Give Brigham Young a Break

Bottom Line Up Front: Brigham Young accomplished a great work, defeating spiritual wifery. But he did his work so thoroughly that it has been difficult for later generations to comprehend what was going on.

Brigham YoungIn my recent post about giving Joseph Smith a break, there were those who asked for a similar discussion of Brigham Young.

In my “Faithful Joseph” construct, I argue Joseph Smith and his righteous followers predominantly refrained from consummating plural marriages prior to Joseph’s death. If true, then what happened under Brigham’s leadership? There is no question that plural marriages were widely consummated after Brigham Young assumed leadership of the Mormon Church.

Recap of Events Leading Up to January 1842

Joseph initially received a revelation regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant just prior to March 7, 1831. It appears this 1831 revelation commanded Joseph to restore the knowledge that marriages needn’t be restricted to monogamous unions. Joseph may have entered into a covenant with Fanny Alger in 1836, but Fanny left the Mormon community and married a non-Mormon in Indiana by the end of 1836. Fanny’s first known child was born in 1840.[ref]For the best treatment of the history related to Fanny Alger, read Don Bradley’s article in The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol. I. Alternately, consider Todd Compton’s chapter on Fanny Alger in his masterwork, In Sacred Loneliness.[/ref] In April 1841, roughly ten years after receiving the initial revelation, Joseph entered into covenant with Louisa Beaman, who would remain childless until well after Joseph’s death. After being threatened by an angel wielding a sword, Joseph covenanted with Zina Huntington, who was pregnant with her first child, Zebulon. DNA analysis proves Zebulon was the child of Zina’s legal husband, Henry Jacobs. Zina conceived no children between the time she covenanted with Joseph and Joseph’s death in June 1844.[ref]See Dr. Ugo Perego’s article on the DNA analysis of children born to women who covenanted with Joseph Smith, contained in The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol. I. Also see Brian Hales’ online summary of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs for discussion of Zina’s reproductive history.[/ref]

From 1839 to 1841 Brigham Young was in England on a mission. Allegedly there is an indication he had a premonition regarding plural marriage while in England.[ref]I have read somewhere that Brigham had a prompting about plural marriage while in England. If you know the credible source for that assertion, feel free to point me to it in the comments. I probably read about this on one of the exmormon threads I tumble across from time to time in my searches.[/ref] Certainly Joseph Smith wrote to Brigham regarding baptism on behalf of the dead, hinting there was more. Brigham’s first wife, Miriam Angeline Works, died in 1832 and Brigham remarried in 1834, wedding Mary Ann Angell. So there were elements in place to support reflection on the possibility that marriage to all the women a man had married in life might endure into eternity.

Brigham Misled?

Once Brigham returned to Nauvoo, he and his fellows spent much time with Joseph. Helen Mar Kimball, then 11, would reflect in later years on this period of time in late 1841 and suppose her father and his associates were discussing plural marriage with Joseph Smith.

However there were other matters of concern. The highly capable Dr. John Bennett, who had risen to the position of Joseph’s right hand man during the absence of the apostles, had been discovered to be still married in March 1842 [edit – this occurred in 1841] while openly courting a young woman. Bennett had subsequently fallen further from grace due to a reported affair with Sarah Pratt, wife of Orson Pratt. Joseph learned of the affair in early July 1841, just as Brigham Young and other apostles returned from England. A few weeks later it appears Bennett attempted to commit suicide. Thus there was cause for Joseph to deputize the returning apostles to assist in managing the Church, beyond any discussion at the time of plural marriage, per se.

During the summer of 1841, Dr. Bennett began teaching that it was permissible for men and women to engage in sexual intercourse as long as the deed remained unknown, based on the 1842 testimony of Catherine Laur Fuller. The list of those involved in the spate of illicit intercourse is filled with people Bennett would have known through his service in the Nauvoo Legion, his ecclesiastical duties, and his mayoral duties.

Bennett’s heretical teachings regarding illicit intercourse convinced William Smith, Joseph’s brother. William is documented to have assured others that illicit intercourse or spiritual wifery was a valid “teaching” of the Church.[ref]Nauvoo High Council Minutes.[/ref] We know Joseph’s other brothers were approached with tales that it was permissible for a man to be with women other than his legal wife. Both Don Carlos Smith and Hyrum Smith were adamantly opposed to such behavior, even though their informants had told them their brother, Joseph Smith, was the source of the “doctrine.”

It appears possible, however, that Brigham Young was initially taken in, along with Heber Kimball.

We have two reasons to suspect Brigham Young was involved in at least an attempt to engage in extra-monogamous behavior in 1841/1842:

  1. Martha Brotherton accused Brigham Young of pressuring her to become his. According to Martha’s letter, written to Dr. Bennett in July 1842, Brigham had said, “…have not you an affection for me, that, were it lawful and right, you could accept of me for your husband and companion?” Heber C. Kimball, and Joseph Smith feature in Martha’s tale. William Clayton is mentioned. Martha knew Brigham Young, William Clayton and Heber C. Kimball. She had never met Joseph Smith, making it possible that William Smith was the person she actually met. Martha’s interaction with Brigham likely happened in 1841,[ref]I was unable to find the date when the Brotherton family arrived in the United States, but Martha pins the incident as occurring roughly three weeks after the family arrived in Nauvoo.  It appears her initial outraged tale had a chance to be sent to England and return in time to cause enough of a scandal to prompt a formal response in April 1842. There are Brothertons who arrive in New Orleans in May 1842, too late to be the Brothertons involved in the Nauvoo scandal.[/ref] before January 9, 1842, when we see Brigham participate in a sealing ceremony.[ref]Brigham performed the ceremony sealing Joseph Smith to Agnes Coolbrith, widow of Joseph’s dead brother, Don Carlos Smith. Like Louisa Beaman and Zina Jacobs, Agnes Coolbrith would not conceive while in a covenant relationship with a living Joseph Smith.[/ref]
  2. Wiliam Clayton’s journal on June 23, 1843, describes a conversation with Joseph Smith. Joseph recounted how three of his disciples had transgressed, including “BY,” Knight, and Thompson. Of these, it appeared Knight[ref]The Knight who had died by the time of the journal entry was Bishop Vinson Knight (died July 31, 1842).[/ref] and Thompson[ref]Robert Thompson (died Aug 27, 1841) was Joseph’s clerk and Hyrum Smith’s brother-in-law.[/ref] had died. BY had transgressed yet not transgressed. Ultimately, BY had been redeemed from his transgression. I am unaware of anyone other than Brigham Young with initials BY who would have caused Joseph the anguish described in Clayton’s diary.[ref]See George Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 108.[/ref]

If Brigham had attempted to coerce Martha Brotherton to become his spiritual wife, he had transgressed. And yet Martha fled, preventing Brigham transgressing to the point of engaging in illicit intercourse or spiritual wifery. Martha’s identification of Joseph as one of those involved is problematic, as she had never met Joseph before.

Heber, the Obedient

In the story told by Martha Brotherton, the other man she knew well who she cast as a participant in the scene was Heber Kimball.

It’s possible that Martha was making this story up. But for a moment, let us consider that Martha was telling the truth as she knew it. And let us consider the possibility that Brigham and Heber were involved in spiritual wifery rather than celestial marriage.

Brigham, in allegedly approaching Martha Brotherton, was approaching a young woman he knew, for whom he felt he could be affectionate, a woman he felt might feel affection in return for him.

Heber, when considering to whom he might reach out, decided that his selection should reflect his concern for his wife, Vilate. So he selected the Pitkin sisters, spinsters who had cared for him when he was leaving America for his mission in England. Heber felt that not only could he feel affection for these sisters, but that they would not be as threatening to Vilate as a younger woman might be.

Here Heber made a crucial choice. If he had been involved in the Brotherton incident, implying involvement in the coercive practice of spiritual wifery, he would have been told that spiritual wifery was secretly sanctioned by Joseph Smith.

Thus Heber went directly to Joseph, confiding in Joseph the plan to take on the Pitkin sisters as his secret “wives.”

We know that Joseph forbade Heber from following such a course. We also know this was before Heber Kimball was ordered to take Sarah Peak Noon under his protection.

Sarah Peak Noon had a child in October 1842 that is widely believed to have been engendered by Heber Kimball. If so, the Pitkin incident could not have happened later than January 1842.

I think Sarah Peak Noon had been a victim of some other man persuaded of Bennett’s spiritual wifery heresy and therefore time Heber’s role in becoming Sarah’s protector as occurring in the summer of 1842. Yet I remain persuaded that Heber talked with Joseph about the Pitkin sisters in the November/December 1841 timeframe.

Brigham Redeemed

Joseph told William Clayton that when B[righam] Y[oung] transgressed his covenant (yet denied having transgressed), Joseph pled with the Lord to spare him [Brigham].

By January 6, 1842, Brigham appears to have fully regained Joseph’s confidence. Brigham wrote an entry in his journal on that day in Masonic code that translated reads: “I was taken into the lodge. J. Smith was Agness.” Todd Compton suggests that “was” stood for “wedded and sealed [to].” Based on this record, some presume that Brigham was the one who officiated at the covenant between Joseph and Agnes Coolbrith [Smith].

Meanwhile the Nauvoo High Council minutes of  January 18, 1842, show the council taking into consideration the affairs of the Church, “that they may have a knowledge of… the situation of the Church.” Hyrum instructed the leaders that it was necessary to “go from house to house – to his house – and to every house and see that every family done their duty… to teach those who would not hearken [that they] should be severed off.”[ref]SeeThe Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes, John S. Dinger, editor, pp. 399-401.[/ref] It certainly seems reasonable that Joseph could have been the author of the concern voiced by Hyrum. This charge that the Church counsel every household morphed into a city-wide census, which was delivered to the City on March 1, 1842.

By late February, Brigham and Heber are undoubtedly part of Joseph’s most trusted circle. They both participate in the ceremony where Joseph covenanted with Mary Elizabeth Rollins.

Both Mary Elizabeth Rollins and Agnes Coolbrith would later say there were things going on during the life of Joseph Smith that Joseph F. Smith (Hyrum’s son and the one investigating the origins of plural marriage decades after these events) knew nothing about.[ref]See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 166-167 & 226.[/ref] It does not appear that Joseph F. Smith ever took advantage of the offer to learn what these two ladies had to say. I suggest that they could have told him that covenant marriage, as practiced by Joseph Smith in the midst of investigating the horrific heresy of spiritual wifery, was not the sexually consummated affair Joseph F. Smith and his contemporaries believed it to have been.

Brigham staunchly stood by Joseph’s side as the investigation into the sexual heresy unfolded. By the last weeks of May 1842 it became clear William Smith had played a key role in convincing women to surrender their virtue, assuring them spiritual wifery was a true principle of the restored gospel, allegedly secretly taught by his brother, Joseph Smith.

Joseph asked Brigham to charge William with this sin. Many had been guilty of being involved at some level, including Brigham. The sins of those who repented would never be revealed publicly. But the ringleader had to be taken down. And it seems Joseph believed William had been that ringleader.

Then Catherine Laur [Fuller Warren] testified to the Nauvoo High Council, on May 25, 1842. She detailed a sordid history where she had been seduced again and again by several different men. By April Catherine had determined these seductions were not lawful, based on Joseph Smith’s public sermons condemning such behavior. She agreed to become married to William Warren. But on the morning of her marriage, William Smith had come to her home, proposing what she termed “unlawful connexions.” Catherine refused. William “insisted very much that I should not marry and proposed [to keep Catherine well supplied] with food & if I would remain unmarried and grant his request…”

But when Catherine was questioned about which man had been her original seducer, she replied, “John C. Bennett was the first man that seduced me – no man ever made the attempt before him.”

According to later accounts, Brigham was in the midst of arraigning William of involvement in adultery and seduction. Joseph burst into the room and demanded that Brigham withdraw the charges. The later raconteurs presumed that Emma or some other member of the Smith family had explained to Joseph how damning it would be for William to be openly charged with wrong-doing. I suspect the actual cause of the reversal was Joseph’s new-found knowledge, based on Catherine’s testimony, that John C. Bennett, not William, had been the author of the heresy at a time many months before William had arrived in Nauvoo.

Tension like an electric charge ran between Joseph and Brigham. Then Brigham yielded and withdrew all charges against William Smith.

Wives of Sorrow

As discussed in my March 2014 post, Wives of Sorrow, the women who became plural wives in 1842 appear to have predominantly been either 1) involved in the investigation to root out the seducers or 2) victims of the seducers. Brigham’s June 1842 plural marriage to Lucy Ann Decker [Seeley] appears, to me, to have been one of providing protection to an abandoned mother with three small children to feed. While Joseph Smith lived, Lucy did not conceive a child engendered by Brigham Young.

Similarly, I suggest that Sarah Peak Noon had been a victim of the seducers, one of those who had conceived despite the medicine offered to the women to prevent pregnancy.[ref]A description regarding the use of medicine “for abortion” was provided as part of Mary Clift’s September 4, 1842 testimony regarding how she was seduced by Gustavus Hills. See The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes, ed. Dinger, pp. 424-426, both text and footnotes. While others indicated they understood such a medicine would be provided, the Clift/Hills deposition discusses the medicine as being offered and asked for.[/ref]

Revelation and Retraction

By 1843 Joseph Smith apparently felt the sexual scandal had sufficiently died down that he could risk moving forward as commanded in 1831. A spate of covenants, including many plural “marriages” are solemnized. Brigham was one of those joined or “sealed” to his living spouse in June 1843.

In early July 1843, before Joseph Smith wrote down the revelation now canonized as D&C 132, Brigham was questioned by a University professor regarding whether or not Mormons taught that a man may have more than one wife. No doubt informed by his own position as a widower who had remarried, Brigham replied:

“We see in this life, that amongst Christians, ministers and all classes of men, a man will marry a wife, and have children by her; she dies, and he marries another, and then another, until men have had as many as six wives, and each of them bear children…

“Now, in the resurrection this man and all his wives and children are raised from the dead; what will be done with those women and children, and who will they belong to? and if the man is to have but one, which one in the lot shall he have?”

[The professor replied, he did not believe those women and children would belong to any but those they belonged to in this life.]

“[If] it is right for a man to have several wives and children in heaven at the same time, is it not an inconsistent doctrine that a man should have several wives and children by those wives at the same time, here in this life, as was the case with Abraham and many of the old Prophets? Or is it any more sinful to have several wives at a time than at different times?”[ref]Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, July 9, 1843, pp. 134-136.[/ref]

Joseph may have wished to be the first to live openly as a righteous patriarch with several wives and children. But Emma Hale [Smith] was highly conflicted over the matter. In June 1843 a major conflict had erupted between Emma and Joseph over the matter. As late as August Joseph was still feeling the conflict sharply, expressing to William Clayton concern that if he did accept “E[liza] and E[mily] P[artridge],” as Emma had offered that day, Emma would “pitch on him and obtain a divorce and leave him.”[ref]Clayton, An Intimate Chronicle, ed. Smith, p. 117.[/ref]

A week later we see letters from Eliza Snow being passed to Joseph Smith and Flora Woodworth being told to return a gold watch Joseph had given to her. Sometime around this Eliza and Emily Partridge were sent away from the Smith household and Eliza Snow left Nauvoo entirely for several months. Flora Woodworth (secretly one of those who had covenanted with Joseph) abruptly married Carlos Gove, a non-Mormon. Possibly precipitating these re-arrangements in Joseph’s covenant relationships was the revelation that Orange Wight knew these specific women were Joseph’s “wives.” Orange may have also conveyed the information that he had been “fully initiated” into the mysteries of “polygamy” in the summer of 1841, when the only “polygamy” being spread abroad was the illicit intercourse/spiritual wifery variety taught by John C. Bennett and his cronies. If mature teens had been widely initiated into spiritual wifery, as evidenced in the case of Orange, it clearly wouldn’t yet be safe for Joseph to publicly proclaim the acceptability of plural marriage.

As 1843 came to a close, a new danger loomed. William Law, an Assistant President of the Church, and Austin Cowles, prominent member of the Nauvoo Stake Presidency, turned against Joseph. William Law may have been soured by Joseph’s belief William was an adulterer. On this basis, Joseph refused to perform the ceremony uniting William Law to his wife, Jane, for eternity. Austin Cowles publicly proclaimed that his reason for breaking with Joseph and resigning from his position in the Nauvoo Stake Presidency in September 1843 was the revelation indicating “persons [could be sealed up] to eternal life, against all sins, save that of sheding innocent blood… [and] the doctrine of a plurality of wives… I dared not teach or administer such laws.”[ref]The Expositor, June 7, 1844, available online at, retrieved 12 Oct 2015.[/ref],[ref]It is possible that Austin had also been guilty of sexual sin, simply because of the known depravity of those with whom he associated. However I am not aware of any positive indication other than the conspiracy itself that he was other than an honorable man. Certainly he was widely known for his strict moral conduct.[/ref]

1844 was consumed in dealing with the dissident threat, which bloomed into full conspiracy by March 1844. Around this time William Smith returned to Nauvoo, where Joseph likely learned that his baby brother had not learned the difference between eternal marriage and spiritual wifery.[ref]The recent biography of William Smith provides detailed information on William’s questionable actions in the year after Joseph’s death, see my review. William’s misbehavior in Boston is more graphically explored in Connell O’Donovan’s article on Blacks and the Priesthood in The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol. II, pp. 48-86.[/ref]

According to William Marks, still at the time Nauvoo Stake President, Joseph confided in Marks that polygamy or spiritual wifery[ref]Emphasis mine.[/ref] would be the undoing of the Mormon people if it were not rooted out and prosecuted.[ref]‘We are a ruined people,’ Marks quoted Smith; ‘this doctrine of polygamy, or Spiritual-wife System, that has been taught and practiced among us, will prove our destruction and overthrow. I have been deceived . . . it is wrong; it is a curse to mankind, and we shall have to leave the United States soon, unless it can be put down, and its practice stopped in the Church.’ Marks said that Smith ordered him ‘to go into the high council, and I will have charges preferred against all who practice this doctrine; and I want you to try them by the laws of the Church, and cut them off, if they will not repent, and cease the practice of this doctrine . . . I will go into the stand and preach against it with all my might, and in this way, we may rid the Church of the damnable heresy.’ When Marks related what Smith had said after Joseph was killed, Marks’ testimony ‘was pronounced false by the Twelve and disbelieved.’” From Zion’s Harbinger and Baneemy’s Organ, 7 July 1853, pp. 50-55, cited in Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Mormon Polygamy: A History,” Chapter Seven, [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1986], p. 77; see also, Bibliography, p. 294.[/ref] Marks made his statement shortly after learning that both the Brighamites and Strangites had publicly announced they were practicing plural marriage. Given that Marks used the term spiritual wifery (implying illicit and coercive intercourse without benefit of any ceremony) rather than eternal marriage (technically illegal but associated with eternal covenants), I see no reason to doubt he was telling the truth. Brigham, however, rejected Marks’ interpretation. Brigham was confident that the statement, as relayed, did not mean Joseph wanted the root out the New and Everlasting Covenant. Merely that spiritual wifery was not dead, as some (e.g., William Smith) had led Joseph to believe in 1842.

Brigham Returns and Assumes the Mantle

Joseph Smith was killed at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. The presumed killers were members of a mob, many of whom had blacked their faces to prevent recognition. Most of the apostles, including Brigham Young, had been on travel spreading Joseph’s political platform as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States (in those days merely a way to obtain an audience for one’s views rather than a serious bid for the highest office in the land).

Brigham returned to a people in shock. Brigham was supposed to meet with the other apostles in the office of Willard Richards on the morning of August 8, 1844, but the meeting in Richards’ office completely flew from his mind. Instead he found himself in the grove, where Sidney Rigdon had been preaching, leading up to a vote sustaining Rigdon as guardian of the Church.

Brigham Young took the stand. 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: Brigham Young and the Succession Crisis of 1844, in A Firm Foundation, available online at, retrieved 7 July 2014.[/ref]

Wedding the Ten “Virtuous and Pure”

Based on the births of children to plural wives starting in the summer of 1845, Brigham appears to have given the go ahead for men to engender children with plural wives married in the New and Everlasting Covenant. In addition, Brigham and Heber between them married nine of ten women who had covenanted with Joseph during his lifetime.[ref]The tenth woman was Eliza Partridge, who became the wife of Amasa Lyman.[/ref] It appears Brigham may have felt these ten were the women referred to in D&C 132:62, which stated, “And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.”

If, as I suspect, Brigham and Heber had been initially misled by those teaching spiritual wifery, they knew better than most how perilous the future would be for women lacking protection. All the women Brigham, Heber, and Amasa married in the immediate wake of Joseph’s death were vulnerable women, with the possible exception of Nancy Winchester.

Louisa Beaman[ref]By rights Louisa should not be counted as one of the women who married Brigham or Heber immediately after September 1844, as she did not become Brigham’s wife until January 1846, while the Nauvoo temple was in operation. By then there are many more women who accept a mortal husband in pursuit of getting sealed to their deceased husband.[/ref] Nancy Winchester
Eliza R. Snow Martha McBride
Emily Dow Partridge Eliza Maria Partridge
Maria Lawrence Sarah Lawrence
Olive G. Frost Lucy Walker

Of these ten, six would bear children within a year of marrying one of the three apostles. Only one of these six children would survive infancy. The one survivor was Emily Partridge’s son Edward. Little Edward died the month after his seventh birthday.

The scar of spiritual wifery was still raw. Emily Partridge reported Edward was scorned and referred to as a “spiritual child,” though she never appears to have understood there was a strong association between the terms “spiritual wifery” and “illicit intercourse.”

Preparing for the Temple and Exodus

There were two overriding priorities under Brigham’s initial leadership. First was to complete the temple so Joseph’s people could receive the saving ordinances of Initiatory, Endowment, and Sealing to spouse and parents under the New and Everlasting Covenant. The second was to remove themselves from Nauvoo as soon as possible after receiving the saving ordinances.

Concern for the removal from Nauvoo may have informed Brigham’s policy regarding temple ordinances. Specifically, women wishing to be sealed to a deceased spouse in the New and Everlasting Covenant were apparently required to enter into a temporal covenant with the man who stood proxy for her deceased husband. Ideally this would mean that any widow desiring the saving ordinances of the temple would be provided a support who had covenanted before God to protect the widow.

On the other hand, there were relatively few men willing to take on responsibility for these widows and their children.[ref]In my own family history, Mary Leamon [Bell] sought to find a proxy in February 1846 to allow her to be sealed to her husband and to allow her deceased daughter to be sealed to her young husband. An obvious option was for Mary Leamon’s son-in-law to participate in the ceremony sealing him to his deceased wife and then stand proxy for his father-in-law. But apparently the son-in-law couldn’t wrap his head around being “married” to his mother-in-law. So Mary Leamon (in best Scottish fashion) appears to have badgered her Bishop into standing proxy for the two ordinances. For more, see Making It Up versus The Scientific Method.[/ref] Again Brigham and Heber would often step forward, offering themselves as proxy to various women in need.

Perhaps Brigham hoped that through this requirement, he would be able to persuade Emma Hale [Smith] to take on the protection of one of his followers. If so, he was sorely disappointed. Emma refused to leave Nauvoo or Joseph’s debts. She retained certain important properties as Joseph’s personal property, including the Egyptian mummies and papyri, the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, and the text of Joseph’s revisions to the Bible. Emma also jealously guarded the remains of Joseph and his brothers.

Furthermore, Emma was horrified to see Brigham implement the doctrine of “a plurality of wives” in a sexual sense. Lucy Meserve wrote “I worked for the Prophet Joseph Smith’s wife Emma Hale Smith in Aug & Sept. 1845. […] Sister Emma bore testimony to me that Mormonism was true as it came forth from the servant of the Lord Joseph Smith, but said she the Twelve have made bogus of it. She said they were living with their wives and raising children and Joseph never taught any such doctrine, they [plural wives] were only sealed to them [husbands] for eternity.”[ref]See Brian Hales November 2013 response to Michael Quinn, available online at, retrieved 13 October 2015.[/ref] The timing of Emma’s comment to Lucy Meserve would be shortly after the first children engendered by Brigham and the apostles were born to plural wives. Lucy had reason to hope that Emma was wrong: Lucy was a secret plural wife to George A. Smith, Joseph’s cousin, and was carrying his child at the time of Emma’s statement.

Yet Brigham knew, as Emma couldn’t, the potential downfall of leaving large numbers of women without a partner. If I am right, he had been temporarily persuaded that spiritual wifery was correct. He knew that those who were plotting against Joseph included those who had seduced unknown numbers of women, and that these were setting up a Church under James Strang. The specter of possible abuse was made flesh in the person of William Smith and the leaders William had “trained” in the Boston area.

Despite Emma’s post-martyrdom recasting of her history with Joseph, there was no doubt that the written revelation regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant (now D&C 132) permitted men to take on more than one wife, if certain rules were adhered to. In the case of Brigham and Heber, accepting responsibility for additional plural wives was not fueled by a desire for sex with the women, though sex did occur. It was an onerous responsibility, but a responsibility that protected the women from dire poverty and known predators.

George Smith’s 2008 book Mormon Polygamy: But We Called it Celestial Marriage documents the hundreds of men who took responsibility for women in addition to their legal wife in response to Brigham’s lead. The people thronged the temple, willing to do whatever it took to obtain their eternal blessings. In that time, the requirement was caring for all the believers, making sure it was possible for all these to flee Nauvoo in 1846.

Guarding Over Marriage

For those who have not studied the history, it might be reasonable to presume that marriages in Utah would be celebrated in the diverse communities that grew up across the intermountain west.

However Brigham’s obsession with preventing a resurgence of spiritual wifery continued.

In the 1850 case of Joseph Ellis Johnson, we observe this guardianship over marriage and the power of parenthood to keep people in the Church or bring people back to the Church. Joseph Ellis Johnson had engendered a child with one of Lorenzo Snow’s estranged plural wives. Johnson came before the disciplinary council of leaders (including Brigham) in order to set the record safe. Despite Johnson’s transgression, he wished to beg for forgiveness that he might be sealed to the woman he had lain with and then sealed to their children.

In the transcript, we see the members of the council asking whether or not Johnson taught that it was acceptable for a man and woman to have intercourse as long as it was not known (the long-winded description of spiritual wifery or illicit intercourse). [Johnson denied he taught any such doctrine. He had merely slept with the young lady and things were as they were.]

As the western settlements took shape, Brigham insisted that couples who wished to marry come to Salt Lake City. You could not be married by Church authority outside of Salt Lake without specific written permission from Brigham Young.

My ancestor Albert Delong faced the challenge this could pose. He loved Elizabeth Houston, but Elizabeth’s mother refused to grant permission for her daughter to travel to Salt Lake City. This effectively prevented the marriage. Delong went to Brigham Young and explained the situation. With good humor, Brigham wrote out the permission for the marriage to be performed locally. Whenever Brigham saw the Delongs after that, he would rib them about the situation.

This central management of marriage created various folkways in response. One thing that occurred was regular formation of marriage parties, where all the folks from a particular town who wished to marry one another would travel together to Salt Lake City. Based on my research into my own family, it appears that Brigham used this central control of marriage along with the sacred secrecy surrounding the initiatory/endowment/sealing to control who became informed of covenant relationships the next generation had with Joseph Smith.

[Divorces were also managed centrally by Brigham. According to Michael Quinn, the man had to pay the $5 fee, no matter which party desired the separation.]

Brigham’s Final Challenge

By 1870, less than a decade before Brigham’s death, the rules of marriage were thoroughly established among the Mormons. There was no risk of spiritual wifery regaining a foothold as Joseph’s doctrine. Women who wished to be married and have children had ample opportunity to do so, and could pick from a pool of steady and righteous men without concern that a good man already had a wife.[ref]Not all women desired to be married. Some widows wished to mourn their dead husband in peace rather than take on the protection of a second husband. Likewise, some women broke with their mortal husband, adequately supported by other relatives and secure in the knowledge that they were sealed in eternity to another. We see this in the case of Nancy Marinda Johnson [Pratt].[/ref] The combination of rigid rules yet allowance for divorce resulted in widespread adherence to the marital standards. Beyond embracing marriage with strict rules of fidelity, the pervasiveness of the unique Mormon form of marriage can be seen in the large number of women who had been a spouse in a polygamous household. By 1870 that number reached 50% of all adult women in the community.

Late in Brigham’s tenure, a new challenge arose. Joseph’s sons presumed that their father never taught any form of plural marriage, despite warnings from older members of the RLDS community that Joseph’s sons were not correct in this stance. In their zeal to save the Utah Mormons from what they believed to be corruption, Joseph’s sons embarked on missions to the west.

There were those who had been intimately involved in the history of 1842 Nauvoo who personally refuted Joseph sons, affirming that Joseph had taught eternal marriage, including a plurality of wives.[ref]Agnes Coolbrith, aunt to the Smiths and located in California was one of these who tried to tell Joseph’s sons they were wrong about their father. See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness.[/ref] But those who had only ever known the open and methodical polygamy administered by Brigham Young sought to prove that Joseph had been a practicing polygamist.

Joseph F. Smith and Andrew Jenson were the two who particularly took it upon themselves to research the matter. They sent numerous letters and interviewed all the survivors they could find. The scandal of spiritual wifery had been dead for decades, and all who had been involved in 1842 Nauvoo “polygamy” wished to keep it that way. Neither Joseph F. Smith nor Andrew Jenson questioned whether or not Joseph had consummated his relationships with plural wives. They assumed that he had. The fact that covenant relationships did exist between Joseph and numerous women other than Emma Hale [Smith] was without doubt, as attested to by the many affidavits collected separately by Joseph F. Smith and Andrew Jenson.

Heber C. Kimball had died years before. Brigham Young and Eliza R. Snow[ref]I suspect Eliza Snow was one of the victims of the seducers. She was widely rumored to have been pregnant in Nauvoo, with the pseudonymous Wilhelm Wyl asserting both that she had been impregnated by Joseph Smith and had fallen victim to John C. Bennett. Her November 1842 poems suggest she had been seduced by a deceiver. See Eliza and the Stairs.[/ref] declined to explain how spiritual wifery and plural marriage were different. Though there is reason to suspect each had been involved in spiritual wifery in 1841/2, they were each at the pinnacle of their ecclesiastical power and believed in the atonement of Christ. Surely they felt there was no good to be gained from detailing the extent to which they had been misled in the past at the risk of resurrecting the heresy. I challenge anyone even today to prove that they would have been wrong in this judgment.

Brigham’s Legacy

Brigham killed the heresy of spiritual wifery. He did this by tightly controlling marriage, openly promoting plural marriage, and making it so no woman was left in a vulnerable position that invited the possibility for spiritual wifery to regain a hold.

But the decade following Brigham’s death demonstrated the challenge of using plural marriage to kill spiritual wifery. Like a patient who is cured of cancer but dies of chemotherapy, Brigham had accomplished a great good by implementing a programme of questionable long-term value.

Polygamy, as administered by Brigham Young, allowed the outstanding men of that generation to pour out their lives in building the kingdom of God, often involving extended absences from home, yet still produce large families to carry on their legacy. Similarly, polygamy allowed the women raising those children to have a rich support system of adults (including sister wives and the vast interfamilial network polygamy produced) during the absence of their husbands. Yet the long-term effect of pervasive polygamy results in the phenomenon known as throw away youth, where young men have no chance to compete for the desirable young women in the community.

The United States, having won the civil war and conquered the pillar of barbarism known as slavery, concentrated on destroying polygamy, the twin pillar of barbarism. The people, desperate to retain their right to eternal blessings, as taught by Brigham Young, tried valiantly to prove that this form of marriage was their religious right. But by 1886, Brigham’s successor, John Taylor, pled with the Lord to take away the heavy burden of polygamy.

But Brigham’s indoctrination had been so successful that John Taylor did not request to end polygamy, but asked to end the New and Everlasting Covenant. This God could not permit, even if He weren’t the author of the 1886 revelation John Taylor received.

It would take the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act and the near-loss of the temples themselves to force the Church to renounce plural marriage in 1890, under the administration of Wilford Woodruff.

Thus a scant two generations after plural marriage was implemented, it ended in all but the most fanatical corners of Mormonism. Brigham killed spiritual wifery and birthed the reality of eternal covenants which Joseph had only been able to promise in secrecy to a handful of trusted intimates.

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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.

52 thoughts on “Give Brigham Young a Break

  1. In an interesting post-script, Brigham Young had himself sealed to Martha Brotherton in 1870, after her death. This is often seen by critics of Mormonism as an evidence that Brigham had attempted to seduce Martha (as these critics don’t tend to cast the story in terms of legitimate marriage).

    This informs my assessment of Martha’s story. If Brigham had (unsuccessfully) attempted to make Martha his spiritual wife, then he had done great damage to her eternal destiny by causing her to reject the gospel. I see a remorseful Brigham doing the small amount in his power to ensure that Martha was offered all the blessings she could have received had he not believed and taught a lie.

  2. It makes sense that the adversary would create such a counterfeit as “spiritual wifery” around the same time as Celestial Marriage so that people would associate the right version with the wrong.

    Is there any evidence of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, etc. using the term spiritual wifery to mean Celestial Marriage? If not, then I think you’re definitely onto something here.

  3. Hi Daniel,

    Spiritual wifery, as a term, had been used to describe the marital practices of the Cochranites. Therefore it is highly unlikely that Joseph Smith ever used the term to describe marriage in the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    In Alex Beam’s American Crucifixion, he quotes Emma being asked about what she thought about spiritual wifery. She allegedly replied, “It is straight from hell, sir!” Alas, Alex does not provide good notes and I have been utterly unable to find that cited anywhere else.

    John Bennett refers to spiritual wifery in his 1842 exposé of Mormonism, History of the Saints. Therefore I suspect you would have to find some reference prior to summer 1842 to find anyone using the term spiritual wifery to describe legitimate plural marriage in the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    Orange Wight indicates in the summer of 1841 young women were calling each other “spirituals.” There is no reason to think these girls had been taught correct doctrines regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    In the spring of 1842 Elizabeth Durphee invited the Partridge girls to her home. “She introduced the subject of spiritual wives as they called it in that day. She wondered if there was any truth in the report she heard.” It is clear to me that Sister Durphee was attempting to discover if the Partridge girls had been compromised. It seems relatively clear from Emily’s later testimony that she never understood that references to “spiritual wives” was not talk about plural marriage as taught by Joseph Smith. Yet because she was so prominent (as a wife of Brigham Young), her confusion on this matter would have been a significant factor in why many researchers presume that spiritual wifery is merely a synonym for plural marriage within the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    When William Smith returned to Nauvoo in the summer and fall of 1845, he preached a sermon about spiritual wifery. John Taylor attempted to correct wrong doctrine William had taught, though at that time they were still trying to keep him within the Church. Women in the audience threw their kerchiefs over their head, William’s discussion of spiritual wifery was so disgusting and indecent. Zina Huntington commented on the sermon, writing that Elder Taylor had correct William because it was needed.

    A challenge is that many secondary sources (including the recent biography of William Smith) will sometimes change words to simplify things. Thus, the initial descriptions of William’s scandalous sermon merely say he was talking about [polygamy].

    I would put the burden back on those who do not believe spiritual wifery was exclusively used to describe the scandalous sort of sexual misbehavior to show that the original version of a historical document from Joseph or other trusted Church leader used spiritual wifery as a synonym for Celestial Marriage.

  4. “Meg,
    I am speechless, dumbfounded, and amazed by your post.

    I assume that this Laura Hales is the Laura Hales.

    To begin with, I really enjoyed “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy” and I am one of those that bought and read it (a substantial and worthwhile effort). I have enjoyed hearing Brian speak about the topic. I understand that it is a little personal, which is okay.

    I also have been reading with enjoyment your work on this topic.

    It continues to be disconcerting to me to see evidence of ill will in this discussion. I will say, as someone with no particular dog in the fight, that a dismissive and disrespectful tone is not that hard to sniff out (“speechless, dumbfounded, and amazed” for a recent example).

    It is a credit to you that you took it so cheerfully.

    Hopefully, it is not that unhelpful to point out that such tactics are not doing a lot to further the conversation. Though I would be disposed to be supportive of the Hales’ interpretation, the kind of animosity directed at you troubles me greatly. It seems mean spirited. It seems like an attempt to censor you by insult.

    We are capable of reading, evaluating, and making up our own minds without the querulous tone, thanks.

    I for one appreciate your thinking on the subject, and remain ready to consider what the evidence shows. Though if folks keep reminding me of how dangerous and wrongheaded your thoughts are (without engaging them), I might just become a partisan.

    Keep on thinking,

    Mark Clifford

  5. Hi Mark,

    I like Brian and am extremely grateful for his excellent effort to make so much information available about Joseph Smith and polygamy. Laura has been extremely generous, continuing to correspond with me when Brian stopped responding.

    I suspected there might be dismay, since I explore the possibility that Brigham Young was temporarily deceived by those teaching spiritual wifery. I am also rather inclined to a view that Eliza Snow was either herself a victim of the seducers or was very close to someone else who had been a victim of the seducers. But Eliza and Brigham are so revered that most cannot countenance the possibility that either of them could have ever stumbled in their pursuit of God’s light.

    And everyone loves Heber. So casting aspersions on Heber is completely beyond the pale.

    But the thing is I follow the data. I find Joseph and Emma and Brigham and Eliza and Heber to have been great individuals who each accomplished much good in building God’s kingdom. They overcame great hardship and swallowed their pride to become what God needed them to be.

  6. Many years ago, I was disappointed in a Brigham Young that was foul-mouthed, led others to commit MMM, taught Adam-God, blood atonement, curse of Cain, etc., and had a hard time really liking him or sustaining him as a dead prophet. Then, during the Nauvoo temple open house, I had an experience that convinced me that the Lord had called Brigham as prophet, and that he still is a prophet performing the Lord’s work. My attitude towards Brother Brigham changed drastically, even though I recognized he had some serious errors.

    Meg, now I need you to write a blog post, “Give Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie a break”, as I still deal more with some of their teachings. 🙂

  7. How about a comment that would have the title “Give Brother Jones* a Break”

    * Jones was not his actual name.

    When I was young, Brother Jones was an authoritative presence in my ward. From the distance of my position as a youth, it seemed that Brother Jones was over-bearing and dictatorial. When I suffered my teenaged faith crisis, Brother Jones was an example to me of the kind of man I didn’t think was inspired by God, due to what I thought I’d heard about his treatment of his family.

    When I was an adult, there came a day when Brother Jones was the Sunday School teacher. The topic was the Book of Mosiah, where the people of Limhi exercised the priesthood. Brother Jones stated that it was clear the ancestors of the people of Limhi (the Mulekites) had the priesthood, as we saw the priesthood exercised by their descendants.

    I don’t have the Book of Mormon memorized, but that assertion struck me as incorrect. I spent a couple of minutes searching the scriptures and confirmed that the people of Limhi were actually descended from Nephi. I raised my hand. When Brother Jones called on me, I shared my finding.

    For the next several years, Brother Jones refused to call on me. Being me, I raised my hand ever time I felt I had a contribution to make. Thus he chose to ignore me every single Sunday, sometimes several times each Sunday.

    Around this time, I visited a ward in the Baltimore are where Ed Snow (of some Sunstone fame) was the Sunday School teacher. I raised my hand and disagreed with Ed. I raised my hand again, and Ed called on my even though I’d disagreed with him earlier (possibly to disagree with him again). After that class, I like to think I went up to Ed and hugged him. At any rate, I have a fond spot for Ed.

    Going back to Brother Jones, in time the world turned and the stars set. I was eventually called to teach the class that Brother Jones had taught. And when Brother Jones raised his hand, I would call on him.

    In time, Brother Jones was called to be our home teacher. In that role, he learned about my concerns and needs. And he discovered that I had not yet completed my Master’s Thesis. From that moment on, Brother Jones made himself available to me for hours each week, reviewing my Thesis, editing, allowing me to drop off revisions at his home so he could take it to work to read during breaks. We went through unknown reams of paper. And finally the Thesis was complete and I received my Master’s degree. [You can purchase it for the low low price of $2.99 on, last I checked.]

    Brother Jones shared stories about his ancestors, and I treasured those stories and asked if I could get copies. I gave talks in Church touching on polygamy and He congratulated me on having given such a good talk.

    Then one day, Brother Jones had a massive heart attack and died. And when I learned of it, I cried. Because even though there was once a time when I didn’t much like him, I had come to love him and cherish him.

    My Brother Jones was much like Bruce McConkie and was close enough to Bruce that I think Bruce had officiated at Brother Jones’ wedding. So I love Bruce, because Bruce loved Brother Jones and Brother Jones loved Bruce and I loved Brother Jones.

  8. I would love to see more comments refuting things Meg has to say with actual facts and data. In fact, I would love to see a post that does this! Readers, please feel free to submit such a post.

  9. Geoff,

    The problem is it’s a futile endeavor. People realize facts by Meg Stout are ignored and storylines fabricated. If M* wants to continue propagating what makes every trained historian groan, so be it. Clearly some people like what she writes, regardless of facts; facts don’t change people’s minds. That isn’t to say that BY or JS should be painted in non-prophetic light, not at all.

    Simply, these posts are consistently so far outside the facts and scholarship (to truly an astounding level) as to not be taken seriously. Anyone who has the knowledge and time to refute it, doesn’t ant to bother.

    Further, it does a great disservice to the memories of the women who made difficult decisions, and through faith married into polygamous marriages, to paint them as victims, seduced and tricked, and in need of rescuing. Surely polygamy did not come about to rescue anyone from sexual predators. This is nonsense, and an incredibly strange conclusion. These were smart, thinking women. They were not children. Her entire narrative pivots around Bennett using very odd (and repetitive) language.

    I’m sure now I’ll be attacked for attacking the prophets. But why spend time on actual fact showing and the historical record when M* is Stout’s platform, and a successful one? Why exactly do you want a post to counter her conclusions?

  10. Hi M Miles and Geoff,

    Stepping back, my main point is that there was a widespread heresy related to illicit sexuality in 1841/1842 Nauvoo. I don’t think the excellent historians who have worked in the area of Mormon history have adequately accounted for the existence of this heresy. The statements of the women before the Nauvoo High Council have been available, but largely ignored or dismissed. The copy I have access to is marked as being from the Special Collections and Archives, Merrill-Cazier Library, Utah State University, Coll MSS 316, Box 24, Fd 14 (Women’s Statements). Much of this can be found in the recent publication of the Nauvoo City Council and High Council Minutes, but Catherine Fuller Warren’s statements have not, to my knowledge, been published in their totality.

    I have seen no one else look at Orange Wight’s statement about his recollections of polygamy in Nauvoo through the lens that he had initially been exposed to illicit intercourse rather than the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    As for whether or not (if there was such a widespread heresy) Brigham and Heber were initially persuaded of such, I will point to William Smith as an indication that an apostle was pulled into the mix. William Clayton’s diary is the key, with the entry indicating that “BY” had transgressed yet not transgressed. If it were not for the Clayton journal entry, I would not be inclined to give nearly as much heed to Martha Brotherton’s statement, as it was denied by her family and Church leadership.

    So it would be sufficient for someone to show that there was some other BY who could be the person mentioned in Clayton’s diary and refute the testimonies of the women who testified before the High Council (the manuscript I discuss as well as the statements from the fall which included statements from Mary Clift and Gustavus Hills).

  11. Hi Meg,
    I don’t have any intention of going back and forth about this. However I do want to point out that one major methodological flaw in your approach is the idea that to keep women from having sex with these men over there, we’ll have them marry and have sex with these men over here. It makes no sense that that would be better for them, especially when they had the option of marrying single men. And you claim one group is “seducing them” and calling it illicit sex, while the other group is what? Why is one seduction and the other not? because marriage is involved? Illicit sex (unmarried) was not nearly as rare as you seem to paint it in the 19th century. And clearly divorces were common, as was marrying other formerly (or currently) married women. So having been with another man was not the issue you make it out to be.

    I’m asking kind of rhetorically. I don’t have any confidence your answer will be grounded in anything fair to the facts. I, for one, don’t have a problem with polygamy in the general sense–and not sex within it either. In fact, I think sexless polygamy is far worse than a polygamous marriage without it. So any explanations you choose about not having sex with them will be extremely strange to me (and again, ignore historical evidence).

  12. I am begging people who disagree with Meg to send me posts refuting her claims. Literally begging. If you think she has bad ideas and ignores the facts, the solution is to point out, calmly and clearly and without personal attacks, what the actual historical record shows. Please send in posts that are as long or as short as you like. I promise they will be posted.

  13. M Miles, your comment is exactly what Mark A. Clifford was referring to. It is essentially an anonymous attack using dismissive ‘haughty’ language. Meg is a descendant of some of the women you are so concerned about ‘defending’. Her initial approach to the Nauvoo era of the Church was an attempt to learn more. As a scientist (the hard kind that requires facts that can be proved or ships will sink and planes will crash) she is far more careful than most historians about her sources. History is like a stew. Life happens, but history is a necessarily inaccurate attempt to describe what happened. Many do amazing things but leave no record. Many others leave a record that is full of self-serving lies. I have been reading “From Darkness unto Light”, an exploration of the translation of the Book of Mormon written by two authors who are editors of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. I recently reviewed “The Gift and Power – Translating the Book of Mormon” by Brant Gardner. Both books provide information either overlooked or ignored by the other. For instance Gardner gives information that Joseph Smith and Martin Harris were ‘skipping stones’ while taking a break from translation when Harris attempted to substitute another stone for the ‘seer stone’. The authors of “From Darkness Unto Light” do not disclose what they were doing other than taking a break. Why does this detail matter? Stories of the Angel Moroni showing the golden plates to Martha Whitmer have come down through the Whitmer family. The earliest version was recounted by David Whitmer’s grandson. A later version came via Christian Whitmer’s family and includes the information that Martha was resentful of the time wasted by Joseph and his scribe who ‘skipped stones’ while taking a break from translation instead of doing chores around the farm. She intended to convince her husband to send them away. The appearance of the angel with the plates changed her intention. Normally a later version would be more suspect than an earlier version of an event. However it is more likely that an earlier version would not have revealed the information that Martha had intended to deny the Prophet a place to complete his work since it paints Martha in a somewhat unflattering light. After several generations have passed the emotion of trying to protect the reputation of an ancestor would have eased somewhat and public accounts of what happened would be less likely to delete this intention to show Joseph the door. The detail that adds veracity to the later version is the information that the behavior that distressed Martha was Joseph’s habit of ‘skipping stones’ when relaxing from the duties of translation. So in terms of this story Gardner’s book provides more useful information. On the other hand the authors of ‘From Darkness Unto Light’ make a convincing case depicting Joseph as a reluctant translator initially. One of the purposes of Martin Harris’s trip to New York during which he met with several scholars appears to have been an attempt to find someone else who would be able to translate the characters on the golden plates since Joseph did not yet see himself in that role. Gardner makes no reference to this initial hesitation.
    The contrast of these two honest attempts to show the history of Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon illustrates the problem faced by anyone who tries to delve into the past.
    Dismissing Meg because she doesn’t have formal training as a historian is not productive. Some of the great historians of the past have had no formal academic training in the field.
    For that matter I have not heard Meg describe herself as an historian. She might better be be described as an avid amateur of history with a fervor for research.

  14. Meg knows that I find no particular virtue in a Joseph who resists physical participation in the act of marriage. Would appear his motivation came from his upbringing as a Yankee boy and his marriage to Emma who was okay with the theory of eternal marriage but not with Joseph’s practice of physical intimacy with any other than herself. There are no perfect prophets in the Bible. I honor Joseph for all that he accomplished. However it would seem that in one thing at least he could not quite complete what God required of him. That is

  15. M Miles wrote: “But why spend time on actual fact showing and the historical record when M* is Stout’s platform, and a successful one? Why exactly do you want a post to counter her conclusions?”

    M* is NOT Meg Stout’s platform. It is a group Mormon blog that supports the Church. Meg has put forward theories. I WANT THEM TO BE REFUTED IF THEY CAN BE REFUTED. AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. What I would love to see regarding this BY post is: “here are the major errors in Meg’s approach.” Readers can come to their own conclusions.

  16. Hi Geoff,

    I would usually edit all caps out, but I agree with your internet shouting.

    It seems some are persuaded that I am going into my closet, looking hard at my navel, and making stuff up from whole cloth. That is not what I have done. I have read the pertinent books and original documents and am pointing out a different way these data can be interpreted, along with data that has traditionally been ignored or discarded (such as discarding contemporary information from folks like Jacob Backenstos, Catherine Fuller, the Nyman sisters, Eliza Snow’s diary, and William Marks.

    By the way, if there is anything above that I didn’t provide a reference for that someone needs me to provide a reference for, I’m more than happy to add these. There’s always room for more footnotes.

  17. I read a hagiographic biography of Brigham Young a few years ago, and recently I read (listened to via Audible) John G. Turner’s biography of Brigham young, and it presents a different account of the Martha Brotherton story – it seems that Brigham Young developed an attraction to her while on his mission, and the book relates that he and Joseph sat down with her to try to persuade her to marry Brigham after his return from England. The book presents horrible story after horrible story, and just when you think you can’t get more appalled with Brigham Young’s behavior, it presents another story or quote that is even more appalling. After the ordeal of listening to that book, I was reading in the New Testament and came across Matthew 23:2-3
    “…The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”
    I took from those verses that God honors Moses’ seat, even when its occupants behave in ways that are not worthy of emulation.
    As for Brigham Young, I try to balance the appalling stories with other aspects of his story, like his private prayers for forgiveness, his responses to pioneer suffering, etc. and I always, always try to keep an open mind and recognize that both appalling and inspirational stories could be told of my life as well.

  18. Pat Chiu
    I am not dismissing her for lack of training. If she had a PhD in history the errors would still be the same. Again, I don’t want to argue about this. I simply explained, in my view, why people who disagree will not engage on this platform.

  19. Hi Meg,

    I am a foreign member of the Church. People in my country simply do not have the tine abd resources to research every particular detail of early Church history. For the most part we are content in the testimony from the Spirit on the truthfulness of the restored gospel and Book of Mormon.

    However, learning English opens a lot of good – and bad – doors for learning. There are a lot more critics of the Church that go more into ‘nitty gritty’ details than in my native tongue. Therefore, I am very grateful for faithful members who can provide another view to contrast what critics say. You are one of those who have helped shed important light on complex topics in an accessible way. Regardless of what others say, it “rings true” to me what you wrote about Brother Joseph and Brigham.

    Just as an addendum, someone asked a while ago how “ponderize” would be translated to foreign languages: my FB friends are all using “ponderizar”. Not bad at all.

  20. Hi Maria,

    Thank you for that perspective.

    In general, I think what upsets historians and their friends is that I do provide a strong storyline which doesn’t agree with what they have presumed in the past. However it is not that historians don’t do this. It is just that they tend to be so immersed in their worldview that they don’t realize the storyline they are imposing on their presentation of the data.

    The two books on Brigham Young that were discussed by Dan illustrate this. In one book, Brigham walked on water and other saintly things. In the other book, Brigham was the worst sort of person imaginable.

    Since my storyline does not align with any of the accepted perspectives, it will cause mental discomfort to all readers who are already versed in this history.

    My initial posts back in 2013 and early 2014 projected what I called midrashic possibilities. Towards the end of my series, these midrashic flights of imagination were largely gone because I had data that supported a more mature perspective. At such time as I collate this into a book, the midrash will be gone.

    However I won’t artificially limit myself to merely recounting facts without attempting to cast them in a context. All historians (amateur or otherwise) set a context for what they lay before their readers/viewers.

    I think one aspect of the irritation reflected by others (thinking now of the extended conversation on my overall writings) is that they want me to subject myself to peer review and all the care and refinement that goes along with that process. Which is fair.

  21. M Miles, I can completely understand not wanting to engage in an endless battle with somebody over an issue, especially when you feel that no real progress will ever be made to convince the other party. But I would gently and kindly remind you that 1)if this issue is so important that you feel a need to comment on M* about it, I would think it would be important enough to put together a guest post on the issue putting forward your major areas of disagreement and 2)your goal should not be to convince Meg but instead to convince readers like myself who are eagerly searching for corrective perspectives.

  22. My Brother Jones moment came when Brother Jones was invited to teach the lesson at my Young Single Adult home evening group. (It was not uncommon for our YSA advisors, who hosted the home evening, to invite folks from around the stake to come teach the lesson.) Brother Jones spent an hour telling us how the Earth was hollow and the Ten Lost Tribes were living inside.

    I asked if I could give the next lesson, and was given the opportunity. I fully intended to talk a little sound science and show how ridiculous and fringe the hollow earth theory was.

    Something moved me not to do that. Instead, I just showed some slides of my time at Palomar working with the big telescopes and talking about why I liked astronomy, and I think I said something Gospel-related about my experience with science as a religious person.

    Within a couple of weeks I became more aware that Brother Jones was a very marginally employed father of upteen kids who needed all the love and support he could get. Oddly, although don’t recall what I did to help, I do recall Brother Jones thanking me for it with tears in his eyes.

    I am grateful I didn’t go all M. Miles on Brother Jones even though he was ludicrously, embarrassingly wrong about something. Much more ludicrously, embarrassingly wrong than anything Meg has ever said here.

  23. Geoff,
    It’s not a matter of convincing anyone. It’s that the facts are dismissed. For example on this thread, people say they like her narrative. The narrative is the driving force. It’s the idea that no matter what historical evidence is presented either way that general readers here prefer her narrative because any other narrative they’ve read is uncomfortable. This is evidenced from the comments on many of her posts. They like her alternative voice. Fair enough. But why engage if you will be accused of slandering the prophets if the narrative is different?

    Second, there are many other sources people who read Stout also seem to have also read. So why bring them here? They can go read them there.

    In every sphere about polygamy, not just at M*, people choose who to believe and which narratives to believe. Stout’s narrative is the one that trumps here. There is nothing wrong with that, this is your forum.

    For the record, I originally commented only to explain why people may not want to comment with evidence or send guest posts. Perhaps someone will.

  24. Hi M. Miles,

    You claim I dismiss facts. Please support this with examples.

    I never dismiss facts. I may discount assumptions that others have elevated to the status of unquestionable truths, but I never, ever discount facts.

  25. to the mysterious ‘m.miles’,
    I am certain evidence is always welcome by all regular members of this forum, but unsupported accusations couched in dismissive and insulting terms are not convincing. At least that is my take on the policy at M. By the way, you seem to advocate that there was equivalence between ‘spiritual wifery’ and the form of polygamy that involved more certain covenants and responsibilities. This seems a very antifeminine attitude. I have already said I consider that Joseph may have failed an important test if he kept from consummation of the marriages he entered. However I have failed far less onerous challenges. I am content that both Brigham and Joseph served God more certainly and with better results than any other men in the modern era. We have been blessed with a succession of leaders who have kept the trust, but no others have done so much.

  26. As a techy type myself, I enjoy Meg’s writing style. If I remember correctly, she is a science/engineering type. The distinctions in her writing between what she presents as fact on one hand, and what she presents as possibilities, likelihoods, interpretation, “story line” and conjecture on the other, is very clear to me. I grok her anal-retentive writing style.

    And it appears to me from one of M Miles’s mischaracterizations of one of Meg’s points is that he did not fully understand what she wrote. Perhaps her storyline was so discomforting that he didn’t read the whole thing, or stopped “detail-reading” part way through, or just plainly misunderstood her detail-oriented anal-retentive style. (In science/engineering, IT and math, detail-oriented and anal-retentive is good.)

    I thought people were going to accuse Meg of slandering the prophets, because some of her points, that she does not put forth as facts, but as deductions or conjecture, is that Joseph did _too little_ polygamy and did it _too late_, and tried to satisfy the Lord’s command to implement polgamy perhaps by using it for purposes other than what the Lord intended.

    Meg never claimed that Joseph invented polygamy _just_ to “fix up” the mess created by Bennet and the Strikers. Meg always puts it forth as a true principle, but that JS was _too hesitant_, and delayed too long. Example, he was “supposed” to marry Zina, and while he proscrastinated, she married Jacobs.

    Joseph may also have erred when “using” polygamy in his attempt to fix the messes or bind up wounds created by the Strikers. But even if that is so, Meg never claimed that was the reason Joseph supposedly invented the princple of polygamy.

    Joseph’s delaying the instituting of polygamy may have created space/opportunity for Satan and Bennet to create the Striker mess in Nauvoo. Meg’s telling of the story of Bennet and the Strikers is the best explanation I’ve read of how “spiritual wifery” likely got conflated with polygamy.

    Meg’s connections between the Strikers and those who accused Joseph of adultery, and the plot to kill Joseph ring true too. Because one of the hallmarks of a wicked person, especially serial adulterers, is to accuse others of the same crimes before they themselves are accused. That way the true accusation (against the real criminal) is more easily deflected by dismissing it as mere retaliation. (Abusive men who cheat on their wives usually accuse the wife of cheating before their own adultery is exposed.)

    I’ve always wondered why God allowed Joseph to be killed off so young, and why Joseph was not blessed to have any posterity in the church. (At least not until 5 or so generations later, with Gracia Jones). But if Joseph had _fully_ implemented polygamy _when_ he was commanded to, he likely would have had posterity (by his polygamous wives), and they likely would have stayed in the church, “even if” Emma and her children had left. I think Emma would have left Joseph and the church, like she said, if Joseph had fully implemented polygamy on the Lord’s timetable.

    There’s facts, and there’s interpretation of facts. There are data points, but a lot of different connections can be drawn between the points.

    When Meg “connects the dots” she’s very clear about what is fact and what is her connection/speculation/deduction based on those facts.

    And I like the pictures she makes by connecting the dots. It looks to me like Joseph and Brigham were chosen and inspired people doing the best they could or the best they knew how.

    I know from personal experience that the Lord pours out revelations and blessings beyond comprehension/measure. At the same time, He doesn’t command in everything. We are left to figure out a lot on our own. And He also gives us enough rope and leeway to hang ourselves.

  27. I know I’m coming late to the conversation. I just found and read through the thread. I am not a historian by any means, but I’ll try to explain one small item that concerns me about the account provided by Meg.

    In discussing the Martha Brotherton incident, Meg states, “Martha’s identification of Joseph as one of those involved is problematic, as she had never met Joseph before.” To me, this seems to give the impression that she identified Joseph Smith on her own. However, her account states that while she was in the Red Brick Store, “I went, and we found Young and the Prophet alone. I was introduced to the Prophet by Young.” She never claimed to know Joseph on sight. Brigham Young introduced her, according to her account. I see nothing problematic about being introduced to someone. If we accept her account as authentic, at least as far as she could remember, I think it is hard to discount Joseph Smith’s involvement. That does not seem like something someone would remember wrong.

  28. Hi DD,

    The options wrt Martha’s story are:

    1) She told it exactly the way it happened.

    2) She got part of the story right with some details wrong.

    3) She lied in all details.

    I discard option 1 because Martha’s story changed between the first record and the final letter version published by John Bennett.

    I question option 3 because elements of Martha’s story correlate to the testimony of the other women who were seduced to participate in illicit intercourse during 1841-42.

    As I said, Martha knew Brigham and Heber and William Clayton. Therefore I am less inclined to throw that part of the story out.

    Several other victims who testified indicating William Smith was the one who assured them that they should yield.

    It is credible to me that Martha got confused about which Smith she was being introduced to, particularly if part of the actual conversation was an assertion that this was a doctrine secretly taught by Joseph, as attested to in the testimony of several other women, particularly the testimony of the Nyman sisters, though implicit in Catherine Fuller’s testimony.

    Also, the sense I get from the conversation reported by Martha doesn’t fit what I know of Joseph. It does fit for what I know of William.

  29. A misidentification of “the Prophet?” In all seriousness, how likely is that? Did anyone ever confuse William and Joseph on other occassions, and were there other occasions where Martha did correctly identify Joseph?

  30. Hi Dan,

    Many of the other women who were seduced confirmed they were told they had to yield because Joseph allegedly taught it, and a subset of these specified that it wasn’t until William “confirmed” that Joseph taught it that they yielded themselves.

    Martha never met Joseph, except for allegedly that one time. It isn’t like now, where we have pictures that would allow us to know.

    I find it to be plausible, in that time and place.

  31. Hi Meg,

    I don’t see where you explain why you chose to describe Martha’s meeting Joseph as “problematic.” Why do you believe that it is unlikely that she was introduced to Joseph, assuming that some of what she said was true? If you have time, could you say exactly what she reported that sounded different from other accounts of Joseph introducing plural marriage to women?

  32. “Joseph may have wished to be the first to live openly as a righteous patriarch with several wives and children. But Emma Hale [Smith] was highly conflicted over the matter.”

    I think this quote reveals something important about Meg’s thesis in these posts (a non-sexual polygamy). What is most important in defending the character of Joseph Smith, is not that he wanted to be monogamous (“he may have wished” to openly practice it) but rather that he was only monogamous out of respect for the “highly conflicted” feelings of his wife Emma over the matter.

    When the theory is presented this way, I think there is ample Biblical precedent for it. The Biblical patriarchs from Adam to Jacob treated their wives with a divinely mandated deference. Adam followed Eve by eating the fruit. Abraham kicked Hagar out of the tent against his own wishes because it was Sarah’s desire. Isaac was fooled by Rebecca into giving the birthright to Jacob, her favourite, and didn’t bother to correct the mistake afterwards, no doubt out of deference to the wishes of his wife. And Leah conspired to be Jacob’s first wife, with the accompanying birthright advantages. So in every case, the biggest life decisions of these four patriarchs were made, or forced by the wives, and God allowed, or commanded it (as he said to Abraham, “hearken to the voice of thy wife.”)

    The odd and exaggeratedly patriarchal flavour of D&C 132 towards Emma (“she shall be destroyed”), seems markedly out of character from God’s deferential attitude towards the first four women of the Old Testament. And in this way, Meg’s thesis almost seems more in the spirit of the Biblical God than the God of D&C 132.

  33. Hi Nate,

    I really appreciate you pointing this out, namely that if Joseph died a monogamist from an intercourse standpoint, he did so out of deference to Emma.

    Regarding D&C 132 and the powerful language used to let Emma know the peril of her position, it would have been much more convenient for Joseph had he not been the mouthpiece.

    As others have either said to me or pointed out in this comment string, one view of these affairs is that Joseph died early in part because he wasn’t doing things right. And this was at Emma’s request that he delayed and deferred doing things right.

    Emma’s comment after Joseph died, reflecting that Joseph was her crown (I think someone was trying to comfort her, saying that this trial would be the crown of her life), indicate that having Joseph taken from her in that abrupt and violent manner did, in its way, destroy her. Reflecting on other warnings of the consequence of messing with the covenant of marriage, Joseph’s children were (in the LDS view) cut off for 4 generations. Having seen how this impacted the lives of some of them, this has caused them hardship and pain.

    But the beautiful thing about the eternal fate of all concerned is that they will not have fundamentally lost their chance to return to God in glory at the final judgement (again, in the LDS view).

  34. Hi DD,

    You can find Martha Brotherton’s 1842 letter easily using google. I think I also reference sources in my Sangamo and Pratt post. If googling, I recommend looking at a site that won’t try to tell you how evil Mormons are. Brian Hales Joseph Smith’s Polygamy website is a safe option, though he only quotes sections of the letter. Brian’s view is that the incident with Martha Brotherton was true and this is an indication that Brigham was attempting to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant at Joseph’s direction in early 1842.

    Many of the data points I see as evidence of the spiritual wifery corruption are interpreted by faithful LDS to be proof that Joseph was encouraging his apostles and others to take on plural wives in 1841. This is why the testimony of Helen Mar is cited, even though as a pre-teen girl it is extremely unlikely that she would have known were such things being discussed in 1841.

  35. It occurs to me in terms of Martha Brotherton’s encounter in the Red Brick store, that she was introduced to ‘Brother Smith’, and having not met Joseph Smith before, assumed it was the Prophet. I doubt she would’ve been introduced to which ever was, by using the term: “this is the Prophet Joseph Smith “. Since her account of the meeting is one data point and could have some reasonable error, it is worth retaining while not driving the discussion.

  36. Another point is that two of the other “seduction attempts” published by Bennett invert the situation and cast Joseph as seducer. For Mrs. Shindle, the High Council notes and women’s testimony indicate she was cavorting with Bennett. For Sarah Pratt, Jacob Backenstos and others assert that she wasn’t merely propositioned by Bennett but had actually engaged in an affair with him.

