In 1831, just a year after the organization of Joseph Smith’s Church of Christ, an anonymous author wrote an article in the Painesville Telegraph regarding the new religion. He argued that whether Mormonism was the true restoration of the ancient Apostolic Church or not, the Mormons had no “proof” of their “honesty.” Explaining himself, he said,
They can give none but their own assertion; they have no sacrifice to make-no loss of fortune or reputation to sustain-they are in a land of liberty. . . . [The early Christians] had to forsake their relatives, leave their possessions, and forfeit their [reputation]. Scourging and torture, imprisonment and death, were often staring them in the face . . . Thirteen apostles, all, save one, sealed their testimony with their blood. So, whether their religion was true or false, they proved their honesty.
As Spencer Fluhman has noted, “Mormonism, replete with its own losses and martyrs … [eventually] proved its honesty.” While mob violence directed at the Saints in the 1830s and 40s and federal prosecution of polygamists in the 1880s detail that early Mormons did indeed endure many of the qualifications outlined by the anonymous author as necessary to “prove their honesty,” perhaps the most powerful device in confirming to the Saints that their religion was honest, sincere, and in the end, true, was still “their own assertion.” The way Mormons remember their persecution and how they have used their identity as a persecuted people has been the topic of numerous posts by JI’s own David G. (see here, here, and here for examples). David’s research suggests that this discourse on persecution (which others have noted “was the single most salient conference topic of [this] generation”) was a key theme in shaping a Latter-day Saint sense of identity as a separate and chosen people.
My own research on travel writers’ impressions of the Mormons in 19th-century Utah led me to wonder how Mormon discourse on the theme of persecution was seen by these gentile visitors, whose “first impressions of Mormons were frequently formed at Sunday Worship.” The results of my research were intriguing. While nearly all travelers who stayed in Utah long enough to either hear a Mormon sermon or two mentioned this Mormon emphasis on their persecuted past (and present), the reactions to this discourse were varied.
Some travelers, like Howard Stansbury and John Gunnison, noted that Mormon leaders invoked memory of past persecution in Missouri and Illinois in order ro demonstrate the failure of the U.S. government to enforce Constitutional rights and to serve as evidence that the Latter-day Saints were true Americans, faithfully loyal to constitutional ideals despite their denial of these principles. Others, including Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Sir Richard Francis Burton, and Horace Greeley, suggested that the Latter-day Saints saw in their persecutions evidence of divine chosenness and a connection with the early Christian church and its martyrs. When Greeley asked Brigham Young for an explanation of regarding “the aversion and hatred with which your people are generally regarded by those among whom they have lived,” Brigham simply replied, “No other explanation than is afforded by the crucifixion of Christ and the kindred treatment of God’s ministers, prophets and saints, in all ages.” When Sir Richard Burton asked John Taylor a similar question, Taylor asnwered that while “no one claimed immaculateness for the Mormons,” persecution had been the heritage of the faithful Saints from their earliest days, and noted that similar circumstances followed “the Christians in the days of Nero.”
The responses of these various travel writers confirms the notion that Latter-day Saint memory of persecution served a variety of purposes. However, Mormon discourse on their persecuted past did have one unifying effect on the collective impression of travel writers and gentile observers: it demonstrated that Mormons were distinct and set apart from the rest of the world. And if Jules Remy’s commentary on this form of Mormon discourse is evident of others’ impressions, then perhaps Mormons had come a long way since 1831 and, to some degree, proved their honesty and sincerity:
I cannot help thinking there is in this language something more than rhetoric. I seem to hear in it the accent of conviction and sincere belief; and though we may pity those who listen to it, and who think they hear in it the voice of truth, it would require more courage to blame them than I possess.
 M.S.C., “Mormonism,” Painesville Telegraph 2 (second series), no. 35 (February 15, 1831): 1-2. J. Spencer Fluhman, “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America,” (PhD Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006): 294-295.
 Gordon Shepherd and Gary Shepherd, A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 82.
 Karen M. Morin and Jeanne Kay Guelke, “Strategies of Representation, Relationship, and Resistance: British Women Travelers and Mormons Plural Wives, ca. 1870-1890,” in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 88, No. 3 (Sep. 1998), 444.
 I surveyed 20 travel narratives written by travelers to Utah in the 19th century who stopped to observe the Mormons. Narratives were intentionally selected to include a wide range of travelers–both men and women, both European and American, and both friendly and antagonistic in their general impressions of the Saints. At least two travelogues from each decade of the second half of the nineteenth-century are represented. Out of the twenty narratives surveyed, fifteen yielded at least a comment on Mormons explaining their persecuted past to the travelers.
 See Howard Stansbury, Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah (Washington: Robert Armstrong, 1853), and J.W. Gunnison, The Mormons, or, Latter-day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Philadelphia, 1853).
 “Horace Greeley Interviews Brigham Young,” in Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, ed. William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (Lincoln: University of Nebraksa Press, 1973), 324-25.
 Sir Richard Francis Burton, The City of the Saints: Among the Mormons and Across the Rocky Mountains to California (Santa Barbara, California: the Narrative Press, 2003), 198.
 Jules Remy, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City (London, 1861), 2:80-81.
I presented a fuller treatment of this subject at the 55th Annual Utah State History Conference on September 7, 2007.