Chapter Seventeen

Refuge in Illinois

“Chapter Seventeen: Refuge in Illinois,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 211–24

Some people saw the flight from Missouri as evidence that the Lord had forsaken the Saints. The Prophet Joseph was in Liberty Jail with no prospect of release. Whatever hope the Saints had of regaining political rights and property in Missouri or establishing the city of Zion was dimmed. Even some Church members questioned the wisdom of gathering the Saints again into one location.

Where were the Church members to go for refuge? The vast Indian tracts to the west were not open to settlers. Iowa to the north was sparsely settled but offered little timber upon its vast, rolling plains. Going south meant traveling through hostile Missouri communities. The route east was most familiar and reassuring to Church members. Many of the Saints had traveled it only months before in exile from Kirtland. Now some of them were considering a return to Ohio. Crossing the Mississippi and pausing in some of the small Illinois communities along its bank, however, provided the respite necessary for the Saints to receive new direction from Church leaders.

map, Missouri area

Options were limited as the Saints were driven from Missouri from the fall of 1838 into the spring of 1839. The most attractive possibility was to return east. For economic, political, and humanitarian reasons, Illinois initially welcomed the refugees.

Resettlement of the Saints

The months following the surrender of Far West severely tested the leadership of the Church. The entire First Presidency—Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith—were in jail. The ranks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had been thinned. David W. Patten had been killed in the Battle of Crooked River, Parley P. Pratt was in jail, and his brother Orson was with a group of Saints in St. Louis. Thomas B. Marsh, William Smith, and Orson Hyde were disaffected with the Church and consequently were of no help. Therefore the responsibility of overseeing the needs of the Church during the winter of 1838–39 and throughout the exodus from Missouri to Illinois fell mostly upon Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. John Taylor was called to the apostleship in December 1838. Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith were added the following April; both of these men were able to provide valuable assistance during this critical time.

Church leaders delayed as long as possible the decision to leave Missouri, hoping that the legislature would revoke Governor Boggs’s extermination order. They sent numerous petitions to state officials and to the legislature requesting them to let the Saints remain in their homes, but their pleas were ignored.

Meanwhile the Missourians grew impatient with the lingering Saints. In early 1839 Church leaders became convinced that their people could no longer hope to remain in Missouri. On 26 January, Brigham Young had created the Committee on Removal to facilitate the exodus. Throughout the winter and spring this committee arranged to feed, clothe, and transport the poor. By formal resolution nearly four hundred Latter-day Saints covenanted to place all of their available property at the disposal of the committee “for the purpose of providing means for the removing from this state of the poor and destitute who shall be considered worthy, till there shall not be one left who desires to remove from the state.”1 Even Joseph Smith somehow sent one hundred dollars from Liberty Jail to assist the effort.

By mid-February conditions were such that a large-scale migration of the Saints began. Wagons and teams, although not of the best quality, had been acquired; food reserves were in place along the migration route; and there was a temporary break in the weather. Nevertheless, leaving Missouri was not easy for the refugees. Many people sold precious possessions and lands at unreasonably low prices to obtain means to flee the state. One Missourian bought forty acres of good land from a Church member for a “blind mare and a clock.” Some other tracts of land sold for only fifty cents per acre.2 Some people with oxen teams made several trips between Caldwell County and the Mississippi River, two hundred miles to the east, to convey friends and relatives out of danger. Amanda Smith, widowed at Haun’s Mill, and her five children left Far West by ox team. Once her family was beyond the reach of the Missouri mobs she sent her team back to help other Saints in their trek eastward.

Charles C. Rich (1809–83)

Charles C. Rich (1809–83) joined the Church in 1832. He assumed command at the Battle of Crooked River when David W. Patten was mortally wounded. He was a military and Church leader during the Nauvoo period. Brigham Young assigned him to preside over the temporary settlement of Mount Pisgah in Iowa in the winter of 1846–47.

He was ordained an Apostle on 12 February 1849. In the spring of 1864 he became one of the first settlers in Bear Lake Valley (Idaho and Utah) and was responsible for the settlement of that region. He was known for his goodness, generosity, and physical strength. He often carried the mail across the mountains to Salt Lake City during the winter when roads were blocked.

