Fearing for his life, Joseph Smith fled Kirtland, Ohio, in January 1838 and traveled hundreds of miles to Far West, Missouri. Over the next year and a half, he sought to establish Far West as a city of Zion with a temple, was involved in armed conflict between the Latter-day Saints and other Missourians, was arrested and imprisoned, escaped custody and fled to Illinois, and helped establish new settlements in Illinois and Iowa Territory for the Saints. These events are covered in this sixth volume of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers.
After arriving in Missouri in early 1838, Joseph Smith resettled his family in Far West, where the majority of Missouri Saints lived. During the next several months, he organized new settlements in the nearby towns of Adam-ondi-Ahman and De Witt in preparation for the Saints who were emigrating from Ohio and elsewhere. Smith’s efforts to establish the Saints in northwestern Missouri are manifest in revelations, minutes of meetings, and other documents included in this volume.
The growth of the Mormon population in Missouri caused resentment among earlier settlers and eventually led to conflict. In later October 1838, the governor of Missouri ordered the state militia to restore peace by subduing the Saints and expelling them from the state. In early November, the “Mormon War” concluded with the surrender of Far West, the arrest and imprisonment of Joseph Smith and several other church leaders, and the Saints’ agreement under duress to leave the state.
During the next half year, Joseph Smith was held in state custody, spending much of this time in the dungeon of the Clay County jailhouse. Meanwhile, thousands of Latter-day Saints began their forced evacuation from Missouri. Many suffered considerably during their winter journey to Illinois, where they sought refuge. While Smith was separated from the main body of Saints, he stayed informed of their plight and provided leadership through correspondence with family and friends and epistles to the church membership. These powerful and poignant letters are featured herein.
In April 1839, Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners escaped from custody and reunited with their families and other Saints in western Illinois. Smith was determined to find a new place where his people could again gather, and he soon directed settlement to Commerce, Illinois, a swampy area along the MIssissippi River. The church’s acquisition of this land is chronicled in letters, minutes, and financial documents included in the volume. Documents also describe the malaria epidemic that ravaged the refugee community that summer, hampering their efforts to settle the area and resume church affairs. Yet they pressed forward and laid the foundations of the city of Nauvoo.
The letters, minutes, revelations, and other texts presented in this volume provide essential documentation for this tumultuous period in Mormon history. The documents have been transcribed and annotated to the highest standards of documentary editing, making this volume an invaluable resource for those studying the life of Joseph Smith and the early history of the church he founded.