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George Moore, 1811-1847

Diary (1842-1844)
Western Illinois Regional Studies 5 (1982)

Source: Excerpts from the diary of George Moore in Donald Q. Cannon, "Reverend George Moore Comments on Nauvoo, the Mormons, and Joseph Smith," Western Illinois Regional Studies 5 (Spring 1982):6-16.


[The diaries of George Moore consist of six volumes, covering the period 1828-1845. They are located at Harvard University Archives and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. Parts of the diaries have been published in Kenneth W. Cameron, Transcendental Epilogue (Hartford, Conn.: Transcendental Books, 1965). The only volume used in this study is the one which covers the period from December 27, 1840--May 12, 1845 and is located in the American Antiquarian Society. It is cited in this work as Diary.

Reverend George Moore was born on May 4, 1811 in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Following his graduation from Harvard Divinity School, he became a Unitarian minister. After preaching in various communities in Massachusetts, he served as a Unitarian missionary and pastor in Quincy, Illinois. He was living in Quincy at the time Latter-day Saints were gathering in Nauvoo.]

[During the years 1840-1845, George Moore made several visits to Nauvoo, Illinois, faithfully recording in his diary the things he observed. Following a visit to the city on Friday, June 3, 1842, he wrote:]

Visited the Mormon [Nauvoo] Temple. The situation is beautiful, commanding an extensive view--about a half mile back from the river, on the bluff--overlooking a large band of the river--the city of Nauvoo--and a fine prairie on the other side of the river. Dimensions, about 100 feet by 70. The basement of this temple is laid--and in the basement is the baptismal font, supported by 12 oxen. In this I learned that persons are baptized for the dead, and for restoration to health.

Saw the basement of the "Nauvoo House," on the river bank near Jo [Joseph] Smith's house. Dimensions 120 feet by 100, or thereabouts. This is to be 4 stories high--and of stone. [Diary, p. 105.]

[He was fascinated by the Mormon people and their customs. Concerning a Mormon meeting and those in attendance he wrote:]

I don't know that I ever before saw such a congregation of stolid faces. [Diary, p. 8.]

[Moore then went on to say that most of the Mormons were poor and many suffered for lack of the necessities of life. The Minister from Quincy found the Mormon sermons boring, but apparently never tired of writing about them. Concerning the sermons during one meeting he wrote:]

When I entered, one of their number was speaking about the elder and younger son in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He made wretched work as a speaker--he hesitated--and what he said amounted to nothing at all--he did not seem to know himself what he was talking about. But he soon gave way to another--a man of about 50 years of age--who spoke for nearly an hour at the top of his voice. There was but little connection in what he said. He would run from one subject to another--just as an old sailor will tell a long yarn, in which the great essential is to keep talking. [Diary, pp. 8-9

[George Moore had heard that the Mormons spoke in tongues and he was most anxious to hear them practice this ancient custom. In this desire, however, he was disappointed and had to rely on accounts given by others. If he was disappointed in this interest, however, he compensated for it by observing other gifts of the spirit such as the gift of healing. Discussing the conversion of one of his parishioners, Mr. [Joseph L.] Heywood, Reverend Moore reported on his miraculous healing:]

He then told me he had received that which was satisfactory to himself--that Elder [Orson] Hyde laid hands upon him, and prayed over him, while he was suffering from a severe nervous head-ache, and the head-ache departed--and that he believed this was a miracle wrought upon himself.

[ Another Mormon told George Moore how his withered leg was healed, and went on to describe how his wife's crooked arm had been straightened. Clearly, in the mind of Dr. Moore, the Latter-day Saints believed in and practiced faith healing. [Diary, pp. 157-58.]

Concerning the so-called Mormon peep stone, Reverend Moore had this to say:]

At Nauvoo, they have what is called a "peep stone," and two boys, who are believed to have the power of looking into this stone, and seeing what people are doing at a distance, and of such implicit faith in this, that they go to see the peep-stone boys as soon as they lose any thing. But I hear that Joe [Joseph] Smith gives no countenance to this superstition." [Diary, p. 179.]

[Like other nineteenth-century observers of the Latter-day Saints, Moore saw parallels between Mormonism and Mohammedananism. For example, he wrote that the Mormons believed in the idea of an earthly paradise, which was one of Mohammed's great ideas. Rev. Moore also believed the Mormons sought an outward, tangible evidence of their beliefs, not just an inward spiritual manifestation. This desire for outward show he observed in the Mormon propensity for military parades and maneuvers--that is, the war games and reviews of the Nauvoo Legion.]

As George Moore visited Nauvoo and shared the association of Mormons, he also noted a pragmatic tendency. Because of their financial difficulty they constantly looked for ways to save money. Hence, the "strange" practice of performing marriages on the ice-covered Mississippi. A Mormon elder would accompany the bride and groom to a point more than halfway across the river, and there on the snow-covered ice, unite them in matrimony, thus avoiding payment for a certificate in the Hancock County Court. [Diary, p. 175.]

While George Moore's comments on Mormon beliefs and customs are of interest, his most meaningful comments concern the conversion of some of his parishioners to the Mormon faith. A careful examination of Moore's observations indicates that he thought highly of the people involved, but could not understand how they could become Mormons. His comments about Mrs. [Hannah L.] Case are a good example of his high regard for her, but also show his disapproval of her decision to unite with the Mormons:]

Tuesday Evening, September 13 (1842)

An event took place this morning, which has occupied my mind through the day. Mrs. [Hannah L.] Case, who is a member of the Episcopal Church, but who has usually attended my church, was this morning baptized into the Mormon faith. When I first heard of it, I was very much surprised. And I determined to go at once and see her. I found her at home--just returned from the river where she had been immersed by a Mormon Elder. I conversed with her about the step which she had taken--told her if she knew anything of the recent disclosures of the corruptions in the Mormon Church. But I found her full in the faith that the Mormon church is the true church. Mrs. [Hannah L.] Case is an excellent woman, with a heart glowing with charity for all--she has read a good deal, and is thoughtful and pious. But withal she has a mind easily biased--much taken with novelties--and in her universal charity is apt to excuse sin, or rather the sinner. She has for some time been reading the Book of Mormon and several of the Mormon publications, and has had a Mormon woman living with her, or visiting her home. But she has not intimated to any of her friends, so far as I can learn, that she was impressed with the truth of the Mormon faith, until last evening, when she sent word to her sister that she intended to be baptized this morning and that if she wished to witness the performance of the rite, she could. Her sister was taken by surprise--was troubled--called to see her--and tried to dissuade her from her purpose for the present. But no--she could not wait. It seems as though she must have some distrust of her own convictions, for she has not consulted with any of her long-tried friends. When I talked with her about this, she returned the reply of fanaticism, "I take no counsel of flesh and blood, but of my Father in heaven." Well, she has taken the step--a very rash one, as I believe--she has the very best intentions in it, I doubt not--and I look upon her as still as good as ever. I cannot but look upon her as very credulous--and as having less judgment, nay less intelligence than I supposed. But yet I would not say, she is wrong. What she regards in the Mormon faith as good and pure I have no doubt is so--and placing her own interpretations upon their views, I suppose she thinks she has received new light. But she is a good and true woman--and I hope will yet be guided into the truth, whether she finds it in the Mormon Church, or any other. [Diary, pp. 132-33.]

[When one of his deacons joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Moore expressed similar concerns. That the course of events troubled him is seen by the fact that his journal entries for three consecutive days concern this matter. The relevant portions of those entries follow:]

Monday Evening, December 19 (1842)

I little thought, when I was recording some causes of discouragement, last evening, that I should be called upon, today, to record the apostasy of one of the deacons of my church. But so it is, as I am told. He returned, today, from Nauvoo, where he was baptized into the Mormon faith. This is a most strange delusion. And this step has been taken by Mr. [Joseph L.] Heywood in a singular manner. He has surprised all his friends by it. He has not intimated to any one that he was going to change his faith. He has not conversed with any, so far as I know, in whom he has been accustomed heretofore to place confidence. But, all at once, by a visit to the Mormon City, has been suddenly converted. I trust that he is sincere in this course, and that his sincerity will erelong, bring him back from his error, his delusion.

Tuesday, December 20 (1842)

Called on Mr. [Joseph L.] Heywood. He told me that he had been baptized into the Mormon faith. In the course of conversation, he professed to believe that Joseph Smith is the best and purest being on earth, a perfect human being, the prophet of the Almighty. I asked him what evidence he had of this. He said he had seen and conversed with Mr. Smith, and had heard the testimony of his friends and family who ought to know him best. I asked for some stronger evidence. He then told me he had received that which was satisfactory to himself--that Elder [Orson] Hyde laid hands upon him, and prayed over him, while he was suffering from a severe nervous head-ache, and the head-ache departed,--and that he believed this was a miracle wrought upon himself. I asked for stronger evidence still. He then told me a story which Elder Hyde had related to him. Elder Hyde was in England, was called in to lay hands upon, and pray over, a blind boy--he saw no effects from his prayer--immediately left the house--on his arrival in the country, at St. Louis, he met some individuals who told him the child had been healed. Elder Hyde says that letters may be procured from England certifying to this fact. This was the strongest evidence that Mr. Heywood could offer for believing that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God. I told him I regarded him as perfectly deluded, and that I believed he would see cause to regret the step he had taken.

Thursday, December 22 (1842)

Called upon Mrs. Heywood. Found her very unhappy in regard to her husband's course. She said that he never intimated to her that he had any intention of joining the Mormons. She regards him as a complete dupe of Joe [Joseph] Smith. [Diary, pp. 157-58.]

[Reverend Moore's failure or even inability to understand why his members embraced the Mormon Church is shown in his comments about the death of Mrs. Case.]

Sunday, December 17th (1843)

Mrs. Hanah L. Case died today--a most excellent Christian. She formally worshipped with my congregation, but more than a year since united herself with the Mormons, and has remained firm in the faith of Mormonism ever since. But the name by which she was called mattered but little; she was a truly Christian woman, and has done much in this place for the cause of our holy religion. She was eminent for her charity, and her humility, and her deep and fervent piety. She died of a lingering consumption, fully resigned to her Heavenly Father's will. May he who is the father of the orphans guide and bless the three sons who survive.

Tuesday Evening, December 19th (1843)

Was called upon, this afternoon to take part in the services at the funeral of Mrs. Case. I made the prayer, and read a hymn, and Elder Hyde of the Mormon faith made a very long address about the resurrection of the body. This address seemed to me a tissue of errors and absurdities from beginning to end. It was boisterous talk, and had nothing in it that I could perceive calculated to give comfort to those that mourn. The gentle spirit of Mrs. Case must have been grieved if she knew aught that was going on. [Diary pp. 241-42.]

[While he thought Mrs. [Hannah L.] Case was a good Christian, he clearly believed she had been deluded by the Mormons. George Moore hoped his former member found eternal happiness, but he was certainly very skeptical about her future state.

During his visits to Nauvoo the Unitarian minister had an opportunity to visit with the prophet Joseph Smith. In his diary, he recorded their conversations as well as some character sketches and physical descriptions of the Mormon Prophet. Moore's first meeting with Joseph Smith occurred on Friday, June 3, 1842. He recorded his visit with the prophet in this manner:]

Called on the "Prophet Jo [Joseph] Smith." His carriage was at the door and he was about going away, but he received me very kindly, asked me into his house. I remained about 10 minutes. He was very communicative. We conversed about the golden plates, which he professes to have dug up and translated into the Book of Mormon. "Those plates are not now in this country," he said--"they were exhibited to a few at first for the sake of obtaining their testimony--no others have ever seen them--and they will never again be exhibited." He showed me some specimens of the hieroglyphics, such as, he says, were on the gold plates. He asked me if I was a Clergyman--and of what denomination--and what were the fundamental doctrines of our faith--on my telling him that we believed in divine Unity--in one God in one person--he said, we don't agree with you there. We believe in three Gods, equal in power and glory. There are three personages in heaven, but those three are not one. I suppose, from what I hear, that Smith makes it a point not to agree with any one in regard to his religious opinions, and adapts himself to the person with whom he talks for the time being . . . He expressed a desire to have a long conversation with me, but he had an engagement, and I was soon going away, so that we could not have much conversation. Our interview was short, but pleasant. [Diary, pp. 105-106.]

[Besides commenting on the circumstances surrounding this conversation and Mormon doctrine, the Quincy minister penned a physical description of the Mormon Prophet.] This `prophet' is a man of large frame--tending to corpulency--has blue eyes, light complexion, one or two of his front teeth gone--he has a rather benevolent expression of countenance. [Diary, p. 106.]

[As he left Joseph Smith's home he noted the following:]

As I came out, I found two large cannon, mounted in his yard. Can this be a prophet of God, thought I, who must have cannon for a guard, and must convert all his followers into soldiers--into a "Nauvoo Legion"--and excite in them a warlike spirit? What a return in this to Judaism, nay to Judaism, but to barbarism? And yet this imposter (for I cannot call him any thing else) has his thousands of followers. Nauvoo contains a population of from 5 to 10,000--being variously estimated--and the converts to this system, if system it may be called, are coming in by hundreds. How happens it that an ordinary man by such ordinary means can exert such an influence and sustain himself? It is strange, it is passing strange--it is wonderful--and yet so it is. It shows this most certainly, that there is a great deal of credulity in man. [Diary, p. 106.]

[Being personally acquainted with Joseph Smith and living just a few miles down the Mississippi from Nauvoo, the Unitarian minister was both an interested and timely observer of the events leading up to the death of the prophet. Consequently, on Sunday, June 23, 1844, he made the following entry in his diary:]

At the present our whole community is excited in regard to the Mormons. They have demolished a printing-press in Nauvoo, in violation of the laws of the states. Joe [Joseph] Smith, the prophet, was arrested for his act on a legal process, and was rescued by a writ of habeas corpus issued by his own municipal court. The whole community became excited, armed themselves to support the civil officer in his duty, sent for the governor; and now seem determined to carry out the law. Meantime, Nauvoo has been declared under martial law. The governor has arrived--ordered out several regiments of militia--sent off for arms--called upon the Mormons to send a committee, unarmed, to Carthage, there to be examined by him--the committee appeared, and the investigation was not satisfactory.

