Early Mormonism Collection 2

"The Origin of Mormonism"
Connecticut Palladium (New Haven) Sept. 3, 1877
(Reprinted from a late August issue of the Springfield Republican)

The Origin of Mormonism
[Springfield Republican.]

Remarkable local testimony has been discovered by the Republican sustaining the charge that the religion of Joe Smith and Brigham Young had its origin in a romance written by Rev. Solomon Spaulding of Ohio of half a century or more ago. the story is furnished by Mr. J. A. McKinstry of Longmeadow, a son of the late Dr. McKinstry of Monson, and grandson of Rev. Mr. Spaulding. Mr. McKinstry is employed in the Main street store of Newsdealer Brace. Rev. Mr. Spaulding's widow, who afterward became Mrs. Davison, came east from Ohio to live with her daughter at Monson many years ago, bringing the manuscript of his romance with her. She died some twenty-five years ago, but before her death a plausible young man from Boston came to Monson to see and get the Spaulding writing. It was a time of considerable excitement concerning the Mormons, and he claimed to represent some Christian people who wanted to expose Mormonism, He therefore begged the loan of the manuscript for publication. Much against the wishes of Mrs. Dr. McKinstry, Mrs. Davison consented to let her husband's unpublished romance go. Nothing was ever heard from it again, and the family have always considered that the bland young gentleman was an agent of Brigham Young's to destroy the convicting evidence that Joe Smith's Mormon Bible was of earthly origin. 

The story of how Rev. Mr. Spaulding came to prepare his romance, which Mr. McKinstry remembers as a child to have seen, is fresh and interesting. He was out of the active ministry in Ohio -- the name of the place Mr. McKinstry does not recollect, but it was near Palmyra, we believe -- running a small iron foundry, and being a man of literary tastes, employed his leisure moments in weaving a romance. It was a time when the work of the mound-builders was creating wild interest, the implements of cookery and war being unearthed showing the existence of a forgotten race. This furnished the inspiration for the chronicles of the story-writer. He entitled his production "Manuscript Found," the idea being that the romance woven by the ex-preacher was dug up out of one of the mounds in the region. It was a history of ancient America, not all written at once, but as leisure spells and the fancy fell to him Mr. Spaulding would add to it. His writing was no secret in the neighborhood. In that then frontier region, with few opportunities for literary enjoyment. Rev. Mr. Spaulding was prevailed upon to read his production to his neighbors as it progressed.   It was written in Bible phraseology, and made as quaintly olden as possible, so as to carry out the conceit of its alleged mound origin. Among the attentive listeners at these readings were Joe Smith and Sidney Rigdon, the same who founded Mormonism. Not only did Smith hear the manuscript read, but on one occasion, as Mrs. Davison frequently testified before her death, he borrowed it for a week or so, giving as a reason that he wanted to read it to his family, who had been unable to attend on Mr. Spaulding's readings. Not long afterward it will be remembered, Smith claimed that an angel had revealed to him the existence of a buried history of aboriginal America, the plates of which it is alleged were dug up, and the book of Mormon made as a translation of their inscriptions. the widow of Mr. Spaulding and her daughter, Mrs. Dr. McKinstry of Monson, compared the Smith Bible with the parson's romance, and they were essentially the same. The similarity was so overwhelming as to leave no doubt that Smith copied in full Rev. Mr. Spaulding's writing, and made out of it bodily his divine "revelation."  

The character of the minister's romance was such, and his elaboration of it so thorough, as to strike the fancy of Smith, who was given to the mysterious. His family had been noted for divination, treasure-seeking, etc., and so Joe found Mr. Spaulding's work just in his line. That the results of his appropriation of it have been so stupendous was always a great cross to Mr. Spaulding's good widow, Mrs. Davison. She mourned that, even innocently, her husband should have been the means of foisting upon the world so great an evil. This was the real reason of her willingness to allow the manuscript to be taken to Boston for publication. It is to be regretted that her family have not better preserved Mrs. Davison's recollections of her husband's writing, now forever lost to the world. Enough has been handed down, however, to establish beyond doubt the truth of the claim that here was a source of Joe Smith's "inspiration." Mrs. Davison's story has long been familiar to leading en of Monson, and so impressed was the late Rev. Dr. Ely with it that he prepared a considerable account of it years ago.


