1994 Richard Van Wagoner comments and analysis (excerpts)
Van Wagoner, Richard S.
Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, UT, 1994.
title page pp. 42-55 pp. 108-117
pp. 132-37 pp. 463-66
A P o r t r a i t o f
R e l i g i o u s E x c e s s
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sacred scriptures -- exposed their ignorance and contradictions -- threw new light on the sacred volume, particularly those prophesies which so deeply interest this generation, and which had been entirely overlooked, or mystified by the religious world -- cleared up scriptures which had heretofore appeared inexplicable, and delighted his astonished audience with things "new and old" -- proved to a demonstration the literal fulfilment of prophesy, the gathering of Israel in the last days, to their ancient inheritances, with their ultimate splendor and glory; the situation of the world at the coming of the Son of Man -- the judgments which Almighty God would pour out upon the ungodly, prior to that event, and the reign of Christ with his saints on the earth, in the millenium.
During August 1826 the Mahoning Baptist Association annual convocation was held in Canfield, Ohio, in David Hays's barn. Bentley was the moderator, Rigdon a visiting minister. It was customary in the association to have preaching for the public while the messengers were transacting business. Campbell preached the keynote sermon on Saturday. His theme centered on the "Progress of Revealed Thought." This later became known as his "four-ages" sermon based on the conclusion of the prophecies of Malachi. He differentiated between the Starlight, Moonlight, Twilight, and Sunlight ages, and compared them to the Patriarchal and Jewish ages, the times of John the Baptist, and the Modern age. 9
Rigdon and Scott preached on Sunday morning in the Congregational meeting house, Rigdon using the sixteenth chapter of John as his sermon. One account reported that several people who missed the opening introduction thought they were hearing Alexander Campbell. The eloquence implied by this anecdote is illustrated by James Madison's impression of Campbell's address to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829. The former U.S. president stated that Campbell was "the ablest and most original expounder of the Scriptures" he had ever heard. 10
Rigdon's vainglorious reports of success, well documented in his own
8 Times and Seasons 4 (15 May 1843): 194; 4 (1 June 1843): 209-10.
9 Henry K. Shaw, Buckeye Disciples: A History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1952), 41.
10 Winfred Ernest Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ: A History (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1948), 28.
accounts, may not have been far off the mark. Other, less biased sources provide corroborative evidence. The most noted omission in his accounts, however, is the failure to credit others, particularly Campbell and Scott, for their successful ministries. Rigdon went so far on one occasion as to say: "The reason why they were called Campbellites, was, in consequence of Mr. Campbell's publishing the [Christian Baptist], and it being the means through which they communicated their sentiments to the world; other than this, Mr. Campbell was no more the originator of that sect than Elder Rigdon." 11
Rigdon most certainly did triumph, but in terms of overall contributions to the Reformed Movement he must be considered a step behind Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell. Indeed, efforts to unify churches in New Testament Christianity did not firmly take hold until Scott began evangelizing in the Western Reserve in 1828. The groundwork for this was laid during the Mahoning Baptist Association annual meetings held in New Lisbon in 1827. Reports for the year were not encouraging. In the seventeen churches of the association there had only been thirty-four baptisms and thirteen other additions, counteracted by thirteen excommunications. 12
Campbell became convinced that the association needed an evangelist, a traveling preacher who could ignite the entire Western Reserve with religious fervor. Passing through Steubenville, Ohio, en route to the Mahoning meetings, Campbell called on his old friend Walter Scott, principal of the academy there, and persuaded him to come to New Lisbon. Previous to the meeting, the Braceville church had prepared a petition in consultation with the church at Nelson. The idea, as Campbell had set forth, was to select a suitable person to travel among the churches, preaching the gospel and setting things in order according to the teachings of the primitive church. Rigdon, along with Bentley, Campbell, and others, served on the nomination committee. They recommended that Scott be selected as the organization's evangelist.
One can only speculate why Rigdon was not Campbell's choice. Although his oratorical skills were on a par with Scott's, the latter's education surpassed Rigdon's common school experience, and Scott, like Campbell, was from Great Britain. Or the reason may have been political. Scott had been planning a periodical, the Millennial Herald, which would rival Campbell's Christian Baptist. 13 When Scott became the evangelist of the Mahoning Association, he was sidetracked -- temporarily at least -- from pursuing his real goals. This would not be the only time Campbell would effectively block Scott's bid for leadership. 14
Another possibility, later expressed in Alexander Campbell's memoirs, was that Rigdon was "petulant, unreliable, and ungovernable in his passions, and his wayward temper, his extravagant stories and his habit of self-assertion ... prevented him from attaining influence as a religious teacher among the disciples." 15
Rigdon is usually viewed through the perspective of his defection, however, and one should
11 Times and Seasons 4 (15 May 1843): 193.
12 Hayden, 57.
13 Ibid., 37. The preface for the monthly publication was written on 4 July 1823; the first number was issued in August. Edited and printed by Campbell, it was devoted to the "promulgation, exposition and defense of the Christian religion as it is expressly revealed in the New Testament." The seven-volume periodical was issued from Buffaloe Creek (later Bethany), Virginia, from August 1823 to July 1830. -- One account refers to The Christian Baptist as "the Magna Carta of the new religious movement" (Frederick D. Kershner, The Restoration Handbook, Series 1 [San Antonio: Southern Christian Press, 1960], 4). Another cites it as "one of the immortal documents of religious history" (Frederick D. Kershner, The Christian Union Overture [St. Louis: The Bethany Press, 1923], 13-14). In January 1830 the publication became The Millennial Harbinger. The first thirty-four volumes, until 1863, were edited by Campbell. The periodical continued another seven volumes, through 1870, with W. K. Pendleton as editor.
14 For other examples, see Henry K. Shaw, Buckeye Disciples: A History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1952), 44.
15 Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, 2 vols. (Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Co., 1868, 1872), 2:344.
note that virtually every unfavorable Baptist, Disciple, and Mormon account of Rigdon was written after he left that particular movement. This "apostasy factor" greatly influenced the way he was analyzed, evaluated, and remembered.
For whatever reason, Scott was appointed and Rigdon was not, and the choice was a wise one. In the words of one historical account, Scott "was not a member of the association, not a Baptist, not a member of any church in the town where he lived, not a resident of the district in which the Mahoning churches were located, not an ordained minister. But it was a good appointment." 16 Scott was in his prime, not yet thirty-one years old. Aside from a classical education, obtained at the University of Edinburgh, he had been a school master for more than a decade. His knowledge of the Bible was extensive, his faith and love genuine. He endeared himself through his fine singing voice, pleasing manner, and storehouse of classical and sacred imagery.
After his appointment Scott left his family in Steubenville, where they had lived since 1826, and began to traverse his territory. Of his position Scott wrote in 1832:
"I never made one objection to the nomination, nor to the appointment but saw in it a providence, I believed no mortal then understood but myself. I immediately cut all other connections, abandoned my projected editorship, dissolved my academy; left my church, left my family, dropped the bitterest tear over my infant household that ever escaped from my eyes, and set out under the simple conduct of Jesus Christ, to make an experiment of what is now styled the Ancient Gospel." 17
There was no emotional frenzy in Scott's rhetoric as in Rigdon's. Instead he was able to calmly blend rationality and authority, appealing to common sense and to scripture. "The force and freshness of Scott's evangelistic appeal," wrote prominent Disciple historians Winfred E. Garrison and Alfred T. DeGroot, "the exciting sense of discovery, the thought that an ancient treasure of divine truth was just now being brought to light after having been lost for centuries, the sense of witnessing the dawn of a new epoch in the history of Christianity -- these things gave to the revival an extraordinary character." 18 A description of Scott's preaching in the winter of 1827-28 said: "He contended ably for the restoration of the true, original apostolic order which would restore to the church the ancient gospel as preached by the apostles. The interest became an excitement;Éthe air was thick with rumors of a 'new religion,' a 'new Bible.' 19
Scott's approach, obviously influenced by his background as a master teacher, was unprecedented. When he arrived in a community where he had never preached, he first sought out local children. His after-school conversations and simple gospel games won their confidence. One approach was to gather a group of youngsters together and ask them to raise their left hands. Then he would say, "Now, beginning with your thumbs repeat what I say to you: 'Faith, Repentence, Baptism, Remission of Sins, Gift of the Holy Spirit.' Now again, repeat! Again,
16 Garrison and DeGroot, 187.
17 The Evangelist, Apr. 1832, 94.
18 Garrison and DeGroot, 188.
19 William Hayden, in William Alexander Linn, The Story of the Mormons: From the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1923), 65.
faster!" After the children had learned this "five-finger exercise," they were told to inform their parents he would "preach the gospel that night as they had learned it on the fingers of their hands." 20
Scott's critics accused him of erratic behavior as they had Rigdon, though Scott was certainly more stable. Some people considered him obsessed. A Methodist preacher whose flock Scott invaded claimed several of his former parishioners had been strangled, that a few had drowned during their baptism. Rowdy groups lined the banks of the Mahoning, which became a second Jordan, to greet the newly baptized with derision. Scott's horse was often set loose while he preached, and once when he located the animal he discovered its tail had been cut off.
Campbell, upon hearing unsettling rumors about Scott, persuaded his father Thomas to visit the Evangelist in the Western Reserve. His report praised Scott. "We have long... spoken and published many things correctly concerning the ancient gospel," he wrote Alexander, "but I must confess that... I am at present for the first time upon the ground where the thing has appeared to be practically exhibited to the proper purpose." 21
Scott's success continued. The following year he was re-appointed to the position, but not without considerable discussion. The debate during the Mahoning Association's annual meetings went stale when Rigdon, a messenger from the Grand River Association, said, "You are consuming too much time on this question. One of the old Jerusalem preachers would start out with his hunting shirt and moccasins, and convert half the world while you are discussing and settling plans!" Scott then arose with a smile on his face and said, "Brethren, give me my Bible, my Head, and Bro. William Hayden, and we will go out and convert the world." Rigdon opined, "I move that we give Br. Scott his Bible, his Head, and Bro. William Hayden." Rigdon's resolution was seconded and passed unanimously. 22
January 1828 saw the "Siege of Warren." This event of major significance in Disciples of Christ history occurred when Adamson Bentley and his entire congregation came into the restoration because of Scott's efforts. Bentley, a reader and agent of the Christian Baptist, had "preached well and lived well; but he held not the key to the heart, nor was he skilled to awaken the music of the soul," according to Disciple historian A. S. Hayden. 23 Because of his long-term association with Alexander Campbell, Scott presumed Bentley's flock would immediately come into the fold. But Bentley, although a reformer at heart, was cautious about Scott's approach, particularly when the Evangelist announced, "I have got the saw by the handle, and I expect to saw you all asunder." 24
Scott requested the use of Bentley's Baptist meetinghouse for preaching, but when Bentley refused Scott addressed a small group at the courthouse instead. The following evening, however, Bentley relented. The Warren church doors were
20 Shaw, 53-54.
21 Garrison and DeGroot, 198.
22 Hayden, 174.
23 Ibid., 95.
24 Ibid., 96; William Baxter, Life of Elder Walter Scott (Cincinnati: Bosworth, Chase & Hall, 1874), 130.
(Pages 46-54 not transcribed.)
