Thousands of Mormons followed their leader, Joseph Smith, to Missouri to build their permanent city of Zion, resulting in conflict with the old settlers. In October, 1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered all Mormons to leave by spring on penalty of death. About 5,000 Mormons headed for Quincy, and Quincyans sheltered them. Smith arrived in April 1839 and led his people 47 miles north to Nauvoo. Soon numerous Mormon settlements were established in Illinois and Iowa, including in Adams County. Conflict between the Mormons and their neighbors continued after Joseph was killed in 1844.
A resolution from Quincy was delivered to the Mormons in September1845 imploring them to go somewhere in which they would “not be likely to engender so much strife and contention as so unhappily exists at this time in Hancock and some of the adjoining counties.” Mormon leader Brigham Young replied that they would leave the following spring.
In the spring and summer of 1846, about 15,000 Mormons headed west to what would become Utah, but some remained. On September 12, 1846, about 800 state militiamen led by Col. Brockman, referred to as “the posse,” advanced to Nauvoo to execute warrants against the remaining Mormons. Brockman proposed allowing them 30 days to surrender weapons and leave. Negotiations went back and forth, with no resolution. Contemporary writers believed that the negotiations were compromised because of the numerous non-Mormons, referred to as “new citizens” or “Jacks” who had moved into Nauvoo to take advantage of the economic opportunity there and did not wish to leave.
A few lives were lost in the ongoing “Battle of Nauvoo” that followed the arrival of the posse, including those of a 12 or 14-year-old Mormon boy and his father. When Quincy leaders learned of the casualties, they sent a committee of 100 to intervene before there was more bloodshed. They negotiated a cease-fire and came home.
Henry Asbury, a leader of the Quincy committee, mistakenly believed that every Mormon had permanently left Nauvoo before the posse entered the city. He wrote, “When we left, the Mormons were all over the river, at or near Montrose (Iowa), and it was represented to us that they were in a very destitute condition.” Most were women and children. The Quincy men resolved to collect money, clothing, and food to be provided for them. The city responded as they had expected. He stated that “the citizens of Quincy then made large contributions and did, as when the Mormons first came here, all they could for their relief.”
Sentiment in Quincy was sharply divided, however. S. M. Bartlett, editor of the Quincy Whig newspaper, was openly anti-Mormon and mockingly criticized Mayor John Wood’s calls for sympathy to their plight. He devoted an entire page of the four-page September 15, 1846 issue to the Mormon conflict.
On December 7, 1846, Governor Ford reported to the House of Representatives, “At last though the intervention of an inti-Mormon committee from Quincy, the Mormons were induced to submit to such terms as the posse chose to dictate, which were, amongst others, that the Mormons should immediately give up their arms to the Quincy committee and remove from the State.”
Asbury disputed the Governor’s account. He never identified himself as anti-Mormon, and he wrote, “No arms were formally delivered to the committee by the Mormons or others, within our knowledge, though I believe some were delivered to the posse.” He also wrote, “In this statement the Governor was mistaken in saying that the Mormons were through the intervention of our committee induced to submit to such terms as the posse chose to dictate. The Quincy committee went to Nauvoo unarmed, taking no part in the fight. They were, however, convinced when they left Quincy that there could be no peace in Hancock County so long as the Mormons remained, but they had no part in fixing the terms of the treaty.”
Other discrepancies exist in the records. Quincy historian John Tillson stated that Quincy sent a military company to stay in Nauvoo over the winter of 1846-7, then all but 10 men were withdrawn in May. He said the hope that such a small force “could preserve peace was farcical. The bitter hostility grew stronger and stronger. Each act of lawlessness was followed or offset by another. Finally in the latter part of August Colonel Chittenden of Mendon in Adams country, one of the most prominent men of the county, was taken prisoner by the Mormons.” The Chittenden incident actually was reported in the Whig in September 1846, not 1847, with a subsequent correction that instead of being held a day and a night, Chittenden was only held from 7 or 8 AM to 4 p.m. the same day. The Whig also reported ongoing disagreements about whether Chittenden was held against his will or not.
Differences in historic numbers exist, as well. Some sources say 150-200 people stayed in Nauvoo, others say 250 males with a total population of 1,000 to 1,500. The discrepancy could be whether only heads of families were counted or everyone, or only Mormons were counted or also the Jacks; or it could lie in whether the Mormon populations of the outlying towns were included, or only that of Nauvoo. When the others left, Mormons remained in some of the “wagon wheel” pattern of outlying settlements with Nauvoo as their hub. The Lima “stake” in Adams County, for example, soon had 424 members.
Regardless of how many there were, those who remained at Nauvoo in 1846 were again confronted in October with militia sent by the governor, but still they did not all leave. Joseph’s own mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and his wife, Emma, and four of their children, stayed in Nauvoo. In 1847 Emma married Louis Bidamon, a non-Mormon, who built a house on the foundation of the hotel Joseph had begun. Lucy remained in Nauvoo the rest of her life. The peace the Quincy committee sought finally came.
Asbury, Henry [Open Content Alliance] (1882). Reminiscences of Quincy, Illinois Containing Historical Events, Anecdotes, Matters Concerning Old Settlers and Old Times, Etc. Bibliolife. https://books.google.com/books?id=LUAjAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Black, Susan Easton & Bennett, Richard E. (eds.) A City of Refuge: Quincy, Illinois. Millennial Press, SLC, 2000.
Cannon, Donald Q. (1986). Spokes on the Wheel: Early Latter-day Saint Settlements in Hancock County, Illinois. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/02/spokes-on-the-wheel-early-latter-day-saint-settlements-in-hancock-county-illinois?lang=eng
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Missouri Mormon War. Missouri Digital Heritage. Missouri State Archives. https://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/mormon.asp
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Ollivier, Rynna (2013). Meridian Magazine. Sidney Rigdon’s Famous July 4, 1838 Speech. http://ldsmag.com/article-1-12927/http://ldsmag.com/article-1-12927/
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Tillson, John. History of the City of Quincy, Illinois. William H. Collins, ed. Quincy Historical Society.