Mormon History

Death Notice of Sidney Rigdon - 1876

The Christian Standard July 29, 1876


This somewhat notorious man died recently, at Friendship, Allegany county, N. Y., in the eighty-fourth year of his age. He was a native of Western Pennsylvania; entered the ministry of the Baptist church when a young man, and, in Pittsburgh, gained considerable reputation as a pulpit orator. Leaving the Baptists, he came among the Disciples when they were a feeble folk, and was for a time the associate of Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott. Mr. Campbell, however, never fully gave him his confidence, but looked upon him as a man of restless ambition who sought to conceal his motives under an affected zeal for reformation. Mr. C. several times told us that he never would feel that Mr. Rigdon was frank and candid with him, as a co-worker ought to be. We had it, long ago, from the oldest members of the church in Pittsburgh, that Rigdon, while with them, did his best to convert them to communism and to the doctrines that miracles and new revelations ought to be found in the church. It is thus evident that, at that time, he was concocting the Mormon scheme, and this, in connection with what was afterwards ascertained of the existence of Mr. Spalding's manuscript in a Pittsburgh printing office where Rigdon could have access to it, early satisfied us that he had much to do in the creation of the Mormon imposture. In Ohio, he was somewhat known among our churches, but his success in leading away the disciples when he went over publicly to Mormonism, was not what he anticipated. He afterwards figured largely among the Mormons at Kirtland, O., in Missouri, and at Nauvoo, Ill. Failing to obtain the leadership after the death of Joseph Smith, he next attempted, we believe, the organization of a separate church; but faiing in this, went into retirement, spending the rest of his days mostly in the Genesee valley, N. Y. From his neighbors we have several times learned that he was a quiet citizen, much esteemed for his social virtues, and altogether reticent concerning his Mormon adventures. It is said he devoted himself mainly to the study of Geology and to lecturing on that science. Whether he has left anything behind him, revealing to the inside history of Mormonism; we do not know; but presume from his persistent reticence during life, that he has carried his secret knowledge with him to the grave. He was wrecked through an insane ambition. Let all self-seekers take notice.


The Christian Standard August 5, 1876


We gave last week a brief notice of the death of Sidney Rigdon. His connection with Mormonism was such that it is of historical importance to preserve a record of his life and character, and we are able to give, from trustworthy sources, a fuller statement of the main facts in his career than will probably appear in any other paper, and such as will furnish desired information to the public.

Sidney Rigdon, the establisher of Mormonism, is dead -- laid away in the quiet of his last sleep, in the village graveyard, at Friendship, Alleghany county, New York. Mr. Rigdon was born in Pennsylvania, 1793, and died July 14th, in the eighty-fourth year of his age . The death of this man is an item of interest in Mormon history. To his exertions the Latter-day Saints may rightly attribute the establishment of their church, and at his grave the anxious inquirer may cease to inquire concerning the strange secrecies of his life and stranger mysteries which envelop the origin of the Mormon Bible.

Until his twenty-sixth year, Sidney Rigdon lived in and around the city of Pittsburg, and later about the year 1822, he had charge of the Baptist church in that city. In 1824 a union was effected between this body and the church to which Walter Scott ministered -- a portion of the former, however, dissenting and forming a separate Baptist church.

