MORMON STUDIES PRESENTS:
THE EARLY DAYS OF MORMONISM
By James H. Kennedy
Part Two of Four Parts
[ Pages 1-110 ]
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EARLY DAYS OF MORMONISM.
A RAPID GROWTH IN FRUITFUL SOIL.
THERE was no premeditated preparation for the advent of Mormonism, yet none the less was the way made straight before it, and all the conditions to insure its life abundantly supplied. Smith its creator, Rigdon its evangelist, and Young who saved it in its supreme hour of fate at Nauvoo, held no divine commission for the founding of the creed, yet each was well equipped by nature and circumstances in all the essentials for the part he was to play. Had the first failed at Palmyra, the second at Kirtland, or the third on the banks of the Mississippi, the complex and dangerous problem of the Salt Lake valley would not now demand solution at the hands of the nineteenth century.
The outlines of this great drama of human life and human folly were unconsciously prepared long before the lines were written or the parts assigned. The atmosphere in which Joseph Smith was reared was saturated with ignorant superstition. The ease with which his parents and himself were duped, proved to
his low cunning that others could be duped as well. The phases of social and religious life with which he was surrounded were such as to nourish within him the grossest germs of spiritual thought with which he had been endowed. His mother dreamed strange dreams, had visions, and sold to others the knowledge of the future which she believed she had received from celestial sources. For many years she had repeated the announcement that a seer was to be born of her family, and upon Joseph this doubtful honor was at last laid. He passed through childhood and into youth under the burden of this annunciation, and whether or not he wholly believed it in his heart, it must have colored his mental vision to some degree, and he was shrewd enough to see that it was not unheeded by many about him, and that it might be made to serve him in material things. It became one of the currents of impulse along which he at last drifted into the creation of a creed. I use the word drifted advisedly, as all the evidence obtainable shows that the Mormon scheme grew from one small fraud set upon another, and that no definite and determining intention held control in the heart of Smith, until he saw by experience the amount of nonsense that fanatical ignorance would enable mankind to accept and digest.
That this crude and cumbersome religion should find such ready root, can only be accounted for by an analysis of the soil in which it was set. The early years of the nineteenth century were filled with doctrinal jousts, in which denomination set itself against denomination, and creed made war upon creed. The religious crusades of new and aggressive churches were
waged upon the older organizations with unusual fury, and with that relentless purpose that is possible only to ignorance well armed with zeal. There had been no period yet seen in America, and there has been none since, in which fanaticism and spiritual fervor took so close a hold upon the life and thought of the people. It was a season of revivals, and the spirit that was moving the theologians was felt in the lowest stratum of home and rural life. In illustration it may be noted that the extended era of the great revivalist, Lorenzo Dow, commenced in 1796. The works that for a third of a century came in. the wake of his preaching, were possible only in a season when the ignorant and over wrought fear of the people partook of the surrendering haste that is born of panic. Those remarkable nervous manifestations known as "the falling," "the jerking," "the rolling," and "the dancing" exercises, were yet other evidences of the mood in which certain of the more emotional sections of America were preparing to receive whatever of truth, or alleged truth, might be spoken unto them. Very many of the religious meetings of the day were attended by these remarkable physical and mental phenomena, that were looked upon by the ignorant mass as the moving of a divine power upon the bodies and minds of men.
It was not until 1799 that the great revivals of religion that afterward so stirred and wrought upon the West were inaugurated, and the first of an innumerable series of " camp-meetings " held. This method of reaching men found such favor and became so popular, that by 1801 we are told that over twenty thousand people were at times seen in one open-air
gathering. "In consequence of such a vast assemblage of people," says one historian, * "it was impossible for one person to address them; hence they were divided into several groups, and addressed by as many different speakers, while the whole grove at times became vocal with the praises of God, and at others pierced with the cries of distressed penitents.... The effect was peculiarly striking at night. The range of tents; the fires, reflecting light through the branches of the trees; the candles and lamps, illuminating the entire encampment; hundreds of immortal beings moving to and fro, some preaching, some praying for mercy, others praising God -- all presented a scene indescribably solemn and affecting. These meetings soon spread through all the settlements in the West, and such was the eagerness of the people to attend, that entire neighborhoods were forsaken, and the roads literally crowded by those pressing forward on their way to the groves."
A striking and grotesque example of frenzied zeal, and of arrogant assumption accepted with humble faith, was furnished by the "Pilgrims" who made their appearance in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi in 1817. Commencing with a few fanatics in Canada, they gained in numbers as they moved across Vermont and New York, and from thence drifted into the far Southwest, where they finally dwindled to extinction. They preached a common stock of property; they had a prophet who received advice direct from heaven, and ruled with arbitrary power, and all things great and small were done in
* "Historical Collections of the Great West." By Henry Howe, Cincinnati, 1857, page 205.
direct obedience to the inspired voice; they enjoined penance for sin; wore their garments without changing as long as they would hold together; made of raggedness and uncleanness a virtue; and left their dead unburied where they fell. Yet even they won followers, and many who heard them were persuaded that the message they conveyed was divine.
Isolated evidences of this religious trend of the public conscience and thought might be advanced in abundance. It was only in 1832 that John Jay Shipherd and Philo Penfield Stewart founded the Oberlin Colony in a forest of Northern Ohio, and promulgated the Oberlin Covenant, declaring their purpose above all things to serve God, and to hold no more property than each could manage for His interest. Even such episodes as that of Dylks, the Leatherwood God, were possible, when a mysterious stranger, whose antecedents have not yet been discovered, suddenly appeared in the midst of a Southern Ohio camp-meeting, in 1828, announced himself as the real Messiah, whose coming was the beginning of the thousand years of peace, was soon surrounded by a sect which accepted him as divine, and would hardly be driven from him by exposure and public disgrace.
Rebellion and contention found their way into many of the churches. The Free-Will Baptists began, during the closing years of the eighteenth century, to make their inroads upon the parent church, and their doctrine was preached with spirit and fervor. The Church of God, or Winebrennarian, was growing and preparing for that great revival of 1825 which set its mark upon portions of Pennsylvania,
and was felt to the north and west in isolated preachings and conversions. The Disciples, who unwittingly aided in preparing Eastern Ohio for Mormonism, found in this period their field-day of victory over the older creeds. Thomas Campbell and his brilliant son Alexander, had set forth to build up that Christian union which they thought so needed, and of which the Bible alone should be the foundation. It was at Brush Run, Pennsylvania, on September 7, 1810, that they organized their first effort, and set the fire of their fervor running through the West, with results which have left their mark upon the age. The Methodist Church was still feeling the personal influence of Wesley and Asbury, and its fervid and aggressive growth was one of the moving factors of the time. The Reformed Presbyterians had gained a foothold upon these shores. The Restorationists were preaching the doctrine that all men would ultimately become holy and happy; to which Hosea Ballou, in 1818, added that equally pleasant afterthought, that all punishment for sin is confined to this world.
Mother Ann Lee and the Shakers had commenced their work in America, and it was not until 1784 that their leader, who claimed to be the revealed Christ in female form, had departed into that death from which so many of her followers had believed she was to be exempt; but Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright, to whom she had yielded the keys of her kingdom, used all the power of their strong individuality to hold the society up to the level of its faith, and to add to its membership and influence. It was in 1831, when Mormonism was beginning to gain a hold on the
minds of men, that William Miller was preaching the Second Advent and offering to the world that wonderful drama of superstition that has hardly been paralleled in the annals of the world -- a movement that strikingly illustrates the grotesque and unresting spirit of the times. Unitarian and Universalist were making their inroads on the older faiths and adding to the theological din and disturbance of the day, and many believed that the Millennial year had already dawned.
A spirit, not so much of inquiry as of positive declaration and assumed revelation, had taken hold upon the people, and through it ran an expectation that the times were ripe for some grand change in man's condition. Whether it should be the second advent of Christ upon the earth, the destruction of the world by fire, or the fulfillment of Daniel or Revelation in the movements of nations or the deeds of men, could not be clearly read by many; but that something strange and marvellous was at hand, was agreed upon by the mass. A declaration of divine power or apostolic commission that to-day would be assigned to the mental derangement or speculative quackery that had been its cause, was at that period in danger of finding enough who would believe it, and be spiritually elated or depressed by the message it conveyed. No surprise need therefore be felt when we see men of shrewd business cunning and fair intelligence in worldly affairs, giving of their faith, influence, and money to set an audacious charlatan upon a pedestal of spiritual power, or listening with rapt attention to the revelations of a youth who was their inferior in every relation of worldly life.
That branch of the Smith family of which Joseph, the founder of Mormonism, was a part, came originally from Scotland, although his immediate ancestors showed few of those strong and industrious qualities to which the sons of Scotia are natural heirs. The origin of the future prophet was sufficiently humble to make his later elevation all the more marked. The obtainable facts concerning his ancestry are meagre; but the following statements can be relied upon, as they are made upon authority that can hardly be gainsaid. "I have recently been upon the ground where Joe Smith first saw the light," writes Daniel Woodward, Judge of the County Court of Windsor, Vermont. * "The house was upon the top of the high ridge of land between Royalton and Sharon; and the buildings were located in Royalton. It is a beautiful place in summer, and is secluded from disturbance by the outside world. Joe's mother was the daughter of Solomon Mack, an infirm man, who used to ride about the country on horseback, using a woman's saddle, or what was termed a sidesaddle. Joseph Smith, Sr., was at times engaged in hunting for Captain Kidd's buried treasure; and he also became implicated with one Jack Downing in counterfeiting money, but turned State's evidence and escaped the penalty. The Smith family moved from the old farm farther into Royalton, about one-half or three-fourths of a mile from my father's, and was living there while our house was building, and Joe came to the raising. I think it was in 1812, and Joe was then about eight years of age." Another
* The Historical Magazine, 1870, p. 316.
authority in the same article states that his recollections of Mr. Mack are very distinct, and that "his business on horseback was selling an autobiography of himself."
The first point of personal interest to which this narrative can with profit attach itself, is found in 1816, when Joseph Smith, Sr., and his wife Lucy Mack, and their family migrated from their Vermont home to Palmyra, New York. Their worldly goods were few and their children many, Joseph coming fourth in a line of six sons and three daughters. Upon reaching their new home in the semi-wilderness of Western New York, the father gave himself to the pursuits that had been a part of the old New England life. Like others who can be found in any new and growing community, he was content to make certain of enough for the day, with no effort toward a better means of livelihood, and no ambition to have part in the material advancement and development going on about him. He gave a day here and there to manual labor as it came to hand, and filled in the intervals by attendance upon a small cake-shop he had found means to open. On rare occasions when the country people were gathered to the town by some holiday or political demonstration, the future Patriarch of the Mormon Church would load his hand-cart with specimens of his art and go forth upon the streets, to find such patronage as might come to hand.
This precarious course of life was followed at Palmyra some two and a half years, when he decided upon a venture that would have been of promise had he and his sons been as well supplied
with industry and ambition as they were with skill for the evasion of sustained toil. He moved his family to Manchester, two miles to the south, and took possession of a piece of timbered land which belonged to parties living at a distance. A small log-house was erected, containing two rooms and a loft; and in this the whole family made their residence. After seven years of squatter possession Smith made a nominal purchase of the land upon which he was located, but never paid for it in full, and it passed out of his hands when he followed the fortunes of his son to Ohio, and cast his lot in with the Mormon Church.
The work upon this little farm was done in a careless, half-hearted manner. No serious effort was made for the cultivation of the land, and the forest was cleared away only as there was demand for its product. Wood-chopping, the growing of small crops, the manufacture of baskets and brooms, and the making of maple sugar in season, were interspersed with occasional forays with the peddler's cart. Many intervals of lazy lounging occurred on the part of father and sons, and one keen-eyed neighbor has left. on record the declaration that "the proportionate time given by the Smiths to work of any kind was largely exceeded by that devoted to hunting and fishing, trapping muskrats, digging woodchucks, and lounging about the stores and shops of the village." The watchful attention of a neighbor hood where goods were few and the absence of even a little was missed, caused special attention to be paid the habits of the Smiths, and it was not long before their half-vagrant course of life laid them under
suspicion of all the small thefts of the vicinity. How much of actual guilt belonged to them it would be difficult to determine at this late day, but the life of Joseph and his father in after-years was such as to deprive them of the benefit of the doubt. As one has borne vehement and perhaps biased witness: "The Smith family (at this period) were popularly regarded as an illiterate, whiskey-drinking, shiftless, irreligious race of people," Joseph " being unanimously voted the laziest and most worthless of the generation. *
Joseph, Jr., was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont, and was well along in boyhood when the family migrated to the West. There is little in his early days of sufficient importance to attract historical attention, except the powerful influence his mother exerted upon him. She was of a morbidly sensitive nature in reference to matters of religion, and was no doubt a fanatic rather than a fraud. She was given to deep reveries, told fortunes, and claimed to have been miraculously cured of a mortal complaint. She felt the influence of the theological discussions that were being carried on about her, but in their complexity she found distraction rather than relief. She could not surrender her heart and obedience to any one doctrine, and the nearest she ever
* "Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism." By Pomeroy Tucker, New York, 1867, p. 16.
Judge Woodward, in the foregoing statement, locates Smith's birthplace in Royalton; but as Smith himself gives Sharon, and the authorities all follow his lead in that respect, the above will be allowed to stand. The buildings may be in Royalton, but the Smiths always considered themselves as a part of the other township.
came to having a fixed religion was when she allowed herself to be baptized by a minister of the Presbyterian Church, but declined to place her name upon the roll of church membership. She was convinced that one of her daughters had been restored to life by a direct dispensation of divine power, and long before the removal to New York she had announced the advent of a prophet in her family, and on the death of Alvah, the first born, the commission that had been intended for him was laid upon Joseph. *
The entire training of the youth was in the direction of his mother's wish. Perhaps the seed of an actual belief in this destiny was so deeply planted in
* Littell's Living Age, vol. 30, p. 29: "The elder Smith had been a Universalist, and subsequently a Methodist; was a good deal of a smatterer in Scriptural knowledge, but the seed of revelation was sown on weak ground; he was a great babbler, credulous, not especially industrious, a money-digger, prone to the marvellous; and, withal, a little given to difficulties with neighbors and petty lawsuits Mrs. Smith was a woman of strong, uncultivated intellect; artful and cunning; imbued with an ill-regulated religious enthusiasm. The incipient hints, the first givings out that a prophet was to spring from her humble household, came from her; and when matters were maturing for denouement, she gave out that such and such ones -- always fixing upon those who had both money and credulity -- were to be instruments in some great work of new revelation. The old man was rather her faithful co-worker, or executive exponent. Their son Alvah was originally intended or designated, by fireside consultations and solemn and mysterious outdoor hints, as the forthcoming prophet. The mother and the father said he was the chosen one; but Alvah, however spiritual he may have been, had a carnal appetite; ate too many green turnips, sickened and died. Thus the world lost a prophet, and Mormonism a leader.... The mantle of the prophet which Mrs. and Mr. Joseph Smith and one Oliver Cowdery had wove themselves, -- every thread of it, -- fell upon their next eldest son, Joseph Smith, Jr."
his soul that it bore fruit in all the years of his career, and was never altogether destroyed by the enlarged education and knowledge of later years, giving the key to some things in his character not otherwise made plain. That he was an immense imposition upon the credulity of man, and knew himself to be such, can hardly be questioned; yet under all quackery there usually lies a stratum of self-deception. The boy's education, or rather the rude smattering of learning that went by that name, was but added preparation for that which lay before him; he was not given to books, and the few he was persuaded to read were of vicious tendency, and set his imagination in the wrong direction. His favorites have been described as the "Life of Stephen Burroughs," a scoundrel dressed in the garb of the church, and the autobiography of the pirate Kidd. Smith afterward made confession that the book last named made a deep impression upon him, and owned to a special fascination in these lines found therein:
As I sailed, as I sailed;
And most wickedly I did,
God's laws I did forbid,
As I sailed, as I sailed."
finding an odd job to do about the store of Seymour Scoville, and once a week he would stroll into the office of the old Palmyra Register for his father's paper. How impious in us young dare-devils to once in a while blacken the face of the then meddling, inquisitive lounger, but afterward prophet, with the old-fashioned balls, when he used to put himself in the way of working of the old-fashioned Rammage press.... But Joseph had a little ambition, and some very laudable aspirations. The mother's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us solve some portentous questions of moral or political ethics in our juvenile debating club, which we moved down to the old red school-house on Durfee street to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in on us in the village; and subsequently, after catching a spark of Methodism in the camp-meeting away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very passable exhorter in evening meetings." *
An even less pleasing picture has been drawn by another, who perhaps studied the boy at closer range and from a more intimate personal acquaintance. Between twelve and thirteen years of age he is remembered by this witness as "a dull-eyed, flaxen-haired, prevaricating boy, noted only for his indolent and vagabondish character, and his habits of exaggeration and untruthfulness. He seldom spoke to any one outside of his intimate associates, except when first addressed by another, and then, by reason of his extravagances of statement, his word was
* "Origin of the Mormon Imposture." Littell's Living Age, vol 30, p. 429.
received with the least confidence by those who knew him best. He could utter the most palpable exaggeration or marvellous absurdity with the utmost apparent gravity. He nevertheless evidenced the rapid development of a thinking, plodding, evil-brewing mental composition -- largely given to inventions of low cunning, schemes of mischief and deception, and false and mysterious pretensions.... He was, however, proverbially good-natured, very rarely, if ever, indulging in any combative spirit toward any one, whatever might be the provocation." *
As the boy advanced in years he developed a mental aptitude that, amid more favoring circumstances and under the stress of some moral encouragement, might have grown to usefulness. As he grew away from the period in which his fancy yielded to Captain Kidd, the real desire for food of some kind that his mother had bequeathed him, led him into the nearest and most open channel that was before him. He listened to the battle of religious controversy that was then being waged in Western New York, and was controlled by its influence as a boy of 1849 might have been won to the golden fields of California, or one of 1856 to the denunciation or defense of slavery. His reading took a theological turn, and the Bible became a matter of almost daily study. His mind was retentive; he was possessed of a rude eloquence of speech, and had that rare power of expression that to the stranger or the simple would seem the outward form of a sincere belief within. The more mysterious and complex the chapter of Scripture to which he
* "Origin, Rise, and Progress or Mormonism," p. 16.
gave attention, the more open and bold his explanation and application when surrounded by auditors who did not surpass him in knowledge. He was an attendant upon many of the revivals in the churches of the neighborhood, and upon one occasion was so far led as to make a profession of faith, and to join, upon probation, the Methodist church of Palmyra. Whether he took this step through the excitement of the moment or really sought for spiritual light, can hardly be determined, and in either case the result was the same. He abandoned even this slight church connection, and was soon afterward heard denouncing sectarianism as an evil, and to declare that all the churches were built upon a false foundation.
