Richard B. Stout
"A Singular Discovery"
The Evangel 2001-02
A Singular Discovery:
Especially because of this family connection, it would appear likely that Joseph Smith used the details surrounding the Detroit Manuscript as a template upon which to construct his story of the Book of Mormon's "coming forth." Further, there is evidence which proves that events, names, places, and even controversial animals which appear in the Book of Mormon could have been borrowed from the writings of the well-known scholar identified in both accounts as Dr. Mitchell. Perhaps most startling of all, paleographic research indicates that Joseph may have copied many of the characters he had Martin Harris take to Dr. Mitchell directly from the Detroit Manuscript.
Several years before his death, the Reverend Wesley Walters sent me a photocopy of a 299 page collection of articles from early nineteenth century sources. The typewritten manuscript, Documents From Early Mormon History, was compiled by John Phillip Walker. The following item was found in a nationally circulated news magazine. (Portions of quotations presented throughout are underlined or set in boldface for emphasis. Textual errors are not noted by "[sic]" unless found in modern commentaries.)
Nile's Weekly Register, Vol. 24, p. 130, May 3, 1823
Anthon Transcript "Caractors"
Curious about the "curious manuscript," I contacted the Detroit Public Library. They provided me with a list of students interested in doing research projects in the Burton Historical Collection, whose holdings include the Detroit Gazette. Photocopies of the following two articles from that publication arrived shortly thereafter. They are printed here in full.
Detroit Gazette, March 7, 1823, p. 2
Besides the six obvious general parallels the Book of Mormon shares with the earlier Detroit Manuscript -- (1) a hidden (2) religious work (3) discovered in 1823 whose (4) unknown characters were (5) sent to New York City (6) where they puzzled "the learned" -- I was also intrigued by the seventh parallel that one of the persons associated with the history of the Book of Mormon, Dr. Mitchell, was also connected with the Detroit Manuscript. What were the odds, I wondered, of Abraham Edwards, or his agents, and Joseph Smith's benefactor-cum-scribe, Martin Harris, independently choosing the same man for an opinion on the language of their manuscripts?
According to "The History of Joseph Smith" published in the Times and Seasons of May 2, 1842, Harris took facsimile copies from the gold plates of the Book of Mormon and their translations to a Professor Anthony (later corrected "Anthon") in New York City, as well as to a Dr. Mitchel (later changed to "Mitchell"). Apparently, only a single leaf of these facsimiles, known as the "Anthon transcript," has survived. David Whitmer, one of the "Three Witnesses" to the Book of Mormon, retained the copy. He wrote in 1887: "I have in my possession the original... paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates...." Above the strange signs and symbols is written "Caractors." Several writers on Mormonism, including Dean Jessee of the LDS Church Historian's Office, have concluded that this attempt at the word "Characters" is in the handwriting of Joseph Smith, Jr. The first three lines of the transcript were also published in 1844 on a black and gold placard advertising the Book of Mormon, and, later that same year, in the Dec. 21 issue of The Prophet, a semi-official LDS newspaper published in New York City. In the placard, the second half of the third line of characters was printed upside down and backwards. This error was corrected in The Prophet.
Joseph Smith claimed Martin Harris wrote the following regarding his meeting with Dr. Anthon:
"I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.
It has never been explained why Harris didn't secure a certificate from Mitchell, but Charles Anthon did verify his visit -- but not his version of what took place-in two published letters written seven and fourteen years later. In the second letter Anthon writes:
As Dr. Mitchell was our "Magnus Apollo" in those days, [Martin Harris] called first upon him; but the Doctor, evidently suspecting some trick, declined giving any opinion about the matter, and sent the countryman down to the college, to see, in all probability, what the "learned pundits" in that place would make of the affair. On my telling the bearer of the paper that an attempt had been made to impose on him, and defraud him of his property, he requested me to give him my opinion in writing about the paper which he had shown to me. I did so without any hesitation, partly for the man's sake, and partly to let the individual "behind the curtain" see that his trick was discovered. The import of what I wrote was, as far as I can now recollect, simply this, that the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetical characters, and had, in my opinion, no meaning at all connected with them. The countryman then took his leave... 1
Much ink has been spilt by Mormon writers in an attempt to vindicate Harris' version while casting aspersions on Anthon's -- even after it became well established that neither Drs. Anthon nor Mitchell could possibly have sanctioned Joseph's translation of the characters. There are two unassailable reasons for this conclusion. First, no one on earth besides Jean-Francois Champollion of France could decipher ancient Egyptian in 1828. Second, according to the Book of Mormon itself, the Egyptian characters had so evolved during their one thousand years in the New World that not even an ancient Egyptian could have translated the Book of Mormon's "reformed Egyptian," let alone a Classics professor at Columbia. Mormon 9:34 proclaims: "But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language..."
Nevertheless, Mormons have continued to support Harris at Dr. Anthon's expense. For example, in his article "The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems" (BYU Studies, volume 10, No. 3, Spring 1970) Professor Stanley B. Kimball, while ultimately giving Anthon and his colleague the benefit of the doubt, suggests that they may have "made up their stories, or at least pretended knowledge they did not have." 2 He goes on to say. "This is, unfortunately, not too difficult to believe. The learned are prone to pontificate." (335) While pontificate means "to speak... in a pompous or dogmatic way," it does not mean "to make things up" or "to pretend to knowledge one does not have" -- which is what Kimball implies the professors may have done. Further, for someone supposedly so full of himself, Anthon's self-deprecation seems out of place. In referring to himself as one of the "learned pundits" he sets the expression off in quotation marks, as if making fun of such a lofty title.
Anthon's stellar reputation also undermines Kimball's offhand remark. According to Horace Coon's Columbia: Colossus on the Hudson (New York, 1947), "The monumental personality and scholar of the early days of Columbia College, however, was unquestionably Charles Anthon.... He had no outside interest or political axe to grind. His first passion was pure scholarship; his second was to compel his students to get a thorough grounding in Greek and Latin." (146)
The Dr. Mitchell mentioned in the Harris account was even less likely to pontificate in the fashion Kimball describes. A contemporary claimed: "No man was ever more universally accessible than he -- holding so high a place in society, yet he condescended to the lowest without ostentation -- descending even to the capacity of a child, to instruct, to encourage, or to amuse." 3
Dr. Kimball continues his libel by speculating without even a hint of evidence that "Anthon's interest in the matter may have gone deeper. Did he wish to share some of the wealth and fame that exploitation of the golden plates might bring?" (335) 4 Again, even the most superficial glance at Anthon's life puts the lie to this bizarre notion. Charles Anthon was hardly the treasure-hunting type. As has been noted, "He had no outside interests." But Horace Coon then goes even further, calling him "the unromantic son of an adventurous father." (146) 5
1 In a letter dated April 3rd, 1841, Professor Charles Anthon quotes Martin Harris thus regarding the writing on the gold plates. As quoted in Clark, 234 (see endnote 4.) Actually there are various sources, including Mormon, which describes "reformed Egyptian" as "unknown characters." For early published mentions of Harris taking the transcript to New York City, see Johnathan A. Hadley's Aug. [27,] 1829 article, "Golden Bible" and a Nov. 1831 letter written in Ohio. Anthon's tangential connection with the transcript was first mentioned in 1832 newspapers and first detailed by Eber D. Howe on pp. 270-274 of his 1834 book, Mormonism Unvailed, which included an 1831 letter mentioning Harris and Anthon. See also the Painesville Telegraph of April 14, 1835. Online URL: http://www.lavazone2.com/dbroadhu/OH/paintel4.htm#041735.
[transcriber's note: Subsequent to this article's publication, all "lavazone2.com" web-pages were transfered to "sidneyrigdon.com" -- the original citations in the text have been retained; however all links are updated to the new web address. For example, the link for http://www.lavazone2.com/dbroadhu/NY/NYObsv1.htm#050345 is now http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/NY/NYObsv1.htm#050345]
2 Stanley B. Kimball, "The Anthon Transcript: People, Primary Sources, and Problems," BYU Studies (Spring 1970) 348-349.
3 Kimball 346-347.
4 John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way (Philadelphia, 1842), 234-236.
5 Pascals's Eulogy, 8. As quoted in Alan David Aberbach's In Search of an American Identity: Samuel Latham Mitchill, Jeffersonian Nationalist (New York, 1988), 7.
A Singular Discovery:
As far as the truthfulness of the Harris statements concerning what occurred, we have no evidence whatsoever beyond his character. Richard L. Anderson has done extensive research on Harris' life in Palmyra and has proved that "none of his townsmen exceeded his established reputation as a responsible and honest individual..." (339)
Dr. Kimball is wrong in his assertion that no other evidence whatsoever existed to the truthfulness of the Harris statements beyond his character. The truth is, if Martin Harris' account is correct, Joseph Smith's is not. Just one year before Dr. Kimball's article appeared, BYU Studies published Dean C. Jessee's "The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision." It contained portions of Joseph Smith's earliest attempts at writing his history, "a six-page account recorded on three leaves of a ledger book, written between the summer of 1831 and November1832." (277) Most of the attention given this early history centered around its variant version of Joseph Smith's First Vision. In it, as opposed to the canonized 1838 "History," Joseph was sixteen, not fourteen at the time. His reason for going to the grove for prayer had nothing to do with a religious revival in the area, but was due to his Bible reading. Christ alone appeared to him, not the Father and the Son. And the message reportedly given him by the Savior was entirely different than the one contained in the later "official" LDS version.
This shaking of -- and what should have crumbled -- the very foundation of Mormonism has overshadowed Joseph Smith's account of the Harris/Anthon meeting also contained within those six pages. It is reproduced here "warts and all."
...the Lord had shown [Harris]
There can be no doubt that, according to this account of Joseph Smith's, Dr. Anthon could not have "stated the translation was correct." No translation was available for Anthon to check at the time of Martin Harris' visit. Joseph makes it clear that he had not "commenced translating the characters" until after Harris returned from his meeting with Anthon. Joseph claims Anthon was merely shown "some of the characters," asked, "read this I pray, " and replied, "I cannot." Even if there had been a translation available, if Anthon could not decipher the characters he certainly could not have pronounced their translation correct. If he had, it would be like someone who can't read Cyrillic verifying a Russian-to-English translation.
It should be pointed out that in his 1838 "History" Joseph contradicts his earlier testimony regarding the "Urim and Thummim" (the "spectacles for to read the book"). There he claims to have used them to translate some of the characters in December of 1827 and February of 1828-prior to Harris' trip. Interestingly though, Joseph himself never states that Harris took any of these translations with him. He reports only that "Sometime in this month of February, the aforementioned Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates, and started with them to the city of New York." (Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith-History 2:63)
In Joseph Smith and His Progenitors (Herald House reprint, 1969), Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother, wrote that Joseph received instructions that the first step in accomplishing the translation of the Book of Mormon "was to make a facsimile of some of the characters, which were called reformed Egyptian, and to send them to some of the most learned men of this generation, and ask them for the translation thereof." (121) A few pages later we are told that "it was agreed that Martin Harris... should take the characters to the East, and on his way, he was to call on all the professed linguists, in order to give them an opportunity to display their talents in giving a translation of the characters." (132) Clearly, Joseph's mother supports the "characters only" version of the Anthon/Harris meeting. She also supplies the intriguing information that Harris was sent to New York per divine instruction given Joseph. So, Harris' trip was not his own idea.
