What is “Manuscript Found”?

Rex C. Reeve Jr.

Because of its importance as the keystone of the Latter-day Saint faith, the Book of Mormon has been and will continue to be a point of attack for those who seek to discredit the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These attacks often hinge on the book’s authorship. Joseph Smith stated that an angel of God delivered to him a scriptural record, written on gold plates, of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, which he translated by the gift and power of God. “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible . . . and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” [1] Since its first publication in 1830, millions who have read the Book of Mormon have accepted Joseph Smith’s testimony of its origin, believing that they received a personal spiritual witness that the book is true and that it is indeed “a volume of holv scripture.”

Some critics have rejected the testimony of Joseph Smith and have felt obliged to provide alternative explanations for the authorship of the Book of Mormon. Those critics generally fall into one of two broad camps: (1) those who claim that Joseph Smith alone wrote the book without divine assistance, basing it on doctrines common to his day, or (2) those who claim that others helped him or that he copied all or part of it from some manuscript or document. Both of these arguments have been addressed by believers in the Book of Mormon, but they still reappear from time to time.

The theory that Joseph Smith copied the Book of Mormon from someone else’s writings was first introduced in 1834 in Eber D. Howe’s book, Mormonism Unvailed. It published materials gathered by Philastus Hurlbut [2] which were intended to prove that the Book of Mormon came from a manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding (sometimes also spelled Spalding) in 1812. The claim that Joseph Smith used Spaulding’s writings as the source for the Book of Mormon has come to be known as the “Spaulding theory.” Despite its untenable premises and the questionable motives of its first proponents, the theory has persisted, with a few variations, since its inception. It is still being used by a few critics of the Book of Mormon today. Solomon Spaulding was born at Ashford, Connecticut, on 21 February 1761. He served in the Revolutionary War, graduated from Dartmouth College, preached as an ordained evangelist, and was involved in several unsuccessful business ventures. He died at age fifty-five in October 1816 in Amity, Pennsylvania, nearly fourteen years before the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830. In about 1812, while living in New Salem (now Conneaut), Ohio, Spaulding wrote a fictional historical romance that he introduced as a translation from Latin of a portion of twenty-eight rolls of parchment he had found in a small cave near the remains of an ancient fort on the west bank of the Conneaut River. His novel has become known as “Manuscript Story” or “Manuscript Found.” It tells of a group of Romans in the days of Constantine (Roman emperor, A.D. 306–37) whose ship, blown off course by a fierce storm, carried them across the Atlantic Ocean to what is now the northeastern United States. The story contains an account of the history, wars, and religion of several groups of natives discovered by the Romans.

In his introduction to “Manuscript Found,” Spaulding told of discovering the rolls of parchment and declared that his purpose in writing was to improve the head and heart of the reader. He also wanted to develop the “natural sentiments we should form in viewing the innumerable remains of antiquity which are scattered over an extensive country” (see Spaulding’s introduction, p. 1).

Spaulding also hoped to pay his debts with proceeds from the sale of his story. Concerning this, his brother John said, “I made him a visit in about three years after; and found that he had failed, and [was] considerably involved in debt. He then told me had he been writing a book, which he intended to have printed, the avails of which he thought would enable him to pay all his debts. The book was entitled the ‘Manuscript Found,’ of which he read to me many passages.” [3] Spaulding, however, was not a gifted writer, and his “Manuscript Found” was never published. As far as is known, the extant manuscript of it was his first and only draft.

Philastus Hurlbut and Mormonism Unvailed

Doctor Philastus Hurlbut appears to have been the first critic to suggest a relationship between Spaulding’s manuscript and the Book of Mormon. He was not a medical doctor by profession or education but was given the name Doctor by his mother. According to Benjamin Winchester, “Dr. P. Hulbert resided at Jamestown, N. Y., previous to his embracing the profession of a Latter Day Saint, and was a member of the Methodist E. Church, and was for some time a class leader, and then an exhorter and local preacher; but was expelled for unvirtuous conduct with a young lady.” [4]

Hurlbut joined the Church of Christ (later renamed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in 1832. Soon after his baptism, he went to Kirtland, Ohio, where he was ordained an elder. “In the Spring of 1833, [Hurlbut] labored and preached in Pennsylvania. Here his self-importance, pride and other undesirable traits of conduct soon shook the confidence of the members of the Church in him as a man of God; and before long his unvirtuous habits were so plainly manifested that he was cast off from the Church, and his license taken from him by the conference.” [5]

