Mormon History

Matilda  Spaulding  McKinstry's Testimony - 1880

Scribner’s Monthly – August 1880

The Book of Mormon

From my earliest childhood there has been a tradition in my family that the Mormon Bible was taken from a manuscript written by my great-uncle, the Rev. Solomon Spaulding. Recently, while in Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Mrs. M.S. McKinstry, the only child of Mr. Spaulding, and received from her lips full confirmation of the story. Mrs. McKinstry is a remarkably intelligent and conscientious woman, of about seventy-five years of age. She has lived for fifty years in Monson, Massachusetts, and has a son, who is a well-known physician at Long Meadow, near Springfield; in the same State, and a son-in-law, Mr. Seaton, chief clerk in the Census Bureau, Washington, D.C. Soon after the first excitement on the subject of Mormonism, Mr. Spaulding's widow and daughter were interviewed by the reporter of a Boston newspaper; but the following statement, taken on oath from Mrs. McKinstry, is the first full statement of the subject, and the only attempt ever made by Mr. Spaulding's family to set this matter right.

In order to give the statement its full force, it will be necessary to prelude it by a slight explanation of some facts bearing upon the subject. Solomon Spaulding was born at Ashford, Connecticut, in 1761, graduated at Dartmouth College in 1785, studied divinity, preached a few years and then, from ill-health, gave up the ministry. He was a peculiar man, of fine education, especially devoted to historical study, and with a great fondness for the writing of romances. In 1812 he resided in Conneaut, Ashtabula county, Ohio. In the vicinity there are several earth-mounds, which excited his curiosity and fired his imagination. He was one of the earliest persons, if not the very first, in that part of the country to become interested in these curious monuments of a past civilization. He caused one of the mounds near his house to be explored, and discovered numerous portions of skeletons and other relics.

This discovery suggested to him the subject for a new romance, which he called a translation from some hieroglyphical writing exhumed from the mound. This romance purported to be a history of the peopling of America by the lost tribes of Israel, the tribes and their leaders having very singular names -- among them Mormon, Maroni, Lamenite, Nephi. The romance the author called " Manuscript Found." This all occurred in 1812, when to write a book was a distinction, and Mr. Spaulding read his manuscript from time to time to a circle of admiring friends. He determined finally to publish it, and for that purpose carried it to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a printer by the name of Patterson. After keeping it awhile, Mr. Patterson returned it, declining to print it. There was, at this time, in this printing-office a young man named Sidney Rigdon, who twenty years later figured as a preacher among the Saints.

In 1823, Joseph Smith, -- a disreputable fellow who wandered about the country professing to discover gold and silver and lost articles by means of a "seer stone," -- gave out that he had been directed in a vision to a hill near Palmyra, New York, where he discovered some gold plates curiously inscribed. In 1825, he called upon Mr. Thurlow Weed, who was the proprietor of a newspaper in Rochester, New York, and asked him to print a manuscript, as appears from the following statement, which has never before been given to the public:

                NEW YORK, April 12th, 1880.

In 1825, when I was publishing the "Rochester Telegraph," a man introduced himself to me as Joseph Smith, of Palmyra, New York, whose object, he said, was to get a book published. He then stated he had been guided by a vision to a spot he described, where, in a cavern, he found what he called a golden bible. It consisted of a tablet which he placed in his hat, and from which he proceeded to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon.

I listened until I became weary of what seemed to me an incomprehensible jargon. I then told him I was only publishing a newspaper, and that he would have to go to a book publisher, suggesting a friend who was in that business. A few days afterward Smith called again, bringing a substantial farmer with him named Harris. Smith renewed his request that I should print his book, adding that it was a divine revelation, and would be accepted, and that he would be accepted by the world as a prophet. Supposing that I had doubts as to his being able to pay for the publishing, Mr. Harris, who was a convert, offered to be his security for payment. Meantime, I had discovered that Smith was a shrewd, scheming fellow who passed his time at taverns and stores in Palmyra, without business, and apparently without visible means of support. He seemed about thirty years of age, was compactly built, about five feet eight inches in height, had regular features, and would impress one favorably in conversation. His book was afterward published in Palmyra. I knew the publisher, but cannot at this moment remember his name. The first Mormon newspaper was published at Canandaigua, New York, by a man named Phelps, who accompanied Smith as an apostle to Illinois, where the first Mormon city, Nauvoo, was started.

            (Signed)    THURLOW WEED.

In 1830, the Mormon Bible was printed at Palmyra, New York, by E. R. Grandin. Two years later, the Mormon religion seemed to be gaining ground. A band of thirty were settled at Kirtland, Ohio. Later, these converts, with large accessions to their numbers, went to Missouri, from which place they were expelled. They then crossed the river and made a settlement at Nauvoo, in Illinois. In 1845 they removed to Salt Lake, where their numbers have enormously increased.