Charles C. Rich fled Missouri sometime in November to avoid arrest for his involvement in the Battle of Crooked River. He left behind his twenty-three-year-old wife, Sarah, who finally was able to leave Far West with the help of her father, John Pea. Her health was poor, and she was confined to a wagon bed for the entire journey to the Mississippi. She was accompanied by Hosea Stout’s wife, Samantha. Once there they found the ice breaking up and the crossing extremely hazardous. George Grant voluntarily braved the ice floes to carry a message to their husbands. As he neared the Illinois shore, he fell through what had appeared to be solid ice. He was, however, rescued.

Charles C. Rich and Hosea Stout, upon hearing that their wives had arrived, crossed the river in a canoe to meet them. The next morning they decided it would be best to bring Sarah, who was about to have her first child, and two other women to the Illinois side. They were forced by lack of space to leave Sarah’s father to wait for the ferry. On the return journey huge blocks of ice threatened to crush the small canoe. Occasionally the men jumped onto the ice to push the craft out of danger. Meanwhile, Sarah’s father, watching with tear-filled eyes, saw the party’s safe arrival on the Illinois side.3

For Emma Smith, the months after Joseph’s arrest were especially trying. In February 1839 a neighbor, Jonathan Holman, helped her place her four children and her meager belongings into a straw-lined wagon pulled by two horses. On the evening prior to her departure she received from Miss Ann Scott the priceless manuscripts of her husband’s “translation” of the Bible. James Mulholland, the Prophet’s secretary, had given the papers to Ann for safekeeping, thinking that the mob might not search a woman. Ann had made two cotton bags to hold the documents. Emma used these same cotton bags to carry the manuscripts from Missouri to Illinois, tying them under her long skirt.

When the party arrived at the Mississippi they found the river frozen over. Rather than risk the weight of the wagon, Emma walked across the ice holding two children, with the other two clinging to her skirt. They finally arrived safely at the outskirts of the village of Quincy, Illinois, where Emma lived until Joseph’s release.

Arrival in Quincy

Until mid-spring 1839 Church leaders who were not in jail had no definite plan for where the Saints should settle. Word reached the leaders that the citizens of Illinois were sympathetic to their plight and would welcome the Saints. Many people in Illinois believed that a large influx of Mormons would help their struggling economy. The state’s politicians also encouraged immigration because Illinois was nearly equally divided between the Whigs and Democrats. Each party hoped to attract the large Mormon vote.

Benevolent residents in Quincy, a community of twelve hundred, were generous and sympathetic to the plight of the exiles. Many of them opened their homes and provided jobs. They collected money, food, clothing, and other necessities on more than one occasion. The Democratic Association of Quincy was particularly instrumental in assisting the Saints. It convened three times during the week of 25 February to consider ways of helping the homeless exiles. Sidney Rigdon was invited to report on the condition of the Saints; collections were taken up, and resolutions were passed condemning Missouri’s treatment of the Mormons. The association resolved that the people of Quincy should “observe a becoming decorum and delicacy [around the Saints] and be particularly careful not to indulge in any conversation or expressions calculated to wound their feelings, or in any way to reflect upon those, who by every law of humanity, are entitled to our sympathy and commiseration.”4 The leaders of the association also tried to help the Church gain redress from Missouri.

Peaceful relations with the people of Quincy and the Democratic party were threatened, however, by the unwise conduct of Lyman Wight. In a series of letters published in the local newspaper, he blamed the Missouri outrages on the national Democratic party. Quincy Democrats were understandably upset by his accusations and asked Church leaders whether this reflected the official view of the Church. On 17 May the First Presidency wrote a letter disavowing Wight’s accusations. They also asked Elder Wight, if he continued to write against a political party, to make it clear that he was representing his own views and not those of the Church.

