Ronald W. Walker
David J. Whittaker
James B. Allen
Mormon History

Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001


Title Page
Contents
Ch. 1 (excerpt)

Transcriber's comments



See also: T. L. Givens' 2002 By the Hand of Mormon


  Entire contents copyright 2001 by the Board of Trustees of the Univ. of Illinois
Only limited "fair use" excerpts are presented here.

Visit Univ. of Illinois Books to view more extensive excerpts.




MORMON

HISTORY



Ronald W. Walker
David J. Whittaker
James B. Allen


with a contribution
by Armand L. Mauss






University of Illinois Press

URBANA AND CHICAGO

 



[ vii ]





Contents



ix


1

31

60

113

153
Preface


Beginnings: Nineteenth-Century Historical Writing

Traditionalism Meets Modernism, 19001950

The New Mormon History: Historical Writing since 1950

The Challenge of Mormon Biography

Flowers, Weeds, and Thistles: The State of Social Science Literature
on the Mormons, by Armand L. Mauss



199

APPENDIXES

A. Mormon Imprints as Sources for Research: A History and Evaluation
239

265
B. Mormon Americana: A Guide to Reference Works and Bibliographies

Index



 


[ 1 ]






1.  Beginnings:
    Nineteenth-Century Historical Writing




THE FIRST PHASE of Mormon historiography began shortly after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830 and continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. During this first phase, important primary and secondary sources came into existence, major and long-lasting historical issues were raised and debated, and several seminal studies were completed. Nonetheless, most early works were not "history," at least in the modern sense of the term. Too often they lacked balance and failed to consider the full range of existing sources. Many were an antiquarian's delight of loosely organized and ill-fitting material. They were, however, the first steps toward a rich heritage of Mormon historical writing.

The virtues and defects of early Mormon history may be traced to the fact that it was highly partisan. Mormons believed that their church was the "only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth," and they wrote with the settled conviction that this belief generated. Theirs were providential or "faithful" histories in the tradition of the historical books of the Old Testament or such seventeenth-century Puritan religious works as William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation or Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana.[[1. The proclamation of Latter-day Saint religious exclusivity is taken from Mormon scripture: Doctrine and Covenants (present edition) 1: 30. One cannot read of the Puritan historians without seeing many parallels with early Mormon writing. See Peter Gay, A Loss of Mastery: Puritan Historians in Colonial America (New York: Vintage Books, 1968); Richard S. Dunn, "Seventeenth-Century English Historians of America," in Seventeenth-Century America: Essays in Colonial History, ed. James Morton Smith (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 195-225; and Kenneth Murdock, "Clio in the Wilderness: History and Biography in Puritan New England," Church History 24 (September 1955): 221-38. end1]] Mormon history, as written by the Mormons themselves, told of a new branch of God's chosen people who, like their New England forebears, dwelt in a "city upon a hill." They were part of a modern dispensation in which heavenly intentions were being made known in preparation for Jesus Christ's Second Coming.

Not surprisingly, non-Mormon writers disagreed. Often they were rival Christian ministers, apostate Mormons, or local journalists who had opposed the Mormons when they lived or preached in nearby communities. Reflecting


 



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their own partisanship, non-LDS chroniclers found little to praise in Mormonism and much to condemn. For many of them, the new religion was a fanatical sect that unprincipled church leaders used to plunder an unsuspecting flock.

These two groups of historians -- the LDS writers of providential history and their non-Mormon antagonists -- dominated nineteenth-century Mormon history and filled it with strong words and emotions. The two groups often could not even agree on what sources to use, much less arrive at similar conclusions. During its first phase, the writing of Mormon history was a battleground. Mormons wrote primarily to defend the faith, while their foes wrote with the hope of destroying the foundations of the Mormon "kingdom." There was little room for neutrality and no interest in asking the kinds of questions that, a century later, produced many outstanding, well-balanced works enjoyed by Mormon and non-Mormon alike.


Early Anti-Mormon Historical Writing

The first book about the Mormons, Eber D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed; or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion, came from an opponent in 1834. [[2. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed; or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion (Painesville, Ohio: By the author, 1834).]] Howe was the editor of the Painesville Telegraph, published a few miles from Kirtland, Ohio, the first Mormon gathering point outside New York State. One of Howe's friends recalled that the newspaperman seemed to have little outward animosity for the Mormons, although his sister and perhaps his wife joined them. [[3. Arthur B. Deming, Startling Revelations! Naked Truths about Mormonism (Oakland, Calif.: n.p., 1888), 2.]] Howe described his own religious beliefs as pliant -- by his own admission he intended to "slide along" with prevailing opinion. Later in his life, he accepted spiritualism. [[4. Eber D. Howe, Autobiography and Recollections of a Pioneer Printer (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Steam Printing House, 1878), 64 {sic, 54.} ]]

Whatever the reason, shortly after the Mormons began to arrive in northern Ohio in the early 1830s, Howe started a spirited newspaper campaign against them. In 1834, he followed with the publication of Mormonism Unvailed, which was filled with passionate condemnations. One passage described Joseph Smith, the church's founding prophet, as one of the "vilest wretch[es] on earth." Similarly, Howe dismissed Smith's new book of scripture, the Book of Mormon, as a "fabrication" gauged to the "lowest of our passions." [[5. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 74.]]

Mormonism Unvailed included nine anti-Mormon "letters" written by the Mormon dissident Ezra Booth, which the Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio) had earlier printed. More important, the book used the research of another former Mormon, Doctor Philastus Hurlbut ("Doctor" was his given name). The Mormons had earlier expelled Hurlbut for sexual misconduct and in the process gained his enmity. Hurlbut was so open with his threats against


 



                          Nineteenth-Century Historical Writing                          3


Joseph Smith and the Mormons that an Ohio court placed him under a $200 bond and required him to pay $300 in court costs. [[6. Dean C. Jessee, ed. and comp., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 11 and 28 January and 1 and 7 April 1834, 26-27, 32.]]

