and Dale R. Broadhurst

Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon   |   Word-print Study   |   Tracking Book of Mormon Authorship
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon   |   "Book of Solomon" article series   |   Joseph Smith: Con Man?

Episodes: 01   02   03   04   05   06   07   08   09   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19
                  20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35  


The Spalding-Rigdon Theory

The modern Spalding-Rigdon Theory proposes that the Book of Mormon is the product of a pious fraud orchestrated by Sidney Rigdon -- a psychologically unstable 19th century Reformed Baptist preacher. Rigdon added theology to unpublished fictitious narratives written by Solomon Spalding (then deceased), to create manuscripts that were subsequently compiled and edited by Oliver Cowdery to create the 1830 version of the Book of Mormon. The final product of this effort was revealed to the world through Joseph Smith, Jr.

The Oberlin Manuscript and "Manuscript Found"

Spalding reportedly wrote many manuscripts, but only one is available today: an unfinished handwritten document (167-pages) recovered in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1884 and subsequently archived in the Mudd Library at Oberlin College, Ohio. The name written in pencil on a large wrapper enclosing the manuscript is "Manuscript Story -- Conneaut Creek." This document is often referred to as "Manuscript Story," but it is also sometimes called the Oberlin Manuscript, Spalding's Roman Story, the Fabius Story, the Conneaut Story, or the Honolulu manuscript.

The name of the missing Spalding document that reportedly served as a source for the Book of Mormon is "Manuscript Found." Opponents of the Spalding-Rigdon Theory assert that the Oberlin Manuscript ("Manuscript Story") is actually Spalding's "Manuscript Found." Because "Manuscript Story" does not sound like scripture and is not a close match with the Book of Mormon text, these critics pronounce the Spalding-Rigdon Theory dead.

Advocates of the Spalding-Rigdon Theory accept evidence that "Manuscript Story" and "Manuscript Found" are distinct literary documents, and that the biblical-sounding "Manuscript Found" has long been missing.

A Detailed Narrative

Over the past two centuries the Solomon Spalding authorship claims and the Sidney Rigdon authorship claims (combined together to form the "Spalding-Rigdon Theory") have been stated and restated in a bewildering array of published reports, many of which convey information and conclusions that are fragmentary, ill-conceived or outdated. Quite understandably, those who are interested in the Book of Mormon's authorship can quickly become overwhelmed and confused by this vast assortment of historical data. Today there is a need for a succinct reformulation of the entire authorship hypothesis.

The numbered "episodes" in the following sections expand upon the above Overview. Our aim is to create a continuous narrative that integrates the available evidence: that is, an extended hypothesis that "connects the dots" and can guide future investigations. Embedded hot links allow the reader to quickly access supporting evidence, including historical data, textual analyses, and reports of earlier researchers. Where evidence is lacking or of low quality, we have used inference and informed conjecture to fill the gaps. As such, this narrative is a statement on how the Book of Mormon could have been written, and not a positive assertion of precisely how it was written. It is thus a work-in-progress and subject to revision as new information comes to light.

Episode 1. Colonial American writers use the Bible to explain the existence of Native Americans.

In early 19th century America, the Bible was universally accepted as historically accurate. God created Adam and Eve, the parents of all living. It was assumed that Adam and Eve were white-skinned, and that their descendents should therefore also have white skin. But some had dark skin. How did this happen? The first murderer of the Bible was Cain, and according to the Bible, he was cursed with a mark. To the 19th century mind, it seemed reasonable that dark skin was the mark, and that it was passed on to one of Noah's descendents after the Great Flood. This was presumably Ham, the son of Noah, of whom Genesis 9:27 says: "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." After A.D. 200, both Christian and Jewish scholars taught that the African races were descended from Cain and Ham.

The presence of dark skinned people in the New World was a mystery to colonial Americans. Where did these people come from? Early 19th century explanations were primarily based on the migrations out of the Middle East that are mentioned in the Bible. One such migration reportedly occurred after construction of the Tower of Babel; a second when the Ten Tribes of Israel were taken captive, dispersed, and "lost;" and a third occurred with the subsequent scattering of the Tribe of Judah (the Jews). Even obscure Biblical passages were interpreted as references to ancient migrations. Amos 5:15, for example, reads " may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph." Biblical scholars wondered where these remnants had gone. It seemed logical that one or more of these migrations brought people to the Americas. But all of these migrations seemingly involved light-skinned people. Why then did the Native Americans have darker skin? Perhaps they too had an evil ancestor: someone like Cain. A white race must have come to America in one of the Biblical migrations and some of them must have "fallen" and become dark. But since no native white race remained, it must have annihilated itself or have been destroyed by the dark race in ancient times. The presence of large earthworks throughout the Eastern woodlands of North America seemed to confirm this logic. Surely these enormous mounds were beyond the capabilities of the dark-skinned natives. Surely they contained the artifacts of an extinct white race.

Reasoning such as in the above summary captured the imaginations of European writers and colonial Americans alike. Among the latter was an ailing, would-be novelist named Solomon Spalding.

-- discussion of Episode 1 summary --

Fanciful depiction of the would-be author Solomon Spalding in his later years

Episode 02. Spalding writes "Manuscript Found."

Solomon Spalding was a Connecticut-born Yankee -- a Dartmouth-educated former preacher and veteran of the American Revolutionary War. In hopes of earning money and as a pastime, Spalding penned fictitious historical narratives while living with his wife and daughter in Conneaut, Ohio. His work included an unfinished account of Christian era Romans coming to America, often referred to as "Manuscript Story" (circa 1809-1813) and a now-lost novel named "Manuscript Found" (circa 1810-16). Manuscript Found was Spalding's "magnus opus" -- his effort to create a compelling epic narrative that would link natives of the New World to the dispersed peoples of Old World Canaan (Palestine). Spalding believed his work would be accepted as history by all but his most learned readers, and that after the existing generation had passed away, "his account of the first inhabitants of America would be considered as authentic as any other history." Friends and family of Spalding who heard or read excerpts from Manuscript Found said that it described the migration of the Lost Ten Tribes from Biblical lands to the New World and their division into warring factions. They also reported that it was written in the "old style" of the Bible, that it was peppered with the phrase "it came to pass," and that it included the names Nephi," "Lehi," "Mormon," and "Moroni." The Book of Mormon is similar: it describes migrations of members of the tribe of Joseph and Judah to America, it is written in the style of the King James Bible, it makes frequent use of the phrase "it came to pass," and it includes the names "Nephi," "Lehi," "Mormon," and "Moroni."

Near the end of 1812, Spalding moved from Conneaut, Ohio, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he submitted "Manuscript Found" for publication to Silas Engles, printer for the R & J Patterson publishing and bookselling business. The owner of the publishing firm approved the manuscript for publication on condition that Spalding make revisions and pay for the printing. In 1814, Spalding and his family moved to Amity, Pennsylvania, where Spalding operated a dry tavern while revising and then resubmitting his manuscript. Years later, a boarder at the tavern and a neighbor would recall excerpts from Spalding's revision: the neighbor and Spalding's daughter would recall an account of warriors with red paint on their foreheads -- similar to a scene in the Book of Mormon. The boarder would recall an account of pre-Israelite Canaanites and their wars in Palestine. While his description does not match the Book of Mormon, it does match the "Book of Moses," a second Mormon scripture published shortly after the Book of Mormon. Also important is the boarder's recollection that "Manuscript Found" disappeared for a time from the print shop and that Spalding suspected a young man named Sidney Rigdon of having copied it.

Because Spalding lacked the funds to pay for the printing, his revised manuscript remained unpublished at the print shop until after his death in 1816. Meanwhile, his widow kept the original manuscript and tried one final time to have it published in Pittsburgh. After another rejection, it lay bundled with Spalding's other writings in a hair-covered trunk at the Spalding home. Shortly after her husband's demise, Spalding's widow took the trunk and moved with her daughter to Onandaga Hollow, New York, to live with her brother. There, Spalding's young daughter would occasionally rummage through the trunk and attempt to read her father's work. In her old age, she would recall her father's poetry, "Manuscript Story," and some details from "Manuscript Found."

The fate of the hair-covered trunk is important to a subsequent episode in this story. In 1820, Spalding's widow remarried, and took the trunk to her new residence in Cooperstown, Otsego Co., New York; in 1828, she moved to Monson, Massachusetts, leaving the trunk in the custody of her cousin in Otsego County.

-- discussion of Episode 2 summary --

Pomeroy Tucker's picture of Sidney Rigdon preaching in Palmyra, New York, in 1830

Episode 03. Rigdon acquires a copy of "Manuscript Found"

Soon after submission of "Manuscript Found," Spalding's manuscript came to the attention of Sidney Rigdon (age 20 in 1813), a farmhand and apprentice tanner who supplied the Pittsburgh printing shop with leather book bindings. An avid student of the Bible and history, Rigdon memorized lengthy passages from the Bible. But what most set him apart was his susceptibility to delusional thinking and deranged episodes, including seizures, fits and fainting spells. Rigdon interpreted his episodes as manifestations of the spirit and as evidence of a divine calling. His brother, who became a physician, would later attribute these episodes to a childhood head trauma that resulted when Sidney was thrown by a horse and dragged with his feet caught in the stirrups.

Also characteristic of young Rigdon was his eagerness to acquire and adopt new, sometimes unorthodox, ideas, a trait manifested throughout his long life. He would later described himself as a human sponge -- "someone who always gladly received, and treasured up in his mind" "any sentiment... advanced by any one" "that was new, or tended to throw light on the scriptures, or the dealings of God with the children of men."

Through the printer Silas Engles, Rigdon came into contact with Spalding's manuscript -- a Biblical-style pseudo-history that seemed to shed additional light on the "dealings of God with the children of men." Spalding's narrative linked Native Americans origins to Old Testament migrations and Israelite prophecies -- subjects of special interest to Sidney Rigdon, who saw America as a land of Divine promise.

