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What is the Spaulding Manuscript?
The Spaulding Manuscript is a fictional story about a group of Romans who, while sailing to England early in the fourth century A.D., were blown off course and landed in eastern North America. One of them kept a record of their experiences among eastern and midwestern American Indian tribes. The 175-page manuscript was first published as a 115-page monograph in 1885, some seventy years after the death of its author, Solomon Spaulding (sometimes spelled Spalding). The only known manuscript was lost from 1839 until its discovery in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1884. It was promptly published by both the Latter-day Saints and Reorganized Latter Day Saint churches to refute the theory of some critics that it had served as an original source document for the Book of Mormon, supposedly supplied to Joseph Smith by Sidney Rigdon.
Spaulding was born in Ashford, Connecticut, on February 21, 1761. He served in the American Revolution, later graduated from Dartmouth College, and became a clergyman. He subsequently lost his faith in the Bible, left the ministry, and worked unsuccessfully at a variety of occupations in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania until his death near Pittsburgh in 1816. About 1812 he wrote Manuscript Found, which he attempted to publish to relieve pressing debts.
There are similarities in the explanation for the origins of both Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon. The introduction to the Spaulding work claims that its author was walking near Conneaut, Ohio (about 150 miles west of the place in New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates), when he discovered an inscribed, flat stone. This he raised with a lever, uncovering a cave in which lay a stone box containing twenty-eight rolls of parchment. The writing was in Latin. The story is primarily a secular one, having virtually no religious content. A character in the novel possessed a seerstone, similar to objects used by Joseph Smith. However, none of the many names found in either volume matches any of those in the other, nor is there the remotest similarity in literary styles.
The first to assert that a direct connection existed between the Book of Mormon and Manuscript Found was Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, who was excommunicated from the Church in June 1833. Desiring to discredit his former coreligionists, Hurlbut set out in the ensuing months to refute Joseph Smith's claims for the origins of the Book of Mormon. He interviewed members of Spaulding's family, who swore that there were precise similarities between Spaulding's work and the Book of Mormon. He also located the neglected manuscript, but must have been disappointed to discover that it had no demonstrable connection with the Book of Mormon.
In 1834, Hurlbut was involved with Eber D. Howe in preparing a significant anti-Mormon publication, Mormonism Unvailed. Its final chapter dealt with the Spaulding theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon. Howe admitted in the book that the only document known to have been authored by Spaulding had been found, but he asserted that this was not Manuscript Found. The title penciled on the brown paper cover was Manuscript StoryConneaut Creek. Howe speculated that Spaulding must have composed another manuscript that served as the source of the Book of Mormon, but no additional writings of Spaulding have ever surfaced. By the 1840s, the so-called Spaulding theory had become the main anti-Mormon explanation for the Book of Mormon.
Spaulding's manuscript, lost for forty-five years, was among items shipped from the office of the Ohio Painesville Telegraph, owned by Eber D. Howe, when that office was purchased in 1839 by L. L. Rice, who subsequently moved to Honolulu. Rice discovered the manuscript in 1884 while searching his collection for abolitionist materials for his friend James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College. Believers in the Book of Mormon felt vindicated by this discovery, and they published Spaulding's work to show the world it was not the source for the Book of Mormon.
Since 1946, no serious student of Mormonism has given the Spaulding Manuscript theory much credibility. In that year, Fawn Brodie published No Man Knows My History. This biography of Joseph Smith, hostile to his prophetic claims, dismissed the idea of any connection between Spaulding and Smith or their writings. Rigdon first met Joseph Smith in December 1830 after the Book of Mormon was published.
Nevertheless, some have continued to promote the Spaulding theory (e.g., see Holley). In 1977, graphologists claimed to have detected similarities between the handwriting of Spaulding and of one of the scribes who transcribed some of the Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith's dictation. After considerable media attention and further scrutiny, anti-Mormon spokespersons acknowledged that they had been too hasty. The handwriting evidence did not support a connection between Solomon Spaulding and Joseph Smith.
Bush, Lester E., Jr. "The Spaulding Theory Then and Now." Dialogue 4 (Autumn 1977):40-69.
Bushman, Richard L. Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. Urbana, Ill., 1985.
Fairchild, James H. "Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon." Bibliotheca Sacra, pp. 173-74. Cleveland, Ohio, 1885.
Holley, Vernal. "Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look." Ogden, Utah, 1983; this booklet is reviewed by A. Norwood, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1 (1989):80-88.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Spaulding Manuscript
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
One of the earliest attempts to discredit the Book of Mormon was the argument that it was derived from a lengthy manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding (sometimes spelled Spalding) in 1812. The only known manuscript by Spaulding, now called Manuscript Found, was lost for many years, but was discovered in 1884 and finally published in 1885 (see the article, "Spaulding Manuscript" by Lance D. Chase in Vol. 3 of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism). Now that we know what is in the manuscript, it is obvious that it could not have been the source for the Book of Mormon, as I'll discuss below. The Spaulding theory could survive only as long as the evidence was hidden.
