“Gathered In,” chapter 10 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 10: “Gathered In”
In the fall of 1830, not far from Kirtland, fifteen-year-old Lucy Morley finished her usual housework and took a seat beside her employer, Abigail Daniels. As Abigail worked her loom, moving a weaving shuttle back and forth through crisscrossing threads, Lucy wound yarn onto thin spools. The cloth they wove would go to Lucy’s mother in exchange for Lucy’s services around the Daniels house. With many children under her roof, and no teenage daughters, Abigail relied on Lucy to help keep her family clean and fed.
While the two worked side by side, they heard a knock at the door. “Come in,” Abigail called out.
Glancing up from her spool, Lucy saw three men enter the room. They were strangers, but they were well dressed and looked friendly. All three of them appeared to be a few years younger than Abigail, who was in her early thirties.
Lucy stood up and brought more chairs into the room. As the men sat down, she took their hats and returned to her seat. The men introduced themselves as Oliver Cowdery, Parley Pratt, and Ziba Peterson, preachers from New York who were passing through town on their way to the West. They said the Lord had restored His true gospel to their friend, a prophet named Joseph Smith.
As they spoke, Lucy quietly attended to her work. The men talked about angels and a set of gold plates the prophet had translated by revelation. They testified that God had sent them on their mission to preach the gospel one last time before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
When they finished their message, the rhythmic clatter of Abigail’s loom stopped, and the woman turned around on her bench. “I do not want any of your damnable doctrine taught in my house,” she said, angrily waving the shuttle in their faces.
The men tried to persuade her, testifying that their message was true. But Abigail ordered them to leave, saying she did not want them polluting her children with false doctrine. The men asked if she would at least feed them. They were hungry and had not eaten all day.
“You cannot have anything to eat in my house,” Abigail snapped. “I do not feed impostors.”
Suddenly, Lucy spoke up, horrified that Abigail would speak to servants of God so rudely. “My father lives one mile from here,” she said. “He never turns anyone hungry from his door. Go there and you will be fed and cared for.”
Fetching their hats, Lucy followed the missionaries outside and showed them how to get to her parents’ house. The men thanked her and started down the road.
“God bless you,” they said.
After the men were out of sight, Lucy went back into the house. Abigail was at her loom again, running the shuttle back and forth. “I hope you feel better now,” she said to Lucy, clearly irritated.
“Yes, I do,” replied Lucy.1
As Lucy promised, the three missionaries found a hearty meal at the Morley home. Her parents, Isaac and Lucy, were members of Sidney Rigdon’s congregation, and they believed that followers of Christ should share their goods and property with each other as one large family. Following the example of saints in the New Testament who tried to have “all things common,” they had opened their large farm to other families who wanted to live together and practice their beliefs separate from the competitive, often selfish world around them.2
That evening, the missionaries taught the Morleys and their friends. The families responded to the missionaries’ message of preparing for the Savior’s return and millennial reign, and around midnight, seventeen people were baptized.
In the days that followed, more than fifty people around Kirtland flocked to the missionaries’ meetings and asked to join the church.3 Many of them were living on the Morleys’ farm, including Pete, a freed slave whose mother had come from West Africa.4 Even Abigail Daniels, who had rejected the missionaries so quickly, embraced their message after she and her husband listened to them preach.5
As the church grew in Ohio, particularly among Sidney’s followers, Oliver reported the good news to Joseph. Every day more people were asking to hear their message. “There is considerable call here for books,” he wrote, “and I wish you would send five hundred.”6
As pleased as he was with their success in Ohio, though, Oliver knew the Lord had called them to preach to the American Indians who lived beyond the western border of the United States. He and the other missionaries soon left Kirtland, taking with them a new convert named Frederick Williams. Frederick was a doctor, and at forty-three, he was the oldest man in the company.7
Heading west in late fall 1830, they trudged across snowy flatlands and gently rising hills. They stopped briefly to preach to Wyandot Indians in central Ohio before booking passage on a steamboat bound for Missouri, the westernmost state in the nation.
