Saturday, January 28, 2017

Evolution of Land of Promise Geography – Part I

One of the very first theories regarding the geographical location of the Book of Mormon came from a lone statement by Frederick Granger Williams who, sometime between 1833 and 1837, wrote down a comment about Lehi’s party landing at 30º south latitude along the western Chilean coast. Williams’ statement, which had no header or title, was written on a sheet of paper that had three other important facts and information written upon it in his own hand, including one revelation that Joseph Smith received.

Williams’ statement was brief and clear: “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? LDS Archives, MSD 3408 fd 4 v, S. L. C., Utah, p1; Chile is spelled with an ”i” in the original statement).
    This statement, written as much as 180 years ago, contains specific detail that should be of interest to every member, since at the time, what would have been known of the world’s oceans, landing sites in the southern Hemisphere of the Americas, would have been relatively unknown to someone living in the north-eastern United States. There can be no question that this detail gives the statement a certain air of believability. The beginning directions of “south-southeast” (1 Nephi 16:13) and “nearly eastward” (1 Nephi 17:1) are given in the scriptural record, but the others: “nineteen degree of North Latitude,” sailing in a “southeast” direction, and landing “thirty degrees south Latitude” are those Williams’ wrote without any suggestion from the scriptural record, or any other belief in Land of Promise location at the time.
    First of all, there is no reason to choose the Continuing “19 degrees north latitude,” as the turning point in Lehi’s travel to Bountiful. There is nothing out of the ordinary along that point of the Red Sea that could possibly have been known to Williams, Joseph Smith or Sidney Rigdon (First Presidency) that woulde have given rise to picking it. Yet Williams emphatically stated the nineteen degree of North Latitude. 
     Even in 1833, when the First Presidency was formally organized, the Quorum of the First Presidency was responsible for directing the kingdom of God on the earth )D&C 90:12-16). It was the Lord who emphasized the significance of the First Presidency when He declared, “Whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent, whom I have made counselors for my name’s sake unto you” (D&C 112:20).

Now we cannot say with certainty that Williams’ writing was the result of a discussion in the First Presidency, a statement that Joseph Smith made, or any interaction among the three men; however, the fact that it was written on the sheet of paper it was, which contained other semi-official writings, should suggest it was of some import to Williams’ when he wrote it down. Also, when considering that Williams’ also served at the time as Joseph Smith’s personal secretary or scribe, it might carry even more weight. 
    But the main point is, why was it written down at all? 
    What would have prompted Williams to write about where Lehi landed? And in such detail as to indicate a specific latitudinal point? While most Land of Promise theorists, whose views disagree with that statement, try to pass the writing off as doodling, it is far too specific in its content to have been mere foolish and meaningless scribbling on a sheet of paper that had such other matters of import on it.
    There is no suggestion being made here that this statement was some official declaration of the First Presidency, but it certainly seems to have been something being discussed by them at one point in time. Why it was under discussion we may never know, but something more than mere scribbling lay behind Williams writing that very clear and specific statement down, with at least the first half of it absolutely correct.
    Many theorists with a different location in mind, have tried to pass off William’s writing as meaningless. However, it might be understood with paper less available in 1830s than it is today, and people having less idle time on their hands than now, it seems unlikely that Williams, Joseph’s scribe and Second Counselor in the First Presidency, was idly scribbling on a sheet of paper that had previous writing on it of some official significance. It seems far more likely that what he wrote was a matter of some import to those men at the time.
    It should also be remembered that in the 1830s, South America was not well known to hardly any Americans, especially men living in the areas where the Church was located. This was not a sailor’s seaport, or a locartion where mariners congregated, not had Sidney Rigdon nor Joseph Smith ever been to sea, or would have known much about it, let alone in such detail as to know where one of the very few bays and landing sites existed along the western South American coast, as exists at 30º South Latitude.

While it is true that about 25 years earlier, Frederick G. Williams was hired at the age of 25, because of his knowledge of the waters of Lake Erie, as a pilot for Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. It is also true that before that, he served as a pilot for a ship that regularly crossed the Lake from Montreal to Detroit; however, there is no record he ever went to sea, since his involvement was strictly on the lake adjacent to where he lived. As a result of this service and his service during the Tecumseh War, Williams settled in Warrensville, Ohio, which is now Cleveland, Ohio. This land had been purchased and presented to officers of General George Washington for their services during the Revolutionary War instead of pay in money. At that time congress was not in position to vote, pay money or collect it. This was called the great Western Reserve of the Ohio Valley—an area of 3.3 million acres in what is now northeast Ohio that was reserved for Connecticut by an act of Congress in 1795, part of which was given to the state’s citizens as compensation for damages suffered in the Revolutionary War, and part of it was sold to the Connecticut Land Company in which Frederick Williams’ father and uncle were investors.
    Apparently early theorists assumed the directions given in 1 Nephi were not just the direction they maintained while they were traveling on foot but may have been intended to include the general direction they traveled even after they set sail. Therefore, in their assumptive efforts to follow the journey to a reasonable conclusion, they simply decided the sailing party continued eastward across the Pacific to a what seemed to them a likely landing site.
    However, the final piece of information given in the Williams’ statement indicates that Lehi and his people sailed in a south east direction away from the Arabian Peninsula 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 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.

