MORMON HISTORY TIMELINE
1805 Joseph Smith born at Sharon, Vermont.
1820 Smith claims his "First Vision" visit from God the Father & Jesus.
1823 Angel Moroni visits Smith and tells him of ancient gold plates.
1827 Smith receives gold plates at Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, NY.
1830 The Book of Mormon is published; Mormon Church founded in upstate New York.
1831 Church relocates to Kirtland, OH.
1836 First Mormon temple dedicated.
1835 Twelve apostles chosen and first quorum of the Seventy organized.
1835 First edition of the Doctrine and Covenants published.
1837 First Mormon missionaries arrive in England.
1838 LDS Church relocates to Independence, MO.
1838 Missouri governor expels all Mormons.
1838 Haun's Mill Massacre in which 18 LDS are killed.
1838 Smith and other church leaders imprisoned in Liberty Jail.
1839 10,000 Mormons flee Missouri for Illinois.
1839 Smith freed from jail and Nauvoo, Illinois is settled by Latter-day Saints.
1842 Women's Relief Society organized.
1843 Smith receives "revelation" on polygamy.
1844 Smith declares his candidacy for U.S. President.
1844 Nauvoo Expositor newspaper destroyed on Joseph Smith’s orders.
1844 Smith turns himself in to face trial; mob storms Carthage Jail and kills Joseph & his brother Hyrum.
1846 Mormons begin exodus west.
1846 Battle of Nauvoo - remaining LDS leave Illinois.
1847 Brigham Young enters the Salt Lake Valley on July 24.
1848 Nauvoo Temple is gutted by fire.
1849 Perpetual Emigrating Fund established. The fund helps 26,000 emigrants find a home in Utah.
1850 Deseret News published as first newspaper in Utah Territory.
1850 Brigham Young appointed governor of Utah Territory.
1852 Plural marriage publicly announced.
1853 Construction of the Salt Lake Temple begins.
1856-60 Handcart system brings thousands of emigrants to Utah.
1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre occurs in southern Utah - 120 emigrants killed on September 11th.
1861 Transcontinental telegraph joined near Salt Lake City.
1867 First General Conference held at new Salt Lake Tabernacle.
1869 Church-owned ZCMI opens; first department store in the U.S..
1869 Transcontinental Railroad completed at Promontory, Utah.
1870 First edition of the Mormon Tribune is published (later known as "Salt Lake Tribune").
1870 Utah Territorial legislature gives women the vote.
1875 Salt Lake Tabernacle dedicated; Brigham Young Academy founded (later known as BYU).
1877 Death of Brigham Young.
1880 John Taylor succeeds Young; The Pearl of Great Price accepted as holy scripture.
1882-90 1,035 Utahns imprisoned for polygamy.
1885 Taylor and other church leaders go into hiding.
1890 President Woodruff issues “The Manifesto,” banning polygamy within the LDS Church.
1893 Salt Lake Temple dedicated.
1894 Genealogical Society of Utah organized.
1896 Utah gains statehood.
1900 LDS membership approx. 283,000.
1912 LDS seminary program begins.
1929 Mormon Tabernacle Choir begins national radio broadcasts.
1936 Church Welfare Program established.
1947 LDS Church reaches 1 million members.
1955 First Mormon temple outside North America opened in Zurich, Switzerland.
1964 Church membership surpasses 2 million.
1965 Family Home Evening program inaugurated.
1978 Blacks allowed into the LDS priesthood following growing pressure for racial justice in the U.S..
1980 LDS membership surpasses 4 million.
1990 LDS membership surpasses 7 million.
2000 100th Mormon temple opens.
2000 Conference Center completed in Salt Lake City.
2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City.
2006 LDS member Mitt Romney announces his first run for U.S. Presidency.
2011 LDS claim 14 million members.
2012 Romney wins Republican Presidential nomination.
2014 LDS leaders participate in historic inter-faith summit at the Vatican.
2016 LDS Church receives official recognition from the government of Vietnam.
2019 First Latter-day Saint temple in Italy opens on the outskirts of Rome. LDS President/prophet Russell Nelson meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, the first such meeting between a Mormon prophet and a Catholic Pope.
