Mormon History

Honest BOM Witness Interview - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune February 14, 1879


Important Researches at Amity, Penn.
-- The Story of Rev. Solomon Spaulding
--- Some New Facts.

{Washington (Pa.) Reporter}

(Dr. W. W. Sharp, of Amity, this county; has prepared a statement concerning early Mormonism, for James T. Cobb, Esq., of Salt Lake City, which he has kindly placed in our hands for publication, as follows:)

In view of the magnitude of the Mormon delusion, and of the serious complications it is likely to cause in the near future, by its relations to our government, every thing conected with its origin and history, challenges an almost universal interest.

The author of the "Manuscript Found," which doubtless suggested the Book of Mormon, and occupied so important a position in its conception, design and execution, lived and died in Amity, Pa. The old frame house he occupied is still tenable, and his grave in the old cemetery attracts many a curious visitor.

But we have a living witness -- Joseph Miller -- a veteran of the war of 1812. A Christian gentleman of undoubted veracity, with mind and memory remarkable for their prolonged preservation, and singularly free from any signs of senility. I had an interview with Mr. Miller two days ago. Found him well and hearty barring some muscular disability, and as ready to crack a joke or fling a repartee as ever. He said, if he lived till to-day, (Feb. 1) he would be 88 years old.

I asked him to give me all the information he could from his personal knowledge of Rev. Solomon Spaulding and his family, his recollections and impressions, from association with him, with reference especially to his object in writing the "Manuscript Found," and its subsequent misuse by the founders of the Mormon sect. Prefacing his reply with the remark that he would not intentionally say one word that he did not believe to be strictly true, he proceeded deliberately, to make in substance, the following statement:

I was well acquainted with Mr. Spaulding while he lived in Amity, Pa. I would say he was 55 to 60 years of age; in person, tall and spare, and considerably stooped, caused in part, I think, from a severe rupture. His hair was quite gray. He was chaste in language and dignified in manner, becoming his profession. I never heard him preach, think he never preached at A.; said he had quit preaching on account of ill health. He kept a public house or tavern of the character common at that day. He died of dysentery in 1816, (in the fall, I think), after an illness of six or eight weeks. Dr. Chephas Dodd attended him.

I watched with him many nights during this illness. After he died I made his coffin and superintended his burial. One night when near his end, he told me he thought he should die, and requested me to assist his wife in settling his estate; accordingly I, with Col. Thomas Venom went on her bond as administratrix, and I helped her close it up.

Mrs. Spaulding was intelligent and of pleasing manners, with fair complexion, and say, from 35 to 40 years of age. A child of fair complexion and about 14 years of age, lived with them here, think she was their daughter as she bore the Spaulding name.

Mr. S. was poor but honest. I endorsed for him twice to borrow money. His house was a place of common resort especially in the evening. I was prosecuting my trade (carpenter) in the village and frequented his house. Mr. S. seemed to take delight in reading from his manuscript (written on foolscap) for the entertainment of his frequent visitors, heard him read most, if not all of it, and had frequent conversations with him about it.

Sometime ago, I had in my possession, for about six months, the book of Mormon and heard most of it read during that time. I was always forcibly struck with the similarity of the portions of it which purported to be of supernatural origin to the quaint style and peculiar language that had made so deep an impression on my mind when hearing the manuscript read by Mr. S. For instance, the very frequent repetition of the phrase, "and it came to pass." Then on hearing read the account from the book of the battle between the Amalekites and the Nephites, in which the soldiers of one army had placed a red mark on their foreheads to distinguish them from their enemies, it seemed to reproduce in my mind not only the narrative but the very words as they had been impressed on my mind by the reading of Spaulding's manuscript.

The object of Mr. S. in writing the Manuscript Found, as I understood, was to employ an invalid's lovely imagination, and to supply a romantic history of those last [sic, lost?] races or tribes, whose true history remains buried with their mounds, so common in a large portion of our country. Its publication seemed to be an after thought, most likely suggested by pecuniary embarrassment. My recollection is that Mr. S. had left a transcript of the manuscript with Mr. Patterson, of Pittsburgh, Pa., for publication, that its publication was delayed until Mr. S. would write a preface, and in the meantime the transcript was spirited away and could not be found. Mr. S. told me that Sidney Rigdon had taken it, or that he was suspicioned for it. Recollect distinctly that Rigdon's name was used in that connection. The longer I live the more firmly I am convinced that Spaulding's MS was appropriated and largely used in getting up the Book of Mormon. I believe, that leaving out of the book the portion that may be easily recognised as the work of Joe Smith and his accomplices, that Solomon Spaulding may be truly said to be its author. I have not a doubt of it. If my life has been prolonged that I might assist in exposing so base a fraud, and if I shall be permitted to see this abominable delusion dispelled, I shall console myself with the thought that I have not lived in vain.

At the close of the interview I dined with my old life long friend, (we call him uncle Joe) and after a few parting words I was on my way home feeling that it is seldom one enjoys so much pleasure and profit as I had in this interview.   W. W. SHARP.

Note 1: This letter by W. W. Sharpe was somewhat edited from its original printing in the Washington Daily Evening Reporter. A more complete version of the letter was printed in the Pittsburgh Telegraph of Feb. 6, 1879. The content of this late Jan. 1879 Joseph Miller statement corresponds substantially with his testimony, as published ten years before in the Washington Daily Evening Reporter on Apr. 8, 1869.

Note 2: The Miller statement (along with the W. W. Sharp letter in which it was embedded in its original publication) was solicited from Mr. Sharp of Amity by James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City. While it is possible that Cobb merely commissioned the taking down of a statement from Miller in order to get it into the columns of the Salt Lake Tribune, it is more likely that by the first weeks of 1879 Cobb had already resolved to write a book on the early history of Mormonism. See, for example, the editorial remarks published in the Amboy Journal of Apr. 23, 1879: "a gentleman in Salt Lake City has undertaken a new book, and for information on some points has opened correspondence with parties... acquainted with Joseph Smith."