The Spaulding Fable

Once upon a time in 1809, there was a man named Solomon Spaulding, who lived in what is now the town of Conneaut in Ohio’s Western Reserve district. Like so many Americans of his day, Solomon hoped to make his fortune through land speculation, and he and his brothers purchased a great deal of land in the area on credit. To maintain himself, he operated an iron forge and his wife ran a small grocery store. After a series of reversals in the land business, Solomon thought he might recoup his losses by writing the great American novel. His would be a historical fantasy — explaining the origin of the great, ancient earthworks in Ohio and elsewhere, which everyone at the time believed must have been made by some high civilization and not the “savage” American Indians of his own day.

In his first draft, Solomon wrote a tale of Romans — Christians from the era of Constantine, who were blown far off course from their trip to Britain, and arrived in North America. There they encountered the empires of the “Deliwannucks,” the “Ohons,” the “Sciotans,” and the “Kentucks.” In wooden detail, Solomon described the customs and governments of these peoples. But to temper the dryness, he included a star-crossed love story between Prince Elseon (eldest son of Emperor Hamboon of Kentuck) and Princess Lamesa (eldest daughter of Emperor Rambock of Sciota).

Solomon regularly regaled his relatives and neighbors with the tale, but he must have decided that it just wasn’t right. He reasoned that if his novel were going to be successful, it would have to be altogether different. He needed to start over from scratch. Gone were the Romans and obvious Indian names like Delaware, Ohio, Scioto, and Kentucky. Gone too was the romance. Indeed, it was clear that if this novel was going to sell, Solomon would need to eliminate all female characters, where possible. The new outline called for Bible-style names like Lehi and Nephi. It would also be written in Bible lingo. For example, he peppered in the juicy phrase “and it came to pass” so often that his friends started calling him “Ol’-it-came-to-pass.” However, Solomon was very careful not to include any religious material in this book now modeled on the Bible. After all, this was going to be a novel.

Unfortunately for Solomon, the War of 1812 caused his land speculation deals to collapse. He and his wife were forced to move to Pittsburgh to find work and it became all the more crucial for his novel to be published. Solomon found a publisher in Pittsburgh named Robert Patterson. Patterson apparently didn’t smell a best-seller, but he took Solomon’s second manuscript, probably saying that he’d read it and let Solomon know. Instead it sat on Patterson’s shelf collecting dust. Then in 1816, Solomon died, his novels unpublished and his hopes unrealized. But this is not the end of our fable.

For there was also a certain man named Sidney Rigdon. He didn’t live in Pittsburgh when Solomon did, but he would go into town now and then and he knew Patterson’s print shop. One day while in the shop, Sidney spied Solomon’s dusty manuscript on the shelf and decided to read it. Immediately the wheels of Sidney’s mind began to turn. In his far-reaching vision, Sidney foresaw the golden opportunity this manuscript offered. It was a vision no one could have imagined, but eventually it proved almost totally successful (saving one fatal flaw, at least from Sidney’s perspective).

Sidney immediately purloined the manuscript. Of course, in its present form it wouldn’t serve Sidney’s plot. It must be transformed. If Solomon’s novel were be the foundation of a church — oh, Sidney, how could you dream this up? — its secular pages would have to be interwoven with religious material. It took Sidney years to accomplish, but ultimately he was successful. After Sidney was through making revisions, the religious material seemed to drench ever page. Anyone reading Sidney’s version would find it hard to imagine that the book had ever been a wholly secular novel.

Meanwhile, Sidney had become a Campbellite preacher and moved to Ohio’s Western Reserve (not far from the Conneaut home of the long-deceased Solomon). Sidney realized that for his plan to work he couldn’t possibly publish the manuscript himself. That would be too easy. And it would spoil the fun of having fellow conspirators with whom to split his eventual proceeds and with whom to share his most dangerous secrets. His mind immediately turned to Joseph Smith Jr. — just 250 miles away in Palmyra, New York. How had Sidney met Joseph or heard of him? It doesn’t really matter. Why would he immediately know that the young man would be the perfect person to pretend to create the manuscript of a book? And how did he imagine that a poor nobody like Joseph could ever get it published? Ultimately, we have to realize that this is the kind of visionary Sidney was. Not only could Sidney imagine things that no one else would; the fact that these things ultimately succeeded proved his brilliance.

However it was that Sidney knew Joseph, it was very fortunate that no other person on earth knew they knew each other. Sidney immediately traveled to Palmyra in secret. Once again extremely careful not to be seen by anyone, he met with Joseph and the two made a pact. Joseph would pretend to translate Sidney’s manuscript and Joseph would take all the credit and all the rewards. Later they would use the resulting book to found a church, which Joseph would lead and in which Sidney would play an important supporting role. It was just the kind of deal any successful preacher with a manuscript he believed was priceless would make with an impoverished young man with no prospects. Sidney made several other secret trips to Palmyra — fortunately always unseen by anyone except Joseph — and ultimately gave Joseph the manuscript.

Of course, as great a candidate for this job as Joseph clearly was, it didn’t take Joseph long before he realized he needed help. He tried at first to dupe people (like Martin Harris) into helping him transcribe the manuscript. But this process proved incredibly time consuming and nearly disastrous (when Martin lost the first set of pages of the copied manuscript). Joseph eventually decided he needed to bring additional conspirators into the know. Fortunately the plan was so certain of success, it was extremely easy to convince people to join in the plot, keep the secret, and behave dishonestly for the rest of their lives. First to sign up was Joseph’s distant cousin, Oliver Cowdery. They were later joined by Oliver’s friend David Whitmer. Both these new conspirators helped speedily copy Sidney’s version of Solomon’s novel and they, along with the still-duped Martin Harris, signed their name as the book’s “Three Witnesses.” Before long Joseph was able to get Martin to put up all the money for the book’s publication — just as Sidney had known he eventually would.

Finally, because no conspiracy that has four members is as good as one that has five, Sidney brought his friend Parley P. Pratt in on the plot. It wouldn’t make sense if Joseph or Oliver came to Ohio, gave Sidney a copy of the Book of Mormon, and converted him. That would be too obvious. Instead, Sidney reasoned, it was essential that Parley travel from Ohio to New York, pretend to get off a canal boat on unrelated business, pretend to be converted by reading the Book of Mormon, and then pretend to convince Joseph to send him and Oliver back to Ohio to pretend to convert Sidney. Anything less would be unthinkably reasonable.

And it all (finally) came to pass, just as Sidney had foreseen.

At first all five of the conspirators were living like kings, save for the general poverty and suffering they endured. But then Oliver quarreled with Joseph over Fanny Alger. Their relationship finally ruptured after all the conspirators had moved to Missouri. At that point, church members loyal to Joseph excommunicated Oliver, forcing him to flee the county. He lost all his property and had to move back to Ohio. Nevertheless, Oliver never revealed his secret. David Whitmer, likewise, was kicked out and deprived of his property, but he too never let on what he might have known.

After a few more bumps in the road, the operation moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. Sidney, having learned from Oliver and David’s mistakes, stayed loyal — even when he and Joseph quarreled after Joseph proposed plural marriage to Sidney’s daughter Nancy. The conspirators’ next crisis hit in 1844 when Joseph became the first of their number to die. Obviously, Sidney, originator of the whole plot, felt that he should now take over as boss. He might have expected his fellow conspirator Parley P. Pratt to back him up, especially considering Parley knew that what Sidney knew could still destroy the whole plot, just as it was finally beginning to pay off. Instead, Parley inexplicably backed Brigham Young’s takeover bid. Indeed, Parley must have even let Brigham in on the conspiracy, because as Brigham kicked Sidney out of Nauvoo, he ominously warned Sidney not to divulge the “secrets” he knew. Parley’s revelation to Brigham must not have been too much of a shock, since the new church president never skipped a beat. It goes without saying that he and Parley never divulged the secret in words or any writing, however private and personal.

Sidney also kept quiet. Naturally, he was disappointed that he’d lost control of the church in Nauvoo, but he believed he could build his own successful church structure back in Pittsburgh (where the whole thing had started). Unfortunately, within a couple of years this church atomized and Sidney and his wife were left alone and penniless. Ultimately they had to move in with relatives in New York. But Sidney still kept his silence.

