Mormon History

Spaulding & Rigdon BOM Authorship - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune April 11, 1879


The Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Romance.

Documentary Details Demonstrating Their Identity.

Fanaticism Fighting a Fatal Fact for Fifty Years.

"Such a Resemblance Without Plagiarism
Would be a Greater Miracle than all the Rest."

(From the Pittsburg Telegraph, March 27, 1879)

To the Editor of the Telegraph:
The most direct and important testimony which has yet been given, bearing upon this question, is the letter of the widow of Rev. Solomon Spaulding, which was published in the Boston Recorder, in its issue of April 19, 1839, only nine years after the appearance of the Book of Mormon. It has been repeatedly reprinted, but there are many of the present generation who have not seen it, and who will peruse it with deep interest. Especially will this be the case in this city and vicinity, which may be regarded as the birthplace of this great imposture. The prefatory note from Rev. John Storrs, at that time (1839) pastor of the Congregational Church in Holliston, Mass., fully explains the occasion for writing this letter, and the appended testimonies of Rev. Messrs. Ely and Austin, of Monson, Mass., emphatically sustain the reliability of Mrs. Davison.

Here follows the text of the original Davison-Storrs
article from the Boston Recorder of  April 19, 1839.

The above has been carefully compared with a transcript taken from the files of the Boston Recorder, to secure an accurate copy of so important a document. A typographical error occurred in the Recorder, in Which "Mormon preacher" was printed "woman preacher." The correction has been made on the authority of Rev. D. R. Austin, who acted as amanuensis for Mrs. Davison.



Here follows John N. Miller's Statement, reprinted
from Howe's Mormonism Unvailed   pp. 282-83.


The letter we publish from Mrs. Matilda Davison, widow of Rev. Solomon Spaulding, on the origin of the Book of Mormon, is of a character to arrest the attention of every thoughtful Mormon, It first appeared in the Boston Recorder, forty years ago, and was written, in answer to inquiries from Rev. D. R. Austin, of Monson, Massachusetts, in which village Mrs. Davison was then living. Believers in modern miracle are required to give credence to the story that Joseph Smith, an unlettered youth, of irregular, desultory habits, was visited by some supernatural agency (the angel Moroni) and informed of the existence of a package of golden plates, concealed in the earth, on which were inscribed legends of the ten lost tribes of Israel, and their extinction on this continent by internecine warfare. Acting upon this divine revelation, the youth dug up the plates, in the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, along with two stones (the urim and thummim) which stones possessed the miraculous power of enabling the finder to read the mystic characters and translate them into biblical English.

The story is too marvelous for belief by any person not blinded by superstition. The Book of Mormon exists, and is accepted as a divine record by the followers of Joseph Smith, and having an existence it must necessarily have had some origin.

The lady above named tells us in a direct and candid manner how the book came to be written. Her husband, a retired clergyman, in feeble health, wrote it to amuse his leisure hours. In Conneaut, Ashtabula county, Ohio, where he lived, he became intertested in a number of mounds and other remains of an ancient (and probably extinct) race, and being endowed with a lively imagination, he conceived the idea of writing an imaginary history of this race of ancient mound-builders. As he elaborated chapter after chapter of this strange narrative, he would gather his neighbors together of an evening and read to them the product of his fanciful brain. It seems they became interested in the wild romance, and this led the author to believe that profit might be derived from its publication. Removing then to Pittsburg, Mr. Spaulding submitted his manuscript to a Mr. Patterson, a newspaper editor and general publisher. In his hands the manuscript remained for some time; Sidney Rigdon, who had some connection with the printing office, having free access to it. "Rigdon had been the Boanerges of the new faith," says Stenhouse, "and had given it the first important aid it had received." He had been a Campbellite preacher in Ohio, possessed great force as an expounder of doctrine and exercised considerable influence over his congregation. Becoming converted to the faith of Joseph Smith, he took to the Latter-day religion so zealously that he is said to have carried over all his followers to the new faith. The Prophet Joseph found in this ardent disciple a man just suited to his uses. a fierce zealot, a fervid orator and a conscience pliable to every touch of interest. The Spaulding romance, which porported to be copied from an ancient manuscript, exhumed from the remains of an extinct race, he seemed to have adapted to his own use, and while it lay unheaded in the printing office, he procured a copy to be made of its contents. "Thus," says Mrs. Davison, "an historical romance, with the addition f a few pious expressions, and extracts from the sacred Scriptures, has been construed into a new Bible, and palmed off upon a company of deluded fanatics as divine."

The [character] of the writer is attested by two respectable clergymen, her neighbors, and the statement she makes is corroborated by a witness who was familiar with Spaulding's writings, and who recognized many passages in the Book of Mormon as copied verbatim from that author.

