In the Book of Mormon, there is a story of a Nephite man named Hagoth who built and launched multiple ships into the west sea, and traveled north. As I took a closer look I found that there was a lot of context to help find the most likely location of the ship launch. In what follows, I model the most likely location for the ship building to have occurred if Zarahemla was really on the Baja Peninsula. The most likely location appears to be a Baja California port city known as Ensenada. Explanation follows.
Any (or all) of the following assumptions could later turn out to be false but modeling a single location, in this case, requires already having modeled several other locations. Here are my model assumptions:
- Overall location of Book of Mormon events. I’m assuming that new world events of the Book of Mormon transpired on the Baja Peninsula and Southern California. The strongest evidence for this is in achoiceland.com and Book of Mormon Ecology by Kent Crookston (2020).
- Location of Cumorah. I assume that Cumorah, one of the most northerly locations mentioned in the Book of Mormon is located in the San Diego area. I wrote a previous blog post about this topic: Where might the Nephites and Jaredits have made their last stand?
- Location of Zarahemla. Zarahemla, the capital city for both Nephites and Mulekites was located in what today is San Ignazio in the central Baja Peninsula. The Rosenvalls make a strong case for this on their site, achoiceland.com and it’s really pretty obvious. If the events of the Book of Mormon did take place on the Baja Peninsula it’s the only real suitable candidate for Zarahemla.
Putting all of these assumptions together, Hagoth must have built and launched his ships somewhere on the Pacific Coast of Northern Baja California.
For practical reasons, Hagoth must have built/launched his ships from some kind of bay
Ship building and maritime operations in general are not easy. Even under the best circumstances ships can fail. Historically, ship builders and operators have sought to put the odds in their favor as heavily as possible which also may be a clue as to where the ship building/launching took place.
First, consider that the Pacific Ocean can be violent, destructive and uncooperative. For this reason ships are normally moored and launched from safe harbors where the water is more calm and boats can more easily get into and out of the place where they’re at rest when not in transit. For example, San Francisco, once the most successful port on the entire Pacific Coast of North America, is built around a massive bay that allows for a tremendous volume of shipping to take place. This would not be possible on a rugged part of the coast without a calm, safe bay to seek refuge from storms, and from which to launch and dock one’s ships. The same is true for Vancouver, Portland, Seattle and every other city with successful oceanic trade. They all have a large calm body of water that ships can move in and out of when they are not traveling across the ocean. This is essential for maritime operations.
Second, consider that ships are most easily launched from the location where they are built. It is very impractical to build in one place, transport over rough terrain, then launch somewhere else. This would be especially true in ancient times since they likely lacked the technology to move a large ship over land. This later becomes important because the Book of Mormon doesn’t explicitly say the ships were built where they were launched but it does give different geographic contextual clues for the place of construction and the place of launching. If both things happened in the same place, that gives us a lot more clues we can use to find a single location.
So, basically, we’re looking for a bay. Hagoth needed a nice bay where he could build and launch his ships in relatively calm waters.
Harvesting clues from the Book of Mormon
Hagoth is only mentioned in one place in the Book of Mormon. This is from the account of Shiblon, son of Helaman and grandson of Alma (about 56–52 B.C.). It is in Moroni’s voice as he was the one who later edited and condensed the account.
Alma 63:5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
6 And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.
7 And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.
8 And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.
I’ve previously written about how “borders” likely mean mountains in most or all cases. Essentially it appears that most primary Nephite lands were fertile valleys surrounded by hills and mountains. The hills and mountains would serve as a sort of shelter and boundary. In this case, Hagoth’s harbor was located in the mountains. This indicates that we need to look for a natural bay or inlet on the west coast that is in a mountainous region and characterized by an inland valley to the east.
Location selection criteria for Hagoth’s harbor
- Hagoth’s harbor would be in calm waters in some kind of bay or inlet
- The bay or inlet must be fairly large to accomodate Hagoth’s large ship size and ship quantity (Alma 63:5)
- Hagoth’s harbor is on a western coast (Alma 63:5)
- There is an inland valley (land Bountiful) to the east of Hagoth’s harbor (Alma 63:5)
- There are substantial hills and mountains between Hagoth’s harbor and the valley to the east and Hagoth’s harbor is essentially in the mountains (Alma 63:5)
Ensenada is the most obvious candidate
Ensenada is surrounded by rugged mountains. There is a large inland valley that could have once been the land called “Bountiful.” This seems to satisfy the requirement for being built “in the borders” (i.e. mountains) of the land Bountiful.
Ensenada is still a thriving sea port to this day. It is the fifth busiest port in all of Mexico. It’s busier than San Diego’s port. It’s the only international shipping port on the Baja Peninsula. It’s the only port on the Baja Peninsula that is able to accomodate large cruise ships.
There are a couple of other less used bays worth mentioning
Further south of Ensenada is San Quintin Bay. San Quintin is not a great candidate for Hagoth’s bay because there is no inland valley that would make a suitable location for the land Bountiful. There is also another minor bay to the south that is at the point where Baja protrudes out into the Pacific. This point is not ideal because it’s not surrounded by mountains and it’s colocated with the hypothesized Land of Zarahemla. The inland area is also very deserty. Hard to imagine a time when the region could have ever been known as “bountiful.”
Putting all the pieces together
- Cumorah/Ramah — San Diego area
- Ablom — western shore of ancient Lake Cahuilla
- Ripliancum — Pacific Ocean near Oceanside, CA
- Hagoth’s harbor — Ensenada
- Land Bountiful — Ojos Negros valley
- Land Zarahemla — San Ignazio
By the way, this also tells us where Bountiful is
The valley of Ojos Negros lies inland from Ensenada. It is a fertile valley that is home to all kinds of crops including many grape vineyards. There is a series of valleys to the north and south of Ojos Negros as well, making it difficult to know where Bountiful ends and Desolation starts as they would be adjacent lands with Bountiful to the south and Desolation primarily to the north.
Isn’t Baja a desert?
Baja is just like where they came from: Jerusalem and the Arabian Peninsula. It has areas that are farmable, areas that are grazable, and areas that are uninhabitable.
There is quite a bit of indication that the Arabian Peninsula is much drier in modern times than it was anciently. The same may be true of Baja California, though we don’t know because there’s a lack of historical records.
The Ojos Negros area (potential land Bountiful) doesn’t have a lot of above ground water but it did formerly have two swamps that it got its name from (now gone). It may also have had other freshwater in the past that could have deteriorated due to human-caused desertification. If you’re at all familiar with Alan Savory or the regenerative agriculture movement, you know that there is a large movement of farmers, ranchers, and now scientists, who believe the world is desertifying due to poor agricultural methods. This is consistent with what happened in the U.S. during the Great Depression when the Dust Bowl formed (due to poor land management). So for me it’s not a huge problem that the area is a bit less green and lush than I would have expected based on the Book of Mormon description.
About the author
Aaron Charlton studied ancient military history and pre-history at BYU as an undergraduate. He also served as an air defense officer and an infantry officer in the U.S. Army with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. This model is based on his military and history background and attempts to match the geography up to what is described in the Book of Mormon as closely as possible.