Mormonism Unvailed

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Title Page from Mormonism Unvailed

Mormonism Unvailed [sic] is a book published in 1834 by Eber D. Howe. The title page proclaims the book to be a contemporary exposé of Mormonism, and makes the claim that the historical portion of the Book of Mormon text was based upon a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding.

"A faithful account of that singular imposition and delusion, from its rise to the present time. With sketches of the characters of its propagators, and a full detail of the manner in which the famous Golden Bible was brought before the world. To which are added, inquiries into the probability that the historical part of the said Bible was written by one Solomon Spalding, more than twenty years ago, and by him intended to have been published as a romance" (Howe 1834, p. Title page).

The publication of Mormonism Unvailed is significant in Mormon history as it is considered to be the first anti-Mormon book (Mitton 2004, p. xviii). The book represented the first significant opposition to Mormonism by an author who had actually addressed the contents of the Book of Mormon.

Of the many subjects discussed in the book, two had a significantly lasting impact. The first of these was the publication of a number of affidavits and other statements related to the character of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris. The second significant item was the introduction of a popular early authorship theory for the Book of Mormon known as the "Spalding–Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship."

Overview of the book

  • Chapter 1 discusses the character of Joseph Smith and his family, as well as "some of the principal actors in the imposition." Howe presents "old Joseph and wife, the parents of the pretended Prophet, as lazy, indolent, ignorant and superstitious" and "not much disposed to obtain an honorable livelihood by labor" (Howe 1834, p. 11).
  • Chapters 2 discusses the production of the Book of Mormon or "Golden Bible" (Howe 1834, p. 17).
  • Chapters 3 through 7 discuss the contents of the Book of Mormon itself. Howe begins with a comment regarding the style in which the book was written, stating that "The whole work is written in a miserable attempt to imitate the style of King James the first" (Howe 1834, p. 23).
  • Chapter 8 discusses the conversion and involvement of Sidney Rigdon. Howe remarks on reports that "Rigdon has been the Iago, the prime mover, of the whole conspiracy. Of this, however, we have no positive proof" (Howe 1834, p. 100).
  • Chapter 9 deals more with Rigdon during his time in Kirtland. Included in this chapter is a lengthy letter to Rigdon from Thomas Campbell, who refers to Rigdon as "a professed disciple and public teacher of the infernal book of Mormon." Regarding this letter, Howe states that "after Rigdon had read a few lines of the above, he hastily committed it to the flames" (Howe 1834, p. 123).[1]
  • Chapter 10 deals with alleged Mormon practices of healing and the execution of missionary work "by sending abroad every thing that could walk, no matter how ignorant" (Howe 1834, p. 130).
  • Chapter 11 discusses the "gift of tongues," of which Howe comments: "This gibberish for several months was practiced almost daily" (Howe 1834, p. 136).
  • Chapter 12 discusses the conflicts of the Mormons with the inhabitants of Jackson County, Missouri.
  • Chapters 13 and 14 deal with the "Mormon War."
  • Chapter 15 includes a number of letters written by Methodist clergyman Ezra Booth.
  • Chapter 16 addresses the subject of Mormon revelations.
  • Chapter 17 includes a set of affidavits collected by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, which discuss the character of Joseph Smith and Martin Harris.
  • Chapter 18 discusses the visit of Martin Harris to Charles Anthon.
  • Chapter 19 introduces the claim that the Book of Mormon plagiarized from a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding.

Hurlbut affidavits

Howe introduces the section containing the affidavits by stating:

"We next present to the reader a few, among the many despositions which have been obtained from the neighborhood of the Smith family, and the scene where the far famed Gold Bible had its pretended origin" (Howe 1834, p. 231).

The affidavits attesting to the character of Joseph Smith were collected by Doctor[2] Philastus Hurlbut. The affidavits themselves are not known to exist outside of their printing in Mormonism Unvailed (Mitton 2004, p. xviii, note 13). One purpose of the affidavits was to discredit the Smith family by emphasizing their treasure seeking activities as a negative reflection upon their character. In doing so, however, some of those providing these statements revealed their own involvement with treasure seeking as well (Bushman 2005, p. 49). Martin Harris was also the subject of a number of these statements.

