A visitor strolling down a Salt Lake City street in 1870 would have heard a clipped British accent almost as frequently as a flattened Yankee drawl, as a third of the people in Salt Lake County in that year were British-born. Why had the English ground proven so fertile for the Latter-day Saints? An 1840 letter written by two prominent Mormon apostle/missionaries provides partial answers. Willard Richards had labored in England since 1837; Brigham Young disembarked three years later. Together in 1840 they wrote back to Nauvoo of the jarring events which were transforming England.
Their letter is a significant document, for it provides a contemporary Mormon-American view of the life in hardship of early Victorian England. They also disparagingly described the religious scene. All this helps to explain the British attraction of Mormonism. The Latter-day Saints with their promise of a better life in America, gathered some converts who sought a remedy to their harsh and difficult conditions. But even though Mormonism moved in the same reform current as at least a dozen major agitations and movements which stirred England through the period, its major appeal was profoundly religious. Religion dominated Victorian society, and the Saints’ message of a restored and pure Bible Christianity, its claims of priesthood authority, its display of spiritual gifts, its millennial hopes, and its emphasis upon Sabbath observance, sobriety, temperance, and family solidarity appealed to many religious seekers. This article reproduces the letter of Willard Richards and Brigham Young.