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Sidney Rigdon,
The Real Founder of Mormonism

William H. Whitsitt

BIRTH  AND  BREEDING: Feb. 19, 1793 -- May 31, 1817
(Chapters 1 & 2, pp. 001-006)

Contents   |   Book   I   |   Book  II   |   Book  III   |   Book  IV   |   Book V


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Chapter I.
Family of Rigdon.

It is conjectured that the family of Sidney Rigdon, the distinguished founder of Mormonism, were of Scotch-Irish extraction. No record has been recovered with reference to the date of their immigration to this country. They are first encountered in the state of Maryland (Messenger & Advocate 2:334) [from whence] they removed to the vicinity of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A collection of notices which Mr. Rigdon kept with commendable care in a Family Bible, that is now in the possession of his daughter Mrs. Phoebe Dorcas Spear of Friendship, Alleghanay county, New York, would seem to demonstrate that the stock was quite prolific.

William Rigdon, the father of Sidney, was born in the year 1743 and lived until the 26th of May 1810. William Rigdon had brothers, one of whom, a wealthy [bachelor] lived [after] in Maryland, and perhaps sisters also. Thomas, John and Charles Rigdon who were cousins of Sidney's were his contemporaries during his career in the state of Ohio, the first named of the trio having attained to the dignity of a seat in the Legislature (Hayden, History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Cincinnati, 1876, p. 92).

Nancy Rigdon, the mother of Sidney, was born on Friday the 16th of March, 1759, and survived until her 81st year, having passed away on Saturday the 5th of October 1839.


Sidney himself had a number of brothers and sisters, among whom may be mentioned Loammi and Carvill Rigdon and the wife of Peter Boyer, Esq. of Library, Allegheny county. Penn. (Patterson, Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?, Philada. 1882, p. 9 and p. 13). Carvill Rigdon became a Mormon Elder (Mess. & Advocate, 1:76).

It is likely that the Rigdon family was of Baptist connection and proclivities. The wealthy bachelor wrote of Sidney's [cousin?], who resided in Maryland, was of that persuasion. The home of William Rigdon in Saint Clair township, Allegheny county, Penn., was in close proximity to Peter's Creek Church, a flourishing and well known [congregation?] of Baptist disciples (Patterson, p. 9 and p. 13). Thomas, John and Charles Rigdon, the cousins of Sidney mentioned above, were, all three of them, Baptist preachers down to a certain period in their lives when they became converts to the doctrines of the Disciples (or Campbellites) (Hayden, as above, p. 92). It may be conjectured that William Rigdon, the father of Sidney, was a member of the church at Peter's Creek. In an article subscribed "Titus" (Christian Baptist 6:93), which with some degree of probability may be attributed to Sidney, he speaks of himself as "the son of a Baptist."

Regarding their worldly circumstances, it is probable that the Rigdons of Western Pennsylvania were in plain, but according to the rude standard of the place and time, satisfactory circumstances. It was a frontier community and they must have enjoyed such comforts and privileges as were customary among their neighbors.



William Rigdon was possessed of a portion of landed estate, with which to endow his children. Sidney had a farm which he is believed to have inherited from father, and is represented as having sold on the 28th of June, 1823 to one James Means (Patterson, p. 9).

Chapter II.
Birth and Boyhood.

Sidney Rigdon was born on the 19th of February, 1793. It is not unreasonable to surmise that in a later age when it became customary to apply more than Christian name, he would have called himself Algernon Sidney Rigdon. At any rate this is the name he gave to his son -- the first of four boys -- who was born to him on the 4th of July 1828. On the other hand Mr. Joseph Smith, it is not known by what authority, puts down his full name as: Sidney S. Rigdon (Tullidge, Life of Joseph Smith [ ------ ] ). The place of his birth was the homestead of his father in Saint Clair township, Allegheny county, Penn. (Memorial of Rigdon to the Legislature of Pennsylvania, as found in The Mormons, or Latter Day Saints, Edited by Charles Mackay, 4th ed., London 1856, p. 106). The present village of Library has since grown up near the spot, which lies about 15 miles south of the city of Pittsburgh (Patterson, p. 8. and p. 13).

His chief occuption in boyhood was laboring on the farm of his father. The opportunities of such a youth for obtaining an education in that region must have been in many ways mean and meagre. Sidney is said to have received all that he had in that at


a log school house that was not far from his home (Pat. p. 9). This perhaps signifies that he attended school in the winter season when it was not necessary to employ his services in the fields.

When he was still quite a boy it is reported by his brother Loammi that he received a fall from a horse, by which means, his foot becoming entangled in the stirrup, he was dragged some distance. That accident is suggested by his brother to have produced such a contusion if the brain as ever afterwards to have affected his character, and to a certain extent his conduct (Patterson, p. 13). But in all probability this supposition is without foundation.

It could only be put forward by a person who was at a loss to comprehend the man and to explain his career. There does not appear to have been the slightest symptom of mental derangement about Mr. Rigdon. He was of a highly excitable, nervous constitution of body and mind, now and then given to fits of hysteria muscularis, but in all his actions, so far as they have been made known by history, were rational and very consistant with the purpose he had before him. Besides it is more than possible that a blow which inflicted the amount of injury that has been suggested would have inpaired his general health and shortened his life. This, however, was not the case. He survived to extreme age, dying on the 14th day of July 1876 in his 84th year. (On his tombstone at Friendship, N. Y. the date of his decease is given as the 14th of June 1876 -- a mistake of one month).


The only fact in his early history of which a distinct date has been preserved is the death of his father; an event which occurred as already stated on the 26th of May, 1810, when Sidney was in his 18th year of age. It is not likely that this bereavement occasioned any important change in his circumstances or his prospects. He continued to reside on the farm along with his mother and the balance of the household (Patterson, p. 9); -- where it does not appear that he was fortunate enough to impress upon his associates a favorable view of his worth and promise. One of these, Isaac King, affirms that his farming was rewarded with indifferent success. The general verdict ran that "he was too lazy or too proud to make a good farmer." (Pat. p. 9).

There is no kind of probability in the story (Pat. p. 10), that Mr. Rigdon was a resident of Pittsburgh as early as the year 1816. It rests entirely upon a confusion of memory and is contradicted by the testimony of his intimate acquaintences and relatives (Pat. p. 9). So far as the present state of inquiry extends we must leave nearly blank the period between 1810 and 1817. The whole of it was likely passed on the farm in Saint Clair township, where his mother, it is believed, holding the landed estate until the youngest child should come of age, kept the family together; and Sidney led there a sufficiently thriftless and uncouth existence. When his 24th year dawned upon them there is every sort of


occasion to conclude that it found him in vigorous health and a decidedly unkempt condition of body and mind. Few occurances were more unlikely than that this representative of a remote and unfavored district would ever be able to secure for himself a name, whether famous or infamous in the history of his country and of the world. In the month of May 1817, however, he reached a turning point in the course of his career. On the 31st of that month an event took place which introduced an epoch in his life.

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