Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon
by Dan Vogel

Chapter 4.
Indians and Mound Builders

[53] [The Lamanites] were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us. —Enos (Enos 20)

I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren [the Lamanites] did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed. —Nephi (1 Ne. 12:19)

Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief. Yea, and then shall they see wars and pestilences, yea, famines and bloodshed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct. —Alma (Al. 45:10-11)

The discovery of the New World and its native inhabitants challenged literalistic beliefs in the Bible and promoted a lively debate over Indian origins. But this was not the only religious controversy which turned on the history of the Indians. Another persistent discussion explored the Christian imperative to evangelize. How aggressively should missionary work be pursued among the Indians? Could the Indians become civilized Christians? Or were they by nature incapable of such conversion? The context for this second debate was further complicated because political and economic imperatives sometimes clashed with religious ones. Given the complexity of the situation, it is not surprising that Americans held ambivalent and sometimes contradictory opinions about the Indian.

The Puritans of New England came to hold the harshest estimation of the Indians. The French Jesuits who first ventured to North America believed the Indians were “men of nature” lacking only Christianity. [54] The Jesuits were cultural primitivists who believed men were happiest in their primitive or “natural” state. Consequently, they saw the Indian as the “noble savage” who had escaped the vices and corruptions of European civilization. Seventeenth-century Europe was at first greatly influenced by the Jesuit’s optimistic appraisal of the natives of America.1 Even Puritan descriptions of the Indians were initially influenced by such charitable sentiments. The Indians may have been perceived by the Puritans as uncivilized by European standards, but they were a good-hearted and hospitable people. The early colonists felt indebted to the Indians for helping them survive those first harsh New England winters. Any Indian weaknesses, the Puritans confidently believed, would be corrected by civilization and conversion to Christianity.2 The Puritans—philosophically poles apart from the Jesuits—were Calvinists and anti-primitivists who not only believed that civilization was superior to the “natural” or primitive state but also that Christian salvation was linked to civilization. When problems with the Indians began, Puritan accounts became increasingly harsh and pessimistic.

The Puritans were particularly critical of Indian religion. The Indians’ reluctance to embrace both civilization and Christianity indicated the extent of the devil’s hold on them. In his 1702 Magnalia Christi Americana, Cotton Mather declared that the Indians were “doleful creatures” and “the veriest ruins of mankind, which are to be found any where upon the face of the earth.”3 “Though we know not when or how these Indians first became inhabitants of this mighty continent,” he wrote, “yet we may guess that probably the devil decoyed those miserable savages hither, in hopes that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his absolute empire over them.”4 In another work, India Christiana, Mather concluded that their way of life was “lamentably Barbarous” and their religion “beyond all Expression Dark.”5 Even Roger Williams, otherwise a defender of Indian rights, was appalled by their “hideous worships of creatures and devils.”6

For the Puritans, the worst charge that could be brought against Indian religion was that of idolatry and human sacrifice.7 Descriptions of native idolatry and human sacrifice came from several sources. James Adair had reported that “the Spanish writers acknowledge that the Mexicans brought their human sacrifices from the opposite sea; and did not offer up any of their own people: so that this was but the same as our North American Indians still practice, when they devote their captives to death.”8 In his history of Mexico, Francesco Clavigero wrote that Central American Indians “sacrificed men to their gods, women to their godesses, and children to some other diminutive deities.”9 Other early observers described a Mexican statue of a “horrible deity, before whom [55] tens of thousands of human victims had been sacrificed” and remarked that the ancient Mexican people “delighted to see the palpitating heart of human victims offered up to gigantic and monstrous idols.”10

The Europeans were also appalled by alcohol abuse, a European product highly valued by the Indians. Paradoxically the Indians were being destroyed by contact with civilization rather than improved.11 “Our vices have destroyed them more than our swords,” wrote one contemporary.12 “By mixing with us,” reported Niles’ Weekly Register in 1818, “[the Indians] imbibed all our vices, without emulating our virtues—and our intercourse with them is decisively disadvantageous to them.”13 A 1786 account in the Columbian Magazine published in Philadelphia attempted to counter the optimistic accounts of the Indians published in Europe:

It has become fashionable of late years for the philosophers of Europe to celebrate the virtues of the savages of America. Whether the design of their encomiums was to expose christianity, and depreciate the advantages of civilization, I know not; but they have evidently had those effects upon the minds of weak people.

The list of vices included uncleanness, nastiness, drunkenness, gluttony, treachery, idleness, and theft.14

The Puritans were carefully tallying the consequences of these vices, especially that of idleness.15 Edmund Burke, for example, said that after the hunting season was over, the Indians “pass the rest of their time in an entire indolence. They sleep half the day in their huts, [and] they loiter and jest among their friends.”16 Hardworking Puritans were appalled that the Indians were not making good use of all of their land. Citing such sloth, they declared vacuum domicilium so that any land not occupied or being used could be seized.17 John Cotton, a leader in the Puritan community, explained the principle:

Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the Son of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it, nor ask their leaves … In a vacant Soyle, he that taketh possession of it, and bestoweth culture and husbandry upon it, his Right it is. And the ground of this is, from the Grand Charter given to Adam and his Posterity in Paradise, Gen. 1. 28. Multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.18

When the Indians resisted colonial expansion and war broke out, Puritan epithets became even harsher. Instead of “noble savages,” the Indians became “savage warriors.”19 It was no longer a matter of saving the Indian for civilization but rather of saving civilization from the Indian. The Fourth of July toast of a group of officers in 1779 was, according to historian Roy Harvey Pearce, a truism of the American frontier: [56] “Civilization or death to all American Savages.”20 In such a context, the Indians were seen as inherently savage and entirely incapable of civilization.21 Mistreatment of the Indians became easy to justify.

Given the generally poor image of the Indians common by the beginning of the nineteenth century, attempts by Ethan Smith and others to identify them with the lost ten tribes of Israel have been described by one historian as “part of a last-moment revivalist effort to find a secure place for the Indian in a civilized, Christian world.”22 The ten tribe theorists tried to mitigate the view that the Indians were inherently savage. “The Indians are not Savages, they are wild and savage in their habits, but possess great vigor of intellect and native talent,” proclaimed Mordecai Noah in his 1825 speech on Indian origins. “They are a brave and eloquent people.”23

Ethan Smith shared Noah’s sentiments. “Yet it is a fact that there are many excellent traits in their original character … such as might have been expected from the descendants of the ancient Israel of God,” he wrote.24 Indians had in fact become cruel because of the mistreatment of unprincipled whites, nor was it fair to judge the Indians by what they did in war. “Their doleful cruelties to their prisoners of war, was a religious custom among them, which they performed with savage firmness; as was their pursuit and slaughter of one who had killed a relative,” he argued. “Aside from these cruelties of principle, the Indians are faithful and kind.”25 Certainly, Smith concluded, the Indians “have deserved better treatment then [sic] they received from the whites.”26 He pleaded with his fellow Americans: “Let them not become extinct before your eyes; let them no longer roam in savage barbarism and death!”27

By associating the Indians with the ten tribes of Israel, Ethan Smith hoped to stop the Indian’s destruction and place a burden of responsibility on America for their conversion.

