant sheet WhosWho in my notes on the Red Brick Store]. The goods had been shipped from wholesalers in St. Louis, New Orleans or Chicago. (p.15)

[RCK: The fact that Chicago was providing goods at this time is interesting, given the general impetus of commentators to make Chicago smaller and less significant during this time, esp in comparison of population, to Nauvoo.]

The authors then give examples for some of the accounting, banking and real-estate services that the store provided to the community (p.15).
The prophet's store served not only as a place to purchase goods, but also acted as a frontier bank. In this regard, transactions between individuals were recorded in the store's ledgers and accounts of personal business dealings were maintained by the proprietor. For instance, on March 20, 1843, Robert D. Forster, a prosperous businessman in the city, paid E. Rhodes $421.77 for principal and interest on three notes he had secured on July 4th, 1842. The store itself also served as a bank, loaning capital to individuals with good credit. Joseph W. Coolidge, another businessman, borrowed $1,000 at 12% interest, and made regular payments to the store for this privilege. More than this however, Smith conducted real estate transactions from the store. As an example, on October 9, 1843 || one Robert Campbell rented from Smith a house on the corner of Main and Water streets in Nauvoo for the sum of four dollars per month. This transaction was recorded in the store's daybook. (pp.15-16)
The authors then go on to identify a plethora of other activities, that are at least partially economic, but also partially related to community organization (p.16), all of which were reflected in the store's daybook.

  • "operating location from which the bishop collected the tithes of church members" 
  • "distribution point for Temple workmen receiving their wages or goods in exchange for labor" 
  • "point from which supplies were issued to work crews both within the city and those sent north to the Black River, Wisconsin, pineries to cut lumber for the construction of Nauvoo buildings"
The business was also an economic force because it "collected city taxes, paid city employees, sold subscriptions of the church newspapers, and engaged in other economic pursuits" (p.16). [Not to mention voting officers in the Nauvoo legion.]

The fact that all of these economic transactions did not amount to much profit for the prophet requires explanation (p.16). The authors first take up a theory by Leonard Arrington [from: From Quaker to Latter-Day Saint: Bishop Edwin D. Wooley, 1976, pp.86-88] that the secondary business district around Mulholland, predominantly operated by non-Mormon owners, was generating economic pressure, because the owners were better financed, could buy cheaper due to quantity and thus could show more profit. (p.16) 

The second reason, given both by the authors and amplified by a Brigham Young sermon from Ocobter 9th, 1852, in Salt Lake City, claims that the operation of the store had to fail, given that Joseph Smith Jr could not force his Church members to pay up (p.16-17). 
The prophet's business was built on too much credit and too little cash. The majority of the people Smith served in the store were poor Latter Day Saints, but Smith could not just allow them to starve and he operated on less than fully sound business principles. (p.16)
This is an odd turn to take, given that the store membership as recorded in the daybook discussed earlier had been nominated as a "Who's Who" of the Mormon elite. The emphasis of the BY sermon comes from the claim that debt was already plaguing the members, and at least someone had to be on their side.
[Brigham] Young suggested that the church membership would "lie awake nights" deciding means to pay debts to non-members, but they expected unlimited credit form the Saints. [from: Journal of Discourses, 1:214-216] (p.17)
The authors then turn (p.16) to discussing the ways in which Smith Jr looked to the Church and its wealthy members---Edward Hunter or Edwin D. Wooley---to stop the gaping holes in the budget. To Hunter, Smith Jr wrote "Some eight or ten thousand dollars worth of goods would be an advantage to this place ...." (Church History, 4:548-549).

Given the full plate that Joseph Smith Jr already faced in the March of 1842---"not only president of the church but also Nauvoo mayor, chief magistrate, registrar of deeds, and commander of the Nauvoo Legion" (p.17), as well as the various construction projects and the Book of Abraham---it may be unsurprising that Smith Jr turned over the day to day operations to others (p.17), including former Times and Seasons editor Ebenezer Robinson and Nauvoo businessman David Yearsley (p.18). As late as March of 1844, Hiram Kimball could advertise his operation of a "general dry goods store" (p.18) from the 1st floor of the space. While Smith Jr retained the use of the 2nd floor office space from mid-1842 until June 1844, the store itself receded from the narrative of the Church history after the Spring of 1842. [It is mentioned June 28th, 1842, for example, when Edward Hunter donates goods to it; see Arlington, Quaker to Saint, p.87; Church History, 5:45.]

Financially, the Red Brick Store venture had contributed to Joseph Smith Jr's sorry state of financial affairs, who found himself in April of 1842 in an astonishing $74,066.38 of debt (p.18). How much the store contributed to this number is unclear from the presentation of the authors. Efforts to leverage the new personal bankruptcy laws to clear Joseph, Hiram and Sidney Rigdon from their responsibilities failed.

Chapter 2: Center of Nauvoo Society

(to be continued) (pp.18-32)

Details from the Joseph Smith Jr Papers Project

The floor plan of the Red Brick Store (Whitney Collection, Vault MSS 76, Box 5, Folder 18).

Bibliographical Record

Roger D. LAUNIUS, F. Mark McKIERNAN, Joseph Smith Jr's Red Brick Store, in: Western Illinois Monograph Series, Number 5, Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL, 1985.

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