The Spaulding manuscript tells of finding a lost Roman document in a cave near Conneaut, Ohio, which was close to Kirtland, Ohio, the latter serving as Church Headquarters for several years at a time of severe anti-LDS propaganda and persecution. Some people in Conneaut, upon learning of the Book of Mormon, claimed it was much the same as Spaulding's manuscript and that they shared common stories, dealt with Israelites in ancient America, and shared names such as Nephi, Lehi, and Zarahemla. The bitter anti-Mormon Philastrus Hurlbut, who had been excommunicated from the Church in 1833 for adultery, gathered affidavits from family members about the manuscript and its relationship to the Book of Mormon. These affidavits would be published in E.D. Howe's archetypal anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed, in 1834, along with many other affidavits that Hurlbut gathered against Joseph Smith from people who claimed to have known him well. (Interestingly, many of the affidavits condemning Joseph Smith show strong signs of common authorship.) Hurlbut also obtained the Spaulding manuscript and was disappointed to find that it was quite unrelated to the Book of Mormon. While there had never been any indication that Spaulding had written more than one manuscript, Howe and Hurlbut then argued that Spaulding had rewritten the story to deal with Israelites at an earlier time and be in scriptural language. It was alleged Joseph Smith used this rewritten Spaulding Manuscript to create the Book of Mormon and that Joseph had probably received it or information about it from Sidney Rigdon (even though Joseph did not meet Sidney until after publication of the Book of Mormon). This theory became a primary anti-Mormon attack on the Book of Mormon for many years.
In 1884,Manuscript Found was finally discovered in Hawaii among "items shipped from the office of the Ohio Painesville Telegraph, owned by Eber D. Howe, when that office was purchased in 1839 by L. L. Rice, who subsequently moved to Honolulu" (Chase, op. cit.). The manuscript was published by Latter-day Saints and the RLDS Church as well. Supporters of Joseph Smith felt vindicated, for it was clearly not the source of the Book of Mormon (the possibility of a second document will be discussed below). But there were some similarities, as L.D. Chase explains (ibid.):
Joseph, of course, found the gold plates in a stone box, and the Book of Mormon also deals with people who anciently sailed to the Americas and kept a written record. Therein lie the most "impressive" similarities between the only known Spaulding Manuscript and the Book of Mormon.
Was there a second manuscript? Not wishing to publish the one Spaulding Manuscript that Hurlbut had found, Howe claimed and used affidavits extracted from three people, that it had been rewritten in a way that made it almost the same as the Book of Mormon. None of the original eight primary witnesses from Conneaut who spoke of the relationship between Spaulding's manuscript and the Book of Mormon ever mentioned a second manuscript or spoke of a revision. There is no mention of a second document or a revision to Biblical language until after Hurlbut returned with the disappointing manuscript of Spaulding. It is Howe who claims that there was no relationship between the known manuscript and the Book of Mormon, and that there must be a second manuscript. As B.H. Roberts explained in an excellent and lengthy analysis of Howe's discussion (Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.2, p.122):
Howe's claim was not that there was a completely new, unrelated missing manuscript, but a missing manuscript that was a revision of the one Hurlbut had found. But such a rewrite would be analogous to rewriting a chapter in Moby Dick to come up with the Book of Genesis (both mention whales and water). It is pure fantasy. Manuscript Found, marked with name of Conneaut on its cover page, was almost certainly the one that the witnesses of Conneaut had heard over twenty years before hearing of the Book of Mormon. The memory and truthfulness of the witnesses, zealous to defend religious orthodoxy, are highly questionable (see B.H. Roberts, ibid.). Even more disappointing is the deceitfulness of Howe.
Any argument that tries to credit Solomon Spaulding for anything in the Book of Mormon faces the overwhelming obstacle of establishing a real connection between Joseph Smith and Solomon Spaulding. There is no evidence that they ever met or that Joseph ever even heard of Spaulding's manuscript before publication of the Book of Mormon. Some recent critics have noted that an uncle of Spaulding lived in Sharon, Vermont at the same time Joseph Smith's family did. However, the Smiths moved away several years before the Spaulding manuscript existed, and left Vermont altogether before Joseph reached the age of ten (Isaac Carter, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1994, p.116). Any conjectured relationship between Joseph and Spaulding during his years in Vermont seems implausible.
The Spaulding theory was rejected by anti-Mormon writer Fawn Brodie in 1946, but continues to be repeated in many anti-Mormon publications (along with many other long-refuted allegations from E.D. Howe and other early anti-Mormons, whose writings are repeatedly parroted). There is no substance to any resurrected form of the Spaulding theory and allegations of a second missing document. Certainly nothing known to Solomon Spaulding could account for the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, or the amazing evidence concerning the Arabian Peninsula in First Nephi, or any of the other evidences of authenticity for the Book of Mormon.
A recent attempt to revive the Spaulding theory is the 45-page work of Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, Zenos Publications, Ogden, Utah, 1983. This publication has been reviewed by L. Ara Norwood in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1 (1989), pp. 80-88. Norwood's review is now available online at the FARMS site.
Other useful sources on this topic include: