Seeing Joseph More Clearly – What I Perceive

Pluto 3 Resolutions

From the time Pluto was discovered in 1930, we had only the fuzziest images of the fascinating celestial body. The highest resolution images came from the Hubble telescope (image on far left). As the New Horizons space probe sent back images, space enthusiasts were excited to see hints of details that explained the asymmetries seen with the Hubble telescope. When New Horizons passed within 8,000 miles of Pluto in July 2015, the clarity with which we could now see Pluto was absolutely thrilling.

I’ve felt that same kind of Eureka! moment as I come to better understand Joseph Smith and the details of his actions and teachings regarding Celestial marriage. In the past I was blogging about things every week, and so you would hear what I was learning. Then I stepped back to write it up as a book, and have since been preparing for the June edition I’ll push out right before the Mormon History Association Conference.

As I’ve sifted through and polished, I can now see some clear patterns that were obscured even as recently as last year.

Joseph’s Plural Wives Who Conceived

Critics often assert that I can’t prove Joseph wasn’t having sex with [insert name of an individual other than Emma Hale [Smith]]. This is true. Nor can I prove that you never had sex with [insert category of person/mammal with which it would be completely unacceptable for you to have sex]. There are lots of things I can’t prove.

But what we can do is look at the children supposedly engendered by Joseph Smith with women other than Emma Hale [Smith]. The list is initially overwhelming:

(Bolded women are
known to have been Joseph Smith’s
plural wives)
Alleged Child (bolded children lived to have offspring) Discussion

(bolded have been disproved
by DNA analysis)

Julia Clapp Julia Murdock Smith (’31) Rumor circa 1842 spread by those who suspected Julia was not Emma’s daughter. Father was John Murdock.
Fanny Alger Orrison Smith (’34) Tradition disproved by genetic testing (Ycs)
Hannah Dubois Alleged son and/or daughter Speculative tradition. First two children fathered by a John F. Smith, suggesting source of rumor
Clarissa Reed Mosiah Lyman Hancock (’34) Tradition based on letter stating “our Mosiah”, disproved by genetic testing (Ycs)
Clarissa Reed John Reed Hancock (’41) Disproved by genetic testing (Ycs) (Perego e-mail to Stout of 5/14/2016)
Marietta Carter Sarah Elizabeth Holmes (’38) Assertion made to Ugo Perego, possibly based on Sarah’s closeness to the Smith family
Presendia Huntington Oliver Norman Buell (’40) Anti-Mormon exposé by Mary Etta Coray [Henderson Jones Smith]. Disproved by genetic testing.
Presendia Huntington John Hiram Buell (’43) John conceived 60 miles from Nauvoo, making it unlikely Joseph was involved.
Lucinda Pendleton Don Alonzo Smith (’40) Family tradition disproved by genetic testing (Perego e-mail to Hales of 12/6/2011)
Zina Huntington Zebulon Williams Jacobs (’42) Speculation by William Hall disproved by genetic testing
Mary Rollins Lightner George Algernon Lightner (’42) Speculation. Mary Rollins suggested three children may have been fathered by Joseph, but notably did not assert her own children were engendered by Joseph.
Mary Rollins Lightner Florentine Mattheas Lightner (’43) Speculation. Mary Rollins suggested three children may have been fathered by Joseph, but notably did not assert her own children were engendered by Joseph.
Eliza Roxcy Snow miscarriage (’42) Nov ‘42 journal mentions death and vile wretch
Nancy Marinda Johnson Orson Washington Hyde (’43) Speculation by Fawn Brodie, 43 week pregnancy needed for unlikely conception window to work.
Nancy Marinda Johnson Frank Henry Hyde (’46) Speculation by Fawn Brodie though birth date 18 months after Joseph died
Sylvia Sessions Josephine Rosetta Lyon (’44) Speculation based on mother’s dying testimony. Joseph’s paternity unlikely based on autosomal testing. Further testing in progress.
Margaret Creighton Josephine Henry (’44) Assertion by Larry R. King, circa 2008. Per Hales, mother pregnant upon arrival at Nauvoo
Esther Dutcher Joseph Albert Smith (’44) Speculation. Legal husband was Albert Smith, no relation to Joseph Smith.
Mary Ann Frost Moroni Llewellyn Pratt (’44) Speculation by Fawn Brodie, disproved by genetic testing, Parley Pratt is father
Olive Grey Frost Child (’45) Rumor based on statement by an “Aunt Lizzie” likely born 1847
Lucy Walker Rachel Kimball (’46) Speculation based on Rachel’s death record, giving either wrong birthday or wrong age
Lulu Vermillion Carolyn Delight Assertion made to Ugo Perego. Child may be Carolyn Delight Allen (’38), born to Lucy Diantha Morley [Allen]

Looking at the children whose claim hasn’t been disproved by DNA analysis, many of the remaining assertions are being made by those far removed from primary information. For example, if Carolyn Delight was the girl born in 1838 to the wife of one of Joseph’s bodyguards, then the mangling of the mother’s name (Lulu Vermillion from Lucy Morley [Allen]) gives a hint at how badly the other details of the story may have gotten mangled.

Let us eliminate:

  1. Children disproved by DNA analysis
  2. Children not conceived during the window when their mother was sealed to Joseph. 1
  3. Children where there is nothing more than assertion unsubstantiated by anything greater than hopeful rumor.
  4. Children who died without sufficient information to be sure they were conceived at all, much less during Joseph’s covenant with the purported mother. 2

Now let us look not at the children themselves but at the legal husband.

Mother Husband Discussion
Presendia Huntington Norman Buell Husband non-Mormon
Mary Rollins Adam Lightner Husband non-Mormon
Sylvia Sessions  Windsor Lyon Sylvia reportedly covenanted with Joseph during time that Windsor was cut off from the Church (Nov 1842 – Jan 1846)
Esther Dutcher Albert Smith Husband was Mormon

It is notable that we have no proof that any otherwise single woman who covenanted with Joseph Smith actually conceived a child by Joseph. Rumors, yes. But no proof.

Of the married women who covenanted with Joseph Smith and conceived during the efficacy of the covenant, three of the four husbands were not members of the Church. In each case there is reason to think the children were engendered by the wife’s legal husband, rather than Joseph Smith. With the exception of Esther Dutcher [Smith], no woman conceived while sealed to Joseph Smith and civilly married to a Mormon in good standing.

I find that striking.

Esther Dutcher [Smith]

Esther is a less-known person on some lists of Joseph’s plural wives. She wasn’t officially sealed to Joseph Smith until the 1850s, with her husband standing proxy. A letter from Daniel Wells in the 1880s indicated that Esther was Joseph Smith’s plural wife. Despite the reverence for Apostle Daniel Wells, it should be recalled that Wells didn’t get baptized until 1846. So his knowledge of plural wives of Joseph Smith would not be based on first hand information.

When I wrote about an Esther Smith testifying to the High Council in 1842 regarding teachings of illicit intercourse, I hadn’t initially realized Esther Dutcher [Smith] and Esther Smith might be the same person.

It wasn’t until the evening of April 26, 2016, that I realized Esther Dutcher [Smith] might be the Esther Smith from the High Council minutes, I e-mailed various noted researchers. One said that Esther and Smith were common names in Nauvoo and pointed out that John S. Dinger identifies the Esther Smith who testified to the High Council as Esther Victoria Smith [Fuller]. But Esther Smith [Fuller] had been Mrs. Fuller since 1836 and was living in Iowa. Joseph Johnstun (who is a rock star) replied at 11:12 pm that night with his analysis of the 1842 Nauvoo census (so nice to have a copy at home!). Per Johnstun, Esther Dutcher [Smith] was the only Esther Smith living in Nauvoo itself at that time.