Given Joseph's predilection for rewriting "history," it is understandable that, unlike Martin Harris, he was not universally praised for truthfulness by his Palmyra neighbors. 7 The possibility that the Harris account was actually authored by Joseph himself cannot be dismissed out of hand -- no such account exists in Harris' handwriting. As he did with the final draft of his First Vision account, Joseph may have "beefed up" his earlier, unpublished version of Harris' trip for popular consumption. He must have realized in 1838 that this earlier attempt, which purports to fulfill Isaiah 29, lacked any mention of the sealed book used metaphorically in that chapter. The subject under consideration in Isaiah is not actually a sealed book, but "the vision of all." The "as" in the following King James Bible verse clearly labels "the words of a book" a simile, not a reality. It should also be noted that no account has Harris delivering the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon plates to "one that is learned," as Isaiah 29 would seem to demand:
11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed.
Harris was unavailable for consultation in 1838, since, despite "his established reputation as a responsible and honest individual," he had been excommunicated the previous December. 8 It seems suspiciously convenient that Joseph just happened to have an account of the Anthon affair written by Harris in his possession. As already pointed out, if this account ever actually existed, the original autograph has never been produced by the Mormon Church.
But, regardless of who wrote it, the Harris account does agree with Anthon's concerning the involvement of a Dr. Mitchell. However, in Anthon's version, it should be noted, Harris first seeks Dr. Mitchell's expertise. At the risk of what may seem too lengthy a digression, I believe it important to establish the identity and public reputation of the man identified as Dr. Mitchell by Harris, Anthon, and the Detroit Gazette -- since all three were slightly in error.
When Anthon calls Mitchell "our Magnus Apollo," "our" may refer to New York City or, more likely, Columbia College, where Anthon spent his entire career teaching Greek and Latin. Magnus is Latin for "great," and Apollo, the Roman sun god. A vernacular translation might be "leading light." But, Apollo is also the god of medicine, so the classical scholar may have been making a secondary allusion to a "great physician." The only candidate that fits either bill is Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill, who left his long-standing professorship at Columbia in 1826 to become vice-president of Rutgers Medical College.
While nearly everyone in the early nineteenth century seemed to know of Dr. Mitchill, few seemed to spell his name correctly with any regularity. Although serving terms in both the U.S. Senate and House, as well as the New York State Assembly, J. D. Hammond calls him "Mitchell" in History of Political Parties in the State of New York (volume I, 216 and 283). Charles Lanman makes the same mistake on page 295 of his Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States During Its First Century. Niles' Register, which frequently carried items on the "Doctor" referred to him as both "Mitchell" and "Mitchill" in the same article on at least two occasions! 9 The point is summed up by Mitchill biographer Courtney Robert Hall: "The misspelling of the name means little, as few people, either then or now, spell Mitchill's name correctly." 10
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism and other LDS sources now accept this identification of Mitchill. This acceptance is based primarily on the research presented by Dr. Stanley B. Kimball in his previously mentioned article on the "Anthon transcript." He writes on page 334:
First, last, and always, Mitchill was a promoter of science. He has been called the "Nestor of American Science;" he was a member of dozens of scientific and scholarly societies and wrote scores of learned books, pamphlets, articles, etc. on a multitude of subjects. His contemporaries described him both as "a living encyclopedia" and "a chaos of knowledge."
While acknowledging Mitchill's numerous accomplishments, Kimball comes to this conclusion:
In the case of Dr. Mitchill, aside from the above mentioned facts that he was in his youth a student of the classics and had at least a reading ability of several languages, no other possible evidence of a competence in Egyptian studies has come to light. His biographer mentions nothing, his papers in the East Hampton Free Library (and elsewhere) reveal nothing, and a ten-page bibliography of his writings indicates he never published anything regarding any language. It appears then that Mitchill could have given Harris only a very superficial opinion regarding the transcript. (336)
It would appear Dr. Kimball's is the superficial opinion. Actually, I suspect he has knowingly sacrificed truth at the altar of his religion. It's as if he's erected a warning sign to those who might follow that Mitchill is a dead end, fearing how much they might actually discover along the way that is far from "faith promoting." Coon's history of Columbia College states unambiguously that "[Mitchill] translated books from the Spanish, German, Latin, Dutch. He also could read Greek and decipher ancient Oriental tongues." (141) All of the languages Anthon supposedly identified in the facsimiles Harris brought him are "ancient Oriental tongues."
Kimball's conclusion seems especially puzzling in light of information contained in Courtney Robert Hall's A Scientist in the Early Republic: Samuel Latham Mitchill (Columbia, 1934) -- a book from which Dr. Kimball quotes in his article, and the biographer whom he mentions above. On the second page of the introduction, Hall states that Mitchill "was drawn to the study of the... speech of the American Indians...." In fact, in 1820 he published "Specimen of the Poetry and Singing of the Osages." Chief Wanapasha sang the songs in Mitchill's presence. As the chief's interpreter translated them into French, the Doctor rendered them into English. 11
The ten-page bibliography Dr. Kimball refers to begins on page 141 of Hall's book. The Latin title of Dr. Mitchill's doctoral dissertation is given there. The next page notes the Doctor's "Review of P. A. Adet's Response aux Reflections sur la doctrine du phlogistique et sur la decomposition de l'eau." Perhaps the most striking entries in the bibliography concerning Mitchill's "publish(ing) anything regarding any language" are the six titles found on pages 149 and 150 under the heading "TRANSLATIONS BY MITCHILL." They are followed by the note "These are probably but a small fraction of the amount of translating actually done by Mitchill. These were done between 1804 and 1818..."
Ironically, the first translation listed even suggests a familiarity with things Egyptian: "Assalina's" [sic] work on the plague and other diseases of Egypt. After some research, I discovered that while it is clear from a letter by Mitchill excerpted in the introduction of the American edition that he had read Assalini's book, it turns out that this introduction was Mitchill's only actual contribution to Adam Neale's translation of Observations on the disease called the plague, on the dysentery, the opthalmy of Egypt, and on the means of prevention....
Hall does, though, accurately quote an excerpt from J. W. Francis' Old New York. Francis wrote of his friend Mitchill's eclectic interests, "He was now engaged with the anatomy of the egg, and now deciphering a Babylonian brick.... At his country retreat at Plandome, he might find full employment in translating, for his mental diversion, Lancisi on the fens and marshes of Rome, or in rendering into English the piscatory eclogues of Sannazarius." (5) It seems to me this should have piqued Dr. Kimball's interest enough to check the original source. There, Francis is even more specific about the Doctor's talents. In the sentence preceding that portion excerpted by Hall, Francis claims simply of Mitchill: "Ancient and modern languages were unlocked to him...." 12 At least a reading ability of several languages, indeed!
Satirical poet Joseph Rodman Drake also made reference, albeit obliquely, to Mitchill's "deciphering a Babylonian brick," or cuneiform tablet, in his poem "To the Surgeon-General of The State of New York." There he called the Doctor "The amateur... of brickbats..." 13 Drake's writing partner in The Croakers, Fitz-Greene Halleck, called them "Babel brickbats" 14 ("Babel" and "Babylon" are the same word in Hebrew.)
While this supposed ability of Mitchill's to decipher cuneiform is not, as Stanley Kimball writes, "evidence of a competence in Egyptian studies," it certainly relates to two of the scripts Martin Harris (according to Joseph) claimed Anthon recognized in the characters presented him. Chaldaic (or Chaldean) and Assyriac (Assyrian) were both written on "Babylonian bricks." Although Chaldea was actually only a land in southern Babylonia, its name is often used in the Old Testament to denote the entire kingdom of Babylonia. 15 The other ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia was Assyria; it shared a common Semitic language and writing system with Babylonia called Assyro-Babylonian, or Akkadian. 16
Biographer Courtney Robert Hall quotes only the last eight lines of Drake's poem to Surgeon-General Mitchill. But, again, had Dr. Kimball checked the original source, he would have discovered that Drake not only pokes good-natured fun at Mitchill's dilettantism by calling him "The amateur... of brickbats," but also of "Tartar dogs... mummies and of mummy-chogs." The latter (also called mummichogs) are minnows and refer to Mitchill's international reputation as an icthyologist. But Tartar dogs and mummies refer to Mitchill's theories on the origin of the American aborigine, a subject central to the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Mitchill was a noted antiquarian who studied the history of the American Indian. His speculations on their origins appeared in several publications before being collected in 1820 in Archaeologia Americana. Rev. Ethan Smith's 1823 and 1825 View of the Hebrews has long been considered a source Joseph Smith may have used in creating the Book of Mormon. This belief was first proposed by famed LDS historian B. H. Roberts. Ethan Smith's book relied heavily on, and gives credit to Archaeologia Americana, the first collection published by the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, Massachusetts.
One of Mitchill's articles, written in letter form, relates his inspection of a red-headed mummy found in a Kentucky cavern. Through his comparison of this aboriginal mummy with those of ancient Egypt, "evidence of a competence in Egyptian studies" clearly emerges.
There is nothing bituminous or aromatick in or about the body, like the Egyptian mummies, nor are there bandages around any part. Except the several wrappers, the body is totally naked. There is no sign of a suture or incision about the belly; whence it seems the viscera were not removed. (320)
Certainly, a Native American mummy with "sorrel or foxy hair" could have suggested to an active imagination like Joseph Smith's a pre-Columbian race of white men in the Americas. The Book of Mormon ends with the annihilation of the white and civilized Nephites at the hands of the dark and savage Lamanites. This final battle takes place at the Hill Cumorah, the spot in New York State where Joseph Smith claimed to have found the golden plates.
But it actually would have required no imagination for Joseph to come up with a white race massacred in ancient New York -- Dr. Mitchill's writings propose just that! He believed there had been three great migrations to this country prior to Columbus, one via Alaska by Asians from Siberia, another across the Pacific by Malaysians, and a third by white Europeans crossing the North Atlantic. Of the fates of these three peoples, Dr. Mitchill speculated:
The Danes or Finns, (and Welshmen, for I am willing to include them) performing their migrations gradually to the southwest, seem to have penetrated to the country situated to the south of lake Ontario, and to have fortified themselves there. The Tartars, or Samoieds, travelling by slow degrees from Alaska to the southeast, probably found them there.__________
6 (Transcription by) H. Michael Marquardt, Joseph Smith's 1832-1834 Diary (Salt Lake City, 1979), 11, cf. Dean C. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith Vol. 1, (Salt Lake City, 1989), 1 ff.
7 Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined (Salt Lake City, 1990), 1-8.
8 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York, 1985), 205.
9 See Niles' Registers of August 17, 1819 ("Antediluvian Antiquities," 397) and September 6, 1820 ("Southern Continent," 43-44).
