Dean C. Jessee

Dean C. Jessee

Dean Cornell Jessee[1] (born 1929)[2] is a historian of the early Latter Day Saint movement and leading expert on the writings of Joseph Smith, Jr.



Jessee was one of the sons of Phillip Cornell Jessee and Minerva Boss.[3] He was raised in Springville, Utah as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He served an LDS mission to Germany.[4]

In 1959, Jessee received his Master of Arts in LDS church history from the College of Religion at Brigham Young University (BYU),[5] writing his thesis on the controversial topic of Mormon fundamentalism (D. Michael Quinn claims BYU restricted access to this paper for several years.[6]) He then taught LDS Seminary for four years at West High School in Salt Lake City.[4]

In his career, Jesse was a respected archivist, editor and historian, as well as an authority on early Mormon handwriting.[7] Davis Bitton called him one of the "[Mormon] historians who are deeply familiar with the sources on Mormon origins [yet] still find it possible to remain in the fold."[8] In addition to his mission, Jessee has served in his local Salt Lake City congregation as a home teacher[9] and counselor of the high priest group,[10] as well as a stake family history coordinator.[11]

Jessee married Margaret June Wood[1] and they had eight children and reside in Salt Lake City.[12] Jessee's younger brother Donald served in the LDS Church as president of the Oregon Portland Mission[13] and as a Regional Representative.[14]

Church Historian's Office

In 1964, Jessee was hired by the Church Historian's Office under Joseph Fielding Smith as an archivist in the church historical archives.[4]

While Leonard J. Arrington was researching a book on the Mormon development of western America, he met Jessee in the church archives during 1967. As a cataloguer of manuscripts, Jessee informed Arrington of many useful documents in the archive that historians had not yet studied.[15] Arrington later recalled that at the time Jessee was "Intelligent, well-informed, hardworking, and modest," and that "he knew more about the documents of LDS history than any other person."[16]

In the late 1960s, Jessee was invited by Truman G. Madsen, at BYU's Institute of Mormon Studies, to publish articles on Joseph Smith and early Mormon history in BYU Studies.[17] This began Jessee's research and publication in early Mormon manuscripts and historical documents.

In 1972, Leonard J. Arrington became the official Church Historian. He requested the transfer of Jessee from the archives to the new History Division, a newly-created, impressive team of historians for researching and writing of new Mormon histories.[4] One such work, Jessee's 1974 Letters of Brigham Young to his Sons, caused Apostle Boyd K. Packer to bring concerns to the First Presidency about the Historical Department's "orientation toward scholarly work," an early sign of the tension that would eventually lead to the History Division's disbandment.[18] Jessee was also assigned by Arrington to locate, collect and transcribe all of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s writings, a work inspired by the Thomas Jefferson Papers of the 1950s and those of other Founding Fathers.[17]

In the 1980s, Jessee was a major player in the Historical Department's examinations of important historical documents produced by Mark Hofmann, which were later found to be forgeries.[19] Jessee was considered the preeminent expert on early Mormon handwriting, especially Joseph Smith's, and he authenticated and defended a number of Hofmann's forgeries,[20][21][22] including the famous "Salamander Letter".[23] Hofmann's extensive deception of document and forgery experts led him to be called "unquestionably the most skilled forger this country has ever seen".[24]

Jessee served as a research historian in the church's Historical Department until 1981, when he was transferred to the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at Brigham Young University (BYU).[25] At BYU, he was also an associate professor of history and LDS Church history.[26]

Joseph Smith Papers

As a Senior Historical Associate[27] then Senior Research Fellow,[28] Jessee served for nineteen years in the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute.[25] During this time he continued his earlier work to produce the papers of Joseph Smith. In 1984, he published most of Smith's own writings and many of his dictations in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. This research continued to expand into two volumes of The Papers of Joseph Smith, one in 1989 on Smith's autobiographical and historical writings, and the other in 1992 on Smith's journals.[17]

Jessee's efforts were eventually made an official joint effort of BYU and the LDS Church in 2001, called the Joseph Smith Papers Project. This is intended to be a large multi-volume series, including virtually everything written by Joseph Smith, by his office, or under his direction.[17] That year, Larry H. Miller, a Salt Lake City businessman and philanthropist, began funding the venture. In 2005, Miller announced the goal of completing the project by 2015, "while Dean Jessee is still around", since Jessee was then in his 70s.[29] Jessee is general manager of the project along with Richard Bushman and Ron Esplin.[25]


  • The T. Edgar Lyon Award for Best Article for "Return to Carthage: Writing the History of Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom" (Mormon History Association: 1983) [34]
  • Steven F. Christensen Best Documentary Award for The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings, vol. 1 (Mormon History Association: 1989)
  • Steven F. Christensen Best Documentary Award for Steven F. Christensen Best Documentary Award (Mormon History Association: 1992)
  • Steven F. Christensen Best Documentary Award for The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, vol. 1, 1832-1839 (Mormon History Association: 2009)
  • Special Award in Textual Criticism and Bibliography for The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, vol. 1, 1832-1839 (Association for Mormon Letters: 2009) [35]


In the 1980s Jessee worked on editing some of Wilford Woodruff's journals,[26] though he never published them.