Hurlbut returned to Kirtland in a professed spirit of repentance and appealed to the general conference for the return of his license. His case was considered and his license restored. But on his way back to Pennsylvania he stopped in Thompson, Ohio, where he was expelled from the Church for attempting to seduce another young lady. “On discovering he had irretrievably ruined himself with the Church, his tactics were changed, and he now determined to demolish, as far as practicable, what he had once endeavoured to build up.” [6] He soon went to Springfield, Pennsylvania, and began to preach against the Church. During his stay in Pennsylvania, he met a family who “had been acquainted with the now widely-known Mr. Solomon Spaulding, and from them Hurlbut learned that [Spaulding] had once written a romance . . . history of the ancient inhabitants of this continent. . . . He quickly perceived that this romance could be used as a weapon” against the Book of Mormon and the Church. [7]

Hurlbut returned to Kirtland and caused considerable excitement among anti-Mormons with his announcement of the Spaulding theory and his plans “to write a book, and call it ‘Mormonism Unvailed,’ in which he would reveal the whole secret.” [8] Backed by contributions from anti-Mormon friends, Hurlbut went in search of the Spaulding manuscript. He contacted Spaulding’s widow in Massachusetts and at length located the manuscript in an old family trunk at the home of Jerome Clark in Hartwick, New York. However, Spaulding’s work proved a disappointment for Hurlbut. “I obtained a manuscript,” he said, “. .. which was reported to be the foundation of the ‘Book of Mormon’ . . . when upon examination I found it to contain nothing of the kind, but being a manuscript upon an entirely different subject.” [9]

Nevertheless, Hurlbut returned to Kirtland to finish writing his promised book, Mormonism Unvailed. According to Benjamin Winchester,

he had not been there long, before he threatened to murder Joseph Smith, Jun., for which he was bound over in the sum of five hundred dollars, to keep the peace. While there, his best friends began to lose confidence in him, his reputation waned rapidly, and the dark side of his character began to develope itself more fully. . . . Those who were anxious that Mr. Hurlburt’s work should come out, discovered it would not do to publish it in his name, his reputation was too rotten; they advised him therefore, to sell it to Mr. E. D. Howe, of Painesville, Ohio, for five hundred dollars. Mr. H. got the money, and gave up his manuscript, thus Mormonism Unvailcd, became the adopted offspring of Mr. Howe. [10]

Although Hurlbut knew for himself that “Manuscript Found” was not the “foundation of the Book of Mormon,” he introduced the Spaulding theory in his manuscript which eventually became Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed.

Even though he had physical possession of the original Spaulding manuscript, Howe did not publish it. He was so uninterested in it that it became lost among the papers in his office and was not rediscovered until it was found in Hawaii in 1884. Howe did, however, print testimonies purported to be from Spaulding’s family and friends who claimed to have remembered reading the work many years earlier. It is not definitely known who gathered these testimonies, but since they have been shown to be false with the reappearance of the manuscript, it seems safe to assume that they were with the material Hurlbut sold Howe. Other affidavits were also collected, mostly during the period from 1847 to 1893, some being more than sixty years after the events they claim to describe.

The testimonies claimed that most of the main incidents in the Book of Mormon originated with Solomon Spaulding; that proper names found in the Book of Mormon, such as Nephi, Lehi, Nephites, Lamanites, and even a brief mention of Laban, Zarahemla, and Moroni, were the exact names found in Spaulding’s manuscript; and that Spaulding wrote in a scriptural style, often using the phrases “and it came to pass,” and “now it came to pass,” which appear frequently in the Book of Mormon.

In 1834 the credibility of these testimonies was at best suspect. But the rediscovery of the original Spaulding manuscript in 1884 proved them to be outright lies. Spaulding’s characters were not Jews from Jerusalem but Romans from Rome. There was not a single Book of Mormon proper name in the Spaulding manuscript, and Spaulding did not write in a scriptural style. He never used the Book of Mormon phrases “it came to pass” or “now it came to pass.”

Rediscovery of the Manuscript Story

In 1884 L. L. Rice of Honolulu, Hawaii, discovered the Spaulding manuscript among some old antislavery documents in his possession. In the 1830s Rice had purchased Howe’s newspaper, The Painesville Telegraph, along with papers that had belonged to Howe. He apparently was unaware of the manuscript and its interest to Latter-day Saints and their detractors. Included with the manuscript was an affidavit written by Philastus Hurlbut, invoking the names of witnesses who knew the document to be the work of Spaulding (see photograph, above). Rice donated the manuscript to James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, to be included in the college’s archival collection. It remains there today.

