O Pioneers!

Seth reads the Book of Mormon. Photo by Beth Doyle.

For many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the experience of holding and reading a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon—including one of the two held at the RBMSCL—elicits reverence and profound emotion.

According to the church, the Book of Mormon is the record of ancient Americans and their relationship to God, and includes a visit from Christ after his resurrection. Joseph Smith, under God’s direction, received and translated the work before its 1830 publication in Palmyra, New York, and reestablished the priesthood and Christ’s church.

While the information contained within the Book of Mormon can be found in any of the over one hundred million copies (in 108 different languages), a copy of the first edition represents a physical connection to a prophet, the church’s origins, and God. Indeed, it is among the most requested of our holdings.

From the start, the church suffered intense persecution, moving several times from New York to Kirtland, Ohio to Missouri to Nauvoo, Illinois. This persecution eventually resulted in the death of Joseph Smith and the start of a great western migration lead by religious leader Brigham Young (in time, Young would be sustained as a prophet and Joseph Smith’s successor as the president of the church).

Beginning in April of 1847, Young lead approximately 70,000 pioneers on a western migration from Illinois. On July 24th of that year, weary pioneers arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley, their new home and the future capital city of Utah. This day is celebrated annually by the Latter-Day Saints as Pioneer Day.

Brigham Young prayed that God would grant the pioneers 10 years of peace, which they received almost to the day. In 1857, based on fictitious reports of a “Utah Rebellion,” President James Buchanan appointed Alfred Cumming to replace Young as governor of Utah Territory and sent 2,500 soldiers to quell the supposed uprising. Upon arrival, Cummings discovered a people fearful of attack but respectful of his new position as governor. This experience is documented in the correspondence between Young and Cumming found in the RBMSCL’s Alfred Cumming Papers. These letters, like the first edition copies of the Book of Mormon, represent a relationship to a prophet and a history and are available for you to come see.

Post contributed by Seth Shaw, Electronic Records Archivist. Thanks to Kelly Wooten, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian, for suggesting this post and to Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, for the photograph.

3 thoughts on “O Pioneers!”

  1. You are right. If I were able to hold a first copy of the Book of Mormon that would be an almost religious experience. Joseph Smith is document really well on the site Joseph Smith Papers. Thanks for sharing this article.

    1. @Chris, we’re glad you found this post, and thanks for sharing additional resources!

  2. To hold an original copy of the Book of Mormon would be most amazing. I just watched a video from an old General Conference where Elder Holland held up Hyrum Smith’s personal copy of the Book of Mormon. Imagine that!

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