In the summer of 1838, Elder Benjamin Winchester (fig. 1) ventured into Monmouth County, New Jersey, to preach to gospel.Winchester was the first Mormon missionary to make it into the Pine Barrens, an area so named because of its sandy, unproductive land. Soon “the news went abroad, that a Mormon preacher had made his appearance in the land.” Winchester wrote, “As to [Mormon] principles, and rules of faith, the people knew nothing, except by reports . . . [and] the people flocked out, in crowds to hear, yet at this time, more out of curiosity than any thing else.” Once Winchester began preaching to the people, the people found his message “so different from what they had expected, that it caused a spirit of inquiry, so much so, that I had calls in every direction.” The more Winchester preached, “the greater the excitement, so that in every town, and neighborhood, where I had preached, what the world calls Mormonism, was the grand topic of conversation.”
After Winchester’s initial contact with the Pine Barrens, he continued to preach throughout the summer of 1838, particularly in Hornerstown and New Egypt. In October 1838, Winchester organized the converts at Hornerstown, numbering twenty-eight, into a branch. In January 1839, Winchester went east to Toms River, a coastal town. There he preached and baptized eleven people. Winchester finishes his account of his labors by saying, “I feel myself authorized to say, that the work of the Lord is gaining ground, in the region of country where I have been laboring.”
The work continued to progress in the years that followed. Erastus Snow worked as a missionary in the East from 1839 to 1842. During that time, he reported a high rate of conversion throughout Burlington and Monmouth Counties and particularly in a village called Cream Ridge.Joseph Smith visited the branches in the Pine Barrens while on his 1839–40 journey to Washington, D.C., and is said to have “sealed a large number.” In 1840, Alfred Wilson, a local member, informed the Church that there were about one hundred members in Cream Ridge. An 1842 article about William Smith reported that “the work of the Lord is progressing rapidly in the east, especially in New Jersey. He has baptized 25 since he left home, and witnessed the baptisms of a large number more by the hands of Elder E. Snow and others.” In the early 1840s, many Church members from the area moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, in order to be with the main body of the Church. Despite the movement west, large numbers of members remained in the area throughout the 1840s; in 1842, local convert William Appleby reported “something near two hundred members here [probably Recklesstown] and in Cream Ridge, and Toms River exclusive of those who have gone west.” This “Mormon invasion,” as one local historian called it, resulted in twenty-one branches in New Jersey by 1848—the majority being in Monmouth and Burlington Counties. Church members at Hornerstown built a meetinghouse, and it was reported that “the pervading influence [in Hornerstown] is in favor of the Mormons.”
One Toms River historian lists Joseph Smith’s visit there as one of eight principal events in the town’s history.Another says, “For a while [Mormonism] was the principal religion in Toms River.” In 1850, although some converts had already left New Jersey for the West, “the [Mormon] church at Toms River was in a flourishing condition.” Another local history said that in 1850 “this strange sect was at the zenith of its popularity in this region.” That year the Mormons built a meetinghouse in Toms River. In the words of one historian, “For awhile the religion seemed to be sweeping everything before it.”
The events in this period mark an important chapter in the history of early Mormonism as well as the history of the Pine Barrens. Perhaps because historians tend to focus on Mormonism’s main body, this story of a group of Mormons on the periphery has been largely left untold.But this story has much to offer to an understanding of early Mormonism because the number of converts the Church gathered in the area allowed for the formation of branches that stood for some time. This case provides an opportunity to look at the interaction of Church members with their local community and to study the effect that major events in Mormon history, specifically the succession crisis and the westward migration, had on these Saints. Such study enhances and broadens the story of early Mormonism.
Nature of the Pine Barrens
The Pine Barrens, an area covered with pine trees and sandy soil, encompasses a large part of southeastern New Jersey. In 1840, the principal enterprises in the sparsely populated area were the iron, charcoal, timber, and glass industries, although shipping was developing in Toms River.Farming, fishing, clamming, and hunting were also prevalent. Despite these means of employment, the Pine Barrens never had “enough economic activity to enrich all its residents.” A contemporary observed that people were impoverished because “the wood is generally gone, &, if it were not, that from Virginia has precedence in market. So the people are generally poorer than they were a few years back & likely to remain poor. Towns & populous neighbourhoods can never be on such barren sand” (fig. 2). Accompanying the general poverty of the “Pineys” (as the inhabitants were called) was the locals’ nomadism. As one observer put it, “To stay two years in a place is a long time for some of them.” Another said, “Although they frequently move from place to place in the Pines, still they generally prefer their present condition to any in which there would be a better opportunity.”
During the early nineteenth century, several accounts were written about the Pine Barrens. These include accounts by outside preachers working in the area, such as William Potts, a Presbyterian who proselytized in the Pines in 1826.The most detailed descriptions of the area come from colporteurs (peddlers of religious books for the American Tract Society). These colporteurs had few kind words to say about the cultural state of the Pines. According to one, there existed “a kind of indifference to culture of almost every kind, except agri-culture—a distaste for reading in order to secure mental or religious improvement.” Another found that “it was no unusual thing to meet with whole families, not a single member of which could read,” and that “most of the people are very ignorant.” The colporteurs went so far as to describe the Pines as a place where “all that enobles [sic] man finds scarce a single friend; while their opposing vices reign triumphant.” Statements by those not of the clergy could be harsher still. One author, W. F. Mayer, wrote that the Pineys (or, as he called them, Pine Rats) were “completely besotted and brutish in their ignorance, they are incapable of obtaining an honest living.” Mayer went on to say that Pine Rats should not be allowed to continue to exist in the United States. Recent historians have pointed out the absurdity of such extreme statements but do admit to the area’s backwardness. Even a native and Mormon convert from the area, Theodore McKean, said that his birthplace, Allentown, consisted of “inhabitants seemingly averse to modern innovation.” This backwardness drew the colporteurs to the area: “It is for the condition of such as these ignorant & depraved as they mostly are, that the Christian heart should deeply feel, & indeed yearn over them.”
The Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) had been the major denomination in the region through the early eighteenth century, but by the 1840s, the Methodist Church had surpassed it.Despite the strong Methodist influence in the area, the various preachers were mostly in agreement that religion in the area was “dreadfully paralyzed.” Local industries required work on Sunday, leading “many to form the habit of neglecting all proper Sabbath exercises.” Further, “the supply of Methodist ministers does not meet the wants of the people in public preaching, much less in private instruction. An educated and permanent ministry is greatly needed.” Few preachers attended to the Pine Barrens because “the Missionary must travel far to find few souls, & often feel that his best energies have been spent in contending with the sand. He must study the doubtful road through the wilderness instead of his sermon.”
Pine Barrens Conversions
While it may seem that the residents of the Pine Barrens were poor and disenfranchised, the colporteurs and others conceded that not all inhabitants fit the stereotype. William Potts mentioned that he enjoyed the company of some cultivated people while he was in the Pines.One colporteur said, “The owners managers & clerks [of the local industries] are generally well informed & some quite refined. Others of some intelligence may be found here and there through the Pines.” Another described a Mormon at Toms River as being a “man of considerable wealth.”
Likewise, Mormon converts in the Pines were not from the lowest strata of society.Statements showing that many of the converts were held in high esteem by the community were applied to Toms River and Hornerstown. One local historian went as far as to say that “this strange religion took hold of some of the very best people in the community.” A look at some of the Mormon converts in the region and their experiences as a result of joining the Church will help shed light on who some of these people were.
Conversions in Toms River. In this coastal town, the Church not only appeared to be the principal religion at one point but also included prominent citizens: a local history claims “a number of respectable families” joined the Church.The “man of considerable wealth” mentioned earlier was probably Anthony Ivins Jr., whose family owned “the most pretentious house in Toms River” (fig. 3). Although the patriarch of the family, Anthony Ivins Sr., never joined the Church, his wife, Sarah, and two children, Margaret and Israel, joined along with Anthony Jr. The other three living children (Thomas, Emmeline, and Edward) did not join the Church. Anthony Jr. and Thomas were “extensively engaged in shipping and merchandising.” Anthony Jr. also headed a crew of three hundred from Toms River to expand an inlet in the county.
Anthony Sr.’s daughter Margaret was married to Washington McKean, perhaps the most prominent citizen of Toms River at the time. Washington owned a store, some limekilns, and boat docks and was responsible for getting the railroad to Toms River.Evidence suggests that Margaret McKean was involved in the Presbyterian Church before becoming a Mormon. She was listed as a potential teacher in a Presbyterian Sabbath school in 1826. Washington remained affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Their only son, Theodore (fig. 4), who converted to Mormonism some twelve years after his mother did, benefited from an excellent education. He was immersed in his family’s capitalist enterprises, working as a bookkeeper for his father as well as for his uncles Anthony and Thomas. This exposure led Theodore to later have “several inducements to engage in business of a lucrative character.” His training in surveying, civil engineering, and business provided skills that were useful throughout his life, both in New Jersey and later in Utah.
Conversions in the Hornerstown Area. As at Toms River, the inland community of Hornerstown had “a good many respectable people [who] adhered to the [Mormon] faith.”In fact, other members of the Ivins family living in Hornerstown joined the Church. Anthony Ivins Sr.’s brothers Charles and James converted, as well as Rachel and Anna Ivins, daughters of Anthony Sr.’s cousin Caleb Ivins. In her later years, Rachel described her conversion. She was a member of the Baptist Church when she first heard the Mormon preachers. At first, she thought the Mormons were “the false prophets the Bible speaks of” and paid them little attention. Her sister Anna, however, had joined the Church and was able to convince Rachel to attend Church meetings with her. Rachel said, “I attended some more meetings and commenced reading the Book of Mormon, Voice of Warning and other works, and was soon convinced that they were true.” Rachel said the result was that “a new light seemed to break in upon me, the scriptures were plainer to my mind, and the light of the everlasting Gospel began to illumine my soul.” Rachel was further convinced when she heard the doctrine that a child who died without baptism would go to the celestial kingdom and contrasted it to her minister’s teaching that the child would go to hell: “The contrast was very great showing one to be false and the other true. And I was steadily being drawn into the Gospel net.” When her minister heard of Rachel’s attendance at Mormon meetings, he told her that if she continued to do so she would be disfellowshipped from the Baptist congregation. That was the deciding factor; she was baptized soon after. Then “what joy filled my being. I could sing all the day long and rejoice in the glorious promises in the Gospel.”
Other converts from the Hornerstown area include the Horners, Robbins, and Wikoff families.The branch president at Hornerstown was James L. Curtis, who had been on the board of the Methodist Church in New Egypt. Alfred Wilson, another former Methodist, and Andrew Hunter Scott were also active Church members.
A member who became a leader in the Church in the Hornerstown area and, later, throughout the northeastern United States was William Appleby. He served as branch president in Recklesstown and twice as president of the Eastern States Mission. Although Appleby received only a limited education, he studied on his own, “endeavoring to gain what knowledge I could,” until he was quite accomplished in academics.He held several positions in education including head of the Recklesstown Academy (1838–41) and school committee clerk for the town of Chesterfield, New Jersey (1840–45).
An eloquent writer, Appleby provided a detailed account of his conversion. He listened to the gospel in October 1839 when Benjamin Winchester first toured the Pine Barrens. Appleby recalled being very impressed with the logical manner in which Winchester explained Mormon doctrine. Appleby was not sure what to make of Joseph Smith’s visions as recounted by Orson Pratt, who was also there, but Appleby was nevertheless impressed.
One of Appleby’s most convincing experiences was hearing the testimony of convert Alfred Wilson. Wilson was a former Methodist and husband of one of Appleby’s nieces. Appleby said that Wilson was a man “in whom I placed implicit confidence.” Appleby recorded Wilson’s testimony:
“I enjoyed myself somewhat and received a certain portion of the Spirit of the Lord, while in the Methodist Church.” But said he, “I never knew what true religion or the spirit of the Lord was, until I became a member of the Church to which I belong.” “I enjoy more peace, knowledge &c. in one day now than I ever experienced or knew before.” And said he [“]if you will only humble yourself, in true repentance and be Baptised for the remission of your sins, receive the imposition of hands &c. Believing in the fullness of the Gospel (as been revealed to Joseph Smith) you too shall know of a surety these things are true, and rejoice in the same.”
