Volume 91   September 2, 1944   Number 36
Copyright © 1944 by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
BOOK OF MORMON TALKS
By Evan A. Fry
8. Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?
Everyone loves a good mystery -- a story which challenges the imagination and the intellect with a problem that requires the mustering of all the facts, and a reasoning from those facts to a conclusion that will stand up in court. We ask you to follow through with us this evening while we unravel what seems at first glance to be an insoluble and hopelessly tangled mystery, and present our conclusion, hoping that it will stand up in the court of your mind, and of public opinion. The mystery to be solved is, Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?
...Was Solomon Spaulding (sometimes Spalding) the original source of the idea? There is no doubt that Spaulding wrote an admittedly fictitious romance, purporting to have been translated from a Latin manuscript found on parchment at the bottom of an artificial cave near Conneaut, Ohio. This story purportedly traced the origin of the Indians to the ten lost tribes, but dealt with the wars and happenings of only a small part of them in the neighborhood of Ohio. But did this story furnish the basis for the Book of Mormon?
Solomon Spaulding was born in 1761, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1785, was ordained to the ministry, but before his death left the ministry, and in his later years became almost an infidel. The year 1809 found him in Cherry Valley, New York, simultaneously teaching in an academy, and running a mercantile business. The business failed, and he moved to New Salem, now called Conneaut, Ohio, where with Henry Lake he established an iron foundry. That venture also failed, and in 1812, his health gone, he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A year or two later he moved to Amity, Pennsylvania, where he died of consumption in 1816. His widow married a Mr. Davison, and ended her days in Massachusetts.
It was during his residence at Conneaut prior to 1812, that Spaulding wrote his romance story, reading it chapter by chapter as he wrote, to neighbors, relatives, and friends. Shortly after his removal to Pittsburgh, he offered it to Robert Patterson, newspaper owner and printer, for publication. Some authors say that Mr. Patterson refused to print it because it was of such poor quality; others say that Patterson wanted to print it, but Spaulding did not think the story worth it. The mystery boils down to this, however: What happened to that manuscript after it was delivered to Mr. Patterson?
The anti-Mormon writers have many stories to account for its disappearance. Mr. Beadle, in Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism, page 31, says "what became of that copy of the manuscript is not known." Bruce Kinney in his book, Mormonism, the Islam of America, page 55, says that there were two manuscripts, an original and a revised, and adds, "Members of the Spaulding family testify to this," but cites no names or documentary sources. Beadle thinks that Mrs. Spaulding had a second copy which was stolen from a trunk in 1825, while Joseph Smith was digging a well next door, but also fails to cite any witnesses or documentary evidence. Mrs. Spaulding in 1834 declared to Mr. Hurlbut that "her husband had a variety of manuscripts, one of which was entitled Manuscript Found, but of its contents she had no distinct remembrance: she thought it was once taken to Patterson's printing office in Pittsburgh, and whether it was ever returned to the house again she was quite uncertain. If it was returned it must be with other manuscripts in a trunk which she left in Otsego, N. Y." Note that throughout this account the manuscript is always referred to in the singular as a and never as they. But in a letter to the Boston Recorder published over her signature, in May, 1839 (see pages 41-44, Smucker's History of the Mormons) she says, "At length the manuscript was returned to its author, and soon after we removed to Amity, Washington county, Pa., where Mr. S. deceased in 1816. The manuscript then fell into my hands and was carefully preserved. It has frequently been examined by my daughter, Mrs. McKenstry, of Monson, Mass., with whom I now reside, and by other friends." Note that again the manuscript is always referred to in the singular, as it.
The supposition upon which all enemies of Mormonism base their claim that Rigdon in some manner either stole or copied the manuscript while it was in the hands of the printer Patterson. The facts of Rigdon's early life easily disprove that theory. He was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1793. When he was seventeen years of age his father died, but the young man continued to operate the farm for his mother until about 1818. During his twenty-fifth year he joined a new religious society called the Regular Baptists, and went to live with a clergyman of that faith, who prepared him for the ministry. In March, 1819 he received a license to preach, and definitely forsook farming. June 12, 1820 he married and settled in Trumble County, Ohio, where in November of 1821, the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found him, and invited him to the pastorate. He accepted and moved to Pittsburgh in February of 1822.
