Chapter 4: The Church Organized
by Gordon B. Hinckley
NOT long after his ordination under the hands of Peter,
James, and John it was made known to Joseph Smith that the Church of Jesus
Christ should again be set up in the earth. This event formally occurred the
following spring, in the home of Peter Whitmer in Fayette Township, Seneca
County, New York.
On Tuesday, April 6, 1830 six men gathered in the Whitmer
home. There were others present, but these six participated in the actual
organization proceedings. Their names were Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver
Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Samuel H. Smith, and David
Whitmer. They were all young men, their average age being twenty-four. All
had been baptized previously.
The meeting was opened with "solemn prayer." After that
Joseph asked those present if they were willing to accept him and Oliver
Cowdery as their spiritual leaders. All agreed. Then Joseph ordained Oliver
to the office of Elder in the Priesthood, and Oliver in turn ordained
Joseph. They then laid hands on the heads of the others present and
confirmed them members of the Church and bestowed upon them the gift of the
Holy Ghost. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was next administered, after
which others were ordained to the office of Elder.
While the meeting was in session Joseph received a
revelation in which he was designated "a seer, a prophet and apostle of
Jesus Christ." Since that time he has been referred to in Church parlance as
"the Prophet." The Church was also instructed at this time to keep a record
of all of its proceedings, a practice since carefully adhered to.
The Name of the Church
The new organization was designated by revelation as the
Church of Jesus Christ to which the phrase Latter-day Saints was later
added. This is worthy of note. The Church was not named for Joseph Smith or
for any other man. Nor was it named for any peculiarity of government or
function, as has been the case with many religious societies. It was the
Church of Jesus Christ restored to earth in "the latter day," and it was so
Another matter of interest is the manner in which the
officers of the Church were selected. Joseph Smith had been divinely chosen
to lead the work, but his position as leader was subject to the consent of
the members. Ever since that first meeting in 1830, the members of the
Church have convened periodically to "sustain" or vote on those chosen to
direct the affairs of the Church. No man presides without the consent of the
A meeting was called for the following Sunday and on this
occasion Oliver Cowdery delivered the first public discourse in the ministry
of the Church. Six more were baptized at the close of this meeting, and a
week later seven more were added to the rolls. When the first general
conference was held the following June the membership totaled twenty-seven
souls, and at the close of the conference eleven more were baptized in
In this same month the first missionary activity was
undertaken. Samuel H. Smith, the twenty-two year-old brother of the Prophet,
filled his knapsack with copies of the Book of Mormon and set off on a
journey through neighboring towns to acquaint people with the
newly-published scripture. After walking twenty-five miles the first day, he
approached the proprietor of an inn for a night's lodging. When the
inn-keeper learned of Samuel's mission, he ordered him out. The young elder
slept that night under an apple tree.
The next day he called at the home of a Methodist
minister, the Rev. John P. Greene, who was preparing to leave on a tour of
his circuit. The minister was not interested in reading the book himself,
but indicated that he would take the volume and keep a subscription list of
any who cared to purchase a copy. Samuel returned home feeling that his
efforts had been fruitless; it was unlikely that a Methodist minister would
urge his flock to purchase the Book of Mormon.
But a strange thing happened. Mrs. Greene picked up the
volume and became greatly interested in it. She urged her husband to read it
and both later joined the Church. This same copy fell into the hands of
Brigham Young of Mendon, New York. This was his first contact with the
Church. Some two years later, after careful study and investigation, he was
The book, as it was circulated by Samuel Smith and others
who followed him, had a similar effect on many such strong characters.
Parley P. Pratt, a Campbellite minister, chanced to read a borrowed copy and
soon forsook his old ministry to join the ranks of the newly-organized
church. He took the volume to his brother Orson, later renowned as a
scientist and mathematician, who soon thereafter threw all of his energy
into promoting the new cause. Willard Richards, a Massachusetts physician,
remarked after reading one page of the volume, "Either God or the devil
wrote this book." He read it through twice in ten days and joined the cause.
And so the power of the volume increased. From it the
members of the Church received the nickname by which they have since been
known—Mormons. However, in their emphasis on this scripture of the western
hemisphere they never lost sight of the Bible which they likewise accepted
and strongly defended as the word of God.
More often than not the work was bitterly denounced in
that day of religious bigotry. Shortly after the organization of the Church,
Joseph Smith was arrested while conducting a meeting in Colesville, New
York. He was charged with being "a disorderly person, setting the country in
an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon." The testimony introduced was as
ridiculous as the charge, but no sooner was he acquitted by the judge than
he was arrested on another warrant of the same nature and dragged off to
another town to stand trial, again to be acquitted. Thus began the
persecution that was to harass him to his death.
