“Chapter Twenty-Four: Nauvoo under Apostolic Leadership,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 297–307
“Chapter Twenty-Four,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 297–307
With the issue of succession settled, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began immediately to exercise its authority in leading the Church. In the Times and Seasons of 15 August 1844, they assured the Saints that as a body they were prepared to preside over the Church and promote its growth. They also reaffirmed the importance of gathering to Nauvoo and finishing the temple. They were equally eager to continue in the footsteps of the Prophet Joseph Smith in sending the gospel “forth through every neighborhood of this wide-spread country, and to all the world.”1 Despite their optimism, new challenges and difficulties lay ahead which would threaten the existence of Nauvoo and test their ability as religious leaders.
The Twelve met in council the day after they were sustained as the presiding authority of the Church. In that meeting and in several others in succeeding weeks, they began to set in order the organization and affairs of the Church. They first freed themselves from many financial duties by appointing Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller to the office of trustee-in-trust. Amasa Lyman was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and William Smith, as the oldest living son of Joseph Smith, Sr., was appointed Church Patriarch. Wilford Woodruff was sent to England to preside over the Church in Europe, and Parley P. Pratt was called to New York as president, publisher, and immigration agent in the Eastern states and provinces. Lyman Wight went to Texas, in accordance with a previous assignment from Joseph Smith, to locate potential sites for settlements. John Taylor was reassigned to edit the Times and Seasons, while Willard Richards continued as Church historian and recorder.
Church organization in the United States and Canada was expanded. Both countries were organized into districts, each presided over by a high priest. This provided needed administration for hundreds of scattered branches. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards supervised this organization, and by October eighty-five presiding high priests had been called and charged to build up stakes as large as Nauvoo.2 In Nauvoo and surrounding settlements, teachers in the Aaronic Priesthood were urged to visit the homes of the Saints regularly, and deacons were assigned to assist the bishops in the care of the poor. (Until the 1850s these Aaronic Priesthood offices were held primarily by adults.)
One additional far-reaching change involved the expansion of the seventies quorums in the Church. On 18 August, President Young declared, “a presidency of seven men will be chosen out of the first quorum to preside over the first ten quorums.”3 At the following October general conference, the number of quorums increased to twelve, and 430 seventies were ordained and assigned to their ranks. Speaking at the conference, Brigham Young said that if a person desired to preach the gospel, he would be called to be a seventy. By January 1846 there were more than thirty quorums of seventy functioning. The Seventies Hall, an elegant two-story brick meetinghouse, was pushed to completion and used as a preparatory school for the many new missionaries.4
The Twelve also continued to weed apostate elements out of the Church. Brigham Young recounted a dream where he saw a fruit tree with dead branches at the top, which had to be pruned away so the tree could flourish. He urged, “Let us cut off the dead branches of the church that good fruit may grow and a voice will soon be heard, go and build up Zion and the Temple of the Lord.”5
In 1844 Nauvoo was one of the most flourishing cities in Illinois. By perseverance, industry, and unity, the Saints had replaced the swamps with a thriving community in only five years. Advantageously situated on the Mississippi River, it promised to become a great commercial center. Many citizens in the surrounding communities, however, feared the Latter-day Saints and their religion and were determined to thwart the growth and development of Nauvoo.
