The Widow’s Testimony: Catherine Laur Fuller Warren


This past weekend I was at Nauvoo for the Untold Stories Symposium. My topic was Catherine Laur Fuller Warren and her testimony against Dr. John C. Bennett. The audio below was recorded live, with minor edits to make it shorter (30 minutes vs. longer) and less blooper-filled. The powerpoint file for the presentation is also attached.

The Widow’s Testimony – powerpoint file

This, I felt, was the core of the new paradigm I have explored in my Faithful Joseph series. This is the previously untold history that is key to understanding everything else that happened in Nauvoo.

The trip to Nauvoo provided some interesting insights:

  1. First, I knew the 1840 census for Catherine listed four boys and one girl, even though the Family Search record for Catherine only lists three sons and one daughter. In reviewing the 1842 census, there are four male names listed – John being the name that hadn’t been listed as a separate person in Family Search. Apparently others were aware of a John, but had presumed that this was an alternate name for Josiah. However the 1842 census lists both John and Josiah. I’ll do a bit more research to make sure John’s work hasn’t already been done, then if he’s truly been overlooked, I’ll put him into Family Search in Catherine’s family.
  2. At the end of the presentation, someone suggested that Joseph was killed for political reasons, namely because he was running for President of the United States. While I don’t think he was killed because of his Presidential bid, the conversation caused me to reflect on the possibility that Josep might have become a serious contender for the Presidency of the United States. He had an extensive campaign machine in the persons of all the missionaries. Also, had Bennett’s spring attempt to undo his lies succeeded, he might have embarked on his own portion of the campaign, undoing much of the damage he himself had inflicted on Joseph’s character. Ultimately, Joseph died, so it is a moot point. I think.
  3. I ran into a lady who is descended from Zina Huntington [Jacobs Smith Young]. She confirmed that Henry Jacobs was excommunicated when he came home from Europe, having performed an unauthorized sealing on behalf of William W. Phelps. Sad that he was excommunicated. Happy that I was right about that event (sad though it was).
  4. I knew folks of that era didn’t believe in contagion. What I hadn’t realized is that contagion specifically refers to contact (both come from the Latin con meaning “with” and tangere meaning “to touch”). Though infection was considered possible, it was believed to be due to bad air, e.g., miasma. My husband and I got into it on this point, and he cited the instance in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, when Marianne is ill and the mother flees the home with her infant. But analysis of that passage shows that all the reasonable people in the story feel there is no threat. It is only the mother (noted as vapid) and her mother (noted as silly) who feel there is a threat.

Something else I’ve noted in my various studies since 2013 is that there appear to be two very small periods of time when we see plural wives of faithful men conceive. The first window was April 1843. The second window starts in May 1844. Based on this, I suspect that if Joseph did consummate any of his plural marriages, it would be during these two windows of time. So while I may not be entirely convinced he consummated any of his plural marriages, I would be willing to allow as possible reported interactions that appear to have occurred during those windows. Specifically, I might be willing to allow the reports regarding Emily Partridge (her own statements) and Malissa Lott (someone else reporting her statement). However, this isn’t a Nauvoo insight, per se.

For what it’s worth, the presentation appears to have been well-received. No rotten tomatoes. No one even challenged me on any facts. This core story is solid, and since no one really cares about Catherine Fuller, no one is offended to learn what happened to her. Except I care, and I am offended on her behalf, as I mention in my talk.

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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.

11 thoughts on “The Widow’s Testimony: Catherine Laur Fuller Warren

  1. I couldn’t get the audio link to work for me although the presentation file downloaded nicely. I’ll keep trying. Thanks for speaking up for Catherine. She was much abused by wicked and misguided men.

  2. Thanks, Meg. This was an interesting presentation, and the audio was a great addition. I’m glad it went well!

  3. Audio link not working for me. Able to download the PowerPoint.

    Having not yet heard the lecture, I am not sure what to make of your reference to contagion. I do know that the germ theory of disease was not developed until after this period. But there are numerous examples of European plagues being fought by dwellings and belongings being burned, and that few were willing to take care of the sick or even bury the dead due to fear from contagion.

  4. You can also get the audio at:

    People of the era did consider the infection was a possibility. There definitely was believed that bad air could cause illness. However the idea that skin to skin contact could cause illness was not widespread. In fact, Florence Nightingale specifically rejected the idea of that illness could be caused by contagion.

  5. Meg,

    Listened to your podcast. Interesting…

    May I ask how much your take on JCB is influenced by the biography Andrew Smith produced? Is this going to turn into your first academic paper on the Nauvoo period?

  6. I’ve read the biography Andrew Smith wrote. He brings in some interesting facts that aren’t available elsewhere, but you have to be careful. For example, I’m pretty sure his biography gets the alleged suicide date wrong – I’ve seen it elsewhere discussed as 17 July 1841, but his book indicates it’s 27 July 1841. Unfortunately, old copies of the Wasp aren’t as easy to find in pdf form, so I can’t judge that one for myself.

    Andrew also took wholesale Robinson’s assessment that the argument Lorenzo Wasson overheard was due to the letter from Hyrum. But analysis of Lorenzo’s report shows that the language was not consistent with the contents of Hyrum’s letter.

    I’m not aware of anyone else who has put together the chronology of Bennett’s descent from hero to hell-spawn. Like I said, people don’t bother reading D&C 124 and understanding the implications of Bennett’s inclusion therein.

    One question folks asked after the presentation was “Who was the woman Bennett was in love with?” I speculate that Elvira Annie Cowles is a strong candidate. Louisa Beaman might seem plausible, but there is too much reason for her to have been the first one in Nauvoo sealed to Joseph as a plural wife, so it seems too coincidental, while for Elvira there are various clues after the fact, including the fact that they were housemates for the entire time period when Bennett’s courtship was in progress. I am not aware of anyone else for whom there is any reason to consider them a candidate, given that Eliza Snow wouldn’t be termed a young woman.

  7. Meg,
    Do you have or know of any documentation on Bennett’s 1844 confession in the Marlboro Chapel, i.e. any type of transcript? All I can find are short synopsis’s which are short on details.


  8. All I have is the mention in Andrew Smith’s biography of Bennett, which is drawn from a contemporary news report.

    It is hard to understand that it even was a confession if you don’t know the full history of the spiritual wifery scandal circa 1841-1842. But with that knowledge, it is clear that Bennett was doing something entirely different in the 1844 Marlboro Chapel presentation, and that what he was saying should be considered a confession, rather than a continuation of his extended attack on Joseph Smith.

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