While Joseph Smith and other church leaders remained jailed at Liberty, the Mormons began searching for a new home. Isaac Galland, a land speculator, offered to sell the Mormons a large tract that lay 60 miles north of Quincy at the meeting of the Mississippi and the Des Moines rivers. The offer included the peninsula town of Commerce, Illinois and an adjacent Half Breed Tract on the Iowa side of the river. Before the Mormons could begin building, the stagnant, mosquito-infested water needed to be cleared from its southern flats. Frequent bouts of cholera, malaria, and typhoid infected numerous Mormons as they labored to build a series of drainage ditches to move the water off the peninsula.

Several members of the Council of the Twelve; including Brigham Young, John Taylor, Parley Pratt, Heber Kimball, and Wilford Woodruff were sent abroad early in 1839 on their second mission to preach in Great Britain. Largely owing to economic impoverishment, romantic notions of America as a land of opportunity, and a revivalist fervor that had swept across much of Great Britain, the Mormon message of “gathering” caught fire among many English, Welsh, and Scottish who began arriving by the shipload, becoming a significant portion of Commerce’s population. In this new Mormon city seemingly ripe with economic opportunity, Smith and the other church leaders elected against reinstating the unsuccessful Consecration system, beseeching the Latter Day Saints instead to tithe one-tenth of their time and resources for the building and maintenance of the church. As trustee of the church, Smith became the primary real estate holder, selling lots by the acre to the town’s residents.

Further Reading:

Historical context: Barbara Clark Smith’s article, “Searching for Utopia in Illinois.”