Wayne Cowdrey, et al.
The Spalding Enigma:
Who Really Wrote The Book of Mormon?
Los Angeles, 2000; (limited release - review copy)
Chapter 4 excerpts
Chapter 8 excerpts
Chapter 10 excerpts
Chapter 11 excerpts
WHO REALLY WROTE THE BOOK OF MORMON?
THE SPALDING ENIGMA
4. "THE LETTER"
"Sidney Rigdon never was at Pittsburgh or any other place at the same time as Mr. Spaulding's manuscript was there and therefore he could not have seen or read it...."
Having set forth the basic facts of the Spalding Enigma, it now becomes clear that the issue turns upon whether evidence supporting a Rigdon-Smith conspiracy will be of sufficient strength and credibility to overcome the inevitable question of reasonable doubt.
Before proceeding however, it is necessary to examine the background and early life of the man who is rapidly emerging as one of this mystery's chief villains. The Reverend Mr. Sidney Rigdon was born near the present town of Library, St. Clair Township, Allegheny County, PA, on 19 February 1793 and received a rudimentary education at a small country school not far from his home. 1 During this time, Sidney "was never known to play with the boys; reading books was the greatest pleasure he could get." 2 Possessed of an excellent memory, it was said that he could recall "everything he read and in this way laid up a fund of Knowledge that was of great value to him in later years." 3 Even Sidney himself admitted that he had "an insatiable thirst for reading," 4 with his particular passions being history, literature, and the Bible.
Unfortunately, Sidney's parents refused to send him on to school as he desired, choosing instead to send his younger brother, Loammi, to a medical school in Kentucky. This denial is said to have incensed young Sidney, who, in anger, told his parents that he would obtain "as good an education as his brother got and they could not prevent it." Thus it was that he "borrowed all the histories he could get and began to read them," often accomplishing this after his day's work by obtaining bark for kindling which he would at night throw "in the old fireplace and then lay with his face bend [sic] towards the fire and read... till near morning." 5
1 Sidney Rigdon's father, William Rigdon (b.1748, d.22 May 1810), owned 358 acres of land located north of Piney Fork creek and extending north and east of the present town of Library, PA, with the present junction of Library Road and Berryman Avenue representing the approximate location of the northeastern corner of this property. All of this is now in Snowden Township, the original St. Clair Township of the early 19th century having been subdivided prior to the Civil War. William Rigdon's brother, Thomas Baker Rigdon, Jr., lived on a 150-acre tract which shared a common boundary on the northeast with that of his brother (see n.#9). An 1817 land-ownership map of Allegheny County, PA, published by David Dougal and Jno E. Whiteside, is among the holdings of the Library of Congress.
2 Keller, Karl, ed., "'I Never Knew a Time When I did not Know Joseph Smith': A Son's Record of the Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Winter 1966) p. 20.
3 Keller, loc. cit.
4 Cowles, Austin W., "The Mormons: Pen and Pencil Sketches Illustrating their Early History," in Moore's Rural New Yorker, 23 January 1869. Rigdon continued to be so inclined all his life. For example, in a note written to Emma Smith in mid-September of 1842, he makes reference to receiving large numbers of newspapers which "were the property of [his] family." Also, he is described by one "Veritas" (truth) in a communication to James G. Bennett of the New York Herald (issue 19 Feb. 1842) as being, "a mighty man in Israel of varied learning, and extensive and laborious research. There is no divine in the west more deeply learned in biblical literature, and the history of the world, than he; an eloquent orator, chaste in his language, and conclusive in his reasoning...."
5 From a lecture written by John Wycliffe Rigdon as cited in the "Early History of the Mormon Church," typed copy on file at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
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"In this way he became a great historian, the best I ever saw. He seemed to have the history of the world on his tongue's end and he got to be a great biblical scholor [sic] as well. He was as familiar with the Bible as a child was with his spelling book." 6
So it was that on 31 May 1817, at age twenty-four, the "well informed young man" 7 was baptized into the Peter's Creek Baptist Church, the delay having been caused by the fact that church membership was confined to those who could personally witness to having experienced a miracle of grace. Although the Peter's Creek congregation accepted Rigdon's claim of conversion and voted to accept him into fellowship, it appears that their learned Welsh pastor, the Rev. David Philips, 8 harbored serious doubts about the event -- a matter which will be examined in greater detail later.
In any case, nearly two years later, probably in mid-February, 1819, he went to nearby Beaver County to study divinity under the Rev. Andrew Clark, minister of the Providence Regular Baptist Church of North Sewickley Township, to whom he had apparently been recommended by one of his cousins, either Thomas, John, or Charles Rigdon (all of whom were also Baptist clergymen active in the Beaver County area). 9 A little more than a month later, on 1 April 1819 (April Fools' Day) he was licensed to preach, 10 and on 4 August 1819 he received his letter of dismissal from Providence Church, thus ending his apprenticeship with Rev. Clark. 11 According to his son, John Wycliffe Rigdon, "After getting his license to preach, he went to Pittsburgh and preached a short time there and then went to the town of Warren, Trumbull County, in Ohio...." 12 Given the course of subsequent events, it seems reasonable to presume that while in Pittsburgh, Rigdon served under the Rev. Obadiah Newcomb, and later possibly for a short period under Newcomb's successor Rev. John (or Samuel?) Davis, both of whom were pastors of that city's First Baptist Church which was originally founded in 1812. 13
From all appearances, Rigdon must have arrived in the vicinity of Warren in the late winter of 1819-1820, most likely in February (1820), where he boarded briefly with the Rev. Adamson Bentley, a successful local merchant who, without benefit of a meetinghouse, had been ministering to the area's Baptists since 19 May 1810 and whose congregation (founded on 3 September 1803) was known as the Concord Baptist Church. 14 Shortly thereafter, on 4 March 1820, he presented his credentials to the Rev. Bentley's church and was accepted into fellowship. Four weeks later, on 1 April 1820 (April Fools' Day again), he was fully ordained as a Minister of the Gospel and there, on 12 June 1820, he was married (by Bentley himself) to Bentley's sister-in-law, Miss. Phoebe Brooks, the daughter of Jeremiah Brooks, a prominent and well-to-do local Baptist. 15 After the wedding, according to census records, the couple lived in nearby Brookfield Township before moving a few miles farther north to Hartford Township in the spring of 1821. 16 They were still living there when the couple's first child, Athalia, was born on 11 August. 17
6 ibid. A similar, but much later, account is given by Reuben P. Harmon: "He (Rigdon) is a man, I should judge, who acquired a classical education. I would regard him as a good English scholar, and, perhaps, as well versed in the Bible and history as any other man I ever heard speak: having read Grecian and Roman history, he frequently used descriptions from these authors. He was eloquent in language, and an excellent speaker, and carried his audience with him." See Braden, Clark and Kelley, E. L., Public Discussion of the Issues Between The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Church of Christ (Disciples) Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12, and Closing March 8, 1884 Between E.L. Kelley of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Clark Braden , of the Church of Christ, (St. Louis: Clark Braden, 1884), pg. 392.
7 Keller, loc. cit.
8 Rev. David Philips, also often spelled "Phillips," (26 Mar 1742 - 5 Mar 1829) is buried in Peter's Creek Cemetery, Allegheny Co., PA.
9 Although all of them were older than Sidney, they had grown up on their father's (Thomas Baker Rigdon, Jr., c.1746-1819) neighboring farm also in St. Clair (now Snowden) Township. Beaver County, Pa. tax records for 1819 list Rev. Andrew Clark as well as both John and Sidney Rigdon as county residents in March of that year. Clark is also listed for 1817. In the 1819 list, Sidney's name appears immediately below John's, indicating that the two probably lived together. John paid a tax of three cents on one horse valued at $30.00; Sidney was assessed the sum of five cents for "occupation" (which meant that he was living -- i.e. "occupying" -- as opposed to working, there). Clark, in 1817, was listed as having 50 acres of land valued at $150.00, two horses valued at $60.00 total, and two cows valued at $24.00 total, upon which he was assessed a tax of twenty-nine cents. In 1819, he was assessed a total of one-half cent for two horses valued at $35.00 total and three cows valued at $36.00 total. No land is listed. "Tax Records for Beaver County, Pa., 1802-1840; North Sewickley Twp.; Nathanial Pettit, Asessor," Copied and bound by the Research Committee of Beaver County Genealogical Society. In Research Center for Beaver Co. and Local History, Beaver Falls, Pa. According to "Providence Baptist Church History, North Sewickley Township: 1801-1976," (published by the church, pp.8-9), "Brother Clark was paid $100 yearly, one half in cash and one-half in grain, for giving one-half of his time as the church may direct." Thomas Rigdon preceded Andrew Clark as pastor of the Providence church, serving during 1813-1814. Thomas, John and Charles Rigdon, all Baptist clergymen, were sons of Sidney's uncle Thomas Baker Rigdon, Jr. also of St. Clair Township, and were thus Sidney's first cousins. Although Thomas Baker Rigdon, Jr. (b.1746) was only about two years older than Sidney's father William (b.1748), he had been married nearly twenty years earlier than his brother (Thomas c.1765; William c.1784), thus the reason for Sidney's being considerably younger than his three cousins. Some sources place Rigdon's move to North Sewickley Township in the latter part of 1818 -- see for example Rollman, Hans, "The Early Baptist Career of Sidney Rigdon in Warren, Ohio," Brigham Young University Studies 21 (winter 1981), pg.44.
10 "Licensed" ministers were permitted to sermonize, but were not allowed to administer sacraments or other ordinances.
11 Rollman, Hans, op. cit., pg.39.
12 Rigdon, John Wycliffe, (Karl Keller, ed.), "I Never Knew a Time When I Did Not Know Joseph Smith: A Son's Record of the Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, (Winter, 1966), pg.20. See also Rigdon, J.W., "Lecture Notes" (c.1890), pg.6; at Washington State Historical Society.
13 Stratton, Joel van Meter, History of the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh, Pa., (Pittsburgh: n.p., 1910), pg.8. Rev. Newcomb served as pastor from 1818-20, and Rev. Davis from 1820-22, when he (Davis) was succeeded by Rigdon himself-- see later in text. According to Rigdon's successor, Rev. Samuel Williams, Rev. Davis "drank liquor and sunk out of sight and died not long afterwards." See letter from S. Williams to Nathan E. Williams dated 16 Aug. 1886, in files of First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh. Obadiah Newcomb (1773- 4 Oct 1847) came from Nova Scotia to Pittsburgh in the fall of 1818. In the spring of 1822, he moved to Wadsworth, OH, and ultimately founded the Baptist church there in 1829. In 1830, he was among those present at the meeting of the Mahoning Association in Austintown when Rigdon broke with the Campbellites. He died at Wadsworth, leaving two daughters, Statira and Matilda.
14 Hayden, Amos Sutton, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio, (Cincinnati: Chase & Hall, 1875), pp.91-93. Both Bentley and David Philips (Sidney Rigdon's pastor at the Peter's Creek church) participated in the ordination of Sidney's cousin Thomas Rigdon on 27 October 1810. See "Beaver Baptist Association Minutes," (1811), pg.3.
15 All sources agree on the date of Rigdon's marriage, the official record of which can be found in Marriage Book #1, Trumbull County Probate Court, Warren, Ohio. There is however some dispute about the exact date of his ordination -- see for example Rollman, op. cit., pg.47. The date given here of 1 April is from van Wagoner, Richard S., Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1994), pp.17; 24,n.7.
16 In the Ohio Federal Census of 1820 taken in the fall of that year, he and Phoebe are listed as residents of Brookfield Township. Records of two marriages performed by Rigdon in Trumbull County on 4 May and 12 June 1821 (also found in Marriage Book #1) indicate he was then living in Hartford Township. (See also History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, Ohio, [Cleveland: H.Z. Williams, 1882], Vol.I, pg.271, which says "He resided in Hartford for some months, preaching a portion of the time in the 'old church' at the 'center.'") It should also be noted that according to Rigdon's own account, as published in Times & Seasons IV (1 May 1843), pg.177, he left Pennsylvania to live with Bentley in July, 1819. Given the facts, however, this would appear to be in error; although it remains possible that Rigdon first went to Warren in August 1819 to make arrangements with Bentley, then went to Pittsburgh to preach for a time before returning again to Bentley's early in 1820. In addition, there is some question as to the exact nature of the family relationship between Rigdon's wife and Bentley's wife. Although every historical account published to date states that the two were sisters, some doubt has been cast upon this by the recent discovery of a 17 December 1878 letter from A. G. Kent to James T. Cobb, wherein Kent (who had known both the Rigdons and the Bentleys in the 1820s) states that "Adamson Bentley married Rigdon's wife's sister's daughter. She was brought up by the family and was always called a sister." (See Appendix I for complete text.) Indeed, Rigdon himself alludes to this in a January, 1837, mud-slinging diatribe against Bentley and the Campbells published in the LDS Messenger & Advocate ("Persecution," M&A, Vol.III, No.4, pp.436ff.), wherein he says Bentley's wife "is an illegitimate child in the family, and of course her very existence is a disgrace to them." Adamson Bentley was among the original stockholders of the Western Reserve Bank of Warren, Ohio, founded during the winter of 1811-1812, and was a partner in the Bentley & Brooks' grist mill (located at nearby Bazetta Twp.) until that concern was traded to Samuel Bacon for 60 acres of land in 1816. See History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, Ohio (1885), Vol. I, pg. 253 and Vol. II, pg. 516.
17 (This according to Athalia herself in a statement given on 10 October 1900, as cited in van Wagoner, op. cit., pg. 36, n. 6.
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least until the following summer and perhaps somewhat longer. 102
Apparently the reports from Kentucky were good, because James' brother George, Sr., seems to have followed within a few years, taking most of his family along with him, and possibly Mary and her children as well. Only his two sons, George, Jr. (c. 1794-c. 1835) and Henry J. (c. 1795-1887) remained behind, farming a large plot of land located primarily in East Bethlehem Township a few miles east of Amity, but spilling over on its southern boundary into Morgan Township in Greene County, and on the east into Brownsville Township, Fayette County. 103
Thus it is not out of the question that Sidney Rigdon, through occasional visits to his cousins, was already familiar with Amity by the time Solomon Spalding moved there in the fall of 1814. Since Amity was such a small settlement, everyone who lived there could not help but have known everyone else, and since Spalding kept the local roadhouse and often tended counter at the local store, we are faced with the very real possibility that Rigdon may have actually become acquainted with Spalding while passing through town, perhaps stopping for food and refreshments or even occasionally spending the night. Furthermore, out of this previously unknown situation now comes an alternative explanation for Matilda Spalding Davison's strange recollection that "Sidney Rigdon... was at this time connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson... as Rigdon himself has frequently stated." The question here has always been how Mrs. Davison, as early as 1833 could possibly have known of Sidney Rigdon's very existence, not to mention his presumed connections with the Pattersons' printing establishment, or anything he might have said regarding those connections. Now the possibility emerges that her information could have come straight out of the horse's mouth, so to speak -- although whether at Pittsburgh while the Spaldings were still living there, or at Amity, remains an open question, as we shall see. 104
Yet another voice to be heard on this troublesome matter is that of Mrs. Rebecca J. Eichbaum, of Pittsburgh, who, upon solicitation of Robert Patterson, Jr., provided the following statement dated 18 September 1879. Although a very elderly lady at the time, Mr. Patterson described her as having "a memory marvelously tenacious of even the minutest incidents, with the vivacity of a maiden in her teens, with health, until recently, exceptionally good for one of her years, with a still keen enjoyment of the humorous, a clear mind, a kindly heart, and the Christian's hope of a better existence...." Also, "that one who could hear her relate incidents of her youth, and specify her reasons for fixing names and dates with unusual distinctness, would find it difficult to resist a conviction of the accuracy of her memory." According to Mrs. Eichbaum:
"My father, John Johnston, was postmaster at Pittsburg 105 for about eighteen years, from 1804 to 1822. My husband, William Eichbaum, succeeded him, and was postmaster for about eleven years, from 1822 to 1833. I was born August 25, 1792, and when I became old enough, I assisted my father in attending to the postoffice, and became familiar with his__________
102 Ziba Cook (also known as "Tiba" or "Tibba"), mentioned in the statements of Redick McKee (see Appendix I) and elsewhere, was one of Amity's pioneer residents, having "kept tavern from 1797 many years, and was appointed justice of the peace April 2, 1802" (see Rural Reflections of Amwell Township, Vol. I (1977), pg.24). He also served briefly as Amity's postmaster between 14 August and 5 December 1815, having been preceded by Thomas Brice (appointed 23 Sep 1807) and succeeded by Ezekiel Clark (who served until 8 Jan 1823). In 1811, as clerk of the congregation of Lower Ten Mile Presbyterian Church, he was named custodian of the church's grave yard, and thus "all persons choosing to dig their own graves to have liberty with paying to Ziba Cook 25cts for use of grave yard, and Ziba Cook to superintend digging of graves, and to have one dollar and 25 cts for all graves he shall dig above five feet, and one dollar for all graves under five feet. 25 cts to go to the grave yard keeping it in repairs." [See Dodd, William Lincoln, "The Early History of Amity, Pennsylvania, from 1770 to 1870," (pamphlet: privately published, 1940], pg.5.) Dr. W.L. Dodd, M.D. (1866-1952) was a first cousin twice removed of Cephas, being descended from Cephas' uncle Daniel Dodd.
103 Harford Co., MD, was the ancestral home of virtually all of the Rigdons in America at that time. In 1785, William Rigdon (1748-1810; m.1784) was granted 358 acres of land in what was then Washington Co. (later Allegheny Co.), PA. His brother Thomas Baker Rigdon (c.1746-1819; m.1765) obtained 150 acres, adjoining. See Rowe, Ella H., Genealogy of the Clark, Rigdon, Wilson and Durham Families of Harford County, Maryland, (Baltimore: the author, 1987), pp.17ff; White, Virgil D. (ed.), Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, Vol.III N-Z, (Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publ. Co., 1992); U.S. census records for Washington, Greene and Fayette counties, PA, for 1790-1840; "List of Letters Remaining in the Post Office at Washington, Pa., 1 July 1811 as published in various issues of the Washington Reporter for July, 1811; "Index of Fayette Co. Wills" which lists George Sr.'s son Henry J. Rigden (will probated 1887) and his (possibly second) wife Jemima J. (probated 1900); and Ellis, Franklin, History of Fayette County, PA, (Phila: Everts, 1882), Vol.I, pp.431,455,456. In the 1810 census enumeration, the names of Mary Rigden, Cephas Dodd and Ziba ("Tiba") Cook all appear in close proximity to each other, thus indicating that they were neighbors since the census taker went from house to house in an orderly fashion. (Note that some printed indices for this census erroneously list Mary [born prior to 1765] as residing in Buffaloe Township. The actual handwritten sheets however list her in Amity.) George Rigden, Jr., married Jane (c.1795-??) about 1826, and died prior to 1840 leaving two children still living at home.
104 According to Redick McKee (statement of 25 Jan 1886; q.v. n.#92 above), the circumstance which resulted in Spalding's moving from Pittsburgh to Amity was that he had been "informed by a friend that Amity was a healthy and inexpensive place to live in; that a public house there would shortly be vacated and be for rent at a moderate rate. After consideration and further inquiry he concluded to remove his family to that village, and did remove in October 1814, rented the hotel and opened it, as a public house, but without a bar." One can only wonder whether the friend in question might have been none other than Sidney Rigdon himself.
105 The spellings "Pittsburg" and "Pittsburgh" are both correct. The old-English "h" was officially added to the spelling in the latter part of the 19th century to distinguish the Pennsylvania city from other smaller communities in various states bearing the same name. The city, originally founded by the French in 1758 as Fort Duquesne, was renamed for British statesman William Pitt (1708-1778) following the French and Indian War. John Johnston was born near Castle Derg, Ireland, on Sunday, 16 June 1765. He came to America in 1769, and was married in 1787. His wife, Mary Reed Johnston, was born in Franklin Co., PA, on Friday, 14 August 1767. The couple moved to Pittsburgh in 1787, where John opened a jewelry and watch-making business. John was appointed postmaster by President Jefferson in 1804, and continued in that office until 1822, when he was succeeded by his son-in-law, William Eichbaum, who served for 11 years until 1833. "During the entire official career of Mr. Johnston the post office was at his residence on Front Street, corner of Chancery Lane, and throughout the greater part of this period his only daughter Rebecca, who in 1815 became the wife of William Eichbaum, performed the main duties of the office; for even after marriage (not having changed her place of residence until about the time of her father's death) she continued at this occupation as formerly, and the postmistress was known to her townspeople in general." John Johnston was a Democrat and a member of the Masonic fraternity. He died Friday 4 May 1827 and his wife on 4 April 1839. See Johnston, William G., Life and Reminiscences from Birth to Manhood, (NY: Knickerbocker Press, 1901), pp.7-11.
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duties. From 1811 to 1816, I was the regular clerk in the office, assorting, making up, dispatching, opening and distributing the mails. Pittsburg was then a small town, and I was well acquainted with all the stated visitors at the office who called regularly for their mails. So meager at that time were the mails that I could generally tell without looking whether or not there was anything for such persons, though I would usually look in order to satisfy them. I was married in 1815, and the next year my connection with the office ceased, except during the absences of my husband. I knew and distinctly remember Robert and Joseph Patterson, J. Harrison Lambdin, Silas Engles, and Sidney Rigdon. I remember Rev. Mr. Spaulding, but simply as one who occasionally called to inquire for letters. I remember there was an evident intimacy between Lambdin and Rigdon. They very often came to the post office together. I particularly remember that they would thus come during the hour on Sabbath afternoon when the office was required to be open, and I remember feeling sure that Rev. Mr. Patterson knew nothing of this, or he would have put a stop to it. I do not know what position, if any, Rigdon filled in Patterson's store or printing office, but am well assured he was frequently, if not constantly, there for a large part of the time when I was clerk in the post office. I recall Mr. Engles saying that 'Rigdon was always hanging around the printing office.' He was connected with the tannery before he became a preacher, though he may have continued the business whilst preaching.
