QUINCY, Ill. People gathered from across the nation to participate in the Quincy History Symposium the evening of Nov. 5 and all day Nov. 6, to pay tribute to the role this city played in providing refuge for Latter-day Saints driven from their Missouri homes in 1839, prior to the settlement of Nauvoo, Ill.
State and local government officials joined with historians, scholars, musicians, story tellers and artists to celebrate history in Quincy, some 30 miles from Nauvoo on the western Illinois border. More than 300 attendees heard from professors from BYU, Quincy University, and Culver-Stockton College, among others. The editor of the Quincy Herald-Whig, a television anchorman, directors from all the major historical societies and museums of Quincy, the German Village Society leadership, the former Iowa State historian, the librarians of Quincy and others delivered the 23 presentations that were given throughout Saturday.
Giving the welcome address was Mayor Chuck W. Scholz of Quincy, a history lover and a friend of the Church. William G. Hartley of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Church History at BYU presented him with the Mormon History Association "Thomas L. Kane Award." The mayor was honored for his designation of the first Quincy Heritage Celebration on July 24, 1999, for the declaration of the Quincy History Symposium as a Millennial Event, and for his pursuit of permanent signage for the Church's presence in early Quincy.
Susan Easton Black, a BYU Church history professor, said in the keynote address: "The solicitous reception by Quincyans is unparalleled in the annals of Mormonism and has never been forgotten. It has become a legacy that epitomizes all that is good in people."
In the closing address, Idaho State Sen. Laura Kent Donahue said of the early Quincy citizens who showed kindness to Church members: "They were a people who didn't care what it would look like in the newspaper. They reached out because it was the good thing to do. They changed what might have happened."
Summary reports of two of the presentations given at symposium.
Quincy, the 'home of our adoption'
Richard Bennett, a BYU Church history professor, began his presentation by declaring: "Considering the fact that Quincy played the lead role of refuge and relief to a hunted and harried people, a humanitarian lifeline in a sea of turmoil, it is more than a little surprising that so little serious research has been devoted to the topic. Much has been written about the Mormon stay in Missouri and even more about Nauvoo. One reason for such a deficit may lie in the fact that the written accounts are relatively few. As one weary traveler put it, after November 1838, 'our troubles were so numerous that I could not and did not write any more while we were driven out of the state.' (Journal of Josiah Smith, Nov. 29, 1838.)"
Throughout his presentation, Brother Bennett wove in the journal entries of the Saints. Fleeing from Missouri, Albert P. Rockwood recorded, "with another family, arrived at the Mississippi River after a journey of twelve days, the distance of 200 miles. We had snow and rain every day but we had heavy loads and were obliged to walk from 2 to 8 miles a day through mud and water. Camped out on the wet ground 3 nights before we arrived at the River. A few days before we got to the river it grew cold, the river froze over and we were obliged to camp close to the river for 3 days."
Israel Barlow wrote: "The people of Quincy have contributed between $400 and $500 dollars. God has opened their hearts to receive us. May heaven's blessings rest upon them. We are hungry, they fed us, naked, they clothed us. The citizens have assisted us beyond calculation."
Mary R. Heywood wrote in a letter to Sarah M. Blodgett regarding Quincy: "I don't feel afraid, my dear friend, if you should come here that you would not like our little city . . . the home of our adoption."
Brother Bennett summed up the journal entries by quoting from an 1841 proclamation of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and Sidney Rigdon: "It would be impossible to enumerate all those who in our time of deep distress nobly came forward to our relief and like the good Samaritan poured oil into our wounds and contributed liberally to our necessities as the citizens of Quincy en masse and the people of Illinois generally seemed to emulate each other in the labor of love."
'Place of Peace'
W. Jeffrey Marsh a BYU professor of ancient scripture, chose one day of the Saints' habitation in Quincy to expound upon and spoke of its profound impact on William W. Phelps.
"The March 1839 conference at Quincy, when W.W. Phelps was excommunicated, set in motion a series of events that led W.W. Phelps to become one of the Prophet Joseph's dearest friends," Brother Marsh said. "One of the most intriguing stories coming out of the Latter-day Saints' experience at Quincy is Brother Phelps' journey back into the Church and his rejoining the Saints in Nauvoo. Unlike the majority of apostates in Missouri, he found his way back and turned his spiritual weaknesses into strengths."
Afterward, Brother Phelps wrote "a series of poems in response to Joseph Smith's teachings," Brother Marsh noted. "He wrote from the heart and touched the Saints' souls. His rare, poetic genius enabled him to capture the heartwarming events of the Restoration with power and feeling. For example, when Joseph taught the Saints about the importance of the temple and New Jerusalem in Jackson County, Mo., and rehearsed the tribulation that the Saints suffered there, Brother Phelps penned the hymn 'Redeemer of Israel.' "
Brother Marsh concluded by saying: "What happened here at Quincy impacted the life of W.W. Phelps and has also had an impact on the present history of the LDS Church."