DC 125 Historical Background
From January to March 1841, the Prophet Joseph Smith engaged in building up Nauvoo. During that interval, John C. Bennett was elected mayor with Joseph and Hyrum elected as members of the city council. The city council then addressed several issues of immediate importance, including establishing a university, organizing the Nauvoo Legion, and building a canal through Nauvoo. The Prophet wrote many of these bills; he was also responsible for measures on temperance and preservation of religious liberty for "Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans, and all other religious sects." (History of the Church, 4:306)
The Nauvoo Legion was organized and acknowledged by the state of Illinois with John C. Bennett as major-general and Joseph Smith as lieutenant-general. In accordance with the preceding revelation (D&C 124), the Nauvoo House Association was incorporated, and in March 1841, the prophet received a non-canonized revelation that William Allred and Henry W. Miller purchase stock in the Nauvoo House and help with its construction (History of the Church, 4:311). All these Nauvoo-centered activities must have caught the attention of the saints on the other side of the Mississippi. In Iowa, two settlements of saints in particular, those in Zarahemla and Nashville, wondered what was to become of them?
"The eastern part of Iowa, especially eastern Lee County, was considered part of greater Nauvoo, Illinois. Land was purchased on both sides of the Mississippi River at the same time from the same person, stakes were established in both places, Mormons lived on both sides of the river, Masonic lodges were founded in both places, Joseph Smith preached and visited in Lee County, the Iowa settlements were connected to Nauvoo by ferry, the Sugar Creek camp and staging ground for the 1846 trek across Iowa lay seven miles west of the Mississippi River, and the September 1846 miracle of the quails took place on the Iowa shore, as did Joseph Smith's well-known healing of Brigham Young and Elijah Fordham in July 1839.
"The first Mormons in Lee County were exiles from Missouri during the expulsion of 1838-1839. Most Missouri refugees headed for ferries at Quincy, Illinois, and at Louisiana, Missouri. But some did not. Israel Barlow, for example, was made welcome at Montrose in Lee County, Iowa, on the Mississippi River directly opposite what became Nauvoo, Illinois. He was attracted to Montrose because of the abandoned Fort Des Moines, which he judged could house 40 or 50 refugee families. Among those who found temporary housing there were Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, John Smith, Elijah Fordham, and Joseph B. Noble. This sudden influx of Mormon squatters, however, alarmed some of the old settlers, who grew antagonistic.
"Despite this local antagonism, the Church soon purchased the undeveloped town site of Nashville (now Galland) and 20,000 surrounding acres located on the Mississippi River, three miles south of Montrose. An additional 30,000 acres were purchased in and near Montrose, and some Mormons acquired land in Keokuk, Ambrosia, and elsewhere in Lee County. Of these communities, Montrose became most prominent. Mormon settlement commenced there in May 1839. By October of that same year there were so many Mormons in Lee County that the Zarahemla Stake, one of the 11 pre-Utah stakes, was organized there (see D&C 125:3-4).
"John Smith, uncle of Joseph Smith, was set apart as (that is, designated) president, with Reynolds Cahoon and Lyman Wight as counselors. Erastus Snow, Elijah Fordham, William Clayton, and Asahel Smith served on the high council, and Alanson Ripley was called as the bishop. Montrose was the center of the stake, and the high council met regularly in the home of Elijah Fordham.
"This stake soon became and remained for a short time-next to Nauvoo-the second most important stake and community of Mormons in the United States. This was especially true after May 24, 1841, when Smith discontinued all other stakes except those in Nauvoo and Lee County. By August 1841, the Zarahemla Stake consisted of 683 members in eight branches--in Zarahemla, Ambrosia, Nashville, Mecham Settlement, and Keokuk (Lee County); in Augusta (Des Moines County); and in the Van Buren and Chequest townships (Van Buren County). (The communities of Zarahemla and Ambrosia no longer exist.)
"Five months later, however, during January 1842, the Zarahemla Stake was discontinued and reduced to branch status. Thus the whole life of this eastern Iowa stake was but 27 months. The dissolution of the Zarahemla Stake and the subsequent decline of the Church in eastern Iowa was caused by the continuing in-gathering to Nauvoo. Thereafter little is heard of Church activities in Iowa, although a few branches struggled on for a period." (S. Kent Brown, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard H. Jackson, eds., Historical Atlas of Mormonism [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994], 58.)
DC 125:2 let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint
Much of the gathering of this period took place among the converts of the British Isles. Between January and March 1841, three different vessels, the Sheffield, the Echo, and the Alesto, sailed from Liverpool England. They contained 235, 109, and 54 saints respectively.
Heber C. Kimball
We are commanded to gather into one place, and purify ourselves, and sanctify ourselves, that we may be prepared for His coming; for He will come by and bye, when He gets ready; the time is not very far off, as many suppose. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 2: 159)
DC 125:3 Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo
"The counsel to settle on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River and strengthen the settlements named in the revelation was publicly announced on 6 April 1841 at the general conference of the Church in Nauvoo. William Clayton, who was present at the conference, recorded the following... 'Many of the brethren immediately made preparations for moving in here but on account of its being so late in the season President John Smith advised to get through with planting and then proceed to move in.'" (Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 282 - 283.)
DC 125:3 let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it
Students of Book of Mormon geography understand that the Lord is not identifying this Zarahemla as the geographic location of the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla; it is just named after it. The one geographic similarity to note is that Zarahemla was situated just west of the River Sidon just as Zarahemla, Iowa Territory was situated west of the Mississippi. Similarly, the Jordan River in the Salt Lake Valley received its name from the Jordan River in the Holy Land because of geographic similarities, but they are not the same place.