The Two-Hour History of the Church
Joseph Smith, Jr., was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, December 23, 1805, the fourth son and fifth child of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. His eldest brother had died during childbirth, but he had two living older brothers, Alvin and Hyrum, and an older sister, Sophronia. He would yet have four more brothers and two sisters. His younger brothers were Samuel Harrison, Ephraim, William, and Don Carlos. Little Ephraim died shortly after his birth. His younger sisters were Catherine and Lucy.
Joseph was born into a family of modest means. His father had lost a considerable sum of money some years prior on an investment that turned sour. The family did not lack industry, but were relegated by their lack of funds to becoming tenant farmers and were forced to move frequently during Joseph’s childhood in order to find sufficient work and earn an adequate living.
In 1812 when Joseph was six years old, a typhoid fever epidemic swept through Lebanon, New Hampshire, the area where the Smiths were then living, and all of the Smith children fell ill. Joseph developed, as a result of the infection, a large abscess under his arm which was drained of a quart of pus. He later developed a serious osteomyelitis, or bone infection, involving his left shin. In those days, when no antibiotics were available, the only hope of cure was either amputation of the affected extremity or surgical removal of the infected bone. Both young Joseph and his mother, Lucy, refused to consider amputation, and it was decided to proceed with excision of the diseased bone. Joseph refused wine or brandy to dull the pain and assured the doctors that tying him down was unnecessary. Thus, with Joseph held in the arms of his father, but having the benefit of no anesthetic, the doctors proceeded to bore holes in his leg bone and chip away pieces of that diseased bone. Afterward, Joseph lay on the bed “pale as a corpse, and large drops of sweat were rolling down his face, whilst upon every feature was depicted the utmost agony” (Lucy Smith, Biographic Sketches, 65).
After three months of constant pain, Joseph had passed the crisis, and the leg bone began to mend. The disease and pain so wasted his body that his mother and his brother Hyrum easily carried him about in their arms. Convalescence dragged on for three years. Until the family moved to New York in 1816, he hobbled about on crutches. To the end of his life, he limped slightly, as the trauma had stunted the growth of the affected leg.
The medical bills incident to the typhoid epidemic and Joseph’s illness left the Smith family close to destitution. After unsuccessfully trying farming back in Vermont, they finally moved to the more fertile land of New York in 1816. They settled first in the village of Palmyra. Within two years, they had raised enough money to begin purchasing a one hundred-acre farm two miles south of the center of Palmyra in the township of Manchester, near the town line between Palmyra and Manchester townships. Before moving from the village of Palmyra, the Smiths built a small four-room log cabin on this farm, and in 1818 all ten members of the Smith family—eight children and two parents—moved into this snug log house.
In western New York, the years from 1799 to 1820 were marked by a series of religious revivals among the Protestant churches in the area. These included the Baptists, the Methodists, the Society of Friends, and particularly the Presbyterians. The ministers were rallying to halt the “infidelity,” or unbelief, that they perceived was rampant in the area. All of the ministers pressed for new members. Because of the ministers’ enthusiastic preaching, the question “What must I do to be saved?” was on everyone’s mind. The Smith family was caught up in the spirit of revivalism. Joseph was later to remark that there was an unusual excitement of the subject of religion. Mother Lucy, Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel Harrison joined the Presbyterian Church. Joseph, Sr., and all the other sons held back. Joseph, Jr., was partial to the Methodists but could not overcome his reservations. Between ages twelve and fifteen, he seriously studied the scriptures, but he was confused by the disparities between his interpretation of the scriptures and the teachings of the churches in the area. He wondered, “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them shall be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (HC, 1:3-4).
In this state of mind, he came across the Bible verse, James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally . . . and it shall be given him.” “Never did any passage of scripture,” he later recalled, “come with more power to the heart of man than this did . . . to mine . . . if any person needed wisdom from God, I did . . ..” “At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is ask of God” (HC, 1:34).
Accordingly, in the early spring of 1820, Joseph went to a place in the woods near the family cabin and prayed out his dilemma. After wrestling with satanic power, he was favored to converse personally with God the Father and Jesus Christ. He asked which of all the churches he should join, and he was instructed to join none of them.
Meanwhile, this vision did not interrupt the necessity of daily back-breaking work on the farm by all able members of the Smith family, including Joseph. The work, however, did not deter him from what seemed to be a normal childhood and teenage upbringing, including “light-minded pleasure with his friends,” “all kinds of temptations,” “mingling with all kinds of society,” “many foolish errors,” “weaknesses of youth,” “the foibles of human nature,” and “levity and [associating] with . . . jovial company.” He was doubtless “guilty” of only the normal frivolity of youth, but he did not measure up to his own perceptions of “that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been” (HC, 1:9-10).
His remorse came to a head in the fall of 1823. On September 21, after the other family members had fallen asleep in the crowded little cabin, Joseph remained awake to pray “for forgiveness of all of my sins and follies” (HC, 1:11). While praying, he noticed the room growing brighter than broad daylight. A heavenly messenger named Moroni appeared to him and taught him of the vital mission and responsibilities that lay ahead. Moroni informed him of a book written on gold plates that gave an account of the former inhabitants of the American continent and contained the fulness of the everlasting gospel. These plates were buried in a hill, later named Cumorah, three miles from the Smith farm. The site where the plates were buried was shown to Joseph in vision. Moroni also paraphrased the Old Testament quotation of Malachi which predicted the coming of the Prophet Elijah [D&C 2 – Elijah the Prophet]. Eventually the vision ended but recurred twice more the same night.
It is instructive to note that Joseph experienced these visits from Moroni in the crowded family cabin without disturbing his sleeping family. Perhaps the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon them, or perhaps this type of heavenly vision is a private experience discerned only by the person for whom it is intended.
The same vision was repeated a fourth time on the following day when Joseph, who found that he had insufficient strength to work in the fields after his experience of the previous night, fainted as he was returning to the family cabin. His father had noticed his obvious distress and sent him home. As Joseph lay upon the ground, Moroni commanded him to return to the fields and inform his father of the visions. Joseph, Sr., expressed no skepticism but counseled his son to do exactly as the angel had instructed. Moroni had commanded that Joseph go to the place where the plates were deposited, and later that day Joseph went to the site he had seen in vision. He uncovered and pried the lid off the stone box which contained the plates, and he beheld the plates and also two stones in silver bows fastened to a breast plate. These stones, known as the Urim and Thummim, were “seers” in ancient times which God had prepared for the purpose of translating the plates. As Joseph touched the plates, Moroni again appeared and informed him that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived. Joseph was then commanded to return to this site yearly, on September 22, to receive instructions.
Joseph and his family drew great comfort from the fact that the Lord, by sending the messenger Moroni, had manifest his continued acceptance of Joseph as the instrument through which the gospel would be restored. This feeling of peaceful tranquility, however, was soon to end. On November 1, 1823, Alvin, Joseph’s oldest brother, became seriously ill. He died less than three weeks later of what was thought to be an intestinal obstruction resulting from a large dose of “calomel.” The loss of Alvin was a terrible blow to the Smith family. Not only had he been a stabilizing influence to all of them, but his industry and consistent hard work were great assets to the family’s finances. Without Alvin, the one hundred-dollar annual contract payment for the farm became increasingly burdensome. The responsibility fell to Hyrum and Joseph to roam the countryside looking for work.
It was in this setting that Joseph went to work for Josiah Stowell of South Bainbridge, New York, and Joseph Knight of Colesville, New York. Josiah Stowell believed he had located the site of an ancient Spanish mine. When his hired hands failed to find it, he hired the Smiths—Joseph and his father—to help. Apparently, Joseph, Jr., had a reputation for being able to discern the unknown using a “seer stone” he had found in 1822. After less than a month of working in “the dig,” Joseph prevailed upon Stowell to give up his vain pursuit.
Not only did the Smiths have to make payments on the farm, but in 1822, before Alvin died, they had started construction of a larger frame home which was completed in late 1825 or early 1826. The carpenter who did the work on this home began pressing them for his money. Indeed, he had designs on the Smith farm. His plan was to force them into foreclosure and buy the land for himself. In spite of the Smith’s best efforts they did lose the farm. However, it was purchased by a friendly party who allowed them to rent the farm and continue to live on it until 1829 when the parents and five children moved in with Hyrum and his wife.
During the “treasure-hunting” expedition working for Josiah Stowell, Joseph and his father boarded at the Isaac Hale home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. While there, Joseph met Isaac’s daughter, Miss Emma Hale. The relationship between Joseph and Emma flourished, and, in spite of stiff opposition from Emma’s father, the couple was married in South Bainbridge on January 18, 1827, at the home of Josiah Stowell.
Joseph’s fifth annual visit to Cumorah was on September 22, 1827. Instead of going during the day as had become his annual custom, he arrived there just after midnight of September 21, in the first hours of September 22. This was done to throw off meddlers who knew of the date. On this visit he was given possession of the plates, the breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim. Rather than taking the plates home immediately, he concealed them in the woods in a hollow birch log. When he finally did pick them up the following day, he quickly learned that it was necessary to maintain a constant vigil in order to keep the plates safe, since many evil and conspiring men sought almost continually to wrest the plates from him.
Joseph soon realized that he would never find peace in the Palmyra area, so he sent word to Alva Hale, Emma’s brother, to come up from Harmony with a wagon to transport them and their belongings back to Harmony. With some financial help from his wealthy neighbor, Martin Harris, Joseph was able to pay his debts and travel to Harmony in the late fall of 1827. During the trip the plates were hidden in a barrel of beans. Joseph and Emma moved into a small two-room house on Isaac Hale’s land, about 150 yards from the main house. Here the translation of the plates could begin, and here the two of them lived for the next two and one-half years. Joseph would later purchase this house and thirteen acres of land for two hundred dollars.
Joseph spent the first two months in Harmony simply copying characters and translating a few of them. In February 1828 Martin Harris arrived in Harmony. With Joseph’s permission Martin carried some of the characters and their translation to a few Middle East experts for confirmation of their authenticity. The most important encounter was with Dr. Charles Anthon, professor of classical studies at Columbia College. After presenting the characters and Joseph’s translation, Martin came away satisfied that Dr. Anthon had confirmed their authenticity. Dr. Anthon later, however, denied that he had confirmed their validity and called them a hoax.
Martin Harris returned to his home in Palmyra. In April 1828, he traveled again to Harmony, and he and Joseph began the translation of the book. Martin functioned as scribe. Between April 12 and June 14, 1828, they completed enough translation to fill 116 pages of foolscap paper. In spite of Martin’s personal involvement with the translation project, he still had nagging doubts. Was this the Lord’s work or was Joseph making a fool of him? His wife and friends in Palmyra believed the latter. Martin wanted more evidence to set his own mind at ease and quiet the doubters at home. Couldn’t he just take home the 116 pages of manuscript and show them to his wife and friends? After much importuning, he was eventually allowed to do so.
The day after Martin left for Palmyra with the manuscript, Emma delivered the couple’s first child, a boy, Alvin, named after Joseph’s older brother. The baby died on the day of his birth. The exhausting labor and the tragic loss of her baby were almost too much for Emma, and for a while she seemed close to death. Joseph attended her night and day for two weeks, and Emma finally began to improve.
