Lesson 130: The Establishment of Nauvoo

“Lesson 130: The Establishment of Nauvoo,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)

“Lesson 130,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 130

The Establishment of Nauvoo


After the Saints’ expulsion from Missouri, they turned swampland along the Mississippi River into the city of Nauvoo, a place of beauty. Nauvoo, Illinois, became the headquarters of the Church from 1839 to 1846. The Relief Society was formed there, and from the Nauvoo headquarters missionary work spread farther throughout the earth.

Note: This lesson provides an opportunity for two students to teach. Select two students a few days before this lesson, and give them copies of the designated portions so they have time to prepare.

Suggestions for Teaching

The Saints establish the city of Nauvoo

map, Missouri and Illinois

Remind students that the Saints were expelled from Missouri during the winter of 1838–39 while Joseph Smith was imprisoned in Liberty Jail.

  • How do you think the Saints might have felt when they were expelled from Missouri? (Answers might include that the Saints wondered where they should go.)

Explain that following the Saints’ expulsion from Missouri, they found refuge in Quincy, Illinois, and other small communities. Invite students to locate Quincy on Map 6 (“The Westward Movement of the Church”) in the Church History Maps section of their scriptures. On April 15, 1839, Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners were told they would be transferred to another location. On the way to the new location, their guards allowed them to escape, acknowledging the injustice of holding them any longer. About a week later, Joseph Smith was reunited with his family in Quincy. Under Joseph Smith’s direction, the Church purchased land on both sides of the Mississippi River north of Quincy. The west side of the river was part of Iowa Territory, and the east side was part of the state of Illinois. The Saints established the new headquarters of the Church on the Illinois side at a place called Commerce, which they renamed Nauvoo.

Invite the first student teacher to come forward and briefly teach the class about the establishment of Nauvoo.

Student Teacher 1: The Saints transform Commerce, Illinois, into Nauvoo—a place of beauty

Write the following question on the board: What are some circumstances in your life right now that are difficult or unpleasant? Give students time to ponder this question.

Invite students to look for insights about how they can deal with difficult or unpleasant circumstances as they learn about the Saints who established Nauvoo.

Explain that Church members changed the name of a small settlement called Commerce to Nauvoo, which is a Hebrew word that means beautiful.

Invite a student to read the following description of the area as it was when the Saints first arrived in 1839. Ask the class to listen and ponder what their reaction to the area would have been.

When the Saints arrived at the place they would call Nauvoo, much of the land was a swamp infested with mosquitos. The mosquitos carried a disease called malaria, which caused severe fevers and chills and could result in death. Many of the Saints were infected and became ill. Some of the afflicted were so sick that they could only crawl around as they tried to help each other, and some died. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 217–18.)

  • Would you have called this a beautiful place? Why do you think the Prophet Joseph Smith chose to call this swampland a beautiful place?

Invite a student to read the following paragraphs explaining how the Saints responded to the challenges they encountered in what was to be their new home.

Joseph Smith also contracted malaria, but after several days of sickness, he arose on July 22, 1839, and was filled with the Spirit of God. He blessed many of the sick near his home. In one instance, Joseph approached a tent belonging to a Church member named Henry G. Sherwood, who was near death. When the Prophet commanded him to rise and come out of the tent, Brother Sherwood obeyed and was healed.

Joseph crossed to the Iowa side of the river and continued to bless the sick. As Joseph was preparing to return to the Illinois side, a man who was not a member of the Church asked the Prophet if he would come bless his twin babies about two miles away. “Joseph said he could not go, but he gave Wilford Woodruff a red silk handkerchief and told him to administer to them, promising that when he wiped their faces with it they would be healed” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 219). Wilford followed this instruction, and the children were healed. Wilford called that day “a day of God’s power” (Wilford Woodruff Journals, July 22, 1839, quoted in Church History in the Fulness of Times, 218).

Despite the faith and power of that day, sickness continued among the Saints for the next several months. However, they continued to care for one another and worked to build their new home. They dug ditches to drain water from the swamps to the river, which made the land more usable and reduced the mosquito problem. Eventually they built many homes and other structures, including the Nauvoo Temple, which was considered by some to be one of the finest buildings in the country.

  • How does the “day of God’s power” on July 22, 1839, help you have greater faith in the Lord?

  • How did the Saints make Nauvoo a beautiful place?

  • What can we learn from their example?

After students have discussed the Saints’ example of hard work to build Nauvoo, ask the following question:

  • What can happen when we seek to improve the circumstances around us?

As students respond, write the following principle on the board: As we seek to improve the circumstances around us, we also improve ourselves. Invite students to share experiences that illustrate this principle. You may also want to share an experience and testify of this principle. Invite the class to look for opportunities today to improve the circumstances around them.

Student Teacher 2: The Relief Society is founded

Note: Before class, ask a Relief Society member (such as a family member or friend) to tell you about some ways Relief Society has given her opportunities to participate in the Lord’s work and has blessed her life. Consider writing down what you learn from her.

Invite students to think of women in the scriptures they admire. Ask them to tell a partner about this woman and why they admire her. After each pair has had time to discuss, explain that the women in Nauvoo were a great strength in advancing the work of the Lord.

Explain that in 1842 some women in Nauvoo assembled to discuss ways they could assist with the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. They formed a society and wrote a constitution and bylaws to govern their work. They presented their constitution and bylaws to the Prophet Joseph Smith, who said they were “the best he had ever seen.” But then he said that the Lord had “something better for them than a written constitution.” He invited them to meet with him within the next week, when he would “organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood” (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-biography,” Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 1, 1883, 51; quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society [2011], 12). This organization was the Relief Society.

Emma Smith was called to be the first general president of the Relief Society. Eliza R. Snow, the secretary of the Relief Society in Nauvoo and later the second general president of the Relief Society, taught: “Although the name [Relief Society] may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by [the Prophet Joseph Smith] that the same organization existed in the church anciently” (“Female Relief Society,” Deseret News, Apr. 22, 1868, 1; see also Daughters in My Kingdom, 7).

  • What can we learn about the Relief Society from Eliza R. Snow’s statement? (As students respond, write the following truth on the board: Relief Society is an inspired part of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ.)

  • Why do you think it is important for us to understand this truth?

Invite a student to read the following statement concerning the purposes of Relief Society:

“Relief Society was established to help prepare daughters of God for the blessings of eternal life. The purposes of Relief Society are to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and provide relief by seeking out and helping those in need” (Daughters in My Kingdom, xi).

Tell the class about the conversation you had with a member of Relief Society, including your thoughts about what you learned. Conclude by testifying of the principle you wrote on the board.

Missionary work spreads across the earth

Thank the students who taught. To prepare the class to learn about the growth of the Church during the Nauvoo period, ask the following questions:

  • What are some items that can extinguish a fire?

  • What are some items that cause a fire to grow?

  • Joseph Smith compared the work of God to a fire. Do you think the persecutions the Saints experienced in Missouri were like water that began to extinguish the work of God or like fuel that caused it to grow? Why?

Ask a student to read aloud the following statement that the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in a letter to a newspaper editor named John Wentworth on March 1, 1842:

Prophet Joseph Smith

“Persecution has not stopped the progress of truth, but has only added fuel to the flame. …

“… The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (in History of the Church, 4:540).

  • What do we learn from this statement? (Students may identify a variety of truths, but emphasize the following: Nothing will stop the progress of God’s work throughout the earth. Write this truth on the board.)

Explain that when Joseph Smith recorded this prophecy, the Lord had begun to call missionaries to preach the gospel in various countries. As a result, thousands of people—primarily from Great Britain—were baptized. The new members brought great strength to the Church, and many traveled to join the Saints in Nauvoo.

To illustrate the truth on the board, ask for four volunteers to participate in a role play of an experience Wilford Woodruff had while preaching the gospel in Herefordshire, England, in 1840. Assign the volunteers the following parts: Wilford Woodruff, Clergyman, Constable, Narrator. Give each of the volunteers a copy of the following script to use in the role play:

Wilford Woodruff (speaking to himself):Whew. That’s the second sermon I have preached today. After the meeting this evening I would assume that nearly one thousand people will have heard the Lord’s message today.

Clergyman (standing on the other side of the room, speaking to the Constable):Constable, this Mormon preacher has got to be stopped. I only had fifteen people attend my parish today. Fifteen! I assume the others were led to one of his sermons. I cannot allow my parish to continue to shrink while this Mormon’s audience grows. I want you to arrest him and stop his work.

Constable:I will do what I can.

Narrator:When Elder Woodruff rose to speak in the meeting that evening, the constable came through the door.

Constable (now speaking to Wilford Woodruff):Excuse me, sir. I am a constable and have been sent by the clergyman of the local parish with a warrant to arrest you.

Wilford Woodruff:For what crime?

Constable:For preaching to the people.

Wilford Woodruff:I can assure you that I have a license for preaching the gospel to the people just as that clergyman does. If you would take a chair I will speak with you more about this after the meeting, but I must begin now. … (mimic speaking to the class)

Narrator:The constable took the chair Elder Woodruff had been sitting in and sat next to Elder Woodruff while he preached the gospel for over an hour. Wilford Woodruff said of this experience:

Wilford Woodruff:The power of God rested upon me, the Spirit filled the house, and the people were convinced.

Narrator:At the end of the meeting, Elder Woodruff extended an invitation for baptism.

Wilford Woodruff:I invite all who desire to have their sins remitted and join the Lord’s restored Church to enter the waters of baptism this day.

Constable (rising from chair and speaking to Wilford Woodruff):Mr. Woodruff, I would like to be baptized.

Narrator:The constable was baptized that day, along with four preachers and two other people. The constable returned to the clergyman and explained the situation.

Constable (speaking to the clergyman):If you want Mr. Woodruff arrested, you must do it yourself, for I have heard him preach the only true gospel sermon I have ever listened to in my life.

Narrator:The clergyman then sent two clerks to attend a meeting to find out what Elder Woodruff was preaching. They were also convinced of the truth of Elder Woodruff’s message and were baptized. The clergyman did not send anyone else to one of Elder Woodruff’s sermons.