In 1885 the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints published the Spaulding manuscript, based on a copy made after it arrived in Oberlin. [11] The following year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published it also, based on a copy Rice transcribed himself while the manuscript was still in his possession in Hawaii. [12]

Elements of the Solomon Spaulding Theory

One of the difficulties in making the Spaulding theory believable was the need to “prove” that there was a clear connection between Solomon Spaulding and Joseph Smith. Since the Prophet was only ten years old when Spaulding died and there is no evidence that the two ever met, some critics have suggested that the Smith family had association with the Spaulding family. Vernal Holley summarizes this view:

The possibility exists that the Joseph Smith Sr. family members were not strangers to Solomon Spaulding. During the time the Smith family lived in Sharon, Vermont, Solomon Spaulding’s uncle, Ruben Spaulding, also lived there. Ruben was a deacon in the Sharon Congregational Church for forty-two years and was the justice of the peace for fifty years. His children would have been contemporaries of Joseph Smith Sr.’s children, Alvin, Hyrum, and Joseph Smith Jr.

Sharon, Vermont, was a small community and it would have been almost impossible for the two families not to have had some association during those years. It is also likely that, while attending nearby Dartmouth College, Solomon Spaulding made visits to his uncle Ruben’s home in Sharon and became acquainted with the Joseph Smith family. [13]

Other critics have rejected this theory because of its highly speculative nature and have attempted to find different links between Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding, the first and most popular possibility being Sidney Rigdon.

In Mormonism Unvailed, E. D. Howe published a brief, undocumented statement which attempted to connect Sidney Rigdon with the Spaulding manuscript through the “Patterson and Lambdin” printing company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Howe said, “We are, then, irresistibly led to this conclusion:—that Lambdin . . . placed the ‘Manuscript Found,’ of Spalding, in the hands of Rigdon, to be embellished, altered, and added to, as he might think expedient; and three years’ study of the bible we should deem little time enough to garble it, as it is transferred to the Mormon book.. . . We therefore, must hold out Sidney Rigdon to the world as being the original ‘author and proprietor’ of the whole Mormon conspiracy, until further light is elicited upon the lost writings of Solomon Spalding.” [14]

If he were to claim contact between Rigdon and the Spaulding manuscript, Howe would have to show contact between Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. Here again he speculated on a possible but undocumented connection:

Rigdon resided in Pittsburgh about three years, and during the whole of that time, as he has since frequently asserted, abandoned preaching and all other employment, for the purpose of studying the bible. He left there and came into the country where he now resides, about the time Lambdin died, and commenced preaching some new points of doctrine, which were afterwards found to be inculcated in the Mormon Bible. He resided in this vicinity about four years previous to the appearance of the book, during which time he made several long visits to Pittsburgh, and perhaps to the Susquehannah, where Smith was then digging for money, or pretending to be translating plates. [15]

Other critics have also attempted to establish the Spaulding/Rigdon/ Smith connection, but none has been able to produce historical evidence that Rigdon had either access to the Spaulding manuscript or contact with Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. In fact, Abner Cole (alias Obediah Dogberry) and Alexander Campbell, two of the Book of Mormon’s earliest detractors, made no claim that Joseph Smith had any help at all in writing the book. Both Cole and Campbell were in New York at the time the Book of Mormon was published and both knew Sidney Rigdon; yet neither Cole nor Campbell made any suggestion before Howe that Rigdon, or anyone else, had helped produce the text of the Book of Mormon. In the February 1831 Millennial Harbinger, Campbell wrote that “there never was a book more evidently written by one set of fingers, nor more certainly conceived in one cranium since the first book appeared in human language, than [the Book of Mormon]. . . . I cannot doubt for a single moment but that [Joseph Smith] is the sole author and proprietor of it.” [16] Only after Mormonism Unvailed was published did Campbell change his position, saying, “Since reading Mormonism Unvailed we have had but little doubt that Sidney Rigdon is the leading conjurer in this diabolical affair.” [17] Cole and Campbell were in a much better position than Howe to observe any possible Spaulding/Rigdon/Smith connection, yet neither writer suggested it until after the idea was presented in Mormonism Unvailed.

Another part of the Spaulding theory asserts that the manuscript provided the historical structure of the Book of Mormon and that Joseph Smith and others added the religious content. The title page of Mormonism Unvailed calls attention to this element of the Spaulding theory (see fig. xii).

Each of Howe’s eight witnesses who “remembered” similarities between “Manuscript Found” and the Book of Mormon also at least briefly mentioned that Spaulding’s book provided the Book of Mormon’s historical outline. Howe speculated that Sidney Rigdon, in connection with Joseph Smith, employed Spaulding’s historical framework and added the religious parts of the Book of Mormon while using many quotes and doctrines from the Bible.

