I was reading several articles about the Oregon Trail and other movements west, mostly after the American Civil War. Several sources refer to Mormon settlements as "colonies", though these are settling territory mostly inside the USA (some made "colonies" in Mexico too). I read other books about the migration of Jews, African Americans, cattle ranchers, Baptists, etc. some groups even forming their own towns at the exclusion of other groups, during the same time period (1860s-early 20th Century) but I don't see the word "colony" used with these other groups.

Is there any explanation for why scholars will say "Mormon colony", but not use that term with other groups?

Is it appropriate in academic use or does this word carry a negative connotation?

  • colony is a synonym for settlement. A group of people of the same ilk sets out on a journey to a place to set up a community of their own.
    – Lambie
    Jan 4, 2022 at 16:51
  • Is there a reason though I'm seeing the word tied with Mormons specifically, but not when describing the other groups? Is that due to the religious nature of the group? The communal aspects of their economy?
    – Village
    Jan 4, 2022 at 16:54
  • It is to due to their traveling to a place and founding a settlement/colony. As in Mexico, Canada and originally in the US.
    – Lambie
    Jan 4, 2022 at 17:20
  • 1
    Probably "colony" is the term originally used by the Mormons themselves. Perhaps it even has a specific meaning in their teaching.
    – GEdgar
    Jan 4, 2022 at 19:50
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    I think that your premise that "scholars will . . . not use that term with other groups" is incorrect. Britain's former territories in the Eastern U.S. (Virginia, Connecticut, etc.) are often called colonies, and smaller ones include the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Jamestown Colony, etc. If you're only asking about domestic U.S. migration, then there are many examples there, too, such as the Ruskin Colony in Tennessee. Jan 4, 2022 at 20:40

1 Answer 1


I believe it's because these communities were considered offshoots of the primary Mormon settlement in Utah (after the Mormon's migrated from Illinois). Wikipedia describes this process:

The cooperative ethic that Mormons had developed over the last decade and a half became important as settlers branched out and colonized a large desert region now known as the Mormon Corridor. Colonizing efforts were seen as religious duties, and the new villages were governed by the Mormon bishops (local lay religious leaders).

This is similar, but on a smaller scale, to the way Europeans colonized America and other parts of the world. While the Mormon colonies had local bishops, they presumably were under the control of the leadership in Utah.

There's similar hierarchical organization in other churches (e.g. Catholic diocese, with Cardinals and Bishops), but they weren't formed deliberately by communities moving into these regions. Instead, they formed after the fact as members of the church who happened to live in the same vicinity organized.

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