Emma’s Ultimatum

[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.]

Emm Hale [Smith] circa 1843

Emma Hale had been Joseph’s wife since he was a young, poor man. Since the beginning of their courtship in the late 1820s, Emma was aware of the opposition that faced Joseph, including attempts to physically harm Joseph. Joseph had repeatedly been attacked, beaten, imprisoned, held at gunpoint, betrayed into enemy hands, and returned to her variously bleeding, bruised, tarred, and emaciated.

Eventually she would receive Joseph’s lifeless body, riddled with bullets.

Along with Hyrum, Emma likely believed that Joseph’s teachings and actions related to plural marriage would cause his death, as seen from her vehement reaction to his sermon regarding how the Church might handle converts from countries where polygamy was practiced. 1 Yet her silence regarding Joseph’s plural marriages leading up to May 1843 does not mean she was ignorant of Joseph’s activities regarding plural marriage.

Many have inferred from Emma’s silence that Emma did not know Joseph was marrying plural wives. After all, she doesn’t publicly acknowledge these marriages at any time. We only know through third parties that Emma participates in select marriages starting in May 1843.

Why did Emma remain silent?

If Emma knew about Joseph’s polygamy, what could be the reason for her earlier silence? Initially, the practice was so secretive that there are no contemporary documents at all.

Emma would have learned in Kirtland how devastating it could be when she allowed even a trusted intimate (Oliver Cowdery) to know about plural marriage. In Kirtland Emma was angered by finding Joseph alone with Fanny Alger. Oliver inferred Joseph was engaging in an illicit affair, and the subsequent alienation between Oliver Cowdery and the Church significantly contributed to the failure of the settlement at Kirtland and the Missouri troubles.

I can imagine Joseph kept Emma informed of his plans to restore Old Testament marriage practices in Nauvoo, as early as September 1840, prompted by the provocative blessing Father Smith pronounced on Joseph’s head the day Father Smith died. So long as the marriages remained unconsummated and completely secret, there was no need for Emma to document or openly discuss, or comment on these plural marriages.

Starting in January 1842, Emma and Joseph both became aware there were sexual predators in Nauvoo. The two of them sprang into action to combat the scourge. As Relief Society President starting two months later, Emma presided over the female efforts to flush out Bennett and his Strikers during 1842. She was fully apprised of the fact that high profile men at that time were using their influence to persuade vulnerable women to agree to illicit intercourse, referred to as “spiritual wifery.” A study of the Relief Society minutes shows Emma using the Relief Society to investigate irregularities, insisting she wanted none in the Society who had violated the laws of virtue. 2 Joseph supported Emma in this, announcing on June 9, 1842 that no one would be admitted to Relief Society unless two or three members in good standing of the Relief Society presented a petition that the prospective member was of good report. 3

To me, it does not seem credible that Emma could have remained unaware of those women who were plural wives and the few good men who were sheltering and marrying plural wives. Emma’s counselors in the Relief Society, the ones investigating the disturbing tales of seduction, were apprised of pertinent facts. We see Elizabeth Whitney, Sarah Cleveland, and Elizabeth Durfee participating in activities related to plural marriage during 1842, long before their President, Emma Smith, allows herself any public involvement.

I contend Emma near-total silence prior to May 1843 was inspired by her refusal to condone by deed or appearance the spiritual wifery and illicit intercourse carried out by Bennett and his men.

However by May it had been a year since the damning confessions against Bennett and others had been presented to the High Council. If Emma had always been informed, as I contend, May 1843 appears to have been the earliest time Emma might have felt comfortable allowing individuals outside her immediate circle to know of her knowledge of and involvement in Joseph’s plural marriages.

Giving Joseph the Partridge Sisters as Plural Wives

Emily and Eliza Partridge were working as maid servants in the Smith household, a position very similar to that of handmaiden in the Genesis stories involving polygamy. So when Emma decided to make her involvement in plural marriage public, Emily and Eliza Partridge were obvious candidates to become Joseph’s ‘public’ plural wives.

Emily and Eliza Partridge had been secretly sealed to Joseph in March 1843. But that secret sealing would not have served to show Emma’s public embrace of plural marriage. Emily presumed that Emma had been ignorant of the March sealings, and that this was the reason they were repeated. But Emily Partridge herself was clearly ignorant of all that had happened in 1842 regarding illicit intercourse or “spiritual wifery” and John C. Bennett.

The plan was that the Partridge girls would be sealed to Joseph Smith, and then Emma would be sealed to Joseph. Following Emma’s sealing to Joseph, those inner circle couples who were already married would be able to be sealed. 4 Word went out among those faithful couples that the time was nearing when they would be sealed.

Emma was perhaps comforted by the knowledge that Emily and Eliza Partridge had been already sealed to Joseph and had been content to remain secret wives. And so she went through with the re-sealing ceremony, placing these girls’ hands in the hand of Joseph.

But Joseph and Emily at the least had misunderstood Emma’s intent. Joseph spent that night with Emily, and according to Emily they were sufficiently intimate that she would decades later agree that she had engaged in “carnal intercourse” with Joseph. 5

Emily likely committed another error. As Emily and her circle of friends had been uninformed about the true details of Bennett’s spiritual wifery in 1842, they presumed it was all part of the same thing. And so they began referring to themselves as “spirituals.” 6This transparent reference equating marriage to Joseph with the sexual practices of Bennett and his Strikers would infuriate Emma. There is a tale that Emma once dragged Eliza down the stairs by her hair. 7 I propose that this one tale regarding Eliza and the stairs referred to Eliza Partridge. I can completely believe Emma Smith would react in this manner if a young girl who may have been intimate with Joseph proceeded to call herself a “spiritual” in Emma’s hearing.

Emma was faced with two girls who were neither discrete nor willing to keep their hands off their new husband. They risked exposing Joseph either by their careless words or by becoming pregnant at a time when they lived in Joseph’s home. Emma immediately set about doing all in her power to prevent the girls from having any intimate access to Joseph. But by this time Emily at least would claim under oath in the 1890s that she’d “roomed” with Joseph several times.

Emma could only hope that neither Emily nor Eliza Partridge had become pregnant as a result of their activities with Joseph. But as Emma herself had agreed to the sealings, it is completely understandable why Joseph and Emily and Eliza presumed intimacies might be appropriate.

Roughly three months after the possible intimacies in May 1843, Emma had Joseph send the Partridge girls away. Emma’s prayers had been answered: neither girl had become pregnant.

Marriage in the Anointed Quorum

The ordinance of sealing previously-married couples together had been performed twice before in private, with Joseph officiating. But the sealing of Joseph to Emma was something Joseph could not officiate himself. Besides, the time of skulking about in strict secrecy was now ending.

On May 28th, Joseph and Emma became the first couple sealed together in quasi-public, at a meeting of the Quorum of the Annointed. 8 The sealing was performed by James Adams, who was subsequently sealed to his own wife, Harriet Denton Adams. This matter of dual ordinances followed the pattern initially set when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptized.

This matter of the pending sealings was likely the cause of the Hyrum’s question to Brigham Young, “I do know that you and the twelve know some things that I do not know. I can understand this by the motions, and talk, and doings of Joseph, and I know there is something or other, which I do not understand, that is revealed to the Twelve. Is this so?”

Other couples in the Quorum of the Annointed proceeded to be sealed in subsequent days, a cause of great rejoicing to them. But as the cloak of secrecy was stripped away, Emma became more and more concerned.

Emma’s Demands

In the days following the Partridge girls’ sealing to Joseph, other young women became sealed to Joseph. The Lawrence sisters, Sarah and Maria, were sealed to Joseph, but Sarah Lawrence would later claim there had been no intimacies between herself and Joseph. Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes] was sealed to Joseph, on 1 June 1843, possibly having waited for more than a year until Emma herself had embraced the New and Everlasting Covenant, but her reproductive history does not support the conclusion that she could have been intimate with Joseph. Heber Kimball insisted that Joseph marry his 14-year-old daughter, Helen Mar Kimball, a ceremony that put an end to Helen’s social opportunities at the least. 9 Further, Joseph arranged for Sarah Whitney to marry her widower brother-in-law, who explicitly understood the arrangement as a pretend marriage. This would clear the way, potentially, for Joseph to become intimate with Sarah.

In response to these additional situations where Joseph might be intimate with his wives, Emma finally reached a breaking point. She made a demand of Joseph, and Joseph was commanded to offer her the desire of her heart. 10 A month later the Lord would command Joseph to revoke the offer, saying “I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else.” 11

What might Emma have demanded?

One possibility is that Emma demanded the right to have multiple husbands herself. Allegedly she demanded the right to be sealed to the handsome William Law. 12

Another possibility is that Emma demanded a divorce. 13

A third possibility is that Emma threatened to divorce Joseph if he would not agree to leave his plural wives, come away with her, and turn the work of the Church in Nauvoo over to others. While no contemporary attests to this possibility in writing, Joseph’s actions support this last reading.

On June 13, 1843, Joseph took Emma and his children and traveled roughly 200 miles northeast to the home of Emma’s sister, Elizabeth Hale Wasson, in Inlet Grove, Illinois, ten miles from Dixon, Illinois. It is not clear how long Joseph intended to stay with the Wassons, but a week later he would tell William Clayton and Stephen Markham “I have no fear. I shall not leave here.” Emma would have been able to remain with her sister for an extended time without causing significant comment, making good on her “divorce” threat. Or Joseph could have planned to remain with Emma at the Wassons, shifting administration of the Church to the Assistant President of the Church, his brother Hyrum, and the Quorum of the Twelve, headed by Brigham Young.

“I am weary of life… kill me, if you please”

On June 18th word reached Nauvoo that the Governor of Illinois had issued a writ against Joseph, honoring Missouri’s request to extradite Joseph to stand trial. Stephen Markham and William Clayton were sent to find Joseph and warn him. Markham and Clayton reached Joseph on June 21st. Joseph was not overly worried, but did cancel all public speaking arrangements, including a planned sermon in Dixon.

On Friday, June 23rd, Joseph sent William Clayton to Dixon, to find out what was going on there. While in Dixon, Clayton met two men who represented themselves as missionaries of the Church. The men were actually Joseph H. Reynolds,a  sheriff of Jackson County, Missouri, and Constable Harmon T. Wilson, from Carthage, Illinois. It appears Clayton told the men where they could find Joseph, not realizing these were the very men he had warned Joseph about.

