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James A. Briggs, Esq.

Episode Five in the Spalding Saga

THIS episode of the "Spalding Saga" tells the story of the man who was among the very last persons ever to report seeing the holograph text of Solomon Spalding's almost legendary "Manuscript Found. At the end of 1833 James A. Briggs was employed in northern Ohio as the personal lawyer of D. P. Hurlbut, the Anti-Mormon researcher and activist. It was from his close association with Hurlbut's financial backers and from his vantage point in the judicial system of that day that Briggs was able to view and inspect the Spalding document and to place that experience in a meaningful context. He spent a significant part of his life trying to convince others of the authenticity of this particular "close encounter."

James A. Briggs of Willoughby, Ohio

James Alfred Briggs, Esq. (b. 1811, Ulster Co., NY; d. 1889, Brooklyn, NY) was a prominent attorney in Cleveland, Ohio, and New York State. He, at various times, worked as a civil official, financal journalist, temperance advocate; political supporter of Abraham Lincoln, NY correspondent to to several newspapers, and was also briefly the editor of the Cleveland True Democrat in 1848-49. Briggs had moved west with his parents, Rufus and Nancy Hayes Briggs, in about 1831-32, and from about October 1832 to the end of March, 1834, lived in studied law in Chargin (now Willoughby) Ohio. He was admitted to the Cuyahoga County Bar Association in October, 1833 and by April 1834 had opened a law office on Superior Street in Cleveland, adjacent to the law office of Varnum J. Card. James A. Briggs was joined in his legal practice by Van Rensselaer Humphrey, Esq. later in 1834 with Briggs as the senior (though younger) partner in the firm.

In 1833-34, while he was still living at Chagrin, Briggs fell into association with some of the leading anti-Mormons of Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, and through the auspices of these persons, young Briggs became acquainted with the anti-Mormon activist D. P. Hurlbut. It appears that Hurlbut called upon Briggs to prosecute an "assault and battery" charge he had filed against Joseph Smith, Jr. in the latter part of Dec. 1833. Although documentary evidence is lacking, it may be that Briggs helped Hurlbut get William Holbrook, a Painesville Justice of the Peace, to issue a writ against Smith, who was then residing in nearby Kirtland. If this is indeed what happened, Smith almost simultaneously managed to get a counter-charge filed against Hurlbut, and a warrant for Hurlbut's arrest (also returnable in Painesville) was issued. Hurlbut was subsequently arrested. Whether or not Smith was also arrested by the authorities remains unclear. It appears that the two cases were combined, in a single hearding held before two magistrates (Hon. William Holbrook presiding) in Painesville on January 13-15, 1834. James A. Briggs represented Hurlbut; Benjamin Bissel, Esq. represented Smith.

The outcome of the Jan. 1834 trial was that D. P. Hurlbut was placed under a monetary bond and remanded over to the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. Court records indicate that it was Joseph Smith, Jr. who brough charges against Hurlbut -- for threatening his life. At about this same time is appears that Hurlbut may have also retained Briggs in connection with a property suit he was attempting to bring against Hyrum and Joseph Smith. That attempt at legal action on Hurlbut's behalf never reached the pre-trial hearing stage. Or, if it did, Hurlbut's charges against the Smiths were dimissed. When D. P. Hurlbut's case came up before the Court of Common Pleas in April, James A, Briggs was nolonger acting as the anti-Mormon's attorney.

In his March 1875 letter to John Codman, Briggs ignores the fact that he lost the Jan. 13-15 pre-trail hearing before Judge Holbrook. James A. Briggs nowhere indicates how the case he argued in Painseville finally turned out; but, had his client Hurlbut been the victor, Briggs certainly would have mentioned that fact in his report to Codman.

Briggs' 1875 report of having once viewed an unpublished Solomon Spalding manuscript, the contents of which greatly resembled those of the Book of Mormon, is potentially a highly consequential assertion. If he indeed saw and read from such a Spalding holograph, then being exhibited by D. P. Hurlbut, then his testimony of that fact stands as a major piece of supportive evidence for the validity of the Solomon Spalding authorship claims. The fact of the matter is that no other members of the self-styled anti-Mormon "Committe" which operated on the fringes of the Mormon colony at Kirtland in 1833-34 have left any accounts of their having encountered this same ellusive Spalding manuscript. Briggs says that he and other members of the "self-constituted committee" compared "the Mormon Bible with the manuscript" then exhibited by Mr. Hurlbut, and that "the style of composition, the names, etc., were the same." A few other witnesses living in the Kirtland area at the end of 1833 independently voiced corroborating allegations, saying that they had each seen this particular Spalding manuscript in the hands of D. P. Hurlbut. However, this additional testimony notwithstanding, no concrete contemporary documentation has survived to prove that whatever it was that Hurlbut was then displaying was a verified Spalding holograph matching the wording of the Book of Mormon.

