In Search of Zion, 1830–1835


Significant events during the 1830’s made that decade one of the most important in Mormon history. From a small beginning at Fayette, in western New York, the Church grew rapidly. Converts eager to support the work talked about the restored gospel willingly with friends and neighbors. Those who sustained Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as the “first elders” of the Church, shared their resources for the care of the poor and aided in constructing a temple at Kirtland, Ohio. The stone carved out of the mountain without hands (See Dan. 2:45) had begun its worldwide mission, rolling slowly at first, but increasing in speed and size as time progressed.

The Book of Mormon excited the early Latter-day Saints with a sense of participating in important events preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Bible and Book of Mormon together with new revelations given through Joseph Smith, pointed to an important period of missionary work in the last days as the righteous were gathered out from among the wicked of all nations. As part of the preparatory work for the Millennium, the Saints saw that the gospel would be carried to remnant peoples of the house of Israel.

In October 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson set forth from New York on a mission to the Indians of western America. They visited the Cattaraugus tribe near Buffalo, New York, and the Wyandot tribe in Ohio en route west. Frontier settlers had pushed as far west as Missouri. Beyond that state lived Indians displaced by westward-moving pioneers. But when Oliver Cowdery and his companions reached the Missouri frontier, they faced disappointment. The missionaries visited the Shawnee Indians and then met in council with the chief of the Delaware nation. Despite a friendly reception by the Indians the missionaries were forced to leave the reservation by government Indian agents who said they were disturbing the peace. This early Mormon contact with the Lamanites did not bring the conversions expected by the missionaries. Nevertheless, the expedition turned the Church’s attention to Missouri, where the Saints would soon seek to establish a City of Zion.

The missionaries did reap an important harvest in Ohio. En route west, they had visited Sidney Rigdon, a former Campbellite preacher and friend of Parley P. Pratt. At first skeptical, Rigdon studied the Book of Mormon, invited the missionaries to address his congregation, and soon asked for baptism. So did about 130 other persons in the area. Rigdon would not be satisfied until he met the Prophet. In December, he and a young hat maker, Edward Partridge, traveled together to the Smith home in Waterloo, New York, to meet Joseph Smith. The Prophet was impressed by Rigdon’s abilities and soon received a revelation stating that the Lord had prepared him “for a greater work” (D&C 35:3). The former preacher soon employed his oratorical skills in explaining the gospel to others. He soon began to serve as scribe to Joseph Smith in an inspired revision of the Bible and served as a counselor in the First Presidency.

The immediate need for Church members in New York was a place of gathering, and revelation identified two locations. One of these was in western Missouri, at a place near Independence, in Jackson Country. During the summer of 1831, the Prophet and others visited the area and selected a settlement site for a group of Saints migrating west from Colesville, New York. They called it—including Independence—Zion, the Center Place, because a revelation identified it as the future capital of the New Jerusalem. Joseph Smith set the cornerstone for a temple in Zion and ordained Edward Partridge a bishop to look after temporal affairs. He was the first bishop in the Church.

Meanwhile, in northern Ohio, other New York converts were establishing a second Mormon congregation in the Kirtland area. There they joined with the new Ohio converts in establishing what they intended to be a temporary community while awaiting the anticipated migration to Zion. Joseph Smith moved his family to Ohio, and from then until 1838 Kirtland was headquarters for the Church.

Revelations and Translations

The Kirtland period in Mormon history was filled with exciting religious experiences for Church members. The Saints in Kirtland witnessed an outpouring of spiritual gifts, benefited from frequent revelations to guide the new church, and watched important development in the patterns of Church government.

Among the early converts in Ohio was Luke S. Johnson. His parents, the John Johnsons, who owned a large farm near Hiram, Ohio, visited the Prophet at Kirtland. Mrs. Johnson suffered from chronic rheumatism and had been unable to use one of her arms for six years. During the visit, the Prophet took Mrs. Johnson by the hand and declared, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole.” Mrs. Johnson was healed. The occurrence left a lasting impression upon witnesses as evidence of priesthood power. This miracle was followed by other manifestations of varied gifts of the spirit among Latter-day Saints. But when certain former Shakers (members of a religious sect, started in England) attempted to imitate the true gifts with so-called “spiritual operations” practiced in their former religion, they were rebuked by the Prophet for their foolish rolling and turning and facial grimaces.

