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Mormon History, Nauvoo

Nauvoo, Illinois: 1839-1846

When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were driven out of Missouri and Kirtland they traveled to Illinois where the settled in Commerce, renamed Nauvoo by the Mormons. The drained the swamps and established a beautiful city which swelled to a population of 20,000 by 1846.

While in Nauvoo hundreds of Mormon missionaries were sent on missions to the United States, England, and the Pacific Isles. Many thousands who joined the Church traveled to unite themselves with the Saints in Nauvoo.

Only 15 months after founding Nauvoo Joseph Smith announced that it was time "to erect a house of prayer, a house of order, a house for the worship of our God, where the ordinances can be attended to agreeable to His divine will."1 Men donated each tenth day to work on the Mormon temple. Members sacrificed personal belongings to fund the project.

While in Nauvoo the wards were created, stakes were established, the book of Abraham was published, and significant revelations were received. The Relief Society was also organized, which was a women's organization that worshipped together and devoted themselves to serving those in need, with Emma Smith as the president.

For six years members of the Mormon Church "lived in relative peace, secure in the fact that a prophet walked and labored among them." 2 But as Mormon history repeats itself this peace was short-lived as Nauvoo was seen as a political and economic threat by neighboring communities. Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and other Church leaders were jailed in Carthage Jail.

On 27 June 1844 a mob stormed the jail and Joseph Smith and Hyrum were killed. Thousands of Saints lined the street to mourn the loss of their prophet.

 Illinois Governor Thomas Ford wrote of the martyrdom: "The murder of the Smiths, instead of putting an end to the Mormons and dispersing them, as many believed it would, only bound them together closer than ever, gave them new confidence in their faith." 3

In August Brigham Young returned and a meeting was held. Sidney Rigdon tried to convince Mormon Church members to follow him. After Sidney Rigdon spoke Brigham Young got up. As he spoke he was transformed before the eyes of the people. George Q. Cannon remembered, "it was the voice of Joseph himself," and "it seemed in the eyes of the people as if it were the very person of Joseph which stood before them." 4 Members of the Church unanimously voted to follow Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

With the passing of Joseph Smith the Mormons worked diligently to complete the Nauvoo Temple. The realized the strength that receiving their temple ordinances would provide them on the journey ahead. Leaders worked day and night and 6,000 Saints received their Mormon temple endowment.

Persecution against the Mormons increased and in February of 1846 the Mormons were forced to abandon their beautiful city during a winter so cold that the Mississippi River froze and flee to the Western frontier.

(1) History of the Church, 4:186.

(2) 35448, Our Heritage, 5: Sacrifice and Blessings in Nauvoo, 55.

(3) Thomas Ford, A History of Illinois, ed. Milo Milton Quaife, 2 vols. (1946), 2:217.

(4) Quoted in History of the Church, 7:236.

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