10 Courtney Robert Hall, A Scientist in the Early Republic: Samuel Latham Mitchill (New York, 1934) footnote 8, 84.
11 Samuel Latham Mitchill, "Specimens of the Poetry and Singing of the Osages," Archaeologia Americana (Worcester, Mass., 1820), 315.
12 J. W. Francis, Old New York (New York, 1858), 90.
13 Fitz-Greene Halleck, The Poetical Writings of Fitz-Greene Halleck, with Extracts from those of Joseph Rodman Frake (New York, 1869), 276.
14 Halleck, 360.
15 "Chaldea," Encylcopedia Britanica (1971), 240.
16 "Babylonia and Assyria," Encylcopedia Britanica (1971), 950.
A Singular Discovery:
Another Iroquois name mentioned by Mitchill in Archaeology Americana may also have found its way into Joseph Smith's writings. The Doctor compares the physiognomy of several Chinese sailors to that of the Oneida Indian tribe of New York. (327) The Book of Mormon mentions both a hill and a place called Onidah. The pronunciation guide included at the end of the Book of Mormon gives Onidah the same pronunciation as that of the Indian tribe.
The Book of Mormon, it is claimed, was written in some form of hieroglyphic or demotic Egyptian "reformed" over the thousand years the Nephites were in America. Mormon writers have long claimed that no knowledge of American hieroglyphics -- or any pre-Columbian American writing -- existed until after the Book of Mormon's publication. 19 This myth is exploded elsewhere in Archaeologia Americana 20 (published ten years before the Book of Mormon), as well as by Mitchill, who writes on page 340 that "the learned Mr. Mathieu... has examined Mr Winthrop's description of the curious characters inscribed upon the rock at Dighton, in Massachusetts, as published in the transactions of the Boston Academy of Arts and Sciences. He thinks them hieroglyphicks which he can interpret and explain...." And on pages 349 and 350 the Doctor relates this interesting information: "I received, a short time hence, directly from Mexico, several pieces of cloth, painted in the manner that historians have often represented... filled with hieroglyphicks and imitative characters...." It should be stressed that Mitchill claims such hieroglyphics and characters "have often [been] represented" by historians. Obviously, these frequent historical accounts alluding to Mexican hieroglyphics had to have preceded the Book of Mormon's publication, since they are mentioned in a work published ten years earlier.
A number of Mormon writers have claimed their seminal sacred book contains scientifically accurate details about earthquakes that were unknown before 1830. Typical of these apologists are Reorganized Latter Day Saint authors Roy E. Weldon and F. Edward Butterworth. In their book Criticisms of the Book of Mormon Answered, they write:
"And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen, could feel the vapor of darkness" (3 Nephi 4:18 [RLDS version; LDS: 3 Nephi 8:20]). Unknown in 1830 was the fact that major earthquakes can release vast quantities of gases from the interior of the earth which cause immediate darkness. These vapors are heavy and you can "feel the vapors of darkness."
They conclude, "Joseph Smith could not have known these scientific facts in 1830. The account in the Book of Mormon was written by an ancient eyewitness." (33)
Weldon and Butterworth are wrong about the state of scientific knowledge in the early 19th century. As with so many other details in his book, Joseph appears to have turned again to Dr. Mitchill. In his 1815 article, "A Detailed Narrative of the Earthquakes which occurred on the 16th day of December, 1811," 21 the Doctor quotes from eyewitness accounts to the seismic upheavals which had rocked the United States.
During the time of the shock, the heavens were very clear and serene; there being not a breath of air stirring; but in five minutes it became very dark; and a vapour which seemed to impregnate the atmosphere, had a disagreeable smell, and produced a difficulty of breathing. This darkness continued until nearly the break of day. During its continuance there were six more shocks. About half after six it cleared up. However, the danger was increased by another shock, which racked the houses violently, and threw down the chimneys. The darkness returned, and it was accompanied by loud noises, and a bounding motion up and down.
Mitchill gives three further accounts of this "vapour" from various parts of the country. He then sums up and theorizes, in part: "3. Air was produced below, and extricated into the atmosphere. 4. This, when it passed through water, produced bubbles and froth, and after their extrication, formed visible vapour, obscuring the atmosphere.... 9. The gas (3, and 4)... lead conclusively to the existence of subterranean fire...."
There can now be no argument that it was not known in1830 that "vast quantities of gases from the interior of the earth [can] cause immediate darkness." There is no question that this information was available through the works of a man with whom Joseph Smith was familiar for at least two years before he published the Book of Mormon.
Several of Dr. Mitchill's more bizarre opinions are also later echoed in Joseph Smith's writings. The Book of Mormon lists elephants and horses (along with the mysterious cureloms and cumoms) as domesticated animals used by the ancient inhabitants of America's "north country." (494-9) Page 433 of Mitchill's Observations on the Geology of North America (New York, 1818) presents drawings entitled "FOSSIL TEETH of the NEW-YORK MASTODON and of NORTH AMERICAN ELEPHANTS." Hall's biography, cited by Kimball, mentions these elephant teeth in Mitchill's Geology. Niles' Weekly Register (which later published the article on the "Curious Manuscript" of Detroit) reported the Doctor's uncovering an elephant's tooth in a New Jersey marl pit in its August 7, 1819 number. Science has shown these reports were, of course, incorrect. As Hall points out, they "were probably teeth of mastodons." 22 But, of course, if Joseph Smith borrowed elephants from Mitchill, he couldn't have known about the misidentification.
The use of the horse by Book of Mormon peoples has long been considered by critics one of Joseph's most glaring factual errors. The good Doctor earlier held the same unsupportable position. In a letter to Reuben Haines, Corresponding-Secretary of the Academy of Natural Sciences, dated 17 April 1817 he wrote, "Read and marvel not, I have become pretty well satisfied that the Tartar of North Am. brought with him the Horse [underline Mitchill's] as well as the Dog." 23 He goes on to state that the Indian horses of the American Northwest were not of European stock, but derived from the same geographical source as their owners. Whether or not Mitchill or any of his correspondents ever published this outre theory prior to 1830 has yet to be fully investigated. However, it does stand to reason that he would have shared this bold theory in his natural history lectures at Columbia, and his zoological error could easily have "gotten around."
Always an American chauvinist, it would seem partly to tweak the noses of those who looked down them at our young country that Mitchill proposed "that America was the cradle of the human race." He went on wryly in Archaeologia Americana, "I thought it scarcely worth the while to inform an European, that on coming to America, he left the new world behind him for the purpose of visiting the OLD." (331) But even his closest friend found this a bit much. J. W. Francis protested, "...when he affirmed as his belief that the American continent was the Old World, and that the Garden of Eden might have originally been located in Onondago Hollow [New York], he imposed a tax on credulity too onerous to bear." 24
By now, it should come as no surprise that Joseph Smith imposed a similar "tax" on his followers. He too claimed an American origin for Adam and Eve. In Reminiscences of Joseph the Prophet, Edward Stevenson relates that Joseph "said the Garden of Eden was in or near Independence [Missouri], the center stake of Zion." 25 Numerous testimonies along this line, including second LDS prophet Brigham Young's, led the late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie to make this admission in his book Mormon Doctrine: "The early brethren of this dispensation thought the Garden of Eden was located in what is known to us as the land of Zion, an area for which Jackson County, Missouri is the center place." 26
The point of the above recitation of similarities between the sometimes unconventional beliefs held by Samuel L. Mitchill and those that later show up in Joseph Smith's writings and teachings is twofold. First, these similarities demonstrate Joseph could easily have borrowed ideas from a man with whom he is historically linked through the "Anthon transcript." Second, they also demonstrate that when Joseph sent Martin Harris with the facsimiles and the story of the gold plates to Dr. Mitchill, it was to a man Joseph may have had every reason to believe would be receptive to the Book of Mormon tale. After all, it would have seemed, at least in the main, to verify the Doctor's own pet theories.
It might be argued that, according to Joseph's earlier "history," that since he had not yet translated any of the plates, he could have told Harris virtually nothing of their contents to share with Mitchill. However, more than three years before Joseph claimed he was finally allowed to remove the plates from the Hill Cumorah, we are told in Lucy's book that he was given supernatural knowledge about the history they told. (91-92) His mother wrote of that period:
During our evening conversation, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode, their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them. (92)
Joseph himself confirmed that he had received special knowledge prior to translating the plates. In an 1842 letter to John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, Joseph writes about the night Moroni supposedly first appeared to him in 1823: "I was informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments...." 27
Aside from the many parallels with his work that Harris and Joseph may have hoped would excite Dr. Mitchill's interest in the Book of Mormon project, there is one particular reason for Mitchill's selection that should not be overlooked. If someone wanted publicity for a new discovery or even a harebrained scheme, Dr. Mitchill's patronage could make him the talk of the town. For example, the "visionary" Captain John Symmes, who "declare(d) the earth is hollow, and habitable within," hoped to attract backers for a polar expedition by further declaring Dr. Mitchill one of his three protectors. Symmes expected to find the opening to a "warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men" at the North Pole. (Interestingly, it was in Symmes' home state of Ohio that Joseph later declared the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel lived in a land "contiguous to the north pole, separated from the rest of the world by impassable mountains of ice and snow.") 28
Dr. Mitchill's blessing went a long way with investors, volunteers, and the public in general -- all of whom Joseph needed, in one way or another, to make the Book of Mormon a success. Perhaps the Doctor's influence was best described after his death by his friend Fitz-Greene Halleck. The following stanza from his The Great Moral Picture makes clear why if one had a curious manuscript, or just plain curiosity, Dr. Mitchill was the man to see (it is quoted by Hall on page 14, but misattributed to Joseph Rodman Drake):
Time was when Doctor Mitchill's
Is it any wonder then that Martin Harris, who planned to invest in the Book of Mormon, sought a letter from Dr. Mitchill? After all, he hoped Joseph Smith's "marvelous work and a wonder" would become the "wonder of the land."
Besides the connection with Dr. Mitchill, there is something very curious to be noted in the fact that pages from the Detroit Manuscript were sent to Alexander Macomb in Washington, D.C. Actually, it's no mystery why the manuscript's owner, Abraham Edwards would send them there. After all, like Joseph's uncle, Stephen Mack, Macomb was a business partner with Edwards in the Pontiac Company. As Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, Macomb was in a position to have the matter thoroughly investigated by subordinates like the Major (Isaac) Roberdeau mentioned in the Washington Republican article. The mystery lies in why Martin Harris (or his director, Joseph) also planned to take the Book of Mormon facsimiles to Washington. According to one witness from that period in Palmyra, Harris intended to seek the learned in the same cities to which pages and facsimiles of the Detroit Manuscript had been sent!
Episcopal minister John A. Clark wrote of a visit Martin Harris paid him in his reminiscence Gleanings by the Way: "[Harris] was so much in earnest on this subject, that he immediately started off with some of the manuscript Smith had furnished him on a journey to New York and Washington." (20) This further parallel can not be pointed out too strongly! Dr. Mitchill and Professor Anthon's reputations might make New York an obvious choice for someone seeking the opinion of the learned, but why Washington D.C. with only its fledgling Georgetown College to recommend it? Why plan to trek 250 miles to the nation's Capitol following the even longer journey from Palmyra to New York City, when other, more prominent institutions, were closer at hand?