Throughout the late winter and spring, thousands of Latter-day Saints arrived at the western bank of the Mississippi across from Quincy. Elizabeth Haven wrote that in late February “about 12 families cross the river into Quincy every day and about 30 are constantly at the other side waiting to cross; it is slow and grimy; there is only one ferry boat to cross in.”5 Moderating weather caused dangerous ice floes to further inhibit progress of the crossings. When another cold spell set in and the river again froze over, scores of Saints hurried to cross on the ice.

As Quincy filled with hundreds of refugees, the living conditions there deteriorated. The Saints, most of whom were almost entirely destitute, suffered from hunger in the cold, rain, and mud.6 Even so, they kept up their religious observances. For a time the Saints were more numerous than any other religious denomination in the community. Non-Mormon Wandle Mace took in many Saints and was eventually converted himself. His home was used as a meeting and council house and as a shelter for the destitute. He reported that “very many nights the floors, upstairs and down, were covered with beds so closely it was impossible to set a foot anywhere without stepping on a bed.”7

James and Drusilla Dorris Hendricks

James and Drusilla Dorris Hendricks were married in 1825. Their faith and sacrifice were typical of many early Missouri refugees. They arrived in Utah in 1847 in the Jedediah Grant Company. James served as bishop of the Nineteenth Ward from 1850–57.

Courtesy of Barlow family

The story of Drusilla Hendricks is typical of the Quincy experience. Her husband, James, had been shot in the neck in the Battle of Crooked River and had to be carried about on a stretcher. The family arrived in Quincy on 1 April and secured a room “partly underground and partly on top of the ground.” Within two weeks they were on the verge of starving, having only one spoonful of sugar and a saucer full of corn meal to eat. Drusilla made mush out of it. Thinking they would eventually starve, she washed everything, cleaned their little room thoroughly, and waited for the worst. That afternoon Rubin Alred came by and told her he had had a feeling they were out of food, so on his way into town he had a sack of grain ground into meal for them. Two weeks later they were again without food. Drusilla remembered, “I felt awful, but the same voice that gave me comfort before was there to comfort me again and it said, hold on, the Lord will provide for his Saints.” This time Alexander Williams arrived at the back door with two bushels of meal on his shoulder. He told her he had been extremely busy but the Spirit had whispered to him that “Brother Hendricks’ family is suffering, so I dropped everything and came by.”8

Eight to ten thousand Latter-day Saints migrated to western Illinois that season. The community of Quincy could not accommodate all the new arrivals. During the spring and summer of 1839 many people were forced into surrounding farmlands and adjoining counties wherever they could find a place to stay.

Settling Nauvoo

While the Saints were scattering across eastern Missouri and into Illinois, Joseph Smith was confined in Liberty Jail. Soon after the fall of Far West a group of veterans from the Battle of Crooked River became lost as they were escaping from their oppressors and ended up at the Des Moines River just north of where it joined the Mississippi. There they met Isaac Galland, one of the largest land speculators in the area. After hearing the plight of the Saints, Galland offered to sell the Church large parcels of land in Iowa and Illinois. In February the men took this information to the Church leaders in Quincy who were meeting to decide what to do next.

Isaac Galland (1791–1858)

Isaac Galland (1791–1858) was a land speculator in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. In 1839 he sold large parcels of land to the Church. He was later baptized and for a while acted as the Church land agent in trying to pay Church debts. His efforts produced little financial relief for the Church. In 1841–42 he fell away from the Church, although he apparently remained friendly toward it.

Sidney Rigdon, Edward Partridge, and a few others questioned the wisdom of gathering to one place again; they felt that this had been the major source of their problems in Missouri and Ohio. On the other hand, Brigham Young counseled the Saints to gather so they could better help each other. Uncertain how to act, the brethren wrote to the Prophet asking his advice. On 22 March the Prophet advised the brethren to buy the property and not to scatter.

In April, Joseph and Hyrum Smith and their fellow prisoners were allowed to escape from Missouri. They arrived in Quincy on 22 April 1839. The Prophet felt that it was the prayers of the brethren that had helped him escape. As Joseph arrived at the Quincy ferry, Dimick B. Huntington recognized him: “He was dressed in an old pair of boots full of holes, pants torn, tucked inside of boots, blue cloak with collar turned up, wide brim black hat, rim sopped down, not been shaved for some time, looked pale and haggard.”9 Since the Prophet wanted his arrival to be unnoticed, they took the back streets of the city to the Cleveland home four miles away from town where Emma was staying. She recognized her husband as he climbed off his horse and met him joyfully halfway to the gate.