It just so happens that along that course, which would have been unknown to Williams, or Joseph smith and Sidney Rigdon at the time, the natural winds and currents of the Indian Ocean, in what is called the South Indian Ocean Gyre, flow counter clockwise in a great oblong circle, causing any ship moving to the south to curve eastward along the southern arm of the gyre where it picks up the Prevailing Westerlies and the West Wind Drift of the Southern Ocean, taking a ship south of Australia and New Zealand and easterly across the Pacific toward the Drake Passage, where the Humboldt Current (Peruvian Current) flows north along the westward coast of South America until it hits the Peruvian Bulge and heads back out into the Pacific on the northern arm of the South Pacific Gyre, a counter clockwise current that would take the vessel (if it didn’t land along the coast) back across the Pacific toward Indonesia.
    None of this, of course, would have been known to Williams, Joseph Smith or Sidney Rigdon in 1833-1837, or for many years—not until South American waters became better understood. As an example, today we know that the strongest westerly winds in the middle latitudes can come in the Roaring Forties, between 40 and 50 degrees latitude. The Westerlies play an important role in carrying the warm, equatorial waters and winds to the western coasts of continents, especially in the southern hemisphere because of its vast oceanic expanse; in fact, in the Southern hemisphere, because of the stormy and cloudy conditions, it is usual to refer to the Westerlies as the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties and Shrieking Sixties according to the varying degrees of latitude (Stuart Walker, The Sailor’s Wind, W. W. Norton & Company, 1998, p91).
    This, of course, would have been the course Lehi traveled from the winds and currents flowing southeast from the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, no other course would have been open to him!
(See the next post, “Evolution of Land of Promise Geography – Part II,” for more information regarding how the Book of Mormon Land of Promise geography came about).


  1. We continue to appreciate your good articles!

    One concern: when we look at a map, 19 degrees North latitude looks like too far North: going east at that point would lead right into the worst part of the desert!

    It is more believable they would go further South before turning East-- even 17 degrees North latitude would do. I wonder if 17 was mis-wrote as 19 by Williams.

  2. If memory serves me correctly, the 19th latitude along the Red Sea is where the old Frankincense Trail cut east off the Tihamah or (Tihāmat ʿAsīr.—the extensive, sandy, Red Sea Coastal Plain—a hot and inhospitable treeless area parallel to the Red Sea) at what is now al-Qunfudhah (Kunfuda, an ocean-going port on the Red Sea) up over the mountains from the sea inland, and then trailed along the back side of those mountains along the foothills southward and curving with the foothills on the outskirts of the desert (Empty Quarter – “The Rub,” or Rub’ al Khali) and across the towering sand dunes that rise high on either side, where your footsteps disappear in a permanent trickle of moving, windblown particles—dunes that are forever changing, shifting, adapting, that rise straight up so that one climbs barefoot and on hands and knees, with some ridges so solid they hardly take a footprint, others swallow one’s leg almost to the knee. These dunes roll into the horizon, shifting from red and blond to grey and black, but eventually flatten out into a pancake-flat desert, where they travelled down into the numerous wide inland wadis where the waterholes were located, and not a sign of life for hundreds of miles, that ran along the northern border of what is now Yemen and Oman. This took them along the endless sands of the northern side of the Dhofar Mountains, a rumpled, jagged rock mountain range creeping up into the sky, to the Jabel Qara (arid brown and stone-carpeted mountains the turn into flowing greenery of Salalah that run parallel to the coast) and south ascending off the flat desert and through a succession of internal wadis, whose pebbly floors have been worn by ancient rivers and the dry bush, incongruous in its loneliness, and the occasional gnarled and stunted frankincense tree, with their resin, slowly oozing out and forming into little translucent gobbets, that was once more valuable than gold and made this the world's richest area around 1000 B.C. Then finally through the pass onto the crescent-shaped bay of the Salalah Coastal Plain, which is framed at either end by black volcanic outcroppings. They then traveled a short distance along the green oasis eastward to the area of Khor Rori, a fresh water river that emptied into the Sea of Arabia, and pitched their tents. Keep in mind that nothing runs straight where water holes determine location and course of travel.

  3. Del, do you believe Lehi and his group went right along the coast of the Red sea, or did they go along the trails over the mountains from the Red Sea as Potter describes?

    You seem to be saying they were traveling south-south east until the 19th N Latitude and then they turn east over the mountains -- but it was not a continual east, but a path that followed along the bottom of the desert until they reached the Salalah area.

    1. I re-read the text and after the valley of Lemuel the party goes in the "wilderness", not along the red sea. The "more fertile parts" seem to be over the coastal mountains and not along the red sea.

      At Nahom they turn east. So if they turned east at the 19th N latitude, then that place would be Nahom or near Nahom.

      Here is a google earth placemark of where I am talking about turning east:

  4. answer is too long for here. See the upcoming post: "Traveling in the More Fertile Parts" which should be published here around the 4th of February