John L. Brooke
The Refiner's Fire (1994)

Table of Contents

Chapter 04 excerpt
Chapter 05 excerpt
Chapter 06 excerpt
Chapter 10 excerpt

Transcriber's comments

Luman Walter (1830)   |   America's New Israelites   |   "The Halcyon Inspiration"

  The Refiner's Fire, copyright 1994
by Cambridge University Press
Because of copyright restrictions, only limited "fair use"
excerpts are presented here.



    List of Illustrations
    List of Maps

Part I:  A Prepared People

    1. Dreams of the Primal Adam
    2. The True Spiritual Seed
    3. Something of Our Ancestors

Part II:  Hermetic Purity and Hermetic Danger

    4. A Urim Spiritual
    5. Alchymical Experiments
    6. I Was Born in Sharon

Part III:  The Mormon Dispensation

    7. Secret Combinations and Slippery Treasures in the Land of Zarahemla
    8. The Mysteries Defined
    9. Temples, Wives, Bogus-Making, and War
    10. The Keys to the Kingdom
    11. A Tangle of Strings and the Kingdom of God
    12. Let Mysteries Alone

Appendix:  The Sectarian and Hermetic Circumstances of Mormon Origins in Vermont and New York


[ 91 ]


A Urim Spiritual

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...[the French Avignon Society] had influences that reached into the English-speaking world, attracting several English Swedenborgian millenarians who afew years later became followers of the prophet Richard Brothers. In the midst of threats of war in 1794, Brothers, a former naval officer living in London, pronounced himself the "Prince and Prophet of the Hebrews" and predicted the coming of the kingdom of God and the return ofvisible and "invisible" Hebrews to a New Jerusalem to be rebuilt in the Holy Land. Confined as insane, Brothers would lose some of his followersto Joanna Southcott, "the woman clothed with the sun," who carried the renewed English tradition of the restoration of the Kingdom of God, dormant since the 1650s, into the nineteenth century [14 Clark Garrett, Respectable Folly: Millenarians and the French Revolution in France and England -- Baltimore, 1975, 97-120, 171-223; John F. C. Harrison. The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 1780-1850, -- New Brunswick, 1978, 57-85; Schuchard, Freemasonry, Secret Societies, and the Continuities of Occult Traditions, 402-17]...

These ideas did ultimately contriibute to the framing of the Mormon dispensation in the 1840s, but their impact on the world of the diving cults of the 1780s and 1790s is more difficult to access. When they did begin to circulate along the coast and into the backcountry of revolutionary America, it was probably in spite of -- rather than necessarily because of -- the spread of lodge Freemasonry.

American Freemasonry was initially established under warrants from the London Grand Lodge, and its culture and ritual reflected the Enlightenment thinking of its English founders.... Occasionally suggestions of spiritualism and the occult emerge from the culture of lodge Freemasonry, such as a Massachusetts woman's "Masonic Vision," a Saint John's Day sermon on the jewels of the biblical Urim and Thummim, or the publications in Philadelphia of the "Rites and Mysteries of the Oriental Freemasons." [15]...



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... Other, more ephemeral writings drawing upon Masonic and millennial themes appealed to a much broader audience. The rise of revolutionary France, its dramatic confrontation with the British-led alliance, and its ramifications in American politics inspired a wave of militantly pro-French sentiment and shaped an audience eager for premillennial predictions and prophicies Among these, the prophecies of London's "Prince and Prophet of the Hebrews," Richard Brothers, were widely read in at least eleven American editions published from 1795 to 1797 in Philadelphia, New London, Worcester, West Springfield, and Albany, where it was put out by a Freemason, Thomas Webb. In Connecticut, the Reverend David Austin translated visions and a growing mental instability into a series of published sermons and treatises on millennial and Masonic themes during the 1790s, literally obsessed with the notion that the "Millennial Door" was opening. [22 In general, for these themes, see Ruth Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756-1800 -- New York, 1985, 150-68; David Austin, Masonry in Its Glory, or Solomon's Temple Illuminated (East Windsor, Conn., 1799)]

Many of these prophecies focused on legendary artifacts. Brothers' followers from the Masonic Avignon Society had accepted him as a true prophet, based on prophecies popularly ascribed to Christopher Love, an English Presbyterian executed for conspiring against Cromwell in 1651. Love's "Prophecies," which included references to an engraved pillar of brass erected by patriarch Seth and the prophet Enoch before the Flood, were printed in at least twenty editions at presses throughout New England and other northeastern states from 1791 to 1800....

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... For those so inclined, such descriptions would have provided fertile ground for efforts to realize the restoration of ancient mysteries. Such apparently were the aspirations of a millenarian church located in or near Cincinnati at the turn of the century. Calling itself the "Halcyon Church of Christ," this church announced in two publications in 1801 that it held the key to "the deep mysteries of the ancient theology;" the "Urim or Halcyon Cabala." In their definition, the Cabala was the "secret" and "holy science" once known to "the most ancient Jewish divines;" the church's "Urim spiritual" contained "the true divine science by which truth shall again be restored to the world and error be defeated." The millennium would bring the "ushering in of the pure Halcyon church and divine government,"  [34 The Voice of the Midnight Cry. The Little Book The Arcanum Opened, containing the Fundamentals of the Most Pure and Ancient Theology (Cincinnati, 1801), 2, 3, 5, 24. The text includes an internal date of September 1799 and is dedicated to a John Baily of Kentucky. See also The Urim or Halcyon Cabala; Containing the Fundamental Principles of the Halcyon Church of Christ in Columbia; Otherwise known as the Columbian Church, in Defense of Genuine Christianity and in Opposition to "Lo Here and Lo There;" consisting of one Supreme Object and Seven Leading Topics (Cincinnati, 1801.) I am grateful to Jon Butler for these references. Drew Cayton has suggested to me that a Christian minister named Abel M. Sargent, who published The Halcyon Itinerary and True Millenium in Marietta in 1807, was probably the leader of the Cincinnati Halcyon church. On Sargent, see Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, 1989), 75-6.]

Similar language would reappear among the Mormons at Nauvoo in the 1840s.

In the light of the occult millenarianism of the 1790s, the New Israelite cult in Middleton, Vermont, an exact contemporary of the Halcyon church, takes on a different coloration. Certainly the Woods, the leaders of this cult, had roots in eastern Connecticut's perfectionist culture, but their claims to Israelite descent and to powers of hermetic transmutation and divining rods also suggest the influence of the millenarian-prophetic culture of the 1790s. According to one account, at the climax of the New Israelite drama, when destroying angels were supposed to bring on the apocalypse, there were two skirmishes between the town militia and "six



Rodsmen, fantastically dressed, and equipped" with swords -- a suggestion of the elaborate costuming that was beginning to take hold in Masonic ritual. [35 Vermont American, May 7, 1828, p. 2.]

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[ 105 ]


Alchymical Experiments

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[ 129 ]


I Was Born in Sharon

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In 1791 Asael Smith moved his family from Topsfield to Orange County in east-central Vermont, where he purchased land in Tunbridge Gore, unincorporated land lying between the towns of Tunbridge and Royalton, eventually totaling four hundred acres. Solomon Mack's son Stephen settled in Tunbridge in 1793 [sic - ?] and invited his sister Lucy to visit him after Lovisa died in 1794. Two years later, on January 24, 1796, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack were married, and with the assistance of their families began six years of householding in Tunbridge....

In 1793, two years after [sic - before?] the Smiths' move to Tunbridge, iron sulphate ore was discovered in great quantities... People in Vermont began also to look for copper... they dug and found copper sulphate, described as having a "bright golden yellow appearance."...



... In 1817 a bearded prophet dressed in a bearskin, Isaac Bullard, swept through Woodstock [Vermont], gathering a band of pilgrims who followed him west into New York and eventually on to Missouri. [Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 12, 22; Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, 1989), 68-70; Herald of Gospel Liberty, Aug. 18, 1809.]... in Rutland County, a Shaker family in Pittsford would have witnessed the rise and fall of two millenarian uprisings in the nearby towns of Poultney and Middletown, where in 1800 the New Israelites prophesied the Last Days and hunted for treasure, and where William Miller lived for many years before again announcing the advent of the end times in 1843...



... just before the marriage of Joseph and Lucy, Asael [Smith] had written his letter to Jacob Towne in Topsfield. Sending his greetings to friends and acquaintances, Asael drew language from Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the Book of Daniel: "I believe that the stone is now cut out of the mountain without hands, spoken of by Daniel, and has smitten the image upon his feet." This language had once been deployed by radical English sectarians, and was soon to be taken up agains in his grandson's Church of Latter-day Saints; in the 1790s it could be found in the English prophet Richard Brothers' "Revealed Knowledge," where the stone signified the restored Kingdom of God, soon to destroy all other kingdoms, as Asael hoped the stone would destroy "all monarchical and ecclesiastical tyranny." [9 Asael Smith's letter to Jacob Towne, Jan. 14, 1795, in Anderson, Joseph Smith's New England Heritage, 119; Richard Brothers, Revealed Knowledge... -- Philadelphia, 1795, 51] The Masonic-millenarian connotations in Brothers' tracts, along with those of Christopher Love's writings and the anonymous "Remarkable Prophecy." all circulating in New England in the 1790s, could well have shaped Asael's writing, complementing the alchemical connotations that this passage would have had for a family still in communication with the Townes, once owners of the Topsfield copper lots. [10 "Brothers' Prophecies" was one item listed in a Catalogue of Books, for Sale at the Bookstore in Hanover... -- Hanover, NH, 1799]

The Masonic millenarianism also seems to have shaped the hermeticism and restorationism of the New Israelite cult of Middletown, led by the Wood family, recently moved from Norwich, Connecticut. One nineteenth century account places Joseph Smith, Sr. himself among the New Israelites. If true, it would have taken him about fifty miles from his young family in Tunbridge. In any event, Joseph would boast in the 1830s in Ohio that his divining career had begun decades before in Vermont. [Quinn, Early Mormonism, 22, 31-2; Hill, Joseph Smith, 67; Ronald W. Walker. "The Persisting Idea of American Treasure Hunting," BYU Studies 24, 1984, 444; Stephen Green, "The Money-Diggers," Vermont Life 24 (1969), 48; Hemenway, ed., Vermont Historical Gazetteer, 3:1089.] The other Mormon connection with the New Israelites noted in this account is much more certain. William Cowdery, Jr., the father of Oliver Cowdery... was connected to the New Israelites when he lived in Wells, Vermont, providing a room in his house for the counterfeiter Winchell...

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[ 235 ]


The Keys to the Kingdom

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... Bennett knew a lot about the higher degrees when, in 1846, he persuaded Mormon schismatic Jesse Strang to establish an "Order of the Illuminati," which made Strang "the actual Lord and King on Earth," supported by a "grand Council of Nobles of God's Kingdom." As his authority, Bennett claimed that Joseph Smith had a revelation in April 1841 that Bennett was to uphold the Kingdom after Smith's death by forming a "Halcyon Order," a term that forty years before had been connected with occult restorationism in Cincinnati and Marietta. [52 Roger Van Noord, King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang (Urbana, 1988), 49-50; Milo M. Quiafe, The Kingdom of St. James: A Narrative of the Mormons (New Haven, 1930), 48-50; Hansen, Quest for Empire, 55, 98. On the Halcyon church in Cincinnati and Marietta, see page 102.]...

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