Zion! The holy city! The New Jerusalem! Enoch built a Zion (see Moses 7:19–21), Isaiah predicted a future Zion (see Isaiah 33:20; 52:1, 8), and John the Revelator envisioned Zion’s descent from heaven (see Revelation 21:2). The publication of the Book of Mormon helped clarify this dream because it said that America would be the place of the New Jerusalem (see Ether 13:2–3; 3 Nephi 20:22). The Book of Mormon thus fired the Saints with a zeal to know the time and place for the establishment of Zion. Only in Zion, the Saints believed, could they find protection from the desolation and tribulation soon to descend upon the wicked (see D&C 29:7–9; 45:65–71). In the writings of Enoch, revealed in December of 1830, the Saints found a concrete example in the righteous achievements of Enoch and his city: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).
Locating and establishing Zion became one of the prime objectives of the Latter-day Saints. In early 1831 curiosity about the location of the land of Zion began to grow. On the day following the fourth general conference of the Church (held 3 June 1831) a revelation directed Joseph Smith and other Church leaders to go to Missouri, where the land of their inheritance would be revealed. In addition, thirteen pairs of missionaries were called to travel two by two, each pair taking a different route to Missouri, and to preach along the way (see D&C 52:3–8, 22–33; 56:5–7). Excitement reigned in and around Kirtland the next two weeks as the leaders and the elders prepared to leave. After all, the Lord gave them a promise:
“If ye are faithful ye shall assemble yourselves together to rejoice upon the land of Missouri, which is the land of your inheritance, which is now the land of your enemies.
“But, behold, I, the Lord, will hasten the city [the New Jerusalem] in its time, and will crown the faithful with joy and with rejoicing” (D&C 52:42–43).
It was during this period that Newel Knight asked the Prophet about the problem that had arisen on the consecrated lands in Thompson, Ohio. The Colesville branch members were directed to “take [their] journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites” (D&C 54:8). Hence, three different groups prepared to travel to Missouri and to meet at the western borders of that state—Joseph Smith’s party, the Colesville branch, and the missionaries.
While preparations went forward for the journey, a man who subsequently played an important role while the Church was in Missouri and afterward, William Wines Phelps, arrived from Canandaigua, New York, with his wife, Sally, and their children. Brother Phelps was thirty-nine years old and was a man of ability. As an editor of a partisan political newspaper, he was an experienced writer and printer. At one time he had been a candidate for the office of lieutenant governor of New York. He was converted to the gospel after purchasing a copy of the Book of Mormon. “By that book I found a key to the holy prophets; and by that book began to unfold the mysteries of God, and I was made glad. Who can tell his goodness, or estimate the worth of such a book?” he later wrote of the Book of Mormon in his conversion.1 Brother Phelps said he came to Kirtland to do the will of the Lord. A revelation directed to him said he was “called and chosen,” but first he was to be baptized and ordained, and then he was to accompany Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to Missouri. Once in Missouri he was to assist Oliver Cowdery with the printing and with selecting and writing books for children to be used in the schools of the Church (see D&C 55:1–5).
On 19 June, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Edward Partridge, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, William W. Phelps, and Sidney Gilbert and his wife, Elizabeth, finally began their nearly nine-hundred-mile journey from Kirtland to the western border of Missouri. At last they were fulfilling their long-awaited hope and were bound for the land of Zion, although they did not know at this point exactly where it was located. Journeying to Cincinnati, the Prophet’s company booked passage on a steamer headed down the Ohio River to its junction with the Mississippi and then on up into St. Louis. En route, they were joined by the Colesville branch under the direction of Newel Knight.2
The journey to Missouri was not an easy one. This was particularly true for the Colesville Saints, who left Thompson, Ohio, carrying their belongings and provisions in twenty-four wagons.3 At Wellsville, Ohio, they left the wagons and traveled by steamboat down the Ohio River to the junction of the Mississippi River. They then traveled up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. At St. Louis, Newel Knight and his company and some of the Prophet’s companions elected to journey by steamboat on the Missouri River. This necessitated a wait of several days before passage could be secured. The Prophet and the others set out on foot and arrived in Independence about the middle of July,4 approximately ten days before those on the steamer arrived. Joseph described the journey as “long and tedious” and said they arrived only after “suffering many privations and hardships.”5 Newel Knight said the task of leading the Colesville Saints “required all the wisdom” he possessed.6
Almost every pair of elders was ready to leave Kirtland within two weeks of their call. Each set chose a different route, because they had been commanded to “not build upon another’s foundation, neither journey in another’s track” (D&C 52:33). Some pairs of elders enjoyed greater success than others did. Parley P. Pratt, who had returned from Missouri only a few months before, and his brother Orson spent most of the summer of 1831 preaching in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Although they “suffered the hardships incident to a new and, in many places, unsettled country,” they baptized many people and organized branches in the states they passed through. They did not arrive in western Missouri until September.7
Two others who enjoyed success were Zebedee Coltrin and Levi Hancock. After leaving Kirtland, they headed south and west along the National Road toward Indianapolis, Indiana. Baptisms came slowly at first, but when they reached Winchester, Indiana, they found ready listeners. Levi wrote, “We continued to preach here and in the regions round about until we had raised a large branch of the Church.” They enjoyed similar results in Ward township, and “in a short time we had in both places about one hundred members.” Their presence aroused a group of local men who accosted them and ordered them to leave the area by ten o’clock the next morning.
The elders decided to stay and keep an eleven o’clock appointment. Some of the men who appeared for the meeting were among the ones who had threatened the missionaries. In his sermon, Levi said that his father had fought in the Revolutionary War for the freedom his listeners then enjoyed and that his relative John Hancock was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Levi recorded, “After the meeting we went to the water and baptized seventeen out of that crowd who the day before were going to mob us.” The brethren expressed gratitude for God’s protection and help on that occasion. They arrived in Missouri sometime later, Zebedee in October, and Levi, compelled to lay over because of illness, in November.8
Typical of the profound but unrealized impact missionaries often have was that of the journey across southern Indiana made by twenty-three-year-old Samuel Smith and forty-one-year-old Reynolds Cahoon. They spent three days in Green County among Cahoon’s relatives, and on their return trip two and a half months later the pair stopped again in the area for over two weeks. Among the many who were converted at the time was John Patten, who had a twenty-four-year-old brother, David, living in Michigan. John wrote to David the following spring, telling him of the restored gospel and saying that he had received the gift of the Holy Ghost. David related, “This caused my heart to leap for joy, and I resolved to go immediately and see for myself.”9 He was baptized by his brother in June of 1832 and three years later was called to be one of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation.
Several elders made the journey more quickly. Lyman Wight and John Corrill, for example, completed the trip on foot in two months—from 14 June to 13 August.10 Few of the missionaries, however, arrived in time to participate in the conference held by the Prophet. Upon arrival in Independence, some of the single elders established themselves as permanent residents, while those with families in the East returned home. With this missionary labor, many people between Kirtland, Ohio, and Independence, Missouri, became acquainted with the Latter-day Saints and what they believed. Future missionaries would reap where these earliest elders had sown.
The case of Polly Knight illustrates the strong feelings of many members of the Church. Sister Knight, mother of Newel and a member of the Colesville branch, risked her life making the trip to Zion. Polly’s health was failing, but her anxiety to see the promised land was so great that she refused to be left behind in Ohio. Nor would she remain with friends along the route for rest and recuperation. Her son wrote, “Her only, or her greatest desire, was to set her feet upon the land of Zion, and to have her body interred in that land.” Fearing that she might die at any time on the journey, Newel left the boat on one occasion and went ashore to purchase lumber for a coffin. He later reported that “the Lord gave her the desire of her heart, and she lived to stand upon that land.”11 Polly died within two weeks of her arrival in the land of Zion and was the first Latter-day Saint to be buried in Missouri. But the Lord gave these consoling words: “Those that live shall inherit the earth, and those that die shall rest from all their labors, and their works shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared for them” (D&C 59:2).
The Prophet and his brethren knew that the glorious New Jerusalem would one day stand somewhere near their stopping place because revelation said that Zion would be “on the borders by the Lamanites” (D&C 28:9) and be located in Missouri (see D&C 52:2, 42). But where? Missouri’s western border was approximately three hundred miles long. “When will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will Thy temple stand?” the Prophet asked.12 The Lord’s reply, given 20 July 1831, was simple and direct:
“This land, which is the land of Missouri … is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints. …
“… Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse” (D&C 57:1, 3). Joseph Smith and the gathering Saints were elated that at last the exact location of the promised city of Zion was revealed to them.
The gathering Saints learned that the countryside in Jackson County was beautiful with rolling hills and valleys. The climate was invigorating, the air and water clean and healthful, and the vegetation lush and green. Two clear-water streams, the Big Blue and Little Blue rivers, drained the central highlands as they flowed quietly into the Missouri River on the north. Black walnut, hickory, elm, cherry, and oak trees fronted streambeds, and an attractive carpet of bluegrass on the prairie was ideal for raising stock. This region was still largely unsettled, with the county seat, Independence, having been established four years previous. The Prophet Joseph Smith was exuberant about the prospects for the area. He taught that Jackson County, Missouri, was the location of the Garden of Eden.13
The price of land and its ready availability also attracted the Saints. In 1831 whole sections of this undeveloped country could be purchased for $1.25 per acre. The Lord directed the brethren to purchase as much land as they were able (see D&C 57:3–5; 58:37, 49–52; 63:27), and Sidney Rigdon was appointed to “write a description of the land of Zion” (D&C 58:50) to be circulated among eastern Saints in a quest for funds. Sidney Gilbert was appointed “an agent unto the Church” to receive money from contributors and buy lands (D&C 57:6). Edward Partridge, already serving as a bishop, was commanded to divide the purchased land among the gathering Saints as “their inheritance” (D&C 57:7). The Lord also cautioned regarding Zion, “Let all these things be done in order. … And let the work of the gathering be not in haste, nor by flight” (D&C 58:55–56).
Two important items required Joseph Smith’s attention in Missouri before he returned to Ohio: the dedication of the land as a place of gathering for the Saints and the dedication of the temple site itself. Both events were presided over by the Prophet Joseph Smith. At a special service on 2 August 1831, twelve men (in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel), five of them from the Colesville branch, laid the first log “as a foundation of Zion in Kaw township, twelve miles west of Independence.”14 Sidney Rigdon consecrated and dedicated the land unto the Lord. As part of the service he asked his listeners, “Do you pledge yourselves to keep the laws of God on this land, which you never have kept in your own lands? [The audience responded,] we do. Do you pledge yourselves to see that others of your brethren who shall come hither do keep the laws of God? [Those present again said,] we do. After [the dedicatory] prayer [Elder Rigdon] arose and said, I now pronounce this land consecrated and dedicated to the Lord for a possession and inheritance for the Saints (in the name of Jesus Christ, having authority from him). And for all the faithful servants of the Lord to the remotest ages of time. Amen.”15
The dedication of the temple site in Independence took place the next day; again the services were simple but inspiring. Following the reading of Psalm 87, which extols the glory and majesty of Zion, a single stone, marking the southeast corner, was laid in place. Joseph Smith then dedicated the temple site by prayer. He reported that “the scene was solemn and impressive.”16
According to previous commandment (see D&C 52:2), the brethren convened a conference on 4 August in Kaw township, and the Prophet presided. Sidney Rigdon admonished the Saints to obey every requirement of heaven, and other business of the Church was transacted before the brethren disbanded and returned to Ohio.17
The return journey (by canoe on the Missouri River) began on 9 August 1831. The company stopped the first night at Fort Osage, a government-maintained outpost that provided protection from marauding Indians. On the third day, W. W. Phelps saw a vision of “the destroyer in his most horrible power” riding upon the water. Other people present heard the noise of the evil one.18 This encounter left a strong impression on the travelers, some of whom feared for their safety.