In spite of the obvious clarity and distinctness of Mrs. Eichbaum's statement, Mormon writers have consistently dismissed it out of hand as nothing more than the unsubstantiated ramblings of a very old woman. 107 In the complete absence of incontrovertible documentary evidence, they argue, sixty-five-year-old recollections of people and events are simply not reliable enough to constitute proof of anything. And so it remained for more than 100 years until the end of 1995, when research undertaken in Pittsburgh brought to light a startlng new discovery which at once utterly destroys the long-held Mormon position and completely vindicates the quality and accuracy of Mrs. Eichbaum's memory.
In the Pittsburgh of Spalding and Rigdon's day there was no organized delivery of letters to homes and businesses as occurs today, but rather all incoming mail was held at the Post Office until called for by the addressee. Furthermore, post offices were few and far between, which meant some degree of inconvenience for people living in rural areas. Around the end of each month, the local postmaster (in this case, John Johnston) compiled and published a list of all letters which had been held for at least 30 days and remained uncalled for. These lists, which had the force and effect of official notices, were published on a more or less weekly basis over the space of the following calendar month, in the pages of the Pittsburgh Commonwealth newspaper. Lists were alphabetical, and always carried the heading:
"LIST OF LETTERS Remaining in the Post Office
Letters still uncalled for 30 days after the final publication of their list were referred to the Dead Letter Office for disposal.
106 Patterson, op.cit. p.433. Mrs. Eichbaum died on 4 May 1882, in her 90th year. For additional confirmation of her duties and dedication as "postmistress," see n.#105 above. Rebecca Eichbaum's brother Samuel L. Johnston (b.26 Jul. 1797) was once a pupil of Rev. Robert "Father" Patterson, Sr. From 1818 to 1824, Samuel Johnston and William Eichbaum were partners in the printing/publishing firm of Johnston & Eichbaum, previously known as Cramer, Spear & Eichbaum. In 1824, Eichbaum sold his share of the firm to R. C. Stockton. See n.#108 below for additional.
107 According to Mormon apologist B. H. Roberts, "I do not think much importance can attach to the testimony of Mrs. Eichbaum. It simply represents the confused impressions arising from the neighborhood gossip and public discussion of the subject, in a mind grown old." "The Origin of the Book of Mormon: A Reply to Mr. Theodore Schroeder," American Historical Magazine, Vol.IV, No.1 (January, 1909), pp.36-37.
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During November and December of 1995, a survey of the "lists of letters" published in the Commonwealth between mid-1811 and the end of 1818 produced these results:
(a) Sidney's 1st cousin. He later moved to Illinois.
(b) Unknown. Possibly a distant relative.
(c) Unknown. The "Spalding Memorial" makes no mention of any Raphael Spalding with a birth date this early.
(d) According to the "Spalding Memorial," Benedict was a distant cousin who was born c.1782 and later migrated to Kentucky, probably via Pittsburgh.
(e) John Spalding (1774-1857) was Solomon's younger brother.
(f) A younger brother of Stephen and hence also Sidney's cousin. He was a Baptist preacher.
In addition, with respect to Mrs. Eichbaum, it should be noted that the Commonwealth for 28 October 1815 carried this happy announcement:
The importance of this newly discovered material cannot be overstated, for not only does it provide incontrovertible evidence of Sidney Rigdon's presence in Pittsburgh well before 1821, 109 but it places him there during the very time Solomon Spalding is known to have been involved with the Patterson brothers concerning publication of his "Manuscript
108 As cited, pg.3. On Friday, 18 July 1823, the Pittsburgh Gazette carried this sad item: "OBIT. JOHN R. EICHBAUM, eldest son of Wm. Eichbaum Esq., Postmaster, drowned in the Monongahela River. Aged about 7 years. Sat. afternoon last." In addition, the 11 January 1825 issue of the Allegheny Democrat lists William Eichbaum as weigh master at the hay scales, paying $35.00 in rent to the city on income of $201.87 (fees) on 807+ tons of hay weighed. Among his other enterprises, Mr. Eichbaum (1787-1866) served on the board of the Pittsburgh Permanent Library Co. He was also a member, and later chief, of the city's Eagle Fire brigade, served as Pittsburgh's postmaster from 1822-1833, was a member of the city council for 22 consecutive years from 1836-1858, and then became city treasurer from 1858 until his death. Eichbaum, who was born at Monte Cenis in Burgundy, had been a resident of the city since 1797, and was a bookbinder by trade. In 1810, he became one of the partners in the firm of Cramer, Spear & Eichbaum until the untimely death of Zadoc Cramer brought about a dissolution of that firm, at which point William purchased sole interest and shortly thereafter sold half of it to his brother-in-law Samuel L. Johnston-- see n.#106 above. For additional information, see Luckhardt, Virginia E., "Notable Printers of Early Pittsburgh," typed thesis, Pittsburgh Carnegie Library School, 1949, pp.22-26 (copy in The Carnegie, Pittsburgh); pg.14: William Eichbaum became a partner in the firm of Cramer, Spear & Eichbaum in 1810, and bought out his partners in 1815. From 1815-1818 he continued the business alone, and then was joined by his brother-in-law (Samuel L. Johnston). Eichbaum & Johnston continued until 1824, when Eichbaum sold out to R. C. Stockton.
109 ...and even well before 1819, presuming that his son, John Wycliffe Rigdon, is correct in his assertion that his father preached briefly in Pittsburgh prior to his going to Ohio in early 1820.
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Found" At the same time, the question of Mrs. Eichbaum's credibility is effectively laid aside by the fact that these new revelations firmly support her 1879 statement in two extremely critical areas.
First of all, Mrs. Eichbaum states she was "well acquainted with all the stated visitors at the office who called regularly for their mails." and "distinctly" identifies Sidney Rigdon as being one of these people. "I knew and distinctly remember Robert and Joseph Patterson, J. Harrison Lambdin. Silas Engles, and Sidney Rigdon," she says.
Yet it is clearly impossible for Sidney Rigdon to have been one of Mrs. Eichbaum's "regulars" at the post office during her 1811-1816 tenure if he was never in Pittsburgh prior to his moving there in the winter of 1821-1822. And how very bothersome it now becomes that she should trouble to connect Mr. Rigdon with the Pattersons' printing office and recall his association with two of their employees, Mr. Lambdin, who enjoyed "an evident intimacy" with Rigdon, and Mr. Engles (the Pattersons' printer), who complained that "Rigdon was always hanging around the printing office."
Previous to the discovery of Rigdon's name on the June, 1816 mail list, Mrs. Eichbaum's recollections stood alone and uncorroborated -- an old lady reminiscing about a customer she claimed to have known during her days as a postal clerk some sixty-five years before. Certainly her memories were damaging -- if they were true. But without supporting documentary evidence, it was all too easy for Mormon apologists to simply sniff and dismiss the witness out of hand.
Now however the problem becomes quite different in that the presence of Rigdon' s name on the mail list is sufficient to prove Mrs. Eichbaum's previously uncorroborated assertion that he did in fact receive his mail through the Pittsburgh post office, Furthermore, the fact that his name appears only once is completely compatible with her recollection of him as a regular customer.
Secondly, she says that she "remember(s) Rev. Mr. Spaulding, but simply as one who occasionally called to inquire for letters." And here, once again, what appears on the mail lists is precisely what one would expect to see if Mrs. Eichbaum's previously uncorroborated sixty-five-year-old memory concerning Spalding is reliable. If in fact he did move to Pittsburgh in mid-1812 and died at nearby Amity in late 1816, as his widow, daughter and others have asserted, and if in fact he did receive his mail through Pittsburgh but only called "occasionally... to inquire for letters," as Mrs. Eichbaum has stated, then the evidence speaks for itself on both counts. The fact that his name appears on the official mail lists no less than seven different times during this four-year period (eight, if one counts the letter for "Mr. Spawlding") is positive proof of both Spalding's presence in the area and of the accuracy of Mrs. Eichbaum's recollection concerning him. And how curious that on the last of these eight occasions, the one for June of 1816, the name of Sidney should appear on the very same list as that of Solomon Spalding. And how embarrassing --
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at least for Mormon writers who have steadfastly denied that such a thing could be possible.
Yet another point to be made here is that Mrs. Eichbaum's recollection regarding "the hour on Sabbath afternoon when the office was required to be open" is also correct. Research into this curious situation indeed establishes that hidden away in Section Nine of the Post Office Law of 30 April 1810 was the requirement that:
"At Post offices where the mail arrives on Sunday the office is to be kept open for the delivery of Letters &c for one hour after the arrival & assorting of the Mail, but in case that would interfere with the hours of public worship, then the office is to be kept open for one hour after the usual time of dissolving the meetings for that purpose." 110
Coincidentally, the U.S. Postmaster General when this law took effect was none other than Gideon Granger -- the very man who had been Spalding's partner and had left him holding the bag during the time of his Ohio land speculations.
One additional test of the sharpness of Mrs. Eichbaum's memory is the fact that she also correctly associated Rigdon has having been connected with a tannery during the time of his ministry in Pittsburgh -- a recollection given almost fifty-four years to the day after that tannery ceased operations in September of 1825!
Since there is no longer any question about Mrs. Eichbaum's ability to remember things accurately even after sixty-five years, the assertions made in her 1879 statement now take on a crucial significance. Having been fully vindicated by the evidence in the newly discovered mail lists, her elevation from unreliable old fogy to star witness places the Mormons in a very tight spot. Either Sidney Rigdon was in Pittsburgh during the critical years of 1812-1816 or he was not. The evidence of the mail lists coupled with the now respectable testimony of Mrs. Eichbaum provides compelling proof that Spalding theorists were right all along, that Rigdon did frequent Pittsburgh during these years and that he was somehow connected with Pattersons' printing office, if only as someone who "was always hanging around" the place. 111
In this light, it is also important to note two additional points concerning her statement: First, that she corroborates Mrs. Davison's assertion that both Lambdin and Rigdon were connected with the Pattersons' printing establishment; and second, that she is clearly referring to the 1813-1816 time period as indicated by the date of her marriage, and NOT to the later 1822-1824 period during which everyone agrees that Rigdon resided in Pittsburgh.
