Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Comoros Islands and Moroni/Captain Kidd

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Joseph Smith, Captain Kidd and the Comoro archipelago

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Question: Could Joseph Smith have acquired the names "Moroni" and "Cumorah" from stories of Captain Kidd that he read in his youth?

Captain William Kidd is known to have operated in the vicinity of the Comoro archipelago. One author notes that "During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Comoros, and especially Anjouan, were popular as both a hunting ground and headquarters for Indian Ocean pirates." [1]

  • Ex-Mormon Grant Palmer asserts that Joseph Smith acquired the names "Cumorah" and "Moroni" by reading stories of Captain Kidd in his youth. Palmer concludes that it is "reasonable to assert that Joseph Smith's hill in the "land of Camorah" [Comorah/Cumorah], "city of Moroni," and "land of Moroni/Meroni," is connected with the ilhas [islands] de Comoro"/"Camora," the Moroni/Meroni settlements, and these pirate adventures. [2]
  • Critic Ronald V. Huggins asserts that Captain Kidd was "hanged for crimes allegedly committed in the vicinity of Moroni on Grand Comoro." [3]

The primary inspiration for stories about Captain Kidd, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, fails to mention the names "Comoro" and "Moroni/Meroni/Maroni"

The primary inspiration for Captain Kidd stories and legends, Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, fails to mention the names "Comoro" and "Moroni/Meroni/Maroni" in conjunction with Kidd's exploits. It is the responsibility of those who make this claim to produce some sort of documentary evidence that these names existed in stories that were available to Joseph Smith.


Question: What is the relationship between Captain Kidd and the Comoro archipelago?

Captain Kidd operated in the vicinity of the Comoro archipelago

One possibility advanced by critics is that Joseph learned the names "Comoro" and "Meroni" from stories of Captain Kidd. One author notes that "During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Comoros, and especially Anjouan, were popular as both a hunting ground and headquarters for Indian Ocean pirates." [1] The island of Anjouan contained an anchorage named "Meroni." Typically, those that that claim that Camora and Moroni were "common names in pirate and treasure hunting stories involving Captain William Kidd," do not cite a single source supporting their assertion that can be checked.

Pomeroy Tucker: "The stories of Stephen Burroughs and Captain Kidd, and the like, presented the highest charms for his expanding mental perceptions"

References to Joseph Smith being interested in the adventures of Captain Kidd come from some of his contemporaries years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. For example, Pomeroy Tucker in his 1867 book Origin, rise, and progress of Mormonism (37 years after the Book of Mormon was published and 23 years after Joseph's death), portrayed the Smith family as an "illiterate, whiskey-drinking, shiftless, irreligious race of people" and Joseph Smith, Jr. as the "laziest and most worthless of the generation." [4]:16 Tucker offers this insight regarding the young Joseph Smith and Captain Kidd:

Joseph, moreover, as he grew in years, had learned to read comprehensively, in which qualification he was far in advance of his elder brother, and even of his father; and this talent was assiduously devoted, as he quitted or modified his idle habits, to the perusal of works of fiction and records of criminality, such for instance as would be classed with the "dime novels" of the present day.[5] The stories of Stephen Burroughs and Captain Kidd, and the like, presented the highest charms for his expanding mental perceptions. As he further advanced in reading and knowledge, he assumed a spiritual or religious turn of mind, and frequently perused the Bible...[4]:17

Given the common belief that Captain Kidd had hidden treasure somewhere on the east coast, it is not unreasonable to assume that Joseph was familiar with the stories

We would, of course, dispute Tucker's late portrayal of the Smith family as lazy and shiftless, as would the contemporaneous historical records (which are more reliable than late, hostile testimony obviously designed to discredit the Smiths).

However, knowing that Joseph was involved in treasure seeking, and that the great motivation for much of the treasure seeking being performed at the time was the result of a common belief that Captain Kidd had hidden treasure somewhere on the east coast of the United States, it is not unreasonable to assume that Joseph was familiar with the stories.

The legend of Captain Kidd and his buried treasure was, in great part, inspired by Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, which does not mention "Comoros" or "Moroni"

The legend of Captain Kidd and his buried treasure was, in great part, inspired by Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates.[6] The book recounted the exploits of a number of well known pirates, including Captain Kidd. Johnson's book is said to have contributed to a number of fictionalized stories about Captain Kidd that became popular during Joseph Smith's time. However, the section of this book dealing with Captain Kidd offers little information regarding Comoro or Meroni. In fact, when referring to Kidd's interaction with the Comoros, it only refers to the individual islands by name without mentioning the name "Meroni" or "Maroni" at all. For example,

It does not appear all this while that [Captain Kidd] had the least design of turning Pirate; for near Mahala and Joanna both he met with Indian ships richly laden, to which he did not offer the least violence.[7]

The name "Joanna" refers to one of the islands in the Comoros Archipelago. In fact, "Joanna" (or "Johanna") is the island of Anjouan, upon which the anchorage "Meroni" is located. Johnson's book, however, would not offer the reader this detail: The names "Comoro" and "Meroni" are never even mentioned. If Joseph Smith learned these names from fictional stories relating the tales of Captain Kidd recounted in novels inspired by Johnson's book, how would such stories even contain these names?


Question: Was Captain Kidd "hanged for crimes allegedly committed in the vicinity of Moroni on Grand Comoro?"

Kidd was hanged for the murder of his ship's gunner...This act occurred at sea in the vicinity of the Comoro archipelago, not at "Moroni on Grand Comoro"

Was Captain Kidd, as Ronald Huggins asserts, "hanged for crimes allegedly committed in the vicinity of Moroni on Grand Comoro?" Technically, one could answer "yes" - he was certainly "in the vicinity" of the Comoros at the time. However, Kidd was hanged for the murder of his ship's gunner, William Moore, during a mutiny. Kidd was declared a pirate only after he seized the ship Quedah Merchant in 1698. This act occurred at sea in the vicinity of the Comoro archipelago, not at "Moroni on Grand Comoro." None of these actions related to the city of Moroni. The association of these events with "Moroni on Grand Comoro" is an unsupported assertion by the author Huggins, and these specific names have nothing to do with Kidd's execution. This seems to be an attempt by Huggins to more closely tie Kidd's execution with Joseph Smith and Mormonism.


A FairMormon Analysis of "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism" by Ronald V. Huggins, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36 no. 4 (2003), 22.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Barbara Dubins, "Nineteenth-Century Travel Literature on the Comoro Islands: A Bibliographical Essay," African Studies Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Sep., 1969), pp. 138-146
  2. Grant Palmer, John Whitmer Historical Association vol. 34 no. 1 Spring/Summer 2014
  3. Ronald V. Huggins, "From Captain Kidd's Treasure Ghost to Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought36 no. 4 (2003)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867).
  5. The first “dime novel” did not appear until 1860. See Wikipedia article "Dime novel" off-site
  6. The author's name is generally regarded as a pseudonym; some have credited Daniel Defoe as the actual author.
  7. Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (London: C. Rivington, 1724). The second edition of same year is A General History of the Pyrates : from their first rise and settlement in the Island of Providence, to the present time, The second edition with considerable additions (London: T. Warner, 1724), but contains no mention of Kidd.