To persist in supposing that the Esther Smith who testified to the Nauvoo High Council was Esther Victoria Smith [Fuller], we would have to accept both that a woman from Iowa was participating in the Nauvoo Choir (where the attempted seduction occurred) and that High Council minutes would record a woman by her maiden name though she’d been married for over 5 years by that point. 3

The most likely identity for the Esther Smith mentioned in the High Council minutes is therefore Esther Dutcher [Smith].

It is interesting that Esther Smith is the only one of the women testifying to the High Council regarding illicit intercourse who doesn’t appear to have been seduced. She testifies that Gustavus Hills attempted to persuade her to engage in illicit intercourse after she had participated in the Nauvoo Choir, but unlike all the other women who testified, she doesn’t have a story to tell where she actually yielded to pressure to engage in illicit intercourse.

This suggests the possibility that Esther became one of those who helped in the investigation, potentially helping lead to the identification and recovery of the other two ladies who had been approached in conjunction with their participation in the Nauvoo Choir (Sarah Searcy [Miller] and Mary Clift). If she swore fealty to Joseph Smith in conjunction with the investigation, this ties her involvement to the early months of 1842.

Despite Apostle Daniel Wells’ assertion that Esther Dutcher [Smith] was Joseph Smith’s plural wive in life, it is possible that she had merely covenanted fealty to Joseph as part of the investigation, similar to what it appears we initially see with Sylvia Sessions, Patty Bartlett [Sessions],  Elizabeth [Durfee], and Sarah [Cleveland]. It may then only have been after Joseph’s death that Esther decided to be sealed to Joseph, as did all the other ladies I’ve mentioned as helping in the investigation and even ladies, like Sarah Granger [Kimball], who didn’t agree to covenant with Joseph during the investigation but in later years learned to treasure the covenant they had been unwilling to accept during Joseph’s lifetime.

What Does This Mean?

Esther Dutcher [Smith] is fascinating because she serves as the first link between the illicit intercourse seductions and a wife of Joseph Smith. Previously researchers have presumed that the nasty behavior of Bennett and his Strikers was representative of Joseph Smith’s activity. But you cannot reasonably maintain that inference in light of how Esther Dutcher [Smith] interacts with the history.

The three women who were married to non-Mormons illustrate that the vast majority 4 of possible children born during women’s covenant with Joseph were likely engendered by the legal husband, who could not be read in on their wife’s covenant with Joseph. Consideration of the women who didn’t bear children indicates a vast lack of pregnancy on both the part of the single and of the married women who covenanted with Joseph (most notably demonstrated by Louisa Beaman). This indicates willingness on the part of Mormon men of good standing to avoid sexual relations with their legal wives while that wife was sealed to a living Joseph Smith.

Couple this with the notable dearth of children produced by other men with plural wives, and we are looking at scores of missing children, a dearth of children that cannot be reasonably explained by infertility, miscarriage, or abortion, particularly in light of the vast number of children produced by plural marriage after Joseph’s death.

It is not reasonable to question that Joseph Smith taught plural marriage. However it is entirely obvious that plural marriage, as taught by Joseph Smith, required unusual amounts of sacrifice, including refraining from sexual relations that would be considered legitimate after Joseph’s death.


  1. This most notably applies to the children of Nancy Marinda Johnson.
  2. This filter is used in the case of the children allegedly produced by Eliza Snow and Olive Grey Frost.
  3. I live in the congregation where I lived as a teenager and where my large family also lived for many decades. From time to time someone will call me by my maiden name, but they are always flustered and correct themselves as soon as possible. This has never happened in an official setting. My own experience regarding use of my maiden name thus informs my judgement regarding the likelihood that Esther would have been recorded by her maiden name.
  4. If Esther wasn’t actually a plural wife during Joseph’s lifetime, then these children of the women married to non-Mormons represent the totality of possible children born during the women’s covenant with Joseph.
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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 may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

13 thoughts on “Seeing Joseph More Clearly – What I Perceive

  1. I really want to understand how we get from the system you describe to the system the Church practices after his death.

    Thank you for your work in this area.

