Friday, August 24, 2012

30º South Latitude – The Veracity of Frederick G. Williams – Part I

Sometime between 1833 and 1837, Frederick G. Williams, both the personal scribe to Joseph Smith, and the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, is said to have written on a piece of paper:

“The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship, they traveled nearly a south, south east direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of North Latitude, then nearly east to the Sea of Arabia then sailed in a south east direction and landed on the continent of South America in Chili thirty degrees south Latitude” (Frederick G. Williams III, Did Lehi Land in Chile? p. 1. LDS Archives, MSD 3408 fd 4 v, S. L. C., Utah).

For several years, and even today, this statement has caused a great deal of excitement and much opposition by church historians, Book of Mormon Land of Promise theorists, and some church leaders, such as B.H. Roberts and George Q. Cannon, as well as the Williams family, including a great grandson, Frederick G. Williams III.

Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, First Presidency meeting in which was written down the 30º South Latitude landing

The controversy surrounded, for the most part, whether or not this was a legitimate revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, because it was written on the same piece of paper where the revelation of John the Beloved was written in 1829. Much has been written to try and prove this was not a revelation, such as “The Lehi statement was found at the bottom of the page in the fourth section. There was no reference to authorship or headers of any kind in this section. Therefore, no basis for it being considered a revelation to Joseph could ever be justified.”

However, whether or not it was or was not a revelation has nothing to do with the purpose of this article. The point here, and the one that evidently has never been addressed, is the question: “Why the 30º South Latitude in Chile?”

Some articles have suggested that this was merely a simple deduction at the time, given the location of the Irreantum Sea being the Arabian Sea, such as: “the proposed Chilean landing site may have simply come about when those who were studying out the directions given in 1 Nephi attempted to follow the journey from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula eastward to a plausible landing site in the new world.” Or the statement: “The final piece of information given in the Williams’ statement indicates that Lehi and his people sailed in a south east direction and landed in Chile along the western borders of South America. Now, since traveling southeastward, as described in the comment by Williams, would have taken them in a direct course toward the continent of Australia, and beyond toward the Antarctic, they would, of necessity, have had to turn due east at some point to reach the west coast of Chile at thirty degrees south latitude.”

However, the question remains: “Why Chile? Why a southeast direction? Why sail south of Australia in totally and completely unknown and unchartered waters? What would lead Williams to think such a thing? Any look at a world map shows the most direct route through the Arabian Sea, Indonesia, the South Sea islands, and across the Pacific, providing numerous stops for food and water. The idea of sailing south of Australia simply would make no sense to anyone in the U.S. in the 1830s.

When the War of 1812 first broke out, the British immediately seized control of Lake Erie. When Detroit surrendered, there was not a single U.S. ship on the Lake. The famous battle took place the following year between Perry and Barclay

So what would Frederick G. Williams know about sailing? Would he have any idea of sea routes in the Southern Ocean or South Seas? First of all, Williams was a ship’s pilot on the Great Lakes, and at the age of twenty-six, during the War of 1812-13, was the pilot of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet. After regaining control of the Upper Lakes Region from Barclay's English fleet, which was a turning point in the war, Perry became the “Hero of Lake Erie” at the age of 27. Frederick, at twenty-six, had joined Perry as a pilot, directing him around the Lake region. After Perry's victory on Lake Erie and General Harrison's victory on land, the war came to an end in the area, after which Frederick began teaching school and continued to work as a pilot on Lake Erie, transporting goods and passengers between Buffalo and Detroit.

Map of the U.S. in 1836. The pink area is the U.S. Any U.S. ship going to the Pacific would have to go around the Horn of South America--a 13,000 to 15,000 mile trip taking 4 to 6 months, and certainly not one taken for pleasure, but to sail to the western Pacific (Japan to Indonesia)

So what might Williams have learned piloting a U.S. Navy ship in 1812-1813 on one of the Great Lakes? First of all, Commodore Perry had never sailed anything larger than a sloop (one mast and one deck), been further south than the tip of Florida or further north than the coast of New England. Williams had never been to sea beyond Lake Erie. In 1812, the U.S. was only 36 years old, and the Navy had barely a dozen ships to its name. Their experience with ships and seaman was restricted to the coastal areas of the East Coast, and more importantly, to the inland sea areas of the Great Lakes, which both America and England knew was the key to any naval battles for the Americas. In fact, the first ships of the US Navy to enter the Pacific Ocean was the 1) Pacific Squadron—American West Coast (1821), 2) East Indies Squadron—China, Formosa, Indonesia (1835)--both squadrons consisted of a total of only five ships and not a single port on the West Coast--3) East Asia Squadron—China, Japan, Korea (1868), and 4) Far East Detachment—Philippines (1898).

As can be seen, US shipping did not take place in the southern Pacific, or along the West Coast of South America (not until 1846). It was restricted to those areas of interest to the United States at the time, namely the West Coast of North America, Hawaii, and Japan southward to the Philippines and Indonesia.

Obviously, neither Federick G. Williams nor any officers of the United States Navy, knew anything about the West Coast of South America, or even Central America for that matter. All naval knowledge was centered in the New England area of the Atlantic and the far Pacific.

We do need to keep in mind that during a meeting with the Prophet Joseph Smith, Frederick G. Williams, a member of the First Presidency from 1833 to 1837—when Joseph Smith was the prophet, and was also the prophet’s personal scribe from 1832 to 1836, wrote down during a First Presidency meeting that Lehi landed along the 30º South Latitude in Chile. While this does not mean anything more than a note made on a paper during a meeting, it has two points to consider: 1) For those who like to quote modern-day Church Leaders, this note certainly stands as high as any other General Authority’s comment about location of the Land of Promise, and 2) the area noted, the 30º South Latitude along the Chilean seacoast, is one of the unique areas that meet important Land of Promise criteria that could not have been known to Williams at the time!

(See the next post, “30º South Latitude – The Veracity of Frederick G. Williams-Part II,” to see how inspired someone had to have been in the 1830s to have chosen that location for Lehi’s landing site)

No comments:

Post a Comment