Briggs made several other, generally akin statements about D. P. Hurlbut, Spalding, the Book of Mormon, etc. in the years that followed. He was an inveterate writer of letters to newspaper editors on all sorts of subjects and it is likely that several of his reports on Kirtland Mormonism remain unnoticed among the back issues of late 19th century American newspapers. Relevent published sources by or about James A. Briggs are included in the following bibliographic chronology:

James A. Briggs -- Bibliographic Chronology

  • 1875 (Mar.) James A. Briggs sends a letter relating his experience with early Mormonism, D. P. Hurlbut, etc. to James Codman, who is writing books and articles on the Mormons. Codman files Briggs' letter away for possible future use.

  • 1881 (Sep.) The letter that James A. Briggs wrote to John Codman in 1875 is published in a Codman article publshed in the International Review
  • Briggs says: "In the winter of 1833-34... we had before us the original manuscript of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding... From this work... the Mormon Bible was constructed... the opinion of the committee after comparing the Mormon Bible with the manuscript. The style of composition, the names, etc., were the same."

  • 1883 (spring?) Shortly before D. P. Hurlbut dies (June 18, 1883) James A. Briggs writes him a letter of inquiry. Briggs says that he and Hurlbut are "the only persons living who were at the Mentor, Ohio, meeting in 1834" where Hurlbut exhibited Spalding's "Manuscript Found." Briggs requests Hurlbut "to tell... what he did with the manuscript of Spaulding we had there," but Hurlbut "made no reply." Briggs' recollections are later published in an Oct. 1886 issue of the Detroit Michigan Christian Herald.

  • 1884 (Jan. 23?) The Cleveland Leader publishes a James A. Briggs letter, apparently written on Jan 19, 1884. Briggs says: "In the winter of 1833-'34 several gentlemen ... employed a man by the name of Hu[r]lbut, who was once a Mormon, to help in the investigation. He went to Pittsburgh and found a printer there for the manuscript of the book written by the Rev. Solomon Spalding, 'The Manuscript Found.' We compared it with the Mormon Bible, and the names and language and style of the Bible were so like the manuscript that all were convinced that the 'Mormon Bible' was made out of this manuscript of Spalding."

  • 1885 (c. Nov.) James A. Briggs writes a letter to Lewis L. Rice in Honolulu, requesting that Rice send him information about the Spalding manuscript discovered there among Rice's old papers.

  • 1885 (Dec. 4) Lewis L. Rice sends an answer to James A. Briggs in Brooklyn, telling him about the Spalding manuscript discovered in Honolulu.

  • 1886 (Jan. 29) James A. Briggs reads a news report in the New York Tribune.about Solomon Spalding, issued by Samuel S. Partello. Briggs then writes the Editor of the Tribune.a letter responding to Partello's article.

  • 1886 (Jan. 31) Briggs' letter of Jan 29th is published by the New York Tribune. Briggs says: "In a letter to me dated Honolulu, Dec. 4, 1885, Mr. Rice says: 'After the death of my wife in 1877, at Oberlin, I came out here to be with my daughter Mary (Mrs. Dr. Whitney). I have a pleasant home here -- am in good health for a man now eighty-five.' This is the Mr. Rice from whom the news comes to you of the manuscript of Spaulding."

  • 1886 (Feb. 21) Lewis L. Rice writes his last of several letters to the Editor of the RLDS Saints' Herald in Lamoni, Iowa.

  • 1886 (Feb. 26) Lewis L. Rice writes one of his last letters to James A. Briggs. At this point Rice still did not accept any connection between the writings of Spalding and the Book of Mormon. However, at about this same time Rice receives information from Briggs which helped him change his mind and give the Spalding authorship claims more serious consideration.

  • 1886 (Mar. 4) Lewis L. Rice writes his final statement regarding the Oberlin Spalding manuscript and the Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship. This he sends to the Editor of the local Honolulu Bulletin.

  • 1886 (Mar. 11) Lewis L. Rice's letter of Mar. 4, 1886 is published in the Honolulu Bulletin. Rice quotes from Briggs' Jan 29th letter to the New York Tribune and then says: "This testimony of Mr. Briggs is entirely reliable. I was acquainted with all the members of the 'self-constituted committee' of which he speaks."

  • 1886 (Mar. 11) James A. Briggs writes an "Open Letter to Joseph Smith III." The letter is not responded to directly by President Smith or any other RLDS leader. Nearly two years later Arthur B. Deming prints the piece in his Naked Truths About Mormonism. It is unclear whether Deming received the letter directly from Briggs or simply reprinted it from some obscure published source, such as The Booklyn Magazine.

  • 1886 (Apr. 3) Lewis L. Rice's letter of Feb. 21, 1886 is printed in the RLDS Saints' Herald. Rice asks that a copy of the recently published Oberlin Spalding manuscript be sent to James A. Briggs in Brooklyn, N.Y.C.

  • 1886 (Sep. 9) The New York Watchman publishes a letter by James A. Briggs, probably written about Sep. 5, 1886. Briggs says: "In the year 1833-4, I was one of a self-appointed committee... investigating the origin of the Book of Mormon. Dr. D. P. Hurlburt had been in New York and Massachusetts looking up testimony; we had the manuscript of Rev. Solomon Spaulding before us, that we compared with the Mormon Bible, and we had no doubt that from Spaulding's writings Rev. Sidney Rigdon got up the Mormon Bible."

  • 1886 (Sep. 16) The Detroit Michigan Christian Herald publishes an article entitled, "A Question of Identity." The writer of this article supports the arguments made by James A. Briggs in his recent letter to the New YorkWatchman.

  • 1886 (Oct.) James A. Briggs' claims regarding D. P. Hurlbut, etc. are given publicity in various newspapers' reprints of his letter to the New York Watchman. Among the various publications carrying this story is the October issue of The Booklyn Magazine.

  • 1886 (Oct. 2) The Chicago Daily Tribune reprints Briggs' letter to the New York Watchman. Briggs says: "I have believed since the spring of 1834 that Rigdon got up the Mormon Bible out of the "Manuscript Found," and there are many persons who have testified to Rigdon's connection with the manuscript. They have testified to the intimate acquaintance of Rigdon with Lambdin of Pittsburg, the partner of Patterson, printer, with whom Spaulding left his manuscript."

  • 1886 (Oct. 14) James A. Briggs, having read the "A Question of Identity" article in the Sept. 16th Detroit Michigan Christian Herald, writes a response entitled, "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?"

  • 1886 (Oct. 21?) The Detroit Michigan Christian Herald, publishes Briggs' letter. He says: "The 'Manuscript Found is in the possession of Dr. D. P. Hurlbut. What did he do with it? Did he sell it to the Mormons? He denied it. He got the manuscript. His statements in regard to it were conflicting. He made no explanation. He kept silent. When I wrote to him a short time before his death, and said to him we were the only persons living who were at the Mentor, Ohio, meeting in 1834, and asked him to tell me what he did with the manuscript of Spaulding we had there, he made no reply."

  • 1886 (Oct. 30) The Editor of the RLDS Saints' Herald says that the recent article by James A. Briggs' regarding the writings of Solomon Spalding, etc. "is going the rounds of the papers."

  • 1887 (Apr. ?) James A. Briggs writes a letter to the Washington D. C. Evening Star. It is printed in that paper in mid-April.

  • 1887 (Apr. 19) The letter written by James A. Briggs' to the [Washington D. C. ?] Evening Star is reprinted in The Cleveland Leader. Briggs says: " In a letter to me, written by Mr. Rice, a friend of fifty years, at Honolulu, February 26, 1886, says: '... At President Fairchild's request, I was overhauling my pamphlets and manuscripts... when, for the first time I examined the package. The words "manuscript found" do not occur on the wrapper, or in the manuscript at all. The wrapper was marked in pencil 'manuscript story, -- Conneaut Creek.'"

  • 1888 (Jan.) The "Open Letter to Joseph Smith III" Briggs wrote on Mar. 11, 1886 is finally published -- by Arthur B. Deming in his Naked Truths About Mormonism I:1. Briggs says: "The manuscript of Rev. Solomon Spaulding, Conneaut, Ohio, found by Mr. L. L. Rice, of Honolulu, Sandwitch Islands, and now in the archives in the Library of Oberlin, Ohio, and published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Lamoni, Iowa, throws no more light upon the authorship or origin of the 'Mormon Bible' than it does upon the real authorship of the Letters of Junius."

