In the early 19th century, western New York State was described as the ‘burned-over’ district, ablaze with evangelism from multiple religious revivals, postmillennialists prophesying the second coming, and various utopian communes. In this febrile atmosphere, young Joseph Smith’s visions of angels leading him to the ancient prophet’s sacred Book of Mormon ranked as fairly normal adolescence. But his genius for promotion and persuasion was exceptional. As adherents flocked to his Church of the Latter Day Saints, he moved first to Kirtland, Ohio, then Missouri. Here they so alienated the locals, a ‘Mormon War’ erupted, leading the State Governor to order their ‘extermination’. Moving quickly to found a new settlement, ‘Nauvoo’ in Illinois, Smith once again enraged the natives: he was killed by a mob (1844). Then, the movement bifurcated. Sam Brannan sailed to California to found ‘New Hope’, while the majority followed Brigham Young to found Salt Lake City in Utah (1847).
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