Mormon History

Discrediting and Destroying Evidence - 1885

Deseret Evening News July 14, 1885



HONOLULU, Sandwich Islands.    
May 11, 1885.       

Editor, Deseret News:

On the morning of the 16th of April my companion and I made our way to Punahou, about two miles from Honolulu, to the residence of Mr. J. M. Whitney, son-in-law of Mr. L. L. Rice, with whom the latter is at present living.

On going to the house we met a very aged, but intelligent looking man at the rear of the dwelling, whom we found to be Mr. Rice. After introducing ourselves, I informed him that I had seen an article, published in the papers by Mr. James H. Fairchild, relative to

Mr. Spaulding's Romance,

from which it was alleged the Book of Mormon was derived, and that interest and curiosity had led us to call on him in hopes of seeing it, and of having some conversation with him on the subject.

He invited us into the parlor, and when we were seated he asked "Are you Mormons?" Of course to this we had but one unequivocal answer. He then enquired how long we had been in the country, our business, etc., to all of which we gave appropriate answers, so that he seemed satisfied that we had come no great distance for the special object of our visit. He then began to talk about as follows (to the best of my recollection):

"I have no objection to show you the manuscript; you shall see it; but it is of no value to anybody. I have, with others, compared it with the Book of Mormon, and I undertook to copy it but ran out of paper before I got it finished and so discontinued it. There is not one word nor sentence in it in common with the Book of Mormon.

The Only Possible Resemblance

is: they both purport to give an account of American Indians. This manuscript is nothing but a simple story about the tribes of Indians supposed to have inhabited the country in the vicinity of Conneaut, Ohio, where some ancient mounds existed, and it is a very poor story at that.

"It came into my possession in 183_ when Mr. [Philander Winchester] and I bought out the printing establishment formerly owned by Mr. E. D. Howe in Painesville, Ohio, in connection with a large amount of old papers found in the place and turned over to us with it. I have had it ever since in my possession. I have looked at it scores of times, and often thought I would look into it to see what it was, but never did until a year ago, on the occasion of President Fairchild's visit. Since then I have often wondered that I did not long ago destroy it with other worthless papers. I have recently had letters from several parties making inquiries, and all desiring to obtain possession of it.

"Mr. Howe thinks he has a claim upon it, but I have told them all they cannot have it. When I get through with it, I shall most likely deposit it in the Oberlin College Library, as I have promised President Fairchild."

I remarked: "There is no use disguising the fact that we would like to obtain it or a copy of it," to which he very emphatically replied: "Well, sir, you can't have it."

He went into another part of the house and soon returned with a parcel wrapped in a piece of old brown wrapping paper and fastened with an old tow string. I judge

The Manuscript

to be 6 1/2 inches wide, and 8 inches long and about an inch in thickness. Holding the parcel before my eyes, he said: "This is just as I received it, and as it has been in my possession for over forty years, tied with that same string. You see that pencil writing? That was written there before it came into my hands."

This writing in pencil, quite legible, was -- "Manuscript Story."

"But," continued he, "this writing in ink I foolishly wrote there myself very recently; I suppose I ought not to have done it, but with that exception it is just as it came into my hands and as it has remained for over forty years."

This writing in ink was as follows: -- "Writings of Solomon Spaulding," and was inscribed partly over the "Manuscript Story" written in pencil.

Mr. Rice then untied the tow string and took off the wrapper, when we saw a time-worn, dingy, somewhat dilapidated old manuscript. I glanced over a portion of

The Preface,

which set forth that in consequence of the existence of large mounds in the vicinity of Conneaut, indicating the former occupation of the country by a numerous people, etc., the author had been induced to write, etc. etc. I do not pretend to give the text, but merely the sense as I gathered it from a hasty glance.

Mr. Rice called our attention to the certificate on the last page, which was referred to by Mr. Fairchild in his article published in the New York Observer of Feb. 5th, 1885. This certificate gave the names of several persons, known to the writer and signer of the same, who had made affidavits, which the certificate says were "on file in this office," to the effect that, they "personally knew this manuscript to be the writing of Solomon Spaulding." The certificate and the signature are in the same handwriting, and are that of

"Doctor Philastus Hurlburt,"

or rather the signature is plain "D. P. Hurlbut."

