Orson Hyde: Nauvoo to Jerusalem and Back Again

Historian's Corner

David M. Whitchurch

David M. Whitchurch (david_whitchurch@byu.edu) is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU.

As I gazed upon [Jerusalem] and its environs, the mountains and hills by which it is surrounded, and considered, that this is the stage upon which so many scenes of wonders have been acted, where prophets were stoned, and the Savior of sinners slain, a storm of commingled emotions suddenly arouse in my breast, the force of which was only spent in a profuse shower of tears.

—Elder Orson Hyde (Thursday, 21 October 1841)[1]

Elder Orson Hyde arrived in Jaffa, Palestine[2]—just forty miles from Jerusalem—on Wednesday, 20 October 1841. Standing at the threshold of reaching his goal, he wrote to fellow Apostle, Parley P. Pratt how his “heart leaps for joy at the prospect of seeing that land, and there fulfilling my mission.”[3] No wonder. Over a year and a half had passed since Elder Hyde was commanded by the Spirit to travel to Jerusalem via of London, Amsterdam, and Constantinople.[4]

In the early morning hours of 24 October,[5] just as he had seen in vision, Elder Hyde crossed the Kidron Valley and made his way to the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, and there dedicated the land “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy prophets.”[6] One month later, Hyde wrote to Pratt the entirety of his prayer. He also included in that same letter a comment about the difficulties he encountered in getting to Jerusalem: “The Lord knows that I have had a hard time, and suffered much, but I have great reason to thank him that I enjoy at present and have a prospect of soon going to a civilized country.”[7]

Hyde’s prayer on the Mount of Olives is relatively well known by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Less understood, however, are the circumstances surrounding his travels to and from Jerusalem—an endeavor that took nearly thirty-two months to complete and required traveling more than 18,700 miles.[8]

My early research is adding insight into Hyde’s remarkable journey. Modes of travel available in the 1840s (e.g., by horse, carriage, train, barge, steamers, packet ships, and so forth), travel routes, interactions with those with whom he came in contact, regional politics, demographic studies, and economic factors all add significant understanding of what was required of Elder Hyde to complete his mission. Letters written by Hyde provide greater understanding of both his personality and character.

Two such incidents that occurred during his travels are included below. On his return trip to Europe, he traveled with a twenty-seven-year-old licensed minister from his home state of Connecticut he had met in Jerusalem. While en route to Cairo, the minister contracted typhus. Hyde waited on him the best he could but saw no improvement. When they docked at Bulaq, Cairo’s main port in 1841,[9] he arranged for four men to take him on a liter to the American Consulate, took all his baggage to him, assisted in putting him upon a good bed, employed a nurse to take care of him, and found an English doctor to examine him. Hyde waited as long as he could but departed the consulate to catch his ship to Alexandria. Two hours after boarding, Hyde received a note from the doctor informing him that the man had died.[10]

Another of Hyde’s impressive experiences is his telling of a storm he endured near the island of Crete while in passage from Alexandria, Egypt, to Trieste, Italy. He wrote, “Never, no, never before did I witness nature in such a rage on the deep.” In his own and eloquent words, he wrote:

About six o’clock in the evening, the breath of the monster reached us: all hands aloft furling sails. The sky became suddenly black—the sea began to roll in upon our weather-beam and lash the hull of our ship, tossing her from surge to surge with as much ease as a giant would sport with an infant. . . . The lightnings issued from the womb of darkness in fiery streams of blazing vengeance to light up the terror of the storm. A feeling of solemnity and awe rolled across my bosom as I gazed upon the troubled deep, raging in the wildness and fury of a tempest. The spray of the clipped surge was frequently whirled on the wing of the eddying currents like mighty cascades upon our deck, while the rain descended like torrents from the mountains. . . . The winds howled through our almost naked shrouds like a thousand winged spirits waiting to chant our requiem; but under the providential care of HIM who governs the winds and the waves, and who formed the ocean from his palm, our gallant barque bore us safely out the gale.[11]

Many of Hyde’s greatest travel challenges occurred while in the Levant. In 1842 the Millennial Star, a paper published in Liverpool, wrote of his mission: “He has been in perils by land and sea, in perils among robbers, in perils among Heathens, Turks, Arabs, and Egyptians; but out of all these things the Lord hath delivered him, and hath restored him in safety to the shores of Europe, where he is tarrying for a little season.”[12]

Having left Jerusalem soon after his prayer on the Mount of Olives, Hyde returned to Nauvoo via Jaffa, Damietta, Cairo, Alexandrea, Triste, Munich, Regensburg (where he spent months working on a church publication in German), Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London, Liverpool, New Orleans, and on foot from St. Louis to Nauvoo.[13] He arrived to a surprised and happy wife and two daughters in the dead of winter, 7 December 1842—a remarkable journey to Jerusalem and back again.[14]


[1] Orson Hyde, A Voice from Jerusalem or A Sketch of the Travels and Ministry of Elder Orson Hyde, original published by Parley P. Pratt, Liverpool; Martin Mormon Pamphlet Reprint Series, No. 34, 7.

[2] Palestine is the term Hyde uses to refer this region. See Voice from Jerusalem, 32 (letter by Hyde to Parley P. Pratt, written from Alexandria, Egypt; 22 November 1842). Until 14 May 1948, the State of Israel did not exist. Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Emperor Hadrian renamed Iudaea Province as Syria Palaestina.

[3] Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 34. At this time Parley P. Pratt was the editor of the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in Manchester, England.

[4] Joseph Smith, History of the Church, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 4:376. The information included here is found in a letter written from London by Hyde to Joseph Smith, Jr. Hyde includes in his letter to Smith another letter he had written to Solomon Hirschell, the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazim in England (1802–42).

[5] Hyde left Nauvoo, one week after receiving his mission call, for Jerusalem (15 April 1840). Eighteen months would pass from the time he left Nauvoo until he arrived in Jerusalem (21 October 1841). It took another fourteen months after leaving Jerusalem to get back home to his wife and family in Nauvoo (7 December 1842).

[6] Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 29.

[7] This statement by Hyde is included in his dedicatory prayer, originally written and offered on 24 October 1841. Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 29 (letter dated 22 November 1841). Other accounts by Hyde also talk about the difficulties of his mission; especially, when traveling in the Levant. For example, speaking in third person about himself he said, “He [Hyde] has been in perils by land and sea, in perils among robbers, in perils among heathens, Turks, Arabs, and Egyptians: but out of all these things the Lord hath delivered him, and hath restored him in safety to the shores of Europe, where he is tarrying for a little season.” See Millennial Star, 18 November 1842, 166–69 and History of the Church, 4:496.

[8] Hyde’s ventures to the Holy Land rightfully commence with Joseph Smith. As early as 1831, right after Hyde’s baptism, Smith told him, “You will go to Jerusalem . . . and be a watchman unto the house of Israel; and by thy hands shall the Most High do a great work, which shall prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering together of that people.” This quote was included in a letter written by Hyde when in London to Smith. After reporting about his travels, Hyde added a copy of another letter he had written to Solomon Hirschell, the chief rabbi of England (1802–42) in which he said, “About nine years ago, a young man with whom I had had a short acquaintance, and one, too, in whom dwelt much wisdom and knowledge—in whose bosom the Almighty had deposited many secrets, laid his hand upon my head and pronounced these remarkable words.” While Hyde does not mention Smith by name, it seems almost certain it refers to him. The letter to Smith is dated 15 June 1841. See History of the Church, 4:375. Another decade would pass before Hyde received a formal mission call from the Prophet to go to Jerusalem. See History of the Church, 4:114.

[9] Bulaq was Cairo’s main port from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century.

[10] Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 28 (letter dated 22 November 1842).

[11] Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 25 (letter dated 17 January 1842).

[12] “Highly Interesting from Jerusalem,” Millennial Star, March 1842, 167; see also History of the Church, 4:496.

[13] History of the Church, 4:459.

[14] History of the Church, 5:200.