"Regular Baptist Mahoning Association died of a moral apoplexy, in less than a quarter of an hour."19
Most accounts depict Rigdon leaving the Disciple fold after his humiliation in Austintown and retreating into seclusion in Mentor.20
But this was not the case. Rigdon had not lost his world, he had not suffered an inglorious fall from power, he merely returned home and picked up his ministry where he had left it the week before. The 16 October 1830 Ashtabula Journal notes, for example, that "We are requested to state that the Rev. Mr. Rigdon, will preach at the Town House in this Borough on Friday evening next, at early candlelighting. Mr. Rigdon is a Campbellite."
But Rigdon's days as a Campbellite or Reformed Baptist were numbered. A new age of promise had dawned in the East and would soon sweep into his life like an eternal wind. The Book of Mormon, a prophetic voice from the past, was at that moment being carried west in the valise of a fervent young missionary named Oliver Cowdery. The delivery of that sacred opus to Rigdon's Mentor home would prove to be the most consequential moment of his life, an event that would end his long quest for the fullness of the gospel as Jesus had taught it.
Publication of the "Golden Bible," as people were calling it, had been recounted in several Western Reserve and New York newspapers as early as 1827, when Joseph Smith began working on the book. There can be little doubt that Rigdon, an enthusiastic reader of newspapers, was aware of the book before it was placed in his hands. Orson Hyde, a ministerial apprentice who lived for some time in Rigdon's Mentor home and who would later be associated with him in Mormonism, wrote that about 1827 "some vague reports came in the newspapers, that a 'golden bible' had been dug out of a rock in the State of New York. It was treated, however, as a hoax. But on reading the report, I remarked as follows -- 'who knows but this gold bible may break up all our religion, and change its whole features and bearing?'"21
Eliza R. Snow, who like Hyde was a member of one of Rigdon's congregations in Ohio, also noted that prior to 1830 she had "heard of Joseph Smith as a Prophet to whom the Lord was speaking from the heavens; and that a Sacred Record containing a history of the origin of the aborigines of America, was unearthed... I considered it a hoax -- too good to be true."22
One early account, no doubt referred to by Hyde and Snow, appeared in the nearby Painesville Telegraph. Although complete backfiles for that gazette do not exist, the 16 November 1830 issue, in an article entitled "The Golden Bible," noted that "Some two or three years since, an account was given in the papers, of a book purporting to contain new revelations from Heaven, having been dug out of the ground, in Manchester in Ontario Co., N.Y."
Rigdon's brother-in-law and fellow Baptist minister, Adamson Bentley, recalled in a 22 January 1841 letter to Walter Scott: "I know that Sidney Rigdon
19 Millennial Harbinger 1 (1849):272.
20 See summarization in F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer -- 1793-1876 (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1971), 29.
21 Millennial Star 26 (19 Nov. 1864): 744.
22 Eliza R. Snow, An Immortal: Selected Writing of Eliza R. Snow, (Salt Lake City: Nicholas G. Morgan, Sr., Foundation, 1957), 6. She added that after she was baptized into Campbell's group, "I was deeply interested in the study of the ancient Prophets, in which I was assisted by the erudite A. Campbell, Walter Scott whose acquaintance I made, but more particularly by Sidney Rigdon who was a frequent visitor at my father's house."
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Nancy Towle, a free-lance evangelist, visited Kirtland, Ohio, in September 1831, shortly after Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith rejoined their families. Her published account provides a window on the tentative foothold Mormons had established in the Western Reserve:
[The Mormons] believe, according to the Book [of Mormon], that a day of great wrath, is bursting upon all the kindreds of the earth; and that, in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, alone, shall be deliverance in that day; (even in the land, which the Lord Jesus had given to them, for a dwelling-place and an everlasting possession.) The place where they then had their stay [Kirtland], was not the "Land of Promise;" but that, lay, on the western boundary of the State of Missouri. In which place, they were then assembling; and where they believed that in process of time, they should have a temple; and a city, of great magnificence, and wealth; and that shortly, they should increase, and tread down all their enemies, and braise them beneath their feet. After which period, Christ Jesus should descend, and reign with them, personally, 1000 years upon the earth. And then their enemies should be loosed for a season, for, as one said to me, for the space of three months, when should take place, the General Judgment; and the final consummation of all created [sic] things. 2
The seer and the scribe, as the Mormon torch bearers Smith and Rigdon were then called, remained in Kirtland only briefly that fall of 1831. Anxious to return to their Bible revision, they relocated to nearby Hiram, Ohio, in mid-September. Their board and room, while they engaged in their literary calling, was partly
1 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience -- Study in Human Nature (1902) (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 6.
2 Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated (Charleston: James L. Burgess, 1832), 137-47 [sic -153]; emphasis in original.
subsidized by new convert John Johnson, whom Rigdon had known for several years during his Baptist ministry in the Hiram area. But Johnson's contribution was insufficient to support the families. During an 11 October 1831 conference at Hiram, Oliver Cowdery made "known the [unfavorable financial] situation of brs Joseph Smith Jr and Sidney Rigdon." David Whitmer, Reynolds Cahoon, Simeon Carter, Orson Hyde, Hyrum Smith, and Emer Harris were appointed to look after their needs so they could continue translating the Bible. 3
The Rigdon family, now consisting of at least six and possibly seven children (a son George was born and died sometime in 1831), settled into the Johnson family's old log cabin where Sidney and Phebe had lived a year earlier. The Smith family -- Joseph, Emma, and their newly adopted twins -- moved into a spare room in the nearby Johnson farmhouse.
The village of Hiram had been a stronghold of the Reformed Baptist movement, and the Reverend Rigdon had achieved considerable success in the area during the late 1820s. The Mantua congregation, to which Hiram initially belonged, was organized on 27 January 1827. In the Disciples of Christ creed it is revered as the "first Church of Christ of the Restoration movement in Ohio." 4 During the winter of 1831 Rigdon and Smith held a meeting in the south school house in Hiram. A chronicler of the period wrote that "Such was the apparent piety, sincerity and humility of the speakers, that many of the hearers were greatly affected." 5
Ezra Booth, a Methodist minister in nearby Mantua, converted to Mormonism in 1831 and went to Hiram on a brief missionary tour. There he encountered Symonds Ryder, a Reformed Baptist minister. Booth requested the opportunity to speak after a Ryder sermon, and Ryder consented. Deeply affected by the Christian simplicity of Booth's sermon, Ryder visited Kirtland but was unfavorably impressed when he happened to hear a young Mormon girl predict the destruction of Peking, China. A month later, however, after reading of the destruction of that city, Ryder joined the Mormon church and was ordained an elder in June 1831.
On 7 June 1831 Booth was commissioned by Joseph Smith to participate in the first missionary tour to Missouri. When his commission arrived late with his name misspelled, Ryder -- skeptical of revelation deficient in orthography -- began to doubt Smith was called of God and eventually refused to carry out his preaching orders. When his friend Booth returned from Missouri in September they compared notes and came to a similar conclusion. In fairness to Booth, he met with Rigdon, Smith, and Cowdery on several occasions to discuss his concerns. "The various shifts and turns, to which they resorted in order to obviate objections and difficulties," he later wrote, "produced in my mind additional evidence, that there was nothing else than a deeply laid plan of craft and deception." 6
Although Booth was "silenced from preaching as an Elder in this Church" on 6 September 1831, five days after returning from Missouri, he would not be
3 Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record -- Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983), 17.
4 Alanson Wilcox, A History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, 1918), 121.
5 Symonds Ryder, "Letter to A. S. Hayden," 1 Feb. 1868, in Amos Sutton Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875), 220-21.
6 Eber Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 177.
muzzled. 7 Booth's former colleague, the Reverend Ira Eddy of Nelson, Portage County, asked Booth to publicly voice his criticisms of the church. Booth complied in a series of nine letters to Reverend Eddy which appeared in the Ohio Star (Ravenna) from 13 October to 8 December 1831.
The ex-Mormon began his narrative by relating that his thousand-mile journey to "the promised land" in Missouri
taught me quite beyond my knowledge, the imbecility of human nature.... It has unfolded in its proper character, a delusion to which I had fallen a victim, and taught me the humiliating, truth, that I was exerting the powers of both my mind and body, and sacrificing my time and property, to build up a system of delusion, almost unparalleled in the annals of the world.
The extensive circulation of these letters had dramatic impact on the public mind for several months. Booth's opposition was based on several factors, including the inconsistencies and failures of Smith's revelations, and what he saw as the despotic personalities and personal weaknesses of Smith, Rigdon, and others.
Many expected Booth's letters to have a ruinous effect on the church. Ambrose Palmer, who was converted by Booth earlier in the year, felt the letters gave Mormonism "such a coloring, or appearance of falsehood, that the public feeling was, that 'Mormonism' was overthrown." 9
To counteract Booth's letters a 1 December 1831 revelation told Smith and Rigdon to stop translating "for the space of a season" and preach roundabout. "Verily thus saith the Lord," came the word, "there is no weapon that is formed against you that shall prosper; and if any man lift his voice against you, he shall be confounded in mine own due time" (1835 D&C 91:1 [now D&C sec. 71]).
