[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith's Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]Emma Hale had been Joseph’s wife since he was a young, poor man. Since the beginning of their courtship in the late 1820s, Emma was aware of the opposition that faced Joseph, including attempts to physically harm Joseph. Joseph had repeatedly been attacked, beaten, imprisoned, held at gunpoint, betrayed into enemy hands, and returned to her variously bleeding, bruised, tarred, and emaciated.
Eventually she would receive Joseph’s lifeless body, riddled with bullets.
Along with Hyrum, Emma likely believed that Joseph’s teachings and actions related to plural marriage would cause his death, as seen from her vehement reaction to his sermon regarding how the Church might handle converts from countries where polygamy was practiced. 1 Yet her silence regarding Joseph’s plural marriages leading up to May 1843 does not mean she was ignorant of Joseph’s activities regarding plural marriage.
Many have inferred from Emma’s silence that Emma did not know Joseph was marrying plural wives. After all, she doesn’t publicly acknowledge these marriages at any time. We only know through third parties that Emma participates in select marriages starting in May 1843.
Why did Emma remain silent?
If Emma knew about Joseph’s polygamy, what could be the reason for her earlier silence? Initially, the practice was so secretive that there are no contemporary documents at all.
Emma would have learned in Kirtland how devastating it could be when she allowed even a trusted intimate (Oliver Cowdery) to know about plural marriage. In Kirtland Emma was angered by finding Joseph alone with Fanny Alger. Oliver inferred Joseph was engaging in an illicit affair, and the subsequent alienation between Oliver Cowdery and the Church significantly contributed to the failure of the settlement at Kirtland and the Missouri troubles.
I can imagine Joseph kept Emma informed of his plans to restore Old Testament marriage practices in Nauvoo, as early as September 1840, prompted by the provocative blessing Father Smith pronounced on Joseph’s head the day Father Smith died. So long as the marriages remained unconsummated and completely secret, there was no need for Emma to document or openly discuss, or comment on these plural marriages.
Starting in January 1842, Emma and Joseph both became aware there were sexual predators in Nauvoo. The two of them sprang into action to combat the scourge. As Relief Society President starting two months later, Emma presided over the female efforts to flush out Bennett and his Strikers during 1842. She was fully apprised of the fact that high profile men at that time were using their influence to persuade vulnerable women to agree to illicit intercourse, referred to as “spiritual wifery.” A study of the Relief Society minutes shows Emma using the Relief Society to investigate irregularities, insisting she wanted none in the Society who had violated the laws of virtue. 2 Joseph supported Emma in this, announcing on June 9, 1842 that no one would be admitted to Relief Society unless two or three members in good standing of the Relief Society presented a petition that the prospective member was of good report. 3
To me, it does not seem credible that Emma could have remained unaware of those women who were plural wives and the few good men who were sheltering and marrying plural wives. Emma’s counselors in the Relief Society, the ones investigating the disturbing tales of seduction, were apprised of pertinent facts. We see Elizabeth Whitney, Sarah Cleveland, and Elizabeth Durfee participating in activities related to plural marriage during 1842, long before their President, Emma Smith, allows herself any public involvement.
I contend Emma near-total silence prior to May 1843 was inspired by her refusal to condone by deed or appearance the spiritual wifery and illicit intercourse carried out by Bennett and his men.
However by May it had been a year since the damning confessions against Bennett and others had been presented to the High Council. If Emma had always been informed, as I contend, May 1843 appears to have been the earliest time Emma might have felt comfortable allowing individuals outside her immediate circle to know of her knowledge of and involvement in Joseph’s plural marriages.
Giving Joseph the Partridge Sisters as Plural Wives
Emily and Eliza Partridge were working as maid servants in the Smith household, a position very similar to that of handmaiden in the Genesis stories involving polygamy. So when Emma decided to make her involvement in plural marriage public, Emily and Eliza Partridge were obvious candidates to become Joseph’s ‘public’ plural wives.
Emily and Eliza Partridge had been secretly sealed to Joseph in March 1843. But that secret sealing would not have served to show Emma’s public embrace of plural marriage. Emily presumed that Emma had been ignorant of the March sealings, and that this was the reason they were repeated. But Emily Partridge herself was clearly ignorant of all that had happened in 1842 regarding illicit intercourse or “spiritual wifery” and John C. Bennett.
The plan was that the Partridge girls would be sealed to Joseph Smith, and then Emma would be sealed to Joseph. Following Emma’s sealing to Joseph, those inner circle couples who were already married would be able to be sealed. 4 Word went out among those faithful couples that the time was nearing when they would be sealed.
Emma was perhaps comforted by the knowledge that Emily and Eliza Partridge had been already sealed to Joseph and had been content to remain secret wives. And so she went through with the re-sealing ceremony, placing these girls’ hands in the hand of Joseph.
But Joseph and Emily at the least had misunderstood Emma’s intent. Joseph spent that night with Emily, and according to Emily they were sufficiently intimate that she would decades later agree that she had engaged in “carnal intercourse” with Joseph. 5
Emily likely committed another error. As Emily and her circle of friends had been uninformed about the true details of Bennett’s spiritual wifery in 1842, they presumed it was all part of the same thing. And so they began referring to themselves as “spirituals.” 6This transparent reference equating marriage to Joseph with the sexual practices of Bennett and his Strikers would infuriate Emma. There is a tale that Emma once dragged Eliza down the stairs by her hair. 7 I propose that this one tale regarding Eliza and the stairs referred to Eliza Partridge. I can completely believe Emma Smith would react in this manner if a young girl who may have been intimate with Joseph proceeded to call herself a “spiritual” in Emma’s hearing.
Emma was faced with two girls who were neither discrete nor willing to keep their hands off their new husband. They risked exposing Joseph either by their careless words or by becoming pregnant at a time when they lived in Joseph’s home. Emma immediately set about doing all in her power to prevent the girls from having any intimate access to Joseph. But by this time Emily at least would claim under oath in the 1890s that she’d “roomed” with Joseph several times.
Emma could only hope that neither Emily nor Eliza Partridge had become pregnant as a result of their activities with Joseph. But as Emma herself had agreed to the sealings, it is completely understandable why Joseph and Emily and Eliza presumed intimacies might be appropriate.
Roughly three months after the possible intimacies in May 1843, Emma had Joseph send the Partridge girls away. Emma’s prayers had been answered: neither girl had become pregnant.
Marriage in the Anointed Quorum
The ordinance of sealing previously-married couples together had been performed twice before in private, with Joseph officiating. But the sealing of Joseph to Emma was something Joseph could not officiate himself. Besides, the time of skulking about in strict secrecy was now ending.
On May 28th, Joseph and Emma became the first couple sealed together in quasi-public, at a meeting of the Quorum of the Annointed. 8 The sealing was performed by James Adams, who was subsequently sealed to his own wife, Harriet Denton Adams. This matter of dual ordinances followed the pattern initially set when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptized.
This matter of the pending sealings was likely the cause of the Hyrum’s question to Brigham Young, “I do know that you and the twelve know some things that I do not know. I can understand this by the motions, and talk, and doings of Joseph, and I know there is something or other, which I do not understand, that is revealed to the Twelve. Is this so?”
Other couples in the Quorum of the Annointed proceeded to be sealed in subsequent days, a cause of great rejoicing to them. But as the cloak of secrecy was stripped away, Emma became more and more concerned.
In the days following the Partridge girls’ sealing to Joseph, other young women became sealed to Joseph. The Lawrence sisters, Sarah and Maria, were sealed to Joseph, but Sarah Lawrence would later claim there had been no intimacies between herself and Joseph. Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes] was sealed to Joseph, on 1 June 1843, possibly having waited for more than a year until Emma herself had embraced the New and Everlasting Covenant, but her reproductive history does not support the conclusion that she could have been intimate with Joseph. Heber Kimball insisted that Joseph marry his 14-year-old daughter, Helen Mar Kimball, a ceremony that put an end to Helen’s social opportunities at the least. 9 Further, Joseph arranged for Sarah Whitney to marry her widower brother-in-law, who explicitly understood the arrangement as a pretend marriage. This would clear the way, potentially, for Joseph to become intimate with Sarah.
In response to these additional situations where Joseph might be intimate with his wives, Emma finally reached a breaking point. She made a demand of Joseph, and Joseph was commanded to offer her the desire of her heart. 10 A month later the Lord would command Joseph to revoke the offer, saying “I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else.” 11
What might Emma have demanded?
One possibility is that Emma demanded the right to have multiple husbands herself. Allegedly she demanded the right to be sealed to the handsome William Law. 12
Another possibility is that Emma demanded a divorce. 13
A third possibility is that Emma threatened to divorce Joseph if he would not agree to leave his plural wives, come away with her, and turn the work of the Church in Nauvoo over to others. While no contemporary attests to this possibility in writing, Joseph’s actions support this last reading.
On June 13, 1843, Joseph took Emma and his children and traveled roughly 200 miles northeast to the home of Emma’s sister, Elizabeth Hale Wasson, in Inlet Grove, Illinois, ten miles from Dixon, Illinois. It is not clear how long Joseph intended to stay with the Wassons, but a week later he would tell William Clayton and Stephen Markham “I have no fear. I shall not leave here.” Emma would have been able to remain with her sister for an extended time without causing significant comment, making good on her “divorce” threat. Or Joseph could have planned to remain with Emma at the Wassons, shifting administration of the Church to the Assistant President of the Church, his brother Hyrum, and the Quorum of the Twelve, headed by Brigham Young.
“I am weary of life… kill me, if you please”
On June 18th word reached Nauvoo that the Governor of Illinois had issued a writ against Joseph, honoring Missouri’s request to extradite Joseph to stand trial. Stephen Markham and William Clayton were sent to find Joseph and warn him. Markham and Clayton reached Joseph on June 21st. Joseph was not overly worried, but did cancel all public speaking arrangements, including a planned sermon in Dixon.
On Friday, June 23rd, Joseph sent William Clayton to Dixon, to find out what was going on there. While in Dixon, Clayton met two men who represented themselves as missionaries of the Church. The men were actually Joseph H. Reynolds,a sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri, and Constable Harmon T. Wilson, from Carthage, Illinois. It appears Clayton told the men where they could find Joseph, not realizing these were the very men he had warned Joseph about.
Reynolds and Wilson hurried to the Wasson home, arriving around 2 p.m. Reynolds and Wilson told the Wassons they were Mormon elders, and wanted to see Brother Joseph.
I was in the yard going to the barn when Wilson stepped to the end of the house and saw me. He accosted me in a very uncouth, ungentlemanly manner, when Reynolds stepped up to me, collared me, then both of them presented cocked pistols to my breast, without showing any writ or serving any process.
Reynolds cried out, “G—d—you, if you stir I’ll shoot; G—d—if you, stir one inch, I shoot you, be still, or I’ll shoot you, by G—.” I enquired “What is the meaning of all this?” “I’ll show you the meaning, by G—; and if you stir one inch, I’ll shoot you, G—d—you.”
I answered, “I am not afraid of your shooting; I am not afraid to die.” I then bared my breast and told them to shoot away. “I have endured so much oppression, I am weary of life; and kill me, if you please. I am a strong man, however, and with my own natural weapons could soon level both of you; but if you have any legal process to serve, I am at all times subject to law, and shall not offer resistance.”
Reynold replied, “G—d—you, if you say another word I will shoot you, by G—.”
I answered, “Shoot away; I am not afraid of your pistols.”
[Stephen Markham approached.] They then turned their pistols on me again, jamming them against my side, with their fingers on the triggers, and ordered Markham to stand still or they would shoot me through…
I then said, “Gentlemen, if you have any legal process, I wish to obtain a writ of habeas corpus,” and was answered,—”G—d—you, you shan’t have one.” They still continued their punching me on both sides with their pistols.
[Markham said,] “There is no law on earth that requires a sheriff to take a prisoner without his clothes…”
I told Markham to go, and he immediately proceeded to Dixon on horseback, where the sheriff also proceeded with me at full speed, without even allowing me to speak to my family or bid them good bye. The officers held their pistols with the muzzles jamming into my side for more than eight miles, and they only desisted on being reproached by Markham for their cowardice in so brutally ill-treating an unarmed, defenseless prisoner…
I again stated to Reynolds, “I wish to get counsel,” when he answered. G—d—you, you shan’t have counsel: one word more, G—d—you, and I’ll shoot you.”
