Saul, Alma the Younger, and the tale of Martha Brotherton

Saul at stoning

Saul (seated) holding the coats of those stoning St. Stephen, from the tympanum of Saint Étienne du Mont, Paris

As we consider scripture, we see great individuals who have overcome a terrible past.

Saul, later Paul, began his career of tormenting Christ’s followers by volunteering to hold the clothing of those who stoned Stephen, a believer. He went on to actively persecute Christians, until he was stopped by a divine revelation on the road to Damascus. Yet he went on to become one of the greatest of the early Christian apostles.

Alma, son of the Alma who had been a priest in the court of King Noah, went about actively destroying the Church of God. It is unclear how much of the later apostasy and warfare that troubled the Nephite and Lamanite peoples were directly attributable to the youthful actions of Alma “the younger.” Yet the younger Alma went on to become a great political and religious leader, honored in his own time as well as by modern Mormons.

I have suggested that some early Mormons were like Alma the younger and Saul/Paul. We know them and honor them for their great goodness. But I detect the traces of a troubled past of which they repented.

This past month, as a tangential result of my foray into an alternate Mormon-themed website, I tumbled across something that has stood in plain site, yet unseen across the decades. It makes sense of things, yet it does not make me glad. I am now persuaded that someone I previously saw as uncorrupted had an episode in their past that rivals the evil of Saul and the youthful Alma.

Alma had a chance to talk about his ruinous past with his sons and those to whom he preached. Paul worked vigorously to proclaim Christ, in part because he had fought so hard against Christ in his younger days, a past he could not hide or deny.

The individual of whom I speak did not have the chance to openly confess. I suspect the others who had erred maintained their own silence about their errors in part because to confess would be to expose this good individual.

Martha Brotherton and Her Story

I was in Milwaukee in early July when I tumbled across the obvious which we have willfully ignored. My beloved husband believes me, but he also needs to see the proof. And he has a terrible memory for things that he doesn’t much care about, such as the details of my reconstruction of Nauvoo history.

I had been talking with my husband about Martha Brotherton, whose family had arrived in the vicinity of Nauvoo on November 25, 1841. As he wasn’t tracking why that was important, or what Martha had said, I browsed to the April 1842 newspaper report that gives us the earliest extant version of Martha’s story.

I had summarized it often. Martha was invited to the Red Brick Store by Brigham Young and Heber Kimball while staying with her married sister. Once Martha arrived at the store, Brigham Young asked Martha to consider being his partner, even though Brigham already had a wife. A third person who Martha would later claim was Joseph Smith then came in and endorsed Brigham and what he was requesting.

I knew the April rebuttal specifically mentioned Brigham and Heber. But in pulling the account out to show my sceptical/forgetful husband, I saw that a third individual was specifically mentioned in conjunction with the story.

TandS Vol 3 No 12 p 763

You have to go up a paragraph to see who it was, this individual who spoke in contradiction of the “report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others…”

It was “Pres’t H. Smith.” 1

I am not sure if I was literally sick to my stomach at realizing Hyrum had named himself as implicated in the tale Martha Brotherton was telling. But I have certainly been sad for weeks.

Martha’s Affidavit

In July 1842 Martha Brotherton produced an affidavit 2 at the request of someone, presumably Dr. John C. Bennett or Thomas Sharp. Martha and her parents had fled Nauvoo and were then living in St. Louis. A company of Saints had arrived a few weeks earlier, including Martha’s older brother, Jo[seph], and a Wm Brotherton with his young family. 3 Of the two hundred Saints who arrived in America with these other Brothertons, fully fifty would never reach Nauvoo. 4

Martha’s July affidavit is very detailed, supporting the impression that this is a true account. Yet when she claims that Joseph Smith came in, she puts words in Joseph’s mouth that don’t make sense coming from Joseph. The words specifically suggest Hyrum Smith was the third man.

Martha may not have been clear regarding the identity of the third man who involved himself in the discussion. Though Hyrum had outed himself as the third man rumored to have been involved, a careless reading of the April newspaper report could have left one with the impression that Joseph Smith was the one contradicting the report regarding the young woman locked in a room for days. So the person who requested Martha produce an affidavit may well have requested she document her interaction with Heber, Brigham, and Joseph.

Alternately, John C. Bennett and even Thomas Sharp may have wanted to specifically implicate Joseph Smith in the story. We certainly see John C. Bennett twist at least two other stories 5 and place Joseph Smith in the position of villain where other credible affidavits suggest Bennett himself had acted the villain in those particular tales.

Martha describes her conversation with the third man who plays a major role in the event as follows:

“I know that this is lawful and right before God, and if there is any sin in it, I will answer for it before God…”

It is striking that the third individual claims he, rather than Martha, will be responsible for any sin associated with the thing she is being asked to do. We never see Joseph Smith use this rationale in any other credible report. On the other hand, we have multiple instances in sworn testimony where women asserted that Dr. John C. Bennett and his followers said that if there were any sin associated with engaging in illicit intercourse, the sin would be answered by the man requesting the activity. In particular, Catherine Laur [Fuller Warren] claimed that this was part of Dr. Bennett’s effort to persuade her to become his mistress in the early summer of 1841.

