Why I am not Persuaded Joseph Smith had Sex with Plural Wives

NoSexSorry 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.

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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.

84 thoughts on “Why I am not Persuaded Joseph Smith had Sex with Plural Wives

  1. Meg, I am not fully convinced, but I am so grateful to you for the your Faithful Joseph series, and this post. It is wonderful to see such a plausible account of history that is so different from conventional wisdom.

  2. I was super amused by my brother’s comment that “it’s like watching Ancient Aliens on the history channel or a 9/11 conspiracy documentary…”

    “But not silly.”

  3. I am totally not convinced, for at least a few good reasons. However, sharing theories or ideas about stuff is part of what makes the Internet such a fantastic place. Plus, as Mises stated a long time ago, “You can never have too much of a good theory.”

  4. Meg, you’ve made some important critiques to what is becoming the new, uncritical, normal on polygamy. I’m not fully persuaded regarding what you’ve written, but willing to consider it, and feel you ought to be treated as a peer at any table involving this discussion. I have one critique of my own: as a newcomer to your writings, and not entirely up to all that goes on in the Mormon blogosphere (but a pretty decent reader), I find that you often lose me here (and in some links you offered) with either sarcasm or an inside joke of some kind. I read it over and then over, and try to figure out from context … And get frustrated… I think your voice may well be an important one, but I am betting that regular folks like me may not get it either and it detracts from the presentation. This is a comment about style, not content.

  5. Two facts are all I need to know that Joseph did not practice polygamy:
    #1 because he said he did not. If Joseph said it, I believe it. I believe what he said he saw in the grove, I believe what he said about the allegations of “spiritual wifery”.

    Joseph Smith said, “Another indictment has been got up against me [the polygamy indictment]. It appears a holy prophet [William Law] has arisen up, and he has testified against me [causing the polygamy indictment to be brought forth]…. God knows, then, that the charges against me are false.

    I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can.

    This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this…. William Law … swears that I have committed adultery. I wish the grand jury would tell me who they [the alleged wives] are—whether it will be a curse or blessing to me….

    A man asked me whether the commandment [revelation] was given that a man may have seven wives; and now the new prophet has charged me with adultery…. Wilson Law [William’s brother] also swears that I told him I was guilty of adultery…. I have rattled chains before in a dungeon for truth’s sake. I am innocent of all these charges, and you can bear witness of my innocence, for you know me yourselves…. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.

    I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago [when charged with polygamy shortly after his marriage to Emma Hale]; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (LDS History of the Church 6:410–411;

    #2 Not one child has been proven a genetic child of Joseph’s, except Emma and they had enough children to prove he did not have a fertility problem.

    I really don’t care what others said he said, unless we are certain he said it, it is gossip and heresy.

  6. Hi Thad,

    Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately for me, my ancestor, Elvira Annie Cowles, was the first in a line of five generations of women who were teachers or scholars. So I sometimes use words I don’t even realize aren’t in common usage.

    Since I am completely open to updating my posts to increase comprehension, I would love it if you would be willing to email me at stoutmtc at gmail dot com and let me know which parts were most frustrating. You could simply paste this into word, highlight the sections you found frustrating, and send it to me as an attachment. Obviously anyone else who would like to help me become less opaque and more approachable is welcome to do likewise.

    Thanks again!

  7. Interesting balance for those who admit no conclusive evidence, but are adamant in insisting that the Prophet must have been some kind of secret sexual athlete, or something. When we don’t know, the best conclusion must be “I don’t know”. I am willing to let Brother Joseph represent himself, when I next get the chance to ask him. Until then, I will reserve judgment

  8. I certainly think that some of the historical evidence can be interpreted this way.

    The question is, what do you do with his successors that clearly did?

    If one is not okay with Joseph doing such, why would one be okay with 70 years of church leadership after him that did?

    This seems to lead to either a retrenched RLDS view or to the Waterman/Snufferite Movement.

  9. JA – so you deny that Joseph was sealed to any of those women?

    We can suggest that Joseph was simply being coy and being PR savvy with the, line, “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.”

    And it may be true that he was trying to parse his words a certain way to avoid being called a liar. But in some respects, I also have no problem believing that he was lying if necessary. If God wanted him to keep something secret, if it was none of anyone elses business, he didn’t have much choice.

    No response, would be taken for admitting what he pledged to keep hidden. A response that it’s none of your business would be the same. So he can confirm, what he pledged to God to keep hidden or he can lie.

    Sorry to put it so bluntly, but I believe he lied. In matters of familial relations, that are no one elses business, and where yours (and the participants!) lives are on the line, refusing to tell the truth to people who would abuse you if you did so is appropriate. Consider Abraham.

    Anyway, to suggest we agree with Joseph, but disagree with Brigham, Wilford, Taylor, etc. doesn’t seem to be a good trade-off.

    I think the more simple reason that we ourselves can apply is that — we are not obligated to tell the truth about topics that is not any of someone else’s business to dishonest (and potentially violent) people who will abuse not only us but others close to us if we do so.

    I find many of these reasons unsatisfying. The incident in the barn was simply Alger having an argument. Other incidents of confirmed spending the night together (as husband and wife!) are rejected because no one witnessed the sex act.

    Everything points in the direction of some sexual relations happening, and other sexual relations not happening. But the fact remains that it is absolutely none of our business*. So maybe we ought to just say that instead of being so quick to judge others. It’s between them and God.

    *I think the reason why so many still want to judge is because for many this is used as a proxy battle for the church being true in general. And of course, sex sells, even to Mormons.

  10. For the record, I have no problem with those who did engender children with plural wives after Joseph’s death. It’s just that I’m rather chuffed at all the folks who are so adamant that Joseph necessarily consummated his marriages when the reproductive evidence does not support it, Emma’s testimony doesn’t support it, and the ladies who would know if they’d had intimate relations with Joseph so rarely testified to that effect, and testified thusly obliquely.

    The evidence persuades me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joseph taught the doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant. However the reproductive evidence persuades me similarly that he rarely, if ever, consummated those relationships he entered into with plural wives.

    As for those who followed Joseph, I will say that I suspect the numbers of plural wives they took on might have been fewer had Joseph actually behaved as a bona fide polygamist and had to deal with the realities of being a full and public husband to more than one wife. Because no matter what you think Joseph did behind closed doors, he did not acknowledge his wives publicly at any time during his lifetime.

    It was left to Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and others to create a culture that celebrated the right of a woman to be protected by a man, even if that at times meant that the man had more than one wife.

    To reiterate for those who are joining this conversation for the first time, I don’t have an idealogical point of view on this. I have an evidentiary perspective. What happened happened. But to claim that Joseph did things without supporting facts or motives is not appropriate.

  11. Meg, it was helpful for you to go through the list of marriages Brian Hales claims were consummated. So you actually believe Joseph spent the night in the same room with some of these women, even maybe the same bed, but didn’t have sex with them.

    You say: “I sleep with people in the same bed all the time without sex occurring.” Yes, but when its a first time? When it is once in a blue moon? Cohabiting couples don’t have sex every night, but couples who don’t cohabit but who occasionally share the same room DO have sex. I’m sure a study could be done to validate that claim.

    “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.”

    I would like to hear from a lawyer whether this is correct. I’m sure it happens all the time in divorce cases were evidence of adultery is being gathered. When multiple witnesses see someone go to spend the night in the same room with other women, does this constitute evidence of adultery in a court of law? Or is physical evidence required? Do they need semen, a broken hymen as you suggest, a baby? Unless the couple is exhibitionist, there will never be any witnesses to the actual act. But I think that in the real world, if witnesses say they saw someone going into the room and spending the night with another woman, that that is used as evidence of adultery, which means “sex.”

    As far as the evidence of no evidence, I was just reading in the Dailymail that it takes an average couple 104 times of having sex to conceive. I’m sure that number might have been a bit lower in Joseph Smith’s day, but there really is no mystery to the fact that no children were born, even if Joseph slept with them. Joseph could have been having sex infrequently with several of his wives and the chance of conceiving would still be less than 50%. That it was infrequent is obvious given the secretive nature of the practice and the busy nature of Joseph’s life. But infrequent doesn’t mean never.

    To claim “never” seems to me, in the face of the evidence, a very odd and implausible conspiracy. The word you should be trying to use is “rarely.”

  12. Thanks, Meg.

    My views have always been similar to yours. Sometimes people believe something for some other reason — and for some Latter-day Saints, it is so very important for other reasons to believe that Joseph was sexually active with all of the women to whom he was sealed. So their belief in such activity is wholly unconnected with any history. Note that I mentioned “women to whom he was sealed” — I didn’t say women to whom he was married — I am not convinced that Joseph saw these sealings as marriages, where sealing = eternal and marriage = temporal.

  13. ji, and that is where he was telling the truth. None of them were his legal wives. Sure, he was sealed to them and anyone can call them “married” all they want. For Joseph Smith a sealing was very different from a marriage because it was private, more expansive (family and not couple centered), and provisional until the next life.

    It wasn’t until the BY era that it became seen as sexual rather than dynastic; although unavoidable considering the puerile way its treated even today by the membership. Considering Meg’s fine articles, his statements that he didn’t teach or practice “spiritual wifery” is also true considering him and the Strikers saw things completely differently. Polygamous sealings and spiritual wifery are simply not the same things; starting with one is formal and the other abstract. Interesting enough, I started understanding this when I read “Women, Family, and Utopia” by Lawrence Foster who seemed to understand the doctrinal and spiritual meaning more than Mormons, although I could be giving him too much credit since its been years when I last read the book.

  14. Hi Nate,

    There is a pattern to Joseph’s activities and Emma’s statements that indicate:

    1) He personally struggled with the idea that plural marriage was OK. If he was eager to create a culture where he could have sex with anyone who caught his fancy, Cochran and others had set a precedent. He could have simply declared the spiritual wifery of Cochran and the complex marriage of the Oneida community to have been apostate corruptions of God’s truth. Instead he never even wrote the revelation down in a manner that his own sons could unambiguously know that he’d taught plural marriage.

    2) Emma repeatedly documented her conviction that plural wives should not have sexual relations with their husbands. The most pointed case, in my view, is her statement to George A. Smith’s plural wife.

    3) Joseph believed that if he did engage in sexual relations, Emma would pitch on him and obtain a divorce.

    4) Joseph is known to have said that he would go to hell to fetch Emma to his side, if it were necessary. [Brigham’s comeback, allegedly, was that this was exactly where Joseph would have to go to save that woman.]

    5) Though it is true that in modern times, healthy couples engaging in regular, unprotected sex may only expect a 20% likelihood of conceiving in the first month, I suggest we look to whether or not Joseph was virile (he was, he got children on Emma with a regularity typical of his era) and whether or not the women with whom he allegedly had sex were fertile (many conceived within a year of his death, even within a couple of months of entering into a marriage with a levirate husband, who was similarly levirate husband to many others and having to conduct conjugal visits in secrecy).

    I am asserting that Joseph, in defiance of commandment, was risking his salvation for the love of his wife. Because he knew he’d lose any hope of salvation if he refused to teach the doctrine, he didn’t refuse to teach the doctrine. And lest any who wished to deny the doctrine use his example to hold fast to monogamy as the only “true” form of marriage, I suggest that Joseph and his wives together combined to present a unified front conveying the impression of conjugal activity, despite the absence of engendered children.

    The only two individuals in this pact to break ranks were Sarah Lawrence and Emma Smith. And both Sarah and Emma waited decades before they stated that Joseph had not been the fully-sexual polygamist his followers believed him to be.

  15. As to the question of whether opportunity to engage in sex necessarily equals having sex, I have two examples.

    In the first, I was a missionary in Italy. I had to travel via Rome to Sardinia. My future zone leader similarly was traveling via Rome to Sardinia. He had purchased the tickets for the boat. But he made a mistake, and bought two tickets for beds in cabins without realizing that it was a two person cabin.

    I suppose I could have pitched a fuss and refused to spend the night in the same cabin with him (one room, two beds, but clearly anyone seeing us enter the cabin together could have presumed we might spend a few minutes canoodling in one of the beds). However I knew there was this Italian man on the boat who had made clear his intentions of engaging in prolonged and enjoyable sex with me, having spent more than a few minutes caressing me (hugs, kisses, stroking my arms) over my objections until he appears to have taken seriously my threat of the two big missionaries would would soon arrive and make him stop. So at the time I figured having a big, blond, 6 foot tall mortal angel between me and the randy Italian was a good thing.

    That will likely remain one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life, from the perspective of social embarrassment. Our mission president wasn’t pleased when he learned of what had happened (male missionary and female missionary together alone in a sleeping cabin overnight, witnessed by dozens or even hundreds of other passengers).

    As to times when I spent extended periods of time alone with individuals I was in love with, I never had procreative sex with them until such time as I was legally married to them. So, no, Dwin Craig, the tales you told my estranged husband and my bishop and all the male members of the single ward of our frequent and in-depth illicit conjugal encounters were not true (which my bishop knew because I had this habit of confessing the inappropriate things I was doing).

