“Chapter Ten: Development of the Church in Ohio, 1831–34,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 113–26
“Chapter Ten,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 113–26
The early Kirtland years were one of the most significant periods in the history of the Church, although at the time few members comprehended the importance of what they were experiencing. Wilford Woodruff recounted that in April 1834 the Prophet Joseph Smith told a group of priesthood holders: “You know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. … It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.”1 Even so, the limited vision they possessed fired the Saints’ souls, and the infant Church grew, developed, and matured.
Not only was Joseph concerned about establishing the Church, but like other Saints he and his wife, Emma, were struggling to set up a regular household. In fact they would not have a permanent home during their first two years in Ohio. In September 1831, just two weeks after Joseph returned from his journey to Missouri, he moved his family to Hiram, Ohio, about thirty miles southeast of Kirtland. The Prophet and his family stayed with the John Johnson family in Hiram for about six months. During that time he made rapid progress on the translation of the Bible with the able assistance of Sidney Rigdon.
From the outset the Church had an unpopular public image that was added to by apostates and nurtured by the circulation of negative stories and articles in the press. People gave many reasons for apostatizing. For example, Norman Brown left the Church because his horse died on the trip to Zion. Joseph Wakefield withdrew after he saw Joseph Smith playing with children upon coming down from his translating room. Symonds Ryder lost faith in Joseph’s inspiration when Ryder’s name was misspelled in his commission to preach. Others left the Church because they experienced economic difficulties.
Ezra Booth, a former Methodist minister, was an influential apostate during this period. He joined the Church in May 1831 when he saw the Prophet heal the lame arm of Alice Johnson. Booth, along with other missionaries, was called and sent to Missouri in the summer of 1831 (see D&C 52:3, 23). Upset about having to walk and preach the entire journey, he began to criticize and find fault with the leadership of the Church. He was disappointed to arrive in Missouri and not experience manifestations of the Spirit, such as miracles and the gift of tongues, which he expected would increase his religious fervor. He returned to Hiram, Ohio, full of suspicion and faultfinding. The Prophet observed that Booth had become disappointed “when he actually learned that faith, humility, patience, and tribulation go before blessing, and that … he must become all things to all men, that he might peradventure save some.”2 Booth arrived in Hiram on 1 September, and was excommunicated five days later. Soon he and Symonds Ryder publicly renounced their faith at a Methodist camp meeting at Shalersville, a few miles southwest of Hiram.
Hoping to impede the progress of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, critics in Portage County sought to capitalize on Booth’s influence and encouraged him to publicize his criticisms. Booth believed that his conversion had influenced others to accept the gospel, and he wanted to reverse that effect as well as dissuade others from joining the Church. He published nine letters in the Ohio Star in Ravenna, from 13 October to 8 December 1831, detailing his objections to the Church.
These letters posed a challenge to the Church. They were circulated extensively and later became a major section of the first anti-Mormon book, Eber D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed, published in 1834. Late in 1831 a number of missionaries were called to counteract Booth’s influence, and in December the Lord called Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to join the effort. They were to meet their enemies “both in public and in private,” and the Lord promised them that “no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper” (D&C 71:7, 9). The two men labored about five weeks, and Joseph reported that their work “did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published.”3
Nevertheless, the negative influence of Booth and Ryder continued. Violence erupted in Hiram on the night of 24 March 1832 when a mob of twenty-five or thirty, under the influence of whiskey, attacked the households of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. Having stayed up late to care for his adopted infant son, who was sick with the measles, Joseph had finally fallen asleep on a trundle bed. The next thing he knew he was being dragged out the door, amid Emma’s screams. He struggled but was overpowered. The mob ridiculed him, choked him, stripped him, and tried to force a vial of acid into his mouth, which chipped one of his teeth, causing him thereafter to speak with a slight whistle. One man scratched him with “his nails like a mad cat and then muttered out: ‘G—d—ye, that’s the way the Holy Ghost falls on folks!’” They daubed tar all over his body, covered him with feathers, and left him suffering. When Joseph finally made his way back to the house, Emma fainted at the sight of the tar, which she mistook for blood. Friends spent the night cleaning off the tar, and the next day, Sunday, Joseph preached a sermon that was attended by some of the mob from the previous night, and he baptized three people.4
During the night of the incident, the door to the Johnson home was left open; the infant, Joseph (formerly Murdock) Smith, caught cold and died five days later. During that same night Elder Rigdon was dragged by his heels from his home, and his head was severely lacerated by the rough, frozen ground. He was delirious for several days.5
Shortly after the mobbing, the Lord instructed the Prophet to return again to Missouri (see D&C 78:9). Some of the Jackson County Saints were jealous because Joseph Smith lived in Ohio rather than on the frontier. The Lord explained that Joseph should go to Missouri and counsel with the Saints because Satan was seeking to use the situation to “turn their hearts away” (D&C 78:10). Another reason for visiting Missouri was to coordinate the operation of the Church’s storehouses in Kirtland and Independence. In March 1832 a revelation established that there were to be storehouses in both of these areas (see D&C 78). The profits of the Independence store were to assist the migrating Saints. One of the items of business in Missouri was to unite the two firms and consolidate the economic activities of the Church.
