Question: What evidence of religious excitement is there from non-Mormon sources?

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Question: What evidence of religious excitement is there from non-Mormon sources?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Joseph Smith - History Insight #7: Religious Excitement near Palmyra, New York, 1816–1820

Evidence of religious excitement from non-Mormon sources

Non-Mormon evidence demonstrates that there was a considerable increase in membership among some Christian sects. One source goes so far as to point out the growth over a given period without explicit revivals:

1817 to 1830 increase from 6 to 80 without revival, in a particular circuit (emphasis added). [1]

David Marks was born the same year as Joseph Smith, 1805. His parents moved to Junius, not far from Palmyra, when he was a teenager. He became very religious very early, and left home to become an itinerant Baptism minister. He published his memoirs in 1831. Here are some things he has to say about happenings in Junius and Phelps [Vienna], in 1819:

In the fall of the year 1818, upon relating my experience to the Calvinistic Baptist church in Junius, they received me as a candidate for baptism;….
I continued to attend the Baptist covenant meetings, and was treated with the same studied coldness as before. Six months had passed [i.e., sometime in spring 1819], since the church received me as a candidate for baptism,….
In the month of July, 1819, Elder Zabulon Dean, and his companion, having heard of my situation, and feeling interested, sent an appointment to our neighborhood; and came thirty miles, accompanied by brother Samuel Wire, then an unordained preacher, Deacon C., and Brother S. They were all Free-Will Baptists, and the first of whom I had any knowledge. On Saturday, July 10th, I meet with them, learned their sentiments, spirit and humility; which so well accorded with my own views and feelings, that desiring to be baptized, I related to them my experience and sentiments, also the manner in which my application to unite with the Baptist church had been received and afterwards rejected. They expressed satisfaction with my experience, approved of my sentiments, and the next day, being the Sabbath, a meeting was appointed for preaching and examination, at the house where the Baptist church usually met for worship (29).
On the 17th of the same month [July 1819], I attended the Benton Quarterly Meeting of the Free-Will Baptists, in the town of Phelps, eighteen miles from my father’s, and was there received a member of the church in that place. Five were baptized, communion and washing feet attended to, and a profitable season was enjoyed. After this, Elder Dean and brother Wire frequently preached in Junius, and a good reformation followed their labors; in which some of my former persecutors were converted to the faith of the gospel. In the ensuing autumn, brother Wire was ordained. He and Elder Dean baptized fifteen in Junius, who united with the church in Phelps; but in January following [1820], they were dismissed and acknowledged a church in Junius, taking the scriptures for their only rule of faith and practice. Being absent at the time of its organization, I did not become one of its members till the ensuing Spring. This church walked in gospel order several months, and enjoyed many happy seasons. But the summer of prosperity passed, and the winter of adversity succeeded. New and unexpected trials brought heaviness and mourning. Seven or eight, who first united and were well engaged, soon turned aside after Satan and walked no more with us. Iniquity abounding, the love of some waxed cold. Every feeling of my soul was pained, when those with whom I had taken sweet counsel, thus wounded the innocent cause of Jesus and brought it into reproach. But while our number decreased by [31] excommunications, the Lord more than supplied the vacancies by adding to the church of such as should be saved. [2]

Clearly, there was extensive religious excitement in the Palmyra area. A young man of Joseph's age was likewise much taken by it, as Joseph himself was.

What was happening in Joseph's area in 1820

Joseph states that about 1820 "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" had commenced, and that "[i]t commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." The Palmyra newspaper reported many conversions in the “burned-over” district. The Palmyra Register recorded that the Methodists had a religious camp meeting in 1820. [3] Since they did not have a chapel yet, they would meet in the woods on Vienna Road. [4] Pomeroy Tucker (a witness hostile to Joseph Smith) states that “protracted revival meetings were customary in some of the churches, and Smith frequented those of different denominations…” [5] These revivals in 1820 must have helped the Methodists, for they were able to build their first church in Palmyra by 1822, down on Vienna Road where they held their camp meetings.[6] The Zion Episcopal Church was originated in 1823. [7] In 1817, the Presbyterians were able to split into an eastern group and a western group. The eastern group used the only actual church building that was in Palmyra in 1820, while the western group assembled in the town hall. [8]


  1. Francis W. Conable, History of the Genesee Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 2nd edition (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1885), 317.
  2. David Marks, The Life of David Marks, To the 26th year of his age. Including the Particulars of His Conversion, Call to the Ministry, and Labours in Itinerant Preaching for nearly Eleven Years (Limerick, Maine: Printed at the Office of the Morning Star, 1831), 30-31.
  3. Palmyra Register (Palmyra, NY), 28 July 1820.
  4. Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, and Morris’ Reserve (Rochester, New York: William Alling, 1851), 212–213.
  5. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 17–18.
  6. George W. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County (Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Company, 1895), 194.
  7. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County, 194.
  8. Cowles, Landmarks of Wayne County, 191–192.