Spalding's Genealogy   |   1888 biography   |   Otsego, NY resources   |   1785 letter  |  1794 letter
1812? letter  |  1811 Forge  |  Oberlin Ms.  |  1803-12 land docs  |  c. 1805 Rudd doc
c. 1810 Joiner-Brigham doc  |  OH Sources: histories  |  OH Sources: lists  |  Conneaut Witnesses

Solomon Spalding
of Ashford, Connecticut

The Spalding Saga
Episode One

THIS episode begins the "Spalding Saga," the remarkable story of how an obscure Congregational Evangelist from Connecticut came to write the first epic history of ancient America -- a fictional magnum opus which served as the basis for Joseph Smith's 1830 "Book of Mormon."


His Childhood and Early Years
(1761 - 1787)

Solomon Spalding (sometimes spelled "Spaulding") was born February 20, 1761 (some sources say: 21st), at Ashford, in Windham County, Connecticut. He died October 20, 1816 (one source says: Sept. 10th), at the age of 55, in Amity, Washington County Pennsylvania. Little is known of his early days except that he attended the Plainfield Academy in the south of Windham County where he was one of the top students. Prior that that he likely worked on his parents' farm with his brothers and sisters. Presumably his studies at Plainfield would have commenced in about 1775, but were, probably cut short by his enrollment as a private in Captain John William's Company of Colonel Obadiah Johnson's Regiment of the Continental Army. Spalding enlisted on January 8, 1778 and presumably served for at least a couple of years as a foot-soldier in the American Revolution; his company saw a few weeks' active duty in Rhode Island. At about age nineteen or twenty he went to Windham, also in the south of Windham County, and there began the study of law with Judge Zephaniah Swift.

Spalding did not pursue his legal studies for very long; in about 1782 he moved to northward (perhaps living with or near his Uncle Ruben Spalding at Sharon in Windsor County, Vermont). Ten miles away, across the Connecticut River, was Hanover, New Hampshire, the home of prestigious Dartmouth College. It was probably during this time that Spalding experienced something of a religious conversion to the tenets of the Congregationalist faith. His baptismal date is unknown, but it must have been prior to his enrollment in the sophomore class at Dartmouth College at the age of twenty-one. Spalding graduated early, with an A. B. degree, at the end of his studies in 1785. While he may have not specifically studied for the ministry as an undergraduate, it appears likely that he took private courses in divinity while working to complete his A. M. degree, which apparently was granted him by Dartmouth in 1787.

It is not known exactly how long he lingered in the region around Dartmouth following his graduation. He is said to have suffered ill health beginning about this time, a condition which persisted, to one degree or another, for the rest of his life. By December 6, 1785 he was temporarily back in Connecticut, somewhat recovered in his health, unemployed, and seeking work as a schoolmaster. If he was successful in finding that kind of employment, it probably didn't last long, since he is said to have returned to college to have received his Master's degree shortly before he became a licensed preacher for the Windham, Connecticut, Congregational Association on October 9, 1787. It must have taken at least a few weeks for Spalding to have been accepted as a novice minister for the Congregationalists, so he probably applied for a minister's employment by the summer of 1787 at the very latest. The fact that he did not go directly from his 1785 graduation into working for the Congregationalists supports the view that Spalding was less interested in preaching the Christian religion than he was in furthering his own education and career. This supposed weakness in his faith may have been reinforced by his 1795 marriage to Matilda D. Sabin of Pomfret, Connecticut. According to Rachel Miller Derby Matilda's worldly ways eventually helped pull him away from the clergyman's commitment: "his wife was not religious. She was high-strung, a frolicker, fond of balls and parties, and drove him out of the ministry."

The Reverend Solomon Spalding
(1787 - 1795)

Spalding continued his career as a licensed Christian minister for about nine years and during that time he was assigned the work of an evangelist. Serving in this office he never had a pastorate of his own. An acquaintance later thought he remembered Spalding serving briefly as a pastor in New York City, but that seems unlikely. More than likely he labored as an associate minister or as a traveling preacher during this period. It was not uncommon for Congregationalist evangelists of that period to travel into the regions of neighboring "Associations," especially when they were called to visit a fellow minister in an adjacent county. Spalding's travels may have taken him as far afield as New Haven or Bridgeport, Connecticut (within a day's journey of New York City). He may have also visited his fellow Dartmouth graduate, the Rev. Ethan Smith (class of 1790), in nearby Massachusetts during this time.

Solomon is said to have declined several offers to settle and take up duties with a congregation of his own. His reasons for not becoming a career pastor are unclear. Some reports say this was due to his ill health. But his health was not so bad that kept him from traveling and engaging in various ventures after this time. A more likely reason is that Spalding was never particularly keen on preaching the Christian gospel. A well-educated man for his time, Solomon was more a child of the Enlightenment than an adherent to the Second Great Awakening. As one of his letters well illustrates, whatever commitment to late 18th century Christianity Solomon Spalding may have possessed in his younger days, it eventually gave way before the practicalities of the Age of Reason.

The only known physical descriptions of Spalding come from his appearance in his mid-fifties, but they probably apply equally well to the man during his earlier years. He was said to have been tall, with a good-sized body, but "slender" and underweight. He had a dark complexion; his eyes were dark; his hair was originally black, but the locks later turned to grey and his countenance grew pale. Nothing more is said of his facial features, but he appears to have fit a good deal of the traditional appellation of "tall, dark, and handsome." In his declining years he was "considerably stooped" due to an uncured rupture (apparently inflicted upon him while living in Ohio) which intensified the effects of his life-long ill health.

As a divinity student he had acquired some knowledge of New Testament Greek and had studied Latin as well. He is known to have been familiar with the works of classical writers like Virgil, Caeser, and Livy. If he hadn't already encountered these writers Solomon would have met with their Latin verse and prose in his Dartmouth courses. And, when the Latin became a bit too difficult, the yoing man could always revert to the English of Pope's translation of the Iliad and Dryden's edition of the Aeneid. He obviously had studied the English Bible and may have also understood a bit of biblical Hebrew. He is known to have been on friendly terms with such notables as Elijah Parish and the Rev. Ethan Smith. But Spalding did not confine his friendships only to scholarly society. He mixed socially with all classes and, so far as is known, was generally accepted as a scholar and a gentleman wherever he went. He was described as being "chaste in language" and "slow of speech, never trifling, pleasant in conversation, but seldom laughing. His deportment was grave and dignified in society, and he was much respected by those of his acquaintance." This description is rather similar that which he gave to a character in one of his romances, the great philosophical and moral reformer named Lobaska. Spalding described his fictional alter-ego thusly:
In his general deportment he was cheerful, yet displayed much sedateness and gravity. He was affable and familiar in conversation but not loquacious. He never would converse long on trifling subjects, had a wonderful facility to intermix some wise sayings and remarks, and of turning with dignity and gracefulness the attention of the company to subjects that were important and interesting. None could then withstand the energy of his reasoning and all were astonished at the ingenuity of his arguments and the great knowledge and wisdom which he displayed.

The Travels of Solomon Spalding (from 1782 to 1816)

Spalding the Educator and Shopkeeper
(1795 - c.1803)

Solomon's travels in Connecticut must have occasionally taken him into neighboring Massachusetts -- to places like Belchertown, the home town of his acquaintance, the Rev. Ethan Smith. It was perhaps in Massachusetts, during the early 1790's, that he met Miss Matilda D. Sabin (sometimes spelled "Sabine"), a native of his own Windham county. This meeting perhaps occurred in Hampshire or Hampden counties, where Matilda had cousins living within a couple of day's travel from her parents' home in Pomfret, Windham, CT. In 1795, Solomon was married to Matilda, evidently in Belchertown, in the company of Matilda's relatives who lived in that area. The fact that they were not married in either of their parents' hometowns in Connecticut supports the idea that their wedding was an elopement. Clergymen were not generally supposed to engage in such socially questionable practices and it is likely that the Reverend Mr. Solomon Spalding had admitted his disinclination to continue serving as a man of the cloth by the time he and Matilda were married.

Almost immediately after their wedding in New England, the couple moved to Cherry Valley, Otsego Co. (originally part of Montgomery Co.), NY. Both of them had relatives living in that region and Solomon quickly joined his brother, Josiah, in operating a retail establishment in the village of Cherry Valley. He was thirty-four, a failure at two respectable professions, drifting with the westward tide of Yankee pioneers toward the frontier lands -- where people were perhaps a bit more accepting of men with a checkered past. Spalding's late marriage (coupled with his failure to sire a natural child of his own and a close reading of certain passages in of his writings) may indicate some dispassion on his part for the opposite sex. Further comments on this suggestion would be speculative, but it is a possibility which will occur to serious students of his life and writings.

