History moments: Precious cargo

In November 1831, Church members in Kirtland, Ohio, sustained Joseph Smith's proposal to have compiled and printed the revelations he had received. Concerned with mob threats locally, Church leaders decided to print the book in Independence, Mo., where they had a press. The press had been purchased in Cincinnati, Ohio, by W. W. Phelps and at great effort shipped by boat and wagon to Independence, then on the American frontier.

Oliver Cowdery traveled to Missouri to start compiling the revelations, but found the press sitting idly, lacking paper. He wrote to Joseph Smith, then at Hiram, Ohio, that perhaps well-to-do Martin Harris could supply paper for the press. The Prophet declined that suggestion, however, and chose to procure and deliver the paper himself. A week before he left Hiram, mobbers broke into his house and brutally tarred and feathered him.Undaunted, Joseph left April 1, 1832, with Newel K. Whitney, Peter Whitmer and Jesse Gause. The group gave wide berth to nearby Kirtland, where another mob was known to exist, and traveled by wagon to the Ohio River. There they took a steamer south to Wheeling, then in Virginia but now in West Virginia. They walked down the gangplank on April 4 and proceeded to 23rd Street and Main in Wheeling, to William Lambdin's new paper mill, built just two years earlier.

They "purchased a lot of paper for the press in Zion" and then resumed their Ohio River journey, traveling west most the length of Kentucky before transferring to another steamer to go up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. At St. Louis, their precious cargo of paper was loaded into a wagon and hauled across Missouri to Independence. There, Joseph and the others decided to print 3,000 copies of The Book of Commandments and start a newspaper, the Evening and Morning Star.

Joseph returned to Ohio, and as printed signatures (32-page sheets) for the diminutive 3 1/4-by-4 3/4-inch book came off the press, a copy of each was sent to him for approval. But before the project was completed, a mob gathered and furiously destroyed the building, scattering type and much of the paper. Some of the printed sheets were rescued and individually bound into a 160-page book, ending in the middle of a sentence. The book, forerunner to the Doctrine and Covenants, indeed, was a monument to commitment.