For a time, Solomon Spalding's manuscript went missing at the Pittsburgh print shop, and Spalding reportedly believed that Rigdon had borrowed and copied from it. Hand copying of documents was then common, and Rigdon need only have reproduced the material of special interest, in order to obtain his personal Spalding reference text.

Later, Rigdon acquired Spalding's revised manuscript: either by removing it from the shop while Spalding lived in Amity -- as alleged by one witness-- or by acquiring additional copied pages after Spalding's death, through his friendship with J. Harrison Lambdin. Lambdin was a Rigdon associate, a long-time employee of the Patterson and Engles shops, and co-owner of the publishing firm and book shop when it closed in 1823. When those enterprises failed in 1823, Lambdin continued as a sales agent for part of the business, disposing of any old, useless manuscripts. Rigdon, who was then Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh, was in a position to obtain any Spalding writings thus discarded. Lambdin died in Aug, 1825 (age 27), and Engles died in July, 1827 (age 46). Thus, by the Fall of 1827, those who knew Rigdon at the Pittsburgh print shop (and who could have linked him to possession of Spalding's writings) were gone.

-- discussion of Episode 3 summary --

Pittsburgh's First Court House, where Sidney Rigdon preached in 1824-25

Episode 04. Rigdon breaks with the Regular Baptists.

Although Rigdon was raised in a Baptist family (and was no doubt instructed in that faith), he was not baptized until age 24. Baptists required the candidate to profess a conversion experience. Rigdon did so, but his pastor doubted his sincerity because there was excessive "miracle about his conversion" and too much "parade about his profession." Years later, Rigdon would confirm the pastor's suspicions, indicating that he "made up" his profession "to suit the purpose." The expedient use of deception would become a recurring trait in Rigdon's religious life. Soon after his baptism, young Rigdon studied for the Baptist ministry. In 1820, he married the sister-in-law of a Baptist elder, and was ordained a Baptist preacher himself. He became known for his command of the Bible and his eloquent and persuasive oratory. His theology began to diverge from Baptist orthodoxy as he was exposed to new religious ideas and practices. For example, the "Vermont pilgrims," a small prophet-led communitarian group passed through Rigdon's neighborhood, on their way to a western New Jerusalem, claiming "addresses to and communications with invisible beings." The mystical, communitarian "Rappites" established congregations near Rigdon's home, as did the prophetic, millenarian "Halcyons." Rigdon himself came to believe in communitarianism, modern prophecy communication with spirits of the dead.

In the early 1820s, Rigdon's greatest religious influence came from Alexander Campbell, leader of an Arminian reform among the Calvinist Baptists. Rigdon adopted much of Campbell's primitivist theology, including many doctrines found in the Book of Mormon and early Mormonism: rejection of infant baptism and original sin; faith consisting primarily of the rational acceptance of Jesus as "the Christ;" baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; the belief that the post-Apostolic Christian Church had experienced a Great Apostacy requiring a modern "restoration;" the prophesied restoration of Israel and latter day conversion of the Jews; an Arian modification of the Trinity; anticipation of the imminent millennial reign of Christ; a belief that spiritual rebirth comes from hearing God's word; the paramount importance of scripture for conversion and church discipline; frequent sacrament meetings; self-supporting "bishops" and missionaries; elders set apart by the laying on of hands; and leaders preaching as if directly commissioned by Jesus Christ.

While Campbell enjoyed the support of numerous followers, he particularly partnered with Sidney Rigdon and evangelist Walter Scott to spread his Christian restoration theology. Seeking to infiltrate Regular Baptist congregations with leaders promoting his religious views, Campbell helped Rigdon to secure a position as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pittsburgh. The move was divisive: within two years, Rigdon's religious innovations split the congregation into two factions. In October, 1823, the traditional Calvinists regained control over the Pittsburgh Baptist congregation and effectively excluded Rigdon for his growing heresy. Undaunted, Rigdon and his followers continued to meet as a congregation in the Court House, eventually merging with Scott's like-minded, pro-Campbell "Church of Christ."

-- discussion of Episode 4 summary --

Episode 05. Rigdon shows his copy of "Manuscript Found" to a Baptist Minister.

Solomon Spalding predicted that his manuscript fiction would one day be accepted as "authentic as any other history," and the young Sidney Rigdon initially accepted it on that basis. In 1823 he showed the "large manuscript" that he kept in his study to John Winter, a visiting Baptist Minister. During the visit, he reportedly informed Elder Winter that it was "a romance of the Bible" and "a history of the American Indians" written by a "Presbyterian minister" named Spalding "whose health had failed" and who had taken it to the printer "to see if it would pay to publish it." Sidney Rigdon's encounter with Winter is important, because it shows that Rigdon did not initially envision the Spalding manuscript as source material for a new religious document. That inspiration would come to him later on.

-- discussion of Episode 5 summary --

"3rd Epistle of Peter" page from Scott and Rigdon's 1824 booklet

Episode 06. Rigdon gains scripture-writing experience.

In 1824, Rigdon penned a faux-scripture entitled "The Third Epistle of Peter," a small sarcastic piece published by the Pittsburgh "Church of Christ" as a supplement to a Campbellite pamphlet. In this first experiment with scripture composition, Rigdon followed in Spalding's footsteps, imitating the King James Bible. He also made use of a literary device employed by Spalding in his known writing and found in the Book of Mormon: the introduction of a character who claims to have discovered and translated lost records from the Biblical era.

