I was born in Sharon, Vermont

December 24, 2007 | 16 comments
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Yesterday was Joseph Smith’s birthday. I wonder sometimes how important it is to us in the 21st century that he was born in Vermont, given that the narratives we use to discuss Joseph usually skip his birthplace altogether and fast forward to New York. In the 1840s, however, as the Saints struggled to win support in their redress efforts against Missouri, casting Joseph as a son of Vermont was a crucial component to the image of the Prophet. The following is Joseph’s appeal to the Green Mountain Boys, taken from HC 6:88-93.

I was born in Sharon, Vermont, in 1805, where the first quarter of my life grew with the growth and strengthened with the strength of that “first-born” State of the “United Thirteen.” From the old “French War” to the final consummation of American Independence, my fathers, heart to heart, and shoulder to shoulder, with the noble fathers of our liberty, fought and bled; and with the most of that venerable band of patriots, they have gone to rest, bequeathing a glorious country, with all her inherent rights, to millions of posterity. Like other honest citizens, I not only (when manhood came,) sought my own peace, prosperity, and happiness, but also the peace, prosperity, and happiness of my friends; and, with all the rights and realm before me, and the revelations of Jesus Christ to guide me into all truth, I had good reasons to enter into the blessings and privileges of an American citizen, the rights of a Green Mountain Boy, unmolested, and enjoy life and religion according to the most virtuous and enlightened customs, rules, and etiquette of the nineteenth century. But, to the disgrace of the United States, it is not so. These rights and privileges, together with a large amount of property, have been wrested from me, and thousands of my friends, by lawless mobs in Missouri, supported by executive authority; and the crime of plundering our property, and the unconstitutional and barbarous act of our expulsion, and even the inhumanity of murdering men, women, and children, have received the pass-word of “justifiable” by legislative enactments; and the horrid deeds, doleful and disgraceful as they are, have been paid for by Government.

In vain have we sought for redress of grievances and a restoration to our rights in the courts and legislature of Missouri. In vain have we sought for our rights and the remuneration for our property in the halls of Congress and at the hands of the President. The only consolation yet experienced from these highest tribunals and mercy-seats of our bleeding country is that our cause is just, but the Government has no power to redress us.

Our arms were forcibly taken from us by those Missouri marauders; and, in spite of every effort to have them returned, the State of Missouri still retains them: and the United States militia law, with this fact before the Government, still compels us to military duty; and, for a lack of said arms, the law forces us to pay fines. As Shakespeare would say “thereby hangs a tale.”

Several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of land in Missouri was purchased at the United States Land Offices in that district of country and the money, without doubt, has been appropriated to strengthen the army and navy, or increase the power and glory of the nation in some other way. And notwithstanding Missouri has robbed and mobbed me and twelve or fifteen thousand innocent inhabitants, murdered hundreds, and expelled the residue, at the point of the bayonet, without law, contrary to the express language of the Constitution of the United States and every State in the Union, and contrary to the custom and usage of civilized nations, and especially one holding up the motto, “The asylum of the oppressed.”yet the comfort we receive to raise our wounded bodies and invigorate our troubled spirits, on account of such immense sacrifices of life, property, patience, and right, and as an equivalent for the enormous taxes we are compelled to pay to support these functionaries in a dignified manner, after we have petitioned and pleaded with tears, and been showed like a caravan of foreign animals, for the peculiar gratification of connoiseurs in humanity, that flare along in public life like lamps upon lamp-posts, because they are better calculated for the schemes of the night than for the scenes of the day, is, as President Van Buren said, Your cause is just, but Government has no power to redress you!

No wonder, after the Pharisee’s prayer, the publican smote his breast and said, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner!”What must the manacled nations think of freemen’s rights in the land of liberty?