Cherry Valley, a town then famous as the site of a war-time massacre of the settlers by local native tribesmen under Tory command, was the recently chosen home of Solomon's brother, Josiah. For a time the two brothers operated a retail business in the town, but Solomon reportedly left most of the day-to-day operations in the hands of Josiah. Beginning in the late fall of 1795 Solomon managed to gain his primary employment as the principal of the Cherry Valley Academy. For reasons never clearly stated the Dartmouth graduate did not continue in this work for very long. Within a year the trustees of the Academy required him to resign. Possibly this clash between the headmaster and the trustees came about over his privately held religious views -- he eventually had become something of a Deist, or perhaps even a quiet atheist. Another possibility is that it came in the wake of some perceived impropriety on his part. Perhaps the trustees were not happy with his selection of texts for student reading assignments (not everyone of that day shared Solomon's love for Virgil's implicitly homoerotic passages.) Following his dismissal as principal, the two Spalding brothers remained in Cherry Valley for nearly three years. History does not record what Solomon did for a living during that period, but he may have continued on as a part-time instructor at the Academy, under its new supervisor, the Rev. Eliphalet Nott.

In 1799 the Spalding brothers moved their store sixteen miles westward to the village of Richfield (now called "Richfield Springs"), Otsego Co., New York. Solomon was living there by the beginning of 1800, at least, and his name occurs as a head of a household in the 1800 census records for that place.

While in Cherry Valley Solomon had occasionally preached for the Presbyterians there. That denomination's members and his own Congregationalists had much in common and it is not surprising to find him "preaching" for the local Presbyterians until they were able to bring in a full-time pastor to minister to their needs. Perhaps Spalding found it advantageous to preach a little, now that he was attempting to establish himself as an educational administrator. The subject matter of certain passages in his writings point to an author who was preoccupied with the idea of improving people's lives through education in the moral virtues. It may be that Spalding was acting more as a religiously trained teacher than as a "preacher" during his New York days. At any rate, the former clergyman was no more of a success in the role of a businessman than he had been as a law student, preacher, and teacher. When he and Matilda left Cherry Valley it was under the doubly dark cloud of having failed both as a headmaster and as a merchant.

Land Speculation and War in the West
(c. 1803-1812)

For the better part of a decade Solomon remained with his brother in Richfield. His activities during this period are practically unknown, save for the fact that he and his brother began to large tracts of land in Pennsylvania and Ohio. This land was the Connecticut Western Reserve, an area once claimed by that state and a frontier region where Connecticut Yankees could still exercise certain privileges in buying and selling land on credit. If either of the two brothers made any initial profit on these ventures, it must have been Josiah. Solomon remained poor, sickly, and unsuccessful in every task to which he set his hand. Still, the land business must have shown some promise, for Solomon jouneyed to the Western Reserve in 1807 to supervise a land transaction there. It was probably then that he picked out what would become his future home site, on the banks of a little stream that flowed into Conneaut Creek in New Salem, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Two years later he, his wife, and their adopted daughter, Matilda (born c. 1806) made the final move to Ohio -- to take up housekeeping, build an iron forge, and supervise the subdivision and sales of the Spalding lands in that region of the country.

In 1809 the Western Reserve was a developing region newly populated by settlers from the East. Mr. Spalding found himself to be one of the more highly educated and widely experienced pioneers residing along "Conneaught" Creek, the stream which flowed into Conneaut Township, Ohio from across the state line, between Conneaut and Springfield Townships, Pennsylvania. The Spaldings owned land on both sides of the state line, but Solomon chose to plant his family near the mouth of the creek on the Ohio side. Although the land was mostly still virgin territory in 1809, it had seen previous occupants. Spalding constructed a millpond and a "bog-iron" forge (sometimes referred to as a primitive "foundry") just below his fine new cabin. This venture, along with his friend Aaron Wright's grist mill, was one of the earliest industrial works in the Western Reserve. Presumably this iron workshop (located about two miles upstream from the harbor, near where Conneaut's paper mill would later operate) had been abandoned by the French or some more recent pioneers who had moved through the area, or perhaps Spalding started the forge from scratch.

