Nauvoo, a brief haven of peace

Anyone who has walked the streets of Old Nauvoo as the sun sinks low over the Mississippi can understand why the Prophet Joseph Smith chose a Hebrew word meaning "a beautiful situation" to name the new gathering place for the Saints. Nauvoo at dusk seems to evoke a spirit of peace.

It was because the Saints wanted to find peace and to rest from their troubles that they began congregating on the peninsula at the head of the Des Moines Rapids early in 1839. They found a few scattered homes and farms centered in a small town called Commerce. Church agents bought adjacent lands and laid out Nauvoo. Before long, the Saints made their beautiful city one of Illinois's most rapidly growing urban centers. Only Chicago stayed ahead of it in population.The Prophet and his family lived at first in an existing two-story log home shaded by a cluster of native trees near the river which bounds Nauvoo's flatlands on three sides. Four years later, they moved into the two-story frame Nauvoo Mansion across the street. They leased portions of this larger facility as a hotel and often hosted their many friends for dinners and on other social occasions. Sidney Rigdon purchased an existing stone house not far away on the river's edge, there operated Nauvoo's first Post Office, and then built his own new frame home on Main Street just north of the Prophet's.

Other new settlers quickly occupied other available log and stone houses and then began dotting the freshly surveyed one-acre lots of Nauvoo's townsite with new construction. Within two years, subdivisions were being annexed to the original plat to make room for even more families. The population boomed and eventually peaked at nearly 12,000 residents.

Early in 1841, the Prophet dedicated a temple site atop the nearby bluff overlooking the flats. The temple was at the center of the platted city and became the focus of attention for both the Prophet and all Latter-day Saints during the 1840s. Visitors from other towns commented on the handsomeness of the town with its whitewashed log homes, increasing numbers of frame buildings, and the beginnings of small but handsome brick structures. But of greatest interest was the temple. Built of locally quarried limestone and funded with the tithes of time, money, and in-kind donations offered by the Saints at Nauvoo and elsewhere, the temple became a symbol of Joseph Smith's most important contributions during the Nauvoo years just prior to his death.

The Prophet arrived in the Nauvoo area wearied by a winter spent in Liberty Jail. He had lost some of his most trusted advisers to apostasy. Many of the Saints, including his own family, sacrificed lands and belongings in their forced exodus from northern Missouri. Yet his inspired writings from the jail offered soothing counsel to the Church on how to avoid such problems in the future.

The leaders who had fallen had misused their priesthood, he noted, while others fell away when they raised false accusations against the Lord's prophet and people. Only through the righteous use of authority could the Saints receive the Lord's promised blessings. (See D&C 121.) The Prophet invited the disaffected Saints back into the fold, and many of them responded over the succeeding months after they recognized their errors and sought to renew their fellowship with the Church. This would not be his last experience with disaffected members, but for a time, at least, Joseph Smith enjoyed a season of peace at Nauvoo.

A variety of interests occupied the Prophet's time at Nauvoo. He worked hard but unsuccessfully to secure redress for the losses suffered by Church members during the expulsion from Missouri. That effort took him to Washington D.C., for a disappointing audience with the president of the United States.

Active in civic functions in Illinois, Joseph served in Nauvoo's city council and then as mayor; those offices involved him as well in the judicial functions of the city. He fulfilled an honorary role as lieutenant general at the head of the Nauvoo Legion and served on the board of regents for the fledgling city university. The busy Church leader managed a large farm east of the city. For a time, he operated a store; and he was partner in a river boat.

Working with clerks, he renewed his effort to preserve a history of his experiences since his first revelatory experience in 1820.

The Prophet's desire to record the events of the early years of the Restoration fulfilled the Lord's commandment to keep a history of the Church. Joseph Smith's history, completed under his direction through the Missouri years - included an amazing recital of sacred visions and revelations along with the trials caused by intense persecution. Those continuing troubles interrupted the peace he hoped to find in Nauvoo.

With a sense of his own limited mortality, he looked forward with inspired optimism and envisioned new blessings for the Saints. He told family members that he had received the Lord's promise at Liberty that he would be protected until he fulfilled his mission. At Nauvoo, the Prophet set forth to teach the Saints, reveal additional ancient scriptures, and prepare them for the blessings of the temple.

Perhaps the most significant of his teachings were contained in the revelations and instructions relating to the eternal potential of the faithful children of God. At Nauvoo, the Prophet explained how the deceased relatives of the Saints could receive the covenants of baptism through proxy ordinances. (See D&C 127-28.) The Saints loved to hear him preach on this topic at Sunday meetings.

Members quickly sought out genealogical information, and in September 1840 they began to perform these ordinances. While visiting at Ramus in 1843, the Prophet expanded the Saints's understanding of the nature of God (see D&C 130), the importance of righteousness in qualifying individuals for life after the resurrection, and the essential nature of marriage by proper priesthood authority for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. These teachings were solidified in July of that year when he recorded the revelation on the eternity of the marriage covenant. (D&C 131-32.)

