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The Fictional Rigdon   |   B. M. Nead's "Birth-Place of Mormonism"   |   1952 Arch Merrill book
T. J. Gregory's "Rigdon: Post Nauvoo"   |   Van Wagoner's Sidney Rigdon   |   1873 letter


Austin Cowles
"Mormons... Sketches"
(Rochester: Moore's Rural NY, 1869)

  • Jan. 02, 1869
  • Jan. 23, 1869
  • Mar. 20, 1869

  • Transcriber's Comments


    Rochester, New York -- January 2, 1869



    Pen and Pencil Sketches Illustrating their Early History. I.

    BY A. W. COWLES, D. D.


    Here Joe Smith claimed that the Golden Bible was found. The above is taken
    from the road a little to the North of the "Big Tree," called "Joe Smith's Willow."

    THE rise of a new religion in the midst of the nineteenth century, under the very eyes of our [most] intelligent civilization and in the very center of one of the most highly favored districts of Western New York, is an event that may well excite the attention and interest of every thoughtful mind. The birth of a new faith, the promulgation of a new revelation, is far more rare and strange than the beginning of a new nation. Yet many of the first organizers of the Mormon Church are still alive. The first preacher still lives. Many still remember the first prophet and seer, who gravely asserted his divine commission to discover and translate a new volume of the word of GOD, and to introduce a new and complete dispensation of doctrines, prophecies and miracles, with new promises of earthly prosperity and new securities for eternal salvation.

    It is exceedingly desirable to gather up and record in some reliable form all the authentic information that can be obtained concerning this strange movement which has had such wonderful success, and which, in less than forty years has grown into one of the most compact, efficient, ecclesiastical organizations for self-defense, self- perpetuation, and extensive propogation. It may have in it the seeds of its own speedy dissolution, but these do not yet appear. The locomotive may plow through its barriers and dissipate its strange forces, but so far as we now see its numbers and wealth, its superstitious bigotry and fanaticism are all increasing with astonishing and alarming rapidity. Probably one million converts and their children have given their assent to the divine authority of the Mormon creed. Flourishing missions are established in Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, France, Malta, India, China, Australia, South America and the Sandwich Islands. The Mormon Bible has been translated into German, French, Italian, Danish and Welsh languages. Adriot, energetic missionaries -- easy, unscrupulous and Jesuitical -- go everywhere, among the poor, ignorant, and discontented masses of the old world and promise them a home and land of their own, with an easy religion, with sanctified indulgences suited to every taste and passion, all covered with the garb of both respectability and piety. All this has grown out of the efforts of a family of shiftless, lazy, dreamy, superstitious SMITHS, to get a living without work.

    The Smith family, from its great numbers, must be acknowledged to be an ancient, prolific, industrious and therefore unquestionably honorable family, and like all ancient and honorable families, have some branches that are decayed and worthless.

    Yet many Smiths have forged out worthy deeds and noble names, and deserve to have a sledge and an anvil for their armorial device. Many have made their mark in the world; some have cut their marks so deep and broad as to turn them into the very currents of history.

    None of the world-renowned Smiths have made the family name more notorious, famous, or infamous than the first apostle, prophet and seer of the Mormons, JOSEPH SMITH, JR., generally and less respectfully called Joe Smith. It is not yet clear whether his renown is owing to his genius, his impudent imposture, his adroit shrewdness, or to a more lucky strike into a rich vein of superstitious credulity and ignorance which runs underneath even the highest civilization. Perhaps we shall not be far from the truth if we say that his success was owing to all these combined, except the first. Joe Smith was not a genius. He was the lazy son of a superstitious, visionary father -- an ignorant Vermonter, who came to Western New York, and settled in the village of Palmyra, Wayne county. He gained a scanty living by chance jobs of well-digging, gardening, hiring out to farmers, and sometime after added the trafficin gingerbread, root beer and candies. In his well-digging, he professed the most implicit confidence in the witch-hazel wand. With a solemn air of profound mystery he would obey the magic twig, and point out the very spot where water would surely be found. His confidence in this also extended to other things besides water hid in the bowels of the earth. He soon professed to discern silver mines or buried coin in the banks and hills of the farms around the village, and many a night he superintended excavations, with laborious digging and with large promises of treasure which would speedily enrich them all. It is said that he nearly or quite ruined several of his credulous neighbors through those schemes of money-digging. It is also stated that when his credit as a seer was well nigh exhausted, he buried a few silver coins to keep up the hopes of his victims. He found it expedient to remove from his old neighbors to a rough, neglected wood lot of about eight acres, in the edge of the town of Manchester, Ontario Co., N. Y.

    Joe was now about fifteen years of age and a "chip of [sic] the old block," inheriting a disposition to see and hear all sorts of mysterious things -- dreamy, taciturn, lazy, and fully expecting to get rich without work -- as the height of his earthly hopes. He became, also, expert in the use of the hazel wand, and his visions of mysterious treasure even went beyond those of his father. All this delighted his father, who often boasted of his wonderful powers. A new impulse was given to the superstitious visions of father and son, by finding a piece of semi-transparent quartz in digging a well for a Mr. Chase, of Palmyra. Smith, senior, and the elder sons were digging the well and the lazy Joe looking on. The diggers threw out a curious looking white stone which Joe at once appropriated. This stone he professed to use as a wonderful revealer of lost or stolen goods or of buried treasure, and the digging was renewed with greater enthusiasm then ever before. This was chiefly at night. The day was spent in lounging, drinking whisky, reading novels and stories about Captain Kidd and his buried booty. His taste for reading increased and at length took a serious turn. He read the Bible, especially its historical narratives and prophecies. He once made some profession of special interest in religion and thought of joining the Methodist class. He, however, held strange and conceited views of Scripture, and begun to dispute all the commonly received notions of religion. From some source he adopted the theory that a former race of high civilization and wealth inhabited this country. This again gave additional plausibility to his wonderful promises of buried treasure, but this could not last long with the uniform failure of all the divining and digging. His credit was at stake. Something must be done -- something new must turn up. About this time a stranger was seen to visit the home of the Smiths. It has been asserted that this mysterious stranger must have been SIDNEY RIGDON, to whom has been very generally attributed the furnishing of the manuscript from which the Mormon Bible was printed. Rigdon, who is now living, and with whom the writer recently had a personal interview, positively denies all knowledge of the Book of Mormon until after it was printed. If Rigdon's denial be admitted, this stranger remains unknown; and whoever he was, unquestionably aided in placing the fabulous romance in the hands of the arch impostor.

    Joe Smith began now with his magic white stone to utter prophecies of a buried revelation, which, when discovered and interpreted, would tell the history of the ancients races and usher in a new dispensation. He employed men to dig in solemn silence, he holding the hazel wand and pointing where the spade should strike. He asserted that on two occasions they had just reached the buried chest, or coffer, and an unlucky word broke the charm and the chest moved itself away from their reach. He averred that he himself seized hold of the mysterious box and by the wiles of the devil, it was violently snatched away. He then declared that a sacrifice would be necessary to drive away the infernal powers, whose malicious wrath knew no bounds in prospect of a new religion so much superior to all the old religions of all past ages, and so much more damaging to the kingdom of Satan. A sacrifice was offered; a fine, fat, black sheep was contributed by a farmer, and yet the digging was unsuccessful, although the Smith family shared the greater part of the fat mutton for their own table.

    At length, when alone on the sacred hill, called in the language of the Mormon Bible, Camora, Smith succeeded, as he affirms, in seizing and holding the refractory chest. He had before been fully informed of its sacred contents and had been directed how to proceed. His efforts were crowned with complete success and the golden plates of the Mormon were in his hands.


    Rochester, New York -- January 23, 1869



    Pen and Pencil Sketches Illustrating their Early History. II.

    BY A. W. COWLES, D. D.

    Sidney B. Rigdon, The First Mormon Preacher.

    THE two most important personages in the earliest days of Mormonism, next to the chief seer, Smith, were Martin Harris and Sidney B. Rigdon. Harris furnished money and Rigdon "brains" for the new movement, for the Smith family were lamentably wanting in both these important requisites for a new religion. Harris was the first convert who had property. All the rest were dependent on their daily labor for a precarious livlihood. Harris had a good farm and was in comparatively easy circumstances. He was, however, a weak, credulous man, very ignorant, and yet a constant reader of the Old Testament. It is said that he learned the whole of it so as to be able to repeat it from memory, and could give chapter and verse for almost any passage. He seemed to himself to have conquered the whole province of revelation, including narratives, doctrines, prophecies and mysteries; and, like a greater personage of olden time, he sighed for a new world to conquer. Familiar with the old Hebrew prophets in his way, and with his own interpretation of their sublime visions, which he of course readily exhausted, he was ready to hail with delight a "live prophet," even if he did, to all human vision, seem like an idle vagabond. This doubtless added to the sacredness of his prophetic character, in his eyes. It perhaps was the weird eccentricity of one familiar with strange visions and mysterious revelations. At any rate, Harris gave all the mind he had and all the influence he could command to the new prophet. He was most thoroughly convinced of the divine mission of Joe Smith. He devoted his time to the new faith, and at length mortgaged his farm to raise means for printing the new Bible. His wife, who had no sympathy for what she fully believed to be the insane delusion of her husband, refused to sign the mortgage, and the alienation became so serious that they separated. Harris persisted in his efforts to publish the New Scriptures of the Mormon faith, and at length an edition of 5,000 copies was printed at a cost of $3,000. One of the printers has now in his possession the original sheets from which the first edition was printed.

    Harris retained his influence through all the early years of the new enterprise at Palmyra, at Kirtland, O., and for a time at Independence, Mo. At this latter place Smith discarded him and expelled him from the company of the saints, and Harris left the community as an excommunicated Mormon. But little is known of his subsequent history, except that with all his bitterness against his rivals, and disgust at their conduct, he continued to believe most devoutly in the inspiration of the Book of Mormon, and the truth of, at least, the earliest revelations of Joe Smith.

    Sidney B. Rigdon was the master intellect of the whole movement prior to the settlement of the "Saints" at Nauvoo. A few weeks ago the writer visited this original apostle, the first preacher, the ablest lecturer of all the early days of Mormonism, and the principal materials for this sketch were communicated from his own lips. He has resided for nearly twenty years in the village of Friendship, Alleghany Co., N. Y. He is now a venerable old man of nearly eighty years, with snowy beard and a keen eye. His health seems good; his mind clear and vigorous. He has indeed a quick, excitable manner, and a fondness for strong, emphatic expression, which seem to be the relics of his old fanaticism. He appears communicative and frank; yet in the short interview above mentioned he carefully avoided minute particulars of his Mormon associations and history. Like Martin Harris, while with almost fierce invective he denounces his associate leaders of the Mormon Church and colony, he still clings to his faith in the inspiration of Smith and his Bible. Rigdon professes to believe that as Paul, by the abundant revelation vouchsafed to him, was tempted by the devil to vanity and self-confidence, as he himself declares, so Smith was exalted above measure until he fell into the condemnation of the devil, and became corrupt in morals and an apostate from the truth which had been revealed to him. Rigdon claims that he saw the secret tendencies which afterward developed into the system of "sealing spiritual wives," but which the outside world persists in calling polygamy.

    Rigdon narrates his early history with entire freedom, and with an old man's pardonable pride in the early proofs of remarkable talents and extraordinary successes.

    The father of Rigdon was a planter in Maryland, owning considerable land and a number of slaves. From conscientious scruples in regard to the lawfulness of slavery, he at length manumitted his slaves, sold his peoperty, and moved into the southwest corner of the State of Pennsylvania. Here young Rigdon was brought up to hard farm work, with extremely limited advantages of education. He became acquainted with a Baptist minister and his attention was called to personal religion. He received baptism not far from the time in which he attained his majority. He now struck out boldly from the homestead and spent a number of months in the family of his new friend and spiritual counsellor, the Baptist minister before mentioned. Here he found what seemed to him a perfect paradise of books and intellectual companionship. He found in himself an insatiable thirst for reading. He read history, divinity, and general literature, without much method or aim, except to gratify his intense love of reading. He gave great attention to the Bible, and made himself very familiar with all parts of it. He readily committed to memory and thus stored up large portions of the most attractive portions of the Bible.


    This extraordinary love of serious learning and remarkable aptness in the study of Scripture, very naturally suggested to his own mind and to others the idea of his becoming a preacher. He was licensed, according to the custom of the Baptists, that he might prove his gifts and try his calling.

    If we credit his own account, his early pulpit ministrations created a great sensation throughout that part of the country, and especially in the western part of Ohio, where the labors of the young preacher were in great demand. He was here employed as a kind of evangelist -- without a settled charge. About this time he married, and with his wife visited Pittsburgh. A Baptist church was then vacant and he was invited to spend the Sabbath and supply the pulpit. The result was an engagement with the congregation to remain as their regular supply. Here he met with great success as a preacher, and built up a strong church. His intense love of investigation and new modes of thought here continued to grow upon him. He claims that he thoroughly reviewed the Scriptures, and reached down to their profoundest depths. Dissatisfied with all ordinary interpretations, he began a series of new and original explanations of doctrine, of history and of prophecy. These novelties soon appeared in his preaching, and at length he announced to his congregation that he could not preach the doctrines or receive the interpretation of Scripture which the church professed to believe. He resigned his charge; but a large [number sympathized] with him and wished him to form a new congregation. He, however removed to Ohio as an Independent Baptist, preaching what he pleased and contradicting whomsoever he pleased. He himself stated that not unfrequently he would attend a service and take his seat among the congregation, and after the sermon arise and ask the liberty of adding a few remarks, and then quote passages of Scripture to show the erronous doctrines which the preacher had just uttered, and close by inviting the congregation to come and hear him at his next appointment. This kept the community in a ferment and secured for him crowded houses. He seemed just on the point of forming a new sect which should overthrow by learning, logic and eloquence all the creeds and religious systems of the world!!

    In this part of his narrative the old fire gleamed from his keen eye, his cheeks flushed with excited ardor, and with an oratorical sweep of his hand he said: -- "Yes, if I were only young again I could sweep away all your religions from under the whole heaven.

    Here the orbit of his wandering star was crossed by a Mormon missionary, or, in plainer English, a peddler of Mormon Bibles, Oliver Cowdery, Joe Smith's amanuensis, who was about the only one who could write a respectable hand, and who prepared the manuscript for the printer, came along with his pack. He had heard of the erratic and heretical preacher. He presented him with a copy of the golden Bible. Rigdon solemnly affirms that this was his first personal knowledge of Joe Smith and the Mormons. After a few days Cowdery returned and held a long interview with Rigdon. Rigdon had read a considerable portion of the book. He questioned Cowdery about Smith, and found that he was entirely illiterate. Rigdon expressed the utmost amazement that such a man should write a book which seemed to shed a flood of light on all the old Scriptures, and give them perfect consistency and complete system. In his fresh enthusiasm, he exclaimed that if God ever gave a revelation surely this must be divine. Thus Mormonism gained its first clerical convert, and from this time Rigdon became one of the great lights and leading spirits of the Mormon movement.

    He at once left Ohio and went to Palmyra. There he made the acquaintance of Harris, and delivered the first Mormon sermon in Palmyra, in the hall of the Young Men's Association. He declared that he was called of God to preach the new revelation. He took a text from the new Bible:

    First Book of Nephi, Chap. iv. -- "And the angel spake unto me saying, These last records which thou hast seen among the Gentiles shall establish the truth of the first, which is of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them, and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues and people that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and Savior of the world: and that all men must come unto Him or they cannot be saved."

    He stood up, holding the Book of Mormon in his right hand and the old Bible in his left, and claimed that each was necessary to the other; that the old Bible could not be properly interpreted except by the aid of this new revelation. This sermon was heard by a very small audience, and attracted no favorable attention beyond the few "saints" who were already convinced. Rigdon says that his first introduction to Joe Smith was at the house of the Whitmers, in Fayette, Seneca Co., near the school-house in which one of the first Mormon meetings was held, and where a few converts had been added to the new faith, and had received baptism by night, by the hands of Oliver Cowdery.


    Rochester, New York -- March 20, 1869



    Pen and Pencil Sketches Illustrating their Early History. III.

    BY A. W. COWLES, D. D.


    To keep the Devil away when the golden plates of the Mormon Bible were found (?)
    (See first article on Mormonism.)

    IT is unquestionable that Sidney Rigdon was the real master spirit of the Mormon Church from the time he united his faith and his fortunes with the new movement. He was a ready speaker, a fluent controversialist, having at command new and plausible theories, with a love of contradiction and startling novelties of interpretation. He had gathered a congregation at Mentor, Ohio, of such materials as would naturally cluster round such a man. He had evidently unsettled his own faith and that of large numbers of his hearers in the generally received interpretations of the Old Bible. He was eccentric and bold, and among plain, uneducated people, passed for an oracle. He was ripe for a new religion -- ready to listen to a new revelation.

    But we meet with great difficulty in ascertaining the exact truth as to his agency in furnishing the materials for the Mormon Bible. It has been strongly affirmed that Rigdon furnished Smith with the whole manuscript, which, it is said, he obtained in Pittsburgh from a printing office. It is undoubtedly true, according to Rigdon's own account, that he was living in Pittsburgh at the time of the supposed revelation. He claims he was a settled Baptist minister in that city, and denies having any knowledge of any such manuscript. A considerable amount of evidence exists that Smith obtained possession of a fanciful romance, written in Scriptural style, not unlike the quaint Chronicles that are sometimes written by ingenious school girls or academy boys. The author of this is said to have been one Rev. Solomon Spaulding, a graduate of Dartmouth College, and president [sic] for a time, of Salem, Ashtabula Co., Ohio. This manuscript has been traced to Pittsburgh; and, whether Rigdon knew of it or not, was according to the most undeniable testimony, the principal material out of which the Book of Mormon was composed. It was no doubt prepared by some one beside Joe Smith. For, weak and absurd as much of it is, it is plainly beyond the ability of a shiftless, ignorant young man, who could hardly write a legible hand or construct a single correct sentence. If Rigdon had any hand in this, it was with the utmost secrecy that he gave his assistance to Smith. It is due to Rigdon, who now stands well for veracity and integrity among all who know him, to give full weight to his positive denial of such a share in the production of the so-called new revelation. At least we must admit, unless his memory is treacherous, or a long habit of denial has distorted his own conviction and belief. that such a denial from a respectable and honorable man of his age, soon to render up his account, is entitled to credit.

    We now turn from this period of doubtful facts and conflicting testimony as to the origin of the Book of Mormon, (which will form the topic of a future sketch,) to follow the fortunes of Rigdon in his new character as the Aaron of the new Moses -- the mouthpiece, the doctrinal expounder, the ecclesiastical organizer of the new church.

    Joe Smith at once took Rigdon into his fullest confidence, and Rigdon professed the most implicit faith in the frequent revelations which the young prophet boldly uttered in the name of God. These so-called revelations were carefully recorded, and they now make up a volume of Sacred Scripture among the Mormons, bearing this title: -- "The Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Selected from the Revelations of God by Joseph Smith, President. Third European Edition -- Liverpool and London. Sold at the Latter Day Saints' Book Depot, 35 Jewin Street -- 1852."

