Mormons in Missouri
Some of the earliest settlers in Jackson County were missionaries. Methodist, Baptist, and Quaker clergy all competed with each other “to save [the] ‘heathen’ Indians from eternal damnation” (Kansas History, Summer 1998). Early in the year of 1831, missionaries from a newly organized church—the Church of Christ, organized by Joseph Smith in Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830—entered the field. They preached a short time among the Delawares until forced to leave by the Indian agent Major Richard W. Cummins (William W. Harris in The Kansas City Star, March 19, 1933.)
Only months later in the middle of July 1831, Joseph Smith, Edward Partridge, W. W. Phelps, and several others arrived in Jackson County. They were joined a week later by members of the Colesville congregation, from Colesville, New York. The congregation settled en masse in the western part of Kaw township, and sometime in 1832 opened the "first school established within the present limits of Kansas City . . . in what is now Troost Park."
Members of the church believed Jackson County, and specifically Independence, had been designated by “divine revelation” to be the place of Zion, the New Jerusalem. During Smith’s visit the summer of 1831, he dedicated the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri, on August 3rd for the building of a temple. He did not stay, but returned to Kirtland, Ohio, headquarters at that time of what became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In response to the instruction to move to Missouri, members of the church began to gather in Jackson County. They settled on farms, opened shops, and established a printing press. Edward Partridge, who had remained and was the designated leader of the members in Missouri, began to purchase property for the church.
It wasn’t long, though, before the residents took violent exception to these “Mormons,” as they derogatorily called them for their belief in The Book of Mormon. The Mormons were also anti-slavery in a slave state, and their intention to make Independence the New Jerusalem did not sit well with the others.
A mob, composed of “most of the clergy, acting as missionaries to the Indians . . . were among the most prominent characters that rose up and rushed on us to destroy the rights of the church, as well as the lives of her members” (Times and Seasons, vol. 6, p. 816). Much of their property was destroyed, some lost their lives, and the Saints were forced to flee Jackson County in November 1833. They settled briefly in Clay County across the river.
Anti-sentiment remained strong, however, and on October 27, 1838, the famous
Missouri Executive Order # 44 (commonly called the Extermination Order), was issued by Missouri’s governor Lilburn Boggs. All members of the church were driven from the state of Missouri. They found sanctuary in Nauvoo, Illinois, until 1844 when Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were assassinated in Carthage, Illinois.
With the death of Joseph, different leaders rose claiming to be Joseph’s successor. Brigham Young led the largest group to Salt Lake City, Utah, and charted what became known as the Mormon Trail. Others went in different directions, but many remained in Nauvoo, including Joseph Smith’s wife and family. In 1860 a group formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, under the leadership of Joseph Smith, III.
The Extermination Order was formerly rescinded in June 25, 1976, by Missouri governor Christopher S. Bond.
Mormon Resources in the Missouri Valley Room
How the Kansas City Public Library acquired its rare and large amounts of Mormon material makes a fascinating story. The end result, though, was that in 1953 the Library purchased a major portion of an enormous collection amassed by Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick, a bibliomaniac. The Mormon material of 1,500 publications was only a small portion of the over 20,000 titles purchased.
Among the Mormon material were rare publications relative the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These included the first edition of The Book of Mormon and first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Most of the titles, and subsequently acquired material, may be found in the Library’s online catalog.