ONE of the greatest curiosities of American literature was the Rev. Solomon Spaulding's "Manuscript Found." No copy of this curious romance of a prehistoric American race is now known to exist. The discovery of the manuscript would mean a fortune to the person discovering it, providing he knew its history and value, but there is great reason to believe that this curious romance inspired by the great mounds of Ohio will never be found. There is no positive proof that the Spaulding manuscript was destroyed by agents of the Church of Christ [of] Latter Day Saints but it would have been policy for that sect to see that it was destroyed as a diplomatic measure. The reason for the Mormon interest in Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" lay in the fact that while written prior to the calling of Joseph Smith, to be a prophet of the new faith, the Spaulding romance included in its cast of characters such names as "Mormon," "Maroni," "Lamenite," and "Nephi." There were people in the early days of Mormonism who believed that the Prophet Smith not only stole the plot of his "Book of Mormon" from the Spaulding Manuscript but that he even lacked the wit to change the names of its principal characters. I believe it was the late Elbert Hubbard who said Edgar Allen Poe could have made a more interesting book on the same foundation if he had given some time to the idea. The "Book of Mormon," while considered a work of divine revelation by the followers of Smith, is far from a literary classic. It would be interesting to have the lost Spaulding manuscript for the purposes of comparison. From what we know of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding we are inclined to believe that for interesting reading his work would be of more literary value than the translation of the plates made by Smith. If the "Book of Mormon" was inspired perhaps Spaulding was the first prophet called, but he failed to answer. The coincidence of names in the "Manuscript Found" and "The Book of Mormon" inclines to the belief that Smith was a plagiarist if not a prophet.
Solomon Spaulding was born at Ashford, Connecticut, in 1761, was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1785, studied divinity, preached a few years and then, from ill health, gave up the ministry. Spaulding was a peculiar man, of fine education, especially devoted to historical study, and with a great fondness for writing romances. In 1812 he resided in Conneaut, Ashtabula county, Ohio. The great mounds in the vicinity aroused the curiosity of Spaulding who caused excavations to be made and it is said his workers found skeletons and other relics of a prehistoric race. On these discoveries and with a good imagination Spaulding wrote his "Manuscript Found," which he called a translation from some hieroglypgical writing exhumed from the mound. This romance purported to be a history of the peopling of America by the lost tribes of Israel, the tribes and their leaders having very singular names among which were Mormon, Maroni, Lamenite, and Nephi. The work of Spaulding's was written in 1812, and the manuscript was read to a circle of admiring friends. They thought it was good and he decided to publish it and carried it for this purpose to Patterson, a printer at Pittsburgh, Pa. After keeping it for a time Patterson returned it to Spaulding with the advice to polish it up, finish it, and make some money out of it. At the time the manuscript was in the possession of Patterson he had in his employ Sidney Rigdon, who twenty years later was a well known preacher among the Mormons.
In 1823, Joseph Smith, the possessor of a seer stone, made his living by wandering from place to place professing to discover gold and silver and lost articles by means of this remarkable possession. In that year he announced that he had been directed in a vision to unearth some gold plates from a hill near Palmyra, N. Y. These plates were curiously inscribed.
In 1825, Mr. Thurlow Weed was publishing the "Rochester Telegraph" and Smith came to him to have a book published. Weed thought the inspired work of Smith's was "incomprehensible jargon" and refused to publish it. A few days later Smith returned with a farmer named Harris who offered to finance the publishing of the book. The book was afterwards published in Palmyra, in 1830 to be exact, by E. B. Grandin. Two years later the Mormon religion began to gain ground. The history of the rise of Mormonism can be found in standard reference works. We shall return to the Spaulding manuscript and its history.
Spaulding died at Amity, Pa. in 1816. His wife then went to reside with her brother, William H. Sabine at Onondaga Valley, Onondaga county, N. Y. The manuscript concerning the lost tribes of Israel and other unpublished works of the deceased author were carried to Sabine's place in an old trunk. While there his daughter had occasion to glance over the manuscripts. In 1820, Mrs. Spaulding remarried and took up her residence at Hartwicks, N. Y., and the trunk with its manuscripts sent to her at that place. About 1830, the author's widow went to Monson, Mass. to reside with her daughter. The trunk was left in the care of Mr. Jerome Clark of Hartwicks.
A Mormon meeting at Conneaut, where the "Book of Mormon" was read reminded John Spaulding of his brother's work of years previous. Other friends commented on the similarity of the works and the Mormons had a dispute on their hands.
In 1834, a man named Hurlburt arrived at Monson, Mass., in search of the Spaulding manuscript. He had a letter from Sabine requesting his sister to loan the manuscript to Hurlburt in order to help uproot the "Mormon case." She consented to loan the manuscript and gave Hurlburt a letter to Clarke authorizing the opening of the trunk. Hurlburt obtained the manuscript but never returned it to the Spaulding family. It was rumored that he sold it to the Mormons for $300 and that they destroyed it.
Another coincidence in the history of the "Manuscript Found" is that it was in the trunk at Sabine's house during a period when Joseph Smith was employed on the Sabine farm. The trunk was unlocked and Smith could have had an opportunity to read the manuscript. This seems very probable for both stories are alike and the peculiar names occur nowhere but in these two books.
In 1880, M. S. McKinstry, the daughter of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding made an affidavit telling what she knew of the facts in the history of the manuscript. On this affidavit Ellen E. Dickinson based her story entitled "The Book of Mormon" which was published in Scribner's Monthly in the number for August, 1880. At that time the Mormons were quite a political problem and the subject was of current interest. On her facts we have based the present article which we offer as one of the curiosities of American literature.