Short Biographies of the Major Characters in the Enigma

Solomon Spalding, M.A. (1761-1816)

A Revolutionary War veteran, ex-preacher, small-time land speculator and inn-keeper who, in 1812, began to compose a novel entitled A Manuscript Found, but died before he could arrange for it to be published. 

Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844)

A ne’er-do-well believer in things esoteric and occult whose youthful activities led to his arrest and conviction as a con-artist in 1826 and who was widely regarded by his neighbors as a dishonest person of ill-repute. In 1827 he claimed to have been contacted by an angel named Moroni who allegedly provided him with plates of gold upon which the text of The Book of Mormon was supposedly inscribed in hieroglyphics. In 1830, he, along with a number of family members and a few close associates, founded a new religious movement which would ultimately become known as Mormonism.

Rev. Sidney Rigdon (1793-1876)

A controversial renegade Baptist clergyman who preached throughout western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio. In 1814, he quietly “borrowed” Spalding’s A Manuscript Found from the Pittsburgh publisher to whom Spalding had entrusted it, and surreptitiously made a copy of it. In 1826 he provided that copy to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith but remained under cover during the process of coverting Spalding’s manuscript into The Book of Mormon. In 1830 he openly joined the Mormons and quickly became one of the leaders of the new religion.

Oliver Cowdery (1806-1850)

A cousin of Joseph Smith who, in his youth, was an itinerant peddler of pamphlets and scribal services throughout western New York as well as a “dabbler in the art of printing.” In 1826, while visiting Ohio, he obtained a copy of Spalding’s A Manuscript Found from Sidney Rigdon and he, Rigdon, and Smith became partners in a venture to rewrite the manuscript and publish it as The Book of Mormon. In 1830, he became co-founder and “Second Elder” of the Mormon movement which eventually evolved into today’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rev. Robert Patterson, Sr. (1773-1854)

A pioneer Presbyterian minister who, in 1812, joined with his brother Joseph to form the Pittsburgh printing and publishing establishment of R & J Patterson. It was there that Solomon Spalding took his novel, A Manuscript Found, in hopes of having it published.

Jonathan H. Lambdin (1798-1825)

In 1812, at the age of fourteen, he became a clerk in the R & J Patterson establishment. While there, he met and was befriended by Sidney Rigdon and almost certainly (although perhaps innocently) assisted Rigdon in obtaining and copying Spalding’s manuscript.

Eber D. Howe (1798-1885)

A prominent editor, printer, and newspaper publisher from Painesville, Ohio, who became one of the earliest and most vocal critics of Mormonism. In 1834, he published Mormonism Unvailed, in which he presented a body of evidence asserting that The Book of Mormon had been derived from Solomon Spalding’s unpublished novel A Manuscript Found.

Doctor Philastus Hurlbut (1809-1883)

After joining the Mormons in Ohio in the spring of 1833, Hurlbut was dispatched on a missionary journey to northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania. There he encountered some of Solomon Spalding’s former friends and neighbors who informed him that The Book of Mormon was actually Spalding’s old novel A Manuscript Found, with which they were familiar because Spalding, who had lived at Conneaut, Ohio, before moving to Pittsburgh, had shared portions of it with them while writing it. This discovery soon led to Hurlbut’s leaving Mormonism and embarking on an extensive investigation aimed at discovering and exposing the real origin of The Book of Mormon. In early 1834, he turned his findings over to Eber Howe, who published them later that same year in his book Mormonism Unvailed.

David Whitmer (1805-1888)

A friend of Oliver Cowdery who became one of the earliest adherents to Mormonism and one of the so-called Three Witnesses (along with Cowdery and Martin Harris, below) to the authenticity of The Book of Mormon.

Martin Harris (1782-1875)

A prosperous, but gullible, farmer whose supreme credulity led him inextricably into Joseph Smith’s orbit until he was finally conned into financing the printing of The Book of Mormon. Eventually fleeced of his wealth, he was dumped by Smith in Ohio where he lived in virtual poverty for many years until, in extreme old age, he was “resurrected” to prominence by Brigham Young and moved to Utah, where he died.

Dr. Warren Cowdery, MD (1788-1851)

Oliver Cowdery’s eldest brother, with whom he kept in close contact for the rest of his life. Dr. Cowdery began to practive medicine in western New York in 1816. The records of his medical practice as well as his correspondence with his brother have offered valuable contributions to this volume.

Benjamin Franklin Cowdery (1790-1867)

A cousin of Oliver Cowdery and one of western New York’s pioneer printers and editors. It was he who, between 1822 and 1828, taught Oliver much of what he knew about printing,

William Morgan (1774-1826?)

A shady and mysterious character who appeared in Rochester, NY, in the early 1820s claiming to be a Freemason of advanced degree. In 1825, he and several associates entered into a clandestine partnership aimed at publishing a book which would expose the innermost secrets of the Masons. One of his erstwhile friends later stated that Morgan was “a half-way convert” of Joseph Smith, who had taught him how to interpret dreams and visions. He was also, for a time, affiliated with several Masonic lodges in the Rochester area, including one where Oliver Cowdery and his brother Warren were almost certainly members. Evidence points to Oliver having served as a personal scribe to Morgan while he was in the process of composing his book. In 1826, some loyal Masons got wind of Morgan’s plan to expose their secrets, which resulted in his mysterious kidnapping and disappearance known today as the Morgan Affair. One of those involved in Morgan’s disappearance was Orsamus Turner, who was later tried but not convicted.

Orsamus Turner (1801-1855)

Another of western New York’s pioneer printers and editors, he first met Oliver Cowdery in 1822 and later published a lengthy and detailed account of his personal recollections concerning both Smith’s and Cowdery’s involvement in the forthcoming of The Book of Mormon and the founding of the Mormon religion.

Matilda Spalding McKinstry (1805-1891)

Solomon Spalding’s adopted daughter who was almost certainly the illegitimate child of Mrs. Spalding’s brother. Mrs. McKinstry’s personal recollections concerning her father and his manuscript comprise an invaluable part of the historical record with respect to the Spalding Enigma.

Judge Aron Wright (1776?-1853)

Judge Wright was among Solomon Spalding’s neighbors at Conneaut, Ohio, during the time he was composing A Manuscript Found. His invaluable recollections survive in the form of two written statements made in 1833.