The next morning Joseph received a revelation informing the elders that it was not necessary for the entire company to return to their homes in haste, particularly with many people on either side of the river “perishing in unbelief” (D&C 61:3). The waters, especially “these waters” (Missouri River), were declared to hold particular dangers for travelers; nevertheless, the Lord revealed, “It mattereth not unto me, after a little, if it so be that they fill their mission, whether they go by water or by land” (D&C 61:5, 22). The elders were to travel two by two and “declare the word among the congregations of the wicked” (D&C 61:33). The next day the brethren had a joyful meeting with several elders who were still on their way to the land of Zion. Joseph Smith received a revelation in their behalf urging them to continue on to Zion and to hold a meeting of rejoicing there (see D&C 62:1–4).
Joseph Smith and the others arrived in Kirtland late in August. He noted that their efforts to preach the gospel along the way were hindered because Satan had blinded the eyes of the people.19 He also reported to the Saints in Ohio the glorious events he and his brethren experienced in locating the land of Zion. At this time the Lord promised that the members in Ohio who contributed to the Saints in Zion would “receive an inheritance in this world, … and also a reward in the world to come” (D&C 63:48).
Settling a frontier land was a new experience for most of the Saints who arrived from the East. Timber needed to be cut; ferries, bridges, mills, and dams had to be built; homes, out-buildings, and fences had to be constructed. Remembering the fall of 1831, Newel Knight wrote, “We were not accustomed to a frontier life, so things around us seemed new and strange and the work we had to do was of a different nature to that which had been done in the East. Yet we took hold with cheerful hearts, and a determination to do our best, and with all diligence went to work to secure food and prepare for the coming winter.”20 Parley P. Pratt commended the industry and optimism of a group of the Missouri Saints:
“They had arrived late in the summer, and cut some hay for their cattle, sowed a little grain, and prepared some ground for cultivation, and were engaged during the fall and winter in building log cabins, etc. The winter was cold, and for some time about ten families lived in one log cabin, which was open and unfinished, while the frozen ground served for a floor. Our food consisted of beef and a little bread made of corn, which had been grated into coarse meal by rubbing the ears on a tin grater. This was rather an inconvenient way of living for a sick person; but it was for the gospel’s sake, and all were very cheerful and happy. …
“… There was a spirit of peace and union, and love and good will manifested in this little Church in the wilderness, the memory of which will be ever dear to my heart.” Plainly it was not what Zion was but what it could become that buoyed up the Saints and lifted sagging spirits.21
Gradually funds began arriving from the East. By January 1832, Bishop Edward Partridge had received $2,694.70 and expended $2,677.83.22 He bought more land and superintended the establishment of a storehouse to receive and distribute the consecrations of the Saints. Church leaders in Missouri also began a printing enterprise as they had been commanded (see D&C 58:37). W. W. Phelps, who was called to be the printer and newspaper editor in Zion (see D&C 57:11–12), prepared to publish the Church’s first periodical, the Evening and Morning Star.