Imitators also attempted to claim revelation for the Church. A certain Mrs. Hubble, among others, asserted the right to direct the Saints in Ohio. Against such interlopers the Prophet declared by revelation, as he had done before, that the Lord had appointed one person only for that role. Through Joseph Smith, modern revelation guided the Saints in their personal lives, instructed them in church procedures, and expounded doctrine.

In 1830s the Prophet expanded doctrinal understanding by restoring lost scriptures. Two of these were the Prophecy of Enoch and the Visions and Writings of Moses, later collected in the Pearl of Great Price. In the summer of 1830 he began revising the Old and New Testaments. He worked on this project for about two years, correcting verses garbled by earlier mistranslations. During this period Joseph Smith also received many important revelations, among them a vision on the degrees of glory (D&C 76), a prophecy on war (D&C 87), the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89), instructions on priesthood (D&C 84), and important truths about man’s relationship to God (D&C 93).

From the first the Saints sought copies of the Prophet’s translations and revelations. As early as 1830 he began arranging the revelations for publication. He made editorial corrections to the revelations collected for a proposed Book of Commandments, and added a revealed preface and appendix in November 1831. Printing of the new scripture was about two-thirds complete in July 1833 when a mob destroyed the Church press at Independence. A few incomplete copies of the printed sheets were preserved by members, but further delays of two more years allowed additional changes to the volume. The Prophet enlarged the collection, added several doctrinal essays known as “Lectures on Faith,” and arranged the revelations in almost chronological order. The new scripture was published in the fall of 1835 as the Doctrine and Covenants.

While followers of the Prophet awaited his revealed pronouncements eagerly, many neighbors scorned the notion of modern revelation and all that it implied. Newspapers in Ohio ridiculed the Mormons for their beliefs, and ministers joined in and sometimes led the chorus of denunciation.

Opposition sometimes led to physical violence. The most prominent such incident in Ohio took place during the night of March 24, 1832, while Joseph Smith and his family were living at the home of John Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. That night a gang of more than two dozen men pulled the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon from their beds, choked them into submission, and dragged them into nearby fields. They scratched the Prophet fiercely with their fingernails, tried to force acid into his mouth, then smeared his naked body with tar and feathers. Elder Rigdon was left delirious from the force of his head bumping against the ground. When the Prophet left a week later on a second visit to Missouri, his antagonists pursued him. He sought protection on a river steamer and completed his trip in safety. Thereafter, he almost continuously required guards to protect him from threats of mobbings and assassination.

Troubles such as these did not halt the efforts to publish the good news of the restoration. The Church presses in Missouri and Ohio published a hymn book compiled by the Prophet’s wife, Emma, issued new editions of the scriptures, and launched The Evening and the Morning Star, the first Church-related newspaper. Missionary work expanded during the early 1830s. Short-term missionary excursions were common as elders traveled to nearby towns during slack seasons on the farm. More extended missions carried the gospel to all parts of the organized states of the United States and into Upper Canada.

Organizing the Kingdom

A central theme in both the revelations and preaching of the 1830s was that gathered modern Israel would establish the Lord’s kingdom in preparation for the Millennium. This kingdom, the restored church of Jesus Christ, was organized around principles and patterns announced by revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants of 1835 contained the earliest of the Lord’s instructions on Church government, including references to the law of consecration and stewardship and to priesthood offices.

The Lord’s ideal pattern for economic affairs was set forth in revelations in 1831 and 1832. It was called the law of consecration and stewardship. Church members agreeing to live the new economic order consecrated their property and personal possessions to the Church. In turn, the bishop returned to each member an inheritance, or stewardship, consisting of property and goods “sufficient for himself and family.” (See D&C 42:30–32.) Surpluses were assigned to those with less than the basic necessities, given to the poor, and used to finance Church publications and support full-time officers of the Church. After the original covenant of consecration, members were expected to contribute their surplus annually to the bishop.

The law of consecration and stewardship was implemented in both Ohio and Missouri. Some of the Saints demonstrated their unwillingness to live the law and a series of adjustments followed. By 1838 a less demanding system was introduced, the law of tithing. (D&C 119.)