Of course, the real truth had been out since Philastus Hurlbut had collected all those affidavits in Conneaut in 1833, but Sidney wouldn’t give anyone the satisfaction of confirming that truth. It had been his plot to give Joseph Smith the credit and Sidney was damned if he was going to try to change course now — just because he was alone and impoverished, and an uninvited conspirator had made off to Utah with all the spoils of Sidney’s hard work. The last thing Sidney wanted was credit.

Sidney would show them all. He’d take his secret to his grave.

The End.

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  1. Awesome. I’m so glad Hurlbut exposed the truth of this nefarious plot. Think what might have happened otherwise!

  2. Nicely done, John! One must also remember that Sidney — who doesn’t seem to have let on in public that he was a treasure-digging enthusiast — made sure to incorporate a few treasure-digging themes in the book. This was presumably done so that doubters could be distracted from the truth by the false hypothesis that Joseph (the well-known treasure digger) wrote the book himself. Unfortunately, this aspect of Sidney’s clever plan largely failed until the 20th century; 19th-century Gentiles were evidently not half as clever as Sidney hoped they would be.

    Really, the Spaulding theory seems both difficult and unnecessary to me. For believers, there is no real need for a source for the book, other than God and Nephite writers. For nonbelievers, there’s no need for a Spaulding theory, as there is plenty of evidence on which to build the much more parsimonious theory that, if young Joseph Smith were to write a work of religious fiction, it would probably look pretty much like the Book of Mormon. So what’s the point of this third option? It just doesn’t seem to do much work for anyone. At this point, the Spaulding theory looks to me more like an intellectual curiosity than a really compelling working hypothesis.

  3. Brilliant John, absolutely brilliant.

  4. J (2): I’m not sure that the Spaulding theory is a hypothesis at all. The reason I sat down and wrote it out this way is because it’s never told this way. I.e., it’s never spelled out in narrative form, as if it were coherent history. Instead it’s told backwards with factoids like, “Sidney Rigdon said he wasn’t in Pittsburgh, but he was, so there!” Or: “Look at how many parallels there are between Spaulding’s Manuscript Story and the Book of Mormon!” etc.

    Your point on the many internal evidences that connect the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith, as either revelator or author (depending on the two perspectives you mention), is very well taken.

    MCQ (1): The mind boggles!

  5. “I’m not sure that the Spaulding theory is a hypothesis at all. The reason I sat down and wrote it out this way is because it’s never told this way. I.e., it’s never spelled out in narrative form, as if it were coherent history.”

    I had never thought of that before. Thanks for providing the first narrative version of this story, John.

  6. …also, I have to say I’m a little disappointed that the fable didn’t have some sort of a map with it; otherwise, it’s be perfect! :)

  7. Wonderful! Often the best satire involves simply stating a silly idea in its clear and unadorned form, allowing its own inconsistencies to manifest themselves without obstruction.

    (It’s the Daily Show formula: just show the clip and make a face. Nothing else needed.)

  8. What a great story, John. I love it.

  9. Many fine researchers (some from the CoC), do not see this as a fable, but a workable historical theory.
    I would not be too quick to call it silly for that reason.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Absolutely brilliant, John!

  11. Thanks much, folks.

    Bob (10): I don’t call it silly quickly; I call it unworkable, having researched the evidence for a long time with an open mind. I know that the Community of Christ church historian, church archivist, and emeritus church historian all view this theory as unworkable, and I know from my experience in JWHA that the view that this theory is workable is not in any way common in the Community of Christ historians’ community.

    As for the fine researchers who believe that this is a workable historical theory, I would very much like them to write that theory out in the form of a straightforward narrative thesis, backed up by the evidence, organized logically. All I’ve ever seen are histories of the theory itself, with gotcha dubunkings of its critics, set up as straw men, as the authors do in Who Really Wrote The Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma. As I’ve said often in the past, I would like to see the thesis explored in a scholarly way.

  12. #12: John, my only point is not too quickly assume this is a settled debate. There are just too many historical facts connected to the theory for a dismissal of it.
    I know your study of this theory is greater than mine. But I also have read a great deal of Dale Broadhurst’s work, and exchanged e-mails with him last year.
    I also reviewed the abstract of “Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification*
    Matthew L. Jockers ( 2008-2009)
    The above does not prove anything, other than the debate is still ongoing in 2009

  13. A remarkably foolproof plan. And what execution!

    Ben (#7), My cartography skills are not quite like John’s, but I’m pretty confident that if he were to make a map, the differences from mine would be in the details (e.g. slightly different routes; I don’t know which brand of GPS receiver Sidney was using).

  14. Mark B. says:

    Actually, Sidney’s choosing Joseph as his co-conspirator and sharer of all the proceeds of their scheme isn’t all that far-fetched. I can’t tell you how many worthy African gentlemen and ladies, complete strangers, have likewise approached me, confidentially of course, to assist them in their schemes. In exchange they have all promised me extraordinary sums of money.

    I guess Sidney was just the first in a long and illustrious line.

  15. This was great John! If I don’t forget, I’m going to nominate it for a best historical post niblet next year.

  16. Brilliant

  17. wonderful. Thank you

  18. Very nice, John!

  19. Natalie B. says:

    You are really on a role with great posts. Thinking through the mechanics of how this plot would have had to work really is quite funny.

  20. One of the best things I’ve read this year. Fantastic!

  21. This lost history is too good to keep just for the New World. With a few tweaks it would serve nicely in the Old World as well (set in ca. 610 AD). You could set it also in 70 AD, but then you’d have to include a lot more co-conspirators and that might dilute the plot.

    I must say it never occurred to me to use delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification (whatever those are) to reassess the authorship of the Book of Mormon. I would have gone with Bayesian inference myself.

  22. Left Field says:

    Joseph and Sidney met on the grassy knoll, not in Palmyra. That’s how nobody figured out that they knew each other. Duh.

  23. #22:“We offer a new approach that employs two classification techniques: ‘delta’ commonly used to determine probable authorship and ‘nearest shrunken centroid’ (NSC)…….”
    “Our results indicate that likely nineteenth century contributors were Solomon Spalding, a writer of historical fantasies; Sidney Rigdon, an eloquent but perhaps unstable preacher; and Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher with editing experience. Our findings support the hypothesis that Rigdon was the main architect of the Book of Mormon and are consistent with historical evidence suggesting that he fabricated the book by adding theology to the unpublished writings of Spalding (then deceased). “ ( Oxford Journals 2008-2009)

  24. Brilliant, John. The one thing that’s missing from most conspiracy theories is a cogent narrative describing exactly what happened. you’ve thrown down the gauntlet here in the most effective way possible.

    And as far as reputable historians who think it’s a workable theory, I don’t know a single one (Mormon, ex-Mormon, CoC, or otherwise) who has anything but scorn for it.

  25. #25: Oxford Journals is a division of Oxford University Press, which is a department of Oxford University.
    We have been publishing journals for more than a century, and as part of the world’s oldest and largest university press, have more than 500 years of publishing expertise behind us.
    An integral part of our scholarly mission is to publish journals of the highest quality, which is demonstrated by their impact factor rankings. According to the 2007 Journal Citation Reports, one fifth of our titles are in the top 10% and over two thirds in the top 50% of their subject category.

  26. John, highly entertaining, and highly effective. Thanks for the read.

  27. NoOneInParticular says:

    Bob: 24, 26, and earlier, re: Nearest Shrunken Centroid classification:

    Google seems to think that Nearest Shrunken Centroid classification is primarily a technique used in genetics. I will refrain myself from a lecture/rant about the profound (and widely acknowledged) methodological flaws in the application of statistical analysis to historical linguistics as perpetrated by a host of Stanford researchers over the past half-century, but I do want to let you know that I am skeptical of any claim involving Stanford, statistical analysis, and language data.

    If you can get a copy of the article (I don’t plan to pay for it), I am willing to read it out of good sportsmanship, but I certainly don’t think you or anyone else should consider the points made in an abstract to be definitive or even remotely justified simply because the methodology sounds complicated and it was picked up by a journal.

  28. Aaron Brown says:

    Well, I for one am so sick and tired of all the faith-promoting posts around here. BCC is going to get a reputation.

    Also, watch your tone, people.


  29. John,
    This is an excellent summary of the Conspiracy. However, now that you’ve revealed it so completely, I hope that you don’t suffer the same fate as Captain William Morgan did for revealing a contemporaneous conspiracy.
    The Conspiracy has continued and expanded in our times:,4,78mormon.htm

  30. Bob, we’ve talked about the Jockers, Witten, and Criddle study here at BCC before. There are two levels of major substantive concern. First is the generally problematic nature of the statistical analysis; most of the statisticians that I’ve talked with about this are at least somewhat dubious of this kind of work because it is hard to know how seriously to take the statistical model. What aspects of human speech behave like random variables, and which do not? To what extent are independence assumptions justified, etc.? These are tricky questions which seem to be routinely wished away in such analysis.

    Second, and much more definitive in this case, is the fact that Jockers, Witten, and Criddle completely excluded from their analysis the hypothesis that Joseph Smith’s own writing style best fits the Book of Mormon — which is what either a skeptic who attributes the book to Smith or a believer who accepts some version of an expansion theory would expect. Leaving out this hypothesis means missing the major intellectual alternative to the Spaulding theory. This in turn devastates the results, which are relative probabilities for the various tested theories rather than absolute probabilities. That is to say, the article shows that the Spaulding theory is more likely than a collection of theories that nobody believes but mute as to the main competing hypothesis. Except that even this is only true if you believe the statistical assumptions, which may well be unjustified.

    By the way, lots of wrong stuff gets published in scholarly journals all the time. Defending this work based on where it is published is really just a version of the argumentum ad verecundiam; it’s better than defending it based on, say, star signs, but it isn’t responsive to the actual concerns about the analysis.

  31. #31: JNS, I only put the journal stuff in to show the debate is not over, and as rebuttal to DLK who said: “I don’t know a single one (Mormon, ex-Mormon, CoC, or otherwise) who has anything but scorn for it.” (The Theory).
    #13 is my only position: ” The above does not prove anything, other than the debate is still ongoing in 2009.”

  32. Thanks John. I appreciate you putting the narrative challenge together like this.

    Who are the champions of this theory these days? I wonder how (and if) they will respond to this.

  33. Does the name Nephi appear in the Solomon Spaulding manuscript?

  34. Bob, the debate is barely ongoing; it’s got at least a family resemblance to debates between creationists and believers in evolution. Indeed, the article is a failed rebuttal to DKL, since none of the scholars involved with it is a historian.

  35. RE: #34, “Does the name Nephi appear in the Solomon Spaulding manuscript?”

    It does not. “Nephi” does appear, however, in handy reference lists of scripture names at the backs of common family dictionaries of young Joseph Smith’s era . . . (a .pdf of 1½ MB)

    Preferring broad data reserves (i.e., the surprisingly rich and varied world in which Joseph Smith flourished) over tailored conspiracy approaches, I would only point to Solomon Spaulding’s manuscript as one of countless evidences of the general culture of that time and place. I would not suggest that the Spaulding manuscript, itself, need have fed into the Book of Mormon. “Neither Solomon Spaulding,” observed Whitney Cross in 1950, “. . . nor Joseph Smith required any originality to speculate in this direction. Their writings would scarcely seem fanciful, possibly not even novel, to their contemporaries. Neither in any case need have borrowed from the other.” —Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District; the Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1950), 81, referring particularly to “. . . a belief . . . that the Indians or a previous race now extinct developed from the lost tribes of Israel.”

  36. Danithew (34): No. The names in the Spaulding manuscript (“Manuscript Story”) are like the examples I give for the “first draft”: Lobaska, Bambo, Hamback, Kalo, Hadocam, Golanga, Gamba, Labamack, Bambol, Owhahon, etc.

    However, before Hurlbut had found the manuscript, he went to Conneaut and interviewed Spaulding’s relatives and associates. He told them the theory, he showed them the Book of Mormon, and he asked them about their 22-year-old recollections of Spaulding’s manuscript. That interviewing technique had the result that several remembered the particular details of the names “Nephi” and “Lehi,” and the phrase “and it came to pass.” However, many also remembered that Spaulding’s manuscript had not contained “religious material.”

    When Hurlbut found “Manuscript Story,” it did not have any Book of Mormon specific details. At that point there arose a theory that a second manuscript (named “Manuscript Found”) was still out there, which represented Spaudling’s second draft and which had the details from the original affidavits. People then went back to the Conneaut witnesses, presented them with that theory, and got confirmation that this must be the explanation.

    The vividness of the affidavits are the only real leg that the theory stands on. On their surface they seem compelling and people wonder how a group of people could misremember something in such a detailed way. The problem is that these affidavits contradict the rest historical record, internal and external, concerning Joseph Smith and the origins of the Book of Mormon.

  37. #35: “Bob, the debate is barely ongoing.” I disagree. There has been much work done in the last few years. I have referred to the work of Dale Brosdhurst and the work in the Oxford Journal. One can also see a very live debate in Amazon.Com comments on the book ” Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon. (New Ed.)
    Again, I am only saying the debate is ongoing, and new facts or theories are being added.

  38. Bob, the “debate may be ongoing” in the sense that a handful (Uncle Dale being the primary) of partisans still argue for it. But it’s hardly a debate in the sense that both sides have many good points.

    Many people who would otherwise embrace a theory explaining a non-historical Book of Mormon, such as Fawn Brodie and Dan Vogel, have eviscerated the Spalding theory.

    From my perspective, you may as well be saying that the debate remains ongoing over whether the world is flat.

  39. Bob, Dale Broadhurst is a real, respectable (respected!) advocate for the Spaulding theory. The Oxford Journal piece is defective and can reasonably be analogized with people who don’t believe in global warming. Debates in an Amazon comment thread are not compelling evidence; isn’t that the 21st-century equivalent of the town bar?

    There is an ongoing debate, to be sure. But it’s intellectually marginal, because the evidentiary basis for the Spaulding account is extremely flimsy in comparison with the hypothesis that Joseph Smith was the (mortal or inspired) source of the book. What I’d really like to know is why people still want the Spaulding account to be true? It’s been discredited in the eyes of most scholars for decades, easily — so the motive for most advocates isn’t intellectual. I wonder what it is?

  40. As to the “debate” in the comments at Amazon… The “reviews” begin with “Dr. Shades” (Jason Gallantine, a prison guard responsible for the “Chapel Mormon/Internet Mormon” false dichotomy), who declares Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma “one of the very best [books on Mormon history], hands-down.” :)

    Sorry Bob, (and Shades). I don’t buy it. Why did there need to be a “new edition” of this book? Because the old one claimed (IIRC), wrongly so, that they had identified Spalding’s handwriting in the Original manuscript of the Book of Mormon! Perhaps I remember incorrectly and you can clarify that bit.

  41. Really enjoyed this one, reminds me of Hugh Nibley writing on why it was so hard for him to take most anti-Mormon literature seriously.

  42. Ben and JNS, I respect both of you too much to even dream of getting into a ‘food fight’ over the Spaulding issue with either of you. I will therefore now spend my time today listening to old jazz records.

  43. He told them the theory, he showed them the Book of Mormon, and he asked them about their 22-year-old recollections of Spaulding’s manuscript.

    In other words, he tainted the memories and then asked people if they could remember the things he had just told them.

    Well, calls for a narrative about those who still hold to the theory, doesn’t it? ;)

  44. RE: #40, “What I’d really like to know is why people still want the Spaulding account to be true? It’s been discredited in the eyes of most scholars for decades, easily — so the motive for most advocates isn’t intellectual. I wonder what it is?”

    Exactly. As recently as yesterday afternoon here at a barbecue in Central New York State, a man who learned of my Mormon connections began to ask about the explanation he had heard about a printer in Baltimore, or Philadelphia or somewhere who had an old manuscript stored on a shelf, and, and, and . . .” I had a bit of a time trying to convince this man that it was a very tired old story which refuses to die.

    So I ask the same question: What is it that makes a Spaulding “solution” so appealing to some people? I suspect that there are many reasons, and I do not suspect that many of those reasons are particularly scholarly in the truly mature sense of that word – or that they arise from very broadly sophisticated knowledge of the culture in which the Book of Mormon came forth. What I’m saying is that I don’t see the Spaulding theory as being at all efficient within the wealth of other thought and phenomena which comprised Joseph Smith’s back yard.

  45. Alan H. says:

    I’ve seen better defenses of the Spaulding – Rigdon Theory. Hamer’s is a weak version of an improbable history. There are SO many holes and conjectures in this theory that I wouldn’t even bring it up a serious conference on Mormon history.

    Note that I’m not defending the supernatural origins of the Book of Mormon. It is clearly a work of man. But it is not the work of Spaulding or Rigdon.

    A few of the logical holes in this fable are:
    1) The presumption that Rigdon knew Smith in 1826 or early 1827. Smith was a small-time treasure seeker, who had little to no success at the endeavor. No way was he known in Pittsburgh. No way was his reputation a solid one. He had never written anything, so there was no reason to select him to write a book. There are no reputable eyewitness accounts of Rigdon ever being in Palmyra prior to 1830. This whole Rigdon knew of Smith and secretly met with him is pure baseless conjecture.

    2) There is no proof that a second Spaulding manuscript ever existed.

    3) There is no proof that Rigdon had this conjectured 2nd manuscript.

    4) The text of the BOM is far more closely aligned to the events,beliefs, locations, and people of upstate New York in the 1810s & 1820s, than to anything Spaulding ever wrote, or anything that Rigdon ever taught.

    I can understand people wanting to believe this angle, as an explanation as to how someone like Smith could have written a book like the BOM. Unfortunately, the theory only holds together if one doesn’t bother to closely examine the details.

    For example, one key witness for this theory is a statement made by Alexander Campbell in 1841, stating that he knew Rigdon was involved in the coming forth of the BOM as far back as 1826. However If one examines all of Campbell’s statements from 1826 through the mid-1830s, you will find that he had no idea the BOM was coming out until 1829-1830, and in 1831 he emphatically attacked the BOM as being wholly the creation of Joseph Smith. So if one takes the 1841 statement at face value, then it sounds like Campbell is a credible witness for this theory, but upon close examination, that 1841 is very dubious.

  46. What does even matter if the BOM is divinely inspired? It is enough that people believe it to be true, and that this belief gives meaning to their life, a psychologically demonstrably good proposition.

    It may be that another myth (I intend this word devoid of connotation) might be more efficient in inpiring purpose, but what of it?

    Truth is the least fixed point (if such exists) of assumption, by which I mean that if you assume that something is true and recursively derive conclusions from it, and then you assume it is false and do the same thing, and if in both cases you arrive at the same result, then the truth is independent of the initial assumption.

    I am not Mormon, but it is now clear to me that Mormons derive tangible benefit (in this life) from believing in the BOM, and it is not at all clear that rejection of this belief would lead to a better life here on Earth (even assuming there is no afterlife), so whether the BOM is true is irrelevant. It is enough that it could be true.

    The same logic holds for those who chafe at the Mormon lifestyle (including me). Even if the BOM were true, it is worth believing that it is not, if it is possible that is it a fraud.

    What then is left to discuss? Modern physics has established the perils of untestable hypotheses. All you have to do is believe your own assumptions unless they can be disproved. It is in your own best interest to do so.

  47. Alan H. says:

    In comment #37, Hamer states, “When Hurlbut found “Manuscript Story,” it did not have any Book of Mormon specific details. At that point there arose a theory that a second manuscript (named “Manuscript Found”) was still out there …”

    Hurlbut didn’t find the Spaulding manuscript. It was found in a trunk in 1884, Hurlbut died in 1883. A trunk that had been owned by Eber Howe, another anti-Mormon of that era. Obviously he had found it, saw that it wasn’t the origin of the BOM and hid it away.

    This is a theory that even Fawn Brodie and Jerald & Sandra Tanner rejected as baseless.

    Spaulding was still writing the manuscript that was eventually discovered when he had moved away from the very people who later claimed he had read them portions of the book and it was similar to the BOM. He was still working on this book in 1812 in Pittsburgh.

    The only reason why there is any “theory” about a second manuscript is because people who wanted to believe in the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory, didn’t want to give it up after “Manuscript Found” was published, so they invented the theory of a second book, without any proof thereof.

  48. Alan (48): Hurlbut obtained the “Manuscript Story” manuscript in 1834. He gave it to E. D. Howe. That’s how Howe got a hold of it. Howe was disappointed to learn that it had nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. He put it aside and it was only rediscovered (not discovered) among his papers in 1884.

    Concerning your posts (46, 48): you are apparently failing to read my essay for the satire that it is. That’s either embarrassing for me and my abilities as a satirist, or embarrassing for you and your abilities as a discerning reader.

  49. John Taber says:

    I recognized this as satire, and thought it was a good one,. I was hoping this version would have Sidney Ridgon impersonating John the Baptist to Joseph and Oliver.

    As much as this theory (and its variations) have been discredited, I’m sure there are still some reference books out there that state as fact Joseph Smith cribbing Spaulding to write the Book of Mormon.

  50. John Hamer: Concerning your posts (46, 48): you are apparently failing to read my essay for the satire that it is. That’s either embarrassing for me and my abilities as a satirist, or embarrassing for you and your abilities as a discerning reader.


  51. #50, “. . . I’m sure there are still some reference books out there that state as fact Joseph Smith cribbing Spaulding to write the Book of Mormon.”

    Indeed, a couple of lifetimes ago when I headed the Bibliographic Dept. of the BYU Lee Library, I noticed that one of the national bibliographies (either that of the British Library or else the French Bibliothèque Nationale) actually listed the Book of Mormon under author, “Spaulding, Solomon.”

  52. Zelph's femur says:

    What an utterly brilliant telling of the Spalding-Rigdon-Smith conspiracy. In a few paragraphs (satirical or otherwise), you have captured the inanity that one must embrace to join the conspiratorial ranks of Broadhurst, Criddle, Vanick, et al.

    The Spalding-Rigdon-Smith conspiracy—DOA when first incarnated—has become the Book of Mormon’s authorial zombie (with a nod to Rick Grunder’s informed, trenchant comments).

  53. Dan Weston #47, you say, “Modern physics has established the perils of untestable hypotheses.” I guess this means you’re not a big fan of string theory? And I’d go on to point out that this doesn’t sound like the sort of proposition that physics can establish — sounds much more like a methodological or philosophy-of-science proposition, doesn’t it? And a dubious one, at that; scientific theory of every flavor is full of as-yet unobservable entities and untestable propositions.

  54. #54, I do not know enough about string theory to be either fan or sceptic. I am a big fan of math, and by all accounts the mathematical equations are quite elegant. And elegance is sufficient reason to study something which may or may not be (or become) testable.

    The scientific method, however, is more than metaphysics. It itself is a hypothesis that has been tested historically and can be tested even today as an easy psychology class experiment, and has passed its own test as the currently best method of establishing theories than any other tried (prayer, guessing, aristocratic authoritarianism).

    I will have to take your word for it that scientific theory of every flavor has this or that flaw, as I have not tasted every flavor of anything. Perhaps if you gave a concrete example?

    But rather than hijack this post, let’s just stipulate that we are not likely to agree simply because we do not want to. Which is what is really going on here, isn’t it? :)

  55. Excellent rework of a tired story. Too bad most people like tired stories, rather than great art.

  56. Dan, I have no idea whether we want to agree or not. But theory by definition always goes past the observable to make untested and sometimes untestable claims. Consider the general relativistic account of gravity — a beautiful and widely accepted theory if we are willing to disregard meltdowns at the quantum level. One solution to the theory’s equations predicted the existence of black holes, which have only become empirical phenomena much more recently. That’s a specific instance; a more general and universal point is as follows. The relativistic theory of gravity works very well in pretty much every situation in which it’s been tested. But there are vast swaths of time and space in which the theory has not been tested, and for times too long in the past or spaces outside our light cone, no testing is possible. The theory claims to apply to these domains nonetheless, which means that it goes past the empirics. That’s what theory does; it isn’t just a systematic collection of experimental facts produced to date, but rather an effort at explanation of those facts at a deeper and hopefully more universal level. But that always requires a move past what is proven.