FROM THE "FIRST VISION" TO THE SALT LAKE VALLEY
On April 6, 1830 a small group of men under the leadership of Joseph Smith, Jr. organized the "Church of Christ" in a log cabin at Fayette, New York. The new faith was based on the conviction that the Book of Mormon was a newly discovered book of holy scripture, and that Smith was a prophet of God.
Joseph Smith, who was born in Sharon, Vermont, later moved westward to Palmyra, New York with his family. As a young man he claims to have been confused by religious revivals and rivaling churches. He said that James 1:5 gave him direction: "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
Joseph Smith explained that on an early morning in the spring of 1820 he went into a grove of trees near his family's home to seek God's wisdom. According to the official account, God the Father & Christ appeared before him. "...I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt..." Smith went on to state the impact this vision had on him regarding the competing churches in his community. "I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned; that it was not my duty to join with any of them, but to continue as I was until further directed." (History of the Church, Vol 1, p. 5-8)
That further direction came three years later. Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni who revealed that an ancient book engraved on gold plates was buried near the Smith farm. After four years of visitations and instruction by the angel, Smith retrieved the gold book, translated its "Reformed Egyptian" into English, and published the text as the Book of Mormon.
Concurrent with the publication of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith organized a new church, formally beginning a new religion known as Mormonism. Almost immediately the Mormons sent out missionaries to gain converts to their new church. Following great missionary success in Ohio, Joseph Smith moved his small body of followers—and the headquarters of the church—from western New York to Kirtland, Ohio.
During the Kirtland years (1831-1838) the Mormon Church grew in numbers and influence. It was here in 1833 that Joseph Smith’s revelations were first compiled and published as the Book of Commandments. In 1835 many of these revelations were revised and reprinted in a new, expanded volume titled Doctrine and Covenants, one of Mormonism’s four books of scripture.
While in Ohio, Joseph Smith identified Jackson County, Missouri as the future and permanent place for the gathering of God’s people. Starting in 1831 and throughout the following years, many Latter-day Saints relocated from various places east to western Missouri. Meanwhile, Joseph Smith encountered insurmountable financial and dissenting membership problems in Kirtland. Leaving Ohio under the cover of darkness, Smith arrived at the Mormon settlement of Far West, Missouri in March of 1838. Over 5,000 Latter-day Saints followed close behind, more than doubling the Mormon population in the state.
The rapid growth of Mormons in Missouri led to political and social conflict with non-Mormons in the area. In July 1838 a prominent LDS Church leader, Sidney Rigdon, delivered a public address wherein he warned of a coming “war of extermination” the Latter-day Saints would wage against the Mormon Church’s perceived enemies. A few months later the Governor of Missouri echoed Sidney Rigdon’s threat. In an effort to reign in what he understood to be rebellion and depredations committed by the Mormon community, Governor Boggs issued an Executive Order designating the Mormons as “enemies” and calling for their removal from the state “for the public peace.” Conflicts had escalated to armed skirmishes between the Missouri State Militia and the Mormon militia, reaching its unhappy culmination at a Mormon settlement named Haun’s Mill. Here Missouri troops attacked unsuspecting and unprepared villagers, killing 18 Mormon men and boys.
The so-called 1838 Mormon War came to an end when Joseph Smith and several of his compatriots surrendered to Missouri officials. While Smith awaited trial in Liberty Jail, the Mormon people left Missouri under extreme duress and migrated east en mass where they were welcomed and supported by sympathetic Illinois residents. A few months later Joseph Smith escaped from jail and joined the Saints, in due course changing the little town of Commerce, Illinois into a thriving Mormon city renamed Nauvoo.