The question of how many manuscripts, or drafts of manuscripts, Spaulding wrote is another feature of the Spaulding theory. It is clear that Howe had “Manuscript Found” in his possession when he published Mormonism Unvailed in 1834. The rediscovery of this manuscript in 1884 made it equally clear that the manuscript did not support the testimonies of Howe’s witnesses. This situation has caused division and confusion among those who espouse the Spaulding theory. One group of critics has maintained that “Manuscript Found” is only one of many versions of Spaulding’s romance, and that the Book of Mormon was derived from another of these versions. Howe’s witnesses claim that “Manuscript Found” was indeed Spaulding’s work but that he had revised it: “This old M.S. has been shown to several of the foregoing witnesses, who recognise it as Spaulding’s, he having told them that he had altered his first plan of writing, by going farther back with dates, and writing in the old scripture style, in order that it might appear more ancient. They say that the earlier version bears no resemblance to the ‘Manuscript Found.’’’ [18]

Similarly, other critics have claimed that the extant manuscript is not the true “Manuscript Found” from which the Book of Mormon was taken, which has yet to be located. Charles A. Shook represents this view in the following statement: “They [the Latter-day Saints] have started out by assuming that the Honolulu manuscript is the ‘Manuscript Found,’ and then have asserted that those who oppose them claim that the Book of Mormon came from it. But this is not true. From 1834, every opponent of Mormonism, who has given due consideration to the evidence in the case, has differentiated between the manuscript discovered in Honolulu and the ‘Manuscript Found,’ denying that the Book of Mormon came from the former and claiming that it came from the latter.” [19] While it is true that Spaulding’s widow had mentioned that her husband “had a great variety of manuscripts, and . . . that one was entitled the ‘Manuscript Found,’” [20] at the present time only one manuscript has been found and made available for study. These critics, in enlarging on brief allusions to other drafts or other manuscripts, have created a whole network of alternate possibilities based entirely on speculation.

The Honolulu manuscript itself refutes the claim of any revision prior to 1812, the time most witnesses claim to have read “Manuscript Found.” Lester E. Bush notes the following from the Honolulu manuscript:

On the back side of page 135 of the 171 page manuscript was a portion of an unfinished letter from Spalding to his parents referring to correspondence dated January 1812—almost certainly penned prior to the narrative text on the other side of the same sheet. (The reverse order would make no sense; and in all other cases the Spalding story appears on both sides of the manuscript pages.) Spalding thus was still at work on his Roman story well after several of Hurlbut’s witnesses claim to have read or heard read Manuscript Found. Moreover, it appears that Spalding penned an additional 36 pages of text after January 1812, the probable year of his move to Pittsburgh. [21]

Another group of critics has chosen to ignore the discrepancies between the existing manuscript and the accounts of the witnesses and has turned to searching for parallels between the current Spaulding manuscript and the Book of Mormon. They have claimed that even if the manuscript was only a first draft of what eventually became the Book of Mormon, there are still observable story parallels. In 1901 Theodore A. Schroeder wrote:

We are astonished at the number of similarities . . . the finding of the story in a stone box, its translation into English, the attempt to account for a portion of the population of this continent, the wars of extermination of two factions, the impossible slaughters of primitive warfare, and the physically impossible armies which were gathered together without modern facilities of either transportation or the furnishing of supplies—the fact that after two rewritings . . . there should remain these very unusual features, makes the discovery and publication of this manuscript only an additional evidence that the second did furnish the basis of the Book of Mormon. [22]

Other critics followed Schroeder with lists of differing lengths which featured parallels in the stories. In 1937 M. D. Bown presented one hundred similarities between the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding manuscript. His list represents what was typically done by many others and includes the following parallels:

23. They landed on the American continent.

24. There were many rivers and lakes in the land.

25. There were many tribes or races of people.

49. They refined ore.

50. They manufactured their own tools from steel.

66. [They] believed in the fall of man from a higher state.

67. [They] believed that man was created by a super-natural being.

75. There were prophets among the people.

77. They believed in prayer.

80. Some of the people were dark, others lighter.

81. The people had a great leader with four sons.

89. The last war was to be one of extermination. [23]

More recently, in 1977, three researchers in California—Howard A. Davis, Donald R. Scales, and Wayne L. Cowdrey—claimed that knowledgeable handwriting experts had established a link between the Spaulding manuscript and twelve of the original handwritten manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon. “They obtained enlarged photocopies of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon that are in archives in Salt Lake City. These reproductions and known specimens of Spaulding’s handwriting were submitted to three prominent handwriting analysts with impressive credentials. Working independently, and unaware of the Book of Mormon connection, all three analysts concluded that Spaulding had written all the material they examined.” [24] In an address given at the Church Educational System’s Church History Symposium, 19 August 1977, Dean C. Jessee refuted this research, pointing out that all three experts came to Salt Lake City after the above statement was made to examine the original pages, which “indicated that final conclusions had not been reached, and each of them confirmed this verbally.” [25] lessee’s comparison of the handwriting of the two documents shows several obvious and consistent differences between them. [26]

A few critics have recently attempted to go beyond simple story parallels and have examined such things as writing style, thematic parallels, vocabulary, word construction, and word combinations, in an attempt to establish Spaulding’s work as the basis of the Book of Mormon. Dale R. Broadhurst has said, “In my opinion the textual parallels are so numerous and so detailed that serious questions are raised as to a possible internal relationship of the two texts. . . . Incredible as it may seem, no previous writer on the subject had ever subjected the Spaulding manuscript to even the most basic quantification methods prior to April 1979. Though literally hundreds of supposedly authoritative statements have been printed telling how the Oberlin manuscript does or does not resemble The Book of Mormon, none of these were based upon critical examinations of the texts themselves.” [27] This approach to the Spaulding theory has neither been accepted widely nor used by many critics of the Book of Mormon.

