[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]
The most comprehensive treatment of plural marriages during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, to my knowledge, is Gary Bergera’s article “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44” in Dialogue during 2005. 1 Unfortunately, Bergera’s article was written before publication of the DNA results that have consistently debunked the rumors that Joseph fathered children 2 by his plural wives – a belief that prevented Bergera and prior scholars from considering the possibility that early plural marriages could have been primarily ceremonial with little or no sexual element. Specifically, no one has seriously examined the possibility that some of these marriages could have been inspired by a need to care for the victims of Bennett’s sex ring.
Let’s start by looking at the first plural marriage that didn’t include Joseph Smith: the marriage of Theodore Turley and Mary Clift in early 1842.
Theodore Turley and Mary Clift
Theodore Turley, Sr. was born in England, then emigrated to Canada with his wife, Frances. The couple was converted to Mormonism and eventually gathered to Nauvoo, where Turley had a gun shop and filled the post of Armorer General for the Nauvoo Legion. 3
In October 1842 a baby boy, Jason, was born to Mary Clift, herself an English convert from Gloucester. In the family histories, Jason is noted as being the child of Theodore Turley, as are the three additional children Mary would go on to bear prior to her death in Salt Lake City, but only her last daughter would survive to adulthood. Mary, having buried all her previous children, died within a week of giving birth to this last child. Because of Jason’s birth, it is presumed that Theodore Turley took Mary Clift to be his plural wife in January 1842.
Unfortunately, we know that Mary Clift gave testimony in August and September 1842 attesting that she had been seduced by Gustavus Hills around the time she was involved in the Nauvoo Choir. Gustavus Hills had also spoken to Esther Smith about engaging in illicit intercourse, a fact to which Esther similarly attested in September 1842. 4
Thus the very first supposed plural marriage that didn’t involve Joseph Smith is known to be a reaction to the seductions of Bennett’s ilk.
Vinson Knight and Philinda C. Eldredge [Myrick]
Sometime before August 1842, Bishop Vinson Knight married Philinda C. Eldredge Myrick (b. 1809). Philinda had wed Levi N. Myrick on November 18, 1827. In 1838 Philinda and Levi were at Haun’s Mill when the 240-man militia from neighboring Missouri counties attacked. Levi was killed behind Mr. Haun’s home in the initial volley. Philinda’s oldest son, Charles, took shelter in the smithy with most the men. All would be shot, most dying immediately. Charles survived to see the militia enter the smithy. Charles took off running, though it is not clear if this happened before or after one militia member put his musket against one boy’s skull and blew off the top of his head. The militia shot Charles down. Charles lingered in pain for a few weeks before dying of his wounds. The third boy survived, though his hip had been blown clear away.
It seems likely that when Philinda arrived in Nauvoo, she would have remained close to Catherine Fuller, another woman widowed at Haun’s Mill. Therefore it seems possible that Philinda became involved in the illicit intercourse practiced by Bennett’s men, given that Catherine Fuller’s home was a particular gathering place for these men, and site of frequent sexual conquests.
As one of the three bishops in Nauvoo at the time, Vinson Knight became aware of the activities of Bennett’s men and the women hovering on the edge of subsistence that the men had victimized. It is possible Joseph Smith may have explained the doctrine of the New and Everlasting Covenant to Vinson, with its provision for taking more than one wife. However William Clayton recorded a conversation he’d had with Joseph in 1843 regarding delicate matters, recording that Knight “went to loose conduct and [Joseph] could not save him.” 5 Clayton’s note raises the possibility that Vinson Knight himself had become a member of Bennett’s group, possibly being brought to believe that allowing the women to participate in illicit intercourse in exchange for food was an approved plan by Joseph for taking care of the needs of indigent women.
