Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Religions of Palmyra, New York

In Palmyra, N.Y.,  before the white man came, lived the Cayuga and Seneca Indians  Their displacement after the Revolution, when many went to Canada, opened the door to the white settlers.  Land was sold by speculators and the Erie Canal in 1825 opened the floodgates to rapid growth.  Incidents in this area raised social and religious issues of national importance.  In 1826 the disappearance of William Morgan produced the Anti-Masonic movement.  The vision of Joseph Smith on the Hill of Cumorah near Palmyra resulted in the Book of Mormon and the founding of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  The home of the Fox Sisters in a nearby community is regarded as the birthplace of spiritualism.  --from a Historical Marker in the town.

Palmyra, N.Y. seems to have been a hotbed of religious turmoil during the early 1800's.  The first thing I noticed upon entering the town is that there appears to be a separate church for almost every family in Palmyra.  This particular intersection of the main street alone has four large churches, all different faiths, but the steeples are all equal in height.  If you look closely in the photo below you will see all four steeples.

According to Wikipedia:
The first controversy centers around William, Morgan in 1826.  After Morgan announced his intention to publish a book exposing Freemasonry's secrets, he was arrested on trumped-up charges.  He disappeared soon after, and is believed to have been kidnapped and murdered by some Masons.
This started the new Anti-Masonic Political Party in opposition to Andrew Jackson (a Mason?)

The second controversy occurred at approx the same time...

In 1818 Joseph Smith Sr., his wife Lucy and their eight children moved from Palmyra village to the outskirts of town and built a log home on this site.  

Joseph Smith, Jr. 1805-1844, was founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement.  He published the Book of Mormon at age 24 and by the time of his death had attracted tens of thousands of followers. --Wikipedia

He was 13 years old when the family moved here.  

Two young ladies gave me a tour of the Smith homestead.  Their dedication to the history of Joseph Smith was clearly evident throughout the tour.

This drawing of Joseph Smith appears on the brochure that is handed out.  Those blue eyes may have something to do with such ardent dedication.

The house  on the property is a reproduction as the original house was burned. The furnishings are mainly from the original homestead.

"When Joseph Smith, Jr. was 14 years old, he wanted to know which church he should join, so he asked god in a prayer.  In response to this prayer, it is claimed that God and his son, Jesus, appeared to Joseph and told him that the other religions were  all wrong, their creeds were all wrong,  and Joseph was to form the 'True' church of Jesus Christ."--From their Brochure 

I followed the path to the grove of trees that were the site of the visions.

 More visions followed.  As Joseph, Jr. shared his visions with others he began to be persecuted 'by those who ought to have been my friends.' (from his own writings.)

"On Sept. 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph.  Angel Moroni said there was a book buried, written upon gold plates giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent.  

Eventually the vision told Joseph where he could find the gold plates and how to transcribe them into the Book of Mormon.
Those gold plates were buried in the hill, Cumorah.  I didn't make it to the hill but there is a plaque there that commemorates the event.

It took several years for Joseph to finish the translations.

During that time he tried to convince others of his visions.


In late June 1829, Joseph Smith Jr. gathered a small group of his family and friends to a secluded spot in these woods ...

...and showed them the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
They were convinced and the small new sect began to grow.

Smith's authority was soon undermined when others in the group also claimed to receive revelations from on high.  With growing opposition from friends and towns people applying negative pressure,  Smith had another revelation.  It was that the New Jerusalem was located not in Palmyra but in Kirtland, Ohio and he and his followers needed to move there. In Kirtland Smith's followers increased even more and the group finally expanded from Kirtland into Nauvoo, Ill where Smith became mayor, then opted to run for President of the U.S.  

 He ultimately was arrested and charged with destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper that revealed that Smith was a practicing polygamist.  He was imprisoned in Carthage and was shot and killed by a mob that stormed the jailhouse. 

Brigham Young, who had joined Smith in Kirkland,  led the thousands of Mormons west away from the conflict to eventually settle in  Salt Lake City where they thrive today.  

And lastly,  the Fox sisters were three siblings from the same area who played an important role in the creation of Spiritualism. (Leah, Margaret and Kate)  The two younger sisters, Margaret and Kate, used 'rapping' to convince their much older sister and others that they were communicating with spirits.  Their older sister was convinced, then took charge of the younger two,  managed their careers and they all became  successful as mediums for many years.
In 1888, Margaret and Kate confessed that their rapping had been a hoax and they publicly demonstrated their method.  This confession ruined their reputations and the business but Spiritualism continued as if they had never confessed.

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity there are between 35,000 and 40,000 separate denominations of Christianity in the world today.  And, undoubtedly, each and every one of them is presented as the 'true faith' by its followers.

Note:  While I was in Palmyra I did not have a vision or meet a Spirit but I was careful not to drink the water.


  1. I love your wry observations, Toni.

  2. And I love your comments, Doris. Thank you.

  3. Hahaha! An interesting stop indeed! Were the "seer stones" anywhere to be seen?