The Angel, the Sword, and the Heron Seduction

[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

The Guardian of Paradise, oil on canvas, 1889, by Franz Stuck

Prior to the fall of 1841, an angel reportedly appeared to Joseph twice, commanding him to establish the principle of celestial marriage. But in the fall of 1841, the angel would return with sword in hand. Joseph had to establish the principle, or his position and very life were forfeit.

Something had changed. God could no longer permit Joseph to take his own sweet time establishing celestial marriage among members of the Church. In the final days of 1841 Joseph enlisted the aid of Dimick Huntington. Like Joseph Bates Noble, Dimick would remain true to Joseph beyond death.[ref]Dimick and his brother, William, were among the four men Emma would entrust with the secret reburial of Joseph’s remains in February, 1845. The other two trusted men were Jonathan Harriman Holmes and Gilbert Goldsmith, son of Elizabeth Durfee.[/ref]

The four women Joseph would marry in response to the angel’s threat were women who were married to other men.[ref]In one case, Agnes Coolbrith Smith, the husband had died.[/ref] I believe Joseph did this because he had already contracted one marriage that did not involve sex. Perhaps he was already aware of how unhappy lack of intimacy had made Louisa Beaman. It would be unreasonable to expect other single women to be satisfied with a marriage that didn’t involve physical intimacy. But these married women would be relieved if the celestial marriage were purely ceremonial.

Zina Huntington [Jacobs]

Joseph Smith had proposed to Zina Huntington in the fall of 1840, when she was still single. Zina anguished over what she should do. Ultimately, Zina Huntington refused Joseph Smith’s proposal and wed Henry Jacobs in March 1841. Dr. John C. Bennett performed the ceremony.

Some months later, Joseph sent word to Zina via her brother, Dimick.[ref]In some accounts the identity of the brother who relayed the message is unclear, but at least one account indicates the brother who reported to Zina was Dimick (b. 1808) rather than William (b. 1818), or Oliver (b. 1823).[/ref] Joseph’s message was simple:

Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life.

Zina was pregnant with Jacob’s child. The sealing took place on October 27, 1841,[ref]Dimick would perform the sealing between Joseph and Zina.[/ref] after Zina received her own witness that the principle of celestial marriage was correct. Despite this testimony, she expected that by becoming Joseph’s celestial wife she would never again be looked upon as an honorable woman by those she dearly loved. One presumes she spoke of her husband, Henry Jacobs, and those of her siblings who knew about celestial marriage: Prescendia, Dimick, William, and Oliver.[ref]Dimick and William would remain close to Joseph and Emma, and would be two of the four men Emma trusted to relocate Joseph’s body in February 1845.[/ref]

Presendia Huntington [Buell]

Dimick, having secured Zina for Joseph, proceeded to offer Joseph his other living sister, Presendia Huntington [Buell] (b. 1810). Presendia had married Norman Buell in the 1820s, bearing him their first child in 1828. By the fall of 1841, four of Presendia’s six children had died in infancy. The promise that celestial marriage could bind children to parents would have had a strong appeal to Presendia.

The reward Dimick desired for giving Joseph his two sisters was “that where you and your fathers family are, there I and my fathers family may also be.”[ref]Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 123.[/ref]

The five Huntington siblings would remain faithful to Joseph. Prescendia and Zina would travel to Utah and become leaders amongst the Mormon woman.[ref]Zina would become president of the Relief Society until her death in 1901. Zina was the third president of the Relief Society. She was also the third and last of Joseph’s wives to head that organization.[/ref] Dimick and William would assist in the secret burial of Joseph’s remains in the summer of 1844, and would be part of the even smaller group entrusted to relocate Joseph’s remains during the succession crisis. Oliver, the youngest, would inherit and cherish a cane containing Joseph’s death locks.[ref]The Coffin Canes, available online at, retrieved 10 March 2014.[/ref]

Agnes Coolbrith [Smith]

Agnes Coolbrith was the widow of Joseph’s brother, Don Carlos Smith. Don Carlos had died in September, 1841.

Don Carlos and Agnes had three daughters, the youngest, Josephine Anna,[ref]Josephine would grow up to be known as Ina Coolbrith, the first poet laureate of any American state.[/ref] was born only a few months before Don Carlos’ untimely death.

Agnes did not record whether the tale of the angel and the sword played a role in either Joseph’s decision to ask her to become his celestial wife, or her decision to agree. But it does seem that the marriage between Agnes and Joseph was purely based on a desire to fulfill the commandment from the angel rather than as a reaction to the activities of Bennett and his followers. On January 6th, the day of the sealing ceremony between Joseph and Agnes, Joseph wrote:

“Truly this is a day long to be remembered by the saints of the Last Days; a day in which the God of heaven has began to restore the ancient order of his Kingdom…all things are concurring together to bring about the completion of the fullness of the gospel.”[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 154.[/ref]

Notably, this was the first celestial marriage performed by someone in the Mormon ecclesiastical hierarchy. Joseph Smith had been selectively teaching the apostles about the principle of plural marriage as they returned home.[ref]It does not appear that Joseph taught Orson Pratt the principle of plural marriage until around the time that Bennett was exposed.[/ref] All who documented their reaction were horrified at the thought.[ref]Brigham famously reported seeing a funeral procession shortly after learning of plural marriage, and wishing that he could take the place of the dead man.[/ref] None would take on a plural wife in 1841. But Brigham’s participation in the ceremony between Joseph and Agnes at the least signaled Brigham’s willingness to accept celestial marriage as legitimate.

