Inviting All Critics

It appears many who read Millennial Star are tending to personal concerns on Saturdays and religious commitments on Sundays.

At least that’s my hypothesis for why relatively few individuals responded to my examination posted Sunday showing Eliza R. Snow’s own poetry indicates she was seduced by Bennett and places the death of the child that resulted in November 1842.

Then there’s the discussion I put up about Ordain Women.

So for those who are waiting for a Monday tweet to prompt them to read interesting content, here’s your tweet. For any who do not agree with me, this is also a formal challenge to tell me what facts inform your opinion that I am wrong. Opinions uninformed by facts will be found to be less persuasive, possibly ridiculous (literally inviting ridicule).

The game is on.

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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.

21 thoughts on “Inviting All Critics

  1. “Relatively few” would have been a better characterization, perhaps. Someone had mentioned weekends were slow, but I didn’t realize they were *that* slow. I’ll modify to avoid offending those die-hards who do read blogs on Sundays…

  2. Could you post a post that lists this entire series so far, in sequence, so that I can send it to people without them getting lost? =)

  3. Hi ldsphilosopher,

    The first post, A Faithful Joseph, ends with a list of all the posts in the series. Those that I’ve posted link to the published post. Also, any of the posts for which I’ve recorded podcasts have a link to the podcast on that original post.

  4. It was Easter weekend, and the few times I was online, or checking in on the facebook pages I manage, there was not a lot of traffic and chatter from mid-day Friday to today. And I did not read blogs over the weekend. So I don’t think it’s not that people didn’t agree with you, or didn’t have anything to say, I think it was that they were just not there reading to begin with

  5. Mondays at Millennial Star with Meg. I do look forward to it. Monday came early yesterday. Don’t be discouraged, keep going.

  6. I read blog posts Sunday Meg, but living in the UK means I often end up reading them a day after as I’m asleep when they get posted, so your Sunday post will be a Monday reading for me unfortunately….

    I’ve found your series absolutely fascinating though. Any chance you’re going to put it in book form any time?

  7. Meg, it might be interesting to see if you could get Richard Bushman (an actual live historian who is an expert on the period you are discussing and happens to be an active Latter-day Saint) to comment on your series. I have no idea how to get in touch with him; perhaps one of the readers does.

  8. Meg,

    I’ve never commented on a blog before and I wanted to let you know that I have really enjoyed your work on this subject. I suspect many of your readers are in the same boat as I am. Keep up the good work! I would love to have it in book form as well.

  9. Today’s challenge was partly because I’d messed up and posted the piece about Eliza and the Stairs yesterday, but also because I am putting together the book proposal for my agent, and felt obligated to shake the trees a bit. I’m perfectly happy that everyone seems to be saying “Oh. Wow.” and I’m glad in retrospect that M* comment policy means I was protected from random ad hominem antipathy early on. I actually wasn’t aware of that protection until Bruce N. shared a snippet of commentary from people who assumed I was a lightweight without credentials. Luckily Brian Hales was able to report he’d corresponded with me and Margaret Blair Young told the folks she knows me.

    I will be seeing Claudia Bushman at Gregory Prince’s home next week(?) at the Exponent II 40th anniversary bash. Maybe she’d be so gracious as to put a word in with her husband. Or maybe he’ll even be there. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years since we kids were listening at Mom’s feet as she started reading Exponent II. I also can’t believe it’s been 30 years since I attended the 10th anniversary up in Vermont or New Hampshire or wherever I ended up after following the directions to go North on 95 until the exit to the campground.

  10. Meg,
    I really appreciate the primary sources, and even you faithful approach to interpreting them.

    But I could not disagree more with the zeal to which you are approaching up to the line of alluding to your theory as revelation (for the world?). Personal revelation is just that…therefore wouldn’t be shared, making it public pits those who have not received such revelation as not being against you, but against God who is claimed to have revealed something or other to you – Something which is unfair to ask others to consider in light of the way revelatory authority works.

    That’s a bit of an aside, and I hope it’s not distracting, from my main point which is – I believe Joseph was faithful* but I don’t see how you can seriously issue a challenge for someone to refute your claims when your main claim rests on the idea that Joseph’s plural sealings (and perhaps even the Relief Society itself) were instituted as a way of secretly ferretting out secretive adultery.

    I think it’s much more likely that Bennett was vaguely aware (or directly taught) some of Joseph’s plural marriage revelations and ran off with it on his own, adding his own “keep it secret and it’s ok” spin to it.

    But back to the point, when you look at conspiracy theories, they are often so persuasive because they rely on the absence of evidence as part of the conspiracy itself. The problem I have is that we don’t have anyone pointing to Bennett as the reason for all of these issues. In some ways, I think its easier to see Bennett as the culprit of someone who took a bit of knowledge and starting acting nefariously tangentially. When I read your series, it’s as if Bennett is “Patient 0” and all subsequent actions of Joseph with regard to plural marriage revolve around and stem from Bennett.

    *I don’t buy into the horn-dog theories out there. Although, I assume he was no any different than a normal man in some respects either.

  11. Aaron, I am willing to be persuaded by your point of view, but I think for it to be convincing you need to criticize specific posts with specific points where you think Meg might be wrong and then allow her to make her counter-arguments. As I say, you could be right but so far your comment is too sweeping for me (personally) to be convinced by it when Meg has made so many specific arguments using historical evidence.

  12. Meg, it is a very interesting theory you present to us. I have not looked much at Nauvoo polygamy before, but this definitely turns what I have studied on its head.

    I have been impressed with how you have tied several things together, often with some good documentation that provides a strong circumstantial case. I do think that much of the recent post on Eliza R Snow is very speculative – but I believe you would probably admit that, as well. I agree that Snow’s poetry does seem to link her sexually with someone (Joseph Smith or Bennett seem to be the two most likely choices here), however, it will remain a mystery because we do not have that one final little element that actually ties this part of the story directly to Bennett.

    I will say that your research does strongly suggest a strong connection between Bennett’s spiritual wifery and the strong possibility of Joseph seeking to protect the wronged sisters. I’ve often wondered why Emma Smith seemed to be all over the place in regards to plural marriage – accepting/approving some of them (at least for a time), and then angrily refusing to allow Hyrum read her the revelation on the other hand. With your theory, I can see her stretching out a compassionate hand to such sisters, only to later be concerned that plural marriages may be getting out of hand and perhaps bringing shame, danger and dishonor upon Joseph and her.

    In any case, we can see that things in Nauvoo were not as cut and dried as we often tend to think they were. Life is messy and complicated, and there’s no doubt that Bennett’s secret combination led to the death of Joseph and Hyrum.

  13. Geoff,
    “As discussed in Wives of Sorrow, it appears these women acted as detectives during the hunt for the men seducing women in Nauvoo. These “marriages” then were a combination of Joseph teaching the correct doctrine and swearing these women to secrecy in pursuit of the men and women teaching or believing false doctrine about the nature of marriage and sexuality.”

    I don’t even know where to begin… If the purpose is detective work, why do you need to marry a woman to do it? Do we have the Bishop marry the RS President (in secret! to find out if someone is in spiritual distress today?

    We have the assertion that people are being married to Joseph so they can be detectives in his confidence and protection. One does not follow the other… (secret marriage = detective?)

    We see the entire premise seems to depend on Joseph swearing some women to secrecy as a detective and the very fact that there is no evidence for these women being married to be detectives is naturally because they were sworn to secrecy.

    We also have the pretty plain evidence of Emma’s reaction toward polygamy, and if Joseph was basically marrying all these women to be detectives (again, I just can’t wrap my mind around that) why Emma would be opposed at all.

    She was opposed to plural marriage after Joseph’s death and firmly denied it. If it was all to ferret out Bennett, she would have at least made some kind of claim on that front you think. Or at least others would as well — I don’t see a primary source of someone saying they were asked to be a wife in order to be a better detective. How a secret wife makes one a better detective than an open wife, or just asking someone to be a secret detective rather than being a wife to begin with…

    I hope this doesn’t come across confrontationally, because like I said I enjoy the primary sources and even the seeking out for a way that Joseph could be seen as the virtuous hero who is misjudged as the philanderer. Like I said, I don’t think he’s a philanderer, but I also don’t think plural marriage as secret detective work was ever the point. No doubt, if you were married to someone they’d become your confident and you’d share information, but to me, the point of plural marriage was always for that “patriarch” to build up a nation. Both in the times of the old testament (how else could Abraham himself build up a great nation if not by himself multiplying faster than he could monogamously).

    Clearly, with multiple wives, Brigham had more children than he ever would have been able to. Likewise all the other “Abrahams” who were building up their own “nations” unto the Lord.