    None of this, in my view, is at all like religious modes of thinking or knowing.

  57. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    He might have expected his fellow conspirator Parley P. Pratt to back him up, especially considering Parley knew that what Sidney knew could still destroy the whole plot, just as it was finally beginning to pay off. Instead, Parley inexplicably backed Brigham Young’s takeover bid.

    Could the explanation be that Parley also had his eye on Nancy Rigdon and was bitter that Sidney couldn’t be talked into consent, even by the man responsible, in the eyes of the world at least, for introducing him to the church? AND we know that Pratt began living the principle of marriage in 1837.

  58. Paul Taylor says:


    Since non-believers believe Joseph and Sidney participated in the conspiracy that is Section 76, I don’t think the Spalding conspiracy is an impossible step to take. This treatment of the Spalding conspiracy intentionally blows it up to be a huge, impossible thing.

  59. This really is absolutely brilliant. I’ll be linking to it from my blog.

  60. Paul, I invite you to present the conspiracy in a total, historical-narrative frame such that it looks more sensible than this. I doubt it can be done.

  61. Wade Englund says:

    I had hoped that someone would do just such a satirical narrative, and this one by John was spectacular. Thumbs up!

    The only way I think it could have been improved is by following the “Manuscript Found” from Pittsburg to Amity, PA (1814 – 1816), then in Matilda’s trunk to Onondaga Valley, NY, where it resided at the Sabine’s until 1833 (years after the Book of Mormon was published), where it was retrieved by Hurlbut, and according to the Wayne Sentinel, the Painsville Telegraph, and supposed eyewitness statements from James Briggs, John Dowen, Jacob Sherman, and Charles Grover, was the alleged “Manuscript Found” from whence the Book of Mormon was allegedly cribbed. Hurlbut later gave the manuscript to Howe. And, since Howe claimed that Hurbut had only obtained one manuscript from Matida’s trunk, that would make the manuscript that was in Howe’s possession the “Manuscript Found”, which later found its way into the hands of L.L. Rice and eventually Oberlin College, and is the only extant manuscript of Spalding authorship. This paper trail not only debunks the two manuscripts hypothesis, but it also raises serious question about how a manuscript that remained in a trunk in Onondaga, NY, from 1816 until about 4 years after the Book of Mormon had been published, could have been the alleged source for the Book of Mormon.

    Great stuff! Thanks, -Wade Englund-

  62. #48 AllanH writes:

    “The only reason why there is any “theory” about a second manuscript is because people who wanted to believe in the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory, didn’t want to give it up after “Manuscript Found” was published, so they invented the theory of a second book, without any proof thereof.”

    Alan – who published manuscript found?

  63. #63: JNS, I agree with you:” the historical-narrative frame” has always been the weak part of the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory. But even Brodie (p:68 NMKMH) says the documental evidence for each side is ‘burdensome’. Plus more evidence has been added since either Bodie or Vogel made their calls against it.
    I think a person confronted with the BoM must ponder: 1) Did Joseph Smith get it from an Angel. 2) Did he write it by himself. 3) Did someone else write it, or help him write it.

  64. RE: #63: Karl, below is the bibliographical portion of my entry on the publication of Manuscript Found (from entry 410 of my Mormon Parallels). I won’t stop to reproduce the italic fonts, so late tonight. Hope this helps . . .

    SPAULDING, Solomon, 1761-1816. THE “MANUSCRIPT FOUND.” Or, “MANUSCRIPT STORY,” of the Late Rev. Solomon Spaulding; From a Verbatim Copy of the Original Now in the Care of Pres. James H. Fairchild, of Oberlin College, Ohio. Including Correspondence Touching the Manuscript, Its Preservation and Transmission Until it Came into the Hands of the Publishers. Lamoni, Iowa: Printed and Published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1885.

    17 cm. 144 pp. First edition. Flake 8309. The second edition would be published the following year by the LDS (Utah) Church. The work was then published again by the RLDS Church in 1903 and in 1908, followed by another LDS Church edition in 1910. “An unedited facsimile transcription was published in 1996 by the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University [in Provo, Utah; Kent P. Jackson note in Largey, 735].”

    Surname spelling variant: A letter from twenty-four-year-old Spaulding to his classmate Elijah Parish (“Dear Billy”) dated “Plainfield December th[e] 6 1785” was signed “Sn Spalding” (photocopy in my possession courtesy of Dartmouth College Library which preserves the original). Regarding Parish, see MP 302 – 304.

    The first appearance in print of the manuscript which (until it was finally located in Hawaii in 1884) had presented for half a century the most serious threat of being the source of the Book of Mormon, according to many writers. For a succinct history of this Spaulding theory, see Bushman 2005, 90-91.

    It is to James Harris Fairchild, president of Oberlin College 1866-89, that we owe the discovery and exposition of the Solomon Spaulding manuscript itself. Fairchild concluded that it could not have been the source of the Book of Mormon. See his “Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon” in Magazine of Western History 4 (May-October 1886), pp. 30-39; also published separately as Tract vol. 3, no. 77 of the Northern Ohio and Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, before which society Fairchild read that paper on March 23, 1886, with the original Spaulding manuscript at his side. Spaulding’s text was printed by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now, Community of Christ) in order to demonstrate how little it resembled the Book of Mormon.

  65. Thanks Rick for your reply: why is the RLDS church or the LDS church interested in publishing it. Why no private publishers.
    Was anything Spaulding wrote published by anyone who published other books. Do those who discount the spaulding theory say that he wrote only one story in his entire life.

  66. What a funny story. People want to discredit Joseph Smith although we was pretty intellegent for a person without much education. With all that he did he could might as well be called a “genious”. The man could not have done it by himself, he had help from above. Amen.

  67. Well, with all the back-slapping going on here, one would think that the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the subsequent witness accounts are not at all problematic… Grief…

    Someone want to do a satire on that?

  68. Paul Taylor says:


    I’m not an academic. And I don’t think the Spalding theory is the most probable BOM solution. But I don’t think it’s a joke either. Here’s a more simple possibility.

    1. Up until the point JS met SR, the original post is near the truth. Supporting facts: a) Spalding’s relatives later accused SR of stealing Spalding’s manuscript. b) Rigdon was an intelligent man dissatisfied with Campbell and ambitious enough to do something big.

    2. JS and SR met somehow. How? I don’t know. There’s enough evidence that JS and SR took trips during the important time period that it’s possible they met somewhere. They hit it off, have instant brotherhood and strust, stayed up late all night talking. SR shared his plans to write a religious book about Israelites coming to America. JS confides that he’s been telling people about a golden bible and he’s in over his head and hasn’t figured out his end game. They hatch a plan. Supporting facts: a) it doesn’t matter when it happened JS and SR had some sort of instant connection as soon as they met as SR immediately became the #2 man in the church. So if you don’t like that it happened pre-BOM translation you still have to admit it happened later. b) JS and SR conspired in the section 76 revelation. “Sidney, I see the heavens opened up…” “Joseph (wink wink) I see the same exact thing”. So obviously the two had a conspiracy together that never was broken. Is it that much of a stretch to extend it to the BOM creation?

    Others involvement: I think it’s possible it could be limited to just those two. But I’m also comfortable with the conspiracy extended to Oliver. Oliver was involved with the conspiracy of the priesthood angelic visitations. He’s also famous for the translation ability of his divining rod. That part’s awfully fishy. It smells like he was part of the con, but also he could be an innocent victim. I think Martin Harris was obviously duped. He’s the stereotypical rich, dumb guy that falls for the con. I don’t think Emma was in on it. Not sure about David Whitmer. He was most likely victim of the con as well.

    My point here is not to prove anything, just that a more plausible conspiracy theory can be demonstrated.

  69. So obviously the two had a conspiracy together that never was broken.

    I’m too dumb to see what’s “obvious” about this.

