Sorry I haven’t yet followed through with my promised series on the ladies some have indicated were Joseph Smith’s wives. For those who haven’t noticed, a series of articles about Joseph Smith and polygamy have been featured over at Meridian Magazine in Ralph Hancock’s Expand Section.
About a week ago, a two-part interview between myself and Ralph Hancock was posted.
One fun result of the Meridian articles is that all members of my family found out I can spell polygamy. My youngest brother (the kind of smart guy who gets a perfect score on the SAT) replied:
I stayed up all night reading your faithful Joseph posts (didn’t get all the way through though). Is really great stuff.
I don’t know how to say this. It’s like watching Ancient Aliens on the history channel or a 9/11 conspiracy documentary, but not silly. I understand why people would fight against it as it seems like it’s revising history to suit a particular world view, but it casts reasonable doubt on the improper nature of Joseph Smith’s practices related to polygamy.
A lot of people recently have been staying up all night reading my Faithful Joseph posts. So far, they’ve been universally pleased to have lost some sleep while gaining a plausible explanation for why Joseph might have done what we know he did.
The first half of the interview between myself and Ralph Hancock is titled An Unusual View of Joseph Smith and Polygamy. This first half primarily focuses on the massive damage initial exposure to stories about Joseph Smith’s polygamy caused my testimony when I was a teen in the 1970s. This interview covers my continued activity, despite my questions, the way I found my testimony again, and the experience I had when I initially felt “called” to write about three generations of my female polygamous forebears. All the comments were positive, with the possible exception of a comment telling me to avoid fiction and read only non-fiction written by GAs and faithful historians.
The second half of the interview is titled A Distinctly Different View of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. This continues the conversation, talking about the impact using a fictional lens had on making sense of events. I conclude alluding to intrigue without explaining, telling readers that “if you’ll stop, pay attention, and allow your pre-conceptions to be challenged, you will find in Joseph Smith a man you would be happy to claim as your friend, a man whose death you will mourn again as though you are losing someone dear to you.” Again, all the comments were positive. However as all comments are screened and I know for a fact that several comments I submitted never got posted, it’s hard to have a real conversation in the comment thread.
Next someone who asked that their name be withheld wrote a piece about how to Avoid Testimony Casualties over Plural Marriage. There were some pretty sharp comments in response to this piece, with some individuals (women?) indicating that if God requires or allows polygamy (even if it wasn’t sexual), then God hates women. Yowza.
Most recently, Ralph did a Q&A session with Brian C. Hales and his wife, Laura Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Separating Fact from Fiction. Brian has a new book coming out this spring that has this same title. I was amused, however, that the only other mention of fiction was this, almost certainly directed at me (apparently I’m a plural person…):
“Ralph: ‘Some have found it possible to believe that Joseph Smith’s plural marriages might not have included sexual relations. Could this be plausible? Explain.’
“Brian: Unfortunately some writers in the past year have promoted the idea that Joseph Smith did not consummate his plural marriages. As discussed above, some of the unions, at least a third, were nonsexual eternity-only sealings, commencing only after death. However, I have documented the probable existence of sexuality in twelve of his time-and-eternity marriages. The available manuscript data can be accessed at JosephSmithPolygamy.org. In my view, some of the accounts might be dismissed, but to try to ignore them all simply results in historical fiction and poor scholarship.”
I wrote up a response to the various concerns I saw mentioned in the comments responding to Q&A and Testimony Casualties piece. If Meridian Expand chooses to pass on publishing it, I will post it here.
In the mean time, I wanted to lay out the reason I am not convinced Joseph Smith had sex with any of his plural wives.
Before I get started, I suppose I should inform you that I wouldn’t actually have a problem if it were found that Joseph did, indeed, have sex with some of his plural wives. The most likely candidates for this, in my opinion, would be the Partridge sisters, Maria Lawrence, Lucy Walker, and Malissa Lott; women who Emma unambiguously gave permission to Joseph Smith to marry (versus my view that Emma was informed of all the marriages). Yet there are problems with considering that even these women might have had sexual relations with Joseph Smith.
With that, let us proceed:
Single women who became sealed to Joseph Smith don’t appear to have conceived children during Joseph’s lifetime.
Louisa Beaman and subsequent otherwise single wives didn’t produce children until 10 months or more after Joseph’s death, even when they had long-term access to Joseph (e.g., living in his home, being his wife for years). The only possible exceptions to this are Lucy Walker and Olive Frost.
In the case of Lucy Walker, her daughter Rachel died in December 1847. The death record says both that Rachel was born Jan 1845 (making her almost certainly Joseph’s child) and that she was less than two years old when she died (making it impossible that she could have been engendered by Joseph). As I think it is much more likely that they got the age right and made a math error when computing her birth year, I am not inclined to consider Rachel Kimball to have been Joseph’s biological child.
