Hans Christian Hansen, a young sailor, wrote a letter home to his family in Copenhagen in the summer of 1843. Hans told them of Joseph Smith, the young prophet, the Book of Mormon, the ancient record Smith had miraculously found and translated, and the Church Smith had founded. Hans also told them that he had joined that Church. Hans’s younger brother, Peter, later wrote of his brother’s account, “I wholly believed.” After reading the letter, Peter told his sister and stepmother he would go to America, translate the Book of Mormon, and return to preach to them.
Peter soon emigrated. He started translating the Book of Mormon after obtaining a copy of it in Boston in 1844 and continued translating while serving as a guard in the Nauvoo temple. When he left Nauvoo for the Salt Lake Valley, Peter wrapped the manuscript in calico and placed it in the bottom of his trunk, where it remained until 1849. That October, Peter was called to accompany Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in opening a mission in Scandinavia. With the manuscript in hand, Peter set out for Europe. En route, he met a Danish American soldier who sold him English to Danish and Danish to English dictionaries.
Peter arrived in Denmark on May 11, 1850. Though there was still significant resistance to religious teaching by anyone outside the Lutheran clergy, some contacts were open to his message, especially in the congregations of Peter Mønster, a local Baptist minister. That summer after Erastus Snow arrived, the first baptisms in Denmark were performed in the Øresund strait. At first members met in private, but Snow soon felt that the time had come to be bold. “We have now arrived at the time when we shall no longer seek retirement but notoriety,” he wrote. On September 15, 1850, the Copenhagen Branch was officially organized with approximately 50 members.
New missionaries soon arrived from Utah and were assisted by members in spreading the gospel. To support their preaching, Snow hired the press of F. E. Bording in Copenhagen and asked Peter Hansen to translate tracts, excerpts of the Doctrine and Covenants, and Latter-day Saint hymns. Hansen and Snow also began to revise the manuscript of the Book of Mormon with help from Ane Cathrine Mathiesen, a well-educated convert. In May 1851, a complete edition of the Book of Mormon was published in Danish, the first translation to be published in a language other than English. To make the book available for poorer members, they also made it available in a series of 36 inexpensive 16-page pamphlets.
“I now feel that ‘the shell is broken’ in old Scandinavia,” Snow wrote shortly after the Book of Mormon was published. Snow was quick to recognize God’s support in the work. In the same letter, he recounted a dream in which he and the other missionaries in Scandinavia were on a dangerous fishing excursion. “Our vessel had neither steam nor sails, yet (by what power was not perceivable) it was slowly but steadily advancing against a rapid current, and we were drawing in fish.”
Despite occasional persecution, fines, and imprisonment for preaching, the Church grew quickly in Denmark. Just before Peter Hansen returned to the United States in 1854, he reported just over 1,950 converts in the Scandinavian mission with the majority in Denmark.