Like the Book of Mormon, The Third Epistle presents itself as the translation of an ancient record containing "prophecies" that foresee and decry the corrupt state of 19th century Christianity. That these purportedly ancient prophecies have been fulfilled is presented as evidence of authenticity for the scripture, ignoring the likelihood that such prophecy was fulfilled when the scripture was written. Similar already-fulfilled prophecies are common in the Book of Mormon. Examples include purportedly ancient prophecies of the forthcoming Jesus Christ; a choice seer named Joseph in the latter days; a spokesman for that seer (later identified as Sidney Rigdon himself); and learned men unable to read characters from the Book of Mormon. As with the later Book of Mormon, Lectures on Faith, etc., the identity of Rigdon as the text's true author is not disclosed.

-- discussion of Episode 6 summary --

2nd Ed. of Alexander Campbell's "Living Oracles" New Testament

Episode 07. Rigdon creates inspired scripture based upon "Manuscript Found" and the King James Bible.

With the passage of time, profound differences began to emerge, separating Sidney Rigdon from most of Campbell's other adherents. Rigdon's ecastic experiences and accompanying psychoses led him to believe that spiritual gifts, miracles, and divine authority were essential elements of the imminent restoration of Apostolic Christianity. Campbell rejected such modern pentecostalism and claims to exclusive religious authority. Social status also separated the two men. Rigdon was acutely aware of his "humble occupation" as a tanner and felt looked down upon. He struggled constantly to support himself and his large family: a situation in stark contrast to that of Campbell, who was a man of inherited wealth and privilege who could well afford to be a "self-sustaining" minister. Rigdon argued that true disciples of Christ should have all things in common, but Campbell firmly rejected such a notion as being contrary to the mature development of New Testament Christianity.

A tipping point was Campbell's 1825 revision of the New Testament and Campbell's promise that his revision would correct errors that had prevented restoration of "the ancient order of things." To Rigdon, it was unthinkable that the "ancient order of things" could be restored without spiritual gifts, miracles, divine authority, and "all things in common." Even worse was Campbell's omission of the Old Testament and his failure to acknowledge the Old Testament prophets. While Campbell could not hear their words, Rigdon could. They whispered to him "as a voice from the dust" proclaiming the imminent restoration of the Tribe of Judah at Jerusalem and of the Tribe of Joseph at an American New Jerusalem. As Rigdon developed his own theology in the latter half of the 1820s, he came to see Campbell's restoration as a farce. No restoration was possible without prophets; and the prophets (both old and new) required a modern spokesman.

Accepting this self-appointed call, Rigdon moved with his family, at the beginning of 1826, to a log cabin in Bainbridge, Ohio, and there began his work on developing a new book of scripture -- a great expansion of Solomon Spalding's old "Manuscript Found." He planned to transcend Campbell's volume, creating truly inspired scripture that would present the "fulness of the gospel" and dwarf all previous Biblical translations -- an American Bible that would explain the origin of Native Americans, linking them to the oracles and prophets of Old. He would embrace the limited realizations of Campbellism but correct all of Campbell's errors. He would bring to light revealed truths and serve as the medium for those yet to be revealed.

And so, at Bainbridge, Ohio, in early 1826, Rigdon began weaving his religious views and visionary insights into the supposed historical narrative supplied by Spalding's manuscript. At the same time, Rigdon extended his evangelism on Ohio's "Western Reserve," operating as an independent missionary and feeling an ever-decreasing affiliation with the Baptists and Campbellites. Despite his ostensible membership in those religious associations, he would henceforth prepare his flocks for a new gospel dispensation, planned in secret and brought forth with a testimony to the commencement of latter day miracles.

-- discussion of Episode 7 summary --

Illustration of a Nineteenth Century Tinwares Peddler's Wagon

Episode 08. As a traveling preacher in Ohio, Rigdon meets peddlers Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery. These assistants help connect Rigdon with the charismatic young con man, Joseph Smith, Jr.

While extending his ministry as a traveling preacher, Rigdon encountered previous neighbors and associates of Joseph Smith, who were continually migrating into Ohio's Western Reserve. At about this time he made confidants of Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery.

In his Bainbridge cabin, Rigdon transcribed his visions and religious insights, grafting in his personal theology and occasional autobiographical passages, but leaving unchanged Spalding's geographic setting and cast of characters. Channeling the ancient prophets, Rigdon assumed the role of medium. Dictating new texts, he convinced the young Parley P. Pratt (age 18), of his supernatural connection to the world of spirits and to his vision for the restoration of the ancient order of things.

