First Laborers

The first attempt to build Zion began immediately after the consecration of the spot for the Temple. The Lord had previously told the saints, “With one heart and with one mind, gather up your riches that ye may purchase an inheritance which shall hereafter be appointed unto you, and it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the most high God” (D&C 45:12c). He reaffirmed his commandment shortly after the consecration: “Wherefore, I, the Lord, willeth, that you should purchase the lands, that you may have advantage of the world, that you may have claim on the world, that they may not be stirred up unto anger” (D&C 63:8c). The Lord told the saints to purchase the land of Zion because He foreknew the opposition that Independence’s earlier settlers would harbor.
The amount of land that the Lord told the saints to buy extended from the Courthouse in Independence to the Western boundary of the United States, which today is marked by Missouri’s border with Kansas. After revealing the spot for the Temple, God explicitly commanded: “The land should be purchased by the Saints; and also every tract lying westward, even unto the line running directly between Jew and Gentile” (D&C 57:1e). That distance is about 13 miles. An area of 15 miles square is 144,000 acres. The Federal government owned almost all that land at the time the revelation was given.
The appointed land contains the spot for the Temple. On Aug 1, 1831 Joseph Smith revealed, “I have sent you that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come; and also that you might be honored of laying the foundation, and of bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand” (D&C 58:3b-c). Joseph and seven others, including Edward Partridge, dedicated the spot on August 3, 1831. John Whitmer’s history records, “Sidney Rigdon dedicated the ground where the city is to stand: Joseph Smith, Jr. laid a stone at the northeast corner of the contemplated temple in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth.” John Taylor, who visited Independence in April 1833 wrote, “Edward Partridge took me to the corner stone, or the stone, that marked the Temple, he and Mr. Morley together, and said that was the place where the Temple was to be built. The corner stone was up above ground.”
The task of purchasing the land in Zion was a corporate activity, not an individual one. Gathering members were commanded to consecrate all their assets to the cause of Zion. The revelation as it was first printed specified, “Thou shalt consecrate all thy properties, that which thou hast unto me.” Those who laid their possessions before the bishop were to receive an inheritance—sufficient assets to provide for his family. Each managed his allotment as a steward. The revelation specified, “He [the bishop] shall appoint every man a steward over his own property, or that which he has received, inasmuch as is sufficient for himself and family.” Shortly after the consecration, the Lord reminded the saints: “This is a law unto every man that cometh unto this land, to receive an inheritance, and he shall do with his moneys according as the law directs” (D&C 58:7c).
The law of consecration, which the Lord expected all gathering saints to obey, was not His only requirement. He expected them to “remember in all things, the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted” (D&C 42:9c). He also commanded, “Be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (D&C 38:6a). He explained, “In your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly” (D&C 70:3d). Jesus said that His people are to live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Since it is not possible to make a list of everything that God wants His people to do, He described the attitude he expected His saints to exhibit: “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days” (D&C 64:7a). All things were to be done in wisdom and coordination, not with recklessness or disorder. He specified, “This is the will of the Lord your God concerning his Saints, that they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence” (D&C 63:8a).
Unfortunately, the membership failed to comply with God’s specifications. Some refused to give their riches. They neither sold their lands nor consecrated their assets to the Bishop. God singled out one prominent member by asking him to set an example: “It is wisdom in me that my servant Martin Harris should be an example unto the church, in laying his moneys before the bishop of the church” (D&C 58:7b). Others sold their lands and journeyed to the land of Zion without consecrating their monies. According to Orson Pratt, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to one of the brethren in Zion warning those who refused to consecrate, but were buying their properties directly from the government. He reported, “The letter was written to one of the brethren in Zion in relation to the consecrations of the properties of the people. The Lord said in that revelation that the principle which He had revealed in relation to the properties of his church must be carried out to the very letter upon the land of Zion; and those individuals who would not give heed to it, but sought to obtain their inheritance in an individual way by purchasing it themselves from the government should have their names blotted out from the book of the names of the righteous.” Some gathered with little assets to consecrate and expected to receive their full inheritance.
The saints’ failure to build up of Zion through the law of consecration limited Bishop Partridge’s ability to purchase the specified lands. They bought only about 2,000 acres, a little more than 1% of the estimated amount designated. Those lands were scattered. The Independence Branch owned lands just west of the Temple Lot. The Blue River Branch settled on plots along the Blue River. The Cincinnati Branch had not yet developed their inheritance south of the Blue River Branch. The Coleville Branch occupied plots on Brush Creek west of the Blue River. The Whitmer Branch settled the largest tract a little to the north of the Colesville Branch. The Prairie Branch occupied several tracts next to the state line on Brush Creek, where the Kansas City Plaza is today. Because church members did not live particularly close to each other, their settlements were more exposed to enemies and less defendable.
Perhaps the most obvious waywardness was the saints’ willful violation of Christian conduct. God complained, “There were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances” (D&C 98:3a). Their disobedient and ungodly behavior caused the Lord to place the entire church under condemnation until they repented “and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written” (D&C 83:8b).
The migration of Latter Day Saints to Jackson County caused friction with local residents. Four significant problems stand out. 1) Gathering members came from Northern states—free states. Missouri was a slave state. The local residents feared that a large influx of Northern Mormons would change the political landscape and, worse yet, perhaps create a refuge for escaped slaves. 2) In addition, the church’s first mission to the Indians had excited controversy with the clergy. Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson and F. G Williams had arrived in Independence on January 13, 1831. Cowdery, Pratt and Williams immediately crossed into Indian Territory and visited two tribes: first the Shawnee and then the Delaware. While among the Delaware Tribe, Richard Cummins, Indian Agent, ordered the three to leave. The Intercourse Act of 1802 required all Americans to receive a special permit to enter Indian Territory, which the missionaries never obtained. Although Oliver Cowdery subsequently wrote General Clark, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St Louis, and requested a permit, neither permit nor response was ever received. Parley Pratt believed that jealous sectarian missionaries caused their expulsion from Indian Territory. He reported “They commenced a mission in the Indian Territory; but were compelled by the United States agents, influenced, no doubt, by missionaries, to depart from Indian country, although well received by the Indians themselves.” 3) Friction was also caused by the presence of spiritual gifts among the saints. The saints in Zion had prophesied, but only began speaking in tongues during June 1833. Such unusual events concerned both the local clergy and residences. 4) The saints also taught that Jackson County would eventually become the holy city. Local residents interpreted that tenet to mean all in the county must either convert or leave. Despite these acute differences, God promised to soften the hearts of these opponents if the saints would live repentantly. He said, “If your brethren desire to escape their enemies let them repent of all their sins, and become truly humble before me and contrite” (D&C 54:1b).
The saints did not repent. In consequence, the Lord did not soften the hearts of their enemies. An article in the July 1833 issue of the Evening and Morning Star, the Church’s publication in Independence, angered local residents. Although it was intended to relax tensions by pointing out that the State Constitution prohibited anyone from attracting free blacks to Missouri, local citizens considered the article differently. A mob gathered and listed their grievances against the saints. They stated that the article was “inviting free Negroes and mulattoes from other states to become ‘Mormons,’ and remove and settle among us. . . It would require none of the supernatural gifts that they pretend to, to see that the introduction of such a caste amongst us would corrupt our blacks, and instigate them to bloodshed.” They also complained, “They openly blaspheme the Most High God, and cast contempt on His holy religion, by pretending to receive revelations direct from heaven, by pretending to speak unknown tongues, by direct inspiration, and by diverse pretenses derogatory to God and religion.” They added, “They declare openly that their God hath given them this county of land, and that sooner or later they must and will have possession of our lands for an inheritance.” On July 20,1833, the mob attacked the printing house, destroyed the press and threw out most the store’s contents into the streets, where they burned what they could. Three days later, on July 23, 1833, church leaders signed an agreement under duress. It promised that all members would leave the county.
Ten days later, on Aug 2, 1833, long before news of the difficulties in Independence reached Ohio, the Lord spoke through Joseph at Kirtland, commanding the saints in Independence to build the Temple on the designated spot: “Verily I say unto you, that it is my will that an house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you; yea, let it be built speedily by the tithing of my people: behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may be an house built unto me for the salvation of Zion” (D&C 94:3a). In the same revelation God promised that if the saints would diligently obey His commands, He would protect them: “If Zion do these things, she shall prosper and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible” (D&C 94:5a).
Church members in the land of Zion failed to make any attempt to build the Temple. Parley P. Pratt admitted, “This revelation was not complied with by the leaders and Church in Missouri, as a whole; notwithstanding many were humble and faithful. Therefore, the threatened judgment was poured out to the uttermost.” Without any divine protection, mobs of local residents forcibly expelled the saints from Jackson County. On the night of October 31, 1833, between 40 and 50 men, some armed, attacked a branch of saints east of Independence, un-roofing and partly demolishing ten homes, and driving away their families. Several men were whipped and beaten. During the next few days, other homes of saints were pillaged or vandalized. Then, on November 5 and 6 the remaining homes and branches were invaded by merciless mobs. Aged men and old women received no compassion and were evicted with the rest. Women and children fled, often barefoot and ill clad, across the frozen farm fields. On November 7, many members gathered on the southern banks of the Missouri River, waiting to cross into Clay County. Husbands searched for their missing wives and children, while women and children looked for their lost husbands and fathers. The gathering grew and took on the appearance “of a village of wigwams.” On the night of November 8, about 2:00 in the morning, the saints were greeted with a heavenly display of falling stars, in which “all heaven seemed enwrapped in a splendid fireworks,” like “fiery trains” of thousands of meteors.
A few church members thought that they could remain after the rest of the saints were driven away. Not so: they were forced from Jackson County when a mob ordered them to leave on November 23, 1833. A different group of between 80 and 90 saints had fled to extreme Southern Jackson County, now Cass County, where they stayed until February 1834. In total, “no less than two hundred and three houses [were] burned” and an uncalculated amount of household goods and sacks of wheat destroyed.

Joseph F Smith  2011

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