The management of consecrations and inheritances was the responsibility of the bishop. During this period of time Bishop Partridge handled temporal affairs in Missouri and Bishop Newell K. Whitney served in Ohio. These bishops had regional jurisdiction. They were among several new priesthood officers appointed in the 1830s to govern the growing Church.

Prior to 1831 the ecclesiastical organization consisted only of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons, headed by a dual presidency of the “first” and “second” elders. During the next four years, Joseph Smith introduced several new priesthood offices and leadership quorums. Of special importance was the ordination of the first high priests at a special conference in Kirtland on June 3, 1831, and their subsequent appointment to presiding offices.

The presiding organization quickly assumed the pattern it has followed since the Kirtland period. On January 25, 1832, Joseph Smith was sustained president of the high priesthood, and within six weeks counselors Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause were appointed to complete the First Presidency. Gause served for less than a year, became disaffected, and was replaced by Frederick G. Williams. The First Presidency presided over the entire Church and also served as the presidency of the Kirtland Stake, assisted by a high council organized on February 17, 1834. That same July a stake presidency and high council were organized in Clay County, Missouri. This was the beginning of the stake as an administrative unit of the Church.

Another new office introduced by revelation was that of patriarch. Joseph Smith, Sr., received the appointment on December 18, 1833. In February 1835, the two additional general quorums were added, those of the Twelve Apostles and the Seventy.

The Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon were called to select the first apostles, choosing a dedicated group of young men between the ages of 24 and 35. Not all of these men would remain faithful to the end, but among those chosen was Brigham Young, who later became Joseph Smith’s successor as president of the Church. Not long after their ordination the new apostles were organized by Joseph Smith in a pattern of seniority according to their ages. The list included: Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, William E. M’Lellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke S. Johnson, William B. Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson.

Also in February 1835, Joseph Smith called the first seventy and organized them with seven presidents over each quorum. The presidents of the First Quorum of Seventy were to lead all of the seventies, who were to assist the Twelve in carrying the gospel to the world. Revelations in 1832 and 1835 defined the responsibilities of the new priesthood officers. These revelations are found in Sections 84 and 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 84; D&C 107].

Expulsion from Jackson County

While these administrative developments were taking place in Kirtland, the Saints in Missouri lost their initial claims to the land of Zion. In 1833 Joseph Smith outlined the pattern for the city of Zion and its temples. The city was to be 2.59 square kilometers with 4 hectares blocks, and with twenty-four temples, twelve on each of two blocks. But this vision of the millennial capital would be postponed because of conflict between the Latter-day Saints and older settlers in Missouri.

The original non-Mormon frontiersmen felt threatened by the influx of Mormon settlers. The Saints were rapidly buying property in Jackson County and soon would outnumber the Missourians. The Mormons would dominate business affairs and elections. In addition, the local citizens were suspicious of Mormon religious teachings about the gathering of Zion, consecration, and new revelations. Many of the Latter-day Saint converts came from the northeastern United States, while many early Missourians claimed allegiance to the social institutions of the South, including slavery.

Missouri citizens were particularly sensitive over the question of free blacks, and state law restricted their entry into Missouri. This issue was at the center of the controversy when hostilities against the Mormons erupted in July 1833. For several months before this time, certain influential Missouri settlers had been seeking ways to remove their unwanted neighbors. They circulated anti-Mormon articles and denounced the boasting of a few overzealous Saints who were declaring that the non-Mormon or gentile population would be forced to leave their lands. In July, the Church newspaper, The Evening and Morning Star, carried an article explaining Missouri restrictions on the immigration of free blacks. Local residents interpreted it as an encouragement to immigration and thus a threat to their slave-holding. The newspaper’s editor, William W. Phelps, quickly issued a clarification but enraged citizens had already met to draft a manifesto or “secret constitution” calling for the expulsion of the Saints.

Missourians met in public meetings later that month to win support for their ultimatum. They called upon the LDS settlers to sell their land and businesses and leave the country. When local Church leaders rejected the plan, impatient Missourians destroyed the printing shop and then attacked other Mormon businesses. Edward Partridge and Charles Allen were tarred and leathered in the public square. Three days later, a mob compelled Church officials at gunpoint to sign a promise to evacuate all Mormon property by the following spring.