This duty of christianizing the natives of our land, even be they from whatever origin, is enforced from every evangelical consideration … If our natives be indeed from the tribes of Israel, American Christians may well feel, that one great object of their inheritance here, is, that they may have a primary agency in restoring those “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”28

His advice to the missionaries:

You received that book [the Bible] from the seed of Abraham. All your volume of salvation was written by the sons of Jacob … Remember then your debt of gratitude to God’s ancient people for the word of life. Restore it to them, and thus double your own rich inheritance in its blessings. Learn them to read the book of grace. Learn them its history and their own. Teach them the story of their ancestors; [57] the economy of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … Teach them their ancient history; their former blessings; their being cast away; the occasion of it, and the promises of their return.29

Ethan Smith defended the Indians against harsh judgments about their character and abilities by linking them with the lost tribes of Israel. Following the pattern established in ancient Israel, these Jewish braves had lapsed into apostasy and idolatry. Far from being heathens or devil worshipers, they had practiced a religion with many Judeo-Christian elements. Those writers who speculated that the Indians were of Hebrew descent, such as James Adair, Elias Boudinot, Ethan Smith, and earlier writers such as Manasseh ben Israel, Thomas Thorowgood, and John Eliot, tried to document cultural, religious, and language similarities between the Indians and the ancient Israelites. More often than not, however, such comparisons were based on superficial similarities which ignored more profound differences.

James Adair, who published The History of the American Indians in London in 1775, explored twenty-three parallels between Hebrew and Indian culture, including their division into tribes and worship of Jehovah; their notions of theocracy and their belief in the ministration of angels; their language and dialects; their manner of reckoning time; their prophets and high priests; their festivals, feasts, and religious rites; their daily sacrifices; their ablutions and anointings; their laws of uncleanness and their abstinence from unclean things; their marriage, divorce, and punishment for adultery; their cities of refuge; their purification and ceremonies before war; their ornaments; their manner of curing the sick; their burial of and mourning for the dead; their raising seed to a deceased brother; and their choice of names adapted to their circumstances and the times. Both Elias Boudinot and Ethan Smith based many of their arguments on the evidence provided by Adair.

Adair was not universally believed, however. Historian Samuel G. Drake declared in 1841 that Adair “tormented every custom and usage into a like one of the Jews, and almost every word in their language became a Hebrew one of the same meaning.”30 In a speech delivered before the New York Historical Society in 1819, Samuel Jarvis cautioned that attempts to link the American Indians with some group in the Old World “led to many misrepresentations of the religious rites of its inhabitants; and affinities were discovered which existed no where but in the fancy of the inventor.” Jarvis specifically referred to Adair (and parenthetically to Boudinot):

An hypothesis has somewhat extensively prevailed, which exalts the religion of the Indians as much above its proper level, as Volney has debased it below: [58] I mean that which supposes them to be the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel. This theory so possessed the mind of Adair, that, although he had the greatest opportunities of obtaining knowledge, his book is, comparatively, of little use. We are constantly led to suspect the fidelity of his statements, because his judgment had lost its equipose, and he saw every thing through a discoloured medium. I feel myself bound to notice this hypothesis the more, because it has lately been revived and brought before the public, by a venerable member of this society [i.e., Elias Boudinot].31

Alexander von Humboldt also cautioned about distortions which could result from another kind of enthusiasm:

The introduction of christianity has produced almost no other effect on the Indians of Mexico than to substitute new ceremonies, the symbols of a gentle and humane religion, to the ceremonies of a sanguinary worship … In such a complicated mythology as that of the Mexicans, it was easy to find out an affinity between the divinities of Aztlan and the divinity of the east … At that period christianity was confounded with the Mexican mythology: the Holy Ghost is identified with the sacred eagle of the Aztecs. The missionaries not only tolerated, they even favoured to a certain extent, this amalgamation of ideas, by means of which the christian worship was more easily introduced among the natives. They persuaded them that the gospel had, in very remote times, been already preached in America.32

But such voices of caution were largely ignored. Many people in Joseph Smith’s day believed the Indians were in fact living a corrupt form of the “law of Moses.”33 Observers found evidence that the Indians were familiar with other Jewish traditions as well. Ethan Smith, for example, felt that the Indians may even have possessed the Old Testament scriptures anciently.34 Others found evidence that the Indians had traditions of the Creation,35 the Fall,36 Cain’s murder of Abel,37 the Flood,38 and the tower of Babel.39

Observers were also interested in the origin of Indian languages, the sounds of which were often compared to Hebrew. Some compiled lists of words which seemed similar in sound or meaning. Adair claimed, for example, that the Indians called upon “Yo-He-Wah” (the Hebrew Yahweh).40 One of the earliest studies which identified the Indian’s language with Hebrew was Roger Williams’s A Key into the Language of America (London, 1643). William Penn also compared the Indian’s “narrow” and “lofty” language to Hebrew,41 as did Jonathan Edwards in his Observations on the Language of the Mahhekaneew Indians published in 1788. Adair, Boudinot, and Ethan Smith all cited the similarity between Indian languages and Hebrew as proof that the Indians were of Hebraic origin.42 Indian writing, however, observed in North [59] American pictographic rock paintings, Mexican codices, and Mayan glyphs, was often compared to Egyptian rather than Hebrew.43

Nineteenth-century observers went even further in discovering parallels. Many argued that traces of both Christianity and Judaism could be found among the Indians before the Europeans came to America. “The gospel had in very remote times, been already preached in America,” wrote Ethan Smith. “It is a noted fact that there is a far greater analogy between much of the religion of the Indians, and Christianity, than between that of any other heathen nation on earth and Christianity.”44 Yates and Moulton, in their History of the State of New York, reported that a certain Indian tribe in Missouri was still “retaining some ceremonies of the Christian worship.”45

Parallels between Christian and Indian customs were enumerated. Some compared the Indian’s custom of placing the dead person’s feet east and head west to Christian burial customs.46 It was reported that the Indians had a belief in heaven and hell, an afterlife of punishments and rewards for deeds done on earth.47 Hence the Indians allegedly believed in the immortality of the soul,48 a devil which they described as a “great Evil Spirit,”49 and one God,50 the “Great Spirit,”51 creator of all things, unchangeable and omnipotent.52 Ethan Smith even claimed the Indians believed in the Christian trinity, basing his opinion on the discovery in one Indian mound of what he called a “triune vessel,” a vase formed of three human faces said to represent Indian gods. But, argued Smith, the “triune vessel” could be better interpreted as a representation of “one Jehovah in three persons.”53

