Mormon Classics   |   Spalding Library   |   Bookshelf   |   Newspapers   |   History Vault

Sidney Rigdon,
The Real Founder of Mormonism

William H. Whitsitt

THE  DISCIPLE  PERIOD: Oct. 11, 1823 -- Nov. 8, 1830
(Section III, pp. 205-248)

Contents  |  Book   I  |  Book  II  |  Book  III:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  |  Book  IV  |  Book V


go back to: page 204z

[ 205 ]



Chapter I.
Sidney's Editorial Handicraft.

Before the present investigation shall be brought to a close it will be suggested that Mr. Rigdon had occasion to make two separate redactions of the Book of Mormon, the first of these being performed at Pittsburgh and Bainbridge from January 1823 to the autumn of 1826, and the second in or near Harmony Township, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1829. In this chapter a general outline of the work he undertook and accomplished will be supplied, without distinct reference to these two separate redactions, which elsewhere will be treated in their proper place and order. Where citations occur, let it be had in mind that the edition of the Book of Mormon that is referred to is the one designated as the "second electrotype edition" which has received a "division into chapters and verses, with references, by Orson Pratt, Sen.," and was published at Liverpool in 1881.

There is no special reason to suspect that Mr. Rigdon made any change in the first portion of the title as he found it on Spaulding's manuscript. It reads as follows: "The Book of Mormon: an Account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the Plates of Nephi." It was a device of Mr. Spaulding's literary invention to represent Mormon, the last prophet of the Nephite people, who passed away about the year 400 of the present era (Mormon 8:1-6) as having composed an abridgment of the history

[ 206 ]

of his nation from the moment when as a mere handful they quitted Jerusalem in the first year (of the reign of) Zedeklah king of Judah, until their final extinction about a thousand years later. The whole of the Book of Mormon was given out by Spaulding to be nothing other than an abridgment of the material contained in certain ancient records that had been transmitted to the hands of this Mormon, the latest prophet. That abridgment is plainly mentioned at the "Words of Mormon" 1:3. At the 5th verse of the same chapter it is also denominated the "record" of Mormon.

Not very far from the close of the abridgment of Mormon, that worthy allows himself to speak of his work in the terms following:

"And it became expedient that I, according to the will of God, that the prayers of those who have gone hence, who were the holy ones, should be fulfilled according to their faith, should make a record of these things which have been done: yea, a small record of that which hath taken place from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, even down until the present time; therefore I do make my record from the accounts which have been given by those who were before me, until the commencement of my day: and then I do make a record of the things which I have seen with my own eyes" (3 Nephi 5:14-17).

The above record or abridgment embraced, in Spaulding's copy, all of the material that was given from the opening page of the volume down to the closing word of the 4th Book of Nephi. At that point, having reached his own

[ 207 ]

age, the prophet Mormon continued the record by composing in his own name as an eyewitness of the events that were at the moment transpiring, a small book which he designated as the Book of Mormon.

It is possible that Mr. Spaulding did not feel much concern to explain these details of his scheme to his simple minded neighbors at Conneaut; it was sufficient for their purposes that the work should be styled the "Manuscript Found"; they would have no particular curiosity to look narrowly into the plan according to which their friend was constructing it. But when Rigdon came upon it in January 1823, it probably bore upon its title page nothing but the name Book of Mormon, and Sidney never heard of the title "Manuscript Found" until ten years later in a conference with D.P. Hurlbut at Kirtland that information was conveyed to his ears. When Mrs. Spaulding (Davison), therefore, in 1839 charged that Rigdon had recast the Mormon Bible from a volume entitled the "Manuscript Found" he was able to make a reply that looks something like a denial; he had enjoyed no acquaintance with the work under that name; it had come into his hands as the Book of Mormon, and not as the "Manuscript Found."

As it left the hand of Spaulding in Pittsburgh the Book of Mormon was just what its title page declares and nothing different, namely "An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon." This account is further affirmed by the title-page to have been written "upon Plates." These "Plates of Mormon" have a history of their own. The prophet himself

[ 208 ]

reports: "And behold I do make the record on plates which I have made with mine own hands" (3 Nephi 5:11). The process by which these plates were manufactured is suggested by a remark that falls from Moroni, the son of Mormon, who added a few words to his father's history after the death of Mormon. He declares: "Behold my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof. And behold, I would write it also, if I had room upon the plates; but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone" (Mormon 8:5).

The title page further asserts that in addition to the account being written upon (?) Plates it was also "taken from the Plates of Nephi." This signifies that the historical material embraced in the plates of Mormon was compiled from the records that had been inscribed by his predecessors upon the "Plates of Nephi." Mormon himself reports: "Therefore I have made my record of these things according to the record of Nephi, which was engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi" (3 Nephi 5:10). The phrase "Plates of Nephi" was a technical term whose signification requires to be explained. When Nephi the son of Lehi came forth from Jerusalem in the first year of (the reign of) Zedekiah he commenced to keep the annals of his people by means of engravings upon certain plates which he had made with his own hands (1 Nephi 1:17). No matter who might write on these plates in the generations after the death of Nephi or into whose hands they were delivered for preservation they were always known as the "Plates of Nephi"(Alma 37:2,44:24

[ 209 ]

3 Nephi 5:10, Mormon 2:18, 6:6). The title page of the Book of Mormon, therefore, indicates that it is an account written by the hand of the prophet upon plates that he had constructed with his own hands, and that the historical material included in the abridgment which he composed was "taken from the Plates of Nephi." In a word, it is clear from the title page that there was nothing else in the entire Book of Mormon as it left the hand of Mr. Spaulding but the account written by the hand of Mormon.

[ 210 ]

But in the form under which Mr. Rigdon turned the volume over to Smith there was something else besides an account written by the hand of Mormon: in fact the account written by the hand of Mormon is not reached until the reader comes to page 158 of Orson Pratt's edition. The entire hundred and fifty seven pages at the beginning of the volume are occupied by the contents of certain "small plates" of which it is important to give a brief history.

