Quincy: City of Refuge
October 27, 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an executive order decreeing that all Mormons in the State of Missouri must either leave the state or be exterminated. Thousands of State militiamen descended on the Mormons and forced them from their homes, raping, burning and pillaging. 10-15,000 Mormons, robbed of their property and means of support began fleeing for their lives beginning in December 1838, but where could they go? They could not go west—that was wilderness and there was no one there to take them in. Such was the same going north into Iowa territory. They could not go south into the lower counties of Missouri because of the Governor’s order. The shortest and only road open to them was due east the Mississippi River.
Across the cold windswept prairie slogged thousands of Mormons seeking refuge. The weather was cold and the snow was deep. They had not adequate food, clothing, or bedding for the 200 mile journey—some were barefoot. There are multiple accounts of women and children and their blood-stained footprints on the ice.
When they arrived at the Mississippi River they could not cross. The cold had filled with the River with ice floes; running so thick and heavy that it would swamp the rafts, barges, and canoes they would use to cross.
There, lining the banks of the Great River, north and south for miles, the Latter-day Saints huddled against the cold, waiting for the River to freeze over so they could cross. All the while, Missourians mocked and laughed at their plight or in some cases beat, tortured and tormented them. They could not cross and they could not stay.
Across the River in the small community of Quincy, Illinois, citizens looked anxiously across the River and saw the plight of the refugees. ‘We have to do something’ became the hue and cry of some. Canoes were loaded and men braved the huge chunks of ice to carry supplies to the helpless. Finally in February 1839, the River froze and the saints crossed into the open arms of the citizens of Quincy. 1600 Quincyans and their neighbors out in the county took in more than 5000 Mormons for 4 months. They gave them food, shelter, jobs—kindness!
When Joseph Smith escaped imprisonment, he found Emma in Quincy. It was May 4, 1839, at a late General Conference of the Church when Joseph rose to speak, but he could not. As he looked out over his people and their benefactors, he was so moved, that in quiet dignity, he wept!
He would never forget Quincy’s kindness. Nor should we. To this day the citizens of Quincy, Illinois remember with fondness and pride the time when their fathers took in our fathers. Had it not been for them, and only them, how many thousands of our people would have died searching for a good Samaritan? It is a story that ought to be engraven on the rock to endure forever.
Building Faith Through Church History