1977 Lester Bush article (excerpts)

Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, X:4

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Entire contents of this book, copyright © 1977 by
the Dialogue Foundation, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Because of copyright law restrictions, only limited
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[ 40 ]

              THEN AND NOW


But now a most singular & delicate subject presented itself for consideration. Seven young women we had on board, as passengers, to visit certain friends they had in Britain -- Three of them were ladies of rank, and the rest were healthy, bucksom Lasses -- Whilst deliberating on this subject a mariner arose whom we called droll Tom -- Hark, ye shipmates  says he, Whilst tossed on the foaming billows what brave son of neptune had any more regard for a woman than a sturgeon, but now we are all safely anchored on Terra firma -- our sails furled & ship keeled up, I have a huge longing for some of those rosy dames -- But willing to take my chance with my shipmates -- I propose that they should make their choise of husbands. The plan was instantly adopted. As the chois [sic] fell on the young women they held a consultation on the subject. & in a short time made known the result -- Droll Tom was rewarded for his benevolent proposal with one of the most sprightly rosy dames in the company. -- Three other of the most cheerful resolute mariners were chosen by the other three buxhum Lasses -- The three young Ladies fixed their choise on the Captain the mate & myself. The young Lady who chose me for a partner was possessed of every attractive charm both of body & mind -- We united heart & hand with the fairest prospect of enjoying every delight & satisfaction which are attendant on the connubial State. Thus ended the affair. You may well conceive our singular situation. The six poor fellows who were doomed to live in a state of Cebicy [sic] or accept of savage dames, discovered a little chagrin & anxiety -- However they consoled themselves with the idea of living in families where they could enjoy the company of the fair sex & be relieved from the work which belongs to the department of Women...
                                      Fabius, in "Manuscript Story"

Lester Bush is Associate Editor of Dialogue. He wishes to thank Stephen Stathis for assistance in the preparation of this article.


The Spalding Theory Then and Now / 41  

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife. And thus my father had fulfilled all the commandments of the Lord which had been given unto him. And also, I, Nephi, had been blessed of the Lord exceedingly. And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord spake unto my father by night, and commanded him that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness...

Nephi, in The Book of Mormon


Late in the summer of 1833 one Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, recently excommunicated from the Mormon church for "unchristianlike" conduct toward some of the sisters,1 learned of a manuscript written some twenty years before by the late Reverend Solomon Spalding which was similar to the Book of Mormon. His interest piqued, he set out to investigate this story, principally through interviews with former residents of Conneaut, Ohio, where Spalding once had lived.

Hurlbut obtained remarkably similar affidavits from the Reverend Spalding's brother John, John's wife Martha and six other former neighbors and friends,2 all of whom remembered that Spalding had written a "historical romance" about the "first settlers" of America. Entitled "Manuscript Found," this novel "endeavored to show" that the American Indians were descendants of the Jews, or the lost tribes. John and Martha recalled that it "gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of NEPHI and LEHI. They afterwards had

Because of copyright law restrictions,
only limited "fair use" excerpts are presented here.


The Spalding Theory Then and Now / 55  

outlined and wrote over 100 pages of the Manuscript Found. Yet there was not the slightest hint in his original affidavit that Spalding was revising an earlier work. Most other witnesses did not claim familiarity with Spalding's story until 1811, or early 1812, by which time the "earlier version" should long since have been abandoned. In fact, however, close examination of the Roman manuscript would have revealed even stronger evidence that it was not a discarded early version.  On the back side of page 135 of the 171 page manuscript was a portion of an unfinished letter from Spalding to his parents referring to correspondence dated January 1812 -- almost certainly penned prior to the narrative text on the other side of the same sheet. (The reverse order would make no sense; and in all other cases the Spalding story appears on both sides of the manuscript pages.) Spalding thus was still at work on his Roman story well after several of Hurlbut's witnesses claimed to have read or heard read Manuscript Found. Moreover, it appears that Spalding penned an additional 36 pages of text after January 1812, the probable year of his move to Pittsburg.71

