One scholar summarized the growth of rural printing this way:
Between 1790 and 1840, the area of the United States doubled, its population quadrupled, cities multiplied, and the output of American presses expanded even more dramatically. But the book trades, rural and urban alike, kept ahead of the demographic trends. Decade by decade, the number of recorded imprints outpaced the increase of population, while the size of editions and print runs grew. The census of 1840 counted 1,573 printing offices employing 11,622 workers and issuing 1,303 newspapers. Two-thirds of all those printing offices, three-fourths of all weekly newspapers, and half of all printers were located in places smaller than America’s fifty most populous counties—that is, in rural villages. City-dwelling Americans surely had easier access to print and on average probably read more. But most book purchasers and readers, and most newspaper subscribers lived in villages and on farms. (Larkin, “Rural Printing and Publishing,” 146.)
According to his own account, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in a “pillar of light” in spring 1820, at the age of fourteen, and they called him to a divine work. He reported that he was visited three years later by an angel who revealed to him the location of gold plates buried in a nearby hill. Smith was told the gold plates contained the account of ancient inhabitants of the American continent, including an account of Jesus Christ’s post-resurrection visit. The angel himself had been the last of the authors of the Book of Mormon and had buried the plates. After receiving four years of annual instruction by the angel, Joseph Smith retrieved the gold plates and from them translated the Book of Mormon. The bulk of what would become a 600-page book was produced in about two months.
Regarding the mode of translation, Joseph Smith himself stated only that it was done “by the gift and power of God.” Close associates at the time described Smith using both a set of ancient “spectacles” or “interpreters” found buried with the plates and a single “seer stone” he had found previously. Early Latter-day Saints referred to both the ancient interpreters and seer stone using the biblical term “Urim and Thummim.” One of his scribes testified in court concerning the translation process:
[Joseph Smith] found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraven on the plates. (Oliver Cowdery, qtd. in A. W. B., “Mormonites,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate 2 [19 Apr. 1831]: 120)
Another of Joseph Smith’s associates at the time described the process this way:
Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters then he would tell the writer and he would write it then that would go away the next sentance would Come and so on But if it was not spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite so we see it was marvelous. (Joseph Knight Sr., Reminiscences, no date, CHL)
The Book of Mormon is the narrative of the family of Lehi and Sariah, who left Jerusalem about 600 BC and traveled to the New World, where fraternal strife and unequal spiritual conviction led to a break in the family. The family separated into two groups, the Nephites and the Lamanites, each named after the brother who led it. The oldest brother, Laman, led the group that rejected the visionary experiences of their father and younger brother, Nephi. This brought about a lasting division between the brothers and their descendants. Nephi, who led the other group, experienced visions like those of his father that had led to the family’s exodus from Jerusalem. He later initiated a record of his people—a religious text and narrative history that was passed down from generation to generation of scribal custodians. Throughout much of the Book of Mormon’s narrative, the Lamanites and the Nephites are depicted as competing societies, with the Nephites generally presented as the righteous group.
From the time Lehi’s family left Jerusalem, prophets among them taught of the eventual coming of Jesus Christ. The height of the narrative occurs when Jesus Christ visits the Americas, following his resurrection. The Book of Mormon recounts in detail the visit, which brought an era of peace lasting two hundred years. Finally, both groups fell into wickedness. The Nephites forfeited God’s protection through disobedience and were destroyed by the Lamanites.
The book also recounts the history of the Jaredites, another family group that journeyed to the Americas. This group left the Middle East much earlier, at the time of the biblical Tower of Babel, and the narrative ends in their complete destruction.
Around AD 400, the prophet-general Mormon, the last Nephite commander, compiled on gold plates an abridged history of his people and then passed the plates to his son, Moroni, who added his own testimony and a few additional writings before burying the plates. In chronicling these ancient civilizations, the Book of Mormon contains narrative history, as well as sermons; letters; accounts of visions, dreams, and prophecies; and commentary on the meaning and significance of both the spiritual and the non-spiritual events of the narrative. (See JSP, R3 [forthcoming])
As work on the Book of Mormon neared completion, Joseph Smith had to find a publisher. (Display the copyright for the Book of Mormon.)
Printers in the [upstate New York] area had little or no experience printing books that were as large and as expensive as the Book of Mormon. The copyright decreased the financial risk of publishing the book and therefore gave Joseph Smith additional power to negotiate with potential printers. Smith’s early efforts to find a printer were apparently conducted in and around Palmyra, where E. B. Grandin originally rejected his proposal, likely fearing that the book would not be profitable. Joseph Smith’s lack of a copyright during these early negotiations may also have made Grandin hesitant, since only a copyright would have protected his interests by prohibiting competing presses from producing the same book. After unsuccessful attempts in Palmyra, Joseph Smith and Martin Harris solicited printers in Rochester, New York. There, Thurlow Weed appears also to have rejected the proposal, even though Harris offered his farm as payment, but then Smith met success: his proposal was accepted by printer Elihu F. Marshall. Smith returned to Palmyra with Marshall’s offer, and this time he successfully negotiated with Grandin.
After the agreement was in place, Joseph Smith returned to his home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. He did not sell his copyright to Grandin or negotiate an arrangement to share the profits from the book’s sale, nor did he need to once Harris had agreed to be the financier. John H. Gilbert, the typesetter of the Book of Mormon, estimated the cost for printing five thousand books at $3,000, a figure that included a profit for Grandin. (JSP, D1:78–79)
Examples of reactions in press:
In spite of public outcry, the book gained substantial converts to the new faith and did well enough that by the time of Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, it was in its third American edition (this one stereotyped), and it had also been published in Great Britain.
Display various elements of the 1830 Book of Mormon, including the spine, covers, title page, and sample interior pages.
Split the class into small groups and have them discuss its format and features.