“What is the use of this so often?” said I. “I have repeatedly told you to shoot; and I now tell you again to shoot away!” I saw a person passing and shouted to him through the window, “I am falsely imprisoned here, and I want a lawyer. 14
The following week was a tense contest of legal wranglings. During this week we see four women knowledgable about Nauvoo polygamy (Elvira Annie Cowles, Eliza R. Snow, Elizabeth Whitney, and Elizabeth Durfee) visit the head of Joseph’s body guard, Cornelius Lott. It seems unlikely, under the circumstances, that they were visiting to procure Lott’s nubile daughter as a future wife for Joseph, as so many polygamy researchers have previously assumed. 15 Perhaps instead they were attempting to set Lott’s mind at ease regarding rumors he had heard, persuading Lott to rouse himself in defense of Joseph, whose life was at stake.
As the path of Joseph, Reynolds, and Constable Wilson neared Nauvoo, they stopped at Honey Creek, at the home of Machael Crane. Joseph wrote:
A flock of turkeys and chickens were killed, and a substantial supper was provided for all; and the company feasted, sang, and had a happy time that night. I showed my sides to Mr. Crane and the company, which still continued black and blue from the bruises I had received from the pistols of Reynolds and Wilson, while riding from Inlet Grove to Dixon eight days ago. 16
The next day “the Nauvoo Brass Band and Martial Band started with Emma and my brother Hyrum to meet me; also a train of carriages, containing a number of the principal inhabitants.” Joseph continues:
I directed Colonel Rockwood to place my Life Guards in their appropriate position in the procession. I was in a buggy with Mr. Montgomery. Sheriff Reynolds and Wilson, with my three lawyers, Cyrus Walker, Shepherd G. Patrick, and Edward Southwick, were in the stage coach with Lucien P. Sanger, the stage proprietor. Mr. Campbell, the sheriff of Lee county, and a company of about 140 were with me on horseback.
I was a prisoner in the hands of Reynolds, the agent of Missouri, and Wilson, his assistant. They were prisoners in the hands of Sheriff Campbell, who had delivered the whole of us into the hands of Colonel Markham, guarded by my friends, so that none of us could escape.
When the company from the city came up, I said I thought I would now ride a little easier; got out of the buggy; and, after embracing Emma and my brother Hyrum, who wept tears of joy at my return, as did also most of the great company who surrounded us, (it was a solemn, silent meeting,) I mounted my favorite horse, “Old Charley,” when the band struck up “Hail Columbia,” and proceeded to march slowly towards the city, Emma riding by my side into town.
I was greeted with the cheers of the people and firing of guns and cannon. We were obliged to appoint a number of men to keep the streets open for the procession to pass, and arrived at my house about one o’clock, where my aged mother was at the door to embrace me, with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks, and my children clung around me with feelings of enthusiastic and enraptured pleasure. Little Fred, exclaimed, “Pa, the Missourians won’t take you away again, will they?”
The multitude seemed unwilling to disperse until after I had arisen on the fence and told them, “I am out of the hands of the Missourians again, thank God. I thank you all for your kindness and love to me. I bless you all in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. I shall address you at the Grove, near the Temple, at four o’clock this afternoon.”
When I went to dinner with my family, Reynolds and Wilson were placed at the head of the table, with about 50 of my friends, and were served with the best that the table afforded, by my wife, whom they [had] refused to allow me to see, when they so cruelly arrested and ill-treated me, which contrasted strongly with their treatment to me when I was first arrested by them, and until my friends met me. 17
Despite a seeming attempt to retire from Nauvoo and live alone with Emma, Joseph had been forced back into the midst of Nauvoo and all that Emma had demanded he give up. It was now clear that Nauvoo was an island of legal safety. And though Joseph had repeatedly taunted Reynolds to kill him, now that Joseph was back in Nauvoo, with Emma at his side, he placed the pistol-whipping sheriff in a place of honor.
There was no way Joseph would be permitted to leave Nauvoo again. Emma could hardly make good on her threat in light of how Joseph had returned.
After a week, however, Emma’s relief regarding Joseph’s safe return was giving way to the old emotions. Hyrum, seeing Emma’s unhappiness, suggested that Joseph write down the revelation regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant.
Surely, Hyrum reasoned, if the revelation was written, Emma would read, be comforted, and obey.
Future Planned Posts:
Revealing the Revelation
Those Virtuous and Pure
Daughter of Hope
The Prodigal Returns
Conferring the Mantle
Collecting the Sorrowful
For Eternity and Time
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy
- Accounts regarding a fall 1841 sermon mentioning polygamy are recorded by Joseph Lee Robinson, George A. Smith, Horace Cummings, and Helen Mar Kimball [Smith Whitney] document Joseph’s sermon and retraction. Robinson and Kimball mention Emma’s reaction, see Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume I, Chapter 9. ↩
- Relief Society Minute Book, p. 53, Minutes for Thursday, May 26th, available online at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?p=50#!/, retrieved 6 May 2014. This is the meeting after Catherine Fuller, Margaret and Matilda Nyman, Sarah Miller, and others testified before the High Council regarding the seductions carried out by Bennett, Chauncy Higbee, and others. ↩
- Relief Society Minute Book, p. 61, Minutes for Thursday, June 9th, available online at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?p=58#!/, retrieved 6 May 2014. ↩
- Only two previously-married couples had been sealed at this point. Newell K. Whitney and his wife, Elizabeth, were sealed in conjunction with the sealing of their daughter, Sarah, to Joseph. Then Heber C. Kimball was sealed to his wife, Vilate, as a result of Kimball’s faith in offering Vilate to Joseph, an offered sacrifice I think was prompted by the apostle’s action in excommunicating Orson Pratt for refusing to publicly confirm that his wife was an adultress. ↩
- Emily’s testimony was given as part of the Temple Lot trial, where the Utah Church was helping the Temple Lot Church defend the Missouri property where a Temple was to have been erected from being claimed by Joseph’s sons. The point was to prove that Joseph had practiced and taught polygamy during his lifetime, “proving” that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, headed by Joseph’s sons, was not true to the legacy of Joseph Smith. I content Emily had a motive to be expansive with her claims regarding sexuality in her relationship with Joseph, both to save the Temple Lot and to get revenge, of a sort, against Emma’s memory. ↩
- Orange Wight, Autobiography, “At first the doctrine was taught in private… The next I noticed when in company with the young folks the girls were calling one another spirituals.” Though Orange dates this to 1841-1842, he claims he was taught about the doctrine by William Clayton and others and proceeded to court Flora Woodworth, who had already become Joseph’s wife. This potentially places the “girls calling one another spirituals” in 1843. Available at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/OWight.html, retrieved 12 May 2014. Another alternative is that Orange was initiated into Bennett’s spiritual wifery in the winter of 1841/42, and that this is when he heard girls referring to each other as “spirituals.” However even so, he was aware that the Partridge girls, specifically, were wives of Joseph Smith. ↩
- This is the tale related by Sister Mary Ann Barzee Boice, cited in multiple sources, including Beecher, Newell, and Avery, Emma Eliza and the Stairs, BYU Studies 22:1, p. 93, available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFViewer.aspx?title=5510&linkURL=22.1BeecherNewellEmma-062070ee-a927-48b5-a09a-db83edd57b24.pdf, retrieved 5/12/2014. ↩
- See Devery S. Anderson, Gary James Bergera, Editors. Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1846: A Documentary History; See also Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 74-75. For a summary, see the FairMormon article titled Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Emma Smith/Sealing, available online at http://pt.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy/Emma_Smith/Sealing, retrieved 12 May 2014. ↩
- An anti-Mormon source, Catherine Lewis, reports Helen telling her mother “I would never have been sealed (married) to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony.” This was in the context of Brigham Young attempting to collect the young widow to care for, as he believed was his levirate duty. However this need not be interpreted as referring to intimacy between Joseph and herself, though the “ceremony” did interfere with Helen’s flirtations and attendance at dances. Brigham, however, was unabashedly intending to impregnate Joseph’s widows who came into his care. The idea of being added to what could be perceived as Brigham’s harem was not appealing. ↩
- See the retraction of the commandment, D&C 132: 51-56, available online at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/132.51-56?lang=eng#50, retrieved 12 May 2014. ↩
- D&C 132:54. ↩
- This possibility is mentioned in American Crucifixion. ↩
- There are similarly contemporaries of Emma who discuss this option. ↩
- B. H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Volume V, pp. 440-442. Available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/24.html, retrieved 12 May 2014. ↩
- Todd Compton writes of this visit on June 29th, concluding “Once again [Elizabeth Durfee] may have been preparing a young woman, Melissa Lott, for a proposal from Joseph Smith.” See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 262-263. ↩
- B. H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Volume V, p. 456. Available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/24.html, retrieved 12 May 2014. ↩
- B. H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Volume V, pp. 458-459. Available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/24.html, retrieved 12 May 2014. ↩