The books included in the "small plates" are First and Second Nephi, the Book of Jacob, of Enos, Jarom and Omni, six in all. After the prophet Nephi had been engaged for some length of time in the labor of engraving his records upon the "Plates of Nephi" he is represented to have obtained a command from the Lord to make certain other plates to be kept separate from the "Plates of Nephi" (2 Nephi 5:30; compare 1 Nephi 19:2). This second lot of plates is first called the "small plates" at Jacob 1:1; but further on that designation becomes usual (Jarom 1:2 & 14). It is distinctly recognized that they were made by the hand of Nephi (Jacob 3:14). At the close of the Book of Omni these small plates are said to be full (Omni 1:30): they extend no farther than the verse just now cited. They were then delivered into the charge of King Benjamin (Omni 1:25) and [were] transmitted from hand to hand until in the fourth century after Christ they were discovered by the prophet Mormon in the course of a search among the archives of his people (W.M. 1:3)

[ 211 ]

Although Mormon had already completed and engraved an abridgment made by himself of the events that had transpired as far as the reign of this King Benjamin, he was so much pleased with the contents of these "small plates" that he laid aside this section of his abridgment, which was never heard of any more. He says: "Wherefore I choose these things (small plates) to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi" (W.M. 1:5), just as he had previously dons in the case of that portion of his abridgment which was now rejected (W.M, l:3). By means of this kind Mr. Rigdon's Book of Mormon comes to contain these "small plates" of Nephi in the place of the first portion of the account or abridgment by the hand of Mormon. The title page however, was not altered by Mr. Rigdon so as to take account of his alteration of Spaulding's plan. It should read thus: "The Small Plates of Nephi and the Book of Mormon, an Account Written by the Hand of Mormon" &c., in order to fit the contents as Sidney disposed them.

What motive was in operation to induce Mormon to reject so much of his own abridgment in favor of these small plates of Nephi? It was done for the reason that these small plates "pleased him, because of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ" (W.M. 1:4). Nephi himself several times alludes to the nature of the contents of these "small plate." The history of his people, "their wars and contentions and destruction" were enjoined to be engraved upon the large plates, which Nephi had made before receiving any command concerning the

[ 212 ]

small ones; on these latter, however, the "more sacred things" were to be kept for the knowledge of his people (1 Nephi 19:4-5). In the Book of Jacob is mentioned a provision that "if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them on these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ's sake, and for the sake of our people" (Jacob 1:4). Accordingly Nephi refers to the circumstance that "a more history part are written upon mine other plates" (2 Nephi 4:14) meaning the large plates of Nephi. This purpose is likewise fully exhibited in 1 Nephi chapter 6 and chapter 9.

It is now in order to discuss the real origin of the so-called "small plates" and to suggest the reason why Sidney did not accept Spaulding's abridgment of Mormon in the first as well as in the latter portion of his labors. When he first took up the volume of Mr. Spaulding, finding it was entirely as well as voluminously devoted to the external history of the Nephites and Lamanites, it is likely be conceived that in order to render it suitable for the chiefly religious purpose he had in mind it would be

[ 213 ]

indispensable that he should rewrite the whole of it, leaving out the "more history part" and only appropriating the thread of the narrative together with such points of detail as might commend themselves to his judgment. This was an excellent conceit, and if it had been retained to the end it is possible that the Book of Mormon would never have attained one half its present tiresome proportions.

Sidney however, was a lazy scamp from his cradle up; but for that defect it is more than possible he would have been the successor of Joseph at the death of the prophet in 1844. When he had proceeded in his task as far as the close of the Book of Omni his industry failed him; it was always short of breath; the process of rewriting would be too burdensome and he resolved to content himself with an easier method. Consequently he returned to the text of Spaulding, only inserting here and there larger or shorter religious harangues set down on separate sheets of paper for the purpose of imparting a religious character to the story.

Mr. Spaulding is believed to have written the "Words of Mormon" in the character of a preface to his copy of the Book of Mormon,
wherein after the fashion of the "introduction" to the Honolulu manuscript the nature of the work and its claims were duly set forth. Inasmuch however as Sidney had rewritten the earlier section of Spaulding's history under the character of the "small plates" of Nephi,

[ 214 ]

it would not be appropriate in his redaction to insert this preface until he came to the point where he introduced Mormon's abridgment. Accordingly the "Words of Mormon" were transferred from their rightful place at the opening of the book, to a position in front of the Book of Mosiah, where the prophet Mormon is first allowed to be heard from, It is hardly necessary also to suggest that these "Words of Mormon" must have been altered by Sidney to suit the altered plan which he had conceived and employed, and the altered place they occupied.

That part of Spaulding's work which Mr. Rigdon laid aside and replaced by these "small plates" of his own construction was not immediately thrown away; he preserved it for future use. It was customary to speak of it as the "words which are sealed" (2 Nephi 27:10), and when he brought the plates from the hill of Cumorah, Mr. Smith professed to have found a portion of them "sealed up"; yet the assurance was given that "the day cometh when the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the housetops (3 Nephi 27:11). But before a convenient time arrived to send these sealed words forth Mr. Howe appeared with his pesky volume entitled "Mormonism Unvailed," which contained the testimony of eight witnesses from Conneaut who might be too uncomfortably familiar with these sealed words if they should be given to the public. The project was therefore surrendered incontinently, and the seals which bound that part of Spaulding's lucubrations have never been loosed: the so-called "sealed plates" were likely committed to the flames.

[ 215 ]

It has already been signified: that the "small plates", or that section of Spaulding's volume that was entirely rewritten by Mr. Rigdon, comprise the following six books: 1st & 2nd Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni. Turning away from these to consider the abridgment of Mormon, or that portion of Spaulding's work which Mr. Rigdon permitted to stand without any important alteration, except the insertion of such religious matter as was adapted for his purpose, it will be perceived that this Book of Mormon in the proper sense of the word term, embraces seven portions, namely, The Words of Mormon, and the Books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3rd & 4th Nephi, and the Book of Mormon. It will be remembered that the "small plates" embrace the space of 157 pages, or the first section of Orson Pratt's edition: the abridgment of Mormon, or the Book of Mormon proper, embraces 413 pages, and closes at page 570 of Mr. Pratt's edition. In this portion of the volume the hand of the editor was duly active, but chiefly in the way of interminable and wearisome interpolations. That remark applies particularly to the Book of Alma.

Immediately following the Book of Mormon appears the Book of Ether, which has already been mentioned as the second literary venture of Mr. Spaulding, composed perhaps just after the production of the recently discovered Honolulu manuscript, and just before the production of the Book of Mormon. Proof that it was in existence before the Book of Mormon may be gained from the

[ 216 ]

circumstance that it is several times mentioned in the Book of Mormon. In the original language which, however is not mentioned by name, the Book of Ether was written on 24 plates of gold. An account of the discovery of these plates of gold may be read at Mosiah 8:7-10. They were discovered by the servants of a certain king Limhi, who had been sent forth upon a tour of investigation for the purpose of finding out the land of Zarahemla, which was the fatherland of the people of Limhi. Unsuccessful in this exertion, the servants of Limhi "traveled in a land among many waters; having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men and of beasts, &c., and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind" (Mosiah, 8:8). This land was subsequently designated by the Nephite people as the "Land of Desolation", a title derived from the fact that the people who first inhabited it were became extinct. It was situated just north of the Isthmus of Darien; the people of Limhi who discovered the 24 plates had passed through or around the land of Zarahemla, which lay to the south of the Isthmus, in search of it, and had penetrated the extreme southern district of the north American continent.

