Mormon apologists and Smith-as-Sole-Author advocates dismiss the Conneaut statements claiming that Hurlbut coached the witnesses, resulting in common elements in their statements. But there are many reasons to accept the Conneaut witness statements:
1. After collecting witness testimony in Conneaut, Hurlbut traveled hundreds of miles searching for Spalding’s Manuscript Found. This indicates that he thought there really was such a manuscript.
2. The 8 Conneaut witnesses’ statements were individually produced, dated, and witnessed by Hurlbut and Howe. Howe traveled to Conneaut to interview the witnesses and confirm the facts before he printed their statements.
3. While there are some common elements, there are important differences in the Conneaut witnesses’ statements, contrary to Fawn Brodie’s incorrect analysis.
4. In an article published in the Hudson, Ohio Observer, (Masthead of Vlll:15 – June 12, 1834), the editor interviewed some of the Conneaut witnesses, who then told the editor the same thing that they told to Hurlbut, even though they had every opportunity to say anything they wished. This article appeared shortly after Hurlbut’s trial in April 1834 and around six months before Mormonism Unvailed was published, thus refuting the claims that the witnesses had been coached by Hurlbut or that he had inaccurately reported their testimony.
5. Statements opposing the Conneaut witness statements were made at least a decade after the Conneaut witnesses gave their statements. This is important because the Conneaut witness statements were not refuted by the Church at the time their evidence was published. These people lived only 40 miles from Kirtland, headquarters of the Church. Spalding read his manuscript to them for entertainment, in a time before television, radio, or newspapers.
6. The Conneaut witnesses were reporting on actual events from memory. They lived in the vicinity of Spalding from 1809 to 1812, and personally knew him. One way to crosscheck the reliability of the memory of a witness is to seek corroborating evidence regarding the witness – his/her reputation, attention to detail, memory skills, biases, and trustworthiness. Many of the Conneaut witnesses were leading citizens of the community. One was John Spalding, Solomon’s brother, who reportedly heard Manuscript Found repeatedly and in its entirety. Artemus Cunningham was owed money by Spalding. Another was Henry Lake, Solomon’s business partner. Yet another, Aaron Wright, was a Justice of the Peace who investigated the mounds of Conneaut and described finding bones in the mounds that disintegrated when he dug them up. These were credible people, with no known conflicts of interest. They had no connection to Mormonism either before or after their statements were published. They didn’t retract or modify what was quoted in Mormonism Unvailed.
7. Howe was friendly with Joseph Smith, was married to a Mormon, and had dinner at Joseph Smith’s house after Mormonism Unvailed was published. His Mormonism Unvailed is widely respected and widely quoted by both Mormon scholars and non-Mormon scholars. In it, Howe acknowledged that the Spalding manuscript he received from Hurlbut (the Oberlin Manuscript also called Manuscript Story) was not Manuscript Found, and he connected Rigdon to Spalding. Howe said he didn’t know what happened to the Spalding manuscript he received from Howe but assumed it was lost in a fire after he sold the print shop. Later, the new print shop owner, L.L. Rice, found the manuscript in among the texts shipped to Hawaii. These data do not indicate lying or bias on Howe’s part.
8. The 8 Conneaut statements are the tip of the witness iceberg. At least 19 different witnesses linked Spalding to the Book of Mormon. Besides the eight published Conneaut witnesses, additional credible witnesses in Conneaut and in Amity, stated that they saw the Spalding manuscript that identified Lehi and Nephi. The biggest problem with much of this evidence was the time period that elapsed between their encounters with Spalding’s work and their statements. The earliest statements came 18-22 years after Spalding allegedly exposed them to his work; the latest came 74 years after the alleged encounter with Spalding.
9. Old evidence is admittedly susceptible to memory fallibility, and the possibility of witness tampering. The 8 Conneaut witnesses were remembering events that transpired about 18-22 years before their statements were taken. But it is speculation to claim that they could not recall the names or events after 18-22 years. Most people remember many people’s names and details after 18-22 years. Another way to crosscheck the Conneaut witness testimony is to test its predictive power. Based on their statements and Howe’s analysis, we can expect to find a link between Spalding and Sidney Rigdon. A strong connection to the Pittsburgh post office comes through the testimony of Rebecca Eichbaum. Eichbaum’s testimony was not collected until September 18, 1872 – over 56 years after the alleged incidents! The reliability of her memory could be a problem, but in her case, the details have checked out. Eichbaum was the clerk in the post office where Spalding and Rigdon collected their mail. Several witnesses testified that Eichbaum had a superior memory and was superbly attentive to detail. Her testimony connects Rigdon to printer Silas Engles and to J. Harrison Lambdin, the ward of Robert Patterson and eventual junior partner in the Patterson printing and book selling operation. When researchers crosschecked her testimony by investigating post office records, they found the names of both Spalding and Rigdon on the same June 30, 1816, list of unclaimed letters.
10. One of the later witnesses for Manuscript Found was Hurlbut’s lawyer, Jason Briggs, who wrote five letters to newspapers later in his life claiming that he had seen and handled Manuscript Found in December of 1833. This lawyer had a distinguished career unrelated to Mormonism. Another person was J.D. Dowan, the Justice of the Peace who signed the warrant against Hurlbut. Dowan also had no alleged interest against Mormonism. His statement says that Spalding’s manuscript conformed specifically to the Book of Mormon. The statement is attested by his grandchild, and is kept in the Chicago Historical Society.