Now, I am told, the governor has sent 12 men to Nauvoo to arrest Joe [Joseph] Smith--and that the Mormons have laid down their arms. Such are some of the rumors afloat here. Nothing is talked of but the Nauvoo news. The military companies, instead of attending church this evening, have had meetings at their armories, and are expecting to be called out in the morning to march to the seat of war. I know not what will be the result of this excitement. May God in his infinite wisdom so rule in the hearts of men as to subdue their evil and revengeful passions, and to prevent any bloodshed! [Diary, pp. 265-66.]

[A few days later he wrote this about the death of Joseph Smith and his brother:]

Quincy, Friday Evening, June 28th

The war alarm has sounded through our city. At day-break, on this morning, the bells were rung and the citizens called out to attend a meeting at the courthouse. The news had come down in the boat that Joe [Joseph] Smith and his brother Hyrum had been killed in the prison at Carthage. Threats had been made by many of the Mormons to destroy the towns of Carthage and Warsaw, and it was supposed that their whole body might be infuriated so as to be ready to do anything. This was stated at the meeting in the courthouse. Also, that the governor went yesterday to Nauvoo with 60 men to see the Mormons and quiet them, and to receive the arms of the state in their possession. Fears were entertained for the safety of the governor and his guard. It was immediately determined that a force should be raised to go to the protection of Warsaw. And at 9 o'clock about 300 troops left on the Boreas for Warsaw. The Quincy Rifle Company--Quincy Guards (German Company)--Irish Volunteers--and a volunteer company under command of Captain Johnson--all went off amidst much cheering for "the Constitution and the Laws."

I never before witnessed so much excitement. And I have been unable to keep quiet in the midst of it. Every thing in the morning wore a warlike aspect. Even some apprehensions were expressed in regard to the safety of Quincy. But news has come by boat, this evening, that all was quiet at Nauvoo, that they had received the bodies of the Smiths to bury them, that some of their leaders had advised them in public speeches to keep quiet, and to make no attack upon the property or lives of others. They will probably remain at Nauvoo, and act on the defensive, if attacked.

The attack on Smith was first made, according to the report which we have received, by Higbee, a seceding Mormon--the guard of the prison resisted attack, but the mob forced their way into the prison--and there killed Joe [Joseph Smith] and Hyrum [Smith]. The prophet fought to the last with pistols--rushed to a window in order to jump out--and fell head long having received a shot in his head. It seems not to have been a cold-blooded murder on the part of the people of Carthage. I know not what to think of the matter. It was perfectly astounding when I first heard of it. I sincerely trust that peace will now be restored. [Diary, pp. 266-67.]

[Several things are of interest here. Obviously, Moore and other non-Mormons were afraid of an attack by the Mormons. He also called attention to the mobilization of troops to defend the communities and keep the peace. Moore's description of the assault on Carthage Jail is similar to the most common accounts. It is interesting, however, to note that he did not blame the people of Carthage for the murder.

Commenting further on the reasons for the martyrdom, Reverend Moore wrote the following:]

How truly did Jesus say, "They that take the sword shall perish by the sword!" Smith has taken up the sword to defend himself--has ever inculcated the war spirit among his followers--and now behold the result! A dreadful and appalling result, but still the direct consequence of his military system. If they (the Mormons) had been a peaceful sect, and had never used arms as a religious body, they would have received ample protection in their religion. But how could this be expected from an imposter? [Diary, pp. 267-68.]

[Here, Moore blames the death of Joseph Smith on the prophet's military activities. In a sense, the Unitarian minister is suggesting that the existence of the Nauvoo Legion may have caused the murder of the Mormon prophet.

Still interested in the Mormons, Moore continued to observe them and to record his thoughts in his journal. Three months after the prophet's death, he wrote:]

A glorious Autumn day. Would that I could say it has been a glorious day at Church! But, instead of that, the peace of the Sabbath has been broken by martial music. Soldiers paraded our streets at noon. Our two independent companies have again marched to Nauvoo. They were ordered out by the governor, and commanded to report themselves at Nauvoo on Wednesday next. I know not what to make of this new move. It is conjectured by some that it is a political movement on the part of the governor. The pretence for ordering out the troops is that the people of Warsaw have invited the people from the neighboring counties and from Iowa and Missouri to attend a grand wolf hunt there on Friday next, and have also notified the Mormons that they must leave before that time,--and that this wolf hunt is a concealed movement by which they intend to drive the Mormons out of the state. Under this pretence the governor has called out the troops from several counties, and they are now marching towards Nauvoo. What will be the result of this movement, time must determine. I fear that the very attempt to obviate the difficulty, may bring on some collision. [Diary, p. 294.]