Sponsored by the Pike County Historical Society & the Illinois State Historical Society. April 2005.
On February 22, 1839, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, refugees driven from Missouri under the “Extermination Order” of Governor Lilburn Boggs, settled on this site. The property was owned by Thomas Edwards, who later joined the church. Silas Smith, high priest in the church and uncle of Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, was the leader of these Mormon refugees. The community grew to more than 300 members. Silas Smith died on September 13, 1839, at the age of 58 and was buried here near his home. Smith was succeeded by John Lawton and later by Harlow Redfield, who presided over the congregation until it disbanded in 1845.
In October 1842, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball preached at a church conference held here. The settlement, which later became known as Mormontown, extended on both sides of the road at this location. Cabins were built and wells dug. A schoolhouse and a church were erected on the south side of the road. The cemetery, which measured 60 by 80 feet, fell into disrepair in later years. Gravestones were bulldozed into a ditch and the graveyard plowed over. The church building was relocated to Pittsfield and used as a parish hall by St. Mary's Catholic Church. The pews and pulpit were moved to a church near Pleasant Hill.
Mormans in Pike County, IL
Source: History of Pike County by Chas. C. Chapman 1880
In April, 1840, the "Latter-Day Saints," or Mormons, came in large numbers to Illinois and purchased a tract of land on the east side of the Mississippi river, about ten miles above Keokuk. Here they commenced building the city of Nauvoo. A more picturesque or eligible site for a city could not have been selected.The origin, rapid development and prosperity of this religious sect are the most remarkable and instructive historical events of the present century. That an obscure individual, without money, education, or respectability, should persuade hundreds of thousands of people to believe him inspired of God, and cause a book, contemptible as a literary production, to be received as a continuation of the sacred revelation, appears almost incredible; yet in less than half a century, the disciples of this obscure individual have increased to hundreds of thousands; have founded a State in the distant wilderness, and compelled the Government of the United States to practically recognize them as an independent people.
The founder of Mormonism was Joseph Smith, a native of Vermont, who emigrated while quite young with his father's family to western New York. Here his youth was spent in idle, vagabond life, roaming the woods, dreaming of buried treasures, and in endeavoring to learn the art of finding them by the twisting of a forked stick in his hands, or by looking through enchanted stones. Both he and his father became famous as "water wizards," always ready to point out the spot where wells might be dug and water found. Such was the character of the young profligate when he made the acquaintance of Sidney Rigdon, a person of considerable talent and information, who had conceived the design of founding a new religion. A religious romance, written by Mr. Spaulding, a Presbyterian preacher of Ohio, then dead, suggested the idea, and finding in Smith the requisite duplicity and cunning to reduce it to practice, it was agreed that he should act as prophet; and the two devised a story that gold plates had been found buried in the earth containing a record inscribed on them in unknown characters, which, when deciphered by the power of inspiration, gave the history of the ten lost tribes of Israel.
After their settlement in and about Nauvoo, in Hancock county, great depredations were committed by them on the "Gentiles." The Mormons had been received from Missouri with great kindness by the people of this State, and every possible aid granted them. The depredations committed, however, soon made them odious, when the question of getting rid of them was agitated. In the fall of 1841, the Governor of Missouri made a demand on Gov. Carlin for the arrest and delivery of Joe Smith as a fugitive from justice. An executive warrant issued for that purpose was placed in the hands of an agent to be executed, but was returned without being complied with. Soon afterward the Governor handed the same writ to his agent, who this time succeeded in arresting Joe Smith. He was, however, discharged by Judge Douglas, upon the ground that the writ upon which he had been arrested had been once returned before it was executed, and was functus officio. In 1842 Gov. Carlin again issued his writ, Joe Smith was arrested again, and again escaped. Thus it will be seen it was impossible to reach and punish the leader of this people, who had been driven from Missouri because of their stealing, murdering and unjust dealing, and came to Illinois but to continue their depredations. Emboldened by success, the Mormons became more arrogant and overbearing. Many people began to believe that they were about to set up a separate government for themselves in defiance of the laws of the State. Owners of property stolen in other counties made pursuit into Nauvoo, and were fined by the Mormon courts for daring to seek their property in the holy city. But that which made it more certain than anything else that the Mormons contemplated a separate government, was that about this time they petitioned Congress to establish a territorial government for them in Nauvoo.