Since it is no longer possible to summarily dismiss this issue with the old arguments of "insufficient evidence" and "uncertain credibility," Mormon apologists are left with only two narrow avenues of response: either they must admit that Rigdon's presence in Pittsburgh
110 Stets, Robert J., Postmasters and Post Offices of the United States, 1782-1811, (Lake Oswego, OR: LaPosta Publications, 1994), pp. 15-17. Although Amity, PA, had a post office from 1807, and nearby Washington, PA, from 1794, apparently Spalding continued to receive at least some of his mail through the Pittsburgh post office as a matter of personal preference, probably stemming from the fact that he had lived there from 1812-1814 and that he continued to frequent the city on an irregular basis for business purposes. (He may also have continued to use his Pittsburgh address as a buffer against creditors.) In Sidney Rigdon's case, the only post office serving Allegheny County, in which he lived, was the one in Pittsburgh, which had been in continuous operation since 1788. Regarding the Sabbath delivery situation, Congress refused to repeal this requirement causing "profaning the Sabbath" to become a significant political issue some years later. It is also worthy of note here, although merely as an interesting aside, that following the passage of this Act in 1810, Postmaster Wylie, of Washington, PA, was actually prosecuted for refusing to deliver a letter on Sunday. (Op. cit. above, pg. 17 which refs. letter from Postmaster Granger to Philadelphia Postmaster Robert Patton, dated 30 Nov 1810, as found in "PMG Letter Book 'R', pg. 244.) In a similar matter, the Rev. John Boyd, a pastor in the Erie, PA, area between 1801 and 1816, left the church for a time after "a difficulty that grew out of the 'Sunday Mail' question. He signed a petition for, and advocated the cause of, stopping the mails on the Sabbath. For this, he was branded by some of his elders and people as a traitor." (See Sanford, L. G., History of Erie Co., Pennsylvania, 1894; pg.212.) One further piece of information concerning Washington PA's postmaster, Mr. Wylie, is that he occasionally signed official documents, including "Letters Waiting" lists, as "Wylie, Noble Grand Master of the Lodge," which may help explain why Spalding, who had strong anti-Masonic sentiments, seems to have avoided getting his mail via the much nearer Washington P. O. as opposed to his going all the way to Pittsburgh. Perhaps Spalding saw the Washington post office as a hotbed of Freemasonry and thus preferred to avoid the place. With respect to the Amity post office, the Washington (PA) Reporter of 9 Jan 1815 notes that "The Waynesburgh mail, via Amity and Fredericktown arrives and departs, on Wednesday, as before." Although the Reporter does not carry any "Letters Waiting" lists for Amity during the years 1812-1816, an examination of lists published for Washington and Canonsburg turned up the name of Rigdon's pastor David Phillips (once), as well as various Thompsons, Seamans, and van Seamans. Neither Rigdon's nor Spalding's name, however, appears on any of these lists through October of 1816.
111 (110) It is not too difficult to imagine Rigdon's boasting to others about his having connections at the Pattersons' establishment, and their taking it to mean that he was somehow connected with it. Indeed, such a process may well explain Mrs. Davison's 1839 assertion that Rigdon had "frequently stated" such a connection and that it was "well known in that region." While this explanation is certainly plausible, it still fails to resolve the all-important underlying issue of how, in 1839, Mrs. Davison could have known anything about Sidney Rigdon's connections with Mr. Lambdin, or the Pattersons' print shop; or how she came to possess any knowledge whatsoever of anything Rigdon may have "frequently stated... in that region" -- unless, of course, she had known this man personally, as we have asserted.
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prior to 1821 is now proved, or they are left to argue that the Rigdon letter incident is some sort of fluke and that someone sent mail to him in Pittsburgh by mistake, which is why it remained uncalled for, etc. If they do the former, then a serious reassessment of both the Spalding theory and the established history of the LDS church is in order. If they choose the latter, then they must also accept the very difficult burden of proof which goes with it. Failing that, Mrs. Eichbaum stands completely vindicated as a reliable witness, and Sidney Rigdon is exposed as having lied mightily in his 1839 letter.
Which means that perhaps he was really telling the truth in a very circumspect way when he wrote "If I were to say that I ever heard of the Rev. Solomon Spalding and his hopeful wife until Dr. P. Hurlbut wrote his lie about me, I should be a liar like unto themselves." 112 (Take a few moments, dear reader, to consider what Rigdon may have meant by this line, and you will soon find yourself involved in some very interesting mental gymnastics; for if the people Rigdon identifies as "themselves" were actually telling the truth, then Rigdon, in order to be "a liar like unto them...," is really admitting that he had previously heard of Spalding.)
While the vindication of Mrs. Eichbaum is an important step towards the ultimate unraveling of the Spalding Enigma, the information provided by the Pittsburgh mail list goes a long way towards elevating the credibility of another key figure in this drama as well -- Solomon's younger brother John Spalding.
It will be remembered from Chapter One that John Spalding, who lived in Conneaut Township, Crawford Co., PA, was among the group of witnesses who provided statements to D.P. Hurlbut during his first trip to the area in the summer of 1833. In his statement, John recalled:
"[Solomon Spalding] in the year 1809 removed to Conneaut, in Ohio. The year following, I removed to Ohio, and found him engaged in building a forge. I made him a visit in about three years after, and found that he had failed, and was considerably involved in debt. He then told me he had been writing a book, which he intended to have printed, the avails of which he thought would enable him to pay all debts. The book was entitled the 'Manuscript Found'...." 113
Subsequently, as we have seen, John Spalding's credibility was attacked, along with that of all the other Conneaut witnesses, by pro-Mormon writers who took the position that twenty-year-old memories could not possibly be relied upon and were therefore unacceptable as evidence. For more than a century-and-a-half Mormons have steadfastly clung to this point of view. The evidence of the Pittsburgh mail list however, when coupled with another historical document of crucial importance, the 28 May 1811 census of all males over 21 then living in Salem (Conneaut), seriously erodes their argument by confirming that John Spalding was correct at least insofar as his recollection of dates is concerned.
112 Rigdon's 1839 letter, beginning of graph 4.
113 Howe, pp.278-280.
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8. "FAMILY PLOT"
"Some of us natives of Manchester have always been ashamed that Manchester gave Mormonism to the world."
Shortly after research for this volume began, it became evident that a true historical mystery had presented itself -- a matter so important that finding a solution to the Spalding Enigma seemed impossible without first attempting to unlock its secret. At the very center of this critical situation, like an unopened black box, lay the heretofore invisible early life of the inscrutable Oliver H. P. Cowdery, 1 co-founder and so-called Second Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2
Although Cowdery played a major role in the early history of the Church from the fall of 1828 when he boarded at the Smith's home while employed as a local school master, to the spring of 1838 when he was excommunicated in Missouri, all that Mormon historians admit to knowing about his life prior to his having cast his lot in with the Smiths can be easily said in a single paragraph. According to the pretentious Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), "the only reliable information" about Oliver Cowdery's youth comes from a statement made on 7 March 1887 by Lucy Cowdery Young, one of his younger half-sisters:
"Oliver was brought up in Poultney, Rutland County, Vermont, and when he arrived at the age of twenty, he went to the state of New York, where his older brothers were married and settled.... Oliver's occupation was clerking in a store until 1829, when he taught the district school in the town of Manchester." 3
Unfortunately, all of this information turned out to be incorrect when subjected to careful scrutiny; although it remains an open question as to whether Lucy was deliberately "lying for the Lord," or had simply fallen prey to misinformation disseminated by members of her own family.
With respect to her statement: Available evidence suggests that Oliver was shuffled around somewhat as a child, and while he may have spent some of this time at Poultney with his father, it is not at all clear that he was raised there. Secondly, there is convincing evidence that he emigrated to New York well before the age of twenty. Third, not all of his
1 Oliver's middle initials, "H. P.", probably stood for "Hervy Pliny," both of which names appear several times in Oliver's family tree. For example, two of the sons of Oliver's eldest brother, Warren, bore the names "Lyman Hervy" (b.23 Nov. 1821) and "Oliver Pliny" (b. 15 Jan. 1827). Both were born at Le Roy, Genesee Co., NY. In addition, Oliver Pliny, in turn, had a son, "Charles Hervy" (b. in Ohio, 1868); and "Hervy Cowdery" (b.1819) was the name of the first great-grandson born on a male line to Oliver's grand-uncle, Dr. Jabez Cowdery of Tunbridge, VT (who seems to have been regarded as a family patriarch). Both names appear elsewhere in the family tree as well. See: Mehling, Cowdery Genealogy, as well as: (a) Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: "Agreement" between Martin Harris and Joseph Smith dated 16 Jan. 1830 and witnessed by "Oliver H.P. Cowdery;" (b) RLDS Archives: Letter from Oliver Cowdery to Joseph Smith dated 22 Oct. 1829, signed "Oliver H. Cowdery;" (c) Palmyra, NY, Reflector, 1 Jun. 1830, article on Cowdery leaving for a mission to "the East," wherein the editor (Abner Cole) comments that "he [Oliver] left out his two middle names in the Book of Mormon." It is also important to note that Oliver Cowdery sometimes signed his last name as "Cowdrey" -- an alternative spelling used by many members of the family to this day. (The original spelling of the family surname was "Coudray" or "Coudrey," and derives from the Norman-French word for "hazel tree" or "hazel grove." The family seat for many years was at Cowdray Castle, in Midhurst, Sussex, which dates from at least the 13th century.)
2 Originally founded on 6 April 1830 as The Church of Christ. On that day, Joseph Smith laid his hands upon Oliver Cowdery and ordained him an Elder of the Church, after which Cowdery laid his hands upon Smith, and ordained him to the same office (by which process some might well argue that Cowdery was in fact the Church's "First" Elder). See Hist. of the Church, Vol.I, pg. 77. There is some question as to whether this ceremony took place at Fayette or Manchester, NY.
3 Ludlow, Daniel H. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, (NY: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1992). Cited, Vol.I, pg. 335, which, in turn, cites Lucy Cowdery Young to Andrew Jenson, 7 March 1887, in LDS Church Archives, S.L.C. Lucy Pearce Cowdery Young (b. Middletown, VT, 3 June 1814; d. Park City, UT, c.1900) married Brigham Young's brother, Phineas Howe Young, at Kirtland, OH, on 28 Sep. 1834. The couple had four children.
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Eventually threats were uttered, then warnings against Morgan appeared in nearby newspapers, followed closely by harassment from the law (which was but a tool of the Masons), and, finally, by an attempt to burn down Miller's printing establishment -- an effort thwarted by luck alone. Even Oliver had been told that he had better stay away from Morgan and that it wasn't healthy to continue working for Miller.
In August of 1826, Oliver decided that things were getting too hot for comfort, and that it would be best for him to get out of town and go to his father's at Arcadia where he could decide what to do next. Perhaps he would go to visit his brother, Erastus, in Ohio and try life there for a while.
Upon arriving at his father's, he found a couple of wagons filled with cousins from Connecticut who had stopped for a visit while on their way to their new home in Trumbull County, Ohio, not far from his brother Erastus' farm.
Feeling certain that heaven had sent him a message, Oliver offered to go with them and act as guide, since he had been there himself only four years earlier.
They arrived in the township of Mecca in early September. Not long after his arrival, Oliver happened across a tent meeting at which Sidney Rigdon, recently back in Ohio from Pittsburgh, was one of the main attractions. Since Sidney was not preaching at the moment, the two sat down to talk, during which conversation Oliver told Sidney that he was an occasional printer and book peddler, and that a sign from heaven had recently led him to come to Ohio. Sidney said that printers were rare on the frontier and that it must have been heaven's wish that Oliver attend his camp meeting because Providence had recently delivered unto him, Sidney, a wonderful book which was calling out for someone to print it. This book, said Sidney, was a translation of the ancient records of a lost but once powerful civilization which had flourished on the American continent, and in it was revealed the true origin of the American Indians and how they had fallen from the Grace of God. "Perhaps," said Sidney, "God has sent you to me because you are the one who is to print it."
When Oliver asked Sidney where he had obtained this fabulous book, Sidney spun an impressive yarn, the exact specifics of which are really unimportant. Whatever they may have been, they were convincing enough that Oliver swallowed them, and were undoubtedly embellished with angelic visitations and callings to do God's work in the world and thereby restore His Church. Such would have been standard fare for Sidney. Oliver the meek was expecting a miracle and Sidney the self-anointed was a clever wolf in sheep's clothing. Poor Oliver was about to be drawn into something so deeply cunning and ultimately so convoluted that he would never completely fathom it so long as he lived.