Martha’s account continues:

I have the keys of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven, and if you will accept of Brigham, you shall be blessed—God shall bless you, and my blessing shall rest upon you; and if you will be led by him, you will do well; for I know Brigham will take care of you, and if he don’t do his duty to you, come to me, and I will make him; and if you do not like it in a month or two, come to me, and I will make you free again; and if he turns you off, I will take you on.”

The power to make what is bound on earth honored by heaven is clear to Mormons as the sealing power, by which marriages solemnized by proper authority are recognized in eternity by God. However Christians who do not subscribe to the Mormon view are familiar with this phrase “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…” It appears in the New Testament twice, in Matthew. In the general Christian context there is no understanding that this phrase and associated power have anything to do with uniting a couple for eternity. There’s even a Wikipedia article on the binding and loosing that is deliciously uninformed by Mormon theology. 6

Consequently, someone who thought they had the power to bind and loose would not necessarily see this as related to eternal or Celestial marriage. The subsequent discussion of dissolving the union within “a month or two” should Brigham turn Martha “off” is entirely inconsistent with the doctrine of eternal marriage as taught by Joseph Smith. The overtly sexual language is also inconsistent with credible reports regarding Joseph Smith.

Hyrum Smith would not know about the correct doctrine of Celestial marriage until the spring of 1843, over a year after contradicting the reported incident with Martha Brotherton.

Further, a search of LDS scriptures for the phrase “bind in heaven” yields the two instances in Matthew acknowledged by all Christians and several instances in the Doctrine and Covenants. When we arrange the mentions in the Doctrine and Covenants chronologically, only one mention occurs prior to Martha Brotherton’s reported ordeal:

D&C 124

91 And again, verily I say unto you, let [Hyrum…] take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right;

92 That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people,

93 That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he curses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

94 And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph…

D&C 124:93 is specifically referring to Hyrum Smith. Given the final verse in this passage, it would be appropriate for Brigham and Heber to refer to Hyrum as prophet, as Martha reports they described the third man in her affidavit. 7

Martha concludes her description of the conversation with the third man as follows:

“I see no harm in her having time to think, if she will not fall into temptation.”

“O, sir,” said I, “there is no fear of my falling into temptation.”

“Well, but,” said Brigham, “you must promise me you will never mention it to anyone.”

“I do promise it,” said I.

“Well,” said [the third man], “you must promise me the same.”

I promised him the same.

“Upon your honor,” said he, “you will not tell[?”]

“No, sir, I will lose my life first,” said I.

“Well, that will do,” said he; “that is the principle we go upon. I think I can trust you, Martha,” said he.

“Yes,” said I, “I think you ought.”

[The third man] said, “She looks as if she could keep a secret.”

I then rose to go, when [the third man] commenced to beg of me again. He said it was the best opportunity they might have for months, for the room was often engaged.

Two things are notable about this final series of exchanges.

First is the willingness of the third man to let Martha go with a simple promise of secrecy. Others, long-time acquaintances of Joseph, describe Joseph at this time swearing them to secrecy and claiming that his very life was in their hands. Yet this third man is willing to let a teenage girl he has never previously met leave with a simple promise. It is she, rather than he, who mentions loss of her own life if the secret should be told, an oath she clearly didn’t honor.

Second is the idea that Joseph Smith would have to worry about whether the upper room of the Red Brick Store was “often engaged,” with the implication that the location was somehow key to what was taking place. Joseph Smith’s reported interactions with others regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant (aka Celestial marriage) didn’t occur in the upper room of the Red Brick Store. Yet if Joseph had chosen to reserve the upper room of the Red Brick Store for an emerging need, it is entirely unclear why it wouldn’t be his prerogative to use it as he wished.

Other Puzzle Pieces that Fit

In the case of Brigham Young, it appears Joseph Smith had cause to plead with the Lord to spare Brigham from death 8 for transgressing his covenant, though Brigham would claim he hadn’t actually transgressed (William Clayton journal of 23 Jun 1843). The other men Joseph mentioned to Clayton 9 died in 1841-1842, spanning the timeframe during which Martha’s reported ordeal occurred. The reported interaction with Martha Brotherton fits the Clayton journal entry and there is no other known episode that comes close to explaining the Clayton entry.

In the case of Heber Kimball, oral histories eventually recorded by Stanley B. Kimball indicate that Joseph “had to warn him [Heber Kimball] that he could lose his apostleship and to command him three times to obey.” 10 Heber had come to Joseph requesting guidance on asking the Pitkin spinsters to be his, a plan which Joseph strenuously rejected.

