A View of the Latter-day Saints in New Jersey, 1856

By February 4, 2008

Although Mormon historians usually focus primarily on the metropolis in Mormon history, there has been for most of our history a thriving presence of Latter-day Saints on the periphery. The following excerpt, taken from an 1856 New Jersey article, sheds light on Latter-day Saint life outside of Utah and the West during the 1850s.

State Gazette (Trenton) 6 September 1856

MORMONS IN NEW JERSEY.-There are a considerable number of Mormons in this state; in Monmouth, Ocean and Burlington Counties. Bill Smith, a brother of the prophet, lived for several years in Monmouth county, where he was an apostle of the new faith and made many converts. He was himself a man of vicious character, and a strong advocate of the spiritual wife system, before the church had declared in favor of polygamy as one of its doctrines. This part of the creed, however, did not meet with much favor, and his attempts to reduce it to practice finally led to his expulsion. We do not understand that, even now, the New Jersey Mormons accept polygamy as an article of their faith. Of course, a practical application of it would ensure for them the crown of martyrdom, as they would infallibly be made acquainted with the inside of the State Prison. The largest congregation of “Latter Day Saints now in this state is at Toms River where they have a church usually attended by about fifty persons. Their numbers were greater, but some thirty members have emigrated to Utah. A correspondent of the Mount Holly Mirror, writing from Hornerstown, gives some information of this peculiar sect. The shepherd of the flock was on Curtis, known as Elder Curtis -a tailor by trade, but, like many individuals who assume clerical robes, not particularly fond of labor. He appeared to be well posted in the creed of his church, and professed to be a firm believer in the genuineness of the Prophet Joe Smith.-He was one of the large number who left this State for Nauvoo, during the first excitement produced by the advent and preaching of Mormonism. Returning, however, after the destruction of that city, he again settled in Hornerstown-where he continued to practice the duties of his Eldership until November last, when he died suddenly. He had but one wife.

The Saint upon whom the mantle of Elder Curtis seems to have fallen, is an Englishman by birth, named Richard Traceder, who emigrated to America after his conversion to the faith. He is, seemingly, a man of considerable intelligence-has but one wife-and, though not an old man, has thirteen children.

A Mormon Camp Meeting is to be held near this place, shortly, under the charge of Elder Traceder. The time is not yet fixed, but it will most likely commence on Thursday, Sept. 12th. A large delegation of Saints is expected from Tom’s River and vicinity, where they are said to be quite numerous.

The society has embraced a number of respectable and wealthy farmers of this neighborhood; but now new converts are seldom made, and, with emigration and the constant falling from grace, the number is gradually dwindling down, and a few years will witness the entire extinction of Mormonism in that section of Monmouth and Ocean.[1]

__________

[1] This paper was located and transcribed by Stephen J. Fleming. See footnote 2.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period From the Archives


Comments

  1. That’s fascinating. I’ve always been very curious about about the nameless, faceless Mormons who didn’t flock to Zion, especially in the first few decades of the church. This gives me a glimpse. Thanks.

    Comment by Tom — February 4, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

  2. Dang it, David, you’ve scooped me! I’ve collected a half dozen newspaper reports of the meeting announced here, for a journal article. Guess I’d better finish it before all the gloss is off …

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 4, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  3. Sorry about that Ardis. But we both know that blogs are no where near ready to challenge academic journals for primacy. When your article get published, no one will remember this post.

    I’d recommend contacting Fleming. He did a large amount of research on the Delaware Valley, but only part of it was included in his MA thesis. I can get you his contact info, if you’re interested.

    Comment by David G. — February 4, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  4. Thanks, David, I’d appreciate it. I probably have his address somewhere in old MHA materials, but if you have it handy it would help.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 4, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

  5. Best line of the article:

    He is, seemingly, a man of considerable intelligence-has but one wife-and, though not an old man, has thirteen children.

    Comment by Christopher — February 4, 2008 @ 3:12 pm

  6. I’ve come across a shorter version of this same article in the pages of the New York Times. Also a longer report nearly a year later in the Times (“A Mormon Woods Meeting!: Three Days in a Jersey Wilderness,” Aug. 31, 1857, p. 5).

    Comment by Justin — February 4, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

  7. Thanks, Justin. What does the longer report contain?

    Comment by David G. — February 4, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

  8. A very detailed report summarizing the events of the three-day conference, including the talks and hymns.

    Three Days

    Comment by Justin — February 4, 2008 @ 8:46 pm

  9. It’s interesting that they call it a “Camp Meeting,” which brings to mind a proselytizing event, but as Justin’s link shows, it was primarily a regional conference. I guess that the press was just using language it understood to describe what the Mormons were doing.

    Comment by David G. — February 4, 2008 @ 9:50 pm


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