[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]There are various stories recounting that Joseph told men to give their wives to him. Alternately, there are instances where a woman who was married to another man then entered into a covenant relationship with Joseph Smith.
For the moment we will deal with events that appear to have occurred prior to January 1843. In my prior post, The Angel, the Sword, and the Heron Seduction, I discussed Joseph covenanting with three women who were married to other men. These ladies were Zina Diantha Huntington [Jacobs], Presendia Huntington [Buell], and Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner]. DNA analysis of descendants shows none of the children these women birthed 1 is actually related to Joseph Smith. Therefore it is reasonable to speculate that these “marriages” were ceremonial in nature. Joseph’s “marriage” to the Huntington sisters appears to have been partially based on the command from the angel with the sword and partially inspired by Dimick Huntington’s desire to link the Huntington family to Joseph Smith in eternity. Mary Elizabeth Rollins’ “marriage” to Joseph was based on the command from the angel with the sword and the urgency caused by Joseph’s early fears about the seductions taking place in Nauvoo.
In 1842, Joseph “marries” four additional women who are already married:
Sylvia Sessions [Lyon],
Patty Bartlett [Sessions],
Elizabeth Davis [Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee], and
Sarah Maryetta Kingsley [Howe Cleveland].
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.
By summer 1842 Bennett had been exposed as ring-leader of the sexual predators. Bennett counter-attacked Joseph in the press, claiming Joseph was the one who had been propositioning women. As with all the most effective lies, there was a kernel of truth. Joseph had been talking with women about the New and Everlasting Covenant. However Joseph’s aim does not appear to have been the easy sex Bennett and his ring of Strikers had elicited from the hapless women of Nauvoo. This easy sex was the kind of sexual misconduct Bennett was accusing Joseph of seeking. Bennett supported his assertion by telling a story alleging Joseph had made improper advances to Sarah Pratt, wife of his apostle, Orson Pratt.
Bennett’s tale about Sarah Pratt would prove a double-edged sword for the apostles in Joseph’s church, as well as their wives.
Judges in Israel
Joseph’s response to the accusation regarding Sarah Pratt was outrage. Sarah was an acknowledged adultress in the eyes of the dozens of members of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge who heard John C. Bennett’s confession in July 1841. Joseph initially counter-accused Bennett of committing adultery, only specifying to the general public that the woman was Sarah when Bennett persisted in printing his allegations.
Unfortunately Sarah’s husband appears not to have been aware of his wife’s infidelity prior to Bennett’s accusations and Joseph’s defense. After Sarah’s infidelity was declared to the public, Orson chose to remain silent rather than publicly confirm he believed himself cuckolded.
However the other eleven apostles felt that Orson’s silence was tantamount to an attack on Joseph Smith. Joseph’s very life was at stake, they believed. Certainly Joseph had been forced into hiding as a result of Bennett’s accusations. 2 The apostles didn’t have Joseph to guide them as they deliberated with Orson. After a short few weeks, they decided the only way to deal with Orson was to punish him. So the apostles excommunicated Orson on August 20, 1842.
Trying the Judges
There is reason to think that Joseph was very distressed by the apostles’ decision to excommunicate Orson. Not only had Orson been harmed, the eleven who acted had demonstrated a stunning lack of compassion. Joseph could have simply ordered them to re-admit Orson to their number. But Joseph’s goal was not mere restitution, but to create a quorum that was truly united, and one by choice rather than by edict.
It is reputed that Joseph asked all the apostles to give him their wives. The timing of this request is not known exactly, and as far as I am aware no one has ever previously documented a hypothesis that Orson’s excommunication was the cause. Most have merely seen this episode as a trial of the apostles’ faith, without providing a cause that might precipitate such a trial. An example of this lore is the 1854 sermon of Jedediah M. Grant asserting “Did the Prophet Joseph want every man’s wife he asked for? He did not . . . the grand object in view was to try the people of God, to see what was in them.” 3 , Jedediah was second counselor to Brigham Young and had been sealed to Young as an adopted son.