In his article on the "Anthon transcript," Dr. Kimball lists the "chief classical scholars in the United States in 1828." (330) Of the six professors included besides Anthon, two were at Yale, a mere 75 miles from New York. The other four taught at Harvard, again a shorter distance from New York than Washington. Further, Dr. Kimball makes this comment regarding the American "centers of learning" at that time: "There were five such centers -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania (or what was later called by that name), and Columbia College (now Columbia University)." (330) Institutions in the District of Columbia are conspicuously absent. Why then would the initial Smith/Harris plan call for a trip to that city?
At the risk of being accused of "walking the cat backwards," as the CIA calls it, one explanation for Harris' original itinerary including both New York City and Washington, D. C. seems obvious. If the connection between the Detroit Manuscript and the so-called "Anthon transcript" is more than just superficial -- more than just Joseph Smith's patterning his story after earlier newspaper accounts -- then it could have become necessary to have Martin Harris continue on to the Capitol. For example, if the characters found on the "Anthon Transcript" and those "signs and symbols" of the Detroit Manuscript had something in common, something that Mitchill and the professor in Washington might have recognized, then Joseph's directing Martin Harris to go to those two cities makes perfect sense.
According to Rev. Clark, Harris was credulous in the extreme. Illogically, the very fact that Clark did not recognize the characters "was to Harris new proof that Smith's whole account of the divine revelation made to him was entirely to be relied on." (228) If either Mitchill in New York or Grace in Washington recognized -- but could not translate -- the "signs and symbols" Harris showed them, Joseph would have felt it likely Martin Harris' would return to Palmyra a true believer ready to finance the Book of Mormon's eventual printing. Better still, if Mitchill were to fully take the bait by making Joseph a cause celebre, his fame would be assured, and there would be backers galore (and no need for Harris to continue on to Washington).
If there were similarities between the characters in the two manuscripts, this, of course, would have required Joseph Smith, or someone connected with the Book of Mormon, to have seen the Detroit Manuscript, its facsimiles, or copies of its "signs and symbols." Which raises the obvious question, if Joseph, how did he come by copies or the manuscript itself? I admit, answering how is far from proving the act. As with many events in history, it is possible no tangible proof will ever be forthcoming. As far as I have been able to determine, the Detroit Manuscript disappeared long ago. None of the Michigan archivists I spoke with had even heard of the book that had caused such a stir and was "becoming more and more painful" in its day. Naturally, its disappearance is not evidence that Joseph received the manuscript. But, if he had, it would certainly explain its being lost to history. It would serve no purpose to hold onto evidence which might be used against him if it fell into the wrong hands. I personally believe he probably saw only facsimile pages or perhaps just samples of the "signs and symbols." The remainder of the original may have been sent to Dr. Mitchill as he requested. If so, it could have been burned in the fire at his Staten Island home which consumed most of his papers. 30
The answer to who could have provided Joseph with the facsimiles is obvious -- his uncle, Stephen Mack. Mack's career in Michigan was closely associated with the owner of the Detroit Manuscript, Abraham Edwards -- commercially, socially, and politically. As already pointed out, Mack and Edwards were members of the Pontiac Company, a group of investors who founded present-day Pontiac, Michigan. 31 In 1816 they were elected city trustees a year after Governor Cass "restored the control of local affairs to the people." Both were elected to the same positions the following year. 32 On August 13, 1817, when word reached Detroit that President James Monroe would shortly arrive in their city, an ad hoc committee was formed to make suitable arrangements for a reception. Both men were named to the committee that provided a society ball and fireworks for the presidential visit. 33 Before helping to found the Pontiac Company in 1818, Mack and Edwards had become shareholders that year in the newly-chartered Bank of Michigan. Less than one month later they were both elected to the bank's board of directors. 34 In the year following the discovery of the Detroit Manuscript, the two went on to territorial politics. Niles' Register for February 23, 1824 reports: "Abraham Edwards, Stephen Mack, [and seven others] to be members of the legislative council for the territory of Michigan." (416)
17 History of the Church (Salt Lake City, 1948), 2:79-80.
18 There are far too many sources to pick one or two. My Google search of "Onondagas" resulted in several dozen Onlibe sites using this spelling. They range from an 18th century journal to an 1838 treaty to modern newspaper articles and historical accounts.
19 See, for example, Paul R. Cheesman's Ancient Writing on Metal Plates (Bountiful, Utah, 1985), 11.
20 Archaeologia Americana excerpts Alexander von Humboldt's Views of the Cordilleras. Humboldt mentions the "Toltecks" use of "hieroglyphical characters' (253), pyramids decorated with "hierogliphical sculpture" (256) and "covered with hieroglyphicks" (259), and quotes this from Montezuma to Coretz regarding the Quetsalcoatl legend: "'We know by our books,' said he, in his first interview with the Spanish General, 'that myself and those who inhabit this country, are not natives, but strangers who came from a great distance.'" (263)
21 Samuel Latham Mitchill, Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of NY 1:281-307, Online URL: http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/office/hough/mitchill.html
22 Hall, n. 29, 77.
23 Now in the library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.
24 Francis, 94.
25 As quoted in Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Archaeology and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, 1969) 75.
26 Tanners, 74.
27 Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, 1842) 3:707.
28 Brodie, 111.
29 Halleck, 361.
30 Aberbach, x.
31 Report of the Pioneer Society of Michigan (Detroit, 1903), 27:561.
32 Silas Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan (Detroit, 1889), 1:135.
33 Farmer, 123.
34 Farmer, 859.
A Singular Discovery:
After Lucy's marriage, Stephen continued to look after her. He and his business partner, John Mudget, gave her a wedding present of one thousand dollars 35 -- literally a small fortune at that time. That fortune was eventually lost by her husband in a shady ginseng investment. According to Lucy, Stephen confronted the man she and her husband believed had cheated them and almost succeeded in exposing him before the man fled town. (45-46)
After the Smiths' financial downfall, they moved to various towns in Vermont, including Sharon, where Joseph Smith, Jr. was born in 1805. Each of these moves was within a dozen miles of Stephen in Tunbridge; so there can be little doubt relations with his sister's family continued. The Smiths even moved back to Tunbridge for a time in 1808. 36 In 1810 Stephen Mack moved to Michigan. However, his wife and twelve children remained behind for the next twelve years in Tunbridge and, after 1816, in nearby Norwich, Vermont. 37 Stephen returned periodically to visit them; 38 so he would also have been in semi-regular contact with young Joseph until he was ten, at which time in 1816 the Smiths moved to Palmyra, New York. It also seems highly likely that the Mack family would have visited the Smiths in 1822 -- just one year prior to the discovery of the Detroit Manuscript -- on their way to Buffalo to take the boat to Detroit to permanently join Stephen.
While it is not recorded whether Joseph Smith, Jr. ever visited his uncle in Michigan before Stephen's death in 1826, his continued connection with the Mack family is reported by the Michigan Historical Commission. In Stephen Mack's biographical sketch they write: "Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, was a cousin of the Macks. Smith visited Oakland County several times previous to his removal to Illinois." 39 Given the national attention paid to the Detroit Manuscript (I even found mention of it in Book of Mormon scribe Oliver Cowdery's hometown newspaper) 40 and Stephen Mack's connection to both Abraham Edwards and Lucy Mack Smith, it seems highly probable the Smith family would have known of the lost manuscript's discovery in 1823 -- the obvious evidence of the similarities between it and the Book of Mormon aside. The manuscript's story may even have been responsible for the Smith family's renewed interest in money-digging that same year-after all, the manuscript was a hidden treasure of sorts.
There is contested evidence that Joseph, Sr. began his money-digging career in Vermont. 41 Although Abner Cole (under the pen name Obidiah Dogberry), editor of the Palmyra Reflector, was not aware of this evidence, he had this to say on the subject in an 1831 article:
"We are unable to determine whether the elder Smith was ever concerned with money digging transactions from Vermont, or not, but it is a well authenticated fact that soon after his  arrival here he evinced a firm belief in the existence of hidden treasures, and that this section of the country abounded in them." 42
While the evidence for Joseph, Sr.'s pre-Palmyra money digging is still debated, most modern LDS scholars have given up arguing against the fact that Joseph Smith, Jr. was tried and convicted of money digging in a Bainbridge, New York court. According to a court document from that 1826 trial published in 1873 and confirmed by the discovery of a second court document found by Wesley P. Walters in 1971, Smith related:
That he had a certain stone which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were... That at Palmyra he had pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and that while at Palmyra had frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds; that he had occasionally been in the habit of looking through his stone to find lost property for three years, but had given it upon account of its injuring his health...." 43
If Joseph began using his seerstone three years before his arrest in 1826, that would date it to around the time the discovery of the Detroit Manuscript was first reported. But health issues to the contrary, Joseph did continue to use his seerstone after 1826. He not only claimed to receive revelations from God through it, but his wife Emma, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris also reported that he translated the Book of Mormon by putting his stone in a hat, pushing his face into the hat to block out the light, and calling out the words which appeared in the glowing stone. 44
What actually did change after 1826 is that Joseph seems to have moved from money digging to religion. Talk of his having dug up a lost book began the following year. 45 In an 1833 affidavit, Peter Ingersoll, who met the Smiths in 1822, claimed that he became Joseph's confidant between August and the fall of 1827. Under pressure from his family to return to money digging, Joseph told Ingersoll about a joke he played on them. He entered his home at dinnertime carrying several quarts of white sand that he'd found in the woods and wrapped in his shirt. His family was anxious to know what he'd brought home. Joseph told Ingersoll, "I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I gravely told them it was a golden Bible." 46
No one has ever been able to discover any reference to a golden Bible found in Canada to help corroborate Ingersoll's claim. However, it is just possible Joseph was drawing on his recollection of the provenance of the Detroit Manuscript. After all, Dr. Mitchill thought it originally from Canada proposing "that it was carried to Detroit by one of the learned Jesuits, who when Canada was colonized, embarked in the missionary service among the aborigines." Not only was it a religious work, but Joseph may also have remembered Mitchill's comparing the Detroit Manuscript with "the types of various languages in the collection of the American Bible Society," and that he "afterwards compared it with a very curious MS. bible, in the possession of Mr. Paff." The money digger in Joseph -- and especially the desire to excite his family -- could explain the addition of "golden" to the idea of a "Canadian" religious manuscript that had been compared with numerous Bibles.
What might also be significant about Joseph's change of supernatural direction in 1827 is his uncle's death on November 11, 1826. From the posthumous notices written about Stephen Mack there emerges a picture of a talented man who worked hard for himself, his family, and his community. "He never encouraged idleness," but "did considerable other public work, for the purpose of giving employment to the poor." 47 A Revolutionary War veteran, Colonel Mack was also unquestionably patriotic. In short, everything indicates he was a well-respected man of good reputation. If Stephen Mack had supplied the Smiths (or just Joseph) with the Detroit Manuscript or its facsimiles because of their intense interest in such matters, none of them could have gone forward with a religious deception so obviously based upon that manuscript while Stephen was alive. Even being Lucy's surrogate father, he would, more than likely, have felt compelled to expose such an imposition on the American public.