Notwithstanding the limitations of Fairchild's analysis, the rediscovery of the Roman "manuscript story" marked a turning point in the history of the Spalding theory. A recent review of Ohio authors and their books went so far as to date the downfall of the Hurlbut-Howe thesis to 1884.72 To some early non-Mormon authors this assessment was partially correct. Theodore Schroeder, a staunch defender of the Spalding theory, noted in 1901 that "in the past fifteen years... all but two of the numerous writers upon the subject have asserted that the theory... must be abandoned."73 So far as the Mormons themselves were concerned, their opposition in 1900 was limited solely to "the densely ignorant or unscrupulously dishonest."74

In retrospect, however, this hopeful judgment was several decades premature. A few writers, such as Hubert Howe Bancroft, in his History of Utah (1890), took a noncommital approach to the debate. Others, such as I. Woodbridge Riley, Eduard Myer and Walter F. Prince, moved beyond what they termed inconclusive "external" evidence on the source of the Book of Mormon to newly considered "internal" evidences pointing to Joseph Smith as the author. 75  As late as 1917, however, Prince found only "a few scholars, mostly within the last 15 years" who supported his view. 76

In practice, the rediscovery of Spalding's story had very little impact on the established arguments, or the frequency or confidence with which they were advanced. Thomas Gregg's The Prophet of Palmyra (1890) offered, if anything, a less sophisticated discussion than had Eber D. Howe fifty-five years before; and the most popular turn-of-the-century work, William Linn's The Story of the Mormons (1902), included little more than a condensation of Patterson's Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? (1882).77 The Mormons as well relied on their long established counter-arguments. Both LDS and RLDS churches, to be sure, rushed out "verbatim and literatim" editions of Spalding's new found manuscript. And Orson Whitney, in his History of Utah (1890), quoted from it at great length, as did B. H. Roberts in New Witness for God (1909). Neither Whitney nor Roberts added much to the case presented just before the rediscovery of the manuscript in George Reynolds' The Myth of the "Manuscript Found" (1883). Reynolds, who presumably was responding to the interest stirred by Patterson and Dickinson, in turn added little to the arguments advanced many years before by John E. Page (1843) and Benjamin Winchester (1840).

71 The existence of this letter, which is not included in the published versions of the "Manuscript Story," was called to my attention by Dean Jessee. Fairchild, in his discussion in 1886, mentioned and dated the letter, but failed to note that it was written on the same sheet as a page of the narrative text. See Fairchild, op. cit., p. 194.

72 Ohio Authors and Their Books, William Coyle, ed. (Cleveland, 1962), p. 588.

73 Schroeder, op. cit., p. 1.

74 See Deseret News editorials of July 19, 1900, and May 14, 1901.

75 I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism, A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith, Jr. (New York, 1902); Eduard Myer (1912); Walter F. Prince, "Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon," American Journal of Psychology, July, 1917, pp. 373-389.

76 Prince, op. cit., p. 373.

77 Others appearing about this time, of the same quality: S. J. S. Davis, The Origin of the Book of Mormon (Louisville, 1899); Lu B. Cake, Peepstone Joe and the Peck Manuscript (New York, 1899); M. T. Lamb, The Mormons and Their Bible (Philadelphia, 1901); Henry C. Sheldon, A Fourfold Test of Mormonism (New York, 1914).

56 / Dialogue

On both sides of the debate, new testimonies had simply been piled onto old arguments.

