Introduction to Spalding’s “Manuscript Found” Part 1

I was surprised at the recent burst of activity on my post back in April titled, Debunking the Spaulding Manuscript Theory. One of my commenters (Roger) seem to believe the Spaulding Theory still has merit.  I even had Craig Criddle stop by.   He is a leading proponent of the theory and published a peer-reviewed article at Oxford in support of this theory.  (You need a subscription to read it, but the abstract can be found there.)

Roger took issue Brodie’s characterization that Spaulding’s manuscript was “devoid of religious material”, and made several references to religious writings in this comment.  So, if Roger is right, it seems there should be quite a few religious similarities between this Spaulding manuscript, and the Book of Mormon, right?

As the theory goes, Joseph wasn’t smart enough to write the Book of Mormon by himself.  Sidney Rigdon must have stolen a copy of Spaulding’s manuscript, secreted it away to Joseph Smith somehow, and then Sidney pretended to convert in Dec 1830.  According to the theory, both Rigdon and Spaulding lived in Pittsburgh, PA, so Sidney must have come across the manuscript at a printer’s office.

Spaulding’s manuscript was discovered by Doctor Hurlburt (Doctor is his first name–he is not a “real” doctor) in the home of Spaulding’s widow, Matilda Davison, who gave the manuscript to Hurlburt.  Spaulding died on Oct 20, 1816, so this document was written well before Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1820.  While there are some very general similarities, according to Brodie on page 144 of her book No Man Knows My History,

Now to his bitter chagrin he found that the long chase had been vain; for while the romance did concern the ancestors of the Indians, its resemblance to the Book of Mormon ended there.  None of the names found in one could be identified in the other;  the many battles which each described showed not the slightest similarity with those of the other, and Spaulding’s prose style, which aped the eighteenth-century British sentimental novelists, differed from the style of the Mormon Bible as much as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded different from the New Testament.

LL Rice purchased the assets of the Painesville Telegraph in 1839-40.  In 1885 or so, he looked through the assets and discovered Spaulding’s Manuscript.  The manuscript was donated to Oberlin College after being discovered in Hawaii.  You may view the manuscript here.  Due to the obvious differences between the manuscript and the Book of Mormon, proponents of the theory have postulated that Spaulding must have another manuscript which is similar to the Book of Mormon.  Proponents think that perhaps Smith and Rigdon burned the manuscript after completing the Book of Mormon.

So, after hearing Roger talk about how much religion was in the book, I decided that I must read it.  I plan to review the introduction today, and in some future posts, I’ll outline the book, and offer my commentary on it.

Pages 3-11 tell how the document came into the hands of Oberlin College, and has letters to Joseph Smith III (Joseph’s son), who was ordained prophet of the RLDS church on April 6, 1860.  Apparently the RLDS church published the manuscript sometime around 1885.  Some interesting quotes from these pages start on page 5-6.  The document was discovered in Hawaii by Rice who was a friend Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Ohio.  Many people wanted to claim the manuscript, but they felt it best to offer it to Joseph III, since he is the son of Joseph Smith.  I have underlined some points I find interesting.  Let me quote from pages 5-6,

    “There seems to be no reason to doubt that this is the long-lost story.  Mr. Rice, myself, and others, compared it with the Book of Mormon, and could detect no resemblence between the two, in general or in detail.  There seems to be no name or incident common to the two.  The solemn style of the Book of Mormon, in imitation of the English Scriptures, does not appear in the manuscript.  The only resemblance is in the fact that both profess to set forth the history of the lost tribes.  Some other explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon must be found, if any explanation is required.”

    Signed, James H. Fairchild.

    From page 7 is another interesting difference between the Book of Mormon and this Oberlin College Manuscript.  This is the second half of a letter written March 28, 1885 from LL Rice to Mr. Joseph Smith III.  Rice bought the assets of the Painesville Telegraph in 1839-40.  President Fairchild of Oberlin College thought there might be some interesting slavery documents in the Telegraph assets.  While searching through the assets, Rice discovered Spaulding’s Manuscript titled, “Manuscript Found.”   Rice states that he unknowingly had the document for over 40 years.  Rice describes the manuscript on page 7.

    This manuscript does not purport to be “a story of the Indians formerly occupying this continent;” but is a history of the wars between the Indians of Ohio and Kentucky, and their progress in civilization, etc.  It is certain that this manuscript is not the origin of the Mormon Bible, whatever some other manuscript may have been.  The only similarity between them, is, in the manner in which each purports to have been found–one in a cave on Conneaut Creek–the other in a hill in Ontario County, New York.  There is no identity of names, of persons, or places; and there is no similarity of style between them. As I told Mr. Deming, I should as soon think the Book of Revelations was written by the author of Don Quixote, as that the write of this Manuscript was the author of the Book of Mormon.  Deming says Spaulding made three copies of “Manuscript Found,” one of which Sidney Rigdon stole from a printing-office in Pittsburg.  You can probably tell better than I can, what ground there is for such an allegation.

    As to this Manuscript, I can not see that it can be of any use to any body, except the Mormons, to show that IT is not the original of the Mormon Bible.  But that would not settle the claim that some other manuscript of Spaulding was the original of it.  I propose to hold it in my own hands for a while, to see if it can not be put to some good use.  Deming and Howe inform me that its existence is exciting great interest in that region.  I am under a tacit, but not a positive pledge to President Fairchild, to deposit it eventually in the Library of Oberlin College.  I shall be free from that pledge, when I see an opportunity to put it to a better use.

    Yours, etc.,

    L.L. Rice

    P.S.–Upon reflection, since writing the foregoing, I am of the opinion that no one who reads this Manuscript will give credit that Solomon Spaulding was in any wise the author of the Book of Mormon.  It is unlikely that any one who wrote so elaborate a work as the Mormon Bible, would spend his time in getting up so shallow a story as this, which at best is but a feebile imitation of the other.  Finally I am more that half convinced that this is his only writing of the sort, and that any pretence that Spaulding was in any sense the author of the other, is a sheer fabrication.  It was easy for anybody who may have seen this, or heard anything of its contents, to get up the story that they were identical.


    Another letter is found on page 8 dated May 14, 1885, also addressed to Joseph Smith III.

    My opinion is, from all I have seen and learned, that this is the only writing of Spaulding, and there is no foundation for the statement of Deming and others, that Spaulding made another story, more elaborate, of which several copies were written, one of which Rigdon stole from a printing-office in Pittsburg, etc.  Of course I can not be certain of this, as of the other two points.  One theory is, that Rigdon, or some one else, saw this manuscript, or heard it read, and from the hints it conveyed, got up the other and more elaborate writing on which the Book of Mormon was founded.  Take that for what it is worth.  It don’t seem to me very likely.

    Finally, Rice says on page 10,

    It devolves upon their opponents to show that there are or were other writings of Spalding–since it is evident that the writing is not the original of the Mormon Bible.

    So, that’s the introduction.  In the coming days, I’ll post some excerpts from the book, and you can see how similar/different it is to the Book of Mormon.  What do you think of Rice and Fairchild’s descriptions so far?


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    162 comments on “Introduction to Spalding’s “Manuscript Found” Part 1

    1. Thanks Dale. Once again, I’m going to have to print these out.

      Once I finish my polygamy series, I’ll have to resume my Oberlin series again to see if I can see more similarities between the Oberlin document and these parts of Alma and Helaman. I must say that I find the green references to Pratt interesting. As I mentioned before, the official version says Pratt wasn’t part of the translation process (and never heard of the BoM until summer 1830), so it would seem that any wordprints that identify him (1) are highly suspect, or (2) call the official version into question. I go with option 1, and I’ll bet you go with option 2. I went to http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/1826Grtk.htm#1826RBap to see what you had on Pratt, but I didn’t see anything about Pratt–it looked like a reference to Campbell.

    2. Click page 3 to see my previous comment.

    3. >Pratt wasn’t part of the translation process
      >(and never heard of the BoM until summer 1830),

      Possibly so — but Pratt was living near Sidney Rigdon, in Ohio, as early
      as 1826. He had Pratt relatives within walking distance of Rigdon’s cabin
      at that time, and just a few years later one of his uncles, from the Palmyra
      area also settled in northern Geauga Co., Ohio, just north of Rigdon’s
      1826-27 residence at Bainbridge (in the southern part of that county).