After making reasonably certain that Abraham Edward's Detroit Manuscript was not reposing in any collection in the United States or Canada, I decided one method of discovering what its "signs and symbols" looked like would be to locate the Paff manuscript Bible. Mitchill had compared its marginalia to the unknown characters from Detroit. My nearby university library yielded a microfilmed broadside of a prospectus of an M. Paff's "Gallery of Paintings" published in New York City in 1812. I checked Longworth's New York Register and City Directory and found the address of M. A. Paff's picture gallery, at 124 Cedar.
Locating his Bible was not as fruitful a search as finding the man. After consulting standard volumes on manuscript collections with no results, I contacted the American Bible Society mentioned by Mitchill. Failing there, I contacted the New York Public Library. Warren C. Platt at that institution found a lithograph of M. Paff and a catalogue of his estate published by A. Levy, auctioneer. In an email note he wrote, "I have examined the catalogues of the estate of Michael Paff and find no references to any Bible."
Added, March, 2009:
"An unknown stenographer has provided a complete shorthand version of Sir Arthur Gorgesís English translation of Baconís The wisdome of the ancients (first edition, 1619) in the margins of this Latin version, De sapientia veterum (1634)."
The marginal shorthand notes in the above graphic (see added enlargement on the right) are probably similar to what Dr. Mitchill saw in the margins of Michael Paff's Latin manuscript Bible.
Turning to the subject of Irish manuscripts in general, I stumbled across the following under "Irish Scripts" in The Encyclopedia of Ireland: "The Irish abbreviation-system includes word-symbols of classical shorthand (Ďnotae Tironianae')." (115) I remembered Grace's comment about "strange abbreviations" in the manuscript. Like most modern readers, I thought of abbreviations as words or phrases shortened by removing letters -- Mr., Dr., Rev., I.R.S., and so on. But according to The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), there are three classifications of abbreviations, one of which is "conventional signs and symbols." For example, the ampersand, "&," is a symbolic abbreviation still commonly in use.
As it turns out, the ampersand comes from a the above-mentioned "notae Tironianae." That same New Catholic Encyclopedia article revealed: "The term Tironian notes is employed to designate a Roman system of shorthand or tachygraphy, the invention of which is ascribed by tradition to Cicero's secretary M. Tullius Tiro. Its abbreviations or symbols were called notae...." Tironian notes were "especially popular among Irish scribes on the Continent between the 7th and he 10th centuries. (Vol. 1, 11)
So what Mitchill calls "signs and symbols" in the "unknown book" which are "exactly like" marginal notes in Paff's Latin Bible and what Professor William Grace describes as "strange abbreviations" in the facsimiles appear to be one in the same. And, on the surface, it seemed possible they were Tironian notes. Not only were these symbols favored by Irish scribes, but I also came across references to Carolingian scribes and medieval monks writing marginalia in notae.48 Of course, no medieval manuscript would contain the watermarks Mitchill found on the pages sent him. However, the Detroit Manuscript would almost certainly have been copied from an earlier manuscript or manuscripts.
There was also something familiar in The Encyclopedia of Ireland's phrase "classical shorthand." On page 334 of his article, Dr. Kimball quotes from a letter written by soon-to-be Mormon W. W. Phelps, dated January 5, 1831: "When the plates were said to be 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 to professor Anthon who translated and declared them to be ancient shorthand Egyptian." Phelps, too, confirms the "characters only" version of the story, as well as agreeing with Anthon that Harris originally sought out Dr. Mitchill. But what is extremely intriguing is the fact that "ancient shorthand" may have come up in the Anthon/Harris meeting.
Could Charles Anthon have noticed a superficial resemblance between the characters Harris brought and ancient Latin shorthand? And if he had casually mentioned "ancient shorthand" to Harris as he studied the transcript, could this have convinced Harris that the "Egyptian characters" 49 were genuine even though Anthon's final verdict was a thumbs down? As to the latter question, Rev. Clark's experience with Harris would indicate yes. If Harris saw Clark's mere ignorance of the characters as proof of their authenticity, imagine what hay the credulous farmer would have made of "ancient shorthand."
Dublin sign with Tironian "et" for Irish "agus"
But was Anthon familiar with Tironian notes? In the 1825 edition of Lempriere's Classical Dictionary "CORRECTED AND IMPROVED BY CHARLES ANTHON, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF LANGUAGES AND ANCIENT GEOGRAPHY IN COLUMBIA COLLEGE, NEW-YORK" is the following entry carried over from Lempriere's original: "Tiro, Tullius, a freed-man of Cicero, greatly esteemed by his master for his learning and good qualities. It is said that he invented short-hand writing among the Romans...." (756) Further, Ulrich Friedrich Kopp's Paleographia critica, a comprehensive dictionary of notae, had been published in Germany in 1817. It is not unlikely that a Latin and German scholar 50 such as Anthon would have had at least a passing familiarity with this work on Latin shorthand. As Coon notes, "It was Anthon who opened the eyes of English and American scholars to what was being done by the Germans." (149)
I sent details of the Detroit Manuscript and a copy of the "Anthon transcript" to the man I soon learned was arguably the world's leading authority on Tironian notes, Dr. David Ganz of King's College London. I also began comparing the "Anthon transcript" with two books containing Tironian notes. The first, Kopp's lexicon, mentioned above, contained thousands of notae. Along with lists of symbols, Chatelain's Introduction a la Lectures des Notae Tironiennes (Paris, 1900) featured numerous plates of medieval manuscripts. As my comparison progressed, I was -- to borrow Mitchill's phrase -- "struck with the similitude."
Eventually, I drew up two lists of over thirty identical or near-identical symbols found in both the "Anthon transcript" and one or both of the notae books (see a portion of that comparison below). I showed the comparisons to a large sampling of attendees at several homeschool conferences, asking each if he considered the symbols on the left identical with their Tironian counterparts on the right. To a (lay)man, they considered each set of symbols virtually identical. These Latin shorthand notes matched nearly sixty percent of the transcript's occasionally repeated "Caractors."
I also began trying to determine from which Gaelic Roman Catholic treatise the four translated pages of the Detroit facsimiles had come. Eventually, a prime suspect emerged. Catholic clergyman Dr. Geoffrey Keating (c.1570 - c.1640) had written Eochair-sciath [orsgiat] an Afrinn -- An Explanatory Defense of the Mass -- around 1615. The New Catholic Encyclopedia revealed he "is regarded as the greatest prose stylist in Irish-Gaelic." But it was this line in that entry that convinced me I'd found my man: "His works remained very popular until the 19th century and were circulated in hundreds of manuscript copies." 51
Since Boston College had a manuscript of this Keating work (it has never been printed in English), I contacted their Gaelic Department. Irish poet and visiting professor Nuala Ni Dhomhnail was kind enough to check chapter fourteen for me. As in the fourteenth chapter begun on the page numbered 178 on Grace's facsimile, Dr. Ni Dhomhnail confirmed Boston's Keating manuscript dealt with the reasons the Roman Catholic Church did not offer the laity the cup during Communion in his day.
The identification of Keating's work, while exciting, presented certain problems. The use of Tironion notes had died out after a millennium in the 11th century, primarily because a superstitious medieval Church believed them somehow magical or Satanic. Even Thomas Beckett's efforts to revive them in the 12th century had failed. 52 How could Tironion notes appear in a manuscript copied after 1615?
The negative answer to the last question seemed to be confirmed by the eventual email responses of Professor Ganz. He wrote in the first: " If the characters on your photocopy [i.e., the "Anthon transcript"] are a continuous text, then I very much doubt they are a text in the Tironian system." I sent him my comparison of Joseph's "Caractors" and Tironian notes from Kopp and Chatelain. In spite of obvious similarities Dr. Ganz argued a time-frame after Geoffrey Keating's treatise was, as far as he could determine, impossible for the Detroit Manuscript's containing Tironian notes. He also felt Paff's Latin Bible could not have contained Latin shorthand -- in spite of the fact that it was in one of his articles I'd first read about marginal notae. His arguments against a still-unknown 11th century (or earlier) Bible manuscript with Tironian marginalia being in a minor New York City collector's hands in the 1820s were both scholarly and compelling. (And who am I to argue with the only man in the English-speaking world with an established chair in Paleography?!)
Of course, I'd never considered "the characters... a continuous text." My working hypothesis merely had Joseph copying these symbols at random from the manuscript or facsimiles. For that matter, Joseph's initial interest may have been in the "strange abbreviations" only. It is certainly possible Stephen Mack merely copied down some of these "signs and symbols" to satisfy his nephew's curiosity.
But that didn't answer the time-frame question. The dead-on resemblance between the "Caractors" and Tironian notes still told me there had to be some connection between the two. I went back over my notes and discovered that Professor Ganz had actually offered the solution in his earliest email. There he remarked, "But there are some later adaptations of the Tironian system... I'm afraid I don't know enough about sixteenth and seventeenth century systems of shorthand to know whether they might be relevant."
Following that lead I checked numerous early modern shorthand methods on microfilm at the University of Delaware. Each successive system seemed to be based, at least in part, on the other, and nearly all had numerous characters resembling Tironian notes and the characters on the "Anthon transcript."
Also in looking back over my notae research I found mention of an abbott, Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), who discovered a codex on Tironian notes moldering in a Mainz cloister late in the 15th century. Since Tironian notes had been used in secret communications by royal chanceries and adapted by Pope Sylvester II (999-1003) as a cipher, Trithemius viewed them primarily as secret writing. The scholarly monk wrote two treatises on cryptography widely circulated in manuscript form, the Steganographia and the Polygraphia. 53 In his Renaissance Curiosa, Wayne Shumaker writes regarding Trithemius' discovery, "The notes were to be mentioned regularly in subsequent treatises on cryptography when the history of the art was sketched." (94)
35 Lucy, 38.
36 Lucy, 53.
37 Pioneer Society (1915), Vol. 39, 439.
38 Lucy, 22.
39 Pioneer Society, Vol. 39, 440.
40 "A Singular Discovery," Poultney (Vt.) Gazette, April 16, 1823. I would like to thank Shuniqua Rodriguez, library assistant at Green Mountain College, who kindly checked their microfilm of the Gazette.
41 See Brodie footnote, 7. The controversy revolves around whether or not Joseph, Sr. was convicted of counterfieting in Vermont as claimed in Historical Magazine (Nov. 1870), 316. The same witness earlier claims Smith, Sr. "was, at times, engaged in hunting for Captain Kidd's buried treasure" in Vermont.
42 "Gold Bible, No. 3," Palmyra Reflector (Feb. 1, 1831). As quoted in David Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormonism (Jefferspn, N. C., 1985), 37.
43 As quoted in Persuitte, 43.
44 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism -- Shadow or Reality (Salt Lake City, 1982), 41.
45 Persuitte, 59-60.
46 Brodie, 433.
47 Lucy, 23.
48 Oswald M. T. Rafferty, "Expanding Roles for Summarized Information," Written Communication (October, 1985) 457-472, Online URL: http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~mayer/Osi/ratteray.htm, and David Ganz, "On the History of Tironian Notes," Tironishe Noten (Wiesbadden, 1990), 43.