    Whether this is just, equitable, tasteful, or desirable, is not what I’m arguing for though. I just don’t see the plural wife = secret detective as the primary or even secondary motive. I can see a plural wife becoming such for both a combination of protection and old fashioned virtue reasons. A woman “lost” her virtue to Bennett, so back then she’d be seen as dirt by many (sadly, and incorrectly), so marrying her to someone of importance would be a way to reclaim their social status. More conjecture though.

  14. I will certainly say this though, that I agree with rameumptom that Meg’s research definitely makes it difficult for any of us to judge just what in the world was going on back then. The mix of marriages, wifery, excommunications, etc. is so complex that none of us is really fit to judge an individual because we lack so much information. That’s one important thing that I really get from this series. It was a complete mess and we lack so many details to properly judge.

  15. Aaron, I challenged Meg on this too (why would a detective need to be sealed/) One possible answer she suggests is that if they weren’t first introduced to the true thing, it would be too easy to confuse it for the false thing.

  16. Bruce,
    If that’s the case we’d see some evidence — exactly, I’d add, what is being asked for to refute the chain of circumstances in this series.

    I would imagine someone would not only say, Joseph revealed the true principle to me to discredit Bennett’s false claims, but they’d further say that the revelation was a part of their being recruited to dig up information on Bennett. Do we have any evidence remotely like that?

  17. Hi Aaron,

    The fascinating thing to note is that Elizabeth Durfee and Sarah Cleveland do not have documented marriages prior to Joseph’s death. It is others who have asserted that they were married to Joseph during his lifetime. Those who assert Durfee and Cleveland married Joseph appear to base their construct on:

    1) The fact that the women discussed plural marriage (whether spiritual wifery or Joseph’s version of plural marriage) with younger women. It is presumed that only someone who was already the wife of Joseph would have been involved in these activities.

    2) The fact that Bennett identified these women as Joseph’s. [I assert Bennett found these women interfering with his schemes.]

    3) The fact that these two women did choose to have themselves sealed to Joseph posthumously.

    So I would counter that there’s actually no reason to believe Joseph “married” Durfee and Cleveland. In their cases he may have simply explained the correct doctrine and at most demanded they swear an oath of loyalty.

    Patty Sessions is very similar to Durfee and Cleveland, except she wrote an 1860 journal entry (clarified in 1867) claiming that she was sealed to Joseph for eternity in March 1842 in Newel K Whitney’s chamber in Nauvoo, in the presence of her daughter, Sylvia Sessions. Patty Sessions also had herself sealed to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo temple after his death. In this case I’m inclined to consider that this original sealing was not marital, per se, but an expression of fealty.

    Sylvia Sessions did not sign any of the affidavits that Joseph F. Smith prepared for her signature. Like her mother, Durfee, and Cleveland, Sylvia Sessions had herself sealed to Joseph in the Nauvoo temple after his death. We do have the account of Sylvia’s daughter, Josephine Lyon [Fisher], that her dying mother told Josephine her father was Joseph Smith. I have countered that with the explanation that Josephine had not initially married in the Endowment House, where she would have been informed of her covenant relationship with Joseph Smith. Josephine was the only one of Sylvia’s children to marry who had not married initially in the Endowment House. Thus Sylvia’s tale to Josephine could very well have arisen from a desire to convey the fact of a covenant relationship rather than a biological relationship.

    So I see your objection to Joseph marrying women for the purpose of securing their fealty and raise the possibility that Joseph never did marry the women in his lifetime, that any “sealing” was swearing them to fealty.

    I suppose I have been unabashed in my assertion that my interest in this topic appears to me to have been more than a mere undigested bit of potato. However I’m not sure that I ever claimed I had received revelation on behalf of the world. Just that there is a coherent alternate explanation for the data. My “calling” is a passion for this subject nor overly different from the “calling” others have had to pursue their passions. It’s just that rather than quilting or knitting or square dancing, I have gravitated towards examining the stories related to Joseph Smith and polygamy.

    Personal revelation is obviously not something that should be applied to others. However speaking of “revelation” need not be kept secret. Why, for example, did President Monson relate the story about announcing that Brother Peter Mourik would be the first speaker in a session dedicating the Frankfurt Germany Temple. Brother Mourik, who was elsewhere (and President Monson had been informed Brother Mourik wasn’t present) suddenly turned to Elder Thomas A. Hawkes Jr., then the regional representative, and asked, “How fast can you get me to the temple?”

