Sangamo and Pratt

[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.]

Orson Pratt, 1851 Engraving

Orson Pratt has figured only lightly in the account until now. But the events following John C. Bennett’s departure from Nauvoo would throw Orson painfully into the spotlight.

After the Church publicly withdrew fellowship from Dr. Bennett, Bennett approached the editor of the Sangamo Journal, a Whig newspaper in Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois, the State Capital. The editor of the Sangamo Journal, one Simeon Francis, had ruthlessly assailed Bennett in the press only weeks before. But Bennett convinced Francis that an expose against the Mormons would help the Whigs defeat the Democrats in the upcoming election.

The initial letter was a kitchen sink of accusations, containing allegations of treason, political tyranny, attempted murder, sexual misconduct, and about every other un-American deed Bennett could think of. But the stories Bennett knew best were stories related to sexual intrigue. These stories also appeared to capture the imagination of the public. The most damning of these was Bennett’s tale alleging Joseph had attempted to woo the wife of one of his own apostles, Orson Pratt.

Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt was one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Joseph Smith’s Church, ordained to his position in 1835. Many in the original Quorum apostatized due to the turmoil of the financial collapse in Kirtland and Oliver Cowdery’s allegations regarding Joseph and Fanny Alger. One was killed in the mobbings in Missouri. Those who survived and remained faithful had been sent on missions abroad.

Orson had been in Europe as a missionary during the first months of John C. Bennett’s presence in Nauvoo. While John C. Bennett was putting in place the Nauvoo City Charter, Orson was in England, preaching and publishing in Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Manchester. While Orson Pratt was preaching without purse or scrip, Bennett was having Sarah Pratt wash his clothing, sew his shirts, and make his outer clothing. 1

It is likely during this period of time (May-July 1841) that Bennett formed the opinion that Sarah Pratt “made a first rate go.” 2

Orson returned from England in the summer of 1841, stopping in New York to publish a second edition of his Edinburgh tract History of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon on July 1, 1841. By July 19th, Orson is back in Nauvoo, meeting in council with other members of the Twelve Apostles. Orson returned to the arms and bed of his young wife, likely never suspecting she’d betrayed him during his absence.

Bennett, Denied

Shortly before Orson returned to Nauvoo, Bennett was reprimanded strongly by Joseph Smith, apparently ending his liaison with Sarah Pratt. In 1890 Ebenezer Robinson, Nauvoo Justice of the Peace, would publish an account, relating:

In the spring of 1841 Dr. Bennett had a small neat house built for Orson Pratt’s family, and commenced boarding with them. Elder Pratt was absent on a mission to England.

Sometime after this, Presidents Hyrum Smith and William Law went on a mission to the eastern states. (William Law was one of the three first Presidents of the church.) When passing through Ohio, a gentleman told them Dr. Bennett had a wife and children living, but she left him because of his adulterous practices. They wrote a letter to Joseph Smith giving him this statement, which letter, Joseph says in his history, was shown to Dr. Bennett, when he confessed he had a wife and children living.

Soon after this Dr. Bennett made an attempt to commit suicide by taking poison. It required quite an effort on the part of the physicians to save his life, as he strenuously resisted their efforts to save him. 3

Hyrum Smith wrote from Pittsburgh on June 15, 1841 that Bennett had, indeed, abandoned his wife and conducted himself in a scandalous manner. This echoed the information George Miller had conveyed to Joseph Smith in March 1841, likely arriving in Joseph’s hands by early April 1841.

However Joseph’s rebuke of Bennett covered more than just anger at Bennett’s attempt to hide the fact of his marriage. A Smith relative who claimed to have overheard the interchange, recalled that Joseph gave Bennett “a tremendous flagellation for practicing iniquity under the base pretense of authority from the heads of the church.” 4 This “iniquity under… pretense of authority from the heads of the church” seems strikingly similar to the teachings about illicit intercourse Bennett would later weave for others.

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would later testify 5 that Bennett and Francis Higbee had been found guilty of adultery around July 4, 1841, past history that had bearing on a matter before the municipal court in 1844. Dr. Bennett had been called in to treat Francis Higbee, [brother of Chauncy Higbee and boyfriend of Nancy Rigdon] and found him suffering from the ——-. This is likely a reference to the clap, slang for gonorrhea. 6 Somehow Bennett had become engaged in illicit activities as well. Both Bennett and Higbee eventually confessed before a group of 60-70 individuals. 7 Joseph maintained that he had said nothing against Francis since that time.

