Minutes, [, Geauga Co., OH], 22 Dec. 1836. Featured version published in “Minutes of a Conference,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Jan. 1837, 3:443–444. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Oliver Cowdery, Dec. 1834.
On 22 December 1836 a conference of authorities was held in the , Ohio, to address difficulties created by the growth of the church in the area, a problem made worse by the the influx of impoverished Saints moving to Kirtland.
Over the course of 1836, the number of Latter-day Saints living in and the surrounding area expanded significantly. Writing in the December issue of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, noted, “It is impossible to give an accurate account of the increase of members to this church during the last year; but we feel authorized to say, that during no preceeding year since the same was organized have their numbers been so great.” Concurrent with this growth was an increase in the number of church members in Kirtland in need of financial assistance. Many had used all or most of their means to move to ; others, such as missionaries and their wives, were trying to care for their families with little or no income. Church leaders, who themselves were in substantial debt, found it difficult to provide for the destitute already living in their community as well as the new members arriving with little money.
To improve the situation, church leaders relied on other members, particularly the affluent, to provide charity, but some members proved less than willing to contribute to the poor. The church leaders in attendance at the 22 December meeting discussed the problem, established procedures for the care of the poor, and provided instructions for those who wished to move to . Notably, the conference referred to principles from a December 1833 revelation originally intended for those moving to and used these principles to direct members on how they should gather to Kirtland. The objective of the conference was not to dissuade church members from moving to Kirtland but to create guidelines for those moving so that they might be adequately cared for and not become a financial burden to the church.
Church leaders informed members of the new policies by publishing the minutes of this conference in the January 1837 issue of the Messenger and Advocate, the version featured here. In the newspaper, the minutes were immediately preceded by the 2 January 1837 “Articles of Agreement for the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company” and by remarks from JS appended to the articles. In language similar to that of the conference minutes, JS’s remarks addressed all those intending to help build Zion. He instructed that “wise men” should be appointed by their families or local congregations to come to , where they could receive further counsel and likely purchase land. With such encouragement from church leaders, Saints moved to Kirtland throughout 1837 and continued to increase the number of church members living there.
JS’s journal notes that in October 1835, the number of church members in the Kirtland area was “about five or six hundred who commune at our chapel and perhaps a thousand in this vicinity.” Milton Backman estimated the number of Saints in Kirtland in 1836 at 1,300, with an annual growth of 200 to 500 members from 1833 to 1838 and the period of 1835–1837 experiencing the greatest amount of growth. (JS, Journal, 30 Oct. 1835; Backman, Heavens Resound, 139–140.)
Backman, Milton V., Jr. The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983.
Minutes of a , held in the , on the 22d day of December, 1836.
The authorities of the being present; viz: the , the of , the , the Presidents of the , the President of the and his , and many other , such as , , , &c.:—The house was called to order, and the following motions were made, seconded, and carried by the unanimous voice of the Assembly.
1st. That it has been the case, that a very improper and unchristian-like course of conduct, by the Elders of this church, and the churches abroad, in sending their poor from among them, and moving to this , without the necessary means of subsistence: whereas the church in this place being poor from the beginning, having had to pay an extortionary price for their lands, provisions, &c.; and having a serious burthen imposed upon them by comers and goers from most parts of the world, and in assisting the travelling Elders and their families, while they themselves have been laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, to preach the gospel; and also having suffered great loss in endeavoring to benefit : it has become a serious matter, which ought well to be considered by us—
Therefore, after deliberate discussion upon the subject, it was motioned, seconded and unanimously carried, that we have borne our part of this burthen, and that it becomes the duty, henceforth, of all the churches abroad, to provide for those who are objects of charity, that are not able to provide for themselves; and not send them from their midst, to burthen the church in this , unless they come and prepare a place for them, and means for their support.
2nd. That there be a stop put to churches or families gathering or moving to this , without their first coming or sending their wise men, to prepare a place for them, as our houses are all full, and our lands mostly occupied, except those houses and lands that do not belong to the church, which cannot be obtained without great sacrifice, especially when brethren with their families, are crowding in upon us, and are compelled to purchase at any rate; and consequently are thrown into the hands of speculators, and extortioners, with which the Lord is not well pleased. Also, that the churches abroad do according to the revelation contained in the Book of Commandments, page 238, commencing at section 10, which is as follows:
“Now verily I say unto you, let all the churches gather together all their moneys; let these things be done in their time, be not in haste; and observe to have all these things prepared before [p. 443]
Town officials called “overseers to the poor” could “warn out” indigent new arrivals in order to absolve the town from the responsibility of providing for them. In 1833 some members of the church in Kirtland, including JS, were “warned out.” (Historical Introduction to Warrant, 21 Oct. 1833.)
Warren A. Cowdery, in the May 1837 Messenger and Advocate, advised new arrivals to Kirtland not to assume they could trust everyone there and specifically cautioned them about speculators. He suggested they ask only trusted friends for advice about land purchases. Cowdery warned them to “beware of such as attack you as soon as you enter this place, and begin to interrogate you about the amount of money you have,” since they would “take advantage of your honest simplicity, obtain your available means, and then desert you.” (Editorial, LDS Messenger and Advocate, May 1837, 3:505.)
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.