Book of Mormon/Geography/Statements/Nineteenth century/Joseph Smith's lifetime 1843

Nineteenth Century: Statements on Book of Mormon geography made during Joseph Smith's lifetime: 1843

A FAIR Analysis of: Statements about Book of Mormon geography, a work by author: Various

Nineteenth Century: Statements on Book of Mormon geography made during Joseph Smith's lifetime: 1843

Jump to details:

A critic of the Book of Mormon (1843): "the ruins of Central America...the existence of such ruins were known long before the publication of the Book of Mormon"

I will now briefly notice those other proofs which Squire Appleby says were brought forward in the discussion. The ruined cities and temples described by Mr. Stephens in his “Researches,” in central America were identified, says he as those mentioned in the Book of Mormon. I will examine one of those identifications that the learned Squire considered the most conclusive. Mr. Stephens describes the ruins of a Temple which bore some resemblance to the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. This, Squire Appleby says was the temple built by Nephi, and described in the Book of Mormon, page 72....

But again, Squire Appleby says that the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, and Mr. Stephens did not discover the ruins of Central America until 1840, so that because the Book of Mormon speaks of cities being builded somewhere by the Nephites, the ruins which Mr. Stephens discovered must be the same. But if Mr. Stephens did not visit Central America before 1840, extensive ruins were known to exist in Guatamola, Yucatan and Chiapa long before that period. Even as early as 1787, the ruins of Otolum a city built of stone, 32 miles long and 12 miles broad, full of palaces, monuments, &c., was discovered and surveyed by Capt. Del Roi, and a description of it published in English in 1822. So that the existence of such ruins were known long before the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the writer of that Book being acquainted with the fact, all he had to do was, to accommodate his descriptions thereto.[1]

Missionary responds to critic (1843): "I contend that it is North and South America both that includes the promised land to the branches of Joseph"

He says “there were ruins known to exist in Central America, (the lands he says, I said belonged to Ephraim, &c. but I contend that it is North and South America both that includes the promised land to the branches of Joseph) long before 1830, true the ruins of the city of Ottolum was known; but Stevens visited altogether 43. In a court yard in one, he found an enclosure made of stone, and inside of this enclosure was a stone covered with Hieroglyphics. See Vol. II p. 121 and 2. Read page 147, B. Mormon and see what it tells you concerning a certain stone, and the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, and this stone, and city after city, that it spoke of and described their situation, and who built them, when it came forth,—has been discovered since by Mr. Stephens for the first time, for he says “There they lay like the rock built city of Edom, unvisited, unsought for, and utterly unknown.”

I could refer the candid reader (if my limits would permit) to numerous testimonies of the kind. In Vol. II. p. 184, he gives a description of a place of sacrifice, with Idols standing near it. In B. M. p. 511, we have it recorded, that the Lamanites, took the Nephites prisoners, and sacrificed both women and children to their Idol Gods. If all this be the effect of chance, or guess work, it is guessing mighty straight, is it not Mr. W.? y-e-s. But Mr. W. says “Mr. Stephens gives it as his opinion, that there is nothing to indicate Egyptian or Hebrew origin, among these ruins.” Read again Mr. W. Vol. II. page 296 and 347, deducing Egyptian origin and concern- [17] ing the embalming room. Then read Mr. Norman’s travels in Central America in 1840, and see what he says about it, before you expose your ignorance any more....

[23] And I herewith bear my testimony unto all people, into whose hands this pamphlet may come that the Book of Mormon is true; that it has been revealed to man by the administration of angels from the courts of glory, and been translated by the gift and power of God. That it bears record of a bleeding, dying, crucified, but risen Redeemer, and contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed by him, in person, to the ancient inhabitants of this continent, the Indians of whom are a remnant.[2]

Note that the missionary insists that all of North and South America is the "land of Joseph."