Spalding's Conneaut Years

(under construction)

His First Ohio Visit (1803)

Solomon Spalding inadvertently lent his name to countless historical footnotes on Mormon origins because of a story he supposedly wrote while living in New Salem (now Conneaut), Ohio at about the time of the commencement of the War of 1812. Spalding's period of residence there was a short one -- less than four years -- but it is a time when our picture of the obscure Connecticut Yankee comes into particularly sharp focus and we know a good deal about his activities while he was living in the Buckeye state.

Spalding's first known appearance in Ohio was to sign some land transfer papers in 1803 at Warren, then both the county seat of Trumbull county and also the capital of the entire Connecticut Western Reserve. As the result of these 1803 dealings in Warren, Solomon Spalding (apparently in a partnership with his brother Josiah) became the proprietor of at least 1042 acres of land between Conneaut Creek and the Pennsylvania border (see map below). He and his brother also bought tracts of land immediately across the border in Erie and Crawford counties on a similar scale at about this same time. Six years later Solomon and his family would move to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border region to manage the sub-division and sales of these various parcels of land.

The Ohio Western Reserve -- with orginal Trumbull county township names added

Spalding's Land in the "Western Reserve"

When the state of Connecticut entered the Federal Union following the end of the Revolutionary War, it held claim to lands in the West which eventually became the "Western Reserve" of Ohio. Through a series of land transfers this property was eventually made available for sale to private parties. The first deeds to these lands were recorded in the Office of the Secretary of State of Connecticut. The several title-holders to these properties formed, in Hartford on September 5, 1795 a sales organization called the Connecticut Land Company (CLC). Among those founders was Gideon Granger who, in partnership with Oliver Phelps, became the owner of Ohio lands then valued at $80,000.

On April 28, 1800 the Federal Government relinquished all claim to the Western Reserve lands upon the condition that Connecticut recognize a Federal jurisdiction over the area. This opened the way for the CLC to begin selling properties in the Reserve. A survey of the Reserve lands was completed and the CLC members received clear titles to their various land parcels.

Although Gideon Granger received title to his Western Reserve parcels in 1800, those particular lands were not entirely free of previous occupants. Besides the previously evicted French pioneers, several Indian tribes lived in NE Ohio, along with a scattering of American settlers. Aaron Wright and the Thomas Montgomery family arrived at Conneaut Creek in 1798. The next year Nathan King and others came to the same place and the settlement of the Conneaut area began in earnest. After the establishment of a civil government in Warren on July 10, 1800, even more settlers came to record their deeds and clear their newly purchased lands. Among the Conneaut newcomers of this period was the numerous King family from New Hampshire, including Nehemiah King, the first physician to live in the recently established village of New Salem, located on the table-land west of Conneaut Creek, just above its confluence with Lake Erie.

By 1803 published maps of the Conneaut lands as surveyed by Amos Spafford were in circulation. Land speculation in this NE corner of the Reserved increased, with non-resident owners living in the East and transfering their parcels both to Ohio residents and other absentee landlords. Matthew Thompson and Reuben Bordwell, the original draft owners of Township 14, Range 1, Section 1, transfered their land to William F. Miller, an absentee landlord who lived in Windsor, Hartford county, Conneticut. The land Miller received from Thompson and Bordwell was a rough rectangle of 2,150 acres situated between the north terminus of Conneaut Creek and the Pennsylvania State line, bordered on the north by Lake Erie.Thompson and Bordwell had originally obtained this property in 1798 for $2.231.00. Sometime between then and early 1803 they sold the land to Miller.

William F. Miller re-sold his Ohio lands, probably without ever seeing the properties in person. By the time he made this Conneaut sale, Amos Spafford had already surveyed Section 1 into 11 individual lots. These Miller sold to yet another absentee landlord, Gideon Granger of Washington, D.C. Actually, Granger was primarily a middle-man whereby Solomon and Josiah Spalding of Richfield, Otsego county, New York eventually came to possess the 11 lots of Section 1. Solomon traveled from Richfield, where he and his brother Josiah were in the merchandising business, to Ohio to inspect their new purchase; he is recorded as having entered his deed with the Trumbull county Common Pleas Court at Warren. Solomon Spalding and Gideon Granger paid Miller $2,000 in cash and Miller accepted a mortgage for the remainder of the monetary consideration due him. Granger disappeared from the picture four months later, after he and Spalding transferred about half of their Conneaut acreage to Solomon Bond and James Harper. In this transfer, dated September 9, 1803, Solomon was in Warren and Gideon Granger was represented there by his lawyer, Calvin Pease. There they deeded over 1008 of their Section 1 acres to Bond of Connecticut and Harper, who appears to have been a member of the family who founded Harpersfield Township in what is now Ashtabula county, Ohio. The name of the township wherein were located the Spalding's Ohio lands was Richfield, echoing the name of their New York residence at the time.