For Rigdon, distribution this new book of scripture would be the opening act in an epic drama, bringing to light the Biblical origin of Native Americans, setting the stage for the establishment of an American Zion -- the descent from heaven of a New Jerusalem --and preparing the world for the gathering of all the "lost" Israelite tribes as the human activity necessary in order to usher in the Christian Millennium. To realize this vision, however, he knew that the new scriptures would have to be revealed to the public through means that would appear miraculous. Moreover, because it contained doctrines for which he was already well known, its disclosure had to be accomplished without exposing his own role in its creation. Lastly, there was the practical matter of the money needed for publication. From his experience with the print shop in Pittsburgh, Rigdon was well aware that substantial funds would be required to print and market the book; and he understood the need for a sales force to distribute the book -- hopefully at a profit. Unfortunately Sidney Rigdon was poor, with little chance of raising cash in the way Alexander Campbell could do to finance the Campbellite publications.

If he could not resolve these publication problems, he would end up like Spalding, and the work of God would be thwarted. Rigdon needed a showman-magician with established fund-raising skills. He had met such a person a few years before, on a tour of the revival outpourings in upstate New York -- but Sidney Rigdon had no way of engaging the services of such a person, while living in the backwoods of pioneer Ohio.

-- discussion of Episode 8 summary --

Site of Elder Sidney Rigdon's home (1826-27) in Bainbridge Twp., Geauga Co., Ohio

Episode 09a. Oliver Cowdery & Joseph Smith become Rigdon allies

Opportunity knocked when Rigdon encountered Oliver Cowdery a peddler of books and pamphlets (age 21) who also had experience as a scribe and metalsmith. Rigdon was familiar with the Cowdery family, from his earlier tenure as a Baptist preacher in northeastern Ohio, but it was Oliver's 1826 wanderings into southern Geauga county which brought the two men together. Accompanying Cowdery at the time was his second cousin, Joseph Smith Jr. -- a man who could stage miracles, raise money for the printing, and build public excitement for a new American Bible.

Sidney Rigdon was certain that his prayers had been answered when the charismatic young seer from New York expressed great interest in Rigdon's accounts of America's Nephite Christians -- a vanished Israelite race whose prophets had left their riches and records buried in the ancient mounds. Smith easily convinced credulous farmers and villagers that he was a seer, who could look into his magical stone and see hidden riches. He had received training in this vocation from his father and from the mysterious Luman Walters, a confidence man skilled in mesmerism, magic tricks, and "money-digging." Walters also claimed to have an ancient book which provided him with the locations of forgotten Indian treasures.

In secretive consultations held in Bainbridge and Auburn, during the spring and summer of 1826, Rigdon's alleged Nephite records were merged with Smith's own pretensions of possessing Walters' magical book. Smith quickly caught onto the method by which Rigdon and Pratt were compiling additional "revelations" of the "ancient order of things," and he emulated that process, calling upon the credulous Oliver Cowdery to be his secret scribe. It was a role which came naturally to Oliver, who was familiar with Israelite Indian pretensions, the use of divining rods and the belief in an imminent American millennium.

The four men built up a mutual trust in themselves and their project of bringing forth a new revelation in the form of a wonderful book -- a book which the peddlers Pratt and Cowdery were certain they could quickly take to "all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people." For Smith is was an enterprise which held the promise of growing influence and wealth. For Rigdon is was the God-given means by which Christ's thousand year reign would commemce in America's New Jerusalem. Each man, in his own peculiar way, believed their evolving sacred book would provide a far better future than the "apostate" church leaders of that day could ever offer: in that sense, at least, the Nephite record was "inspired" and "true."

-- discussion of Episode 9 summary --

Detail from John Quidor's "The Money Diggers" (New York, 1832)

09b. Smith uses his skill as a con man and experience as a gold digger to build public interest in a Gold Bible.

Rigdon's American Bible was a welcome business opportunity for the Smith family, as they faced a threatened eviction from their farm. Smith and his father Joseph Smith, Sr. -- also a con man-- envisioned a sequel to their father-son gold digging scam that would alleviate their financial distress once and for all. The son would pretend to recover buried gold plates inscribed with a record of the ancient inhabitants of America. He would then claim to translate the plates through miraculous means. Proceeds from book sales would alleviate his family's financial concerns. To stimulate public curiosity and promote book sales, Smith placed newspaper ads indicating that a Gold Bible was eminent: that he had recovered plates of gold and "interpreters" needed for their translation. Taking advantage of Cowdery's blacksmith experience, the two men prepared the necessary props: metal plates, interpreters consisting of "two transparent stones, set in the rim of a bow, somewhat resembling spectacles," and a breastplate. Smith then announced that the angel guardian of the plates had allowed him to remove the plates from a stone box where they had lain hidden for over a thousand years, along with interpreters and the breastplate.

All that was lacking was funds for printing. The elder Smith attempted to finance the printing through a group of investors, but the son opted for something simpler.

09c. Smith targets Martin Harris, his wealthy neighbour, for financing of the publication.

Joseph Smith, Jr., chose as his mark Martin Harris, a gullible and well-to-do neighbor. To persuade Harris of his powers as a seer, Smith offered him the opportunity to serve as his scribe. Harris eagerly agreed. As Harris recorded dictation, Smith feigned use of his interpreters to translate the plates, in reality reciting by memory or reading directly from concealed manuscripts supplied by Rigdon. Once Harris had begun to trust his powers, Smith asked him to finance printing of the translated manuscript, promising him that sale of the book would give him a profitable return on his investment. But the money needed for printing was large. It would require Harris to mortgage his farm. So while he was impressed by Smith's dictation, Harris needed more persuasion.

