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[Detail] Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, ca. 1890's

The Church of Latter-day Saints: Conception, Dissemination, and Persecution

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, wrote about half of the diaries contained in this collection. These materials provide a wealth of information about the Church, its immigration to Utah, and settlement in Great Salt Lake City.

In the 1820s, a New York farmer named Joseph Smith experienced a series of revelations, which he recorded and published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. Later that year, Smith established The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, appointing himself president. Certain aspects of Smith's religion, especially the practice of polygamy, aroused opposition, and by 1831 Smith and his fledgling sect fled New York for Missouri and Ohio.

Soon, however, the Mormons were expelled from Missouri. Led by Smith, they crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and established a community called Nauvoo, as recalled by Esaias Edwards of Adams County, Illinois, of in his diary. Renting some of his land to the Mormons, Edwards was exposed to their religion and eventually converted. A few years later, in 1842, the church sent Edwards on a mission to spread the Mormon doctrine to other towns in Illinois. On his way, Edwards visited his sister and brother-in-law:

"We had not seen each other for several years and were verry glad to see me Although they were verry much Prejudiced at what they supposed {ink blot->} [--] my religeon for we were every where mis represented in every Shape and form that men or devils could think of or invent But however they had so much confidence in the honesty of my heart they Could not thin {illegible->} [page torn] that I Culd not be somuch deceived as some had reported that the Mormons were And out of respect to me they made an appointment for me to preach at their house accordindly the neighbours and I delivered a lecture on the first principles of the gosple to a respectable congregation which could find no objectio {illegible->} [page torn] we soon received invitations to preach at different places so we continued to preach every opportunity
for a considerable time without much oppositi {illegible->} [page torn] many people appeared to be verry much interested with the doctrine which we preached for it being the doctrine of the bible and new testament which they professed to believe they could find no fault"

Edwards, Esaias. Autobiography and diary, 1856-1882. Personal History, page 13

  • According to his diary, why did Edwards convert to Mormonism?
  • According to Edwards, why were his relatives prejudiced against his religion?

Use Subject Index headings such as Mormon converts and Mormon missionaries to read other accounts of the missionary work that brought individuals such as Job Smith into the church and to the Mormon community in the United States from as far away as England. British Mormon emigration statistics are included in the diary of missionary, William Ajax, who left his native Wales for the United States to join the Mormon community in 1862. Despite the U.S. Civil War, he and his family took a ship across the Atlantic and traveled by rail through the eastern United States to Florence, Nebraska, where he recorded the arrival of converts and the departure of missionaries from this migration hub:

"July 20, 1862
. . . The St. Joseph
steamer arrived this evening, having on board a company of Swiss Saints, under the presidency of bro. Serge {begin inserted text}L.{end inserted text} Ballif , which b being 109 in number when they embarked, left Havre-de-Grace , on board the 'Windmere ,' on the 15th of May. A few French families from Paris were among them; and about 30, or so, of the Williamsburgh Saints

July 25, 1862
Willis , also, arrived, this afternoon, having performed the last 70 miles on foot in order to s reach before some of his acquaintances would leave. He spent much of his time in Glamorganshire , and it was at Cardiff that he first received the Priesthood, and from there he went on his mission to India . He is now on a mission to Britain . . . . "

Ajax, William. Journals, 1861-1863 (vol 2). July, 1862, pages 126 and 127,

  • What can you learn from their diaries about why converts decided to adopt the teachings and practices of Mormonism?
  • What do you think missionaries such as Job Smith and William Ajax hoped to accomplish and how?
  • Who paid for missionaries' journeys?
  • Why do you think that so many converts to Mormonism thought that it was important to not only join the church but also immigrate to the Mormon community in the United States?

Use the Subject Index heading Nauvoo to learn more about the Mormon's Illinois community and the continued persecutions they faced there. Appleton Milo Harmon, church member and Nauvoo resident, wrote a personal history in his diary in which he describes the violence directed against Mormons in Nauvoo and the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother in 1844:

"The winter of 43 and 4 I Spent in Nauvoo enjoying the refreshing teachings from the lips of Prest. Joseph Smith and Hyrum in the Spring of 1844 the tide of emegration in to Nauvoo had for a time been gradualy increasing. and had caused a Spirit of Jelousey to arise in the breasts of our eneymies they feard that if they left us thus alone all men would believe on us and the Mormons would take a way their place and nation. and hold the balance of power. acordingly our old enemies renewed the attact and new ones Joined in the prececution until it be came quite warm. and then to assist Satan in his Cours of percecution several Appostatised and Joined the Mob in percecuting the Saints and Commenced publishing a Newspaper called the Nauvoo exposeter and one No was ishued. The City Council pronounced it a nucance and ordered it removed. at the time I was acting in the Poliece who was called upon to remove and destroy the press type and all libilous prints. this Caused quite a Stir with our enemy and Soon their Cries ware So loud that the Governer of the State took the field in person at the head of a body of militia Br Joseph Surendered to a demand made for him and Stood his trial they not finding or not being able to proved eney thing against him he was discharged but they soon found another endightment or Charge against him and for his Safety for a fiew days he was placed in Carthage gaol when they Saw no Chance of Substanciating eney thing against him. they arose in mob and broke open the Gaol and Killd Joseph and Hyrum and severely wounded Elder John Taylor on the 27th day of June 1844."

  • According to Harmon, what were the reasons for the bitterness towards Mormons in Nauvoo?
  • What forms did the persecution of Mormons take?
  • What does Harmon's account indicate about the role of the state government in the attacks on the Mormon community?

According to the Special Presentation, "Where the Prophets of God Live": A Brief Overview of the Mormon Trail Experience (external link), Joseph Smith had foreseen the need to establish a safe haven for his church in the far West and even prophesied "that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains." After Smith's lynching, persecutions against his sect continued and, according to Harmon, grew so severe that the community of Latter-day Saints, under the new leadership of Brigham Young, decided to leave Nauvoo to seek refuge in the West:

"our enemies Continued to Haras us in the fall of 1845 their percecution be came mutch warmer even so they commenced Burning houses grain Stacks driving off cattle catching and whiping the Breathering and some ware Killed. the persecution became So gineral that for the Sake of peace we agreed to leave as early in the Spring of 1846 as Circumstances would admit."

  • Why do you think the Mormons were persecuted?
  • How did the Mormons respond to such persecution?

Some diarists, such as Jonathan Oldham Duke, recorded how even after the majority of Mormons left Nauvoo, remaining members of the community continued to suffer persecution. What might this suggest about the reasons for this persecution?