“After Much Tribulation,” chapter 12 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 12: “After Much Tribulation”
In the spring of 1831, seven-year-old Emily Partridge lived in a town northeast of Kirtland with her parents, Edward and Lydia, and four sisters. They had a fine frame house with a large room and two bedrooms on the ground floor. Upstairs was a bedroom, another large room, and a closet where they stored clothes. In the basement there was a kitchen and a vegetable cellar so dark it frightened Emily.
Outside, the Partridges’ large yard provided Emily a place to play and explore. They had a flower garden and fruit trees, a barn, and a vacant lot where her father planned to build an even nicer home someday. Her father’s hat shop was also nearby. Beneath the counter in the shop, she could always find bright ribbons and other treasures. The whole building was full of tools and machines her father used to dye fabrics and furs and shape them into hats for his customers.1
Her father did not spend much time making hats now that he was the bishop of the church. With Saints gathering to Ohio from New York, he had to help them settle into homes and find work. Among the new arrivals were the Knight family and their church branch from Colesville. Knowing Leman Copley had a large farm twenty miles northeast of Kirtland, which he had agreed to consecrate to the Lord, Emily’s father sent the Colesville Saints there to settle.2
Some of the New York Saints came to Ohio with measles, and since they often stayed at the Partridge house, it was not long before Emily and her sisters developed high fevers and rashes. Emily recovered after a while, but her eleven-year-old sister, Eliza, came down with pneumonia. Her parents soon watched helplessly as her breathing grew labored and her fever soared.3
As the family cared for Eliza, her father attended an important church conference at a schoolhouse near the Morley farm. He was gone several days, and when he returned, he told the family he had to leave again.4 Joseph had received a revelation that said the next conference would be held in Missouri. Several church leaders, including her father, were called to go there as soon as possible.5
Many people started making plans for the journey. In the revelation, the Lord called Missouri the land of the Saints’ inheritance, echoing biblical descriptions of a promised land “flowing with milk and honey.” There the Saints were to build the city of Zion.6
Emily’s father was not eager to leave his family. Eliza was still sick and might die while he was away.7 Emily could see that her mother was worried as well. As committed as Lydia Partridge was to the cause of Zion, she was not used to being left to care for the children and home by herself. She seemed to know that her trials were only beginning.8
Polly Knight was sick when she and the Colesville Saints settled on Leman Copley’s land. The farm had more than seven hundred acres of choice ground, offering enough space for many families to build homes, barns, and shops.9 Here the Knights could start over and practice their new faith in peace, although many worried that Polly would not be long with them.
Polly’s husband and sons worked quickly, making fences and planting fields to improve the land. Joseph and Bishop Partridge also encouraged the Colesville Saints to consecrate their property according to the law of the Lord.10
After the settlement started taking shape, however, Leman withdrew from the church and told the Colesville Saints to get off his property.11 With nowhere else to go, the evicted Saints asked Joseph to seek the Lord’s direction for them.
“You shall take your journey into the regions westward,” the Lord told them, “unto the land of Missouri.”12
Now that they knew Zion would be in Missouri, not Ohio, the Colesville Saints realized they would be among the first church members to settle there. They began to prepare for the journey, and about two weeks after the revelation, Polly and the rest of the branch left the Kirtland area and boarded riverboats that would take them west.13
As Polly and her family floated down the river, her greatest desire was to set foot in Zion before she died. She was fifty-five years old, and her health was failing. Her son Newel had already gone ashore to buy lumber for a coffin in case she died before getting to Missouri.
But Polly was determined to be buried nowhere else but in Zion.14
Shortly after the Colesville Saints left, the prophet, Sidney, and Edward Partridge set out for Missouri with several elders of the church. They traveled mostly on land, preaching the gospel along the way and talking about their hopes for Zion.15
Joseph spoke optimistically about the church in Independence. He told some of the elders that Oliver and the other missionaries were sure to have built up a strong branch of the church there, as they had in Kirtland. Some of the elders took it as a prophecy.
As they neared Jackson County, the men admired the gently rolling prairie around them. With plenty of land for the Saints to spread out, Missouri seemed like the ideal location for Zion. And Independence, with its proximity to a large river and Indian lands, could be the perfect place to gather God’s covenant people.16
But when they reached the town, the elders were unimpressed by what they saw. Ezra Booth, a former minister who had joined the church after seeing Joseph heal a woman’s paralyzed arm, thought the area looked dreary and undeveloped. It had a courthouse, a few stores, several log houses—and little else. The missionaries had baptized only a handful of people in the area, so the branch was not as strong as Joseph had expected. Feeling misled, Ezra and others began to question Joseph’s prophetic gifts.17
Joseph was disappointed too. Fayette and Kirtland were small villages, but Independence was little more than a backwater trading post. The town was a point of departure for trails going west, so it drew fur trappers and teamsters along with farmers and small businessmen. Joseph had known people in most of these trades all his life, but he found the men in Independence especially godless and rough. What’s more, government agents in the town were suspicious of the missionaries and would likely make preaching to Indians difficult, if not impossible.18
Discouraged, he took his concerns to the Lord. “When will the wilderness blossom as the rose?” he asked. “When will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will Thy temple stand?”19
On July 20, six days after his arrival, Joseph’s prayers were answered. “This land,” the Lord told him, “is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.”
They had no reason to look elsewhere. “This is the land of promise,” He declared, “and the place for the city of Zion.” The Saints were to purchase as much of the available land as possible, build homes, and plant fields. And on a bluff west of the courthouse, they were to build a temple.20
Even after the Lord revealed His will for Zion, some Saints remained skeptical about Independence. Like Ezra Booth, Edward had expected to find a large branch of the church in the area. Instead, he and the Saints were to build Zion in a town where people were wary of them and not at all interested in the restored gospel.