Some Mormons believed that it was Hurlbut, not Howe, who was the actual author of Mormonism Unvailed. If so, Hurlbut was a curious irony. His unusual first given name came from the folk traditions of the time: a seventh son was believed to have special spiritual or doctoring power. [[7. For Hurlbut's name, see Sermon of George A. Smith, 10 January 1858, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool, England: F. D. and S. W. Richards, 1854-86), 7: 113. For folk tradition, see Aaron C. Willey, "Observations on Magical Practices," Medical Repository 3 (1812): 380; Andrew Jackson Davis, Answers to Ever-Recurring Questions from the People (Boston: William White, 1873), 99-100; and Earl W. Hayter, The Troubled Farmer, 1850-1900: Rural Adjustment to Industrialism (De Kalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1968), 41. end7]] Hurlbut attempted to use this same folk culture to discredit Smith. Traveling to New York State, Hurlbut gathered affidavits from those who claimed to have once known the Smith family. These affidavits described how Joseph Smith and other members of his family had participated in the popular, early nineteenth-century search for buried treasure. Howe and Hurlbut saw this activity as a proof of serious character flaws: the Smiths were "lazy" and "superstitious" and believed in "ghosts and witches." [[8. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 11.]] Even before the publication of Mormonism Unvailed, two articles issued by mainline Christian magazines had made similar charges about the Smiths' money-digging and their supposedly unsavory character. [[9. A. W. B[enton], "Mormonites," Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, n.s., 2 (9 April 1831): 120; David S. Burnet, "Some Thing New -- The Golden Bible," Evangelical Inquirer 1 (7 March 1831): 217-40. Later in the century, other articles appeared with similar content: Fayette Lapham, "The Mormons," Historical Magazine, n.s., 7 (May 1870): 305-7; Frederick G. Mather, "The Early Days of Mormonism," Lippincott's Magazine 26 (August 1880): 198-211; and Emily M. Austin, Mormonism; or, Life among the Mormons (Madison, Wis.: M. J. Cantwell, 1882), 31-33. Various late nineteenth-century local and state histories, cited later, carried on the theme. end9]]
 
But how had the uneducated Smith produced the difficult-to-explain Book of Mormon? To answer this question, which became a major theme in Mormon historiography, Howe and Hurlbut suggested the existence of a hidden conspiracy. They advanced the theory that a "talented knave" stood behind the public career of Joseph Smith and was actually responsible for producing the Book of Mormon. This conspirator was identified or "unvailed" (thus the book's title) as Sidney Rigdon, a "Campbellite" minister who later became a prominent Mormon. According to this theory, Rigdon had secured an unpublished romance novel, "Manuscript Found," written by the Reverend Solomon Spaulding, which allegedly had some of the names, archaic language, and story line of the Book of Mormon. After altering and embellishing Spaulding's original draft, Rigdon supposedly gave the book to Smith, who brought the "new scripture" to light in a supernatural-appearing way. [[10. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 100, 278-90.]]

The Hurlbut-Howe arguments had at least two problems. First, because the Palmyra affidavits that Hurlbut gathered contained stock phrases organized in a recurring pattern, Mormons charged that Hurlbut either had approached the Smith's neighbors with a prepared agenda in mind or had edited their responses to secure the result he desired. At the very least, it was clear that the indicting affidavits failed to convey a rounded portrait of the Smiths and their early New York experiences. Second, the Spaulding explanation for the Book of Mormon had little evidence to support it -- as Howe himself was forced to admit. Howe acknowledged (but minimized) that Hurlbut had secured from Spaulding's widow the draft copy of "Manuscript Found," which, when examined, bore little similarity to the Book of Mormon. Faced with this difficulty,


 



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Howe offered the hypothesis that Spaulding must have written another draft of "Manuscript Found," yet to be discovered.

Howe was right about one thing. Writing his autobiography at the end of his career, he claimed that Mormonism Unvailed was the "basis of all the [non-LDS] histories" of Mormonism. [[11. Howe, Autobiography and Recollections, 45.]] It was hardly an exaggeration. When discussing the origin of Mormonism, most nineteenth-century non-LDS articles and books were variations on the main themes of Mormonism Unvailed: Joseph Smith and his family were treasure hunters, the LDS Church began as a speculation, and the Book of Mormon could be explained by an elusive Spaulding manuscript. The last charge became an anti-Mormon theme as a small cottage industry tried to promote the conspiracy theory. [[12. A sampling of the more important literature included Matilda Spaulding Davison, "The Mormon Bible," Millennial Harbinger, n.s., 3 (1839): 265-68; Edward Duffield Neill, "The Book of Mormon," Historical Magazine, 2d ser., 6 (August 1869): 68-69; Ellen E. Dickinson, "The Book of Mormon," Scribner's Monthly 20 (August 1880): 613-16; Robert Patterson, Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1882); and Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885). During the century, there were at least two dozen additional articles, many reprints or derivative restatements, of the above pieces of literature. end12]]

However, when the Spaulding manuscript was discovered among Howe's papers in Hawaii in 1884 and when no "second" manuscript came to light, the theory began to give way. [[13. James H. Fairchild, "Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon" (paper read before the Northern Ohio and Western Reserve Historical Society, 23 March 1886, published as Tract No. 77, Western Reserve Historical Society [Cleveland, Ohio, 1886]), 187-200; James H. Fairchild, "Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon," Bibliotheca Sacra 42 (January 1885): 173-74.]]

Within eight years of the publication of Mormonism Unvailed, six other books appeared, each with a similar tone and content. The Reverend Daniel Kidder's Mormonism and the Mormons: A Historical View of the Rise and Progress of the Sect Self-Styled Latter-day Saints and the Mormon dissenter John C. Bennett's History of the Saints; or, An Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism not only borrowed many of Howe's ideas but also used large blocks of his text. [[14. Daniel Kidder, Mormonism and the Mormons: A Historical View of the Rise and Progress of the Sect Self-Styled Latter-day Saints (New York: G. Lane and P. P. Sandford, 1842); John C. Bennett, History of the Saints; or, An Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland and Whiting, 1842).]] Dr. John A. Clark's memoir, Gleanings by the Way, devoted twelve of its thirty-three chapters to Mormon topics. [[15. John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way (Philadelphia: W. J. and J. K. Simon, 1842).]] Clark, who had served as the Episcopal minister of Palmyra, New York, when the Book of Mormon was published, provided an account of an important interview he had had with Martin Harris, Smith's closest early Palmyra coworker. But for the most part, Clark followed Howe's general outline. If Rigdon had not been the conduit for getting the Spaulding manuscript to Smith, Clark reasoned, Smith must have gotten it in some other way. The Book of Mormon was surely beyond Smith's power and intelligence. [[16. Ibid., 225-26, 266-67. Clark's summary suggested the tone of his work: "You might as well go down into the Crater of Vesuvius and attempt to build an ice house amid its molten and boiling lava, as to convince any inhabitant in either of these towns [Palmyra and Manchester, New York], that Jo Smith's pretensions are not the most gross and egregious falsehood" (346).16]]

The Presbyterian minister J. B. Turner's Mormonism in All Ages; or, The Rise, Progress and Causes of Mormonism had a slightly different view. In Turner's mind, the Book of Mormon, while still beyond Smith's ability, was too absurd for a man of Rigdon's learning. Turner therefore proposed an alternative thesis: young Smith himself had secured the Spaulding manuscript. Perhaps Smith had gotten the manuscript on an undocumented trip to northeastern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio, the two areas where Spaulding lived after 1809. [[17. J. B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages; or, The Rise, Progress and Causes of Mormonism (New York: Platt and Peters, 1842), 213.]]