Reynolds and Wilson hurried to the Wasson home, arriving around 2 p.m. Reynolds and Wilson told the Wassons they were Mormon elders, and wanted to see Brother Joseph.

I was in the yard going to the barn when Wilson stepped to the end of the house and saw me. He accosted me in a very uncouth, ungentlemanly manner, when Reynolds stepped up to me, collared me, then both of them presented cocked pistols to my breast, without showing any writ or serving any process.

Reynolds cried out, “G—d—you, if you stir I’ll shoot; G—d—if you, stir one inch, I shoot you, be still, or I’ll shoot you, by G—.” I enquired “What is the meaning of all this?” “I’ll show you the meaning, by G—; and if you stir one inch, I’ll shoot you, G—d—you.”

I answered, “I am not afraid of your shooting; I am not afraid to die.” I then bared my breast and told them to shoot away. “I have endured so much oppression, I am weary of life; and kill me, if you please. I am a strong man, however, and with my own natural weapons could soon level both of you; but if you have any legal process to serve, I am at all times subject to law, and shall not offer resistance.”

Reynold replied, “G—d—you, if you say another word I will shoot you, by G—.”

I answered, “Shoot away; I am not afraid of your pistols.”

[Stephen Markham approached.] They then turned their pistols on me again, jamming them against my side, with their fingers on the triggers, and ordered Markham to stand still or they would shoot me through…

I then said, “Gentlemen, if you have any legal process, I wish to obtain a writ of habeas corpus,” and was answered,—”G—d—you, you shan’t have one.” They still continued their punching me on both sides with their pistols.

[Markham said,] “There is no law on earth that requires a sheriff to take a prisoner without his clothes…”

I told Markham to go, and he immediately proceeded to Dixon on horseback, where the sheriff also proceeded with me at full speed, without even allowing me to speak to my family or bid them good bye. The officers held their pistols with the muzzles jamming into my side for more than eight miles, and they only desisted on being reproached by Markham for their cowardice in so brutally ill-treating an unarmed, defenseless prisoner…

I again stated to Reynolds, “I wish to get counsel,” when he answered. G—d—you, you shan’t have counsel: one word more, G—d—you, and I’ll shoot you.”

“What is the use of this so often?” said I. “I have repeatedly told you to shoot; and I now tell you again to shoot away!” I saw a person passing and shouted to him through the window, “I am falsely imprisoned here, and I want a lawyer. 14

The following week was a tense contest of legal wranglings. During this week we see four women knowledgable about Nauvoo polygamy (Elvira Annie Cowles, Eliza R. Snow, Elizabeth Whitney, and Elizabeth Durfee) visit the head of Joseph’s body guard, Cornelius Lott. It seems unlikely, under the circumstances, that they were visiting to procure Lott’s nubile daughter as a future wife for Joseph, as so many polygamy researchers have previously assumed. 15 Perhaps instead they were attempting to set Lott’s mind at ease regarding rumors he had heard, persuading Lott to rouse himself in defense of Joseph, whose life was at stake.

As the path of Joseph, Reynolds, and Constable Wilson neared Nauvoo, they stopped at Honey Creek, at the home of Machael Crane. Joseph wrote:

A flock of turkeys and chickens were killed, and a substantial supper was provided for all; and the company feasted, sang, and had a happy time that night. I showed my sides to Mr. Crane and the company, which still continued black and blue from the bruises I had received from the pistols of Reynolds and Wilson, while riding from Inlet Grove to Dixon eight days ago. 16

The next day “the Nauvoo Brass Band and Martial Band started with Emma and my brother Hyrum to meet me; also a train of carriages, containing a number of the principal inhabitants.” Joseph continues:

I directed Colonel Rockwood to place my Life Guards in their appropriate position in the procession. I was in a buggy with Mr. Montgomery. Sheriff Reynolds and Wilson, with my three lawyers, Cyrus Walker, Shepherd G. Patrick, and Edward Southwick, were in the stage coach with Lucien P. Sanger, the stage proprietor. Mr. Campbell, the sheriff of Lee county, and a company of about 140 were with me on horseback.

I was a prisoner in the hands of Reynolds, the agent of Missouri, and Wilson, his assistant. They were prisoners in the hands of Sheriff Campbell, who had delivered the whole of us into the hands of Colonel Markham, guarded by my friends, so that none of us could escape.

When the company from the city came up, I said I thought I would now ride a little easier; got out of the buggy; and, after embracing Emma and my brother Hyrum, who wept tears of joy at my return, as did also most of the great company who surrounded us, (it was a solemn, silent meeting,) I mounted my favorite horse, “Old Charley,” when the band struck up “Hail Columbia,” and proceeded to march slowly towards the city, Emma riding by my side into town.

I was greeted with the cheers of the people and firing of guns and cannon. We were obliged to appoint a number of men to keep the streets open for the procession to pass, and arrived at my house about one o’clock, where my aged mother was at the door to embrace me, with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks, and my children clung around me with feelings of enthusiastic and enraptured pleasure. Little Fred, exclaimed, “Pa, the Missourians won’t take you away again, will they?”

