1832–1834: Two Church Centers
Joseph and Sidney Are Tarred and Feathered
Mobs continued to persecute the Mormons, wherever they were, and on March 24, 1832, a mob led by Symonds Ryder, a man who had been converted and had then apostatized from the Church, attacked Joseph and Sidney Rigdon in Hiram, Ohio, where he and Emma were living with the Johnson family. The Johnson family had been converted when Joseph healed the mother’s arm. Many men in the mob wanted to kill Joseph, but Ryder instructed them to tar and feather the men. Joseph relates the tragic experience himself, during which one of the twins he and Emma had adopted was exposed to cold weather and died a few days later. He and Sidney were both abused terribly, and Joseph even thought at one point Sidney may have been killed.
Sidney Rigdon was not killed during the mobbing, but suffered severe injuries to the head and never entirely recovered from them. Joseph was tarred and feather on multiple occasions; the experience was meant to be extremely painful and humiliating, and could even be fatal. After the victim’s body was covered in hot tar, feathers were applied to the tar and when it dried, they would stick to the body, adding to the degradation as well as the difficulty in removing the tar.
Persecution Continues in Missouri, Formation of Zion’s Camp
On April 1, Joseph and others traveled to Jackson County, Missouri, once again to help the beleaguered Mormons there. A conference was held and Joseph encouraged the members to help one another and to live the Gospel. He warned them that their prideful behavior and internal conflicts were the cause of many of their own afflictions. He warned them that unless they repented, they would be driven from their lands.
All local newspapers were printing falsehoods about the Church, and Joseph, and the members in Missouri created their own newspaper to publish the truth about their views and to help strengthen the Saints. This newspaper was called The Evening and Morning Star and was first published in June of 1832.
Tensions continued to rise between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri, and in July 1833, when the Evening and the Morning Star published a piece on free blacks, tempers reached a boiling point. The editorial was the final spark in the debate between Mormons and non-Mormons in the county. The non-Mormons felt that they would soon be overwhelmed by Mormon converts, who could then control the voting in the county. They were also concerned by some Mormons’ opposition to slavery in a pro-slavery state. Mobs destroyed the newspaper press on July 20, 1833, along with the building it was housed in (which was the home of the printer). They also tarred and feathered several Mormons who refused to leave or deny their faith. Edward Partridge, who was the bishop of the Church there, relates his experience of being tarred and feathered.
In September 1833, the elders of the Church agreed it was expedient that they publish another newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate, in Kirtland, Ohio, to promote and defend their point of view. Joseph noted that the public mind was so turned against the Church that people would refuse to listen to reason.
Meanwhile, the Mormons in Jackson County, Missouri, were still being persecuted and driven. Joseph had received a revelation in August admonishing the Mormons to seek peace rather than war, but the persecution raged on. Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, were ultimately expelled from their homes and from the county in November 1833. In February 1834, after numerous ineffectual appeals to local and state governments, Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to organize Zion’s Camp to aid the beleaguered Mormons in Missouri, which the Mormons called Zion.
Zion’s Camp included over 200 men. Its aim was not a military offensive, but rather to assist and defend the driven and persecuted Mormons. The members of Zion’s Camp suffered much along the way, and when they arrived, they found the members in Missouri already driven into Clay County, just north of Jackson County. Since the state refused to help the Mormons, even though they had been unjustly and illegally driven from their lands, Joseph and the other leaders helped the exiles get temporary shelter in Clay County, until more permanent possessions could be found. The good people of Clay County—though not desirous of having the Mormons live among them—nevertheless permitted them to recoup their strength for a time. Zion’s Camp served another, perhaps even more important purpose, for the Lord demanded that the most noble of His Saints be tested “even as Abraham.” Those who were willing to participate, and who continued in faith even through the difficulties of the journey, learned at the feet of Joseph Smith, and gained strong testimonies of the restored gospel.
In November 1834, one of the Church elders received a letter from a Missouri state senator regarding the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County. The senator, J. Thompson, informed the elder that the case had made its way to the office of the governor. However, the senator also admitted that, “As yet none has been punished for these outrages, and it is believed that, under our present laws, conviction for any violence committed against a Mormon cannot be had in Jackson county. These unfortunate people [the Mormons] are now forbidden to take possession of their homes, and the principal part of them, I am informed, are at this time living in an adjoining county, in a great measure upon the charity of its citizens.” No redress was ever obtained for the Mormons in response to these actions.