The Historic Gilbert and Whitney Store Restored

By Richard Price

Gilbert and Whitney Store Restored
Gilbert and Whitney Store,
The Lord's Storehouse

An old, historic building on the west side of the Independence Square has been restored—it was the store built by two pioneer Latter Day Saints who were merchants by trade. They were Elder Algernon Sidney Gilbert and Bishop Newel K. Whitney, who had operated a general merchandise store in Kirtland, Ohio, at the time they were converted to the Church (see Pearl Wilcox, The Latter Day Saints on the Missouri Frontier, 51). In the summer of 1831, several pairs of elders traveled from the Kirtland area to Independence, preaching as they went (Doctrine and Covenants 52), to lay the foundation of Zion (DC 58:3c). Elder Gilbert was called by revelation to move to Independence—to “the place for the city of Zion” to “establish a store” (DC 57: lb and 57:4a). He and his wife, Elizabeth, came with some of the elders, who traveled by canal boats and Missouri River steamers. They arrived at Independence in July 1831 (Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church, 116–118).

The 1832 Lord's Storehouse
The 1832 Lord's Storehouse

In the 1831–1833 period it is estimated that between two and three thousand Saints gathered to the Independence area, and the store was greatly needed—a place where they could buy “without fraud ... whatsoever things the disciples may need” (DC 57:4a). In February 1832 Gilbert and Whitney purchased the 1827 log building which had served for a short time as Jackson County’s first courthouse, which was then located a block east to the city Square at the southeast corner of Lynn and Lexington Streets. Sidney Gilbert and Newel Whitney operated their store (called “the Lord’s Storehouse”) at that location until November 1832, approximately nine months, until they purchased a lot at the northwest corner of Lexington and Liberty Streets, across the street from the city Square where the present courthouse is located. There they built a brick building and moved their store into it (Wilcox, ibid., 48–51).

In 1833 the Saints were driven out of Independence by mobbers, who broke into the store and scattered its goods in the streets. There were several reasons why the Saints were expelled from Jackson County. Most of the Saints were “Yankees” from New England who opposed slavery, while the Missouri settlers were mostly Southern slaveholders— and the time was less than thirty years before the Civil War began. The speech, dress, and manners of the people on each side were so different that everyone could be identified immediately. The Saints favored the Native Americans, some of whom the settlers had driven into Kansas Territory only a few years previously. The Saints also proclaimed the sacredness of the Book of Mormon, which taught that the Native Americans were part of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, and would have a place in Zion where Independence stood.

But the main reason for the problem between the two cultures was that the Saints’ religion was so different that they were regarded as outsiders. And they were so successful at converting people of other churches that Protestant congregations were soon torn apart, which caused severe jealousies. And undoubtedly there were a few unwise Saints who boasted that God was going to give them this land:

In the spring of 1832 they began to brick-bat or stone the houses of the saints, breaking in windows, &c., not only disturbing, but endangering the lives of the inmates. . . . During the winter and spring of 1833, the mob spirit spread itself, though in a manner secretly; but in the forepart of the summer it began to show itself openly, in the stoning of houses and other insults. (Times and Seasons 1:17)

The incident which brought the differences to a climax and caused violence to erupt to the point of bloodshed, was an editorial in The Evening and the Morning Star of July 1833, volume 2, page 109 (see the 1966 reprint). It was entitled “Free People of Color” (see RLDS History of the Church 1:322–323). This editorial was intended to be a guideline for free black members of the Church who might be gathering to Jackson County.

The possibility of free blacks inheriting a place in the “Mormon” Zion caused much alarm among the slaveholding settlers. When this alarm was expressed, Editor W. W. Phelps issued a Star extra on July 16, to allay the settlers’ fears—but it was too late.

On July 18, 1833 a document was circulated among the settlers which charged the Saints with pretending to

converse face to face with the most high God; to receive communications and revelations direct from heaven; to heal the sick by laying on hands; and, in short, to perform all the wonder-working miracles wrought by the inspired apostles and prophets of old. . . . More than a year since it was ascertained that they had been tampering with our slaves and endeavoring to sow dissensions and raise seditions amongst them. (ibid., 313–314)

The document was signed by the most noted and prosperous men of the city and county—all community leaders.

The southwest corner of the city Square
The southwest corner of the city Square where Bishop Partridge and Elder Charles Allen were tarred and feathered—accross the street from the Gilbert and Whitney Store.

As this document was circulated, a meeting was announced, to be held on July 20 at the new red-brick courthouse on the Square. Between four and five hundred men attended. This throng sent a delegation to Bishop Partridge and other Church leaders, asking that they immediately stop publishing the Church paper,.close the printing office, and have all Saints move from the county. The Church men asked for three months to consider the subject, since they needed time to communicate with Joseph Smith and other Church leaders in Kirtland. The settlers’ delegates, however, gave them fifteen minutes to make up their minds, and the discussion closed.

Church history records:

The four or five hundred persons, as a mob, then proceeded to demolish or raze to the ground the printing office and dwelling house of W. W. Phelps & Co. Mrs. Phelps, with a sick infant child and the rest of her children, together with the furniture in the house, were thrown out doors, the press was broken, the type pied, the book work, furniture, apparatus, property, etc., of the office were principally destroyed and the office thrown down. . . . [Most of the copies of the unbound Book of Commandments were destroyed.]

The mob then proceeded to demolish the storehouse and destroy the goods of Gilbert, Whitney & Co., but Mr. Gilbert assuring them that the goods should be packed by the 23d inst., they then stopped the destruction of property and proceeded to do personal violence. (ibid., 315–316)

Bishop Edward Partridge
Bishop Edward Partridge

Later that same afternoon of July 20, the mob went to Bishop Partridge’s home and took him by force. They also captured Elder Charles Allen, a clerk in Gilbert and Whitney’s store. They took them to the courthouse and proceeded to tar and feather them before hundreds of spectators.

An eyewitness to the event, Alexander Majors, reported that they

stripped them to their waists, and poured on them a sufficient amount of tar to cover their bodies well, and then took feathers and rubbed them well into the tar, making the two elders look like a fright. (Journal of History 10 [January 1917], 7–8)

The condition continued to deteriorate. Three days later, on July 23, the settlers met again in even larger numbers and forced the Saints to sign a treaty, stating that they would all leave the county—half of them by January 1, 1834, and the other half by the next April. The lieutenant governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs, was a resident of Independence. He actively supported the settlers and said,” ‘Mormons are the common enemies of mankind and ought to be destroyed,’ and ‘you know now what our Jackson boys can do, and you must leave the county’" (The Story of the Church, 176).

In early November of 1833 the mob rounded up the Saints and drove them to the Temple Lot, where they encircled them for three days in the cold and sleet, before driving them north to Wayne City Landing where they crossed the Missouri River to safety in the village of Liberty in Clay County (ibid., 179—180, 182).

Sidney Gilbert Died When Cholera Attacked Zion’s Camp

After being driven out of Independence, Sidney Gilbert moved his family to a farm east of Liberty, Missouri, near Rush Creek in Clay County, where they resided in the summer of 1834 when Joseph Smith and the members of Zion s Camp passed that way. At that time the camp and the residents of the area were stricken by an outbreak of dreaded cholera. Sidney Gilbert was one of those who died of the disease, as also did little Phebe Murdock, who was living with the Gilbert family. Phebe was the daughter of Julia and John Murdock who had lived in Kirtland. Julia had given birth to twins who were younger than Phebe, but she died in childbirth soon after the twins were born. Emma Smith gave birth to twins who died soon after, and Joseph and Emma then adopted the Murdock twins, naming them Joseph and Julia. While the twins were ill with measles a mob broke into the home and dragged Joseph Smith out-of-doors and tarred and feathered him. The freezing cold wind from the open door chilled baby Joseph and he died from exposure. Little Julia survived and became Joseph and Emma’s only living daughter. (See the article in Vision #46 entitled “A Marker for Julia.”)

Phebe’s father, John Murdock, who was one of the members of Zion’s Camp, arrived shortly before his little daughter Phebe’s death. Many were the hardships which the early Saints endured as they labored for the cause of Zion.

The History of the Store After the Saints Were Driven Out

After the Saints were driven out of Independence in 1833, the Gilbert and Whitney Store was occupied by others. During the intervening years the building was enlarged, and a second story was added. In time the building occupied the entire west side of the Square and was occupied by the Jones Store. Still later, the city’s main businesses moved away from the Independence Square, and the building became vacant. Ken and Cindy McClain purchased the building and restored the original part of the historical store to its former appearance, naming it “Gilbert Whitney & Co.” (see Independence Examiner November 29—30, 2003, 1A).

After one hundred and seventy-three years the Gilbert and Whitney Store is back in business at its original location on the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Lexington Avenue. The restoration of the store was made possible by Mr. and Mrs. McClain using an old photograph of the building that can be seen in a book entitled The Examiner’s 100th Birthday, Queen City of the Trails. The store is a “cookware and specialty grocery store,” with many items offered for sale.

The restoring of the Gilbert and Whitney Store helps preserve a tangible part of the rich heritage of the Saints, and also reminds us of the trials and sacrifices which they went through. The more that is known about those early pioneers, the more we appreciate the Restoration Gospel which they struggled so valiantly to promote.

Vision 47 [August 2004]:6–7