In the winter of 1838–39, Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, falsely accused of murder and other crimes, and thousands of Latter-day Saints were being forced to leave their homes in Missouri. When Church leaders learned that the citizens of western Illinois would help the Saints, they told the Church members to migrate there. Many settled in and around the community of Quincy.
The Church leaders wrote to Joseph Smith, 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. Before long, hundreds of people in Nauvoo and across the Mississippi River in Montrose, Iowa, were very ill. Many were dying.
For a time Joseph and Emma Smith nursed and cared for the sick, but then Joseph also became ill. For several days he lay overcome with the sickness. But on 22 July 1839, the Spirit of the Lord prompted Joseph to arise and help others. 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 went down to the river, where many more lay too sick to move.
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 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 arose from his bed and was healed!
Wilford Woodruff said of the miraculous healing: “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. Soon Nauvoo had many shops and factories. 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 thousands of people would gather to hear the Prophet and others speak.
Once Chief Keokuk and about 100 chiefs and braves and their families of the Sac and Fox Indian tribes called on the Prophet. Joseph escorted them, while a marching band played, to the grove. There 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 stop fighting, and follow the good talk you have given us.”*
Before long, Nauvoo was a thriving city, truly the beautiful place of its name. There were several happy years. But again the peace did not last.
On 27 June 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed in Carthage Jail. The next morning their bodies were placed in two wagons and driven to Nauvoo. It was the saddest day Nauvoo or the Church had ever known.
Many of the anti-Mormons thought Joseph’s death would bring an end to the Church, but it did not. 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.