From the Archives: “Mormonism in New York and Utah.”

By January 26, 2011

From Evangelical Christendom 12 (1870), 27.

Evangelical Christendom, published out of London, was the official journal of the World Evangelical Alliance, organized in Britain in 1846 to coordinate and promote evangelical mission work around the globe.  (An American affiliate was organized in New York City in  1847.) The journal was annual, but also comprehensive; routinely hundreds of pages long, containing book reviews, conference reports, missionary dispatches from around the globe, and a section entitled “Foreign Intelligencer,” made up of dispatches from countries around the world on the state of evangelical religion.   “Mormonism in New York and Utah” is one of these.


It is announced in the New York that a Mormon temple is to be erected that city. It is to be a house of reception for the multitudes of Mormon emigrants who must pass through New York on their way to Salt Lake City. The entire cost of the building will be about half a million dollars, and a committee is already on the ground drafting plans. The proportions of this enterprise indicate the extent of the missionary operations of the Mormons. Their efforts to proselyte the poor and ignorant are indefatigable and are supported by necessary funds from the overflowing treasury in Salt Lake City. It is said that Brigham Young is sending out 2,000 missionaries or agents this year and that the immigration into Utah territory will be unprecedented. The number of Mormons in New York and Brooklyn is increasing, says the New York Observer. In order to escape the penalty of the laws against polygamy they do not legally marry their wives but “live in a state of concubinage amenable to no law.” But they all look forward eagerly to removing to the Mormon capital in Utah.

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


  1. fascinating. I love how Brooklyn and New York are two different places (and yes, I know that historically they were considered two different places).

    They really played up the “menace” of the Mormons, with their 2000 missionaries, or agents, unprecedented in nature. It really plays up the whole “other” nature of the Mormons at the time.

    Comment by Dan — January 26, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  2. Matt, this is really interesting and I wish we had more to contextualize it. How many Mormons were actually coming through New York on their way west at this time? Was there a permanent branch of the church in the area? Could the church have actually been planning to construct some sort of edifice in NYC to facilitate immigration and this press mistakenly called it a temple?

    Comment by Christopher — January 26, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  3. This is fascinating, Matt.

    I find it interesting that they use “temple” here, seemingly as a way to drive fear similar to how Christians sometimes use “mosque.” It’d be interesting to see how Protestants use images of other religions’ sacred places as exotic threats.

    Comment by Ben — January 26, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  4. Speculation as to the tiny germ that may have sparked this monstrous exaggeration:

    All immigrants through New York had to pass through Castle Garden. Most immigrants were on their own, coming independently without the aid of the kind of system the Mormons had in place, which required a number of services to be offered to immigrants to get them on their way. The costs for these services were charged by the bureaucracy to the railroad companies that picked up the immigrants, on a per-head basis regardless of how much or how little of the offered immigrant services were used. These charges caused the railroad agents with whom the Church had contracted in 1869 to lose money on their Mormon passenger contracts, at least for the last two companies forwarded that year.

    1870 was the year that the Church’s emigration agent pitted the different railroad companies against each other, threatening to bring Mormon immigrants through ports other than New York if favorable rates could not be negotiated. Since the Mormon business was so extensive and profitable (when the new Castle Garden fees were taken into account during pricing), the railroads did eventually meet Mormon demands.

    Mormon immigration business really was big stuff in the years around 1870 — while we may not have had huge numbers, we were the most recognizable, best organized, most talked about immigration system. I wonder if the stir over Mormon immigration that year, together with the usual and even unusual sensational stuff about Mormonism (August 1870 was the date of the Salt Lake debates between Orson Pratt and Dr. Newman, which were covered extensively in the New York papers) might not have led to speculation that the Mormons were going to pull out of the usual immigration path and go it alone.

    And yeah, we did have congregations in both Williamsburg (Brooklyn side) and Manhattan in 1870. Williamsburg had several hundred members in its congregation, many of whom were immigrants of 1870 and earlier years unprepared financial to travel further. Manhattan was much smaller, and less able to present itself well — they met in rented quarters on the third floor of a building, above an oyster bar and liquor saloon.

    (sigh. Usual apologies for too long a comment.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 26, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  5. * unprepared financially

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 26, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

  6. Thanks, Ardis!

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 26, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  7. Ardis, when Matt told me about this document this morning, my comment was something along the lines of, “I bet Ardis has some useful info to help contextualize this.” 🙂

    Comment by Christopher — January 26, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  8. Wow. That was extraordinary, Ardis. Chris was right.

    Comment by matt b. — January 27, 2011 @ 1:13 am

  9. It’s not just that Brooklyn and New York were “considered” different places, Dan. They were separate cities, until that black day, January 1, 1898, when “Greater New York” was established by consolidating all five counties into one city.

    I don’t know whether all of Kings County was part of the city of Brooklyn in 1870–or whether Williamsburg and Flatbush and New Utrecht, etc., were still considered separate towns. The farmers of Canarsie (some of whom kept at it until the end of World War II) probably did not consider themselves part of the City of Brooklyn.

    Some of the older people in Brooklyn 30 years ago would talk about going “over to New York” and even today it’s common for people to talk about going “into the city.” In fact, my son used those exact words on Wednesday. I guess a population approaching 3,000,000 still doesn’t make us a city.

    Oh, and everything Ardis said is true. And, Dan, Brooklyn and New York are still different places!

    Comment by Mark B. — January 28, 2011 @ 7:43 am

  10. Christopher wrote:

    “How many Mormons were actually coming through New York on their way west at this time? Was there a permanent branch of the church in the area? Could the church have actually been planning to construct some sort of edifice in NYC to facilitate immigration and this press mistakenly called it a temple?”

    I suspect this article is drawing on a New York Times (??) article from a year or two earlier that talked about plans to build a ‘Temple’ in New York City. That article was based on an interview with a local Mormon leader (I’ll have to find it and try to get it online). My own assumption is that it was a local pipe dream.

    To answer Christopher’s questions, first, immigrants passing through NYC in the late 1860s to early 1870s amounted to several thousand a year. The vast majority did not stay long (usually 1 night), but it was fairly common for a few to need to stay, and occasionally for entire immigration companies to stay (generally smaller companies of less than 50).

    Ardis is right about the two branches in New York, although as far as I can tell they gradually diminished and disappeared over the years as the Church got better at not losing members in transit. I have the impression that as time went on the companies didn’t even stay in NYC overnight.

    The Times article does indicate that the plans for the “Temple” included a facility where immigrants could stay temporarily, but it also seems to have been at least a chapel. From the context, it could well have been the Times reporter who called it a Temple, and not the local leader. I assume it was a chapel.

    If I can find the Times article, I’ll post a reference.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 15, 2011 @ 6:26 am

  11. “Metropolitan Mormons” New York Times, 10 November 1869

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 15, 2011 @ 7:02 am

  12. You can find the text of the Times article here:

    Metropolitan Mormons

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 15, 2011 @ 7:13 am

  13. Thanks, Kent.

    Comment by Christopher — February 15, 2011 @ 9:43 am

  14. Thanks, Kent. The Times piece seems interestingly well-disposed to Mormonism.

    Comment by matt b — February 15, 2011 @ 10:11 am


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