Question: What religious excitement was occurring in Palmyra in 1820?

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Question: What religious excitement was occurring in Palmyra in 1820?

Methodist camp meetings were being held in Palmyra in 1820

Some claim that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York area in 1820, contrary to Joseph Smith's claims that during that year there was "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion...indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it" Joseph Smith—History 1:5

Joseph Smith talked of observing, as a 14-year-old, "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion" in the Palmyra area during the Spring of 1820. Joseph notes that "It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." There is documented evidence of at least one Methodist camp meeting in the Palmyra area during that period, which only by chance happened to be mentioned in the local newspaper because of a specific death that seemed to be associated with it. It is reasonable to assume that the Methodists had more than one camp meeting during this period. In addition, there are newspaper articles talking of large-scale revival activity in the larger region surrounding Palmyra during the same general period when Joseph Smith said that it was taking place.

It is interesting to note that one crtical website attempts to dismiss evidence of Methodist camp meetings in the Palmyra area in 1820 because they are not "revivals", offering this weak excuse:

The church’s November 2013 essay and FAIR (an unofficial apologist LDS site) claim that there was a revival in 1820. They use the term revival loosely to help convince investigators that Smith’s claims are correct. An ad in the newspaper for a church camp meeting is not a revival that causes the “religious excitement” that Smith described. [1]

The critic's description is incorrect: This was not "an ad in a newspaper for a church camp meeting." It was a newspaper article about a death that occurred near the camp meeting - the camp meeting itself was never advertised in the newspaper, and likely never would have been. However, its mention in the newspaper is evidence that Methodist camp meetings were being held in the area at that time. The only reason that one was mentioned is because of the death associated with it.

One should keep in mind that Joseph Smith never used the term "revival" in his description - he simply described it as "an unusual excitement on the subject of religion." To a 14 year old who had been concerned about religion starting at age 12 after the 1817 revival, the ongoing camp meetings in the town in which he lived would certainly qualify.

Notes

  1. MormonThink.com page "The First Vision"