For the next six weeks the irrepressible duo preached in Shalersville, Ravenna, Kirtland, and elsewhere. The official church history recounts that they spent their time
setting forth the truth, vindicating the cause of our Redeemer; showing that the day of vengeance was coming upon this generation like a thief in the night; that prejudice, blindness and darkness filled the minds of many, and caused them to persecute the true Church, and reject the true light; by which means we did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published in the Ohio Star, at Ravenna, by the before-mentioned apostate, Ezra Booth. 10
Rigdon was Booth's principal opponent. Although the prophet's "tongue was
7 Cannon and Cook, 11-12.
8 Howe, 176; emphasis in original.
9 Journal History (31 Dec. 1831) -- multi-volume daily history of the church compiled by official church historians; hereafter: Journal History.
10 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1902), 1:241; hereafter referred to as History of the Church.
loosed to speak," as David Whitmer pointed out, 11 Rigdon was superior in eloquence and more audacious in debate. Even Jedediah Grant, a caustic Rigdon critic in later years, admitted that he "was truly a man of talents, possessing a gift for speaking seldom surpassed by men of this age." 12 In this war of words with Booth, Rigdon was the designated Goliath.
On 15 December 1831 Rigdon addressed a "To The Public" letter to the Ohio Star announcing that he intended to deliver a "Lecture on the Christian Religion" on Christmas Day. He specifically requested that Ezra Booth be present as "I shall review the letters written by him and published in the Ohio Star." Rigdon said the letters "are unfair and false representation of the subject on which they treat," and also issued a special challenge to Simonds Ryder to debate him in the township of Hiram "that if I am deluded in receiving this book as a revelation from God, I may be corrected, and the public relieved from anxiety." 13
Booth did not attend the 25 December lecture, and Rigdon, in a bad-tempered rhetorical assault, skewered his antagonist's character. He maintained that Booth's letters contained a "bundle of falsehoods" and asserted that the former Mormon "dare not appear in their defense because he knew his letters were false, and would not bear the test of investigation." 14
Booth was not a total milksop; he merely preferred the safer medium of the newspaper. But editor Lewis L. Rice, upon receiving Booth's next letter, announced his intention of discontinuing, although most certainly not diffusing, the controversy.
Symonds Ryder, described in one account as someone who "did not drift on the current, but rather one who sets currents in motion," 15 also avoided Rigdon in public. He wrote in the 29 December Ohio Star: "To undertake to correct [Rigdon] of his errors before the public, would be a most arduous task for me. His irrascible temper, loquacious extravagance, impaired state of mind, and want of due respect to his superiors, I fear would render him in such a place, unmanageable, and I therefore fear of accomplishing the desired object."
Ryder further noted that since the elders had returned from Missouri most Mormons in Hiram had left the faith and the debate would only serve "to save, if possible, a sinking cause." Although Ryder and Rigdon, like Booth and Rigdon, never met face to face, they continued to spar in the Ohio Star. Rigdon wrote a letter, published 12 January 1832, misspelling Ryder's name "Simons Rider," and taunting him to debate. "He presented himself before the public as an accuser," Rigdon wrote. "[H]e had been called upon before the same public, to support his accusations; and does he come forward and do it? nay, but seeks to hide himself behind a battery of reproach, and abuse, and low insinuations."
Meanwhile, by 10 January 1832 an overly-confident Rigdon and Smith thought they had won the day against their adversaries. A revelation of that date told them "it is expedient to translate again" (D&C 73:3), and they returned vigorously to their work in Hiram. In mid-January they momentarily halted their
11 David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO: David Whitmer, 1887), 70.
12 Jedediah M. Grant, Collection of Facts Relative to the Course Taken by Elder Sidney Rigdon in the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 6.
13 This newspaper clipping is in the Mormon Retrieval Project, box 3, fd. 3, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT; hereafter Special Collections, BYU.
14 Messenger and Advocate 2 (Jan. 1836): 242.
15 B. A. Hindsdale, "Life and Character of Symonds Ryder," in Hayden, 257.
labors and traveled to Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio, to conduct a small conference of elders. During this 25 January convocation the prophet was acknowledged president of the High Priesthood, in effect president of the church, and, according to Orson Pratt's journal, "hands were laid on him by Elder Sidney Rigdon, who sealed upon his head the blessings which he had formerly received." 16
Back in Hiram on 16 February, while engaged in "translating St. John's Gospel," Rigdon and Smith, enraptured in heavenly ecstasy, jointly experienced "in spirit" an apparition they called "The Vision," or "vision of the Three Degrees of Glory," now published as Doctrine and Covenants 76. In 1892 Philo Dibble, an eye-witness to this important episode, wrote a description:
The vision which is recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants was given at the house of "Father Johnson," in Hyrum, Ohio, and during the time that Joseph and Sidney were in the spirit and saw the heavens open, there were other men in the room, perhaps twelve, among whom I was one[.] [D]uring a part of the time -- probably two-thirds of the time -- I saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision.
In addition to seeing the Father and the Son and the creation of other worlds whose inhabitants are "begotten sons and daughters unto God," Rigdon and Smith scanned the past and gazed into the future. They beheld the rebellion of Lucifer, his expulsion from heaven, and everlasting contention against the children of God. Then they witnessed an afterlife that shattered usual Christian beliefs. The published text of "The Vision" declared that God saves all men and women "except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him" (D&C 76:43-44) and described those who are saved as "they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun" (v. 70), as "the terrestrial, whose glory differs... even as that of the moon differs from the son" (v. 71), or as "the glory
16 Elden J. Watson, The Orson Pratt Journals (Salt Lake City: Elden J. Watson, 1975), 11.
17 The Juvenile Instructor, 15 May 1882 [sic - 1892], 303-304. Dibble's account should be viewed with some caution, however. Dibble was an early showman and story teller who traveled about the Great Basin displaying artifacts. If his earlier 1882 recounting is accurate, he was not present during the reception of "The Vision." He wrote: "I arived at Father Johnson's just as Joseph and Sidney were coming out of the vision alluded to in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, in which mention is made of the three glories" (Philo Dibble, "Early Scenes in Church History," Faith Promoting Series No. 8 [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882], 81).
of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars" (v. 81). 18 While still enraptured in spirit, the two diviners wrote a description of their vision. Afterwards they sent the recorded revelation to Independence, Missouri, for publication, and in July 1832 the vision of the degrees of glory was printed in The Evening and the Morning Star.
The three-tiered gradation of glory could only have been viewed by Rigdon's and Smith's contemporaries in 1832 as three heavens. For conventional Christians heaven was a single place, despite Paul's reference to "the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2). To traditionalists, any concept of universal salvation implied Universalism, a "dangerous heresy," a threat to the fabric of moral conduct in society. Consequently, many converts steeped in denominational Protestantism faced a crisis when they learned of this vision. Brigham Young's brother Joseph, a former Methodist minister, recalled: "[W]hen I came to read the vision of the different glories of the eternal world, and of the sufferings of the wicked, I could not believe it at first. Why, the Lord was going to save every body!" 19 Brigham Young himself remembered:
When God revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that there was a place prepared for all, according to the light they had received and their rejection of evil and practice of good, it was a great trial to many, and some apostatized because God was not going to send to everlasting punishment heathens and infants, but had a place of salvation, in due time, for all, and would bless the honest and virtuous and truthful, whether they ever belonged to any church or not. It was a new doctrine to this generation and many stumbled at it. 20
The History of the Church makes no mention of the concerns of rank and file over the new doctrine. "Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saint," began the formal treatment,
than the light which burst upon the world, through the foregoing vision. Every law, every commandment, every promise, every truth, and every point, touching the destiny of man, from Genesis to Revelation, where the purity of the scriptures remains unsullied by the folly of men, go to show the perfection of the theory and witnesses the fact that the document is a transcript from the records of the eternal world. The sublimity of the ideas; the purity of the language; the scope for action; the continued duration for completion, in order that the heirs of salvation may confess the Lord and bow the knee; the rewards for faithfulness, and the punishments for sins, are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every honest man is constrained to exclaim: "It came from God." 21
Three weeks after "The Vision," in an unpublished revelation, found in the Kirtland Revelation Book, Smith learned that the office of president of the High Priesthood is vested with authority to preside, assisted by counselors, over all the concerns of the church. 22
On 8 March the prophet "ordained brother Jesse Gause and Brother Sidney to be my councellors of the ministry of the presidency of the
18 More than a decade later Smith would also reveal that "In the celestial glory there are [also] three heavens or degrees" (D&C 131:1).
19 Deseret News, 18 Mar. 1857.
20 Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-86), 16 (18 May 1873): 42; hereafter as Journal of Discourses.
21 History of the Church, 1:252-53.
22 "Duty of Bishops, March 1832," Newel K. Whitney Collection, Special Collections, BYU.
high Priesthood." 23
Gause, virtually unknown to modem Mormons, had only been a member of the church a few weeks. He had three years' of leadership experience with Shaker communes in Massachusetts and Ohio, and for twenty-three years previously had been a Quaker. To Smith and Rigdon, Gause must have seemed a godsend to assist them in keeping afloat the floundering economic system.
There has been some question as to which man was senior advisor to Smith. Gause was a decade older than Rigdon in an era when church seniority was determined on the basis of age, and his name was listed first in the revelation. More importantly, Rigdon, mentioned more frequently in the Doctrine and Covenants than any other man except Smith and Cowdery, was recipient of at least eight revelations dictated by Smith between 1830 and 1832. Gause, on the other hand, was recipient of only one revelation, dated 15 March 1832. 24
By the time the divine enunciation was ready for printing, Gause, who was excommunicated 3 December 1832, had been replaced by Frederick G. Williams. The introductory words "my servant Jesse" were altered without explanation to read "my servant Frederick G. Williams" (see D&C 81). All published copies of the revelation have failed to note this revision. 25
The John Johnson property in Hiram, where "The Vision" and at least fourteen other revelations were received, is today a revered site in Mormon history. Rigdon later said of the few months he and Smith spent there: "these were the beginning of good days; shut up in a room, eating nothing but dry johnny cake and buttermilk.... I had little to eat, little to wear, and yet it was the beginning of good days." 26
The agreeable farmstead was also site of his and Smith's personal humiliation, the location of a threatening assault by vigilantes who issued their own prediction of the future.