    This volume contains, first, a system of doctrines under the title of "Lectures on Faith." These lectures show considerable ingenuity, with some of the most absurd blunders; for example, in developing the thought that faith is an element of all power, the writer affirms that God himself acts by faith when he creates, and quotes as a proof text, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God," and explains this to mean as if transposed thus: We understand that through faith the worlds were framed by the word of God; and then adds, "Who cannot see that if God framed the worlds by faith that it is by faith He exercises power over them, and that faith is the principle of power." These lectures are drawn mainly from the Scriptures, and contain many valuable statements of practical truth, adapted to uneducated minds. They are accompanied by a sort of Catechism for review. Rigdon was the author of all these lectures. He was the acknowledged authority -- the expositor and doctrinal oracle of the new church.

    It seems to correspond with Rigdon's denial of any agency in the production of the Golden Bible that his name does not appear in the record of Revelations until more than a year after the professed discovery of the golden plates. Nearly, or quite all, the new converts of the first year have "honorable mention" by name. These men have a record as the special favorites of heaven, and a few illiterate, deluded men have gained a strange immortality. Harris, Pratt, Cowdery, Whitmer, Phelps, Gilbert, Knight, &c. are constantly named in the so-called revelations. Even the wife of the prophet, Emma Smith, was honored with a long message direct from heaven, which closes with the excellent advice: -- "Continue in the spirit of meekness and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband and the glory which shall come upon him. And verily, I say unto you that this is my voice unto all. Even so. Amen."

    Mention of Rigdon "by revelation," appears in the following announcement to Edward Partridge, given December, 1830, (see page 209,) -- "Thus saith the Lord God the mighty one of Israel, Behold I say unto you my servant Edward that you are blessed and your sins are forgiven you, and you are called to preach my Gospel as with the voice of a trump; and I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant Sidney Rigdon, and you shall receive my spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom, and you shall declare it with a loud voice saying, Hosanna, blessed be the name of the most high God."

    The divine call revealed to Rigdon, assumes to be given in the name of Jesus Christ. It is enough to make one shudder to read such bold blasphemy. The message is in these words: -- "I am Jesus Christ, the son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as believe on my name that they may become the sons of God. Behold, 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. 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 Ghost by the laying on of hands, even as the apostles of old. I am God, and mine arm is not shortened, and I will show miracles and signs and wonders unto all those who believe on my name."

    Another revelation, dated December, 1830, reads thus: -- "Behold, I say unto you (Joseph Smith, Jr., and Sidney Rigdon), that it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio. And again I say unto you that ye shall not go until ye have preached my gospel in those parts, and have strengthened up my church, expecially in Colesville, for behold they pray much unto me."

    In March, 1833 Rigdon attained the second place in the Church as the Chief Counsellor, and with Frederick G. Williams, formed the two assistant presidents under Smith. These were the "three mightiest" names of the new church. The revelation ran thus, addressed to Joseph Smith, Jr.: "Again, verily, I say unto thy brethren, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, their sins are forgiven them also, and they are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of the last kingdom."

    The early operations of Smith and Rigdon were conducted chiefly in sprase rural Fayette, about two miles south of Waterloo, N. Y. Here in a small stream the first baptisms were administered. Here, a so-called church was organized in a school house, which is still standing. In Broome Co., at Colesville, another cluster of converts was gathered, and also a few in South Bainbridge, Chenango Co. Here Joe Smith found his wife, Miss Emma Hale. Something was also accomplished in the interest of the new faith in Harmony, Pa. In all these districts, however, success was not at all satisfactory. In Palmyra and Manchester, the home of the Prophet and the scene of his first visions and labors, everything was "played out."

    At the instance of Rigdon, and under his lead, the new church emigrated from the vicinity of the Sacred Hill Camorah, by revelation, "to the Ohio." Here the Saints gathered together in the town of Kirtland, near Mentor, Lake Co. Here Rigdon had numerous disciples, over whom he exerted a strong influence. Many of these accepted the new faith of their erratic leader and late pastor. Here in Kirtland was the first colony of Mormons. Here they purchased property, and Smith, by convenient revelation, obtained control of t5he tithings and most of the property of the Saints beyond their mere support. Here he opened the Kirtland bank and issued a large circulation of what in those days were known as "wild-cat" bills. He also had a mill and store. Here, by revelation, the Saints were commanded to build a commodious dwelling for the prophet, and things went on swimmingly until the bank became insolvent and general bankruptcy ensued. Smith and Rigdon, to escape arrest, left in haste and by night. This was the hegira of the prophet to the Land of Zion -- twelve miles west [sic] of Independence, Mo., -- where the Saints had before purchased a refuge and selected a site for a temple, and where Rigdon had the chief command for a considerable period previous to the difficulties at Kirtland. It was on a casual visit from the West to the former scene of their operations that the two principal leaqders were in such imminent danger as to make it convenient to leave in great haste.

    At Kirtland a new convert was gained who was destined to exert a most powerful influence upon the history and success of the Mormon Church. This was Brigham Young, and all his family. This was in the year 1832. His department was that of Foreign Missions, and all the wonderful success of the Mormons abroad has been due to the early plans, shrewd management and thorough organization which he gave to this feature of the new Church of Latter Day Saints. Brigham soon began to be a power in the new church. The first few years, while Rigdon was rising, Young was more or less abroad, gathering converts and organizing the admirable emigration plans which have given life and power to the Mormon Church.

    The emigrants were of course devoted to Young, and knew little of Rigdon; and when, by the death of Smith, a successor was to be chosen, Brigham Young out-generaled Rigdon and reached the Presidency; and to this day Rigdon cannot conceal his disgust for his old rival. He says he wonders how Satan himself can consent to make use of such a blockhead?


    Benjamin M. Nead
    (1847 -1923)

    Birth-Place of Mormonism
    (Cambersburg, PA: Valley Spirit Press, 1897)

  • Title Page
  • Solomon Spalding
  • Rigdon, Post-Nauvoo
  • Rigdon at Greencastle

  • Transcriber's Comments

  • see also: History of Franklin Co., Pa., 1887   |   Waynesboro, the History, 1900


    [ 1 ]



    Founding of the "New Jerusalem" in Franklin County.

    To properly study the beginnings of most of the mighty centralizing forces which have lifted this great Country of ours into its present proud position, it is now being recognized as a fact, that we must come into Pennsylvania to find the central point from which these forces radiated. This proposition is applicable to the subject in hand, viz: Mormonism, as well as to many of the more orthodox religious and semi-religious movements which a century and a half ago, gave such an impetus to Civilization.

    The credit or discredit, according to the point of view taken, for devising the scheme of the "Latter Day Saints," or the Mormon Society, has by common consent been accorded to Joseph Smith, a native of the State of Vermont, but sometime a resident of southern New York and northern Pennsylvania, particularly during the early "inspired period" of his career. To the shrewdness and bold method of this remarkable man, the success of the initiatory steps of the scheme is due. However, without the assistance


    of two or three residents of Pennsylvania if tradition be correct, the Mormon Bible and the mysterious method of its production would have been lacking in much of romantic detail.

    *   *   *

    There was a tradition amongst the North American Indians, that certain peculiar crystals of salt enrusted stones, found in the saline lakes and springs of the country, possessed magical properties and when properly used, would indicate the presence of gold and precious stones. This superstition was well known to the early settlers of the country. Around the salt springs in the neighborhood of Syracuse, N. Y., which are mentioned as early as the year 1689, were many Indians, and it is therefore not surprising to find traditionary traces of the "seeing stone" in that neighborhood even as late as the first and second decades of the present century. About the time when Joseph Smith, a boy of fifteen, came to settle with his father in southern New York tradition has it, that a certain drawer of salt, residing at Salina, Jack Belcher by name, who afterwards removed to Gibson township, Susquehanna co., Pa., had found there and had in his possession, a wonderful "seeing stone." He created no little excitement among his neighbors, by the wonderful discoveries he was making by means of his magical stone. Anything that was lost could be found through its means, and it was reputed an infallible guide to the whereabouts of precious metals. The young "seer" Joseph, across the line in New York, heard the story of this wonderful stone and the principal mission "revealed" to him just then, was not the founding of a church, but the finding of gold and silver and other precious things hidden in the earth. He at once knew and apprehended the worth of this wonderful "seeing stone" and its value to him. He sought out its owner and secured


    the stone and for quite awhile among the money-diggers of the region, he maintained a reputation as a gold and mineral "smeller" and quite an extensive and lucrative clientage.

    *   *   *

    There rests in a quiet grave in the burying ground at Amity, Washington Co., Pa., the remains of a man, over which has been erected a monument bearing this inscription:

    OCT. 20, A. D. 1816.
    AGED 55 YEARS.

    "Kind cherubs guard the sleeping clay
      Until the great decision day.
    And saints complete in glory rise
      To share the triumphs of the skies."

    Solomon Spaulding was born in Connecticut, became a graduate of Dartmouth College and a Congregational minister. Having that bent of mind, he decoted no little time to literary work. His chief mythical work was entitled "Manuscript Found" purporting to be an ancient MS. accidentally discovered, giving the history of the ancient tribes of America.

    In the year 1812 Solomon Spaulding came to Pittsburgh. He brought with him a copy of his work "Manuscript Found" and submitted it to the Rev. Robert Patterson, a printer in that city, with a view to its publication. Mr. Patterson never published the work and the subsequent history of the MS. is enshrouded in doubt. It is claimed by some authorities that the MS. was stolen and copied while in Mr. Patterson's possession, by one Sidney Rigdon, but the weight of the evidence is against this story and it is now generally believed that the MS. came into the possession of Rigdon by other means and was held by him as a curiosity until subsequent events suggested


    a new value to it. Sidney Rigdon was a bright talented man and had a checkered career. "Too lazy for a farmer" he became a minister and was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, from 1822 to 1824, in which last mentioned year he was excluded from the ministry for doctrinal heresies. It is believed by the best authorities, that Spaulding's MS. came into his possession during this period and was given him by a friend as a curiosity.

