Despite bitter persecution that ultimately drove out its residents, Nauvoo before the exodus was more prosperous than it had ever been, said Susan Easton Black, BYU professor of Church History and Doctrine and associate dean of honors, at the Iowa Mormon Trail Symposium May 3.
Even though the city charter was revoked by the Illinois Legislature, "the Quorum of the Twelve seemed undaunted," she said. "They renamed Nauvoo `The City of Joseph' in honor of the now-deceased prophet."She quoted William W. Phelps as saying, "We have hitherto walked by sight. If any man wanted to know anything, he had only to go to Brother Joseph. Joseph is gone, but he has not left us comfortless. If you want to do right, uphold the Twelve."
Accordingly, the Nauvoo Saints in 1844 grew in strength and numbers, Dr. Black said. They continued to build beautiful homes and completed the Seventies Hall and Cultural Hall. Mainly they pressed on to complete the temple.
The professor quoted Brigham Young as saying, "We want to build the temple in this place if we have to build it as the Jews built the walls of the temple in Jerusalem, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other."
Newspapers across the Mississippi in Iowa reported that construction of the temple was going ahead, in the words of one account, "with astonishing growth." But the publicity also increased the threat of mob violence. Ironically, the burning of LDS homes in outlying settlements "pushed more Mormons into the City of Joseph," Dr. Black said. That meant more carpenters and blacksmiths in the city, and Nauvoo became more prosperous than ever.
The culminating act for many was the placing of the capstone on the temple, she said. "Even the very large man, George A. Smith, penned, `My feelings were such I could not suppress the flood of tears.' "