Monday, May 18, 2015

Mormon(ish) Religious Enthusiasm in Ante Bellum Tennessee. Part 1.

The date was 18 May 1842, the place Putnam county, Tennessee. Elder J. D. Lee wrote a letter to the editor of the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, Illinois. He had arrived in Tennessee in March of 1842, and was quickly approached by a local missionary: Dr. Alfonzo Young. Lee was told of what was going on in a branch recently organized in Putnam county. Religious enthusiasm had apparently run amok (I love that word).

If Elder Lee is to be believed, local member Daniel Hunt presented himself as the fulfillment of a prophesy that someone would come to bind the dragon in the book of Revelation. They also faked raising the dead, using one of their own as the recipient of the miracle. They staged battles with unseen demons, and encouraged their followers to acts of frenzy during worship.

Based on the arrival of Elder Frost I would place the events described by Lee in April 1842. Elsewhere Lee placed the blame for this deplorable apostasy on the shoulders of William and Alfred Young, who had baptized the first converts, and organized the branch. More on them in part 2. ......

... They profess to be empowered with ten supernatural gifts, nine of them are contained in the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians-raising the dead they claim as the 10th. Mr. Daniel Hunt, one of their coadjutors, in addition to the gifts above mentioned, claims to be the personage spoken of in the 20th chapter of Revelations who is to bind the dragon on a thousand years; he also professes to have the power to seal up unto eternal life. They have made six proselytes near the town of Alexandria, De Kalb county. The authenticity of the Book of Mormon was by them held in obscurity, and when interrogated on the subject they would reply, that the time would come when they should arrive at its contents; that the book was not designed to be taught to the Gentiles at present, and that it was only to be taught to the Jews in order to effect their restoration. They pretended to raise the dead while in Smith county, twenty miles distant from this place on two different occasions; one of these miraculous displays of the spirit, was exhibited in raising one of the above named ministers who died while on his mission to this place, and in performing this operation as well as many [other strange maneuvers], they would act as the spirit dictated, and when satan would approach them they would [bind up his hands]-this they did to prevent his influence over them-by a motion of the hands and accompanied with words uttered in a harsh heavy tone, this was the second revolution performed. They have some tremendous combats with the devil in order to prepare for the contest, they would take off their coats and hats and roll up their sleeves, as though they had a [Goliath] to encounter, and after an engagement of several hours, they would finally succeed in divesting the room of these demons; but frequently after the doors were closed great exertion was made to prevent their returning again. These were some of the effects of that spirit which animated the bosom of these counterfeit Mormons. They taught their converts to contend for the same spirit which they possessed, and when they obtained it and were impelled by it, it produced a change of countenance depicted with horror; a trembling, twitching, falling down and wallowing in the mud; others would snort like wild beasts, bark as dogs, run through the creek, pretending to sing and speak in tongues, crying prophecy, prophecy; others would lie in a swoon for several hours, and springing to their feet again, state that the spirit had commanded them to chastise certain characters who were present, and would then fall upon them with all their strength as though they were to be exterminated in reality; one of these young ladies fell on her knees before me, and said, although I was a stranger yet she loved me because I was a preacher, and attempted to put her arms around my neck; I put forth my hand and rebuked the evil spirit by which she was actuated, and she immediately fell to the earth and wept with shame. Those gentlemen I have not seen who introduced these principles into this neighborhood, they left here some time in the month of March, and directed their course for the western district of Tennessee. But this was the deplorable situation of these miserable and unfortunate proselytes when Dr. [Alfonzo] Young and myself came to their relief. This course of conduct, you are well aware, produced great opposition to the faith of the Latter Day Saints, particularly by those who were watching for iniquity, in so much that we were threatened with mobs if we did not leave the neighborhood immediately, stating that Mormonism had already destroyed the peace of some of their citizens; however, we did not regard threats, and knowing most [assuredly] if we should shrink from our duty and not proclaim against such proceedings, and discard all such conduct and folly as was exhibited in this place by these impostors, that we would not stand acquitted before that God to whom we must, as well as all men, render an impartial account of our stewardship.-Under these considerations I determined to try to remove the veil of obscurity, that sin should be reproved, and truth vindicated; so I frankly told them that the spirit by which they were actuated, [emanated] from Lucifer, the prince of darkness, and that its delusive influence would ultimately prove destructive to all the souls that were influenced by it if they did not resist it immediately. Elder Samuel Frost came to my assistance a few days after I arrived here, and has been laboring diligently with me ever since to remove the prejudice and erroneous notions that were imbibed by many in consequence of false teachings; and truly the Lord has blessed us, and confirmed the word by signs following; for the sick have been restored immediately by the prayer of faith through the atoning blood of the covenant, in the name of Jesus. Unclean spirits, also, have been subject to the priesthood through our administration in a number of instances, the most of those that were possessed of the evil spirit have been restored to their proper mind, indeed I never realized so sensibly the worth of the power of the priesthood since I have been called to the [ministry], as I did on this occasion.

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