Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Williams on F.G. Williams -- Selections

Introduction [RCK]

Since in this case, the author and the object of the state have the same name, and not for accidental reasons, the object has been abbreviated FGW to distinguish it from Williams the author.

United Firm (United Order), Literary Firm

Within a few years, the First Presidency was inspired to establish or to expand a number of key organizations and institutions to deal with these and other issues of a growing church. Some of these were already in operation prior to March 18th, 1833, when the First Presidency was officially informed. (p.275)
Williams then gives a chronology of the institutions and their establishment to help keep the timelines straight (p.276).

  • November 12th, 1831: Literary Firm
  • March 1832: United Firm
  • December 27th, 1832: School of the Prophets
  • March 23, 1833: Kirtland Temple & Stake
  • September 11th, 1833: Firm of F.G. Williams & Co.
  • December 18th, 1833: Patriarch of the Church
  • February 17th, 1834: High Council in Kirtland
  • July 3rd, 1834: High Council in Far West
  • February 14, 1835: Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
  • February 28th, 1835: Quorum of the Seventy
Williams takes Cook's careful statement
The United Firm was a business partnership consisting of about a dozen Church leaders. Members of the firm were either landowners or merchants whose purpose was to work in concert, using the financial means, to generate profits. Inasmuch as the members of the partnership were also presiding Church leaders, it is difficult to determine which of their financial transactions were purely personal and which were Church related. (p.277) [= Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City (Deseret Books) 1985, p.167-168. RCK]
and turns that into
In an attempt to address the temporal and literary needs of a growing Church, Joseph, under the guiding spirit of the Lord [= Kirtland Revelation Book, March 1st, 1832 RCK], established an entity known as the United Firm that was made up of the top leaders of the Church together with its wealthiest members. (p.276)
which overemphasizes the Church relationship over the private financial endeavor (compare Max Parkin's assessment, for example). Though Williams admits:
The United Firm, although technically a private for-profit business venture, was also responsible for and administered the financial affairs of the early Church. Thus, the firm;s members were set-apart stewards over the sacred funds of the Church, while, at the same time, trying to earn a profit. Ultimately the firm did not prosper and its operation was discontinued less than three years after it was begun. (p.278)
Jesse Gause is not mentioned in the foundation story (p.277), only in the membership list taken from Lyndon W. Cook (p.278) and post-facto in the literary firm narrative (p.320).

Williams is clear that the dissolution of the firm was related to its indebtedness (p.280), to which the Kirtland members had found no solution. The pieces were doled out to the constituent members (p.280).

Williams then turns to the problem of the cancellation of the debts. Though FGW's company was down by $584.14 and FGW himself owed $485.67 to Whitney, making the overall cost comparable to Joseph Smith's whooping $1,151.31 (Rigdon clocked in around $780) (p.281), FGW had his own lists, especially with respect to what Joseph Smith Jr owed him: $4,613. (p.281)

This sum breaks down into the price of the farm ($2,200), a yoke of oxen ($80), a two-ox wagon ($75), a silver watch ($50), and other goods and services (which make up another $2,000 then) (p.283). The story with the farm is especially tricky, because the United Firm had been dissolved on April 23rd, 1834, but the farm had only been sold May 5th, 1834 (p.282).

Williams has a plausible idea for the context of the statements of facts and the account of the farm that FGW authored (p.283).
These statements on the farm may have been written later by President Williams [= FGW, RCK] in response to disgruntled members over the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. They show that, notwithstanding he was an officer of the bank and a member of the First Presidency, Frederick had never received any money for his property. (p.283) 
Williams points out that FGW did not doubt the revelation.
If he [= FGW, RCK] were discontented or in apostasy, he would call the revelation bogus,merely a clever ploy by Joseph Smith to cheat him out of $4,613 and cheat Newel K. Whitney out of $3,635. But Newel and Frederick were not merely hearers of the word, but doers also, and canceled their outstanding debts. (p.283)
The question of what the relationship between Joseph Smith Jr and FGW was at that time is tricky; the main clue is provided by a letter that Rebecca Swain, FGW's wife, sent to her father regarding the status of their relationship with the Church, which seemed sufficiently unchanged to disappoint her father (p.285f).

Williams mentions that Oliver Cowdery had talked with FGW about the way the farm was sold, a story recounted in a letter to Cowdery's brothers on June 2nd, 1838, when Cowdery was already estranged from the church (p.284); but the Swain letter two months later makes it hard to believe that FGW was actually interested in suing for the land (p.286), and possibly Cowdery was hearing what he wanted to hear (p.284).

Hebrew School and Egyptian Antiquities

The good feeling between FGW and Joseph Smith Jr, which was strengthened through their numerous collaborations, found expression in Emma and Joseph Smith Jr naming their 2nd son, born June 20th, 1836 in Kirtland, Frederick Granger Williams Smith (p.308), that is, after FGW. The Williams family reciprocated when Lovina (née Williams) and Burr Riggs named their daughter after Emma (p.308).

Williams summarizes their personal closeness by reviewing their collaborations.
Williams [= FGW, RCK] had been the Prophet's scribe for the past four years, the President's counselor for the past three years, his disciple in the School of the Prophets for the past two years, his missionary companion at different times, and his physician for the past five years, and all of these activities had kept the two of them in close proximity, had enlivened them spiritually, and had formed a bond of trust between them. (p.307)

F.G.Williams & Co, Publisher and Editor

In November of 1831, during four conferences, the Church leadership had hashed out the way in which the revelations were to be published in Zion (p.318). Rigdon, Smith, Cowdery, Harris, John Whitmer and Phelps were called to take care of that issue (p.318). The Literary Firm, which had been founded in November 1831 (according to Cannon & Cook, Far West Record, p.46 Fn 1), was tasked in a revelation on April 30, 1832, with printing 3,000 copies of the Book of Commandments.

With the destruction of the press in Zion on July 20th, 1833, the publishing plans had to move to Kirtland (p.318). Here, FGW had joined the United Firm in March of 1833 [= D&C 92] and was affirmed as member to the Zion church leadership in a letter dated June 25th, 1833 [written by Sidney Rigdon, see first page of letter, RCK] (p.318).

Williams expends some energy trying to determine why Williams was chosen (p.319) and concludes that his standing in the local community may have been the decisive point (p.320). 

F.G.W and Cowdery had received the printing establishment at the dissolution of the United Firm, and managed it together, contracting to the Church, until Cowdery bought out F.G.W in June of 1836 (p.321). Though it did a lot of work, publishing three newspapers and two books, the business failed to make much money (p.321). 
In November 1835, at the peak of its production, F.G. Williams & Co.'s printing office employed four journeymen printers and typesetters and three apprentices. The operation also included a bindery. (p.322)
In many ways, the cash book for F.G.Williams & Co. was the de factor account book for the Church's early financial operation, just as the Kirtland Council Minute Book (together with Joseph's various journals and histories) was a record of the Church's religious activities. (p.322)
The cash book for the printing firm used incoming and outgoing columns to track debts and receipts (p.322).
The ledger entries naming Frederick G. Williams total 77; they include such diverse items as (1) travel expenses (Cleveland five times, Painesville twice, Missouri once); (2) living expenses, including food || (butter, oats, sugar, wheat and fish); (3) office supplies (postage, paper, tallow, lamps and books); and (4) miscellaneous expenses (school, medicines [for both humans and horses], taxes, hammers, pistols, hired girls, Books of Mormon, lawyers, court and sheep), plus reimbursement for purchases such as deer skins, which were used to make inking balls for printers before rollers were introduced. Similar entries for food, school, travel and sundry other expenses exist for Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and several others. (pp.231-232) 
[[Notice that the "hired girl" is based on an unclear reading in the cash book for January 14th, 1835, and lacks any amount entered. RCK]]

The financial constraints on the firm were severe; October 6th, 1835, Brother Stevenson came to Smith Jr's house and loaned F.G.Williams & Co. six hundred dollars (p.342). But by October 23rd, 1835, they were back to praying to the Lord in face of their financial difficulties [= HC 2:291].