The multitude seemed unwilling to disperse until after I had arisen on the fence and told them, “I am out of the hands of the Missourians again, thank God. I thank you all for your kindness and love to me. I bless you all in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. I shall address you at the Grove, near the Temple, at four o’clock this afternoon.”

When I went to dinner with my family, Reynolds and Wilson were placed at the head of the table, with about 50 of my friends, and were served with the best that the table afforded, by my wife, whom they [had] refused to allow me to see, when they so cruelly arrested and ill-treated me, which contrasted strongly with their treatment to me when I was first arrested by them, and until my friends met me. 17

Despite a seeming attempt to retire from Nauvoo and live alone with Emma, Joseph had been forced back into the midst of Nauvoo and all that Emma had demanded he give up. It was now clear that Nauvoo was an island of legal safety. And though Joseph had repeatedly taunted Reynolds to kill him, now that Joseph was back in Nauvoo, with Emma at his side, he placed the pistol-whipping sheriff in a place of honor.

There was no way Joseph would be permitted to leave Nauvoo again. Emma could hardly make good on her threat in light of how Joseph had returned.

After a week, however, Emma’s relief regarding Joseph’s safe return was giving way to the old emotions. Hyrum, seeing Emma’s unhappiness, suggested that Joseph write down the revelation regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Surely, Hyrum reasoned, if the revelation was written, Emma would read, be comforted, and obey.

Future Planned Posts:

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


  1. Accounts regarding a fall 1841 sermon mentioning polygamy are recorded by Joseph Lee Robinson, George A. Smith, Horace Cummings, and Helen Mar Kimball [Smith Whitney] document Joseph’s sermon and retraction. Robinson and Kimball mention Emma’s reaction, see Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume I, Chapter 9.
  2. Relief Society Minute Book, p. 53, Minutes for Thursday, May 26th, available online at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?p=50#!/, retrieved 6 May 2014. This is the meeting after Catherine Fuller, Margaret and Matilda Nyman, Sarah Miller, and others testified before the High Council regarding the seductions carried out by Bennett, Chauncy Higbee, and others.
  3. Relief Society Minute Book, p. 61, Minutes for Thursday, June 9th, available online at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?p=58#!/, retrieved 6 May 2014.
  4. Only two previously-married couples had been sealed at this point. Newell K. Whitney and his wife, Elizabeth, were sealed in conjunction with the sealing of their daughter, Sarah, to Joseph. Then Heber C. Kimball was sealed to his wife, Vilate, as a result of Kimball’s faith in offering Vilate to Joseph, an offered sacrifice I think was prompted by the apostle’s action in excommunicating Orson Pratt for refusing to publicly confirm that his wife was an adultress.
  5. Emily’s testimony was given as part of the Temple Lot trial, where the Utah Church was helping the Temple Lot Church defend the Missouri property where a Temple was to have been erected from being claimed by Joseph’s sons. The point was to prove that Joseph had practiced and taught polygamy during his lifetime, “proving” that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, headed by Joseph’s sons, was not true to the legacy of Joseph Smith. I content Emily had a motive to be expansive with her claims regarding sexuality in her relationship with Joseph, both to save the Temple Lot and to get revenge, of a sort, against Emma’s memory.
  6. Orange Wight, Autobiography, “At first the doctrine was taught in private… The next I noticed when in company with the young folks the girls were calling one another spirituals.” Though Orange dates this to 1841-1842, he claims he was taught about the doctrine by William Clayton and others and proceeded to court Flora Woodworth, who had already become Joseph’s wife. This potentially places the “girls calling one another spirituals” in 1843. Available at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/OWight.html, retrieved 12 May 2014. Another alternative is that Orange was initiated into Bennett’s spiritual wifery in the winter of 1841/42, and that this is when he heard girls referring to each other as “spirituals.” However even so, he was aware that the Partridge girls, specifically, were wives of Joseph Smith.
  7. This is the tale related by Sister Mary Ann Barzee Boice, cited in multiple sources, including Beecher, Newell, and Avery, Emma Eliza and the Stairs, BYU Studies 22:1, p. 93, available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFViewer.aspx?title=5510&linkURL=22.1BeecherNewellEmma-062070ee-a927-48b5-a09a-db83edd57b24.pdf, retrieved 5/12/2014.
  8. See Devery S. Anderson, Gary James Bergera, Editors. Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1846: A Documentary History; See also Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 74-75. For a summary, see the FairMormon article titled Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Emma Smith/Sealing, available online at http://pt.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy/Emma_Smith/Sealing, retrieved 12 May 2014.
  9. An anti-Mormon source, Catherine Lewis, reports Helen telling her mother “I would never have been sealed (married) to Joseph had I known it was anything more than a ceremony.” This was in the context of Brigham Young attempting to collect the young widow to care for, as he believed was his levirate duty. However this need not be interpreted as referring to intimacy between Joseph and herself, though the “ceremony” did interfere with Helen’s flirtations and attendance at dances. Brigham, however, was unabashedly intending to impregnate Joseph’s widows who came into his care. The idea of being added to what could be perceived as Brigham’s harem was not appealing.
  10. See the retraction of the commandment, D&C 132: 51-56, available online at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/132.51-56?lang=eng#50, retrieved 12 May 2014.
  11. D&C 132:54.
  12. This possibility is mentioned in American Crucifixion.
  13. There are similarly contemporaries of Emma who discuss this option.
  14. B. H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Volume V, pp. 440-442. Available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/24.html, retrieved 12 May 2014.
  15. Todd Compton writes of this visit on June 29th, concluding “Once again [Elizabeth Durfee] may have been preparing a young woman, Melissa Lott, for a proposal from Joseph Smith.” See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 262-263.
  16. B. H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Volume V, p. 456. Available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/24.html, retrieved 12 May 2014.
  17. B. H. Roberts, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Volume V, pp. 458-459. Available online at https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/5/24.html, retrieved 12 May 2014.
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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.