While we are discussing Agnes, let me note Agnes was assisted by a hired girl, Clarissa Marvel, who had also worked in the Winchester household. Clarissa’s observations about Joseph’s attentions to his brother’s wife would later prove controversial.

Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner]

Joseph had been impressed with Mary Rollins from the time she was a pre-teen, in 1831. While in Zion folks were speaking in tongues, but without interpretation. Mary provided the interpretation–mobs would drive the Saints from Jackson County. The leaders were upset, and wrote Joseph, asking that she be reprimanded. Instead, Joseph backed her up.[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 208-209.[/ref]

A few years later Mary was on hand when the mobs did attack. Their target was the printing press. Mary and her sister, Caroline, saw the mob throw the folios out the window as they set the press ablaze. Mary ran to the precious sheets, containing the initial pages of the Book of Commandments. The mob saw the girls and gave chase. Mary and Caroline dove into the cornfields, clutching the pages to their bodies. Somehow the mob failed to locate the girls.[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 209.[/ref] I seem to remember that when copies of the Book of Commandments from the rescued pages were bound, Joseph presented one to Mary for her bravery.

That would have been 1833-1834. This was the year Joseph would say he was strongly prompted to ask Mary to be his plural wife, the first year he indicates the angel appeared and commanded him to act. But Joseph would fail to act at that time.[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 210.[/ref]

The following year Mary became the bride of Adam Lightner in August 1835.[ref]ibid.[/ref] Despite her marriage to Lightner, for several years Mary would have dreams in which she was the wife of Joseph Smith.[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 211.[/ref]

In the fall of 1841, when Joseph finally set about collecting those women he’d felt prompted to marry in years past, Mary Rollins Lightner was one of those he spoke with. She would refuse him until February 1842, when she agreed to allow Brigham Young to perform the ceremony linking her to Joseph Smith.

In 1905 Mary Elizabeth Lightner stood before a group at Brigham Young University and spoke of her interactions with Joseph Smith.

“An angel came to him [Joseph Smith] and the last time he came with a drawn sword in his hand and told Joseph if he did not go into that principle, he would slay him. Joseph said he talked to him soberly about it, and told him it was an abomination and quoted scripture to him. He said in the Book of Mormon it was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and they were to adhere to these things except the Lord speak… [The Prophet reported that] the angel came to me three times between the years of 1834 and 1842 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay me.”[ref]1905 BYU Testimony of Mary Elizabeth Lightner, available online at, retrieved 10 March 2014.[/ref]

But there was more.

In the summer of 1905 Mary wrote to Emmeline Wells, saying:

“I could tell [Joseph F. Smith] a great many Some things about his Father that Joseph said he does not know about the early days of the Church…”[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 226.[/ref]

Elsewhere Mary would also write:

“I could tell you why I stayed with Mr. Lightner. Things the [current] leaders of the Church does not know anything about. I did just as Joseph told me to do…”[ref]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 213[/ref]

By February 1842, as Mary Elizabeth Lightner was finally persuaded to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant with Joseph, it appears Joseph may have learned that terrible liberties were being taken with women in Nauvoo.

The Seduction of Mary Heron

Sometime in January or February Joseph would learn of the evil Bennett and his followers were perpetrating. But as the initial hints of devastation came rolling in, Joseph only knew that the abusers were highly placed. Everyone was under suspicion.

As the investigation unfolded, Joseph came to suspect one woman of being the first to be seduced by the unknown band of evil-doers.

Her name was Mary Heron [Snider], born 1804, the wife of John Snider since 1822. Mary had three children between 1824 and 1828. Mary’s last child was born when she was less that thirty years old.[ref]Brian Hales, Alleged Sexual Impropriety between Joseph Smith and Mary Heron, available online at, retrieved 10 March 2014.[/ref] In 1840-41, the Sniders lived in Nauvoo.[ref]In October 1840 Joseph Ellis had married Harriet Ellen Snider in a ceremony in Nauvoo, officiated by Joseph Smith. A few months later John Snider was named a member of the Nauvoo House committee on January 19, 1841, see D&C 124:22.[/ref]

I believe Mary came to the attention of Dr. Bennett because she was still in her thirties, yet had not produced children for more than a decade. He had to have a first victim. He also had to train his acolytes how to seduce women without causing pregnancy. The barren Mary Heron would not conceive if the man assigned to seduce her failed to follow Bennett’s instructions on having sex without risk of procreation. This kind of sex may have included the sometimes synonymous practices of onanism , petting , vulvar massage , frottage , and frigging .

Mary Heron was also a desirable first victim because of her connections to important Mormon families. Her daughter was the wife of Joseph Ellis Johnson – a son of the large Johnson family with whom Joseph Smith had lived near Kirtland, Ohio. If Mary could be persuaded and seduced, it might be possible to use Mary to gain access to other women of importance in the Mormon community.

I believe Bennett and his ring succeeded in gaining access to members of the Johnson family, including Delcena, Marinda, and Almera.

The story is only known because of Joseph Ellis Johnson. Long after Joseph Smith was dead, when the Saints had fled Illinois, Joseph Ellis fell in love with a Miss Goddard. Unfortunately the young lady in question was already married to Lorenzo Snow. In an echo of Bennett’s affair with Sarah Pratt, Joseph Ellis took her to himself, even though she was the wife of an apostle missionary.[ref]It does not appear Lorenzo consummated the marriage with Miss Goddard before leaving on his mission. Before she began sleeping with Joseph Ellis, Miss Goddard apparently decided she didn’t want to be Lorenzo’s wife. It is unclear if she attempted to have her sealing to Lorenzo annulled before she took up with Joseph Ellis.[/ref]

Unlike Bennett, Joseph Ellis came forward. He wanted to set things straight, so he could marry Miss Goddard legally, and so he could have their children sealed to the two of them in eternity.

