Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America


Abdy, E. S. (Edward Strutt), 1791-1846 Abdy, E. S. (Edward Strutt), 1791-1846

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Abdy, E. S. Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834, 3:40–41, 54–59. London: John Murray, 1835.







“As far as experience may shew errors in our establishments, we are bound to correct them; and, if any practices exist contrary to the principles of justice and humanity, within the reach of our laws or our influence, we are inexcusable if we do not exert ourselves to restrain and abolish them.”— D. WEBSTER, Discourse at Plymouth on the second centenary of the settlement of New England.

“The distinction of color is unknown in Europe.”— Speech of Chancellor KENT in the New York State Convention.





I found, in the course of conversation, that the Kentuckian was well acquainted with the Mormons, or Mormonites, some of whom had been settled in the neighborhood before they went further to the west. Their present number, he thought, amounted to five or six thousand. The founder of the sect (Smith) had published what he called his seal.[40] There were six remaining to be revealed, as the world became prepared to receive them. It is partly historical and partly prophetic and didactic. The members of the society live in common; and their intercourse with one another is characterised by equality and harmony. They have some excellent preachers among them, and are the most moral well-behaved people my informant ever knew. They maintain that the Indian tribes will finally recover their lands, and the blacks gain the ascendancy over the whites. Their practice corresponds with their principles; and no invidious distinctions are allowed to humiliate one portion of the community and elevate the other. In such opinions and habits it is easy to perceive the causes of that hatred and hostility by which they have been assailed.[41] ....

Though I had no opportunity of visiting any Mormon settlement, I am enabled to give some account of the people to be found there,—a society that appears to be adding very rapidly to its numbers, if credit is to be given to one of the preachers, who signs his name “Gladden Bishop” to a letter recently published in one of the newspapers of the country. He there states, that there are already 20,000 converts to the doctrines he professes; that they have 800 ministers, though there were but six in 1830, when the sect first became known: that two printing-offices, as many stores, and a large meeting-house, built of stone, belong to them.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the new faith, who is reported to have recently been shot in a conflict with his enemies, published, a few years ago, “an account, written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi.” As the “account” was, when found, in “an unknown tongue”, the world would have been but little the better or the wiser for it, if the discoverer of this precious document had not been inspired to interpret its contents. Whether through delusion or collusion, there were found eleven persons willing to testify, by their signatures, to the truth of this apocalypse. Eight names of living and respectable witnesses were affixed to one certificate, and three to another. The former [54] had this declaration: “We have seen and hefted and know of a surety, that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken: and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which have the appearance of ancient work and of curious workmanship.” The other was to the same effect. “That an angel of God”, such are the words used, “came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon.”

Absurd as this “account” is, or perhaps because it is absurd, it has imposed upon many; while the prophet, under whose standard they are gathering, has contrived, by his cunning, to reconcile attachment to received truths with the natural love of the new and the marvellous. In acknowledging the authenticity of the Bible, he brings forward a supplement to its supposed omissions, and interweaves its doctrines and sanctions with the narrative of his own mission.

The chief peculiarities of the sect are the gift of preaching in unknown tongues, plainness of apparel, and gratuitous services in all who are chosen to minister to the secular and spiritual wants of the community. One passage in this curious Koran clearly points to the place of its concoction, and the prepossessions of its author; who would doubtless ground a claim for the prophetic spirit on this very objection from the unbeliever. It alludes, most un-[55]equivocally, to the free-masons; Ontario county, in the State of New York, being the place where Morgan’s murder excited such a spirit of hostility to “the craft.” “Satan”, says the plate, “did stir up the hearts of the more part of the Nephites, insomuch that they did unite with those bands of robbers, and did enter into their covenants and their oaths, that they would protect and preserve one another, in whatever difficult circumstances they should be placed; that they should not suffer for their murders, and their plunderings, and their stealings. And it came to pass, that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words: and this that they might distinguish a brother, who had entered into the covenant, that, whatever wickedness his brother should do, he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant: and whosoever of their band should reveal unto the world their wickedness and their abominations, should be tried, not according to the laws of their country, but according to the laws of their wickedness which had been given by Gadianton and Kishkumen.”

The prophetic and didactic portions of Smith’s work are such as might be expected from one, who would make a belief in the Christian revelation subservient to his purposes. The historical part chiefly narrates the deeds and misdeeds of the Lamanites and Nephites— descended from Laman aud Nephi; [56] two out of four brothers, who, with their parents, Lehi and Sarai, fled, in the first year of King Zedekiah, from the ill-fated city of Jerusalem into the wilderness. The plates had been previously obtained by their father, who sent his sons back to their former place of abode for these genealogical records of his family. Lehi is described as a lineal descendant of Joseph, the son of Jacob. The Lamanites represent the rebellious, and the Nephites the obedient, portion of the family; and, through them, of the whole human race. Nephi, the youngest son, built, in obedience to the commands of the Holy Spirit, a vessel, in which the whole family sailed to a distant and an unknown land. Our Saviour, after his resurrection, is described as appearing, in the character of teacher, to the Nephites—the chosen people of the New World, who were ultimately subdued by their less worthy kindred. The “plates” were, we are told, “hid up unto the Lord in the earth, to be brought forth in due time by the hand of the Gentile.” Such is the outline, which the fortunes and characters of the two great branches, that sprang from the adventurous Patriarch, who first planted himself in the western wilds, present.

Their disputes and reconciliations; their wars and their alliances, are detailed with tedious minuteness; and the mounds of earth, which, as they now exist in that part of the country, have given rise to so much interest and [57] speculation, are referred to, by the preachers of the Mormon faith, as proofs of the existence of these theocratic tribes.

As the promulgators of this extraordinary legend maintain the natural equality of mankind, without excepting the native Indians or the African race, there is little reason to be surprised at the cruel persecution by which they have suffered, and still less at the continued accession of converts among those who sympathize with the wrongs of others or seek an asylum for their own.

The preachers and believers of the following doctrines were not likely to remain, unmolested, in the State of Missouri.

“The Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal, &c. He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness: and he denieth none that come unto him; black and white—bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

Again: “Behold! the Lamanites, your brethren, whom ye hate, because of their filthiness and the cursings which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father, &c. Wherefore the Lord God will not destroy them; but will be merciful to them; and one day they shall become [58] a blessed people.” “O my brethren, I fear, that, unless ye shall repent of your sins, that their skins shall be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God*.

Wherefore a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins,” &c. “The king saith unto him, yea! if the Lord saith unto us, go! we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves, until we repair unto them the many murders and sins, which we have committed against them. But Ammon saith unto him, it is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should any slaves among them. Therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.”

*This ridiculous notion is to be found, where few would think of looking for it, in Dr. Lettsom’s letters. Speaking of one among the patrimonial slaves whom he had emancipated, the benevolent Quaker says, quite unconscious that he was sanctioning a distinction equally foolish and wicked,—”Poor Teresa! Thou little thinkest how much thy master values thy present. He will probably never see thee in this world! In the next thou mayest appear white as an European, and happy as he who has said ‘be free!’”

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