    The reason such stories are told is not because those revelations are binding on anyone else, but rather because they demonstrate something about the way God interacts with mankind.

    One challenge is that I’ve found some of these alternate explanations by means of midrash. I started by building up a story line, and adjusting the story line over and over until it aligned with all the data (an adjustment process that is still ongoing, by the way). Then I wipe away the story and look at the data with eyes informed by the midrash that complied with all the facts. This is not the traditional process.

    Some assemble the facts, then clothe the facts with a kind of plausible explanation. Todd Compton did this for his In Sacred Loneliness. Others take a premise and clothe it in facts that align with their hypothesis. I feel Michael Quinn has done this with various facts that suggest Joseph was sexual, for example, his interpretation of the Mary Heron incident related during Joseph Ellis Johnson’s Church court hearing.

    I don’t know why I should be asked to remain silent and unheard when Fawn Brodie and Sam Taylor and Orson Scott Card and Val Avery and Linda Newell and Todd Compton and Michael Quinn and Brian C. Hale and the South Park guys have had a chance to publish their interpretation.

    As for who Eliza may have slept with, I don’t think it’s credible that she would refer to Joseph as:

    the base hypocrite [with the] black corruption of a putrid heart.–
    [with whom she had lain] side by side and face to face..
    Foul hearted spirit… traitor…vile…faithless, rottenhearted wretch…

    If Eliza ever felt that way about Joseph, it’s curious she would have published this poem in her autobiography near the end of her life while she was publicly styling herself as Eliza Smith.

  18. Hi Aaron,

    As for evidence that these women explain that “Joseph revealed the true principle to me to discredit Bennett’s false claims, …to dig up information on Bennett” we do have evidence of that.

    In June/July 1843 Joseph had been apprehended by sheriffs from Missouri. Cornelius Lott was the man in charge of Joseph’s security detail. On June 29th a group of four women: Elvira Holmes, Eliza Snow, Elizabeth Durfee, and Elizabeth Whitney, rode out to Cornelius’ home. We don’t know what they said. But Cornelius assisted in bringing Joseph to safety. Three months later Cornelius’ daughter, Malissa, was sealed to Joseph.

    Compton suggests that the four women rode to the Lott home solely to secure Malissa for Joseph, either ignorant of the peril to Joseph’s life posed by the abduction or somehow supposing that even in the face of this peril the only reason four women loyal to Joseph would have for approaching Cornelius at this time of peril was to secure yet another nubile female for Joseph’s pleasure.

    As for why this was not written, I presume you have never been in a position related to, for example, national security. We are used to TV and movies, where all the information the viewer desires is served up within the time frame of the episode, complete with confessions from the perpetrators from the stand, under oath. The evil villain takes time during the climax, for example, to explain to Bond or Holmes exactly why the hero is being killed.

    But again, you are requesting that these women, themselves, write the assertion in a diary or journal. You are ignoring Bennett and his History of the Saints, where he clearly fingered Elizabeth Durfee and Sarah Cleveland as “Joseph’s” and went on to describe the role of Relief Society in identifying women who had participated in sexual indiscretions, the women Bennett styled as “Cyprian Saints.” We also have the minutes of the Relief Society itself, where we see the lengths to which Emma and her counselors went to ensure the membership of Relief Society was comprised of upright women. Elizabeth Durfee is identified by name as one who had interviewed those associated with Clarissa Marvel’s claims regarding Agnes Coolbrith. Durfee is also the one who chatted up the Partridge girls about what they might know about spiritual wifery. As for cloak and dagger stuff, Emma Smith took refuge in the home of Elizabeth Durfee when she realized a Missouri sheriff was tailing her en route to Joseph’s secret hideout in August 1842. After Joseph died, Emma asked Elizabeth’s son, Gilbert Goldsmith, to be one of only four men she trusted enough to relocate Joseph’s body. The other three were the public husband of Elvira Cowles [Holmes] and the brothers of Zina Diantha Huntington [Jacobs]. Thus all four of the men Emma trusted with a secret she was loath to share with Brigham Young were men associated with women who were sealed to Joseph Smith. Again, to me, this suggests the fealty aspect of these sealings, and the likelihood that Emma was very aware of which individuals had sworn fealty to Joseph and, by extension, to Emma.

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