Mormon History

The Unveiling of Moroni - 1899

The Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel December 27, 1899


Interest in Mormonism has been revived and stimulated throughout the country by the prominence the Roberts case has been given in national affairs, and the origin of the sect established by Joseph Smith has peculiar interest now. Rev. W. A. Stanton, D.D., of Pittsburg, Pa., in a recent issue of The Standard, sets forth a very interesting account of it and throws some light on some points hitherto not commonly known.

Two movements in the second quarter of the Nineteenth century, each of which was claimed by its leader to be a reformation of religion, have an important place in American religious history, writes Dr. Stanton. The first was the beginning and rise of Mormonism under the manipulations of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. The second was the development of modern spiritualism, or "spiritism," beginning with the "rappings" of the Fox sisters in Western New York. The first reformation had close connection with Baptist history in and about Pittsburg, Pa. Having been pastor of a Baptist church in Pittsburg for about ten years, with excellent opportunities for investigations, I propose to tell what I have learned as to the relation of Sidney Rigdon to the Book of Mormon. Of course, this story will be denied by Mormons and their friends; within twelve hours of this writing I have been visited by two Mormon officials and treated to a strenuous and indignant denial; but denial is not proof. I submit the plain, unvarnished facts to the public, and abide by its verdict.


He was born February 18, 1793, on a farm near the hamlet of Library, a few miles south of Pittsburg. Elder David Phillips baptized him into the membership of the Peter's Creek Baptist church, at Library, May 31, 1817. Alexander Campbell had supplied the pulpit at times, and it was largely through his influence that Rigdon was called. He had almost supplanted his faithful pastor at Peter's Creek by his forwardness and ambition. Elder Phillips said, "As long as Rigdon lives he will be a curse to the Church of Christ." Rev. Samuel Williams was a successor to Rigdon in the Pittsburg pastorate. From a sermon of Williams on Mormonism I quote: "There was so much of the miraculous about Rigdon's conversion at Library, and so much parade about his profession, that the pious and discerning pastor entertained serous doubts at the time in regard to the genuineness of the work." Rigdon afterwards confessed to a deacon of the Pittsburg church that he "made up his experience in order to get into the church."

He came to Pottsburg direct from Warren, Ohio. Rigdon began to preach views not consonant with the doctrine of the church. A church council being called, finally rendered a verdict finding Rigdon guilty of "holding and teaching many abominable heresies." He was thereupon deposed from the ministry and excluded from the church. In August, 1827, Rigdon was in attendance at the Mahoning association in New Lisbon, Ohio, and by courtesy of the association preached a sermon on the evening of August 27. Just thirty days after that sermon Joseph Smith proclaimed his finding of "The Golden Bible," better known as the Book of Mormon, at the little village of Manchester, six miles from Palmyra, New York.

Rigdon soon went hither, professed immediate conversion to the "find," and straightway preached the first Mormon sermon. It was preached in Palmyra and showed a remarkable amount of information for a new convert. It was said that he seemed to know more about it than Smith himself. Abundant reason for this will soon be shown. Smith claimed to have been directed by an angel to the burial place of a stone box in which was a volume six inches thick and composed of thin gold leaves, eight by seven inches, fastened together by three gold rings. The writing on them was called "Reformed Egyptian." There was also a pair of "supernatural spectacles;" two crystals, that Smith called "Urim and Thummim," were set in a silver bow. When Smith put these on he claimed to be able to translate the reformed Egyptian language. I have heard my father-in-law, then nineteen years old and still living, who knew Smith, say he was scarcely able [to read or write plain English]. It probably will never be known why Rigdon did not take first place in Mormonism. It is certain that Smith developed better qualities of leadership, and it is probable [sic - missing word?] characterized him as a quick-witted, lazy, superstitious fellow who spent his time in digging for treasures and locating springs for wells with a divining rod. He was just the man for Rigdon to attempt to use as a tool, although in the long run he proved too shrewd for his [master]. He [said?] that Rigdon never dared offend Smith for fear of exposure as to their secret.

Neither Smith nor Rigdon had money to publish this "Golden Bible." They succeeded in interesting a well-to-do farmer named Martin Harris, who furnished the means. Oliver Cowdery was employed as an amanuensis. He wrote what what Smith dictated to him from the farther side of the concealing curtain. In 1830 the book was printed, and with it a sworn statement by Cowdery, Harris and a David Whitmer, that an angel of God had shown them the plates of which the book purported to be a translation. Some years later these three men renounced Mormonism and declared said sworn statement false. I recently opened the Book of Mormon that lay upon the pulpit in the Mormon Tabernacle at Salt Lake City. Upon its page was this sworn statement by these three men, but their renunciation was not there. The Mormons explain the disappearance of the "golden leaves" by assuming that an angel took them away. As a matter of fact we have only Joseph Smith's word for it, aside from the above statement, that they ever existed. In spite of this a leading Mormon told me, as he and I stood by Brigham Young's grave a few weeks ago, that they had two Bibles of equal authority. One contained the Old and New Testament, the other is the Book of Mormon.

Sidney Rigdon was Joseph Smith's angel.

Now we return to Pittsburg. In 1761, Solomon Spaulding was born in Ashford, Conn., and was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1785. Latyer in life he lived in New Salem and Conneaut, Ohio. There he wrote a manuscript which he called "The Manuscript Found." He read it to numerous of his relatives and friends. Its leading characters bore such names as Mormon, Maroni, Lamanite and Nephi. It divided the population of this continent into two classes, the righteous and the idolatrous, and told an imaginary story of discovery of their history as recorded on a manuscript that was centuries ago concealed in the earth. It was full of wars and rumors of wars and presented a record of the preaching of Christianity in America during the first century after Christ. Mr. Spaulding being a minister and familiar with Bible history, made his romance correspond closely to the biblical records as their sequel. In 1812 he moved to Pittsburg. Robert Patterson had a printing establishment here, his foreman was Silas Engles. Spaulding desired Patterson to publish his work, but was unable to guarantee the expenses if the book should prove a failure. Patterson testified that he saw said manuscript and told Engles to print it if Spaulding furnished security for expenses. He farther testified that Spaulding was unable to do so and that he supposed that Engles returned the manuscript to its author. As a matter of fact, Spaulding moved to Amity, Washington ounty, Pa., in 1814, and died there in 1816. Joseph Miller, of Amity, was an intimate friend of Spaulding; he heard him read much of his manuscript and testified (see Pittsburgh Telegraph in 1879) to Spaulding's telling him that while he was writing a preface for the book the manuscript was spirited away, that a Sidney Rigdon was suspected of taking it. Miller also said that when he read the Book of Mormon he at once recognized Spaulding's story. Redick McKee, of Washington county, bears the same testimony and says that Rigdon was employed in Patterson's office. Some of Rigdon's friends deny that he was employed there, but Mrs. R. J. Eichbaum, who died in Pittsburg in 1882, was clerk in the Pittsburg postoffice from [1811] to 1816, her father being postmaster. She gave testimony to the intimacy between Rigdon and Lamdin, their coming to the office together, and Engles' telling her that "Rigdon was always hanging about the printing office." It is also a matter of fact that Lamdin became Patterson's business partner in 1818. Spaulding's widow testified that Rigdon was connected with the office in some way. It seems evident that Rigdon was about the office, to say the least. Six years later he returned to Pittsburg as the pastor of the Baptist church. Patterson had died in 1814 [sic]; Lamdin died in 1815; Engles in 1827. Rigdon's pastorate was while both were yet alive and he was intimate with both.

Rev. John Winter, M. D., known to many in western Pennsylvania, testified that he was in Rigdon's study in Pittsburg in the winter of 1822-3, that Rigdon took from his desk a large manuscript and said in substance: "A Presbyterian minister, whose health failed, brought this to the printer to see if it would pay to publish it. It is a romance of the Bible." Rev. A. J. Bonsall, now pastor of the Baptist church in Rochester, Pa., tells me that Dr. Winter, who was his step-father, often referred to this incident, saying that the manuscript purported to be a history of the American Indian, and that Rigdon said he got it from the printers. Mrs. Mary W. Irvine, of Sharon, Pa., Dr. Winter's daughter, says: "I have frequently heard my father speak of Rigdon's having Spaulding's manuscript, that he said he got it from the printer to read as a curiosity. As such he showed it to my father and then seemed to have no intention of using it as he evidently afterwards did. Father always said that Rigdon helped Smith in his scheme by revising and transforming this manuscript into the Mormon Bible."