    *   *   *

    How Sidney Rigdon, imbued with the quaint fancies of Spaulding's MS. and Joseph Smith with Belcher's "seeing stone," managed to form a partnership and evolve the Mormon scheme, does not fully appear; but the story runs, that through the good offices of one Parley P. Pratt, once a peddler but subsequently an elder and trusted preacher of the Mormon faith, Rigdon and Smith were secretly brought together. Joe Smith was living at Harmony, now Oakland, Susquehanna Co., Pennsylvania. The "seeing stone" had made many friends for him in the neighborhood. He had found a wife there, also, Emma, daughter of Isaac Hale, a most estimable citizen. After the visits of a "mysterious stranger" at the Smith residence in Harmony, the story of the finding of the plates of the "golden bible," began to crop out and subsequently the whole plan of its translation was "revealed." Shortly after his marriage Smith sojourned with his wife at Palmyra, N. Y. While there he had a "vision." He saw a packet of gold plates hidden in a hill not many miles away. In company with his wife, he set out for the designated spot; but being warned in a dream that his wife should not approach too near the sacred spot, he commanded her to stop at the foot of the hill, while he, on horseback continued to ride up, until his horse halted its nose against a tree


    Following further the inspired instructions he searched at the roots of the tree and found the sacred plates. Secretly removed by him these plates were hidden by Smith under his hearth-stone at Palmyra until his departure to Harmony, when he took them along with him stowed away in a barrel of beans.

    These plates were so sacred, according to the "revelation" that no one was permitted to touch them but the first-born son of the "prophet" who found them. This part of the programme was slightly interfered with by Smith's first-born son proving to be a daughter, who died and lies buried in the old McKune graveyard at Harmony. However another "revelation" readily cured this little mishap.

    In a room of his house at Harmony, Joe Smith set up a blanket. From behind this sacred veil, he divulged the wonderful story of the discovery of the "golden Bible," and read off through the magical glasses, containing the transparent stones "Urim" and "Thummim" the subject matter of the hieroglyphic plates, which, the skeptically inclined aver, in wonderful coincidence, assumed when translated form and substance strikingly in accord with Solomon Spaulding's MS. The interpretation was taken down on the other side of the blanket by two amanuenses. The MS. thus evolved was printed by the Wayne County Sentinel of Palmyra, N. Y., and subsequently was properly, and with much mystery promulgated as the fundamental law of the new religion which Joseph Smith founded and of which Sidney Rigdon became chief of the ordained ministers.

    *   *   *

    On the sixth of April, 1830, six "Saints" formally organized the Mormon Church at the home of Peter Witmer in the village of Fayette, in New York State, where the following Sabbath, Oliver


    Cowdery, who had aided Smith as one of his amanuenses in translating the plates, preached the first sermon, baptizing several converts who presented themselves.

    In the early summer of that year, the building of the first temple, at Kirtland, Ohio, was decided upon.

    Whether through the malevolent influence of "Maroni," the guardian spirit, who was offended because of the prophet's carnel love for gold, and his lukewarmness in the faith, or through other causes, the "new faith" did not prevail mightily and prosper in Ohio and Missouri, as in the "revelation" it had been promised, it should.

    Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were the chiefs of the church hierarchy established at Kirtland, and were styled the "first presidency." They inagurated a number of schemes, not wholly consonant with the proper walk and conversation of church Elders and Saints. One of these was a "wild cat" bank, without a charter. Smith was president and Rigdon was cashier. The country was flooded with notes of doubtful value. As a consequence the connection of these men with this affair and others of like character, brought them into disrepute, and they were both subsequently charged with fraudulent dealing. In November, 1837, the bank failed and Smith and Rigdon both fled between two days to escape arrest, and took refuge in Missouri. More "revelations" followed: declaring that the sins of Rigdon and Williams were forgiven, and henceforth they were to be accounted as equals with Joseph Smith, in holding the keys of his last Kingdom; another that Missouri was henceforth to be "the promised land of the chosen people."

    One trouble followed fast upon the heels of another, however, and these sanctified representatives of the new faith suffered much contumely


    even unto imprisonment, and the being clothed about with a garment of tar and feathers. At length Missouri was abandoned, and the city of Nauvoo, in Illinois, became the objective point (1840). There they built a magnificent temple, and there was promulgated the doctrine of polygamy. Then it was that the people arose against them. Driven from Nauvoo, Joseph and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were shot and killed at Carthage, Ill., on June 27, 1844. This Rigdon considered to be his opportunity, and he aspired to become the leader of the sect, but the winning manners and seductive arguments of Brigham Young carried the


    "twelve apostles" to his side, and he was chosen instead of Rigdon. In his disappointment Rigdon refused to submit to the new authority, and for his contumacy, was cut off from the communion of the faithful, cursed, and solemnly delivered over to the Devil "to be buffetted in the flesh for a thousand years."

    Following this, Sidney Rigdon, who


    had a considerable number of followers seceded and came eastward to Pittsburgh where a paper was established, as a medium through which to spread the doctrines of the new faith according to the apostle Rigdon. Public sentiment here was anything but in accord with these new and strange religious teachings, and after considerable excitement, and not a little contention with the civil authorities, backed up by representatives of the orthodox religious sects, Rigdon and his followers resolved to remove and to seek a more quiet neighborhood.

    While in Pittsburgh, Rigdon, being a native of the State, prepared and forwarded a memorial to the Pennsylvania Legislature, requesting that body to pass a resolution addressed to Congress, asking "that the delegation of Pennsylvania be instructed to use all their influence in the National Councils to have redress granted" for the destruction of the Mormon lives and property in the western country. Nothing seems to have been done with the memorial.

    *   *   *

    Almost within the shadow of the Cove mountain, near the western borders of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, spanning a tributory of the Conococheague Creek, stands to this day an old stone bridge. In the Autumn of 1845, two faithful believers in the doctrine promulgated by Joseph Smith, and later preached in a modified form by Sidney Rigdon, sanctified elders of the "Latter Day Saints," were sent eastward to spy out the land. After wandering many days, they at length, one charming afternoon, halted on this old stone bridge. Looking northward, their eyes rested upon a beautiful scene. What more beautiful picture is there than a Cumberland Valley farm! Through their inspired understanding, they at once realized that this was the place of their visions, where the Lord had shown them


    was to be marked out the site of the "City of the New Jerusalem."

    On this occasion these representatives of the saints lingered around for some days gathering information and by their quaint manners and "solemn converse" winning many friends in the neighborhood, and then departed as quietly and mysteriously as they had come, to be followed in a few months by their financial representative, one Peter Boyer, who negotiated the purchase from Mr. Andrew G. McLanahan of his farm, lying on the turnpike between Greencastle and Mercersburg. This was the place which the advance agents had chosen as the site of a new Mormon city in the east.

    A little more than fifteen thousand dollars was the price agreed upon with Mr. McLanahan for his pretty farm, and Isaac McCauley, the Franklin County historian, tells us in his accurate and circumstantial way that the far, contained "four hundred acres;" that "four hundred dollars were paid in cash and on April 3d, 1846, Mr. McLanahan received five thousand four hundred dollars additional, gave a deed and took a judgement for the balance of the purchase money, eight thousand seven hundred dollars, payable April 1st, 1847."

    The representatives of the "Latter Day Saints" who settled on this tract of land, and in the neighboring town of Greencastle, including "strangers from the destruction of the West" and converts among the residents, numbered nearly two hundred.

    Those who dwelt in the town seemed to have some acquaintance with work and in distinction from many of those who dwelt upon the farm were averse to idleness. The town people started a paper, in the interest of their sect, which they called the "Conochoheague Herald," copies of which are still in existence. One Robinson, by name, was the editor and his paper, judging from the copy


    which the writer has seen, the "Herald" was a sprightly little sheet.

    The plan for a great city and magnificent temple here was on the scale commensurate with the Mormon plans for cities and temples in the West. It is whispered, however, that at length the ancient unquelled spirit of acquisitiveness arose amongst certain of the leading Saints, and the angered spirit guide, "Maroni," again led them into paths which followed on to disaster.

    Sidney Rigdon was their chief "Seer" and prophet, and what knowledge Sidney lacked with respect to the business of a "Seer" and prophet was worth but very little. Moreover, he not infrequently essayed the role of a Merlin.

    He was High Priest as well as Prophet. The commodious barn on the rolling meadow was the "Temple" and the dwelling house nearby was the "temporal abode" of himself and his assistant priests, Kimball and Hyde [sic].

    As a whole, the Mormons in Franklin County were a "serious folk," and most religiously inclined. The doctrine of polygamy, if entertained at all, does not appear to have been seriously asserted. The "Word of Wisdom," one of the revelations of the young seer Joseph," in the decade before, which inculcated "good habits," seemed to govern the conduct of many. Religious services were held ebvery Sunday in the temple barn, and under the earnest ministration of Rigdon and his assistants not a few converts were made, but the faith never came deeply grounded in any quarter of the county. There was a general awakening from the delusion, when on that eventful night the whole community under the lead of the High Priest Rigdon, clad in their ascension robes knelt on the meadow back of the barn, from sunset to the coming of dawn, awaiting the promised advent of the Messiah, all in vain. The awakening from their folly was sudden and complete, among the


    shivering company that repaired to their homes when the light of morning came.

    As had been said the most of these people lived in idleness; what money they had brought with them, or had accumulated,


    was soon spent. Their lands being only partially paid for they could not meet the balance of their indebtedness to the former owner when it became due, and he having "taken a judgement for the balance of the purchase money," sold out the saints and unceremoniously ejected them from the "New Jerusalem," within two years of their first coming. A majority of the scattered sect made their way west to Salt Lake City whilst others backslid to the Gentiles and started life anew. In a pine wood not far from the site of the New Jerusalem in Pennsylvania a number of their dead lie buried and the spot is to-day pointed out to the passer-by as the "Mormon Graveyard." Little is known as to the individuality of the men and women who there sleep their last sleep.

    *   *   *

    Sidney Rigdon was born in St. Clair township, Allegheny County, February 19, 1793, and died at the village of Friendship, N. Y., July 14th, 1876, declaring to the end his firm belief in the doctrines and authenticity of the "Golden Bible."

    *   *   *

    Brigham Young, notwithstanding statements have been made to the contrary, did not come east at the time of the Nauvoo dissolution but led the western contingent to Deseret (Utah), arriving in person in "the Land of the Honey Bee" in July 1847. He was never, so far as is known, with the Franklin County Mormons. The attitude of Sidney Rigdon toward him would have made his presence there anything but a pleasant episode. Brigham Young was not a native of Pennsylvania but was born in Whittingham, Vt., June 1st 1801, and died August 29th, 1877, a little over a year after Rigdon.


    Note: The material in this pamphlet is a condensation of Mr. Nead's article: "History of Mormonism," in Kittochtinny Historical Society Papers I 1923, pp. 411-427.


    Benjamin M. Nead

    Waynesboro, the History...
    (Harrisburgh, PA: Harrisburgh Pub. Co., 1900)

  • the Mormons
  • the Rigdonites' New Jerusalem
  • the Rigdonites' newspaper

  • Transcriber's Comments


    Est quoddam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra. -- Horace


    The History of a Settlement in the County
    formerly called Cumberland but later Franklin,
    in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in its
    beginnings; through its growth into a Village
    and Borough, to its Centennial Period and to
    the Close of the Present Century: Including a
    Relation of Pertinent Topics of General State
    and County History.


    Published under the Auspices of the Waynesboro
    Centennial Association



                             RELIGIOUS  DENOMINATIONS.                          299

    (top portion of this page not transcribed)


    Considerable space has been devoted to the history of orthodox sects in this locality, and it can not be inappropriate here to give a brief account of an unorthodox sect, the Mormons, which at one time obtained a temporary foothold in the southern part of the county, and did no little missionary work in and around Waynesboro.

    Almost within the shadow of the Cove Mountain, on the southwestern borders of Franklin county, Pennsylvania, spanning a tributary of the Conocococheague creek, stands to this day an old stone bridge. In the autumn of a certain year [1845] two faithful believers in the doctrine promulgated by the Latter Day Saints were sent eastward to spy out the land. After wandering many days they at length, one charming afternoon, halted on this old stone


    300                                       WAYNESBORO.                                      

    bridge. Looking northward, their eyes rested upon a beautiful scene. What more beautiful picture is there than a Cumberland Valley farm! Through their inspired understanding they at once realized that this was the place of their visions, where the Lord had shown them was to be marked out the site of the "City of the New Jerusalem."

    The result of this visit was the early purchase from Mr. Andrew G. McLanahan of his farm, for which they paid him fifteen thousand dollars.

    The representatives of the Latter Day Saints, who settled on this tract of land and in the not distant neighborhood around Greencastle and Waynesboro, including "strangers from the destruction of the west" and converts among the residents, numbered nearly two hundred.

    The plan for a great city and magnificent temple here was on a scale commensurate with the Mormon plans for cities and temples in the west.

    Sidney Rigdon was their chief "seer" and prophet. He was also high priest as well as prophet. The commodious barn on the rolling meadow was the "temple," and the "temporal abode" for Rigdon and his assistant priests, Kimball [sic] and Hyde [sic!].

    As a whole, the Mormons in Franklin county were a "serious folk," and most religiously inclined. The doctrine of polygamy, of entertained at all, does not seem to have been seriously asserted. Religious services were held every Sunday in the temple barn, under the earnest ministrations of Rigdon and his assistants. Not a few converts were made, but the faith never prospered.

    Those who dwelt in the town seemed to have some acquaintance with work and in distinction from many of those who dwelt upon the farm were averse to idleness. The town people started a paper, in the interest of their


                             RELIGIOUS  DENOMINATIONS.                          301


    [ 302 ]



                             RELIGIOUS  DENOMINATIONS.                          303

    sect, which they called the "Conocococheague Herald," copies of which are still in existence. One Robinson, by name, was the editor and his paper, judging from the copy at hand of the "Herald" was a sprightly enough little sheet.

    There was a general awakening from the delusion when, on that eventful night, the whole community, clad in their ascension robes, knelt on the meadow back of the barn from sunset even unto the coming of the dawn, waiting the promised advent of the Messiah, but all in vain. The awakening from their folly was sudden and complete.
    among the shivering company that repaired to their homes when the light of morning came.

    Most of these people lived in idleness. What money they had brought with them, or had accumulated, was soon spent. They could not pay the balance due on their property, and, as a consequence, it finally reverted to its former owner, and within two years after their first arrival in this section a majority of the scattered sect had made their way west to Salt Lake City, whilst others backslid to the Gentiles and started life anew.

    In a pine wood, not far from the City of the New Jerusalem, in Pennsylvania, a number of their dead lie buried, and the spot is to-day pointed out to the passer-by as the "Mormon graveyard." Little is known as to the individuality of the men and women who there sleep their last sleep.


    Arch Merrill
    Shadows on the Wall
    (NYC: American Book-Stratford Press, 1952)

  • Rigdon's son-in-law in NY
  • rise and fall of Rigdon
  • Rigdon & Book of Mormon

  • Note: This text copyright © 1952 and other years
    by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
    Limited "fair use" excerpts only presented here.

  • Transcriber's Comments




    Several of These Stories Appeared in
    Whole or in Part in the Rochester, N. Y.,

    Democrat and Chronicle


    [ 95 ]

    Chapter 11

    Bars on the Windows

    In Friendship Village stands a big white house that holds a mystery. There are iron bars across some of its windows.

    The man who put them there has been dead these 74 years. His name was George W. Robinson and his secret died with him. There is a tradition in the Allegany County village that those barred windows are somehow linked to Robinson's past as a Mormon official during the church's early troubled years in the West.

    Robinson was one of three Mormon exiles who came to live the rest of their days in the peaceful village with the reassuring name -- after their leader, Joseph Smith, was slain by a mob in Illinois.

    The other men were Edward B. Wingate and Sidney Rigdon. Big Ned Wingate, who, like Robinson, had married a Rigdon daughter, was said to have been an officer of the Danites, the secret police set up in Missouri, largely to ferret out heresy and treason in the Mormon ranks.

    The name of Sidney Rigdon was a famous one in the early annals of the church. He once had been second in command to Joseph the Prophet. Some have maintained he was the real author of the Book of Mormon, not the unlettered Palmyra farm boy, Joseph Smith. Rigdon had been a minister in Ohio, the finest pulpit orator in the Western Reserve.

    But when he came to Friendship around 1847, he was a broken, beaten man, cast out by his church after he had lost


    [ 96 ]

    his struggle for the mantle of the slain Joseph to Brigham Young.

    In their Southern Tier haven, Robinson, who reputedly had been a fiscal officer, a minor figure in the Mormon hierarchy, became an important man. He built a brick store and a mill and became president of a bank. The villagers called him "General" and his handsome house with the tall gables and the roomy porches at Main [sic - Mill?] and East Water Streets was a showplace of the town.

    But no one ever found out what fear drove the prosperous "General" to bar the ground floor rear windows of his home or what treasure he guarded there, not even trusting the vaults of his own bank.

    Village gossip, snowballing through generations, has built up tales of secret documents and money bags behind the barred windows.

    One story concerns the appearance of two strange men in Friendship. They were looking for the onetime fiscal officer of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Hearing of their visit, Robinson, so the story goes, dashed to his house, grabbed up a satchel and boarded a train for Buffalo. On his return the strangers had left, their mission unexplained. Then the bars went up on the windows of the tall white house.

    Another village tradition has Robinson barring his winows because of his fear, an echo of old feuds within the church, that some night some vengeful visitor might come to do him bodily harm, perhaps even take his life. But "the General" was not the type to give way to idle fears. He seems to have been a resolute and forceful individual.

    One thing is certain. For whatever reason they may have been placed there, the bars are a reality. I have seen them. The Robinson house is so constructed that there are two


    [ 97 ]

    floors and an attic in the front and three floors in the rear. It is the windows of the roomy ground floor that are barred. The vertical iron bars, painted white, cover one window on the Water Street side and two in the rear.

    The residence was built in the 1830s and once served as a store. For years descendants of George Robinson lived in it, first his daughter, Mae, who was the wife of judge Norton, and later Supreme Court justice Edward Wingate Hatch, one of the village's most eminent sons, a nephew of "the General." The Roger Hookers live there now.

    In the basement is a strong iron door which has nothing to do with Mormon mysteries. It guards what once was judge Hatch's wine cellar and it was installed after burglars got away with some of the jurist's finest vintages. The racks on which the bottles rested are still there. The fine old house has been remodeled considerably through the years -- but the iron bars have never been touched.

    Those barred windows provided about the only dramatic touch to the Mormon trio's latter days in the Allegany hills. But they had known plenty of drama earlier, in those tumultuous years in the West when the Saints were driven from place to place, from Zion to Zion, in Ohio, in Missouri and in Illinois -- before the Prophet was slain and Sidney Rigdon was brought down by Brigham Young, the onetime Mendon chairmaker, who was destined to lead his people to a Promised Land beside the great Salt Lake. 

    *       *       *

    The rise and fall of Sidney Rigdon is a story in itself.

    During the 1820s when Joseph Smith, the Vermont-born farm boy, was digging for treasure in the drumlins around Palmyra and Manchester and was seeing visions of angels


    [ 98 ]

    and golden plates, Rlgdon was a successful preacher in his native Pittsburgh, Pa. and later in Ohio. He had left the Baptist faith to Join the Campbellite or Disciples movement.

    He held pastorates in various Ohio communities and became known as the greatest pulpit orator in the Western Reserve. He preached, among other unorthodox doctrines, a return to the sharing of property in common. In Kirtland, Ohio, be had set up a small communistic colony. Back of a facade of bearded dignity and impressive oratory was an emotional and visionary man. He was given to melodramatic outbursts and was a fanatic on temperance and Sabbath observance.

    Word spread Westward of the founding of a new church in Western New York, following the discovery of golden plates in a drumlin near Palmyra, as revealed to Joseph Smith in a vision. Sidney Rigdon was interested in the new movement. After the Mormon Bible was printed in 1830, he sent Parley Pratt as his envoy to Smith, offering his Ohio colony to the new sect. Later Rigdon came East, helped win converts in Western New York with his oratory and personally persuaded Smith to move his small band to Kirtland, which became the first "Zion" of the Mormon church. That is one version. Those who believe Rigdon wrote the Book of Mormon insist he made secret visits to Palmyra before 1830.

    At any rate the accession of Sidney Rigdon to the ranks was a featlier in the cap of young Joseph Smith and added prestige to the young, struggling church. Rigdon was the first Mormon convert of learning or distinction.

    He became an intimate of the Prophet, his religious advisor. Rigdon may have had some idea of taking over the leadership. It was a vain hope. Smith may have stood in some awe of Rigdon's superior erudition at first but he soon took


    [ 99 ]

    the measure of the man and the Prophet, the stronger character of the two, always kept the bearded preacher in his place.

    There's a story that one Sunday when Smith was wrestling with some of his followers, Rigdon came rushing out, bidding them stop the breaking of the Sabbath. Smith walked over to Rigdon, knocked off his hat, tore his fine coat and sent him scuttling away, humiliated in the eyes of the crowd. Never again did Sidney Rigdon interfere with the affairs of the Prophet.

    At Kirtland Smith enlarged Rigdon's small colony and laid out a town site with a store, a bank and a city plan. Rigdon suffered with his leader there and in other "Zions." In Ohio they were tarred and feathered by a mob. There also they were arrested for issuing their own currency.

    The star of Rigdon waned after the Mormons moved Westward to Independence, Mo., famed today as the home town of Harry Truman. Rlgdon wanted to stay in Ohio. He did not like Missouri or his inferior position in the church.

    At Independence and at Far West, Mo., the Mormons incurred the bitter hostility of their Gentile neighbors. Smith, Rigdon and his son-in-law, Robinson, were thrown into prison there. Rigdon's health broke under persecution. He lacked the stamina of a true martyr. Oratory was his forte.

    Here is a sample of the bombastic Rlgdon style, from a sermon he preached at Far West on July 4, 1838: "That mob that comes on us, it shall be between them and us a war of extermination, for we will follow them until the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us. We will carry the seat of war to their houses and their families and one party or the other shall be destroyed."

    In a new "Zion" at Nauvoo, Ill., the former Palmyra farm


    [ 100 ]

    boy, Joseph Smith, rose to the heights of power. There he built a great temple and Sidney Rigdon delivered the oration at the cornerstone ceremonies. "The City of Joseph" became the largest in Illinois and politicians, Stephen A. Douglas among them, courted the formidable Mormon vote. Smith even had himself nominated for President of the United States, with Rigdon as his running mate. But Rigdon, although he held his place as one of the three presidents of the church, was then in eclipse. He had much to do with organizing the Danites, the secret police, of which his son-in-law, Ned Wingate, was an officer. Suspicion and dissension were rife among the Saints.

    Powerful forces were gathering against Joseph the Prophet from without and within. His system of "plural marriage," to which Rigdon never subscribed, fanned the fires. He broke with Smith when the Prophet approached his daughter, Nancy Rigdon, with a proposal of "celestial marriage." Nancy rejected the offer. When her father confronted the Prophet and accused him, Smith said he was merely "testing Nancy's faith."

    That was in 1844, shortly before the bullets of a mob at Carthage Jail wrote finis to the meteoric career of Joseph Smith. That event found Rigdon back in Pittsburgh, sulking in his tent.

    Learning that Smith and his brother, Hyrum, had been killed and that he was the sole survivor of the presidential triumvirate, Rigdon rushed to Illinois as fast as stage could carry him. He would sway the people with his oratory and claim the mantle of the Prophet.

    But another determined man also was speeding Westward. Brigham Young was on his way to Nauvoo from a missionary campaign in New Hampshire. Rigdon reached the Mormon


    [ 101 ]

    Zion first but not in time to effect his oratorical coup before the arrival of Young.

    Even the elements fought against Sidney Rigdon. He addressed the multitude gathered in the Sacred Grove but he lacked his oldtime fire and the howl of the wind all but drowned out his voice.

    Then the dynamic Brigham Young mounted the platform and bellowing above the roaring gale, demanded and won the right to lead the Saints as the head of the Twelve Apostles.

    Rigdon was excommunicated from the church he had helped to establish and returned to Pittsburgh. Around 1847 he and Wingate moved to Friendship where lived another Rigdon daughter, the wife of Jeremiah Hatch, a non Mormon. At their behest George Robinson joined them and there they lived the rest of their days.

    Allegany County was not strange country to Rigdon. In the early days before the Mormon hegira to Ohio, he had conducted a vigorous recruiting campaign in Western New York and was a highly successful proselyter. One of the communities in which he won several converts was Rushford in Northern Allegany County. It is recorded that one Rushford man sold his farm, converted all his means into silver, a peck of it, which he turned over to the church. In a few years he was back, without any silver and disillusioned about the Mormon faith. There were, however, many Western New York converts who remained with the church in the West all the rest of their lives.

    Rigdon lived in the center of Friendship Village in a large square house which is still there. He lived quietly and never talked about his career in the Mormon church. He kept no diary, had no library, left no manuscript. He resisted all efforts


    [ 102 ]

    of interviewers to draw from him the story of his Mormon past. For 39 years he sealed his lips. Records show he once owned a farm on the Friendship-Cuba road and that he was a charter member of the Friendship Masonic Lodge.

    Interest in Rigdon and his fellow exiles -- and the mystery of the barred windows -- has been revived through the publication in 1951 of the historical novel "Country Salt," by Howard B. Drake, Friendship manufacturer turned author. Drake devotes several pages to the Mormons in his native village.

    Rigdon died on July 14, 1876 at the age of 83. He sleeps in the Friendship cemetery, with his wife, Phoebe, and his fellow exiles, Robinson and Wingate. Robinson died in 1878 and Wingate in 1887. "General" Robinson was something of a civic leader in the community. All were respected, law-abiding citizens. The village in the hills was a snug harbor after those stormy days when they suffered with the Saints in the West.

    *       *       *

    There is another mystery besides that of the barred windows on the "General's" house.

    Did Sidney Rigdon as some historians contend, write the Book of Mormon? That school of thought maintains it could not have been the work of the illiterate Smith.

    It is held that Rigdon, while employed in a Pittsburgh printing office, copied a manuscript of a historical romance written by one Solomon Spaulding, expounding the then widely held theory that the American Indians were descended from a lost tribe of Israel; that later Rigdon incorporated the Spaulding story into the Book of Mormon, along with extracts from Scripture and doctrines of his own.


    [ 103 ]

    Other historians have pointed out that there is no definite proof that Rigdon ever was in Palmyra or ever met Joseph Smith until after the Mormon Bible was published. Rigdon himself maintained to the last that he had never seen the book until it was handed to him in Ohio in 1830 before he joined the Saints. He died without ever renouncing the Mormon faith.

    Questioned shortly before his death by his son, John, Sidney Rlgdon is quoted as saying: "Your mother and sisters were present when that book was handed me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of that book was what Parley Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me."

    As far as the Morman faithful are concerned, there is no controversy about the origin of the Book. They know, and there are millions of them, that it is of Divine origin and was "revealed" to Joseph the Prophet.


    Thomas J. Gregory
    "Sidney Rigdon: Post Nauvoo"
    BYU Studies Vol. 21, No. 1 (winter 1981)

  • Rigdon at Greencastle, PA
  • Rigdon at Friendship, NY

  • Note: This article is copyright © 1981 by
       Brigham Young Univ., all rights reserved.
       Limited "fair use" excerpts presented here.

  • Transcriber's Comments

  • Sidney Rigdon: Post Nauvoo

    by Thomas J. Gregory

    Although Sidney Rigdon was a prominent and well-known figure in early Mormon history, his life and thought after his excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are almost completely unknown to Latter-day Saints today...

    Antrim Township

    By 15 August 1845, while looking for a new location for the church's headquarters, Sidney Rigdon, accompanied by William McLellin, found a farm in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, which he thought suitable. [[8 PM&A, 1 August 1845, p. 281, 15 August 1845, p. 297, March 1846, p. 464, July 1846, p. 489; William Terman to Brigham Young, 7 March 1846, Box 19, folder 4, Brigham Young Collection, Church Archives. Some of the research on the Antrim period was funded by a grant from the college council of Brigham Young University. end8]]

    Sufficient money was raised, and on 3 April 1846 Sidney's brother-in-law, Peter Boyer, paid its owner, Andrew McLanahan, $14,700 for approximately 390 acres in Cumberland Valley about a mile west of Greencastle. [[9 Deeds of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, 1784-1963, 20: 319-20.Copy on film (42408, pt. 66), at the Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. PM&A, June 1846, p. 478, also notes the farm had "been purchased and the deed secured." PM&A, November 1845, p. 398, implies that by that date Boyer had already paid $1.500 towards the purchase of the land. Due to other printed accounts of the purchase, a search was made in the index to "Mortgages of Franklin County, March, 1821 to February, 1846, "which showed no record of a mortgage (Genealogical Society, 42410, pt.2).]]

