Captain William Kidd and the Founding of Mormonism

John Dehlin Church History 8 Comments

In some sense, Mormonism began with the hanging of Captain William Kidd.

The logic goes like this:

  • Captain Kidd’s death in 1701 led to massive rumors that treasures were buried throughout the New York area. The practice of treasure digging in New England grew steadily between 1701 and 1820.
  • The Smith family and eventually Joseph became massive treasure diggers/scryers/jugglers/peepers, thanks largely to these legends of Captain Kidd. Perhaps most importantly, the idea of an angel (Nephi/Moroni) guarding the buried treasures (golden plates, sword of Laban), requiring a seer to find them (Joseph Smith), and the idea that the treasure(s) could be taken back or away….all of those ideas came straight from the Captain Kidd lore of spirits/ghosts guarding buried treasures.
  • Treasure Digging was where Joseph first learned to convince people that he had special powers (even though he didn’t). This was an important part of Joseph gaining a reputation as someone with spiritual gifts. And of course the rock in the hat shenanigans were all developed as a part of the treasure digging scheme.
  • When Joseph couldn’t do treasure digging any more (due to all the legal troubles, and the ire of Emma’s father Isaac), Joseph took all the “skills” that he learned treasure digging and transferred them into the Book of Mormon project as his next “gig” – but so much of the Book of Mormon project had roots in the treasure digging. This included:
    • Treasure buried in a hillside,
    • An angel/spirit protecting the treasure,
    • Joseph as the magical one to see/retrieve the treasure, and
    • The treasure ultimately being taken away by the guardian spirit. All of these components come from the Captain Kidd lore.

In summary:

Captain Kidd legends => Joseph’s Treasure digging and seer stone use => the Book of Mormon project => Joseph starting the Mormon church.

Are any of you picking up what I’m putting down?

More Resources:

Comments 8

  1. The colorful preacher, sometimes a Campbellite, Sidney Rigdon, worked for a publishing house where historical novelist Solomon Spaulding’s latest novel, about “mound dwellers” (Native Americans) who were actually descendants of the Lost Tribe. The publishing house building where Rigdon worked burned down. Remains of most of the books that were being worked on were found, but the Spaulding manuscript disappeared. So did Rigdon. He reappeared not far from Geneva, N.Y. and was soon acquainted with Joseph Smith Sr. and Jr.
    I did a great deal of research into the Sidney Rigdon connection, when I was a journalist and lived in Friendship, N.Y., where Rigdon had lived his late years. My files were stolen by an LDS agent in the 1970s. There is much more to the Rigdon-Smith connection and how it figured in the founding of LDS and the writing of the Book of Mormon. Captain Kidd yarns and the treasure seeking craze do not begin to account for the development of the claims of the miraculous discovery of the golden plates, etc. If there is interest, I can tell more of my adventures in tracing the Smith escapades in upstate New York and the Twin Tiers, and those of Sidney Rigdon.

    1. Martha, I would LOVE to hear all about what you’ve discovered! I live in WNY, have been to Rigdon’s gravesite in Friendship, NY a couple times and pondered his involvement with the BOM for quite awhile now. Is there a way I can contact you?

  2. All this may be true. However, God often uses a persons prior knowledge and talents to show them what he wants them to know. In other words just because Joseph Smith participated in the culture of his time does not mean he lied about the golden plates….. Only kidding, I don’t believe a word of it but we already know that is the “TBM” standard answer.

  3. Mmmm. Aha. I’d say that one of the most successful drives of the supernatural is specifically American denominations that originated in the tail end of the Enlightment. They’re all over this world. So… we have to blame Kidd for this?

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