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Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women — 5. Settlement of Nauvoo

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 21, 2009

Please see the Introduction to this series for the origins of these lessons, written by Elder A.G. Pack, a missionary to England in 1930.

MOVE TO ILLINOIS – NAUVOO LOCATED: The travel-weary Saints found refuge in the state of Illinois. Three months later Joseph and Hyrum escaped from Liberty Gaol and joined their families at Quincy, Illinois, on the 22nd of April, 1839. Committees had been appointed to locate and buy land for the Saints, but came to no definite terms. Some distance up the Mississippi River was a small settlement, an insignificant village with only six houses, called Commerce. Here the Prophet bought tracts of land from Hugh White and Dr. Isaac Galland, on long time notes. Here the leaders decided to locate the headquarters of the Church. Though the site was marshy the location was beautiful, and the Saints moved there practically in a body. They began to build anew, drained the fever-ridden swamp lands and converted them into a fit habitation. The name of Commerce was changed to Nauvoo, meaning beauty and rest.

ILLNESS IN THE CAMPS: But the people were not without their trials. Wilford Woodruff says:

It was a very sickly time (when the refugees from Missouri first arrived at Commerce, on the site of the future city of Nauvoo) and Joseph had given up his home in commerce to the sick, and had a tent pitched in his dooryard and was living in that himself. The large number of Saints who had been driven out of Missouri, were flocking into Commerce; but had no homes to go into, and were living in wagons, in tents, and on the ground. Many, therefore, were sick through the exposure they were subjected to. Brother Joseph had waited on the sick, until he was worn out and nearly sick himself.

On the morning of the 22nd of July, 1839, he arose reflecting upon the situation of the Saints of God in their persecutions and afflictions, and he called upon the Lord in prayer, and the power of God rested upon him mightily, and as Jesus healed all the sick around Him in His day, so Joseph, the Prophet of God, healed all around on this occasion. [Leaves from My Journal, p. 62]

THE GOSPEL PREACHED IN EUROPE: This was a period of building, temporally and spiritually. Under the industrious hands of the Saints, Nauvoo was destined to become a city of splendour having in a few short years a population of twenty thousand people. Through the teachings of the Prophet and his associates many entered the Church. In August and September, 1839, seven of the Apostles left on missions to England, among whom were Parley P. Pratt and his wife, Mary Ann Pratt, who thus became the first woman of the church to go on a mission. They arrived in England in 1840, and sister Pratt set type for some of the first numbers of the Millennial Star

PROSPERITY AND CULTURE: the civilization of the Saints produced a culture remarkable for the borderlands which they inhabited. The streets of Nauvoo were laid out square to the compass, timber for the homes was floated down the river several hundred miles and clay for the bricks was secured in Iowa. Schools were established, and later Nauvoo University was organized. The people loved music and the arts and fostered institutions to encourage their development. They built as solidly as they progressed, they were a happy and contented people.

Not only did this peace-loving people secure protection for themselves but they guaranteed religious freedom to all men who cared to dwell within the confines of their fair city. Joseph Smith presented the following bill to the Nauvoo Council, which was passed on March 1st, 1841:

All … religious sects and denominations whatever … shall have free toleration, and equal privileges, in this city; and should any person be guilty of ridiculing, and abusing or otherwise deprecating another in consequence of his religion, or of disturbing … any religious meeting … he shall, on conviction, be fined in any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars (£100), or imprisoned not exceeding six months, or both. [History of the Church, Vol. IV, p. 306.]

HOME LIFE IN NAUVOO: The home life of Nauvoo flowed calmly and steadily about the hurrying, harassed feet of the men who planted and sowed, hammered and forged, traveled and preached. Toil of mind and body dropped away when the tired husband and father stepped over the threshold of those homes where peace and faith kept the hearth fire bright and the altar-flame constant. Those wives, those mothers, those restless-bodied children, knew the joy of true home-building and pure soul expansion. Struggle, toil, trouble, sickness, death, persecution, scorn, all these reactionary wave forces might swirl and beat about the outer walls of their homes, but were never allowed to enter within the sacred portals which guarded the love and confidence of hearts united for earthly and heavenly existence.

“The women baked and churned, scrubbed and spun, coloured and wove, their little ones about their knees and all sharing, according to size and strength, the family burdens. They were happy and busy.” [Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Susa Young Gates, pp. 126-127.] These women were the “great Mother-founders” of the Church, as vitally engaged in Church work, as nobly fitted for their tasks as were their men companions.

