Collecting the Sorrowful

[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.]

William Weeks drawing of Nauvoo TempleBefore Joseph’s death in the summer of 1844, over a hundred men and women had entered into plural marriages. However except for six of these couples,[ref]As already discussed multiple times, no child borne to a wife of Joseph Smith can be proven to have been engendered by Smith, based on DNA analysis. The six couples where a plural wife appears to have conceived before Joseph’s death are: William Clayton & Margaret Moon (Daniel born Feb 18, 1844); William Fleshaw & Charlotte Walters (Katherine born November 28, 1845); Heber C. Kimball & Sarah Peak Noon (Henry born ca. 1844, his younger sister Sarah born July 1, 1845); Joseph B. Noble & Sarah B. Alley (George born February 2, 1844); Theodore Turley & Mary Clift (Ephraim born February 11, 1845); and Lorenzo Dow Young & Harriet P. Wheeler Decker (John born September 5, 1844), from Bergera, Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44, available online at, retrieved 7 Jul 2014.[/ref]there is no indication that any of these plural marriages had been consummated.

For months after Joseph’s death, the matter of plural marriage took a back seat to succession concerns. But by September 1844, Brigham Young and the apostles had established with the majority of Joseph’s followers that they were Joseph’s rightful successors. They continued work toward completing the Nauvoo temple and began to marry the plural widows Joseph had left behind. To the chagrin of Emma Smith, the apostles gave the go ahead for men with plural wives to engage in sexual relations with these wives.

Succession Crisis

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Joseph and Hyrum, there was lack of clarity regarding who would lead the Church.[ref]See Succession Crisis (Lattery Day Saints).[/ref]

Two obvious candidates were Joseph’s surviving brothers, Samuel and William. However Samuel would die that summer, reputedly from a bilious stomach upset, though William claimed Samuel had been poisoned.[ref]William based his accusation on the fact that Samuel was being treated by Willard Richards, a doctor specializing in Thompsonian and homeopathic methods and the powders were administered by Hosea Stout. Homeopathic remedies are preparations primarily consisting of sugar that can produce a brief exacerbation of symptoms before healing occurs. The tendency of the Smiths to credit each other with poisoning may have been influenced by the death of Alvin Smith as a result of “heroic” medicine, which included use of calomel, a highly toxic mercury compound. See Divett, Medicine and the Mormons, available at, retrieved 7 Jul 2014.[/ref] William was not supported as a serious successor for long by anyone outside his own family and briefly aligned himself with Strang.

Brigham Young and the apostles believed Joseph had conferred on them the keys to carry forth the work of salvation, but this event had been conducted in strict secrecy. Their claim was complicated by the fact that the majority of the apostles were not in Nauvoo when Joseph died, as they were in other states involved in Joseph Smith’s campaign to become President of the United States.[ref]Joseph was inspired to announce his candidacy when no current candidate was willing to endorse federal support for the liberties of the Mormons.[ref]Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, p. 12. Also Smith, History of the Church, VI, pp. 64-65 and Student Manual for Church History in the Fulness of Times, Chapter 21, available online at, retrieved 7 July 2014.[/ref] Under the theory that the apostles were Joseph’s rightful successors, Willard Richards had begun signing himself as “Clerk and Acting President,” as he was the only able apostle in Nauvoo after the martyrdom.[ref]Walker, Six Days in August: Brigham Young and the Succession Crisis of 1844, in A Firm Foundation, available online at, retrieved 7 July 2014.[/ref]

Sidney Rigdon believed he was the clear successor to Joseph Smith as the sole surviving member of the First Presidency, proposing he would become the guardian of the Church. Rigdon had been volatile ever since being beaten by a mob in 1832 and since 1842 had been suspected of working against Joseph. Rigdon was in Pennsylvania when Joseph died.[ref]Sidney Rigdon was Joseph’s pick for Vice President, and candidates for president and Vice President on a ticket could not hail from the same state. Since Joseph did not expect to win the election, selection of Sidney Rigdon as running mate might have been a way to respectfully get Sidney out of Nauvoo at a time when conspiracy was rife.[/ref]

Recent convert, James Strang, produced a letter that seemed to be a commission from Joseph Smith to lead the Church.[ref]Some believe the letter was merely appointing Strang to lead the congregation (stake) in Wisconsin. Others believe the letter was a forgery that used a legitimate outer covering from a letter posted by Joseph from Nauvoo shortly before his death. See The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). It is suggestive that Strang became Mormon just when the Law conspiracy was gaining steam. Many of those who aligned themselves with Strang had links to the conspiracy, including William Law and Austin Cowles.[/ref]

Though Strang attracted many of those who had agitated against Joseph during the spring of 1844, the vast majority of Saints were inclined to support either Brigham Young or Sidney Rigdon as Joseph’s Successor. For those informed of the New and Everlasting Covenant and plural marriage, it was clear that Sidney Rigdon would not support Joseph’s teachings on this matter. Brigham Young, on the other hand, had been deeply involved in Joseph’s teachings and practices regarding plural marriage.

When Sidney Rigdon returned from Pennsylvania, the four apostles in town invited him to meet with them on August 4, 1844. Instead, Rigdon preached a sermon to several thousand people, indicating his intention to lead the Church and preserve the Church as Joseph “had begun it.” That afternoon, Stake President William Marks announced that a special meeting would be held in four days to determine the matter of succession. Marks himself had a claim to succession, and Emma had urged him to take the reigns in July 1844, but Marks was content to throw his support to Sidney Rigdon.[ref]Walker, Six Days in August.[/ref]

On Thursdays the Saints commonly met in the grove for religious meetings. So Sidney Rigdon’s decision to hold a vote on succession on August 8, 1844, resonated with that practice. Sidney preached for two hours, and was leading up to a vote sustaining him as guardian of the Church when Brigham Young took the stand. Brigham was supposed to have been with the other apostles in the office of Willard Richards, but the meeting in Richards’ office had completely flown from his mind. Instead he found himself in the grove, and announced to the assembled parties that a vote on the matter of succession would be held that afternoon at 2 pm. At the meeting Brigham taught a sermon that emphasized the right of the apostles to lead. Parley P. Pratt followed, also supporting the Twelve. Sidney Rigdon was exhausted from his morning sermon and asked William W. Phelps to plead his case. Instead, Phelps supported the claim of the apostles.[ref]Walker, Six Days in August.[/ref]

Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were sustained by the vast majority of those in attendance. Those who did not sustain the apostles were eventually excommunicated.[ref]McKiernan, The voice of one crying in the wilderness : Sidney Rigdon, religious reformer, 1793-1876, p. 56.[/ref]

Collecting the Widows and Abandoned

Starting a month after the dramatic vote to sustain the apostles, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball began to meet with those who had entered into polygamous marriages, including Joseph’s widows.[ref]Others reached out to women whose husbands had either died or departed, as in the case of Emmeline B. Harris, a deserted teenage bride who became a plural wife of Newel K. Whitney. Newel K. Whitney’s death in 1850 left Emmeline a single mother again at age 22. She approached Daniel H. Wells and asked him to accept her as a plural wife. She went on to become the General President of the Relief Society, showing how plural marriage was a pathway to power for women in the early Church.[/ref] Nine months after the vote sustaining Brigham Young and the apostles as the leaders of the Church, we begin to to see children born to plural wives at a significant rate.

As for Joseph’s widows, there were four options:

1) Marry a Church leader (e.g., Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball)
2) Remain married to a prior husband
3) Remain widowed
4) Marry another husband who was not a Church leader

In the fall of 1844, it appears Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and Amasa Lyman married the following women who had been wives of Joseph Smith:

Brigham Young Heber C. Kimball Amasa Lyman
Louisa Beaman Nancy Winchester
Eliza R. Snow Martha McBride
Emily Dow Partridge Eliza Maria Partridge
Maria Lawrence Sarah Lawrence
Olive G. Frost Lucy Walker

Women who scholars believe had covenanted with Joseph Smith[ref]This list of Joseph’s wives is based on Compton and Hales, though I don’t believe some of these women (Mary Heron, Elizabeth Durfee, Sarah Kingsley) had actually married Joseph during his lifetime.[/ref] but were married to someone else prior to Joseph’s death remained with the other husband. These include:

Wife Husband Prior to June 27, 1844
Fanny Alger Solomon Custer
Zina Diantha Huntington Henry Jacobs
Presendia Huntington Norman Buell
Mary Heron John Snider
Sylvia Sessions Windsor Lyon
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Adam Lightner
Patty Bartlett David Sessions
Marinda Nancy Johnson Orson Hyde
Elizabeth Davis Jabez Durfee
Sarah Kingsley John Cleveland
Lucinda Pendleton George Harris
Sarah Ann Whitney Joseph C. Kingsbury
Ruth Vose Edward Sayers
Flora Ann Woodworth Carlos Gove
Elvira Annie Cowles Jonathan H. Holmes

Other wives of Joseph Smith appear to have remained unattached in 1844. This would include Emma Smith, who was pregnant with Joseph’s son.[ref]Brian C. Hales has a list of those women he believes were married to Joseph Smith, with an indication of who they married after Joseph’s death. But Brian’s list includes many years of subsequent history, not just the events of 1844, available at, retrieved 7 July 2014.[/ref]

Sexuality in Plural Marriage

Conclusive evidence of sexuality in plural marriages prior to Joseph’s death is scant. There are only two cases where the men are known to have produced a child with their plural wives prior to Joseph’s death: William Clayton and Joseph Bates Noble. There are four additional couples where children appear to have been conceived before Joseph’s death: Heber C. Kimball with Sarah Peak Noon, Theodore Turley with Mary Clift, Lorenzo Dow Young with Harriet P. Wheeler Decker, and William Felshaw with Charlotte Waters.[ref]See Wives of Sorrow and Healing Wounded Hearts for more information on the plural marriages of other men producing children prior to Joseph’s death.[/ref] There is no conclusive evidence that Joseph was sexually intimate with any of his plural wives, if by conclusive evidence we mean DNA confirmation.