Olive Frost died “at Nauvoo, Ill. on Oct 6th 1845, after an illness of two weeks & of chills fever and pneumonia” according to her sister, Mary Frost [Stearns Pratt Smith Pratt]. Michael Quinn identified a 1902 journal entry written by Joseph E. Robinson citing a conversation with his Aunt Lizzie, who said she knew Joseph had more than two wives, that Olive had a child by Joseph and died. Nowhere do we have enough information to be certain that Olive’s child was engendered while Joseph was still alive. Who was Aunt Lizzie, that she would have been sufficiently well-informed to know for a fact that Olive Frost’s child was engendered by Joseph, given that Olive died fifteen months after Joseph and a full year after the apostles began marrying the widows of Joseph Smith? A child engendered by a levirate husband that was then born to any of Joseph’s widows would be considered Joseph’s child. Unless the testimony specified a birth date that was clearly consistent with Joseph being the biological father, I remain unconvinced.
Married women with whom Joseph entered into a Covenant Relationship (Sealing, Plural Marriage) had kids, but the kids’ DNA doesn’t match Joseph Smith
Women Joseph married who already had husbands did bear children during a timeframe when these children could have been engendered by Joseph Smith. However Ugo Perego’s DNA analyses of the testable cases (e.g., children who survived to engender/bear children and who have modern descendants) fails to confirm that any of these children were engendered by Joseph. In fact, most of the analyses positively confirm that individual children were not engendered by Joseph Smith, as discussed in Ugo Perego’s article in The Persistence of Polygamy, 2010.
The exception to this is Josephine Lyon Fisher, where the data cannot yet support a conclusive finding that she wasn’t Joseph’s biological child. However Ugo is still hopeful that he may be able to conclusively determine whether or not Josephine was a biological child of Joseph Smith. Specifically, Ugo is hopeful that he may be able to conclusively demonstrate that Josephine was *not* a biological child of Joseph Smith, which speaks to the tenuous nature of using these data to “prove” that she was Joseph’s child.
It appears children of plural wives often didn’t learn of their covenant relationship to Joseph until they married in the temple. In the case of Josephine, she did not initially marry in the temple. When she was sealed to her husband years later, it is possible that this late solemnization of the eternal union did not convey the information regarding her covenant relationship to Joseph Smith. This is an opportunity for someone to find me wrong, if in fact Brigham Young officiated at Josephine’s sealing. However I’m betting the individual officiating at that sealing was not a member of the inner circle regarding Joseph’s plural wives.
Sylvia’s deathbed confidence, telling Josephine that she was Joseph’s child, is believed to be strong evidence of a biological connection. Brian Hales points out lack of evidence suggesting other children of Sylvia Sessions were told Joseph was their father, which allegedly would have been the case if Sylvia was speaking only of a covenant relationship. However Brian (and others) ignore that Sylvia’s other children with Brother Lyons all died as children. Sylvia’s children with her subsequent husband all married initially in the temple, if they married at all. Thus lack of documentation regarding what was said to other children cannot be used to discount the possibility that Sylvia’s deathbed confidence referred to a covenant relationship rather than a biological relationship. Josephine’s full-blood siblings were dead as children, long before any such confidence would have been made or documented. Josephine’s half-siblings would have learned of a covenant relationship in the temple. Thus they would likely not have written down this information, as it would be considered to be covered by the vows to maintain temple information sacred.
Who are these 12 Brian Hales claims had sex with Joseph?
Now that we’ve cast doubt on the possibility that Joseph can be proven to have engendered actual children, let us look at each of the twelve women for whom Brian asserts evidence exists (aside from the mere fact of a reported plural marriage) indicating sex might have occurred:
1) Brian Hales writes “Several accounts record that Emma Smith and possibly Warren Parrish and Oliver Cowdery witnessed Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger together and one source asserts that Fanny became pregnant.”
Here I assert that the interaction between Joseph and Fanny in the barn, though upsetting to Emma, needn’t have been sex, nor need it have been a marriage of which Emma was unaware. Given Emma’s persistent position that plural wives should not have sex with their husbands, the troubling interaction in the barn could easily have been Fanny demanding that Joseph either make her a wife in very deed or free her to marry another. As to the late source asserting Fanny became pregnant, (Whilhelm Wyl quoting Chancy Webb), I believe this source referred to Fanny as Miss Hill, which isn’t even the right last name, casting doubt on the rest of the recollection.
2) Brian Hales writes “Providing a deposition in the Temple Lot cases, Joseph Bates Noble was asked: ‘Where did they [Joseph Smith and plural wife Louisa Beaman] sleep together?’ His response: ‘Right straight across the river at my house they slept together.'”
