“Jackson County Violence,” Church History Topics
“Jackson County Violence”
In July 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation declaring that the area around the city of Independence in Jackson County, Missouri, was the promised location of the city of Zion and the “center place” for the gathering of the Saints.1 For the next two years, Saints migrated to Jackson County to build the city of Zion, and by the summer of 1833, about 1,200 Saints were residing in the county.
These Church members interacted with non-Mormon settlers, and differences between the two groups abounded. The Latter-day Saints brought with them peculiar religious beliefs, including a belief in continuing revelation, spiritual gifts, and the idea that God had promised the land around Independence to them as an inheritance. In addition, many of the Saints were from northern states, where slavery was illegal or being phased out, while most of the non-Mormons were from the South. Missourians feared that the increasing number of Saints would soon dominate the county politically and economically. The Saints’ most outspoken opponents were civic and religious leaders who wanted to expel Church members from the county.
A July article in the Latter-day Saint newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star stoked Missourians’ fears about abolitionism. The editorial discussed the legal obstacles relating to the migration of free black converts to Missouri, a slave state. Many locals felt the editorial—and, by extension, the Church—intended to encourage these migrations. On July 20, a group of vigilantes demanded that the Saints leave Jackson County, and when Church leaders refused, the vigilantes attacked the Church’s printing office, throwing the press out the window, scattering the type in the street, and tearing down the walls of the printing office. Some then tarred and feathered Edward Partridge, bishop of the Church in Missouri, and Charles Allen, another Church member, on the public square. The vigilantes dispersed after extracting an agreement from Church leaders that half of the Saints would vacate the county by January 1, 1834, and the rest by April 1.
Over the next few months, Church leaders in Missouri explored their legal options in the face of the planned expulsion. They received counsel from Joseph Smith to retain their deeds and remain on their lands. On October 20, 1833, they publicly announced that the Saints would stay in the county. This immediately set the vigilantes in motion, and on October 31, 1833, violence resumed. For the next several days, vigilantes attacked Church settlements in Jackson County.
On November 4, Missouri vigilantes attacked the homes of Latter-day Saints near the Big Blue River. In the skirmish that followed, two non-Mormons and one Church member were killed; several other individuals on both sides were wounded. The following day, Colonel Thomas Pitcher called out the local militia to restore order, but the militia instead forced nearly 150 Church members to surrender their weapons, after which the militia imprisoned several Mormon men. Church members—men, women, and children—began fleeing the county that same day, most of them crossing the Missouri River into Clay County. This exodus continued for several weeks, with the Saints experiencing much suffering. One group of women and children wandered over the prairie for several days to escape the violence, leaving a trail of blood behind them after the sharp prairie grass cut the bare feet of the children.
The Saints struggled to understand the expulsion from Jackson County. Joseph Smith told Edward Partridge that God would not show him “what the great moving cause of this great affliction” was, nor would the Lord indicate how the Saints would regain their land.2 Joseph continued to seek an explanation as to the causes of the expulsion and to know what the Saints’ response should be. On the night of December 16–17, 1833, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation declaring that the Lord had allowed the Saints to be expelled from Jackson County because of the “jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among” them.3 The revelation also declared that the expulsion was a trial for the Saints similar to God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It then presented a parable of a nobleman whose vineyard had been overrun by the enemy and who had his servant call up the strength of his house to redeem the vineyard. A February 1834 revelation stated that Joseph Smith was the nobleman’s servant and that he needed to call up the strength of the Lord’s house.4 These revelations became the catalyst for the Camp of Israel (Zion’s Camp) expedition from May to July 1834.