Emma Smith had made it abundantly clear that she felt plural marriages should not produce children. In a conversation with Lucy Meserve (then a pregnant plural wife of George A. Smith), Emma reportedly said that Mormonism was true, but “the Twelve had made bogus of it. She said they were living with their [plural] wives and raising children and Joseph never taught any such doctrine.”[ref]George D. Smith, Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-1846: A Preliminary Demographic Report, Dialogue, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 25-26.[/ref] Distraught, Lucy reported this to her secret husband, George. George reassured Lucy by recounting a time when he came upon Joseph washing his hands, reporting that he’d been assisting Emma in the delivery of a child for one of his plural wives. The child Emma and Joseph helped deliver needn’t have been Joseph’s, but clearly George A. Smith and Lucy Meserve took comfort that they were not acting out of harmony with Joseph’s teachings, despite Emma’s opposition.

Brigham Young and the rest of the twelve apostles had read the revelation and took it at face value. D&C 132: 68 was clear:

[A man’s plural wives] are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth… that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.[ref]D&C 132:68.[/ref]

It was clear to them that plural marriages were to be consummated. Now that Brigham Young was in charge, he authorized sexual relations in plural marriages. Nine months after September 1844, just as the trial was being convened in Carthage to try the accused assassins of Joseph Smith, Nauvoo was full of pregnant plural wives and newborn babies. It should be no wonder that the leaders of Nauvoo wanted nothing to do with a trial that could prove dangerous to Joseph’s surviving followers.

Turning the Hearts

Brigham insisted that the marriages of the Saints should appropriately include engendering children. He also was committed to completing the temple, so the Saints could receive the ordinances Joseph had taught could only be performed in a temple. This included sealing spouses together as well as sealing the Saints into a sort of family.[ref]In the early days of the Church, it was unclear that sealings between children and parents should be performed along genealogical lines. Even so, the early Saints did bind themselves together in family units by adoption. These “adoption” sealings were later supplanted with sealings along genealogical lines, starting with the dedication of the St. George temple.[/ref]

The apostates of Nauvoo left to gather to Strang’s Wisconsin refuge. Meanwhile the State and people of Illinois seemed determine to emulate every wrong enacted by Missouri.[ref]Assuming one finds it wrong to revoke all legal protections for a despised people as well as burning their homes and murdering individuals. It is clear that the inhabitants of Illinois, particularly the inhabitants of Hancock County, in 1845 felt such acts were legitimate.[/ref]

Undeterred, Brigham enacted his understanding of Joseph’s teachings in a way that Joseph never had. Unlike Joseph, Brigham felt no need to avoid offending Emma Hale.

Future Planned Posts:

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.

27 thoughts on “Collecting the Sorrowful

  1. Was there ever a record or journal entry that points out that Brigham says “now is the time” or is that just based on births? I’d think that kind of meeting would be recorded somewhere.

  2. I would like to have seen some reference in this post to the many who heard Joseph’s voice or saw his appearance when Brigham spoke. J. L. Heywood’s account is excellent and I’ve read others.

  3. There are apparently 101 accounts talking about Brigham Young appearing to be like Joseph. However since these accounts allegedly weren’t contemporary with the actual event, the scholarly consensus is that they were a post-facto group elaboration rather than reliable factual descriptions of Brigham actually taking on the appearance and aural attributes of Joseph.

    I think after listening to the manic-depressive Sidney go on about rolling back to some original version of Mormonism, the bare fact of Brigham taking the stage and taking control would have been such a relief, such a return to the way things had been with Joseph, that for most people they were able to receive a spiritual confirmation that Brigham and the apostles were the proper successors. And that for some, that certainty took on additional manifestations.

  4. The supposition that Brigham and the rest of the twelve gave the OK to begin acting on existing marriages is based both on Emma’s statement as well as the surprising jump in birth rate 9 months after September 1844.

    Others haven’t twigged to this because the children born in 1842 were supposed to have been the children of the putative husbands (Kimball, Turley, etc.) rather than understanding the possibility that they’d been fathered by the Strikers. So others have supposed there was a gradual increase in births, rather than noticing that it was like a gate opening.

  5. How many of the Apostles were away intermittently prior to Joseph’s death? That would seem the natural explanation for me (absent any journal entries of either BY or someone else saying, “gentlemen time to start making babies”).