  • 1888 (Mar. 5) In what were perhaps his last words published in a newspaper on this subject, the New York Times prints Briggs' communication of Feb. 27th, saying: "{I} heard Jo Smith in a justice court, where he was before ot in a charge if assault and battery, testify as to his finding the 'Golden Plates' of the 'Mormon Bible,' and how he was kicked out of the hole in the earth where he was digging, when he struck the plates, by an unseen power."
  • (see Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents I, p. 206).

    James A. Briggs' Claims -- A Composite Account

    In reading the following account, please remember that it is NOT a precise set of quotations taken from James A. Briggs. Rather, it is a reconstructive PARAPHRASE of various details related or alluded to by him, taken from eight different of his own published accounts, as well as supplementary material drawn from various other sources.

    Recollections of James A. Briggs

    From October 1832 to the end of March 1834 I lived in Chagrin, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio. Near the end of that period the township was transferred to Geauga Co. and renamed "Willoughby." I studied law at Willoughby during most of my residence there, and was admitted to the bar in Oct. 1833, as a young and still inexperienced lawyer. One of my first clients, in fact, was the infamous "Doctor" Philastus Hurlbut, a man who, in those days, had sworn to expose and destroy Mormonism in nearby Kirtland.

    I lived only about two and a half miles from the spot where the Mormons were building their temple, on the rise overlooking Kirtland Flats. I heard much of Mormonism by report and even more as an eyewitness to much that transpired in and around the Mormonite headquarters at Kirtland. When time permitted I went to hear the leaders of the sect preach, especially their most eloquent champion, Rev. Sidney Rigdon.

    Rigdon was a natural orator, had a fine command of pious language, and was a very impressive speaker. He had much native genius and probably at least a smattering of a classical education. As I recall he was the first real preacher of Mormonism, having previously been employed in northern Ohio as a Baptist minister of no little fame. There were early rumors that Rigdon was the real founder of the Mormonite delusion and I eventually came to believe that he was the real brains of the concern. Smith exhibited a considerable imaginative qualities, coupled with a natural ability to fool many people in various ingenious ways, but he had not the capacity, natural or acquired, to found a religion and compile its unique "scriptures." He was cunning but not intellectual. Rigdon was both intelligent and devious, a man who could plan and execute deep laid schemes and put a plausible face upon all sorts of self-serving knavery.

    While engaged in studying the law at Willoughby I became acquainted with several of the leading citizens and professional men of Chagrin, Painesville, and Mentor. Several of these gentlemen shared a growing concern that the Mormonites would soon increase their numbers to such a degree as to pose a serious political and economic threat to the "old settlers" of Geauga County. Professional men like Dr. George W. Card and Judge Nehemiah Allen had first-hand experience in dealing with these fanatical sectarians. They counseled their friends and neighbors that it might be a good idea to investigate the hidden origins and dark secrets of these people, and to deflate their ballooning expansion before they became a serious menace to their "Gentile" neighbors.

    Just about the beginning of the winter of 1833-34 these gentlemen and their associates read in the newspapers of the Mormonites being ejected from their colony in Missouri and decided it was time to instigate some similar, if less violent, actions against the sect in Ohio. Col. Warren Corning, who knew most of the leading men in the region, graciously offered the use of his house in Mentor as a place for the "investigators" to hold their consultations. I accompanied Dr. Card to their first gathering in Mentor and there became more closely acquainted with Samuel Wilson, a prominent businessman, Judge Jonathan Lapham, Judge Allen, Mr. Corning, and his son. The non-Mormon town officials of Kirtland had recently held a public meeting and had decided that the great majority of the Mormonites under their jurisdiction were a public nuisance, barely able to feed themselves and totally unprepared to shoulder their fair share of responsibility in the township. Plans were underway to warn most of them out of Kirtland. The Campbellites of Mentor were also unhappy at the growth of the new sect at their own expense. They had lost almost all their members in Kirtland to Mormonite conversions and had barely rescued the congregation at Mentor from a similar fate. Mr. Corning was well acquainted with all of these opponents of Mormonism. He an a couple of neighbors with "deep pockets" had resolved to check the Mormonite political threat in the coming elections in Kirtland township.

    So, although none of us actually held residence in Kirtland, we built upon the foundations laid by the recent town meeting in that place and styled ourselves as a "Committee" of that meeting, organized to consult together and report back to Mr. Corning's associates across the township line. I myself had little to contribute to the "Committee," except a youthful eagerness and a firm resolve to expose religious blasphemy wherever I might encounter it.

    At about the time the "Committee" met for the third time in Mentor, we heard of a man who was just then lecturing against the Mormonites in the little Methodist chapel adjacent to their half-built temple at Kirtland. We were then operating under the impression that this man was a well qualified physician who had uncovered many embarrassing secrets relating to the "Latter Day Saints" and their leaders. This Doctor met with us at the Corning home and solicited our financial assistance in sending him back to his previous home in Ontario, County, new York, the very place where Mormonism had first reared its displeasing head. This "Doctor" Hurlbut promised to return with many incriminating signed affidavits taken from the former neighbors of the Mormon Smith family. This much I heard him say myself. The man also dropped dark hints about his being able to prove the altogether human origin of the Mormon Bible in the writings of a certain deceased clergyman. The details of this impending disclosure Hurlbut shared only with Judge Allen, Dr. Card and Col. Corning. However, I was later informed that he had displayed to them and to three other men, not members of the "Committee," two personal statements he had recently obtained from the brother and sister-in-law of this mysterious deceased clergyman -- depositions which detailed the true origin of the so-called Book of Mormon.

    With funds supplied to some extent from our own pockets (but largely by the three non-members of the group), Dr. Hurlbut disappeared from our view for several weeks, during which time he communicated with us by letters sent to a magistrate in Kirtland who was a Campbellite and a friend of Mr. Corning. Near the end of December, in 1833, Hurlbut returned to Ohio and the first we heard confirming that event was that the fellow was again lecturing in and around Kirtland. A few days before Christmas our "Committee" reassembled itself in Mentor and prepared a few sharp words for Hurlbut. The man presented himself with copious apologies for having let the cat out of the bag before sharing his findings with our little group. His excuse was that he had obtained such startling evidence documenting the Mormon fraud that he feared for his life and thought it best to make the exposure public to as many persons as possible and as quickly as possible. This justification of his aroused the curiosity of the Committee members and we all sat down to pour over dozens of signed and certified statements Hurlbut had brought back from Ontario and Wayne counties in New York. But, as he then said and as I still now believe, his "biggest fish" was a pile of tattered old manuscripts, retrieved from an old attic near Syracuse and a defunct publishing firm in Pittsburgh, or so he said. These, he remarked, were the "bones upon which Sidney Rigdon hung the meat of Mormonism."

    The manuscripts were written with a quill pen and in a crabbed, old-fashioned hand. They appeared to us to be little more than a useless pile of rubbish, until Hurlbut began pointing out words, names, phrases, and then, whole sentences, that matched in partly or fully their numerous counterparts in his well-thumbed Book of Mormon. The style of composition, the names, etc., were the same. "This is it!" exclaimed Samuel Wilson, with a broad grin. "We publish these papers, along with certificates testifying to their authenticity, and the Mormon hoax is finished."

    Dr. Hurlbut solicited still more funds from the Committee, and promised to compile the lot of his documents into a readable book, to be published at Chardon within six weeks. By this time we had all become more than a little aware of the man's deficiencies in scholarly attainments, and the common feeling was that Hurlbut should retire from the field and allow more capable hands to carry out the publicizing of his great discoveries. This idea Hurlbut protested with much bombast and a great show of hurt feelings. The meeting broke up without a clear plan of action determined upon, and with Dr. Hurlbut retaining all but a few specimens of his collection of wondrous documents. Those left temporarily in our keeping were a sheaf of letters penned by those who had known the deceased clergyman. From these and from other facts related by Hurlbut, we were convinced that Sidney Rigdon, when he had lived near Pittsburgh, copied a work of fiction, "The Manuscript Found," and from that and other things made up the Mormon Bible. The Committee did not come together again to discuss this dilemma until after Christmas, and during that slack time matters quickly spun entirely out of hand.