Since the spring planting season was approaching, the Prophet wasted no time in moving the Church into action. Two days after his arrival a council meeting decided to send him and several others upstream to Iowa “for the purpose of making a location for the Church.”10 The next day the Prophet examined lands on both sides of the Mississippi River.

Once the decision was made to gather and relocate the Saints, the Church leaders moved vigorously to procure the necessary land. By the end of the summer of 1839 four major land transactions were completed to provide the Church the area it needed. The largest parcel was nearly twenty thousand acres of land purchased from Isaac Galland on the Iowa side of the river, as well as a small portion in Illinois. The other three purchases, totalling over six hundred acres, were across from the Iowa bank on a horseshoe-shaped bend in the river in Illinois. Two small towns, Commerce and Commerce City, had been platted on this land, but they had only a handful of dwellings between them. Some of the flatlands near the river were swampy because of a high water table and springs that flowed from the foot of the bluffs to the east and were consequently unhealthy. But Joseph Smith and the brethren were certain that they could make the area a suitable place of habitation for the Saints.

map, Commerce area

Although the largest tracts of land the Church purchased were in Iowa, the most important Latter-day Saint communities were in Illinois.

Since both the refugees and the Church in general had little cash, the land was purchased largely on credit. Reasonable interest rates and long-term payments were attractive at the time, but given the indigent circumstances of the Saints, they became a heavy burden on the Church’s resources throughout the Nauvoo period. For the next several years Joseph Smith solicited funds from Church members to help with the payments. Properties were sold in Nauvoo, but the Saints could rarely pay with cash. Consequently, the payment for the properties on both sides of the river was never totally resolved during the period the Church was in that region.

After making the original land purchases on 30 April 1839, the Prophet and his associates returned to Quincy to complete preparations for the migration northward. A conference was held near Quincy on 4–5 May. At this time the body of the Church sanctioned the land acquisition and resolved that the next conference would be held in Commerce the first week in October. By 10 May the Prophet had returned to Commerce with his family and taken up residence in a small log house known as the Homestead close to the river on the southern end of the peninsula. While land was being cleared, surveyed, and platted, and the swamp drained, most arriving Saints lived in wagons, tents, or dugouts. Joseph and Emma took many of them into their own meager quarters. Across the river in Montrose, several families, including those of Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Orson Pratt, lived in empty military barracks left from the Black Hawk War.

The Joseph Smith homestead in Nauvoo

The Joseph Smith homestead in Nauvoo. The Prophet and his family lived here from 1839 to 1843. The north ell was added by the Prophet Joseph Smith about 1840. In about 1856 the Prophet’s son Joseph Smith III added the larger addition to the west.

In a public letter on 1 July, Joseph Smith called upon all Saints everywhere to migrate to the new site. Thousands responded to his call. During this same time Joseph was occupied with dictating his personal history and teaching the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who were soon to leave on missions to Great Britain.

Sometime during these busy weeks the Prophet named the new Illinois site Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful.” The first formal use of the name Nauvoo was to place it on the official plat of the city on 30 August 1839. The United States post office adopted the name change in April of 1840, and in March of that year the city council passed an ordinance incorporating the sites of Commerce and Commerce City into Nauvoo. Once the success of this gathering place seemed assured and the Saints began swarming into the area, other landholders saw advantages in creating subdivisions which were attached to Nauvoo as “additions.”

Sickness and a Day of God’s Power

In the summer of 1839 the swamp area on the Nauvoo peninsula had not yet been drained. While the Saints gathered, cleared, drained, built, and planted, they were oblivious to the danger of the Anopheles mosquito. This tiny insect, which bred profusely in the swampland and along the Mississippi riverbank, transmitted parasites to the red blood cells of humans by its bite. The disease this caused, characterized by periodic attacks of chills and fever, is now known as malaria, but people in the nineteenth century called it and diseases with similar symptoms the ague (pronounced `a gyu).

