On the last page of the The Mormon for May 30, 1857, the editor, Apostle John Taylor, included an article entitled:
Aux Elders et aux Saints, en Canada, en France,
en Suisse, en Italie, et dans les iles
de la Manche.
(To the Elders and Saints in Canada, in France, in Switzerland, in Italy and throughout the isles of the Sea.)
What followed was a treatise or the text of a tract in French expounding the truth of the gospel and urging members to “let their light shine before men.” As far as I can tell, nothing in the 2,500 word text is unusual. Except that it is in French and published in a New York City LDS newspaper.
As far as I’ve seen (I have not yet read through all the issues of The Mormon or the Messenger, or for that matter several other Mormon periodicals of the time), this is unique or at least unusual for Mormon periodicals at that time. So why did Taylor include this article in French?
Today it doesn’t seem that unusual to provide text to those around New York City who speak other languages, given the multilingual nature of the city’s immigrant population and the Church’s willingness to reach out to them during the past 100 years at least. In fact, there are wards and branches of the Church in the region serving members who speak about a dozen different languages, last I counted. Language units have existed in New York City continually since the first Spanish-language branch in the city was founded in the late 1960s, and prior to World War II a German-language branch existed in Brooklyn.
So, could ZTaylor have considered reaching French speakers in New York City
The idea that missionaries in 1857 might find success among immigrants in New York City who didn’t speak English is not farfetched. Nearly half the population of New York City and Brooklyn at the time hadn’t been born in the United States, and as much as 25% spoke a language other than English.
But the idea that French speakers would be approached first is difficult to swallow. Very few of those in New York spoke French—probably less than 10,000. The largest non-English language among immigrants in New York was German, spoken by nearly 150,000 (more than 15% of the population). If missionaries had chosen to target immigrants in the city, they would have started with German, not French.
So why did Taylor insert an article in French in The Mormon?
All I can do is speculate. He addresses the article to Elders and Saints in Canada, France, Switzerland, Italy, etc., but doesn’t include New York City in the mix. Perhaps he assumed that copies of this issue would be mailed to those places?
Taylor had served as the first mission president of the French mission, and had learned the language there. Perhaps like many missionaries he had a love for the people and language. And while in France he also published pamphlets and a newspaper (Étoile du Déséret), so it is possible that this text is reprinted from one of the French publications, perhaps just to fill space in this issue of the newspaper.
I’ll keep looking for information that might explain why this text was included in The Mormon.