Bond and Harper paid only $1.00 to Spalding and Granger for their four lots of land. This low figure shows that the sale was only the official recording of a part of some larger deal between the four men. What probably happened is that Granger was in this way relieved of some financial obligation owed to Bond and Harper, while Spalding was left to manage the remaining seven lots of Ohio land on his own. Whatever the forgotten details were, this action left Solomon and Josiah Spalding the owners of 1008 acres of Western Reserve land before the end of 1803. The two brothers were, during this same general time, conducting similar dealings just across the state line in Pennslyvania.

The Spalding-Lake Iron Forge at New Salem (Conneaut), View No. 1
The forge was located on the creek flats at the bottom of Spalding's mill-race.
This was on the east bank of the creek, just above the Old Main Road Ford

Josiah, Solomon's younger but more prosperous brother, remained in Ritchfield, New York, managing the brothers' retail store there until about 1818, when he returned to his Conneticut home. Josiah's exact role in the western land purchases and sales remains unknown. Perhaps he was content to allow Solomon to transact the land deals in his own name (at least in Ohio) in return for Solomon's relinquishing his share of the Ritchfield business to Josiah. It was Solomon who took the active role in sub-dividing and selling of the newly acquired western lots. He still had a mortgage of several thousand dollars due to William F. Miiller, even after Granger removed himself from the picture.

Solomon may have traveled to Ohio several times between 1803 and 1809 to personally oversee these land sales and official recordings. Prior to his final 1809 removal to Ohio he made at least one major sale of 149 1/2 acres to Josiah Brown in return for $500 cash. This sale probably paid several payments on the mortgage held by Miller and provided Solomon with some funds useful during his move to New Salem in 1809. Spalding may have also owned other parcels of land in the Conneaut area. Except for his swapping with the Jackson family, of their Otsego County, NY farm for land in Erie Co., nothing has been documented regarding Solomon's land dealings in adjacent Pennsylvania. A member of the Rudd family (members of which lived on both sides of the state line) reported having lived in the cabin where Spalding did much of his early writing. This cabin may have been Spalding's own house in Ohio or a property he owned or frequently visited in near-by Erie Co., Pennsylvania. If the latter is true, Spalding may have had land dealings with the Rudds and other neighbors of the Jacksons in what is now the Albion-Wellsburg area of Springfield township.

The Spalding-Lake Iron Forge at New Salem (Conneaut), View No. 2
The pond shown in the map is a modern creation of the shifting stream bed;
Spalding's mill pond would have stood at a higher elevation above the creek.
His spring-fed pond may have once existed between Tyler & Dorman roads.

Spalding and his Conneaut Iron Works

1811 Iron Forge Business Agreement

(under construction)

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The area around his home and forge was an ancient site associated with the Hopewell "mound-builder" culture. These paleo-Indians left numerous earthen fortifications, tumuli, and other artifacts throughout the landscape and they are known to have engaged in some elementary metal-craft. Remains of their long forgotten occupancy in the New Salem area seem to have been particularly plentiful. Although never confirmed by archaeological excavation, New Salem may have also been the site of one of those unrecorded and far-flung Norse colonies in pre-Columbian America. Pre-colonial iron forges matching one the Vikings left behind in Newfoundland have been uncovered in Ohio and Spalding's idea to build a forge at New Salem may have been inspired by the remnants of just such an operation, spotted among the long-abandoned mounds of that place.

Had he been able to remain in New Salem (now Conneaut), perhaps Spalding might have eventually seen some financial gains. The Pennsylvania and Ohio Western Reserve lands he and his brother had bought on credit eventually multiplied in price. But the War of 1812 saw British ships plying the waves of Lake Erie and the threat of English and Canadian raiders terrorizing the lakeshore inhabitants of the Western Reserve. For a time it appeared possible that Great Britain might even reclaim some of the land for herself. It was not a suitable time for drawing up surveys and bills of sale. Late in late 1812 the Solomon Spalding family departed for the safety of Pittsburgh, never to return. One of Solomon's brothers, John, had moved to the Conneaught Creek lands in 1810 and another brother, Elisha moved into Ashtabula Co., Ohio in the next decade. They alone were able to continue the Spalding presence along the state line below Lake Erie; most of what had been the Spalding's large tract of land there was lost either to creditors or to the fortunes of the war.

