A DIVIDED MORMON ZION:
NORTHEASTERN OHIO OR WESTERN MISSOURI?
This is Volume III of an epic, multi-volume work entitled The Quest for the New Jerusalem: A Mormon Generation Saga, which combines family, Mormon, and American history, focusing upon how the author’s ancestors were affected by their conversion to the Mormon religion. In Volume I, four of the author’s ancestral families—the Carters, Hammonds, Knowltons, and Spencer’s—and the ancestors of Mormon Church founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, are followed from the time they enter the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in the 1600s down to the early 1800s. Toward the end of Volume I, the focus is upon Joseph Smith and his family, including their move from Vermont to western New York and their religious and occult “magic worldviews.”
Volume II takes up the narrative at about the year 1820, and involves a detailed, comprehensive, and critical look at the events in the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., during the decade in which he purportedly was visited by numerous heavenly messengers, received the “golden plates,” translated the writing on the plates to produce the Book of Mormon, received priesthood authority from other heavenly messengers, published the Book of Mormon, and organized the Mormon Church. There is a detailed examination of the contentious debate concerning the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the validity of Smith’s 1820s visionary experiences. The later chapters describe the movement of Church headquarters from western New York to northeastern Ohio in early 1831, Smith’s interest in western Missouri as the site for his New Jerusalem/Zion, and the conversion of the author’s direct ancestor Simeon Daggett Carter.
Volume III begins with a detailed look at the life of Sidney Rigdon, who played a significant role in the development of the Campbellite, Reformed Baptist, Disciples of Christ Church. When he became a Mormon in late 1830, he helped bring about the conversion of hundreds of his friends in the Campbellite movement, which caused Joseph Smith Jr. in early 1831 to change the headquarters of his fledgling Mormon Church from western New York to northeastern Ohio. A remarkable fusion then took place between Mormonism, as it had been formulated initially by Smith, and the new Campbellite doctrines, practices, and organization.
In the summer of 1831 Smith and Rigdon visited Jackson County, Missouri, and numerous Smith revelations formally designated it as the site for the New Jerusalem/Zion, where, immediately after the city was built, Christ’s Second Coming was to occur. The sites for the city and a temple were dedicated at Independence, but Smith returned to Ohio, continued to live at Kirtland, and made the decision to build the first temple there, much to the chagrin of the Mormons who had obeyed his revelations and were “gathering” to Missouri. This led to a serious rift between Ohio and Missouri leaders, many of the latter Smith’s earliest disciples from New York.
Ancestrally, the focus of this volume is upon the four Carter brothers—Simeon, John S., Gideon, and Jared--who joined the Mormon Church in the 1831-32 period. While Simeon (the author’s great, great grandfather) did not keep a journal, and Gideon’s journal is very brief, Jared’s is one of the most important documents in early Mormon history, and John S.’s shorter journal is also very valuable. Jared was a kind of religious fanatic--with utopian views on faith healing, the power of prayer, and prophecy--yet nevertheless he became president of the Kirtland High Council and a member of the prestigious three-man Kirtland Temple (Building) Committee. John S. became a leader of the Church in the northeastern New York/Vermont region and brought a large company of saints to Kirtland in early 1833. All four Carter brothers became important early missionaries, and four separate chapters document their activities.