This is undoubtedly proof that Joseph and Louisa Beaman spent an evening in the same room. There is no suggestion that Joseph Bates Noble actually witnessed intercourse, a point that has often been made elsewhere, but that Brian suggestively doesn’t mention in this concise summary. As discussed above, it is curious that Joseph didn’t engender a child with Louisa during the three years Louisa was Joseph’s plural wife, given that she was the only plural wive for over six months and her family was willing to facilitate what they believed to be conjugal encounters.
3) When under oath in a deposition in the Temple Lot case, Emily Partridge was asked, “Do you make the declaration that you ever slept with him in the same bed?” to which she answered, “Yes sir.”
I sleep with people in the same bed all the time without sex occurring. I thought Emily actually said “Yes sir.” to a question of whether or not she had engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph, which is a much stronger assertion of sexual relations. In either case, it cannot be ignored that Emily had motive to portray Joseph as a practicing polygamist, both to ensure the Temple Lot didn’t fall into the hands of the RLDS Church, but also because Emma Smith, who had treated Emily so badly, had gone on record denying that any other woman had been Joseph’s wife.
4) Brian Hales writes “Concerning Emily’s sister Eliza, Benjamin F. Johnson wrote in 1903: ‘The first plural wife brought to my house with whom the Prophet stayed, was Eliza Partridge.'”
Benjamin Johnson would not have been witness to actual conjugal relations. Though it would have actually been quite unfair for Joseph and Emma to involve the Partridge sisters in the first semi-public plural marriages and then not permit the girls to enjoy conjugal relations, there is the curious matter of how William Clayton refers to the marriages between Joseph and “E and E P” on August 16, 1843, saying Emma said she would have given him E and E P, but [Joseph] knew that if he took them, [Emma] would pitch on him and obtain a divorce and leave him. (Smith, Intimate Chronicle, p. 117). I’m content to consider Emily and Eliza Partridge might have been intimate with Joseph, but I again assert that reasonable doubt exists, given that the Partridge girls lived in the Smith home for the better part of six months after the first ceremonies that might have legitimized intimacy before they were asked to leave in August 1843, and they remained in Nauvoo for the remaining fifteen months during which they were technically Joseph’s plural wives. Both Emily and Eliza conceived very soon after acquiring levirate husbands (Brigham Young and Amaza Lyman) after Joseph’s death.
5) Brian Hales writes ‘Lucy Walker’s niece, Theodocia Frances Walker Davis, reported to Joseph Smith III in 1876, “Lucy Walker told her that she lived with Joseph Smith as a wife.'”
Lucy absolutely was Joseph’s wife. Despite what Theodocia understood from this statement, however, it falls far short of asserting actual conjugal relations. If it can be determined that Lucy’s daughter, Rachel, was actually born January 1845 rather than January 1846, then there would be no question that Joseph and Lucy were intimate. Based on other similar instances, I submit that Theodocia was troubled by whether or not polygamy was in fact taught by Joseph Smith, and that this would have been the cause of Lucy’s confidence.
6) Brian Hales writes “Benjamin Johnson also affirmed his sister Almera Johnson experienced sexual relations with the Prophet: ‘He [Joseph Smith] was at my house . . . where he occupied my sister Almera’s room and bed.'”
The assertion that Benjamin Johnson affirmed Almera experienced sexual relations goes well beyond the quote. It would have been so much more informative had Benjamin said, “they shared the same room, in which there was only one bed, and there was evidence of sex (e.g., bleeding from a broken hymen).” However Almera was a widow, so there could not have been blood evidence that intercourse occurred. Thus we return to whether or not a man sharing a room and bed with a women is necessarily equivalent to intercourse.
Why would Joseph need to spend an evening closeted with Almera in May 1843? Almera’s sister was married to Almon Babbitt, Stake President in Kirtland. In November 1842 Joseph had received a troubling letter from Babbitt’s counselor, Lester (Justin) Brooks, in which Lester makes an odd request that Joseph “give my respects to Sister Elvira Cowles and all enquiring friends.” I don’t know why, but receipt of this letter appears to coincide with a decision that Elvira needed to be provided a public husband. After Joseph’s death, Lester Brooks becomes an apostle for James Strang’s variant of Mormonism, the sect that attracted a disproportionate percentage of the men who had conspired to kill Joseph Smith. It therefore seems possible that Joseph’s 1843 interaction with Almera Johnson was in service of determining how corrupted the Kirtland Stake Presidency had become.
7) Brian Hales writes “In a 1915 statement, Josephine Lyon declared that her mother, Sylvia Sessions told her in 1882 that she (Josephine) was Joseph Smith’s daughter.”
I have already responded to this extensively above. The DNA evidence is not conclusive and there is reason to suspect Sylvia’s confidence could have referred to the covenant relationship between Joseph and Josephine, rather than a biological relationship.