The church court was staffed by most of the apostles of the day. Joseph Ellis’ audacity was a horrific echo of 1842 Nauvoo, when Bennett and his ilk were teaching women and men that illicit sex was no sin, so long as it was kept secret. The transcript of the matter reads as follows:

“O. Hyde [speaking] there is a matter of bro: Johnson to be laid before the Council—this matter was brot. before Council in Kanesville his Priesthood was required to be laid down until he came here – a Miss Goddard wife of Lorenzo Snow became in a family way by Bro Johnson – she was living in his house – we deemed it improper for her to be there he sent her away to a retired place – she was delivered of a child – she is again living at his house in Kanesville – he wishes to retain his fellowship in the Church. He says he has bro: Snow & he was satisfied.

“Joseph E. Johnson [speaking] – I am come purposely if possible to get the matter settled & atone for the wrong I av done – I av neglected to lay it before you before this – bro Hydes statements r all correct – true – all I can do is beg for mercy – I became acquainted with the girl, & the consequences r as the r – I saw bro. Snow at Kanesville & he was satisfied – I am come here to atone for the wrong I av done.[ref]Misc Minutes, Brigham Young Collection, d 1234, CHL, Sept. 2, 1850, restricted; excerpts transcribed by D. Michael Quinn, bx 3 fd 2, Quinn Collection, Yale Library. This document is available on Richard E. Turley, Jr. Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, vol. 1, DVD #18 , but that entry is blacked out, restricted because it deals with Church disciplinary proceedings.[/ref]

In response to the church court’s concern about Joseph Ellis’ motives, and the possibility that the seduction of Miss Goddard was the beginning of another wave of sexual misconduct, Joseph Ellis replied:

“I never heard any conversation to say it was right to go to bed to a woman if not found out – I was aware the thing was wrong. – had been with – he sd. He was [made] familiar with the first frigging [slang for external sexual relations] – that was done in his house with his mother in law — by Joseph.”[ref]ibid.[/ref]

The transcript is not verbatim. The number of missing words allows multiple interpretations.

I believe Joseph Ellis was trying to explain the abhorrence he personally felt, explaining that he rejected the notion that it was OK to bed a woman out of wedlock as long as it was not found out, that part of his rejection of this behavior is because his own mother-in-law had been a victim. I propose the transcript could read “I was made familiar by Joseph Smith with the story of the first frigging. The bastards frigged my mother-in-law, Mary Heron Snider, around the time I was married to her daughter, in the same house where we stayed there in Nauvoo before moving back down to Ramus.”

But when Michael Quinn came across this record in 2009, he read it differently. Here, he believed, was proof of yet another of Joseph Smith’s sexual conquests. Never mind that it makes no sense for Joseph Ellis to tell the apostles, “By the way, I know we’re in the middle of my church hearing for adultery and I’ve just told you seducing people secretly is abhorrent to me. But did I tell you I am familiar with the fact that Joseph Smith secretly externally shagged my mother-in-law, Mary Heron, in my house in Nauvoo. She was the first, you know. Random factoid I thought you’d like to know.”

Personally, I don’t think Michael Quinn’s interpretation makes sense. But I am grateful for his constant vigilance. The tale of Mary Heron allows us to pinpoint when Joseph Smith could have learned of the abuse Bennett and his followers were systematically inflicting on women in Nauvoo, the beginning of the desperate hunt for the seducers in Joseph’s City Beautiful.

Future Planned Posts:

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

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) 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 that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

40 thoughts on “The Angel, the Sword, and the Heron Seduction

  1. Goodness. What a complicated mess. The twists and turns, plots and subplots are fascinating. I still stand in awe that so much craziness was done without cell phones, cars and other modern means of communication and transportation.

  2. I wonder how much time the latter-day Saints spent talking and worrying about this issue during the Nauvoo period. What an incredible trial it must have been for so many people: will you follow Joseph Smith despite all of the rumors? The fact that so many did is an important testament to the prophet, imho.

  3. As we move forward to 1844, some allege there were as many as 700 men willing to rise up, take arms, and attack Joseph and Hyrum. They were mainly incensed against Hyrum, since Hyrum was the one who read the revelation to the High Council.

    However as we know, Joseph and Hyrum were killed in Carthage by individuals who were not members of the LDS community.

    As the horror of the deaths sank in, Joseph and Hyrum were seen as martyrs by the vast majority of the Saints. The doctrines related to the New and Everlasting Covenant spread underground like fire. By the time the Navuoo temple was sufficiently complete to perform ordinance work, many thousands of Saints would receive their endowments and sealings, including a significant number of “plural” marriages.

    George Smith published Nauvoo Polygamy…But We Called It Celestial Marriage in 2011. It’s not my favorite book, but George does include a very nice appendix containing information on the hundreds of men and women who entered into plural marriages by 1846. Even so, it wasn’t openly acknowledged polygamy was practiced by LDS people until 1852.

    IDIAT, I will say that if you think this is complicated, you’d better hold onto your hat for the next several posts. One can almost have sympathy for those who’d prefer to simplify things by deciding it was just Joseph and he was just amazingly horny.

  4. I was surprised to read the account of Agnes C. Smith, the widow of Don Carlos Smith. A long time ago at a DUP meeting, she was the subject of the lesson. She left Nauvoo and went to St. Louis to live. There she met a man and married him. One of the conditions of the marriage was that she give up Mormonism and never speak of it again. Later they moved to San Francisco where she spent her life. She wrote poetry and became California’s poet laureate.

    I wonder what else happened in Nauvoo. Perhaps she left because of the stuff going on that she wanted no part of.

  5. Very interesting post, as always, Meg.

    I’m curious about Clarissa Reed. Wasn’t she also someone people claimed became a plural wife of Jospeh? (Though apparently such evidence is scant, so she often doesn’t make the list.)

  6. “Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life.”

    Meg, do you believe an angel with a drawn sword stood by Joseph Smith and told him to establish polygamy among his people or he would be killed?

  7. Reviewing Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness, it seems clear Agnes attempted to remain faithful. However her family commitments conflicted with traveling to Utah.

    Agnes remained in Nauvoo until September 1846, leaving for St. Louis to avoid the threatened mob action against the remaining inhabitants. Once in St. Louis, she became the wife of William Pickett, a recent convert with a bit of a drinking problem. William caught gold fever and eventually returned to fetch Agnes to California.

    Agnes’ daughter, Ina, was the poetess. As late as 1857 (aged 16) Ina reported “I am known throughout California as ‘the Los Angeles poetess, Ina Smith (niece of the Prophet.'” She was virulently opposed to polygamy, but likely didn’t revert to calling herself by her mother’s maiden name (Coolbrith) until after her husband tried to shoot her, believing Ina had been unfaithful. After years of violent confrontations, he finally accepted that he’d misunderstood the nature of the visits he’d thought were adultery, apologized, and granted Ina a divorce.

    Though Compton suggests Agnes shared Ina’s views on polygamy, he reports Agnes writing to Joseph F. Smith in 1862, saying, “Joseph… I acknowledge none greater than yourself none greater than those that belong to the household of Joseph our Dear Dear Dear departed one Joseph there is none greater there is none better none more honest and upright and tries to do right than those who have been left behind.”

    Agnes continued, in advance echo of Mary Elizabeth Rollins, “I could say many things to you Joseph that I know and that has been told me by those that are dead and gone but perhaps you would not believe me no I know that you would not so it is best for me to keep silent…”

    Bruce, I would be interested if there were some reason to think Clarissa Reed was one of Joseph’s plural wife, other than the fact that she was alive when he was alive. If you can find the evidence, even if scant, that’d be fun to know. It makes a species of sense.

  8. To Steve,

    I have postulated a reason for a loving God to establish plural marriage as part of the new and Everlasting Covenant.

    If God needed the entire family of mankind baptized and sealed together, as Mormons believe, he needed to break down the insistence on pure monogamy that arose as a result of the papal impediments put in place circa 1054.

    –> If Joseph then delayed by a decade,
    –> And Bennett started down his path of wreck and ruin,
    –> Then, yes, I can see God threatening Joseph that he would be removed, even killed. Missouri attempted to kill Joseph every summer from 1840 through 1844. It’s a rather striking pattern, in fact.

    1840. It’s summer. Let’s kill Joe Smith. Burn down his house, rape his wife, torture him to death (oops, wrong house – let’s rape and torture the woman anyway).

    1841. It’s summer. Let’s kill Joe Smith. Arrest him while he’s visiting Bear Creek. Damn that habeus corpus provision in the Nauvoo Charter and Stephen Douglas visiting and setting Joe free. Nice of Joe to nurse me (Sheriff King) back to health.

    1842. It’s summer. Let’s kill Joe Smith. Not sure if he plotted to get Boggs shot, but Bennett says Joe’s a slime. If only we could find him. Tail Joe’s wife – bet she’ll lead us to him…

    1843. It’s summer. Let’s kill Joe Smith. Follow him 200 miles into the heart of Illinois. Pose as missionaries, then pistol whip him. Damn that habeus corpus provision in the Nauvoo Charter. Weird of Joe to throw a big dinner party for us with 100 of his closest friends.

    1844. It’s summer. Let’s kill Joe Smith. The river’s flooding. Must be a sign. He destroyed a press. Kind of like we did a decade ago, but who cares. He’s trapped in a jail. No habeus corpus for Joe this time… Damn, shoot him before he finishes that Masonic cry for help.

    I’d say it was more a case of God protecting Joseph until he’d finally done the job God requested. By summer of 1844 Joseph was bound to get killed by something or someone – it’s just great that the killers were not Mormons. That would have made the history far more difficult to turn into a clean “us vs. them” hagiography.

  9. If you can believe that an angel led a young man to a stone box wherein were deposited golden plates, then I would think that a sword wielding angel would be rather pedestrian. In short, I find nothing about the angel-sword mythos to be any more or less rational than anything else we subscribe to that is beyond our ken: atonement, eternal progression, prophecy, gift of tongues, baptism for the dead, modern scripture, etc.

  10. “Then, yes, I can see God threatening Joseph that he would be removed, even killed. ”

    So, what more can you say about Joseph’s motivation. He was left with not much choice, either get the Mormons to practice polygamy or die.

  11. It’s ironic that threat of death pushed Joseph to move forward with continuing to restore plural marriage, since Joseph would all-too-soon resume his conviction that this teaching would be his death:

    “[God] said to me that unless I accepted [celestial and plural marriage] and introduced it, and practiced it, I, together with my people would be damned and cut off from this time henceforth…

    “If I do not practice [celestial and plural marriage], I shall be damned with my people. If I do teach it, and practice it, and urge it, they say they will kill me, and I know they will. But… we have got to observe it. It is an eternal principle and was given by way of commandment…”

  12. What I find puzzling is that the almighty found it so important that he was willing to send an angel armed with a sword to kill Joseph if he didn’t comply, but a mere fifty years later he said never mind.