None of the subjects of king Limhi were able to interpret the characters that were recorded upon the gold plates (Mos. 8:11). Very solicitous to became acquainted with their contents Limhi applied to a certain Ammon for light, and was by him referred to king Mosiah (Mosiah 8:14). A briefer notice of these same transactions is also given at

[ 217 ]

Mos. 21:25-28. Another passage likewise in the Book of Mosiah supplies a notice of the skill of king Mosiah in the task of interpretation, and of the "interpreters" which he employed for the purpose. It is said that he "translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow" (Mosiah 28:13).

The substance of the contents of the plates of gold as translated by king Mosiah is given as follows: "Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold it gave an account of a people who were destroyed; from the time that they were destroyed back to the building or the great tower, at which time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea even from that time until the creation of Adam." (Mosiah 28:17).

Further distinct mention of the plates of gold may be found at Alma 37:21. These somewhat minute descriptions of the Book of Ether indicate pretty certainly that this book was in existence before the completion of the Book of Mormon. It is possible that Mr. Spaulding during the period when he was engaged upon the Book of Mormon, might have quitted that work long enough to produce the Book of Ether, but the most likely conclusion seems to be that he had completed it before the Book of Mormon was commenced.

When Mr. Rigdon came to the task of editing the Book of Ether he forgot certain things that had been said concerning that

[ 218 ]

performance in the Book of Mosiah, which clearly represented that it was translated from a language unknown to any of the Nephites, by the inspired skill of king Mosiah. No attention was given to this inspired translation, the Book of Ether in its opening sentences makes the following statements: "And now I Moroni, precede to give an account of those ancient inhabitants who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country. And I take mine account from the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the Book of Ether." (Ether 1:1-2). In other words Moroni went directly to the original on the plates of gold and entirely neglected the translation which had been made by king Mosiah. In its existing form the Book of Ether is an abridgment of the work as Spaulding left it behind him; much of the original material is left out, especially that portion of it in which Spaulding sets forth his notion regarding the "creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time" (Ether l:3).

Further, it is not clear that Moroni the son of Mormon had any right to undertake an abridgment of the Book of Ether. His father declares that he had "hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which have been entrusted to him, by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates, which I gave unto my son Moroni" (Mormon 6:6). By this

[ 219 ]

it would appear that Moroni had no access to the 24 plates nor to the abridgment of Mormon, nor to any other portion of the collection of plates that were retained in the archives of the Nephite people. His only stock in trade was a few blank plates which his father had committed to his care for the purpose of supplying upon them an engraved record of the events that might fall out between the death of Mormon and the death of Moroni. The latter so understood his task, and declares: "Behold, Moroni, do finish the record of my father Mormon. Behold I have but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father" (Mormon 8:1). It was a lapse of memory on the part of Mr. Rigdon to give Moroni access to the golden plates after they had been hidden by his father in the hill where Joseph Smith subsequently claimed to have found them undisturbed.

But Moroni did not possess a sufficient amount of blank plates upon which to engrave the abridgment which be supplies of the Book of Ether. The fewness of the plates has already been mentioned; only enough of them apparently were committed to the hand of Moroni to enable him to complete the last two chapters of the Book of Mormon, namely Mormon chapters 8 & 9. Moroni himself complains there of the contracted space: "And behold I would write it also, if I had room upon the plates; but I have not and ore I have none, for I am alone; my father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go"

[ 219a ]

(Mormon 8:5). His plates, it seems were barely sufficient to permit him to complete the Book of Mormon that had been left unfinished by his father, and it is difficult to comprehend the means by which he was enabled to find other plates upon which to record his abridgment of the Book or Ether.

This objection likewise holds good against the Book of Moroni which stands after the Book of Ether at the close of the volume; in case Moroni was not in possession of a sufficient number of blank plates to add more than two chapters to the writings of his father; where did he obtain sufficient number of these to compose not only an abridgment of the Book of Ether, but in addition the Book of Moroni also? This latter book bears every evidence of being the exclusive production of Mr. Rigdon. It comprises a sort of recapitulation of the special doctrines and of the and of the church order for the behoof of which Sidney Rigdon had embarked upon the enterprise he had in hand. It was not an ill device in the art of bookmaking to collect as he here has done, all his leading ideas in the form of a great tract placed at the close of the volume; where it would be likely to arrest the attention of readers, who are very prone to search in such a place for the conclusion of the whole matter. The historical feature

[ 219b ]

is almost ignored in this portion of the performance: it is devoted to such topics as the credenda and the agenda which the editor of Mr. Spaulding's manuscript was solicitous should prevail, among the Disciples to whose communion he then belonged, and among all men. These notions were the result of the influence which Mr. Campbell had exerted upon Rigdon and of the literalizing bent and instructions he had derived from that source.

They had been diligently elaborated in his quiet Patmos wither he seems to have withdrawn for the purpose of "studying the Bible." These ideas and the whole Book of Mormon constitute Mr. Rigdon's reply to the interrogatory which a certain "diligent student of the Bible" had caused to be inserted into the issue of the Christian Baptist for August 1824, as follows: "The order of the first churches, when supernatural gifts were abundant, being discovered; what if any example, will it form to us who live in these last days, when supernatural gifts have ceased?" Mr. Rigdon always meant what he promised when he spoke of returning to the "Ancient Order of Things."


go back to: page 204z

[ 220 ]

Chapter II.
Several Points of Detail.

Although a great variety of artifices have been employed by the editor of the Book of Mormon to cover up his tracks and to cast a mist about the method of his procedure, it is believed that the leading facts of the business have been successfully divined and set forth in the preceding chapter. It has there been signified that the Book of Mormon, as it came from the hand of Mr. Spaulding consisted of two sections; namely the so-called abridgment of Mormon (Words of Mormon 1,3,5), and the Book of Ether. In Mr. Rigdon's redaction of Spaulding's work, however, there are four several parts, The first of these comprises the "small plates", which it has been suggested was that portion of the performance which Rigdon entirely recast and rewrote, though keeping in view all the way the outline of Spaulding's historical narrative. It extends to the close of the Book of Omni.

The second part embraces that portion of the abridgment of Mormon which Rigdon, for reasons that were satisfactory to himself, neglected to rewrite. Here he was content to inject interpolations of greater or less extent. This part extends to the close of the Book of Mormon on page 570 of the edition of Mr. Orson Pratt.

The third section of Rigdon's Book of Mormon is occupied by

[ 221 ]

the Book of Ether, in which Spading had set forth his notions respecting the earliest origin of the Indians of North America as distinguished from the Nephites, who first settled in South America.

It is likely as before suggested, that the Book of Ether was the second effort which Mr. Spaulding made in the enterprise of setting forth the origin of our Indian tribes and antiquities. The first effort has been already mentioned in the case of the 28 rolls of parchment upon which he claimed to have found recorded in the Latin tongue an account of the fortunes of a party of Romans who were reported to have been driven by shipwreck to this continent (Howe, p.288). Several of the Witnesses whom Mr. Howe consulted regarding this translation from the Latin were aware of its existence, but they claim that Spaulding "told them that he had altered his first plan of writing, by going farther back with dates." The Book of Ether would appear to have been the first result of this change of plan. As has been suggested above, the fact that Ether's narrative was labeled to have been engraved on plates of gold instead of rolls of parchment, and that the plates are of nearly the same number as the parchments, may be explained by reference to the close connection of the two undertakings in the order of time and invention.

At this point, however, a difficulty may be found in the apparent ignorance of Spaulding's neighbors at Conneaut touching the Book of Ether. If it had been produced at an early period of his literary career, why should these neighbors, who

[ 222 ]

appear to have lived on an intimate footing with him, produce no hint of its existence? Whatever theory may be assumed to meet this objection, it is clear from the Book of Mormon itself that Ether's work was in existence before that performance was half completed. The Book of Mosiah mentions it and prepares the way for its insertion into the production of Spaulding. In Mosiah 8:9 information is given of the discovery of the Book of Ether, and in Mosiah 28:17 the account of its successful translation into the language of the Nephites may be read.

The fourth division of Rigdon's redaction of the Book of Mormon is the Book of Moroni, a production which, as has been previously intimated, owes its origin entirely to the hand of the editor. It may not be amiss to compare this circumstance with the fact that Joseph Smith, in relating at a subsequent period the first appearance of the angel to him on the night of the 21st of September 1823, declares that this heavenly visitor affirmed that his name was Moroni (Pearl of Great Price p.62). The selection of this name for his angel would be not unnatural on the supposition that he had obtained assurance that Mr. Rigdon was the same as the prophet Moroni who composed the closing portion of the Book of Mormon. Smith was very fond of indirections of this nature.

It is an occasion for surprise that among the different parties who

[ 223 ]

were given out to be progenitors of the American Indians no prominent place was assigned to the "Ten Lost Tribes of Israel." If Rigdon had been the original author of the work it is very possible that they would have held the position of honor. A feat of that kind would have been about the level of his tastes and resources. However the "Lost Tribes" were not wholly passed by: they were often and tenderly remembered, but beyond certain hints towards the "north countries" (Ether 13:11) and the "isles of the sea" (2 Nephi 22:4), no assertion was ventured regarding the place of their present habitation. In these "north countries" they were subsequently represented as being surrounded by mountains of rocks and ice which prevented their egress to join in "the gathering" of Israel. (D&C, Sec. 188:26). A competent authority, Mr. Ezra Booth (in Howe's Mormonism Unvailed, p.186), declares that the Mormons have discovered that the above mentioned "north countries" are contiguous to the North Pole. In the citation just now given from the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, Joseph Smith consoles his followers with the promise that in due season these imprisoned tribes shall "smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence," after which release from confinement they will repair to his own Zion, where it is intimated they will be received with a degree of enthusiasm.

It is likely that the suggestion of the Egyptian dialect in which the plates of Nephi are fabled to have been composed was derived

[ 224 ]

from Mr. Spaulding. It first occurs in 1 Nephi 1:2 and is repeated in Mosiah 1:4. It was certainly an awkward thing to represent a community of Jews who had emigrated from the city of Jerusalem as speaking and writing in the Egyptian language; but it might easily be foreseen that Mr. Spaulding would by some means be called upon to give proofs of his ability to make translations from the Hebrew, in case he had asserted that the plates of Nephi had been originally composed in the Hebrew speech. It would not be difficult to evade any ordinary hazards on this score if he named the language of the Egyptians. No wandering Rabbi or other scholar who was likely to visit Conneaut could be expected to be an expert in Egyptology.

When, however, Martin Harris went to the city of New York for the purpose of laying before the savants of the town such transcripts from the original plates as Joseph Smith had placed in his keeping for their inspection (2 Nephi 27:15-18), it is conceivable that Prof. Charles Anthon, after slightly viewing the specimens of hieroglyphic chirography may have hazarded the opinion that there were no Egyptian characters among those which were laid before him. Reflections upon this or a similar casualty would appear to have borne the fruit that might have been anticipated. In Mormon 9:32 another barrier was prudently erected against possible embarrassment. At this place it is said: "And now behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge in characters which are called among us

[ 225 ]

the Reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us according to our manner of speech." Certainly here would be found ample protection against scholars of any faculty whatever. Henceforth the phrase "Reformed Egyptian" became prevalent in the ranks of Mr. Rigdon's adherents.

But in order that no slightest loophole might remain at which danger should find entrance, it was added in Mormon 9:34: "But the Lord knoweth that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof. It would be futile for any philologist to attempt the task of deciphering the contents of the plates on which the Book of Mormon was said to have been originally transcribed. This labor could only be achieved by means of the "interpreters" which had been divinely prepared and preserved.

In the month of July 1835 a wandering showman arrived at Kirtland with a collection of Egyptian mummies and several papyri which contained specimens of the genuine Egyptian language. Coming into possession of these, Joseph proceeded to interpret them. His success was highly satisfactory to his followers, but unhappily the original document was entrusted to the care of M. Jules Remy, who placed it before a French scholar, M. Theodule Deveria, who occupied a place on the staff of the Museum of the Louvre. The results to which M. Deveria attained were in every point different from those to which his inspiration

[ 226 ]

had directed the 'translator" of the Mormon communion. (A Journey to Great Salt Lake City, by Remy & Brenchley, London, 1861, vol. II pp.536-544). It was a cool and almost cruel thing for M. Remy in this way to expose the ignorance and knavery of a prophet to whom, if appearances may be trusted, the Mormons in Salt Lake City had the liveliest sort of expectation they should in due time welcome him as a convert. More earnest anticipations were seldom more painfully disappointed (Remy & Brenchley, vol, I:213).

[ 227 ]

The design which Rigdon had in view of altering the opinions and the practices of his brethren of the Disciples communion in such a way as that they should "speak where the Scriptures speak, and be silent where they are silent" sat very near to his heart. If he could but procure the adoption by Mr. Campbell of the "Ancient Order of Things" touching the gift of speaking in unknown tongues, of working miracles, of communicating with angels, the gift of inspiration and revelation, as well as in those few minor points upon which his friend and admired leader already insisted, his cup of satisfaction would be quite filled up. Such a result would have been ample compensation for all the struggles and the anxieties he had endured in the weary months when he was wrestling with the manuscript of Mr. Spaulding. Then indeed, he would feel that himself and the Disciples in whose interests he was toiling would have a reasonable

[ 228 ]

foundation for the boast so often heard among them, that after an apostasy of 14 centuries or longer, primitive Christianity had been "restored" by themselves. In the existing conditions of the case Rigdon honestly believed that the work of "restoring Christianity" was only half done, and that it was even better not to make a start than to leave off where Mr. Campbell had left off.

Nevertheless, there was one single point in which Mr. Rigdon felt that it would be out of the question for him to "speak where the Scriptures speak." His literalism went very far, but polygamy was an extreme to which he was unwilling to follow it. In the Old Testament -- which must be allowed to be a part of the Scriptures in accordance with which he proposed to "speak" -- it was beyond any controversy clear that David and other valued saints had a plurality of wives. Therefore, but in plump contradiction of his own cherished principle, Mr. Rigdon at this point decided to enter a caveat. Accordingly in the Book of Jacob 2:24-28, may be read the accompanying revelations:

'Behold David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me,' saith the Lord. 'Wherefore,' saith the Lord, 'I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore I the Lord will not suffer that this people shall do like them of old.'

[ 229 ]

Wherefore, my brethren, hear me and hearken to the word of the Lord: for there shall not be any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none. 'For I the Lord delighteth in the chastity of women, and whoredoms are an abomination before me;' thus saith the Lord.

This precaution against the dangers of his own tendency was well meant enough; but it was unavailing. The poor man had been caught in the strongest current of literalism; it was impossible to prevent that it should sooner or later carry him sheer over the precipice. It might be in the power of Mr. Campbell, who had not gone to the lengths of Rigdon, to recover himself and retrace his steps. In the later years of his life he was the president of a missionary society, which he had been in person largely concerned in organizing; and he lived to see missionaries whom he himself aided to sustain laboring in foreign lands, although in his earlier period he had opposed nothing with so much determination as these same societies and the work they were performing. Likewise in his later time he was a member of the American Bible Union, despite the fact that he had persistently denounced Bible Societies and condemned them as lacking all authority of direct scriptural precept or of approved scriptural precedent. After the year 1840 Mr. Campbell also forgot his former opposition to Sunday Schools, and his

[ 230 ]

people began to fall into line with the balance of the Christian world that way. It is believed that no evidence is on record to show that Mr. Campbell threw his influence against this movement, though it was in a direction entirely contrary to that which less than a score of years before he had been traveling. Several other particulars might be noted whence the founder of the American Sandemanians appears to have learned a lesson from the logic and loyalty with which Rigdon applied and supported the literalizing dictum: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak, where they are silent, we are silent." and to have changed (front) in favor of expediency in adaptation to the ever- changing fortune and character of Society. (Mill. Harb., 1849, p.272).

But while it was possible for Campbell in some sort to escape the calamity to which his literalistic principles tended, it was quite out of his power to rescue Mr. Rigdon, or to do anything to repair the injury he had unwittingly wrought upon that unfortunate but most devoted and consistent of his followers. Indeed if his biographer is to be credited, Mr. Campbell himself lived long enough to depart from the said course he pursued in his early prime, and upon occasion to contend once again for principles and practices almost as rigid and ridiculous as those which ruined the influence of the powerful John Walker and made him a laughing stock in Ireland, Scotland and England (Richardson, vol. I p.454).


[ 231 ]

Chapter III,
John the Baptist.

The circumstance that Smith designed Rigdon by the name of the angel Moroni, who was given out to have appeared to him in a visit on the night of the 21st of September 1823, has been adverted to in the previous chapter. Other names were likewise applied to Rigdon. For example, with express reference to the relations of Moses and Aaron, he is denominated the "spokesman" of Joseph. At 2 Nephi 3:17-18 occurs the following language:

And the Lord hath said, I will raise up a Moses (Joseph Smith); and I will give power unto him in a rod; and I will give judgment unto him in writing. Yet I will not loose his tongue, that he shall speak much; for I will not make him mighty in speaking, but I will write unto him my law, by the finger of mine own hand; and I will make a spokesman for him.

And the Lord said unto me also, I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins, and I will make for him a spokesman. And I, behold, I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins unto the fruit of thy loins; and the spokesman of thy loins shall declare it.

This was a secondary and subordinate position to be occupied by the originator of the entire movement; so great was the skill and vigor of Joseph that Sidney could not even at this early stage avoid being sometimes placed

[ 232 ]

at a disadvantage. In fact, in 2 Nephi 33:1 Rigdon unwittingly let (stand) an expression which appears to condone the degradation which his co-laborer in the above instance had inflicted upon him. He there declares "And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost, the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men." Sidney was uncommonly vain of his eloquence, and the infliction was not keenly felt that Smith should assume a rank above him, provided he should be allowed the privilege of displaying his gift in oratory as often as he desired.

In the progress of one of his revelations (D&C 100:9-11) his chief once more reminded him of this particular relation, and there is no record of any open protest on the part of Mr. Rigdon.

But the name by which Rigdon was most commonly and openly designated was that of "John the Baptist." In the first revelation directed to him Smith declares: "Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy work. I have heard thy prayers, and prepared thee for a greater work. Thou art to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knewest it not." (D&C 35:3-4).

[ 232a ]

For a right comprehension of the meaning of this utterance it is important to consider the extravagant opinion regarding his consequence in the councils of the Disciples, with which Sidney had succeeded in inspiring the mind of Mr. Smith. In composing a brief biography of Rigdon a few years after the time to which reference is now given, Joseph employs the following language: "From this same society (Baptists) shortly afterwards separated Alexander Campbell who subsequently became distinguished as the founder of the 'Campbellites', or 'Disciples'; but it is proper to here state that Mr. Rigdon was his earnest co-adjutor in the inception of that work, and quite as much as Mr. Campbell, was its founder" (Tullidge, p.102).

Both Mr. Rigdon and Mr. Smith looked upon the Disciples as the harbingers of the Mormons; the Disciples represented in their minds a condition of twilight, while the Mormons were such an improvement upon their predecessors as to be regarded as ushering in a state of meridian sunlight. With reference to his agency in founding the sect of the Disciples, Joseph above remarks to Sidney, that in the period of his earliest labors towards that end he was unconscious, "he knew not" -- the great business the Lord was employing himself and Mr. Campbell to perform. They were doing nothing less than to "prepare the way before Mr. Smith, and before Elijah which should come," and who actually did come at the dedication of the "House of the Lord" in Kirtland (D&C 110:13).

[ 233 ]

But even for several years after Sidney came to know that he was a forerunner of another order of things, and his connection with Joseph had been securely established, it is likely that he had no right conception regarding the extraordinary genius he was dealing with. It was never at that time in Sidney's thoughts that Mr. Smith should set up for himself, become a prophet and get the start of the man who had discovered him. The original purpose in his mind appears to have gone no further than to increase the numbers, efficiency and consistency of the Disciples; he was unfeignedly loyal and enthusiastically devoted to them, and wished nothing else than that he might be the means of inducing them to draw nearer to the "ancient order of primitive Christianity" in such points as the gift of tongues, inspiration, working miracles, and in a few other respects.

It is not impossible that the small sum derived from the sale of his share of the paternal estate had been absorbed by the necessary charges of living, and by his long and numerous journeys before Sidney closed his residence at Bainbridge. Hence the prospect of a regular salary at Mentor would be very agreeable to his feelings, since by that means it would be in his power to provide an honest living for his family, which by this time was increased by the addition of two other daughters, namely Sarah, who

[ 234 ]

was born on the fifth of October 1824, and Eliza on the 30th of July 1826. His removal to Mentor was considered in the light of a desirable acquisition to the cause of the Disciples. In speaking of the event Hayden says: "Sidney Rigdon was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities. In person he was full medium height, rotund in form; of countenance while speaking, open and winning, with a little cast of melancholy. His action was graceful, his language copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical. He was just the man for an awakening" (History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve, pp. 191-2).

Mr. Howe who was well acquainted with him affirms that "he was a very popular preacher, and had large congregations in different parts of the country. If there was a man in the world that could successfully spread and give a name to the vagaries of the Smiths, it was Rigdon" (Mormonism Unvailed, p.100). In the number of the proclaimers of the "ancient gospel and the ancient order," none was found more industrious or more efficient. A testimonial of his fair standing comes also from the pen of Thomas Campbell himself, who had appeared upon the ground (in Ohio) at an early moment to resist as much as he could the strong tide of the Mormon movement. On the 4th of February 1831, a short season after Rigdon had formally signified his adhesion to the

[ 235 ]

[cause] of Smith, Mr. Campbell addressed him a letter in which he describes him as "one whom for many years I have considered not only as a courteous and benevolent friend, but as a beloved brother and fellow-laborer in the gospel" (Hayden, p.217).

Darwin Atwater, writing under date of April 26, 1876, after the lapse of more than forty years and in full view of all the destruction that had been wrought by the hand of Mr. Rigdon, is yet candid enough to affirm as follows concerning him: "Sidney Rigdon preached for us (at Mantua), and notwithstanding his extravagantly wild freaks, he was held in high repute by many" (Hayden, p.239). These extravagant proceedings on the part of Rigdon were, possibly, entirely in order and seldom the topic of criticism, as long as he was a member of the Disciple community. In brief words, the praise of Rigdon was in all the churches of his sect.

Besides preaching at Mentor, Rigdon was called in January 1827 to serve the church at Mantua, whose members resided in the townships of Hiram, Nelson and Mantua, in Portage county (Hayden, p.237-8). In August 1827 he attended the Mahoning Association, according to his custom for many years (Hayden, p.57). In the following October he was one of the ordaining council who laid holy hands upon the subsequently distinguished Marcus Bosworth at Bracevill (Hayden, p.137). The foundations of the Shalersville (Disciple) church were established by Thomas Campbell and himself in the month of May 1828 (Hayden, pp. l55-6, cf. p. 334).


The "ancient gospel" had been first officially announced by Walter Scott at New Lisbon Ohio, on the 18th of November 1827. Nearly two full months too late to accomplish its insertion in the pages of the Book of Mormon, which had been delivered into the hands of Joseph Smith on the 22nd of the preceding September. In the due course of events Rigdon gets on the track of this boasted improvement. Hayden says, (p.192):

In the month of March 1828 he visited Scott in Warren. He had been with him on former occasions, and had adopted fully his method of preaching Christ, and of calling awakened sinners and penitent believers to an immediate obedience of faith for the remission of sins. The missing link between Christ and convicted sinners seemed now happily supplied by the restoration of the way of bringing converts into the knowledge of pardon, which was established by Christ himself in the commission. Rigdon was transported with the discovery. Turning away from Warren he went directly back to his home in Mentor, and with the aid of his good brother-in-law, Adamson Bentley, who had accompanied him thither, was successful in converting his native church to the beauties of the "ancient gospel.

The series of meetings in which this fact was performed were no sooner concluded than the twain made a movement upon Kirtland, a name of disastrous memory. Here was no church at all, but the fields were ripe for the harvest.

[ 237 ]

At the first baptizing here, twenty souls were lifted into the kingdom. Others followed, and soon the numbers were so increased that a separate organization became a necessity -- so mightily prevailed the word of the Lord" (Hayden, p.194).

The church at Kirtland being established under his own labors was far more accessible to the influence and to the advanced notions of Rigdon than was the church at Mentor. It supplied by a very natural course of events the nucleus and the rallying point of his future operations. No other church in that region, except the church at Hiram -- Mantua -- Nelson, which he had also assisted to establish, gave him so much support in the coming years.

When the Mahoning Association was convened at Warren in the last days of August 1823, Mr. Rigdon was recognized as one of its shining heroes. Hayden gives him a place among the honored seniors, along with such names as Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander, Adamson Bentley and Walter Scott (p.163). Though the last named worthy had been denouncing throughout the previous year in many portions of the Western Reserve the "hireling clergy" of the other denominations (Debate Between Campbell and Obediah Jennings, p.252), he was himself during that entire period the "hireling" of the Mahoning Association, and the body was now engaged in the transaction of "hiring" him a second time. Probably out of disgust against this palpable contradiction between the principles of the Disciples, who steadily proposed to

[ 238 ]

"speak where the Scriptures speak", but who could find no authority in a "Thus saith the Lord" for just the special kind of bargain they at the moment were haggling over, Mr. Rigdon stood forth in the midst and declared "You are consuming too much time on this question. One of the old Jerusalem preachers would start out with his hunting shirt and moccasins, and convert half the world while you are discussing and settling plans" (Hayden, p.174).

This was a timely lesson to his brethren, who were never really disposed to come any nearer to the "ancient order" than might suit their convenience, notwithstanding the fact that they have never been weary of asserting that no other people in the world except themselves observed the primitive model. It is not difficult to divine from the remark which has been cited just above that under the power of the occasion Rigdon was the very person to lead off another movement which should observe the "ancient order of things" in fact as well as in fancy.

When Mr. Rigdon in this fashion had recalled the Association to a view of his principles and of its pretensions also, Mr. Scott immediately abated his claims and brought the business to a conclusion by remarking: "Brethren, give me my Bible, my head, and Bro. William Hayden, and we will go out and convert the world." This was no mean triumph of Rigdon's in behalf of literalism and of a simple honesty. It was not in all ways seemly that the gentleman who made it his first care to

[ 239 ]

proclaim against the "hireling clergy" should be himself one of the party. Hayden adds the statement that Rigdon rejoined, "I move that we give Bro. Scott his Bible, his head and Bro. William Hayden"; and the bargain was promptly and unanimously settled on this basis (Hayden, p.174).

During the progress of the next year Rigdon labored with almost as much diligence as Scott or any other "proclaimer" in advancing the interests of the Disciples. The foundations of the church at Waite Hill in the vicinity of Willoughby were laid by his hands at this time (Hayden, p.204). Likewise "the church of Christ in Perry was organized by S. Rigdon, August 7th, 1829" (Hayden, p.346). In the Autumn of that year he established the church at Euclid (Hayden, p.409). The church at Birmingham in Erie county (Hayden, p.465k); Elyria in Loraine county (Hayden, p.467); and the church at Hamden in Geauga county, were each originated through his labors in the year 1829. It was no idle boast on his part when halting at Warren in September 1830 he remarked to a brother whom he encountered there: "I have done as much in this reformation as Campbell or Scott." He was looking only on the dark side of things when to the above he added: "and yet they get all the honor of it" (Hayden, p.299). In point of fact it would appear that Rigdon was by his sect esteemed among the foremost. There was not a breath of suspicion or of reproach against him in any quarter. Upon this point the testimony of Hayden is express and self-sufficient:

[ 240 ]

Whatever may be justly said of him after he had surrendered himself a victim and a leader of the Mormon delusion, it would scarcely be just to deny sincerity and candor to him, previous to the time when his bright star became permanently eclipsed under that dark cloud" (Hayden, p.192).

But wherever this "John the Baptist" went on his enthusiastic errands he kept in mind the fact that the gift of inspiration, of miracles, of speaking with tongues and several other points were included in the "ancient order of things" and that these were of equal or superior consequence to the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, and other peculiarities of the sect to which he adhered. The Disciples of the Western Reserve and elsewhere were at the moment highly excited on the topic of the millennial reign of Christ on earth. A monument of this fact may be seen in the title "Millennial Harbinger" which Mr. Campbell gave to the monthly journal which in the year 1830 he began to send forth. During the larger portion of his public life Walter Scott was not may removes from insanity on this (Hayden, p.188-190). In the year 1843, when Mr. Miller came forward with his vagaries, it was considered for a season that Mr. Scott was lost to the Disciples sect: his accession to the ranks of the Second Adventists was in some quarters believed to be definitive (Baxter, Life of Walter Scott, p.394). In his interpretations of prophecy Scott would seem to have been, as was natural in the case of a Sandemanian, a slavish literalist.

[ 241 ]

This millennial craze did the Disciples much injury, especially in the circumstance that it prepared the minds of numbers of their communicants to give a favorable reception to Joseph Smith, and to think with more regard than was becoming upon the literal "gathering" of the faithful to Zion, an idea with which the Book of Mormon, and all other Mormon literature is crowded to repletion. Hayden says concerning this subject that "Rigdon, who always caught and proclaimed the last word that fell from the lips of Scott or Campbell, seized these views and with the wildness of his extravagant nature, heralded them everywhere (p.186). But from the extensive place occupied by the topic in the Book of Mormon as edited by Rigdon, we are bound to conclude that he was inoculated with this unhappy madness at the time when himself and Scott were fellow elders of the Sandemanian church in Pittsburgh. The fact that the latter was already at this early period infected with a millennial malady may be concluded from the circumstance that upon his removal to Steubenville he had made all his preparations to issue the "Millennial Herald," when he was unexpectedly called away to serve the Mahoning Association as their missionary (Rich., II:173).

This kind of strict literalism in the case of the prophecies, and in adherence to the details of Apostolic example was naturally a welcome theme for Rigdon in his discourses (Rich., II:345-6). His heart's delight moreover, was fixed upon the church at Kirtland; apparently the Disciples of that band were obedient to his slightest

[ 242 ]

wish, and exhibited in many regards a kind of model of his ideas respecting the organization and the life of a Christian church. The date is uncertain, but it was possibly during the year 1828 that he concluded to restore the "ancient order" in the matter of a community of goods. The Kirtland church were ready to try the experiment under his direction. Mr. Isaac Morley, who figures many years later in the capacity of a "Patriarch" in Salt Lake City (Burton, City of the Saints, N.Y. 1862, p.303 & 307) became the head of the family, which was composed of seventeen persons (Hayden, p.211).