The earliest Spanish explorers of Central and South America had also been looking for Christian parallels. Large stone crosses found in Central America, for example, were cited as evidence that Christianity had been preached in ancient America. Cortez reported seeing a cross ten feet high near a temple in Central America. The Indians, he reported, “could nevre know the original how that God of Crosse came amongst them … There is no memorie of anye Preaching of the Gospell.”54 Although the natives had no memory of Christianity, the stone crosses, according to early writer Francesco Clavigero, proved to many that “the Gospel had been preached in America some centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards.”55 Antonio del Rio included in his 1822 book a plate showing a codex of a Mayan offering sacrifice to one of these large stone crosses.56 Actually these so-called crosses are stylized or conventionalized “world trees,” a central element of the religious worship of the Aztec and Maya, who believed that such trees were placed at the four cardinal points and another in the center.57

A belief that Christianity had existed in the New World led naturally to questions about how the gospel could have been preached to the ancient Americans. In 1792 Jeremy Belknap phrased the question this way: [60] “If the gospel was designed for an universal benefit to mankind, why was it not brought by the Apostles to America?” He continued, “To solve this difficulty it has been alleged that America was known to the ancients; and that it was enlightened by the personal ministry of the Apostles.”58

Belknap’s question implies that he doubted such a possibility, but many did not. Congregational clergyman Samuel Mather argued in 1773 that Christ had commissioned his apostles to go into all the world to preach the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20) and that the apostle Paul had declared that the gospel had been preached to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23); therefore there were good reasons for believing that the gospel had been preached to the ancient Americans. Mather himself believed that the apostles and perhaps even some of the seventy disciples might have visited America and preached the gospel. Although the Indians of “this Western World sinned away the Gospel,” Mathers hoped that through his preaching they would one day be “restored” to the true Christian faith.59

Early Spanish explorers and priests also promoted the story that the apostles once came to America to preach the gospel. The Mexican god Quetzalcoatl, described as a man with white skin, was identified by some Spaniards as St. Thomas. Francesco Clavigero, who personally doubted the story of St. Thomas’s visit to America, wrote:

Dr. Siguenza imagined that the Quetzalcoatl, deified by these people [Mexicans], was no other than the apostle St. Thomas, who announced to them the Gospel … Some Mexican writers are persuaded that the Gospel had been preached in America some centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards. The grounds of that opinion are some crosses which have been found at different times, which seem to have been made before the arrival of the Spaniards: the fast of forty days observed by the people of the new world, the tradition of the future arrival of a strange people, with beards, and the prints of human feet impressed upon some stones, which are supposed to be the footsteps of the apostle St. Thomas.60

The legend of St. Thomas’s visit to America was repeated by Paul Cabrera and others.61 But the legend of Quetzalcoatl had other interpretations.

At least one early writer, Chevalier Boturini (1702-51), found the legend of Quetzalcoatl more suggestive of Christ himself.62 Ethan Smith was also fascinated by Quetzalcoatl—”the most mysterious being of the whole Mexican mythology”—but he was equivocal in his identification. Smith described him as “a white and bearded man” and as both a “high priest” and a “legislator.” Smith thus united in one figure the tradition of Moses the lawgiver and of Aaron the high priest. Unlike Moses, however, Quetzalcoatl “preached peace to men, and would permit no [61] other offerings to the Divinity than the first fruits of the harvests.” Smith also compared the healing power of the “serpent of the green plumage,” a symbol for Quetzalcoatl, with Moses’ “brazen serpent in the wilderness.”63 The New Testament, of course, draws a parallel between the brazen serpent which was lifted up in the wilderness and the Son of God who was lifted on the cross (John 3:14). After preaching to the ancient Americans, this white god disappeared promising one day to return.64 In reality the legend of the ancient god Quetzalcoatl was conflated by the Indians with the story of a tenth-century A.D. ruler named Topiltzin, who reportedly had fair skin and a beard. He had left his people under embarrassing circumstances, promising to return one day. Thus the bearded Cortez was met by the Aztec leader Montezuma as the returning god.65

Samuel Sewall, a commissioner of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, pointed to another biblical passage which he thought helped to place the Indians in God’s scheme of things. He, like Ethan Smith, based his imperative to preach the gospel to the Indians on a belief that they were in fact of Israelite descent. In a work he published in Boston in 1697, Sewall quoted the passage from John 10:16 in which Christ refers to other sheep of a different fold to whom the gospel will be preached. Sewall noted one Protestant theologian who interpreted the “other sheep” as a reference to the ten tribes. “If it be no haeresie to say, the Ten Tribes are the Sheep,” argued Sewall, “Why should it be accounted Haeresie to say America is the distinct Fold there implied? For Christ doth not affirm that there shall be one Fold; but that there shall be ONE FLOCK, ONE SHEPHERD!”66 Sewall believed that the passage prophesied that the Indians would hear Christ’s “voice” when he would eventually come to America and establish the New Jerusalem.67

Early nineteenth-century Americans thus had available to them two seemingly contradictory traditions about the Indians and their ancestors. On the one hand, Indians were savages—at best lazy and slothful, at worst murderers and devil worshipers—entirely incapable of civilization. On the other, they were degenerate Jews who had every possibility of being restored to their former civilized condition. Those who cast the Indians as inherently “savage,” however, had to explain the existence of the earthen works in North America as well as the great stone buildings and temples of Mexico and Peru.

Many could only reconcile such contradictions by proposing that there simply must have once been a civilized, productive group in America in addition to the Indians. Ethan Smith’s optimistic assessment of Indian potential led him to propose that the Indians had separated from the more civilized tribes, resorted to hunting, and eventually [62] degenerated into wild savages. In time, he speculated, the Indians destroyed their more peaceful brethren, somewhere in North America. This theme he repeated several times:

Israel brought into this new continent a considerable degree of civilization; and the better part of them long laboured to maintain it. But others fell into the hunting and consequent savage state; whose barbarous hordes invaded their more civilized brethren, and eventually annihilated most of them, and all in these northern regions!68

But the savage tribes prevailed; and in time their savage jealousies and rage annihilated their more civilized brethren.69

It is highly probable that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel, after they settled in America, became wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries; that tremendous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren, till the former became extinct … No other hypothesis occurs to mind, which appears by any means so probable.70

Ethan Smith was not the only proponent of the possibility that there were two groups of people in ancient America. Indeed, he only adapted a theory which was already widely held in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America. His unique adaptation reconciled his own belief about the origin of the Indians and his personal imperative for missionary work among them. His belief that the Indians were descendants of the lost ten tribes who came to a land “where never mankind dwelt” compelled him to construct a theory which posited two groups of Indians but only one migration from the Old World. Previous writers had posited one migration for mound builders and another for Indians. But even some who did not necessarily believe that the Indians were of Israelite descent found the theory about two groups compelling. Jeremy Belknap, speaking to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1792, articulated the theory in this way:

Mounds and fortifications of a regular construction were discovered in the thickest shades of the American forest, overgrown with trees of immense age, which are supposed to be not the first growth upon the spot since the dereliction of its ancient possessors.