Neither of the two books written by the Episcopal minister Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo and The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century; or, The Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons,


 



                          Nineteenth-Century Historical Writing                          5


cited Howe as a source, but each seemed influenced by the Ohio journalist. According to Caswall, Smith was a "low juggler" without character or education. Caswall also charged the Smith family with trying to use Mormonism to make money. To these familiar arguments, the Episcopal minister added one of his own. He condemned Smith and his new religion as the unfortunate fruits of American religious democracy. In contrast to the stability of a church-state episcopacy, such as the Anglican establishment in Great Britain, Smith was guilty of "claiming immediate inspiration, interpreting the Scriptures according to his own fancies, and, in short, leading his followers into the lowest abyss of mental degradation." [[18. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo (London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1842); Henry Caswall, The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century; or, The Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Mormons (London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1843), vi (first quote), 8 (second quote). For a biographical sketch of Caswall, see Craig L. Foster, "Henry Caswall: Anti-Mormon Extraordinaire," BYU Studies 35, no. 4 (1995-96): 144-59.]]

The themes of these early anti-Mormon books were restated some twenty-five years later in Pomeroy Tucker's Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism: Biography of Its Founders and History of Its Church. Tucker was a longtime Palmyra resident who knew Joseph Smith and such early Mormon leaders as Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris. Tucker had actually read the proof sheets for the first printing of the Book of Mormon. None of these experiences, however, left him with a favorable impression of Mormonism. Tucker charged that young Joseph was given to tall tales and "vagabondish" ways and that the Smith family was illiterate and whiskey-drinking. Tucker explained the new church's success in terms of the kind of members that it recruited: Mormonites were "fanatic masses" enrolled in a cause. [[19. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism: Biography of Its Founders and History of Its Church (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), 16 (first quote), 278-79 (second quote).]]


Early Mormon Historical Writing

Mormons responded to the growing consensus of their detractors only occasionally. Five years before his death, Joseph Smith spoke of digging for Spanish treasure at the behest of a prosperous farmer on the "Big Bend" of the Susquehanna River, but the narrowly worded passage did not acknowledge the activity to be "money-digging." [[20. Joseph Smith, "History, 1839," in Autobiographical and Historical Writings, vol. 1 of The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. and comp. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 282. See also Oliver Cowdery, "Letter VIII," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2 (October 1835): 201.]] In another refutation of the growing anti-Mormon chorus, several LDS pamphleteers challenged the Spaulding thesis by reminding their readers of Hurlbut's character shortcomings and by denying Rigdon's role in the alleged conspiracy. [[21. Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled (New York: By the author, 1838); Benjamin Winchester, The Origin of the Spaulding Story (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking and Guilbert, 1840); John E. Page, The Spaulding Story concerning the Origin of the Book of Mormon (Pittsburgh: n.p., 1843).]]

Generally, however, the Mormons simply ignored their opponents' charges and concentrated on telling their providential history, as required by Smith's formal revelations. "Behold, there shall be a record kept," said one that was received the day the church was organized. [[22. Doctrine and Covenants 21: 1. For similar-minded instruction, see ibid., 47: 1-4; 69: 2-3, 8; and 85: 1-2.]] Such counsel led to the establishment of the office of church historian and recorder, one of the first administrative positions of the new church and one usually occupied in the nineteenth century by a leading elder. [[23. The history of the official church historian is beyond the scope of this essay, but the following literature provides an introduction to its establishment and functioning: Dean C. Jessee, "Joseph Smith and the Beginning of Mormon Record Keeping," in The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, ed. Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 138-60; Charles P. Adams and Gustive O. Larson, "A Study of the LDS Church Historian's Office, 1830-1900," Utah Historical Quarterly 40 (Fall 1972): 370-89; A. William Lund, "The Church Historian's Office," Improvement Era 38 (April 1935): 220, 252; A. William Lund, "The Church Historian's Office," Improvement Era 59 (November 1956): 795, 853-54; Ronald K. Esplin and Max J. Evans, "Preserving Mormon Manuscripts: Historical Activities of the LDS Church," Manuscripts 27 (Summer 1975): 166-67; T. Edgar Lyon, "Church Historians I Have Known," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 11 (Winter 1978): 14-22; and Howard C. Searle, "Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons, 1830-1858" (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1979), 69-143.]] These early church historians and secretaries produced several unpublished manuscripts, including John


 



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Whitmer's brief narrative of the church's first years, which was finally published in the twentieth century. [[24. This history was published in serial form (minus the last chapters) in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' John Whitmer, "Church History," ed. Heman C. Smith, Journal of History 1 (January-July, 1908); and more recently in F. Mark McKiernan and Roger D. Launius, eds., An Early Latter Day Saint History: The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment (Independence, Mo.: Herald Publishing House, 1980). The original manuscript is in the RLDS Library and Archives, Independence, Missouri. Other unpublished works of the period included a six-page narrative written by Smith himself containing an account of his "First Vision;" a twenty-page genealogical memorandum of the Smith family; and a twenty-nine-page statement of early church events prepared in 1835-36 by Frederick G. Williams, Oliver Cowdery, and Warren Parrish, all at the LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.]]

The first major LDS historical material to be printed appeared in the 1834 and 1835 issues of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, the Mormon newspaper published at Kirtland, Ohio. The author of this material was "Second Elder" Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith's chief assistant, who used the literary device of eight serial letters to describe the origins of Mormonism....


(The remainder of this chapter has not been transcribed
out of respect for the publisher's copyright of the text)



 

Transcriber's  Comments

Walker, Whittaker & Allen's 2001 book



History as Seen by the Mormons

This handsome and well written book has much in it to recommend its contents to the student of Mormon history. Certainly its authors and their reputations as serious scholars of Latter Day Saint history are well known and experienced writers whose analysis and opinions can generally be relied upon. But the modifier "generally" does not mean "fully;" there are instances in which these three notable historians appear to have compiled their work a bit too hastily and with problematic results. A case in point may be found in the opening pages of their Chapter 1: "Beginnings: Nineteenth-Century Historical Writing." There the authors attempt to account for the first histories of individual Mormons and of the movement itself, and there they get off on the wrong foot almost immediately.


