Accounts of the “King Follett Sermon”

Joseph Smith gave an address on 7 April 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois, at a general conference of the church. Because a church elder named King Follett had died in an accident a few weeks before the conference, Joseph Smith took the opportunity to specifically comment on Follett’s death and to speak on what he called “the subject of the dead.” The address has often been referred to as the King Follett sermon or King Follett discourse.
It seems that Joseph Smith intended this to be a significant discourse. Several of his listeners recorded accounts of the address contemporaneously, including three scribes from the President’s Office, making it the best recorded of his discourses. The reporters included Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff, Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton. Because none of these individuals recorded the address stenographically, none of the accounts provides a complete record of what Smith said on that occasion. On 15 August 1844, the church newspaper Times and Seasons offered the first published account of the discourse, a version amalgamating Bullock’s and Clayton’s independent reports. Other amalgamated versions were produced later, including the now well-known version prepared in the 1850s for the “Manuscript History of the Church” by Jonathan Grimshaw, a clerk in the Church Historian’s Office. (See JS History, vol. E-1, 1968–1979; and the draft amalgamation of the 7 Apr. 1844 sermon in “Sunday April 7th. 1844. Discourse by President Joseph Smith,” JS Collection, CHL.)
Further information about the different accounts of the sermon will eventually be published in the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers.