Sketches of a Traveller.–No. 23

1837-05-29

Missouri Republican F., E.

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F., E. “Sketches of a Traveller.—No. 23.” Missouri Republican (St. Louis, Missouri) 15, no. 1231 (29 May 1837).

The humble repast was soon over, and without difficulty I entered the conversation with the father of the family. He informed me that he had been but a few years a resident in Illinois— that he had been unfortunate—and that recently his circumstances had been more than usually circumscribed, from his endeavours to save from speculators a pre-emption right of the small farm he was cultivating. This farm was his all; and in his solicitude to retain its possession he had disposed of every article of the household which would in any way produce money, even of a part of his own and his wife’s wardrobe. I found him a man of considerable intelligence, and he imparted to me some facts respecting that singular sect styling themselves Mormonites, of which I was previously hardly aware. Immense crowds of these people had passed his door on the great road from Terre Haute, all with families and household effects stowed away in little one-horse wagons of peculiar construction, and on their journey to Mount Zion, the New Jerusalem, situated near Jackson County, Missouri! Their observance of the Sabbath as almost Pharisaically severe—never permitting themselves to travel upon that day—the men devoting it to hunting, and the females to washing clothes, and other operations of the camp! It was their custom, likewise, to hold a preachment in every village or settlement, whether men would hear or forbear: the latter must have been the case with something of a majority, I think, since no one, whom I have ever met could, for the life of him, give a subsequent expose of Mormonism.

—“I never heard nor could engage A person yet by prayers, or bribes, or tears,

To name, define by speech, or write on page,

The doctrines meant precisely by that word,—

Which surely is exceedingly absurd.”

They assert that an angelic messenger has recently appeared to Joe Smith, announcing the millennial dawn at hand—that a glorious city of the faithful—the New Jerusalem, with streets of gold and gates of pearl, is about to be reared upon Mount Zion, Mo., where the Saviour will descend and establish a kingdom, to which there shall be no end. Ergo, argue these everlasting livers, it befits all good citizens to get to Jackson County, aforesaid, as fast as one-horse wagons will carry them! Large quantities of arms and ammunition have, moreover, been forwarded, so that the item of the “sword being beaten into a ploughshare, and spear into pruning hook,” seems not of probable fulfilment, according to these worthies. The truth of the case is, they anticipate a brush with the long-haired “pukes” before securing a “demise, release, and for ever quit claim” to Zion Hill—said pukes having already at sundry times manifested a refractory spirit, and from the following anecdote of my good man of the hut, in “rather a ridic’lous manner.” I am no voucher for the story: I give it as related; “and,” as Ben Johnson says, “what he has possessed me withal, I’ll discharge it amply.”

One Sabbath evening, when the services of the congregation of the Mormonites were over, the Rev. Joe Smith, priest and prophet, announced to his expectant tribe, that, on the succeeding sabbath, the baptismal sacrament would take place, at which time an angel would appear upon the opposite bank of the stream.—Next sabbath came, and ‘great was the company of the people’ to witness the miraculous visitation. The baptism commenced, and was now well nigh concluded—‘Do our eyes deceive us! can such things be! The prophecy! The angel!’ were exclamations which ran through the multitude, as a fair form, robed in a loose white garment, with flowing locks and long bright pinions, stood suddenly before the assembled multitude upon the opposite shore, and then disappeared! All was amazement, consternation, awe! But where is Joe Smith? In a few moments Joe Smith was with them, and their faith was confirmed.

Again was a baptism appointed. Again was the angel announced—a large congregation assembled—and yet again did the angel appear. At that moment two powerful men sprang from a thicket—rushed upon the angelic visitant, and, amid mingling exclamations of horror and execrations of piety from the spectators, tore away his long white wings, his hair and robe, and plunged him into the stream. By some unaccountable metamorphosis, the angel in a few moments emerged from the river honest Joe Smith, priest of Mormon, finder of the golden plates, etc., etc., and the magi of the enchantment were revealed in the persons of two brawny pukes. Since then, the story concludes—not an angel has been seen all about Mount Zion!

It is truly astonishing to what length superstition has run in some sections of this same Illinois. Not long since, a knowing farmer in the county of Macon conceived himself ordained of heaven, as promulgator to the world of a system of “New Light”—so he styled it—upon “a plan entirely new.” No sooner did the idea strike his fancy, than leaving the plough in the middle of the furrow, away sallies he to the nearest village, and admonishes every one, every where, forthwith to be baptized by his heaven-appointed hands, and become a regenerate man on the spot. Many believed—was there ever faith too preposterous to obtain proselytes?—the doctrine, in popular phrase, “took mightily;” and it must be confessed, the whole world, men, women, and children, were in a fair way for regeneration. Unfortunately for this desirable consummation, at this crisis, certain simple-hearted people thereabouts, by some freak of fancy or other, took it into their heads, that the priest himself manifested hardly that quantum of regenerated spirit that beseemed so considerable a functionary. Among other peccadilloes, he had unhappily fallen into a habit every Sabbath morning, when he rode in from his farm house—a neat little edifice which the good people had erected for his benefit on the outskirts of the village—of trotting solemnly up before the grocery door upon his horse—receiving a glass of some dark coloured liquid, character unknown—drinking it off with considerable gusto—dropping a picayune into the tumbler—then proceeding to the pulpit, and, on the inspiration of the mysterious potation, holding vehemently forth. Sundry other misdeeds near about the same time came to light concerning the Reverend man, so that at length the old women pronounced that terrible fiat, “the preacher was no better than he should be;” which means, as every body knows, that he was a good deal worse. And so the men, old and young, chimed in, and the priest was politely advised to decamp, before the doctrine should get unsavoury. Thus ended the glorious discovery of New Lightism!

It is a humiliating thing, to review the aberrations of the human mind: and, believe me, reader, my intention in placing before you these instances of religious fanaticism, has been, not to excite a smile of transient merriment, nor for a moment to call in question the reality of true devotion. My intention has been to show to what extremes of preposterous folly man may be hurried, when he once resigns himself to the vagaries of fancy, upon a subject which demands the severest deductions of reason. It is, indeed, a melancholy consideration, that in a country like our own, which we fondly look upon as the hope of the world, and amid the full-orbed effulgence of the nineteenth century, there should exist a body of men, more than twelve thousand in number, professing belief in a faith so unutterably absurd, as that styled Mormonism—a faith which would have disgraced the darkest hour of the darkest era of our race.

But it is not for me to read the human heart. E. F.

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