They were particularly unhappy with what they considered to be special privileges given Nauvoo by its charter, and they called for its repeal and for the disbandment of the Nauvoo Legion. When the legislature convened in January 1845, these demands were accepted, and the Nauvoo charter was revoked. This action seemed justified in part because many people believed that Nauvoo harbored renegades, rogues, counterfeiters, and other fugitives. At this time some areas of frontier Illinois were infested with gangsters powerful enough to control the courts and avoid punishment. Some lawless people claimed Church membership and said that crimes committed against Gentiles were sanctioned by the Church. In reality the Church consistently excommunicated those who were guilty of serious crimes.6
In the wake of numerous newspaper reports in western Illinois concerning the presence of lawless Mormons, Nauvoo citizens held a public meeting. They noted:
“Thieves and counterfeiters have in some instances fled to our city, either under the mistaken apprehension that we would screen them, or from a malignant design to palm upon us their own crimes, and thereby draw us under the lash of persecution; and whereas it can be proved that individuals, in order to swell the list of Mormon depredations, have reported property to be stolen, which at another time they have acknowledged, they sold the same property and received pay. …
“Therefore, be it resolved, unanimously, that we will use all lawful means in our power to assist the public to prevent stealing and bogusmaking [counterfeiting], and bring the offenders to justice.”7
The damage to the reputation of the Mormons, however, was already done, and with the repeal of the Nauvoo charter, the Saints were without a legal government or the protection of their own militia. The brethren decided to continue the legion “on an extralegal basis as an instrument of internal control and as a means of defense. Guards were posted to prevent people [from] going into or out of the city without permission of the authorities.”8 Brigham Young renamed Nauvoo “The City of Joseph,” a name approved by the Saints at the April general conference. Although part of Nauvoo was reincorporated as an official town by the legislature, there was still a need for additional protective measures. The city was kept relatively free of unwanted characters by an organized group of young men and boys known as the “whistling and whittling brigade.” They followed unwanted visitors, whistling and whittling until the irritated and frightened persons left town.9
In spite of the challenges, Nauvoo continued to grow. The building industry particularly flourished and outdistanced all other trades in Nauvoo. New frame and brick homes, gardens, and farms were established. Many earlier settlers to Nauvoo built new homes, since their original shelter was often a hastily constructed log or frame hut. Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards replaced their log homes with handsome two-story brick houses in 1845. The Church also constructed a home for Lucy Mack Smith during this period. Public construction projects, such as the Seventies Hall and Concert Hall, complemented the residential building boom. A stone dike, or wing dam, in the Mississippi River, intended as a source of water power for workshops and machinery, was also begun. The largest project, however, continued to be the completion of the Nauvoo Temple.10
In June of 1845, Brigham Young sent a letter to Wilford Woodruff, then serving as president of the British Mission, about the growth of Nauvoo. He wrote that the city “looks like a paradise. All the lots and land, which have heretofore been vacant and unoccupied, were enclosed in the spring, and planted with grain and vegetables, which makes it look more like a garden of gardens than a city. … Hundreds of acres of prairie land have also been enclosed, and are now under good cultivation, blooming with corn, wheat, potatoes, and other necessaries of life. Many strangers are pouring in to view the Temple and the city. They express their astonishment and surprise to see the rapid progress.”11 Indeed it was prospering, for by the end of 1845 Nauvoo had about eleven thousand residents. It was a showcase, and numerous visitors from the East and England wrote complimentary articles about the Mormon metropolis.12
Nauvoo’s spectacular growth only increased the antagonism of the Church’s enemies. It was evident that the death of Joseph Smith had not diminished the strength and vigor of the Saints. The enemies of the Church supposed that it would not endure without its charismatic leader, and when they saw that the Church was not only surviving but was flourishing, their attempts to drive the Saints from the state were renewed and intensified.
As early as September 1844, Colonel Levi Williams of Warsaw, who had been involved in the murders at Carthage, organized a major military campaign to drive the Latter-day Saints from Illinois. It was advertised as “a great wolf hunt in Hancock County.” When word of it reached Governor Ford, he ordered General John Hardin of the state militia to Hancock County to thwart the effort. General Hardin remained in Hancock County throughout the winter to keep the peace.13
There was heightened tension in Hancock County in May 1845 when nine men were finally brought to trial in Carthage for the murder of Joseph Smith. Five of them were prominent citizens: Mark Aldrich, land promoter; Jacob C. Davis, state senator; William A. Grover, captain of the Warsaw militia; Thomas C. Sharp, newspaper editor; and Levi Williams, colonel in the fifty-ninth regiment of the state militia. The trial lasted for two weeks, an unusually long time for that era. Prosecution witnesses gave contradictory evidence, while defense attorneys argued persuasively before a non-Mormon jury that Joseph Smith was killed in response to the popular will of the people. Therefore, they asserted that no specific person or group could be held responsible. The defendants were acquitted. A separate trial scheduled for 24 June for the murder of Hyrum Smith was not held because the prosecutors did not appear.