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Suddenly Oliver could think of nothing else except that his cousin, Joseph Smith, Jr., had been expecting just such a book to be delivered into his hands for the past several years-- and so he told Sidney, who looked at him and replied "God works in strange ways."
Oliver promised to speak to his cousin about Sidney's book, and said that if Joseph was interested in it, or if someone else could be found who would print it, he would send word. Meanwhile, could Sidney come to New York if needed? Sidney said he could.
Sidney, of course, probably had some vague plan of eventually reworking the manuscript and trying to publish it as his own, but this scheme was much better suited to his ambitions since it placed the burden upon someone else's shoulders.
Oliver, now twenty, returned to Palmyra where he learned that William Morgan had been kidnapped by the Masons a few weeks earlier and that it was believed he had been cruelly murdered by them. Upon going to the Smith's, he found that Joseph, having visited the hill and been denied the Record once again, had recently departed for Chenango County to work for Joseph Knight. There, Oliver was told, he intended to find a wife, and was not expected to return for several months. Joseph's brother, Hyrum, who was on the local school committee, then suggested that if Oliver wanted to remain in the area, perhaps he would be interested in taking a job as schoolmaster in a nearby one-room school. Hyrum said that he had intended taking the job himself in the absence of other candidates, but he had better things to do and if Oliver wanted it, he could have it. Once again, Oliver believed that God had provided.
While teaching school, Oliver stayed sometimes with the Smiths who lived nearby, and sometimes with his father, or his brother Lyman, who lived in Arcadia, a little more than two-hour's walk to the east-- not really very far in terms of the times.
In late January of 1827, Joseph returned with his new wife Emma. When Oliver told him about Sidney Rigdon's book, he at once became interested and said that whether the book had come from God or not, perhaps some money could be made from it and he would like to see it. Oliver said he would be free to go and get Rigdon at the end of the school term in March, but that he would need money with which to make the trip. Joseph said he would call the money-diggers together and con them into raising the necessary cash.
Oliver left for Ohio in late March and returned with Sidney in early April, just at the end of the maple sugar season that year. Secret meetings were held. When Joseph asked Sidney where such a remarkable book had come from, Sidney
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repeated the impressive story he had told Oliver some months earlier, ending with his admonition that it was an authentic ancient record, that it was true, and that God must have chosen Joseph and Oliver as part of His plan to make it known to the world in these, the last days.
As far as Joseph was concerned, whether the record was real or not didn't matter, as long as there was money to be made from the scheme and adventure to be had. Therefore it was agreed that Sidney and Oliver should go back to Ohio together, spend a few months reworking the manuscript and preparing it for publication, and then return in September in time for Joseph to "discover" the book during his annual visit to the hill. Meanwhile Joseph, for his part, would undertake to find someone willing to put up the money to publish it, while at the same time attempting to "raise the wind" (generate public excitement) by spreading word that an ancient and very valuable record lay buried under a nearby hill and that an angel had promised to deliver it unto him in the fall.
As agreed, Oliver and Sidney returned to Ohio with the understanding that their roles in the events now underway must be kept as secret as possible until such time when the book was published, at which point both could publicly endorse it. Meanwhile, Joseph continued his money-digging while spreading ever more lurid tales carefully calculated to stir up public interest in his forthcoming literary endeavor.
In the fall, Oliver and Sidney returned on schedule but kept carefully in the background as Joseph went through the motions of visiting the hill and obtaining the Record, which he told everyone was written in strange hieroglyphics engraved upon leaves of pure gold. In order to protect the ruse from discovery, Joseph said the angel had expressly told him that no one but himself could look upon the plates and live, and that therefore he would have to keep them covered and locked up in a box.
Golden Plates were a new idea to Sidney, and he decided it would be best to leave Joseph to deal with that one as best he could.
As soon as Sidney had started back to Ohio to await developments, Oliver and Joseph began the process of translating the plates-- which meant surreptitiously reading the already reworked pages and carefully paraphrasing them so as to integrate Sidney's notes, comments and numerous Biblical interpolations into a single coherent entity. This process, however, was soon interrupted by Joseph's fellow money-diggers who, having come to believe that Joseph had really found a valuable treasure and was now trying to deprive them of their rightful share of it, began a campaign of agitation, threats and harassment against the Smiths-- even going so far as to turn Luman Walter against them and enlist his assistance as
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a seer in an effort to discover where Joseph had hidden the gold they believed was rightfully theirs.
Meanwhile, Joseph's efforts to attract a well-heeled investor paid off when Martin Harris, a prosperous but incredibly gullible local farmer fell into his net in October. In order to firmly secure Harris' financial assistance, it was decided he would have to be convinced that God wanted him to be an integral part of the project. Furthermore, in order to assure the safety and integrity of their effort against the continuing encroachments of the angry money-diggers, Joseph decided the entire operation had best be moved south to Harmony, PA, and that Oliver should probably go to his father's for the time being in order to keep as low a profile as possible.
In December of 1827, Joseph sent for his brother-in-law, Alvah Hale, to come and help with the move to Pennsylvania. Although disgruntled money-diggers stopped and searched his wagon, the "Record," hidden at the bottom of a barrel of beans, was not found. As soon as they were settled-in, Joseph started talking about the Plates to anyone who would listen, and began the process of "translating" them using his wife, Emma, and her brother, Reuben, as scribes. This, however, was slow work and little was accomplished over the space of the first month or so.
In the meantime, Oliver had gone to his father's in Arcadia, where, after a few weeks, he learned that cousin Franklin had just purchased the Chronicle at Geneva only a dozen or so miles away. In February of 1828, Oliver went to see his cousin, and immediately started to work as his assistant. It was at Franklin's printshop that Oliver first met David Whitmer, who lived on a farm in nearby Fayette and who was to remain his friend for life.
In the same month that Oliver went to Geneva, Joseph's brother Hyrum took Martin Harris south to Pennsylvania. There Joseph dummied-up a phony but impressive-looking script composed of assorted lines and symbols, and, by saying that these were hieroglyphics copied from the Plates, convinced Harris to take them to learned men in New York City to see what they would make of them. Harris returned two months later, absolutely convinced that Joseph Smith, Jr. must be smarter than the academics he had seen, because Joseph could translate the Plates and they could not. Upon hearing this report, Joseph immediately appointed Harris as scribe to replace Emma and Reuben.
Thus the process of "translating" continued, with Joseph dictating text to Harris from a place of concealment behind a blanket so that "the Plates" could not be seen by him.
And so it went on for the next couple of months, until disaster struck in mid-June
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when Martin Harris' wife, Lucy, got her hands on the 116 pages which had been translated up to that point, and refused to give them back. Her argument was that if the work was truly from God, then the pages could be easily retranslated, and if not, then her husband was being duped. When she refused to divulge where she had hidden them, Martin beat her, but to no avail; at which point, unable to face Joseph, he fled to Palmyra. To add to the crisis, Emma Smith gave birth to a badly deformed child the next day which died in a few hours, leaving Emma herself very ill.
In early July, as soon as he was able to leave her, Joseph went to Palmyra after Harris, where he learned the truth about what had happened. Fearing all was lost, he sent word to Oliver at Geneva to drop everything and rush to Ohio to fetch Rigdon without delay. Oliver obediently did as he was asked, even though his running out on Franklin without any explanation would sour his cousin towards him for the rest of his life.
As soon as Rigdon arrived, the three of them put their heads together to decide what to do, with Joseph explaining that since the 116 pages had been created by paraphrasing Rigdon's manuscript, with embellishments added "as the spirit moved," there was really no way to come up with a second text which would exactly match the first. All three men were sure that Lucy Harris still had the first version, and that if a second translation was attempted, she would produce the first to show that the two didn't match and that the work was therefore not God, but fraud.
After considerable prayer and discussion, Sidney and Oliver finally decided that the only thing to do was to recast the remaining manuscript pages so that they would stand on their own, and then begin the translation process all over again as best they could. They then approached Joseph with this solution and asked him to pray to see if God would confirm it to him. Thus armed with spiritual affirmation, Sidney deftly pointed out that Martin Harris could now be truthfully informed that the decision had come "from God himself," via a personal "revelation" to Joseph.
As soon as Rigdon had departed, Joseph went back to Harmony and attempted to pick up the pieces and carry on as best he could, using his brother Samuel, his wife Emma, and his brother-in-law Reuben Hale as occasional scribes whenever he was able to talk them into doing it. Little progress was made however, and over the space of the next six months, only sixteen new pages were translated.
Knowing their son was depressed and disheartened, Joseph's mother and father made a trip to Harmony to visit him at about this same time -- a trip possibly connected to the first anniversary of Joseph's having obtained the Record from the
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spirit on the hill. By mid-October, they were back in Manchester.
Meanwhile Oliver, having been left in Palmyra to fend for himself as best he could, took a job as a store clerk around the first of August. At about this same time Lucy Harris engaged Oliver's brother, Lyman, as her attorney and commenced a court action in nearby Lyons against her husband, claiming that the Smiths were systematically defrauding him of his fortune and property. Although she ended up losing this particular case, she continued to litigate against Martin and eventually obtained a legal separation and a property settlement from him.
Lyman's representation of Mrs. Harris not only turned the Smiths against him, but cost him a teaching position he had been promised by Hyrum. In the end, it was given out that Lyman had declined the job due to pressing business, and that Oliver had agreed to take it in his stead -- although the truth was that the Smiths now saw Lyman as someone who was both disloyal and unfriendly to their cause, while Oliver's loyalty was beyond question. This drove a wedge between Lyman and Oliver which resulted in the two not speaking to each other for many years afterwards.
In any case, towards the end of October, 1828, Oliver left his position as clerk, moved into the Smith household as a boarder, and commenced teaching at the nearby one-room school. As soon as the term was over in the spring, he moved to Harmony where he at once became Joseph's chief scribe, and the work of translating the Golden Bible, soon to become known as the Book of Mormon, moved into high gear.
From this point on, the events of Oliver's involvement with early Mormon history have generally been acknowledged. After April of 1829, only Sidney Rigdon continued to remain in the background until he publicly embraced Mormonism in Ohio nineteen months later.
The subsequent cover-up of the events of Oliver's early life and of the role he played in creating the Book of Mormon was largely a family thing. Because Oliver moved around a lot as a young man, there were only a few people in his life who knew where he was at any given moment, and fewer still who were privy to what he was doing. In the end, all of these chose to keep silent either to conceal the true circumstances of their own involvement or to avoid bringing scandal upon the family name. Even Benjamin Franklin Cowdery, who must have known at least some of the story concerning Oliver and the Mormons, carefully avoided all mention of it in his autobiography. As for Lucy Cowdery Young's 1887 statement (quoted earlier in this chapter), what little she thought she knew about Oliver's early life probably derived from what Oliver himself had told her at the time, and in 1822 Lucy was only eight.
