[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.]As the Nauvoo temple neared completion, the non-Mormons in Illinois tore down all pretense of civil protection for the people in Nauvoo.
First to go was the Nauvoo city charter, which had authorized creation of the Nauvoo legion. Lacking a charter, Nauvoo couldn’t even maintain a police force to protect against petty crime. 1
The next threat was the beginning of the “wolf hunts” that had been threatened in 1844, a euphemism for attacks on outlying Mormon settlements and dwellings. In the months before the temple was completed, the wolf hunt mobs burned over 100 homes. 2
There was an arrest warrant out for Brigham Young. Word came that federal troops were advancing on Nauvoo, coming up the Mississippi River. 3 It was a time of severe tension, and Brigham knew he would be responsible for moving his people west.
Brigham was faced with the question of what to do with women whose husbands had died. The women wished to be sealed to their beloved, departed spouses. But what man could be counted on to marry and care for a woman who was eternally sealed to another man?
And so Brigham apparently made a policy decision. If a woman wished to be sealed to a deceased spouse for eternity, she could–so long as the man standing proxy agreed to marry the woman for time.
Sealing Joseph to His Wives
The first endowments were performed in the Nauvoo Temple starting on December 10, 1845, as those previously endowed as part of the Anointed Quorum received the ordinances again in the temple. Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and the other apostles worked nearly around the clock at the temple, working until 4 am that first day and sleeping for less than two hours before rising to continue the ordinances the next day. 4
The temple records for the Nauvoo temple are unique because not only was the date an ordinance was performed recorded, but the time of day was noted as well. So we get a detailed picture of the immense, time consuming effort it was for the Saints to receive their ordinances. These records are available to review in person at the Church Family History Library in Salt Lake City. 5
Brigham and Heber had already married several of Joseph’s widows for time starting in September 1844. One of the many responsibilities they had during these hectic months was ensuring that all Joseph’s wives had the chance to be sealed to Joseph in the temple. Apparently they came to the conclusion that a Church leader should stand proxy for Joseph for these sealings.
Thus we see Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, or some other apostle or high Church leader stand proxy for almost all of Joseph’s wives who choose to be sealed to Joseph in the temple. 6 We see that there are really only two exceptions amongst all the women who did choose to be sealed to Joseph in the temple. For the most part the women who were married to other men when Joseph Smith was killed continued as the wives of those men, independent of who stood proxy in the Nauvoo temple. We will examine the exceptions in the next section.
|Husband as of
June 27, 1844
|Nauvoo Temple Proxy
|Louisa Beaman||None||Brigham Young|
|Eliza R. Snow||None||Brigham Young|
|Emily Dow Partridge||None||Brigham Young|
|Maria Lawrence||None||Brigham Young 7|
|Olive G. Frost||None||Brigham Young 8|
|Rhoda Richards||None||Brigham Young|
|Zina Diantha Huntington *||Henry Jacobs||Brigham Young|
|Mary Elizabeth Rollins||Adam Lightner||Brigham Young|
Heber C. Kimball
|Nancy Winchester *||None||Heber C. Kimball|
|Sarah Lawrence||None||Heber C. Kimball|
|Lucy Walker||None||Heber C. Kimball|
|Martha McBride||None – widowed||Heber C. Kimball|
|Sarah Ann Whitney *||Joseph C. Kingsbury||Heber C. Kimball|
|Presendia Huntington||Norman Buell||Heber C. Kimball|
|Sylvia Sessions||Windsor Lyon||Heber C. Kimball|
|Eliza Maria Partridge||None||Amasa Lyman|
|Desdemona Fullmer||None||Ezra Taft Benson|
|Melissa Lott||None||John Bernhisel|
|Agnes Coolbrith||None – widowed||George A. Smith|
|Delcena Johnson||None – widowed||Almon Babbitt|
|Elizabeth Davis||Jabez Durfee||Cornelius Lott|
|Sarah Kingsley||John Cleveland||John Smith|
|Lucinda Pendleton||George Harris||George Harris|
|Marinda Nancy Johnson||Orson Hyde||Orson Hyde 9|
|Helen Mar Kimball *||None||Horace Whitney|
|Elvira Annie Cowles *||Jonathan H. Holmes||Jonathan H. Holmes|
in Nauvoo Temple
|Hannah Ells||None||— 10|
|Almera Johnson||None – widowed||— 11|
|Emma Smith *||None – widowed||— 12|
|Fanny Young||None – widowed||— 13|
|Patty Bartlett||David Sessions||— 14|
|Fanny Alger||Solomon Custer||— 15|
|Flora Ann Woodworth||Carlos Gove||— 16|
|Ruth Vose||Edward Sayers||— 17|
|Esther Dutcher||Albert Smith||— 18|
|Mary Heron||John Snider||— 19|
Unique Cases Among Joseph’s Widows
As mentioned, most of the women who had husbands already when Joseph died remained with those husbands, independent of which man stood proxy in the temple. This seems to indicate that the proxy who was “married” to these already-married widows of Joseph Smith was serving some other role. I propose we think of these proxies as something like a “god husband” or a glorified home teacher. 20 In effect, they were to ensure the woman was properly cared for. As widows of Joseph Smith, the Church had both a particular responsibility to protect these women and a particular responsibility to husband them as a spiritual resource.