Joseph became aware of the interactions that had taken place between Bennett and Sarah Pratt because Sheriff Backenstos brought it to Joseph’s attention, accusing Bennett of “an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt…” There is no record of exactly what Joseph said to Sarah regarding her participation in the illicit intercourse.

Sometime that summer, Bennett allegedly attempted suicide.

We know from Catherine Fuller’s testimony that Bennett first seduces her no later than the beginning of July 1841. Catherine’s written testimony from May 1842 reads, in part:

Nearly a year ago I became acquainted with John C. Bennett after visiting twice and on the third time he proposed unlawful intercourse being about one week after first acquaintance. He said he wished his desires granted. I told him it was contrary to my feelings he answered there was others in higher standing than I was who would conduct in that way and there was no harm in it. He said there should be no sin upon me if there was any sin it should come upon himself. I told him I was not guilty of such conduct and thought it would bring a disgrace on the church if I should become pregnant. He said he would attend to that. I understood that he would give medicine to prevent it. Sometime last winter I became alarmed at my conduct and told him I did not wish his company any longer…

About the middle of July Thatcher was at my house – came twice – has not been since… He had unlawful intercourse with me twice…

John C. Bennett was the first man that seduced me – no man ever made the attempt before him. 8

So Bennett had approached Catherine Fuller no later than the beginning of July, perhaps just after Joseph received the damning letter from Hyrum, and possibly after his life had been saved against his will. 9

Orson, the Dutiful

Given Orson Pratt’s involvement in the activities of the Quorum of the Twleve Apostles, it seems likely that Orson was aware Church leaders had withdrawn Sarah’s food allotment prior to his arrival home. It also seems possible he was aware she had been accused of committing adultery with John C. Bennett 10 However the timing of events leaves a possibility that he was not informed of his wife’s infidelity. Sarah could have implied that she’d merely had a falling out with Joseph, to explain the situation without betraying her guilt. Joseph and the several dozen men who had heard the testimony of Bennett’s romp with Sarah declined to inform their honored brother he’d been cuckolded. Orson’s later actions convey complete shock, as though he was completely blindsided by the accusations Bennett, Sarah, and Joseph would make in July 1842.

Public documents allow us a window into the Orson Pratt’s life after returning to Nauvoo. Less than a month after Orson’s return, it was announced that “The department of English literature and mathematics, of the University of the City of Nauvoo, is in operation under the tuition of Professor Orson Pratt.” 11 Bennett was the one who had created the University charter and gotten it approved by the Illinois State legislature. Bennett had been a “getter up” of colleges several times previously, 12 and formation of the University of the City of Nauvoo show signs of his involvement, often promising more than was actual. For example, it was a full two weeks after the announcement that Orson Pratt was heading the department of English literature and mathematics that “Orson Pratt was elected professor of mathematics in the University of the City of Nauvoo, and the degree of master of arts conferred on him by the chancellor and board of regents.” 13

Orson was working hard on the University project during the fall of 1841, likely working closely with Dr. Bennett. When Joseph and Emma began investigating the troubling rumors regarding illicit intercourse, there is no indication Orson was either questioned or included in the investigation.

When Joseph Smith identified Dr. Bennett as a key participant in the illicit intercourse being conducted in Nauvoo in May 1842, Joseph drew up the notice withdrawing fellowship from Dr. Bennett. Over the next several days, Joseph had the leaders of the Church who were in town sign the notice. Everyone did so with the exception of Orson Pratt. Based on sealed testimony and journal entries, at least two of the men who did sign the notice had been engaged in illicit intercourse themselves. But Orson Pratt’s refusal to sign the notice withdrawing fellowship seems to have been inspired by Orson’s honest regard for Bennett, who had been his friend and labored with him on the University project.

When Joseph printed the Notice withdrawing fellowship from Bennett, there is no doubt Dr. Bennett noted that Orson’s signature was missing. The missing signature was a sign Orson was not hardened against Bennett, the way the other men had become.

Bennett Hones His Attack

Dr. Bennett’s initial letters, exposing Joseph Smith, spewed numerous accusations at Joseph and his people. But one item hit home. It was the allegation that Joseph had seduced not only hundreds of single married females, but more than the great Solomon. 14 Bennett specifically named Pamela Michael, Nancy Rigdon, Martha Brotherton, and Sarah Pratt, among others.

  • Pamela (Pamelia) Mitchell [Michael] was about 28 years old and appears to have been a widow. In August 1842 Parmelia provided an affidavit denying Bennett’s charges and condemning his use of her name. Pamelia would pass away in 1844 of a bilious fever. Aside from Bennett’s accusation, Pamelia’s rebuttal, and her Nauvoo obituary, I can find nothing else about Pamelia Mitchell Michael.
  • Nancy Rigdon was being courted by Francis Higbee around this time. A letter Joseph wrote to Nancy at this time, published by Bennett, makes it clear to me that Joseph was attempting to win Nancy’s soul back from a dark place. Nancy’s comportment, combined with her father, Sidney Rigdon’s, hesitation in sharing correspondence from Bennett later that summer, caused Joseph to fear that Sidney was implicated in the illicit sex ring. It doesn’t appear that Nancy Rigdon wanted the letter published. Her lack of support for Bennett’s disclosures reduced the utility of her tale for Bennett’s purposes.
  • Martha Brotherton was a recent English convert who arrived in the Nauvoo area in November 1841, settling near Warsaw with the rest of her family. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Parley P. Pratt were the missionaries that brought the gospel to Martha’s family. 15 Brigham Young would later indicate that they’d heard an evil report regarding Martha, which would have provided cause for Brigham to approach Martha in the January/February timeframe. Martha soon sent a tale back to friends in England where she reported that she’d been locked in a room for days, under duress, as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young attempted to force her into plural marriage. The tale had a chance to cause an uproar in England and be reported back to Nauvoo by April 1842. Several months later, when Martha recorded her statement to support Bennett’s campaign, she amended the time she claimed to have been locked up down to ten minutes. Intriguingly, Martha’s original statement has not been found. It’s possible Bennett edited her statement for heightened effect. Whether Martha Brotherton’s testimony as published in the Sangamo Journal was true to her original statement or edited, the piece was powerful, a tale of coercion told from the woman’s point of view. Even though Martha’s sisters and brother-in-law would testify she had lied, the damage was done.
  • Bennett’s most explosive claim, however, was his charge that Joseph Smith had attempted to seduce Sarah Pratt, wife of his own, trusted apostle. Clearly Joseph would have talked with Sarah in conjunction with the adultery allegations of July 1841. Bennett would fail to mention his own dalliances with Sarah and allege that Smith had demanded Sarah become his lover during his pastoral visits. Supposedly when Sarah refused, Smith cut off Church support. It appears Bennett sent an advance copy of the text scheduled to run in the Sangamo Journal in mid-July. Based on the timing that followed, it appears Orson shared the text with Joseph, possibly demanding to know how Joseph could explain such behavior. Orson knew the fact about withdrawal of church support was true. How much else of Bennett’s tale was therefore also true?

Orson Reacts

Orson had the tale from Bennett and Sarah, alleging Joseph was the one who had attempted to seduce Sarah. Orson also had the tale from Joseph, supported by an horrific number of witnesses, alleging Bennett had been intimate with Sarah. He had to choose between believing himself cuckolded in fact, or believing the religion he had dedicated himself to had been created by man who had tried to seduce his wife. Brigham Young would write, “Br. Orson Pratt is in trouble in consequence of his wife [Sarah]. His feelings are so wrought up that he does not know whether his wife is wrong, or whether Joseph’s testimony and others are wrong, and do lie, and he [Orson] deceived for 12 years or not; he is all but crazy about the matter. You may ask what the matter is concerning Sister [Pratt]. It is enough, and Doct. J.C. Bennett, could tell all about himself and his *** enough of that. We will not let Br. Orson go away from us. He is too good a man to have a woman destroy him.” 16

Joseph called a meeting in the Grove on 14 July, the day before the Sangamo Journal article was scheduled to run. He didn’t name Sarah at the time, but laid out the story of Bennett’s seduction of an honorable woman. The next day the Journal article appeared. Joseph called another meeting and confirmed that the woman he’d spoken of, who had been seduced by Bennett, was in fact Sarah Pratt. 17