  70. Paul Taylor says:

    @#70, if you assume the section 76 revelation was a hoax, then the two had a conspiracy. SR never admitted it was a hoax, so the conspiracy lasted until death. Or you can believe it was a true revelation. And it just happens to be the only time in recorded history two men of God had a revelation on demand in front of an audience where they were the only ones to see the revelation.

  71. Ardis, if the “more plausible conspiracy theory” in #69 is ever revealed to you, please let me know. Cuz I’m sure not seeing anything “more plausible” in there.

  72. John Hamer says:

    Paul (69): You haven’t provided an explanation for why Rigdon would imagine giving the manuscript to Joseph during the secret/meeting connection you theorize they were forming. Why would he assume Joseph could a thing with it?

    Meanwhile, in the real life story, it’s very clear why Sidney rose so fast in the early church. He was the first important person converted, or rather, by far the most important early person converted. He came with whole congregations. Prior to Sidney’s conversion, the church was nothing. After Sidney’s conversion, his congregations became church headquarters. Essentially, the church itself was a merger between Sidney’s Church of Christ in Ohio and Joseph’s New York Gold Bible group. That makes sense.

    You’re mistaking a simple willingness to be a part of a visionary experience with evidence of an all-too-wide and elaborate conspiracy. Joseph was able to get plenty more people to see visions than the examples you cite. Are they all conspirators? Of course not. They are participants, in the same way that people at a séance can be participants. You’re assuming that visionary witnesses at the time were talking about these experiences the way many Mormons misinterpret them today, i.e., as visions involving luminous beings that could be seen by physical eyes in the real world (à la Obi wan Kenobi and Yoda in “Return of the Jedi”). Those involved at the time understood these visionary experiences to be held with the spiritual eye — not too different from the way you can close your eyes and envision a bowl of ice cream, if I were to describe it to you. That’s not evidence of a conspiracy; it’s a modern misreading of the 19th century record.

  73. Paul Taylor says:

    (73) Joseph was a pretty charismatic person. I can’t explain a lot of things that people did for Joseph and neither can you.

    Why would Sidney convert? What assurance does he have after sacrificing the position he created? SR proved through his life that his motivation was more for power than for sincere worship, correct? Why would he throw everything away?

    And the sec 76 revelation was a little bit more than a seance with everyone getting caught up in visions. Read the accounts again more closely. It reads like two con men playing a sting on a trusting audience. There was way more structure and planning to that event than some kind of spontaneous caught up in the spirit thing.

    But this really isn’t the point. The point is that your satire was essentially dressing up the theory in absurd language making it way more complex than needs be and ignoring so many of the points that point to its plausibility. Again I say it’s not the most plausible theory on the BOM, but it’s a viable one.

  74. John Hamer says:

    Paul (74): Certainly not. I don’t for a second think we can say that Sidney was motivated more by power than by sincere belief. I think that inaccurate readings of his character have been left to us primarily because he has no living supporters (even the Bickertonites don’t really claim him). The vision is shared because Sidney has watched Joseph do it and for this experience has stepped into the shared role of medium/director. (In the future Sidney received revelations modeled on Joseph’s example all by himself, as did many other sincere Mormon believers.) Joseph had previously invited Oliver to do the same during the Book of Mormon translation process, but Oliver wasn’t willing to let go and say whatever inspired him. At the time, it likely seemed too much like making stuff up out of thin air, and so he failed. By the Kirtland era, Oliver had let go and was willing to participate in these shared visions.

  75. John Hamer says:

    Why did Sidney convert? By all the accounts, he’s one of the early believers who was converted by the Book of Mormon itself. As Sidney’s associate, Alexander Campbell, pointed out in a negative review, the Book of Mormon is filled with all the doctrinal questions that were troubling Americans in the 1820s.

    This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies — infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!! He prophesied of all these topics, and of the apostacy, and infallibly decided, by his authority, every question. How easy to prophecy of the past or of the present time!!

    Sidney saw the same answers, but his review was positive. These topics were personally felt issues with which Sidney was seriously, sincerely wrestling. Now he had a book that had new insights. Moreover, if its claims to divine origin could be established to Sidney’s satisfaction, it would also answer another pressing contemporary issue: authority. Were the deists right that the heavens were closed? This book claimed otherwise. I think Sidney’s conversion to the Book of Mormon is quite explainable.

    Then, as the most prominent convert, he naturally assumed a place next to Joseph at the church’s head — Joseph routinely immediately embraced and elevated talented (or wealthy) new friends. Sidney’s personal direct influence on Mormonism after that time probably cannot be overstressed (although it is always under-stressed). But there is no plausible evidence of any influence before that time.

  76. Mark Brown says:

    Paul Taylor,

    If you want to describe Mormon scriptures as seances and Mormon leaders as dupes and con men, there are about 10,000 places on the Internet where those views might be welcome, but BCC is not one of them. Please respect the guidelines of the blog.

  77. Paul Taylor says:

    (77) I’m sorry. I’ll be more respectful. I was responding to the challenge of creating a more plausible conspiracy theory. The very nature of a conspiracy theory implies duping and con-men, but I suppose I could have said it more respectfully. If it matters, I don’t believe the conning was done maliciously with a selfish or financial motive like some suggest. I believe it was a pious fraud with the most righteous of intentions.

  78. I believe it was a pious fraud with the most righteous of intentions.

    Oh, well that’s much better.

  79. Neal Kramer says:

    Let me add a tidbit.

    As I read American literature, I am regularly surprised by the common appearance of a staple of American type: the con-man.

    The con-man is charismatic, handsome, intelligent, lazy, clever, crafty, and a treasure-hunter. He is also a stereotype. His adventures when taken together add up to both the American dream and the fear it generates. He suggests that the dream is a con, a big one. It promises riches for every gold-rusher. It also promises that a sucker is born every minute.

    The con-man is someone to be feared and someone to be admired. He is Flem Snopes and Tom Sawyer.

    This narrative is as old as America itself. Trading beads for land with the Indians. Making treaties never to be kept.

    I submit that the anti-Mormon exploitation of the narrative of the con-man, exhibited with great facility by Hurlbut and Brodie in describing Joseph Smith, is what drives much doubt about the prophet and the Book of Mormon. It’s as American as apple pie.

    Just a thought . . .

  80. John Hamer says:

    Neal (80): Rolling up Fawn Brodie and Philastus Hurlbut together into a sloppy category of “anti-Mormon” isn’t particularly helpful. Brodie, of course, utterly rejected the Spaulding theory. Also, it should be noted that having approached the question in a non-devotional way, Brodie stands at the head of our present historiographical understanding that discounts the Spaulding theory. (This is the one question on which all historians who are practicing Mormons inevitably invoke Brodie.)

    Hurlbut was neither a historian nor a biographer; he was a guy who collected affidavits, looking specifically for negative witnesses. However, even in his case, we should be careful to note that his interviews in Palmyra (as opposed to Conneat), are extremely valuable for our understanding of Joseph Smith’s early life. Like everything, they need to be read for what they are. (In the same way that we have to read George A. Smith’s remarks about Thomas B. Marsh in their context).

    The “con-man,” like any archetype, is just an archetype. As far as I recall, Brodie does not invoke that archetype. Her account may not be sympathetic to a traditional LDS understanding of Joseph, but it remains a generally sympathetic account of him as a person, which gives her explanation of how a person (who had been a treasurer seeker) evolved into a religious leader — without falling back on reductionist tropes such as “it was all just a con.”