The stay in Missouri was short but productive. On 26 April, a “general council” sustained Joseph as President of the High Priesthood, as he had been ordained at a similar conference at Amherst, Ohio, on 25 January 1832. In the afternoon session, Joseph was instructed in a revelation (D&C 82) to combine the economic orders in Kirtland and Independence into the United Firm so they could be “independent of every encumbrance beneath the celestial kingdom, by bonds and covenants of mutual friendship, and mutual love.”6 The leaders agreed that the firm would regulate the business of the Church and authorized Newel K. Whitney, the bishop in Ohio, to negotiate a fifteen thousand dollar loan to purchase goods for the company. Joseph said that when he and his party arrived in Kaw township, the Saints received them with “a welcome only known by brethren and sisters united as one in the same faith. … It is good to rejoice with the people of God.”7
Joseph Smith, Newel K. Whitney, and Sidney Rigdon left for home by stagecoach early in May. Near Greenville, Indiana, the horses were frightened and broke and ran. Bishop Whitney jumped from the coach, but his coat tangled and his foot caught in one of the wheels, breaking his leg in several places. Joseph and Sidney leaped from the stagecoach unhurt. The Prophet remained with Bishop Whitney a month in Greenville while Sidney traveled on to Kirtland with the news. During this time Joseph often enjoyed the solitude of walking in the woods. He wrote to Emma that he visited a grove outside of town nearly every day to pray and meditate: “I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and am left to mourn and shed tears of sorrow for my folly in suffering the adversary of my soul to have so much power over me as he has had in times past, but God is merciful and has forgiven my sins.”8
After dinner one day, the Prophet took sick and vomited so severely that he dislocated his jaw. Bishop Whitney administered to him, and he was healed immediately, although the effects of the poison caused him to lose some of his hair. The Prophet decided it was best to move on, assuring Bishop Whitney that their journey would proceed smoothly. Joseph explained: I “told him if he would agree to start for home in the morning, we would take a wagon to the river, about four miles, and there would be a ferry-boat in waiting which would take us quickly across, where we would find a hack which would take us directly to the landing, where we should find a boat, in waiting, and we would be going up the river before ten o’clock.”9 The pair traveled just as Joseph had predicted and arrived in Kirtland early in June.
For the next several months, the Prophet again occupied most of his time on the inspired translation of the Bible, except for a hurried journey in the fall with Bishop Whitney to Albany, New York City, and Boston, where they took care of business as well as warning the inhabitants to repent and accept the gospel (see D&C 84:114–15). They arrived back in Kirtland on 6 November 1832, just hours after Emma had given birth to her fourth and first surviving child, Joseph Smith III.10
Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball later arrived in Kirtland from upstate New York; they had recently joined the Church and were anxious to meet the Prophet. In a gathering that evening, Brigham spoke in tongues while praying. While answering questions about the gift, Joseph Smith prophesied that one day Brigham Young would preside over the Church.11
During the spring and summer of 1833 the Prophet devoted much of his time to translating the Bible, teaching the School of the Prophets, and beginning construction on the Kirtland Temple.
In the fall of 1833, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon went to Upper Canada at the urging of Freeman Nickerson, a recent convert, who convinced the brethren that his sons who lived there would be receptive to the gospel. The journey was historic. While it was not the first time missionaries had been in Canada (brief excursions had been made in 1830, 1832, and 1833), Joseph’s visit gave the work there considerable spark. The Prophet developed such a love for the Canadians that he visited them again in 1837 and saw to it that missionary work there continued throughout his life.