49 Lucy, 132.
50 Anthon was the son of a German émigré (See Kimball, 331). He "carefully revised" the first American edition of the Latin-English lexicon based on Dr. Georges' German-Latin dictionary (Cornell's Onlibe booklist, "Making of America," URL: http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/moa/browse.author/e.148.html). The "principal guide" to Dr. Anthon's aditions to the ancient geography in the 1825 Lempriere's was the German Geographie der Griechen und Romer by Mannert (vi).
51 Keating, Geoffrey," New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. 8, 141.
52 Stephen R. Reimer, "Paleography: Scribal Abbreviations," Online course Manuscript Studies: Medieval and Early Modern (1998), URL: http://www.ualberta.ca/~sreimer/ms-course/course/abbrevtn.htm
53 Wayne Shumaker, Renaissance Curiosa (Binghampton, N. Y., 1982), 94.
A Singular Discovery:
In discussing shorthand as a style of cipher Wilkins says that a form of it was practiced by Roman Magistrates and that there was a dictionary of shorthand characters published by Janus Gruterus [1560-1627]; "Cicero himself writ a Treatise on this Subject." In Elizabethan and Jacobean times "This Short-hand Writing is now so ordinary in Practice (it being usual for any common Mechanick both to write and invent it) that I shall not need to set down any particular Example of it."
As has already been stated, credit for Tironian notes usually goes to Cicero's servant Tiro, not Cicero himself. But Wilkens' pithy remark not only confirms Bright's borrowing from Tironian notes, but also proves that an explosion of systems in the 17th century was rooted in Tiro's characters. A shorthand text contemporary with Joseph Smith also attests to the direct connection between the look of later shorthands and Tironian notes. In the introduction to the seventh edition of his shorthand text, The Art of Short Hand Writing (Philadelphia, 1829), Marcus Gould writes, "The first publication upon this subject of which we have any correct information was about the year 1500, from a Latin manuscript, dated 1412. Various other publications followed in succession, without materially advancing or changing the character of the art, till about the commencement of the 18th century...." (iii) It is further interesting to note that at least two of these early systems, Thomas Shelton's Zeiglographia and Metcalfe's Stenography, appear as marginalia in printed books. 56
Given the circumstances, I think it highly likely the marginalia in Paff's Bible and the "signs and symbols" which were "so exactly alike" in the Detroit Manuscript were shorthand notes from a system invented some time before the 19th century. Because so many characters from the "Anthon transcript" resemble Tironian notes and early modern shorthand characters, I believe it fair to conclude -- given the connections already enumerated in this paper between the "curious" manuscript's owner Abraham Edwards, Stephan Mack, Joseph Smith, and Samuel L. Mitchill -- that the "Anthon transcript" is, very likely, primarily a random collection of early modern shorthand characters transcribed from the Detroit Manuscript. And, if Anthon was correct in his conclusion that Dr. Mitchill suspected "some trick" when Harris showed him the characters, then their similarity with the Irish manuscript's "signs and symbols" would certainly explain Mitchill's suspicion.
It is also very possible that, in the meantime, Dr. Mitchill suspected -- or became reasonably certain of -- what the "signs and symbols" actually were. Three years after the Detroit Manuscript affair, arguably the most famous diaries in the English language were published. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was the first British secretary of the Admiralty. His amazing diaries, which give perhaps the most candid view of London during the reign of Charles II, were written in early modern shorthand. 57 John Smith, an undergraduate at St. John's College, undertook the Herculean task of deciphering the diaries. Ironically, as Mr. Smith labored over the manuscripts, "Thomas Shelton's Tachygraphy, giving a full explanation of this particular system of shorthand, was also on the shelves of the library. But so little were the books known that neither the Master nor the Fellows of the college knew of the existence of this key which would have saved Smith weeks if not months of labour." 59
The 1825 publication of Pepys' diaries met with "an immediate and phenomenal success." 60 It seems unlikely that the famous decipherment would have gone unnoticed by the eclectic Mitchill. If news of Pepys' diaries gave Dr. Mitchill the clue he needed to realize what the "strange abbreviations" in the Detroit Manuscript probably were, it would make even more sense if he suspected trickery when shown "reformed Egyptian" by Harris.
I would like to predict that with diligent searching through musty archives it may yet be possible to unlock the specific system used in the "Anthon transcript," but I can't. Eric Sams states these basic (and discouraging) facts of deciphering the numerous shorthand journals which have baffled historians in his groundbreaking article "Cracking the Historical Code" (Times Literary Supplement, Feb. 8, 1980):
...the early shorthands themselves were quite like contemporary cipher-systems. One main difficulty in gaining access to the former lies not in the absence of keys, but in the presence of a huge jangling bunch of them. In the last four centuries, at least 300 different shorthands have been published in England alone, and many others will have circulated in manuscript form. Further, each such system could be altered or adapted at will by each user. Even the printed manuals were often revised by their authors in later editions, or plagiarized by others. So it is usually impossible to begin by identifying the system and consulting the source-book.
Even if the text of the "Anthon transcript" represented a continuous shorthand message, its seven lines are far too few to decode. If the characters were drawn from the Detroit Manuscript, as I believe they were, even there the shorthand notes seem only to have been scattered amongst the Gaelic. Had the majority of the facsimile pages given to Grace been made up of "strange abbreviations," it would have been impossible for him to have translated what Mitchill called "arbitrary marks." This practice of substituting the occasional shorthand symbol for a word (as we do with "&") was not uncommon. In some cases occasional words in a diary were replaced with shorthand notes for convenience, while at other times they guarded against prying eyes.
What makes the job of spotting the exact system used without decoding first especially hard is that the symbols often "mutate." For instance, adding a particular superscription to a symbol (this appears to be the case with several of Joseph's "Caractors") can change the signified word's meaning or alter its case, tense, etc. The position of this marker around the original also affects the meaning. Sometimes the superscription (or subscription, etc.) or another word's symbol is connected in cursive fashion to the original, making a hybrid which may differ significantly visually from the original while only changing the meaning slightly. In some systems several character-like symbols become what appear to the novice a mere squiggly line when combined (very much like the second symbol on the fourth line of the "Anthon transcript.").
Obviously, I could not check each of the hundreds of systems that were available to the scribe(s) of the Detroit Manuscript. But in the dozen or so pre-19th century systems I did check, a majority of the symbols on the "Anthon transcript" could be accounted for. Perhaps the most surprising is William Addy's symbol for altogether -- a black square. I had assumed that the three black squares in the "Anthon transcript" could not have originate in shorthand. After all, taking the time to draw and fill in a square would not seem the most efficient way to denote a word quickly. However, there it is in Addy's (and Joseph's) characters. Symbols from Addy's shorthand meaning idolatry, Christ, cross of Christ, and trespass are also found in the "Anthon transcript." I have included below just a portion of a page from Jeremiah Rich's New Testament in shorthand. The reader will note quite a number of identical and very similar characters just this tiny fragment has in common with the "Anthon transcript."
The early modern shorthand systems are not the only form of writing linked to cryptography which may be represented in the "Anthon transcript." An exclusively Irish form of writing, ogham, seems to be represented there as well. Ogham (pronounced OH-yam) is an ancient alphabet primarily inscribed on the edges of large standing stones. Originally, horizontal notches carved to the right or left of a vertical corner, and diagonal and horizontal lines running around the stone's edge, stood for twenty letters. Five dipthong symbols were added later. When ogham is written on vellum or paper, a horizontal stem-line replaces the vertical edge of the stone and the "notches" are drawn using vertical and diagonal strokes (see Exhibit "B" below).
A check of the "Anthon transcript" does not reveal any marked similarities with traditional ogham at first blush. One possible exception is the symbol made up of nine vertical strokes above a horizontal line found on lines two and three. The only problem is that no standard ogham letter uses nine strokes: the maximum is five (of course Joseph could have copied the ogham letters "C" and "Q," ignorantly running them together). However, as alluded to above, ogham was adapted by the Irish in numerous ways as a code. It is possible that several of these cryptographic adaptations found their way into the "Anthon transcript," including this nine-stroke symbol.
One of the most famous Irish manscripts is The Book of Ballymote, written in the late fourteenth century. In The Secret Languages of Ireland (Cambridge, 1937), R. A. Stewart Macalister devotes an entire chapter to the cryptography section found in the Ballymote manuscript. He takes great pains to point out the importance of this tract on codes to the knowledge of things Irish. On page 39 he argues: "The nature of the volume in which it is found almost compels us to treat it with respect. This is a sober compilation of learned matter, historical, genealogical, and so forth, contained in an enormous book of vellum, each leaf of which, at a guess, might have cost half-a-crown's worth of money in our current rate of exchange. It was intended to be a permanent record of facts deemed to be of importance."
Returning to the one symbol in the "Anthon transcript" which vaguely resembles traditional ogham, Macalister gives a clue as to its possible meaning. One of the ciphers he mentions on page 55 is Ogham Bricrend. A very simple code, it merely gives a numerical value to each letter in order of the ogham alphabet and represents each with that number of strokes. Since "B" is the first letter in the ogham alphabet, it is denoted by one stroke, second letter "L" by two, and so on. The nine strokes of the "Anthon" symbol could have represented "C" or even the Roman numeral for 100 in the manuscript from which it was copied. The examples given on page 56 by Macalister do not use a stem-line, but this does not disqualify the "Anthon" symbol, as even the author of the Book of Ballymote, Macalister points out, slipped up in this way. He mistakenly placed a stem line in a code ("Ridgeless Ogham") that should not have had one. (48) Besides, these codes were adaptable. Furthermore, the code directly above Bricrend on page 311 of the Ballymote manuscript, while not mentioned by Macalister, appears to be set up the same numerical way, the only difference being each stroke passes through a stem-line (see Exhibit "C").
The Ballymote writer suddenly, and without explanation, changes from using strokes to using dots in Ogham Bricrend. On line four of the "Anthon transcript" is a character made up of a horizontal line with a row of four dots below it. This exact cipher appears on page 312 of the Ballymote manuscript (see Exhibit "D" below).
Another interesting ogham code possibly represented in the "Anthon transcript" is "C" Ogham, or Ogham Coll. "C"s in various positions (normal, backwards, and on their backs like "U"s) and combinations represent vowels and dipthongs. Macalister's illustrations look more like parentheses than standard. "C"s (52) For example, ") )" would represent the dipthong "ua." This doubled symbol is found on lines one, two, and five of the "Anthon transcript," as are forward and backward "C"s and the combination "( )" on line six.
