Palmyra Revival

© 1999 by H. Michael Marquardt. All rights reserved.

When studying Mormon Origins it becomes apparent that as time passed certain events that occurred in the Palmyra neighborhood when subsequently written were placed in an earlier time frame. One of these events is the revival of religion that occurred among the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in the area near the town of Palmyra. The Joseph Smith, Sr. family did their shopping, trading, picked up their mail and newspaper from this town.

When Joseph Smith and his scribe George W. Robinson worked in 1838 on the account Smith's early life they included the story of the religious revival in the neighborhood of Palmyra. The revival was placed before Joseph Smith's first visionary experience. Thus it was reported to h ave occurred by the spring of 1820. Three years previously Oliver Cowdery a close associate of Joseph Smith described the revival as happening before 21 September 1823.

A study of the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist church records shows that converts joined these three churches in increased numbers from the fall of 1824 through the spring of 1825. The recollection writings of Joseph Smith and George W. Robinson was off by four years.

Why is this so important? Because Joseph Smith, while concerned for his spiritual salvation since he was twelve years old (1817), two years later would be fourteen if his first experience occurred during the spring 1820. With the revival happening four years later he was more mature being eighteeen years old on his way to manhood. Joseph Smith's account mentions "the space of time" from his vision to 1823. Knowing that the revival was later helps us in knowing that the recollection is a religious faith account.

Smith's story as reported in his Manuscript History, copied in this ledger in 1839 as his "journal," needs to be recognized for what it is -- a polished account a religious experience. It is not a historical record of when the Palmyra revival took place. This does not take away that Joseph Smith may have had a religious experience. It does bring into question if Smith's account represents his quest as he states, of trying to locate the true church. A question should be asked if his experience as reported in 1838 had a lasting effect during the early years of his life.

The following is from the local Palmyra newspaper and mentions the above revival. Note the publication date.


Religious.--An article in the Religious Ad-
vocate gives the pleasing fact that a revival
of religion had taken place in the town of Pal-
myra, Macedon, Manchester, Phelps, Lyons
and Ontario, and that more than 200 souls had
become hopeful subjects of Divine Grace, &c.
It may be added, that in Palmyra and Mace-
don, including Methodist, Presbyterian and
Baptist Churches, more than 400 have already
testified that the Lord is good. The work is
still progressing. In the neighboring towns,
the number is great and fast increasing. Go-
ry be to God on high; and on earth, peace and
good will to all men. {Communicated.

(Wayne Sentinel 2 [2 March 1825], Palmyra, Wayne County, New York).

For further information on the Palmyra revival see H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 15-41. See also H. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844 (Maitland, Florida, 2013), 9-20.

Return to Restoration History