Mormon History

Rebuttal to the Deseret News - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune April 15, 1879


The Deseret News, on Saturday, essayed a lame reply to the charge that the Book of Mormon is pirated and plagiarized from Rev. Solomon Spaulding's "Manuscript Found." The reply is disingenuous and sophistical, as was to be expected, the object of the writer being to bamboozle and befog his own readers within the pale of the Church. The question is discussed at the length of two and a half columns, because, as he admits, "It is attracting some attention." The literary fraud charge against the Mormon Church was perpetrated half a century ago, the mass of the believers in Joseph Smith know nothing about the facts of the crime, and very few have read the fraudulent product.

Mrs. Davison, in her statement, sets forth the following material facts: That her husband (Spaulding) while living in Ashtabula county, Ohio, wrote a book giving an imaginary history of some extinct race of mound-builders which he was in the habit of reading, chapter by chapter, as he finished them, to his neighbors. The family removed to Pittsburg, where Spaulding formed the acquaintance of a book-publisher and newspaper editor named Patterson, to which he submitted his manuscript. While the M.S. lay in the hands of the printer, Sidney Rigdon, "who was at this time connected with the printing office," had ample opportunity to became acquainted with the nature of the clergyman's literary work. The Spaulding family again moved -- this time to Amity, Washington county, Pennsylvania, where the clergyman shortly afterward died, (1816). "The manuscript," his widow says, "then fell into my hands, and was carefully preserved."

A long time subsequent to this, (in 1834,) a Mormon preacher visited Conneaur (where Spaulding had written his work,) and in the course of his ministrations, read portions of the Book of Mormon, which a number of his hearers instantly recognized as identical with the story formerly read them by their fellow townman. This created some stir in town, and resulted in the sending of Dr. Philaster Hurlbut to the clergyman's widow, then living in Monson, Massachusetts, to procure the manuscript for the purpose of comparing it with the Elder's Mormon bible.

To all of which statements the News editor takes exception, and proceeds to propound the following string of interrogatives upon it:

The question now is, what became of this valuable document? If it formed the material from which the Book of Mormon was fabricated, why was it not published, or portions of it given side by side with extracts from the Book said to be made up from it? What did Mrs. Davieson pretend to know about the resemblance between the Book of Mormon and the "Manuscript Found?" She knew nothing but what Hurlburt told her. What did she know about Sidney Rigdon's residence in Pitttsburg, or connection with Patterson's printing office? Nothing whatever. Who wrote the letter signed by Mrs. Davieson and working up this theory? It was plainly the work of John Storrs, the pious preacher who was anxious to stop the spread of "Mormonism," which put his craft in danger. Who was the prime originator of the Spaulding story? This same "Dr." Philaster Hurlbut.

A refutation of the widow's story is then attempted. Hurlbut's character is assailed, (a stale dodge with Mormon defenders,) and his credibility impeached by attributing to him the statements, (published in Howe's History of Mormonism,) that the "Manuscript Found" was

A romance purporting to have been translated from the Latin, found on twenty-four rolls of parchment in a cave, but written in modern style, giving a fabulous account of a ship being driven upon the American coast proceeding from Rome to Britain, a short time previous to the Christian era; this country being inhabited by the Indians.

An extract from an interview held with Mrs. Davison and her daughter Mrs. McKinstry, published in the Quincy Whig and copied in Times and Seasons, January, 1840, is also given as follows:

Q. -- Have you read the Book of Mormon?
A. -- I have read a little of it.

Q. -- Is there any similarity between Mr. Spaulding's manuscript and the Book of Mormon?
A. -- Not any.

Q. -- Did the manuscript describe an idolatrous or a religious people?
A. -- An idolatrous.

Q. -- Where is the manuscript?
A. -- Mr. Hurlburt came here and took it away, and said I should have half the proceeds.

Q. -- Did Hurlburt publish the manuscript?
A. -- No, he informed me by letter that the manuscript after having been examined did not read as they expected, and that they would not publish it.

Q. -- What was the size of the manuscript?'
A. -- About the third part of the Book of Mormon.

The above purport to be the replies of Mrs. Davison to her interviewer, and "Mrs. McKinstry," we are told by the News, "corroborated Mrs. Davison in every particular."