Mr. Rice is now 84 years of age, but he is in good mental and physical condition. He chatted freely relative to his early recollections and acquaintances, not forgetting to give us his mind respecting plural marriage. He said: "I was well acquainted with Sidney Rigdon, both before and after he became a Mormon, and have heard him preach as a Campbellite and as a Mormon. He was a very smart man, but I never knew the cause of his leaving your Church, or whether he ever denounced Mormonism and the Book of Mormon, or not."

I said: "One cause of his leaving the Church was that he assumed to be the guardian and leader of the Church after the death of the Prophet Joseph, while that authority had been conferred through Joseph Smith upon the Twelve Apostles, and that to my knowledge Mr. Rigdon had never at any time denied or denounced either Mormonism or the Book of Mormon."

He said: "I was very well acquainted with Joseph Smith in Kirtland, and I saw him once in Nauvoo."

He was also quite well acquainted with Sister E. R. S. Smith; said she used to write poetry for his paper, and he always thought her "a very nice, intelligent young lady," and wanted to know if she was still living.

As he had refused so emphatically to part with the manuscript or allow it to be copied, I asked him if he would part with the copy he had made, so far as he had gone, for a reasonable compensation for his time and labor. At first he refused, but after some talk on the subject, he promised to write Mr. Fairchild by the next mail, and if he made no objection he would perhaps do so.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the identical, much-talked-of, long-lost, much-belied, but very innocent

"Manuscript Found."

The facts already demonstrated beyond contradiction stamp its identity with unmistakable certainty. In 1834 it was obtained by Hurlbut from Jerome Clark at Hartwicks, New York upon an order of Mrs. Davison, the widow of Solomon Spaulding, certified to as being the writing of Solomon Spaulding by several persons personally knowing the fact, and subscribed to by D. P. Hurlbut himself, by whom it was taken to the printing establishment of Mr. E. D. Howe, the reputed author of "Mormonism Unvailed," and transferred to Mr. L. L. Rice on his purchasing the printing establishment, and by Mr. Rice preserved until now, without even knowing what it was for some forty years. It seems that

The Hand of Providence

is plainly visible, for some wise purpose, in the whole affair. And now it has been carefully examined and compared with the Book of Mormon by Mr. L. L. Rice, Mr. James H. Fairchild of the Oberlin College Library, Ohio, and by others, and by them declared without similarity in name, incident, purpose or fact with the Book of Mormon.

Mr. L. L. Rice declared to Brother Farr and myself that he believed it to be the "only romance of the kind ever written by Mr. Spaulding," and, said he, "somehow I feel that this is a fact." From his remarks we inferred that it was his belief that

The Reason It Was Not Published

by Spaulding himself was because it was not worth publishing. "For," said he, "it is only a very simple story, and a very poor one at that."

Taking this statement as the unreserved judgment of an old editor and newspaper man, who has not only carefully read it and compared it with the Book of Mormon, but with his own hand copied about two-thirds of it, his opinion must be accepted as of great weight; and it corresponds with the alleged message sent by Mr. Patterson with the Mss., when it is said he returned it to Spaulding, "declining to print it," and said, "Polish it up, finish it and you'll make money out of it." It no doubt needed and still needs a good deal of "polish."

On the 1st instant, Brother Farr and I called again on Mr. Rice, when he allowed us to examine the Mss. of the "Manuscript Found." We read the preface and two chapters of the Mss. which we found to be what I should call a far-fetched story about the discovery of some "28 sheets of parchment" in an "artificial cave" about "8 feet deep," situated in a mound on the west side of the Conneaut River." With this parchment, which was "plainly written upon with Roman letters in the Latin language," was a "roll of parchment containing the biography of the writer."

The first two chapters which we read purport to be a translation of this biography, which sets forth that the writer's name was Fabius, that he was "born in Rome and received his education under the tuition of a very learned master, at the time that Constantine entered Rome, and was firmly seated as Emperor," to whom Fabius was introduced and was appointed by him one of his secretaries.