Sensing that his life would be cut short before completion of the temple, the Prophet prepared the Quorum of the Twelve to carry on the Lord's work in the last days. During meetings in the second floor conference room above his store, he introduced the temple endowment to the Twelve and gave them the keys necessary to administer in all the affairs of the Church, including those ordinances.

Several women received the endowment with their husbands and were taught by the Prophet in the preparation of temple clothing. Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society in March 1842 not only to administer to the temporal needs of Nauvoo's destitute families, but to strengthen women through gospel instruction and opportunities for charitable service.

That effort began when a group of Nauvoo's women sought an opportunity to help forward the work of building the Nauvoo Temple. At the home of Sarah Granger Kimball, they met to sew shirts for workmen.

Eager to organize themselves after the pattern of other women's benevolent societies in America, they drafted a constitution and planned an organizational meeting. At that meeting, Joseph Smith rejected their constitution and then organized the society under the direction of the priesthood. They could function more effectively, he advised, as a Church organization, using the pattern of the priesthood, where decisions are reached through inspired counsel among appointed officers. Emma Smith became the first president of the Women's Relief Society of Nauvoo under these guidelines. The organization not only helped the poor, but it also strengthened the morals of the community and encouraged the sisters to study the scriptures and learn more of the gospel.

Meanwhile, among the men of Nauvoo, the Prophet encouraged greater attention to their responsibilities to their families and to the work of preaching the gospel. Missionaries went forth from Nauvoo to all parts of the United States.

A mission to Great Britain, launched even as the Saints were leaving Missouri, sent a flood of converts across the Atlantic to help settle Nauvoo and to build the temple. Heading that mission was Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve. Their efforts made missionary work a successful effort during the last years of Joseph Smith's life.

It was important, the Prophet taught, for missionaries to receive their endowments in the temple in order to strengthen them for their proselytizing work. This insight gave added incentive to the increasing efforts at building the Nauvoo Temple.

Priesthood quorums in Nauvoo urged their members to prepare themselves to enter the temple upon its completion to receive their own endowments. Quorum leaders instructed their members on the importance of purifying their lives, of sustaining Church leaders, and of presiding in righteousness in their families. It was quorum by quorum that many brethren and their wives received their endowments after rooms were dedicated for that purpose in the upper level of the temple in December 1845.

The Saints who gathered to Nauvoo remembered Joseph Smith as an inspired teacher. They thronged to hear him explain the scriptures at meetings in the grove on the slope just below the temple. His words clarified the gospel for them unlike anyone they had ever heard preach. They listened to him answer gospel questions in smaller gatherings. They eagerly read his history as it was published in the Times and Seasons. They studied the Book of Abraham when it appeared in the same Church periodical.

The Prophet impressed the Saints as a man who loved to be around others and who desired very much to impart the principles of salvation that they might enjoy the blessings of peace that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ afforded.

Nauvoo was not only a pleasant landscape, a beautiful setting along the Mississippi. It was a place of peace because the spirit of peace informed the lives of its righteous residents.

The city that the Prophet built at the bend in the river became his legacy primarily because of the ordinances given to the Saints in the temple atop the bluffs 18 months after his death. "This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens," Joseph Smith said as he left for Carthage. (History of the Church 6:554.) That beauty and goodness existed because Nauvoo was a temple city, and its residents a covenant people.

During those five years between the Prophet's departure from Liberty Jail and his incarceration at Carthage Jail, he had fulfilled his mission and helped prepare leaders and a people who would honor his name and expand the work he launched as the Lord's first prophet of the last dispensation.



May 1, 1839, 135 acres of swampland on Illinois side of Mississippi River are purchased for settlement. Then called Commerce, the site is later renamed Nauvoo.

Dec. 16, 1840, Illinois Gov. Thomas Carlin signs a bill incorporating Nauvoo as a city. The city charter allows for establishment of a university and the Nauvoo Legion.

February 1841, Joseph Smith is elected mayor of the city and lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion.

April 6, 1841, the cornerstones of the Nauvoo Temple are laid. The temple is dedicated April 30-May 3, 1846.

Winter 1841-42, the Prophet completes translation of Egyptian papyrus and prepares for its translation, later published as the Book of Abraham.

March 15, 1842, the Wentworth Letter, which contains the Articles of Faith, is published in Times and Seasons.

March 17, 1842, the Prophet organizes the Relief Society, with his wife, Emma, as first president.

Jan. 29, 1844 - At meeting of Council of the Twelve and certain Nauvoo city officials, the decision is made to nominate Joseph Smith as an independent candidate in the 1844 election for the presidency of the United States.

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