Conversion of Sidney Rigdon
At Manchester, Ontario County, New York, four missionaries from the Church of Christ departed westward to locate the site to build a temple in the New Jerusalem. They were Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Ziba Peterson and Parley P. Pratt. They were elders of the newly established Church of Christ. They departed Manchester about 17 October 1830 with copies of the first edition of the Book of Mormon.
The missionaries arrived in Kirtland, Ohio near Mentor on Friday, 29 October according to a letter written by Oliver Cowdery. They first went to see Rev. Sidney Rigdon at his home and Parley P. Pratt gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Pratt was a former minister and friend of Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon was a thirty-seven years old Reformed Baptist pastor with a congregation in Mentor. An early account mentions that the missionaries asked the "brethren of the reformation" "to receive their mission and book as from Heaven, which they said chiefly concerned the western Indians, as being an account of their origin, and a prophecy of their final conversion to [C]hristianity, and made them a white and delightsome people, and be reinstated in the possessing of their lands of which they have been despoiled by the whites."1
Rigdon commenced reading the Book of Mormon but had a hard time becoming convinced of its authenticity. Parley Pratt recalled, "it was with much persuasion and argument, that he [Rigdon] was prevailed on to read it, and after he had read it, he had a great struggle of mind, before he fully believed and embraced it."2
Meetings were held at the Isaac Morley's farm where there lived those who believed "it was necessary that there should be a community of goods among the brethren."3 A few days later the four missionaries returned to Morley's farm and performed the first baptisms of their mission. Late on the night of Friday, 5 November, seventeen individuals received the rite of baptism. Cowdery wrote that they "held a meeting with these brethren, and seventeen went immediately forward and were baptized, between eleven and twelve at night" (see below for text).4
Josiah Jones recalled that the missionaries preached in the Methodist meeting house and "exhorted the people to repent of their pride and priestcraft and all other sins, and be baptized by them for the remission of them, for they said that if they had been baptized it was of no avail, for there was no legal administer, neither had been for fourteen hundred years, until God had called them to the office, and had sent them into the world to publish it to this generation."5
The Painesville Telegraph of 15 February 1831 reported that after "seventeen persons were immersed by them in one night" that Rigdon "seemed much displeased" but shortly after "was convinced that Mormonism was true and divine." On Sunday morning, 7 November Rigdon "had an appointment to preach in the Methodist chapel at Kirtland. He arose to address the congregation apparently much affected and deeply impressed. He seemed exceedingly humble, confessed the sins of his former life, his great pride, ambition, vainglory, &c. &c." That day twenty-eight baptisms were performed.
Elder Pratt wrote, "At length Mr. Rigdon and many others became convinced that they had no authority to minister in the ordinances of God; and that they had not been legally baptized and ordained. They, therefore, came forward and were baptized by us, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and prayer in the name of Jesus Christ."6
Ten days after the missionaries arrival Rigdon received baptized. The early accounts agree that Sidney Rigdon was baptized on a Monday. The baptism was performed by Oliver Cowdery and the date would have been 8 November 1830. Phebe, Sidney's wife was also baptized by Cowdery. The Telegraph reported, "The Monday following he was baptized."7 Josiah Jones also mentions, "On Monday Elder Rigdon was rebaptized."8
As early as 1831 it has been published that Sidney Rigdon had some pre-1830 connection with Joseph Smith, Jr. and the production of the text of the Book of Mormon. It appears that these accounts are not reliable. Parley P. Pratt recalled the visit to Rigdon in the fall of 1830, "We called on Elder S. Rigdon, and then for the first time, his eyes beheld the 'Book of Mormon;' I, myself, had the happiness to present it to him in person."9
The following is a copy of a letter written by Oliver Cowdery on 12 November 1830 which discuss the arrival of the missionaries in Kirtland on 29 October and mentions the fifty-five baptisms performed:
Kirtland Geauga Co. Ohio
Novr. 12th 1830
Our beloved brethren
We arrived at this place two weeks this day, on our journey we called at the Buffalo tribe, but stayed a few hours only but left two books with them. We traveled directly to this place. On the fourth after attending a public meeting we came to the place where we had prophesied tarrying a few days. It is where several families had united themselves as a band of brethren and put all their property together determining to live separate from the world as much as possible, and when we had returned we held a meeting with these brethren, and seventeen went immediately forward and were baptized, between eleven and twelve at night, and on the 6th there was one more, on the 7th nine in the daytime and at night nineteen, on the 8th three; on the 9th, 3. on the 10th at night, one; on the 11th, one, on this day another, making in the whole fifty five, among whom are brother Sidney Rigdon and wife. There is considerable call here for books, and I wish you would send five hundred immediately here, and when they are, or a part of them are sold, one of these will fetch the money, and if our brother Rigdon does not come before that time, I think he will then. Be that sooner or later, receive him (as) if from my own bosom, for he is am I am. I wish you without fail to communicate this to my aged parents. Do brethren if you respect me. We expect in a few days to pursue our journey to the Lamanites.
This is a copy of the letter.
If any of you should write to the brethren you should direct yours to Isaac Morley Kirtland Geauga Co. Ohio.
(Copy preserved in a Newel Knight Journal, private possession, typed copy.)
1. The Telegraph 2 (15 Feb. 1831), Painesville, Ohio, typed copy.
2. Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled (New York, 1838), pamphlet dated 24 March 1838 on page 47; reprinted in The Essential Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 43.
3. Jones' 1831 account was published in The Evangelist 9 (1 June 1841):134-35; reprinted in Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Spring 1972):308.
4. Oliver Cowdery to "Our beloved brethren," 12 Nov. 1830, copy preserved in a Newel Knight Journal, private possession, typed copy.
5. Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Spring 1972):308; see also Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 2:414-15.
6. Parley P. Pratt [Jr.], ed., The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 35.
7. The Telegraph 2 (15 Feb. 1831).
8. Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Spring 1972):309.
9. Essential Parley P. Pratt, 43, emphasis omitted.