The most obvious mode of solving the difficulty which arose in the curious mind on this occasion was by making inquiry of the natives. But the structures are too ancient for their tradition … Indeed the form and materials of these works seem to indicate the existence of a race of men in a stage of improvement superior to those natives of whom we or our fathers have had any knowledge; who had different ideas of convenience and utility; who were more patient of labour, and better acquainted with the art of defence.

[63] … At what remote period these works were erected and by whom; what became of their builders; whether they were driven away or destroyed by a more fierce and savage people, the Goths and Vandals of America [Indians]; or whether they voluntarily migrated to a distant region; and where that region is, are questions which at present can not be satisfactorily answered.71

Governor DeWitt Clinton also believed in two groups. Interested in the Indian mounds of his state, he personally visited many of them and speculated about their origins at a meeting of the New York Historical Society in 1811:

There is every reason to believe, that previous to the occupancy of this country by the progenitors of the present nations of Indians, it was inhabited by a race of men, much more populous, and much further advanced in civilization. The numerous remains of ancient fortifications, which are found in this country, … demonstrates a population far exceeding that of the Indians when this country was first settled.72

Clinton speculated that in ancient times a large group from northern Asia migrated to North America. Once in America they built mighty cities and became numerous. In time, they were invaded and attacked by a more savage group from Asia and eventually annihilated. “And the fortifications,” he concluded, “are the only remaining monuments of these ancient and exterminated nations.”73

John Yates and Joseph Moulton related an Indian legend in their 1824 history of New York which seemed to corroborate such a theory: “Before and after that remote period, when the ancestors of the Senecas sprung into existence, the country, especially about the lakes, was thickly inhabited by a race of civil, enterprising, and industrious people, who were totally destroyed, and whose improvements were taken possession of by the Senecas.”74

Solomon Spalding wove his story around the mound-builder myth. He described two distinct nations: the one lived in huts, hunted, and were uncivilized, dark-skinned savages; the other built houses and cities, worked metals, kept records, tilled the earth, domesticated animals, wore clothes like Europeans, and were a fair-skinned civilized people.75

Such sentiments found their way into newspaper accounts, even in the neighborhood where Joseph Smith grew up. In 1818 the Palmyra Register opined that the mound builders “had made much greater advances in the arts of civilized life” than any Indians, and the Palmyra Herald declared in 1823 that the fortifications were “the work of some other people than the Indians.”76

[64] These mound builders were believed by some to have been a white-skinned race. Ethan Smith referred to James Adair’s remark that “the Indians have their tradition, that in the nation from which they originally came, all were of one colour.”77 The color, according to Smith, was “white,” as the Indians “have brought down a tradition, that their former ancestors, away in a distant region from which they came, were white.”78 In 1816 the Philadelphia Port Folio reported that “it is a very general opinion, prevailing in the western country, that there is ample proof that the country in general was once inhabited by a civilized and agricultural people” who were eventually destroyed by the Indians.79 “It is a current opinion,” the periodical continued, “that the first inhabitants of the western country were white people.”80 One Indian tradition reportedly held “Kentucky had once been inhabited by white people, but that they were exterminated by the Indians.”81 Yates and Moulton also argued that the mounds and fortifications had been constructed by a white race which had been destroyed by the Indians in the Great Lakes region.82

Much debate centered on the Indian’s skin color. Those most eager to promote the pre-Adamite theory emphasized the different skin colors among the nations as evidence of separate creations, but conservative Christians tried to explain the difference as a result of climatic and environmental influences and thus to keep the dark-skinned peoples in the family of Adam. One skirmish in this debate was initiated by Lord Kames (Henry Home) in his book Sketches of the History of Man. Kames rejected the climate theory, referring instead to the diversity of color as evidence of separate creations.83 His ideas were subsequently attacked by the Reverend Samuel Stanhope Smith of Philadelphia and by James Adair. Both argued that the Indian’s skin color was due to climatic and environmental conditions. Wrote Adair:

Many incidents and observations lead me to believe, that the Indian colour is not natural; but that the external difference between them and the whites, proceeds entirely from their custom and method of living, and not from any inherent spring of nature … That the Indian colour is merely accidental, or artificial, appears pretty evident.84

Adair believed that the reddish color was not the original one. In his travels he had seen Indians of various hues, he wrote, even white Indians. The Indians also had a tradition that they were once all of one color but they did not know which. However, according to Adair, they seemed to prefer dark skin since they would constantly anoint their bodies with bear grease mixed with a red root. He also observed that the years of exposing their bodies to “parching winds, and hot sun-beams” had tarnished their skin with a “tawny red colour.” If the Indians’ ancestors had also persisted in painting their skin and exposing their bodies to [65] the sun, Adair speculated that nature might have effected a permanent change: “We may easily conclude then, what a fixt change of colour, such a constant method of life would produce: for the colour being once thoroughly established, nature would, as it were, forget herself, not to beget her own likeness.”85 Adair was encouraged in this belief by stories of strange births. He had it on “good authority,” he wrote, that a negro child had been born to a Spanish woman “by means of a black picture that hung on the wall, opposite to the bed where she lay.” He also heard of the birth of two white children to black parents and the birth of a white child to Indian parents long before the arrival of white men.86 Adair therefore found it reasonable to assume that the Indians’ ancestors, due to climatic and environmental conditions, gave birth to dark-skinned children.

Late in the nineteenth century, the director of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology, J. W. Powell, assessed the popularity of these beliefs which by that time had been superseded. “It is difficult to exaggerate the prevalence of this romantic fallacy, or the force with which the hypothetic `lost races’ had taken possession of the imaginations of men,” he wrote. “For more than a century the ghosts of a vanished nation have ambuscaded in the vast solitudes of the continent, and the forest-covered mounds have been usually regarded as the mysterious sepulchers of its kings and nobles.”87

The mound-builder myth thus made manageable for many Americans a complex of persistent problems with the Indians. Traditions persisted that the ancient inhabitants of the Americas had demonstrated knowledge of Jewish law and Christianity. Certainly the archaeological record displayed evidence of what white settlers would term “civilization”—cities, temples, and fortifications. Yet Americans had come to justify their harsh behavior towards the Indians—taking their land, proselytizing only half-heartedly—by talking about the Indians’ inherent savagery, their inability to be civilized. The mound-builder myth reconciled such contradictory ideas about the Indians. Early Mormons quickly took advantage of the situation, reported the Unitarian in 1834, by claiming that the North American mounds were “proofs that this country was once inhabited by a race of people better acquainted with the arts of civilized life, than the present race of savages; and this, they contend, is satisfactory presumptive proof of the truth of the [Book of Mormon’s] history.”88

The Book of Mormon’s explanation is that shortly after Lehi’s family arrived in the New World, Lehi died and his colony divided into two major groups. The civilized, peaceful group, called Nephites after Lehi’s righteous son Nephi, built cities, worked metals, kept records, tilled the earth, managed flocks, and wore clothing. The uncivilized group, called Lamanites after Lehi’s oldest and rebellious son Laman, lived [66] in tents, hunted, went virtually naked,89 and were savage warriors. The savage group thus descended from the civilized one, just as in Ethan Smith’s theory.90

The Nephites were a “white and delightsome” people, but the Lord eventually cursed the Lamanites with “a skin of blackness” for their wickedness (2 Ne. 5:21). Thus a people of Jewish descent became dark-complexioned. However, when the Lamanites repented of their sins “their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (3 Ne. 2:15). Moreover, the Book of Mormon promises that when the latter-day Indians repent, “many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people” (2 Ne. 30:6).91 Thus the editor of the Vermont Patriot and State Gazette, a paper published in Montpelier, could acknowledge in an 1831 article that one object of the Book of Mormon was to give “the cause of the dark complexion of the native inhabitants of the forests.”92 Such an answer was significant for a generation who saw the various skin colors as a challenge to their belief that all men were descendants of one white-skinned man, Adam. The Book of Mormon is not explicit about how the metamorphosis from white to dark or dark to white takes place, but the Lamanites’ curse came only after they had “dwindled in unbelief” (1 Ne. 12:23; Morm. 5:15). While a few instantly turned white (3 Ne. 2:15), the Book of Mormon explains that latter-day Indian converts will become white within a few generations (2 Ne. 30:6). Although there were stories circulating about a few eighteenth-century Indians turning white,93 Joseph Smith evidently believed that the change in the Indian’s skin color would result from a gradual and natural process. In 1831 he reportedly told missionaries that it was the Lord’s will that they should take Indian women as their wives in order that the Lamanite “posterity may become white, delightsome and just.”94

The Book of Mormon’s description of the Lamanites sometimes sounds like an exaggerated version of contemporary stereotypes about North American Indians. After their separation from the Nephites, the Lamanites were led by their “evil nature” to become “wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat” (Enos 20). When dissident Nephites joined with the Lamanites, they “marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites” (Al. 3:4). Moroni records that the Lamanites were cruel to their prisoners of war, raping and “torturing their bodies even unto death” (Moro. 9:9-10).

[67] The Nephites were continually harassed by the Lamanites. Late in the fourth century A.D., the Nephites were driven by the Lamanites into “the land northward” where they were destroyed in a region described as having “large bodies of water” and “many waters, rivers, and fountains” (He. 3:4; Morm. 6:4), presumably referring to the Great Lakes region.

The Book of Mormon describes the Lamanites as practicing both idolatry and human sacrifice. They took many Nephite prisoners, writes the Nephite prophet Mormon, “both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods” (Morm. 4:14, 21). And when the Lamanites are discovered by Europeans, they will still be a “dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Ne. 12:23).

The Nephites, on the other hand, are described as “industrious” (2 Ne. 5:17, 24). They preserved a knowledge of the Hebrew and Egyptian languages (Morm. 9:32-34). Nephi explained that he made his record “in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Ne. 1:2). Since the Book of Mormon claims to have been written in “reformed Egyptian” characters (Morm. 9:32), some scholars have concluded that Nephi meant that he wrote Hebrew words using Egyptian script.95 This description seems similar to the early nineteenth-century habit of comparing the Indian’s language to Hebrew and their pictographs to Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Nephites also kept the “law of Moses” (2 Ne. 25:24-30) and possessed “the five books of Moses” and other Old Testament scriptures (1 Ne. 5:10-22). The Book of Mormon actually gives few details of the observance of the law. It mentions temples but not the ceremonies, priests but not their robes or temple duties. The Nephites, according to the book, observed the Sabbath (Jar. 5) and offered sacrifices and burnt offerings from the “firstlings of their flocks” (Mos. 2:3).96

The Book of Mormon has been called “the American Gospel” because it contains an account of the visit of the resurrected Jesus Christ to America (3 Ne. 11-26). It describes Christ, in words reminiscent of some descriptions of Quetzalcoatl, as both a “high priest” (Al. 13) and “he that gave the law” (3 Ne. 15:5), who taught the Nephites that their posterity would assist one day in building the New Jerusalem in America (3 Ne. 20:15-22, 21:22-25; see also Eth. 13:1-12). He said that those in America were his “other sheep” and promised one day to return (3 Ne. 15:21-24). Thus the Book of Mormon solves the problem of how the gospel came to ancient America.

The Book of Mormon overtly discusses the ramifications of such ideas for early American history. It details, for example, a vision given to Nephi in which he foresees the early history of America. The vision [68] portrays a sense of mission for America which parallels the self-proclaimed views of many Puritans and other Americans.97 God inspires Columbus to discover “the promised land” of America (1 Ne. 13:10-12). Seeking religious freedom, the Puritans and Pilgrims are later led “out of captivity” to the New World, bringing with them the Bible which they preach to the Indians (1 Ne. 13:13-24, 38). “The wrath of God” is upon the Indians, and they are scattered and smitten by the early white settlers (1 Ne. 13:14). The Revolutionary War is won by the aid of God, and a nation under God is founded (1 Ne. 13:17-18, 30). The new nation is to be “a land of liberty” with no king as long as they obey God’s commandments (2 Ne. 10:11). Again the Indians are scattered, this time by the Americans, but the Lord will not allow them to be completely destroyed (1 Ne. 13:30-32). Later the Book of Mormon returns to this topic of early American history and explains in terms which would have pleased proponents of vacuum domicilium why the colonists were successful against the Indians:

But behold, when the time cometh that they [the Lamanites] shall dwindle in unbelief, … if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them. Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten. (2 Ne. 1:10-11)

Though the Book of Mormon is perhaps harsher than Ethan Smith in its judgment of the Indians, with such adjectives as wild, ferocious, bloodthirsty, filthy, idle, loathsome, abominable, and drunken, it shares his enthusiasm for Christianizing the Indians. “And for this very purpose are these plates preserved,” Joseph Smith was told in a revelation in July 1828, “that the Lamanites [Indians] might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel” (D&C 3:19-20; see also Enos 11-18). The title page of the Book of Mormon states that its purpose is to show the Indians “what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.”

The mound builder myth embodied the values, ideals, aspirations, assumptions, prejudices, and fears of early nineteenth-century Americans. The mound builders were white, agriculturalist, industrious, and Christian. The myth also reinforced prejudice against the Indians and justified fear of Indian vengeance. Thus the mound-builder myth flourished despite contrary evidence. In 1803 the Reverend James Madison of Virginia published an essay questioning the lost-race theory [69] and reasoning that the Indians had built the earth works.98 In 1805 Thomas Jefferson demonstrated that the mounds contained the remains of those who had been buried over a period of time rather than the single mass burial of those killed in battle.99 Even earlier, explorers had discovered Indian tribes inhabiting palisaded towns.100

Near the end of the century, such observations finally began to undermine the popularity of the myth. By 1890 the Smithsonian’s J. W. Powell could finally write:

The spade and pick, in the hands of patient and sagacious investigators, have every year brought to light facts tending more and more strongly to prove that the mounds, defensive, mortuary and domiciliary, which have excited so much curiosity and become the subject of so many hypotheses, were constructed by the historic Indians of our land and their lineal ancestors.101

Archaeologists generally believe the mound-builder culture of eastern North America began around 1000 B.C., lasted until about A.D. 1700, and was generally divided into two groups, the Adena and the Hopewell. The Adena culture of Ohio and surrounding states dates from 1000 B.C. or earlier and represents the Woodland tradition which lasted until about A.D. 700. The Adena buried their dead in conical and animal-shaped mounds such as the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, built about two thousand years ago. The demise of this culture is difficult to date, but the Adena apparently overlapped the Hopewell culture of the Mississippi tradition, which began sometime between A.D. 200 and 500 and is responsible for stockaded towns and temple mounds such as Monks Mound in Cahokia, Illinois. Although for uncertain reasons Hopewell culture began to decline around A.D. 1000, they continued to use burial mounds and to construct stockaded towns until about A.D. 1700.102


1. See J. H. Kennedy, Jesuit and Savage in New France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950).

2. The Puritan’s initial optimistic estimation of the Indian’s character is discussed in Alden T. Vaughan, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675 (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1965), 43-46; and Gustav H. Blanke, “Early Theories About the Nature and Origin of the Indians, and the Advent of Mormonism,” Amerikastudien 25 (1980), 3: 245-46.

3. Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana; or, the Ecclesiastical History of New-England, 2 vols. (Hartford, 1820), 1:504.

4. Ibid., 503.

5. Cotton Mather, India Christiana. A Discourse, Delivered unto the Commissioners, for the Propagation of the Gospel among the American Indians (Boston, 1721), 28.

6. R[oger] Williams, The Bloody Tenet Yet More Bloody (London, 1652), 25. In another work, Williams summarized the Indian’s religion: “The wandering Generations of Adams lost posteritie, having lost the true and living God, their Maker, have created out of the Nothing of their owne inventions many false and fained Gods and Creators” (Roger Williams, A Key into the Language of America [London, 1643], 118).

7. For a discussion of Puritan and colonial reaction to Indian idolatry and human sacrifice, see Bernard W. Sheehan, Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 44-46; Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1975), 46-47.

8. James Adair, The History of the American Indians (London, 1775), 199-200.

9. Quoted in Josiah Priest, The Wonders of Nature and Providence, Displayed (Albany, 1825), 575.

10. W[illiam] Bullock, Six Months’ Residence and Travels in Mexico (London, 1824), 338; Alexander [von] Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, John Black, trans., 4 vols. (London, 1811), 2:62.

11. On Indian alcoholism during the colonial and early American period, see Vaughan, 45-46; Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1982), 34-36. The Indians’ weakness for alcoholic beverages was noted by several early writers: Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews; or the Tribes of Israel in America (Poultney, VT, 1825), 109-110; [Edmund Burke], An Account of the European Settlements in America, 2 vols. 2nd ed. (London, 1758), 1:169; and W. D. Cooper, The History of North America (New Brunswick, 1802), 2.

12. Quoted in James Buchanan, Sketches of the History, Manners, and Customs, of the North American Indians, with A Plan for Their Melioration, 2 vols. (New York, 1824), 1:19.

13. Niles’ Weekly Register (Baltimore), 14 Nov. 1818, 185.

14. “An Account of the Vices peculiar to the Savages of N[orth] America,” Columbian Magazine, or Monthly Miscellany (Philadelphia) 1 (Sept. 1786): 9.

15. Puritan reaction to Indian idleness is discussed in Charles M. Segal and David C. Stineback, Puritans, Indians, and Manifest Destiny (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977), 31-32, 46-47; Roy Harvey Pearce, “The `Ruins of Mankind’: The Indian and the Puritan Mind,” Journal of the History of Ideas 13 (1952): 200-17; and Vaughan, 45.

16. Burke, 1:169; see also Cooper, 3; and Daniel Gookin, Historical Collections of the Indians in New England (Boston, 1792), 9.

17. The concept of vacuum domicilium was expressed as early as 1622 in Mourt’s Relation. Under the heading “Reasons and Considerations touching the lawfulness of removing out of England into the parts of America,” this source surveyed the actions of the biblical patriarchs and declared that it was “lawful now to take a land which none useth, and make use of it.” See Dwight B. Heath, ed., A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth: Mourt’s Relation (New York: Corinth Books, 1963), 92.

18. John Cotton, God’s Promise to His Plantations (Boston, 1634), 4-5.

19. Edmund Burke’s statement that “their only occupations are hunting and war” became a typical characterization of the Indians both in Europe and America (1:169).

20. Roy Harvey Pearce, The Savages of America: A study of the Indian and the Idea of Civilization, rev. ed. (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1965), 55.

21. See David Bidney, “The Idea of the Savage in North American Ethnohistory,” Journal of the History of Ideas 15 (April 1954): 325; Dippie, passim.

22. Pearce, 61-62.

23. Wayne Sentinel, 11 Oct. 1825.

24. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 173-74.

25. Ibid., 175-76.

26. Ibid., 176-77.

27. Ibid., 248.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid., 249.

30. Quoted in Robert Wauchope, Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents: Myth and Method in the Study of American Indians (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 57.

31. Samuel Farmer Jarvis, Discourse on the Religion of the Indian Tribes of North America (New York, 1820), 8, 10.

32. Humboldt, Political Essay, 1:164-67. The willingness of missionaries to distort in order to convert is discussed in Charles S. Braden, Religious Aspects of the Conquest of Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1930), esp. 62-75; and Ursula Lamb, “Religious Conflicts in the Conquest of Mexico,” Journal of the History of Ideas 17 (Oct. 1956): 526-39.

33. See, for example, Smith, View of the Hebrews, 156, 166-67; Charles Beatty, The Journal of a Two Months’ Tour (London, 1768), 27, 84-92; Henry Ker, Travels through the Western Interior of the United States, from the Year 1808 up to the Year 1816 (Elizabethtown, NJ, 1816), 151.

34. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 186, 220; Beatty, 90. Cf. 1 Ne. 5:10-22.

35. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 144; Ker, 152. Cf. 1 Ne. 5:11.

