Book of Mormon/Geography/Statements/Nineteenth century/Joseph Smith's lifetime 1829-1840

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Nineteenth Century: Statements on Book of Mormon geography made during Joseph Smith's lifetime: 1829-1840

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This page is a chronology of statements from primary and secondary sources. Sources may be viewed by following the citation links.

Jump to statements in: 1829–1840|1841|1842|1843|1844|1844–1899|1900–1999|2000–

Observer and Telegraph (Nov 1830): "the Aborigines of America; who, as they affirm, are a part of the tribe of Manasseh, and whose ancestors landed on the coast of Chile"

This new Revelation [the Book of Mormon], they say is especially designed for the benefit, or rather for the christianizing [sic] of the Aborigines of America; who, as they affirm, are a part of the tribe of Manasseh, and whose ancestors landed on the coast of Chili [sic] 600 years before the coming of Christ, and from them descended all the Indians of America.[1]


W. W. Phelps: Ruins in Central America "good testimony in favor of the Book of Mormon"

In an article titled “Discovery of Ancient Ruins in Central America,” there is a reprint of a story describing Guatemalan ruins at Péten. The editor of the paper, W. W. Phelps, said of the ruins that

We are glad to see the proof begin to come, of the original or ancient inhabitants of this continent. It is good testimony in favor of the book of Mormon, and the book of Mormon is good testimony that such things as cities and civilization, ‘prior to the fourteenth century,’ existed in America....

In addition to the above, Nephi relates what took place at the crucifixion of the Lord, and should ruins of many cities be discovered, it would be no more than a confirmation of what was once on this land of the Lord. The account of the great destruction at the crucifixion, is confirmed by the appearance of the face of the land now, and the cracks or common seams in the rocks....[2]

Note that Phelps describes all of the Americas as "this land," since he anticipates that finding more ruined cities in Central America would bear testimony of the crucifixion-era destruction.


American Revivalist (2 Feb 1833): "The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians"

The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians… By it, we learn that our western tribes of Indians, are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them.[3]


Evening and the Morning Star (March 1833): "The continent of America is a choice land above all others"

Appeals to the Book of Mormon to demonstrate that:

The continent of America is a choice land above all others, and, ever since men have dwelt upon it, if they were virtuous, and walked uprightly before the Lord, they have been blessed: When they have not done so, they have been visited with calamities....[4]


Evening and the Morning Star (Jun 1833): "NO people that have lived on this continent, since the flood, understood many of the arts and sciences, better that the Jaredites and Nephites"

Buildings in North Carolina and a stone artifact found in Cincinnati are offered as evidence that:

NO people that have lived on this continent, since the flood, understood many of the arts and sciences, better that the Jaredites and Nephites, whose brief history is sketched in the book of Mormon. The facts following, from the Star in the West, is not only proof of their skill, but it is good proof, to those that want evidence, that the book of Mormon, IS TRUE.[5]


Evening and the Morning Star (Jun 1833): "Lehi was guided by the matchless power of God to this continent"

Buildings in North Carolina and a stone artifact found in Cincinnati are offered as evidence that:

In the fourth thousand years, the ten tribes of Israel were led away captive out of the land of Canaan, and taken to a place by the hand of the Lord that has not yet been discovered by the Gentiles; the Jaredites were destroyed because of their wickedness; Lehi was guided by the matchless power of God to this continent....

In the sixth thousand years, America, the land of liberty, choice above all others, was settled by the Gentiles; the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ came forth in the book of Mormon, the church established, and the gathering of the saints, commenced, preparatory to the second coming of their Lord....[6]


Question: Does the story of Zelph have implications for Book of Mormon geography?

Joseph Smith was of the opinion that the natives of the area had something to do with Book of Mormon peoples

Whatever the case with the Zelph reports, Joseph Smith was of the opinion that the natives of the area had something to do with Book of Mormon peoples, calling them "Nephites." In a statement in a letter to his wife, dated June 3, 1834, he wrote:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[7]

But keep in mind, that even in the Book of Mormon, groups such as the Mulekites and the people of Ammon joined the Nephite Nation over time and were called by the name Nephite, only because they had given their allegiance to that faction politically. This had nothing to do with ancestry in a great many cases. Therefore, Joseph Smith's use of the word here doesn't necessarily imply ancestry of the peoples in the area. Furthermore, Joseph Smith's opinions on these points are not necessarily based on revelation, nor are they necessarily any more reliable than the rest of the opinions previously held by other General Authorites, some of whom later held the same office that Joseph Smith held. Since their opinions were not all the same, there is no reason to assume that anyone had actual revelation on these points. Only future revelation can clarify these points.

