Tarred and Feathered : Mormons, Memory, and Ritual Violence
Salt Lake City, UT
University of Utah
During the nineteenth century Mormons were attacked and persecuted for their religious, social, and political differences. Tar-and-feathering was a ritual of violence used against Mormons, and remains a central part of the Mormon persecution narrative. This thesis explores the origins and meaning of tar-and-feathering. During the Revolutionary War Americans used tar-and-feathers as a way to intimidate and attack, while simultaneously branding opponents as outsiders. During the mid-nineteenth century, people who violated social, political, or moral norms were tar-and-feathered by groups attempting to enforce community morals. In like manner, Mormons were tar-and-feathered by their opponents in Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, and Alabama. This thesis analyzes the context and aftermath of the attacks and places them within the broader history of tar-and-feathering in America. Opponents of Mormonism wished to convey to Mormons and the surrounding public a violent message of displeasure in response to perceived violations of communal values. Mormons took the message and integrated the attacks into a persecution narrative that played a role as Mormons' separated themselves from the rest of the United States. In the retelling, details disappeared and generalizations replaced specificity to the point that tar-and-feathering became cultural persecution discourses that loomed large in Mormon memory, well beyond their historical proportions.