Mormon History

The Genesis of Mormonism - 1879

The Christian Standard July 26, 1879

"ST.  JOHN'S  ROD."
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The Counterfeiter Wingate and Genesis of Mormonism
Facts Hitherto Unpublished.
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I have long intended to give to the publications some well attested facts in regard to the origin of Mormonism, antedating its usually recognized beginnings, but have hitherto neglected it. These facts exist in a thoroughly reliable form, and came into my possession directly from an eye and ear witness -- a man of superior intelligence, caution and discrimination. My uncle, the Rev. Laban Clark, D. D., founder of the Wesleyan University, in whose family it was my privilege to spend nearly four years, entered the Methodist ministry in the autumn of 1800, and for a number of years traveled large circuits in Vermont. Mr. Clark was a very acute observer, of superior practical judgment, and possessed a very accurate memory. The following statement has been compiled from data several times repeated to me in personal conversations, and from a manuscript sketch prepared by him about twenty years before his death, and is believed by those who knew Mr. Clark well to be worthy of the fullest confidence.

In the year 1801 Mr. Clark traveled in the western part of Vermont, visiting the settlements from Bennington county to the Missisquoi Bay, and even the adjoining settlements in Lower Canada. In the latter part of the Autumn, while in St. Albans, he heard of a man from Rutland who had passed through that section relating marvelous accounts of wonderful things accomplished near Rutland by persons who had found "St. John's Rod." Several families in St. Albans were much excited by the story. Dr. Clark pacified the people, and advised them to pay no attention to such marvels. About the first of November he attended a quarterly meeting in Salisbury, Vt., where, to his surprise, the story of "the rods" met him in a new form. A number of men had obtained rods by which they claimed to be able to find roots and herbs curing all diseases. Several persons were in attendance at this quarterly meeting who had been to "the rod men" and obtained syrups, salves, etc. Mr. Clark was very incredulous and treated the story as a hoax. Sometime in December he visited Poultney, Vt., where he found quite a stir among the people, from a report that two young women had been following the rods during a cold night, when the ground was covered with snow, with no other garments than were usually worn in the house, and that they had passed over rocks and ledges difficult for men to pass in the day-time. The next evening his appointment was at Mr. D.'s, in Middletown, Vt. After closing the meeting he learned that Mr. D.'s daughter was one of the young women who had been led by "the rods" through the snow, etc., that Mr. D. was a strong believer in the efficacy of "the rods," and that they would work in his hands.

When the people retired Mr. Clark inquired into the strange affair. Mr. D. seemed willing to communicate. He seriously believed that the rods possessed a mysterious power; that marvelous things could be accomplished by them; that, according to Isaiah, God would cause his people, in the latter days, "to pass under the rod," when the latter day glory should be ushered in; that this was soon to take place; that their rods were the seals with which the 144,000 were to be sealed by the servants of God; that the lost tribes of Israel were to be gathered by them from their scattered condition, and that vast numbers of the present inhabitants of this country were Israelites, but had lost their pedigree, and knew not that they were of the house of Jacob. By these rods they would be designated and brought into the New Jerusalem, soon to be built in this country. At this stage of the conversation Mr. Clark asked to be permitted to see Mr. D.'s rod. After a short absence he returned with it, and lifting it up, said: "If Mr. Clark is a Jew let the rod point toward him." It moved and twisted in his hands and pointed toward Mr. Clark.

"Well," said Mr. Clark, "If I am a Jew, I should like to know what tribe I belong to. Ask if I am of the tribe of Naphtali." He did so, but the rod would not move. Mr. Clark then said: "Try Zebulon." He did so, but it moved not. Mr. Clark said: "On the whole, I think that I belong to the tribe of Joseph." He put the question and the rod directly came down with apparent force. "I thought so," said Mr. Clark, "for my father's name was Joseph." Mr. Clark then understood the mystery of the working of the rod -- that it moved "as the imagination of the mind affected the nervous action." After hearing all that Mr. D. had to say, Mr. Clark believed the whole affair a delusion.