That Joseph was led at an early age to hold a hearty contempt for manual labor, and resolved to make cunning take the place of muscle, is proved by every discoverable portion of his record. There was an almost brutal frankness upon this point by some who thrived upon his scheming, and it has been again and again quoted that even Brigham Young declared that " The Prophet was of mean birth; that he was wild, intemperate, even dishonest and tricky in his youth." We have eminent authority for believing that a prophet is not often honored in his own country, yet it is seldom that a prophet, even of Mormonism, is sent before the world with such certificate of character as was awarded Joseph Smith and his family by eleven of the most prominent and respectable citizens of Manchester, who, under date of November 3, 1833, affixed their names to this emphatic declaration: *
* "Mormonism and the Mormons." By Daniel P. Kidder, New York, 1842, p. 20.
"We, the undersigned, being personally acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sr., with whom the Gold Bible, so called, originated, state: That they were not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate, and their word was not to be depended upon; and that we are truly glad to dispense with their society."
As if the above did not cover the ground with sufficient force and exactness, a supplemental declaration was made on December 4, 1833, and signed by sixty-two residents of Palmyra: *
"We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying that we consider them destitute of that moral character which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects; spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth, and to this day large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures. Joseph Smith, Sr., and his son Joseph were, in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits."
Some portion of this may have been dictated by envy, malice, or that form of righteousness which controls men at times when their neighbors have been more successful than themselves, but the allegations had a foundation in fact.
* "Mormonism and the Mormons," pp. 20, 21.
It was by such people, and amid such surroundings, that Mormonism had birth, and was nurtured in its early days. In an extended and honestly intended quest along this line of information, I have been unable to find that one of the Mormon leaders in the early days was an earnest, honest-minded believer in the creed he advocated. Not one of them would have met martyrdom for conscience' sake. There was not one who did not value it for the gain there was to be had of it. This does not hold true of their followers and dupes, among whom were many who beggared themselves that their church might live, and bravely and lovingly met scorn and injustice that their faith might be made manifest in their works. It was through them that the church gained all the stability of which it was possessed; and it was through their efforts that Smith and his co-conspirators were enabled to live in the ease and comfort of which they made such ready use.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE BOOK.
THE first venture made by young Smith in the line of mystification was as a "Water Witch." Armed with a forked hazel rod he moved from point to point over the country, successfully locating some hidden streams, and gaining reputation thereby; and meeting with many failures, of which all mention was discreetly omitted by himself and followers. His father had laid claim to a like power, and contented himself with its practice; but the more ambitious boy soon discovered that a success equal to his expectations must come from enlarged claims and more ample powers
From locating subterranean veins of water he advanced to the discovery of hidden riches, and was soon practicing the new profession as actually as he had pursued the old. Of his career as a seeker after hidden wealth many stories have been told, some of which no doubt are pure fabrications, while others may have a narrow foundation in fact. Others are well authenticated. When the Smith family lived at Manchester, Joseph assisted his father in well-digging. In September, 1819, they were engaged in such occupation upon the premises of Clark Chase, near Palmyra, and the famous "Peek Stone" of ante-Mormon fame was brought to light. With the earth thrown to the surface, there appeared a
small stone, shaped something like a human foot, opaque, and of a clear, whitish appearance.
The children of Mr. Chase claimed it as a matter of natural possession, but young Joe advanced the claim of discovery, and carried it home in his hands. Under the encouragement of his mother, in whose eyes all things took on a supernatural tinge, the stone became a fossilized miracle that had been awaiting his coming for many years. With a bandage over his eyes he would fall upon his knees and bury his face in the depths of an old white hat, where the stone was already hidden. Out of these oracular depths he would tell his gaping audience where the treasures of Kidd and others lay concealed; locate the trail of wandering flocks; point out the deposit of stolen goods; and perform other wonderful things which only those of that faith which asked no questions could believe. His father and brothers accepted his claims with a confidence suggestive of a charming simplicity of mind, or a purpose of making his cunning of substantial benefit to the family. The cupidity of neighbors was excited, and they were determined that no fault of theirs should compel the wealth of the old buccaneers to longer corrode and rust in the bosom of the earth.
Companies of diggers were organized, and the spade and lantern made nocturnal raids in company. Such faith had arisen, in Joseph and the "Peek Stone" that in 1820 he was enabled to raise a small sum of money from his dupes to defray the expense of reaching a vast deposit of wealth he had located during one of his explorations of the wonderful hat. At the mid-hour of the chosen night the,
little company, with Joseph in the lead, repaired to a small hill near his father's house. A mysterious ceremony was performed by Smith, and the spades were driven sharply into the earth, in the midst of profound silence, stirred only by the nervous excitement of those who were there in obedience to an actual faith. Not a word was spoken, else the magic of those with whom Joseph was in commune and by whose sufferance he was present, should whisk the treasure to some far corner of the earth.
The labor was carried on for two hours, Joseph standing by with a wand in band, directing along what line the shaft should be sent. As the crisis approached and it was felt that a few strokes more would crown the venture with success and place them all beyond the reach of want, the devil made an inopportune visit and prevailed upon some member of the party to speak. The riches that were so close at hand took unto themselves wings, and were beyond the reach of spade and peek stone forever.
There were those among the skeptical of Manchester who affirmed that one of the Smiths had spoken at the opportune moment, to relieve Joseph of an embarrassing dilemma, but those who had set out to be duped were consistent in their purpose and refuted all counter argument by declaring that there was a heavy odor of brimstone at the moment the speech was heard, and that the very earth vibrated under their feet, as the iron money-chests were magically hurled from beneath them.
One other occasion of like character has been placed on record. After Joseph had pointed out the position of the treasure, it was announced that a
sheep must be slain as a blood-offering, upon the spot, before work could be commenced with any hope of success. By a coincidence that would be remarkable to one who did not know the Smiths, a neighbor, William Stafford, who in early life had been a sailor, and never overcame the superstition of an ocean life, possessed a fine black ewe that he had been fattening for the market. The statement of conditions being made in his presence, he promptly offered the sacrifice, on condition that he should be a sharer in the spoils. , When the diggers reached the designated spot a circle was described, the sheep killed, and the blood sprinkled under Joseph's direction. The work went on in silence for some hours, when Satan. again made his appearance, and the scheme was frustrated. Stafford was compelled to console himself with the belief that the remains of his sheep had been taken by the Devil as a trophy of war, and the fact that one of the Smiths had disappeared with it some time after the work commenced, may have been suggested to him, although he was discreet enough to hold his peace.
This money-digging fraud of the Smiths was kept up at irregular intervals from 1820 to 1827. The experience Joseph gained in handling his dupes was of great aid to him in the larger operations of later years. He had a natural power over men, and could gain and hold an ascendancy in cases where most impostors would have failed. No story that he could invent seemed too wild for belief, and no failure of to-day stood in the way of a ready and willing obedience to-morrow. It was this success that led him on, by gradual stages, to schemes of audacious falsehood
that even he would have refused to sanction in the start.
Joseph's own statement as to how he came to turn his attention to spiritual things, widely differs from the facts furnished by those about him. His mind, he says, had been prepared by the incidental reading of a portion of the New -Testament during a great revival excitement; and he believed that to ask for heavenly wisdom was to make ertain of an answer. The Methodists had inaugurated the movement in the neighborhood, and had received the aid of the other denominations. When the converts that had been made by this union movement began to choose their future church homes, they were naturally con. fused and perplexed by the special claims of superior right and safety put forward by each. His mother gave a nominal adhesion to the Presbyterians, whither she was followed by two sons and one daughter. Joseph confesses to a leaning on his own side toward the Methodists.
Uncertain as to which way he should go, and tom by conflicting emotions, he was led to retire to a solitary place in the forest, for prayer and meditation. "After I had retired into the place," he writes, "where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so when I was seized u on by some,power which entirely overcame me, and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were-doomed to
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and, at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction -- not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such a marvellous power as I had never before felt in any being -- just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner approached than I found myself delivered from the power of the enemy which had held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, 'This is my beloved Son -- hear him!'" *
Burdened with his difficulty as to which church he should join, he asked his heavenly visitor his duty in the premises, and was told to attach himself to none, as all creeds were an abomination. Darkness then passed upon his vision, and when he came once more to his normal condition he found himself prone upon his back, with his gaze turned heavenward.
Pursuing his narrative, Joseph states that he continued at his farm work, and in three years, on the 21st of September, 1823, was granted another and far more important visit from the upper world. Upon retiring in the evening of the day last mentioned, he betook himself to prayer, asking forgiveness for his
* "The Rocky Mountain Saints." By T. B. H. Stenhouse, New York, 1873. p. 15.
many sins and follies, and also for a manifestation, that he might know of his religious standing. He felt "full confidence" in receiving a response, and while thus in the act of calling upon God, discovered a light in the room, "which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday."
A person appeared at his bedside, "standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness." His hands and feet were naked; his head and neck bare. The youth felt no fear. The visitor called him by name, and said that he was a messenger from God; that God had a work for him to do, and that his name should be had for good or evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues. He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent and the source from whence they sprung. That the fullness of the everlasting gospel was contained in it as delivered by the Saviour to the ancient races of the world.
Also that "there were two stones in silver bows (and these stones fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim) deposited with the plates, and the possession and use of these stones was what constituted seers in ancient or former times, and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book." After relating these things the angel quoted many prophecies of the Old Testament, declaring that they were not yet fulfilled. He afterward told Joseph that when he was given the plates he should mot show them, nor the breastplate, to any person
those to whom he should be commanded to show them. If he did he should be destroyed. Twice more during the night the messenger approached in the same manner, rehearsing the same thing, and on the third visit added a caution that Satan, on account of the poverty of the Smiths, would tempt Joseph to get the plates for mercenary uses, but that he must be influenced by no other purpose than a desire to build up a kingdom.
The mental excitement attendant upon this inter. view was such that when Joseph went to his labor on the following day he was so exhausted that his father insisted upon his returning home. In doing so he attempted to cross a fence, but his strength failed him, and he fell to the ground in an unconscious condition. The first thing he recollected was hearing his name called, and when he looked up he beheld the same messenger standing over his head and surrounded by light. All that had been related during the night was again told him, and he was instructed to tell his father of the visions and the commandments he had received. He returned and did so, and his, father replied that it was of God, and bade him go and do as directed. Joseph immediately repaired to the locality where he had been told the plates were deposited, and at once recognized it.
Smith's statement continues: "On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounded in the middle on the upper side, and thinner toward the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with
earth. Having removed the earth and obtained a lever which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion, raised it up, I looked in and there, indeed, did I behold the plates; the Urim and Thummim and breastplate as stated by the messenger.
"The box in which they lay, was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones laid the plates, and the other things with them. I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger. I was again informed that the time for bringing them out had not yet arrived, neither would until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates." *
Joseph obeyed the command of the angel, and every year met him at the appointed spot to receive his instructions as to what the Lord wished done, as well as revelations as to the manner in which His kingdom was tg be governed in the latter days.
Joseph's father attempted to describe the beginning
* One mile from the Smith residence was the farm of Alonzo Saunders, four miles south of Palmyra. It includes the now famous hill, which rises abruptly to the height of one hundred and fifty feet; the ridge runs almost due north and south, and from the summit thereof beautiful views of the hills surrounding Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes may be obtained. It is known to the present generation as "Gold Bible Hill." To Joseph it was the Hill Cumorah.
of these things, in an interview in 1830, * when the claims of the young man had begun to be noised abroad. He declared that when the son was fourteen years of age, and yet very illiterate, he happened one day to be present when a man was "looking" into a dark stone, and informing people where money and other buried treasures could be found. Joseph asked permission to look also, and when the request was granted, placed his face in the hat where the stone was deposited. It did not prove to be the special seer-stone gauged to his vision, but he was enabled to discern a few things, and among them was the stone that was meant for him, and its location at the time. The place was not far from their house, and under pretence of digging a well, they reached it at the, depth of some twenty feet. After this, the father added, Joseph made use of it, and spent a couple of years in the money-searching adventures already described.
Despite the attractive ingenuity of these stories, there is substantial grounds for the belief that the whole fabrication of the golden plates grew out of an impromptu jest on the part of young Smith, which was received in such earnest, that his subtle cunning saw in it a new way to distinction and possible gain. The story is told plainly and fully by Peter Ingersol, a near neighbor to the Smiths, and at that time one of Joseph's most intimate friends. He declares that one day the future Prophet of Mormonism called
* "Interview with the father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, forty years ago," by Fayette Lapham. -- The Historical Magazine, 1870, p. 305.
"Mormonism and the Mormons," p. 22.
upon him, and that his countenance and manner betrayed evident enjoyment of some hidden jest. Upon being questioned, he made the following statement: "As I was passing yesterday across the woods after a heavy shower of rain, I found in a hollow some beautiful white sand that had been washed up by the water. I took off my frock and tied up several quarts of it and then went home.
On mv entering the house, I found the family at the table eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that moment I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada called the Golden Bible, so I very gravely told them it was the Golden Bible. To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said. Accordingly, I told them I had received a commandment to let no one see it; for,' says I, I no man can see it with the naked eye and live.' However, I offered to take out the book and 'show it to them, but they refused to see it, and left the room. Now," said Jo., "I have got the d---d fools fixed, and will carry out the fun."
And carry it out he did, with results far beyond his own expectations or the imaginings of others. His family may have continued their belief in his story, or discovered its falsity, but in either case the result was the same. They professed their adherence be. fore others, and aided Joseph in the advancement of his claims.. Neighbors heard of the wonderful discover, and came to verify rumor by investigation. Smith was equal to the emergency. He gravely reiterated his declaration that no man but himself could look upon the Golden Book and live. And he saw the
impression his invention had made, he took steps to keep it alive. Willard Chase, a neighbor, in after years made affidavit to the following effect: * "In the fore-part of September, I believe 1827, the Prophet requested me to make him a chest, informing me that he designed to move back to Pennsylvania, and, expecting soon to get his Gold Book, be wanted a chest to lock it up, giving me to understand at the same time that if I would make the chest, he would give me a share in the book. I told him that my business was such that I could not make it, but if he Would bring the book to me I would lock it up for him. He said that would not do, as he was commanded to keep it two years without letting it come to the eye of any one but himself. I told him to get it and convince me of its existence and I would make him a chest; but he said that would not do, as he must have a chest to lock the book in as soon as he took it out of the ground. I saw him a few days after, when he told me that I must make the chest. I told him plainly that I could not, upon which he told me that I could have no share in the book."
Unable to swindle his neighbor, he fashioned for himself a box of clapboards, in which he deposited whatever he made fill the mission of the golden plates. His mother's memoirs declare that there was not enough money in the family purse to pay for a fitting receptacle, and that Joseph went to well. digging in order to supply the lacking sum.
The excitement created in the neighborhood by the alleged discovery of the young man caused investigation
* "Mormonism and the Mormons," p. 23.
on the part of some who had no faith in Smith or his claims. The account of a visit paid Smith by two young men * possesses a touch of such genuine human nature, that one cannot hesitate to accept it as true in every detail. It aptly illustrates the crude and clumsy character of the whole swindle. William T. Hussey and Asel Van Druver, young fellows well known for their waggish habits, and intimates of Smith, made their appearance and strongly importuned for at least one glance at the famous and mysterious book. Joseph declared that he could not yield, as even one look would be the end of earth for both.
Their pleading was in vain, as was also their offer to take upon themselves all responsibility for what might occur. Smith offered them what was in his power -- they might go with him to the hiding-place of the treasure and look upon its shape through the canvas in which it was wrapped. They accepted and were led to a remote corner of the garret, where Smith solemnly opened the box and showed them a bag hidden within it. As he still persisted in his refusal, Hussey dexterously whipped off the cover with the exclamation, "By ---- , I will see the critter, live or die!" and exposed to view a large brick.
Most men would have been abashed when confronted with this ridiculous conclusion. But Joseph was made of readier stuff. He was equal to the emergency. He declared that the supernatural power with which he was endowed had enabled him to see the daring purpose in their minds, and that he
* "Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism," p. 31.
had purposely misled them. But he was of sufficient worldly-mindedness to understand the effect of an exposure before the people, and when the trio had passed down-stairs, he treated his guests liberally to whiskey, and asked them to make no mention of what had occured,
According to Joseph's narration, it was on September 22, 1827, that the plates and the instrument by which they were to be deciphered were delivered to him by the angel who had them in charge. They were yielded only upon condition that he would preserve them with the greatest care until their return should be demanded at his hands. His account of the final surrender of the book on the part of its angelic custodian, as related to Willard Chase, was as follows: "On the 22d of September he arose early in the morning and took a one-horse wagon of some one that had stayed overnight at their house, without leave or license, and together with his wife, repaired to the hill which contained the book. He left his wife in the wagon by the road, and went alone to the hill, a distance of thirty or forty rods from the road. He said he then took the book out of the ground and hid it ia a tree-top, and returned home. He then went to the town of Macedon to work.
"After about ten days' time, it having been suggested that some one had got his book, his wife went after him. He hired a horse and went home in the afternoon. Stayed long enough to drink one
* This was subsequent to his removal to Pennsylvania, and marriage, as related hereafter.
A continuation of Chase's statement, related above.
cup of tea, and then went for his. book, Found it safe. Took off his frock and wrapped it around it, put it under his arm and ran all the way home, a distance of about two miles. He said he should think it would weigh sixty pounds, and was sure it would weigh forty. On his return home he said he was attacked by two men in the woods, and knocked them both down and made his escape. Arrived safe and secured his treasure."
To this narration Mr. Chase somewhat bitterly adds this choice portion of personal biography: "A few days afterward he told one of my neighbors that he had not got any such book, and never had, but that he had told the story to deceive the d___d fool (meaning me), to get him to make a chest."
The Prophet's mother* has left an elaborate description of the' Urim and Thummim, by aid of
* In that unique book, "Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and his progenitors for many generations." By Lucy Smith, mother of the Prophet.
"'Urim' means 'light,' and 'Thummim perfection.' The mysterious words meet us for the first time, as if they needed no explanation, in the description of the high-priest's apparel.... Inside the breastplate, as the tables of the covenant were placed inside the ark, are to be placed 'the Urim and the Thummim'.... and they, too, are to be on Aaron's heart when he goes in before the Lord. Not a word describes them. They are mentioned as things already familiar both to Moses and the people, connected naturally with the functions of the high-priest, as mediating between Jehovah and his people.... In what way the Urim and Thummim were consulted is quite uncertain. Josephus and the rabbis supposed that the stones gave out the oracular answer by preternatural illumination; but it seems to be far simpler.... to suppose that the answer was given simply by the word of the Lord to the high-priest.... when, clothed with the ephod and the breastplate, he had enquired of the Lord."
which the translation of the golden plates was to be made, and also of the book itself. The former consisted of two transparent stones, clear as crystal, and set in rims of silver. "The plates had the appearance of gold. They were about seven inches wide by eight long, and their thickness was not quite that of an ordinary sheet of tin. Egyptian characters were engraved on both sides of each plate, and the whole was bound in one volume, like the leaves of a book, closed by three clasps. Its thickness was six inches. One portion of the plate was sealed up. On those which were not sealed there were small characters skilfully cut. The breastplate was of bright gold. It had four golden straps, of which two were intended to attach it to the shoulders, and the other two to fix it onto the hips. These straps were exactly the breadth of two female fingers, and were pierced with several holes at the ends, by which to fasten them." This article, the mother declares, was worth at least five hundred dollars.
The chief object had in mind by the Smiths in the early days of the Gold Bible delusion was the making of money, to which was doubtless added a desire for local notoriety. The foundation of a new sect was an after-thought. When speculation had worked itself to a point where the possibilities of the future began to foreshadow themselves, and the popular belief in his new Bible had so grown that he was filled with the belief that a pretended translation of the plates
"Smith's Bible Dictionary," p. 723. Many of the Jews believe that since the captivity of Babylon, God has ceased to make known His will by this means, and that the instrument has disappeared forever. Some look for its reappearance, but others do not.
would sell, Joseph naturally cast about for some one who would furnish the needed capital. Other help he could command in abundance. He seemed to have already been placed in quiet communication with Sidney Rigdon, or some one who had the means of furnishing him with the basis for this great fraud, in the book of Solomon Spaulding, of whom more anon, or in some other manner supplied the literary skill and scholarship he lacked. Other help was at hand in the person of Oliver Cowdery, a schoolmaster of the neighborhood, who was prepared to listen to such overtures as Smith was likely to make. *
How many men of means were approached before the victim was finally secured has not been placed on record by any confession of those concerned. In one case the rebuff was of a character that would have cooled the ardor of a less vehement man than Smith. Calling upon a Mr. Crane, a prominent Quaker, Joseph asked him for the needed assistance, and declared that he was "moved by the Spirit" to make the call. The response was prompt, and to the point. Smith was advised to cease his money-digging and golden Bible schemes, and to make a living in some honest way, lest the doors of a prison should open to receive him.
The part played by Martin Harris in the Mormon scheme was one of great importance, and had he failed in supplying the funds needed at an important crisis of affairs, Mormonism would probably have found an end in its very beginning. He was a
* Oliver Cowdery was born on October 3d, 1806; and the best authority I can discover gives his birth-place as Wells, Rutland County, Vermont.
farmer of Palmyra, and bore the reputation of an honest, hard-working man, who loved money a little too well, and inclined to be too easily moved by any form of religious frenzy that took possession of his mind. He was at first a Quaker, then in turn a Universalist, Restrictionist, Baptist, and Presbyterian. He owned a good farm, and had never been involved in any questionable transaction. He has been described as proverbially peaceful, and it was said of him that he lived as closely to his religion as the conditions about him would allow. This illustration of his character has been placed on record: when he was fully committed to the Mormon Bible scheme he was di urging the sale of the book with great confidence in the genuineness of its revelations, and fell into' a debate about its character with a neighbor of hasty temperament. His opponent became angry and struck him a severe blow on the side of his face. Instantly turning toward his assailant his other cheek, he quoted the Christian maxim, reading it from the book in his hand, 'If thine enemy shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."'
There were those who gave him a reputation less favorable than that suggested above. One of his neighbors, Jesse Townsend, * speaks of him as a visionary fanatic," although it an industrious farmer…. who had been unfortunate in the choice of a wife, or she had been in that of a husband." 44 He had whipped his wife," Mr. Townsend adds, "and beaten her so cruelly and frequently that she was
* In a letter written by Jesse Townsend, under date of Palmyra, K. Y., Dec. 24, 1833.
obliged to seek refuge in separation…. He is considered here to this day a brute in his domestic relations, a fool and a dupe to Smith in religion, and an unlearned, conceited hypocrite generally. He paid for printing the Book of Mormon, which exhausted all of his money and most of his property. Since he went to Ohio he has attempted to get another wife, though it is believed he was frustrated in this design by the discovery of his having a wife living here." This was written after the hegira to Kirtland.
Smith seems to have known his man thoroughly, and to have planned the attack with a strategy sure to win. Harris prided himself upon his unassailable honesty, and when Smith approached him with a declaration that the Lord had revealed the fact that Harris and himself were the only two honest men in the world, the battle was half won. By that subtle influence which Joseph exerted to an almost unlimited degree over men of a certain mould, he soon had Harris fully committed to the Gold Bible scheme. Harris was at that time considered wealthy, while the Smith family possessed practically nothing at all.
When young Joseph was near sixteen years of age, he accompanied his father and a number of others to the village of Harmony, on the north bank of the Susquehanna River, in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Their object was to locate and open a mine which they affirmed had once belonged to Spanish adventurers, and long since abandoned. His stay in this neighborhood was extended from 1821 to 1829, varied by occasional visits to his old home in Northern New York. His reputation among his new associates
tallied in a remarkable manner with that he had won in the old home, and we hear him graphically described as "an idle, plausible schemer, who made his living by his wits, was a general favorite with the women, and had considerable influence over a certain class of men."
Upon his first appearance he was compelled perforce to engage in manual labor to a certain extent, but the time was not long distant before he sought an easier road to a maintenance. As he discovered dupes he began the old practice of the Manchester days. He set up as a revelator of hidden riches, and once more brought the famous peek stone into use. He occasionally blessed a neighbor's crops in return for the cash in hand; and when one piece which he had contracted to insure was the only one in the vicinity laid under blight, he adroitly turned the exception to his own advantage by declaring that he had made a mistake and placed the field under a curse rather than a blessing. Men were actually found who believed his professions and made it worth his while to put them into practice.
While here the Smiths and their accomplices in the search for hidden riches, boarded for a time with Isaac Hale, whose daughter Emma afterward became Joseph's wife, and played a part of no small importance in the early days of Mormonism. Mr. Hale, against whose bitter protest the marriage occurred, made a statement under date of March 20, 1834, in which he used the following language, in description of young Smith and the occurrences of which he was a part:
"I first became acquainted with Joseph Smith, Jr., in November, 1825. He was at that time in the employ
of a set of men who were called money-diggers; and his occupation was that of seeing, or pretending to see, by means of a stone placed in his hat, and his hat closed over his face. In this way he pretended to discover minerals and hidden treasure. His appearance at this time was that of a careless young man, not very well educated, and very saucy and insolent to his father. Smith and his father, with several other money-diggers, boarded at my house while they were employed in digging for a mine that they supposed bad been opened and worked by the Spaniards many years since. Young Smith gave the money-diggers great encouragement at first, but when they had arrived in digging to near the place where he had stated an immense treasure would be found, he said the enchantment was so powerful that he could not see. They then became discouraged, and soon after dispersed.... [Here follows an account of Smith's marriage, related below.]
Smith stated to me that he had given up what he called glass-looking, and that he expected to work hard for a living, and was willing to do so. Soon after this, I was informed they had brought a wonderful book of plates down with them. I was shown a box, in which it is said they were contained, which had, to all appearance, been used as a glass box, of the common-sized window-glass. I was al. lowed to feel the weight of the box, and they gave me to understand that the book of plates was then in the box, into which, however, I was not allowed to look. I inquired of Joseph Smith, Jr., who was to be the first that would be allowed to see the book of plates? He said it was a young child. After this I
became dissatisfied and informed him that if there was anything in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not, I was determined to see it. After that the plates were said to be hid in the woods.
" About this time Martin Harris made his appearance upon the stage, and Smith began to interpret the characters or hieroglyphics, which he said were en. graven upon the plates, while Harris wrote down the interpretation, It was said that Harris wrote down one hundred and sixteen pages, and lost them. Soon after this happened, Martin Harris informed me that he must have a greater witness, and said that he had talked with Joseph about it; Joseph informed him that he could not or durst not show him the plates, but that he (Joseph) would go into the woods where the book of plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his track in the snow, and find the book, and examine it for himself. Harris in. formed me afterward that he followed Smith's directions, and could not find the plates, and was still dissatisfied. The next day after this happened, I went to the house where Joseph Smith, Jr., lived, and where he and Harris were engaged in their translation of the book. Each of them had a written piece of paper which they were comparing, and some of the words were: My servant seeketh a greater witness, but no greater witness can be given to him. There was also something said about Three that were to see the thing -- meaning, I suppose, the book of plates; and that if the three did not go exactly according to orders, the thing would be taken from them. I inquired whose words they were, and was informed by Joseph or
Emma (I rather think it was the former) that they were the words of Jesus Christ. I told them then that I considered the whole of it a delusion, and advised them to abandon it.
"The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat and his hat over his face, while the book of plates was at the same time hid in the woods! After this Martin Harris went away, and Oliver Cowdery came and wrote for Smith,' while he interpreted, as above described. This is the same Oliver Cowdery whose name may be found in the Book of Mormon. Cowdery continued a scribe for Smith until the Book of Mormon was completed, as I supposed and understood. Joseph Smith, Jr., resided near me for some time after this, and I had a good opportunity of becoming acquainted with him, and somewhat acquainted with his associates; and I conscientiously believe, from the facts I have detailed, and from many other circumstances which I do not deem it necessary to relate, that the whole Book of Mormon (So-called) is a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary, and in order that its fabricators might live upon the spoils of those who swallowed the deception.
* For this statement see "Gleanings by the Way," by Rev. John A. Clark, New York, 1842, p. 242. This is one of the most reliable and interesting of the early publications on Mormonism, and is now quite rare. Mr. Clark was rector of St. Andrew's Church, Philadelphia, in 1842, but had previously been a resident of Western New York. Only a portion of his work is devoted to Mormonism, the greater part being given to his travels in various directions.
Smith was a frequent visitor at the Hale homestead, even after the abandonment of the money-digging above described. He found ready acceptance on the part of Emma, the second-born of three daughters, and the only one yet unmarried. When the father was approached by Smith with a request for the hand of his daughter, he answered with a prompt and stern refusal, giving as a reason the fact that Smith was a stranger, and that his methods of earning a living were such as no honest man could approve. Joseph departed, but only to return in secret and accompany the willing young woman across the line into New York State, where they were married at Windsor in February, 1826.
From Palmyra, to which they had proceeded, Emma addressed her father by letter, and, although his anger had been such that he had threatened to shoot
The degree of reliance which maybe placed upon Mr. Hale's statement can be learned from the following, which precedes it in Mr. Clark's book: "While at Palmyra, I met with a respectable clergyman of the Episcopal Church, who had formerly belonged to the Methodist connection, that was acquainted with Mr. Hale. He represented him to be a distinguished hunter, living near Great Bend, in Pennsylvania. He was professedly a religious man and a very zealous member of the Methodist Church. The letter to which I have referred is accompanied with a statement declaring that Mr. Hale resides in Harmony, Penn. Appended to the letter also is Mr. Hale's affirmation or affidavit of the truth of the statement there made, taken before Charles Damon, justice of the Peace; and there is also subjoined the certificate of William Thompson and Davis Dimock, Associate judges of the Court of Common Pleas, in the County of Susquehanna, declaring that they have for many years been personally acquainted with Isaac Hale, of Harmony township, who has attested the foregoing statement, or letter, and that he is a man of excellent moral character, and of undoubted veracity."
his half-vagrant son-in-law on sight, he decided to make the best of a bad bargain, and met the couple on their return to Pennsylvania upon a basis of outward peace, They took possession of a small place near the Hale residence, and Joseph made solemn assertion that he had abandoned his days of idleness forever, and intended to settle down and work for a living. Hale's son was sent to Palmyra after such effects as Joseph and his wife possessed, and, for a while, the future Mormon leader seems to have given his time and physical strength to a manly use, and raised in the minds of his new friends the hope that he intended to make a man of himself at last.
But the poison that had entered his veins was not to be thus lightly driven out. The hoe and the axe became heavy in his unwonted hands, as he dreamed still of the fortune that might come could he but command the publication of the Golden Bible of which he had said so much. For by this time a book had actually taken some sort of shape. * The impromptu lie, of which he had boasted to Peter Ingersol, had been transformed into a fact. Over that book and its origin there hangs yet a mystery which many able men and women have sought to solve, which some have solved to their own satisfaction, but which none have removed altogether from the region of doubt. The box in which the golden plates were claimed to have been hidden came to Pennsylvania with the other household goods, and hints concerning it began to be heard in greater numbers as the scheme, which
* See Appendix K.
was soon fully under way, developed. The designs upon the credulity and cupidity of Martin Harris had already been accomplished, and he stood ready to furnish the needed means. *
It was upon September 22, 1827, that Smith claims to have received the plates from the hands of the angel. When the work of transcribing was fully decided upon, Harris for a time wrote as Smith dictated. The latter still insisted that no one could see the plates but himself, which was a convenient method of keeping up his romance as to there being any plates at all. Smith would hang a curtain between Harris and himself, and from behind it dictate the words
* A newspaper writer under date of October 2, 1883, in the Cincinnati Enquier, describes the scene of these events in the following language: "I paid a visit to the old home of Joe Smith. The house stands at the north bank of the Susquehanna, two miles west of the Twin River, and is distant about sixty feet from the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad. The house is one, story high, and, with its kitchen, is about twenty-four by fourteen feet. At present it is occupied by ex-Sheriff McCune, who was born in the room in which the Book of Mormon was transcribed. Mr. McCune's father bought the house and farm from Joe Smith, and to the former he built a two-story addition. The buildings are very rickety at present, and look as though they would tumble down from rot and age in a few years. They are often visited by tourists from abroad, who generally ask Mr. McCune for a small bit of wood or shingle as a memento of their visit. The money-holes Smith had made in his search for the buried treasure are about half a mile from the house. Though their sides have caved in, they are still visible, and 'one of them is filled with water; an end. less spring having been tapped during the excavations. Not many rods from the house is a country graveyard, in which are interred the remains of one of Joe Smith's children. No slab or headstone marks it, and its precise location is known to only a few of the older people. Many of Smith's wife's kinsfolk still reside in and about this county."
that Martin was to write. He claimed to accomplish his translation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but it is needless to say that they were also hidden from the secretary's view. After a time Harris gave way to Cowdery, who remained with Smith until the task was at an end. The use of the curtain must be regarded only as a dramatic accessory for the purpose of duping Harris; and, as Cowdery was beyond question in the confidence of Smith, it is reasonable to suppose that this mysterious method of work was by no means employed when the accomplices were by themselves.
It was a serious trouble through which Harris passed before he arrived at a decision to bear the expense of publication, and incur all the financial risks of the enterprise. Had he not been spurred on by two powerful incentives, his faith in Mormonism and the belief that he would make money from the sale of the book, he would never have reached that conclusion. His natural caution in the expenditure of money was supplemented by the active opposition of his wife, a woman of sound sense and very positive views as to Smith's character and his designs upon her husband's property. * Doubt has been thrown
Extract from an affirmation made by Abigail Harris, a relative of Martin's, at Palmyra, November 28, 1883, (Kidder P. 28):
"In the early part of the winter in 1828 I made a visit to Martin Harris's and was joined in company by Joseph Smith, Sr., and his wife. The Gold Bible business, so called, was the topic of conversation, to which I paid particular attention, that I might learn the truth of the whole matter. They told me that the report that Joseph, Jr., had found golden plates was true, and that he was in Harmony, Pa., translating them. The old lady said, also, that after the book was translated, the plates were to be publicly exhibited --
upon the genuineness of Harris's profession of faith, by that answer to his wife's declaration as to the lack of truth in Mormonism, "What if it is a lie! if you will let me alone I will make money out of it." But his whole course in connection with Smith, and many positive acts upon his part, show him to have been a dupe from the beginning to the end.
admittance twenty-five cents. She calculated it would bring in annually an enormous sum of money -- that money would then be very plenty, and the book would also sell for a great price, as it was something entirely new. That they had been commanded to obtain all the money they could borrow for present necessity, and to repay with gold. The remainder was to be kept in store for the benefit of their family and children. This and the like conversation detained me till about eleven o'clock. Early the next morning the mystery of the Spirit (being myself one of the order called Friends) was revealed by the following circumstance. The old lady took me into another room, and after closing the door she said, 'Have you four or five dollars, in money that you can lend until our business is brought to a close ? The Spirit has said you shall receive fourfold.' I told her that when I gave I did it not expecting to receive again; as for money, I had none to lend. I then asked her what her particular want of money was; to which she replied, 'Joseph wants to take the stage and come home from Pennsylvania to see what we are all about. To which I replied he might look in his stone, and save his time and money. The old lady seemed confused and left the room, and thus ended the visit." Joseph Capron, a neighbor of good character, throws added light on this point. At length," says he, Joseph pretended to find the gold plates. This scheme, he believed, would relieve the family from all pecuniary embarrassment. His father told me that when the book was published they would be enabled, from the profits of the work, to carry into successful operation the money-digging business. He gave me no intimation, at that time, that the book was to be of a religious character. He declared it to be a speculation, and, said he, 'When it is completed my family will be placed on a level above the generality of mankind!"' This testimony strengthens the belief that the later developments of Smith's "speculations" were undreamed of in the beginning.
When a number of the pages of manuscript had been prepared, Harris insisted that he should have a chance to prove the truth or falsity of Smith's claims before proceeding further. They were delivered to him, and he showed them to certain neighbors, all of whom told him that he was the victim of a swindle. He also exhibited them to his wife, who proceeded to prompt measures. While Martin slept she confided the paper to the flames. She made no confession as to her action, and thereby placed both Harris and Smith in a dilemma. The former could not account to Smith for the lost property, and naturally fell under suspicion of concealing it for purposes of his own.
A coolness between the two for a time was the result, but as Harris was too essential a part of the scheme to be offended, his story was accepted, and he was again taken into favor. Smith believed that if Harris did not still have the manuscript it must have been purloined by his wife. Should that portion be rewritten from memory, it could not of course be identical with the original draft. Should he print the new version, Mrs. Harris, a determined and energetic foe to his schemes and himself, might produce the old, and prove by comparison the juggling that had taken place. Smith pondered long over this serious problem, but that ingenuity which had never failed him, came to his relief. He boldly announced that the Lord had revealed his displeasure toward Smith for allowing the manuscript to pass into Harris's hands, and in punishment of that act had declared that so much of the golden plates should not again be translated. This left a clear track, and
Smith again hid himself behind the curtain and went to work. *
Doubt still worked its way up from the lower stratum of Harris's business sense, and showed itself
* The following appeared as a preface to the first edition of the book, but was subsequently omitted. It proves the clumsy character of the whole scheme:
"To the Reader.
"As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost efforts to recover it again -- and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words; that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work, but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing; therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and behold, ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. Wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have, through His grace and mercy accomplished that which He hath commanded me respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario County, New York. -- THE AUTHOR."
In the later editions Smith is not referred to as "The Author" of the book, but only as translator.
again, to the vexation of Smith. A demand was made upon the latter for a copy of the characters upon the plates, in order that they might be submitted to the examination of learned men. Afraid to refuse, Joseph set himself to work, and evolved from his imagination certain crude and complex characters unlike any alphabet yet seen by man. These were set down upon a paper, with which Harris proceeded to New York City, where he exhibited it to several scientific gentlemen, who pronounced the whole thing a meaningless jumble of marks, that expressed no language of either ancient or modern times. * Yet such was the influence of Smith over him, that on Harris's return home, he was persuaded that the learned men were all in fault, and that once more to make use of his own version of Scripture." God had chosen the foolish things of the world to convince the wise."
It was in July, 1828, that the "translation" was suspended because of the prompt action of Mrs. Harris and the writing was not resumed until April 17, 1829. The Mormons claim that after this renewal Smith made use of a dark cave he had dug in a hillside near his home, but the fact doubtless is that the work was carried on in the same manner and at the same place as in the beginning.
The clerical work completed, the next need was a publisher. The negotiations that ensued have been carefully recorded by Mr. Pomeroy Tucker, who was connected with the printing house at Palmyra where the work was done. As early as January,
* See Appendix B.
Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism," p. 50.
1829, before the whole of the manuscript was prepared, a call was made at the office of the Sentinel, at Palmyra, by Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris. A few sheets were shown Mr. Egbert B. Grandin, the publisher, and he was asked the price at which he would print three thousand copies. Harris offered himself as security for the payment.
Mr. Grandin hesitated, as he believed that Harris was being used by designing men. As Martin was his friend he quietly took him aside and advised him to that effect. But persuasion was of no avail; and after a number of interviews of the same tenor, and fruitless negotiations with other publishers, the contract was made. Five thousand copies were to be printed for three thousand dollars, Harris giving his bond, and a mortgage on his farm, for that amount. As Mrs. Harris refused to be a party to the transaction, an agreement of separation between herself and husband was arranged. She received her share of the estate, some eighty acres of land and the farm-house; and the two who had lived so long together, became as strangers, and the breach thus made remained through life. The dismemberment of this family was the first-fruit of the new creed that Joe Smith had given to the world.
The book was completed and offered to the public in the early summer of 1830 -- "In the beginning of the printing," says Mr. Tucker, who read a portion of the proof, * "the Mormons professed to hold their manuscripts as sacred, and insisted upon maintaining
* "Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism," p. 53.
constant vigilance for their safety during the progress of the work, each morning carrying to the printing- office the installment required for the day, and withdrawing the same at evening. No alteration from copy in any manner was to be made. These things were I strictly commanded, as they said. Mr. John H. Gilbert, as printer, had the chief operative trust of the type-setting and presswork of the job. After the first day's trial he found the manuscript in so very imperfect a condition, especially in regard to grammar, that he became unwilling further to obey the I command,' and so announced to Smith and his party; when, finally, upon much friendly expostulation, he was given a limited discretion in correcting, which was exercised in the particulars of syntax, orthography, punctuating, capitalizing, paragraphing, etc. Many errors under these heads, nevertheless, escaped correction, as appear in the first edition of the printed book. Very soon, too -- after some ten days -- the constant vigilance by the Mormons over the manuscripts was relaxed by reason of the confidence they came to repose in the printers."
The great desire of Smith's heart was at last accomplished. He had a new bible as the foundation for the new creed he had formulated and was about to preach to men. With a deep knowledge of the weak side of human nature, he had not declared a gospel in opposition to that of Christendom, nor one that should make war upon it, but, emulating the ex. ample of Mother Ann Lee, and the Shakers, declared the Book of Mormon supplemental to Holy Writ, and a later revelation of the same grand truths. In that manner he could win converts without taking
them from the strong moorings of the old faith. He could give them range in new pastures without asking them to forsake the church homes they had known and loved so long. One need not repudiate David and John in order to accept Nephi and his brethren. To the other sides of human weakness through which he sought access to their hearts and purses, he added also that of novelty, and the natural desire of men to go out after strange gods.
Smith was now twenty-five years of age, with his natural cunning so sharpened by experience and so encouraged by successful trading on the credulity of his fellows, that he had little difficulty in meeting any emergency that might arise, and shaping it to the desired ends. He had taken the leadership in the small coterie of accomplices and dupes that had gathered about him, and anything he might propose was sure to be. seconded by his father and. all his brothers. His mastery of men was ever one of his strong points of character, and his facility and adapt ability were such that he would have won success as a lawyer or in any minor post of diplomatic responsibility. In later days he would have made his mark in the world of politics.
He had used such opportunities for education as had fallen in his way in the latter years of enlarged ambition, had read such books as could be of special use to him, and made a marked improvement both in the manner and matter of literary composition. Claim what one may as to the aid or suggestions he received from Sidney Rigdon or Oliver Cowdery, Smith owed the greater share of such success as life awarded him, to his own force of character and
the Scotch-American shrewdness with which he had been endowed. By this time he had decided upon a definite plan and assumed the risk of its operation, and nothing was to be allowed to stand in the way. How far that purpose then outran the primal desire to live well and in idleness at the expense of others, no one can ever know.
Of the character and purport of this Book of Mormon, * fresh from the press of Grandin I need say little. The world has already had many descriptions thereof, and the book itself, in this, or later editions, is open to inspection in almost every public library of the land. That it can be of divine origin is proved impossible upon an examination of its errors, crudities, stupid imitations of scriptural language, and its betrayal of ignorance upon many facts of history,
If, as many believe, it is but the unpublished romance of Solomon Spaulding, put to a use of which its author never dreamed, the impress of Smith has been placed
* Smith's own definition of the word Mormon, as given in after years, in The Times and Seasons, was as follows: "I may safely say that the word Mormon stands independent of the learning and wisdom of this generation. Before I give a definition, however, to the word, let me say that the Bible in its widest sense, means 'good,' for the Saviour says, according to the Gospel of St. John, 'I am the good shepherd,' and it will not be beyond the common use of terms to say that good is amongst the most important in use and, though known by various names in different languages, still its meaning is the same, and is ever in opposition to bad. We say from the Saxon, Good; the Dane, Ged; the Goth, Goala; the Ger. man, Gut; the Dutch, Goed; the Latin, Bonus; the Greek, Kales; the Hebrew, Tob; the Egyptian, Mon; hence with the addition of more, or the contraction, mor, we have the word Mormon, which means literally, more good." Notwithstanding all this, learned parade, scholars have expressed the opinion that the word was derived from the Greek; meaning a spectre, or hideous shape.
upon it with a freedom and to a purpose that hall added atrocity to the meanness of the original theft, This first edition consisted of 588 pages, divided into fourteen separate books, of one hundred and fifteen chapters, as follows: The first book of Nephi; the second book of Nephi; the book of Jacob, the brother of Nephi; the book of Enos; the book of Jarom; the book of Omni; the Words of Mormon; the book of Mosiah; the book of Alma; the book of Helaman; the book of Nephi, the son of Nephi, which was the son of Helaman; book of Mormon; book of Ether; the book of Moroni. It would be profitless to undertake a compilation of the long and very tedious narratives found in these several hundreds of pages, but a brief synopsis from the pen of no less a person than Joseph Smith himself, would not be out of place. In "An Original History of the Religious Denominations at present Existing in the United States," by I. Daniel Rupp, Philadelphia, 1844, p. 404, may be found an article on "The Latter. Day Saints," prepared by Smith, in which he speaks as follows of the historical portion of the book:
"In this important and interesting book the history of Ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages, to the beginning of the fifth, century of the Christian Era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants
of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country.
"The principal nation of the second race fell in battle toward the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians, who now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Saviour made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the gospel here in all its fullness and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the Eastern continent; that the people were cut off in consequence of the their transgressions; that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgment of their prophecies, history, etc., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the Bible, for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days. For a more particular account, I would refer to the Book of Mormon, which can be purchased at Nauvoo, or from any of our travelling elders." The manner in which Mormon came to be selected as the one whose name should be attached to a work in which so many eminent ancients had a hand, is thus explained by the Rev. Mr. Clark: *
"These records were engraven upon plates, and the plates handed down from one prophet to another, or from one king to another, or from one judge to another
* "Gleanings by the Way," p. 285.
the Lord always having raised up some one to receive these plates. When the person in whose hands they had been previously placed was about to die, Mormon, who lived about four hundred years after the coming of Christ, while yet a child, received a command in relation to these sacred deposits.
"The metallic plates which contained the record of all the generations of his fathers, from the flight of Lehi to Jerusalem, to his own time, ultimately came into his hands. From these plates he made an abridged record, which, taken together, in connection with the record of his own times, constitutes the Book of Mormon. Thus we see, why the book bears this title. For Mormon was a sort of Ezra who compiled the entire sacred canon contained in this volume. He lived at a very eventful period, when almost all his people had fallen into a fearful apostasy, and he lived to see them all destroyed, except twenty-four persons, Himself, and these sole survivors of his race, were afterward cut off, with a single exception. His son, Moroni, one of the survivors, lived to tell the mourn. ful tale, and deposit the plates under the hill where Jo. Smith found them."
When the books were delivered from the hands of the binder, Martin Harris promptly took possession of them, and proceeded to realize such portion as he might of that evangelization of the world and financial profit, of which he had dreamed. They cost him dearly enough, as he was compelled to sell his portion of the farm in 1831, to meet the bond he gave Grandin. * It had been a part of the agreement
* The powers that were invoked to lead Harris into the scheme, were again resorted to in holding him to his contract. A special
with Harris that he alone should have the right of sale; which was made doubly secure to him by a special revelation to Smith, in which was also found an added command that no copy should be sold for less than one dollar and twenty-five cents.
Despite all these commands, and that high mountain of expectation which the Smiths had aided poor Martin to pile up, the enterprise as a source of money-making was a dismal failure from the start. Harris himself went forth as a canvasser, and met more scoffers than purchasers. Ridicule was showered upon him from all sides, and he soon discovered that some other means must be taken to return even a small part of the outlay.
A new revelation was received by Joseph, which allowed his father also to act as salesman, retaining a commission upon each copy sold. He met with a certain share of success, but went forth unmoved by any of the fears that had held Martin to the express stipulation of the revelation. He bartered books for whatever he could get in return, and cut prices with a lofty contempt for that death which Joseph had declared would befall any who should so offend. He would load his books into the old cart that had carried root-beer and ginger-bread in the less ambitious days, and start on a peddling tour through the country lying adjacent to Palmyra; returning home with side-pork, bacon, corn, or such other goods as he could secure from farmers along
revelation was directed to him in March, 1830: "And again I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of God. Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage."
the route, He made the books for which Harris had so dearly paid, a source of income wherever they could be of avail. When he was preparing for his final removal to Ohio, after Joseph and Hyrum had set their first "stake of Zion" at Kirtland, he fell back upon the new gospel as his base of supplies. "' He took," says one narration, * "a basket of bibles in his hand and walked to Palmyra village, where sundry, unadjusted little scores were ready to confront him. By the then prevailing legal system for the collection of debts, residing as he did over the county line from Palmyra, he made himself liable to suit by warrant and also detention in imprisonment for non-payment. But necessity being his master, he had taken the incautious venture and soon found himself in the constable's custody at the suit of a creditor for a small book account.
"The parties appeared before a Justice of the Peace for Wayne County, by whom the warrant had been issued. After some preliminary parlaying by the debtor, he invited and enjoyed a private interview with the creditor in an adjoining room. The debt and costs had now reached the aggregate of $5.63. The embarrassments of the case, after some brief discussion, were found to be of a difficult nature. At last, laying the good-natured claimant under strict confidential injunction, and referring with solemn air to the command by which he was empowered to sell his Mormon work only at the price of $1.25 per copy, the crafty patriarch proposed, nevertheless, on the express condition that his perfidy should not be
* "Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism," p. 62.
exposed, the offer of seven books 'in full for the demand, being a fraction more than eighty cents apiece. The joke was relished as too good to go unpatronized, and though the books were not regarded as possessing any value,* the claimant, more in a spirit of mischief than otherwise, accepted the com. promise willingly."
Smith delivered the books, and then made his exit from a side door, and shook the dust of Palmyra from his feet with such rapidity as his age would permit, lest some other creditor should spy him by the way. He was seen in Palmyra no more, but soon bade farewell to a neighborhood that lost him and his without regret, and that troubled itself concerning him only long enough to formulate the unique certificate of character that has already been quoted in these pages.
* Time and curiosity which deface and destroy much, will also accomplish much. A copy of this edition of the Book of Mormon cannot now be obtained for twenty times its original price. It has become one of the rare and unique things in American literature.
"Gleanings by the Way," p. 346: "One thing, however, is distinctly to be noted in the history of this imposture. There are no Mormons in Manchester or Palmyra, the place where this Book of Mormon was pretended to be found. You might as well go down into the crater of Vesuvius and attempt to build an ice-house amid its molten and boiling lava, as to convince any inhabitant in either of these towns, that Joe Smith's pretensions are not the most gross and egregious falsehood. It was indeed a wise stroke of policy, for those who got up this imposture, and who calculated to make their fortune by it, to emigrate to a place where they were wholly unknown."
SIDNEY RIGDON AND THE KIRTLAND HAVEN.
IT will be necessary, before proceeding further in the personal history of Joseph Smith and his earliest coadjutors, to trace the outlines of a remarkable man who gave to Mormonism a powerful impetus, and without whom it might never have been heard of outside of the neighborhood in which it found life.
The occasional visits of an unnamed stranger to the residence of Smith prior to 1830 were noted by the neighbors with comment, and much circumstantial evidence could be produced to prove that this visitor was no other than Sidney Rigdon, who has never been charged with the full measure of his responsibility in this melodrama of religion, as his part has been lost sight of in the overshadowing importance of Joseph Smith, and the strong personality of Brigham Young. He possessed a power as a preacher, and an influence as a teacher equaled by few even in those days of revival excitement. And the education he had acquired by much reading and a constant moving about among men was of a character that made him a valuable ally to the new religion when he at last threw off all show of allegiance to the orthodox creeds and gave his voice and talents to the Mormon faith.
It would not be too much to say that Rigdon was
the intellect of Mormonism in its cradle-days, even as Smith was its bodily force, and Harris its financial foundation. Those who have the most closely studied his connection with the scheme are the most strongly inclined to identify him with those measures that gave it the most tenacious hold on life, and he certainly secured it a welcome in Ohio that few other men could have commanded. Hepworth Dixon says of him in "Spiritual Wives": "He had already changed his religion more than once, as he afterward changed it again more than once. He had been a loud ranter, a hot revivalist; and after his conversion to the Mormon faith he labored in his district among the more exalted members of the most exalted sects. He knew the writings of Mahan, Gates, and Boyle; writings in which love and marriage are considered in relation to gospel liberty and a future life." *
His personal appearance has been thus described by an acquaintance: "He was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities. In person he was full medium height; rotund in form; of countenance, while speaking, open and winning, with a little cast of melancholy. His action was graceful, his language copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical. Yet he was an enthusiast, and unstable. His personal influence with an audience was very great; but many with talents far inferior surpassed him in judgment and permanent power with the people.... He possessed an imagination at once fertile, glowing, and wild to extravagance, with temperament tinged with sadness and bordering on
* "Spiritual Wives." By W. H. Dixon, London, 1868, p. 62.
credulity."* In a pen portrait of him in later life, a visitor to Nauvoo makes use of the following language: "Sidney Rigdon, one of the councilors, prophet, seer, and revelator, is 42 years of age, five feet nine and a half inches high, weighing one hundred and sixty-five pounds. His former weight, reduced by sickness produced by the Missouri prosecution: was two hundred and twelve pounds. He is a mighty man in Israel, of varied learning, and extensive and laborious research. There is no divine in the West more learned in Biblical literature and the history of the world than he: an eloquent orator, chaste in his language, and conclusive in his reasoning."
This is overdrawn somewhat, but points in the direction of truth. He was an eager disputant all through life, and seldom missed an opportunity for theological debate. He seems to have depended upon his eloquence as a preacher and quickness of mental action for success in life, rather than upon any deep force of character or hard work. He was petulant when affairs did not run in a desired groove; naturally full of self-assertion; and his passionate temper too often gained headway against the sober intention of his judgment. He had an ungoverned ambition, and unless full measure of praise was awarded him on the instant, he was disposed to destroy all he had done, and abandon the work he had in hand, whether it was bad or good.
Rigdon was born near the present village of Library, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on February
* "Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve." By A. S. Hayden, Cincinnati, 1876, p. 191.
In a letter signed "Veritas," published in the New York Herald.
19, 1793. An accident which occurred in his early boyhood may have had something to do with his erratic course in after-life, if we adopt the theory of his brother, * Dr. L. Rigdon, of Hamilton, Ohio, who said of him that "when quite a boy, living with his father some fifteen miles south of Pittsburgh, he was thrown from a horse. His foot entangling in a stirrup he was dragged some distance before relieved. In this accident he received such a contusion of the brain as ever afterward seriously affected his character, and in some respects his conduct." Dr. Rigdon was of the opinion that Sidney was a little deranged ever after this mishap. "His mental powers did not seem to be impaired, but the equilibrium of his intellectual exertions seems thereby to have been sadly affected. He still manifested great mental activity and power, but was to an equal degree inclined to run into wild and visionary views on almost every question; hence he was a fit subject for any new movement in the religious world."
Sidney attended the common school of his neighborhood, and was early accounted of promise by those about him. He became a member of the Baptist church when quite young, and possessing marked natural powers of oratory, was encouraged toward the ministry. Even then there was uncertainty concerning his genuineness of faith, and many doubted his conversion, as there was "so much miracle" about it, and "so much parade about his profession" that his pastor was in serious doubt as to how far he should be accepted in good faith; and this same good
* Baptist Witness, date of March 1, 1875.
man, David Phillips, became unconsciously prophetic when he expressed the belief that "as long as Sidney lived he would be a curse to the Church of Christ." When, in later days, Harmon Sumner expostulated with Rigdon as to his teaching and said to him, "Brother Rigdon, you never go into a Baptist church without relating your Christian experience," he was met by the cool and characteristic rejoinder, "When I joined the church I knew I could not be admitted without an experience: so I made up one to suit the purpose, but it was all made up, and was of no use, or true."
Some portion of Rigdon's early career was devoted to the printer's trade, but little of detail is known concerning him until 1818 and 1819, when he studied divinity under a minister named Clark, of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. On March 4th, of the year last named, he was received into membership by the Baptist church at Warren, Ohio, and was licensed to preach on April 1st of the same year.
It was at this period of life that he was first brought under the influence of Alexander Campbell, through which he was afterward led to forsake the Baptist church and become a Disciple. Mr. Campbell has himself (in Millennial Harbinger, 1848, page 523) described the occasion upon which the two were brought together: "In the summer of 1821, while sitting in my portico after dinner, two gentlemen in the costume of clergymen, as they are technically called, appeared in my yard, advancing to the house. The elder of them, on approaching me, first introduced himself, saying, 'My name, sir, is Adamson Bentley; this is Elder Sidney Rigdon, both of Warren, Ohio.'... After tea in the evening, we commenced, and prolonged, our
discourse till the next morning.... On parting the next day, Sidney Rigdon, with all apparent candor, said if he had within the last year taught and promulgated from the pulpit one error, he had a thousand.
"At that time he was the great orator of the Mahoning Association, though in authority with the people second always to Adamson Bentley. I found it expedient (did the keen eye already see the fatal flaw in Rigdon?) to caution them not to begin to pull down anything they had built until they had reviewed again and again what they had heard; nor even then rashly and without much consideration. Fearing they might undo their influence with the people, I felt constrained to restrain rather than to urge them on in the work of reformation.... They went on their way rejoicing, and in the course of a single year prepared the whole association to hear us with earnestness and candor."
Rigdon was married, while residing in Warren, to Phoebe Brooks, a sister to Mrs. Bentley, wife of the minister referred to above. Through the influence of Mr. Campbell * he was chosen to the pastorate of the First Baptist church of Pittsburgh, which comprised a membership of over one hundred, and assumed his new and important duties on January 28, 1822. Some uncertainty exists as to his movements from 1823 to 1826, but at the later date we again find him in Ohio,
* When Thomas and Alexander Campbell renounced Presbyterianism, they joined the Redstone Baptist Association in 1812, and for a number of years worked in harmony with that church.
He had family connections of some prominence in that State, his cousin, Thomas Rigdon, a Baptist minister, serving for a time in the Ohio Legislature -- a position which at that time conferred considerable honor upon its possessor.
the pastor of a small church at Bainbridge, Geauga County. In June of the year last named, he was called to Mentor to preach the funeral sermon of Elder Warner Goodall, pastor of the Baptist church of that village, and acquitted himself in such manner that he was employed as successor of the deceased, beginning the engagement in the fall.
It was at this period that the Disciple Church was making its persistent and courageous fight for recognition and position upon the Western Reserve, and many earnest men under the direct leadership of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, were preaching the new light of the Gospel truth as it had seemed to come to them. The success of their preaching was of the most signal character, and within five years of the commencement of their work, the foundations of many Disciple churches were laid. One congregation that had no fixed connection, but called itself by the general name Christian, listened to a Disciple missionary and surrendered to his teaching as one man. In a Methodist congregation the minister was converted, and we read that the flock "became an easy and willing prey," and that every member accepted the new doctrine and came into the new fold.
In March, 1828, Rigdon paid a visit to Warren, and listened to the preaching of Waiter Scott, an eloquent Disciple leader, who had been associated with Rigdon in the Baptist church. The latter was impressed to conviction, and on his return to Mentor commenced to preach the new doctrine with such effect that he soon led his home flock across the line over which he had himself been led. In addition to
his Mentor connection, he was also pastor of a small church at Kirtland, some four miles to the south.
During the two succeeding years Rigdon was one of the leading preachers of the Disciple faith upon the Western Reserve, prominent in all the councils of the church, listened to with love and respect, and in close personal fellowship with the great men of that denomination. He preached for a time at Mantua, founded the Disciple church at Perry, and is spoken of as a zealous and hard-working man in almost every chapter of Mr. Hoyden's book, and in one place in that able history it is remarked that "among the seniors present were Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander, Adamson Bentley, and Sidney Rigdon, with Walter Scott, to whom most of the young disciples looked with the affection of children to a spiritual father." Rigdon made himself felt with brilliant personality wherever he had a right to be heard, and was happy only when events were in motion. On one occasion, when weary with long discussion upon a proposed measure, he sprang to his feet and thundered out, "You are consuming too much time on this question! One of the old Jerusalem preachers would start out with his hunting-shirt and moccasins, and convert half tile world, while you are discussing and settling plans!" A sharp thrust which had its effect, winding up the long debate and producing immediate action.
Just when Mr. Rigdon decided to take part in the Golden-Bible scheme can never be known. but he seemed preparing himself and those about him for its reception some time before its advent in Ohio. He began in 1829 or early 1830 to preach a common stock of goods and a community of interests, as
right and apostolic. * The idea did not gain rapid ground against the New England sense and traditions of the early settlers of the Reserve. In Mentor it was rejected altogether, but a more promising field was found at Kirtland, where results of a practical character were witnessed, when one Isaac Morley threw open the doors of his home and offered welcome to all who would come. The response was immediate from those who believed a living was due them from the world, and we are told that "a number of ignorant and profligate, and others of means" responded, until fully one hundred became members of tile communistic society there formed.
Rigdon made a bold and determined effort to engraft the communistic principle upon the Disciple faith, but met with failure. At a notable gathering of the church leaders at Austintown, in 1830, there occurred a passage-at-arms between Alexander Campbell
* The various co-operative movements that occurred in Europe and America at about this period were of a nature to win the attention and attract the desire of a man of Rigdon's mental mould. Success of an unprecedented character had attended the experiments for the bettering of the condition of the working classes, by David Dale, at the New Lanark Mills, Scotland; Charles Fourier was astonishing France by his fascinating and ingenious theory of Communism; Robert Owen was at his work of moulding public sentiment in favor of co-operative societies, and operations under his stimulus had already been commenced at Kendal, Stark County, Ohio, New Harmony, Indiana, and other points; George Rapp was prospering with his Harmony Society at Economy, Pennsylvania; the Separatists had already made the wilderness blossom as a rose in their prosperous community of Zoar; Shaker societies had been successfully founded in several portions of the country; and other trials by which the visions of the dreamers were to become the experiments of practice, were being put to the test in various portions of the land.
and himself upon this question, that discomfited Rigdon, and may have had something to do with his easy descent into Mormonism a few months later. In that meeting, Mr. Rigdon made a speech in which he argued that their pretension to follow the apostles in all the New Testament teachings required a community of goods, and that, "as they established this order in the model church at Jerusalem, the church of to-day was required to imitate their example." Mr. Campbell saw immediately the danger of allowing such doctrine from one as prominent as Rigdon to go unchallenged, and he made a vehement speech in opposition. A half-hour's debate ensued between the two, in which Rigdon was put utterly to rout. Chagrined and hurt at the cool reception of his theory, he withdrew from the meeting, and was seen in the Disciple gatherings no more. On his way home to Mentor be passed through Warren, and said bitterly to Mr. Austin, his host, "I have done as much in this reformation as Campbell or Scott, and yet they get all the honor of it."
How Smith and Rigdon were brought together first, no man will ever know. Many believe that Parley Pratt, who was a wandering tin-peddler and a friend of Rigdon's, was the means through which the one was led to the other, and the need that each had for the other made known. Be this as it may, these master-minds of religious invention had been, beyond doubt, brought together, had concocted their scheme, prepared their Mormon Bible from Spaulding's manuscript or other source, and arranged a plan by which they could make a living by imposing upon the credulity of others, for no one who knew the men
ever imagined they had a higher object in view. Rigdon at first played his part in the background; yet his occasional business calls from Kirtland and Mentor tallied, as was afterward discovered, with the visits of the mysterious stranger at the Smith residence.
Mr. Z. Rudolph, the father of Mrs. James A. Garfield, recently declared "that during the winter previous to the appearance of the Book of Mormon, Rigdon was in the habit of spending weeks away from his home, going no one knew where; and that he often appeared very preoccupied and would indulge in dreamy, imaginative talks which puzzled those who listened. When the Book of Mormon appeared and Rigdon joined in the advocacy of the new religion, the suspicion was at once aroused that he was one of the framers of the new doctrines and probably was not ignorant of the authorship of the book." * That something was stirring in the mind of Sidney long before he made open profession of conversion to the new creed, is established on authority that cannot be disputed. "When I was quite a child," wrote Mrs. Amos Dunlap, of Warren, Ohio, in 1879, "I visited Mr. Rigdon's family. During my visit Mr. Rigdon went to his bedroom and took from his trunk, which he kept locked, certain manuscript. He came out into the other room and seating himself by the fire-place began reading it. His wife at that moment exclaimed, 'You are studying that thing again,' or something: to that effect. She then added,
* From a statement made by R. Patterson, author of "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?" Philadelphia, 1882; and published in "New Light on Mormonism," by Ellen E. Dickenson, New York, 1885, p. 252.
'I mean to burn that paper.' He said, 'No indeed you won't. This will be a great thing some day.' When he was reading this he was so thoroughly occupied that he seemed entirely unconscious of anything else around him." We have the following significant statement from Mr. D. Atwater, who sat under Rigdon's preaching in the Mantua church: * "For a few months before his professed conversion to Mormonism it was noticed that his wild, extravagant propensities had been more marked. That he knew before of the coming of the Book of Mormon is to me certain from what he said during the first of his visits at my father's, some years before. He gave a wonderful description of the mounds and other antiquities found in some parts of America, and said that they must have been made by the aborigines. He said there was a book to be published containing an account of those things. He spoke of these in his eloquent, enthusiastic style, as being a thing most extraordinary."
The foundation of the Mormon Church organization was laid and its machinery set in motion by Smith and his followers in the same year that saw the publication of their book. With that ease he ever possessed for making the circumstances of the case fit into his purpose, Joseph announced that the ministry had been already prepared in Cowdery and himself, to whom formal ordination had come on May 15, 1829, by the hands of no less a personage than John the Baptist. "He commanded us," proceeds his narration, "to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery
* "History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve," p. 239.
and afterwards that he should baptize me." In this message John assured Joseph that he was acting under the direction of the Disciples Peter, James, and John.
In accordance with this command, if we may believe Smith, Cowdery and himself went into the water * together and administered the sacred rite unto each other; the one laying his hands upon the head of the other and pronouncing solemn words of ordination. And "as they came out of the water they experienced great and glorious blessings, and the Holy Ghost fell upon Oliver, and he prophesied, and then Joseph stood up and he prophesied." In this story, that Smith no doubt fabricated entirely for the occasion, one can see only a clumsy imitation of that grand scene by the Jordan, where Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized of John. In that very resemblance Smith discerned a new hold upon the credulity of those who believed that mysterious things were at hand, and that that which had been done in the days of the prophets or the apostles was about to be repeated in their own.
On Tuesday, April 6, 1830, the Mormon Church was organized in the house of Peter Whitmer, in
* This baptism is said by Smith to have occurred at Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.
The six members of this new church were Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr., Samuel Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Knight. The Whitmers had no small part in the beginnings of Mormonism, and were apparently honest in their professions of belief. Peter was a "Pennsylvania Dutchman," in the colloquial language of the day -- a plain, honest, simple-minded man. His sons John, Christian, Jacob, and Peter, Jr., were among the famous "eight witnesses," while his son David was one of the famous " three." Hiram Page, also one of the eight, was an itinerant root-doctor, who had married a daughter of Peter, Sr. When
Fayette, Seneca County, New York -- an event which, according to the ingenuity of Orson Pratt, was afterward figured out as happening exactly eighteen hundred years, to a day, from the resurrection of Christ.
Those who were placed upon the roll of church membership entered into a covenant to serve the Lord, and partook of the sacrament. On the Sabbath following, Cowdery preached the first public sermon of Mormondom, dwelling upon the new dispensation and the principles of the gospel as they had been newly revealed to Joseph. Events moved forward rapidly. In June the first convention of the church was held in Fayette, at which thirty members were present. From this date forward Smith threw off all reserve, and claimed in public everywhere full possession of the powers and responsibilities that he held to through all his after-life. Angels constantly visited him and ministered unto him; the will of the Lord was ever present to him in special revelations; men were called, ordained, and sent hither and thither at command; and he became, in the language of a Mormon hymn, "the mouthpiece of God." And
It became noised abroad that the honest old German was being led dupe by Smith, his pastor, Rev. Diedrich Villers, of the German Reformed Church, called upon him to remonstrate against his folly. The only reply he could gain from the old farmer was, "Jesus Christ, yesterday, to-day, and forever." All the property he possessed was finally turned over to the use of the church. David Whitmer claimed to have been converted by a miracle. He was laden with sap, and on his way from the woods sat down to rest. After much thinking upon the wonderful things that had been recently told him, he suddenly knelt in prayer, and asked God, in case Mormonism was true, to make his load lighter in token thereof. He then shouldered his burden, and found it one no longer: the buckets weighing no more than a feather. All doubt was forever gone.
whatsoever he uttered was carried to the ear of his believer with the awful weight of meaning that could have been laid upon a message sent by angel messengers from the great white throne itself. Men who wonder at the obedience and unquestioning loyalty of the dupes of Mormonism in these early days, should ponder well this fact before they ridicule and condemn. During the winter preceding the advent of the book, Rigdon had absented himself from his communistic community at Kirtland for several weeks, explaining to no one his whereabouts, and carrying himself with a mysterious manner on his return. That he was with Smith during this absence, and engaged in the promotion of their scheme, there can be little doubt. In his preaching after this absence he seemed to be paving the way for some new change in the spiritual life of his community; and much in his course that was not then understood became as clear as noontide in the light of after-events. He prepared the ground with great care, so that the transplanted tree, when it was brought into their midst, would take sure root. He declared to his people that he did not possess the full comfort of his religion as he desired, and stood in the attitude of one seeking new light. He so shaped the thought of those who looked up to him as a spiritual guide, that they were watching night and morning for the coming of a sign, and were prepared for any new trend of belief to which their ignorant credulity should be directed. Always fervent, and by nature a powerful actor, Rigdon played upon their souls with such power and to such purpose as he willed, and carried them a long way toward the new creed, before they had knowledge of its existence.
The deft hand of Parley Pratt was not wanting in these manipulations of many things toward a common end, nor was his part one of minor importance. A tin-peddler who at times ascended the pulpit, he represented a combination of business shrewdness and theological investigation that made him a powerful factor in this scheme that had for its foundation faith and the making of money. Such pen pictures of his character as have been preserved show him to have been of baser instincts, and one to whom the later adjuncts of Mormonism made powerful appeal. Mrs. B. G. Ferris, wife of the Secretary for Utah, in one of her letters from that remote point, * writes under date of February, 1853; "The man (Pratt) has a very even flow of language, and converses with great ease." She describes him as of burly figure, with a bland manner, and a readiness to borrow money that was not duplicated when it came time to pay. He was at that date in the possession of five wives.
That Pratt had acquaintance with Smith before the two had anything of common in public, there can be no doubt; although Pratt himself suggests, rather than declares, to the contrary. His own account of his conversion to Mormonism is given in the following words: "I took a journey to the State of New York, partly on a visit... and partly for the purpose of administering the word. This journey was undertaken in August, 1830. I had no sooner reached Ontario County, then I came in contact with the Book of Mormon, which had then been published
* "The Mormons at Home." By Mrs. B. G. Ferris, New York, 1856, p. 169.
"Mormonism and the Mormons," p. 67.
about six months, and had gathered about fifty disciples, which were all that then constituted the Church of Latter-Day Saints. [That name was not adopted until some years after.] I was greatly prejudiced against the book, but, remembering the caution of Paul -- 'Prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good' -- I sat down to read it, and, after carefully comparing it with the other Scriptures, and praying to God, He gave me knowledge of its truth by the power of the Holy Ghost; and what was I that I should withstand God?
"I accordingly obeyed the ordinances, and was commissioned by revelation and the laying on of hands to preach the fullness of the Gospel. Then, after finishing my visit to Columbia County, I returned to the brethren in Ontario County, where, for the first time, I saw Mr. Joseph Smith, Jr., who had just returned from Pennsylvania to his father's house in Manchester. About the 15th of October I took my journey in company with Elder O. Cowdery and Peter Whitmer to Ohio. We called on Elder S. Rigdon, and then, for the first time, his eyes 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 upon to read it."
This apparently candid statement does not suggest the deeper current of quiet arrangement that lay beneath it. The fact is, that a few months of earnest propagation of the new gospel in and about Palmyra, Manchester, Fayette, and the vicinity, convinced Smith and his accomplices that the seed they had sown was fallen upon barren ground, and that a more fertile
field must be laid under cultivation. Smith and others went forth to preach, but with meagre results; and it is recorded that Joseph's personal efforts were so little appreciated, that, instead of converts, he won much advice touching an immediate abandonment of the field.
When all the arrangements for the migration westward were completed, the first open movement in that direction was made.
In the latter part of October, 1834 four men -- Oliver Cowdery, Parley Pratt, Ziba Peterson, anti Peter Whitmer, Jr. * -- were sent forth on an ostensible mission to the Indians of the far West: a people for whose salvation Smith declared the new revelation had been largely made.
En route they made it convenient to call at Kirtland, where Pratt already had acquaintance. They boldly went among the members of Rigdon's Disciple communistic congregation, exhibiting the Book of Mormon and preaching its new plan of salvation. To the narrow life and hedged-in hearts and intellect of the people to whom their appeal was made, the sensation was like the sparkle and exhilaration of new wine, and the whole community opened mouth and stood waiting, as men perpetually athirst.
* When Whitmer and his associates arrived in Ohio, they were greeted with this welcome from the Painesville Telegraph: "But the more important part of the mission was to inform the brethren that the boundaries of the Promised Land, made known to Smith from God -- the township of Kirtland, a few miles west of this, is the eastern line, and the Pacific Ocean the western line; if the north and south lines have been described, we have not learned them."
There were many at that time who believed the millennium was at hand, and in 1830 there were those who were convinced it had dawned, and that, to again quote from Mr. Hayden ("History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve," p. 183), "The long-expected
Rigdon played his part with consummate skill, and to the complete success of the programme. Although he no doubt had a hand in the making of the book, he received it with apparent amazement, and as one to whom it was all a Matter of surprise.
Two of the missionaries sent into Kirtland spent the night of their arrival at Rigdon's house. All that passed in their interview has been kept a secret by those whom it most concerned. On the morning following, as the family of Judge Clapp, a neighbor, sat at their breakfast, Rigdon came in, laboring under apparent excitement. Hardly waiting for the usual salutations, he burst forth with the information, "Two men came to my house last night on a curious mission."
When all looked up, and some one voiced the general desire to hear, he proceeded to relate in an impressive and dramatic manner how the Book of Mormon had been found, and how wonder after wonder of a supernatural character had befallen one Joseph Smith, a country boy of Northern New York. The story was told with such an air of wonder and belief that all who heard were amazed, while one to whom the fallacy of much of it was suggested, cried out in contempt, "It is all a lie."
There were many, however, more ready to surrender
day of gospel glory would very soon be ushered in.... These glowing expectations formed the staple of many sermons. They were the continued and exhaustless topic of conversation. They animated the hope and inspired the zeal to a high degree of the converts and many of the advocates of the gospel. Millennial hymns were learned and sung with a joyful fervor and hope surpassing the conception of worldly and carnal professors." It was amid a people full of these expectations, and with hearts fired with these things, that Mormonism was brought, and there is small wonder that it found a welcome.
to the strangers and their book. Rigdon was soon openly confronted with their claims, and compelled to meet them in such manner as he should deem best. He promised to read the book, and carried a copy to his home. He returned, and strongly condemned a portion of its doctrines; and the debate between himself on the one hand, and Pratt and Cowdery on the other, was carried on with earnestness and vehemence. It seemed to be a part of Rigdon's plan to make such fight that when he did surrender, the triumph of the cause that had defeated him, would be all the more complete.
Many openly sided with Rigdon, while others accepted the doctrine and the book. In a few days a Mormon society was formed, and Cowdery rebaptized its members to the number of seventeen. Rigdon denied the right to do this, and declared that they were proceeding contrary to the Scriptures.
When they called upon him at his residence on the day following this important move, he told them they had acted "without precedent," and demanded proof of the divine authority of their mission. Each of the four in response related his experience. They had "obtained faith by praying for a sign, and an angel was shown unto them."
Rigdon responded by proving from Scripture the possibility of their being deceived, as Satan had power to transform himself into an angel of light. "But," responded Cowdery, "do you think if I should go to my Heavenly Father, with all sincerity, and pray to Him, in the name of Jesus Christ, that He would not show me an angel; that He would suffer Satan to deceive me?"
"If the Heavenly Father," was Rigdon's reply, "has ever promised to show you an angel, to confirm anything, He would not suffer you to be deceived, 'for,' says John, 'this is the confidence we have with Him, if we ask things according to His will He hearkens to us.' But if you should ask the Heavenly Father to show you an angel when He has never promised you such a thing -- if the devil had never had an opportunity of deceiving you before, you give him one now." Rigdon was finally prevailed upon to promise that he would also ask God for a sign, but would not then further commit himself in the direction of Mormonism.
This discussion, and others of the same tenor, were carried on in the presence of the gaping populace, and each point made by the visitors had its weight and effect in preparing the way for many future conversions. The excitement was at a fever heat, and was by no means lessened when Rigdon appeared after a seclusion of a couple of days and announced his complete surrender. With an apparent earnestness of manner, and with such eloquent words as he could so surely command, he declared that he had asked for a sign, and had received a revelation from heaven that Mormonism was true. He said that he had prayed for the sign, and explained the response that was vouchsafed him, in the following language: "To my astonishment, I saw the different orders of professing Christians passing before my eyes, with their hearts exposed to view, and they were as corrupt as corruption itself. That society to which I belonged also passed before my eyes, and to my astonishment it was as corrupt as the others. Last
of all that little man, who brought me the Book of Mormon, passed before me with his heart open, and it was as pure as an angel; and this was a testimony from God that the Book of Mormon was a divine revelation."
Imagination can well measure the effect of this surrender upon Rigdon's simple followers. The last stay upon which their doubt hung gave way, and they went into the new fold almost en masse. Rigdon and his wife were publicly baptized by Cowdery on the Sabbath following. He seemed to be altered in demeanor to such an extent that his wife said; "The religion must be of divine origin, else it could not have produced so wonderful an effect."
The results of this surrender far outran the changes of temper and feeling in one man. New life was given to the struggling and uncertain Mormon Church by the accession within a short period of over one hundred members; and a house of refuge was provided in its days of weakness and need. The Prophet, as Smith was now called, was in honor among: his new disciples, who had not known him as he was known at home; and when Rigdon made his preparation for a formal pilgrimage to Manchester, he carried with him many messages of affection and respect. He was absent two months, and had not been long at the home of the Prophet before he was accepted in full fellowship, and honored by Smith with all the means at his command. He became the first regular minister of the Mormon Church. He was announced to speak in Palmyra soon after his arrival in New York, and Martin Harris attempted to secure the use of a church building, but met with failure. Harris's good name and evident sincerity of
At the designated hour a small but well-behaved audience assembled. Rigdon introduced himself as the messenger of God, and declared that he was under command from on high to preach the new revelation. In his opening prayer he gave fervent thanks for the new gospel that had been given to man. His text was chosen from the Mormon Book; and in opening he declared that "the Book of Mormon and the Bible were one in inspiration and importance." With the one held aloft in his right hand and the other in his left, he suddenly brought them together with force, and pronounced them the revealed word of God. His sermon was preached with unusual earnestness and eloquence, yet it so far failed of its intended effect that it not only won no converts, but caused Harris to be refused the use of the hall for the future. The first Mormon sermon in Palmyra was also the last.
It was not possible for Rigdon to remain altogether in the background when perseverance and assertion would carry him toward the front, and ere long Smith found it necessary to unburden himself of a revelation that gave his partner a recognized position of spiritual authority second only to his own. In December he addressed to his followers a lengthy document in which Rigdon was favored with special mention; and of which the following constitutes the opening clause:
"A commandment to Joseph and Sidney, December 7, 1830: Saying, Listen to the voice of the Lord your God even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and
the end, whose course is one eternal round; the same to-day as yesterday and forever. I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me, as I am in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one. Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works; I have heard thy prayers, and prepared thee for a greater work -- thou art blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold, thou wast sent forth, even as John, to prepare the way before me and before Elijah which should come, and thou knewest it not; thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost; but now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy host by the laying on of hands, even as the apostles of old."