Those women who did not have a husband when Joseph died were taken on as the plural wives of whoever stood proxy.
There are a few cases, however, that bear examination.
- Emma Smith – I doubt Brigham Young or Heber Kimball approached Emma Smith about marriage in 1844, while she was pregnant with Joseph’s last child, David. By 1845 it had become clear that Brigham viewed Joseph’s estate as an asset of the Church, while Emma viewed Joseph’s estate as a resource to redeem Joseph’s debts and care for Joseph’s family. There was also the matter of Emma’s severe disapproval that the apostles were consummating their plural marriages. Between the property concerns and the plural marriage concerns, Emma would refuse to follow Brigham Young west and would refuse to be sealed to Joseph if that meant she had to allow a Church leaders to serve as Joseph’s proxy, with what that implied, in the Nauvoo temple.
- Elvira Cowles Holmes – It seems likely Brigham or Heber approached Elvira about becoming a plural wife. However Joseph Smith had specifically asked Jonathan Holmes to care for Elvira. 21 Thus it appears that Elvira declined to be sealed to a high Church leader. She lived out her days with Jonathan Holmes in relative obscurity, though this leads to Jonathan being the only husband of one of Joseph’s widows to serve in the Mormon Battalion. 22 Elvira drove the family wagon and team west from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City in 1847, and Elvira and Jonathan’s daughters married a handcart pioneer. Thus Elvira’s is the only one of the plural wives to link all the iconic Mormon trail experiences in a single family.
- Helen Mar Kimball – Helen was 14 when she married Joseph, and had resented the way this “marriage” interfered with her ability to socialize. It appears possible that Heber felt he could watch over Helen as her father, rather than requiring that she marry a high Church leader. Helen was allowed to marry someone her own age, the son of high Church leader Newel K. Whitney.
- Sarah Ann Whitney – Sarah Ann had been married to Joseph Kingsbury, and Kingsbury had recorded in his journal that he had “agread to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as Supposed to be her husband & had a pretended marriage…” 23 Kingsbury was Sarah Ann’s uncle, and it seems possible this pretended marriage was never consummated. It seems that Sarah could have remained the wife of Kingsbury had she so chosen, making the argument that her father as a high Church leader could ensure her future “Church career,” but apparently she determined it would be better to actually be married to a high Church leader in the person of Heber C. Kimball.
- Nancy Winchester – Nancy was only 15 when Joseph died and may have been as young as 13 when she became Joseph’s plural wife. Heber C. Kimball married her, and cared for her, but never consummated the marriage. 24
- Zina Diantha Huntington [Jacobs Smith] – Zina continued as Henry Jacobs wife, despite Brigham having stood proxy for Joseph. In this one case, Brigham, as Zina’s god husband if you will, determined that she was wasted as the wife of the mediocre, if faithful, Henry Jacobs. In time Zina agreed to leave Henry Jacobs and become Brigham’s wife in deed. Zina’s Church career flourished as one of Brigham’s wives, and she would eventually succeed Eliza R. Snow as President of the Relief Society, the most powerful position a woman could hold in the Church. As president of the Relief Society Zina had had more scope, in some ways, than male Mormon leaders, as this position gave Zina the ability to collaborate with women’s rights advocates throughout the United States.
Other Polygamous Families in Nauvoo and Beyond
By the time the Mormons were forced to abandon Nauvoo, some 196 men had between them married 717 wives. As the Mormons traveled westward, these men would take on an additional 417 plural wives. 25 These plural marriages were not openly acknowledged to “the world.” The Mormons would not come out as advocating polygamy until 1852. Less than forty years later, Wilford Woodruff would issue a document known as the Manifesto, declaring polygamy was over. In 1904, a bit more than fifty years after the 1852 announcement, Joseph F. Smith would issue a second manifesto, reaffirming the Church had abandoned the practice of solemnizing new marriages between living women and living men who already had a living wife.