The missionaries made steady progress on the river until ice blocked their way. Undeterred, they disembarked and walked hundreds of miles along the frozen riverbank. By then, snow had fallen thick and deep, making it more difficult to travel over the wide prairies. Sometimes the winds that cut across the landscape seemed sharp enough to take the skin off their faces.8
As the missionaries traveled west, Sidney traveled east with his friend Edward Partridge, a thirty-seven-year-old hatmaker from his congregation. The two men were headed to Manchester, nearly three hundred miles from Kirtland, to meet Joseph. Sidney had already joined the church, but Edward wanted to get to know the prophet before deciding whether he should do the same.9
When they arrived, the friends went first to the farm of Joseph’s parents, only to learn that the Smiths had moved closer to Fayette. But before trekking another twenty-six miles to the Smiths’ home, Edward wanted to look over the property, thinking the Smiths’ handiwork might reveal something about their character. He and Sidney saw their well-kept orchards, their homes and outbuildings, and the low stone walls they had constructed. Each testified of the family’s order and industry.10
Edward and Sidney returned to the road and walked all day, reaching the Smiths’ home by evening. When they got there, a church meeting was in progress. They slipped into the house and joined a small congregation listening to Joseph preach. When the prophet finished, he said anyone in the room could stand and speak as he or she felt inspired.
Edward stood and told the Saints what he had seen and felt on his trip. Then he said, “I am ready to be baptized, Brother Joseph. Will you baptize me?”
“You have traveled a long way,” Joseph said. “I think you had better take some rest and refreshment and tomorrow morning be baptized.”
“Just as you think proper,” Edward replied. “I am ready at any time.”11
Before the baptism took place, Joseph received a revelation calling Edward to preach and prepare for the day when Christ would come to His temple.12 Edward was baptized and quickly left to share the gospel with his parents and relatives.13 Sidney, meanwhile, stayed in Fayette to act as Joseph’s scribe and was soon assisting him in a new project.14
Months earlier, Joseph and Oliver had begun an inspired translation of the Bible. From the Book of Mormon, they knew that precious truths had been corrupted through the ages and taken away from the Old and New Testaments. Using a Bible that Oliver purchased from Grandin’s bookstore, they had begun to study the book of Genesis, seeking inspiration about passages that seemed incomplete or unclear.15
Before long, the Lord had revealed to Joseph a vision first received by Moses, which was missing from the Old Testament. In the newly restored scripture, God showed Moses “worlds without number,” told him that God created everything spiritually before He created it naturally, and taught that the purpose of this glorious creation was to help men and women receive eternal life.16
After Oliver left on his mission to the West, Joseph had continued to translate with John Whitmer and Emma as scribes until Sidney arrived. Most recently, the Lord had begun to reveal more of the history of the prophet Enoch, whose life and ministry received only a brief mention in Genesis.17
As Sidney recorded Joseph’s dictation, they learned that Enoch had been a prophet who gathered together an obedient and blessed people. Like the Nephites and Lamanites who created a righteous society after the Savior’s visit to the Americas, Enoch’s people learned to live peacefully with each other. “They were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness,” the scripture recorded, “and there was no poor among them.”18
Under Enoch’s leadership, the people built a holy city called Zion, which God eventually received into His presence. There Enoch spoke with God as they looked down on the earth, and God wept over the wickedness and suffering of His children. The day would come, He told Enoch, when truth would be brought forth from the earth and His people would build another city of Zion for the righteous.19
As Sidney and Joseph reflected on the revelation, they knew the day had come when the Lord would again establish Zion on the earth. Like Enoch’s people, the Saints needed to prepare themselves, uniting in heart and mind, so they would be ready to build the holy city and its temple as soon as the Lord revealed its location.
At the end of December, the Lord instructed Joseph and Sidney to pause their work on the translation. “A commandment I give unto the church,” He declared, “that they should assemble together at the Ohio.” They were to gather with the new converts in the Kirtland area and wait for the missionaries to return from the West.