28 thoughts on “Emma’s Ultimatum

  1. Intriguing questions come to mind about the choice Emma was offered. However Emma’s silence on the subject requires you to moderate speculation, contrary to the usual practice of most biographers. It seems to me that God intends that in this as in acceptance of the Book Of Mormon we are asked to use the witness of the Spirit to determine truth. At least you have offered a plausible alternative to ordinary views on the subject of Joseph’s probity.

  2. I have so enjoyed your posts on this Meg, and hope all gets sorted for your book. One point in this post that has me wondering though is your statement that it would have been understandable for Joseph, Emily and Eliza to presume intimacies were acceptable. Given Joseph and Emma seem to have discussed and agreed everything else in so much detail I find it difficult to see how Joseph would then have presumed something so important as physical intimacy.

    Granted that presumption fits the rest of the narrative rather well, but I still struggle to see how they would have failed to discuss it. Are there other examples of Joseph making such large presumptions?

    Thanks again.

  3. The challenge I have is that Emily testified fairly aggressively at the Temple Lot trial. When asked if she engaged in carnal intercourse with Joseph, she said “Yes.” When asked about rooming with Joseph, she claimed she spent one night with Joseph (not persuasive to me) and then roomed with him several other times (ho hum).

    Emily didn’t have children as a result of any of these encounters, so I question whether the carnal intercourse was as carnal or “inter” as she implied. If Joseph intended for the marriages to remain celibate but Emily and Eliza had more carnal ideas, that would have potentially led to interesting recollections about what had happened without raising the implausibility flag regarding Joseph and Emma’s mutual understanding about what was and was not OK.

  4. Thanks Meg. Emily exaggerating the degree of intimacy sounds more likely to me than Joseph and Emma not understanding what had been mutually agreed. And if Emily and Eliza started talking openly about being “spirituals” I can certainly see Emma getting rather hot under the collar about that as you describe, as she was wise enough to see the danger.

    Will any of your later posts look at how Josephs’s polygamy morphed into Brigham’s?

  5. Thanks for this incredible series, Meg. It’s always such a disappointment when I finish one and know I have to wait a week for the next installment.

  6. Hi JeffC,

    The three installments after “Carthage” will talk about what happened after Joseph’s death:

    Collecting the Sorrowful
    For Eternity and Time
    Fifty Years in the Wilderness

    Until then, however, I think we can assume that:

    1) Brigham and Heber felt they needed to personally assure Joseph’s wives were cared for. These two, alone, knew details about who had been hurt in which ways by Bennett and the Strikers.

    2) Brigham with Lucy Ann Decker [Seeley] and Heber with Sarah Peak [Noon] appear to have lived the reality of being married to a woman without engaging in sexual relations. Taking away a woman’s ability to conceive children was a damning thing in that society. And Joseph had apparently failed to engender children with dozens of women he had married. Brigham had no use for Joseph’s collection of effective nuns. Rather, he had no intention of allowing them to remain effective nuns.

    3) D&C 124:58 reads: “And as I said unto Abraham concerning the kindreds of the earth, even so I say unto my servant Joseph: In thee and in thy seed shall the kindred of the earth be blessed.” With the martyrdom, Brigham and the Church had lost Joseph. Within a few short months, it became clear that Emma’s first loyalty was to her own household (including preserving Joseph’s legacy as a man of honor, as Emma understood the term). Therefore it became entirely questionable whether Emma’s children could become the posterity through whom “the kindred of the earth” would be blessed, as by the seed of Abraham. However Joseph had left behind dozens of widows, many of whom were of childbearing age. And from these previously barren vessels, Brigham and Heber and other Church leaders looked to produce the seed that would bless the kindreds of the earth.

    Getting back to Emily, we see how entirely her affections swing toward Brigham Young when he becomes intimate with her, more that the feelings she ever mentions regarding Joseph. When Brigham failed to reciprocate her utter devotion, we see Emily become cold and hardened. The fond devotion of Joseph’s wives reminds me of the adoration single women (from my singles’ ward experiences) have for men and the institution of marriage. Married women, however, tend to be a bit less dewy-eyed about men and marriage to actual male humans. While hardly conclusive in light of Emily’s assertion regarding carnal intercourse, there is a circumstantial case that Emily could have been overstating the nature of her relationship with Joseph.

    Hi BT, it has been fun writing these out. There are a few topics where I have constructed mind palaces, and obviously one of those mind palaces contains information regarding Joseph Smith’s activities in Nauvoo. It is not so much that I have a mind palace in the traditional sense, but I have a mind story, if you will. There is a narrative in my mind that has been refined over the years as I encountered more and more data. Like any converging computational solution, the initial variations in the story line were huge. But since roughly 2009 the basic story of an honorable Joseph has remained no matter what rocks I turned over.