Why Book of Mormon Critics Reject the Spaulding Theory

With all its elements and variations, the Spaulding theory is tangled and complicated. The key points are speculative, and critics have failed to establish a solid connection between Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. They have also failed to establish the way in which Sidney Rigdon could have obtained a copy of the manuscript, how many manuscripts there were, or how Solomon Spaulding could have written even the historical parts of a work as complex as the Book of Mormon when his own manuscript was so poorly written. Many critics, when faced with the inconsistencies and weaknesses of the Spaulding theory, have rejected it and returned to simpler explanations. Although critics have provided a variety of explanations for Joseph Smith’s ability to write the Book of Mormon, they generally reject the Spaulding theory.

One of the first critics of the Book of Mormon to reject the Spaulding theory was Davis H. Bays. He opted for Oliver Cowdery, not Sidney Rigdon, as the creator of the Book of Mormon. In 1897 he called the Spaulding theory a failure, although he still felt that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon by himself.

The usual debater undertakes to trace the Book of Mormon to the Spaulding romance through Sidney Rigdon. Nothing can be more erroneous, and it will lead to almost certain defeat. . . .In order “for” the successful refutation of the Mormon dogma it is not at all necessary to connect Sidney Rigdon with Joseph Smith in its inception. In fact, such a course will almost certainly result in failure; and the principal reason why it will fail is because it is not true. . . .The long-lost Spaulding story has at last been unearthed, and is now on deposit in the library of Oberlin College at Oberlin, Ohio, and may be examined by anyone who may take the pains to call on President Fairchild, of that institution. . . .

The writer has examined a certified copy of this remarkable document, and to say he was surprised is to express it moderately. Instead of exhibiting the qualities of a scholarly mind, as we had been lead to believe it would do, quite to the contrary, it bears every mark of ignorance and illiteracy, and is evidently the product of a mind far below the average, even in the ordinary affairs of life. A twelve-year-old boy in any of our common schools can tell a better story and couch it in far better English. The Spaulding story is a failure. Do not attempt to rely upon it—it will let you down. [28]

In 1902, I. Woodbrige Riley rejected the Spaulding theory and claimed that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, his environment providing the source material. [29] In 1917, Walter Prince, who also rejected the Spaulding theory in favor of the idea that Joseph Smith was the sole author, attempted to show in The American Journal of Psychology that proper names were an unconscious reflection of Joseph Smith’s environment. [30]

While not the first to write, Fawn Brodie has emerged as a standard-bearer for the critics who rejected the Spaulding theory in favor of the nineteeth-century-environment theory as the source of the Book of Mormon. In rejecting the Spaulding theory, she said:

The Spaulding-Rigdon theory of the authorship of the Book of Mormon is based on a heterogeneous assortment of letters and affidavits collected between 1833 and 1900. When heaped together without regard to chronology as in Charles A. Shook’s True Origin of the Book of Mormon, and without any consideration of the character of either Joseph Smith or Sidney Rigdon, they seem impressive. But the theory is based first of all on the untenable assumption that Joseph Smith had neither the wit nor the learning to write the Book of Mormon, and it disregards the fact that the style of the Book of Mormon is identical with that of the Mormon prophet’s later writings, such as the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, but is completely alien to the turgid rhetoric of Rigdon’s sermons. [31]

Wilford Smith has summarized Brodie’s contribution as follows: “Whereas previous writers have not been able to credit Joseph Smith with writing the Book of Mormon because he lacked the ability, Fawn Brodie reversed the issue and accepted the difficulty of [his] producing the book as evidence of his brilliance.” [32]

In a similar vein, James Black, a minister of St. Georgia’s Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, rejected the Spaulding theory in New Forms of the Old Faith:

A former explanation of this puzzle—that Joseph Smith concocted history from an old romance of pre-historic America written in Ohio in 1812 by Solomon Spaulding, a Congregational minister—has had to be given up. . . . The theory is further invalidated by the fact that it is impossible to show how, when, or through whom Smith could have obtained one of the two copies of the Spaulding MS. [33]

In his recent book, Trouble Enough: Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, Ernest H. Taves discusses the Spaulding theory and concludes that “it made a stir for a time, but the theory cannot be supported”:

The evidence, then, indicates that this Spaulding manuscript had nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. In that case, how are we to account for the Hurlbut affidavits?