A Mission to the Lamanites
The second general conference of the Church was held in
September 1830. Among matters of business was the call of Oliver Cowdery to
undertake a mission "into the wilderness, through the western states, and to
the Indian territory." Peter Whitmer, Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson
were later called to accompany him. As matters turned out, this mission
charted much of the future history of the Church.
In October the four men left their families and set out on
foot. Near the city of Buffalo they met with members of the Catteraugus
tribe of Indians to whom they told the story of the Book of Mormon, setting
forth that it contained a history of their forefathers. Many appeared
greatly interested, and the missionaries left copies of the book among those
who could read.
Elder Pratt, prior to his conversion to Mormonism, had
been a lay preacher of the Church of the Disciples founded by Alexander
Campbell. He was now anxious to discuss Mormonism with his former
associates, and the missionaries therefore traveled to northern Ohio where
lived a large group of Mr. Campbell's followers. Elder Pratt particularly
sought out Sidney Rigdon, one of the leading ministers of the faith.
Mr. Rigdon cordially received the missionaries, but was
skeptical of the story they told. Nevertheless he permitted them to preach
to his congregation, and he agreed to read the Book of Mormon. Soon the
entire district was astir. Elder Pratt described the situation with the
statement that "faith was strong, joy was great, and persecution heavy."
A Harvest of Souls
Within three weeks 127 souls had been baptized. Before the
missionaries left in December, Sidney Rigdon had become an ardent worker in
the cause of Mormonism, and a thousand members had been added to the Church.
One of the recent converts, Dr. Frederick G. Williams,
accompanied the missionaries west from Ohio. They spent several days among
the Wyandot Indians who lived in the western part of the state, and then
continued their journey to St. Louis, walking most of the way.
Of the journey from St. Louis, Elder Pratt writes: "We
traveled on foot for three hundred miles through vast prairies and through
trackless wilds of snow—no beaten road; houses few and far between; and the
bleak northwest wind always blowing in our faces with a keenness which would
almost take the skin off the face. We traveled for whole days, from morning
till night, without a house or fire, wading in snow to the knees at every
step, and the cold so intense that the snow did not melt on the south side
of the houses, even in the mid-day sun, for nearly six weeks. We carried on
our backs our changes of clothing, several books, and corn bread and raw
pork. We often ate our frozen bread and pork by the way, when the bread
would be so frozen that we could not bite or penetrate any part of it but
the outside crust."
Arrived at Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, the
elders made preparations to visit the Indians in the adjoining frontier
area. They met with the chief of the Delawares who received them kindly and
listened with great interest to the story of the Book of Mormon. However,
their opportunities to preach were limited. Government agents, at the behest
of intolerant religionists, ordered the missionaries from the Indian lands.
Four of them remained in Missouri for some time, while Elder Pratt was
requested to return to New York to report their labors to the heads of the
The First Move Westward
When he reached Kirtland, Ohio he was surprised to find
Joseph Smith there, and to learn that the New York members of the Church
planned to remove to Ohio in the spring. Persecution in New York had
increased, and the success of the missionaries in their travels had pointed
the way to the future destiny of the Church in the West.
The second annual conference was called for June 1831, in
Kirtland, Ohio. By this time most of the New York members had moved west,
and the congregation present at the conference numbered two thousand. The
Church had made substantial growth since the original six members met to
effect the organization on April 6, 1830.
At this conference several men were ordained to the office
of high priest for the first time in the Church. Also twenty-eight elders
were called to travel to western Missouri, going in pairs and preaching as
they went. The Prophet pointed out that it had been revealed to him that the
Saints would there establish Zion.
These missionaries, including Joseph Smith, traveled
"without purse or scrip," preaching with power as they went, constantly
adding to the numbers of the Church. They arrived in Jackson County,
Missouri about the middle of July, and they were followed by the entire
company of Saints from Colesville, New York who had settled temporarily in
Ohio and then moved on west as a body. At a placed called Kaw Township, on a
portion of the present site of Kansas City, they commenced a settlement
under the direction of the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon.
The first log for the first house was laid by twelve men
representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The land was dedicated for the
gathering of the Saints, and those present covenanted "to receive this land
with thankful hearts," and pledged "themselves to keep the law of God," and
to "see that others of their brethren keep the laws of God."
Thus was established the first Mormon settlement in
Missouri. Later in the summer Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and other leading
elders returned to Kirtland, Ohio. For the next seven years the activities
of the Church were divided between two locations a thousand miles apart, in
and about Kirtland, Ohio, near the present site of Cleveland; and Jackson
County, Missouri, near the present Kansas City.