  13. Whether it’s fifty years or fifty thousand, it’s all “mere” to Him. To quote a famous politician, “What difference does it make?”

  14. It’s like someone baking a cake who isn’t willing to put it in the oven.

    Time to put it in the oven.

    Put it in the oven.


    30 minutes is up.

    Take it out of the oven.

    Take it out of the oven.


    My ancestors got caught on both sides of the 50 years of Mormon polygamy. The change hurt both times. But that relatively brief time of polygamy accomplished the purpose I believe was in a loving God’s mind.

  15. I don’t know why we put so much stock in accounts of Joseph Smith’s courtship of women with a “angel with a drawn sword” pick-up line.

    Joseph Smith was bold enough to offer D&C 132, written in the voice of the Lord, that publically declared that motivations for polygamy were based on desire, not compulsion.

    “if any man espouse a virgin, and DESIRE to espouse another… then is he justified…if he have ten virgins given unto him…he is justified.”

    Why do we fish around in all the mess of heresay evidence and complicated relationships to try to find a “motivation.” The real motivation, desire, is stated right there in the official account, the Doctrine and Covenants.

  16. Meg says, “One can almost have sympathy for those who’d prefer to simplify things by deciding it was just Joseph and he was just amazingly horny.”

    This phrase should read, “One can almost have sympathy for those who prefer to simplify things by deciding it was just Joseph Smith and he was acting upon DESIRE for other women, which desire was encouraged and legitimized by the voice of the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Why don’t we believe our own scriptures in this case?

  17. Nate, I’m a little shocked you’d take a single word in a single verse, “desire”, and therefore discount all other nuances surrounding this. You’re smarter than this.

    Within the historical context of when D&C 132 was actually written, I do not see how that verse is inconsistent with the angel and drawn sword idea. Why couldn’t God have initially forced Joseph into it by explaining consequences and then, once he’s practicing it, explain how polygamy will unfold now going forward. And why are you assuming God’s use of the word “desire” must therefore be Joseph’s original motivations from the beginning? It makes so little sense to hold up a wimpy argument like this and be shocked that maybe not everyone reads it the way you do.

    That being said, as a personal interpretation, I guess I can see where you are coming from. As you were.

  18. Meg,

    Concerning Clarissa, honestly I just noticed she’s listed as a possible wife of Joseph Smith on wikipedia. The statement is that it’s based on, and I quote, “Only anecdotal evidence that Clarissa Reed Hancock was a plural wife of Joseph Smith”

    There had been a rumor (started by Fawn Brodie?) that one of her children was actually the child of Joseph Smith. DNA evidence disproved this. References are given, but I don’t know what this is based on other than heresay.

  19. I checked Compton, and the young woman working both for Agnes Smith and the Winchesters was actually Clarissa Marvel, not Clarissa Reed.

    I think Fawn Brodie figured Levi Hancock, having been involved in the business with securing Fanny Alger as a maid servant for the Smiths, was good for sharing his wive with Joseph as well.

  20. Bruce, you ask: “I do not see how that verse is inconsistent with the angel and drawn sword idea.”

    But don’t you see how the angel with a drawn sword idea is inconsistant with LDS doctrine in general, including everything else in the Doctrine and Covenants? So when a much more obvious motivation, (desire) is given it’s own canonized scripture (as opposed to the uncanonized heresay of an angel with a drawn sword), I don’t understand why we wouldn’t rush to embrace it.

    And the idea angel with a drawn sword is so obviously contrary to LDS doctrine. Since when dooes God enforce His commandments with angelic excecutioners? When God issues threats, He generally refers to the natural consequences of sin, and warns of spiritual punishments like hell, after this life, like His threat to Martin Harris to sell his farm, or “suffer as I suffered, bleeding at every pore.” But this is not an imminent threat of a drawn sword, but you must exercise faith in the future punishments of a real hell in the afterlife, in order to be motivated to obey here and now. Free agency is a fundamental LDS doctrine, and an angel with a drawn sword is not about agency. The angel with a drawn sword is inconsistant with Joseph Smith’s teaching’s on God, his love and mercy, and on his principles of the priesthood, which preclude compulsion and dominion.

    I know that Meg is doing a good job of trying to portray Joseph as “dragging his feet” on this, and maybe he was at a certain point. But ultimately, one can’t accuse a man who had 27 wives of acting without desire, or without some kind of extraordinary zeal for the commandment. Maybe the angel with a drawn sword was Joseph’s way of understanding his own urgency to practice the commandment, and his absolute belief that it was divine. But to take it literally opens up a huge doctrinal can of worms. I know eating that can of worms is preferable for many people, than actually reading and accepting what D&C 132 says. But ultimately, I think that is the only viable solution. We are stuck with the scriptures.

  21. Nate,
    I seem to recall a couple dying who held back part of their possessions from being consecrated in the early Christian church. Maybe you can dismiss that was well. If that doesn’t help, we can always try to fit the bleeding, suffering, and ultimately tortured to death son of God (thy will!) into the gentle fatherly figure we’ve created with our nice, neat modern approach to religion.