The History of Mormon History

Not all writing about the Mormons, even from their earliest days, is History with a capital "H," of course. A great deal of what was first said about the Saints was never meant to serve as more than offhand remarks, gratuitous over-generalizations, and personal opinions. Such bits and pieces of text from old publications are hardly history in and of themselves, but they combine to make up a kind of history -- if only a history of variegated response to the new phenomenon of Latter Day Saintism. The authors of Mormon History have mostly ignored these bits and pieces; where they do acknowledge the content of early newspaper articles or relevant short passages in books devoted to other subjects, Messrs. Walker, Whittaker and Allen mostly relegate those references to their notes. Considering the scope of their subject matter, this sort of treatment of early sources is understandable -- there is only so much that can be said in a book of 280 pages that spans over 170 years of subject matter. The definitive treatment of the first two decades of Mormon publication and published response to Mormonism has yet to be written and the modern reader can only hope that Walker, Whittaker and Allen's brief glance at this material will inspire other historians and researchers to look back at that early period and describe its events and productions in greater detail. In the spirit of doing just that, the remainder of this review is presented as an expansion upon the three authors' outline of the first published non-Mormon responses to the origin and progress of Latter Day Saintism.

Probably the first reference to what was to become Mormonism in an American publication was printed in an 1829 issue of the Palmyra Freeman which gave report on Joseph Smith, Jr. and his purported uncovering of inscribed ancient "plates of gold." The text of this article was given some circulation in the public press, both in its original form (as in the Niagara Courier of Aug. 27, 1829) and in an abbreviated report (as in the Painesville Telegraph of Sept. 22, 1829). Writing in later years, editor Jonathan A. Hadley said: "I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons."

To be perfectly accurate, Hadley's 1829 short "history of the humbug" was not an historical account of Mormonism (a term not yet thought of at that early date), nor was it a history of the chief participants in the events leading up to the establishment of the Church of Christ in 1830. Jonathan A. Hadley's account was simply one newspaper article among the thousands that were no doubt printed that year, in hopes of exposing various popular "humbugs." Although he knew Martin Harris and was able to monitor the initial publicizing of what was to become Mormonism, there is no hint in Hadley's words that he was concerned enough about the activities of Joseph Smith, Jr., or that young man's associates, to join in any conscience "persecution" of the first Latter Day Saints. So, while his report might rightly be seen as a precursor to anti-Mormonism, it was not printed as a vengeful attack upon a "fanatical sect" out to "plunder" the "unsuspecting flocks" of western New York. Jonathan A. Hadley lost interest in the "plates of gold" affair and moved his publishing efforts away from Palmyra, but Abner Cole, editor of the the Reflector took up the cause of exposing what he called "the pretensions of Jo Smith Jr." and Hadley had called "the humbug."Beginning on Sept. 2, 1829 Cole printed several early items concerning the first Mormons, but his distinct effort to document the rise of the sect began with his serialization of "The Book of Pukei" in his issue of June 12, 1830.

The authors of Mormon History credit Eber D. Howe of Painesville, Ohio, with taking an early interest in the Mormons and starting "a spirited newspaper campaign against them" following their first arrival in northern Ohio. This negative assessment of Howe's editorial actions is perhaps a little unfair. He passed along to his readers the 1829 Hadley article as a matter of standard practice among editors in sharing "exchange items." And when Howe took up the matter of the "golden bible" for a second time, on Nov. 16, 1830, he merely reported the recent arrival of Oliver Cowdery and his missionary companions and their baptizing of "twenty or thirty" new converts in nearby Kirtland. While Howe's editorial tone in this article is slightly sarcastic ("some persons... one of whom pretends to have seen Angels"), his article does not mark the beginning of "a spirited newspaper campaign" in the same sense as his concurrent championing of political anti-Masonry and temperance. As Howe says in his "The Book of Mormon" article, published on Nov. 30, 1830, it is naturally "the business of an Editor to collect and lay before his readers whatever seems to agitate the public mind." Howe's notice of the book is unflattering, but it does not amount to an attack. He says: "It may, perhaps, be useless to condemn the thing by positive and absolute assertions -- time will discover in it either something of vast importance to man, or a deep laid plan to deceive many."

Over the following 13 months E. D. Howe published 38 different articles or items of correspondence regarding the Mormons, 8 of which were reprints of Ezra Booth's letters from the Ohio Star and 5 of which were communications from Palmyra. Little of what Howe printed was complimentary to Joseph Smith, Jr., Sidney Rigdon, and their Ohio followers, but if his mixed bag of articles amounted to "a spirited newspaper campaign" against the Mornons, the initial "spirit" had faded from that "campaign" by 1832, a year in which he published only 4 or 5 items concerning the Saints. Although the number of "Mormonism" articles per year increased a bit during 1833-34, a goodly portion of those items were simply reprints of various news reports concerning the Mormons' difficulties in Missouri. The following year Eber D. Howe retired from the newspaper business, his wife played hostess to Joseph and Emma Smith at the Howes' Painesville home, and Eber went into a 43 year period of silence regarding the latter Day Saints. The authors of Mormon History say that he "seemed to have little outward animosity for the Mormons," but do not give an exact citation for that observation. Probably it was true, however: there is little reason to single out Mr. Howe as the first "Mormon eater." His newspaper issues of 1830-31 were filled with ungentlemanly remarks directed at the Mormons, but there is little to distinguish Howe's article publishing during that period from what Lewis L. Rice was printing in his Ohio Star or what William Perkins was reporting in the Geauga Gazette.


The First anti-Mormon History

The three authors call Eber D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed "the first book about the Mormons," but this can only be said with a few qualifications. The first substantial stand-alone publication devoted to examining the Mormons was Alexander Campbell's 1831 12-page pamphlet, an off-print of Campbell's Feb. 7, 1831 article, "Delusions." Eber D. Howe recorded his receipt of Campbell's pamphlet at the end of February of that same year. The second publication dedicated to Mormon matters was probably Joshua V. Himes' 1832 re-publication of Campbell's tract, as a 16 page pamphlet, also called Delusions. This was followed in 1833 by a tract issued by Rev. John M. Peck, from the press of the Rock Spring Pioneer. As Rev. Peck said six years later: "In 1833 we wrote a series of articles, which were published [in] a little tract, at our own expense, and circulated in Illinois to expose the delusions of Mormonism." Besides the pamphlets of Himes and Peck, there were several substantial early periodical articles dealing with the Mormons and/or their scriptures. The years' run of some of these periodicals was typically gathered up, bound, and issued as a volume by the publisher at the end of the year, thus preserving notable items on the Mormons in "books." Among the articles of that day worth mentioning are the following: "Imposition & Blasphemy" in the May 15, 1830 issue of the Rochester Gem, "The Book of Gold" in the Dec. 18, 1830 issue of the Philadelphia Album, a letter from Chagrin, Ohio in the Feb. 5, 1831 issue of the Evangelical Magazine, "The Mormon Delusion" in a Nov., 1831 issue of the Baptist Register, "Mormonism" in the Dec. 19, 1832 issue of the Herald of Gospel Truth, and "The Book of Mormon" in the Jan. 1834 issue of the The Unitarian. To this list might be added articles from the Millennial Harbinger, Niles Register, and several other periodicals of the early 1830s, as well the informative two-part report by James G. Bennett in the New York Morning Courier of Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 1831. Besides these items, the student of early Mormon history will probably also wish to consult the relevent sections on the Saints in these pre-1834 books: Life of David Marks (1831), Vicissitudes Illustrated (1832), and Men and Manners in America (1833).