A variation of Nathair fria fraech ("Serpent through the heather") would seem to appear on each line of the "Anthon transcript" but the third. Macalister describes it as "written in ordinary Ogham, and a wavy line drawn, which runs alternately above and below the successive letters (see below). "Anthon" symbol eleven, line two, could be described as the ogham letter "C" with the wave under it. The sample alphabet given for this code on page 313 of the Book of Ballymote shows the wavy line rising above the ogham "C." However, this wave placement would seem to be arbitrary to code users. If by choice or faulty memory the wavy line were started down rather than up at the beginning of the alphabet, the "C" symbol would appear identical to that of the "Anthon transcript." The variations of this symbol on the other five lines have four to five dots below the four strokes on the stem-line. I don't pretend to know why this would be if these are Irish symbols, but it should be noted that one of the codes on the same page (313) uses strokes with dots below them (like inverted "i"s). These possible variations of "Serpent in the heather" may originally have been used to further disguise what, in the Ballymote manuscript, is a childishly simple, if not monotonous, code.
The initial symbol of the "Anthon transcript" appears five times throughout. It is made up of two "parentheses" with a horizontal line through their middles -- "two bows and an arrow." Usually the second "bow" is larger. There are three slight variations relative to the horizontal line: the line crosses both curves, the line touches the edge of the first curve but crosses the second, and the line crosses the first while only joining the second. A symbol identical to the first variation is found on the first full line of ogham codes in the Book of Ballymote. It should be noted in the illustration below that the Irish cipher even has a dot in front of it similar to one of the three "Anthon" characters it is compared to. (It should also be noted that the vertical line at the left of the ogham character is not part of the character, but a dividing line.)
There are other symbols in the "Anthon transcript" which can be read as ogham code letters, but those described above stand out most distinctly. Is it mere happenstance that some of the symbols suspected of being copied from a lost Irish manuscript turn out to bear a striking resemblance to specifically Irish cryptograms? Is this just another coincidence like Dr. Mitchill being asked to give an opinion on the "unknown characters" of both the Detroit Manuscript and the "Anthon transcript?" As the "coincidences" pile up, it may be profitable to remember the words spy novelist Ian Fleming put in the mouth of his title character, Goldfinger. After secret agent James Bond has crossed Goldfinger's path several times, the villain remarks: "Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action!'"
In the midst of my lengthy comparison of ogham and early shorthand characters with the "Anthon transcript," I made a remarkable discovery -- the idea for which should have come far earlier. It dawned on me that Abraham Edwards may have acceded to the request of the successful scholar in the affair. William Grace had requested a "perfect copy" of the manuscript. If Edwards had sent Grace such a copy -- or even the original -- it might still be in the possession of Georgetown University. I called Georgetown's archives and began describing the history of the Detroit Manuscript to one of the archivists. He suddenly interrupted my recital saying, "I'm pretty sure we've got that manuscript here."
A few days later I received six photocopies from Memorial of the First Centenary of Georgetown College, D. C. Comprising a History of Georgetown University (New York, 1891). This hundredth-anniversary history of the school was written by Roman Catholic historian John Gilmary Shea. The archivist had highlighted the following item:
About this time  the college received a donation to its library which had attracted public attention, and which has been preserved to our times to renew it. There was a manuscript found, it is said, in a cave in Sandusky which puzzled the pundits of the West. It was not written in Chinese, Arabic or Syriac; it certainly was not French, Spanish or English, but what it was no one could tell. Some pages were sent from Detroit to General Macomb, at Washington, and "he submitted them to the examination of the professors of Georgetown College, who pronounced it to be Irish." The whole manuscript was subsequently sent to the college it was a copy of Geoffrey Keating's History of Ireland, as Father Grace, an accomplished Gaelic scholar, was not slow to recognize. (65-66)
At the risk of sounding turgid, I was electrified! Despite a few anomalous details, this could only be a description of the Detroit Manuscript. It certainly seemed odd that even though Detroit was mentioned, and Nile's Weekly Register quoted nearly verbatim, that the place of discovery was given as a Sandusky cave. However, the mention of Father Grace and Geoffrey Keating's book -- although a different work than the religious treatise described by Grace (as confirmed by Nuala Ni Dhomhnail) -- seemed to add evidence that this was the "curious manuscript" actually found under a house in Detroit
Within a week I was sitting in the reading room of one of Georgetown University's archives. Before bringing out the manuscript, the archivist, who read Gaelic, told me he had checked further after our conversation. Georgetown's manuscript contained neither Keating's History nor his Defense of the Mass. It did, however, begin with Keating's retelling of the Deirdre legend. That was not a good sign, Keating's material appeared at least 178 pages into the Detroit Manuscript, not at the opening.
The pages of the Georgetown manuscript are seven inches by six inches. The sixty-nine dark yellow leaves sewn into a deerskin cover reveal different inks and handwriting from one section to the next. For the following reasons it cannot be the Detroit Manuscript:
1. At 138 pages it does not approach the "3 to 4 hundred pages" mentioned in the Gazette. The leather cover appears to be the original and could never have accommodated more than double the present contents.It would seem obvious that a second manuscript was found in Sandusky in 1823-24. Its reference to "Hibernia" and "Irish" told the finder what he had. Remembering the recent, nationally-covered affair of the Detroit Manuscript, he sent his discovery to a man whom he knew from the press could translate Gaelic-William Grace. Sixty-seven years later, John Gilmary Shea confused the newspaper account of the Detroit Manuscript (probably found among Grace's papers) with the history of its Sandusky "cousin" in Georgetown's archives. Shea can hardly be faulted, after all, who would expect two Irish manuscripts (or facsimiles) found in the Midwest to find their way to Georgetown within a year of each other? Either that is what happened, or the real Detroit Manuscript lies somewhere miscataloged in that institution (which I have been assured is not the case).
54 First published in Cryptologia (July 1996), Leary's Online article can be viewed at URL: http://home.att.net/~tleary/crypto.htm.
55 Tom MacArthur (Ed.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford, 1992), 932.
56 Eric Sams, "Cracking the Historical Code," (London) Times Literary Supplement (Feb. 18, 1980), 154.
57 "Pepys, Samuel," Encylcopedia Britannica (1971), 589-590.
58 Robert Latham, The Illustrated Pepys (Berkeley, 1978), 12.
59 Arthus Ponsonby, Samuel Pepys (New York, 1928), 57.
60 Latham, 12.
A Singular Discovery:
The Tironian note resembling a seven and meaning "and" (Latin et), appears frequently in Irish manuscripts. It shows up regularly in Georgetown's manuscript as it likely did in Detroit's. The symbol 7 is found in both the "Anthon transcript" and most early modern shorthands, along with several other numeral-like symbols. Symbols resembling 2, 4 (with an open top), 6, and 9 appear in both the "Caractors" and the Irish manuscript I studied. While they may simply be numbers (and Joseph may have copied numbers thinking they were unknown characters, too), their style is not identical to the page numbers which appear only in the early sections of the Georgetown manuscript. Naturally, if someone else added the page numbers later, that would explain the differences.
Besides these number-like notations in the Georgetown manuscript there were sixteen specific symbols and numerous "maybes" I could match with various shorthands. (The "maybes" were mostly what I assumed to be Irish letter variations which also resembled shorthand.) Among the "maybes" was one I haven't actually found in shorthand. It resembled a fancy cursive "H," and looked very much like the second character on the "Anthon transcript." For all I know, it is a fancy cursive "H." The point is, Joseph Smith wouldn't have known the difference if he saw a similar letter in a Gaelic manuscript either.
Regarding the characters, while not endorsing any particular theory, Dr. Stanley B. Kimball offers this conclusion in his article on the "Anthon transcript":
"If the case for the transcript characters' being Egyptian in origin appears less than absolute, it is, nonetheless, infinitely stronger than any of the other arguments. The only basis for the characters' being somehow connected with Meso-American scripts is, of course, that since some pre-Columbian peoples were descended from some Book of Mormon peoples, it would not be totally unreasonable to expect some connections between their manners of writing." (350)
These are truly amazing admissions, albeit wrapped in a bit of that "pontification" Dr. Kimball suggests professors are prone. In so many words he admits that Mormon assertions that the "Anthon" characters are Egyptian in origin are weak. But worse (from a Mormon point of view), in comparison to these weak Egyptian claims, the arguments for a Meso-American origin are infinitely weaker! He then offers the evidence of this untenable weakness while half-heartedly trying to hide it in vague verbiage. However, his last statement can be boiled down to: Since Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon characters were Meso-American, it is not unreasonable to expect a connection between them and those in the "Anthon" characters." And he's correct -- if Joseph Smith told the truth, it is reasonable to expect such a connection. But that's a big "if." Kimball knows full well that long-unfulfilled presuppositions are no evidence at all, and he's acknowledged that these expectations have yet to be met. Therefore, since real evidence for Joseph's claims does not exist, it is "not unreasonable" to conclude (as did most of his Palmyra neighbors) that Joseph lied.
Conversely, the connections offered in this paper are, I believe, reasonable and based on solid research. The only presupposition I plead guilty to is a belief in the old saw, "Where there's smoke (or a vapor of darkness), there's fire." Connections have been demonstrated between Joseph Smith and the Detroit Manuscript -- directly through his uncle, Stephen Mack, and obliquely through knowledge of a participant in that "curious" book's affair, Dr. Mitchill. That Joseph followed Mitchill's famous career should be obvious to anyone not bound by Mormon prejudices. This is born out not only by the fact that, like Abraham Edwards, Joseph sought Mitchill's opinion -- or imprimatur -- through Martin Harris, but also by the fact that numerous Mormon cliches fall at the mention of the good Doctor. The Mormon cottage industry that has grown up around supposed unknown-at-the-time knowledge contained in the Book of Mormon must now have a care before asking, "How could Joseph Smith have known that in 1830?" The simple reply, "Dr. Mitchill," will collapse many rooms in their cottage of cards. Earthquakes? Red-headed mummies? Elephants? Ancient transoceanic voyages? Bloody aboriginal conflicts between light- and dark-skinned "Indians"? Pre-Columbian American hieroglyphics? "Hid up" religious works in unknown characters found in 1823 and sent to "the learned?" One need look no further than contemporary articles by or about Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill. And while not within the scope of this article, this list of "borrowings" could be lengthened significantly by including authors whose work appears along with Mitchill's in the pre-1830 Archaeologia Americana. In other words, in checking Mitchill's articles, one would be exposed to writers who detail relevant wonders said to be from America's pre-Columbian past. These include steel bows (like Nephi's), iron swords, gold and copper plates, Central American hieroglyphics and books, an ancient city found hidden in the Guatemalan jungle, accounts of Quetzalcoatl (who Mormons claim was the risen Christ), and much, much more.
From the evidence adduced, Occam's razor also dictates that the "strange abbreviations," the "signs and symbols" found on the Detroit Manuscript and in the margins of Paff's Latin Bible, were early modern shorthand notations taken from systems invented between the 16th and 19th centuries. It is the simplest explanation dealing with known quantities. The connection between these shorthand systems and the "Caractors" on the "Anthon transcript" is not only confirmed by a visual comparison (the method favored by Mormon writers trying to produce an ancient provenance for "reformed Egyptian"), but also suggested by the fact that a number of the symbols on the "Anthon transcript" have religious significance as early shorthand symbols. If Joseph copied shorthand notes from Keating's explanation of why Roman Catholic congregations received only bread during communion, we might expect symbols for words such as congregation, cross of Christ, God, trespass, and so on, to appear in the "Anthon transcript." Such symbols do appear. And while the specific shorthand system may never be determined, the fact that many of the over 300 systems available borrowed from each other-often heavily to the point of plagiarism-could easily explain why symbols from Addy, Rich, et al., might show up in an unidentified system.