Soon after this, Fabius was sent by Constantine "with an important message to a certain general in England." On the voyage the heavens gathered blackness, obscuring sun and stars, and a terrific storm arose, which continued unabated for five days, when it lulled, but the darkness continued. They were lost at sea. They began to pray "with great lamentations," etc., when a voice came telling them not to be afraid, and they would be taken to a "safe harbor." For five days more they were swiftly driven before the wind and found themselves in the mouth of a very "large river" up which they sailed "for many days," when they came to a village and cast anchor. The natives were alarmed, held a council, and finally extended towards them the hand of friendship, and made a great feast for them, sold them a "large tract of land for fifty pieces of scarlet calico and fifty knives," and established with them a covenant of perpetual peace.

Not daring to venture the dangers and uncertainties of the unknown deep over which they had been so mysteriously driven, they concluded it was better to remain than to attempt to return to Rome, etc., etc. The ship's company consisted of 20 souls, seven of whom were young women who had embarked at Rome to visit their relatives in England. Luian or Lucian was the name of the captain of the vessel and Trojenous was the name of his 1st Mate, one of the sailors is called Droll Tom, another Crito. There were three ladies of rank among the women. On motion of one of the sailors the women chose their husbands, Lucian, Fabius and Trojanus were of course selected by the three ladies of rank, but six poor fellows had to go without wives, or marry the natives, etc.

This is about the thread of the story, so far as we have read.

Note 1: This article was reprinted in the weekly Deseret News of July 22. The correspondent from Hawaii (who here calls himself "Islander"), was Joseph F. Smith, an LDS Apostle as well as Second Counselor to President John Taylor. Smith was hiding out in Hawaii incognito, in order to avoid being arrested for practicing polygamy. While in Hawaii he assumed the name of Mr. "Speight." Thus, he was not fully truthful in his dealings with Lewis L. Rice. Rice probably never knew that he was talking to such a high ranking Mormon, the nephew of Joseph Smith, Jr. When Oberlin College President James H. Fairchild's notice concerning the Spalding manuscript discovered in Hawaii appeared in the March 23, 1885 issue of the Deseret Evening News, Elder George Reynolds clipped out the report and sent it to Smith in Laie, Oahu, Hawaii. It was probably Reynolds who suggested that Joseph F. Smith contact Rice (using his cover-name of "Speight") in order to attempt to obtain his Spalding holograph for the LDS Church. Smith wrote a second report back to Utah on June 24, 1885. These two letters by President Smith, although addressed to the editors at the Deseret News, were almost certainly originally addressed to Elder George Reynolds.

Note 2: As President Smith admits, the only title associated with the old story was the "Manuscript Story" written on its wrapper -- a title not even known to have originated with Solomon Spalding. Smith's use of the term "Manuscript Found" in reference to this manuscript is not justified by anything written in the story itself.

Note 3: President Smith further says that Rice's "opinion" regarding the history of the manuscript "must be accepted as of great weight." Howver, the "opinion" relayed by Smith to his readers back in Utah was not L. L. Rice's final conclusion regarding Spalding and his writings. After several months' further consideration and study of the matter, Rice provided his mature, final "opinion" in a letter written on March 4, 1886 and published on Mar. 11th, saying: "The mooted question now is what became of the Manuscript... My belief is from ... testimony in my possession, that either Hurlburt or Howe sold it to the Mormons, who of course destroyed it, or put it out of the way." In saying this Lewis L. Rice clearly advocated the belief or "opinion" that the Spalding manuscript found in his possession was not the famous "Manuscript Found." It was also his final "opinion" that the latter story had indeed formed the basis of the Book of Mormon, but that the sole surviving draft of that Book of Mormon seed narrative had been lost to the world when "Hurlburt or Howe" placed it in the hands of top Mormon leaders at Kirtland during the early 1830s.

Note 4: For more details regarding President Smith's encounter with the Spalding manuscript in Hawaii, see Lance Chase's "Horse Soldiers and the Spaulding Manuscript," in Proceedings: Fourth Annual Conference, Mormon History in the Pacific, April 30, 1983, pp. 9-16, which includes excerpts from Elder Isaac Fox's 1884 Hawaii missionary journal.