Church leaders in Jackson County petitioned Missouri Governor Daniel Dunklin for protection. State officials advised the Saints to seek aid through local courts, and they did so. At the same time, they announced their intentions to defend their homes and property and began arming themselves. The Missourians interpreted this action as a violation of the Mormon promise to evacuate. On October 31, the first of several retaliatory actions against the Saints took place. About fifty men attacked a settlement along the Big Blue River, 13 kilometers west of Independence; they destroyed houses and whipped several men. Within a week, Mormon residents in Independence responded to threats against them by fleeing from their homes. During a skirmish on the Big Blue River on November 4, men on both sides were killed in an exchange of gunfire.

Lilburn W. Boggs, lieutenant governor of Missouri and a resident of Independence, served as intermediary between the opposing groups. He persuaded the Saints to surrender their arms and leave the country peacefully within ten days. Local Church leaders agreed to this plan, but the harassments continued. Men, women, and children hastily packed their belongings and scattered in several directions seeking refuge. The largest number moved directly north across the Missouri River into Clay County, Missouri where residents of Liberty, the principal town, offered work, shelter, and provisions. The refugees moved into abandoned slave cabins, built crude huts, and pitched tents. With the arrival of spring, they rented land and found work.

The untimely removal from Jackson County deeply concerned the Prophet. Not only had it brought suffering to the Saints, but it had interrupted plans to establish a central gathering place. He advised the exiles to continue their legal battle to recover their property and damages. The Saints asked the Missouri governor to provide a military escort as they reoccupied their homes, and he agreed, but said it would be the hostile Jackson County militia. Harassment of witnesses in the courts caused Church leaders to abandon that effort. They petitioned Andrew Jackson, president of the United States, but the government in Washington was strongly committed to a policy of states’ rights. Federal officials were unwilling to interfere in local affairs. Instead, they turned the question back to the state of Missouri.

While these appeals were being pursued, Joseph Smith organized a volunteer army of Latter-day Saints to assist in the redemption of the land of Zion. By February 1834 he had enlisted an advance guard from the Kirtland area and eastern United States. Other units later joined in the 1600 kilometer trek to Missouri. The 205 volunteers, known as Zion’s Camp, intended to cooperate with local militiamen in Missouri in implementing Governor Dunklin’s promise of a peaceful escort for the Mormon exiles. But the governor withdrew his offer. He feared that if he cooperated with the Latter-day Saints, disgruntled Missourians would start a civil war. Instead he urged the Saints to sell their contested lands and move elsewhere.

Representatives from both sides met June 16, 1834, at the courthouse in Liberty. Church spokesmen offered to buy out the old settlers, but they refused to sell. The Saints would not agree to sell their lands, and thus negotiations ended in a stalemate. A few days later, at the final encampment of Zion’s Camp, along Fishing River, just outside Jackson County, Missouri Joseph Smith received a revelation directing the Saints to temporarily postpone their efforts to reclaim their lands. A week later he discharged the volunteers. Many of them drifted back to Kirtland, Ohio in small parties while others remained in Missouri.

The Missouri Saints remained for two years’ time in Clay County, Missouri. Then, when the prior residents began objecting to their permanent settlement, state officials assisted in another relocation. This time the Saints occupied a sparsely settled area further north. With the concurrence of local politicians, government officials created two new counties in Missouri. Along Shoal Creek in the new Caldwell County, the Saints established the city of Far West.

(To be continued … )

[illustration] Paintings by C. C. A. Christensen

[illustration] Because of persecutions, Joseph Smith urged the Saints westward toward Zion—an untroubled land where they might live in peace and happiness, a western land the Lord had made known to him in a revelation.

[illustration] Joseph and Hyrum Smith preaching to the Indians.

[illustration] In late March 1932, at Hiram, Ohio, near Kirtland, Joseph Smith was sleeping after having stayed up most of the night with a sick child, when a dozen men burst into the room, seized him and Sidney Rigdon and dragged them into a field. They tore off his clothing, beat and scratched him, and covered his bruised body with hot tar and feathers; nevertheless he appeared at church the following day and calmly preached without mention of the attack he and Sidney had endured the previous evening.