In Mount Pleasant, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon baptized twelve people, including the sons of Elder Nickerson and their families, who became the nucleus of the branch there.
Lydia Bailey was one of those in the Eleazer Freeman Nickerson household in Mount Pleasant who responded to the gospel with all of her heart. She was raised in Massachusetts and New York and at age sixteen married Calvin Bailey. Because he drank, her life with him was unhappy. After three years of marriage, he abandoned her, her daughter, and the child she was expecting. Her son died at birth, and less than a year later her daughter also died. At age twenty Lydia went to Canada with the Nickersons to recover her emotional health. There she met Joseph Smith, and he told her, “You shall yet be a savior to your father’s house.” Lydia later moved to Kirtland, where she met and married Newel Knight, a widower. Many years later, in Utah, Lydia did the ordinance work for seven hundred of her kindred dead in the St. George Utah Temple, thus fulfilling Joseph’s prophecy.12
Joseph’s journal of this mission gives us a glimpse into his character. Like other missionaries, he worried about his family and alternately faced disappointments and successes. Joseph frequently recorded brief prayers in his journal. For example, as he began the trip on 14 October 1833, he wrote, “Lord, be with us on our journey.” In his record of 22 October he noted, “We hope that great good may yet be done in Canada which, O Lord, grant for thy name’s sake.” On 23 October, as he referred to the superstitious people they preached to, he prayed, “Oh God, establish thy word among this people.”13
The Upper Canadian mission was one of fourteen missions undertaken by Joseph Smith during the Kirtland era. He left Ohio at least once each year between 1831 and 1838 to labor as a full-time missionary while serving as President of the Church.
Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the Bible was one of the pivotal developments of his work as a prophet and has had a profound influence on the Church. Joseph’s knowledge about the principles of the gospel and God’s work with his ancient prophets and people increased immensely through this project. He considered it an important “branch” of his calling and labored diligently at it. When he and Sidney Rigdon were at home in Ohio, this was their major preoccupation. The frequency with which the “translation” is referred to in the revelations and historical documents of the period underscores the importance of this project. The Prophet first began this work in New York in 1830. When he arrived in Ohio in February 1831, he continued his work in the Old Testament with the help of his scribe, Elder Rigdon. But early in March, Joseph was commanded to work on the translation of the New Testament (see D&C 45:60–61). During the next two years Joseph and Sidney continued their work on both the New and the Old Testaments. They optimistically pronounced their work finished on 2 July 1833.14
In addition to the great legacy left to the Church in the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) itself, numerous revelations now recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants came to the Prophet while he worked on the inspired translation. The study of the Bible stimulated him to inquire of the Lord about significant doctrinal and organizational matters. Doctrine and Covenants sections 76, 77, and 91 have direct links with the translation effort, “and probably much of the information in sections 74, 84, 86, 88, 93, 102, 104, 107, 113, and 132.” It is probable that many others are indirectly connected.15
The revelations the Prophet Joseph Smith received contained timely instruction from the Lord concerning the doctrines and government of the Church. Three months after the organization of the Church, the Prophet and John Whitmer arranged and copied the revelations received up to that time. Occasionally Joseph gave copies to friends, missionaries, and other Church members, but most people did not have access to the revelations. The establishment of a printing press in Missouri in 1831, however, provided the opportunity to publish them. This matter was the principal subject at a series of conferences in Hiram, Ohio, in early November 1831. By then more than sixty revelations had been recorded. On 1 November it was agreed to have William W. Phelps print ten thousand copies of the revelations in book form. (The number of copies to be printed was later reduced to three thousand.) The title of the book, the Book of Commandments, was derived from a revelation given in the same conference. The Lord designated the revelation as a “preface unto the book of my commandments” (D&C 1:6).