    For several reasons I do not need to relate here, Dr. Hurlbut, who had once been a Mormon himself, was involved in serious trouble with "the Saints" in Kirtland. His boisterious lecturing and defiant exhibitions of the documents he had recently collected did not set well with Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. One night he got into a brawl with Joe Smith on the very steps of the unfinished Mormon temple at Kirtland. No blood was drawn and the two pugilists came away from the hostile encounter none the worse from the wear. But, from that moment onward, I think, Hurlbut realized that discretion was the better part of valor, and that he had far fewer friends to defend him than the Mormons had ruffians to follow him about on dark nights. He moved out of Kirtland Flats and into the security of Cambellite Mentor that very night.

    You might imagine my surprise when none other than the good Doctor sent word that I should come to meet him at once at his new residence. His stated reason for calling upon my services without notice was that three other capable attorneys had turned down an important prosecution he was determined to bring against the Mormon leader, Joe Smith. Telling me right off that he hoped my services would be rendered gratis, Hurlbut requested that I at once go with him to a Justice of the Peace in order to file a complaint against the Mormon prophet, on the charge of assault and battery. He had his witnesses and they were prepared to swear under oath that Smith had struck first in their recebt passage at arms in front of the temple. Deciding that Dr. Hurlbut might find his best opportunity to pursue such a course of action among the magistrates in Painesville, the two of us immediately repaired to that town, and not long after the break of day he had his writ against Smith, returnable to Judge Holbrook. However, before a copy of the order could even be placed in the hands of the Painesville constable, word reached us that Benjamin Bissell, Esq. had secured the issuance of a similar warrant, against my client, from Judge Dowen in Kirtland. The attorney for the Mormon Prophet had accused Hurlbut of planning to murder Smith, following their nocturnal bout of fisticuffs in Kirtland.

    So began an extraordinary game of cat and mouse, in which my client, Dr. Hurlbut, played the mouse and was soon after arrested in Painesville. Joe Smith surrendered his own person to the tender mercies of Judge Dowen and the Kirtland constable, and ended up under arrest in his own house, if that may be properly called an arrest at all. Benjamin Bissell was a consummate practitioner of the art of legal defense and I harbored little hope of success in a battle against his lawyer's wits. By some slight of hand, Bissell was able to have our intended prosecution of Joe Smith suspended until Smith's own case against my client could be set in motion. The result of this skillful lawyering was that the magistrate hearings for both Hurlbut's prosecution and Smith's counter-prosecution were combined, in a three day legal farce, the recollection of which I would most happily relinquish altogether.

    Hurlbut was released from the constable's arms into my keeping for the three days of the hearing in Painesville. Judge Holbrook determined that the public curiosity had been so much aroused as to render holding the proceedings in the court-house impractical. The old Methodist chapel on the southeast corner of the square in Painesville was requisitioned, and for three days the dual-hearing circus was performed daily to a full crowd of gawking spectators, all eager to catch a glimpse of the Mormon Elijah. If there had been court recorders in those days the verbatim report of the combined hearings would have been a rare curiosity. The presiding Judge had attended Hurlbut's lectures and he had handled some of the same manuscripts our Committee had perused at the Corning home in Mentor a few days before. My hopes were that he would quietly assist us gain some publicity in the county papers for our battle against Mormonism. But the best I was able to obtain was a knowing aside from His Honor, at the bench, saying that the Court of Common Pleas would doubtless exonerate Dr. Hurlbut -- and that such an outcome would spread the good Doctor's marvelous discoveries across the front pages of papers from Detroit to Buffalo. In the meanwhile, Hurlbut was placed under bonds to keep the peace in his relations with all men, and with Joe Smith in particular.

    The most interesting part of the hearing was certainly not in listening to the catalog of deadly threats recited by the witnesses restating my client's regrettable outpourings among the Mormonites. Even Hurlbut conceded he may have said such things, in th heat of anger. He meant to say he would kill Mormonism -- but that may have come out as "I'll kill Joe Smith and his church too."

    The truly memorable two days of the hearing occurred when I had Prophet Smith called to the witness stand to tell his side of the story. He left off talking about Hurlbut and began telling of his purported discovery of the book of plates that was the original to the Mormon Bible and the judge, after some hesitation, allowed Smith's sworn testimony. According to the teller of the tale, under oath, he found some golden plates buried in the earth in a field in Palmyra, New York. The fortunate digger had barely obtained the precious plates from his diggings, when a malevolent spirit assaulted him with the intention of getting them from his possession, and actually jerked them out of his hands -- Smith, not at all daunted, in return seized them back again, whereupon the demonic power applied his cloven hoof to the seat of the prophet's pantaloons, and raised him a good four feet into the atmosphere. The whole trial was exceedingly rich, and the old church was crowded with incredulous spectators. In my summation I must have played a little rough with Morminite sentiments, for as soon as the proceedings had ended, one of the leaders of the Kirtland Mormons confessed aloud, "if it were not for his religion he would whup that skinny fledgling, Briggs." My offer to forget the fanatic's "religion" for the moment was declined and I perhaps became the only lawyer who has ever escaped a beating on account of his opponent being a Mormon.