However, Appleby was hesitant to join the Mormons because of worries that his academic peers would think him a fool if he became a Mormon. He wrote, “I began to contemplate my situation, the scorn of the world &c, when the tempter taking the advantage says, ‘There is no need of your being baptised, only live a moral life &c, that is all that is required, you have been converted, that is sufficient, but if you go to be Baptised, the people will laugh at you.’” These concerns caused Appleby to forego baptism at that time. Appleby continued to agonize over his decision until he visited his mother, who counseled, “If you feel it to be your duty to be baptized, go and do it never mind the school.” William Appleby was baptized into the Church on September 21, 1840. Appleby believed he made the right decision. “We returned home with rejoicings,” he wrote, “and have continued to rejoice from that day until the present in the truth I have embraced, and trust I ever may.”After his conversion, Appleby became an ardent supporter of Mormonism, writing pamphlets including A Few Important Questions, Mormonism Consistent! and A Dissertation on Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream.
Appleby’s fears of losing respect due to his choice to join the Mormons were not unfounded. He said, “I continued teaching school, but I soon perceived a difference. It [the school] decreased in numbers, persons who had been familiar with me heretofore, now appeared reserved and cold.” Appleby was undeterred and continued faithfully in his new religion. “The Lord Stood by me,” he said, and helped Appleby as he set out in proselytizing in the region. “By baptising twenty six (I believe) into the Church, in the Neighbourhood surrounding, This increased the ire of many, towards me, especially some of the professing ‘Christians’ but I heeded them not.” Despite the support Appleby received from some prominent members of the community,eventually the membership of the school where he taught dwindled to the point that Appleby had to close its doors. Thus, William Appleby felt some negative effects of his decision.
Appleby was concerned about his poor health, motivating him towards introspection. Not long after Appleby became a Mormon, he quit taking his medicine and decided to “trust in the Lord.” Appleby said his health improved after that.Although Appleby struggled with lifelong illness that caused him much financial difficulty, he held the positions of justice of the peace, a judge on the Court of General Quarter Sessions, and township clerk.
While little information is known about the majority of Church converts in the region, the impression left on the community was that the converts did not generally fit the stereotype of an uneducated, poverty-stricken people. A colporteur who disparaged a Mormon at Prospertown by saying the convert “had no money” acknowledged that the man was a “great reader.”
The Effect of Miracles on Conversion
Mormons were known for their many cases of healings and other miracles in the area. One local history said, “Among [Mormon] rites at that time was the anointing the sick and the laying on of hands of the elders to heal diseases.”One local described a Mormon town hall as
quite a noted place when the Mormons held meetings there, and great crowds were attracted by the miracles performed by them. My mother was present when a very estimable lady, modest and retiring in disposition, arose by the power of unseen influence and discoursed in tongues, as it is called in scripture. No one present understood the language.
Several sources record the healing of people in the Pines. Erastus Snow told a story of Stacy Horner’s daughter who was very sick. Snow blessed her, but she continued to get worse. The doctor said there was nothing he could do for her. “But the Lord heard our prayers and healed her, and she resolved on immediate obedience, for I told her by the Spirit of God that any time she said she would be baptized she should be able to do it and be well.” The girl was baptized and afterward enjoyed good health.William Appleby recounted an incident involving two women, sick of consumption, both of whom decided to be baptized. The first, Achsah Bowker, was baptized and then blessed to be healed. Appleby said, “I heard from her some time afterwards, she was rejoicing in the truth, and the health she enjoyed.” The second, Mary Garan, was so sick that she had to be “supported to prevent her from [falling]” in order to be baptized. “A few weeks after [her baptism,] she died, rejoicing in the truth.”
Therefore, not all the sick were healed, nor did all who were healed become Mormons. William Sharp told of a boy crippled by “Hydrarthus,” or “white swelling.” The boy was healed by Joseph Smith and able to walk again. “The boy claimed that he was restored to health by the power of the Almighty through the administrations of the Prophet. He, however, never joined the church.”
Relationships between Mormons and Others in the Pines
From Benjamin Winchester’s first efforts in the Pine Barrens, the Mormons faced opposition. At the beginning of Winchester’s mission, when Mormonism was a curiosity, Winchester said, “The honest in heart [exclaimed] that it was truth, while another class of the community, who loves darkness more than light, lifted their voices and influence against it.” Winchester defended Mormonism vigorously and said that, while the preachers were hoping he “would be put to shame, and forced to abandon the country with disgrace,” the actual result was that “they put themselves to shame; and instead of exposing Mormonism, they exposed their own wickedness.”When Winchester first went to Toms River, “some members of a certain sect, in this place, locked up the school house” where Winchester was going to preach. This act, however, attracted a crowd and “the door was opened, and I preached to an attentive congregation.”
Benjamin Winchester said that because what he preached was different from what the people expected, much of the initial reaction was positive.Similarly, a local history said that a speech given by John Taylor in 1851 at Forked River “seemed to differ but little from an old-fashioned Methodist sermon on the necessity of salvation.” And Taylor “made but little allusion to the peculiar tenets of Mormonism.” After Winchester’s initial success in the Pines, he said that local clergymen responded by “fumbling over their old newspaper titles, and hunting up all the old stories that was told a number of years ago . . . probably thinking that by so doing, it would render the society, and its principles, odious in the minds of the people, so that they would stop their ears.” The negative perception of Mormonism in the area was apparently the result of imported prejudices rather than of any malice or misbehavior on the part of the local Church members themselves.
