On 19 May 1842, President Emma Smith told the Nauvoo Female Relief Society that “now it is necessary that sin should be expos’d— that heinous sins were among us—”.
On May 21 the first of several individuals came forward to testify before the Nauvoo High Council regarding sins they either suspected or could confess to.
Brian Hales sent me a copy of a portion of these testimonies in 2014. Ironically, he has since asserted that he never looked at that pdf, suggesting that perhaps the pdf had been created from Dr. Val Avery’s notes by Don Bradley. While I had a theory leading into my 2013-2014 Faithful Joseph series of blog posts, it was the copy of these statements that confirmed the truth was even more sobering than I had speculated.
In 2018 I visited Utah State University, where Dr. Val Avery’s notes are housed. My visit was inspired by two purposes. First, I had reason to suspect that the pdf I’d been sent did not include all the pages. Second, I was looking forward to talking with the USU archivist, to ensure he was aware of my research and plans.
Unfortunately, I talked enough about my research and its implications that the USU archivist became very nervous. He strongly suggested I obtain permission to use the notes directly from the Church Archives. He was concerned that my research (which some find controversial) could prompt the Church to remove sensitive documents from the USU archives.
During the summer of 2016 I had attended the Mormon History Association. During that encounter, Elder Steven Snow had given me his business card. So I e-mailed Elder Snow directly. I praised Saints, the initial chapters of which were beginning to be published. Then I explained my concern about the Nauvoo Statements before the High Council.
Up until now these statements have been protected from publication, which is appropriate for documents related to Church Disciplinary Courts. Unfortunately, theories regarding Nauvoo have abounded, with the illicit intercourse activity neatly suppressed.
I did not hear from Elder Snow himself, but I did receive an e-mail from Keith Erekson. He assured me that these important documents were in the queue to be digitized and published on the Church History website. Though he could not promise when they would be available, he assured me that they should be available online by the time the Joseph Smith Papers Project reached 1842, which it did this year.
Today I checked, and these heartbreaking but paradigm altering documents are now available online (though I believe you must log in using your Church Account):
Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council cases , https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=aa99b602-c7ef-412a-991e-8ac468eb438a&crate=0&index=0 (accessed: July 31, 2019)
Perhaps the rest of the historians who study Nauvoo have already known about this for a while – since I don’t frequent the Mormon Historians Facebook group these days, I wouldn’t know.
These testimonies (or confessions) speak again and again of the way in which certain men, including William Smith, coerced women into engaging in sexual activity with any number of men.
When Orson Pratt and George Q. Cannon and others talked about plural marriage being an alternative to adultery and infanticide, they were talking about the epidemic of sexual misbehavior that occurred in 1841-1842.
Modern researchers have presumed that plural marriage allowed men to satisfy their carnal desires without having to resort to the extramarital excess associated with “Gentiles” of the world. When I read this in Brian Hales’s writings, I dismissed it as merely a male-centric absurdity. But today as my husband read to me from the chapter “Puritan Polygamy” in Lawrence Foster’s Religion and Sexuality, I realized that this is a misreading on the part of many modern historians of Orson Pratt’s 1852 announcement regarding plural marriage as an authorized practice in the Church.
It was not that any righteous man needs to have multiple wives to absorb their libidinous urges. Instead, it was that vulnerable women had been subjected to the equivalent of prostitution by evil men. In that circumstance, it was necessary in some cases for righteous men to step forward to care for both repentant women and innocent yet still-vulnerable women.
I suppose some will read these documents and presume these statements are representative of the activities of Joseph Smith. Heavens knows that is what Dr. Avery thought. In light of these documents, she would become so upset as she wrote about Joseph Smith and the women with whom he covenanted that she would vomit. After composing herself, she could only write for a short time before she had to vomit again.
But Dr. Avery did not have access to DNA evidence demonstrating that there is no evidence that any children born to Joseph’s covenant wives were fathered by any other than the women’s legal husbands. Of note, there is no case where an unmarried woman who had covenanted with Joseph is known to have conceived prior to his death.
This information will not necessarily convince anyone. As observed among the monkeys of Koshima 2, mature individuals typically refuse to change. As I have observed with “Riley,” 3 not even extensive interventions by fraud investigators and the FBI were able to persuade “Riley” the $1M and more sent to online “friends” was lost to scammers. So I won’t be particularly surprised or offended if folks continue to assert that I’m making all this up.
I look forward to seeing how responsible/conscientious scholars incorporate this information into their future writings.
Edit: Here is a transcription I made of the copy that was in the USU library. It appears the pages were in a different order in Val Avery’s copy, but the number of pages is the same.
- Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council cases , https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=aa99b602-c7ef-412a-991e-8ac468eb438a&crate=0&index=0 (accessed: July 31, 2019) ↩
- Misrepresentations of the scientific observations of monkey behavior on Koshima have led to an erroneous belief that new behavior will spread throughout a population once a sufficient core group has adopted the new behavior. Inactuality, the scientific observations confirmed that mature monkeys would refuse to adopt the new behavior, no matter how beneficial it was. See “Hundredth monkey effect,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect (accessed 31 July 2019). ↩
- See my posts Believing Lies, On Dementia and Traitors, and Of Sirens and Judgment for more about my experiences with “Riley.” ↩