Mormon History

Mormon Beginnings Revisited - 1874

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune December 13, 1874


Who Wrote the Book of Mormon ---
Sidney Rigdon and Joe Smith --
The Tool foils the workman.

The following article from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, published in Honolulu, of the 14th ult., will be interesting to our readers:

There existed years ago a Conneticut man, named Solomon Spalding (a relation of the one who invented the wooden nutmeg,) a Yankee of true stock. He appears at first as a law student; then a preacher; next a merchant; then a bankrupt; afterwards he became a blacksmith in a small western village; then a land speculator and a county school-master; later still he necomes the owner of an iron foundry; once more a bankrupt; at last a writer and a dreamer.

As might be expected he died a beggar, little thinking that by a singular coincidence one of his productions ("The Manuscript Found") redeemed from oblivion by a few rogues, would prove in their hands a powerful weapon, and be the basis of one of the most anomalous, yet powerful secessions which has ever been experienced by the established church.

We find, under the title of the "Manuscript found," an historical romance of the first settlers of America, endeavoring to show that the American Indians are the descendants of the Jews, or the "Lost Tribes." It gives a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and by sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of Nephi and Lehi. They afterwards had quarrels and contentions, and separated into two distinct nations, one of which is denominated Nephites, and the other Lamanites.

Cruel and bloody wars ensued, in which great multitudes were slain. They buried their dead in large heaps, which caused the mounds now so commonly found on the continent of America. Their knowledge in the arts and sciences, and their civilization, are dwelt upon, in order to account for all the remarkable ruins of cities and other curious antiquities, found in various parts of North and South America. Solomon Spalding writes in the biblical style, and commences almost every sentence with, "And it came to pass," -- "Now, it came to pass."

Although some powers of imagination and a degree of [scientific] information are displayed throughout the whole romance, it remained for several years unnoticed, on the shelves of Messrs. Patterson & Lambdin, printers, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Many years passed, when Lambdin, the printer, having failed, wished "to raise the wind by some book speculation." Looking over the various manuscripts then in his possession, the "Manuscript found," venerable in its dust, was, upon examination, looked upon as a "gold mine," which would restore to affluence the unfortunate publisher. But death summoned Lambdin away, and put an end to the speculation, as far as his interests were concerned.

Lambdin had intrusted the precious manuscript to his bosom friend, Sidney Rigdon, that he might embellish it and alter it, as he might think expedient.

The publisher now dead, Rigdon allowed this chef-d'oeuvre to remain in his desk till, reflecting upon his precarious means, and upon his chances of obtaining a future livelihood, a sudden idea struck him.

Rigdon knew well his countrymen and their avidity for the marvelous; he resolved to give to the world the "Manuscript Found," not as a mere work of imagination, or disquisition as its writer had intended it to be; but as a new code of religion sent down to man, as of yore, on awful Sinai, the tables were given unto Moses.

For some time, Rigdon worked hard, studying the Bible, altering his book, and preaching every Sunday. * * * It was easy for him, from the first planning of his intended imposture, to publicly discuss in the pulpit, many strange points of controversy, which were eventually to become the corner-stones of the structure which he wished to raise.

The novelty of the discussions was greedily received by many, and of course prepared them for that which was coming. Yet, it seems that Rigdon soon perceived the evils which his wild imposture would generate, and he recoiled from his task; not because there remained lurking in his breast some few sparks of honesty, but because he wanted courage; he was a scoundrel, but a timorous one * * * With him, Mormonism was a mere money speculation, and he resolved to shelter himself behind some fool, who might bear the whole odium, while he would reap a golden harvest, and quietly retire before the coming of a storm. But as is often the case, he reckoned without his host; for it so happened that, in searching for a tool of this deception, he found in Joe Smith the one not precisely what he had calculated upon. He wanted a compound of rogery and folly as his tool and slave; Smith was a rogue and an unlettered man, but he was what Rigdon was not * * * a man of bold conception, full of courage and mental energy, one of those unprincipled, yet lofty, aspiring beings, who, centuries past, would have succeeded as well as Mohamet, and who has, even in this more enlightened age, accomplished that which is wonderful to contemplate.

When it was too late to retract, Rigdon perceived with dismay, that, instead of acquiring a silly bondsman, he had subjected himself to a superior will; he was now himself a slave, bound by fear and interest, his two great guides through life. Smith consequently became, instead of Rigdon, "the elect of God," and is now * * * [regarded as] a great religious and political leader. But Rigdon is most undoubtedly the Father of Mormonism, and the author of the "Golden Book," with the exception of a few alterations subsequently made by Joe Smith.

Note 1: The above item is a shortened excerpt from the 1843 book by Frederick Marryat, entitled, Monsieur Violet. The article has been slightly changed to reflect the knowledge of a period subsequent to Joseph Smith's 1844 death, and may have been originally published in a newspaper at about that same time. The editors of the Honolulu paper probably copied it from some old article files they had preserved from years past.

Note 2: While his telling of Spalding-Rigdon-Smith story does not appear to be accurate in every small detail, Marryat's reconstruction of Mormon origins corresponds fairly well those of later investigators, such as Robert Patterson, Jr., Clark Braden, James T. Cobb and William H. Whitsitt. Marryat's mention of Spalding working as a blacksmith is interesting bit of information. Evidently Solomon Spalding learned something about ironworking in the years before he set up an iron forge in New Salem, Ohio. Perhaps Marryat here preserves a scrap of biography otherwise lost to history. The information he supplies in regard to J. Harrison Lambdin, the Pittsburgh printer and associate of Sidney Rigdon, is also interesting and may have some grounding in fact -- unfortunately the exact events in that obscure episode of the past are probably not further recoverable at this late date.