SIDNEY RIGDON: THE TIMES AND THE PLACES
NOVEMBER 1826 - JANUARY 1831
He always has an alibi,
And one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place -
Macavity [Rigdon] wasn't there!
Thomas Stearns Eliot
The period covering the production of the Book of Mormon according to contemporary documentary accounts was September 1827 to spring 1830. For Sidney Rigdon to be a party to its production in any role it must be shown that he and Joseph Smith met and conspired to produce the book. They would have to have either original material or a borrowed source as a foundation document. Original material would take time to write and a plagiarised manuscript would take a certain amount of time to be re-worked, padded out and edited. They would need several meetings to ensure that the historical flow and story line stayed where they should. Several styles of writing would have to used to give the impression that different authors were responsible for the work. It had to contain a well-developed theology and a high Christology. No fleeting rendezvous would serve to fulfil all the necessary conditions If Rigdon and Smith had concocted the whole thing, as some insist, let them produce their irrefutable evidence.
Evidence does exist which proves beyond doubt that Rigdon and Smith did not meet until well after the book was published. If Rigdon had been a party to fraud, what had he to lose by making an appearance early in the deception? Why would he stay away while other men took prime positions in the new movement? If Rigdon had been involved in a bogus book, what was his purpose? If it was to make money he need never break cover but he found no money in Mormonism, only hard times and persecution, the common lot of the Saints. To accept the Rigdon-Smith fraud proposition it is necessary to take too much on trust, for there are many questions to which no answers have ever been given, and the available evidence which we now survey points us in a different direction.
On the night of September 21/22 1823 a resurrected being, visited Joseph Smith, then aged 17, to inform him that the Nephite record was hidden nearby and that in time he would receive it. Joseph told his father about the vision the next day. Four years later Moroni delivered the plates into the hands of Joseph. Stories about Joseph having gold plates are documented from this date
Endeavours to involve Sidney Rigdon in a deception must show that Rigdon was in Pittsburgh at the same time as Spaulding's manuscript was in Patterson's print shop; that Rigdon frequented the printers; and that Rigdon and Smith not only had the opportunity to spend time together to plot the Book of Mormon fraud, but that they actually did so. Of those who persist in such charges the following examples are typical.
A Presbyterian preacher, Solomon Spaulding, wrote an imaginary history of the primitive Americans called The Manuscript Found. No one wanted to publish it, so it was left at a printer's shop in Pittsburgh. The printer, by the name of Patterson, died within two years and a man called Rigdon, who was a frequent caller at the shop, found the manuscript and used it as a basis for writing The Book of Mormon with the help of Smith and Porley [sic] Pratt.
Rigdon conceived the idea...that he could become famous by going beyond the Bible, and giving the world a totally new revelation. In Joseph Smith he found a ready instrument and willing collaborator. The fruit of this unholy union was The Book of Mormon.
I cannot help feeling that the evidence for Smith's dependence upon a Spaulding manuscript cannot be lightly set aside.
A retired Presbyterian preacher, by the name of Solomon Spaulding, wrote a fictional historical novel called Manuscript Lost about the inhabitants the [sic] Americas as he imagined they might have been before the arrival of the European explorers. Manuscript Lost was written purely as escapist fantasy about how imaginary groups of American Indians roamed and fought all over the Americas. He submitted the manuscript to several publishers, who declined his offer to publish it. Being desperate for money, he agreed to leave it at the printing shop until he could raise enough money to guarantee printing costs . While the manuscript was sitting at the printers, it was evidently stolen by one Sidney Rigdon, a fellow who used to loiter around the shop. It surfaced later, in a modified form under the title The Book of Mormon....From testimony given about that time, it appears that Smith and Rigdon spent considerable time together two years before Rigdon supposedly came into contact with Smith and Mormonism and was converted to it. The evidence is circumstantial, but it is so conclusive as to be irrefutable.
here are remarkable identities with the contents of Solomon Spaulding's "The Manuscript Found". This gentleman was a Presbyterian preacher who wrote an imaginary history of the people who inhabited America in the early days. "His effort not being accepted for publication, he left it with a printer at Pittsburgh, Patterson by name, and died two years later. Rigdon, an unfrocked Baptist minister, was often in Patterson's shop, and came across the old manuscript. With this as a basis, and with the help of Joseph Smith, and Parley P. Pratt, he compiled the Book of Mormon, and perpetrated one of the greatest religious hoaxes of the century.
The lack of consensus about the title of the manuscript should not go unnoticed. (Manuscript Found was invented after Manuscript Lost was found and proved to have no affinity with the Book of Mormon except some for a few very superficial similarities.) We now follow Rigdon's life in detail, from the time Smith received the gold plates until some months after he was baptized and met the Prophet for the first time.
