Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Rigdon, Sidney

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RIGDON, Sidney, Mormon elder, b. in St. Clair township, Alleghany county, Pa., 19 Feb., 1793; d. in Friendship, N. Y., 14 July, 1876. He worked on a farm till 1817, and after some experience as a printer studied for the ministry, and was licensed to preach by the Baptist church on 1 April, 1819. In January, 1822, he became pastor of the first church in Pittsburg, Pa., where he labored successfully. Following the example of Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott, he withdrew from that church and assisted in establishing the Disciples, or Campbell denomination. He began preaching the new doctrine in Bainbridge, Ohio, in 1828, and a year later went to Mentor, where he was very successful. In the autumn of 1830 four Mormon elders, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, Oliver Cowdery, and Peter Whitmer, on their way to Missouri, stopped at Mentor. Mr. Pratt, who had been a Baptist clergyman, obtained permission to preach in Mr. Rigdon's church, and the latter became interested, read portions of the “Book of Mormon,” was converted to the doctrine of the Latter-day saints, and baptized in October, 1830. He at once became zealous, and in December, 1830, met Joseph Smith at Fayette, N. Y. It has been claimed that, through Rigdon's agency (and there is no doubt of their association in the scheme), Smith became possessed of a copy of Solomon Spaulding's manuscript, which he read from behind a blanket to his amanuensis, Oliver Cowdery, with such additions as suited the purposes of Rigdon and himself. (See Spaulding, Solomon.) Rigdon transferred to Smith as many of his followers as he could influence, and the two men were thenceforth partners in all their enterprises, even to the practice of polygamy, and both claimed to have received revelations. When Smith removed to Kirtland, Ohio, in January, 1831, Rigdon went with him, and was his most efficient preacher. Subsequently they preached in Hiram, Ohio, where, on the night of 25 March, 1832, they were dragged from their beds by a mob and tarred and feathered. They returned to Kirtland, and a year later a church hierarchy was established, consisting of Smith, Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, who were elected presidents and styled “the first presidency.” They established a mill and a store, and set up a “wild-cat” bank without a charter, Smith appointing himself president and making Rigdon cashier. The neighboring country was soon flooded with notes of doubtful value, and, in consequence of this and other business transactions, the partners were accused of fraudulent dealing. At the same time it was said that “a revelation from the Lord” had declared that the sins of Rigdon and Williams were forgiven, and that henceforth they were “to be accounted as equal with Joseph Smith, Jr., in holding the keys of His last kingdom.” In 1838, the bank having failed in November, 1837, Smith and Rigdon fled in the night to avoid arrest, pursued by their creditors, and took refuge in Missouri. Large numbers of Mormons had preceded them, and, having become involved in quarrels with the inhabitants, had been driven by mobs from place to place until they settled in Caldwell county, in the town of Far West. Here the fugitives joined them, and Rigdon became noted for the vigor of his denunciations against the persecutors of “God's chosen people.” After spending some time in jail, having been arrested by the state authorities on charges of treason, murder, and felony, Smith and Rigdon were found guilty, but after some months' imprisonment were allowed to escape, and joined the Mormon exodus to Illinois. When the church was established at Nauvoo, Rigdon was still one of its presidents. In the course of his connection with that body he had been twice tarred and feathered, and several times imprisoned for his alleged conspiracies and misdemeanors. When Joseph and Hyrum Smith were shot at Carthage, Ill., 27 June, 1844, Rigdon aspired to the leadership of the sect, but the twelve apostles preferred Brigham Young. Rigdon refused to submit to his authority, and, for his contumacy, was declared to be “cutoff from the communion of the faithful, and delivered to the devil, to be buffeted in the flesh for a thousand years.” Thus cast out, he left the town of Nauvoo in the autumn of 1844 and went to Pittsburg, Pa., and thence to Friendship, N. Y., where he died declaring firm belief in the doctrines and truthfulness of the “Book of Mormon.”