"KIRTLAND - MORMONISM PART ONE" Kirtland by mtncorg

Kirtland Travel Guide: 11 reviews and 24 photos

Kirtland was home to the incipient Mormon religion during some very important early years of the movement. From 1831 to 1838, Joseph Smith, Jr., called Kirtland ‘home’ as he called together new converts to gather in northern Ohio. He had organized what was then called the Church of Christ shortly before in April 1830 in Palmyra, New York. Late in the same year, Smith revealed that a ‘city of Zion’ would emerge somewhere along the borderlands of the ‘Lamanites’, people whom believers thought to be native Americans descended from peoples described in the Book of Mormon. A group of missionaries was sent out, led by Oliver Cowdery, Joseph’s second-in-command, late in 1830 to create relations with the native tribes in the Indian Territories - today, the State of Kansas. Their journey from New York took them through northern Ohio where they converted many members of a Disciple of Christ congregation including their minister, Sidney Rigdon. - a total of 127 new members which more than doubled the size of the nascent church. The missionaries continued on their way to the Missouri-Kansas border while Rigdon traveled to New York to size up Joseph Smith. It was a meeting of great importance for the young church as both men took to each other with Rigdon being called upon to act as Smith’s personal secretary. Shortly, thereafter, Smith received a revelation - December 1830 - directing the Saints to move to Ohio, one step closer to the eventual Zion that would emerge farther to the west.

After initiating the first ‘gathering’ that thee Mormon saints were to embark upon, Smith made his way to Kirtland in early February 1831. The New York Saints sold off their farms and possessions - what was to become a familiar exercise - and made their way to Ohio in three companies in May, most coming first to Buffalo on canal boats and then steamer or schooner over Lake Eire to the harbor of Fairport, Ohio, a few miles north of Kirtland.

For the next seven years, the Mormon community grew and evolved. The theology of the movement developed just as quickly. The Book of Mormon gets most of the attention of outsiders - along with the role polygamy has played - when it comes to Mormon theology, but the main ideas are contained in another book called the “Doctrine and Covenants” in which all of the revelations given to the Church’s prophet - Joseph Smith, Jr., in the case of Kirtland. Of the main modern day Mormon (LDS) Church, almost half of the revelations in their D&C - almost one third of the entire book coming between August 1831 and April 1834 - were written down during the Kirtland period.

From the revelations, church governance was established with Joseph Smith as the President of the Church, “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the Church”. To help guide the Church, smith gained the help of two counselors, a troika arrangement known as the First Presidency, a management style that persists in not only the Utah-based LDS church, but most of the other surviving branches of the Mormon movement. Sidney Rigdon began a long run as counselor in 1832 that lasted until Smith’s murder in Illinois in 1844. Missionary work to spread the Good News was put under the responsibility of two new groups: the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Quorum of the Seventies, in 1835. These quorums with the First Presidency, became the presiding councils for the movement. Most of the new leaders of the Church hit the missionary road from their homes in Kirtland and Joseph Smith was no exception. Congregations developed in the Northeast, Midwest, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and eastern Canada.

Kirtland became an increasingly Mormon community through the mid 1830’s as the Saint population went from around 500 to 1500 between 1834-1837. To crown the Church’s success, the development of a temple was built up. The temple was called for as early as December 1832 though construction did not start until the following summer. Most of the men not off on missionary work were involved in the construction - Joseph Smith acted as a quarry foreman. Completed in early 1836, the new temple provided the venue for several episodes of spiritual manifestations whether in the form of personal visions or prophecies shared by many.

The costs involved with the building of the temple and the gathering up of the many new Saints, many of were of little or no means, put a severe strain on the young Church. At the same time Saints were gathering in Ohio, there was another gathering going on in Missouri, which meant more costs. Here, in Kirtland, as elsewhere in the developing lands of the American frontier, demand for credit and money increased. To try and meet the demands, the number of banks doubled across the US in the 1830’s and church leaders decided to try and establish a bank of their own. Petitions to the State Capital at Columbus were turned down both as a result of legislature opposition to bank expansion and local politics - Mormons tended to be Democratic island in a northern Ohio Whig sea, thus help from their local representatives was not forthcoming.

Because others were organizing unchartered banks in Ohio. It was decided to create a joint-stock company called the Kirtland Safety Society Anti Banking Company. Many people, Mormon and non-Mormon, came together initially to support the society. Joseph Smith was made treasurer and Sidney Rigdon the president. Two big problems doomed the venture from the outset. First, the church leaders - as many others involved in banks around the US - knew very little about how to run a bank. Second, the bank was sorely undercapitalized and was forced to back their notes with land held by the Mormon community thus losing liquidity. Trust in the Kirtland Bank evaporated overnight. All investors lost everything by the time the bank’s doors closed in November 1837- Joseph Smith is thought to have lost close to $100000 - and both Smith and Rigdon ended up fleeing potential assassination and prosecution from Ohio to Missouri in January 1838.

The economic distress suffered from the failure of the Kirtland Bank led many to re-evaluate their status with their new religion. Between November 1837 and June 1838 it is thought that 10-15% (200 to 330) of Kirtland’s Mormon population called it quits including many high in the church’s leadership. Many Saints that remained faithful to Smith over 500 - organized the Kirtland Camp. Repeating the New York exercise of selling off their possessions and migrating to a new home - Missouri in this case - the Kirtland Camp made the long journey from July 6 to October 2, rejoining their prophet in Far West, Missouri just in time to take part in the next saga of the Mormon story - the Mormon War.

Kirtland today is a small suburb of the Cleveland metroplex. Like Nauvoo, Kirtland has become a place where the two main surviving branches of Mormonism - Utah-based LDS and Missouri-based Community of Christ (aka RLDS) - have come together - though their ultimate messages are different - to acknowledge the site’s historical importance to their shared community.

  • Last visit to Kirtland: Mar 2008
  • Intro Updated May 12, 2008
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