Whether Vinson was providing Philinda food as a plural wife or as a spiritual wife, as Bennett and his men termed their female sexual partners, Vinson’s wife, Martha McBride, allegedly “knew some thing was worr[y]ing her husband and he couldn’t seem to tell her about it. One evening as she was sitting in the grape arbor behind the house Vinson returned home carrying a basket. He explained to her that he had taken some fruit and vegetables to the widow, Mrs. Levi Merrick, whose husband had been killed at Haun’s Mill, M[iss]o[uri]. He also explained to her that he had been told to enter Plural Marriage. 6 That if he had to, this Sister Merrick would be the one he could help best. He must have been greatly relieved when Martha replied, ‘Is that all.'” 7
Vinson wouldn’t take care of Philinda for long. Towards the end of July 1842 Vinson became suddenly ill. He passed away on July 31, 1842. Joseph Smith delivered the eulogy at Vinson’s funeral. I have not found a full account of the funeral comments, but Joseph apparently said Vinson Knight was the “best friend he ever had on earth.” 8
Martha McBride Knight would become one of Joseph’s plural wives the month after Vinson’s death. Philinda Eldredge would remarry in 1843. Neither Martha nor Philinda would have themselves sealed to Vinson in the Nauvoo temple, possibly corroborating Clayton’s record regarding Vinson’s loose conduct.
Heber C. Kimball and Sarah Peake [Noon]
Sarah Peake was born in 1811 in England. Sarah married William Noon in 1829, and William accompanied Sarah and her children to Nauvoo when Sarah converted to Mormonism. After arriving with his family in Nauvoo, however, William abandoned Sarah and his children, returning to England. It seems extreme for William to make the trip from England only to turn around and go back. Something powerful must have happened to alienate him.
The converts arriving in Nauvoo from England and elsewhere were not rich. We know the Bennett’s seducers were targeting widows, but they had also shown a taste for new or prospective converts fresh off the boat, as attested to with regards to Elenor and Rachel Kingsley. These new converts would have less experience with the gospel and would more easily accept illicit intercourse as a possible secret teaching. 9 If Sarah had been induced to participate in illicit intercourse, perhaps to ensure enough food for her family, the discovery of this betrayal could certainly have prompted William Noon to leave.
Allegedly Joseph Smith asked Heber C. Kimball to take a plural wife early in 1842. Heber settled on a plan to approach one or two spinster friends of his wive, Vilate. The two spinsters were Laura Pitkin (52) and Abigail Pitkin (45). 10 When Heber told Joseph his plan, Joseph commanded Heber to marry Sarah Peake Noon, who was 31. Sarah gave birth to a son, Adelmon, in October or November if 1842. This puts the date of conception when Bennett and his men were at the peak of actively attempting to seduce women.
It has been commonly presumed that Joseph’s command to marry Sarah Peake Noon in lieu of the Pitkin spinsters was an indication that plural marriages were for the purpose of producing children. However if Joseph ordered Heber to marry Sarah Peake Noon because she had become pregnant as a result of illicit intercourse taught by Bennett or his men, the “cherished” belief that polygamists should marry young, fertile women is debunked.
Unfortunately we can never positively determine who fathered Adelmon, as he passed away in April 1843. Intriguingly, Sarah Peake Noon would not have another child until July 1845, raising the possibility that Heber and Sarah refrained from sexual relations until after the death of Joseph Smith.
Reynolds Cahoon and Lucina Roberts [Johnston]
Lucina Roberts was born in 1806 in Lincoln, Vermont. She married fellow Vermont native Peter Henry Johnston in 1824. By the time Lucina reached Nauvoo, her husband had died 11 and she had lost three of her six children to death.
The date when Lucina married Reynolds Cahoon is vague, reportedly during late 1841 or early 1842. 12 The birth of Lucina’s daughter, Lucina Johnson Cahoon, is given as “abt 1843.” 13 However Gary Bergera lists Lucina Cahoon as one of the four children born to plural wives prior to Joseph Smith’s death. 14
Again we have a widow in Nauvoo as a plural wife with an unusual lack of detail regarding either the marriage itself or the date when the child supposedly produced by that marriage was engendered. 15
Brigham Young and Lucy Ann Decker [Seeley]
Lucy Ann Decker Seeley, born in 1822, was abandoned by her first husband, William, a non-Mormon who was allegedly abusive and an alcoholic. William left Lucy with the couple’s three tiny children, leaving her a widow for all intents and purposes.
