Mormon Origins

My mother was telling me about a local who related a story that Joseph Smith based his teachings on a book that he had read. This book was supposedly around here locally, Mt. Vision NY is one of the original Mormon settlement areas. The book was rumored to have been in several parts of Otsego County, Cooperstown NY and Richfield Springs NY. When one of the Mormon higher ups requested to see the rumored book of course no one could present it. I’ve noted that there are Mormons on this board and was hoping to hear if they or any other scholars have heard of this story or book, or is it just a local legend ?

Hill Cumorah, in Palmyra, NY. Been there many a time, though not since about 1978 or so. Supposedly Joseph Smith had a vision of the Angel Moroni who guided him to the discovery of golden plates that were buried in the Hill and which contained the text of the Book of Mormon.

Every year in the summer the LDS church puts on a pageant at the Hill – again it’s been twenty years since I was at one, but it’s a pleasant way to spend the evening, although it was already starting to get too crowded by the time I moved out of there. Brings a lot of tourist money into the area, though.


Others may know more than I do but your story sounds similar to a longstanding attempt to discredit Joseph Smith by attributing The Book of Mormon to a plagiarism of a book referred to, IIRC, as the Spaulding manuscript, named after one Dr. Spaulding. The story is generally discredited nowadays since about the only similarities that actually exist between the two books is that they both mention Indians and Hebrews. (Which was not a novel idea at the time – one of the purposes of the Lewis and Clark expedition, although certainly an afterthought, was to determine if the American Indians were of Hebrew origin.)

The Smith family lived in Palmyra from about 1815 to 1831. (Actually they were just over the line into Manchester township, but physically much closer to the village of Palmyra.)

Does that answer your question?

“Vandelay!! Say Vandelay!!”

Somewhat pluto, thanks for the Spaulding Manuscript information.

Discusses the various writings that John Smith might have plagiarized from and the actual similarities, or lack thereof.

As far as I know, the notion that Smith plagiarized from a modern novel (or whatever) has been pretty well exploded.

His dependence on the King James Bible (and the late-medieval Textus Receptus underlying it) and his ham-handed Catholic-bashing (Yes, I know the LDS says it isn’t about RCism, to which I say it sure quacks like a duck), a popular upstate New York diversion of the period, are another question.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I got hold of the original story teller and e-mailed him this topic and he e-mailed a response which he agreed to let me post…

Thanks for your message -- I followed up the website trail you noted, but

am not sure that it answers the question.
My attention was brought to the “Manuscript Found” (also known as the
“Spaulding Manuscript”) story by Ralph Birdsall’s “The Story of
Cooperstown” (1917) which discusses it at some length in Chapter II.
Birdsall states that the manuscript was taken by Hurlburt, that Hurlburt
pretended to be anti-Mormon but was (presumably) only doing so in order to
get his hands on the manuscript, which was in a trunk in the hands of (in
1828) one Jerome Clark of Hartwick, and that Hurlburt thereafter refused to
return the manuscript and that it had completely disappeared. Birdsall
sites an article in Scribner’s Magazine for August 1880.
The various websites I followed up all seemed to be Mormon sites, which
presumably cannot be considered as objective. I gather that “a” manuscript
did reappear after 1880 and was published under Mormon auspices to prove
that it could not have been “stolen” by Joseph Smith and used as a basis
for his Book of Mormon; I gather further that the anti-Mormon people
claimed that the book the Mormons published was a fake, pretending to be
the lost manuscript, but actually rewritten in order to prove the Mormon’s
I have a feeling this is an historical dispute that may never get
resolved; since if the Mormons did indeed rewrite the book they presumably
destroyed the original manuscript. But I don’t, of course, know whether the
manuscript used for the publication in 1884 still exists, or whether it has
been examined by scholars to determine its probable real date (1880s or
1820s) – which should be possible these days.
This is not a topic to which I have devoted any real study, since it is
sort of a bit of trivia in the Cooperstown area story only because of the
supposed housing of the lost manuscript in a trunk in Hartwick.
Incidentally, James Fenimore Cooper wrote a novel (The Oak Openings),
about Indians in Michigan during the War of 1812, in which a missionary
tries to convice the Indians that they are the lost tribe of Israel. The
Indians respond by asking how Christians treat the Jews, and then decide
that on the whole they’d just as soon not be labelled as missing Jews.