    Let’s not forget our faith was not only born in sacrifice, but in its early forms relied on frequent sacrifice. Joseph understood this quite we’ll, and it seems we’ve lost some of that understanding (a religion which does not require the sacrifice of all things…).

    I have no desire to practice a saccharine faith that’s devoid of any real growth through trials. We seem to consistently forget that we’re all Adam and Eve experiencing the wrong so we can learn and choose the right.

  22. “My ancestors got caught on both sides of the 50 years of Mormon polygamy. The change hurt both times. But that relatively brief time of polygamy accomplished the purpose I believe was in a loving God’s mind”

    So did mine. One of my ancestors original wife committed suicide in Nauvoo after learning of her husband’s plan to take another wife, another spent time in the Sugarhouse Jail or was running from the law in Utah.

    So please share your thoughts on just exactly what was accomplished in that 50 years of practiced polygamy as a result of a loving god’ s mind.

  23. Axe, I’d forgotten about that story about Ananias and Sapphira, which is questionable, coming as it does in the New Testament rather than the Old, where God routinely smites people (and sometimes their entire innocent families as well) for the slightest infractions, like Uzziah, Achan, Lot’s wife and many others.

    My view is that God does not operate this way (if He ever did) in this dispensation, even post-Christ, because it contradicts the principles Joseph Smith revealed which I noted above. Why would God reveal so much light and truth to Joseph Smith, and then go back to using Old Testament style threats? I makes me question the validity of that motivation, rather than the legitimately canonized motivation of desire.

  24. I think we have Nate, set on believing that Joseph contracted plural marriages out of sexual desire. In which case, it seems rather odd that we can find no children resulting from those marriages (DNA is so inconvenient that way). If unmodified desire (rather than sexual desire) is the motivation, then we are back to the wide varieties of reasons God might use to help a man desire a wife. Like not getting cut off from God’s presence.

    The idea of an angel wielding a sword obviously goes back to the story of the Garden of Eden. That lovely picture is not painted by a Mormon (hello, wings). The symbolism of an angel with a sword would resonate with Joseph as someone familiar with the account of Adam and Eve. It’s not so much that the angel was going to whack Joseph with the sword, but that the angel was taking on the aspect of the angel that barred Adam and Eve from paradise. Joseph was being threatened that he and his people would be cut off from the presence of the Lord for disobedience if he did not move forward.

    Likewise, there are plenty of instances where people cut themselves off from God by their actions. The entire plan of salvation hinges on the right of individuals to choose, meaning necessarily that it’s possible for people to choose to cut themselves off from God entirely. Certainly there are the lower kingdoms in the heaven revealed in D&C 76 that accommodate those willing to accept some aspect of God, but who have otherwise cut themselves off from God’s fullness by disobedience.

    The quote from Zina Huntington doesn’t necessarily imply that Joseph’s death would follow from the angel’s sword. Mary Elizabeth Rollins does indicate that the angel stood ready to slay Joseph, but she is saying this in 1905. Joseph’s quote regarding the quandry of revealing the doctrine of plural marriage in association with the New and Everlasting Covenant merely says that if he didn’t obey, he and his people would be cut off. Joseph presumed he would die as a result of revealing this doctrine, so a threat of death, itself, wasn’t particularly powerful.

    Steve, who was the lady that committed suicide in Nauvoo? I’m so sorry to hear of it. The timing of this suicide and the identity of the man and woman in question are obviously germane to the overall tapestry of the Nauvoo story.

    There is the story of Leonora Taylor, who started throwing pots at John Taylor when he told her about Joseph’s request to have her as wife. Leonora put her arm through the window in her rage, cutting herself badly. That wasn’t suicide, though Leonora would attribute the death of one of her children to the difficulties she experienced as a result of that altercation. Of course, Joseph’s challenge to the Kimball, Young, and Taylor regarding their wives was merely that: a challenge. I presume folks here are familiar with the events that transpired when Heber offered Vilate to Joseph.

    As for the purpose that was accomplished by 50 years practicing polygamy, it means that modern Mormons have no problem sealing everyone together. We find every ancestor who might have had a marriage relationship to another person and perform all the sealing ordinances. We do not insist on some OCD-inspired eternal family where only monogamous unions are permitted. I don’t think the particular way polygamy evolved (the dozens of wives, etc.) was required to effect this yielding of our collective psyche to admit the possibility of complex family configurations in eternity, but I do fear that we would not have been open to actually sealing the entirety of the family of man together without that period of polygamy.

    Even as late as the 1880s, Joseph F. Smith married the divorced Alice Ann Kimball, whose husband had been a bad man (bank robber – his example as a “product of polygamy” was consider by Congress when they decided to pass one of the anti-polygamy laws, possibly the Edmunds-Tucker Act). Joseph F. Smith broke the sealing between Alice’s children and their father and had them sealed to himself. Even today there are members of that family who are adamant that Alice and her children should not be associated with their bank robber father.

    If the family of a prophet could so mangle the proper understanding of how family sealings are supposed to work*, then why would we presume that modern Mormons would be open to sealing the entirety of the family of man if they hadn’t thoroughly and completely embraced the possibility of plural marriage in eternity?

    *Spencer W. Kimball, when asked regarding Joseph F. Smith’s actions involving the children of Alice who had been born in the covenant, opined that Joseph F. Smith had acted incorrectly. This I have based on conversation with a descendant of Alice Ann who has done temple work along the lines of the biological father of Alice’s eldest children and been shunned for doing so.

  25. “It’s not so much that the angel was going to whack Joseph with the sword, but that the angel was taking on the aspect of the angel that barred Adam and Eve from paradise. Joseph was being threatened that he and his people would be cut off from the presence of the Lord for disobedience if he did not move forward.”

