In 1638, Robert Smith moved from Topsfield, England to Boston MA; shortly thereafter, he settled with his family in Topsfield, north of Boston. 160 years later, his descendant, Asael, moved into Vermont in search of inexpensive land. His son, Joseph Smith, Sr, kept going on to Palmyra, New York. This parallels the journeys of many families who started out in New England. My maternal grandfather's progenitors, the Proutys, started out in Boston, moved in the late 1700s west to Spencer, MA. In the next century, they'd gone on to Illinois, and my grandfather, Shirley Brooks, settled outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he farmed after stopping his medical practice when he contracted tuberculosis.
The easiest way west from New England is through the "Mohawk Trail", a break in the 2000 mile long Appalachian chain. Running from Vermont to Lake Erie, it offered an easy route to a whole new world surrounding the Great Lakes. With more people and raw materials to be moved, and finished goods going to the new settlers, entrepreneurs and government combined to build a water passage from the Hudson to Buffalo. Called the Erie Canal, it used existing waterways, some dredged right-of-way, and a series of locks, to move people and goods from the Atlantic to the interior and back with relative ease. With the recently purchased Louisiana Territory, New York could access almost a whole continent, and quickly became the world port for the growing country. American capitalism coupled with its vast resources of minerals, timber, and agricultural land became an engine for growth and expansion.
The history of the Mormons is the history of America in miniature. A family follows the country west, trying to build a place for itself, but never really rooted. Inventive, independent, and then inspired, they create a wholly American past and future. They harnass the power of collective activity, and incur the envy of their neighbors. Harassed, they move further west where they merge capitalism and faith into a self-contained, permanent society.
We followed the Mohawk Trail and today, the Erie Canal on our journey west. We stopped at the Hill Cumorah Visitor Center, sponsored by the LDS Church. After Joseph Smith, Jr, saw the angel Moroni, found and translated the gold/brass plates, he enlisted family, neighbors, and friends into the new religion they believed God had revealed to them to be created about the American experience. I don't know if the kids got anything out of the evangelical presentation on early church history, but I hope by the end of the trip they'll get some idea of what the past was like.
Joseph led his growing church west, first to Kirtland Ohio, then to Nauvoo, IL. We'll meet up again with him there, where the church was split, Brigham Young's troops going west to Utah, and Joseph's son "reorganizing" years later in Independance, MO, where Zion was to be established as New Jerusalem. My maternal grandmother was a member of this church, and her mother was married by Joseph Smith, III. Cheryl's niece, Kirsten, became a Latter Day Saint (Mormon) after college when she married someone already in that church. She found the emphasis on family and the structure provided by the church's teachings to bring her peace and contentment. And Cheryl and I spent two years in Salt Lake City while she studied midwifery at University of Utah. So we've always wanted a bit more undertstanding of LDS history and beliefs - its a part of our roots.
Miles: Will, 68; Al (on Tandem and single) 68; Cheryl (on Tandem and single) 52; Shaine (on Tandem) 18; Ann (on Tandem) 18.
Total Miles: 499
**Next Day's Journal**