The Twentieth Century

By 1900 Spalding advocates were left for the first time without the potential of new "living witnesses" to revitalize the otherwise shallow repetitions of their predecessors. Their efforts in the twentieth century, therefore, are little more than restatements of all that has gone before. The case is treated as both opened and resolved by Hurlbut's original affidavits. Sidney Rigdon remained the likely agent in the plagiarism, but the means by which the whole thing was accomplished was no clearer than when Howe first speculated on the subject.78

A few subtle changes are apparent in the twentieth century discussions. The most conspicuous of these was the addition of scholarly trappings such as Theodore Schroeder's copious footnotes. His profusely documented Salt Lake City ministerial tract, The Origin of the Book of Mormon (1901), was even serialized in the American Historical Magazine (1906). Although for the most part Schroeder's work is an uncritical compilation of all the previously collected evidence, there was one distinct difference. It was finally clear, asserted Schroeder, that the Manuscript Found never was in the Spalding trunk -- only an earlier version. No new evidence was introduced to support this departure from a near unanimous late nineteenth century consensus. Rather, the considerable evidence to the contrary was simply dismissed as less "satisfactory" than the claims of Patterson's unimpeachable witnesses.79 More recent Spalding supporters all have followed Schroeder's lead on this point.

The only genuine innovation in the Spalding argument to be found in the twentieth century sources -- before the past few months -- is contained in Charles Shook's otherwise undistinguished The True Origin of the Book of Mormon (1914). After studying Spalding's Roman "manuscript story," he concluded that it was considerably more than a source of confusion to those early but faded memories. To Shook there were unequivocal internal evidences that it was indeed an early version of the Manuscript Found, and thus the Book of Mormon. How else could one explain such anachronistic parallels as both Spalding and Smith writing of a "Great Spirit," horses, iron, and the revolution of the earth around the sun. In 1932 George Arbaugh added to Shook's list the similarity of Smith's "elephants, cureloms and cummons" to Spalding's "mammoons." Arbaugh could even imagine the transition: "mammouth, mammoon, cumon, curelon." As usual, however, no meaningful attempt was made to evaluate these parallels.80

The Spalding theory, if no longer undisputed, remained the dominant theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon well into the twentieth century. It was included in Stuart Martins' The Mystery of Mormonism (1920); Harry Beardsley's Joseph Smith and his Mormon Empire (1931); George Arbaugh's Revelation in Mormonism (1932); and Alice Felt Tyler's Freedom's Ferment (1944). But time was rapidly running out. The "new Mormon history" was about to make its debut, and with it the first serious historical scholarship on Mormonism. No longer were studies in Mormon history to be primarily uncritical adversarial presentations, but rather they were to be characterized by a dispassion which

78 This didn't really matter, for it was still held to be "more important to establish that a certain thing was done than to prove just how or when it was done," Linn, op. cit., p. 67.

79 Schroeder, op. cit., pp. 10-13.

80 Shook, op. cit., pp. 159-163; George B. Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism: Its Character and Changing Form (Chicago, 1932), p. 17. Some early Mormons believed the cunoms and cureloms to be mastedons (see Reynolds' Dictionary of the Book of Mormon, p. 109), but the association of mastedons with the ancient Indians was by no means unique to Spalding and Joseph Smith. Ludwell H. Johnson, III, recounts some of the early interest in this subject in his "Men and Elephants in America," Scientific Monthly 75:215-221 (October, 1952), including Thomas Jefferson's relevant discussion in Notes on Virginia (1801). -- Similarly both Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews (1823) and Boudinot's Star of the West (1816), as well as others, discuss the notion of a Great Spirit among the Indians, and the possible implications of this accepted view for a Hebrew origin for the American aborigines. While iron was not believed to be in common use, the noted Alexander De Humboldt, in his famous Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain (1811) asserted that iron was probably known to the pre-Colombian Mexicans, and spoke of a misplaced tradition held by some "men of learning" that they had made steel as well (3:112-115, in the John Black translation, London, 1811). Moreover, iron, presenting the appearance of being partially smelted-- in one case in the shape of a plate--had been discovered and widely reported in an Ohio Indian mound in 1819 (see P. De Roo, History of America Before Columbus, Philadelphia, 1900, 1:67). Shook clearly has credited Spalding with unjustified originality. -- On the issue of horses, however, both Spalding and the Book of Mormon took a distinctly minority view, even in the early nineteenth century. See Samuel Cole Williams, ed. Adair's History of the American Indians (1775) (Johnson City, Tenn., 1930), pp. 340-341, 451. Even in this instance there were apparently some dissenting views (see his footnote 176, p. 340). The astronomical allusion would also have been viewed as an anachronism, whether it was applied to Romans (as Spalding had done), Jews, or Indians (Ibid., pp. 21-23). Whether modern historians of science would view all these points similarly is too complex a question to be treated in a short note.


The Spalding Theory Then and Now / 57  

which for the first time would obscure the religious affiliation (Mormon or "non-Mormon") of the author. Such a setting was alien to the entire Hurlbut-Howe tradition of "scholarship."

In 1945, Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History was published, a book viewed by most Mormon scholars as transitional between the old "anti-Mormon" school of Mormon history and the new Mormon history, and acclaimed in academic circles as the best biography yet published on the life of Joseph Smith. A 14-page "Appendix B" was devoted to "The Spaulding-Rigdon Theory," -- the first in-depth assessment of the Hurlbut-Howe thesis by a modern historian.81 Finding the pro-Spalding case to be "heaped together without regard to chronology ... and without any consideration of the character of Joseph Smith or Sidney Rigdon," Brodie proceeded to examine directly some of the facts on which the theory was built. Hurlbut's affidavits she judged to be "clearly... written by Hurlbut, since the style is the same throughout..." The statements collected in the 1870'S and 1880'S were Ňall from citizens who vaguely remembered Spaulding or Rigdon some fifty, sixty, or seventy years earlier. All are suspect because they corroborate only the details of the first handful of documents collected by Hurlbut and frequently use the same language. Some are outright perjury." Her conclusion, after reviewing the accumulated evidence and what was known of Rigdon's pre-1830 activities, was that it was "most likely" that there had been "only one Spaulding manuscript." Furthermore "if the evidence pointing to the existence of a second Spaulding manuscript is dubious, the affidavits trying to prove that Rigdon stole it, or copied it, are all unconvincing and frequently preposterous." Even this "tenuous chain of evidence" broke altogether when it tried to "prove Rigdon met Joseph Smith before 1830."

Brodie's lead was followed not long thereafter by a number of distinguished scholars, notably Whitney Cross in The Burned- Over District (1950), and Thomas F. O'Dea in The Mormons (1957). Since 1945 serious students of Mormonism have treated the Spalding theory as little more than a historical curiosity. Until recently, most non-historians had forgotten about it altogether. The theory, however, did not disappear entirely. A well-preserved edition continued to be promulgated by the small remnant of a once distinguished school of Mormon pseudo-history. While generally unfamiliar to most students of Mormonism, such works as James Bales' The Book of Mormon? (1958) and Walter Martin's The Maze of Mormonism (1962), continue to retrace the ingenuous path of innumerable intermediary works back to the hard evidence of such early scholars as Patterson, Dickinson, Hurlbut and Storrs.


Just when it seemed that the Reverend Spalding might be forever buried in obscure academic footnotes or among the equally remote vestiges of the anti-Mormon publishing industry, a whole new Spalding debate has suddenly been proclaimed. "Based on the evidence of three handwriting experts," reported the Los Angeles Times news service of June 25, 1977, "researchers have declared that portions of the Book of Mormon were written by a Congregationalist minister..."


Figure 1. Composite of Selected sections from ms. pg. 132.

Transcriber's Comments
Lester Bush's 1977 Spalding Article

Notes on Oberlin Spalding manuscript's page 132:

1. Figure 1. shows three small sections from the Oberlin Spalding manuscript's page 132, composited into a single picture. These sections are parts of a larger, undated, unsigned text which appear to be a draft letter. The body of the draft letter contains no information regarding the identity of its writer or where the letter was written.

