Camp-Meeting, that is — the one Joseph attended near Palmyra on a beautiful spring weekend in 1820. At least that's how D. Michael Quinn recounts the story in an article just posted at the Dialogue website, Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist Camp-Meeting in 1820. That title sounds rather pedestrian ... except for the fact that for close to forty years many historians have relied on the work of minister-researcher Wesley P. Walters to conclude that there was no such camp-meeting or revival near Joseph Smith's home in 1820. At the very least, Quinn's new paper will force a careful reassessment of Walters' work on this critical point.
Walters' work is readily accessible as chapter 2 of Inventing Mormonism, a book that was published in 1994 with H. Michael Marquardt as co-author (Walters having passed away in 1990). That chapter, entitled "The Palmyra Revival," states at page 32:
Contemporary evidence thus requires an 1824-25 date for the revival Smith describes in his 1838-39 official history. Certainly memory at times conflates events, and perhaps Smith in retrospect blended in his mind events from 1820 with a revival occurring four years later. But the problems caused by the dating discrepancy are fundamental ones.
As a result, LDS historians have been rather tentative in affirming the 1820 date for Joseph's First Vision. For example, Bushman writes, "Around 1820, the visions began, first of the Father and the Son ..." (Rough Stone Rolling, p. 35). In a later footnote, he adds, "Walters ... stirred a debate on the timing of the revivals. For the argument that revivals in 1824 were the background for Joseph's first vision, see Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, 15-41. The rebuttal is in Backman, First Vision, 53-111." In another footnote, he gives additional detail:
The year of the First Vision is a matter of dispute. In his first written account, Joseph said he made his inquiry "in the 16th year of my age," which would be 1821. In 1838, he said it was the spring of 1820. William Smith gives Joseph's age as "about seventeen," placing the vision in 1823.
(fn 34 to chapter 2, citations omitted.) Plainly, the research Walters published casting serious doubt about any revival happening at or near Palmyra in 1820 has been given some weight by LDS historians -- and accepted as the final word on the question by most of those critical of Joseph Smith's canonized 1838-39 account.
Enter the new Quinn paper. He cites a variety of new sources showing that there was, in fact, such a revival in Palmyra in 1820, termed a "camp-meeting" in the sources of the day, and rehabilitates earlier research by Milton V. Backman to that effect. After reading the new paper, there is really very little doubt on that key point. Quinn goes so far as to nail down the start date to one of two weekends in late June 1820. He even quotes lyrics from revival hymns calculated to have a deep impact on young, inquisitive minds — hymns that would almost certainly have been sung by those at the camp-meeting in Palmyra.
But don't take my word for it. Go download the paper and enjoy 46 pages of newly-minted history. And 43 pages of footnotes.