Hurlbut had previously been excommunicated on charges of immorality. A contemporary author discusses Hurlbut's background, noting that prior to joining the LDS church that he was a member of a Methodist congregation but was "expelled for unvirtuous conduct with a young lady" (Winchester 1840, p. 5). As a member, Hurlbut "immediately commenced his old practices, in attempting to seduce a young female...for this crime he was immediately expelled from the church." In response to his expulsion from the church, Hurlbut "now determined to demolish, as far as practicable, what he had once endeavoured to build up" (Winchester 1840, p. 6).

Hurlbut traveled to Palmyra and the surrounding regions at the request of an Ohio anti-Mormon committee for the purpose of "collecting statements disparaging to the Smith name" (Jessee 1989, p. 12, editor's note).[3]

LDS scholars have challenged the Hurlbut affidavits, claiming that they appear to contain "selected rather than random comments" and that they "appear to be hearsay and gossip rather than a reflection of firsthand knowledge" (Mitton 2004, p. xix-xx).

Manchester residents

Eleven residents of the Manchester area signed the following statement:

We, the undersigned, being personally acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, sen. with whom the celebrated Gold Bible, so called, originated, state: that they were not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate; and their word was not to be depended upon; and that we are truly glad to dispense with their society (Howe 1834, p. 262).[4]

One LDS scholar points out the contradiction that "the large household of ten Smiths survived a dozen years without seriously working but spent days and nights in seeking treasures and finding none" (Anderson 1990). Smith himself wrote in his journal:

"At the age of about ten years my Father Joseph Smith, Siegnior [Senior,] moved to Palmyra, Ontario County in the State of New York. And being in indigent circumstances [we] were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine Chilldren. As it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family, therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education. Suffice it to say I was merely instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rule of Arithmatic which const[it]uted my whole literary acquirements" (Hill 1995, p. 26).[5]

Affidavit of Willard Chase

Willard Chase was a friend of Joseph Smith. According to one author, ordinary people at the time had "no difficulty blending Christianity with magic" and described Chase as "the most vigorous of the Manchester treasure-seekers" as well as a Methodist class leader (Bushman 2005, p. 50).

Discovery of a "seer" stone

The Willard Chase affidavit discusses the joint discovery that he and Joseph Smith made of a "seer" stone while digging a well together. Chase states that Smith claimed to be able to see things in the stone, and that he allowed it to remain in Smith's possession for several years. Chase describes how he wanted the stone back and sent a friend to the Smiths' house to view it. The response related by Chase is that his friend said that Smith said "I don't care who in the Devil it belongs to, you shall not have it" (Chase 1833, p. 242).

LDS scholars note that Chase's statements all represent second or third-hand accounts. They also note that Chase was just as involved in treasure seeking as Joseph Smith, and for this reason perhaps envied the seer stone once he became aware of its purported abilities (Harper 2003, pp. 273–308).

Toad as a treasure guardian

The Chase affidavit relates a conversation that he states that he had with the father of Joseph Smith in June 1827. The story relates to Smith's claim to have seen an angel named Moroni at the time that he was attempting to retrieve from a stone box the Golden Plates, from which the Book of Mormon is said to have been translated. According to Chase, there were certain requirements related to treasure seeking which Smith had to fulfill in order to be able to obtain the plates (Chase 1833, p. 242).[6] One statement attributed by Chase to Joseph Smith Senior is that Smith (Junior) "saw in the box something like a toad, which soon assumed the appearance of a man, and struck him on the side of his head" (Chase 1833, p. 242). Years later Chase's brother-in-law, Benjamin Saunders claimed that he heard the story directly from Joseph Smith. By 1893, Saunders' nephew was "quoting" Joseph Smith as having said that the animal was an "enormous toad" which turned into a "flaming monster with glittering eyes" (Ashurst-McGee 2006). According to author D. Michael Quinn, early American folk traditions associate the toad with "Satanism, black magic, sorcery, and witchcraft" and that "[i]f anything changed from the appearance of a toad to the appearance of a person, that thing was an evil spirit, or a witch, or a bewitched person" (Quinn 1998, p. 152).

It is suggested by LDS scholars that Chase and others "intentionally portrayed Moroni as a particular type of treasure guardian incompatible with an angel" (Ashurst-McGee 2003).