The day the article appeared, Orson went missing, though I’m not certain if he was discovered missing before or after Joseph’s address describing Sarah Pratt as an adultress. Joseph “caused the Temple hands and the principal men of the city to make search for him.” 18 Orson was found five miles south of Nauvoo, next to the Mississippi River. It seems reasonable that Orson could have been contemplating suicide as he walked alone down the riverbank. 19

Orson remained in Nauvoo. A week later he voted against Joseph, presumably in a venue where the officers of the church were being sustained. When Orson was questioned about his opposition, he admitted he had no personal knowledge of any immoral act on Joseph’s part. 20 From that time Orson did not oppose Joseph. But neither did he openly support Joseph. To do so was to proclaim that Orson believed his wife, Sarah, an adulteress.

By August Joseph Smith had gone into hiding. There was grave concern that deputies from Missouri would attempt to extradite Joseph. 21 In Joseph’s absence, Brigham and other members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles attempted to get Orson to come out in open support of Joseph Smith. When Orson refused, the Apostles excommunicated Orson and Sarah on August 20, 1842. Cut off from the work that had been his life for the past decade, Orson wrote that he spent “Much of my leisure time in study, and made myself thoroughly acquainted with algebra, geometry, trigonometry, conic sections, differential and integral calculus, astronomy, and most of the physical sciences. These studies I pursued without the assistance of a teacher.” 22

With Joseph still in hiding in September, the leading men and women of the city drew up certificates, attesting that “Bennett’s “secret wife system” is a disclosure of his own make.” 23 Orson Pratt’s name is conspicuously missing. 24

Joseph, who had tried so hard to protect those who were guilty, watched from hiding as an innocent man was excommunicated for the crime of standing by his wife. Joseph was determined to save Orson, but he needed those who had excommunicated Orson to sustain their wounded brother with their whole hearts. Joseph would resort to extreme measures to reunite the apostles once again.

Future Planned Posts:

The Apostles and their Wives
Eliza and the Stairs
Healing Wounded Hearts
Emma’s Ultimatum
Revealing the Revelation
Those Virtuous and Pure
Daughter of Hope
The Prodigal Returns
Conferring the Mantle
Carthage
Collecting the Sorrowful
For Eternity and Time
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy

Notes:

  1. Rick J. Fish, Orson Pratt in Nauvoo, 1839-1845, May 1993, available online at http://jared.pratt-family.org/orson_histories/orson_pratt_in_nauvoo2.html, retrieved 27 March 2014.
  2. “Affdavit of J. B. Backenstos,” Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett’s Letters. Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842, “Personally appeared before me Ebenezer Robinson acting Justice of the Peace, in and for said county, J. B. Backenstos, who being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith, that some time during last winter, he [Backenstos] accused Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife, had I not known to the contrary, and further this deponent saith not.” Available online at http://www.josephsmithspolygamy.com/JSImproperProposals/16ImproperProposalsAccusations/SarahPratt2.html, retrieved 27 March 2014.
  3. The Return, Vol. 2. No. 11., Davis City, Iowa, November, 1890, p. 362, available online at http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/RigWrit/M&A/Return1.htm, retrieved 27 March 2014.
  4. Lorenzo D. Wasson, son of Emma Smith’s sister, in a letter to Joseph and Emma dated July 30, 1842, printed in the August 15 edition of the Times and Seasons, quoted in Andrew F. Smith, The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett, p.79. Available online at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/9200, retrieved 27 March 2014.
  5. Times and Seasons, Vol. 5, No 8, of May 15, 1844, “Municipal Court” available online at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/8375, retrieved 27 March 2014.
  6. Clap, as a term referring to veneral disease, originated in 1580-1590 and seems to come from the Provencal term for a pile of stones. Perhaps this indicated that someone found to be infected with clap was promiscuous and deserved the biblical punishment of stoning.
  7. These individuals were almost certainly Nauvoo Masons, as the confession occurred on the third floor of the Nauvoo Cultural Hall, which was the location of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge.
  8. Testimony of Catherine Fuller Warren before the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the City of Nauvoo May 25th 1842 against John C. Bennett & others, copy of holograph in Valeen Tippitts Avery Collection USU, MSS 316, bx 24, fd 14.
  9. A contemporary account of Bennett’s possible suicide was contained in the Wasp on 27 July 1842, dating the suicide attempt as occurring exactly one year earlier. Given the heightened rhetoric of the time, I suspect the date in the Wasp was not as exact as portrayed.
  10. Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, A Book of Mormons, Signature Books, 1982, p. 211, cited by Richard and Pamela Price, Vision Article 34, The Sarah Pratt Case, available online at https://restorationbookstore.org/articles/nopoligamy/jsfp-visionarticles/sarahprattcase.htm, retrieved on 27 March 2014.
  11. Documentary History of the Church, vol. 4, 400.
  12. Chapter 3 of Andrew Smith’s biography of Bennett, Saintly Scoundrel, is titled “The ‘Getter Up” of Colleges”, p. 26.
  13. DHC, vol. 4, 414.
  14. Sangamo Journal, 15 July 1842, quoted in Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, p. 101.
  15. Martha’s sister, Elizabeth Brotherton, would become a plural wife of Parly P. Pratt in June 1843.
  16. Journals of Orson Pratt, 561-2. Available online at http://jared.pratt-family.org/orson_histories/orson_pratt_in_nauvoo2.html#_edn52, retrieved 7 April 2014.
  17. DHC, vol. 5, 60-61.
  18. DHC, vol. 5, 60-61.
  19. Times and Seasons, vol. 2, 363. Also David J. Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” A Dissertation Presented to the Department of History, Brigham Young University, 1982, p. 101.
  20. DHC, vol. 5, 60-61.
  21. One of Bennett’s early assertions in the Sangamo Journal was the charge that Joseph had instigated the the nearly-fatal May 1842 shooting of Governor Boggs.
  22. Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” 101. Available online at http://jared.pratt-family.org/orson_histories/orson_pratt_in_nauvoo2.html#_edn56, retrieved 7 April 2014.
  23. Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 23. of 1 October 1842, pp. 939-940. Available online at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/9200, retrieved on 28 March 2014.
  24. Of interest, the name of Elvira Annie Cowles, Relief Society Treasurer, is not included on the certificate signed by other members of the Relief Society presidency.
This entry was posted in General and tagged , by Meg Stout. Bookmark the permalink.

About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

28 thoughts on “Sangamo and Pratt

  1. Wow, what a story. I can hardly wait for the next installment. Poor Orson, I had not realized all of the details of what happened to him.

  2. Thank you! Your posts continue to provide an astounding amount of information.

  3. How sad that Orson Pratt was dragged into such a mess. Further deatails about his return to ful fellowship would likely enhance this chapter.

  4. Meg – do you know why the church hasn’t put out some type of history which would tie in all these plots and twists? It seems like if a prominent church scholar had laid all this out when it was relatively fresh (say, 10 – 20 years or so after entering the Salt Lake valley) that much of the ill will towards Joseph could have been mitigated. Maybe the laundry was so dirty that no one wanted to air it, and instead leaders focused on the building of the kingdom?

  5. I think the only ones who knew a significant amount of this history were Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. They were so busy they didn’t have time to write things down, and they had confidences to respect. Even their peers, such as John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt didn’t have enough of the story to piece it together. The ladies knew in part, but they either had confidences to keep or were the ones who had repented.

    By the time you get to the next generation, such as Joseph F. Smith, Andrew Jensen, and Orson F. Whitney, they simply didn’t have enough data to put together the puzzle. Subsequent scholars have presumed that these men, who knew the primary actors in the drama, necessarily knew what they were talking about. And thus the chronology became further obfuscated when these historians guessed wrong, as I propose in next week’s post.

    I’m frankly shocked that no one prior to me has twigged to some of these causalities. It’s not as if the assertions and factoids were necessarily hidden in obscure journals. The most shocking bits I encountered these past two weeks (consistent with my overarching theory, but much more detailed) were from newspapers.

  6. Meg, are you going to address accusations made by Sarah and Bennett that Joseph Smith proposed marriage to Sarah? How likely do you think that would be, given Joseph’s other polyandrous marriages? I had heard from someone that Joseph had asked Heber for Villate’s hand in marriage, but only as a test. Did Joseph give a test to Orson as well?

  7. Hi Nate,

    If you read this post, you’ll see that I state the accusation Bennett made, suggesting that Joseph had proposed to Sarah.

    I had more about this, and the later accusation Mary Etta Coray records in her expose “Fifteen Years Among the Mormons,” recounting Mary Etta’s alleged first-hand account of Sarah kicking Joseph out of her home. But Mary Etta was a tween at the time this would have happened–not someone who would have been an intimate of Sarah Pratt at the time. As Dr. John W. McCoy writes, “Clearly, Fifteen Years among the Mormons is not a primary source. It is not even a reliable secondary source. The specific dates that it includes are most often wrong, and at least some of the names are reported incorrectly… The level of credibility even for statements supported by external facts is reduced by the unavoidable presence of her editor, Nelson Green.” Alas, all my additional writings got lost to the great maw of the internet, and I haven’t bothered recreating them due to other time pressures.

    As for Sarah Bates Pratt, she was an estranged (deranged?) woman who decided to live in a reality where she had done no wrong, and where all Bennett had written about her virtue was true. From that standpoint, I am reminded of the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, a woman living in an alternate reality.

  8. I can understand that the primary motivation of Joseph, Brigham and the few others who knew most of the details was to protect those who had repented and been rescued. I respect what I believe were almost unprecedented acts of compassion in opening their families to provide shelter for the victims.

  9. Maybe plural marriage was just “punishment” for the Lord’s people who apparently wanted to sleep around? You want to have lots of sex? Here do it this way (hangs millstone of multiple wives around neck). As well as, you want to give up your Virtue for persuasive multiple men? Now you have share even 1 man with many wives.

    Of course, this is a slightly petty justification, as most important of all I believe Gods eye was on the generations that would spring forth, just as in old testament times. But just as in OT times things got quite messy.

  10. Hi Ryan,

    Few of the men involved in Bennett’s ring of sex predators repented and remained with the Saints. For those that did and later married plural wives, there is no indication that those plural wives were a “punishment.” Why would anyone entrust a daughter of God to a slimeball by way of punishment? That belies a very different perception of the value of females from the one I think was operative in the history we are discussing.

  11. Perhaps I don’t feel the women were entirely innocent as you do or that the reach of what you’re discussing is strictly limited to what there is record of. If someone persuades me to rob a bank and I do it in don’t blame them only, but me also for giving in to a part of my desire for wealth. I would not be surprised that else women also grew attracted to these men have as how society was in such close association. Now a very important difference is the men were also abusing the position of authority they had.

    Your reply though reminds of the common retort that God does not “punish” one for the sins of another. Except we have had the full law of consecration taken away because of the failures of others.

    That which is given shall be taken away and that which has little shall be given to that which has much. These principles operate at some level.

    I can see plural marriage as the opposite in so much of this. “you want to be persuaded to have sex with multiple partners in private?” the now you’ll do it with the world shouting from the rooftops, and suffer the scorn of the world in the process. But again, there is no doubt in my mind that the ultimate purpose was seed.

    There is nothing in the record that you’ve shown so far in this very good series where I’m convinced Joseph is marrying solely to protect from predators. I do see a bunch of messed up people* who end up getting burdened with the principle of plural marriage right at the time when there is a bunch of sexual indiscretion though.

    *messed up indeed, but I and I presume even other church leaders felt this things were too private for discussion publicly. I would not like my mistakes analyzed by generations.

  12. Hi Ryan,

    God allows all kinds of people to suffer because of other people’s decisions. That is patently obvious. So I must have crafted my words poorly for you to infer that I was asserting that “God does not “punish” one for the sins of another.”

    Rather, I was reacting to my inference that you were saying Joseph told men who’d been caught seducing women that they had to man up and take on support of a large number of women as part of their punishment. I feel that had such been the case, the women involved would have been being treated as mere chattel.

    I’m unaware that any of the offenders were “punished” by piling plural wives on them. A few of the men who are named in the High Council confessions of seduced women subsequently went on to become polygamists. William Smith is one. Lyman O. Littlefield is another. But my understanding of these men’s subsequent marital history doesn’t support a reading that the men’s wives were assigned to them as a punishment.

    If you have an instance where you believe your hypothesis is supported, I’m eager to discuss it. However vague suppositions without any illustrative instance irritate me. There are so many incorrect suppositions* one can make based on a factoid (* suppositions that don’t make sense in the overall tapestry of the history), that I’m loath to spend time on incorrect suppositions that don’t even have a factoid to justify themselves.

  13. Besides, the history of polygamy as we know it doesn’t even follow that possible speculation. The documents are clear (even if you read this M* series) that the practice was introduced and lived before all the mess started. You would then have to argue that God introduced plural marriage as a pre-emptive strike because he knew there would be Saints who would abuse it in the future. All of this even though the practice was what gave inspiration for the offenses. In science fiction terms its a time-space paradox that in some theories destroys the fabric of reality.

  14. Hi Jettboy,

    In my post about the Angel and the Sword, I was trying to point out that the whole angel and sword thing was potentially God’s attempt to make sure there was a clear delineation between what Joseph was doing and what Bennett et al. had begun to do.

    I would assert that Bennett and his Strikers appear to have come up with their offenses without being inspired by anything Joseph was actually doing. However the hints that Joseph was interacting with ladies would certainly have allowed Bennett and the Strikers to infer that Joseph was as guilty as them, if on another plane they were not privy to.

  15. Meg,

    There is no record of Sarah Pratt, as far as I know, confirming Bennett’s story during the Nauvoo era. She did, closer to the end of her life, do so. But there are conflicting stories here. Joseph Smith III claims she told him nothing of the sort happened. She says she told JSIII it did and then threw in a bunch of additional allegations. Some of her children claim she said on her death bed that if any church was correct, the LDS church was. But one of her sons left the church claiming his mother taught him it wasn’t true and she confirms she taught “her children” this.

    Note: I’m going off memory, so I might have mixed some stuff up.

    In other words, there is a bunch of conflicting information. Have you done any research into this to see if a true story can be pulled from the remaining threads?

  16. Sarah may never have fessed up, but she was seen comporting herself in an inappropriate manner by Backenstos, and Bennett confessed the affair to the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge in 1841. I see no difficulty pulling a true story from those threads. Given the mechanics of how doctors treated hysteria in those days, I see no difficulty reconciling all the the accounts into one great whole.

    As for Sarah’s “story” in Nauvoo, I suppose I’m inferring from Orson’s behavior that Sarah either was unwilling to confess to her involvement as Joseph had described it or was actively supporting Bennett’s version of events.

    Sarah also appears to have told Mary Etta Coray (Mary Ettie V. Smith) a version of the tale in which Sarah was wholly innocent and had to evict Joseph from her house for his attempt to “seduce” Sarah. It seems likely Mary Etta’s book was something Joseph Smith III was aware of, and therefore a reason he would have sought Sarah Pratt out.

    I suppose I simply don’t see why it is difficult to understand the thread of truth that underlies what Joseph said (pretty much the truth) and what Bennett and Sarah said.

  17. I meant the truth of what happened after Navuoo, i.e. all the conflicting stories. Why did she and JSIII tell such different stories. Did she or didn’t she try to teach her children against the church — if she did, why did they claim on her death bed she confirmed the church to some degree, etc.

    Perhaps this is impossible now.

  18. As I see it, Sarah Marinda Bates Pratt became fully disengaged from Orson in 1868 when:

    1) Sarah was too old to procreate.
    2) Orson had married a woman who was younger than one of his daughters.
    3) Joseph Smith III’s brothers started coming to town contesting the “Brighamites” tale that their father had been a polygamist.

    According to Sarah’s later statements (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Marinda_Bates_Pratt), she had stopped believing in Mormonism circa 1844. She gives herself credit for raising her twelve children to reject Mormonism. She and her son Arthur were excommunicated the same week in 1874 (Sunday, October 4th, and Monday, October 5th).

    Sarah’s son who was a child when Bennett was in the picture declined to serve a mission and was excommunicated for apostasy when he was in his twenties.

    I can imagine Sarah might have softened her harsh rejection of God a bit on her death bed. People do. It’d be a bit scary slipping out of life, realizing that the only God you actually believed in was the one you’d busily taught yourself and your children to reject for decades.

    As for me, I believe in a God and Christ who would save Sarah. And Bennett. And Francis Higbee. And Thomas Sharp. There are rules about these things, and one can never save a person who is determined to be damned. But I’m content to wait until Final Judgement before getting all comfy with the idea that heaven won’t contain these people. Or rather, there is no individual ever born who I will be happy to learn has ultimately refused the salvation of heaven.

  19. If she had 12 children, how many stayed in the Church and how many didn’t?

  20. You can do this research yourself, you know.

    Orson Pratt Jr 1837-1903 KWV5-B2D – excommunicated according to wikipedia, but his ordinance work had been done before he was excommunicated, and the original dates show in the database. His children’s ordinance work was all performed over a hundred years after their respective births.

    Lydia Pratt 1838-1839 K23V-VXQ – died as an infant.

    Celestia Larissa Pratt 1842-1905 KWVP-6HM – she and her family remained in the Utah area. She was married in the endowment house. One of her daughters got married in the endowment house, and got herself baptized as an adult in order to do so. The ordinance work for all the rest of Celestia’s children appears not to have been done until well after they had died.

    Sarah Marinda Pratt 1844-1845 K23V-VXG – died as an infant.

    Vanson Pratt 1846-1847 K23V-VNV – died as an infant.

    Laron Pratt 1847-1908 KWJS-9QS – baptized at age 8. Married in the endowment house, and is intriguingly sealed to 20 women who had passed away, most the sealings taking place on the same day in 1870. Laron’s children were all baptized around age 8, but only the older ones went on to marry in the temple during their lifetimes.

    Marlon Pratt 1848-1849 9F9D-JG1 – died as an infant.

    Marintha Althera Pratt 1849-1851 K23V-VLX – died as an infant.

    Harmal Pratt 1851-1907 K2HH-6NH – It appears much of the ordinance work for Harmal and his descendants was performed after their deaths. Harmal and his brother Arthur were baptized the same day in 1862, several years after Harmal was eligible to be baptized.

    Arthur Pratt 1853-1919 K2QF-SBW – It appears much of the ordinance work for Arthur and his descendants was performed after their deaths.

    Herma Ethna Pratt 1856-1877 9WNF-HK7 – not clear if any ordinance work was done during her lifetime. She apparently died unmarried.

    Liola Menella Pratt 1858-1860 9H11-748 – died as an infant.

  21. “Just” getting it off the site? Sure. You can infer all kinds of good information off those dry and dusty facts. Like the factoid about Harmal and Arthur gettting baptized on the same day. Seems like Orson arrived and found Sarah hadn’t tended to the baptism of their children.

    So of the six children who grew to adulthood, two continued to participate in the religious life of their time. However Sarah’s apostate views were passed to even some of her grandchildren by Sarah’s two faithful children.

    An alienated woman has a powerful effect on her descendants.

  22. “I can imagine Sarah might have softened her harsh rejection of God a bit on her death bed. People do. It’d be a bit scary slipping out of life, realizing that the only God you actually believed in was the one you’d busily taught yourself and your children to reject for decades.

    As for me, I believe in a God and Christ who would save Sarah. And Bennett. And Francis Higbee. And Thomas Sharp. There are rules about these things, and one can never save a person who is determined to be damned. But I’m content to wait until Final Judgement before getting all comfy with the idea that heaven won’t contain these people. Or rather, there is no individual ever born who I will be happy to learn has ultimately refused the salvation of heaven.”

    That is an inspiring statement. Thank you for writing it.

  23. Meg,

    I have enjoyed these posts very much. Though I had not ever done the research you have done, I have always thought that perhaps Joseph had been celibate in his plural marriages for other reasons (so that no impure motives could be alleged against the person who instituted the practice in our day). Of course, it wouldn’t have harmed my testimony if he had, especially since the women involved often received a separate witness from God that it was the right thing to do. But your hypothesis sheds so much light on the charity of that great man. The fact that no children can be linked to him through DNA is a telling fact. The explanation of STDs among those caught up in spiritual wifery is a very good explanation of why none of those women bore children for a couple of years. The fact that all of the women caught up in spiritual wifery, even those that were wives of men other than Joseph, supports that hypothesis. To be certain, it is very difficult to judge what happened in a period of time so long ago, but your writings lend credence to the idea that we should not assume the worst about people when we don’t have all the facts. I look forward to your future posts.

    Also, I should have commented on the particular segment, but I recently read in Volume 5 of Church History where Joseph explains the spirit warning him not to go where John C. Bennet had placed him in the mock battle. The calvary was on his right, and the artillery would have been pointed toward him. It would have been very easy to have a “tragic accident” in that mock skirmish.

  24. Ryan,

    Thank you for pointing out the mention of the mock battle in Volume 5.

    I’m so glad that Joseph wasn’t killed by “friendly” forces, either in May 1842 or June 1844. It would have made it even more hard on those who survived Joseph than the history that actually occurred.

Comments are closed.