In 1830 almost everyone in Kirtland, Ohio, was talking about the “Golden Bible” that missionaries had brought from New York. Many people were excited about the gospel, had been baptized, and were telling friends about their new faith. Others were offended by this new religion and went about warning their neighbors against it. It seemed that there was not even a mousehole where the Church was not being either commended or condemned.
All this talk caused a great curiosity about the Church and the Book of Mormon. Twelve-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rollins, a recently baptized member, wanted to see the Book of Mormon, but at that time there were very few copies of it available. When she heard that a neighbor, Isaac Morley, had one, she went to his home to see it. When she first glimpsed at the book, an overwhelming desire came over her to read it. Gathering her courage, she asked if she could take the book home and read it while Brother Morley attended a missionary meeting that evening.
Brother Morley hesitated but finally said, “Child, if you will bring this book back before breakfast tomorrow morning, you may take it.”
Mary hurried home with the book, threw open the door, and exclaimed to her uncle and aunt, “Here is the ‘Golden Bible!’”
Immediately her aunt and uncle sat down with her and began taking turns reading until late at night. Mary got up the next morning as soon as it was light enough to see and memorized the first verse. Then she hurried to Brother Morley’s house to return the book.
Upon greeting her, Brother Morley said, “I guess you did not read much in it.” When Mary showed him how far they had read, he was surprised. “I don’t believe you can tell me one word of it,” he said. Mary repeated the verse she had memorized and told him the story of Nephi. At that, Brother Morley gazed at her and said, “Child, take this book home and finish it. I can wait.”
Mary was one of many who joined the Church in Kirtland. The area soon became a thriving center of gospel activity, and in December 1830, the Lord gave the Saints everywhere a commandment to gather together with the Saints already living in Ohio (see D&C 37). This was very difficult for many members of the Church. It meant that they would have to sell their homes and leave their families and friends. Many even had to leave behind personal belongings that wouldn’t fit into their few trunks. It was a great trial, but most of them realized that it was also a great blessing to be gathered where they could worship together and help each other.
At the end of January 1831, Joseph and Emma Smith traveled to Ohio from New York in a horse-drawn sleigh. It was very cold, and Emma was expecting a baby. They arrived safely in front of Newel K. Whitney’s store in Kirtland during the first part of February. As they stopped, the prophet sprang from the sleigh, entered the store, and approached Brother Whitney, whom he had never met before. “Newel K. Whitney!” he declared, extending his hand to shake. “Thou art the man.”
“You have the advantage of me,” replied Brother Whitney. “I could not call you by name as you have me.”
“I am Joseph the Prophet. You prayed me here, now what do you want of me?” Joseph then explained that while he was still in New York he had seen Brother Whitney in a vision, praying for him to come to Kirtland. With great joy, the Whitneys made room in their home for the Smiths until they could find another place to live.
As soon as they were able to sell their homes, other members of the Church followed Joseph. Some also went by sleigh; others went by stagecoach or wagon. There are many rivers and lakes in western New York and Ohio. Canals had been dug to connect these waterways, so most of the Saints went by barge and boat. Three groups from New York made the journey to Kirtland in this way. They were the Colesville, Fayette, and Palmyra-Manchester branches of the Church.
The Fayette group was led by Thomas B. Marsh and the Prophet Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy had called the 20 adults and 30 children together and reminded them that they were traveling by commandment of the Lord, just as father Lehi had when he left Jerusalem. She said that if they would remain faithful, they could expect the blessings of God, just as Lehi’s people had.
The group traveled on the Cayuga and Seneca Canal to Buffalo, New York, where they planned to take a steamboat across Lake Erie to Kirtland. But when they arrived in Buffalo, ice blocked the harbor and further travel was impossible.
They experienced hardships, including hunger and sickness, while they waited for the ice to break. After several days, they put their belongings on a boat, and Lucy persuaded the group to ask the Lord to break the six-meter-high ice barriers that jammed the harbor.
No sooner had they finished praying than a thunderous noise exploded in the air. The captain cried, “Every man to his post!”
The Fayette Saints looked up to see the ice parting to make a passageway just large enough for their boat. When the boat entered the opening, the ice was so close on both sides that buckets were ripped from its waterwheel.
As soon as the boat passed through, the opening closed and no other boat could get through. Once again the prayers of the people had been heard! Because people on shore saw the ripping of the waterwheel, they thought the boat would sink in the icy harbor. So when the Fayette Saints arrived in Kirtland, many people there were surprised to see them.
Soon the other New York Saints arrived and found new homes. It had been very difficult to make the move, but it was worth it to be with others who believed in the divine message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.