Apparently free from any legal reprisals, Thomas Sharp unleashed a new anti-Mormon volley in the Warsaw Signal in the summer of 1845. He opposed Latter-day Saint officeholders in the county and reopened the debate over Mormon political activity. These actions provided a smoke screen for a barrage of vandalism against the Saints. Early in September, a mob of three hundred men led by Levi Williams systematically burned outlying Mormon farms and homes. They first raided Morley’s settlement and torched many unprotected homes, farm buildings, mills, and grain stacks. In mid-September Brigham Young asked for volunteers to rescue the besieged Saints. One hundred thirty-four teams were secured and immediately sent to bring the families of the outlying settlements in south Hancock County and north Adams County safely to Nauvoo.
The sheriff of Hancock County, Jacob Backenstos, a friend of the Latter-day Saints, endeavored to preserve order, but citizens in Warsaw refused to join a posse he tried to organize. After he drove off the mob with a posse made up of ex-members of the Nauvoo Legion, his life was threatened by the non-Mormons of Hancock County, and he fled. Frank Worrell, who had supervised the guard at Carthage the day of the Martyrdom, led the chase after Backenstos. Near the railroad shanties north of Warsaw, Backenstos overtook several members of the Church and immediately deputized them. When Worrell raised his gun to fire at the sheriff, deputy Porter Rockwell took aim with his rifle and mortally wounded Worrell. This intensified hostilities in Hancock County, and with civil war imminent, citizens in Quincy, Illinois, and Lee County, Iowa, asked Church members to move from Illinois. On 24 September 1845 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles promised that the Church would leave the following spring.
Governor Ford dispatched four hundred militia troops under the direction of General Hardin and three other prominent citizens, including Congressman Stephen A. Douglas, to act as an independent police force during this period of civil unrest. The depredations ended, and peace was restored temporarily. Acting as the governor’s on-the-spot advisory committee, the four leaders investigated the circumstances and learned that the anti-Mormons had initiated the conflict with their raids. They also recognized that there would be no peace in Hancock County until the Mormons left Illinois.14
Congressman Douglas was an advocate of manifest destiny—a philosophy advocating the growth of the United States completely across the continent. He counseled Church leaders to find a place to settle in the West and promised to use his influence in assisting their move. For some time Church leaders had planned a move to the Rocky Mountains, so these negotiations proceeded smoothly. Finally the Saints agreed to leave Nauvoo the following spring as soon as there was enough grass on the prairies to sustain their cattle and horses. Trustees of the Church would stay in Nauvoo to sell any remaining property.
Throughout this period, Brigham Young and members of the Twelve kept work on the temple moving. They met frequently with the architect and temple committee and repeatedly invited the members to “gather to Nauvoo with their means” to help build the house of the Lord.15 In the October 1844 general conference, Brigham Young said, “I believe this people is the best people of their age that ever lived on the earth, the church of Enoch not excepted. We want you to come on with your tithes and offerings to build this Temple.”16 In response the “Relief Society sisters recommitted themselves to contribute a penny a week per member for glass and nails,”17 while those of means contributed large sums without which the project would not have progressed. Joseph Toronto handed Brigham Young twenty-five hundred dollars in gold, saying “he wanted to give himself and all he had” to build the kingdom of God.18 Numerous craftsmen were called to help with the project. By the spring of 1845 the capstone was in position. The workers then assembled the roof and finished the interior. Plans were set for a formal dedication in April 1846.
Rooms in the temple were dedicated as they were completed so that ordinance work could begin as early as possible. General conference convened in the partially finished edifice in October 1845. Brigham Young “opened the services of the day by a dedicatory prayer, presenting the Temple, thus far completed, as a monument of the saints’ liberality, fidelity, and faith, concluding: ‘Lord, we dedicate this house and ourselves, to thee.’ The day was occupied most agreeably in hearing instructions and teachings, and offering up the gratitude of honest hearts, for so great a privilege, as worshiping God within instead of without an edifice, whose beauty and workmanship will compare with any house of worship in America, and whose motto is: ‘HOLINESS TO THE LORD.’”19
The attic story of the temple was dedicated for ordinance work 30 November 1845. President Young prayed that the Lord would sustain and deliver his servants until they accomplished his will in the temple. The rooms were soon prepared for ordinances, and Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball began giving endowments to faithful Latter-day Saints on the evening of 10 December. On 11 December endowment sessions were continued until 3:00 a.m.