The miscreants in the Hiram area were primarily local Reformed Baptists (Campbellites), many of whom viewed Rigdon, their former pastor, as a schemer, out "to get their property into a common fund, and allow certain persons to live without work." 27
Brothers Olmstead and John Johnson, Jr., viewed Rigdon and Smith as grafters intent on defrauding them of their future inheritance. Samuel F. Whitney, brother of prominent Mormon Newel K. Whitney, reported that the Johnson boys were angry because Joseph and Sidney continually urged their father to "let them have his property." 28
Evidence supporting a property dispute was provided by Mormon apostle Orson Hyde, who married a Johnson sister, Nancy Marinda. In 1844 Hyde accused Rigdon of holding an old grudge against the Johnson family because "Father [John] Johnson, after giving him and his family a living for a long time, building a stone house for them to live in, etc., would not give him his farm and all his property; for he once demanded of Father Johnson a deed of all his property with offering one dollar as an equivalent." 29
Symonds Ryder, probable ringleader of Campbellite mischief, 30 clarified that
23 "Kirtland Revelation Book," 10-11. The term First Presidency was first used in 1835 to identify the presidency over the entire church and not just the priesthood.
24 "Kirtland Revelation Book," 17-18.
25 See D. Michael Quinn, "Organizational Development and Social Origins of the Mormon Hierarchy, 1832-1932: A Prosopographical Study," M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1973, 13; D. Michael Quinn, "Jesse Gause: Joseph Smith's Little-Known Counselor," Brigham Young University Studies 4 (Fall 1983): 487-93.
26 Journal History, 6 Apr. 1844, 1.
27 Alanson Wilcox, A History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1918), 126.
28 Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 (Jan. 1888): 1, in Donna Hill, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1977), 466. One account related that the mobbing occurred because "Eli Johnson" "suspected Joseph of being intimate with his sister, Nancy Marinda Johnson" (Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, 2d ed. [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975], 119). This anecdote is likely apocryphal for John Johnson's only sons were John Jr., Luke, Olmstead, and Lyman (Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith [Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1984], 41).
29 Speech of Elder Orson Hyde, Delivered Before the High Priest's Quorum in Nauvoo, April 27th, 1845 (City of Joseph, IL: John Taylor, 1845), 54 / 28.
30 Ryder's son Hartwell, defending his father's innocence, later wrote, "I can well remember that my father was sick in bed until late the next morning" ("Short History of the Foundation of the Mormon church based on personal memories and facts collected by Hartwell Ryder, Hiram, Ohio, at the Age of 80 years," copied by Minnie M. Ryder in 1903-1904, from the manuscript written by her uncle, Hartwell Ryder. Library of Hiram College [Hiram, Ohio]; cited in Stanley B. Kimball, "Sources on the History of the Mormons in Ohio: 1830-38," Brigham Young University Studies 11 [Summer 1971]: 528). --- Contrary to young Ryder's memory, Joseph Smith said Simonds Ryder was present during the Sunday morning sermon delivered by the battered prophet (History of the Church, 1:264).
Rigdon and Smith were not assaulted because of their beliefs. "The people of Hiram were liberal about religion and had not been averse to Mormon teaching," he said afterwards. What infuriated the evildoers were some official documents they found, possibly a copy of the revelation outlining the "Law of Consecration and Stewardship," which instructed new converts about "the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Smith." 31
Intimidation of the Rigdon and Smith families lasted several weeks. One contemporary account reported that in response to threats, Smith and Rigdon proclaimed that no harm could befall them, "that it could not be done -- that God would not suffer it; that those who should attempt it, would be miraculously smitten on the spot." 32
Then the threats escalated into violence. The 15 February 1860 Portage County Democrat (Ravenna, Ohio) reported that "someone bored an auger hole into a log of the house in which Rigdon lived, and filling it with powder, tried to blow it up." 33
Rigdon, later remembering the siege during general conference on 6 April 1844, recounted that he and Smith "had been locked up for weeks and had no time only to eat." But
bandittis came to the place -- some 20 or 30 men came rushing to the place cursing & blaspheming. This was the reason why we were shut up. They never cease[d] their warfare.... A gentleman from Mexico [see note: ] having heard rumors of the Mormons came to see us[.] One night he went out of my house and found in the fence one after another a dozen men -- he returned into the house in fury and got his pistols and said he would kill them but they r[a]n away. 34
During the darkest hour of Saturday, 24 March, infuriated Campbellites -- some accounts say fortified by a keg of whiskey -- stepped up their intimidation. A company from Shalersville, Garrettsville, and Hiram assembled outside Rigdon's cabin. One account reported that when the door was forced, Rigdon, to no avail, tried to reason with the intruders, presuming "they were gentlemen." 35
But Rigdon recalled that "they broke into my house[,] drag[ged] me out of my bed -- out of the door my head beating on the floor. [T]hey drag[ge]d me over the wood pile[,] and on they went my head thumping on the frozen ground, after which they threw tar and feathers on me -- and endeavored to throw aqua fortes [nitric acid] in my face but I turned my face and it missed me." 36
Wickliffe Rigdon's account noted that by the time his 225-pound father was dragged by his heels to the place where he was tarred and feathered "he was insensible," yet his assailants "pounded him till they thought he was dead and then went to get Joseph Smith." 37
Smith, then only twenty-seven, was more inclined to fight than Rigdon. But he was quickly overpowered and carried to the spot where Rigdon lay unconscious, stretched out naked on the ground. "I supposed he was dead," Smith later wrote, and "I began to plead with them, saying,
31 Symonds Ryder, "Letter to A. S. Hayden," 1 Feb. 1868, in Hayden, 220-21.
32 Geauga Gazette (Painesville), 17 Apr. 1832.
33 Ms 19, Mormon Manuscript Retrieval Project, box 3, fd 3, Special Collections, BYU.
34 Manuscript minutes of 6 Apr. 1844, General Minutes Collection.
35 Hill, 145.
36 Manuscript minutes of 6 Apr. 1844, General Minutes Collection.
37 Karl Keller, ed., "I Never Knew a Time When I Did Not Know Joseph Smith," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Winter 1966): 25-26.
Transcriber's note: The April 1844 Thomas Bullock transcript quoted by Van Wagoner says, "A gentleman from Mexico" was visiting at the Rigdon cabin, in Hiram, Ohio, prior to the March 24, 1832 tarring and feathering of Smith and Rigdon. Wilford Woodruff's account of Rigdon's 1844 words reads: "I have seen the time when the Presidency of the Church sitting now before me, were locked up with me in secret places waiting upon God. We did not go out at all but to eat &c. But it was soon found out, & a mob came saying God damn you to Hell, & threatend our lives. It was at this time we sat for hours in the Visions of heaven around the throne of God & gazed upon the seenes of Eternity. -- One evening a Mexican called upon us & he went out armed to see a dozen armed men in the corner of the fence. He wanted to shoot them. Afterwards the mob came in & broke the door, took me & drag[g]d me out through the streets by my heels with my head pounding over the frozen ground. Another company took president Smith, & tar & featherd him. They tried to turn Aquiphertos down our our throats. This is the reason why we were in secret under lock & key."
If the Bullock text preserves Rigdon's words correctly, the 1832 visitor at the Rigdon cabin was not specifically "a Mexican," but may have been a man who had recently come from Mexico (perhaps a Sante Fe Trail trader). Such a visitor might well have been an associate of Olmstead G. Johnson (son of John Johnson, Sr.), or even Olmstead himself. Olmstead reportedly came to visit his family at Hiram in 1831 or early 1832, and afterwards resided in Mexico.
'You will have mercy and spare my life, I hope.'" 38 They did, but not before stripping him, threatening castration, and smearing him with tar and feathers.
Smith was not permanently injured. He was bruised around the head and suffered a chipped tooth but was able to carry out his normal Sunday duties the following day. Rigdon, on the other hand, was badly hurt and lay on the ground for some time before he regained consciousness. "At last he got up in a dazed condition," Wickliffe wrote, "and did not know where he was nor where to go[.] ... [H]e went reeling along the road not knowing where he was; he would have passed his house but my mother was out the door watching for him and went out as he came along and got him in the house. She got the tar and feathers off from him as best she could and got him to bed." 39
Mormon accounts imply that the Hiram mob intended to kill Rigdon and Smith. Had this been their intent they would have brought weapons and succeeded. But the fact that they came prepared with a bucket of hot tar (they got feathers from Rigdon's pillow) suggests they were proffering a warning. Symonds Ryder wrote, "This had the desired effect, which was to get rid of them. They soon left for Kirtland." 40 No one was ever brought to trial. Such action, particularly against curious religious beliefs, was tolerated in America during Rigdon's lifetime. 41 For example, despite the fact that a 17 April 1832 letter to the editor in the Geauga Gazette [sic - Hudson Observer] (Painesville) called the events of 24 March "a base transaction, an unlawful act, a work of darkness, a diabolical trick," one writer noted that vigilantism proved "one important truth which every wise man knew before, that is, that Satan hath more power than the pretended prophets of Mormon."
Rigdon was slow to recover. Smith recalled that when he visited his injured friend on Monday morning he
found him crazy, and his head highly inflamed, for they had dragged him by his heels, and those, too, so high from the ground that he could not raise his head from the rough, frozen surface, which lacerated it exceedingly; and when he saw me he called to his wife to bring him his razor. She asked him what he wanted of it; and he replied, to kill me. Sister Rigdon left the room, and he asked me to bring his razor; I asked him what he wanted of it, and he replied he wanted to kill his wife; and he continued delirious some days. 42This was the second known head trauma suffered by Rigdon. His brother Loammi, a physician, reported that when Sidney was seven years old he had been thrown from a horse. His foot got caught in a stirrup and he was dragged some distance before being rescued. "In this accident," reported Dr. Rigdon,
he received such a contusion of the brain as ever afterward seriously affected his character, and in some respects his conduct. His mental powers did not seem to be impaired, but the equilibrium of his intellectual exertions seems thereby to have been_______________
38 History of the Church, 1:162.
39 Keller, 26.
40 Symonds Ryder, "Letter to A. S. Hayden," 1 Feb. 1868, in Hayden, 220-21.
41 Even God-fearing women were not exempt from testosterone-fueled attacks on their piety. Mother Ann Lee, an immigrant from England who claimed visions which resulted in the formation of her Church of Christ's Second Appearance (Shaking Quakers), was so treated. While on a mission to New Lebanon in New England in 1783 she stopped to rest among her disciples. These followers, who believed that the Christ Spirit was making his second appearance in her, persuaded her to demonstrate some of her religious zeal in dance and spiritual operations. Following this she went to the home of an adherent, where a mob gathered. Her followers were attacked, dragged from the house by their hair, beaten, and hurled into the mud. Mother Ann had been hiding in a sealed closet from which she was ejected and dragged by her heels to her carriage. Beaten and whipped, she and her group were harassed by the mob all the way to the ferry opposite Albany (Theodore E. Johnson, Hands to Work and Hearts to God [Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin Museum of Art, 1969], chap. 4).
