The was established in 1832 after a revelation instructed JS, , and to oversee the formation of “an organization of the Literary and Merchantile establishments” of the . The firm lasted for approximately two years and played an important role in administering church finances and overseeing church business endeavors in the early 1830s in and .
The United Firm had its beginnings in 1831 as church leaders established stores and printing firms to oversee church affairs. In July 1831, a revelation instructed , who was a partner with in the , Ohio, mercantile firm , to “establish a store” in , Jackson County, Missouri, so that the church could receive “money to buy lands for the good of the Saints.” Gilbert opened a store in Independence early the next year, funded in part by Whitney and operated under the name . In December 1831, Whitney was told “to keep the Lords ” in Kirtland, which evidently referred to his own store.
In November 1831, another revelation appointed six men—JS, , , , , and —as “ over the revelations & commandments.” The revelation stated that “their business in the church of God” was “to manage” the publication of a compilation of Joseph Smith’s revelations and “the profits thereof.” Soon after, was established and began operating Phelps’s in , which published the compilation of JS’s revelations as well as the church newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star and the community newspaper Upper Missouri Advertiser.
After a March 1832 revelation directed that the “Literary and Merchantile establishments” be organized, JS and a council of and convened in on 26 and 27 April. While in council, JS dictated a revelation that named the individuals who were to participate in the organization of “an everlasting firm.” They included the six stewards over the revelations as well as , , and , the in . The revelation instructed the nine men to “be bound together by a bond & Covennant that cannot be broken” and affirmed that organizing the firm would allow them to draw on each other’s resources to manage their different endeavors, thereby generating funds that would “become the common property of the whole Churc[h]” once the needs of those within the firm were met. The following day, the council decided that the mercantile partnerships of the firm would be in Independence and in .
Around 1 May 1832, members of the United Firm met. At this meeting, and were “appointed to act in the name of this Firm” and the firm was directed to secure a loan of $15,000 through N. K. Whitney & Co. Meanwhile, the publishing aspect of the United Firm—consisting of the six “stewards over the revelations & commandments”—became known as the .
In 1833, two additional members were added to the United Firm: and . Williams, a member of the church’s governing presidency, had large landholdings in , and Johnson had monetary resources that the firm could draw on. In summer 1833, a plat for prepared by church leaders indicated that the church was planning to build a printing house on Williams’s farm, while Johnson provided funding so that the church could purchase the , on which it would construct the Kirtland . Meanwhile, officers of the United Firm in Kirtland supervised farms and residential real estate, an ashery, a tannery, a stone quarry, a sawmill, and a brick kiln. Each property or enterprise under United Firm supervision was owned by individuals, rather than by the firm or by its officers as a group.
In fall 1833, the church lost two vital components of the firm—’s storehouse and ’s printing office, which was destroyed by a mob—when the Saints were driven out of , Missouri. Another branch of the firm was formed to oversee printing in ——but the loss of the businesses still hurt the United Firm. By 1834 it was in financial trouble, owing money for mortgage payments, the purchase of a new printing press, and goods for the storehouse in Kirtland. At a meeting held on 10 April 1834, JS and the other members of the United Firm decided to dissolve the group.
Less than two weeks later, on 23 April 1834, JS dictated a revelation that divided the assets of the firm into stewardships assigned to different members. Although the revelation intimated that the United Firm would continue after this reorganization and distribution of stewardships, the firm essentially ceased to function thereafter. However, the Literary Firm continued to exist until at least September 1835, when and were appointed a “committee and general agents to act, in the name of and for the literary firm.” Few records indicate how Whitmer and Smith functioned as agents, and the Literary Firm is not mentioned in extant documents after that time. It is also unclear how the Literary Firm operated after the United Firm’s demise. F. G. Williams & Co. was given to and as a stewardship in April 1834, but it was likely still seen as part of the Literary Firm.
Extant documents pertaining to the United Firm and its mercantile and printing subsets are few. They consist mainly of minutes of meetings, some correspondence, financial statements from and , and the business ledger of F. G. Williams & Co.
Revelation, 1 Mar. 1832 [D&C 78:3]. When this revelation was published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, “organization of the Literary and Merchantile establishments” was changed to “organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people.” (Revelation, 1 Mar. 1832, in Doctrine and Covenants 75:1, 1835 ed. [D&C 78:3].)
Jackson Co., MO, Deed Records, 1827–1909, vol. B, p. 33, 20 Feb. 1832, microfilm 1,017,978, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Eakin and Eakin, Jackson County Missouri Court Minutes Book 1, 127, 143–144.
U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.
Eakin, Joanne C., and O. B. Eakin, comp. Jackson County Missouri Court Minutes Book 1, 1827–1833, with Index; and Jackson County Missouri Death Register, 1883–1891. Independence, MO: By the author, 1988.
Geauga Co., OH, Deed Records, 1795–1921, vol. 18, pp. 477–478, 480–481, 5 May 1834, microfilm 20,237, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Historical Introduction to Plat of Kirtland, OH, not before 2 Aug. 1833; Parkin, “Joseph Smith and the United Firm,” 19–20; Probert, “Peter French, His 1813 Inn, and the Kirtland Period of Mormonism,” 120–121.
Probert, Josh E. “Peter French, His 1813 Inn, and the Kirtland Period of Mormonism.” In Selections from BYU Religious Education 1999 Student Symposium, 115–135. Provo, UT: Religious Education, Brigham Young University, 2000.