The similarity of several "Anthon" characters to Irish ogham code symbols would seem to be the "icing on the cake." It further drives home the likelihood that a connection exists between the "Anthon transcript" and an Irish manuscript. It's no great stretch to assume one might have found both early modern shorthand and ogham elements in the Gaelic Detroit Manuscript. The same can not be said of a supposed Egyptian-based manuscript.
As Dr. Kimball points out so delicately, there are no real connections between Meso-American scripts and Joseph's "Caractors." Even an Egyptian origin receives tepid endorsement despite Dr. Kimball's conclusion that it is "infinitely stronger than any of the other arguments." Added now to those arguments is evidence gleaned from the history of a lost Irish manuscript, the life and writings of a forgotten American genius, and clues left by Joseph Smith himself. This paper has offered numerous and direct points of contact between the "curious manuscript," Mitchill, and Mormonism. These connections intertwine logically with the writing on the "Anthon transcript." They form an infinitely stronger -- certainly more believable -- case for the "coming forth" of the Book of Mormon than the oft-revised, usually conflicting accounts offered at various times by a "prophet" convicted as a petty grifter six (or four) years after he entered a grove and saw the light.
POST SCRIPTIt all began again innocently enough. I had just emailed the final proof of the article above to UMI and was casting about on the Internet to get my mind off the Detroit Manuscript. I decided to see if I could nail down the first name of the "_______ Spalding" listed among the divinity students who had studied under Dr. Nathanael Emmons. Rev. Emmons was well acquainted with View of the Hebrews author Ethan Smith (see above); he was also the great-uncle of Book of Mormon scribe and witness Oliver Cowdery, who lived in the same town as Ethan Smith before meeting Joseph Smith. If the Spalding listed in Emmons' papers turned out to be Solomon Spalding -- long considered the actual author of the Book of Mormon by some -- a very interesting connection would be revealed. However, a Rev. Philip Spalding was also a prime contender I'd identified.
My Internet searching eventually took me to a site called The Spalding Studies Library. Some of the detailed information there convinced me that the web site's creator might have the source material to "fill in the blank." I clicked "E-mail Site Host" and began an interesting correspondence with Dale R. Broadhurst of Hawaii. Eventually we sorted out Spalding-Emmons' student was definitely Philip, third cousin to Solomon. I also mentioned the Detroit Manuscript in passing.
Mr. Broadhurst's next email came as a complete surprise. Not only had he heard of Detroit's lost Irish book, he had posted, on another site, three 1823 articles about it that had appeared in Detroit Gazette, two from a New York newspaper, and one from a Pittsburgh publication. I followed his URLs to Uncle Dale's Readings in Early Mormon History. Ironically I had been on his site a week or so earlier checking endnote sources for the article (see below). All the articles there are reproduced on a light brown (old paper) background with a newspaper masthead -- quite good graphics. With the Detroit articles he also includes the full text of "Ancient Manuscript," the April 23rd Washington Republican article excerpted in the Gazette on May 16, 1823 in "The Manuscript." Indexed links to these newspapers can be found at http://www.lavazone2.com/dbroadhu/artindex.htm. The relevant 1823 articles can be accessed via the links given for the respective states where the newspapers were published.
If Mr. Broadhurst's knowledge was surprising, a few of the articles were bombshells. The two New York articles are reprints of the Gazette's "A Singular Discovery" and Niles' "Curious Manuscript," the texts for both of which are provided near the beginning of the current article. It was "Curious Manuscript" that first began my search years ago. The articles were reprinted in the Ontario Repository on April 15 and May 20, 1823, respectively. This newspaper was published in Canandaigua, Ontario County, New York.
Anyone familiar with early Mormon history will recognize the town of Canandaigua. Fawn Brodie writes:
Biographers of Joseph Smith have commonly held that western New York was then a wilderness, where wolf packs still roamed and local libraries were rarer than Indian reservations. But when the buckboard came to a stop in Palmyra, the weary brood looked out upon a town of almost four thousand citizens, twice the size of the [Vermont] village they had left. Canandaigua, twelve miles south, was even bigger, and boasted a twenty-year-old academy, two "respectable private female seminaries," five common schools, three libraries, thirty-nine stores, seventy-six shops, three churches, and paved sidewalks. (19-20)
Those who would have argued that information regarding the Detroit Manuscript was not available in Joseph Smith's area (despite its availability through Niles' Register and, possibly, correspondence with Stephen Mack) can no longer contemplate such an argument. Besides being reprinted in the Canadaigua Ontario Repository notices of the Detriot discovery were also reproduced in two other newspapers printed quite close to Palmyra: the Rochester Telegraph of Apr. 23, 1823 and the Geneva Gazette of May 14, 1823.
The young researcher I'd hired to go through the Detroit Gazette years ago had missed one 1823 article found by Dale Broadhurst in that Detroit newspaper. A scan of the March 14th original can now be viewed at http://www.lavazone2.com/dbroadhu/MI/miscmich.htm#031423. It reads as follows:
The Manuscript. -- The singular volume recently discovered by Col. Edwards, has been compared with more than thirty different alphabets, ancient and modern, and although the characters in which it is written bear a slight affinity to several of them, it is very clear that they belong to neither. -- They bear more resemblance to the Phenician Alphabet than any other with which they have been compared, though a number of the letters differ but little from the Saxon. There is no doubt, from the Latin sentences interspersed through it, that it is a religious work and it is probably the production of some learned theologian of the seventeenth century, written in a peculiar cipher.
We now know what the "signs and symbols" of the Irish manuscript looked like to the untrained eye -- similar to "Phenician [sic] letters." The reader will note from the Phoenician below (in Exhibit "G") its general similarity to both "reformed Egyptian" and the early modern shorthand in Rich's New Testament sample (see Exhibit "A" above). There can now be little doubt that the Detroit Manuscript contained extensive examples of early modern shorthand -- it would be absurd to maintain an Irish manuscript contained Phoenician. That "the learned" of Detroit recognized the characters as a "cipher" -- which, as we've seen, shorthand was considered -- makes the case virtually airtight. (It should also be noted that the same "pundits" hit Geoffrey Keating's time period on the head -- the "seventeenth century.") There is also little doubt then that many of the Irish manuscript's characters resembled -- as did most shorthand systems up until then -- what was later claimed by Joseph Smith to be "reformed Egyptian."
And what about the writing other than the Latin and the cipher with a "resemblance to the Phencian alphabet" -- the writing whose "letters differ but little from the Saxon?" Obviously, this script is what Georgetown College's Fr. Grace called "Irish, truly classical." Gaelic script is based on "...Irish miniscule, 8th century style. The Anglo-Saxon is exactly the same script...." 61 "Insular Miniscule is a combination of Irish Miniscule and Anglo-Saxon Miniscule. With the Norman conquest in 1066, Insular Miniscule died out. The Irish, however, continue to use the hand to this day, as the script for Gaelic." 62 63
And what a perfect cipher the Detroit Manuscript offered Joseph! None of the contemporary newspaper accounts even hints that "the learned" ever ascertained what this alphabet which bore the closest resemblance to ancient Phoenician might be. The "Saxon" accounted for the minimal Irish translated by Grace, but all that is ever claimed regarding the "strange abbreviations" is that they were Phoenician-like (but not Phoenician) and that their presence actually hindered the translation of the Gaelic in the book. That and the fact that Dr. Mitchill was struck by their similarity to "signs and symbols" in the margins of an old Latin Bible. Why wouldn't Joseph assume he could use them as his "reformed Egyptian" characters with impunity? After all, the best and the brightest had failed to identify them. Let Martin Harris shop around for an opinion; the worst that could be expected was a judgment that they were similar to ancient Phoenician -- good enough for the likes of the gullible Harris. But if the brightest of the lot, Mitchill, had taken the bait, as has been pointed out, Joseph would have been "the theme and wonder of the land."
The second of the three Gazette articles "unearthed" by Dale Broadhurst confirms my deductions about the contents of the Detroit Manuscript. I submit that this confirmation also lends further credence to other theories proposed above. And while, like the gold plates, it has disappeared, unlike the Book of Mormon plates, the old Irish book was once put on public display for anyone to view, not hidden in a box for a select few to "heft." The fact that its ever having existed cannot be brought into question makes the Detroit Manuscript's evidence weightier than Joseph's "gold."
Again, I would charge (now with bolstered conviction) that the myriad of connecting evidence demands the verdict that Detroit's "Ancient Manuscript" is the obvious and logical source of the story Joseph Smith, Jr. eventually refined regarding the Book of Mormon's "coming forth," and of the "signs and symbols" on the "Anthon transcript" purposefully misidentified as "reformed Egyptian."
61 "Information on Celtic fonts," Online FAQ, URL: http://www.siliconglen.com/scotfaq/2_2.html.
62 "Timeline of Medieval Scripts," Medieval Calligraphy, Online, URL: http://lab.dce.harvard.edu/extension/humae105/fall97/twest/time.htm
63 Note: the paragraph in which "note 63" appeared in the original, Evangel version of this article, has been deleted at the request of the author.
After considering the various details provided in Mr. Stout's reporting and analysis, the modern reader may be surprised by contemporary scholars' evident lack of interest in the history surrounding the Detroit manuscript episode and that history's evident parallels with some memorable events in early Mormonism. Probably the LDS apologists ignore the subject because it does not present a direct and formidable challenge to traditional Mormon views concerning the provenance of their religion's famous book.
Although the books and journals dealing with early Mormon history have skipped over the Detroit mystery, Mr. Stout's discoveries have received a modicum of exposure in various on-line discussions and references. For example, Chapter 4 of Craig Criddle's "Origins of Mormon Scriptures" mentions the 1823 discovery in these words:
[Joseph] Smithís plan [to dupe Martin Harris] took advantage of the 1823 discovery of the Detroit manuscript, a document of mysterious origins found under a building in Detroit by Colonel Abraham Edwards, a business associate of Stephen Mack, Smith's uncle.
Criddle also notes that "Stephen Mack died on November 11, 1826, and so would not have been around to expose a con [perpetrated upon Martin Harris]" as well as: "The Detroit Manuscript was sent for analysis to Washington DC and New York City. Smith had Harris visit both cities. The likely reason is that he thought someone in one of those cities would validate some of the characters."
This view of the matter has Joseph Smith, Jr. himself perhaps believing that the writing on the Detroit manuscript contained ancient symbols compatible with the claim that Nephites had written equally ancient records in "reformed Egyptian." Whether or not Smith believed this to be true, he seems to have at least known something about the Detroit discovery -- that its contents had been advertised as being both truly antique and practically indecipherable. That much information Joseph (or some other member of his family) might have gleaned from 1820s newspaper accounts. Criddle does explore the more damning possibility, that Smith family members were aware of much more concerning the Detroit manuscript and consciously adapted elements from that phenomenon as a model for young Joseph's own fabulous pretensions of a similar discovery.