Viewpoint: Remember the Example of Quincy, Illinois

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News staff writer

  • 22 May 2017

In a time of fierce persecution, the Saints found refuge and hospitality in Quincy, Illinois.

Article Highlights

  • In 1838, persecution increased and the Saints fled Missouri.
  • The destitute Saints found refuge in the town of Quincy, Illinois.
  • Despite being outnumbered by the refugees, the people of Quincy opened their homes to them.

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. … Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).

Refuge during a time of persecution

During the winter of 1838–1839, early Latter-day Saints—facing an extermination order and extreme persecution—fled Missouri. The Prophet Joseph Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon and Hyrum Smith, were in jail.

In the freezing temperatures of winter, they found themselves looking across the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois. Residents in Quincy, a community of 1,500, were generous and sympathetic to the plight of the exiled Mormons. Many of them opened their homes or collected money, food, clothing, and other necessities for the Mormon refugees.

Throughout the late winter and spring, thousands of Latter-day Saints arrived at the western bank of the Mississippi across from Quincy. Elizabeth Haven wrote that in late February “about 12 families cross the river into Quincy every day and about 30 are constantly at the other side waiting to cross; it is slow and grimy; there is only one ferry boat to cross in” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, chapter 17).

As Quincy filled with hundreds of refugees, the living conditions there deteriorated. The Saints, most of whom were almost entirely destitute, suffered from hunger in the cold, rain, and mud. The community of Quincy opened its homes to almost 5,000 of those refugees.

Quincy's legacy in a time of refugee crisis

Today, Quincy is remembered as a heartwarming chapter in a largely unpleasant period in Church history.

The Church is so grateful for the sacrifice and compassion of early members of the city that on June 28, 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley traveled with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Quincy for a concert of thanks. “We come here as those who love and appreciate the city of Quincy, Illinois,” he said. “In the annals of our Church, the city of Quincy and its citizens will always occupy a position of the highest esteem. We shall always be grateful for the kindness, the hospitality, the civility with which your people met our people who were exiles from the state of Missouri.”

After traveling to Europe recently, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said in a Church News interview that he was again reminded of Quincy and the early members who “came there and were so desperate and in need of help.”

President Uchtdorf said this legacy of compassion exemplified by those who helped early Latter-day Saints in Quincy is being carried on today by Church members living in Europe, where the Church has grown strong, and “committed and willing” members are helping refugees.

Some areas in Europe are receiving 1,500 refugees per month, President Uchtdorf said. Latter-day Saints “treat them with kindness and are, in loving care, reaching out. … The Church and its members are doing significant things, following the Savior.”

The Church’s efforts to assist refugees around the world echoes a directive to take care of the poor and needy that was taught by the Savior during His mortal ministry: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. … Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).

In Leviticus 19, we have been given a scriptural injunction from the Lord to care for strangers among us: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself” (Leviticus 19:33–34).

A letter from the First Presidency dated October 27, 2015, states: “It is with great concern and compassion that we observe the plight of the millions of people around the world who have fled their homes seeking relief from civil conflict and other hardships. Thanks to the generous help of our members, the Church is providing assistance to migrants and refugees in several countries. … We invite Church units, families, and individuals to participate in local refugee relief projects, where practical.”

Fulfilling our duty to help

Elder Patrick Kearon, General Authority Seventy and President of the Church’s Europe Area, said in his April 2016 general conference address that there are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today.

“As members of the Church, as a people, we don’t have to look back far in our history to reflect on times when we were refugees, violently driven from homes and farms over and over again,” he said.

What can Latter-day Saints, who share a spiritual legacy with refugees, do to help? “Begin on your knees in prayer,” Elder Kearon said. “Then think in terms of doing something close to home, in your own community, where you will find people who need help in adapting to their new circumstances. The ultimate aim is their rehabilitation to an industrious and self-reliant life” (“Refuge from the Storm”).

The story of Drusilla Hendricks is typical of the Quincy experience. Her husband, James, had been injured and was carried about on a stretcher. The family arrived in Quincy and secured a room “partly underground and partly on top of the ground.” Within two weeks, they were on the verge of starving, having only one spoonful of sugar and a saucer full of cornmeal to eat. That afternoon, “Rubin Alred came by and told her he had had a feeling they were out of food, so on his way into town he had a sack of grain ground into meal for them” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual).

We can learn much from those who lent a helping hand in Quincy and in Europe—and other places across the globe where this legacy continues today.

As President Thomas S. Monson said during his April 1990 general conference address, “We have a responsibility to extend help as well as hope to the hungry, to the homeless, and to the downtrodden both at home and abroad” (“My Brother’s Keeper”).