    They’re gone frequently, when they do come back,mid they are married they’re spending time with their first wife before leaving again, but after Joseph died they’re home for an extended period so the relationships naturally progress.

  6. Hi Brian,

    Great to see you here!

    I agree that there were many people willing to say that they shared Joseph’s bed. But as we married folk know, sharing a bed does not sex necessarily imply. Heck, even unmarried folks know that being in the same bed doesn’t mean sex happened.

    As for Josephine, she was the only surviving child of her mother’s marriage to Lyon. Her siblings who were born by her mother’s marriage to Clark either never married or married in the temple. Josephine was the only one who had married outside the temple. Based on documentation for other families, a child from a plural wife of Joseph would not be told about their spiritual lineage (e.g., that Joseph Smith was their “father”) until they themselves were married in the temple. Made Marietta Holmes really mad, by the way, based on the way she modified the marriage record (striking through Smith and writing “Holmes” boldly in its place). Anyway, Sylvia Sessions Smith Lyons Clark on her deathbed was aware that Josephine wasn’t aware of her relationship with Joseph. So she shared. Then she died before she could provide details. Details could have told us whether Sylvia meant Joseph was biological father or merely spiritual father by virtue of a sealing ordinance.

    The apostles weren’t gone so often that the lack of children prior to 1845 makes sense as a cause. I find Emma’s complaint to Lucy Meserve instructive – Emma felt that Joseph had not taught sexuality in plural marriage for some reason.

    Again, I find it odd that Joseph could get children on Emma yet we have DNA proof that all children produced by Joseph’s plural wives who can be conclusively tested were not engendered by Joseph. A whole lot of alleged sex was going on without kids being produced. Now a lack of smoke does not mean there was no fire, but lack of smoke leaves lack of fire as a possibility. Likewise, lack of children does not mean there was no sex, but does leave lack of sex as a possible explanation for the lack of children.

  7. If we are going to accept D&C 132 as being authentic, I think we need to accept the fact that regardless of what Joseph was doing or not doing in bed, the polygamous marriages were intended by him to be sexual. Otherwise, what is the need for the new wives to be virgins? The Mormons were never Shakers, so I think it is safe to say that while one should only take a virgin to wife, that wife was never intended to remain a virgin.

  8. Given that all the accounts of Joseph sharing a bed with plural wives is from years later, another factor in the way the women described their interactions would have been the difficulty of explaining why they were married to Joseph if the relationships didn’t involve marital relations. Yet they all merely imply, with the exception of Emily Partridge, who answered “yes” when asked if she had engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph.

    Brian Hales has done a nice job of explaining why it’s unlikely that Helen Mar Kimball [Smith Whitney] was sexually intimate with Joseph at his website He comes to the conclusion that there were twelve ladies for whom there appears to be reason to suspect sexual relations occurred, but his standard for stating relations occurred is as little as a second-hand rumor recorded decades later by someone with no reason to be reporting the information, as in the case of Olive Frost.

    Brian goes to great length to explain why he doesn’t believe Joseph engaged in sexual relations with those of his wives who were civilly married to other men.

    When you realize that the Strikers were numerous and active in Nauvoo, many of the later accounts can be seen as accounts from Strikers. Several of the individuals listed as early Nauvoo polygamists also appear to have been Strikers (e.g., Vinson Knight). Part of the Striker “story” was this idea that Joseph was having sex with everyone he could coerce into relations (Benjamin Winchester’s accounts, the Expositor). Modern researchers have accepted the Striker accounts at face value, forming an opinion of Joseph that would have fit well in the pages of the Expositor. One of these is the assertion that Mary Heron Snider was one of Joseph’s wives simply because her son-in-law mentioned something in a grammatically ambiguous and sketchy record saying Mary was frigged.

    Are we all glad Brigham Young unambiguously endorsed men having sexual relations with their plural wives?


    Does that mean Joseph was having sexual relations with his plural wives?


  9. The one problem, Meg, is that Brigham Young is on record as only doing what he was taught to do by Joseph. As a faithful disciple of Joseph, Brigham never really claimed any innovations. Even Adam-God he claimed was from Joseph’s private teachings.

    I think the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Brigham’s endorsement of sexual relations with plural wives was originally sanctioned by Joseph.

    I find it interesting that we are debating whether or not Joseph had relations with some of his plural wives. I fail to see how there is any evidence that he did or didn’t. Of course, DNA is proof positive, but so many babies were lost pre-natally and post-natally, I don’t see how we can be dogmatic either way.

    And then of course, there is the question: Is it really vital for us to know how Joseph spent what few intimate moments he had with his wives? I’d say, not very vital.

  10. Hi Michael,

    Joseph being celibate in his plural marriages doesn’t mean he taught that plural marriages should be celibate.

    There’s a guy gal difference in how the world is viewed.

    For most guys, it apparently isn’t bothersome that Joseph may have slept with lots of women (magically without producing any children) even though his first wife, Emma, clearly had a huge problem with that. Not to mention that some of his wives were married to other men or sisters or clearly way too young (13-14).

    Most women do have a problem with a founding prophet who randomly had sex with dozens of women (including sisters, his wards, young teens) using coersion and betraying his wife to boot.

    Emma was very consistent in her opposition to Joseph being portrayed as a practicing polygamist, which is part of the reason she refused to go west with Brigham.

    Emma’s dying testimony asserted an exclusive marital relationship with Joseph. When that became well-publicized, we end up with lots of women styling themselves as Joseph’s wives (Eliza Roxcy Snow Smith) and asserting that Emma knew they were Joseph’s wives (Melissa Lott).

    Most guys assume Emma was lying.

    I assume Emma and Joseph’s plural wives were all telling the truth. And everyone I talk to (i.e., non-Mormons who are not steeped in the lore of a sexually active Joseph) gets that lack of children in the 1800s, when both the man and the women involved were fertile, is consistent with lack of sex.

    The one challenge is Emily Partridge’s “yes” when asked about carnal intercourse. But I think it would be easy for Emily to say a simple “yes” to save the Temple Lot from Emma’s boys, even it it wasn’t a strictly true answer. On the other hand, I can see Emma asserting she was Joseph’s only wife (by her definition) if the only time Joseph did engage in intimacy was that first night with Emily Partridge, and Emily didn’t get pregnant.

    Both Emma and Emily were “testifying” in situations where they needed their overarching message to be unambiguous.

    Also remember that Joseph didn’t manage to get the insanely fertile Louisa Beaman pregnant and the rest of his plural wives in 1841 and early 1842 were married (and here I’ll rely on the nice job Brian Hales does of debunking sex in those marriages). Once we get to January 1842, Joseph clearly knew about the Strikers.

    I don’t know about you, but if I had just found out that there was a large group of men and women who were randomly having sex with each other (each of whom had at least two illicit partners), when I knew for a fact that one of the likely men in that population had gonorrhea, which was only treatable using medicines like calomel (which had killed my brother), I would not be having sex with anyone other than a faithful spouse.

    If you didn’t know about the Strikers, Joseph’s celibacy in his plural marriages is plausible. Once you understand about the Strikers, the reasons for Joseph’s celibacy in his plural marriages becomes obvious.

    But, again, Joseph being celibate in his plural marriages doesn’t mean he taught that plural marriages should be celibate. So the objection to Brigham Young “making stuff up” is not an actual objection to the historical possibility I’ve been talking about.

  11. The one challenge is Emily Partridge’s “yes” when asked about carnal intercourse. But I think it would be easy for Emily to say a simple “yes” to save the Temple Lot from Emma’s boys, even it it wasn’t a strictly true answer.

    If that was her strategy, it backfired. As I recall the judge in the temple lot case concluded that there had probably been sexual relations, but he refused to acknowledge these as honest-to-gosh (polygamous) marriages; instead labeling them as “sports”.

  12. Ultimately, the courts rejected the claim of the Reorganized Church on the Temple Lot properties. So whether Emily Partridge was called a bona fide wife or just a “sport,” the desired end was accomplished. As I recall, the case was decided in favor of the Temple Lot folks based on a technicality (the RLDS claim wasn’t properly filed).

    Obviously the law of the land didn’t recognize plural marriages. So the judge’s finding would not have legitimized the legality of the relationships. The question was merely whether Emma’s boys and their Church were the proper “heirs” of property that had belonged to Joseph Smith and the Church he headed while alive. Again, the judge decided there was no basis for the RLDS case.

  13. “Most women do have a problem with a founding prophet who randomly had sex with dozens of women (including sisters, his wards, young teens) using coersion and betraying his wife to boot.”

    Yet that wasn’t how I characterized Joseph. I think you’re being frankly uncharitable here. It doesn’t have to be a strict antipodal dichotomy. I don’t think that Joseph had sex with all of his wives, as your comment here insinuates. He didn’t have the time to do so, anyway (which is one of my points). He could have had relations with a select few.

    Regarding Emma, I think you greatly underestimate the lengths that people will go to in order to stay sane. Even very good people, like a prophet’s wife, can be susceptible to self-deception. It was comfortable for her to reject Brigham Young because she never liked him. It’s often more comfortable to believe in falsehood than to face up to the reality that your husband was commanded by God to take more than one wife. I think your treatment, while interesting, is contrived and fails the Occam’s Razor test.

    I think you underestimate how emotion overpowers reason, and I think you do this because you’re an extremely logical person.

  14. Hi Michael,

    Pretend, for a moment, that it seriously does matter why Joseph instituted plural marriage and what he did with his wives.

