Sunday, July 28, 2019

1830 Knowledge of Lehi’s Landing Site

Many of the comments made in the very early days of the Church, often used by theorists to support their location for the Land of Promise, have seldom been mentioned outside of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. However, an interesting non-Latter-day Saint news article appearing on November 18, 1830 seven months and two days after the forming of the Church at the home of Peter Whitmer in Fayette, New York, on April 6,1830, and eight months after the Book of Mormon was published.
The southern shore of Lake Erie between Buffalo, New York, and Sandusky, Ohio, where early Church activity took place

An article appearing in the Observer and Telegraph: a Religious, Political and Literary newspaper, published by the Reverend Warren Isham, may be the answer to this question. The Observer was a weekly newspaper published in Hudson, Ohio, about 18 miles south of Cleveland where its predecessor, the Western intelligencer, religious, literary and political, had been located in Cleveland, Ohio, and published by J.G. & D.B. M'Lain and the Reverend Kingsbury.
    Upon becoming the editor and proprietor of the newspaper from the Western Reserve College in 1827, Ishman changed the name to the Observer and Telegraph and in 833 again changed the name to The Ohio Observer. He moved the paper to Hudson considering this area the “center of science and the literary focus of this section of the West.”
Observer newspaper article November 18, 1830

His article, found in Vol.1, No.38, under the title of “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Isham editorialized the following lengthy statement regarding a declaration made by Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, which included Lehi’s landing site. Because of its final statement of importance, we thought it wise to publish the entire article:
    “For several days past, four individuals, said to have formerly resided in the State of New-York, have appeared in the northern part of Geauga County, assuming the appellation of Disciples, Prophets, and Angels. Some among us, however, are led to believe that they are nothing more than men, and impostors. They are preaching and teaching a species of Religion we are not all prepared to embrace; for we are convinced it does not accord with our old-fashioned Bible.
    “These men have brought with them copies of a Book, known in this region by the name of the "Golden Bible," or, as it is learned on its title-page, "The Book of Mormon." They solemnly affirm, that its contents were given by Divine inspiration; was written by prophets of the Most High from a period of 600 years before, to that of some hundred years after our blessed Savior's advent; was deposited by Divine command below the surface of the ground, in or near the township of Palmyra, Ontario Co., N. Y., that an Angel appeared to a certain Joseph Smith residing in that place, who, they say, was a poor, ignorant, illiterate man, and made no pretensions to religion of any kind; -- ... [section of text illegible] ... of this sacred deposit, and directed him forthwith to dig up and bring to light this precious record and prophecy. They affirm that the said Smith obeyed the heavenly messenger, when lo! a new Revelation -- the Golden Bible was discovered!
    “According to the narrative given by one of these disciples -- Oliver Cowdery -- at their late exhibition in Kirtland, this pretended Revelation was written on golden plates, or something resembling golden plates, of the thickness of tin -- 7 inches in length, 6 inches in breadth, and a pile about 6 inches deep. None among the most learned in the United States could read, and interpret the hand-writing, (save one, and he could decipher but a few lines correctly,) excepting this ignoramus, Joseph Smith, Jr. To him, they say, was given the spirit of writing, he employed this Oliver Cowdery and others to write, while he read, interpreted, and translated this mighty Revelation.
    “It appears from the testimony of these men, that while this process was going on, some of their mischievous, meddlesome neighbors, having a miserly disposition, stole some of their plates of gold before they gave them sufficient time to translate them, and as they have not yet been recovered, they fear a part of this great Revelation will be lost to our race. There were other plates among them, they say, which contained secrets from them by some mysterious dispensation of Providence, they know not how, or in what region they are secreted, but as they are to be forthcoming at the proper time, to some future generation, they appear to manifest no particular uneasiness with regard to them.
    “To convince the world that this record and prophecy is a Divine Revelation, three men, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, have subscribed their names to an article in this "Book of Mormon," solemnly declaring that they saw an Angel come down from heaven, who showed them those plates, and made known to them it was given by inspiration, and "they know of a surety it is true," &. &.
    “This new Revelation, they say is especially designed for the benefit, or rather for the christianizing of the Aborigines of America; who, as they affirm, are a part of the tribe of Manasseh, and whose ancestors landed on the coast of Chili 600 years before the coming of Christ, and from them descended all the Indians of America” (emphasis added).
  LtoR: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris
So here we have three early leaders of the Church, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris, who were the Three witnesses and allowed to see the gold plates and the engravings upon the plates, and heard the Lord’s voice testifying to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and all upheld their testimony of the Book of Mormon at their deaths, have subscribed their names to an article in this "Book of Mormon," solemnly declaring that they saw an Angel come down from heaven, who showed them those plates, and made known to them it was given by inspiration, and "they know of a surety it is true."
    It should be noted that the article naming these early leaders and quoting them as to the landing of Lehi in Chile, was published prior to the 1836 note written by Frederick G. Williams regarding the landing at 30º South Latitude in Chile. Obviously, they did not get their information of a Chilean landing from Williams, who did not join the Church until October 1830, less than a month before the article appeared in the Observer and Telegraph newspaper, and who immediately left after his baptism for a mission to Missouri.
In 1830, there was little contact between the west coast of South America and those of North America; (maroon circle) An area of almost no contact outside of a few naval ships; (blue circle) An are of no contact with the seaboard cities; (blue line) Shipping lanes from New York to the Orient; (yellow line) Shipping lanes from New York to Indonesia; (wide red lines) Coastal contact with the east coast of the Americas 

    Consequently, it might be asked, where did these early Church leaders get the idea of a Chilean landing site for Lehi? Obviously, they did not get the idea that was published in the 1830 newspaper article, from the 1836 note written by Frederick G. Williams. And just as obviously, such information was not only known in Church leadership at the time of the article for it to be a stated fact in an article about the Book of Mormon, but held among these three witnesses to the divinity of the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon and the story of Lehi was translated.
    There are those today who claim they got the knowledge from Joseph Smith. One might conclude this to be true since only Joseph truly understood Lehi’s story and the many details about the Nephite life style and purpose to which he used to tell the stories to his parents and family quite often according to Lucy Mack Smith.
    However, the point is not who provided the Three Witnesses with this information, but that they understood that was Lehi’s landing site. Consider this with the fact that in 1830, on the western frontier around Lake Erie, the people there would have had to reason to think about Chile, a rather unknown place in the world at the time, especially to those of the American interior. Yet they knew it was the location, spoke and taught the point and believed it to be true.


  1. This is very interesting. So if Oliver knew that the Nephites landed in Chile then what of letter 7 that the Heartland theorists hipe constantly. The answer is found in the last statement: from them descended all the Indians of America. Great find!

    1. Oliver must have believed in the Entire North and South American model with Panama as the narrow neck. When I was young that is what I thought. No one pointed out to me the problems with that model until I was a bit older.

    2. The article just says "off the coast of Chili". The 30 degree South Latitude part must have been revealed to F G Williams.

    3. You know to be fair, if one believes in the both North and South American with Panama as the narrow neck model then in the model where would Lehi have landed? Off the coast of Chile or Peru of course. So possibly they said this without any revelation, but just from the understanding of their model.