2. In 1977 Lester Bush read a date written within the body of the letter as being January 1812. He also said that this particular text was written "on the back side of page 135." He also said that this text was "a portion of an unfinished letter from Spalding to his parents." Bush is in error in at least two of these three statements. As already stated, the text in question is written on page 132, which is the reverse side of page 131, not of page 135. The handwriting does not match that of any known sample of Spalding's penmanship. It is very likely the writing of some other person. Finally, the date written within that exotic draft letter is not clear. The final digit in the date may possibly be a "3" rather than a "2." The likely date is 1812, but it may be 1813.

3. The Oblerlin manuscript is obviously not the very first draft of Spalding's "Roman" story. The Oblerlin manuscript contains discarded and crossed-out portions of the text (out of the chronological reading order of the story's events). The manuscript also contains sections of carefully written "calm handwriting" containing occasional examples of dittography. This kind of writing is more consistent with the efforts of a copyist rather than an author who is writing a first draft.

4. For all of the above textual reasons it is quite possible that the extant copy of Spalding's "Roman" story was not written at Conneaut, Ohio in 1812. As all accounts place Spalding in Pittsburgh by 1813, it is possible that the unfinished Oberlin Spalding manuscript was a re-worked version of his original story, previously strarted in Conneaut, Ohio in 1811-1812.

5. Also, one external consideration should be added to the information so far provided. According to the genealogical data on page 159 of Charles W. Spalding's 1897 Spalding Memorial, Solomon's father Josiah died on Dec. 18, 1809, at Ashford, Connecticut, and there is no record of his widow re-marrying. Solomon Spalding did not have biological "parents" as late as 1812.

6. Spalding's "Roman" story is written on long sheets of paper (almost the size of foolscap, but not quite) which he folded in half and gathered into small folio signatures. Page 132 is the last page of one such of these signatures. Pages 133-134 and 143-144 are missing from the preserved manuscript. These four pages would have formed the front and back of one signature in the manuscript -- the signature which followed the completed by page 132. In other words, page 132 was the final page of one signature and the missing page 133 was the first sheet of the next signature in Spalding's story.

Since the exterior sheet of that "next signature" in the story was detached from the manuscript and lost, page 132 was very likely an unprotected final page in a stack of signatures that were, for a time, separated from the remainder of the manuscript. Being the final page of the final signature in a stack of signatures, page 132 would have provided a blank, stray piece of paper for someone to scribble upon. In fact, page 132 contains just such scribbling -- a bunch of arithmetic calculations and pen marks.

The draft letter may have been written either before or after page 132 was incorporated by Spalding into his manuscript. However, since the angle of the handwriting for the draft letter is 90 degrees out of sync with Spalding's handwriting throughout his story, the draft letter was most likely written at the top of one of the long sheets before it was folded in half to form part of one of Spalding's signatufres. The possible ways in which the draft letter came to be in the Oberlin Spalding manuscript are manifold, but the uncertain date on the draft letter cannot be taken as a positive indication that Spalding had only written his "Roman" story to this point (page 132) in his manuscript by January (June?) 1812 (1813?) as Lester Bush speculates in his article.

7. To summarize: Lester Bush was wrong in some or all of his statements regarding this section of the Spalding manuscript. Neither the location of the draft letter within the manuscript nor the uncertain date contained within its text are sufficient evidence to conclude (as Bush has) that "Spalding thus was still at work on his Roman story well after several of Hurlbut's witnesses claimed to have read or heard read Manuscript Found." It is possible that Spalding had done some previous fictional writing even before he moved his family to Ohio in 1809. He may have continued to write various stories all through his stay in Ohio, and he may have done the same after he relocated to Pennsylvania near the end of 1812. Bush's statement saying "it appears that Spalding penned an additional 36 pages of text after 1812" is speculation. The additional pages he speaks of may have been written early in 1812, late in 1812, or even in 1813, after Spalding's move to Pennsylvania.

Dale R. Broadhurst Feb. 14, 1999 -- updated Feb. 27, 2002

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