    If Joseph and his plural wives had been rabbits instead of humans, I would have to concede the point of likely sex when opportunity permitted. However Joseph was not a rabbit, and neither are the rest of us, notwithstanding attempts on the part of Satan and the media (and randy Italians, etc.) to convince us otherwise.

    I should perhaps also mention the times I have traveled on foreign military ships, where my bunk was in an open sonar compartment where all had access. That the sailors on the ship were red-blooded males could be inferred from the amazingly voluptuous screensavers on their computers, and their conversation (which included words I wasn’t even familiar with, and I have a pretty extensive sexual vocabulary). Yet the fact that over several days any number of them could have slipped in, shut the door, and had their drunken way with me doesn’t mean it did happen. Again, we are not rabbits. Opportunity to engage in sex does not equate to fact of having sex.

  16. Sister Meg,
    thanks for arguing your point of view so eloquently and so well.

    I am inclined to believe that Joseph did consummate at least some of the marriages, because to a great degree, sex is marriage, so the idea of absolutely sexless plural marriage really doesn’t make sense to me. We also have the evidence that B. Young and the crew certainly didn’t understand polygamous marriage to be sexless. That’s weak evidence, but its still evidence. The leading examples of polygamy in the Bible, Abraham and Jacob, were polygamous specifically for the purpose of having children. The one reference to polygamy in Jacob 2 also says that polygamy is justified for the purposes of having children. And [SPOILERS] having children means sex. So there’s that.

    And then there’s my real reason, which is that it diminishes the virility of a man if it turns out he absolutely didn’t have sex with a woman he was married to, when sleeping in the same room with her, in the absence of strong countervailing reasons. There are strong countervailing reasons with some of Joseph’s plural wives, but not all. Although it also diminishes his virility if he did have sex with his wives but didn’t have any children, which more or less appears to be the case. So I’m stuck.

    So, you know, yay for Brigham Young.

  17. ‘We’ll find out after the Resurrection’ is a phrase sometimes used by certain members of my family to end arguments about issues where there are few certainties. I would not be shocked to find that Joseph consummated some of his polygamous unions. To me the major issue is whether or not Joseph repeatedly deceived Emma. I prefer Meg’s view because it supports the idea that Emma knew what was happening but she would not support physical consummation of the various unions. If we examine Joseph’s actions when he instructed other leaders of the Church about polygamy we see a pattern of informing wives instead of encouraging secrecy between marital partners.
    I feel that most who address the practice of polygamy fail to recognize their cultural bias. The dominant western culture has inherited Greco-Roman mores about marriage which dictate monogamy. Ironically the Christian religion is based on semitic culture in which Abraham and Joseph are considered model leaders with no condemnation of their polygamy.

  18. Meg,
    In the section on Emily Partridge, you state:
    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.

    According to Brian Hales’ website, there were two separate questions put to Emily Partridge in the Temple Lot deposition. I personally have not read the transcript, so if you have reason to doubt the veracity of what is stated below, let me know. Here is the first question:
    Q. Well had you slept with him?
    A. Yes sir.

    Later on, she was asked separately:
    Q. Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?
    A. Yes sir.

    In other answers, she seems to distinguish between sleeping with Joseph and having sex with him, as makes perfect sense. (Today’s language is a mess.) But it appears that she states under oath that she had “carnal intercourse” with him. If we are going to reject second hand statements, we have to set aside Emma’s statement. Her negative statement is necessarily second hand. Only a positive statement could have been based on first hand knowledge.

    I dislike the idea of polygamy intensely. My family had bad experiences with it, and I do not see any benefits from the practice. However, I think we have to be realistic about what Joseph did and taught.

  19. I fully accept that not every woman sealed to Joseph was involved with him sexually. But I, along with others on this thread it seems, finds the claim that he was not sexually involved with any of the women sealed to him to be special pleading. Insemination, conception, pregnancy, miscarriage, birth are signs of sex, no argument there. But sexual intimacy is also a whole range of emotions and activities that do not approach even the first of this list.

    Meg, to gain all of these wives’ confidences, don’t you imagine that there was some courting, some flirting, perhaps a little hand-holding or kissing at least? Even that, at least in my book, counts for levels of intimacy that, at least slightly, transgress the boundaries of intimacy that I keep only with my spouse.

    Really, I think you are asking too much of Joseph, his wives, and our own intellects and morals to accept your claims.

  20. Meg, I’m curious whether or not you believe God wanted Joseph Smith to consummate his marriages? You believe that God commanded Joseph Smith to practice polygamy. But “practice” in name only? Was Brigham disobeying by going all the way, and Joseph obeying by holding back, or was it the other way around.

    Because you acknowledge that Joseph spent the night with some of his brides, he must have at least had the idea that consummation was important, or at least OK. Otherwise, spending the night with someone you weren’t supposed to be with would have been crossing an adulterous line. So was Joseph playing with fire or was it his duty to be there? If he was supposed to be there, why couldn’t he go through with it?

    If it was because he was too hung up on being monogamous with Emma that sounds a bit like a romance novel, and I see no reason to think that Joseph wasn’t strong enough to do what the Lord expected, even given his love for Emma. We know Joseph loved Emma, and to the modern 21st century romantic, that means he must have been monogamous. But love does not equal monogamy. A polygamous man can love his wives with a real, enduring love.

  21. Nate said,
    “I would like to hear from a lawyer whether this is correct. I’m sure it happens all the time in divorce cases were evidence of adultery is being gathered. When multiple witnesses see someone go to spend the night in the same room with other women, does this constitute evidence of adultery in a court of law? Or is physical evidence required? Do they need semen, a broken hymen as you suggest, a baby? Unless the couple is exhibitionist, there will never be any witnesses to the actual act. But I think that in the real world, if witnesses say they saw someone going into the room and spending the night with another woman, that that is used as evidence of adultery, which means “sex.””

    I am a practicing attorney. Vetting evidence is tough work. Most if not all evidence requires corroboration to establish fact. The law actually separates evidence from fact. Evidence is used in court to establish whether some assertion is indeed factual.

    What I like about Meg’s approach is that she doesn’t give historians a free pass. I hear it all the time. We’re historians not lawyers. And then they proceed to draw conclusions we would never be allowed to in a court of law. I had a nice career as a business analyst for thirteen years before four years of underemployment, four years of law school, and now six years of law practice. My eyes were opened wider in law school than any place else. Everyone should be required to take an Evidence class, especially historians since we learn the rules of evidence by studying cases from legal history which resulted in their formation and modification.

    Certainly much of the evidence is testimony of circumstances and would require corroboration. Part of the problem is that the arguments for the prosecution want to paint Joseph as both extraordinary when it suits them to explain how he could hold such sway, and just like all the rest of us when it suits them.

    I once caricaturized in another post on polygamy some of the writers as lynch mob (Brodie), noble prosecutor (Compton) most noble prosecutor (Nielsen), malicious prosecutors(Enigma writers), and attorney for the defense Meg Stout.
    Attorneys for the defense are all about proposing plausible alternatives to induce reasonable doubt.

    In the spirit of doubting our doubts before our faith. Bully for you Meg.

  22. Nice work up, Meg. I believe that Joseph did have sex with some of his plural wives. That said, having sex with half a dozen out of perhaps 55 wives, is not many at all.

  23. I’ve enjoyed this series, Meg. As I said a few months back, the QA guy in me likes the approach you’ve taken to look for and at models that better answer the data, using firsthand accounts as much as possible. It’s a serious study that deserves consideration, and you’ve said that you welcome others to put your data and conclusions to the test.

  24. I was one who read every word of the Faithful Joseph series (and all the comments!) after reading the interviews in Meridian. Thanks so much for your clear-eyed research and willingness to share what you’ve learned. I have read extensively in early LDS history and am inclined to agree with your analysis. I think that it’s interesting that those who are so sure that sex had to be involved are male (Nate especially seems stuck on the idea). Women are generally not interested in sex unless they are in love. We have no way of knowing whether any of these women were actually in that kind of love with Joseph. Besides that, we are talking about the 1840s–when for a woman, having sex meant literally laying your life on the line. My husband’s grandfather’s first wife died in childbirth 10 months after they were married and that was in the 1920s! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if most of Joseph’s plural wives were perfectly happy to be sealed to him without a physical relationship.

  25. My understanding of this discussionso far is that the answer you get depends on the assumptions bring.

    If the assumption is to believe Joseph Smith’s statements (denials of sex with plural wives), then you get the answer that he did not have sex with the plural wives, and this has the (very clear and strong) evidence of no proveable children.

    If the assumption is that the later Mormon practice of plural marriage is to be regarded as the norm for Joseph (or, indeed, if modern ideas of what is natural and plaausible sexual behaviour for ‘most people’ is applied) then there is corroboration from various witness statements that Joseph did have sex with some plural wives.

    For me, as I currently understand the issues, that Joseph had no sex in plural marriage argument seems the strongest, most parsimonious, and has the greatest overall coherence. It seems to fit with what I infer was the religious purpose of the *network* of polygamous and polyandrous celestial marriages that was being built-up at the time, focused on the Prophet.

  26. Hi Oudenos,

    If you read the accounts of the wives, there was not hand holding and flirting and kissing. Time and again, Joseph simply asked to talk with them. Many refused him at this point, with the daughter of Vinson Knight allegedly fleeing the house to avoid the very conversation.

    This held true for most polygamous marriages throughout the mainstream Mormon practice of polygamy. Single guys could court and bring flowers and spend hours on the porch being social and gallant. Men who already had a wife were pretty much prohibited from using suasion. They had to go in, ask the woman if she were willing, and if she wasn’t willing, that was it. And recall that most Mormon men followed the rules, which meant consulting with their first and other prior wives before requesting that a new woman join the family.

    Peter On asks about Eliza. You clearly haven’t read my A Faithful Joseph series. The post you’d want to read is Eliza and the Stairs followed by Making it up Versus the Scientific Method and Manuscript of Eliza’s Journal.

    The punchline is that there is evidence that could be interpreted as indicating that Eliza was pregnant, but lost the pregnancy in November 1842 from falling down a set of stairs (the Red Brick Store seems most likely, since both the Smith homestead and the Mansion House are impossible for the tales told). There is no reason to be certain that Emma pushed her down the stairs. In fact, the delivery of Eliza’s premature child seems highly likely as the instance when George A. Smith came across Joseph washing his hands, telling George A. that he’d been assisting Emma deliver a child born to one of his plural wives.

    Further, Eliza writes several poems in November, and in one she talks about a lying wretch who took innocence side by side and face to face, feeding himself on the blood of innocence. This is followed by a poem where Eliza talks about conscious innocence, taking hold on Christ’s atonement even though reputation be blasted in the eyes of the world. John C. Bennett is the most likely candidate for being that lying wretch, though I suppose there are several other men who might have seduced Eliza.

    So for those who are reading this list of refutations without the context of the rest of the series, where I talk about the consistent and coherent data describing a series of seductions conducted by a wide range of men (data overlooked by all except those who were involved in 1840s, as far as I can tell), it may seem that I am just being obtuse for the fun of it. But in the context of the pattern of seductions, the possibility becomes higher that Joseph remained entirely faithful to Emma from a reproductive standpoint and similarly kept Emma at least informed, if not consulted, regarding his plural marriage activities.

    Some of the scholars and researchers who have written about Joseph and his associates are very upset because they perceive that I am dragging the good name of honored saints through the mud for self-aggrandizement, in pursuit of generating buzz for my planned historical fiction novels. This is why you will see them dismiss my assertions as fiction, because when I first corresponded with Brian Hales I was planning to write this as historical fiction, and my author blurb still talks about that. And I do still want to write what I think could have happened as a novel, because only novels put you in the heart and minds of the protagonists (in my current plan, this would include Elvira Annie Cowles, John C. Bennett, Eliza R. Snow, Jonathan Harriman Holmes, and possibly Francis Higbee (to provide a POV that can show us the conspiracy as well as the mind controlling the rifle that killed Hyrum and Joseph).

    However it is not fiction that Eliza wrote those poems. Nor is it fiction that she modified her poem “Conjugal,” with the original strongly suggesting that Jonathan Harriman Holmes was to have been her public husband, before the baby miscarried. It is not fiction that William Clayton wrote about the assertion he had from Joseph that three men had gone astray: R[obert] Thompson (brother-in-law to Hyrum Smith), Brother Knight (likely Vinson Knight, Bishop of Nauvoo, rather than Newel Knight, who lived until 1847), and B Y. It seems Joseph felt that Thompson and Knight had died because of their sins. We know Robert Thompson and Vinson Knight died in the fall of 1841 and summer of 1842, respectively. From the Clayton journal entry, it appears B Y repented. Which satisfies an itch I had about Brigham’s first plural wife, Lucy Ann Decker [Seeley]. Unlike other 1842 plural wives who were pregnant and might have been provided pretend husbands to care for them (e.g., Mary Clift, Sarah Peake Noon), there was no indication that Lucy Ann Decker was pregnant. Hence I wasn’t sure why Brigham had been asked to marry her, aside from the possibility that she was pregnant but had an unrecorded miscarriage or the possibility that she was unusually traumatized by her involvement in spiritual wifery.