    What is your theory for the reason of it and what was his behavior as a husband to multiple wives that you believe accounts for all the facts with more economy than what you view as my contrived treatment?

    It’s a bit too pat to accuse Emma of being self-deluded in order to stay sane. My ancestor is one of the many who asserts that Emma was fully aware that she was a wife of Joseph. Emma and Elvira rallied round one another – in fact, you will find that Joseph’s wives loved Emma, and Emma loved them. Which is not what you’d expect from a woman who is so destroyed by the thought of her husband’s plural marriages that she develops an alternate worldview to protect her sanity. Nor is it the impulse you’d expect from women towards a first wife who completely rejects the legitimacy of their bond to her husband.

    As for me being extremely logical, I’m amused that you cite that attribute by way of absolving me of the capacity to understand Emma. I, logical Meg, am therefore less able to understand Emma than you, honored Michael?

  15. @MT, the gradual unfolding of polygamy and eternal marriage sealings to Joseph and Brigham mirrors the gradual unfolding of other gospel topics to those of their generation, including parent/child sealings (eg, WW had to clear up some things regarding adoption), and priesthood offices, and various places and stages of post mortal existence, (Eg, part of what we consider essential common knowledge wasnt revealed until 1918 to JFS in Sec 138.)

    One thing that I gather that most pro-church historians agree upon, is that JS delayed/procrastinated his obedience to enter into plural marriage. This is one of the key points upon which Meg then interpolates. One or more of the women he was “supposed” to marry had already married another legally/temporally. Meg speculates that JS tried to “make up” for this by JS marrying her (or multiple hers) for eternity, but not for time.

    Now this may violate our present day sense of there being no “the ONE” that you are “supposed” to marry, but for JS, a prophet, he may have been a special case. Additionally, there being no “the ONE” may be merely a _general_ rule, not a universal rule, even today for average saints. IE “Saturday’s Warrior” may not be generally true, but it may be true for some.

    One of my favorite talks is by Elder Oaks in which he says the Brethren teach the rule, not the exceptions. I went crazy trying to reconcile the church’s public statements regarding missionary service and requirements with the actual utter CHAOS and continual “exceptions” I encountered on my mission. Only by realizing that exceptions go unspoken, or at least publicly unspoken, have I managed to retain my testimony and sanity.

    So I think you’re falling into the trap of the mindset that requires all revelation on a topic (such as plural marriage) to be delivered up front in one package that cant be added to.

    The problems generated by the Strikers also adds a dimension of “special circumstances” that I think Meg weaves deftly into her interpolations. The problems of unplanned pregnancies among the women who were seduced and the fact that the Strikers were accusing Joseph of doing what they were doing (a common tactic of both criminals and sinners) also threw a monkey wrench into the teaching/announcement and implementation of plural marriage.

    Joseph was never a “fallen prophet”, but in regards to some things, like implementing polygamy, and the 116 pages, he did mess up to some degree, and he admitted it. The record does show he procrastinated, and it took a threat from an angel to get him moving.

    I think Meg did a great job of explaining how all these extenuating circumstances messed up the roll-out of polygamy. I think historians agree that polygamy had a “messy” beginning in the church. Meg gives very plausible reasons why and how that was.

  16. Bookslinger and Meg,

    No, both of you are misunderstanding me and reading way too much into my objections.

    “So I think you’re falling into the trap of the mindset that requires all revelation on a topic (such as plural marriage) to be delivered up front in one package that cant be added to.”

    I wasn’t making this claim and I personally don’t believe it.

    “As for me being extremely logical, I’m amused that you cite that attribute by way of absolving me of the capacity to understand Emma.”

    I didn’t absolve you of any capacities, Meg. I merely bring up objections that some people might find with your analysis. This is sort of how scholarship works. I assumed that you put your thesis out in the public domain to encounter and anticipate objections to your assumptions. You have built a very theoretical framework in order to reconcile what Bookslinger has referred to as a “messy” historical reality. I was merely pointing out that there could be other explanations that don’t require a grand edifice. It’s no disrespect to Emma to point out that she went through hell and ended up a broken-hearted widow to later remarried a non-Mormon and refused to gather with the Saints. It happens to be historically true.

    “I, logical Meg, am therefore less able to understand Emma than you, honored Michael?”

    I am not personally invested, as you seem to be, in the issue of polygamy, as I have no polygamous ancestry. It seems my comments have hit a nerve. You have my apologies.

  17. Hi Michael,

    I suppose it does show when I pull an all-nighter… Sorry for being a bit less guarded that I try to be.

    You say that there could be alternatives, that you find my hypotheses on this to be contrived.

    I will say that I have had intense e-mail discussions with various scholars on this. They don’t all agree with me, but I have been informed by their feedback.