The members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that remained in the summer of 1842 had already withstood the tempest of apostasy in Kirtland and Missouri. A list of all the men who had been made apostles in the short history of the Church leading up to 1842 4 shows how many had fallen by the wayside (with the surviving faithful members of the original quorum highlighted):
1. Thomas B. Marsh, (1835-1838) apostasy
2. David W. Patten, (1835-1838) killed in Missouri
3. Brigham Young, (1835-1847)
4. Heber C. Kimball, (1835-1868)
5. Orson Hyde, (1835-1839, 1839-1878)
6. William E. M’Lellin, (1835-1838) apostasy
7. Parley P. Pratt, (1835-1857)
8. Luke S. Johnson, (1835-1838) apostasy
9. William B. Smith, (1835-1845)
10. Orson Pratt, (1835-1842, 1843-1881)
11. John F. Boynton, 1835-1837) apostasy
12. Lyman E. Johnson, (1835-1838) apostasy
13. John E. Page, (1838-1846)
14. John Taylor, (1838-1880)
15. Wilford Woodruff, (1839-1889)
16. George A. Smith, (1839-1868)
17. Willard Richards, (1840-1847)
18. Lyman Wight, (1841-1848)
Despite the assertion that many of the 1842 apostles, if not all, were challenged to give Joseph their wives, we only have information on this challenge for a few of these men.
Brigham Young, President of the Quorum
There is no colorful story regarding Joseph’s challenge to Brigham Young. However the view Jedediah Grant expressed, that Joseph’s request for some men’s wives was simply a test, clearly came from Brigham Young.
Brigham’s first wife had died in 1832. Earlier in 1842 Brigham had participated in sealing Joseph to some of his plural wives, and Brigham Young had married the abandoned Lucy Decker. Brigham had shown time and again that he was willing to do whatever Joseph asked of him.
Assuming Joseph asked Brigham for his wife, I suspect that Brigham may have agreed all too quickly, not internalizing the pain Orson would have been feeling as a result of his ordeal. Brigham would require tremendous sacrifices on the part of Church members after Joseph’s death. The polygamy-related sacrifices Brigham demanded of Orson Pratt would ultimately sour Sarah Pratt against her husband.
Brigham Young’s trust in Orson was never fully restored. Late in life Brigham would announce that seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should be based on the most recent accession to the quorum, rather than the original date for ordination as an apostle. Orson Pratt had been the senior apostle based on the former accounting, and would have become President of the Church upon Brigham’s death. However with a re-definition of seniority, Orson’s rank in the Quorum fell below that of John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff.
At the time Orson Pratt was excommunicated, Orson Hyde was still on his mission to Palestine. Orson’s bride was Nancy Marinda Johnson [Hyde], a woman who had been a teenager in the home where Joseph lived in 1832. It appears possible that Joseph had been prompted to take Nancy as a plural wife in those early days. However a mob attack intervened.
During the investigation, Joseph apparently reached out to Nancy Marinda Johnson for help. Nancy Marinda was the one who reached out to Nancy Rigdon during the investigation.
Shortly after Orson Hyde returned home in December 1842, Joseph broached the subject of plural marriage with him. Orson Hyde would marry two women as plural wives in March of 1843.
In May 1843, Nancy Marinda Johnson [Hyde] was sealed to Joseph Smith. She continued to live with Orson Hyde and proceeded to have the rest of her ten children with him. 5 It appears Marinda, like Zina Huntington and Mary Elizabeth Rollins, came to believe that she was one who had been fore-ordained for Joseph. However Nancy lived the rest of her reproductive existence with the man she had chosen to marry when Joseph hesitated. 6
Parley P. Pratt
The configuration of Parley’s family was uniquely complicated in 1842. Parley’s first wife, Thankful Halsey, died due to complications of childbirth in March 1837. Parley then proceeded to marry Mary Ann Frost [Sterns], a young widow who had been unusually devoted to her first husband.
We don’t have a record regarding Joseph’s possible demand for Parley’s wife in 1842. However when Parley learned of plural marriage, he was overjoyed with the possibility of binding his loved ones to him for eternity.