Orson Spencer (2 Jan 1843): "I only remark that Stevens’ Travels had some influence, as an external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon"

I read diligently the Book of Mormon from beginning to end, in close connection with the comments of Origen Bachelor, Laroy Sunderland, and Dr. Hurlburt, together with newspapers and some private letters obtained from the surviving friends of Mr. Spaulding, the supposed author of that Book. I arose from its perusal with a strong conviction on my mind that its pages were graced with the pen of inspiration. I was surprised that so little fault could be found with a book of such magnitude, treating as it did of such diversified subjects, through a period of so many generations. It appeared to me that no enemy to truth or godliness would ever take the least interest in publishing the contents of such a book; such appeared to me to be its godly bearing, sound morality and harmony with ancient scriptures, that the enemy of all righteousness might as well proclaim the dissolution of his own kingdom, as to spread the contents of such a volume among men: and from that time to this, every effort made by its enemies to demolish, has only shown how invincible a fortress defends it. If no greater breach can be made upon it than has hitherto been made by those who have attacked it with the greatest animosity and diligence, its overthrow may be considered a forlorn hope. On this subject I only ask the friends of pure religion to read the Book of Mormon with the same unprejudiced, prayerful and teachable spirit that they would recommend unbelievers in the ancient scriptures to read those sacred records. I have not spoken of the external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which is now worthy of much consideration; but the internal evidence I think will satisfy every honest mind.

As you enquire after the reason that operated to change my mind to the present faith, I only remark that Stevens’ Travels had some influence, as an external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon....

[53] I have never seen that person who had read the Book of Mormon and the Book of doctrine and Covenants entirely through, with an earnest desire to know whether it was of God or not, who could raise any worthy objection against them, A few isolated portions of these Books are often selected out and made to speak some other besides their true meaning, and thereby a dislike for these books is created, consequently some refuse to read them at all, while some others read only to confirm their preposessions and prejudices. And superficial enquirers hear with credulity that such a minister, Editor or, Professor of some College, has published an expose or refutation of Mormonism that will inflict a fatal wound upon this glaring and blasphemous heresy.—Now it is well known that the novelties of this age are so many and various, that no man has time to examine into them all; and many consider that a hint from a pious Editor or distinguished Reviewer against, Mormonism is sufficient apology for them not to examine it. Now, under these considerations it is easy to divine that the doctrines of Latter-day Saints must travel through obstacles and difficulties of the greatest magnitude. And I am ready dear Br., to mourn over the prospect, because many bad men, and some good men will fight against the faith not knowing what they do. (emphasis added)[3]

This recent convert's mention of Stephens is further evidence that it was often invoked by LDS missionaries in teaching about the Book of Mormon.

Times and Seasons (1 May 1843): "the wealth, architecture and splendor of ancient Mexico; when recent developments proved beyond a doubt, that there was ancient ruins in central America"

Appeals to Mexico and Central America as evidence:

Circumstances are daily transpiring which give additional testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. A few years ago, although supported by indubitable, unimpeachable testimony, it was looked upon in the same light by the world in general, and by the religious world in particular, as the expedition of columbus to this continent was by the different courts that he visited, and laid his project before. The literati looked upon his expedition as wild and visionary, they suspected very much the integrity of his pretensions, and looked upon him—to say the least—as a fool, for entertaining such wild and visionary views....

So when the Book of Mormon first made its appearance among men, it was looked upon by many as a wild speculation, and that it was dangerous to the interest and happiness of the religious world; but when it was found to teach virtue, honesty, integrity, and pure religion, this objection was laid aside, as being untenable. we were then told that the inhabitants of this continent were, and always had been, a rude barbarous race, uncouth, unlettered, and without civilization. But when they were told of the various relics that have been found indicative of civilization, intelligence and learning; when they were told of the wealth, architecture and splendor of ancient Mexico; when recent developements proved beyond a doubt, that there was ancient ruins in central America, which, in point of magnificence, beauty, strength and architectural design, would vie with any of the most splendid ruins on the Asiatic continent; when they could trace the fine delineations of the sculptor's chisel, on the beautiful statue, the mysterious hieroglyphic, and the unknown character, they begun to believe that a wise, powerful, intelligent and scientific race had inhabited this continent....[4]

Wilford Woodruff (27 Aug 1843): "the Book of gave a history of all those cities that have been of late discovered by Catherwood & Stephens, that it named those cities"

Wilford Woodruff wrote of Orson Pratt speaking about the Catherwood and Stephens volume:

[Orson Pratt] spoke in an edifying manner concerning the Book of Mormon its history what it was &c. That it was a History of nearly one half of the globe & the people that inhabited it, that it gave a history of all those cities that have been of late discovered by Catherwood & Stephens, that it named those cities.[5]

Times and Seasons (1 Oct 1843): "a very interesting work entitled 'Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,'...This is a work that ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint"

Unsigned editorial in the Times and Seasons (John Taylor was editor):

We have lately perused with great interest, Stephen's works on Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.