Scores of Church members on both sides of the river fell ill. The residents of the temporary tent city surrounding the Prophet’s home were stricken by the disease as were the Saints staying in his home. Emma nursed the people night and day, while Joseph’s six-year-old son carried water for the sick until he also caught the disease. The pestilence was indiscriminate, affecting all ages and classes. One of the early fatalities in the city was Oliver Huntington’s mother, Zina. The Prophet Joseph invited Oliver to bring his family, who were all ill, to his home for needed care. The Whitney family was in a similar situation. Elizabeth Ann reported that they “were only just barely able to crawl around and wait upon each other.”11 In those circumstances Elizabeth gave birth to her ninth child. When Joseph learned of their plight he insisted that the family move in with him. They accepted his offer and took up residence in a small cottage in Joseph’s yard. By 12 July, Joseph Smith, Sr., was so ill he was near death.

Eventually Joseph Smith also became ill, but after several days’ confinement he was prompted to arise and extend help to others. The day of 22 July was, in the words of Wilford Woodruff, “a day of God’s power” in Nauvoo and Montrose.12 That morning the Prophet arose and, being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, administered to the sick in his house and in the yard outside. More sick people were down by the river, and there too he administered with great power to the faithful. One such, Henry G. Sherwood, was near death. Joseph stepped to the door of Brother Sherwood’s tent and commanded him to rise and come out; he obeyed and was healed. Elder Heber C. Kimball and others accompanied the Prophet across the river to Montrose. One by one they visited the homes of the Twelve and administered to those who needed a blessing. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and John Taylor then joined Joseph in his mission of mercy.

One of the most memorable of the healings in Montrose was that of Elijah Fordham. When the brethren arrived he was lying in bed unable to speak.

“Brother Joseph walked up to Brother Fordham, and took him by the right hand. …

“He saw that Brother Fordham’s eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.

“After taking hold of his hand, he looked down into the dying man’s face and said: ‘Brother Fordham, do you not know me?’ At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.

“He again said: ‘Elijah, do you not know me?’

“With a low whisper, Brother Fordham answered, ‘Yes!’

“The Prophet then said, ‘Have you not faith to be healed?’

“The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was: ‘I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think it might have been.’

“He had the appearance of a man waking from sleep. It was the sleep of death.

“Joseph then said: ‘Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?’

“‘I do, Brother Joseph,’ was the response.

“Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead: ‘Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!’

“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.

“Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act.”13

Elijah Fordham (1798–1879)

Elijah Fordham (1798–1879) accepted the gospel in 1833 in Michigan. In 1835 he was ordained a seventy by Joseph Smith in Kirtland. Following his miraculous healing at the hands of Joseph Smith in Montrose, Iowa, Elijah moved to Nauvoo and worked on the temple until the Saints were forced from Illinois in 1846. He went to Utah in 1850 and continued faithful in the gospel the remainder of his life.

Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City

They next visited Joseph B. Noble, who was also healed. Wilford Woodruff remembered this as the “greatest day for the manifestation of the power of God through the gift of healing since the organization of the Church.”14

As the brethren were at the riverbank preparing to cross back to Nauvoo, a nonmember who had heard of the miracles that day asked the Prophet if he would come and administer to his dying twin babies about two miles from Montrose. Joseph said he could not go, but he gave Wilford Woodruff a red silk handkerchief and told him to administer to them, promising that when he wiped their faces with it they would be healed. The Prophet also promised that the handkerchief would remain a bond between them as long as Wilford kept it. Obedient to the charge, Wilford testified that the children were healed. He treasured the keepsake the rest of his life.15

Despite this unusual demonstration of faith and power, sickness raged among the Saints in Nauvoo throughout the summer and into the fall. Only as winter approached did the outbreak begin to subside. In October, Elizabeth Haven reported from the general conference held in Nauvoo, which she attended. She wrote home to New England: “The Prophet says it is a sickly place, but is made known to him that it shall be sanctified and be a place of gathering.”16

