Dan Vogel wrote:CONVERSION OF SIDNEY RIGDON
If Rigdon aided Joseph Smith in writing the Book of Mormon and his conversion to Mormonism was a sham, it was
aided by a rather fortuitous event--the conversion of Parley P. Pratt....
Now, it seems to me that Spalding advocates, in addition to asserting that Rigdon pretended his conversion,
would by necessity also have to include Parley P. Pratt in their conspiracy theory. And thus we add yet another
layer of improbability.
I'm not sure there is any more "layer of improbability" here, than there is with the fact that some early Mormon
leaders close to Joseph Smith were able to keep secret the exact time and circumstances when they first were taught polygamy
as a secret Priesthood doctrine. Yes, some of those people later gave retrospective accounts of their being officially
taught "the principle," but not until they had been released from their promises of silence in the 1850s. Had the LDS
Church been able to keep polygamy a secret for another decade, then no doubt another ten years would have
passed before those same early Mormons would have divulged all of their secrets.
The same may be the case for Pratt -- that is, he may have been sworn to secrecy for certain activities he engaged
in on behalf of his religion. Besides which, he could also have been a dupe to some extent. What I hear you saying,
is that by the time Pratt's autobiography came out (after his death, when nobody could ask for details) he would have
been totally honest regarding all secretive actions he had taken in the past ---- or, that if he were not being totally
honest, he would have been suffering some sort of inexplicible mental block, of not realizing from later events that he
had indeed been duped.
From my experience with the RLDS, I know that certain church members can keep secrets, or even tell lies, when they
truly feel such unethical acts will ultimately help the institution. I thus do not think we can expect all Latter Day Saint
family histories and autobiographies to be fully honest, even in cases where continued dishonesty is illogical and should
serve to awaken the deceiver to the fact that he/she might also have been deceived by church leaders.
I believe that Pratt had met Rigdon before early 1829 -- that Pratt had become a "Rigdonite" (his term) by the time he
became on ostensible "Reformed Baptist." For a likely embellished and purposefully obscured account from Pratt's own
hand, regarding his conversion to pre-Mormon Rigdonism, see his "Angel of the Prairies" story here:
See also Theodore Schroeder's interpretation of a possible historical reality within the fictionalized story, here:
I think that it is important for us to recall that Sidney Rigdon had theologically broken away from his fellow Reformed
Baptist ministers (like Campbell, Scott and Bentley) in 1829 and that the rift had become permanent and unrepairable
by 1830. That is why Pratt and others called their group "Rigdonites" rather than "Campbellites." The Rigdonism of
1830 was a pentecostal variety of Reformed Baptist religion which professed latter day miracles, visitations of divine
messengers, visions, revelations, etc.
Lyman Wight's preserved journal extract says in 1829 he accepted the "Rigdonite
doctrine;" while a Dec. 1830
newspaper reported: that Parley P. Pratt "has been a resident of the township of Russia, Lorain co., Ohio, for three
or four years last past, until August last, when he was authorized to preach by the sect called Rigdonites
In his 1838 pamphlet, Pratt says:
"About A. D. 1827, Messrs. A. Campbell, W. Scott, and S. Rigdon, with some others, residing in Virginia, Ohio, &c.,
came off from the Baptists, and established a new order, under the name of reformed Baptist, or disciples, And they
were termed by their enemies, Campbellites, Rigdonites
, &c.... Mr. Rigdon in particular held to a literal fulfilment
and application of the written word... an understanding of the prophesies, touching the great restoration of Israel..." (Benjamin Winchester, who had lived with Pratt at Kirtland uses these words of description also).
Rigdonism was the religion to which Pratt his loyality in 1830 -- not to its more austere and logical Campebllite roots.
Pratt says in his autobiography: "I then unfolded to him the gospel and prophecies as they had been opened
to me, and told him that the spirit of these things had wrought so powerfully on my mind of late that I could not rest;
that I could no longer be contented to dwell in quiet and retirement on my farm, while I had light to impart to mankind."
The question must here be asked, who was Pratt's religious superior during the late summer of 1830? I do not think we
can say it was Alexander Campbell nor some pastor of the Grand River Baptist Association. By this time the member
congregations of that organization that had embraced Arminianism and primitive church restorationism had been
excommunicated. Pratt's closest coreligionists were the Reformed Baptists of Mentor and Kirtland, who were supported
by the (then) disintegrating Mahoning Association. In other words, Pratt's religious superior was Sidney Rigdon.
Pratt next says that he set about making "preparations for a mission which should only end with my life." While he uses
a very generalized description for his intended activities, he was at that time preparing to go on a proselyting mission
as a Rigdonite elder. There can be no other logical explanation of his activities.
Then Pratt says "In August, 1830, I had closed my business... launched forth into the wide world, determining first to
visit our native place, on our mission." Although he includes his wife in his hyperbolic description, her role on the
"mission" was merely that of a wife-supporter, the "mission" was that of Parley P. Pratt, not his wife's preaching tour.
In short order Pratt leaves his wife and begins his mission within walking distance of the Cowdery family home on the
Arcadia-Lyons segment of the Erie Canal. Before he can preach a single sermon or baptize a single new Rigdonite, he
encounters the Book of Mormon and becames an almost instant convert.
Here is how Pratt himself retrospectively described the scenerio, in 1838:
"I became acquainted with Mr. Rigdon, and a believer in, and a teacher of the same doctrine.
After proclaiming those principles in my own neighborhood and the adjoining country, I
at length took a journey to the State of New-York, partly on a visit to Columbia, Co., N. Y.,
my native place: and partly for the purpose of ministering the word. This journey was
undertaken in August, 1830. I had no sooner reached Ontario Co. N. Y., than I came in
contact with the "Book of Mormon..."
