Religion In North American Towns

Religion has played a vital role in the settling of many pre-industrial North
American towns and cities. In fact, religion proved to be one of the main
reasons Europeans broke their affiliation with the dictatorial and the
monarchial rule in Europe and came to settle the Americas. Generally, these
particular religious settlers incorporated town-planning ideas developed in
Europe and translated them into their particular beliefs. However, some specific
and influential settlers broke away from the norm in a progressive attempt to
invent new societies in a new land based on accumulated knowledge. John Reps,
the pre-eminent American historian on town planning has this to say about those
who strayed from the common ideals. “Almost from the beginning of settlement,
America attracted a variety of reformers, utopians, and pariah religious sects.


These dedicated… groups shunned existing cities with their temptations and
distractions, preferring to create settlements in harmony with their religious,
economic, or social convictions.” In this paper, I will analyze and compare
the influence of two different religions in the settling of their respective
towns. The first will be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also
known as the Mormons, and the second is the Church of the United Brethren, also
known as the Moravians. ? THE MORMON MISSION The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints is a Christian religion that came into existence during the
early 19th-century American movement of religious revivalism called the Second
Great Awakening. Officially, Joseph Smith, who is recognized as a prophet in
modern Mormon teachings, founded the church in 1830 after he said that God had
spoken to him. In that same year, he organized his first followers in New York.

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From that point on, as they marched westward, he experimented in building towns
that revolved around “…order, unity, and community.” These values were
viewed as supreme in the prophets ideal society, and these same values were
at odds with values that were characteristic of many cities and towns already
existing in America at that time. It is said that his aim was to realize the
Christian commonwealth that had been the ideal of John Winthrop in Puritan New
England. According to one account, Winthrop at one time had said to the
colonists, “Wee must be knit together in this work as one man.” This one
statement seems to provide the basis of Smiths convictions when he set out to
form new towns in hopes of turning people on to his religion. The Law of
Consecration and Stewardship was outlined by Joseph Smith in 1831, and marked
the beginning of Mormon communitarianism. This law “…was a
prescription for transforming the highly individualistic economic order of
Jacksonian America into a system characterized by economic equality,
socialization of surplus incomes, freedom of enterprise, and group economic
self-sufficiency.” Basically, what this meant was that all members of the
church and hereafter, the community, would deed all of his/her property to the
bishop of the church. On top of this, the community was to farm and cultivate
the land together and share equally the crops. In turn, the bishop would
appropriate these assets out based on the need of an individual or family
residing within the community. Doctrines of the church such as these held a
paralleled relationship to the planning of the towns. By early 1831, Joseph
Smith and his following had moved west to Kirtland, Ohio. Kirtland was an ideal
spot for Americans seeking prosperity given its ripe location for trade as well
as agriculture. The land in Ohio had richer soil than that found along the
Atlantic coast, and the climate was much milder. A good reason for this can be
attributed to Ohios gentle topography. This was beneficial to the Mormon
people who relied on farming and trade. The location was in close proximity to
both Lake Erie, which provided the transportation to the East, and the Ohio
Canal, which connected to the Ohio River and hence the entire Mississippi River
system. The Mormons however did not take full advantage of this beneficial
location for settlement, as they left after only a short period of time.


Kirtland was a settlement where many firsts occurred in the Mormon religion, and
it was a settlement that would aid Mormons in molding future settlements. The
House of the Lord, also referred to as the Kirtland Temple, was the first major
permanent structure for worship built by the Mormons, and it served as a pattern
that was to be followed by future designs of churches in Mormon settlements. The
temple served dual functions as a temple of education and as a temple of
worship. Since it served two main functions within the community, and since it
was seen as the most vital aspect of the religion, it was located accordingly:
for all residents to view as the largest structure at the highest point in the
town. Also, it had two floors that divided the different functions of the
temple. The first floor was the floor of worship, while the second floor was
used for education and studies. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the built
temple was the fact that the builders had very little, if any architectural
experience. The design plans for the church were handed down to the workers from
Joseph Smith, who deemed the temple be built, not after the manner of the world,
but “…after the manner which I shall show unto you.” Their motivation was
not found in professional pride, but instead came through the belief that they
were building a house where God could reside with them. This form of divine
revelation was a strong belief of the Mormon religion, and it would be a divine
revelation of Joseph Smith that initiated the Mormons decision to leave the
Kirtland settlement and move further west to Jackson County, Missouri. Although
Kirtland proved to be a successful plan, it was never intended as a permanent
settling place for the religion. Instead, it was Joseph Smiths vision
received from God of the “City of Zion” that kept the new religion pleased
but unsatisfied until they were able to establish themselves in Independence,
Missouri. In 1833, the plan of “the City of Zion” was being drawn up under
the direction of Smith. Essentially Jackson County, Missouri was located in the
center of the North American continent. To Smith, this was a vital aspect of the
city plan, because it was his belief that from this settlement, the religion
could radiate outward in all directions, preaching to others the essence of his
newly formed church. This plan for the city to be centrally located in the
continent reflected the religions fixation on the church as the center.


