Mormonism Unvailed, chapter 18


Mormonism Unvailed Howe, Eber D., b. 1798

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Howe, E. D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, 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. Painesville, Ohio:E. D. Howe, 1834.


It is asserted in the Mormon Bible, that the engravings upon the plates, were in the“Reformed Egyptian.” In conformity to this, the Mormonite preachers, and others of the sect, have frequently declared that the engravings upon the plates were, by some of our learned men, who had a specimen shown them, pronounced to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics,” or “ancient short hand Egyptian.”—Among others, Professor Anthon, of New York, was frequently mentioned as giving such an opinion. This act of deception and falsehood is only one among hundreds of others, equally gross, which are resorted to by these im- [269] postors, to gain proselytes. It being calculated to have considerable weight, when fully believed, we took the liberty to inform Mr. Anthon of the vile use that was made of his name, in this country; and to request of him a statement of the facts respecting it. The following is his reply:

New York, Feb. 17, 1834.

Dear Sir—I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles ! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face. Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm [270] house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered “by the gift of God.” Every thing, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles. On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular col- [271] umns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and 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. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.” Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this.

On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.

I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics. Yours respectfully,


E. D. Howe, Esq. Painesville, Ohio.

That the impostors made the declarations respecting Pro- [272] fessor Anthon, they will undoubtedly deny, as this is their uniform practice, after being fully convinced of any act which militates against them ; but in this case it will be in vain. The following letter from Wm. W. Phelps, a very important personage among them, (who was for a time denominated the Lord’s printer) in answer to some enquiries touching the origin of Mormonism, will show what was taught him while a pupil under Smith and Rigdon, and that the story about Mr. Anthon’s declarations, was one upon which they places great reliance. We give the letter in full, for the purpose of further comments:

Canandaigua, Jan. 15, 1831 .

Dir Sir—Yours of the 11th, is before me, but to give you a satisfactory answer, is out of my power. To be sure, I am acquainted with a number of the persons concerned in the publication, called the “Book of Mormon.”—Joseph Smith is a person of very limited abilities in common learning—but his knowledge of divine things, since the appearance of his book, has astonished many. Mr. Harris, whose name is in the book, is a wealthy farmer, but of small literary acquirements; he is honest, and sincerely declares upon his soul’s salvation that the book is true, and was interpreted by Joseph Smith, through a pair of silver spectacles, found with the plates. The places where they dug for the plates, in Manchester, are to be seen. When the plates were said to have been found, a copy of one or two lines of the characters, were taken by Mr. Harris to Utica, Albany and New York ; at New York, they were shown to Dr. Mitchell, and he referred them to professor Anthon who translated and declared them to be the ancient shorthand Egyptian. So much is true. The family of Smiths is poor, and generally ignorant in common learning.

I have read the book, and many others have, but we have nothing by which we can positively detect it as an imposi- [273] tion, nor have we any thing more than what I have stated and the book itself, to show its genuineness. We doubt—supposing, if it is false, it will fall, and if of God, God will sustain it.

I had ten hours discourse with a man from your state, named Sidney Rigdon, a convert to its doctrines, and he declared it was true, and he knew it by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was again given to man in preparation for the millennium : he appeared to be a man of talents, and sincere in his profession. Should any new light be shed on the subject, I will apprise you.


E. D. HOWE, Esq.


The author of the above letter is, perhaps, deserving of a little more notice. Before the rise of Mormonism, he was an avowed infidel; having a remarkable propensity for fame and eminence, he was supercilious, haughty and egotistical. His great ambition was to embark in some speculation where he could shine pre-eminent. He took an active part for several years in the political contests of New York, and made no little display as an editor of a partizan newspaper, and after being foiled in his desires to become a candidate for Lt. Governor of that state, his attention was suddenly diverted by the prospects which were held out to him in the Gold Bible speculation. In this he was sure of becoming a great man, and made the dupes believe he was master of fourteen different languages, of which they frequently boasted. But he soon found that the prophet would suffer no growing rivalships, whose sagacity he had not well calculated, until he was met by a revelation, which informed him that he could rise no higher than a printer: “Let my servant William stand in the office which I have appointed him, and receive his inheritance in the land, and also he hath need to repent, for I the Lord [Jo] am not pleased with him, for he seeketh to exult. ” It will be noticed by the [274] foregoing letter, that he had already made up his mind to embrace Mormonism, but still wished to conceal his intentions.

