Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Importance of Palmyra – Part III

Continuing with an article I read and the author’s approach to the place of Palmyra and the Hill Cumorah driving the events that occurred there, rather than the other way around. 
The supports from the north, seen from the creek level with the top of the waterfall the water level of the old canal near Palmyra

    The road to this small New York hamlet along the border of Palmyra and Manchester far to the west near the just finished Erie Canal and Lake Ontario had been arduous and long, but now the fore-ordained seer was present. In 1820 Joseph would enter the grove of trees that surrounded the Smith log home, and this experience would set in motion a series of events bringing about a marvelous work and a wonder.
In 1827, after yearly visits to the hill that would soon be called Cumorah, Joseph would obtain the sacred record (left) and begin translating the contents. Three years later, the Church of Jesus Christ would be restored again in Fayette, New York, less than thirty miles from Cumorah. It is interesting that the Lord’s hand in moving Joseph into the position to receive the plates was wrought not only upon him but upon previous generations of his family to bring about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a small, non-descript long cabin belonging to Peter Whitmer, Sr., on April 6, 1830.
As it always is with matters of importance to man and the Lord, circumstances of the moment, poor personal decisions, and even decisions made by others seemed unfortunate and surely unbearable at the time, the Smiths and the Macks were influenced by such experiences that comfort might have otherwise eclipsed. 
   As an example, while some at the time concluded that it was a godless year during a desperate ice summer of 1816, which was called a "Year Without a Summer" and "Poverty Year," or the "Summer that Never Was" because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease that resulted in severe food shortages throughout the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in what has been called “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world.”
   In Lebanon, New York, not far from Palmyra, it was written in May 1816 as temperatures fell below freezing: “all is frozen and the hills are barren like winter.” Between June 9 and June 12 the ground froze solid, destroying crops in southern New England.
 Little survived the year without a summer in New England

However, those same people may be surprised to find God in the event upon further inspection. This was the culminating event, after all, that persuaded the Smiths to leave Vermont and seemed to direct them further along the road to the area of Palmyra. Upon later reflection, Brigham Young said, “The Lord had his eye upon him [Joseph Smith], and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors…He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man.”
    Within a few years, the stage was set and all the people involved were in place. The great Plan of the Lord was about to commence. The plates were hidden in the drumlin hill not far from where Joseph Smith was living, a hill without a name. Before long it would be called “Golden Hill,” “Mormon Hill,” “Gold Bible Hill,” “Bible Hill,” and eventually “Hill Cumorah.” Before Joseph obtained the plates there, it had no name and was basically unknown to anyone living there other than a rounded, not very tall hill that was nearly devoid of trees in Joseph Smith’s time and heavily forested today. The hill itself would play a very minor roll in the following events. It was merely a place for the records to be temporarily stored for Joseph to obtain.
    Martin Harris’ road to this western New York area was shorter than that of the Smiths, though it included influences on their immigration to this new country and Martin’s purchase of property in Palmyra where he hired Joseph’s father to dig a well and a cistern.
It was during this event that Joseph Sr. told Martin Harris about the gold plates in 1824, and later Joseph Jr., used a seer stone he had found to locate a lost object for Martin Harris.
    Harris was described by those who knew him well as “industrious, hard-working farmer, shrewd in his business calculations, frugal in his habits, and, what was termed a prosperous man in the world.” He married his cousin Lucy Harris in 1808 and, over the next several decades, managed over 240 acres of productive land. In addition to his farming skills, Martin was a man of varied talent. He won prizes in local fairs, produced textiles, and raised animals. He was also active in civic affairs, participating in local defensive campaigns during the War of 1812 and serving as a town manager and the overseer of highways. It is clear by almost every account that Martin Harris maintained a respectable reputation. In February 1828, Martin traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, a distance of some 275 miles, to become Joseph’s scribe. Four months later in June, they completed the first 116 pages of translation.
 Joseph Smith was devastated when Martin Harris reported to him that he had lost the 116 pages he borrowed

    After losing those 116 pages, Harris continued to support Joseph and the work. By 1829 it was well known in Palmyra that Martin Harris was directly connected with the Restoration and even though he was a Palmyra local with an essentially impeccable character, he was publicly criticized and scorned for this connection, but he remained steadfast, seeing the publication of the Book of Mormon by eventually mortgaging his farm to raise the money to guarantee payment of the money to have it printed.
    Like Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery’s path to this New York area can be traced through generations before his birth; but unlike the Smith family, where financial ruin, unfortunate mishap, and even natural disaster uprooted and moved the family, Oliver’s heritage was moved by different means. William Cowdery, Oliver’s fourth-great-grandfather, was “staunch in his belief of personal religious freedom and the right of free worship," coming to America with the Pilgrim movement in 1630. For several generations, the Cowdery’s made their home in Massachusetts, and then Nathaniel Cowdery moved to Reading, Vermont, in 1786. Nathaniel’s grandson William Cowdery Jr. married Rebecca Fuller and became the father of Oliver Cowdery on October 3, 1806. It is interesting to note that Oliver’s mother, Rebecca Fuller, was the great-granddaughter of John Fuller and Mehitbel Rowley, who were the second-great-grandparents of Lucy Mack Smith (mother of Joseph Smith Jr.). This made Oliver Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith third cousins, though there is no evidence, that Oliver, was raised in Vermont, and although some of his brothers left the family home in search of better situations in New York, Oliver stayed until 1825, and knew of his family relationship with the Smiths.
    In 1828 Oliver’s brother, Lyman, was hired to teach at a rural school in Manchester, New York, but was unable to fulfill the assignment. He suggested that his younger brother, Oliver, might be given the post, and the trustees of the school—which included Hyrum Smith—approved.
    At this point, Oliver not only had found the road to this New York hamlet, but was himself the master of a schoolhouse located on Stafford Road, only a mile east of the Smith home. With such close proximity, it was only a matter of time before his and the Prophet’s paths intersected.
    While Joseph was in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Oliver was offered a room at the Smith’s home in lieu of charging the Smith children tuition at the school, which was the general custom of the day. In this way, Oliver arrived at a place in time to hear about the plates and the record Joseph was translating.
Most of those who have been a member of the Church for any length of time can recognize in these events how the Lord works in various ways to bring together the people he wants at a time needed, whether to meet and marry, to serve in a needed position, or, as in this case, bring about the restoration. There are no events that take the Lord by surprise—he does not react to situations, but follows the course of his Plan for all mankind, and for the events that unfold surrounding his Church. Thus, events of man do not force his hand, change his Plan, or bring about reaction—what seems like political issues at time shaping the Church to people and even its members, are the same issues that have been enacted on other worlds at other times as the Plan is followed from beginning to end just as it was laid out.
    The Lord needed these people in close proximity to one another that the Book of Mormon and the following restoration could take place. If the Plan had called for another township, another hill, another location, it would not have mattered. What did matter is that all these people were together at the right time in the place chosen, and the result was the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

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