[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.]In the 1820s a little free black girl was taken into the Connecticut home of Joseph and Dorinda Fitch, 1 to be a companion to their daughter, Caroline. This little black girl was Jane Manning, whose father had died.
In early 1841, when Caroline was fourteen, 2 Jane joined the Presbyterian Church:
…yet I did not feel satisfied. It seemed to me there was something more that I was looking for. I had belonged to the [Presbyterian] Church about eighteen months when an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints, [who] was traveling through our country, preached there. The pastor of the Presbyterian Church forbade me going to hear them as he had heard I had expressed a desire to hear them; nevertheless I went on a Sunday and was fully convinced that it was the true gospel he presented and I must embrace it.
The following Sunday I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints. 3
After Jane’s baptism, she shared the gospel with her family. Her mother, Eliza, her two brothers, Isaac Lewis, and Peter, and two sisters, Sarah [Stebbins] and Angeline, were also baptized, as were the spouses of her brother Peter and her sister Sarah. In the fall of 1843 the Manning family decided to travel to Nauvoo.
We started from Wilton, Connecticut, and traveled by canal to Buffalo, New York. We were to go to Columbus, Ohio before our fares were to be collected, but they insisted on having the money at Buffalo and would not take us farther. So we left the boat and started on foot to travel a distance of over eight hundred miles.
We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground. We stopped and united in prayer to the Lord; we asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet. Our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith.
When we arrived at Peoria, Illinois, the authorities threatened to put us in jail to get our free papers. We didn’t know at first what he meant, for we had never been slaves, but he concluded to let us go. So we traveled on until we came to a river, and as there was no bridge, we walked right into the stream. When we got to the middle, the water was up to our necks but we got safely across. Then it became so dark we could hardly see our hands before us, but we could see a light in the distance, so we went toward it. We found it was an old Log Cabin. Here we spent the night. The next day we walked for a considerable distance, and stayed that night in a forest out in the open air.
The frost fell on us so heavy, it was like a light fall of snow. We arose early and started on our way walking through that frost with our bare feet, until the sun rose and melted it away. But we went on our way rejoicing, singing hymns, and thanking God for his infinite goodness and mercy to us–in blessing us as he had, protecting us from all harm, answering our prayers, and healing our feet.
In course of time, we arrived at La Harpe, Illinois–-about thirty miles from Nauvoo. At La Harpe, we came to a place where there was a very sick child. We administered to it, and the child was healed. I found after [that] the elders had before this given it up, as they did not think it could live.
We had now arrived to our destined haven of rest: the beautiful Nauvoo! Here we went through all kinds of hardship, trial and rebuff, but we at last got to Brother Orson Spencer’s. He directed us to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mansion. When we found it, Sister Emma was standing in the door, and she kindly said, “Come in, come in!” 4
Jane Welcomed into the Smith Household
Joseph and Emma welcomed the Manning party into the Mansion House in November 1843. 5 The first order of business was to find room for the weary travelers. Jane says Joseph asked some “white sisters that was present” to share their room with the six black women and three black men in the party. 6 It appears these sisters were likely Sarah and Maria Lawrence.
Next, Joseph sat the party down, introduced them to Emma and Dr. Bernhisel, then asked them to tell of their travels. When Jane was done telling their story, Brother Joseph slapped Dr. Bernhisel on the knee and said, “What do you think of that, Dr.? Isn’t that faith?” The Dr. said, “Well I rather think it is. If it had have been me, I fear I should have backed out and returned to my home!”
Jane and her family stayed in the Mansion House for a week, by which time all but Jane had secured work and homes. Jane’s particular plight was worse because all her luggage had been lost during the trip. She continues:
On the morning that my folks all left to go to work, I looked at myself–clothed in the only two pieces I possessed–[and] I sat down and wept.
Brother Joseph came into the room as usual, and said, “Good morning. Why–not crying, [are you]?”
“Yes sir. The folks have all gone and got themselves homes and I have got none.”
He said, “Yes you have. You have a home right here, if you want it. You mustn’t cry; we dry up all tears here.”
I said, “I have lost my trunk and all my clothes.”
He asked how I had lost them. I told him I put them in care of Charles Wesley Wandell 7 and paid him for them and he has lost them.