  7. “‘Chaste’ in the context of his culture.” is too long but possibly more accurate. ‘Reluctant’ might describe his long struggle to find a way that Joseph could somehow find a way to serve both God and Emma in this matter. Denying seed in the context of marriage is condemned in scripture, specifically the sin of Onan, but by implication any refusal to perform the core duties of marriage when physically possible. . Our modern culture has obscured the vital importance of parenthood but most women would agree that failing to become a mother is a singular failure. If Joseph denied his seed to his plural wives because of Emma, both were running shy of what the Lord required.

  8. One of the most wicked things that Bennett and his Strikers did was encourage nonreproductive sex by various means up to and including abortion. I can easily imagine Joseph having some conversations with Heber and Brigham that included the importance of giving ‘honor’ to their plural wives by allowing them to become mothers. I love Joseph Smith Jr. and I stand in awe of all he did to bring about the Restoration, but in the matter of his struggle to enact the full reality of polygyny I sorrow for the near failure.

  9. I think it was in conversation with my husband, but I can’t believe Joseph would ever have covenanted with so many women if he had actually been being a husband. Not just the sex part, since it’s obviously possible to spread seed wide and far. But being an actual husband to one woman is hard. Being an actual husband to more than one woman is really hard. It’s simply impossible to be an actual husband to several dozen women. If Joseph and Emma together had ever actually attempted to live plural marriage, they would have known that.

    By setting up the expectation that one could be married to dozens of women, Joseph set an impossible standard. Brigham, himself laden with dozens of Joseph’s widows and other women, had no patience for the “selfish” man who was only willing to marry one. Two was so close to one, compared to dozens, that three or more became the standard for obedience.

    Once you get to those who weren’t as close as Brigham and Heber, you have men, such as John Taylor, who thought polygamy was synonymous with the New and Everlasting Covenant. So when they asked if they could end the Covenant, God told them no. Polygamy He might have been willing to end well before 1890, but never would He end the Covenant.

    As for the sustainability of polygamy in a culture, it can never be practiced by all the men long term, because there simply aren’t enough female babies born to support such a scheme. The only alternative is the one that happens in fundamentalist communities, where excess “boys” are evicted from the community. Which only works if you think God doesn’t mind discarding a few boys here and there.

    The God I believe in loves all His children, no matter what their gender, race, idiosyncrasies, or foibles.

  10. Sounds like Emily was a rock star groupie when it came to Joseph and Brigham, until Brigham didn’t pay her the attention she wanted.

    Your theories are interesting, and definitely plausible. I just wish there was more evidence available, because I see you doing some amazing work with a lot of circumstantial evidence that requires some leaps to get from one point to the next.

    i think it highly likely that Emma accepted the concept of plural marriage, as long as 1. the other relationships were platonic, and 2. it did not hurt her (or Joseph’s) reputation. She not only could portend Joseph’s death, but also the continued struggles for the Saints, as she had already been driven from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri.

    Brigham’s version was definitely a bolder version of plural marriage. I wonder if Joseph would have been as bold, if he could have begun it in the wilderness of the Rockies? Richard Bushman seems to show a Joseph that could occasionally be bold as Brigham, but often just allowed the emotion and charisma of others to sway him or pull him along from one catastrophe to the next. When he rattled swords, it was often because others wanted him to rattle them. He and Hyrum would attempt to flee to the Rockies, but others (including Emma) swayed him into returning.

  11. Back when I first wrote the fictional treatment, I was a bit harsh with Emily and Eliza Partridge . The we fast forward to Winters Quarters where Eliza is skin and bones, having just given birth to her child by Amasa Lyman. The readers were shocked to see the proud young woman humbled, even more so when Eliza’s baby dies. Elvira, as POV character, interacts with Eliza through Eliza’s grief. And then when Elvira’s daughter dies, Eliza comforts Elvira.

    The two infants are buried at Winters Quarters in the same column, two rows separated. The young mothers would never know that the lonely bluff would some day be a beautiful garden topped by a temple. In their respective days of grief, they stood by one another and hoped for the resurrection that the gospel they loved promised would come.

  12. Meg,
    These post have been a godsend for me. I am a convert of over 40 years (baptized at 17) and have a strong testimony born of the Spirit. Having said that I have at times struggled with Joseph’s role in the implementation of plural marriage.

    I have never doubted that plural marriage was a commandment from God, but I have had difficulty reconciling what I have read on the subject with what I know by the Spirit. The church does not really publish much on the subject, so we are left to the opinions and conjecture of those that in some cases sensationalize or distort the facts. I have read so many of the books that seem authoritative but always come away with the feeling that Joseph’s involvement in plural marriage is just an anomaly that I will have to live with. Some accusations have sewn the seeds of doubt in my mind about his prophetic calling from the Kirtland period on. At these times I have to go back to the scriptures, (especially the D&C) and read the truly inspired words to restore my faith that he truly was a man of God through his entire life.

    You have given me a new outlook that I can hang my hat on- “A Faithful Joseph”. Why not? We may never have all the facts, and even if we did, it is hard to filter them through our 21st century minds.