However the twin excesses of Joseph’s many marriages and the vast “harems” of Brigham Young and other Church leaders resulting from the Nauvoo temple proxy sealing policy combined to warp the practice of polygamy during the 1800s. Aside from the impact these polygamy excesses had on the Saints themselves, Mormon polygamy caused extreme opposition from the United States government and her people.
The Mormons’ days in the “wilderness” of the American west were beginning.
Future Planned Posts:
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy
- Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, p. 65. ↩
- Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, pp. 36, 70. ↩
- Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy. Also documented at the Library of Congress, from research performed by Stephen Stathis circa 1978. ↩
- Nauvoo Endowment Companies, Edited by Devery Anderson and Gary Bergera, exercpt available online at http://signaturebooks.com/2010/10/excerpt-nauvoo-endowment-companies/, retrieved 13 July 2014. ↩
- When I viewed these records, they were restricted and could only be reviewed by those who either hold a temple recommend or those without a temple recommend who have obtained a recommendation from the bishop over the locality where they lived. ↩
- See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, pp. 4-9, and Brian C. Hales extensive research into the wives of Joseph Smith, available at http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/stories-of-faith-joseph-smiths-plural-wives/, retrieved 7 July 2014. ↩
- Though Brigham Young had stood as proxy, high Church leader Almon Babbitt apparently stepped forward to be the mortal husband for Maria, who died during the period when Almon Babbitt remained in Nauvoo as one of the three Nauvoo trustees ↩
- Olive died in October 1845 before she could be sealed in the temple, but had married Brigham Young for time in the fall of 1844. A late report of questionable provenance indicates Olive bore Joseph Smith a child, but that she and the child both died [see Hale’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy website for the details]. A possibility that could explain this report and the known date of Olive’s death would be if Brigham was the father of Olive’s child, a child that would be attributed to Joseph under levirate custom. Olive and the child could then have both died at the same time, consistent with a difficult delivery or merely the unusually high rate of neonatal infant mortality seen in Nauvoo during that time period. ↩
- Initially sealed to Orson Hyde, later sealed to Joseph Smith and separated from Hyde ↩
- Died 1845 with Eliza Snow at her side. Her death almost certainly occurred before December 10, 1845, when the first ordinances were performed in the Nauvoo temple. ↩
- Almera married Reuben Barton after Joseph’s death – I am not aware of whether she was sealed to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo temple. ↩
- Declined to be sealed to any high-Church leader due to disputes over property and the doctrine of plural marriage as practiced by Brigham and the apostles. ↩
- As Fanny was Brigham’s sister and an older woman, it is possible Brigham and Heber determined there was no need to provide her another “husband” to care for her and husband her as a Church resource. ↩
- I am not aware of what sealings, if any, Patti participated in while in Nauvoo. Patti was in her fifties and a trusted mid-wife. She remained a mentor and confidant of the rest of Joseph’s wives, and was viewed as one who cared for others, not so much as one who needed to be “taken care of.” ↩
- Married non-Mormon, left Mormon community circa 1837. ↩
- Married non-Mormon in 1843. ↩
- Had been sealed to Joseph with husband’s consent in 1843 in what was clearly an eternity-only sealing. ↩
- Esther’s sealing to Joseph Smith during his lifetime appears similar to Ruth Vose’s sealing, however it seems her husband was not aware it had occurred. Esther was sealed to Joseph with her husband standing proxy in 1851. ↩
- I don’t agree that Mary Heron should be listed as a wife of Joseph Smith, but include her here because others have listed her as a likely wife (Quinn, Hale) or possible wife (Compton). ↩
- This idea of a proxy “husband” having little to do with the woman once they left the temple the day of the sealing is seen in the story of Mary Leamon, recounted in my post Making It Up versus The Scientific Method. ↩
- Recounted in Wright letter provided to the Church in the early 1900s as well as Holmes family history. ↩
- Melissa Lott would later marry a veteran of the Mormon Battalion, Jonathan’s colleague Ira Willis, but she was not married to Ira when he left to serve in the Battalion. ↩
- Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 351. ↩
- Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, P. 608. ↩
- George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “…but we called it celestial marriage”, p. 573. It is not clear if these additional 417 plural wives included plural wives of men who had not been among the 196 who had supposedly become polygamists in Nauvoo. For example, Wilford Woodruff did not take on plural wives until the fall of 1846. ↩