Let us recall for you that Spaulding came to Pittsburgh in 1812, and submitted his manuscript not long after his arrival. In that year Sidney Rigdon was only nineteen years old, and still on his mother's farm according to the records of the family. But the anti-Mormon writers are quite certain that he was employed in the printing office of Patterson, and stole the manuscript to exploit its money making possibilities. They cannot explain how a man who was never in Pittsburgh until 1822, and never worked as a printer, could have stolen a manuscript in 1812 from a Pittsburgh printer by whom he was employed as a compositor. Some ingenious explanations are offered -- that Patterson never returned the manuscript as Mrs. Spaulding says he did -- that Rigdon stole it after 1822, while he was pastor of the Baptist church and working part time at the printer's trade. The fact that Mr. Rigdon took an almost extinct congregation, and in four years [sic] built it up to the largest one [sic] in Pittsburgh, rather belies the fact that he ever had time to work in a printing office. He himself specifically denied that he was ever a printer, or that he ever [sic] knew Patterson, in a letter from Nauvoo, Illinois, dated May 27, 1839, and published in the next issue of the Boston Journal [sic] (Smucker, History of the Mormons, page 45).
It is fairly easy to trace this story if one knows where and how to look. In 1833, Doctor (which was a name, and not a title) Philastus Hurlbut was expelled from the church by Joseph Smith on proved charges of gross immorality. He vowed revenge, and set about to make good his promise, writing a book to expose Mormonism. About the turn of the year he joined forces with Mr. E. D. Howe, editor and publisher of the Painesville Telegraph, of Painesville, Ohio. After some editions and changes, the book finally appeared under Howe's name, with the title, Mormonism Unveiled. It contained the charges that the Book of Mormon was taken from the Spaulding manuscript, and printed on pages 278 to 287 the sworn testimony of even witnesses to that effect, plus the unsigned statement of an eighth witness.
It is quite significant that the style and verbiage of all eight of their testimonies are so similar as to suggest to the careful observer that they were all written, or at least influenced by the same person. It is also significant that five of the eight say that the two books are identical, "except for the religious matter," or words to that effect, while the other three are careful to stipulate that it is the historical matter that is identical. If you are familiar with the Book of Mormon at all, you will see at once the reasonableness and truthfulness of the following comment from a man not a believer in any kind of Mormonism. After studying both the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Manuscript, he said, "The Book of Mormon is permeated is permeated in every page and paragraph with religious and scriptural ideas. It is first and foremost a religious book; and the contrast between it and the supposed manuscript must have been very striking to have led five of these witnesses to call this difference to mind and mention it, after the lapse of twenty years and more." 2
But now let us trace this manuscript step by step, citing authorities insofar as we can for each conclusion or statement of fact. We have established that the manuscript was written about 1812, and submitted that year to Mr. Patterson. In 1834 Mr. Hurlbut visited Mrs. Spaulding in Massachusetts, with a request from Mr. Howe [sic] that he be allowed to examine the manuscript so that he could use material from it in his book against the Mormons. Mrs. Spalding told Mr. Hurlbut at that time that her husband had a number of manuscripts, but only one entitled Manuscript Found; that she could not remember much of its contents; that she was not sure that it was still in her possession, but that if it was, it was in an old trunk at her cousin's in Otsego county, New York. (See Saints' Herald, August 21, 1918 page 820, quoting Fairchild in Op. Cit.)
At this interview, she gave Mr. Hurlbut permission to search the old trunk at her cousin's, which Hurlbut did. He found not several manuscripts, but only one. It was Mr. Spaulding's romance of the Indians of New York and Ohio. He delivered this manuscript to Mr. E. D. Howe, at Painesville. Obviously it was not what Howe wanted. He included a very brief and highly inaccurate description of it in his book, Mormonism Unveiled (page 288) but never published the manuscript or any portion of it. His failure to publish it argues just one thing. If publication of it could have proved that the Book of Mormon was taken from the Solomon Spaulding romance, Howe, with his implacable hatred for the Mormons, would have published it at any cost. The fact that he did not publish it, and treated it very sketchily in his book, proves to my satisfaction at least that a complete publication of the Spaulding story would have exposed the utter absurdity of a belief in any connection between the two books.
In the winter of 1839-40 Mr. Howe sold out his newspaper, presses, type, manuscript, and stock to a Mr. L. L. Rice, who for a number of years had been the state printer for Ohio. Subsequent wanderings brought Mr. Rice to Honolulu, where he was visited in 1885 by James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Mr. Fairchild and his school had a special interest in old documents bearing on the abolitionist movement in Ohio, and knowing Mr. Rice's former connection as newspaper editor and printer, Fairchild suggested that he might have some valuable manuscripts that should be preserved in the Oberlin College library. Mr. Rice agreed to look through his effects, and though he discovered no anti-slavery documents of importance, he did discover a manuscript of about 175 pages, small quatro, which proved to be Solomon Spaulding's fictitious tale, written to while away the tedious hours of a dying consumptive. Endorsed on the manuscript were these words, "The writings of Solomon Spaulding proved by Aron (sic) Wright, Oliver Smith, John N. Miller, and others. The testimonies of the above gentlemen are now in my possession." Signed D. P. Hurlbut. These three men mentioned were three of the eight witnesses used by Hurlbut and Howe in their book, to prove that the Spaulding Romance and the Book of Mormon were the same -- which fact has great weight in establishing that this was in fact the manuscript which Hurlbut procured in 1834 from Mrs. Spaulding's trunk, and which Rice had unknowingly had in his possession some 46 years. The manuscript was subsequently given to Oberlin College by Mr. Rice, where it remains to this day.
Later in the same year Bishop E. L. Kelley, of the Reorganized Church, visited Oberlin College, and made a verbatim copy of the celebrated manuscript, complete with corrections, strike-outs, erasures, mis-spellings, etc., which was published by the church under the title, Manuscript Found. It bears not the slightest resemblance to the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a work of some 800 pages, the Spaulding work is less than 150 pages, smaller in size and printed in larger type. There is not a name, or a place, or a historical event in the two books that is even similar, let alone identical. Much fun has been poked by skeptics at the so-called clumsy style of the Book of Mormon, but compared to the miserable spelling, atrocious grammar, and stupid construction of the Spaulding Manuscript, the Book of Mormon is a model of correct English. The Book of Mormon as Professor Fairchild said, is saturated through and through in every paragraph, with lofty religious concepts. Take the religion out of it and you would have little left. The Spaulding Manuscript betrays quite clearly the atheistic [leanings] of the author's declining days. The Book of Mormon teaches monogamy, in the marriage relation, and denounces polygamy; the Spaulding romance advocates polygamy in cases where women exceed the men in the population, until the excess is absorbed. The Book of Mormon covers a sweep of two continents -- both North and South America, the Spaulding story is confined to the great lakes region of Ohio and New York. About the only point of similarity is that both books are about Indians, and that both books claim for them a Jewish origin -- and that is only half truth, so far as the Book of Mormon is concerned.
So much for the Spaulding manuscript. But there is one more line of deduction which proves that the Book of Mormon could not have been derived from it. All those who make this claim are unanimous in declaring that Sidney Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon and attempting to connect him with the Spaulding manuscript. The facts of history are plain and undeniable. The Book of Mormon was in print at least eight months before Rigdon ever heard of it, or saw a copy of it. We established in the beginning of this talk that the Book of Mormon was printed in March of 1830. In November of 1830, four missionaries, including Parley Pratt and Oliver Cowdery, arrived in Mentor, Ohio, from upper New York state, where the new church had been organized, bearing copies of the Book of Mormon. They introduced the book to Rigdon for the first time and baptized him on November 14, 1830. Mr. Pratt testifies to this in his autobiography and in a letter to the New Era November 27, 1839.
But, say some, there was collusion between Rigdon and Joseph Smith, which was kept secret and denied. Then Rigdon pretended to receive conversion and was baptized. Rigdon was a busy man -- a successful minister -- and it is not hard to trace his movements from 1826 to December, 1830, by official documents, marriage certificates, baptism, funerals, engagements for protracted meetings, etc. In the Church History, volume I, page 146 to 151, there is a list of forty incidents and dates between November 2, 1826 and December, 1830. Obviously we have not time to bring them to you in detail here. After June 1827, the longest interval of time left unaccounted for by these official documents, is about two months and a half. By no stretch of the imagination could Rigdon have sneaked away from his home in Pittsburgh or in Ohio, made the slow and arduous journey to upper New York, written an eight hundred page book, and returned to his home in any such length of time. We are forced to believe that what Pratt says is true -- that he was not acquainted with Joseph Smith and had never heard of the Book of Mormon, until the finished book was presented to him some eight months after its publication.
Now you have the facts for yourself -- or as many as we have had time and space to bring you. You must draw your own conclusion. In the light of this evidence. Who do you think wrote the Book of Mormon?
1 Prof. James H. Fairchild, president Oberlin College, in Western Reserve Historical Society, Vol. 3, pages 185-200, Tract No. 77, March 23, 1886. Quoted on page 820 Saints Herald August 22, 1918.