Comments:   This article is based upon an interview conducted with the son of Spalding's adopted daughter, Matilda. It was published while Matilda McKinstry was still alive and when John was about 50 years old. The article writer gives the impression that some Spalding writings were taken from Spalding's widow in Massachusetts sometime not long before her death in 1844, possibly by a Mormon "agent" visiting her from Boston and acting for President of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young. The "plausible young man from Boston" who "claimed to represent some Christian people" was quite likely exactly the Mormon "agent" that the widow later suspected him to be. But it is doubtful that this "bland young gentleman" left the McKinstry home with any substantial amount of Spalding's old writings.

The reported story is obviously a confused conflation of memories concerning the 1833 visit of ex-Mormon Elder D.P. Hurlbut and the late 1839 visit of Mormon missionary Jesse Haven. Although Brigham Young was Haven's ultimate ecclesiastical superior in the New York and New England region at the time, it is more likely that the freshly-minted LDS missionary visited Spalding's widow on orders from Parley P. Pratt (then in New York City). It is quite possible that young Elder Haven did not identify himself as being a Mormon and, instead, merely stated that he represented "some Christian people" who wished to learn more about the Spalding authorship claims for the Book of Mormon.  

The article originally appeared in the Springfield Republican and it seems that it was a reporter from that paper who garbled various information taken from John A. McKinstry. The writer's suggestion that Spalding's widow insisted near the end of her life that Joseph Smith, Jr. had once borrowed a Spalding manuscript from her appears to be entirely mistaken -- though the former Mrs. Spalding might have said almost anything to her family in the final months of her presumed old-age senility.

The fact that John A. McKinstry was better informed upon past events in the Spalding family (than the above article appears to indicate, at least) can be demonstrated by a reading of John's Sept. 2 1879 letter to James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City. Reproduced below is the report of yet another interview with John A. McKinstry. This subsequent newspaper article was probably clipped from an early August 1889 issue of the Springfield Republican (uncited clipping in the Dale R. Broadhurst Papers, Marriott Library, Salt Lake City).

July 28, 1889
Longmeadow, Mass.

Copy of Conversation with Dr. McKinstry

Charles R. Bliss

This afternoon I had a conversation with Dr. J. A. McKinstry of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. He is the grandson of Rev. Solomon Spaulding, the reputed author of the Mormon Bible. He told me he had heard frequent conversations of his mother and of her mother -- Mrs. Spaulding -- concerning the manuscript from which the Mormon Bible is believed to have been produced. His declaration is as follows: viz., that they had frequently told him that they had compared the manuscript in question with the Mormon Bible, and found them to be in all essential respects one in the same. The grandmother said that she used to hear the manuscript read by Mr. Spaulding, and that the words "Nephi," "Lehi," "Mormon" and many others were invented by him; that the history in its main body was found by her, on reading the Mormon Bible, to be identical with the manuscript. She was much disturbed to find that a manuscript written by her husband was so used. It was impossible for his mother, on comparing the [Mormon] Bible and the manuscript, to reach any other conclusion than that the Bible was taken from the manuscript.  

His mother affirmed that her father, on reading this manuscript from time to time to his neighbors, was advised by them to have it published; and he carried it to a printer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with that purpose in view. One of the employees in that office was Sidney Rigdon, Smith's companion and follower. After some time Mrs. Spaulding obtained the manuscript again; and it was put, with other fragmentary manuscripts, in a trunk belonging to the family.  Some years after the Mormon Bible appeared the widow of Solomon Spaulding -- Dr. McKinstry's grandmother -- was called upon by a man named Hurlbut, with recommendations by responsible persons saying that he was employed by a man who was preparing an expose of Mormonism to collect facts for him, and asked her to give him an order to take the manuscript for the purpose of examination. The lady, wishing to do all she could to repair the evil of the manuscript, gave him the order; and he obtained possession of not only that manuscript but of others in the trunk.

The manuscript was never again seen by its [owners.]

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revision 0a (12-31-99)