Jackson County, Missouri

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In mid-July 1831 the Prophet Joseph Smith arrived in Jackson County, Missouri and on 20 July 1831 he received the following revelation: “This is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion,” the Lord declared. “Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse” (Doctrine & Covenants 57:2–3). On 2 August, Sidney Rigdon dedicated this area for the Latter-day Saints. The following day the Prophet led a group of Church members on the outskirts west of Independence and there designated and dedicated the spot for a temple that would be part of the New Jerusalem.

Jackson County, 1831–33

With this newly acquired understanding of the location for Zion, Church members were called and appointed under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Bishops Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney to journey to Missouri and take up residence there (see D&C 57:15–16; D&C 63:41; D&C 72:15–17, 24–26). In addition, Latter-day Saints in Ohio were expected to consecrate their property and money so that lands in Jackson County could be purchased (see D&C 42:34–35; D&C 57:4–8; D&C 58:51; D&C 63:25–31). However, everyone was not yet expected to gather to Zion. Even the Prophet Joseph Smith continued to live in the Kirtland area, which remained the headquarters of the Church until 1838. However, by mid-1833 Latter-day Saints in Jackson County numbered 1,000 to 1,200, with four branches of the Church in Kaw Township and another branch in Blue Township, Jackson County.

Their growing presence and the cultural, social, political, religious, and economic differences between the local settlers and the Latter-day Saints fostered tension until conflict became the natural outgrowth. The tensions reached a climax on 20 July 1833, when a group of local citizens confronted Church leaders in Independence and demanded that the Latter-day Saints leave the county, pledging that no one would be harmed or molested and that they would be given sufficient time to dispose of their property and businesses if they complied.

When their demands were rejected, a mob ransacked the printing office of the Church-operated newspaper, the Evening and Morning Star, which was also the home of William W. Phelps, the Church printer. Press and type were thrown into the street, printed materials destroyed, and the building all but demolished. The nearby Church-owned store was spared a similar fate when store clerk A. Sidney Gilbert agreed to cease its operation. Two men, Bishop Edward Partridge and Charles Allen, were publicly tarred and feathered at the county courthouse.

With little recourse, three days later Church leaders signed a memorandum promising that at least half of the Latter-day Saints would leave the county by January 1834 and that the other half would be gone by April 1834. With this agreement in place, much of the agitation ceased. However, in October 1833, when Jackson County citizens learned that the Prophet Joseph Smith had advised the Saints to remain on their property and seek to resolve the problem through legal channels, violence erupted again. From 31 October to 5 November, mob vigilantes attacked the Latter-day Saint settlements, destroying homes and property. Men were whipped, women and children threatened, and shots exchanged, resulting in the deaths of one Latter-day Saint and two Missourians. To avoid further conflict and bloodshed, Jackson County officials and Church leaders negotiated a peace settlement, and the Latter-day Saints agreed to leave. Within a few weeks, nearly every Church member had left the county.

Members wondered why the Lord, who had designated this land for Zion and had given promises regarding it, would allow the Missouri members to be driven from it. For the faithful, there was understanding to be had in the Lord’s prophetic words given in August 1831 that “after much tribulation come the blessings” (D&C 58:4) and that, further, they had been sent to Zion, “that you might be honored in laying the foundation, and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand” (D&C 58:7). The Lord later testified that “Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered” (D&C 101:17).