Some slanderous stories circulated about Mormons in the Pines. One of these was reported in a local history:
Of Joseph Smith’s visit to New Egypt, [New Jersey,] some amusing stories, probably exaggerated, are told at the expense of converts, such as of a wealthy man being told by Smith to repair to a particular tree at a certain hour of the night and pray for direction from Heaven, and the Lord would reply. Accordingly the man sought the place and prayed as directed; he was answered by a voice from above, which, among other things, directed him to give a good share of his worldly good to the prophet Smith; but the man seemed to doubt it being the voice of an angel—it sounded more like Smith himself concealed in the branches.
“It is generally believed,” William Appleby noted, “that the denomination of people I belong to, are without . . . virtue, morals, or religion; and denominated ‘enthusiasts,’ ‘False Teachers,’ ‘Impostors,’ ‘Fanatics’ &c.”This attitude is most clearly demonstrated by the labels the colporteurs attached to Mormons. One colporteur described New Egypt as a community of “many Universalists, Infidels and Mormons—a wicked place.” He believed the Mormons practiced “much ireligion.” The most complimentary thing a colporteur had to say was that the Mormons had “several ignorant but zealous Priests.”
Andrew Hunter Scott described teaching in Mays Landing in 1844, where he “Preached 6 times in the Woods & Baptised Cathern Ireland & many more Believed But would not Be Baptised at Present.” When Scott preached again at Mays Landing in 1845, “many Believed the Word that Was spoken But would not obey it Being afraid of Persecution.”Apparently the negativity attached to Mormonism in the region had had some effect.
Henry Perkins. The most vigorous opposition to the Mormons apparently came from Reverend Henry Perkins in 1840. Perkins (fig. 5) was a Presbyterian preacher at Allentown, New Jersey. Perkins “aroused much interest here [Allentown] and elsewhere by his attacks on the doctrine of the new faith.”Perkins felt compelled to respond to the Mormon missionaries because they “were much disturbing the peace and minds of the people. Some two or three had been drawn away from [his] communion, and the excitement was rising when Mr. Perkins felt constrained to put himself in the breach.” Of his efforts a local history said, “His fearless, unflinching conduct is remembered, and the result was a powerful blow against the spread of Smith’s obnoxious doctrine.” Benjamin Winchester was quick to respond to Perkins, publishing An Examination of the Lecture Delivered by the Rev. H. Perkins.
Disrupted Meetings. Opponents sometimes physically interfered with the preaching of the gospel. Erastus Snow described a meeting in the woods for which he “had near 1000 to preach to; but though the majority listened with attention, about 100 young men behaved very bad, . . . yelling and singing and racing horses about the meeting ground with the intention of breaking up the meeting.”William Appleby recorded a meeting where opponents “behaved very bad, cursing, swearing, groaning &c.” At another meeting, Appleby recorded, several students from Princeton and local preachers were “laughing, talking, walking about, making remarks, &c, were going on profusely.” Appleby responded to the disturbance by saying, “‘I must give you the preference of being the most unmannerly, ill-behaved, and disrespectful congregation, in your manners towards us, of any people I have ever been among. It is highly unbecoming, and reflects disgrace upon the neighborhood.’” Appleby continued, “‘I hold the office . . . of Justice of the Peace, when I am in my own County, but I am in the State. And I will give you to understand, that I do not loose the authority of suppressing vice and immorality, when I am here.’” Appleby went on to say that it was ridiculous for the sects to send missionaries to the Indians to teach them manners when the Indians were so much better behaved. Appleby suggested that Indians should be sent to teach the preachers some manners. At this point, the crowd quieted down, and Appleby reported, “The spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I bore a faithful testimony. The congregation was attentive, and fairly quailed beneath the power of truth.”
Easing of Tensions. Benjamin Winchester said that the reaction to his debates with the local clergy was that the people “were astonished at the conduct of the priests, and returned home with amazement . . . others knowing that slander, was no argument, and that there had no argument been adduced, to overthrow the doctrine that I had proclaimed, acknowledged that there was no scriptural argument that could be produced to overthrow it.” Winchester said that as he “continued preaching, the prejudices of the people wore away, and there was a general spirit of inquiry.”
Despite some opposition, prominent Mormons were able to gain and retain public positions after their conversions. After William Appleby converted to Mormonism, he took several months to visit Nauvoo, Illinois, the headquarters of the Church. A year after his return to Recklesstown, where he was serving as the president of the branch and doing missionary work, Appleby was reappointed as justice of the peace and associate judge for Burlington County for a five-year term.The Ivinses of Toms River also maintained their prominent positions. Anthony continued his business and headed the crew to expand the waterway, as mentioned above. After Theodore McKean returned from Utah to Toms River, from 1855 to 1857 he simultaneously acted as both branch president of the Church there and as the deputy sheriff of Ocean County.
As Mormonism grew in the Pines, the opposition seemed, for the most part, to be less blatant. One local historian said, “It is generally conceded that the Mormon converts were noted for sincerity, industry, and frugality.”During Erastus Snow’s labors in the regions from 1839 to 1842, he described little opposition. Despite rowdy behavior at meetings in the woods, Snow seemed to have had general community support. When Snow was at New Egypt, he was “warmly attacked by a young Methodist preacher, but the audience hissed at [Snow’s opponent] until he became so much excited that he left the house before I got through answering his objections.”
William Appleby also had an experience where the public came to his aid. In 1848, Appleby was intending to preach at Cream Ridge. However, a Mr. Stewart, who was the schoolmaster of the school where Appleby intended to hold his meeting, “went around the neighborhoods,” Appleby was informed, “endeavouring to excite the people to prevent us from holding meeting, calling Mormons thieves, and Robbers.” But “the trustees decided, as the House was free, for all; it was our privilege to occupy it, as well as others.” Nevertheless, “it was feared by some (I believe) on the night of the meeting that the Master would lock up the House, and carry off the key, to prevent us from holding meeting in the House.” As a preventive measure, “W. Peter H. Wikoff one of the Trustees . . . brought an axe along with him to open the door, if the preceding should be the case, but the key had been left,” and Appleby was able to preach “to an overflowing House, All not being able to get in”(fig. 6).
