The Church of Christ (the original name for the Mormon Church) was organized with six founding members in Fayette, New York on April 6, 1830. (The full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was given by revelation in 1838.) The earliest members were almost all the family and friends of the prophet Joseph Smith. Persecution in New York, coupled with strong growth in Kirtland, Ohio, caused the Church to move to that town. Subsequently the Church moved again, first to Western Missouri, then to Illinois, and ultimately across the great plains to the Rocky Mountains. All attempts to wipe out or dislodge the Saints from that region failed, and with the ending of official persecution at the close of the nineteenth century, the Church entered upon a sustained period of growth and prosperity, which continues to this day. In its nearly two hundred year history, Mormonism has spread from its headquarters in the American Midwest and finally Utah, to become an international church with most of its members living outside the United States. The history of so broad a movement cannot be adequately condensed, but in the pages that follow is an outline of Mormon History from 1820 to contemporary times. Links go to pages that give a fuller treatment of the time period.
In 1820 Joseph Smith has his first vision where he sees God the Father and Jesus Christ. Three years later, when he is 17, The Angel Moroni appears to him and informs him of Golden Plates deposited in a nearby hill. He eventually receives the plates on September 22, 1827. He translates the Book of Mormon, publishes it, receives the authority of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and founds the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missionaries go out and convert many. Persecution follows the Church.
Mormons move to Kirtland, Ohio. Joseph Smith receives many revelations. Many Mormons move to Missouri, where they hope to build Zion. In Ohio, Mormons build their first temple. Joseph translates the Book of Abraham. The Doctrine and Covenants is published. Missionaries begin going to Canada and England. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is established. Zion's Camp is launched to help the persecuted Mormons in Missouri. Finally, the Church moves to Missouri in 1838.
Mormons first settle Jackson County, Missouri, in 1831. By 1833, they are expelled by mobs after many are tarred and feathered, chased, and attacked. They settle in Clay County temporarily and finally move to Caldwell and Daviess counties in 1836. Tensions mount as mobs harass Mormon settlements. Some Mormons fight back. One group of Mormons organizes the Danites, who fight back. The Missouri war escalates as Joseph Smith and the Ohio Mormons move to Missouri. Joseph Smith is arrested and thrown in jail for several months without trial. The Extermination Order expels all the Mormons from Ohio. Dozens of Mormons are massacred at Haun's Mill; others are burned out of their homes. The Mormons flee to Illinois under the leadership of Brigham Young.
The Mormons establish a new city at Nauvoo, Illinois. In a few years it rivals Chicago for size. Mormon missionaries begin proselyting through Europe and have much success in England and Scandinavia. Mormons begin the Nauvoo Temple. Persecution continues both from Missouri and Illinois. Joseph Smith must frequently hide from enemies. Many important revelations come which teach about polygamy, baptism for the dead, Celestial marriage, and the plan of salvation. In June 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum are murdered. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles leads the Church. They finish the temple in 1846, but are driven out that same year.
After expulsion from Illinois, the Mormons scatter throughout Iowa. Finally, they establish the Mormon Trail to Utah. The Mormon Battalion participates in the U.S.-Mexican War and explores California. Mormon Pioneers cross the Great Plains and establish cities in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and Idaho. Ultimately they push on into northern Mexico and southern Canada. For ten years the Mormon Church has peace in the Rocky Mountains.
The Utah War
Political pressure and lies from former Utah officials cause U.S. President James Buchanan to send Johnston's Army to Utah to quell a nonexistent rebellion. Brigham Young, who was governor, is dismissed from office, but is not notified about it. Afraid to be driven again, the Mormons harass the invading army by burning grass and scattering horses. Finally, the army realizes that no rebellion is occurring and they conclude a peace. Unfortunately, fears caused by the invasion drive some Mormons to massacre settlers bound for California at a place called Mountain Meadows.
The Mormons are generally left alone during the U.S. Civil War and continue missionary work throughout the world, going into Mexico and South America and parts of Asia and Europe. After the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passes several laws that outlaw polygamy. They ultimately jail thousands of Mormons. Others are forbidden to vote, hold office, or own property. Loyalty oaths are instituted to keep Mormons out of jobs. Some Mormons flee to Mexico and Canada. Church leaders go into hiding. Finally, after receiving revelation from the Lord, the Church stops polygamy and excommunicates those who continue to practice it, the rest are pardoned by U.S. President Grover Cleveland. The Church begins to grow once more and thousands of European Mormons come to Utah.
The next few decades are relatively peaceful. The Mormon Church is able to regain its property, though it would be some time before they pay off all the debts brought on by persecution. Mormons still must fight to hold government offices. Reed Smoot, a Mormon Apostle, must fight for two years to take his seat in the U.S. Senate after being elected. President Joseph F. Smith receives an important revelation about salvation for the dead. The Church celebrates its centennial and begins buying historic sites. The Church Welfare program is developed during the Great Depression to help members affected by the depression. At this point, most Mormons begin staying in their own countries, rather than moving to Utah. Missionary work continues in South American and the Pacific islands where thousands join the Church. Temples are built in Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Hawaii. During World War II, Mormons find themselves on both sides of the conflict and Mormons are among those trapped behind the Iron Curtain after the war.
Following World War II, the Mormon Church begins to grow exponentially. More temples are built throughout the United States, Europe, Central and South America, and the Pacific Islands. One temple is even built in East Germany while under Soviet control. President David O. McKay becomes the most widely traveled Mormon president to date. The Mormon Church expands its welfare and humanitarian programs and renders valuable aid in the reconstruction of Europe and Japan. Missionary training centers are established to help missionaries learn the many languages of the Church. David O. McKay encourages all members to be missionaries and one of his successors, Spencer W. Kimball, receives a revelation that all male members should serve as missionaries. Soon, the missionary force of the Church climbs to over 50,000. All this growth leads to the correlation program which streamlines Church government and Church programs to eliminate waste and duplication. Growth of the Church in Brazil and Africa causes Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball to pray about the ban on blacks from the priesthood. In 1978, he receives a revelation from God that all worthy male members may receive the priesthood. Soon the Mormon Church grows exponentially in Brazil and Africa. In the 1980s the Church concentrates on translating the Book of Mormon into dozens of world languages and Mormons answer the call to "flood the earth" with it.
Since the early 1990s, the Mormon Church has surpassed 12,000,000 members worldwide. Much of this growth has occurred in South America and Africa as well as in the countries of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia. By the late 1990s, more Mormons live outside the United States than within. This growth requires hundreds of new churches a year. In 1995, Gordon B. Hinckley becomes president. He surpasses David O. McKay as most widely traveled Mormon president. He issues the Proclamation to the World concerning the breakdown of the family, and the Living Christ, about the mission of Jesus Christ. He receives a revelation calling for more temples to be built and by the year 2000, more than 100 temples are in operation worldwide, including places such as China, Japan, more in the Philippines, three in Africa, and dozens in North and South America and Europe. For many Mormons, the rebuilding of the Nauvoo temple, destroyed by arsonists in 1846, marks a crowning point in their lives. Mormons also celebrated the sesquicentennial of the Mormon Pioneers' journey to Utah and in 2005, they celebrated the bicentennial of Joseph Smith's birth.
|Periods of Mormon History|
|New York Period | Ohio Period | Missouri Period | Nauvoo and the Martyrdom | The Utah War | Post-Civil War Persecution | Stability and Growth | International Growth | Contemporary Developments|