Orrin Parsons Henry Letter - 1880

The New Northwest – September 9, 1880


We are in receipt of a letter from Mr. O. P. Henry, an Astoria subscriber, who says, in reference to an article in the Oregonian of recent date concerning the origin of the Mormon Bible, that his mother, who is yet alive, lived in the family of Sidney Rigdon for several years prior to her marriage in 1827; that there was in the family what is now called a "writing medium," also several others in adjacent places, and the Mormon Bible was written by two or three different persons by an automatic power which they believed was inspiration direct from God, the same as produced the original Jewish Bible and Christian New Testament. Mr. H. believes that Sidney Rigdon furnished Joseph Smith with these manuscripts, and that the story of the "hieroglyphics" was a fabrication to make the credulous take hold of the mystery; that Rigdon, having learned, beyond a doubt, that the so-called dead could communicate to the living, considered himself duly authorized by Jehovah to found a new church, under a divine guidance similar to that of Confucius, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Swedenborg, Calvin, Luther or Wesley, all of whom believed in and taught the ministration of spirits. The New Northwest gives place to Mr. Henry's idea as a matter of general interest. The public will, of course, make its own comments and draw its own conclusions.

Note 1: Abigail Jane Scott Duniway (1834-1914) published her The New Northwest in Portland, Oregon, from 1871 to 1887. This was a "suffragette paper," and Mrs. Duniway (who was also a sister to Harvey Scott, editor of the Portland Oregonian) eventually became the Vice President of Susan B. Anthony’s National Woman’s Suffrage Association.

Note 2: The woman who "lived in the family of Sidney Rigdon prior to her marriage in 1827," is not here identified by name. In 1879 the Rev. Robert Patterson, Jr. published a statement from Amarilla (or Amorilla) Brooks Dunlap (Mrs. Amos Dunlap), of Warren (or Howland), Trumbull Co., Ohio, who recalled visiting her uncle, Sidney Rigdon, at Bainbridge, Ohio, at an early date, and seeing there a certain manuscript. According to Mrs. Dunlap, "Whenever he [Rigdon] was reading this he was so completely occupied that he seemed entirely unconscious of anything passing around him." Since Amarilla Brooks was not married until 1832, she obviously was not the mother of O. P. Henry, Mrs. Duniway's 1880 Astoria correspondent.

Note 3: A search of Oregon Census lists shows that an "Orrin P. Henry" lived in Astoria in 1880, and that he was born in Ohio in 1828. This information corresponds with the Feb. 16, 1828 birth of Orrin Parsons Henry, Jr. at Bainbridge, Geauga Co., Ohio. Orrin was the first son of Orrin P. Henry, Sr. and Dencey Adeline Thompson, who were married at Chardon, in Geauga Co., on Mar. 16, 1827. Dencey Adeline Thompson is the only known child of John Thompson and Abigail Dayton, and was born on Apr. 2, 1805 at Longmeadow, Hampden Co., Massachusetts (see Frederick A. Henry's 1905 A Record of the Descendants of Simon Henry, p. 8). By coincidence, a son of Solomon Spalding's adopted daughter lived at Longmeadow until 1900. As late as 1880 Dencey was living at Eden, Benton Co., Iowa, under the name of "Densy Henry," in the family of her youngest son, Hiram Russell Henry. In 1881 Hiram moved his family to Holt Co., Nebraska and his mother died there (in the hamlet of Mineola, near Star, in Scott Precinct), on Jan. 24, 1887.

Note 4: Rigdon probably moved his family from Bainbridge, Ohio to Mentor in the spring of 1827, so it appears that Dencey Adeline Thompson, then twenty years of age, was a boarder with Sidney Rigdon's family while they lived at Bainbridge, and no doubt, prior to 1826 when the Rigdons were yet at Pittsburgh. Her work within that family almost certainly entailed taking care of the Rigdon babies, one of whom were born each year between 1821 and 1824. The Rigdons were too poor to employ a nursemaid, even for mere board and room, and it is possible that Dencey's living costs were furnished by Sidney Rigdon's Brooks in-laws (Rigdon's father-in-law, Jeremiah Brooks, supplied the family's dwelling while they lived at Bainbridge). Rigdon paid off his debts at Bainbridge and moved his family in with the Orris Clapp family, at Mentor in Geauga Co., in mid-March, 1827. Dencey probably accompanied the family to Geauga Co. and married Mr. Henry almost immediately upon her arrival there -- perhaps so that the couple could return to Bainbridge as man and wife and begin to raise a family there. For more on Rigdon's stay at Bainbridge, see the account left by George Wilber, who knew him during that period, and whose recollection of the man, as paraphrased in 1886, was that Rigdon had "a strong religious ambition that was not tempered by Christian grace and humility. For a year or more before the advent of Smith they [neighbors in Ohio] saw that Rigdon was bent on devising some new dogma: in short, to start a new church or sect that he could call his own or whose leadership he could share with only a few." Also: "Rigdon did not preach that winter [1825-26?], but was almost constantly engaged upon a manuscript that he was writing or revising. Wilber noticed that towards the close of the term there was much more of it than there was the first time he saw it. Rigdon had before that time been free and communicative, especially upon religious topics; he now appeared reserved and at times reticent. Whenever any reference about his manuscript he seemed disposed to parry inquiry by some general explanation that he was making notes or preparing some papers to throw light upon some portions of the gospel."

Note 5: Contemporary Mormons dismissed O. P. Henry, Jr.s' report of his mother's experiences with the Rigdons as "a new theory" for Book of Mormon origins, whose only redeeming factor, was that, "If this new theory should be caught up by preachers and editors, desperate for some plausible pretence to account for the Book of Mormon, they will have to drop forever the hackneyed and thoroughly riddled old fable called the Spaulding story." Evidently it did not occur to the LDS critics, that Sidney Rigdon's "automatic writing" might be accounted for by mental illness, more readily than by recourse to the spiritualist "medium business." See the Salt Lake City Deseret News of Sept. 22, 1880 for Mormon editorial comments on Mr. Henry's report of Sidney Rigdon's strange personal characteristics.