In four weeks Mr. Clark visited this place again, where he was to preach in the evening. About the middle of the afternoon Mr. D. came to the house where Mr. Clark was stopping. His appearance being very dejected and melancholy, Mr. Clark inquired after his family, and what could be the matter. With a heavy sigh he replied: "Oh, the judgments of God are abroad in the earth!" "What do you mean?" said Mr. Clark. Mr. D. replied: "We have appointed to-morrow as a day of fasting and prayer, and want you to be with us." Mr. Clark answered: "I dare not; I am afraid of you. I do not know what you have connected with it." The next morning, finding some gentlemen of character and standing going to the meeting, Mr. Clark concluded to go. Reaching the place about noon, he found Mr. W., an aged New Light minister, had been lecturing in the forenoon on the prophecies, and was to preach again in the afternoon. He spoke from Rev. xv 4, dwelling chiefly on the words, "Thy judgments are made manifest." He was excited, incoherent and indefinite. Mr. Clark consented to preach in the evening. While at Mr. D.'s house, for tea, Mr. Clark noticed unusual movements, and, on leaving the house, saw a paper on the door with these words: -- "Christ our passover was sacrificed for us;" but made no inquiries about it. He preached a practical discourse that evening, to a large audience, telling them that he had no new revelation to bring. As soon as his sermon was closed there were strange movements in the outer room. Several men commenced to work with rods, and to run to and fro. Mr. Clark out on his overcoat and prepared to go to Mr. D.'s for the night, but was persuaded to remain with the people. Very soon they were all ordered out of the house, and they took up a line of march, some crying, some sighing, and others saying, "I never expected to see such things." They were conducted to an old house that had been fitted up as a school-house. A fire had been made, and all entered with much confusion. Some were alarmed, and none more so than the old minister. At his request Mr. Clark called the people to order, prayed with them, and recommended religious conversion. But the "rod-men" said that their rods had given them to understand that there would be an earthquake that night. This was what had agitated the minds of the people. They spent the whole night in that place, Mr. Clark quieting the people and directing their minds to healthful themes until the morning dawned.

Returned to Mr. D.'s, Mr. Clark noticed that their crockery had been placed in the middle of the floor, to prevent its being broken by the earthquake. Soon two of the leading "rod-men" came in, and said they had found out their mistake -- that the fasting indicated by the rods was not in view of an earthquake, but was the fast to be regularly observed on the fourteenth day of the first month until the Jews go into the New Jerusalem, and the Latter Day glory shall be ushered in. Mr. Clark heard their story with a silent reserve, concluding that the last error was worse than the first; but that [it] would enable them to keep up the delusion and carry out some plan of mischief. He began to suspect that there was some person out of sight who was the leading spirit of their operations, and that the others were victims of duplicity.

Owing to a change in the plan of the circuit, it was eight weeks before Mr. Clark visited Mr. D.'s again. In March he found only a small attendance at his meeting, and at its close the people quietly retired, none of the family even making an allusion to the former affairs. But Mr. Clark's suspicions were fully aroused that his friend D. was liable to be made the victim of some villainous attempt upon his credulity, and he resolved if possible to deliver him from the snare. Taking him aside, Mr. Clark asked him how they were succeeding with their rods. With much animation, he answered: "We are doing wonders. The rods have power over all enchantments. There are large quantities of silver and gold concealed in the earth. much of which is under enchantment, which the rods can remove, so that it can be easily obtained." He further said that "the rods, in the hands of certain individuals, had power to move silver and gold invisibly in the earth, and that they were collecting it into a common field, where they would be able to get it in any quantity that should be wanted." He went on to say that "the glorious day was fast approaching in which great work would be performed; that the Latter Day saints were about to be gathered; that they would build a holy city, the New Jerusalem, somewhere in this country, and, they would have gold enough to pave the streets." Mr. Clark asked if the gold and silver were in coin or in its native state. He said it was "both one and the other." Mr. Clark then inquired if they had any man who understood the art of refining gold. He answered: "Yes, we have a man who is well skilled in the art, but he keeps himself secreted in the woods." Mr. Clark asked if he knew his name. He replied, "Yes, his name is Wingate."

Mr. Clark then became satisfied that Wingate was the moving agent in the whole affair, and discovered at once the nature and design of the operations. He knew of Wingate's movements in the northern part of the State, and after a little reflection, concluded to open the eyes of Mr. D. Addressing him seriously, he said:

"I fear there is counterfeiting going on, and that you will be drawn into it, and will be ruined in character and property."

He started with a shudder. Mr. Clark then said:

"I think I can tell you how you can detect it in season to escape, if you are watchful. If my fears are well founded they will call on you and others for a sum of money, and they will want it in specie."

Mr. D. replied, "They have done it already."

"And did you furnish it?" inquired Mr. Clark.

Mr. D. replied evasively.

Mr. Clark then addressed him secretly, warning him to put away his rod and quit those people or he would be a ruined man. Mr. Clark took leave of Mr. D. for another four weeks' tour around his circuit, but with many anxious thoughts for the welfare of that family.

The name of Wingate convinced Mr. Clark that the whole affair of the rods, and the scheme of building up the New Jerusalem, was gotten up for the purpose of aiding a set of counterfeiters; for a few years before a man of that name was detected in the act of making counterfeit dollars by two young men of his acquaintance in the town of Bradford, Vt. The implements and the coin he was making were taken and held by the town authorities, but Wingate escaped into New Hampshire. Further inquiries satisfied him that it was the same man who was deceiving the people in the vicinity of Poultney and Middletown. On his next visit to Mr. D.'s, Mr. Clark had the pleasure of knowing that he had rescued his friend from the delusion and the snare of the counterfeiters.

These are the simple facts of what Mr. Clark saw and heard, as carefully detailed by him. Soon after Wingate and his adherents were detected in their counterfeiting operations, Wingate was arrested and put into the Rutland jail, and the gang was dispersed.

