This is the first volume of a multi-volume work entitled The Quest for the New Jerusalem: Mormon Generational Saga
, and it ends with a listing of the titles of all sixteen volumes in this series which have been written to this point. Before discussing the first volume, it is necessary to describe the entire series. Around the year 2000 the author began a thorough investigation of his genealogical roots, and to his surprise discovered that many of his ancestors had played significant roles in the early history of America and central roles in the history of Mormonism.
Wherever he looked, his ancestors were there: during the colonial King Phillip’s and French and Indian Wars in New England; at the Battle of Bunker (actually Breed’s) Hill and on a prison ship for two years on the Hudson River during the American Revolution; on whaling ships in the south Atlantic and northern Pacific during the 1840s; at Mormon Kirtland, Far West and Nauvoo during the turbulent and often bloody events of the 1830s and 1840s; in the earliest Mormon experiments with polygamy (almost all of the author’s ancestors were polygamists); in San Francisco and Sacramento during the earliest stages of the California Gold Rush; in the immigrant ships filled with Mormon converts crossing the Atlantic; in the wagon trains carrying the “saints” across the plains to Salt Lake City; during the establishment of the Mormon Church in Hawaii in the early 1850s; in the first haltering steps toward elementary and higher education in Utah; during the “Mormon War” with the U.S. army in Utah in 1857-58; in the operation of the early Salt Lake Theater; in the building of the transcontinental railroad across Utah in 1869; in the settlement of the wild “four corners area” during the 1880s and 1890s; in the rather secret and somewhat underhanded process by which Utah became a state; and in the pioneer settlement of southern Idaho in the early 1900s.
The author felt impelled to tell these wonderful ancestral stories, and it became obvious that this could not be done without giving an account of the history of the Mormon Church—the two subjects were intimately interwoven. Furthermore, telling the linked ancestral/Mormon story, beginning in the American colonial period, could not be adequately undertaken without giving an account of significant events in the larger American story.
In recent years a number of writers have given us fascinating, generational family stories; Alex Haley’s Roots is a well known example. Haley traced his African-American family all the way back to a slave taken from a village in Africa. In 1991 Chinese-American Jung Chang’s, in her Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, told a wonderful story of three generations of Chinese women--her great grandmother, grandmother, and mother--reaching back to China. Adele Logan Alexander’s Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family is an account of several generations of the author’s African-American family. Concerning another example--James Fox’s The Langhornes of Virginia --reviewer Robert Skidelsky wrote: “It was a clever idea to use family history to write about social and political history.” What Fox does is to use “the Langhorne sisters as a peg on which to hang the story of the decline of the British aristocracy, or Empire, or both.”
John Hammond’s multi-volume Mormon Generational Saga evolved into something very similar to Fox’s, but he utilizes family history to write about religious as well as social and political history. In fact, what has emerged is a very detailed examination of the early history of the Mormon Church, with a special focus upon how that history affected his ancestors.
The series opens in the earliest years of colonial New England with an account of four of the author’s ancestral families and the early lives and ancestors of Joseph Smith, Jr., Brigham Young. In the second volume, making use of the most up-to-date historical information, the author critically examines the visionary claims of Smith during the 1820s, his creation of the Book of Mormon, the formal organization of the Mormon Church in 1830, and the early evolution of church organization. The first of the author’s ancestors to join the Church—the four Carter brothers (Simeon, John S., Gideon, and Jared) and their families--make their appearance toward the end of Volume II.
Subsequent volumes describe the Church’s move from western New York to northeastern Ohio and western Missouri, the expulsion of Church leaders and “corporate Mormonism” from these two states, the settlement of Nauvoo in Illinois, the assassination of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, the ascension of Brigham Young to the Presidency of the Church, and the exodus of the bulk of the “saints” from Illinois. During these years the author’s Spencer, Clawson, and Knowlton ancestors also joined the Church, and it profoundly affected their lives. The sixteen volumes written so far tell their complex stories, and the story of the creation and evolution of the Mormon Church, from the early 1600s in New England down to the exodus of the Church from Nauvoo in the spring of 1846. The author’s Hammond ancestor did not become a Mormon until the last day of 1847, but the story of his early life and two whaling voyages is also told.
A few examples of the important roles played in early Mormon Church history by the author’s ancestors will suffice. In the 1830s Simeon and Jared Carter served on the Kirtland and Zion (western Missouri) high councils, and their brothers John S. and Gideon died as a consequence of military conflicts with anti-Mormons in Missouri. During the Nauvoo period in the early 1840s Orson Spencer taught at the University of Nauvoo (later he was the first president of the University of Deseret, which became the University of Utah), was an alderman on the city council, and adored Joseph Smith. His brother Daniel also served on the city council and was loyal to the Mormon leader. However, an older brother, Augustine, turned against Joseph Smith over polygamy and other issues, was accused of assaulting his brother Orson, and filed the legal charges against the Mormon leader which got him arrested and incarcerated in the Carthage jail, where he was killed by a mob. After Joseph Smith’s death the author’s ancestor Martha Jane Knowlton Coray served as a scribe for Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Jr.’s mother, as she wrote down her critically important family memoir.
There is a “cast of thousands” in this epic work. In addition to the author’s ancestors and the founding Mormon leaders and their numerous plural wives, there are scores of colorful characters: Joseph Smith Jr.’s wild and crazy brother William; apostates John Corrill (laudable) and John C. Bennett (not so laudable); political figures like Illinois Governor Thomas Ford and Stephen A. Douglas (of the famous “Lincoln-Douglas debates”); colorful early San Francisco Mayor Sam Brannan; and the bizarre Walter Murray Gibson in nineteen-century Hawaii. They all played important roles in Mormon and American history, and in the lives of the author’s ancestors.
