Appleby’s Journal

November 6th, 2012, by Kent Larsen

The Christian Observer of September 10, 1841 included an unusual item, a 3,000 word article entitled “Journal of a Mormon” drawn on exactly that, the journal of convert William I. Appleby covering a trip he took to visit Nauvoo a year or so after his conversion. According to the Observer, Appleby had apparently planned to publish this as a pamphlet—but no pamphlet is now extant.

Appleby was then a resident of Recklesstown, New Jersey, part of Chesterfield Township in Burlington County of that state. He was the local Justice of the Peace, a Judge of the General Court and the teacher of a local school. He later went west with the Saints and became a judge in Utah and Wyoming before returning to te NYC area to serve as the Eastern States Mission President and immigration agent in here.

While the article is not friendly to Mormons, it does provide information that is of interest to Mormons looking at our history, and it points to what could be a published Mormon pamphlet that no one has seen since. After  an extended biased explanation of who Mormons are and why they are a fraud that takes up about a third of the article, the author explains where he got the journal:

Our thoughts have been called to this subject by the journal of a Mormon, placed in our hands by a gentleman of this city, who is acquainted with the author. It is the journal of W. J. APPLEBY, ESQ., late a Judge in the county of Burlington, N. J.—The author appears not to be an ignorant man in the popular sense of the term. Though not accustomed to write for the press, he is obviously a man of good ordinary capacities and intelligence. We are not disposed to regard him either as knave or fool—but as one laboring under that spiritual disease, fanaticism, to which all men are exposed who are reared without knowledge, or fixed principles in religion. The preface to his journal, which we copy entire, and the extracts from it which are subjoined, will be read with interest as matters of curiosity.—Mr. Appleby is now a Minister of “The Church of Latter Day Saints,” as the Mormons style themselves.

The rest of the article includes the entire preface of Appleby’s journal and selected excerpts interspersed with comments from the author.

The idea that this material was meant for publication is indicated in the preface:

After viewing the city and deriving what information he desired in regard to the object of his visit, he returned home about the beginning of June, having kept a Journal of his travels and observations from the time he left home until his return.

It was not the intention of the author to ever have published it, until arriving in Philadelphia on his return, some of the brethren there made a special request to him to have it published, as there were a great many going West; and perhaps they might reap a great deal of information and instruction from it concerning matters that would benefit and be of advantage to them.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Appleby never published this journal. He did publish two pamphlets in 1843, but neither appears to have the journal material. The Church Archives does have a biography and journal that Appleby kept, apparently started in 1848. But it does have day-by-day entries for the period covered by the material in the Observer article, and the two largely match. But the journal the Church has and the Observer article don’t match word for word — it looks like the journal that the Church Archives has, at least in the period covered by the Observer article, was copied from an earlier journal, and in the process of doing so Appleby edited and amended the earlier material.

Nevertheless, the fact that the two versions of Appleby’s 1841 journal match so well verifies the legitimacy of the material in the Observer article.

The only piece of this material that is unique to the Observer article is the preface — while the biography and journal in the Church Archives does include a preface, it isn’t the same as the preface published in the Observer article. As a result, I believe that the material available to the author of the Observer article was likely all ready for publication.

So, then, was it published? And if not, why not? We may never know the answer to these questions. It could be that the Observer got the material from a printer contracted to print it. If so, then its hard (but not impossible) to imagine that it wasn’t printed. But, it is also possible that the Observer somehow waylaid the text, preventing it from being printed and using it for its own purposes. However, the fact that the Observer article is largely faithful to the version in the Church Archives seems to suggest that the periodical didn’t see the text as a threat. And if you want to prevent the publication of a text, why would you then print part of it?

Regardless, Appleby’s 1841 journal probably belongs on a list of possible Mormon publications that, if published, are no longer extant, along with materials like the Mormon Expositor published in Baltimore and Lyman O. Littlefield’s early short story, Eliza or the Broken Vow.


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3 Responses to “Appleby’s Journal”

  1. Steve Fleming Says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve worked quite a bit with Appleby’s journal in my research on early Mormonism in New Jersey but was not aware of the article you mention. Appleby started keeping a journal at the beginning of his trip to Nauvoo in 1841 and then recopied his journal in 1848. His original journal is not extant. I’m ver interested to read the article you mention to see the changes between it and Appleby’s 1848 copy. Thanks again.

  2. kent Says:

    Steve, here’s a link to the text of the article (as I digitized it — there could be typos):

    Are you aware of an electronic text copy of the 1848- journal?

  3. Steve Fleming Says:

    Thanks so much Kent. As far as an electronic version of Appleby, I sort of have one. I’m planning on publishing the journal at some point and scanned the typescript a while back, but it needs to be checked against the original (only part of it has been so far.). I could look up what he says about New York City, but, if I recall, he doen’t spend a lot of time there, but passes through a few times.

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