After war had been declared (June 18, 1812), but prior to Solomon's departure, Josiah came from New York to visit him and check up on the land sales business. He found his brother in ill health, writing a fictional romance, "suggested by the opening of a mound, in which was discovered human bones and some relics indicative of a former civilized race." The discoveries from the mound, along with with some ideas obtained from a visionary dream of ancient times in the Americas, likely began to influence Spalding's thinking late in 1811. The former clergyman took an active interest in the mound excavation and probably began writing the "fictional romance" spoken of by Josiah soon after the mound had been opened. His other brother, John, also paid a visit to Solomon at this same general time and heard from the would-be author that he intended to have his romance printed and that "the avails of which he thought would enable him to pay all his debts."

According to some sources, the Dartmouth graduate had "a lively imagination" coupled with a fondness for history, old books, and poetry (a recollection confirmed by even a superficial of his writings). His widow recalled him as being a man enraptured with history and classical writings. An Illinois college professor in the 1840's conveyed an account of Spalding's having begun his writings in Ohio in 1810. Certainly it was not much later than this that the "man of literary tastes" began to set his own hand at composition. Perhaps it was an interest he had discovered as early as his Dartmouth days, for he is said to have left at least one manuscript behind him (in Middleton, Vermont) which he had written before moving west. During his later years he was said to have turned out a number of unpublished pieces, one of which was the 1812 romance remembered by his visiting brothers. Josiah said that Solomon later completed that work, but such a finished manuscript has never been uncovered. What may be a draft copy (or perhaps a later partial re-working) of the 1812 romance has survived and is today on file in the Archives of Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.

Obviously an unfinished work-in-progress, the Oberlin Spalding manuscript relates the story of Roman seafarers who are cast up on the unknown shores of pre-Colombian America. Like Aeneas sailing up the Tiber, these storm-cast refugees follow the Delaware River and eventually end up at the modern site of Pittsburgh, where they encounter semi-civilized local inhabitants who were Spalding's fantasy of the Hopewell people. A Roman narrator begins to tell the story of these ancient "mound-builders" but digresses into relating the tale of a prince and princess who cause a forgotten war of extermination among their people. The story breaks off suddenly, just as its climax appears imminent. Thematic elements in its composition may have been influenced by the threat of a British invasion in the wake of American General William Hull's surrender of Detroit on August 16, 1812. Parts of the story relate accounts of war-threatened villagers fleeing to ancient earthen forts for refuge from armed invaders. This exact same thing happened to the residents of New Salem on the night of August 11, 1812, when they fled to the safety of the mound-builders' old "Fort Hill" to escape a supposed landing by ship-based British raiders operating on Lake Erie. The possibility that Spalding was still in New Salem at this time is strengthened by an incident of that night, which is more or less detailed in an episode from his romance. In both reports a woman accidentally nearly suffocates or drowns her lover beneath her weight in a watery mire while attempting to reach its other side.

Whether Spalding penned the final pages of his one surviving story in Ohio or at the family's temporary new home in Pittsburgh is unknown; perhaps he broke off the tale when events forced the family's move to Pennsylvania. Perhaps he finished up the brief story but later decided to begin re-writing it's contents (including then the "1813" date found on a page of the Oberlin manuscript). Or, as is sometimes reported, he may have set the "Roman" tale aside in the fall of 1812 in order to work on some other romance of his creation. Whatever may have been the case, the hastily scribbled manuscript now on file at Oberlin College is not a first draft. It contains deleted and re-written sections out-of-place among its pages and has some segments which show the calm hand of a copyist, complete with instances of a copyist's dittographic mistakes.

Removal to Pennsylvania and Life in Pittsburgh

It is probable that Josiah's visit marked the end of the land speculation effort and that Solomon left Ohio shortly after the departure of his brother (who eventually returned to live in Connecticut). Spalding's choice of Pittsburgh for his residence may have had some connection with the fact that the small city was home to several print-shops and publishers. His wife and daughter recalled his having a friend there named "Patterson," with whom perhaps Spalding was acquainted even before the family made its move to that bustling town. Once in Pittsburgh Spalding almost certainly sought out some of its more literate residents to make their acquaintance. No doubt he read the local magazines and followed the newspaper accounts on the progress of the war with relish. He may have even contributed a few short essays or poems of his own composition to those publications.