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Since the above scenario represents a radical revision of accepted Mormon history, before dissecting it in order to present supporting evidence, perhaps it is best to begin by explaining that it is, at best, an attempt to derive a coherent and viable sequence of events from a large body of disparate and often incomplete bits and pieces of information, many of which were unknown to historians prior to the writing of this volume. Because this man deliberately sought to conceal the details of his own life, many important pieces of the Cowdery puzzle remain unavailable and a certain amount of conjecture has admittedly been employed to fill in the gaps where needed. Even so, while future research may ultimately expose the need to revise this scenario on some of its minor points, it is nonetheless reasonably well-founded on most of its major ones, as shall now be demonstrated.
10. "THE GOLD BIBLE BUSINESS"
"I will not be influenced, governed, or controlled in my temporal interests by any ecclesiastical authority or pretended revelation whatever, contrary to my own judgment[.] [S]uch being still my opinion... I only, respectfully, ask leave, therefore, to withdraw from [this] society...."
If Oliver Cowdery was indeed William Morgan's unnamed scribe during the summer of 1826, it is virtually certain that he would have come under increasing pressure to remove himself from the picture before something unpleasant happened. By the first of August, things were getting ugly. Morgan had already been arrested in what was only the first of several such harassments, a Masonic boycott of Miller's newspaper was underway, and serious threats were no longer quietly whispered but were being heard openly in the streets. As if external strife wasn't trouble enough however, on 7 August, a nervous and probably besotted Morgan began writing letters to his partners accusing them of dishonesty and expressing his "wish to settle and have no more to do with [them]." 1 Thus it may be that Oliver, if indeed he was the unnamed scribe, was advised by his brother (a Mason) to get away from the situation while he still could, and lay low for a while. That meant leaving the Batavia-LeRoy area, and going where he would be both welcome and safe. One such place, at least temporarily, would have been the home of his father at Arcadia, two-days travel (60 miles) to the east. Once there, he may have run into an unexpected coincidence in the form of a couple of wagonloads of Connecticut cousins who were headed west for Trumbull County, Ohio. Oliver, it will be recalled, had a brother in Trumbull County whom he hadn't seen in some time.
As it turns out, he also had several cousins living there. These were Oliver's second cousin Ambrose Cowdery, Jr., his nine children ranging in age from one to nineteen, and four (or perhaps five) members of the Beach family (Lebbeus, Ezekiel S., Elihu, Ezra B., and Luman -- a distant cousin of the others), all of whom were related to Azubah Cowdery, Oliver's first cousin once removed, who had married Ezekiel Beach (Sr.) in 1774. Moreover, all were from Hartland, CT, where Oliver's father, grandfather and numerous other relatives had lived prior to their going to Vermont.
Ambrose Cowdery, Jr. had moved to Trumbull Co., in 1825. The Beaches seem to have migrated there prior to 1820, perhaps accompanied by Oliver's brother Erastus and
1 Morris, William Morgan... etc., pg. 96; Lewis, pg. 3.
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seeking admission to the Peters Creek Baptist Church a decade earlier.)
Suddenly Oliver could think of nothing else except that his cousin, Joseph Smith, Jr., had been expecting just such a book to be delivered into his hands for the past several years -- and so he could have told Sidney, who may well have looked at him and replied "God works in strange ways."
Oliver, now twenty, returned to Palmyra in October, where he learned that William Morgan had been kidnapped by the Masons a few weeks earlier and that it was believed he had been cruelly murdered by them. Upon going to the Smith's, he found that Joseph, having visited the hill and been denied the Record once again, had recently departed for Chenango County to work for Joseph Knight. There, Oliver was told, he intended to find a wife, and was not expected to return for several months. Joseph's brother, Hyrum, who was on the local school committee, then suggested that if Oliver wanted to remain in the area, perhaps he would be interested in taking a job as schoolmaster in a nearby one-room school. Hyrum said that he had intended taking the job himself in the absence of other candidates, but he had better things to do and if Oliver wanted it, he could have it. Once again, Oliver believed that God had provided.
Although the Mormons have always claimed that Oliver Cowdery taught school in their vicinity for only one year (from October of 1828 until the end of March, 1829) the testimony of Lorenzo Saunders as given above calls this into question. According to him, Oliver taught during the 1826-27 school year as well. If Saunders is wrong about this, then his credibility sags and there is little reason to accept his assertion about Oliver's having come to Palmyra from Kirtland, Ohio. If he is right, Mormon scholars are faced with yet another dilemma.
It is here that an examination of available testimony from people who had been neighbors of the Smiths produces startling results.
According to map research, there were two schools located near Joseph Smith, Sr. farm. The first of these was Ontario County School District #10, the school house for which was located about three miles SSE of Palmyra center on the Canandaigua Road and about one mile east of the Smith farm, within easy walking distance. In later years there was a stone school on this site known as the Armington school.
The school house for District #11 was located on the west side of Stafford Street, about 1 1/3 mile south of the Smith farm (also within walking distance) and about 3 1/2 miles due south of Palmyra center. This was known as the Stafford school. Lorenzo Saunders would certainly have attended the Armington school since it was only about one-half mile from his home, whereas the Stafford school was nearly two miles away.
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Pages 456-486 not transcribed
11. "THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER"
"... Sidney Rigdon never saw Joseph Smith until December, 1830, the visit being prolonged into January, 1831. These two persons had never been within two or three hundred miles of each other until that period."
There is no question that Joseph Smith was fascinated by Indian mounds, ruins, legends and artifacts at an early age. Consider the words of his mother, Lucy:
"In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most ammusing (sic) recitals which could be immagined (sic)[.] he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent[,] their dress[,] their manner of traveling[,] the animals which they rode[,] the cities that were built by them[,] the structure of their buildings[,] with every particular of their mode of warfare[, and] their religious worship[,] as particularly as though he had spent his life with them[.]" 1She goes on to say that this "and much more took place within the compass of one short year." By its place in the narrative, it seems clear that the "year" in question was both prior to Alvin Smith's death in November of 1823, and prior to Joseph's visit to the Hill Cumorah on 21/22 September that same year; therefore from about August of 1822, through August of 1823. 2 Needless to say, the beginning of this process fits perfectly with Orsamus Turner's recollection of similar "fireside consultations" involving Oliver Cowdery, Alvin, and Mother Smith, which he also says occurred prior to Alvin's death.
As for evidence that Rigdon was interested in the same subject, there are several accounts on record from various people who knew him at the time. The first of these is found in a statement made by the Rev. Samuel F. Whitney to researcher Arthur Buel Deming about 1885:
"I came to Kirtland, O., in 1826, where my brother, N. K. Whitney kept store. I heard Sidney Rigdon preach in Squire Sawyers' orchard in 1827 or '28. He said how desirable it would be to know who built the forts and mounds about the country. Soon it would all be revealed.__________
1 Smith, Lucy, (1845 m/s), pp. 42-43; and (1853) pp. 84-85 (with slight variation).
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Obviously the conclusion which must be drawn from the above is devastating to the Mormons, for in every instance without exception, where a witness or witnesses have claimed that Rigdon and Smith were together, a gap in Rigdon's chronology occurs which allows sufficient time for him to have visited New York. (Particulars concerning travel crica 1830 are set out in Appendix VI.) Since the odds for such a thing happening by chance are considerable (if not astronomical), and since there is no way any these witnesses could possibly have known where gaps in Rigdon's chronology would occur, nor is there any evidence of collusion among them, the Spalding Enigma moves ever closer to a solution. In spite of what Mormon apologists will say, a strong case has now been made for the argument that Smith, Rigdon and Cowdery were in collusion regarding the so-called Golden Bible long before any heretofore known, or at least, admitted, contact among the three.
The crowning piece of evidence, however, comes from the very lips of Sidney Rigdon himself, and, in light of the above, must be accepted as a virtual, if inadvertent, confession. Every liar slips up somewhere giving himself away in the heat of passion, other times revealing the truth in small ways which often go unnoticed or unremarked by those around them, especially when those around them would rather believe the lie than face the truth. Rigdon was no exception. In the midst of a fiery sermon delivered before a General Conference of the Elders of the Church, at Nauvoo, on 6 April 1844, he said the following:
"I recollect in the year 1830, I met the whole church of Christ in a little old log house about 20 feet square, near Waterloo, N.Y. and we began to talk about the kingdom of God as if we had the world at our command; we talked with great confidence, and talked big things, although we were not many people, we had big feelings; we knew fourteen years ago that the church would become as large as it is today....
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believed, and preached then, which have since come to pass. We knew the whole world would laugh at us; so we concealed ourselves, and there was much excitement about our secret meetings, charging us with designs against the Government, and with laying plans to get money, &c., which never existed in the hearts of any one else. And if we had talked in public, we should have been ridiculed more than we were...." 52
Rigdon reveals three important and very damning things in the above statement. First, that he had met with the church in a log cabin near Waterloo, New York, fourteen years earlier; second, that there were secret meetings held; and third, that he recalled Elder Phelps having been put in jail, in New York, for reading the Book of Mormon, and then later coming to Kirtland, Ohio, as a convert. 53 Read the wording carefully -- it says a great deal. "He came to us, and expressed great astonishment, and left us.... He afterwards came to Kirtland...."
The matter of secret meetings, of course, explains itself. The statement about "fourteen years" becomes interesting when we consider that Rigdon is making this statement in April of 1844. Fourteen years earlier would thus take us to April of 1830, fully eight months before Rigdon is supposed to have had any association with the Mormons.
The "little old log house about twenty feet square, near Waterloo, N.Y.," was, of course, "Father" Peter Whitmer's two room cabin at Fayette, into which about sixty people (virtually the entire church) are reported to have crowded on April 6, 1830. 54 But, lest one be tempted to dismiss Rigdon's statement as a mere figure of speech, it is his recollection about Elder Phelps being put in jail which is the truly important item here, for this is where he gives himself away. Consider the following excerpt from a letter written by W. W. Phelps himself on 24 February 1835 and published in the Latter Day Saints Messenger & Advocate in April of that year:
"Now, notwithstanding my body was not baptized into this church till Thursday the 10th of June, 1831, yet my heart was there from the time I became acquainted with the book of Mormon: and my hope, steadfast like an anchor, and my faith increased like the grass after a refreshing shower, when I for the first time, held a conversation with our beloved brother Joseph, (December 24th, 1830,) who I was willing to acknowledge as a prophet of the Lord....Not only was the 30th of April, 1830, almost exactly fourteen years before Rigdon's sermon
52 Times & Seasons, Vol. V, pg. 523 (1 May 1844); also, History of the Church, Vol. VI, pp. 288-289.
53 According to History of the Church, Vol. I, pp. 184-185, Phelps arrived in Kirtland with his family, "about the middle of June ... to do the will of the Lord." and almost immediately became the subject of another of God's "Revelations" to Joseph (pp. 185-186). This, of course, can be taken as further supporting the accuracy of Rigdon's recollection that Phelps "afterwards came to Kirtland... and said he was a convert." As a result, the designation of Phelps as Church printer, his ordination as an Elder, and his initial migration to Jackson County, Missouri, all occurred during the summer of 1831, See Howard, Richard P., Restoration Scriptures: A Study of their Textual Development, (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1969). pg. 250.