36. Ker, 152; cf. 1 Ne. 5:11; 2 Ne. 2.

37. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 120; Elias Boudinot, A Star in the West; or, a Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (Trenton, 1816), 114; Israel Worsley, A View of the American Indians (London, 1828), 117. Cf. He. 6:27.

38. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 115-16, 159; Boudinot, 112, 250; Worsley, 85, 117, 183; Beatty, 90; Ker, 152. Cf. Al. 10:22.

39. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 116; Boudinot, 113-14; Worsley, 117; Beatty, 90; Ker, 152. Cf. Eth. 1:3, 33.

40. Adair, 47-59.

41. [William Penn], A Letter from William Penn (London, 1683), 5.

42. Adair, 37-74; Boudinot, 89-107; Smith, View of the Hebrews, 89-95.

43. See, among others, Smith, View of the Hebrews, 182-85; Humboldt, Political Essay, 1:133-34, 140, 2:61; Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, During the Years 1799-1804, trans. Helen Maria Williams, 7 vols. (London, 1818-29), 6:323, 325; Bullock, 326; John V[an] N[ess] Yates and Joseph W[hite] Moulton, History of the State of New York (New York, 1824), 14-15; Antonio del Rio, Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City, Discovered Near Palenque, in the Kingdom of Guatemala (London, 1822), 46; E[dward] A[ugustus] Kendal[l], “Account of the Writing-Rock in Tauton River,” Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 3 (1809): 165-91. The Palmyra Register, 2 June 1819, published an account of the discovery and supposed decipherment of the “Writing Rock.”

44. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 187.

45. Yates and Moulton, 45.

46. Boudinot, 181; “American Antiquities,” Palmyra Herald, 30 Oct. 1822.

47. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 103-104, 144, 164; Beatty, 91-92; Edwin James, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1823), 1:268.

48. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 101, 108, 158.

49. Ibid., 99, 104.

50. Ibid., 98-107. Cf. Al. 11:28-29, 14:5.

51. Ibid., 98, and many others. Early Christian missionaries were quick to exploit the Indians’ belief in the “Great Spirit” by associating it with the God of Christianity. See Edward Augustus Kendall, Travels through the Northern Parts of the United States, in the Years 1807 and 1808, 3 vols. (New York, 1809), 2:264-67. Cf. Al. 22:9-10.

52. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 101, 159, 163.

53. Ibid., 210-12. Cf. Mos. 15:1-5; 3 Ne. 11:36.

54. Worsley, 161-62.

55. Francesco Saverio Clavigero, The History of Mexico, Charles Cullen, trans., 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1817), 2:14.

56. Rio, unpaginated and unnumbered plate near beginning of book.

57. See Howard W. Goodkind, “Lord Kingsborough Lost His Fortune Trying to Prove the Maya Were Descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes,” Biblical Archaeology Review 11 (Sept.-Oct. 1985): 60, 65. Also Wauchope, 64-65; William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico, 3 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1843), 3:384-87.

58. Jeremy Belknap, A Discourse, Intended to Commemorate the Discovery of America (Boston, 1792), 48.

59. [Samuel Mather], An Attempt to Shew, that America Must be Known to the Ancients (Boston, 1773), 22-25. Mather’s book was still known and discussed in New York as late as 1814. See The New York Magazine, and General Repository of Useful Knowledge 1 (July 1814): 154-56.

60. Clavigero, 2:13-15.

61. Rio, 92-94, 104; Mark Beaufoy, Mexican Illustrations (London, 1828), 220-21; [Samuel Purchase], Purchase His Pilgrims, 7 vols. (London, 1625), 3:1123, 4:1219, include descriptions by Francis de Gomora and Antonie Knivet which link the legend of Quetzalcoatl with St. Thomas.

62. Boturini is quoted by Kingsborough [Edward King], Antiquities of Mexico (London, 1831-48), in Lynn Glaser, Indians or Jews? (Gilroy, CA: Roy V. Boswell, 1973), 13. See also Prescott, 3:383.

63. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 204-207.

64. Ibid., 205.

65. See Goodkind, 65. Also Muriel Porter Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica (New York: Seminar Press, 1972), 204-207.

66. Samuel Sewall, Phaenomena Quaedam Apocalyptica (Boston, 1697), 35-36.

67. Ibid., 1-2, 42. Sewall apparently believed in an American-based New Jerusalem as early as 1684 when he discussed the subject with Cotton Mather. See Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Samuel Sewall of Boston (New York: Macmillan Co., 1964), 152-56. Cotton Mather discussed the American New Jerusalem in Theopholis Americana (Boston, 1710), 43-44, as did Nicholas Noyes in New Englands Duty and Interest (Boston, 1698), 74-75, 85. The establishment of the New Jerusalem in America is another important concept which the Book of Mormon shares with its Puritan background. Various aspects of this concept have been discussed in the following sources: Alan Heimert, “Puritanism, the Wilderness, and the Frontier,” The New England Quarterly 26 (Sept. 1953): 380-82; Gustav H. Blanke and Karen Lynn, “`God’s Base of Operations’: Mormon Variations on the American Sense of Mission,” Brigham Young University Studies 20 (Fall 1979): 83-92. On 8 October 1823, the Wayne Sentinel reported that someone had founded a New Jerusalem in Kentucky.

68. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 184.

69. Ibid., 172.

70. Ibid., 172-73.

71. Belknap, 45-46.

72. DeWitt Clinton, Discourse Delivered before the New-York Historical Society (New York, 1812), 53.

73. Ibid., 61.

74. Yates and Moulton, 40.

75. Solomon Spalding, The “Manuscript Found.” Manuscript Story, by Rev. Solomon Spaulding, Deceased (Liverpool: Millennial Star Office, 1910), 10-11, 18, 20-25.

76. “Indian Antiquities,” Palmyra Register, 21 Jan. 1818, reprinted from the North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal (Boston) 16 (Nov. 1817): 136-37; Palmyra Herald, 19 Feb. 1823.

77. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 88, 152; Adair, 194.

78. Smith, View of the Hebrews, 206.

79. “Of the Aborigines of the Western Country,” pt. 1, Port Folio, fourth series, 1 (June 1816): 458-59.

80. Ibid., 459.

81. Ibid., 461.

82. Yates and Moulton, 42-44, 46, 92.

83. Henry Home [Lord Kames], Sketches on the History of Man, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1774), 2:1, 11, 29. Kames’s book was published in Philadelphia in 1776 as Six Sketches on the History of Man.

