The Mormons and Solomon Spaulding (1761-1816)

posted Jun 9, 2010, 2:10 AM by Professor Katz
In 1834, Eber Dudley Howe (1798-1885) in his book Mormonism Unvailed (Paineseville, 1834), argued that Joseph Smith had plagiarized a science-fiction story written in about 1810 by one Solomon Spaulding.
Howe conducted extensive interviews, transcripts of which were published in the book.  His conclusion was that Spaulding's story, entitled 'Manuscript Found', ended up in the hands of one of the first Mormons, Sidney Rigdon (1793-1876), who set up a bogus religious sect with the help of Oliver Cowdery (1806-50), a witness and scribe of the Book of Mormon, using Joseph Smith as the front man.
Although Spaulding's original 'Manuscript Found' has never been located, a very similar document turned up at Honolulu in 1884, apparently entitled 'Manuscript Story'.  In was published in 1885 and 1886.  It seems that when Howe sold his buisness in 1839-40 to a certain L.L. Rice, this 'Manuscript Story' was found among his papers, and was taken by Rice when he moved to Hawaii.  In 1884, Rice entertained there James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College in Ohio, who was convinced that this amusing story was Spaulding's famous lost work.  Rice made a copy for himself, and sent the original to Oberlin College, where it remains today.
The text of 'Manuscript Story' is not quite the Book of Mormon by any means, but it is very heavily marked, and is clearly a draft.  It may be that 'Manuscript Found' is much closer to the Mormon holy book, but as long as it stays lost, it remains rather an insubstantial stick with which to beat the Church of the Latter-day Saints.