History and Mastermind: Decoding Clues

Courtesy of retroland.com

In the past few days, the Church published the first volume of Saints, a massive volume that addresses the history of the early years of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as led by Joseph Smith Jr.

With slightly less fanfare, the Church has uploaded hundreds of pages of new sermons from the 1800s that had previously only been available to scholars, none of whom were able to read the archaic Pitman shorthand used by George D. Watt. LaJean Carruth is the pioneering scholar who learned how to decode the archaic Pitman. 1 You can find these new transcriptions by logging in at history.lds.org, then searching for “CR 100 912” under Research: Church History Catalog.

As in the game “Mastermind,” it is by accumulating clues we trust that we are able to narrow down the possibilities for when events occurred. This was of particular interest to me this week. The new Church History, Saints, contained a sentence which, if accurate, would completely overturn a major portion of my conjectures regarding how plural marriage evolved in Nauvoo.

We Had Not Been Home Over Six Days…

The sentence that, if correct, would significantly overturn my conjectures, is found in Chapter 37 of Saints on page 443:

“The [summer of 1841], less than a week after the apostles returning from England arrived in Nauvoo, [Joseph Smith] had taught the principle [of plural marriage] to a few of them and instructed them to obey it as a commandment of the Lord.”

The footnote cites the Heber C. Kimball discourse of Sept. 2, 1866. 2 Unfortunately, the link in the book doesn’t point to the proper sermon, nor did the Church History Catalog on 4 September 2018. But since that time the Church History Catalog reference has been corrected. 3 The pertinent text reads:

“I can recollect well when Joseph Smith the prophet received revelation I received a revelation from God through him myself once in the presence of President B Young and Willard Richards and it was thus saith the Lord what was it now I am going to tell it right out as people do not believe that polygamy started with prophet the prophet it was thus saith the Lord for my servant Willard and Brigham and Heber to take more wives for this is pleasing in my God’s sight and now they [say?] we established polygamy and when we came home in 1841 we had not been home over six days before Joseph called us together and laid these things before us the first time we knew of them and then he received a revelation and now I am telling what I know and I you I4 [sic] was experienced it if do not anybody believe it try it one of the greatest that is I never felt more sorrowful”

The obvious conclusion is that Heber is speaking of an event in early July, shortly after he and Brigham returned from England, having traveled from Liverpool to New York aboard the Rochester.

But though Willard Richards traveled aboard the Rochester, he did not arrive in Nauvoo in early July. Willard Richards returned to Nauvoo on 16 August 1841.

When, then, could Heber be speaking of, a time in 1841 when Brigham and Heber and Willard all returned “home” to Nauvoo?

Succoring the Joseph Fielding Company

On 9 November 1841 the Tyrian arrived in New Orleans. Aboard the ship was Joseph Fielding with a company of 204 Saints from England.

The Joseph Fielding Company traveled up the Mississippi, but were forced to debark at Warsaw, Illinois, on 25 November 1841. Overland travel the short distance from Warsaw to Nauvoo was prevented by heavy snows.

Upon hearing of the stranded Saints, Brigham Young and Heber Kimball traveled to Warsaw, where Willard Richards had moved in September 1841. Various accounts 4 describe how the apostles visited the stranded converts.

In Willard Richards’s 1858 obituary 5 it specifies that Willard Richards returned to Nauvoo on 11 December 1841. It seems reasonable that Willard Richards traveled back home to Nauvoo with his fellow apostles, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.

This indicates that the date when Joseph Smith spoke with his three apostles about plural marriage was in mid December, likely 17 December 1841.

According to Martha Brotherton’s affidavit in July 1842, she held a discussion in the Red Brick Store with Brigham, Heber and a third man “near three weeks” after arrival at Nauvoo, presumably the debarkation at Warsaw given the correlation of her description of apostolic visits to homes with the visits of the apostles to the snow-bound converts in Warsaw. Shaving a couple days from the 21 days in a full three weeks, it appears Martha Brotherton’s interview in the Red Brick Store likely occurred around 14 December 1841.

I know not everyone accepts my 14 December dating for the Brotherton incident, and therefore they would not accept my assertion that the Brotherton incident was an instance of proposed spiritual wifery versus Joseph’s plural marriage. But for those who were inclined towards my conjectural timeline, I am pleased to show how the reference used by Saints aligns with that timeline, despite the apparent disagreement between the verbiage in Saints and my proposed timeline.

Hundreds of Pages

Through the excellent work of LaJean Carruth, there are now several hundred pages of new content. It remains to be seen what additional clues we will discover in these pages that will potentially resolve historical questions.

Beyond these new pages that have been published, we have been promised that the totality of the William Clayton journals will be published in the relatively near future.

As for me, I can’t wait.


  1. Modern Pitman is very different from the original Pitman that was available to George Watt, see the Wikipedia article on Pitman shorthand.
  2. George D. Watt Papers, Church History Library, as transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth.
  3. Many thanks to the fine folks at the Church History Library for correcting the link.
  4. Martha Brotherton’s affidavit also mentions the visits of the apostles to the homes of the English converts.
  5. “History of Willard Richards,” Deseret News, 30 June 1858, 77, cited in the biography of Willard Richards.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church 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 may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

36 thoughts on “History and Mastermind: Decoding Clues

  1. I appreciate you pointing to a source which potentially overturns a significant part of your thesis. Integrity.

    This is truly the Golden Age of Church History. Sources are opening up, great minds with faithful hearts are wrestling with some of the thorniest issues. Youth and future missionaries are reading “Saints.” As exciting as it is right now, I can’t wait to see the long-term effects of this revitalization of historical research.

  2. I’m reminded of the story of Noah getting drunk. One child publicized the incident. Others took a blanket and covered their father’s nakedness.

