Sunday, July 7, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #29 Building the Kingdom of God in Nauvoo

"In 1847 a visitor to the abandoned town [of Nauvoo] described it from the tower of the temple as a 'city in the centre of an apparently boundless wilderness.  To the east lay in perfect beauty the grand Prairie of Illinois, reaching to the waters of Michigan; to the North and South faded away the winding Mississippi; and on the west, far as the eye could reach, was spread out a perfect sea of forest land.'"  (George W. Givens, In Old Nauvoo, p. 18)
Colonol Thomas L. Kane, who later became a great friend and advocate of the Mormons (who named Kanesville, Iowa for him), visited it soon after they all left.  "I was ascending the last hillside upon my journey, when a landscape in delightful contrast broke upon my view.  Half encircled by a bend of the river, a beautiful city lay glittering in the fresh morning sun; its bright new dwellings, set in cool green gardens, ranging up around a stately dome-shaped hill, which was crowned by a noble marble edifice, whose high tapering spire was radiant with white and gold.  The city appeared to cover several miles, and beyond it, in the background, there rolled off a fair country, checquered by the careful lines of fruitful husbandry.  The unmistakable marks of industry, enterprise and educated wealth, everywhere, made the scene one of singular and most striking beauty.

"It was a natural impulse to visit this inviting region.  I procured a skiff, and rowing across the river, landed at the chief wharf of the city.  No one met me there...I walked through the solitary streets.  The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness, from which I almost feared to wake it.  For plainly it had not slept long.  There was no grass growing up in the paved ways.  Rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps.

"Yet I went about unchecked.  I went into empty workshops, ropewalks, and smithies.  The spinner's wheel was idle; the carpenter had gone from his workbench and shavings, his unfinished sash and casing.  Fresh bark was in the tanner's vat, and the fresh-chopped lightwood stood piled against the baker's oven...I could have supposed the people hidden in their houses, but the doors were unfastened; and when at last I timidly entered them, I found dead ashes white upon the hearths, and had to tread a tiptoe, as if walking down the aisle of a country church, to avoid rousing irreverent echoes from the naked floors" (p. 17-18).

I visited Nauvoo for the first time as a 13-year-old with my parents when the foundation was all that remained of the temple and a few houses were rebuilt, then again with my husband and our older children when much more was restored, and then again with our younger children when the temple was fully rebuilt.  I have loved watching the resurrection of Nauvoo, a place where some of my ancestors lived.  For this lesson, rather than focusing on the trials, the doctrine or the history, I'm just going to have a little fun telling you about the culture, customs, and times of Nauvoo the Beautiful, in case you are not as fortunate as I and unable to go there in person.  (For a complete doctrinal lesson on Nauvoo, I suggest Bill Beardall's wonderful website, The Gospel Doctrine Class.)

"The Reverend Samuel Prior, a Methodist minister visiting Nauvoo in the spring of 1843, revealed his amazement in his report on the city of the Saints:

"'At length the city burst upon my sight, and how sadly was I disappointed.  Instead of seeing a few miserable log cabins and mud hovels, which I had expected to find, I was surprised to see one of the most romantic places that I have visited in the West.  The buildings, though many of them were small and of wood, yet bore the marks of neatness which I have not seen equalled in this country" (p. 10).


Nauvoo was inhabited by the saints for only a few years, from 1839 to 1846.  A census taken in August 1844 gave the city proper a population of 11,057.  An estimated 1/3 more lived in the suburbs.  New families kept arriving, even as the saints were being forced out.  The official Church estimate from the time of the exodus is 20,000.  The city was highly civilized, especially for a frontier town, sporting 91 miles of stone sidewalks and no boardwalks.


"The chief source of news in Nauvoo was the newspaper.  The Saints had published newspapers in Missouri and Ohio. During the siege in Missouri, Church leaders buried the printing press used for the Elders' Journal.  It was recovered in 1839 and brought to Nauvoo where it was used to print the Times and Seasons..."  (Church History in the Fulness of Times Institute Manual, p. 246)

"The first thing that strikes the stranger [about newspapers] is their extraordinary number...almost every town, down to communities of 2,000 in number, has not only one but several daily papers...many families are not contented with one but must have two or more"  (Alexander Mackay, a British visitor to America in the 1840s).

Americans in the 1840s were quite literate.  "Americans have the glory of every citizen being a reader and having books to read" (Harriet Martineau, foreign visitor to America, quoted in Givens, p. 248).  "Newspapers were the most popular reading material.  The 1840s have been called the 'Golden Age' of American journalism" (Givens, p. 263).