Brother Joseph said, “Don’t cry. You shall have your trunk and clothes again.” Brother Joseph went out and brought Sister Emma in and said, “Sister Emma, here is a girl that says she has no home. Haven’t you a home for her?”
“Why yes, if she wants one.”
He said, “She does.” And then he left us.
Sister Emma said, “What can you do?”
I said, “I can wash, iron, cook, and do housework.” “Well,” she said, “when you are rested, you may do the washing, if you would just as soon do that.”
I said, “I am not tired.”
“Well,” she said, “you may commence your work in the morning.” 8
Jane’s duties eventually expanded to include cooking. In 1897 at the Jubilee, Sarah Holmes [Weaver] reunited with Jane. Sarah had been five or six years old when Jane joined the Smith household, a constant companion of the Smith children. Sarah’s record recalled the happy evenings when Emma would be about in the city with Eliza Snow on Relief Society business. Elvira Cowles [Holmes] would be at the Mansion House with the children, telling them stories. And the children would sneak cookies from the black cook.
Sarah’s account describes Jane looking at her, now a great-grandmother, and saying, “Are you the little girl who used to steal my cookies!” 9
Jane and the Covenant
At some point the Lawrence sisters took Jane with them on a visit to the Partridge sisters, who had moved out of the Mansion House the summer before Jane’s arrival. Jane recounts:
Brother Joseph’s four wives, Emily Partridge, Eliza Partridge, Maria and Sarah Lawrence, and myself, were sitting discussing Mormonism and Sarah said, [“]What would you think if a man had more wives than one?”
I said, “That is all right!”
Maria said, “Well, we are all four Brother Joseph’s wives,:
I jumped up and clapped my hands and said, “That’s good.”
Sarah said, “She is all right; she believes it all now.” 10
Jane also writes in her autobiography about taking clothes down in the basement to wash and finding Joseph’s Robes. “I looked at them and wondered–[as] I had never seen any before–and I pondered over them and thought about them so earnestly that the spirit made manifest to me that they pertained to the new name that is given the saints that the world knows not of.”
By the time Jane joined the Smith Household, the written revelation had indicated that Emma was to be the one who determined which women were presented to Joseph as plural wives. We don’t have any record from the women who did marry Joseph after July 1843 indicating that she played this role, of approaching the woman. However there is mere silence about this, rather than an active denial of her role.
But in the account of Jane, we see a shadow of what Emma’s actions might have been for Joseph’s wives such as Melissa Lott. However Emma, for some reason, did not ask Jane to be one of Joseph’s wives. Jane writes:
Sister Emma asked me one day if I would like to be adopted to them as their child. I did not answer her. She said, “I will wait awhile and let you consider it.” She waited two weeks before she asked me again. When she did, I told her, “No Ma’am,” because I did not understand or know what it meant. They were always good and kind to me but I did not know my own mind; I did not comprehend. 11
I think Jane would have been willing to become Joseph’s plural wife, based on her discussion with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters. But Jane had her own parents: Eliza and the departed Isaac. She could only have been adopted to Joseph and Emma by displacing those dear parents.
As far as I am aware, Emma’s offer to adopt Jane is the first time a sealing between a parent figure and a child is mentioned. This was an ordinance that Joseph had felt too sacred to perform outside a temple. But for Emma, sealing Jane to Joseph and herself as a daughter was clearly less daunting than offering Jane to Joseph as a wife. If Joseph risked death by marrying plural wives, what would Emma have thought the danger were he known to be married to a black woman?
Aside from Jane herself, Emma had clearly been angered when Joseph sealed Fanny Young to himself in November 1843. The sealing to Fanny was like Joseph’s former behavior, marrying women without so much as consulting Emma. It is possible the debacle over the sealing to Fanny Young, which occurred days before Jane’s arrival in Nauvoo, led Emma to vow she would not permit Joseph any additional wives.
With enough time, the matter might have been reopened. Jane might have had a chance to reconsider the offer of being sealed to Joseph, whether as daughter or as wife.
But there was no more time.