In the case of Hyrum, we have two curious things. One is that some of the women eventually seduced by members of John C. Bennett’s group resisted until someone they trusted, who they did not name, told them it was right. This individual was not Joseph Smith, yet it was someone other than Dr. John C. Bennett who they believed spoke for the Church regarding doctrine. Dinger suggests that this someone was William Smith, however based on my review of the handwritten testimonies, I did not see William Smith’s name mentioned in that context. [Update 8/7/16: A review of the women’s testimonies shows that other than Catherine Laur [Fuller Warren], the women who testified were all seduced in the spring of 1842, after I propose that Hyrum would have ceased any involvement.] Indeed, prior to this past month I also subscribed to the idea that William Smith was the [sole] ring leader of “faithful” individuals who had embraced Bennett’s variation of polygamy. Yet William Smith only arrived in Nauvoo in November 1841 and was not well-respected among the apostles. Therefore it is questionable whether he could have been the one who apparently persuaded Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Robert Thompson, Vinson Knight, and various women and other men that Bennett’s “doctrine” was correct. Indeed, Robert Thompson was Hyrum’s brother-in-law, and died months before William Smith arrived in Nauvoo.

Next, we have two women 11 who covenanted with Joseph Smith within weeks of the Martha Brotherton incident who attempt to tell Hyrum’s son, Joseph F. Smith, things about Nauvoo and Hyrum of which Joseph F. Smith was unaware. It is possible that Mary Elizabeth Rollins merely wanted to convey stories of historical interest, as she mentions Far West and complains that she had never spent more than 5 minutes with Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum’s son.

Agnes Coolbrith [Smith], however, was Joseph F. Smith’s aunt, someone with whom Joseph F. Smith’s wife stayed for a time. There is no reason to believe that she lacked opportunity to convey general stories to Joseph F. Smith regarding his father, Hyrum. Yet Agnes wrote in 1864:

“those that belong to the household of Joseph our Dear Dear Dear departed one Joseph there is none greater there is none better none more honest and upright and tries to do right… I could say many things to you [nephew] that I know and that has been told me by those that are dead and gone but perhaps you would not believe me no I know that you would not so it is best for me to keep silent.” 12

In the case of Brigham and Heber, Joseph Smith began involving them in officiating at Celestial marriages shortly after the likely timing of the Martha Brotherton incident, seemingly after reprimanding them sharply and abjectly pleading before the Lord for at least Brigham Young. 13

Per an account told by Brigham, Joseph Smith attempted to talk with Hyrum about the New and Everlasting Covenant prior to the spring of 1843, but Hyrum wouldn’t listen. Yet there is evidence in early January that Hyrum is working to preach righteousness and undo his possible wrongful teachings. It is Hyrum who insists in January 1842 that the priesthood go to every home and teach the people their duty, an exercise that evolved into the 1842 census of Nauvoo. As seen by the report of the April 1842 Conference, Hyrum openly contradicted what Martha claimed someone had endorsed. It is not knowable who first said Martha had been locked in the room for days, but this one element made the story Hyrum contradicted something that could be truthfully denied.

Why We Shouldn’t Say Martha was entirely a Liar

If you are as sad as I have been to consider that Hyrum might have lent himself to promoting Dr. Bennett’s version of polygamy, it may be easier to consider that Martha was simply lying.

Yet Martha’s tale was able to turn dozens of those who knew her best from joining the Mormons in Nauvoo. At the time of the incident Martha was seventeen, making her too old for her tale to be dismissed as the imaginings of a child. Yet she was too young to have produced a studied confabulation that aligned with so many factual elements.

Other than her claim that Joseph Smith was the third man involved in her ordeal, her account includes verifiable elements. Even the words she puts in Joseph’s mouth show signs of aligning with other contemporary experiences reported in 1842, not to mention the exact wording of the power to bind which Hyrum had been given in January 1841.

Perhaps most sobering is the fact that Brigham Young chose to perform a ceremony where Martha Brotherton was sealed to him in 1870, following her death. This is not the kind of thing Brigham would have done for a woman who had entirely lied about the incident Martha reported. To me it appears to be the kind of thing a man would do if he believed he had driven a promising young woman away from the gospel, hoping to persuade her in eternity of the pure intentions of the correct doctrine in contrast to the corrupted ordeal he had subjected her to in life. Certainly to others it has seemed the kind of thing a Brigham who really had propositioned Martha would do, securing in eternity a young woman he had failed to secure in life.

A Culture of Perfectionism

If Hyrum had lived and if I am right about his involvement in the Martha Brotherton ordeal, there might have been a time when it was appropriate for him to explain what happened in Nauvoo, as the great individuals of the Bible and Book of Mormon had done regarding past wrongs of which they had repented.

But Hyrum died without the story being known to those who hadn’t been directly informed. Neither Brigham Young nor Heber Kimball could discuss the matter without exposing the identity of the third man.

The historians of the Church for many decades were either direct descendants of Hyrum Smith or close colleagues of those descendants. None of them would have believed it could be possible that Hyrum would lend himself to encouraging a young woman to yield to her seducer. They either presumed Martha had lied or supposed she twisted her account of what they believed was a legitimate request that she become a plural wife within the context of Joseph Smith’s doctrine of Celestial marriage.

As a people we Mormons have become intolerant of sin, relatively unwilling to forgive those around us who have fallen. We look to our past and see icons of perfection, great individuals of spiritual depth, and we have convinced ourselves they were purified simply by trials, rather than having ever had a need to cast themselves upon the saving mercy of Jesus Christ.

I may be entirely wrong. And yet would it be so terrible if a great man (e.g., Hyrum) had erred and then repented of his sin? Would it be so terrible if a great woman (e.g., Eliza Snow) had been deceived and then repented of the wrong she committed while persuaded of the deception?

When Moses was communing with God, his brother Aaron built an idol for the people to worship. Yet Aaron repented, and the temporal priesthood is known by his name. Can we consider that the great ones of our past may have desperately needed the Atonement of Christ, yet consider that they became whole, once cleansed by His sacrifice?

I have tossed this around in my own mind now for weeks. If there is something that requires that Hyrum couldn’t have been the third man, I haven’t found it. Analysis of the words Martha put in the mouth of the third man suggests that individual could not have been Joseph Smith. The refined timing regarding Martha’s ordeal fixes it as occurring before we have evidence that any of the three men involved in the reported interaction were necessarily aware of the New and Everlasting Covenant. This places Martha’s ordeal within the context of the rash of seductions and liaisons conducted within Dr. John C. Bennett’s scheme of illicit intercourse and commitment-free spiritual wifery.

Notes:

  1. “Conference Minutes, Times and Seasons, Volume 3, No. 12, 15 April 1842, p. 763. Online 4 Aug 2016 at http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/9200
  2. The affidavit was widely published in July 1842. The text is available online at http://mormonpolygamydocuments.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/JS0966.doc, part of the extensive online database of polygamy-related documents assembled by Brian C. Hales and Don Bradley
  3. William’s age suggests he may have been Martha’s oldest brother, who her father addressed as Edward in his letter of 7 December 1841, see Paul B. Pixton, The Tyrian and Its Mormon Passengers, Mormon Historical Studies, Spring 2004, p. 45, online 4 Aug 2016 at http://files.lib.byu.edu/mormonmigration/articles/TyrianMormonPassengersMHS_Spring_2004.pdf.
  4. See records of the Mormon passengers on the Hanover, online 4 Aug 2016 at https://mormonmigration.lib.byu.edu/mii/voyage/159.
  5. Dr. Bennett cast both Mrs. Shindle and Sarah Pratt as victims of Joseph’s predations, where other, more credible, contemporary accounts claim Shindle and Pratt had been sleeping with Bennett.
  6. Binding and loosing, Wikipedia, online 4 Aug 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binding_and_loosing.
  7. Martha wrote that Brigham said of the third man, “we believe [him] to be a Prophet. I have known him near eight years, and always found him the same…”
  8. From 1832 to the 1840s the vast majority believed the scourge of cholera was caused by immorality. See DiBacco, Thomas V., The Ravages of Cholera, The Washington Post, 11 Sep 1990, online 4 Aug 2016 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1990/09/11/the-ravages-of-cholera/c819a8bf-faba-4989-b7ad-974e4a22b747/. The Clayton journal entry demonstrates that Joseph believed sexual immorality could cause death.
  9. Brother Knight appears to have been Vinson Knight. Thompson is considered to have been Robert Thompson, Hyrum’s brother-in-law and Joseph’s scribe.
  10. Kimball, Stanley B., Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981, p. 95. Online 29 Nov 2015 at http://mormonpolygamydocuments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/JSP_Book_61.pdf.
  11. Agnes Coolbrith Smith apparently covenanted with Joseph Smith on 6 Jan 1842, a ceremony at which Brigham Young reportedly officiated. Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner] covenanted with Joseph in February 1842.
  12. Agnes Coolbrith [Smith Smith Smith Pickett] letter to Joseph F. Smith of 30 May 1864, cited by Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1997, p. 166.
  13. It appears Heber went to Joseph to ask advice before ever telling the Pitkin sisters that he wished for them to become his partners. Therefore he hadn’t transgressed as much as Brigham may have done by actually propositioning a woman who wasn’t his wife.
This entry was posted in General by Meg Stout. Bookmark the permalink.

About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for 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. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

20 thoughts on “Saul, Alma the Younger, and the tale of Martha Brotherton

  1. Thanks Meg. Well done. You keep finding things that give completely reasonable contexts for puzzling events. Im buying it.

  2. This may well be part of the ‘messy history’ that some would rather leave concealed. Joseph has taken almost all the heat for acting improperly with others being granted immunity. We may well discover, when all things are made clear, that all our mortal heroes were less perfect than we like to think. Ultimately my faith is not in any man, but in the truth of the Restored Gospel and the only perfect person. For all others who struggled through the incredible task of bringing forth the Church, their failings bring my sorrow and my gratitude that they ultimately rose to the challenge.

  3. “This is not the kind of thing Brigham would have done for a woman who had entirely lied about the incident Martha reported”

    Why not? Isn’t it highly likely that Brigham who believes in both repentance and who had a clear revelation from God that Martha was supposed to be joined to him eternally would assume that she had in fact changed her heart after dying and realizing that “Brigham was right about God’s will after all?”

  4. Hi GSO,

    You are presuming that Brigham was a participant in the incident Martha reported.

    I was saying that if Brigham hadn’t been involved in any way in the incident Martha reported, it would be unlikely that he would decide to eternally bind himself to a woman who had published a fraudulent fabrication regarding an event to which he was not a party.

    I forgot to note that both of Martha’s sisters who remained in the United States were sealed to apostles. I postulate that many of the hundreds of women who entered into plural marriages in the Nauvoo era were seen as vulnerable and needing support. This would certainly have been the case for Elizabeth and Mary Brotherton, in light of the way Martha and the other Brothertons rejected the restored gospel.

  5. Meg,
    I think that you may be doing Hyrum a disservice with this speculation. In some of your previous blogs you have noted how vigorously Hyrum denounced spiritual wifery of John C. Bennett. You also were pretty certain that William Smith was the trusted person that was the factor that finally persuaded at least some of the women that were seduced.
    Now, Martha Brotherton’s affidavit may have a kernel of truth in it, i.e. that Brigham Young may have invited her to become a plural wife to him. That is not a problem, unless Joseph had not authorized it. It is probable that Hyrum Smith was the one that Martha identified in her affidavit as Joseph Smith, though.
    It really is a stretch to speculate that Brigham Young or Hyrum Smith was part of Bennett’s spiritual wifery circle. It would be harder to accept that Bennett had been removed from his positions for immorality but Brigham and Hyrum would have been allowed to continue in their callings.
    It also seems to be a stretch to connect the 23 June 1843 account of William Clayton about Brigham Young with those activities that had occurred a year or more earlier.
    I really do not understand the relevance of the Heber C. Kimball reference about the Pitkin spinsters. It does not seem to be related to this incident at all. Maybe you could enlighten me a bit?

    Thanks,
    Glenn

  6. Hi Glenn,

    You suggest that the previous blog posts mention that Hyrum vigorously denounced spiritual wifery. I think you are getting confused with Ebenezer Robinson’s 1890 report stating Don Carlos Smith had said:

    “Any man who will teach and practice the doctrine of spiritual wifery will go to hell, I don’t care if it is my brother Joseph.” Robinson added, “[Don Carlos] was a bitter oppose of the ‘spiritual wife’ doctrine.”

    Dinger wrote in the footnotes to his book on the Nauvoo City Council and High Council minutes (pp. 415-416 note 40) that Sarah Searcy [Miller] had initially refused Chauncy Hibee’s teachings regarding sexual intercourse, but that he returned and “William Smith come with him & told me that the doctrine which Chauncy Higby had taught me was true.” It appears the seductions of Sarah Searcy [Miller] and the Nyman sisters occurred in spring 1842, after Joseph would have corrected Hyrum if I am right. So the one who they trusted who affirmed that illicit intercourse was appropriate would not have been Hyrum Smith at that time.

    It could be with the “defection” of Hyrum from the cause, those attempting to press women to yield to illicit intercourse found a willing substitute in William Smith. William Smith is also documented to have gone to Catherine Laur [Fuller] the morning of her planned marriage to William Warren. There are two instances in the handwritten record where this is discussed.

    This first portion is written very small and the entire section of the page is crosshatched:

    William Smith insisted very much that I should not marry and proposed to supply me with food etc. if I would remain unmarried and grant his request – Chauncy Higby also made propositions to keep me with food if I would submit to his designs.

    Elsewhere it is written:

    [name blotted out] insisted very much that I would not marry – and proposed if I would grant his desires he would furnish me with food etc.
    C. Higbe also promised to keep me and supply me with food

    The section of the record where Sarah Searcy [Miller] indicated that William Smith accompanied Chauncy Higbee is in italics in Dinger’s book, and it is not contained in the pdf copy I have of the women’s statements. That is why I suggested he was inferring, though a review of the statements clarifies that they were reporting regarding the spring of 1842, by which time Hyrum would not have been endorsing the claims of men asking women to participate in illicit intercourse. I will be in Utah for a few days later this month and may take a trip to view the originals (Valeen T. Avery Papers USU_COLL MSS 316, Box 24, Fd 14, Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library, Logan, Utah).

    The 23 June 1843 account recorded by William Clayton discusses past events. The deaths of Robert Thompson and Vinson Knight had occurred in fall 1841 and summer 1842. By implication, the transgression of B. Y. would appear to have also occurred at least a year prior to the William Clayton journal entry.

    When you read the records of the High Council and look at the excommunications, there were many who had been excommunicated whose involvement was never publicized. There were others who were chastised but not excommunicated (e.g., Darwin Chase). As far as I have seen, none of the women who were seduced were excommunicated. For the women, the form of chastisement was being publicly evicted from the Relief Society or refused membership, as happened with Lucy Ann Munjar and Ms. Barris, among others.

    Even Dr. Bennett was initially merely slapped on the wrist. But when it became clear through the testimony of Catherine Fuller that he’d been the author of the heresy and subsequently remained unrepentant, he was publicly shamed. Even the shame of Chauncy and Francis Higbee was kept quiet in 1842, with indication of their seductions being kept from the public until May 1844, when the two were actively conspiring to kill Joseph. So public silence is not a guarantee that someone was virtuous. Even the adultery of William Law was kept moderately quiet, mostly known only through diary entries, though in 1844 Hyrum did recount William Law’s confession of adultery in the City Council (Dinger, pp. 241-242).

    I think my main contribution to the history is the case that the third man was Hyrum, not Joseph. I don’t think many people will argue with that.

    The argument will be with my timing of the incident, which I place somewhere between 14 December 1841 and 3 January 1842, a time when none of the three men who reportedly conversed with Martha about marriage necessarily knew about the New and Everlasting Covenant. Hyrum, in particular, did not know about the New and Everlasting Covenant in 1841/1842, so his involvement strongly suggests that what Martha was asked to be party to could not have been an instance of plural marriage as taught by Joseph Smith.

    One last point you raised regarded the timing of Heber’s intent to marry the Pitkin sisters. All we know is that it was before Joseph asked Heber to care for Sarah Peak Noon. As Sarah Peak Noon gave birth in 1842 to a child widely accepted to have been engendered by Heber [a consensus I don’t accept], this suggests that Heber’s initial intention to marry the Pitkin sisters occurred in late 1841 or very early in 1842. It is worth noting that Heber would eventually marry the Pitkin sisters while in Winter Quarters, which suggests there was something about the initial request that was wrongful rather than marriage to the Pitkin sisters, per se (they were ~50 years old by then, for what it’s worth).

  7. Meg,
    It is hard for me to believe that Brigham Young was a part of Bennett’s inner circle. He returned from his mission to England in the spring of 1841. At some subsequent time he was appraised of the commandment to take plural wives. I believe that his repugnance to sexual immorality was even greater than his initial reaction to that revelation. I also do not believe that Brigham would have been called to the office of president and prophet had he been involved with the scheme.

    I have the same respect for the memory of Hyrum Smith and the integrity that he had, as noted by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 124:15.

    After rereading the Times and Seasons article on the conference report, it is clear that Hyrum is not naming himself as the third man (a great movie, by the way) but was responding to rumors that he had been involved. A huge difference.

    I am not persuaded that there was anything intrinsically wrong with Heber C. Kimball’s initial selection of the Pitkin sisters for his first plural wives. In fact, you have previously covered this situation yourself. For whatever reason, Sarah Peake Noon’s husband had abandoned her and returned to England soon after accompanying her to Nauvoo. This was the lady that Joseph wished for Heber to take as a plural wife.

    Heber was probably even more reluctant than Brigham in accepting the command to take plural wives, as it is noted that he too had to be commanded three times, and then threatened with losing his apostleship.

    As fr as judging any of those people, I am not letting my heart be troubled. The Lord is their judge. He knows what went on. We can only see through that glass darkly, to cite Paul.

    Glenn

  8. Hi Glenn,

    I don’t think Brigham was part of Bennett’s inner circle, but I do think he was persuaded that he had a responsibility to reach out to another woman before Joseph ever instructed him on that point.

    I think that Hyrum became aware from someone other than Bennett that there was a religious duty to reach out and care for widows. He had two widows close to him in the fall of 1841 (the widow of Don Carlos and the sister of his own second wife, widow of Robert Thompson).

    It appears from the Clayton journal entry that Joseph believed Robert Thpson had sinned and died as a result. In the written testimonies, it appears that Thompspn’s widow was one of those testifying that bad things appeared to be happening in the home of Catherine Fuller, so she had a more than casual acquaintance with *the* fallen woman of all the fallen women.

    As to the assertion that Brigham couldn’t have erred and then become prophet, why wouldn’t such logic apply to Alma the younger?

  9. “As to the assertion that Brigham couldn’t have erred and then become prophet, why wouldn’t such logic apply to Alma the younger?”

    Doctrine and Covenants 58:43
    43 By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

    Alma the Younger went from reprobate to zealous missionary after his “course correction.” He confessed and repented. Became a new man.
    Paul was a bit different because he felt he was doing the right thing, nevertheless, he received his “course correction.”

    Brigham Young was a trusted member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I believe that if Brigham had been involved in such a scheme he would have named as was the Higbee brothers, etc. He would have needed to confess and repent. Bennett and the Higbee brothers confessed, but recanted and did not repent.

    Of course we have no way of proving or disproving any of that. It is more of a gut feeling I have, and could be ascribed to my feelings of trust in God as the head of the church, and in the integrity of the people involved in the situation.

    Glenn

  10. Hi Glenn,

    If we give any credence to William Clayton’s journal, it appears that Joseph counseled with B. Y. and pled for him before the Lord, seemingly believing the transgression was sufficiently dire that the Lord could have legitimately struck B. Y. down for his error, even if it wasn’t as gross an error as others had committed.

    Subsequently Brigham Young, the only B. Y. in the 1840 Hancock County census and the only mature B. Y. in the 1842 Nauvoo City census, was sufficiently repentant that Joseph trusted him to officiate at a ceremony involving the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    It seems private confession before the prophet doesn’t qualify in your mind as a sufficient confession. It seems you wish confession had been published and declared before all the people.

    Someone e-mailed me privately after I published this post, wondering how I could consider this faith promoting. And I suppose for those who have nearly deified our early Church leaders, this post can be terribly disturbing. But as one who believes none have ever been perfect but Christ, I do not find this faith-destroying. It merely makes me sad.