Academic journals

Other articles



The following are published reviews of Jessee's writings:

Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons

The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith

The Papers of Joseph Smith

  • Roger D. Launius (Fall 1990), Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought: pp. 203–04
  • Roger D. Launius (Winter 1990), Illinois Historical Journal: p. 284
  • James C. Bedford (Fall 1991), Journal of the Early Republic: pp. 451–52
  • Richard Dilworth Rust (1993), BYU Studies: pp. 339–44
  • Richard L. Bushman (Spring 1993), Journal of Mormon History: pp.183–87
  • David J. Whittaker (June 1993), Church History: pp. 283–84


  1. ^ a b Jones, Aldene Marshall (1995) (PDF). George and Rachel Thrower Marshall: Their Ancestors and Descendants. Provo, Utah: BYU Press. p. 282. Retrieved 2010-01-14 
  2. ^ Walker, Ronald W.; David J. Whittaker, James B. Allen (2001). Mormon History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 70. ISBN 9780252026195. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  3. ^ "Family Tree". Rosenbaum/Roller Roots. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  4. ^ a b c d (Arrington 1998, pp. 81)
  5. ^ Jessee, Dean C. (August 1959) (PDF). A Comparative Study and Evaluation of the Latter-day Saint and "Fundamentalist" Views Pertaining to the Practice of Plural Marriage. College of Religion, Brigham Young University.,16354. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  6. ^ Quinn, D. Michael (1991). "Plural Marriage and Mormon Fundamentalism". In Martin E. Marty, R. Scott Appleby. Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 282. ISBN 978-0-226-50880-1. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  7. ^ "Emma and the Joseph Smith Translation". Insights: an Ancient Window (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) 16 (8). August 1996. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  8. ^ Bitton, Davis (2004). "I Don't Have a Testimony of the History of the Church". Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  9. ^ "The Spirituality of Joseph Smith". Ensign. September 1978. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  10. ^ "Joseph Smith Jr.—in His Own Words, Part 1". Ensign. December 1984. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  11. ^ "Wilford Woodruff: A Man of Record". Ensign. July 1993. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  12. ^ Personal Writings of Joseph Smith dust jacket.
  13. ^ Tate, Lucile C. (1982). "Apostle: Past Ninety 1976-". LeGrand Richards: Beloved Apostle. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft. 
  14. ^ "New regional representatives". February 11, 1989. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  15. ^ (Arrington 1998, pp. 75–76)
  16. ^ (Arrington 1998, pp. 82)
  17. ^ a b c d Jessee, Dean C.. "Joseph Smith and His Papers: An Editorial View" (PDF). Joseph Smith Papers Project. pp. 6–8. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  18. ^ Shipps, Jan (2000). Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons. University of Illinois Press. pp. 31. ISBN 0252025903. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  19. ^ Turley, Richard (1992). Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252018850. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  20. ^ Van Leer, Twila (April 29, 1980). "Scholars pursue studies of transcript, characters". Deseret News: pp. B1, B5. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  21. ^ Jessee, Dean C. (Fall 1982). "Lucy Mack Smith's 1829 Letter to Mary Smith Pierce". BYU Studies 22 (4): 455–65.,872. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  22. ^ Texts from Hofmann's forgeries that Jessee identified as Joseph Smith holographs made it into the 1984 first edition of Jessee's The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. A corrected second edition was published in 2002.
  23. ^ Jessee, Dean C. (Fall 1984). "New Documents and Mormon Beginnings". BYU Studies 24 (4): 397–428.,1038. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  24. ^ Lindsey, Robert (February 11, 1987). "Dealer in Mormon Fraud Called a Master Forger". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  25. ^ a b c "Contributor Bios". The Joseph Smith Papers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  26. ^ a b "What It Means To Be A Prophet" (MP3). Sunstone Theological Symposium. Salt Lake City, Utah. August 22, 1985. Retrieved 2010-01-14 
  27. ^ Jessee, Dean C. (July 1985). "I Have a Question". Ensign: 15. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  28. ^ "Dean C. Jessee". Authors. Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  29. ^ Walch, Tad (April 4, 2005). "Miller funding Joseph Smith project". Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City).,5143,600123721,00.html?pg=2. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  30. ^ "Mormon History Association Awards for 1975". Journal of Mormon History 2: 2. 1975.,15634. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  31. ^ "Officers of the Mormon History Association". Journal of Mormon History (Mormon History Association) 5: Inside Back Cover. 1978.,10240. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  32. ^ "Past MHA Presidents". Mormon History Association. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  33. ^ "The Grace Arrington Award for Historical Excellence". Journal of Mormon History 9: 40. 1982.,15765. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 
  34. ^ "Mormon History Association Awards for 1993". Journal of Mormon History 10: 2. 1983.,17637. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 
  35. ^ Morris, William (March 2, 2009). "AML awards for 2008". A Motley Vision. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 


Arrington, Leonard (1998). Adventures of a Church Historian. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252023811. .

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