Soon after Emma’s offer that Jane be sealed to Joseph, the Expositor appeared, was destroyed, and martial law was put in place. Jane reports that the Mansion House was “broken up,” with the previous inhabitants sent to other homes for protection. Jane first moved in with her mother, but as the threat of occupation by hostile forces increased, Jane suggested that she and her single sister, Angeline, leave town for Burlington, 12 nearly 30 miles northeast of Nauvoo in Iowa Territory, a free territory due to the Missouri compromise of 1820. Born free, the sisters had no papers that would prove they were not escaped slaves. Rapists don’t usually attend to legal niceties in any case.
Jane was gone from Nauvoo for three weeks. When she returned, Joseph was dead. She wrote:
“When he was killed, I liked to a died myself.” 13
After Joseph’s death Jane joined the household of Brigham Young. It was here that Jane met and married Isaac James, a black man who had joined the Church in 1839.
As the years progressed, we see Jane socializing with the circle of women who had been Joseph’s wives. In particular, we have the story of Jane bringing Eliza Partridge [Smith Lyman] two pounds of flour to sustain her after Eliza’s husband left on a mission.
The Priesthood Ban and Jane’s Request
Unrelated to Jane, a scandal arose involving one William McCary. William was a mulatto who claimed Indian heritage. After his baptism, he was welcomed into the community of saints in Winters Quarters. William was initially seen as a good brother, with fine musical talent and charisma. He wed Lucy Stanton, daughter of former High Councilor and President of the Quincy, Illinois Stake. However in time it was discovered that William was engaging in a number of unorthodox activities. William claimed he had the power of prophesy and transfiguration, in particular claiming he had the power to appear as various biblical and Book of Mormon figures. 14
On April 25, 1847, Parley P. Pratt chastised the Saints in Winter Quarters for following “a new thing” led by a “black man who has got the blood of Ham in him which linege [sic] was cursed as regards the priesthood.” Those studying the history of the long-term policy in the LDS Church denying black men access to priesthood between 1852 and 1978 note this sermon as the first recorded connection between race and priesthood by a General Authority.
This first experience involving marriage between a black individual and white individual(s) did not go well. Lacking the reality of a familial bond between Joseph Smith and Jane Manning, the idea that the blood of Ham was a cursed lineage gathered steam.
Despite Brigham’s association with Jane, he was apparently content to consider Blacks as servants, rather than equals. As various converts from the South began to arrive in Utah, Brigham had to determine how to deal with their ownership of Black individuals. Slavery had been made legal in Utah as a result of the Compromise of 1850, which brought California into the Union as a free state. Utah territory had the option of deciding the issue by “popular sovereignty.” 15 Whenever slaves were donated to the Church, Brigham then proceeded to free them, however he did not force slave owners to emancipate their slaves. 16 Further, Brigham gave an address to the Joint Session of the Legislature in Salt Lake City, on Thursday, February 5, 1852. In this address, Brigham gave his opinion that were Blacks to be granted the priesthood, the priesthood would be taken from the Church. 17
At the same time Brigham and the other leaders of the Church were constructing barriers to intermarriage between blacks and whites, the doctrines of plural marriage and proxy sealings were made public. It would be only then that Jane would come to understand the nature of Emma’s offer in Nauvoo.
We’ll never know what Jane might have said on the matter to Brigham Young, in whose household she had lived after Joseph’s death. Perhaps Brigham suggested that Emma was still alive, making it improper to perform the requested sealing without Emma”s participation. Or perhaps Jane knew better than to broach the subject with the man she knew so well.
After Emma’s death, Jane wrote to the President of the Church, requesting the sealing be performed. But by this time the policy denying blacks access to the temple and its blessings was firmly in place. Undaunted, Jane continued her requests. Finally Joseph F. Smith proposed an alternative.
Emma was pariah, having refused to gather to Utah, and similarly refused to teach her sons about their father’s legacy with respect to plural marriage. Further, Joseph F. Smith had a long-held animosity towards Emma for her cavalier treatment of his father’s remains. He recalled the trauma as a young child going to visit his father’s secret burial place, only to find a rough hole, with the exposed skull of his uncle (likely Samuel rather than Don Carlos). Joseph F. Smith’s mother, who had found the four men reburying Joseph and Hyrum per Emma’s instructions, had similarly felt Emma’s actions were high handed and uncalled for. 18
There was no way Joseph F. Smith would have agreed to seal anyone to Emma. He certainly wouldn’t allow the faithful Jane Manning to be eternally linked to a woman he despised. Besides, there was the matter of the priesthood ban complicating things.
