Scenes from Early Latter-day Saint History

If the story of the restored Church of Jesus Christ tells us anything, it is that little things add up—and taken together, they become great things. Consider the beginnings of the Prophet Joseph Smith: On 23 December 1805, in the most remote corner of the world imaginable, a baby boy is born to a frontier family in a tiny rented home in the woods. In a small society concerned only with day-to-day activities and the necessities of life, far from any center of culture, education, or government, Joseph Smith could justifiably reflect in later years that he had been “an obscure boy, . . . a boy of no consequence in the world” (Joseph Smith—History 1:22).

But what of those consequences not yet realized? From our vantage point nearly two centuries after his birth, we can judge that he certainly was one of those noble and great ones, chosen before he was born, to do a work of awesome importance for the human family (see Abraham 3:22–23).

So it is also with the Lord’s church, his priesthood, and the doctrines of heaven. Revealed to simple mortals in their weakness and in their humble circumstances, these heavenly gifts shine more brightly with each passing year. We honor every step of the restoration, every man and woman who contributed to it, and every place in which the Lord’s great work was done, even in obscure and humble beginnings. Faithful companions and friends, log homes, hallowed burial grounds, wooded countrysides, rented rooms—each contributed in its way, and each deserves to be held in honored memory.

Figure 1. Hyrum Smith, born 9 February 1800, at Tunbridge, Vermont, was the older brother of Joseph Smith. Almost six years older than his prophet brother, he never failed to sustain him in his calling and was a loyal and trusted friend and adviser to the end of their lives on 27 June 1844. Hyrum received through the Prophet a divine revelation in May 1829 in which the Lord instructed him to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (D&C 11:6). On 19 January 1841 the Lord praised Hyrum, saying, “Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me” (D&C 124:15). Richard Anderson is no stranger to locations like this one. In the days before university research money was readily available, his summers were often spent traveling at his own expense to investigate early Latter-day Saint history on-site—at historic locations such as this, as well as in scattered local archives throughout New England, New York, and the Midwest.

Figure 2. The original house was built in Palmyra Township, New York, during the winter of 1818–19, two years after the arrival of the Smith family in the Manchester-Palmyra area. They lived here until they moved into their larger frame home in about 1825. The latter home has been standing since then, but this log home was destroyed in the nineteenth century. During the time the family lived in the log home, the first vision took place at the nearby Sacred Grove in the spring of 1820; it was in this home that the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith on 21–22 September 1823. This replica, built at the original site after extensive archaeological work, was dedicated on 27 March 1998 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Figure 3. Alvin Smith, born 11 February 1799, was the oldest child of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. At the time of his death on 19 November 1823, he was engaged in building a spacious new house for his parents’ family to replace the small log home in which they had been living. Alvin’s death came only weeks after Moroni’s first appearance to Joseph Smith. On his deathbed, he encouraged his younger brother to be faithful to the charge he had received to bring forth the sacred record. The Prophet later recalled his brother with these words: “In him there was no guile. He lived without spot from the time he was a child. . . . He was one of the soberest of men, and when he died the angel of the Lord visited him in his last moments” (History of the Church, 5:126–27). Alvin was buried in the General John Swift Memorial Cemetery in Palmyra.

Figure 4. In the fall of 1825, Joseph Smith worked as a laborer for a man named Josiah Stoal somewhere in this area, assisting him in his unsuccessful attempt to locate a reputed silver mine. Stoal lived near South Bainbridge, New York, over thirty miles to the north, but he had heard that Spaniards had mined silver in the Harmony area. He therefore hired young Joseph Smith, Joseph’s father, and others to dig for him. The Prophet later reported, “I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it” (Joseph Smith—History 1:56). While employed at Harmony and boarding at the nearby home of Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, Joseph Smith first made the acquaintance of their daughter Emma. The couple married over a year later in January 1827.

Figure 5. This is the approximate site of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and the baptism of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The priesthood restoration came about as a result of questions concerning baptism that were raised during the translation of the Book of Mormon. The Prophet reported that he and his scribe “went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord.” John the Baptist appeared and said, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron” (Joseph Smith—History 1:69). The Prophet gave the date of 15 May 1829 for the event. The Melchizedek Priesthood was restored some miles upstream from here, somewhere between Harmony and Colesville, New York. The specific date of that restoration was not recorded, but strong evidence points to a time about two weeks after the Aaronic Priesthood restoration.

Figure 6. In the late summer of 1829, Egbert B. Grandin agreed to print 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon for $3,000, secured with a mortgage on Martin Harris’s farm. The typesetting was done by Grandin’s employee, John Gilbert, on the third floor; the printing and binding took place on the second. The ground floor served as the bookstore. The Book of Mormon was first available here for public sale on 26 March 1830. It was also here that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery purchased the Bible that they used for their work on the Prophet’s new translation of the Bible (the Joseph Smith Translation). Known today as the Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site, the original building is now completely refurbished to look as it did in the days of Joseph Smith. It was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley on 26 March 1998.