With the men arise in memory, the women who were wives and mothers of them, whose characters and mission differed only in appointment, not in power or glory of achievement. … All these were great souls who took part in the public and private life, in temple work, genealogy, poetry, biography and humanizing work in the pioneer Church generally. [Ibid., pp. 87-88.]

NAUVOO TEMPLE – PENNY SUBSCRIPTION FUND: On April 6th, 1841, the corner stones of the Nauvoo Temple were laid. Shortly thereafter, to aid in the construction of this edifice, Mary Fielding Smith, the wife of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, organized a fund called “The Sisters’ Penny Subscription.” She unostentatiously went about gathering what spare pennies the humble sisters could offer and obtained sufficient means with which to buy nails and glass for the entire building. In this manner the women of the Church had an actual part in building the Nauvoo Temple. “who may say that this initiative on the part of Mary Fielding Smith was not productive of much of the later organized effort put forth by the women of the Church?” [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. 3, p. 129.]

RELIEF SOCIETY ORGANIZED: On March 17th, 1842, the Female Relief Society was organized, for the purpose of uplifting the womanhood of the Church as well as for the exercise of all benevolent purposes. Commenting on the completion of the organization on the 24th, Joseph says:

Our women have always been signalized for their acts of benevolence and kindness; but the cruel usage that they received from the barbarians of Missouri, has hitherto prevented their extending the hand of charity in a conspicuous manner; yet in the midst of their persecution, when the bread has been torn from their helpless offspring by their cruel oppressors, they have always been ready to open their doors to the weary traveler, to divide their scant pittance with the hungry, and from their robbed and impoverished wardrobes, to divide with the more needy and destitute; and now that they are living upon a more genial soil, and among a less barbarous people, and possess facilities that they have not heretofore enjoyed, we feel convinced that with their concentrated efforts, the condition of the suffering poor, of the stranger and the fatherless will be ameliorated.” [History of the Church, Vol. IV, pp. 567-568.]

Among the many gems of counsel and instruction later given by the Prophet to the Relief Society, as recorded by Eliza R. Snow, are the following:

You must put down iniquity and by your own example provoke the Elders to good works; if you do right there is no danger of going too fast. He (Joseph) said he did not care how fast we run in the path of virtue. Resist evil and there is no danger. God, men, angels, and devils can not condemn those who resist everything that is evil – as well might the devil seek to dethrone Jehovah as the soul that resists everything that is evil.

If you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates – females, if they are pure and innocent, can come into the presence of God, for what is more pleasing to God than innocence? [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. II, p. 93.]

As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand – let them be enlarged towards others – you must be long-suffering and bear with the faults and errors of mankind … You must not be contracted, but you must be liberal in your feelings. [Ibid., Vol. II, p. 94.]

Sisters of this Society, shall there be strife among you? I will not have it – you must repent and get the love of God. Away with self-righteousness. The best measure or principle to bring the poor to repentance, is to administer to their wants – the Society is not only to relieve the poor, but to save the soul. [Ibid., Vol. II, p. 98.]

Meanwhile, Governor Boggs of Missouri made a demand on Governor Carlin of Illinois for the Prophet and others, claiming that they were fugitives from justice. Although his impudent demands were refused, this incident served to warn the Saints of the lowering clouds over Nauvoo, that the renewed fury of mobocracy would soon overwhelm them.

Questions.

1. – Locate Quincy and Nauvoo on your map. How was the land procured in Commerce (Nauvoo) for the establishment of Church Headquarters there? Tell what you know of the country before and after the Saints began to build.
2. – What was the remarkable manifestation which occurred on July 22nd, 1839? How do you account for this occurrence?
3. – Describe the family life among the Saints at Nauvoo. In what way did women help in the rapid development of Nauvoo and its progress?
4. – In the midst of their humble surroundings, why did the Saints feel justified in sacrificing to build another temple?
5. – Explain the great missionary desire which still burned within the souls of those people. How was it shown?
6. – How did the women help to build the temple? In what way other than by donating their pennies to the cause?
7. – Tell what you know of the organization of the Relief Society. What were some of the gems of counsel and instructions given by the Prophet?
8. – What is meant by his words – “the Society is not only to relieve the poor, but to save the soul”? How does the soul of each Relief Society sister grow?
9. – Sing the hymn, “Zion Prospers, All Is Well,” the words of which were written by Eliza R. Snow.
10. – Where is Zion?



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  1. […] we share Lesson #5: Settlement of Nauvoo. This is another lesson in the series of Church history lessons that were created in 1930 for the […]

    Pingback by Portraits of Mormon Women: Centennial Lessons — Church History for Women, Lesson # | Mormon Women: Who We Are — April 1, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

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