    But then there was the individual who decided to memorialize the incident for posterity.

    Right now the internet is making vicious with the Church for covering our honored parents’ nakedness, as it were.

    By the way, the book Saints itself is relatively light and entertaining reading. But the footnotes usually take you straight to the original documents, if you have any interest in actually reading 1840s-era handwriting. I can’t express how hard I worked to get a small portion of the access that is now open to anyone who wishes to curiously click.

  3. So, given my presumption that Brigham’s proposal to Martha Brotherton and Heber’s intent to marry the Pitkin sisters occurred before the conversation with Joseph Smith, I was wondering why Willard Richards was part of this group.

    I think Willard may have intended to *unite with Alice Longstroth before learning of the correct doctrine from Joseph.* However Alice Longstroth went on to marry Moses Whitaker, an English convert who arrived in New Orleans on the Sidney two days after the Tyrian arrived in New Orleans. Levi Richards was the leader of that company.

    When Willard married plural wives, he arranged to marry Alice’s two sisters, though the family indicates he did not functionally (sexually) become their husband until after he was sealed to them in 1846.

    The interesting thing is that Willard’s journal has a Dec 1845 entry talking about how he and Alice had “mutually acknowledge[d] each other
    husband and wife, in a covenant not to be broken in time or Eternity.” Alice and Willard could not be sealed if Alice was married to Moses Whitaker, a Seventy. But Alice did not choose to be sealed to Moses Whitaker.

    In 1848 Willard brought Alice and Moses to Salt Lake in a company he led. Moses died in 1852. In 1853 Alice married George D. Watt (of Pitman shorthand fame), apparently marrying Watt for time and being sealed to Moses Whitaker for eternity.

    Willard Richards died in January 1854, and likely discussed the New and Everlasting Covenant with Alice and possibly encouraged Alice to be sealed to Moses Whitaker for eternity, despite their December 1845 promise.

    * Edited 9/12/2018

  4. Oops – Moses Whitaker arrived in New Orleans in November 1842. So he arrived in New Orleans a year and two days after the Tyrian had arrived…

  5. And I see that Alice Longstroth (listed as Alice Langstrath) arrived in New Orleans in April 1842 on the Hope with her parents and five siblings. It appears they stopped in St. Louis and didn’t continue on to Nauvoo until 1844. The Longstroths were baptized at the River Ribble, where George D. Watt won the foot race that allowed him the privilege of being the first man baptized in England.

    [Slightly surprised that no one has popped out of the woodwork to challenge me, as shifting the date of Joseph’s command to these three apostles to December 1841 supports a timeline that has made certain people very upset…]

  6. What is it about the timeline that makes people upset? I’m not fully grasping the import you’re expressing here.

  7. Hi Mormontarian,

    In my timeline, numerous individuals, including Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Willard Richards, Vinson Knight, and William Smith, were running around in 1841 either seducing women or planning to so.

    Then in mid December Joseph Smith found out what was going on and called everybody to repentance. From January 1842, Joseph and Emma and those who had repented tried to root out the sordid underground continuing seduction.

    No one disputes that Bennett was a rotten apple. But almost everyone has been pleased to think that the Martha Brotherton incident represented an authorized invitation for a young woman to consider becoming a plural wife as part of the Celestial marriage construct taught by Joseph Smith.

  8. My hunch is that Meg’s prior thesis is that before being inducted into Jospeh’s confidence on plural marriage, he attempted to go rogue and practice spiritual wifery.

    If he didn’t have his meeting until December, but before that he had documented meetings with sisters about forming a union with him, then he had gone rogue — or something like that.

    I think it’s all far too much inference to draw on that chain of events and the reality is that it’s not in character with the rest of Brigham’s life, actions, and standing with the Lord. Was he perfect? No. Did the Lord promote an adulterous promiscuous leader who reformed and converted to Joseph’s true plural marriage to the church who successfully carried it off on his shoulders in the wilderness for 30 years? No.

    Of course I might be knocking down a strawman there…. But in any case, I’m confident Brigham never went rogue on this issue.

  9. Hi COB,

    I originally explained my conjectures regarding Brigham Young in 2015, in the post Give Brigham Young a Break. Before you facilely pronounce that Brigham Young could never have been temporarily misled, please address the points I bring up in that post. In particular, how does your construct:

    – explain the William Clayton journal entry of June 23, 1843

    – explain the parallels between what Martha Brotherton claimed Brigham said with what Catherine Fuller claimed Bennett said to her to seduce her

    – explain the vehemence with which Joseph rejected Kimball’s plan to marry the Pitkin sisters, given that years later Heber did marry the Pitkins

    – explain why Boyd K Packer forced Nancy Briggs to terminate her PhD research into Heber Kimball, demanding that she turn over all of her drafts and notes.

  10. Thanks for linking that, Meg. I have a much better sense of where you’re coming from now.

  11. One of the fascinating things about members of the Church is how they have a really difficult time dealing with the possibility that an honored leader erred in their past.

    Yet the scriptures are full of accounts of such fallen individuals, who were then redeemed from their error and went on to be great servants of God.

    Therefore we ought not be overly distressed if an honored leader experienced a brief period of confusion, if that brief period of confusion was followed by sincere repentance and a life of selfless works.

    I wrote two posts about this back when I first realized it was possible that Hyrum had been involved in the Brotherton incident:

    Saul and Alma the Younger

    The Redemption of the Endowment

  12. Meg,
    I read your article and didn’t find a quotation for the journal entry you cite. You refer to it, but I think if you’re going to make such large conjecture you’d have full quotes with examination of them.

    Googling around I come across this, which I assume is the entry:

    ” Also B.Y. had transgressed his covenant & he pled with
    the Lord to spare him this end & he did so, other wise he would have
    died. B. denied having transgressed”

    Do you deny that an angel of the Lord came to Joseph and essentially said that he had been transgressing his covenants in failing to institute plural marriage and if he did not, he would be destroyed?

