By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in 1806 to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. Their family travelled and frequently moved so that Smith Jr. would think nothing of his long journeys as an adult. Around 1816, the Smiths were part of “a New England exodus across the Great Lakes region in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, children of the decaying utopia of Puritan New England following paths since wrenched askew from those of their ancestors.”1 After the Revolutionary War, many American Loyalist families chose to leave New England, making Upper and Lower Canada their homes. Analogous to this were John and Nancy Henry, who immigrated from Ireland in 1811, landed in New York City, and slowly made their way to East Whitby in Upper Canada.
Joseph Smith’s religious journey is oddly similar to Thomas (son of John and Nancy) Henry’s. “Joseph embarked on his usual religious inquiries when he was barely an adolescent”2 just as Thomas Henry was “when very young, the subject of religious impressions.”3
Before becoming a Christian, Thomas Henry explored Episcopalianism, Methodism, and Calvinism. Then, in 1825, he met a Mr. Blackmar, an Elder that had “‘taken his life in his hand,’ and gone forth to preach the gospel, relying for support only on Him who feeds the ravens, and marks the sparrows fall.”4 These ministers took only the name of ‘Christian’ as their religion.
The Christian Church (also known as the Disciples of Christ) rejected all denominations during the Second Great Awakening (1790 – 1840). Alex Beam, author of American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, describes the Second Great Awakening as “a breakout period of radical, passionate rethinking of traditional Christian worship…new doctrine was everywhere.”5
On April 30, 1830, Smith “announced the formation of the Church of Christ…converts came from evangelical Methodism and from the followers of evangelist Alexander Campbell, who, like Joseph, was preaching a primitive Christianity, calling for a restoration of Christ’s church on earth, in anticipation of the Second Coming.”6 Then, on December 31, 18317, Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone came together and officially merged their beliefs to form the Disciples of Christ – also known as the Christian Church or Church of Christ. Mr. Blackmar, whom Thomas Henry met in 1825, was an early Disciple of Christ missionary.
On September 4, 1825, Thomas Henry
was at work alone in the field. I wept and prayed and again reviewed my past life: again my sins stood in dark array before me. My eyes were bathed in tears and my heart was ready to break; and there, alone in the field, I confessed my sins, and promised to obey God in all things. Bless His name! He not only humbled, but exalted me then and there! A great light broke into my mind; I forgot all my trouble, was strongly relieved of every burden and all distress, while my whole soul seemed full of bliss; my tongue was loosed, and I cried, “Glory to God!’ Then I sat down and asked myself what this meant.8
Seven years later, Sidney Rigdon, an “urbane and erudite Campbellite preacher”9 and his congregation (Disciples of Christ/Christian), joined Joseph Smith in 1830. “Joseph admired Rigdon, famed for his fiery, revivalist preaching, and often deferred to the older man on theological questions or when it came time to deliver an important speech. The two men shared a famous 1832 vision, staring into the sky for over an hour while receiving a revelation of the three-tiered stratification of heaven.”10
The above comparisons will become part of further research on the E.S. Shrapnel print entitled “Mormons attempt to raise the dead.” Thus, there is finally solid evidence that Joseph Smith did visit Oshawa in the early days of this new religion and made some converts from this and surrounding areas of the Home District. Please visit https://oshawamuseum.wordpress.com/tag/es-shrapnel/ for updates and to see other prints.
- Bowman, Matthew. The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. Random House, 2012. 6.
- Beam, Alex. American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, Public Affairs, New York, 2015, 15.
- Henry, Polly Ann, Stoney Kudel and Laura Suchan. The Annotated Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry. The Oshawa Historical Society, 2017, 30.
- Henry, et al., 32-34.
- Beam, 15.
- Ibid, 19.
- Davis, M. M. (1915). How the Disciples Began and Grew, A Short History of the Christian Church, Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company.
- Henry, et al., 37.
- Beam, 24.