Joseph then turned his attention to the manuscript. Where was it? Where was Martin? Joseph traveled by stagecoach to Palmyra where he learned that Martin had lost the manuscript! Thus began a black period in Joseph’s life.
For the indiscretion of allowing Martin Harris to borrow the manuscript, the plates and the Urim and Thummim were taken from Joseph. In July 1828, Moroni returned the Urim and Thummim to Joseph briefly, only to allow him to receive a revelation which was a scathing rebuke leveled at both Joseph and Martin for their roles in the fiasco [D&C 3 – The Lost Manuscript].
Joseph was humbly repentant and received the interpreters again on September 22, 1828. He and Emma did a little translating over the next few months, but most of Joseph’s time was spent preparing for winter and gathering a living for Emma and himself.
In October 1828, it occurred to Joseph, Sr., and Lucy Smith that they had heard nothing from their son since his departure from Palmyra in July 1828, under such devastating circumstances. They were concerned about him, so they traveled to Harmony to make sure Joseph and Emma were well. They remained in Harmony three months and returned home in January 1829, but Joseph, Sr., did not stay home long.
Late in January 1829, Joseph, Sr., and Samuel Smith traveled again to Harmony. On this visit, Joseph, Sr., requested that his son inquire of the Lord as to Joseph, Sr.’s, place in the work. Joseph did so and received a revelation for his father [D&C 4 – Joseph Smith Senior’s Call to Labor].
The translation work proceeded slowly with Emma and her brother Reuben Hale acting as scribes. In March 1829 the persistent Martin Harris again traveled to Harmony, still trying to reassure himself of the existence of the plates. While there, he received a revelation that included a promise. If he would repent and humble himself, he would one day be allowed to view the plates and even one day become a special witness of the Book of Mormon [D&C 5 – Martin Harris—Witness of the Book of Mormon].
On April 5, 1829, Samuel Smith arrived in Harmony accompanied by a stranger by the name of Oliver Cowdery, a school teacher in Manchester, New York, who had been boarding with the Smith family. While living with the Smiths, he had heard of the “gold plates.” He had also learned something of the plates from a friend whom he had met in Palmyra, a man from Fayette, New York, David Whitmer. Oliver had prayed for and was granted a witness of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. He was also inspired to know that there was an essential role for him in this work. Oliver received a revelation from the Lord [D&C 6 – Confirmation of Oliver Cowdery’s Testimony], and by April 7, he and Joseph were engaged full time in the translation process. From April 7, the translation proceeded steadily until early July 1829, when it was completed. This period of translation was a colorful and important period in our church history as the following paragraphs will summarize.
As Joseph and Oliver translated, they came to references to “translated” beings such as Alma and Moses in the book of Alma and the three Nephites in 3 Nephi. The Apostle John was also mentioned. A discussion ensued as to whether John the Apostle died or was translated. The Lord answered their question [D&C 7 – Translation of the Parchment of John].
Not long after Joseph and Oliver started translating the Book of Mormon, Oliver began to yearn for the opportunity to translate, and he asked Joseph to inquire of the Lord to see if he might be permitted to try his hand. Joseph did inquire, and Oliver was allowed to try [D&C 8 – Oliver Cowdery Given Permission to Translate]. Oliver failed in his attempt to translate because he had not properly prepared himself and, in his disappointment, he was offered some counsel by the Lord [D&C 9 – Why Oliver Cowdery Failed to Translate].
By May 1829 Joseph and Oliver were nearing completion of the translation of the Plates of Mormon. See the supplemental article Those Confusing Book of Mormon Plates. Joseph had to decide what to do to fill in the gap left by the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript. In May he received a revelation telling him not to re-translate the first part of the Plates of Mormon but rather to translate in its place the small plates of Nephi [D&C 10 – Fate of the 116 Pages].
By mid-May, Joseph and Oliver had reached, in their translating, the book of 3 Nephi, and they came upon the concept of baptism. Their interest was piqued. They recognized that the proper authority for performing this ordinance was not upon the earth. The question was sufficiently important that they broke off the translation and went down to the Susquehannah River on May 15 so they might be alone. There they prayed for guidance. They were visited by the resurrected John the Baptist who conferred upon them the Aaronic Priesthood [D&C 13 – Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood]. The Baptist also promised them that in due time they would receive the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood. Accordingly, some time later, on an uncertain date, Peter, James, and John, the Lord’s ancient Apostles, came to Joseph and Oliver on the banks of the Susquehannah River and conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood.
During the latter part of May, Joseph and Oliver were visited by Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother, and by Joseph’s former employer, Joseph Knight, Sr. The latter made more than one trip from Colesville to Harmony to bring food and other provisions which enabled Joseph and Oliver to spend their full time translating rather than having to worry about temporal things. While in Harmony, both Hyrum Smith and Joseph Knight, Sr., were given revelations from the Lord [D&C 11 – Hyrum Smith’s Call to Labor] [D&C 12 – Joseph Knight’s Call to Labor].
As the translation process continued, some neighbors in Harmony were taking notice and beginning to murmur and threaten Joseph and Oliver. By this time Isaac Hale had been won over to the point of feeling that the two should at least have the right to translate without being bothered or molested by the neighbors. Thus, for a time, he used his influence to protect them. In the latter part of May, however, his protection crumbled. In fact he turned against the two translators. Joseph and Oliver were thus brought under increasing pressure. They had to find a safer place where they might finish the translation.
Oliver wrote to his friend David Whitmer in Fayette, New York, asking if he and Joseph might come to Fayette and live and work in the house of David Whitmer’s father, Peter Whitmer, Sr. The Whitmer farm lay between Seneca Lake and Lake Cayuga. Oliver had met David Whitmer in Palmyra in 1828 when the two were just beginning to learn about the gold plates. Oliver had stopped off at the Whitmer farm on the way from Manchester to Harmony earlier in the spring. He later had written to David Whitmer from Harmony telling him that he was sure that Joseph had the plates. The Whitmers extended an invitation for Joseph and Oliver to come to their home and finish the translating.
Oliver wrote again to ask David to come to Harmony with his wagon to carry them back to Fayette. This request came at a difficult time, as the Whitmers were in the middle of spring plowing, and David Whitmer couldn’t really spare the five or six days required for that round trip. He was able to take the time, however, because of what seemed to be miraculous intervention. Plowing that should have taken two days was accomplished in one. Three unknown strangers prepared and plowed the Whitmer land without the Whitmers’ requesting any help. Joseph and Oliver were brought from Harmony to Fayette, while the plates were transported by the Lord. Joseph received them when he arrived in Fayette.
The Whitmers had seven children. Three were married and lived close by (Christian, Jacob, and Catherine). Four still lived at home (Peter, Jr.,—age 19, David— age 24, John—age 26, and 14-year-old Elizabeth Ann). The entire Whitmer family became involved in the translation. David, John, and Peter, Jr., each received a private revelation [D&C 14, 15, 16 – Counsel to the Whitmers]. Oliver still did most of the transcribing, but he was relieved on occasion by Emma or one of the Whitmers— Christian or John.
In June 1829, as the Book of Mormon translation was nearing completion, Joseph learned, from the text of the Book of Mormon itself, that there were to be three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon who would be allowed to see the plates. David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris repeatedly petitioned Joseph to see if they might become the witnesses. As a result of their importuning, Joseph inquired of the Lord and was given a revelation which named the three as the witnesses [D&C 17 – Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon].
Shortly thereafter, the Book of Mormon witnesses received a revelation charging them with the responsibility of choosing, when the appropriate time arrived, those who would comprise the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation [D&C 18 – Book of Mormon Witnesses to Choose Twelve Apostles]. Martin Harris was excluded from this calling initially, but by 1835, when the time came to choose the Twelve, Martin had repented, and he participated in making those callings.
One morning in July 1829, the three witnesses and Joseph entered the woods near the Whitmer farm. They took turns praying, not once but twice, and nothing happened. Before making a third attempt, Martin Harris withdrew, perceiving that he was the obstacle. The remaining three prayed again, and this time they were granted the glorious experience of having an angel appear and show them the plates, the breastplate, the Liahona, and the sword of Laban. Joseph then went searching for Martin who had wandered deeper into the woods. Joseph and Martin prayed together, and at length, Martin was favored with the same experience. Joseph was greatly relieved that the Lord had allowed others to see the plates so they might now share with him the responsibility of bearing witness to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon record. Shortly thereafter, back in Manchester, New York, eight additional witnesses were allowed to see and handle the plates. These included four Whitmer brothers (Christian, Jacob, John, and Peter, Jr.), their brother-in-law, Hiram Page, Hyrum and Samuel Smith, and Joseph Smith, Sr.
While Joseph was in the Palmyra area he sought to make arrangements to have the now completed Book of Mormon printed. An agreement was reached with E. B. Grandin, a Palmyra bookseller, printer, and publisher of The Wayne Sentinel, to print the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and put up three thousand dollars as security for five thousand copies. Joseph returned to Harmony, and Oliver Cowdery remained in Palmyra to oversee the printing operation. Printing actually began in mid-August 1829.
Joseph had to return to Palmyra twice during the printing—once in the late fall of 1829 to prevent a man named Abner Cole from violating the copyright laws by publishing parts of the Book of Mormon in his weekly periodical, The Reflector.
Again in January 1830, Joseph returned to Palmyra to reassure E. B. Grandin, who had stopped the printing process because of fears that he would not be paid, that their financial arrangement was secure.
Finally, on March 26, 1830, the Book of Mormon was finished and offered for sale. To Martin Harris’s dismay, initial sales of the book were slow, as the Palmyra residents had boycotted it. Martin was consequently worried about the security of his investment. When Joseph came up from Harmony shortly after the publication, Martin was dejected and declared that he “must have a commandment.” After asking Joseph several times for a commandment (revelation), Joseph finally received a revelation on Martin’s behalf [D&C 19 – Eternal and Endless Punishment—Atonement].
Now that the Book of Mormon, which had a fundamental and vital role in the restored gospel, was published, the time was right for organization of the Church. Some time between April 1 and early June 1830, Joseph received a revelation which has functioned as the “constitution” of our Church [D&C 20 – Constitution of the Church].
The Lord had commanded that the Church be organized on April 6, 1830, and the “Church of Christ” was accordingly organized at the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. The six official organizers, for legal purposes, were Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Samuel H. Smith, and David Whitmer. Later that day the Lord gave additional instructions to the infant Church [D&C 21 – The Prophet Is the Mouthpiece of God]. On the following Sunday, April 11, 1830, Oliver Cowdery preached the first sermon.
Later in April, someone applied for membership in the Church who had already been baptized by immersion in the Baptist Church. They did not want to be rebaptized. The Lord made it clear by revelation that even those who had been previously baptized into other churches needed to be baptized again by proper authority [D&C 22 – Rebaptism]. He also gave instructions to specific members of the Church [D&C 23 – Counsel to Five Individuals].