It has been suggested that there was another Spaulding work, that the manuscript Hurlbut unearthed was not what everyone was referring to as Manuscript Found. This is, of course, a possibility, but the question might seem, at first glance, irrelevant. If there was another Spaulding manuscript would it not be stylistically similar to the one Hurlbut found, and thus have little in common with the Book of Mormon? Only a skillful writer indeed—a gifted parodist, for example—can significantly alter his way of writing. The signature is there, as with a thumbprint. Whatever else can be said of Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding, neither was a skillful writer. It suffices to read a page or two of Joseph Smith and of Spaulding to understand that those pages were written by different writers. The same would probably apply to any other manuscript written by Spaulding. . . .

This still leaves us with questions about the affidavits. How could they be so far off the mark? First, we must agree with Brodie that they were written by Hurlbut—and here we again invoke stylistic considerations. The affidavits have the tone of common authorship. Further, there is the almost universal insistence upon the “and it came to pass” phraseology, and upon the proper names of Nephi and Laman. Hurlbut put thoughts into the minds of his respondents, and words into their mouths. . . . One would like to know more of Hurlbut here. We must suspect that he was not without his own manipulative abilities as he pursued what he was after. He was grinding an important ax, and his respondents were certainly also motivated: The manuscript of their brother, relative, and friend had been plagiarized—in what they considered to be a blasphemous cause—and they would have vengeance. So they remembered what Hurlbut suggested, thus giving birth to the Spaulding-Rigdon theory four years after Joseph had completed his manuscript. [34]

Though they are unwilling to accept Joseph Smith’s explanation of a divine origin of the Book of Mormon, these critics all reject the Spaulding theory.

Believers’ Responses to the Spaulding Theory

Believers in the Book of Mormon have defended their belief by simply stating the facts pertaining to the Spaulding theory and restating, with testimony, the conditions of the book’s origin. In 1840, Benjamin Winchester wrote the following in the introduction to The Origin of the Spaulding Story: “As the public mind has been somewhat agitated, for the last nine or ten years, upon the subject of Mormonism, (so called,) and as there have been coined and put into circulation, innumerable statements respecting its origin, and all of them contrary the one to the other; I deem it an act of justice to a belied people, and a deceived public, knowing the facts of the case, to present to them the truth of the matter, and to show the contradictions and the absurdities, which are swallowed greedily down, without question or examination, because men love darkness rather than light.” [35]

He then gave a brief history of Philastus Hurlbut, noting his immoral character and his ulterior motives for inventing the Spaulding theory. He concluded by saying that after Hurlbut sold the manuscript to E. D. Howe, he,

with his ill gotten gains, went to Erie county, Pa., in the township of Girard, Miller Settlement, and bought a farm, and married a wife, soon became a confirmed drunkard, spent every cent of his inglorious gain, was reduced to beggary, took to stealing for a livelihood, was detected in stealing a log chain, fled the country, to escape justice, and that is the last of him, so far as I know. I have written this short biography of Dr. P. Hulbert, that my readers may know the character of the man who first invented the Spaulding lie.—Also that they know the merit of him whom the priests of this day, to serve their purpose, have dubbed honourable, reverend, &c. [36]

Concerning the Rigdon/Spaulding manuscript question, Winchester pointed out that Sidney Rigdon did not live in Pittsburgh until at least eight years after the Spaulding manuscript had been removed from that city by Spaulding’s widow, Mrs. Davieson:

That Mr. Rigdon lived in Pittsburgh between the years 1822 and 1826, no one disputes; but that he had any thing to do with the compilation of the Book of Mormon, we utterly deny. In fact, he did not know of its existence until years after, as we are prepared to show. Let us, however, see how the statements tally. Mr. Spaulding wrote his manuscript in New Salem, Ohio, in the year 1812: from thence he removed to Pittsburgh. . . . Mr. Hulbert says the widow of Mr. Spaulding informed him, that the removal to Pittsburgh took place in 1812, and from thence to Amity, in 1814. Mrs. Davieson is made to say in the “Origin of Mormonism,” that, “At length the manuscript was returned to its author, and soon after we removed to Amity. The manuscript then fell into my hands, and was carefully preserved.” Admitting this—all the time, and the only time S. Rigdon had an opportunity, or possibility, of becoming acquainted with the manuscript, was between 1812 and 1814; for since that time, it has been carefully kept by Mrs. Davieson.. . . Mrs. Davieson says she had it from 1814 to the time of Mr. Hulbert’s application, in her own possession: couple that with the fact, that S. Rigdon never lived in Pittsburgh until after 1822! eight or ten years after the manuscript was in the careful preservation of Mrs. Davieson!! The very lame attempt at something like precision, by affixing names and dates, is the key by which the whole plot is unravelled and exploded. [37]

In 1883, just prior to the rediscovery of the Spaulding manuscript, George Reynolds, in his The Myth of the “Manuscript Found,” summarized many facts that refute the Spaulding theory. After outlining the whereabouts of the Spaulding manuscript from its creation in 1812 up to 1834 when Hurlbut received it in Harwicks, New York, Reynolds says:

Here we have an unbroken history of its wanderings until years after the Book of Mormon was published. How then is it presumed that Joseph Smith obtained possession of it? This is an unanswerable question. Was Joseph in any of those places at the time the manuscript was there? No, there is not the least proof that he ever was, all the testimony and evidence is directly to the contrary. Was Sidney Rigdon ever in those places? Not at the same time as the ‘Manuscript Found.’ [38]

Addressing the question of a secondary copy of the manuscript which Sidney Rigdon was supposed to have found years later, Reynolds pointed out,

To tide this difficulty some one has suggested that probably Spaulding made a copy of his romance for the printer, and it was this copy that Rigdon afterwards found. But this is a baseless supposition; until lately such an idea was never thought of, and it loses all its force from the fact that those best acquainted with the history of that manuscript say that the copy Spaulding gave to Patterson was returned to him; it was not left in the office to be found by Rigdon, or any one else in after years. [39]

Pointing out the weaknesses of the affidavits and testimonies of the various witnesses, Reynolds discussed the conflicts between testimonies and showed them to be of little value because so much of the material was obtained secondhand and because many statements were reminiscences made fifty to seventy years after the events had transpired. Furthermore, many testimonies came from religious leaders who held biased views against Mormonism.

Reynolds also detailed Rigdon’s introduction to the Book of Mormon by quoting from Parley P. Pratt:

About the 15th of October, 1830, I took my journey in the company with Elders O. Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, to Ohio. We called on Elder S. Rigdon, and then for the first time his eye beheld the Book of Mormon. I, myself, had the happiness to present it to him in person. He was much surprised, and it was with much persuasion and argument, that he was prevailed on to read it, and after he had read it, he had a great struggle of mind, before he fully believed, and embraced it. [40]

Catherine Smith Salsbury, Joseph Smith’s sister, testified in a sworn statement in 1881, at age sixty-eight, that

Prior to the latter part of AD. 1830, there was no person who visited with, or was an acquaintance of, or called upon the said family, or any member thereof to my knowledge, by the name of Sidney Rigdon; nor was such a person known to the family, or any member thereof, to my knowledge, until the last part of the year AD. 1830, or the first part of the year 1831, and some time after the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ, by Joseph Smith, Jr., and several months after the publication of the Book of Mormon. [41]

From 15 April to 1 September 1843, the year prior to the death of Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons printed a detailed history of the life of Sidney Rigdon which verified that his first contact with the Book of Mormon was in the fall of 1830. [42]

John W. Rigdon, Sidney’s son, published a report of an interview he had with his father in 1865 which also included the testimony of his mother just prior to her death. Both his father and his mother reaffirmed their testimonies that Sidney had nothing to do with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon:

My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: “My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of [the Book of Mormon] was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story. [43]

Concerning his mother’s testimony, he said:

She said to me in that conversation that what my father had told me was true, about the book being presented to him, for she was present at the time and knew that was the first time he ever saw it, and that the stories told about my father writing the Book of Mormon were not true. [44]

In an 1841 letter to George A. Adams, Elder Orson Hyde, an associate and student of Sidney Rigdon, denied any possible deception by Rigdon concerning the writing of the Book of Mormon. [45] Elder Hyde said:

At the time our enemies say that Mr. Rigdon was engaged in fabricating the Book of Mormon, I was a student under him. He was then a minister in the Christian Baptist Church in America . . . I was intimately acquainted with him, and his family, for a number of years; and a good part of that time I was a boarder in his family, particularly in 1829. If Mr. Rigdon had been engaged in a work of that kind, I am certain that he would have, either directly or indirectly, given me a hint of it. But such an intimation he never gave me in any shape or manner. [46]

Summarizing his chapter concerning Sidney Rigdon’s supposed involvement in the production of the Book of Mormon, Francis W. Kirkham wrote:

To the knowledge of the writer, and after careful study of all the printed material available, there exists no evidence to prove that Sidney Rigdon had any part in the production of the Book of Mormon. What he declared all his life and was known to hundreds of witnesses must be accepted as the facts. Notwithstanding this positive evidence on the one hand and the entire lack of historical facts on the other, some anti-Mormon writers still repeat as true this human origin for the Book of Mormon, namely that Sidney Rigdon assisted Joseph Smith or alone wrote the religious parts of the Book of Mormon and that together they copied the historical parts from the Solomon Spaulding manuscript. [47]