Joe Smith seems to have lacked the inventive genius common to religious fanatics. He followed the story of Mr. Spaulding with almost servile closeness. Mr. Spaulding's book purported to be a translation from some metal plates found in the earth-mound to which he had been guided by a vision.

This was precisely Smith's story. As the new-made prophet could scarcely lay claim, with any hope of credence, to sufficient learning to translate the hieroglyphical writing, he added to the original story the Urim and Thummim, -- the great spectacles which he professed to have found in a stone box, together with the golden plates, and by means of which he could decipher the mysterious characters.

Smith had now become a prophet, and a he proceeded forthwith to add his peculiar tenets in regard to marriage, etc. to original manuscript.


      WASHINGTON, D. C., April 3d, 1880.

So much has been published that is erroneous concerning the "Manuscript Found," written by my father, the Rev. Solomon Spaulding, and its supposed connection with the book, called the Mormon Bible, I have willingly consented to make the following statement regarding it, repeating all that I remember personally of this manuscript, and all that is of importance which my mother related to me in connection with it, at the same time affirming that I am in tolerable health and vigor, and that my memory, in common with elderly people, is clearer in regard to the events of my earlier years, rather than those of my maturer life. 

During the war of 1812, I was residing with my parents in a little town in Ohio called Conneaut. I was then in my sixth year. My father was in business there, and I remember his iron foundry and the men he had at work, but that he remained at home most of the time and was reading and writing a great deal. He frequently wrote little stories, which he read to me. There were some round mounds of earth near our house which greatly interested him, and he said a tree on the top of one of them was a thousand years old. He set some of his men to work digging into one of these mounds, and I vividly remember how excited he became when he heard that they had exhumed some human bones, portions of gigantic skeletons, and various relics. He talked with my mother of these discoveries in the mound, and was writing every day as the work progressed. Afterward he read the manuscript which I had seen him writing, to the neighbors and to a clergyman, a friend of his, who came to see him. Some of the names that he mentioned while reading to these people I have never forgotten. They are as fresh to me to-day as though I heard them yesterday. They were "Mormon," "Maroni," "Lamenite," "Nephi." 

We removed from Conneaut to Pittsburgh while I was still very young, but every circumstance of this removal is distinct in my memory. In that city my father had an intimate friend named Patterson, and I frequently visited Mr. Patterson's library with him, and heard my father talk about books with him. In 1816 my father died at Amity, Pennsylvania, and directly after his death my mother and myself went to visit at the residence of my mother's brother William H. Sabine, at Onondaga Valley, Onondaga County, New York. Mr. Sabine was a lawyer of distinction and wealth, and greatly respected. We carried all our personal effects with us, and one of these was an old trunk, in which my mother had placed all my father's writings which had been preserved. I perfectly remember the appearance of this trunk, and of looking at its contents. There were sermons and other papers, and I saw a manuscript, about an inch thick, closely written, tied with some of the stories my father had written for me, one of which he called, "The Frogs of Wyndham." On the outside of this manuscript were written the words, "Manuscript Found." I did not read it, but looked through it and had it in my hands many times, and saw the names I had heard at Conneaut, when my father read it to his friends. I was about eleven years of age at this time. 

