“Independence, Missouri,” Church History Topics
In 1827, settlers from the southern United States founded a town called Independence in newly organized Jackson County, Missouri.1 The town was at a strategic location on the nation’s frontier: it lay at the western end of river routes from the rest of the United States and on the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail, which extended far into territory then occupied mostly by American Indians. The town was named after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the county was named after Andrew Jackson, who had become a national hero as a general in the U.S. Army and was later elected president of the United States.
At the beginning of 1831, Latter-day Saint missionaries passed through Independence for the first time, hoping to preach to American Indians who lived on lands west of Missouri. Joseph Smith soon visited Independence and received a revelation that identified the area as “the center place” of Zion—the location of a holy city where righteousness would prevail and the Saints would prepare for Jesus Christ’s Second Coming.2 On August 2, 1831, Sidney Rigdon pronounced the land “consecrated and dedicated to the Lord for a possession and inheritance for the Saints.” The next day, Rigdon dedicated a site half a mile west of the center of Independence for the building of a temple, and Joseph Smith laid the first cornerstone.3
Under the direction of Bishop Edward Partridge, the first Saints who settled in the area began purchasing property and preparing for other Saints to gather to build Zion. Between 1831 and 1833, the Church purchased 180 acres in Independence and 1,200 acres in surrounding areas of Jackson County, and some 1,200 Saints gathered to the county and organized five branches.4 In June 1833, the First Presidency, then in Kirtland, Ohio, sent a plat, or city plan, to Church leaders in Missouri for the “City of Zion,” showing how the city should be organized around a complex of two dozen temples, sacred structures dedicated to fulfilling the temporal and spiritual needs of the Saints.
Unfortunately, the earlier settlers of the area grew increasingly wary of the Latter-day Saint presence in Missouri. Mounting tensions between the Saints and their neighbors came to a head in the summer of 1833, resulting in the entire population of Saints being driven from the county. In spite of their exodus, the Saints refused to sell their lands in Jackson County, hoping they could reclaim them with the help of the state or federal governments. When their attempts to recover their property failed, the Saints focused on building new gathering places in Illinois and later in Utah.
Even after Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles led the majority of the Saints west, many hoped to return one day to build Zion near Independence. Meanwhile, members of other churches that had separated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints returned to the area. Today, multiple churches that claim Joseph Smith as their founder consider sites associated with the Saints’ early efforts to build Zion as sacred spaces.