    Is it at all possible, that Joseph taught Brigham what he must do, and Brigham did it half heatedly, or failed to do it, and was accused by Joseph of transgressing on the matter, to which BY denied and said he didn’t transgress?

    You are putting up a strawman of my position. Who ever said that our leaders haven’t made mistakes? I said as much in my comment! And then you essentially replied that members have a hard time believing that our leaders have erred. If it’s not a reading comprehension issue, it’s clearly jumping to conclusions — just as evidenced by a single journal accusation that by Joseph to William that BY transgressed, and BY denied it.

    By the way, that same entry has William recounting that:
    Prest J. took me and conversed
    considerable concerning some delicate matters, said } wanted to lay a
    snare for me. [}=Emma] He told me last night of this and said he
    had felt troubled. He said } had treated him coldly & badly since I
    came and he knew she was disposed
    to be revenged on him for some things she thought that if he would
    indulge himself she would too.

    That doesn’t look very good on Emma if Joseph sees her as laying a snare on other men. Again, there are all sorts of things you can actually string together various pieces of evidence about that line (or the BY ones), but that doesn’t make them true.

    I’m not distressed by any accusation, or even reality, of someone having moral, sexual weakness. I highly doubt it’s the case that the Lord would have Brigham lead the church afterwards if he was going rogue on this issue, as I stated — but not distressed.

    I just think very plainly that you’ve made accusations that jump the shark. The rest of your evidences don’t have any connection whatever to the conclusion — in fact an alternate conclusion can be reached using the same string of evidences. I’m sure you’re even creative enough to come up with one. I mean really… you’re jumping all the way to Pres. Packer covering up for Brigham Young as well and asking me to explain it!

    That’s outrageous. The man isn’t here to defend himself and the alternate party would naturally structure their argument in support of their own viewpoint.

    Then we have the Pitkins — so what? Does timing, need, personal, and extended social sphere circumstances have nothing to do with it?

    Guilt by parallel argument from an additional party isn’t exactly proof. If I’m remembering correctly Brotherton’s accusation was generated at the request of Bennett himself! Clearly mixed up in all of this was hurt feelings and he said she said, probably combined with good old fashioned power grabs (and failures) by Bennett.

    But to go directly to the BY claim again. In her own words, she was brought in for a specific meeting with BY and met Joseph right at that moment and then Joseph and Heber left the room leaving them alone while Brigham essentially tried to share Joseph’s revelation with her. To which she was incredulous and then BY got Joseph to come in and vouch for Brigham!

    Here’s her own words: BY “was absent about ten minutes, and then returned with Joseph. “Well,” said Young, “sister Martha would be willing if she knew it was lawful and right before God.” “Well, Martha,” said Joseph, “it is lawful and right before God—I know it is. Look here, sis; don’t you believe in me?” I did not answer. “Well, Martha,” said Joseph, “just go ahead, and do as Brigham wants you to—he is the best man in the world, except me.” “O!” said Brigham, “then you are as good.” “Yes,” said Joseph. “Well,” said Young, “we believe Joseph to be a Prophet. I have known him near eight years, and always found him the same[“] “Yes,” said Joseph, “and I know that this is lawful and right before God, and if there is any sin in it, I will answer for it before God; and I have the keys of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven, and if you will accept of Brigham, you shall be blessed—God shall bless you, and my blessing shall rest upon you; and if you will be led by him, you will do well; for I know Brigham will take care of you, and if he don’t do his duty to you, come to me, and I will make him; and if you do not like it in a month or two, come to me, and I will make you free again; and if he turns you off, I will take you on.”

    All of your conjecture about BY just doesn’t flow. Sorry.

  13. Hi COB,

    The June 23 entry also touches on Vinson Knight and Robert Thompson, both of whom were dead by June 23. The entry suggests the error was sufficiently great that Clayton understood death to be the implied threat. Your argument that the error was failure to obey does not hold up for Knight, as he reputedly did take a plural wife. In fact the Knight instance suggests it was the fact that Knight engaged in sexuality with a woman for whom he’d been asked to care that was problematic.

    I think our problem is that you are engaging in armchair reasoning based on hunches where I am attempting to suggest a massive paradigm shift based on an extensive set of data across numerous players.

  14. Oh I fully acknowledge arm chair hunches. But I also cited evidence that JS vouched for BY. You’ve cited no evidence that BY was accused of following the pattern of Bennett and not Joseph. You’ve made conjecture that is so. I’m not offended by it. I think it’s just in error.

    Not a single contemporary person accused BY of what you are accusing (circumventing Joseph). But all his contemporaries have him right there with Joseph in the midst. Further I can’t possibly that Joseph would be so quick and forgiving about BY going rogue with wifery without any kind of church discipline, and then proceed to induct him into a plural marriage insider AND vouch for his character.

    Further, I find it frustrating that you wouldn’t consider what your doing to be armchair hunches. I guess that’s better than sofa sophistry?

    But anyway, the parallel argument rears its head again with you suggesting Knight’s actions and death implies that BY faced the destroying angel for essentially acting like Bennett. We just don’t know what that allegation of transgression was in regards to about to plural marriage. It doesn’t even say that, but since it’s in the context of Emma laying snares about it, we’d assume so.

    In any case, I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s none of my business what faults they may have made if they or the Lord didn’t make it public. That’s the standard for me.

    And I still don’t believe BY went rogue on this issue, because the evidence is right there that Joseph was involved with BY on it.

  15. Hi COB,

    You are aware that the accusation by Martha was solicited by Bennett, and I’d imagine you’ll grant that Bennett could have persuaded Martha to alter the tale to insert Joseph.

    It happens that when the distorted rumor was refuted in April 1842, Hyrum asserted the rumor named him along with Brigham and Heber. So we have an early (if brief) rendition of the story that does not name Joseph as a participant. If the rumor named Joseph, it would not serve for Hyrum to insert himself as substitute.

    Are you aware of the letter sent to the Relief Society on March 31, 1842? This letter was signed by Joseph along with Hyrum, Brigham, Heber, Willard, and Vinson, warning of seducers and stating that the signatories knew that such seductions had existed in the Church. The list of important individuals the women were not to believe if they heard any such report included Patriarchs (e.g., Hyrum) and Apostles (e.g., William Smith, Brigham, Heber, and Willard).


    I have an entire book-length treatment that goes into many more indications of the heresy I describe, and Emma’s comments to Relief Society on May 19 specify that there was a time when charity covered a multitude of sins, but then called for the Relief Society to bring forward any accusations that indicated such things were continuing.

    In the testimonies of the several seduced women who came forward in May 1842 we see that by that time it was William Smith who was lending himself to vouching for the seducers. Chauncey Higbee was known to have been recently rebaptized, and one women he subsequently tried to seduce challenged him on that point. He managed to allay her concern with William’s help and proceed to seduce her.

    In Brigham’s case, I’m only saying he talked with Martha under a mistaken understanding the it was appropriate. The woman Brigham was eventually asked to protect or “marry” had been beaten unconscious by a husband who took their children, which I find evocative.

    I am not opining based on hunches. What I am doing is explaining why the one sentence in Saints that was inconsistent with my conjectured timeline turns out itself to be inconsistent with the assumption, as Willard’s return from England was six weeks after the ‘return’ presumed by the sentence in Saints.

    I presume you are reading me for the first time and are not aware that I’ve been publicly discussing this for several years, as well as presenting at conferences. While many disagree, no one has yet disproven my core hypothesis, which should have been possible if I were wrong. Folks are refusing to agree, but that is hollow without following that disagreement by actually destroying my argument.

    By they way, there are those associated with this blog who have begged for someone to destroy this particular aspect of my reconstruction. So if you can do so, that would delight many. I would welcome such fact-based correction. But it must be fact-based, not merely “I disagree because Joseph said nice things about Brigham.”

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  17. Meg,
    I do have a question about your Martha Brotherton timeline vs the timing of revelation to Young, Kimball, and Richards. You seem to be making a big assumption that Martha equated her arrival at Warsaw with the arrival at Nauvoo (Dubious Anniversary blog) without establishing any evidence that was actually the case. You do make an attempt but it is strained at the best. In that blog you note that Martha Brotherton possibly arrived at Nauvoo itself on the 6th of December with her sister Mary and Mary’s husband John McIlwrick. Although that is possible, it is also just as possible and maybe more probable that she traveled with her parents and other sister Elizabeth. There is no documentary evidence that Martha traveled ahead of her sister and brother-in-law. In fact there is no documentary evidence that I can find of just who she did travel with. I am just going on the normal probabilities that she traveled with some part of her family. In her affidavit she said “I had been at Nauvoo near three weeks, during which time my father’s family received frequent visits from elders Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball…..” Note here she seems to be a witness to those visits implying that she was living with her parents. If Martha had traveled with them from Warsaw to Nauvoo, her arrival would have been some days later than the 6th. Either date though would put the incident with Brigham well past the date of the 17th which you feel is the date that Brigham received the revelation from Joseph.


  18. Hi Glenn,

    Excellent point.

    Few dispute that the Martha Brotherton incident occurred before April 1842. In April 1842 at General Conference Hyrum refuted the rumor that Brigham, Heber, and Hyrum had locked some girl up for many days attempting to persuade her to believe in having more than one wife.

    It has widely been assumed that the Brotherton incident occurred in March based on a letter written by Elizabeth Brotherton, stating that she had not moved to Nauvoo until roughly three weeks before the date of her letter.

    However the so-called census of members of the Church in Nauvoo in February 1842 shows Martha listed with her parents and on the subsequent page is a listing for the McIlwricks. Elizabeth is not listed in the Nauvoo census, suggesting that she had remained in Warsaw even though all the rest of her family had traveled to Nauvoo by February 1842.

    In January 1842 Joseph Fielding, leader of the company that had traveled on the Tyrian, wrote to England warning that “some… will send home an evil report, such as a brother B. from Macclesfield,” a clear reference to Martha’s father. This suggests that as of January Thomas Brotherton was already spreading the story of what had occurred to his daughter. Alas, Joseph Fielding did not date his letter beyond indicating a month.

    The opportunity for the apostles to be spending a lot of time in the home of Thomas Brotherton, followed by a time when Martha is with the McIlwricks without her parents, is the ministry of Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, and Willard Richards in Warsaw before their return to Nauvoo on December 11 (this date per Willard’s obituary). So Martha’s own words suggests that the “near three weeks” included the time in Warsaw as well as a time she spent in her brother-in-law’s home without the supervision of her parents.

    I will reiterate what someone else said of me: think of me as a sort of defense attorney for Joseph Smith with respect to plural marriage. Unlike some “defense attorneys” such as Joseph Smith III and Denver Snuffer, I do not try to persuade anyone that Joseph Smith never taught or practiced plural marriage. Alas, the fact that I originally named my blog series “Faithful Joseph” confused people and made some think I was attempting to prove that Joseph may have taught but never practiced plural marriage. I am unconvinced that Joseph was intimate with anyone other than Emma, but I wouldn’t be destroyed if evidence were ever to surface proving that he was intimate with someone else (e.g., Emily Partridge, Malissa Lott).

    On the other hand, I am persistent in attempting to separate Joseph’s teachings from the sexual conquests of Bennett and Bennett’s “friends.”

    Analysis of the Brotherton incident, as reported by Brotherton, shows a sobering number of parallels between what the three men say to Brotherton and what the seduced women claim had been said to them by Bennett, Higbee, and others.

    We can’t find Brigham innocent of attempting to talk with Martha. After Martha’s death, Brigham had her sealed to him. Given what sealing means to members of the Church, there is no way Brigham would have sealed Martha to him if she was simply lying.

    Also, we have Helen Mar Kimball document a time when she overheard her father talking with other men about the likelihood of “plurality” being part of the restoration of all things, at a time before her father had ever learned such a thing from Joseph Smith. Though Helen was only 12 years old at the time, she and her father had many years to contemplate the surprising turn of events regarding the institution of plural marriage, so there is no reason to discount Helen’s account.

    At any rate, “near three weeks” from 25 November 1842 gives us 15 December 1842, at the latest. “Not more than six days after returning home” gives us 17 December 1842, using the only known time when Brigham, Heber, and Willard returned to Nauvoo together in 1841.

    As I have explained to folks who don’t attempt to follow my logic, it matters whether the bullet enters a body before or after that body is dead. In like manner, it matters whether Brigham talked to Martha before he could ever have learned of such a doctrine from Joseph. There is definitely reasonable doubt now whether Brigham was under Joseph’s instruction when he spoke to Martha Brotherton.

    And there’s reason to wonder why a seemingly healthy man of only 40 years would suffer a stroke, as Brigham unambiguously explains in his April 1868 discourse. Again, this adds to that reasonable doubt that Brigham was proper in his proposal to Martha.

    Alas, on the polite internet (such as here at M*) one can never tell whether the audience is skeptical, openly dirisive, or merely missing the point.

    Here’s hoping you aren’t missing the point.

  19. “one can never tell whether the audience is skeptical, openly dirisive, or merely missing the point.”

    But surely they can never disagree with the conclusions and the underlying questions & assumptions that got you there?

  20. Actually, people disagree with me all the time. I’ve spent some time hanging out on the Facebook group called Mormon Historians, and they regularly give me a rigorous run for my money. I really enjoy it when they are giving me a run for my money as opposed to openly mocking me. On the other hand that is part of why I now I’m so confident about parts of my timeline while readers here haven’t seen that rationale.

    I am simply simply delighted with this new documentation. Even though there is no way to be absolutely confident that the Brotherton incident happened on or before December 16, 1841, it is now much more plausible in the eyes of those who previously have dismissed me out of hand. As editors of scholarly journals are amongst those who previously have dismissed me out of hand, there is no way that I would be able to present a scholarly examination that has benefited from peer review. Maybe sometime this information will actually make it into the public forum where it “counts,” but for now public discussion of this is relegated to blogs and my book.

  21. Meg,
    I am not missing the point at all. I just believe that you are stretching a point. It is just that Martha’s account is pretty clear that the events she is describing all took place in maybe a bit less than three weeks after she and her parents had all arrived in Nauvoo proper. It is during that three weeks that she said Heber and Brigham made frequents to her father’s family. Nothing is mentioned about Warsaw. This is where I feel you are reading something into the text that is not there. I know that it has to be that way for your theory to work.
    There are some problems with the Martha Brotherton affidavit, or more accurately with her account. John G. Turner in his book “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet” states that the original affidavit is not to be found leaving open the possibility that Honest John Bennett maybe added a few touches to the document. As you noted, it had some of his characteristic remarks.
    Other than a bit of extraneous verbiage the Martha Brotherton account is very different from the accounts of the women who were seduced by Bennett et al. Instead of sex, marriage was being proposed, plural marriage. Something that Brigham and Heber both have said that Joseph taught them.
    Your notes about Heber C. Kimball believing that polygamy should be part of a restored gospel are okay, but that hardly is a reason to believe that he would go rogue on Joseph especially in the light of Helen Mar’s other remembrances of the struggles and tests that Heber went through on the principle.
    You made a point about Joseph not approving Heber’s wish to approach the Ptikin sisters with a proposal of plural marriage and asked why Joseph would have required that he take the much younger Sarah Peak Noon. I think the answer is in Sarah’s circumstances. She had been abandoned by her husband and had a child to raise.
    I just do not believe that you have made a logical case for Heber and Brigham to have gone rougue.
    Like you, I believe that Joseph Smith was an honorable man struggling to obey God’s commands, some of which went against his previous religious background and his love for his wife. I believe his story that he was given the command, put the action off until an angel was sent to warn him of dire consequences if he did not obey.
    I also believe that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Hyrum Smith were honorable men also, devoted to the restored gospel and to Joseph Smith the prophet. I believe their words they published at their dismay when Joseph revealed the principle of plural wives to them.
    Lile you, I do not believe that anyone has proven you assertion that Joseph Smith was an honorable man to be wrong. I also do not believe that you have proven your case against Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Hyrum Smith. Not even with a “preponderance of evidence.”


  22. Hi Glenn,

    Have you read my book? If you look at this on a regular computer, my author blurb contains a link to a pdf of the most recent version. There are many more indications that this was widespread than are contained in this online discussion.

    My husband, discussing this with me, used the term “misled,” which I feel is a more appropriate term than “rogue.”

    I don’t believe you have read the full transcript of the women’s testimonies in 1842. Therefore you would not see how similar the Brotherton account is to the women’s accounts of seduction. Redacted versions were published in 1844, but they were redacted.

    It is clear to me that the Brotherton account is the reason Joseph gets accused of the types of behaviors only attested to by women seduced by Bennett and those operating within his underground network. Even though the average man on the street isn’t aware of the women’s testimonies, key researchers informing the disgusted zeitgeist of our age are thoroughly versed in the women’s testimonies.

  23. Is there a “case against” to even be made here? That actually matters?

    What are the ramifications of BY-as-rogue who was corrected by JS and went on to be great? That the atonement works?

  24. Glenn, let me specifically address the “at Nauvoo” comment.

    Martha and her family had just finished a journey from Liverpool via New Orleans. They had been put off the river boat, as that was the closest the river boat was willing to get to Nauvoo, given the low waters in early winter.

    For you to insist that the incident was necessarily three weeks after Martha set foot inside the Nauvoo city limits is similar to the objections folks make to the Book of Mormon, where it states that Jesus was to be born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10). “Bethlehem isn’t Jerusalem,” they proclaim. This is a silly argument, given that the statement is attributed to an individual speaking more than 400 years after the flight from Jerusalem, and individual who was completely unfamiliar with the geography of that land.

    I’ll grant you that Warsaw isn’t Nauvoo. But it is reasonable to consider that “at Nauvoo” extends to the locations proximate to Nauvoo following an extended time aboard ship and then river boat. Beyond the fact that this reading is plausible, it allows all the other details of Martha’s account to make sense in light of what we know about the activities of the key individuals during that time. Aside from inserting Joseph into the narrative as the third person, the rest of Martha’s account aligns with what is known of the people named and reasoning used by various men at the time.

    If the affidavit had specified “19 days after I arrived in the city of Nauvoo,” then I would agree with you. But that is only one of the possible interpretations of “near three weeks after I arrived at Nauvoo.”

  25. Meg,
    Your Book of Mormon analogy is inapt. Two different cultures and two different ways of looking at things. You truly noted that this was spoken by a man unfamiliar with the geography of Jerusalem, but he did not say that Christ would be born in Jerusalem, but at Jerusalem. That is similar to Nephi when he said that his father had “dwelt at Jerusalem all of his days” (I Nephi 1:4) when it is evident from the text that Lehi and clan had property that was not in Jerusalem proper. The name Bethlehem does not even appear in the Book of Mormon.
    Martha wrote to Bennett from Saint Louis, noting that she had removed herself to that city from Warsaw, indicating she did not equate Nauvoo and Warsaw as essentially the same place. Martha’s father certainly did not equate the two. He initially “took a house” in Warsaw and was not actively thinking of moving to Nauvoo but was planning on visiting. Something changed his mind. And that something could have been the the fact that the residents of Warsaw were not overly fond of the Saints. In any event, as you noted, he is listed in the February 1842 census of members in Nauvoo. That arrival would be the more probable starting point for Martha’s story.


  26. Hi Glenn,

    I want to say that I have greatly appreciated your comments over the years. Reviewing your comments (comments on my posts get e-mailed to me, letting me review past history), I also see that my conjecture regarding Brigham’s interaction with Martha Brotherton has bothered you since Aug 2016, when I first mentioned that I thought Hyrum was the third man in that interaction. I don’t see you reacting to my initial conjecture that Brigham’s interaction with Martha Brotherton was problematic (Oct 2015, Give Brigham Young a Break).

    My Stake President is a descendant of Hyrum Smith, so in addition to being significantly sorrowful myself about what I was persuaded to conclude about Hyrum’s involvement in the Brotherton incident, I was sorrowful about how this might affect my Stake President. I wasn’t really afraid of getting in “trouble” at Church, but the thought crossed my mind.

    In the summer of 2016 I talked with a former home teacher, a renowned historian (Congressional staffer sort of historian) who at the time was on the Stake High Council or maybe he’d been released and was in my Bishopric. If I recall correctly, we had a short conversation where he vehemently proclaimed that he was going to prove that I was wrong. But nothing further happened. And a couple of months later he extended a call for me to be the Ward Self Reliance Specialist, with many good comments about the great good I would be able to do assisting folks.

    When we infer past events from the few artifacts history leaves as evidence, we necessarily must reconstruction possibilities. I don’t think you’ve really thought about the past that results if you are right. In order to avoid the possibility that Brigham was misled (along with Hyrum and Heber), you leave an alternative where Brigham is “righteously” pressuring a 15 year old girl to be his wife as his first act of obeying the direction from Joseph to embrace plural marriage. This leaves us with the idea that Joseph gave instructions that directly resulted in predatory behavior.

    To mention one other item for your consideration, you may wish to look at the Expositor, at the section where the editors of that paper returned to the tale of “strikers” going to meet the new arrivals from England, then taking the young woman aside and pressuring her to become a secret wife. Though the editors of the Expositor can hardly be called objective truth tellers, this reflects an independent telling of the story, as it includes elements that are not explicitly vocalized in Martha’s affidavit. In particular, it includes the element that the high ranking Church men (so-called strikers by the Expositor) went to meet the new converts. This aligns with (and informed) my reconstruction.

  27. “In order to avoid the possibility that Brigham was misled (along with Hyrum and Heber), you leave an alternative where Brigham is “righteously” pressuring a 15 year old girl to be his wife as his first act of obeying the direction from Joseph to embrace plural marriage. This leaves us with the idea that Joseph gave instructions that directly resulted in predatory behavior”

    Can’t speak for Glenn, but not at all. I have no ideas what Brigham actually said and did. Just how it was interpreted by someone else, who later came out (or was convinced to come out) against him.

    Presumably a person who rejected whatever was proposed wouldn’t do so apathetically. Everything surrounding the incident would be colored in a very negative light -otherwise they probably wouldn’t have rejected it.

    I’m not required to believe he pressured her or that he was misled.

    I think we don’t know neatly enough on the subject, and is my obligation to give the benefit of the doubt on these questions to Joseph and Brigham. I’ve realize you’re also trying to do that while piecing together evidence. But you’ve gone so far beyond the evidence. The church isn’t pushing your story and I don’t think they every would unless discipline council minutes gets published.

    It’s just a little but more sensational speculation. It’s more likely there was a meeting as described, with the people involved, and the wording, intent, pressures, etc of that meeting are exaggerated or misinterpreted.

  28. Meg,
    We only have an uncorroborated account from a letter sent to John C. Bennett. There are some parts of it that may be true, then there are some parts of it that may be exaggerated, and some parts that may be inventions by John C. Bennett. It is difficult to ascertain what is what because we do not have the original affidavit from Martha, and I wonder about that. I wonder why John C. Bennett would not have put that on display front and center.
    John Mcillwrick, husband of Mary Brotherton, Martha’s sister stated in a sworn affidavit that “I also know for a truth that the forenamed Martha Brotherton has wickedly endeavored to injure the character of these gentlemen; and many besides myself can testify that the statements which she has reported in different places, are quite contrary to those she related here.” Leaving aside the part about Martha trying to injure the character of the people in question, he notes that Martha had told contradictory stories about the affair.
    I am not really looking past anything here because I do not know what really transpired. Did Martha Brotherton actually receive a marriage proposal from Brigham Young. Probably. Was there coercion involved? That would be in the eye of the beholder. Whatever the case, she evidently was the opportunity to think it over. Was there exaggeration? I do not know. Did John C. Bennett modify the letter, add, or subtract anything? Possibly, maybe even probably. I don’t know.
    What I do know is that there is not enough concrete evidence to make any type of moral judgment. We just do not know the details of what really happened.
    As for the Nauvoo Expositor, if you will recall, that some of its publishers were also involved in J. C. Bennett’s nefarious dealings.
    Of course, a little bit of truth mixed in with some less than truths can be worse than flat out lies.
    Maybe, as you also noted, that maybe as more documents come to light, the scene will be better illuminated.


  29. Hi COB,

    Based on the rest of your e-mail address, I’m assuming that your moniker stands for Church Office Building?

    This is not just sensational speculation. It is an attempt to piece together the history without avoiding possibilities that are deemed unsavory. I am an engineer, and my background is to determine the truth of a matter without regard to how it affects someone’s budget or PR campaign.

    A part of this is the attempt to determine why Clayton thought BY had transgressed, a transgression that Joseph apparently conveyed was so serious that BY was at risk of dying, and would have died had Joseph not prayed mightily for his soul. I’m modestly paraphrasing Clayton.

    It is worth noting that Clayton had engaged in activity that successfully impregnated his plural wife, a fact that would have been recent knowledge to Clayton and which presumably had been shared with Joseph. This provides a context for why Joseph may have felt it advisable to instruct Clayton on reasons why caution was called for, as my reckoning suggests that Clayton (and Noble) were the first men operating under Joseph’s instructions who had demonstrably engaged in sexual behavior with plural wives. It is worth noting that Clayton captured Joseph’s threat that Clayton faced public excommunication, if choosing to focus on Joseph’s promise that rebaptism was possible.

    Martha was not of legal age at the time of the reported incident. I challenge you to describe the incident in terms that could reasonably be misinterpreted or exaggerated. All I have done is suggest that someone (Martha or Bennett) inserted Joseph in lieu of some other third man. If the third man wasn’t Joseph, then the Brotherton incident could not have been appropriate.

    Your rejection, however, reminds me of a great Sidney Harris cartoon regarding peer review: https://twitter.com/jpderuiter/status/467954124039147520.

    Along that line, I recommend to you the tale of how Lister worked unsuccessfully for a decade to convince his medical peers that bacterial infection was a risk. It would likely have taken much longer for the medical community to admit bacteria was a problem, had it not been for the gruesome death of President Garfield due to septicemia. The autopsy proved Garfield’s death was directly caused by the unwashed digital examination of the bullet wound by Dr. Bliss. From this arose the phrase “Ignorance is Bliss.” Ironically, had Garfield been an unimportant pauper (unworthy of medical attention), he almost certainly would have recovered from the actual bullet wound.

    I repeat, I am an engineer. When Occam’s razor suggests a possibility, I am not turned away by name-calling. But if you show me data or a preferable reconstruction that is a better match to the edge conditions, then I am happy to stand down. Until then, I will keep being an engineer, despite scorn.

  30. Dear Glenn,

    This was not just an uncorroborated account from Bennett. The tale is first person. You may be thinking of the FairMormon response, which suggests that we don’t have access to an account of the original tale Martha told, an original tale which resulted in the rumor rebutted at the April 6, 1842 General Conference.

    Regarding whether an original version of the affidavit is extant, how many originals of published affidavits are extant? Martha didn’t send this through the mail to Bennett, she wrote it out based on his visit to her residence in St. Louis, and it was swiftly published in St. Louis and republished in short order by at least a dozen other prominent newspapers.

    I am troubled that you consider it acceptable that Brigham “righteously” proposed to an underage girl under the conditions that existed in Nauvoo at the time. But I admit that I assert that there was gross sexual iniquity occurring in Nauvoo from June 1841 through May 1842. If you don’t accept that, then it’s like a discussion of any fraught topic where the fundamental events and data are disputed.

  31. Meg,
    The origins of the name are irrelevant, but more amusing than that.

    Regarding your suggestion that you’re merely trying to string together what Brigham had transgressed about, I gave you a very clear example before and you immediately rejected it. It’s no so clear that should be the case.