"Times and places definitely settled by positive and undisputed evidence as to the whereabouts, occupation, and business of Elder Sidney Rigdon from November 1, 1826, to January 1, 1831, inclusive."
First, by Court records
State of Ohio }
Geauga County }
This is to certify that I solemnized the marriage contract between John G Smith and Julia Giles, on the second of November, 1826, agreeable to license obtained from court of said county.
Recorded the 13th Dec., 1826.
EDWARD PAINE, JUN., Clerk Com. Pleas.
This form is similar in style and content to the public records listed by Kelley and are listed here according to their major details.
2. 5 June 1827 solemnized a marriage in Geauga County.
3. 3 July 1827 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
4.19 July 1827 solemnized a marriage in Kirtland.
5. 9 October 1827 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
6. 6 December 1827 solemnized a marriage in Kirtland.
7.13 December 1827 solemnized a marriage in Concord.
8.14 February 1828 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
9. 7 September 1828 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
10.18 September 1828 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
11. 1 February 1828 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
12. 1 January 1829 solemnized a marriage in Concord.
13.13 August 1829 solemnized a marriage in Kirtland.
14.14 September 1829 solemnized a marriage in Mentor.
15. 1 October 1829 solemnized a marriage in Perry [Ohio].
16. 4 November 1829 solemnized a marriage in Kirtland.
STATE OF OHIO }
Geauga County } SS.--PROBATE COURT; I, H.K. Smith, Judge of the Probate Court in and for said County, hereby certify that the above and foregoing certificates numbering from one to sixteen were truly taken and copied from the record of marriages in this county preserved in this office where the same by law are required to be kept. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed the seal of said Court at Chardon, this 27th day of April, A.D., 1891.
17.31 December 1829 solemnized a marriage in Chagrin.
STATE OF OHIO }
Cuyahoga County } SS. - In the Probate Court.
I, Henry C. White, Judge of said Court do hereby certify that the foregoing is a true and correct transcript taken from the Marriage Records in this office, where the same is by law required to be kept.
HENRY C. WHITE, Probate Judge
[Seal.]By H.A. SCHWAB, Dep. Clerk.
Second, by historical and personal testimony (abbreviated).
18.January 1827 public meeting at Mantua, Ohio.
19.January 1827 conducted funeral at Chester. Ohio.
20.March and April 1827 Protracted meetings at Mentor. ]
21.15 June 1827 baptized at Mentor.
22.23 August meeting with the Ministerial Association of the Western Reserve, New Lisbon, Ohio.
23.20 October was a member of the Ministerial Council at Warren, Ohio.
24.November 1827 held series of meetings at New Lisbon, Ohio.
25.March 1828 instructor of theology class at Mentor.
25.March 1828 held series of meetings at Mentor and Warren, Ohio.
26.April 1828 Elder Rigdon conducted a great religious revival at Kirtland.
27.May 1828 met with Alexander Campbell at Shalersville, Ohio, and held a protracted meeting at that place.
28.June 1828 baptized Henry H. Clapp at Mentor.
29.August 1828 Attended great Yearly Association at Warren, Ohio.
30.March 1829 held protracted meeting at Mentor, Ohio.
31.April 12 1829 protracted meeting at Kirtland, Ohio.
32.July 1829 organized church at Perry, Ohio.
33.September 1829 series of meetings at Mentor, Ohio.
34.October 1829 at Perry, Ohio.
35.November 1829 Meeting at Wait Hill, Ohio.
36.March 1830 at Mentor, Ohio.
37.1-30 June 1930 at Mentor, Ohio.
38.July 1830 protracted meeting at Pleasant Valley, Ohio.
39.August 1830 with Alexander Campbell at Austintown, Ohio.
40.December 1830 attended meetings held by Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer at Mentor,
Ohio, and at Kirtland, Ohio and united with The Church of Jesus Christ.
The following is also recorded:
I resided in this place [Warrensville, Ohio] till 1829, about the month of May, when I heard Sidney Rigdon preach what was then the Rigdonite doctrine. After hearing him go through the principle of baptism for the remission of sins I went forward and was baptized by his hands .... August the same year my wife was baptized together with John Murdock and many others by Sidney Rigdon.
A significant contributor to our appreciation of the character of Sidney Rigdon is the Reverend A.S. Hayden, one of his former associate ministers of the 'Christian' or 'Disciple Church' as it was variously known. Hayden whilst bitterly opposed to Mormon doctrine said of him:
Whatever may be justly said of him after he had surrendered himself a victim and leader of the Mormon delusion, it would scarcely be just to deny sincerity and candor to him, previous to the time when his bright star became permanently eclipsed under that dark cloud.