    Lets take what we know as fact and make positive assumptions instead of being consumed and overwhelmed by negative assertions. This may be a “Pollyanna” approach, but your articles have given me new hope.

  13. Hi Terry B,

    The fun part about all this is that the “positive” assumptions actually stand up better in some ways to the full details than the standard “negative” assumptions.

    We still have a Joseph who erred. But somehow erring by not sleeping with “wives” isn’t as damning in our day as the converse.

  14. Meg,

    Thanks for replying.

    I have a son 33, returned missionary, sealed in the temple, 4 children who has really been struggling with the church only presenting the whitewashed version of its history, sidestepping the plural marriage issue and leaving him with doubt as to Joseph Smith’s motives for introducing it. He (through his mother) is a descendent of Benjamin F Johnson who in his autobiography stated that Joseph spent the night in a room as husband and wife with his sister Almera Woodard Johnson. I explained your “Pillow Talk” theory as at least a possibility. He seemed receptive and I sent him a link to your articles. He likes your style and is giving your premise some consideration.

    As a young missionaries in England I served with Hans Mattsson, the former Swedish Area Authority Seventy who did the NY Times interview in 2013 about how he became disillusioned with the church because of not being forthright about its history, especially polygamy. One of his comments really stuck out to me. He stated that before he started to have doubts he and his family “were so happy”. I wonder – is he still happy now? Or has his world turned upside down with the loss of his faith? He said the church authorities failed to provide the documents he requested to help answer his questions. I used to have his email address but it is no longer valid. I would love to send him a link to your articles.

    As more and more questions get asked, and we are bombarded in the (mis)information age with faulty assumptions, half truths and hyperbole, we need to do our best to assure the faithful that the truth is really there if we honestly seek it. This is where your work has been a blessing. If you can at least come up with plausible explanations of what may have happened, then we have something to build our case on. Like in a court of law we need to inject just enough doubt in the the sometimes well intentioned prosecutors conclusions, so people can take time to hear and ponder the defense’s arguments. Some of the prosecutor’s assumptions just don’t fit, and using those famous words “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!

    Please publish a book!

  15. I just had an image of poor Joseph, attempting to have the “pillow” talk with Emily, and getting attacked by a girl who’d already waited two months for what she thought that night was going to entail.

    Surprise, Joseph. When a girl’s spent a year imagining hanky panky, then two months secretly being “married” without any hint of physicality, she’s not going to be relieved to find out nothing physical is going to happen…

    Oh to be a fly on the wall that night…

  16. By the way, if you wonder why this version of the history has never been brought forth before, consider that no anti-Mormon would want to paint Joseph in a positive light.

    As for the faithful Mormons, the establishment resists this interpretation because it paints numerous women (many of whom are honored ancestors) as having been seduced by John C. Bennett and his Strikers.

    For a glipmse of that, see Craig Foster’s response to me in the comment thread of his Separated by not Divorced article at The Interpreter.

    Feel free to weigh in, if you like.

  17. The choice is either to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet or regard him as a hoax. Some who are not of our faith try to be ‘kind’ and say he was simply misguided or maybe insane, but either way, it is a clear choice. If you accept him as a prophet there are several alternative ways of viewing him. Some feel that everything he said or did was practically perfect and not to be questioned. Some prefer to view him as having some faults, up to and including losing his prophetic authority somewhere along the way, usually in connection with the restoration of polygamy. I choose to see him as an extraordinary man, given a setting in history and place that allowed for the Restoration, but only barely. However, I do not view him as practically perfect. He was inevitably a product of his culture and family. In some ways this was very positive, but in the matter of plural marriage I believe it led him to a reluctant approach that only made things more difficult in the long run. As you mentioned in your comment, some don’t want to accept your alternative explanation for what was happening in Nauvoo, feeling that it creates a negative image of certain people who were involved. As you have mentioned, I rejected the idea of a scenario for your proposed ‘historical fiction’ that implicated Elvira as one of Bennett’s victims, but I recognize my hypocrisy in doing so. However, it is past time that a plausible alternative story be told. The faithful have had scant support for a positive viewing of the situation. Your hypothesis may not be comfortable to some, as far as it involves such admired women as Eliza R. Snow, but that is not a critical issue in the overall reconstruction of what was happening. I do believe that the reinstitution of polygamy was necessary, but as in the case of the Law of Consecration, we are not up to it, and as far as polygamy is concerned, the active practice is no longer required by the Lord.

  18. I had read the Interpreter article and thought it was very good, but hadn’t gone through the comments. I went back after your mention of it, Meg, and couldn’t see what you meant as all the comments seemed so generous towards your own comments…until the end. Wow, what a reaction! For what it’s worth I have posted a comment myself.

    Looking forward to your next instalment.

  19. Thanks, JeffC.

    I was intrigued by Craig’s comment:

    “In your attempt to needlessly save the reputation of Joseph Smith, you have potentially added fodder to anti-Mormon arguments.”

    I’m so glad to know that Joseph Smith’s reputation allegedly needs no saving. So glad that no teenagers or returned missionaries or mature fathers or members of the Quorum of the Seventy have ever found their testimony fundamentally disrupted by the current mainstream interpretation of Joseph’s activities.

    I am a bit curious how I have “potentially added fodder to anti-Mormon arguments.”