    But this is the thing that irked me. The scholars I’ve corresponded with have given me constructive feedback. You have merely indicated you don’t agree, without providing constructive feedback.

    I simply would like to have that constructive feedback, and I showed my hand a bit that I will apply my logical self to the constructive feedback. It’s a meritocracy of ideas that I’m after, not merely being told “nope.”

    Anyone can simply say “nope.”

  18. @mt, i was responding to your statement “The one problem, Meg, is that Brigham Young is on record as only doing what he was taught to do by Joseph.”

    Brigham either received further instruction from the Lord, beyond what Joseph taught him, or else was following instructions from Joseph on how to carry out regulation of polygamy after the extenuating or restricting circumstances under which Joseph was operating had changed. It wasnt until, when, 1852, that the 12 went public with polygamy? Up until then, it was an “inner circle” kind of thing.

  19. @mt, and the rules about polygamy were still a bit “messy” or not well understood under the early years of BY. (Or perhaps it’s we who dont understand all the rules/exceptions they were operating under.) One example being what happened to women who were married for eternity to JS, but had someone else as their temporal husband, such as Zina D. Huntington Jacobs. Since her eternal husband Joseph was dead, I dont understand why it made a difference that she “had” to marry BY temporally (as BY seemed to insist) as opposed to remaining temporally married to Jacobs. I wonder if BY was correcting a previous “mistake” by temporally marrying her, or whether their temporal marriage was not such a necessity as he seemed to indicate. In other words, BY may have been cleaning up the previous messiness, or maybe he was contributing to further messiness. Or maybe there were things that were left unspoken/unrecorded. Maybe Zina was looking for an excuse to dump/leave Jacobs, so BY gave her one.

    I think it should be obvious that the rules and policies for polygamy varied a bit from JS’s day to BY’s day, and were further refined under BY over time.

    Polygamy, and the fact that the rules evolved, can be big stumbling blocks for those who don’t have a testimony. Therefore,
    I applaud Meg’s efforts to creat a space of plausibility for faith to exist.

    IMO, Meg and other apologists don’t have to prove anything, they only need to illustrate plausibility.

    In other words, apologists don’t have to _prove_ the church is true, but merely illustrate that the church’s truth claims are not _falsifiable_.

  20. “Meg and other apologists don’t have to prove anything, they only need to illustrate plausibility.”

    I have no problem with theories that illustrate plausibility. But ultimately our witness of Joseph Smith, as prophet of God, needs to come from heaven, not from theories.

    “the rules about polygamy were still a bit “messy” or not well understood under the early years of BY. (Or perhaps it’s we who dont understand all the rules/exceptions they were operating under.)”

    Well, yeah. I am totally convinced that we don’t have the full story on any of this. But I tend to give Brigham Young the benefit of the doubt. I get the impression that Meg takes Emma’s word over Brigham’s. If I had to choose between the two of them, I choose Brigham. I think Emma had an axe to grind against Brigham. That’s my opinion, and I’m entitled to it just like Meg is entitled to give Emma’s version the benefit of the doubt. The historical record is what it is.

    Feedback from Meg:
    “But this is the thing that irked me. The scholars I’ve corresponded with have given me constructive feedback. You have merely indicated you don’t agree, without providing constructive feedback.”

    Well, my feedback was pretty much wrapped up in Brigham, who seems to be your bête noire. Brigham was rather explicit in his devotion to Joseph. He’s on record as only doing that which Joseph showed him. Brigham, I think you’d agree, was not really an innovator with doctrinal issues. He even claimed that Adam-God was taught to him privately from Joseph.

    I see two people, both in love with Joseph. Emma and Brigham, obviously in different ways. They hold forth two radically different version of events in retrospect. One is a prophet of God, one is a woman who was traumatized from years of persecution, child-loss, murder of a dear husband and who I think we can all agree was intrinsically opposed to section 132 of the D&C. One who chose not to follow a man she disliked to the intermountain west. A woman who married a non-Mormon and who pretty much repudiated the Utah church. As great and as magnificent a woman as Emma was, and I give her full respect as an elect lady, if I have to choose between her version of events and Brigham’s, I choose Brigham.

    Now Meg, you’ve pointed out that since I’m male, I tend to view things from a certain perspective. Surely the same is true for you? You side with Emma, that is your right. But in your desire to side with Emma, you’ve constructed a schema that is *extremely* heavy on assumptions. I would even go so far as to say that it’s excessively dependent on assumptions. I’m doing a service by pointing out to you that this is what it looks like from a non-scholar perspective. I presume you want more than scholarly inputs, if the goal is to create space for plausible belief in Joseph Smith.

    Or, just give me the word, and I’ll refrain from further commentary on your project. I’ll be happy to do so.

  21. @mt “I have no problem with theories that illustrate plausibility. But ultimately our witness of Joseph Smith, as prophet of God, needs to come from heaven, not from theories.”

    Of course. However, I’m not sure if you’re keeping in mind that plausibility is pretty much a prerequisite for someone seeking a spiritual testimony. Of course argument doesn’t create faith, but a faith that is not defended won’t attract seekers. There’s a commonly used quote on that, that I don’t remember verbatim, but that’s the gist.

    I still don’t see how you perceive Meg relying or overly relying on Emma. What dots are you connecting there?

    I see two main accomplishments of Meg in this series. One, she untangles the confusion created by modern repitition (usually by antis) of the phrase “spiritual wives” by explaining Bennet’s sex ring, and how they accused Joseph of adultery to cover up their own behavior. That’s such a common tactic, (especially among Dems today) to falsely accuse your opponents before they truthfully accuse you of the same thing. The phrase “spiritual wife” sounds very close to an “eternity only” sealing. Present day folks, pro and anti, have conflated those things. It matters little to me which “side” (faithful polygamists versus the Strikers) first used the term “spiritual wife(ry)”, and which side either co-opted it, or mistakenly applied the term. Further, the genius or inspired thing that Meg has done is to have uncovered (or repeated if she wasn’t the first), and provide evidence for, the idea that the female victims of the Strikers were charitably dealt with by Joseph by inviting them to have “public husbands”, and “using” plural mariage as a charitable means.

    However, in hindsight, this extremely charitable thing that Joseph and the faithful men who took in these victims of the sex ring did, ended up causing further confusion (and conflation with Bennet’s ring) to those outside of that inner circle, both faithful members, and apostates, and long-time enemies.

    Second, she confirms other pro-LDS historians’ conclusions that JS did not have sex with the women he was sealed to for “eternity only” who were temporally married to others. THAT is perhaps the biggest bugaboo people have with Nauvoo polygamy. It’s one thing for JS to have multiple wives, and (possibly/whatever) have physical relations with them. But the idea that he had relations with women who were lawfully/temporally married to others is too much. That’s a very important line to delineate, and to defend.

    As I understand it, other LDS apologist-historians are saying JS “may have had” relations with his multiple wives who were _not_ temporally married to others, ie, women to whom JS was both married temporally and sealed for eternity. Meg isn’t disagreeing with them, but, her assertion is that there is really no reliable evidence that he did have relations with that group.

  22. Thank you Meg Stout for putting together such an interesting, plausible, and faithful reconstruction of events! I expect that there are many details that will remain beyond our grasp while in mortality, but it looks like a lot more is available than I had thought.

    I have a testimony that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young while mortal men are prophets of God and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was (and still is) instituted and directed by God for the blessing and eternal salvation of the whole human family through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that the church as a whole is organized as simply and straightforwardly as possible to accomplish its work. At the same time I have seen countless instances of members and leaders quietly undertaking “rescue” missions for individuals and families. Some of these rescue missions have unexpectedly large (usually good) collateral impacts on others. From what Meg has written in this series it appears to me that the commandment to practice polygamy was very much complicated by collateral impacts as well as cultural biases and the sins and weaknesses of mortal individuals. I have faith that this was foreseen in advance by God and proceeded overall as He intended, despite the best efforts of the Adversary to destroy the work.

    For years now I had thought that the main purpose of polygamy was to firmly separate the LDS as something more than just another Christian sect– almost a new ethnic group. Now I begin to see that it may have had other, more immediate benefits to individuals and the church.

  23. Delightful banter, all.

    One more time back to the discussion regarding whether my construct is contrived, I recall a cartoon from my early days when I used to help design submarines. There were lots of scientists, obviously, and discussions could get heated. It wasn’t unknown for scientist A to tell scientist B that their approach was “shitty” or to otherwise impugn their morals or intelligence. These were the last days of the Cold War, and I even had colleagues who would seriously opine that national security would be better served if certain folks were no longer alive.

    Anyway, there was a cartoon posted on one senior scientist’s door, showing a board of equations with a big X scratched across the work. The caption said, “That’s it? That’s peer review?

    So my reaction to your rejection is similar to that cartoon. I get that you don’t agree. But you are merely failing to agree rather than providing substantive criticism of the hundreds of references and conclusions. Also, you are waiting until the, frankly, unambiguous matter of Brigham and Heber collecting Joseph’s plural widows to voice this objection.

    As for the matter of why Brigham married Zina, I will be covering that in the next post. Even though Brigham wouldn’t have characterized himself as developing new doctrine, he put forth lots and lots of policies. The policies related to the sealing ordinance during the 2-3 months such work was being performed at the Nauvoo temple are examples of these.

    If it seems Brigham is my bête noire, it is that I am descended from John Taylor, not because of any affinity for Emma. People who have studied Emma intensely note her for being excruciatingly truthful, so her final testimony has always been a quandary for these scholars.

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