Under Joseph Smith’s leadership Nauvoo grew to be one of the largest cities in Illinois. The granting of a powerful city charter created a fairly autonomous government for the Mormons, with Joseph Smith as the top governing official. This, coupled with the creation of the Nauvoo Legion state militia commanded by Smith, once again set the Mormons at odds with their non-Mormon neighbors. But it was not only the non-Mormons who were concerned.
Rumors of Joseph Smith engaging in the practice of polygamy were circulating. While Smith publicly denied having more wives than one, he was in fact married to at least 33 women. Some members of the Mormon Church began to believe Smith was a fallen prophet. Battling dissenters within and opponents without, Joseph Smith was facing a crisis in his leadership.
On June 7, 1844 dissidents published a newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, in which Smith was exposed as a polygamist and his political theocratic aspirations were laid bare. Joseph Smith quickly held a city council meeting and, as mayor of Nauvoo, called for the destruction of the “nuisance” newspaper. On the evening of June 10, without prior notice, the press was destroyed--with the Nauvoo Legion providing military support.
This action caused a firestorm in the surrounding area. On June 25, after various legal maneuvers failed, Joseph Smith, along with other council members and Mormon Church leaders, surrendered at the county seat of Carthage, Illinois. While incarcerated at Carthage Jail, on June 27, 1844, a group of armed men stormed the jail. Joseph Smith, though himself armed with a smuggled six-shooter pistol, was unable to fend off so many attackers. Two non-Mormons were mortally wounded; Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were killed.
The death of Smith caused a crisis of succession in the Mormon Church. Amidst great disagreement within the church regarding who was to be the new prophet/leader, several significant schisms developed, each vying for control over Joseph Smith’s religion. In August the Mormon apostle Brigham Young gave an impassioned address to the Saints during which, it is said, he took on the form and voice of Joseph Smith. A majority of the Latter-day Saints understood this to be a sign from God and Brigham Young became the new de facto Mormon leader, though not officially sustained as the President of the Mormon Church until December, 1847.
Following the deaths of the Smith brothers, tensions between the Mormons and non-Mormons in and around Nauvoo continued to intensify. Brigham Young decided to move the church west. In the winter of 1846 the Mormons began their difficult exodus toward the Salt Lake Valley, leaving behind their beloved city.
Brigham Young and a small company of Mormon pioneers arrived at what is now Salt Lake City, Utah in July of 1847. Thus began a new era in Mormon Church history.
FROM ROCKY MOUNTAIN COLONIES TO A GLOBAL FAITH
Brigham Young and a small company of Mormon pioneers left the western edge of the United States in 1847 bound for the Rocky Mountains in the midst of Mexican-claimed territory. The plan for a Mormon kingdom outside the United States was never realized; in 1848 the land Brigham Young had chosen for settlement by his followers came under U.S. federal control following the Mexican-American War.
When the first group of Mormons arrived at what is now Salt Lake City, Utah in July of 1847, they immediately began laying out a city and cultivating crops for themselves and the thousands of Mormon Church members that would soon follow. Brigham Young built an empire in this western territory, continuing the political and ecclesiastical work that Joseph Smith began.
Isolation allowed the Mormons to live out their religion without interference. Brigham Young began introducing strict policies and new doctrines. Polygamy as a requirement for exaltation was publicly announced in 1852. Before this time so-called plural marriage had been practiced in secret, but when it was finally brought out in the open and word of this doctrine made its way east, the Mormons once again found themselves the object of public disapproval and reproof.
Reports of Mormon rebellion against the laws and authority of the United States also filtered east. In 1857, in an attempt to put a stop to this rebellion in Utah Territory, President James Buchanan dispatched U.S. troops to keep the peace and install federal territorial authority. The Mormons misunderstood the purpose of the approaching army and believed themselves to be at war with the United States. This created an extremely tense atmosphere in Utah Territory. All non-Mormons were viewed with extreme suspicion as the Mormons prepared for battle.
An unsuspecting group of non-Mormon pioneers making their way from Arkansas to California stumbled into this powder keg as the trail west took them through Utah. Coming under attack from what they believed to be Indians, they resisted valiantly for several days, but eventually became desperate. When Mormon leader John D. Lee approached the circled wagons and proposed a plan for rescue, the pioneers surrendered their weapons into his hands.
