It's unbelievable to me that a web site that has spent so much time and effort to explain Church-related issues would continue to promote the idea that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about something so basic as the New York Cumorah.
It's a shame, really, but it is what it is.
If you go to FairMormon and search for "Letter VII" you get 11 hits, none of which quote from Letter VII except for
1. the Messenger and Advocate page that reproduces the entire newspaper and
2. the passage and commentary in the section below, which is quoted in two of their web pages:
Oliver Cowdery (Jul 1835): "A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus"
A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus, must be interesting to every man; and as it would develope the important fact, that the present race were descendants of Abraham....
- Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, "Letter VII," (July 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:155-159. off-site
This is fascinating for several reasons.
1. It shows that FairMormon can quote from Letter VII but chooses not to whenever Oliver and Joseph disagree with FairMormon's editorial Mesomania. On the very next page from this quotation about Columbus, Letter VII explains that it was a fact that between the Hill Cumorah and the ridge a mile to the west, "the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed." That passage and the rest of Letter VII FairMormon does not want anyone to see because it repudiates their "two-Cumorahs" and Mesoamerican theories.
2. On the merits, FairMormon uses ellipses to take this excerpt out of context. In Letter VII, this Columbus sentence is part of a series of paragraphs that describe the temptations Joseph felt when he was walking to the hill Cumorah for the first time. The paragraph continues that these ideas running through Joseph's mind "seemed to inspire further thoughts of gain and income from such a valuable history. Surely, thought he, every man will seize with eagerness, this knowledge, and this incalculable income will be mine." These were Joseph's thoughts before he even saw the plates for the first time. However, FairMormon quotes it here as authority for the idea that Oliver was teaching what the Book of Mormon taught.
3. Further on the merits, notice what Oliver says Moroni actually taught Joseph: "He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." This was in Letter IV, a passage FairMormon never quotes. Oliver uses the term "country" consistently throughout these letters to mean (i) the United States or (ii) a smaller local area or region. E.g., he wrote that the Priesthood "has been held in reserve to the present century, as a matter of right, in this free country." Referring to Cumorah, Oliver writes, "Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country... The soil is of the first quality for the country." We have Oliver referring to both a region and a nation as a "country," but neither of these mean an entire continent, let alone a hemisphere. Twice Oliver refers to continent (Savior's ministry and the twelve) but of course an event occurring on a small parcel of land takes place in a country (region), a nation (U.S.) and a continent, all at once. It's the difference between specific and general. When you specify the "country" you're not specifying the continent, but when you specify the continent, you necessarily include all the countries and regions located on that continent.
IOW, Moroni told Joseph that the record gave a history of the "aborigines of this country," meaning those who lived in the immediate area around Palmyra or in the "free country" of the United States, but when he was heading for the hill for the first time, Joseph was thinking how he could obtain "incalculable income" from a history of the "inhabitants who peopled this continent."
4. As long as FairMormon considers Oliver as an authority about the contents of the Book of Mormon, note that Oliver continues in Letter IV with this: "He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place [i.e., Joseph's home]." Obviously, if the history was written near Joseph's home in New York, it wasn't written in Mesoamerica. FairMormon never quotes this sentence, either.
5. As for Columbus, when he "discovered" the "continent" on his first voyage, the first land he sighted was the island of San Salvador, now part of the Bahamas. He continued to Long Island, about 350 miles from the coast of Florida, before continuing to Cuba and Hispaniola. The Bahamas, which became a British colony like the 13 colonies that became the United States, fell to the Spanish during the Revolutionary war. In 1762, the British seized Cuba but traded it back to Spain in return for Florida.
Ironically, Florida is the most likely landing site of Lehi. Columbus came much closer to Florida (350 miles) than to Central America (1,200+ to Guatemala or 1,400+ to Mexico). Neither Columbus nor Lehi ever visited Guatemala or Mexico. Not that this matters anyway--the Vikings "discovered" America long before Columbus, and the Lamanites living in New York at the time when Columbus "discovered the continent to the Europeans" were still inhabitants who peopled this continent.
Now, compare a real map of Columbus' route to the one FairMormon links to here: https://pool.fairmormon.org/images/8/80/Columbus1.PNG. FairMormon goes so far as to cut off the part of the map showing Columbus' first (and most northern) landing! You can't make this stuff up.
6. This out-of-context quotation, combined with the omission of much more specific and relevant quotations, shows that FairMormon's purported "neutral" position is a sham designed to mislead readers. Here's their statement: "Summary: The geographical setting of the Book of Mormon has been the subject of serious study and casual speculation since before the book was first published. The Church has been neutral when it comes to issues relating to Book of Mormon geography, as is FairMormon."
Except, as I've showed here, FairMormon is anything but neutral.
I'll leave it to readers to explore the other uses of Letter VII by FairMormon. My favorite is here:
I've gone through this one before. It's my favorite because of the out-of-context quotation from Letter VII discussed above, the omission of any of the relevant passages from Letter VII as mentioned above, and this line, which is an all-time classic:
"Despite this early "identification" of the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon with the hill in New York, readers who studied the text closely would later conclude that they could not be the same."
Can you believe that one?
"Readers who studied the text closely," meaning if you believe Cumorah is in New York, you haven't studied the text closely. I.e., Joseph and Oliver didn't study the text closely.
They just translated it. Oliver wrote most of the entire text by hand, twice. He and Joseph visited Mormon's repository in the New York hill. They communed with angels, handled the plates, etc.
But because they forgot to "study the text closely" the way our modern Mesomania LDS scholars and educators have, Joseph and Oliver misled the Church and all their contemporaries. If not for our modern Mesomania LDS scholars and educators, we'd still be walking in the dark, thanks to Joseph and Oliver.
Or, as I believe, it's the other way around. Joseph and Oliver were specific, declarative, and unequivocal because they knew, from personal experience, that the repository was in the New York hill. Meanwhile, our Mesomania LDS scholars and educators are trying to confuse people and characterize Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church.
By now, readers of this blog also know all about the phony Mesomania "requirements" set up for Cumorah.
And this is how our Mesomania scholars present "the official position of the Church."
If anyone finds anything "neutral" about Book of Mormon geography on the FairMormon site, please send it to me ASAP. There's always a chance for an editorial change at FairMormon. A slim chance, but I'd like to know about it if and when it happens.
As always, I'm eager to correct any errors on this or any other posts the moment anyone brings them to my attention.