The story of Christ preparing the land of Kirtland is as old as time and was without doubt foreseen in the heavens long before man appeared upon the earth. From the beginning, sacred events to transpire in Kirtland were undoubtedly planned and even announced. Joseph Smith emphasized that crucial temple work, the keys for which were received in Kirtland, constituted “a voice of gladness for the living and the dead.”1 Christ ordained such redemptive events “before the world was.”2 Ancient prophets were “fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations” of these events, which would “bring about . . . the salvation of the human family.”3 Christ fired with joyful anticipation the soul of the ancient prophet Malachi as He told him of sacred events to transpire in the Kirtland Temple.4 After the Savior’s resurrection, He commanded followers on the American continent to “write the words” of prophecy He gave to Malachi regarding events to transpire in Kirtland.5
It appears that Christ prepared “the Ohio” for centuries before He gathered His people there. Evidence of this preparation can be found in seventeenth-century England. King Charles II gave the state of Connecticut a thin slice of land that included the land of Kirtland. This thin slice was eventually whittled down to a 120-mile-wide area of land designated as the Connecticut Western Reserve. Settlement was primarily by people from New England. The Western Reserve seems to correspond approximately to the area the Lord called “the Ohio.”
A decade after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America’s Congress of the Confederation included Ohio as a part of the Northwest Territory. In what is called the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Congress inserted two provisions that would have been important to the Lord. They assured religious freedom for all settlers and stated, “Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”6 Ohio was a desirable place for settlers, as extolled by George Washington: “If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world or if advanced in life, and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation.”7
From the beginning, Christ prepared an entire land and then selectively peopled it with a remarkable God-fearing frontier folk. The story of Kirtland’s preparation reveals their strong moral values, personal trials, incredibly hard work, generosity, and great faith. The story notes their response to the promptings of the Lord to listen, move, nurture, and prepare a frontier land for the advent of the gospel there and the ultimate building of the first temple of God in the Restoration. Kirtland, known intimately to the Lord, was being groomed for a great mission—greater than anything witnessed in two thousand years. The Savior prepared Kirtland and then commanded His Saints to gather there. In the very early days of this land, however, the story began quietly, and its players were few.
Decades before the gospel was brought there, the Lord, as early as 1798, began to nudge key people and their families to “the Ohio.” It was no accident that the family of a future member of the First Presidency, Frederick G. Williams, moved there that year. It must also have been in the eternal plan that other families of future greatness would congregate in and around this underdeveloped land of promise. The Snow family, including Lorenzo and Eliza R., came in 1811. A year later the industrious colonizer Isaac Morley with his wife, Lucy, settled on two hundred acres where matters of importance would later occur. In 1814, John and Elsa Johnson (later instrumental in purchasing land for the temple) settled near Kirtland with their two sons, Luke and Lyman, who in time became members of the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The Lord also planted other future Apostles in Ohio, where He would prepare them to receive His word. He sent Orson Hyde in 1819 and Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight in 1826. Future bishops Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney arrived in Ohio by 1820 and 1823, respectively. The incredible good that these men were to perform cannot be measured. The Lord not only summoned and prepared His future leaders but also assembled hundreds of other future Church members in the Ohio. Kirtland was ready to receive the gospel and in due time welcome the Prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith.
1. Doctrine & Covenants 128:19.
2. Doctrine & Covenants 128:22.
3. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932–51), 4:609–10; “The Temple,” Times and Seasons 3 (May 2, 1842): 776.
4. Malachi 3–4.
5. 3 Nephi 24–25.
6. Documents of American History, ed. Henry Steele Commager and Milton Cantor, 2 vols. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1988), 1:131.
7. George Washington Writings, sel. John H. Rhodehamel (New York: Literary Classics of the United States,1997), 687.