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Mormonism and church organization/Location of the organization
Question: Was the Church of organized in Fayette? Or was it Manchester?
The earliest extant documents support the Fayette location
The Church officially teaches that the Church was organized in David Whitmer's log home in Fayette. It is claimed, however, that the "majority of witnesses report that the organization took place in the log home of Joseph Smith, Sr. in the Manchester area"
The earliest extant documents support the Fayette location. Even if the location were determined to be Manchester, we are unsure how this would affect the truth claims of the Church. It simply indicates that there is some uncertainty in the historical record.
Newly revealed document supports the Fayette location
During the course of compilation of data for the third volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, new information came to light regarding the recently revealed Book of Commandments and Revelations (which had been kept in the First Presidency's vault):
"The manuscript may have the effect, [Steven C. Harper] said, of resolving a controversy that has arisen over whether the Church was organized at Fayette, N.Y., as has traditionally been understood, or at Manchester, N.Y. It does so by affirming that a revelation given on April 6, 1830, was given at Fayette, not at Manchester.
'The 1833 Book of Commandments, heretofore the earliest source available, located this revelation in Manchester,' he explained. Some authors thus argued that the traditional story of the Church's founding in Fayette lacked foundation in the historical record, 'but we can now see that in this case, tradition and the historical record match up,' he said."
Additional Fayette references
In October 1830, just following his baptism on 19 September 1830, Orson Pratt journeyed from his home in Canaan, New York, to Fayette where he met the Prophet Joseph Smith at the Whitmer farm.
Of this experience Orson Pratt affirmed:
- I well recollect when I was but a boy of nineteen visiting the place where this Church was organized, and visiting the Prophet Joseph, who resided at that time in Fayette, Seneca County, New York, at the house where the Church was organized”.
Other authors and sources which also argue for a Fayette location include:
- “French’s New York Gazetteer, published by R. Pearsall Smith, at Syracuse, New York, in 1860, also contained some data concerning Mormonism, and states that the first Mormon society was formed in the town of Fayette, Seneca County, in 1830.”
- "On April 6, 1830, in the house of Peter Whitmer, Sr., in Fayette, New York, Joseph Smith organized the Church of Jesus Christ."
- "On Tuesday, April 6, 1830, under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a group of friends assembled in Peter Whitmer, Sr.'s log farmhouse [in Fayette, New York] to organize the Church"
Recording mistakes, for example, have sometimes been seized on as evidence of misrepresentations or bumbling by the Prophet. For example, the Book of Commandments initially referred to Joseph Smith as “an elder” and Oliver Cowdery the same, rather than “First Elder” and “Second Elder” as found in the text of Doctrine and Covenants Section 20. The 1833 Book of Commandments suggested that the Church was organized in Manchester rather than Fayette, New York. The June 1839 Manuscript History of the Church says it was Nephi who appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823 rather than Moroni. Now, however, with original manuscripts contained in the Book of Commandments and Revelations, published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and other early sources we can “peel back the onion” a little further. And we find that the supposed problems are nothing more sinister than clerical errors sometimes repeated by others.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- R. Scott Lloyd, "'Major Discovery' Discussed at Mormon History Association Conference," Church News, 22 May 2009.
- “History of Orson Pratt,” Deseret News, 2 June 1858.
- Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:356.
- Letter, Diedrich Villers, Jr. to Ellen E. Dickinson; published in Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885), 251-52.
- James B. Allen and Richard O. Cowan, "History of the Church," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 3:603.
- John K. Carmack, "Organization of the Church, 1830," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 3:1049.