The point that can be made, in reading all of the above, is that Eber D. Howe's 1834 book was not a piece of reporting conjured up in a journalistic vacuum. The uncomplimentary things said about the Joseph Smith, Sr. in Howe's book (whether true, false, or some mixture of both) were not innovations that the world first encountered when Mormonism Unvailed was first offered for sale near the end of 1834. While that volume offered many details of allegations not previously published, its contents, in regard to the Mormon Smiths, echoed an existing hostile consensus that any reporter selectively gathering statements in and around Palmyra might have encountered during the early 1830s. Consider, for example, the following extract from a letter written by the Rev, Jesee Townsend, former pastor of Western Presbyterian Church of Palmyra, published in the Sackett's Harbor Courier in August of 1834, a few weeks before D. P. Hurlbut began soliciting testimony in western New York:

This imposition [Mormonism] was begun by Joseph Smith, in the vicinity of this village... and shows the great folly and weakness of the people who have credited the impositions with falsehoods which Joseph Smith and his associates in iniquity have propagated. I begin with the leader "Joe" as he is and has been called here for 20 years past. For ten years he has been a man of questionable character, of intemperate habits, and a noted money-digger. He lived in a sequestered neighborhood, where his loquacity gave him a reputation, with some, for being smart; these he flattered to assist him in digging for money. These soon saw his deceptions and got out of patience with him. To avoid their sneers, Joe pretended that he had at length found, by digging, a wonderful curiosity, which he kept closely concealed. (cf. Rev. Townsend's letter in Tucker's Origin pp. 287-91)

Although numerous such unflattering reports were definitely in circulation long before E. D. Howe published his Mormonism Unvailed, his volume was the first lengthy text published on the Mormons, bound between two covers of cardboard, advertised, and offered for sale to the general public. The appearance such a book may be seen as constituting a sort of journalistic milestone along the historical path of early Mormonism, but the information Howe offered to his readers in 1834 was only a single, extended report, amid dozens of other, less lengthy accounts concerning the Saints then available in books, periodicals and the newspapers. In fact, a good deal of the reading material in Howe's Mormonism Unvailed was recycled from the columns of Howe's own Painesville Telegraph, Lewis L. Rice's Ohio Star, the Montrose Susquehanna Register, and Abner Cole's Palmyra Reflector. Without all of this reprinting from contemporary newspapers, Howe's 1834 effort would have amounted to little more than a booklet.

The three authors say that "Some Mormons believed that it was Hurlbut, not Howe, who was the actual author of Mormonism Unvailed. This early supposition had some basis -- according to Kirtland Justice of the Peace John C. Dowen, about the end of 1833 or the beginning of 1834 he "read all of his [Hurlbut's] manuscript, including Spaulding's Manuscript Found, and compared it with the Book of Mormon, the historical part of which is the same as Spaulding's Manuscript Found." However, E. D. Howe told Isaac Hale, in a latter dated Feb. 4, 1834: "I have taken all the letters and documents from Mr. Hurlbut, with a view to their publication. An astonishing mass has been collected by him and others." Howe says nothing of Hurlbut's manuscript and there is no reason to believe that Mormonism Unvailed contains anything more than a few extracts from any book D. P, Hurlbut may have penned, prior to his handing over "the letters and documents" to Howe around the beginning of February, 1834. Also, it is doubtful that E. D. Howe played any significant role in financing or directing D. P. Hurlbut's 1833 research efforts. Where Howe portrays himself as once having been Hurlbut's employer or mentor, those insinuations should be taken with a large grain of salt.

According to the research and reporting of the Rev. Clark Braden, "Hurlbut collected the evidence; Dr. Roser wrote a history; Booth wrote his experience among the Mormons; Clapp made a criticism; Howe made the book, and three thousand of them were scattered all around." The "Dr. Roser" referred to by Braden was Dr. Storm Rosa of Painesville, but it was probably his brother, Esek Rosa, an accountant in the same town, who did most of the book's editing. The input from the Campbellite Elder, Matthew S. Clapp of Mentor, consisted of little more than an expansion of his Feb., 1831 contribution to Howe's Painesville Telegraph. The sum total of new, previously unpublished material in Mormonism Unvailed cannot be more than two or three chapters, and most of that is comprised of D. P. Hurlbut's compilations of statements. Probably E. D. Howe wrote less than a dozen pages in the book that bears his name. Still, its distribution to a few hundred curious readers at the beginning of December, 1834 (four weeks before Howe retired from the publishing business) marked the beginning of an era -- the era of anti-Mormon writers and their many books.

Howe's book may not deserve the label of "history" but it was an attempt to explain the origin and rise of Mormonism within a chronological context. Considering all that had been previously published regarding Joseph Smith, Jr., the Book of Mormon, and the Latter Day Saints, Howe might have fairly easily collected and articulated a great deal more information than he presented in Mormonism Unvailed. So, while a real Mormon history might have been produced in 1834, and John Corrill did his best to make one in 1839, the world still had to wait until the 1842 appearance of Prof. Jonathan B. Turner's Mormonism in All Ages to peruse something resembling a "history" of the Latter Day Saints. Whether or not Corrill's and Turner's books should be called "anti-Mormon" is another matter altogether. Both volumes present the religion of the Saints as a delusion arising from a fraud perpetrated by Joseph Smith, Jr. and his earliest religious adherents, but neither attempt at writing history is quite so intentionally alarming as Howe's 1834 effort, or some of its genre, such as William S. West's Rise & Pretensions of the Mormons (1837), La Roy Sunderland's Mormonism Refuted (1838), Richard Livesey's Exposure of Mormonism (1838), and Origin Bacheler's Mormonism Exposed (1838).


The Problem of D. P. Hurlbut

Having provided their readers with an adequate introduction into Eber D. Howe and his 1834 book, the three authors of Mormon History attempt to elucidate the subject with some details respecting Mr. D. P. Hurlbut, and here they quickly become bogged down in half-truths and baseless assumptions, seriously marring the fruits of their otherwise largely commendable scholarship. Exactly how it might have been that D. P. Hurlbut used "folk culture" in his acknowledged attempt "to discredit Smith," the three authors never get around to explaining. No serious scholar of early Mormon history questions the fact that D. P. Hurlbut, during the second half of 1833, set out upon an extensive program of gathering information, allegations, and perhaps even fabrications damaging to Joseph Smith, Jr. and his new sect (Hurlbut would have perhaps called it a "cult"). But it is very unlikely that the sum total of Hurlbut's 1833 eveidence collecting project amounted to "folk culture" or even "folk lore." Neither was he a Svengali who used his seventh son powers to mesmerize witnesses into signing their names to "folk culture" yarns and falsifications. Rather, D. P. Hurlbut went into two environments where he knew he could collect first-hand accounts potentially damaging to Smith's religious claims. One of these places was the Palmyra-Manchester region of western New York -- from whence a great deal of testimony hostile to the Mormon Smith family had already emerged; the other place he canvassed was along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, just south of the Lake Erie shore, where the "Elder" Hurlbut had served an LDS proselytizing mission during the spring of 1833.