The first volume of this series, entitled Family and Mormon Church Roots: Colonial Period to 1820, focuses upon four of the author’s ancestral families during the 1600s and 1700s: the Knowltons, Spencers, Carters, and Hammonds, and considerable attention also is paid to the early lives and ancestors of Mormon Church founders Joseph Smith Jr. and Brigham Young. There are fascinating connections in colonial America between their ancestors and the author’s. In an extensive Preface, the author explains why he was moved to spend over ten years researching and writing the multi-volume Saga, noting that it deals with important questions which should be of interest to non-Mormons as well as Mormons. There also is an Introduction which discusses a number of theoretical questions, in particular the psychological and emotional attraction of mass movements, the issues regarding miraculous visionary experiences, and the objectivity-subjectivity question in the writing of history.
In Chapter 1 the author explains why, among his many ancestors, the Carters, Hammonds, Knowltons, and Spencers were placed in the spotlight. Chapter 2, entitled “New England: The New Jerusalem,” makes clear the historical and religious context in which the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were established: (1) the passionate religious conflict in England resulting from the fragmentation of Christendom brought on by the Protestant Reformation, and (2) the bloody civil war in England in the mid-1600s between the Protestant Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell, and the forces defending the Catholic King Charles I. These events profoundly affected the lives of the English people who arrived in New England in the mid-1600s, the author’s ancestors among them.
Seventeenth century terms such as “Puritan,” “Pilgrim,” “Separatists,” “Seekers,” and “Dissenters” are defined, and emphasis is placed upon how incredibly superstitious these colonists were. The critically important point also is made that they tended to look upon their voyage to America, and their establishment of ideal religious settlements here, in apocalyptic Biblical terms, expectantly viewing this as the achievement of the long-anticipated “New Jerusalem”—that miraculous event immediately preceding Christ’s Second Coming, following which the Lord would reign over a thousand years of world peace.
In succeeding chapters the lives and genealogies of the early Carters, Hammonds, Knowltons, Spencers, Youngs, and Smiths are thoroughly described. There also is a chapter on the restless and irreligious (at least until he was very old) Solomon Mack, Joseph Smith Jr.’s grandfather, and an informative description of what life was like in colonial New England—the colonists’ houses, food, drink, livelihoods, church meetinghouses, religious services, level of alcohol consumption, etc. The author and his wife have traveled extensively in New England, and have located original family homes, cemeteries where ancestors are buried, and numerous ancestral grave stones, and photographs taken at these sites are included in Volume I. Interestingly enough, the author and his wife were amazed to discover that her Jewett ancestors were in close contact with the author’s Knowlton ancestors in the 1600s and early 1700s in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and these connections are a remarkable part of the story.
In fact, one fascinating aspect of the genealogical information supplied in the first volume is the degree to which the author’s ancestors (and the ancestors of his wife) must have known each other in colonial New England, and all of them must have known the ancestors of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. It was a small world in early colonial New England, and many Americans can trace their lineage back to that interesting small world.
Since A Mormon Generational Saga is also about American history, many chapters in Volume I describe how the author’s ancestors--and the ancestors of the Smiths, Macks, and Youngs--experienced the Pequot War, King Philip’s War, the Salem Witch Trials, slavery in colonial New England, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution. Surprising information is provided as to how the author’s Knowlton ancestors in Ipswich, and Joseph Smith Jr.’s ancestors in nearby Topsfield (both towns only a few miles from Salem) played very contrary roles in the nefarious Witch Trials.
In the course of his research the author was amazed to learn that his direct ancestor Lt. Daniel Knowlton and his brother Thomas played very important roles in the American Revolutionary War. Thomas commanded the Connecticut Patriot troops at the Battle of Bunker (or Breed’s) Hill, and immediately afterwards was given command of an elite unit under General George Washington called “Knowlton’s Rangers.” Unfortunately, Thomas was killed at the Battle of Harlem Heights in New York City later in 1776, but before he died he sent a Connecticut soldier from his “Ranger” unit to spy on the British in the city, a young school teacher named Nathan Hale. Hale, as most Americans know (or should know), was captured and executed, purportedly saying, just before he was hung: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country!” Today there is an impressive statue of Thomas Knowlton outside the Connecticut statehouse in Hartford, and just inside the capitol building one finds a statue of Nathan Hale.
The author’s fifth great grandfather Lt. Daniel Knowlton, served with his brother Thomas in the French and Indian War during the 1760s, when they were mere teenagers, and there are two chapters describing their experiences in that war—which ended French control in Canada—and the American Revolution. In the latter conflict, Daniel was captured when Fort Washington surrendered to the British, shortly after his brother Thomas was killed, and he spent two horrendous years as a POW on the British army’s prison ship Jersey.
This first volume concludes with a series of chapters covering the birth of Joseph Smith Jr., and the move of his Smith family from Vermont to western New York in 1816. Among other things, particular attention is paid to the occult, magic world view of the Smith family and the youthful “treasure-seer” and “treasure-digging” activities of the founder of Mormonism. This first volume brings the epic story told in the Mormon Generational Saga up to the situation which existed just prior to Joseph Smith Jr.’s “First Vision.”