This special indorsement of Rigdon was not without its purpose. It gave him authority among those who had accepted Mormonism, and aided him in his preparations for Smith's removal to Kirtland.
A step was taken toward that removal, when John Whitmer was detailed to take charge of the new church at Kirtland. He was one of the four Whitmers of those eight witnesses who made declaration that they had in reality seen the plates of gold from which the Book of Mormon had been translated. He carried to Kirtland an autographic letter from Rigdon to the waiting brethren, which said: "I send you this letter by John Whitmer. Receive him, for he is a brother greatly beloved, and an apostle of this church. With him we send all the revelations we have received; for the Lord has declared unto us
that you pray unto him that Joseph Smith and myself go speedily unto you; but at present it is not expedient for him to send us. He has required of us, therefore, to send unto you our beloved brother, John, and with him the revelations which he has given unto us, by which you will see the reason why we cannot come at this time."
"The Lord has made known unto us," continues the writer, desiring to make what points he may against those upon whose credulity he is at work; "some of his great things which he has laid up for them that love him, among which the fact (a glory of wonders it is) that you are living on the land of promise and that there (at Kirtland) is the place of gathering, and from that place to the Pacific Ocean, God has declared to himself, not only in time but through eternity, and he has given it to us and our children, not only while time lasts, but we shall have it a gain in eternity, as you will see by one of the commandments received day before yesterday. Therefore, be it known to you, brethren, that you are dwelling on your eternal inheritance; for which cease not to give ceaseless glory, praise, and thanksgiving to the God of Heaven."
Bearing such astonishing news, how could John Whitmer fail of welcome?
Smith had by this time commenced a new translation of the Old Testament, in which he was assisted by Rigdon. In December this work was temporarily suspended by the revelation to which reference is made in the above. Kirtland was declared to be the Promised Land for Mormonism, and Smith was told to remove himself and church to that favored spot, where
the way had been already prepared. These orders indeed came at an opportune time, for the fact had been already demonstrated that there was no place for him among his old neighbors in Western New York.
Rigdon returned to Kirtland, to make ready for the Prophet and the church. The story of his conversion had spread far and wide, and as he was known all through Northeastern Ohio and Northwestern Pennsylvania as a man of brilliant although erratic powers, and had preached from many of the most prominent Baptist and Disciple pulpits in his wanderings to and fro, his adhesion to the new faith gave it an advertisement that few other things could have as effectually accomplished. The almost passionate attention which the mass of the people were then giving to spiritual phenomena, and the expectations of many that the days for the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy were at hand, gave the stories and rumors that were afloat a meaning and power that to-day would be beyond their possible reach.
Many eyes were therefore turned with expectation or skepticism toward Kirtland. Upon Rigdon's return he found the fame of his doings and the knowledge of Smith had preceded him. Many came to question him, and to learn the truth from his own lips. While to those who questioned in a sincere desire for knowledge, he was gentle and willing to reply, he was met by much which was only curiosity or a veiled purpose of placing him in a corner for the confusion of himself and the condemnation of the new doctrine.
Two of his callers, friends of former days, who had sat under his preaching at Mentor, were among the first to engage him after his return. They asked him
the reason for his new hope, and why he had renounced the Disciple for the Mormon, as he had renounced the Baptist for the Disciple. He declined to be questioned, saying that he was weary from his long journey from New York. They continued their solicitation, and he his refusal. At last one of the two said: "Mr. Rigdon, you have no more evidence to confirm the Book of Mormon than there is to the Koran of Mohammed." With that his patience came to an end, and springing to his feet he said with anger, "Sir, you have insulted me in my own house. I command silence. If people come to sec us and cannot treat us with civility they may walk out of the door as soon as they please."
An apology was made by the offender, whereupon Rigdon explained the reason of his deep feeling. He had been "trampled upon and insulted by old and young" since his conversion, and he had stood about all that one man's patience would bear. A few days later Mr. Rigdon was in dispute with a Methodist Elder, when a caller approached the former and asked him for a candid reason for the faith that was within him.
His answer was given with patience, and an evident desire to justify the course of himself and followers. To quote the language of a listener, * he "commenced a long detail of his researches after the character of Joseph Smith -- he declared that even his enemies had nothing to say against his character. He had brought a transcript from the dockets of two magistrates, where Smith had been tried as a disturber of the peace, which testified that he was honorably
* "M. S. C.," who tells the story in the Painesville Telegraph of February 1, 1831.
acquitted. But this was no evidence to us that the Book of Mormon was divine.
"He then spoke of the supernatural gifts with which he said Smith was endowed; he said he could translate the Scriptures from any language in which they were now extant, and could lay his finger upon every interpolation in the sacred writings; adding that he had proven him in all these things. But my friend, knowing that Mr. Rigdon had no knowledge of any language but his own vernacular tongue, asked him how he knew these things, to which Mr. Rigdon made no direct reply.... We then asked Mr. Rigdon what object we could have in receiving the Book of Mormon --whether it enjoined a single virtue that the Bible did not, or whether it mentioned or prohibited a single additional vice, or whether it exhibited a new attribute of Deity. He said it did not. 'The Book of Mormon,' said he, 'is to form and govern the Millennial church; the old revelation was never calculated for that, nor would it accomplish that object; and without receiving the Book of Mormon there is no salvation for any one unto whose hands it shall come. He said faith in the Book of Mormon was only to be obtained by asking the Lord concerning it. To this, Scriptural objections were made. He then said: 'If we have not familiarity enough with our Creator to ask of Him a sign, we were no Christians'; and that if God would not condescend to His creatures in this way, He was no better than Juggernaut."*
* With all deference to the honesty of the narrator, one would like to have seen Mr. Rigdon's account of this contest. He was hardly the man to let an argument go altogether against him, whether right or wrong in his premises.
THE LIFE OF THE TRANSPLANTED TREE.
SMITH and his family made their final departure for Kirtland in January, 1831. They were accompanied by others who had accepted the Mormon faith. The gospel of the golden plates was preached by the wayside as they went, to such as would consent to hear. Some converts were thus made. Their destination was not reached until February, and the new-comers were welcomed with earnest zeal by their disciples, and with great curiosity by the surrounding unbelievers. * The full machinery of the church and its attendant commune was set in operation as rapidly as circumstances would admit; some of the developments that followed each other in rapid succession had no doubt been planned from the beginning, while others grew from the suggestions of experience. Revelation followed revelation, according to the humor
* The Painesville Telegraph of March 15, 1831 states that Martin Harris arrived from the East on the Saturday previous, and immediately planted himself in "the bar-room of the Painesville tavern," and commenced to expound and explain the Mormon Bible in a loud and aggressive manner. All who offered a denial of any sort, to any of his statements, were denounced as infidels. The hotel-keeper finally asked him to vacate the premises, and as he obeyed he declared that all who accepted Mormonism and believed, would see Christ in fifteen years, and all who did not would be damned. The manner in which this incident is related gives some idea of the spirit in which Mormonism was received by the mass.
of Joseph, or the needs of the cause. * With a shrewdness suggestive of the money-digging exploits of earlier days, the Prophet had already made it impossible for any of his followers to aspire to communications from on high.
In a revelation uttered in September, 1830, for the benefit of Oliver Cowdery, that point had been disposed of in the following words: "Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given. But behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jr., for he receiveth them even as Moses, and thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church."
At a subsequent point in this remarkably transparent document it is ordered of Oliver that he shall not "command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; for I have given him the keys of the mysteries and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead." Others seem to have attempted something in the
* Of the revelations thought worthy of record in the official history of the Mormon Church, fourteen were given in 1829; twenty in 1830; thirty-seven in 1831; thirteen in 1832; and thirteen in 1833. la addition to these, the Prophet had frequent celestial orders upon minor things, that were not thought of sufficient importance to place upon the record.
line of prophecy, and Joseph found it necessary to limit the power, for in this same document Oliver is ordered to "take thy brother Hiram Page between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone, are not of me, and that Satan deceiveth him, for behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed to any of this church."
A communication was addressed about the same time to Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph, which made her support one of the material charges upon the church, and instructing her to act as the Prophet's scribe. I Therein it was declared to her that thy time shall be given to writing and to learning much; and thou needst not fear, for thy husband shall sup .port thee from the church."
These commands had been given before the migration to Kirtland. Among those received first after that transfer was one commanding the Mormons to build Smith a house, which was obeyed. Then came another ordering all the faithful except Rigdon and Smith to go forth and preach the Mormon gospel. In a short time still another directed John Whitmer to write the annals of the church, for the benefit of posterity.
These things were not occurring at Kirtland without determined and 'aggressive opposition. As the ministers of the orthodox churches saw their members drawn under an influence that could do only harm materially and spiritually, they made vehement protests, and at times put Mormonism upon such defense as became a struggle for life itself. While the several denominations joined in this onset, the brunt
of the battle naturally fell upon the Disciples, because of Rigdon's former high standing in their church. From the moment that his defection became known, Alexander Campbell threw himself into the breach with all the vehemence and energy of his nature, to thwart Rigdon's purpose, and to prevent his leading any astray. He published an expose of the Book of Mormon, showing its many 'absurdities, and laying bare the pretensions of those by whom it was brought into the world. In June he proceeded to Ohio, and spent twenty-two days in combating the new creed.
Under date of February 4, 1831, the venerable Thomas Campbell wrote to Rigdon, his old friend and fellow-laborer. His letter* was full of sadness over the fall of one whom he had esteemed, and contained a challenge for a public debate as to the truth or falsity of Mormonism, at any time or place Mr. Rigdon might select. Therein he said: "It may seem strange that instead of a confidential and friendly visit, after so long an absence, I should thus address by letter one whom for many years I have considered not only as a courteous and benevolent friend, but as a beloved' brother and fellow-laborer in the Gospel; but alas, how changed, how fallen!" When the epistle was received, Rigdon read until he came to a passage wherein Mormonism was characterized as "infernal," when he arose in anger, and threw the letter into the fire. He made no answer, and the challenge was never accepted.
Despite this opposition from many sources, the new religion grew, The love of the marvellous to
* "Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve," p. 217.
which men are heir, the preaching of the many missionaries sent hither and thither, and the personal efforts of Rigdon and Smith, had their natural results, and by May numerous additions had been made to the little church. Converts came from all directions, many of them from New York and the New England States. Some fifty families had come from the vicinity of Smith's old home. The lines along which the founders of the creed had done their work were found to be those most nearly allied to human superstition and fear, and each successful venture gave new encouragement for another trial in the same direction.
The preaching of Rigdon in these early missionary days was marked by an unwonted power and fervor, whether from an ambitious desire to make a success of the strange cause he had espoused, or because his heart had in reality been touched by some new ray of spiritual light. In illustration of this point, the following from the pen of the late John Barr, of Cleveland -- an authority upon matters of Western Reserve history -- will be found of exceeding interest. Said he: * "In 1830 I was deputy sheriff, and being at Willoughby on official business determined to go to Mayfield, which is seven or eight miles up the Chagrin River, and hear Cowdery and Rigdon on the revelations of Mormonism. Varnem J. Card, the lawyer, and myself started early Sunday morning on horseback. We found the roads crowded with people going in the same direction.
"Services in the church were opened by Cowdery, with prayer and singing, in which he thanked God
* "The Early Days of Mormonism." By Frederick G. Mather, Lippencott’s Magazine, 1880, p. 206.
fervently for the new revelation. He related the manner of, finding the golden plates of Nephi. He was followed by Rigdon, a famous Baptist preacher, well known throughout the eastern part of the Western Reserve, and also in Western Pennsylvania. His voice and manner were always imposing. He was regarded as an eloquent man at all times, and now he seemed fully aroused. He said he had not been satisfied in his religious yearnings until now. At night he had often been unable to sleep, walking and praying for more light and comfort in his religion. While in the midst of this agony, he heard of the revelation of Joe Smith, which brother Cowdery had explained. Under this his soul suddenly found peace. It filled all his aspirations.
"At the close of along harangue in this earnest manner, during which every one present was silent, though very much affected, he inquired whether any one desired to come forward and be immersed. Only one man arose. This 'was an aged dead-beat by the name of Cahoon, who occasionally joined the Shakers, and lived on the country generally.
The place selected for immersion was in a clear pool in the river above the bridge, around which was a beautiful rise of ground on the west side for the audience. On the east bank was a sharp bluff and some stumps, where Mr. Card and myself stationed ourselves. The time of baptism was fixed at two P.M. Long before this hour the spot was surrounded by as many people as could have a clear view. Rigdon went into the pool, which, at the deepest, was about four feet, and after a suitable address with prayer, Cahoon came forward and was immersed.
in the water Rigdon gave one of his most powerful exhortations. The assembly became greatly affected.
As he proceeded he called for the converts to step forward. They came through the crowd in rapid succession to the number of thirty and were immersed, with no intermission of the discourse on the part of Rigdon.
Mr. Card was apparently the most radical, stoical of men of a clear, unexcitable temperament, with unorthodox and vague religious ideas. While the exciting scene was transpiring below us in the valley and in the pool, the faces of the crowd expressing the most intense emotion, Mr. Card suddenly seized my arm and said, I Take me away.' Taking his arm I' saw his face was so pale that he seemed to be about to faint. His frame trembled as we walked away and mounted our horses. We rode a mile toward Willoughby before a word was said. Rising the hill out of the valley he seemed to recover and said: I Mr. Barr, if you had not been there I certainly should have gone into the water.' He said the impulse was irresistible."
When Cowdery and his friends had performed the work assigned them in Kirtland, they proceeded westward in obedience to Smith's command that they should convert the Indian tribes and bring them to a belief in the Mormon creed. Upon reaching the frontier, they were stopped from further progress by the officers of the general government, under the law preventing the white man from entering the Indian reservations for trading or other purposes. As winter was well upon them, they turned aside and located at Independence, Missouri, where
they obtained sufficient employment to enable them to live, and preach Mormonism as occasion offered. In the spring of 1831, one of their number returned to Kirtland, where he rendered such report as led Smith to look upon the frontier as the proper place for the founding and permanent location of the great church, and perhaps temporal kingdom, of which he had come to dream. He had already been made aware that Ohio was too near civilization for an easy or safe fulfillment of his plans.
Early in June there was a formal meeting of all the believers in Mormonism at Kirtland. In the call thereto an intimation was given that a revelation of vital interest to the church was to be promulgated, and the believers assembled in expectant hope and half-fear. Smith solemnly made known the decree of which he was the messenger. All the leading men and elders were commanded to forsake whatever they had in hand and proceed forthwith to Missouri, which God had chosen as the promised land. Each was designated by name, and there was no room for refusal or excuse. They were to go by twos, each twain choosing a separate. road, and all preaching by the way. Only two weeks' preparation for the long journey and exile were given.
On June 19th, Smith, in company with several of his disciples, set out upon the route he had chosen, others taking the roads assigned them. He passed through Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis, and from the latter city onward on foot to Independence, which he reached in the middle of July.
Upon reaching his destination he ordered the purchase of a tract of land, upon which that
of his new city of Zion should be laid. The work was put under way in a manner that proved Smith a man of action as well as of words. The Rev. Ezra Booth, a Methodist preacher of Mantua, who had been converted in the previous May, and who was at that time still under the influence of Mormonism, but afterward broke his bonds and warned men against it with all the power there was within him, has given us this description of the events that there transpired, in a series of letters to Rev. Ira Eddy, his presiding elder: "The laying of the foundation of Zion was attended with considerable parade, and an ostentatious display of talents, both by Rigdon and Cowdery. The place being designated as the site where the city was to commence, on the day appointed we repaired to the spot, not only as spectators, but each one to act the part assigned him in the great work of laying the foundation of the 'glorious city of the new Jerusalem.'
"Rigdon consecrated the ground by an address, in the first place, to the God whom the Mormons professed to worship, and then making some remarks respecting the extraordinary purpose for which we were assembled, prepared the way for administering the oath of allegiance to those who were to receive their I everlasting inheritance ' in that city. He laid them under the most solemn obligations to constantly obey all the commandments of Smith. He enjoined it upon them to express a great degree of gratitude for the free donation, and then, as the Lord's vicegerent, he gratuitously bestowed upon them that for which they had paid an exorbitant price in money,
"These preliminaries being ended, a shrub oak, about ten inches in diameter at the butt, the best that could be obtained near at hand, was prostrated, trimmed, and cut off at a suitable length; and twelve men, answering to the twelve apostles, by means of hand-spikes conveyed it to the place. Cowdery craved the privilege of laying the corner-stone. He selected a small rough stone, the best he could find, carried it in one hand to the spot, removed the surface of the earth to prepare a place for its reception, and then displayed his oratorical powers in d slivering an address suited to the important occasion. The stone being placed, one end of the shrub oak stick was laid upon it; and there was laid down the first stone and stick, which are to form an essential part of the splendid city of Zion."