As late as 1879 a Mrs. Amos Dunlop, of Warren, Ohio, wrote of having visited the Rigdons when she was young and of his taking a manuscript from his trunk and becoming greatly absorbed in it. His wife threatened to burn it, but he said, "No, indeed, you will not; this will be a great thing some day."

In 1820 the Widow Spaulding married Mr. Davidson, of Hartwick, Otsego County, New York; in May, 1839, the Boston Recorder published a statement from her made to and recorded by Rev. D. R. Austin, of Monson, Mass., to the effect that a Mormon preacher took a copy of the Mormon Bible to New Salem, Ohio, where her husband had lived and written much of his manuscript, and read from it at a public meeting. She said that many of the older people immediately recognized it as her husband's romance and that his brother, John Spaulding, arose then and there and protested against such a use of his late brother's writings. Rigdon wrote to the Boston Recorder [sic] an emphatic and coarse denial of this fact and said that he had never heard of such a man as Spaulding.

The reader may judge, after what has been said, whether he ever had. In August, 1880, Scribner's Monthly published some testimony from Solomon Spaulding's daughter, Mrs. M. S. McKinstry, of Washington, D. C. She certifies to the same facts and bears testimony to the parallelism between the Book of Mormon and her father's romance. Mrs. President Garfield's father, Mr. Z. Rudolph, knew Rigdon well and says that "during the winter previous to the appearance of the Mormon Bible Rigdon spent weeks away from home, gone no one knew where; when he returned he seemed very much preoccupied, talked in a dreamy, imaginative way, and puzzled his listeners. His joining the Mormons so quickly made his neighbors sure that he was in the secret of the authorship of the Book of Mormon." The book was printed in the office of the Wayne Sentinel, Palmyra, N. Y. The editor was Pomeroy Tucker. In 1867 he printed a book, "Origin and Progress of Mormonism." In it he says that during the summer of 1827 (the "Leaves of Gold" were found in September, 1827) a stranger made several visits at Smith's home. He was afterward recognized as Rigdon, who afterward preached the first Mormon sermon at Palmyra. This statement is corroborated by Mrs. Dr. Horace Eaton, who lived in Palmyra for more than thirty years. Not to weary patience, let me say that testimony has been secured from many others. As early as 1835 Mr. E. D. Howe, of Painesville, Ohio, printed the full testimony of eight reliable witnesses, such persons as John Spaulding and his wife, Martha, Henry Lake, a former business associate of Solomon Spaulding, Oliver Smith, Aaron Wright, and Nahum Howard, all of Conneaut, Ohio, all of whom certified that the Book of Mormon and Spaulding's romance were in substance identical. Finally, Rigdon's brother-in-law, Rev. Adam Bently, and Alexander Campbell both testify ("The Millennial Harbinger," 1844) that as much as two years beore the Mormon Bible made its appearance Rigdon told them that "such a book was coming out, the manuscript of which had been found engraved on gold plates." In spite of this, Rigdon claimed that he first heard of the Book of Mormon from parley P. Pratt in August, 1830. In light of this evidence, whence think ye came the Book of Mormon, and what is its claim to divine authority? Was not Rigdon Joseph Smith's angel?

Note: The above text contains some lines out of order and some incomplete sentences resulting from dropped words. Unfortunately only a partial clipping of the original Chicago article has so far been transcribed and it does not agree in every particular with the Fort Wayne reprint -- therefore the full and exact text remains uncertain. For more information of Rev. William A. Stanton and his views concerning Sidney Rigdon being "Joseph Smith's Angel" see a report of one of his sermons as published in an early July, 1899 issue of the Pittsburgh Post. Stanton's Chicago Standard article on Rigdon as the "angel" was recapitulated in Edgar E. Folk's 1900 book, The Mormon Monster, and as "Sidney Rigdon was Joseph Smith's 'Angel'" in Stanton's own c. 1907 book, Three Important Movements, (Philadelphia: Am. Bap. Pub. Soc., pp. 36-41). Stanton's book was also noticed in the RLDS Saints' Herald soon after its publication (see the Aug. 20, 1913 issue for a passing mention, and the Oct 29, 1913 issue for a substantial review).