2 James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College, Op. Cit/
Note 1: Elder Fry quotes J. H. Beadle in regard to the report that Smith stole a Spalding manuscript in 1825. Beadle's exact words are: "Mrs. Spaulding had another complete copy; but in the year 1825, while residing in Ontario Co., N.Y., next door to a man named Stroude, for whom Joe Smith was then digging a well, that copy also was lost." This is a most unlikely story, as Beadle provides no source for his allegation and no explanation of how a Spalding manuscript came into the possession of Mr. "Stroude." A variation on this story has Smith stealing the manuscript while digging a well for a cousin of Josiah Stowell, who reportedly lived in Hartwick, Otsego, Co., NY. Early land records of Hartwick do show that there was a Stowell residence adjacent to the Jerome Clark property in that village, perhaps as early as 1825. Joseph Smith, jr. reportedly operated his treasure seeking scheme in the early 1820s as far east as Otego Creek, which enters the upper reaches of the Susquehanna Rive at Oneonta, Otsego Co., N. Y. Hartwick is situated on Otego Creek, just north of Mt. Vision. Rumors of Smith having once conducted money digging near Mt. Vision have not yet been confirmed by any documentary evidence.
Note 2: Elder Fry says: " the anti-Mormon writers... cannot explain how a man who was never in Pittsburgh until 1822, and never worked as a printer, could have stolen a manuscript in 1812 from a Pittsburgh printer by whom he was employed as a compositor." He may be technically correct in what he says, but this line of reasoning overlooks entirely the evidence of Rigdon having been in Pittsburgh before 1822. Since Rigdon lived within walking distance of Pittsburgh as a boy and as a young man, it seems unlikely that he never visited that place prior to 1822. Indeed, his own son, John Wycliffe Rigdon, says: "Sidney Rigdon went to study Theology under a Baptist minister by the name of Peters. In 1819 he obtained a license to preach & went to Pittsburgh & preached here a short time." Two Mormons who lived near Sidney Rigdon's boyhood home (and who later became members of his splinter group church) say: "in the winter of 1818 and '19 he went to Beaver Co., Pa., where he studied divinity with a Baptist preacher by the name of Clark, and was licensed to preach by the Conoquenessing Church (time not recollected) and went from there to Warren, Ohio, and was ordained a regular Baptist preacher, and returned to Pittsburgh in the winter of 1821 and '22, and took the care of the First Regular Baptist Church." If this latter statement can be trusted, Rigdon returned to Pittsburgh in 1821-22, having resided there at least briefly prior to that time. So, it seems that his "first advent" in Pittsburgh came nearer to 1819 than to 1822.
Note 3: Even the year 1819 is probably far too late a date for Sidney Rigdon's "first advent" in Pittsburgh. He seems to have walked into town as early as 1816, to pick up his mail at the little post office there. In fact, the mail clerk from those early days recalled his coming in to pick up his letters now and then. Although Sidney Rigdon may have not occupied a residence in Pittsburgh until mid-1819, he almost certainly frequented the place several years before that time. At some point in his early life Sidney Rigdon was trained in the tanning business and became a currier, that is, a tradesman who prepares fine leather such as the leather used in book-bindings. It is more likely that the young Rigdon's "connection" with the Patterson brothers of Pittsburgh came through his ties to their book bindery than with any of their printing work. On the other hand, Rigdon's early friendship with Robert Patterson's ward, Jonathan Harrison Lambdin, would have put Rigdon in a position where he might have legitimately been called upon (or himself offered) to make a clean copy of Spalding's manuscript for the press. As this work of Spalding's was never published, Rigdon could have later recovered the printer's copy of the Spalding manuscript from J. H. Lambdin when the latter was operating the business on this own and Rigdon was a Baptist preacher in Pittsburgh (c. 1823).
Note 4: Elder Fry says that the "Book of Mormon was in print at least eight months before Rigdon ever heard of it," but he gives no proof for this statement. On the contrary, Rigdon's most recent biographer said in 1994: "There can be little doubt that Rigdon... was aware of the book before it was placed in his hands." Besides that, several of Rigdon's pre-Mormon associates in Ohio heard of the "Golden Bible" story long before Rigdon's supposed conversion in Oct. 1830. Reportedly, among those several associates were Orson Hyde, Eliza R. Snow, Adamson Bentley, Walter Scott, Alexander Campbell, and Darwin Atwater. See the local newspaper for Rigdon's area (which now and then mentioned him by name), issue of Sept. 22, 1829 for one such early news report about Joseph Smith, Jr.
Note 5: Speaking of Rigdon's whereabouts in relation to Joseph Smith, jr. before the fall of 1830, Elder Fry says: "After June 1827, the longest interval of time left unaccounted for... is about two months and a half. By no stretch of the imagination could Rigdon have sneaked away from his home... made the slow and arduous journey to upper New York, written an eight hundred page book, and returned to his home in any such length of time." Fry does not say what might have been possible had Rigdon already made his editorial redactions of Spalding's writings before his taking such a journey to New York.