In the winter of 1838–1839, Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, falsely accused of murder and other bad things. Thousands of Latter-day Saints were being forced to leave their homes in Missouri due to persecution. When Church leaders learned that the citizens of Illinois would help the Saints, they told the Church members to migrate to western Illinois. Many settled in and around the community of Quincy.
The Church leaders wrote to Joseph Smith in the spring, asking if they should buy land in Illinois and Iowa so that the Saints could remain together or if it would be better for the Saints to scatter. Joseph instructed them to begin purchasing property in one general area. The next month Joseph was freed, and he traveled to Quincy to help.
Land was soon purchased in and around Commerce, Illinois. The Prophet settled his family in one of the few homes in Commerce. He named the new city they were about to build Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful place.”
Before homes could be built, the Saints had to cut down the thickets and dig ditches to drain the swamps. Unfortunately they were unaware of the dangerous disease the pesky mosquitoes were carrying. Many workers became ill with malaria, or ague, as it was called then. Before long, hundreds of people in Nauvoo and across the Mississippi River in Montrose, Iowa, were very ill with severe chills and fever, and many were dying.
For a time Joseph and Emma nursed and cared for the sick, but then Joseph also became ill. For several days he lay overcome with the sickness. But on July 22, 1839, Joseph was prompted to arise and extend help to others. Filled with the Spirit of the Lord, he obediently arose and began to administer to the sick staying in his house and to the people in the tent city surrounding his home. Then he moved down to the river where many more lay too sick to move. Joseph went to the door of Brother Henry G. Sherwood’s tent and commanded him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to rise and come out. Brother Sherwood obeyed and was healed.
Elder Heber C. Kimball and others then accompanied the Prophet across the river to Montrose, where they visited the homes of the sick and, using the power of the priesthood, healed them. When Joseph arrived at the home of Elijah Fordham, the man was unconscious and near death. Joseph took Brother Fordham’s hand and said, “Brother Fordham, do you not know me?” There was no response at first, then the leaders could see the Spirit of God resting upon Elijah.
Joseph repeated his question, and Elijah whispered, “Yes!”
Joseph said, “Have you not faith to be healed?”
Elijah answered, “I am afraid it is too late. …”
Joseph asked next, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?”
“I do, Brother Joseph,” Elijah said.
Then the Prophet Joseph said in a loud voice, “Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!”
Elijah Fordham jumped from his bed and was healed!
Wilford Woodruff said, “The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation.”
After the people recovered, they continued to build the beautiful city on a bend in the Mississippi River and to settle many other outlying cities. Once again the hard work and abilities of the Saints began to pay off, and the towns began to flourish. Soon Nauvoo had many shops and factories, including sawmills, brickyards, printing offices, flour mills, etc. Nauvoo craftsmen also produced matches, leather goods, rope and cord, gloves, bonnets, pottery, jewelry, and watches. Professional associations and schools, including a university, were established. The people also put on plays and held dances and parties.
Church meetings were held in a grove of trees where often thousands of people would gather to hear the Prophet and others speak. The speakers sat on a portable platform; the audience rested on split logs, on bricks, or on the grass.
Once Chief Keokuk and about one hundred chiefs and braves and their families of the Sac and Fox Indian Tribes crossed the Mississippi on ferries and two flatboards to call on the Prophet. Joseph escorted them, while a marching band played, to the grove, and then he preached to them about the Book of Mormon and its promises.
After the Prophet spoke, Chief Keokuk said, “I believe you are a great and good man. … We intend to quit fighting, and follow the good talk you have given us.”*
Before long, Nauvoo was a thriving city, truly the beautiful place it was named. There were several happy, peaceful years. But again the hopes and dreams did not last.
In January 1844, Joseph Smith announced his candidacy for President of the United States, but on June 27, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed in Carthage Jail. The next morning their bodies were placed in two wagons, covered with branches to shade them, then driven to Nauvoo. They arrived in Nauvoo about three o’clock in the afternoon and were met by huge crowds of silent people. It was the saddest day Nauvoo or the Church had ever known.
John Taylor, who was with Joseph at Carthage, wrote, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3).
Many of the anti-Mormons thought that Joseph’s death would bring an end to the Church, but it did not. The Saints knew that the Church was God’s Church, not Joseph’s, and so they carried on God’s work. Instead of dying out, the Church continued to grow. What the mobs did not understand was that the faith of the Saints was much stronger than their fear.