Believers in the Book of Mormon have also addressed the claim that Spaulding wrote the historical part of the Book of Mormon while Joseph Smith or someone else added the religious part. In 1857 Elias L. T. Harrison addressed this question in an article in the Millennial Star:

It is always affirmed that the “religious matter” of the Book of Mormon was not copied from Spaulding’s work. Particular attention is called to this, because great stress is laid upon its being like it, “except the religious matter.” Now, as every circumstance that is narrated in the whole of the “historical part” of the Book of Mormon is connected with, and springs from, the “religious matter” which was not in the Spaulding work, by excepting the religious matter from the charge of piracy, they have excepted the whole book.. . . The religious matter is the bone and sinew of that book, and the historical part is the flesh built upon it. By examining the “historical part” of the Book of Mormon, it will be clear that Us religious and historical matter are inseparably united. [48]

Harrison closed his article with this statement: “We have also a testimony of great force in favour of the Divinity of the Book of Mormon, seeing that after twenty-five years of efforts by its enemies, to upset its claims to a divine origin, the only way by which they are agreed to account for its existence vanishes at a touch.” [49]


[1] Introduction to the Book of Mormon.

[2] The name Hurlbut has alternate spellings: Hurlbut, Hulbert, and Hurlburt.

[3] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Howe, 1834), 279.

[4] Benjamin Winchester, The Origin of the Spaulding Story, Concerning the Manuscript Found (Philadelphia: Brown, 1840), 5.

[5] George Reynolds, The Myth of the “Manuscript Found,” or the Absurdities of the “Spaulding Story” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1883), 14.

[6] Winchester, 6.

[7] Reynolds, 15.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Winchester, 11.

[11] Solomon Spaulding, The “Manuscript Found”: A Verbatim Copy of the Original (Lamoni, Iowa: The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1885).

[12] Spaulding, The “Manuscript Found”: Manuscript Story (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1886).

[13] Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look (Ogden, Utah: Zenos, 1983), 9–10.

[14] Howe, 290.

[15] Ibid., 289.

[16] Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger, 1 February 1831, 267.

[17] Campbell, “The Mormon Bible,” Millennial Harbinger, June 1839, 267.

[18] Howe, 288.

[19] Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959 and 1960), 2:215.

[20] Howe, 287.

[21] Lester E. Bush, Jr., “The Spaulding Theory Then and Now,” Dialogue 10 (autumn 1977): 40–69.

[22] Theodore A. Schroeder, The Origin of the Book of Mormon, Re-Examined in its Relation to Spaulding’s “Manuscript Found” (Salt Lake City: Salt Lake Ministerial Association,1901), 6.

[23] M. D. Bown, “One Hundred Similarities Between the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Manuscript” (N.P., 1937), 14–15, 22–23, 29, 33–35, 37.

[24] Edward E. Plowman, “Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?” Christianity Today 21 (8 July 1977): 32–34.

[25] Dean C. Jessee, “Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon,” CES Church History Symposium (Provo, Utah: Church Educational System, 1977), 59.

[26] Ibid., 58–60.

[27] Dale R. Broadhurst, “A New Basis for the Spaulding Theory: Parallels of Theme and Vocabulary in the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding Manuscript,” Spaulding Research Project Working Paper No. 10, Revision 2 (Delaware, Ohio: Methodist Theological School, 1981), 4–5.

[28] Davis H. Bays, The Doctrine and Dogmas of Mormonism, Examined and Refuted (St. Louis: Christian, 1897), 22–25.

[29] I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism: A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith, Jr. (New York: Dodd, 1902), 111–38.

[30] Walter Franklin Prince, “Psychological Tests for the Authorship of the Book of Mormon,” American Journal of Psychology 28 (July 1917): 373–89. See also Kirkham, 2:257.

[31] Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 2d ed., rev. and enl. (New York: Knopf, 1978), 442.

[32] Wilford Smith, “In the Shadow of Solomon Spaulding,” Unpublished manuscript in the possession of the author, 48.

[33] Kirkham, 2:301.

[34] Ernest H. Tavcs, Trouble Enough: Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1984), 54–55.

[35] Winchester, 3.

[36] Ibid., 11–12.

[37] Ibid., 14–15.

[38] Reynolds, 12.

[39] Ibid., 27.

[40] Ibid., 33.

[41] Ibid., 34

[42] See also Kirkham, 1:317.

[43] Ibid., 1:328.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 1:332.

[46] Ibid., 1:333–34.

[47] Ibid., 1:336.

[48] Elias L. T. Harrison, “The ‘Spaulding Story’ Refuted from Itself,” Millennial Star 19 (24 January 1857): 49–56, 54.

[49] Ibid., 56.