The challenge Parley and Mary Ann suffered regarding plural marriage occurred later in 1843. Parley wished to have himself sealed to Mary Ann, ignoring the fact that she had a previous husband to whom she’d been quite devoted. Hyrum Smith, himself new to the concept of plural marriage, agreed to perform the ceremony.
When Joseph learned that Mary Ann had been sealed to Parley rather than to the deceased Stearns, he cancelled the sealing his brother had performed, which had been done without specific authorization. Joseph then proceeded to seal Mary Ann to himself. Mary Ann did not understand, and Joseph didn’t record his reasoning. However I propose that Joseph sealed himself to Mary Ann to make sure Parley and Mary Ann didn’t again attempt to usurp the eventual place of the deceased Stearns at Mary Ann’s side.
In the case of John Taylor, we have snippets and a rich oral history that was then published by John’s grandson, Samuel W. Taylor. And then you have me, also a descendant and also, at heart, a novelist. So please forgive Sam and me for embellishing this story.
John Taylor adored his wife, Leonora. She was a full twelve years his senior. So John had married Leonora despite the traditional folkways that would have had him seek a girl closer to his own age.
When Joseph asked John to yield up Leonora, John was tormented. He did not eat or sleep. But at last he determined to discuss the matter with Leonora.
Sam Taylor recounts that Leonora wanted nothing to do with the matter. She proceeded to lob kitchen items at John in her anger. At one point in the altercation, she reared back her arm and accidentally broke the glass window. The glass cut her badly, and Leonora would later claim she lost a finger as a result of the wound. More painfully, Leonora came to believe that her youngest child, Leonora Agnes, had died 7 because of the events of that day. We don’t know enough of the dating of events and the details of Agnes’ death to understand why Leonora felt that way.
Wilford Woodruff related that “the Prophet went to the home of President Taylor, and said to him, “Brother John, I want Leonora[“] … it is said [that] John Taylor never answered the prophet, turned away and walked the floor all night, but the next morning, went to the home of the Prophet’s [sic] and said to him, [“]Brother Joseph, if God wants Leonora[,] He can have her.[“] That was all the prophet was after … and said to him, [“]Brother Taylor, I don’t want your wife, I just wanted to know where you stood.[“] 8
When John Taylor effectively told Joseph, “If you want Leonora, you can have her.” I imagine John Taylor was sporting a few cuts and maybe a goose egg on his head from the pots and pans Leonora had just thrown at him, not to mention the blood from Leonora’s self-inflicted accidental wound. Joseph did not require Leonora at John’s hand. However the circumstances hardly made Joseph’s refusal to take Leonora seem like anything but self-preservation.
Heber C. Kimball
In the case of Heber C. Kimball, the tale as we have it comes from his son-in-law, Apostle Orson F. Whitney. So the story isn’t a romping human tale as we novelists have recorded for John and Leonora. It is a faithful tale from a devoted son.
As John adored Leonora, so Heber adored his wife, Vilate Murray [Kimball]. When Joseph demanded Heber yield up Vilate, Heber went three days without eating or sleeping. Vilate became quite concerned.
Heber C. Kimball did not confide in Vilate. But finally Heber decided he must do as Joseph had asked. He took Vilate with him to visit Joseph. Then to Vilate’s amazement, Heber put Vilate’s hand in Joseph’s, and gave her up.
With Brigham, Joseph had likely faced a follower who obeyed without delay, an obedience too quick to change the heart. With Orson Hyde, the wife in question wished to claim an eternal blessing Joseph’s hesitation had denied her. With Parley Pratt, Joseph was likely trying to prevent folks from usurping a dead husband’s place. With John Taylor, the wife in question had a mind of her own and clearly demanded the right to remain with the husband of her choice.
Only with Heber and Vilate were husband and wife so devoted to one another and to the Lord that Joseph’s challenge was truly heart-wrenching and the decision to obey so pure.