In a similar manner, the temple was located at the center of settlement planned
for Independence, Missouri. From the center, the other public buildings of the
city were immediately to the east and to the west of the temple, and the
residential buildings and plots of land radiated outward to the periphery of the
city. Smiths planning for the “City of Zion” was very particular and his
plan contained quite a few exact number measures to be used in platting the
city. Some of the particulars included that a plot should contain one square
mile, with ten ten-acre squares each. With one thousand (1,000) house lots, the
average family was to contain somewhere between fifteen (15) and twenty (20)
people. As Reps notes, “Although the controversial doctrine of polygamy was
not officially adopted until 1852, perhaps Smith had this already in mind when
he devised the plan of his city.” Space was also a key element that can be
found throughout the town plan. The streets of the town were wide and ran in a
gridiron pattern throughout the town, while the residences in the town were
pushed a good distance away from the streets. This made the town plan very
efficient and systematic in nature. While the town was still being laid out,
converts continued to flock to both Independence and Kirtland, which continued
to be occupied by some settlers of the Mormon faith. However, at the same time,
local residents confronted the Mormons with threats and violence, triggered by
fears of economic and political competition. Because of this violence, the
Mormons were forced to flee to Illinois in 1839. Their city plan remained the
same as they settled on the bank of the Mississippi River in a town that they
called Nauvoo in Illinois. Joseph Smith was murdered while his newly founded
city of Nauvoo flourished under his design so much so that in the 1840s, it
“…became the largest town in the state.” Because of Joseph Smiths
determination in the westward movement of his new found religion to the “City
of Zion” in Independence, Missouri, John Reps considers him “…the most
successful city builder of all the religious and utopian societies.” ?
MORAVIAN TOWNS The Moravian Church began in Bohemia before the Unitas Fratrum
(another name given to the Moravian Church) migrated to form the town of Herrnut,
Saxony in 1722. This is where the church stayed until the decision was made to
travel to the Americas in 1734, where they landed in Georgia. An established
settlement was never made in Georgia however, and in fact settlement of a town
did not occur until they again migrated. This time they migrated north to
Pennsylvania, where they began to establish a plan for a town named Bethlehem,
in honor of the birthplace of Jesus Christ, that ran along the Lehigh River in
eastern Pennsylvania. The land in this town was very good for harvesting crops,
although the Moravians traditionally not a harvesting people. They specialized
in industry, and in a fashion similar to that of the Mormons, they worked in an
organization of the communal form, whereby the profits made from the mills and
other crafts and industries were handed over to the public fund. From the public
fund, the brethren in charge of the society appropriated them as they deemed
necessary. The Moravians were very particular and careful when developing their
town plan much like Joseph Smith was in his planning of “The City of Zion.”
The focal point of the town was the Gemein Haus which, according to Reps, was”designed as a community center, but also served as church, town hall,
hospice, and church office.” However, as particular as they were in planning
Bethlehem, they opted not to make it symmetrical (whether or not this was based
on the topography, I could not find). They had communal housing that was similar
to those found on modern day college campuses. On one side of the square in the
center of town was the residency of the towns single males, which included
widowers. On the other side of the town square was the residency of the town’s
single females, including widows. Attached to each one of these
community-housing establishments was a boarding school. Following the success of
the Bethlehem town plan, Moravian town settlements were being formed with
greater frequency from 1742 when Nazareth, Pennsylvania was settled, through
1766 when Salem, North Carolina was settled. According to Reps, the settling of
Salem in 1766 was the most important of Moravian towns. The land in the newly
developed Salem was not very fertile. The land was sufficient for gardens,
however it did not possess the qualities of the land in Bethlehem that allowed
them to harvest more crops. But this was not as relevant to the Moravians as it
may have been to the Mormons, because, as it is mentioned earlier, they were
craftsmen by trade, not farmers. Therefore, even if the land were fertile, they
would still probably depend on neighboring farmers. The original plan for Salem,
as it was platted by Christian Reuter, provided for a central Square, with”houses of the congregation grouped around it, and the streets radiating from
it like spokes of a wheel.” However, Friedrich Marshall, who planned the town
of Bethlehem, insisted to him in a letter that the town be closely knit
socially, and that he consider this in developing the town plan. ?
COMPARISON / ANALYSIS Many similarities existed between the two different
religions and the respective town plans. The people residing in the Mormon
towns, and the people residing in the Moravian towns “all worked under general
church direction in a communal form of organization.” All of the money and
assets of families within the communities was given back to the church, so that
it could be appropriated back out into the community. One common aspect that
both religions shared was a fixation on the one major building as the towns
focus. In Kirtland, it was The House of the Lord, and in Bethlehem it was the
Gemein Haus. However, there were also differences, not just in structure, that
separated the two. The Gemein Haus served more purposes in the functioning of
the town than did The House of the Lord. Another aspect that both types of
communities shared was that “church doctrines and settlement forms were
considered to be closely related,” in both religions settlements. Both
religions designed towns for a limited population within a closed society. Yet
another common aspect shared by the two religions in their town plans was the
importance of recruitment into their religion and communities. While the
Moravians set-up missions specifically to teach Indians about Christianity in an
attempt to convert them to their faith, the Mormons took a less direct approach.


They too wanted to recruit individuals into their new religious practice,
however they counted on the location of the town plan in Missouri to enable this
to occur. One main difference that existed between the two groups can be found
in the skills of the people. The Moravians were craftsmen and individuals of
industries, whereas the Mormons were much more agricultural in nature. Although
the earliest Moravian town of Bethlehem was designed for communal living in a
college dormitory-style, the latter southern Moravian town of Salem was designed
with families in their own separate houses. The early communal form used a very
conservative approach to the town plan by strictly separating the single men
from the single women, including widowers and widows. On the other hand, Mormon
towns such as the one planned for Independence, Missouri provided a much more
liberal dwelling setting one that was designed to house families upwards of
fifteen to twenty people large. In the cities of today, individuals strive to be
free to do their own thing, and avoid giving of themselves to benefit the
community without incentive for the most part. In direct contrast, the communal
aspect stressed by each of the aforementioned.