Several years ago I was speaking to a good friend about events that took place in Palmyra, New York. We talked about Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Moroni’s visit, Joseph receiving the Golden plates, the publishing of the Book of Mormon and a few other 19th century events. I then moved the conversation back about 1,600 years. I talked about the final battle that virtually annihilated the Nephites. At this point the conversation took an interesting turn.
My friend asked, “So you believe the hill in New York is the hill Cumorah from the Book of Mormon?”
I have to say I was a little surprised by the question. “Of course I do.” I said. “Don’t you?”
“Well, no. Everything in the Book of Mormon took place in Central America didn’t it?”
I won’t say anymore about that conversation other than to say that it continued and finally ended in a very friendly way.
But that conversation gave me cause to really think about the Mesoamerica vs North America question. I especially thought about the Cumorah question. Could I be mistaken about the location of Cumorah spoken of in the Book of Mormon? After much research and contemplation, I have determined that if I am mistaken about the location of the Book of Mormon Cumorah, I’m in very good company. Here is a list of others who were mistaken:
Oliver Cowdery, Heber J. Grant, Martin Harris, Heber C. Kimball, J. Golden Kimball, Moroni, Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, B. H. Roberts, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith Jr., Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, James E. Talmage, Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young.
Before we quote some of the above individuals, let’s first look at Doctrine & Covenants 128:20. Section 128 is an epistle from Joseph Smith to the members of the church. In it he reminds them of the great coming forth of the Book of Mormon by the hands of Moroni.
“And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.”
In his comprehensive history of the church, Church Historian Elder B. H. Roberts wrote:
“Encouraged by this repetition of the vision of the previous night, and strengthened by the assurances of his father that the visitation was of God, Joseph repaired that same day to the hill he had seen in vision, the place where the sacred record was concealed, some two miles distant from the Smith home. The hill is about four miles south of the town of Palmyra, in Wayne county. It stands on the east side of the Cananandaigua road, and is the most conspicuous landmark in all that section of New York. In the Book of Mormon the hill is known as Ramah, and Cumorah, referred to more frequently, however, by the latter name.” (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century 1, Brigham Young University Press, Vol. 1, 1965, pg. 75)
Again, from Elder Roberts:
“This time it will have to do with so important a matter as a war of extinction of two peoples, the Nephites and the Jaredites, on the self same battle site, with the same ‘hill’ marking the axis of military movements. By the Nephites this ‘hill’ was called the ‘Hill Cumorah,’ by the Jaredites the ‘Hill Ramah’; it was that same ‘hill,’ in which the Nephite records were deposited by Mormon and Moroni, and from which Joseph Smith obtained the Book of Mormon, therefore the ‘Mormon Hill’, of today—since the coming forth of the Book of Mormon—near Palmyra, New York. (B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.277)
When Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt were serving their mission to the Lamanites, Oliver related a brief history of the Book of Mormon to the Delaware Chief. Elder Pratt recorded Oliver’s discussion in his autobiography. Explaining how the Book of Mormon was a history of the Lamanite people, Oliver said:
“This book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the state of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario county.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pg. 59)
Apostle Orson Pratt spoke many times about the hill Cumorah and never placed it anywhere but New York.
“Thirty-six years prior to this time his [Moroni’s] nation was destroyed in what we term the State of New York, around about a hill, called by that people the Hill of Cumorah, when many hundreds of thousands of the Nephites-men, women and children, fell, during the greatest battle that they had had with the Lamanites.” (Journal of Discourses Vol. 20, pg. 62)
In a conference address in October, 1975, Elder Marion G. Romney spoke of his personal experience at the Hill.
“In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “Hill Cumorah.” On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.”
Later in his address he said the following:
“This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites , flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites.” (Talk given by President Marion G. Romney in General Conference, October 4, 1975, Ensign Nov. 1975 pg. 35)
In his book, Doctrines of Salvation, Hyrum Smith’s grandson Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
“It is known that the Hill Cumorah where the Nephites were destroyed is the hill where the Jaredites were also destroyed. This hill was known to the Jaredites as Rama. It was approximately near to the waters of Ripliancum, which the Book of Ether says, “by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all.” Mormon adds: “And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents round about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites.”
“It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
“Further, the fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records, must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah, and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of this hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite manner is an established record of history….” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation , Vol.3, Bookcraft, 1956, p.232-43.)
In the early part of the 20th century, Apostle James E. Talmage was a frequent visitor to Palmyra. In his book Articles of Faith he wrote:
“The hill, which was known by one division of the ancient peoples as Cumorah, by another as Ramah, is situated near Palmyra in the State of New York .” (James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, chapter 14)
We could cite quote after quote by early and present-day church leaders placing the hill from the Book of Mormon in New York, but the most compelling argument is this. After Moroni’s first visit to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph began calling the hill “Cumorah”. Joseph had not yet received the plates, and could not have heard the name “Cumorah” from any other source than Moroni himself.
In the early days of the church no other location besides New York was ever considered for the Hill Cumorah. Moroni deposited his plates in the hill and called it Cumorah, and Joseph Smith returned the plates to that very same hill and called it Cumorah.
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