In the face of the faith of Heber and Vilate, Joseph broke down and cried. Placing Vilate’s hand back into the hand of Heber, Joseph then performed the ordinance sealing Heber to Vilate for all eternity. Thus Heber and Vilate would join Bishop and Elizabeth Whitney as couples whose civil marriages were solemnized for eternity before Joseph himself had obtained this privilege.
No one would record the date of Heber and Vilate’s sealing. At the time the ordinance was so sacred that few recorded such things.
A complicating factor, perhaps, was the arrangement Heber made sometime in 1842 to take the widow, Sarah Peak Noon, under his protection. If Heber and Vilate were to record a sealing date after Sarah Peak Noon entered their family, it would beg the question of why Heber and Vilate’s sacrifice in giving Sarah Peak Noon a home had not been sufficient to warrant the sealing ordinance. I think this is another instance of allowing the need for secrecy to trump the desire to document dates.
When Heber’s son-in-law, Orson F. Whitney, wrote his 1888 biography of Heber C. Kimball, he was faced with determining how to assemble the facts of his famous relative’s life. To Orson Whitney, Joseph’s request for Vilate was clearly the largest challenge, and it seemed to Whitney that this challenge must have been the first of his father-in-law’s sacrifices on behalf of restoring the principle of plural marriage. However Whitney’s reconstruction of events does not fit the larger context, as it would place Joseph’s demand for Vilate’s hand sometime in early 1842 rather than after Orson Pratt’s excommunication in August 1842. Thus, Whitney’s account of Heber Kimball’s experience with plural marriage has likely prevented a holistic understanding of Nauvoo events.
Orson Pratt, Reborn
By January 1843, Joseph appears to have won over his apostles. Orson Pratt and Sarah Pratt were re-baptized on January 20, 1843. 9 Orson was immediately readmitted to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
In 1852, when Brigham Young decided to announce Mormons were practicing polygamy, Brigham selected Orson Pratt to deliver the message. Orson, the man who had endured so much and so publicly, was by far the best man for the job.
Had Orson been allowed to ascend to the position of Church President, I believe he could have ended the practice of polygamy with authority. However Brigham’s re-definition of apostolic seniority prevented Orson from becoming Church President. Orson would die in 1881, four years after Brigham Young’s death.
The End of Polyandry
With this saga regarding the wives of the apostles, we effectively come to an end of the cases where Joseph Smith marries the wife of another man. There are two minor exceptions that bear mention.
Ruth Vose [Sayers] would eventually learn of the doctrine that allowed marriage to endure into eternity. Ruth craved the blessing of eternal marriage, but her husband did not believe. Mr. Sayers suggested Ruth become Joseph’s wife in eternity. Thus we see Joseph extend an eternal sealing to a woman who believed when her husband was both aware of the eternal arrangement and happy to allow his wife to participate in a ceremony Mr. Sayers felt was so much stuff and nonsense.
Elvira Annie Cowles would be sealed to Joseph Smith on June 1, 1843. Joseph Smith himself had performed the December 1, 1842, civil ceremony linking Elvira to Jonathan Harriman Holmes, widower of the martyred Marietta Carter [Holmes]. Elvira and Jonathan would tell their children that Elvira had been Joseph’s wife, and that Joseph had requested that Jonathan take care of Elvira in the event of Joseph’s death. Thus, though Elvira appears to be participating in polyandry based on the available marriage documents and affidavits, there is every reason to believe that Elvira’s intention to be sealed to Joseph pre-dated her public marriage to Jonathan Holmes. As already mentioned, there is no indication Elvira had sex with either Joseph or with Jonathan during Joseph’s lifetime, though it does appear Elvira implied things to her daughters to encourage them to accept the New and Everlasting Covenant. 10
Intriguingly, in February 1843 Elvira and Jonathan would welcome Eliza Snow into their home. Eliza had served as secretary in the Relief Society while Elvira served as treasurer. Eliza had become one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives in June 1842–Elvira would become one of Joseph’s plural wives in June 1843. I propose that the lives of these three (Jonathan Harriman Holmes, Elvira Annie Cowles, and Eliza Roxcy Snow) were far more entwined than prior scholars have perceived.
