Under the prophetic leadership of Joseph Smith, the Mormons became a movement-literally. For fourteen years, from 1830 to 1844, Joseph Smith led the Mormons by divine revelations from New York westward to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, where he was murdered on June 27, 1844, at the young age of thirty-eight.
During these westward migration years, many new Joseph Smith visions and revelations were recorded and canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, which serves today as Mormonauthorized Scripture for LDS teaching and practices.
The Mormons moved westward in the United States, driven by a prophetic passion to locate and establish the holy city of Zion, the final gathering place, and the New Jerusalem of God. Their heads were filled with the vision of Zion descending from heaven as seen in Revelation 21:1-2:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
These early Mormons believed that the New Jerusalem would be found in America, and they longed for America's Zion. It would be a place of rest, protection, and freedom from anti- Mormon persecution and life's tribulations. Following the publication of the Book of Mormon on August 17, 1829, and the first organized Mormon church on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith was ready to lead the Mormons toward the future of Zion through the spirit of revelation as their leading prophet and apostle.
While still living in Pennsylvania, Joseph Smith immediately declared the Mormon faith a "new and everlasting covenant" and rejected the validity and effectiveness of water baptisms conducted by all Christian churches. From its very origins, Mormonism was established by Smith as completely exclusive of all Christian churches.
The First Few Months of Mormonism
Joseph Smith's first few months of functioning as God's lastday prophet produced increasing internal tensions and external opposition. Yet Smith is said to have received direct encouraging words from God that enabled him to endure and press forward. It is claimed that God confirmed that he would curse anyone who did not support Smith and called him to continue to write what was supernaturally shown him.
The thirty or so New York Mormons who were spread throughout Manchester, Fayette, and Colesville Townships gathered on June 9, 1830, for the first church conference at the farmhouse of Peter Whitmer, where Smith provided enthusiastic exhortations to keep the faith. He then returned to Pennsylvania.
Throughout the summer months of 1830, Joseph Smith immediately began working on his own inspired revision of the Bible-today's Joseph Smith Translation-claiming that he was able to receive biblical information and interpretations unknown to any Christian since the time of Jesus Christ. This historical fact reveals a deep mistrust of the content of the Bible from the earliest days of Mormonism's existence. In June 1830 Smith also received a startling revelation of Moses, which is today recorded in the first chapter of the book of Moses. Its content has no Old Testament familiarity to Christians. It is a grand vision of creation and describes Moses as a Christian. In fact, Smith's book of Moses entirely Christianizes the Old Testament and speaks about multiple earths and heavens in order to bring humans to eternal life. Soon following the Moses revelation, Smith also began redoing the early chapters of Genesis, including a major extrabiblical elaboration concerning Enoch.
The Mormons in New York (1830-1831)
In late August 1830, still being strongly opposed by Emma's father, Isaac Hale, Joseph and Emma Smith decided to move from Pennsylvania to Fayette, New York, where they began living with the David Whittier family.
In September 1830, only a few weeks after moving to Fayette, Smith was required to reestablish his sole claim as the Mormon Prophet and authoritative holder of the keys of the kingdom of God when Mormon Hiram Page began declaring that he also was receiving revelations through the aid of a seer stone. Several Mormons followed Page, including Smith's personal scribe, Oliver Cowdery. From the origins of Mormonism Smith had claimed that God compared him to biblical Moses and announced that he alone was the leader of the Mormon Church.
The Location of America's Zion
As early as the summer of 1828, the Lamanites-American Indians-were included in Smith's revelations, and now another Smith revelation unveiled the exact location of the city of Zion as being "on the borders by the Lamanites." Doctrine and Covenants 28:9 reads:
And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.
Smith's prophetic declaration that the city of Zion was located on the border of the western Indian territory of the American continent drove the Mormons westward toward Missouri. The Saints believed that the American Indians were the ancestors of the Book of Mormon Lamanite people, and the actual offspring of Israel. There were great salvation promises for the Lamanites, and the Mormons were eager to evangelize them.
Mormon Missionaries Sent to the American Indians
Through Joseph Smith revelations, God commissioned Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Ziba Peterson, and Parley Pratt to go and evangelize the Lamanites in the far west. On October 18, 1830, only a few weeks following the second church conference, this Mormon mission team departed New York on their fifteen-hundred-mile western trek.
As these missionaries traveled toward Missouri and the Indian borderland, they stopped in Kirtland, Ohio, near Cleveland. Parley Pratt had once lived in Kirtland, where he belonged to the Christian restorationist movement called the Campbellites-founded by Alexander Campbell and a local church led by the enthusiastic preacher Sidney Rigdon. Through their witness, Rigdon converted to Mormonism and transferred his entire hundred-member congregation into the Mormon Church. The assimilation of Rigdon's Campbellite church members is extremely important in understanding the initial growth of Mormonism.
Rejoicing, the Mormon mission team traveled west several more weeks and finally reached Independence, Missouri, on January 13, 1831. Although evangelizing the American Indian did not produce significant results in the end, the Mormon growth in Ohio was significant. In fact, within months there were more Mormons in Ohio than in New York.