When enemies of the Church observed this increased temple activity, they renewed their oppression. A new threat against the Church leadership soon came in the form of an indictment issued by the United States District Court in Springfield against Brigham Young and eight other Apostles on charges of instigating and harboring a counterfeiting operation in Nauvoo. On 23 December, government officials approached the temple, hoping to find and arrest Brigham Young. Knowing they were there, Brigham Young knelt down and asked for guidance and protection so that he could “live to prove advantageous to the Saints.20 He noticed William Miller in the hall, who agreed to act as a decoy. Brother Miller, who was the same height as Brigham, left the temple dressed as Brigham Young and stepped into the president’s carriage. Waiting marshals arrested him and took him to the Mansion House, where friends and relatives of Brigham joined in on the charade. Miller was then taken to Carthage. Only after someone there identified him did his captors learn that they had a “bogus Brigham.” Meanwhile, Brigham Young and his brethren had gone into safe hiding.
The Brethren redoubled their efforts to endow as many Saints as possible before the evacuation of Nauvoo began. By the end of 1845, over a thousand members had received these ordinances. In January, Brigham Young recorded, “Such has been the anxiety manifested by the saints to receive the ordinances [of the Temple], and such the anxiety on our part to administer to them, that I have given myself up entirely to the work of the Lord in the Temple night and day, not taking more than four hours sleep, upon an average, per day, and going home but once a week.”21 There were many others among the brethren and sisters who gave freely of their time by washing the temple clothing each night so the work could continue unimpeded the next morning.22
On 3 February the Brethren planned to stop the ordinance work, and Brigham Young left the temple to make final preparation to leave the next day for the West. But seeing a large crowd gathered to receive their endowments, he compassionately returned to serve them. This delayed his departure for another two weeks. According to temple records, 5,615 Saints were endowed before going west, thus fulfilling one of Joseph Smith’s fondest desires.
Following the Martyrdom, many important events occurred in other areas of the Church, particularly in Britain and the eastern United States. Arriving in England early in 1845, Wilford Woodruff traveled throughout Britain holding conferences, transacting mission affairs, and opening new areas for missionary activities. In Manchester, at a large manufacturing center, he met a crowded conference of eager Latter-day Saints. He recorded the incident in his journal: “The spirit of the Lord was with us. Love and union pervaded the congregation. I was made glad with the scene of beholding so many saints united in the New and Everlasting Covenant. I often thought I would like to see President Joseph Smith meet with a conference of Saints in England but he has gone. We can go to him but it is not expected he will come to us.”23
At the end of 1845, Elder Woodruff was released from his short but effective mission. Even though there was some emigration from England to Nauvoo in 1845, the Church continued to prosper and grow rapidly in England, reaching a membership of over eleven thousand. By the end of 1845, the faithful Saints there had contributed over three hundred pounds worth of sterling for the Nauvoo Temple. As he again left this land where he had performed so many great works during his two missions, Elder Woodruff noted how peaceful and happy the British Saints were.
Elder Parley P. Pratt’s mission to the eastern states was not unlike Wilford Woodruff’s to Britain. He was to put in order the affairs of the Church in the East before the Saints began their long-awaited exodus to the West. But Elder Pratt found more serious problems there than Wilford Woodruff did in England.
As he surveyed the situation, Parley and his two companions discovered that William Smith, George Adams, Samuel Brannan, and others were teaching “all manner of false doctrine and immoral practices, by which many of them had stumbled and been seduced from virtue and truth. While many others, seeing their iniquity, had turned away from the Church and joined various dissenting parties.”24 In accordance with instructions previously received from Brigham Young, the Brethren sent the guilty parties to Nauvoo for discipline by the Twelve. Parley also assumed editorship of The Prophet, the Church’s newspaper in New York. His writings instructed and inspired many. One important item he published was a proclamation to the heads of government worldwide, thus fulfilling an assignment given by revelation to the Church in 1841 (see D&C 124:2–7).