The illnesses were not confined to Nauvoo. Many Latter-day Saints in Quincy also suffered between February and September of 1839. In Commerce many people were sick, but there were few deaths. In Quincy, however, death caused great “havoc among the Saints.” Elizabeth Haven wrote to her family, “O my friends, you know nothing about the ague, how it prostrates and bewilders the mind and impairs the health.” Some families suffered the loss of two or three of their loved ones. The Goddard family, living across the street from Elizabeth, lost both parents and a sixteen-year-old daughter. Five children survived, but at one time four of them were sick. Providentially, Elizabeth did not contract the disease. She spent the summer and fall nursing others. So great was the need for nursing care that she did not get to a Sabbath meeting between June and October. She considered the trials of Far West small compared to “what they have been of late.”17

Elizabeth Haven (1811–92)

Elizabeth Haven (1811–92), a cousin of Brigham Young and Willard Richards, accepted the gospel in 1837. After the expulsion from Missouri she nursed many sick Saints in Quincy, Illinois. Her letters are a valuable source of information on this period of Church history. While in Quincy she met and married Israel Barlow. They migrated to Utah and settled in Bountiful. She died Christmas Day 1892.

Seeking Redress for Missouri Grievances

While the Prophet and others suffered in Liberty Jail in 1838–39, they had discussed how to obtain redress from the state of Missouri for the land and property lost by the Saints during the persecutions of 1833 and 1838–39. In 1833 the Lord directed the brethren to petition the local and state governments. If this failed they were to seek help from the federal government (see D&C 101:81–91). This approach had been used first in 1834 when the Church unsuccessfully appealed to President Andrew Jackson. In March 1839, while in the Liberty Jail, the Prophet received a revelation that the Church should again appeal to the United States government for redress of the wrongs the Saints had suffered in Missouri. The members of the Church were charged to gather “up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State [Missouri].” This would be “the last effort which is enjoined on us by our Heavenly Father, before we can fully and completely claim that promise which shall call him forth from his hiding place” (D&C 123:1, 6).

Because of ill health Sidney Rigdon had been released from prison before the other members of the First Presidency. In Illinois he met with Governor Thomas Carlin and related the plight of the Saints. He also developed a plan to obtain redress based on a statement in the United States Constitution that “the general government shall give to each State a republican form of government.” Sidney Rigdon felt that such a government did not exist in Missouri, so he planned to present the story of the persecutions to the governors of the respective states and their legislatures, hoping to induce as many as possible to pass a resolution to “impeach” the state of Missouri. He proposed sending Church representatives to each state capitol to lobby for the Church. The plan got as far as the appointment of his son-in-law, George W. Robinson, to collect the affidavits and general information on the subject; Sidney secured a letter of introduction to the governors and the president from Governor Carlin.18

It became obvious that it was useless to petition the officials of Missouri for help. The impracticality of Rigdon’s plan was also soon evident. In May 1839 a conference appointed Sidney Rigdon to take the Latter-day Saint grievances directly to Washington, D.C. His delays, however, led to the additional appointment of Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee at the October conference in Commerce to approach President Martin Van Buren. Orrin Porter Rockwell was also invited to accompany them. They left Nauvoo on 29 October 1839 and were joined en route to Springfield by a new convert, Dr. Robert D. Foster. In Springfield the Prophet wrote to his wife, “It will be a long and lonesome time during my absence from you and nothing but a sense of humanity could have urged me on to so great a sacrifice, but shall I see so many perish and [not] seek redress? No, I will try this once in the [name] of the Lord.”19

Because of illness Sidney Rigdon was left at the home of John Snyder in Springfield. The Prophet left him in the care of Dr. Foster and Orrin Porter Rockwell and then proceeded with Elias Higbee to the nation’s capital, arriving on 28 November. The next day they scheduled an interview with a very reluctant President Van Buren. He was not impressed with their letters of introduction and tried to turn them away, but Joseph’s insistence led to an audience with the president. When Van Buren asked the Prophet how his religion differed from other Christian denominations of the day, Joseph said that the “mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands” were the essential differences. “We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.”20

The president, responding to the states rights political philosophy of the day and being anxious not to offend his political allies, realized the Mormon-Missouri conflict was a touchy issue. He was therefore unsympathetic to the pleadings of the brethren. Joseph later asserted: “I had an interview with Martin Van Buren, the President, who treated me very insolently, and it was with great reluctance he listened to our message, which, when he had heard, he said: ‘Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.’” 21 The Prophet also tried convincing leading senator John C. Calhoun of his concerns but was rebuffed.