Officer of the Kirtland Safety Society

Although the Kirtland Safety Society existed for less than a year (November 1836 to July 1837), the failure of the short-lived Mormon bank would focus attention on the economic plight of the Church, .... (p.455)
The situation of the church after the completion of the temple was financially dire.
But personal loans had made up the bulk of the money for the land and the construction, and the promissory notes were coming due. (p.456)
Williams reminds us that banknotes before the Civil War were much more like 20th century personal checks (p.456) made out against the banking institution. This worked well enough on a local or rural level, but it had little liquidity or shiftability. [[Williams cites Scott Partridge's BYU Studies (1972) article in this context. RCK]]
In order to avoid the possibility of being robbed, banknotes were often used to pay debts and thus circulated as money between one individual and another, and from one bank to another, but without anyone ever redeeming them. Thus the notes circulated as money, which was in high demand as a medium of exchange before the establishment of a federal monetary system. (p.457)
Bank debt was an accepted medium of exchange, a firm's or individual's debt was not (p.457). In order to expose failed banks and counterfeiting, Robert T. Bicknell of Philadelphia published his Bicknell's Counterfeit Detector and Bank Note List (p.457), launched in the early 1830s.

Williams then gives the daily life of the Thompson Bank of Connecticut [unfortunately cobbled together from an interview with the living history re-enactor and unpublished research papers from Old Sturbridge Village. RCK] where the cashier was the man in building, while the president dropped by once a week to check in, sign banknotes as needed and grant loans higher than what the cashier could grant (p.458). The cashier made $400 per year, ~$2 a day, for about ten hours of work; Williams estimates that unskilled labor at that time was remunerated at $0.50 per day (p.458).

The loans were ninety-day loans at 6% interest, with the possibility of extension (p.458), though that required paying a fee and upped the interest rate (p.459).
If the individual did not meet the payment deadline, the cashier would seek a writ from a justice of the peace, directing the constable to visit the delinquent borrower's abode. There he was authorized to seize property to satisfy the debt. The items seized could not be the tools of the person's trade or the clothes on his back, but practically any other items could be seized and then sold at auction to pay off the debt. If the debt were more than $20, then the case would go to the circuit court. (p.459) 
Bank loans were meant for businesses, not individuals, who would find another individual and work it out with a promissory note (p.459).

The Thompson bank issued its own notes, intend for trading not reimbursement (p.459).
The coins kept on deposit that guaranteed the banknotes and that were kept in the safe on the premises of the Thompson Bank, were typically Mexican pesos, Spanish pesos, American dollars, or English pound sterling. (p.459)
Banks that the Thompson bank collaborated with would keep silver reserves at each other's locations, so that bank notes could be cashed in full (p.459). For notes issued by non-collaborating banks, people could not obtain the full face value from the Thompson bank (p.459).
The cashier was audited regularly. He also reported monthly on the entries in his books, and he was responsible for paying a percentage of the profits monthly to the trustees. The trustees were shareholders whose combined assets (that is, the money they put into the bank safe) was $100,000. It was from this money that the loans were made. (p.459)
The banknotes were printed in New York, and the bank could issue 25% over what it held in specie (p.459). If one person signed a banknote over to another, a fee was charged for that (p.460).
The cashier was bonded for $20,000 [= 20%, RCK], a sum he obtained by taking out insurance, whose premium he had withheld from his own pay. (p.460)
Frustrated in their attempt to obtain a bank charter and having plates for the money printing already (p.460), the church leadership proceeded to establish a stock company instead (p.461), and fixed the naming issues on the plates with stamping---"Anti" and "ing"---and blotting out---"Cashr" and "Pres"---(p.461).

But this was really only the smallest of the issues. The main problem was the capital inlay.
Whether establishing a bank or a joint stock company, no one person or even group of persons (such as those who had belonged to the United Firm) was in a position to provide enough funding to make the "bank" operational. It was ultimately decided that the members of the "Anti-Banking Society" should purchase discounted shares with their hard currency and legal notes, which would then provided the needed specie to back the banknotes. To hold the specie, the new financial institution procured a small iron safe, which can be seen today at the Western Reserve Historical Society Museum in Cleveland. (p.461)
Based on Warren Cowdery's analysis in the 1837 Messenger and Advocate,  Williams believed that the Kirtland safety society was sunk by the financial downturn as well as by enemies of the Mormon church staging a run on the bank (p.463). Cowdery sees the downfall of the institution tied to the goods purchased through credit with New York bankers and debt acquired in purchasing land, which was coming due (p.464).