With Lucy we have an echo of Sarah Peak Noon – a young mother abandoned by a husband who had accompanied her to Nauvoo. It’s possible that William Seeley merely left and Brigham Young extended the young Lucy his protection. Or it’s possible that William left because Lucy had been induced to participate in illicit intercourse as a means to supplement the food and funds William was squandering with his drunken ways. A third option, that the drunken, abusive William Seeley would have been recruited to participate in Bennett’s band, seems unlikely. Bennett seemed to recruit men of power, influence, and discretion.
Brigham and Lucy would not produce children for at least two years after their alleged marriage in the summer of 1842. As in the case of Heber C. Kimball and Sarah Peake Noon, this hints at the possibility that Brigham and Lucy did not engage in sexual relations until after Joseph’s death.
Joseph’s 1842 Wives
In last week’s post I reviewed the women who either testified they had submitted to pressure to engage in illicit intercourse or women who were seen in compromising situations with men known to teach Bennett’s theories regarding the acceptability of illicit intercourse.
The review above of women who became plural wives to men other than Joseph Smith shows a strong pattern suggesting these women could have also been victims of Bennett and his men.
Let us now look at the women Joseph Smith may have married in 1842.
- Agnes Coolbrith [Smith] (m. Jan 6, 1842): Agnes’ was a levirate marriage and the journal entry recorded for the presumed wedding day indicates this marriage was “a day in which all things are concurring together to bring about the completion of the fullness of the gospel.” There is no hint on January 6th that Joseph’s marriage to Agnes was a reaction to Bennett. However Agnes fit the profile of the kind of woman Bennett and his men sought out. Clarissa Marvel would be questioned for spreading rumors about Agnes’ character. And Agnes would later write Joseph F. Smith hinting that she could tell him things he knew nothing about. 16
- Mary Elizabeth Rollins [Lightner] (m. Feb 1842): Mary Elizabeth was someone Joseph had attempted to persuade of plural marriage late in 1841, before he appears to have learned about Bennett’s activities. However the circumstance of Mary’s sealing to Joseph smacks of the investigation. The sealing is performed by Brigham Young with Heber C. Kimball in attendance. Mary also hinted that she could tell Joseph F. Smith things about the past that he didn’t know. 17
- Sylvia Sessions [Lyon]: Sylvia would never attest to having been married to Joseph during his lifetime. 18 She was allegedly present when her mother, a midwife, entered into covenant with Joseph in March 1842. As wife of the druggist, Sylvia was in a position to assist the investigation into the activities of Bennett’s men, either as they sought drugs to assist in seductions (e.g., laudanum) or drugs and herbs to inhibit pregnancy.
- Patty Bartlett [Sessions] (m. March 6, 1842): Patty, as a midwife and mature woman, was in a prime position to identify women who had been seduced and help them if they had become pregnant as a result of the seduction.
- Nancy Winchester: The date when Nancy married Joseph is unknown. However the fact that she never consummated her marriage with Heber C. Kimball and remained in her parents home for the rest of her life, even after bearing a child with a third husband when she was nearly 40, hints that something traumatic happened to her. I hypothesize this could have occurred if Nancy happened upon an illicit liaison between one of Bennet’s cronies and Clarissa Marvel. If Nancy was abused or seduced by the Bennett ring before May 1842, she would have been only 13 years old at the time.
- Marinda Nancy Johnson [Hyde]: Marinda helped Joseph’s investigation by inviting Nancy Rigdon to be interviewed in April 1842. Marinda herself would attest that she wasn’t sealed to Joseph Smith until May 1843. This paints Marinda Nancy Johnson as a trusted agent in 1842, but not a plural wife in this tumultuous year.
