Mormons in Brooklyn, 1877

January 11th, 2013, by Kent Larsen

By 1877, the LDS Church in New York City was in a kind of decline, at least as far as local members were concerned. While many Mormons passed through the city in transit—either to missions in Europe or emigrating to Salt Lake City from Europe—the number of members who lived here was decreasing.

But then why were members here at all? And what was life like for them?

An 1877 article in the Brooklyn Eagle gives a kind of answer. While taking a snarky view of Mormon doctrines and practices, it also gives a lot of information about the Brooklyn branch, including the following tidbits:

  • The branch met on Grand Street in Brooklyn
  • About 100 members attended the branch from an area that included Newark and Jersey City in New Jersey; New York and Brooklyn; and Long Island.
  • While most members were either English or Americans, there were some Germans and those of many other nationalities, except Irish (the article makes a big point of this).
  • Members are very poor because once they can manage to gather enough funds they emigrate to Utah.
  • Three years before this article, the Brooklyn branch had 300 members. The article implies that the decline is because members moved to Utah or, in a few cases, left the Church.
  • The branch president is a Mr. Byewater (probably Bywater. I haven’t yet identified who this is).
  • The reporter met with one member of the Church, Henry Worthington, who lives in a tenement at 160 Grand Street. Worthington says he has been a member of the Church for 28 years (i.e., since 1849) and a resident of the U.S. for 8 years (i.e., since 1869). [The Mormon Migration database includes two Henry Worthingtons who emigrated in Mormon companies, one in 1864 and a second in 1866. I haven't done enough research to see which one is this Henry Worthington, or if he is not in the database.]

The reporter’s focus is on whether or not the Mormons will build a church in Brooklyn, and is told that they will not, “No, we are not going to build a church. We don’t want any church. When we want to worship in a stately edifice we will go to Utah,” Worthington tells him.

A “stately edifice” for the Church in the East would wait until more than 20 years after the Eastern States Mission was re-established.

3 Responses to “Mormons in Brooklyn, 1877”

  1. Mark B. Says:

    Of course, in 1877 Brooklyn was not part of New York City. Thus the writer in the Eagle spoke of people coming from New Jersey, Long Island, and New York City, as well as from Brooklyn.

    Thanks for this addition–the very brief Brooklyn Ward/Branch history that I have doesn’t show any meeting places from earlier than 1894.

  2. Ardis E. Parshall Says:

    Thanks, Kent — not just for the interesting discussion, but particularly for the line about “When we want to worship in a stately edifice …” That is *exactly* the line I need for something I’m writing at work.

    It’s also fun to see how you have used the original article in writing your story. It’s sort of a logic check for me, in that I do the same thing: Much of the article is off kilter (you can see how the reporter got his skewed interpretation of Mormon marriage, even monogamous marriage, but it’s reported in such a fun-house mirror sort of way that it’s unusable. Yet rather than discard the entire article because of that, you select what’s usable — names, dates, places — that are either verifiable or at least not obviously subject to emotional partisan twisting.

    You’d probably prefer a comment that discussed the Saints in New York to a meta discussion on how we do history. Sorry; this is the turn my mind took. I appreciate the “how” as much as the “what” when you post these bits of history.

  3. kent Says:

    Not at all, Ardis. Any conversation is worthy. Doesn’t have to discuss Saints in New York. That is the focus, not the limit.

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