  81. Hi John,
    Invariably Fawn Brodie is invoked whenever Mormons or even Smith-authorship non-Mormons wish to dismiss what have come to be called the Spalding authorship claims, but in light of an ever increasing body of pro-Spalding evidence, those who continue to hide behind Brodie’s skirt are painting themselves into a corner. Spalding is being confirmed in new ways besides just the Conneaut witnesses and the other “typical proofs”. Everything from Rigdon indeed being in Pittsburgh at the same time as Spalding, as evidenced by multiple newspaper “mail waiting” lists, to articles in other newspapers, like the Hudson Ohio Observer, which independently uphold the testimony of the Conneaut witnesses, as the newspaper article came out months before Howe’s book, yet no witnesses ever made any comments that somehow they had words put into their mouths, or they were confused and didn’t know what they were saying, or any of the other nonsense that critics of Spalding offer. There was also the testimony of George Wilber, next-door neighbor of Sidney Rigdon, who saw Sidney and Joseph together in Bainbridge, Ohio in 1827 for an extended period of time. I’m enclosing the text of the Observer article in this post:

    The Ohio Observer, Hudson, Portage Co., OH
    Masthead of VIII:15 (12 June 1834) issue reads Ralph S Walker, proprietor;
    Bradstreet & Walker, editors; James Hull, printer.

    This issue contains an article called “Mormonism No.4” credited to “From the
    Junior Editor.” The article (image attached) contains an extremely important
    early, and independent, confirmation of the Conneaut witnesses, written by
    the paper’s junior editor who personally visited Conneaut and spoke with at
    least two, and probably more, of Spalding’s former neighbors. The junior
    editor of the Ohio Observer at the time was James Barr Walker, whose bio is
    given below.

    This article is especially important due to the fact that it was written
    after Hurlbut’s trial in April of 1834, and before the publication of Howe’s
    book in November of that year. This material provides a strong refutation of
    Matthew Roper’s (and FARMS’) contention that the Conneaut witnesses had been
    coached by Hurlbut, and that he had inaccurately reported their testimony.

    A trasncription of the article is as follows:

    NO. 4. [conclusion]

    I have gone somewhat into detail in relation to Mormonite miracles and
    gifts, for without these Mormonism is nothing. It is only by such peculiar
    manifestations that they suppose God is distinguishing the “Latter Day
    Saints” from ‘ the heathen that perish.’ I shall in this number make some
    allusion to the Mormon Book. The internal evidences of this production have
    been ably considered, I am informed, by Alexander Campbell, and have not
    long since been noticed in The Ohio Observer. I shall not perhaps allude to
    them, at length. The “Book of Mormon” — not called Bible by them — a
    copy-right of which is granted to Joseph Smith, Jr. as Author and
    proprietor, and which, in the language of the title page, is “an account
    written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi,”
    is said by them to have been found by Smith inscribed on golden plates, the
    place of the deposite being revealed to him by an angel. It is written in
    scripture language and contains copious extracts from the prophets and other
    sacred writings. It gives an account of the journeyings and voyage of a
    remnant of the Israelites to this Continent, and of their settlement, wars
    and political transactions for a long period afterwards. The Gospel is also
    found in it, written, as they say, in a ‘plainer and more intelligible style
    than by the Evangelists.’ It must be conceded, I think, the the scope and
    plan of the work and of the system built upon it, exhibit some evident marks
    of design and forethought, at the same time that there are many and clear
    manifestations of human contrivance.

    It may not be uninteresting to state a few things in relation to Smith, and
    glance at some of the circumstances which led him on to this imposture. All
    authentic accounts agree in these particulars: — that Smith was an
    ignorant, superstitious and dishonest member of society while at home. He
    has no reluctance in confessing his former ignorance — and says that he has
    been miraculously assisted in being able to read, having never learned at
    school. In this, however, he is contradicted by the sworn testimony of his
    former instructor. That he is still superstitious, is shown by his keeping a
    horse-shoe nailed to the lintel of his door, until quite recently at least
    — and by other conduct equally absurd. He was in the habit of telling
    people’s fortunes, digging for money, and telling persons where treasures
    were hid. He is accused of such disgraceful acts as robbing his neighbors’
    hen-roosts, and other petty acts of theft. But the testimony in regard to
    such points will be found in the publication alluded to in my first number.
    One incident I will mention, which serves both to show the superstition of
    his family, and how much he had to encourage him in the bold measures which
    he has since adopted. When 15 or 16 years old, he returned one day from the
    field with some shining sand, done up in his working frock. He told the
    family as he passed through the room, that he had found the golden Bible;
    referring to a story then in circulation, that such a Bible had been found
    in Canada. The family, then at supper, were anxious to see it; but he told
    them that he had a commandment forbidding it — and that no one could see
    the golden Bible and live; and immediately locked up the sand in his chest.
    After supper he brought it out, for the purpose of showing how he had
    ‘fooled’ them. But all ran out of the house in great fright, fearing the
    consequences of seeing the Bible. The next day or two he called on a
    mechanic, told him how he had deceived his kinsmen, and requested him to
    make a box for the sand — adding, that ‘he meant to see what d____d fools
    he could make of the folks,’ The plan got out, and nothing was done. But it
    seems that from this time he was satisfied what kind of materials he had to
    work upon in the community arround him; and not long after he indeed, as he
    said, found the bible, or the golden plates. His pretence passed off well —
    and after raising expectations, he must of course bring something to pass.

    To gain time for inventing some scheme, he pretended that he was prevented
    from getting hold of the plates by Divine interposirion. In this time
    accomplices were found, who would help him on his project. The offspring of
    their secret consultations, was the Book of Mormon.

    A short digression will here be necessary for tracing out more particularly
    the true origin of this book. — Some years ago there was a clergyman by the
    name of Solomon Spaulding, in the township of Salem in the North-Eastern
    part of this State, who wrote much, for his own diversion, about the origin
    of the Aborigines of this country — he believed them to be the Ten Tribes
    — adopting fictitious names, and giving his writings the shape of a
    history. A short time previous to his death, being in straitened
    circumstances, he determined to have his manuscripts published, and took
    them to Pittsburgh for that purpose, where he died. The manuscripts fell
    into the hands of his relatives, it is supposed, some of whom live near
    Palmyra, Smith’s former residence. Though this cannot now be obtained, there
    are several persons in Salem, now Conneaut, who have seen it, and recollect
    distinctly the character of the fiction. They were intimate with Mr.
    Spalding, and used frequently to converse familiarly about his story, and to
    read it, or hear it read to them. One man with whom I conversed, said he
    recollected the names of the characters and places, and that in general they
    remained the same in the Book of Mormon, as in the manuscript of Spaulding.
    He feels not the least hesitation in testifying to this, and to the identity
    of the works so far as relates to the narrative, or historical part. Indeed
    the resemblance is so striking, that it was detected the first evening the
    Mormonites preached in that place, merely from the passages read in the Book
    during service. There is all the certainty on the subject, in the minds of
    those who have seen the manuscript, that could be felt in any case, unless
    the two books could be laid side by side and compared. One man especially,
    by the name of Miller, who worked for Mr. Spalding several weeks, perhaps
    months, states that the manuscript lay on a shelf in the room where he
    slept, and that he spent many of his leisure hours in reading it, so long as
    he worked at the house.

    These particulars will be stated at length, and in the form of written
    testimony over responsible names, in the work to which I have already
    referred [i.e. Howe’s forthcoming book], which it is not doubted will
    contain a full exposure of this gross imposture.

    BIOGRAPHY OF James Barr Walker

    WALKER, James Barr, clergyman, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 29 July,
    1805; died in Wheaten, Illinois, 6 March, 1887. His father died when the son
    was a child, and he and his widowed mother resided near Pittsburg, where
    James worked in a factory, was errand-boy in a country store, and then
    labored four years in a printing-office. At the age of twenty he walked to
    New York, where he became clerk in the office of Mordecai M. Noah, and he
    was afterward a teacher in New Durham, New Jersey He then studied law in
    Ravenna, Ohio, was graduated at Western Reserve college in 1831, and then
    edited successively the “Ohio Observer” at Hudson, the ” Watchman of the
    Valley” at Cincinnati, and the “Watchman of the Prairies” at Chicago (now
    the “Advance “)–all religious newspapers. He also engaged in the
    publication and sale of books, but abandoned it for the ministry, and in
    1841 was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Chicago. He then resided in
    Mansfield, Ohio, where he established a private asylum for orphans, and he
    was for some time acting pastor of a church in Sandusky. He was lecturer on
    the harmony between science and revealed religion at Oberlin college and
    Chicago theological seminary. Western Reserve college gave him the degree of
    D.D. Dr. Walker was the author of “The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation,”
    published anonymously under the editorship of Professor Calvin E. Stowe
    (Boston, 1855), which went through several editions in England, and has been
    translated into five foreign languages, including Hindustanee; “God revealed
    in Nature and in Christ,” in opposition to theories of development (1855);
    “Philosophy of Scepticism and Ultraism” (1857) ; “Philosophy of the Divine
    Operation in the Redemption of Man” (London, 1862); “Poems” (1862) ; “Living
    Questions of the Age” (Chicago, 1869); and “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit”

    Among J.B. Walker’s other works is: Walker, James Barr, Experiences of
    Pioneer Life in the Early Settlements and Cities of the West, (Chicago:
    Sumner & Co, 1881). Subj: History of the Ohio River Valley. I examined this
    volume at Heinz History Center on 07-0502. P.50 mentions Walker was
    apprenticed to Eichbaum & Johnston in Pittsburgh from aprox. 1820-26.
    Unfortunately, the only mention of Mormonism is pp.99-105, and this is
    mostly anout Eliza Snow, whom Walker had known and with whom he had
    exchanged poetry prior to her having become a Mormon. I copied pp.99-105,
    but not p.50.