    If one were looking from the outside at Joseph’s story about the angel and the sword, without knowing any details of plural marriage other than allegations that Joseph was doing it, we’d probably assume that the angel was telling him if he persisted in doing so, he’ll be destroyed. And in fact, if Joseph relayed this story to others involved, it would seem highly likely that the destruction Joseph faced for failure to participate after being revealed to him would lead to BY facing that same penalty. Why wouldn’t it? The future prophet of the church, feeling at first shock and dismay at the idea, not actually going through with it (just how in the heck would you awkwardly go about that as a married man who has always viewed that as an ancient artifact at best and against all modern morals at the same time)? It even makes sense how strongly BY made some future statements of his own with regard to those who could not accept the principle — they’d face destruction just like he would. (I should not have to add that we are under no such obligation, but for lack of charity by others in reading comments, I must).

    We have instances all over the scriptures of people being told they’ll be destroyed if they transgress. Going right back to Adam and Eve. We see an instance in Acts where someone drops dead for holding back part of what they should have consecrated. Jonah was surely threatened with destruction.

    It’s entirely possible in a private aside to an individual about another individual’s alleged actions that someone else wrote down could involve Joseph being mistaken. After all, BY even denied it. But we don’t know what it even is, and you’re adding a pretty serious allegation with no evidence other than just stringing along circumstantial bits and pieces while dismissing hard evidence elsewhere if it doesn’t fit the circumstances you’ve lined up.

    It’s pretty unfortunate to do so, because the people clearly can’t defend themselves, we lack any actual evidence as to what the alleged transgression even is or any contemporary accusations — other than the accusation that JS and BY were on the same page on the matter and that BY also transgressed about something (that may or may not be related), and that BY denied transgressing and we don’t know how JS accepted or rejected this — but the evidence is certainly that JS didn’t keep pushing the BY is in transgression angle.

    And now it looks like you’ve backed yourself into a corner — if your theory is wrong, BY pressured an underage girl? That statement is laughable on its face from a historical perspective. But certainly understandable from a modern outrage & offended culture. Mary, mother of Jesus was likely 12-14 at the time she was betrothed. God placed his son in her. Whatever you want to say about how that happened, none of that really matters if we all acknowledge the child came out of her. Surely that’s more traumatic both in terms of physical suffering, duration, potential for death, and so on than a single act of intercourse — and even surely both of those pale against the mere discussion the Lord’s servants had with a girl older than the Lord’s mother at the time of his birth and asked for her consent.

    “Underage” at 15 is a false statement. That age is far above the legal age in the USA at that time — which was 10-12 if it was codified in most states. The past was not only a different country, but in some ways event different biology.

  32. Hi COB,

    You are reasoning as though BY were the only one mentioned in that journal entry. But the mention of two others (Knight and Thompson) reduces your freedom to argue that Brigham’s transgression was mere failure to embrace plural marriage fast enough. There was clearly bad behavior involved. But it is true BY didn’t transgress to the point of engaging in inappropriate intimacy, as his offer to Martha was rejected.

    Martha herself is the one who reported that she was not of age, so it is from the historical actor, not from any imputation on my part.

    If you have a citation for why Mary was “likely” 12-14 at the time she gave birth to Our Lord, I would be intrigued to learn of it. Though women begin becoming technically capable of reproduction at that age, the likelihood of maternal death from pregnancy is significantly elevated prior to age 16 (medical studies that I’ve found and cited in the past) and probability of conception doesn’t peak until age 20-21.

    My husband suggests your “12-14” claim is obviously crackpot and I shouldn’t even bother arguing with you. But I know that seemingly rational folk can believe the most astounding things if not challenged, as in the case of the fatuous “legitimate rape” comment that torpedoed a political career a few years ago (another item I blogged about, which you can research in these archives if you want citations and details of the medical reality).

  33. Doing some web search, I see that many folks online state that betrothal often happened in young womens’ early teens among ancient Jews, so I apologize for my earlier skepticism about that.

    I do still think that insisting on any particular age is a mistake since we simply do not know, and I consider an age of around 14-15 when Mary bore Jesus as much more likely than 12.

  34. Meg,
    The accounts published in the Saint Louis newspapers and elsewhere is contained in a letter written to John C. Bennett.
    http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/mo/miscstl2.htm You will find that all of the prints and reprints came from the same document.
    I do not understand your troubled mind that I “consider it acceptable that Brigham “righteously” proposed to an underage girl under the conditions that existed in Nauvoo at the time.” After all Joseph actually married girls younger than Martha who was 17 at the time. The only problem would have been if Joseph did not sanction the the proposal.
    As I noted earlier, neither of us can prove our case nor disprove the other’s case. There just is not enough firm data on the dates to make a definitive statement.


  35. Meg,
    Citing your husband regarding my character is probably even less reliable than citing wikipedia for Mary’s age.

    Which by the way says she could have been that age according to Jewish custom. If you think that’s outrageous, you haven’t looked at it closely enough in its historical context. In the USA I already cited marriage age laws. They didn’t just get super low after a millennia of being 18. It stands to reason that the more agrarian a society was, the younger they married.

  36. Hi COB,

    My husband wasn’t pleased that I had mentioned his waking comments.

    Mary was whatever age she was. And Joseph was whatever age he was. The apocryphal tale is that Mary was 12 and Joseph was 90. I doubt it. I certainly don’t think it is likely. While a Jewish individual can become betrothed at 12 years and one day, betrothal in other cultures isn’t like in Mountain Saint culture, where betrothal is often immediately followed by ceremony and procreation.

    But at issue here is Martha Brotherton and whether Brigham was operating in accordance with Joseph’s instructions or not. Unlike the situation with Mary and Joseph, the matter of Martha Brotherton and Brigham has a rich resource of documentation regarding the two principles and their milieu, including the activities of friends and family. I have made no secret of my current conclusions. I have not found your challenges to my conclusions to be of sufficient merit to justify altering my position.

    It also seems clear that you don’t deign to seriously consider my arguments.

    Future discourse on this topic therefore appears to be pointless. If anyone disagrees, you can always use the “Contact Us” function to request this discussion be reopened.

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