The Church was beginning to grow in New York, but opposition to it was growing as well. In December of 1830, Jesus gave Joseph Smith a revelation instructing all members of the Church in New York to move to Kirtland, Ohio. Over the next few months, a large majority of Church members sold their property in New York, often at a great loss. Smith and his six-month-pregnant wife Emma were among the first to make the trip to Ohio in February 1831.
Not everyone was willing to leave their prosperous farms and comfortable homes for the uncertainties of the rugged West. Some even claimed the 25-year-old Smith's revelation was a fabricated deception to enrich himself. But most of the Saints boarded canal barges and steamboats in the dead of winter. Having packed more clothes than food, many suffered hunger, and many of the children became sick.
Before the prophet's arrival in Ohio, the Church there was in disarray. Young converts were claiming they saw visions, and had bizarre notions about the effects of the Holy Spirit. "They conducted themselves in a strange manner," said one witness, "sometimes imitating Indians in their maneuvers, sometimes running out into the fields, getting on stumps of trees and there preaching as though surrounded by a congregation."
Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland to find that one of these self-proclaimed "revelators" named Hubble styled herself a prophetess and teacher in the Church, and successfully deceived some Church members. The gullibility of these new converts was allowing Satan to make inroads among them. Smith became distressed that these kinds of excesses would bring disgrace to the Church.
This same spiritual fanaticism could be found among the converts being made in Independence, Missouri, as well. “Some would fancy to themselves that they had the sword of Laban," noted David Whitmer's brother John. "Some would act like an Indian in the act of scalping, some would slide or scoot on the floor, with the rapidity of a serpent, which termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites, preaching the gospel, and many other vain and foolish maneuvers."
Smith sought guidance from Jesus, and then dictated a revelation acknowledging that Satan had sent forth false spirits by which he sought to overthrow the Church. Jesus also provided practical advice, saying that when they encountered a strange spirit, they could ask Heavenly Father to receive the same spirit, and if it is not given to them, they can know that spirit is not of God and denounce it as such.
At a general conference of the Church in a Kirtland schoolhouse, Satan made a show of power. Shrieks and horrid noises were heard throughout the room and several people were tossed about by evil spirits. One man convulsed on the floor. Smith laid his hands upon the man and cast out the spirit in the name of Christ. The Saints took this as a warning not to tamper with evil spirits or excessive spiritual zeal.
In the Spring of 1831, a Methodist minister named Ezra Booth visited Kirtland with some friends, including a woman whose arm was partially paralyzed from rheumatism. The prophet took the woman by the arm, saying, "Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command thee to be whole." With that, she was healed, and Booth and his friends became converts, and the miracle gained attention throughout northern Ohio.
Jesus gave Smith another revelation at that time, instructing that members of the Church who had attained the Melchizedek Priesthood should go forth as missionaries to surrounding towns and villages in Ohio. And so they went, and the Church gained several hundred converts that spring. But the missionaries also faced bitter opposition from preachers of other sects.
Northern Ohio was also home to a settlement of Shakers—formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming—who had been founded by a woman named Ann Lee who had claimed to be Jesus Christ returned to earth in female form, and who taught equality between the sexes. Smith received a revelation repudiating the doctrine of God appearing in the form of a woman, and sent missionaries to the Shakers, but they utterly refused to listen.
As the Saints settled in Kirtland, revenue was needed to finance Church undertakings, and the prophet was without a home for his family. At this time Jesus revealed to Smith the Law of Consecration. All members of the Church were asked to deed all of their property and possessions to the bishop of the Church, to be held in a storehouse. The bishop would then grant stewardship of the Church's property to individuals. In this way, greed and poverty would be eliminated.
Smith's pregnant wife Emma had become seriously ill during their arduous trek from New York that winter. When she gave birth to twins on April 30, they both died hours later. Coincidentally, the next day Church member Julia Murdock died while giving birth to twins. Their father, John Murdock, was about to leave on a mission and consented to the idea of Smith and his wife adopting the newborn twins to raise as their own.
Jesus instructed Smith to continue his work on his inspired translation of the Bible. With Sidney Rigdon as his scribe, the prophet now took to working on the project daily. It was while studying the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs that Smith inquired of Jesus how it was they found favor with God while having multiple wives. It was revealed to Smith that "plural marriage" was not a sin if commanded by God, and that Jesus was now commanding it again in the latter days.
Anticipating that such a commandment would raise public ire if it were widely known, Smith only taught it to a select number of associates at the time, and they were asked to keep the doctrine a secret and not to speak or write about it in public. Despite this, in spring of 1831, as the Church grew in Kirtland, many foolish stories, false reports, and lies were published in the newspapers and through gossip, turning away people who may have otherwise embraced the faith.