Family and Mormon Church Roots: Colonial Period to 1820

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This is the first volume of a multi-volume work entitled The Quest for the New Jerusalem: Mormon Generational Saga.

The first volume of this series, entitled Family and Mormon Church Roots: Colonial Period to 1820, focuses upon four of the author’s ancestral families during the 1600s and 1700s: the Knowltons, Spencers, Carters, and Hammonds, and considerable attention also is paid to the early lives and ancestors of Mormon Church founders Joseph Smith Jr. and Brigham Young. There are fascinating connections in colonial America between their ancestors and the author’s. In an extensive Preface, the author explains why he was moved to spend over ten years researching and writing the multi-volume Saga, noting that it deals with important questions which should be of interest to non-Mormons as well as Mormons. There also is an Introduction which discusses a number of theoretical questions, in particular the psychological and emotional attraction of mass movements, the issues regarding miraculous visionary experiences, and the objectivity-subjectivity question in the writing of history.

In Chapter 1 the author explains why, among his many ancestors, the Carters, Hammonds, Knowltons, and Spencers were placed in the spotlight. Chapter 2, entitled “New England: The New Jerusalem,” makes clear the historical and religious context in which the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were established: (1) the passionate religious conflict in England resulting from the fragmentation of Christendom brought on by the Protestant Reformation, and (2) the bloody civil war in England in the mid-1600s between the Protestant Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell, and the forces defending the Catholic King Charles I. These events profoundly affected the lives of the English people who arrived in New England in the mid-1600s, the author’s ancestors among them.

Seventeenth century terms such as “Puritan,” “Pilgrim,” “Separatists,” “Seekers,” and “Dissenters” are defined, and emphasis is placed upon how incredibly superstitious these colonists were. The critically important point also is made that they tended to look upon their voyage to America, and their establishment of ideal religious settlements here, in apocalyptic Biblical terms, expectantly viewing this as the achievement of the long-anticipated “New Jerusalem” that miraculous event immediately preceding Christ’s Second Coming, following which the Lord would reign over a thousand years of world peace.

In succeeding chapters the lives and genealogies of the early Carters, Hammonds, Knowltons, Spencers, Youngs, and Smiths are thoroughly described. There also is a chapter on the restless and irreligious (at least until he was very old) Solomon Mack, Joseph Smith Jr.’s grandfather, and an informative description of what life was like in colonial New England: the colonists houses, food, drink, livelihoods, church meetinghouses, religious services, level of alcohol consumption, etc. The author and his wife have traveled extensively in New England, and have located original family homes, cemeteries where ancestors are buried, and numerous ancestral grave stones, and photographs taken at these sites are included in Volume I. Interestingly enough, the author and his wife were amazed to discover that her Jewett ancestors were in close contact with the author’s Knowlton ancestors in the 1600s and early 1700s in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and these connections are a remarkable part of the story.

In fact, one fascinating aspect of the genealogical information supplied in the first volume is the degree to which the author’s ancestors (and the ancestors of his wife) must have known each other in colonial New England, and all of them must have known the ancestors of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. It was a small world in early colonial New England, and many Americans can trace their lineage back to that interesting small world.

Since A Mormon Generational Saga is also about American history, many chapters in Volume I describe how the author’s ancestors–and the ancestors of the Smiths, Macks, and Youngs–experienced the Pequot War, King Philip’s War, the Salem Witch Trials, slavery in colonial New England, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution. Surprising information is provided as to how the author’s Knowlton ancestors in Ipswich, and Joseph Smith Jr.’s ancestors in nearby Topsfield (both towns only a few miles from Salem) played very contrary roles in the nefarious Witch Trials.

In the course of his research the author was amazed to learn that his direct ancestor Lt. Daniel Knowlton and his brother Thomas played very important roles in the American Revolutionary War. Thomas commanded the Connecticut Patriot troops at the Battle of Bunker (or Breed’s) Hill, and immediately afterwards was given command of an elite unit under General George Washington called “Knowlton’s Rangers.” Unfortunately, Thomas was killed at the Battle of Harlem Heights in New York City later in 1776, but before he died he sent a Connecticut soldier from his “Ranger” unit to spy on the British in the city, a young school teacher named Nathan Hale. Hale, as most Americans know (or should know), was captured and executed, purportedly saying, just before he was hung: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country!” Today there is an impressive statue of Thomas Knowlton outside the Connecticut statehouse in Hartford, and just inside the capitol building one finds a statue of Nathan Hale.

The author’s fifth great grandfather Lt. Daniel Knowlton, served with his brother Thomas in the French and Indian War during the 1760s, when they were mere teenagers, and there are two chapters describing their experiences in that war “which ended French control in Canada'”and the American Revolution. In the latter conflict, Daniel was captured when Fort Washington surrendered to the British, shortly after his brother Thomas was killed, and he spent two horrendous years as a POW on the British army’s prison ship Jersey.

This first volume concludes with a series of chapters covering the birth of Joseph Smith Jr., and the move of his Smith family from Vermont to western New York in 1816. Among other things, particular attention is paid to the occult, magic world view of the Smith family and the youthful “treasure-seer” and “treasure-digging” activities of the founder of Mormonism. This first volume brings the epic story told in the Mormon Generational Saga up to the situation which existed just prior to Joseph Smith Jr.’s “First Vision.”

While the story is written and volumes are intended to be read consecutively, each book will stand alone. The series can be read out of order or a single book can be read.



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