    I parted company with Hurlbut following the unfortunate outcome of the hearing. The "Committee" held a few more meetings in Mentor to discuss matters, but by the beginning of February, 1834 it was evident to everyone that Hurlbut either no longer had all the manuscripts we had read through in his current possession, or he was unwilling to further share their contents. In either case, he broke the agreement he had previously made with the Committee in half a dozen different ways. A good deal of his affidavits and other papers ended up in the care of Painesville editor Eber D. Howe, and, from that time forward the "Committee" washed its hands of Hurlbut and, except for its financing non-Mormon candidates for local office and underwriting a few lawsuits against leaders of the sect, was effectively disbanded. When Howe published his interesting book some months later, practically all the best discoveries of Dr. Hurlbut were left unmentioned, or, if mentioned at all, were wholly undocumented.

    Hurlbut's case came before the Court of Common Pleas at the end of March and he again sent word, inquiring if I would represent him at that trial. I do not recall now whether I even sent him a reply, as I was then busy packing my belongings in order to remove from Willoughby to a law office in Cleveland. The last I heard of the man in Ohio was in a cock-crowing editorial published in the pages of the Mormon journal issued at Kirtland. He lost the case brought against him in Chardon and thenceforth disappeared from the sight of all, leaving behind only an earful of unsavory rumors as to the questionable nature of his personal character.

    In later years the account of Rev. Solomon Spaulding having written a good deal of the Book of Mormon was bandied about in the papers, and it even appeared in various forms in a number of books, complete with fresh affidavits and additional particulars. One report I recall reading said that D. P. Hurlbut boasted of having made $400 from his sale of Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" to the Kirtland Mormons. Another said that it was common knowledge among former important Mormons living in Missouri that such a nefarious transaction did take place at an earlier date, but that Smith and Company had neglected to pay the agreed upon sum in full and that all Hurlbut ended up with was a postage-stamp piece of worthless swamp land, located somewhere in Erie Co., Pennsylvania.

    I have read the story written by Solomon Spaulding and published recently by the non-polygamous Josephite Mormons of Iowa. I have no doubt, as they profess, that Mr. Howe obtained this piece of work from Hurlbut early in 1834. We had this thin tale before us on the table in Mentor, along with a few other scribblings of a similar kind. I remember then reading about the ancient ruined fort on Conneaut Creek, the mound within which the writer claimed to find some ancient records, etc. But we also had before us, and we compared it closely with the Mormon Bible, a longer, more finished story, which I have ever since believed was the "Manuscript Found" and the basis for the Book of Mormon. The words if that story were written in the same style as the text of the Mormon Bible. The unique names -- singular examples of concoction -- were the same as in the Mormon book, not to be forgotten. This other, larger manuscript was not put into the hands of Mr. Howe. What did Hurlbut do with it? Some years back I wrote to him, reminding him that he and I were the two surviving participants in those almost forgotten meetings at Mentor, and asking him what he had done with the "Manuscript Found." He died without ever replying to my questions.

    Besides my own remembrances of the evidence put before us in Corning's drawing room, a great deal of supporting evidence has been subsequently brought forth and placed before the public eye. I have ever believed that I once held in my hands the Spaulding original of the Book of Mormon, and I can honestly say that all I have learned of these matters since then only serves to confirm my long-held beliefs in this respect. Mormonism was founded upon a fraud and it is a pity that so many have been, and continue to be, so badly deceived. I can only hope that those who read my statement will allow it enough credence that they will look into this affair more deeply on their own account, and thus help to promote the cause of truth and justice in a world sorely beset by such aggravations as Mormonism, Rigdonism and Brighamism.

    The tabulation below indicates the sources of the more important details related by James A. Briggs and used to compile his "composite account."