54 Hartley, William G., They Are My Friends: A History of the Joseph Knight Family, 1825-1850, (Prove, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1986), pg.43. According to this account, about one-third of those in attendance were members of the Knight family from Colesville, about fifteen came from the Manchester area, and about twenty from Fayette. It should be noted however that the exact location and circumstances surrounding the foundation of the Church on 6 April 1830 remain in dispute, with early sources (including the 1833 Book of Commandments) saying that the Church was organized in Manchester rather than Fayette. In all probability, Joseph had informally organized the Church at Manchester with six members, or elders, and sometime thereafter, on 6 April 1830, held a more formal organizational meeting at Fayette to which all interested parties and believers were invited. According to David Whitmer (An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, pp. 32-33), the exact circumstances were as follows: "We preached, peptized [sic] and confrrmed members into the Church of Christ, from August, 1829, until April 6th, 1830, being eight months in which time we had proceeded rightly; the officers in the church being Elders, Priests and Teachers. Now, when April 6, 1830, had come, we had then established three branches of the 'Church of Christ,' in which three branches were about seventy members: One branch was at Fayette, N. Y.; one at Manchester, N. Y., and one at Colesville, Pa. [sic] It is all a mistake about the church being organized on April 6, 1830, as I will show. We were as fully organized -- spiritually -- before April 6th as we were on that day. The reason why we met on that day was this; the world had been telling us that we were not a regularly organized church, and that we had no right to officiate in the ordinance of Marriage, hold church property, etc., and that we should organize according to the laws of the land. On this account we met at my father's house in Fayette, N. Y, on April 6, 1830, to attend to the matter of organizing according to the laws of the land... Now brethren, how can it be that the church was any more organized -- spiritually -- on April 6th, than it was before that time? There were six elders and about seventy members before April 6th, and the same number of elders and members after that day. We attended our business of organizing, according to the laws of the land, the church acknowledging us six elders as their ministers; besides a few who had recently been baptized and not confirmed were confirmed on that day; some blessings were pronounced, and we partook of the Lord's supper. -- I do not consider that the church was any more organized or established in the eyes of God on that day than it was previous to that day. I consider that on that day the first error was introduced into the Church of Christ, and that error was Brother Joseph being ordained as 'Prophet, Seer and Revelator' to the church." -- See also, however History of the Church, Vol. l, pp.76-77n, which rather succinctly sets forth an opposing point of view, as does Joseph Smith's brother William in William Smith on Mormonism, (Lamoni, Iowa: 1883), pg. 14, wherein he claims that the church meeting of 6 April 1830 was held in the home of Hyrum Smith and that he (William) was present. -- Curiously, with respect to David Whitmer's assertion that "on that day the first error was introduced into the Church of Christ, and that error was Brother Joseph being ordained as 'Prophet, Seer and Revelator' to the church," Sjdney Rigdon, in a letter to Charles L. Woodward of New York, dated 25 May 1873, (original in New York Public Library collection) almost seems to admit that the idea of a "revelator" was a concept which originated with him; thus further reinforcing the argument that Rigdon himself was either present at that meeting or had some influence upon the actions which were undertaken there. According to Rigdon: "The Church of Latter-Day Saints had three books that they acknowledged as Canonical, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Commandments. For the existence of that church there had to be a revelator, one who received the word of the Lord; [and] a spokesman, one inspired of God to expound all revelation, so that the church might all be of one faith. Without these two men the Church of Latter-Day Saints could not exist." -- Elsewhere however, Whitmer denies that Smith and Rigdon had any contact prior to that noted in the official church histories; however it is clear that Whitmer simply know very little about the events outlined in this volume. Rigdon's statement concerning "secret meetings" must therefore be taken in this context. Moreover, Rigdon's knowledge of the organizational meeting" of 6 April could easily have been imparted to him by Smith and Cowdery without his actually having been present in the cabin at the time. Perhaps he was secretly lodged in a hotel in nearby Geneva during this period, with Smith and Cowdery coming and going as needed. -- Even so, Rigdon's meaning with respect to the "two men" necessary to the existence of the church is clear. Smith's role was intended to be that of "revelator," while Rigdon was to play the part of the "spokesman... inspired of God."
55 Messenger & Advocate, Vol. I, No. 7 (April, 1835), pg. 97. Letter dated Liberty, MO, 1 February 1835. For complete text, see Appendix II. Phelps had earlier complained in both the 18 May and 25 May 1831 issues of his Ontario Phoenix (Vol. IV, Nos. 3-4) that the Masonic papers had published his private correspondence respecting his imprisonment at Lyons (18 May) and that his private letter written at Lyons was not intended to "send a fire brand among the patriots of equal rights" (25 May).
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of 6 April 1844, but the date falls virtually in the middle of a two and one-half month gap in Rigdon's chronology during which he could well have been in New York to witness the event in question! (Lyons, New York, by the way, is only about a dozen miles north of Waterloo and perhaps sixteen from the Whitmer home in Fayette township.)
Moreover, when Rigdon says that Phelps "came to us and expressed astonishment," he cannot have been using the word "us" to mean Joseph Smith, since Phelps himself states he did not converse with Smith until December 24. In addition, Rigdon's use of the words "I recollect," and "we concealed ourselves," and "there was much excitement about our secret meetings," can only be interpreted to mean that he himself was personally involved with all of this.
As to whether Sidney Rigdon ever really considered Joseph Smith a true Prophet of God or whether he knew the whole thing to be nothing more than a scam, we have uncovered yet another fascinating bit of evidence, again from the lips of Rigdon himself, and this time given under oath in a court of law.
During a June, 1837, court proceeding concerning the complaint of one Grandison Newell of Kirtland to the effect that Joseph Smith had given orders to have him (Newell) killed:
"Gen. J. H. Payne, of Painesville, appeared for Newell, and in a quizzical way asked each of the Mormon witnesses if he believed Joe Smith to be a true prophet. The answer upon each occasion was an emphatic 'Yes.' When Rigdon was reached with the same inquiry, he sat back in his chair and coolly responded: 'Well, I guess he is as much of a Prophet as you are, General, or Eber D. Howe.'" 56
Thus Sidney Rigdon stands condemned, not only by the words of others, but by the words of his own mouth, some of which (praise God) were duly recorded and published by the Mormons themselves!
"I tell you this: there is not a thoughtless word that comes from men's lips but they will have to account for it on the day of judgment. For out of your own mouth you will be acquitted; [and] out of your own mouth you will be condemned."
Matt. XII:36-37. 57
"[And] Jesus said... what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth -- it is that which will defile you. 58
56 Kennedy, J. H., Early Days of Mormonism: Palmyra, Kirtland, and Nauvoo, (NY: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1888). pp. 157-158. Regarding the trial itself, Kennedy reports as follows: An occurrence that had its culmination in the early days of this year , did not allay the feeling of enmity and distrust already prevalent in the outer world. Grandison Newell, a prominent farmer in Kirtland township, who lived a mile and a half from the village, had for a long time been an avowed enemy of Smith and the Mormons, and lost no chance to make his dislike apparent in his acts. A young man who had been a member of the Mormon Church, but had departed from and denounced it, gave Newell such information as led him, on April 13, 1837, to lodge a complaint before Justice Flint, of Painesville, charging Smith with conspiring to take his life. Giving form and substance to the grave rumors that had been for a long time afloat as to the dangers to be apprehended from the Mormon Church, this charge caused the wildest excitement. The hearing was awaited with the deepest interest. It occurred on June 3d. The young man above referred to -- whose name appears in none of the records -- made oath that Smith had directed himself and a fellow Mormon named Davis, to take Newell's life, declaring him to be an avowed enemy to the true faith, who ought to be out out of the way, and that on two occasions they had gone to the complainant's residence at night, with a purpose of carrying out their instructions, but had not found him at home. -- This evidence made a sensation, and the Mormons used every means in their power to break its effect. Rigdon, Cowdery, Hyde, and other prominent members of their church were placed upon the stand, and made as good a case for Smith as the circumstances would admit. The court appears to have believed there was some foundation for the charge, as Smith was placed under bonds of five hundred dollars to keep the peace, and appear the next term of court. Rigdon, L. W. Denton, and Orson Hyde were accepted as bail. On the final hearing, Smith was discharged, the evidence not being considered sufficient to make good the charge."
57 New English Bible, (NY: Oxford University Press, 1976).
58 The Gospel of Thomas, verse 14: in Robinson, James M., ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 118-130.
The writers of this pre-publication review volume certainly progressed a good distance down the Spalding claims pike since two of their number helped produce the 1977 Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? Their lengthy revision is vastly better researched (and more or less better written). All in all, it is obviously a much better product than their previous work. Having said that much, however, I seriously wonder whether or not the writers may have addressed the wrong readership in distributing this pre-publication CD-ROM book. If it was meant as an advance "book review copy" of their 2005 CPH edition, this critical reader's first suggestion is that the writers develop a more objective rhetorical methodology. Although they themselves are probably quite assured of what it is they want to say, I can only conjecture why it is that they have chosen an antique anti-Mormon style in which to express their often otherwise persuasive arguments. If they mean to come off as modern R. B. Neals, throwing verbal brickbats at amateur Mormon "apologists," they have succeeded perfectly in that attempt. The question is, will those contemporary Mormon "apologists" and "polemicists" whose publications influence popular LDS opinion even bother to finish reading this massive treatise?
Perhaps the writers would do better to tone down their anti-Mormon rhetoric and aim their message at an entirely different audience. There is much in this book that might engage and inspire scholars of nineteenth century American religious history. Objective and disinterested students of early Mormonism might also find their reporting to be of considerable value in conducting future studies -- that is, if they can excuse the authors from the petty insults and put-downs that pop up on practically every page of this otherwise scholarly work. In attacking "Mormonism," rather than attempting to explain it, the four writers have fallen down the same rabbit hole as did William H. Whitsitt over a hundred years ago. Both these writers and Whitsitt attempted to communicate an important message to a popular readership interested in Mormon origins -- and both of the final products, these writers' Enigma and Whitsitt's Sidney Rigdon, end up being their own worst enemies.
Apart from the often patronizing and ultimately self-defeating tone of their reporting, the information these writers offer up for the reader's inspection is truly fascinating and disturbing. If even half of what they have to say about Solomon Spalding and the origin of the Book of Mormon proves to be true, they will have disturbed the currently placid waters of scholarly inquiry into Latter Day Saintism beyond most historians' imagination. In order for that potential tempest to expand beyond the rim of the historians' teacup, however, even that half a stack of veritable facts must first be shown to be the sort of stuff we can all agree is indeed true.
A Word from Ted Chandler
In a 2001 review posted at his "Book of Mormon Studies" web-site, Spalding researcher Ted Chandler has this to say about the Enigma CD: "In providing evidence that Sidney Rigdon was in New York before his conversion and subsequent meeting with Joseph Smith in December 1830, the authors discuss a sermon delivered by Rigdon in 1844, in which he describes a meeting at Waterloo in 1830. Rigdon also said, "I recollect Elder Phelps being put in jail for reading the book of Mormon." In a letter published in the Messenger & Advocate in 1835, Phelps wrote: "On the 30th of April, 1830, I was thrown into prison at Lyons, N. Y." (Cowdery et al. 2000, 533, 534). This would seem to prove that Rigdon was in New York in April 1830. However, Phelps and Rigdon were apparently mistaken about the date of Phelps's imprisonment. In May 1831 two newspapers printed a letter that Phelps wrote from the Lyons jail on 30 April 1831 (see Vogel 1996, 3:32). Therefore, the date of Phelps's imprisonment cannot be taken as evidence. -- Despite some flaws in the argument, which the authors need to rethink, The Spalding Enigma provides a wealth of useful information, as well as appendices which reproduce important documents.
