Mormon History

Joe Smith's Brush With Being a Methodist - 1825

The Methodist Magazine April 1825


Letter from the Rev. George Lane, dated Wilkesbarre, January 25, 1825.

With inexpressible gratitude to the great Head of the church, I am enabled to inform you that the work of the Lord is prospering gloriously on Ontario district. The first quarterly meeting after conference was held on Lyons circuit, town of Sodus, September 4th and 5th. Many attended, and much of the divine presence was realized. The next week commenced our camp-meeting, in Ulysses, Seneca circuit. In this place deep rooted prejuduces against campmeetings had for some time existed, and it was with some difficulty that leave of the quarterly meeting was obtained to hold one...

September 18th and 19th [1824] our quarterly meeting for Catherine circuit was held at Hector... From Catherine I went to Ontario circuit, where
the Lord had already begun a gracious work in Palmyra. This is a pleasant village, situate on the great western canal, about twenty-two miles east of Rochester, and is now in a flourishing condition. In this place the work commenced in the spring, and progressed moderately until the time of the quarterly meeting, which was held on the 25th and 26th of September. About this time it appeared to break out afresh. Monday evening, after the quarterly meeting, there were four converted, and on the following evening, at a prayer meeting at Dr. Chase's, there were seven. Among these was a young woman by the name of Lucy Stoddard... she appeared, like Enoch, to walk with God; "scarcely a cloud did arise to darken her sky, or hide, for a moment, her Lord from her eye." In about one week after her conversion she was married to Mr. Hiram Wilcox... The same week she was married she was attacked by a bilious remittant fever, which terminated in a typhus fever... From Saturday night to the time of her dissolution, which took place on Monday following, she seemed wholly swallowed up in God. Though extremely weak, she was almost incessantly employed in exhortations, prayer, and praise...

From this place I proceeded around the district, and I think I may say in truth, that God was with us at all our quarterly meetings...

... it pleased God, the week following, to pour out his Spirit on the people of this neighbourhood, in a remarkable manner. The vivifying flame was simultaneously felt throughout the society. Convictions deep and aweful arrested the sinner, and conversions, in many instances luminous as the sun, succeeded. In two weeks time I again visited the place, when upward of thirty professed to have experienced religion, and the work, at that time, appeared in a most promising condition. On other parts of the circuit also, the preachers were greatly encouraged. December 11th and 12th our quarterly meeting for Ontario circuit was held in Ontario. It was attended with showers of blessings, and we have reason to believe that much good work was done, Here I found that the work, which had for some time been going on in Palmyra, had broken out from the village like a mighty flame, and was spreading in every direction. When I left the place, December 22d [1824], there had, in the village and its vicinity, upward of one hundred and fifty joined the [Methodist] society, besides a number that had joined other churches,
and many that joined no church.

December 18th and 19th we held our quarterly meeting for Geneva and Canandaigua circuit, in the village of Geneva... December 25 and 26, quarterly meeting for Crooked lake circuit was held at Bellona....

Nor are the local preachers idle spectators of what is going on; but on the contrary, many of them are very active and useful. Indeed, the official members generally appear to be animated with a growing zeal for the prosperity of Zion; and in many instances private members also manifest the deepest concern for their fellow creatures, and labour indefatigably to turn them from darkness to light, and are often successful. May this gracious work continue to prosper until the whole land is filled with the knowledge and love of God; to whose name shall be all the glory. Amen and Amen.

P. S. Having just received a letter from the Rev. J. B. Alverson, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of subjoining an extract. He writes from

                        Canandaigua, January 13, 1825.
Dear Brother, -- With pleasure I employ a moment to give you information of the progress of the work of God on your district. In Geneva the work has increased considerably since you were there; likewise in Rushville. In each place several have joined the society. On Ontario circuit, brother Smith informs me, the prospects are very promising. Two hundred have been added since conference. On Lyons the Lord continues to visit the people in great mercy. At Clyde the prospect is great, -- several have recently experienced religion at Lyons village village. Eight have lately professed a determination to seek the Lord, in the Vicinity of Newark; four of whom have obtained evidence of pardon. A sherman's the work is gradually increasing and extending. At Sulphur springs the work goes on as powerfully as ever; seven were converted last sabbath evening. On Monday evening an attempt was made to carry the war into the enemy's territory,
by holding a watch night in Vienna. Mourners from the Springs, crowded the altar of mercy, and three found peace that evening, and one the next morning. Sixty-one have experienced religion since this revival commenced, and forty-one have joined the society. The current has taken a proper direction, flows on without obstruction, and astonishes all who behold it.
              Yours, very affectionately,
                                                J. B. Alverson

Note 1: As an aid in orienting the reader's attention to the various place names provided by the above correspondents to the Methodist Magazine, an early area map of western New York is available on-line -- Vienna was located at the unnamed circle, 7 miles south of Newark, in the upper right corner of Ontario County. In his 1851 article, "Origin of the Mormon Imposture," Palmyra resident Orsmaus Turner wrote of the young Joseph Smith, Jr.: "Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations... after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp-meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings." It is quite possible that the "camp meeting" the Smith youth attended was the same "watch night" held in Vienna in early January 1825, that the Methodist Rev. J. B. Alverson makes mention of. However, since Orsamus Turner had left Palmyra prior to 1825, it is equally possible that he was recalling a Methodist camp-meeting in the general area of Palmyra, as early as 1820. See the Palmyra Register of June 28, 1820 for mention of one such metting.

Note 2: For similar reports on the 1824-25 religious revival which was centered in Palmyra, see the letter of Rev. Solomon Goodale, published in the American Baptist Magazine of April, 1825 and the quotation from a Feb. 1825 issue of the Rochester Religious Advocate, as reprinted in the Mar. 2, 1825 issue of the Palmyra Wayne Sentinel.