Brinkerhoff claims "irrefutable evidence" of Rigdon's involvement in theft and fraud but significantly fails to produce it. Nor does he deal with the cogent rebutting evidence of the above public records and testimonies of witnesses which deal the death blow to fantastic Rigdon-based theories. During the times referred to Rigdon continued to be involved in his Campbellite ministry and with leaders of the Disciples movement which would have been absurd had he been planning to defect.
There is another invaluable testimony: the conduct of Sidney Rigdon. Those who claim that Rigdon dared not tell the truth of his involvement in fraud because of fear of reprisals by Smith or the Latter-day Saints do not explain why his fear should endure after the prophet's death. Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, so if he had wished to harm Rigdon he was no longer able to do so. However, Rigdon showed no sign of fearing Joseph Smith or anyone else connected with the Church. At times his conduct towards Smith and the Church was openly disrespectful, which would not have been the case if he had feared punishment or exposure. If Mormonism was a Rigdon-Smith fraud it was Smith who would have feared Rigdon, taking care not to undertake any action calculated to alienate Rigdon. Yet Smith rejected Rigdon as his counsellor in 1843.
Even more compelling is the testimony of one of Rigdon's sons. In 1865, when Sidney was 72 years old, he was visited by his son, John Rigdon who was visiting Utah, wintering among the Saints. Mormon religion failed to impress him. From his experiences in Utah he concluded that the Book of Mormon was a fraud, and so resolved to visit his father and find out whether he had been involved in the fraud. If he had been he needed to know why he continued to be a party to it after so long a breach between himself and the Church. Would he finally tell the truth since he was aged and might soon stand before his Creator? John Rigdon tells the story of that visit.
Although he had never told but one story about it, and that was that Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery presented him with a bound volume of that book in the year 1830, while he was preaching Campbellism at Mentor, Ohio....I concluded I would make an investigation for my own satisfaction and find out if I could if he had all these years been deceiving his family and the world, by telling that which was not true, and I was in earnest about it. If Sidney Rigdon, my father, had thrown his life away by telling a falsehood and bringing sorrow and disgrace upon his family, I wanted to know it and was determined to find out the facts, no matter what the consequences might be. I reached home in the fall of 1865, found my father in good health and was very much pleased to see me. As he had not heard anything from me for some time, he was afraid that I had been killed by the Indians. Shortly after I had arrived home, I went to my father's room; he was there and alone, now was the time for me to commence my inquiries in regard to the origin of the Book of Mormon, and as to the truth of the 'Mormon' religion. I told him what I had seen at Salt Lake had not impressed me very favorably toward the 'Mormon' Church, and as to the origin of the Book of Mormon I had some doubts. You have been charged with writing that book and giving it to Joseph Smith to introduce to the world. You have always told me one story; that you never saw the book until it was presented to you by Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery; and all you ever knew about the origin of that book was what they told you and what Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed to have seen the plates had told you. Is this true? If so, all right; if it is not you owe it to me and your family to tell it. You are an old man and you will soon pass away, and I wish to know if Joseph Smith, in your intimacy with him for fourteen years, has said something to you that led you to believe he obtained that book in some other way than what he had told you. Give me all you know about it, that I may know the truth. My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: "My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of that book is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athaliah Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of that book was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but the one story, and that was that he found it engraved upon gold plates in a hill near Palmyra, New York, and that an angel had appeared to him and directed him where to find it; and I have never, to you or to anyone else, told but the one story, and that I now repeat to you.' I believed him, and now believe he told me the truth. He also said to me after that that 'Mormonism' was true; that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, and this world would find it out some day. After my father's death, my mother, who survived him several years, was in the enjoyment of good health up to the time of her last sickness, she being eighty-six years old. A short time before her death I had a conversation with her about the origin of the Book of Mormon, and wanted to know what she remembered about its being presented to my father. She said to me in that conversation that what my father had told me about the book being presented to him was true, for she was present at the time and knew that was the first time he ever saw it, and that the stories told about my father writing the Book of Mormon were not true. This she said to me in her old age and when the shadows of the grave were gathering around her and I believe her.
Sidney Rigdon who had made such outstanding contributions to the ministry of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints died in a small town in New York state on 14 July 1876, eleven years after confirming his testimony to his son.
From his excommunication in 1844 to the end of his days he remained separated from the Church but solidly faithful to the only testimony he ever bore about the origin of the Book of Mormon.