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Edmund Durfee

Question: What happened to Edmund Durfee at Morley’s Settlement in Illinois in 1845?

Answer: Edmund Durfee (Sr.) was born October 3, 1788, in Tiverton, Rhode Island, son of Perry Durfee and Annie Salisbury. Edmund moved with grandparents to Broadalbin, New York, in 1801. Edmund was a farmer, carpenter, and millwright. He married Magdalena Pickle about 1810, and they later became the parents of thirteen children. When new lands were opened on the frontier, they moved to Ohio in June 1830.

They were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints by Simeon Carter on May 15, 1831 and Edmund was ordained an elder by Simeon Carter and Solomon Hancock. Edmund was ordained a high priest by Oliver Cowdery. In December 1831, Edmund was appointed to serve a mission to New York. In the spring of 1832, he traveled to Jackson County, Missouri, to build houses and plant grain. In the fall of 1832, Edmund served a mission to the Eastern states.

He then moved to Kirtland in May 1833 and labored on the Kirtland temple. He was one of twenty-four elders who laid the temple cornerstone. Edmund and Magdalena were privileged to attend the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836.

In the spring of 1837, Edmund moved to Caldwell County, Missouri, settling six miles south of Far West. In 1839, when driven from their homes by mobs, Edmund assisted with Latter–day Saint evacuation from Missouri. Edmund then moved to Morley’s Settlement (Yelrome) in Hancock County, Illinois, about 25 miles due south of Nauvoo, Illinois, and built his family a home there. (“Yelrome is Morley spelled backwards, with an extra “e’ for good measure.’)

Sign at Yelrome or Morley;s Settlement in Southern Hancock County, Illinois.

As pressures against the Saints in Hancock County increased, Yelrome became the target of mob attacks. Yelrome was vulnerable to attack for several reasons. First, it was located on the outskirts of Hancock County and was rather isolated. Second, it was situated between Warsaw on the north and Adams County on the south—both of which contained strong anti-Mormon elements. The people of Yelrome were especially vulnerable to attack because of the presence of the noted anti-Mormon leader Colonel Levi Williams, who lived in Green Plains, about ten miles distant.

In September 1845, a mob of anti-Mormon arsonists rushed upon Morley’s Settlement. They burned down the Durfee home and, shortly thereafter, burned down the homes of dozens of other Mormon families. The morning following, Solomon Hancock sent word of the burnings to President Brigham Young in Nauvoo:

“Dear Brother,

I will agreeably to your request send you some of the particulars of what has been done. On the other side of the branch, it is a scene of desolation. On Wednesday the 10th all of a sudden, the mob rushed upon Edmund Durfee and destroyed some property, and set fire to both of his buildings. . . On the morning of the 11th they again set fire to the buildings of Edmund Durfee, and fired upon some of his children without hitting them; they then proceeded to the old shop of Father Morley’s and set fire to both his shops. In the afternoon the mob came on again and set fire to Father Whiting’s chair shop, Walter Cox, Cheney Whiting, and Azariah Tuttle’s houses. At evening they retreated back again. . . Last evening they set on fire three buildings, near Esq. Walker’s; and this morning we expect them to renew their work of destruction . . . The mob is determined to destroy us. The mob have burned all houses on the south side of the branch, and left last evening for Lima; said they would return this morning as soon as light, and swear they will sweep through and burn everything in Nauvoo.”

After losing their home to the arsonists, the Durfees, with other homeless residents, fled to Nauvoo for safety. On November 15,1845, Edmund and other men returned to Morley’s Settlement to harvest their crops. They lodged with Solomon Hancock in his unburned home about one-half mile northeast of Lima, Illinois. Late that evening, night riders set fire to hay in the Hancock barnyard. Awakened, the Latter-day Saint men rushed outside to fight the fire. Edmund Durfee, who was age 57 at the time, was shot in the back and killed. Edmund’s attackers were identified and arrested, but never brought to trial, even though “their guilt was sufficiently apparent,” according to Illinois Governor Thomas Ford.

Edmund was buried near his brother, James Durfee, in Nauvoo’s Old Pioneer Burial Ground on Parley Street.

Edmund and Magdalena Durfee

In the words of the Nauvoo Neighbor (a paper edited by John Taylor), “Mr. Durfee was one of the most industrious, inoffensive, and good men that could be found.’ On January 21, 1846, just weeks before she had to cross the icy Mississippi River, Magdalena received her endowment in the Nauvoo Temple and was sealed (by proxy) to Edmund for time and all eternity.

“Some of the mob engaged in the tragic affair afterwards boasted that they had shot Durfee in order to win a wager of a gallon of whisky, that the stack had been set on fire to cause an alarm and draw the men out, and that by killing him they had won the whisky.”

Following his murder, Edmund’s family participated in the Latter-day Saints’ forced exodus from Nauvoo in 1846. Edmund’s widow, Magdalena, died during the hard journey near present-day Council Bluffs. His daughter, Tamma Durfee Miner, buried both her baby, Melissa, at Montrose, and her husband Albert Miner, in Iowa, along the Mormon Trail. Eight Durfee children went west with the Latter-day Saints and settled in Utah Territory.

Source: Excerpts from William G. Hartley, The 1845 Burning of Morley’s Settlement and Murder of Edmund Durfee (Salt Lake City: Primer Publications, 1998 Reprint); Joseph Smith Papers;; Ensign, February 1986, “Spokes on the Wheel,’ by Donald Q. Cannon.

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