Now, therefore, having failed in every attempt to obtain satisfaction at the tribunals, where all men seek for it, according to the rules of right, I am compelled to appeal to the honor and patriotism of my native State-to the clemency and valor of “Green Mountain Boys;” for throughout the various periods of the world, whenever a nation, kingdom, state, family, or individual has received an insult or an injury from a superior force. (unless satisfaction was made,) it has been the custom to call in the aid of friends to assist in obtaining redress. For proof we have only to refer to the recovery of Lot and his effects by Abraham in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, or to turn to the relief afforded by France and Holland for the achievement of the Independence of these United States, without bringing up the great bulk of historical facts, rules, laws, decrees, and treaties, and Bible records, by which nations have been governed, to show that mutual alliance for the general benefit of mankind to retaliate and repel foreign aggressions. To punish and prevent home wrongs, when the conservators of justice and the laws have failed to afford a remedy, are not only common and in the highest sense justifiable and wise, but they are also poorer expedients to promote the enjoyment of equal rights, the pursuit of happiness, the preservation of life, and the benefit of posterity.

With all these facts before me, and a pure desire to ameliorate the condition of the poor and unfortunate among men, and, if possible, to entice all men from evil to good, and with firm reliance that God will reward the just, I have been stimulated to call upon my native State for a “union of all honest men,” and to appeal to the valor of the “Green Mountain Boys” by all honorable methods and means to assist me in obtaining justice from Missouri, not only for the property she has stolen and confiscated, the murders she has committed among my friends, and for our expulsion from the State, but also to humble and chastise or abase her for the disgrace she has brought upon constitutional liberty until she atones for her sins.

I appeal also to the fraternity of brethren who are bound by kindred ties to assist a brother in distress in all cases where it can be done according to the rules of order, to extend the boon of benevolence and protection in avenging the Lord of His enemies, as if a Solomon, a Hiram, a St. John, or a Washington raised his hands before a wondering world, and exclaimed, “My life for his!” Light, liberty, and virtue forever!

I bring this appeal before my native State, for the solemn reason that an injury has been done, and crimes have been committed, which a sovereign State, of the Federal compact, one of the great family of “E pluribus unum,” refuses to compensate, by consent of parties, rules of law, customs of nations, or in any other way. I bring it also because the National Government has fallen short of affording the necessary relief, as before stated, for want of power, leaving a large body of her own free citizens, whose wealth went freely into her treasury for lands, and whose gold and silver for taxes still fills the pockets of her dignitaries “in ermine and lace,” defrauded, robbed, plundered, ravished, driven, exiled, and banished from the “Independent Republic of Missouri!”

And in the appeal let me say, Raise your towers, pile your monuments to the skies, build your steam frigates, spread yourselves far and wide, and open the iron eyes of your bulwarks by sea and land; and let the towering church steeples marshal the country like the dreadful splendor of an army with bayonets. But remember the flood of Noah; remember the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah; remember the dispersion and confusion at the tower of Babel; remember the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts; remember the handwriting upon the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel upharsin;” remember the angel’s visit to Sennacherib, and the one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians; remember the end of the Jews and Jerusalem, and remember the Lord Almighty will avenge the blood of His Saints that now crimsons the skirts of Missouri! Shall wisdom cry aloud, and her speech not be heard?

Has the majesty of American liberty sunk into such vile servitude and oppression, that justice has fled? Have the glory and influence of a Washington, an Adams, a Jefferson, a Lafayette, and a host of others, forever departed; and the wrath of a Cain, a Judas, and a Nero whirled forth in the heraldry of hell, to sprinkle our garments with blood, and lighten the darkness of midnight with the blaze of our dwellings? Where is the patriotism of ’76? Where is the virtue of our forefathers? and where is the sacred honor of freemen!

Must we, because we believe in the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the administration of angels, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, like the Prophets and Apostles of old,-must we be mobbed with impunity, be exiled from our habitations and property without remedy, murdered without mercy, and Government find the weapons and pay the vagabonds for doing the jobs, and give them the plunder into the bargain? Must we, because we believe in enjoying the constitutional privilege and right of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own consciences, and because we believe in repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, the millennium, the day of judgment, and the Book of Mormon as the history of the aborigines of this continent,-must we be expelled from the institutions of our country, the rights of citizenship and the graves of our friends and brethren, and the Government lock the gate of humanity and shut the door of redress against us? If so, farewell freedom! adieu to personal safety! and let the red hot wrath of an offended God purify the nation of such sinks of corruption; for that realm is hurrying to ruin where vice has the power to expel virtue.

