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Alfred H. Guernsey
"Solomon Spalding & Joseph Smith

Library Magazine, VI, July-Dec. 1885

  • 444  Book of Mormon
  • 445  Manuscript Found
  • 446  Oberlin Manuscript

  • Transcriber's Comments  

  • See also 1885 RLDS edition of Oberlin Spalding manuccript


    444                           SOLOMON SPALDING AND JOSEPH SMITH.                          

    (top part of page not transcribed)



    IN 1830 Joseph Smith put forth a work which he entitled The Book of Mormon. He averred that this was a transcript, rendered into English by him, under divine guidance, of certain golden plates buried in Central New York, the existence of which had been supernaturally revealed to him, together with an optical apparatus, The Urim and Thummim, by means of which he was enabled to decipher the record inscribed upon the plates. This Book of Mormon professes to give, among other things, an account of the settlement in the American continent of a band of Hebrews, who left Judea in the time of King Zedekiah, in about the year 600 B.C. The record is carried down to about 400 A.D., when a great battle took place, on the "hill Cumorah" in Western New York, where 230,000 people were slain. Among the few survivors was one Moroni, who compiled the records, which he wrote out, about 420 A.D. on golden plates which he buried in the earth, where they remained hidden until their recovery by Joseph Smith in 1827, when they mysteriously disappeared after their transcription by Smith.

    Three persons, named Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris made a formal affidavit, in which they said: "We declare with words of soberness that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon." These "three witnesses," however, in the course of time, quarreled with Smith, and declared that this testimony of theirs was altogether false

    Martin Harris, it appears, was a substantial farmer, who furnished the money required for printing The Book of Mormon. While the work was in progress Harris came to New York, and showed to the learned Professor


                              SOLOMON SPALDING AND JOSEPH SMITH.                           445

    Charles Anthon, of Columbia College, a sheet of paper which was represented to be a copy made by Smith, of the characters inscribed on one of these golden plates. Somehow it came to be reported that Professor Anthon had pronounced these characters to be "Egyptian hieroglyphics." Professor Anthon set this statement to right in a published letter bearing date February 17, 1834, in which he says:

    "It was, in fact, a singular scroll. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters, disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters, inverted or placed sidewise, were arranged and placed in perpendicular columns and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle, divided various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican calendar as given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived."

    It was soon asserted that this Book of Mormon was in substance merely a reproduction of a hitherto unpublished manuscript, written by a certain SOLOMON SPALDING. Spalding was born at Ashford, Conn., in 1761, graduated at Dartmouth College in 1785, was ordained, and preached for three or four years. Relinquishing the ministry, he engaged without much success in mercantile pursuits in Cherry Valley, N. Y., Conneaut, Ohio, and finally Pittsburg, Penn., removing to Amity, Penn., where he died in 1816, He wrote several works of fiction, for which he could find no publisher, but was wont to read the manuscripts to his friends. Among them was one, written about 1810, which he entitled The Manuscript Found, which purported to give an account of the settlement of America by Hebrew wanderers. This manuscript was in 1812 placed in the hands of a printer at Pittsburg with a view to publication, and the speedy issue of the work was publicly advertised. But the plan was not carried out, and the manuscript was returned to the author, and remained in the possession of his widow until some time after the publication of the Book of Mormon, in 1830.

    Thus far the facts in the case seem to be clearly established. But it is further stated that in the employment of this Pittsburg printer as a young man named Sidney Rigdon (born 1793, died in 1876), who became prominent in the early history of Mormonism. Rigdon, it is said, surreptitiously copied Spalding's Manuscript Found before it was returned to the author. Some years later he set himself up as the founder of a new religious sect, and finally fell in with Joseph Smith; and between them was concocted the scheme which resulted in the foundation of Mormonism.

    Be these averments true or false, it is certain that when the Book of Mormon came to be published, the widow of Spalding, and others who had heard him read The Manuscript Found, thought that they recognized its essential feature in the Book of Mormon. Mrs. Spalding, according to her statement, published in the Boston Journal [sic] of May 18, 1839, sent her deceased husband's manuscript to Conneaut, Ohio, where a public meeting was to be held, composed in part of persons who remembered Spalding's work, in order that his veritable manuscript might be collated with the Book of Mormon which had then been printed. Mrs. Spalding says.

    "I am sure that nothing would grieve my husband more, were he living, than the use which has been made of his work. The air of antiquity which was thrown about the composition doubtless suggested the idea of converting it to the purposes of delusion. Thus a historical romance, with the addition of a few pious expressions, and extracts from the Sacred Scriptures, has been palmed off upon a company of poor deluded fanatics as divine."

    We do not find any statement of the precise date when Spalding's manuscript was sent to Conneaut, only it must have been earlier than the Spring of 1839. We do not learn that any collation was ever made of the Manuscript Found with The Book of Mormon; and whatever of similarity there was between the two productions has rested until this present year wholly upon the recollection of the few who had known something of the manuscript perhaps a score of years before the publication of the Book of Mormon. Mrs. Spalding must have been past threescore when about 1838 she sent the manuscript to Conneaut. What became of it thereafter remained wholly unknown until within a few months, when it has apparently turned up in about the last place where it would have been likely to have been looked for -- in Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Island[s]. The Rev. Sereno E. Bishop, in the New York Independent of September 10, I885, writing from Honolulu, says:

    "It is my privilege to announce that this long-lost and noted document has lately been discovered to be in existence here in Honolulu. About five years ago, the Hon. L. L. Rice, of Oberlin, Ohio, came hither to make his home with his only daughter. Last July, i.e., 1884, it occurred to the venerable gentleman to make some examination of a box of old papers, which had accumulated during twenty-five or thirty years of his life as a newspaper editor and publisher in Cleveland and other places in North-eastern Ohio. Among these was a small package, wrapped in strong buff paper, tied with stout twine, and plainly marked on the outside in pencil, in Mr. Rice's own handwriting, Manuscript Story Conneaut. The exterior of the package was familiar to its owner, but he had never inspected the contents. He now did so. It disclosed an old manuscript book of some 200 closely-written pages, carefully sewn in book form, about seven inches by six. It is brown with age. The first twenty leaves have been much handled, and, in consequence, somewhat gnawed and damaged by insects, without great injury to the writing. A few fly-leaves remain attached to the end of the book, on the last of which, in a rough


    446                          SOLOMON SPALDING AND JOSEPH SMITH.                          

    hand, is inscribed as follows: 'The Writings of Sollomon Spalding Proved by Aron Wright, Oliver Smith, John N. Miller and others. The testimonies of the above Gentlemen are now in my possession. -- D. P. HURLBUT.'"

    Mr. Bishop goes on to say:

    "Mr. Rice is wholly unable to remember how or when this package came into his possession. He has no knowledge of any of the persons above named. Some forty years ago, Mr. Rice was editor of the Painesville Telegraph, about thirty miles from Conneaut, the residence of the Rev. Solomon Spalding, then deceased. He conjectures that it must have been put into his hands at that period for perusal, perhaps, for publication. Since then Mr. Rice resided for twenty-seven years at Colmnbus, where he was at one time private secretary to Governor Chase, and for the last twelve years of his residence there supervisor of public printing. He personally knew Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, at Kirtland, their first location in the same county as Painesville."

    It is clear that this manuscript (supposing it to be genuine) must have come into the hands of Mr. Rice not later than about 1838, when Spalding's Manuscript Found was certainly sent by the widow of the author to Conneaut. Mr. Bishop had not at the date of his writing to the Independent carefully read the entire manuscript. But he had at least looked through it sufficiently to enable him to say:

    "Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Spalding manuscript is not sham Hebraistic, but in ordinary English. It contains, perhaps, no quotations from the Bible, unlike the other, which transfers large portions of Isaiah and other books. Both devise a number of uncouth names for their characters, both record a series of desperate wars, both narrate a voyage across the Atlantic in ancient times, and a settlement in North America. What other resemblances exist, I am not prepared to state."

    Mr. Bishop copies out some 7 out of the 200 closely-written pages of this manuscript. This transcript, he says, "is given Verbatim et punctuatim. The [ . . . ] indicate where the manuscript is eaten away." First comes an "Introduction " which occupies about five pages of the manuscript, as follows:


    "Near the west Bank of the Conneaught River there are the remains of an ancient fort. As I was walking and forming various conjectures respecting the character, situation and number of those people who far exceeded the present race of Indians in works of art and imagination I hapned to tread on a flat stone. This was at a small distance from the fort, & it lay on the top of a small mound of earth exactly horizontal. The face of it had a singular appearance. I discovered a number of characters which appeared to me to be letters -- but so much effaced by the ravages of time that I could not read the inscription. With the assistance of a leaver I raised the stone -- But you may easily conjecture my astonishment when I discovered that its ends & sides rested on stones, & that it was designed as a cover to an artificial cave. I found . . . examining that its sides were lined with . . . built in a connical form with . . down -- and that it was about eight feet deep. Determined to investigate. . . design of this extraordinary work of antiquity -- I prepared myself with necessary requisites for that purpose & descended to the Bottom of the Cave. Observing one side to be perpendicular nearly three feet from the bottom, I began to inspect that part with accuracy. Here I noticed a big flat stone fixed in the form of a door. I immediately tore it down & so a cavity within the wall presented itself -- it being about three feet in diameter from side to side & about two feet high. Within this cavity I found an earthan Box with a cover which shut it perfectly tite. The Box was two feet in length -- one & half in breadth one & three inches in diameter. My mind filled with awful sensations which crowded fast upon me would hardly permit my hands to move this venerable deposit, but curiosity soon gained the ascendency, & the box was taken & raised to open . . . When I had removed the cover I f . . . that it contained twenty eig . . . of parchment. & that when . . . appeared to be manuscript written in eligant hand with Roman Letters and in the Latin Language.

    "They were written on a variety of Subjects. And the Roll which principally attracted my attention contained a history of the author's life in that part of America which extends along the great Lakes and the waters of the Missisippy.

    "Extracts of the most interesting & important matter contind in this Roll I take the liberty to publish --

    "To publish a translation of every particular circumstance mentioned by our author would produce a volume too expensive for the general class of readers. But should this attempt to throw off the vail which has secluded our view from the transactions of nations who for ages have been extinct, meet the approbation of the public, I shall then be happy to gratify the more inquisitive and learned part of my readers by a more minute publication. Apprehensive that sceptical, illiberal or superstitious minds may cen . . . re this perfarmance with great aurimo . . . I have only to remark that they will b . . . ved of a great fund of entertainment . . . of controry dispositions will obtain. My compassion will be excited more than my resentment, and there the contest will end.

    "Now Gentle Reader the Translator who wishes well to thy present & thy future existence entreats thee to peruse this volume with a clear head a pure heart & a candid mind -- If thou shalt then find that thy head & thy heart are both improved it will afford him more satisfaction that the approbation of ten thousand who have received no benefit."

    Following this Introduction comes Chapter I., occupying a couple of pages of the manuscript

    "CHAPT. I.


    "As it is possible that in some future age this part of the earth will be inhabited by Europians & a history of its present inhabitants would be a valuable acquisttion I pro . . . to write one & deposit it in a box secured . . . so that the ravages of time will have no effect upon it. That you may know the Author I will give a succinct account of his life and the cause of his arival -- which I have extracted from a manuscript which will be deposited with this history.

    "The family name I sustain is Fabius, being descended from the illustrious general of that name -- I was born at Rome, and received my education under the tuition of a very learned Master -- At the time that Constantine had arived at that city & had overcome his enemies, & was firmly seated on the throne of the Roman Empire, I was introduced to him as a young Gentleman of genius & learning, and as being worthy of the favorable notice of his imperial majesty --He gave


                              SOLOMON SPALDING AND JOSEPH SMITH.                           447

    me the appointment of one of his secritaries, & such were the gracious intimations which he frequently gave me of his high approbation of my conduct that I was happy in my station.

    "One day he says to me -- Fabius you must go to Brittain, & carry an import . . . to the General of our army there . . . sail in a vessel and return when she returns. Preparation was made instantly and we sailed. The vessel laden with provisions for the army -- cloathing, knives and other impliments for their use had now arived near the coasts of Britain when a tremendous storm arose and drove us into the midst of the boundless Ocean. Soon the whole crew became lost & bewildered."

    Mr. Bishop thus concludes his letter:

    "The foregoing will suffice as a sample of the book. The party reach America, and settle there, removing, after two years, to the Ohio region. Long accounts of the inhabitants and their wars are given, which I have not closely examined. The book having already achieved such note, partly, perhaps, on the principle omne ignotum pro mirifico, further inquiry into its contents may be in order, which its venerable possessor has not been disinclined to gratify. Whatever result may be arrived at as to its supposed connection with the Book of Mormon, it furnishes at least a unique piece of literary history."

    It is certainly to be desired that this long-lost Manuscript Found should be given to the world in full. The Book of Mormon is easily accessible. When we have a full transcript of The Manuscript Found we shall be able to decide how much or how little Joseph Smith borrowed -- or stole -- from Solomon Spalding Quite likely the matter was not worth the stealing. -- ALFRED H. GUERNSEY.



    (under construction


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