Elder Jedediah M. Grant was one of those who ably assisted Elder Pratt “in setting in order the churches and reestablishing pure gospel principles.”25 For several years Elder Grant had made significant contributions as a missionary, and in December 1845 he was called as one of the Seven Presidents of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Elder Pratt returned to Nauvoo in August 1845. There he stood with his brethren as the Church faced the anti-Mormon outrages in Hancock County. He also contributed to the building of the temple and labored in it night and day during December and January, administering the endowment to faithful Latter-day Saints.
Long before he died, the Prophet Joseph had discussed moving the Church to the West. In 1842 he had prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and “some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.”26 In the spring of 1844, plans for colonizing in the West were initiated. An exploring party was organized to “investigate the locations of California and Oregon, and hunt out a good location, where we can remove to after the temple is completed, and where we can build a city in a day, and have a government of our own, get up into the mountains, where the devil cannot dig us out, and live in a healthful climate, where we can live as old as we have a mind to.”27 After the Prophet’s death, further preparations for such an exodus were made.
The planned move west gave some people an excuse to lead away groups from the Church. Joseph Smith had authorized Lyman Wight and Bishop George Miller to establish a colony in Texas; President Young encouraged this effort until it became obvious that Wight and Miller wanted the whole Church to settle there. In late August 1844, Elder Wight was counseled to limit his company to those working with him at the Wisconsin pineries. These he led to Texas. Rather than exploring for a colony, however, he established a permanent settlement. In November 1845 the Saints in Texas were asked to return to Nauvoo, but the independent-minded leader and his followers refused. In 1848, after several more reconciliation attempts, Elder Wight was excommunicated from the Church.
Brigham Young and his colleagues wanted to stay in Illinois until the temple was completed and adequate preparations were made for the departure. During the winter of 1844–45 they read the journals of fur trappers, the reports of government exploring parties, and newspaper articles by western travelers to accumulate as much information about the region as possible. Resettlement committees considered three great western territories as potential sites: Texas, an independent nation; Upper California, a large, ill-defined and loosely governed Mexican province (of which the later state of Utah was a part); and Oregon, encompassing the entire Northwest and jointly claimed and administered by the United States and England. Gradually their attention centered on the eastern rim of the Great Basin because this area provided the desired isolation and thousands of acres of fertile land.28
Leaders of the Church assured the Saints, some of whom were surprised at the announcement, that the exodus was a well-planned transplanting necessary to give the Church the room it needed to grow. October general conference was largely devoted to preparing for an orderly and unified withdrawal.29 After the conference the Twelve issued a general epistle explaining that “a crisis of extraordinary and thrilling interests has arrived. The exodus … to a far distant region of the west, where bigotry, intolerance and insatiable oppression lose their power over them—forms a new epoch.” It went on to counsel the Saints everywhere to sell their property and prepare for the gathering.30 Despite the onset of winter, Nauvoo was a hive of activity as the Saints began to prepare for the exodus.
The evacuation from western Illinois was originally planned for April 1846, but two new threats prompted an early, hasty exit. The first was the indictment against Brigham Young and eight other Apostles, accusing them of counterfeiting. The second was a warning by Governor Thomas Ford and others that federal troops in St. Louis planned to intercept the Mormons and destroy them. Years later it was learned that this was only a rumor started to induce the Saints to leave sooner than they had planned.31
In January 1846 the Brethren decided to prepare several companies to leave at a moment’s notice. A committee was appointed to dispose of all property and effects left behind, including the temple and the Nauvoo House. The decision to leave was made on 2 February, and the first group, led by Charles Shumway, crossed the Mississippi River on 4 February. Soon there were several hundred Saints assembled in temporary camps in Iowa. Brigham Young and others who remained behind to administer endowments to the Saints did not leave Nauvoo until mid-February. Unfortunately, too many left who were inadequately outfitted and chose to depart earlier than was wise.
If the Saints had left Nauvoo beginning in April, as originally planned, undoubtedly there would have been a more orderly exodus. The original blueprint called for twenty-five companies of one hundred families each with adequate provisions and presided over by a company captain. The companies were to have left at prearranged intervals to ensure order. But these plans were shattered by the Saints who panicked and did not want to be left behind after the Twelve had left. Many of the previously appointed captains abandoned their assignments to align themselves with the vanguard companies and be with the Twelve. But in spite of the confusion, there was optimism among the Saints in eastern Iowa. One of the most remarkable migrations in the history of Western civilization had begun.