view graphic of this article
1887 Ethan S. Smith's comments (paraphrase)
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 24, 1887.
Ethan Sanford Smith (1839--c.1900?) was the son of Carlos Sanford Smith and Susan Saxton. He was the grandson of Ethan Smith (1762-1849) the New England Congregational Minister who wrote View of the Hebrews. Ethan Sanford Smith grew up in Summit Co., OH and later lived in Cleveland. He is almost certainly the source of the 1887 letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, mentioned in the article.
The publication of this article predates I. Woodbridge Riley's popularization of the "Ethan Smith theory" by 16 years.
"View of the Hebrews" | Ethan Smith theory |
Norwood's 1990 review | Rick Branch's 1992 review
THE BOOK OF MORMON.
A Puritan Minister Partly Re-
sponsible for Its Production.
How a Congregational Clergyman in New England Elaborated His Theories Regarding the Lost Tribes of Israel in a Book Which was Never Published and Eventually Found Its Way Into the Hands of Solomon Spaulding -- Rev. Ethan Smith's Semi-Historical Romance Identified With the Story as Told in the Book of Mormon.
The recent conference of the Josephites or monogamous Mormons at Kirtland, O., and the extended reports of their proceedings in the PLAIN DEALER has renewed public interest in the peculiar faith to which members of this church subscribe. The origin of the Book of Mormon has never been clearly established. The Latter Day Saints, of course, accept the statements of Joe Smith and believe it to be an inspired work. The general public, however, are hardly as credulous and regard the alleged Bible as a fraud -- the work of some clever romancist rather than the translation of hieroglyphics on golden plates by a nineteenth century prophet. The Spaulding theory, with which everyone at all acquainted with the subject is familiar, has the most advocates. They hold that Spaulding's manuscript of his romance "The Manuscript Found" fell into the hands of Joe Smith, Sidney Rigdon and others and from that fanciful work was constructed the Book of Mormon.
If this theory be true it will astonish orthodox church people to learn that a Congregational divine, one of the foremost of his time in New England, is responsible for the introduction of the "twin relic of barbarism" -- as the Utah church has been called -- in this country. Rev. Ethan Smith, who died at an advanced age in the early "forties," was one of the lights of the Congregational church in New England. A man of deep learning he was at once a preacher, author and philosopher, holding to many ideas far in advance of his time. One of his pet hobbies was the belief that the North American Indians were descended from the lost tribes of Israel, who came over to this continent several hundred years before Christ, built great cities and reached a very high state of civilization.
Rev. Dr. Smith wrote a work on this subject, which after completion, he decided not to publish, fearing that it might injure his reputation as a theological writer. This book was an elaboration of the theory Dr. Smith had so long maintained. Taking as its foundation the migration of the lost tribes of Israel to the western continent, it described the hegira from Palestine, the establishment of the Jews in what is now Central America and Mexico, the founding of a great empire and its gradual decline and fall. It told of magnificent cities inhabited by an enlightened and Christian people. The author claimed for them a civilization equal to that of Egypt or Jerusalem.
Hundreds of years passed and the history of the eastern Jews was repeated on the western continent. Quarrels between the various tribes sprang up, bloody wars were waged and the process of disintegration began. Gradually the people were scattered, their cities destroyed and all semblance to a nation was lost. Thousands perished by pestilence and the sword and the remnants of a once mighty nation relapsed into a state of barbarism. Their descendants, Dr. Smith claimed, were Indians of North America, and the Aztecs of Mexico. This is almost exactly similar to the story told in the Book of Mormon.
Solomon Spaulding was a warm admirer of Dr. Smith and when a young man studied under his tuition. He became interested in his theories regarding the settlement of America, and in return Dr. Smith took the young student into his confidence and granted him a perusal of his unpublished book. Spaulding was deeply impressed with the truth of this theory and pursued his investigations even farther than Dr. Smith had ventured. Taking the latter's views as expressed in his book Spaulding some years later wrote his famous "Manuscript Found," which afterward fell into the hands of Joe Smith and was reconstructed into the Book of Mormon. Indeed, it is not at all unlikely that Dr. Smith's original manuscript, which it is said Spaulding had in his possession, suffered a similar fate. At any rate it has never been seen since.
These facts are told to the PLAIN DEALER by a grandson of Dr. Smith, now residing in this city. He states that the Book of Mormon differs very slightly as far as its general outline is concerned, from the historical romance written by his grandfather sixty or seventy years ago, and he is quite certain that the Mormon faith is founded on the production of that worthy pastor's fertile imagination.
Return to Top of Page
Note 3: The 1887 article was written by an anonymous journalist who probably knew relatively little about the Mormons and their unique scriptures. This journalist apparently had little more than Ethan Sanford Smith's letter to consult for facts and background information relating to the alleged true authorship of the Book of Mormon. It is not surprising that the article writer garbled some of the information provided by Ethan Sanford Smith. Smith himself may have also been somewhat misinformative and may have not stated clearly some of the details he wished to relate. The article says that "Solomon Spaulding was a warm admirer of Dr. Smith and when a young man, studied under his tuition." The statement gives the impression that Solomon Spalding (1761-1816) was a student of the Rev. Ethan Smith. This idea is obviously wrong, since Solomon was older than Ethan and would have had no reason to study "under his tuition." The "Dr. Smith" mentioned in the article is much more likely to have been Dr. John Smith, a professor who taught at Dartmouth College during the time period when both Ethan Smith (class of 1790) and Solomon Spalding (class of 1785, MA 1787?) were students there. For additional speculation regarding the relationship between Ethan Smith and Solomon Spalding see David Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon.
Note 4: Because of the probable conflation of facts relating to Dr. John Smith and Rev. Ethan Smith in the article, it is not clear whether Ethan Sanford Smith said that Spalding received a manuscript book from the Professor Smith or from the Clergyman Smith. However, most of the rest of the information in the article points to Rev. Ethan Smith as being Spalding's friend and fellow-writer of fictional histories of the pre-Columbian Americans. This 1887 article is the earliest known published statement linking Rev. Ethan Smith with the authorship of the Book of Mormon.
Return to: Spalding Studies "Home" |
Spalding Studies "Library" |
Last Revised: 10-26-2000