Mormon publications maintained a tradition during the 1830s that claimed Joseph Smith founded the Church in Manchester. The publications that described the establishment as if it occurred in Manchester reached the eyes of the public and likely informed those who did not know any better and did not have access to Smith’s private manuscripts. Yet the individuals who perpetuated the literature were not numbered among the original membership, nor were they at the establishment meeting. With the exception of Smith’s letters to John Wentworth and I. D. Rupp, which Smith did not compose, accounts directly from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery consistently place the meeting where Smith received D&C 21 and established the Church in Fayette.
The location may have never been an issue, because Latter-day Saints have happily embraced Fayette as the actual location since the nineteenth century. Marquardt’s research not only challenged the origin of the Church but also framed the Prophet Joseph Smith as a fraud. Since the early 1990s, there has been no concerted effort to understand his research better and make sense of it, even after the Joseph Smith Papers Project published the earliest manuscript copy of D&C 21 in 2009. This is regardless of the fact that LDS history is integrally tied to LDS theology, and the origin of the Church represents its value—it was founded upon the Restoration. The challenge to the traditional location interestingly sparked a focus on the history and geography of the place. That focus is also central to the narrative that makes Fayette a sacred place to Mormons today.
Marquardt thought that he found a pattern that undermined the claims of the Church, yet his efforts seem to have backfired, helping Fayette become something more than it was before he started his research with Reverend Walters. To Marquardt, Phelps’s publications in 1833, including the Book of Commandments, meant that Joseph Smith established the Church in Manchester. As the Church became financially unstable in the fall of 1834, he believed that Smith changed the name of the Church and the location where it was established to avoid the lawsuits of unpaid creditors in New York. Marquardt noticed that after 1834 Smith’s accounts claimed that the Church was established in Fayette. However, he was unaware of the earliest copy of Doctrine and Covenants section 21, found in Revelation Book 1.
Marquardt clearly made at least two faulty assumptions. The first, assuming that Joseph Smith changed the name of the Church in April 1834 to avoid legal action, was an ambitious claim that is not supported by the extant documents. To take him seriously, it must be asked why Smith printed the minutes regarding the change in the Church’s name in a public newspaper. Under Marquardt’s scenario, this may have been the worst possible way to change the identity of the Church and help them avoid paying their debts. The change was public—Smith obviously was not trying to hide the information. Furthermore, Joseph Smith could have been identified by a series of legal documents that Oliver Cowdery notarized. Those creditors, whom he was allegedly trying to allude, could have easily identified him as the founder of the New York Church of Christ through the signed deed with John Johnson—a document available to the public. Smith also specifically addressed the Church’s New York debt in a letter to the United Firm on 30 March 1834. The Church took on a portion of the balance of their debt by purchasing a printing press that a mob subsequently disassembled. Smith also referenced debt incurred to support the Missouri members once other settlers forced them from their homes. Instead of trying to hide the debt, he admitted that it would be difficult to keep up with payments since other settlers had forcibly driven them out of Jackson County, essentially eliminating the firm’s ability to raise money there. Smith told them to hire attorney general Robert W. Wells as legal counsel. Wells had assisted them in the past, but he was not a member of the Church. Furthermore, it appears that N. K. Whitney & Co. took out a loan to pay off at least a portion of the New York debt.
Marquardt’s second claim, that Joseph Smith changed the establishment location to avoid creditors, is similarly unsupported. There is very little reason to believe he changed the establishment location along with the name to avoid creditors. Whether Smith established the Church in Fayette or Manchester is superfluous to whether creditors could bring legal charges against the Church. Creditors could have pursued legal measures against Joseph Smith and the Church regardless of its founding location.