Here is the imposture charged upon the inventors of the Mormon religion. Joseph Smith, when starting out upon his prophetic career, besides having direct communication with heavenly intelligences and resurrecting the ancient order of priesthood, found it necessary to concoct a new Bible. Solomon Spaulding's manuscript, with a little altering over, was found adapted to his purpose, and in order to foist it upon the world as a divine revelation, he conjured up the visit of the angel Moroni, the finding of the plates, urim and thummim and the many other details necessary to complete the fraud. Stenhouse, in his analysis of "the Gold Bible," says: "The statement of the modern prophet as to the origin of the book cannot well be invalidated. What he says may be sheer falsehood, and as such the world regards the statement, but of itself it furnishes no opportunity for disproof." After this singular admission, the author proceeds to expose the fraudulent character of the book by its internal evidences. In parallel columns he produces some of the passages plagiarized from Holy Writ: with the errors of translation preserved, in juxraposition with the original: even a passage from Hamlet's soliloquy is shown, proceeding from the mouth of Lehi, who lived 570 years before Christ, who, in addressing his sons, speaks of "the cold and silent grave from whence no traveler returns." Shakespeare's expression is:

The undiscovered country, from whose bourne
No traveler returns.

For the purpose of gaining endorsement of science, Martin Harris submitted some copies made from the plates to Professor Anthon, of New York. This learned philologist described the characters as a singular medley of "Greek, Hebrew, and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskillfulness or design, and intermingled with sundry delineations of half-moons, stars and other natural objects, the whole ending in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac." But in addition to this evidence, we understand that a gentleman in this city is collecting very convincing testimony from original sources which will completely invalidate "the statement of the modern prophet as to the origin of the book." In Pittsburg the imposture originated, and there are still surviving in that city a number of reputable citizens who were acquainted with the actors in the forgery, and who have furnished statements which render the chain of evidence complete.

We do not expect that any exposure of error would have any effect upon the blind credulity of the more ignorant believers in the Latter-day dispensation, because they have never been used to exercise the reason, and have no judgment to weigh the value of testimony.

For Faith, fanativ Faith, once wedded fast
To some dear falsehood, hugs it to the last!

But it will be useful to convict the present leaders of the Mormon Church of deliberate fraud and imposture. These men well know that the Book of Mormon was surreptitious in its origin, gotten up by Joseph Smith and his accomplices to deceive the unwary; and they also know that if this truth should gain recognition, and their so-called bible de discredited, the whole fabric of the Latter-day dispensation falls to the ground. Hence they willfully and perfidiously foster the lie, delusing their unreasoning followers that they may live and fatten on the imposture. This accounts for their hostility to Gentile schools, and explains the prohibition imposed upon the employment of unregenerate teachers in Mormon schools. Delusion and imposture can only flourish where mental darkness prevails, and the spread of intelligence in Zion would bring speedy ruin to the entire prophetic business. And because we believe that a full and complete exposure of Joseph Smith's trick of literary legerdemain in turning Solomon Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" into the book of Mormon would be interesting to inquirers of the present age, and would be convincing to a number of the more reasonable Saints, we hope to see the results of our fellow townsman's well directed researches put into print with the least delay practicable.

Note 1: The March 27, 1879 Pittsburg Telegraph article was probably written by Rev. Robert Patterson, Jr., ("P.") in cooperation with Mr. James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City. James T. Cobb could have easily assisted Patterson in obtaining the 1839 Boston Recorder article typescript, since Cobb had several old friends and relatives then living in the Boston area. Cobb was already in contact with Rev. David R. Austin, upon whose "authority" the correctness of the 1839 Davison-Storrs article was verified. In fact, Austin refers to this very article in his Apr. 4, 1879 letter to Cobb, wherein he says he had just received "a paper from Pittsburgh, Pa, containing the account I gave... April 1st - 1839... I send you the paper..." Austin's letter and the forwarded news article probably reached Cobb a couple of days before the Tribune of April 11th went to press. The contents of this letter from Rev. Austin letter are also discussed in the Tribune of April 12, 1879.

Note 2: The Tribune comments appended to the Pittsburg Telegraph article were almost certainly supplied by James T. Cobb -- excepting, of course, the two editorial sections, where the reporter speaks of the "gentleman in this city" (James himself) who "is collecting very convincing testimony from original sources." There is no indication given here as to the identity of the Tribune staff writer who was funneling bits and pieces pf Cobb's research on early Mormonism into the newspaper's columns. Perhaps it was Wilhelm von Wymetal or some other journalist colleague.

Note 3: This Tribune article of Apr. 11th (along with portions of articles published in that paper on Dec 5, 1878; Feb. 14, 1879 and Apr. 12, 1879), well summarizes the basis for Cobb's intended (but never completed) book on the origin of Mormonism. It is interesting to note that Cobb, who apparently possessed considerable ability as a literary critic, did not read and analyze the 1839 Davison-Storrs article critically. While that article (and especially the the eye-witness statement it contains) is admittedly a problematical piece of journalism, Cobb could have easily isolated considerable reliable information supportive to his Spalding-Rigdon authorship thesis, had he examined it utilizing historical-critical analytical methodology.