Church History

“Emigration,” Church History Topics



The first Latter-day Saints answered the Lord’s call to gather to Zion by relocating from their homelands to central gathering places—first in Ohio, Missouri, and then Illinois, and later in the North American West.1 Those who made the journey followed many routes to Zion.2 Emigration was a significant feature of early Latter-day Saint life—virtually all who joined the Church felt the pull of emigration, either in leaving their own homes or in parting with others who did. The Church staged a highly coordinated effort to assist families in relocating that involved organizing travel parties, funding travel, and integrating immigrants into their new communities with the Saints.

Between 1840 and 1890, over 85,000 Saints migrated to Nauvoo, Illinois, and to the West. The majority (about 55,000) left the British Isles, another 25,000 left Scandinavia, and about 6,000 left continental Europe. Others arrived from the Pacific Islands, India, the Ottoman Empire, and South Africa. The Saints’ willingness to sacrifice and share their resources made such a massive migration possible—they generally refused to leave poorer members behind.3

Initially Latter-day Saints paid their own expenses to gather to Zion, but after the first missionaries reached Great Britain in 1837, Church leaders more actively coordinated travel and other arrangements. Many wealthier British converts pledged to fund poorer Saints’ travel to Nauvoo. Between 1840 and 1846, Church-sponsored emigrant companies of some 4,000 converts sailed from England to the United States.4 After they left Nauvoo, the Saints made Utah Territory the primary destination for gathering converts.5

Over the next 40 years, almost half of all immigrant converts paid for travel expenses with loans provided by the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF), a cooperative organization chartered in the Salt Lake Valley in 1849 to “bring the poor to this place.”6 Bishop Edward Hunter took the initial $5,000 in donations back to Iowa, where he used the funds to outfit emigrants. Once in the Salt Lake Valley, the travelers were expected to repay the loans to enable future emigrants to embark on the journey.7

PEF administrators incorporated a company to collect and disburse funds, purchase supplies, charter ships, and direct emigration agents stationed at mission offices and waystations. Liverpool, England, served as the shipping hub where Church agents assembled European emigrants, arranged for their travel, and collected a deposit. Two or three months before a departure, the emigration office placed notices in the Millennial Star announcing ship reservations and listing packing instructions.8 Once aboard, emigrants in companies numbering sometimes in the hundreds organized themselves into wards, each with a president and counselors, for the voyage.9

New steam technology altered the migration experience: steamships replaced sailing vessels, and the railroad replaced wagon trains.10 Church-funded emigration continued until 1887, when the United States government disenfranchised Church enterprises under antipolygamy laws.11 Individual families continued to migrate for a few more decades, but as Church leaders advised strengthening branches and stakes abroad, the focus turned toward expanding Church communities across the globe, and emigration as a core part of the pioneer Latter-day Saint experience declined.12


  1. See Topic: Gathering of Israel.

  2. See Topic: Pioneer Trek.

  3. See Fred E. Woods, “Gathering to Zion: 1840–1890,” in Brandon S. Plewe, ed., Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2012), 104–5.

  4. See Conway B. Sonne, Saints on the Seas: A Maritime History of Mormon Migration, 1830–1890 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), 30–31, 148–49.

  5. See Topic: Utah.

  6. Gustive O. Larson, “The Story of the Perpetual Emigration Fund,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 18, no. 2 (Sept. 1931), 185–86. Cooperative funding of migration had begun 10 years previously in response to Missouri persecutions. A covenant to aid the poorest Saints stuck in refugee camps was reestablished in the Nauvoo Temple and in Winter Quarters in 1847. A revelation received by Brigham Young at Winter Quarters urged “every man” to “use all his influence and property to remove this people to the place where the Lord shall locate a stake of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:10). See also William G. Hartley, “How Shall I Gather?Ensign, Oct. 1997, 5–17.

  7. See Larson, “Story of the Perpetual Emigration Fund,” 185–86.

  8. See Topic: Church Periodicals.

  9. See Larson, “Story of the Perpetual Emigration Fund,” 189.

  10. See Topic: Railroad. George Q. Cannon lamented in 1899 how “within a very few days even a large company was entirely absorbed into the community, and the new-comers fairly started in their new life. Since the railroad came there has appeared to be less interest, as there has also been less hospitality toward our immigrants” (quoted in Richard L. Jensen, “Steaming Through: Arrangements for Mormon Emigration from Europe, 1869–1887,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 9 [1982], 22–23).

  11. See Topic: Antipolygamy Legislation.

  12. Woods, “Gathering to Zion,” 104; see also Topic: Gathering of Israel.