Was Joseph Smith a Practicing Polygamist?

I was recently browsing the internet and came upon Brian C. Hales’ post of May 21 titled “Yes, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph Smith Practiced Polygamy.” After listing the numerous testimonies gathered across the years regarding Joseph’s involvement in plural marriage, Brian concludes his post with the following:

“Plural marriage is an uncomfortable topic and understandably so. However, denying Joseph Smith’s involvement is not useful to the discussion. The evidences supporting his polygamous sealings to create time-and-eternity unions that included sexual relations is too great to ignore.”

I’m not sure Brian is responding to me in this post, since I don’t deny Joseph was involved in polygamous sealings. Nor do I deny that many were willing to imply that Joseph had been sexually intimate with women to whom he was sealed.

I simply question whether the data support a conclusion that Joseph necessarily consummated the ceremonial plural marriages he personally entered into.

Joseph Smith absolutely taught plural marriage in the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant

It is impossible to ignore the vast numbers of affidavits from first-hand participants attesting to the fact that Joseph Smith taught them plural marriage in the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant. There has not been a credible theory to explain how these many affidavits would have been given, sometimes in the handwriting of the women in question, if Joseph had not been involved.

Some have called into question whether the revelation now canonized as D&C 132 was dictated by Joseph Smith. However William Clayton, Joseph Kingsbury, and Leonard Soby all testified that the revelation contained in D&C 132 was dictated by Joseph Smith (Clayton), copied (Kingsbury), and read to the High Council (Soby) in 1843.

There should be no question that Joseph taught plural marriage. There should be no question that Joseph both officiated as men were married to plural wives and had others officiate as Joseph was married to plural wives.

But does the fact of a marriage mean sex occurred?

I would not be terribly bothered if irrevocable proof arose that Joseph had consummated some of his marriages. However I do not consider the current testimonies proof of sexuality.

Emily Partridge – The most unassailable relationship is the one between Joseph Smith and Emily Partridge, to whom he was secretly sealed in March 1843 and more openly re-sealed in May 1843. In the 1890s, during the Temple Lot trial, Emily testified that she had roomed with Joseph several times. She also answered “Yes, Sir” when asked if she had carnal intercourse with Joseph.

However I am not convinced. In the 1890s, Emily believed that proving Joseph Smith taught plural marriage was crucial to preventing Joseph’s sons from laying claim to the Missouri temple lot. After having testified to rooming with Joseph, there is no way she could have answered the carnal knowledge question in any way other than “Yes, sir,” without fundamentally damaging the entire case against the claim of the Smith brothers.

Emily lived in Nauvoo for fully two years as Joseph’s plural wife during his lifetime. And yet she never conceived while Joseph lived.

Sylvia Sessions – When Sylvia was dying, she confided in her daughter Josephine that Josephine was Joseph Smith’s daughter. On the face of it, this seems rather persuasive evidence. However there is an alternate explanation for Sylvia’s deathbed confidence.

Once Sylvia had been sealed to Joseph Smith, all her subsequent children would be understood to be Joseph’s, even if engendered by other men. This is in keeping with the Old Testament practices, where a child was raised up to the name of a dead father even though engendered by a levirate husband (e.g., Ruth’s son Obed should have been accounted the son of Mahlon even though engendered by Boaz).

We know that in at least some cases, a child conceived well after Joseph’s death born to one of Joseph’s plural wives would learn of this relationship on the event of their marriage and sealing. This occurred in the case of Marietta Holmes, whose name was initially recorded as Marietta Smith, before someone (presumably Marietta) struck out the name Smith and replaced it with Holmes.

Sylvia’s daughter, Josephine, was the only one of Sylvia’s children to survive to adulthood to marry without initially being sealed to her spouse. Though Josephine was subsequently sealed to her spouse, it may be that she never learned in that venue of her covenant relationship to Joseph as daughter.

DNA analysis cast further doubt on the interpretation of Sylvia’s dying testimony as necessitating a biological relationship with Joseph, as the genetic similarity between Josephine’s progeny and the progeny of Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Sr is tenuous, at best, and fully explainable by the legally-acknowledged common ancestors between Josephine’s ancestors and the ancestors of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Lucy Walker – Lucy Walker is suspected of having borne Joseph’s child due to the record of her child’s death at Winter Quarters. Here, however, the death record contradicts itself. A date is given for the child’s birth (early 1845) which suggests the child was conceived in 1844 before Joseph Smith’s death. However the child’s age at death is given as 17 months, which would place birth in 1846 and conception in early 1845, after Lucy Walker had married Heber C. Kimball as a levirate husband.

Olive Frost – Brian Hales asserts Olive Frost bore a child to Joseph Smith because it is said that she bore Joseph’s child. Again, this terminology could have referred to the covenant relationship between the child and Joseph, independent of who had been the biological father. Olive and her child died in October 1845, more than a year after Joseph died. Therefore there was plenty of time for a levirate husband (Brigham Young) to have engendered a child that was termed “Joseph’s child.” No date is given for the actual birth of Olive’s child.

Fanny Alger – Decades after the debacle in Kirtland involving Fanny Alger, Chauncy Webb asserted that Fanny had been pregnant while staying in his home after leaving the Smith household and before leaving Kirtland in September 1836. However when Chauncy alleged Fanny had been pregnant, Chauncy had left the Mormon Church over the matter of his daughter’s divorce from Brigham Young. Chauncy’s daughter had written an expose of her polygamous marriage. Thus it must be considered that Chauncy’s assertion regarding sexual behavior between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger might have been at the very least colored by his loss of faith.

As I have elsewhere expained, stress can cause a woman to cease menstruating. Such a lack of monthly menses could have led Chauncy to presume his house guest was pregnant. There is no record of Fanny bearing a child until well after her marriage to Solomon Custer in November 1836.

Eliza Snow – Of interest, Brian Hales does not include Eliza Snow in his list of women who were sexually intimate with Joseph Smith. Yet there is a substantial oral history regarding a pregnant Eliza Snow falling down a set of stairs and losing a child engendered by Joseph. This oral history is bolstered by Eliza’s response to questions regarding whether she was intimate with Joseph Smith.

Scholars have pointed out that the presumed February 1843 date for the incident is not possible, given Eliza’s journal record of teaching school continuously from December 1842 through dismissal of classes in March 1843.

However a date of November 1842 for the incident is possible and is suggested by poetry Eliza writes in her journal. However Eliza’s poetry talks of a vile wretch who was side by side and face to face with innocence. Thus if Eliza had been pregnant, her poetry suggests the possibility that the father was someone other than Joseph Smith.

As to Eliza’s later response, she stops short of actually asserting a sexual relationship, though it is clear that the person conversing with her inferred that she was asserting a sexual relationship, as this conversation was related to Joseph Smith III as proof that Joseph Smith Jr. had been a practicing polygamist.

Mary Heron – Brian Hales has included the hapless Mary Heron in his list of women who were intimate with Joseph Smith Jr. This is based on the records of the Church discipline of Joseph Ellis Johnson for having gotten Lorenzo Snow’s estranged wife pregnant. Joseph Ellis Johnson was attempting to be reconciled with the Church so that he could be sealed to this woman (Hannah) and the children he expected to engender with Hannah beyond the first. Joseph Ellis Johnson had apparently reconciled with Lorenzo Snow before submitting himself for Church discipline.

As the fact of Joseph Ellis Johnson seducing the wife of an apostle resonated with the rash of seductions that took place in Nauvoo circa 1841-1842, Johnson was questioned about whether he, too, taught that it was right to engage in illicit intercourse as long as no one knew about it (a specific teaching promulgated by the 1841-42 seducers). Johnson denied that he had taught this. To emphasize how abhorrent such a teaching was to him personally, Johnson related the tale of his mother-in-law, Mary Heron [Snider], where she had been the victim of the “first frigging” which had occurred in Johnson’s home in Nauvoo.

When asked a question related to this reported intercourse with Mary Heron, Johnson answered “By Joseph.”

Brian and others have presumed the question was “By whom was your mother-in-law frigged?” and that the answer “By Joseph” necessarily referred to Joseph Smith.

However Joseph Ellis Johnson had a character witness at the proceedings, a Brother Joseph Kelly. Kelly’s record of the court proceedings indicates that he could have been the one who seduced Mary Heron, and that he did so with the knowledge of John (possibly Mary’s husband, John Snider, or Nauvoo mayor, John C. Bennett).

It is also possible that the question being asked was “By whom were you told about your mother-in-law being frigged?” and the answer “By Joseph” could have then been identifying an informant (Joseph Kelly being much more likely than Joseph Smith) rather than the extra-legal sexual partner of Mary Heron.

Other accounts – There are various other accounts that some woman was Joseph’s wife in very deed, that Joseph was sealed to some woman for time and all eternity, that Emma knew about the fact that these other women were Joseph’s wives, that some relative said the marriage was tacitly admitted or that Joseph and the woman in question spent time together behind closed doors.

A reading that “time and all eternity” meant “sex in this life as well as a covenant relationship in eternity” is imposing meaning on terms that it isn’t clear was being imputed by the persons originally using the terms. The same is true for “wife in very deed,” where it is inferred that the deed in question is sex.

To illustrate how language can be misleading, there was a radio interview in the 1970s of a Mormon who was in some position of authority. They were being interviewed regarding the temple. At some point in the interview, the non-Mormon radio host asked “Is it true that marriages are consummated on the altars of the temple?” The sweet Mormon man, apparently not understanding what was meant by this question, answered “Yes, indeed. Marriages are consummated on the altars of the temple.” By which I can only assume he meant to convey that the consummate solumnization of marriage occurs as couples hold hands while kneeling at the altar.

Oy.

Why would Joseph Smith refrain from intimacy with his plural wives?

Mormon men and non-Mormons tend to presume Joseph was intimate with his wives. 1 After all, Joseph taught that plural marriage was permitted and even commanded, he had himself ceremonially united with plural wives, and he produced a revelation providing a divine rationale for intimacy with plural wives.

Yet I contend there are a series of reasons that Joseph might have refrained from actually consummating the plural marriages into which he entered.

  • First, these marriages were not recognized by the law. After Joseph’s death, Brigham Young and others went ahead and engendered children with plural wives. But prior to Joseph’s death, there are only two children born to plural wives who are known to have been the offspring of the respective polygamist husband. Two other children are likely engendered prior to Joseph’s death, after the 1844 births of the first two. Given that roughly 30 men had ostensively become polygamists in the years prior to Joseph’s death, the entire group of them appears to have largely avoided the intimacies that produce children.
  • There had been widespread illicit sexual behavior in 1841-1842. Thus women who had been intimate with the seducers might have been infected with venereal disease, independent of any spiritual effect of the illicit sexual intercourse. It would be downright foolhardy to engage in intimacy with women based solely on their word that they were pure. Venereal disease of the day was known by the terms ‘the pox’ (syphilis) and ‘the clap’ (gonhorrea). We see the concern about purity in D&C 132, along with the tacit admission that a woman might lie about being pure.
  • Emma was reportedly willing to participate as women were joined to Joseph in ceremonial marriage, but she was consistent in her opinion that plural wives were not to be gotten pregnant. The most striking report of this opposition was Emma’s conversation with Lucy Messerve, who was George Albert Smith’s plural wive. Lucy was pregnant, and Emma told her that men were not supposed to be sexually intimate with their plural wives. When Lucy claimed she didn’t know what Emma was talking about, Emma retorted, “Yes you do. It’s sticking out plain enough,” apparently referring to the fact that Lucy was visibly pregnant. At any rate, Emma’s unwillingness to agree to Joseph consummating his ceremonial marriages with women of unknowable virtue would have been a factor.

There are other possible factors that could have presuaded Joseph to refrain from personally consummating his plural marriages, but these suffice for the moment.

Summary

Joseph Smith taught plural marriage was an acceptable eternal construct. He entered into ceremonial marriages during his lifetime. He taught his followers that plural marriage was to involve engendering/conceiving progeny.

Yet there is no living proof that Joseph Smith ever engendered progeny with any of his plural wives.

There is only assertion that he engaged in the kind of behavior that can engender progeny.

Finally, there are strong reasons why he might have personnally declined to engage in intimate behavior with his plural wives, including his first wife’s opposition to such intimacy and the later uncertainty regarding whether women might have been involved in the widespread illicit intercourse of 1841-1842.

Notes:

  1. Modern Mormon women who think Joseph was intimate with his plural wives tend to be rather scandalized by the thought, and rarely argue that it must necessarily have occurred.
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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.

52 thoughts on “Was Joseph Smith a Practicing Polygamist?

  1. Brian says, “denying Joseph Smith’s involvement is not useful to the discussion.”
    Apart from the evidence, or lack thereof which you cite, why do you believe the discussion of non-consummated marriages IS useful to the discussion?

    You say that “I would not be terribly bothered if irrevocable proof arose that Joseph had consummated some of his marriages.” But what if some of your readers WERE bothered? What if some of them hang onto your writings as a last hope keeping them from doubting Joseph Smith’s divine call? Then what of they were presented with the data which has convinced Brian Hale and most other historians, unlike yourself, that also convinced them of Joseph Smith’s sexual polyandry? Then what if they perceived your writings as deceptive, trying to prop up a monogamous view of Joseph Smith which had become untenable?

    Most experts whose conclusions differ from the majority of their peers have an agenda: creationists, bigfoot believers, global warming deniers. You say you have no agenda other than finding the truth. But even if this is true, this is not why people will latch onto your work. They will latch onto it because they NEED Joseph Smith to be monogamous, unlike yourself. Are you sure you want to get involved in that? I don’t doubt your sincerity. I just think you have been thrust into an apologists role from which people like Brian Hales are running.

    This could all be avoided if you were to change your agenda from one that insisted on Joseph Smith’s monogamy, and instead used your evidence to show that Joseph Smith infrequently slept with his other wives.

  2. Hi Nate,

    Why is it not useful to critically examine the data?

    Why should I align myself with the view that Joseph infrequently slept with his wives? The more I learn about the situation in 1841-1842, the less I am inclined to suppose that Joseph did ever dip his wick into the possibly/probably polluted pond of his various plural wives. It’s one thing to forgive. It’s another thing to risk your life and the life of your family to disease and the inevitable threat of death that would have arisen from a pregnancy. And though there were various means of achieving intimacy without significant risk of engendering a child, there is not particular reason to believe that Joseph cared to gratify his flesh as the sole purpose of such intimacy.

    There are various individuals (all male, by the way) who are content to read what I write and yet assert that they believe Joseph was, after all, intimate with various women. But which of the dozens of women would one then exclude from the set of sexual partners? Why presume that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with the older women, who by virtue of their age might safely be bedded without risk of pregnancy? Why presume that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with the married women, whose offspring would be attributed to their legal husbands? The fact that children born who survived happened to be the genetic offspring of the legal father, as far as can be determined, would not preclude the possibility that Joseph was also having sex with these women. A vaguely similar case can be made for asserting Joseph had sexual relations with the young women, as one of the benefits of extreme youth would be presumed to be reduced fertility (though increased risk of fatal complications if pregnancy were to occur).

    It is not so much that I am driven by an agenda, but that as a woman I have had experiences that give me a different lens. For example, circa 1992 it was “well-known” in my singles ward (among the men) and asserted to my bishop that I had been frequently and thoroughly bedded by an individual who desperately wished to marry me. When I refused to run off to a Caribbean island and lie about whether I was still legally married, the man turned against me. This man then went to my then-husband offering to testify against me in court for the purpose of wresting custody of my child from me, providing a bag of correspondence to support his claims of full conjugal sexual involvement between the two of us. Alas, you will have to wait for the resurrection to know what that correspondence entailed, as my then-husband burned it all, after conversing with me and accepting my version of what was (and was not) true about the man’s assertions.

    I know what actually occurred. It was far more embarrassing that I might wish, but as I knew the individual who wished to bed me had been a homosexual prostitute in his youth and had gotten himself dismissed from the Navy by means of engaging in a homosexual affair, I was not about to engage in the level of intimacy that might risk my health, at least not until such time as I was legally married to the man. Just as I presume Joseph could spell pox and clap, I knew how to spell HIV/AIDS. I merely suppose that Joseph might have had a shred of self-preservation and therefore been disinclined to actually have sex with women other than Emma, under the circumstances.

    As for the matter of Fanny Alger possibly being pregnant, I remember my own mother presuming that I might have become pregnant, because my periods stopped during my late high school career due to stress. Therefore I do not accept a late, antagonistic, unadorned assertion that Fanny was pregnant as a definitive statement of fact, even while presuming that Chauncy Webb might have been sincere.

    The most likely woman to have been bedded by Joseph, in my opinion, was Louisa Beaman. Here we have the testimony of her brother-in-law that Joseph and Louisa spent time together in the same bedroom. And yet Louisa never conceived during Joseph’s lifetime, despite being his only plural wife for many months during a time when the matter of illicit intercourse had not yet been discovered and while Louisa’s family was clearly willing to be complicit in secret liaisons. After Joseph died, Louisa bore five children in five years to Brigham Young before her death of cancer. It’s quite a striking contrast. And it leads me to hypothesize that Joseph never had sex with the demonstrably fertile Louisa.

    I’m not an apologist. I mostly just think people who don’t acknowledge the possibility of a physically monogamous (though ceremonially polygamous) Joseph Smith are a bit underinformed. For all the effort they spend digging up new possibilities for Joseph to have married or bedded additional women, they completely ignored or mischaracterized the 1841-1842 sexual scandal involving John C. Bennett, William Smith, and a host of others.

    By the way, the first biography of William Smith is set to be released tomorrow. I will be interested to see if William’s biographer acknowledges the gross sexual misconduct William appears to have been involved in. I somehow doubt it, since pre-release discussion of the book casts William’s break with Brigham Young as a power struggle, calling William a beloved patriarch.

    It is impossible to prove that any individual has not been promiscuous. But just as I know I myself came short of consummating an extramarital relationship, despite assertions to the contrary, I am intrigued to find explanations for how Joseph might have come short of consummating extralegal marriages, despite assertions to the contrary.

    As always, if someone produces DNA proof that Joseph fathered a child on a woman other than Emma, I will bow to such data. However lesser data, produced by a sea of individuals (faithful and antagonistic) who all wanted to portray Joseph as sexually involved with his plural wives, does not persuade me. And I won’t pretend that it does.

  3. Hi Meg,
    I enjoy reading your articles. They sound reasonable. And Hales sounds reasonable, sort of.
    However, I do think that your conclusions would explain how Emma could deny that Joseph practiced polygamy and not be lying, even though the evidence that Joseph was sealed to more than one woman is more than obvious.
    I have long had the opinion that when Emma was talking about polygamy, she was speaking about physical, sexual thing, and not the spiritual sealings.
    I could be wrong though.
    I do have a profound respect and admiration for that lady.

    Glenn

  4. Might this be another case of where Joseph practiced the Gospel in a certain manner, but the next generation of Church leaders changed the ideas? (Various explanations are possible as to why the changes – if they were changes – would have occurred, anything from God directed the changes to one or the other got the concepts incorrect.)

    We know absolutely that after Joseph’s murder the Church went “all in” on the plural marriage idea/principle. For most who read Doctrine and Covenants 132 it sure seems to authorize plural marriage as practiced by Brigham and many others, as long as it is done through official Church channels/ordinances.

    In the end plural marriage exists in the LDS history (and in the fundamentalist fringe today) because Section 132 exists. We don’t get Section 132 (at least in that form and at that time) unless Joseph is functioning as the instrument of revelation to the Church. So whether he did, or did not, have sex with anyone besides Emma, he (or actions by the Lord through him) are the reason thousands of LDS men and women entered into plural marriages, and had children within that institution, for many many decades afterward.

    I’m not convinced that Joseph’s personal actions with respect to the matter actually change much of anything at all in terms of history and impact.

    I am very intrigued by the information you (Meg) have uncovered and strung together. I have a much better understanding of the social complexities facing the Church during Joseph’s lifetime as a result of reading your work. For that I am very grateful.

  5. Nate wrote: ” I just think you have been thrust into an apologists role from which people like Brian Hales are running.”

    Nate, I think you need to consider that history is never set in stone. There are always nuances that come about when you go back and look at new evidence or consider the existing evidence in different ways. Every year historians publish new books on the founding fathers or Abraham Lincoln. Why? There have been literally thousands of books written about these people. What new information could possible come out? Well, in fact, a LOT of new information gets published in some of these books affecting our knowledge and perspective on things that happened two centuries ago.

    Is somebody an “apologist” for George Washington if they write a new book about him, even a book that contradicts what other historians think? Of course not. People have different perspectives, and they hash out these perspectives by putting forward their theories.

    In contrast, there has been relatively little written about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, and almost all of it has said that Joseph Smith MUST have been sexually active with these other wives. Personally, I think that may very well be true, and it doesn’t affect my testimony about him as a prophet one way or another. But there is certainly room for disagreement. Meg is simply putting forth a different perspective and theory on the history, just like all of the other historians out there. This does not make her an “apologist.” It make her somebody putting forward a theory.

    I have read all of Meg’s posts, and what I almost never see is somebody contradicting her on a point of fact. I almost never see somebody saying, “well, you said that this wife was not sexually active with Joseph Smith, but have you considered this fact that contradicts your perspective…” I see a LOT of people writing like Nate to say, “why are you doing this, please shut up or change your perspective.”

    It seems to me that you have lost the argument right from the beginning if all you have to say is, in effect, “please shut up.”

  6. Thanks for the excellent summary, but I don’t think Brians’ post was even thinking about weather or not sex occoured. It seemed directed entirely toward the Snufferites and others who contend that Joseph was not involved in polygamy at all, the entirety being made up by Brigham who evidently usurped the Church and Josephs name for his own ends.

  7. I really, really want you to write the book form of these posts Meg. Didn’t I read you sent an article to a journal? Probably not because if the non-response responses here indicate anything, its that you are a threat to the established narrative that MUST be told. The irony is that the Book of Mormon is continually criticized because of supposed lack of DNA evidence, but when lack of DNA proof of Joseph Smith’s intimacy is brought up it is like a cross to vampires. Your argument seems to be, testimony is all and good, but where is the DNA evidence to back it all up? All we have is Emma’s children, while others who claimed to be from another women end up false leads. Give me DNA evidence to the contrary (and the amount of intimacy that was supposed to take place surely would have produced lots of children) and this whole argument would be over or at least modified.

  8. Geoff says: “what I almost never see is somebody contradicting her on a point of fact. I almost never see somebody saying, “well, you said that this wife was not sexually active with Joseph Smith, but have you considered this fact that contradicts your perspective…” I see a LOT of people writing like Nate to say, “why are you doing this, please shut up or change your perspective.””

    I actually did try and take Meg to task for a few of her ideas, like her insistence that Joseph would spend the night in the same room with one of his wives but not have sex with her. I suppose I am only asking “why are you doing this” because I think Brian Hales might be right that the position is unhelpful and that the evidences are “too great to ignore.”

    Meg calls her series “a faithful Joseph,” insinuating that a non-monogamous Joseph would be “unfaithful.” That is the problem. If members find Brian Hales’ evidence to be convincing, from Meg’s perspective, that makes Joseph Smith “unfaithful,” someone who “dipped his wick…into a polluted pond.” What does this say for Brigham Young and all the other polygamists of the early church?

  9. Meg:
    I never comment but I always read.
    Brian seems like a nice man. He seems pretty wed to his theory about JS’s sexual activities, which is fine. I would be okay with whatever turns out to be true.
    But.
    You are clearly adding something very valuable to the conversation. What you write is great. There are many who do no “NEED” JS to be monogamous but WANT to hear what you have to say.
    And I am a dude.
    And I read Nauvoo Polygamy.

    You rock on.

    Mark Clifford

  10. I think this whole discussion is a good illustration of the importance of our Bayesian priors. This concept is expressed by the character Sherlock Holmes: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

    If you are certain in advance that there are no such things as angelic visitations, then any explanation for the Book of Mormon, however far-fetched, is more acceptable than Joseph Smith’s explanation. I think this is why some untenable explanations still seem to have legs. The certainty that there is no such thing as angelic visitations is your Bayesian prior.

    If you think angelic visitations are possible, if unlikely, then you may conclude that Joseph Smith’s explanation is more probable than the alternatives. You may then be led to pray for confirmation and receive a witness. I think most of us are here because that was our Bayesian prior and course of action.

    In this case, if your Bayesian priors includes a conviction that Joseph Smith was a rogue, then it is wildly improbable that he would fail to take advantage of the opportunity that the doctrine of plural marriage gave him to sleep with large numbers of women. At the other extreme, if your Bayesian priors include a conviction that Joseph Smith was a saint and prophet who dearly loved Emma and loathed infidelity, then Amy’s theory becomes plausible. And, of course, each of us is going to bring a set of priors to our evaluation that falls somewhere in this range, and will form our opinions accordingly.

  11. Hi Kent,

    Who is Amy?

    My Bayesian prior is that history should make some kind of sense, that ultimately there is not merely a “he said, she said” dual history where both sides get to be right, but that there is one set of facts, though the interpretation of those facts may have been wildly different as seen from different points of view.

    The unique viewpoint I brought to this was an intent to tell the story as fiction, with the requirement that I thread that fiction through all known facts. Thus I had developed a storyline which (originally) closely resembled the status quo presumption that Joseph was bodaciously sexual with his various plural wives.

    I’m an engineer, and I follow data. Being familiar with the relatively higher fertility of pre-industrial peoples, I became very curious regarding possible causes for the lack of progeny produced by my ancestor, given her relationship with both Joseph (sealed Jun 1843) and Jonathan (wed Dec 1842) and her predictable fertility starting Feb 1845. Beyond that, I was trying to put together a trajectory for Dr. Bennett’s activities and how he came to head up such a widespread perversion of traditional mores.

    Having established the possibility that Elvira was not sexual prior to Joseph’s death, I reconsidered the stories of the other wives (reading Rough Stone Rolling, Mormon Enigma, and In Sacred Loneliness). Re-reading these three books, I found myself with convinced that the “Joseph as non-sexual partner in ceremonial plural marriages” possibility fit the data with even more certainty that when I opined this could be the case in 2009 in conversation with Jan Shipps.

    Since then I’ve been going through a refinement of that basic premise, at all times allowing fact to alter my construct where necessary. It’s a bit the way a computational solution converges over multiple iterations.

    In 2013, when I started blogging here at M*, I was still at the stage where I had hypotheses regarding some aspects of the history – hypotheses which I cast at that time as midrashic possibility. However time has forced me to reject some of these and has also solidified others. In either case, it would be appropriate for me to issue a book version of the “Faithful Joseph” series that eliminates the midrashic possibilities that have fizzled and presents the other possibilities as reasoned hypothesis, explaining more explicitly the antecedents and logic.

    As for those who presume a priori that Joseph was out for a fun lay and made all this stuff up to justify getting his giggles, the data should still be sufficient to bring them around, if they are willing to accept data.

  12. Nate writes: “I actually did try and take Meg to task for a few of her ideas, like her insistence that Joseph would spend the night in the same room with one of his wives but not have sex with her. I suppose I am only asking “why are you doing this” because I think Brian Hales might be right that the position is unhelpful and that the evidences are “too great to ignore.”

    Nate, I will try to put this in terms you may understand. You have written on M* that politically you are a liberal and perhaps a socialist. I consider liberal/left-wing politics on economics to be wrong-headed, immoral, bad for the poor, bad for the economy and doomed to failure. In fact, I consider the evidence that left-wing economics is a complete failure “too great to ignore.” You disagree. That is OK. We have a disagreement.

    Yet I have never gone to your blog asking you to stop writing things that you believe. There are several reasons for this, but the most important is: if my main argument to you is “shut up because I disagree with you” I have completely lost the argument from the beginning. The way you win arguments is through reasoned, logical statements intended to win people over and convince them. The way you lose arguments is by telling people to stop making their arguments because you disagree with them.

    So, if you would like to convince Meg that you are right, my suggestion is to look at what she called her “data” and refute it. But I have news for you: you may spend hours doing this and she may still not be convinced by your argument. But I guarantee you that you will convince her of nothing by telling her to stop making arguments, and in fact reasonable readers will come to the conclusion that you have no actual arguments to make and therefore we should simply ignore what you have to say.

  13. Here’s the conundrum. Some of us (e.g., me) are bored with the topic of Joseph and polygamy. This is, for example, why you aren’t seeing me continue the series of posts about Joseph’s plural wives.

    On the other hand, this post is the most retweeted M* post for quite awhile.

    Also, I recently was put in contact with an individual whose entire family is bailing from the Church over this matter of believing that Joseph was seducing women left and right (married women, 14-year-olds, etc.). I heard of yet another family, stalwarts in their ward, that has stopped coming to Church because of the polygamy issue. When I was in Nauvoo at the temple, a temple missionary was downright thrilled to learn I was me, because of the large number of her friends who are struggling with this matter.

    Those I hear telling me to shut up are people who fundamentally reject the idea that Joseph was a good people (e.g., exmos) and those who have “made peace” with the idea that Joseph seduced women.

    Meanwhile there are numerous others who are glad that I’m posting about these things (including exmos who are happy to hear discussion of strange sexual habits in Nauvoo as well as faithful folks who are happy to have an alternate to the sordid presumption (a Joseph who seduced women who were married, his wards, unusually young and did so in a manner that prevented or eliminated pregnancy) that is the current status quo).

  14. I might believe Nate’s protestations better if he didn’t lump Meg in with “creationists, bigfoot believers, global warming deniers” (the last one is particularly bad, as it was coined as a rhetorical move to equate climate skeptics with holocaust deniers).

    It’s quite bad form, and poisons the discussion from the get go. If someone made that move in a discussion, I would consider it over with that person and ignore them, because it’s clear they aren’t actually interested in any sort of discussion. At that point, it’s all about signalling what “tribe” you belong to, in order to get praise from that tribe.

  15. Geoff: “You disagree. That is OK. We have a disagreement. Yet I have never gone to your blog asking you to stop writing things that you believe.”

    You misrepresent my comments. I never asked Meg to stop writing anything. I thought the point of a blog was to share a perspective and invite discussion. I challenged Meg’s approach said I thought that if she changed her position to “Joseph Smith rarely had sex with his other wives” that it would be more tenable. If I said anything that was aggressive or disrespectful, I apologise. I know I have an addictive urge to try to be an “enfant terrible,” which is why I appreciate being on moderation here. If you feel my comments are inappropriate, I’m happy for you to keep them in moderation. Put me in the automatic spam filter if you don’t want to bother with me. I’ll eventually get the hint and leave permanently. But I enjoy the engagement here, and I think you could benefit from my counterpoint once in awhile.

  16. Does anyone else even talk seriously about the secret seducers? I really don’t know because I haven’t read much about it. This seems like a hugely important element of what was going on in the community, and it’s referred to in Doctrine and Covenants, but it seems like Meg’s theory is the only one that takes it seriously as a motivational component. Anyway, like I said, I wouldn’t know what anybody else has written, but Meg’s willingness to talk about the seducers having a huge impact on the situation makes more sense. So I’m curious, from those who know the landscape, what do the ‘others’ say about the seducers. Do they give it any notice?

  17. Hi Nate,

    I appreciate your comments. You may be getting reaction that isn’t properly yours, but relates to a comment sent to the editor, to the effect that one individual is burned out by my posts on polygamy. And Brian’s statement (to which I was responding) indicated that “denying Joseph Smith’s involvement is not useful to the discussion.”

    On the other hand, there are clearly some folks here who are pleased that I post and want to hear what I say.

    So my question is, why would you consider Sarah Peak Noon to have conceived a child by Heber C. Kimball rather than being a rescued victim of the Strikers. What about Sister Noon leads you to assert that she wasn’t a victim. Because if Sarah was a victim, then only two of the many dozens of plural wives gave birth to children engendered by legitimate polygamists, and we know one of these two was threatened with excommunication because of the fact of getting his plural wife pregnant, leading to the possibility that the other one was also threatened with formal discipline.

    Thus I am evolving to a position that during Joseph’s lifetime, there was a tactical ban on men having sex with their plural wives, despite the doctrinal approval for intimacy to occur at some future time.

  18. Hi Lucinda,

    The common presumption is that all sex in Nauvoo was a variation on Joseph’s polygamy. Bennett is presumed to have merely misunderstood Joseph’s intent, but been fully in Joseph’s confidence. The list of polygamists assembled by Gary Bergera includes at least 2-3 men I cite as being Strikers rather than approved polygamists. Most people who know about William Smith presume that he merely had an alternate understanding of the sealing power. No one to date other than me has published the fact that Catherine Fuller was bedded by non-Mormon Jacob Backenstos. Mary Clift’s confession to being seduced by Gustavus Hills is explained by descendants of Mary Clift as being a cover up for her polygamous marriage to Theodore Turley – “hiding” polygamy behind a screen of alleged seduction.

  19. I appreciate the search for evidence and the idea history should make sense. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I differ from Meg on the following- if someone claimed they had found the DNA evidence that Joseph Smith (the Prophet) had descendants from his other wives other than Emma, I probably wouldn’t believe them. This is because of what I have felt about the subject, and then what my subsequent reading (mostly Meg’s writings) have shown me- not just that there is a way to believe, somehow, that Joseph was faithful to Emma in very deed (I mean that he never consummated his marriages with any other of his wives), but that it squares with all the known facts, and, for me, an added bonus of that it explains certain things about the history.
    I was briefly really concerned that Joseph Smith had been sealed to another man’s wife- and this, (if I remember right), when he (the other man, not Joseph Smith) was on a Church mission. I mean, it still is a bit strange to me.
    To be honest, I can’t decide what picture of Joseph that people are asking us to believe when we believe the ‘status quo’, I mean- believe, according to a currently popular view, that Joseph consummated his marriages (sealings) to at least some of his other wives. There remains a moral dimension to the question of whether Joseph really did that, which still has importance to me- especially when I am thinking of it all in the context of Joseph being the instrument of revealing the true Church and the Book of Mormon.
    People sometimes explain it by saying that Joseph Smith was a polygamist in a way similar to Abraham. I don’t see it exactly that way. (I have read D&C 132) I think Brigham Young or some of the other early church leaders seemed to have married and carried out polygamy more similar to Abraham’s polygamy to my view (I mean having acknowledged wives- more publicly- while I realize there was tremendous pressure from the government against polygamy after a while in the mountain home of the Saints in Deseret, which could easily lead to secrecy). I see Joseph Smith the Prophet as revealing the correct sealing ordinance, but I’ll just be honest. Secret wifery and marrying other men’s wives (while these men are still alive) is not ok by me. Granted, it is not my judgment that Joseph had to live up to. This for me is almost completely mitigated by the fact (as I see it) that he never consummated these marriages. At least that seems to square with known facts, and I take it as a fact because it makes the rest make sense.
    I don’t mean to accuse the Prophet, I just wanted to be honest on what is my understanding of sexual morality is. (Which understanding of morality came from my ancestors raised in the church that was organized at first by the instrumentality of Joseph Smith). People can say that one’s particular viewpoint of morality does not matter in this type of inquiry. There may be shifts in morals, etc.. But when it comes to my belief in the restoration, I do not simply enjoy it or am awestruck by it, like I am awestruck or enjoy the music of Mozart– I have heard disparagements on the character of Mozart in regards to sexual morality- but I can separate the two and enjoy the music. I am not so sure that I could do the same with a ‘prophet’- separate the man, if he was not keeping the law of chastity, with his message. In fact, I believe that we’re not supposed to (‘beware of false prophets…’).
    Anyway, this is not to say that the moral dimension is to be discussed preeminently, or even that it is the most interesting. Perhaps there is too much disagreement on what would be immoral for ‘a Prophet’ to do- as long as he is the only one on earth with those keys, etc. (I mean as explained in D&C 132). I think that, if that is the case that there is such confusion on morality, it is unfortunate.
    P.S. I revere Joseph Smith as a Prophet- and with this long of a comment on this difficult of a subject, I hope I have not made it sound otherwise by any typo or other slip or mistake.

  20. This seems almost a testament to our ability to explain away different pieces of evidence all pointing to the same conclusion using varying rationale for each.

    Out of curiosity, why do you accept that Alvin was the Son of Joseph Sr. and not someone else?

    The same approach you use to dismiss evidence using tangential historical possibilities is just as possible with so many others.

    The simple explanation. Emma was hurt and lied. Joseph was troubled about following through with God’s will because Emma was hurt so maybe he lied (though to be honest this aspect of their relationship is “None Of Our Business”). The women he was married to told the truth about their sexual relationship. When God spoke of eternal lives being linked to plural marriage for those who were commanded, he meant it, and sexual relationships were a necessary component. And not every instance of sex results in a baby, not even most.

  21. Hi Jared,

    I didn’t say that if some random person claimed there was DNA evidence, I would believe them. I am saying that if a respected scientist analyzed DNA data and found that there was a significant likelihood that Joseph was the father of some child by a woman other than Emma, I would be intrigued to understand.

    I think that the more we know about the details of Nauvoo, the more we will appreciate the terrible challenges that faced Joseph and, upon Joseph’s death, faced Brigham Young.

    Given an earlier comment about Hales possibly responding to Snuffer and others, I did a bit of research into what Snuffer has written. Apparently Snuffer says something vaguely similar to what I’ve written, that Joseph was faithful to Emma but sealed himself to women for the purpose of providing them a way to obtain celestial glory for themselves and their families.Snuffer, however, appears to think that all Mormon leaders after Joseph allowed themselves to be variously misled and pressured, until the modern Church could be seen as significantly distanced from the original restoration presided over by Joseph Smith.

    I don’t agree with the idea that the Church has significantly distanced itself from the original restoration. I think we may currently be going through a culling, something similar to how a developing human has periods of time when the brain sheds neurons as the organism prepares for the next stage of development. This would be terrible if there were no resurrection or posthumous method of rectifying apostasy. But as Nephi hoped (1 Ne 33:11, I think), there is a possibility that all mankind will (eventually) return to Christ and live, even if individuals are parted from Christ in this life.

    One particularly interesting story involves Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde, wife of Orson Hyde. My interpretation is that Joseph reached out to her for assistance in April 1842 to help determine which young women had been corrupted by the Strikers. Nancy is the one who reached out to Nancy Rigdon. This, I believe, is why there is a cryptic note about Nancy Marinda and April 1842, a note which some have interpreted as Nancy Marinda being sealed to Joseph in April 1842, while her husband was still on his mission.

    In 1843, when Orson Hyde was back in Nauvoo, Joseph may have tested Orson and Nancy as he did the other apostles. But in this one case, Nancy appears to have decided that she ought to be sealed to Joseph for eternity, possibly because she was likely one of the women Joseph was prompted to marry in the New and Everlasting Covenant in the Kirtland days. The children Nancy conceived during this time, when she was legally Orson’s wife and ceremonially Joseph eternal bride, have been proven to be the biological offspring of Orson Hyde.

    In 1869, there was a significant effort to collect the stories of the men and women who knew first hand of Joseph’s teachings and actions regarding polygamy. I therefore find it significant that it was in 1870 that Nancy Marinda Johnson divorces Orson Hyde. Their reproductive time together had come to a close. Orson’s service to the Church called for him to leave the 17th ward, where Nancy Marinda was serving as Relief Society President. The reminder that Nancy Marinda was Joseph’s eternal bride may have contributed to the feeling that there was no longer a reason to remain legally tied to Orson. Which I personally find to be sad.

  22. Hi DQ,

    I’m confused why you are bringing Alvin’s parentage into this discussion. As Alvin didn’t live to engender children, I don’t see your suggestion that Alvin could have been the result of a NPE to be germane. (NPE is DNA analyst-speak for Non Paternity Event, where the legal father isn’t the biological father).

    Do you acknowledge the presence of a significant cadre of men who seduced women circa 1841-1842 and a similarly significant cadre of women who were the victims of the seducers? Do you acknowledge that among this cadre of men, there were accusations that some had contracted the pox (and possibly the clap)?

    If you don’t acknowledge the seducers, their victims, and the accusations of venereal disease, I presume you have never bothered reading the Times and Seasons articles in 1844 where a portion of these things are published.

  23. A lot of talk about Joseph being faithful to Emma. I guess it’s more comfortable than imaging Joseph being faithful to God and that sometimes rare but nevertheless uncomfortable reality that there could be a time when you must choose God over your spouse.

    Joseph chose God and continuing revelation but was clearly troubled with this decision as he knew Emma’s mind was not united.

    The subsequent prophets choose God and continuing revelation.

    Emma did not on this issue, despite being as Christian as you can be on many others. I feel like the point of these posts it’s as much to redeem Emma as Joseph – but Joseph never needed his actions explained by us as we already have revelation explaining his actions.

    The reality of plural marriage stands as an indictment in one regard to Emma and the modern cult of Emma worship creates a cognitive dissonance with the cult of Joseph worship when you consider one or the other.

    Kudos to Sister Meg for continuing to push the possibility they are both truthful together, but for most of us the truth is closer to what Brigham taught, and not Emma on this issue.

  24. Ah, but DQ, you dodge my question regarding the existence of a large cadre of seducers and victims.

    And I agree with you, that if Joseph did not consummate any of his plural marriages, then he may have been being disobedient. But in this disobedience, he was not alone, if we look at the significant lack of reproduction among the other polygamously married folks prior to Joseph’s death (including Brigham Young).

  25. Alvin was simply a throw away point that I feel you could make with your frequent historical story telling. You insist on yielding with new DNA evidence which might as well apply to Alvin also. Any historical personal statement of evidence is cleverly explained away.

    You dismiss the testimony of subsequent prophets, distort the testimony of individuals involved as either noble liars (temple lot), dismiss the first person witness of others, when they all point to the same conclusion – and then do so using terribly crass language. It’s flippant and disrespectful of those actually involved.

    I don’t care that you write, enjoy it and like seeing your summaries for the bits I can glean. But it’s just frustrating to see someone so smart put on the blinders and insist the world is flat despite evidence to the contrary; which you can summarize so well, and then turn around and dismiss with argument that no judge or jury would accept.

    There’s an idea. Let’s see see your story rewritten a la Hugh B Browns famed talk on his mock legal brief for Joseph and revelation, with a counter brief by Hales. Would make a great book.

  26. No dodge. I agree the sexual mess was obviously related to those who had a vague idea of Joseph’s teachings (or maybe even knew them for all I know) but we’re unworthy of them.

    Btw, my reply about the crass language was in view that maybe Joseph loved those women as his wife, maybe (likely) had consummated the marriage in what I consider a God like act of procreation (perhaps unsuccessful), and you use language which belittles the act and those involved.

    It’s almost the equivalent of the modern day chewed gum analogy applied to Joseph’s wives.

  27. Hi Dq,

    I’m looking at the concern Emma obviously had, expressed in D&C 132, about women who might claim to be pure but who weren’t.

    Joseph loved everyone. In light of what happened in 1841-1842, it’s entirely astounding that he only overtly kicks John C. Bennett out of the Church.

    I think if you actually read and follow Brian Hales’ reasoning regarding Bennett et al, he indicates (and I agree) that Bennett actually wasn’t acting based on a knowledge of Joseph’s teachings regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant. Bennett’s first description of anything truly resembling the New and Everlasting Covenant comes in late 1843, at a time when former colleagues and possible correspondents who were still in Nauvoo had been exposed to D&C 132.

    Each of the women who was sealed to Joseph was a wonderful and precious woman. I just find that several of them share characteristics with the women who we know were seduced by Bennett and his followers. And I don’t have the highest respect for the intelligence/savvy of a few of the younger ones, at least during the time when Joseph was alive.

    You are absolutely entrenched in the traditional view of Joseph and plural marriage. You have continually made that clear. And you are welcome to continue to make that clear. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.

  28. “Apparently Snuffer says something vaguely similar to what I’ve written, that Joseph was faithful to Emma but sealed himself to women for the purpose of providing them a way to obtain celestial glory for themselves and their families.”

    How would those women Joseph married for just time (and not for eternity) fit into this perspective? One of my ancestors, a widow who’s late husband was a friend of Joseph’s, became one of Joseph’s plural wives. She is now sealed to her first husband. Wasn’t she already entitled to celestial glory based on her first marriage to a worthy LDS man? What reason would Joseph have for marrying her?

  29. Hi Anonforthis,

    It really depends on which widow you are talking about.

    Given that you say the lady in question was the widow of a man who had been a friend of Joseph’s, I’m presuming you are talking about Delcena Johnson, whose husband Lyman Sherman was called to be an apostle in the late 1830s, but died before learning he was called to be an apostle.

    Recall that in 1841-1842 there were sexual predators. I suspect that Joseph reached out to protect Delcena specifically because of his great love for Sherman Lyman. This was a level of protection he did not extend to other widows, specifically Catherine Laur Fuller and Philinda Merrick, widows whose husbands were killed in the Haun’s Mill massacre. In the case of Catherine, we know she fell victim to the seducers. In May 1842, Catherine gave extensive testimony naming the various men (Mormon and non-Mormon) who had both bedded her and attempted to bed her. In the case of Philinda, William Clayton’s journal suggests that she was likely also a victim of illicit intercourse.

    I don’t think you are talking about Martha McBride, whose husband, Bishop Vinson Knight, died on July 31, 1842. Martha was not sealed to Vinson during her lifetime. Based on an entry in William Clayton’s journal, it appears Vinson might have been involved in sexual misconduct. I’m certain descendants have performed proxy work sealing Martha to Vinson, but Martha was never sealed to Vinson during her lifetime.

    Is the ancestor you are referring to someone else?

  30. Delcena Johnson. I’m impressed you figured that out, especially as, according to what I’ve been able to find at least, not a lot is known about her marriage to Joseph Smith (in fact, the only record seems to be a very brief note in her brother’s journal).

    I just found out about this line a few months ago, thanks to an email from Family Search regarding her first husband. I had to dig a bit online to find out the Joseph Smith/polygamy connection. The whole thing has definitely made me more interested in genealogy. Also interesting, Delcena’s mother married Joseph Smith’s uncle, John Smith, later in life–meaning that Delcena was a step-cousin to Joseph Smith, and as far as church records go (specifically, what shows up on FamilySearch), Delcena and Joseph are actually cousins. No blood relation, obviously, but still it’s pretty odd.

  31. Hi Anonforthis,

    You have to be very careful when interpreting what “marriage” meant in Nauvoo. Brigham Young had a policy that any woman wishing to be sealed to her deceased husband in the Nauvoo temple in 1845/46 would be married for time to the man who stood proxy for the dead husband.

    Thus I suspect that Delcena Johnson’s mother was being sealed to her dead husband, and John Smith was merely standing as proxy. This policy would produce the odd phenomenon at times of a woman with a legal husband sealed by proxy to a deceased Church leader (e.g., Joseph Smith) and married for time to the proxy. The proxy “husband” was sometimes functionally a husband, but often he was just responsible to make sure the widow was taken care of – a glorified home teacher, if you will.

    If you live near Salt Lake City, you can go to the Family History Library and view microfilm of the Nauvoo temple records. I’ll bet you’ll find that John Smith was only married to Delcena’s mother for time after he had stood proxy for Delcena’s father.

  32. Also, given that the “proof” of Delcena’s “tacitly admitted” relationship with Joseph was merely inferred by her brother, it is also possible that Delcena was merely under Joseph’s protection and never actually married to him in any sense. I’d have to research the situation with Almera, but I suspect Joseph’s alleged “marriage” to Almera had to do with gaining intel on the Kirtland Stake Presidency, as Almera’s sister was wife of Almon Babbit.

    There was a unusual letter from Kirtland written by Lester Brooks, Almon’s counselor. The letter was published in the Times and Seasons in November 1842, though instead of Lester, they attributed the letter to “Justin” Brooks. At the end of the letter, Lester asks that his particular regards be passed to Elvira Annie Cowles. Elvira is my ancestor, and it appears to me that this letter from Lester Brooks prompted Joseph to marry Elvira to Jonathan Holmes, with Jonathan effectively being a pretend husband. Others have presumed that Elvira and Jonathan became engaged months earlier due to a poem Eliza Snow had written in September 1842, but that poem was altered and appears to have originally been written to celebrate the eternal union of Jonathan and his dead wife, Marietta Carter [Holmes]. The only reason I can think of for Eliza to know Jonathan would “earn” the right to be sealed to his dead wife is if Eliza, not Elvira, was originally supposed to have been the woman sheltered by a public marriage to Jonathan. I believe Eliza’s November 1842 poems were written in response to the fall and miscarriage Eliza is widely rumored to have suffered. With the miscarriage, the need for Eliza to be protected by a public marriage went away. And for some reason, Elvira then was perceived as being under sufficient threat to warrant Jonathan being married to her instead.

    Anyway, lots of interesting connections.

  33. You’ve convinced me to do some more research–I’m currently reading Benjamin F. Johnson’s autiobiography (brother to Delcena). It’s fascinating to get this kind of uncorrelated look into the early church. I’m even more convinced now, after reading a portion of this autobiography, that Joseph was a practicing polygamist (Joseph also married Benjamin’s sister Almira, and according to Benjamin, soon after the sealing, Joseph “was at my house again, where he occupied my Sister Almira’s room and bed…”). In any case, thanks for the push to spend some more time on this. It’s certainly a fascinating time in the history of the church.

  34. Also, regarding the sealing between John Smith and Delcena’s mother: “My mother having finally separated from my father, by the suggestion or counsel of the Prophet, she accepted of and was sealed by him to Father John Smith.” Delcena’s mother had been separated from her father (who was still alive) for a long time, and although the father had moved nearby and saw the family frequently for much of this time, he never joined the church. So the sealing of Delcena’s mother to John Smith seems to be accurate, and not as a proxy.

    Benjamin also lists both sisters as being polygamous wives of Joseph, in a list that includes Eliza R. Snow and a few others.

    Whew. Thought I’d have to actually go somewhere (Family History Library) to figure out what was going on. Isn’t the internet great?

  35. I am absolutely certain that Joseph wanted certain observers to believe that he was a practicing polygamist. Which is why I don’t get upset that Brigham and Heber C. Kimball demonstrably started having children with plural wives after Joseph’s death. As a descendant of 7 women who were married to “polygamists,” half of whom bore children as the plural wife of a practicing polygamist, I wouldn’t exist in my current form had polygamy not occurred.

    But again, I ask for the coherent explanation of why there are so few children engendered by polygamists during Joseph’s lifetime, none of whom can be proven to have been engendered by Joseph Smith.

  36. Ah, cross posting.

    I googled up a history of Ezekiel Johnson – there’s a pretty nice summary at I Love Family History 22: Brief History of Ezekiel Johnson.

    Ezekiel lived in John Snider’s home around the time Mary Heron would have been “frigged,” so by temporal and spatial proximity, I wonder if he might have gotten involved in the illicit intercourse. He never joined the Church and was rather salty about the whole matter. Though he wasn’t noted as an officer in the Nauvoo Legion, he later executed a one-man defense of Nauvoo as the Saints were evacuating. In 1848, someone realized he had been the one defending Nauvoo, and he was fatally abused.

    Though Ezekiel was around, he and his wife (Julia Hills – apparently no close relation to Gustavus Hills of Mary Clift fame) were separated.

    The tables in George Smith’s book Nauvoo Polygamy only indicate that the sealing between Julia Hills [Johnson] and John Smith occurred “<Oct 21 1843" – at this late date, the sealing was likely similar to the Ruth Vose [Sayers] sealing, with a woman wishing to receive the ordinance of being sealed in the New and Everlasting Covenant but married to a man who was not similarly willing/able to be sealed in the New and Everlasting Covenant.

  37. Either Joseph received true revelations from the Lord or he made it up. If he received true revelations we can assume that he should have made every effort to obey those revelations. If your hypothesis that he resisted fully engaging in plural marriage by failing to consummate the marriages is true, we can assume he yielded to some of many pressures, particularly those exercised by Emma, and failed to carry out full realisation of the revelation on polygamy. This does not make him a fallen prophet. It puts him in company with Peter, Jonah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Lehi, and other prophets of whom we know of instances of failing at some point to fully obey. I am grateful for the Restoration only second to my gratitude for the life and Atonement of my Savior, who was the only one to walk the earth and do His Father’s will without error.

  38. There are a few reasons that I think Joseph largely (or entirely) refrained from engaging in sexuality with his plural wives:

    0) Joseph was sympathetic with temperance, as shown by the Word of Wisdom. Circa 1832, the temperance movement extended to advocate sexual temperance, even within existing marriages. This was a response to the 1832 Cholera epidemic that affected New York and Pennsylvania, where cholera deaths were believed to be caused by God’s wrath at sin. This was before germ theory, so it was more direct than even the modern believe that AIDS was God’s response to sin. In the 1830s people literally believed that God was killing these people because they were “sinning” and so the response was to tell even married people to refrain from sexuality with their legal spouses except for the express purpose of engendering a child in an appropriate season (e.g., two years after the last kid was engendered).

    1) There were so many wives. If Joseph was actually being a full husband in any sense to these women, it doesn’t make sense that he contracted so many covenant relationships.

    2) We know that some of the “marriages” were explicitly only to provide a woman a way to be sealed in the New and Everlasting Covenant.

    3) The “proofs” of sexuality were produced specifically to refute Joseph Smith III and others who asserted that Joseph Smith never taught plural marriage, first the Joseph Smith III mission to Utah circa 1869 and then the Temple Lot trial in 1893. This is a period by which fully-sexual plural marriage was well-entrenched in Mormon society, likely altering the schema for those giving testimony.

    4) The “proofs” fall far short of “proof,” being inferred in some cases from entirely tenuous documentation. Mary Heron is a prime example of how a doubly ambiguous document has been stretched to construe a sexual relationship. Women’s statements that they were indeed Joseph’s wife or that they were sealed for time and all eternity have been interpreted as necessitating conjugal relations despite the complete lack of offspring from the supposed sexuality.

    5) There was a contemporary sexual scandal, and any sexual activity on Joseph’s part risked (even more) confusion between his teachings and the sexual scandal.

    6) Other men involved in Joseph’s version of polygamy were (for the most part) avoiding procreation prior to Joseph’s death.

    7) Emma explicitly clarified to intimates (e.g., Lucy Messerve) that plural wives were not to be conceiving children, which implies that sexual relations were not to be occurring.

    The case of Benjamin F. Johnson is interesting in this light. A key purpose for Joseph involving Benjamin was to allow God to convince Benjamin regarding the New and Everlasting Covenant. A secondary purpose was to convince Almera, who was a widow. Benjamin received a strong confirmation that plural marriage in the context of the New and Everlasting Covenant was correct during his dreaded interview with Almera.

    Benjamin’s subsequent accounts sound authoritative, but in one he claims that Hyrum Smith performed the ceremony uniting Almera with Joseph and in another he claims that William Clayton performed the ceremony. This inconsistency leads me to be less sure of other facts her relates.

    Given Benjamin’s new-found testimony of the New and Everlasting Covenant, and given the fact that he now knew Joseph and his sister, Almera, had entered into Covenant, whenever Joseph visited Ramus/Macedonia, Benjamin would put Joseph up in Almera’s room, a room that apparently only had one bed. Thus Benjamin testifies time and again about Joseph rooming with Almera and sharing her bed.

    However we have the phenomenon of a fertile woman (based on later procreation) in the same room/bed as a virile man (based on procreative history with Emma Hale) accompanied by a complete lack of progeny. More than a year after Joseph’s death, Almera marries a man named Barton. Even though Almera was well into her thirties by the time she marries Barton, she proceeds to bear numerous children. Yet during the year when she was sealed to Joseph, a time during which her brother was constantly putting Joseph in her room and bed (behind closed doors), no children were conceived.

  39. Whether or not Joseph was sexually abstinent due to a proposed belief that he followed the ideas of a temperance movement that discouraged all but reproductive sex in the era the Church was founded is really tangential to the issue of his behavior towards the women he was sealed to. For that matter you seem to imply that the Word of Wisdom was a product of his belief in Temperance as opposed to being revelation, an impression I doubt you intended. It has long been common to regard marriages in which no conjugal relations occur as not being real marriages and is a primary cause for anullment. The lack of definitive proof that Joseph had conjugal (reproductive) relations with Emma would indicate that whatever his motives, he was reluctant to fully commit to the requirement of the revelation. We will likely know the truth if we still care about the issue when all the books of life are opened. Meanwhile your work may prove a useful counter to those who portray him as a libidinous scoundrel.

  40. Hi Pat,

    I said Joseph was sympathetic with temperance, or at least that the content of the Doctrine and Covenants wasn’t so foreign to his essential beliefs that he had a difficult time receiving that revelation.

    As an example of how hard it can be to actually bring forth a revelation that is not within one’s prior realm of belief, I submit as evidence the many years between Joseph receiving and translating the words of God regarding the salvation of all mankind and even the first vision (of Alvin in heaven) suggesting that there was a way for the U baptized dead to be saved, much less the 1840 months of pondering before he was finally able to be inspired to proclaim that it is possible to perform proxy baptisms on behalf of the dead.

    A Joseph who was personally benefitted by trafficking in tobacco, tea, coffee, and/or alcohol would have had a much more difficult time receiving the Word of Wisdom. A Joseph who was a paid minister would have had a much harder time following the example of the Book of Mormon, where the priests ministered without being paid. A Joseph who was party to the cane sugar industry, so thoroughly rooted in slavery, would have had a much harder time proclaiming that all are alike unto God, including ordaining a Black man to the priesthood (Elijah Abel) and offering to seal a Black woman to him as adopted daughter (at least I presume Emma would not have made that offer to Jane Manning without Joseph’s knowledge).

    You have known me for many years, so you know that I pay a true engineer, willing to follow the data no matter how much I’d rather not arrive at the logical conclusion.

    The “logical” conclusion most arrive at is that Joseph had sex with dozens of women, sometimes without any indication that any ceremony had occurred (e.g. In the case of Mary Heron). The lack of children is chalked up to either 1) an unusual spate of infant mortality and miscarriage, with lots of women failing to note the pregnancies leading to infant mortality and miscarriage, 2) a talented abortionist or three who magically removed fetuses surgically without the 70% maternal mortality later demonstrated for such procedures prior to adoption of modern medical hygiene, 3) a Joseph who had a highly effective form of birth control and used it, or 4) a stunning lack of fertility/virility, typical of modern chlamydia-ravaged populations, followed immediately after Joseph’s death by extreme fertility and virility (on the part of men who didn’t engender children prior to Joseph’s death with their plural wives).

    There is no reason to doubt that Joseph loved (agape) the women to whom he was sealed. Nor is there any particular reason to suspect he wouldn’t have been willing to love (eros) his plural wives had circumstances been different. But given the extremely disturbing sexual chaos remaining in the wake of Dr. John Bennett’s exploits, I don’t see Joseph’s failure to consummate covenant marriages as a strategic failure, but a tactical decision that he didn’t have a chance to revisit before death removed him from leadership.

    By the way, I think you meant to use the name Almera rather than Emma in your comment.

  41. RE: Joseph Smith and temperance –

    from one of my favorite early church writings, “A Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the Devil” by Parley P. Pratt (published in the New York Herald on January 1, 1844)
    http://mldb.byu.edu/pppratdi.htm
    —–
    [29] Devil: Well, Mr. Smith, we have talked a long while, and are agreed at last–you are a noble and generous fellow, and would not bring a railing accusation against even a poor old Devil, nor cheat him one cent. Come, it is a warm day, and I feel as though it is my treat. Let us go down to Mammy Brewer’s cellar and take something to drink.

    [30] Smith: Agreed, Mr. Devil, you appear very generous now. (They enter the cellar together)

    [31] Devil: Good morning, Mrs. Brewer, I make you acquainted with my good friend, Mr. Smith, the prophet.

    [32] Landlady: Why Mr. Devil, is that you? Sit down, you’re tired; but you don’t say that this is Mr. Smith, your mortal enemy? I am quite surprised; what will you have, gentlemen, for if you can drink together, I think all the world ought to be friends.

    [33] Devil: As we are both temperance men and ministers, I think perhaps a glass of spruce beer apiece will be alright; what say you Mr. Smith?
    —-

  42. Late to the party here, but had to say something. I’ve never read anything positing this before, let alone backing it up with heavy analysis. What a tremendous theory, Meg–both in scope and conclusion. Your independent thinking and willingness to defend your points rigorously is inspiring. I would love to see how far you continue with this. 🙂

    And what an object lesson in facts vs. interpretation. In that spirit, I can’t help but respond to John Swenson Harvey,

    John, you say:

    “I’m not convinced that Joseph’s personal actions with respect to the matter actually change much of anything at all in terms of history and impact.” Because, as you say, “the Church went ‘all in’ on the plural marriage idea/principle.” A principle, you say, would not have existed without Joseph’s “functioning as the instrument of revelation to the Church.”

    I want to refute the logic of your argument.
    1) To the extent anyone after Joseph used ideas in D&C 132 *against God’s will* as an excuse to be intimate with someone else the way God condemns David and Solomon as having done in Jacob 4:27-30, why would Joseph be to blame? I think he obviously wouldn’t be.
    2) To the extent anyone after Joseph DID follow D&C 132 according to God’s will, then how is Joseph “to blame?”

    I think you’d have to argue that D&C 132 was not in fact inspired or have a problem with God’s will (if you were granting that it was God’s will) when you believed that someone was in fact following it. So your argument is unpersuasive to me.

    But let’s step outside how you see things, John. I suspect that for many, granting a fraction of Meg’s findings could radically bolster their faith.

    Here’s how. If Joseph was truly never sexually intimate with anyone besides Emma,*when he very easily could have been (and was actually married to them!),* then it could bolster his moral authority as a messenger/prophet as opposed to someone trying to take advantage. For those hung up on Joseph Smith’s polygamy, what would it say of Joseph Smith’s character?

    Enter Jacob 4:27-30. Whatever you make of D&C 132 in terms of allowing for sexual intimacy in polygamous unions, the Lord in this passage clearly states that He is free (though an a very exceptional basis) to command others to have more children outside of monogamous unions.

    So to the extent that Joseph’s sexual fidelity to Emma strengthens someone’s testimony him as a prophet, and therefore of God’s word as found in Jacob 4, it opens a door that might have been closed on whether any post-Joseph polygamous unions could in fact have been in keeping with revelation.

    I should add that Jacob 27-29 makes clear that past biblical leaders misused their authority and entered into polygamy against God’s will, and that the Lord thoroughly condemns such. So it would be very surprising to me to not find examples of such misuse in Latter-day Saint history.

    However, if Meg’s mishradic take on Joseph’s polygamy goes as far as to radically reverse the conclusion of what even scholars like Brian Hales within the Church are arriving at–absent mishradic evaluation–it’s got to make you wonder what conclusion-reversing insights might be hiding in post-JS times that could re-frame much of what one might be prone to condemning in post-JS polygamy as we know it today.

  43. Hi FG,

    Thanks for the comments –

    Here’s a string of logic:

    1) God generally condemns polygyny, with the ever-present caveat that He is free to command his followers to break His laws at times (e.g., the request that Laban be killed, the commandment to Saul to kill all (as in “Obedience is better than sacrifice”)).

    2) Medieval Christianity messed up marriage circa 1052 to achieve political purposes (the Pope wanted to destroy the power of the otherwise devout Germanic tribes, power strengthened by intermarriage). This redefinition was the first step of distancing marriage from the purpose of making parents responsible for their children, no matter how many wives a man might have. And you thought gay marriage was the first attack on the family… Consider, prior to the redefinition of family that began with the 1050’s impediment of affinity, there were no bastards. How in the heck can a *child* be illegitimate, anyway?

    3) God wanted/needed to restore the power to seal children to parents, united all mankind through all generations (the turning the children to the fathers and fathers to the children schtick that is found in all books of scripture canonized by Mormons). In order to overcome the stupidity of classing some children as “illegitimate” and the possible stupidity of living people trying to decide which of the wives a paternal ancestor was to be “sealed” to, God requires Joseph to re-institute the understanding that there are no illegitimate children via instituting polygamy.

    4) Joseph fails to obey in the time and way the Lord demands. The debacle with Fanny Alger, in this construct, is an aborted attempt to obey, at least ceremonially. But whether the union with Alger is consummated or not, Alger’s departure from the Smith home and eventually from Mormon circles definitely constitutes a massive failure in what it appears was intended to be an eternal union (per Don Bradley’s analysis, published in The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol I).

    5) God keeps chastening Joseph. The Kirtland Banking scandal, Missouri, Liberty Jail, etc. God inspires Joseph’s father to pronouce a final patriarchal blessing telling Joseph he won’t (can’t) die until “all has been fulfilled.” Which if you or I had been commanded to restore plural marriage, would be rather a horrifying and tear-inducing deathbed blessing/curse. BTW, Joseph did cry, saying “Will I? Will I?”, so the distress doesn’t appear to have been solely due to his father’s imminent death.

    6) Joseph continues to resist. But he does start to talk to a few trusted folks (Huntington, possibly Noble, possibly Elvira Cowles).

    7) Bennett becomes prominent. Perhaps Bennett had even confided that he was still married and was seeking a divorce. Joseph blesses Bennett that “for your love you shall be great” with words to the effect that this is contingent on obedience, etc.

    8) Joseph receives a letter accusing John Bennett of more wrong-doing that Bennett appears to have confessed to Joseph. Joseph sends George Miller to investigate (circa Feb 1841).

    9) George Miller sends a letter on March 2, 1841, confirming Bennett’s marriage to Mary Barker and his bad reputation.

    10) Much as I like Elvira Cowles for the woman with whom Bennett was obsessed, it’s possible and maybe even likely that Bennett was publicly courting Louisa Beaman rather than Elvira Cowles. In either case, Joseph asks Louisa to be married to himself in the New and Everlasting Covenant, which at the least included fealty. Reports of bedding together appear to all be given circa 1870 and later, when there was a compelling purpose for portraying Joseph as a practicing polygamist. However Louisa’s reproductive history is consistent with extreme fertility and yet she conceives no children during Joseph’s lifetime.

    11) Whoever Bennett was courting, the lady is warned to end the courtship. In despair, Bennett becomes sufficiently unhinged to bed his landlady, Sarah Pratt. He also starts frequenting a widow, Catherine Laur Fuller, who he eventually beds with a tale about how illicit intercourse is acceptable.

    12) Bennett is discovered in media res with Sarah Pratt, apparently by non-Mormon sheriff of Hancock County, Jacob Backenstos. Backenstos reports to Joseph Smith in early July 1841. Joseph rips into Bennett, demanding to know if Bennett claims that Joseph ever taught him such wickedness (whatever Lorenzo Wasson says circa 1842 that he heard Joseph screaming at Bennett).

    13) Having convinced Catherine Fuller to lay with him, Bennett tries to restore his standing by convincing men who are aware of his sins that they weren’t actually sins. Bennett concocts his own version of spiritual wifery, whereby women are free to indulge themselves, independent of marital commitment or even “fidelity” to any particular sexual partner. Jacob Backenstos is one of the many introduced to the bed of Catherine Fuller. The idea that sex is a gift of God, to be freely indulged in, spreads like wildfire. Unknown numbers of individuals become involved, including teenage boys (e.g., Orange Wight) and girls who slyly refer to one another as “spirituals.” In addition to young people (natural suckers for “free love”), the spiritual wifery heresy spreads throughout the councils of both civil and ecclesiastical power in Nauvoo.

    14) Unaware of the heresy, Joseph Smith announces in a Thursday sermon circa fall 1841 that the day may come when polygamists in the Orient (e.g., Turkey) will be taught the gospel, suggesting that those involved in plural marriage should be baptized and their multiple wives recognized as such. Joseph is roundly chastized by Emma and Sister Whitney during lunch. Joseph goes back to the grove that afternoon and recants his morning hints about the acceptability of polygamy.

    15) Following the sermon, Joseph somehow becomes informed of the spiritual wifery heresy that has infiltrated Mormon circles. Per the June 23, 1843, entry in William Clayton’s journal, it appears Joseph’s scribe Robert Thompson, Joseph’s friend Bishop Vinson Knight and Joseph’s senior apostle, Brigham Young, have all be taught the heresy. Of these three, only Brigham Young completely renounced the heresy. According to Clayton, Joseph attributed the deaths of both Robert Thompson and Vinson Knight to their unwillingness to renounce “temptation” and “loose conduct.”

    16) Joseph begins sealing women to himself to secure their fealty, simultaneously teaching them and their families regarding the doctrines of the New and Everlasting Covenant. These are all women married to others (though Agnes Coolbrith’s husband, Joseph’s brother, is recently dead). Both Agnes Coolbrith and Mary Elizabeth Rollins document in letters at the end of the century that they could tell Joseph F. Smith (a child in Nauvoo and senior LDS leader and leading polygamy researcher by the time of the letters) things that he doesn’t know about Joseph Smith’s implementation of polygamy. There is no indication Joseph F. Smith ever bothered finding out what these two ladies claimed they could have told him.

    17) In early January, Joseph excommunicates Benjamin Winchester. Winchester has been actively involved in the LDS/Nauvoo newspapers. In short order, Joseph re-organizes the newspaper, putting it under authority of the twelve apostles, including evicting the family of the man previously assigned to head the newspaper and installing Willard Richards in the building. Nancy Winchester, Benjamin’s then-thirteen-year-old sister, would later be listed (by Eliza Snow?) as being one of the women who had covenanted with Joseph Smith.

    18) In January Hyrum Smith suggests to the Nauvoo High Council that the priesthood be sent to each home to teach the members their duty. This becomes transformed into the priesthood taking a census of the households in Nauvoo circa February 1842, which census is presented to the city at the beginning of March. I suggest the canvassing of the city that became a census was originally suggested by Joseph Smith in hopes of discovering who had become involved in improper behavior.

    19) Independent of spiritual wifery, Sarah M. Kimball and Eliza Snow come to Joseph with the idea for a female benevolent society to sew shirts for the men working on the temple. Joseph seizes upon this as an opportunity to organize the women as a formal part of the Church hierarchy. Under the construct that Joseph used the New and Everlasting Covenant to obtain fealty, it is interesting to see that Joseph approaches Sarah Kimball in an attempt to discuss the New and Everlasting Covenant. Sarah refuses, though after Joseph’s death she does have herself sealed to Joseph, belatedly accepting. The organization is created, and Emma Hale [Smith] is elected leader. The Relief Society and Joseph’s sermons in support of Relief Society become key to uncovering illicit intercourse and participants. Relief Society, if you will, went viral, with hundreds of women flocking to join at each meeting, even as the requirements for membership tightened to require written endorsement of virtue from two standing members, even when membership involved confessing intimate details of past indiscretions (as appears to have occurred in the case of Lucy Munjar).

    20) Joseph stood up a Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo and began initiating individuals (initially only men) into the endowment ceremony. Strikingly, George Miller and William Law, two who had learned of Bennett’s marriage and bad behavior prior to July 1841, are endowed but never subsequently sealed to their wives.

    21) In May, a series of confessions and testimonies are collected by the Nauvoo High Council. William Smith, an apostle and Joseph’s brother, is identified as having interacted with women with respect to illicit intercourse, aka spiritual wifery. In the first instance mentioned during the series of confessions/testimonies, William Smith corroborated the tale regarding spiritual wifery being a secret teaching of the Church, leading to the woman’s subsequent willingness to submit to being bedded by Chauncey Higbee. In another confession, Catherine Fuller names William Smith as one of several men who unsuccessfully attempted to bed her.

    22) Apparently convinced that William Smith was the ring-leader of those involved in spiritual wifery/illicit intercourse, Joseph assigns Brigham Young to formally charge William Smith. However when Brigham Young was in the midst of making the public accusation, Joseph entered the proceedings and demanded that Brigham Young cease.

    23) Extended testimony from Catherine Fuller had clarified that both William Smith and Chauncy Higbee had asked her to become their exclusive spiritual wife. Comparing this to Bennett’s later description of supposed Cloistered Saints, women who became the exclusive paramour of one man who had won her by special dispensation from the “Holy Joe,” it may be that Catherine was confused when two men claimed to have won exclusive rights to her bed by permission from Joseph Smith. During Catherine’s extended testimony, she clarified that the first man who had ever approached her about illicit intercourse was Dr. John C. Bennett, bedding her before the paramour with whom she had first laid in mid-July 1841.

    24) Joseph apparently attempted to work with John C. Bennett towards repentance without openly denouncing him. However in June 1842, Joseph publishes a formal statement withdrawing the hand of fellowship from Bennett, stripping him of priesthood and his office as Assistant President of the Church. Bennett is also removed from 1) the office of Mayor, 2) the post of General in the Nauvoo Legion, and 3) standing as a member of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge.

    25) Fast-forwarding over the two years following Bennett’s public shaming, I will merely note that Joseph eventually moves from sometimes inferential sealings that appear to have been fealty-based to ackowledged sealings to women who were identified as plural wives (e.g., the Partridge sisters, the Lawrence sisters). However none of the single women Joseph covenants with ever conceives during his lifetime and DNA analysis indicates the otherwise married women bore children to their legal husbands rather than to Joseph Smith. The single exception is Emma Hale, who is legally married to Joseph Smith. In addition, the dozens of men acknowledged as polygamists prior to Joseph’s death fail to produce offspring with their plural wives with the exception of two (William Clayton and Joseph Bates Noble). In the case of William Clayton, we know Joseph threatened to excommunicate Clayton if charges were brought over the matter. To us now it seems Joseph was just trying to cover over his secret teachings. But I assert that such a threat, from a Joseph who had refrained from excommunicating the majority of the dozens/hundreds who had been proven to be involved in illicit intercourse, should be taken very seriously. Namely, it appears no one was being given leave to have sexual relations with their extra-legal spouses under the New and Everlasting Covenant during Joseph’s lifetime, based on reproductive evidence.

    26) After Joseph’s death, Brigham Young assumed the mantle of leadership. Brigham appears to have been one who had earlier been at least taught of spiritual wifery and who, per Clayton (post engendering a child with a plural wive and being railed against for doing so) had at least considered “transgression,” even though claiming no actual transgression had taken place. Brigham, unlike Joseph (in this construct), was familiar with the temptation the teachings of spiritual wifery posed. And Brigham was now responsible for dozens of women made widows by Joseph’s death. Brigham, along with the second-most senior apostle (Heber C. Kimball) proceeded to covenant with the vast majority of the otherwise single women who had been Joseph’s wives. In short order, babies begin to be borne to these women.

    27) Brigham continues to teach the doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant, setting before the faithful as a goal the completion of the temple for solemnization or sealing of their family relationships. Widows are sealed to deceased husbands, but to prevent such women from becoming widows forever in mortality, all such are required to have the proxy stand as “husband” in a relationship that appears to have predominantly been “god husband” or “glorified home teacher,” in effect a man to watch over and protect to ensure the widow and her orphans were cared for. Often there is no reason to believe these “marriages” involved sexual relations, though I have not done a thorough analysis of the hundreds of such cases (only being familiar with Joseph’s widows and my several ancestors who were not associated with Joseph).

    28) Brigham’s active embrace of plural marriage, including openly proclaiming to the world in 1852 that Mormons practiced plural marriage, served to fundamentally solidify for his followers the distinction between illicit intercourse and covenant marriage to additional wives. The reality of plural marriage served as a massive challenge, and in many cases was indeed a purifying element, much as how the heat of fire is used to help purify gold. Additionally, plural marriage allowed outstanding Mormon men to simultaneously pour out their lives in hard labor (e.g., missionary service in foreign lands and domestic “missions” all over the extended Mormon territories) while still producing a significant progeny. Studies aver that polygamous wives did not bear more children than they would have as monogamous wives, but I do not believe anyone can claim that Mormon men could have served as they did without seriously damaging their reproductive possibilities, had they not individually been bearing children simultaneously with so many women. A case in point is John Taylor, who for over a decade spent the majority of his time away from home on foreign missions.

    29) Once the realities of practical polygamy had eradicated sympathy for illicit intercourse (as the heat from flame assists in eradicating dross from gold), God didn’t need polygamy to remain a mortal practice amongst the Saints. The people yearned for the practice to be taken away, as evidenced by the inferred plea of John Taylor circa 1886. But Taylor requested that God relieve the people of the requirement to live the New and Everlasting Covenant, which was a wrong question, a question to which the only proper answer was the sputtering “it is an Everlasting Covenant, and how can I end an everlasting covenant?!?!?!?!” answer God gave. I think if John had asked to be relieved of the requirement to live polygamy, God would have answered very differently. And if a different question had been asked and a different answer given, then neither rogue apostle John W. Taylor nor apostate Lorin Woolley would have persisted in perpetuating a belief that polygamy, itself, was a fundamental tenet of God’s true Church.

    PS – In a recent NPR interview, Jana Reiss and Terryl Givens talked about polygamy. Jana referred to modern Mormon women for whom the prospect of finding themselves plural wives in eternity is [pick an adjective – horrifying comes to mind]. And yet, what woman would righteously deny another woman the possibility of spending eternity with the man they had loved and lived with in life, even if that man also happened to be her husband? What woman would righteously turn another woman into an eternal widow, making the woman’s children eternal bastards? If any such woman is so emotionally fragile, they’d better ensure the man they love knows he is bound to remain single in the event of her potential death prior to his own.

    Most women I know would not be so cruel as to demand a husband remain celibate and without companionship if they were to survive the woman in question.

  44. Hi Meg, I just wanted to thank you.

    I read through your 2013/2014 blogs on polygamy after finding links to them on Jeff Lindsay’s Cracked Planet. I can’t say I’ve been deeply troubled by Joseph Smith’s polygamy but every once in a while I’d run across someone’s insinuations concerning dozens of women and fourteen year olds and it would bug me. I didn’t know enough about what went on but trying to research mormon polygamy on the internet can feel like wading through sewage and picking a book at random can be just as bad, there’s so much hatred and misinformation out there.

    Your clear presentation of this subject and historical time period has been a God-send. I can’t say I necessarily agree with all of your conclusions but to have the events, details and sources laid out so well was wonderful. Thank you so much.

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