Robert Patterson, Sr. the operator of a Pittsburgh book-shop and partner in the ownership of a local printing establishment, recalled a man generally matching Spalding's description approaching him (by way of the printer, Silas Engles) with a manuscript for possible publication during this time. This probably first occurred late in 1812 or early in 1813, though Spalding's hopeful submission may well have been repeated at a later date. Spalding's adopted daughter recalled visiting, in the company of her father, a man named "Patterson;" and this was almost certainly Robert Patterson's brother and business partner, Joseph.

Spalding's nephew, Daniel, reported having seen his uncle shortly before his death, so perhaps Solomon returned to the Conneaut area at least once prior to 1816. A more likely explanation of Daniel's remembrance is that his father, John, once took members of his family to Pennsylvania (probably to Pittsburgh) to visit the sickly relative. Although there is a considerable amount of testimony on file regarding Spalding's activities while he was living in the Pittsburgh area, it does not add up to a clear picture of what the would-be author was really doing in those days. Much of the testimony has been disputed by modern writers and it seems impossible that the true details of Spalding's failed career will ever be sorted out to everyone's satisfaction. He is said to have briefly operated a small retail store in the city, where he perhaps sold pictures and prints. He is also said to have spent a winter with a friend in neighboring Washington County, working on his fictional writings, perhaps while his wife and daughter remained in Pittsburgh to sew clothing for local soldiers serving in the War of 1812. Perhaps the most that can be currently reliably reported is that he continued his literary interests while living in Pennsylvania, writing new compositions perhaps almost until the time of his death.

Spalding's Final Years

After a year or two in Pittsburgh Spalding and his wife secured the management of a "dry" tavern at Goodwill (Amity), Washington County, Pennsylvania and the family resided in that location from the fall of 1814 until the fall of 1816. The building which housed the tavern served as the Spalding residence and, apparently, as a small inn or boarding house. Here the former clergyman entertained visitors with his imaginative tales and non-alcoholic beverages. Though an amiable story-teller, he retained his learned dignity, "was a moral man, a strict observer of the Sabbath, and an attendant upon public worship." Whatever his private views may have been concerning Christianity, at this period he lived a life appropriate for a retired clergyman or divinity professor. His extant writings show that he had an odd interest in the outward manifestations of the religion he had abandoned. He obviously liked to use his superior knowledge and dry wit to subtly poke fun at religious practices. While he probably never did this openly among devout Christians, the fantasy world of his literary creations allowed him the vicarious experience of composing his own ancient scriptures (like his "sacred roll") and then satirizing the fictional experiences of pious congregations, hireling priests, fake seer-stone gazers, and corrupt prophets.

Spalding is not known to have been a member of any Masonic order and, in fact, was remembered as having been antipathetic to freemasonry. His writings are full of condemnation for dark and secretive activities, the debasement of public officials, political manipulation of the populace, etc. It is possible that he may have been a member of some secret society during his younger days, but this possibility is based only on a speculative interpretation of his writings. Spalding's written accounts also contain negative references to "robbers" and "murderers." Like MacBeth's wife, he seemed almost obsessed with the idea of cleaning away bloodstains. The story of one manuscript which may have originated from his hand (but was later re-written by another author) concerns itself with the murders and other dark acts of secret bands of robbers. The American frontier of his day was a refuge for numerous bands of thieves and desperadoes and Spalding no doubt saw such organized criminals as a special threat to the young republic.

Spalding's Death and the Fate of His Widow

His retirement to the Washington County countryside did not last long. Spalding was said to have taken ill after sleeping out of doors during the unusually frigid summer of 1816. He contracted dysentery late that summer and died at Amity in October of that year. His widow returned almost immediately with their daughter to New York state. They lived there for about three years with Mrs. Spalding's brother, William H. Sabin(e), at Onondaga Valley in Onondaga County.

In 1820 Spalding's widow married a man by the name of Davison (sometimes spelled "Davidson") of Hartwick, Otsego County, New York. This marriage was evidently not very successful and Mrs. Malitda Spalding Davison left her second husband sometime before 1828, the year she moved to Monson, Hampden County, Massachusetts. There, at the home of her adopted daughter, Mrs. Matilda Spalding McKinstry, the elderly widow ended her days on earth in 1844.

