Joseph Smith abandons Ohio - HISTORY
Year
1838
Month Day
January 12

Joseph Smith abandons Ohio

After his Mormon bank fails in the Panic of 1837, Joseph Smith flees Kirtland, Ohio, to avoid arrest and heads for Missouri to rebuild his religious community.

A sensitive and religious-minded man since his youth, Joseph Smith claimed the angel Moroni visited him in 1823, when he was 18 years old, and told him he was destined to become a modern prophet of God. For four years, Smith said he made annual visits to a hill in upstate New York where he received instructions preparing him for his new prophetic role. In 1827, he unearthed gold tablets inscribed in a mysterious language. Two years later, Smith created a local sensation when he revealed his discovery and made known his plans to publish a new volume of scripture based on his translation of the golden plates.

In March 1830, Smith published 5,000 copies of a volume he called The Book of Mormon. More often met with outrage than belief, Smith’s revelations nonetheless took root in the spiritually fertile era of the 1830s. Upstate New York was already a hotbed of religious revivalism, and Smith’s new Mormon religion appealed to Americans searching for spiritual values amidst the bustling economic growth of a rapidly expanding nation. In contrast to the radical individualism of the lone pioneer, Mormonism stressed the power of mutual cooperation and sacrifice for the good of the whole. Nearly two decades later, when the Mormons established their new theocratic state in Utah, this emphasis on cooperation would transform a desert into one of the richest and most productive farming regions in the West.

The path to Utah, though, was long and difficult, and Smith would not live to see the promised kingdom. Gathering his growing band of followers in western New York, Smith made the first of a long series of moves in search of a place where his unique vision of a community of Latter-Day Saints could be realized. In the 1830s, the Mormons settled in the town of Kirtland, Ohio, where Smith founded the first Mormon-controlled bank, putting his economic and spiritual practices to work. Unfortunately, Smith’s Kirtland bank failed during the national financial Panic of 1837, and he fled to avoid potential criminal prosecution by angry and disillusioned former believers, some of whom claimed he had mismanaged their investments.

The remaining faithful followed Smith to Missouri, where persecution and rumors (true but exaggerated) that the Saints were practicing polygamy forced them to flee again. In 1839, Smith established the new town of Nauvoo on the sparsely populated Illinois frontier, where he hoped the Saints would finally be left alone. Unfortunately, continued reports of polygamy and Smith’s decision to declare himself a candidate for U.S. president in the spring of 1844 inspired fierce dislike of the Mormons in Illinois as well. In June, 1,500-armed men surrounded Nauvoo, and to prevent bloodshed, Smith and his brother Hiram agreed to be jailed in the nearby town of Carthage. Several days later an angry mob stormed the jail and murdered both men.

Many predicted the religious community would collapse with Smith’s death, but under the leadership of his successor, Brigham Young, the Saints regrouped and once again moved west. This time they did not stop until they reached the shores of the Great Salt Lake of Utah. There they laid the roots for a religious community that continues to thrive to this day.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Operation Ranch Hand initiated

The United States Air Force launches Operation Ranch Hand, a “modern technological area-denial technique” designed to expose the roads and trails used by the Viet Cong. Flying C-123 Providers, U.S. personnel dumped an estimated 19 million gallons of defoliating herbicides over ...read more

Massive earthquake strikes Haiti

On January 12, 2010, Haiti is devastated by a massive earthquake. It drew an outpouring of support from around the globe but the small nation has yet to fully recover. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, due largely to its history of colonization, occupation ...read more

Hattie Wyatt Caraway becomes first woman elected to U.S. Senate

Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas, becomes the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Caraway, born near Bakerville, Tennessee, had been appointed to the Senate two months earlier to fill the vacancy left by her late husband, Thaddeus Horatio Caraway. ...read more

Pyramid mystery unearthed

An international panel overseeing the restoration of the Great Pyramids in Egypt overcomes years of frustration when it abandons modern construction techniques in favor of the method employed by the ancient Egyptians. Located at Giza outside Cairo, some of the oldest manmade ...read more

British-Zulu War begins

The British-Zulu War begins as British troops under Lieutenant General Frederic Augustus invade Zululand from the southern African republic of Natal. In 1843, Britain succeeded the Boers as the rulers of Natal, which controlled Zululand, the neighboring kingdom of the Zulu ...read more

Henry Ford sets speed record

On January 12, 1904, Henry Ford sets a land-speed record of 91.37 mph on the frozen surface of Michigan’s Lake St. Clair. He was driving a four-wheel vehicle, dubbed the “999,” with a wooden chassis but no body or hood. Ford’s record was broken within a month at Ormond Beach, ...read more

Original “Amos ‘n’ Andy” debuts on Chicago radio

On January 12, 1926, the two-man comedy series “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuts on Chicago’s WGN radio station. Two years later, after changing its name to “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” the show became one of the most popular radio programs in American history. Though the creators and the stars of the ...read more

Soviet forces penetrate the siege of Leningrad

On January 12, 1943, Soviet troops create a breach in the German siege of Leningrad, which had lasted for a year and a half. The Soviet forces punched a hole in the siege, which ruptured the German encirclement and allowed for more supplies to come in along Lake Ladoga. Upon ...read more

Leaders of the Big Four nations meet for the first time in Paris

The day after British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s arrival in Paris, he meets with representatives from the other Big Four nations—Prime Ministers Georges Clemenceau of France and Vittorio Orlando of Italy and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States—at the French ...read more

“Dynasty” premieres on ABC

The oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) prepares to marry his former secretary, the beautiful and innocent Krystle (Linda Evans), in the three-hour television movie that kicks off the prime-time ABC soap opera Dynasty on January 12, 1981. Over the next eight years, the ...read more

Blizzard brings tragedy to Northwest Plains

On January 12, 1888, the so-called “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard” kills 235 people, many of whom were children on their way home from school, across the Northwest Plains region of the United States. The storm came with no warning, and some accounts say that the temperature fell ...read more

Malcolm X’s daughter arrested for attempted murder

Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, is arrested for conspiring to kill Louis Farrakhan. Shabazz believed that Farrakhan was responsible for the assassination of her father in 1965, and sought to exact revenge through a hired killer. Subsequently, Shabazz admitted her ...read more

U.S. announces policy of “massive retaliation” against Communist aggressors

In a speech at a Council on Foreign Relations dinner in his honor, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announces that the United States will protect its allies through the “deterrent of massive retaliatory power.” The policy announcement was further evidence of the Eisenhower ...read more

Hugh Mercer dies from wounds received in Battle of Princeton

On January 12, 1777, American Brigadier General Hugh Mercer dies from the seven bayonet wounds he received during the Battle of Princeton. Mercer’s military service ranged over two continents and three armies. Born in Rosehearty, Scotland, Mercer studied medicine at the ...read more