Andrew Hunter Scott, a local convert, described little opposition during his mission in the Pines from 1843 to 1845. Scott claimed that preachers continued to circulate slander, but of his own treatment, Scott said, “We Was treated verry Well. With one exception A man. Big By the name of Samuel Price at Bakers Vill said We ought to Be tared & fethered & drove out of the country this man Was a methodist.”Despite this one hostile engagement, Scott said his overall impression was that “the People Was verry Hospitable & in that Regeon of contry & may the lord Bless them for their kindness towards the Elders of Israel.”
Nevertheless, the belief that Mormonism was less than rational persisted in the community. The feelings toward Mormons were perhaps typified in the dealings of William Appleby with a Mr. Van Doran, a Presbyterian minister. Appleby said that Van Doran allowed him to preach in the area and was “much of a gentleman.” After much debate on religious matters, Van Doran’s conclusion was that Appleby was “honest but deluded.”
Although in the Pines Mormonism may have been considered respectable, notorious, or something in-between, one thing is clear: Mormons in the Pines were treated better than their brethren in the Church’s main body. There were no cases in the Pines of Mormons being mobbed, tarred and feathered, displaced, or abused in the ways that were typical of the treatment of the main body of the Church from New York to Nauvoo. While people in the Pines may have objected to Mormonism, few were hostile to their neighbors.
Missionary Rhetoric. One important interpretation of early Mormonism makes the point that tension between Mormons and the larger society was a result of Mormon rhetoric that tended to antagonize, particularly the assertions of Mormonism’s superiority and other religions’ faults.Such rhetoric occurred in the Pine Barrens in Benjamin Winchester’s Gospel Reflector (a periodical out of Philadelphia), which, however, made the usual assertions in a relatively mild manner.
William Appleby, on the other hand, could condemn other churches with fervor. The best example of this zeal is a tract called A Few Important Questions—questions that were directed at local clergy. Appleby felt that if his questions were answered “in a Scriptural and reasonable manner, not in some dark mysterious spiritualized sense,” the answers would “show what a system of Priestcraft, in all its ungodly and hideous debauchery, has been for ages premulgated [sic], by false teachers, and is now extending far and wide over the plaine [sic] of Babel.” On the theme of sectarianism’s conflicting doctrines, Appleby asked, “Is God the author of all this confusion, this heterogeneous mass of conflicting opinions, and compound of nonsense and absurdity?” On the clergy’s claim that they had received the Apostles’ commission, he said, “You have the same right and it is no more presumption, to say you must build an Ark, because God commanded Noah to build one: but your power is all assumed, and therefore, there is no power in it.” Appleby questioned sectarian authority further by asking:
Why do the sects hurl anathemas against the Church of Rome, when her authority is as good as theirs, for if they have got any, did they not get it from her, as nearly all the most notable sects sprung from her, and is she not denominated the “Mother of Harlots.” . . . Who are the Harlots if she is the Mother.
Appleby continued in a like manner and closed by saying that when the clergy finished answering his questions he would “have a few more” for them.Apparently Appleby did not overconcern himself with muting his rhetoric.
Toleration of Other Religions. At the same time, some of the rhetoric and actions of the Mormons in the Pine Barrens demonstrate a degree of tolerance for their neighbors. In the midst of his accusation that all sects were harlots, William Appleby conceded, “Yet I believe in all of them there are a great many honest hearted souls, living up to the best light and knowledge they have.”After criticizing of sects in his Dissertation on Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream, Appleby qualified his statements: “But do not understand me, that I wish or have desire to undervalue the good that has arisen from the effects of the reformation.” He then praised John Wesley. Finally, Appleby says that the sects “have a part of the Gospel, but not the fullness of it. But as I said before they have been the means of doing much good, and they will be rewarded for it. It has paved the way for the establishing of the Kingdom.” The tolerance that Appleby demonstrates seems to have been prevalent among the members throughout the Pine Barrens.
Another interesting indication of the Mormons’ tolerance comes from the colporteurs of the American Tract Society. Although the colporteurs indicated that they viewed Mormons as heretics who needed to be reformed, they were pleased to report that “as a general thing however [the Mormons] purchased our Books as freely as any other members of the Community.” Another said that “with very few exceptions we succeeded in producing a favorable state of mind in reference to ourselves & the objects of our mission, & seldom one refused to receive some book.” Other instances included a “Mr. Irons a Mormon preacher who rec’d it kindly & promised to read it,” and another Mormon, Mr. Bowne, who also received a tract thankfully.The colporteurs found upon returning to the area that none of those Mormons seemed to be converted by their tracts. The peddlers’ “efforts to benefit the Mormons who are quite numerous at Toms River seem to have proved fruitless. Their superstition appears to be so deeply rooted, and their self confidence so great, as effectually to shield them against the arrows of conviction.”
Despite such concessions, Mormons in the Pines spoke out with less restraint when they felt attacked. William Appleby said he responded strongly because of the “glaring and controvertable falsehoods that are hurled upon us, from the clergy of the present day.”As Benjamin Winchester put it, “As for myself, my determination has ever been, not to partake of the spirit of slander, and of strife of this kind; but when the truth is attacked I always feel bound to boldly defend it.” An example of Winchester’s bold defense is his Examination of the Lecture Delivered by the Rev. H. Perkins. Of Perkins’s speech, Winchester said, “Of all the absurdity, contradiction, and nonsense, that I ever heard drop from the lips of a man who professes literary talents, Mr. P’s. crowned the climax.” In response to Perkins’s claim that Mormons needed to produce miracles in order to prove the validity of their doctrine, Winchester pointed out that both the Devil and the Pharisees had requested the same of Jesus: “Therefore, Mr. P., seeing that you have followed the example of your great prototype, (the Devil,) and your predecessors, (the Pharisees,) in asking for a sign, I have no hesitation in believing that you are a child of the Devil.” Winchester realized the contrast to his more moderate style but still felt justified in that “some may think strange of my sharpness, and say that I have not charity; but I can testify that I have the same kind of charity that Jesus had for the Pharisees.”