Later that day a few brethren made negative comments about the language and style of the revelations. Therefore, the Lord in a revelation challenged the critics to select the “least” of the commandments and to have the wisest man among them try to write a better one (see D&C 67:4–9). William E. McLellin, a schoolteacher and recent convert, presumptuously accepted the challenge. The Prophet said that McLellin, “as the wisest man, in his own estimation, having more learning than sense, endeavored to write a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord’s, but failed; it was an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord.” This experience renewed the brethren’s faith in the revelations, and they agreed “to bear testimony of their truth to all the world.”16 Subsequently, the Prophet wrote that the revelations were “the foundation of the Church in these last days.”17
Further conference sessions completed the details preparatory to the publication of the book. On 3 November 1831 an “appendix” (later D&C 133) was added to the revelations. Another session on 8 November directed Joseph Smith, under the direction of the Holy Ghost, to correct the errors he discovered in the written copy of the revelations. On 12 November the Lord called John Whitmer, the Church historian and recorder, to accompany Oliver Cowdery, who had been commanded to carry the manuscripts to Missouri for printing (see D&C 69). Another revelation given that day called six brethren “to be stewards over the revelations and commandments” (D&C 70:3). This group became known as the “Literary Firm.”18
On 20 November 1831, Oliver and John started for Missouri. They arrived in Independence on 5 January 1832 after a long, cold journey. In June, Elder Phelps began publishing extracts from the revelations in the Evening and Morning Star and setting the type for the Book of Commandments.
The rapid growth19 of the infant Church required a substantial expansion of its organization. In keeping with the principle of giving revelation “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12), the Lord directed the establishment of Church government as required. Immediately after the Church was organized in 1830, men were called to serve in the ministry and were ordained to one of four priesthood offices: deacon, teacher, priest, or elder. Other priesthood offices were added the following year.
The first new office to be added was that of bishop. Edward Partridge was appointed to this calling in February of 1831 (see D&C 41:9). His duties, however, were not revealed all at once. The earliest revelations pertaining to the office of bishop gave him responsibility for implementing the law of consecration. Specifically he was to receive consecrations, assign stewardships, and maintain a storehouse for the relief of the poor. He was also to be responsible for buying land and for building houses of worship (see D&C 42:30–35; 51:1–3). As these duties grew, agents were called to assist the bishop in receiving monies, purchasing property, and conducting secular business (see D&C 51:8; 53:4; 58:49; 84:113).
Further revelations also assigned judicial responsibilities to the bishop. At first, elders’ courts handled Church discipline, with the bishop present if possible (see D&C 42:82). By August 1831, the bishop’s assignment as common judge in Israel was made more specific. The bishop was “to judge his people by the testimony of the just, and by the assistance of his counselors, according to the laws of the kingdom which are given by the prophets of God” (D&C 58:18). Even so, elders’ courts, and later high councils, carried much of the judicial load in Kirtland. To this point the bishop did not have the pastoral duties, which later became an important part of a bishop’s responsibilities.
After Edward Partridge moved to Missouri, a second bishop, Newel K. Whitney, was called in December 1831. He was to determine the worthiness of members living in Ohio and to provide certificates to the bishop in Zion attesting that they had been members in good standing before they moved to Missouri.
The roles of the President of the Church and later the First Presidency were defined in the early Kirtland years. At the meeting where the Church was organized, Joseph Smith was called by revelation “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church” (D&C 21:1), and the Lord specified that he was the only one authorized to receive revelations for the whole Church (see D&C 28:1–6). At the conference of 3–6 June 1831 several brethren were ordained to the office of high priest for the first time. Subsequently on 25 January 1832 at a conference in Amherst, Ohio, Joseph was ordained “President of the High Priesthood.”20
For nearly two years Joseph presided over the Church without counselors. Early in March 1832 he was authorized to appoint counselors for the first time. On 8 March, Joseph selected Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon from among the recently ordained high priests. On 15 March a revelation announced that this Presidency held the “keys of the kingdom” (D&C 81:2). Jesse Gause fell away from the Church in 1832, so the First Presidency was reorganized on 18 March 1833, and Frederick G. Williams was called as the new counselor.
The calling of Patriarch to the Church was one of Joseph Smith’s responsibilities. Frequently individuals wanted him personally to ask the Lord for a revelation for them, but as the Church grew, this became impractical. On 18 December 1833, while giving blessings to his family, the Prophet was inspired to call and ordain his father as the first Patriarch to the Church. From that time until his death in 1840, Joseph Smith, Sr., traveled among the branches, holding special blessing meetings where he gave many faithful Saints their patriarchal blessings. In addition to providing revelation to individuals, the patriarchal blessings also identified the person’s lineage in the house of Israel.