      I’m still working to document Pratt’s tenure as a restorationist Baptist
      in the area near Rigdon before 1830. Pratt joined the Elyria Baptist
      congregation, headed by Rigdon’s lieutenant, Elder Orson Hyde. As you’ll
      recall, it was Hyde who later recalled having heard of the Gold Bible and
      Joseph Smith as early as 1827. The discovery story was published in various
      Ohio newspapers in 1829. Campbellites such as Eliza R. Snow knew of the
      Gold Bible at least as early as 1829 — so I’m not convinced that Pratt
      (by then a Campbellite himself) had never heard of Smith’s discovery.

      Here’s my preliminary web-page on Pratt — I set it aside to wait for the
      publication of his scholarly biography, due out next year:


    4. >to see what you had on Pratt…

      This is a good starting point —

      There is also a link there to B.H. Roberts’ response, regarding Pratt.

      Dale R. Broadhurst

    5. >This is a good starting point…

      Schroeder believed that Pratt’s fictional biographical story,
      “Angel of the Prairies,” recounted some of Pratt’s actual
      1826 interactions with Elder Sidney Rigdon in northern Ohio.

      Pratt was an accomplished writer and a fair poet — so his
      contributions to the BoM (if any) should show better English
      than those of Cowdery or Smith (if any).

      When Rigdon wrote about Pratt is 1843, he indicated that Pratt
      had been sent on a mission in the summer of 1830. Rigdon was
      then Pratt’s religious superior in the break-away Rigdonite
      group of the Campbellites — so we should not assume that it
      was Alexander Campbell who sent Pratt on his mission to the
      Palmyra area of New York in 1830. It was most likely Rigdon
      himself who dispatched Pratt eastward that year. Pratt had
      uncles and cousins within walking distance of Palmyra — and
      when Pratt got off the canal boat he could have gone directly
      to any one of several relatives’ and friends’ houses in that
      area. Pratt had lived there in 1826, prior to his removal to
      Rigdon’s general neighborhood, in northeastern Ohio.

      So, it is my working hypothesis that Rigdon sent Pratt to
      the Palmyra area — knowing that even a totally broke Pratt
      could find food and lodging there.

      I also agree with Rigdon’s biographer, Van Wagoner, that Rigdon
      knew of the “Gold Bible” reports before he sent Pratt on his
      preaching mission — and that Pratt would have known of the
      “Gold Bible” as well.

      And, according to Jockers and Criddle, Pratt helped write the text.


    6. […] stop here.  We had some interesting comments with Dale Broadhurst regarding the Spalding Manuscript theory.  It was interesting to see Whitmer blame Rigdon for introduction of the sealing concept.  […]

    7. […] Mormon, but really has studied the Spaulding Theory; I told him Dale Broadhurst stopped by my blog when I discussed it earlier.  He told me he appreciated that Mormons don’t whitewash their history, like many other […]

    8. […] from the time of Constantine that were blown off course from Britain to the Americas (check out Part 1 and Part 2).  Somehow (never adequately explained) Sidney Rigdon obtained the manuscript, and […]

    9. […] along the great Lakes & the waters of the Mississippy.”  (I have previously documented some of the horrendous spelling errors and humorous stories in this […]

    10. […] Joseph plagiarized a novel by Solomon Spaulding.  I think you should actually read the novel (see part 1 and part 2) to see how badly written the novel is, but some people are still trying to prove the […]

    11. […] Joseph plagiarized a novel by Solomon Spaulding.  I think you should actually read the novel (see part 1 and part 2) to see how badly written the novel is, but some people are still trying to prove the […]

    12. Brody and Van Wagoner with Brody focused on the life of Joseph – not the authorship in detail of the BOM and with the latter author on Rigdon’s life- the complex Spalding issue which is an entire study in itself is poorly presented with the weakest presentation in No Man Knows My History. You selected the two worst sources to base your arguments on! We spent years on the Spalding project having started in 1974 to this present day and our book is th most comprehensive analysis on the subject to date.There are many original discoveries within the book even showing Ridgon was calling for mail in Pittsburgh in 1815/6. I well remember when l first entered the project l constantly read from Mormon writers and others Rigdon was not in Pittsburgh during this period!
      For a full discussion on this topic see: The Spalding Enigma – Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon.

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