My father, who stood several times in the battles of the American Revolution, till his companions in arms had been shot dead at his feet, was forced from his home in Far West, Missouri, by those civilized-or satanized-savages, in the dreary season of winter, to seek a shelter in another State; and the vicissitudes and sufferings consequent to his flight brought his honored grey head to the grave a few months after. And my youngest brother also, in the vigor and bloom of youth, from his great exposure and fatigue in endeavoring to assist his parents on their journey, (I and my brother Hyrum being in chains, in dungeons, in Missouri, where they tried to feed us with-human flesh) was likewise so debilitated that he found a premature grave shortly after my father; and my mother, too, though she yet lingers among us, from her extreme exposure in that dreadful tragedy, was filled with rheumatic affections and other diseases, which leave her no enjoyment of health. She is sinking in grief and pain, broken-hearted, from Missouri persecution.

O death! wilt thou not give to every honest man a heated dart to sting those wretches while they pollute the land? And O Grave! wilt thou not open the trap door to the pit of ungodly men, that they may stumble in?

I appeal to the “Green Mountain Boys” of my native State to rise in the majesty of virtuous freemen, and by all honorable means help to bring Missouri to the bar of justice. If there is one whisper from the spirit of Ethen Allen, or a gleam from the shade of a General Stark, let it mingle with our sense of honor and fire our bosoms for the cause of suffering innocence, for the reputation of our disgraced country, and for the glory of God; and may all the earth bear me witness, if Missouri-blood-stained Missouri, escapes the due merit of her crimes-the vengeance she so justly deserves-that Vermont is a hypocrite, a coward and this nation the hotbed of political demagogues!

I make this appeal to the sons of liberty of my native State for help to frustrate the wicked designs of sinful men. I make it to hush the violence of mobs. I make it to cope with the unhallowed influence of wicked men in high places. I make it to resent the insult and injury made to an innocent, unoffending people, by a lawless ruffian State. I make it to obtain justice where law is put at defiance. I make it to wipe off the stain of blood from our nation’s escutcheon. I make it to show presidents, governors, and rulers prudence. I make it to fill honorable men with discretion. I make it to teach senators wisdom. I make it to teach judges justice. I make it to point clergymen to the path of virtue. And I make it to turn the hearts of this nation to the truth and realities of pure and undefiled religion, that they may escape the perdition of ungodly men; and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my Great Counselor.

Wherefore let the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble, the poor and the needy, the bond and the free, both black and white, take heed to their ways, and a leave to the knowledge of God, and execute justice and judgment upon the earth in righteousness, and prepare to meet the judge of the quick and the dead, for the hour of His coming is nigh.

And I must go on as the herald of grace,
Till the wide-spreading conflict is over.
And burst through the curtains of tyrannic night;
Yes, I must go on to gather our race,
Till the high blazing flame of Jehovah
Illumines the globe as a triumph of right.

As a friend of equal rights to all men, and a messenger of the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have the honor to be,

Your devoted servant,

Joseph Smith.

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16 Responses to I was born in Sharon, Vermont

  1. Dave on December 24, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Sounds like Joseph had a dream: “equal rights to all men,” and that “the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble, the poor and the needy, the bond and the free, both black and white” would “execute justice and judgment upon the earth.” Fine thoughts for the Christmas season.

  2. Kristine on December 25, 2007 at 9:48 am

    David,

    Thanks for this–I took my kids up to Sharon to the JS Birthplace Memorial on Sunday for his birthday–the little visitor’s center had a birthday cake. On the way home, my daughter said, “Mommy, can this be a tradition from now on?” I read this to my oldest son when we got home; it may be a couple of years before they get it completely, but it will be a wonderful addition to our new tradition. Thanks!!

  3. Kevin Barney on December 25, 2007 at 11:35 am

    I’ve only been there once, when I went to the MHA conference in Killington, Vermont. We had a terrific tour of New England church history sites, the culmination of which was the birthplace in Sharon. I had a great time. (What a wonderful tradition for you to start with your family, Kristine!)

  4. David Grua on December 25, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Kevin: I was at Killington for MHA in 2005 as well. The tour was incredible and the land around the JS birthplace monument is breathtaking. They don’t call Vermont the Green Mountain state for nothing.