Mormons viewed the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the ultimate act of persecution. After the Prophet’s death in June 1844, Mormon rhetoric in the Pines became strident. Of the martyrdom, William Appleby said, “Innocent blood . . . has been shed in this boasted land of liberty, . . . shed by mobs composed of wicked men, aided, and abetted by Priest & People, winked at by Judges & Rulers, and no redress has been had, or atonement made.” Because of this, Appleby agreed with Brigham Young that the Church should move west in order to “leave the Mobs and Gentiles, to perish in their own abominations.”Appleby promoted the idea of migration by asking the Mormons in the East, “Will you be content . . . to sit down here at your ease among the Gentiles . . . when this nation has rejected the Gospel of peace offered to them, our Prophet and Patriarch slain by cruel mobs and the Church driven into the wilderness.” Appleby went so far as to say, “I do not believe there was a crime existing, practiced, or committed before the flood in the days of Noah, or among the Sodomites before their destruction, that is not perpetrated, committed and practiced, by this generation.” Appleby then goes on to accuse the Gentiles of almost all sins imaginable.
Yet even during these tirades, Appleby counseled the Saints (perhaps contradictorily) to “speak evil of no one, neither cast reflections upon the Government, for the persecutions we have received. Our wrongs are known in heaven, and they have been told on earth, and let that suffice—be wise!”Thus attempting to label Mormon rhetoric in the Pines as either conciliatory or divisive is a difficult task. Benjamin Winchester summed up the Mormons’ seemingly contradictory acts with two statements. First, in reference to the good of the Protestant Reformation, he wrote, “It is true they done good by moralizing the world, but the doctrines they taught were contrary to the Holy Scriptures.” Second, Mormons “have charity for both Protestants, and Catholics; but we do not believe their doctrines to be altogether correct.”
The Succession Crisis
The New Jersey Saints were faced with a challenge much greater than public scorn in June 1844, when Joseph Smith was martyred at Carthage, Illinois. Mormons were now faced with the question of who would be the Prophet’s successor as Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon, William Smith, and James Strang all put forth claims. Brigham Young was able to quickly gain support of a strong majority of the Church in Nauvoo, but the conflict went on much longer in the eastern branches.
Soon after Rigdon’s split with Brigham Young in September 1844, Rigdon made a trip to branches in New Egypt and Woodstown, New Jersey, where he won support.Early in 1845, Jedediah Grant and Andrew Hunter Scott were sent to Woodstown to rectify the situation. When they arrived, Scott said they “found the minds of the Saints in that Branch mutch toubled in consequence of the falls teachings Sidny Rigdon and his Saitatites [?] they confesed that they had lost all of the good Spirit that they once had they had had none meetings for a long time.” Grant and Scott proceeded to recommit the branch, convincing all but three people.
In late 1845, William Appleby heard that J. H. Newton, a Mormon missionary in the area, was preaching in favor of Rigdon at New Egypt. Appleby made an appointment to refute Newton’s teachings the next evening, “but he slopped [Newton sloped] next morning and went to Mount Holly about 15 miles distant. However I replied to him in the evening, exposing the fallacy of his reasonings.”
William Appleby played a major part in battling apostates in the region. In a circular to the eastern branches, Appleby counseled the Saints, “When you pray for yourself, pray also for them [the Twelve], and see if you do not have testimony to know where the authority of the Priesthood is, and who has a right to lead the Church, and be not deceived.”Appleby’s testimony came from a vision he had in September of 1845. In it he saw Joseph Smith, who counseled him about the importance of the latter-day work and, “with tears rolling down his cheeks,” told Appleby to “never find any fault, or lift [a] hand against the Servants of God.”
Appleby felt he understood the purpose of the vision when he heard of William Smith’s excommunication. William Smith sent Appleby a pamphlet that promoted Smith’s claim against the Twelve, “but his Pamphlet took no effect on me,” Appleby said. Appleby conceded that “there was quite a time with some of the disaffected members of the Church after Joseph’s death, in regard to who should stand as President of the Church &c.”Appleby was nevertheless optimistic about the effects of the succession crisis in the East:
Apostate spirits and aspiring men, the past year, have been prowling about, seeking whom they could deceive and lead astray, but their success has been but limited, and I think it has rather been a benefit to the Church than a detriment, for the disaffected spirits have followed them, and the few honest ones that were deceived by them for a time, are seeing their error, and returning to the true fold.”
In his journal, Appleby added that apostates “will gather the Chaff and tares for the burning.”
The succession crisis continued. In 1846, Jesse Little, as president of the Eastern States Mission, warned the Saints in the East:
It is not likely that the summer will pass without the eastern churches being infested with apostates and disaffected spirits, who will prowl about, and try to destroy the Church, but inasmuch as the Presiding Elders are good shepherds, they can preserve the good sheep. Give them no place nor quarters among you, and spend not one hour in hearing . . . self-righteous hypocrites retail slander, or tell foolish tales respecting our brethren, who have to suffer every reproach and danger.
Although the “Presiding Elders” were able to retain the majority of the Church members in the Pines, schism, particularly that due to the followers of James Strang, continued to cause turmoil in New Jersey. Many branches in the area stopped meeting because of the confusion. When William Appleby visited Toms River in October 1848, he found that the Mormons there had not “had any meetings for some two or three years.” Appleby found that Ephraim Potter, a disaffected Mormon, had been “an instrument . . . in doing much injury to the cause.” Appleby rectified the situation. He called a meeting for the next day and reorganized the branch, and five more people were baptized. That evening he preached to a full house in the school. This revival of Mormonism in Toms River was apparently a disappointment to many in the city. Appleby said that outside during his meeting people were “cursing, swearing groaning &c. No doubt Satan was mad because we had baptised some; as a day or two before it was remarked, (before they knew we were in the place) ‘Mormonism was dead.’ But Lo! and behold, it had come to life there again, Enough to make him and his commissaries mad.”Appleby left Toms River at the end of the month in an optimistic mood. His hopes appear to have been warranted: the Mormons built a meetinghouse there two years later.