    However now that I’ve read the full Clayton journal entry, I’m going to have a double load of people pissed with my framework, if I come to think B Y was Brigham Young and the one Joseph said “had transgressed his covenant and [Joseph] pled with the Lord to spare him this end and he did so, otherwise he would have died. B denied having transgressed.”

    Once Joseph was dead, it appears to have been Brigham who convinces Heber C. Kimball and others that it would be wrong for plural wives to remain celibate (as motherhood is one of the glories of womanhood, and certain activities necessarily precede motherhood), elevating the reproductive purpose of plural marriage to the fore, a purpose Jacob 2 and D&C 132 had already documented as one purpose of plural marriage. Brigham then beds Lucy Ann Decker (her first child by Brigham was born June 19, 1845, indicating the child was conceived the last week of September 1844, the month after the majority of Mormons accepted Brigham as leader of the Mormon faith now that Joseph was dead.

    I am not making this stuff up. I’m merely flummoxed that no one else has ever put these facts together.

    That said, I am interested in scholarly opinions on what William Clayton’s journal entry might have meant.

  27. Nothing encapsulates our sex-obsessed culture in the 21st century more than the fact that we are spending hours delving into Joseph Smith’s sex life.

  28. Meg, thanks for telling your missionary/guardian angel story! 🙂 ROTFLOL! 🙂

    I find it fascinating that polygamy became the “defining thing” for the LDS Church and people once Brigham Young becomes the leader of the Church. Prior to that the Restoration was the “defining thing” – much like it is now I think. “We” switched from secrecy and lots of misunderstanding to an “in-your-face and this is required approach” – I find your recent comment about the possible motives of Brigham Young (and others) fascinating.

    I think Joseph’s statements were very carefully parsed. Since he (likely) considered women he was sealed to as his spouses he by definition could not commit adultery with them. Every time I read his answer to the charge of adultery/polygamy I keep seeing him switching the terms polygamy and adultery rather strategically (e.g., what is the meaning of the word “is”). He never mentions the revelation he had received allowing a man to be sealed to more than one women, he never mentions that he indeed *actual was* sealed to more than one women at the time he made the famous statement, he “merely” denies the charge of *adultery*, and asks who these “wives” are – meaning “show me a marriage certificate” – knowing no such thing existed. He equates the charge of adultery with the “spiritual wifery” that occurred, and condemns its practice. Again consistent with a world view that what he was doing wasn’t equivalent (whether sex was involved or not). That was not equivalent to claiming that he wasn’t doing something – just that it wasn’t adultery.

    I’m willing to wait for the eternities to find out if Joseph Smith had sexual relations with more than one women, and – if he did not – whether he or subsequent Church leaders got the principle right, or if they both did, or if they both did not. I’m willing to wait simply because I’ve had personal experiences which convince me the *current* Church does have real authority, or recognition, in the eyes of God – and one can’t get the current Church without the Restoration (irregardless of whether or not parts of that Restoration may, or may not, have been bungled by the mortals involved). My testimony does not hinge on which particulars of polygamy or sealings the early Church leaders got right or wrong, it exists more in spite of what those folks might have got right or wrong.

    I find your (Meg’s) writings on this subject fascinating, I look forward to reading more of them.

  29. Another great entry into your writings upon this subject, Meg. It is clear that the likelihood of Joseph having consummated all or most of his marriage sealings is incredibly remote based on current evidence. All of the evidence of any sex is circumstantial. I wonder if there is a buried diary from one of the Partridge sisters or other polygamous wife in Navuoo somewhere? Unless some unexpected treasure like that or a positive genetic ID from Josephine Lyon comes up we will be left with the speculation on mostly second hand stories.
    I am still of the opinion that Joseph probably consummated some of the relationships with women whom Emma knew had been sealed to Joseph. Some of her contemporary actions make the most sense in that scenario. Given her later instability, that is a fragile basis for making a ironclad statement.

    I love your story from your mission. Not exactly the same as Joseph’s circumstance, but looking at your immediate situation, probably the better choice.

  30. “I’m willing to wait for the eternities to find out if Joseph Smith had sexual relations with more than one women, and – if he did not – whether he or subsequent Church leaders got the principle right, or if they both did, or if they both did not. I’m willing to wait simply because I’ve had personal experiences which convince me the *current* Church does have real authority, or recognition, in the eyes of God – and one can’t get the current Church without the Restoration (irregardless of whether or not parts of that Restoration may, or may not, have been bungled by the mortals involved). My testimony does not hinge on which particulars of polygamy or sealings the early Church leaders got right or wrong, it exists more in spite of what those folks might have got right or wrong.”

    JSH, this is an awesome way of looking at things. Thanks for this great point.

  31. geoff, you beat me to it. i also give an “amen” to that passage by JSH.

    If we look at the scriptures, theres bungling and bumbling all over, starting with Adam and Eve who raised a murderer. Moses broke the tablets God gave him, and exhibited nepotism when he didn’t slay Aaron for making the golden calf idol, like he slew thousands of those who worshipped the golden calf. The prophet Balaam of Beor sure screwed up, enough so that Moses had him slain. Aaron and Miriam messed up enough to get leprosy (at least temporarily) as a punishment. Prophet/King David screwed up. Solomon screwed up and didn’t leave a righteous heir, and brought many idol-worshipping women into Israel as wives/concubines. I wonder how much those foreign wives and their offspring by Solomon influenced Judah and Isreal to turn to idolatry. Peter denied the Lord three times, and later on couldn’t seem to get along with Saul/Paul. Peter and Paul sniped at each other in their epistles.

    Nephi couldn’t get along with his brothers. King Mosiah and the prohet Alma raised real hellions as sons.

    Ya know what precipitated JD’s “questioning”? According to his own writing, his problems with the church started on his mission, when missionaries bungled and bumbled through questionable practices, and even some phony baptisms, and a mission president who wasn’t able to sufficiently ride heard on over a hundred high-spirited young men (college freshmen and sophomores, essentiallpy) with no other real adults to help him supervise. All levels of management/supervision between him and the rank-and-file missionaries are other young missionaries!

    It’s amazing to me that the bumbling/bungling of about 150 18/19/20 year olds, led by ONE man, usually in his 50’s or 60’s, hasn’t destroyed the organization. Or, as the old addage goes, which I first heard over 30 years ago, “The church MUST be true, or the missionaries would have ruined it by now!” At first I thought it was a joke with a particle of truth. Now I believe it to be 100% true with a particle of humor.

    If Jospeh Smith and his inner circle were frauds, there is NO WAY the church could have survived and thrived like it did.

  32. I never thought Joseph Smith was perfect. But he was amazing. Knowing that he either lied to Emma, or failed to follow God’s commands without equivocation in regards to polygamy in no way diminishes my understanding that God used his otherwise willing spirit to restore an immense amount of knowledge that had been obscured by centuries of accretion of other philosophies and loss of prophetic authority. I am grateful for the Restoration and all that it includes, particularly priesthood authority and knowledge of my relationship to God and others through eons. I rejoice that there can be no confusion that only one perfect person ever lived. I feel love and gratitude for Joseph, but I adore and worship my Savior.

  33. On travel now, so can’t respond at length.

    To winnifred and Michael, effectively wondering why adults would spend time talking about this stuff, it is because it does matter to so many people. I would also argue that this isn’t talk about sex and libido, per se.

    The question is whether Joseph Smith, in restoring the doctrine regarding marriage, kept Emma in the dark. In organizations, there is what is known as RACI analysis. Who, for individual activities, is responsible, accountable, consulted, informed?

    In the common interpretation of the history, Emma was never responsible, accountable, or consulted, and Joseph did his best to keep her from being informed. Her various episodes of alleged anger and violence are presumed to be related to her becoming informed (Fanny Alger, Eliza Snow, Flora Woodworth, the Partridge girls). And yet man of the women later are making the point that Emma was informed and even consulted, the testimonies that Emma knew so and so was Joseph’s plural wife, that she therfore wasn’t uninformed and unconsulted.

    So I’m not looking at this from the standpoint of sex, but from the standpoint of whether we are correct to presume that Emma (or by extension, all women) can be appropriately ignored, abused, and told the sexual activity of a husband is none of her/their business.

    Under my construct, Emma was informed, consulted, and Joseph held himself so accoutable to Emma that he refrained from consummating his plural marriages and also taught his followers to refrain from consummating their plural marriages.

  34. “I would also argue that this isn’t talk about sex and libido, per se.”

    And the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, per se, it was about states’ rights.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it.

  35. Hi, your sister here. Finally finished the faithful Joseph stream. I really like the information about Carthage. The timeline structures and charts you start using toward the end are very helpful as I easily get lost. I also get confused about people who come in and out of periods of apostasy or support for Joseph. It’s amazing how rarely anyone was actually kicked out of the community. Maybe someday you can color code the text so newbies like me can figure out which things are commonly accepted and which are controversial without going to the notes all the time. It’s daunting to think what sacrifices will even yet be required of the Saints.

  36. Hi Michael Towns,

    I’m not sure that comparison is quite as similar as you think it is. Are you suggesting that Joseph did polygamy because he needed sex to satisfy his libido, or are you suggesting that I keep blogging about it becauseI’m too squeamish to imagine a bodaciously sexual Joseph who was a gift to all women (and whose puritanical wife was just too silly to “get it?”

  37. Hi Nancyb,

    Eliza said something similar, though she asked that I include a timeline and list of names. I was assembling this as written (with a few factual updates based on research after original posts) and am working on a dramatis personae and glossary. I forget how many, many people are involved.

    I’ll also put together a timeline. I could got mark a copy of the pdf, highlighting the text for the following breakdowns:

    Well-accepted history
    Plausible and minor modification to well-accepted history
    Well-documented history that isn’t part of the previous common knowledge base
    Reconstruction Meg has made because it appears to fit the data, that appears to be completely missing from recent scholarly works (e.g., Bushman, Compton, Avery & Newell, Hales).

  38. “Are you suggesting that Joseph did polygamy because he needed sex to satisfy his libido, or are you suggesting that I keep blogging about it becauseI’m too squeamish to imagine a bodaciously sexual Joseph who was a gift to all women?”

    Um, no and no.
    Are you suggesting these are the only two options? You seem to be riled up.

    And are you also suggesting that sex has nothing to do the issue of your desire to present a plausible theory that Joseph didn’t have sex with his plural wives? Because either way you crack the egg, we’re talking about Joseph either having sex or not having sex. So as I said before, we are, in fact, spending incredible amounts of time talking about Joseph’s sex life. I’m not prudish but I find the fact to be fascinating.

  39. Hi Michael,

    Would you prefer we avoid talking about Joseph’s sex life and leave unquestioned the presumption (unsupported by reproductive evidence *that should exist*) that he was a sexual opportunist who bedded the wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of his followers, including young teens and married grandmothersn and that he did this without consulting or informing his first wife, a woman he claimed to adore, a woman who his marriage theology elevated to the status of queen and goddess in a future heaven?

    Sorry for the impression of snark earlier. That was bleedover from an unrelated discussion about industrialization where someone else had cited that same “the Civil War easn’t about slavery – yeah, right” comeback.

  40. In all honesty, neither presumption really bothers me either way. But I take issue with your assertion that reproduction evidence “*should exist*”. I don’t find that argument persuasive at all. Why “should”?

    If Joseph consummated any of his marriages, those intimate moments were few and far between for how busy he was in the Nauvoo period. Couple that with all the miscarriages that took place, it’s really not surprising that we don’t have genetic proof of Joseph siring offspring aside from Emma. It hardly *guarantees* your thesis that Joseph didn’t have sex with anyone aside from Emma.

    The best you can do is to just say that we don’t know for sure. You have a theory, all and well to the good, that he didn’t. But it’s literally impossible to prove either way.

    But that leads me to another point that I think is vital. If a questing soul goes to God and employs James 1:5, and let’s say that soul gets a revelation from heaven that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and representative of God, then it really doesn’t matter that Joseph was poor at finances, had a temper, liked to wrestle with the boys, drank wine occasionally, or possibly had sex with plural wives. It doesn’t matter one bit. A revelation from God trumps our narrow definitions and concerns. I suppose I just don’t know why folks aren’t taking these matters to God and getting answers.

  41. Michael Towns,

    Exactly.

    P.S. -Anyone, name a perfect prophet. (And I do not consider Jesus as a prophet, although some religions do, but rather as the Son of God. Prophets testify of Him instead.) There isn’t one. And clearly, our cultural filter (being OF the world) impacts how we view God’s commands, his interactions with man through history, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

  42. Hi Michael,

    You refer to “all the miscarriages.” Aside from the fact that roughly 25% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion (i.e., miscarriage), I am unaware of any documented suggestion that any of Joseph’s wives suffered miscarriage, other than the oft-told story of Eliza Snow (which I think I have more than mere supposition to support was likely not a child engendered by Joseph).

    I agree that for one part of the target audience, asking them to go get an aswer for themselves (James 1:5) is germane. But for the 99 in 100, they need to know there is an alternative to the view that Joseph was a randy boy preaching religion with his genitals. Even for the 1 in 100, I think you’ll find that many of the women merely suffer the idea of a libidinous Joseph, rather than embracing it. I don’t believe I’ve seen a single woman in the course of this series who has aggressively defended Joseph’s right to lay plural wives. There may have been one or two who is so vested in the idea of a libido-driven Joseph that they can’t follow my logic regarding the possibility of an honorable Joseph, but that is driven more from a need to retain consistency and the wholeness of a worldview in which Joseph is evil.

    It is the men who are telling me it would be wrong for Joseph to withhold sex from these women with whom he is documented to have spent time alone behind closed doors. Mormon men tend to be relatively vested in the idea of a Joseph who had lots of sex and betrayed his wife in the having of that sex.

    This idea that a libidinous and deceitful Joseph should be the model that is defended, when the data does not support that model as the only (or even most likely) model is the reason I contend this is not just about sex. It is about the proper role of men and women in their relationships to one another.

    Again, as I mentioned throughout this piece, though I am not at all persuaded that Joseph necessarily had sex with his plural wives, I can imagine the possibility that sex with a few, where Emma was fully consulted, informed, and supportive, would be appropriate. I do find there are other explanations (e.g., fear of providing “proof” that conspirators could use to justify lethal threat to Joseph’s life) that account for the tales that have been interpreted to mean Emma was casting women out of Joseph’s life because she couldn’t bear the possibility they were intimate with him.

    I quite enjoyed Joel’s characterization that I am acting as defense counsel, casting doubt upon the presumed facts that lead so many to damn Joseph as a man and occurrence of sex in an age lacking reliable birth control or safe surgical abortion) I suggest that the few instances as the religion arising from such a damned man.

    I simply suggest that we needn’t merely “have faith” that Joseph was God’s instrument in bringing forth the doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant, and that we needn’t merely grit our teeth and hope to learn in some divine accounting whether the purity of our faith in eternal families was sullied by Joseph’s desire to get him some tail at every possible opportunity.

    To reiterate, I am entirely not persuaded that Joseph had sex with his plural wives. If he did (despite complete lack of reproductive data to confirm the occurrence of sex in an age lacking reliable birth control or safe surgical abortion) I suggest that the few instances involved women who became Joseph’s wives within the approved structure laid out in D&C 132. So this would separate such marriages from the relationships a sex-motivated deviant might have contracted.

    I don’t understand why you would be so critical of this and not be critical of the established view of a libidinous Joseph who had sex with Mary Heron and forced himself on Helen Mar Kimball. Feel free to explain.

  43. You assume that I’m not critical of the “established” view of a libidinous Joseph? Careful. I think you are making an assumption about me that isn’t warranted. If you ask around, I think you’ll find that my respect and esteem of the prophets of God extend beyond the limited and unimaginative Dan Vogels of Smith scholarship.

    I want to further nitpick on something you said: “I simply suggest that we needn’t merely “have faith” that Joseph was God’s instrument in bringing forth the doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant”. Of course. I wasn’t suggesting mere faith either, but actual knowledge via divine intelligence. Huge difference there.

    Also this: “Mormon men tend to be relatively vested in the idea of a Joseph who had lots of sex and betrayed his wife in the having of that sex.” — This is rather going too far. I think you’re characterizing us men unfairly, not to mention, being a bit sexist to boot. Personally, I’m not “vested” in the idea of a sexual Joseph or an asexual Joseph. On many levels, I don’t care because I still subscribe to a quaint view that it’s none of my business.

    But, since we’re here talking about Joseph’s penis, you seem to always frame this as “either Joseph abstained from sex with all except Emma, or he was a raving sexual psychopath who never passed an opportunity to tap some tail.”

    How can I convince you that the truth is likely far between those extremes? Or at least admit to the possibility? You paint a stark dichotomy that is itself a logical fallacy.

    I still appreciate what you’re bringing to the table; you and I both support and sustain a faithful Joseph it’s just that we do so in different ways.

  44. Meg, I like that characterization of you as Joseph’s defense counsel. It might be a good idea for readers to watch the Henry Fonda classic “12 Angry Men,” in which 11 men on a jury are 100 percent sure an innocent man is guilty because the evidence, at first glance, seems overwhelming. Henry Fonda keeps on raising points of defense until it is clear to all of the jury (and the people watching the movie) that the man was not guilty after all. Meg is like Henry Fonda at the beginning of the movie, simply raising some points to consider. The movie is still not over — it could be that Meg is wrong about some of her points, but it is right of her to raise them. In my opinion anyway.

  45. While discussing the topic with my second son he said that men and women naturally prefer a different version of Joseph’s behavior. He said most men would prefer a Joseph who deceived Emma in order to carry out his commitment to God whereas most women prefer a Joseph who yields to Emma’s preference. I think he may be right. It is possibly the reason God let the situation persist (he could have had an angel set Emma straight on the issue and relieved Joseph of his responsibility as given to Adam.) Instead He left the ambiguity that forces faithful saints of either gender to take their doubts and questions directly to the source of wisdom and comfort.
    To be honest, from some perspectives sex is legitimately the central issue between men and women, whether cheapened as it is in our modern culture, or at the far opposite, partaking of the divine privilege of creation. But in the study you are pursuing I think it is more accurate to say that obedience is the key issue. I am not quite comfortable with the term ‘faithful Joseph’ because in the scenario you depict Joseph has chosen to be more obedient to Emma than he is to God in the actual practice of polygamy which to be real, as most comprehend it, includes consummation. I if he made the choice to ‘wimp out’ and let Emma’s reluctance drive his behavior. I can see how this makes most men uncomfortable.

  46. Michael comments:

    “you seem to always frame this as ‘either Joseph abstained from sex with all except Emma, or he was a raving sexual psychopath who never passed an opportunity to tap some tail.'”

    You are clearly not reading what I have actually written:

    OP:

    “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). ”

    “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.”

    ” 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…”

    Meg Stout on January 20, 2015 at 9:54 am said:

    “though I am not at all persuaded that Joseph necessarily had sex with his plural wives, I can imagine the possibility that sex with a few, where Emma was fully consulted, informed, and supportive, would be appropriate.”

    Ergo, I do not completely reject the possibility that Joseph might have had sex with some of his plural wives, but I am pointing out that there should be reproductive evidence (one or more of the women ought to have conceived, as we had evidence they did almost as soon as the levirate husbands started engaging in conjugal relations, husbands who were arguably as busy and distracted as Joseph had ever been).

    Again, as I said, Joseph could not be convicted in a court of law of having beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt having had sexual relations with any of his plural wives.

    An analysis of my various posts will show conclusively that those objecting to this position, the ones asserting that Joseph had to have been having sex with at least some of his plural wives, that he in this matter resembled rabbit more than honorable man with commitment to a first wife, that all these voices (including yours) are male voices. None of those raising that particular species of objection are female. Some, like Pat Chiu, do opine that a monogamous Joseph ought not properly be considered “faithful,” but she is not saying that it would somehow be an unbelievable lack of virility that causes her to be sad at the idea of a Joseph who might have chosen an Adamic deference to spouse rather than Christ-like obedience to God’s command.

  47. “This idea that a libidinous and deceitful Joseph should be the model that is defended, when the data does not support that model as the only (or even most likely) model is the reason I contend this is not just about sex.”

    This is the straw man that I was referring to, Meg Stout. I’m quoting your assertion from up above. This is the quote that really irritated me.

    Of course, you have made all sorts of arguments in your series. But then you make statements like this one. And there are other occasions where you framed the argument, in these comments, that it has to be either licentious Joseph or astoundingly chaste Joseph. My apologies if I didn’t gather your sarcastic tone here, but if I made that mistake, no doubt many others did. Perhaps a bit more caution is warranted?

  48. “but she is not saying that it would somehow be an unbelievable lack of virility that causes her to be sad at the idea of a Joseph who might have chosen an Adamic deference to spouse ”

    You keep making these assertions that the reason why so many “male voices” have “issues” with your theory is that we somehow cannot believe that Joseph would refrain from having sexual relations with his wives. This snide comment about “an unbelievable lack of virility” really shows your particular animus towards those of us with “male voices”.

    I guess I’m a little tired of being pigeonholed or caricatured by your assertions. Some of us men have actually had experience in restraining our sexual urges, and I am rather astonished that you seem to think that we men cannot see past our sexual proclivities. It’s a rather sexist attitude to have, quite frankly. Pat Chiu’s comment, for instance, shows a willingness to give us “male voices” the benefit of the doubt in these intellectual grapplings. It would be nice if you did, too.

  49. Geoff, the irony in your statement is that at least a few pretty smart lawyers think that the kid in Twelve Angry Men was actually guilty. (See http://www.volokh.com/posts/1201922977.shtml)

    I frankly don’t know what I think about Meg’s thesis–Emily Partridge’s statement, at least, seems unambiguous; and I’m not prepared to accept that she was lying. But if Joseph understood the principle of polygamy as early as 1831 and believed the Church would at some point have to accept it, it would be curious for him after the nightmare of Missouri to move the Church eastward back towards civilization. One would think he’d try to get the Church as far away from civilization as possible.

    I wonder whether the eastward move didn’t reflect a belief/hope on Smith’s part that plural marriage could be instituted without creating outrage amongst the Church’s neighbors–perhaps by keeping such relationships platonic. Joseph’s turning his gaze westward in the last months of his life, then, could indicate his dawning realization that the Lord actually expected polygamous marriages to be “marriages” in every sense of the word.

  50. The virility comment came from Adam G. on January 16, 2015 at 9:37 am:

    ” then there’s my real reason, which is that it diminishes the virility of a man if it turns out he absolutely didn’t have sex with a woman he was married to, when sleeping in the same room with her, in the absence of strong countervailing reasons. There are strong countervailing reasons with some of Joseph’s plural wives, but not all. Although it also diminishes his virility if he did have sex with his wives but didn’t have any children, which more or less appears to be the case.”

    Nate is the one who said on January 16, 2015 at 2:58:

    “So you actually believe Joseph spent the night in the same room with some of these women, even maybe the same bed, but didn’t have sex with them.

    “To claim “never” seems to me, in the face of the evidence, a very odd and implausible conspiracy. The word you should be trying to use is ‘rarely.'”

    The rabbit discussion occurred in response to Nate’s comment, with Geoff B. opining on January 16, 2015 at 9:27 am:

    “Very nice answer Meg. Nate does think human beings are rabbits, unfortunately.”

    In this thread, you, Daniel, and Thad initially indicated you weren’t fully convinced, for reasons the three of you failed to specify. Bruce Nielsen has echoed that elsewhere, though not in response to this thread. Oudenos wrote on January 16, 2015 at 10:40 am: “Really, I think you are asking too much of Joseph, his wives, and our own intellects and morals to accept your claims.” Peter On had a question about Eliza and the Staircase, but he hadn’t read all the series, so it’s no wonder he didn’t push the believe button.

    Recall that this post was originally in response to Brian C. Hales’ assertion that “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.” [emphasis added]

    If you analyze the responses to the polygamy articles over at Meridian, it is also clear that those expressing severe anxiety over the idea of a libidinous Joseph are all female. They vary in their rejection of a polygamous Joseph, but at least one stated that any plural marriage, even if not consummated, meant that the Mormon God hates women.

    In reading my writing, you are clearly imparting a voice to my writings in your head. I am almost certain that this voice is not correct. Thus I believe you are reacting to someone other than the person I happen to be. Since I don’t know who that person is, I can’t really mitigate the lack of understanding that seems to be persisting.

  51. Hi JimD,

    I’m just pointing out that by the 1890s, Emily Partridge had motive to lie, or at least to exaggerate the truth.

    Hence my focus on the reproductive evidence. Emily had 15 months living either in the same home or same town as Joseph. She never conceives.

    Apparently in November 1844 Brigham Young becomes Emily’s levirate husband. Emily gives birth to Edward Partridge Young on October 30, 1845 (Edward would pass away just after his 7th birthday).

    Eliza Partridge similarly became pregnant within a year of becoming Amasa Lyman’s wife, giving birth to her son, Don Carlos Lyman, in July 1846. Little Don Carlos, like Emma’s son Don Carlos, died as an infant and was buried at Winter Quarters in December 1846. The date when Amasa Lyman became Eliza’s husband is not entirely certain. He stood proxy when she was sealed to Joseph Smith, on 13 January 1846. However by that accounting, her son Don Carlos would have been quite premature, and her pregnancy would have occurred almost immediately after marriage.

