Slide 117


Captain Henry of Geauga. By Frederick A. Henry. Cleveland. The Gates Press. 1942.  Pages 50-52.

“Among the many Disciples of Christ, or “Campbellites,” on the Western Reserve, who were attracted for a season into the Mormon fold, Sidney Rigdon stood easily first. Ambitious, erratic, and eloquent, but not over-scrupulous, he became at once the brains of Mormondom. Grandfather John Henry maintained that he probably compiled the Book of Mormon while sojourning one winter (1825-1826) in Bainbridge. In his quarters south of the Center, he seemed always to be writing, sometimes far into the night; and though he received courteously all who called, he would first lift the lid of his desk and lock his mysterious manuscript away therein before admitting them. Some years of foreknowledge of the appearance of the Book of Mormon in April, 1830 (it was ready for the press in June, 1829), is, moreover, expressly ascribed to Rigdon by various contemporaries and particularly in a letter from Darwin Atwater, of Mantua, to the author of Hayden’s Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, quoted at pages 239 and 240 of that work. ”

“Father wrote from Geauga Lake, under date of March 9, the following account of Rigdon’s connection with “The Spaulding Manuscript and Book of Mormon.” Other engagements prevented my hearing President Fairchild’s lecture last evening upon the Book of Mormon and its relation to the Spaulding manuscript. It has been the popular belief among older citizens of the Reserve, and especially among those who had personal contact with early Mormonism, that the Book of Mormon was made up in part from the Spaulding document, and yet there was no direct or positive evidence to prove it. From some facts and incidents connected with the career of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon when they were in Geauga and Portage counties preaching their alleged new gospel I came to the conclusion some years ago that the Book of Mormon was the work of Sidney Rigdon, with perhaps some changes and additions by Smith or others. So far as I know, these facts and circumstances have never been published. The truth or falsity of the Spaulding matter in no manner affects them, and they came to me in a way that leaves no doubt in my mind that the Book of Mormon, or a large part thereof, was written by Rigdon within two miles of the spot where I am now writing. George Wilber, one of the early pioneers of Geauga county, taught school, the winter following the alliance of Smith and Rigdon, in a log schoolhouse a mile south of the center of Bainbridge. Rigdon lived in a log house about two hundred yards from the schoolhouse, and young Wilber, who had heard Rigdon preach before his alliance with Smith, often called on him during the noon hour of recess and sometimes in the evening. Rigdon had acquired the reputation of being something of a Biblical scholar among the pioneers, and was also a very persuasive and eloquent preacher. Some of the keen-sighted people, however, had lost confidence in him. They discovered that he had a strong religious ambition that was not tempered by Christian grace and humility. For a year or more before the advent of Smith they saw that Rigdon was bent on devising some new dogma — in short, to start a new church or sect that he could call his own or whose leadership he would share with only a few. It may be proper to state that George Wilber was at that time a young man of high character and good education, and for more than forty years no one in Geauga or Portage had a better reputation for truth and moderation. He was the father of Prof. C. D. Wilber, now of Nebraska, who was a roommate of General Garfield at Williams College. He died about forty years ago at Aurora, Illinois. Wilber’s statement, moreover, of the work and conduct of Rigdon that winter, was corroborated by some of the neighbors in the school district. Rigdon did not preach that winter, but was almost constantly engaged upon a manuscript that he was writing or revising. Wilber noticed, towards the close of the term, there was much more of it than there was the first time he saw it. Rigdon had before that been free and communicative, especially upon religious topics; he now appeared reserved and at times reticent. Whenever any reference was made to his manuscript he seemed disposed to parry inquiry by some general explanation that he was making notes or preparing some paper to throw light upon some portions of the gospel. The following spring Smith appeared and he and Rigdon went off together and were gone some months. It was reported that they had gone to Pittsburgh, but whether true or not, no one could say. It was generally believed, however, that Smith at least visited western New York before either returned to Ohio. Soon after their return the Book of Mormon was announced. Smith was mysterious and silent, assuming familiarity with the supernatural. It was difficult to measure or discover his powers or qualities, because of his silence and professions as a prophet. Those who were not awed by the glamour of mystery became convinced of one thing, that he was a man of little or no education, while Rigdon was a fine orator, a fair writer, and among the men of that day a good scholar. Rigdon believed that his own attainments would put him at the head of the new church. It did not take him long, however, to see that he had failed to measure properly those masterly powers of his companion in acting the part of the prophet. In a few months he was convinced that he must take a subordinate part, and from that time onward his zeal flagged. He drifted along, though still a leader, until the death of Smith, when he found that Brigham Young, a natural leader of the class of men who composed their followers, held the reins of power with a strong hand. Rigdon became disgusted and disheartened. He soon left them forever, and died some years ago in Pennsylvania. Nine years ago this winter, I spent two weeks in Salt Lake City. Elder Orson Pratt had been for many years the historian of the Mormon Church. As my father had been acquainted with him in his younger days, I called upon him and made myself known. He was then an old man of about eighty years. During our conversation, I inquired of him why it was that his people crossed what was called the Great Desert and settled at Salt Lake. He replied that they had Fremont’s narrative and that he carried a copy during their journey over the plains and mountains. In the history of the Mormon church it is stated that Pratt was with the advance guard, and on their arrival at Salt Lake, Pratt made observations and found the latitude and longitude. Soon after the interview I examined a copy of Fremont’s narrative and found the latitude and longitude given. Now, Pratt was not scholar enough to take an observation of that kind, so he must have announced their locality from the information given by Fremont. It is due to Elder Pratt to say that I do not believe he wrote the statement. He was more of a custodian of Mormon records than historian, and probably permitted the statement to be made. The Book of Mormon contains many internal evidences that Sidney Rigdon was the author of at least a good portion of it. How many others had a hand in it, or what other manuscripts, if any, assisted in the work, it would be difficult now to determine.”