The Journey to Amboy

By Pamela Price

Journey to Amboy by Virginia Brown

Journey to Amboy, by Virginia Brown

A dramatic moment in our Church’s history is featured in the painting to the left. Artist Virginia Brown depicts the beginning of the journey from Nauvoo by twenty-seven-year-old Joseph Smith III to go to Amboy, Illinois, to be ordained prophet-president of the Church. In those days traveling by horse and buggy on dirt roads was difficult, so Joseph, accompanied by his mother, Emma Smith Bidamon, went by train. The only one in their area traveled up the western side of the Mississippi River through Montrose, Iowa, which was across the river from Nauvoo.

As the time neared for them to cross to Montrose and board their train, a severe storm raged on the river. It was imperative that they be on time, so they had no choice but to face the storm in spite of the danger. To make the perilous crossing as safe as possible, Captain James Gifford agreed to row them across the angry waves if Alexander Hale Smith, another of Emma’s sons, would assist him. Captain Gifford, the husband of Emma’s foster daughter, Servilla Durfee Gifford, was an expert navigator who had piloted boats through many storms while on the expansive waters of the Mississippi. He was sure that Alexander knew the river and its moods and rapids better than anyone, other than himself. Through the watch care of the Heavenly Father, and their combined effort, the trip across the churning river was made safely, in spite of the high waves, howling wind, and driving rain.

Joseph III left this brief story of the crossing of the river:

My mother and myself made the necessary preparation and started from Nauvoo to Amboy, on the 4th of April, 1860, in the face of one of the fiercest tempests that had blown that spring. My mother made the characteristic remark, that thus it had been all through her life; that whenever she set out to do anything for the gospel’s sake, the old boy [Satan] seemed to be in the elements trying to prevent. We crossed the Mississippi, James Gifford and another resolute man [Alexander] in the small boat at the oars. The crossing was made in safety, and wet with spray, but strong in purpose, we pursued our journey by boat and rail, arriving at Amboy on the 5th in time to attend the evening prayer meeting held at the house of Sr. Experience Stone, when for the first time I learned that it had been prophesied among them that I should come to the Amboy conference of 1860. . . . A strange thrill pervaded the air, and when Elder Z. H. Gurley, Sen., in one of his impulsive, impassioned exhortations, referred to the fulfillment of the “word of the Lord to them,” by the fact of my being there, the whole people sobbed aloud in their joy and gratefulness. (RLDS History of the Church 3:265)

In the painting one sees the sun beginning to break through the storm clouds as the little boat nears the safety of the shore on the Iowa side—symbolic of the spiritual light about to shine upon the Church as the young prophet comes to take his place at its head. In the same manner, his coming brought an end to the period in Church history known as the “dark and cloudy day.”

(Vision 34 [June 2000]: 4)