We’re pleased to announce this talk by Dr. Matthew C. Godfrey, General Editor and Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers, in the Assembly Hall at 7pm on Thursday, 23 June. Here is Dr. Godfrey’s description of his talk:
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had a complicated relationship with the Camp of Israel expedition, more commonly known as Zion’s Camp. On its face, the expedition appears to have failed in its goals—that of redeeming Zion, or helping the Saints regain their Jackson County, Missouri, lands. Therefore, church members have often looked for ways to depict the expedition as a success. The lands may not have been obtained, some say, but it was a proving ground for future leaders. The group may have been disbanded without ever entering Jackson County, others state, but the entire expedition gave Joseph Smith an opportunity to showcase his leadership skills to individuals who had never met him before or who had only a casual acquaintance with him.
The expedition was a success to some participants in a way that seems fairly obvious, but has not really been examined closely by historians: it provided members with examples and experiences of God’s intervention in their lives. Indeed, nearly all participants in the expedition who left reminiscences about the camp provided examples of divine intervention throughout the journey—that God was protecting them, sustaining them, and chastising them. In doing so, they drew heavily on the biblical narrative of the children of Israel being led to the promised land. For members of the church who had suffered persecution throughout their lives, the expedition provided an example of when God fought their battles and did not leave them at the mercy of their enemies, just as he had done in Old Testament times. It thus provided comfort to participants, confirming God’s involvement in their lives and confirming the Saints’ status as latter-day members of the House of Israel.
My talk will examine examples of divine intervention that participants remembered and explore why so many were prone to see God’s hand throughout the journey—even if God did not lead the group triumphantly back into Jackson County. It will also briefly discuss the role that collective memory played in how participants remembered the Camp of Israel and divine intervention in it.