(Adapted from Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal [1881], 80–81.)

After the volunteers have finished, ask the class the following questions:

  • How does Elder Woodruff’s experience illustrate the principle that nothing will stop the progress of God’s work?

  • How is Joseph Smith’s prophecy concerning the progress of God’s work being fulfilled today? How do you feel about participating in this work?

  • What can you do to help God’s work spread among all people? (You may want to invite students to respond to this question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals.)

Explain that in coming lessons, students will learn more about the important events that occurred and principles that were taught while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintained headquarters in Nauvoo from 1839 to 1846. Testify of the principles discussed in class today, and invite students to act on what they learned.

Commentary and Background Information

The Saints’ exodus from Missouri

“The months following the surrender of Far West [Missouri] severely tested the leadership of the Church. The entire First Presidency—Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Hyrum Smith—were in jail. The ranks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had been thinned. David W. Patten had been killed in the Battle of Crooked River, Parley P. Pratt was in jail, and his brother Orson was with a group of Saints in St. Louis. Thomas B. Marsh, William Smith, and Orson Hyde were disaffected with the Church and consequently were of no help. Therefore the responsibility of overseeing the needs of the Church during the winter of 1838–39 and throughout the exodus from Missouri to Illinois fell mostly upon Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. John Taylor was called to the apostleship in December 1838. Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith were added the following April; both of these men were able to provide valuable assistance during this critical time” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System student manual, 2003], 211–12).

On January 26, 1839, Brigham Young created the Committee on Removal to facilitate the exodus.

“Throughout the winter and spring this committee arranged to feed, clothe, and transport the poor. By formal resolution nearly four hundred Latter-day Saints covenanted to place all of their available property at the disposal of the committee ‘for the purpose of providing means for the removing from this state of the poor and destitute who shall be considered worthy, till there shall not be one left who desires to remove from the state’ [in History of the Church, 3:251]. …

“By mid-February conditions were such that a large scale migration of the Saints began. Wagons and teams, although not of the best quality, had been acquired; food reserves were in place along the migration route; and there was a temporary break in the weather. Nevertheless, leaving Missouri was not easy for the refugees. Many people sold precious possessions and lands at unreasonably low prices to obtain means to flee the state” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 212).

Wilford Woodruff’s experiences as a missionary in England

While serving a mission in England, Wilford Woodruff received an impression from the Spirit to leave where he was preaching and go to another part of England. Elder Woodruff ended up in Herefordshire, where he found numerous souls who were ready to receive the restored gospel. “Through the efforts of Wilford Woodruff and others, some eighteen hundred people were converted in the three-county area of Hereford, Worcester, and Gloucester. … Reflecting on this extraordinary period of his life, Wilford Woodruff wrote, ‘The whole history of this Herefordshire mission shows the importance of listening to the still small voice of the spirit of God, and the revelations of the Holy Ghost. The people were praying for light and truth, and the Lord sent me to them’ [in Matthias F. Cowley, ed., Wilford Woodruff (1979), 120]” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System student manual, 2003], 231).

Doctrinal developments in Nauvoo and surrounding areas

The Lord revealed “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9) while the Saints maintained headquarters in Nauvoo from 1839 to 1846. This period of ongoing revelation occurred as the Saints labored to build the Nauvoo Temple, in which the Lord promised to reveal ordinances and knowledge that had “been kept hid from before the foundation of the world” (D&C 124:41). During this time, the Lord revealed the ordinances of baptism for the dead, the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. He also revealed more about the nature of the Godhead (see D&C 130:22). From 1842 to 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote the Articles of Faith and published the book of Abraham, which clarified difficult passages in other scriptural texts and revealed truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ that had been previously unknown or little understood. The Prophet also conferred the keys of the kingdom upon the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles so they would be prepared to lead the Church after his death.

President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of another important development that occurred in conjunction with the construction of the Nauvoo Temple:

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“This building [the Nauvoo Temple] was to be concerned with the things of eternity. It was to stand as a witness to all who should look upon it that those who built it had a compelling faith and a certain knowledge that the grave is not the end, but that the soul is immortal and goes on growing. In March of the year he died—1844—the Prophet had amplified this doctrine in a monumental address which he delivered in the grove which was just below the temple site. The text of that address has become an important doctrinal document in the theology of the Church. It is known as the King Follett Sermon” (“Nauvoo’s Holy Temple,” Ensign, Sept. 1994, 62).

In the King Follett sermon, delivered at the funeral of a man named King Follett, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that we lived with Heavenly Father before we came to earth and that God instituted laws to allow us to progress:

Prophet Joseph Smith

“God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 210).

Joseph Smith also explained our potential as children of God:

Prophet Joseph Smith

“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, … by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. …

“… [The righteous who have died] shall rise again to dwell in everlasting burnings in immortal glory, not to sorrow, suffer, or die any more, but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a god, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 221–22).

The history and work of Relief Society

To learn more about how the Relief Society has assisted in building up the kingdom of God on the earth, see Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society (2011).