Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Jonathan Neville: Liar or sloppy researcher?

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that, while I disagree with many of Jonathan Neville’s assertions, I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s acting in good faith. As I’ve written (here and here), I prefer not to fall back on the explanation that he must be either evil or stupid.

But sometimes he makes claims that are at such variance with the truth that I’m forced to claim that he’s guilty of intellectual malfeasance.
Times and Seasons newspaper

Today’s example is drawn from his February 5, 2019, blog post, “The Times and Seasons articles,” in which he tries to refute the claim that Joseph Smith, as editor of the Church newspaper Times and Seasons in 1842, had anything to do with the series of articles the paper ran that year about the discovery of great ruins in Mesoamerica and their possible connections to the Book of Mormon.

In his blog post, Neville sets forth his conspiracy theory that it was actually Benjamin Winchester who wrote those articles. Winchester’s personal history is quite detailed—you can read about it in the fall 1995 edition of Journal of Mormon History—but his involvement with the Times and Seasons was limited to a three-month stint from November 1841 to January 1842, after which the Quorum of the Twelve, by revelation, took responsibility for it, with Joseph Smith serving as editor. Winchester, who had been twice reprimanded in those three months for slanderous behavior and disobedience to the First Presidency, returned to Philadelphia. (He was eventually excommunicated in August 1844.)

Neville’s blog post contains basic errors of fact. For example Neville claims:
When Joseph [Smith] read an article in the Times and Seasons that claimed Zarahemla was in Guatemala, he resigned as nominal editor and fired William Smith from both the Times and Seasons and the Wasp.
Firstly, there is zero evidence that Joseph resigned as editor of the Times and Seasons because of the Guatemala articles; Neville’s claim is based solely on the coincidental timing of the two events.

Secondly, William Smith didn’t work at the Times and Seasons, and he wasn’t “fired” from The Wasp; he transferred his duties to John Taylor because he had been elected to the Illinois state legislature and had to spend more of his time at the state capitol in Springfield. (See “To the Public,”The Wasp, October 8, 1842, [p. 2].) Joseph’s journal entry for December 9, 1842, indicates that he was visited by his brother in the evening, and they discussed matters taking place in the legislature—not the kind of friendly meeting one would expect from the Prophet if he were furious at his brother after having just recently “fired” him.

But perhaps the most preposterous statement in Neville’s blog post is this claim regarding Joseph Smith’s editorship of the Times and Seasons:
Some people are surprised to learn that there are no historical accounts of Joseph editing the paper. His journal never mentions such activities. None of his contemporaries remarked on Joseph spending time editing the paper. His own history that was published in the Times and Seasons contains a significant error that later historians attribute to Joseph’s scribes and clerks, and there are other specific examples in the paper that show Joseph had no direct involvement with the editing process.
The boldface sentence, above, is simply astonishing. Has Neville even done the most cursory of research into Joseph’s journal for 1842? I looked through the transcript on the Joseph Smith Papers website and found at least eighteen references to being in and around the printing office, some of which directly state that Joseph was involved in the duties an editor would carry out. The most explicit statements are noted in boldface, below:

  • Journal, 28 January 1842: “A Revelation the twelve concrning the Times and Seasons. [‘]Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph. go and say unto the Twelve That it is my will to have them take in hand the Editorial department of the Times and Seasons according to that manifestation. which Shall be given unto them by the Power of My Holy Spirit in the midst of their counsel Saith the Lord. Amen[’]”
    (The JSP editors note: According to Wilford Woodruff, “After consulting upon the subject the quorum appointed Elders J[ohn] Taylor & W Woodruff of the Twelve to Edit the Times & Seasons & take charge of the whole esstablishment under the direction of Joseph the Seer.” The contract with Ebenezer Robinson for the sale of the printing office was closed one week after this revelation was received. Under the new arrangement, J[oseph] S[mith] would function as editor of the Times and Seasons, with Taylor assisting him in writing and Woodruff overseeing ‘the Business part of the esstablishment.’ (Woodruff, Journal, 3, 4, and 19 Feb. 1842; JS, Journal, 4 Feb. and 2 Mar. 1842.)
  • Journal, 23 February 1842: “visited the printing office. & gave [Reuben Hedlock] instructions concerning the cut for the altar & gods in the Records of Abraham. as designed for the Times and Seasons”
  • Journal, 23 January 1842: “Silenced Elder Daniel Wood. of Pleasant Vale for preaching that the church should unsheath the Sword— and also silenced Elder A, Lits. for preaching that the authoritiees of the church were done away.— &c. and sent the Letters by the hand of Elder William Draper Junior who preferred the charges; & cited A Lits to appear before the High council of Nauvoo forthwith.— & published the same in the Times and Seasons. in the name of Joseph Smith. P.C.J.C.L.D.S. and B[righam] Young P.QT.—104 W Ricchards [Willard Richards] Ck. [Clerk]”
  • Journal, 1 March 1842: “During the fore-noon. at his office. & the printing office correcting the first plate or cut. of the Records of father Abraham. prepared by Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock] for the Times & Season.”
  • Journal, 2 March 1842: “Read the Proof of the ‘Times and Seasons’ as Editor for the First time, No. 9[th] Vol 3d.115 in which is the commencement of the Book of Abraham.”
  • Journal, 4 March 1842: “Exhibeting the Book of Abraham. in the original. To Bro Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock]. so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts. & prepare the blocks for the Times & Seasons.”
  • Journal, 8 March 1842: “Commenced Translating from the Book of Abraham, for the 10 No of the Times and seasons— and was engagd at his office day & evening”
  • Journal, 9 March 1842: “Examining copy for the Times & Seasons presented by. [John] Taylor & Bennet [John C. Bennett].”
  • Journal, 10 March 1842: “the President retired to the Printing office with his Lady & Dr Supped, <&> with the twelve who had been at the office.”
  • Journal, 10 May 1842: “Transacted a variety of business at the Store. printing office &c.”
  • Journal, 16 May 1842: “in the P.M. at the printing office withe Bro. [Brigham] Young [Heber C.] Kimball [Willard] Richards &c in council”
  • Journal, 28 May 1842: “called at 8 in the eve at the printing office with the night watch. To see the Wasp.”
  • Journal, 4 June 1842: “At the printing office in the morning.”
  • Journal, 12 June 1842: “Brought some poetry to printing office. & got some Newspapers”
  • Journal, 11 July 1842: “was at the printing office reading mail papers.
  • Journal, 22 September 1842: “At home. Arrangeing with [Jacob] Remick concerning moving printing press to Keokuk; buying paper &c.
  • Journal, 2 December 1842: “In the evening called on E[lde]rs [Willard] Richards & [Newel K.] Whitney to take an apprisal of the printing Office establishment preparatory to a lease to E[lde]rs Taylors [John Taylor] & [Wilford] Woodruff for the term of five years.”
  • Journal, 3 December 1842: “Called at the Printing Office several times.”

The entries for March 2 and March 9 are crystal clear that Joseph Smith was involved in the work of editing the Times and Seasons, and the remaining boldface statements imply that he was doing work for the paper. Neville’s claim that “that there are no historical accounts of Joseph editing the paper” and that “his journal never mentions such activities” are complete and utter fabrications.

Neville either didn’t even attempt to do any serious research on that claim or he found some of these entries and willfully chose to not mention them. This doesn’t speak well of either his research abilities or his dedication to the truth. His readers would do well to question every claim he makes and check his sources. I know this blog certainly will.

—Peter Pan


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