    01 = Mar. 1875 Letter to John Codman
    02 = Jan. 19, 1884 Letter to Cleveland Leader
    03 = Jan. 29, 1886 Letter to New York Tribune
    04 = Mar. 11, 1886 Letter to Joseph Smith III
    05 = Sep. 5?, 1886 Letter to New York Watchman
    06 = Oct. 14, 1886 Letter to Michigan Christian Herald
    07 = Apr. ?, 1887 Letter to Washington Star
    08 = Feb. 17, 1887 Letter to New York Times

    01   __   __   __   __   __   __   __   was a law student in Willoughby
    __   __   __   04   __   __   __   __   lived in Willoughby form Oct. 1832 to Apr. 1, 1834
    __   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   was admitted to the bar in Oct. 1833

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   in the winter of 1833-34
    __   __   __   04   __   06   __   __   or (early) spring of 1834
    __   __   __   __   05   __   __   __   in the year 1833-34

    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   a (self-constituted) Committee

    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   held meetings / met
    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   met several times / a number of times

    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   in Mentor (Geauga Co., Ohio)
    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   at the home of Mr. W. Corning / Warren Corning

    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   to investigate Mormonism / origin of Book of Mormon

    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including Judge/Legislator (Nehemiah) Allen
    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including (businessman) Samuel Wilson 1833-34
    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including Dr. (George W.) Card
    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including (Judge) Jonathan Lapham

    01   02   __   04   __   __   __   __   of Willoughby, and/or Mentor, and/or Painesville

    __   02   __   __   05   __   __   __   D. P. Hurlbut had been a Mormon
    __   __   03   04   __   __   __   __   D. P. Hurlbut lived in (was in) Kirtland

    __   02   03   __   __   __   __   __   they employed D. P. Hurlbut (to look up testimony)
    __   __   __   04   05   __   __   __   D. P. Hurlbut looked up evidence on Mormons

    __   __   __   __   05   __   __   __   Hurlbut went to New York & Massachusetts
    __   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   Hurlbut went to (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania

    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   a Spalding MS, was obtained from Pittsburgh
    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   MS. obtained from Patterson / a printer/publisher
    __   02   03   04   __   06   __   __   Hurlbut obtained Spalding's "MS. Found"

    __   __   __   __   __   __   __   __   Hurlbut brought the Committee his evidence
    __   02   03   __   __   __   __   __   Hurlbut brought the Committee Spalding's writings
    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   the Committee examined Spalding's writings
    __   __   __   04   05   __   __   __   one MS. they examined was the Oberlin story
    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   one MS. they read matched the Book of Mormon
    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   Committee said Book of Mormon came from MS.
    __   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   Committee believed Rigdon was the compiler
    __   __   __   04   05   06   __   __   Briggs believed Rigdon was the compiler

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Briggs thought Rigdon an eloquent preacher
    __   02   03   04   __   06   __   __   Briggs thought Rigdon smarter (than Smith)

    __   __   03   04   05   __   __   __   Hurlbut gave Howe one MS. / kept the other
    __   __   __   04   05   06   __   __   Hurlbut sold "Manuscript Found" (to LDS)
    __   __   __   04   05   06   __   __   Briggs later asked Hurlbut about the MS./MSs.

    __   __   __   04   05   06   07   __   Oberlin MS. is not "Manuscript Found"

    __   __   03   __   05   __   __   __   Hurlbut had difficulties with LDS at Kirtland
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   (in 1833) Hurlbut charged Smith with assault
    __   __   __   04   __   __   __   __   Painesville J.P. issued a warrant to getbSmith
    __   __   03   04   __   __   __   08   (early in 1834) Hurlbut had Smith arrested

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   Smith tried (in Painesville) (before Magistrate)
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   hearing was in the Painesville Methodist church
    01   __   03   __   __   __   __   __   Painesville hearing was held before two J.P.s
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Painesville hearing lasted three days
    01   __   03   04   __   __   __   __   the hearing attracted great public interest

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Briggs acted as Hurlbut's attorney
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Benjamin Bissell was Smith's lawyer
    01   __   03   04   __   __   __   __   Orson Hyde attended
    __   __   03   __   __   __   __   __   Oliver Cowdery attended
    01  __   03   04   __   __   __   __   (Parley?) Pratt attended

    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Briggs called upon Smith to testify
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   Smith testified about his finding the plates
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   he said he was kicked (by demonic power)
    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   a Mormon leader threatened Briggs

    (this section is under construction)

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    This web page and the episode links (below) are still under construction

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