What followed has become known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The unarmed and beleaguered travelers, men, women, and children, lined up single file with armed Mormon escorts beside them. As they walked toward what they thought was safety, the Mormons turned their guns upon the pioneers, killing all over the age of 8 years. One hundred and twenty people were murdered; seventeen children, too young to provide reliable testimony, were left alive and distributed among Mormon families for care.
As news of the massacre leaked out, the Mormons disavowed any involvement and blamed the Indians. Unable to prove otherwise due to the Mormons’ unwillingness to testify against one another, no one was punished for this crime until 30 years later when John D. Lee was executed as, he claimed, a scapegoat sacrificing his life for Brigham Young and the Mormon Church. Lee said,
“I do not believe everything that is now being taught and practiced by Brigham Young. I do not care who hears it. It is my last word -- it is so. I believe he is leading the people astray, downward to destruction… I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner. I cannot help it. It is my last word -- it is so." (Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, pp. 151-52)
The concerns Lee expressed in 1877 were nothing new. Even in 1857 some Mormons were growing discontented. The army approaching Salt Lake City continued to be of grave concern to Brigham Young and his people.
Young deployed the Mormon militia to harass and delay the U.S. troops. Mormons burned three supply trains and drove hundreds of the army’s cattle into the Salt Lake Valley, forcing the U.S. troops to improvise winter quarters north of Salt Lake. Meanwhile, Brigham Young prepared his people to torch the buildings in the city and flee into the mountains if the army advanced that far. In the end, Colonel Thomas Kane, a friend to the Mormons, managed to negotiate peace in Washington D.C. and the Utah War came to a quiet end.
The relative isolation the Mormons sought and enjoyed in Utah Territory ended with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. As travel into and out of Mormon country became easier, Brigham Young began losing his grip on his western empire.
Brigham Young had 55 wives; polygamy was widespread in Utah Territory. The U.S. government trained its sites on eradicating polygamy among the Mormons. Young and his successor, John Taylor, insisted that the Mormons neither could nor would ever abandon polygamy.
However, under the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act the Mormon Church was disincorporated and most Church property escheated to the U.S. government. In addition, Mormon polygamists were heavily fined and/or imprisoned.
In an effort to save the Church from disintegration, in 1890 Mormon Prophet Wilford Woodruff signed The Manifesto, an official declaration stating that polygamy would no longer be practiced within the Mormon Church. New polygamous marriages continued to be solemnized in the church, however, for at least another fourteen years.
The banning of polygamy in the Mormon Church did have its desired effect. Not only was the LDS Church able to survive, but Utah was finally granted long-sought for statehood in 1896.
Today the state of Utah looks much different than it did in 1900. Before World War II Mormon converts were encouraged to leave their homes and gather together near church headquarters in the American West. This policy changed in the middle of the 19th century. Now Mormons usually remain in their home countries and build up the LDS faith where they live.
The Mormon Church claims over 14 million people -- more than half living outside of the United States. Recent research indicates that the number of active Mormons in the world is actually closer to 5 million. Utah, which was once populated primarily by the Mormons, now has a population that is closer to 50% Latter-day Saints.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today works hard to overcome the public perception that Mormonism is an odd fringe religion -- a perception that continues to frame the faith due to its sordid history and unbiblical doctrines. Though the public face of Mormonism has changed, the core of the LDS Church remains the same. As late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,
“Those who observe us say that we are moving into the mainstream of religion. We are not changing. The world’s perception of us is changing. We teach the same doctrine.” (“Living in the Fullness of Times,” Ensign, 11/2001, p. 5)
A log cabin used to symbolize the place where Joseph Smith and his early followers formely established the LDS Church in upstate New York on April 6, 1830. The original cabin is no longer in existence. Nauvoo, Illinois, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saint movement between 1839-1846 (right).