- Elizabeth Davis [Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee]: Outsiders came to believe Elizabeth had been one of Joseph’s wives and Elizabeth would have herself sealed to Joseph in the Nauvoo temple after his death. However Elizabeth’s main role appeared to be questioning young ladies regarding what they thought about spiritual wifery, and helping Emma to determine the worthiness of women applying to join Relief Society or questioning those spreading rumors. Later, when Elizabeth saw how Brigham Young was conducting Church affairs, she left in disgust and returned to Quincy to be near her good friend, Emma Smith.
- Sarah Maryetta Kingsley [Howe Cleveland]: Researchers have inferred Sarah was married to Joseph Smith prior to July 1842 because she stands as witness for other women who marry him. Sarah, like Elizabeth Davis Durfee, would have herself sealed to Joseph Smith posthumously. However Sarah’s role appears to be that of an investigator rather than a lover.
- Delcena Diadamia Johnson [Sherman]: Delcena was a widow with six children to feed. Delcena was also related to Mary Heron, who appears to have been the first woman seduced by Bennett, increasing the likelihood that Delcena had been seduced as well, widow that she was. Delcena’s brother returned to Nauvoo in July 1842 and described the marriage between Delcena and Joseph to be “tacitly admitted,” with Delcena living in the home of Joseph’s plural wife, Louisa Beaman. I posit Joseph Smith intervened to protect Delcena and remove any reason for her to submit to those seeking illicit intercourse.
- Eliza Roxy Snow (m. 29 June 1842): We do not know when Eliza learned about “plurality,” other than that it occurred in Nauvoo. Sometime in 1842 Eliza penned a poem titled “The Bride’s Avowal” that concludes “nought but thy approving look is happiness to me. I would not sell they confidence, for all the pearls that strew the ocean’s bed or all the gems that sparkle in Peru.” 19 This poem would be published in August 1842, a time when the only possible interpretation was that Snow was proclaiming herself Joseph’s plural wife. This publication coincided with Eliza being asked to leave the home of Sarah Cleveland, where she had been staying. Such a poem could only have been inserted into the paper by someone wishing to harm Joseph, implying that Eliza had presented to poem to someone previously involved in Bennett’s group engaging in illicit intercourse. Eliza would attest that she became Joseph’s wife on June 29, shortly after Bennett’s departure from Nauvoo, with Sarah Cleveland as witness and Brigham Young officiating. Wilhelm Wyl would assert in 1885 that Snow had become pregnant with Bennett’s child, an assertion Snow would never openly deny.
- Sarah Ann Whitney (m. 27 July 1842): This is the only one of the marriages Joseph Smith enters into in 1842 that seems untouched by the Bennett scandal. Sarah was daughter of Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Emma’s Relief Society Counselor, and Newel K. Whitney was the senior Bishop in the Mormon Church. Sarah’s father performed the ceremony linking his daughter to Joseph Smith. A month later, Sarah’s parents were sealed to one another–the first couple that was already married to have their vows solemnized for eternity. Much is made of the letter Joseph writes the Whitneys from hiding, telling them that if Emma isn’t there they can come to him in perfect safety. It is always presumed Emma is the danger, as if she isn’t aware of Joseph’s marriages. However the obvious reason Emma would represent danger to Joseph in hiding would be the enemies who would attempt to tail Emma in hopes of locating Joseph.
- Martha McBride [Knight] (m. August 1842): I’ve already discussed Martha, but to summarize, it appears her husband had gone “to loose conduct” and was possibly one of the members of Bennett’s group, engaged in illicit intercourse. Thus Joseph’s marriage to Martha would have been similar to the marriage of Theodore Turley to Mary Clift – a goodly man protecting a woman who had been connected with a scoundrel.
To me it appears that almost all the plural marriage activity in 1842 was associated with cleaning up the incredible mess Bennett and his acolytes had caused by rampantly persuading men and women to engage in illicit intercourse. Unfortunately it would not be enough to cover over the wounds Bennett had caused in Nauvoo.
When Bennett was cut off in June 1842, without any other man or woman being subjected to public scorn, Bennett was enraged. He immediately set in motion a plan to destroy Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, and the Mormon Church.
Future Planned Posts:
Sangamo and Pratt
The Apostles and their Wives
Eliza and the Stairs
Healing Wounded Hearts
Revealing the Revelation
Those Virtuous and Pure
Daughter of Hope
The Prodigal Returns
Conferring the Mantle
Collecting the Sorrowful
For Eternity and Time
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy
- Bergera, Gary, Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44, available online at http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V38N03_13.pdf, retrieved 22 March 2014. ↩
- All children believed to be Joseph’s children who survived to have children themselves have been evaluated. ↩
- Ann Laemmlen Lewis, Frances Amelia Kimberley and Theodore Turley: My Third Great Grandparents, available online at http://www.geocities.com/~wallyg/L2frances.htm, retrieved 26 March 2014. ↩
- Nauvoo High Council Minutes, 1841-1845. ↩
- George D. Smith, ed. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, p. 108. ↩
- As this is a late account written by someone from within the Mormon faith tradition, I question whether the original term used was “enter Plural Marriage.” ↩
- Quoted in Bergera: The Earliest Mormon Polygamists, from Delia Belnap, “Martha McBridge Knight,” typescript, not paginated, LDS Church Archives; courtesy Todd Compton. ↩
- Lisa Wood, Biography For: Martha McBride Knight Smith Kimball, available online at http://www.mypioneertrek.com/Biographies.aspx?PioneerName=Martha%20McBride%20Knight%20Smith%20Kimball, retrieved 26 March 2014. ↩
- The Expositor, put together by Chauncy Higbee and several of the men who had sat on the High Council proceedings in May 1842, devotes quite a bit of space to the manner in which these new female converts were seduced, “It is a notorious fact, that many females in foreign climes, and in countries to us unknown, even in the most distant regions of the Eastern hemisphere, have been induced, by the sound of the gospel, to forsake friends, and embark upon a voyage across waters that lie stretched over the greater portion of the globe, as they supposed, to glorify God, that they might thereby stand acquitted in the great day of God Almighty. But what is taught them on their arrival at this place?- They are visited by some of the Strikers, for we know not what else to call them…” available online at http://en.fairmormon.org/Primary_sources/Nauvoo_Expositor_Full_Text, retrieved 26 March 2014. ↩
- Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer, p. 95. ↩
- Familysearch.org merely lists “1838, Ohio River” as the date and place of death. ↩
- Mary L. S. Putnam and Lila Cahoon, eds. and comps., Reynolds Cahoon: His Roots and Branches (Bountiful, Utah: Family History Publishers, 1993. ↩
- familysearch.org. ↩
- Bergera doesn’t count Jason Turley since it is clearly documented Jason was fathered by Gustavus Hills as part of the Bennett illicit intercourse scheme. ↩
- Nauvoo Temple carpenter David Moore relates that Lucina Johnson was living with Charles A. Chase, who was first cousin of Darwin Chase. Catherine Fuller named Darwin Chase as one of those who asked her to have illicit intercourse. Darwin Chase was also named by Sarah Miller related to her experience with illicit intercourse. So Lucina was living in a circumstance that would have brought her into the circle of one of the ring of seducers. David Moore, Compiled Writings of David Moore, pp. 19-20, cited in Brian Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 1, Chapter 22. ↩
- Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 166-167. ↩
- Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 226. ↩
- Sylvia did tell her daughter, Josephine, that Josephine was Joseph’s daughter. However Josephine was the only one of Sylvia’s children who had married outside of the temple, the location where adoptive or posthumous sealing relationships to Joseph would have been revealed. Sylvia had been sealed to Joseph posthumously in the Nauvoo temple. ↩
- Jill Mulvay Deer and Karen Lynn Davidson, ed.s Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry, pp. 210-211. ↩