Included in the very first issue of The Prophet was the following item, explaining the origins of the newspaper. This makes the proposal sound very democratic and a local effort, and Crawley’s Descriptive Bibliography (v1 p255) suggests, apparently based on this article, that the proposal for the newspaper was local, came from George Leach and was enthusiastically adopted by William Smith.
Extract from the minutes of a conference of the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held at Military Hall, New York, April 3d and 4th, 1844. Elder Wm. Smith in the chair.
Eld. G. T. Leach submitted to the conference a proposition for publishing a weekly paper for the dispensation of our principles, which was read by the clerk.
The proposition was advocated by a large majority of elders present, and Eld. Wm. Smith spoke, at length, in favor of the proposition, and on motion,
- Resolved. That the proposition be accepted.
- Resolved. That a committee of five be appointed to carry into effect the proposition.
Whereupon:—Elders Wright, G. T. Leach, Miles, J. Leach and Priest Brocklebank were appointed.
W. H. Miles, Clerk.
The Prophet, v1 n1, 18 May 1844, page 2
Joseph Smith’s candidacy for President of the U.S. was apparently the impetus behind the newspaper, as early editions promoted his campaign. The organizers were likely very aware of the success of other Mormon newspapers and periodicals outside of Church headquarters, such as the Millennial Star and Benjamin Winchester’s Gospel Reflector, and they no doubt hoped to benefit from William Smith’s experience editing The Wasp.
Despite the local strength that this announcement portrayed, in fact the Church in New York struggled in at least some ways. The Prophet apparently always struggled financially, as it repeatedly sought subscribers to pay their subscriptions and solicited donations to maintain its operations.And as far as can be ascertained from the ads in the newspaper, William H. Miles was one of the biggest supporters, since advertisements for his business interests appear in every issue.
The fact that the newspaper was started barely a month before the martyrdom didn’t help keep it stable. By October two of the founding committee, George T. Leach and A. E. Wright, had been excommunicated, apparently for supporting Sidney Rigdon. And even as Parley P. Pratt changed the publication’s name to the New York Messenger a year later the situation was still uncertain. At that point William Smith was excommunicated and Samuel Brannon was disfellowshiped, although he was reinstated after making a hasty trip to Nauvoo to plead his case.
But questions remain unanswered in the bare information contained in this conference extract. What else happened during the conference? Were there minutes covering the rest of it? Who was the priest, Brocklebank and what role did he play? Are there other contemporary accounts of the newspaper? Did John Leach (apparently a relative of George T. Leach) also leave the Church when his brother was excommunicated?
As with all history, the little we know opens many more questions.