42 History of the Church, 1:265.
sadly affected. He still manifested great mental activity and power, but was to an equal degree inclined to run into wild and visionary views on almost every question. 43Ample evidence from Rigdon's contemporaries supports this medical opinion. Alexander Campbell was the first to make public mention of Rigdon's "peculiar mental and corporeal malady," as he called it. 44
Another contemporary account noted that Rigdon "spoke very rapidly, and used to get tremendously excited, so that he foamed at the mouth" when preaching. 45
Newel K. Whitney, an early Mormon bishop, said of Rigdon in 1844: "I was well acquainted with Elder Rigdon a number of years before he came into this church.... He was always either in the bottom of the cellar or up in the garret window." 46
Jedediah Grant confirmed in 1844 Rigdon's mood swings: "Elder R. would not only soar as it were to the highest Heaven in raptures of delight, but when dark clouds overspread his horizon he would also sink into the lowest state of despondency." 47
These retrospective accounts attempted to disparage Rigdon. A narrative by his son, Wickliffe, provides clearer insight into his father's eccentric nature. "Being of a bilious temperament," said Wickliffe of his father, he was sick most of the time in Nauvoo, Illinois: "for weeks at a time he would not be able to leave his bed." 48
While addressing the Saints on 6 April 1844, Sidney verified his son's observation when he reported that "Want of health and other circumstances have kept me in silence for nearly the last five years." 49
Years after the Kirtland era, Rigdon, like most of Nauvoo's lowland settlers, would suffer from malaria, the "ague" as it was called. But the mosquito-borne disease rarely incapacitates for lengthy periods. Rigdon's biographer F. Mark McKiernan wrote that "During the five years he lived at Nauvoo Rigdon suffered the poorest health of his life. He contracted an unspecified disease (not malaria) which disabled him for months at a time." 50
Using modern clinical criteria to diagnose the illness of a historical figure is risky, but "bilious temperament" was a specific disease. In nineteenth-century America the malady was best known as melancholia, a syndrome encompassing dramatic mood changes and madness. While the ailment today is usually designated "manic-depression illness," it has also been called "mood disorder," "affective disorder," "chronic bipolar disorder," and "bipolar affective disorder." 51
In the modern medical world Rigdon would had been aided pharmaceutically and perhaps stabilized. But in his day there was no effective treatment available. Thus when a major bout of depression hit, as it evidently did in Nauvoo, Rigdon was unable to work, preach, interact, or get out of bed for weeks at a time. Even today in 20-35 percent of all cases like Rigdon's, social impairment persists and depression never completely lifts. 52
An inventory of symptoms taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) provides a clinical overview of Rigdon's presumed debility. The depressive phase includes: "Dysphoric mood or loss of interest or
43 Baptist Witness, 1 Mar. 1875, in J. H. Kennedy, Early Days of Mormonism (London: Reeves and Turner, 1888), 63.
44 Millennial Harbinger 1 (1831): 100-101.
45 W. Wyl, Mormon Portraits or the Truth About the Mormon Leaders from 1830 to 1886 (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886), 122.
46 Times and Seasons 5 (15 Sept. [sic - Oct.] 1844): 686.
47 Grant, 7.
48 J. Wickiffe Rigdon, "Life Story of Sidney Rigdon," 161.
49 History of the Church, 6:288.
50 F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer -- 1793-1876 (Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1971), 108.
51 Diane and Lisa Berger, We Heard the Angels of Madness (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991), 43. Hippocrates, a fifth-century B.C. physician, first identified this indisposition as "an aversion to food, despondency, sleeplessness, irritability, and restlessness." He believed that human health was determined by the relative levels of the four humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. To these ancient scientists, specific diseases stemmed from imbalances in these humors. Melancholia indicated trouble with black bile -- hence came "bilious temperament." (See Dianne Hales, Depression [New York and Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989], 24.) --- The Greek physician Galen (C.E. 129-ca. 199) thought the spleen cleared black bile out of the body. If there was an excess of this humor, it congealed in the stomach and caused melancholia. He broke with tradition by proposing for the first time that melancholia and mania, a condition characterized by intense euphoria and delusions of grandeur, might be related symptoms of a single disorder (ibid., 26). --- In the late seventeenth century, the humoral gave way to more scientific explanations. One reason was that melancholia had become a fashionable ailment, a mark of distinction and intelligence. The illness seems to strike the exceptionally creative more than other classes. Poets and writers such as Goethe, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Blake declared it was a necessary foundation for much of their work (Berger and Berger, 235). The German scientist Wilhelm Griesinger (1817-68) maintained that melancholia was caused by psychic, mixed, and physical causes including grief, loss of fortune, injury, illness, or even a spoiled love affair, nervous disorders, and head injuries (Hales, 26). --- By the late twentieth century Sidney Rigdon would have been recognized as suffering from an illness with a biochemical cause, often triggered by stress, which leads to cycles of mood swings. Experts believe that true manic depression does not appear at least until age thirteen, although it has been detected in children as young as six years of age. Recent reports estimate that 10-30 percent of adult manic-depressives are detectable by age eighteen (Berger and Berger, 239; see also "The 'Atypical' Clinical Picture of Adolescent Mania," American Journal of Psychiatry 139 : 602-605). Physicians have recently found links between head trauma and manic-depression (Sashi Shukla, M.D., "Failure to Detect Organic Factors in Mania," Journal of Affective Disorders 15 : 17-20).
52 Hales, 38-39.
(pages 118-131 not transcribed due to copyright)
[ 132 ]
Antagonists have expended considerable energy attempting to discredit the Book of Mormon, which gave Joseph Smith's prophesying a concrete legitimacy that the visions and predictions of other seers of the day could not match. The Book of Mormon had a particular appeal for people emerging from a twilight of visionary dreams and folk magic, men and women looking to demonstrate their literacy and enlightenment. It fit the popular belief that what was written was a greater truism and more authentic than the spoken word.
Throughout his life Joseph Smith gave one explanation for the origin of the Book of Mormon. He summed it up best in a 4 January 1833 letter to N.E. Seaton, a Rochester, New York, newspaper editor: "The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians, having been found through the ministrations of an holy angel, and translated into our language by the gift and power of God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last 1,400 years."2
Mormonism's success in Ohio, particularly among Sidney Rigdon's Reformed Baptists, spelled conspiracy in some people's eyes. While eleven of Smith's friends and relatives signed affidavits that they had examined the gold plates and seen the angel who delivered them to the prophet, many did not accept this supernatural explanation. To cynics it seemed improbable that a semi-literate farm boy could author a literary work so intricate in plot and steeped in biblical lore as the Book of Mormon.
The logical explanation for the holy book was that Smith must have collaborated behind the scenes with someone better educated and more sophisticated. A
1 Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of The Book of Mormon (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1914), 126.
2 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1902), 1:315; hereafter referred to as History of the Church.
A sampling of recent scholarship dealing with possible origins of the Book of Mormon (not included elsewhere in this chapter) include: Edward H. Ashment, "The Book of Mormon -- A Literal Translation?" Sunstone 5 (Mar.-Apr. 1980): 10-14; Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, "Joseph Smith: 'The Gift of Seeing,'" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1982): 49-68; Blake T. Ostler, "The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 (Spring 1987): 66-124; D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987); John W. Welch, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 7, the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. and F.A.R.M.S., 1988); Dan Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990); Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith's Response to Skepticism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992); Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993); Daniel C. Peterson, ed., Review of Books on the Book of Mormon [F.A.R.M.S.] 6 (1994).
former school teacher, Oliver Cowdery, Smith's major copyist during the project, was considerably better schooled than his prophet-cousin. Cowdery was touted in the press as co-author of the Book of Mormon in the 25 November 1830 Cleveland Herald. But as soon as Sidney Rigdon made his late 1830 trip to New York to meet Smith, rumors surfaced that he, not Cowdery, was the mastermind behind the new scripture.3
The earliest New York publication linking Rigdon with Book of Mormon authorship was the 1 September 1831 issue of the New York Courier and Enquirer, reprinted in the 29 October 1831 Hillsborough Gazette (Ohio). The article describes Smith as "the son of a speculative Yankee peddler, and was brought up to live by his wits." Rigdon is characterized as
perfectly aufait with every species of prejudice, folly of fanaticism, which governs the mass of enthusiasts. In the course of his experience, he had attended all sorts of camp-meetings, prayer meetings, anxious meetings, and revival meetings. He knew every turn of the human mind in relation to these matters. He had a superior knowledge of human nature, considerable talent, great plausibility, and knew how to work the passions as exactly as a Cape Cod sailor knows how to work a whale ship.During the spring of 1833 or 1834, while visiting the home of Samuel Baker near New Portage, Ohio, Rigdon stated in the presence of a large gathering that he was aware some in the neighborhood had accused him of being the instigator of the Book of Mormon. Standing in the doorway to address the audience in the yard, he held up a Book of Mormon and said:
I testify in the presence of this congregation, and before God and all the Holy Angels up yonder, (pointing towards heaven), before whom I expect to give account at the judgment day, that I never saw a sentence of the Book of Mormon, I never penned a sentence of the Book of Mormon, I never knew that there was such a book in existence as the Book of Mormon, until it was presented to me by Parley P. Pratt, in the form that it now is.5Such was Rigdon's stance even on his deathbed. He confirmed that position repeatedly, as did his wife and at least three of his children, two of whom were non-believers in Mormonism. His oldest child, Athalia R. Robinson, in a notarized statement of 10 October 1900, said that the missionaries presented the book to her father in the presence of "My mother and myself. . . . This was the first time father ever saw the book of Mormon."6
His son Wickliffe added in a 1905 interview that during a visit with his father,
then in his last yearsÉI found him as firm as ever in declaring that he himself had nothing whatever to do in writing the book, and that Joseph Smith received it from an angel. On his dying bed he made the same declaration to a Methodist minister._______________
3 See Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled, 2d ed. (New York: O. Pratt and E. Fordham, 1838), 2; Cleveland Herald, 15 Sept. 1831.