In the summer of 1830, Joseph and Emma continued to live in the cabin in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Joseph, however, shuttled among the various clusters of believers who formed the nucleus of the Church: the Smiths in Manchester, the Whitmers in Fayette, and Joseph Knight and his son Newel and their families in Colesville, New York. Most of the early converts were other family members and friends of these families.
The first quarterly conference of the Church was held on June 9, 1830.
The formal organization of the Church seemed to inflame persecution of the fledgling Church and its Prophet. In June 1830 Joseph was arrested and harassed when he traveled to Colesville to baptize new converts. In July the Lord comforted Joseph with a revelation [D&C 24 – Be Patient in Persecution]. Emma, too, had suffered the hardships of persecution and was also similarly favored of the Lord [D&C 25 – An Elect Lady—Emma Smith].
Also in July 1830, the Lord revealed an important principle of church government [D&C 26 – Common Consent].
The Knights, Sally and Newel, who had become close friends of Joseph and Emma, visited the Smiths in Harmony in early August 1830. The four held a “confirmation service” for the purpose of confirming Sally and Emma. Both had been baptized in Colesville but not confirmed. Joseph went out to purchase wine for the sacrament to be administered at that service. As he did so he was met by an angel representing the Lord who instructed him concerning the sacrament [D&C 27 – The Sacrament Emblems].
In early September 1830, Joseph and Emma were forced to leave Harmony by the growing animosity among the neighbors. Even Isaac Hale was persuaded to turn against them. They again moved to the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette. On arriving in Fayette, they found some trouble brewing. Oliver Cowdery was beginning to assume too much authority for himself and was even exercising some prerogatives belonging only to Joseph. Also, Hiram Page, the husband of Catherine Whitmer, was using a “seer stone” he had found to receive “revelations,” including one which declared the location of the City of Zion or the New Jerusalem. The other Whitmers had been won over by Oliver and Hiram.
Joseph solved the crisis, but only after much anguish and by exercising an almost godly wisdom beyond his twenty-four years. He persuaded the Whitmers and Oliver of their errors, and he received a revelation which reprimanded Oliver and Hiram [D&C 28 – Only the Prophet Receives Revelation for the Church]. The same revelation also called Oliver to lead a group of missionaries to preach to the Lamanites in the Missouri area. Oliver was also given the mandate by Joseph to find the site for the temple to be erected in the New Jerusalem while he was out on the frontier.
Oliver was asked not to depart on his mission to the Lamanites until after an important conference of the elders of the Church to be held on September 26, 1830. At this conference, Joseph was appointed by the voice of the conference as the only one authorized to receive revelations for the Church. Also, Joseph presented at this conference another important revelation concerning the Lord’s second coming and calamities to occur at his advent [D&C 29 – The Millennium].
Following the conference, another revelation was given to the Whitmer brothers, David, John, and Peter, Jr. [D&C 30 – More Counsel to the Whitmers]. Peter, Jr., was called to accompany Oliver on his mission to the Lamanites. A new convert, Thomas B. Marsh, also received a revelation [D&C 31 – Thomas B. Marsh], and two additional missionaries were added to Oliver’s missionary group, Ziba Peterson and Parley P. Pratt [D&C 32 – Mission to the Lamanites].
In October 1830 the four missionaries called to preach to the Lamanites, set out for the West and Indian territory. On the way to Missouri, they stopped near Kirtland, Ohio, and taught the restored gospel to Sidney Rigdon, a Campbellite minister and former religious mentor of Parley P. Pratt. Sidney and more than one hundred of his congregation believed the missionaries’ message and were baptized. Although this preaching to Sydney Rigdon and his followers may seem today like a diversion from the primary objective of this mission to the Indians, it resulted in one of the missionaries’ most significant accomplishments—the conversion of “Reverend” Rigdon and many of his flock.
The missionaries had been called, after all, to go to the Indian territory, and winter was coming. So about November 1, they left the congenial Kirtland area, and, joined by a fifth companion, a new Campbellite convert, Dr. Frederick G. Williams, they continued westward. Dr. Williams was a physician in the Kirtland area who unhesitatingly gave up his profession on hearing the restored gospel and asked if he might join the missionaries.
On the way, they proselyted and left copies of the Book of Mormon here and there. Then the severe winter of 1830-31 descended upon them. The Mississippi River was frozen over, and the usual carriage and horse-back travel were impossible. But despite the weather, withstanding great suffering, they walked through snow and ice for 300 miles to the frontier village of Independence, Missouri.
Initially they appeared to be enjoying success as they testified concerning the Book of Mormon to the Delaware Indians living just across the frontier in what is now the state of Kansas. Their hopes were dashed, however, when they were denied access to the Indians by the Indian agent, who had agreed to deny them after being pressured by antagonistic Protestant missionaries.
In October of 1830, the Lord gave a revelation to two little-known members of the Church, Ezra Thayer and Northrop Sweet, in which he emphasized the imminence of his coming [D&C 33 – The Eleventh Hour].
1830 November – December
In the late fall of 1830, a few important new converts to the Church and an investigator traveled to Fayette to meet Joseph. These men were given personal revelations. They included Orson Pratt, who had been converted by his older brother Parley P. Pratt [D&C 34 – Orson Pratt], Sidney Rigdon [D&C 35 – Sidney Rigdon Called as Scribe], and a former follower of Sidney Rigdon’s, a successful hatter from Kirtland named Edward Partridge [D&C 36 – Edward Partridge]. Sidney Rigdon had already been baptized in Kirtland, but Edward Partridge waited until he met Joseph and then was baptized by him.
Meanwhile, turning our attention back to the missionaries in Missouri, since they had little access to the Indians, they preached loud and long to the Missouri settlers. At this point, Parley P. Pratt was selected to return east to get a new supply of copies of the Book of Mormon and to report to Joseph Smith the progress of the mission.
In order to support themselves in Missouri, the missionaries did such work as was available. They set up a tailor shop in Independence, and some of their patrons later became defenders of the Mormons when persecution raged. One of their customers, however, would later become an infamous enemy of the Church. This was Lilburn W. Boggs. Tradition has it that Peter Whitmer, Jr., made a suit for him on the occasion of his inauguration as Lieutenant Governor of Missouri.
What had this mission to the Lamanites actually accomplished? Although probably no Indians had been baptized, the work of preaching to the Lamanites had nevertheless begun. A large number of converts had been made, including such future leaders as Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge. The missionaries had also provided the first contact with the Kirtland area and had laid the foundation of the future Zion in Independence, Missouri. Both Kirtland and Independence were to become important centers in the later history of the Church.
When Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge traveled to Fayette to meet with Joseph, they tried to convince him that he ought to visit the new church converts in Ohio. They got more than they hoped for when in December 1830 the Lord commanded all saints in New York to move to Ohio, largely because of the persecution of the saints in New York [D&C 37 – Commandment to Move to Ohio].
Before the saints left New York, Joseph received three more revelations. In the first, the Lord explained to the saints other reasons why they were to leave New York [D&C 38 – Reasons for the Removal of the Church to Ohio]. The other two were given to James Covill, a former Baptist minister who was converted and baptized into the “Church of Christ” but left the Church shortly thereafter [D&C 39 – Revelation to James Covill] [D&C 40 – Judge Not].
Late in January, Joseph, Emma, and others traveled the 300 miles from Fayette to Kirtland by sleigh, arriving in Kirtland on February 1, 1831. Joseph and Emma were invited to live with the Newell K. Whitney’s, which they did for five months. Newell Whitney was a co-owner of the Gilbert and Whitney store in Kirtland along with A. Sidney Gilbert. Shortly after his arrival in Kirtland, Joseph received a revelation calling Edward Partridge to serve as the first bishop of the Church in this dispensation [D&C 41 – Edward Partridge Called as First Bishop]. Less than one week later, Joseph received a doctrinally important revelation introducing the law of consecration and other “laws” important to the conduct of church members in their everyday lives [D&C 42 – The Law].
On arrival in Kirtland, Joseph found a few members of the Church presuming to receive “revelations” and consequently teaching false doctrines. The Lord warned in a revelation against these counterfeit claims and false teachings [D&C 43 – Spurious Revelations].
Also in February, the Lord announced that an important conference of the elders of the Church should be held. The date for this conference was set for June 1831 [D&C 44 – Conference of June 1831]. This conference turned out to be a great convocation of the elders at which the office of high priest was revealed to the Church.
In March 1831, as Joseph was working on the inspired revision of the Bible, he came to Matthew 24, Jesus’ great discourse given on the Mount of Olives after his disciples asked him about his second coming and the “end of the world.” It seems likely that Joseph’s pondering these verses was the trigger for receiving a revelation in March about events to transpire in the future [D&C 45 – The Second Coming of the Lord].
Also in March, the Lord revealed guidance to Joseph and the Church regarding the question of whether nonmembers should be allowed to attend sacrament meetings. The Lord also taught the saints how to discern valid gifts of the Spirit from manifestations of evil spirits [D&C 46 – Gifts of the Spirit].
John Whitmer was named church historian in March 1831 [D&C 47 – John Whitmer Named Church Historian].
During the spring of 1831, the spirit of gathering in Ohio was evident, and the New York saints continued to arrive in the Ohio territory. The concerns of those already in Ohio were, “Where will we put them? Where will we find sufficient land for them?” The Lord gave counsel [D&C 48 – Land for Gathering in Ohio]. The Colesville saints arrived from New York in the spring, and a recent convert, a former Shaker named Leman Copley, allowed them to move onto his land in Thompson, Ohio, about twenty miles outside of Kirtland. The Lord commanded the Colesville saints while in Thompson, Ohio, to begin to live the law of consecration [D&C 51 – Law of Consecration].
The infamous “Shaker” affair occurred in May 1831. At the urging of a new convert to the Church, the former Shaker Leman Copley, the best missionaries in the Church, Sidney Rigdon and Parley P. Pratt, were dispatched by the Lord to visit the Shaker settlement. These two missionaries, accompanied by Brother Copley, took with them a revelation given by the Lord specifically for the Shakers [D&C 49 – The Shakers]. This missionary experience ended negatively when the missionaries, after delivering their message, were summarily rejected by the Shakers. Further, the Shakers were angered when Parley P. Pratt, following the Shakers’ rejection of his message, “shook the dust off his garments” as a testimony against them. Leman Copley was also angered by Parley’s undiplomatic gesture, so much so that he left the Church and evicted the Colesville saints from his land.
The peculiar spiritual manifestations in the Kirtland area in the spring of 1831 did not disappear with one rebuke. Again, in May it was necessary for the Lord to speak to Joseph on the matter [D&C 50 – Teaching by the Spirit].
June 3, 1831, was the day appointed for the special conference of elders (D&C 44). The conference was to last through June 6. At this conference, several were ordained to the office of high priest. On the last day of the conference, or on the day following, the Lord favored the elders there gathered with a revelation [D&C 52 – Location of Zion] in which he named Missouri as the specific location where Zion would be built, and he called twenty-eight missionaries to leave their homes in Kirtland to travel to Missouri to proclaim the gospel.
Keep in mind that the Colesville branch of the Church, directed by branch president Newel Knight, had been uprooted when Leman Copley asked them to leave his land. They had experienced further troubles in trying to live the law of consecration, apparently in large part due to selfishness of several of their number, especially one Ezra Thayer. Brother Thayer had been one of the missionaries called to Missouri, but he was having serious misgivings about this missionary call and even about his church membership. Thus, the missionary assignments recorded in section 52 were altered to exclude Ezra Thayer [D&C 56 – Change in Missionary Assignments].
The Lord commanded the Colesville saints to travel as a group to Missouri to establish themselves there [D&C 54 – Colesville Saints Sent to Zion].
About the middle of June 1831, Joseph was planning his trip to Missouri, having been commanded to go there as a missionary with Sidney Rigdon as his companion. Bishop Edward Partridge was called to go also. Once in Missouri, Bishop Partridge would remain in Missouri as bishop over the Church in Zion. A. Sidney Gilbert, the partner of Newell K. Whitney in the Gilbert and Whitney store, was commanded to go along with Joseph in the “presidential party” [D&C 53 – Algernon Sidney Gilbert]. He too would remain in Missouri to function as keeper of the bishop’s storehouse and the church’s land agent in Missouri.
A new arrival in Kirtland, a former journalist and newspaper editor, William W. Phelps also received a revelation [D&C 55 – William Wines Phelps]. He was commanded to join the Church and then travel to Missouri with Joseph and the others. Phelps would also remain in Missouri to run the Church’s printing press and to edit the Church’s monthly magazine, The Evening and Morning Star.
Joseph and those assigned in the revelations to travel with him departed Kirtland for Missouri on June 19.
In Missouri, Joseph received instructions from the Lord concerning Zion, including the location of the temple site or the center place of Zion [D&C 57 – Independence Is Center Place of Zion] and a warning that Zion would be established only after much tribulation [D&C 58 – Instructions Concerning Zion].
In Missouri the Lord also gave counsel to Joseph on Sabbath day observance shortly after he had attended the funeral of Sister Polly Knight, the wife of Joseph Knight [D&C 59 – Law of the Sabbath].
As the time drew near for the missionaries to return to Kirtland, some of them inquired of Joseph, who in turn inquired of the Lord. The Lord gave counsel concerning their journey home [D&C 60 – Journey Back to Kirtland]. On the way back to Kirtland, the Lord specifically warned the travelers of the dangers of traveling by water [D&C 61 – Danger Upon the Waters]. On the way home they met up with some missionaries who were still on their way to Independence. After joyful salutations the Lord gave instructions and encouragement to the missionaries [D&C 62 – Testimony].
When Joseph arrived back in Kirtland, he found the saints there ripe for a rebuke from the Lord for some folly and wickedness that had crept in among them. The Lord revealed the appropriate rebuke [D&C 63 – Sign Seeking and Immorality]. The Lord also counseled the saints on another area of weakness [D&C 64 – Forgiveness].
Because of interferences in Kirtland, and because he wanted a quieter place to work, the Prophet, on September 12, 1831, moved to Hiram, Ohio, thirty miles southeast of Kirtland, into the home of Brother John Johnson. Sidney Rigdon moved with him and probably lived in a log cabin near the Johnson home. Joseph would live in Hiram some six months, through March 1832. These six months would be a rich period in our Church’s history.
In October Joseph received an important revelation in the form of a prayer giving important information about the concept of the “Kingdom of God” [D&C 65 – Joseph Smith’s Prayer].
During the first twelve days of November 1831, four short conferences of the elders of the Church were held at the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. It was resolved during these conferences that a collection of Joseph’s revelations should be printed and distributed to the membership of the Church. Joseph selected those revelations to be included. On the first day of the conference, the Lord gave his endorsement to the planned publication and named the collection the Book of Commandments [D&C 1 – The Lord’s Preface—The Voice of Warning]. When asked to sign a written testimony which would be attached to this book, a few of the brethren attending the conference evidenced their imperfect testimonies of the divine origin of the revelations. They wondered if perhaps Joseph hadn’t written them, as they saw too much of his vocabulary and language in the revelations. After a prayer, in which he pleaded for wisdom, Joseph received a revelation wherein the Lord challenged anyone present to write a revelation equal to “even the least” of the revelations Joseph had received [D&C 67 – The Challenge]. If anyone succeeded, they would then be entitled to their reluctance to bear testimony of the divine authenticity of the revelations. If they failed, however, they would then be under heavenly condemnation if they refused to bear witness of them. Only one elder accepted the challenge. He was William E. McLellin, a well-educated former school teacher who had just recently received his own revelation and blessing from the Lord [D&C 66 – William E. McLellin]. He accepted the challenge and retired to another room to make the attempt. He failed utterly, and all present, including McLellin, were blessed, as the Spirit bore witness to each of them that the revelations, even though written in Joseph’s imperfect language, were indeed from God.
Four more revelations would yet be received during the first twelve days of November 1831. One contained information on the following subjects: the office of bishop, teaching our children the gospel, and a new definition of scripture [D&C 68 – Bishops. Teach. Scripture]. Another gave instructions on transporting the manuscripts of the revelations to Independence, Missouri, where they would be printed on William W. Phelp’s printing press. Yet another created the so-called “Literary Firm” which was a mini-United Order composed of a group of brethren assigned to take care of the scriptures of the Church as their stewardship [D&C 69 and 70 – Book of Commandments]. The final revelation given during this conference was to serve as the “appendix” to the Book of Commandments [D&C 133 – The Appendix]. 1831 December
By December 1831, anti-Mormon feelings in Ohio were warming to a boil, and the Lord recommended a surprising solution. He counseled Joseph and Sidney to leave on a brief mission to the surrounding townships, and while there challenge the Church’s detractors to open debate [D&C 71 and 73 – Debate the Enemy]. This seemed to temporarily sooth the feelings building against the Church.
Since Bishop Edward Partridge was now in Missouri, it became necessary to call a second bishop to preside over the United Order in Kirtland. This was done by revelation in December 1831 [D&C 72 – Newell K. Whitney Called as Second Bishop].
While living in the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, Joseph and Sidney spent much of their time working on the inspired revision of the King James Bible in a corner room of the Johnson home. As they “translated” they came to a passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The Lord assisted them with the interpretation of the verse [D&C 74 – 1 Corinthians 7:14].
In January 1832, an important conference was held at Amherst, Ohio, during which Joseph was sustained as “President of the High Priesthood” of the Church, and several missionary pairs were called to serve missions in the eastern states [D&C 75 – Missionaries Called to the Eastern States]. Two months later, Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause were called and ordained as Joseph’s counselors. Brother Gause received a revelation calling him to the First Presidency [D&C 81 – Counselor in the First Presidency]. Brother Gause’s name was removed from the revelation some time later (after he had left the Church in December 1832), and it was replaced by that of Frederick G. Williams who replaced him in the First Presidency in March of 1833 [D&C 90 – Reorganization of the First Presidency].
More missionaries were dispatched in the spring and summer of 1832 [D&C 79 and 80 – The Call to Preach].
Shortly after returning to Hiram after the conference of January 1832, Joseph and Sidney, upon resuming their revision of the Bible, came to John 5:28-29, and a discussion arose between the two of them regarding the nature of the resurrection. Are there only two rewards for those who are resurrected? Or are there more than two degrees of goodness and badness?
With a few elders looking on (who came to the Johnson home to simply watch the interesting process of Joseph and Sidney’s working on the inspired revision), Joseph and Sidney received a glorious vision and revelation concerning the three degrees of glory [D&C 76 – The Vision].
About a month later, the Lord also gave some helps in understanding the final book in the New Testament [D&C 77 – Book of Revelation].
By March of 1832, separate United Orders were organized under the leadership of Bishops Edward Partridge in Missouri and Newell K. Whitney in Kirtland. The leading brethren of the Church were, by revelation, organized together into yet a third United Order—indeed a mini-United Order—called the “United Firm” [D&C 78, 82, and 92 – The United Firm], which was charged with the responsibility of caring for the poor. Initially the “Firm” owned property jointly, but later the properties were divided among its members [D&C 104 – Reorganization of the United Order and United Firm].
The “Hiram Ohio period” came to a violent and traumatic end on March 24, 1832, when an angry mob of about fifty men dragged both Sidney and Joseph from their homes. Sidney was dragged along the hard frozen ground by his heels into a field, then tarred and feathered. Joseph was choked to unconsciousness, stripped, scratched with nails, and an attempt was made to force a vial of poison between his clenched teeth. The result was a chipped tooth. He was then tarred and feathered. Joseph recovered sufficiently to preach a Sunday sermon the next day, but Sidney was delirious for several days before eventually recovering.
Because of continued threats on their lives, Joseph and Sidney were forced to leave Hiram within the week. Sidney returned to Kirtland, and Joseph traveled to Missouri for another visit with the saints there.
While in Missouri, Joseph was also sustained as “President of the High Priesthood” by a conference of the elders in that area. He then visited the Colesville saints who lived in Kaw Township. In Missouri, the Lord gave Joseph a revelation regarding the care of widows and orphans by the Church [D&C 83 – Widows and Orphans].
In August John Murdock was called to a specific mission in the “eastern countries” [D&C 99 – The Call to Preach]. He was one of those who received the gospel in the Kirtland area when Oliver Cowdery and his companions passed through on their way to preach to the Lamanites in October of 1830.
By September 1832, the missionaries who had been called nine months previously (at the conference in Amherst, Ohio, in January) began returning to Kirtland. They besought Joseph for a message from the Lord. In answer to their request, Joseph received a revelation on priesthood [D&C 84 – The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood].
In November Bishop Partridge erred in administering the law of consecration in Zion. Joseph found it necessary to reprimand him in a letter [D&C 85 – One Mighty and Strong].
In December, as Joseph continued working on his inspired revision of the Bible, he received a revelation which shed some light on Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 [D&C 86 – Parable of the Wheat and Tares].
By the fall and winter of 1832, an explosive political situation was smoldering in the United States. Tensions were rife between the northern and southern states. On Christmas day the Lord warned, in a revelation, that a devastating civil war between the states would eventually occur [D&C 87 – A Prophecy on War]. As we now know, that war did begin in April 1861, some twenty-eight years later.
In contrast to the dire prophecy of Christmas day, a few days later the Lord revealed a great message of peace to the earth which is replete with important doctrines [D&C 88 – The Olive Leaf]. This revelation, section 88, included a commandment to start building a temple in Kirtland, but this particular commandment went largely unheeded by the saints.
In January a seminary for missionaries and church leaders was organized in Kirtland. This school, the “School of the Prophets,” was later called the “School of the Elders.” Although religious topics received the main emphasis in this school, a variety of other subjects was also studied. The school was initially held in Bishop Whitney’s store in a small room which measured fifteen by fifteen feet.
As the brethren assembled in the School of the Prophets and discussed things of the Kingdom, they also smoked their pipes, chewed their tobacco, and spat all over the floor. Joseph and Emma lived in the same building, and it was Emma’s responsibility to clean the filthy floor each evening after the school had adjourned. Emma doubtless wondered aloud in Joseph’s presence about the appropriateness of so vile a habit as smoking and chewing tobacco. Perhaps partly as a result of Emma’s encouragement, Joseph inquired of the Lord and was given a health law for the good of the saints [D&C 89 – The Word of Wisdom].