Mrs. Matilda Spalding Davison fell heir to her husband's writings upon his death, It is not known which of these she chose to keep and carry with her to New York, but her daughter recalled seeing sermons, short stories written for a child (herself), and at least one substantial work of fiction. The story of what may or may not happened to those Spalding compositions after their transfer from the Sabine residence in Onondaga Valley to the keeping of her cousin's husband, Mr. Jerome Clark fn Hartwick, is not properly part of the Spalding biography. The probable essentials of that story will be recounted elsewhere on the Spalding Studies Home Page.

The foregoing biographical sketch is only a rough draft -- a preliminary offering to inform the curious reader regarding this curious man. A comprehensive biography of Solomon Spalding, with genealogical references, bibliographic citations, and extended comments, will be posted to the web eventually -- along with other, supplemental information that has been collected through the efforts of the Spalding Research Project. Please do not copy or distribute the above, preliminary document without attaching this note.


1888 Biographical Entry for Solomon Spalding

From: Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1888, 1894)

SPAULDING, Solomon, clergyman, born in Ashford, Connecticut, in 1761; died in Amity, Washington County, Pennsylvania, 20 October, 1816. After serving in his youth in the Revolutionary army, and beginning to study law. he was graduated at Dartmouth in 1785, studied for the ministry, and preached in New England. In 1795 he settled in Cherry Valley, New York, where he entered into business with his brother, and four years later in Richfield, New York In 1809 he removed to New Salem (now Conneaut), Ohio, and established an iron-foundry with Henry Lake. This enterprise proving unprofitable, on account of the war with Great Britain, he went to Pittsburg, and afterward to Amity, Pennsylvania, where he died.

While residing at Conneaut, he wrote a romance entitled "The Manuscript Found," purporting to be an account of the original people of this continent, their customs, and conflicts between the different tribes. It pretended to be taken from a manuscript that had been discovered in an ancient mound. Mr. Spaulding read his manuscript to some of his friends in 1811-'12, and tried to get it published, but without success. In 1830 Mormon elders preached in northeastern Ohio, and their account of how the golden plates, from which the "Book of Mormon " was made, had been found, brought to mind the story written by Spaulding twenty years before. A suspicion was raised that the "Book of Mormon " might have been an outgrowth from the latter. This suspicion ripened into a general belief, and in time became the accepted theory of the origin of the "Book of Mormon." It is alleged that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdor, compiled the "Book of Mormon" from Spaulding's manuscript story, Rigdon having stolen it, or a copy of it, from a printing-office in which he worked in Pittsburg.

In 1834 Dr. P. Hurlbut, who had been expelled from the Mormon church, obtained from the widow of Solomon Spaulding, Mrs. Matilda Davison, of Monson, Massachusetts, what was supposed to be the original copy of the Spaulding story, and the same year Eber D. Howe, editor of the Painesville "Telegraph," compiled a book entitled "Mormonism Unveiled," which was a severe criticism on the" Book of Mormon" and its believers. This book was reproduced in 1840. Upon the title-page and in the last chapter is suggested the "probability that the historical part of the' Golden Bible' was written by Solomon Spaulding." From the time Mr. Hurlbut obtained the manuscript story in 1834 up to 1884 its whereabouts was unknown to the world.

In 1884 President James H. Fairchild, of Oberlin college, visited his old anti-slavery friend, Lewis L. Rice, of Honolulu, Hawaiian islands. Mr. Rice in 1839-'40 succeeded Mr. Howe in the office of the Painesville "Telegraph," and the books and manuscripts came into his possession. President Fairchild asked Mr. Rice if he had among his old papers anything relating to the early anti-slavery movement which he would contribute to the Oberlin library. When examining for these he came upon "an old worn and faded manuscript of about 175 pages of small quarto," which proved to be the long-lost manuscript of Solomon Spaulding. Comparisons were made with the " Book of Mormon," and President Fairchild says: "The manuscript has no resemblance to the' Book of Mormon' except in some very general features. There is not a name or an incident common to the two." A verbatim copy of the manuscript has been issued by the Mormons at Lamoni, Iowa (1885).

See " Who wrote the 'Book of Mormon,'" by Robert Patterson (Pittsburg, 1882); "New Light on Mormonism," by Ellen E. Dickinson (New York, 1885); and "Early Days of Mormonism," by J. H. Kennedy (New York, 1888).

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