Zion’s Camp and the Kirtland Safety Society

In 1835 The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Quorum of the Seventy of the Mormon Church were organized like unto the ancient church under the apostles of Jesus Christ. Most of the men who filled the callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had participated in Zion’s Camp. The Lord, by revelation, had said that the Latter-day Saints needed to be tried like Abraham:

Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4, 5).

Mormon-Joseph-Smith-In-Liberty-JailOf the men in Zion’s Camp, the Lord said, “…it is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:19).  An Abrahamic sacrifice has several components.  First, the Lord’s commandment needs to seem illogical — He called for volunteers to join Zion’s Camp during planting season in Ohio, risking the well-being of the families there.  He had counseled the Saints to refrain from retaliating, but Zion’s Camp was sent to redeem the beleaguered Saints there, possibly by force.  Abraham was obedient to the Lord’s command, even though it made no sense to him and seemed to contradict everything he knew about the Lord and himself.  Secondly, it has to hurt.  The men of Zion’s Camp suffered every form of physical stress to follow the prophet of God.  Third, the hand of the Lord is stayed at the end, once He has seen that His child intends to be obedient.  The Lord accepted the sacrifice of the men of Zion’s Camp, and rescinded the commandment to storm into Missouri to save the Saints.

Missionary work increased once the Twelve and the Seventy were chosen.  In the early days of the Mormon church, the men who were sent out on missions, some on one mission after another, were often married men with families.  They were dedicated enough to make that sacrifice and leave their families in the care of the Lord and helpful neighbors.

The Kirtland Mormon Temple was still under construction, and Joseph Smith was overseeing it.  During this time, Joseph obtained the papyrii that, when translated, would become the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price.

The Kirtland Temple was dedicated on March 27, 1836, with attendant miraculous manifestations of the Spirit.  On Sunday, April 3, 1836, Joseph Smith and scribe Oliver Cowdery, experienced miraculous visitations in the Kirtland Temple.  It was the second day of Passover, the Jewish holiday of Bikkurim, and a fitting day for resurrected messengers to deliver the keys to various aspects of the “last dispensation of time.”  Moses appeared to deliver the keys of the regathering of Israel.  Elijah appeared to deliver the keys of the “sealing power,” wherein families can be sealed together in the eternities, and turning the hearts of the children to the fathers can be realized.  Elias appeared to restore the keys of the Abrahamic Covenant.  These visions are recorded in Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Economic Collapse of 1837

There was widespread land speculation both in Ohio and Missouri, and Joseph Smith had relayed the Lord’s disapproval with the same.  This speculation was not confined to the Latter-day Saints but existed all over the U.S. and its territories.  The leaders of the Church had attempted to create a bank, but the state refused to grant a charter.  The “Kirtland Safety Society” was established as an “anti-banking society” that was able to print notes.  This idea especially offended Martin Harris who ever dealt in silver and gold, and who had a deep-seated mistrust of printed money.  When the economy collapsed, the Kirtland Safety Society fell with it.  Some histories report that certain of the managers were stealing money and re-lending it, but Joseph Smith had heaped upon him most of the blame, resulting in a myriad of lawsuits and the apostasy of a number of the Saints in Kirtland, some of whom tried to take over the temple at gunpoint.  Embittered members flamed the fire that led to even more persecution of the Saints.

It would be expected that at this difficult time, Joseph Smith would gather his closest allies about him for their support.  But Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and following God’s counsel, sent his most loyal brethren to Europe on foreign missions.  Missionary work in Europe, especially in England, brought thousands of converts into the Church, many of whom were so stalwart, they and their descendants formed the sturdy backbone of the growing membership.

Persecution in Missouri

By spring of 1838, most of the Latter-day Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, had been forced out by mobs.  The prophet was commanded to build up a community at Far West, Missouri.  In August of 1838, Mormons attempting to vote in the town of Gallatin in Daviess County were attacked and kept from the polls.  Part of the reason is that the Saints were against slavery.  Many Saints were severely injured by the mob, though none were killed.  The Saints had, over the months and years, constantly sought legal redress from the state and the country, to no avail.

In October 1838,  the Mormons were forced out of Caldwell County, Missouri, their farm animals killed and homes destroyed.  Many died of exposure.  Most lost all their property and means of support.  As the persecution continued, the Saints had to decide whether to try to defend themselves.  A new convert named Samson Avard organized a group called the Danites to physically resist persecution.  He claimed to have the support of Joseph Smith, but Avard’s group was more like a secret society, igniting violence.  Most members of the group were excommunicated by the Church for their activities.

Once word got to the state government (highly inflamed reports, actually), Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an “Extermination Order” against the Mormons, calling for them to be driven out of  Missouri or be exterminated.  Three days after the order, a mob attacked the village of Haun’s Mill and massacred dozens of men, women, and children. On October 31, 1838, Joseph Smith and several others were arrested.  The prophet was incarcerated in Liberty Jail for months in abject conditions.  Though the prophet suffered terribly, his major concern was for the Saints, who were being driven from the state in the midst of winter.  His wife Emma walked across the frozen river to Illinois with two babes in arms and their other two children clinging to her skirts.  She had sewn Joseph’s translation of the Bible into her cloak.

Those Saints who survived the winter were weakened by the experience.  Many could not sustain themselves through following trials and lost years off their lives.  Joseph Smith, Sr. was among this group.  The people of Quincy, Illinois offered succor to the Saints, and soon there were more beleaguered Mormons camped in the town than citizens of Quincy.  In recent years, the LDS Church has honored the people of Quincy for their charity.  Their care surely saved hundreds of lives.

Though incarceration in Liberty Jail was a horrible trial for Joseph Smith and his fellows, Joseph received many revelations while there, including Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  Finally, on April 16, 1839, as they were being led to Columbia, Missouri, the jailer permitted them to escape.


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