Washington County Early Religions - 1922

The Daily Evening Reporter February 7, 1922

Three Religions Starting Here,
Are Briefly Sketched


How Mormonism, the Christian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian church had their real beginnings from Washington county, or were started by men from this section, was told in a most interesting manner last evening by Attorney Joseph F. McFarland, at the February meeting of the Washington County Historical Society, which was held in the public meeting room of the court house. An interesting feature of the evening was old-fashioned music of 100 years ago played by William Cummins of Washington...

Mr. McFarland began with his history of the Cumberland Presbyterian church; then followed with the Christian Church and finally told of the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormons, showing how each probably grew out of the other. He also spoke of the general belief that the story written by Rev. Solomon Spaulding gave Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith their idea for their "Book of Mormon."

It is interesting to note in this connection that the Rev. Solomon Spaulding lived during the last years of his life at Amity, this county. The house in which he died is still standing there and is a source of great interest for all travelers through this section. During the past three quarters of a century, it has been visited by thousands. Spaulding is buried in the church yard nearby. His grave was first marked by a plain sandstone slab; but this was carried off piece by piece by relic hunters over half a century ago, and the location of the grave was known to only a few of the old residents of Amity. Before they died, and it would have been lost forever, a granite monument was erected by popular subscription of the people in that section. This was 15 years ago. Alexander Bolton was one of the main contributors to its erection and still lives in Amity.

In telling the beginning of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Mr. McFarland told how James McGeehan, a pupil of the Rev. John McMillan, Rev. Joseph Smith, and the Rev. Thaddeus Dodd, who belonging to that coterie of frontier ministers who made Washington county famous as a seat of Presbyterianism a century and a quarter ago, began preaching in the Cumberland mountains of the south. His revival methods were not approved by the Presbyterian Church, but in spite of this opposition he started the great religious movement of 1787, which swept through the south, up through Pennsylvania to the vicinity of Palmyra, New York, the home of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. This was the beginning of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

He then told how Thomas Campbell was refused admission by the Seceder Church and afterwards by the Presbyterian Church. The point in dispute between them was his refusal to subscribe to the confession of faith. Finally he got into the Baptist Church, but this same confession of faith came between them. Campbell's sermons did not conform to the Baptist faith.

In 1821, Alexander Campbell became acquainted with Sidney Rigdon and secured a Baptist pulpit for him near [sic] Pittsburg. In 1823 he was turned out by the congregation because of his teachings, and in 1827 both he and Alexander Campbell were turned out of the Baptist Association of Western Pennsylvania. They formed the Mahoning Association in Ohio, but in 1830 Campbell and Rigdon fell out over the question of having every thing in common.

Prior to 1830 Rigdon met Joseph Smith and shortly afterwards the "Golden Bible" or Book of Mormon was published by Smith. Prior to that time both had been teaching the ancient religion. He then told how Smith and Rigdon worked together in starting their new religion, on the idea of "community of goods." It is known that Joseph Smith was at Harmony, Pa. at times and Rigdon's church was near [sic] that place. The speaker advanced the idea that they got their first idea of a Mormon hierarchy from the teachings and contract of the Harmonites or Economy Society.

It is claimed that Rigdon was the man who stole Spaulding's manuscript from the Patterson printing office in Pittsburg; and he never [sic] denied this, although he lived until 1876, and was driven out of fellowship with the Mormons.

Years later a manuscript of Spaulding's was found in the Hawaiian Islands, in the hands of an American printer there. This is now at Oberlin College, and it is claimed by the Mormons to be Spaulding's manuscript. There is no denying the fact that it was written by Spaulding, for it was learned that it was secured from his widow by E. D. Howe, in 1834, who wrote "Mormonism Exposed," but it bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon. This has been published by the Mormons, and a copy is in the possession of the local historical society. Those who claim that Solomon Spaulding's revised and completed story of "The Manuscript Found" is the basis for the Book of Mormon claim that it disappeared and was probably stolen by the originators of the Book of Mormon. But this has never been proven. At any rate, the original manuscript, if another did exist, has disappeared utterly, although circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that the revised story of Solomon Spaulding is the origin and foundation of the Book of Mormon.

Note 1: The rival newspaper in town, the Washington Observer, published a similar summary of Joseph F. McFarland's lecture in its edition of the same day -- Feb. 7, 1922. The two paper's respective reports are practically identical in their major features.

Note 2: The idea that two prior religions helped give rise to Mormonism was not original with Mr. McFarland. A few years before the Rev. William A. Stanton delivered a similar lecture in Pittsburgh. However, he cited the region's Baptists, rather than the Cumberland Presbterians, as having provided some early influences in the development of Mormonism. Stanton further developed his "three churches" ideas in an article published in the Chicago Standard of July 22, 1899 and in his 1907 book, Three Important Movements: Campbellism, Mormonism, and Spiritualism. Both Rigdon and the Campbells had brief careers as Baptist ministers, of course. The Campbells sprang from Presbyterian roots and functioned in that denomination before associating with the Baptists. As for Rigdon, he is not known to have ever been a member of any Presbyterian congregation -- but, according to an early source, Rigdon once had some ties to the Cumberland Presbyterians. One of Rev. Rigdon's early auditors mentioned that the first time he heard the fiery minister preach, it was in a Cumberland Presbyterian church. Perhaps the young Rigdon merely had a knack for obtaining the chapels of this religious group for his own preaching services, when he was working as a traveling evangelist.

Note 3: Mr. McFarland's reference to George Rapp's Harmonists as having inadvertently supplied the "idea of a Mormon hierarchy" is an intriguing one. It seems quite possible that Rapp's plan for the old Harmony communal colony served as a sort of bluepeint for Rigdon and Smith's planned "City of Zion." Rapp established two different sites for his communal experiments in Pennsylvania, and both were within a day's walk of the northern limits of Washington county. The earlier colony (Harmony) existed when Solomon Spalding first came to the Pittsburgh area, while the later establishment (Economy) was contemporary with Rigdon's brief career as an independent preacher in Pittsburgh between 1823 and 1826. Solomon Spalding arrived in the area in time to become acquainted with all three of the supposed "foundations" of Mormonism -- the Harmonists, the early Campbellites, and the Cumberland Presbyterians. For more on Rigdon's possible ties with the Harmonist movement see the notes attached to the article "The Town of Harmony" in the Nov. 2, 1814 issue of the Pittsburgh Mercury.