"Throughout the country, respect for the printed word was strong and the influence of newspapers more powerful than it is today.  Paradoxically, despite this respect, there was widespread criticism of the moral content of newspapers, just as there is today of television" (p. 267).

Newspapers did not intend to be impartial; they were a place for editors to express their views, and often strongly.

Newspapers of the era are, surprisingly, not a good source for historians.  They did not report local news.  "News seemed to be valued in proportion to the distance from which it came--the greater the distance, the greater the value" (p. 270).


Mailing a letter in the 1840s was very expensive (25 cents--a quarter of a days' wage!), and quite unreliable.  Postage was paid per page, per mile, sent folded over without an envelope, and the receiver had to pay.  Hence this interesting notice posted by Joseph Smith in the newspaper:  "Dear Brother [in other words, Dear Editor]--I wish to inform my friends and all others abroad, that whenever they wish to address me through the postoffice, they will be kind enough to pay the postage on the same.  My friends will excuse me in this matter, as I am willing to pay postage on letters to hear from them; but I am unwilling to pay for insults and menaces; consequently must refuse all unpaid.  Yours in the Gospel, Joseph Smith, Jun." (p. 73).

To save on the cost of postage, senders would often write across the paper horizontally, then turn the page and write over top of that vertically, and then write across both of those diagonally, thus getting three pages worth of writing out of one page.  It was called crosswriting.  So when a person wrote in his journal that "the family spent the evening reading a letter from Uncle George," it was quite literally the project of the entire evening.  Try to read this letter!


Americans were extremely hardworking, according to British visitors.  "For the average family, economic activities took up 12 to 16 hours per day in the summer and 10-12 hours in the winter"  (Givens, p. 153).  The Protestant work ethic was to work nonstop.  "The new doctrine that 'men are that they might have joy' was hard for many of the early Saints to accept, but it was made easier when the recreation was given an early stamp of approval by their young Prophet" (p. 154).

There were many social rules for the common form of recreation: going for a walk.  You were to converse in low tones, never laugh out loud, not stare at people, not turn around, not go out without gloves, not swing your bag, untie your bonnet or call to a friend.  There were more rules to "walking out" than to sports in the day.  In truth, there wasn't any sport in that era, outside of plain old violence.
Other popular recreations were shooting, circus exhibitions, and phrenology ("professionals" telling one's personality and future by feeling the bumps on the person's head).  The results of phrenology readings were daily published in newspapers.  The Wasp published the readings of Willard Richards' skull, claiming he was "very partial to the opposite sex," "attached to a place of long residence," having "indistinct notions of time, of ages, dates, events", and being "without fluency."  This for the man who became the official church historian, editor of the Deseret News, and church recorder! Something tells me it wasn't an accurate assessment.


One of the reasons for gathering the saints was the education of their children.  Although education was not necessarily favored in frontier America, due to the physical labor needed from the children for the farm, it was a priority for the saints.  A First Presidency Message of 1838 said, "One of the principle objects then, of our coming together, is to obtain the advantages of education; and in order to do this, compact society is absolutely necessary" (p. 237)  There were at least 81 teachers in Nauvoo over the few years, and 1,800 students.  Schools were often only open for a few weeks or months, but the school day might be 8 hours long (Church History in the Fullness of Times, p. 245).


Nauvoo was an unusual frontier town in another aspect: the number of women equaled the number of men.  Views expressed by Mormon leaders regarding women were quite ahead of their time.  As John Taylor wrote in the Mormon secular newspaper, the Nauvoo Neighbor, "Make it an established rule to consult your wife on all occasions.  Your interest is hers; and undertake no plan contrary to her advice and approbation...Your wife has an equal right with yourself to all your worldly possessions"  (Givens, p. 235).

Although a woman had to apply to become a member of the Relief Society at that time, membership was very popular.  At the time of the Prophet's death, Relief Society members numbered over 1,300  (Church History, etc., p. 249).


An understanding of the crime rate of the day sheds some light on the abuse the saints suffered from their enemies.  "One noted authority on the history of American violence believed that 'the period of the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s may have been the era of the greatest urban violence America has ever experienced.'  Another authority concluded that from 1830 through the 1850s, 'mob violence not only increased markedly but also became a feature of American life--not urban life, or southern life, or western life--but American life'" (Givens, p. 103).  