    But my sorrow for the wrongs I think were committed is swallowed up in the joy that these three men (Hyrum, Brigham, Heber) repented of the errors I think they committed and gave the rest of their lives to establishing the kingdom of God.

    If we do not examine our history, we are left with the prevalent supposition, which leaves us with a lecherous Joseph Smith who never repented. There are scholars who honestly feel that they can’t take any researcher seriously if they do not admit that Joseph committed polyandrous adultery under the label of plural marriage.

    For those who are blissfully unaware of the scholarly consensus, you will not see why any of this needs to be uncovered. But when your friends and children and acquaintances are unable to embrace the gospel of Christ because they believe in a lecherous Joseph whose actions were unprovoked, you will have nothing to say other than “I feel it is true.”

    God has spoken to me as directly as possible without a direct physical manifestation. But despite His assurances, I still wasn’t able to fully embrace the restored gospel for decades. So I presume that there are others who are like me, who won’t be able to entirely let go of doubt without something to tell the mind that their prior concerns were invalid.

    As Pat noted, our faith ought not be in man, but in Christ. I am confident that all truth is consistent with acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, that his mercy is required for us to achieve heaven. So even when I believe I have found a truth that makes me sad, it is never a truth I need fear.

    Now, if one wishes to explain why what I have brought forward couldn’t be truth based on facts, I’m all ears. I am less tolerant of assertions that I am a fiction writer who is making baseless speculations that needlessly tarnish the reputations of our honored leaders, particularly when those individuals assert that Joseph was necessarily having sex with a married woman at the same time she was having conjugal relations with her legal husband (e.g., what some scholars are saying about the finding that Josephine Lyon is now proven to be the biological child of her legal father).

    I realize the heat of that debate is not raging here at M*. Outside of M* the debate might also not be raging, but that is because everyone has accepted the idea of an allegedly libidinous Joseph whose strangely non-reproductive supposed sexual exploits cannot be seen as innocent by any but the most ardent believer. And those believers are content to suppose that a Joseph who shared his manly passion with as many as dozens of women was justified to do so – a belief that can be seen to have fostered a toxic relationship between modern men and women.

  11. Glenn beat me to it. If we’re going to postulate confusion about which Smith brother was involved, William seems a more plausible candidate than Hyrum.

  12. Hi Kent,

    There is no question that William Smith was deeply involved in promoting and practicing Bennett’s heresy of illicit intercourse.

    The question is merely whether it is possible that Hyrum was deceived prior to January 1842 and whether William could have possibly been the third man Martha reported as endorsing what Brigham was proposing.

    I no longer think William Smith is credible as the third man Martha described.

    Given the timing, it is not credible that Hyrum Smith was endorsing legitimate plural marriage.

    It is not credible that the third man was actually Joseph Smith.

  13. “If we do not examine our history, we are left with the prevalent supposition, which leaves us with a lecherous Joseph Smith who never repented. There are scholars who honestly feel that they can’t take any researcher seriously if they do not admit that Joseph committed polyandrous adultery under the label of plural marriage.”

    My opinion- Whatever the true history is, it is very helpful to have the perspective of a faithful saint (such as Meg). Even if one believes the worst, “the atonement leaves no scars.”

  14. Conjecture about inventing alleged new ways a church authority in history has sinned is beyond the pale. Meg, if the spirit has led you to this answer you have no authority to teach it publicly like this.

    If the spirit is not revealing these truths to you, it’s truly concerning the (seeming) level of obsession you have on this topic that is causing you to go further and further down a path which puts you at risk of divorcing yourself from the prophets.

    I realize these comments get dismissed as uncharitable calls to repentance, but it’s certainly more charitable then stringing together various historical data points speculate on church authority sins.

  15. Hi GSO,

    One of the reasons my deduction (not speculation) made me sad is because my Stake President is a descendant of Hyrum Smith.

    If the third man wasn’t Hyrum, we are left to choose between Joseph and William.

    If William was the third man, then Brigham (and probably Heber) were definitely misled nigh until transgression.

    If the third man was Joseph Smith, then either Martha was lying (a defense that seems not credible) or Joseph’s brand of polygamy was similar to what Bennett alleged. I don’t think it is credible that Joseph was the third man.

    The historical documents are what they are. The two most likely individuals to be the third man are Hyrum Smith or Joseph Smith. Eliminating Hyrum as a possibility is to say Joseph was the man.

    To identify anyone as the third man is to speak ill of the Lord’s anointed. I would rather consider a repentant Hyram to have been the third man than a Joseph Smith who went to his death indicating that his variant of plural marriage was correct.

    I prefer to think that Joseph’s plural marriage was Entirely different from the polygamy that the third man encouraged to Martha Brotherton to except.

  16. Very interesting post Meg. Honestly I’m not fully convinced but part of that is I will admit that I haven’t studied the events of that time enough. But I do appreciate the thought and research. As you have said I think we say too many times as members, “Why is this important or is this faith promoting?” We act as if we haven’t learned by sad experience that it is better to get ahead of things than sweep them under the rug. I recently finished teaching a mission prep class in my home to the Priests and Laurels in our ward. We had a policy in the class that the youth were allowed to ask any question they wanted at the end of class. Over time this became really popular with the youth as they opened up.

