Mormonism and church finances/Nineteenth century/Immigration

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Financial issues related to immigration

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Question: Did early Mormon missionaries to England take advantage of "intolerable social and economic conditions" in order to gain converts?

Significant financial hardships were required even to immigrate: Immigration was also not a matter of instant financial benefits

This claim was originally made by critic Fawn Brodie in her book No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith . Brodie's claim oversimplifies a great deal. Charles Dickens described LDS immigrants as "the pick and flower of England." Immigration was also not a matter of instant financial benefits.

Some immigrants doubtless were attracted by opportunities in America. But, significant financial hardships were required even to immigrate. Some Latter-day Saints (e.g., John Benbow) left considerable property and very comfortable circumstances in England. As is typical, Brodie oversimplifies a complex issue, and it is not surprising that the effect is to make church missionaries look exploitative. She apparently wishes to down play the spiritual attraction of the message preached by LDS missionaries.

For example, on the ship Amazon which sailed in 1863

"of prime importance in determining when a family would emigrate was the matter of finances. In spite of great faith, many would-be emigrants found it difficult to save enough money to pay for their passage and other expenses. Charles and Eliza West joined the Church in 1849 and began in 1853 to put money into the individual emigrating accounts kept by local Church leaders. But the expenses of a growing family made saving difficult....Half the married adults aboard the Amazon had been Latter-day Saints for thirteen years or more. Even those with a larger income found it difficult to save for emigration. But single adults, without the expense of a family, generally emigrated three to four years sooner after baptism than married adults. Though some of the Amazon passengers were recent converts, eighty-five percent of the adults had been members more than five years before they emigrated....Some husbands and fathers of Amazon passengers had emigrated earlier, hoping to establish a home in Utah and earn enough to pay for their families’ emigration. This was not an uncommon practice among emigrants. On the other hand, some wives—even expectant mothers—and children aboard the Amazon were leaving their husbands and fathers behind; these breadwinners hoped to join their families the next year after earning the rest of the emigration money and closing out their financial affairs." [1]

Notes

  1. Richard L. Jensen and Gordon Irving, "The Voyage of the Amazon: A Close View of One Immigrant Company," Ensign (Mar 1980), 16. off-site