Mr. Stephens published about two years ago, a very interesting work entitled 'Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,' in which he details very many interesting circumstances; discovered the ruins of magnificent cities, and form hieroglyphical representations, sculpture and rich specimens of architecture, proved one important fact, which had been disputed by many of our sages; that America had once been peopled by a highly polished, civilized and scientific race, with whom the present aborigines could not compare.

This work has been read with great interest throughout this continent, and tens of thousands of copies have been sent to, and sold in Europe, where it has been investigated with the greatest scrutiny and interest. It has already passed through twelve editions; it is published in two volumes, 8 vo.

Since the publication of this work, Mr. Stephens has again visited Central America, in company with Mr. Catherwood, and other scientific gentlemen, for the purpose of making further explorations among those already interesting ruins. They took with them the Daguerreotype, and other apparatus, for the purpose of giving views and drawings of those mysterious relics of antiquity. His late travels and discoveries, have also been published in two volumes of the same size, entitled 'Incidents of travel in Central America.'

It is a work of great interest, written with precision and accuracy. The plates are elegantly executed, and its history unfolds the ruins of grandeur, civilization and intelligence. It is published by Harper & Brothers, N. Y.

This is a work that ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, than that contained in Mr. Stephens' works.

Mr. Stephens gives an account of ancient cities he has visited, where once dwelt the powerful, the wise, the scientific, and to use his own words; 'architecture, sculpture and painting, all the arts which embellished life had flourished in this overgrown city; orators, warriors, and statesmen, beauty, ambition, and glory, had lived and passed away, and none knew that such things had been, or could tell of their past existence.' In the last clause, Mr. Catherwood is mistaken. It has fallen to his lot to explore the ruins of this once mighty people, but the 'Book of Mormon' unfolds their history; and published as it was, years before these discoveries were made, and giving as it does, accounts of a people, and of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regard to magnificence and location, it affords the most indubitable testimony of the historical truth of that book, which has been treated so lightly by the literati and would be philosophers of the present age.

For the information of our friends who do not possess this work, we may at a convenient time collect and compare many of the important items in this work, and in the Book of Mormon, and publish them. To give some idea of the nature of the last work, we publish the following from the preface:

"In his 'Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,' the author intimates his intention to make a thorough exploration of the ruins of the latter country. That intention has been carried into effect, and the following pages are the result. They describe, as the author has reason to believe, the most extensive journeying ever made by a stranger in that peninsula, and contain the account of visits to forty four ruined cities or palaces, in which the remains or vestiges of ancient population, were found. The existence of most of these ruins was entirely unknown to the residents of the capital—but few had ever been visited by white inhabitants—they were desolate and overgrown with trees. For a brief space, the stillness that reigned about them was broken and they were again left to solitude and silence. Time and the elements are hastening them to utter destruction. In a few generations, great edifices, their facades covered with sculptured ornaments, already croaking and yawning, must fall, and become mere shapeless mounds. It has been the fortune of the author to step between them and the destruction to which they are destined, and it is his hope to snatch from oblivion these perishing, but still gigantic memorials of a mysterious people."[6]


  1. Amos H. Wickersham, An Examination of the Principles of Mormonism, as Developed in the Recent Discussion Between the Author and Elders Wharton & Appleby, With a Brief Statement of Facts in Regard to Said Discussion (Wilmington, DE: Allderidge, Jeandell, & Miles, 1843), 1–20. off-site Reply
  2. W.I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent! Truth Vindicated, and Falsehood Exposed and Refuted: Being A Reply to A. H. Wickersham (Wilmington DE: Porter & Nafe, 1843), 16–17, 23.
  3. "LETTER OF ORSON SPENCER.," (2 January 1843) Times and Seasons 4:49-59.
  4. "Ancient Records," (1 May 1843) Times and Seasons 4:185-186.
  5. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:282 (journal entry dated 27 August 1843). ISBN 0941214133.
  6. "STEPHEN'S WORKS ON CENTRAL AMERICA.," (1 October 1843) Times and Seasons 4:346-347.