He thus became identified with the Reformation as plead for by Alexander Campbell, and in 1827 he appears in northeastern Ohio as co-laborer with Walter Scott. At this time he was favorably known for his scriptural learning, his advocacy of church reforms, the fluency and force of his pulpit oratory, and for an ambition which, at times, so uncontrollably possessed him as to put the man beside himself. Among the religious notions which he sought to propagate among the Disciples, may be mentioned the following: first Communism; and second, Miracles and Gifts of the Spirit; and third, New Revelations. These were, a few years later, the salients of all the Mormon sermons. They were obnoxious to the Disciples and were cautiously introduced. In association with Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott, he for a time indulged his ambition in being ranked as third man in the Reformation. In the year 1827, however, Walter Scott received an appointment from the Mahoning Association, which for the time seemed to bar the way to the gratification of Mr. Rigdon's ambition, and he left, nothing much being heard of him beyond the village of Mentor, and a few other points on the Reserve until the year 1830, when he appeared as the front speaker and ablest defender of Joseph Smith and Mormonism. The Book of Mormon was printed by Grandin, at Palmyra, in 1830; and certainly before Rigdon had time to read it or examine into its authenticity, he appeared in the Hall of the Young Men's Association, Palmyra, where he preached a strong sermon from Nephi, ch. iv. This effort was not well received; but he remained in the neighborhood a short time, and, assisted by Smith and Cowdery, baptized a few converts. Returning to Mentor, near Kirtland, Ohio, Mr. Rigdon and Parley P. Pratt commenced the advocacy of the new religion with such seeming earnestness that many were at once converted; the Smiths came over from Palmyra, and a church was established; many persons of means were induced to cast in their all for the upbuilding of the Lord's cause and the advance of the Millennium. Smith had no plot nor plan; Rigdon furnished the brains, Pratt the eloquence, and Harris the money, to carry important measures through. For a while things went on swimmingly, Smith and Rigdon had frequent revelations; there was a babbling of divers tongues; the community was inundated with religious fanaticism.

The imposture well under way, Smith and Rigdon gave a bread-and-butter phase to their proceedings. Revelations were always ready to purpose, and a mill was built -- a church mill.

Joseph and Sidney fattened on the choicest grindings, the people taking the bran; property sites were marked, Joseph and Sidney taking generally the corner lots. Soon the pious priests were tarred and feathered for bad conduct. They also started a bank, put out stacks of bills, lined their pockets, became full-handed and impudent. When Jones came in with a carpet-bag full of Kirtland bills, Rigdon cooly informed him that they didn't redeem! Finding themselves duped and swindled, many of the best members apostatized and applied to the courts for redress. This put the prophet-bankers upon the wing -- Smith and Rigdon escaping between two days with a sheriff's posse at their heels! Emboldened by their success, they went to the most audacious lengths in Missouri; Smith became defiant, and Rigdon indulged in the most inflammatory speech-making. In his well known "Salt Sermon," he not only advised casting out, but treading under foot, all who should dissent from the plans of Joseph and himself; and in one of his orations, delivered on the Fourth of July, he defiantly proclaimed a war of extermination against that people who should deny their Mormon rights or meddle with their concerns!

Much of the trouble in Missouri was caused by Rigdon's flow of fight and fury; and after being opposed, whipped, jailed, and threatened with extermination, the Saints were chased from the State into Illinois -- where they built Nauvoo. After quieting his nerves and recovering somewhat from the scourgings inflicted by the Missouri mobs, Rigdon penned his famous Memorial to the Pennsylvania Assembly, asking that honorable body to take some action in behalf of the exiled saints.

Relief could scarcely be expected on such a presentation; the writer certainly had little ground for expectation; but it was what the irate apostle wanted -- a good opportunity to display his drastic grammar, and put permently before the people a tirade upon the unregenerate Missourians.

At Nauvoo, Rigdon was postmaster, lawyer, philosopher and saint! A visitor there in 1843 thus describes him:

"Sidney Rigdon, one of the Counselors, prophet seer and revelator, is forty-two years of age, five feet nine inches high, weighs one hundred and sixty five pounds (before his avoirdupois was reduced by Missouri persecutions his weight was two hundred and twelve pounds). He is a mighty man in Israel, of varied learning, and extensive and laborious research. There is no divine in the West more deeply learned in biblical literature and the world's history than he. His oratory is fervidly eloquent, his language chaste, and his reasoning conclusive. Any city would be proud of such a man. By his proclamation thousands have heard the glad tidings and obeyed the word of God; but he is now in the 'sere and yellow leaf,' and his silvery locks fast ripening for the grave."