84. Adair, 2; see also Samuel Stanhope Smith, An Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species. To which are Added Strictures on Lord Kaims’s Discourse, on the Original Diversity of Mankind (Philadelphia, 1787), 27, 33. Others who shared Adair’s and Smith’s view that the Indians’ skin color was the result of environmental and climatic conditions include Penn, A Letter, 5; P[ierre] de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North-America, 2 vols. (London, 1761), 1:15, which mentions Edward Brerewood’s belief in the theory; and “Aborigines of America,” pt. 2, American Monthly Magazine (Boston) 1 (May 1829): 82-86. Also useful in tracing the debate in America between climatic and polygenetic theories are John C. Greene, “The American Debate on the Negro’s Place in Nature, 1780-1815,” Journal of the History of Ideas 15 (June 1954): 384-96; and William H. Hudnut III, “Samuel Stanhope Smith: Enlightened Conservative,” Journal of the History of Ideas 17 (Oct. 1956): 540-52. See also Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), passim.

85. Adair, 4.

86. Ibid.

87. J. W. Powell, ed., Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1890-1891 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894), xli-xlii.

88. Jason Whitman, “The Book of Mormon,” Unitarian (Boston), 1 Jan. 1834, 46.

89. Enos 20. The Indians’ nakedness was to the Puritans a sure sign of their inherent savage nature. Edmund Burke’s statement that the Europeans found the natives “quite naked, except those parts, which it is common for the most uncultivated people to conceal” was a typical sentiment (1:168). Spalding described the ancient “Delawares” in his novel: “Their clothing consisted of skins dressed with the hair on—but in warmer weather, only the middle part of their bodies were incumbered with any covering—The one half of the head of the men was shaved & painted with red” (11).

90. “To establish any connection at all between the books of the two Smiths,” argued Brigham Young University religion professor Hugh Nibley in 1959, “it is absolutely imperative to find something perfectly unique and peculiar in both of them” (“The Comparative Method,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1959, 848). The theory that the Indians were degenerates who destroyed their more civilized brethren rather than the prevalent theory of two distinct races constitutes, so far as can be determined, an original idea with Ethan Smith. The Book of Mormon differs with Smith regarding the ten tribes but parallels him on other features. Apparently Oliver Cowdery, Joseph’s scribe, had a step-mother who attended Ethan’s church in Poultney, Vermont, and may have even become acquainted with Smith himself. See Wesley P. Walters, “The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon” (M.A. thesis, Covenant Theological Seminary, 1981), 97-98, 212-14; and David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1985), 5-8.

91. Recently Mormon leaders changed the Book of Mormon’s promise that latter-day Indian converts will turn “white and delightsome” by insisting on an 1840 edition reading of “pure and delightsome” (Ensign, Oct. 1981, 17-18). The 1981 printing of the Book of Mormon follows that reading. However, the original manuscript, the printer’s manuscript, the 1830 first edition, and the 1837 second edition all use the words “white and delightsome.”

92. Vermont Patriot and State Gazette (Montpelier), 19 Sept. 1831.

93. President Ezra Stiles of Yale recorded two such instances in his diary. Under the date 16 October 1786, he wrote: “Mr. Benedict & Mr. Mudge told me there was an Indian Sam Adams … now living in New Lebanon, who had been growing White for now about two years. It began on his Breast & the Skinning and Whiteness has spread all over his Body, except the Extremities—& there is increasing … Of three p[er]sons comparing with him, he was the whitest, clear skin, fair red & white.” Under the date 5 April 1787, he wrote: “Yesterday the Rev. Mr. Ball of Amity told me that in 1757 at Setauket South on L. Isld. he saw an Indian Man grown white in spots or pyed all over. He stript off his Shirt & shewed Mr. Ball his Body. The Indian had been in Health, & Sickness was not the Cause of it. But he never heard whether the Indian became white all over or not.” Franklin Bowditch Dexter, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, 3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901), 3:243, 259.

94. A copy of the revelation, penned by W. W. Phelps to Brigham Young, 12 Aug. 1861, LDS church archives, appears in Fred C. Collier, comp., Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1979), 57-58; and is reprinted in Steven F. Christensen, “Scriptural Commentary,” Sunstone (Nov.-Dec. 1981): 64. Mormon scholar Lyndon W. Cook cited the revelation and listed it as an uncanonized revelation of Joseph Smith but did not publish the text (The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants [Provo, Utah: Seventy’s Mission Book Store, 1981], 347, 361). Recently, Richard S. Van Wagoner noted some problems regarding the accuracy of Phelps’s reminiscent account, particularly as it relates to polygamy. See his Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 223-24.

Joseph Smith was not the first to suggest that white Americans intermarry with Indians. In 1816 William H. Crawford (1772-1834), senator from Georgia, made the highly controversial suggestion that Americans solve their Indian problem by intermarrying with them (American State Papers: Indian Affairs, 2:28, in Chase C. Mooney, William H. Crawford, 1772-1834 [Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1974], 88). Mooney states that the idea of civilizing the Indians through intermarriage had been previously recommended by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and that the idea had gained some acceptance among Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw Indians (89, 292). When Crawford was candidate for the presidency eight years later, the issue was again brought up for debate. For a heated response to Crawford’s position, see Thomas Cooper, Strictures to James Madison on the Celebrated Report of William H. Crawford Recommending the Intermarriage of Americans with Indian Tribes (Philadelphia, 1824). On 25 December 1824, the Cincinnati Literary Gazette claimed “the second generation resulting from these alliances would be totally white and beautiful.”

95. Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 31-39.

96. The Reverend M. T. Lamb (The Golden Bible; or, The Book of Mormon. Is It from God? [New York: Ward and Drummond, 1887], 109) believed the Book of Mormon erred in the matter of animal sacrifice:

According to the law of Moses the firstlings of their flocks were never offered as burnt offerings or sacrifices. All firstlings belonged to the Lord, de jure, and could not be counted as a man’s personal property—whereas, all burnt offerings, or sacrifices for sin of every kind, must be selected from the man’s own personal property, or be purchased with his own money for that purpose, while all firstlings of the flock, as the Lord’s property, came into the hands of the high priest, and by him could be offered up as a peace offering, not as a burnt offering or a sin offering, himself and family eating the flesh. (See Ex. 13:2, 12 and 22:29, 30; Numb. 3:13; 2d Sam. 24:24; Numb. 18:15-18 and other places.)

97. For a discussion of the early Americans’ interpretation of their own history, see, among others, Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968); Russel B. Nye, This Almost Chosen People: Essays in the History of American Ideas (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1966), especially Chapter 4 on “The American Sense of Mission.”

98. Robert Silverberg, Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1968), 48-49.

99. Ibid., 42-47.

100. H. M. Brackenridge to Thomas Jefferson, 25 July 1813, Belles-Lettres Repository (New York) 1 (1 Aug. 1819): 291-92.

101. Powell, xliii-xliv. On the demise of the mound-builder myth, see Silverberg, 166-221.

102. A general discussion of the Adena and Hopewell cultures can be found in Silverberg, 222-337. See also Gordon R. Willey, An Introduction to American Archaeology, 2 vols. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966-71), especially vol. 1, North and Middle America; Martha A. Potter, Ohio’s Prehistoric Peoples (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1968).