Meanwhile, Joseph continued with the revision of the Bible. In March of 1833 he finished with the Old Testament, and then he wondered if he should revise the Old Testament apocryphal books—those fourteen books of questionable authenticity which were found in all Bible versions prior to the early 1800s, including the King James Bible. The Lord told him not to include them in his revision [D&C 91 – The Apocrypha].
One of the most important doctrinal revelations given in this generation was received in May 1833. It dealt with the great plan of salvation and the origin, nature, and destiny of man [D&C 93 – The Origin and Destiny of Man].
In the late spring of 1833, the interest of the saints was turned by the Lord to building. The saints barely had sufficient funds to maintain themselves, yet they were commanded to begin an active building program. The Lord commanded them to build a church office building and a church printing office [D&C 94 – Church Building Program], and he also rebuked the saints for ignoring the commandment which he gave in section 88 to build a temple in Kirtland. He told them to get to work on it immediately [D&C 95 – Building the Kirtland Temple]. The saints took the Lord’s chastisement seriously and set to work within a few days of receiving section 95.
The saints contended with almost overwhelming problems and deficiencies as they built the temple. They had no land, money, or architectural plans. Yet they did not lack for faith and enthusiasm. They solicited contributions from members in and out of Kirtland, and with the Lord’s help they found a suitable plot of land for the temple site [D&C 96 – Peter French Farm].
By July 1833, the saints had been in Jackson County, Missouri, for about two years. Their presence and their beliefs had proved an increasing irritant to the Missourians, and on July 20 the Missourians’ smoldering anger exploded into overt rage. On that day a mob of three to five hundred Missourians destroyed the printing press of W. W. Phelps and tarred and feathered Bishop Edward Partridge in the public square. They forced the Church’s leaders in Missouri to sign an agreement to leave Jackson County, and they persecuted the saints without mercy.
Some two weeks after this mob scene in Independence on August 2, Joseph received a revelation concerning Zion. He was unaware of the acute crisis in Missouri, though Oliver Cowdery was en route from Independence to Kirtland by horseback to inform him. The revelation is generally optimistic in its tone, and it reflects the fact that the Lord had not revealed to Joseph the devastating state of affairs in Zion [D&C 97 – Zion].
As soon as Oliver arrived with the news of the disastrous happenings in Independence, Joseph received another revelation in which the Lord spoke calmly and sensibly to the angry and frightened saints [D&C 98 – Laws of Retribution, War, and Forgiveness]. This revelation and other messages of comfort were carried back to the Missouri saints.
Even though the Missourians, by signed contract, had agreed to allow the saints to remain in Jackson County until January 1, 1834, the spirit of persecution knew no such patience. Houses were burned, men were beaten, and many saints were left homeless and forced to flee across the Missouri River and out of Jackson County.
As if to teach us that the work must go forward in spite of adversity, Joseph and others left for a one-month mission to Canada in early October. Joseph received a revelation while on this mission [D&C 100 – Brief Mission to Canada].
From the time he received word from Oliver Cowdery of the desperate plight of the twenty-five hundred saints in Zion, Joseph had pondered the grave situation there. Particularly had he wondered why the Lord had allowed this trial to come upon the saints; and if Zion were to be redeemed, when would it be redeemed? He prayed for answers in December, and he received them by revelation [D&C 101 – Zion: Why Persecuted, When Redeemed]. Joseph learned that the Lord allowed the persecutions to come upon the saints because of their transgressions, and Zion will be redeemed only when enough hearts have given themselves over to the Savior.
By February 1834, the workload placed upon the First Presidency was more than they could handle. They needed help in administering the affairs of the Church. At a meeting of church leaders in February 1834, Joseph formed a “Church Council,” later called the “High Council,” to assist in the administrative duties of the Church. It consisted of the First Presidency and twelve high priests, and its jurisdiction included the entire Church. The minutes of this meeting are preserved for us in the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 102 – The High Council]. In July of 1834, the Prophet organized a second high council in Missouri.
Shortly after the high council was organized in Kirtland, two delegates arrived in Kirtland representing the exiled saints in Missouri. They petitioned the high council in Kirtland as to how and by what means Zion was going to be rescued or redeemed. It was apparent to the high council that in spite of three months of using legal channels in Missouri, no progress had been made in securing protection for the saints sufficient to allow them to return to their lands in Jackson County. They concluded that direct assistance must be given to their afflicted brethren. Prior to this meeting of the high council, Joseph had prayed and received an answer to the question of what must be done for the saints in Zion [D&C 103 – Zion’s Camp]. With Joseph’s inspired prompting, the high council reached a decision that an army must be gathered to go “up to Zion” and redeem the exiles. This army would be called “Zion’s Camp.” For two and one-half months there was a pause in the temple building project in Kirtland as the Church recruited men and contributions of money and goods to help the destitute members in Missouri.
During the first week in May, an army of just over one hundred men marched from Kirtland led by the Prophet Joseph. As they marched, they experienced great hardships. They recruited men to join them as they traveled, and by the time they reached Missouri, they numbered just over two hundred men. The men in Zion’s Camp believed that once they joined the exiled saints, they had only inform the Governor of Missouri that they were prepared to return to their lands in Jackson County and he would provide them the necessary assistance. The Governor had previously promised Joseph by letter his full support in assisting the exiles to win back their lands. It was expected that the Governor would call out the Missouri militia to protect them as they returned to their homes. While camped at Salt River in Missouri, the army learned, however, that the Missouri Governor not only refused to call out the militia, but he also put another impediment in their path by announcing on June 6 that Mormons had “no right to march to Jackson County in arms.” The prospects for reclaiming their lands was suddenly hopeless. Even more devastating was the realization that armed Missourians were waiting to destroy any Mormon who dared return to Jackson County. Hopes of ever seeing their exiled brethren return to their homes were dashed! Angered and frustrated, the men of Zion’s Camp resumed their march.
While camped at Fishing River on June 22, 1834, Joseph received a revelation [D&C 105 – Zion’s Camp Disbanded] in which the Lord told the men that he had accepted their sacrifice, and they would not have to fight in Missouri. They were, in effect, disbanded. They had marched a thousand miles through all manner of trial and privation to rescue their beleaguered brethren in Missouri, and now they were disbanded thirty miles before they reached their destination!
As a cruel denouement to this experience, a tragedy struck Zion’s Camp about this time. A cholera epidemic broke out among the members of the Camp and within two weeks, thirteen members of the Camp had died.
Joseph arrived back in Kirtland in July. Although in some ways Zion’s Camp was a failure, in other ways it was a success. It had provided excellent leadership training for some of the participants and a stern trial of their faith. The leading councils of the Church, including the Council of the Twelve Apostles and the First Council of Seventy, would be selected largely from among the participants of Zion’s Camp.
During the month of November, Oliver Cowdery’s older brother, Warren, was called by revelation to be branch president of the small branch where he lived in Freedom, New York [D&C 106 – Warren A. Cowdery].
The first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation was chosen by the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon on February 14, 1835. The First Quorum of Seventy was also called.
When they were first called, the Quorum of the Twelve scarcely knew what an apostle was supposed to do, and Joseph met with them often to instruct them. In late March at such a meeting, it was decided that the Twelve should leave for a mission through the eastern states to the Atlantic coast. In anticipation of this mission, the Twelve presented a letter to Joseph requesting that he inquire of the Lord on their behalf, so that they might have a special message of comfort to take with them on their missionary journey. Joseph did inquire and received an important revelation on priesthood and church government [D&C 107 – Priesthood and Church Government].
On May 4, 1835 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, ordained the previous February, departed on their first mission.
On July 3, 1835, Mr. Michael Chandler arrived in Kirtland with his Egyptian mummies and the two papyrus scrolls from which Joseph would later translate the book of Abraham.
In the summer of 1835, Joseph and Frederick G. Williams left Kirtland and traveled to Michigan to preach the gospel. While they were gone, preparations were completed for printing a new collection of the revelations in a book to be entitled the “Doctrine and Covenants.” An assembly of the Church was convened in Kirtland for the purpose of canonizing this book of scripture. The saints accepted all the revelations in the collection and also voted to include two other documents written by Oliver Cowdery. One was a statement on marriage, and the other dealt with the Church’s views on the relationship between secular government and religious groups. The statement on marriage was removed in 1876 and replaced with the revelation on celestial marriage (section 132). The statement on government remains in the Doctrine and Covenants today [D&C 134 – Relationship Between Church and Secular Government].
The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants is published in mid-September.
A second term of the School of the Elders is begun on November 3, 1835. It will be moved to the third floor of the temple in January and continue to meet there until the temple dedication.
By Christmas of 1835, work on the Kirtland Temple is nearing completion. It will be dedicated in another three months.
On the day after Christmas, Brother Lyman Sherman, who was a member of Zion’s Camp and who had been called to the First Quorum of Seventy in February 1835 came to Joseph asking for a blessing [D&C 108 – Strengthen the Brethren]. Brother Sherman was one of the seven presidents of Seventy.
Since the spring of 1833, work on the Kirtland Temple had progressed almost continuously—having been interrupted only in the spring and early summer of 1834 in order to raise funds and gather recruits for the Zion’s Camp project. The temple was sufficiently completed so that it could be dedicated on March 27, 1836.
Prior to the dedication of the temple and for some time after, the Lord poured out his power, and the saints were favored with a great many extraordinary spiritual experiences. This remarkable period was ushered in on the night of January 21, 1836, when a group of brethren gathered in the nearly completed temple to receive instructions and participate in the ordinance of “anointings.” During the activities of this evening, Joseph had unfolded to him one of the great visions of the ages [D&C 137 – Vision of the Celestial Kingdom].
The temple dedicatory service itself on March 27, 1836, lasted seven hours, and we have accounts of remarkable spiritual manifestations that occurred during that convocation. Sidney Rigdon conducted, and Joseph read the dedicatory prayer which had been revealed to him the previous day [D&C 109 – Kirtland Temple Dedicatory Prayer].
Seven days after the dedication on Sunday, April 3, an important revelation was received. After a large priesthood meeting, which included instruction and administration of the sacrament, Joseph and Oliver retired near one of the pulpits behind a curtained partition to kneel in prayer. As they did so, a glorious vision was granted to them. They were visited not only by three messengers who restored vital priesthood keys, but also by the Lord Jesus Christ himself who stood upon the breastwork of the pulpit [D&C 110 – Restoration of Keys of the Priesthood].
When the saints fled Jackson County, Missouri, in the fall of 1833 and the winter of 1833-34, many of them crossed the Missouri River into Clay County. The people of Clay County generally warmly welcomed the saints into their midst. It was understood, however, that the saints’ stay in Clay County would be temporary. When it became evident that the exiles would not be able to return to Jackson County very soon, if at all, the people of Clay County became uneasy. Particularly were the “old settlers” concerned because some of the saints began buying land and building homes, and they gave the appearance of settling permanently.
Finally, on June 29, 1836, a mass meeting was held at the court house in Liberty, Missouri, and a resolution was passed calling upon the saints to withdraw from the county. In delivering the resolution to the saints, a committee of Missourians verbally offered to assist the saints in finding another suitable location if they would agree to move.