The first stake of Zion was organized in Kirtland on 17 February 1834. Initially the three members of the First Presidency were appointed to serve as the presidency of this stake. With the organization of the high council in Kirtland at the same time, a second level of Church judiciary was initiated. According to the minutes, the high council’s purpose was to settle “important difficulties which might arise in the church, which could not be settled by the church or the bishop’s council” (D&C 102:2). It was to be a court of original jurisdiction on difficult cases and an appellate court. Decisions of the high council could also be appealed to the First Presidency. A second high council was organized in Clay County, Missouri, on 3 July 1834.
Nearly one-third of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received between August 1831 and April 1834. The revelations opened new vistas of gospel understanding and provided the Saints with valuable guidelines for their daily conduct. On 16 February 1832, for example, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received a revelation in direct answer to a question that had arisen during their work on the Bible. A vision of the Father and the Son, Satan’s fall, the sons of perdition, and the kingdoms of glory enormously expanded their understanding of the plan of salvation.
During the fall of 1832, when a number of missionaries had returned from their labors and were enjoying a conference, the Lord gave an important revelation on the priesthood (D&C 84). It began with a statement that the New Jerusalem and the temple would be built in Missouri. In addition to giving a brief history of the descent of the priesthood through the ancient patriarchs and prophets, the Lord explained that the greater, or Melchizedek, priesthood has the authority to administer the gospel ordinances (see v. 19) and that the lesser, or Aaronic, priesthood administered the ordinances of the “preparatory gospel” (see v. 26). The revelation went on to explain that recipients of the priesthood received it by an “oath and covenant” (v. 40), which if adhered to faithfully would bring eternal life. Information was also given about the light of Christ and the signs that follow the preaching of the gospel. Instructions to missionaries and other ministers of the gospel completed the revelation.
The Lord also spoke on war and peace. On Christmas day of 1832, he gave a revelation that contained the famous prophecy of the American Civil War. It was to be the beginning of wars that would “shortly come to pass” and would eventually be “poured out upon all nations” (D&C 87:1–2). Saints were warned that as war engulfed the globe they would be safe only if they would “stand ye in holy places, and be not moved” (v. 8). Two days later Joseph Smith received a revelation. He called it “the Olive Leaf which we have plucked from the tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us.”21 This revelation was not an explanation, however, of how men could solve their domestic and international difficulties. Rather, it diverted the Saints’ attention from their petty concerns and focused it on such eternal matters as preparing for the Lord’s coming and living the law leading to exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
This revelation also directed the formation of a “school of the prophets” to prepare the brethren to better serve one another (see D&C 88:118–41). The school began meeting at the end of January 1833 in an upstairs room above the Whitney store. These meetings provided the setting for many remarkable spiritual experiences and in-depth discussions of gospel principles.
Dietary matters were a concern during the early years of the Church. For example, a nearby Shaker colony adhered to an unusually stringent dietary code forbidding the eating of meat. In March 1831 the Lord told Joseph that this Shaker doctrine was not ordained of God because “the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment” (D&C 49:19). A revelation given in Missouri during August of the same year added the caution that men were to use these things “with judgment, not to excess” (D&C 59:20).
During the winter of 1833, the School of the Prophets frequently met to discuss the affairs of the Church; as was the custom of the time, many of the brethren chewed or smoked tobacco. As Brigham Young recalled, Joseph Smith became concerned at having to instruct the school “in a cloud of tobacco smoke,” and Emma complained at having to clean the room after the brethren. This caused the Prophet to inquire of the Lord concerning the use of tobacco. In answer he received the revelation now known as the Word of Wisdom (see D&C 89).22 The revelation forbade the use of wine, strong drink, tobacco, and “hot drinks,” which were understood to be coffee and tea; it also stressed the use of wholesome vegetables, fruits, and grains. The Saints were promised if they followed this Word of Wisdom, they would have health and strength, “find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge,” and “the destroying angel shall pass by them” (D&C 89:19, 21).
