Where was the LDS Church organized: in Fayette or Manchester, NY?

Michael Marquardt

Michael Marquardt

Orson and I have had a conversation over at StayLDS discussing where the Church was organized, as well as who the original 6 members were.  I didn’t know there was a controversy on the location, but Orson has done quite a bit of research that it may have been Manchester, NY instead of the official church version that it occurred in the Peter Whitmer home in Fayette, some 25 miles away.  Well, I received my copy of the John Whitmer Historical Journal this past week, and there is an insteresting article on the subject by Michael Marquardt, “”Manchester as the Site of the Organization of the Church.”  Marquardt is a historian on the boards of both the JWHA and the Journal of Mormon History as well.  He makes the case that official church records are wrong, and the real location was Manchester.  Marquardt summarizes

A church was not formed at Fayette, Seneca County on April 6, 1830.  The first two elders, Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery were not at that location.  Also no member of the Whitmer family was in attendance at the Smith home in Manchester on April 6 as there were no revelations included for them.  No solid evidence has been produced of a meeting in Fayette on April 6, 1830.  The only sources that affirm there was a meeting establishing the Church of Christ at Fayette meeting are intentionally calculated to conceal the real location.

Intentionally?  But why?  It is well known that the early church faced many financial hardships:  Martin Harris lost his farm in printing the Book of Mormon, the Kirtland Bank failed, etc.  Marquardt argues that Joseph Smith’s attempts to live the Law of Consecration saddled the fledgling church (known then as “The Church of Christ”) with tremendous debts.  The Church originally established a “United Firm” (later known as the United Order) to handle property.  In 1834, church leaders decided it would be prudent to separate the Missouri and Ohio holdings in order to protect the church from creditors.  Marquardt writes,

The Kirtland firm met on May 3, 1834, and made changes to protect the church from creditors and from being sued for debts not paid.  They stated that the April 6, 1830, meeting occurred in Fayette, New York.  This was done for the same reason pseudonyms were used in revelations published in the 1835 D&C: to protect the church.

Marquardt notes that in addition to changing the location to Fayette, the name of the church was changed to “THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS” once again to protect the fledging church from creditors.  Marquardt notes that the pre-cursor to the D&C, the Book of Commandments, has at least 6 revelations listing Manchester as the founding location of the church.  The Evening and Morning Star also listed Manchester as the founding location in Mar and April 1833.  Marquardt also notes that

The correct location of the church’s formal organization was the meeting held in the Hyrum Smith/Joseph Smith Sr. home (not owned by the family) in Manchester.  Hyrum Smith was taxed in 1830 for fifteen acres on Manchester lot number one.  Individuals who resided in Manchester, and who did not associate with the church, but who witnessed baptisms performed would not have traveled to Fayette–a fifty-mile roundtrip–to attend a baptismal rite.  The reason is that the four baptisms were performed near the Smith home in what was locally known as Crooked Brook or Hathaway Creek.

In answer to Orson’s question about who the original six members were, Marquardt states that

What occurred on April 6 was that Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery an elder of the church, immediately after which Cowdery ordained Smith an elder.  Baptisms were performed for Joseph Smith Sr., Lucy Mack Smith, Martin Harris, and a “Rockwell”–that is Sarah Rockwell.  The location of Fayette, in the Whitmer home, is in error since the baptisms took place in Crooked Brook near the Smith Sr. home in the township of Manchester.

It should be no surprise that some mistakes were made in compiling the history.

Well, these errors don’t seem to be acknowledged, even in 2013.  I just reviewed the Joseph Smith Papers website, and they still insist that Fayette is the correct location:

On 6 April 1830, the “Church of Christ” was formally organized. This revelation, dictated sometime during the meeting, affirmed JS’s role as prophet and instructed members to heed his words. The text as recorded in Revelation Book 1, the earliest complete record, identifies Fayette, New York, as the site of this revelation and hence of the church’s organization.

The 1833 Book of Commandments dated this revelation to 6 April 1830 but changed the location to Manchester, New York, a mistake that could not be corrected until Revelation Book 1 became available in 2005. The change (and the addition of “Manchester, New York” to several other short revelations bearing the same date but no location) appears to have been made by Missouri printer William W. Phelps, who joined the young church in 1831 and therefore had no personal knowledge of the 1830 organizing meeting.
John Whitmer recorded this document in Revelation Book 1, in which it was identified as “17th Commandment AD 1829.” Later, “1829” was crossed out, and “April <6> 1830” was inserted by Whitmer and Oliver CowderyEdward Partridge may have drafted an earlier copy of the text, but only a portion of that is extant.

Once again, Marquardt would argue that the Book of Commandments, written earlier than this document shown, provided the correct location.  So, are you convinced by Marquardt?


3 comments on “Where was the LDS Church organized: in Fayette or Manchester, NY?

  1. The church was organized in Manchester on April 6. D&C 20 was received prior to that date, at or near Fayette, but the revelation was recorded soon after April 6, perhaps at or near Fayette again. Confused? It makes sense to me.

    Revelation on Church organization and government, given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at or near Fayette, New York. Portions of this revelation may have been given as early as summer 1829. The complete revelation, known at the time as the Articles and Covenants, was likely recorded soon after April 6, 1830 (the day the Church was organized). The Prophet wrote, “We obtained of Him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth.”

  2. Whether the revelation was recorded in Fayette makes no difference as to where the first meeting actually took place. However, Marquardt makes a pretty strong case that Fayette had nothing to do with the revelation. D&C 21 was written in Kirtland, relatively far away from New York.

  3. The heading to section 20 is, technically, correct, but the heading to D&C 21 is another story. Although the location given for that revelation is likely wrong, I do not fault the scholars for being cautious in changing the church’s organization site. Perhaps they are waiting for a scholarly consensus.

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