It is believed that everywhere he went Rigdon was swift to defend and to commend this venture an the part of his brethren at Kirtland. When the Mahoning Association convened at Austintown in August 1830, he went before the assembly on the Saturday of its session with a formal address to show that it was not merely the privilege but also the duty of Disciples to observe the "ancient order" in that particular. The situation of affairs was evidently serious. In a new religious community, where the formative state was not get completed, one of the foremost teachers had allowed himself to advocate the custom of common life and property as apostolical; and in one of the most flourishing churches of the fraternity it was already introduced to supply an example and a temptation for all the other churches. Campbell, who was present, perceived the peril which threatened himself and his cause. Rising up promptly in the

[ 243 ]

midst of the company, he resisted with decision the propositions of Rigdon, and strove to show that community of goods was not a feature of the Christian life of the first church that was established at Jerusalem. Rigdon was not contented; a debate ensued in which Campbell conceived to secure the applause of the multitude, whether by just arguments or by the artifices of rhetoric, in which he was a far more practiced adept than his opponent chanced to be. Rigdon turned away crestfallen but not convinced, and never came again to visit the public assemblies of his brethren. Clearly he had lost heart respecting them. There was in his judgment no possibility that they could be induced to fulfill the boasts and promises they were constantly making to the effect that (they) themselves alone wore willing to walk after the model of the primitive Christian period (Hayden, pp. 298-9). The idol of "expediency" was filling their communion with "man-made" inventions, while he was above all things solicitous to avoid the customs of the "popular parties" and to stand close by the plain letter of the divine Scriptures.

It was not until this rude rebuff was obtained (of) the hands of Mr. Campbell that Rigdon seems in any way to have lost confidence in the feasibility of his prospect to influence that gentleman, and in his company the entire sect of the Disciples, to embrace the special views which had been so carefully elaborated in the redaction of the

[ 244 ]

Book of Mormon to which he had given three or more years of earnest study and labor. Prior to this possibly much deplored breach he had omitted no kind of exertion to prepare the minds of his brethren for the advent of that work. Besides the fact which Mr. Howe relates that he was industriously "preaching some new points of doctrine which were afterwards found to be inculcated in the Mormon Bible" (Howe, p.289). Rigdon took occasion, perhaps with frequency, to refer to that work itself in his private interviews with the more hopeful or the more prominent ministers of his party. One of these was Darwin Atwater, later a patriarch of the Disciples church at Mantua. Rigdon approached Atwater upon this business already before he had entrusted his performance to the keeping and exertions of Joseph Smith. The arrangement by which the eloquent orator of the Disciples became the stated preacher of the congregation at Hiram -- Mantua -- Nelson, bears the date of January 27, 1827 (Hayden, pp.237-8). While the angel did not present the work to Smith until the 22nd of the following September, Mr. Atwater testifies:

"That he knew before of the coming of the Book of Mormon is to me certain, from what he said the first of his visits to my father's some years before" (About the close of January 1827) "He gave a wonderful description of the mounds and other antiquities found in some parts of America, and said they must have been made by the aborigines. He said there was a book to be published containing an account of those things.

[ 245 ]

He spoke of these in his eloquent, enthusiastic style as being a thing most extraordinary. Though a youth then, I took him to task for expending so much enthusiasm on such a subject, instead of things of the gospel. In all my intercourse with him afterward, he never spoke of antiquities, or of the wonderful book that should give account of them, till the Book of Mormon really was published. He must have thought I was not the man to reveal that to" (Hayden, pp. 239-240).

It is possible there were a number of persons on the Western Reserve whom Rigdon approached in this same way, only the records of the transaction have not been so distinctly transmitted. There is another instance, however, which occurred a few months later after the Book of Mormon was actually in the hands of Mr. Smith. This time he sought to tempt and gain over two no less distinguished personages than Adamson Bentley and Alexander Campbell. The narrative of that interview may be read in the Millennial Harbinger for 1844, p.39. At that place, in the course of a letter addressed to Elder Walter Scott, who had been Mr. Rigdon's fellow-elder in the care of the Sandemanian church in Pittsburgh, Mr. Bentley says:

"I know that Sidney Rigdon told me that there was a book coming out, the manuscript of which had been found engraved on gold plates, as much as two years before the Mormon Book made its appearance, or had been heard of by me."

Referring to the above Mr. Campbell adds:

[ 246 ]

"The conversation alluded to in Brother Bentley's letter of 1841 was in my presence as well as his, and my recollection of it led me, some two or three years ago, to interrogate Brother Bentley touching his recollections of it, which accorded with mine in every particular, except the year in which it occurred, he placing it in the summer of the year 1827, and I in the summer of 1826; Rigdon at the same time observing that in the plates dug up in New York there was an account not only of the aborigines of this country, but also stated that the Christian religion had been preached in this country during the first country, just as we were preaching it on the Western Reserve."

Here indeed was the highest game it was possible that he should spread his nets for. It must be allowed also that Sidney managed the affair exceedingly well. Not only did he excite the minds of these fair leaders in his sect by the story of a wonderful discovery, but he sought to conciliate their favorable regard by the very true statement that the Book of Mormon contained the substance of what the Disciples were at the moment holding forth as the word of life. It was a prominent feature in Mr. Rigdon's plan and exertion, as will be shown in its place further on, to inculcate in his Book of Mormon precisely the same tenets as those of Alexander Campbell, with the exception of the application of the literalizing principle of Campbell to a few matters which the latter had neglected.

[ 247 ]

Respecting the question of date as mooted in the above extract it is likely that both Mr. Campbell and Mr. Bentley were at fault. The conversation could not have been held with Rigdon in the year 1826, for the reason that the plates to which reference was made had not been "dug up" as early as 1826; this occurrence did not befall until the 22nd of September 1827. Furthermore the only time when Mr. Campbell and Mr. Bentley could have been both of them in the company of Rigdon during the year 1827, was perhaps at the session of the Mahoning Association, which was convened at New Lisbon, Columbiana county on the 23rd of August (Hayden, p.55). There is no account of the presence of Mr. Campbell on the Western Reserve after the adjournment of that organization during the remainder of the year 1827. His wife was at the moment declining with consumption; her death took place on the 22nd of October 1827. It is probable, therefore that he went immediately from the Association to watch at her bedside.

But the plates were not "dug up" until nearly a full month had elapsed after the close of the session of the Mahoning; unless he had been speaking proleptically it would have been impossible for Mr. Rigdon to have referred to that event as having already transpired in August 1827. It is therefore almost certain that the conversation

[ 248 ]

was held at the convocation of the Association at Warren, Trumbull county, Ohio, in August 1828. Then the plates had been duly recovered, and it would be entirely natural for Mr. Rigdon to mention them in his communings with his friends.

With this conclusion agrees the original statement by Mr. Bentley, in which he speaks of Rigdon as communicating the information about the forthcoming Book of Mormon as much as two years before it made its appearance or had been heard of by him.

continue reading on: p. 249

Return to top of the page

Return to: Beginning of the Book   |   More about:  William H. Whitsitt
Return to: Sidney Rigdon Home Page   |   Rigdon's History   |   Mormon Classics E-Texts

last revised Feb. 21, 2006