With many theories about the rise of Mormonism, this article turns to early Mormonism's growth in the Delaware Valley for insights. By testing the relative wealth of the converts, this article argues that Mormon conversion was not a product of deprivation as the converts tested were somewhat wealthier than their neighbors and were drawn from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Instead of appealing to the dispossessed, Mormonism offered a radical supernatural biblical message that appealed to certain cultural and religious orientations. Mormonism was successful among Methodists in central New Jersey, whose religious practice was still full of the enthusiasm common to Methodism's early years in America. Many of these Methodists saw Mormon supernaturalism as a welcome addition to their experience, while the considerably more formal Methodists on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware were much less receptive to Mormonism. A Quaker heritage among the converts was common on both sides of the river. The converts were principally not practicing Quakers but still maintained aspects of their heritage and were, thus, termed "hickory" Quakers. Such individuals were common in the Delaware Valley since so many Quaker's had been cut off from the fold largely resulting from the mid-eighteenth-century Quaker reformation that reinstituted strict guidelines on the membership. Yet, the reformation did not reinstitute the enthusiasm of the Quakers' early years that had been lost after its first generation. The lapsed Quakers who were drawn to Mormonism's supernatural worldview had a romantic inherited memory of Quakerism's origins and were eager to join a religion that manifested the fervor of Quakerism's origins. Thus, Mormonism was congenial to both these kinds of religious radicalism.
- ©© 2007 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture