The Christian Advocate March 2, 1905

Editorial Letter

Further Evidence Concerning Rigdon and the Mormon Bible


In order to break the force of the collective proofs that Sidney Rigdon was acquainted with Spaulding's manuscript, that before the Mormon Bible appeared he predicted that a new religion would arise and a new book would appear of the nature of the Golden Bible, the Mormons have insisted that no possible connection between Rigdon and Smith has ever been known to exist prior to 1830, and as the Golden Bible was in existence at that time, Smith never could have gotten it by means of Rigdon. The facts referred to, especially as neither Smith nor any of his associates or early converts (except Rigdon) would have been capable of the work, would raise a powerful presumption that Rigdon was his chief assistant. Oliver Cowdery, though a school-teacher, could not compare with Rigdon.



But some remarkable facts have been collated, arranged, and the authorities given by Albert T. Schroeder, and in such of the authorities as I have been able to see I find the quotations confirmed.

It is necessary to introduce at this point Parley Parker Pratt. Pratt was born in 1807, in Otsego County, N. Y. In his sixth year he went to live with his aunt, named Van Cott, a name which will appear frequently in Mormon history. In 1826 he spent a few months with an uncle in Wayne (formerly Ontario) County, N. Y. This is the county in which Joseph Smith, Je., was then frequently spoken of in the newspapers as the "peep-stone money-digger." Mention of him was made in the papers published in other counties in southern New York and in northern Pennsylvania. At this time Pratt was a peddler, and had a reputation of knowing almost everybody in western New York. Ontario County then took in all the territory of several counties as now bounded. In October of that year Pratt went to Ohio and located at Amherst, thirty miles west of Cleveland. In his autobiography he said that he "wished to get to a country where there was no law to sweep away all the hard earnings of years to pay a small debt." In that same year Rigdon went for a second time to live in Ohio, where he traveled up and down, preaching at Bainbridge, Mantua, Kirtland, Mentor, Warren, and other places as an itinerant Disciple preacher. Pratt says that as he was on his way to his future Ohio home he stopped at a cottage and there, "while asleep, a messenger of mild and intelligent countenance suddenly stood before me, arrayed in robes of dazzling splendor." The messenger introduced himself as the "Angel of the Praries." It is believed that Rigdon was the messenger. Here were the facts concerning the manuscript. Lambdin died the year before. On July 17, 1827, Engles, Patterson's foreman, died. Patterson knew nothing personally of the contents of the manuscript, which fact Rigdon probably well knew. All those having any intimate knoweldge of the Manuscript Found were thus dead. In 1827 Pratt went back to New York to be married, and in his autobiography he states that he opened to his future wife his religious views and the desire he sometimes had to try teach the red man Three years later he was converted to Mormonism, and in October, 1830, not a month after his professed conversion to Mormonism, a revelation was professedly received through Joseph Smith, directing him to carry out this very design. It is in these words:

And now concerning my servant Parley P. Pratt, behold, I say unto him, that as I live I will that he shall declare my gospel and learn of me, and be meek and lowly of heart;

And that which I have appointed unto him is, that he shall go with my servants Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.

According to the Book of Mormon the Lamanites were the Indians. Among the Mormon angels are men. "God's angels and men are all of one species, one race, one great family."

A mysterious stranger appeared at Smith's residence and held private interviews with the famous money-digger. It was observed by some of the neighbors that his visits were frequently repeated. About this time Rigdon was away from his Ohio home, according to previous testimony, on several long visits.



Abel Chase, a near neighbor of the Smiths, testifies, "I saw Rigdon at Smith's at different times with considerable intervals between." Lorenzo Saunders testifies, "I saw Rigdon at Smith's several times, and the first visit was more than two years before the book appeared." J. H. McCauley, in his History of Franjlin County, Pa., records that, "as a matter too well known to need argument, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and Sidney Rigdon were acquainted for a considerable time before Mormonism was first heard of."

I will now introduce some testimony of the existence of which I was not aware until these letters began. It was published at length in the Evening Star, of Washington, D. C., Saturday, Jan. 28, [1905]. It is from the manuscript of Mr. Daniel Hendrix, who lived in Palmyra, N. Y., in his early life and spent his declining years in San Jacinto, at the home of his son. The senior Hendrix preserved a few proof sheets of the original Mormon Bible, printed by Major John Gilbert, in Palmyra. With the assistance of his niece Mr. Hendrix wrote out an account of the early history of Mormonism in the form of a reminiscence, which was seen and read recently by a person on a visit in San Jacinto from Washington. He describes Smith very much as the other witnesses have done, but in addition he testifies that Joseph Smith went about the village of Palmyra giving an account of the golden tablets; "with tears in his eyes and the most earnest expression" he affirmed that he had found the gold plates. For the first month or two he did not say that the plates were any new revelation. Mr. Hendrix said:

It is difficult to understand what Joe expected to accomplish, but he soon began to exhibit what he claimed to be copies of the characters engraved on the plates, though the irreverent were disposed to think they were the characters found on China tea-chests and in histories of the Egyptians and Babylonians rather than any plates he had dug up near Palmyra. But before long a new party appeared on the scene in the person on one Sidney Rigdon, and thenceforward a new aspect was out on the whole matter. I remember Rigdon as a man of about forty years, smooth, sleek, and with some means. * * * He and Joe Smith fell in with one another and were cronies for several months. It was after Rigdon and Smith were so intimate that the divine part of the finding of the golden plates began to be spread abroad. * * * Rigdon, who was regarded as the brains of the movement, seemed satisfied to be the power behind the throne. Pretended copies of the engraved plates exhibited, and also whole chapters of what were called translations were shown.

Mr. Hendrix says that the printing office where the book was published was on an upper floor, and that he often helped to read on many pages of the book, and at odd times set some of the type. He recalls the halt that was made by the destruction of the notes that Martin Harris had. He testifies that Rigdon was on hand at the time, and that he (Mr. Hendrix) went frequently out on Sunday for a walk to the place where the translation was going on.

John D. Bills, with whom I corresponded and from a question has been made in these letters, says positively, "When I used to be at Martin Harris's I heard Harris, Sidney Rigdon, and Joe Smith talking about the new Bible they pretended they had found." Mr. Bills thinks that Rigdon and Joe Smith became acquainted in the town of Manchester.

But one denial of Rigdon's acquaintance with Smith prior to the appearance of the Book of Mormon exists. That denial comes from Katherine Salisbury, a sister of the Prophet Joseph, and is dated April 15, 1881, when she was about sixty-eight years of age. She states that to her knowledge nobody by the name of Rigdon was ever known by her family or any member thereof until the last part of the year 1830 or the first part of 1831, and that the first time Sidney Rigdon came to her father's place was after the family had moved to Kirtland, O., in 1831.

That Rigdon did visit at the Smiths in New York State December, 1830, is admitted by all concerned. Mrs. Salisbury does not remember this, but in the same statement she declares that her brother Joseph Smith, Jr., lived in the family of her father in the town of Manchester, Ontario County, N. Y., and that he had all of his life to this time made his home with the family. She does not appear to recall the fact that Joseph Smith spent the greater part of his time in 1828 and 1829 at Harmony, Pa.

I find in the official book of Covenants and Commandments, Section 3, a revelation was given through Joseph Smith in Harmony, July, 1828, about the manuscripts which had been taken from the possession of Martin Harris; and again in April, 1829, and another in April, 1829, and another, and another; and another in May, 1829, and a second, and a third, and a fourth; and then more in June, 1829.

Katherine Salisbury was only fourteen or fifteen years old at the time when Rigdon was there; her memory is evidently at fault, and she affirms a negative which she could not know if true.


In the summer of 1830 the Book of Mormon came from the press. Pratt gives a singular account of the matter, as though he had heard of it for the first time. He had left his wife on account of the Spirit telling him that he would have to part from her for a season; that she must go to visit her friends: how soon he would appear he could not tell, as the Spirit had not revealed it. He left her upon the boat and started on foot early in the morning, and stopped with a man named Wells. In those times many preachers were traveling through the country on foot, imitating Lorenzi Dow and others. They stopped where night overtook them and generally offered to preach. According to his statement he there fell in with an old Baptist deacon named Hamblin, who told him about a wonderful book. The next day, the book having been procured, for the first time his eyes beheld the Book of Mormon, and he declares that as he read the Spirit of the Lord was upon him and he knew and comprehended that the book was true as plainly and as manidestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. He went as soon as he could see Smith, who had not returned from Pennsylvania. Hyrum Smith (father of the present President Joseph [F.] Smith of the Mormon Church) welcomed him. Pratt went back to fill his appointment to preach the doctrine of Alexander Campbell. Hyrum Smith presented him with a copy of the [Mormon] Bible. That night and the following one he returned to Smith's house, after preaching.