Wonderful stories were told by Smith and his immediate accomplices as to the greatness that should befall this city chosen of God, and built under His command, as was Jerusalem of old, and of the marvellous things that should be witnessed in its streets. It should, in future time, exceed all that the world had ever seen. Its streets would be paved with gold
all who escaped the general destruction, which was soon to take place, would there assemble with all their wealth; the ten lost tribes of Israel had been discovered in their retreat, in the vicinity of the North Pole, where they had for ages been secluded by immense barriers of ice, and became vastly rich; the ice in a few years was to be melted away, when those tribes, with St. John and some of the Nephites, which the Book of Mormon had immortalized, would be seen making their appearance in the new
city, loaded with immense quantities of gold and silver."
Under the quickening effects of this generous promise of help and riches, the poor dupes dug and delved and carried as Smith ordered, and counted pain and isolation and exile as nothing in comparison with the spiritual and temporal rewards that were to be.
The day after the foundation of the city was thus formally marked, the ground upon which the temple was to stand was consecrated. Smith reserved to himself the honor of laying the corner-stone. Mr. Booth, whose testimony was placed on record almost immediately after the occurrence of the events he describes, wrote as follows: "I Should the inhabitants of Independence feel a desire to visit this place, destined at some future time to become celebrated, they will have only to walk one-half of a mile out of the town, to a rise of ground, a short distance south of the road. They will be able to ascertain the spot by the means of a sapling, distinguished from the others by the bark being broken off on the north and on the east side. On the south side of the sapling will be found the letter T, which stands for temp le; and on the east side Zom, for Zomas, which Smith says is the original word for Zion. Near the foot of the sapling they will find a small stone covered over with bushes, which were cut for that purpose. This is the corner-stone of the temple. They can there have the privilege of beholding the mighty work accomplished by about thirty men, who left their homes, travelled one thousand miles, most of them on foot, and expended more than one thousand dollars in cash."
There was so much of ridiculous failure connected
with this attempt to build a city and erect a temple out of nothing, that some of the less credulous among Smith's followers began to question the divinity of his mission and the correctness of his claims. Turmoils and dissensions broke out, in the midst of which Smith found it convenient to be delivered of a revelation commanding himself and a majority of his followers to return to Ohio. A portion of the company set out to sail down the Missouri River in a canoe, which Smith determined to manage according to his own idea. The result was an overturn and a ducking, which was the culminating point of the storms already gathering, which broke in open rupture among the leading spirits of the campaign, and open charges of cowardice in the hour of danger were made against both Rigdon and Smith. An encampment was made upon the river bank, and after the dripping and disheartened little party had dried their clothing and effects, and partaken of such refreshment as the situation would allow, the better judgment of those most concerned resumed its sway, and an attempt was made to patch up a peace.
Sharp words and many recriminations ensued, before the desired end was reached. Cowdery, Rigdon, and even Smith himself, were roundly censured for things they had done since the departure from Kirtland.
Joseph showed symptoms of a recourse at last to his old weapon of a special revelation, with which to beat down rebellion and opposition, but when a grim "None of your threats!" issued from one of the opposing faction, he withheld his purpose, and depended only upon his diplomacy and such human arguments as he could command. A reconciliation
was not finally effected until toward day. break, and even then there were doubts not set at rest, and grudges and heart-burnings left unsatisfied, that made themselves felt in the rebellions and secessions of later days. Smith had already discovered that he held in leash many discordant elements, and that the role of "Prophet, seer, revealer, and translator," which titles he had now assumed, was one of worry, perplexity, and even personal danger.
In the morning Smith showed a strong dislike to further journeying upon the dangerous river, and to silence the opposition of those who still desired to proceed by canoe, he gave utterance to a commandment from on high, laying an awful curse upon the waters, and forbidding the faithful to navigate them. The name of the stream was changed to "The river of destruction," and Joseph and his band proceeded forward on foot.
It was decided, when the nearest town was reached, that Smith, Rigdon, and Cowdery should proceed rapidly forward by stage, while the rest of the weary, homesick, and discouraged band should reach Kirtland on foot, preaching as they went, "The method by which Joseph and company designed to proceed home," writes Mr. Booth, "it was discovered would be very expensive. 'The Lord don't care how much money it takes to get us home,' said Sidney. Not satisfied with the money they received from the bishop, they used their best endeavors to exact money from others, who had but little compared with what they had; telling them, in substance, 'You can beg your passage on foot, but as we are to travel in the stage, we must have money.'
"The expense of these three men was one hundred' dollars more than three of our company expended while on our journey home; and for the sake of truth and honesty let these men never again open their mouths to insult the common sense of mankind, by contending for equality and the community of goods in society, until there is a thorough alteration in their method of proceeding. It seems, however, they had drained their pockets when they arrived at Cincinnati, for there they were under the necessity of pawning their trunk, in order to continue their journey home.
"Here they violated the commandment by not preaching; and when an inquiry was made respecting the cause of that neglect, at one time they said they could get no house to preach in; at another time they stated that they could have had the court-house had they stayed a day or two longer, but the Lord made it known to them that they should go on; and other similar excuses, involving like contradictions."
While in Missouri, under date of "Zion, August 1st, 1831," Smith was delivered of a new revelation which was sent forth to the Mormons East and West as the will of the Lord concerning the purchase of land in Missouri, and the building up of Zion. After explaining to the Elders and their followers why they had been brought so far from home" that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come, and also that you might be honored of laying the foundation, and bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand," he proceeds to restrengthen the faith of Martin Harris, so that he
might devote yet more of his money to the Mormon cause, in the following warning words: "It is wisdom in me that my servant Martin Harris should be an example unto the church, in laying his monies before the bishop of the church.... and let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world." In that remarkable document it was further ordered that "it is wisdom also, that there should be Ian 's purchased in Independence for the place of the store-house, and also for the house of printing;" that Rigdon should "write a description of Zion, and a statement of the will of God, as it shall be made known by the Spirit unto him, and an epistle and a subscription unto ail the churches to obtain moneys to put into the hands of the bishop, to purchase lands for an inheritance for the children of God."
Smith's desire at this time was to secure enough money to carry forward his ambitious purposes, as without that he could do nothing.
Upon his return to Kirtland, on August 27th, Smith found sufficient work in holding his followers to their faith, in meeting the sharp assaults of the many and strong enemies who had sprung up on all sides, in translating an "inspired" edition of the Bible, in looking after the commercial and mercantile ventures he had attempted, and in seeking for converts wherever they were to be found. In an attempt to set a stake of Zion in Hiram, a small village half a dozen miles to the south, famous now as the seat of the college over which James A. Garfield presided, the Mormon leader met with such fierce hostility, which at last culminated in physical attack and personal indignity, that he was more than ever persuaded
there was sufficient room for Mormonism and him. self only in the far West. He opened a general store in Hiram, which he was commanded to continue in operation for five years, in order to make money for the upbuilding of Zion, and it was as a clerk in that store that he first knew Orson Pratt, who was converted to Mormonism, and became a leader in the church.
The history of the attempted conversion of this sedate little village upon the hill, is one of failure and of many mishaps. Rev. Ezra Booth, the Methodist minister whom we have already quoted, had given his adhesion to the Mormon faith, and was filled with zeal for the warning of others. He attended service on Sabbath in May, 1831, and listened to an address by Symonds Ryder -- an Elder in the Disciple church, -- and a strong man, with an ancestry running back to the Mayflower. Upon its conclusion, he asked permission to speak. It was granted, whereupon he explained "in strong, clear language of impassioned enthusiasm, the ground of his new faith, and the inspiring hopes which it gave him."
A deep impression was made upon the minds of all who heard. Mr. Ryder was so much wrought upon that he did not dare deny, while he was as yet unable to accept and believe. In a stern determination to discover the truth at a point as near the fountain-head as it was possible to attain, he went direct to Kirtland, and talked with Smith, Rigdon, and others. He hesitated as to his course until in June, when he saw in a public journal a description of the destruction of Pekin, China, which a Mormon
girl had announced by prophecy six weeks before. This appeal to the superstitious part of his nature was the final weight in the balance, and lie threw the whole power of his influence upon the side of Mormonism. His surrender caused an excitement almost equal to that Which followed the fall of Rigdon.
A saving clause, however, was inserted in his acceptance, that would leave him free to desert the new as speedily as he had abandoned the old, in case it should prove to be a snare. A pledge was given by Booth and himself to each other, that they would often compare notes out of their experience, and be of mutual aid in discerning the false from the true.
Ryder was speedily fastened by those bonds of self-interest and ambition which Smith had so well learned to lay upon men. He was made an Elder of the Mormon Church; but as his name was wrongly spelled in his official commission, doubt as to the Mormon truth found in that fact a slight resting-place; and he was still in this uncertain mood when he again met Booth, upon the return of the latter from the fiasco at Zion. Each then gave to the other such information as led to the complete overthrow of all belief in the new creed, in the minds of both. The effort made by these two men to defeat the purpose of Smith and Rigdon was of a determined and effective kind, and bore abundant fruit. They made public acknowledgment of error, and were taken again into full fellowship with the churches to which they had before given their faith.
Smith had personally appeared at Hiram early in the winter of 1831, and many eloquent sermons were preached by Sidney Rigdon and others, in a school.
house to the south of the town. "Such was the apparent piety, sincerity, and humility of the speakers," wrote Mr. Ryder to a friend, "that many of the hearers were greatly affected, and thought it impossible that such preachers should lie in wait to deceive. During the next spring and summer several converts were made, and their success seemed to indicate an immediate triumph in Hiram." This movement toward the evangelization of the town came to a sudden end, when Ryder and Booth joined forces in opposition; and the feelings of distrust and hate that were engendered in this conflict of moral forces culminated in an open attack upon Rigdon and Smith, on the night of the 25th of March, 1832. If we accept the declaration of Mr. Ryder, the foray was by "citizens of Shalersville, Garrettsville, and Hiram," who "proceeded to headquarters in the darkness of night, and took Smith and Rigdon from their beds, and tarred and feathered them both and let them go." And if we accept the evidence of Smith, Ryder himself was numbered among his assailants.
Smith had been holding a series of meetings, at which great excitement was manifest, and some conversions made. On the night of the attack he was domiciled with his wife and family in the house of John Johnson, a worthy man, who had been brought fully under the Prophet's influence. Joseph and his wife had been up with a sick child, and when she told him to take some rest he lay down upon a trundle bed and soon fell asleep. He was suddenly awakened by her scream of "murder!" and almost instantly found himself going out of the door in the hands of several stalwart men, some having him by the hair,
some by the throat, and others by the legs, He made a desperate struggle, as he was forced out, to extricate himself, but only cleared one leg, with which he made a kick at one man and knocked him off the doorstep. They again gained control of him, and declared they would kill him if he did not be still, which quieted him.
"As they passed around the house with me," said Smith, in an after-description of the occurrence,* "the fellow I kicked came' to me and thrust his hand into my face all covered with blood (for I hit him on the nose), and with an exulting, hoarse laugh muttered, 'Gee! Gee! I'll fix you.' Then they seized my throat and held on till I, lost my breath. After I came to, as they passed along with me about thirty rods from the house, I saw Elder Rigdon stretched out on the ground whither they had dragged him by the heels. I supposed he was dead."
Smith began to plead with them, saying, "You will have mercy and spare my life." At this point a number of people came from several directions. He was carried some thirty rods further, when a. man cried out, "Ain't you going to kill him? Ain't you going to kill him?" While several held him, others went to one side and held a council, the conclusion of which was shown by subsequent events.
One man was heard to cry, "Symonds, Symonds, where is the tar bucket?"
"I do not know," came the answer, it's where Eli left it."
They ran back and brought the bucket, when one
* "History of the Mormons." By Samuel M. Smucker, New York p. 78.
exclaimed, "Let's tar up his mouth." And the suggestion was carried into effect. Accounts differ at this point. Those who had a hand in it declared that Smith was stripped naked, coated with tar, and covered with feathers from head to foot. Smith's account is that he was only "covered with the feathers in places." When the mob left him he found his way as rapidly as he might to Johnson's house, and when he appeared at the door covered with tar and feathers, his wife thought it was blood, and fainted.
About this time a number of Mormon sisters had reached the house and were collected in Mrs. Smith's room. Joseph discreetly called for a blanket. Some one threw one to him, and closed the door. He wrapped it around him arid went in. The night was spent in scrubbing and removing the tar, and in washing and cleaning his body, so that by morning he was able once more to don his clothes. It was the Sabbath, and nothing daunted he led service as usual, and in the. afternoon baptized three people.
Rigdon was even more harshly treated than Smith. He was dragged by his heels over the frozen ground, and then furnished with a coat of feathers taken from the pillows in the room in which he had been found asleep. He was delirious for some time, and in consequence a small difficulty arose between Smith and himself. Smith afterward declared that Rigdon was innocent in all that was said or done, but Joseph's mother publicly charged that Sidney "contrived to be out of his mind, in order to mislead the saints into the belief that the goods of the kingdom had been taken from the church and must not be
he said, until they had built him a new house. This gave rise to great scandal, which Joseph, however, succeeded in silencing."
Rigdon repented and was forgiven, and declared that in punishment of his fault the devil had three times thrown him out of bed in one night.
Partly that this episode might be forgotten, and partly that the affairs of Zion might receive due attention, Smith again visited "Missouri in April, where in a general council of the church he was proclaimed president of the high-priests. During that visit he was very busy both in spiritual and temporal things, ordering the printing of three thousand copies of the "Book of Doctrines and Covenants," and a selection of hymns made by his wife Emma to be published. He then returned to Kirtland, where many fresh labors and not a few new troubles awaited him.
During this mission effort at Hiram and before its failure had become apparent, affairs had not been idle at Kirtland, where Smith and Rigdon spent most of their time, and which was their official headquarters. The zeal of the missionaries at various points had been prolific of results, and almost every day saw an accession of new members to the little community. Many came from a distance, and among them were families of character and wealth. Smith was treated with the consideration due one to whom the mantle of Elijah and the rod of Aaron had fallen in the direct line of prophetic heirship, and was loved by many and feared by all. One who was present during these scenes declares that "Kirtland presented the appearance of a modern religious Mecca. Like Eastern pilgrims, they came full of zeal for their new
religion. They came in rude vehicles, on horseback, on foot. They came almost any way, filling, on their arrival, every house, shop, and barn to the utmost capacity."
While the "common stock" principle may not have been entirely adopted, a course so akin thereto was pursued that the results were the same. The plan which the ingenuity of the leaders pointed out as the safest and, most effective, can be best understood by a quotation of the revelation through which it was imposed upon the church: "If thou lovest me, thou shalt serve me and keep my commandments; and behold, thou shalt consecrate all thy properties, that which thou hast, unto me, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken; * and they shall be laid before the bishop of thy church, and two of the elders such as he shall appoint and set apart for that purpose.
And it shall come to pass, that the bishop of my church, after that he has received the proper. ties of my church, that it cannot be taken from the church, he shall appoint every man a steward over his own property, or that which he has received, inasmuch as shall be sufficient for himself and family;
* With a worldly wisdom that did not leave all to love and faith, Smith was careful that these 'papers of transfer were so made that they would hold good under the laws of Ohio. John Hyde says in relation to this question of the support of the church: "Smith, in the beginning of the church, attempted to establish communism, each giving their all to the bishop, and only drawing out of the office sufficient to live upon. This, however, was not more practicable for Smith than for Fourier or Cabet, and it was silently permitted to glide into the payment of tithing. In 1854, however, Brigham attempted to revive the old law in an improved shape."
and the residue shall be kept to administer to him who has not, that every man may receive accordingly as he stands in need; and the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and needy, as shall be appointed by the elders of the church, and bishop; and for the purpose of purchasing land, and the building up of the New Jerusalem, which is hereafter to be revealed; that my covenant people be gathered in one, in the day, that I shall come to my temple; and this I do for the salvation of my people. And it shall come to pass, that he that sinneth and repenteth not, shall be cast out, and shall not receive again that which he has consecrated unto me; for it shall come to pass, that which I spoke by the mouth of my prophet shall be fulfilled, for I will consecrate the riches of the Gentiles unto my people, which are of the house of Israel."
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