4 The newspaper article is available at LDS church archives and is cited in Leonard J. Arrington, "James Gordon Bennett's 1831 Report on 'The Mormonites,'" Brigham Young University Studies 10 (Spring 1970): 353-64.
5 Signed 14 Mar. 1872 affidavit of Phineas Bronson, Hiel Bronson, Mary D. Bronson, in R. Etzenhouser, From Palmyra, New York, 1830 to Independence, Missouri, 1894 (Independence, MO: Ensign Publishing House, 1894), 387-88. ---- my note: Rigdon's earliest term for the book appears to have been the "Golden Bible." not the "Book of Mormon." If so, perhaps he could testify semi-honestly of never having seen the "Book of Mormon" previous to Nov. 1830.
6 10 Oct. 1900 notarized statement.
...My mother has also told me that Father had nothing whatever to do with the writing of the book, and that she positively knew that he had never seen it until Parley P. Pratt came to our home with it.7Nancy R. Ellis, Rigdon's most anti-Mormon offspring, recalled in an 1884 interview the arrival of the missionaries in her Mentor, Ohio, home when she was eight years old: "I saw them hand him the book, and I am as positive as can be that he never saw it before.... She further stated that her father in the last years of his life called his family together and told them, as sure as there was a God in heaven, he never had anything to do in getting up the Book of Mormon, and never saw any such thing as a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding"8
This Spalding (also Spaulding) manuscript, as far as most nineteenth-century -- and some contemporary -- Book of Mormon antagonists were concerned, was the true source of the sacred Mormon book. Born in Connecticut in 1761, graduated from Dartmouth College (New Hampshire) in 1785, Spalding for a time was a Congregational minister in New York before becoming a Presbyterian. After moving to Ohio in 1809 he wrote a historical novel about aboriginal America, narrated by a shipwrecked Roman named Fabius. The work was never published and Spalding died in 1816.
On 13 March 1833 a Methodist minister from Jamestown, New York, with the given name of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut (also Hurlburt or Hurlbert), visited Joseph Smith in Kirtland and embraced his message. He qualified his conversion, however, by warning the prophet that if he ever "became convinced that the Book of Mormon was false, he would be the cause of [Smith's] destruction."9
Church leaders did not seem concerned. Rigdon ordained Hurlbut an elder on 18 March and sent him on a mission to Pennsylvania. He was soon recalled and excommunicated on 3 June 1833 for making an obscene comment to a young woman.10
Angry over what he viewed as mistreatment, Hurlbut sought revenge. He returned to Pennsylvania and spent several months lecturing against Mormonism. There he became acquainted with a family named Jackson who told Hurlbut that years before, when Solomon Spalding had lived near them in Amity, Washington County, Pennsylvania, he admitted authoring a romantic, historical fiction that like the Book of Mormon contained an account of an early immigration to America. Hurlbut returned to Kirtland and announced a lecture on what he called "Anti-Mormonism." To this group he recounted his travels in Pennsylvania where "he had learned that one Mr. Spaulding had written a romance, and the probability was, that it had, by some means, fallen into the hands of Sidney Rigdon, and that he had converted it into the Book of Mormon."11
Several of Rigdon's old Campbellite nemeses -- Judge Orris Clapp, and both sons, Thomas J. and Matthew S. Clapp, and Adamson Bentley -- advanced Hurlbut a large sum to begin searching for the Spalding manuscript.12
He traveled first to New Salem (formerly Conneaut), Ohio, where Spalding was living when he wrote
7 In Elders' Journal (Chattanooga, TN) 2 (1905): 267-68.
8 Interview with Wm. H. and E. L Kelley, 14 May 1884, in Pittsburgh Leader, 18 May 1884, cited in Joseph Smith III and Heman C. Smith, The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 4 vols. (Independence, MO: Herald House, 1967 reprint), 4:453. Rigdon's minister cousin, John Rigdon, also left testimony denying his cousin's involvement in producing the Book of Mormon, as recorded by Sidney Knowlton for John Page:
I hereby certify that I heard Rev. John Rigdon, a member of the Church of Disciples, known by the name of Campbellites, sometime in March, 1840, at his own residence in Fulton Co., Illinois, say in answer to a question propounded to him by Elder John E. Page, as follows, to wit: Question by Mr. Page -- "Sir, what are your views in relation to Sidney Rigdon having any connection with the origin of the Book of Mormon, as it is reported, that he, Rigdon had access to the Spaulding manuscript, from which he transcribed or originated the Book of Mormon?" Answer by Rigdon -- "I do not believe from my acquaintance with him, (S. Rigdon) having known him from his infancy till after the publication of said Book of Mormon, as well as one can know another, being on the greatest terms of intimacy at the time said book was printed, and from all the circumstances connected with his life, character and conduct, that Sidney Rigdon had any thing whatever to do with it" (statement of Sidney A. Knowlton in John E. Page, The Spaulding Story, Concerning the Origin of the Book of Mormon, Duly Examined, and Exposed to the Righteous Contempt of a Candid Public [Pittsburgh: n.p., 1843], p. 8).9 While this reference was noted in Joseph Smith's diary under this date (Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989], 20), it is not mentioned in the published History of the Church.
10 History of the Church, 1:352.
11 Benjamin Winchester, Plain Facts, Shewing the Origin of the Spaulding Story, Concerning The Manuscript Found, and its Being Transformed into the Book of Mormon with A Short History of Dr. P. Hurlbert, the Author of the Said Story (Bedford, MA: C. B. Merry, 1841), p. 9.
12 Ibid., 9, 21.
the manuscript and where several family members still resided. He called a meeting and announced to those gathered his theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon. "This idea was new to them," explained one account, "however, they were pleased with it, and Mr. H[urlbut]'s project seemed to them a good one."13
While in New Salem Hurlbut obtained a collection of affidavits from the deceased writer's brother John Spalding, John's wife Martha, and several other former friends and neighbors. The consensus of the witnesses supported Hurlbut's theory that Solomon Spalding had written a historical novel. According to their collective recall the work of fiction detailed the settlement of America, "endeavoring to show that the American Indians are the descendants of the Jews, or the lost tribes."14
Hurlbut learned from John Spalding that his brother's widow lived in Monson, Massachusetts. The sleuth set out to find her and en route stopped at Palmyra, New York, for two months where he collected derogatory depositions from more than a hundred of Joseph Smith's acquaintances. Hurlbut's activities in upstate New York were well-known that season. On 20 December, the local newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel, published the first announcement of his theory of Book of Mormon origins:
The original manuscript of the Book was written some thirty years since, by a respectable clergyman, now deceased, whose name we are not permitted to give. It was designed to be published as a romance, but the work has been superadded by some modem hand -- believed to be the notorious Rigdon. These particulars have been derived by Dr. Hurlbert from the widow of the author of the original manuscript.15When Hurlbut finally met Spalding's widow, Matilda Davison, and explained his hypothesis, she told him the manuscript he wanted was likely stored in a trunk of papers left with relatives in Harwick, New York. Securing her permission to retain the manuscript if he found it, Hurlbut traveled to Hatwick where he indeed discovered the novel and took it back to Ohio for closer examination.
On his return to the Western Reserve, the successful investigator joined forces with a committee of non-Mormon Kirtland citizens who were concerned that Smith was "collecting about him an impoverished population, alienated in feeling from other portions of the community, thereby threatening us with an insupportable weight of pauperism."16
The plan formulated by the civic leaders, according to their own account, was to employ "D. P. Hurlbut to ascertain the real origin of the Book of Mormon, and to examine the validity of Joseph Smith's claims to the character of Prophet."17
To stir up additional support Hurlbut exhibited his numerous affidavits in Kirtland, Mentor, and surrounding communities, lecturing wherever he could assemble an audience. His activities caused sufficient furor for the Mormon First Presidency to write to Missouri Saints warning them of Hurlbut's speculations
13 Ibid., 10. Orson Hyde made his own study of the matter. He concluded that during the time he lived in the Rigdon home, when Sidney was his pastor and mentor, there was not a single hint that Rigdon was working on a manuscript Furthermore, he explained: "Forgery, deception, and romance formed no part of the principles which Mr. Rigdon taught me during the time that I was under his tuition, and I must say, that I should not have been more surprised if they had accused the Lord Bishop of London of the same things which they charge against Mr. Rigdon." Hyde also recalled that when he had visited New Salem in the spring of 1832 and organized a branch of the church there, he had met no one who claimed to have found similarities between the Book of Mormon and the Spalding work (Orson Hyde to George J. Adams, 7 June 1841, in Winchester, 25-27).
14 Eber Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: E. D. Howe, 1834), 279.
15 This article was reprinted in the Chardon (Ohio) Spectator, 18 Jan. 1834.
16 See 31 Jan. 1834 letter "To the Public" in the Painesville Telegraph. The group was comprised of O. A. Crary, Amos Daniels, John F. Morse, Samuel Wilson, Josiah Jones, Warren Corning, Jr., James H. Paine, Jos. H. Wakefield, Sylvester Cornwall, and Timothy D. Martindale.
17 Ibid. The editor of the Apr. 1834 Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate [sic, Evening & Morning Star] wrote of the "celebrated committee, residing in our country... who have employed this Hurlbut to expose, the 'original of the book of mormon'."
which had "fired the minds of the people with much indignation against Joseph and the Church."18
Smith and Rigdon were quick to defend the Mormon cause. And at some point in the passion of a heated exchange, Hurlbut publicly threatened that he would "wash his hands" in the prophet's blood.19
In January 1834, Smith filed a legal complaint bringing Hurlbut to trial on 1 April. The court found him guilty, fined him $200, and ordered him to keep the peace for six months.
The notoriety surrounding Hurlbut, compounded by an embarrassing incident when his wife was discovered in bed with Judge Orris Clapp, tarnished his image. He sold his research to Eber D. Howe, editor of the Painesville Telegraph, who held a long-term grudge against Mormonism for converting his wife and daughter.20
The Kirtland committee that commissioned Hurlbut's research announced in the 31 January 1834 Painesville Telegraph. that it was
now making arrangements for the Publication and extensive circulation of a work which will prove the "Book of Mormon" to be a work of fiction and imagination, and written more than twenty years ago, in Salem, Ashtabula County, Ohio, by Solomon Spalding, Esq. and completely divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man, and place him at an immeasurable distance from the high station which he pretends to occupy.Mormonism Unvailed, published by Howe, was first advertised in the Telegraph on 28 November 1834. The volume contained a lengthy critique of the Book of Mormon, a reprint of Ezra Booth's nine letters, disparaging affidavits provided by Joseph Smith's old New York neighbors, and an introduction to the Spalding theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon. While Howe admitted he had Spalding's manuscript,21 it was obvious that the former minister's work, a secular text, was not the source for the Book of Mormon, a lofty religious tome, although the introduction, ethnological assumptions, and mystical lore were undeniably similar.22
To explain the enigmatic gaps in genre and plot, Howe wrote that his witnesses claimed Spalding had "altered his first plan of writing, by going farther back with dates, and writing in the old scripture style, in order that it might appear more ancient."
Howe further purported that through some unspecified means, Rigdon must have secured this hypothetical second, revised manuscript while he was living in Pittsburgh. He concluded: "We, therefore, must hold out Sidney Rigdon to the world as being the original 'author and proprietor' of the whole Mormon conspiracy, until further light is elicited upon the lost writings of Solomon Spaulding."23
Rigdon's numerous and consistent denials to the contrary, speculation regarding his acquisition of a second Spalding manuscript dominated secular investigation into the twentieth century. It became especially useful following the 1884 rediscovery of the original manuscript Hurlbut had obtained from Matilda
18 History of the Church 1:475.
19 George A. Smith's testimony in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-86), 11 (15 Nov. 1864):8; hereafter Journal of Discourses.
20 Lewis L. Rice letter to James H. Fairchild, 30 Jan. 1885, noted that Howe's wife was a Mormon, "but he was deadly opposed to it and got up and published a book purporting to show that Spalding was the orginator of the Mormon Bible" (in Dale Broadhurst Collection, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah). See also Robert C. Webb, The Real Mormonism: A Candid Analysis of an Interesting but Much Misunderstood Subject in History Life and Thought (New York: Sturgis & Walton Co., 1916), 406.
21 The title "Manuscript Found," often given to this manuscript, is not based on wording found in the original. A faint notation, "Manuscript Story -- Conneaut Creek," was penciled on the document's paper wrapper sometime before it came into the possession of Lewis L. Rice, according to his statement to James H. Fairchild, 12 June 1885 (Broadhurst Collection).
22 Spaulding's fictitious narrative described a shipload of Romans in the days of Constantine who were blown off course during a voyage to the British Isles. They safely reached the east coast of North America, after which one of them, Fabius, began writing a history of their activities.
Spalding's introduction is nearly identical to the Joseph Smith story. While out for a mid-day stroll, wrote Spalding, he "hap[pen]ed to tread on a flat Stone" with a badly worn inscription. "With the assistance of a leaver I raised the Stone... [and found] that it was designed as a cover to an artificial cave." Descending to the bottom, he discowered "a big flat Stone fixed in the form of a do[o]r." Moving the obstacle he saw an earthen box within which were "eight sheets of parchment." Written on the pages "in an eligant hand with Roman Letters & in the Latin Language" was "a history of the author[']s life & that part of America which extends along the great Lakes & the waters of the Mississippy."
If Spalding's and Smith's recountings have a common antecedent, it seems to be the Masonic "Legend of Enoch." In this saga, Enoch, the seventh patriarch, the son of Jared, and the great-grandfather of Noah, according to Masonic tradition, became disgusted with wickedness surrounding him. Fleeing to the "solitude and secrecy of Mount Moriah" he became engaged in prayer and contemplation. Here the Shekinah (sacred presence) appeared to him with instructions to preserve the wisdom of the antediluvians to their posterity. He then made a gold plate and engraved in characters the true, ineffable name of Deity. The plate was then placed in a specially prepared subterranean vault, along with other treasure, and covered with a stone door. Enoch was then only allowed to visit the site once a year. After his death all knowledge of this sacred treasure was lost.
Years later when King Solomon and his masons were excavating in Jerusalem to build the great temple they discovered the treasure trove. Hiram Abif (also Abiff), a widow's son, was killed defending the spot. Solomon's temple received these treasures, including the gold plate and the Urim and Thummin. See Albert G. Mackey, An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences: Comprising the Whole Range of Arts, Sciences and Literature as Connected With the Institution (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1887), 255-56; Mervin B. Hogan, ed., An Underground Presidential Address [of Reed C. Durham, Jr.] (Salt Lake City: Research Lodge of Utah, F. & A.M., 16 Sept. 1974), privately circulated; Don McDermott, "Joseph Smith and the Treasure of Hiram Abiff," The Cryptic Scholar (Winter/Spring 1991); Jack Adamson, "The Treasurer of the Widow's Son," ca. 1970, privately circulated.
23 Howe, 290. Rigdon's most poignant denial of involvement with the Book of Mormon is found in his 27 May 1839 letter to the Boston Journal [sic] reprinted in Winchester, 25-27.
Spalding Davison. The document was inadvertently located in Hawaii among papers of Eber D. Howe's Painesville Telegraph successor, Lewis L. Rice. It was eventually donated to Oberlin College (Ohio), where it remains today.24
The weight of scholarly studies since Fawn Brodie's seminal 1945 No Man Knows My History biography of Joseph Smith has all but eliminated the Spalding theory and Rigdon's complicity.25
Other options have been suggested over the years. The earliest Book of Mormon critic, Rigdon's former mentor Alexander Campbell,26 opined in 1831 that Joseph Smith, profoundly affected by the salvationist Christianity of nineteenth-century Protestant America, was, in fact, the author of the work. "This prophet Smith," speculated Campbell,
through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies-infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, pennance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonry,27 republican government, and the rights of man.28For those skeptical of the supernatural, answers must be sought elsewhere (see Appendix 5 for further discussion). As William McLellin, an early Mormon leader and later apostate, affirmed years after he had left Mormonism:
You seem to think S. Rigdon the bottom of all M[ormon]ism. Many people know better. He never heard of the work of Smith & Cowdery, until C[owdery] and P[arley] P. Pratt brought the book to him in Mentor, O[hio]. True enough, I have but little confidence in S. Rigdon, but I know he was more the tool of J. Smith than his teacher and director. He was docile in J. S. hands to my knowledge.29If any one single item defined Rigdon it was his untiring belief in the authenticity of that "ancient voice from the dust." It provided him the shelf on which he rested his soul. And in the end, when he was disillusioned and bereft of faith in Joseph Smith, he still avowed that the Book of Mormon was precisely what it claimed to be -- the word of God.
24 The Spalding manuscript was first published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1885 under the title, The "Manuscript Found," or "Manuscript Story" (Lamoni, IA: Herald Publishing House, 1885).
25 The best analysis of this topic is Lester E. Bush, Jr., "The Spalding Theory Then and Now," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 10 (Autumn 1977): 40-69. Other well-known treatments include: Benjamin Winchester, Plain Facts, Shewing the Origin of the Spaulding Story, Concerning The Manuscript Found, and its Being Transformed into the Book of Mormon with A Short History of Dr. P. Hurlbert, the Author of the Said Story (Bedford, MA: C. B. Merry, 1841); John E. Page, The Spaulding Story Concerning the Origin of the Book of Mormon (Pittsburg, 1843); "Reply to Chicago Inter-Ocean on The Spaulding Story," in The Saints' Herald 24 (15 Feb. 1877): 49-52); J. E. Mahaffey, Found at Last! "Positive Proof" That Mormonism is a Fraud and the Book of Mormon a Fable. Including a Careful Comparison of rite Book of Mormon with the original Spalding MS, which shows Twenty-Two Points of Identity! (Augusta, GA: Chronicle Job Office, 1902); John Henry Evans, One Hundred Years of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1909), 89-103; Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1914); Robert C. Webb, The Real Mormonism (New York: Sturgis & Walton Co., 1916), 400-26; Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon (Independence, MO, 1942), esp. vols. 1 and 2; Leonard Arrington and James Allen, "Mormon Origins in New York: An Introductory Analysis," Brigham Young University Studies 9: 241-74; Marvin S. Hill, "The Role of Christian Primitivism in the Origin and Development of the Mormon Kingdom, 1830-1844," Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1968, 80-97; Richard P. Howard, "Beating Solomon Spaulding's Poor, Dead Horse One More Time," Saints' Herald, Sept. 1977, 37; and the unpublished work of Dale R. Broadhurst, especially his 1982 "The Secular and the Sacred: An Examination of Selected Parallels in the Writings of Solomon Spalding and The Book of Mormon" and  "A New Basis for the Spalding Theory" (Broadhurst Collection).
26 The similarity between early Mormonism and some of Alexander Campbell's teachings has led some to suggest that Smith purloined his primitive gospel from the Disciples through Rigdon. But long before he met Rigdon, Smith was exposed to the Primitivism and Seekerism of his parents and other family members. See Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), and Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989).
27 When Martin Harris, who had served on Palmyra's anti-Masonic vigilance committee, first arrived in Ohio he announced that the Book of Mormon is "the Anti-masonick Bible" (Geauga Gazette, 15 Mar. 1831). "The Mormon Bible is anti-masonic," added the editor of the Ohio Star the following week, "and it is a singular truth that every one of its followers, so far as we are able to ascertain, are anti-masons" (Ohio Star, 24 Mar. 1831). ---- Joseph Smith's anti-Masonic stance at the time the Book of Mormon was dictated can be explained by the fact that his father, a member of Ontario Masonic Lodge No. 23 (Canandaigua, NY) since 1817, left the craft in the aftermath of the notorious 1826 abduction of anti-Masonic crusader William Morgan and was considered a seceder Mason. See Mervin B. Hogan, "The Two Joseph Smiths' Masonic Experiences," 1987, privately circulated, and Stanley Upton Mock, The Morgan Episode in American Free Masonry (East Aurora, NY: Roycrofters, 1930).
28 Millennial Harbinger 1 (10 Feb. 1831): 93.
29 Cited in LDS Church News, 8 Dec. 1985, 10.
(All endnotes have been reformatted as footnotes for this e-text.)