    I was amazed at the things they would ask about and their concerns. We talked about polygamy (luckily I had been reading your book and Hales’ book), seer stones, the eternal lives theory, blood atonement, blacks and the priesthood, and pretty much every controversial issue from the Church’s history. The youth would often stay for 3 hours at our house, when the class was only supposed to be an hour, asking questions and wanting to learn. Unlike many older members who somehow missed the importance of gaining knowledge to their eternal progression, the youth are starving for answers. But it was amazing to me that once we got all those questions out of the way we started having deeper discussions about missionary work, the atonement, faith, the fall, Adam and Eve, etc. We can’t just sweep things under the rug or ask Why are you digging into this?

    So a long way of saying thanks for your work and thoughtfulness because we can’t avoid these issues anymore and think we will give our youth the chance to put down roots and grow without facing things more directly.

    Also my question about this is how do we know that this meeting ever happened or that there were for sure 3 people there? Could it be that Martha Brotherton lied and only Brigham Young was there or could it be that it never happened at all and Brigham sinned at another time? I guess I am having a hard time with the jump from Hyrum said he wasn’t there to that means he must have been there. Also in your book you talk about how resistant Hyrum had been to polygamy and even the thought of it and it was Brigham who eventually had to explain it to him. From what I understand that was around the same time in 1842. These two events seem contradictory.

    As another side note I think sometimes we automatically assume the worse when it comes to committing sin. Could it be that Brigham Young started believing in or promoting the possibility of spiritual wifery but not actually committing adultery? Could it be he started to ask women to be his spiritual wife but was corrected before actually committing adultery. I just think we sometimes jump to the conclusion that because they had committed some sin it was actually having sex. Could it be that only his initials were used because unlike the others his sin wasn’t as grievous but because of his position it was still bad enough that Joseph had to plead with the Lord to not remove him from his place. Just some thoughts I had after reading. Thanks again for the thought provoking idea.

  17. Hi jay,

    You asked a few great questions:

    1) How do we know there were three people there?

    Meg: We don’t. However rather than presuming Martha was making up her story from whole cloth, it seems reasonable to presume she was telling the truth except where her story contradicts other known facts. Her tale includes various verifiable details, such as the visits Brigham and Heber made to the arriving converts and the presence of William Clayton in the tithing office which was located in the Red Brick Store. Her detail about visiting with her sister and brother-in-law near three weeks after arriving in the Nauvoo area exactly corresponds to the known movements and plans of the Brothertons, with Martha’s sister Mary McIlwrick and husband John McIlwrick settling in Nauvoo on 6 Dec after the Brothertons arrived in the vicinity of Nauvoo in late November, with the stated plan to visit Mary and John in Nauvoo around 14 December 1841.

    In Martha’s description of the third man, she puts words in his mouth that precisely echo statements from not-yet published scripture (the binding and loosing part), along with a statement we see in other women’s testimonies, about how the sin, if it is sin, would fall on the head of the man attempting to persuade the woman to engage in sexual behavior outside of a monogamous marriage.

    So while it is certainly acceptable to have a degree of healthy skepticism regarding Martha’s statement, there should be a valid reason to dismiss elements of her story, rather than simply saying “I don’t believe this.”

    2) Wasn’t Hyrum resistant to the idea of polygamy, and Brigham had to persuade him of it around 1842?

    Meg: Brigham related the story about Hyrum in 1866, however we have reason to believe Brigham was not misremembering the date when he claimed it occurred in 1843. So approximately 16 months had transpired between the incident with Martha Brotherton and the conversation on the wooden rails regarding what the Twelve knew (that Hyrum didn’t know). That interlude had included the entire Bennett scandal, along with the excommunication of Orson Pratt, etc. So it isn’t inconsistent that Hyrum could have been encouraging a heretical form of polygamy in December 1841, repented of that by January 1842, then in May 1843 have claimed he had refused to understand things Joseph had attempted to tell him between January 1842 and May 1843.

    3) Could it be that Brigham taught incorrect things but never actually gotten to the point of committing adultery?

    Meg: This is the position I take, that Brigham attempted to persuade Martha to become his, but she fled, preventing Brigham from committing actual sexual sin with her (sin because it was would have been Union under the heretical teaching of spiritual wifery rather than the plural marriage aspect of Celestial marriage). In my reconstruction, Joseph learned about the heresy from Heber Kimball in December as part of Heber’s request regarding the Pitkin sisters, incidentally learning about what Brigham had done. So Joseph had a chance to get to Brigham and stop him before he ever committed actual procreative sin.

    However, it does appear he had actually interacted with Martha in some manner (e.g., heretical attempt at persuasion), because if she had merely told lies, I can’t understand why Brigham would have had her sealed to himself posthumously. Well, actually I do have a fertile imagination, so I can imagine a scenario where Brigham chose to seal a completely malicious and lying Martha to himself after her death, but it is a ludicrous scenario.

    If you haven’t done so already, you might want to look at my August 21? post regarding how the initial participants in the May 1842 endowment ceremony may have perceived that experience.

Comments are closed.