TUESDAY, JULY 24: If Independence Day were to settle in one state, it would look something like Utah does on Pioneer Day. Utahns celebrate with parades, fireworks, rodeos, dances and more. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remember the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City, when their ancestors ended a torturous 1,300-mile journey and finally found a new home. (Wikipedia has details.)
For non-Mormon Utahns, the state’s rich history and the cultures that have contributed to it are cause enough for celebration. An official state holiday, Pioneer Day closes government offices and many businesses in Utah. The Days of ’47—commemorating the arrival of Mormon pilgrims in 1847—opens a slew of pioneer-centered events in a grand statewide festival. (Watch the 2012 Pioneer Day Concert here.)
What won’t end with the festival, though, is the national political spotlight on Mormons, this year. In news stories nationwide, the story of Romney-family roots in the LDS church continues to unfold.
THE MORMON EXODUS AND THE JOURNEY OF 1847
What are these much talked about Romney-Mormon roots?
They relate to the establishment of the LDS church as we know it today. Early converts to the church gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, to help prophet Joseph Smith build a “New Jerusalem.” Things were going well. Smith became the mayor of Nauvoo and was contemplating running for president of the United States. As we reported in June, Smiths’ rise to prominence and that first big expansion of the church ended in tragedy. To this day, Mormons recall the murder of Joseph and his brother Hyrum by a mob.
The faithful were forced from Nauvoo and began a vast westward migration. By foot and horseback, approximately 70,000 Mormons survived disease, Indians and even threats by U.S. troops before entering Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. (Follow the trail and read participants’ stories at LDS.org.) Each year, some Mormons reenact this entrance by dressing in period clothing and pushing handcarts along parts of the Mormon Trail. (The LDS Church advises members to be “modern pioneers.”) Of course, the entire Mormon Exodus, as the westward migration often is described today, took several years to complete.
THE ROMNEY CONNECTION WITH THE EXODUS
The Romneys are more than recent converts to the faith. They were early builders of the church, beginning with Mitt Romney’s Great Great Grandfather Miles Romney. Born in 1806, Miles was an exceptionally talented carpenter born in northern England. He and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell Romney, were Anglicans and were well established in their community. Then, in 1837, some LDS missionaries knocked on their door—and the rest is Mormon history.
They were baptized in a nearby river and moved to Nauvoo where Miles Romney’s talents blossomed. As it turns out, his skills weren’t limited to carpentry; soon he was working as an architect and supervisor of large-scale construction. He played a role in completing the Nauvoo temple. The Romneys were part of the Mormon Exodus and, once in Utah, Miles Romney soon was working on some of the church’s most ambitious construction projects. He was head of the construction team that completed the first Mormon temple—the LDS temple at St. George, Utah. Later, Brigham Young invited him to design what is now a U.S. historical landmark: Young’s Winter Home and Office.
Want more on early Romney family history? Wikipedia charts it all, complete with a handy family tree at the end of the article. Look at the photo of Mitt’s father with that article, compare that with Miles and Mitt—and you can see a resemblance in the men down through the centuries.
CURRENT ROMNEY CONNECTION WITH MORMON FOUNDERS
As the New York Times and other newspapers have reported, Mitt Romney’s connection with LDS pioneers isn’t historical trivia. For more, read the entire July 16 New York Times article, which was timed to coincide with the summertime Pioneer Day celebrations—but also draws contemporary connections. The NYTimes reports, in part: Now, more than 150 years later, descendants of those first families of Mormonism are joining together in a new effort: delivering the White House to Mitt Romney, whose great-great-grandfather Miles Romney settled alongside many of their ancestors in Nauvoo in 1841 and joined their torturous migration. These families—Marriotts, Rollinses, Gardners and others—have formed a financial bulwark and support network for Mr. Romney at every important point in his political career.
No, this reporting isn’t an East Coast plot against the Mormon church. This is a fascinating story of a minority community within the U.S., after many years of stereotypes and bigotry (including the murder of the Mormon founder), drawing on collective connections in an election year.
As Dr. Wayne Baker reports in the OurValues column, this matchup between an African-American president seeking re-election and a Mormon candidate seeking to break the religion barrier is historic.
In Utah, journalists also are closely examining these links. The Salt Lake Tribune’s award-winning religion newswriter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, just reported on July 20 that Romney referenced the Book of Mormon in his remarks after the tragic theater shootings in Colorado.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.