-- discussion of Episode 9 summary --

Transcript of "Caractors" preserved by David Whitmer with Book of Mormon MS

10. Smith uses symbols copied from the Detroit Manuscript and other sources to gain the confidence of Harris.

To further persuade Harris, Smith concocted an additional con, this one taking advantage of the 1823 discovery of the Detroit manuscript, a document of mysterious origins found under a building in Detroit by Colonel Abraham Edwards, a business associate of Stephen Mack, Smith's uncle. Though the writing was eventually identified as Irish shorthand, local newspapers reported that the symbols in the manuscript had mystified the experts, among them, Dr. Samuel Mitchill of New York City.

Knowing that Dr. Mitchell had been unable to translate the script of the Detroit manuscript, Smith created a document using mysterious symbols extracted from it and from other sources. While accounts differ, he evidently told Harris that he had copied symbols from the gold plates, and that if Harris would take the characters to a learned man --the same Mitchill who had previously seen the Detroit manuscript-- and inquire regarding their translation, the learned man would recognize the characters as ancient but be unable to translate them. Harris took the symbols to Mitchill who suspected a trick, declined comment, and referred Harris to Prof. Charles Anthon. Though accounts of exactly what happened differ, Anthon's response evidently confirmed Smith's predictions, and left Harris convinced that Smith was able to translate using his interpreters. Anthon later said that he believed Harris was the target of a con.

-- discussion of Episode 10 summary --

11. Harris loses the first 116 pages of Smith's dictation. Rigdon rebukes Smith and Harris and changes the method of translation. Browbeaten into submission, Harris finally agrees to secure the funds needed to finance the printing by mortgaging his farm.

Harris's wife Lucy refused to support her husband's activities. Accordingly, Harris asked Smith for permission to show the first dictated 116 pages to Lucy and to others as proof of the authenticity of their work. In mid June of 1828, Smith allowed Harris to take the dictated pages. A crisis ensued when Harris lost the manuscript --because Lucy had disposed of it - and Smith was unable to replicate the originals, evidently because the protocol used for their translation included their destruction. Speaking as God's mouthpiece, Rigdon rebuked Harris and Smith for losing the manuscript and suspended dictation during the summer of 1828.

The lost pages incident threatened timely completion of the project. Feeling God's condemnation, Harris finally relented to mortgaging his farm to pay the $3000 needed for the printing. His decision would make publication possible, but cost him his marriage.

-- discussion of Episode 11 summary --

Book of Mormon original manuscript, 1st Nephi 2:16-21 (excerpt from Lehi's dream)

12. Rigdon replaces the content of the lost pages with assistance from Pratt and Cowdery

Dismayed by his inability to duplicate the lost pages and sensitive of his "weakness in writing," Rigdon. secured the assistance of Pratt and Cowdery, promising them positions of authority in the new religion. Pratt would assist in reconstructing the historical narrative of the lost 116 pages. Cowdery would assist in the development of new material and integration needed to create a continuous narrative.

Rigdon soon realized that loss of the 116 pages gave him a chance to update theology, to better define the organization of a new Church, and to set the stage for his future leadership. The key was to replace the lost pages -- referred to in the Book of Mormon as the "Book of Lehi," a record on the plates of Nephi -- without having to replicate their exact contents. His solution was to replace the lost pages with a more theological narrative -- referred to within the Book of Mormon as the "small plates of Nephi." The replacement would cover the same time period as the lost 116 pages, i.e., from the beginning of the now-lost Book of Lehi to the beginning of the extant Book of Mosiah.

Invention of the small plates of Nephi allowed Rigdon and Pratt to re-write the missing material without having to do so word-for-word. It also made possible the addition of theological material, including a conversion sequence popularized in late 1828 by Evangelist Walter Scott (i.e., baptism before spiritual rebirth), a Biblical phrase popularized by Scott ("Jesus is the Christ"), prophesies in the first part of the book that were fulfilled in the latter part, such as the prophesied visit of the resurrected Christ to America, filler copied from the Book of Isaiah, restoration concepts adapted from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, and prophecies forecasting Smith's role of Seer and Rigdon's role as Spokesman. The new scripture was now much more than Spalding's Biblical-style account of the native Americans: it was a blueprint for Christ's restored Church.

Rigdon also worked with Cowdery to adapt previously unused Spalding narratives as replacement material. In his revision to Manuscript Found, Spalding had included a re-write of Genesis along with a tale of a people called Jaredites who had left Canaan for America shortly after the confounding of tongues at the time of the Tower of Babel. Rigdon and Cowdery split the narrative, incorporating the Jaredite portion into the Book of Mormon, and reserving the adaption of Genesis for future revelation.

