Historical Context and Background of D&C 125

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

From the confines of a jail cell in Liberty, Missouri, Joseph wrote to Bishop Partridge in Illinois that the Saints could buy land in Iowa Territory for $2 per acre over twenty years with no money down, and the Saints made a deal for the land.

Joseph escaped from Missouri and joined the Saints in Illinois a few weeks later. He purchased land on a peninsula pushing into the Mississippi River across from the Saints’ Iowa land and named it Nauvoo. The Illinois land was comparatively expensive. Joseph hoped that the Church could buy it with consecrated funds and offer lots to the poor at prices they could afford, but the offerings were insufficient. It became clear that the Church would have to sell lots in order to pay its mortgage. So Joseph urged Saints in outlying areas to gather to Nauvoo and help pay for the land. Saints across the river wondered if that applied to them. Joseph sought and received section 125 to answer their question.

The Lord’s will, declared in section 125, is for the Saints to build a city in Iowa across from Nauvoo and to call it Zarahemla. The Saints were to gather from everywhere else and settle there, in nearby Nashville, Iowa Territory, or across the river in Nauvoo. As usual, there is an explicit rationale in this revelation. The Lord gives a reason why the Saints should do His will: “That they may be prepared for that which is in store for a time to come” (D&C 135:2).

Saints moved as a result of section 125. It was read to the Saints at General Conference on April 6, 1841. “Many of the brethren immediately made preparations for moving,” and came as soon as their planting was done.1 Alanson Ripley reported that “Joseph said it was the will of the Lord the brethren in general … should move in and about the city Zerehemla with all convenient speed which the saints are willing to do because it is the will of the Lord.”2

1. George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 86.

2. Alanson Ripley, in John Smith, Journal, March 6, 1841, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

In the aftermath of the Missouri persecutions, Latter-day Saint refugees began settling in Hancock County, Illinois, and also in a number of smaller communities on the other side of the Mississippi River in Iowa. The primary Latter-day Saint settlement in Iowa was named Zarahemla, after the Book of Mormon city. We do not know exactly when Joseph Smith received Doctrine and Covenants 125. It is possible that the revelation came on March 11, 1841, when John Smith, the president of the Iowa stake and Joseph Smith’s uncle, visited the Prophet to seek the will of the Lord concerning where the Saints in Iowa should settle. According to John Smith, the Prophet advised him that the Saints should “move into the city speedily but make large fields without [land] to rais[e] grain.”1 John Smith also recorded “that Joseph said it was the will of the Lord [that] the brethren in general in Ambrosia [Iowa] should move in and about the city Zarahemla with all convenient speed which the Saints are willing to do because it is the word of the Lord. O Lord, help thy people to gather out of Babylon.”2 This meeting may have led to the question shown in section 125 and the Lord’s response. It is also possible that the Saints in Iowa were already moving to gather to Zarahemla before this revelation was received.

William Clayton, one of Joseph Smith’s scribes, privately noted in his diary that one of the purposes of the revelation in section 125 was to bring together the scattered Latter-day Saints in Iowa for the purpose of safety. The fate of Latter-day Saints who had lived in smaller settlements such as Hawn’s Mill in Missouri may have concerned the leaders of the Church. Clayton recorded in his diary, “Brother Joseph[,] when speaking to one of the brethren on this subject [the Iowa settlements,] says you have Hawn’s Mill for a sample. Many of the brethren immediately made preparations for moving in here.”3 In the months following the time Joseph received section 125, Church leaders continued to emphasize the importance of the Iowa Saints gathering to Zarahemla. By August 1841, there were 326 members of the Church living in the Zarahemla branch.4

Doctrine and Covenants 125 was first added to the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants by Orson Pratt, who acted under the direction of President Brigham Young.5

See “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, circa Early March 1841 [D&C 125].

1. John Smith Journal, March 11, 1841, quoted in JSP, Documents, Volume 8: February–November 1841, 70 fn. 315.

2. Quoted in Robert J. Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 1974, 3:1658.

3. JSP, Documents, Volume 8, 71 fn. 319.

4. JSP, Documents, Volume 8, 71.

5. Woodford, Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, 3:1658.