Figure 7. It was here that the Book of Mormon translation was completed in June 1829 after it became necessary for Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to move from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to find the peace and safety needed to accomplish the work. In a nearby wood, the Three Witnesses saw the angel Moroni and the Book of Mormon plates. Twenty of the early revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received at or near this home, and according to Joseph Smith, this was the place where the restored church was officially organized on 6 April 1830. Two sons of the Whitmer family—David and Peter Jr.—were among the six original members (see Richard Lloyd Anderson, Ensign [June 1980]: 44–45; [October 1980]: 71). This replica was built following careful archaeological and historical research and was dedicated by President Spencer W. Kimball on 6 April 1980, the sesquicentennial date of the organization of the church.

Figure 8. Joseph Smith moved from New York in January 1831 and arrived in Kirtland around 1 February. An apartment above the store of convert Newel K. Whitney became the Smith family’s home and served for a time as the headquarters of the rapidly growing church. Newel K. Whitney and his wife, Elizabeth, had been converted to the gospel the previous fall by the missionaries to the Lamanites—Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson. The School of the Elders—priesthood and mission training for the elders of the church—was sometimes held in this second-story room. It was in the school, perhaps in this room, that church leaders in the winter of 1833–34 presented the theology lectures that were published as the Lectures on Faith.

Figure 9. The commandment to build the Kirtland Temple was received in late 1832 (see D&C 88:119–20), and in due time the Lord revealed the basics of its design (see D&C 95:11–17). Construction began in 1833, and the building still stands today. The temple was built with two large meeting rooms, one on the main floor and one directly above it. In each of these rooms, the east and west sides contain a series of pulpits—for the Aaronic Priesthood on the east end of the room and for the Melchizedek Priesthood on the west end. On the third floor, several smaller rooms were built. The temple was constructed of sandstone quarried about two miles south of the town. The quarry can still be seen today in a park on the same road as the temple. The temple was dedicated on 27 March 1836, accompanied by spiritual manifestations; the Prophet’s dedicatory prayer is recorded as section 109 of the Doctrine and Covenants. A few days after the temple’s dedication, Moses, Elias, Elijah, and Jesus Christ appeared in it (see D&C 110).

Figure 10. When Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles arrived with their companions in Preston, England, in 1837, they were aware that their mission to the British Isles would be a momentous development in the history of the young church. They had been called by the Prophet Joseph Smith and knew they were on the Lord’s errand. “Truth Will Prevail,” an election slogan that greeted them as they first entered Preston’s town square, became their motto. Within days of their arrival, they were preaching the restored gospel in packed meeting places to future converts, as well as to others curious to hear missionaries from America who claimed to have a true message from God. Satan was not unaware of their presence nor of the consequences of bringing the gospel to the nations. In the early morning of 30 July 1837, in the rented room shown in the picture above, the missionaries experienced a profound satanic manifestation by which they learned firsthand of the devil’s malice toward the work of God. Undeterred, however, early the next morning the missionaries baptized their first British proselytes in the River Ribble. The great harvest of European converts had begun. Sometime later, when Joseph Smith in America heard about the event at the Saint Wilfred Street apartment, he rejoiced, saying, “I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888], 145; see 143–45).

Figure 11. When in March 1840 Elder Wilford Woodruff arrived in Herefordshire to preach the restored gospel, he came upon a large group of Christian “dissenters” who willingly heard him. These members of “United Brethren” congregations opened their doors and their hearts to his message, and he converted and baptized many. Among those converted were several leaders of the group, and those individuals made available to Elder Woodruff their meeting places and their congregations. The Gadfield Elm Chapel was a United Brethren meetinghouse that was used by the Latter-day Saints as its congregation became converted to the restoration. Church members met there from 1840 until most had immigrated to America several years later. The chapel now stands in a ruined condition but still serves as a monument to the faith and devotion of those who accepted the message of salvation.

Figure 12. On 30 October 1838 a vigilante militia of over two hundred men invaded the small Latter-day Saint settlement of Haun’s Mill in eastern Caldwell County, Missouri, sixteen miles east of the main community of Far West. The Haun’s Mill Saints, largely unarmed because their weapons had been taken in previous days by other vigilantes and members of the Missouri militia, took cover wherever they could in the settlement as the attackers fired at them in an effort to kill them and drive the survivors from the area. When the invaders left, seventeen Latter-day Saint men and boys lay dead or dying, most of whose bodies were later thrown into a dry well and buried there. Haun’s Mill, home to fewer than a dozen families, had been established on the Shoal Creek. There were two mills at the site used for sawing lumber and grinding meal. The stones shown here remain from the settlement. The larger stone is now located in a public square in the town of Breckenridge, Missouri, and the fragment is in the Latter-day Saint visitors center in Independence, Missouri.

Figure 13. Construction of the temple in Nauvoo began in the fall of 1840, and the ceremonial laying of the cornerstones took place on 6 April 1841. Although the building took more than five years to complete, parts of it were put to use prior to the official dedication on 1 May 1846. Between the time when construction began and the time of the dedication, many significant events happened in the church—early baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River, the administration of the first endowments, the recording of the revelation on eternal marriage, the organization of the Relief Society, the training of the Twelve to assume the leadership of the church, the Prophet’s teachings on the nature of God, the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and the beginning of the exodus to the West, to name a few. Around the exterior of the Nauvoo Temple were thirty pilasters, each with a moon carved in relief at the base, a sun for the capital, and a star above. The sunstone shown here is in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. On 4 April 1999 President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that the church would rebuild the Nauvoo Temple “as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi” (“Thanks to the Lord for His Blessings,” Ensign [May 1999]: 89).