Now, it may well be that D. P. Hurlbut was extremely selective in soliciting his desired depositions from residents in the Palmyra-Manchester area when he went there to conduct interviews. He may have told his deponents what he wanted recorded in their statements and what he did not want recorded. He probably even wrote out most of the testimony with his own pencil. But those possibilities do not erase the fact that there already existed a feeling, commonly shared by numerous people who had known the Joseph Smith, Sr. family, that "Joe Smith" and his Mormon followers were frauds and dupes. D. P. Hurlbut could have learned as much from newspapers and magazines without ever having taken the trouble to journey to western New York to seek out eye-witnesses, like the wife of Martin Harris (who provided him with a statement) and the brother of Oliver Cowdery (whom Oliver, in an 1834 letter, thanked for not doing the same). And yet, Mr. Hurlbut did take thee trouble to travel east, as far as Massachusetts, in his searching out evidence damaging to Smith and his closest associates. And, while en route to and from Massachusetts, Hurlbut took the trouble to stop in New York twice, to collect all the damaging testimony regarding Smith and the first Mormons that he could ferret out. Not only that, but Hurlbut took the trouble to have many of his Palmyra-Manchester depositions witnessed, certified, or notarized. The names subscribed on those documents were those of real people, most of whom are known to have been living in the area in 1830, if not before. If Hurlbut significantly altered or fabricated their collective testimony, the deponents had ample opportunity to deny the statements published by Howe, or to disavow those same reprints when they were circulated far and wide in numerous post-1834 books and articles. With perhaps one minor exception, the New York witnesses are not known to have ever denied their testimony, as published by E. D. Howe in 1834.

The fact that Hurlbut may have influenced the wording of some of the statements he gathered offers Mormon apologists sufficient grounds whereupon to reject anything they might find objectionable in that pile of testimony, but it does not necessarily render major portions of that testimony untrue or historically worthless. The early Mormon leaders had ample opportunity to send agents back to New York in order to obtain refutations of some or all of the statements. This they did not do for fifty years. The one investigation that Elder Orson Hyde made, to confirm or deny the attestations Hurlbut collected in Ohio, he made no real use of. Had he or other Mormon apologists uncovered major incidents of fraud in Hurlbut's evidence gathering, it seems likely they would have publicized their findings to the world. They didn't; instead, Mormon researchers and historians have cautiously quoted selected passages from many of the 1833 statements in compiling sanctioned histories and biographies useful to their cause. The Hurlbut statements are potentially problematic and should, of course, be treated with scholarly discretion, but they are definitely not the tissue of lies that some pious apologists have made them out to be.


When is a "Theory" not a Theory?

The three authors follow their introduction of D. P. Hurlbut with these very interesting sentences: "But how had the uneducated Smith produced the difficult-to-explain Book of Mormon? To answer this question, which became a major theme in Mormon historiography, Howe and Hurlbut suggested the existence of a hidden conspiracy." This well-worn explanation is to be found in practically every LDS (and RLDS) "faith-promoting" history of the Kirtland period ever written and sold to unsuspecting readers -- but its simplistic view of things obscures some important possibilities and probabilities in the little-known story of Mormon origins. First of all, the "hidden conspiracy" explanation from Mormonism did not originate with Hurlbut and Howe. Numerous reports saw publication prior to 1834, in which Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and other shadowy figures were implicated (explicitly or implicitly) in the writing and bringing forth of the "Mormon Bible." And, when Smith and Rigdon's efforts to re-write the King James Version actually did produced a Mormon version of the biblical scriptures, these old claims were frequently resurrected -- with the two elders blamed for fabricating that text, as well as their previous "imposition," the Book of Mormon. Thus, in 1833, when D. P. Hurlbut shared with the world his belief that Sidney Rigdon had a hand in producing the Book of Mormon, he was saying nothing new. That "conspiracy theory" was already "out there."

Apologists "defending the faith" have traditionally called any non-Nephite explanation for the authorship of the Book of Mormon a "theory." Since about the beginning of the 20th century serious historians have sometimes followed along the same path, unloading upon their readers the "Joseph Smith theory," the "Ethan Smith theory," the "automatic writing theory," etc. In most such cases the term "theory" is well applied, for these various explanations generally offer little or no firm evidence to support their allegations. There are no eye-witness accounts of Joseph Smith, Jr. spending long hours reseaching and composing draft outlines for the "Nephite Record." There are no old letters, journal entries, or public records documents showing that anybody, prior to 1887, was ever openly accused of plagiarizing Ethan Smith's writings to produce latter day scripture. Lacking such primary evidence, these kinds of explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon can properly be called "theories."

One of the very earliest explanations put forth by non-Saints for the Book of Mormon text is that it was written or heavily edited from a pre-existing source by the Rev. Sidney Rigdon, working secretly as this task in the years prior to 1829. This supposed association of Sidney Rigdon with the authorship of the Book of Mormon is also a "theory," as Messrs. Walker, Whittaker and Allen are quick to catagorize the explanation. Other than some suspicious circumstances and guesswork, there is practically no definite evidence linking Rigdon with the pre-publication text of the Book of Mormon; or, at least, in 1834 there was precious little confirmation for such a notion. Subsequently some odds and ends of purported documentation surfaced, along with some slender testimony supposedly placing Sidney Rigdon in Joseph Smith, Jr.'s company prior to 1830. So, while there may be some interesting support for the idea that Sidney Rigdon had a hand in producing the Book of Mormon, that explanation of things still remains a "theory."

It is totally improper, however, for any reputable student of history to assert that D. P. Hurlbut and/or E. D. Howe manufactured the idea that somebody other than Nephites wrote the Mormon book. This assertion did not originate with either of these two men and they certainly did not "theorize" that interpretation of past events into being in Ohio in 1833 or 1834. To state the point more clearly:Hurlbut and Howe did not manufacture a "theory" in order to account for that "difficult-to-explain" literary artifact, the Book of Mormon. In fact, well before either of these two men ever stopped to consider a non-Nephite origin for the book, personal testimony to just such a non-Nephite explanation was being circulated along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, within a day's walk of the Mormon headquarters at Kirtland. In order to understand how Messrs. Hurlbut and Howe came to some of the conclusions they reached regarding the Mormon book, it is very important that the student of these matters review the events leading up to the publication of certain non-Nephite authorship claims in Howe's 1834 book.