During the spring and summer of 1832, three to four hundred more Saints arrived in Missouri, where they received their inheritances from the bishop and began developing the land. An observer reported the intensity of their efforts and industry: “It was a strange sight indeed, to see four or five yoke of oxen turning up the rich soil. Fencing and other improvements went on in rapid succession. Cabins were built and prepared for families as fast as time, money and labor could accomplish the work; and our homes in this new country presented a prosperous appearance—almost equal to Paradise itself—and our peace and happiness, as we flattered ourselves, were not in a great degree deficient to that of our first parents in the garden of Eden, as no labor or painstaking was spared in the cultivation of flowers and shrubbery of a choice selection.”23
But if land was plentiful, skilled artisans and builders were scarce. The majority of residents in Zion were farmers and common laborers. What was needed were wheelwrights, blacksmiths, brick masons, and carpenters. A revelation specifying the need to send for workmen “of all kinds unto this land, to labor for the saints of God” did not bring swift response (D&C 58:54). Levi Hancock, a carpenter and resident of Zion, had more work than he could handle. His first project was building a combined home and printing office for W. W. Phelps.24
On 29 May 1832 a conference was held in the newly completed printing office for the purpose of dedicating the facility. Remarks were given by Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps, and then Bishop Edward Partridge offered the dedicatory prayer.25
In June 1832, Elder Phelps began publishing the Evening and Morning Star. Over the next year, the Star published numerous revelations given to Joseph Smith that later were included in the Doctrine and Covenants. Since it was the only newspaper in the county and printed both national and international news, it was read by non-Mormons as well as by members of the Church. But the paper performed its greatest service for the Saints. Considerable attention was devoted in every issue to urging members to faithfulness in performing religious and family duties. In the first edition, W. W. Phelps urged the Saints: “The disciples should lose no time in preparing schools for their children, that they may be taught as is pleasing unto the Lord, and brought up in the way of holiness. Those appointed to select and prepare books for the use of schools, will attend to that subject, as soon as more weighty matters are finished. But the parents and guardians in the Church of Christ need not wait—it is all important that children, to become good should be taught so.”26 In the fall of 1832, a school, known as the Colesville School, was started near a large spring in Kaw township; Parley P. Pratt was the first teacher. Later that same year a second school was opened in Independence in a log schoolhouse erected for that purpose near the temple lot.27
Proper observance of the Lord’s Day received special emphasis in the Star. One of the first revelations received by Joseph Smith in Zion admonished the Saints to “go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day … , and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:9–10).
Setting Sunday apart from other days and acknowledging it as a holy day was not the custom of the other residents of Jackson County. Reinforcing the message of this revelation, the Star offered this advice to the Saints: “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The Lord is not well pleased with a disciple that does any thing on that holy day that should be done on a laboring day. Nor should a disciple go to meeting one Sabbath here, and another there; let all that can, be strict to attend meeting in their own place. … Neither should the children be allowed to slip off and play, rather than meet where they may be trained up in the way they should go to be saved. We are the children of God, and let us not put off his law. When a saint works on the Sabbath, the world can reply: So do we. When the saints travel to do business on the Sabbath, the world can reply: So do we. When the saints go from one meeting to another to see and be seen, the world can reply: So do we. When the children of the saints play on the Sabbath, the world can reply: So do ours. Brethren, watch, that you may enter into the Lord’s sacred rest.”28
But the subject of the gathering received the most attention in the pages of the Star, and many articles were printed dealing with the matter. In July, Elder Phelps reminded migrating Saints that they were to bring a recommend from the bishop in Ohio or from three elders. They were also advised not to proceed to Zion without being told by one of the bishops that preparations had been made for them. Failure to observe this caution, he warned, “would produce pestilence” and cause confusion. “Moreover by being in haste, and forcing the sale of property, unreasonable sacrifices have been made, and although this is a day of sacrifice and tithing, yet to make lavish and unreasonable sacrifices, is not well pleasing in the sight of the Lord.”29 Later, Saints traveling to Zion were counseled to keep God’s commandments “in every point” and set such a good example that others would “be constrained to say: They act like the children of God.”30
By November 1832 there were 810 Saints in Missouri. Up to this point Zion was able to absorb its immigrants, and the Saints were pleased with the results. Editorials in the Star reflected their optimism, as future prospects for Zion appeared bright and promising.