“Here is wisdom,” the Lord stated, “and let every man choose for himself until I come.”20
The call to move to Ohio seemed to bring the Saints closer to fulfilling ancient prophecies about the gathering of God’s people. The Bible and Book of Mormon both promised that the Lord would gather together His covenant people to safeguard them against the perils of the last days. In a recent revelation, the Lord had told Joseph that this gathering would soon begin.21
But the call still came as a shock. At the church’s third conference, held at the Whitmers’ home soon after the new year, many of the Saints were troubled, their minds full of questions about the commandment.22 Ohio was sparsely settled and hundreds of miles away. Most church members knew little about it.
Many of them had also worked hard to improve their property and cultivate prosperous farms in New York. If they moved as a group to Ohio, they would have to sell their property quickly and would probably lose money. Some might even be ruined financially, especially if the land in Ohio proved less rich and fertile than their land in New York.
Hoping to ease concerns about the gathering, Joseph met with the Saints and received a revelation.23 “I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise,” the Lord declared, “and I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts.” By gathering together, the Saints could flourish as a righteous people and be protected from the wicked.
The Lord also promised two additional blessings to those who gathered to Ohio. “There I will give unto you my law,” He said, “and there you shall be endowed with power from on high.”24
The revelation calmed the minds of most of the Saints in the room, although a few people refused to believe it came from God. Joseph’s family, the Whitmers, and the Knights were among those who believed and chose to follow it.25
As the leader of the Colesville branch of the church, Newel Knight returned home and began to sell what he could. He also spent much of his time visiting church members. Following the example of Enoch’s people, he and other Saints in Colesville worked together and sacrificed to ensure the poor could make the journey before spring.26
Joseph, meanwhile, felt an urgent need to get to Kirtland and meet the new converts. Although Emma was pregnant with twins and was recovering from a long bout of sickness, she climbed aboard the sleigh, determined to go with him.27
Back in Ohio, the church was struggling. After the missionaries left for the West, the number of converts in Kirtland continued to grow, but many of the Saints were unsure how to practice their new faith. Most looked to the New Testament for guidance as they had before they joined the church, but without prophetic direction there seemed to be as many ways to interpret the New Testament as there were Saints in Kirtland.28
Elizabeth Ann Whitney was among those who longed to experience the spiritual gifts of the early Christian church. Before the missionaries came to Kirtland, Ann and her husband, Newel, had prayed many times to know how they could receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
One night, while praying for divine direction, they had seen a vision of a cloud resting over their home. The Spirit filled them, and their house faded away as the cloud enveloped them. They heard a voice from heaven: “Prepare to receive the word of the Lord, for it is coming.”29
Ann had not grown up in a religious home, and neither of her parents had attended church. Her father did not like clergymen, and her mother was always busy with household duties or tending to Ann’s younger siblings. Both of them had encouraged Ann to enjoy life rather than seek God.30
But Ann had always been drawn to spiritual things, and when she married Newel, she expressed a desire to find a church. At her insistence, they joined Sidney Rigdon’s congregation because she believed its principles were nearest to those she found in scripture. Later, when she first heard Parley Pratt and his companions preach the restored gospel, she knew what they taught was true.31
Ann joined the church and rejoiced in her new faith, but the different ways people practiced it confused her. Her friends Isaac and Lucy Morley continued to invite people to live on their farm and share their resources.32 Leman Copley, who owned a large farm east of Kirtland, continued to hold on to some teachings from his time among the Shakers, a religious community that had a settlement nearby.33
Some of the Saints in Kirtland took their beliefs to wild extremes, reveling in what they took to be gifts of the Spirit. Several people claimed to have visions they could not explain. Others believed the Holy Ghost made them slide or scoot across the ground.34 One man bounced around rooms or swung from ceiling joists whenever he thought he felt the Spirit. Another acted like a baboon.35
Seeing this behavior, some converts grew discouraged and gave up on the new church. Ann and Newel continued to pray, confident the Lord would show them the way forward.36
On February 4, 1831, a sleigh arrived at the store Newel owned and operated in Kirtland. A twenty-five-year-old man stepped out, bounded inside, and reached his hand across the counter. “Newel K. Whitney!” he cried. “Thou art the man!”
Newel shook his hand. “You have the advantage of me,” he said. “I could not call you by name, as you have me.”
“I am Joseph the prophet,” the man exclaimed. “You have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?”37