2. Book of Mormon Authorship
LDS Seventies president Brigham H. Roberts (1855-1933) believed that [p. 463] Joseph Smith, severely underestimated by his critics, needed no assistance from Solomon Spalding or Sidney Rigdon had he himself authored the Book of Mormon. According to Roberts, Smith was "superior in talentsÉ [and] in literary power of expression" to either of them. Commenting on the more than 3,000 corrections made in the Book of Mormon since 1830, Roberts added that if Rigdon, a known grammarian, had authored the work, "it would not have been so full of petty errors in grammar and the faulty use of words as is found in the first edition of the Book of Mormon.É They are ingrained in it; they are constitutional faults." 1
The conjecture that Smith alone wrote the Book of Mormon, and that its purpose was to explain the origin of Native Americans, has gained recent attention. The Book of Mormon seems to distill what authors as early as the sixteenth century had been saying about American Indians, that they were of the House of Israel. Numerous books and articles were published on the topic prior to the Book of Mormon. A listing of the most significant works includes James Adair's History of the American Indians (1775), Elias Boudinot's A Star in the West; or, a Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (1816), Caleb Atwater's "Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States," in Archaeologia Americana (1820), Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews (1823; 1825), and Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence, Displayed (1825).2
Some theorists are satisfied that the Palmyra Register and Wayne Sentinel, local newspapers available to Smith, published sufficient information about American antiquities to provide a foundation in understanding the controversy. B. H. Roberts postulated that even non-readers were privy through hearing such subjects discussed at gathering places of common people: "the village store, the wheelwright's shop, the town meeting, and post office, the social meetings of the community, the gathering and dispersing throngs in attendance upon church services -- in all such places the people hear and absorb knowledge of such subjects as are of general interest, until there is formed what I have referred to as 'common knowledge' of things."3
The prevailing theory among current secular historians, however, is that Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, first published seven years before the Book of Mormon, was probably a principal source -- perhaps second only to the Bible -- from which Smith and Cowdery, not Rigdon, formulated the Book of Mormon narrative. The similarities between the two works seem to be too substantial to be mere coincidence. The major thesis of each is to explain the origin of the American Indian. Chapters in each relate the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel, then predict a regathering in the promised land. Vast portions of the Book of Isaiah are quoted extensively in each work (the Book of Mormon incorporates eighteen chapters nearly verbatim). Both discuss polygamy, seers and prophets,
1 Brigham H. Roberts, "The Origin of the Book of Mormon," American Historical Magazine 4 (Mar. 1909): 179-81, 196. In the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith was designated "Author" on both the "Title Page" and "The Testimony of Eight Witnesses." These statements were later changed to read "Translator" in subsequent printings.
2 The most comprehensive summary of this topic is Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986).
3Brigham D. Madsen, ed., B. H. Roberts's Studies of the Book of Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 153-54.
and the use of breastplates and Urim and Thummim. In each account, sacred records, handed down from generation to generation, are buried in a hill, then discovered years later. The characters inscribed on the gold plates of the Book of Mormon were reportedly "Reformed Egyptian" whereas View of the Hebrews discusses evidence of "Egyptian Hieroglyphics."
Perhaps the most important parallel is that both Ethan Smith's and Joseph Smith's works detail in similar fashion two classes of people in ancient America, one barbarous and the other civilized. Ethan Smith wrote that
It is highly probably that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel after they settled in America became wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries, that tremendeous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren until the former became extinct. (!)Both authors identify American Indians as the "stick of Joseph or Ephraim" (the northern Ten Tribes of Israel) that are expected to be reunited with the "stick of Judah" (the Jews of the southern kingdom of Judah). Furthermore, each work defines the mission of the American (gentile) nation in the last days as a calling to gather these native American remnants of the House of Israel, convert them to Christianity, and bring them to the "place of the Lord of Hosts, the Mt. Zion."5
After years of intensive investigation into the Book of Mormon, particularly the possibility that much of the framework to View of the Hebrews can be seen in the Book of Mormon, B. H. Roberts in a 24 October 1927 letter asked, "Did Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, published . . . years before Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon, supply the Structural Outline and some of the Subject Matter of the Alleged Nephite Record?" After noting eighteen remarkable parallels between the two works, he commented that many others were just as "striking."6
One of the principal conclusions of Roberts's work "Studies of the Book of Mormon" was that "it is more than likely that the Smith family possessed a copy of this book by Ethan Smith, that either by reading it, or hearing it read, and its contents frequently discussed, Joseph Smith became acquainted with its contents. . . . I say this with great confidence."7
Several theories suggest how the Smith family may have come in contact with the View of the Hebrews. Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence, Displayed (1825) contained extensive quotations from Ethan Smith's work. This book was available in the local Manchester Rental Library when Joseph Smith lived in the village.8 Furthermore, Ethan Smith, possibly on a promotional tour for his book, was known to have visited Palmyra in late 1826 or early 1827. The
4 Ibid., 332. An excellent treatment of this subject is George D. Smith, "Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon," Free Inquiry 4 (Winter 1983/84): 21-31.
5 Madsen, 323-44.
6 Ibid., 58-60. In 1923, B. H. Roberts warned LDS church president Heber J. Grant: "Maintenance of the truth of the Book of Mormon is absolutely essential to the integrity of the whole Mormon movement, for it is inconceivable the Book of Mormon should be untrue in its origin and character and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a true church" (cover letter submitted with Roberts's published paper "A Book of Mormon Study," to the First Presidency, 15 Mar. 1923, in George D. Smith, "Defending the Keystone: Book of Mormon Difficulties," Sunstone 4 [May-June, 1981]: 45).
7 Madsen, 155.
8 David Persuitte, Joseph Smith and the Origins of The Book of Mormon (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1991), 123.
Wayne Sentinel on 31 December 1826 and 5 January 1827 posted his name for letters remaining in the Palmyra Post Office.
B. H. Roberts noted that when Ethan Smith wrote the work he was living in the next county, just fifty miles from where the Smiths had earlier lived in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont.9 Even if "the Smiths never owned the book, never read it, or saw it," Roberts speculated, "its contents -- the materials of which it was composed -- would be, under all the circumstances, matter of 'common knowledge' throughout the whole region where the Smiths lived from the birth of Joseph Smith in 1805, to the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1829-30."10
Roberts's investigations and conclusions, because of their controversial nature, were kept from the public eye until their publication in 1985, more than fifty years after Roberts's death. Since then additional research has provided a more complete understanding of the long-suspected relationship between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews. Ethan Smith, born in 1762 in Belchertown, Massachusetts, like Solomon Spalding was a graduate of Dartmouth College. Their education at the New Hampshire school overlapped for the year 1786-87 [sic].11
Ethan Smith's grandson recalled that "Solomon Spaulding was a warm admirer of Dr. Smith and when a young man studied under his tuition... and became interested in his theories regarding the settlement of America."12
While none of Spalding's writings were published during his life, Ethan Smith was among the luminaries of New England literati.13 View of the Hebrews, his best-known work, was published in Poultney, Vermont, where Oliver Cowdery, principal scribe during production of the Book of Mormon, also resided from 1803 to 1825.
At the time Ethan Smith was writing his volume, he was minister of Poultney's Congregational church where he served from 21 November 1821 until December 1826. Cowdery's stepmother and three of his sisters were members of the congregation, according to Poultney church records.14
Presumably Oliver Cowdery, a school teacher and highly literate for his day, would have been familiar with his family minister's book. The first edition, which was advertised in the Northern Spectator, the local newspaper, quickly sold out.
Although it is speculative, young Cowdery may have been even employed by Smith & Shute, the Poultney firm that printed View of the Hebrews. The editor of the Ashtabula (Ohio) Journal, on 4 December 1830, commented that he knew Cowdery seven or eight years earlier, "when he was a dabbler in the art of Printing, and principally occupied in writing and printing pamphlets, with which as a pedestrian ped[d]ler, he visited the towns and villages of eastern N[ew] York, and Canada." Although the newspaper editor does not name any of the works Cowdery sold, it is possible he was a traveling agent for Smith & Shute and had copies of the 1823 edition of View of the Hebrews nestled in his knapsack when he visited his relatives the Smiths. This may explain why Joseph Smith's mother Lucy
9 Madsen, 155.
11 George T. Chapman, Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College (Cambridge, MA: n.p., 1867), 39; Howe, 279; L A. Smith, Annals of the American Pulpit II, ed. Wm. B. (Sprague, NY: n.p., 1866), 297.
12 Cleveland Plain Dealer, 24 Apr. 1887. Both Ethan Smith and Solomon Spalding likely attended classes taught by fellow Congregationalist John Smith, professor of religion and languages at Dartmouth. William D. Morain, in his unpublished manuscript "The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Unconscious," presents compelling evidence that in John Smith's extant lecture notes for his "Natural Philosophy" class he frequently lectured on possible origins of the American Indian.
13 A number of his sermons was printed during his lifetime. He also authored or edited several books, including A Dissertation on the Prophecies relative to Anti-Christ and the Last Times and Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey (Madsen, 27).
14 These significant records, discovered and photographed by David Persuitte in 1977, were in possession of the Poultney Historical Society. The originals have since been stolen (Persuitte, 7-8n270).
reported that in the fall of 1823, four years before her son began his work on the Book of Mormon, Joseph Jr. provided his family with
some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them. 15
That Cowdery was unfamiliar with Ethan Smith or View of the Hebrews seems improbable. Precisely how this presumed acquaintance with Native American ethnological and theological speculation of the day impacted the Book of Mormon text is, of course, the subject of continuing examination.
15 Preston Nibley, ed., History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 83.
Van Wagoner says (on pp. 55-56) that Rigdon's "Reformed Baptist" associates Alexander Campbell, Adamson Bentley, and Darwin Atwater had all heard him speak of the discovery and coming publication of "plates" containing an account explaining the American "aborigines" and their "antiquities." Numerous other similar statements have been provided by Sidney Rigdon's old friends and neighbors saying substantially the same thing: that he was advertising the need for, and news of, the "Golden Bible," long before the Mormons ever placed the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon in his hands. While the latter event may have marked the first time that Rigdon ever saw and read the published "Book of Mormon," he certainly knew something of the "Golden Bible" as early as 1827-1829.