Martin Van Buren (1782–1862)

Martin Van Buren (1782–1862), eighth president of the United States, served from 1837 to 1841. He would not support the cause of Joseph Smith and others for redress of the Saints’ grievances arising from the Missouri persecutions.

The Prophet and Elder Higbee then contacted various other senators and representatives. The Illinois delegation treated them especially well, and Illinois senator Richard M. Young promised to introduce their petition to Congress. The lengthy petition detailed the difficulties the Saints had endured since 1833 in Missouri and concluded: “We make our appeal as American Citizens, as Christians, and as Men—believing that the high sense of justice which exists in your honorable body, will not allow such oppression to be practiced upon any portion of the citizens of this vast republic with impunity; but that some measures which your wisdom may dictate, may be taken, so that the great body of people who have been thus abused, may have redress for the wrongs which they have suffered.”22

Meanwhile, the brethren wrote home asking the Saints to gather and send as many certificates and affidavits as possible verifying the persecutions and proving their ownership of Missouri land. In all, the Prophet said he submitted the claims of about 491 individuals against the state of Missouri.23 At the same time, the embarrassed Missouri congressional delegation began building its own defense, based on transcripts of a hearing held in Richmond, Missouri, where numerous anti-Mormons and ex-Mormons testified.

While he was still in the East, the Prophet visited various branches of the Church. In Philadelphia, he spoke to a congregation of about three thousand Saints. He also spent several days with Elder Parley P. Pratt, who was in Philadelphia arranging for the publication of several books. Parley P. Pratt remembered:

“During these interviews he taught me many great and glorious principles concerning God and the heavenly order of eternity. It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization. …

“It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity.” These blessed personal encounters with the Prophet affected Parley for the rest of his life.

“I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean.”24

The prevailing view in the nation, especially among southern politicians, was that questions like those raised by the Latter-day Saints were clearly state concerns. It was felt that the Constitution provided no authority for national intervention. These views clearly reflected the national debate over the sovereignty of the states that would culminate two decades later in the American Civil War.

Joseph Smith left Elias Higbee in Washington to await the results of the petition to Congress, and he returned to Nauvoo. On 4 March 1840 the Senate committee announced that Congress would do nothing; they recommended that the Church seek redress in the state or federal courts in America, a course that the Saints had found totally useless. In the April general conference of the Church the Saints voted that “if all hopes of obtaining satisfaction for the injuries done us be entirely blasted, that they then appeal our case to the Court of Heaven, believing that the Great Jehovah, who rules over the destiny of nations, and who notices the falling sparrows, will undoubtedly redress our wrongs, and ere long avenge us of our adversaries.”25

Nauvoo Charter

The new gathering place for the Saints included not only Nauvoo, Illinois, and Montrose, Iowa, but also several neighboring locations on both sides of the river. Members of the Church settled in established communities such as Carthage—the Hancock County seat—La Harpe, and Fountain Green. And they established small settlements of their own at Ramus, Lima, and Yelrome (the name of Isaac Morley, the settlement’s founder, spelled backward). There were also numerous suburbs surrounding Nauvoo itself. But clearly Nauvoo was the center place, and within a few months it gained political and economic influence in western Illinois.

map, Hancock Co.

Several communities of Saints grew up in Hancock County, Illinois, and Lee County, Iowa, during the Nauvoo era. Population estimates for the area totaled between fifteen and twenty thousand people by the time of the exodus from Illinois in 1846.