    I didn’t bother pointing out that the letter, as published by Bennett, is problematic, however, because there is an indication that Martha’s accusation, as seen in Bennett’s publication thereof, is substantially similar to earlier tales she told of the event. In the earlier version of the tale, she’d been locked in the room for days. In Bennett’s account, she was only “locked” in the room for 10 minutes.

  37. Hi Meg,

    I read the letter. The only places I could find the whole thing were websites that are unfriendly to the Church, unfortunately. However, I don’t see why it is unlikely that she met Joseph at this time. If she knew Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and William Clayton, I think it quite likely she would meet the Prophet at some point.

    So if I understand you correctly, others have suggested that the 1841 time frame would indicate that Joseph knew about and approved of spiritual wifery. Since you do not believe he did (neither do I), then you reject this aspect of the story. Please correct me if I am misrepresenting your thoughts. So, it is not so much that you think it is unlikely that she met him, you just do not believe that he would be aware of attempts to marry more than one woman among the Saints at this time. So, the part of the story where Brigham attempts to marry Martha fit into your narrative, but any involvement with Joseph cast doubt on your proposed timeline of events.

  38. Hi DD,

    The reason that Martha knew Brigham, William Clayton, and Heber Kimball is that they had been in England when she became a member of the church.

    Somewhere, I thought it was in the letter itself, Martha indicates that she had never met Joseph. She says that Brigham and Heber were going to introduce her to Joseph.

    The incident she describes occurs three weeks after she has first arrived in Nauvoo. And since she herself indicates that she had never met Joseph, that is why I assert that she would not have known whether or not she was talking to Joseph or some other “Brother Smith” that was not Joseph.

    Thank you for your question, though, because it helps narrow when Martha might have been brought to the room. She mentions William Clayton because he happened to be in the adjacent office. Clayton took over the role of Joseph’s scribe after the death of Robert Thompson in August 1841, so it was likely after that time that Martha would have seen William Clayton there.

  39. I have George D. Smith’s Intimate Chronicle, which compiles some of the journals of William Clayton. So looking through it, Clayton arrives in the vicinity of Nauvoo on November 24, 1840. It took his party 11 weeks to travel from Liverpool to Nauvoo.

    By the time Brigham Young returned from England, Clayton was living in Iowa across the Mississippi from Nauvoo. On August 30 [p. 89] Clayton goes to John Smith’s to get title to a couple of properties in Zarahemla, a small Iowa settlement directly across the river from Nauvoo. This Aug 8 visit might have been to Nauvoo itself or it might have just been to the presumed property of John Smith in Iowa, as John Smith was President of the Iowa stake starting in August 1841. Though Clayton was living in Iowa, we can’t dismiss the possibility that he visited Nauvoo during this period of time, as we do see him mention hearing sermons that would have been delivered in Nauvoo, including his May 16, 1841 mention “I went over the river to hear Joseph.”[p. 87]

    Clayton formally moves to Nauvoo on December 14, 1841. He began to work in Joseph’s office to help Willard Richards keep records related to the funding of the Nauvoo temple on February 10, 1842. [p. 90].

    If, as has been asserted, Martha’s original tale of being locked up for days reached England, had time to cause a fuss, and then word of the fuss had time to return to Nauvoo, we can estimate that the round trip of the rumor took at least 22 weeks, or five months. The trip might have taken more time due to bad weather over the winter months. Given that the rumor was refuted in April conference, three months and a few days after 1 Jan 1842, we have to push back to early November to meet 22 weeks.

    At any rate, if the rumor traveled to England and back before April 1842, that the incident where Martha claimed to have seen Brigham, Heber, and Clayton could not have occurred as late as February 1842.

  40. Hi Meg,

    I have read the letter to Bennett, but as you noted it does not say anything about being locked up for days. What should be searched for to read the original story? Feel free to send an e-mail if that is preferred. Reading the letter, it does not sound to me like she is upset by the confinement. It sounds like she is outraged at being asked to marry a married man. Reading the original story may change my impression.

    So, I have a question about identification. When I hear people recreating the Nauvoo experience, such as the Nauvoo pageant, people refer to “Brother Joseph” when speaking personally rather than “President Smith,” which would be used in formal occasions, I would guess. Is that an accurate portrayal? If so, being introduced to William and thinking it was Joseph would be impossible.

  41. According to the Apr. 15, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, on Thursday, Apr. 7, 1842, at the spring conference in Nauvoo, Hyrum Smith “spoke concerning the elders who went forth to preach from Kirtland… [and] then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alledging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives.”

    You can find this on page 763 about halfway down the left column of that page. Volume 3 of the Times and Seasons is available online at You want the (rather large) pdf file that has the April Conference minutes, which is:

    In looking over these things, it is not clear when Martha Brotherton arrived in Nauvoo. I had the impression that her description of events had been sent to England and returned, but unless I find something else, I think I got that impression because apparently William Clayton wrote a letter to England on March 30, 1842, reporting that the Brotherton family had apostatized. If the report didn’t take a round trip to England, then the description of Martha seeing William Clayton in the tithing office (a minor detail intended to add verisimilitude, or perhaps a detail Bennett directed her to add to portray a particular timeframe) is consistent with the incident occurring between February and late March of 1842. However it is not outside the bounds of possibility that the incident occurred prior to January 1842.

    Based on this earliest report of what appears to be the Martha Brotherton incident, there is no mention of Joseph Smith being involved. As for Hyrum possibly being involved, it seems plausible that Martha was told something like “Joseph Smith is not here, but this is Joseph Smith’s brother.”

    After John C. Bennett published the letter from Martha Brotherton that implicated Joseph Smith, I read that Martha’s brother-in-law, John McIlwrick, and sisters Mary Brotherton McIlwrick, and Elizabeth Brotherton, went on record in the Nauvoo Wasp broadside “extra” of Aug. 31, 1842, denouncing Martha as “a deliberate liar;” as “a wilful inventor of lies;” and a circulator of “lies of a base kind, concerning those whom she knew to be innocent.” These family members also accuse Martha as acting outside of “common decency,” by “lying on the top of a young man when he was in bed,” etc.

    This account that Martha had lain atop a young man while he was in bed is consistent with William Smith’s August 27 comment in the Wasp regarding John C. Bennett as “pimp and file leader of such mean harlots as Martha H. Brotherton…” Some have supposed that William’s use of the term harlot means that Martha was an actual prostitute. I suspect William just used the term harlot as a general term to convey bad character, rather than actually intending to convey that she had taken money in exchange for sex. Even though we have reason to think William himself was involved in teaching illicit intercourse, this was not common knowledge. William was known for having a hot temper and it would be consistent for him to have used extreme language to denounce anyone attacking members of his extended family.

  42. I should also mention that Brian Hales does have a document available at his site that gives the full text of the July 1842 letter from Martha Brotherton. Sorry you had to muck around in sites that hate on Mormons.

  43. “I have read somewhere that Brigham had a prompting about plural marriage while in England. If you know the credible source for that assertion, feel free to point me to it in the comments. I probably read about this on one of the exmormon threads I tumble across from time to time in my searches”

    I recently mentioned it in my blog. perhaps it was my exmormon blog that you got it from. LOL

    “While we were in England, (in 1839 and 40), I think the Lord manifested to me by vision and his Spirit things [concerning polygamy] that I did not then understand. I never opened my mouth to any one concerning them, until I returned to Nauvoo; Joseph had never mentioned this; there had never been a thought of it in the Church that I ever knew anything about at that time, but I had this for myself, and I kept it to myself. And when I returned home, and Joseph revealed those things to me, then I understood the reflections that were upon my mind while in England. But this (communication with Joseph on the subject) was not until after I had told him what I understood—this was in 1841. The revelation [Section 132 in the Utah Doctrine and Covenants] was given in 1843, but the doctrine was revealed before this.; (The Messenger of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1 [June 1875]: 29; Deseret News, July 1, 1874)

  44. Hey Watcher,

    Thank you for the reference!

    Also, regarding the revelation initially occurring in 1831, Erastus Snow (brother-in-law to Louisa Beaman) said Joseph told him about the revelation in 1841 and how it was when “He was translating the Scriptures that part of it were one of the Old Prophets was deviding His property to His ofspring.” Then Erastus Snow went on to talk about a lot of other things that occurred after 1843, so some people assume that the conversation between Joseph and Erastus occurred in 1843 rather than 1841. Erastus also alleges that Emma threatened to leave Joseph and cohabit with another man and the Lord forbade her in the revelation. This is from “Apostle Erastus Snow’s Testimony” in Jenson, “Plural Marriage 232, cited in Bergera: The Earliest Mormon Polygamists, Dialogue, 2005, p. 37, available online at

  45. At some point after I posted this comment, my darling husband went through the entire 1840 census for Hancock County and verified that Brigham Young is the only head of household with the initials B. Y.

    This past weekend we were in Nauvoo for the Untold Stories Symposium and stopped by the Land and Records office. To our delight, they have the entirety of the 1842 census performed of Nauvoo, though it is available as you look up a particular individual, rather than as a complete download. The 1842 census listed everyone who lived in Nauvoo, rather than being limited to only heads of households. At any rate, my husband was able to confirm that in 1842 the only individuals with the initials B. Y. were Brigham Young and his son, Brigham Young, Jr.

    This makes it very unlikely that Clayton’s note regarding a “B. Y.” meant anyone other than Brigham Young.

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