Future Planned Posts:
Eliza and the Stairs
Healing Wounded Hearts
Revealing the Revelation
Those Virtuous and Pure
Daughter of Hope
The Prodigal Returns
Conferring the Mantle
Collecting the Sorrowful
For Eternity and Time
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy
- Obviously DNA analyses are only possible for those children who lived long enough to have children themselves. However those wishing to imagine Joseph as a sexual partner to these women are left with no data to support their hypothesis. ↩
- The accusation that caused Joseph to go into hiding was not related to polygamy, but rather was the accusation that Joseph had plotted to have Missouri Govenor Lilburn Boggs murdered. Governor Boggs had been shot in May 1842, but survived. The “hitman” Joseph would have sent, had he ordered the hit, was offended at the suggestion he’d been involved. Orrin Porter Rockwell was in fact aquitted by a Grand Jury in part because it was believed that he wouldn’t have missed, had he been the shooter. Rockwell testified “I never shot at anybody, if I shoot they get shot! … He’s still alive, ain’t he?” ↩
- Apostle Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor to Brigham Young and father of President Heber J. Grant, sermon delivered on 19 February 1854 (JD 2: 13-14). ↩
- This list is courtesy of Grampa Bill’s G.A. Pages, available online at http://www.gapages.com/q12.htm, retrieved on 5 April 5, 2014. ↩
- Ugo Perego’s DNA investigations have confirmed that Orson Hyde was the father of Marinda’s children born during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. ↩
- Nancy divorced Orson in 1870. It is not clear to me what prompted this divorce, though it could have been associated with the visit of Joseph’s sons in 1869, the questioning regarding the covenant Nancy had made with Joseph, the autonomy Nancy might have felt required to agitate for female suffrage and anti-polygamy legislation. An article in the Ensign (Feb. 1979, Keith Perkins, A House Divided, The John Johnson Family) says of Nancy Marinda “After coming to Utah in 1852, [Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde] and her husband settled in the Seventeenth Ward. In 1868 she became the ward’s Relief Society president, serving in that position until her death. She also was a member of the board of directors of the Deseret Hospital in Salt Lake. She sought the rights of Mormon women at a time when much of the nation was attempting to destroy the rights of all Latter-day Saints and was selected as a member of a committee which drafted a resolution against some of the vicious antipolygamy legislation being considered in Congress. (See Millennial Star, vol. 32, p. 113.) She also was one of fourteen women who drafted a resolution thanking the acting governor of Utah, S. A. Mann, for signing the act that gave the women in Utah the right to vote, the second such act in the United States.” ↩
- Agnes died in September 1843. ↩
- John M. Whitaker typed and edited journals, 1: 242 (1 November 1890), Special Collections, Marriott Library. Whitaker provided this transcription from his original journals that he wrote in his own version of Pittman shorthand. Quoted in Michael Quinn, Evidence for the Sexual Side of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2012, p. 26, available online at http://ldsbooks.pbworks.com/f/Michael+Quinn+-+Evidence+for+Joseph’s+Sexual+Polygamy+(2012).pdf, retrieved April 11, 2014. ↩
- Rick J. Fish, Orson Pratt in Nauvoo: 1839-1846, 1993, citing Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” 101. Available online at http://jared.pratt-family.org/orson_histories/orson_pratt_in_nauvoo2.html, retrieved April 8, 2014. ↩
- In the late 1930s Phoebe Holmes [Welling] would write about what she recalled her mother saying about her relationship with Joseph Smith, that Elvira had been Joseph’s wife in very deed or some such. However Phoebe had been the teenager who refused to consider Job Wellings’ proposal because he was English and a widower and a polygamist. I think Elvira, faced with a child who was being a bigot, said true things that implied more than had actually happened. Phoebe ended up agreeing to marry Job, who was already married to Phoebe’s older sister, Marietta. Then the two sisters combined to persuade their youngest sister, Emma Lucinda, to join them as wives of Job. When Job was sent on a mission, he would write the most delightful crossed letters to his “Dear MPE” or Marietta, Phoebe, and Emma Lucinda. ↩