8) Brian Hales writes “On May 23, 1844, William Law, who had apostatized months earlier over plural marriage, charged Joseph Smith in a Carthage court with living ‘in an open state of adultery’ with Maria Lawrence.”
William Law also contributed to the Expositor articles that indicated that hundreds of women had been seduced by Joseph and the Strikers. Before the other side objects, let me clarify that this goes to the question of credibility.
That said, the Lawrence sisters, along with the Partridge sisters, Lucy Walker, and Malissa Lott are all women in whose cases it appears Emma had agreed to let Joseph take the women on as plural wives. Poor Maria ended up the plural wife of Almon Babbitt, and it appears her 1847 death in Nauvoo was mysterious and possibly due to a broken heart. Benjamin Johnson asserted that Maria had a child engendered by Almon Babbitt, but that the infant died.
9) Brian Hales writes “Several other statements document that Maria’s sister, Sarah Lawrence, also lived with the Prophet as a plural wife. For example, Lucy Walker attested in 1902: ‘I know that [Emma] gave her consent to the marriage of at least four women [Emily and Eliza Partridge and Maria and Sarah Lawrence] to her husband as plural wives, and she was well aware that he associated and cohabited with them as wives.'”
Intriguingly, Brian’s own website clarifies that “in later life Sarah Lawrence openly denied having had a relationship with Joseph Smith.” She was the only one of the dozens of women who were allegedly Joseph Smith’s wives to deny openly that there had been a relationship. I would think that Sarah’s denial of a relationship should be weighed more heavily than Lucy’s 1902 attestation.
We do know that the Partridge and Lawrence sisters told Jane Manning they were Joseph’s wives. But that doesn’t imply sex was necessarily happening.
10) Brian Hales writes “In an 1893 interview with RLDS Church President Joseph Smith III, Malissa Lott when asked if she was the Prophet’s ‘wife in very deed,’ answered, ‘Yes.'”
Malissa Lott is also the one who suggested that the reason she hadn’t conceived was because she was nervous. The idea that men who have lots of sex are less virile or that nervous women are less fertile is not based in scientific fact.
I don’t have a problem with the possibility that Malissa was intimate with Joseph, however I find the “data” far from persuasive.
11) Brian Hales writes “Two sources state that Olive Frost had Joseph Smith’s baby. Both Olive and her child died before the Saints left Nauvoo.”
I find it curious that Brian does not provide a date for Olive’s death. Saying Olive and her child died before the Saints left Nauvoo is vague and conveys an impression that Joseph was likely the father. In fact, Olive died in early October 1845, nearly 15 months after Joseph’s death. This is plenty of time to remarry (Brigham Young collected her in his self-appointed role as Joseph’s levirate “brother”) and bear a child that was “raised up to Joseph” yet engendered by Brigham Young.
12) Brian Hales writes “A single document supports a plural marriage with sexuality between Joseph Smith and Mary Heron. Unfortunately, no additional evidence is available to provide further details.”
This document that allegedly supports a plural marriage with sexuality is the record of Joseph Ellis Johnson’s disciplinary council for committing adultery with a plural wife of Lorenzo Snow. The council queries Joseph Ellis Johnson regarding whether he believes it is OK to have illicit sex. Joseph denies that he thinks illicit sex is OK, despite the fact that he himself had engaged in illicit sex with Lorenzo Snow’s wife Hannah Goddard. Then Joseph Ellis volunteers the information that his mother-in-law, Mary Heron, was frigged in his house in Nauvoo.
Brian Hales and Michael Quinn think the “by Joseph” at the end of this record modifies the verb “frigged .” I think the “by Joseph” answers the unrecorded question “By whom were you informed that Mary Heron had been frigged ?”
In either case, “frigged ” as an action verb hardly conveys the impression of plural marriage. Spiritual wifery, base seduction, or genital stimulation for the purpose of treating hysteria, yes. Plural marriage, no. Looking at Mary’s later actions, she does none of the things other wives do, such as get sealed to Joseph in the temple.
And the Verdict is…
Based on these data, Joseph Smith could not be convicted of being intimate with any of his plural wives in a court of law where he had competent legal counsel. Rumor and second hand assertion does not equate to evidence.
On the other hand, we have Emma who was personally involved in the matter, and she signs a document near the end of her life asserting that she was Joseph’s only wife. I see no reason for dismissing Emma’s testimony out of hand when the proponents of sexuality in Joseph Smith’s plural marriages are citing obscure second or third hand accounts written over 60 years after the events in questions.
For those who have not read my Faithful Joseph series and don’t know why Joseph Smith had motive to reach out to these dozens of women and teach them about the New and Everlasting Covenant, please click and read.