However Joseph F. Smith did remember Jane as a servant in the Smith home, the happy days when Jane would bake cookies and wash the laundry for the Smiths. Perhaps he was one of the kids partaking of the fresh-baked cookies Sarah would steal from Jane’s kitchen.
And so Joseph F. Smith proposed that he could arrange for Jane to be sealed to Joseph and Emma as their servant. This would allow Jane to have unquestioned access to the people she had loved in life.
To our modern sensibilities, sealing Jane as an eternal servant is so incredibly offensive we can’t imagine what Joseph F. Smith could have been thinking. But Joseph F. Smith didn’t live in our days. His respect for Jane Manning [James] was evident in his funeral address for Jane while he was the President of the Church, a respect and regard echoed in the Deseret News article that stated:
few persons were more noted for faith and faithfulness [than] was Jane Manning James, and so of the humble of the earth she numbered friends and acquaintances by the hundreds. Many persons will regret to learn that the kind and generous soul has passed from the earth. 19
Had Jane been Wife
Consider an alternate history, had Emma asked Jane to become Joseph’s plural wife, rather than Joseph’s daughter.
Jane already knew plural marriage was a possibility, based on the conversation with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters about their status as Joseph’s wives. There is no reason to think she would have had hesitated if asked to be Joseph’s wife.
With Jane a member of the quorum of Joseph’s ceremonial wives, she would have almost certainly been sealed to Joseph in the temple, with some important Church leader standing proxy.
When William McCary claimed charismatic gifts that threatened the order of the Church, as well as marrying white women, there would have already been the example of Joseph having married a black woman, a woman I can imagine subsequently married to Brigham Young. While William McCary’s actions would still have been considered problematic, it wouldn’t have come down to a matter of mixing races as the objection.
Later, in Deseret, a Brigham Young who was married to Jane would have been hard-pressed to put in place the policies he did regarding blacks. Even had he needed to put certain policies in place in response to various circumstances, he couldn’t have then allowed those policies to be mistaken for doctrine, if he’d had Jane at his side as a plural wife.
In science, the butterfly effect is “the sensitive dependency on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.”
In the convoluted history of blacks and the Mormon Church, I see the interaction between Emma and Jane as that butterfly. By a small change, either Jane accepting the offer of being made a daughter, or Emma offering Jane the privilege of becoming Joseph’s covenant wife, a pattern of undeniable inclusion of a Black individual in the highest ordinances would have been set during Joseph’s life.
To this alternate possible history where Jane was a plural wife, I could wish for one other tender mercy. I could wish for a John C. Bennett who had never fallen from grace. Or even having fallen from grace, I could wish for a John C. Bennett who returned, fully penitent, openly denying all his false charges, a Bennett who could have had a place with the Saints in the west, able to powerfully deny all the lies he had previously spread.
If Joseph had lived longer, I believe Bennett might have been able to return. As with Jane, the record contains tantalizing hints of an inclusive, redemptive past we might have had.
