Book of Mormon/Geography/Definition of "this land"
Definition of "this land" with respect to Book of Mormon geography
Question: Do references to "this continent" made by Joseph Smith refer to North America?
In Joseph Smith's day, the term "this continent" included North and South America
With regard to the location of Book of Mormon lands, it is sometimes claimed that "[t]here's a North American continent and a South American continent in Noah Webster's  dictionary," and that this means that all references to "this continent" must refer to North America. However, in Joseph Smith's day, the term "this continent" included North and South America. The tradition of separating the North and South into separate continents was a later practice.
The definition of "continent" in Webster's 1828 dictionary refers to the "Eastern and Western continent"
- Joseph died in 1844, therefore a Webster's Dictionary from the 1850's is meaningless relative to this claim.
- Webster's 1828 dictionary defines a ""continent"" as follows:
1. In geography, a great extent of land, not disjoined or interrupted by a sea; a connected tract of land of great extent; as the Eastern and Western continent. It differs from an isle only in extent. New Holland may be denominated a continent. Britain is called a continent, as opposed to the isle of Anglesey. (emphasis added)
- Webster's definition of a "Eastern and Western continent" is equivalent to today's definition of "Eastern and Western hemisphere." This usage is entirely consistent with Joseph's use of the term. Note also that the 1828 definition of "America" in the same dictionary refers to the entire North and South American landmass as a single continent:
One of the great continents, first discovered by Sebastian Cabot, June 11, O.S. 1498, and by Columbus, or Christoval Colon, Aug. 1, the same year. It extends from the eightieth degree of North, to the fifty-fourth degree of South Latitude; and from the thirty-fifth to the one hundred and fifty-sixth degree of Longitude West from Greenwich, being about nine thousand miles in length. Its breadth at Darien is narrowed to about forty-five miles, but at the northern extremity is nearly four thousand miles. From Darien to the North, the continent is called North America, and to the South, it is called South America. (emphasis added)
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here