    Meg, thank you for some basic common sense on this issue. “Let cherubim (angels) and a flaming sword guard the tree of life so Adam and Eve do not partake and live forever in their sins.” The purpose of the angel in this account is to prevent men and women from taking steps that would prevent their eternal salvation — Joseph Smith’s angel was doing the same thing.

  26. “But don’t you see how the angel with a drawn sword idea is inconsistant with LDS doctrine in general”

    I just reread Numbers 22. 🙂

    I had always assumed that imagery came from there and, yes, I’m at least open to the possiblity God did bodily threaten Joseph. However, I suspect Meg is right that this is really just a later memory from the sometimes over zealous Mary Rollins. But I guess I’m not prepared to rule out any possiblity as of yet, though my preference would be how Meg interprets it.

    Nate, while I don’t personally agree with your position, I don’t really think it’s necessarily something you should give up either. I suppose I’m ultimately at least open to your position too.

  27. I suggest that the angel cum sword is an angel of power. The sword could be used to slay, but that isn’t the desired purpose of the sword (just as soldiers in military dress uniforms with swords don’t use those swords to whack people as a primary purpose except in dire circumstances).

    I do find it interesting that Zina Huntington and Mary Elizabeth Rollins are the ones where we read about the angel imagery. These are the ladies Joseph sought to secure as wives at the time the Bennett ring was operating but not yet discovered. Similarly, I find it interesting that both Mary Elizabeth Rollins and Agnes Coolbrith wrote saying they had information about what was really going in in Nauvoo that Joseph F. Smith wouldn’t have known.

    As descendant of John W. Taylor, who desired more wives than he married, and married three wives more than permissible under the manifesto (and one wife more than permissible under the second manifesto), I submit that desire, alone, isn’t sufficient.

    In the case of John Taylor, every woman he kind of righteously desired to marry after the manifesto was a woman who had been revealed to a prior wife as being set apart for John. Nettie Taylor had the vision for two of the wives (the first of the post-manifesto wives and the last of John’s wives), and those “revelations” are well documented because her son was a writer. Nettie tended to faint in conjunction with the manifestation that a woman before her was to be *another* of John’s wives. Nellie Taylor had a revelation of some sort for the third wife (the second post-manifestor wife), but no one wrote down what that revelation consisted of, beyond the fact that something happened.

    As I said, John went about courting at least one other woman, and only learned about the revelations presaging his earlier wives when Nettie got royally pissed with him and blurted it out during an argument. He was rather delighted to know that his later marriages had been accompanied by more than simply his own inclinations.

  28. I see the angel with the drawn sword idea has been somewhat mollified by the conversation, yet I haven’t seen a strong argument against Nate’s interpretation of D&C 132.

  29. I submit that the word desire, as stated in D&C 132, is like the word faith.

    “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

    Similarly, if you have desire a spouse, you hope to have someone you do not have, who is approved for you in the eyes of God.

    Having a horny dude or dudette wandering around and saying “I want you, therefore I am approved to have you,” is not correct from any point of view I can think of.

    Again, if Joseph merely desired the women who became his plural wives, then why no children? Why didn’t he get torqued when women said no? I find the mere doctrine of desire insufficient to provide an understanding of the events as they transpired.

    Perhaps Nate can explain how desire, alone, created the tapestry of events in Nauvoo, Winters Quarters, and Utah/Mexico/Canada through 1890/1904 and the thread of plural marriage that continues to our day?

  30. sss,

    I believe I’ve already addressed Nate’s point. D&C 132 can easily be read as how to go about things once polygamy is established rather than a description of how it had functioned so far. There is only a contradiction here if you first assume there is a contradiction — which doesn’t make a very strong rational argument, I’m afraid.

    Meg is also correct that Nate is emphasizing one possible meaning of the word “desire” in a context that doesn’t call for it.

  31. Meg and Bruce, I’ve never said that by desire I mean exclusively sexual desire. Just because there is little evidence of sexual activity doesn’t mean that desire was not there, and that Joseph was being forced to marry 27 women because of angels with drawn swords. Joseph was obviously acting out of zeal for the Law. Maybe he had misgivings at one point, but he didn’t take long to become a fanatical convert to polygamy. And not just polygamy, polyandry, and taking unto himself dozens of wives, not just a few token ones for obedience sake.

    Why would one desire to have another wife? Maybe because he loves a woman and desires to be with her for eternity. Maybe because he desires both the spiritual and physical intimacy that only marriage can bring with this woman. Maybe because he is building up for himself treasures in heaven, for God gave unto Joseph an abundance: “I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.”

    Joseph knew he would die soon in this life, but the Lord promised him he would live like a king in the next, like David and Solomon, with an hundred-fold of wives, houses, crowns, and lives. The language of D&C is not of compulsion, or threat (at least for the man) but of a gift. “All those that I have given unto him.”

  32. Thus does the internet create misunderstandings, since we aren’t in the room with you, able to understand your inflections and subtleties.

    There’s time enough in my future posts to discuss reasons I think Joseph was acting to seal women to himself. As desirable as the young teens and older women were (because they are people, and people are lovely), I don’t think mere desire is sufficient to explain what happened.

    As for the angel and sword threat, that “line” was not used for many women. In fact, it seems remarkably localized in time.

  33. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for that.

    Edward Robinson and his wife, Mary, convert to the gospel in England. They travel to Nauvoo on the same ship with John Wooton and his wife, Ann Turner Wooton.

