Early Church History

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized on 6 April 1830 in Fayette, New York. As the Church grew, new converts gathered in Ohio and Missouri. While the Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, experienced persecution, those gathered in Missouri were repeatedly driven from town to town by angry mobs. Having been forced from Missouri in 1839, Church members gathered in Illinois and built a thriving community in a swampy bend of the Mississippi River. However, within seven years they were again forced from their homes. Led by Brigham Young, these pioneers fled 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers) westward to the Salt Lake Valley.

  • The first temple built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was located in Kirtland, Ohio. Despite the estimated cost of (U.S.) $40,000 — which translates to approximately three-quarters of a million dollars in today's economy — Church members were committed to building the temple. Often men would build all day and then spend their nights guarding the temple from mobs. As it neared completion in 1836, donated glassware and china were crushed into the plaster to give the temple a gleaming appearance.
  • Under Joseph Smith's direction, seven missionaries sailed to Liverpool, England, and opened the British Mission in 1837. After nine months of preaching in churches, in rented halls or door to door, there were nearly 2,000 new converts. When 800 Church members gathered in 1863 to sail to America on the Amazon, British author Charles Dickens boarded the ship to observe. Noting their orderliness and organization, he observed that the Latter-day Saint converts compared with "the pick and flower of England."
  • In 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an infamous "Order of Extermination." The order came in response to exaggerated reports of incidents between Latter-day Saints and longtime Missouri residents. It stated that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good." Although unenforced since the mid-1800s, the order was not officially rescinded until 1976 — 138 years later.
  • After Church members were forced from Ohio and Missouri, they settled in Commerce, Illinois — a swampy bend of the Mississippi River. The city was renamed Nauvoo in October 1839, deriving its name from a Hebrew word meaning something pleasant or beautiful, or a place of rest and beauty. As Latter-day Saints gathered to their new haven, the city population swelled to an estimated 12,000 residents. Nauvoo quickly became a major commerce center, rivaling Chicago in size.
  • As Nauvoo grew, so did the opposition of mobs. Latter-day Saints built a temple in Nauvoo, but by the time it was dedicated, they were once again being forced from their homes. The temple was abandoned, desecrated by mobs, and then gutted by an arsonist's fire in 1848. A century and a half later, the Nauvoo Temple was rebuilt using original plans and dedicated by former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in June 2002. Between February and September 1846, the majority of Church members were forced from their homes in Nauvoo. Most of them fled down a street which today is sometimes referred to as the "Street of Tears." During a sharp freeze, the broad Mississippi River froze solid, allowing several thousand Church members to cross on foot or in wagons. A number of diarists refer to this freezing as a miracle, though one quipped "it was a miracle that nearly froze a couple of thousand saints."

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