On the next Sabbath he went to a Mormon meeting and preached a Mormon sermon. In his book Pratt declartes he was converted before completing the reading of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, in his autobiography, puts the time of conversion later, and alleges that Pratt was not converted until after listening to the testimony of the witnesses

The Prophet's mother, however, subsequently declared that after her husband had come home Parley Pratt came in much fatigued. She says that "he had heard of us at some considerable distance, and had traveled very fast in order to get there by meeting time, as he wished to hear what we had to say, that he might be prepared to show us our error. But when Joseph had finished his discourse, Mr. Pratt arose and expressed his hearty concurrence in every sentiment advanced." But in two different places Pratt contradicted what Joseph Smith's mother and Joseph Smith himself declared to be true.

Mother Smith's book, after being published by the Utah Mormons, was condemned as containing wrrors, but the Josephite sect republished it. So much for the conversion of Pratt. This was in October, 1830. In accordance with the revelation previously mentioned, directing Pratt to go preach to the Lamanites (the American Indians), Pratt began a journey of three hundred and seventy miles on foot. Rigdon was then preaching in Mentor, O. Pratt appeared, and at their first interview presented the Mormon Bible. Pratt refers to this meeting as follows: "We called on Mr. Rigdon, my former friend and instructor in the Reformed Baptist Society. He received us cordially and entertained us with hospitality." Pratt having presented to Rigdon a copy of the Mormon Bible, as above stated, what followed is detailed, so far as it suits his purpose, by Joseph Smith, Jr., in his autiobiography, a large part of which was written or corrected by Rigdon, as follows:

This being the first time he had ever heard of or seen the Book of Mormon, he felt very much prejudiced at the assertion, and replied that, "he had one Bible which he believed was a revelation from God, and with which he pretended to have some acquaintance; but with respect to the book they had presented him, he must say that he had considerable doubt." Upon which they expressed a desire to investigate the subject, and argue the matter; but he replied, "No, young gentlemen, you must not argue with me on the subject. But I will read your book, and see what claim it has upon my faith, and will endeavor to ascertain whether it be a revelation from God or not." After some further conversation on the subject, they expressed a desire to lay the subject before the people, and requested the privilege of preaching in Elder Rigdon's church, to which he readily consented. The appointment was accordingly published, and a large and respectable congregation assembled. Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt severally addressed the meeting. At the conclusion, Elder Rigdon arose and stated to the congregation that the information they had that evening received, was of an extraordinary character, and certainly demanded their most serious consideration: and as the apostle advised his brethren to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good," so he would exhort his brethren to do likewise, and give the matter a careful investigation; and not turn against it, without being fully convinced of its being an imposition, lest they should, possibly resist the truth.

The italicizing of parts of the foregoing is done by Linn in The Story of the Mormons, and he makes a powerful use of those passages:

"Here we find a clergyman who was a fellow worker with men like Campbell and Scott expressing only 'considerable doubt' of the inspiration of a book presented to him as a new Bible, 'readily consenting' to the use of his church by the sponsors for this bookm and at the close of their arguments, warning his people against rejecting it too readily 'lest they resist the truth!'"

There is a probability that some of the aged persons who have testified to the events of long ago have been to some extent led astray by the fallibility of the human memory. For example, I am surprised that Mr. Hendrix makes no definite reference to Oliver Cowdery. The Rev. Mr. Bays, who was long connected with the Mormons, affirms that Cowdery was the man who invented the greater part of the Book of Mormon, and denies that there is any proof that the Spaulding manuscript had anything to do with it. But he offers no proof.

I am of the opinion that the evidence is sufficient to prove that the Spaulding manuscript was in large part the basis of the Book of Mormon. As to the case of Sidney Rigdon, I am obliged to believe that he knew all about the Spaulding manuscript; also that there is a strong presumption that he knew about the golden Bible before Pratt came to see him; that he was prepared for his arrival and prepared to announce his conversion; but I think Linn is perhaps right when he says that "it can only be said that definite proof as to how the Spaulding manuscript became incorporated in the Mormon Bible is lacking." There are reasonable presumptions, but positive evidence does not exist. I agree with him, however, in stating that in an historical inquiry of this kind it is more important to establish the fact that a certain thing was done than to prove just how or when it was done.     J. M. B.