There continued to be difficulties further inland, however, for William Smith along with Aaron Hooks arrived at Cream Ridge and convinced seven or eight of Smith’s position. John Huggins was put in charge of making things ready for William Smith to preach there the next Sunday. Upon hearing this, William Appleby quickly made his way to Cream Ridge to rectify the situation and hopefully engage Smith that Sunday. Appleby said that when Smith found out that Appleby was waiting for him he decided not to go to Cream Ridge, but to send Aaron Hooks instead. Appleby made quick work of Hooks and rebaptized John Huggins and all the other deserters shortly after.
The succession crisis gave Mormonism in the Pine Barrens every opportunity to fall apart. But through the diligence of Little, Appleby, Grant, Scott, and others, the Church units in the Pines survived. Appleby declared in 1847:
Though Apostates and wicked men, have tried and used their utmost endeavors, and resorted to every subterfuge, to try to overthrow the Church, and drive the Priesthood from the earth, and prostrate the Kingdom of God, yet what do we behold? The Church and Kingdom rolls steadily on, every day gives it a new impetus and every moment accelerates its speed, and all her opposers are going to the shades of forgetfulness, and ere long will be buried in oblivion and remembered no more.
The Call West
Simultaneous to the succession crisis, the diligent Church members of the Pines had their faith tried when Brigham Young made known his plan to move the Church west. This policy was promoted aggressively to the eastern Saints. In 1846, Jesse Little, then president of the Eastern States Mission, told the Saints they needed to move west in order to “enter into your secret chambers, as it were, for a little season, until the indignation be o’er past, for behold the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.”
William Appleby also had promoted the move west in a circular a year later. Of the Brethren’s counsel to move west, Appleby asked, “Shall we not harken to their counsel, gather with and assist them in bearing off the Kingdom. . . ?” And like Little, Appleby felt that the Saints must “flee from the impending storm that is about to burst with fury upon all nations, for the Lord God of Israel has began to plead with the nations: with flood and fire, storms, tempests.” Appleby saw that
already the clouds of War are gathering thick and fast around in our own once happy land; consternation, fear and divisions are on every side, and the people cannot comprehend the meaning or result. But permit me to say, that the Destroying Angel has been commissioned to go forth in his anger . . . scattering death and destruction with unsparing hand.
Nevertheless, in the same circular Appleby counseled the Saints in the East to “let all the organizations of the branches be kept up, and let every Presiding Officer do his duty.”
Many from New Jersey left on the Brooklyn with Sam Brannan and sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco in 1846. William Appleby was in charge of preparing for a similar voyage the year after, “but war being declared between Mexico and the United States, the voyage for the present was abandoned,” and in fact, never again attempted.Between 1846 and 1853, only a few moved west “owing to the unsettled condition of the church.” In 1853, a group including the Ivins family left for Utah from New Jersey. A local history said that 1853 was a difficult year for the Methodist Church in Toms River because “many families were split, due to the conversion of some family members to the Mormon faith” and their leaving New Jersey.
Andrew Hunter Scott. The difficulties of leaving home were probably best illustrated by the experience of Andrew Scott (fig. 7). In 1845, Scott went to Nauvoo to see the Church’s headquarters and to attend the temple there. While he was there, Brigham Young told Scott his intentions to move west. Of this decision, Scott said, “All this caused me to Reflect mutch upon my own future welfare my family in a far distant Contray, Seperated By lofty Mountains & other great matural Barriers almost insurmountable at this season of the year Some 2000 miles distant after Some days meditation the Best corse for me to perSue I Concluded to obey the Council of Brigham Young.”Scott’s first item of business was to convince his wife that moving west was the best course: “This was a heavy Shock for her, for She was a member of the methodist Church & did not Believe in the doctrin of the Saint.” Scott worked on his wife until “her mind was Some what Convinsed of the truth & She agreed to go with me the mext Spring.”
Scott then began settling his business. Two or three weeks before he was to leave in 1846, he “was Seised was with a violent Inflamation on my Lungs which Brought me verry Low nigh unto deth. I Recovered A Little in 4 weeks But Continud verry misarable for Some time I than gave up all hopes of gethering that Spring.” By this time, all the money that Scott had intended to use for moving west had gone to support his family while he was sick. “So I Prayed mutch unto the Lord to direct me in what I Should do,” he wrote, “& Soon embarked in a Business of Keeping an eating House wherein I made in 2 years Sufficient to gether up to Sion.” As Scott again began to plan to move west, his wife “began to oppose me again By Saying She would not go with me & that I Should not take the Children.”
Scott continued with his preparations. He sold his dining establishment and prepared to sell the rest of his property. In 1850, he took a trip to meet with Church members in Philadelphia, and when he returned four days later, he discovered his wife had decamped:
[I] found my House Striped of nearley everything valuable By my wife & 2 of my Children, She had taken & Left of hid herself untill I was gone. I acknoledge the Hand of the Lord in this thing for She had Been a torment to me for years But I will Say this mutch in her favour She was a good woman in all things except She Could not Believe the Religion of the Saints.
He sold what his wife had not taken, took his two remaining children, and started west in company with Church members from Philadelphia. Andrew Hunter Scott eventually settled in Provo, Utah, where he later served as mayor.
William Appleby. When William Appleby headed west in 1849, his mother would not see him off because it would “only add to [her] already severe trials and augment [her] sorrow.” Appleby explained to his mother that, although he regretted causing her such grief,
I go because I solemnly feel and believe it to be my duty before my God imperative and binding for my salvation and exaltation in Eternity. I go in the name and strength of Jesus, under the care of my Heavenly Parent, to meet my brethren whom I love, and mingle with those holding the Keys of the Priesthood of the Son of God. I bid you all an affectionate farewell. May Heaven’s choicest blessings rest upon you, my dear—my kind aged and tender Mother. Nothing on earth would caused me to leave you, but for the cause of my Saviour, And those who will not leave all for his sake, he says are not worthy of him.