    Apparently the Ralph S. Walker named as editor on the newspaper’s masthead,
    was James Barr Walker’s cousin. The Bradstreet involved was Stephen Ingram
    Bradstreet (1794-1837), who was a close associate of Cleveland printer Ziba
    Willes. Willes (or Willis, 1795-1830) was E.D. Howe’s partner in the
    founding of the Cleaveland Herald in 1819. When Howe went to Painesville to
    start the Telegraph in 1821, he sold his interest in the Herald to Willes,
    who continued to edit it until 1826 when he “withdrew,” either due to
    illness or to his anti-Masonic sympathies, and turned the paper over to
    Jewett Paine (or Prime). Paine, in turn, was succeeded, in 1828, by John R.
    St. John who remained until 1832. Bradstreet’s close friend, John W. Willey,
    was the first mayor of Cleveland. Willey’s sister, Fanny, was married to
    Luther Willes (1789-1833), brother of Ziba Willes and also a printer and
    partner in the same establishment. It was probably through the Willey-Willes
    connection that Bradstreet and the Walkers came to know Eber Howe.

  82. #81: I believe Bordie felt Joseph Smith wrote the BoM (?) A “ a pious fraud “, comes from Dan Vogel. Joseph Smith’s life ,” schizophrenic” from Jan Shipp. A “Rough Stone”, from Bushman. “No man knows my history”, from Smith himself.
    I don’t believe any of these statements counts as anti-Mormon.

  83. John Hamer says:

    Art (82): It’s clearly not invariable, because I didn’t bring up Brodie at all. Neal brought up Fawn Brodie. (And before him: Ben, Alan H, and Bob.) I only responded to Neal’s characterization of Brodie, and that was only because I disagreed for the reasons I mentioned to him.

    As I suggest in my satirical essay, I don’t think Rigdon and Spaulding being in the same vicinity in Pittsburgh is meaningful. There are all sorts of coincidences in history. Just because that opportunity existed, we are still required to imagine motives for Rigdon to choose Joseph Smith to publish his purloined text, we must theorize secret meetings between them, and we must imagine at least two additional co-conspirators in Cowdery and Pratt. Why not just imagine a secret trip of Joseph Smith to Pittsburgh, cutting the irrelevant Ridgon out of the loop and eliminating the need for Pratt? It’s just as possible (and equally unlikely) as imagining secret trips of Rigdon to Palmyra or Joseph to Bainbridge, Ohio.

    I’m not suggesting that Hurlbut created the Spaulding theory. He was apparently hunting it down, having heard rumors. However, the Conneaut testimony all occurs after the witnesses have been exposed to the Book of Mormon. Do you have any writings from any of the witnesses mentioning the names “Nephi” and “Lehi” that can be dated before the publication of the Book of Mormon?

    PS: Let’s not paste in long texts. I’m happy to engage in personal dialogue and I’m sure you’re quite capable of summarizing your points and evidence.

  84. Wade Englund says:

    Earlier in post #82, Art Vanick had said: “Spalding is being confirmed in new ways besides just the Conneaut witnesses and the other ‘typical proofs’….There was also the testimony of George Wilber, next-door neighbor of Sidney Rigdon, who saw Sidney and Joseph together in Bainbridge, Ohio in 1827 for an extended period of time.”

    I had not heard of the so-called “testimony” of George Wilbur prior to now, and so I thought I would investigate it further. The testimony apparently comes to us secondhand (via a C.E. Henry), and about 60 years after the event in question. My research uncovered several fatal flaws–Rigdon was 100+ miles away from where Wilber claimed he was, and Joseph Smith was nearly 480 miles away. See for yourself:

    1. For Wilber’s testimony, see here:

    2. Compare it against the Rigdon Timeline (used by Vanick et. al. in their “Spalding Enigma”) and Smith timeline here:

    For a critical analysis of other Spalding witnesses, please see here:

    And here:

    And here:

    Thanks, -Wade Englund-

  85. All of the speculation and fanciful narratives that his contemporaries created about Joseph Smith don’t answer the basic question: Anyone who had a creative imagination and an ambition to become powerful and wealthy on the American frontier could do so within the established structure of Protestant churches and politics. Joseph’s claims put him into a constant headwind against the entire religious establishment of his day, while he could have had their support if he had used his gifts to echo the conventional wisdom. He could have had popularity, power and wealth without ever leaving western New York if he had pursued a religious career along conventional lines.

    In light of all of the details we know from his own correspondence and the records left by those who knew him intimately, I frankly don’t see how a credible case can be made that Joseph was anything less than totally sincere in his actions.

    The second stream of evidence is the nature of the teachings he produced, which offer a coherent view of Christianity as a religion that was held among the earlier pre-Christian patriarchs and prophets and a strong message of love and self-sacrifice, the best exemplar of which was Joseph himself. Beauty and grandeur come out of those writings, which surely reflect the character of the man who produced them.

    The presidential campaign of 2008 demonstrates how strong the motive is for people to attack someone who is perceived as being “too good to be true”. Unwillingness to accept Joseph Smith as genuine stems from that same cynicism and the suspicion that someone with an attractive message and character is surely deceiving us. It is a skepticism that is aimed at all Mormons generally, and which feeds off any story about a Mormon with feet of clay. It accounts for the popularity of accounts like “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “Mormonism Unveiled.”

    Only those who are willing to suspend their cynicism can be bothered to look over the evidence that believers in the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon have gathered, that shows it has uncanny knowledge about mundane things like sacred records on metal plates, Hebrew literary forms, Egyptian personal names, olive culture, the nature of supervolcanoes, and the geography of Arabia that neither Smith, nor Rigdon, nor Spaulding could have known–all things which Smith and his fellow advocates of the book ever seemed to have noticed, and which their adversaries noted, if at all, as points of absurd deviation from the conventional wisdom of 1830. The cynics seldom seem to reach the point of noticing these things, let alone explaining how they got into the book.

  86. Steve Evans says:

    I think we’d better release you from the High Council.

  87. Wonderful satire that points up numerous points of inconsistency in the “Spalding-Rigdon” hypothesis for Book of Mormon authorship. At the same time, I am not so confident as many of my fellow hearty laughers that the matter is entirely settled in favor of their position. The reason the SR hypothesis is attractive to those who do not believe in the BoM’s divine origins is that it is remarkably sophisticated (in some ways and not others) for a young man who showed little evidence of precocious, if rough-hewn, ability before. Furthermore, the idea of relying on Brodie or Vogel for a definitive evisceration of the SR hypothesis is almost as funny as the satire. As an ardent student of Mormon history who associates a little with Mormon historians of much greater merit than myself, I am constantly struck by the amount of things left to discover and work through. Given this state of things, I am not so eager to join the mockers. I may not believe the SR hypothesis, but an eagerness to lampoon those who pursue it strikes me as odd. If anything, the work they are doing will ultimately be useful for decisively disconfirming it (as I think shall happen), but declaring victory now with such lusty derision? I won’t join you there.

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