Ohio and Missouri

Within weeks of publishing the Book of Mormon, Smith named his small group of followers the Church of Christ. Among its ranks were Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris who, along with Joseph’s wife Emma, had assisted in the production of the Book of Mormon. Other early members included Smith’s immediate family and the Whitmer family in nearby Fayette. By fall, Smith organized missions to local Native American tribes, believing the Book of Mormon would earn indigenous support and conversion. As far as Ontario in the North and Kentucky in the South, Mormon Missionaries carried copies of the Book of Mormon, which they typically sold for ten shillings to pay their travel expenses. While largely unsuccessful in attracting American Indian converts, unanticipated success was found in Ohio among the followers of Sydney Rigdon, a charismatic Baptist preacher who had broken from Alexander Campbell and was spearheading an experiment in communal-based Christian living. Persuaded by the Book of Mormon, Rigdon traveled to New York in December 1830 to meet the Mormon prophet. Following their meeting, Smith and his followers began relocating to Kirtland, Ohio, where, with the merger of Rigdon’s congregation, the fledgling Mormon religion began flourishing into a society. Kirtland was one of two Mormon settlements in 1831, the other being Jackson County, Missouri. According to Smith, Jackson County was to become a “New Jerusalem” and gathering place of Israel’s lost tribes.

Historical Debate

A general history of the Ohio period is Milton V. Backman’s The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838; however, as this was written for a general Latter-day Saint audience, many of the controversial events that took place during this period have been glossed over. Brandon S. Plewe, ed. Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History offers a visual look at the movement of Latter-day Saints, along with short introductory articles by renowned scholars. Joseph Smith received the majority of the revelations that have been canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants while in Ohio. Historian Mark Lyman Staker’s detailed history, Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations is, at present, the most detailed account of the period outside of the Joseph Smith Papers. D. Michael Quinn’s The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power also covers this period in great detail. Many early leaders of the Church defected during the Ohio and Missouri periods. These and other defected leaders are sympathetically covered by William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt in Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of Twelve. Historian David Howlett offers a groundbreaking look at the Kirtland Temple in Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Space. For the Missouri period, much of which coincided with the Ohio period, the primary debate concerns the persecution of the Mormons by Missourian militias and mobs and how complicit the Mormons under militant leaders like Joseph Smith Jr., Sydney Rigdon, and Lyman Wight, were in sparking a feud with the Missourians. Likewise, debate exists over the nature of Missouri Governor Lilburn Bogg’s infamous extermination order against the Mormons, and whether this order was meant to remove the Mormons from Missouri or if it was legal authorization for a Mormon genocide. The most thorough treatment of the Mormon-Missouri conflict is Alexander L. Baugh’s published dissertation, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon defense of Northern Missouri. In addition, Leland Homer Gentry and Todd M. Compton’s Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836-39 offers a comprehesince look at the later Missouri period, as does Stephen C. LeSueur’s The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, although his findings are dated. Finally, a powerful thesis regarding Mormonim’s response to and rejection of American pluralism and capitalism was put forth by Marvin S. Hill’s Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism.

Further Reading

Historical context: Donald Scott’s article, “Evangelism as a Social Movement.”