Future Planned Posts:
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
- Jane’s diary mentions Joseph Fitch, his wife and daughter. Additional details on the Fitch family in Wilton were located in the book Descendants of Reinold and Matthew Marvin of Hartford, Ct., by George Franklin Marvin and William Theophilus Rogers Marvin, available online at http://books.google.com/books?id=Gc81AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA430#v=onepage&q&f=false, retrieved 1 June 2014, and familysearch.org. ↩
- In Jane’s autobiography, she says she, herself, was fourteen. However since Jane was born in 1822, the chronology doesn’t work, making it likely Jane was using the age of the girl for whom she served as companion. Jane’s autobiography is available online at http://www.blacklds.org/manning, retrieved 1 June 2014. ↩
- Jane’s baptism was likely in the fall of 1842. It is therefore possible that the presence of the Elder in Wilton was occasioned by the missionary efforts conducted to dispel the lurid stories John C. Bennett was telling during his anti-Mormon campaign associated with publication of his History of the Saints. ↩
- Jane’s autobiography, available online at http://www.blacklds.org/manning, retrieved 1 June 2014. ↩
- Date is given in Black and Mormon, edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, available online at http://books.google.com/books?id=5OBGf1djxKYC&pg=PA51#v=onepage&q&f=false, retrieved 2 June 2014. ↩
- Jane’s mother had remarried a man named Cato Treadwill, who may have been part of the party, but is not mentioned in Jane’s account. This would have increased the number of men in the party to four. ↩
- Elder Wandell was apparently the Elder who had baptized Jane, see Henry J. Wolfinger, “A Test of Faith: Jane Elizabeth James and the Origins of the Utah Black Community,” Social Accommodations in Utah (American West Center occasional papers, University of Utah, 1975), pp. 126–29. This is cited in Linda King Newell and Valery Tippetts Avery, Jane Manning James: Black Saint, 1847 Pioneer, available online at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/08/jane-manning-james-black-saint-1847-pioneer?lang=eng, retrieved 2 June 2014. ↩
- Jane’s autobiography, available online at http://www.blacklds.org/manning, retrieved 1 June 2014. ↩
- Life History of Sarah Elizabeth Holmes [Weaver], retrieved from the Nauvoo Land and Records Office. ↩
- Cited in Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Chapter 24. Apparently from page 19 of the autobiography of Sarah Elizabeth Manning [James], but not included in the online version previously cited. ↩
- Jane’s autobiography, available online at http://www.blacklds.org/manning, retrieved 1 June 2014. ↩
- Though Jane does not specify which Burlington she fled to, Burlington, Iowa, is more likely than Burlington, Illinois. ↩
- Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Jane Manning James: Black Saint, 1847 Pioneer, available online at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/08/jane-manning-james-black-saint-1847-pioneer?lang=eng, retrieved 1 June 2014. ↩
- See Wikipedia article on William McCary, available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_McCary, retrieved 2 June 2014. In addition to William’s claims of prophesy and transfiguration, there were allegedly irregularities in how William’s plural wives were introduced to marital sexuality. ↩
- See the article on Slavery in Utah at Utah History to Go, available online at http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/pioneers_and_cowboys/slaveryinutah.html, retrieved 2 June 2014. ↩
- The 1850 and 1860 Utah censuses reported 26 and 29 Black slaves, respectively. Enslavement of native americans was a larger issue. Brigham’s attempt to transmute slavery into indentured servitude as a step towards complete emancipation backfired. The Utes started raiding Paiute villages for women and children, which they would present to Mormon settlements and threaten to kill unless the Mormons “bought” the kidnapped victims. This is how Omer Badigee became the adopted son of Joseph Leland Heywood. Some hapless Mormon had bought Badigee, saving his life, but then proceeded to allow Badigee to merely exist. Heywood, finding this situation, relieved the un-named Mormon of responsibility for the boy, brought him to his household, where Omer was bathed, de-loused, and given decent clothes (Mary Bell burned the rags he’d been wearing). ↩
- See Brigham Young addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852. Also included in Fred C. Collier, The Teachings of Brigham Young. ↩
- This controversy continued into the next generation, when Emma’s family resorted to “dousing” in 1928 to locate the lost remains of the brothers. Joseph Fielding Smith, Hyrum’s grandson, was livid that Emma’s family would presume to resort to such means to “locate” the graves, then move the bodies yet again without consulting Hyrum’s descendants. Further, there was suspicion that the bodies had been misidentified, a suspicion which has since been allayed by forensic analysis. See Curtis G. Weber, Skulls and Crossed Bones? A Forensic Study of the Remains of Hyrum and Joseph Smith, available online at http://mormonhistoricsites.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Skulls-and-Crossed-Bones-A-Forensic-Study-of-the-Remains-of-Hyrum-and-Joseph-Smith.pdf, retrieved 2 June 2014. Unbeknownst to Joseph Fielding Smith, the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum had been moved out of Nauvoo from under the beehive burial location just prior to the conflict of September 1846, and subsequently reburied on the grounds of Emma’s home, near a spring house which subsequently was torn down, accounting for the lack of accuracy regarding the final resting place of the remains. ↩
- Deseret News article reporting the death and funeral of Jane Manning James on April 16, 1908, cited in Jane Manning James page on Black LDS, available online at http://www.blacklds.org/manning, retrieved 2 June 2014. ↩