I hope to see you again in the flesh, as it is quite probable I may be this way again before many years, if my life should be preserved. But if it is the will of Heaven we should not meet again in time, I hope and trust we may in a Celestial world. Therefore let Heaven be your hope, and the spirit of the Lord your consolation, and neither fret, mourn, or sorrow for me. I am in the hands of my God and under his protection, and make the sacrifice to his names, honored and glory. These are the sentiments of my soul.
Appleby successfully completed the trek and did indeed return to the East on a mission from 1856 to 1859, but he never saw his mother again, as she passed away in fall 1851.
Ivins and McKean Families. In 1853, two years after Anthony Ivins Sr. died, his family split up when his widow, Sarah, and two sons, Anthony Jr. and Israel, moved to Utah. They left behind three siblings who had not converted and also Margaret, who remained in New Jersey to be with her husband, Washington McKean. The Ivinses took with them Theodore McKean (Margaret and Washington’s son), who had joined the Church just two years earlier.
Even though these people had a great deal at stake financially, they were willing to go west.Theodore wrote:
Several inducements to engage in business of a lucrative character were offered by my friends but my Heavenly Father through dreams and the agency of His Spirit led me to decline them as the whisperings of the spirit was to “beware of intanglements in business lest your way be hedged up that you can not gather with the Saints.” Many obstacles were thrown in the way of gathering, but my Heavenly Father overruled them.
Theodore made several trips from Utah back to the East and finally brought his wife and children to Utah in 1857.He served a mission to the East in 1869, and when he returned to Utah in 1870, he brought his mother to Utah for a short time. In Salt Lake City, Margaret McKean had her temple ordinances performed in the Endowment House. She returned to New Jersey but moved to Utah permanently in 1883 (her husband having died in 1877). Even before Margaret left New Jersey, the Church in Toms River had dwindled to the point that “no Mormon services [were] held in Ocean County” after 1878.
A Time of Decline
In 1856, the New Brunswick (New Jersey) Daily News reported that “the fact may not be generally known, but it is a fact, nevertheless, that we have a flourishing Mormon Church in full blast in New Jersey at Toms River. . . . Their number is quite large and is increasing.”Also in 1856, the Zion’s Advocate in Portland, Maine, reported that “there is a large Mormon Church in Ocean County, New Jersey, which is said to be proselyting young men and women very fast. . . . They maintain all the tenets of the Mormon church stoutly,” and “although prevented by law from practicing polygamy, they warmly defend and advocate it, and that by a course and style of argument not at all calculated to elevate the morals of the place.” The story continued, “They have preachers residing there and priests of a higher grade frequently visiting them from Salt Lake City and New York.”
One of the “higher grade” priests who visited from Salt Lake was Theodore McKean. Theodore had returned to Toms River in December 1855 on business for his uncle Anthony. From then until 1857, Theodore presided over the branch at Toms River, “having been appointed to that position by Elder John Taylor who was presiding in the east.” (Taylor was the president of the Eastern States Mission at that time and most likely the “higher grade” priest out of New York.) Theodore said that during his stay in Toms River “the power of God was made manifest in a remarkable degree and [I] was blessed in my labors.”McKean also noted that he was blessed to be “appointed deputy Sheriff of Ocean Co. N. J. and did considerable surveying, clerking etc. to provide for my family.” Appleby was also back in the East from 1857 to 1859, serving as a missionary and, for part of that time, as president of the Eastern States Mission. The 1860s seem to mark the point of the Church’s decline in the Pines. Despite this decline, many Saints in the area remained faithful, including John Irons, who was baptized in 1860 and migrated to Utah in 1863.
The details of what happened to the Mormons who remained in New Jersey are sketchy. The Mormons in Utah seem to have lost track of members in the East generally as there was no Eastern States Mission from 1869 until 1893. When the mission reopened, Church leaders were able to account for only fifty-five members in all of New Jersey.Local histories describe some events. In 1878 a Reverend William Small went to New Egypt and founded a Mormon sect. This sect was apparently one of the splinter groups, as they did not “believe in polygamy, and claim[ed] to be the original followers of Joseph Smith.” The members sold the meetinghouse at Hornerstown to the Catholics, who tore it down, and although the Church organization was gone from Hornerstown, “a few people remained favorably impressed with the principles.” In 1878 the members in Toms River finally sold their church building “due to lack of membership,” and no more meetings were held after that year. By 1899, a local historian said that “the Mormons who were making such inroads in the early ’50s, are now a thing of the past,” although an 1890 census listed twenty Mormons in Toms River. Apparently, many of these Mormons still desired to move west. Of these stranded Mormons a local history stated:
Although the local church as an organization had ceased to exist some time previously, there were still many members of that faith in the town. A singular condition of affairs in several homes there was that some of the furniture and household goods which had been made ready for packing, years previously, in anticipation of removing to Salt Lake, still remained in the same condition, hoping they would yet be called to join their brethren in that western city of the Saints. But for some of them that time never came, and their eyes finally closed without having had a view of the long wished-for and far way land of promise in Utah.
For a time, Mormonism was an important force in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. A significant number of people joined the Church, and some converts were among the most respected citizens in their communities. These factors, along with many prejudices in the community about Mormonism, caused the “Mormon invasion”into the Pines to receive a good deal of attention—often in the form of animosity. Nevertheless, relations between Church members in the area and their neighbors were in many respects better than those between the Church’s main body and its neighbors. This relatively peaceful coexistence suggests that converts in the Pine Barrens enjoyed a different community dynamic than was experienced by the main body of the Church. This difference, however, did not involve any lack of faithfulness, for these Saints demonstrated their loyalty through times of trial and sacrifice.
Further study of early Mormonism in the Pine Barrens might show that it resembles the view of modern-day Mormonism more than the typical view of early Mormonism: many historians claim that Mormonism has changed, as it is held in much higher regard by American society than previously, and that the Church today seeks a cooperative relationship with its neighbors.But the Pine Barrens case shows that adjustments may need to be made to such claims. Study of the Church in the Pine Barrens and other peripheral communities can enrich our understanding of lesser-known experiences of early Mormonism and, hence, improve our comprehension of the broad sweep of “everything before it.”