Thursday, August 27, 2015

The term “Country” in Early Latter-day Saints Usage in the Context of the Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith, in his 1842 letter to John Wentworth, said that Moroni informed him of “the aboriginal inhabitants of this country” and their connection with the Book of Mormon and was told that the Indians are the remnant of Book of Mormon people (“Church History” Times and Seasons 1 March 1842: 707-8). Some have recently argued that this must mean that Joseph Smith referred exclusively to the country of the United States. While the term country in early nineteenth American century usage could be used to refer to the the United States, it was also used to refer more broadly to refer to Americas generally as can be seen in the usage of early Latter-day Saint contemporaries of Joseph Smith.


Parley Pratt introduces evidence from American antiquities which includes reports of antiquities from Ohio and Central American ruins
We might fill a volume with accounts of American Antiquities, all going to show that this country has been peopled with a people, who possessed a knowledge of the arts and sciences; who built cities, cultivated the earth, and who were in possession of a written language. Parley P. Pratt, A Voice of Warning, Second edition revised (New York: J. W. Harrison, 1839, 134.
“This country” where antiquities are found in America, which in this context includes Ohio and Central America.


We consider the “Book of Mormon” as a historical and religious record, written in ancient times by a branch of the house of Israel, who peopled America, and from whom the Indians are descended.—The Book of Mormon corroborates and confirms the truth of the Scriptures, by showing that the same principles were revealed and enjoyed in a country and among a people far remote from the scenes where the Jewish bible was written. Parley P. Pratt and Elias Higbee, “An Address,” Times and Seasons 1/5 March 1840: 69).
The “country” Pratt and Higbee refer to is distinguished from that where the Jewish Bible was written. In other words, “America.”

“Again, on page 4th, you say `Mr. Bennett affirms that any one who has the slightest acquaintance with American antiquities or Indian traditions, will find abundant evidences to establish the fact, i.e. of the genuineness of the Golden Plates, or Mormon Bible, and says for confirmation of what he affirms, see Priest’s American Antiquities, and A. Davis, on the discovery of America, by the Northmen.’ You try to evade the force of the argument, and puff and blow much about establishing revelation by the opinions of antiquarians; but it is only one of your rectangulartwists, and if it does not amount to a falsehood, it is horribly screwing the king’s english, (in which you profess to be so proficient,) to make Mr. B., say that which was foreign to his heart. Mr. B’s., reference to Antiquarians, was not as you represent; but to establish the fact which youdenied, viz., the knowledge of arts and sciences among the Aborigines of the country. The works above referred to, unquestionably prove beyond the power of successful contradiction, the existence of the arts, and sciences, in this country, prior to its discovery by Europeans. But you still in your second pamphlet on page 5th, affirm that `no remains of Antiquity which can be proved to be the work of the inhabitants of this country previous to its discovery, will constitute even so much as the shadow of proof, that the sciences of reading and writing were ever knownhere.’ Here is a specimen of your consummate ignorance of American Antiquities. Mr. Priest relates accounts of writings being found in various parts, remote from European settlements, upon stones, and other substances, inscriptions upon walls, and dilapidated stone buildings; also, inscriptions upon gold plate found in ancient Indian graves. He mentions the finding of writings on parchments, deeply imbedded in the earth. Nearly all the principal papers of this country have of late published the result of the researchers Of Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood, in Central America. On the river Montigua, Monuments and Statues in abundance were found, many of which are covered with writings, and yet you say these are no proofs that the science of writing was ever known here. The system of Logic by which you arrive at your conclusion must be peculiar to yourself.”  E. Snow’s Reply to the Self-Styled Philanthropist of Chester County (1840), 2-3.

The country referred to is clearly America, whose antiquities are discussed in the works of Josiah Priest and A Davis and Stephens and Catherwood. Davis wrote about north American antiquities relating to the Vikings and the Central American ruins of Palenque. Stephens and Catherwood also wrote about Central American ruins. Clearly, country refers to America, and includes North and Central America. 


Now that such nation has once existed upon the land of America and been utterly destroyed, is evident from the history of the antiquities of the country. An extract from which I will now subjoin. Ruins of the city of Otolom, discovered in central America . . . Charles B. Thompson, Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon (Batavia, New York: D. D. Waite, 1841), 49-50.
To show that a nation once existed upon the “land of America” Thompson cites evidence from “the antiquities of the country” which include ruins of Otolom, a Central American city. The “country” refers to the “land of America” which in this context includes Central America.


 “If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously  prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized—that a great and a mighty people had inherited this continent—that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent.  Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing.  The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala, and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people--men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent.  Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormon unfolds their history.” Ed., “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons 3/18 (15 July, 1842): 860. 

The writer speaks of those who are investigating “the history of this country” and suggests that the Book of Mormon might shed light on their queries. His speaks of this continent as distinguished from the “continent of Asia.” “This continent” clearly refers here to the American continent. His reference to the discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood shows that in his view the country in question not only includes Tennessee, Canada, the Mississippi, and Florida, but also Central America, the region of Stephens travels and discoveries.


 “In the Book of Mormon are given the names and locations of numerous cities of great magnitude, which once flourished among the ancient nations of America. The northern portions of South America, and also Central America, were the most densely populated. Splendid edifices, palaces, towers, forts, and cities were reared in all directions. A careful reader of that interesting book, can trace the relative bearings and distances of many of these cities from each other; and, if acquainted with the present geographical features of the country, he can, by the descriptions given in that book, determine, very nearly, the precise spot of ground they once occupied. Now, since that invaluable book made its appearance in print, it is a remarkable fact, that the mouldering ruins of many splendid edifices and towers, and magnificent cities of great extent, have been discovered by Catherwood and Stephens in the interior wilds of Central America, in the very region where the ancient cities described in the Book of Mormon were said to exist. Here then, is a certain and indisputable evidence that this illiterate youth–the translator of the Book of Mormon, was inspired of God. Mr. Smith’s translation describes the region of country where great and populous cities anciently existed, together with their relative bearings and approximate distances from each other. Years after, Messrs. Catherwood and Stephens discover the ruins of forty-four of these very cities, and in the very place described. What but the power of God, could have revealed beforehand this unknown fact, demonstrated years after by actual discovery?” Orson Pratt, “Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?” Millennial Star 10/19 (1 October, 1848): 289.
For Orson Pratt, the “country” referred to is America, which in this context includes Central and South America, and likely North America as well.

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