In September 1827, the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni visited Joseph Smith. During that first visit from Moroni, Joseph saw in a vision the hill in which the plates were buried. After that, Joseph began referring to that hill outside Palmyra, NY as Cumorah. This was not a name he received from the Book of Mormon. It was the name he received from Moroni.
Other early leaders, who were close to Joseph Smith, called the hill Cumorah as well. Orson Pratt believed that the hill was not only the place where Moroni buried the Book of Mormon record, but was also the hill in which Moroni’s father Mormon deposited hundreds of other records. In the church publication, Millennial Star, Pratt wrote:
“And all the ancient plates, Mormon deposited in Cumorah, about three hundred and eighty-four years after Christ. When Moroni, about thirty-six years after, made the deposit of the book entrusted to him, he was, without doubt, inspired to select a department of the hill separate from the great sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father. The particular place in the hill, where Moroni secreted the book, was revealed, by the angel, to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to whom the volume was delivered in September, A.D. 1827. But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion.
“There is no spot on this wide world of ours, which is calculated to excite more vivid reflections, than the wonderful hill of Cumorah. There the history of one-half of our globe, reposed, for fourteen centuries, in profound unbroken silence: there, ‘the everlasting Gospel,’ engraved, not on tablets of stone, but on plates of gold, awaited the voice of the heavenly angel to reveal the priceless treasure: there, buried in the holy archives of Cumorah’s sacred hill, are plates of brass, plates of gold, undimmed by time; sacredly guarded as the temple of heaven: there shines the Urim and Thummim, the stones of light, the gems of immortality: there, reposes in words of light, the hidden knowledge of ages past, the prophetic history of ages to come: there wisdom has selected her palace, and understanding her dwelling place, until ‘the spirit is poured out from on high’ and ‘the skies pour down righteousness;’ then, ‘the earth opens and brings forth salvation.’
“All the wealth of ages is valueless, compared with the records of eternal wisdom, the inexhaustible fountain of understanding, hidden in the secret recesses of the wonderful—the beautiful—the lovely hill Cumorah! O, Cumorah! The hill of ancient Seers and Prophets! The hill of God! Sanctified by holy angels’ feet! From thy bowels is heard a voice, low, sweet, mild, of heavenly tones! Yet it thrills through every fiber of the heart! It speaks of man—of God— of earth—of heaven—of hell! It speaks of the past—of the future—of the destiny of nations— the reign of Messiah—the resurrection—the final judgment! O holy, lovely mount! The sacred resting place of Zion’s law! In thy chambers dwell eternal riches! In thy lovely bosom are fountains that never dry! Speak! O speak again! Let Zion hear thy voice! For thy voice is not the voice of feeble helpless man! But the voice of the Eternal One, speaking from the ground.” (Millennial Star, 1866)
In 1835, Oliver Cowdery wrote a number of letters he called The Rise of the Church. These appeared in the church publication, The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. They were also reprinted in the Times and Seasons. In letter VII he wrote about the hill and described the area around it. It was his belief that the great and final battle in Cumorahland took place west of the hill, between the Hill Cumorah and a smaller hill about a mile west. Cowdery, like Orson Pratt, believed that the hill was not important only to the Nephite prophets, but to the Jaredites as well.
“You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N.Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward Canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round. . . .
“At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.” (Oliver Cowdery,The Rise of the Church, letter VII)
Both of these men were close to the Prophet Joseph Smith. We can assume that much of the information they gained about Book of Mormon lands came from him. They were also both prophets themselves and would be entitled to their own personal insights.
Many leaders have shared their beliefs that the hill outside Palmyra, NY is the Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon.
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Hear what Gordon B. Hinckley had to say about the Hill Cumorah in this short video clip. (1:27)
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Image credits: All images in the public domain. The painting of Moroni appearing to Joseph Smith is by the artist C.A.A. Christiansen