The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob's Record
Ronald O. Barney
Utah State University Press , 2005. Quaity Paperback:
Suggested retail price: $22.95 (US)
Who was Norton Jacob? When reviewing a pioneer journal, I am wont to fireup my GospeLink disk to determine just why the name doesn't ring a bell.GospeLink finds 11 references, all but four from Richard E. Bennett'sWe'll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus 1846-1848. Not exactly a stellarshowing in the annals of church history writing. So why should we careabout Jacob's experience?
The editor of this interesting volume offers a view of why Norton Jacob'sjournal is important:
Jacob represents that visibly under-represented class of Saints whosecalloused hands, sun-burned necks, modest expectations, and quietvoices are too frequently obscured and who have been, for the mostpart, regulated to a lack of importance inordinately disproportional totheir significance to societal progress and social stability. Were itnot for the seemingly small but steady incremental advances made byMormonism's common folks -- the followers -- the religion would havestalled and collapsed into something far less than its currentconsequential status. In the spirit of satisfying the interest inunderstanding a fuller, more accurate, and complete record of theMormon character, one that pries into the shaded corners of the past,Jacob's record stands as a declaration for authentic history. (p. 4)
There is much truth to this. As has been mentioned so many times here, thewriting of "authentic history" is so difficult, in that the writer isalmost always influenced by an agenda -- whether as apologist, or critic,of a movement. Mormonism, a religion based largely on historicalexperience, has generated, to no surprise, an enormous corpus of historicalexegesis.
Editor Barney rightly, in my opinion, sees the importance of this record inits reflection of a pioneer who observed the phenomenon of the trek fromNauvoo to the Salt Lake valley from the standpoint of a true believer, buthardly a noted leader. As one of the "common folks," Norton Jacob actsmuch as did Mark the gospel writer -- reporting a straightforward, honestaccount -- rather than as, say, Matthew, the organizer and evangelist ofthe Jewish people. His record, therefore, becomes less an agenda-drivenwork than a frank, straight-forward reminiscence of this very difficultjourney.
The diary itself is rather brief. The editor has filled out the recordwith voluminous notes and additional background information. Placing theevents in context makes all the difference, in my opinion. Jacob writesfrom the perspective of just one participant in the Mormon exodus. Muchelse is happening around him; having this information at hand is veryvaluable.
It is a matter of historical interest that the editor discusses NortonJacob's father, Udney, as the sole author of the 1842 publication titledThe Peacemaker, a controversial broadside advocating the return to OldTestament polygamy. Printed in Nauvoo, with Joseph Smith listed aspublisher, the Prophet himself would later, in the pages of The Times andSeasons, denounce the work. At the time, the practice of plural marriagewas not yet made public. In a footnote, Barney discusses the controversyconcerning the authorship of this pamphlet, dismissing the idea of jointauthorship (Joseph Smith and Udney Jacob).
The book closes first with a massive 52-page section of biographical notesidentifying names that appear in the record. A bibliography and indexcomplete the work.
This volume will make a fine addition to the Mormon historian's library,and is highly recommended.
Jeff Needle July 8, 2005
© 2005 Jeff Needle