Joseph Smith would also make later remarks that included Central America and its inhabitants as also being relevant to Book of Mormon geography and peoples

Joseph Smith would also make later remarks that included Central America and its inhabitants as also being relevant to Book of Mormon geography and peoples. (See Bernhisel letter and July 1842 Times and Seasons Wilford Woodruff, who wrote one of the Zelph accounts, also regarded a book on Central American ruins to be evidence for the Book of Mormon account (See City of Copan). Parley P. Pratt (March 1842 and Orson Pratt (August 1843) were of a similar view.


Joseph Smith (4 Jun 1834): "wandering over the plains of the Nephites"

The following is taken from a letter written by Joseph Smith to his wife Emma during the trek known as "Zion's Camp".

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[8]


Eli Gilbert (24 Sep 1834): "was not the book of Mormon also written by men who were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, on the continent of America?"

If Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, were the real authors of the bible, chiefly revealed and written on the continent of Asia, was not the book of Mormon also written by men who were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, on the continent of America? And did not Jesus Christ as truly appear on the continent of America, after his resurrection, and choose twelve apostles to preach his gospel; and did he not deliver his holy doctrine, and teach the same to numerous multitudes on this American continent?[9]


W.W. Phelps (Feb 1835): "The first one is where you sat day after day and wrote the history of the second race that inhabited this continent"

W.W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery in Messenger and Advocate:

The first one is where you sat day after day and wrote the history of the second race that inhabited this continent, as the words were repeated to you by the Lord’s prophet, through the aid of the “Urim and Thumim,” “Nephite Interpreters,” or Divine Spectacles. I mean when you wrote the book of Mormon, containing the fulness of the gospel to the world, and the covenant to gather Israel, for the last time, as well as the history of the Indians, who, till then, had neither origin among men, not records amid the light and knowledge of the great 19th century.[10]


Oliver Cowdery (Jul 1835): "A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus"

Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps in Messenger and Advocate

A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus, must be interesting to every man; and as it would develope the important fact, that the present race were descendants of Abraham....[11]

Note that "this continent" refers to both North and South America; Columbus never set foot in the present day United States; he was confined to the the Caribbean, South America and Central America. (Click here for maps of Columbus' voyages.)


W.W. Phelps (Oct 1835): "the Indians, whose history and doings, upon this western continent, it unfolds as plainly"

My last letter was mainly confined to the book of Mormon, which rarely fails to bring to my mind something about the Indians, whose history and doings, upon this western continent, it unfolds as plainly, as the bible does those of the Israelites on the eastern continent....

When I read the book of Mormon and reflect upon the mercy and goodness of God, in sparing some of the seed of Joseph upon this choice land of America: and consider his wisdom and love in preserving a record of the progenitors or fathers of this now smitten and dejected people, I cannot find the requisite terms to convey my thanks to such an all wise Being!...

[there are] “thirty tribes, containing a population of 156,310, have held treaties with the United States, and that there is an Indian population east of the Mississippi, of 92,676,”—making a total of 405,286. Now allowing the same number west of the Mountains, and suppose 800,000, in the northern regions of the Canadas, and 500,000 in South America, there will be 2,110,562 of the sons of Joseph, and of the remnants of the Jews. A goodly number to be willing in the day of the Lord’s power, to help build up the waste places of Zion. A blessed band to be restored to mercy and enjoy the chief things of ancient mountains; even the deep things that couch beneath.[12]

Consistent with contemporary usage, Phelps considers "this western continent" (i.e., North and South America) to be the parallel of the Jews' "eastern continent (i.e., Eurasia), which he labels "America." Phelps regards all peoples of the hemisphere as descendants of Lehi.


Joseph Smith (Nov 1835): "he said the indians were the literal descendants of Abraham"

He told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the indians were the literal descendants of Abraham he explained many things of the prophesies to me[13]


W.W. Phelps (Jan 1836): "The book of Mormon has made known who Israel is, upon this continent"

W.W. Phelps in Messenger and Advocate

The book of Mormon has made known who Israel is, upon this continent, and while we behold the government of the United States gathering the Indians and locating them upon lands to be their own, how sweet it is to think that, they may one day, be gathered by the gospel....[14]


William Smith (Jan 1837): "a remnant of the branches or seed of Joseph are represented as crossing the sea, and settling this continent of North and South America"

William Smith in Messenger and Advocate:

Now, the beauty of this simile or figure can only be discovered by those who take the pains to contrast it with the literal fact as it occurred; the relation of which may be found in the book of Mormon, first book of Nephi, where a remnant of the branches or seed of Joseph are represented as crossing the sea, and settling this continent of North and South America. Yes, the concurrence or identity of the prophetic allusion, with the fact as set forth in the book of Mormon, demonstrates the truth of the latter as fully as the works and character of Jesus did the declarations of Moses and the prophets relative to himself. Having now, by unimpeachable bible testimony, and as we believe, sound logical reasoning, followed the remnants of Joseph to their landing upon this continent, our next business must be to inquire whether their history and location, if capable of speaking, would emphatically pronounce them “a multitude of nations in the midst of the earth.” So much of the history of the aborigines of America is known to the world, as would render any attempt to show that they have not been, and are not even still “a multitude of nations,” [434] perfectly vain and futile. Such was ostensibly the fact at the first settlement of the country by Europeans, and must, according to all human calculations, have existed to a greater extent previous to that time, from the well known coincidence that no social compact, existed among the different tribes, by which their national individuality could be perpetuated; and from a succession of intestine wars to which they were peculiarly addicted, they must have been diminished and commingled with other clans. As to their location, we leave it for the learned to say whether they actually occupy those degrees of latitude which with propriety may be said to comprehend “the midst of the earth.” (italics in original) (emphasis added)[15]

William regards the various Amerindian groups of North and South America as descendants of Joseph.


Times and Seasons (Mar 1840): "The ancient events of America now stand revealed in the broad light of history, as far back, at least, as the first peopling of the continent after the flood"

Times and Seasons, Missionary message

And similar in its nature is the Book of Mormon. It opens the events of ancient America. It pours a flood of light upon the world on subjects before concealed—upon the history of a nation whose remnants have long since dwindled to insignificance in midnight darkness, and whose former greatness was lost in oblivion, or only known by the remains of cities, palaces, temples, aqueducts, monuments, towers, fortifications, unintelligible inscriptions, sepulchers, and bones. The slumber of ages has now been broken. The dark curtain of the past has been rolled up. The veil of obscurity has been removed as it regards the world called new. The ancient events of America now stand revealed in the broad light of history, as far back, at least, as the first peopling of the continent after the flood.[16]


Joseph Smith (19 Jul 1840): "speaking of the Land of Zion, It consists of all North & South America"

...speaking of the Land of Zion, It consists of all N[orth] & S[outh] America but that any place where the Saints gather is Zion which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children...The redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N[orth] & S[outh] America." (emphasis added) [17]


Parley P. Pratt (Aug 1840): "excavating in the neighbourhood of Bahia, in Brazil...bearing a strong architectural resemblance to the ruins existing in the northern parts of Norway, in Iceland, and in Greenland"

SCANDINAVIAN RELICS IN AMERICA.—A highly interesting discovery has been announced by the Danish geologist, Dr. Lund, to the Northern Archaeological Society, as made by him, while excavating in the neighbourhood of Bahia, in Brazil. This discovery began with the fragment of a flag-stone covered with engraved Runic characters, but greatly injured. Having succeeded in deciphering several words, which he recognised as belonging to the Icelandish tongue, he extended his researches, and soon came upon the foundations of houses in hewn stone, bearing a strong architectural resemblance to the ruins existing in the northern parts of Norway, in Iceland, and in Greenland. Thus encouraged, he went resolutely on, and at length, after several days digging, found the Scandinavian god of thunder, Thor, with all his attributes—the hammer, gauntlets, and magic girdle.[18]


Millennial Star (Sep 1840): "We learn these gentlemen will continue their journey, and after their visit to Palenque, will proceed to Mexico"

Millennial Star quotes Catherwood and Stephens

We learn from the New York Express, that Mr. Stephens, United States Charge to Guatemala, and Mr. Catherwood, of the Panorama, have met with most encouraging success at the outset of their researches for antiquities in Central America....

We learn these gentlemen will continue their journey, and after their visit to Palenque, will proceed to Mexico.”

For further testimony and proof positive of the Book of Mormon, we copy the following TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES....[19]


Orson Pratt (1840): "they were marvellously brought across the great deep to the shores of North America"

Orson Pratt, Interesting Account missionary tract:

We learn from this very ancient history, that at the confusion of languages, when the Lord scattered the people upon all the face of the earth, the Jaredites, being a righteous people, obtained favour in the sight of the Lord, and were not confounded. And because of their righteousness, the Lord miraculously led them from the tower to the great ocean, where they were commanded to build vessels, in which they were marvellously brought across the great deep to the shores of North America....

