To The
Lee County Churches

Early Mormon Influence
George Lamb 1970

Although not a great deal of information can be discovered concerning the M ormons in early Lee County, it can be said that they played an important part in the early formation of the area and contributed much to the legend and lore of the county.

Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, visited in the area around Palestine Grove south of the present city of Amboy on many occassions and could claim many relatives living in the vicinity. A book by Thomas Gregg, published in 1890 by the Chicago Historical Society, tells that in 1843, Joseph SMith was charged with "Treason against the government of Missouri" and was later arrested by that state's authorities near Dixon. The book goes on, "Learning that Smith and his wife were on a visit to her relatives in Palestine Grove in Lee County, toward the north end of the district, and about 150 miles from Nauvoo, the officers, in company with the Missouri Agent, quietly repaired thither.

They found the prophet at the house of his friends, arrested him and placing him in a carriage, started by way of Dixon, the county seat." We know from various readings, that John Dixon did not approve of Smith's arrest by out-of-state men and refused to issue a proper arrest warrant for him.

The agents could do nothing but release Smith because of this and he quickly returned to Nauvoo; probably never to return again as he and his brother Hyrum were taken from the Carthage jail on June 27, 1844, by an armed mob and killed.

On April 16, 1853, William Smith, a brother of Joseph, arrived in the county with a small band of followers and settled at Palestine Grove. During the spring term of teh circuit court of Lee COunty in Dixon, WIlliam SMith trid to obtain a divorce from his wife, but the jury "found a verdict for the lady in question." In 1854 he was confined to the county jail, but for what reason we do not know. He did, however, put up the proper bail and was released soon after being confined.

While Smith was jailed, he learned that a number of people in the community were unfriendly towards him and his followers, so "he vacated these parts" according to an early newspaper account. Smith attempted to reach Salt Lake City, Utah, but was caught in St. Louis and brought back to Dixon on a charge of bail-jumping. What then happened to him cannot be learned but we presume it was nothing drastic as no further mention of him was made in the county newspapers.

It was at Amoby, on April 5, 1860 that Joseph Smith Jr. "was set apart by the laying on of hands at a Mormon convention event held at that city." He then became the bishop and prophet of that branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints which today has its headquarters in Independence, MO. This segment of the Mormon religion denies "The acts and legitimacy of the Salt Lake City branch of the Mormons," according to early printed reports. A chief point of disagreement was the practice of plural marriage, which was subsequently abandoned by the Mormons of the West.

As said before, the only trace that can be found of the early Mormon influence in Lee COunty is the long abandoned, over-grown cemetery just off the ROcky Ford Road south of the city of Amboy; but it speaks in mute testimony of the once prosperous religious settlement that surrounded it.

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