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(MORMONS.) Williams, Benajah. Diaries of a Methodist preacher, describing a camp meeting which may have inspired Joseph Smith'sFirst Vision. 672; 852; 1043; 1155; 851,  manuscript pages. 5 volumes, each composed of about 20 pocket-sized diaries bound together (some with wrappers) and some later historical notes. 8vo, late 19th century polished black calf, moderate wear, stamped in gilt on front boards "A.J. Williams"; minor wear to contents, page numbers added later in red ink; inked stamps of the Ambrose Swasey Library on front free endpapers. Vp, 1818-62 with some gaps
The precise details of Joseph Smith's "First Vision" have long been a subject of controversy. In "History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet," he recounted that near where he was raised in Palmyra, NY, prevailed "unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country." In the early spring of 1820, he went into the woods to pray, and had his first vision. He then reported that "Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision." In 1967, anti-Mormon researcher Wesley Walters studied the matter and announced with confidence that "in 1820 there was no revival in any of the churches in Palmyra or its vicinity"--casting doubt on the authenticity of the First Vision. Since then, Mormon researchers have sought evidence of Methodist revival meetings in the Palmyra area. The diary offered here offers perhaps the most compelling proof yet of such a meeting. The diary was kept by the Rev. Benajah Williams (1789-1864), a Methodist minister. His diary for Saturday, 15 July 1820 (page I:126) reads in part "Had a two days meeting at Sq Bakers in Richmond. . . . Found Br. Lane, a presiding elder from Sequehannah District with five more preachers. Br. Warner and Br. Griffing exhorted. We had a good prayer meeting at six in the evening." The next day, on the Sabbath, "Our love feast began at 9 as the Lord was preasant to bless us. . . . The people were satisfield with the sermons. Br. Lane exhorted and spoke on God's method in bringing about reffermations, his word was with us from the authority of God." The next day, he set off for a week-long conference at Genesee Bridge with Lane. These references are particularly intriguing because other contemporary accounts have mentioned the role of Methodist preacher George Lane (1784-1859) in Smith's religious awakening. Richmond, NY, where this camp meeting took place, was about 17 miles from Manchester, NY where the young Smith was believed to have spent that summer as a farm laborer. This diary entry is the only known reference to an appearance by Lane in this area in 1820, and though the July date is a few months off from Smith's "early spring" recollection, it otherwise fits the known circumstances of the First Vision. This Richmond camp meeting aside, the Williams diary is a wonderful primary source on the "Burned-Over District" of western New York--the social context which produced Joseph Smith and his earliest followers. Williams spent most of his career riding the circuit--from 1818 to 1840, in and around Ontario County, NY; taking a break to run an iron foundry in Chagrin Falls, OH, until 1848; then returning to the ministry in Coudersport, PA, and New Hudson, NY for several years before retiring to Chagrin Falls in 1854. He was an ardent abolitionist; on page 595 of the second volume is inserted the 1839 manuscript constitution of the Methodist Anti-Slavery Society of Liberty and Naples Circuit. The diversity of other faiths in the Burned-Over District is evidenced by a meeting with a disillusioned old follower of the late Jemima Wilkinson on 24 September 1830 (page II:288). The diary extends to more than 4000 unpublished manuscript pages spanning parts of six decades. Provenance: the author's son Andrew Jackson Williams (1829-1901); Joseph R. Williams (1832-1908) of Syracuse, NY circa late 1880s, relationship unknown (signature on first free endpaper); gift from the Rev. George W. Dwyer to the Rochester Theological Seminary in 1910; deaccessioned by the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School circa 2003, and later purchased by the consignor.
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