To crown the whole folly of the Mormons, in the Spring of 1844 Joe Smith announced himself as a candidate for President of the United States, and many of his followers were confident he would be elected. He next caused himself to be anointed king and priest, and to give character to his pretensions, he declared his lineage in an unbroken line from Joseph, the son of Jacob, and that of his wife from some other important personage of the ancient Hebrews. To strengthen his political power he also instituted a body of police styled the "Danite band," who were sworn to protect his person, and obey his orders as the commands of God. A female order previously existing in the church, called "Spiritual wives," was modified so as to suit the licentiousness of the prophet. A doctrine was revealed that it was impossible for a woman to getto heaven except as the wife of a Mormon elder; that each elder might marry as many women as he could maintain, and that any female might be sealed to eternal life by becoming their concubine. This licentiousness, the origin of polygamy in that church, they endeavored to justify by an appeal to Abraham, Jacob and other favorites of god in former ages of the world.
Joe Smith soon began to play the tyrant over his people. Among the first acts of this sort was an attempt to take the wife of William Law, one of his most talented disciples, and make her his spiritual wife. He established, without authority, a recorder's office, and an office to issue marriage licenses. He proclaimed that none could deal in real estate or sell liquor but himself. He ordered a printing office demolished, and in many ways controlled the freedom and business of the Mormons. Not only did he stir up some of the Mormons, but by his reckless disregard for the laws of the land raised up opposition on every hand. It was believed that he instructed the Danite band, which he had chosen as the ministers of his vengeance, that no blood, except that of the church, was to be regarded as sacred, if it contravened the accomplishment of his object. It was asserted that he inculcated the legality of perjury and other crimes, if committed to advance the cause of true believers; that God had given the world and all it contained to his saints, and since they were kept out of their rightful inheritance by force, it was no moral offense to get possession of it by stealing. It was reported that an establishment existed in Nauvoo for the manufacture of counterfeit money, and that a set of outlaws was maintained for the purpose of putting it in circulation. Statements were circulated to the effect that a reward was offered for the destruction of the Warsaw Signal, an anti-Mormon paper, and that Mormons dispersed over the country threatened all persons who offered to assist the constable in the execution of the law, with the destruction of their property and the murder of their families. There were rumors also afloat that an alliance had been formed with the Western Indians, and in case of war they would be used in murdering their enemies. In short, if only one-half of these reports were true the Mormons must have been the most infamous people that ever existed.
William Law, one of the proprietors of the printing-press destroyed by Smith, went to Carthage, the county-seat, and obtained warrants for the arrest of Smith and the members of the City Council, and others connected with the destruction of the press. Some of the parties having been arrested, but discharged by the authorities in Nauvoo, a convention of citizens assembled at Carthage and appointed a committee to wait upon the Governor for the purpose of procuring military assistance to enforce the law. The Governor visited Carthage in person. Previous to his arrival the militia had been called out and armed forces commenced assembling in Carthage and Warsaw to enforce the service of civil process. All of them, however, signified a willingness to co- operate with the Governor in preserving order. A constable and ten men were then sent to make the arrest. In the meantime, Smith declared martial law; his followers residing in the country were summoned to his assistance; the Legion was assembled and under arms, and the entire city was one great military encampment.
The prophet, his brother Hiram, the members of the City Council and others, surrendered themselves at Carthage June 24, 1845, on the charge of riot. All entered into recognizance before a Justice of the Peace to appear at court, and were discharged. A new writ, however, was immediately issued and served on the two Smiths, and both were arrested and thrown into prison. The citizens had assembled from Hancock, Schuyler and McDonough counties, armed and ready to avenge the outrages that had been committed by the Mormons. Great excitement prevailed at Carthage. The force assembled at that place amounted to 1,200 men, and about 500 assembled at Warsaw. Nearly all were anxious to march into Nauvoo. This measure was supposed to be necessary to search for counterfeit money and the apparatus to make it, and also to strike a salutary terror into the Mormon people by an exhibition of the force of the State, and thereby prevent future outrages, murders, robberies, burnings, and the like. The 27th of June was appointed for the march; but Gov. Ford, who at the time was in Carthage, apprehended trouble if the militia should attempt to invade Nauvoo, disbanded the troops, retaining only a guard to the jail.
Gov. Ford went to Nauvoo on the 27th. The same morning about 200 men from Warsaw, many being disguised, hastened to Carthage. On learning that one of the companies left as a guard had disbanded, and the other stationed 150 yards from the jail while eight men were left to guard the prisoners, a communication was soon established between the Warsaw troops and the guard; and it was arranged that the guard should have their guns charged with blank cartridges and fire at the assailants when they attempted to enter the jail. The conspirators came up, jumped the fence around the jail, were fired upon by the guard, which, according to arrangement, was overpowered, and the assailants entered the prison, to the door of the room where the two prisoners were confined. An attempt was made to break open the door; but Joe Smith, being armed with a pistol, fired several times as the door was bursted open, and three of the assailants were wounded. At the same time several shots were fired into the room, by some of which John Taylor, a friend of the Smiths, received four wounds, and Hiram Smith was instantly killed. Joe Smith, severely wounded, attempted to escape by jumping out of a second-story window, but was so stunned by the fall that he was unable to rise. In this position he was dispatched by balls shot through his body. Thus fell Joe Smith, the most successful imposter of modern times. Totally ignorant of almost every fact in science, as well as in law, he made up in constructiveness and natural cunning whatever in him was wanting of instruction.