Sidney Rigdon was even more specific in his 1843 account:
"elder Parley Pratt had been a preacher in the same church with elder Rigdon, and resided
in the town of Amherst, Lorain county, in that state, and had been sent into the State of
New York, on a mission
, where he became acquainted with the circumstances of the coming
forth of the Book of Mormon..."
Why is Rigdon more specific about Pratt being SENT on a Rigdonite mission, than is Pratt himself?
Was it not because Rigdon had sworn Pratt to secrecy about the details of that mission, but that
Pratt had not the power to make Rigdon keep the secret? Who sent Pratt on his mission? It certainly
was not Alexander Campbell -- who had no use for latter day visions and American restorations
of Israel (as did the break-away Reformed Baptists, Rigdon and Pratt).
Under what logic might we discount the probability that this Rigdonite elder was sent exactly where he suddenly got off
the boat, by a prophetic prediction implanted in his mind by the visionary Sidney Rigdon? If Pratt's thinking and religious
credulity had been shaped by the "Angel of the Prairies" to be looking for something like the Gold Bible (which had
already been advertised in Ohio newspapers and was known to his fellow Rigdonites like Eliza Snow and Orson Hyde)
then he certainly would have fallen under its spell, like clockwork.
But my suspicions are that Pratt is not totally forthcoming in his autobiography. By the time it was published in 1874,
Rigdon was on his deathbed and Pratt himself was 17 years in the grave. How can we trust such an account as being
100% truthful? Read Rigdon's own 1844 spring conference talk at Nauvoo, to see the importance of church SECRECY
during the very period that Pratt became a Mormon. We simply cannot expect him to be fully open about all of his
motives and preconditioning in 1830.
It should also be recalled that Sidney Rigdon's 1844 excommunication at Nauvoo was based largely upon reports
of his secret plotting and manipulations with Mormons then under his influence. In his church court trial and in
contemporary reports written by J. M. Grant and Orson Hyde, numerous accusations are made in regard to Rigdon's
deceitfulness, lying in the name of the Lord, secret religious plotting, etc. Since some of this testimony was given
by his own Ohio congregation members, and since their cited instances stretched back almost to the period of
Rigdon's Mormon conversion, we have there good examples of believers close to Rigdon who had witnessed his
secretive bad behavior for many years, but had kept their mouths shut, for one reason or another.
To all of this should be added the special observation, that Parley P. Pratt served for a few years as sort of the Mormon
guardian against the Spalding authorship claims. He not only responded to Howe and Hurlbut in the 1838 pamphlet
already quoted from above, but he also scripted the first Mormon reply to Spalding's widow a few months later, where
he takes some pains to speak in the place of Sidney Rigdon (then preocupied establishing Nauvoo) as though he knew
Rigdon's every argument on the subject, saying: "The sect was founded in the state of New York while Mr. Rigdon
resided in Ohio, several hundred miles distant. Mr. Rigdon embraced the doctrine through my instrumentality. I first
presented the Book of Mormon to him." Pratt continued in this defender role, being the chief Apostle overseeing the
New England area Mormon missionary efforts, when he no doubt sent Elder Jesse Haven to interview Spalding's widow,
under the plausible "cover" of being an interested Christian. Again, not long after that, Pratt was present at the
Philadelphia conference where the Spalding claims seems to have come up -- at least Rigdon was there and Joseph Smith reportedly
went from there to Washington, D. C. and issued curses against advocates of the claims. From there Pratt went to
England and published the first Mormon tract addressing the Spalding claims -- and was met at that time there by his
Philadelphia conference host, Benjamin Winchester, who, in turn, went back to America and published the first Mormon
anti-Spalding tract in the USA. Pratt was clearly an anti-Spalding partisan entrusted with considerable power to act on
his own, in behalf of the Church, in combatting the problem.
Pratt knew more than he was telling and cannot be relied upon. Since he took it upon himself to offer up such a stern
defense of Rigdon, I can only conclude that when Rigdon was converted to Mormonism, that he and Pratt had planned
the meeting and its outcome in advance, and that when any of us say that Rigdon knew of the Book of Mormon before
1830, we must also admit that Pratt knew he knew -- and that Pratt very likely knew also.
Lastly, I doubt very much that Pratt was the only person Rigdon could have sent to New York -- though he was perhaps
the best choice. Other Reformed Baptists fell under Rigdon's visionary influence and converts like Orson Hyde, Lyman
Wight, Father Morley, F. G. William, Edward Partridge, Oliver Snow etc. might have "done in a pinch." Darwin Atwater,
another of Rigdon's parishoners criticized Rigdon's religious hobbies and later reported: "In all my intercourse with
him afterward he never spoke of antiquities, or of the wonderful book that should give account of them, till the book
of Mormon really was published. He must have thought I was not the man to reveal that to. "
If Pratt was the best choice, I cannot prove that point -- I can only speculate. Perhaps Pratt (a fair writer on his own)
was somehow involved in the final composition of the Book of Mormon, though his rather ate appearance on the scene
appears to argue against that. Perhaps as a reported tin-wares peddler in western New York he was acquainted with
Oliver Cowdery, a reported pamphlet peddler. At any rate the two men had the energy and stamina to walk most
of the way to Indian Territory, from Palmyra, loaded down with peddler's packs full of Gold Bibles. I see Pratt as a
low-level member of the Gold Bible Company -- who probably never knew the secrets of the book's origin, but really
did not care, so long as he was able to carve out a position of authority for himself in the new organization.
Or so it seems to me.