After we had been at my uncle's for some time, my mother left me there and went to her father's house at Pomfret, Connecticut, but did not take her furniture nor the old trunk of manuscripts with her. In 1820 she married Mr. Davison, of Hartwicks, a village near Cooperstown, New York, and sent for the things she had left at Onondaga Valley, and I remember that the old trunk, with its contents, reached her in safety. In 1828, I was married to Dr. A. McKinstry of Monson, Hampden county, Massachusetts, and went there to reside. Very soon after my mother joined me there, and was with me most of the time until her death in 1844. We heard, not long after she came to live with me -- I do not remember just how long -- something of Mormonism, and the report that it had been taken from my father's "Manuscript Found;" and then came to us direct an account of the Mormon meeting at Conneaut, Ohio, and that, on one occasion, when the Mormon Bible was read there in public, my father's brother, John Spaulding, Mr. Lake and many other persons who were present, at once recognized its similarity to the "Manuscript Found," which they had heard read years before by my father in the same town. There was a great deal of talk and a great deal published at this time about Mormonism all over the country. I believe it was in 1834 that a man named Hurlburt came to my house at Monson to see my mother, who told us that he had been sent by a committee to procure the "Manuscript Found" written by the Reverend Solomon Spaulding, so as to compare it with the Mormon Bible. He presented a letter to my mother from my uncle, William H. Sabine, of Onondaga Valley, in which he requested her to loan this manuscript to Hurlburt, as he (my uncle) was desirous "to uproot" (as he expressed it) "this Mormon fraud." Hurlburt represented that he had been a convert to Mormonism, but had given it up, and through the "Manuscript Found," wished to expose its wickedness. My mother was careful to have me with her in all the conversations she had with Hurlburt, who spent a day at my house. She did not like his appearance and mistrusted his motives; but, having great respect for her brother's wishes and opinions, she reluctantly consented to his request. The old trunk, containing the desired "Manuscript Found," she had placed in the care of Mr. Jerome Clark of Hartwicks, when she came to Monson, intending to send for it. On the repeated promise of Hurlburt to return the manuscript to us, she gave him a letter to Mr. Clark to open the trunk and deliver it to him. We afterwards heard that he had received it from Mr. Clark, at Hartwicks, but from that time we have never had it in our possession, and I have no present knowledge of its existence, Hurlburt never returning it or answering letters requesting him to do so. Two years ago I heard he was still living in Ohio, and with my consent he was asked for the "Manuscript Found." He made no response although we have evidence that he received the letter containing the request. So far I have stated facts within my own knowledge. My mother mentioned many other circumstances to me in connection with this subject which are interesting, of my father's literary tastes, his fine education and peculiar temperament. She stated to me that she had heard the manuscript alluded to read by my father, was familiar with its contents, and she deeply regretted that her husband, as she believed, had innocently been the means of furnishing matter for a religious delusion. She said that my father loaned this "Manuscript Found" to Mr. Patterson, of Pittsburgh, and that when he returned it to my father, he said: "Polish it up, finish it, and you will make money out of it." My mother confirmed my remembrances of my father's fondness for history, and told me of his frequent conversations regarding a theory which he had of a prehistoric race which had inhabited this continent, etc., all showing that his mind dwelt on this subject. The  "Manuscript Found," she said, was a romance written in Biblical style, and that while she heard it read she had no especial admiration for it more than for other romances he wrote and read to her. We never, either of us, ever saw, or in any way communicated with the Mormons, save Hurlburt, as above described, and while we had no personal knowledge that the Mormon Bible was taken from the "Manuscript Found," there were many evidences to us that it was, and that Hurlburt and others at the time thought so. A convincing proof to us of this belief was that my uncle, William H. Sabine, had undoubtedly read the manuscript while it was in his house, and his faith that its production would show to the world that the Mormon Bible had been taken from it, or was the same with slight alterations. I have frequently answered questions which have been asked me by different persons regarding the "Manuscript Found," but until now have never made a statement at length for publication.

(Signed)       M. S. MCKINSTRY.

Sworn and subscribed to before me this 3d day of April, A. D. 1880, at the city of Washington, D. C.

CHARLES WALTER,       Notary Public.

I wrote this statement at Mrs. McKinstry's dictation, and was obliged to change it and copy it four times before she was satisfied so anxious was she that no word nor expression should occur in it to which she could not solemnly make oath.

About forty years ago, affidavits were made by John Spaulding, the brother. and Mr. Lake, the partner of Mr. Solomon Spaulding, and afterward published, containing the statement that they had heard the author read his manuscript in 1812, and that there was a striking similarity between it and the Book of Mormon; but these affidavits cannot now be found. There is no possible way of finding out what Hurlburt did with the manuscript which he carried away, since he has ignored the letter of application which was personally put into his hands. There was a report to the effect that he sold it to the Mormons for $300, and that they then destroyed it.

The question remains: how did Smith become possessed of the "Manuscript Found"? Rigdon, who was in Patterson's office while the manuscript was lying there, had ample opportunity of copying it, and as he was afterward a prominent Mormon preacher and adviser of Smith, this is not improbable. Smith, however, could easily have possessed himself of the manuscript if he had fancied it suitable to his purposes, for it is understood that he was a servant on the farm, or teamster for Mr. Sabine, in whose house the package of manuscript lay exposed in an unlocked trunk for several years. At all events, it is evident that Smith had access to the manuscript, since both stories are alike, -- the peculiar names occur nowhere else but in these two books, -- and that Mr. Spaulding's romance had been read by a number of people in 1812, while the Mormon Bible was not published till 1830, and not heard of earlier than 1823. Out of the curious old romance of Solomon Spaulding, and the ridiculous "seer-stone" of Joseph Smith, has grown this monstrous Mormon State, which presents a problem that the wisest politician has failed to solve, and whose outcome lies in the mystery of the future.