    I am also extremely curious why Craig indicates “your theory is not… supported by available evidence” and which of the “other historians of early LDS polygamy have also expressed concern.”

    I suspect Craig may be reacting to an early synopsis for my novelization, rather than to the actual content of these posts. I sent the synopsis to Brian C. Hales, who was troubled by my portrayal of Eliza Snow as being seduced by Bennett. I actually significantly amended my “theory” based on that discussion, which is what sent me looking for how Eliza might have lost the pregnancy prior to teaching school.

    Subsequent to my e-mail discussions with Brian C. Hales, I have talked with Claudia Bushman, who maintains this isn’t her area of expertise. I e-mailed the information to Mary Bradford, but haven’t heard back. I contacted both Jill Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, Eliza R. Snow’s biographers, both of whom are curious as to why I think I’m right about Eliza being swayed by Bennett. Obviously this isn’t a possibility they had ever seriously confronted before, as the 1885 accusation from Wyl is only reported on by the Prices. Most Eliza fans have taken comfort in the Beecher/Avery/Newell article pointing out it’s not credible that Eliza could have lost a near-term infant in February 1843. But none of those objections remain if Eliza was only 5 months pregnant and lost the baby before she began teaching school.

    I do look forward to seeing the poem I suspect could have been modified. I got an e-mail on May 7th saying “I would be happy to initiate your digitization request. Requests take up to 2 to 4 weeks to complete.” There was also legalese to the effect that “If you decide to reproduce or publish the images in any way, you may be liable for copyright infringement.” But that’s the same legal language they included when I asked to have Jonathan Harriman Holmes’ manuscripts digitized.

    If they treat Eliza’s journal the way they treated Jonathan’s journal, the manuscript (once I’ve paid for the digitization) will be available for all to view at the LDS Church History Catalog.

  20. I think that Eliza Roxie Snow’s situation in terms of Bennett is peripheral to your main hypothesis. There is sufficient evidence of other women falling victim to Bennett’s gang to validate your reading of the situation that it could be counterproductive to your aim of providing a valid alternative explanation. It seems ironic that you received such a snarky putdown to your comments on the article in The Interpreter although you did shove a bit. An article calling for more openess on the topic of polygamy is welcome but then the author rather brutally dismisses one of the few plausible alternative explanations for the institution.

  21. I suppose I did shove a bit. But what readers of that comment thread won’t know is the comments I submitted that got refused.

    As you may have noted, my comment that elicited Craig’s ire was in response to a man who has himself struggled, and who was reporting the struggle his daughters were having. Relatively nice though Craig’s article is, he perpetuates as fact interpretations I do not believe are as solid as the despairing believe. I already knew that I wouldn’t be able to point them anywhere else for an alternate view, so my frustrated “there is another interpretation but I can’t tell you where it is” was in response to pain I see that I cannot in that forum address.

    Eliza isn’t critical to my hypothesis, but there is nothing about the circumstances of her sealing to Joseph in June 1843 that sets it apart from the other 1842 sealings that appear associated with the Bennett clean up. After Agnes Coolbrith and Mary Elizabeth Rollins, the only other sealing that appears untainted by the Bennett scandal is Joseph’s sealing to Sarah Whitney.

    So have you decided you were hypocritical to request safe harbor for Elvira while allowing nasty involvement for Eliza, and are now demanding safe harbor for Eliza?

  22. Not safe harbor. I think that there is opposition building, possibly to some extent based on ego issues over seeing a favored story threatened, some for other reasons but I don’t feel that you should restrict your examination of evidence in any way. However, there are sufficient hard facts to support your hypothesis if only those cases where speculation is not an issue are retained for the initial treatment. I anticipate that if you build a solid foundation for your interpretation it will make a fictionalized treatment less resisted, but then I remember how the extended family reacted to what I regarded with fondness as one of the best positive depictions of polygamy, Sam Taylor’s ‘Family Kingdom’. To sum it up, they said that he should have waited until everyone involved in the story had passed away before seeking publication. You will encounter opposition. If anything, that is a lesson we can take away from Joseph’s tentative and sporadic approach to introducing polygamy. Sometimes you simply have to go ahead and accept the slings and arrows as part of the territory. On the other hand, several of the comments have indicated that your work is already doing good. That is sweet.

  23. I am truly looking forward to seeing the digitized version of Eliza’s poem. That is a significant data point. It could confirm that the poem was unquestionably written for two people Eliza was very close to. This had actually been my expectation until a few weeks ago, after reading Eliza’s November 1842 poems. My “mind story” regarding Joseph and Nauvoo events in the 1840s therefore doesn’t depend on Eliza’s poem being modified.

    But if close examination indicates the poem may have been changed, that would anchor the “mind story” in a previously unexpected and compelling way.

    Since it was Brian C. Hales’ discussions with me regarding Eliza Snow that prompted me to look at the November poems, it would be ironic if he is one of those with concerns about where that path has taken me. I should say that his discussions weren’t intended to point me at November. It’s just that forcing me to give up on a pregnant Eliza who lost her baby in March 1843 resulted in me looking at the period of time before she would have been obviously pregnant and before she started teaching school.

    I like knowledgeable opposition. Alas, opposing someone doesn’t always mean they will comply with the desired outcome.

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