About 1827 or 1828 Mr. Clark heard the story of Joe Smith's finding the "Golden Bible," while hunting for minerals with his rod. It at once brought to his mind Wingate's rods, but without suspicion of any connection between the two parties. Mr. Clark says:

"I viewed it as a specimen of the same kind of imposition and knavery, but the scene of Smith's operations being at a distance from that of Wingate's, I paid little attention to it. When the Mormons commenced building in Ohio, and sent out men to preach the doctrine of the Latter Day Saints, and that they were about to build a temple where the saints were to be gathered, I could not resist the conviction that there must be some connection between their movements and what I had known about thirty years before in Vermont. In 1838 I visited Ohio, where I met Mr. Ezra Booth, who had been acquainted with Joe Smith and had traveled with him until convinced of his knavery and blasphemous pretensions. From him I learned the striking similarity of Smith's methods and those of the 'rod-men' in Vermont. Subsequently I saw in the papers a notice of the death of Smith's mother, stating that she had formerly resided in Rutland county, Vt., and I also learned from the Rev. Tobias Spicer, who had resided in Poultney, that Sidney Rigdon, Smith's high-priest and revelator, was from Rutland county, and must have been acquainted with Wingate's doctrine of the Latter Day Saints, the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel, his method of obtaining gold, etc. Having, to my satisfaction, ascertained that the Smiths and Rigdon families were from the neighborhood where I had witnessed Wingate's imposition, I have no doubt that the seeds of Mormonism were sown by that notorious counterfeiter. Rigdon was in Pittsburgh about 1823-4, where he professed to be studying this new Bible for three years, but was in fact studying Spaldin's 'found manuscript,' and translating Smith's 'Golden Bible.'"

Such is the clear and unvarnished account of the remote beginnings of that monstrous system of Mormon imposture, as related by the Rev. Dr. Laban Clark. Believing that it will contribute something toward a fuller exhibit of the history of Mormonism and its essence, I herewith commit it to the public. -- Rev. Daniel Dorchester, in Boston Advertiser.


Note 1: The Rev. Daniel Dorchester III (1827?-1907?) and the Rev. Laban Clark (1778-1868) are both listed as Methodist ministers in Nathan Bangs' 1841 History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Vol. III (1816-1828) In bk. 5, chp. 9, of that volume Rev. Bangs lists Clark as a preacher in the New York Conference and Dorchester as a preacher in the New England Conference of the Church -- later Pastor at Natick, MA (apparently the same Rev. Daniel Dorchester who served as US Superintendent of Indian Schools in 1889-4). Rev. Dorchester's account in the Boston Advertiser was reported and reprinted in several other 1879 newspapers besides the Christian Standard. The Aug. 15, 1879 issue of the Saints' Herald reprinted a summary of Dorchester's account, taken from the Chicago Alliance of June 21, 1879, along with a rebuttal (published a few days later in the same paper) written by RLDS Elder T. E. Stafford. Stafford argues: "neither Mr. Dorchester nor the Rev. Mr. Clark is aware of what constitutes Mormonism... [which] never knew anything about St. John's rod." Evidently Stafford was unaware of the Book of Commandments section in which the Lord confirms Oliver Cowdery's gift of working with just such a divining rod -- a skill he and/or his father probably acquired while living in Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont.

Note 2: See the May 28, 1828 issue of the Vermont American for more information on the rodsmen and strange events centered upon Middletown at the turn of the century. The account given there does not mention the "Wingate" (Paine Wingate?) spoken of by Rev. Clark, but instead calls the hidden director of the divining rod believers "Mugwump." Barnes Frisbie first associated the name of Mr. Wingate with proto-Mormonism in his 1867 book, History of Middletown, Vermont. Because Frisbie mixes his own information on a man called "Winchell" with information from derived from Rev. Laban Clark (he was also Daniel Dorchester's uncle) about a man named "Wingate," Historian Michael Quinn later accepted Frisbie's notion that Wingate was the same person as Winchell. The names of both men have also been confused with "Walters the Magician," an alleged associate of the Joseph Smith, Sr. family during the Smiths' money-digging days. According to John L. Brooke, author of The Refiner's Fire, these three men (Justus Winchell, Paine/Payne Wingate, and Luman Walters) were actually three different individuals.

Note 3: That accumulations of buried precious metals moved about underground was a common belief in New England and New York prior to 1830. Several reports in newspapers from this era speak of buried treasures moving about under the earth, and thus eluding seizure by treasure hunters. In some of these reports the buried gold and silver was said to have slipped about, under the ground, having been propelled by supernatural means -- apparently by guardian spirits, the powers of divining rods, etc. Joseph Smith, Sr. reportedly believed in such "slippery treasures." See also the following excerpts from the Book of Mormon: "And these Gadianton robbers, who were among the Lamanites, did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again" (Mormon 1:18, LDS) "And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them... Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us... Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land... for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them." (Heleman 13:31-36, LDS)

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