the thinker

Symonds Ryder

Poor Symonds Ryder. Even today people still can't spell his name right.

The story of Symonds Ryder has been misused to illustrate a point about leaving the Church over something inconsequential.  Undoubtedly there have been Latter-day Saints who have apostatized from the Church over a small slight.  However, the two tales which are often cited when warning of this danger, the Thomas B. Marsh strippings of milk story and the Symonds Ryder misspelled name story, are likely inappropriate in this context.

Symonds Ryder was born November 20, 1792 in Hartford, Windsor Co., Vermont. He migrated to Hiram, Ohio in around 1815 where others from Vermont had settled. Ryder seems to have developed a taste for religion in about 1828 and is baptized following a sermon by Thomas Campbell into the Baptist church in May 1828. Ryder said he agreed with all the points as taught by the Baptists, save for one, he believed in the conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.

Sometime before 1831, Symonds visited Kirtland, Ohio to hear a sermon from the Mormons and he didn't want to appear as though he was fighting against God, so he kept his mouth shut. He appeared to initially reject the claims of Mormonism until he read a newspaper article announcing the destruction of a town called Pekin in China, when he remembered a young Mormon girl had predicted the destruction of that city 6 weeks before.

Soon after Symonds was baptized a member of the LDS church, he received the commission for his call as an elder directly from the prophet Joseph Smith wherein his name was spelled Simonds Rider (He was ordained an elder on June 6, 1831). Symonds felt that if Joseph was truly inspired by God that the inspiration would include the correct spelling of his name. To this day the LDS Doctrine and Covenants retains the misspelling of his name (See D&C 52:37). Symonds eventually returned to his Baptist roots and remained active there until his death in August 1870.

As for the rest of the story...Symonds was really close friends with Ezra Booth and they often discussed their religious views. Symonds did not serve his mission in Missouri, but waited for his good friend Ezra to return from his mission before leaving the LDS church. When they met about the 1st of September, 1831, the first question which sprang from the lips of each was-"How is your faith?" and the first look into each other's faces, gave answer that the spell of enchantment was broken, and the delusion was ended. Symonds believed he had uncovered a conspiracy on the part of Joseph Smith to confiscate his property (along with the property of many others he knew through the United Order) once he had left on a mission to Missouri. This, combined with the misspelling of his name, is probably what led to his rejection of the Mormon faith.

The issue with Ryder was probably not just the misspelling of his name, but rather the authenticity of a prophetic call supposedly coming from an all-knowing and loving God who could allow the misspelling of his name. Of course, apologists are quick to note that prophetic calls come through fallible men and therefore some mistakes should be allowed or even expected. The bigger question that might need to be addressed is how followers can know when the prophet is speaking the words of God and when are they speaking as a fallible man?

Joseph Smith alleged that an attack by a mob on him and Sidney Rigdon wherein Joseph was scratched, tarred and feathered was led by Symonds Ryder, but this is called into question by remarks made by Sidney Rigdon wherein Symonds is praised as an "honest man".


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