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The American West through British Eyes, 1865 - 1900: Part 4

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Mormons

In 1846, after two decades of persecution in western New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons, began a thousand mile journey by foot to the Salt Lake Basin. This area, chosen by their leader Brigham Young as the new Zion, appeared to be both harsh and inhospitable. However, by substituting cooperative labour for the individual effort of the typical pioneer, the Mormons soon built an efficient irrigation system which turned this hostile region into a veritable oasis.

To British travellers, the Mormons were most well-known for the institution of plural marriages, and the reports of their visits to Salt Lake City harshly condemned this practice and the injustice it inflicted on Mormon women. The travellers were full of praise for the 'City of the Saints' itself, however, and commented on its cleanliness, its well-stocked stores, the spacious and tidy residential plots and the lack of saloons and gambling houses.

Brigham Young

Brigham Young (3kb)
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William Hepworth Dixon, New America. Philadelphia, 1867. (10410.bbb.17)
Copyright © The British Library

Brigham Young, (1801-1877), joined the Mormon Church in 1832, and in 1840 he was sent to Liverpool to direct missionary work in England. He stayed there until 1844, when he returned to the United States to lead the Church following the murder of its first leader by an anti-Mormon mob. Young was responsible for the exodus to the Salt Lake Basin, and for the policies of the new settlement. When the Territory of Utah was organised in 1850 he was appointed Governor by President Fillmore, and was reappointed in 1854. Young founded Deseret University, the Brigham Young Academy, the Salt Lake Theatre, and the Mormon Temple. Seeing him in the 1860s, William Hepworth Dixon referred to him as 'the Mormon Prophet, Pope, and King'.

 

The Mormon Tabernacle

Visiting Salt Lake City in 1878 and 1879, W.G. Marshall describe the Tabernacle, where Mormon services were held as 'one of the most extraordinary structures it has ever been my lot to look upon. Regarded from a distance, it may be said to resemble a great pie-dish turned upside down, and resting on pegs…It consists of an arched roof of an immense single unbroken span, 250 feet long and 150 feet wide, reaching to a height of 77 feet above the ground, and resting on the top of forty-nine massive pillars of cut sandstone…' At the time of Marshall's visit the interior was full of 'paper festoons made in imitation of flowers', which were hung from the ceiling on 24 July 1877, to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Mormon arrival in the Valley.

The Mormon Tabernacle
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W.G. Marshall, Through America.
London, 1881. (10410.s.3)
Copyright © The British Library

 

'The Hateful System'

Three Visits to America - cover (5kb)
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Emily Faithfull, Three Visits to America. New York, 1884. (10409.bb.17)
Copyright © The British Library

For many years Emily Faithfull was engaged in 'works combining philanthropy and industry for the improvement of the condition of English women.' This account of her three visits to the United States gives considerable attention to the status and opportunities available to American women. She was particularly interested in the lives of Mormon women, whom she regarded as victims in 'the hateful system of polygamy, which strikes in my opinion, the deadliest blow at the purity of family life, and involves the cruellest subjection and the most hopeless degradation of the women belonging to the community.'

 

The Beautiful Salt Lake Valley

The Rev. Samuel Manning first encountered a party of Mormons in 1873 while travelling in Egypt and Palestine. A few years later he took up their invitation to visit Salt Lake City and, like every British traveller, he marvelled at what he saw. 'It would be difficult to exaggerate the glory and beauty of the scenery of the Salt Lake Valley,' he writes, '...We passed smiling homesteads, surrounded by orchards and gardens, meadows as green as those of the Emerald Isle, fields of corn as carefully cultivated as those of England. Then the city came into view, with a foreground of lake and pastureland, a background of mountains…It is difficult to believe, what is nevertheless true, that this luxuriant fertility is entirely due to careful cultivation and to artificial irrigation.'

The Beautiful Salt Lake Valley
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Rev. Samuel Manning, American Pictures.
London, 1876. (10410.f.2)
Copyright © The British Library

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


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