Mr. Chandler is on to something here and the matter is worth further consideration -- see the Addendum to these current comments for more details on the Enigma authors' serious chronological errors as uncovered by Chandler's eagle eye.
The Nitty Gritty
In reading this work I see that a significant part of it is admitted speculation -- what Chandler might call "some flaws in the argument" which "cannot be taken as evidence." Evidence need not amount to conclusive proof in order to be informative, however. The Enigma authors' speculative "evidence" is generally imaginative and occasionally convincing. But it is convincing mostly in the same way that fictional works on the Mormons from the nineteenth century were captivating and titillating. These four authors added together do not make a up a modern Fawn Brodie, much less a Conan Doyle, but their reconstruction of Mormon origins is done with a certain flair worthy of at least a little applause. In their collective imagination Oliver Cowdery is a secretive religious fanatic, ready to bend to the wiles of a mesmerizing Sidney Rigdon and a vengeful William Morgan. Oliver's brother Erastus becomes a touch-point for both Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon and it is while visiting his little-known brother in Ohio that these four authors make Oliver fall under the spell of Sidney, the half-crazy religious genius and redactor of Spaldingish pseudo-scripture. Oliver then becomes the go-between who links Rigdon up with cousin Joseph in Palmyra -- and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?
If even half of what the Enigma authors relate in their book proves to be true, I wonder which "half" it will be? Were Oliver's and Joseph's fathers really fellow "rodsmen" back in Vermont? Did the Smiths' money-digging circle evolve into a bogus prayer circle once Rigdon delivered them a fake "Nephite Record"? Was William Morgan really a half-way convert to Smith's pre-Mormon parapsychology -- and did Oliver Cowdery actually serve as Morgan's secret scribe?
The writers have opened more than one can of worms in flinging this digital report our way. Latter Day Saints are left to ponder their "evidence" showing that Sidney Rigdon and Solomon Spalding both visited the same Pittsburgh Post Office as early as 1816, and, in Rigdon's case, probably well before that date. Just how important might it be that a clerk in that very Post Office recalled Rigdon as being an associate of Jonathan Harrison Lambdin? Lambdin worked in the same print-shop where Spalding left off his legendary manuscript. Will more evidence of skullduggery in the shadows of Silas Engles' pressroom soon come to light? Can this skeleton of events re-articulated by the Enigma authors convincingly be fleshed out with reliable supporting evidence -- demonstrating once and for all that a Spalding-Rigdon-Cowdery-Smith connection existed prior to 1830? And if so, need such a conspiracy be limited to those three men? Is there room in the secret story for bit-players like Parley P. Pratt and Hyrum Smith?
I am afraid that the conditional answer to those last few questions is "probably yes," and, as a Latter Day Saint, that disturbs me. Cowdrey, Davis, O'Neal and Vanick may not make a big splash with this problematic new fish they've set swimming in the murky seas of Mormonism -- but I have the feeling that we are on the verge of getting into some truly deep and dangerous waters here. Ahead lie the unknown shoals of post-Brodieism and the "Newer Mormon history." It will be interesting to peruse the inevitable Mormon response to this book and its many half-believable allegations. If that response comes only as verbal mud-slinging from the same stereotypical "apologists" the Enigma authors have addressed, the fallout may amount to little more than a double dose of adversity for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. The authors' field of study and their findings deserve a better presentation than what I see in this preliminary CD-ROM book. And they themselves probably deserve a better consideration and response from the Latter Day Saints than I fear will be forthcoming.
Dale R. Broadhurst
October 26, 2000
(updated Jan. 26, 2002 & Apr. 20, 2005)
On pages 533-35 of the 2000 Spalding Enigma, the book's writers attempt to place Canandaigua anti-Masonic editor William Wines Phelps in jail during the year 1830, very near the founding of the "Church of Christ," both in terms of time and space. Their obvious reason for making this ill-fated attempt is to show that proto-Mormon Sidney Rigdon was in the same neck of the woods as was Phelps during his "1830" imprisonment, and thus demonstrate that Rigdon was a co-conspirator with Joseph Smith months prior to his ostensible conversion and Mormon baptism at the hands of Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt.
Alas! the Enigma authors have stumbled upon a misprint in the never especially reliable pages of the LDS Messenger and Advocate. The date of W. W. Phelps' imprisonment at Lyons, Wayne co., New York for past-due debt was April 30, 1831 and not a year before, as the paper mistakenly prints. Notice that the same typesetter makes Phelps say that he was baptized a Mormon on "Thursday the 10th of June, 1831." That statement is also a misprint. Phelps was baptized at Kirtland on Thursday the 16th of June, 1831. See my chronology for his leaving New York, traveling to Kirtland, and then joining the Mormon migration to Jackson county, Missouri, as provided in the "comments" accompanying Phelps' letter in the Sept. 7, 1831 number of the Ontario Phoenix.
In his on-line review of the Spalding Enigma researcher Ted Chandler opines that "Phelps and Rigdon were apparently mistaken about the date of Phelps's imprisonment." This is unlikely. It is far more probable that the frequently unreliable Messenger & Advocate staff simply introduced typographical errors into Phelps' published letter -- making his April 30, 1831 read "April 30, 1830" and his Thursday the 16th of June read "Thursday the 10th of June." Rigdon's speech at the Nauvoo Spring Conference of 1844 is no shining specimen of clarity and correctness, in any case. His recollections of the early days of the LDS Church are conflated into a loose string of half-remembered events; what seems to have occurred in a matter of days, by Rigdon's telling of the story, actually took place over several months. See Richard S. Van Wagoner's comments on this Rigdon speech on pp. 332-333 of his 1994 Sidney Rigdon. Van Wagoner there gives his view that Rigdon was, at least in part, recalling "being shut up in secret with the prophet in "an old smoky house" in Hiram, Ohio.
What Really Happened to Phelps in the Spring of 1831
As early as April 9, 1830 William Wines Phelps had his first look at the newly printed Book of Mormon. Later that year he sold copies of the strange volume out of his Ontario Phoenix office in Canandaigua -- a few miles south of the Smith home in Manchester. In late December, 1830, Phelps heard that both Joseph Smith and his new co-leader, the Rev. Sidney Rigdon, had stopped over at Fayette, on their way to visit the Mormon congregation at Colesville. On Dec. 24th Phelps spent most of the day interviewing Smith and Rigdon. According his own letter (dated Jan. 15, 1831) W. W. Phelps had recently engaged in "ten hours discourse" with Sidney Rigdon on the subject of the Book of Mormon (see page 273 in E. D. Howe's 1834 Mormonism Unvailed, for the Phelps letter).
Bruce A. Van Orden's "By That Book I Learned the Right Way to God: The Conversion of William W. Phelps" (in Regional Studies in LDS History: New York, 1992, pp. 202-213) presents a reliable analysis for what happened to W. W. Phelps in April and May of 1831. Van Orden says: " Following the political campaigns of the fall of 1830, in which he played a significant partisan role, W. W. Phelps' attention again turned to the Book of Mormon... By December 1830 he could stay away no longer and he sought out Joseph Smith on Christmas Eve at the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr., in nearby Fayette Township, Seneca County. Phelps came away from his encounter with the Prophet and his scribe Sidney Rigdon with mixed feelings... confused about what action he should take... In late April, while he was in Palmyra... two religiously motivated Antimasons from Canandaigua brought charges against Phelps for indebtedness... he was taken by local officials to the Wayne County seat in Lyons and put in jail... after a week, his obligations were paid and he was set free... He resigned his editorship of the Ontario Phoenix..."
W. W. Phelps' April 30, 1831 imprisonment in the Lyons jail for unpaid debts to Canandaigua "Presbyterian" "Masons" is documented in a contemporary letter written by Phelps himself -- from the jail -- and published in an early May issue of the Geneva Gazette. From its reprint in the Wayne Sentinel of May 13, 1831 the full details of the anti-masonic editor's plight may be had. In his Apr. 30, 1831 letter Phelps says: "While I was in Palmyra, comparing the "Book of Mormon" with the Bible, to find out the truth, and investigate the matter from public good, -- members of the church [Presbyterian Church] and pretended anti-masons [actually Masons], sent their foolish clerk from Canandaigua, and took me with a warrant, and obtained a judgment against me, on a balance of their account. This was done after I had engaged a passage home, having learned that my family were sick. An execution was sworn out on the spot, and I was hurried to jail in the course of the night, where I shall stay thirty days, "in durance vile," for a double purpose."
W. W. Phelps Becomes a Mormon Convert
Phelps' unhappy situation is further documented in a series of articles published in his Ontario Phoenix of May 4th, May 11th, May 18th, and May 25th -- and in the rival Ontario Repository of May 18th, May 25th, and July 20th. In the last article, the Repository editor mentions that "Among the number [of converts] ordained as elders, and commissioned to preach the Mormon faith, we understand is the late editor and publisher of the Ontario Phoenix, W. W. Phelps, Esq. Phelps." To make a long story short, W. W. Phelps was plagued by debts and failed political aspirations and infatuated by Joseph Smith's new Mormonism. His 1831 jailing may have been a publicity stunt, cooked up by Phelps himself. He was on the verge of openly declaring his conversion to Mormonism, a decision which would remove him from both the Masonic and anti-Masonic ranks, but which might gain the Mormons widespread advertisement, if carried out in an eye-catching way. The New York Legislature had just passed a law prohibiting imprisonment fpr small debts and the bill was evidently on the Governor's desk for signing at the time Phelps was arrested. He was arguably the last man jailed in New York, for simply failing to pay his debts. If the jailing was a publicity stunt, it did not gain Phelps and the Mormons much attention in either the Masonic or the anti-Masonic press. He was soon released and on his way to join his new co-religionists. It was no doubt an easy decision for him to uproot his family and go west to Kirtland in June of 1831, (after having disposed of his newspaper duties and paying off a few of his most diligent creditors).
As a last ditch argument, the Enigma authors might attempt to propose that Phelps was jailed for debt in Lyons on both Apr. 30, 1830 and Apr. 30, 1831 -- but that argument is also doomed to fail. There is absolutely no mention in any of the several 1831 newspaper accounts of W. W. Phelps having been imprisoned in the same jail exactly one year before -- an event that would have surely resulted in at least a passing notice somewhere. In fact, during April and May 1830, Phelps was safely at home in Canandaigua, writing and publishing his weekly editorials in each issue of the Phoenix. There is absolutely no mention in the spring 1830 Ontario and Wayne county papers of his then being jailed. Nor is there any such mention in any of the reputable histories of early Mormonism that attempt to provide any details on Phelps's early activities.
The Enigma authors have advertised their CD-ROM book as a review copy of their 2005 CPH edition, Hopefully they have taken this particular "review" into consideration, in preparing their text for final publication.