Following Joseph Smith’s return from the East, serious discussions began about the form of government that Nauvoo should have. The arrival of a prominent Springfield citizen, John C. Bennett, in Nauvoo in June 1840 prompted decisive action on this issue. The ambitious and energetic Bennett had quickly gained acceptance in military, medical, and political circles in the state capital. Governor Thomas Carlin had named him the state militia’s quartermaster general. Before going to Nauvoo, Bennett wrote to the Prophet expressing indignation at the injustices Missouri had inflicted upon the Latter-day Saints and offering his assistance. Soon after he arrived he accepted the gospel and was baptized. His acquaintance with numerous government officials made him the logical person to lobby for a charter government for Nauvoo. At the October general conference, Joseph Smith, Robert B. Thompson, and John C. Bennett were nominated to draft a proposal and carry it to Springfield.

Bennett’s lobbying efforts with both political parties were successful, and the Nauvoo charter became law on 16 December 1840. It was similar to the charters granted to Chicago and Alton in 1837, Galena in 1839, and Springfield and Quincy in 1840. It granted the right to establish a local militia, a municipal court, and a university. Church leaders were elated with its broad and liberal provisions, which seemed to ensure that government officials would no longer be able to take advantage of the Saints as they had in Missouri. Nauvoo’s legislative and executive powers resided in the mayor, four aldermen, and nine councilors. The mayor and aldermen also served as judges of the municipal court, a change from the pattern of other chartered cities. This meant that five men controlled the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the local government.

John C. Bennett was elected Nauvoo’s first mayor on 1 February 1841. Other Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith, were elected aldermen, ensuring a local government that would be friendly to the Saints. Immediately the city council created a militia unit, the Nauvoo Legion, which gradually grew to three thousand enlistees. Also, according to Nauvoo charter provisions, the Nauvoo Legion was under the control of Joseph Smith and other civic leaders, although it was technically part of the state militia. Once again jealous anti-Mormon observers became apprehensive about the unabated growth of Mormon influence and power in their area.

For the first time in a decade, the Saints felt some security. The Lord had again led them to find a refuge. The Apostles were able to go on their appointed mission to Great Britain. Their prophet was safe and well and leading the Church. Peace abounded, and opportunities to extend the gospel of Jesus Christ seemed readily available.

Show References


  1. In History of the Church, 3:251.

  2. History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri (St. Louis: National Historical Co., 1886), p. 142.

  3. See Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr, Women’s Voices (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982), pp. 103–5.

  4. In History of the Church, 3:269.

  5. Letter from Elizabeth Haven to Elizabeth Howe Bullard, 24 Feb. 1839, in Ora H. Barlow, The Israel Barlow Story and Mormon Mores (Salt Lake City: Ora H. Barlow, 1968), p. 143.

  6. See Wilford Woodruff Journals, 18 Mar. 1839, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

  7. In Barlow, Israel Barlow Story, p. 156.

  8. Drusilla Dorris Hendricks, “Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris Hendricks,” typescript, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, pp. 22–23.

  9. In David E. and Della S. Miller, Nauvoo: The City of Joseph (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1974), p. 26; spelling standardized.

  10. In History of the Church, 3:336.

  11. “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent, 15 Nov. 1878, p. 91.

  12. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 22 July 1839; punctuation standardized.

  13. Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), p. 63.

  14. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, p. 65.

  15. See Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, p. 65.

  16. In Barlow, Israel Barlow Story, p. 163.

  17. Letter from Haven to Bullard, 30 Sept. 1839, in Barlow, Israel Barlow Story, pp. 158, 160–61.

  18. Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record, Mar. 1889, p. 738.

  19. In Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), p. 448; spelling and punctuation standardized.

  20. In History of the Church, 4:42.

  21. History of the Church, 4:80.

  22. In History of the Church, 4:38.

  23. History of the Church, 4:74. Additional appeals were made by the Church in 1842–43. A total of 703 petitioners filed individual affidavits; petitions can be read in Clark V. Johnson, “The Missouri Redress Petitions: A Reappraisal of Mormon Persecutions in Missouri,” Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1986, pp. 31–44.

  24. Parley P. Pratt, ed., Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), pp. 259–60.

  25. In History of the Church, 4:108.