    On 13 May Sidney Rigdon started for Antrim Township with his family and Ebenezer Robinson. Before moving to McLanahan's farm, [[10 James Smith to James Strang, 16 May 1846, item 22a, Strang Papers, Church Archives. Isaac McCauley noted that "Elders Hyde and Heber, William E. McLellin, Zody [Leonard Soby], Grimes, and Ranger also moved to the Antrim farm" (I. H. M'Cauley, Historical Sketch of Franklin County, Pennsylvania [Chambersburgh, Pa.: John M. Pomeroy, 1878], p. 192). Ebenezer Robinson indicated that Samuel James, Edward B. Wingate, Joseph H. Newton, Leonard Soby, and Amos B. Tomlinson also followed Rigdon to Antrim Township (Ebenezer Robinson to J. Fraise Richard, Jr., 24 April 1886. First printed in [Chambersburgh] Public Opinion and cited in the Franklin County School Annual [Chambersburgh, Pa.: N.p., 1930], pp. 53-54. A xerox copy is at the Harold B. Lee Library, BYU. See also Echo-Pilot [Greencastle, Pa.], 22 September 1949, sec. 2, p.1, col. 6).end10]]

    Sidney and a few of his followers lived for a short time in Greencastle in a home on the corner of Carlisle and Madison streets. Most of his one hundred to two hundred adherents who moved to Antrim Township joined him on the farm. Sidney evidently had plans to build extensive manufacturing facilities and a temple, but none of these were ever built -- possibly due to lack of money. [[11 St. Louis American, 17 June 1846, p. 3; cited in Snider, "Newspaper Clippings," p. 264. See also Kittochitinny Historical Society Papers 9 (Chambersburgh, Pa.: Franklin Repository Press, 1923), p. 352.]]

    ... Rigdon's group commenced a six-month-long conference in the farm's barn in September of 1846. During this conference, Sidney Rigdon became emotionally overwrought and taught a number of doctrines which caused many to leave him. As a result, by mid-December only a faithful few remained. Nonetheless, the conference continued another three months. Sometime during these three months, Sidney and his remaining followers apparently knelt in the meadow back of the barn from sunset until dawn, awaiting the advent of the Messiah. [[14 Peter Hess to James Strang, 14 December 1846, item 45, Strang Papers; John Rigdon, "Life Story," second p. 184; Frederick B. Blair, comp., The Memoirs of W.W. Blair (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Publishing House, 1908), p. 133; Joseph H. Newton to Stephen Post, 29 August 1864, The Papers of Stephen Post, Church Archives (hereafter cited as Post Papers). The Post Papers are also on microfilm at the Harold B. Lee Library, BYU. This copy, which is the one this writer generally used, seldom gives box and folder designations, and so they are generally not given in this article. Letters in this collection are almost all arranged in chronological order and can be found by using the collection's register. When a letter is out of order or apart from the main group of letters, a box and folder location is supplied. Unless otherwise identified, all letters cited in this article are from the Post Papers. (See also The Ensign of Liberty of the Church of Christ [Kirtland, Ohio], April 1847, p. 19; Kittochitinny Papers, p. 423.) end14]]

    If this account is true, the Savior's failure to appear likely caused most of Rigdon's last supporters to depart.

    In January 1847, a judgment of $2,980 was awarded Andrew McLanahan for a debt owed him by Peter Boyer. As Peter Boyer either refused to pay or had no funds, the farm -- for which he had paid -- was seized on 7 April 1847. On 6 August 1847 it had been sold to pay McLanahan his judgment. [[15 Deeds of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, 1784-1963, 21:39 (Genealogical Society, 42408, pt. 66). This chronology is supported by the fact that some of Rigdon's followers were still in Antrim in mid-July 1847 hoping the farm would be redeemed (Jeremiah Hatch, Jr., to Abram Hatch, 11 July 1847, Hatch Family Papers, Church Archives). end15]]

    Friendship, Allegany Co., New York

    About May, seeing that the farm would likely be sold, Sidney left Antrim Township. He moved to Jackson Hill between Friendship and Cuba, New York, to a farm belonging to George Robinson, the husband of his daughter Athalia...

    This article is copyright © 1981 by Brigham Young Univ.,
    all rights reserved. Limited "fair use" excerpts presented here.


    Richard S. Van Wagoner
    Sidney Rigdon...
    (SLC: Signature Books, 1994)

  • Note: This text is copyright © 1994 by
       Signature Books, all rights reserved.
       Limited "fair use" excerpts presented here.

  • Transcriber's Comments



    A   P o r t r a i t   o f
      R e l i g i o u s   E x c e s s


    Richard VanWagoner



    Note: Because of copyright law restrictions,
    only limited "fair use" excerpts are presented here.
    (This text's original endnotes have been reformatted.)

    [ 388 ]

    CHAPTER  26.

    Antrim Township

    On 13 May 1846 the Rigdon family, consisting of Sidney and Phebe, their children Nancy (twenty-three), [[2 On 13 September 1846 Nancy married Robert Ellis, a member of Rigdon's Grand Council, in Pittsburgh. The Ellises spent the remainder of their lives in Pittsburgh. end2]] Sarah (twenty-one), Algernon Sidney (seventeen), [[3 Commonly known as Sid.]] Wickliffe (fifteen), Lacy Ann (thirteen), Phebe (ten), Hortense Antoinette (eight), and Ephraim (four), along with the Ebenezer Robinson family and others, left Pittsburgh and began the nearly 300-mile journey east to yet another "Land of their Inheritance."

    Among the members of the Church of Christ... were 150-200 believers... Aside from Rigdon and Robinson, the company boasted Samuel James, William Richards, George M. Hinkle, Joseph H. Newton, Leonard Soby, Amos B. Tomlinson, Jeremiah Hatch, Jr., soon to marry Lacy Ann Rigdon, and Edward B. Wingate, who would marty Sarah Rigdon. Members set up housekeeping in various buildings on Adventure Farm and nearby Greencastle, where the Rigdons and

      Antrim, Township 389    

    Robinsons temporarily situated themselves, renting the corner of Carlisle and Madison streets. [[4 James Smith to James Strang, 16 May 1846, item 22a, Strang Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; hereafter Yale Library. end4]]

    From this address the Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ was reestablished under Robinson. [[5 Beginning with the first issue of volume 2, Ebenezer Robinson is listed as editor and proprietor of the newspaper, a position he maintained until the final number was published in September 1846. On 19 September 1849, two years after the Church of Christ collapsed, Robinson and J. Kilbourn began publishing another newspaper, The Conococheague Herald (thirteen numbers in all). According to its prospectus the paper occupied a "neutral or independent ground in politics and religion; advocating the particular claims of no party or sect but will be at liberty to speak of passing events as they transpire without reference to either." --- Remaining in Greencastle until 1855, Robinson also compiled and published a children's book and several editions of a small work entitled Legal Forms For The Transaction Of Business and a Set of Tax and Interest Tables together with a Short System of Bookkeeping, of which 40,000 copies were sold. For a history of Robinson's publishing ventures in Greencastle, see "Echo-Pilot Made Bow As Conococheague Herald," The Echo-Pilot, 22 Sept. 1949. end5]]

    Regarding the events surrounding the church's removal to the Cumberland Valley, Robinson editorialized in June 1846:

    [W]e are here from the fact that our heavenly Father required our settling in this place at our hands; and had the requirement been made to have located in the frozen regions of the north, or the sunny dimes of the south—in the pleasant and fertile valleys, or upon the sides of the mountains, it became not us to dictate, but to obey without a murmur or a word, consequently we are here, as "strangers in a strange land." [[6 Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ (Greencastle) 2 (June 1846): 473. end6]]

    ... One prominent man who called on Rigdon shortly after his arrival was Strangite George J. Adams, who had been appointed an apostolic emissary to Rigdon on 25 June 1846. James Strang had earlier written to Rigdon requesting that he serve as his counselor. But Rigdon either did not receive the letter, which had been written prior to 22 April 1846, or refused to answer. [[8 James Strang to James Smith, 22 Apr. 1846, item 22, Strang Papers, Yale Library. end8]]

    The following month he rebuked Strang's missionaries, proclaiming that if they "preached for a thousand years the world would be no nearer the rest of God." [[9 James Smith to James Strang, 16 May 1846, item 22, Strang Papers, Yale Library. end9]]

    Returning to Strangite headquarters in Voree, Wisconsin, Adams reported that he "did not see" Rigdon in Greencastle and felt it "lost labor to pursue the matter further." ...

      390   Pennsylvania

    Rigdon was then "replaced" in Strang's organization by George J. Adams. [[10 See Warren Post Diary, 25 June 1846, 64-65, Warren Post Collection, film 298 #8, Brigham Young University Family History Library, Provo, Utah. end10]]

    Rigdon stuck to his independence after 1844, refusing to serve as a subordinate to Brigham Young, James Strang, or any other religious leader. But his Zion in Cumberland Valley, like its Jackson County prototype, proved a delusion. The sect, with few financial resources, did nothing more than equip the farm's large barn as a meeting hall. Here the faithful as well as curious gathered to hear the famed prophet preach. Rigdon also evangelized in Greencastle and the nearby area now called Tomstown... but he converted no one...