In fact, the ambiguity about the location of the establishment of the Church can be understood mostly through common historical developments. In summary, by 1833, when W. W. Phelps began printing accounts that stated the foundation occurred in Manchester, the overwhelming majority of Church members were converts who had not attended the establishment meeting. The general membership’s understanding of where the Church was founded was most likely shaped by the printed sources that followed the 1833 Book of Commandments. Phelps had commemorated the foundation of the Church in The Evening and the Morning Star in 1833, and the first printed collection of the revelations made it seem as though the foundation actually occurred in Manchester. Phelps continued printing the Manchester location in the early 1840s, and Orson Pratt published one of the most read Mormon pamphlets, stating the same. Such a pervasive distribution of printed information suggests that most Church members may have understood that the Church had been organized in Manchester. However, a distinguishable shift occurred in the accounts after Smith’s history was published in 1842, a publication that reproduced the location recorded in his earlier manuscript accounts. After it set the record straight, Orson Pratt changed the location in the next edition of his pamphlet. Joseph Smith’s published history related that the Church was organized in the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York. In 1859, Pratt was recorded in multiple public speeches in Salt Lake City as also declaring that the Church had been organized in the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. Though the mistaken notion that the Church was organized in Manchester had been perpetuated for over a decade in print, Smith’s history corrected this mistake. The New York debt was not an issue in 1839 when Smith made the correction. The only thing he had to gain from listing Fayette was a self-awareness of accuracy, because even his history was not made public until 1842. There was literally no pressure to write anything but the truth. The recently recovered Church revelation book from the early 1830s affirms the subsequent accounts given by Smith and Cowdery and constitutes an explanation for the confusion regarding Manchester as the (mistaken) site of the organization.
So why does the origin of the Church matter—especially the location of the establishment of the Church? Contemplating the origin of humanity is a central theological and doctrinal concern for LDS Church membership as a whole. Their Restoration theology requires believers to reach back into the past to make sense of the world and God’s plan. Joseph Smith’s revelations and translations revealed the sacred history of God’s plan on earth by uncovering the ancient origin of the gospel in the Americas through the Book of Mormon, while the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham defined the Creation of the earth and the origins of Israel. Latter-day Saints make direct links with this sacred past through the declaration of their lineage in blessings given by stake patriarchs and through sealing ceremonies in temples. Connecting believers to the origin of all things is also to connect believers to God. Understanding the origin of all things is also a way to be self-aware in Mormonism. The Church’s Restoration theology opened a new door for understanding these origins, or in Latter-day Saint terms, a new dispensation of the last days, making itself an origin of the last dispensation in God’s plan.
The concept of dispensations, or cyclical time, is deeply important to Latter-day Saint Restoration theology and the concept of sacred space. To Latter-day Saints, the last dispensation is the period when Christ will usher in his Second Coming. The Restoration marks a crescendo of God’s plan for humanity on the earth. One of Joseph Smith’s revelations declared in D&C 27:13, “I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.” Like the importance of understanding Adam’s role in God’s plan, the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is valued as the origin of the last days. Thus the origin narrative about Fayette represents an important part of Mormon identity and belief.
Doctrine and Covenants Instructor’s Guide: Religion 324–325 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 49–50. This diagram is included in the Doctrine and Covenants instructor’s manual, which prompts teachers to “draw a large circle on the chalkboard and label it ‘The Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.’ Write ‘The Restoration of All Things’ under it. Then indicate that every former dispensation is included in this, the grandest of all dispensations, and the keys and powers of each have been restored in the latter days. Draw six arrows entering the circle and label them with the names of the major dispensations. Indicate that these dispensations are shown in the diagram as being representative of all dispensations which ‘feed into’ and are comprehended by the dispensation of the fulness of times.”
The historically significant events that occurred in Fayette are numerous. Pilgrims could commemorate when Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris had a vision of an angel, who showed them the gold plates and assured them that the Book of Mormon was translated correctly. The translation of the Book of Mormon is also one of the most significant accomplishments of Joseph Smith’s ministry. Yet these events are secondary details to the establishment of the Church on 6 April 1830, and there is very little competing dialogue about where and when they occurred.
On the other hand, the time and place of the establishment of the Church represent a battleground of competing historical ideas founded primarily on history and geography. The story of the place inspiring pilgrimage builds nostalgia and community—which, according to Victor Turner, can transcend the ordinary secular order, at least momentarily, during pilgrimage. But the place supporting pilgrimage sites is often secondary to the narrative or story that gives meaning to the site. Members of the Church attend temples, for example, in locations around the world. The sacredness of the temples is supported by the ordinances that are performed in each temple perpetuating the Creation story and the description of the plan of salvation acted out in the endowment. As humankind is sealed together and individuals work for the salvation of others, a heavenly community is formed that transcends social order, race, and culture. In this egalitarian state, people are unmediated as individuals but can only be emboldened as individuals by their association with others. The community that they form in the temple offers them salvation and seals them together as an eternal family, according to Mormon theology.
Fayette does not maintain a vital function in Mormon soteriology, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not reproduce the founding site across the globe as it does with temples. In fact, Fayette is special because of its exceptionalism. There is only one founding place. History and competing historical dialogue about Fayette have been centered on place and predicated upon identifying the actual spot where the Church was established. Like temples, the Church could replicate the site, but in this case, the sacred space was legitimized through historical dialogue and ontological rhetoric about its actual location. Even if representative sites were reproduced elsewhere, there would still be only one place where the Church was established.
Fayette is also different from other historical sites. The way the Hill Cumorah, in Manchester, developed into a sacred space was far different from the process Fayette went through. A large obelisk was erected on the spot where Smith retrieved the gold plates, with the angel Moroni carved into the top as he is on temples around the world. Thousands of people reenact the story of the Book of Mormon on the hillside, sacralizing the spot and commemorating the sacred narrative to a public audience. The hill became a destination of renewal and faith, attendees built community by gathering, and faith was fostered by emphasizing the Book of Mormon and reenacting the retrieval of the gold plates. Additionally, even Joseph Smith’s birthplace in distant Sharon, Vermont, was commemorated by erecting an obelisk there, while Fayette found its marker in history. It could not be reproduced around the globe, like a temple or reenactment story or road show; Fayette’s value was in its immovable geography and in those historians who emphasized its importance beginning in the 1970s. Fayette’s value and narrative were built around its history.
Historical dialogue defined Fayette. Even though it was hardly a pilgrimage site until after 1980, interest in the Peter Whitmer Sr. home began as early as 1888 when Andrew Jenson, Edward Stevenson, and Joseph Black set out from Utah to find the site. Jenson wrote in his journal after they had arrived in Fayette, “We had no further difficulty in finding the exact spot we were aiming for, and about 4 o’clock we arrived at the farm once owned by Peter Whitmer, Sr.” From that time forward, Church leadership expressed interest in all of the New York sites, eventually calling Willard and Rebecca Bean in 1915 to live in Palmyra. Even after they purchased the property where the Whitmer house once was, it was not until historical debates emerged and the LDS Church built a representation of the house that the significance of the place reemerged in the Mormon consciousness.
A religious site may exist and have marginal significance, but until it is recognized in the minds of the believers and its importance has been developed, it is difficult to maintain it as a sacred space. Clay may exist, for example, but it will never find significant artistic meaning without the sculptor’s hands. Like the sculptor, historians give meaning to Fayette. Marquardt challenged the research of historians like Larry Porter, but he also provoked the interest of General Authorities of the Church—John K. Carmack, in particular, who responded publicly by defending the long-standing belief about Fayette and the establishment of the Church. The Church’s control over the site and their emphasis on history and geography were coupled with missionary zeal and Mormon pilgrimages to the site. Once historical meaning was developed, modern travel enabled a constant flow of visitors, vacationers, and pilgrims to form Fayette into a sacred space.
The idea of sacred space was expressed precisely at the dedication of the Restoration site in 1980. Celebrating the sesquicentennial of the establishment, the Church built a chapel and a log home on the former property of Peter Whitmer Sr. to commemorate the founding event. Spencer W. Kimball dedicated the site, declaring in a raspy prophetic voice that even “strangers” would be “attracted to this place of history.” He dedicated the site “that it may be a place of sacred worship, a place of instruction, a sanctuary from the world, and a place of hospitality to the scores of thousands who will come here as visitors.” The congregation of bowed heads listened as President Kimball called out for the Lord’s “protecting power” to preserve “these important scenes of history.” He expressed the importance of the site by describing the value of his recent pilgrimage to Jerusalem and his visit to the places where Christ walked and ministered to his people. As if those places and Christ’s New Testament church were the pinnacle of God’s sacred plan or history, he drew his listeners in by focusing back upon their own geography and the significance of the Restoration of the gospel by Joseph Smith. Fayette was sacred space to Mormons. It was a place highlighted by its significance in God’s sacred history, a geography immovable, replicated only by representation, and a site defined by the sacred narrative of God’s plan, recited day after day to all of its visitors.
Mormons value their history as sacred. They believe that they cannot be saved without a connection to the past through vicarious sacramental works for the dead in the temple and rigorous genealogical studies to identify their unsaved relatives. Such beliefs bleed over into the history and origins of the Church, in which knowledge of the Restoration is requisite to understand God’s eternal plan. The intentions of this book have been to demonstrate that the identification of sacred space can occur through historical research and through the narratives that develop from careful archival work. Even though some of the historical research appeared to be negative or counter to traditional Mormon beliefs, the struggle to formulate an accurate historical narrative caused a remote field in Fayette to blossom as a sacred space.
 For an exception, see Smith, William Smith on Mormonism, 15. “Having been ejected from our home thus unceremoniously, we went to my brother Hyrum’s house; a small log-house on a farm eighty acres which he had purchased, adjoining our old farm. It was in this house that the first conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was held, on the 6th day of April, 1830, at which I was present. The Church then consisted of but six members.”
 See JSP, R1:27.
 See Minute Book 1, 20 February 1834, 39–41, Church History Library; Doctrine and Covenants 104; Joseph Smith, Journal, 10 April 1834, in JSP, J1:38; Minute Book 1, 17 March 1834. “They said that our brethern who had been driven away from their lands and scattered abroad had found so much favour in the eyes of the people that they could obtain food and raiment of them for their labour insomuch that they were comfortable. But the idea of being driven away from the land of Zion pained their very souls and they desired of God, by earnest prayer, to return with songs of everlasting joy as said Isaiah, the Prophet.”
 See William W. Phelps, Liberty, Missouri, to Robert W. Wells, Jefferson City, Missouri, 5 January 1835, William W. Phelps, Collection of Missouri Documents, Church History Library; Robert B. Wells, Jefferson City, Missouri, to William W. Phelps, Liberty, Missouri, 4 January 1836, William W. Phelps, Collection of Missouri Documents, Church History Library.
 See N. K. Whitney & Co., Kirtland, 18 April 1834, in Joseph Smith Collection, Financial Papers, box 5, folder 3, Church History Library. “We owe Eight thousand dollars, which must be paid by the first of Sept next. But if we can get 4 or 5 Thousand this month I can pay our debts here & so much of our debts in New York that they will wait till Sept for the Balance & I also shall be able to purchase some goods this Spring for to make my assortment more complete through the summer.”
 When he changed his pamphlet, Orson Pratt himself was very clear that the Church was organized in Fayette, not Manchester. See also uncatalogued collection of the shorthand of George D. Watt that was used to write many of the records found the Journal of Discourses. When they are available, see his shorthand for 10 July 1859 and 14 August 1859, which describe the establishment meeting. Ron Esplin has provided these sources; the author has not seen them.
 See JSP, D1:378–84.
 See MacKay and Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light.
 See Victor W. Turner, “Pilgrimages as Social Processes,” in Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974); Victor W. Turner, “Pilgrimage and Communitas,” Studia Missionalia 23:305–27.
 See Edward Stevenson, Journal, 4 September 1888, Edward Stevenson Collection, Church History Library. In his blessing before he left, it was stated “that you may find grace with those from whome you particularly desire to obtain information, and having had experience and knowledge that you may be of great use and service to Bro Jensen, in enableing him to acquire such information as shall be edefying and profitable to Gods people both for the present and future increase in worth as your role round.”
 Reid L. Neilson, Justin R. Bray, and Alan D. Johnson, eds., Rediscovering the Sites of the Restoration: The 1888 Travel Writings of Mormon Historian Andrew Jenson, Edward Stevenson, and Joseph S. Black (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 196.
 Rand H. Packer, A Lion and a Lamb (Provo, UT: Spring Creek, 2007).
 Spencer W. Kimball, “Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings,” Ensign, April 1980.