Mormon History

Premature Death Notice of Sidney Rigdon - 1873

The Defiance Democrat February 15, 1873

Death of Sidney Rigdon.

The death of Sidney Rigdon, one of Joseph Smith's associates in the establishment of Mormonism is announced. He was born in St. Clair township, Alleghany county, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1793. "The Book of Mormon" which Smith pretends to have discovered through a divine revelation, was claimed immediately after its publication as the work of Rev. Solomon Spalding, written by him during a residence in Ohio in 1810-11-12. Mr. Spalding's widow, in a statement published in Boston in 1839, declared that in 1812 the manuscript was placed in a printing office in Pittsburgh with which Sidney Rigdon was connected. Rigdon, she charged, copied the manuscript, and the fact of his having made such a copy was known to many persons in the office. Subsequently the original manuscript was returned to Mr. Spaulding, who died in 1816, leaving it in the possession of his widow, by whom it was preserved until after the publication of "The Book of Mormon," when she sent it to Conneaut, where it was publicly [compared] with Joe Smith's pretended revelation. Soon after getting possession of his copy, Rigdon quitted the printing office and began to preach certain new doctrines peculiar to himself, and very similar to those afterward incorporated in "The Book of Mormon." He did not make much progress, however, until 1829, when he became acquainted with Joe Smith. It is asserted that Smith obtained a copy of Spaulding's manuscript through Rigdon's agency, and that he read it from behind the blanket to his amanuensis, Oliver Cowdery, making such additions and alterations as suited the purpose of Rigdon and himself. Immediately after the publication of "The Book of Mormon," the fraud was detected, and the true nature of the work made known by Mr. Spaulding's widow and many of his relatives and friends. In spite of this disclosure, however, Smith and Rigdon had the impudence to stick to the story of the revelation, and succeeded in getting converts to the new religion. At first they had rather hazy ideas as to the nature and design of the Church they were about to establish, and were rather inclined to teach that the millennium was close at hand; that the Indians were to be speedily converted; and that America was to be the final gathering place of the Saints, who were to assemble at New Zion or New Jerusalem, somewhere in the interior of the continent. They soon managed to surround themselves with enough converts to constitute the Mormon Church, which was first regularly organized at Manchester, N. Y., April 6, 1830. Smith, directed by a revelation, led the whole body of believers to Kirtland, Ohio, in January, 1831. Here converts were rapidly made, and a wider field being necessary, Smith and Rigdon went out in search of a suitable locality upon which to establish themselves. They fixed upon Independence, Jackson county, Mo., and Smith dedicated a site for a new temple. Rigdon continued to act with Smith, and to follow all the fortunes and misfortunes of the Mormon Church until the death of the prophet, when he aspired to be his successor. Upon Brigham Young, however, descended the mantle of Joe Smith and Rigdon becoming contumacious, was cut off from the communion of the faithful, was cursed, and was solemnly delivered over to the devil, "to be buffeted in the flesh for a thousand years." Thus ended Rigdon's connection with Mormonism; and after being thus driven out of the Church which he did so much to found, he fell out of public notice and was heard of no more.

Note 1: It must have created a strange feeling in the old man, when Sidney Rigdon heard reports of his own death in the first weeks of 1873. Besides the article reprinted in the Defiance Democrat, other, similar notices and obituaries appeared throughout the American press. One notable example was the Rigdon death notice published in the columns of the RLDS Saints' Herald of Jan. 15, 1873 which was prefaced by the editorial warning: "We cannot vouch for the truth of the statement that Mr. Rigdon is dead." The New York Herald of Dec. 26, 1872 presented a somewhat more reliable report regarding the aged Mormon: "Sidney Rigdon, the reputed author of Joe Smith's Mormon Bible, has been stricken with paralysis at his home in Alleghany county, N. Y."

Note 2: President Rigdon lingered on for another three and a half years following his stroke of November, 1872, before passing on to his great (?) reward. It is a telling fact that little was recalled by the 1870's of his many contributions to Mormonism -- other than that he had been accused of stealing the basis for the Book of Mormon, from the writings of Solomon Spalding.