Two days later, the saints held a meeting of their own and adopted a reply to the Missourians’ resolution. Essentially they agreed to move in order to keep the peace.
At this time, northern Missouri was sparsely settled and was suggested to the Church as a suitable site where they might live alone—unmolested and in peace. In the fall of 1836, a number of families began moving to Far West, then located in Ray County. The Missourians seemed satisfied and even expressed the idea that if the Mormons were willing to settle that prairie country, “let them have it and welcome.” The northern part of Ray Country was even divided into two additional counties to accommodate the saints. One of these, Caldwell, would be “especially for Mormons.” The other, Daviess, was considered “the Missourians’.” A representative to the state legislature from Clay County, Alexander W. Doniphan, was helpful to the saints and played a major role in the creation of Caldwell and Daviess Counties. Doniphan would later establish himself as a genuine friend of the saints, and would even intervene at a critical moment and become instrumental in saving the life of Joseph Smith.
An agreement was reached that the Mormons would live only in Caldwell County and that they would not settle in other counties without consent of the settlers already there. This was, of necessity, only a verbal agreement since any such agreement in writing was obviously an unconstitutional restraint for any free citizen.
The saints rapidly left Clay County and moved north. They did make agreements with the citizens of Dewitt in Carroll County and those of Daviess County to allow some Mormon settlements in those areas. These concessions were made by the Missourians in exchange for money.
Caldwell County in 1836 was a wilderness. By the spring of 1838, however, the population was more than 5,000. In Far West, by that time, there were “one hundred and fifty houses, four dry goods stores, three family groceries, half a dozen blacksmith shops, a printing establishment, and two hotels. A large and comfortable school house had been built in 1836 and served also as a church and courthouse” (B. H. Roberts 1:425).
Building the Kirtland Temple was a monumental task and it left the Church significantly in debt. In the summer of 1836, Joseph heard about a wealthy widow, a member of the Church, who had lived in Salem, Massachusetts, but was now deceased. It was reported that she had expressed her intention, before her death, to leave her estate to the Church. All of her earthly possessions were contained in a treasure chest in her basement. This chest allegedly contained gold, silver, jewels, and other precious things. So, Joseph and others traveled to Salem in order to find this treasure and to preach the gospel. They never found the treasure chest and were mildly chastised by the Lord for trying to find it [D&C 111 – The Salem Experience].
The spiritual high of the completion and dedication of the Kirtland Temple was followed by one of the lowest periods of our Church’s history. The year following the temple dedication saw a spirit of apostasy sweep through the Church.
Initially, following the dedication of the temple, there was optimism. The saints sought to improve their standard of living by acquiring larger plots of farm land. In order to finance these purchases they needed to borrow, but cash was scarce. Church leaders, therefore, sought a means to transform some of the saints’ assets into cash. They decided to establish a bank in Kirtland, the Kirtland Safety Society Bank. When the Ohio legislature refused to grant them a charter for a state bank, they decided to create instead a private banking company. They were not fully aware that there were laws against the formation of such unauthorized banking companies. On January 2, 1837, the Kirtland Safety Society opened its doors for business and began printing currency. For several reasons the bank utterly failed, and many of those who had invested in the bank were ruined financially. Resentment, disillusionment, bitterness, criticism, and even hatred resulted. The spirit of the Lord departed from some, and a major apostasy resulted. Almost one-third of the “General Authorities” left the Church. Even some members of the Twelve were involved in the apostasy.
In July 1837, the Lord warned Thomas B. Marsh that, as President of the Twelve, he should bring his quorum back into line [D&C 112 – Thomas B. Marsh and the Quorum of Twelve].
Some of the apostates became bitter enemies of the Church and joined forces with other nonmembers to expel the saints from Kirtland. Persecution of the saints was ruthless and intense.
Between December 1837 and July 1838, more than sixteen hundred members of the Kirtland branch abandoned their homes and moved west, many settling in Far West, Missouri. Joseph and Sidney were forced to flee from Kirtland in January 1838. Brigham Young had fled almost three weeks earlier. These brethren also settled in Far West.
Shortly after arriving in Far West, Joseph received a revelation answering some questions that had arisen relative to certain verses in the book of Isaiah [D&C 113 – Book of Isaiah].
In the spring of 1838, while many, including several General Authorities, were leaving the Church, a stabilizing influence was provided by the three senior members of the Quorum of the Twelve—Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, and Brigham Young. In April 1838 Brother Patten received his own personal revelation [D&C 114 – David W. Patten]. He was a man of great physical and spiritual strength, and he possessed boundless courage. He was tragically killed by Missourians at the Battle of Crooked River a few months later in October 1838.
A few months of peace followed the saints’ settling in Far West. The Lord instructed them to establish themselves there and build a temple. The Lord also decreed that Far West would be the new “gathering place” [D&C 115 – Far West].
Some of the saints were reluctant to leave Kirtland to gather in Far West. They were rebuked by the Lord [D&C 117 – Far West Is the Gathering Place]. This rebuke was received on July 8, 1838, following a memorable Independence Day celebration in Far West during which the cornerstones of the temple at Far West were laid. Also at this commemoration, Sidney Rigdon delivered a forceful speech in which he warned, under penalty of death, the Missourians and others to leave the saints alone, as the Mormons would not tolerate any further harassment. This speech had unfortunate consequences, as it proved to inflame prejudice against the Church.
Three other revelations, now found in the Doctrine and Covenants, were received on July 8, 1838. On that date, Joseph also inquired of the Lord as to his will concerning the Twelve. In response, the Lord called them to go to Great Britain to preach the gospel. This call to serve was unusually specific, as it not only designated the date they were to depart, April 26, 1839, but it also specified their point of departure—the temple site at Far West [D&C 118 – The Twelve Called to Preach in England]. The Twelve later followed the Lord’s instructions to the letter, even though by April 1839 the saints had been expelled from Missouri and had been warned not to try to return.
The Twelve’s mission to England in 1839 and other missions to Great Britain that followed were extravagantly successful. More than five thousand converts resulted, and many of them migrated to America to join the saints between 1840 and 1850. These proved to be a vitally important infusion of strength to the Church.
Also on July 8, 1838, the Lord gave a new law concerning financial contributions to the Church [D&C 119 and 120 – The Law of Tithing].
By the summer of 1838, a spirit of peace and optimism prevailed in Far West. As many as twelve thousand saints had gathered in Missouri. Not all of them had gathered in Far West, Caldwell County. Others had settled in Adam-ondi-Ahman, Daviess County on the north, and Dewitt, Carroll County, on the east.
Most of the saints fleeing Kirtland had come west in small groups, but one group of more than five hundred persons traveled together in a body called “Kirtland Camp.” They arrived in Far West in October 1838, but at Joseph’s request they continued their journey twenty-two miles to the north to a place on the Grand River called Spring Hill where they settled. The Lord had previously changed the name of Spring Hill to “Adamondi-Ahman” [D&C 116 – Adam-ondi-Ahman].
During the next three months, that spirit of peace and optimism among the saints was shattered. On October 27, 1838, the Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an order to his state militia to kill or drive out of the state by force every Mormon! Why? What happened? How could conditions change so drastically—from peace in July of 1838 to an “extermination order” in October?
For one thing, the Missourians began to fear the potential political clout of the Mormons, since the saints were a cohesive, single-minded group that were likely to vote as a block. During an election in early August 1838, a fight occurred between a mob of more than a hundred Missourians and twelve unarmed Mormons who had traveled to the Daviess County seat, Gallatin, to vote.
The press exaggerated the significance of this fight, adding further to the growing fears and suspicions of the Missourians. Governor Boggs thus dispatched the state militia to “put down the insurrection.” The Gallatin affair, coupled with the pre-existing strong anti-Mormon prejudices, ignited the fuse of mobocracy, and an explosion ensued. During the next three months, all-out war occurred between the Mormons on one side and the Missouri militia combined with an unruly, raging, Missouri mob on the other.
Shortly after the evil “extermination order” of October 27, a cruel massacre of innocent saints occurred at Haun’s Mill, located about ten miles east of Far West. Here dwelt recently arrived immigrants from Kirtland who were awaiting an improvement in the war-like conditions before continuing on to a more permanent settlement. On October 30, a company of two hundred forty Missourians fell upon the little settlement and butchered in cold blood, without warning or provocation, seventeen men and boys. Shortly thereafter Far West was surrounded by an overpowering force of Missourians. Joseph and other church leaders were betrayed by one of their own military leaders, Colonel George M. Hinkle, and delivered as prisoners into the hands of the Missourians. The Missouri mob was turned loose on Far West, and a horrible scene of pillaging, rape, and murder resulted. Joseph was sentenced to death by a hastily convened “kangaroo court.” His life was spared when one of the Missouri generals, Alexander Doniphan, denounced the decision to execute Joseph as “cold-blooded murder.”
After being paraded before the people of Independence, Missouri, the Mormon prisoners were held at Richmond, Missouri, for three weeks. Then on December 1, 1838, Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney, and three others were placed in the jail at Liberty, Missouri. Sidney was soon released because of ill health, but the others remained in that jail for just over four months under near desperate conditions of poor food, freezing temperatures, inadequate light and ventilation, and continual ridicule and humiliation by their Missourian captors.
During the winter of 1838-39, while Joseph and Hyrum were incarcerated, the leadership of the Church fell to Brigham Young, the senior member of the Twelve. Under his leadership, over twelve thousand saints migrated eastward, back across the Mississippi River to Illinois, many settling in Quincy on the eastern bank of the Mississippi. In Quincy the saints were extended a kindly reception by most of the people there.
On March 20, 1839, from Liberty Jail, Joseph dictated two letters to the Church providing them with inspired counsel. Portions of the two letters were later published in the Doctrine and Covenants in three separate sections [D&C 121 – The Spirit of the Priesthood] [D&C 122 – Why the Lord Allows Adversity] [D&C 123 – Committee on Persecution].
In early April 1839, the prisoners were transferred to Daviess County for trial. At that time the Missourians, realizing the fruitlessness of obtaining a legal conviction for Joseph, allowed the prisoners to escape. They made their way to Quincy, Illinois, arriving April 22, 1839.
The saints soon purchased land in Commerce, Illinois, a swampy, mosquito-infested settlement fifty miles north of Quincy. They also acquired some property on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River in the Iowa Territory.
Commerce was renamed “Nauvoo” by Joseph, and during the spring and summer of 1839, the saints began to gather and build. Many hardships, including a malaria epidemic, were endured by the saints as they began to build the city.
In the fall of 1839, Joseph, Sidney, and others traveled to Washington, D.C., to appeal to President Martin Van Buren seeking redress for wrongs done to the saints in Missouri. They were summarily dismissed by President Van Buren who told them, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. If I take up for you, I shall lose the vote of Missouri.” Joseph remained in Washington for a time and made appeals to senate committees, but all to no avail. He returned to Nauvoo in March of 1840.