    As we’ve discussed, Lucy become pregnant almost immediately after marrying Heber Chase Kimball, giving birth less than a year after her marriage to Kimball (assuming the age on the Winter Quarters record is correct).

    Melissa Lott bears her first child less than a year after marrying Ira Jones Willes in 1849, months after he arrived in Salt Lake after his stint with the Mormon Battalion (where he’d served in a company with Jonathan H. Holmes).

    Maria Lawrence died in Nauvoo in 1847. It is not clear whether or not she gave birth prior to her death. We apparently don’t know what month in 1847 she died.

    Almera Johnson conceived a child by Reubin Bartin soon after their marriage in November 1845, and her child was born in July 1846, less than nine months after the marriage to Bartin (but clearly far too late for Joseph to have possibly been the father).

    As I’ve mentioned, Louisa Beaman was Joseph’s plural wive for years before his death, yet never conceived. But she went on to have five children in five years with Brigham Young, supposedly giving birth to her first child in Nauvoo in January 1847, though January 1846 is more likely (as she would not still be in Nauvoo after the Battle of Nauvoo in September 1846). At any rate, she had no problem conceiving.

    This is what I mean by the reproductive evidence. These women were fertile. Joseph was virile. They should not have all remained childless for the many months and even years if conjugal intimacy was occurring. The men who engendered their children were almost all polygamists who were busy and spreading their “attentions” between many women. So any excuse for why Joseph didn’t engender children with these women would have also been true of the levirate husbands of these women.

  52. “In reading my writing, you are clearly imparting a voice to my writings in your head. I am almost certain that this voice is not correct. Thus I believe you are reacting to someone other than the person I happen to be. Since I don’t know who that person is, I can’t really mitigate the lack of understanding that seems to be persisting.”

    Meg, the burden and responsibility is on you, as author, to write and express yourself clearly enough that you are not misunderstood.

  53. Dear Michael,

    I have demonstrated that I had objective rationales for stating the things that I did. I have demonstrated that I have, in fact, admitted the possibility that Joseph engaged in conjugal relations, though I still remain unconvinced due to the lack of reproductive evidence that should exist, given how fertile the women were when married to levirate husbands and the fact that Joseph was virile enough to continually produce children with Emma. I have documented how the men responding to this post have objected to the idea that Joseph could have been alone with the women and not done what the males reporting the encounters presumed. I have similarly compared Emily’s statement in the 1890s when given a motive to stretch the truth versus her lack of pregnancy during over a year as Joseph’s wife.

    At a certain point, I have done enough to get my point across, and the burden for lack of understanding fails to reside at my doorstep.

    I think we used to be good until that exchange many posts ago when I criticized Bushman’s lack of transparency in relating William Law’s testimony. I don’t think you’ve gotten over that.

    Getting back to the other point I was attempting to make, I like these statements that capture better than I apparently am able the challenge I see when comparing how men view Joseph and polygamy versus how women view Joseph and polygamy:

    “Despite claims to the contrary, masculinist epistemologies are built upon values that promote masculinist needs and desires, making all others invisible” (Kaschak 1992, 11). Women are often invisible… This invisibility can act as a form of oppression.

    “Where sexism is prevalent, one of the gender dynamics frequently found is that something declared genderless or gender neutral is, in fact, male oriented. The same phenomenon occurs in terms of race in a racist society, where the term “race neutral” generally means white (Kivel 1992). The stark realities of race and gender disparity touch the lives of all women”

    The controversy regarding Joseph’s polygamy is experienced very differently by men and women, though both genders may find it objectionable. As most treatments of Joseph’s polygamy have been written by men, it is interesting to see how the women (even, oddly, in Compton’s work, which ostensibly focused on the women) become entities to be acted upon, objects of Joseph’s desires.

    The modern women who have written about Joseph’s polygamy (Fawn Brodie, Dr. Avery and Linda Newell) have been utterly offended on behalf of the women, finding Joseph to be a horrible individual by virtue of his interactions (as they understood them) with these plural wives.

    I, alone, am looking at Joseph’s polygamy through the lens of womanhood and reproductive data. While the men (so far) are the ones focusing on Emily’s verbal testimony, I am looking at the testimony of her flesh. I am also considering how the widespread teachings regarding spiritual wifery/illicit intercourse affected the women, and how this teaching had to be eradicated.

    So please don’t continue to tell me that, as a woman, I have failed to be sufficiently clear. I have not failed to be clear. But if you are refusing to consider that there is a gender-differentiated aspect to this discussion, I can’t fix your inability to see what is plain to me.

  54. “So please don’t continue to tell me that, as a woman, I have failed to be sufficiently clear.”

    I didn’t say that you, *as a woman*, have failed to be clear. I simply said that you failed to be clear *as an author*. You are the one playing the gender card. That’s one of the things I find intellectually disappointing about our conversation here.

    ““Despite claims to the contrary, masculinist epistemologies are built upon values that promote masculinist needs and desires, making all others invisible” (Kaschak 1992, 11). Women are often invisible… This invisibility can act as a form of oppression.”
    ““Where sexism is prevalent, one of the gender dynamics frequently found is that something declared genderless or gender neutral is, in fact, male oriented. The same phenomenon occurs in terms of race in a racist society, where the term “race neutral” generally means white (Kivel 1992). The stark realities of race and gender disparity touch the lives of all women””

    Quoting feminist claptrap and gender-bender school of resentment boilerplate is *absolutely* the quickest way to totally lose any credibility you previously had with me personally.

  55. I haven’t seen you actually articulate an argument. You have merely criticized my arguments without providing your rationale for “not buying it.”

  56. Meg,

    I wrote out a rationale, but backspaced it out. If you really want to know, feel free to contact me personally. If you don’t care, then no worries.

  57. Hey some of us men are OK with a faithful Joseph. Really.

    (And btw I think Michael Towns is too. Meg, I think you are misunderstanding his arguments and that if you two were to meet face to face you would agree more than disagree).

  58. We’ve taken it offline. I do believe that the “Meg Stout” he was arguing with isn’t the “Meg Stout” I am.

    To reiterate again, as I have in the past for Nate, I am not an apologist. I would not mind in the least if there were evidence that Joseph was sexually involved with select women among his dozens of plural wives.

    However the data that is being proffered doesn’t persuade me. If any are going to attack my conclusions as being historical fiction and poor scholarship, it needs to go beyond “you are promulgating historical fiction and being a poor scholar because I say so.” We have to go to the credibility of the individual facts.

    I believe Michael had taken some of the data points from the online conversation and convinced himself that I am motivated by a feminist agenda, which is why our conversation exploded in such entertaining ways.

  59. Well, to be more precise, one of my concerns wasn’t that you were advancing a feminist theory per se, but that you were letting angry feminists, who bemoan Joseph Smith’s history as patriarchal abuse (“If God told Joseph to do polygamy, the God hates women”), drive the contours of your research and motivations. I think you would admit that there is a bit of difference there.

  60. I had postulated that Joseph didn’t consummate his marriages no later than May 2010, when I wrote a blog post at my personal website titled Mormon Enigma (ex ante). I know I wrote an elaborate retelling of the Pride and Prejudice story where Darcy is evil and Wickham is good, to explain how completely contrary to my worldview/framework I found Mormon Enigma to be.

    I critiqued Brian C. Hales’ list of 12 plural wives he believes had sex with Joseph Smith in an August 2013 blog post with the non-concise title The Faithful Joseph – plausible explanations for reports painting Joseph as a practicing polygamist.

    In none of this development was I interacting with angry feminists or actually anyone outside my pure brain and all the facts I could get my hands on.

    So while I acknowledge that I think Mormon women might benefit from my framework of a “faithful” Joseph (at the very least, it lets us study the important women of this time frame without vomiting), I absolutely reject a characterization that I let anyone drive the contours of my research.

    The only person recently to “drive the contours of my research” was Brian C. Hales, who tried strenuously to get me to avoid portraying Eliza as pregnant in Nauvoo circa March 1843. I had been influenced by the tale that Eliza was large with child, a tale purported to originate with Charles C. Rich, who was in the tale an eye witness to the fall that ended Eliza’s pregnancy.

    However, to Brian’s horror, success at persuading me that it was unlikely that Eliza was largely pregnant in 1843 Nauvoo failed to dissuade me from the conclusion that primarily horrified Brian, the idea that Eliza had been seduced by Bennett. Now, instead of a vaguely plausible tale, I had a reconstruction that resonates with Eliza’s own writings, complete with an extreme and uncharacteristic modification of a poem that suggests Jonathan Harriman Holmes was originally slated to become public husband to Eliza rather than Elvira.

    I can’t help it if, as a woman who has seen Mormon women suffer variously, I also understand what the common understanding of Joseph’s polygamy can do in shaping a cultural identity for both men and women.

  61. “In none of this development was I interacting with angry feminists or actually anyone outside my pure brain and all the facts I could get my hands on.”

    Fair enough. But this leads me to ask you why take into account emotional outbursts from folks who have a beef with Joseph’s polygamy? If you’re “just here for the facts, ma’am”, then why bring up comments from folks who inhabit the Feminist Mormon Housewives school of resentment sphere? I ask because when you brought up the comment from the woman who stated that God hates women, I kept asking myself “Relevance?”

    “I can’t help it if, as a woman who has seen Mormon women suffer variously, I also understand what the common understanding of Joseph’s polygamy can do in shaping a cultural identity for both men and women.”

    That’s a bit fuzzy for me. It also seems to be a form of special pleading that I fail to see how it relates specifically to the facts that you keep emphasizing.

  62. Dear Michael,

    This is the beautiful part of persisting in what (to many, no doubt) appeared to be a confusing and intractable slog between the two of us.

    As I mentioned in the last, my conclusions with respect to possible lack of reproductive activity was entirely based on logic and data, in a vacuum that was informed only by non-Mormons, a wanna-be plural wife, and sweet faithful Mormons (mostly women, but some men).

    After I came to my surprising conclusions, I talked them up with anyone who would let me talk. This included sister missionaries when we went on splits, Relief Society sisters when we’d be doing service projects, various priesthood leaders during interviews or carpooling to Messiah sing-alongs, and random people at gatherings where Mormon-related items were discussed, such as the study groups held at Greg Prince’s home (where, for example, I had a chance to chat with Jan Shipps).

    This is why my oldest daughter got to the point where she’d just start saying “Nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope!” when I’d start talking with random strangers, like maintenance repair folks, kids looking for donations, people walking their dogs by the house, the dentist, doctors, multiple co-workers, such as a colleague while eating Chinese food in London, etc.

    Though I haven’t exactly preached about these particular views from the pulpit, I did include discussion of polygamy when I taught Gospel Doctrine (such as speaking about the funny circumstance when John W. Taylor’s third wife (Nettie) asked John to fetch the four-poster bed from the home third wife had sold to first wife (May Leona Rich). I have also talked about polygamy in the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant from the pulpit (these talks are posted at megstout.com and I provided a hard copy of one of them to a visiting General Authority).

    In all of these discussions, almost everyone gets it:

    1) Joseph Smith appears not to have produced any children by his plural wives.

    2) Joseph Smith and his plural wives were capable of producing children, as demonstrated for Joseph with Emma and as demonstrated for the plural wives with their respective levirate husbands after Joseph’s death.

    3) There were creeps telling women it was OK to have illicit intercourse, giving Joseph a motive for attempting to discreetly teach the version of marriage now well-entrenched in the Mormon faith (e.g., absolute avoidance of intercourse outside of legal marriage, the possibility of continuation of marriage into eternity, even in select cases where a man has had more than one wife during the course of his life).

    The one group who pushes back is a subset of the population that is (or has been) Mormon and is male. Not the males who aren’t Mormons. Not women of any description, other than those who are professionally steeped in the current history, whether Mormon or non-Mormon (e.g., Jan Shipps, Karen Lynn Anderson, Jill Mulvany Derr). In the case of these women, they haven’t really had a chance to study it out, as I spoke or corresponded with them in a “drive by” manner.

    Thus, separate from my reasoning regarding what happened, I have developed a hypothesis about why this alternate reading of the history matters. So it is not that I am engaging in special pleading to justify the alternate reading of the history. But I am asserting that our current culture has been formed and possibly deformed by the popular (and heretofore largely unchallenged) understanding of what Joseph was doing with those women behind closed doors and behind his wife’s back.

    Even Brian Hales, who I think articulates your view that Joseph’s interactions with plural wives were within acceptable bounds, is not in a position to fundamentally challenge those who snipe at almost all Mormon-related articles, peppering them with assertions regarding Joseph’s perversions.

    Idiots peppering message boards and women hurting because of a feared polygamous afterlife or men who justify being jerks because they think it aligns with what Joseph did aren’t a reason for coming up with my logical journey, and in fact they in no way informed that journey. However given where I’ve arrived, I feel this plausible alternative is worth discussing with the idiots and the wounded women and the jerks.

  63. Well, logic is only the beginning of wisdom. (I believe Spock said this to a confused protege.)

    Your hypothesis appears to fit the facts *as you interpret them*. As my wife, who spent years working in a scientific laboratory setting, has impressed upon me many times, two scientists can look at the same data and see two radically different implications. And they both would be correct.

  64. Meg,

    You raise an interesting question — who do so many Mormon men INSIST that Joseph’s multiple dealings were sexual relationships in the absence of any data? and INSIST that you’re wrong even though you’re trying to look at data? I wonder if there is a sociological or psychological reason?

    I’m a man but a convert, and I don’t insist that Joseph didn’t engage sexually, but I find it easy to believe that he saw his sealings as more spiritual sealings than temporal marriages.

  65. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. As I have stated many times, this is a problem that isn’t “provable” by any stretch of the imagination.

    Let me be clear about a couple of things, and then I’m going to permanently bow out of this subject matter.

    1. I don’t care if Joseph Smith had sex with women. I really don’t care. I don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care. Am I clear that I really don’t care? It makes no difference to my faith or testimony one way or the other. I disagree with Meg’s assertion that Mormon men are somehow psychologically vested in a sexual Joseph and are incapable of seeing other possibilities. Her anecdotal accounts of Mormon male reaction to her theory is just that — anecdotal. It would be dismissed as hearsay in a court of law.

    2. This shouldn’t be a “male” / “female” interpretation debate. If that’s how Meg and other folks want to frame it, more power to them, but I’m not going to play that game. Meg isn’t the only person who looks at “facts”, as if mere fact is all you need. Interpretative lenses matter. There are multiple ways of looking at Joseph Smith, polygamy, and the Nauvoo nexus. I agree with the Hales and Bushman take on polygamy, but I suppose since I am male, and Hales and Bushman are men, that our take on the history is somehow slanted and suspect. Because, penises, right? (But of course it is slanted. Lack of a bias *is itself* a bias. A female hermetic Jungian analysis of Joseph would be just as biased as any other approach.)

    So with that, ladies and gentlemen, I bid this subject a permanent farewell. Enjoy.

  66. Fun discussion with the son-in-law tonight (actually the entire family, with eldest daughter and youngest daughter interspersing our discussion of gender, nature/nurture, Butler, and Derrida with outbursts of “Jane Eyre!” and “Bunnies!!!” — which is to say that eldest daughter is completely willing to stop hearing about this stuff).

    We were talking about JA Benson’s comment about Joseph saying he had only one wife. While this position is far less reconcilable with the later testimonies of so many women who claimed to be sealed to Joseph in his lifetime, it raises an important possibility.

    What if Joseph and Emma felt that plural marriages were not legal marriages until such future time as it might be possible to have them legally recognized? At this point the term “illicit intercourse” becomes interesting, since the spiritual wifery that Joseph and Emma both condemned was this illicit intercourse. Eternal sealings which were not acted on during this life would not be in violation of the law of the land, and such sealings would not (obviously) produce children.

    Interesting possibility…

    As for two scientists seeing the same data and perceiving two differing implications, this is similar to the story of the blind men and the elephant. However this is not the same as asserting that two observers can see the same data and perceive mutually exclusive realities.

    As for whether there is a difference in how certain sub-populations respond to this proposed narrative to the private interactions between Joseph Smith and women some believe had sexual intercourse with him, I think the comments themselves present an interesting source of data. I’m inclined to leave them all as originally posted, for posterity.

  67. I think a point that seems to be missed in the conversations above is that the Doctrine and Covenants clearly spells out that the first wife (and subsequent wives) has (have) to approve of each specific additional marriage partner. Therefore if we take the section as being correct Joseph *can’t* have sex with anyone besides Emma *unless* she is “on-board” with the concept. She clearly isn’t (at least all of the time). Therefore, unless we are willing to posit/accept that Joseph was operating under a divine mandate which was directly contradictory to the revelation recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants the two choices being debated in the thread don’t make sense. (At least to me.)

    As Brigham moves the Church into fully embracing polygamy anyone who entered into the arrangement would know what they were getting into – i.e., that sex was integral to the concept. Prior to the Church publicly endorsing it, that isn’t a foundational concept.

    As I said before I think it is theoretically possible either prophet (Joseph or Brigham) got it right or got it wrong, or that they both got it right or both got it wrong. Biologically the principle it makes no sense so appealing to logical or reason isn’t going to explain it. I think the evidence (or lack thereof) makes a pretty good case that Joseph’s and Brigham’s personal interpretations of what Section 132 meant were profoundly different. (And I know that it wasn’t published until long after it was received, but obviously both of those two prophets knew about it early on.)

    Again I think the restoration happened and the Church survived it.

  68. By the way, since none of the faithful Mormons who object to my conclusions will provide any citations I haven’t already address that would prove me wrong, I’ve posted over at the exmormon.org forum asking the self-designated malcontents to come, look at what I’ve written, and provide any data they think I’ve overlooked that paints Joseph as the fiend they believe he is (with respect to polygamy).

    I suspect most of them will post over on their own forum, but since this topic is open, some of them may respond over here. I will turn on moderation, so I don’t subject everyone here to gratuitously abusive comments.

  69. Since I anticipate the possible need to brown bag sections of some comments that might come from the exmormon.org folks, I plan to use the strikeout feature for those words/phrases that include gratuitously offensive language. So the determined soul will be able to see the text, if they so desire, but those who’d rather not read the offensive stuff will be able to have it visually obscured.

    [I’d hoped to make the offensive text invisible by turning it white, but apparently comments don’t support that “feature.”]

    Begin test offensive text:

    This is some text! It is offensive text. Seriously offensive text. As in, your maternal parent wears footwear that is not appropriate for females to wear. Yet more offensive text.

    End test offensive text.

  70. I just wanted to say that I think I loved your series. I’ve been doing a lot of research into polygamy lately and really struggled trying to make sense of things that just seem weird. I am working on an article about Agnes Coolbrith Smith, so I enjoyed your discussion of the women mentioned in Bennett’s expose and who were becoming polygamous wives (supposedly) around that time. I personally am leaning toward seeing her “marriage” to Joseph as him just taking care of her, rather than any kind of real marriage in the traditional sense and wonder if she was actually sealed by proxy to Don Carlos on Jan 6, 1842.

    I think the Bennett connections and seeing some of the early marriages as clean up is particularlly compelling. Would it add credence to your theory to assume that Bennett could have known which women to mention in his expose connected to Joseph precisely because Joseph was helping them after being taken advantage of by Bennett and his cronies? I guess that would have to imply that all those women had been involved somehow. Any indication that Louisa Beaman was, since she is such an anomaly in being sealed to Joseph so early when the next 9 or so are all widows or already married women?

    And in regards to Turley, perhaps him being asked to do this to help out the women could explain why Joseph defended him in the High Council, in what would otherwise be a kind of disturbing precedent: “According to the ‘Minutes of the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Nauvoo Illinois’ (6 February 1841), Smith directed ‘the Nauvoo high council not to excommunicate Theodore Turley for ‘sleeping with two females,’ requiring him only to confess ‘that he had acted unwisely, unjustly, imprudently, and unbecoming.” Although I suppose it could confirm Clayton’s claim that Joseph told him on 19 October 1843, “he says he just keep her at home and brook it and if they raise trouble about it and bring you before me I will give you an awful scourging & probably cut you off from the church and then I will baptise you & set you ahead as good as ever.”

    The thing that bothers me most about traditional narratives is the lack of transparency and lying to not only Emma, but the general church membership. You may have already addressed this and I missed it, but what do you say about the Partridge sisters having to perform the sealing twice because they did the first ceremony without Emma’s knowledge?

    What are your sources for Josephine never having gone to the temple? I think that is really great information as I’m often wondered if her mother could have just been talking about her being Joseph’s daughter in the sense of sealing and and adoptions that they believed in at the time.

    I am so glad you brought up the stuff about Clayton’s journal. I actually had similar thoughts the past two days when I did a detailed reading of it. I was trying to figure out who Thompson was as there is no one by that name believed to be practicing polygamy, but it would be interesting if it was Mercy’s husband It’s also interesting that B.Y. could be Brigham Young, and that he didn’t seem to think that he had transgressed. Does that meant that perhaps Brigham was having different interpretation and practice of polygamy than Joseph, one that involved sexual relations, and he wouldn’t see it as wrong? I have been wondering if Joseph’s “marriages” weren’t meant to be only spiritual and in eternity.

    Joseph Fielding has an interesting quote in his diary “It seems as though the Lord had pushed things forward rather prematurely on account of the shortness of Joseph’s time. I allude in particular to the doctrine of women being sealed to men for eternity. It seems that several have had women sealed to them, and it appears in general to have given great offense to the wife. In some instances their anger and resentment have risen to a very high pitch, saying it is abomination, whoredom, etc. This is a strong charge against Joseph especially, and Hyrum and now as they are gone it is aimed at the Twelve.” And here’s another quote from the Times and Seasons “The law of the land and the rules of the church do not allow one man to have more than one wife alive at once, but if any man’s wife die, he has a right to marry another, and to be sealed to both for eternity; to the living and the dead! there is no law of God or man against it! This is all the spiritual wife system that was ever tolerated in the church, and they know it…. An Old Man of Israel. (Times and Seasons 5 [November 15, 1844]: 715).”
    Not to mention this bizarre quote from Clayton’s diary regarding his first plural wife from 19 June, 1843: ” …. I have had some conversation with M. she promised she would not marry A if she can possibly avoid it. And if she ever feels disposed to marry she will tell me as soon as she thinks of it. She will seek my Council & says she will abide it.”

    It seems to me that if they are already married (they were sealed in 27 April, 1843), this is a weird conversation to be having, but could make sense if she has been sealed up to him in the next life and he has some kind of authority or responsibility to look out for her. I know know it goes against other parts of the diary where they have sex and he has feelings for her, but frankly I think a lot of the diary is confusing and wish they would release all of it so we could make sense of what is really going on.

    So I wonder if the doctrine of polygamy as practiced in Utah sprang out of a number of factors: 1) the fact of having multiple spouses in heave if you remarried after a spouse died; the sealings of widows or abused women to help take care of them without being real marriages (which still happened after Joseph died for HCK and Brigham, etc); and/or spiritual wives in the eternity, probably for dynastic purposes.

    What I don’t understand is why early polygamy seems removed from the Anointed Quorum and that all the men involved weren’t necessarily high up in the Priesthood or leadership positions. We now say that polygamous marriages were essential to the Joseph’s Restoration of eternal marriage and the temple endowments, but it’s always confused me why Joseph endowed men who were not involved or accepting of polygamy (such as Marks, Hyrum for a bit, Law) and why, before Joseph’s death, none of the polygamous wives were invited into the quorum (except for widows). Or why all the couple sealings and second annointings that occurred in the Anointed Quorum before Joseph died were the men and their first wives, and no polygamous couples. So perhaps “polygamy” originally started out as more of a helping and taking care of people, with being sealed equaling becoming a kind of caretaker for the women, rather than marriage in the traditional sense.

    I would love to hear your (and anyone else;s) thoughts on these topics, as I have been struggling to make sense of it all lately!

  71. Hi cjp,

    There are a lot of questions here. Let me try to address them.

    Q. I wonder if Agnes Coolbrith was actually sealed by proxy to Don Carlos on Jan 6, 1842.

    A. I don’t believe Joseph actually performed any sealings between living and deceased spouses during his lifetime, as he would have viewed that as an ordinance that required the temple. Agnes was sealed by proxy to Don Carlos in the Nauvoo temple, with George A. Smith standing proxy. She then married a seemingly “good” Mormon (Pickett) who then became a drunkard and abandoned her in his passion for the gold mines (which is why she and her daughter ended up in California). If you read Compton, she says the most positive things about Joseph, despite the presumption that her failure to gather to Utah was due to alienation from Joseph and the Church. It just wasn’t as easy, in those days, to travel between California and Utah. Pickett is a good example of why the leading brethren feared allowing Joseph’s “widows” to marry common men.

    Q. Would it add credence to your theory to assume that Bennett could have known which women to mention in his expose connected to Joseph precisely because Joseph was helping them after being taken advantage of by Bennett and his cronies? Any indication that Louisa Beaman was, since she is such an anomaly in being sealed to Joseph so early when the next 9 or so are all widows or already married women?

    A. I suspect that Bennett and his acolytes (the Strikers) had noticed a pattern of rejections. Besides which, they knew that certain other women were helping Emma and Joseph investigate (Elizabeth Davis [Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee], Sarah Maryetta Kingsley [Howe Cleveland]). I am particularly amused that everyone else assumes Sister Durfee and Sister Cleveland were Joseph’s wives in life. There is absolutely nothing during Joseph’s lifetime, other than Bennett’s assertion. After Joseph’s life, Sisters Durfee and Cleveland have themselves sealed to Joseph, but so did many, many other women, including Sarah Kimball, who we know absolutely didn’t marry Joseph during his lifetime.

