Incidents of Pioneer Life in
the Conn. Western Reserve
(Cleveland: Cobb & Andrews, 1881)
INCIDENTS OF PIONEER LIFE
THE EARLY SETTLEMENT
CONNECTICUT WESTERN RESERVE
H A R V E Y R I C E.
COBB, ANDREWS & CO. PUBLISHERS.
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Lake county is a little county, famous for "many little things," some of which are really great things in a certain sense. For instance, there is the little town of Kirtland, snugly ensconced among the hills, which has a wide and lasting fame, if not an enviable one. It is the veritable "cradle of Mormonism." As to the origin of this new religious faith, different versions have been given.
One version is that it originated with Joe Smith, who was afterwards aided in his schemes by equally unscrupulous men. But little is known of Smith's early career in life. It has
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been ascertained, however, that he was born in Vermont, in 1805, of humble parentage. His education was sadly neglected by his parents; yet as he grew to manhood he evinced a degree of native tact and talent, which was truly remarkable. He had not only an inquisitive mind, but a "vaulting ambition" to acquire public notoriety.
He delighted in discussing theological subjects, and assumed that he was endowed with the "gift of prophecy." In proof of this gift, he practiced the "divining art" with considerable success in the rural districts of his own neighborhood, and especially among the unsophisticated farmers. He always carried with him a mysterious looking rod, which he called a "divining rod," and by the tremulous motion of which he could determine just the spot where persons wishing to dig a well could strike upon an ample spring of living water. Many wells were dug with equal success without his divinations. He also carried with him a "mineral rod," by whose attractive power he claimed to detect the spot where hidden treasures had been buried in the earth, and in fact insisted that he had, in this way, discovered several places where large amounts of gold and silver had been concealed
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during the Revolution and at subsequent periods. His "fame went abroad," and he traveled through the country to a considerable extent, practicing his mysterious arts and delivering lectures. He held public meetings at Palmyra, N. Y., and in other towns, at which he explained, in a plausible way, the gift of divination which he had employed with unprecedented success. He soon found himself sustained by an extensive circle of believers.
Finding this to be the fact, he at once assumed the character of a prophet, and declared that to him had been given a divine commission, authorizing him to announce to the world a new revelation for the salvation of mankind. In order to give sanction to the comission, which he had received, he asserted that he had been guided by an angel from heaven to a secluded nook in the hillside, near Palmyra, where he was directed to make an excavation to a certain depth. This he did, and the result was that he discovered at the depth prescribed, a stone box in which was inclosed a deposit of gold plates, engraved with strange characters, hitherto unknown to any human tongue or alphabet. The angel declared the contents of the plates to be a message sent from heaven to the children of men; and giving the prophet a small illuminating stone, informed him that by placing it in his hat, in connection
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with each of the plates in succession, he would instantly become endowed with the "gift of tongues" and the ability to translate the language of the plates into English. The angel then disappeared as mysteriously as he came. Following the directions he had received from the angel, the prophet succeeded in translating the graven plates into plain English, as he asserted. It is this translation of the divine message from heaven, which constitutes the "Golden Bible" or "Book of Mormon," or in other words, the Holy Scriptures of the "Latter Day Saunts."
A much more probable version, than the foregoing, has been given of the origin of this new revelation. Some years previous to the marvelous announcement made by Joe Smith, a liberally educated gentleman, by the name of Solomon Spaulding, a native of Conneticut, came to Conneaut, Ohio, and entered into co-partnership with his brother John, who was a merchant, doing business at that place. They subsequently failed as merchants, Solomon's health became seriously impaired, and by way of amusing himself, while in a failing condition of health, wrote a historical romance or fiction, which was purely imaginary, but written in a scriptural style of language. He entitled his work, "The Manuscript Found."
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In this fiction he assumed that the American Indians were descendants of the Jews, or "lost tribes," of whom he gives a detailed account of their wandering journey from Jerusalem by land and by sea, until they arrived in America under command of Nephi and Lehi. He also describes the career of these lost tribes, after they arrived in America, their quarrels and contentions, their division into two Nations, known as Nephites and Lemanites, their arts and civilization, their religious rites and ceremonies, and their subsequent cruel and bloody wars, in which great multitudes of them were slain and buried in mounds. It was in this way that he accounted for the origin of the American Indians.
It is well known that Solomon, the author of "The Manuscript Found," read parts of his work, while engaged in writing it, to his brother John, who professed to be quite delighted with its originality, and with its scriptural style of language, and who did not hesitate to advise its publication. This encouraging estimate of the work induced its author, in 1816, to visit Pittsburgh with a view of securing a publisher. It is supposed that he succeeded in making an arrangement for the purpose with the printing firm of "Patterson and Lambdin," and that he left his manuscript with them. Soon after this he visited Amity, Pa., where he was taken suddenly ill, and died.
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No more was heard of the manuscript for a good number of years.