In late 1828 and early 1829, while Rigdon, Cowdery, and Pratt developed replacement materials, Smith resumed dictation with his wife Emma and her brother as scribes, starting where the 116 pages had left off, near the beginning of the Book of Mosiah, and proceeding slowly. Freed from the need to con Harris and taking care to avoid any further loss of originals, Smith abandoned use of his interpreters and his gold plate props. From now on, when he wished to con Emma or her brother, he would feign translation using the seer stone and hat that he had previously used for gold digging -- this time pretending to see within the stone, the English translation of inscriptions upon the plates. The gold plates were no longer needed for the feigned translation.

-- discussion of Episode 12 summary --

13. Rigdon conceives of a Church guided by continuous revelation and reserves some Spalding materials for future revelations, referring to the reserved materials as "sealed plates."

The prospect of a church guided by continuous revelation excited Rigdon. He would initially remain in the background, allowing Smith to reveal his work, but once the new Church was officially organized, he would join and emerge as its rightful leader. He would then guide the restored Church through revelation as in ancient times, bringing in converts from the Reformation movement.

To facilitate future revelations, Rigdon held some Spalding material in reserve, referring to these materials within the text of the Book of Mormon as "sealed plates" "to come forth" "in the own due time of the Lord." By holding these materials in reserve for revelation after he had openly joined the new Church, he would be able to rapidly ascend to a position of leadership.

The sealed records included tales of the Old World patriarchs Abraham, Moses, and Joseph. Two of these tales would become the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, now part of the Pearl of Great Price, a second major Mormon scripture. While Smith would die before the Book of Joseph could be published, Rigdon would later assert that it too was a part of the sealed plates, and he would claim to know its contents. Cowdery would also claim to know its contents. Cowdery would also claim to know its contents, asserting that the subject matter of the Book of Joseph would help convince "the rational mind of the correctness and divine authority of the holy scriptures."

-- discussion of Episode 13 summary --

14. Cowdery provides the final redaction

Working together, Rigdon and Cowdery moved quickly to complete and edit the text. Like Spalding before them, they sought to imitate the style and wording of the King James Bible as closely possible.

While Cowdery's primary task was to edit and merge the extant Spalding-Rigdon manuscripts with new material supplied by Rigdon, he also added materials, drawing inspiration from the Bible and from his family preacher, the Rev. Ethan Smith, author of View of the Hebrews.

On April 6, 1829, Cowdery arrived at the Smith's home, ostensibly to serve as the new scribe -- but in actuality to provide the final integration of texts needed to create a manuscript suitable for publication.

-- discussion of Episode 14 summary --

Early Mormons:  Oliver Cowdery,   David Whitmer and   Martin Harris

15. Cowdery helps Smith secure witnesses and prepares the printer's copy. The Book of Mormon is published.

With his experience in printing and editing, Cowdery was responsible the final steps needed for publication. Recognizing that additional evidence was needed to persuade the public, he worked with the Whitmer family to developed a plan for gathering of witness testimony. He then prepared a printer's manuscript, a copy of the original dictated version.

To be added: how the witness testimonies were obtained....

On March 6, 1830, the Book of Mormon was published, financed by the proceeds from the mortgage of the Harris farm. One month later, on April 6, 1830, Smith and Cowdery organized "The Church of Christ" in Fayette, New York, in the log cabin home of David Whitmer, Also present were Joseph's brother's - Hyrum and Samuel Smith - and David and Peter Whitmer.

Three men -- Smith, Cowdery, and Rigdon -- were now positioned for leadership of the restored Church of Christ. Within a month, Church membership --consisting mostly of relatives and associates of the six founders -- would swell to over a hundred.

-- discussion of Episode 15 summary --

16. Cowdery and Pratt deliver the Book of Mormon to Rigdon.

To be added: Rigdon sends Pratt on a mission to Smith.

In October, 1830, Cowdery and Pratt delivered a copy of the Book of Mormon to Rigdon who had by this time prepared his congregations to accept the new scripture. After a staged rejection and quick conversion, Rigdon led his followers and many of Campbell's into Mormonism. Within a year, the membership would jump to over a thousand. Rigdon would brag that the Book of Mormonism had "puked Campbellism."

-- discussion of Episode 16 summary --

17. Rigdon and Smith collaborate to produce the Book of Moses. Their continued collaboration yields the Inspired version of the Bible.

Soon after completing the Book of Mormon, Rigdon worked with Cowdery to create and publish an adaptation of The Book of Moses, Spalding's version of the Book of Genesis. Spalding's Book of Moses featured Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; Cain's fall from grace and cursing with a mark; the prophet Enoch and other inhabitants of Canaan; mountains moved by prophetic command; roaring lions, giants, and a righteous City carried into heaven. As he had done with the Book of Mormon, Rigdon added literalist Christian theology to the Spalding narrative: the Holy Ghost would give Moses a sweeping vision of the Creation and he would recognize Jesus Christ as the Creator, Adam would offer a lamb in sacrifice in similitude of Christ's sacrifice, and Adam would be baptized by immersion and receive the Holy Ghost -- proof that the true Christian gospel was present in the first dispensation of sacred (gospel) history.

