British Travelers View the Saints, 1847–1877

Historians who have made extensive studies of the Latter-day Saints’ image in nineteenth-century American plays, novels, periodicals, newspapers, and pictorial representations have found the image was decidedly negative, or, as Burton put it, “anti-Mormon.” No one has made a similar investigation of the Church’s image in another popular nineteenth-century medium, the travel account, in which Burton found more neutral views of the Latter-day Saints. Historians have used travel writing as sources for details of time, place, and person. They have also examined these firsthand accounts as a genre, summarizing how foreigners, particularly the British, viewed America. These broad studies of America give only a few sentences or paragraphs to the Latter-day Saints, however, even though a number of travelers devoted pages, chapters, and books to the subject.

As one step towards an analysis of the Latter-day Saint image in travel literature, this article looks at accounts by Britons who visited the Salt Lake Valley between the Latter-day Saints’ arrival in 1847 and the death of Brigham Young in 1877. These accounts include seven books by travelers who reached Salt Lake City by wagon or stagecoach before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and eighteen by those who arrived by rail. These visitors were aware of the prevailing anti-Mormon stereotype but described the Latter-day Saints more impartially. Also, just as the negative image in other media reveal some of the fears and prejudices of the times, the more balanced, firsthand depictions disclose some of that time’s values and preoccupations.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 31:2
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