    A more likely reason for Rigdon's failure was that he veered away from the ordinary world into temporary madness. His sermonizing during this period, according to son Wickliffe, "was at times so perfectly wild that [Sidney] could not control himself." Young Rigdon thought bereavement triggered the fanaticism. He explained that Eliza's death in Pittsburgh had so affected their father that he "never was the man he once was." [[12 Karl Keller, ed. "I Never Knew a Time When I Did Not Know Joseph Smith: A Son's Record of the Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Winter 1966): 15-42, cited 40. end12]]

    If pronouncing unfulfillable prophecies is symptomatic of mental instability, evidence of Rigdon's dementia can be seen in his September 1846 valedictory in the Messenger and Advocate of the Church. of Christ. The decree was entitled "A Proclamation to the Kings, Princes, Rulers, & People, of all Nations, and to the Clergy and Laity of all Denominations being a Sketch of the World's History in Connection With the Economy of God." Pronouncing that his call was made by the "counsel of the same God who inspired the prophets and apostles of old," Rigdon, in thunderous Old Testament manner, prophesied impending doom:

    The time is at hand when all shall know, whether they believe us now or not, that what we have here written, is the truth of heaven; -- for this generation shall not pass till all is fulfilled. Then as Noah did to the old world, so do we to the new world, and proclaim to all the inhabitants thereof, that this world is drawing near its close, the present order of things is shortly to pass away, and the Lord himself is about to take to himself his great power, and get to himself a great name. The Lamb that was slain, but is alive and liveth forevermore, is beginning to prepare for his second advent, not to be slain, but to put down all role and all authority, but his own. [[13 Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ (Greencastle) 2 (Sept. 1846): 523-36. end13]]

    ... Unlike his experiences with hostile neighbors in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, the good people of Antrim Township indulged

      Antrim, Township 391    

    Rigdon's rantings and viewed him as a colorful but ultimately benign crank. Robinson commented in a June 1846 editorial: "The citizens, so far as we have become acquainted, appear to be very generous, kind, and hospitable-willing that all people should enjoy their religious faith without molestation—and we find ourselves, (as in other places were our lot has been cast,) treated with that kindness and respect due one citizen from another." [[14 Ibid. 2 (June 1846): 473.]]

    The problem was that Rigdon had expected a spectacle, a phenomenon, rather than indifference.

    But by year's end it was apparent that Rigdon's visions would prove to be nothing more than buoyant rhetoric, and financial disaster loomed on the horizon. William McLellin, who had lost faith before the move to Adventure Farm, wrote that by December 1846 Rigdon's fury had intensified. Raising an apocalyptic banner of doom, the prophet made a foray into Greencastle trying to provoke conflict so that "blood would cover the town." [[15 William McLellin, The Ensign of Liberty of the Church of Christ (Kirtland, OH), Apr. 1847, 19. end15]]

    He informed Greencastle citizens that "the conflict would rage till the streets were drenched with blood" and that there was not enough religion in the town "to save a nest of woodpeckers." [[16 Kittochtinny Historical Society Papers, 9:351-52. ... See also George L. Zundel, "Rigdon's Folly," Improvement Era 47 (Apr. 1944): 204, 245-48. end16]]

    In January 1847 the heavy hand of judgment fell on the Church of Christ in the form of impending foreclosure on the farm. Andrew Lanahan was awarded a $2,980 judgment against Peter Boyer, chair of the Rigdonite financial committee... Rigdon reportedly gathered his flock about him one wintry eve in early 1847 and petitioned for divine relief during an all-night prayer vigil. The small group of adherents, still loyal to their faltering prophet, knelt with him in the meadow behind the assembly hall from sunset until dawn, beseeching God for a hastening of the promised advent of the Messiah. [[17 Peter Hess to James Strang, 14 Dec. 1846, item 45, Strang Papers, Yale Library; Joseph H. Newton to Stephen Post, 29 Aug. 1864, Stephen Post Collection, hereafter Post Collection; Frederick B. Blair, comp., The Memoirs of W. W. Blair (Lamoni, IA: Herald Publishing House, 1908), 133; Thomas Gregory, "Sidney Rigdon: Post Nauvoo," Brigham Young University Studies 21 (Winter 1981): 252-54. end17]]

    When the faithful realized their efforts were futile, there occurred "a general awakening and a serious backsliding from an absolute faith in the infallibility of their prophet." As one account described it: "That shivering company that repaired to their homes, when the light of morning came must indeed, have been a forlorn sight." [[18 Nead, 423.]]

    ... Many of Rigdon's devotees had abandoned temporal concerns and ceased working because of the promised Advent. One account wrote that the

    Rigdonites talked a great deal about what they intended doing -- the streets and avenues they would lay out, the buildings, temple, mills, etc., that they would construct. But the most of

      392   Pennsylvania

    them lived in idleness and all their plans came to naught. Their money was soon spent, many of them died, others became discouraged and left. [[21 The News-Chronicle (Shippensburg, PA), 10 Aug. 1934, cited in Journal History, 10 Aug. 1934 -- a multi-volume daily history of the church compiled by official church historians. end21]]

    [According to Rigdon]:

    a messenger stood before me, not on the earth but in the air who said some things which let me know that I must leave that place, but how to get away I knew not; but in the space of a few weeks I found by the workings of the spirit that I must leave without delay. But how to get away I knew not; I had no way but on foot. While I was pondering on this subject there came a strange woman there, some 50 years of age, saying the Lord had sent her there but she knew not what for. The day arrived that I must go. I mentioned in her presence that I wanted to leave but had no means to help myself; she turned and looked at [me] with an expression of countenance such as indicated surprise and exclaimed now I know what I was sent for, it was to enable you to get away; she put her hand into her pocket and took from thence a roll of bank bills and handed them to me saying now get ready and go home with me. I found the spirit pressing me to make no delay; accordingly I made all possible exertions; and that same day I found myself in possession of a car[r]iage and horses harnessed for the journey, and the messenger, [our driver] my eldest son, a lad of [18] years, and myself in it and all of us on the road, and after a journey of some 400 miles we reached her house. [[24 Ibid]]

    In an 1860 letter to Phineas Young, Rigdon added that the Lord had told him in 1847 that "He was going to take me away to a home he had provided for me that I knew not of." [[25 Rigdon to Phineas Young, 1 May 1860, Phineas Young Collection.]]

    That home was located on a farm near Cuba, New York, where Rigdon had never been. The mysterious woman who told him "go buy a carriage and horses and go home with me" was probably his daughter Athalia Robinson, who since 1844 had been living with her husband on Jackson Hill, Allegheny County, New York, where the Rigdon family was soon situated...

    This article is copyright © 1994 by Signature Books,
    all rights reserved. Limited "fair use" excerpts presented here.


    Sidney Rigdon's
    1873 Letter to
    Chs. L. Woodward

    Letter in New York Public Library

    (Originally located in the Woodward
    Collection, but later moved to the
    Library's manuscripts collection)

    page 1
                  Friendship May 25 1873
    Charles F. Woodward Esq.,
    Sir  Yours of the 14th has come
    to hand [and] I will [---- -----]
    to you [------ ---- --- promising?]
    that we are fourscore years old 
    and seriously afflicted w/ para
    -lysis [Still we will try to
    answer your letter so far at
    least to set [our knowledge? [---]
    [---- --- --- it]. We do this with
    our [------ -------------]; believing you
    will [----- ------- --------] for
    age and infirmity.
          We have no copy of the 
    [edtion?] of the commandme
    -nts after which [you r seeking?]
    [-----y] the only copy of the com
    -mmandments to [we have is of the]
    Nauvoo [eddition].
          We know nothing 
    about the people called Morm
    -ons now. The Lord notified 
    us that the Church of Jesus Chr
    -ist of Latter day saints were a 
    going to be destroyed and for 
    us to leave   we did so, and 
    the Smiths were killed a few 
    days after we started. Since that 
    I have had no connection 

    page 2
    with any of the people who staid 
    and built up to themselves chu
    -rches and chose to themselves 
    leaders such as they chose and 
    then framed their own religion.
         The Church of Latter day 
    saints had three books that they 
    acknowledge[d] as canonical, The 
    Bible, The book of Mormon and 
    the Commandments. For the 
    existence of that church there had to be 
    a revelater, one who received the 
    word of the Lord; A spokesman 
    One inspired of God to expound 
    all revelation so that the chur
    -ch might all be of one faith. W
    -ithout these two men the 
    Church of Latter day Saints c
    -ould not exist. This order cea
    -sed to exist, being overcome by 
    the violence of armed men 
    by whom houses were beaten do
    -wn by cannon which the ass-
    [ailents] had furnished themselves 
           Thus ended the "Chur
    -ch of Jesus Christ of Latter day 
    Saints," and it never can mo
    -ve again till the Lord 
    inspires men and women to 
    believe it. 
         All the societies and 

    page 3
    assembleys of men collected 
    together since then is not 
    the Church of Jesus Christ of La
    -tter day Saints nor never can 
    there be such a church 
    till the Lord moves it by 
    his own power, as he did the 
    first. I have no doubt 
    of your having a large coll
    -ection of books and many
    of them be from these [----]
    societies which are not
    [---- ----- -----] of the 
    Church of Christ.
         Should you fall in 
    with one who was of the 
    Church [of] Christ, though now of 
    advanced age you will find 
    one deeply read in the reve
    -lations of heaven. But ma
    -ny of them are dead and m
    -any of them have turned aw
    -ay, so there are few left.

    page 4
    I have a manuscript pa
    -per in my possession 
    written with my own 
    hands while in my 80th. 
    year but I am to poor to 
    do anything with it and 
    therefore it must remain 
    where it [is.] During the great 
    fight of affliction I have had 
    I have lost all my proper
    -ty but I struggle along in 
    poverty to which I am con
         I have finished all 
    I feel necessary to 

    From William A. Linn, 1902:

    "One person succeeded in drawing out from Rigdon in his later years a few words on his relations with the Mormon church. This was Charles L. Woodward, a New York bookseller, who some years ago made an important collection of Mormon literature. While making this collection he sent an inquiry to Rigdon, and received a reply, dated May 25, 1873.

    The original of this letter is in the collection of Mormon literature in the New York Public Library. An effort to learn from Rigdon's descendants something about the manuscript paper referred to by him has failed."

    See also Riley, 1903


    Transcriber's Comments

    George W. Robinson property and residence, Friendship, NY, 1869

    (under construction)

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