Nauvoo, Mormons at

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NAUVOO, MORMONS AT. Nauvoo, Illinois, was the central gathering place for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1839 to 1846. Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, purchased the site of the town of Commerce, located on a spit of land extending into the Mississippi River near Quincy. Soon after he changed the name to Nauvoo, a word signifying, he said, "a beautiful location, a place of rest." Mormons collected at Nauvoo from all over the United States and from Great Britain, where a vigorous missionary effort was conducted. Eventually, the population of Mormons in Nauvoo and the immediate vicinity reached about fifteen thousand. The state charter obtained from the legislature in 1840 permitted the city to form a militia and to organize municipal courts, which Smith hoped would protect the Mormons from the persecution they had experienced elsewhere.

Smith attempted to develop Nauvoo as a capital city for the church. The Mormons began a temple on a bluff overlooking the city, organized a company to construct a large hotel, and laid plans for a university. Smith served as mayor and was chosen lieutenant general of the militia. Smith revealed some of his most distinctive and controversial doctrines at Nauvoo. The Mormons began the practice of baptism for the dead, which enabled the deceased to receive the benefits of the Christian ordinance vicariously. He instituted rituals that were available only to selected church members in the privacy of the temple and taught the doctrine of eternal and plural marriage. Plural marriage, in which men married multiple wives, turned some highly placed Mormons against Smith. They organized a reformist movement and published a newspaper exposing the prophet. When Smith as mayor closed down the paper and destroyed its press, non-Mormon citizens in the surrounding towns demanded his arrest. Opposition had already been building against the Mormons because of their growing influence in county politics. On 27 June 1844, while Smith was awaiting trial, a lynching party invaded the jail where he was held and shot and killed him.

Brigham Young, who succeeded Smith as president of the church, remained in Nauvoo until opposition rose again. On 6 February 1846, the first party of Mormons left Nauvoo for the West, and the remainder of the saints followed within a year. The temple was burned, and Nauvoo lapsed into quiescence. The church restored the town as a tourist site and completed reconstruction of the temple in 2002.


Ehat, Andrew F., and Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph. Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1991.

Flanders, Robert Bruce. Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965.

Hampshire, Annette P. Mormonism in Conflict: The Nauvoo Years. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1985.

Leonard, Glen M. Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise. Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, 2002.

Miller, David E., and Della S. Miller. Nauvoo: The City of Joseph. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1974.

Oaks, Dallin H., and Marvin S. Hill. Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Richard LymanBushman

See alsoLatter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of .