Great consternation prevailed among the anti-Mormons at Carthage, after the killing of the Smiths. They expected the Mormons would be so enraged on hearing of the death of their leaders that they would come down in a body, armed and equipped, to seek revenge upon the populace at Carthage. Messengers were dispatched to various places for help in case of an attack. The women and children were moved across the river for safety. A committee was sent to Quincy and early the following morning, at the ringing of the bells, a large concourse of people assembled to devise means of defense. At this meeting, it was reported that the Mormons attempted to rescue the Smiths; that a party of Missourians and others had killed them to prevent their escape; that the Governor and his party were at Nauvoo at the time when intelligence of the fact was brought there; that they had been attacked by the Nauvoo Legion, and had retreated to a house where they were closely besieged; that the Governor had sent out word that he could maintain his position for two days, and would be certain to be massacred if assistance did not arrive by that time. It is unnecessary to say that this entire story was fabricated. It was put in circulation, as were many other stories, by the anti-Mormons, to influence the public mind and create a hatred for the Mormons. The effect of it, however, was that by 10 o'clock on the 28th, between two and three hundred men from Quincy, under command of Maj. Flood, went on board a steamboat for Nauvoo, to assist in raising the siege, as they honestly believed.
It was thought by many, and indeed the circumstances seem to warrant the conclusion, that the assassins of Smith had arranged that the murder should occur while the Governor was in Nauvoo; that the Mormons would naturally suppose he planned it, and in the first out-pouring of their indignation put him to death, as a means of retaliation. They thought that if they could have the Governor of the State assassination by Mormons, the public excitement would be greatly increased against that people, and would cause their extermination, or at least their expulsion from the State. That it was a brutal and premeditated murder cannot be and is not denied at this day; but the desired effect of the murder was not attained, as the Mormons did not evacuate Nauvoo for two years afterward. In the meantime, the excitement and prejudice against this people were not allowed to die out. Horse-stealing was quite common, and every case that occurred was charged to the Mormons. In the summer and fall of 1845 were several occurrences of a nature to increase the irritation existing between the Mormons and their neighbors. A suit was instituted in the United States Circuit Court against one of the apostles, to recover a note, and a marshal sent to summons the defendant, who refused to be served with the process. Indignation meetings were held by the saints, and the marshal threatened for attempting to serve the writ. About this time, General Denning, sheriff, was assaulted by an anti-Mormon, whom he killed. Denning was friendly to the Mormons, and a great outburst of passion was occasioned among the friends of the dead man.
It was also discovered, in trying the rights of property at Lima, Adams county, that the Mormons had an institution connected with their church to secure their effects from execution. Incensed at this and other actions, the anti-Mormons of Lima and Green Plains, held a meeting to devise means for the expulsion of the Mormons from that part of the country. It was arranged that a number of their own party should fire on the building in which they were assembled, in such a manner as not to injure anyone, and then report that the Mormons had commenced the work of plunder and death. This plot was duly executed, and the startling intelligence soon called together a mob, which threatened the Mormons with fire and sword if they did not immediately leave. The Mormons refusing to depart, the mob at once executed their threats by burning 125 houses and forcing the inmates to flee for their lives. The sheriff of Hancock county, a prominent Mormon armed several hundred Mormons and scoured the country, in search of the incendiaries, but they had fled to neighboring counties, and he was unable either to bring them to battle or make any arrest. One man, however, was killed without provocation; another attempting to escape was shot and afterwards hacked and mutilated; and Franklin A. Worrell, who had charge of the jail when the Smiths were killed, was shot by some unknown person concealed in a thicket. The anti- Mormons committed one murder. A party of them set fire to a pile of straw, near the barn of an old Mormon, nearly ninety years of age, and when he appeared to extinguish the flames, he was shot and killed.
The anti-Mormons left their property exposed in their hurried retreat, after having burned the houses of the Mormons. Those who had been burned out sallied forth from Nauvoo and plundered the whole country, taking whatever they could carry or drive away. By order of the Governor, Gen. Hardin raised a force of 350 men, checked the Mormon ravages, and recalled the fugitive anti-Mormons home.
At this time a convention, consisting of delegates from eight of the adjoining counties, assembled to concert measures for the expulsion of the Mormons from the State. The Mormons seriously contemplated emmigration westward, believing the times forboded evil for them. Accordingly, during the winter of 1845-'46, the most stupendous preparations were made by the Mormons for removal. All the principal dwellings, and even the temple, were converted into work-shops, and before spring, 12,000 wagons were in readiness; and by the middle of February the leaders, with 2,000 of their followers, had crossed the Mississippi on the ice, Before the spring of 1846 the majority of the Mormons had left Nauvoo, but still a large number remained.
In September a writ was issued against several prominent Mormons, and placed in the hands of John Carlin, of Carthage, for execution. Carlin called out a posse to help made the arrest, which brought together quite a large force in the neighborhood of Nauvoo. Carlin, not being a military man, placed in command of the posse, first, gen. Singleton, and afterward Col. Brockman, who proceeded to invest the city, erecting breastworks, and taking other means for defensive as well as offensive operations. What was then termed a battle next took place, resulting in the death of one Mormon and the wounding of several others, and loss to the anti-Mormons of three killed and four wounded. At last, through the intervention of an anti-Mormon committee of one hundred, from Quincy, the Mormons and their allies were induced to submit to such terms as the posse chose to dictate, which were that the Mormons should immediately give up their arms to the Quincy committee, and remove from the State. The trustees of the church and five of their clerks were permitted to remain for the sale of Mormon property, and the posse were to march in unmolested, and leave a sufficient force to guarantee the performance of their stipulations. Accordingly, the constable's posse marched in with Brockman at their head. It consisted of about 800 armed men and 600 or 700 unarmed, who had assembled from all the country around, through motives of curiosity, to see the once proud city of Nauvoo humbled and delivered up to its enemies. They proceeded into the city slowly and carefully, examining the way for fear of the explosion of a mine, many of which had been made by the Mormons, by burying kegs of powder in the ground, with a man stationed at a distance to pull a string communicating with the trigger of a percussion lock affixed to the keg. This kind of a contrivance was called by the Mormons "hell's half-acre." When the posse arrived in the city, the leaders of it erected themselves into a tribunal to decide who should be forced away and who remain. Parties were dispatched to hunt for fire-arms, and for Mormons, and to bring them to judgment. When brought, they received their doom from the mouth of Brockman, who sat a grim and unawed tyrant for the time. As a general rule, the Mormons were ordered to leave within an hour or two; and by rare grace some of them were allowed until next day, and in a few cases longer time was granted.
Nothing was said in the treaty in regard to the new citizens, who had with the Mormons defended the city; but the posse no sooner had obtained possession than they commenced expelling them. Some of them were ducked in the river, and were in one or two instances actually baptized in the name of some of the leaders of the mob; others were forcibly driven into the ferry-boats to be taken over the river before the bayonets of armed ruffians. Many of these new settlers were strangers in the country from various parts of the United States, who were attracted there by the low price of property; and they knew but little of previous difficulties or the merits of the quarrel. They saw with their own eyes that the Mormons were industriously preparing to go away, and they knew "of their own knowledge" that any effort to expel them by force was gratuitous and unnecessary cruelty. They had been trained, by the States whence they came, to abhor mobs and to obey the law, and they volunteered their services under executive authority to defend their town and their property against mob violence, and, as they honestly believed, from destruction; but in this they were partly mistaken; for although the mob leaders in the exercise of unbridled power were guilty of many injuries to the persons of individuals, although much personal property was stolen, yet they abstained from materially injuring houses and buildings.
The Mormons Reach Salt Lake
The fugitives proceeded westward, taking the road through Missouri, but were forcibly ejected from that State and compelled to move indirectly through Iowa. After innumerable hardships the advance guard reached the Missouri river at Council Bluffs, when a United States officer presented a requisition for 500 men to serve in the war with Mexico. Compliance with this order so diminished their number of effective men, that the expedition was again delayed and the remainder, consisting mostly of old men, women and children, hastily prepared habitations for winter. Their rudely constructed tents were hardly completed before winter set in with great severity, the bleak prairies being incessantly swept by piercing winds. While here cholera, fever and other diseases, aggravated by the previous hardships, the want of comfortable quarters and medical treatment, hurried many of them to premature graves, yet, under the influence of religious fervor and fanaticism, they looked death in the face with resignation and cheerfulness, and even exhibited a gayety which manifested itself in music and dancing during the saddest hours of this sad winter.
At length welcome spring made its appearance, and by April they were again organized for the journey; a pioneer party, consisting of Brigham Young and 140 others, was sent in advance to locate a home for the colonists. On the 21 of July, 1847, a day memorable in Mormon annals, the vanguard reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake, having been directed thither, according to their accounts, by the hand of the Almighty. Here in a distant wilderness, midway between the settlements of the East and the Pacific, and at that time a thousand miles from the utmost verge of civilization, they commenced preparations for founding a colony, which has since grown into a mighty empire.