  5. David Grua on December 25, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Kristine: Thank you for sharing that experience. I’m glad that the post is doing some good!

  6. Wilfried on December 26, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Thanks, David. I am just in the process of writing an article on the American components in a worldwide “gospel culture”, among which the spatial awareness of the Restoration in America is an important facet. I wrote:

    The physical experience of that history in the form of “Mormon historical tours” is starting to be offered to members abroad who can afford it. Mormon travel tourism to America, with a sense of pilgrimage, is expanding. By restoring historic places as tributes to its past and as locales for commemoration and inspiration, the Church itself is encouraging this tendency. It contributes to the formation and strengthening of a cultural identity in which members worldwide are invited to partake.

    Sharon should be on the list of places to visit.

  7. David Grua on December 26, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    Wilfried: That sounds like a fascinating article on an important question. Where and when are you going to publish it?

  8. Wilfried on December 26, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    It’s in the works, David. Hope to finish it this week in first draft. And then still need to find a venue that would accept it…

  9. smb on December 26, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Thanks for the pleasant reminder of Smith’s attempts to localize himself.

    A couple historical tidbits (I’m also fascinated that Smith would invoke Vermont, particularly when his father’s family was more centered in Topsfield, Mass, and his natal family didn’t do well in Vermont).
    1. Some of the Green Mountain Boys (a state militia, whom Smith was addressing as Lieut. Genl. of the Nauvoo Legion, a military man writing to his peers) actually wrote a nasty little response to the Appeal. Dan Vogel has reprinted it in EMD.
    2. Best evidence suggests William Phelps actually wrote this appeal. You’ve published the BH Roberts expurgated version, which eliminates some of Phelps’s whimsical flourishes. The version John Taylor (with Phelps) republished in the 1844 Voice of Truth is much more complete (the actual appeal was a little harder to track down when I went looking).
    3. Word has it that an article on Phelps’s ghostwriting is forthcoming in the next JMH.

  10. David Grua on December 27, 2007 at 12:13 am

    smb:

    2. Best evidence suggests William Phelps actually wrote this appeal. You’ve published the BH Roberts expurgated version, which eliminates some of Phelps’s whimsical flourishes. The version John Taylor (with Phelps) republished in the 1844 Voice of Truth is much more complete (the actual appeal was a little harder to track down when I went looking).

    Do you know if the original appeal has been transcribed and is it available electronically? What archives hold it?

  11. smb on December 27, 2007 at 12:21 am

    i use the VoT, which is a scanned PDF at BYU online. I assume LDS Archives has a copy but haven’t looked. I think VoT is close enough to original to be reliable. It was published a year later with Phelps’s involvement.

  12. David Grua on December 27, 2007 at 2:04 am

    Here’s the link.

  13. smb on December 27, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    the JMH article provides a reasonable contextualization for the VoT.

  14. Mark Ashurst-McGee on December 27, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    A Times and Seasons extra, titled “General Joseph Smith’s Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys,” is dated December 1843.

  15. David Grua on December 27, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    I’m also fascinated that Smith would invoke Vermont, particularly when his father’s family was more centered in Topsfield, Mass, and his natal family didn’t do well in Vermont

    Any theories as to why he would invoke Vermont over Mass.? Both have revolutionary traditions.

    A Times and Seasons extra, titled “General Joseph Smith’s Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys,” is dated December 1843.

    Thanks for the heads up on this Mark.

  16. Nick Literski on December 27, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    “I appeal also to the fraternity of brethren who are bound by kindred ties to assist a brother in distress in all cases where it can be done according to the rules of order, to extend the boon of benevolence and protection in avenging the Lord of His enemies, as if a Solomon, a Hiram, a St. John, or a Washington raised his hands before a wondering world, and exclaimed, “My life for his!” Light, liberty, and virtue forever!”

    It is worth noting here that Joseph (or Phelps, as ghostwriter) makes an explicit plea to fellow Freemasons for assistance. The reply from certain “Green Mountain Boys” in Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents addresses this plea in particular, and insults Joseph’s legitimate claim upon the assistance of his masonic brethren.

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