Publication of the Book of Moses in February, 1831 -- just four months after Rigdon's conversion-- was not widely known outside the Church, but, within the Church, it served its intended purpose, quickly giving Rigdon credibility as Spokesman and Expounder - a position that he maintained until 1839. It also provided the fledgling Church with a historically deep mythology, the idea that cycles of apostacy and restoration had occurred in each dispensation of recorded history.

Completion of the Book of Moses motivated Rigdon to initiate a more ambitious project: a "New Translation" of the Bible -- a version of the Bible that would be superior to translations compiled by Campbell (or to any other published versions) because Rigdon's text, unlike Campbell's, would be directly inspired by God.

-- discussion of Episode 16 summary --

The following sections are in preparation:

Title-page of the 1830 1st edition of the Book of Mormon crediting Joseph Smith as author

18. Early authorship allegations name Smith, Cowdery, Rigdon, and Spalding

(under construction)

19. In 1833, Rigdon and Cowdery created revelations to guide the Church and to reign in Smith. Their revelations are collated in the Book of Commandments. Rigdon begins the School of the Prophets to school the unschooled prophet. He writes the Lectures on Faith

(under construction)

-- discussion of Episode 19 summary --

The following sections are in preparation:

20. D. P. Hurlburt, a disgruntled ex-Mormon, is hired by an "Anti-Mormon Committee" to investigate the Spalding allegations. He agrees to give the evidence that he collects to Eber D. Howe who will write it up and publish it. He then travels to Conneaut then to New York, collecting evidence

(under construction)

21. Four witnesses claim that Hurlburt showed them a copy of Manuscript Found in Kirtland

(under construction)

22. Hurlburt threatens Smith's life and is arrested. Hurlburt is released and gives Howe a copy of Manuscript Story, but not Manuscript Found. Manuscript Found is never again seen.

(under construction)

-- discussion of Episode 22 summary --

The following sections are in preparation:

23. Eber D. Howe publishes the first allegations of Spalding-Rigdon authorship.

(under construction)

24. Hurlburt contradicts himself and others regarding "Manuscript Found"

(under construction)

25. Cowdery and Rigdon rewrite Church history

(under construction)

26. Rigdon and Smith work to eliminate Cowdery from the Church hierarchy

(under construction)

27. Smith seeks to eliminate Rigdon from the Church hierarchy

(under construction)

28. Smith reveals the Book of Abraham

(under construction)

-- discussion of Episode 28 summary --

The following sections are in preparation:

29. Smith is fooled by the Kinderhook Plates and begins to reveal the Book of Joseph. He is murdered before he can complete its translation

On May 1, 1843, six bell-shaped engraved brass plates were unearthed at Kinderhook, Illinois, and brought to Smith for translation. Smith announced that discovery of these plates would help convince the sceptical of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. He then began a translation, saying that "they contain the history of the person with whom they were found & he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt." This appears to be a sequel to The Book of Abraham, in which remnants of the Tribe of Joseph had come to America with descendants of Ham. Inclusion of such a narrative in Manuscript Found gave Spalding another way to explain the presence of dark-skinned races in America.

The Kinderhook plates were later shown to be a hoax intended to fool Smith.

30. Smith is murdered in 1844. Rigdon laments that Smith could have translated much more had he lived

(under construction)

31. Rigdon continues to produce new revelations, including some in which he purports to channel the dead

(under construction)

32. Rigdon dies in 1876. Before he dies, he asks his wife Phebe to destroy his writings after his death. She complies, but Stephen Post, a Rigdon disciple, preserves a copy of Rigdon's revelations.

(under construction)

-- discussion of Episode 32 summary --

The following sections are in preparation:

33. Manuscript Story -- the Spalding manuscript recovered in Hawaii in 1885 -- is confused with Manuscript Found. The Spalding Theory is declared dead

On February 5, 1885, James Fairchild, President of Oberlin College, reported that he and L. L. Rice, a former anti-slavery editor in Ohio and state printer, had come across a copy of a Spalding manuscript amid a collection of materials shipped for Rice from Ohio to Hawaii. The collection contained the Spalding manuscript now known as Manuscript Story. Because this manuscript is currently stored at the Mudd library at Oberlin College, it is also referred to as the Oberlin manuscript.

After comparing the recovered manuscript to the Book of Mormon, Fairchild and Rice concluded that it was not the precursor of the Book of Mormon. Because Fairchild was unaware that Spalding had written other manuscripts, he concluded that the Spalding-Rigdon Theory would have to be abandoned. Upon learning that Spalding had written other manuscrips, however, Fairchild issued a retraction. Opponents of the Spalding-Rigdon theory continue to use Fairchild's initial argument -- that there was only one Spalding manuscript -- to seek a "summary dismissal" of the Spalding-Rigdon Theory. Scholars of both the LDS Mormon Church and the RLDS Mormon church have since added to this confusion, publishing Spalding's Manuscript Story (the Oberlin manuscript) under the title "Manuscript Found."

(under construction)


Go to top of the page

This web page and links are still under construction

Spalding Studies "Research"  |    Spalding Research Project  |    Special Collections
"Home"  |  Bookshelf  |  Mormon Classics  |  Newspapers  |  History Vault

    Last Revised: Aug. 20, 2006