Saturday, October 20, 2012


Continued from September 23, 2012

At the time Reverend William Bostwick was planting his first grape vines in Hammondsport, New York, in 1829, another crop was being nurtured forty-some miles to the north by a genuine farmer. Martin Harris had been helping a young former neighbor over the past year, down in Pennsylvania, translating gold tablets that Joseph Smith claimed to have received from an angel at Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra.

Prosperous and learned, Martin Harris had been a backer both of the Erie Canal and of the Greeks in their battle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Described by those who knew him as, "an industrious, hard-working farmer, shrewd in his business calculations, frugal in his habits", Harris had recently swung his considerable intellectual telescope around to the affairs of Joseph Smith. When Smith decided to leave New York because of the hostility of most of his god-fearing neighbors, it was Harris who loaned him the $50 to pay off his debts and move south. Mrs. Harris did not share her husband's beliefs in this claimed new religion called Mormonism. When her husband returned from visiting Smith with a number of translated pages and they subsequently disappeared, she became historians' favorite suspect, justifiably or not.

All the same, the pages had to be re-translated. With that done, practical business needs took over. Books without readers serve only to keep their authors off the street (or, in this case, farm). As 1829 opened, money was needed to spread the word and it was here that Harris stepped in once again.  In April he mortgaged his farm to Palmyra printer Egbert B. Grandin for $3000, in exchange for the printing of Joseph Smith's book. We can be sure Mrs. Harris was not amused.

While Grandin began setting up his frames of hard type in Wayne County a 28-year-old farm-hand/carpenter living in Canandaigua moved to the next-door county of Monroe. It would be another three years however before Joseph Smith would meet Brigham Young.

As Monroe County gained one good-sized intellect it lost another. Almanacs had been around since the time of the ancients but had begun proliferating in the region in the decade now coming to a close. Those real-life dukes of omnium and gatherum, the almanac publishers, even had their own self-bestowed title - philomaths - or loosely translated - brothers in astrology. In Bushnell's Basin, along the Erie Canal to the southeast of Rochester, Oliver Loud died on the first of November. Born in Massachusetts he'd moved to Egypt, New York, between Rochester and Palmyra, in 1812 and opened an inn there about the time hostilities were breaking out with England. For the next dozen years, as he ran his busy log way station here in the business and law court center for the Town of Perinton, he spent all of his spare time compiling, studying and categorizing the latest astronomical data. He combined forces  with a kindred spirit, Bushnell's Basin postmaster Lyman Wilmarth, and the two adjusted their calculations for local conditions, then sought out Rochester printer Everard Peck to publish their findings in 1822, as first the Western Agricultural Almanaks, then the Western Almanak. Other almanac printers substituted Loud's calculations for those of their original sources and by 1829 Loud was the premiere philomath in upstate New York. Then, at the age of 49, apparently of natural causes, Oliver Loud was off to do some real-time astronomical field work.

©    2012 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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