As bishop of the church, he also understood that much of the responsibility for laying the foundation of Zion fell on his shoulders. To prepare the promised land for the Saints, he would have to buy as much of it as possible to distribute as inheritances to those who came to Zion and kept the law of consecration.21 This meant that he would have to stay in Missouri and move his family permanently to Zion.
Edward wanted to help establish Zion, but so much about the revelation, his new responsibilities, and the area troubled him. One day, as he inspected the land in and around Independence, he pointed out to Joseph that it was not as good as other land nearby. He was frustrated with the prophet and did not see how the Saints could establish Zion there.
“I see it,” Joseph testified, “and it will be so.”22
A few days later, the Lord again revealed his word to Joseph, Edward, and the other elders of the church. “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation,” He declared. “For after much tribulation come the blessings.”
In the revelation, the Lord also chastened Edward’s unbelief. “If he repent not of his sins,” He said of the bishop, “let him take heed lest he fall. Behold his mission is given unto him, and it shall not be given again.”23
The warning humbled Edward. He asked the Lord to forgive his blindness of heart and told Joseph that he would stay in Independence and prepare the land of Zion for the Saints. Yet he still worried he was not up to the enormous task that lay ahead.
“I fear my station is above what I can perform to the acceptance of my Heavenly Father,” he confessed in a letter to Lydia. “Pray for me that I may not fall.”24
After three weeks of travel, Polly Knight arrived in Independence with the Colesville Saints. She stood feebly on the ground, grateful she had reached the land of Zion. Her body was rapidly failing, though, and two recent converts from the area brought her into their home so she could rest in relative comfort.
As the Knights searched the area for a place to settle, they found the countryside beautiful and pleasant, with rich land they could develop and farm. The people also seemed friendly, even though they were strangers. Unlike some of the elders from Kirtland, the Colesville members believed the Saints could build Zion there.
On August 2, the Saints in Missouri assembled several miles west of Independence to begin work on the first house in Zion. Joseph and twelve men from the Colesville Branch, who symbolically represented the tribes of Israel, laid the first log for the building. Sidney then dedicated the land of Zion for the gathering of the Saints.
The next day, on a plot west of the courthouse in Independence, Joseph carefully laid a single stone to mark the corner of the future temple.25 Someone then opened a Bible and read from the eighty-seventh psalm: “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.”26
A few days later, Polly died, praising the Lord for supporting her in her suffering.27 The prophet preached the funeral sermon, and her husband buried her body in a patch of woods not far from the temple site. She was the first Saint laid to rest in Zion.28
The same day, Joseph received another revelation: “Blessed, saith the Lord, are they who have come up unto this land with an eye single to my glory, according to my commandments. For those that live shall inherit the earth, and those that die shall rest from all their labors.”29
Soon after the funeral, Ezra and other church elders started their journey back to Kirtland with Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney. Ezra was relieved to be returning home to Ohio. Unlike Edward, he had not had a change of heart about Joseph or the location of Zion.
The men launched canoes onto the wide Missouri River, just north of Independence, and paddled downstream. At the end of the first day of travel, they were in good spirits and enjoyed a dinner of wild turkey along the riverbank. On the following day, however, the August weather was hot and the river was wild and difficult to navigate. The men quickly grew tired and soon began criticizing each other.30
“As the Lord God liveth,” Oliver finally shouted at the men, “if you do not behave better, some accident will befall you.”
Joseph took the lead in his canoe the next afternoon, but some of the elders were upset with him and Oliver and refused to paddle. At a dangerous bend in the river, they hit a submerged tree and nearly capsized. Fearing for the lives of everyone in the company, Joseph and Sidney ordered the elders off the river.31
After they set up camp, Joseph, Oliver, and Sidney tried to talk to the group and ease tensions. Irritated, the men called Joseph and Sidney cowards for getting off the river, mocked the way Oliver paddled his canoe, and accused Joseph of acting like a dictator. The quarrel lasted long into the night.
Rather than stay up with the company, Ezra went to bed early, deeply critical of Joseph and the elders. Why, he wondered, would the Lord trust the keys of His kingdom to men like these?32
Later that summer, Lydia Partridge received Edward’s letter from Missouri. Along with sharing his anxieties about his calling, he explained that he was not coming home as planned but instead staying in Jackson County to purchase land for the Saints. Attached to the letter was a copy of the revelation to Edward, which directed their family to settle in Zion.
Lydia was surprised. When Edward left, he had told their friends that he would return to Ohio as soon as his work in Missouri was finished. Now, with so many responsibilities in Zion, he was unsure if he could return to help Lydia and the children make the journey. Yet he knew other families in Ohio were moving to Missouri that fall, including his counselors in the bishopric. So too were Sidney Gilbert, a Kirtland storekeeper, and William Phelps, a printer, both of whom would be establishing businesses for the church in Zion.33
“It will probably be for the best if you should come with them,” he wrote.34
Knowing Independence offered few luxuries, Edward also gave Lydia a long list of things to pack and things to leave behind. “We have to suffer,” he warned her, “and shall for some time have many privations here, which you and I have not been much used to.”35
Lydia began preparing for the move. The children were now healthy enough to travel, and she arranged to journey with the Gilbert and Phelps families. As she sold her family’s property, her neighbors expressed disbelief that she and Edward would give up their beautiful home and prosperous business to follow a young prophet into the wilderness.36
Lydia had no desire to turn her back on the Lord’s command to build Zion. She knew abandoning her fine home would be a trial, but she believed it would be an honor to help lay the foundation of the city of God.37