In January of 1832, LDS Elders Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde passed through Salem (later Conneaut), in Ashtabula Co., Ohio, on the Mormons' first notable proselytizing mission to New England. While in that town the elders preached from the Book of Mormon, sold a couple of copies of the volume, and aroused some local interest in their religion and its unique scriptures. Smith and Hyde also aroused the concern of at least one of Salem's old residents, to the point that he went about informing people that parts of the Book of Mormon strongly resembled another literary work he knew of -- a story written in that very village two decades before. According to one apparently reliable source, that aroused auditor of the two Mormon preachers was Dr. Nehemiah King, one of the original pioneer settlers of Ashtabula County. Dr. King's avowal of literary plagiarism was in no sense of the term, a "theory." Whether he was correct or mistaken in what he claimed -- that the Mormons had copied from an earlier source to write their book -- his assertions were no more a "theory" than the testimony of an eye-witness to a robbery is a "theory." Again, such eye-witnesses may be right or wrong in what they say they know, but they are presenting alleged facts, not hypothetical suppositions. Any thoughtful person can discern the substantial difference that lies between these two, mutually exclusive evidentiary terms.

All of this common sense to the contrary notwithstanding, the three authors go on to say: "According to this theory, Rigdon had secured an unpublished romance novel, "Manuscript Found," written by the Reverend Solomon Spaulding, which allegedly had some of the names, archaic language, and story line of the Book of Mormon."

Here they present their readers with an incorrect reconstruction of the past, and the writers of Mormon History deserve some censure for publishing this sort of thing in an otherwise reputable piece of reporting. Why is it that they call the allegations they speak of here a "theory?" Their probable reasoning on this particular point is best considered one step at a time. (1) As already mentioned, the writers of Mormon History are correct in calling Sidney Rigdon's alleged association with the Book of Mormon (or with the "Manuscript Found") a "theory." This much can be said in their behalf. (2) They next attempt to bring Solomon Spalding and his early 19th century writings into close association with Sidney Rigdon and the notion that he may have helped produce the Mormon text. While some early writers on the subject have coupled those two names in trying to account for Book of Mormon origins, the early claims saying that some of Spalding's writings closely resembled that book's text, must stand or fall upon their own merit, regardless of what might be said about the theory of Rigdon's involvement in the matter. (3) So it can be seen that the three authors' reconstruction of things at this point is more than just a little disingenuous.

To state the facts once again, the old claims first voiced in 1832-33, saying that Solomon Spalding had inadvertently authored significant portions of the Book of Mormon, are in no way a "theory" conjured up by D. P. Hurlbut and/or E. D. Howe.

In fairness to the three authors it must be admitted that Howe's 1834 book does indeed couple the name of Spalding and Rigdon, and in that respect it does present what might be termed the Spalding-Rigdon authorship theory for the Book of Mormon. It may be that Walker, Whittaker, and Allen noticed this supposed connection made in Mormonism Unvailed a jumped ahead in their reasoning to talk about the Spalding-Rigdon theory, without first acknowledging the prior development of the Spalding claims. The three writers are heirs to several generations of Mormon apologetics and faith-promotion efforts on this particular point, so perhaps they can be let go with a mild journalistic reprimand for their error in this matter. This development is still an important point to keep in mind; the critical reader can mark it with red and move on.


The Hurlbut-Howe Arguments

That eight or more eye-witnesses, living in and around what is now Conneaut Ohio, testified in 1833 that they knew the Book of Mormon contained substantial appropriations from the writings of Solomon Spalding is a well-known fact in Mormon history. Ironically, it is probably remembered today mostly because Joseph Smith's biographer, Mrs. Fawn Brodie offered a refutation of that conclusion in her widely read book, No Man Knows My History. Brodie and the later, reputable investigators who have accepted her opinion do not question the fact that eight real people offered this eye-witness testimony for publication in Howe's book. Since students of early Latter Day Saint history generally allow this much as being true, why is it that so few contemporary scholars accept the content of that 1833 testimony? Perhaps this modern reluctance to place much weight upon the statements of the "Conneaut witnesses" comes from their knowing that the testimony of all eight witnesses has come down to the modern student through the somewhat questionable research activities of D. P. Hurlbut.

The first eight statements testifying to the Spalding authorship claims were collected by D. P. Hurlbut. One other relevant statement (dateable prior to the appearance of Howe's book) came from one of the same eight deponents and it was also solicited by Mr. Hurlbut. Thus, all of the earliest written assertions, linking Spalding's writings to the text of the Book of Mormon, passed through the hands of Hurlbut and out of the nine documents, eight only exist as text in Mormonism Unvailed. These circumstances properly preclude the consideration of the witnesses; testimony being anything like conclusive proof that the Mormons stole their book's story from Spalding's writings. There is considerable circumstantial evidence to support much of the content of these nine statements, but there are no known corroborating sources written or published prior to 1839. The testimony of one Conneaut witness was quoted again in 1851, but his second statement consists of little more than a slightly elaborated re-write of what he had to say to D. P. Hurlbut in 1833.

The three authors evidently choose to look upon any evidence passing through D. P. Hurlbut's hands as basically unreliable, so it is understandable that they cling to the notion that the earliest articulation of the Spalding authorship claims add up to little more than a questionable presumption. Taken alone, and viewed in isolation from a vast accumulation of supporting material, the pre-1839 evidence may appear insubstantial to the dedicated LDS apologist, or even to the indifferently informed student of history. Enough dependable documentation exists, however, that the informed and discerning scholar will conclude that there is something more than a "theory" to be studied here. If Mormonism is based upon a fraud, then the substance of that deception may yet be traceable through careful investigation of the Spalding authorship claims and the Spalding-Rigdon theory.

The three authors are obviously little interested in pursuing such a potentially problematic investigation. They inform their readers: "The Hurlbut-Howe arguments had at least two problems. First, because the Palmyra affidavits that Hurlbut gathered contained stock phrases organized in a recurring pattern, Mormons charged that Hurlbut either had approached the Smith's neighbors with a prepared agenda in mind or had edited their responses to secure the result he desired." Now here is a "theory," to be sure! In the case of the Spalding authorship claims, "the Palmyra affidavits that Hurlbut gathered" are a marginal consideration, at most. What is important in this case are the nine Conneaut area statements collected by Hurlbut. Eight of those documents demonstrate are great deal of variety in their contents -- so much variety, in fact, that some investigators have claimed that they contain contradictions and inconsistencies. Whether this is true or not, in those parts where they speak of Spalding's writings resembling the Book of Mormon, the remainder of the historical material preserved in the statements is largely independently verifiable. In other words, where the eight statements (and one additional statement by one of the eight deponents) present unique information that does not touch upon the Book of Mormon, they are reliable. This being so, it stands to reason that at least some of their content respecting Spalding's writings resembling the Mormon text may also be true. This is an area of investigation that faithful Mormon writers almost without exception fear to tread. Perhaps Marvin S. Hill and one or two other Mormon historians might be cited as the exceptions who prove the rule. At any rate, it is a largely unexplored field in LDS history and the three authors seem content to leave it unexamined.