It was not till about six months after that he had made definite arrangements to join them; by first fully understanding what his business was to be. After being created an Elder and Lord’s printer, he repaired to Missouri with the squad that first went out, and on his return called on us to “acknowledge his gratitude,” as he expressed it, for first directing his attention to Mormonism, saying that he knew nothing about it, till the receipt of our letter—that he then commenced an investigation of the subject, “and found it to be true”! stating that he had made great sacrifices, and abandoned a business worth $2500 a year. We mention these things to show the hypocrisy of the man.

His letter it will be seen is dated the 15th Jan. in answer to ours of the 11th, only four days intervening. During these four days, then, our letter must have travelled over 300 miles, he talked with Rigdon ten hours, examined the holes where Smith had dug for money, and obtained all the other information which he communicates. Besides it is a well known fact that, notwithstanding his large income, he had been thrown into jail on a small debt, and offered to sell out his printing establisement for one hundred and fifty dollars. For his honesty, however, the prophet has left him to till the soil in Missouri, while the business of printing has been transferred to Kirtland, Ohio, and placed under the direction of O. Cowdery.


The reader will already have observed, that a great variety of contradictory stories were related by the Smith family, before they had any fixed plan of operation, respecting the finding of the plates, from which their book was translated. One is, that after the plates were taken from [275] their hiding place by Jo, he again laid them down, looked into the hole, where he saw a toad, which immediately transformed itself into a spirit, and gave him a tremendous blow.

Another is, that after he had got the plates, a spirit assaulted him with the intention of getting them from his possession, and actually jerked them out of his hands—Jo, nothing daunted, in return seized them again, and started to run, when his Satanic Majesty, (or the spirit) applied his foot to the prophet’s seat of honor, which raised him three or four feet from the ground. This being the opening scene of Mormonism, we have represented the wonderful event in our frontispiece. That the prophet has related a story of this kind, to some of his “weak saints,” we have no manner of doubt.

Here, then, is the finding of the plates, containing a new revelation from Heaven; and the modus operandi may seem to the Mormon, truly wonderful, and in character with that Being who upholds and sustains the Universe ; but to the rational mind it can excite no other emotion than contempt for his species.

One scene in the drama of disposing of the plates, we have also placed upon the same cut—being two of the most important events in the history of Mormonism. The latter story was related by Lemon Copley, (who had been an elder of the society, and was at the time for aught that appeared) under oath, before two magistrates, of Painesville Township, on a trial where the prophet had sworn the peace against one of his seceding brethren.

Mr. Copley testified, that after the Mormon brethren arrived here from the Susquehannah, one of them, by the name of Joseph Knight, related to him a story as having been related to him by Joseph Smith, Jun. which excited some curiosity in his mind, he determined to ask Joseph more particularly about it, on the first opportunity. Not [276] long after it was confirmed to him by Joseph himself, who again related it in the following manner : “After he had finished translating the Book of Mormon, he again buried up the plates in the side of a mountain, by command of the Lord; some time after this, he was going through a piece of woods, on a by-path, when he discovered an old man dressed in ordinary gray apparel, sitting upon a log, having in his hand or near by, a small box. On approaching him, he asked him what he had in his box.

To which the old man replied, that he had a MONKEY, and for five coppers he might see it.

Joseph answered, that he would not give a cent to see a monkey, for he had seen a hundred of them. He then asked the old man where he was going, who said he was going to Charzec. Joseph then passed on, and not recollecting any such place in that part of the country, began to ponder over the strange interview, and finally asked the Lord the meaning of it. The Lord told him that the man he saw was MORONI, with the plates, and if he had given him the five coppers, he might have got his plates again.”

Here we have a story related by our modern prophet, to his followers, for no other purpose, as we conceive, but to make his pretensions more “marvelous in their eyes.” A celebrated Mormon prophet, of ancient times, and one of modern date, have an interview in the woods, and hold a conversation about a MONKEY; one prophet of the Lord relating a falsehood to another ! ! ! [277]

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