    As for Louisa Beaman, I do think Joseph was attempting to obey the commandment he believed he had been under since February 1831, that had most recently been reiterated by his father just before his death, and likely reiterated on Easter Sunday in the Kirtland temple after the dedication. But there is no particular reason to think the marriage to Louisa was actually consummated, just as numerous other plural marriages later were expressly not consummated for years after the initial ceremony (e.g., the marriage of Willard Richards to the Langstroth sisters). I don’t think Louisa started out as a victim, but perhaps she was approached afterwards.

    Going to my midrashic brain, no one has questioned my identification of Elvira Annie Cowles as the young woman Bennett wanted to marry. But if someone wanted to posit someone else, Louisa Beaman makes a strong alternative. The timing of the sealing is just after Joseph would have learned that Bennett was married to another woman. So having Louisa sealed to Joseph could have been an example of the “Joseph as placeholder” sealings that we see later with Mary Ann Frost [Stearns Pratt]. This would be so tragic, that Bennett fell rather than remain faithful, go fetch his wife to the Saints, and become the example of plural marriage rather than spiritual wifery.

    Q. Joseph defended Turley in the High Council, in what would otherwise be a kind of disturbing precedent: “According to the ‘Minutes of the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Nauvoo Illinois’ (6 February 1841), Smith directed ‘the Nauvoo high council not to excommunicate Theodore Turley for ‘sleeping with two females,’ requiring him only to confess ‘that he had acted unwisely, unjustly, imprudently, and unbecoming.” ”

    A. I suppose I am influenced by my own experience sleeping in the same two-bunk state room with my Zone leader during a transit between Rome and Sardinia, but I and other scholars have opined that Turley had not had sex with the two females, but had literally slept in the same bed with them during a trip. I can completely see my Mission President telling my former Zone Leader that his failure to secure other accommodations and therefore appearing to “sleep” in the same room with me during the overnight transit was “unwise, unjust, imprudent, and unbecoming.” I know my case didn’t involve sex. I doubt Turley’s 1841 indiscretion involved sex.

    Q. Although I suppose it could confirm Clayton’s claim that Joseph told him on 19 October 1843, “he says he just keep her at home and brook it and if they raise trouble about it and bring you before me I will give you an awful scourging & probably cut you off from the church and then I will baptise you & set you ahead as good as ever.”

    A. By 1843 things were very different. Note that in the Turley case, Turley was not excommunicated. But by 1843, there were likely hundreds of highly-placed individuals who had been involved in spiritual wifery, who would “think” they knew how Margaret Moon got pregnant. Thus, if any of these highly-placed people questioned William Clayton, accusing him of having seduced his wife’s sister, Joseph was prepared to maintain the secrecy of celestial marriage and excommunicate Clayton. On the other hand, Clayton and Joseph Bates Noble are the only ones known to father children with their plural wives during Joseph’s lifetime (two others engender children before Joseph dies, but it would be after Margaret Moon [Clayton] and Sarah B. Alley [Noble] had produced ‘celestial’ children. So another case could be made that Joseph was upset about the fact that Clayton and Noble had engendered children (and therefore demonstrably consummated their plural marriages) when plural marriage was not yet a legal practice. I’m actually rather sad that Joseph didn’t excommunicate Clayton and Noble for “starting early,” since such a set of excommunications would have illuminated why none of the other polygamists bear children (presuming that the child of Sarah Peake Noon had been engendered by a Striker, as we know was the case for the child of Mary Clift).

    Q. What do you say about the Partridge sisters having to perform the sealing twice because they did the first ceremony without Emma’s knowledge?

    A. You missed it, but I opine that Emma was aware Joseph was sealing numerous women to himself. As long as they were secret marriages and unconsummated, she didn’t really have to be involved. Huge amount of trust implied by that. But in May 1843, Emma and Joseph were preparing to openly begin introduction of the principle of plural marriage (note how the word “principle” is consistent with my assertion that plural marriage was a mere procedural footnote to the celestial unions that are part of the New and Everlasting Covenant). Of all the women Joseph had already secretly married, the Partridge sisters were symbolicly perfect to be the public face of plural marriage. They were like Fanny had been, a servant in the home, which is the status of Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilpah (of these, Zilpah is the key archetype, as she was not given to the mistress’ husband because the mistress herself was barren).

    Emily and Eliza’s characterization of the marriages as fraught with tension are, I think, characteristic of two things. First, there was tension when Joseph was alone with the girls, as in the time he was with one behind a locked door and Emma pounded on the door. I submit that Emma was willing to allow Joseph to “publicly” marry plural wives (public to a select few), but was still convinced that for Joseph to engender a child with a plural wife would lead to exposure that could lead to his death. Secondly, I think that the August discovery that the Strikers (based on Orange Wight’s report) already knew Eliza Snow and the Partridge sisters were married to Joseph caused Emma and Joseph to determine that they had to distance Joseph from these known wives (which due to Orange’s botched courtship of Flora Woodworth now included her). Eliza Snow went away from Nauvoo entirely. Flora married a non-member who was a colleague of her father’s from the Nauvoo Legion (Carlos Gove), and Emma tried to persuade the Partridge girls to also marry other men, but Emily and Eliza refused.

    Q. What are your sources for Josephine never having gone to the temple?

    A. The marriage and sealing dates for Josephine and her siblings is available in Family Search. I would love to visit the small room in Salt Lake where it’s possible to view microfilm of the 1800s temple records, because I’m pretty sure the sealer who performed the post-marriage sealing for Josephine and Brother Fisher was not one of the few who were fully read in regarding the children of Joseph and how their offspring were to be informed of their covenant status relative to Joseph.

    Q. I was trying to figure out who Thompson was (in the Clayton journal entry) as there is no one by that name believed to be practicing polygamy, but it would be interesting if it was Mercy’s husband It’s also interesting that B.Y. could be Brigham Young, and that he didn’t seem to think that he had transgressed. Does that meant that perhaps Brigham was having different interpretation and practice of polygamy than Joseph, one that involved sexual relations, and he wouldn’t see it as wrong?

    A. I presume that Robert Thompson and Vinson Knight (both men who had died prior to the journal entry but after they could have been swept up in Bennett’s spiritual wifery) had embraced spiritual wifery in both theory and deed. I presume the entry describing BY (who else, other than Brigham Young, could those initials refer to?) is telling us of a man who had embraced the fallacy of spiritual wifery (e.g., illicit intercourse) in theory, but who had not yet consummated an illicit relationship. Here I propose that BY’s intended conquest was to have been Lucy Ann Decker, and that this relationship, which had been on a track to be one of the dozens (hundreds) of illicit seductions carried out under the moniker of spiritual wifery became instead one of the first of the many unconsummated plural marriages during Joseph’s lifetime.

    Q. I have been wondering if Joseph’s “marriages” weren’t meant to be only spiritual and in eternity.

    A. I don’t think there’s any way to read the historical record and not see that the plural marriages were supposed to be consummated eventually. I do think that if we’d seen Joseph live to that point, we would also see him distribute the women with whom he had covenanted to righteous men of their choice, retaining a small number (2?) who were still in their child-bearing years. Those who were beyond the age of childbearing would not have needed to find other husbands. Whether the women chose to retain the sealing to Joseph in eternity would have been a matter between them, their new spouse, and Joseph. There is precedent for Joseph being sealed to a woman with the intent that the sealing is intended to eventually be sorted and transferred to the man the woman loved earlier in life (Mary Ann Frost [Stearns Pratt], Rhoda Richards).

    Q. There is a bizarre quote from Clayton’s diary regarding his first plural wife from 19 June, 1843: ” …. I have had some conversation with M. she promised she would not marry A if she can possibly avoid it. And if she ever feels disposed to marry she will tell me as soon as she thinks of it. She will seek my Council & says she will abide it.”

    It seems to me that if they are already married (they were sealed in 27 April, 1843), this is a weird conversation to be having, but could make sense if she has been sealed up to him in the next life and he has some kind of authority or responsibility to look out for her.

    A. I already spoke about my opinion that Clayton and Noble could have/should have been excommunicated for consummating their plural marriages. There was the apparent example of other women who it appears were found with child who were then provided public husbands (Mary Clift, Sarah Peake Noon, possibly Eliza Snow, had her reported pregnancy proceeded to term). I think had anyone openly challenged Clayton or Noble over the children borne to seemingly unmarried women living in their households, that it’s likely we would have seen these women married to other men in mortality. But by the time the children showed up, Joseph had bigger problems, the revelation had been revealed, and William Law wasn’t going to be satisfied with merely attacking Joseph’s friend and scribe.

    Q. So I wonder if the doctrine of polygamy as practiced in Utah sprang out of a number of factors: 1) the fact of having multiple spouses in heaven if you remarried after a spouse died; the sealings of widows or abused women to help take care of them without being real marriages (which still happened after Joseph died for HCK and Brigham, etc); and/or spiritual wives in the eternity, probably for dynastic purposes.

    A. Given the mess in place when Joseph died, it’s rather amazing that things finally got sorted, leaving us now in the place I think God always intended: monogamous in mortality, with wives having claim upon the husband of their choice in eternity, independent of whether that husband has other women who have also claimed them. As in the Old Testament practice of marriage, it does appear that the woman must choose one husband to be the one to whom she raises up seed (versus the seemingly reasonable request that women also get to lay claim on all the husbands they loved in life). However as we perform posthumous sealings for all relationships, no matter how many spouses that means any given man or women is now “sealed” to, God can do whatever He pleases in eternity.

    Q. I don’t understand why early polygamy seems removed from the Anointed Quorum and that all the men involved weren’t necessarily high up in the Priesthood or leadership positions. Why did Joseph endow men who were not involved in or accepting of polygamy (such as Marks, Hyrum for a bit, Law) and why, before Joseph’s death, none of the polygamous wives were invited into the quorum (except for widows).

    A. As I suggested in my post Endowed with Power, I think Joseph introduced the endowment ahead of time specifically to aid in the investigation of those involved in spiritual wifery. The endowment, among other things, requires a covenant that the individuals will remain strictly faithful to their legal spouses. I would be fascinated to know when and how Joseph came to the conclusion that William Law had committed adultery. It is doubtful he suspected this when he endowed Law in May 1842.

    Q. Why all the couple sealings and second annointings that occurred in the Anointed Quorum before Joseph died were the men and their first wives, and no polygamous couples?

    A. As answered above, the endowment committed men to remain faithful to their legal spouse. Thus, until such time as plural marriage was legal, it would 1) not be appropriate for the plural marriage to be consummated and 2) it would not be appropriate for a plural wife to receive the ordinances that prepare a couple for eternal union (in mortality as well as in eternity).

    Q. Was “polygamy” perhaps originally started out as more of a helping and taking care of people, with being sealed equaling becoming a kind of caretaker for the women, rather than marriage in the traditional sense.

    A. I really wish Joseph hadn’t been killed in 1844. But, then again, he had been promised that God had seen his sacrifices in obedience to that which God had told him, that God would make a way for Joseph’s escape from the ultimate sacrifice, as God had accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac. (D&C 132: 50) I opine that the ultimate sacrifice would have been for Joseph to actually enter into mortal polygamy before it could become legal before the world, knowing that plural marriage could never become legal during his lifetime, and that to engaged in mortal polygamy before it was legal would break Emma’s heart and end her willingness to be with Joseph in eternity.

    Ironically, we now find ourselves in a world where poly-everything has a chance at being legal, where the definition of marriage has been stretched to cover any number of configurations inconceivable in Joseph’s day. Ah, to be able to transport Emma to our day, and ask her if her objection was the legality (or lack thereof) of plural marriage or if, as commonly assumed, she really was simply that jealous.

    I submit that a reading that she was actually jealous is controverted by the number of her very close friends who had themselves sealed to Joseph in the temple after Joseph’s death. We could presume that people were lying creeps in 1845/6 and kept Emma in the dark then as is presumed she was kept in the dark before. Or we could imagine that (many of, all of?) these women were consulting with Emma and receiving her blessing before taking the step of being sealed to Emma’s husband in eternity. You’ll note that the women tend to remain friendly toward Emma after Joseph’s death, with the exception of Emily Partridge.

    Good luck as you strive to understand Joseph and how the the New and Everlasting Covenant was restored in our day!

  72. Thanks so much for the detailed response. I love how you present such interesting, novel interpretations that address some of the gaps in the narrative that most others just ignore (even though don’t agree with all your interpretations 🙂

    What about Emily saying that she and her sister had to get remarried so that Emma wouldn’t realize that Joseph had already married them? That doesn’t seem to hint at Emma knowing and being okay with things.

    Also, why do you think there were no proxy marriages? It seems that Brigham, Hyrum and Mercy were all sealed to their dead spouses, at the least. why say no proxy.