However, Ann Pitchforth, wrote to relatives in England of the Nauvoo saints, "There is universal love among them.  They are all kind to one another and very few houses indeed have either locks or bolts.  All leave everything outside their houses with the greatest of safety."  Another visitor to Nauvoo reported that he heard of no crime during the two weeks he was there, and he saw no beggars or paupers because laws prevented it and the Relief Society took care of it.  Joseph Smith, while sitting in a court meeting, saw two boys fighting across the street.  He left the meeting, ran over and grabbed them by the arms, told them not to fight, and then chewed out the onlookers for not stopping them.  Fisticuffs were not entertainment and were not tolerated in Nauvoo (p. 101).

Lawyers in New York City were making up to $10,000 a year, the truly great ones making $5,000 a case, but lawyers in the nine Nauvoo law firms had to moonlight at other jobs because of the low crime rate and lack of lawsuits.  Lawyers were not well-looked-upon in Nauvoo.  Hyrum Smith said lawyers "were made in gizzard making time, when it was cheaper to get gizzards than souls" (p. 109).  (Maybe he would change his mind today, since several of our present-day apostles were lawyers.)

However, due to threats and atrocities from the outside, Nauvoo had to set up a defensive militia.  At the time of the Prophet's death, the Nauvoo Legion boasted 5,000 men, the "largest trained soldiery in the United States, excepting only the U.S. Army" (p. 134).  300 Nauvoo militiamen rescued Joseph from kidnappers in 1843, chasing a riverboat on both water and land, traveling 500 miles in seven days. 

Although the governor suppressed the Nauvoo Legion, it kept the city safe for five years, and kept the mobs at bay after Joseph Smith's death until the exodus.  Companies of 20 to 40 cavalry patrolled the county, chasing mobbers, protecting Mormons and non-Mormons alike, and rescuing those burned out of their homes to safety.


Mormon leaders often invited visiting ministers of other religions to speak to the people, as it was a common form of entertainment in the day. A visiting Methodist minister wrote,  "In the evening I was invited to preach and did so.  The congregation was large and respectable they paid the utmost attention.  This surprised me a little, as I did not expect to find any such things as a religious toleration among them" (p. 143).

There were no meetinghouses in Nauvoo until the bottom floor of the temple was built and used as such.  Meetings were held outdoors.  Church was held every Sunday at 10:00 in "the grove" gathering place.  The congregation sat on split-log benches or on the grass.  If the weather did not permit it, meetings dispersed to homes or businesses.  Women were allowed to speak in church at times.  The center of religious worship, however, was the home.

The building of the $1 million temple provided focus for all the saints, and a livelihood for many, employing 600 wood- and stonecutters, and 200 builders.  This expensive project received much criticism from outsiders, but Joseph Smith said, "Some say it is better to give to the poor than build the Temple.  The building of the Temple has sustained the poor who were driven from Missouri, and kept them from starving; and it has been the best means of this object which could be devised" (p. 151).


At one time or another, there were 35 general stores in Nauvoo, 1 farmer's market, 5 drug stores, 8 tailor shops, 9 dressmakers or milliners, 14 shoe shops, a watch shop, a daguerreotype photographer, John Browning's gun shop, 5 horsebreeding companies, a bakery, 5 livery stables, 11 grist mills, 3 lumberyards, a cleaners, at least 2 hotels, and a match factory (owned by Emma Smith's future second husband, and later becoming the famous Diamond match company).

Scovill Bakery


Missionaries left Nauvoo for service all over the world.  The twelve apostles went on missions to Great Britain. Orson Hyde went to Palestine in October 1841. Missionaries went to the Pacific Islands where 1/3 of the island kingdom of Tabuai was baptized (300 miles south of Tahiti).  The Seventies Hall was the Mission Training Center.


Heber C. Kimball's gorgeous Nauvoo home

There were no short-timers in Nauvoo.  Despite having been cast out of previous communities, time and again, its citizens lived as though it would last forever.  People bought and sold and planted trees right up until the end.  Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards completed construction on their beautiful brick homes in 1845, although mob action was making an exodus inevitable.  Individual rooms of the temple were dedicated as they were completed.

The Nauvoo saints would be pleased to see the continuation of their legacy: Restoration of the city itself, the worldwide growth of missionary service and church membership, the continuance of the Relief Society, the rapid multiplication of temples and temple work (the doctrine and ordinances of the redemption of the dead having been introduced in Nauvoo), and the rebuilding of their own homes and temple.

Each of these Nauvoo saints was just an ordinary person, living an ordinary life, but their influence has been felt for over 250 years now.  The ultimate question for the church history student then is, What will be my legacy? 


Anonymous said...

Your information is always so helpful! The numbers you have on students and teachers can be found in the Church history in the fullness of times manual, bottom of page 245.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thank you so much for finding that reference for me. I have filled it in.