    On June 27,1844, Joseph Smith dies.

    On May 30, 1845, the five men accused of conspiring to kill Joseph Smith are acquitted, after only two hours of deliberation.

    Following the May acquittal, the non-Mormon neighbors of the Mormons begin to torment the Saints. The “wolf hunts” in October are the best remembered aspect of this time, but I have family that appear to have been poisoned around this time as well (Delongs).

    John Wooton dies after June 28, 1845, leaving Ann a widow with two little children to care for. [Update: John Wootlon [sic] died sometime between 4-11 August 1845 at Nauvoo; 34 years old; inflammation, as reported in the 20 August edition of the Nauvoo Neighbor, see Lyndon W. Cook, Nauvoo Deaths & Marriages: 1839-1845, p. 85. Though John was actually 36, his widow was 34, providing a plausible reason for the age discrepancy.]

    The Nauvoo Neighbor reports the apparent suicide of Mary Robinson in early September 1845. Mary appeared to have slit her throat with a razor that was found in her hand.

    At some point in 1845 Edward Robinson marries Ann Turner Wooton. It is unclear if Ann joined the household prior to Mary’s suicide or not. The family history indicates Edward Robinson asked her to join his household after he “lost his wife to illness…” Edward at this point has seven children by his deceased wife, Mary. Ann Wooton has two boys and the care of her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Wooton.

    Ann will not have a child by Robinson until May 1847, making it possible that the couple refrained from having sexual relations until after the one year anniversary of the deaths of Mary and John.

    You infer that Mary’s suicide is necessarily caused by a knowledge that Robinson intended to take (or had taken) a plural wife. However I see multiple factors that could cause mental distress for a Mormon woman circa September 1845, including the death of her good friend, John Wooton, presuming he pre-deceased her. It seems unlikely that Ann Wooton had been a widow long by the time Mary committed suicide. I’d have to check if the actual date of John Wooton’s death is documented. The date in appears to be based on the last letter he wrote on June 28, 1845, but he wasn’t dead at that point (in fact, seemed downright chipper).

    For Mary to commit suicide, apparently an isolated instance despite the terrific stress the Saints were under, indicates mental aberration, as noted in the announcement printed in the Nauvoo Neighbor. For Mary to react so desperately to the possibility her husband might extend protection to a friend who had been a widow for less than a month does not speak well of Mary. She could simply have said, “Offer her protection, fine. Don’t you dare think about marrying her.” The suicide was a terrible thing to do to her seven children and her husband. But often folks who are so far gone as to commit suicide are non compos mentis, and it’s certainly not clear a merciful Savior or a just God would damn her for it.

    That said, there is precedent for suicide as a sign of protest. Clara Immerwahr, wife of Nobel Laureate Fritz Haber and herself a famous chemist, committed suicide to protest his act of giving Germany the recipe for mustard gas, which was used during World War I to conduct chemical warfare. I also have a memory of some young woman pressed to become a plural wife in the Winter Quarters era who allegedly drowned herself rather than be so befouled. I’m solid on Clara Immerwahr’s motivation, though it’s possible her son’s later suicide indicates a family history of mental instability. As for the young woman drowning herself, I haven’t read a note. Her drowning may have been accidental.

  34. Meg,

    I appreciate your postings, and that you choose to look at others in history charitably.

  35. So I went back to the compilation of death and marriage records to see what they have on the death of Mary Robinson. If her death by suicide were to have been captured in that compilation, I would be able to research the prevalence of suicide by studying that single book.

    What I found was a record documenting the death of Mary Robinson in 1844. However this was the death of a child, aged 1 year 7 months and 14 days. Mary C. J. Robinson died of diarrhea. You can also see this information in the pdf of the September 4, 1844 issue of the Nauvoo Neighbor.

    So I propose the September 1845 suicide of Mary Robinson is most likely related to the death of her child one year earlier, combined with the other tragedies and feared future abuses. It seems unlikely, to me, that her primary motivation would have been the possible plural marriage between her husband and a friend who had been widowed just three weeks earlier.

    Another interesting mystery is the Robinson family record in familytree. There it indicates that the child, Mary Robinson, born in 1842, lived to 1920. This child of the tragic Mary has one daughter herself, when she herself is 40, who then marries a son of a Smith family from Vermont that converts and skips Nauvoo entirely, producing one child on in Iowa in 1848, with the next child born in South Cottonwood, Utah.

    So if Mary C. J. Robinson, aged 1 year, 7 months, and 14 days, passed away of diarrhea in Nauvoo the same week her younger brother, Joseph, was born, who is the Mary Robinson who lived?

    One possibility is that the Ann Wooton had (or was pregnant with) a young daughter. After the tragic deaths of Mary Robinson (child) and Mary Robinson (mother), I can see Ann naming her daughter Mary. Presuming she had become the wife of Edward Robinson by that point, this child would be Mary Robinson.

    We can already see the confusion in the family record, where the surviving Mary Robinson is cited as being christened in 1835, the date her sister Mary, who died in infancy, was born, christened, and died. If the surviving Mary was the third child of that name born into a family headed by Edward Robinson, then it would be understandable if the family got her confused with the daughter who had been born in England and died in Nauvoo.

    So while it is still possible that Mary Robinson committed suicide because of the threat of her husband taking on a plural wife, it seems that her husband and “the other woman,” Ann Turner Wooton, honored the departed wife and the two daughters of the same name who pre-deceased her, by naming Ann’s daughter after the dead woman.


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