The Pretend Husbands

imageThere are at least two men who became public husbands of women who were sealed to Joseph Smith in the 1840s.

The first and most well-known of these was Joseph C. Kingsbury, who documented that “on the 29th of April 1843 I according to President Joseph Smith council & others agread to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as supposed to be her husband and had a pretended marriage…” 1

The second and almost entirely unknown of these was Jonathan Harriman Holmes, who in the 1860s told his children and friends that his wife, Elvira Annie Cowles, had first been the wife of Joseph Smith, that he, Jonathan, had agreed to be her husband after Joseph’s death if she wished it. When taken together with the fact that Joseph Smith performed the December 1842 ceremony wedding Jonathan Holmes to Elvira Annie Cowles, the December 1842 marriage can be seen as a pretended marriage, like that of Joseph C. Kingsbury to Sarah Ann Whitney. 2

Both Kingsbury and Holmes were widowers. In each case, the man was subsequently sealed to the bride of his youth in the Nauvoo temple. It is clear in the case of Kingsbury that the promise of being sealed to his wife and someday reunited with his dead children was convolved in his willingness to be a pretended husband to Sarah Ann Whitney.

When Were These Things Documented?

I had read the excerpt from Joseph C. Kingsbury’s journal in various books. But it was not until last night that I read the manuscript of Kingsbury’s journal while browsing the Book of Abraham Project (boap.org). The information that no book had forced me to understand was that the account in Joseph Kingsbury’s journal is part of a recollection spanning roughly two decades. The tale itself wasn’t written until 1848, after Joseph Kingsbury had arrived in Utah. While this makes it more timely than the second hand descriptions of Jonathan Holmes’ account, it is still over five years after the actual events.

Jonathan and ElviraAs for the descriptions of Jonathan Holmes’ account, the arrival of the Wright family in Cache Valley, Utah, and the marriage of Jonathan’s oldest daughter, where she first learned she had a covenant relationship to Joseph Smith indicate that Jonathan’s explanation of becoming Elvira’s husband only after the death of Joseph Smith could not have occurred prior to the late 1860s.

A Contemporary Record

As I mentioned in the Manuscript of Eliza Snow’s Journal, Eliza Snow wrote a poem that in its current form appears to be dedicated to Jonathan Holmes and Elvira Annie Cowles, pictured here near the end of Elvira’s life, circa 1869. 3 But the poem was modified before December 1842, based on a change in ink after that point. Aside from splotches that could be traces of tears, there is a word entirely scraped from the page, which was replaced by the word “rays”. The original word appears to have been “angels”. 4

Eliza Snow was not at that time in the habit of editing her journal by scraping words from the page. In those early days of her journal, edits are made using interlineal additions or lining out the word that is no longer desired.

The poem Conjugal as currently written is a uniquely beautiful expression of the eternal union of a couple.

Extant

Conjugal

Like two streams whose gentle forces
Mingling in one current blend —
Like two waves, whose outward courses
To the ocean’s bosom tend —

Like two rays that kiss each other
In the presence of the sun —
Like two drops that come together
And forever are but one,

May your mutual vows be plighted —
May your hearts, no longer twain
And your spirits be united
In an everlasting chain.

But the original poem, as I believe it to have been written, is more explicitly about a couple who have been parted by death, who will be reunited in eternity. This is explicitly the promise Joseph Kingsbury describes with respect to his departed Caroline. This was the covenant that Jonathan Holmes was able to enter into with his departed Marietta.

The image below has been digitally altered to show how the poem might have originally looked, with angels in the place of rays and without the addition of writing that crowds the original title, including the dedication to Jonathan and Elvira:

Origwork

Conjugal

Like two streams whose gentle forces
Mingling in one current blend —
Like two waves, whose outward courses
To the ocean’s bosom tend —

Like two angels that kiss each other
In the presence of the sun —
Like two drops that come together
And forever are but one,

May your mutual vows be plighted —
May your hearts, no longer twain
And your spirits be united
In an everlasting chain.

I have put before you all I can to show why this poem warrants additional investigation. As this poem relates to my direct ancestors, I have a family interest in the answer. I welcome any interpretations of this poem, a contemporary record to the marriage of Jonathan and Elvira in what appears to have been a “pretend” marriage, similar to that of Joseph C. Kingsbury and Sarah Ann Whitney.

I suggest that when Eliza originally wrote the poem in her journal (September 1842), she expected that she would be the woman protected in a pretend marriage with Jonathan Holmes. But that at some point prior to December 1842 an event occurred that eliminated her need to be protected in a pretend marriage. Thus the tears and the modification of the poem.

Alternate readings are welcome. I will be less than thrilled if the explanation is “there’s nothing here,” as the poem was obviously modified and the “a” and “s” are clearly evident even in this image of the digitized version.

Notes:

  1. Joseph C. Kingsbury journal, page 13, apparently recorded after August 1848, available online via http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/JCKingsbury.html.
  2. See the statement William Wright provided to Church headquarters in the early 1900s (contained in Brian Hales’ Joseph Smith’s Polygamy) and Jonathan’s reported statement to his own children as documented in the Job Welling family history, available online at familysearch.org under books.
  3. The digitized version of Eliza Snow’s journal is available at https://eadview.lds.org/dcbrowser/MS%201439/. The poem Conjugal is on images MS 1439_f0001_00009.jpg and MS 1439_f0001_00010.jpg.
  4. The discussion following the original post contains the analysis of the imagery that supports why the obliterated word appears to start with “a” and end in “s” without any letters in the middle that would reject angels as the original word.
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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.

6 thoughts on “The Pretend Husbands

  1. “Angels” is two syllables, whereas “rays” is one. “Rays” fits in the cadence of the rest of the poem: 8787, whereas “angels” is an odd 9787. It makes sense that she would have changed “angels” to “rays” to fix the cadence, and perhaps to make it a little less sentimental as well.

  2. True, but there are plenty of times when a poet will use a word that won’t strictly scan, particularly in a personal journal.

    The thing with rays is that they issue from the sun, so wouldn’t kiss in the presence of the sun.

    So you can choose scansion or physics. And it still remains to explain the tears and why she would bother to scrape the word off the page, since she doesn’t do that anywhere else for months preceding or following this entry.

  3. In the 1860s the term sun kissed was used more often than it is now:
    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=sun+kissed&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Csun%20kissed%3B%2Cc0

    So I have no problem believing she associated rays of the sun with “kissing”.

    Furthermore, your suggestion that rays was never intended doesn’t even make sense within the context of the poem. The prior stanza refers to “waves” of the “ocean”. This one refers to “rays” of the “sun”.

    As far as the alleged tears there are several possibilities:
    -there are none
    -she was sweating (women do that?)
    -she was taking a break from chopping an onion
    -they are tears, but not hers, they belong to a unicorn (or someone who handled it perhaps)
    -or likely some rather benign and boring explanation that has nothing to do with what you suspect

    Yes I’m being flippant, but you’re asking someone to “explain the tears” as if we even know there are tears, and even if there were none of us, including you, could explain them.

    It’s a lovely poem though so I’m glad you shared it with us.

  4. Hi Gerry,

    I’m assuming you haven’t looked at the rest of her journal. This one page is notably unusual.

    It is an awesome poem, though, no matter what the original word might have been or why she removed it.

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