Affidavit of Isaac Hale

Isaac Hale was the father-in-law of Joseph Smith Junior. Hale's affidavit concerns his belief that the story of the translation of the gold plates was a delusion on the part of Smith and his associates. Hale states:

"I told them, that I considered the whole of it a delusion, and advised them to abandon it. The manner in which he pretended to read and interpret, was the same as when he looked for the money-diggers, with the stone in his hat, and his hat over his face, while the Book of Plates were at the same time hid in the woods!" (Hale 1834, p. 265).

One author suggests that the Isaac Hale affidavit was not obtained by Hurlbut, but was instead published first in a local newspaper, the Susquehanna Register on 1 May 1834, and that Howe simply reprinted the letter in Mormonism Unvailed (Quinn 1998, p. 140). Howe does not single out the source of Hale's statement, other than to state that it was "[a]ffirmed to and subscribed before me, March 20, 1834. CHARLES DIMON, J. Peace" of Susquehanna County, approximately one and a half months before its publication in the Susquehanna Register. Howe's introduction to the affidavit section of his book implies that all statements (including Hale's) contained therein were obtained as "depositions."

Affidavit of Lucy Harris

Lucy Harris was the former wife of Martin Harris. During the period of time that she was married to Martin Harris, Lucy Harris once claimed to have a dream in which she said that she saw the gold plates. As a result of this she offered Joseph Smith a gift of $28 in order to help finance the Book of Mormon translation.(Black & Porter 2005, pp. 4–11) Lucy Harris was also involved in the lost 116 pages incident.

Harris's affidavit claims that her husband "was once industrious attentive to his domestic concerns," and that he was once worth ten thousand dollars. She stated that "[i]f he had labored as hard on his farm as he has to make Mormons, he might now be one of the wealthiest farmers in the country." She stated the Harris's motivation in being associated with Mormonism was to make money.

Harris also accused her husband Martin of beating her with a whip, and implied that he was having an affair with a neighbor, Mrs. Haggard (Harris 1833, p. 255).

Letter from Charles Anthon

Howe includes a letter received from Charles Anthon regarding a visit made to him by Martin Harris. Harris showed him a copy of characters reported to have been copied from the gold plates. Anthon states that he initially viewed this as a hoax, and later decided that it was a scheme to cheat Harris out of his money. Anthon described the characters as "evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived." Anthon requested that his letter be published immediately in case his name was mentioned again "by these wretched fanatics" (Anthon 1834, p. 272).

Use of the Howe/Hurlbut affidavits in modern works

The Howe/Hurlbut affidavits have continued over the years to provide a rich source of information for authors critical of the Book of Mormon and the origin of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Anderson's 1990 Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined

Author Rodger I. Anderson in his 1990 book Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined supports the affidavits and contrasts the statements in them with statements made by Joseph Smith in his own published history. Anderson states that the affidavits "must be granted permanent status as primary documents relating to Joseph Smith’s early life and the origins of Mormonism" (Anderson 1990, p. 114). LDS scholars respond that Anderson has "attempted to rescue the Hurlbut-Howe and other similar statements from the ravages of Mormon sophistry" (Mitton 2004, p. xx).

Vogel's 1998 Early Mormon Documents (Vol. 2)

Vogel presents the Hurlbut affidavits in Volume 2 of his compilation of early Mormon documents as the "Philastus Hurlbut Collection." Vogel cites Anderson's 1990 work as support for the validity of the documents (Vogel 1998, p. 15).

Palmer's 2002 An Insider's View of Mormon Origins

According to LDS scholars, author Grant Palmer relied extensively upon the Hurlbut affidavits in his 2002 book An Insider's View of Mormon Origins for the purpose of "overlaying run-of-the-mill treasure lore" onto Joseph Smith's original account of the recovery of the golden plates (Ashurst-McGee 2003).

Vogel's 2004 Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet

Author Dan Vogel repeadtedly made use of the statements contained in the Hurlbut affidavits and Mormonism Unvailed in his 2004 biography Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet.[7] In this book Vogel proposes that Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon and founded a church for the purpose of saving his family from poverty. The statements contained in the affidavits are used as sources to support Vogel's assertion of the influence of treasure hunting on Joseph Smith's actions (Vogel 2004). LDS scholars respond that Vogel "fails to see how weak and vague these charges are" and point out that for the majority of the treasure hunting expeditions described, Joseph Smith is not even recorded as having been present (Hedges & Hedges 2005, p. 219). Furthermore, in an earlier collection of Mormon documents which he edited, Vogel opined that "the collection of affidavits gathered in 1833 by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut...shed no light on Mormon origins" (Vogel 1996, p. xiv).

Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship

Hurlbut heard of an unpublished romance novel by author Solomon Spalding as he was touring Pennsylvania giving lectures against Mormonism. Hurlbut concluded that the description of the story in the manuscript bore some resemblance to that of the Book of Mormon (Spaulding 1996).

Author Dan Vogel suggests that Hurlbut was not the originator of the theory, noting that Hurlbut pursued this in response to what he had heard about the manuscript and suggests that had Hurlbut been the inventor of the theory "he would not have made strenuous efforts to recover Spalding's manuscript" (Vogel 1998, p. 15).

Statements from Spalding's neighbors and relatives

Eight of the affidavits acquired by Hurlbut from Solomon Spalding's neighbors stated that there were similarities between the story and the Book of Mormon (Roper 2005).

An example is the statement of Solomon Spalding's brother John, which declared that Spalding's manuscript, referred to as Manuscript Found, "gave a detailed account of their journey from Jerusalem, by land and sea, till they arrived in America, under the command of NEPHI and LEHI. They afterwards had quarrels and contentions, and separated into two distinct nations, one of which he denominated Nephites and the other Lamanites." Martha Spalding, John's wife, tells a similar story, and states that "the names of Nephi and Lehi are yet fresh in my memory, as being the principal heroes of his tale" (Howe 1834, p. 279).

Author Fawn Brodie expressed suspicion regarding these statements, claiming that the style of the statements was too similar and displayed too much uniformity. Brodie suggests that Hurlbut did a "little judicious prompting" (Brodie 1971, pp. 446–47).

Howe's response to the Spalding manuscript

Howe concluded that Joseph Smith and Sidney Ridgon plagiarized the Spalding manuscript and then produced the Book of Mormon for the purpose of making money. Hurlbut obtained the manuscript from Spalding's widow and provided it to Howe in 1833 prior to the publication of Mormonism Unvailed. Howe was unable to find the alleged similarities with the Book of Mormon that were described in the statements and instead argued that there must exist a second Spalding manuscript which was now lost. After the publication of Howe's book in 1834, the Spalding manuscript in his possession was either lost or suppressed (Roper 2005).

Rejection of the theory

In 1840 Benjamin Winchester, who personally knew Hurlbut, published a book rejecting the Spalding theory as "a sheer fabrication." Winchester attributed the creation of the entire story to Hurlbut (Winchester 1840, p. Title page).

In 1884 a Spalding manuscript known as "Manuscript Story" was discovered and published. This manuscript is believed by some to bear no resemblance to the Book of Mormon story, but believed by others to contain parallels in theme and narrative.[citation needed] The second "lost" manuscript purported to exist by Howe has never been discovered.

Resurgence of the Spalding theory

The Spalding theory was once again discussed in the mid-1970s, when it was suggested that a section of unidentified handwriting on the Book of Mormon manuscript might be Spalding's. Analysis of this handwriting proved, however, that it did not belong to Spalding (Spaulding 1996).


  1. The ability of Howe to reproduce Campbell's letter in its entirety (covering a full seven and one-half pages in his book) after Rigdon burned it is not explained.
  2. The term "Doctor" was not a title, but rather Hurlbut's first given name.
  3. Jessee states that Hurlbut's task was to 'obtain information that would show “the bad character of the Mormon Smith Family,” divest Joseph of “all claims to the character of an honest man,” and place him at an “immeasurable distance from the high station he pretends to occupy.” To accomplish his task, Hurlbut traveled in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania collecting statements disparaging to the Smith name.'
  4. It is not known whether or not Hurbut authored this statement before it was attested to by these individuals.
  5. "A History of the Life of Joseph Smith, Jr.," 1832 (from Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987], pp. 3-8)
  6. Chase claimed that "On the 22d of September, [Smith] must repair to the place where was deposited this manuscript, dressed in black clothes, and riding a black horse with a switch tail, and demand the book in a certain name, and after obtaining it, he must go directly away, and neither lay it down nor look behind him."
  7. The book Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet cites Mormonism Unvailed fifty-six times.


External links