In April 1840, two Apostles, Orson Hyde and John E. Page, were dispatched on a mission to the Jews of Europe and the Middle East. Elder Page quit the mission, but Orson Hyde completed the task, culminating his mission by standing on the Mount of Olives and dedicating the land of Palestine for the return of the Jews.
In the summer of 1840, the state of Missouri renewed its persecution of Joseph, and the Prophet found it necessary to periodically go into hiding when law enforcement officers from Missouri came to Nauvoo to arrest him. He was determined never to allow himself to be taken back to Missouri, as he knew that would mean certain death for him.
A charter was granted to the city of Nauvoo by the Illinois legislature in December 1840.
In January 1841, the Lord gave a revelation containing instructions concerning the new city of Nauvoo [D&C 124 – Nauvoo]. In this revelation the Lord commanded the saints to build a temple in Nauvoo and a large hotel for nonmember dignitaries visiting the city—the Nauvoo House.
In February 1841, a charismatic and handsome new member of the Church, John C. Bennett, was elected first mayor of Nauvoo. The same month an independent military body was organized in Nauvoo, called the Nauvoo Legion. Joseph was the commanding officer and John C. Bennett was the second officer. The Legion soon became the best military body in the state of Illinois, and it excited not only the jealousy and envy of the other militia in the state, but also fear that the saints might be preparing for rebellion.
In March 1841, Joseph inquired of the Lord regarding the Iowa saints. Should they move across the river to join the rest of the saints, or should they stay in Iowa? The Lord advised them to stay in Iowa for the time being [D&C 125 – Iowa Saints].
In April 1841, Joseph, who enjoyed ceremony and celebration, directed a day of enthusiastic display with many non-Mormons guests from surrounding towns looking on. The fourteen companies of the Nauvoo Legion drilled and paraded with Joseph commanding in his splendid lieutenant-general’s uniform. The cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple was laid. One observer, Thomas C. Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw (Illinois) Signal saw something ominous in the marshal display, and he returned home to open a determined campaign against the Mormon presence in Illinois.
In July 1841, Brigham Young arrived home from his mission in England. He had served several missions for the Church since his conversion in 1832. In a personal revelation received by Joseph, Brigham Young was told to remain home and assist the First Presidency [D&C 126 – Brigham Young].
Also in the summer of 1841, the true character of John C. Bennett began to emerge. It was learned that this self-proclaimed bachelor had an estranged wife and children in Ohio. When confronted with this information, he made a great show of contrition and was allowed to maintain his church membership. He had learned something of the doctrine of plural marriage, then being taught by Joseph to a few of his intimate friends. Over the next several months, he used his position, his reputation, and his personal magnetism to proposition and seduce several women in Nauvoo, both married and unmarried, under the guise of practicing the new marriage covenant. He had received no authorization from Joseph, however, and he was discovered and excommunicated in May of 1842. He became an instant enemy of the Church, and his determined and articulate opposition to the Church, both in print and in lectures throughout the country, helped eventually to bring about the destruction of Nauvoo and the prophet Joseph.
By the late summer of 1842, Nauvoo was beginning to prosper, and its fame was spreading throughout the country. Nauvoo’s population, by this time, was between eight and nine thousand, and except for Chicago it was the largest town in the state of Illinois.
During the winter of 1841-42, Joseph completed the inspired “translation” of an Egyptian papyrus which he had obtained in 1835 when a man named Michael Chandler appeared in Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. Chandler’s traveling display had included not only four mummies, but some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphics. Joseph’s reputation as one who might be able to translate ancient Egyptian documents led to Chandler’s approaching Joseph. Chandler, who was from Philadelphia, had somehow obtained these ancient artifacts after they had been discovered by an Italian explorer named Antonio Lebolo. The Church purchased the mummies and papyri from Mr. Chandler for twenty-four hundred dollars. Joseph found the papyri to contain the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt. From time to time, Joseph worked on the translation of this ancient papyrus. It was finally completed in March 1842 and published in the Times and Seasons under the title of “The Book of Abraham.”
In the spring of 1842, the editor of the Chicago Democrat, a man named John Wentworth, requested that Joseph write a statement of the history and doctrine of the Church. This statement was requested on behalf of a friend of Wentworth’s who was writing a history of the state of New Hampshire. Responding to this request, Joseph wrote a letter which we have come to call the “Wentworth Letter.” Beginning with his own birth in 1805, it traced the development of the restored Church and then briefly summarized the doctrine of the Church in thirteen simple statements. These thirteen statements have now been extracted from the Wentworth Letter, separated, numbered, given the title “Articles of Faith,” and canonized as scripture in our Pearl of Great Price.
On May 4, 1842, Joseph gathered some of the brethren in the upper story of his red brick store and taught them some of the temple ordinances, including the endowment. In addition to its use as an endowment house, Joseph’s red brick store was also the meeting place for the Nauvoo Lodge of Free Masons. Here also, Joseph had his private office where he translated most of the book of Abraham, received revelations, and committed to writing the revelation on “celestial marriage.”
An attempt was made in Missouri to assassinate the ex-Governor Lilburn W. Boggs on May 6, 1842. Boggs was seated in a room in his home in the evening. The would-be assassin fired a pistol filled with buckshot through a window, dropped the pistol outside the window, left his footprints in the dirt, and fled. Boggs sustained nonfatal wounds to his head. The Mormons were accused of the crime. Specifically, it was suggested that Joseph Smith had ordered Orrin Porter Rockwell to make the attempt on the ex-governor’s life. When he had recovered, Boggs asked the Governor of Missouri to request the extradition of the suspects. Governor Carlin of Illinois, by now an enemy of the saints, issued a warrant for the arrest of Rockwell as principle and Joseph as accessory before the fact. Accordingly, on August 8, 1842, an officer from Adams County arrested the two. They were then left in the custody of the Nauvoo city marshal and allowed to go about their business while the state officer returned to Adams County. Before he returned to take possession of the prisoners, it was decided that because the tide of public opinion was decidedly against the Mormons, the two could never receive a fair trial in Missouri. Thus they went into seclusion. They crossed the river to the Iowa side and returned to Nauvoo some days later. When the arresting officer returned to Nauvoo, Joseph and Porter “could not be located.”
Joseph remained in seclusion during the remainder of 1842. He lived quietly with several of the saints in Nauvoo, and the saints cooperated in keeping his place of abode a secret as he moved from home to home. From his place of concealment, he was able to administer the affairs of the Church, and he even appeared in public on several occasions.
In September 1842, pressures were becoming so intense that Joseph had decided to leave Nauvoo for a brief time to allow them to subside. Before leaving, he wrote two letters to the Church, during the first week in September, on the subject of baptism for the dead. These letters have been preserved for us in the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 127 and 128 – Baptism for the Dead].
During Joseph’s period of seclusion in the fall of 1842, several attempts were made by the law officers from Missouri to take him into custody, but all to no avail.
Finally, feeling secure that he had a firm defense against the charges of attempted murder, Joseph allowed himself to be arrested and he arrived in Springfield, Illinois, on December 30, 1842, for his trial. The charges against him were dismissed, and he was welcomed back in Nauvoo as a free man and a conquering hero.
The late winter of 1842 and spring of 1843 brought Joseph a brief respite from persecution and harassment. In February Parley P. Pratt returned from his mission to England. He could not wait to visit with Joseph and be instructed by him. Joseph did instruct him on, among other things, the way in which one might discern a false from a true spirit [D&C 129 – Discernment of False Spirits].
Joseph also took advantage of these peaceful months to visit and instruct the saints living in small settlements surrounding Nauvoo [D&C 130 – Items of Instruction by Joseph Smith] [D&C 131 – Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom].
In June of 1843, charges against the Prophet were revived and the harassment began anew, largely as a result of the malicious writings and speeches of John C. Bennett. An extradition order was sought by the state of Missouri and granted by the now-Governor Ford of Illinois. Joseph was arrested by officers of Missouri, but won the right to be tried in Nauvoo and was promptly acquitted of all charges.
In the summer of 1843, the population of Nauvoo was about fifteen thousand and was growing rapidly. Nauvoo was divided into ten “wards” for both religious and political purposes. A bishop was appointed to preside over each ward. The work of building the temple and the Nauvoo House meanwhile continued. The prospects for Nauvoo’s becoming the major center of commerce in Illinois looked promising. Indeed, Nauvoo was approaching the height of its elegance and industry. However, the next several months would bring a total reversal of this hopeful trend.
The problems for the saints in Nauvoo arose on several fronts. First, just as had occurred in 1838 in Missouri, there arose resentment over the potential political clout of the saints. The Whig and Democratic parties were so divided in Illinois that the citizens of Nauvoo potentially held the balance of political power in Hancock County and perhaps even in the entire state. As a political aside, it should be noted that when none of the presidential candidates in the election of 1844 seemed sympathetic to the saints’ cause, Joseph allowed his name to be placed on the ballot as a token candidate for President of the United States.
A second cause of persecution resulted from the liberal city charter granted by the Illinois legislature. It guaranteed a good deal of independence for the new city and its rapidly growing military body, the Nauvoo Legion. The Legion excited fear that the Mormons, if they wished, could control by force the remainder of the state. There even arose the fear that Mormonism might engulf broad areas of the nation. This fear was further aggravated by Joseph’s organizing the “Council of Fifty” in March of 1844. This council was composed of a select group of the Prophet’s most trusted friends, including the Twelve. This semi-secret body included high church officials, civic leaders, and prominent businessmen who met together to regulate the temporal affairs of the kingdom. This group was decried as an example of the Church’s temporal ambitions which were repugnant to many outside the Church, particularly since Mormon doctrine included the concept that the day would arrive when the temporal or political kingdom of God would govern the earth from the center stake of Zion. Some feared that Joseph aspired to take over the earth beginning in 1844!
Another contributing factor in the growing feeling against the Church was the fact that a Masonic Lodge was established in Nauvoo, and Joseph and several of the brethren became active in Masonry. This resulted in a rather wide-spread prejudice, that existed against the Masons, being transferred to the Mormons. Ironically, the Mormon Masons, because of their rapid growth and the success of their lodge, produced jealousy even among their fellow Masons, and some Masons were further angered by Joseph’s purported use of parts of the Masonic ceremony in the temple ordinances.
An additional element contributing to the saints’ problems in Illinois was the rumor of plural marriage that began to circulate in Nauvoo. By 1843, a controlled form of plural marriage was practiced among a tightly closed circle of high church officials. The revelation on celestial and plural marriage, which was originally received in 1831, was finally recorded in July of 1843 [D&C 132 – Celestial Marriage] and circulated to only a very few of the brethren. The rumor of the practice was deemed a scandal to non-Mormons in the state and was horrifying even to some of the saints in Nauvoo.
The saints in Nauvoo had several avowed enemies of influence. Among them was Thomas C. Sharp, editor of the Warsaw (Illinois) Signal, a viciously anti-Mormon newspaper. Another was John C. Bennett, the ex-Mormon, who attacked the Church both in print and by his oratory. Particularly did Bennett delight in accusing the Church of practicing a licentious form of polygamy.
Some of the doctrines of the Church which were pronounced and promulgated by Joseph in 1843 were criticized as heretical and resulted in emotional attacks upon the Church by ministers of other Churches. Those doctrines which were especially criticized included the concept of the plurality of Gods and the doctrine that man’s consummate potential destiny is to become as God is.
In the spring of 1844, a small group of Mormon dissidents began preparations to publish the Nauvoo Expositor. They published only one issue, on June 7, which contained inflammatory allegations about the sex lives of Mormon leaders, branding Joseph a base seducer, a liar, and a murderer. The Nauvoo city council, led by Joseph who was mayor and his brother Hyrum who was vice-mayor, declared the newspaper libelous and a public nuisance endangering civil order. The city marshal was dispatched to destroy that issue and the Expositor’s printing press. No single action could have provided better ammunition for the anti-Mormons in Illinois, who by now had already organized into vigilante groups dedicated to the destruction of Mormonism. The anti-Mormons quickly raised the issue of freedom of the press, and they cried out in the press for the utter extermination of the “wicked” Mormon leaders. Some of the Mormon dissidents went to the county seat at Carthage, about fifteen miles east of Nauvoo, and filed charges of inciting a riot against Joseph and other church leaders. A constable was dispatched to arrest Joseph and Hyrum.
Realizing full well the fatal consequences of going to Carthage, Joseph and Hyrum, by some legal maneuvering, managed to be tried and acquitted by a court in Nauvoo. When the constable returned to Carthage without Joseph, the fury among the Church’s enemies exploded. Governor Ford was petitioned, and demands were made that he mobilize the state militia and end Joseph’s “defiance” of the law.
Joseph responded by declaring a state of martial law, and the Nauvoo Legion was mobilized. He also wrote to the traveling apostles and other church leaders asking them to return home. Governor Ford arrived in Carthage on June 21, 1844, and, reviewing the evidence against Joseph, he declared the destruction of the Expositor illegal and demanded that the Smiths come to Carthage and submit to the charges made against them. If they refused, the Governor threatened to employ the state militia to destroy Nauvoo.
Joseph realized that the circle was narrowing, and that his options were becoming limited. In a letter written to the Governor on June 22, he expressed his willingness to be tried, but he made it clear to the Governor that he dared not come to Carthage. Joseph knew that if he and Hyrum were taken into custody, they would be massacred. Thus he bade an emotional farewell to his family, and at midnight on June 22, Porter Rockwell rowed him and Hyrum and Apostle Willard Richards across the Mississippi River. From there, Joseph apparently intended to travel east to Washington, D.C., to lay his cause directly before President John Tyler.
The next morning a posse arrived in Nauvoo to arrest the brothers but left empty handed after threatening to occupy the city until the Smiths were arrested. That afternoon Emma sent messengers with a letter to Joseph and Hyrum. The letter likely related to Joseph Governor Ford’s promise of protection and a fair trial. The messengers told Joseph of the posse’s threats on the city, reminding him that if mobs destroyed their property, they would all be homeless. The messengers even accused Joseph of cowardice. These were cutting words, and Joseph replied, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to myself” (HC, 6:549).
After consulting with Hyrum and Porter Rockwell, Joseph agreed to return. From that moment on, Joseph had a strong premonition of his death. After spending the night with his family in Nauvoo, he traveled the next day, the 24th, to Carthage. As he was passing through Nauvoo he was overheard to say, “I am going as a lamb to the slaughter” (HC, 6:555).
After spending the night in a hotel in Carthage, the next day, the 25th, the prisoners were shown to the troops of militia who were lined up for review. The local militia, known as the Carthage Greys, were difficult to control and almost mutinied, threatening to lynch the prisoners. The prisoners were arraigned, and a high bail was set. The bail was met by friends of the Prophet, and the prisoners might have gone free, but that night they were arrested for treason on the grounds of having declared martial law in Nauvoo. The two prisoners, Joseph and Hyrum, along with eight of their friends, were placed in the unbarred debtors’ room, on the second floor of the small two-story jail on the edge of town.
The next day, the 26th, the prisoners were walked through town to the courthouse. Joseph expected to be massacred by the mob in the streets. Nevertheless, he walked boldly along, and as a gesture of defiance even locked arms with the worst mobocrat he could find. Hyrum also locked arms with Joseph.
The next morning, the 27th, the Governor broke his promise not to leave Carthage without taking the prisoners along. The Governor had promised protection for the prisoners and knew full well the critical dangers that awaited them. His leaving Carthage may then be regarded as an act of at least tacit complicity. He left the Carthage Greys guarding the jail. In a hasty note written to Emma, Joseph betrayed his fear, “Dear Emma, I am very much resigned to my lot, knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends” (HC, 6:605). By that afternoon, all of the Smiths’ friends had been forced to leave except the Apostles Willard Richards and John Taylor. A pistol had been smuggled in to Joseph by a visitor. As the hot and sultry day wore on, the prisoners sat silent and depressed. Joseph asked John Taylor to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”
At about five o’clock, a mob of one hundred fifty to two hundred men surrounded the jail. They were fired upon by the Carthage Greys who were guarding the jail. The guards, however, were part of the conspiracy and used blanks. Shortly thereafter, a group of attackers stormed up the stairs. Hyrum was killed immediately. Joseph fired three times down the stairs wounding three men. He then leaped from the jail window, but as he did so he was struck fatally from the back. As he fell to the ground, he cried, “Oh Lord, my God.” John Taylor was wounded by four separate bullets, and only Willard Richards escaped injury. The attackers then dispersed.
Feeling that the Mormons would retaliate, the people of Carthage evacuated their town by nightfall. Samuel Smith carried his brothers’ bodies by wagon back to Nauvoo on June 28. In Nauvoo, thousands of mourners filed by their coffins. After making a show of burying them publicly, the bodies were hidden and guarded in fear that they would be exhumed and desecrated.
Some weeks later, John Taylor penned a report of the martyrdom which was included in the next addition of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 135 – The Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum].
Brigham Young and the other traveling Apostles did not learn of the assassinations until July 16, and were not able to reach Nauvoo until August 6. They found the saints subdued, shattered, and confused by the loss of their leaders. Though they needed desperately to find another leader, the method of orderly succession to the Presidency had not yet been clearly established. Sidney Rigdon offered himself to become the Church’s “guardian,” asserting that no one could take Joseph’s place. Brigham Young contended that the Twelve held all the keys necessary for church leadership, and that as President of the Twelve, he was the rightful heir of the Presidency. At a dramatic meeting on August 8, where both Sidney and Brigham spoke, the saints voted overwhelmingly to sustain Brigham and the Twelve as leaders of the Church.
There was opposition to Brigham’s leadership, and splinter groups formed under the leadership of individuals who claimed the Presidency for themselves. The most significant of these included the Church of Christ headed by Sidney Rigdon, the “Strangites” led by James J. Strang, and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints organized in 1851 by Jason Briggs. The leadership of the “Reorganites” was eventually assumed by the Prophet’s son, Joseph Smith III who remained in Nauvoo with his mother, Emma. This group rejected the doctrines revealed through Joseph during the Nauvoo period, including polygamy, plurality of Gods, baptism for the dead, temple ordinances, the literal gathering of the saints, and the establishment of an earthly kingdom.
After the murders of Joseph and Hyrum, there followed a short respite from persecution and harassment lasting until about September of 1845. During this period, Brigham Young gave major emphasis to the missionary program both in the eastern states and in the British Isles. He also stepped up the construction work on the temple so that as many saints as possible could share in those sacred ordinances before the saints had to begin their trek west.
The enemies of the Church had assumed that the destruction of Joseph would be fatal for the Church’s existence. When it became apparent that the Church showed promise of surviving, the hostility toward and harassment of the saints began afresh. Strong prejudice against the Church in the Illinois legislature resulted in a repeal of the Nauvoo city charter in January 1845.
The capstone was laid on the temple, and its construction was finished in May 1845.
Brigham knew from the moment he assumed the leadership of the Church that the saints would be leaving Nauvoo. Joseph had predicted as early as 1834 in Kirtland that “This people will go into the Rocky Mountains; they will raise up a posterity there and the Latter-day Saints who dwell in these mountains will stand in the flesh until the coming of the Son of Man” (Wilford Woodruff, CR, 1897, 57). In response to the renewed harassment, the saints agreed in the fall of 1845 to leave Illinois. The agreement was that the saints would leave in the spring—when the “water runs” and the “grass grows”—but tensions increased so that they had to leave earlier than planned. The first wagon crossed the Mississippi River on February 4, 1846. President Young crossed on February 15. Brigham intended that he would lead an advance party ahead to find a settling place and plant crops for the saints who would follow later. However, a steady stream of Nauvoo saints began to follow him out of the city. The saints had been forced to sell homes and property for a pittance. By September 1846, Nauvoo, or, as Brigham had renamed it, the “City of Joseph,” stood almost empty.
After camping briefly at the Sugar Creek Camp, nine miles west of the Mississippi, an aggregate of the twelve thousand saints in about twenty-five hundred wagons, and thirty to fifty thousand head of stock pushed on across Iowa. By late spring or early summer they were settled temporarily on the eastern shore of the Missouri River at Kanesville (later Council Bluffs) and in Winter Quarters, across the river. Winter Quarters is now Florence, Nebraska, a suburb of Omaha.
In the spring of 1846, the Church appealed to the president of the United States, James K. Polk, for any available financial assistance for the saints’ intended migration to the west. This request coincided with the United States’ declaring war on Mexico. An army was needed to march to California to take possession of that area. Apparently as an act of good faith, President Polk saw an opportunity to help the saints and also fulfill a national need as well. The United States Army agreed to accept a volunteer force of about 500 young Mormon men who would serve for one year and march the two thousand miles from Council Bluffs to California. For this service, each man would be paid $42, amounting to a total payroll of about $21,000. The Church accepted the army’s offer, not only because of the money which would obviously prove helpful, but because they wanted to demonstrate their loyalty to their country.
At the expense of much personal and community sacrifice, this force of volunteers was raised. In July the “Mormon Battalion” left Council Bluffs for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After being outfitted, they embarked on the colorful expedition. They arrived in San Diego in January 1847. Part of their pay was sent back to their families to be used for the trek west. After their period of service, in July 1847, they were disbanded. A few re-enlisted, some remained in California to take advantage of the gold rush, but most returned to their families in the Great Basin of Utah.
Brigham Young had fully planned to be in the Great Basin by the summer of 1846, but the wet and muddy roads through Iowa and the lack of preparation by the saints so delayed them in their journey that they decided to remain in Winter Quarters, on the west bank of the Missouri River near Council Bluffs, Iowa, and continue on the next spring.
Something had to be done in order for the saints to travel more expeditiously, and so several council meetings were held that winter by the Twelve to plan the trek. 1847 January
Finally on January 14, 1847, the Lord spoke through Brigham Young concerning the “Camp of Israel.” Final instructions were given by the Lord for the expedition to the west [D&C 136 – Word and Will of the Lord for the Camp of Israel].
Life for the saints in the winter of 1846-47 was difficult because of the weather and the meager provisions available to them. As many as one in thirty died.
Early in April, Brigham led an advance party of just under one hundred and fifty saints the one thousand miles to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving on July 24, 1847.
- Michael J. Preece