“‘Go to the Ohio’” Revelations in Context (2016)
“Go to the Ohio,” Revelations in Context
Not long after the second conference of the young Church of Christ concluded in late September 1830, four missionaries—Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson—set out from New York to preach to the American Indians in Missouri. After a brief visit with Seneca Indians near Buffalo, New York, the group followed Pratt’s inclination along Lake Erie to Mentor, Ohio, home of his former spiritual leader, Sidney Rigdon.
Then a preacher with two Reformed Baptist congregations, Rigdon was influential enough that those in his flock were known by many as Rigdonites.1 Recognizing his influence, Pratt and Cowdery called on Rigdon on October 28, but his reaction to their message was not a positive one. He skeptically accepted a copy of the Book of Mormon, and one congregant remembered that he “partly condemned it.”2 Nevertheless, he agreed to read it.
The missionaries preached a sermon in Mentor to little effect and soon moved on to Kirtland and the Isaac Morley farm, arriving November 2. Also a Reformed Baptist, Isaac Morley was the “spiritual father of a large communal family”—composed mostly of members of Rigdon’s congregations—living at his farm. As a group, the “family” sought to reestablish the gospel of Jesus Christ as described in the Bible. The missionaries found a warm reception for their message among the members of the “family” at the Morley farm and baptized many of them.
The next day, November 4, Rigdon came to Kirtland to perform a marriage and then joined the missionaries as they traveled the area preaching the message of the restored gospel. Seventeen more people were baptized the next day, and though Rigdon was not among them, within another day he had joined in the preaching and, according to one observer, was “much affected and shedding tears” at the meeting.3
By Sunday, November 7, the preaching drew a crowd so large that listeners spilled outside and someone pulled boards off the building so the overflow crowd could hear. Parley P. Pratt taught from the Book of Mormon and then invited others to speak—an invitation Sidney Rigdon quickly accepted. Rigdon stood and announced that after hearing the missionaries’ message, he “should never try to preach again” and urged listeners not to contend against what they had heard.
Rigdon had become convinced that the missionaries did, indeed, have authority previously not found on the earth. He desired to be baptized and discussed the matter with his wife, Phebe, warning her of how their lives might change if they obeyed the gospel:
“‘My dear, you have once followed me into poverty; are you again willing to do the same?’ She answered, ‘I have weighed the matter; I have contemplated … the circumstances in which we may be placed; I have counted the cost, and I am perfectly satisfied to follow you. Yea, it is my desire to do the will of God, come life or come death.’”4
Knowing that the cost of their conversion would probably include their home and their living, both Sidney and Phebe Rigdon were baptized in November 1830. Rigdon gave up preaching and worked briefly on Morley’s farm but soon left for New York with “much anxiety to see Joseph Smith Jr. the Seer whom the Lord had raised up in these last days.”5 Rigdon was accompanied on his journey by one of his former parishioners, Edward Partridge, whose wife, Lydia, believed the missionaries’ message. Still skeptical, Partridge desired to meet Joseph before he would be baptized.
The two men met Joseph in New York in early December 1830, and Rigdon was soon “desirous to have the Seer enquire of the Lord, to know what the will of the Lord was concerning him.”6 In response, Joseph dictated the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 35. Rigdon was praised for his work in his ministry in Ohio and charged to be Joseph’s companion and scribe for the ongoing translation of the Bible. He was told that as he did so, “the scriptures shall be given even as they are in mine own bosom to the salvation of mine own elect.”7 Accordingly, Rigdon stayed in Fayette with Joseph and began his service as scribe.
Upon his arrival in New York, Partridge spoke with the Smiths’ neighbors about the family’s character. Fully satisfied with what he learned, he requested baptism, and Joseph promised to baptize him after Partridge had rested from his journey. Joseph Smith soon received a revelation for Partridge as well, in which Partridge was commissioned to “preach the everlasting gospel among the Nation.”8 After his baptism, Partridge traveled east to share his new faith with his family.
Rigdon and Partridge’s arrival in New York brought with it word of how deeply the restored gospel had taken root in Ohio.9 And even as the number of converts in Ohio rapidly grew, the Church in New York faced increasing opposition. A few months previously, Joseph Smith had received a revelation declaring that the Church should be gathered in one place, though that location had not yet been revealed (see D&C 29:7–8).
Joseph’s mother, Lucy, later remembered that Joseph had received word that the fledgling congregations in Ohio were badly in need of direction, as the number of converts had ballooned to 300.10 Then, as Joseph and Sidney Rigdon traveled from Fayette to Canandaigua, New York, in late December, they received a revelation directing the Church to “go to the Ohio.”11 In the revelation, the men were also directed to temporarily stop working on the Bible revision in order to strengthen the congregations in New York in preparation for the move.
Three days later, the third conference of the Church convened in Fayette, and Joseph announced to the members the Lord’s charge to leave their homes and gather in Ohio. In connection with the announcement, Joseph dictated another revelation that elaborated on the command to gather and promised members that in Ohio they would receive God’s “law & there you shall be endowed with power from on high.”12
Newel Knight later wrote that the members present were “instructed as a people, to begin the gathering of Israel, and a revelation was given to the Prophet on this subject.”13 Though some Church members balked at the commandment to abandon their homes and gather to a new place, after a night of fasting and prayer, the young Church committed to obey the charge.14