This remnant of Joseph were also led in a miraculous manner from Jerusalem, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They were first led to the eastern borders of the Red Sea; then they journeyed for some time along the borders thereof, nearly in a south-east direction; after which, they altered their course nearly eastward, until they came to the great waters, where, by the commandment of God, they built a vessel, in which they were safely brought across the great Pacific ocean, and landed upon the western coast of South America. In the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon, another remnant were brought out of Jerusalem; some of whom were descendants of Judah. They landed in North America; soon after which they emigrated into the northern parts of South America, at which place they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, something like four hundred years after....

The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same....

And the Lord gave unto them the whole continent, for a land of promise, and he promised, that they, and their children after them, should inherit it, on condition of their obedience to his commandments; but if they were disobedient, they should be cut off from his presence....tens of thousands were very frequently slain, after which they were piled together in great heaps upon the face of the ground, and covered with a shallow covering of earth, which will satisfactorily account for those ancient mounds, filled with human bones, so numerous at the present day, both in North and South America.

The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing....

And in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America. Other colonies emigrated by land, and in a few centuries the whole continent became peopled. North America, at that time, was almost entirely destitute of timber, it having been cut off by the more ancient race, who came from the great tower, at the confusion of languages; but the Nephites became very skilful in building houses of cement; also, much timber was carried by the way of shipping from South to North America....

The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America: and they dwelt [20] in righteousness above three hundred years; but towards the close of the fourth century of the Christian era, they had so far apostatized from God, that he suffered great judgments to fall upon them. The Lamanites, at that time, dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North America. A great and terrible war commenced between them, which lasted for many years, and resulted in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Nephites. This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive to both nations for many years. At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany. Here they were met by the numerous hosts of the Lamanites, and were slain, and hewn down, and slaughtered, both male and female—the aged, middle aged, and children. Hundreds of thousands were slain on both sides; and the nation of the Nephites were destroyed, excepting a few who had deserted over to the Lamanites, and a few who escaped into the south country, and a few who fell wounded, and were left by the Lamanites on the field of battle for dead, among whom were Mormon and his son Moroni, who were righteous men....[20]

Notes

  1. A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3. off-site
  2. W. W. Phelps, "Discovery of Ancient Ruins in Central America," The Evening and The Morning Star 1:71 (February, 1833) . off-site
  3. [Communication from Joseph Smith, Jr.,] “Mormonism,” The American Revivalist and Rochester Observer (Rochester, New York) 7, no. 6 (2 February 1833). off-site]
    Only the last two paragraphs of Joseph’s letter to the newspaper were printed. The entire letter appeared eleven years later in the November 15, 1844 issue of the Times and Seasons.
  4. "The Times," The Evening and The Morning Star 1:76-77 (March 1833) . off-site
  5. The Evening and The Morning Star 2:99 (June 1833) . off-site
  6. "Great Events," The Evening and The Morning Star 2:102 (June 1833) . off-site
  7. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 324.
  8. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984). ISBN 0877479747. GL direct link
  9. "Eli Gilbert to Oliver Cowdery, 24 September, 1834," (October 1834) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:10.
  10. W. W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery, Christmas 1834, "Letter No. 4," (February 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:65-67. off-site
  11. Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, "Letter VII," (July 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:155-159. off-site
  12. W. W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery, "Letter No. 11," (October 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:193-195. (emphasis added) off-site
  13. Joseph Smith Journal, November 9, 1835; cited in Dean C. Jesse, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard L. Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals Volume 1:1832-1839 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 88-89.
  14. W.W. Phelps, "The Indians," (January 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:245-48. off-site
  15. William Smith, "Evidences of the Book of Mormon," (January 1837) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 3:433-435. off-site
  16. "An Address: by Judge Higbee and Parley P. Pratt Ministers of the Gospel, of the Church of Jesus Christ of ‘Latter-day Saints,’ to the Citizens of Washington, and to the Public in General," Times and Seasons 1 no. 5 (March 1840), 69. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  17. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, [edited by Dean C. Jessee], "Joseph Smith's July 19, 1840 Discourse," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 3 (Spring 1979), 392.
  18. Parley P. Pratt, "Interesting Discoveries," Millennial Star 1 no. 4 (August 1840), 101–103. off-site
  19. "Antiquities of America," Millennial Star 1 no. 5 (September 1840), 118. off-site
  20. Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, 1840), 16–20. off-site off-site Full title GL direct link