On laying the corner stone of the Nauvoo Temple, Rigdon was orator of the day; and before an immense concourse of people he delivered the great speech of his life -- a masterly performance in all the force and accomplishments of natural and acquired oratory. As before remarked, Rigdon's abilities were of the versatile sort; and soon after the dedication of the Temple site, we find him in the municipal court of Nauvoo, leading counsel for the defendant, Joe Smith, who was arrested by Higbee on the charge of slander -- in which all the parties appeared to more or less disadvantage in the roles of liars, defamers, seducers and adulterers.

This and other trials uncovered a swamp of immoralities in the Nauvoo Church; and, whatever the versatile abilities of Rigdon, it plainly appeared that as prophet, seer, revelator and orator, he had not been very successful in the inculcation and establishment of sound morality.

The charges made by one writer (Mayhew), that Rigdon was an advocate of spiritual wifeism, are undoubtedly false. It can only be said that he may have been non-committal, and that Smith presumed beyond legitimate presumption when he attempted the seduction of one of Rigdon's relatives. It is known that a coldness ensued between Smith and his chief counselor because of this affair.

When Smith was killed (1844) Rigdon put in at once for the vacant place, he being the next eligible person according to rank and revelation. Others aspired to Smith's place -- among whom [was] Brigham Young. This designing man made good use of his recent successes, and put prominently forward before the Assembly the coldness between Joseph and Sidney. He charged the great Counselor with designing a split in the church, waning in faith, and declared his revelations to be from the devil -- and never from God!

Young was successful in his attack on Rigdon; the latter's friends were intimidated, and, with less than a hundred adherents he could only rant and rave in prophetic folly, assert a new revelation in support of his claims, and threaten to tell, if his demands were not agreed to. This threat to tell it all only threw him into lower contempt. Brigham Young openly jeered, informing the Assembly that if Sidney Rigdon ever attempted an expose, he would cut his own head off at the first stroke!"

Brigham knew exactly what he was saying. He knew that Rigdon could expose only by exposing himself as the original designer of the imposture, or as a private power behind Smith in the inculcation of communism and polygamy! On motion, Rigdon was excommunicated -- "handed over to the buffetings of Satan for a thousand years;" and the people said, Amen!

In worst disgrace the fallen Counselor left Nauvoo for Pittsburg, where he published for awhile the Messenger and Advocate -- and through his sub writers, Savary, Pry, Gregg, [Beal] and others, attempted to blast the Nauvoo theocracy and raise himself to the head of the Mormon Church. He was signally unsuccessful, and in 1846-7, he moved to Friendship, Allegany Co., New York, where he resided until his death.

For thirty years he has been reticent, refusing to discourse at all upon his Mormon adventures.

He was approached by the messengers of Young and Plano Joseph, but he refused to converse or answer any communication which in any way would bring him into public notice in connection with the Mormon Church of to-day. It was his daily custom to visit the Post Office, get the daily papers, read and converse upon the chief topics of the day. He was a genial companion, a good citizen, and respected by all who knew him. He often engaged in a friendly dispute with the local ministers, and always came out first best on New Testament doctrinal matters.

Patriarchal in appearance, and kindly in address, he was often approached by citizens and strangers, with a view of obtaining something of the unworded mysteries of his life; but citizen or stranger and persistent reporter, all alike failed in eliciting any information as to his knowledge of the Mormon imposture, the motives of his early life, or the religious faith, fears and hopes of his declining years. Once or twice he spoke excitedly, in terms of scorn, of those who attributed to him the manufacture of the Mormon Bible; but beyond this, nothing. Hos library was small; he left no manuscripts, and refused persistently to have a picture of himself taken. It can only be said that he was a compound of ability, versatility, honesty, duplicity and mystery.

The Masonic fraternity conducted the services over his lifeless body, and a kind of community followed Rigdon and his untold secrets to the quiet of an unmarked grave.

Note: The above obituary was written by Standard Editor, Isaac Errett (who came from the Pittsburgh congregation expelled by Rigdon in 1823), with input from Disciple sources familiar with the church at Mentor and with Sidney Rigdon's last days at Friendship. For more Rigdon obituaries see the western New York papers for July, 1876 as well as the July 18th issue of the Pittsburgh Telegraph.