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Missionaries in Europe, The Gathering, and Emigration to the US
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Swedish Migration to US
British Migration to US
Places of Migration in US
In mid-1837 the first Mormon missionaries arrived in England and for the next fifteen years they were successful in bringing thousands of new members into the religion. By 1852 membership peaked at a reported 32,339 individuals. Many if not most of these new members came from Britain’s working class. One half of the British population now lived in cities or large towns, the result of an influx of working class from rural areas. Most of the Mormon missionaries in England were themselves working class, so it is not surprising that they recruited converts from among those with a similar outlook and education.
The Mormon doctrine of “the gathering” was a concept rooted in the Old Testament. Joseph Smith taught that the Kingdom of God—a new Zion—would be built on the American continent. Those Europeans who responded to the missionaries’ preaching would eventually gather with the American Saints to build this Zion. In the early years the missionaries working in England were instructed to keep silent on the subject, but in 1840 the church officially announced the doctrine. From then onward, their hearts touched by the call, thousands of converts left their homes, wrenched themselves from families, friends and places they had known all of their lives to gather to Zion. At times the sacrifices required to build the new kingdom would cost them their lives, or the lives of their loved ones.
As a practical matter, the gathering was a “formidable challenge.” One important factor in making this migration possible was the incorporation of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund in the state of Deseret (eventually the Territory of Utah) in 1850. By means of the Fund, more affluent members could make donations and help the less fortunate. Those members lacking funds could obtain a loan which they were expected to repay once established in their new homes. The Fund was dissolved in 1887. In the years of its existence it had assisted in bringing 50,000 persons to “Zion.”
Another factor was the change transportation. Here is Conway Sonne’s description of changes in sea travel:
The Mormon Church was the target of increasing hostility due not only to its controversial doctrines, but also the growing economic and political threat as large numbers, sometimes entire congregations, converted to Mormonism. In January 1853 the official church publication in Great Britain, the Millennial Star, publicly announced the doctrine of plural marriage. Immediately church membership declined and missionary work suffered. Some of the drop in membership was due to emigration, but many angry or confused members simply left the church.
The Bateman, Penrose, Stratford and Davis families emigrated from England to the US and traveled to Utah along the Mormon trail by wagon. The later emigrants, Alfred Woodland from England, his Danish wife-to-be Nielsina Thompson and the Swedish Adamson and Mattson families came after the transcontinental railway was completed in 1869.
By 1890 missionaries who had served numbered 7,500. Of the 200,000 Mormons, some 85,000 were overseas converts who had immigrated.
Information and statistics on Mormon missionary activity in England is found in Mormons in Early Victorian Britain, edited by Richard L. Jensen and Malcolm R. Thorpe, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1969, pp16-25, 210, 224-242.
The gathering, emigration and travel is found in Saints on the Seas, Conway B Sonne, University of Utah Publications in the American West, Vol. 17, Salt Lake City, 1983, pp xiv-xvii, 23, 27-42.
On Mormon plural marriage see Mormon Polygamy, A History, (Second ed.) Richard S. Van Wagoner, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1989.