Mormon History

History of Mormonism to Date - 1836

The Ohio Respository September 1, 1836

By a Correspondent of the
N. Y. Commercial Advertiser.

It appears that Mormonism owes its origin to an individual named Solomon Spalding, who wrote the historical part of the Book of Mormon, or, as it is sometimes called, the Mormon Bible. But it was done more than twenty years ago, and without the least intention, on the part of the author, of framing a system of delusion for his fellow men. This Solomon Spalding was a native of Ashford, Connecticut, where he was distinguished at an early age, for his devotion to study, and for the superiority of his success over that of his schoolmates. At a proper age, he received an academic education at Plainfield, and afterward commenced the study of law at Windham. But his mind becoming inclined to religious subjects, he abandoned the study of law, and went to Dartmouth College for the purpose of preparing himself for the ministry. After receiving the degree of A. M., he was regularly ordained, and continued in the ministry for about three years; but for some reason not known, he abandoned that profession and established himself as a merchant at Cherry [Valley], in the State of New York. Failing in trade, he removed to Conneaut, in the State of Ohio, where he built a forge; but again failed, and was reduced to great poverty. While in this condition he endeavored to turn his education to account by writing a book, the sale of which he hoped would enable him to pay his debts and support his family.

The subject selected for this purpose was one well suited to his religious education. The work was to be a historical novel, containing a history of the Aborigines of America, who, according to the notion of those who refer all questions of history, science, and morals to the scriptures, were supposed to be descended from the Jews.

The title adopted was 'The Manuscript Found,' and the history commenced with one Lehi, who lived in the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judea, six hundred years before the Christian era. Lehi being warned by God of the dreadful calamities that were impending over Jerusalem, abandoned his possessions, and fled with his family to the wilderness. After wandering about the desert for a considerable time, they arrived upon the border of the Red Sea, and embarked on board a vessel. In this they floated about a long time on the ocean, but at last reached America, and landed upon the shores of Darien. From the different branches of this family were made to spring the various aboriginal nations of this continent. From time to time they rose to high degrees of civilization; but desolating wars arose in turn, by which nations were overthrown, and reduced again to barbarism. In this the condition of the Indians, at the time of Columbus's discovery, was accounted for; and the ancient mounds, fortifications, temples, and other vestiges of former civilization, found in North and South America, were explained. The governments of these nations were represented as theocratic, like that of the Jews, from whom they descended, and their national transactions were consequently regulated by their prophets & priests who received their commands directly from the Deity. In order, therefore, that the style of the romance might be suited to the subject, and to the popular notions of the people, the author of The Manuscript Found adopted that of the Bible -- the old English style of James the First.

When the work was ready for the press, Spalding endeavored to get the pecuniary assistance necessary for its publication, but his affairs were in so low a condition that he could not succeed. -- He then removed to Pittsburgh, and afterward to Amity, Pennsylvania, where he died. -- The widow of Spalding, states, that while at Pittsburg, she believes the manuscript was carried to the printing house of Patterson and Lambdin; but how it afterwards fell into the hands of Joseph Smith, junior, by whom the Golden Bible was published, cannot be positively proved. Circumstances, however, have been traced, sufficiently strong to convince any one, that this occurred through the agency of one Sidney Rigdon, who was one of the first preachers of Mormon faith. The manner, however, in which this occurred is of little importance. It has been positively proved, since the Mormon Bible began to attract attention, that the historical part, which is the frame work of the whole scheme, is the same as that contained in The Manuscript Found of Solomon Spalding. Among the many respectable witnesses who have certified to this fact, are a brother, and also a sister-in-law of the author.

The next principal character in the humbug of Mormonism, is Joseph Smith, junior, the great High Priest, Prophet and Founder of the religion. -- Joseph Smith, the Father of the prophet, emigrated from Royalton in Vermont, with his family, about the year 1820, and settled in Manchester, in the State of New York. Young Joseph was at this time sixteen years of age. The family appears to be very little respected by its neighbors, and remarkable for being lazy, ignorant & superstitious. They believe firmly in the appearance of ghosts, the power of witches, and telling of fortunes, and from time to time they were engaged, in conformity with dreams and other signs and wonders, in digging in solitary places for treasures, supposed to have been hidden by Kidd or the Spaniards. Young Joseph became by degrees very much skilled in the arts of necromancy and Juggling. He had the power of using the diving rod, and of discovering wonders in a peep stone; and having had the address to collect about him a gang of idle and credulous young men, he employed them in digging for hidden treasures. It was afterwards pretended that in one of the excavations thus made, the mysterious plates, from which the Golden Bible was copied, were found. About the year 1825, it was said by the family that Joseph began to have communication with angles and spirits, by which he learned many things that were hidden to the senses and understandings of ordinary men. Among other things he was informed by an angel of certain plates of unspeakable value, and of the manner in which they might be obtained. But as is usual in such cases, he was [thwarted and] opposed for a long time by an evil spirit, and it was not until 1827 that they were finally obtained. The discovery was then noised about the neighborhood by the family, who said that the plates contained a history of the aborigines of this country, written in "reformed Egyptian characters," which could not be read by any one of the present day except by the powers of God. Many proselytes were made among the credulous; but none of them were permitted at that time, to see the plates, for it was said by the prophet that no one could look upon them and live. The translation was commenced by the prophet himself, who was enabled to read the "reformed Egyptian" by the aid of the "peep-stone." This was done by putting the stone in a hat or box, and then by applying his face, the prophet was enabled to read one word at a time, which he pronounced aloud to an amanuensis. After continuing in this manner for some time, he was commanded by God to remove into Pennsylvania, for the purpose of escaping from certain evil minded men, who were instigated by the devil to destroy him. There the translation was completed, and the plates were buried again in the earth, by the command of the Lord, in some place unknown to all.

In 1829, the Golden Bible, containing about six hundred pages, appeared in print, having appended to it the testimony of eleven witnesses, to prove its divine origin. The three most important of these witnesses are Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitman; [sic] the first two of whom acted as amanuenses of Smith. These men declare upon oath, that the golden plates from which the Mormon Bible has been translated, were shown to them by an angel, and that they know the translation to have been made by the power of God, because it was so declared to them by the Deity himself. Of the eight remaining witnesses, four were brothers of Whitman and three of the family of Smith.

The Mormon Bible, as has been already stated, professes to furnish a history of part of the Jewish nation. It is pretended that Lehi, who escaped from Jerusalem 600 years before the Christian era, took with him the plates which contained an engraved record of his tribe; and that these plates being transmitted from father to son, the records of the people were continued, until the fifth century, when the tribe being nearly exterminated, the plates were sealed up and hidden in the earth, where they were afterward found by Joseph the prophet.

    According to these records, prophets & generals arose from time to time of great renown among the people, and the various events which commonly took place in the progress of nations occurred in their regular order. By the prophets the most prominent coming events were foretold, especially the coming and crucifixion of Christ, the early condition of the Christian church, the reformation, and the coming of the prophet Joseph in later times. A great many miracles were wrought, of course, to prove the divine authority of the prophecies. The generals had occupation enough in the various wars which arose among the nations descended from the family of Lehi. In one of their military expeditions an army was led into a distant country, which they found entirely desolated by the ravages of war, and filled with the bones of men and beasts. Here, among the ruins, they found some golden plates, containing a record of the people of Jared, who had escaped the confusion at Babel, and had been conducted by the Lord through Asia to the sea, and finally to America. These people having been entirely exterminated in wars, their records were preserved and sealed up with the records of Lehi.

Before the publication of the Mormon Bible, many ignorant and credulous persons had been prepared to receive it by the wonderful stories related by Smith. It was accordingly received as soon as it issued from the press, by a sufficient number to form the nucleus of a new community of devotees. The arguments principally relied upon at first to increase the number of proselytes, were the internal evidence of the book itself, and the striking exhibitions of the will and power of God through Joseph Smith. In addition to the extraordinary condescension of the Deity, in sending angels and spirits to hold communication with him, it seemed marvelous in the eyes of the people, that a man who could neither read nor write, and who was consequently unacquainted with the science and literature of the world, should be able to produce such a work -- a work wonderful in itself, and still more so from having been translated from a language no longer understood by the world, and found engraved on plates which had been buried for centuries in the earth. Smith is represented as a man exceedingly well fitted for the task he had to perform. For although ignorant, he possessed strong natural powers of mind, an inventive genius, easy address, fascinating manners, a mild and sober exterior, and was withal an excellent judge of human feelings and passions. -- Soon after the Mormon Bible was published, a member of the congregation of fanatics in Ohio, called Campbellites, happened to be travelling in the State of New York, where he heard of the golden plates. -- Urged by curiosity, he called upon Smith to make inquires, and was converted to the new faith. On his return he was accompanied by missionaries, who had been commissioned by Smith to convert the Indians. And on arriving in Ohio, the new religion, its missionaries, and its wonders, were presented to the Campbellites. These people having been for a long time under the dominion of enthusiasm, and [hoping] that the millennium or some other grand event was about to happen, were, in the right condition to receive the new revelation. A great many of them were converted, and with them, Sidney Rigdon, their preacher -- a man of powerful eloquence and of great popularity among them.