In 1833 the Lord also molded Latter-day Saint political thought, especially regarding the nature of the Constitution of the United States. Two principles were fundamental. The Constitution was an inspired document written “by the hands of wise men … raised up unto this very purpose” (D&C 101:80). It also had global application. The Lord explained that constitutional law, which guarantees rights and freedoms, “belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me” (D&C 98:5). He reaffirmed that it was established to maintain the “rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; That every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (D&C 101:77–78). Joseph Smith best expressed the Saints’ attitudes toward the Constitution when he said it is “a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner. … It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun.”23
As the headquarters of the Church, Kirtland was the center of missionary work during this period. It was near the main routes of transportation and contained the largest concentration of Church membership. Kirtland was the point of departure for missions to Canada, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic States, the Midwest, and the South. The state of Ohio itself was saturated with missionaries who crossed the state on their way to or from other fields of labor. Frequently those unable to go on longer missions or those home during the winter months visited local communities.
Typically missionaries proselyted among their relatives or in the communities they had migrated to Ohio from. Missions ranged in length from a few days to a year or more, although most were fairly short. Normally there was a rhythmic pattern as missionaries went out for a few weeks or months to preach, returned to Kirtland for rest and recuperation, and then went out again on another mission.24 Often, as was the case with Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, Erastus Snow, Brigham Young, and others, this pattern repeated itself many times during the first decade of their lives in the Church.
Before the organization of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1835, the direction of missionary work rested with the local priesthood quorums, the high council, or the Presidency of the Church. Some effort was made to improve the training of the missionaries. The School of the Prophets and the School of the Elders played a key role in this training. In the School of the Elders, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon presented lectures on faith, and the missionaries were encouraged to memorize them so they could teach the precepts of the gospel logically and systematically. A revelation commanded the brethren to study geography, geology, history, prophecy, culture, war, and language—all “that ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you” (D&C 88:80).
Although going from door to door was a common practice, missionaries often found their best success in small groups in the homes of the receptive. Many missionaries preferred public meetings. They used any available space where they could preach, such as a barn, school, church, home, or courthouse. They spoke about prophecy, the Book of Mormon, the signs of the times, spiritual gifts, the Apostasy, and the Restoration, but the missionaries were cautioned to avoid the mysteries of the gospel in their teaching. Ordinarily an elder preached and then gave “liberty” to anyone who desired to respond to his message. This technique put the local clergy on the spot because silence on their part would be interpreted as consent or defeat. Therefore, it frequently generated discussions or debates on the gospel. The missionary companion then exhorted the congregation to accept baptism.25
Missionaries often encountered rejection, hostility, or indifference. Their disappointment was particularly poignant when a disbeliever was a member of the missionary’s family. In 1832, Orson Hyde visited his relatives in New York and New Hampshire to teach them the gospel. His brother Asahel remained unmoved by the gospel message, and Orson recorded that they separated “with hearts full of grief.” Three months later he tried with his sister and her husband, but they too rejected his message. He wrote, “We took our things and left them, and tears from all eyes freely ran, … but it was like piercing my heart; and all I can say is ‘The Will of the Lord Be Done.’”26
The clergy were particularly vehement and sometimes ingenious in their opposition to the missionaries. In 1835 a Baptist deacon passed a pop-gun and ammunition through a window to a friend listening to a missionary sermon by Elder George A. Smith. Elder Smith wrote that the man shot “wads of tow [short broken fiber from flax that is used for yarn] at me all the time I was preaching. He was an excellent shot with the pop-gun, [and] most of the wads hit me in the face. I caught several of them in my hands. Many of them [the audience] were tickled, but some of them paid good attention. I finished my discourse without noticing the insult.”27
Despite the harassment, these early missionaries, inspired by faith and testimony, were remarkably successful. They remained undaunted by constant doses of opposition, heckling, and criticism, and the work prospered and set a pattern of continuous and fast-paced growth. Had not the Lord declared that the field was “white already to harvest”? (D&C 4:4).
Letters from outlying branches published in Church periodicals, the Evening and Morning Star and the Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, frequently pleaded for more missionaries. These publications also communicated instructions, decisions of authorities, information about developments throughout the Church, and explanations of gospel doctrines.
Most conferences and meetings, both in Kirtland and in the outlying branches, were devoted to missionary matters. The charge to take the restored gospel to the whole earth received an early impetus in the Kirtland headquarters of the Church. But at the same time the Church was prospering in Ohio, serious problems were developing in Zion between the Saints and their Jackson County, Missouri, neighbors.