As early as 1972, Paul Sampson and Larry T Wimmer had pointed out in their BYU Studies article
 It seems likely that bank officials used projected real estate values as a basis for establishing the $50 per share face value. The high face values of shares owned could possibly be the reason for the complaints in some letters and journals that the Saints were given to worldliness and to thinking that they were now wealthy. One might excuse them for thinking so, for with $5.25 they could purchase twenty shares of stock with a bank-credited face value of $1,000. The failure to realize such inflated values might explain the widespread discontent and apostasy after the bank's failure. (p.474)
While it is not completely clear what the Saints that accused FGW on May 29th, 1837---Abel Lab, Nathan Haskins, Harlow Redfield, Artemas Millett and Isaac Rogers (p.477)---actually had against him and how severe his ``failings`` were in their view (p.478), the rift between Smith and FGW was tied to the interpretation of how Warren Parrish had behaved after Smith and Rigdon had abandoned ship (p.479). The editorial in the Elders' Journal published in Far West, in August 1838, accused Parrish of stealing, counterfeiting, and similar, and report of a clash with FGW over searching Parrish's trunk (pp.479-480).

In spite of these misgivings, Williams was sustained in the first presidency in Kirtland on September 3, 1837, in Kirtland (p.482).

Move to Zion

FGW and his family moved mostly by riverboat to Kirtland; the expense report managed by David Whitmer still exists (pp.494-495). In reconstructing the experience of riverboat travel, Williams uses Frank Donovan, Riverboats of America, New York (1966).

In Kirtland, FGW had hired the firm of Lewis Henderson and Ebenezer F. Punderson of Cleveland (p.507) to settle his accounts and obtain all the outstanding debt. The docket book of Warren A. Cowdery shows their representation of FGW (p.507), in eighteen of thirty-seven cases (p.508).

Sorrows in Zion

When FGW arrived in Missouri in late November of 1837, where he treated David Whitmer on November 30th, 1837 (p.526). On December 7th, 1837, Lyman Wight and FGW were added to the committee consisting of Cowdery and David Patton to explore the north country (p.527). In addition, FGW bought property in the township of Kingston, Caldwell County, on December 26th, 1837 (p.526). 

By the time FGW arrived in Missouri, the church conference on November 7th, 1837 had already replaced him with Hyrum Smith (p.528). Williams thinks that there was some chicanery going on, noted by the fact that FGW was not even present; Rigdon had suggested Hyrum as replacement before FGW had been voted out; and that Joseph Smith Jr had proposed FGW and Bishop Partridge had seconded FGW (p.529). 

During his stay in Missouri, FGW testified against Oliver Cowdery in a trial of counterfeiting, which Cowdery was supposed to have pursued in Kirtland with John Boynton, Warren Parrish and Burton H. Phelps (p.539). Cowdery still went to FGW to get treated, though (p.541). 

According to John Whitmer's history, FGW was under threat from the Danites to be run out of the county, as Oliver Cowdery had been on June 19th, 1844 (p.544). Joseph Smith had told George W. Robinson that those talking against the presidency should receive 39 lashes to make them repent (p.545), as Burr Riggs states in a sworn deposition. Riggs also heard that Rigdon felt that Phelp, FGW and John Corrill were amongst those men whose influence needed to be put down (p.545).

However, Phelps and FGW reconciled and were re-baptized into the church (p.545), sometime before August 5th 1838. Phelps had been excommunicated on March 10th, 1838; there is no clear date for FGW available (p.545). There was a revelation given July 8th, 1838, that stated that the transgressions of Phelps and FGW had been forgiven, but reminded them not to lapse again (p.547). 

Bibliographic Record

Frederick G. Williams, The Life of Dr Frederick G. Williams: Counselor to the Prophet, Provo UT (BYU) 2012.

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