The Mormons

The history of the Mormons is one of the most unusual in the American saga. While most other religions were founded in ancient times, this religious group was created in the United States and based on a vision by Joseph Smith.

The tale indicates that he was contacted by a visitor in the 1800s with powers that directed him to a location where he would find gold tablets and a translation for instructions for a new doctrine.

stained glass window of Joseph Smith’s 1820 First Visio

The official name of the church that he founded is called the Church of Latter-day Saints, but it’s also called “Mormons” based on one of the characters in the tablets.

  • The belief system of the Mormons was so radical and contained elements that differed so much from established Christianity, the belief in being able to marry more than one person, and the practices of slavery at the time that wherever Joseph Smith took his followers they were kicked out. Smith was finally arrested and then murdered in jail and the leadership was taken over by Brigham Young. They knew that they could not survive in Middle America and went searching for a place where they could set up their religious home.
  • Brigham Young decided that the congregation should look to the west to establish their religious center and he took his 16,000 followers near the Missouri River for the winter. Once travel could again happen he and the followers headed to the Great Salt Lake Basin. They arrived in 1847 to the remote area that was over 1,000 miles from any civilization of significant size. The name given to their new home was Salt Lake City and it would be in what was eventually the State of Utah. They called the desert area Zion and named the river close by as Jordan.
  • The area that they settled in was harsh and difficult to live in. Although Young called it a “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth,” they had to try to turn the land into something that would allow food to grow. Their irrigation efforts were a small success but the first crop in was attacked by a cricket plague and then the crickets were eaten by a flock of seagulls. This strange occurrence was called the “miracle of the Seagulls.”
  • The Mormons built a large Temple at the center of the city and as they grew they continued to build until they had 325 more towns.
  • By this time the Mormons had grown to a considerable population in they decided to create a complete plan for their area, mapping it out and calling it Deseret (which translates to honeybee). They supplied the map to the government and petitioned to be a new state. The government rejected their request and instead gave them a section of land that was called Utah, named after the local Native Indian Ute tribe. Brigham Young was given the position of governor for the area.
  • The Mormons had a lot of children, but their religion was also attracting many new converts from the United States and Europe. Brigham Young died in 1877 and at his death the community of Mormons had grown to around 140,000 with almost half from British immigrants.
  • One of the biggest objections to the Mormons was their belief that a man could have multiple wives. This practice was already outlawed by the US Federal government and the government took legal action so that the Mormons couldn’t practice this belief.  Although many Mormons were arrested, others took their beliefs underground. An 1887 law was passed to remove personal rights of anyone that wouldn’t renounce the practice of polygamy (having multiple wives.
  • The mainstream Mormons had given up having multiple wives and this allowed the area of Utah to become the 45th They chose the symbol of their state to be the beehive, as the early church leaders thought the bees had the perfect concept of cooperation.

Q&A:

Who founded the Mormon religious?
Joseph Smith

Free English Lesson: Utah Pioneers
Free English Lesson: Utah Pioneers
What were some of their beliefs that caused the Mormons to be persecuted?
Multiple wives, anti-slavery

What Native Indian tribe was the source of the name for the area that the Mormons settled in?
Ute

What was chosen as the State Symbol by the Mormons?
Beehive

Who was the second leader of the Mormons?
Brigham Young

In addition to the original Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, how many more cities did the Mormons build?
325