Further, Sidney Rigdon is called in as a witness, who denies that he ever worked in a printing office in Pittsburg, that he knew Mr. Patterson, or that he had ever heard of Spaulding or his romance until he saw them mentioned in E. D. Howe's book. An extract from Parley P. Pratt's autobiography is also given, where the adulterous apostle tells of his conversion to Mormonism, his calling on Joseph Smith in Ontario county, New York, and his missionizing journey to Ohio, in October, 1830, where he met with Sidney Rigdon, and submitted to his eyes for the first time (!) the Book of Mormon. This caused Sidney's conversion to the religion of Joseph Smith and the next day himself and wife were baptized.

This is the case of the defense, as presented by the Church organ, and a defiance is hurled forth to all the enemies of this people "to find some more potent weapon to fight it with than the Spaulding fiction, or hide their heads henceforth in shame." Let us see with whom the shame is to rest. We will take the News editor's statements seriatim.

As to Dr. Hurlbut's consistency. He is charged with saying, "in company with E. D. Howe," that the "Manuscript Found" was "a romance purporting to have been translated from the Latin, found on twenty-four rolls of parchment in a cave," etc. Hurlbut says no such thing. Hurlbut, as we have shown in a previous article, procured the MS. copy of the "Manuscript Found" from Spaulding's widow, and while in his hands it mysteriously disappeared. Hurlbut prompts Howe to say, (History of Mormonism, p. 287 et seq.) that:

While they (the Spaulding family) lived in Pittsburgh, she (Mrs. Davison) thinks it was once taken to the printing office of Patterson & Lambdin; but whether it was ever brought back to the house again, she is quite uncertain. If it was, however, it was then with his other writings in a trunk which she had left in Otsego county, New York.  *  *  * The trunk referred to by the widow, was subsequently examined, and found to contain only a single M. S. book, in Spaulding's hand-writing, containing about one quire of paper. This is a romance, purporting to have been translated from the Latin, found on twenty-four rolls of parchment in a cave, on the banks of the Conneaut Creek, but written in modern style, and giving a fabulous account of a ship's being driven upon the American coast, while proceeding from Rome to Britain, a short time previous to the Christian era, this country then being inhabited by the Indians. This old MS. has been shown to several of the foregoing witnesses, who recognise it as Spalding's, he having told them that he had altered his first plan of writing, by going farther back with dates, and writing in the old scripture style, in order that it might appear more ancient. They say that it bears no resemblance to the "Manuscript Found."

The News writer is evidently familiar with Howe's book, and has garbled his statements solely to mislead. His next plea is a still baser fabrication.

The interview with Mrs. Davison and her daughter, the Church scribe says was published in the Quincy Whig. The Times and Seasons copies the article. It is a "copy of a letter written by Mr. John Haven, of Holliston, Middlesex county, Mass., to his daughter Elizabeth Haven, of Quincy, Adams county, Illinois." In this letter the writer professes to give a report of an interview between his son Jessee and the two ladies. We will transcribe the portion the dishonest Churchman professes to quote:

Ques. -- Have you read the Book of Mormon?
Ans. -- I have read a little of it.

Q. -- Does Mr. Spaulding's manuscript and the Book of Mormon agree>
A. -- I think some few of the names are alike,

Q. -- Does the manuscript describe an idolatrous or a religious people?
A. -- An idolatrous people.

Q. -- Where is the manuscript?
A. -- Dr. P. Hurlbut came here and took it, said he would get it printed and let me have one-half the profits.

Q. -- Has Dr. P. Hurlburt got the manuscript printed?
A. -- I received a card stating that it did not read as they expected, and they should not print it.

Q. -- How large is Mr. Spaulding's manuscript?'
A. -- About the third as large as the Book of Mormon.

The perversion is very material. In the interview Mrs. Davison thinks "some few of the names are alike;" in the fabricated story, she affirms there is no resemblance. But the News man is not the original perpetrator of this fraud; it is to be traced back to his master, John Taylor. This eminently pious man, in his celebrated controversy at Boulogne-sur-mer, in July, 1850, objected to Mrs. Davison's statement being read. In a letter to a local paper, the Interpreter, he explains his reasons for so doing, and in his communication professes to give Mr. John Haven's letter, in which the grossest perversions are made. Of course, this might be expected from a man who had solemnly denied that polygamy was practiced by the Mormons, when he was himself married to seven wives, and his assistant elders were all numerously wedded. We will [----ts] here that Mrs. Davison's statement, dictated to Rev. D. R. Austin, (which was reproduced in our issue of Friday last) first publicly exposed the piracy by Joseph Smith of her deceased husband's unpublished work. In the interview published in the Quincy Whig, the colloquy opens as follows:

Did you, Mrs. Davidson, write a letter to John Storrs, giving an account of the origin of the Book of Mormon?
A. -- I did not.

Q. -- Did you sign your name to it?
A. -- I did not. Neither did I ever see the letter until I saw it in the Boston Recorder, the letter was never brought to me to sign.

Q. -- What agency had you in having this letter sent to Mr. Storrs?
A. -- D. R. Austin came to my house and asked some questions, took some minutes on paper, and from these minutes wrote that letter.

Q. -- Is what is written in the letter true?
A. -- In the main it is.

Mrs. Davison's Christian character and irreproachable morals are certified to by the Rev. Dr. Ely, a Congregational minister to Monson, and by Rev. Austin, principal of the Monson academy, her neighbors. A statement from such a woman must have weight, and it really forms the basis of the charge of larceny brought against the founder of the Mormon Church. The object with the leaders of the Latter day imposture is, therefore, to impeach this letter. John Taylor attempts the task in a manner that might be expected from such a man, by direct prevarication. Professing to give the interview as published in the Quincy Whig, and copied in Times and Seasons, he thus garbles the lady's answers:

Q. -- Is what that letter contains true?
A. -- There are some things that I told him.

Q. -- Have you read the Book of Mormon?
A. -- I have read a little of it.

Q. -- Is there any similarity between Mr. Spaulding's manuscript and the Book of Mormon?
A. -- NOT ANY, with the exception of some names, something similar the one to the other.

The small caps are John Taylor's. Mrs. Davison says that Mr. Austin's report of her sayings is in the main true; John Taylor qualifies this affirmation by altering her language to "there are some things that I told him." In answer to the question whether her husband's MS. and the Book of Mormon agreed, she (not having read much of the latter,) answers, "I think some of the names are alike;" how much closer the resemblance, she could not, and did not, attempt to say. John Taylor basely changes this to a flat denial of any similarity. "Not any," he puts into her mouth, and then follows a mild qualification, which the News man, in copying from his mendacious master, does not give. Do honest, sincere men in promulgating God's word, resort to these base tricks of deception? It is evident that the truth will not bear them out, and so they have to bolster up their system with lies.

Next comes the denial that Sidney Rigdon worked in Patterson's printing office, that he knew Spaulding or ever saw his manuscript. Mrs. Davison says, "he was at this time connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson." Subsequent inquiry shows that Rigdon was not employed in the office, but that he spent a good portion of his time there. The foreman of Mr. Patterson's office was a man named Engles, scholary, dissipated and uncanny. MSS. left with the publisher were submitted to Engles for his literary judgment. Spaulding, it seems, made a fair copy of his work for publication, which he carried to the printer, retaining the original draft by him. Mrs. Davison says the manuscript was returned to the author; her memory may be correct in this or it may not. Sidney Rigdon, on a letter dated Commerce, May 27th, 1839, makes the following denial:

It is only necessary to say, in relation to the whole story about Spalding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson, who was in Pittsburg, and who is said to have kept a printing office, and my saying that I was concerned in said office, etc. is the most base of lies, without even the shadow of truth

In the same letter he disclaims any knowledge of Spaulding or his manuscript, until the statement of Mrs. Davison came under his notice. And yet he emphatically denies the whole story of Spaulding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson. Why is he so positive in this denial? The only reasonable conclusion is that Engles had placed the writings in his hands.

We have not space to persue this argument further; but the conclusion must be forced upon the mind of the reader where so much disingenousness and prevarication are used to bolster up a case, as Mormon writers and expounders have resorted to, it must be essentially weak, and the statement of Spaulding's widow gains increased strength from the failure of her assailants to deal honestly with her straightforward story.

Note 1: Throughout this period the Tribune reporters had access to the assistance of James T. Cobb in preparing their several articles on the origin of Mormonism and related issues. It is likely that Cobb contributed to this article as well as others relating information on the Spaling claims for Book of Mormon authorship. The Tribune's exposure of the Mormon manipulation of the 1839 Jesse Haven interview text demonstrates that their writers had access to some in-depth research of obscure LDS history. In 1901 A. Theodore Schroeder would renew the Tribune's censure of Apostle Taylor (as well as Elder George Reynolds) for mutilating the Haven text to the Mormons' advantage.