  2. Hi John,

    Despite all the apparent non-sex happening in Nauvoo (and plausibly in Kirtland), Joseph and Brigham had been teaching that it would be acceptable one day for a man to raise up children with a plural wife. We see this clearly in the event recorded by Aroet Hale, where Joseph made the argument that Henry Harriman and his barren wife, Clarissa, should enter into plural marriage for the purpose of allowing children to be born to the Harriman family, creating a biological heritage for Harriman and honor as well to Clarissa, though the children wouldn’t be hers.

    If Bennett hadn’t happened, Joseph may never have covenanted with the women he married after April, 1841. He also might have live for several more decades, allowing whatever did evolve to be shaped by Emma’s prescient paranoia.

    Once Joseph was dead, we see Brigham, Heber, and Amasa reach out to nine of the women with whom Joseph had covenanted. Given the revelation regarding “ten virgins,” it appears these may have been considered the virtuous and pure to be recognized as Joseph’s wives, with Emma being the tenth.

    There were also many plural marriages that had not been consummated. Once Brigham granted permission for these to be consummated,

    By 1845 Brigham had the concern of what to do with widows who wanted to be sealed to dead men, which would leave these women without a protector. So he instituted a policy that every woman wishing to be sealed must find a proxy willing to be a protector (e.g., mortal husband).

    Then in Winter Quarters, the deadly privation caused men aware of plural marriage to extend their households to care for single women, as in the case of English convert Sophia Whitaker and the young plural wives of Wilford Woodruff.

    Finally, when Brigham was faced with combatting apostasy involving the New and Everlasting Covenant, he initially reacted by excommunicating the individuals involved. In 1852 he had Orson Pratt announce publicly that Mormons were practicing polygamy, and would subsequently require Church leaders (e.g. bishops) to set an example by marrying 2-3 wives.

    Each step along the road to the extensive practice of plural marriage we see in the 1860s seemed logical at the time. Aside from Joseph’s covenants with Fanny Alger and Louisa Beaman, the rest can all be traced to reaction to Dr. John Bennett’s illicit intercourse heresy.

  3. JSH: i don’t think Meg explicitly stated it in her blog series or book, but the take-away I got was that Joseph did “too little, too late” in regards to polygamy. It took the angel with the sword to get him to move, and he still did too little in regards to not preaching it openly, and not producing children, presumably out of his fear of offending and losing Emma.

    Another point that Meg illustrates, again I think without explicitly stating it, is that Satan and John C Bennet took advantage of Joseph’s “half-measures” creating confusion/conflation between the “spiritual wifery” of the illlicit sex ring and the “for eternity/heaven but not for time/mortality” (ie, “eternity only”) sealings/covenants that Joseph was entering into.

    And Bennet’s circle was among the primary movers, and a critical part of the murder conspiracy. If Meg’s connect-the-dots is correct, one could infer that JS’s delay and half-measures of polygamy led to his murder. In other words, JS did too little too late. If so, his love for Emma and his fear of losing her led to his own death, and to her and their children’s estrangement from the church.

    It appears to me that Brigham then finished implementing the Lord’s full program of polygamous unions for both eternity and mortal-time, and with the engendering of children. It wasn’t that Joseph was wrong, he still had the picture of what he was supposed to do. He just didnt implement the full program; and the delay likely cost him his life.

    Even those faithful LDS historians who disagree with Meg’s unique perspectives admit that Joseph delayed obeying the Lord’s command to take multiple wives and preach “the principle”. For instance, Joseph could have married Zina before she married Henry Jacobs.

    I highly recommend Meg’s book, currently available at Amazon. It really untangled the Nauvoo polygamy mess for me and explains the shift from “Joseph’s polygamy” to “Brigham’s polygamy.”

  4. Hi Meg,
    Your post mentions the Mormon History Association Conference. Are you presenting?

  5. What’s the name of your book? I would love to see what you have to say! Also, can you give a source for the story about Aroet Hale? I have never head of BY doing that, but not Joseph. Thanks for sharing all of your research.

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