The better statement of the first of these "two problems" would be to simply say that no pre-1839 corroborating evidence has yet been uncovered whereby to aid the researcher in assessing the veracity of the 1833 information Hurlbut collected in and around what is now Conneaut, Ohio. If this is really a problem, it may be a solvable problem and it calls for much closer investigation than Mormon historians have typically been inclined to give it.

The three authors' rendering of the second of the "two problems" is far more troubling than what they have said in regard to the first difficulty. They say: "Second, the Spaulding [sic] explanation for the Book of Mormon had little evidence to support it -- as Howe himself was forced to admit. Howe acknowledged (but minimized) that Hurlbut had secured from Spaulding's widow the draft copy of "Manuscript Found," which, when examined, bore little similarity to the Book of Mormon." Here is a "problem" of no small measure, but the obstacle in the path of the investigator is one created by the authors themselves. Stated in the simplest of terms, they have no way of knowing for certain that D. P. Hurlbut "secured from Spaulding's widow the draft copy of 'Manuscript Found.'" All the modern researcher has to rely upon in this case is the word of D. P. Hurlbut himself. Since most students of Mormon history agree that the unsubstantiated assertions of D. P. Hurlbut are unreliable evidence, it is logical to assume that more and better information is needed before anybody can say what Hurlbut may have "secured" in 1833. He "secured" nothing spoken of or alluded to from "Spalding's widow," except her written permission for him to carry off her husband's writings from the residence of Mr. Jerome Clark of Hartwick, New York. Since Hurlbut is not known to have provided Mr. Clark with a receipt for the documents he took at that time, nobody can say with any degree of assurance exactly what he took away from the Clark residence.

A fairly dependable chain of evidence exists that show that D. P. Hurlbut brought back to Ohio an undated letter of Spalding's, a draft of a business agreement Spalding once wrote up, and an unfinished manuscript story which is now on file at Oberlin College. Besides these identifiable documents, it is alleged by several witnesses that D. P. Hurlbut brought back with him to Kirtland a second manuscript, which strongly resembled the text of the Book of Mormon. These witnesses say that Mr. Hurlbut exhibited this literary twin to the Mormon book in lectures he presented in and around Kirtland, Ohio at the end of 1833. Exactly how reliable this collective testimony may be is a matter still awaiting critical investigation; however, there existed enough documentation by 1891, for this view of events, to convince a high RLDS official that D. P. Hurlbut was displaying something that his auditors thought was Spalding's "Manuscript Found." Again, this is a neglected spot in Mormon history that deserves some closer investigation by dedicated researchers and historians.

What Walker, Whittaker and Allen attempt to do is to identify the Oberlin Spalding manuscript as the notable "Manuscript Found" -- or, as they say, a "draft copy" of that particular story. Unless the term "draft copy" can be stretched to include stories only marginally related to Spalding's writing of the "Manuscript Found," it is a term not applicable to the Oberlin document. At least all the testimony from eye-witnesses that has come down from the first circulation of the Spalding authorship claims disavows that the Oberlin story is the "Manuscript Found." In 1834 E. D. Howe described the story now at Oberlin College and specifically stated that it was not fictional account remembered by the Conneaut witnesses. Those same witnesses said it was not the "Manuscript Found." Such a title does not appear on or in the Oberlin text. The Oberlin story does not contain any of the names or events (except in a very sketchy sort of way) that the Conneaut witnesses recalled being in "Manuscript Found." And, if as several witnesses say, the "Manuscript Found" was submitted to a publisher for printing as a book in Pittsburgh, it could hardly be the very rough and unfinished text on file at Oberlin. The three authors seemingly foresaw this last argument, and so called the story a "draft copy," implying that a more polished version of the same Spalding holograph was the text submitted to the Pittsburgh publisher. Whatever may be the origin of the Oberlin document, and whatever text may have been presented for publication at Pittsburgh, the "Manuscript Found" does not exist in any known depository today.

Finally, disregarding the fact that Howe summarized the contents of the Oberlin story in his 1834 book, and disregarding the facts that some of the Conneaut witnesses said that the story thus summarized was not the "Manuscript Found," the three authors go on to say: "Hurlbut had secured... the draft copy... which, when examined, bore little similarity to the Book of Mormon. Faced with this difficulty, Howe offered the hypothesis that Spaulding must have written another draft of "Manuscript Found," yet to be discovered." Again -- and this point should not be lost sight of -- the Conneaut witnesses themselves presented no such "hypothesis;" they made firm assertions that Solomon Spalding wrote a story that much resembled the Book of Mormon, and that the story they remembered was not the one Howe summarized in his book. Thus, there is no "hypothesis" here, save in the minds of the three authors.

There is a great deal of evidence that might be examined in any modern investigation of the Spalding-Rigdon authorship claims. Writers in the 19th and 20th centuries rarely had even a significant fraction of this material laid out in front of them when they compiled their old histories and biographies. Even today, with the help of mass storage of electronic texts and the assistance of computerized analysis, this vast accumulation of evidence is not easily sorted out for critical examination. For the faithful LDS, dedicated to preserving the traditional explanations for Mormon origins, this is a convenient difficulty. It is much easier for such persons to ignore the evidence and continue to mouth the same old "party line." As for the few non-Mormon students of Latter Day Saintism, they are mostly dependent upon Mormon archival sources in order to conduct specialized historical research. They also depend upon the current detante in the discipline of Mormon history -- the unspoken agreement not to delve too deeply into the origins of the movement -- in order to maintain the necessary cooperation of LDS and RLDS historians and archivists. Amongst this crowd of scholars, academics, and Church employees, there is no incentive to search out and explore "conspiracy theories" like the Spalding-Rigdon claims.

Until more and better evidence can be laid out before the Mormon history community, there is no reason to expect that its members will do much more than occasionally give the non-traditional authorship claims a wink and a nod. If this is the most that the writers of Mormon History intend to do, that is understandable. In the meanwhile, however, they might seriously consider tightening up their language in respect to "theories" of authorship and irrefutable identities of certain old manuscripts. They might also consider the fact that the known Spalding writings -- though they are not the "Manuscript Found" -- share significant thematic and phraseology parallels with lengthy segments of the Book of Mormon text. Whether this is a coincidence, or something more, they might at least acknowledge the fact that other LDS researchers have seen and remarked in print upon these uncomfortable facts.


Dale R. Broadhurst
updated Feb. 13, 2003

 

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