    I think your idea about the endowment being centered around legal marriages seems a little problematic as Joseph doesn’t seem to have thought that the sealing powers were more important than legal authority. For example, he seemed to think he could marry people without them getting legal divorces and that his priesthood authority trumped any man-made legalities. I know that today we are very focused on honoring legal marriages, but that isn’t the sense I get from early church leaders. And if the sacred temple ordinances were so invested in the legalities, why would they be commanded to start engaging in plural marriages before it was legal?

    Also, in regards to people being sealed to Joseph after his death, this seemed a common practice that clearly did not always mean people had been or were going to be his literal wife. There was a lot of confusion going on about sealings and adoptions, so I wonder if it was just them being sealed to a man of the highest priesthood, whether because they couldn’t or didn’t want to be sealed to their own spouse, who was either unworthy or they were separating( like in the case of Elizabeth Durfee). Elizabeth Davis Durfee later joined the RLDS church and didn’t seem to agree with polygamy and there are some indications that Agnes Coolbrith Smith didn’t either (and wasn’t sealed to Joseph for eternity in the temple), so I wonder if Joseph’s relationships with them wree more of the caretaking of widow variety, rather than the actual real marriage in any sense of the word variety.

    The idea of Beamna being the mysterious single woman in the Bennett case is really interesting. Frankly the story of her marrying Joseph while disguised as a man seems a little fishy to me and like it was influenced by the story of Cochran traveling around with his secretary disguised as a man (especially since none of the other marriages follow the pattern).

    It is interesting that in some accounts of polygamy in Nauvoo, they emphasize how secret and confidential everything was; then in others, it seems like everyone is talking about it to everyone and Joseph himself isn’t very discreet or discriminating in who he discusses it with (so the accounts at time seem contradictory to me).

    Thanks again for sharing all your ideas. It is a fascinating subject.

  73. Hi CJP,

    So fun to correspond with someone who pushes back with details! More questions:

    cjp: Thanks so much for the detailed response. I love how you present such interesting, novel interpretations that address some of the gaps in the narrative that most others just ignore (even though don’t agree with all your interpretations 🙂

    meg: I know you bring this up later on, but I always like knowing which of my interpretations you don’t agree with, and why.

    cjp: What about Emily saying that she and her sister had to get remarried so that Emma wouldn’t realize that Joseph had already married them? That doesn’t seem to hint at Emma knowing and being okay with things.

    meg: We only have Emily’s version of this. Emily is patently unaware of the fact that spiritual wifery wasn’t plural marriage, as evidenced by her little “but we called it celestial marriage” comment and her entire discourse about Sister Durfee’s interactions, questioning what the girls thought about spiritual wives. Unfortunately we have a lot of Emily’s comments, so her (in my opinion) uninformed view of the complex history of Nauvoo tends to dominate.

    In this I am informed by having been a temple-attending Mormon and a government worker with security clearance. I know lots of things I don’t talk about and that I most certainly don’t write about. You might ask a colleague of mine, say my daughter, what was going on with me, and they would seem to be credible because of the amount of time we spend together, but they would have no way of knowing what I don’t and won’t tell them. I suspect that Emma treated the matter of plural marriage very much the way people who actually want to keep working for the government treat classified information.

    cjp: Also, why do you think there were no proxy marriages? It seems that Brigham, Hyrum and Mercy were all sealed to their dead spouses, at the least. why say no proxy.

    meg: You’re right. And yet I still think I’m right to assert that proxy marriages were not something that Joseph did lightly. We have the record of the widower Joseph Kingsbury documenting the conditions under which he married his niece, Sarah Whitney, who was sister to his dead wife, Caroline Whitney [Kingsbury]. He clearly indicates that his marriage to Sarah was a “pretended marriage” for which Kingsbury “Also Should Recd a Great Glory Honner & Eternal lives to the full desire of my heart in having my Companion Caroline in the first Reserection to [claim] her & no one to have power to take her from me & we Both shall be Crowned & Enthroned together in the Celestial Kingdom.” (Compton, p. 351). We also have Eliza Snow’s poem that now shows it was written to Jonathan Holmes, which apparently originally said:

    Like two streams, whose gentle forces
    Mingling, in one current blend—
    Like two waves, whose outward courses
    To the ocean’s bosom tend—

    Like two angels that kiss each other
    In the presence of the sun—
    Like two drops that run together
    And forever are but one,

    May your mutual vows be plighted—
    May your hearts, no longer twain
    And your spirits be united
    In an everlasting chain.

    If we recall that D&C 129 specifies that “Angels… are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones,” this poem, as apparently originally written, is strikingly similar in eschatological meaning to Kingsbury’s journal, i.e., a man (apparently having offered or performed some significant service circa 1842-43) is promised eternal union with a deceased wife, being given her in the resurrection, never to be separated. And yet it doesn’t appear that these unions were sealed during Joseph’s life.

    Going back to Agnes Coolbrith, I can certainly imagine that she was promised eternal union with Don Carlos if she allowed Joseph to become her levirate “husband.” But I don’t think the promise of eternal union with Don Carlos was contingent on consummating the levirate union with Joseph.

    cjp: I think your idea about the endowment being centered around legal marriages seems a little problematic as Joseph doesn’t seem to have thought that the sealing powers were more important than legal authority. For example, he seemed to think he could marry people without them getting legal divorces and that his priesthood authority trumped any man-made legalities. I know that today we are very focused on honoring legal marriages, but that isn’t the sense I get from early church leaders. And if the sacred temple ordinances were so invested in the legalities, why would they be commanded to start engaging in plural marriages before it was legal?

    meg: I am not fully immersed in all the discussion of how Joseph promoted the idea that he had the legitimate right to perform marriages, even though the civil authorities might not agree, though I have read about that.

    Today we are so aware of the many men and women who entered into plural marriage during Joseph’s lifetime that we tend to ignore how few of these couples produced children that we can reliably assert were associated with the plural union (versus the many children born to Joseph’s plural wives with legal husbands):

    This data is taken from Gary Bergera’s 2005 article in Dialogue, Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841- 1844, particularly the appendix in pp 52-74. I also looked at the Family Search website.

    Babies possibly engendered by Strikers

    Mary Clift [Turley]’s child born in 1842, Jason, was (per her affidavit) engendered by a Striker, Gustavus Hills, not by Turley.

    I suspect the 1843 child born to Lucina Johnson [Cahoon] was engendered by a Striker, not by Cahoon, though she doesn’t provide an affidavit.

    Sarah Peak Noon’s child is presumed to have been engendered by Heber C. Kimball, but we don’t (and can’t know that for a fact). Her child was engendered during the period of time when the Strikers were very active.

    [The rumored child of Eliza Snow, if she became pregnant based on the apparently autobiographical description of death, seduction, and repentance in her November 1842 poems, was clearly engendered by a Striker. Analysis of the poem strongly supports John C. Bennett as the seducer.]

    Babies born to polygamists prior to Joseph’s death

    Margaret Moon’s child, Daniel (born February 1844), was clearly engendered by William Clayton soon after their April 1843 sealing.

    Sarah B. Alley’s child, George (born February 1844), was clearly engendered by Joseph Bates Noble soon after their April 1843 sealing. Intriguingly, teh familysearch website indicates Sarah B. Alley had a daughter, Ann (L759-B76), in 1842, around the same time her friend, Sarah Peak Noon, had her son. Again, Ann was conceived at a time when the Strikers were seducing women in Nauvoo. Ann is attributed to Noble, as Mary Clift’s child is often attributed to Turley. However I doubt Noble was Ann’s father. Sarah Peak Noon and Sarah B. Alley were very close friends, indicated by the fact that Sarah B. Alley confided the news of her pregnancy in Sarah Peak Noon.

    Babies engendered before Joseph’s death but born after Joseph’s death

    There are three and possibly four other children engendered during Joseph’s lifetime, after the children of Joseph Bates Noble and William Clayton were born.

    Mary Clift [Turley]’s child, Ephraim, born February 11, 1845, was likely engendered by Turley in May 1844, presuming Ephraim was a full-term baby.

    Charlotte Walter’s child, Katherine (born January 1845) was allegedly engendered by William Felshaw. Conception would have occurred circa May, 1844.

    Harriet P. Wheeler [Young] gives birth to her son, John in September 1844, who dies the same day. It appears this baby was born pre-term, but since the baby was given a name, it appears John was far enough along that he was likely conceived early in 1844 rather than after Joseph’s death. Lorenzo Dow Young would have been John’s father.

    Jane Ballantyne [Wight]’s child, Amos, appears to have been born in early 1845, which could mean Amos was engendered by Lyman Wight prior to Joseph’s death.

    cjp: Also, in regards to people being sealed to Joseph after his death, this seemed a common practice that clearly did not always mean people had been or were going to be his literal wife. There was a lot of confusion going on about sealings and adoptions, so I wonder if it was just them being sealed to a man of the highest priesthood, whether because they couldn’t or didn’t want to be sealed to their own spouse, who was either unworthy or they were separating( like in the case of Elizabeth Durfee). Elizabeth Davis Durfee later joined the RLDS church and didn’t seem to agree with polygamy and there are some indications that Agnes Coolbrith Smith didn’t either (and wasn’t sealed to Joseph for eternity in the temple), so I wonder if Joseph’s relationships with them were more of the caretaking of widow variety, rather than the actual real marriage in any sense of the word variety.

    meg: As far as I’m aware, the only factors that support a sealing between Sister Durfee and Joseph are 1) the fact that Bennett mentions her and 2) the fact that she had herself sealed to Joseph in the Nauvoo temple.

    From these facts (which are the same two facts available to support a supposed sealing between Sister Cleveland and Joseph), prior researchers have concocted a theory that women who are seen interacting with future plural wives were themselves plural wives (Sister Durfee shepherding the Partridge sisters, Sister Cleveland bringing Eliza Snow to Joseph, the group of four women (including Elvira Cowles, Eliza Snow, Sister Durfee, and Sister Whitney) who visit with the Lott family in June 1843, the Partridge girls attempting to arrange an interview between Joseph and the daughter of Vinson Knight). However this is secondary inference and ought not to be used to determine who was a wife.

    A reason Bennett would have identified Durfee and Cleveland as Joseph’s wives is that these two women were heavily involved in exposing women who had been seduced, the women Bennett termed Cyprian Saints, the women like Lucy Ann Munjar, who had lost their virtue and been discovered by the Relief Society.

    If we take away the Bennett identification and question the hypothesis that Cleveland and Durfee were necessarily Joseph’s wives simply because they are seen assisting, then these two women simply become two of the many women who never had anything conjugal to do with Joseph during his life who then chose to have themselves sealed to him after death.

    As you mention, there were adoptive sealings taking place at that time, where women had themselves sealed to a high church leader in eternity and families similarly had themselves sealed to a high church leader rather than to their own biological families. Brian C. Hales has a really nice chapter talking about that in his three-volume set, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy.

    cjp: The idea of Beaman being the mysterious single woman in the Bennett case is really interesting. Frankly the story of her marrying Joseph while disguised as a man seems a little fishy to me and like it was influenced by the story of Cochran traveling around with his secretary disguised as a man (especially since none of the other marriages follow the pattern).

    cjp: Cross-dressing for various purposes has a long and well-documented history, as in Shakespeare’s A Merchant of Venice. I don’t know that I would cite the Cochran precedent as particularly influential, therefore, in what Louisa Beaman did that day. Do you have a citation for Cochran’s secretary? That is not sufficiently well-known that I have tumbled across it in my reading, though of course my ignorance about the matter doesn’t mean others were similarly ignorant in Joseph’s day.

    cjp: It is interesting that in some accounts of polygamy in Nauvoo, they emphasize how secret and confidential everything was; then in others, it seems like everyone is talking about it to everyone and Joseph himself isn’t very discreet or discriminating in who he discusses it with (so the accounts at time seem contradictory to me).

    meg: I suspect that if we got in a room and evaluated the data, we’d find that the secret and confidential reports are coming from those who were actually read in to what Joseph was teaching, where the loosy goosy reports are coming from those who had become involved in Spiritual Wifery, aka illicit intercourse, allegedly (according to the tale the seducers used to bed women) sanctioned by Joseph.

    In hindsight, seeing how Spiritual Wifery impacted so many of the faithful, I think Joseph did an amazing job of preserving his community with minimal loss and maximum retention of “face.” Unfortunately for us, this means almost all the data that would unambiguously clarify what was happening has been erased (except possibly in Clayton’s journal, which would be a reason for the Church and copyright holders to keep it so close hold). However once one shifts one’s paradigm, the extant record becomes rich with alternate meaning, meanings which make sense (if horrific sense) of all the data.

    Good chatting with you. This is the kind of discourse I wish more would enter into with me, versus the various iterations of “I don’t think you’re right but don’t have the time to bother telling you why.”

    Again, best wishes as you strive to understand Joseph and the manner in which the New and Everlasting Covenant was introduced.

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