In 1824 [sic - 1822?] Sidney Rigdon visited Pittsburgh, and remained for some three years, as a student of theology. In the meantime, he made the acquaintance of Lambdin, of the printing firm, and became his intimate friend. By this means he undoubtedly acquired possession of the manuscript. The firm became insolvent, and L:ambdin soon afterwards died. The surviving partner, Patterson, stated that he knew nothing definite in relation to this particular manuscript, but said that Lambdin, his former partner, took charge of all manuscripts left with the firm for inspection, and that a large mass of such manuscripts still remained, unread, upon their shelves, at the time of Lambdin's death. On receiving this information, the widow of Spaulding caused doligent search to be made for the desired manuscript, but it could not be found among the manuscripts remaining upon the shelves. This fact, in connection with subsequent developments, renders it certain that the missing manuscript had passed into the hands of Rigdon, by some means or other, but in what way could not be definitely ascertained.
In the year 1827, Rigdon left Pittsburgh and commenced his career as a preacher, and soon acquired a wide reputation as a controversialist.
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He then began to promulgate new theories and strange doctrines. He had eventually conceived the idea of constructing a new religious creed. Soon after this, while preaching at Palmyra, N. Y., and its vicinity, he made the acquaintance of Joe Smith, who professed to have the gift of prophecy, and found in him a kindred spirit. They became intimate, and soon afterwards projected the scheme by which the "Book of Mormon" was announced to the world as a Divine revelation. But is so happened that John Spaulding, the brother of Solomon Spaulding, and Henry Lake, had heard Solomon read his romance, entitled "The Manuscript Found," at different times previous to his death. They have both testified that they read read the Book of Mormon, or Golden Bible, soon after it was published, and were surprised to find that it contained but little more than a repetition of the story related in the "Manuscript Found" of Solomon Spaulding, which they had heard him read. This fact convinced them that Rigdon had, in some way, come into possession of Spaulding's work, and had contrived, with the aid of Joe Smith, to give it the sanction of a new gospel by means of a miraculous discovery, as announced. Rigdon was a scholar, and doubtless revised the manuscript so as to adapt its story to his purpose. Joe Smith performed the "miracle" of translating it from
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the golden plates. The truth of the matter is, that Rigdon was a man of learning, an aspirant for fame, acute and eloquent, while Smith was an ignoramus of low cunning, shrewd and plausible, and ambitious of being regarded as possessed of miraculous powers. Yet both were, in fact, nothing more than cinsummate "impostors."
On the announcement of the new gospel and its publication in book form, the curiosity of the public was very generally awakened. The Book of Mormon, or Golden Bible, as the publication was called, sold rapidly, and quite a number of credulous persons immediately embraced the new faith. They assumed the name of the "Latter Day Saints," and continued to increase in numbers. The leaders constituted the hierarchy of "Mormonism," and received accessions to their number, from time to time, of such professed converts as seemed to posses the requisite "tact and talent."
A colony of these "Latter Day Saints," under the guidance of Rigdon and Smith, took their departure from Palmyra, and arrived at Kirtland, Ohio...
The Latter Day Saint Temple in Kirtland Ohio (detail of 1907 photo)
Harvey Rice's 1881 summary of Mormon origins provides a disappointing example of "twice-told" stories and shoddily paraphrased reporting drawn from undocumented sources. The results are doubly unfortunate, in that they provide an unreliable account of New York and Ohio Mormonism, coupled with Rice's failure to consult local Ohio sources, which might have shone some better light on the Saints' initial activities in the Buckeye State.
The one piece of reporting that Mr. Rice may have gotten right is more a logical deduction than it is evidence of any special historical research on his part. On page 264 of his Incidents of Pioneer Life, Rice concludes the obvious fact -- that if Sidney Rigdon became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr. at an early date, Rigdon must have accepted Smith's profession "to have the gift of prophecy," and at the same time, to have "found in him a kindred spirit," before the Book of Mormon was first revealed "to the world as a Divine revelation."
Had Mr. Rice taken the trouble to conduct some personal interviews among the older generation of residents round about Cleveland (where his book was published) he might have uncovered some unique and enlightening recollections concerning the first Mormons, (even as late as 1881). Only three years later, James Jeffery of Maryland related an 1844 incident in which Sidney Rigdon reportedly confessed that "Joe Smith" and he (Rigdon) "used to look over the manuscript" of Solomon Spalding, "and read it over Sundays," (evidently in Ohio). The only time-frame in which such Sunday meetings between the two future Mormon leaders could have occured on a continuing basis, would have been at or near Rigdon's 1826-27 residence in Bainbridge, Geauga Co., Ohio. If this indeed was the time and place the two visionaries first became acquainted, then it would follow that it was then that Rigdon "found in him a kindred spirit." In fact, if the related account of the Rigdon family's 1826 nursemaid is given credit, then the term "spirit" here is the perfect choice to describe that clandestine relationship. According to this source, "the Mormon Bible was written by two or three different persons [in or near Bainbridge] by an automatic power which they believed was inspiration direct from God... Rigdon, having learned, beyond a doubt, that the so-called dead could communicate to the living." Compare that recollection with the reported account of Rigdon's near neighbor during that period, George Wilber, who recalled that "Rigdon did not preach [during the winter of 1825-26], but was almost constantly engaged upon a manuscript that he was writing or revising... to throw light upon some portions of the gospel. The following spring Smith appeared and he and Rigdon went off together and were gone some months.... It was generally believed... Smith at least visited Western New York before either returned to Ohio. Soon after their return the Book of Mormon was announced."